EXCERPTS FROM TAKE-CHARGE LIVING


These excerpts let you sample the type of principles, exercises and personal stories I have included in Take-Charge Living. Since a theater theme runs through the whole book and podcast, particularly with references to the great musical My Fair Lady and its two memorable characters, Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, let's start with that.

EXCERPT 1-WHY THE THEME FROM MY FAIR LADY?

Introduction: Life Is Not a Dress Rehearsal
"You squashed cabbage leaf…you incarnate insult to the English language: I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba."

The arrogant language expert, Professor Henry Higgins, boasts this quote to raggedy, screechy Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl he encounters while waiting for a surprise rainstorm to end. Thus is the opening to Pygmalion, Bernard Shaw's classic play, and My Fair Lady, the smash Broadway musical.

In the ancient myth, the prince Pygmalion sculpts Galatea, a beautiful ivory statue; falls rapturously in love with his own creation; and eventually persuades the goddess Venus to bring Galatea to life in order to become his bride.

Raggedy and poor, but definitely not a statue, the plucky Eliza Doolittle orchestrates her own transformation by turning up at Higgins's residence and persuading him to take her on as his language student. Not reckoning on Eliza's spirit, intelligence, and independence or on the emotional impact her transformation will have on him, Higgins agrees to her bargain, challenged by a bet with a friend that he can pass her off as high society in six months.

And he does. After months of unrelentingly drilling Eliza in upper-class speech and manners, Higgins triumphantly announces, "By George, she's got it!" The acid test is when he escorts Eliza, now finely mannered, beautifully coiffed, elegantly enunciating, to an embassy gala. The lovely mystery woman wows everyone. The triumph of the evening comes when a prestigious Hungarian linguist stuns the crowd, announcing to the host and hostess that Miss Doolittle is a fraud. Her English is too perfect for her to be an English woman. With certainty, he can tell she is not English at all. She is Hungarian. "Not only Hungarian, but of royal blood. She is a princess!"

The story enchants and endures because it taps the transformation yearning we all have to follow our dreams, to become fully alive, and to take charge of our lives. Take-Charge Living: How to Recast Your Role in Life…In Six Acts is a practical guide for how you can make that happen in your own life. In this do-it-yourself version, you star as both Higgins the coach and Eliza the transformed. Better yet, you are Venus, breathing life into your own potential.

If you stop to think about it, change is inevitable. You are not the same person you were twenty, ten, or even five years ago. You are not even exactly the same person you were yesterday. Living day-to-day forces all of us to continually shape and reshape how we think and feel as well as what we believe and do in response to what is happening around us. Take-charge living is about taking charge of that change process instead of allowing external forces to take charge of it for you.

Like Eliza, the power for self-transformation already lies within you. Higgins taught her the facts and coached her through the rehearsals. However, Eliza brought natural potential, a burning desire to improve her life, as well as enough pluck to come to Higgins to ask for help and a willingness to work at it.

If you settle for too little, let others direct your traffic, or daydream about having a better life but do nothing to change the one you have, you are treating this precious time as if it is a warm-up, some kind of dress rehearsal for a real life that is yet to come. Only it's not. For better or worse, this is the one-and-only performance you ever get to give. Doesn't it make sense to cast yourself in a role that moves you toward goals of your own choosing?

Of course it does. However, moving your life in the direction you want it to go almost always means you must make some personal changes. Change takes time and practice. Nature purposely outfitted us to change slowly, mostly in small steps. What a madhouse the world would be if we all walked around changing our thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns-the very things that give us our personal identity-from moment to moment or even from day to day! Think back to some important way you have changed. Unless it resulted from a trauma, chances are the change came gradually, possibly so gradually you did not even notice you had changed until someone else pointed it out to you.

If your changes are resulting in a happy, fulfilling life, I sincerely congratulate you and encourage you to enjoy them to the utmost. Unless you happen to be interested in knowing more about how those changes happened, you do not need this ptogram. Take-Charge Living: How to Recast Your Role in Life…In Six Acts is aimed at the person who is living a less than satisfying life but wants to do something about it. If that is you, you will find everything you need for successful personal change in these pages.

