Feb 232011

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad you chose the red pill.

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

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

Websters dictionary defines the term invest this way:

Invest transitive verb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 202011

There is an ancient Chinese wisdom that is often repeated in our society –
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Nearly all people acknowledge this simple truth, but few practice it because teaching people valuable skills and knowledge usually requires a significant investment of time and energy, not to mention a willing student. Time is our scarcest resource and we guard it carefully. The truth is we teach few people how to fish, no matter how noble this truism is.

I’d like to offer my amendment to this proverb –
Tell a man ‘good job’ and you make him feel good for the moment.
Tell a man ‘I see your bright future full of impressive achievements’ and you might just inspire him for a lifetime.

Inspiration is a gift that we can give readily, with little time investment but with the potential for great impact.

There are opportunities every day, if you look for them. A little 8 year goal keeper walks off the field after he had a good game and a person he does not know stops him and tells him that he played awesome and that he is destined to be a great college player when he grows up. A young teen is told by her pediatrician that he has his eye on her because he thinks she will really turn out to be something special when she grows up. A manager pulls over a brand new field rep and tells him he sees the winner that is going places inside of him. Each one of these moments are examples of gifts that inspire the recipient to see themselves going places, with a bright future of success.

Challenge yourself to inspire one person each day. Its a great goal, one that is very fulfilling.

Seven days per week, find one person to inspire, and put a valuable burst of energy into your effort. Instead of telling someone ‘good job’ for 3 seconds, engage them for several minutes. Many people are teetering on the edge of doing great things, but they are often surrounded by pessimistic friends and family, telling them that “it” is not worth the risk and that “it” will never work out. One sincere, optimistic voice can be the spark that convinces him to try.

Be that spark.

In keeping with my formula of journals and logging to raise consciousness of the habits that you want to build, I suggest making a note of WDIIT (Who Did I Inspire Today) at the end of each day in your journal. If you write it down, it is much easier to build any habit. Giving daily inspiration is a habit worth adopting.

Feb 172011

No matter how optimistic you are, it is impossible to take risks, try new things, make progress, and learn valuable lessons without running into your fair share of obstacles and adversity.

What I find interesting is that the same adversity can be perceived very differently by different people. One person sees the adversity as an obstacle to be overcome while another sees it as a dead end, a failure from which one must turn around and retreat.

Sure, attitude and confidence plays a part. If you have overcome similar road blocks in the past, the next one is not as daunting. But there is a better trick to ensure your continued momentum and tenacity.

The trick is to plan for adversity in advance, to play chess, not checkers, with all the goals and missions in your life.

If you are serious and wise about achieving a new project or mission, investing some time to develop a plan is a requirement. Often, people make the mistake of only creating Plan A, the outline which assumes all the dominos will fall in order.  If a person invests the time to anticipate and write down contingency plans B, C, and D — before Murphy’s Law strikes — his or her ability to adapt and overcome in the face of obstacles, adversity, and uncertainty improves remarkably.

Written plans improve one’s optimism.  Written plans, with well thought-out contingency plans, triple one’s optimism and resilience.

An interesting observation about business plans for new start-ups is that they are rarely followed as they were written. This happens because many new things are learned once the entrepreneurs embark on the venture. I think planning is priceless none-the-less, for the logical approach and resolve that it brings to the kick-off.

If you are committed to approaching your missions professionally, plans should be adjusted on a regular basis, just as a pilot adjusts course during a flight from Seattle to Miami.  Weather, winds, traffic, and turbulence all require adjustment, but filing a flight plan remains essential.

Plan for obstacles and you will achieve more while keeping the optimistic fire burning bright.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 142011

Imagine winning the Superbowl without a playbook of plays your team has learned and will execute with precision.

Imagine building the house you live in without an architect first creating blueprints.

Imagine building a new highway interchange without surveying the ground and skipping the creation of plans on paper.

Imagine that you are the leader of a SWAT team, invading a bank where the bad guys are holding hostages without looking at the building plans to see how the rooms and entries are positioned.

Or imagine invading a city full of insurgents without detailed intel, scouting, and a carefully drawn up plan of action.

