What do Angela Merkel, Stephen Curry, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Oliver, Paul Ryan all have in common?
Every one of them are playing a leading role in making the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same.
And, because of their contribution, they have all been included in the most recent Fortune.com’s greatest leaders list.
In his article on “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders“, Geoff Colvin writes, “Especially striking in our new ranking of the Worldâs 50 Greatest ÂLeaders is how many of them you may not recognize. In our media-saturated, personality-obsessed global culture, how can that be? Yet it is so, and thatâs what makes this group so heartening. It turns out the world is full of people youâve never heard of who are rallying followers to make life better in ways you never imagined.”
And, as you read through the detailed profiles of each of the top 50, what becomes apparent is the single-minded conviction and moral compass each of these individuals bring to the work they do.
My aim today is to challenge your thinking and get you focusing on what’s truly important to you so that you can step up, tweak, change where you are in order to get to where you should be.
Because all of us are made to be much, much more than we currently see ourselves as.
And, in order to become who we are meant to be, we have learn how to ask the right questions…..
The following 12 questions while not exhaustive, are intended to strike a nerve and stimulate your thinking.
Question Number One:
We each get 24 hours in a day.
Yet, have you noticed how some people seem able to fit and get so much more out of their days than others?
Without a meaningful set of goals to focus on and work towards, we often find ourselves helping other people achieve their goals and ours go unmet.
Super smart people focus on their priorities and know the difference between the clock and the compass: the compass directs their focus whilst the clock helps them establish priorities for each day.
Where most people complain about having “too much to do and too little time,” super smart people manage their time effectively. They know that this is wasted thinking and have learnt how to manage the “illusion of limited resources” by identifying, analysing, and then making a plan to tweak and change their routines to get more out of each day – consistently.
This can only happen if you are disciplined and committed.
Question Number Two:
When was the last time you danced in the rain or watched a sunrise?
While you may no longer be a child who is able to giggle, dance wildly with the freedom that only youth can truly show – as adults are you making opportunities to enjoy moments of pleasure?
Super Smart people make time for special relationships to flourish and thrive. While they do work extremely hard, they regularly take time to enjoy special moments which fill them up and replenish their resources.
Make a list of those things you enjoy doing – those “guilty” pleasures you’ve been putting off. And, make an effort to do one of them within the next week.
Examples of Pleasurable Activities
- Reading a book
- Spending quality time with someone you love
- Lunch with a friend
- Going to a movie/soccer match/activity you haven’t enjoyed in a while
- Watching a sunset
- Gazing up at the stars at night
- Swimming with dolphins
Question Number Three:
No matter how many times I say it, it always comes as a surprise to those who hear it: “Our brains are set for threat, not reward”
Although we may be born into the “love” of our parents and families, we soon learn fear through the natural evolution of human development. This is normal and natural and sets up children to learn how to stay safe in the world.
The problem with threat is that the world is predicated around “threat” and so we are bombarded with much more threat messages than our brains should naturally receive.
And this creates over-activating of our limbic brains in response to real and imagined threats.
Just look to the media headlines to see what I mean.
Instead, super smart people know to notice the negativity their brain feeds them and to interrupt and replace these thoughts and feelings with a more positive perspective that helps them to “stay above the line” with themselves and others.
In fact, being able to notice your feelings from moment to moment in order to name and replace is especially important in the workplace where pressure and anxiety and overwhelm and create stuckness for you.
Ask yourself today, “How am I feeling right now?
And then follow it up with: “What’s the best possible thing I could do for myself right now?
Positivity is much better for your brain, body and relationships than negativity that comes from threat.
Question Number Four:
To live a life of authenticity is extremely hard when you have a mortgage to pay and school fees to keep up.
As Travis Bradberry writes in his article, “10 Unmistakable Habits of Utterly Authentic People“,
“Most people have experienced the discomfort that comes with failing to behave authentically. Researchers from Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern joined forces to measure this phenomenon scientifically. They found that when people failed to behave authentically, they experienced a heightened state of discomfort thatâs usually associated with immorality. People who werenât true to themselves were so distraught that they felt a strong desire to cleanse themselves physically.”
Itâs clear that our brains know when weâre living a lie, and like all lies, being inauthentic causes nothing but harm.
Angela Merkel made it to the second spot on the 50 Greatest Leaders list of 2016 because of her moral conviction that saw her putting charity and compassion ahead of Realpolitik by welcoming more than 1 million hard-pressed migrants and refugees to Germany.
It was an action that sealed her legacy as a great leader, but it also possibly the beginning of the end of her power. Merkel is facing a virulent anti-foreigner backlash at home. Time will tell on whether her leadership will be able to weather the storm of this backlash.
