Feb 252016
 

Differentiation is important. People decide who they want on their team, who they hire, who they promote, who they buy from, who they associate with, and who they become friends with, based on what they perceive makes a person special and different than the rest. Personal differentiation is driving force behind who gets elected, who a person marries, who succeeds and who flails about.

What makes you special? What makes you better than the average guy? What makes you stand out? How do people describe you to a stranger? What quality will make you a success over the long-term?

For some, their differentiator for personal success if obvious. Kevin Durant’s height, athletic ability, and basketball IQ made his destiny as one of the best players in the NBA simple to see, even as early as high school. Sure, he made smart choices that helped, he had determination to persevere, he envisioned his future and did what was necessary to make it happen. But his differentiators are God given and quite obvious to all, especially the ones that had to guard him.

Most of us are not freaks of nature endowed with superhuman hops. We are born much closer to average than being an extreme outlier in terms of ability. In statistics, outliers are stats that are so far outside the averages and the normal bell curve that the data points look like bad data. Mozart was an outlier in musical ability. Einstein was an outlier. Wayne Gretzky is an outlier, as are Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.

So what can the rest of us do to differentiate ourselves?

The answer is far simpler than you think, although not necessarily easy. Far too many people search for natural traits that they were born with, rather than decisions that they can make and stick to. The trick is to find an area of life where few people make the right decision, the decision that could help them immeasurably over the long-term.

Uncompromising personal integrity is one such magical ingredient: the differentiator that can serve as the bedrock to build a great life of success. Unquestionable integrity is a choice that anyone can make, but in truth, exceedingly few people do. Yet, when a company is looking for a leader to be in charge of a division, integrity is one of the most important criteria that it looks for in candidates for the position.

We live in a desert of integrity.

One aspect of integrity is telling the truth. University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. Robert asked two strangers to have a conversation for about 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded. Afterwards, each person was asked to review the recording. Before doing so, the research participants told Feldman that they had been 100% honest in their statements. However, during the review, the subjects were surprised to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman’s study, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation and in that span of ten minutes, subjects told an average of 2.92 false things. If 60% lie when it does not matter in just ten minutes time, it seems logical that more than 85% will lie when there are greater incentives and the outcome really matters. A recent study of dating websites found that 81% of people lied about themselves while seeking a new mate and another found that 91% of college grads lied at least once on their résumé. Our world is a desert of integrity indeed.

Another aspect of integrity is whether or not people steal or cheat when they have a good opportunity. The fraud prevention industry has long held to a general rule of thumb called the 10-10-80 rule. Chain retailers with experience of millions of employees believe in it. The rule says 10% of people will never steal no matter what, 10% will steal at any opportunity, and the remaining 80% of employees will steal or not steal, depending on how they evaluate a particular opportunity and their chances of getting caught.

Integrity is greater than simply being perfectly truthful and not stealing, although these two aspects are black and white and therefore simpler to measure. Keeping your promises, doing what you say you will do — no matter what it takes — is the fundamental core basis of integrity.

The choice of integrity is available to you and completely up to you. Your past matters not. You can make the wise choice to live a life of uncompromising personal integrity from this day forth.

I believe that integrity should become your #1 differentiator. Choose to become remarkable: becoming remarkable is not a birthright. Less than 10% of people demonstrate integrity in their daily lives by avoiding all deceit. When you add in doing exactly what you said you will do, keeping all your promises large and small, you will discover a world few people know and understand: you will become a person who is destined for success. Others will inevitably learn that you are the rare person who they can count on in good times and in bad, the person who will do his or her very best, the person who will do the right thing every time when put in positions of greater responsibility.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 132016
 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Four words that have survived since the mid-1300’s. Why? Truth thrives.

I have often written about the extraordinary opportunities available to all of us. We live at an extraordinary time, a time of fantastic and rapid change, in the best country in world. I believe that the opportunities to achieve whatever one wants to achieve in today’s America are limitless.

Yet, I know a lot of people that look at the same things I do and simply don’t see it the same. They see scarcity where I see abundant opportunity. It has taken me a while to figure out why but I believe I now understand. There are three fierce guard dogs at the gates of opportunity, and it turns out that most people see the snarling beasts, they miss seeing the gates, let alone the rainbow and waterfalls in the garden on the other side.

The guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. One or more of these prevent many from jumping on thousands of golden opportunities. Today I’ll spend a few minutes discussing the first one — risk.

Young adults have a great advantage over most of the working population. If they grew up in an optimistic home, they believe they can conquer the world, they have little if anything to lose, they don’t yet listen to (or at least adhere to) the often faulty, limited “wisdom” of their elders, and they have had few disheartening experiences. There is good reason most tech start-ups are fueled by young adults.

As we get older, we tend to take less and less risk. This risk aversion invades most of the facets of a person’s life: financial, emotional, professional, psychological, personal, you name it. Yet the core truth of “nothing ventured” rules nearly every facet of life.

By the time people hit their 40’s, most don’t want to take any chances. This is a terrible mistake that shackles one’s life. Without accepting risk, all you can expect is a lousy return following the path of the risk-free herd. When you embrace good risks, you expand your possibilities and your life.

Overcoming the fear of risk is possible and comes from learning and understanding probability better than the average person. Risk is simply half of the equation: once a person learns to evaluate risk clearly, in relation to probable return, she can start making educated decisions regarding the worthiness of any endeavor. These three guard dogs start to look much more lovable.

It is easiest to understand risk vs. return in simple betting. If someone offered you 3:1 odds on the flip of a quarter, it becomes a good bet – in other words a risk worth taking, because the quarter flip will win 50/50 over time. On a dollar bet, you would get paid $3 the 50% of the time that you win, but lose only $1 the 50% of the time you would lose.

The same is true in life. If you invest $1,000 in a growing, successful company that has a current P/E ratio of 10, a historical low for the stock, because of a short-term sell-off, while all its close competitors have P/E’s of 25 – barring any skeletons in the closet, you generally have taken a good bet – odds are much better that your stock will appreciate to $2,500 (probably more (because I’m ignoring earnings growth over time in this example)) rather than falling to $500 in the future. You can further mitigate the risk by investing $1,000 in 10 companies in similar situations – even if you are wrong on 5 of 10 — and 3 of them get halved while 2 tread water and stay at the price paid — if the other five do move up to their historical P/E, your final tally would be $16,000 on a $10,000 in investments, or a 60% return. If you leave that $10,000 in a money market account at Bank of America, you will earn less than $5 per year in this crazy near “interest-free” financial climate.

Yet many people never overcome the fear of risk. My suggestion is start small and gain momentum gradually. A big misconception is that those who take risks are fearless. Not true. People that take prudent risks, after weighing the probable rewards, are courageous and smart.

I really like John Wayne’s definition of courage….the Duke said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.

It is incredibly important that a person learns to embrace prudent calculated risk during his entire life, learning from experiences as he grows older. There are always risks worth taking, and when you are 40, 50, or 60, you have a much broader base of experience, connections, and resources than when you were but 22. The idea is not to put more than you can afford to lose in any one investment or idea.

My discussion took a financial turn because it is easy to illustrate with numbers, but taking prudent risks is just as vital on your emotional, professional, personal, and psychological facets of life. If you come up with a great idea that is worthy at work, take the risk and land a meeting with your own CEO. Pitch it! You might just make Executive VP after all. Go to that job interview. Ask that girl out. Go ahead and volunteer when they ask. Speak up at the community meeting. Try helping out at the local soup kitchen or Meals-on-Wheels or Big Brothers Big Sisters — seriously! Start that little business on the side and stick to the project to the finish line. Always remember that it helps to fail spectacularly from time to time in order to become extraordinary in the end.

The great Wayne Gretzky is right when he says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Michael Jordan put it this way: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

What have you ventured this month? What have you ventured in 2015? Take more risks to be all you can be!

I.M. Optimism Man

Jan 242016
 

Time is very valuable. How we invest it, matters. Time is scarce and fleeting, our most precious resource. Unfortunately, most of us choose not to manage our time well.

By the very nature of our hectic existence, each of us has very little “prime” time in our daily life. By prime time I mean time where we are at peace but alert, focused, our senses heightened, our thoughts clear and distraction free. In this state, a person is able to create new things, distill true meaning, plan with clarity, and make important progress on strategic projects.

