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Aligned Thinking

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Too much to do! I never get anything done! I have so little control over my life!

These were thoughts Ray had as he headed home later for supper, confident his wife, Carol, would be sympathetic to his problem.

One sentence into unloading his problems on her, he heard, "Too much to do? Tell me about it!" Her problems were as big as or even bigger than his.

When they went to a friend for help, they discovered more than hope, "That sounds like us several years ago. But Coach Eric's Aligned Thinking not only solved those problems, it helped us to do what most people believe impossible: align every action to what we really want.

With mild hope and huge skepticism, Ray and Carol visited Coach Eric and gave him a description of their ideal professional and personal life. Coach Eric assured them that Aligned Thinking could help them enjoy each item on their list. However, when he asked them to add to their list "make every moment count so life becomes a celebration," Ray and Carol became even more skeptical.

Join Ray and Carol as they discover the proven power of Aligned Thinking.

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22 Chapters

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1. The Black Tunnel


    Too much to do! I never get everything done!

    Too many interruptions!

    Not enough time with the family!

    So little control over my life!

    Life doesnt seem to have much meaning anymore.

THESE WERE Rays thoughts as the train from Lower Manhattan tunneled to New Jersey under the Hudson River. As Ray looked out the window into the blackness, an occasional light flashed by to show him how dark the tunnel truly was.

How fitting, he thought. This is like my life. I feel like Im in a dark tunnel. My life is underwater. The infrequent flashes of light reminded him of the few lights in his life—his wife, Carol, and their two children. Unfortunately, as with the lights flashing by, he saw them for all too short a time.

What have I really accomplished today? Ray took out his organizer and reviewed the day. Hed skipped lunch and stayed late at work. He added two things hed forgotten to put on his to-do list. This made the list longer than it had been at the beginning of the day. He felt miserable.


2. An Unwelcome Surprise


AS RAY walked to his car from the train, he called Carol on his cell phone to let her know he was on his way home. She sounded a bit distracted but told him she would be very glad to see him.

Once home and settled in, Ray reviewed his frustrations and anger with Carol. He fully expected that she would listen sympathetically. With her experienced help, he would create a specific plan to solve the problems.

Ray had just started his list of frustrations when Carol interrupted.

Too much to do? Tell me about it! she fumed. He wasnt prepared for this. Instead of a supportive ear, he got an earful.

I was up with you at six, she said. As soon as the kids were off to school, I was off to work. You know I hate to have them come home before me. Even though theyre older now, its still not okay. When I got home today, they were both doing their homework, which is great. But I had to take Tammy to her music lesson, do shopping, spend time on my own paperwork, and then go back to pick her up. As if that werent enough, I needed to interrupt it to get Jamie to and from baseball.


3. Aligned Thinking Offers Hope


THAT SATURDAY evening at their favorite restaurant, Ray and Carol met Ed and Alanna for dinner. As soon as they ordered their meal, Carol—being the action-oriented person she was—related the entire situation: the frustration of too much to do, too many interruptions, and too little meaning in their lives.

Ray added, Carol astounded me. In some areas, her situation was worse than mine. We asked ourselves, Who among our friends seem to have their lives together, and how do they do it? We thought of the two of you. You seem to have some secret power wed like to know about.

Ed smiled. Thanks, guys. It wasnt always this easy. Alanna and I used to have the same feelings and problems that you do, like too much to do and too little meaning in life. Then we attended a workshop led by Coach Eric. He was our soccer coach in school, Ray. Remember?

Ray nodded. Sure. Never had a coach who was more positive and encouraging. We won a lot of championships with Coach Eric, didnt we?

Yep, said Ed. Turns out Coachs business is giving productivity seminars to Fortune 500 companies. He helps people get what they really want from life and work by guiding them to become Aligned Thinkers. Hes highly successful at it. Thanks to Coach, Alanna and I learned how to live as Aligned Thinkers.


4. Defining Your Ideal Professional and Personal Life


ON A beautiful day in early June—unusually warm after a bitter cold spring in the New York–New Jersey area—Ray and Carol drove to Coach Erics home. Ray thought that maybe their list of professional and personal ideals was too much to ask for. Even so, he had high hopes. He heard the tune June Is Busting Out All Over playing in his head and felt the warm sun of hope shining in his heart.

Coach Eric greeted Ray and Carol warmly. He invited them in for refreshments and listened as they gave him a recap of the frustrations theyd shared with Ed and Alanna.

Ed and Alanna are two of my favorite people, Coach said with a twinkle in his eye. How much did they tell you about Aligned Thinking?

Ray shared all that Ed and Alanna had told them. Then Carol added, We are very curious about this Aligned Thinking that Ed and Alanna say is the key to their happiness. And we are both skeptical that we can align every action with what we really want.