It is hard to imagine success in any of these attempts without clear, specific, detailed plans and contingency plans, isn’t it?

So, why do 95% of adults go through their life, day after day, week after week, month after month, without a written list of their top 10 personal goals? For the slim minority that do have a written goals list, what percentage do you think convert that one line goal into distinct projects and then step-by-step tasks with milestone dates, to achieve that goal?  The answer is less than 1 in a 100.

So, right now, lets see what a difference pale ink / thinking on paper can make. Pick one of your goals that is a pretty significant one, perhaps achievable in 6 months or a year if you get started soon. Pick any one of your goals. Right now. Grab three blank sheets of paper and a pen. Let’s scribble up a rough plan.

Answer these dozen key questions about this one goal:

(1) Description of the goal.
(one sentence)

(2) Why do you want to achieve this goal?
(one paragraph – be sure and include the benefits you will receive from the achievement)

(3) How will you know that you have achieved the goal / how will you measure it is really done?
(one or two sentences)

(4) When do you want to achieve this goal by?
(specific date)

(5) What are the intermediary steps in high-level bullet form that are anticipated steps to achieve the goal?
(one line sentences, but leave 5 lines of space between each sentence)

(6) Please put dates and any other quantitative measurements you can on each one of the intermediate steps so that this goal will be on track to make the date specified in step 4.
For example, if you are writing a book, the number of pages written by a date offers a great second milestone that can be measured, not just the date itself.

(7) For each of the intermediary steps from step 5, list 5 – 10 tasks that are subcomponents of getting that intermediate step finished.
(one detailed line each)

(8) Whose help will you need help from to make these tasks happen?
Write down not only the people or organization but also several bullets about the exact kind of help you will need from these people or organizations.  Add dates to put these resources together.

(9) Are there any skills that you need to develop to make these tasks happen?
If there are skills that need developing, this is a subproject that needs its own tasks and deadlines.  Add these bullets to your plan.

(10) Is this goal in line with your overall direction in life?
If it is not, it might not happen, because you will be fighting against the current of your life’s river every step of the way.

(11) After jotting down this plan, are the time frames and milestone dates achievable?
Its ok to be aggressive but if the plan is completely unreasonable, you will find that you give up soon after you get started.  You must make it mission possible, not mission impossible.  If the milestones look way out of logical possibility, go back and adjust the dates and final achievement target.

(12) What are the first 5 tasks? Put them down on your near-term list with deadlines.
Get started on time, since getting started is the key to getting motivated. It is much harder to push a car from a standstill into motion. Once rolling, it takes less power to keep it rolling forward.

Congratulations! You now have a rough plan for this one goal.

To understand the important difference, please complete the second half of this exercise.  Think about another goal that you have.  Make sure that its a goal of roughly equal size and scope, something in that 6 – 12 months of effort category. Let’s plan this one only in your mind — do not write anything down.  Take your time, just thinking about it.

Which one of these two goals has the best chance of success?

If you want to really answer this question honestly, set an alert on your calendar and ask yourself this question one month from today. Goals in your mind’s eye are dreams without a plan. Goals on paper are a little better, especially if you carry the list with you and look at it daily. But goals that get the magic of pale ink, the magic of thinking on paper and some level of planning are exponential better. These goals have an excellent chance of follow through and ultimate achievement.

If you asked a number of people what their personal goal is at their job, getting a promotion is one of the most typical responses. How many people have a written plan to win that promotion? Less than 1 in 100. What if you decide to be that one in one hundred with a good plan? Do your odds improve? Of course they do.

Use the power of pale ink and become more successful – it really is that simple. Once you have written plans for your top ten goals, your optimism grows because you have daily important tasks in line with your dreams.  You are empowered to act decisively.  A person that is making steps toward his or her goals feels inspired, has purpose, has energy and excitement, and is full of optimism.

Feb 112011

Please watch this short 5 minute video and then think about the message for 10 minutes more.

It is very important to believe in people, to believe that they will go far above “realistic” expectations. This is especially important with your kids, because your influence on them is profound, during development and even when they are 40 and 50 years old. This expectation of “far above” is especially important with your students, if you are a teacher or even a part-time coach.  And this belief is especially important with yourself, for we all believe our own internal thinking and messaging.

