The Space Between

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Years ago, I chased the dream of making the US Olympic Track & Field team in the 3000 meter steeplechase. One warm April evening in Southern California, the night before an important race, I was reading a book that a favorite college professor had recommended – Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.

My eyes fell upon a single paragraph that was so compelling, so astounding, so memorable that it has profoundly influenced the rest of my life.  That paragraph conveyed a profound idea.

“Between Stimulus and response there is a space.   In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.  In our responselies our growth and our happiness.”

I was overwhelmed by that idea. It meant that I was not bound by my upbringing, my current habits or my future circumstances. It meant that I always have the power of choice – no matter what.

I was alone, in a hotel room, but I wanted to find someone to share it with.  I reflected on it again and again, bathing in the joyful freedom of it.  The more I pondered over it, the more I realized that I could choose responses that would even affect the stimulus itself.  I could become a causative force of nature in my own right.

My commitment to live in alignment with this powerful principle has been challenged many times – especially last week.

My 16-year-old son Jacob is a cross-country state champion.  I was running a difficult 1000 meter repeat workout with him.  The kid is fast!  It was all I could do to run every other interval with him. I struggled at the edge of my pain threshold. I was running much faster than my fitness level should permit.

Near the end of the second to last interval, I noticed that Jacob’s running form was beginning to suffer.  In his fatigue, he was forcing it, tightening up, over striding. Through gasping breaths, I reminded him, “stay loose – don’t muscle it – use your arms more – shorten your stride.” In the midst of my wise admonitions, he growled, “Will you just shut up?”

My first inclination was to react in anger.  Here I was busting my hump – risking heart attack – trying to help my ungrateful son through a very difficult and important workout.  How could he show such disrespect and ingratitude!

I felt like dropping back and walking off. Then I remembered my freedom to choose and resolved to lengthen the space between his stimulus – and my response.

Instead of lashing back at my son, or walking off leaving him to struggle on alone, I continued to run with him, offering an occasional cheerful encouragement.

200 meters later he said, “Sorry Dad.”  During the 90 second rest before the start of our last interval, he tried to explain his reaction.  I put my arm around him.  “No worries, bro. We’ll work together and finish strong.”

After the workout, Jacob was still contrite.  He again apologized for his retort and asked for my ideas about handling fatigue as he runs deeper into his workouts.  On our cool-down, we had a great discussion – not only about the biomechanics of efficient running, but also how we have power to call the shots in our running and how we run our lives. Because I chose to act constructively instead of reacting destructively, the warmth and closeness of our relationship was restored and even strengthened.

It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and say things we will regret. What we need is a pause button. And we have one. A wonderful little mechanism located somewhere near the heart.  It helps us pause between what happens to us and our reaction to it – and gives us time to choose a better response.

Therein lies our freedom and our happiness.

Who Gains Most?

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/vol-9-who-gains-most.mp3]

In the transaction of service, who gains the most, the server – or the served? The answer is mathematically obvious. I have two of something and you have none. I serve you by giving you one of mine. It looks to me like I am down by one. I serve you – and lose in the process. Right? It’s simple math.

When I was a small boy, we lived on a farm in Layton, Utah. The Stimpsons were our neighbors. They were an elderly couple who were not very well off. We didn’t have much money either, but we had a large garden and plenty of food. We took to leaving fruit and vegetables, fresh baked bread, etc. on the Stimpson’s doorstep at night. They never found out who made these nocturnal deliveries. My mother wanted it that way. She always said, “To do good – feels good,” and to serve anonymously feels even better.

When I was perhaps six years old, I made my first solo delivery. While Mom waited around the corner in our old station wagon, I nervously placed the basket of food on the door step, jumped off the porch and ran for cover. I was hiding behind an old overgrown shrub in the front yard when Mrs. Stimpson finally creaked open the door.

She looked around bewildered – no one was there. Then she spotted the care package. She stooped over, picked it up and held it like a precious treasure as she peered out into the darkness. In a voice quivering with emotion, she said, “Thank you. Thank you, whoever you are.”

Suddenly I felt it. Welling up inside me from wherever it came from, was a warm wonderful feeling I had never felt before. After Mrs. Stimson closed the door, I dashed to the car and jumped in.

“Momma, what’s happening to me? I feel like God’s inside.”

That’s when my mother taught me this wonderful mathematical law of the universe. What we give away from our hearts returns to us multiplied. That’s real math – that’s real magic.

Relatively Happy

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/vol-8-relatively-happy-1-09.mp3]

You may think your attentive spouse, your loving children and good friends are affecting your happiness.  But what if there is some deeper magic at work in your life?

According to a new study published last month in the British Medical Journal, the people they are connected with make you happy as well.  The study proposes that happiness is transmitted through social networks, almost like a germ is spread through personal contact.

 

James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego explored how social ties influence our moods and our sense of well-being.  The primary finding: People who are surrounded by happy people are more likely to be happy themselves.  In addition, the people surrounding the people we know make a difference too!