EXCERPT 2- IMPORTANT MIND-BODY PRINCIPLES AND ISABELLA'S STORY.

Where Is It Best To Start?

Think of a beautiful tree. We would never ask which is more important. The roots or the trunk? The branches or the leaves? It's understood that all the parts of the tree are essential to its creation and growth.

The same is true with people, except, instead of roots, trunks, and the like, our complex interactions are among our emotions, physiology (bodily reactions), thoughts, and behavior. Think of them as four systems, each in nonstop communication with the others, shaping who we are, how we feel, and what we are willing to do. When we decide to be an Eliza Doolittle, that is, to change something about ourselves in order to move our life forward, we will have to cause changes in all of these four systems. What is the best way to do that?

Bodily or physiologic reactions do not lend themselves to your direct manipulation. Say you have a big speech coming up and the thought of talking to so many people is creating knots in your stomach. You have no way of reaching into your gut and directly untying those knots.

Similarly, feelings, including moods and emotions, do not lend themselves to your direct manipulation. There is no feeling fuse box or switch for you to throw into the off position. You certainly experience feelings directly, that's for sure, but you cannot work directly on changing them. Say you feel fearful. We all know that simply telling the feeling to go away will not get rid of it. Even though you cannot erase negative feelings, there's a lot you can do to manage them in a way that minimizes their impact.

We start with a very important principle: Feelings are not facts. Quite often, the feelings keeping you from acting in your own best interests are actually lying to you. Despite what the feelings tell you, what feels true to you is likely to not be objectively true. Let that idea sink in because it is one of the most important things you can learn from Take-Charge Living. Just because you feel something doesn't make it true! Some of your strongest feelings, the very ones that make you resist change, are likely to be merely old, incorrect assumptions you have been carrying around for years. These assumptions have never been tested out and are not based on demonstrable fact. They are simply assumptions, not facts. Only you have been treating them as facts.

That's good news. What it means is, even though certain feelings are unpleasant for you to experience and they feel true to you, if they are not based on objective fact — that is, if there's no hard evidence to prove they are true — you can begin to learn you do not have to take them so seriously anymore. There is a big difference between tolerating an unpleasant feeling you know is just a feeling and not a fact and being controlled by the feeling because you believe it represents truth and reality. In the first instance, you can feel uncomfortable, but you will move forward and make changes anyway. In the second, you will feel too scared to act.

That was certainly the case for Isabella, a likeable, knowledgeable, very bright, devoted wife and mother, a successful fighter for political causes, but so overly intense. At the age of sixty, Isabella felt exhausted by her chronic need to assume way too much responsibility for the people and projects she cared about. Intense, wound up, and concerned, Isabella felt a physical knot in her stomach most of the time. Relaxing, even briefly, was next to impossible. The moment she began slowing down, her mind jumped to some task she felt must have her attention. Isabella's waking hours were a nonstop performance without any intermissions. She lived as if the world would stop functioning without her constant help. She sometimes even referred to herself as a "performing seal."

As smart, well read and psychologically sophisticated as she is, it came as a complete surprise to Isabella that her feelings- her urges to leap into action and the intense nervousness she felt until she did-were just old conditioned feelings, and it was not dangerous if she sometimes chose to ignore them, sit still, and let the world take care of itself. She was even more surprised to realize the urge to help, really to rescue, came from many painful childhood experiences where she was thrust between two warring parents who expected her to mediate their conflicts and soothe them.

Armed with this understanding, Isabella was determined to change. She knew she could not simply wish away that old script and all the associated feelings, but she sure could do things to cause a heavy rewrite. Following the six acts of Take-Charge Living, Isabella developed a successful program to retrain herself not to try rescuing everyone all the time. What helped her pull it off was something she found to be a mind-blowing insight. Namely, it was not dangerous for her to not act. Keep in mind, her guts were reflecting the old script and telling her she was bad and it was dangerous not to jump to action. That was the voice from her childhood. At the age of sixty, Isabella finally learned she had the freedom to not take the voice and the feelings it stirred up seriously anymore. The feelings did not go away immediately, although they did over time. But knowing her strong gut feeling was just a feeling and nothing more enabled her to feel safe in altering her behavior. That was the key to long-term, satisfying change.

