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Motivation and a positive mental attitude

Being motivated, with a positive attitude, can help you achieve your dreams and have real success in living a truly fulfilling life.

positive attitude

Keith Ellis, the national motivational speaker and the author of the book "The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals" has agreed that we may publish this article. Copyright © 1995-1999 by Keith Ellis


In the battle against instant gratification, the most potent skill of all is also the simplest: patience. Patience is the ability to wait for an outcome, instead of insisting on having that outcome at once. Patience is the ability to bide your time while all the forces that you cannot control align themselves to help you accomplish what you, by yourself, cannot do. The Eastern mystics speak of this as "going with the flow". I can't think of a better way to describe patience.

Patience is simple, but it's not easy. Patience is a challenge to master because at first it feels as if it's going against our nature. But the opposite is closer to the truth. Patience, when mastered, is one of the skills most conducive to fulfilling our nature. Our nature as human beings is to create our way of life. There is no more powerful tool for that job than patience. Our greatest achievements are accomplished over time, with considerable dedication and perseverance. Neither of these qualities would be possible without patience. As the saying goes, "Everything comes to him who waits." The secret to waiting is patience.

It may be the world's oldest cliché, but patience really is a virtue. Yet we are more likely to act as if impatience is a virtue. How often have you heard someone proclaim "I have no patience!", as if he were proud of it. Nothing could be more misguided than to glorify impatience. Nothing could be further from the mark. Nothing could be more destructive of happiness, fulfillment, and success.

Impatience is just another name for instant gratification, one of the greatest afflictions of human kind. More evil has been done in the name of instant gratification than almost any other human foible. In order to have what we want right now, we all too willingly sacrifice reason, good judgment, and even integrity.

We can rant and rave all we want about the scourge of instant gratification. We can moralize about it. We can condemn it. We can swear an oath against it. But the only thing that really matters is to find a cure. Ironically, the cure is right in front of us. It's been there all along. If we really want to cure the affliction called instant gratification, all we have to do is to develop patience. But how?

Start by realizing that patience is not just a virtue, it's a skill. Moreover, it's a learnable skill, a skill that can be mastered by anyone. It's also one of the most fulfilling of skills, because it allows you to relax, to regain your self-control, to restore a sense of well-being and balance---even in the midst of chaos.

Patience allows you to rise above the chaos around you and understand that there are forces at work far beyond what you alone can muster. If you wait for these forces---in other words, if you're patient---they can be made to work for you, instead of against you.

So how do you learn patience? The same way you learned every other skill you now possess: through practice. But how does a body practice patience? Well, at the risk of sounding flippant, you wait. In other words, you practice waiting.

The next time you have to wait for something, don't think of it as waiting, think of it as practice. Think of it as developing a skill that will change your life. This of it not as a waste of time, but as a way to use time to your maximum advantage.

The next occasion you have to wait, don't curse your luck, thank your lucky stars. Instead of fussing and fuming about why it's taking so long, embrace it as an opportunity to learn how to wait. Think of it as if you've been given a chance to master one of the great challenges we face as human beings, a challenge that, once met, can bring you the kind of joy and peace of mind that you would otherwise only dream about. Once you develop that frame of mind, delays will only encourage you; setbacks will only strengthen you; and time, perhaps for the first time in your life, will finally be on your side.

Some previous articles by Keith Ellis

Wake Up

Other animals spend their lives locked in a cycle of instinct. When they're hungry, they eat. When they hear a loud noise, they run. When they're attacked, they fight. When they come into season, they mate. They live the way their genes and their environment have programmed them to live because they have no choice. But we do. We, too, are programmed by our genes and by our environment.

But we can transcend our programming. We have been given the awesome power not just to respond to what the world throws at us, but to choose our response. We can program ourselves. Alone among the animals, we have what it takes to make our lives serve our own ends instead of the ends that have been handed down to us.

We can break the chain of events that has shaped us and learn to shape ourselves. We have been given the God-like power to participate in our own fate. But not one in ten of us knows it. Like the elephant, we are unconscious of our own strength.

When it comes to understanding the power we have to make a difference in our own lives, we might as well be asleep. If you want to make your dreams come true, wake up. Wake up to your own strength. Wake up to the role you play in your own destiny.

