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Motivational Columns by Jim Stovall

A Lesson from a 4-Year-Old

If we were to conduct a poll among the readers of this column to determine how many of you could sing or dance, I fear that we would receive the overwhelming message that the vast majority of adults feel they have no talent in these areas. On the other hand, if we were to conduct the same poll among 4-year-olds, we would find that virtually all of them are convinced they can sing, and virtually all of them have confidence in their ability to dance.

Most of the 4-year-olds have little or no real talent, but, instead, they are endowed with incredible confidence in their own potential. This confidence, or certainty of success, is something we were all born with but we later traded in for a strong dose of what we call realism.

Shortly after we reach school age, we are taught lessons about the world that revolve around us, limiting our vision and becoming realistic. I defy you to find a statue or a monument ever erected to anyone because they were realistic. All dreamers, all achievers, all great people kept their child-like faith in their own dream and their ability to carry it out, and these great people had an inordinate gift to disregard the world’s cries for reality.

I challenge you to go through a single day exploring every aspect, not from what is realistic, but instead from what is possible. If we can master this, we will begin to revert backwards and live our lives in the unlimited realm of the successful 4-year-old.

Today is the day!


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Dog Decisions

We just finished production on a movie based on my novel The Lamp. I’m really excited about the project, and I hope you have the opportunity to read the novel and see the movie in the near future.

When you turn a book into a movie, there are a number of variables and uncertainties. Among these unpredictable elements is the fact that you never know how a real audience is going to react to an actor or the character they are playing. The Lamp has many outstanding stars including Academy Award-winner Louis Gossett Jr.; Muse Watson, best-known for his current role as Mike Franks on NCIS; Tony Award-winner L. Scott Caldwell who recently starred on Lost; Sarah Brown, a three-time Emmy Award-winner; and I even reprise my role as the limousine driver that I have played in a number of movies.

The entire cast of The Lamp did a great job, and they’ve all been well received by the sample focus group audiences we have screened the movie prior to its release; but there was one huge surprise in the cast of The Lamp who brought a lot of star power and audience appeal.

Cooper is an eight-year-old mixed-breed dog who was rescued from a shelter before he might have been euthanized. This is a huge problem across the country as there are more unwanted pets than shelters can deal with. Cooper was rescued by Beth Sharp who is one of my colleagues at the Narrative Television Network. Beth trained Cooper extensively, and he became a nationally-registered therapy dog. Cooper regularly visits children’s hospitals, nursing homes, and libraries. On each of these occasions, Cooper performs a number of tricks.

When we finished the script for The Lamp movie, we needed a dog in several places, and I couldn’t think of anyone I would rather have in the film than Cooper. In The Lamp movie, Cooper performed a number of intricate maneuvers, including bringing a Kleenex to Louis Gossett Jr., hiding and retrieving car keys, and befriending a young girl who had not been able to talk or interact with anyone since a horrible accident.

If you ask Beth or other dog trainers how they get their dogs to perform complicated tasks, they will tell you about a teaching technique they use called N.I.L.I.F. This stands for Nothing In Life Is Free. Cooper and other highly-trained dogs quickly learn that if they perform a task on cue, they get a treat or some other reward. If they fail to perform and choose to lie around doing nothing or pursue some outside stimulus that is immediately attracting them, they do not get a reward. I think it is amazing that dogs can learn this in a relatively short period of time, but I know many adult humans who have never grasped this simple concept.

Any time you’re not succeeding or achieving up to expectations, if you will truly examine your circumstances, you will discover you are probably violating the vital life principle known as N.I.L.I.F.

As you go through your day today, take a lesson from Cooper and enjoy the rewards.

Today’s the day!

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The Power of Deciding

I believe and have often said that we are all one quality decision away from anything we want. A quality decision is a certain state of mind. It is not the process of deciding to try, attempt, or pursue something until it becomes difficult. A quality decision means that you have firmly set your course. You are no longer flexible on your mission; however, you may be flexible on your method.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Once you make a decision, the world conspires to make it happen.”

As a blind person myself, I became frustrated with the inability to access movies and television over 25 years ago. I made a quality decision to do something about this issue for myself and the 13 million blind and visually impaired Americans and their families as well as millions more around the world. With some very talented colleagues, I launched and built the Narrative Television Network.

Initially, it was our plan to provide companion audio cassettes that would describe the visual elements of a TV show or movie. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the best quality audio cassettes in 1988 had enough tape stretch problems so that, by the end of an hour program, the audio tape could be as much as a minute ahead or behind. If I had been committed to this method of achieving my mission, it would have been the end of our venture; however, next we began producing VHS tape, followed by delivering our accessible programming via analog broadcast tape, and today we provide special sound tracks to visually impaired people around the world via a number of digital platforms.

