Just Start Today

Skipping one day probably doesn’t matter much. If you run or lift several times a week, skipping one day isn’t going to change your fitness. If you are disciplined about what you eat, one stuff-yourself-to-the-gills meal isn’t going to change your weight. If you wake up early to make time read and journal, sleeping in once isn’t going to set your personal development back.

One day doesn’t change much in the big picture of our lives. Except when the day we skip is Day One. We think, “No problem, one day won’t matter. I’ll start tomorrow. Then I can really focus on it and do it right.” The next day we think, “No problem, one day won’t matter. I’ll start tomorrow. Then I can really focus on it and do it right.” Day three becomes, “No problem, one day won’t matter. I’ll start tomorrow. Then I can really focus on it and do it right.”

Start today, no matter how imperfect the start. Learn and improve and make day two even better. Build momentum instead of holding out for perfection. Waiting to take perfect action tomorrow will be soundly beaten by taking imperfect action today. Right now today. Not tomorrow. Today.

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” ~ Arthur Ashe

“Pretty Good” is a Trap

Being at a point in your life where things are pretty good is a dangerous place to be. Comfort is quicksand. You sink slowly into it, unconcerned at first. By the time you realize you’re stuck it’s extremely difficult to pull yourself out.

Any of this sound familiar:

  • Hard work and a few good opportunities early in your career put you at a point where you’re comfortable enough to relax a little. Maybe you buy a nicer house, a better car, and don’t worry so much about the budget. Until you find yourself in the paradox of being broke while making really good money.
  • Spending a decade or so building a solid relationship with your significant other makes it easy to devote less attention to the relationship. And then a little less. And then it’s on auto pilot.
  • As work and family start taking up more of your time, your friends start receiving less. But that’s ok because they are also busy with careers and kids. Then, one day, you realize you haven’t added any new friends to your life and the good friends have faded away until the relationship is nothing more than a quick “happy birthday” on Facebook.
  • You know you’re not as fit was you were in your 20s (who is, right?), but looking around you can see you’re in better shape than most desk jockeys. It makes it easy to forget that “better than bad” isn’t necessarily “good.”

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that “entropy increases.” In other words, things break down unless we continually put energy back into them. If we’re not giving continual focused attention to our finances and career, relationships, fitness, etc. it’s safe to say they are in the process of decaying and falling apart.

Having things going pretty good in our life can fool us into thinking we can coast. It tricks us into believing we no longer need to give it our attention. Then, by the time we do notice our lives are so far from where we want them to be it feels like it’s not worth the effort to get back.

But that’s a lie. It is.

Got Goals? So What?

Forget goals. Knowing what you want is important, but it’s just the start. The bigger question is are you getting to where you want to be? In your career? Relationships? With your health and wellness? Finances? Spiritually and emotionally?

A few days ago I was hit with a one-two gut-punch of a question: “How much time do you spend every week making progress on your goals?” Then, “How much time have you spent this week making progress on your goals?” And, the finishing uppercut, “How much progress have you made this week?”

Like many reading this, I consider myself a goal-driven person. Yet, these questions splashed me with ice water cold truth: I have stopped being fully intentional about my success.

Over the years, I have slipped into treating goals as an intellectual exercise instead of as the outcomes I am absolutely committed to taking heroic levels of action to create. Sometimes I would achieve a goal and sometimes I wouldn’t. There was no consequence, no accountability, if I didn’t, I’d simply put it on the next year’s goals.

I’m stunned and embarrassed by how little intentional weekly action I was actually taking. Sure, I was taking some action – enough to fool myself into thinking I was on track. But most of my “action” was actually only thinking about maybe doing things, completely ignoring some actions all together, and I was keeping busy doing a whole bunch of stuff kind of related to my goals but not moving me forward. It’s a reminder that being busy and taking deliberate and intentional action are two very, very different things.

