Sample articles from Spark Plug
Adopt great metaphors
Metaphors are an extremely powerful form of communication, because they pack so much meaning into so few words. If I say that someone is “a chicken” or “a battering ram,” you know I’m not being literal, but you have an instant mental image that creates a whole range of impressions about that individual’s personality, appearance, and other qualities.
Pay careful attention to the metaphors you use to describe yourself and your circumstances. Even something as seemingly innocent as “I’m hanging in there” (a metaphor – you are not really hanging) at a subconscious level sends a message (from you to yourself) that you are desperate. Give yourself empowering metaphors and over time you will cultivate a more positive and empowered self-image.
The Spark Plug is an extraordinary metaphor. It takes a tiny shot of energy and converts it into a powerful flash – and without that flash, a car is nothing more than a very expensive paperweight.
Start picturing yourself as a Spark Plug and you’ll find that you: 1) make better use of your own limited supply of energy; and 2) become a contagiously enthusiastic spark who galvanizes family, friends, and coworkers.
The Self-Empowerment Pledge: Seven Simple Promises that Will Change Your Life
The Self-Empowerment Pledge is a powerful tool for transforming your attitudes and behaviors. Simply repeat each daily promise to yourself at least four times a day – morning, afternoon, evening, and right before bed. Post a copy on the bathroom mirror, in your daily planner, and wherever else you will see it often. You will be astonished at the changes you see in your thinking, in your attitudes, and in your behaviors after the first few months.
Commit yourself to one minute per day repeating to yourself that day’s promise from The Self-Empowerment Pledge. Devoting yourself to a mere fifteen seconds every morning, noon, afternoon, and evening to repeat that day’s promise can be profoundly life-changing. That’s only 365 minutes a year (the amount of time the average person spends watching television every two or three days). The return on your investment will be enormous!
Think of a rocket ship that’s been launched toward the moon. If you alter its course by just one tiny degree as it is coming off the launch pad, it will miss the moon altogether and end up in the stars. In the same way, small changes made as a result of taking the seven simple promises of The Self-Empowerment Pledge, if they are sustained over time, can have a huge impact upon your future success and happiness.
Five or ten years from now, you will be in a much different place – professionally, personally, financially, and in many other ways – than you would have been otherwise. And that’s my guarantee, backed up by shared experiences with thousands of people who have changed their lives by taking The Pledge.
THE SELF-EMPOWERMENT PLEDGE
Seven Simple Promises That Will Change Your Life
Monday’s Promise: Responsibility
I will take complete responsibility for my health, my happiness, my success, and my life, and will not blame others for my problems or predicaments.
Tuesday’s Promise: Accountability
I will not allow low self-esteem, self-limiting beliefs, or the negativity of others to prevent me from achieving my authentic goals and from becoming the person I am meant to be.
Wednesday’s Promise: Determination
I will do the things I’m afraid to do, but which I know should be done. Sometimes this will mean asking for help to do that which I cannot do by myself.
Thursday’s Promise: Contribution
I will earn the help I need in advance by helping other people now, and repay the help I receive by serving others later.
Friday’s Promise: Resilience
I will face rejection and failure with courage, awareness, and perseverance, making these experiences the platform for future acceptance and success.
Saturday’s Promise: Perspective
I will have faith that, though I might not understand why adversity happens, by my conscious choice I can find strength, compassion, and grace through my trials.
Sunday’s Promise: Faith
My faith and my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with will shine through in my attitudes and in my actions.
Design your character, then build it
At the beginning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee was a simple gardener. When Gandalf told him he would go with Frodo on the Quest, he was as happy as a puppy about to be taken for a walk. However, it quickly became evident that this would not be a summer lark. Sam, Frodo and the other hobbits were pursued by the ominous Black Riders, and warned of even greater perils by the elves they met several days into their journey. When Frodo asked Sam if he still wanted to come along, Sam replied that he could somehow see ahead down a dark and perilous path, but that there was a mission he was bound to fulfill. He would not turn back until it had been accomplished.
In a letter to his son, Tolkien said that he had been impressed by the degree to which a person could consciously design and then develop character in a desired direction. The four hobbits who left the Shire with the Ring, each in his own way, consciously molded their characters to become more than what they were. The Twelve Core Action Values presented in Spark Plug can serve you as a framework for consciously molding your character in accordance with your image of the ideal, meant-to-be-you.
Thank God ahead of time for your troubles
Thank God Ahead of Time is the title of a book by Father Michael Crosby (which I have mentioned in previous Modules), but it is also a great philosophy for life. This can actually be helpful in two ways. First, even the most tragic adversity usually brings some benefit in its wake (think about what people say two years after having lost a job and they will say that “it was the best thing that ever happened!”). This can apply to something even as devastating as a diagnosis of cancer. While nobody is glad to have the disease, many people have found blessings in it. Essentially, it boils down to the choice of being a victim, or accepting the circumstance and then looking for the blessing within. Quite often, when you begin looking for the silver lining in the black cloud, what you often find is a silver cloud that has a black lining.