The world around us conspires to grab a person’s prime time hours for use on other people’s urgencies and agendas — I call it the great Urgency Conspiracy. Many people deny that they are firmly in the grip of the Urgency Conspiracy but most people are infected. Although some people won’t make the effort, I recommend that you track how you use your time over the next two weeks and dutifully record what happens, half hour by half hour. If you complete this experiment, I believe you will come to the following conclusions:

  1. Few events are pre-planned unless it is a meeting with other people.
  2. You spend your best prime time hours on other people’s agendas right now.
  3. You spend very little time – if any – thinking strategically.
  4. You use very little time – if any – improving yourself and your capabilities and knowledge.
  5. You invest very little time – if any – making progress on something that remotely could be considered an important longer-term goal or mission.
  6. You tend to over-promise and over-commit to the point of capacity. When something goes wrong – and something often does – you sacrifice any personal time you have to make up for the shortfall in available hours.

We are surrounded by a multitude of outside influences. This is not new, as people were surrounded back in the 60’s 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s too. However, in the last decade, there has been a massive, unhealthy shift in people’s expectations of real-time / right-now urgency and immediate response on all matters, many of which are not urgent at all. The acceleration started with overnight Federal Express and fax, then came voice mail and paging, then e-mail, then instant messaging, and now instant Twitter and Facebook and especially SMS texting have changed everyone’s real-time expectations. The more one participates in the real-time world, the more it accelerates. The urgency conspiracy is spreading like a contagious airborne virus. It truly infects those who are proud of their multi-tasking abilities. The word of the day, every day, is busy.

Sadly, when we occasionally receive a gift of unexpected free prime time, we are usually not ready to do something good with it. Instead, we grab the smartphone and log-on to check e-mails, surf websites, check out Facebook to see what our buddies are doing or eating, or read newsfeeds. When was the last time you saw a news story, or a tweet, or a Facebook entry that actually changed your life and mattered 3 weeks later? When was the last time you read a text message that mattered 3 weeks later? We have become junkies for real-time but mostly useless information.

Our fast-paced lives can be compared to professional sports. When you have the ball, the defense is right on top of you, giving you no time to think, no time to look up, no time to make a good pass. The best pros, the select few with long all-star careers, are the ones that find tricks that can create some time and space to set up the creative play that winds up scoring and winning the game at the critical juncture.

You must reclaim your prime time in your daily life and invest it wisely. Most of us will never have more than a couple of hours each day of prime time. But if you make space to think, if you set appointments on your calendar to not get interrupted while you work on the important project that matters to you, you will find that you will accomplish your strategic goals and create things of lasting value, instead of just staying busy on faux urgent matters.

Building a good habit takes 12 sincere weeks. Start small — reclaim 30 minutes of prime time each day by making an appointment with yourself — 30 minutes is surely not too much to ask. Plan those 30 minutes at a time (mid-morning?) when you are typically fresh, alert, and attentive. Pre-plan what you will work on during that 30 minutes of prime time and focus on this one objective. Put the smartphone on silent for that 30 minutes. Disconnect from all your usual sources and feeds. Leave the office if you have to, or at least close your door. If you follow this habit for one month, you will discover pre-planned prime time is not only possible, but critical. Then step up to two 30 minute appointments, pre-planned each day, for the next month. See how far investing time wisely can take you.

A person that reserves and invests just one hour of prime time each day will complete a novel in less than a year; or create a great new web site; or develop a new app while learning javascript; or build a pretty little gazebo in your backyard; or learn to fly a plane; or record a video blog for your kids when they are grown and you are gone; or begin to speak French. What can you create or accomplish, of lasting long-term value, if you stop living exclusively to the busy busy drumbeat of other people’s urgencies?

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. If you enjoyed this article, please read my related Red Pill Clarity post from early 2011.

Sep 252014
 

For more than 100 years, the population of developed countries has coalesced and formed sprawling metropolises, as cities offered ever greater opportunity to excel and succeed. One of the prices paid for the density of humanity is the gridlock of traffic that is the bane of any thriving metro today.

rushhour

I question everything, study everything, and observe how people react to situations. Traffic seems to be a nearly universal challenge that brings out the worst in most people. Traffic, so mysterious, so out of our own control, leads even the best of us to complain. I now believe that there is an invaluable lesson to be learned while you sit in daily traffic, yet exceedingly few manage to learn it.

Bear with me for a second while I make a pretty big leap: This lesson can be traced to the extreme hardships vividly documented by Viktor Frankl.

Viktor Frankl’s mother, father, wife, and brother all died in Nazi concentration camps. Viktor endured hunger, cold, and brutality in Auschwitz and Dachau. He knew that he would probably be killed any day. He lost all his belongings, including his life’s work, which was a scientific manuscript that had taken extraordinary time and care to create.

viktor-frankl

Frankl’s situation was dire. He could have easily given up all hope – most people in fact did. But Frankl emerged from the tortures an optimist by cultivating an empowering idea: he reasoned that even in the worst of situations, a person has the freedom to choose 1) how they perceive the circumstances and 2) to create their own meaning from them. Gordon Allport notes in the preface to the third edition of Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” classic, this is what the ancient Stoics called the ‘last freedom’. The evil of torture is not so much physical, but the active attempt to extinguish it is dibilatating. A favorite quote of Frankl’s was Nietzsche’s “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

Fast forwarding to Los Angeles, Houston, NYC, Dallas, Portland, or Chicago, the minor torture one endures daily is traffic. It infuriates, it shreds our positive attitude, it becomes a great source of complaints, and there is no escape or relief. It is clearly far less daunting than Viktor faced, but traffic is a modern, incessant torture just the same.

The lesson to be learned and appreciated is similar. In concentration camps, Frankl learned that, even though captive, he had the freedom to either let his circumstances infect and corrode his attitude or he had the freedom to choose his attitude and make the best of it. The lesson of traffic is the same: you can either let it get to you, or you can choose to enjoy the day, traffic be damned.

Consider these quotes for a minute:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

— Viktor Frankl

The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.

— Andrew Bernstein

Nothing gives one person so much an advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

— Thomas Jefferson

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Complaints, either voiced out loud or simply thought out inside your own head, are a mental cancer that ruins your day. Decide to have a great day, no matter what happens, and you will have your great day as your reward.

— Bob Sakalas

This masters-level life lesson is universal. You often cannot choose your circumstances but you can choose your attitude. This applies universally to almost any situation you can’t control. If you are a student, you can’t control that teacher who doesn’t do it your way. If you are a parent, your teen will argue to the point of no return. You may have coworkers that drive you crazy day in and day out. There is no finite list of circumstances as Bernstein pointed out above.

Recently, I unwittingly started complaining — mostly inside my own thoughts — about how much back-to-back business travel I had to endure in the last few months. Although I didn’t voice it often, it was on my mind and my internal complaints began to corrode my attitude, which has a domino effect on everything like productivity, effectiveness, clear thought, focus, peace, optimism, and gratitude. This week, I finally realized the downward spiral I had inadvertently decided to put myself on. I have the freedom to ‘whistle a happy tune’ as I board flight 255 or let the circumstances infect me. Only the former helps things turn out for the best.

Tomorrow morning, I will sit in traffic, thankful for the opportunity to catch up on my stock market awareness while I listen to CNBC. I have seen the light. I hope that you do to.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. FYI, I did in fact whistle the tune to the Andy Griffith show as I boarded a 737 this week.

Aug 212012
 

Imagine a football team that only tries to improve itself by playing competitive games. This team never practices, the coaches and players never discuss what strategy and tactics will be employed on game day, and no one even thinks about how it will match up against the next opponent. The quarterback doesn’t practice throwing routes with his receivers, the linemen don’t work together, and the running backs sit around playing Xbox 360 until its time to get their jerseys on.

Will this team succeed?

Of course not.

Football is a complex game that requires teamwork, forethought, and lots of practice. A single play is often practiced dozens, even hundreds of times until the coaches are sure it will be executed as designed, each player knowing his job and doing his job to the best of his ability. As a backdrop, each player will have spent countless hours in the gym and on the track, continually building up his strength and endurance so that he can still execute the plays deep into the fourth quarter or overtime. Practice and conditioning are paramount to winning championships.

Meet Jim Davis.

Mr. Davis is a hard working sales executive for Ashfordshire Corporation. At least once per month and often several times each month, Jim is faced with selling a prospect on Ashfordshire’s technology and solution. If he succeeds, millions of dollars will change hands, jobs will be secured, Jim will enjoy a great commission bonus, and Ashfordshire will score another marketshare first down versus its closest competitor, Devlin MacGregor Inc.