Ego bloodied and bruised, I put together a simple document to help me get intentional about planning and taking weekly action. The document lists about my goals for the year with weekly outcome/progress I plan to make (a mini-goal), the actions I am going to take, and when I will do them.

I learned a few things putting this together:

  • Creating a weekly goal forces me to very clear on my annual goal.
  • Identifying weekly action forces me to be very clear on my weekly goal.
  • Many of my goals were more vague intention or general direction than specific outcome.
  • Progress comes from daily action and on really big or unclear goals, that’s easy to forget.

I was reminded that, for me, the word “goal” is soft. I tend to use it to mean “something I would like to see happen.” For me, I need to use a different word. Maybe “priority” as in: “What are my priorities for the year?” No, even that doesn’t have enough edge. How about a combination of “commitment” and “results” as in: “What results am I absolutely committed to achieving this year?”

Let me ask you:

  1. What are your goals? What are your priorities? What outcomes are you absolutely, 100%, come-Hell-or-high-water, committed to creating?
  2. How much focused time did you spend this week working toward those outcomes? And how does that compare to activity not related to your outcomes?
  3. What are the obvious ways you could (will) increase your focused actions?

DNS (Did Not Start)

With two months to go, 60 more days to prepare, I quit. I decided not to run my first marathon. That failure has nagged at me since.

Early May 2016 I signed up to run a big marathon in Las Vegas in November. It was a strategic decision. I figured I’d be more motivated to complete the event with the investment of an event two states away. It would be an excuse to have a fun trip with my wife. I’d be back in my home state, and the temperature and weather would be great. Plus, it gave me six months to get into shape.

My kids thought it was cool and my daughter spent her allowance to buy me a key chain that read “26.2”. I told her I hadn’t done it yet and she responded that she knew I would.

Her faith wasn’t unfounded. I like to take on big challenges that scare me a little, I like to compete, and although I’d never run that far before, I used to run nearly daily. There was a time when I enjoyed actively pushed hard against my comfort zones.

But something funny happened on my way to the marathon. I never quite got my act together. Four months into my training and I was still doing the same (actually, less) distance as I did my first month. I feared getting hurt by pushing too far too soon, but never did enough to acclimate and build a solid base. I spend all my time thinking about running, yet most of the thought was around excuses not to run far, or even “reasons” to not run at all. It became obvious I simply wasn’t going to be able to complete it, so I killed the idea.

The worst part of quitting was telling my kids I wasn’t going to run the marathon. I felt like I let them down. My daughter tried to encourage me by insisting I could do it, and I had to explain there just wasn’t time. That hurt. A lot.

Still does.

Looking back, my mistakes are obvious. I tried to use an expensive event and trip to motivate me, but never went all in by booking flights and a hotel. It because a huge barrier where it was easier to not go because I didn’t want to spend all the money if I couldn’t complete the run. The race also had a four and a half or five-hour time limit, which didn’t allow much cushion if I needed to walk or rest. Fear of failing loomed large.

My biggest mistakes? No consistency and I didn’t embrace the pain. I would have been better to run a mile a day for the first month than the haphazard, almost random training schedule I was using. I feared short runs would set me back – not far enough to improve conditioning, just far enough to get sore and prevent running the next day – so I simply did not run enough. Staying inside the comfort zone was much nicer than getting uncomfortable.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stupid.

I realize now that every big goal I’ve achieved in the past has been accomplished because I was obsessed with it. Consumed by it. Focused to the point my wife got a little concerned.  I simply refused be beaten by the goal and was relentless in working toward it.

Over this weekend I registered to do a local half-marathon in early August. New goal, new plan, new focus, new obsession.

note to self: play bigger

It’s difficult to get to middle age without learning a few things. Of course, I often forget the lessons and sometimes have to learn them over (and over) again. Now is one of those times and I find myself (re)learning several things at once. Maybe you can relate.

