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How to Lead an Exceptional Life, with James Mapes

Author of the acclaimed book Quantum Leap Thinking, James Mapes is the authority on the psychology of applied imagination. Drawing from his unique background in neurology, psychology, philosophy, and theater, James has helped thousands of people reach the next level in their lives with his scientifically based approach to breaking through the mental and emotional barriers that prevent most people from realizing their full potential.

Those who choose to live an exceptional life have the courage and grit to identify their top life priorities and determine if their actions are congruent with those priorities.

SPEAKING.COM: You are dedicated to helping people live “exceptional lives.” What defines an “exceptional life”?

MAPES: Living an exceptional life is purely subjective and based entirely on each person’s unique set of values, beliefs, dreams, and expectations. So, an exceptional life is exactly what each of us thinks it is. There are, however, certain traits that are shared by all those who live exceptional lives – traits that are rock-solid and universal, many of which have been around since the beginning of humankind.

Here is the short list of what I will refer to as “traits” or “clues” to living an exceptional life:

Those who live exceptional lives are curious, say “yes” to opportunities, commit to lifelong learning, have purpose, are of service, focus on what they can control and let go of what they can’t.

Those who live exceptional lives choose to be a partner in their own wellness, are willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term payoffs, commit to self-knowledge, and take personal responsibility for all choices. They acknowledge grievances, let them go, and forgive.

Finally, and most importantly, they know how to apply their imagination and influence their subconscious mind.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some steps people can take to lead an exceptional life?

MAPES: My gut response to this question is – learn the mental tools to manage your thinking. That, in turn, provides you with the ability to identify and break through your limits and fears in all their forms. This requires you are to be proactive and educate yourself on how the mind works and how you can positively influence (not control) your subconscious mind. Armed with this knowledge, you can reframe negative to positive thoughts and put a halt to damaging self-talk. Mental tools include harnessing the imagination by visualization.

Those who choose to live an exceptional life have the courage and grit to identify their top life priorities and determine if their actions are congruent with those priorities and course-correct, if necessary. They know how to use personal values as motivators both for themselves and others. They create “stretch goals”, based on a powerful vision of possibility. They make friends with rejection and change. In addition, they develop the skill to transform fear into love, let go, and forgive.

As “soft” as all these suggestions may sound, they ultimately lead to living an exceptional life and sharing that life with those around you.

The reality is that the subconscious or unconscious, the non-thinking part of our brain controls 90% of our lives, while the conscious, the thinking part of our mind, controls only 10%.

SPEAKING.COM: Your book Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind applies quantum physics to human behavior. What is the connection between the two?

MAPES: In the world of quantum physics, sudden “leaps” take place where particles mysteriously jump from one orbit to another. What I discovered is that successful individuals who are “quantum leap thinkers” also take a figurative “jump” in their lives. They follow certain principles that create this apparent sudden leap to a higher level of living, success, health and joy.

Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind took more than a decade to write because, in addition to making the ideas easy to understand and apply, I conducted hundreds of interviews observing and delineating the patterns of those who were successful. This boiled down to 14 points, balancing on a 3-point foundation: Managing Change, Creative Thinking and Continuous Learning. The 14 points of Quantum Leap Thinking are: Pay attention, Turn Fear into Power, Hold a Vision, Enlarge Goals, Be Flexible, Have Commitment, Empower, Communicate with Integrity, Create Partnership, Have Fun, Take Risks, Trust, Love and Support.

SPEAKING.COM: There’s a statement in your book that reads: “the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between a real and imagined experience.” Could you expand on that concept?

MAPES: This is one of my favorite talking points, since it refers to a supposition which is now validated by the latest brain research.

For example, if you vividly imagine biting into a lemon, you will most likely have the same physiological reaction as biting into a real lemon. If you recall a sad, fearful or horrific event from your past, your heart rate will go up, blood pressure will rise and your brain will release adrenaline and cortisol. The same reactions holds true for imagining positive, compassionate and loving thoughts, though this time the feel-good chemical, serotonin is released.