Does Jim practice? Does Jim improve his conditioning? Does he work on his technique? Or does he fall back on the “I have eleven years of experience” excuse and only plays the game during the heat of competition?

We know the answer. 99% of business competition is game time only, no practice, no conditioning, no preparation, no planning. But the game of life is just as complex and demanding as football!

How much farther would Jim get in his 30+ year career if he worked weekly on improving his speaking abilities? How much more would he earn in commissions if he learned better and better sales techniques? What if he spent hours researching his prospects before each presentation? What if he always took the time to conduct on-site surveys, to ask great questions, to discuss solutions with his pre-sales engineers, to develop a personal playbook that really works for each type of prospect? What if Jim practiced his presentations and planned for the unexpected?

Most people agree that Jim’s career attainment would be greatly enhanced if he did practice and perfect, before playing out the game in front of his live customer prospects.

So, here’s my question to you: What have you done to become better — this week, this month, this year — in your job / career skills? Do you practice before game time? When is the last time you practiced better communication skills? Toastmasters is everywhere, it only takes a couple of hours a week. Nearly every job requires or is enhanced by excellent communication abilities. When is the last time you worked on improving your writing abilities? Texting your teenager does not count, LOL!

Decide to become extraordinary and to be all you can be. Take the first step. Set a goal to become a better speaker or learn a second language. Read, learn, practice and you will become better. Don’t be the player that only plays in the game without practice and conditioning. If you do, you will leave too much unrealized successes on the table.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jul 082012
 

We all have too much to do. Most of us have difficulty deciding what “good tasks” to leave undone. Yet I believe that the overwhelming load of “good” tasks is the number one reason few people achieve greatness. Good tasks get in the way of great tasks.

Six months ago in my “BigRock Task Management & Frogs for Breakfast” post, I observed that making meaningful, strategic progress in one’s life has much more to do with picking and completing the one most important thing to do each day than it does with adopting a system that helps you complete the hundreds of smaller “good and worthy” tasks each of us face. People procrastinate on the great tasks because they are usually a bit more difficult to swallow. If you missed the original Big Rock post, I recommend reading it before continuing on here to more fully understand the concept.

These same concepts — this “Big Rock formula” — works exceptionally well if you want to become a Jedi Manager of other people.

Too many think demanding micro-management and Marine-drill-sergeant commands-to-be-followed-without-hesitation are the tickets to management success. They are not. The best managers help their people achieve their best, most productive years while thinking for themselves and growing in confidence. A manager succeeds when he or she successfully teaches the team to prioritize their tasks and avoid procrastination on the tasks that matter most. An employee that always completes at least the one most strategically important task on his list, each and every day, will outpace a hard worker who is constantly busy with the daily minutiae.

Unfortunately, nearly everyone spends too much time on the little busy-busy items that seem important at the time. In truth, most of these tasks would be better left undone, if (and only if) one completes more meaningful and strategic tasks. If a person does their Big Rock strategic task first, the other work will still fill in the gaps, but a first down will be made on the way to making a touchdown and winning the game. The manager is in an extraordinary position to either help his or her team members achieve greatness or drown in the quicksand of good-but-not-great tasks.

As I graduated from the professional sales arena, please allow me use sales management as an example.

A great salesperson knocks her personal sales objective out of the park for a few years in a row and gets promoted to sales manager. In most cases, the new manager “learns” how to manage by observing other sales managers. Unfortunately, invariably, companies are fixated on making the monthly, quarterly, and yearly numbers and the sales force is the hood ornament on that train.

Conversations between sales managers and sales professionals become overly focused on the numbers — sales forecasts, potential deal size, and percentage of success. These conversations do little to absolutely nothing to improve the quality or accelerate the sales attainment of the manager’s salespeople. The relationship often degrades between the manager and her team as she is doing little to help them succeed. She becomes frustrated at her inability to hit her targets, given to her by the numbers-oriented managers above her. Over time, she starts falling out of touch with what is going on in her district/region, spending far too much of her energy on candy-coating the spreadsheets for the higher ups.

Most people are caught up in the nitty gritty details of their job and have a difficult time prioritizing those few strategic tasks that can produce the most meaningful progress. The manager in this example was a good salesperson but she is now a spreadsheet masseuse, and that doesn’t help. Other managers fall into the micro-management trap. This manager tries valiantly to understand every detail and nuance that is happening in every account with every salesperson that reports to her. The result is that she is in the weeds along side the salespeople, unable to see the trees, let alone the forest.

There is a better way to manage. A great manager asks great questions, helping his people identify and envision the tasks that will result in great outcomes. Get into a habit of reviewing projects in a conversational planning atmosphere with each member of your team, asking each person to ID their most important strategic-progress Big Rocks by project. Take great notes — pale ink is magical — and then inquire about timely progress to overcome people’s inclination toward procrastination. When asked without confrontation, people usually do a great job identifying the most important things to do. The trick is getting them to act on the important tasks decisively, without any procrastination.

The results of this simple Big Rock management method will surprise you — remember, quality and direction are more important than quantity and speed.

Ask good questions, take great notes, stay involved, and expect progress on the tasks that your own people have identified as most important. Your people will succeed and so will you.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jun 272012
 

Do you want to be a remarkable person?

Contrary to popular and incorrect “birthright thinking”, remarkable is well within your reach. You do not have to be born with a castle in the family! Small steps can make a huge impact on the trajectory of your life.

How much better would your life be, how remarkable would you be…

1 – if you decided to life a life of pure optimism and gave up all complaining – really – day in and day out?

2 – if you decided to really “go for it”, to jump in with both feet, take prudent risks, and be all you can be?

3 – if you completely gave up making excuses to others and inside your own head?

4 – if you simply did everything you say you will do?

5 – if you decided to live in the present, never worrying about tomorrow
or thinking about past events?

6 – if you decided to do everything with 100% focus and effort –
in other words, your absolute best?

7 – if you started to ask good questions, then really listen and remember what people said,
instead of talking about your own stuff most of the time and thinking about what you will say next?

8 – if you sincerely looked for and found “what’s special” in every person you meet?

9 – if you planned one important thing to do each morning – by important I mean that it contributes to long-term progress in your life – and did it before nightfall each day?

10 – if you never told a lie from this day forward?

11 – if you limited your passive, time-wasting TV watching to one hour a day or less?

12 – if decided to not worry about what other people think or what they say about you?

13 – if you stopped for just 15 minutes each day, in peace and quiet, to think, to plan, to write down the things you are thankful for, to say a prayer or two?

Pick any one. Would you be better off? Pick any six. Would you be MUCH better off? Pick the entire baker’s dozen. Would you become truly remarkable?

How long would it take to make all of them indelible habits? Less than one year, right? Maybe a year and a half? The opportunity to become a remarkable person in one to two years seems great to me.

Most people think of “remarkable” people in flawed ways – remarkably famous, remarkably rich, remarkably intelligent, remarkably connected, remarkably talented, remarkably beautiful – yet all of these qualities have to do with God given characteristics, family birthright, and a healthy dose of luck – three things we cannot choose ourselves. So most people decide that they will be not remarkable, and strangly admire those few that fit in the categories above.

Yet, if you did just these thirteen small steps, do you agree that “remarkable” is quite accessible to anyone that wants to be?

Be Remarkable! It is your choice.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 182012
 

Generosity is a forgotten key to your own happiness.

A lot of my articles focus on happiness because I see that happiness, though sincerely sought, is often elusive to many. Too many people pursue happiness by seeking in the wrong places — most people do not find genuine happiness in money or the things money buys — but it is hard to see that fallacy when corporations spend billions to convince you that the newest BMW or a blue box from Tiffany’s is the ticket to happiness. Others seek happiness in the pursuit of power and influence, but it is exceedingly difficult to shoulder the responsibility that comes intertwined with growing power. As the truism goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. There are many other misguided pursuits and addictions but none reliably lead to true happiness.

An inconvenient truth is that you handicap your own pursuit of happiness if you focus on yourself. Focusing on oneself directly embraces the dark side of the force. Focus-on-self drives envy, suspicion, gossip designed to tear down perceived competitors, and greed. The bottom line is that focus-on-self invariably tears down the fabric of your own character. Over time, a person comes to realize that his or her character is no longer pure. When that happens, underlying unhappiness grows and festers even if a new Porsche sits in the driveway of your sparkling suburban palace.