Realizing your negative feelings are frequently inaccurate reflections of reality is an important first step in decreasing their hold over you. You can do even more to depower negative emotions by using a powerful technique called mindfulness, which I will teach you later. With mindfulness, it is as if you are behind a movie camera. You are looking at your own feelings as if they were outside objects you are observing and filming instead of something residing in your gut. That kind of distance and detachment between you and your bad feelings drains some of the oomph out of them. That helps you feel more in control of — instead of controlled by — your negative emotions.

But back to my original question of where to start the change process. Because feelings and bodily reactions are not the ports of entry to self-change, that leaves the other two other possibilities: our thinking (cognitive) system and our behavior (action tendency) system. As it turns out, each can work well as a target for your effort at assertive self-improvement. Targeting both thoughts and behavior gains the best results of all. Remember, all four systems-emotions, physiology, thoughts, and behavior-are in constant contact with one another and heavily impact each other. That is good news, too. By working directly on changing your unwanted thoughts and behaviors, you also indirectly cause changes in your bodily reactions and your emotions. Take-charge living teaches you how to do that constructively on a self-help basis, producing self-change by ridding yourself of unwanted thoughts and behavior patterns. By focusing your change efforts on two of these interconnected systems (thoughts and behaviors rather than feelings and bodily reactions), you create payoffs in all four.

My job is arming you with an understanding of exactly what to do. However, you will be operating like Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins rolled into one, that is, a person who transforms yourself. Basic to getting the job done is committing to putting serious effort — which means lots of practice — into the program spelled out in this book and CD. I promise you it's worth it because it lets you climb into the driver's seat when it comes to how you live your life.



EXCERPT 3 - A PREVIEW OF THE "HOW-TO" ACTION PROGRAM

This is where we go into action. I will become your action advisor, and you will become the action doer. If you have gotten this far, I assume you are at least seriously considering action to make some type of transformation in your life. "Your Action Guide in Six Acts" provides a step-by-step sequence of exactly what I will be asking you to do. Just to get a feel for where we are headed, please preview it. We will then get going. From there to the end of this program, it's all about doing. Only through taking action can you learn how to make the take-charge living approach work for you.

Your Action Guide in Six Acts

· Act One: Sharpening the Image of the Target Behavior
(From Chapter 6: Previewing a New Role: How to Use Mental Imagery to Create Your New Look and Sound)

· Act Two: Identifying the Enemies to Change
(From Chapter 7: Getting the Script Right: How to Identify Your Enemies to Change)
· Applying the Vertical Arrow Technique

· Act Three: Your Plan of Attack
(From Chapter 8: Stepping On Stage: How to Retrain Your Thinking and Plan Your Practice)
· Creating Your Process Plan
· Take-Charge Thinking: The Stepping-Stone To Action
· Remaking That Movie in Your Mind
· Seven Scenarios for Tackling Thinking Errors Applying the Active Dispute Technique

· Act Four: Managing Your Feelings When They Resist Change
(From Chapter 9: Hitting the Right Emotional Note: How to Manage Your Feelings When They Resist Change)

· Act Five: Staging a Dress Rehearsal
(From Chapter 10: How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?: How to Stage Your Dress Rehearsals at Home)
· Rehearsing Your Target Behavior at Home, a Step-By-Step Checklist

· Act Six: Real World Trial Runs-Practice, Practice, and More Practice
(From Chapter 11: Taking Your Show on the Road: How to Fine-Tune Your Performance)
· Maintaining Accurate Expectations
· Managing Emotional and Physical Arousal
· Converting Threats to Challenges
· Going From Easy to Hard in Small Steps
· Repetition
· Hooking Goals to Higher Order Values
· Maintaining a Take-Charge Perspective