First is a growing sense of mortality. Though I’ve yet to die, evidence suggests that I will at some point and time is precious. Anything I’m wanting to contribute to the world before shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil better get done sooner than later.

Second, is that comfort zones are complete and insidious [FILL IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE NSFW DESCRIPTOR HERE]. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and there’re a whole lot of ancient mental circuitry dedicated to preventing physical or psychological discomfort. That’s good when it prevents us from doing something potentially fatal. The problem is, the deep down scared-of-lightening-and-loud-noises part of the brain can’t distinguish between true threats to our well-being and the risk, discomfort, and pain required to learn and improve.

My most important lesson has been simply this:…

Read the whole post over at Performance I Create.

why we don’t get the results we want

i have my reasonsResults matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a business leader, executive, entrepreneur, or employee; whether you’re in sales, HR, finance, marketing, or IT; whether at work or in your personal life. Results are important. Yet, we don’t always create the results we want. Then the reasons and excuses come out.

Excuses or Reasons?

What’s the difference between an excuse and a reason? Simple, other people have excuses for failing, but I have legitimate reasons I didn’t accomplish the results I needed. They failed, while I tried hard. They’re whining and playing the victim about their failures, but I’m rationally explaining why it didn’t work out as planned. Right?

Actually, I am just having a bit of fun with the human tendency to justify outcomes, even if only to ourselves. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we call it or how we describe it.

Reasons or excuses, circumstance or a lack of effort, whatever. Either way we didn’t get the results.

Reasons or Results?

The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.” ~ Robert Anthony

We either have reasons or we have results. These words pulse through my mind whenever I come up short on my goals. We either accomplish what we needed to or we have a list of explanations as to why we didn’t. Yes, sometimes things happen that are completely beyond our control. More often we simply didn’t plan well, stay focused, make good use of time, truly give full effort, track and evaluate actions and progress, have the right people involved, have a suitable contingency plan, or persist, persist, persist. The #1 reason we don’t get our results? We accept our reasons in place of our results.

Put it another way: Getting results means giving up your reasons. And those reasons are often so compelling, comfortable, and familiar. I know what I want to accomplish. I know what I need to accomplish. Am I willing to give up my reasons to get those results?

Are you?

best practices for playing the victim

As one year ends and another begins it’s a time of reflection and renewal for many people. They assess what they accomplished in their lives the previous year and begin planning the results they want to create in the New Year. Sure, there are those who will prattle on about the advantages of goal setting and action plans and blah, blah, blah. So what? That requires discipline and effort and focus and inconvenience and change and who has time for that? What if you could just short cut the process by playing the victim?

Ever played the victim? I sure have. I don’t mean being a victim of a crime or suffering for someone else’s actions. I mean wanting my life to be different, taking no actions to make it different, and then stockpiling an exhaustive list of reasons and excuses as to why it’s not different. I don’t want to brag, but I do believe I can use my experience to help you be a better victim.

If you’ve never played the victim, there are a few key strategies and best practices that are important to know as you start out. As with any skill, the masters can get away with things that amateurs can’t and I’ve tried to note some of those exceptions.

1. To justify your lack of progress ALWAYS compare yourself to others and NEVER compare yourself to yourself. Sure, some would say you can only measure success by the progress you’ve made given what you have and where you started, but there’s no place in victimhood for measuring your progress against your efforts. [NOTE: an expert level victim can use their own past failures as justification for not making any progress today, but it’s a tricky thing because even a casual observer might make the rational argument that yesterday is not today. Leave this one for the pros.]

2. It’s also important to compare yourself to people with completely different circumstances, skills, strengths, and gifts and use that as proof that you can’t create the difference you want in your life. BUT it’s very important to only look at those who had advantages over you, NEVER compare yourself to those who had more to overcome. For example, if I was creating excuses for not being wealthier I’d only want to compare myself to those born into money and never ever compare myself to a first generation refugee struggling with new culture and language who became a millionaire by working three jobs, foregoing all luxury, saving every dime, and investing prudently for thirty years. [NOTE: A truly masterful victim can compare themselves to those who have it worse by twisting that hardship into an “unfair advantage.” But, don’t try that the first time you play the victim as you’ll end up looking petty and silly.]

