Apr 072016
 

Over the years, I have often written about the essential requirement to be 100% committed to whatever you are doing. Overcoming adversity demands it, and every one of us will run into plenty of adversity. In my life, I learned this painful lesson as a freshman in college, when — and this is most definitely not my proudest moment — I literally threw away a full ride scholarship because I was not committed to doing my best and doing what it takes to succeed academically. The good news is that after enough anguish and self-appraisal, I learned the lesson. I decided that if it was to be, it was up to me, and no excuses matter. I adapted and I overcame.

My little story pales in comparison to Inky Johnson’s story, for Inky has overcome exponentially greater adversity than I have. This is a story well worth watching, and in my opinion, more than once. It is essential to watch it when you have 10 minutes without distractions. I hope that you enjoy it. I hope that it gives you food for thought. I hope that it changes your resolve to give every day and every endeavor 100% commitment:

inky-640

Anyone with enough will, and enough belief, and a purpose beyond themselves, can achieve greatness and make a positive impact on others. Anyone.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Here is part 2 after you have absorbed part 1.

Feb 252016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We live in a desert of integrity.

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 212016
 

Almost every conversation I’m engaged in or overhear contains a large number of “I wants…” within. I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of those wants remain unfulfilled for most people. I hear people say that they want to earn more money, but do very little, if anything, to earn more. I hear others say that they want to lose 10 pounds, but the weight stays velcro’ed to their waistlines.  I hear many say they want to find a better more-fulfilling job, but those same folks don’t go on interviews.

I believe what is missing for most people is “all in” commitment.  The answer is to convert your average “I want…” to “I must…

lincoln

Abraham Lincoln observed:

Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.

A great start to get this “all in” level of commitment is to write down your goal, in specific, measurable, concrete terms, and then clearly summarize in one or two sentences why this goal is important, now.  The “why” behind a goal is crucial.  Finally, a goal is nothing but dreamy, wishful thinking without a target date, so decide “by when” and write that down as well. Start right away, without delay.

commitment quote

What if you decided that you must lose 10 pounds this month, not someday in the future?  How would you approach things differently that you do now?

The iMUST method works if you concentrate and focus your attention and energy — having a dozen initiatives at the same time divides your focus and energy, and is a recipe for failure. I suggest pale ink and a little always-in-your-pocket logbook to help keep your focus and your memory accurate. If your iMUST goal this month is to lose weight, write down every calorie that you eat, jot down whenever you successfully choose the heart-healthy entree instead of the usual, accurately note your exercise achievements, and track your weekly progress.

Upgrade your attitude to iMUST. Commit, and you can and will accomplish your goals.

I.M. OptimismMan 

Feb 132016
 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Jan 242016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

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

Jan 152016
 

Life tests us. Life wants to know what we are made of. One simple rule matters most: never give in. Stay true to yourself, your values, your principles, and your beliefs, no matter what.

All of us makes decisions about ourselves. In essence, we decide our mental DNA, we design our daily habits, we control our attitudes and our outlook.

n-hill-quote

One person stays gung-ho about life, even when he stumbles or encounters unexpected challenges. He decided to go from one challenge to the next without any loss of optimism, enthusiasm, or tenacity. Facing the same situation, another gives in and doesn’t swing the bat with the same gusto after a few strike outs. These two people’s lives will come out remarkably different.

quotes-success-not-final-failure-not-fatal

Giving in becomes a habit. Never, ever, ever give in, and never give up your enthusiasm.

I.M. OptimismMan 

PS> One of my favorites that I’m certain I have posted in the past:

enthusiasm-churchill

Dec 102015
 

Hindsight is 20/20. When I was asked recently for my best advice to a struggling college student (see previous post), the discussion of finding and picking a starting job when graduating came up as well.

picking the first job

Lou Holtz has observed that we should never try to maintain a certain level: as Lou summed it up in this speech, You are either growing or you are dying, there is no middle ground. I believe this is just as true for individuals as it is for companies. I think the graduate should — first and foremost — strive to start her career at a company that is growing rapidly. With growth comes opportunity, happiness in an organization, improved teamwork, reduced politics, and a feeling of success and purpose. A company that is growing quickly — perhaps 20 – 25% a year – hires many more people, creates new teams, and has opportunities for healthy promotion and advancement.