We live complex lives in a complex society, but there is an antidote, a simple solution to become happier over time. It is to focus on helping others. The secret key to happiness is generosity. Genuine generosity, not convenient show-off-for-other-people — what’s in it for me — generosity, will make you happy, guaranteed.

Be generous with your time and attention. As I often observe, time is out most precious and scarce resource. In truth, money is much easier to give. When you give undivided attention and time to someone else, you have become genuinely generous. If you manage to inspire that person, to help that person in a meaningful way, without expectation of a favor returned, your generosity creates unexpected long-term results. You will find that if you do at least one selfless, generous act each week, your happiness will grow and gain momentum.

Consider these wise observations:

Many men have been capable of doing a wise thing, more a cunning thing, but very few a generous thing.
— Alexander Pope

Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find out.
— Frank A. Clark

The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.
— Albert Einstein

When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.
— John Ruskin

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
— Buddha

You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.
— Winston Churchill

Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity.
— Jose Marti

Generosity leads to happiness and happiness leads to optimism. Optimism leads to success. Success allows you to be more generous, completing the perfect circle. Set a goal, look for your first opportunity to be generous, and jump at the chance.

Inspiring others is one of the easiest and best things to do. Lots of people doubt that they can accomplish something. Pessimists surround them, telling them they can’t or won’t succeed. Go out of your way to tell them that they can. Notice when a young person does something special. It takes a little time, a little attention, and can make a great difference in someone’s life. Do whatever is within your means to help, and be amazed at how the circle of success grows from your little seeds.

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 272012
 

The world is full of wishful dreamers. They dream of their first book, their first product, their first business, their first million, their tenth million.

Within this vast multitude of dreamers are a minority of people who are both optimistic and action-oriented. These two qualities, more than any others, ignite the engine of achievement. Starting something is far easier to do than finishing a project with gusto. I’ve personally have plenty of experience at starting without finishing. I have outlined nearly a dozen great book ideas but only finished two. I’ve wasted dozens of business ideas without getting nearly all of them to first base, watching others create successful enterprises that I had imagined years earlier. We tend to regret what we did not do, what we did not finish. Finishing is priceless.

Our society rewards those select few who create something real, not just dream about it on a bar napkin. This one of the most  famous bar napkins of all time because it became real.

If you want to succeed more, start less projects — a lot less — but finish everything that you start. Nike made “Just Do It” famous, but I personally like “Just Finish It” better.

“We rate ability in men by what they finish, not by what they attempt”

Before you turn over a new leaf, forgive yourself and forget the past. All of us have started a lot of things that we did not finish in our past. Don’t regret. Learn and move on. Yesterday doesn’t matter. You must believe that you can and will become a finisher. Decide that you are a finisher. When you look in the mirror, you must see a finisher. If you can forgive yourself, you have seen the light.

You must become highly selective. Evaluate every idea and decide against nearly all of them. There are always many more worthy projects than a person can tackle. Opportunities are everywhere.

Less is truly more. The trick is not to start more projects. Don’t multi-task when you are chasing your dream — multi-tasking is over-rated while focusing is under-appreciated.  Refuse to procrastinate — procrastination makes simple tasks much more difficult.  Choose where you will invest your best time carefully — there are only a few hours of high-quality, sharp-mental-state time in each of our days. Get obsessed about finishing whatever you started like your life depends on it.

Plan to overcome. Count on every project requiring more time and effort than you imagined. Then there is pesky Murphy and his unescapable law: whatever can go wrong usually does, in fact, go wrong. You have to plan for things to be difficult. You have to decide to adapt, persist, and overcome. You have to anticipate that you will lose momentum but you must not stop until you finish. Become relentless.

If you have not been finishing in recent years, the trick is to start small. Pick small baby step milestones. Write them down and review them daily. Keep your promises to yourself. Be flexible. Setbacks are not failures but lessons along the road to final success. Your momentum will grow. Pretty soon, your bar napkin might turn one of the most profitable airlines in the world.

Don’t be one of the dreamers… the many who spend their life starting without finishing. Successful people get the job done after the excitement and the novelty have worn off. They get the job done when it is no longer fun. They get the job done when they run into roadblocks. They don’t use excuses. They don’t give up.

A few posts back, I mentioned that the gates of opportunity are often overlooked because three fierce guard dogs scare people away. Those guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. Perseverance is not easy. You will have to sacrifice to finish projects. You will have to put off things that you want. You will miss events that you will wish to attend. You will have to choose to work long hours and burn the midnight oil to finish what you start. Success only comes before work in the dictionary.

Optimism is the secret ingredient. It is optimism that sparks the successful, the extra energy that helps people get over the hump, even when it looks too difficult to see it through.

Believe in yourself, believe in your ideas, start less, always err to the side of action, always finish what you start, follow the commandments of financial success, and you will be rewarded with an awesome life.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Here is a great quote from one of the authors of the bar napkin above. Herb is one of the most optimistic, action-first, business leaders that I have ever met:

e

Mar 062012
 

The pursuit of Happiness sounds simple, but I think most people don’t have it framed correctly in their heads. The mistake was seeded at the time of America’s founding, when “pursuit of Happiness” appeared as a God-given unalienable right in the Declaration of Independence. I don’t think that it is a pursuit.

The basic flowchart many people believe looks like this:

This flowchart is wrong.

I believe happiness is a state-of-mind that comes from forward-looking optimism and being thankful for everything that you already have and enjoy. Both happiness and optimism are available to you today and during every step of your life’s journey.

Happiness is not a destination.

Happiness is an enabler during each step of the flowchart scribbled above. Happiness helps a person:
(1) do the hard work,
(2) overcome the tough challenges,
(3) succeed at the endeavors,
(4) ultimately enjoy financial windfalls,
(5) among other, often more important, things.
Happiness does not come sequentially from success or money.

Shawn Achor agrees with me. His truly excellent presentation is my nominee for Best Video that Can Change Your Perspective for 2012. Please watch it now — its just twelve minutes long — and let’s see if he can convince you that happiness is a choice and happiness leads to greater success. Shawn is the winner of numerous distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in one of the most popular classes offered at Harvard.

I’m not alone 🙂

Do you want to be above average? Start by being above average happy. Below was Shawn’s action steps for how to start today.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Feb 282012
 

Is your company designed so that its managers and associates will be happy at work?

Probably not.  The executives that build companies tend to focus almost exclusively on financial results.  “we have to make the quarterly earnings or heads will roll…”

But is that smart? Do stressed-out people produce better results?

+++

Is your kid’s select club soccer team, basketball team, or volleyball team designed and concerned about player happiness?

Probably not. Most teams that cost parents big bucks and travel to out-of-town tournaments focus on those win/loss results. “Our team has to win — I’m not paying $3 grand a year to play in Division 2!”

But is that smart? Do stressed kids of stressed, minutes-played-monitoring parents learn and play sports better than happy, relaxed kids?

+++

Is your kid’s school designed to keep kids happy while they are learning and maturing?

Probably not. Results darn it, results! “We must get the grades up to ensure our federal funding.”

But is that smart?

+++

When will leaders, when will companies, when will institutions, when will we — finally realize that happiness is a critical ingredient that leads to above average results and success, not a by product that comes after the struggle?

Start with that which is in your own control: Is your family focused on happiness? Are you focused and committed on making it so? Are you planning and doing things to make the family experience happier? What would it take to add a little more happiness into this week? A little happiness goes a long way.

Do you have influence on the job front? Are you a manager at work? Or are you a leader on your team? What can you do to inspire the spark of happiness within your little sphere of influence? Don’t be too surprised if your group starts out-performing as people smile more — just don’t tell the hard-nosed CEO until you have a one heck of a track record!

“There is no duty so much underrated as the duty of being happy.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson

Change your own world. Be happy to enjoy your life — you will find that success becomes easier when laughter is the norm. Most people are about as happy as they decide to be.  Don’t pursue happiness — Make it instead.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jan 042012
 

New Years Day is exciting. We wake up to a bright new outlook, a fresh new year to make extraordinary progress, to live better, to achieve great things.

This is a perfect time to set goals, to reassess our career, to make important changes, and to even decide to lose a few pounds. We live at an extraordinary time in a land of unlimited opportunities and unlimited freedom — what we do next is 100% up to us.

