But that is not what this post is all about. More often than not, we have painfully little time before we must present to an audience. The world of distractions conspires to keep us juggling and fighting little fires, only to find ourselves staring at a sad-looking, boring-as-hell powerpoint deck on Sunday evening, knowing we must lead a discussion at 2 pm tomorrow.
I’ve put together a quick recipe I call the Sakalas Seven Checklist to help improve and renovate any presentation by 10%, 20%, even 52%. We all would like to be strategic evangelists who become trusted advisors. The Sakalas Seven is a little easy-peasy checklist that can be used to make your presentation better in short order.
First, and foremost, you must capture someone’s attention immediately. Do not spend a ton of time introducing yourself. Do not tell people where you fit in your organization. There is always time for those snoozy details later. I often spend almost 50% of my personal preparation time on customizing those first few critical slides and what I will say in the first couple of minutes. Customize the beginning for your audience. What’s in it for them? What is interesting to them. It’s not about you.
2) Next, people can’t generally remember more than three points from a meeting. Figure out your three main points. Put them up front, talk about them throughout, make them the takeaways at the end. Success is not found drowning the audience with too much stuff.
3) Always start with a problem or challenge the people in the audience will relate to.
4) One each slide, try to limit the words to less than 20. If you have more than 20, even after you delete as many words as possible, highlight the words that a “skimmer” would need to get the main point, the gist of the slide — because the world is full of people who skim. It will also help you as a presenter, making it easy to remember what you wanted to say while on the slide.
5) Often, there are slides after slides after slides of idea-dense, busy, hard-to-understand information. An amazing, easy-hack is to add a one liner slide that illustrates the big idea, the big point you want to make. The contrast makes it magical.
6) There is lots of evidence that people more easily remember visuals than words. In fact, imagining a visual image in your mind’s eye activates the process that moves ideas out of short-term memory into long-term memory. The hack is simple — use an analogy that demands the listener “imagine a visual scene or object” — it will make your point sticky.
7) Features or simply saying “yes, it does that” doesn’t make it real, doesn’t make it memorable. But a customer success story, spoken like you were (almost) there, absolutely does.
Here is the checklist on one page.
The next time you have less than 24 hours to hit a home run during your presentation, I hope you remember // and Google for // the Sakalas Seven.
Life moves fast after you graduate. Many become so busy that they feel like are no longer steering their own lives. They find that their “prime” time vaporizes like a rain shower hitting the sunbaked Texas interstate on an August afternoon.
A college graduate recently asked me for three life-hacks that could really help him in the real world, three habits that I wished I had developed over the last decades, three disciplines that I’m 100% certain would have made a positive impact on my success.
It was a great question that really made my stop and think a bit. After sleeping on it, I came back with three that I believe in my heart would have made a remarkable difference:
1. Strategic-Big-Rock Progress:Pre-plan and then accomplish at least one task of long-term lasting strategic value each and every week.
Keep yourself on track and honest with yourself by writing it down on your calendar. Every Sunday evening or Monday morning, plan the #1 task you will accomplish this week that will have lasting value, that will serve you well, that will increase your momentum 90 days into the future. Then get it done as early in the week as possible, and most definitely before Friday, making notes in the calendar as well.
If you accomplish just one item of lasting value each week of your life, you will go much farther than most, because the world too often keeps you busy on items that are worthless in less than a month. Jim Rohn said that a person should “work harder on oneself than you do on your job” and there is a lot of truth in that observation. Improving your own capabilities is most definitely a task of strategic long-term value. What new asset did you create this week? Creating new stuff usually matters longer-term. I didn’t institutionalize this “one strategic-big-rock a week” habit in earnest until my late 40’s, but in hindsight, it would have made a remarkable difference had I started much earlier in my life.
2. Details-Matter: Write Three Details Down, without Fail
Writing details down, as they happen, is one core idea, but I would suggest implementing this life-hack with three separate email accounts, reserved exclusively for your own use. A person easily forgets 95% of their life’s details if he or she does not make daily notes. If you keep journal, you will be amazed at how much creative and wise you become over time. The act of writing it down makes it easier to remember, and when you don’t, you know where to look.
Go to Gmail and create three accounts like this (what you call them is up to you but you don’t want anyone to ever guess these addresses so you don’t get spam email): firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
I then suggest creating three accounts at outlook.com that match the Gmail accounts (so that you can have a second backup copy). For example: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Then, go into each gmail account and use the forwarding option to forward all received email from each account to the corresponding account in outlook: firstname.lastname@example.org -> email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org -> email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org -> email@example.com
As a last step, create these three gmail email addresses as contacts in your smartphone. Now, when you send an email to the gmail version, a copy will also be forwarded to outlook. The idea is that if you ever lose access to gmail, you will still have the outlook copy, and vice-versa. If Google someday makes gmail no longer free, you would have a backup with their main competitor, Microsoft.