Coach smiled and said, Great! Thats a great place to be in. Let me ask you not to worry about aligning every action. Years ago, before my clients helped me discover Aligned Thinking, I never dreamed I could align every action. And at the time I was not clear about what I really wanted.


5. The Aligned Thinking Pyramid


COACH INVITED Ray and Carol to sit with him around a big oak table. When they were settled, he said, Over the years, thousands of businesspeople I coached helped me identify three Life Aligning Questions. The interesting thing is these three questions impact everyones life, whether they know it or not. Our goal has been to make it quicker, easier, and simpler: quicker to learn the Aligned Thinking tools that help answer the three questions, easier to remember the tools, and simpler to get what you really want from life.

As we agreed, it is important that you focus on just one of the questions at a time. Answering the first of these critical life-impacting questions will lead you to the next one.

Here is an illustration that shows how the three questions build, leading to the MIN Secret. The MIN Secret is the key to your living as an Aligned Thinker, 24/7.

Coach pulled out an eye-catching illustration and handed it to Ray and Carol.

MIN Secret

Ray spoke with some concern. It looks simple enough. But is it?


6. Life Aligning Question One: The Purpose Question


COACH INTERRUPTED Ray and Carols musing with, Ready for the next step?

Sure! Ray said. Carol nodded her approval.

Coach Eric continued. Listening to the things that upset you, I understand that one of the most frustrating is that life—especially your work life—doesnt seem to have much meaning anymore. Do I have that correct?

Correct! Carol responded with emphasis.

Good, Coach said. Im going to send you to Mary and Mike Hall. At one time they had so little meaning in their work lives that they were both ready to quit their jobs. Today theyre masters at living a life full of meaning. Im sure theyll be glad to share their journey with you. Could you two free your schedules to meet with them this Saturday?

Definitely! said Carol with enthusiasm.

Great! Coach responded. In Mary and Mike, you will find an exceptional example of how ordinary people can be very successful getting what they really want, in this case a very meaningful life starting with work.

Starting with work? Whats that mean? asked Ray.


7. How to Clarify Your Life Purpose


WHAT IS it, Carol? Mike asked. You look troubled.

Rays summary might be simple, but I hardly think answering the question about my life purpose—What do I really want?—is simple. It would be great if someone could come up with a simple way to answer the question.

As a matter of fact, Mike replied, Somebody has. Coach gave us a simple method to answer that question in just three steps.

How can a question like that ever be simple? asked Carol.

Most people have never written their life purpose, Mike replied, partly because it is a very challenging thing to do. Coachs three-step method makes it possible to do in just fifteen to thirty minutes. The key to his method is to just do one step at a time.

What Mary and I liked about it was the simplicity of each step taken one at a time. When we had completed the three steps, we had clarified our purpose and created a life mission that we could use daily. And we did it in priority order, which helps when there are several options, which is often the case. The first time is challenging but very interesting. After that, Coach encouraged us to return to our mission every three months to refine it. Each time we refined it, we got clearer about what we really wanted from life and work.


8. Living the Answer to the Purpose Question


RAY SAID to Mary and Mike, Coach Eric told us how important it is to implement the Aligned Thinking tools. We appreciate your sharing your insights so generously and especially value the copy of your life purpose.

You can borrow whatever you want, Mary said. We borrowed freely from Coach and some of the people who helped us.

Well do that, Carol replied. On the way home, Carol and Ray agreed that the next morning they would devote the first two hours after church to answering the purpose question.

The following summer day dawned clear and turned into a glorious Sunday. The deck was a warm, peaceful place in the late morning. As planned, Carol and Ray created their own life purposes.

Thirty minutes later they compared purposes. They discovered they had both borrowed generously from Mike and Mary, with some variations. Carol proposed, I dont think its critical that our life purposes or missions be the same. I think we should agree its okay to be different.

Ray agreed and added, I suggest with differences, we ask how we can support the other person getting what they want.


9. How to be Free in Every Action


THE PERSON you will meet tomorrow is a real master of the art of feeling free with every action in the midst of a busy, very challenging life, Coach told Ray and Carol. Eleanor Mitchell is a retired golf champion, a very successful entrepreneur, a CEO, and a single mother of two. Eleanor and her husband built their company together. He loved piloting his own plane. He died in a freak accident doing a friend a favor. Her tremendous success in her professional life has made balancing her business and personal life even more difficult. But as I said, she is a master here.

The next evening Ray and Carol made the journey to Eleanor Mitchells house. Carol was feeling a real sense of anticipation.

Im excited to meet her, she said.