The second way this philosophy is helpful is being grateful for future blessings that have not yet arrived. For the alcoholic who is trying to gain sobriety, the parent struggling though the terrible two’s or the terrible teens, or the entrepreneur starting a new business, Thank God Ahead of Time can provide a measure of strength and courage for dealing with the problems of today, knowing that blessings will come tomorrow.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – The Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr
Write your resume for 2008
If you make up things on your resume past jobs, it’s called fraud. But if you make up things on your resume in the future, it’s called dreaming. For the career-oriented person, making up a future resume can be a powerful planning technique. But don’t just focus on job titles – the bold print headings. Rather, concentrate on the small print underneath those headings – responsibilities and accomplishments. What would you like to be able to (legitimately) add on your resume for 2008?
Here’s a key point: no matter how good you are, it’s not likely to be the things you do within the boundaries of your job description that will set you apart. Rather, it’s going to be your projects, over and above the basics of the job description. As Tom Peters puts it, “you are your projects.”
Over the next month or so, think strategically about where you want to be in three or four years. What do you want your resume to say about where you’ve been and what you’ve done during the years 2005-to-2008? What projects can you see yourself getting involved in that will help you begin to create that resume? See your job description as a floor from which to launch your projects, not as a ceiling that limits the scope of what you are able to do.
Inoculate your team against Dilbert Disease
One of the most popular cartoon strips in recent years is Dilbert by Scott Adams. Dilbert is funny, in no small part because it accurately portrays some of the more absurd elements of life in the cubicles of corporate America.
Unfortunately, many of those who laugh loudest at the idiotic pointy-haired boss fail to see in themselves the symptoms of what I call Dilbert Disease, the neurotic condition of simultaneously disliking a job and fearing the loss of that job. We all have a responsibility to prevent the cynicism, pessimism, and negativity that underlie Dilbert Disease.
Get people out of their box
“There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.” William J. Bennett: The Book of Virtues
Several weeks ago, I conducted a leadership retreat on The Twelve Core Action Values for the team at Shands at AGH in Gainesville, Florida. Spark Plug PLUS member Debbie Charlton was instrumental in arranging the event, and kicked it off with a wonderfully unique icebreaker exercise. She asked everyone to draw a logo that said something important about them.
Because people had not prepared for the exercise, their responses were spontaneous – and being spontaneous, they were genuine. Logos tended to center on personal joys, not professional goals. Debbie paired everyone up, and each person was to introduce their partner and explain his or her logo. They spoke of children and favorite pets, of their love for nature and the sea, of the joy of riding a motorcycle on a sunny afternoon. Even long-time acquaintances learned new things about each other.
Here’s a suggestion for you: if you really want to learn about someone (to get at their “logo”), replace the standard “what do you do?” icebreaker question with this one: “what do you like to do?” Then, give the other person time to think before answering, because it might be the first time in quite a while anyone has asked them to think about the question.
“Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.” Gordon Parks
Do a 360-degree assessment of yourself
It takes courage to see yourself as others see you, but the reward is usually well worth the risk. One way of doing this is by asking family members, friends, and co-workers to share their impressions with you. Give them a questionnaire form and stamped envelope addressed to you, and ask them to anonymously answer questions like these:
- What do you think are my greatest strengths?
- What do you see me doing when I’m at my happiest?
- What is the most important change I need to make in myself?
- What do you think would be my ideal job?
- What is the most important contribution you think I can make?
Put some thought into other questions you would want people to answer. Then pay careful attention to their responses; you’ll be amazed at the insights people have that up until now might have eluded you. When I personally did this a number of years ago, it turned out that my friends and coworkers had a much better idea of what my strengths were, and of the work I was ideally suited for, than I did myself. You will also find that not only are people generally not reluctant to help you with this, they are flattered that you thought to ask them.
See the world as it really is
In the years following World War I, the French looked out through traumatized eyes, saw the world as it used to be, and built the Maginot Line to defend themselves against a repeat of the last war. They saw the world as they feared it might become, and imposed harsh reprisals upon the Germans to prevent them from ever again having the military capacity to wage war on France. And they saw the world as they wished it were, which seduced them into backing down when Hitler re-militarized the Rhineland while simultaneously failing to prepare themselves for the consequences of a German military resurgence. This history of self-delusion made the French armies a quick victim for German blitzkrieg when it finally came.
Detroit automakers fell victim to self-delusion in much the same way during the seventies, when they downplayed the threat of the Japanese automobile invasion, and convinced themselves that Americans would never go for anything that was “made in Japan.” Their failure to accurately perceive and understand the nature of auto-world reality cost billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. To be objective means to avoid selective filtering of facts, self-deception, group-think, and other causes of self-delusion.