EXCERPT 4 -TAKING ACTION AND ANOTHER PERSONAL STORY

Taking action, as you'll hear me say often throughout the book and CD, is the bottom line of fulfilling take-charge living to transform some aspect of yourself. If Eliza Doolittle had not pushed to get Professor Higgins's help, there would be no Fair Lady, just the same yowling, bedraggled flower seller as when the play opened. That's true for any of us. Without action on our part, there can be no transformation, just a lot of wishful thinking and excuses for remaining stuck doing the same old things.

Taking action involves changing behavior, but there is a better and a worse way to take action. The better way involves changing your thinking patterns, how you mentally talk to yourself, along with changing your behavior. Far less desirable is forcing yourself to behave differently but still hanging on to old, unhelpful ways of thinking. I will give you an example of what I mean.

Joe, a recovering alcoholic, has been sober for three years. Like others in successful recovery, Joe does more than abstain from drinking. He now understands himself better and knows how he used alcohol in the past to numb himself to avoid dealing with his problems, especially to avoid conflict. Along with this new self-understanding, Joe adopted a new philosophy and new thinking about how he wants to live his life.

He summed it up this way, "I have to face issues and deal with them. I've learned I can do that, and I don't have to hide out in a bottle. If it means an argument, I can handle that, too. No more running. No more hiding. No more booze."

That way of thinking helped Joe become a real father to his two sons, finally standing up to his loud, very difficult ex-wife instead of letting her run the show and make decisions he felt were harmful to the boys. A major sea change like that doesn't happen overnight. It takes time and effort. In fact it's an ongoing growth process for Joe. The point I want to highlight is that the critical shift in Joe's thinking about himself and his need for alcohol is what enables Joe not just to abstain from drinking, but to be at peace with not drinking. Thus, Joe is neither a white-knuckler nor a dry drunk.

In case you are not familiar with the terms, white-knucklers give up drinking, but they fail to change their underlying thinking about themselves in relation to booze. So, their belief in their need to drink is never resolved. Each day is like knuckles turning white from clinging to the edge of table, desperately wanting to reach for a drink, battling to resist.

Like white-knucklers, dry drunks are also alcoholics who stop drinking. However, they do not stop the dysfunctional thinking and acting out that got them into trouble when they did drink. Someone like Max, a dry drunk who got into drunken brawls in bars, is still picking fights and getting arrested. Instead of taking an honest look at himself, the way Joe did, Max rages that everyone else is the problem and the world is giving him a raw deal.

What is the difference between a successful, recovering alcoholic like Joe and the white-knucklers and dry drunks? It is not the behavior, at least not as far as drinking goes. All abstain. The difference is what happens inside their heads-their ways of looking at themselves and the world as well as their ways of talking to themselves.

As with Joe, the inner dialogue you have with yourself-consciously or not-is just as important as your outward behavior. Taking charge and transforming your life is not a matter of forcing yourself to act differently while feeling nervous, depressed, enraged, guilty, or otherwise unhappy about doing so. Quite the contrary. Truly taking charge of your life means reorganizing the conversations you have with yourself inside your head so your thinking supports, not obstructs, your new behavior.

EXCERPT 5 - FACTS ABOUT FEELINGS

Your Feelings Are Lying to You
How do you follow common sense and move your life forward when your guts scream no? The first step is realizing, "Just because something feels true, that doesn't make it true." Feelings are not facts. Feelings are feelings. Our feelings sometimes accurately reflect the facts, but especially in the case of feelings that block you from moving forward with your life, they often do not. Typically, such feelings:

· Are built on a distorted picture reality
· Have never been questioned or tested
· Have no hard evidence to support them

The feelings send you the message that either you aren't capable of making the change, or changing would cause truly awful things to happen — like nobody would like you anymore, or you'd lose your job, or your spouse would leave you, or you'd sound stupid — or (fill in the blank with a catastrophe).

