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Why Wait to Be Great?

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Discover Your Super Power!

We all want to change something about ourselves: lose weight, quit smoking, improve our finances, and so on. But change is hard, even painful, and it’s our nature to avoid pain. In this inspiring how-to guide, Terry Hawkins provides exactly what we need: a straightforward way to break free of old habits that hold us back and adopt new ones that move us forward. It’s a process Hawkins herself used to rise above poverty, abuse, and serious health problems.

Two fictional characters—Pitman and Flipman—demonstrate two possible ways of being. As Pitman, we’re trapped in the Pit of Misery, chained to our past, a helpless victim of circumstance. As the superhero Flipman, we are powerful, courageous, loved, successful, and able to flip negative thoughts and habits into positive ones. Hawkins illustrates precisely what feelings, thoughts, and behaviors send us to the pit and provides a detailed action plan for getting out of it. This wonderfully human and honest book will help you create the life you want once and for all.

“Terry Hawkins is a positive force of nature. Let her enthusiasm and optimistic approach to life’s challenges rub off on you as you turn the pages. You’ll be a better person for having read this book.”
—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager and Great Leaders Grow

“I was about to take antidepressants to stop my spiral downward—then I was handed Why Wait to Be Great? I feel so empowered. It was like it was written just for me and everything I was going through.”
—Ishbel MacConnachie, Director of Studies, GoodStart Training College

“Possibly the best book I have read on overcoming depression, lethargy, negative self-talk, and more. Every high school student should be given a copy when he or she leaves school—skills for life.”
—Vivien Wornell, Social Worker/Counselor, St. George Private Hospital

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1 There Are Only Two Times in Life: Now and Too Late!

ePub

We all have a story. The basic premise of living provides us with a smorgasbord of possible opportunities to add to our story. We gather stories within our story, and the longer we live, the more “scenes” we add; thus by the end of our life we have built a story that is long, rich, and completely unique to us. No one else ever has or ever will have our story — this is one of the most amazing miracles of life.

As much as our stories may differ, they also unite us in one common element that no human being can ever avoid — our ability to feel. Our stories trigger a variety of feelings that can either propel us forward or keep us stifled and paralyzed in the past.

We often hear people say that it is the events and experiences of our lives that shape us into who we are, but is that really the case? Why is it that two people can experience the same event and yet each be affected in a completely different way? Is it the story of our life that determines our happiness, or is it the position from which we view our story — the story we tell ourselves about our story? Is it this interpretation that affects the decisions we make, how we feel about our life, and how we feel about those in it?

 

2 Get Out of That Pit!

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As human beings, it is innate for us to want to improve ourselves and strive for a better life, and I’m sure we’ve all had those bursts of desire to look after ourselves, to do better. Have you ever been in the mind-set, for example, in which you decided to get fit? You know the feeling — you feel like it’s time to turn your life around, to go from being a lazy loafer to a lean, mean, healthy machine.

You start the week like the reincarnation of Olympian Jesse Owens. You set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. The moment it goes off, you spring out of bed and change into your exercise clothes. Off you go, with a bounce in your step and a vision of being the next marathon winner at the Olympic Games. You get on the treadmill and push up that hill. You hop on the weight machines and complete three sets on each. The sweat is dripping from you like Niagara Falls. Ahhh, what a workout!

Day Two. (It’s probably safe to say it’s a Tuesday.) Beep! Beep! Beep! The alarm goes off. This time, you have a little conversation with yourself:

 

3 Pit Language and Professional Pit People

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When we’re being a Pit person with our Pit posture, we also have Pit prattle! Pit prattle is that little voice inside our heads that mutters away to us. If you’ve just asked yourself, “What voice?” — that’s it! Go ahead and introduce yourself! When we’re in the Pit, this little voice will grumble in a negative and defeatist way:

“I hate my life.”

“How could anyone love me?”

“I’ll never be any good.”

“I’m so hopeless.”

“Why doesn’t anyone understand me?”

“I’ll never get over this hang-up.”

“I’ll be lonely all my life.”

“I hate my job.”

“Why did they do this to me?”

“No one understands me.”

“How will I ever cope?”

“Nothing seems to go right for me!”

“I’ll never get any better.”

“I need more money.”

“I can’t stand this anymore.”

“I’m sick and tired of everything.”

“I’ll never get out of this hellhole.”

“I can’t change; I’ve been this way all my life.”

“I’m stuck in this job/relationship/town … blah, blah, blah.”

Pit prattle is incredibly pessimistic, and when we are allowing our Pitman to rule, we can tend to criticize others and ourselves harshly. Pit dwellers often vocalize their Pit prattle. They constantly complain about their partners, their jobs, their lives, their kids, the traffic, the weather, TV commercials, the price of food, today’s youth, today’s elderly, last night’s dinner, and tomorrow’s dessert!