I remain committed to the goal of providing accessible entertainment and educational programming for blind and visually impaired children and adults; however, I am quite certain that in the coming years we will deliver our programming through newly-developing technologies as well as technological breakthroughs that have yet to have been even considered.

As you consider your goals and dreams, it is important to move them from the state of a wish to the state of a decision. A wish is something that would be nice if all the stars aligned, and it happened. For example, most people would agree that winning the lottery would be nice if it happened. On the other hand, a decision is a firm state of resolve that closes the door marked “What am I going to do?” and opens a new door marked “How am I going to do it?”

If you will remain committed to your course and open to all possible ways to reach your goal, success is simply a matter of time.

As you go through your day today, find a worthy goal or project and make a quality decision.

Today’s the day!

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Knowing the Unknown

Humanity, itself, creates an ongoing set of problems that are inevitably followed by solutions. These solutions create a new and ever-expanding set of problems.

In the past, we were faced with the problem of finding reliable and rapid transportation. This problem was solved by the automobile, which then created the problem of pollution, traffic congestion, and accidents. Solutions for each of these problems are being sought and will eventually be found. Those solutions will create more problems.

Some pessimistic individuals might look at this ongoing cycle of problems as a negative condition. This is simply because pessimistic individuals have not learned the inevitable truth that all opportunities come disguised as problems.

As a blind person myself, I struggled to deal with the lack of access to the information, education, and entertainment that is provided by movies and television. This problem created a sense of urgency in me that was the beginning of my company, the Narrative Television Network, which provides hundreds of hours of accessible TV and movie programming to the 13 million blind and visually impaired Americans and millions more around the world.

Frustration arises when we try to deal with existing problems through existing knowledge. The problem exists because we don’t know the solution. It doesn’t mean there is not a solution. It simply means we have yet to discover it.

Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.” This knowledge that Sagan speaks of represents the solution to many problems that will, in turn, create new problems which will result in more opportunity and even more knowledge.

There are a myriad of current problems facing the world including an energy crisis, climate change, world hunger, and many others. These will be solved in time. Some might ask how I can emphatically state that the most difficult problems of our age will be solved. It is quite simple. There is knowledge waiting to be known. Once it is known, these problems will be eliminated and new ones will emerge.

Everyone is looking for a great idea and a great opportunity. The only thing you need to do in order to have a great idea is to go through your daily routine and wait for something bad to happen. Then ask yourself, “How could I have avoided that problem?” The answer to that question is a great idea. The only thing you need to do to find a great opportunity is ask yourself, “How could I help other people avoid that same problem?” The answer to that question is a great opportunity. When viewed through this new perspective, problems become welcomed challenges.

As you go through your day today, welcome opportunities disguised as problems, and seek the knowledge that is waiting to be known.

Today’s the day!

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Reputation and Reality

Having just gone through a particularly aggressive political campaign season, it seems more obvious than ever that there is a vast difference between someone’s packaged and publicly-presented self and reality.

The late, great legendary Coach John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are.”

I spend a lot of time working in the television industry through my company, Narrative Television Network. Commercial advertising dollars fuel the entire broadcast business. It is interesting when TV stations or networks present their ratings to prospective advertisers. Commercial ads are sold based on the rating points and ranking of a particular program at a given time during the week.

I challenge you to call each of the TV stations in your local market and ask them their ranking among local stations at any given point in time throughout the week. I will be shocked if you do not learn from these calls that every station is ranked number one at all times. You may wonder: How can this be true?

The reality is that, depending on how you measure and segment the viewers, every station can find some segment of the population where they are the top rated broadcaster. They may have to get down to counting teenaged left-handed Eskimos in order to find a subset of the population where they are top ranked, but everyone will inevitably find some criteria that will make them number one.

This is a difficult and delicate balance because all of us, in one sense or another, succeed based on our ability to sell. We may sell actual products or services, or we sell our ideas and our concepts.

One traditional selling technique involves presenting the best aspect of your own product or service compared to the worst aspect of your competitor’s. I believe we live in such a commercial society that some of this hype is impossible to avoid. In the final analysis, it is important that you be honest with everyone you deal with and totally transparent with yourself.

If you allow yourself the luxury of skewing your performance in your own mind to make you feel better, you have eliminated the possibility of improvement for the future. Certainly, you want to put your best foot forward and present your strongest points to the world around you while you internally focus on your own weaknesses and commit to make improvements.

As you go through your day today, seek a realistic assessment of your current performance, and commit to improving a little bit every day.

Today’s the day!


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