The Personal Plus of Positive Intent

Intent Final

by Andrea Chilcote

As an observer of human behavior – sometimes student and sometimes teacher – I marvel at the fact that there are so many simple and reliable tools for making relationships of all kinds easier. Even when aware of these tools, we so often fail to employ them in the very circumstances that count.

One example is a simple mental model called “positive intent.” I’ve been working to assume positive intent quite a bit these days, as a way to ease the stresses and frustrations of a busy life. It’s so easy to become irritated by others’ supposed shortcomings or to take personally the minor transgressions seemingly committed on purpose to make life difficult. The principle of positive intent requires us to ask one simple question prior to judging, assuming motive for, or reacting to another person’s behavior.

“What possible, positive reason does he or she have for doing or saying that?”

It doesn’t matter what the answer is. The very moment you have an answer, no matter how preposterous it seems, something shifts. Something very big.

There’s a well-known illustration of the principle in Stephen Covey’s blockbuster title, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In short, as a passenger in a crowded subway, Covey becomes irritated at a father who is not disciplining his unruly children. When he gathers the courage to ask the man to intervene, the father tells him they are all returning from the hospital where their mother (his wife), has just died. Covey experiences an instantaneous paradigm shift. Suddenly his irritation pales in comparison to the man’s grief.

The truth of positive intent is one of the toughest things for our egos to swallow. Yet once we assume there might be a reason for another’s behavior that, while perhaps misguided, to them makes some kind of sense, we are then free. Free of being violated, persecuted or even mildly disrespected, suddenly, our thoughts and feelings are independent of the influence of others’ actions. What a break this gives us, in a world in which we are bombarded by input, some welcome and some not.

We can all assume positive intent in daily interactions with everyone from strangers to casual acquaintances. The benefit is a bit less stress, a tad more peace in our hearts. Can you assume positive intent in the most challenging of your relationships? There lies an opportunity that just might transform those relationships. When we think differently, we act differently. When we act differently, others re-act in new ways. Pat your ego gently on the shoulder and try something new – you might reap a surprising reward.

You Just Have to Laugh

Andrea Chilcote

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!


by Andrea Chilcote

It’s week five of a five-week travel run. While travel is a necessary part of the wonderful work I get to do, I treasure time at home, off the road.

As with many situations in life, it’s the little things that cause stress during business travel. And, as is true in most circumstances, one’s attitude determines the degree of angst. This fifth week, I decided you just have to laugh.

I’ll admit that laughing at things that aren’t obviously funny is not my usual behavior. In fact, I have to consciously relax into finding humor. And deciding to do just that was the source of this week’s lesson.

I’m not even going to recount the not quite funny situations I laughed at. They’re boring, except perhaps to fellow road warriors who might show some empathy for my car debacles, road construction or customer service breeches.

What I want you to know is that I learned (or once again realized), one of the mechanisms through which our thoughts create our reality: our thoughts, feelings and behavior are contagious.

By laughing, or at least smiling, through minor annoyances (those I couldn’t change with demands or aggression even if I had wanted to), others around me smiled too. I struck up conversations, complimented people and brightened days. And I felt calm and relaxed – surely a boost to my work and the equivalent of an extra hour or so of sleep.

Some of you are masters of this technique of bringing lightness to stressors. I have always envied you. This week I learned it’s as easy as a lighthearted laugh.

Defining Your Destination (2014)

Define Your DestinationHow does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the last in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In this part I discuss transition.

By Andrea Chilcote

Being “in transition” implies you have left one place (physically, mentally or emotionally) and have not yet arrived in another. And one of the more daunting challenges associated with transition is not knowing where you are going. I don’t know about you, but while I am enjoying the journey, I want to have a destination on the horizon.

The process of defining a destination, an intended outcome sounds simple – though we can make it into a complex science project.

I’ve never cared for mind benders, those frustrating puzzles that make your brain hurt. Yet I’ve spent a good portion of my life puzzling over so-called universal principles that feel just like mind benders. I’m referring to profound revelations uttered by philosophers and gurus that you just know are The Truth, yet are paradoxical and seem hard to live by in practical terms.

