We all have reasons to give thanks

Think that you have little to be thankful for this month?  Haven’t taken time to think about the blessings you have?

For starters, you can be grateful that you weren’t one of the pilgrims who broke bread together that first Thanksgiving in 1621.  I clipped these facts from the Arizona Republic years ago, just to remind myself that even on the toughest days, I have nothing to complain about.  Here’s what some of our ancestors encountered to come to America.

They had uprooted themselves from their lives and sailed for the New World.  The journey was so hazardous that guides advised travelers to “First, make thy will.”

The trip was treacherous, to say the least.  The Mayflower was actually blown off course, and instead of reaching Virginia, where there were Englishmen who had settled there 13 years earlier, the pilgrims ended up in the wilds of Massachusetts.

When they finally found and settled on Plymouth, winter had set in.  The storms were terrible, and shelter was only rudimentary.  With little food, nearly all the settlers fell ill.

Within three months of settling in Plymouth, nearly half the company died from disease and starvation.  “There died sometimes two or three of a day,” Colonial Governor William Bradford later recalled.

harveythanksgivingThough Native Americans showed the pilgrims how to plant corn, the settlers’ first crops were dismal.  Soon, supplies ran out and England refused to send more.  Yet they persevered.  I doubt any of us has ever faced such daunting obstacles.

By comparison, our lives seem pretty manageable.  Developing an attitude of gratitude takes so little effort, yet many of us need a refresher course in how to be thankful for what we have.

Thanksgiving is a time for togetherness.  Take time to relax.  Don’t overschedule yourself.  Build some extra time into your day so you can talk to family and friends, enjoy your meal and genuinely give thanks for being together.

Stop and take note of the things in your life that are good, instead of focusing on the current – and often inconsequential – things that seem to be going wrong.  Take care not to fall into whining, even though we almost all do now and then.  But it can become a bad habit if you don’t take stock of the good things in your life once in a while.

The trick is to not take things for granted.   Sometimes this arises from the idea that life owes us better than we are receiving.  Sometimes it comes from habits we have mindlessly picked up from other people.  But whining and complaining won’t likely change your situation or how you feel.  When you are in the midst of a pity party, you might want to try some of the following tips to remind yourself just how much you have to be thankful for.

Stop and smell the roses.  Take some time out to acknowledge the good things in life.  Take the day off and do something fun, take a bike ride or a walk to enjoy the beauty of nature.  Look at the world around you from a different angle.

Do something for someone else.  If you are focused solely on your own problems, one of the best ways to break the cycle of negativity is to go out and do something for someone else.  Volunteer at a foodbank, cook dinner for an ailing neighbor or help out with a community project.  The point is to change your focus and do something good for another person.  These types of activities can radically change your mood and put your own situation in perspective.

Talk about the good things in life.  Even if it feels awkward, say something positive.  Break through the barrier of negativity that you are trapped in.  Vow to say something positive at least once a day for a week.  You likely will be surprised by the power of your own thoughts and words on your mood.

May I give you an example of the good things in my life for which I am thankful?  Top of the list is my wife and family.  I’m grateful for the example my parents set for my sister and me.  I am blessed with wonderful and loyal friends.  I appreciate the people who have worked for me and with me over the years.  I am very appreciative for the audiences I speak to and the readers of my books and columns.  In short, I can always find something to be thankful for.


Mackay’s Moral:  Happy Thanksgiving – and happy thanks giving.

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Happy people make other people happy

There is a fable about a little girl who was feeling particularly lonely and blue when she happened across a gorgeous butterfly trapped in the thorns of a blackberry bush.  Taking great care not to tear its fragile wings, the girl’s nimble fingers finally worked the insect free, whereupon, instead of fluttering away, it turned into a golden fairy who offered to grant any wish.

“I want to be happy!” the little girl cried.

The fairy smiled, leaned forward, whispered something in her ear and vanished.  And from that day forward there was no more happy spirit in the land than that child, who grew into a merry woman and a contented old lady.  On her deathbed, her neighbors crowded around, desperate that the secret of happiness not die with her.

“Tell us, please tell us, what the fairy said to you,” they pleaded.

The neighbor smiled benevolently, and whispered, “She told me that everyone – no matter how rich or secure or self-contained or successful they might appear – had need of me.”

How true!  Everyone needs to be needed.  It brings tremendous satisfaction to know that you have such a vital purpose in life, one that surely contributes to your happiness and contentment.