Interestingly though, it turns out that most of the top 50 leader’s list have gone against popular consensus and opinion polls - to their strength.
To be truly real and alive is to live in congruence with your beliefs and values – no matter the cost. You may not always get that career promotion – but you will sleep better at night!!
Question Number Five:
People are naturally good.
Most people who hurt you, do it from ignorance rather than deliberate intention.
Those who deliberately hurt you, can be dealt with using the techniques I describer in this article: 2 Surprising Secrets for Dealing with Difficult People
If you can believe in the goodness of people, then you can harness the positivity and optimism that resides in everyone of us.
If you struggle to see the good in others, then Iâd suggest that you start working on yourself. I say this respectfully because in my experience, when we struggle to see the good in others, itâs because of some trauma or past experiences that we have yet to completely work through.
I choose to believe in peopleâs goodness.
I notice when I do this, I experience more positive experiences and have better relationships.
I also notice that when I believe the worst in others, I treat them in this way and surprise, surprise â they respond in kind.
The ability to choose is an important one.
If you can learn to work through your negative experiences, you have a powerful opportunity to make a positive impact on yourself and others.
And, this is a good thing.
Often, people who hurt or anger you are doing it in ignorance.
Your job is to distinguish the difference between your own triggers and whether their behaviour is actually inappropriate and below the line. In the case of inappropriate behaviour, you would need to decide how you will deal with it.
For more on this, check out this article: 2 Surprising Secrets for Dealing with Difficult People
By being able to see the situation from a number of different perspectives, you can start to forgive yourself and the other person and let go of the negativity in the situation.
âWhat really matters to me in this situation?â
âWhat is really going on here â for me and for them?â
By learning to see the good in others, you let goodness into your life.
Question Number Six:
The number one habit my late mother taught me tenderly and well was the act of regularly forgiving and letting the pricks and prods of other’s who hurt us inflict – go.
When someone has hurt or angered you, it is very hard to see the good in them.
However, holding onto your negativity towards them is having a greater negative effect on YOU than on THEM.
You know this is true because you hold onto the feeling: like a wobbly tooth, your attention keeps coming back to the situation, replaying it over and over again in your mind.
When you do this, you are flooding your body with cortisol and nasty chemicals that activate your âthreatâ response and keep you in a heightened state of indignation and righteousness that you have been wronged.
The work in the field of neuroscience gives us insight into the chemical reaction of hanging onto negative emotions:
When we hold onto negative feelings and thoughts, we release cortisol at level 2 and 3 – creating inflammation in our bodies. And, this inflammation is being found to affect us right down to the cellular level where it causes our very dna to fold back onto itself.
This paves the way for serious diseases like heart disease, cancers, alzheimer’s to potentially take a hold. For more information, check out Dr Caroline Leaf who talks about this extensively.
Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting the event or the intent behind these. It simply means you are letting go of the negative emotions that are holding you back from moving forward in your life’s journey.
Rather than staying in this state, itâs important to self-calm and step back from the situation.
One of the best ways to do this is by using the ACT method:
A = Action
Get rid of the negative emotions in your body by doing a quick run around the block, 30 seconds of âstaying in one placeâ running, a brisk walk around the block.
C = Calm
Once you have gotten rid of the initial flow of negative chemicals in your body, the next step is to calm yourself.
You can do this by simply breathing in and out for a minute or two. This will slow your mind down to the present and you will feel calmer.
T = Think
The last step once you have calmed yourself is to engage your rational brain in objectively looking at your situation from a number of perspectives.
What situations are holding you back right now?
What do you need to let go of today?
What can I do to help myself see this from a different, more positive perspective
For more on how to calm yourself and work through difficult situations, see: 12 Ways to Beat Stress and Anxiety
Question Number Seven:
Our relationships are arguably our most precious asset.
Everyday we interact with others. We influence each other either positively or negatively depending on how we view them or ourselves.
I would contend that we need to figure out what really matters to each one of us because at the end of the day, when we go home, the people in our lives who really count can be found there.
What often happens is that we bring our best selves to work: our best intentions to make a difference and get work done so that we can pay the bills and enjoy achieving the bigger goals we set ourselves.
And, then when we have worked hard all day to engage positively with others, tried to stay above the line with difficult colleagues and bosses, get the most important priorities on our to-do lists completed, forgotten to eat lunch because we were asked to attend an important meeting – sometimes we can take our worst selves home.
It’s often unconscious and unintentional.
Our ability to self-regulate and keep it together is a limited resource. Once it is finished, we have little ability to regain it without sleep and rest.