Companies that are running near flat in terms of revenue or profit growth offer few chances for real advancement and expansion of responsibility. This is a hard environment to gain momentum, as promotion usually requires someone in management to leave and vacate a spot in the stagnant org chart.

Working hard in school, participating in extracurricular activities, adding practical experience with internships and on campus leadership positions, and being optimistic will all help expand the number of offers you receive at graduation time. If all goes well, you will have a number of choices to pick from. Pick the job offer from the firm with a healthy, growing environment.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 162015
 

I was recently asked by a parent for my one and only one best nugget of advice I would offer to a college student who is struggling a bit. Limiting any answer to such a broad, open-ended question is brilliant, because it makes you pause and think carefully before answering — I suspect I will write an article on this “limits make answers better” concept in the future — but for now, I’ll turn to the challenge at hand.

My best advice is to evaluate and then choose your best friends carefully. College (and high school for that matter) gives you a lot of opportunity to select which friends you would prefer to get close to. Unfortunately, many students fall into a group without forethought, just as many adults fall into a job.

college-friends

If you fall into a group that is more concerned about the next party than the next homework assignment or upcoming exam, the gravity of the friendship will inexorably influence you to party more and achieve less. If you surround yourself with lazy pessimists that only hope to graduate in 6 or 7 years, don’t be surprised if you join the same track of dropping classes more often than finishing them. If your friends have no vision of their future, ponder why they are there, and still believe that their parents will somehow magically arrange their future, you will too. On the other hand, if you carefully choose and cultivate friendships with individuals with passion, drive, leadership, charisma, and other characteristics that you yourself aspire to, you will find vision, momentum, and encouragement when you need it most.

It is never too late to reassess. Are your close friends helping you succeed or dragging you down? Are they true friends or are they only friends of convenience? Is their heart in the right place? What do they say about you when you are not there? If they are dragging you down, make a bold decision, change your friends for the better, and you will find that you will change your trajectory. Looking back, I was fortunate with the close friends I made at school, starting with a good first “suite” of achievers in the freshman dorm (that was a lucky break, not one of my own choosing). Like everything else, it is not a matter of wishing things were different. Change only happens when you make clear decisions and then do it, finishing what you started.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. A couple of quotes, because I love quotes.

Consider each of your friends in this context. I would add help you “be all you can be” but this quote goes a long way in capturing the essence:

best-friends-quote

It isn’t all that hard to test your friendship:

nice-things-to-say

You can’t really know until times get tough. Everyone is your “friend” when things are going well:

hard-times

Oct 272015
 

I have often talked about the importance of planning your day — it is far too easy to give in to other people’s urgencies. Here are two articles that outline my thoughts on the topic:
First Cup of Coffee
Urgency Conspiracy

Today, I simply want to point out that checking your email first thing in the morning is pretty much the worst thing that you can do to torpedo your day. Imagine if you changed your habits to avoid your email until 10 am, or better yet, 11 am. What would happen? Imagine if you actually worked on your single most important “strategic big rock task” every morning — the item that you wanted to do, on your own agenda, first — and only then turned your attention to all the issues that other people will upon you, via email. I’m betting that the stuff that comes in on email would still get done, and you would ultimately be far better off.

Did any of the greats — Herb Kelleher for example — work on the agenda other people emailed to them, or did they decide what was most important to them, and work on that?

herb kelleher southwest airlines

Are you willing to take control of your own destiny? It is not as hard as you think. It only requires better habits and a little bit of will power.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Oct 172015
 

A lot of people talk about achieving ‘balance’ in life. The part that no one seems to mention is that every single decision in life comes with a price, and that balance is an achievement of wise decisions made.

I’m a fervent believer that you must strive for balance: it is far too easy to succumb to the gravity of daily work, so much so that you miss the rest of your life, including your family, your health, and brilliant moments of peace and happiness.

balance-matters

The most difficult decisions wind up costing a lot in time and effect your financial flexibility, ultimately changing your outlook and life’s balance.

Consider this:

1. Every decision has a direct price to be paid
2. There is a domino effect, a likely consequence, that changes what decisions are available to you, next, after the immediate decision is made
3. There are both direct and indirect benefits
4. There is a cost to some other aspect of your life’s balance

Those that foresee these four aspects clearly and are right about what the short-term and long-term domino effect will be — at least 80% of the time — will have a better balanced life.

