Dec 302011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not Try Something Different for 2012?

Consider following the OptimismMan ONE program for 2012:

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

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

Make 2012 your best resolutions year ever!

I.M. Optimism Man

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

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

Dec 212011

I am dumbfounded when I hear pessimistic people talking about lack of opportunity. There are so many opportunities globally for those that look for them. I think that many people are simply unaware of how much unexplored territory there is “out” there. Many opportunities do not require net new invention.

Here is a little exercise for you if you have a sheet of paper and a pen handy. Can you name 15 of the top 20 largest cities in the world? Don’t skip past this opportunity to exercise your grey matter — moments like this help you grow.

After you have your list of 15 cities, click here and let’s see how you did: Largest Cities in the World

Now, lets talk about the opportunity to take concepts that work well here — to one or more of these cities that you didn’t think of on your list.

Last time I checked, Starbucks has 11,000 or so locations in the USA, but only 4,500 outside the States and only 750 in China. Does Starbucks have a lot of room to grow? Given only two U.S. cities even make the list, I’d say so.  Is there room for a Starbucks-like competitor where Starbucks is not yet a big presence? You betcha!

My example, Starbucks, is far more globalized than most companies and concepts. Many things that work well here have never left our shores. There are thousands of great concepts in the U.S. that have yet to find their way to the four corners of the world. It is not a question of too little opportunity, but rather, how will you make your millions, if you have the goals, planning, willingness to start, will power, and optimism to do so.

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 202011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 132011

Task management and time management are complex subjects, made exponentially more complex by self-assured gurus who are happy to teach you their intricate process for efficiency. In my humble opinion, most these gurus are wrong, not because their processes do not work, but rather because they miss A) what is truly important and B) the complexity of their process often causes people to quit the system.

It is not surprising that many people ignore formal methods, confidently tapping their noggins while proclaiming that they have it all up there. After my seven years of personal focus, learning, and experimentation with task/time management and task management software, I have no doubt whatsoever that any written task system is better than “it is all in my brain and it’s a steel trap” method. People that keep everything in their head add greatly to their subconscious stress, even if they rarely drop the ball on a task.

The crux of the matter is that time is our scarcest and most precious resource. Use time well and you can accomplish great things while living a life of true quality. Waste your time and years will fly by while you spin your wheels, stuck in a rut. Therefore, optimizing where you invest your time is critical and like most things, quality and direction are more important than quantity and speed. This is the distinction between effectiveness and efficiency. Most gurus worry too much about the latter.

I believe you should have two parallel systems — one for strategic “advance my life in substantial ways” tasks and another all your other tactical “keep all the balls in the air” tasks — and the two should not mix. The truth is you will never get it all done and hard decisions must be made. Favor strategic advancement whenever possible.

One definition of genius is making complex activities as simple as they can possibly be. If you one of the noggin-only people finally deciding to do things better, I recommend implementing only the first “strategic” tasks system now. It is the simpler one and is far more important for progress. I call it BigRock Task Management, inspired by Stephen Covey’s vivid example (click for the video) from the 90s.

Do these 5 steps daily, and you will change your destiny in just a few years:

1) Every evening after dinner before you turn on the T.V. or open a book to relax, take a fresh index card and write tomorrow’s date at the top. Then, label three categories on the left margin: Work)  Family/Personal)  and Improve).

2) On the card, write the most important item — item numero uno! — the item that you know is important but its been hard to do, or to get started on — the item that will result in a “first down” in the football game of life, for each of the three categories. If your item is too time-consuming for one burst, like writing your first novel, break it into a manageable amount for one hour of time — like write 12 pages of my novel.

3) The next morning, pull your index card out and read it over with your first cup of coffee. Pick one of the three BigRocks and do it first, without checking email, without checking the news, without checking your voice mail. When done with the item, check it off, turn the card over, and jot down a few words about what you did, noting what you will do next on this same project while it is still fresh on your mind.

4) Now, manage the rest of your day such that you accomplish one more of the big items on your card before lunch, and one more in the afternoon, so that the other two BigRocks are completed before dinner. I personally like setting aside two time slots as appointments on my calendar for BigRocks, so that I have planned times to work on them.

5) Save your cards for review.  Go back to Step 1 after dinner. I would advise avoiding Work BigRocks on weekends… we work too many hours as it is, and few people wish that they had spent more time at work while lying on their death bed.

Imagine how much farther your life will be when you accomplish 260 Work, 365 Personal/Family, and 365 Improve Thyself BigRocks in one year. There may be days where you only get one BigRock done, but even so, what if your total BigRocks score is over 500 for the year? Today, many of us drift week after week just keeping the tactical balls in the air, accomplishing little real progress.

Save all your cards and review them once a month. If your BigRock score is 115 this quarter, try to beat it next quarter. The momentum of getting important things done does wonders for your energy. Get obsessed with hitting the perfect score for a month, then for three months, and then the ultimate 990 for the year. If you get there, be sure and contact me about getting a BigRock 990 t-shirt!

We put off what’s truly important because many truly important items are difficult.

Often you will find is that the BigRock on your list is a slimy, squirming frog that must be swallowed. For better or worse, strategic progress items often are difficult items to do. It is not easy to make up with your long lost brother. It is hard to call an upset client and ask for forgiveness and a second chance. It is hard to finally start on that business idea. Its a slimy frog to swallow when you have to step in and tell a friend that he is heading down the wrong path. These strategic tasks/projects are usually not urgent, making it all too easy to procrastinate. Truly successful people don’t hesitate often — they plunge forward taking decisive action with optimistic zeal.

