Reading GeckoWe all experience happy times, and we all experience sad times. There are times when life is good and times when life is bad. No one is immune to these facts of life. But, author and speaker Mark Sanborn, in his book, Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed when times are Good, Bad and in Between, says that neither denial nor negativity serves us well – wisdom accepts both the good and the bad, but chooses to pay more attention to the good (Sanborn 63).

Sanborn talks about a friend of his who lost an arm serving our country in Vietnam, then came home to a less than warm reception. I was too young to serve at that time, but I grew up watching the Vietnam war on TV and watched the guys come home – the conflicted experiences they had were also played out on television. It would take decades for those wounds to heal and everyone who returned had to make decisions about their experience, both in the war and at home. Mark’s friend made the decision to Forget It and Drive On (FIDO) (Sanborn 62). That’s really the challenge of our lives – how we interpret the events and experiences we’ve had, and whether we decide to move forward or continue to focus on the problems, the mistakes, and the pain of the past.

“You control what you can, acknowledge what you can’t, learn from mistakes and defeats, and keep moving forward. Don’t ignore what has happened, that’s a form of denial, just don’t let what has happened slow you down. Extract the lesson and move on,” Mark Sanborn (62).

Here’s another important principle in life – I may not be as smart as you, but it’s possible for me to know more than you. I remember in high school seeing the “Brains.” You also remember this group – maybe you were even one of them. They were the super smart kids; they were the advanced placement kids. They sat around reading poetry (or least that was my perception) talking about Marx, debating the issues of the day and thinking really deep thoughts. They always got  straight A’s and they were always the apple of the teachers eye. I wasn’t in that group.

In all of the IQ tests I have taken, it always comes out about the same number (no I’m not telling). Yet, while I am apparently unable to change this number, one thing I can change are the things that I know.

You can control how much you know. First, by observing and learning from your life experiences you know more than someone who does not have those experiences. It helps to pay attention to what you learned along the way or you keep making the same mistakes over and over. Also, you can take classes, you can read books, you can gather more information as you go through life.  Sanborn says that the more you learn, the more prepared you are for whatever comes your way (Sanborn 66). But it is not enough to have access to information, we need to assess whether the information can be trusted (Sanborn 67).

There is a story I tell in my aviation job targeting class. There was a rumor floating around many years ago that when you applied for a job at a certain airline, secret cameras would actually track your movements through the hotel where you were staying. to make sure that you wore your suit and tie to the workout facility, changed into your workout attire there, then changed back to your suit and tie for the elevator ride back to your room. This rumor was so strong that several candidates actually did it.

I told my students they are going to hear all sorts of advice and gouge on how to succeed in the industry and that there’s at least two things you need to do when you hear advice or information. First, who is telling you the information. Does the person have some sort of insight, knowledge, position, etc., that gives them some credibility? Second, ask whether the information makes sense or not. If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t mean its untrue, but you should probably dig deeper before putting on a business suit to avoid secret camera detection in a hotel.

The problem in today’s society is that we are deluged with information. In fact, one of the challenges I have in writing books is I can often find four or five conflicting pieces of information on the same event for topic. I often have to look at the citation – who is saying this, what are they saying, can I cross reference this information with another source? In life, we can assess the information we hear as well using similar strategies.

Sanborn offers a 4-step litmus test to assessing information:

  1. Consider the source (Sanborn 69). “The man’s a genius; he could disprove gravity,” says Nick Naylor (played by actor Aaron Eckhart in the movie Thank you for Smoking), when talking about the tobacco company’s scientist. When the pharmaceutical industry tells you that narcotics are the solutions to all of your problems, consider what their benefit is in getting you to take drugs. In fact, much medical “research” is often funded by the drug companies.
  2. Look at the evidence (Sanborn 70). The vast majority of evidence that the advertising industry and many others use is largely anecdotal. They take an “n” of one – one sample or experience and apply that to an entire situation. I have unfortunately seen the side of the industry too much. The self-help industry or human potential movement tends to attract a lot of people who seem to have “scientific evidence” to back up some product or gadget that is supposed to be a cure all. Even when Tony Robbins came out with his health program, he would later change some of his perspectives based on new research. Eventually, I realized that Tony Robbins is great at improving many areas of your life with the strategies that he has learned or developed, but that Tony Horton of P90X fame, is an actual fitness and nutrition expert, and has research to back up many of his recommendations. Now I have one Tony to keep me motivated and one to keep me fit.
  3. Look at the relevance (Sanborn 71). Just because a strategy worked for one person or company does not mean it will work for yours. Sometimes there might be other underlying factors or variables that you do not see that was the keystone to making that individual or company strategy work.
  4. Look at yourself (Sanborn 72). Sometimes a strategy works for others but just is not in alignment with you, your lifestyle or your personality. There are many things we can do but there are many things we may not like to do. As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Taking advantage of the times when life is up, down or sideways can be easier when you are a lifelong learner. Like Sanborn says I don’t want people to tell me what to think I want them to teach me how to think (Sanborn 73). Make investigation and inquiry a way of life (Sanborn 73). Learn to think for yourself instead of letting some radio talkshow host think for you. Learn in the future tense so you are ready to adapt to a changing world before it changes (Sanborn 74). Always make time to learn, and develop your own ongoing education program (Sanborn74-75), then you can discover your own facts of life.

Sanborn, Mark. Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed when times are Good, Bad and in Between. 1. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011. Print.

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