 

4 It’s Not Always about You!

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I don’t think we spend enough time understanding the power of empathy and sympathy and the effect that these two states have on our perception. Sympathy can be very seductive and can easily keep us in the Pit if we’re not careful. Sometimes we even want to throw a blanket in and have a Pit Pity Day, which is fine, as long as we don’t get seduced into staying for too long. Remember, it’s easy to become stuck in the habit of Pit behavior.

Empathy is a simple word, and one of the most understated, underused, and undervalued words in our language. I once heard the difference between empathy and sympathy described this way: Sympathy is when you join people in their dark place (the Pit), and empathy is when you throw them a ladder. When we come from a place of empathy, we give people permission to be whatever they need to be, and we are better able to support them in an objective way. Expressing empathy is also a powerful way to release anguish from the past and to connect with others in the present.

 

5 Genuine Emotion Is Not the Pit

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As I said earlier — and I can’t stress this too much — Pit behaviors and reactions do not include healthy emotions, such as grief, sadness, shock, respectful anger, or frustration. As we all know, life can throw us many curveballs, and we humans are designed to deal with the stress of life through feeling and expressing our emotional responses to these events. Crying, for example, is such a healing act; it allows our body to release the sadness we are holding. I cringe when I hear parents tell their children (especially their young boys) to stop crying when they are sad. I admire anybody who can be brave and strong enough to be in their vulnerability and allow the emotions to rise and be expressed. Strength is not the ability to not cry; it’s the ability to cry, to laugh, to be scared, to be brave, to communicate respectful anger and frustration — to feel and express those feelings.

Too often, we push these important emotions down because we become fearful of really experiencing and feeling them. We can start to believe that the pain in our chest is too much to bear, so we stop — we wait. But we are meant to feel. Our hearts are meant to be broken, but they never break in two — they just break open to allow us to love more and feel even more. However, getting to this understanding can be a real test — sometimes it can seem much easier just to push it all down and instead become bitter and resentful. When we do this, our Pit emotions come to the surface and we end up spraying our Pit Pollution onto everyone, with our Pitman behaviors and comments.

 

6 Gaining the Courage to Feel

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We can spend our entire lives running away from certain memories, trying to avoid the pain they trigger. We commit vast amounts of energy and effort to trying to forget our painful past, but in reality, the pain associated with avoiding these feelings is usually far greater than the pain of confronting them. This avoidance can also manifest as something else in our future, something that doesn’t support us in leading a healthy, fulfilled life.

A few years ago, my dearest girlfriend lost her precious husband — a big, bold, and brilliant man, the father of her four children — in a farming accident. His sudden departure ripped their world apart, and their grief was torture to witness. During my visit, I overheard a friend of my girlfriend giving her some advice: “Come on. Be strong. You can’t let the kids see you falling apart.” I had to hold my tongue — I knew her friend had the best of intentions, but her advice was terribly misguided.

Later that day I explained to my beautiful friend that it was really important and healthy to express all of her pain and grief, and that by doing so she would be giving her children permission to express whatever they needed to, to move through their own grief. I explained that if they didn’t allow these vital healing emotions to arise and come out, their unexpressed pain and sadness would find another way out, perhaps much later in life. It might present itself as an inability to create trusting relationships, or unwarranted anger with a child of their own, perhaps as an unexplained detachment with a spouse, or as a variety of other “unexplained” outbursts. What we don’t deal with now will almost certainly come back to visit us later.

 

7 There Are No Failures in Life — Just Feedback

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The title of this chapter is one of the most helpful phrases I have ever heard. Many of us go to the Pit when we receive feedback that we don’t like. Throughout my many years of studying human behavior, I have found that the only time people really stretch themselves beyond their current level is when they receive feedback on what they’re not doing right.

Professional Pit People don’t know how to handle feedback. They interpret constructive criticism as a personal attack, which sends them spiraling deeper into their Pit. What kind of feedback do we like? Positive feedback, of course, such as “Gosh, you’re gorgeous!” And what sort of feedback do we hate? We hate the negative stuff, such as “I wouldn’t date you for practice!” Now, I’m being playful here, but there’s truth at the core of this joke. As a society, we’ve become conditioned to want only the positive feedback. We tend to perceive anything negative as unhelpful, yet the reality is often quite the opposite.

Positive feedback is wonderful, and we all need to become much more generous at giving positive feedback. However, positive feedback only reinforces what we already know about ourselves. It’s only when we’re shown the gaps that we’re able to grow.

 

8 Happiness Is a Choice

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How we deal with feedback is really about choice. Whether we interpret the feedback positively or negatively depends on the perception we choose to adopt. It can be tempting to make it about the other person or the circumstance. But whether we see it as a personal attack or an opportunity for growth is our choice.