How can you improve your decision making results? Write the facets of each decision down, with what you anticipate regarding the four points above, before you decide, in your permanent journal. Then, revisit and review on a set schedule (at least once a year) — there is a lot to learn when you see how your own thinking actually plays out. Most people forget the logic that they followed in the past and are therefore doomed to repeat mistakes of judgement in the future. Don’t forget to write down what you learn, as that too changes over time.

Learn to make decisions better. I believe that it can be done.

I.M. Optimism Man

Aug 212015
 

Some people are cheap, some are value-oriented, and some are not careful with their spending habits. I fall squarely into the value-oriented Costco legion. I love getting a great deal but I rarely buy the absolute least-expensive version of a product, believing in the idea that you tend to get what you pay for.

costco

My quest for best-value-for-the-buck is not obsessive because it is invariably tempered by my #1 productivity habit/goal: minimizing the time required and invested in any pursuit. I remain first-and-foremost, a time-focused “how to best invest (and not spend) my time” individual, but I also want to know that I got a great deal.

Which type are you? If you are value-oriented, read on.

I’ve recently noticed a subtle but important mental trap that must be avoided, if you are to maximize value out of any purchase: don’t look back once a decision is made, unless the return policy is still in effect and in serious consideration.

cruise

For example, the water-is-truly-under-the-bridge after you get on a cruise ship for your family vacation. Your goal must transition, leaving the payment transaction in the rear-view mirror and looking forward to maximizing your enjoyment and really experiencing the trip. This will not happen if you continue to question the decision, complain about the price already paid, or cut corners on every discretionary expense that accompanies the primary purchase. If you stay focused on price paid, you will enjoy the trip, or the car, or the smartphone, tablet, or laptop a lot less than you would have, because you will still be polluting your inner zen with a ricocheting thoughts about “should I have made this choice — and — was this a good buy at the price that I paid…” Optimistic value-seekers understand that there are two sides of a purchase and therefore, plunge in with both feet, enjoying the purchase, maximizing their experience, and having fun, without complaints.

My advice is that the minute you are on the far side of any purchase, never look back. Seize the day (or purchase) for all you can get out of it.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jul 082015
 

I rarely see a situation in life where anger helps, yet I often see situations where anger hurts not only the person who is the target of the rage, but also the one who allows himself to become angry.

Yet some people seem angry all the time. I wish we could do a study and track angry episodes per month and how it would correlate to physical health and longevity. If stress causes damage, anger is stress on steroids.

angry-woman

Does yelling at the person that cut you off in traffic help?  Does yelling at your kid when she doesn’t do her chores improve your relationship? Does fuming at your teacher for producing an unexpected pop-quiz improve your chances of getting a good grade? Invariably, the answer is no.

So why get angry? I have no self control” is not a valid answer: the truth is that you have not mastered the millisecond gap — see my previous post here on the topic.

Like any worthy goal, it takes getting out of bad habits, unlinking your reaction from the “triggers” and learning new better habits. If you want to get better, and believe that you can and that you must, you can and will succeed..

Here are six great quotes about anger and how we can get better:

When anger rises, think of the consequences.

— Confucius

When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.

— Thomas Jefferson

Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let little things upset you.

— Joel Osteen

Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before – it takes something from him.

— Louis L’Amour

grace-kelly-jpg

Getting angry doesn’t solve anything.

— Grace Kelly

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.

— Jessamyn West

Resolve to remove anger from your DNA. It will lead you to a much better place.

How do I start?

Like much of my advice, start by keeping an honest log of your angered moments and the reasons why you got angry. Why something happened is far more powerful than what happened. Pale ink is magical, as I have observed in previous posts — here’s a post about anger’s cousin, also beatable through the magic of pale ink, the destructive habit of complaining.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jul 042015
 

I tried everything to make it happen, but nothing worked.

How often have we heard this? Actually, how often have you said this yourself?  Was this statement ever true? 

The truth is that nearly everyone gives up after trying just one or two ways to achieve a goal. Three distinct attempts is quite rare, reserved for only the most important of endeavors. People shoot themselves in the foot when they announce that they “have tried everything” because nothing can be farther from the truth. When you make announcements, they become your own limiting belief. Sadly, a lot of people get mentally stuck, simply trying the same methods, over and over, expecting different results but not getting them.

