Steve Rizzo is The Attitude Adjuster. You can’t attend one of his seminars or read his books and leave with the same attitude. He is a personal development expert, comedian, motivational speaker and author. His popular PBS special brought him into millions of homes. It’s no surprise that he’s been inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame. His latest book Get Your Shift Together is one that I just had to share. I had the opportunity to ask a Steve a few questions about his life and his new book.
Let Go and Yield To a Higher Purpose
Steve, everyone would say that you were on the top of your game. As a comedian you were a national headliner, sharing the stage with Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Dennis Miller, Ellen DeGeneres and many others. Your roommate was Drew Carey! But, you made a decision to leave comedy and start over in a new career. Tell me about that decision.
Growing up as a child, I acquired many fears and limiting beliefs about myself and the world that surrounded me. Unaware, I carried many of those unresolved negative labels and limiting beliefs into my comedy career. As a result, I kept sabotaging many opportunities that were coming my way. I knew I had the talent, but I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting my big break. I eventually figured out that I had a fear of failure AND a fear of success. (Talk about not being able to make up your mind.) So I went on a self-help quest to better myself. I read countless self-help books, went to personal development seminars, and listened to motivational CD’s. I was determined to turn my life around.
Through the years I noticed a major shift taking place within me. I guess you can say I was starting to get my SHIFT together. Eventually, the comedy industry was starting to show a lot of interest. Ironically I was no longer interested in them. I was being called to do something else with my life. This gradual shift that was taking place led me to my true purpose in life, which is to show people how to be happy and successful, regardless of their circumstances. The tools that I used to better myself are the very tools that I use when I speak to groups throughout the country and around the world.
My quest to overcome the obstacles that were keeping me from the life I truly desired has brought my work full circle. I am truly grateful that I’ve come to the understanding that I didn’t quit stand-up comedy. I simply let go and yielded to a greater purpose. A new dream. Okay, I didn’t simply let go. At times I held on with white knuckles in a desperate grip, kicking and screaming! The point is, when I finally did let go, I was free to pursue my true dream–to use humor and the power of positive thinking to help people learn the skills they need to get to a better place at work and in life.
Train Yourself to Be Happy, Confident & Successful
The title of your book, Get Your Shift Together is perfect. It makes you laugh, but you want to know what it’s about. I guess I should ask about your “shift” and how you help others “shift.”
Get Your SHIFT Together is the essence of my thinking. What makes my message transferable to others is that it’s not threatening. I replace the word change, which can be harsh and usually has negative connotations, with the word shift which is more positive. Asking someone to shift their attitude is a lot less challenging then asking them to change their attitude. Yet through shifting, your life does change.
The examples and stories in this book reveal how the power of shifting your focus and way of thinking can affect your perceptions of challenging circumstances and even life’s tragedies, literally training yourself to become a happier, confident, successful person.
In addition to providing you with common sense attitude adjustment strategies on how to bounce back from stressful situations, this book will also show you how to knock down emotional barriers and recreate a foundation of hope and optimism by developing rock-solid habits.
Study Positive Role Models
Let’s talk about your brother. What a story! Injured in Vietnam, he lost most of his small intestine and had extensive damage to other organs. What did you learn from watching his recovery?
Michael is the biggest inspiration in my life. The lessons I learned from him during his recovery and through the years have been invaluable. Seeing his remarkable ability to shift his mindset is without a doubt the catalyst that allowed me to turn my own life around and is the inspiration for my career.
When you read about how he turned his life around, even when the odds were so much against him, you understand that it’s not what happens to us that determines our fate, but rather, what we do about what happens that makes the difference. It’s the choices we make and the actions we take along the way; it’s the thoughts we have; what we focus on and how we frame what we tell ourselves 24/7. It’s about making a rock-solid commitment to enjoy ourselves during the rebuilding process and to dare to find the laughter during the tough times.
Use Attitude Adjustment Strategies to Conquer Fear
Fear paralyzes so many people. What advice do you have for someone who wants a better, happier life, but is paralyzed with fear?
