Until now, I haven’t shared with many people that I was a cheerleader in high school. Although I would not become a cheerleader now nor necessarily advocate it for any young person, it’s who I was at that time in my life.
I learned some valuable leadership lessons about motivating others as a cheerleader. I mean real lessons about how to get people to do things, not just yelling in unison. Recently, I realized that one of the most valuable lessons was about motivating myself.
Cheerleading camp was a grueling, week-long ordeal. We got up at dawn and were jumping, cheering, and yelling for most of the day. Several times we met as one huge group.
The leader of the camp would yell out, “Are you having a good time?”
Our thundering answer was, “We love it here!”
I used the phrase and technique on my children as they grew up. I remember several times sitting in the car with them when circumstances were less than ideal. I would ask in a loud and cheerful voice, “Are we having a good time?”
They would answer in a grudging, sarcastic tone, “We love it here.” However, it did cheer them up. They smiled. There is something silly about the process. More importantly, it underlines the fact that we do get to decide whether or not we like it here.
Recently, I was reminded of a story I’ve seen online several times. It’s probably not true, but it contains a valuable lesson. The story is about an old woman who is moving into a nursing home. In the story, she has never seen her room there.
As an attendant takes the old woman up in the elevator, she says casually, “I hope that you like your new home.”
The old woman answers, “I am going to love it.”
The attendant displays incredibly poor customer service skills and asks, “How can you know that? You haven’t seen it.”
The old woman says, “Because I’ve already decided to like it.”
I’ve been having some difficulty adjusting to my new and smaller home, so the memory of cheerleading camp and the story of the old woman going into the nursing home came at an opportune time. They reminded me that I get to choose how I feel about things. I am choosing to love it here!
The cheerleading camp memory and the story also give clues to the answer to a question that I am asked in leadership workshops all the time. At the beginning of a leadership series, we discuss the important qualities of a leader. We think of leaders in our lives who were truly motivating and inspiring. I ask the group, “Did that leader have a positive attitude?”
They always answer yes. Then I ask, “Do you feel that the leader cared about you?” I always get a resounding yes. I remind them of the old saying (sometimes misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt): “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
We don’t give our best to people whom we believe do not have our best interests at heart. Caring is a basic motivational technique. However, caring about everyone can be a challenge. The question that I get over and over is, “How can I care about people who I don’t like?”
I struggled with the answer until I realized that like the old woman in the elevator, we decide to.
Deciding to like a situation or care about a person is not easy because it’s not a one-and-done decision. We must continue to decide every second of every day until one day, it just happens on its own. The new way of thinking becomes a habit that we have created with intentional effort.
There are other things that help us care and have empathy for others. Reading books improves empathy. Of course, there is a lot of research behind the Loving Kindness Meditation in which I firmly believe.
We can wave around the Magic Wand of Destiny by making intentional choices in every aspect of our lives. It isn’t always easy and takes constant vigilance to create an attitude or feeling. However, realizing that we can is empowering and life-changing.
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