Manage your time and tasks from a Big Rocks first perspective, swallowing the difficult frogs with reckless abandon first thing each morning, before engaging in the minutia of the typical day. You will find that your optimism grows as you build momentum, achieving one strategic first-down after another.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. BigRock Task Management is easy enough to do without technology although there are advantages to managing your strategic tasks with a smartphone — for one, you can review your entire history at any time, like when you are stuck in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office.

Once you have mastered managing strategic tasks, the next natural step is to improve one’s process and manage your tactical tasks with software, because paper is just too cumbersome with the multitude. I believe task management is best when it is always with you — no matter if you are in the office, at lunch, at your kid’s game, or heading to bed. That requirement leads to the always-with-you smartphone as the only logical platform.

Most smartphone software packages come up short when asked to keep hundreds, if not thousands of tactical tasks well-organized in one system, following a proven process. If you embrace technology and want a smartphone-based system that can make it happen without running out of gas, I recommend ToDoMatrix for iPhone and BlackBerry. Jumping ahead, there is a full white paper on best practices for managing all your tasks, strategic and tactical, on the ToDoMatrix website.

Full disclosure — ToDoMatrix is the software I have toiled over for the last number of years.

Dec 112011

It is way too easy to settle in life. Steve Jobs never settled.

Never-settling means is that you are signing up for a life that will have more challenges, more potholes, and more road bumps along the way. It will require more energy, more optimism, and more passion. It will have higher highs and the potential for lower lows. But, that is the way it should be.

Watch Steve’s commencement speech at Stanford — it is well worth the 15 minutes of time investment:

Why settle?

I.M. Optimism Man

Dec 052011

Lots of people rely on excuses to explain to themselves and others “why their lives are as they are” — usually average rather than extraordinary.

Excuses transfer blame. They make the person using the excuse feel powerless to change. Excuses become your chosen reality. Excuses hold you back.

There are a number of excuses that are self-limiting, including “I’m overweight because of my genetics“, “I tried that before (marriage, stock market, writing) and it didn’t work out so it will never work out for me“, or “I’m this way because of how my parents raised me.” One of the most frequent excuses I hear that drives me absolutely crazy is variants of “I didn’t go to or finish college so that’s why I have less opportunity” to succeed in life. Whenever a person blames moments from the past or factors-outside-one’s-control for his or her current state, the seeds of pessimism sprout as though you doused Miracle Grow fertilizer on them.

Let’s put college in accurate perspective.  For the vast majority of people, college gives them a well-rounded education.  This oft-used phrase sounds good, but what it really means is that four or five years of time and money was invested to fills a person’s head with a finite amount of generally-available knowledge and very little, if any, specific knowledge. Yet specific knowledge, not general knowledge, is what is invariably needed to succeed financially in life.

There is good reason that companies have specific training programs for their new hires.  Specific knowledge is what is needed.  If you want to create your fortune, the formula looks something like this:  Fortune = [specific knowledge of an industry] + [a strong imagination] + [excellent leadership and people skills] + [good timing] + [initiative] + [optimism]. For most people, college does little in the way of specific knowledge, leadership, imagination, optimism, or people skills.

Most people have never appreciate the depth of meaning found in this famous quote by Albert Einstein:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Al knew a thing or two about knowledge.

I’m not saying that the college experience is useless.  All things being equal, definitely go — learning is fun. At its best, college teaches you how to learn efficiently, especially on topics that are not of true interest to you.  It teaches you the value of determination and discipline if you study where you are challenged. A degree proves to many employers that you are a serious young man or young woman, giving middle managers reasons to recommend your hiring. If you earn a degree from a school with good brand-name recognition, you might find opportunities with those that hold such degrees in high regard. There are careers that simply require a degree so if you are passionate about one of these, college is a requirement. Lastly, you will have more general knowledge than the average bloke, preparing you for better small talk at the dinner table or when playing along with Jeopardy game-show reruns on TV.

But here is the most obvious of truths: While the price of college has sky rocketed, the price of general knowledge has absolutely imploded! I can Google virtually anything and have the general (and some quite specific) answers in seconds, from my smartphone, while drinking a Guinness at Buffalo Wild Wings. General knowledge has plummeted to free – you don’t even have to spend the time to trudge down to a library – when Google comes up short, Wikipedia is awesome for most topics or my free library card offers extraordinary access to online academic and business databases.

Whether you have a degree from Harvard, Yale, State U, Community College, or Podunk High, knowledge is now free for anyone that is willing to seek and learn. Many who did graduate and now have the gold leaf diploma hanging on the wall didn’t take away the most important of lessons: What matters is to have a burning desire to never stop learning. You must learn something new every day or you will fall into an excuse-filled rut soon enough.

The day a person realizes that his own excuses are holding him back, shakes the I can’ts and decides that I can, and realizes that only specific knowledge helps secure a bright future, his life and outlook will become simultaneously sobering, exciting, liberating, and optimistic.

One final thought to consider — studies have found that passionate people reach expert status on a topic in just seven years. Experts are people with very specific knowledge on their chosen topic. What subject or topic would you like to become a true expert in? You can easily become just that, by investing 5 – 7 intense years of focused reading, writing, and experimentation.

The no-college-degree-excuse did not hold Mary Kay Ash, Richard Branson, Coco Chanel, Michael Dell, Barry Diller, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Milton Hershey, Steve Jobs, Rachael Ray, Stephen Spielberg, Ty Warner, Oprah Winfrey, or Frank Lloyd Wright back. **

Don’t let excuses hold you back! 

I.M. Optimism Man

** Note that some did complete college degrees later in life or were awarded honorary degrees, long after they succeeded.