I cannot overemphasize what a breakthrough it is when someone comes to understand that obstructive negative feelings, though compellingly intense, are only feelings, not measures of reality. Having a strong feeling about something does not make what the feeling is telling you true. If your feelings are incorrectly telling you that you cannot or should not do the very thing that would improve your life, you may have to initially struggle to do it, but you do it anyway. As long as there is no objective danger (for example, physical abuse), it is not dangerous to defy those feelings.

Defying your own feelings goes directly against gut-level intuition. Once people let that notion sink in and once they get it, they are on their way to changing themselves and taking charge of their lives. It is liberating just to realize, regardless of how compelling your feeling, it does not constitute evidence the message it is sending you is true. Moreover, regardless of how intensely the feeling tells you that you cannot or should not make a change in how you do things, knowing a feeling is just a feeling frees you up to not take that feeling so seriously. Notice I did not say you can make the feeling go away or you can totally ignore it. Instead, you can tolerate the resistant feeling because you do not take its threats as seriously as you did in the past. Most importantly, questioning the accuracy of the threatening feeling makes it easier to move forward with behavior change.


EXCERPT 6 - A SAMPLE FROM THE "HOW-TO" ACTION SEQUENCE

When Eliza persuades Professor Higgins to take her on as a student, she never dreams it's going to take so much practice — hour after hour, day in and out — to transform from screechy Cockney flower seller to proper-speaking Englishwoman. After a couple months of working at it, exhausted from struggling, there's a scene where Higgins is driving her to repeat her vowels over and over. Near tears, what keeps coming out is, "Ahyee, E, Iyee, Ow, You."

Higgins, nearing his own limits, screams, "Say: A.E. I. O. U!"

"That's what I said," Eliza cries, "Ahyee, E, Iyee, Ow, You."

That's how it is for all of us. Try changing a deeply ingrained personal habit and your old way of doing business keeps insisting itself on you. But like Eliza, if we keep practicing, we do gradually change. Eliza's breakthrough — that famous dramatic moment when she finally gets it — comes during one of their practice sessions. To the utter astonishment of Higgins; his housekeeper; and Colonel Pickering, the linguist with whom Higgins bet he could pass off Eliza as royalty in six months, Eliza, sounding every inch an aristocrat, crisply articulates, "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!"

An unbelieving Higgins has her repeat it a couple times. Triumphant, he cheers, "By George, she's got it! By George, she's got it!"

Like Eliza, it is your turn to go beyond vividly imagining how you want to transform some behavior of your own to actually doing it. Don't panic. We will start you off by practicing in the privacy of your home, following a carefully mapped sequence I will lay out for you. However, like any actor preparing to give a quality performance, you must rehearse and not just once. It should be often enough that you have your words and gestures down pretty much the way you want them. On the other hand, we are not shooting for perfection. Perfectionists are never ready. The goal is simply for you to be reasonably well-rehearsed before going out into the real world for a trial run.

Stick with the following sequence to help you move systematically, step-by-step through your practice sessions. Please, do not rush through the steps. No actor on stage would race through rehearsals and expect to turn out a fine performance. Instead, practice your target behavior the way you intend to do it in real life.

The more realism you can add to the situation, the better, for example, role-playing with a friend. If that is not practical, consider looking at yourself in the mirror as you rehearse your words. I also strongly encourage you to tape-record or even videotape your practice sessions. That provides you with much more reliable feedback than simply trying to remember what you said and how you said it.

(What follows in the program is Rehearsing My Target Behavior: A Step-By-Step Checklist with a section on Preparing My Verbal Message and another on Tips For How I Deliver The Message.)

EXCERPT 7 - THE CONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH TO SELF-CHANGE AND HELENE'S STORY

In every situation, you have choices about how you respond. Even if there is nothing you can do about the external situation, your internal reactions are still a matter of choice. I realize it often doesn't feel like a choice. We all do so many things so automatically, out of habit. Choice just doesn't seem to be part of the picture. Just because it doesn't seem so, doesn't make it so. Just because you're used to reacting a certain way, doesn't mean you must be a prisoner of that reaction for the rest of your life. The reality is that you can choose to start thinking and reacting differently at any time. Of course, that's likely to require some practice on your part, but that's a choice you're free to make.