As I stated earlier, for a great part of my life I had a fear of success and failure. I didn’t know that fear of failure and success were normal feelings, experienced by almost everyone at one time or another. At the time, I didn’t know I had options on how to respond or that I could have created a healthier belief system simply by consistently shifting my focus and way of thinking. I honestly was clueless to what I know now–you empower yourself when you feel the fear, shift your way of thinking and move forward anyway. Instead I allowed fear-based thoughts to use me.
Throughout the book there are stories and Attitude Adjustment Strategies on how to keep fear at bay. One of the most powerful ways is to laugh in the face of fear. Humor is the instant mind shift. As Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
Experience A Power Shift of Focus
I’m a lifelong student of success. You’ve worked with some of the most talented, successful people in the world whether in comedy, corporations or non-profits. What quality do you notice is present in most successful people?
The most important lesson that I’ve learned from living on this planet is what any truly happy, successful and optimistic person knows about life: that they will experience good times and bad times, that they will have sad days and ecstatic moments, that nothing in life is permanent, and our success and happiness depends on our ability to ride these waves of change with equanimity.
Happy, successful, optimistic people are not exempt from the trials and tribulations of life. In fact, some of the happiest, most successful and optimistic people I know have had to overcome unbelievably difficult circumstances to get to where they are today. But what they all have in common is their uncanny ability to shift their focus to a higher part of themselves. They allow themselves to temporarily step away from those moments that are bringing them down or are causing them pain and immediately begin to focus on aspects of their lives that bring them joy and lift their spirits. They feel blessed for the things that life has given them rather than cursing what life has denied them or the unwanted things life is throwing at them. I admire the way they find the laughter during tough times and sometimes even during the worst of times. It is not a question of putting blinders on and ignoring that they are going through a difficult time, but rather they instinctively know when to shift their mindsets to something that will put them on a more productive path. In reality, we all have the power to do this. It’s what I call a Power Shift in Focus.
The stories you share in this book move me from laughter to tears. You write about losing your mom a few years ago. Your readers will be moved by the story, and we can’t do justice to it here. But I do want to ask about one aspect of this time in your life because it highlights so much of your philosophy. Your mom had just passed away, and here you were ready to record a PBS special. When things are really tough, how do you keep moving on?
I will always remember that moment as something utterly special. Although I was consumed by pain, I could still see and feel the goodness in my life. The phone calls from friends, who found out that my mother had passed and knew I was at WTTW in Chicago, the support of my family who encouraged me to stay to finish the special, enforcing the fact that it’s what my mom would have wanted and the bonding with people I hardly knew (The director, manager, and the two editors of PBS) who were consoling me and feeling my pain renewed my faith in the power of the human spirit. It reinforced my belief that we all share a connection and reminded me that life goes on after all. It’s truly miraculous when we can allow ourselves to feel so grateful for what we have, even when we’ve lost so much.
Life is full of disappointment and heartache, good and bad experiences are simply part of the process of life. In fact they provide a point of comparison. It’s necessary to feel the effect of one to appreciate the other. Life would indeed be boring and unfulfilling without the highs and lows that naturally occur in life. This is the wonder and, yes, the blessing of being alive. So in the big picture of life, even when bad things happen, if we can look at that bad thing from a more neutral position, then we will truly understand that there is no bad experience, only a bad attitude.
Life is an ongoing obstacle course, always challenging you to be the best you can be. Each obstacle, no matter how big or small, is an opportunity for you to make the choice to shift your perspective and view it through the eyes of hope and peace.
This is why some of your biggest challenges can be blessings in disguise. When shift happens, your life changes. Understanding this is the pathway to success and happiness.
Tune Your Awareness and Tune Out Your Big Mouth!
Let’s talk about your big mouth! You say we all have a big mouth in our head. What do you mean by saying, “The Big Mouth creates emotional discord in your life that ruins your chance of real happiness.” What is this big mouth and what do we do about it?