Use each of these accounts only for its one designed purpose:
Send three emails to your perma.journal each day (an easy way to remember is to send one with every meal). Attach pictures. Create tags. A person forgets 95% of their lives if he or she does not make daily notes. If you keep a perma.journal, you will be amazed at how much creative and wise you become over time. Writing it down makes it easier to remember, and when you don’t, you know where to go. I started journalling electronically about 12 years ago, but had I started 30 years ago, I would have been so much better off.
Send every idea that you ever have, as soon as you have it, to your perma.ideas account. Inspirations grow on top of each other, and connect in wondrous ways over time. Writing it down, and reviewing all your big ideas will make you much more creative over your lifetime.
Send everything you learn about anyone you meet, in a conversation, to your perma.peoplenotes mailbox. Great relationships are the backbone of success. Remembering another person’s kids name, and that she plays soccer for the Solar Soccer Club in Dallas, matters immensely when you meet that person again two years later. We all forget 95% of what we learn about people, but the best genuine networking geniuses do not, because they write down details as they discover them. Nothing is more important than the little details – remembering those details shows that you truly care about a person as an individual.
Why email instead of apps? Email is a global standard that is far more likely to survive the test of the next 50 years while smartphone apps and the companies that publish them are way less likely to survive the test of time. Even if email changes a lot, I’m certain there will be universal import/export mechanisms to move the data forward if need be. If you want to create a secure, heavily encrypted mailbox, Switzerland based Protonmail is a smaller company alternative to Google and Microsoft. Lastly, it doesn’t hurt that email is mostly free at this time.
3. What Gets Measured, Gets Improved:Measure and log your progress on the fronts that matter most.
Measure your net worth (assets – liabilities) every month and write it down, without fail. What gets measures gets improved. A growing, positive net worth = freedom. Freedom is the most amazing of luxuries, far more amazing than anything you can buy at the mall.
Measure your health and fitness. I have successfully lost weight my simply taking the time to write down my foods and calories on the MyPlate app. The measurement help make you conscious of what you are consuming.
If it is important to you, measure it in writing. I find the easiest place for these notes is on my calendar, but where you store the logs is up to you.
My three life-hacks for the college graduate are all about writing it down. No matter if your are planning a project of strategic value, writing down the details about a new co-worker or customer that you just met, or tracking your net worth over time, the act of writing it down, even if you use the palest of ink, is still 1000% better than trying to keep it exclusively in your head.
Becoming all that you can be requires smart choices, thoughtful discipline, and unbridled optimism. Best of luck.
Many of the most successful people focus and make progress, a first down, on their #1 top priority goal each and every week. There is an underlying dragon hiding in the back of our minds that tries to sabotage this all important life habit: Almost everyone struggles with procrastination. If a person learns the right disciplines and builds the habits to overcome procrastination, his or her chances of escaping average skyrocket. Understanding this dragon and how it is becoming stronger in our tech-fueled world is important to keeping it on a leash.
We love our smartphones. They have given us the power to do so much, to stay connected to others wherever we are, to take pictures, to get dates, to buy tickets and make reservations at any given moment. But there are two sides to every coin. The apps on the ever-present smartphone have taught us to become hopelessly distracted, as though we have attention deficit disorder even though biologically 90%+ do not. Texts, Snapchats, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, email alerts, breaking news alerts, and every other pop-up from millions of apps, train us to stop what we are doing and turn our attention back to the app-of-this-minute. We have been trained by Silicon Valley’s developers and AI algorithms to learn a bad habit that resembles ADD. Once we have willingly allowed ourselves to be reprogrammed by our electronic collar, we continue to flutter our attention from one thing to another, even during the rare moments when the smartphone is out of the room. Just try writing a paper on your PC or Mac and count how many times you jump around to look at something in a different browser tab in just 30 minutes.
Changing an existing habit is much harder than adding a new good habit, but it can be done.
The great news is that you now recognize the pattern and you have all the tools that you need to build a habit of getting stuff done, especially the stuff that is of strategic importance. I struggled with procrastination for decades of my life. My procrastination dragon is always lurking and can strike at any time, stealing a day, or a week, or even a month away if I let down my guard.
The cold hard truth is no one is great at multitasking. The people who say that they are great at it are also the people who are most likely to stress themselves out, doing less than their best on everything in their lives. Even computers don’t multitask but rather quickly switch between multiple things, doing one task at a time. The difference is that a computer “knows” exactly the next step when it efficiently switches back and forth while the human mind takes a much more ponderous path to get focused on the next. Even when you are not falling prey to multitasking, ‘good’ things to do are often the very things that get in the way of ‘great’ things to do. Great things to do are the ones that are supporting your strategic priority, the one goal that you have decided to accomplish which will yield long term value. Often, accomplishing greatness takes getting into a state of flow, when your mind gives the task at hand 100% commitment and you completely lose track of time.