So why are we haunted by memories of resolutions and goals that we did not reach in the past? Why do less than 20% of people succeed at making positive changes based on goals and resolutions while more than 80% come up short? What can you decide today that will change this 80/20 equation in your favor in 2012 and beyond?

Its time to face the brutal truth. There are lots of reasons people succeed and fail, but one reason trumps all, by a wide margin: People who decide to be relentless, who refuse to give up, who have the tenacity — the burning all-in desire to succeed at something — are in fact, the ones that do succeed.

Do not set a goal unless you also decide to be relentless in its pursuit. Last week, I advised only setting and pursuing ONE great goal at a time. People with a burning desire adapt and overcome don’t let excuses hold them back and remain fully committed until the finish line.  People with a weak-hearted “wish” instead of a burning passion do not.

It really is that simple. You have to decide to be relentless. You have to believe you can succeed. You have to want it, really really bad! You have to be a burning optimist who believes anything is possible.

Happy New Years! Stay relentless my friends…

I.M. Optimism Man


Dec 302011
 

Most people have a love / hate relationship with the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. We tend to get excited about the coming of a fresh new year, the idea of a fresh start on fresh challenges, and hopes for better things to come. But, in the back of people’s heads lurks the memory that resolutions often fall by the wayside before the first day of Spring.

If you are considering skipping the resolutions exercise this first week of January, why not try something a bit different in 2012, like my OptimismMan ONE (at-a-time) resolution plan.

It is important to understand what has tripped up our plans in the so that we can approach the new year smarter and better.

I believe people drop the ball on their resolutions for the following primary reason – people set too many goals and resolutions at one time. Focus, clarity of mission, and 100% commitment are what is needed. As the old saying goes, “If you chase two rabbits, both escape.”

Secondary reasons people have failed in the past are that they rarely bring their resolutions into clear focus:

  • Most resolutions are vague and not specific.
  • The resolutions are not developed into action plans.
  • A person fails to set good and obvious reminders that fire off during the year.
  • People don’t accurately measure their progress.
  • People do not think through contingencies ahead of time.

Why not Try Something Different for 2012?

Consider following the OptimismMan ONE program for 2012:

  1. Go to Starbucks, a bench at the park, or a scenic overlook – some great place where you can think in relative solitude – bring a small stack of index cards, a pen, and your 2012 calendar with you.
  2. Brainstorm a list of 5 – 10 resolutions that you would really like to accomplish in 2012 and write them down as one-liners at the top of each index card. Don’t go past 10 cards unless you really want to build some huge queue for the future.
  3. Go back through and use the space in the body of the index card to write down WHY you want to accomplish each resolution.
    + How will your life be better when this resolution is done?
    + Why is it important?
    + How does this resolution set you up for bigger and better things in the future?
    Five to seven sentences is just about right in most cases.
  4. Now comes the hard part: Pick the ONE resolution that is the ONE that will bring you the greatest satisfaction and happiness, the ONE you want the most, the ONE that is in harmony with your values and long-term desires. Put a number one in the upper left corner and circle it. Put the rest of the cards away for safe keeping – you will only need them again after this number ONE is done.
  5. Turn the ONE index card over and list the major steps it will take to accomplish that ONE resolution. Some resolutions take 3 steps, others may take 20 – if that is the case, write small!
  6. Go back through the steps and estimate how many days it will take to accomplish each step serially. Write the number of days next to each step.
  7. Pull out your calendar (paper or electronic – it really doesn’t matter) and, using the information on the back of the card, place each major step / milestone on calendar days as two entries – one is the day you start the milestone step and the other is the day the milestone is due. Add some time for real life and the inevitable distractions. When done, if you had 10 steps on the index card, you should now have 20 entries on the calendar, culminating with the completion date of your ONE resolution.
  8. Place a 30-minute “appointment” on your calendar every two weeks for review points during the resolution accomplishment period. Set alerts to make sure you don’t miss a review. You will use these appointments-with-yourself to make a diary entry of what you did accomplish on the ONE resolution over the last two weeks, adjust your plan timeframes, adjust your milestones, and change the plan steps when you find you must adapt and overcome new obstacles that will surely come up.
  9. As a final step, look at milestone #1 on the road to resolution ONE. Take a fresh index card and make a list of specific steps / tasks to make it to milestone #1. You will repeat this break-the-milestone-into-actionable-tasks exercise ever time you finish a milestone and embark on the next milestone mission. Put that index card in your calendar or in your wallet, so that it is easily found and seen every day. If you use a task management system, input those tasks into your task manager as well.

I have no doubts that anyone that tries this ONE resolution system, no matter how many times they have missed on previous year resolutions, will find success in 2012. You will find that there is much greater gravitational pull on a resolution when you are clear as to why you want to accomplish it.  Getting started is always hard so putting a good plan together is just that start you need.  Finishing is never easy, but regularly accomplishing milestones along the way helps build momentum, determination, and most importantly, optimism.

Make 2012 your best resolutions year ever!

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> As you may have guessed, when you finish your ONE resolution, go back to your fortress of solitude, pull out your remaining index cards, perhaps add one more new one, and then decide on the new number ONE, and complete the above planning exercise. If you finish the first number ONE resolution by May, don’t wait until 2013 to work on the next number ONE.

Life is too short to waste time. We all have been given wonderful opportunities. That said, be wise and chase one rabbit at a time.

Dec 202011
 

My weekly readers realize that I believe one’s daily optimism is directly correlated to the level of one’s success in life. Anything that negatively impacts your optimistic attitude must be removed or corrected if you want to achieve your true potential.

I promised to expand on today’s topic back in early October. The topic is a tricky one, hard to put in succinct words — but I believe it is an important consideration as you continue to work on your personal Black Belt in Optimism.

Take a few moments and think of a person that you feel seriously wronged you. It might be someone from recent memory or from far in the past, maybe even someone who is now passed. Please don’t continue reading until you have that name and face in your mind’s eye.

One area inside one’s own mind that is really tough to conquer is genuine forgiveness, especially in our current society. Media has an outsized impact on our society’s “values” and Hollywood continues to pump out films that send the wrong messages. One area where they have it so very wrong is the “revenge is cool / forgiveness is not” theme. Hollywood has released at least one major movie every year for several decades using this money-making mold — Payback with Mel Gibson and Taken with Liam Neeson come to mind, but there are many.

The inability to truly forgive starts with the fact that most people have never been taught by their parents or by schools to forgive while they are growing up — most parents unfortunately don’t forgive other people and therefore set a poor example for their kids. It has become a normal state of affairs, even though lack of forgiveness is a cancer that eats away at a person’s soul. Hollywood’s great misdeed is that they, more than anyone else, are teaching the world to rejoice in revenge.

Yet forgiveness is a cornerstone to achieving a life marked by peace, tranquility of soul, optimism, and happiness. As with nearly everything in our lives, forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling, a skill that can be learned, practiced, and mastered.

You must train yourself and choose to forgive for a number of reasons. Here are three good ones:

  • It is the right thing to do. There is true right and wrong, and being on the side of right, matters. When you know you are doing the right thing, you are at peace.
  • Only through forgiveness can we proactively help ourselves. Forgiveness is the bedrock for peace and a positive attitude in one’s life. Without it, it becomes impossible to live a wildly successful life because lack of forgiveness weakens your mental state. If you choose not to forgive someone that has harmed you, the sad result is that you enable that person’s past actions to continue to hurt you in the present. The past is the past, yet a person that chooses to hold on to a grudge thinks about the past and wastes the present. Your weakness, your inability to forgive hurts your life, not the person that offended you. That person has moved on.
  • There is mounting evidence that harboring ill feelings actually impacts your physical health. It shows up as damaging stress, which leads to a host of health problems such as hypertension, reduced immunity, and high blood pressure. Nothing will crush your chances of success more completely than failing health.

So how do you learn to forgive? There are seven steps:

  1. You must figure out exactly what happened and why, without personal bias, and learn to articulate the situation accurately. It helps to tell a couple of trusted optimistic friends or far-off-to-the-side advisors about the situation.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself that you will do what it takes to feel better and put the past behind you. This commitment invariably leads to forgiveness as the answer.
  3. Realize that that your lingering angst is all about hurt feelings, not current events. You are the one choosing to make your feelings an issue in the present. It has transformed from being about the actual event to emotions alone. When you see it for what it is, and the damage it does, it becomes easier to understand that all this pent up worry is not worth it.
  4. Realize that forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. You can forgive someone without going back for more. Those are two separate choices.
  5. Say a prayer to God and ask for His help. God can help with all things, especially with cleansing away feelings that are inspired by the dark side.
  6. Remember that all choices are your own. When you choose to forgive, you choose to live an extraordinary life. It is never too late to decide to forgive for even if it took you too much time, the day you do is the day you succeed, the  day you set yourself free.
  7. Learn a lesson from the situation. As with every test in life, learning from setbacks and hurdles is the only way not to waste them. Learn so that you can handle yourself smarter the next time something similar happens.