As they drove up the winding drive to Eleanors home, the large Tudor house crowning the hill indicated Eleanors financial success. The sun was beginning to set behind the house, streaking the sky with lavender and brilliant red. When Eleanor greeted them at the door, her welcome was as gracious as her home was splendid.


10. Life Aligning Question Two: The Focus Question


ELEANOR SAID, I understand from Coach that both of you also feel frustrated because you never get it all done. Youre looking for better professional-personal life balance, and you want a method to bridge the gap between what you really want and your here-and-now actions. Is that right?

Thats right, said Carol. When we got married, we dreamed about spending a lot of time together. Now that we have two kids, of course, we need to spend time with them. There is always too much to do and we never get it all done. Eleanor, Im especially interested in hearing a womans point of view since you are the primary caregiver for your two children and have a career as the CEO of your own business.

Answering the purpose question—even in writing— was not an immediate solution for me. To go straight from my written life purpose to doing my next most important action seems like an impossible jump. I feel I need something in between. Plus, I get a lot of little to-dos each day. How do I fit those in when Im supposed to be focusing on my life purpose?


11. Living the Freedom Attitude and the Focus Question


THE FOLLOWING Monday morning, Carol gave herself a focus period. She took the last card Eleanor had given them and followed it to the letter. She first put all her to-dos in a new holding pen, a simple pad of paper. Then she reviewed her business and personal purposes and set her business and personal—with emphasis on the personal— priorities for the day to come. When she totaled the amount of time she guesstimated each priority would take, she was stunned.

Fourteen hours! she said out loud. No wonder Im frequently frustrated at the end of the day. I just plan too much! I can never get it all done! She thought of Eleanors be honest in the morning or frustrated in the evening principle. With difficulty, she cut her priorities down to seven hours, allowing an hour for the unexpected.

That evening she wore a smile as she drove home. She had accomplished her four priorities. She put her own spin on Eleanors principle: being honest in the morning brings satisfaction in the evening.

Rays biggest opportunity to live his newly acquired freedom attitude came on Tuesday. One of his associates was having trouble in Chicago. The problem was severe enough that it became necessary for Ray to make an unexpected trip there. When things did not go well, he had to spend the night. In the past he would have been very upset, especially because this last-minute trip had resulted in his missing Tammys summer league championship softball game. On the flight home, Ray reflected on his new freedom attitude.


12. Life Aligning Question Three: The Now Question


THE FOLLOWING Saturday evening, Carol and Ray met Prue and Woody Madson, who served them a delicious meal of leftovers from a huge party theyd had on Independence Day. After everyone had feasted on beef stroganoff and an excellent cabernet sauvignon, Prue asked, Did anyone save room for dessert?

Standing at the head of the table, Prue tempted Ray, Carol, and Woody with a Dutch apple pie. Fresh from the oven, its heavenly aroma filled the room. Its great with vanilla ice cream, she said with a wicked grin.

Woody and Ray said yes without a second thought. Carol was not so quick to decide.

I honestly dont know! She let out an exasperated sigh. That has to be the most delicious looking pie Ive ever seen. But Ive been trying to cut down on sugar.

Woody responded, Your dilemma—what to do this moment—ties right in to the third Life Aligning Question, which starts as a riddle.

Carol and Ray leaned forward slightly in their seats, focusing their full attention on Woody. Something in his tone had sounded rather mysterious, and they were eager to hear what hed say next.


13. Discovering the MIN Secret


CAROL LOOKED over Rays shoulder as he sat at Woody and Prues dining room table writing down the now question. A puzzled look appeared on her face, and it was clear there was a big question coming.

I hate to say it, but Im not so sure this is very practical. If I have to stop and think about optimizing the what, why, and how of each action before I decide what to do next, Ill go batty. Isnt there an easier way?

Very insightful! said Woody.

Surprised, Carol and Ray exchanged wondering glances.

The ability to ask the right question at the right time says you understand, explained Woody. You asked a very insightful question.

Thank you, said Carol with a surprised look on her face. Im not sure why it is very insightful.

Prue spoke up. Asking the right question at the right time can empower us or others. Our brain is like a powerful question-answering computer. Each question motivates and guides our powerful computer brain. So you can see how the purpose, focus, and now questions motivate and guide us to take more control of each action and live better lives?


14. The Cost of Aligned Thinking: Three Gifts of Time


THE FOLLOWING evening as they sat around Coach Erics big oak table, Ray and Carol were filled with questions and emotions. Ray unloaded first.

I was intrigued by Woodys saying Aligned Thinking could get rid of all interruptions forever. As if that werent unbelievable enough, he said he could do that and still do justice to his clients, colleagues, and family.