Many people call the Big Mouth inside their head the Ego. Some call it The Enemy. Some even call it The Devil, which might be appropriate, albeit a little melodramatic, because if you listen to it there will be hell to pay. I call it “The Big Mouth” for one obvious reason: It never shuts up.
This voice inside your head may be barely noticeable, but believe me, it can be overpowering. Or it can be unbearably loud. So loud in fact, that even though you’re trying to tune it out, you can’t help but be affected by it. It is expressed as that uneasy feeling you have that tells you the only way that you can be happy is if something specific happens, if you become this or achieve that. It’s the voice that plays off of your deep-rooted fears. “What if I don’t have enough money?” “What if I fail?” “I’ll probably get sick!” “I knew this would happen!” “I’ll never have an intimate, meaningful relationship!”
All of these worries are fear-based beliefs you bring from your past. That’s what the Big Mouth does; it empowers demons from your past to poison and bedevil the moment. The Big Mouth (oh, that sly little devil), cunningly keeps those toxic beliefs from your past alive in your mind. It forces you to remember the hurt and disappointment from days or years gone by, so that when the opportunity for you to succeed or enjoy the moment presents itself, those destructive memories attack like emotional piranha, devouring any chance you have for happiness.
The first step to freeing yourself from the Big Mouth is to be aware of it. Breaking old beliefs and habits are dependent upon noticing them as the barriers to happiness that they are. Simply by being aware that you yourself are creating these barriers will open your mind to other possibilities. In other words, as soon as you notice that you are unhappy or are not feeling right and recognize that the deceptive voice inside your head is responsible, you are able to shift to a higher place where you will be less likely to be affected. In this way you can begin to liberate yourself from identifying with the negativity that pervades your mind. One way to look at it is: the Big Mouth leads you to your false self, and awareness leads you to your higher self.
What books are on your bookshelf at home or, if you read digitally, in your virtual bookshelf?
I guess I’m old fashion, but I like to hold a real book in my hands when I’m reading. There’s something very comforting about that. When I went to college I majored in English, so I read many of the classics. My favorite is American Literature.
I have a fairly big collection of Personal Development, Self-Help and Success books from Napoleon Hill to Wayne Dyer in my Library. I’m partial to hard covers. If you were to look inside many of those books, you would probably be distracted by all of the comments I‘ve made.
When I want to escape I love Dean Koontz. I’ve read everything he’s written. I mean everything. He has an incredible imagination, and he has a great sense of humor. I love the fact that quite often children, woman and dogs are the heroes. Whenever I find myself talking back to what I just read, then I know I’m hooked.
Recognize the Power of the Present
Traveling the world, you’ve seen all kinds of people and many come to you for help. What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve seen limiting most people’s happiness?
The biggest obstacle that keeps people from being happy is their inability to live in the moment and to enjoy the process of whatever they are trying to achieve. They create dangerous, negative mindsets that signify that happiness will take place at some point in the future. “I’ll be happy when I make more money.” “I’ll be happy when the weekend get’s here.” “I’ll enjoy my job when I get more respect.” “I’ll me happy when I get married.” and so on. Statements that focus on what you lack in the present, or predicate happiness on a future event, destroy your chance of enjoying the moment.
People who think like this on a continuous basis are not aware that they are creating or enforcing a belief system that declares that their happiness, their right to enjoy life, will come somewhere in the future. That is absolutely insane because happiness and joy will always be steps ahead of them. When you convince yourself that your happiness is dependent upon something that has to take place in the future, it is difficult to enjoy the present. Let me blow your mind for a moment: The present is a gift. Unwrap it!
In the book I explain in full detail how to make a conscious choice to enjoy the process of whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Here’s a hint: Focus on what’s working in your life rather than fixating on what isn’t working. Wake up every morning and bless the things that life has given you rather than wallowing on what life hasn’t given you. How’s that for delivering the truth?
Thanks, Steve. You have definitely given me some “shift” today!
It was my pleasure to give you SHIFT Skip. Some people say I’m full of SHIFT.