One of the keys of being a mature adult is to see the world as it really is – not as it used to be, as you wish it were, or as you fear it might become. Here are seven steps that can help you be more accurate in your observations, and more objective in your interpretations:
Step one is accepting the facts as they really are, not as they used to be or as you wish they were; had western politicians taken this step during the 1930’s, much of the Nazi horror might have been avoided.
Step two is to critically examine every opportunity; something that seems to be too good to be true, such as the promises Hitler made at the Munich “peace” conference, may turn out to be a Trojan horse.
Step three is to be alert for “groupthink.” If everyone on the team agrees on something (as did just about everyone in the western world except Winston Churchill on the subject of Hitler’s aggression in the late 1930s), there’s a strong chance that the group consensus is not terribly accurate or objective.
Step four is to understand that your greatest weakness lies in close proximity to your greatest strength, as was shown in the case of an all-powerful American military machine that was able to crush the Germans and Japanese, but only a few years later was stuck in the mud in Korea and Vietnam, in many respects victim to its own power.
Step five is to, in the words of George Washington, consult your means rather than your wishes. There will be painful trade-offs between guns and butter in every business, in every household. Our nation paid a serious price for LBJ’s determination to wage war in Vietnam and simultaneously maintain his big government spending ways on the home front.
Step six is to stay alert in the fog of war; the reality of any situation is probably never as bad or as good as you think it is. At the time, the “miracle of Dunkirk” looked more like the last gasp of the British Empire. Had England’s leadership acted upon that perception, England might have negotiated a separate “peace” with Hitler rather than stand alone in the fight.
Step seven is to understand that there are no neutrals in the battlefield of life. The naiveté that allowed the French to assume Hitler would not invade neutral Belgium lulled them into relying on the Maginot Line, giving them the illusion of protection. At the personal level, if you have a good job or a good business, it’s a fair assumption that there is someone out there who would just love to take it away from you. It’s your duty to prevent that from happening.
“An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of ‘self-betrayal. When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal. When I see a self-justifying world, my view of reality becomes distorted.”
The Arbinger Institute: Leadership and Self-Deception
It takes courage to concentrate
The late Wilson Harrell, an entrepreneur and columnist for Success magazine, said that entrepreneurs were above fear. They graduated to sheer terror!
In marketing circles, experts speak of “the rule of seven,” by which they mean that if you want to persuade a potential customer to even consider your product or service, you must somehow connect with that person at least seven times just to break through the clutter. I used to understand that at a conceptual level. Now that I have personally experienced the angst of having sent out a fifth consecutive mailing with absolutely zero-point-zero response, I understand at a deep-gut level the courage required to find a way to make the sixth and seventh contacts, knowing that I might be wasting even more time and money, but that the alternative would be to start all over again at square one with a new target market.
One reason that concentration is so difficult for people is that it also requires commitment. Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. If, in the marketing example, you say “yes” seven times to approaching a certain target market, that means that you have to say “no” to something else those same seven times. If you are saying yes to something that is big and audacious, you will implicitly be saying “no” to a lot of other possible uses of your time and money.
In my book Never Fear, Never Quit I remarked that the difference between courageous and crazy is often evident only in retrospect. Guerilla marketing guru Jay Conrad Levinson tells entrepreneurs that while they are working to establish a position in their targeted market, everyone – their spouses, their parents, their neighbors, their banker – will think they are nuts to keep pounding on the closed door. It takes great courage to keep pounding anyway – especially when you are beginning to think that perhaps all those people just might be right J .
“To concentrate takes guts. Concentration and courage are constant companions. Every time you concentrate… you’re taking a gamble.” David J. Rogers: Waging Business Warfare
Confront your fear of success
I once read an interview with a psychiatrist who works exclusively with high-level executives. The interviewer asked about the fear of success – is it possible that people would really be afraid of what we all say that we want to secure for ourselves?
The doctor replied that in his practice, that was the only thing he dealt with, and that the fear of success was the underlying cause of almost all self-sabotaging behavior. That’s why Steve Pressfield calls it “the mother of all fears” in his book on overcoming the inner resistance that stands between us and our most cherished goals.
The fear is real, and the closer you come to reaching your goal, the more serious the resistance is likely to be. This is such an important topic that I’ll be covering it in greater depth in the December edition of VCSL. But for now, here’s a recommendation to begin with: visualize yourself being successful, however your dreams define success. But do it honestly and all-out.
If your goal is to be a corporate CEO, visualize yourself handling the headaches and dealing with the challenges, not just parking your Mercedes in the top dog spot. Seeing yourself doing the job, whatever it happens to be, is the most important step in conquering the fear that will seek to prevent you from winning that job.
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator... The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Steven Pressfield: The War of Art:
Winning the Inner Creative Battle