Jan 312011

Don’t ignore the other half. While its important to be physically strong and healthy, sharpening your wits is too often ignored.

To maintain the body we have built, we eat food several times each day.  Some of us watch the quality of what we eat, read countless labels for trans fat and calories, track the quantity of calories, and spend money on books that design diets for us or offer healthy recipes.  A smaller percentage of us hit the gym or the road, wearing out perfectly good Nike’s or ASICs as fast as we can.  There is no doubt that physical fitness is important for living our lives to the fullest now, and even more so when we get older. Does anyone really plan to do nothing but sit in a chair the last 20+ years of their lives?

This national obsession regarding physical fitness has blinded most people into ignoring the other half of the fitness equation: Mental fitness is just as important, or more important for lots of reasons.

Our smarts, our attitude, our wisdom, our situational awareness, our ideas, our drive determine what we do, how well we do it, how much value we add to the economy, and where we end up.  A person’s mental fitness results in promotions or stagnation, excellent parenting or kids gone wild, inspiring goals or no dreams, great plans or aimless wandering through life, optimism or pessimism, courage or cowardice, a fulfilling career or drone-like work.

In truth, you need both: a body with health and vitality to get you “there” and a mind that wants you to go “there”, wherever your “there” really is.

Your mind needs good food daily. When was the last time you read a good book that inspired you?  How many books have you read this year?  (Here’s a good one – Tipping Point)  You feed the belly daily when the body gets hungry.  How often to you feed your mind?  Conversely, how much time do you turn the noggin completely off and watch the game, singing contests, or sitcoms on television?

The internet offers the potential to do much better because we can look for specifics.  There is really good stuff to be found on the web if you sincerely search for it (see ted.com for an excellent example), but there is exponentially more trivia, garbage,  disinformation, and fluff on the web as well.  The book paradigm remains the overall best source — authors struggle for months and years to produce the best they can on a specific topic, and the result is that good books really fill you up with fresh thoughts and nurture the imagination.

Coach John Wooden

Defining Success

Your mind needs a workout too, in addition to wholesome sustenance. Your mind does not get a workout when you repeat mostly the same things day in and day out for months on end.  On the other hand, if you do something creative, something unusual, or learn something new, your mind blossoms and grows, much like your biceps grow after a few months of serious curls at LA Fitness.  The simplest, most accessible creative work you can do is writing.  When is the last time you wrote a well thought-out letter?  Better yet, when is the last time you researched a topic and wrote a report on what you learned?  Have you ever written a poem or a song?  Or a comic strip?

The problem, of course, is that feeding and exercising your mind takes planning, scheduling, and commitment, just as physical fitness at the gym takes planning and scheduling as well.  Good things don’t happen by mistake — planning is mission-critical for achievement and excellence always is preceded by habit.  Either you plan your time, or other people’s urgencies will do it for you.  Daily habits are the answer to many things in life  — one book, no matter how good, read in a few days, is not nearly as good as a year of reading just 15 minutes each and every day, with your first cup of coffee or tea.

When you focus on your mind’s fitness, plan specific time for it, feed it good food on a daily basis, and find creative exercise for your mind, you will find that it helps improve optimism and productivity across all the facets of your life.

Jan 172011

Weeks, months, even years, fly by. We are incredibly busy but can’t remember what we were busy on three days ago, or last week, or last month. In this tornado life with howling winds of other people’s urgencies (the Urgency Conspiracy), it is not surprising that we often feel frustrated.  The constant state of frustration comes from lack of real progress in our lives that we subconsciously crave.

To make real progress, there is a natural order of steps. Making progress while reducing frustration and stress is quite possible for the Optimistic Few. But it is impossible to jump out of the tornado and onto the real progress path without clearly and accurately knowing…

  1. where you are today,
  2. what you are spending your time and energy on most weeks, and
  3. understanding the triggers that suck you back into the Urgency Conspiracy for another tumultuous week.

I’m a huge proponent of Pale Ink.  I take this phrase from an ancient anonymous quote “A good memory does not equal Pale Ink.

Pale Ink is the extraordinary technology that will bring peace to your mind and progress to your life. Luckily, ink was invented around 2,500 BC by the Chinese and Egyptians so we can be assured that the bugs have been shaken out of the system nearly 5,000 years later.

Start a little journal today and don’t stop jotting daily notes down for the rest of your life. I promise that you will be far better off for it.

When you make notes about how you spend your day, you have taken the single most important step toward investing your time better in the future.  Write down what you did, what unexpected items and people took over certain days, how you succeeded, and what set backs you suffered.  Don’t make the Harriet-the-Spy mistake of letting your journal fall into the wrong hands and if you decide to make comments about others that would be damaging in the wrong hands, please do those in code.  Daily journaling is step one in leveraging the extraordinary power of Pale Ink in your life.  More to come on Pale Ink in coming weeks.