Step one is to take a hard look and turn off every superfluous notification that you can. Getting notified of every email and social post torpedoes your focus. I set up a second “high priority” email box that no one knows I have. I then create filters in my main email account to forward emails I want notifications for to that extra email box. This proactive filtering puts me in charge of what matters to me. That second box is the only one that sends me a notification. Unfortunately, text messages are harder to prioritize but putting some percentage of conversations on silent / do not disturb is an idea worth considering.
After you have reduced the bings and the buzzes, the habit that you need to beat procrastination and distraction is to reserve a time slot where you put the rest of the world aside, an hour where you don’t multitask. Start small with 30 minutes a day, then work your way up to 60 minutes and then 90 minutes per day. The 90 minutes might be three independent 30 minute sessions on three different strategic tasks but that’s perfectly fine. The key is to only focus on the one important thing that you have planned and decided to do during that time slot.
Reward yourself after your zen timeslot. I personally write it down as a “great time invested” note on my calendar, so that I can see the steps I’ve taken toward one of my top goals and then I refill my cup of coffee. Remember Aristotle’s golden rule: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
By leaving my smartphone in another room and by working in one full screen window, I have found that my 30 minutes of commitment sometimes magically transforms into 60 or 90 minutes of focused “flow” time. This doesn’t happen every day and it is not always easy, but you get better at it over time. If you are writing a book, you often struggle and write something that is obviously shitty but, if you refuse to open a new tab and look at random stuff on Amazon or Facebook, you are slowly but surely building the muscle memory to retake control of your life.
Procrastination is the gravity that keeps most people down. You can adapt and overcome because procrastination is a bad habit, not a genetic aspect of your DNA. Our minds are reprogrammable. Start by figuring out your top goals and priorities. Make specific plans, distilled down to specific next steps, so that you have decided what exactly needs to be done. Train yourself to stick to the important task for an uninterrupted 30 minutes and you are well on your way. Write your successes down and be grateful when you overcome distraction temptations. Building great habits takes effort and patience.
If I could beat the procrastination dragon, you can too, because my dragon had a death grip on me years ago. To defeat it, I raised the stakes: I decided to not look at my work email in the morning until I finished my first 30 minute “focused” time block, no matter how late in the morning that was. That was a heck of a motivator, since I could easily miss a conference call or meeting by not checking email. To avoid the ugly risk of missing meetings, I forced myself to focus and make progress during the 6:30 – 7:00 am slot, hot coffee in hand. It was an interesting way to start each day, but I now can “disappear from the urgent world” for an hour or two, with a well-established ‘focus’ habit that I know helps me succeed.
If my suggestions don’t get you over the top with procrastination, Tim Urban, the smart, funny, and fresh creator of the WaitButWhy.com blog, writes about the evils of procrastination, the concepts of never wasting a week because life is shorter than you think, and working on the strategic, important stuff as much as possible.
You can beat the procrastination dragon if you believe that you can.
Many, if not most people tell me that they are too busy. Too busy every day. Too busy at work, too busy at home. They are just barely keeping their head above water, juggling it all.
I believe there is an art to finding time, making time for what’s truly important versus what is “busy-work.” A lot of busy-work looks and feels important and urgent but, if you ask yourself “will this task or project that I’m spending time on matter 90 days from today…” the answer is often no.
This question — will this task or project that I’m spending time on matter 90 days from today — is the one that we must ask ourselves dozens of times each day. This question is the one that separates wasteful tasks, mediocre tasks, and good tasks, from great tasks. Only the great tasks contribute on your journey toward a longer-term worthy goal. Good things to do are usually the insidious culprit — they prevent us from doing the great things to do that matter the most — while we feel reasonably good about what we did ‘accomplish’ during the day.
To find more time, we must evaluate the longer-term value of each task before accepting it, before telling someone that you will get it done. Once you say that you will, keeping your word, which is crucial to maintaining your personal integrity and the other person’s trust, takes over. You must learn to say “no” much more often — up front, politely, respectfully, but unequivocally. The “art” is to say “no” in such a tactful way that people still look at you as a core colleague or friend. It usually helps to explain that you have other pressing priorities and give them some ideas of how they can get their task done without your direct involvement.
Your positivity about your life is fueled by progress toward your goals and grand purpose. The simplest habit is to pre-plan your week and each day so that you don’t give in to other people’s tasks and urgencies.
Why do most companies generally grow their quarterly earnings, cash flow, intrinsic enterprise value, and market cap over time? Well, frankly, they focus on it. They report to the Street. They answer analyst and media questions. They meet with investors.
What if we committed to running out personal finances as professionally as public companies run their books? What if we focused on the performance of our assets while taking great care with expenses? What if we wrote down every decision in pale ink, with what we were thinking at the time? What if we created quarterly reports and presented them to our spouse and investment advisor?
Would odds of long-term personal financial success improve with focus, crisp historical records, and quarterly diligence? I think so.
Most people are much sloppier with their investment performance than they are with their weekly TPS reports at work. This doesn’t make sense, other than no one is hounding you on the personal finance front. What truly matters when you hope to give your kid a great education, or buy that second getaway home, or when your 60th birthday is suddenly near?