Victor Frankl sums up this need so succinctly in this clip, that there is no reason for me to add more.
Click here to view:

Believe people will be phenomenal and extraordinary. Give them every opportunity and heartfelt expectation.  The result will be marvelous, because they will then achieve their true potential, instead of missing the target and falling short. A person that is trying to pass on their supposed ‘wisdom’ and advises their kid, wife, sister, brother, student, or friend that “this is all that you can reasonably expect” is inadvertently helping them come up short of their best case outcome.

Its our duty to inspire, as one of the Optimistic Few.  Tell your kid that she can make the Olympics.  It improves her chances to set a state record in the 400.  Choose to believe in people, believe extraordinary lurks in everyone, and communicate it clearly and consistently. Greatness does not come from reasonable expectations.

Feb 072011

Procrastination is really a beast to overcome. We have all struggled with the beast, but I have found a couple of tricks that really work well.

1) Break big tasks into super small micro-pieces:

When you are facing a difficult task that is daunting, its usually because the task will take lots of the hours to complete.  Unfortunately, its all too natural to put it off.  The trick is to chop these big tasks into smaller pieces – but sometime, the chopping itself is not obvious and seems impossible.

Perhaps you have a thirty page paper due, or you must respond to a hundred question RFI questionnaire.  These tasks are huge, guaranteed to take 20 or more hours to complete.  The task itself seems to be broken to its smallest part – write the paper or answer the RFI – what more subdivision is possible?

That’s the trick.  Put a smaller measure and little milestones on the task that seems to refuse reduction. Change your thinking from “write the paper” to “write page one”, “write page two”, “write page three” or “write section 1, 2, 3”.  If the project is answer the RFI, split it into “answer question 1, 2, 3” and so forth.  As soon as the work is split into smaller sections, take that first step – start on page one!

Voilà! The task becomes more palatable right away.

Your brain plays tricks. With the tiny steps perspective, you have a sense of accomplishment as soon as you get page 1 and 2 done before lunch.  It becomes easy to pen page 3 before you meet Jim for dinner, and page 4 later that evening. Tiny steps changes the dread of the ‘no way I’ll finish this…’ into ‘I made sparkling progress today!’ You now come home happy, which is priceless to getting along well with the spouse and kids.

Most people have motivation vs. action backwards.  Motivation comes after starting, not the other way around.  Starting is the biggest step toward being motivated. Accomplishment fuels more motivation. The dreaded task starts flying toward completion, a bit at a time. Which brings me to trick #2…

2) Dedicate Small Highly-Focused Bursts of Time:

Recently, I found the Pomodoro Technique, a simple method to make progress and reduce procrastination.  It was first created by Francesco Cirillo in 1992.  The essence is to use a countdown timer to put everything else aside and work on only the task at hand for 25 minutes at a time.

This works! Twenty-five minutes is a palatable amount of time to not look at email, to not listen to your voice mail, to not answer your phone. The result is that it becomes easier to start, and starting is the key to eliminating procrastination and getting motivated. The Pomodoro Technique makes daily progress easier when you decide to write that book, paper, or RFI response.  Decide to put in (2) x 25 minute sessions per day and don’t go to bed until the sessions are done.  Progress happens!

I think the short burst of time – 25 minutes – is magical.  Its just short enough that you are willing to give it a go, yet long enough to make some real progress on the task at hand.  Francesco offers his e-book as a free download on his website.

By the way, in my opinion, hearing the tick tick of a mechanical timer is valuable. I find it easier to get distracted if a silent timer is running, but the tick tick tick helps keep you focused for the entire 25 minutes.

Beat the nasty procrastination habit and you will become more optimistic and productive.

Feb 022011

We live in a time of limitless opportunity.  It just takes a few important ideas to open our eyes.

Grab a cup of coffee and watch this great talk by Malcolm Gladwell about Howard Moskowitz.  In just 18 minutes, you will realize how limitless an opportunity remains untapped in product categories that have existed since before you were born.  It also answers the question of how David products often topple entrenched Goliaths to everyone’s surprise:

Get inspired!

I.M. Optimism Man