HarveySmileI’ve learned over the years that happiness comes from making other people happy.   Successful people, as well as successful businesses, take great joy in finding ways to spread happiness.  Why is Disneyland the “happiest place on earth”?   Is it any wonder that one of the biggest songs of the year is Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”?  How many Happy Meals do you think McDonald’s sells?   Have you ever attended a happy hour at your favorite watering hole?

Businesses that are clued in to what customers want find ways to incorporate “happy” into the sale.  A new car doesn’t drive any better because the dealership was decked out in balloons and offered free hot dogs.  But a happy experience beats an ordinary one most days.

Following that line of thought, it turns out that the conventional wisdom is wrong:  It is possible to buy happiness – when you spend your money on others.  Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University found that people who buy gifts for others and make charitable donations report being happier than people who spend their money primarily on themselves.  The scientists studied 630 Americans and asked them to rate their general happiness, their annual income, and their monthly spending – including bills, gifts for themselves, gifts for others and charitable contributions.

And again, it illustrates the point that knowing that others have need of you brightens your outlook.

Even our nation’s Declaration of Independence places a premium on happiness, stating that we are “bestowed with certain unalienable rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson and company left it up to us to figure out how to pursue happiness, but I have some thoughts for you.  Here’s my prescription for happiness.  Use it regularly and you will see wonderful results.

  1. Don’t let little things bother you.  There is always something better to think about.
  2. Keep your perspective.  Put first things first and stay the course.
  3. Only worry about what you can control.  If you cannot do anything about a situation, worrying won’t make it – or you – better.
  4. Do your best, but understand that you can’t always be a perfectionist.  Don’t condemn yourself or others for not achieving perfection.
  5. When you are right, be gracious.  When wrong, be even more gracious.
  6. Trust or believe people whenever you can, and when that isn’t possible, accept them at their worst and weakest.  You can keep your convictions without destroying others.
  7. Don’t compare yourself to others, which is the guarantee of instant misery.  People are different for many reasons.
  8. Brush away the chip on your shoulder so that when something happens to you that you don’t like, you can take the high road.
  9. Give of yourself wholeheartedly or enthusiastically.  When you have nothing left to give, someone will return the favor.
  10. Make happiness the aim of your life instead of bracing for life’s barbs.
  11. Remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.  Others can do kind things for you, but you must be open to being happy.  But don’t let that stop you from trying to make others happy!

Mackay’s Moral:  You are only as happy as you decide to be.

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Be accountable if you want to count

The recent political silly season is over – finally – and once again, I was listening for one particular word in the endless ads that peppered the airwaves:  accountability.

It seems like the only time you hear that word is in the context of blaming one’s opponent for lack of it.  I suspect that the reason so many of us grow so weary during political campaign season is that the finger-pointing is more prevalent than accepting responsibility for one’s actions.  And the gridlock that ensues is always the other person’s fault.  Can someone please make it all stop?

Businesses, on the other hand, can’t afford to shirk responsibility or accountability.  Customers expect nothing less.  Accountability must be a core value, never compromised, never up for discussion.

“Leaders must develop a lower threshold for alibis and become better communicators and enforcers of what they want done,” writes Dave Anderson, author of “No-Nonsense Leadership.” “If you are more interested in being liked and popular than holding people accountable for results, you have a serious leadership weakness.  It is not your job to make people happy.  Your job is to get them better.  Holding people accountable to high standards and results is nothing to apologize for.  Failing to stretch them to their potential is.”

My friend Bob Dilenschneider, founder and principal of The Dilenschneider Group in New York, counsels corporations all over the world on planning and communications.  In his recent “Red Book” paper on “Why Accountability Matters,” he suggests that rather than dwelling on culpability, focus instead on accountability in terms of taking responsibility for one’s actions.  “Accountability should be approached as a mindset – one that shapes our goals and the action you take to achieve those goals.”

accountability3To me, that means accountability is a good thing, not a negative.  I want to own my decisions because I try to do the right thing even when it is not the easy thing.  I am willing to accept the blame when necessary as well as the credit when deserved for my actions.

“Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership.  And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have,” says Pat Summitt, former Tennessee women’s basketball coach.  For the record, she holds the most all-time wins for a coach in NCAA basketball history of either a men’s or women’s team in any division.