So far, we have talked about forgiving others but in fact, we are all human, which means we all make mistakes from time to time. Some people don’t forgive themselves. It is incredibly important that we forgive ourselves, learn from mistakes, put yesterday in the past, get back up and try again with all the hope and passion that we can muster.

The trick is to forgive yourself, to adapt and overcome, to learn, and to maintain peace and tranquility in your soul and a blazing fire of hope in your heart through it all. Becoming an optimism master requires forgiveness of all others and of self.

“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold happiness and peace.”
—Robert Mueller

Today is the day to forgive that person you thought of at the beginning of this article, once and for all. Take a deep breath and decide to truly and permanently forgive him or her, right now. The next time this topic comes up, that person will no longer come to mind.

In summary, only the strong can forgive—the weak cannot. Lack of forgiveness imprisons one’s own life. Be strong. Be confident. Forgive quickly. Forgive others and forgive yourself, and you will take a major step toward stronger optimism and a life of true success. Lastly, teach your kids to forgive. It will help their lives immeasurably.

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 032011
 

A lot of people say “I want to live to 100!” Others wish to be slim and fit today. I go one step further and declare that “I want to live to 100, be fit every day for the rest of my life, and still be spry in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.”

This is not an easy goal given the sedentary nature of our modern society. Few of us walk, lift, carry, and exert ourselves as part of our daily life. We often sit for 90% or more of our waking hours hunched over a computer keyboard, talking on the phone, drinking our coffee. We sit in our cars stuck in traffic yet complain when we have to park a bit far from the front door of the supermarket. We sit at lunch, and at dinner, and in front of the TV at night.

The key to fitness is not one thing — the “how” and “how often” we exercise — which seems to be the topic most people bandy about.  Rather, success at health and fitness has everything to do with leading a life of integrity, staying disciplined on the core decisions that all impact your health.

One’s health comes down to a number of factors, many of which are in our own control and a few that are not. We cannot control our genes. We might not be able to control exposure to certain viruses.  But we can control many things that all play a big part in the equation.

Fitness mostly comes down to having integrity and discipline in seven main areas:

  • Exercise for strength
  • Exercise for aerobic endurance
  • Eating good quality food
  • Eating the right amount
  • Getting plenty of quality rest
  • Reducing and avoiding stress
  • Avoiding items that are clearly not good for your health
    (excessive anything, like alcohol, caffeine, bacon, butter, salt etc.)

Please take a minute and give yourself a letter grade (A B C D) in these seven areas. Are you going to the gym and lifting weights like Hans and Frans, but eating double whoppers with cheese twice per week?  Are you running 5 miles a day but then sleeping only 5 hours per night and skipping breakfast?  Are you eating vitamins like they are your one and only plan to win the health lottery?

Integrity is the true answer. If you have a goal of longevity and fitness, decide to get straight A’s from here on out.  Integrity demands that you make the disciplined choices.  It is easy to cheat when you are in your 20’s — a light workout followed by a pizza binge still works — but this all adds up when you hit the second half of your life.

From a personal perspective, I had a hard time committing to aerobic exercise, preferring to lift weights whenever I had a choice.  Two years ago, I decided to follow an every-other-time strength vs aerobic schedule, lifting weights on one day and then doing aerobic sessions during the next workout.  It works because I decided to no longer give myself the option.

The most common conversation at the gym is “how” a person works out, but most of the gym rats would be best served by focusing on what and how much they consume.  Diet is a huge component of long-term health, as is rest, as is stress reduction.

The debate should not be about the value of yoga vs. pumping iron vs. running vs. racquetball.  Building great habits takes time and persistence — adjust your habits a bit at a time and keep track of your decisions in a fitness journal. Making notes is very encouraging. Don’t get discouraged if you fall off the train once in a while — get right back on the next day.  Believe you can, and you will find that progress does in fact happen.  Yesterday does not matter whatsoever but choices made today matter a lot.

Integrity, balance, optimism, and discipline in one’s physical fitness plan is the answer to giving yourself a chance to earn fit, spry, and playing with great grandkids at 95.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 112011
 

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
it was beautiful, magical
and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
joyfully, playfully, watching
me,

But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
logical, responsible, practical,
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
clinical, intellectual, cynical…

— Richard Davies and Roger Hodgson

For centuries, we have followed this simple pattern of being born with joy and fun only to have society extinguish most of it, as we graduated into adulthood. It should not and does not have to be this way.

Mencius observed:
“Great is the man who has not lost his childlike heart.”

Mencius’ words have stood the test of time as he lived 300 years B.C.

My stepdad was one of the few that did not lose his childlike heart. Even in his 70’s and 80’s, Joe laughed out loud, he got down on the floor and played with my kids every time he could, he enjoyed life with a permanent twinkle in his eye. He was a great man because he never lost his childlike heart. I’m sure Saint Peter swung the gate wide open when he passed away a few weeks ago.

I think we need to take almost everything less seriously and put fun back into our lives. Being fun should not be so foreign a thought when you are north of 35 years old.

Worse yet, we are pushing adulthood seriousness into younger and younger age brackets. Why do parents of 9 year olds take “select club” sports so seriously? They act like every game is critical, coaching her all the way to the field, yelling instructions nonstop every minute played, and then debriefing her all the way home, after calculating the number of minutes she played. In addition to 2 – 3 club practices every week, they take her to special coaches for speed and agility training, and other private coaches for skills that promise to give her an edge. Some even have her practice and play with multiple teams, to keep her options open and to get more “touches” on the ball. Yikes!

These “serious-like-adults” programs are everywhere — soccer, football, softball, gymnastics, academics (after-school Kumon has 300,000+ hopeful future valedictorians enrolled in the U.S., and Kumon is but one of many academic dojos) — our hyper-competitive society is systematically taking the fun out of childhood before it has any chance to blossom. It now starts at 6 years old! Parents are suckers for the sales pitch: you have to give your kid an “edge” if he or she is to be a winner.

By the time kids grow up, fun has been extinguished for almost everyone.

Optimists must take proactive steps to remedy the situation, starting with their own families. Actions speak louder than words. When’s the last time you did anything for the simple fun of it? When is the last time you really engaged and played with your kids — really played their games and got in the middle of the action? It’s a great first step to rediscovering that you too can be fun again. Most importantly, playing with them is real “quality” time — simply watching them play at the park while you read your iPad is not really quality stuff.

If your kids are grown, don’t just meet them for Sunday brunch. Go snow skiing, go sailing, go camping, go fly kites at the beach (yes, adults can fly kites — don’t look at the computer screen so incredulously). Organize some fun for your too-serious-and-intellectual adult friends too — Ultimate Frisbee is a lot more fun than relationships via facebook.

Life’s too short to not have fun. Laugh out loud, for the fun of it.

Here’s to the pursuit of happiness!

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 032011
 

Think back to your youth, when you were eight or ten or twelve. What are some of your most vivid memories?

Please stare off into space for 30 seconds — don’t keep reading until you have at least two clear memories in your mind’s eye.

What events did you think of?

Did you remember the doldrums of homework, chores, or repetitive practice at a sport? Did you remember the countless days of effort that you invested trying to master a musical instrument? I would bet not: Daily life, and the tasks often repeated, leave no lasting impressions. Such regular events leave few memories and have little impact on a person’s development. It is the special, unusual moments that stand out vividly decades later — these are the memories that matter — these are the events that forge our psyche.

I remember simple but personally priceless events — I can clearly remember the day I learned to shoot a .22 rifle for the first time with my grandfather, as well as the first time I beat him in a 50 yard dash (I wonder today if he let me win, but I didn’t wonder back then!), and the evening when he and I caught a 7 lb trout at sunset — those are moments that I treasure. My wife still sees the sunny day in Galveston when her grandmother helped her bring an overflowing box of hermit crabs home from the beach and the perfect hour when Grandma pulled the car over and let her run wild through the irrigation sprinklers of a Kansas farm.