How you set yourself up is a matter of preference. My personal system for journaling is rather interesting. Having watched several close friends suffer the loss of a critical hard drive and valuable data in the past, I overcompensate against loss. The good news is that I have worked out a process that does not cost much time. I spend less than 15 minutes per month to gain 100% protection against loss on all my journal notes, except for the most recent few pages.

1) I prefer real ink on real paper for notes, and the journals I use are Moleskine’s sweet Cahier notebooks @ a nice 80 pages each, thin and light enough, yet big enough for several months of notes. Barnes and Noble carries them in-store or there is always the time saving web.

2) Before starting the new journal, I mark every ten pages as a spot for a backup.  When my journaling reaches the backup spot, I use my smartphone to take pictures of the last ten pages and email those pictures to my free Gmail** and Evernote** accounts for safekeeping in case of loss.  This step results in three copies of the journal as the pictures taken also reside on the smartphone.  When I connect the smartphone to my PC a few times each week, another copy is made.  Lastly, the auto-backup programs (see Step 4 below) I have wake up while I’m sleeping and replicate the PC files to two more locations before the dawn of the next day.

3) When I forget my journal, I take temporary notes on my smartphone, then transfer them later in the day to my journal.

4) My PC automatically backs up its data to two places – another PC at my home using free DeltaCopy** and a hard drive at my friend’s house on the other side of the city using free CrashPlan** encrypted backup system, so ultimately, I have onsite and offsite backups of my journal images. We live in an amazing time and diskspace is really cheap. If you don’t yet take advantage of the great backup systems that are available, it is time to spend an hour and learn how easy it is to protect yourself and not lose all those irreplaceable notes and family photos.  If you only want one, try Carbonite or CrashPlan.

Keep a daily journal and you take an important step toward the wisdom of knowing thyself.

** Note:

Google clearly makes great money on ads, but there are a lot of venture capital fueled, equity-burning businesses out there giving us consumers free services that are clearly valuable.

Given that some of these will fail, I think it makes obvious sense to have a lot of backups in this free-services era.  All will not survive on advertising alone.  Many are trying to make it giving away their service to 90% of the casual users while making money on the 10% power users.  This idea may crack too, although Moore’s Law is really helping give it a fighting chance as the cost to provide virtual services continues to plummet year over year.

There is so much opportunity if you are an optimist.  The fact that Wikipedia continues to grow like kudzu on the back of donations is awesome.  If Wikipedia had to, it could go to ads and make extraordinary money overnight.  So there is lots of hope too.  Lest we forget, Google started as ‘no ads’ and has since changed its collective mind to become the most dominant force on the internet planet.

Jan 082011

The ‘why’ people do things is far more interesting than the ‘what’.

I have always been a believer in the ‘you better use it or you will lose it’ way of thinking.  I also tend to have a rather long range view of the future, so it is probably not a surprise that the reason I work out diligently at the gym – through aches and pains, day in and day out – is that I have a clear vision of becoming a spry old man.  In fact, I hope to one day earn the nickname Spry from all my friends.

I read a great book on this topic a few months back that I am enthusiastically recommending to you.  I’ve always had plenty of opinions about the need for strength training and I knew I needed more aerobic work, although I too often skipped the aero and lifted in years past.  The authors helped answer a number of ‘whys’ for me and they did a great job of cementing the balance needed — strength, aerobic health, diet, mental, social — with the science behind the scenes.

If you have a desire to be all you can be when you are 70, 80, 90 or beyond, the time to start is now.  Reading Younger Next Year is a great kick start.  There is also a Younger Next Year for Women, because the first version was overly tilted to the male ways of thinking and motivation.

Here’s a link to the book at Amazon:


A word of warning: If you read this book, you are highly likely to run out and purchase a heart monitor watch.  I personally got the Suunto T6C and wow, its sweet.  But that post will come another day.

Vaya con Dios, Amigos!

Jan 062011

Resolutions are goals – goals with a deadline of one year or less to get them done.  The beginning of a new year is magical for getting people to revisit their goals and plans for the future.