A woman who worked for me years ago was constantly late, especially for work, and when I would question her about it, she would blame the bus! “The bus is always late!” she would exclaim, not realizing that it wasn’t the bus’s responsibility to get her to work on time. It was her responsibility. My suggestion that she catch an earlier bus was not received with much gratitude — and she would continue to not be grateful for it until she took ownership of her punctuality. Taking personal responsibility and blaming others can rarely coexist.

But what about all of the other factors that influence our day-to-day moods? How do we go about staying optimistic? When we feel down, rarely does anyone show us how to get out of the Pit. It’s a bit like the advice given by well-meaning people who say things like, “Don’t take your personal problems to work. Make sure you leave them at the front door.” But has anyone ever shown us how to not take our personal problems to work? And what about the line, “Don’t take this personally,” which invariably precedes personal criticism and is usually followed by the word “but”?

 

9 Perception

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We now know enough to be able to recognize when we are using Pit behavior and language — or when someone else is. I’m also hoping that by now we recognize how debilitating it can be. Whether we’re a few inches deep or all the way down in the basement, knowing how to get out of the Pit is essential. Realizing we have the choice allows us to decide on the kind of life we want to live. It doesn’t matter how much money we have, how many possessions we have, what level of education we’ve reached, how many friends we enjoy, what job we hold, what has happened in our past, or what we look like!

No one can go back and make a brand-new start, my friend, but anyone can start from here and make a brand-new end.

ATTRIBUTED TO MARCUS AURELIUS, CARL BRAND,
DAN ZADRA, AND OTHERS

In modern psychology it’s often said that a person’s past behavior is a strong indicator of his or her future behavior. There’s an important distinction to be made: the future is not written in stone. Just because we behaved a certain way in our past does not mean we have to be that way in the future.

 

10 Mind Mechanics

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We have talked a lot about the way we perceive the world and how it influences our reality. In order for us to take control of our life and the results we produce, it might be important to first look at the mechanics of how this actually happens.

Let’s begin by having a look at the three parts of this process — the conscious mind, the unconscious (or subconscious) mind, and our physiology. I have often heard the conscious mind described as the captain of our brain. It gives directions and tells the unconscious mind what to do. The unconscious mind becomes the crew. The crew doesn’t think for itself — it just does what it’s told. Our physiology is thus profoundly shaped by our conscious and unconscious mind.

Captain: We make a perception or interpret an experience.

Crew: The unconscious mind accepts this interpretation.

Outcome: The body then aligns itself with this input.

Let’s go into a bit more detail.

The first stage is about how we perceive the world. We chat inside our head all the time. Chat, chat, and more chat. Most of us are completely oblivious to the conversations, interpretations, and perceptions that go on between our ears. If we are to take control of how we react and behave, we must listen to this internal voice.

 

11 Fake It Till You Make It!

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My aim in creating Flipman and Flipman’s Strategy was to have a simple, powerful analogy that we could all integrate into our daily lives — a character and concept that could represent choice in every moment and support us in creating the life we really want, regardless of our background, our religious or spiritual beliefs, our educational level, our values or beliefs, our gender, our financial status, or our age. The concept of Flipman’s Strategy actually began in my life many years ago; I just didn’t recognize who he was then, and I hadn’t named him yet. To give you a solid understanding of how we can use this simple yet powerful strategy, I would like to unfold this part for you in the same way that it evolved for me.

I begin with a short story from my early childhood. It illustrates how every day we have opportunities to learn from the amazing teachers around us, but we can recognize them only if we are paying attention.

One day when I was about eight years old, I was in a bad mood with a grumpy expression on my face. My father said to me, “Terry, put a smile on your face.”

 

12 Flipman’s Strategy

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Flipman’s Strategy is a simple four-step process that encompasses the pictures, dialogue, feelings, and actions needed to help us replace old habits that don’t serve us anymore with more empowering and positive habits. Flipman’s Strategy will also support us in doing what is necessary to create these new habits and new neural pathways. Instead of just remembering to fake it, we can rely on a system to give us consistency and support when we need it most.

To explain this strategy, let’s use the simple example of feeling tired. Like many expressions that don’t serve us, “Gee, I’m tired” may seem like a throwaway line, but it can have a very negative effect on our energy, especially when there isn’t time for a nap. Naturally, tiredness can be genuine and an important signal that we need a self-caring response: to sleep! But if we are at work or somewhere where we need to be alert, constantly saying we are tired does not serve us. Remember, whatever our conscious mind says, our unconscious mind believes and our body responds. So what do we need to ask ourselves? That is, “What positive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are the opposite of tiredness?”