I see few examples of anyone trying multiple paths and methods. This is true for the math teacher trying to get her lesson embraced by her student, or the student who tries to memorize the key elements needed for the upcoming exam. This is true for the coach trying to help his team win, the manager striving to make his sales team hit the forecasted numbers, the entrepreneur trying to win customers for her start-up, and it’s true for millions of people hoping to improve their physical fitness. Most everyone tries only one or two ways — sometimes for months and years — and then gives up.

So how do the extraordinary few actually succeed?

Getting started as soon as possible is truly step one. Waiting for all the lights to turn green before driving across town is futile — yet many wait for the perfect moment and fail to get out of the starting gate. As I have observed in another article, getting started comes before getting motivated. Many believe it is the other way around.

But, what truly matters most — in the long-run — is whole-hearted, stake your life on it, commitment. Jumping into the deep end — with both feet — makes up for any shortcomings that you have in raw talent. Your commitment level is the single most important factor that changes how many distinct ways you will try to overcome a challenge. If you decide that “I must succeed at ________ ” instead of “I want to succeed at _______ “, you will find that your success percentages will dramatically improve.

vince-lombardi

Winning means you are willing to go longer, work harder, and give more than anyone else.

— Vince Lombardi

Imagine two people, Nick and Mike, who both hope to invent the next big thing. Nick, in his own mind’s eye, simply says “I want to” and so, he will work on his project whenever time allows, after he does his day job, hangs with his family, works out at the gym, sees his friends, checks his social media, watches the ball game, and catches up on the news. Mike, on the other hand, commits whole-heartedly and says “I must” — this one little difference makes all the difference. He etches out hours, each and every week without fail, he pivots, adapts, and overcomes, he gets to the finish line of the project, succeeding with persistence and tenacity. It is rarely about talent alone. Success is invariably about your commitment. Commitment is the seed of will power. Only the committed are relentless in the pursuit.

What’s happening in your life today? What are you trying to achieve? Where you should upgrade your commitment from “I want to succeed” to “I must succeed?

I.M. Optimism Man

 

May 142015
 

What would a near perfect workday look like for you?

What would a perfect weekend day look like?

What about the perfect vacation day?

Let’s say you could design exactly how you would like to invest and spend your time tomorrow, and also pre-plan how things would turn out. Based on your current situation, write down your perfect workday. Lay out exactly what you would do and what would happen from 6 am – 10 pm. Be specific.

What would be the result of your efforts? What would you accomplish to go to bed happy and content after one great day.

Sailing_Catamarans

Here’s the reality: you can either set sail, compass in one hand and rudder in the other and have great influence on tomorrow’s play-by-play and end of day results, or you can let the winds and the ocean currents push you off course and frustrate you.

moleskine-good-idea

It starts with ink on paper — having a plan is like having a compass. Then, it simply takes a mix of will power, optimism, and the occasional “no, I can’t right now” to prevent other people’s agendas from overwriting your own.

Make your plan tonight, execute your plan tomorrow. I promise even if you miss 100% of your milestones, you will achieve 90% — which is probably 100% better than the average day without a plan.

Try the same for this Saturday. Better result?

If you believe, if you envision, you will surprise yourself.

The real payday is when you build pre-planning and visualization into a habit.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 022015
 

I posted a large bundle of Warren Buffett quotes last year, but I find this one worth repeating:

Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.

buffett-optimist

Where are you patching a boat right now?  Is it chronic?  Are you willing to do something about it?  Why not?

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 302015
 

There have been a lot of articles and books written about applying big business success formulas — like branding for example — to a person’s personal career. Maybe there’s some truth to it.  After all, the companies that differentiate themselves, the companies that stand for a clear ideal (want a safe car, buy a Volvo…) tend to survive and flourish.

I have started to think about this idea in a different light: What is an individual person’s lasting, sustainable competitive advantage?  Companies, after all, try hard to find an edge that would help them take marketshare from their closest competitors.

I think I know the answer.

First, consider this quote from management hall of famer, Jack Welch:

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Change-today

I would like to transform this statement into my own:

An individual’s willingness and desire to question everything, to seek knowledge, to synergize it with current challenges, to gain insights, to learn lessons without always enduring the scars of experience — and then — to proactively change his or her approach, to experiment with optimism, to dare to fail, to strive for the new and the great, is the only possible competitive advantage a person has.

Fortune is on the side of the optimist: 98% of people do not like to change, fear change, or at a minimum, avoid change.