Wake up to the power you have to choose what you think, do, and say. The moment you understand that your life is whatever you make of it by choice, you will awaken to an astonishing new world. Like an elephant who suddenly realizes he's the strongest animal in the jungle, you will become aware of the limitless possibilities that surround you.

You will feel at once a sense of humility and power; humility because all of life is a gift; power because you've been given the most potent gift of all--the power to choose. But you can exercise this power only when you're awake. To wake up is to grow up.

As children, we are by nature dependent. As adults, all too often we maintain that dependence. We rely on others, or on circumstances, to give us what we want, instead of taking that responsibility upon ourselves. But once we wake up to the power of choice, once we become aware our own strength, we become forever independent.

Once we realize that we can give ourselves what we want, we're no longer content to rely on others to get it for us. Nor are we willing to accept only what the world feels like giving us. The moment we realize all that we can give ourselves, we refuse to settle for less. Waking up is like coming to your senses. You see things more clearly than ever before.

You feel a greater sense of freedom, a greater sense of possibility. Your limitations are limitations no more. You see them for what they really are--bad dreams. And then they quickly lose their power over you, the way a nightmare loses its edge the moment you awaken.

You find yourself free to imagine more useful thoughts, to dream more pleasant dreams, and to turn those dreams into reality. The difference between being asleep and being awake is the difference between having a dream and making that dream come true. That's what happens when you're awake. That's the kind of gift you can give yourself when you know your own strength.

John Wooden's Definition of Success

They call it "March Madness". Every year about this time, the sixty-four best teams in major college basketball square off in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, one of the most hotly contested tournaments in all of sports. Many are called but only one is chosen, and when the smoke clears, the team left standing is declared the National Champion.

How competitive is this tournament? Since 1975, only twice has a team won back-to-back National Championships. So it's remarkable to realize that during the twelve years prior to 1975, a single college won seven National Championships in a row, and a total of ten championships in twelve years.

When that streak of championships began, I was a freshman in high school. The man who coached those teams was my hero. He was known as the "winning coach" in the history of college basketball. Looking back, I would say that's an understatement.

Since he retired in 1975, only one major college team has gone undefeated through an entire basketball season. But his teams accomplished this four times. They compiled the longest winning streak in the history of the game: eighty-eight straight victories. That's two and a half years without a loss. And in perhaps their greatest achievement, over a span of eight years, competing against the very best teams in the country, who were playing their very best basketball, at the time of year when a single loss would have meant the season was over, this man's teams won forty-seven NCAA Tournament games in a row.

As if those numbers aren't impressive enough, consider this: the man coached in an era when freshman couldn't play on the varsity, so he had to replace his entire team every three years. Every three years he and his remarkable coaching staff had to start from scratch. In winning seven straight National Championships, they had to do it with three completely different sets of players. That is the stuff of legend. The legend's name is John Wooden. He was the head coach of the UCLA basketball team.

Whether you're a sports fan or not, John Wooden leaps out at you as one of the greatest achievers of our time. For those looking to unlock the mysteries of human potential, Wooden's life should be required reading. His accomplishments in his line of work are so far beyond what anyone else has even approached that they shout this question: "How did he do it?" I've been asking myself that for twenty years. And I've finally found the answer.

Years ago I read a magazine interview with Coach Wooden in which he was asked how he scouted the competition before a game. He said, in effect: We don't worry about the competition; we worry about ourselves. We don't go out to try to beat somebody; we go out to play the very best we can.

There it was in black and white, staring up at me from the pages of that magazine. It was John Wooden's secret of the ages, the answer to the question: "How did he do it?" But I didn't understand it. I wasn't ready for it. I thought that the heart and soul of competitive athletics was to know your opponent. Wasn't that why coaches and athletes spent hours watching films of their competition? I thought that Wooden must not have been telling the whole story. His "secret" didn't make sense to me, so I ignored it.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege to preview an intriguing new cassette album called The Pyramid of Success, from Nightingale-Conant. The "Pyramid" was created by John Wooden in the 1930s. He has been teaching it to others ever since. It elegantly describes his philosophy about life, work, and success.

Most of the album features Jim Harrick, the then current coach of the UCLA men's basketball team, a protégé and close friend of John Wooden. Harrick's team won the National Championship in 1995, the first for UCLA in the 20 years since Wooden retired. So Coach Harrick was a natural choice to do the album. But the cassette that really caught my eye was the one that featured John Wooden himself, being interviewed about his "Pyramid of Success".