Especially when it comes to pursuing personal change, which, of course, is what this book and CD are about, a very basic, important choice is the attitude you adopt about the very idea of changing yourself. It may surprise you to realize even the way you approach the self-transformation process is your choice. You can do it with constructive expectations, patience, humor, encouragement, and supporting yourself all along the way. Or you can approach the idea of transforming something about yourself as a struggle, keep questioning your abilities, expect limited or no success, and keep wondering if you should scrap the whole idea.

As I said before, when people go forth to try their target behavior in the outside world, they are often in a state of heightened tension and negative emotional and physical arousal. So it wouldn't be very hard for your thinking to head down a slippery slope of negativity, especially if you're someone who tends toward pessimistic thinking in the first place. "I can't do this…I'm a loser…It won't work…I've tried before…It's not meant to be…It's my personality to be the way I am. There's nothing I can do about that." And on and on. The list of negative things we can create to tell ourselves is endless unless we decide to not say negative things at all. Or at least, if negative thoughts pop into our head, not focus on them, not keep repeating them.

What alternative do you have? Acknowledge what you are doing is hard work and stressful, but frame it in your mind as a challenge instead of a nightmare, struggle, or impending disaster. Moreover, it is a challenge. Challenge implies work and effort, but it also implies you are moving yourself in a positive direction toward a change of your choice and, along with that, comes growth, greater personal freedom, and life satisfaction.

Which do you think is most helpful? Trying to change yourself while playing a looping "I'll never be able to do this" tape in your head? Or seeing yourself as someone who is willing to rise to a challenge, feeling proud of that, knowing you will persist even when it is not easy? People who decide to think about a difficult task as a challenge are people who choose to think constructively and optimistically. Try it, even if you don't normally think that way. Personal empowerment and taking charge of your life is all about choosing how you will respond to things. Helene's story is an example of what I mean.

My friend Helene's mother died a couple years ago. Her ninety-one-year-old father, Julius, an extraordinarily wise man who was loved and admired by everyone who knew him, was diagnosed with lung cancer some months later. Helene invited Julius to move across country to live with her, which he gratefully did. The doctors eradicated the cancer. For a while, things seemed all right, but forty radiation treatments had taken their toll on his lungs, resulting in a series of hospitalizations for pneumonia. Eventually, the doctor indicated it was a matter of months. Julius grew weaker, needing oxygen at home, then a wheelchair, and finally was bedridden.

It goes without saying that Helene's life was highly stressed, especially in the later months. Handling Julius's demanding home care would have been a job in itself, but Helene had to continue running her successful consulting business as well. She had a terrible time finding a caregiver to hire a few hours per week so she could even leave the house. Home or away, every waking hour was burdened, knowing the father she loved so dearly was slipping away. With all her stress, sadness, and exhaustion in those last days, Helene could easily have sunk into a state of pure misery. What kept her from that was viewing this time of their lives together as a challenge and a gift-an experience that was helping deepen her understanding of life and its passing-as well as deepen her understanding of herself. She had never before been alone for any extended period with her father. His living with her gave new dimension to their relationship. It was a wonderful opportunity to watch the grace with which Julius responded to his situation, be good-spirited and devoted with him, and grow wiser for being around him.

Helene consciously chose to look at her situation this way. Another person might have chosen to experience only the stress and misery of it. That is my point. We make these choices, whether we are aware of doing so or not. Looking back, thinking a lot about her father, Helene is pleased with herself for how she chose to handle things.

As you set out to try your new behavior in the outside world, I urge you to adopt my friend Helene's strategy. Think of transforming how you behave as a challenge rather than a struggle. Like Helene, you will find doing that a most worthwhile choice.