Success in life is simple but expect it will be hard. You have to be up to the challenge. Discipline matters. The world does not owe success to you — you must adapt, overcome, and never give up. You must be optimistic, you must believe that you can. All this and more is captured in Admiral McRaven’s brilliant address at University of Texas’ 2014 graduation. You can watch it on YouTube but I believe it is more memorable if you read it.
“Make Your Bed”
This speech was delivered by Admiral McRaven as the commencement address to the graduates of The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.
President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.
It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT. I remember a lot of things about that day. I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married — that’s important to remember by the way — and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.
But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening, and I certainly don’t remember anything they said. So, acknowledging that fact, if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I will at least try to make it short.
The University’s slogan is, “What starts here changes the world.” I have to admit — I kinda like it. “What starts here changes the world.”
Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.
800 million people — think of it — over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world — eight billion people.
If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people — change their lives forever — you’re wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan: A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush. In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.
But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn were also saved. And their children’s children were saved. Generations were saved by one decision, by one person.
But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is — what will the world look like after you change it?
Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better. But if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world. And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status.
Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward — changing ourselves and the world around us — will apply equally to all.
I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California. Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harrassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.
But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.
So, here are the 10 lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students — three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast. In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.
For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.
If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each. I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about five-foot-five.
The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the midwest. They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews. The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.
SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.
If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle — it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.
For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.
There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.
Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.
If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.
No one wanted a circus.
A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.
But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students — who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency.
Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.
But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed wire crawl, to name a few. But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope. You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.
The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life head first. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.
It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation the student slid down the rope perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.
If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.
During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.
Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not recently. But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you — then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away.
There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.
So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
As Navy SEALs one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles — underwater — using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.
During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.
To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.
Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.
If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.
It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors. As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.
The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men — and we could get out of the oppressive cold. Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone-chilling cold.
The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night, one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.
The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singingbut the singing persisted. And somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.
If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.
So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell.
Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.
If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world — for the better. It will not be easy.
But, YOU are the class of 2014, the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.
Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone.
Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.
Most people don’t appreciate that we code our own brain’s “operating system” by choice. A more common way to articulate this is that we are a product of our habits, and most of us find that habits are difficult to change.
But they are well worth considering, designing, and changing. Aristotle observed quite accurately that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I have found a trick that really works to build new (good) habits. If you associate a triggerwith doing a new habit, the next time you encounter the trigger, you will be reminded of the habit. For example, lets say that you decide to complete a thorough stretch routine every morning when getting up. Associate brushing your teeth with the stretching that you hope to make a new good habit. Given that you are (hopefully) already in the habit of brushing your teeth first thing in the morning, you will quickly and more easily adopt the stretching, because brushing will connect the dots for you. Put a note on your Sonicare if necessary.
There a plenty of triggers available in your life already. Chaining one thing to another makes building new habits much easier.
In the bigger picture, we become a product of our own habits (good or bad), and our habits become our own chosen operating system. Let’s say that you struggle with stress and the road rage of traffic. Why not proactively “code” a productive, positive habit with getting stuck in unexpected traffic jams instead of beating your hands on the steering wheel? Why not have your favorite play list queued up for the next inevitable traffic jam, or perhaps an audio book, or even decide to pray if you are religiously inclined. Traffic jams will continue to happen, but you can use the negative inevitable trigger to react positively, training your OS to deflect the stress instead of blowing a gasket.
Habits are incredibly powerful. Build new ones while getting rid of bad ones and you will be on the road to excellence.
All of us daydream with a hopeful attitude from time to time. We imagine ourselves in a different state of life, often fueled by what we see on TV and in print.
Optimism is crucial — you have to believe you can — but it is important to remember to get started before all the lights turn green, be committed to your pursuit with great focus and energy, and finish no matter what for there are no credits, no rewards, no accolades, no windfalls, no satisfaction for those that quit halfway through.
Wishful thinking doesn’t help you…
or loved by others,
or a great investor,
or a millionaire, multi-millionaire, or billionaire,
or learn to speak Spanish,
or play the piano, guitar, or harmonica well,
or speak compellingly in front of a large audience,
or play basketball, or squash, or racketball spledidly,
or do three fantastic magic tricks,
or ski black diamond slopes without breaking limbs,
or become amazing in terms of cardio fitness, or muscular strength,
Today, are you mostly a do-er or a watcher? Do you make up excuses or do you hold yourself accountable? Do you set goals, and then milestones and specific plans to reach those goals? Do you embrace change and risk or do you hide from both. Do you have a burning desire to learn and grow and excel or is being OK good enough for you?
There is no time like today to decide your own DNA.
Worrying about stuff that might or might not happen seems to have risen exponentially as we have become more interconnected. Facebook and the rest makes us feel like we are not succeeding fast enough or big enough when compared to all those people we personally know. Kids born today seem set up from birth to worry more than any previous generation.
Since I believe we are the architects of our own mental psyche, I believe we can train ourselves to worry less by being mindful about our own thoughts and living in the present.