Five key steps will help you make your resolutions happen:

  1. Tell every positive, encouraging person who you respect, and whose respect you want, what your resolutions are.
    The most important people in this group are the ones that are the most positive, the ones that want you to succeed and encourage you to follow through, the confident ones that are never jealous, the optimistic few.  By telling this group, you help yourself, because your integrity is on the line.  If you value your integrity, you will nail your resolutions because you want to keep the respect of your love ones.  Avoid sharing your goals and resolutions with people that have proved to be stealth naysayers.  When someone casts doubts on your plans, it hurts your chances of success as your will power can waver.
  2. Go the extra step and write down “why” you want to accomplish this resolution.
    Why is always more inspiring than what.  Writing it down is always more powerful than thinking it alone.
  3. Make a plan, with concrete steps and milestone dates, to accomplish each resolution.
    Without a plan, many things look like elephants, too big to eat.  With a clear and detailed plan, the elephant is cut into small bite sized pieces.
  4. Get started on each in January.
    Getting started is always hard.  People often say they are not motivated.  Motivation is a by product of getting started, not the other way around.  Many times, I don’t feel like going to the gym.  But if I get in car, walk through the gym doors, my motivation for the work-out returns.
  5. Make a point of reminding everyone from step #1 above how you are doing and what progress you are making all year long.
    Put it on your calendar.  Have the conversation.  Good, positive people will help you get through the stumbles and obstacles.

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe its a great idea to make resolutions that change your habits for the better.  Habits tend to build into bigger and bigger accomplishments because they have a “sharpen the saw” effect.  It is not always best to simply saw and saw and saw to cut down trees.  It makes a lot of sense to improve yourself, to take time to sharpen your saw, because it makes cutting trees down a lot easier when your blade is razor sharp.

If you have not been setting and accomplishing New Year’s Resolutions in past years, start small this year.  Set only one or two, and make them well within reach.  Accomplishing one is better than writing down a dozen and accomplishing none.  Momentum grows when you start nailing your goals.

So, in support of Step #1, here are my resolutions for 2011, most of which are targeting positive habit change.  I am Optimism Man so I decided 10 would be a nice ambitious number — after all, I’m an optimist.

1. I will plan the one most important, strategic task I will do tomorrow every night before going to bed. This is my Strategic Big Rock (SBR) of the day. I will write it down on my daily plan for the morning.

To qualify as a ‘strategic task’ in my book, a task must pass my test of future value.  I look at any task and ask two simple questions – If I work on this task, will the result continue to produce value one month from today?  Will it continue to produce value six months from today?  A task is not strategic if the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions.

2. Work on the one SBR task as early as possible the next day, with a goal of finishing it before lunch.

Other people’s issues and urgencies tend to invade our agenda as the day goes on.  The sooner I can get focused on my SBR, the more likely real progress will be made.  Every day, I will write down in my journal exactly what happened.  In my opinion, there is no greater motivator in the world than Pale Ink, a topic of its own that is coming to OptimismMan.com soon.

3. On the fitness front, I will work out daily all of 2011, alternating between aerobic and strength training every other day.

In other words, I will lift weights on odd days and put in aerobic work on even days or vice versa.  My goal is to have a maximum of 24 days off, without a workout, in 2011.  And like everything else, I will jot down what I did daily in my journal.  Its far to easy to have selective memory if you don’t make accurate notes.

4. Start a sideline venture in partnership with my wife that is up and running, selling product to customers by July 4, 2011.

This is my only resolution that is not about changing my habits for the better but rather it is a specific project which promises to be both exciting and difficult.  More to come as the venture progresses, but, like everything else, our first job is to create a good plan with bite-sized steps before we try to eat this elephant.

5. Reduce watching useless television by half.

I really don’t watch much TV right now, but it is really hard to find value in 95% of time spent when watching the tube.  No matter how you look at it, TV is quite successful at addicting us to hours without productivity.  So, I will do three things on this front.
a. I will watch no TV for half the days of 2011.
b. I will strive to have activities planned to do while watching TV.  For example, having the TV on while folding laundry or walking on the treadmill is far better than sitting on the couch.
c. I will keep a clear log of all my TV time spent.  Pale Ink is powerful stuff.

6. Improve my diet, especially adding more portions of vegetables and fruit.

Last year, I dumped 27 pounds using the pale ink method… I wrote down everything I put in my mouth.  I used the excellent LiveStrong.com app on the iPhone that they acquired from Daily Plate.  I got away from writing it down over the last number of months, but now realize that although I’m not looking to lose a lot of weight in 2011, writing it down helps with good diet decisions every day.  The ‘cost’ is only two minutes per meal (cheap!) but offers great benefits.  So, I’m committed to writing down everything I eat and drink in LiveStrong’s application all year.

7. I will schedule two one-hour sessions per week for personal improvement activity.

I always have things I want to learn, things I want to do that are completely outside my mainstream flow of life.  For example, for years I have said that I want to learn Spanish.  I have lots of tapes and CD’s and books.  Yet, I have not ever gotten started.  I have wanted to write a few simple programs in Javascript, but have not yet learned Javascript at all.

I will change this ‘never get started’ scenario by putting sessions on the calendar for personal improvement items every week.  I may have to change locations (library or Starbucks perhaps?) just to put walls around the time, but I will do it.

