Do you ever find yourself complaining about some aspect of your life -- family, work, health, etc. -- some aspect that you claim to be important to you? If so, are you spending more time complaining about that area of life than you are actually doing something about it? My bet is that blame and complain win the day more often than not.
Several years ago John, someone whom I admire greatly, asked me to help him examine his life to assess how things could be doing even better. Right there, John stood out amongst many. While he was intent on improving the quality of his life, he did not start with what was wrong. Instead, we took inventory of what was working well and then moved on to what could be working even better. Our coaching work then began to focus on steps he could take to build on what he already had.
You Don't Have to Be Sick to Get Better
That may be a subtle distinction lost on many. John was fundamentally demonstrating a truth that often hides in plain sight -- you don't have to be sick to get better. Too many of us in this country grew up with a deficit model of thinking, most likely from our schooling that has leaked into how we view life in general.
You know the drill: you took that 50 word spelling test, got 44 right, and the test came back with a score on top in red ink -- MINUS 6. Is minus six the truth? Sure is, but how do you build on minus six? Could you have built on PLUS 44 instead? Same data point, yet one suggests being in the hole, and the other talks about how to improve on what's already working.
Now don't get me confused with one of those folks who think everyone should get a trophy just for showing up. We absolutely need to know both sides of the equation -- what's working and what needs to be improved. However, too many of us have been drilled in the deficit approach which leads to an approach to life that translates as "good enough never is." Deficit thinking often shows up in performance reviews at work -- after a few obligatory comments about things you did well, the review then turns its deficit oriented head into pointing out all the things that are somewhere between wrong and "not up to standard."
You can find deficit thinking in just about any aspect of life: what's wrong with your company, your boss, society, politics, your spouse, your kids, or just about anything else that that seems to be important. For this example, I'm going to focus on health, but you can easily substitute any of these other areas of life.
Is Your Health Important to You? Really?
Years ago, I was working with a nationally prominent physician who had a deep understanding of nutrition and the role that proper food choices play in building a solid platform to support real health and well-being. In our lengthy intake process, he pointed out another remarkable truth hiding in plain sight: "Many people come to be when something is wrong. They typically start by saying everything was just fine and then all of a sudden things went south."
He told me that the "all of a sudden" theory was pure nonsense. Sure, the symptom may have showed up all of a sudden, but something began moving south a long time before the person finally noticed. Years of poor dietary choices, lack of exercise and improper nutrition often lead to the day the symptom finally appears. He then told me we needed to get a better picture of where my body was relative to a number of nutritional markers. After a series of tests (blood, hair, and other stuff), he was able to show me graphically where my body was doing okay nutritionally, and where it was a bit short in nutritional supply.
This may sound an awful lot like deficit thinking, but instead he was showing me the PLUS 44 areas and where we need to build for further improvement. He was able to design a nutrition based health strengthening program for me, using what I already did well, and adding strength to areas that could be improved. Rather than trying to fix a symptom, he worked with me to build a complete system of health, focusing on a balanced core platform designed to build and maintain health across a broad spectrum.
What I learned in the process was astounding, ranging from how imbalance in one area of my health/nutrition led to me making other poor choices which further undermined my health. Although I had always thought that my health was a priority, reality showed me otherwise.
How to Assess Your Real Priorities
This is where what I learned from John in that coaching session comes into play. If you have been following along, looking at areas of your life where you may be currently stuck in blame and complain, be it relationships, health, money, career, etc., then you can apply this profoundly simple assessment tool I learned from John to discover where your priorities really lie.
John's advice? If you want to know the truth about your priorities, just take a look at your checkbook (or credit card bills) and your calendar. Where are you spending your money? Where are you spending your time? No matter how much your mind may want to argue with this simple assessment technique, sooner or later you're going to have to cop to the truth of that old adage and "put your money (or time) where your mouth is."
If you don't have a calendar or a job that requires a calendar, start one! Nothing complicated -- any simple calendar will do, preferably something you can carry with you, from a paper-based pocket calendar, to your iPhone or PDA. As you go through your day, all of your day -- not just time spent at work -- simply jot down where you are spending time. Be sure to include your weekends.
Thist will give you an independent view of what you consider to be important -- after all, it's your time and you're the one choosing to spend it that way. Yeah, I know, there's all that stuff about your boss, your job, your kids and all the rest. However, just take your health as an example: What choices are you making about exercise, diet and nutrition? If you're not spending much time making conscious choices, then you may well wind up telling your physician one day that "everything was just fine and then suddenly... "
The same applies to the quality of your relationships with your spouse, friends and kids. Where are you spending your time? Let's get real here: Sitting in front of the TV with your kids or partner isn't the same as spending time with them deepening your communication and relationship, now is it?
What aspects of your life would you like to improve? What choices can you make starting today to elevate these areas to real priorities that you can measure with your calendar or your checkbook?
I'd love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your own life, how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your own life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.