Below is an article that I stumbled upon on LinkedIn.com from a guy named Brian Howe.
I don’t know Brian, but his article hits the nail on the head. Here it is in its entirety because I don’t know how to link to a LinkedIn article without LinkedIn trying to track you and acquire you as a user. If you like it, consider following Brian Howe, from Inuvo, Little Rock, Arkansas on LinkedIn:
7 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than It Should Be
Life can be a real struggle sometimes, no question about it.
As a culture, we worry way too much. In fact, we worry because we are worried that we are spending too much time worrying. We are worried that we don’t know our futures; we are worried that we don’t know exactly what people think about us and we are worried whether or not the stove was left on when we left the apartment and when we get back the building will be burnt to the ground and it will all be our fault….. Its sad that these are the sorts of things that keep us up at night. These little things can end up making your life 10x harder and drive you insane.
We live in a generation that is so anxious at every blinking moment of our lives. Here are some ways you’re making your life harder than it should be.
Sticking to a plan: You have begun to realize that life is a stage, and that you are the star of your own show. So, if life starts to stray from the Hollywood script you naturally start to panic like a middle schooler who missed their line in the annual school play.
It is common that your life is actually a lot more complicated and a lot more stressful. That scripted sitcom you’re used to watching where no-one seems to ever work but can still afford that awesome apartment is by no means reality. So, if life doesn’t follow the standard Hollywood script: its ok, no one’s does.
Dwelling on the past: Dwelling on the past can literally turn you into a crazy person and will eventually get in the way of the life you are currently living. How many times have you been standing in the shower, coming up with snappy comebacks to all the arguments you never won? Let it go – it happened 3 years ago.
Being dramatic: It’s easy to think this way. The moment something doesn’t go as you planned, you immediately think about the worst-case scenario: They’ll kick you out of college, you’ll be fired, Donald Trump will give up all his power to Putin. It never ends up being as bad as you thought, so keep that in mind the next time you feel like toasting your bagels in the bathtub.
Taking things personally: That jerk cut you off in traffic, you turned in your resume but haven’t received a response, your grandma cancelled weekly bingo with you because you’re not as fun as she thought.
Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes you’re the collateral damage. It doesn’t feel good, but don’t take it personally.
Comparing yourself to others: Its late at night, you have chip crumbs on your shirt, a diet coke on the coffee table and Netflix just asked you if you’re “still there” because you’ve been binge watching your favorite sitcom for the past 5 hours. Scrolling through your Facebook feed, you might feel the same feeling of disappointment we all do when we see another person get engaged, score a brand new job or buy that fancy new car. Heck, even the kid who ate the teacher’s goldfish in middle school got his life together. All you see is an endless stream of achievements, re-affirming your choice of bourbon for breakfast.
Keep in mind that Facebook is the highlight reel of people’s lives and they’re only going to show the touchdowns and tackles, not the part where they throw up on the sidelines or fumble the ball for a loss.
Taking risks: No one will care if you take a leap of faith and you fail – they’ll just be impressed that you took the leap in the first place.
Caring way too much: We spend a lot of our lives caring what other people think of us but, no offense, no one thinks about you all that much – apart from your mom of course. But this is a good thing: once you wrap your head around the fact that almost everyone is an egotistical narcissist, you realize that they care about themselves too much to pay much attention to you…and that’s liberating.
I hope that you enjoyed Brian’s article. Choose to worry less… just do you best today… and consider rationing your social media exposure to a couple of times per week — I believe it will help.
Most people get old long before their bodies really give out. I’ve met 35 year olds that act like they are 70, and vice-versa. Your mental perspective matters.
Getting old, in some very important ways, is a subtle series of small choices – and those choices are more important than the inexorable realities of biological aging.
Here is my simple 6 step test for true aging and recipe to stay younger longer. If you want to stay young longer (or become younger next year), I believe that:
1. you must have sincere goals (not just lofty never-going-to-get-there goals, but goals with plans, milestones, supporting tasks, and weekly progress to make progress to reach them),
2. you must learn new, good stuff and skills regularly (weekly at a minimum, and write down what you learned (or you are likely to forget it soon)),
3. you must create stuff that matters at least to you if not others (weekly as well because if you don’t do something weekly, it won’t be a habit and habits lead to success),
4. you must make smart choices on a daily basis regarding diet (easiest way is to log your food and drink in MyPlate or similar apps because having it in writing helps a lot),
5. you must exercise because strength, health, and vitality slips away all too easily while a person sits in front of a television, and finally
6. you must make new friends and make the effort to go do fun things together.
What’s one great goal that you want to achieve in 2017? Just one. Don’t have one, with steps and plans to get it done? You might be getting old. As Lou Holtz put it in this video, you are either growing or you are dying.
Don’t read books right now? Well then, what if you decided to watch just one TED video every day, and write down the equivalent of one index card in your journal as to what you learned? TED.com is an amazing resource. It is a continuing education. You can’t help but learn.