3. When you compare yourself to others who have been more successful at what you’re not accomplishing, be sure to minimize their efforts by writing it all off as being “lucky”. Sure there is always going to be an element of location, timing, help, and unexpectedness to any success story, but being a good victim means focusing only on the advantages that were outside the other person’s control. If I wanted to justify, say, my lack of success as a musician, I’d look at person who was an “overnight success” ten years in the making and complain that it all comes down to who you know. [NOTE: never try to apply logic to your victimhood. You want to create rationalizations, not be rational. There’s a difference.]

4. A key part of being a really great victim is to choose reasons that you have absolutely no control over and then use that as justification for never changing the things over which you do have control. For example, if I wanted to justify why I’m a poor swimmer, I might say, “The best swimmers are much taller and have longer arm spans than me. There’s nothing I can do about being short, so I’ll never be a better swimmer.” You might be thinking that I might never be a gold medalist but I could – maybe – improve my swimming by taking lessons and actually getting into the pool occasionally. And you’d be right, BUT you’ll never be a good victim with that kind of reasoning.

5. Memorize this phrase and use it a lot: “I tried that, but….” This phrase does wonders for giving legitimacy for half-hearted efforts. Forget persistence, never mind actual results, simply dismiss any lack of progress by saying, “I tried.”

6. Seek help from others, but never from anyone who might be able to help you. Actually, seek “help” by only finding people with whom you can commiserate and complain. Ideally, you’ll want to find someone who will not only believe you excuses but will enthusiastically support and build on them.

There’s just a few tips to get you started. Of course, you’ll find and develop your own victimhood style as you go. The really nice thing about playing the victim – if you do it well – is that your lack results and progress will never be your fault. Sure, you won’t create the life or career you actually want but at least you’ll sleep soundly knowing it wasn’t you that got in your own way.

what’s stopping you?

What’s Stopping You?

In the late ‘90s, Fox Racing put out a poster and magazine ad of legendary motocrosser Doug Henry removing his jersey after a ride. The centerpiece is an ugly scar running down and around his side, a visible reminder of a nasty crash where his back broke on impact from an 80-foot fall. While still coming back from that injury, another crash broke both wrists (think about that for a second). Yet, he persevered to win a historical championship. Grit, toughness, and determination don’t even begin to describe what it took. The simple caption to the ad and poster was, “What’s stopping you?”

This was a hugely inspiring poster for me. Every sport has its share of similar stories of athletes pushing far beyond what we think the body is capable of and gutting out wins against the odds. And so what? The further along life I get, the more I’m inspired by the amazing spirit and determination of ordinary people. People without multi-million dollar contracts to fight for, people who don’t have the one and only career they are qualified for on the line, people whose grit goes unnoticed by ESPN or CNN.

I love public speaking and joke that, as an introvert, it’s my version of bungee jumping. But I get that I’m kind of weird and most people hate, hate, hate even the idea of being in front of a group. People fear speaking more than death so, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, most people would rather be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy. Few want to be the scrutinized center of attention. Fewer still enjoy it and seek it out.

My kids recently tried out for a school play along with 150 other students. They all had to do a short monologue and sing part of a song. One of those trying out was a 7th grade girl who stutters. Her name starts with “S” so she was struggling to introduce herself before she even attempted her monologue. Imagine that. Really put yourself in her shoes. She didn’t have to be there, she chose it. Putting yourself out in front of peers and risking rejection is tough enough when you’re an adult. What she did? Courage. Pure courage.

I know you have some things you want to attempt, some things to be accomplished. Unfulfilled personal and career goals. What’s stopping you?