Accountability starts at the top and needs to be clearly communicated in every facet of business.  Employees need to share common goals with management, take ownership of projects, and work as a team to the best of their ability.  Managers engender accountability with these steps:

  • Establish clear deadlines.  Reporting on progress must be a priority for management and employees alike.  Set specific timetables, schedules and dates for reports and completion.  Employees need to understand the importance of keeping everyone in the loop.
  • Deal with problems immediately.  Employees whose work does not meet requirements can destroy a project and ruin your relationship with customers and other employees.  Find out what caused the problem:  miscommunication on your part, lack of willingness or ability, unrealistic deadlines?  Then do whatever you must to address the issue.
  • Don’t tolerate excuses.  An employee who always has an excuse will never take responsibility for his or her work.  Your customer expects results, not excuses.
  • Remove obstacles.  If managers or employees can’t achieve desired results, look for the issue and correct it.  There may be legitimate problems that are preventing progress.  Computer glitches, overloaded schedules or slow delivery of materials are unexpected complications that you cannot afford to ignore.
  • Delegate wisely.  Sharing ownership in a project lets your staff know that you trust them and that you are sharing responsibility as well.  Coach those employees so they understand how their performance contributes to projects.
  • Give sufficient authority.  Don’t think of this as having someone else to blame.  Rather, consider it an opportunity for employees to demonstrate their potential and bring fresh perspectives.

USA Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, aka Coach K, says, “In putting together your standards, remember that it is essential to involve your entire team.  Standards are not rules issued by the boss; they are a collective identity.  Remember, standards are the things that you do all the time and the things for which you hold one another accountable.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Accountability is the ability to accept responsibility. 

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Motivation lets you be your best self

I began a second or third career as a “motivational business speaker” about 26 years ago.  Several times a month, I have the privilege of speaking to a Fortune 1000 company, offering business advice and inspiring stories to stir people to capitalize on their abilities and reach their full potential.

I love this part of my job.  I’ve met thousands of people who are looking for help getting started – a little extra motivation.  But what they perhaps don’t understand is that while I may be a good storyteller and enthusiastic cheerleader, the motivation doesn’t actually come from me.  It’s the “fire in the belly” of the listeners that will eventually determine whether they achieve more than they thought they could.

That’s right – motivation must come from within.  You have to ignite your own passion.  Otherwise, how do you explain that in a roomful of people who hear the same message, some will just go back to the office, grateful for the break, while others go on to accomplish great things.

motivationI am fascinated with the science of what makes people tick.  Let me share an example from a pioneering thinker in the field of workplace motivation, David McClelland, who developed many of his theories in the 1950s and ’60s.

With no stipulated rules, volunteers were asked to throw rings over pegs just like the fairgrounds game.  Most people seemed to throw from arbitrary, random distances, sometimes close, sometimes farther away.  But a small group of volunteers, whom McClelland suggested were strongly achievement-motivated, carefully measured and tested distances that would produce a challenge that was not too easy, but not impossible.

McClelland identified the need for a “balanced challenge” in the approach of achievement-motivated people.  People with a strong achievement-motivation need to set themselves challenging but realistic goals.

That makes perfect sense to me.  I have an easier time getting motivated to sell to an account that I have a reasonable expectation of landing, even if it takes several – or many – calls.   I can talk myself into going back again and again if I want it bad enough, and I think I have a chance of success.

As humorist Oscar Wilde put it, “My great mistake, the fault for which I cannot forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality.”  In other words, the day he lost motivation to be his best self.

motivationmanifesto2My friend Brendon Burchard has set out a plan that demonstrates how to avoid that trap.  His new book, “The Motivation Manifesto:  9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power,” is based on the theory that “a vibrant, genuine, and purposeful life is the right of all humankind. . . Humankind’s main motivation is to seek and experience Personal Freedom.”

Personal Freedom, he says, is important because “when controlled by others, life loses its flair, and we are cast into melancholy and mediocrity.”

That sounds to me like the opposite of motivation.  So we need to be free to be motivated.  But, Burchard says, that presents a difficult choice, “between the comforts of fitting in and pleasing others and our higher motive for Personal Freedom.”

He says “to achieve Personal Freedom, we must dedicate ourselves to self-mastery; we must determine and discipline our own motivations to stay true to our sense of self, to our own path.”

Overcoming fear – specifically fear of failure – is essential to freedom.  He encourages readers to repeat this mantra:  “Fear wins or Freedom wins, and I choose Freedom.”