Fast forward to our roles as parents or grandparents today. We are all so busy with our regular daily lives. After working long days and sitting in traffic jams, we serve as taxi drivers for our sons and daughters as we rush them from school to practice or tutors, then back home for the never ending homework, dinners, and showers. All too often, we are unwilling to plan any unexpected, unusual event to complicate the already overflowing schedule. Busy parents are tired, both mentally and physically. If there is any energy left, it is often spent at the gym or meeting the amigos for a margarita at Ole’s.

But fond memories require the unusual — the perfect moments with your kids that leave those indelible impressions many decades later. “I’m too busy” or “I’m too tired” are simply signs of no forethought. There is always enough time for things that are important. All it takes is being optimistic, planning in advance, and committing to action.

Pull out your calendar — yes, I do mean right now — and pick a day next month. Write on that day that you will take a hike with your son or daughter to watch the sunset, or perhaps go watch airplanes land at the airport. Plan something simple, but different from the daily grind. Don’t tell your kid in advance, but make it happen.

Now, flip through the rest of the calendar and mark just five more days for events to-be-determined-and-planned. Six days out of 365 is manageable, no matter how busy-busy you are. The truth is that you have no idea what events will stick, so you must try multiple things. Don’t procrastinate. Kids grow up fast. It is more difficult to make great memories when they are 16 then when they are 8 or 12. Bring that smartphone along and always take a few pictures. Get the best one developed at Costco, framed, and put on the dresser. All part of Memory Making 101.

No one, lying on their death bed, ever wishes they had spent more time in the office. You won’t be the first that does. Don’t decide that you are too busy. If you decide to take the initiative, your kids will have a great number of treasured memories of mom, dad, and family life. Such little moments and treasured memories make a lasting difference because memories like this become the foundation for your kids’ life-long optimism, and optimism is the key ingredient to happiness.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. After your six shared events over this next 12 months, plan at least six more each year — you will not regret it.

Sep 272011
 

Fortunate is the person who has developed the self-control to steer a straight course towards his objective in life, without being swayed from his purpose by either commendation or condemnation.
— Napoleon Hill

If you have decided to be a gung-ho optimist who takes decisive daily action, odds are very good that you will have a successful life’s journey. Along the way, you will encounter subversive critics who sow the seeds of pessimism, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The pessimistic little statements are the mental version of viruses and bacteria. Most optimists eventually build up immunities against the condemnation: they learn to ignore people that say “you can’t” or “it will never work” and just take action and prove the critics wrong.

I believe that the other side of the coin, “commendation” from Napoleon Hill’s fantastic quote above, is a much more insidious virus. It invades many an optimist covertly, ultimately causing lots of problems. There is a fine-line between having confidence or being over-confident, having admirers or having associates that secretly want you to trip and fall. Compliments and flattery often go to peoples’ heads and they start to suffer from Big Head Syndrome or BHS.

A person with BHS is easy to spot — he or she starts at least half his or her sentences with “I” and loses perspective as to the team effort behind the scenes — one of the most famous BHS quotes/career-ending moves ever happened when Al Gore told America that he was the key player in the invention of the internet. (Yes, he mispoke, but you can’t watch this 90 second video and not realize that BHS is the virus that ended his political ambitions).

Today, anyone who earns quick promotions or wins accolades can get infected with BHS in a hurry. BHS sneaks up quietly and unexpectedly. After years of seeing yourself as a pretty successful professional, something clicks and you find yourself transformed, believing that you are God’s gift to your company and acting as arrogant as Maverick in Top Gun. The higher one rises in the org chart, the more money one makes, the more accolades one receives, the greater one’s span of management control, the more people solicit one’s advice, the more corporate dinners one attends at the imaginary head of the table, the more he or she is surrounded with yes-men and yes-women who pour on the commendation and flattery. Steering a straight course becomes very hard when you feel like Tom Cruise.

Staying humble, both publicly and in one’s heart, is incredibly important. If BHS infects you, painful lessons are surely coming in your future. Your team may begin to hope that you stumble, and they have the subtle power to help that happen. You may find yourself jumping at opportunities that are not a good fit for you, because you are overconfident. You might find yourself living for work and ignoring the family. You may start living a extravagant lifestyle as your subconscious tries to match your prideful inner vision. These self-destructive scenarios (and many more) are often the result of Big Head Syndrome.

Here are three quotes worth considering:

You can have everything in life you want,
if you will just help other people get what they want.

— Zig Ziglar

There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go
if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

— Ronald Reagan

Humility is not thinking less of yourself,
it’s thinking of yourself less.

— Rick Warren

So what can you do to help inoculate yourself from the insidious commendation virus?

First, read OptimismMan.com and recommend it to at least three others each week 🙂

Then, search, find, and develop several sincere close friends that will
a) honestly tell you like it is,
b) stay optimistic “can do” people in the face of long odds, encouraging you when things look bleak, and
c) will make the time when you need help.

Many people I talk to often say they can’t find such friends. Don’t look for good friends, but rather look to be a good friend. Find moments to help people. Talking less and listening more is the key. You will be pleasantly surprised.

After you are fortunate enough to earn several core friends, don’t forget to ask for their advice, often. Take the time and energy to keep those valuable friendships alive and healthy.

If you stay humble and optimistic, giving public credit to all those that help you and thanking God for His blessings and help daily, you will avoid the BHS commendation trap and keep the success momentum going.

I.M. Optimism Man

May 232011
 

Financial success is not as elusive as many people think — but you must follow some basic strategies to stack the odds in your own favor. Here are my 22 Commandments for financial success (not to be confused with my twenty-one keys for overall success in life 🙂  ):

1. Never compromise your integrity.

Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not gossip and trash others. Do exactly what you say you will do (or even 10% more). Integrity is integral to any long-term success. Many think this is a short-cut to financial success but there is not — those with gray areas in their ethics may enjoy temporary success but usually flame out before the game is over.

2. Focus on one strategically important project at a time, until the project is finished.

Multi-taskers do not outpace intense, single-minded, driven individuals. The fable of the tortoise and the hare is the most important story each of us must remember from our youth. Discipline is a very important quality to foster in your life.

3. Write down and fine-tune your goals on paper.

Keep your goals with you and review your goals every morning for 15 minutes without fail. Goals enable you to focus, to plan, to be in charge of your life’s destination, to avoid distractions. Do not make your primary goal your own wallet — financial reward is a side-effect of producing economic value for others — help others succeed to be a lasting success yourself.

4. Pay careful attention to where you invest your time.

Time is your most precious resource.  Keep a detailed written log of where you invest your time.  When at work, focus on work.  When with your family, focus on the family.  The better you manage the investment of your time, the better the quality of your life will become.

5. Work harder and smarter than everyone you know.

Working smart starts with goals, then plans, then supporting tasks… yet very few are serious about their planning and task management process.  There is no substitute for doing your planning homework first and following through with genuine hard work and effort. Be disciplined every day.

6. Adapt and overcome.

Every project will have set backs. Assume there will be setbacks and pre-plan what your “Plan B” and “Plan C” will be — pre-planning is an important step to not getting discouraged. Never look at a roadblock as a dead-end. Those that are determined to succeed, to adapt, to overcome, win.  The US Marine Corp teaches this principle better than any other organization on the planet. Excuses are for the less successful.

7. You will not succeed long-term, without good health.

The formula is 70% smart eating, 30% daily exercise.  Order fish and steamed veggies at every corporate dinner.  Drink only a little.  Work out every day possible, even if it is only for 30 minutes.  Those that weigh the same that they weighed at 21 when they are in their 50’s and beyond have an 80% chance of avoiding the major diseases that will topple so many people. Self-discipline matters in every facet of your life.

8. Add personal knowledge weekly.

Your mind needs fuel too, and not just in your chosen field. Read good stuff no less than five hours each week. Take notes while you read. Take a class or workshop every year. Watch lectures on the web. You will find that ideas of economic success come quicker if you feed your mind daily. 99% of television idles the brain while carefully selected reading strengthens it.

9. Search for and develop as many trusted mentors as you can.

You must invest a lot of time to search, find, and develop excellent mentors.  A mentor must be an optimist.  Once you have them, consult with them, often.

10. Choose to be a gung-ho optimist.

Preach optimism and convert others. Stop all complaints — it can be done. You will be amazed at the difference choosing to end all complaints will make on your own attitude. People that believe a project will work out, people that believe they will succeed, do.