What’s your latest creation? Selfies on Facebook don’t count. Why not write a short story, or start a new creative hobby, or even a blog about something that you truly believe in. It will add youth to your mind.
Are you eating enough fruits and veggies? Maybe buy a Mediterranean Diet cookbook and make one new recipe a week. That’s not a lot of effort, but it has a lot of upside. Here’s another idea – go vegan for one day a week!
Are you breaking a sweat three times a week? If you heart never sees north of 130 beats / min, it is sure to be aging quickly. I started playing a new sport a couple of years ago and was blown away by how it helped my perspective and excitement.
Who is your newest friend or interesting acquaintance? Why not call them today and meet up for lunch?
Stay younger longer, become younger next year. Little steps make a huge difference. Commit your focus and energy and it pays dividends. Lastly, read this book — Younger Next Year — it offers a great perspective — you may not agree with every word, but I promise you that the authors will make you think.
Update — Five years after writing this post, I created an independent website for this topic: visit sps7.com to watch the video and more.
Here is the original summary below.
Few disagree that time is one of our most precious and fleeting resources. Yet, when I ask, I find that few people manage and more importantly optimize their time by using a better-than-average system. It is hard to be a great carpenter if you don’t use good tools and techniques.
First, time management is a strange phrase: we really can’t manage time, as it flows by no matter what we do. What we can do is decide how we use the time that we are given, which makes the challenge one of planning and decision making. That reality invariably leads to several important questions: what are your goals (and why), what is your foremost priority now, and what are other crucial and urgent tasks that are important to you. If you have no goals, your task management will often adopt someone else’s priorities.
What is the average system?
In a word, lists. The good news about written lists is that they outperform the average memory, but most people just jot things down, then look them over from time to time.
What’s above average?
While we are still working with two dimensional lists, I usually see four improvements:
Lists are organized by project.
Due dates are added to certain tasks, and alerts are triggered to remind the person to get things done at the right time.
The user adopts the idea of writing everything (that he or she ‘accepts’ as a task) down, not just some tasks — this is very useful because it relieves one’s brain from periodically churning and worrying about forgetting key tasks.
Your task / list system is available for you no matter where you are (which means available on smartphone and desktop for nearly all of us).
What if you want to be top 20%?
Four concepts must be added to your system (and your actual system must make these easy-to-do on an ongoing basis):
Planning ahead is crucial, so that you know what is on your personal agenda for this month, this week, and this day.
Tasks must be distilled to individual, actionable, next steps, so that when you decide to work on a task, you are empowered to take action without a new round of thinking and distilling.
The one truly “next” task needs to be identified by project.
You must have scheduled reviews to keep your system fresh and re-prioritized, with minimal effort.
In essence, you have the ability to view your tasks by various dimensions — not just by project and date. As your system becomes more sophisticated, you can view projects by priority, by next step, by status (for example, waiting on someone to get back to you), or by delegate.
What if you want to be top 10% in your time management?
Filters and blocks of time:
The core idea is — assuming that you pre-plan every task — you can use filters so that you only see the tasks for today, or tomorrow, or this week, which helps with your focus and stress reduction.
Filters should accommodate ‘context’ so that you only see the tasks that can be done given based on where you are (for example, you can’t mow the lawn or throw the baseball with Jimmy while at the airport, so why add stress by seeing those tasks out of context).
A bonus feature is if your system makes it easy to log how you spent your time so that you get feedback and become smarter in your approach over time.
How do you become a top 1%er?
To be a top one-percent time management black-belt, one must transcend just having a great system, learning the habit of aligning daily effort to short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals, blocking considerable daily time to the pursuit of what is truly important and strategic. This leads to saying “no” often, without losing valuable personal relationships, which is a difficult balance. It also means habitually disconnecting from distractions, such as email and text messages, by setting the expectations of those who send you those frequent messages.
What system do you use now?
How does your system stack up compared to this best practices checklist? As you start this new year full of optimism, perhaps it is time to move to a better system. The system itself won’t do it alone — you need the crucial habits of pre-planning, breaking into actionable steps, writing everything down, filtration, calendaring — but never bring a knife to a gun fight either.
What’s your resolution for 2017? After a lot of thought, I have decided on my one foremost priority for 2017: Improve quality on every front.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed that far too often, my workouts rated a B / B- / or C+ in 2016. If I’m going to invest an hour at the gym today, why walk away with a C+? I’ve noticed that far too often, my meals rated a B / B- / or C+ in 2016 as well. If I’m eating calories to live long and stay healthy, why eat fries? Actually, on a lot of fronts, distractions, too many conflicting attentions, and too many things-to-do resulted in sub-par effort and results. Each was a decision that I made of my own free will.
I have always believed that quality is far more important than quantity, but I haven’t been focused enough, in recent times, to translate that belief into daily habits of excellence.
This year, I will focus and do something about it. I will say “no” to a few more things, I will approach every aspect of life with an eye for “smarter not harder”, and give an A / A+ effort and time to all the projects and endeavors that I choose to tackle.