 

Imagine several pebbles thrown into a pond, sending ripples outward. Each pebble represents a happy person and the waves are the impact of that person’s mood on others. This affective impact extends through several degrees of separation, to the friends of a friend of a person’s friends.

 

The study found that happy people form clusters and the happiest people are those most centrally located in the clusters.

 

According to the new study, your probability of being happy rises over 15% if a friend or family member is happy, 9.8% if friends of your friend or family member are happy, and 5.6% if friends of the friends of your friend or family member are happy.

 

Of course, the researchers stress personal factors such as self-esteem, job satisfaction, rewarding hobbies, stress level and marital quality also affect happiness. 

 

Bottom line: Want to be happy?  Make others happy.  How to make others happy?  Be happy.

 

Notice: Reading is not the only option.  Click the link above and I’ll read this to you.  Great fun!

Joy – Right Now

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/vol-7-joy-right-now1.mp3]

What if, along with our next fast food order, we could super-size an extra helping of joy?

I hope that, during the holidays, you have experienced joy in greater measure; some special moments with your loved ones, a little time alone to reflect on a year well lived, the exhilaration of hope for an even better year ahead…

…but, now that we have left the bright, warm, red and green of the holidays and stepped into the bleak cold of January, has your sense of joy dropped? If so, why? Are post-Christmas blues based on reality or perception?

Sarah Breathnach suggests that “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities… When we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [joy]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”

Illusion is a wasteland. It negates so much potential beauty and joy. Consider the admonition of the Roman philosopher, Horace, “Whatever hour God has blessed you with, take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.”

Have a magical year!

Interfere for Good

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/vol-6-interfer-for-good-12-16-08.mp3]

A subtle but powerful message nestles among the pages of Charles Dickens’s classic tale, “A Christmas Carol” – a message that most readers miss.

 The ghost, Jacob Marley, brings Ebenezer Scrooge to the window and shows him a sobering sight: “The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither…  Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s… The air was filled with lamentation and regret…”

Were they miserable because they had been “sinners” in mortality and now must carry burdens of guilt and chains of selfishness forever?  Surprisingly, no.  Dickens says, “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.”

 

They were doomed to wander to and fro witnessing the pain and sadness in the world that they could have done something about when they were mortal; but now, since they were ghosts, without physical substance, they were powerless to alleviate the suffering they witnessed… 

 

…at least that is what they believed; but, through his skillfully crafted story, Dickens suggests a deeper message.

 

The spirits weren’t powerless, they only thought they were.  Jacob Marley unwittingly proved them wrong.  He was so focused on helping his self-centered and deeply sad partner, that he broke through his own limiting beliefs in his powerlessness and released Scrooge from his prison of greed and selfishness.  Without fully realizing what he had done, Jacob Marley blessed both their lives – and the lives of all whom Scrooge served from that day forth.

 

What then held powerless the other spirits that wandered mournfully through the night?  Ghostly chains – chains without substance – that is all.  It was only their belief that they could do nothing that held them back.  After all, weren’t the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future also spirits?  And didn’t they – like Marley – interfere for good in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge? 

 

As it was with them, so it is with us. Whether spirit or mortal, we are more powerful than we realize. “God bless(es) us every one” with opportunities to interfere for good. We are limited only by our belief that our opportunities are limited.

 

Now, you might be broke as broke can be; but, is there someone who needs a smile or an encouraging word?  Is there someone you haven’t thanked recently for how they bless your life?  Have you felt impressed to pause in your busy day and do some act of kindness that you really don’t have time to do?  Where does that impression come from?  Perhaps it comes from a wandering phantom who is finally breaking the ghostly chains of self-limiting beliefs and is interfering for good – through you. 

 

Let us “honor Christmas in our hearts and try to keep it all the year” always seeking opportunities to interfere for good.

 

———————–

 

One of my best friends, my editor and coach, Tom Cantrell contributed this piece. He says it is my Christmas present.  Thanks for sharing Tom, and - “God bless us, every one.”

Wag More

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.com/dev/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/vol-5-12-08-wag-more.mp3]

I was in Phoenix last week attending the National Speakers Association Fall Conference. My son Jacob was competing in the prestigious Nike Cross-Country Invitational just a few miles away from my hotel.

I ducked out of the conference for a few minutes so I could watch him run. (Oh, how I love watching that kid run!) On my way to his race, I stopped at a traffic light. I noticed a bumper sticker on a cream colored Cooper Convertible waiting ahead of me.

I looked – and looked again; then I got it. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe it is that simple.

It read:

Wag More – Bark Less

Daily Dose

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/daily-dose-vol-4-11-08.mp3]

Right out of nowhere, my 8-year-old son Garrett asked me,

“Dad, why are there more bad things happening in the world than good things?”

“Why do you think that?”

“Well, every time I hear you watching the news it sounds like just all bad things are happening.”

I sat for a moment in silence. I thought about the negatively-slanted-media-bombarded world we live in. We all are getting our dim, dismal, daily dose of disaster, aren’t we?