11. Look for opportunities and embrace prudent risks.

You must first search if you expect to find. Risk is why so few people spank life’s ball out the the ball park. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Make prudent risk your best friend.

12. When in doubt, take decisive action.

The world belongs to the focused, driven, determined person with a solid plan and a lot of action.

13. Never walk alone.

Reserve a bit of time each day for solitude and pray for wisdom and making the right choices. We have so much opportunity and so many choices to make. God helps those that ask for help.

14. Plan big.

Set your sights and expectations high. You tend to hit what you aim at. Aim too low and you wind up underachieving by a lot.

15. Play the hand you are dealt to the best of your ability.

Did Helen Keller fold or play her hand? Life dealt her a pair of threes and she still changed the world. Don’t torpedo yourself by not given each and every day your best possible effort.

16. Don’t get swayed by other people’s opinions.

There are a lot of naysayers. That is why there is so much opportunity that other’s don’t see. There will be a day when people start complimenting you, as you success grows. Don’t let that sway you into big-head-syndrome either — stay true to yourself.

17. Create solutions to problems that have economic value.

The more you practice creativity, the more creative you become. Creative solutions are always in demand.

18. Ask great questions, then carefully listen to what people say.

Most people are so wound up about they want to say next, that they rarely hear what others are saying. A person that pre-plans great questions, asks great questions, and listens attentively is 1 in a 100. Make notes as soon as you can in your written journal. No memory is a match for pale ink. Stay disciplined on this core questioning, listening, and taking notes strategy and it will serve you well.

19. Specialize.

It is hard to become a financial success if you are just like everyone else.  Every industry offers room to specialize and differentiate yourself.  The specialist in a niche with excellent profit characteristics wins the game.

20. Engage in areas where you have true passion.

Work on stuff you genuinely care and are passionate about — passion greatly improves your odds of success.

21. Spend less than you make, and always invest your savings.

If you want to stay ahead, you must live on 80% of your income and invest the rest, unfailingly, year after year. If you start when you are 18 or 21, you will build up your wealth by the time you are 50 so that many of your dreams and goals can come to life.  The longer you wait, the greater the headwinds for financial success.

22. Measure progress and be very honest with yourself.

What gets measured gets improved. Businesses watch their income statements and their net worth statements for good reason. You should too. Create monthly statements for your family. You will find that when you will start paying attention to your income, expenses, and net worth, improvement soon follows. Don’t follow the “big hat no cattle” herd (I am from Texas after all).

There are more facets to financial success, but if you adopt just these 22 commandments, you will go far and prosper.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 232011
 

In the movie “The Matrix”, Morpheus offers Neo a choice of taking the red pill or the blue pill.  Take the red pill and learn what the enslaving Matrix really is, or take the blue pill and return to a life of blissful ignorance with only a hint that things might be different than they seem on the surface.

Before reading the rest of this post, please click on the clip below and watch the red pill / blue pill choice movie clip — Why? — Because its fun, it helps one remember the details of the movie, and it helps you spot some eerie similarities to normal life discussed later in this post:

The red pill offered Neo extraordinary clarity, although the clarity came with a price — Neo could never go back to blissful ignorance.  He suddenly learns that everything has been an illusion, and that he must change everything to fight the enslaving and pervasive power of the Matrix.

I had my own red pill clarity moment when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, financial success, personal balance, and staying healthy not too long ago. This post offers that same red pill clarity moment for your consideration.

There are uncanny parallels between the movie and our lives today. Many people slave away, diligently working long hours day in and day out. trying to break free to financial freedom, but 95% never seem to get far ahead. The realities of the bell curve dominates the landscape, with 95% of people staying within the first or second deviation around the norm, never escaping the grip of “slightly below average / average / slightly above average” financial and personal success. This life-near-average is because people remain in a semi-blissful state of ignorance when it comes to their single, most precious resource.

This is your red pill clarity moment. Choose the red pill by reading on and you will see how profound a perspective change one little blog post with a big core idea can be.  Or choose the blue pill, stop reading, and click on the Optimism Man logo in the upper left corner, then don’t come back to this post.  The downside of choose to read on is that you can never go back to the semi-blissful state of mind.

I’m glad you chose the red pill.

Some people think the most precious resource is money. It is important but it is not in the top three of your most precious resources. Our most precious and fleeting resource is time, assuming that you have your physical and mental health. As with any key resource, how one invests that resource matters a great deal.

Escaping the life-near-average 95% simply comes down to one concept – Do you invest your time wisely or do you choose to spend and squander time?

Websters dictionary defines the term invest this way:

Invest transitive verb

1: to commit time or money in order to earn a future return

2: to make use of for future benefits of advantages (invested her time wisely)

As soon as most people get out of school and plunge into the world of work, the Matrix (which is made up of the companies we work for) takes over a huge slice of their time. Soon thereafter, a person cedes investing their time, instead spending it on behalf of the company. The spending habit spills over to “free time” — free time away from work is often spent on trivial pursuits such as sports, parties, watching TV, going to the malls, and eating. Marriage and kids are next and most one’s time is then spent on kid and family events. After kids fly the nest, many believe they are too old to start much new.

Although time is one’s most important resource, it is not the only important resource spent instead of invested. Most people spend their income as fast as they make it, buying the baubles of the world to live in great comfort and look successful in a hurry, often before they can afford it. In America today, people leave less than $65,000 to their families when they kick the bucket, and this number is severely skewed by the top 1% wealthy. The statistics are all over the board, including some that say less than 20% inherit any money at all.

It is really this simple: You must invest your time and your money to get ahead and break into the third deviation top 2.5% of success. Investment vs. spending changes everything, financially and with personal success. This is the realm of financial freedom, where you can decide to do exactly what you want to do, because daily expenses and substantial reinvestment are easily covered by investment returns.

As with all habit change, you must first become conscious of what you are spending your time on, with an eye on how a little bit of it can be redirected and invested. To invest your time, you must use it on projects that offer the potential of greater success in the future. If you invest 2 hours each week on learning Spanish, it has the possibility of paying off in the future. Opportunities for promotion or a great new sales territory might come up because you become bi-lingual. Reading good books is often an investment in the future, helping you develop new ideas or simply impress others with your breadth of knowledge. On the other hand, is watching the next episode of Lost or Dancing with the Stars or Sunday’s big game an investment of time? It is not — TV and most internet surfing is spending your time with no hope of any future value.

I suggest keeping a small diary of every minute you invest each week. Learning most anything qualifies. Working on your written goals and plans. Improving your task management. Going to Toastmasters to be a better communicator. Creating a website. Reading investment magazines. Writing a novel. Becoming a top 1 in 1,000 expert at work.

At first, many weeks will fly by without any time invested. You stay busy busy busy, but are really in the semi-blissful illusion created for you, mostly by your company. This is not to say that there is no strategic time to be invested at the workplace — there is plenty of opportunity. If you work on a high profile new customer win that seriously contributes to company results, that time is strategic.  If you invent a new widget or process that saves the company millions, that is strategic. Anything that the CEO notices or can be put on your resume as an accomplishment is strategic and helps you get the new promotion, pay raise, or changing companies. But getting the quarterly reports done by Friday or hanging out at the coffee pot is not going to break you free of the life-near-average.

Mark down everything you can in your little time-investment book. Don’t be too strict — mark it all down. If you manage 30 minutes of strategic time invested this week, try to beat it the following week, and the week after that. Momentum will build.

Likewise, start putting aside 10% of your income for financial investment. Start reading about investing, start learning about investing, open an account at Ameritrade, Etrade, or Charles Schwab, and start investing, one share of stock at a time if that is all you have put aside. A person that invests in 1000 times more likely to become a millionaire that a person that does not. Its not brain surgery difficult and it is not a matter of a mad dash to save when you turn 50. Financial investing is a matter of being steady and purposeful, like the tortoise that beats the hare in the proverb. Ignore the noise of the day traders. Don’t know what to buy? Buy SPY and QQQ ETF shares, which are shares that track the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 companies, and hold them — its a simple bet on the prosperity of America.

The red pill clarity bottom line is that thinking in terms of investing vs. spending will change your life forever, if you embrace it. Invest your time, don’t spend it. Time is the most important asset. Invest a portion of your income, don’t  squander it. Success is not hard like many pessimists think it is. Anyone can become an extraordinary success, but you have to invest your time and money, week in and week out, from this day forward.

I.M. Optimism Man