And perhaps his boldest statement is this:  “Our entire human value system rests on motivation.  None of the great human values that keep us and society in check – kindness, love, honesty, fairness, unity, tolerance, respect, responsibility – would flourish if we were not motivated to bring them to life.”

Sustaining motivation requires real effort.  In order to claim the personal power required for motivation, Burchard presents and expands on these nine declarations:

  • We Shall Meet Life with Full Presence and Power
  • We Shall Reclaim Our Agenda
  • We Shall Defeat Our Demons
  • We Shall Advance with Abandon
  • We Shall Practice Joy and Gratitude
  • We Shall Not Break Integrity
  • We Shall Amplify Love
  • We Shall Inspire Greatness
  • We Shall Slow Time

Motivation is a daily challenge.  But understanding the rewards makes the effort worthwhile.


Mackay’s Moral:  (with thanks to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu) “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” 

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Thrive on pressure

Pressure.  The very word strikes fear into many people.  Winners thrive on pressure while losers fear it.

What is pressure?  My definition of pressure is when you absolutely have to do something you are not prepared to do.  If you have to kick a field goal to win a big football game and you aren’t prepared to do it, you are going to be nervous.  You’re going to feel pressure.  But if you’ve really prepared for it, you can’t wait to show people how good you are.

That’s why winners look forward to pressure.  It brings out their best.  People who welcome pressure are more successful.

HarveypressureConversely, pressure can cripple you if you’re not prepared.  When pressure is self-inflicted, it can control you.  Pressure is an attitude.  It’s 10 percent of what is happening and 90 percent of how you handle it.

Don’t be like by friend Mark.  They used to call him “Jigsaw” because every time he was faced with a problem, he went to pieces.

Tennis pro Billie Jean King said:  “Match point is a love-hate relationship.  The torment of ‘Oh, God, what am I doing here?’ and ‘This is it!  This is what I’ve been working for.’  I know this is why I paid the price.  This is what it’s all about if you want to be a champion. The challenge of that moment.  Match point!”

To be a champion in sports or business or any phase of life, you have to learn to handle pressure.  If you’ve prepared mentally and physically, you don’t have to worry.

During my corporate speeches I repeat one of my favorite aphorisms: “Practice makes perfect … not true.  You have to add one word … Perfect practice makes perfect.”  I wish that I had coined that phrase but I didn’t.  Legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi did.

This is why over my lifetime I’ve had numerous coaches to help me develop whatever natural talent I have.  I’ve had coaches for public speaking, writing, ideas/creativity, running marathons, golf, tennis, water skiing, swimming, bowling, basketball, to name only a few.  I’ve even had a dance coach … thanks to my wife.

Why do I have all of these coaches?  Because whatever my God-given talent is, whatever my God-given potential is … That’s it.  I can’t do any better.  But I will still try to do the best I can, with the best help I can get.

If I have a project, I’ll have a time and action calendar; get the best coaching I can find; and then try my hardest and focus and give it all I’ve got.

Should I feel pressure?  Yes, but I will use it to my advantage.  I’m as prepared as I can be.  I can’t do anymore.

Research shows that one of the key ways to deal with pressure is to have a feeling of control.  And what better way to be in control than to be prepared and experienced.

Take NASA as an example.  NASA puts all its astronauts through situations they might encounter in space.  Who can even begin to think about what might happen thousands of miles in space?  The moon is more than 238,000 miles away from earth!  Pressure? You better believe it.  But they are prepared.  If you are familiar with what is happening to and around you, you will have a powerful feeling of confidence.

Let’s face it.  No matter what, you are going to be in pressure situations.  No one is free from pressure.  It can’t be avoided.  Don’t panic.  Don’t lose your cool.  Concentrate.  Return to fundamentals.  Get your confidence back.

As simple as it sounds, try taking deep, relaxing breaths.  Pressure often causes people to breathe more quickly and shallow.  Deep breathing allows oxygen to more efficiently enter the blood and the brain, which will help you think more clearly.

Don’t stress over what you cannot control.  Everybody gets a curveball now and then.  Shake it off the best you can.  Be flexible and appreciate adversity.  It will help you grow stronger.

As Jacques Plante, a former professional hockey goalie for the Montreal Canadians once said, “How would you like it in your job if every time you made a small mistake, a red light went on over your desk and fifteen thousand people stood up and yelled at you?”

Try to relax.  Things could be worse.


Mackay’s Moral:  A diamond is a chunk of coal that made good under pressure.

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