One such head scratcher is the concept of detachment. According to this gem of wisdom, we must set a clear and compelling vision, then…let it go. The idea is that with attachment, our fears and obsessions will muddy the pure intent, contriving all manner of disaster and plotting contingencies to prevent such. This focus on the details can be exacerbated when one is in transition, because it feels as though all we control is the minutiae.

Does this “law of detachment” mean we should stop wanting what we say we want? No, no—and therein sits the conundrum. The problem often lies in defining what we want. Often what we say we want is just a means of getting to some higher-level, often unexpressed, goal. What we get attached to is the mechanism — this house, this job, this relationship – and we miss all of the beautiful opportunities that show up along the way.

In your heart of hearts, what do you know you truly want? And, what will having that bring you? The answer to the second question is, in all likelihood, what you truly desire. The rest is just method or means, the detailed how-to that your clever mind has calculated. These instructions we issue to the universe squelch our creative wisdom and limit the innate potential available to all. Most of the time, we’re not in charge of the how-to’s anyway. Have you ever looked back after some miraculous achievement and wondered how it all came together? W.H. Murray’s famous statement says it all: ”The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”

So look forward. Craft your vision, paint a picture of your heart’s desire. See it, feel it, imagine it come to life. Then let it be. Go about your day, enjoying each precious and fleeting moment. You might be surprised at what happens next.

Read all three parts on The Spirited Woman site.

The Story of This Very Moment (2014)

Andrea Chilcote This Very MomentHow does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the second in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In part two I challenge us all to engage in the moment at hand.

by Andrea Chilcote

Re-telling the story of your life requires examining the story you are living today. Even if – perhaps especially if – you are in transition, you are writing the story of your life right now, with each thought you have and each breath you take.

Many years ago I was living in a seemingly foreign place, away from my husband and four-legged family, finishing out a commitment to a job while anticipating a move to start my business. I was both exhilarated and terrified about my future, and anxious to be finished with my current assignment. And, I was lonely.

In hindsight, I learned a lesson. I had put my life “on hold,” working too much at a job that was unfulfilling, longing to be with my family, and obsessing about the future. Toward the end of the eight month period, I met a young family who invited me into their life. This brief experience helped me recognize that I had squandered the precious present moment far too long. Rather than engaging in life where I was, I had been living in a world of “what-if’s,” an uncomfortable mental state in which I was trying to hold on to what had really ended while unable to step fully into my future.

Change expert William Bridges suggests that in any transition, we experience a stage of letting go, then a stage of neutrality in which nothing feels grounded or clear; finally, those two stages are followed by a period of orienting to new beginnings. I suggest, while these are natural stages we must pass through, we can continue to live the story of a meaningful life even inside the so-called neutral zone. It’s as simple as showing up.

Are you telling yourself a story about a past that’s over or a future that has not yet arrived? What story would you tell about your life right now?  You have a choice to live a life of engagement and vitality. Even if you would rather be somewhere else, what can you do today, this moment even, to come alive again?

The fleeting present moment is filled with potential opportunities and possibilities, yet we often miss them because we’re consumed by a mind cluttered with thoughts about the past or the future. Stop – then look, listen and feel. Are you willing to engage in the precious opportunity before you?

Read parts one and three on The Spirited Woman site.

Re-Write the Story of Your Life (2014)

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

How does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the first in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In part one I ask, “Which story are you telling?”

Some time ago I had a conversation with a colleague who was making a difficult choice to leave both a job and a marriage that were consuming her very life force. I observed that this opportunity had been knocking on her door for years, getting louder and more persistent over time, and that perhaps she should answer the call. If not, the door was about to be busted through and the house blown down, as the proverbial wolf did in the Three Little Pigs.

A watershed moment for her, she realized that one cannot proclaim to be self-aware and committed to living purposefully, in integrity, if unwilling to make changes in a life that’s not working.

You’ve heard the saying: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This paradigm is why many people stay in abusive relationships, endure dysfunctional employers, and fail to take the leap toward long-held dreams. Change itself is not what we fear; it’s the transition that we endure getting from here to there that’s not for the faint of heart. Perhaps so many of us today are in “transition” because we have the courage of conviction. What is the spark behind that courage? The choice to take full responsibility for one’s life.