 

13 The Best Way to Teach Is to Be!

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Every day we make the choice about where and how we will spend our day. We decide whether we want to be a Flipman, and when we do, we become far more aware of the Pit behaviors of the people around us. It can be hard to resist the temptation to judge them. I hope no one reads this book, then walks up to the first energy sucker he or she meets and says, “Hey, Pitman, I’ve got some ‘feedback’ for you!” I’m sure we all realize by now that this is about working on our own stuff and not about criticizing someone else. When we’re busy criticizing someone else’s backyard, we’re usually allowing weeds to grow in our own.

One of the most annoying things we can do to someone is to become the Pit Police! I don’t know too many people who respond well to someone being overly critical of their behavior. It all comes back to our intention. If we want to pass harsh judgment on a person’s behavior by labeling them a Pit Person in public, then we’re probably the one who should be wearing the Pitman name badge! If our intention is to help someone see his or her limiting behaviors with respect and kindness, then we will usually find the most appropriate approach to use.

 

14 Transition Time

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Change is not achieved without inconvenience,
even from worse to better.

RICHARD HOOKER, SIXTEENTH-CENTURY
THEOLOGIAN

I love that saying because I think many of us expect change to be a lot easier than it is, especially when we’re right in the middle of it. We make these grand changes to our life, thinking they’re for the better, and quite often our life gets worse or more uncomfortable, even painful, before it starts to improve. Many people don’t achieve long-term success but keep returning to the Pit in large part because they don’t ride out the transition time — the period from the old behaviors or patterns to the new ones that are forming.

Remember, there is no failure, only feedback, and feedback is a necessary part of the success journey — the journey of uncovering the wonderful mystery called you! Few of us achieve what we want after the first attempt, but we can fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to get discouraged. We expect the transition to be easy, and it’s not. It can be incredibly challenging at times, not to mention painful, and Pitman is there the whole way, coaxing, seducing, urging us back to our old ways, saying things like:

 

15 Our Book of Life

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We started this book by talking about how living is a series of events, all joined together to form the great story of our life. From the time I was a young adult, I always likened the entirety of my life to a great big book, its pages filled with experiences, people, and adventures.

We each have our own Book of Life filled with our own stories and journeys. Some of our friends and family will be in our book for many chapters. Some may feature in only a few paragraphs; others will appear for only a few words. There’s a wonderful saying — “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime” — that beautifully describes our relationships through time. Every encounter, discussion, facial expression, and positive or nasty word to another human being goes into their Book of Life, and into ours as well.

I might feature in your Book of Life only for a couple of words, but let me tell you, if I am going to be in someone’s book, I want to be 32-point , not 8-point faded italic! I want to make sure that I give everything I’ve got, as often as I can, to as many people as possible. We all have an effect on each other. Every interaction with another human being helps that person write his or her book, as it helps us write our own. We’re in “metaphoric print” together forever.

 

16 Writing in Another’s Book of Life

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Some of the greatest chances for falling into the Pit arise through our interactions with other people. We may truly intend to write positive things in their Book of Life and then fall short of that intention. The good news is, there are things we can do to help put Flipman into action.

As we now know, it is our interpretation of a situation that creates our response to it. In my younger, less informed years, I would often get myself all worked up by trying to convince someone of my opinion, especially if theirs didn’t match mine! I would have passionate disagreements, thinking that if I could give a good enough argument, I could get them to see my point of view. But of course, I usually ended up jumping into my Pit and feeling frustrated and angry! I now look back and realize that my empathy skills needed a lot of work, and it wasn’t so much the differing opinions that put me in the Pit as it was my insatiable desire to be right.

There is a wonderful saying, “What is more important, being right or having peace?” As I get older and continue to use my Flipman approach to life, I find that I’m becoming more mellow in my responses to certain situations. I now find myself letting things slide that I would have previously found incredibly irritating or upsetting. Wouldn’t it have been great to discover that pearl of wisdom a little earlier in life so that I would not have wasted important energy on minor irritations and incidental issues?

 

17 The Buck Stops Here

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Why wait to be great? It’s either NOW or TOO LATE! The only time we have is this moment right now, and it’s up to us what we do with it. The moment you had five minutes ago is gone forever! That’s how life works. How we act in each moment is up to us. Giving 100 percent means giving it everything we have. It’s about playing at 100 percent in all that we do — whether it’s kicking a ball with our kids, working on a business document, riding a bike in the park, or having an afternoon nap. It’s about doing it all to the best of our ability and being in the moment. It’s also about being passionate.

My father taught me about passion and giving 100 percent when I landed my first job at age fifteen, scrubbing cupboards in a cafeteria. Not my idea of a great vocation!

Dad was dying of cancer at the time, and one day, before I left home to catch the bus for my first day at work, he called me into his bedroom. Lying in bed, he said, “Go scrub those cupboards, girl, like there’s no tomorrow.”

“But Dad,” I whined, “I don’t want a job scrubbing greasy cupboards!”

 

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