Therein is the gold plated opportunity, available to the optimistic few.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. I was thinking about personal differentiation a few years ago — this article is well worth reading. Combine these thoughts of proactive learning, embracing change, and living with integrity, and you are sure to go places.

Mar 152015
 

Can you think differently? Really creatively? Can you ask “why am I doing things this way?” or “why am I doing this at all?” at a truly atomic level?

In many things — business, school, life — we seem stuck on rails, unable to stop doing things the way we have done them, the way they have been done for prior decades — even if we have many proof points that question whether we are on the right track.

One of my most obvious examples is managing public companies for results every 90 days. The “quarterly results squeeze” invariably results in a whole host of problems, including net margin compression, motivation destruction, loss of quality employees, loss of quality in general, investing only for the short-term, and all kinds of foolish wasted time and energy. Yet, almost every public company continues the sad practice unabated. It hits the company that is struggling hardest of all, which helps many good firms auger into the dirt, unable to pull up from the dive.

This TED video is a great test to see if you are able to think differently on a large scale. I believe Ricardo is a wise luminary who tests most people’s ability to take a leap of faith. I’m sure others will see Ricardo as flat out crazy.

ricardo-semler

I think his ideas, ideas that have actually been tested in his company and in education, should be considered, given the dismal results many of our current paradigms in business and education are delivering.

Most importantly, all of us have opportunities to do things differently, to question everything in our own personal sphere of influence. What is a topic in your like that you should ask “why” three times in a row on, and what can you try to do better, to do differently?

Please watch the video, and then decide — are you able to truly think differently, or are you cemented in the status quo? You are not on rails — you can, if you believe that you can. Choice is all powerful.

I.M. Optimism Man

Jan 212015
 

The effects of stress take their toll on us. One of the aspects about stress that is very obvious, however, is that some people seem to handle stress much better than average. In typical American fashion, a great number of people turn to outside substances, be it Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil, alcohol, or others, to reduce the stress that they feel, at least for a bit of time.

I’ve always been a believer that a large percentage of stress can simply go away if you find the right balance of optimism, self-belief, control, and mental perspective. The basic idea that life is 10% of what actually happens to us, and 90% of how we choose to react and what we do next, has always resonated with me.

Steven Covey explained the 90/10 rule this way:

Imagine that your daughter knocks over your coffee onto your business suit at breakfast. You immediately yell at her for her clumsiness, she runs upstairs crying uncontrollably, which results in missing the school bus. Still steaming, you now wind up driving her to school, she fails her math test because she remains upset all day, you get stuck in traffic, you then speed, get pulled over by Officer Smith for a speeding ticket, are late for a meeting with a client, and your boss is less than pleased that your tardiness jeopardized a client relationship. 

The alternative choice that could have been made was to smile, then tell your daughter that “it’s ok, mistakes happen, I have another suit upstairs…” and move forward in a positive fashion from the mishap. All the rest of those negative consequences could have been avoided by making a different choice.

The overall equation to preventing stress is bigger than just the 90/10 principle but 90/10 plays an important part. Below is a GREAT video by Dr. Mike Evans in Toronto, who discusses how we can learn to reduce our stress without chemical compounds. I highly recommend watching it today (full-screen is best):

drMikeevans

Click to play video on youtube

 

If you think you can, you can.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 092015
 

Most of my articles are one-topic-at-a-time but today, I’m simply going to take a random stroll through my brain for the top thoughts I have as I face 2015. I hope that you find a spark in just one or two of them.

We live in the best of times, bar none.

There has never been more opportunity to succeed in a hurry. More than 50% of the humans on the planet have been networked together. Many of us are fortunate enough to carry a magical smartphone that acts as a battery-powered always-on star-trek-inspired ATM to the vast and ever-growing knowledge-base on the network, indexed by Google. The world is not yet a pervasive knowledge utopia, but dang, this is awesome.

Not everyone appreciates it. My kids think that unlimited, always available information at your smartphone fingertips was simply the way it was. They can’t imagine 1984, although I have briefed them on that stone age before 99% of us had cell phones.

Why not make 2015 your best year ever, the year you really take advantage of some great opportunity?

Optimism makes you or breaks you.

If you do not believe in your plan, your vision, and your abilities, you will never get more than a few steps out the starting gate.