Any story we tell about difficulty in our lives can be told in two ways. In story one, we tell what happened; a play by play account of wins and losses, who did what and why – from our own point of view. The flaw with this method is just that – our own point of view! If things didn’t turn out as we wished, it’s easy to tell a story of what happened to us, what was done to us, and how unfair it all was. Story two is very different. Story two is an account we tell taking full responsibility for everything that happened. It’s a way of examining the beliefs we held, the decisions we made and the actions we took that led to others’ actions or so-called fate stepping in.

Which story is most true? Even though story one is literally true, story two, the story in which we step fully into the great gift of an empowered life, is the only story worth telling.

The purpose of story two is never, ever to create guilt or self-blame. Story two’s true purpose is to free us to remember we are the causal force in our lives, and our choices and decisions produce our results. Sometimes life does just happen, with serious or tragic consequences. Story two gives us a chance to think or behave in a new way even after a very difficult experience.  A liberating idea, don’t you think?

If you have recently taken a leap, or if the wolf is at your door and you find yourself considering transition, use story two to create a map, lay out next steps, start anew. You’re in charge of your life.

My colleague is now living in story two, free from the burden of relinquishing control to others. Easy it is not, and she’s befriending the wolf who knocked, learning each day to savor the journey, one step at a time.

Read parts two and three on The Spirited Woman:

Making a Difference (2014)

Are you making a difference in this very moment?

by Andrea Chilcote

Andrea Chilcote, Making A Difference, This Very MomentMy colleague, author Randy Hain, suggested I do an exercise. He told me to write my clients’ names on a piece of paper (I added close friends), and circle them. Then, I was to write what each one cares most about next to their circled name. Randy predicted that I would see themes.

Did I ever.

Almost without exception, everyone I listed wants to make a difference in the lives of others. How they do it varies greatly. I work with leaders who, regardless their actual job, come to work each day because they’re making a difference in the lives of those they lead. Many, including those in senior executive positions, care most about the impact they are making on the lives of their children, members of their community or even the end-user of the product or service their organization produces. One, a CEO of a thriving non-profit, says that while she’s passionate about the work of her own organization, she does what she does every day to positively affect the non-profit sector overall, because of the enormous impact it has on the lives of those in her community.

There’s a reason why this commonality exists. Making a difference is a fundamental human drive.

Recently I learned of the death of a family friend. He was the owner of an independent grocery store in the small city  in which I grew up. His obituary said the city would have been a  different place without his compassion and the help he offered to his fellow citizens. He offered credit before it was the norm, and he helped many start small businesses. This man knew his purpose, and it was very different on the surface (selling bread and green beans) than in its depth (improving lives). He made a difference, though I’m not sure he would have known he was doing so at any given time. He just followed his heart.

And that is the point of my post today.

As you go about your full lives, it is easy to lose touch with your sense of purpose. It is easy to forget the impact of a small gesture, brief glance or word of encouragement. But even as you lose touch, the energy of it lives on. Every single positive thought or action affords many reactions. In this very moment, as you read this post, you are making a difference. Your – our – power and influence is humbling.

Let the awareness of your impact fuel your future actions. We all need one another.

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This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

Inspiration

Inspiration, Andrea ChilcoteWho inspires you today?

by Andrea Chilcote

Lately I have had the opportunity to meet, dialogue with, and work with some amazing women and men. These are “ordinary” people who don’t think of themselves as extraordinary. Yet their courage of conviction inspires me with every breath I take, and any time I become weary, I am heartened by their stamina and drive.

Today’s post is a tribute to the people who know who they are, what they desire for our world, and stand firm in their values.

More than ever before, it seems we are no longer satisfied to know of a right path yet remain on another. One former client wrote to tell me of a drastic life change he made, inspired by his passion to improve literacy. He sent this quote by George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Another said “I’ve made a firm commitment to myself that a year from now I will be doing something very different for a living, in a field I am excited about and with very little concern about the income.”

Whenever I feel weary because I work hard, I am reminded of all the others who do even more. My veterinarian friend Dr. Kit performed over 6000 low cost spay/neuters for needy families and rescue groups in 2013. She draws forth the energy because her love is so great.

Recently, I spent time with a colleague who recently experienced a major, painful surgery. She is back to work teaching and supporting others, appearing as if the pain she still feels does not exist. Surely it would if she were not compelled to service. Many who suffer significant physical and emotional pain seemingly don’t suffer at all because there’s so much to do.

Thank you all for being a light in a needy world.

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The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!