EXCERPT 8 - TAKE-CHARGE LIVING AS A WAY OF LIFE

Just like My Fair Lady's Eliza Doolittle, you play the starring role in your own life's show. Recasting that role is what this program has been all about. Recasting starts with making one specific change.

Let's say your target for change is recasting your role at work because you know your career is stuck unless you can begin speaking up and promoting ideas. Let's also say you take up that challenge. By carefully following all six acts of the take-charge living program, you become much more dynamic and impressive at work. That would be success enough, wouldn't it? While you were changing at work, something else in you was changing as well —arguably something bigger, better, and even more important.

You may remember that I said the only thing that convinces our brains to let go of the false belief that it is too dangerous, difficult, or beyond our ability to change is to see us actually do it. People resist the idea that for change to happen they must act first without feeling ready, because that feels counterintuitive. Nonetheless, that's how it is.

In my imagined scenario, not only have you become more dynamic at work, your brain has been observing you make this change, understanding full well that you've broken a long-standing pattern of keeping good ideas to yourself out of fear you might sound stupid if you speak up. In view of your new success, your brain is sizing you up in a somewhat different light, as if it is telling itself, "Well, what do you know, she can speak up and push her ideas after all! Nothing bad is happening from doing that. In fact, all this feels very good."

What's more, your brain puts this new information to good use. The next time you want to recast something about how you run your life, your brain, which is trying to protect you, instead of warning you against the idea, is more likely to entertain the possibility that because you changed successfully once before, you might very well do it again. And so it goes. With each success at changing something you do not like about yourself or handling a situation in a new, better way, you build confidence because your brain increasingly encourages instead of discourages you.

This change is about much more than becoming more assertive at work. Now we are talking about you gradually developing an entire new philosophy, a whole new outlook about how you can and intend to run your life. What I'm saying is that by continually practicing the take-charge living approach, it eventually becomes your everyday way of living. You come to a new understanding and belief that, regardless of which situations you confront (good ones or troubled ones), you can choose how it is best for you to respond instead of repeating old patterns of reacting which were not getting you where you wanted to go.

This learning process develops over time as you practice using the take-charge living approach to handle a variety of different issues more effectively than you did in the past. As with learning anything, the more you practice, the quicker you get good at it and enjoy its rewards. The key is taking action.

Action can mean many different things — being more assertive, ending bad relationships, pursuing career goals, taming a temper, improving how you talk to people, eating healthy, becoming less self-critical, setting limits, exercising, being honest-or any one of a hundred other changes that would improve your life. Whatever your specific needs for change, lots of research shows that people who take action in the face of some obstacle or difficulty are both psychologically and physically healthier. They sometimes even live longer than people who are stuck in a rut that they passively accept as their lot in life. Letting circumstance, fate, or other people determine things for you is not a healthy way to live.

Start small if you need to, but start! You must begin to take action if you want things to change. Don't wait to feel like taking your first steps before you get going. As I keep saying, it does not work that way. Action comes first. Feelings change afterwards. As I also keep reminding you, the action we are talking about is you working at some personal change in how you think, feel, and act. Take-charge living is never about trying to maneuver others into changing while you hang on to your old ways.

I will wrap up this chapter with three helpful suggestions to keep in mind as you work the take-charge living program. The first is to not expect a perfect performance from yourself, either when you practice the new behavior at home or try it in the world. Changing something personal is a learning process. Like other learning, it happens in steps. Instead of getting discouraged, expect your new performance will be initially awkward, stiff, or off-target. That is exactly the reason take-charge living builds in practice sessions. You must keep learning and fine-tuning.

The second suggestion is keeping your sense of humor as you try new ways of thinking and acting. Change is work. However, getting overly intense or, worse, self-critical only makes it harder to continue. Be a friend to yourself. Giggle at some of your awkward attempts. Nothing says you must be deadly to change.

The third suggestion is giving yourself lots of pats on the back for effort. Appreciate that it is gutsy both for you to admit you need to change, and to act on that knowledge. You deserve to pat yourself on the back, not just once, but every step of the way. Please remind yourself to do that.