On the way home from the office that evening I popped Wooden's tape in my stereo before I even had the car in gear. What a treat it was to hear his familiar voice sharing stories about his youth, his teaching career, and his remarkable years as a basketball coach. I was in heaven listening to that tape, cruising through the star-draped countryside of beautiful Rappahannock County, where I used to live.

Then Coach Wooden began to talk about competition. He said that he told his basketball players not to worry about the other team, but to worry about themselves. He said that if they played their very best, they would be successful. If they didn't play their best, then they would never be successful, no matter how many games they won.

It was deja-vu. I thought back to that article I had read so many years before, and I felt the same reaction I felt then. Wooden must be leaving something out. Surely he must have worried about his competition. Surely he must have scouted the teams he had to face. After all, that's what everybody else did.

And then I finally struck brain. For twenty years I had been trying to figure out what made John Wooden different. And he had been telling me all along. What made him different was this: the winningest coach in the history of college basketball didn't worry about winning. He worried about making the effort to do his best. He didn't try to do what everybody else did, so he never limited himself to their results. He didn't compete with everybody else, so everybody else couldn't compete with him.

I was still in my car when this finally sunk in, but I started scribbling notes as fast as I could write. That's not such a smart thing to do at 60 miles an hour, especially at night, but I couldn't wait long enough to slow down. I had to get on paper the answer to the question I had been asking myself for twenty years. I had to find exactly the right way to phrase it. I had to reduce it to a simple thought, a simple rule for success. And then Coach Wooden did it for me. He said:

"Success is peace of mind that can be obtained only from the self-satisfaction of knowing that you have made the effort to do the very best of which you are capable."

I rewound the tape and played that phrase again. And again. And again. I felt like I had just discovered the Hope diamond. John Wooden was teaching me something that I should have learned way back when I was a Boy Scout. But it never sank in---until that moment. Success is making the effort to do your best. Do that, and you can never fail. Don't do that, and you can never succeed.

What's so revolutionary about the idea of making the effort to do your best? Just this: the reason Coach Wooden was such a consistent winner was that he never settled for winning. Winning wasn't enough. Even winning National Championships wasn't enough. Wooden wanted more. He wanted his teams to play their best. Every game. Against weak teams and against strong teams. He knew there were too many ways to win a game you didn't deserve to win, too many ways to win without giving your best effort. And he knew there were too many ways to lose when you didn't give your best effort.

It was that effort that Wooden was looking for. That was the reason to compete. Not to win, but to make the effort to be your best. To make the most of the talent God has given you. To make the effort to become the best human being you can become. Wooden taught--and proved--that if you make that effort, winning will take care of itself.

Think how much higher his standard is, than is the standard that most people live by. In Wooden's world, you have to do more than come out on top; you have to make the effort to do your best. Winning is the by-product of that effort. Winning isn't the cake; it's just the icing. The cake is peace of mind, the peace of mind that can come only from the self-knowledge that you have made the effort to do your best.

Imagine how this might play in your own life. Have you ever gotten an "A" on a test you didn't study for? Have you ever been given a raise from your boss, even though you knew in your heart that you hadn't earned it? Have you ever won a sale that you didn't deserve?

Instead of winning, what if from now on your objective was to make the effort to do the very best of which you are capable? How much better would you perform? More importantly, how much better would you feel? What would your life be like if you refused to settle merely for winning, but insisted instead on the peace of mind that comes from the self-satisfaction of knowing that you have made the effort to do your best?

When you think about it, there is a profound irony that surrounds the career of John Wooden. As a coach, he was measured by winning. But he won by refusing to measure himself by winning. He insisted on a higher standard, the standard of making the effort to do your best.

Why is that a higher standard? Because we can't fool ourselves. So much of what passes for success is a matter of how we appear to other people. But Wooden has always been concerned with how we appear to ourselves. Are we giving our best? We might be able to fool others with half an effort, but in our own heart we will always know the truth. That is the truth he thinks we should live by.

Is he right or wrong? This March, tune in on the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Gauge the caliber of the athletes, the coaches, and the competition. Notice how much is at stake and how hard the competitors work for the ultimate victory. See for yourself how difficult it is to win such a victory even once. And then remember the man who won ten.

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