So, after a hard day at work, you may go home to a family who want what you cannot give. A cuddle and a talk that you have no ability to stay present for. At least not for the first 30 minutes or so of arriving home!
And, often we bring in a whole lot of unwanted baggage from the day that we have not yet worked through – and this can be really destructive!
If we can build in time throughout our working day to build in some self-care, we can build our ability to pace ourselves and have a little of extra love and attention in our tank to take home to our most important relationships.
A lovely question I like to ask myself when I am having a busy day is, “What is the best thing I could do for myself right now?” – whether it’s a cup of much needed tea or a healthy bite to eat, a visit to the toilet or a quick stretch, there is a lot we could do to keep ourselves in good condition.
And, then when we leave in the evening, we could take 5 minutes to review our day before heading on home.
This could include the following questions:
- What has really worked for me today?
- What could I do differently tomorrow?
- What have I really enjoyed about today?
- What 3 priorities do I want to get knocked off tomorrow to feel I have achieved a good day?
This way, when we start the car, get off the bus or train and arrive home, we can give our full attention to those who deserve our love and kindness the most.
Question Number Eight:
We were made to move.
Some interesting facts:
- Humans are built to stand upright. Our heart and cardiovascular system work more effectively this way.
The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall â and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action. (source: James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D)
- Physical inactivity contributes to over three million preventable deaths worldwide each year (thatâs 6 per cent of all deaths). (source: Australian Department of Health)
It is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases.
It is also the cause of 21â25 per cent of breast and colon cancers, 27 per cent of diabetes cases, and around 30 per cent of ischaemic heart disease. In fact, physical inactivity is the second highest cause of cancer in Australia, behind tobacco smoking.
The Benefits of Moderate Exercise
(source: The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal)
High levels of moderate intensity physical activity which equates to roughly 60â75 minutes per day seem to eliminate the increased risk of death associated with high sitting time.
These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work.
What is very interesting is that this high level of moderate exercise reduces, but does not eliminate the increased risk associated with high TV-viewing time. Watching TV for 3 hours or more per day was associated with increased mortality regardless of physical activity.
Three Quick Ideas to Get You Moving More
The solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever you have the chance or think about ways to walk while you work.
- Stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch.
- If you work at a desk for long periods of time, try a standing desk â or improvise with a high table or counter.
- Walk laps with your colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room for meetings.
Question Number Nine:
Research conducted by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, described in the journal Science says that we spend 46.9 percent of our waking hours thinking about something other than what weâre doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes us unhappy.
âA human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,â Killingsworth and Gilbert write. âThe ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.â
Why is this and what can we do about it?
Put simply, when we mind wander, we typically go to either:
- the past – where we may often find regret and sadness
- the future – where we often worry and get anxious about the uncertainty of what is to come
Both the past and the future are unhappy places for the reason that we cannot undo (the past) or exercise a lot of control over the future.
In fact, the present is actually the one place where we can find solace, happiness and peace. The reason for this is, is because we can exercise the greatest degree of control in the present.
We do this by using our thoughts and emotions to become more conscious in making decisions that help move us towards what we say we want.
It’s ironic that we spend so little time here because the present is a real gift.
Some ideas on how to spend more time being present:
- Take some time out today to be present with a work colleague when they ask for your input
- Make an effort when you get home to spend a few minutes with loved ones, reconnecting in a meaningful way
- Set aside 2-3 minutes in your day to be quiet
- Recognise 5 reasons to be grateful
Question Number Ten:
Goals create a sense of purpose in our lives and have a number of critical benefits:
- They help us to prioritise
- They help us manage our time effectively
- They help us learn the value of “no” when working with others whose priorities don’t align with ours
- They give our lives a sense of purpose and meaning
- When we achieve them, we develop inner confidence and new skill-sets that set us apart
Studies show us that only 5% of us actually achieve the goals we set.
Why is this?
Most people don’t know how to set meaningful goals that their brain and emotions buy-into. And, this is one of the main reasons why when it gets minimally hard to stick to the “routine” needed to achieve the goal, we give up.
The brain and emotions link is very powerful.
Neuroscience explains that the brain works off of patterning or routines. The reason for this is because although our brain only makes up 2% of our total body physiology, it consumes 25% or more of our energy resources.
So, cleverly our brain uses routines to drive our behaviour to conserve our energy. In large part, this explains why after we get so excited about our goals initially, our brain coaxes us into believing that the amount of work involved in achieving the goal will be just”too much.”
The motivational chemicals that get released when we think up the goal dissipate after a few days. And, in most instances, we give up. Telling ourselves that it is just too hard to achieve the goal.