8. Post to OptimismMan.com two to three times each week.

Back in 2002, I did a podcast series that was very fulfilling but time consuming.  Interestingly, the term podcast didn’t even exist then, so engineering the audio took lots of time.  OptimismMan is the next step in my underlying drive to share my thoughts and ideas in hopes of helping others.  I will stick with it.  WordPress technology makes this very easy to do so there are no excuses.

9. Eliminate all complaints.

Sounds a bit crazy I know, but I have experience.  I gave up complaining for Lent last year — it turns out to be much harder to do than giving up beer or chocolate, because you have to be conscious every waking hour.  It turns out that it can be done.  I engaged my family.  They became quite adept at spotting a complaint and telling me about it on the spot.  The trick was to put a tally application on my smartphone so that I could quickly and easily log each complaint.  The same power of pale ink, writing it down when it happens, works on this front too.

10. Change my discretionary spending habits for the better

Last year, I started jotting down (yes, in the smartphone again) every time I spent money on a discretionary item.  My definition of discretionary is not necessary, which is an interesting concept in our current age: is spending on your smartphone service ‘necessary’?  (I think it is 😉  )   A better example for discretionary for me is ‘do I need another T-shirt when I have a hundred in my closet’ but its really up to each person to define their own version.

This year, I will do two things.  First, I will get rid of impulse purchasing completely.  If I see something that I want, I will write it down in my task management software for one week minimum before returning to the scene on the crime to purchase it.  I think most things, once you think them over, wind up not getting purchased at all.  Secondly, I will continue to write down all purchases… little purchases, often small and mostly useless, tend to add up.  If you don’t write them down, its easy to forget where the money went.

Jan 032011

Resolutions at the arrival of each new year have a bad reputation.  Many people as they grow older stop making any resolutions because of subconscious memories of past failures.  “Why fail again?” is the thought of the day.

In past years, each of us is guilty of getting super-ambitious and creating resolutions that had little chance of success and never got out of the starting gate.  Worse yet, we didn’t follow through with the basics of success — which is to break the goal/resolution down into small, actionable baby steps that are easy to understand.  We didn’t put those small steps on the calendar.  Not surprisingly, we didn’t even get started, because the resolution looked so big and intimidating.

Consequently, many of us remember these past failures and miss the fantastic opportunity the new year’s resolution cycle brings.

What matters more: The choices you made yesterday or the choices you are about to make today? Forget yesterday.  Forget last year.  Forget the last ten years.  Today is a bright, fresh new day.  Make it a masterpiece.  Resolutions have extraordinary power to make good things happen, if you do it right.

What’s doing it right in regards to NYRs?

1) Don’t make your resolutions huge monumental items.

I think it is best to make your resolutions about changing bad habits and adding good ones.  Good habits turn into bigger and bigger things, building momentum as the years come and go.  Momentum is built by starting small and building a record of success.

2) Develop each resolution into an action plan.

Action plans are broken down into small manageable steps and measurable milestones on a calendar.

3) Decide that this is the year you will succeed.

Don’t be surprised when you do.  Decision is empowering.  You have the will power. The best way to really decide is to write down in black and white why you want this resolution.  The why is always more powerful a motivator that the what.

For example, lets say your resolution / decision is the all-too-familiar drop 20 pounds by summer one.  Write it down, but don’t stop there.  How will you do it?  Write down the plan.  Why do you want to do it?  Write that down too.  How much progress is reasonable by what date?  Perhaps 4 pounds per month or 1 pound per week?  Perhaps start out a bit slower with a 1/2 pound a week for the first 4 weeks.  Write that down too.

Now, it is important to face reality.  In this case, eating less and better is the obvious answer, far more effective than hitting the treadmill while still eating half a pizza at dinner.

So, what are the simple steps to get there?

Last year, I did lose 25 pounds.  My plan was simplicity itself — eat less, eat better, and don’t get in too big a hurry.

How? I downloaded LiveStrong.com on my iPhone for $2.99, put in my weight and set my goal to lose one pound per week.  The LiveStrong app is a great value.  It makes it brilliantly easy to look up foods and mark down everything you put in your mouth.  It figures out the calories you should consume to lose one pound per week.  It gives you credit for working out.  Total time spent at each meal on LiveStrong is less than two minutes and is easy to do because your smartphone is always within arm’s reach.

Writing consumption down makes you lose weight far faster than hours on the elliptical.  Self destructive choices like finishing off my daughter’s plate go away effortlessly!  The milestones were easy to see as I dropped more than four pounds every month.  Momentum builds quickly.

Don’t miss the wonderful opportunity each new year brings.  By all means, make achievable 2011 resolutions and write them down.   Then, go the next few steps and make simple action plans, breaking the resolutions down into small steps, with milestones to keep you on track and build momentum.  Write it all down.  Just as importantly, set a repeating alert to review them once each week.

Resolutions are a great first step to making 2011 your best year, ever.