The reality is that the subconscious or unconscious, the non-thinking part of our brain controls 90% of our lives, while the conscious, the thinking part of our mind, controls only 10%.

Mental imagery, what we imagine (see, hear, feel) is the language that the subconscious understands.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some examples of how our subconscious affects our conscious and the choices we make?

MAPES: Simply put: we are programmed at our deepest level for “fight or flight” when experiencing fear, even if the fear is imagined. Another brain fact is that we will move towards what gives us pleasure and away from what creates pain. However, this is NOT a conscious choice, which is why identifying and exploring our fears is so very important.

Deep within our subconscious is our DNA heritage. This includes what we have been taught and what we observed at an early age. That makes up our paradigms, our beliefs about how the world should work.

So, if we are fearful of taking risks, we cannot grow. If we are limited by fear of failure, we can’t learn. If we are manipulated by fear of rejection we will isolate ourselves. If we are overpowered by the fear of change, we get stuck in life. The list goes on.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some techniques people can use to alter their subconscious for the better?

MAPES: The first technique is learning how to manage our thinking. In order to do that, we must study how to use our conscious mind to “influence” our subconscious. I use the word “influence” because controlling the subconscious is an illusion.

The major skill/technique is visualization or mental rehearsal. Mental imagery, what we imagine (see, hear, feel) is the language that the subconscious understands. That’s the reason for creating a powerful, clear vision and knowing how to communicate that vision. The subconscious responds to powerful, clear stories which trigger the imagination to envision and create an exceptional life.

SPEAKING.COM: Why are most people resistant to new ways of thinking?

MAPES: Many people are afraid to step out of their comfort zone and think differently. They fear looking inward. Basically people want to feel like they are always in control and that they are always “right” in their assumptions, assuming that “will power” is the answer to everything.

The reality is that the way we think is really a habit and almost everyone resists changing a habit. Why? Because change is uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that is why many individuals only embrace new ways of thinking and accept change when life’s painful challenges – mental, physical, spiritual, emotional or social – become too overwhelming.

The reality is that we cannot see ourselves (The eye cannot behold itself.) Metaphorically, we all need a coach, a teacher or a mentor. That’s why I have coaches to help me spot where my thinking is flawed. The rest is up to me. Coaching techniques are part of my program.

SPEAKING.COM: What can leaders and managers do to encourage creativity and reframe negative thinking in their teams?

Present a clear, vivid and flexible vision of where you want your team to go, give them the education and resources to achieve it – and then get out of their way.

MAPES: Leadership is often confusing. Out of hundreds of definitions this quote by Bill Gates resonates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Given that definition I would propose the following. As a leader, have the courage to give teams the freedom to challenge the status quo, empower others to think out of the box and give them the tools to manage their thinking. Present a clear, vivid and flexible vision of where you want your team to go, give them the education and resources to achieve it – and then get out of their way.

SPEAKING.COM: What do you consider the “5 culturally and morally neutral traits” of all successful leaders?

MAPES: After years of research and hundreds of interviews with leaders throughout the world, the following five leadership traits provide a common thread, independent of cultural or moral judgment:
1) Be passionate.
2) Empower others.
3) Turn fear into positive energy.
4) Create a powerful vision.
5) Clearly communicate that vision.

SPEAKING.COM: What is “future vision” and what role does it play in peak performance?

MAPES: One of my favorite quotes on vision is from author Alvin Toffler: “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”

You cannot arrive at a destination if you don’t know where you are going. Peak performers know where they are going. Vision is their guiding force, the compass of peak performers.

Vision is a clear, powerful, coherent, value-based picture of the future, as to what the organization or individual can be. While vision is the creation of the imagination, it is also practical and achievable. Vision possesses both strategy and performance. Vision sets directions, motivates action, and guides decisions. Vision reflects values and aspirations, as well as being built on facts.


To bring James Mapes to your organization to help craft vision and visionary thinking, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com.

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  • James Mapes Speaker, expert of the psychology of “applied imagination,” performance coach, author: Quantum Leap Thinking James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach. For over 30 years, James has been ... more

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