Rudy Ruettiger

You have to believe that you can — and — belief is a conscious choice one must make. Has anyone won an Olympic event without believing that she can? Has anyone started a new company that rocketed to stardom without belief? Has anyone performed on a national stage without having faith in themselves? On a smaller scale, has anyone become the captain of their sports team without belief? Would Rudy have had his moment in the Notre Dame sunshine without optimism?

Do you believe? It is not an option if you want to strive for greatness!

Every important mission deserves a plan.

Planning — specifically written planning — with key milestones and target dates, improves a person’s chances of success by a wide margin. Why? Because the act of writing it down helps logical thought. Writing it down helps one’s commitment level. Writing it down helps you visualize the future.  Every plan should answer the “why do I want to do this” question, because why is always more powerful than what.  When you know why you want to do X, the finish line is easier to reach. Having a written plan better enables you to solicit the advice of others, which helps debate the logic even farther. Dates in ink help prevent procrastination.

Sure, plans might change — in fact, they usually do change — but creating a plan (here’s how), having a plan, working the plan, adjusting the plan, is important none-the-less.

Do you have a mission in 2015?  If so, where’s your written plan?

Ideas are sparked by… books… not TV.

I’ve come to realize that books are far more thought provoking that any other media because they are usually a deep plunge into a topic. I find that I come up with more ideas — usually unrelated to the book that I’m reading — while reading a good book.

made-to-stick

Reading is nutrition for the brain and is darn near magical.

Want fresh ideas in 2015?  How many books will you commit to read?

A/B Testing

Most of us come up with our one best idea and run with it. Yet, there is a lot of evidence that people rarely come up with the best idea without trial and error. I think 2015 should become the year all of us come up with our two best ideas per problem or challenge, and test both. The second one might come in first more often than we realize.  Then, after you know which idea is a winner (lets say B), come up with a new A for the next A/B test and keep fine-tuning and improving.

All it takes is a bit more work to improve your chances of success.

Are you willing to create more than one idea or approach, then test and measure to achieve better success?

Ask for Advice

People love to give advice. Yet often, we don’t ask for it, and when we do, we don’t listen attentively, we don’t take notes, and we don’t mull it over for a few weeks. Wise is the person that can learn from others. There is a lot to be learned if one is willing to ask good questions.

There is also a great side-benefit to asking for advice. People will feel that you value their opinion more. This results in better, deeper relationships.

Why not ask more people for advice?

One Great Resolution

People make fun of resolutions because so few people follow through. Instead of a huge list this year, make just one, but make it stick. Write it down in a plan, with milestones, with target dates. Put a reminder card of this resolution everywhere.  Check off the milestones.  You will feel great when you succeed by December.

What is your one resolution that really matters to you?

Make the right choices and I’m certain that you will have a great 2015. Above all things, please realize that optimism is a choice, and optimism is the jet fuel you need to live large and achieve much in life.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

 

Nov 122014
 

I recently read a few articles that got me thinking about co-workers and hiring employees in general. In my job, I become part of virtual teams that self-assemble and de-assemble as needed for a particular opportunity. I am fortunate in the fact that I often serve as the recruiter, and therefore, am in a position to decide who I want on my temporary team to explore an opportunity.

good-team

When you recruit, you wind up picking people that you can count on to get the job done, while being enjoyable to work with. If one of these facets is great but the other is not, you will never pick that person unless you have no other choice in the matter.

Here is my quickly conceived diagram about what I think ‘picking your team’ always boils down to. The best people to work with are the ones that combine all five of these aspects:

people-I-love-to-work-withNow, here is the interesting paradox. When managers hire new people, how often do they hire in terms of “would I really like to work with this person on an intense project for a month or two?” I think a lot of companies often overcomplicate the hiring process — and as a result — make decisions based on obscure details that distract from what truly matters most. Hiring a bad apple is hard to un-do and often causes years of strife. While basic skills, experience, and subject matter knowledge are somewhat needed (and this falls into the ability to get the job done), keeping your eye on the big picture matters most.

This concept is important on a personal level, even if you are not hiring people: How do you rank yourself against this diagram? Consider asking five people that know you well, the five straight-shooters that will give you advice that is not candy-coated. If you come up short in one or more of these areas, why not decide to change yourself for the better? I believe that ranking in the top 10% of these five key aspects can put your career on a new trajectory with exponential benefits over 10, 20 or 30 years. Everyone likes a hockey stick chart, not just venture cap investors.

I.M. Optimism Man