What Woody and Prue shared was terrific, very positive, Carol jumped in. When we learned the MIN Secret, it was a high. We saw its elegant simplicity. But it was such a letdown to learn we have a handle on only 30 to 40 percent of the value of Aligned Thinking.

Coach smiled. Im glad Woody and Prue did the wonderful job that I was convinced they could do. Look at it this way: Lets say the amount of wisdom you have come away with fills a hundred pages. And lets say you have 99.9 percent of what there is to be learned. How much more value can you expect when you implement the process in your lives?

With a puzzled look, Carol said, Very little.


15. Get Rid of Interruptions Forever


NOW THAT gives me a feeling of accomplishment, Ray said as he handed Coach the signed agreement. This is a milestone.

Coach smiled at Ray and said, So Woody said that you can get rid of interruptions forever. When I first started in the business, I couldn't believe that either. But I do today.

Let me help you understand the one-two punch that is the key to this. Of all the interruptions you get, Ray, which annoys you the most?

The question took no time for Ray to answer. When my boss calls and says, Ray, I have a problem. Can you come over for just a minute? That just a minute can take many hours. It happens about once a month.

Great example, Coach commented. For the moment, I want you to forget you ever heard of Aligned Thinking. Suppose Monday is an important day. You go in early. By nine o'clock you would probably have the first thing done and be moving on to the second.

Now the phone rings and your boss says those famous words—

Infamous would be better, Ray interjected.

Okay, those infamous words. Your boss says, Ray, I have a problem. Can you come over for just a minute? Of course you go. But how much is your heart really in it?


16. Why It’s Dangerous to Teach Aligned Thinking to Kids


AS THE summer continued, Ray and Carol daily discovered more ways the MIN Secret and the Aligned Thinking tools helped them enjoy their ideal professional and personal lives. One day as they were celebrating the moment with iced tea by the pool, Ray said, I think its time we take up Woodys challenge to share the tools with the kids.

A worthwhile challenge, said Carol. We need some kind of opportunity. Something to motivate them. Got any ideas?

Ray and Carol had sipped their iced tea thoughtfully for a few moments when Jamie and Tammy appeared. From the looks on their faces, it was obvious they wanted something.

Tammy began. Its my turn to plan family night. We want one more family day before Jamie goes off to college in three weeks.

Then it was the college freshman-to-bes turn. You know how you always say we should take responsibility for being creative? So Tammy and I have researched the possibilities. Six Flags Great Adventure has a special: bring three, get the fourth free.

Ray nearly said no without thinking. The familys entertainment budget was already depleted for the summer. And with Jamie going to college, funds were tight. However, Ray caught Carols eye. This was the opportunity they were looking for.


17. Overcoming Stress in a Huge Crisis


THE FIRST funday for purpose in September was Rays treat. He found a wonderful restaurant on the east side of the Hudson overlooking the Tappan Zee Bridge. After he and Carol reviewed and refined their purpose for working and living, they enjoyed a delicious meal while watching the sunset across the river, which at that point in time was a three-mile red sea.

If every day were as peaceful as this one, Carol said as she gazed at the setting sun across the water, it would be easy to fulfill my new goal of reducing stress at work and at home.

You work on reducing stress and keeping your blood pressure down, and Ill work on my new goal of serving our community, said Ray.

As summer turned to fall, Ray took a big step toward fulfilling his goal by running for his towns board of finance. Just a month before the elections, his business sent him to China.

During an overseas phone call he asked Carol, Hows it going?

Its a little tight, she said candidly. Ive made big strides at work, but as a result I have a lot of new responsibilities. Without you here I have to make sure that Tammy gets where she needs to go for field hockey and all her other activities. Keeping in touch with Jamie is a new challenge. In the evenings, Im chief taxi driver. During the day, Im chief transportation coordinator. Plus, Im working on getting your campaign material out. Thankfully, Ive learned to let the things in my holding pen just sit there.


18. How to Develop more Motivated, Satisfied Employees


MOTIVATION! The Production Department new hires lack it!

Ray could tell by Ted Rolands frustrated tone that he was upset. Ray just didnt know why Ted had come to his office to discuss the matter. Ted was the director of human resources— not Rays area. What did new hires have to do with him? Rays question was soon answered.

Your department is amazing, Ray, declared Ted. At the last company meeting, the president commended you for being under budget and ahead of schedule on your last three projects. Yet a lot of your people are new. How do you do it? More to the point, how do you get your people to do it? Can you tell me what you do in a few words?

Let me ask you a question, Ray responded. If you couldnt see the things you do at work leading to what you really want, would you be motivated?

No, of course not! Ted said with some emphasis.

Ray continued, On the other hand, if you saw everything you did at work as steps toward getting what you really want, would you be motivated?

Absolutely! But how does this connect to motivating my new hires? Ted asked.


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