The field of Emotional Intelligence shows us that our emotions and thoughts drive our decisions. Our decisions drive our behaviours. Our behaviours drive our outcomes or performance – whether we ultimately achieve our goals or not.
Super smart people understand themselves. They know what moves them and what makes them go after their goals. They also know how to set and stick to their goals to achieve success.
How to set Effective Goals
- Identify your dreams and passions
- Write them down
- Consider and write down:
- Why they are important to you
- Who closest to you will benefit from you achieving them
- Break down your goals into bite-size, achievable “chunks” – including timelines
- Consider how you will measure and track them (include numbers and dates)
- Read out your goal daily to yourself – out loud as well as internally. Reinforce their importance and meaning to you
- Celebrate each achievement towards your goal
Question Number Eleven:
Do you manage your network appropriately?
Most people I work with don’t even know who is in their network until they start to write it down for themselves. And, they are often surprised by how many people they connect with.
But, the real problem is that we don’t consciously think about our networks and how they can help us achieve our goals. We underestimate their importance.
A super smart lady I met earlier this year, Jo Burston understands intimately the importance of having the right people in place. She makes sure she creates partnerships that deliver win-win results for both parties.
Jo is a super-savvy entrepreneur who runs Job Capital, a fast-growing payroll services, migration, salary packaging and contract-management business which makes Jo money while she sleeps and has put her as one of Australiaâs top 50 entrepreneurs for the last five years. Job Capital’s revenue in 2012 was $40 million and her big goal is to reach $100 million.
She is also the founder of the entrepreneurial movement Inspiring Rare Birds, which works to promote opportunity for women in entrepreneurship. And, her vision here is just as big and audacious: âI want to see 1 million more women entrepreneurs within the next 10 years, globally.”
Jo’s 3-Steps to Successful Partnerships
Relationships are the lifeblood of any success you achieve. To start with, make sure you strategically and intentionally build your network with those you aspire to be. This needs to be an authentic process. Over time this network will lead to potential partnerships and relationships that can leverage your capabilities and skills in a way you can never do on your own.
Specifically, Jo suggests a 3-step process to determine the value of a partnership.
First up she asks the question, “What do I have to offer?“
Once she has listed down all the specific detail of the first question, she moves onto the second step. Here she asks 2 more questions:
“What do you have that I want?“ and
“What do you need from me?“
The third step is thinking about, “How can I connect with this person?“
Jo looks to her network to help her answer this question as she knows that someone in her network has the ability to link her up. This is how she got to be invited to Necker Island where she met Richard Branson, and pitched her Inspiring Rare Birds vision to him. And this is how Rare Birds got its global and highly successful start from an internationally recognised entrepreneur who believes in those who back themselves.
Talk about leveraging the right people in your network to make things happen!
Question Number Twelve:
Whatever your belief system is, no one can deny their spirituality.
To be truly aware and awake, we need to tap into the core of who we are, spiritually.
Man is made up of physical material, the body, that can be seen and touched. But he is also made up of immaterial aspects, which are intangible – this includes the soul, spirit, intellect, will, emotions, conscience, and so forth. These immaterial characteristics exist beyond the physical lifespan of the human body and are therefore eternal.
Super smart people take time out to nurture their spirit because they understand that this is the essential part of who they are. It is their direct link to God.
4 Ways to Nurture Your Spirit
- Learn to accept yourself – you are beautifully and wonderfully made and perfect just as you are!
- Let go of negativity, hardness of heart, pain and hurt – these emotions cause you much more damage at not only a emotional but also at a cellular level. Holding onto negativity will make you sick!
- Forgive yourself and others – learning to let go and forgive yourself and others releases good emotions that build your immunity, your self-confidence and enhances your relationships. When forgive yourself and others, you tap into your ability to be truly authentic, with no blocks or barriers in the way for others to see the “real” you.
- Choose to see the good in yourself and others - Philippians 4:8 says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” I love this verse because it highlights how clever our God is in having made us – at a neuroscience level, we know that focusing on positive emotions and thoughts allows us to tap into the prefrontal cortex, the genius part of our brain. This is where our best ideas come from and how we access the state of “flow.” We are all geniuses when we choose to focus on good, healthy thoughts.
By taking time out regularly for ourselves and learning to ask ourselves the right questions on a consistent basis, we set ourselves up for success.
We know that super smart people do this and reap the benefits.
- Which of these 12 questions resonated with you?
- What questions do you ask yourself regularly to keep you âhonestâ and on track?
- Drop me a line and let me know in the comments section below
Until next time, I will
See you at the top!
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