Pick a great resolution that resonates with you. I’ve always believed in the power of resolutions and goals, especially when you log your results and review your progress each month. I love January 1st.
I recently learned that modern society corrupted the word priority. One hundred years ago, there was no plural form: priority was singular only — it meant the single most important item.
Today, we have corrupted the word to mean “important” instead of the most important. I think we should return to the original definition.
So, as January 2017 is nearly here, what is your foremost priority resolution – yes, just one – for 2017?
I would suggest picking a self-improvement habit-of-excellence and focusing on just that one, until it truly is a habit in your life. Once your foremost priority becomes a habit, then and only then, create your next foremost priority resolution. Don’t dilute your effort with the list of 10 or 20 resolutions – that lack of focus is why most of us never seem to accomplish our long list of resolutions each year.
Once you pick your priority, leave reminders everywhere — on your computer, smartphone, and tablet wallpaper screens, your bathroom mirror, in your wallet, in your car. I really like the idea of have a calendar with red X’s on every day you made progress on your one true priority. Excellence comes from focus on building your own habits.
Some goals lend themselves better to the Red X system better than others. For a fitness goal, the Red X feedback is easy. For writing a book, break the long project into small steps, like writing a minimum of two pages or 300 words each day. For complex projects, you will need to pre-plan each day’s progress step with your first cup of coffee, but the idea is the same: make progress daily.
Although I am certain I have used this quote before, I can’t resist including it here:
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
Why not ask people in conversation what their “foremost priority” is — right now — whenever conversation allows. If you listen well, you will learn something of importance about your friend, and you might just inspire him to improve his focus and succeed more easily. Inspiration is a great gift to give, not only over the Christmas Season, but all year long.
Finally, build a habit of saying “foremost priority” instead of “priorities” in conversation. Let’s do our part to get back to the meaning of the word and do our part to beat back the constant distractions of our modern, smartphone, media, and internet dominated life.
What did you learn today? What did you learn this week?
Did you make note of it? Without writing it down in your trusted journal or your trusted system, a place where you can find it later — without much trouble — that golden nugget just learned is likely to disappear in some inaccessible recess of your mind. I find that occasional review is the key step to assimilate everything learned into a cohesive factory between your ears.
I have often said an important test of whether or not you are old is whether or not you have goals, with a true commitment to achieve them. This week, I found a second great self-test when I saw this quote:
Anyone who stops learning is old — Henry Ford
I realized that Mr. Ford was right. Learning one thing, at least weekly, is crucial to staying young. My contribution is write it down: My current journal is Day One on the iOS ecosystem, if you want a suggestion of trusted system to use. If you choose another, test your backup methods, and backup at least monthly.
Some people become old long before their body gives out. Don’t be that person.
It is halfway through 2016. Are you halfway done on your resolutions? Do you remember where you put the list? It is a great good time to review what you decided to accomplish this year.
I believe resolutions are a great tool to replace bad habits with good habits. Changing habits is not easy without daily focus, accountability, and willpower. For that reason, minimalist champion Leo Babauta is right: focus on one habit change at a time. Habits take time to change — usually 12 sincere weeks — so quarterly resolutions are a great idea, in my humble opinion.
Job one is to keep “it” — whatever it is — front and center. Front and center reminders might be different for different people. It might be on your computer’s wallpaper, smartphone’s wallpaper, bathroom mirror, and refrigerator door. Whatever combination works for you.
The next step is to keep an honesty-with-oneself log. Let’s say your resolution is to go to the gym 15 days each month. Be specific: I believe you are better off to say 15 profuse-sweat workouts each month, because quality of effort gets targeted too. Log the days you go, what you did, and how much time you spent. Log the days you didn’t go. Review the situation daily. Pale ink helps willpower.
Finally, each of us has a finite amount of daily willpower. It is much harder to do “it” after we have struggled to overcome ten other objectives throughout our day. I recommend doing “it” as early as you can, when your willpower tank still has a lot of willpower megawatts in it.
Quarterly resolutions, one at a time, are the best way to adopt four habits for improvement and success, every year. Just be careful not to lose the previous habit when you move to the next.
PS. Idea for habits to improve, beyond the obvious fitness example above, include reading for 25 minutes per day (and writing down a couple of lines about what you read), learning one new thing per day (and writing it down of course), watching less TV each day (logging time and what you watched), or eating one truly healthy meal each day (always write it down).
Stephen Covey will be remembered most for his book — The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — which was a runaway best seller. If you have read this book 20 years ago, when it was most popular, I suggest reading it again. While some of Covey’s ideas can be traced to the work of many before him, his succinct and well architected compilation is very valuable.
As we grow older, our interpretation of books and ideas is getting better. Re-reading a good book after putting it aside for a decade makes sense, because it results in new ideas and newfound appreciation.
Here are a dozen great quotes from Covey that are well worth thinking about while in your own fortress of solitude:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Life is not about accumulation, it is about contribution.