What to do? Stop reading the paper? Stop watching the news, looking at the evening stock reports? Perhaps, but is there an alternative to living uniformed and ignorant? I believe there is. If our daily dose is our problem, could it also be our solution?

What if we developed a habit of injecting a little mental magic, some positive perception, some spiritual oomph into each day? We wouldn’t let a day pass without feeding our bellies, shouldn’t we also endeavor to daily feed our personal development, program our minds with possibilities, buoy up our hearts with optimism?

Grab a book, listen to a positive pod cast, watch a hilarious YouTube bit, phone an optimistic friend, subscribe to an uplifting blog. Develop a habit of getting your daily dose of power and possibility, brightness, hope and anticipation. Give yourself the gift that inoculates you from the setbacks and worries of our daily disasters. With that positive daily dose of energy and optimism, life will just get better and better and better.

“Hey, good job, Dad! Now can we go watch that cool Nova science program?”

Stop Doing List

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/stop_doing_list.mp3]

Have you ever written a To Do List? It is no secret that a To Do List is an effective tool for increasing focus and productivity. Some are so obsessive about this, if they accomplish a task that isn’t on their list, they write it down so they can enjoy the satisfaction of checking it off!

How about an idea not so well known? This idea can also have a dramatic effect on how we live and what we accomplish. Business author, Joe Calloway, suggests that along with our To Do List, we should create a To Stop Doing List.

This is a list of things to stop doing; things to stop wasting our time and attention on; things to give up; things to let go of. This list may include grudges we are holding onto, a general attitude of negativity, poor habits, things we do or think or feel, that steal our time and energy. As Joe Calloway said, “…things to stop doing.”

Things to stop doing? Does this sound negative? A photographer friend of mine told me wryly, “Brad, sometimes you need a good clear negative to get a positive picture.”

Anything is a Blessing

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/anything_is_a_blessing.mp3]

We were preparing the third edition of my book Beyond Illusions for publication when I received a call from my editor. “Brad,” Tom said excitedly. “I just gave a couple bucks to a fellow sitting on the sidewalk asking for handouts. Brad, he’s got a handwritten sign that reads, ‘Anything is a Blessing.’ How cool is that? That’s precisely the point we make in your book.”

Now clearly the man meant that any contribution, no matter how small, anything at all, would be a blessing. He obviously didn’t mean that being down on your luck – especially being homeless – is a blessing; but is it – or could it be?

This man who had apparently been humbled by life to the point of begging was more right than he realized.

Anything is a blessing – anything at all – illness, accident, injury, bad luck – even homelessness – is a blessing, or could be, depending on how we look at it, respond to it, learn from it, and grow from it. (It is said of Christopher Reeves that “Superman” accomplished more in this world after his paralyzing accident than he ever did before.)

Okay, maybe you don’t want to call that really tough situation you are in right now a blessing. I understand. I probably wouldn’t call it a blessing either. How about calling it a challenge? Maybe a test? Hey, how about calling it an opportunity? That works for me; after all, what are opportunities if they aren’t blessings?
The point is, most anything could be, in fact, a blessing – depending on your perception and your perspective.

On second thought, maybe I do that homeless fellow a disservice. Maybe he meant exactly what he said, “Anything is a Blessing.” He was alive. He knew that humanity cared enough to help him out. Even with all the suspicion and distrust directed at beggars and strangers, he knew that there were enough people out there who would take care of him.

Maybe he really didn’t need their money at all.

Maybe he wasn’t homeless.

Maybe he was a messenger.

Justified or Justafraid?

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[audio http://bradbartonspeaks.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/justified_or_justafraid.mp3]

Ever found yourself failing to do something you really want to do because – you were afraid? I sure have. What were we afraid of? Was that real or just an illusion? Were we justified or just afraid?

Weeks, perhaps months ago, at one of my presentations or book signings, you signed up for my Beyond Illusions newsletter. I’ve had this newsletter project scheduled for immediate execution for – - – weeks, perhaps months.

So where is it? What happened to it? You probably thought I shredded it like the newspaper I tore up during my “torn and restored newspaper” illusion.

I wanted to write it. I could do this. I would do it. Yes, I would. I told everyone about it. Everyone loved it, (that’s why you signed up). I could just see it. I would send you a magical newsletter article or blog every week. You would write back and together we would create a wonderful interactive community.

…I didn’t do it.

What stopped me? I don’t know. It felt like a brick wall. Was that barrier real or was it just an illusion? Was I justified – or was I justafraid?

Is there an important project that you have wanted to do but haven’t? Have you been putting it off? Why? Fear? Is the thing you fear real? Are you ready to face that fear – push past that illusion and make that dream reality?

The famed western novelist Zane Grey once said, “The difficulty, the ordeal, is to start.”

So I did.

Welcome to my first installment of Beyond Illusions.

We have a lot of fun and exciting things planned and I look forward to talking to you again next week.

Until then, have a magical day!