The key is taking responsibility and initiative, deciding what your life is about and prioritizing your life around the most important things.
Live out of your imagination, not your history.
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.
I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.
You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”
I teach people how to treat me by what I will allow.
We become what we repeatedly do.
Leadership is a choice, not a position.
I have an abundance mentality: When people are genuinely happy at the successes of others, the pie gets larger.
— Stephen Covey
Now, here’s the kicker — after thinking deeply about these core ideas, will you decide to adopt just one of them, make it a habit, and change yourself for the better?
Everything good starts will making a good decision.
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?
When I ask people what they would wish for if they had one magic wish, many wish for good health for themselves and their family. This is a wise wish indeed, because nothing else matters if your health is failing.
Do you want to live longer? Are you a parent? Do you want to be a spry grandparent? Do you want to save your own kids? Do you want your kids to live longer and in better health?
If you answer is yes, don’t be an ostrich with your head buried in the sand.Living a longer life while enjoying better health is not rocket science. It isn’t about taking more pills and vitamins. Take a few minutes and watch this video below — it will be the best decision you made this week:
Better health and longer life are well within your reach. All it takes is making the right decisions, teaching your kids the realities of our “modern” lifestyle, and building good habits.
I know I can. I know I will. Will you?
I.M. Optimism Man
PS. Although all of us understand the ostrich phrase above, it turns out that ostriches don’t actually stick their head in the sand when facing danger. Just an FYI, in case you did not know.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a huge proponent of goals in certain areas of life, but you don’t always need to set specific, stress-you-out-when-you-stumble-a-bit goals to improve your daily habits.
Our minds play tricks on us. When it comes to changing bad habits into better ones, humans are usually convinced that they are doing better than they really are — it is “ostrich syndrome” — most of us stick our heads in the sand, preferring not to face the accurate reality of our daily actions. We always thing we are doing better than we are on the bad habits front.
Change is difficult and changing daily habits is exceptionally so. No matter if you want to eat more portions of healthy fruits and vegetables or reduce the number of alcoholic drinks you have in a week, the best first step is to face your current situation and understand your true baseline reality.
People often make a fatal mistake when they try to change their habits: they over-do it. They set a very difficult goal and take the drastic plunge. Many people go from never going to a gym to a goal of working out five days each week. Others decide to stop eating sweets every night to limiting themselves to one desert every two weeks. Of course many stumble, they become disappointed with their lack of will power, and they fall off the program for months on end.
When it comes to starting a new daily habit, consider not setting specific goals. I suggest keeping a tally count, with a time and date stamp, each time you “do it” or “eat it” and then review your tally weekly.
There are readily available tools that work great for this. On the iPhone, I love a little program called Tallymander (update — this program seems temporarily unavailable for some reason on AppStore — I sent the developer an email (OM)) (OK, here is a better app called Tally that works really well (and supports the Apple Watch)) which allows you to set up any number of tallies, then click it to record when something happens. Not only does the program keep a count but it also makes it simple to email yourself a report in a spreadsheet-ready file that includes the exact date and time you clicked on any tally. Brilliant! Tallymander is a great addition to an optimist’s technology arsenal. Of course, a tiny Moleskine booklet, making marks on your calendar, or sending yourself an email are all other efficient ways to keep your accurate log — the trick is that you must have your logging method with you at all times — in my case, my smartphone is omnipresent.
After four weeks of logging, you will notice the extraordinary magic of pale ink and optimistic, conscious thought. By simply keeping an accurate log, most people notice that they in fact start improving week-over-week without making the drastic and often unsustainable goals. The log itself becomes a motivator. The person simply gravitates to beating last week’s number by a little bit. This progress is the normal, natural gravity of the conscious mind, a sustainable way to modify one’s bad habits for the better, without all the guilt, stress, and frequent failure of “setting super hard goals and then missing them.” The disappointment associated with letting oneself down in the hard core goals method is what often torpedoes long-term habit change success.
If you have an iPhone, download Tallymander from the Apple AppStore and start with just one item. If you eat french fries or chips, my suggestion would be track the portions that you eat — we could all afford less of both — I’m 100% sure that four weeks from today, you will eat less of this stuff and your arteries will rejoice, without the pain associated with hard-core goals.
After you focus on your first item for two or three months, your improvement becomes a good habit. Then it is time to change your tally to the next item. If you can substitute four good habits for bad habits each year, it really adds up to serious change for the better, over ten year’s time. Most importantly, by using this tally method, your optimism grows with each success.
Logs and tallies simply work better for habit-change than hard-core goals. I personally used this method for reducing “Complaints” last year — I even enlisted my family to help point out whenever I complained a bit and faithfully recorded each event in Tallymander — in four short weeks, I was averaging less than one per day!
Nothing will make you more optimistic about life than personally getting rid of complaints. Please re-read the previous sentence twice. Imagine how different our country and the world would be if we could convince everyone in America to complain just once per day!