How to WOOP! our way to success

Aristotle tells us: To flourish as human beings, we need targets. We need goals.

This week we’re reviewing some of the key lessons from Brian Johnson’s Optimize Coach course. Today’s lesson? Happy people have projects. That’s step one.  

In choosing goals, we want to aim for something just beyond our comfort zone. If it’s too easy, that’s boring. If it’s way too challenging, we lose interest. It’s the “Goldilocks” lesson: not too easy and not too hard.  

Next, we need to focus on what we control – i.e. the process, not the outcome. Most of the time in life, we don’t control the end result. People who don’t realize this reality are often frustrated and disappointed. A better strategy is to focus on what we control: our effort, our energy, our learning, our focus.

Today’s big idea is “WOOP” – another of Brian’s mnemonics. WOOP stands for:

W…ish

O…utcome

O…bstacles

P…lan

Wish is the vision, the desired outcome. Where we want to go.  

Outcome refers to the outcomes we will experience—the “why” – the benefits of the wish.  

The second O stands for obstacles – anticipating what could go wrong. We take our goal and rub it up against reality. What’s in the way? What could derail us?

I’m a goal-setter. I’ve been setting goals and making plans for years. In the past, I neglected to consider the likely challenges I would face. Brian tells us this is a crucial step in the process.  

“P’ stands for our Plan: How we will overcome the obstacles we may face.

The research shows when we anticipate and plan for the obstacles, we get better results.   

Good stuff.

So, now we have a clear goal and our WOOP plan. Now it’s time to get busy. There’s a lesson here, too. Too often, we think we need big wins. Right away.  

Not so fast. Happiness comes from micro-wins sustained over a period of time. Set a target… Hit it… Celebrate!… Repeat…

Final lesson: Don’t skip the celebration. Why? Mindset. Again. Turns out there’s real power in pausing and saying: “That’s like me. That’s what I do. I win!”  

Because success begets success.  

______________________

Reflection: What’s my #1 goal for 2022?

Action: WOOP it.

What is courage? And how does it impact our ability to learn?

So, what exactly is courage? Is it the absence of fear?  

No, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  It’s feeling the fear…  And then getting on with it.  Doing what needs to be done.  

Brian argues this is the mindset to cultivate as we show up in life. Yes, there will be challenges. Expect obstacles, he tells us. Then, get on with it. Feel the fear. Then, do what needs to be done.  

Doing so requires courage, which Aristotle tells us is the most important of all human virtues.  

Our mindset determines how we experience life. An example? Stress. If we think stress is harmful, it is. If we choose to see stress as giving us the energy and motivation to face the situation at hand, it is. How we choose to view stress impacts our experience of stress, writes Kelly McGonigal in her powerful book The Upside of Stress.     

When we find ourselves facing a challenge or obstacle, instead of thinking: “Win or Lose,” we can choose to think: “Win or Learn.” Brian suggests we see ourselves as scientists, wearing lab coats, running experiments, looking for data on what works and what doesn’t. Doing so allows us to approach our mistakes with curiosity. Then, we apply what we learned. Not everything we do will work out beautifully. In fact, few things will… at first. But each time we stumble, we learn.   We improve. We get better.  

Brian gives us a specific strategy to access our courage. Ask: “What’s Important now?” “What needs to get done?” Next, stand up straight. Breathe deeply. Then say: “Bring it on!”  

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Reflection: Consider a current challenge or obstacle. What is my current mindset?   

Action: Ask: “What’s Important now?” “What needs to get done?” Then, stand up straight. Breathe deeply. And say: “Bring it on!”  

How to become anti-fragile “Fall 7.  Rise 8.”  

If Grit author Angela Duckworth were to get a tattoo, these are the words it would say.  Grit, Angela tells us, is a combination of an intense passion and intense persistence.

“Expect challenges” is Rule #1, according to philosopher Brian Johnson.  When life knocks us down, our goal is to challenge ourselves to bounce back.  Quickly.  The most successful people are not those who never fail, but rather those who learn to recover fast.  It turns out bouncing back is a skill we can practice, a skill we can get better at.  

The big learning for today is around the concept of being antifragile. We have a choice, Brian tells us: We can go through life being (1) fragile, i.e. handle with care; (2) resilient, which is our ability to bounce back (a very good thing); or (3) antifragile, which means the more life kicks us around, the stronger we get.  

When we become antifragile everything becomes fuel for our growth.  In time we develop confidence, a deep trust that we can handle whatever life throws at us.  

There’s a great metaphor from nature around how a pearl gets made.

Step one: an irritant, usually a parasite works its way into an oyster shell.  

Step two: as a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant.  In time, layer upon layer of this coating, called ‘nacre’, forms around the irritant

Step three: an incandescent pearl is formed

The example of the pearl is a living illustration of one of Brian’s mantras, OMMS:

O: obstacles

M: make

M: me

S: stronger

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Reflection:  How might I re-frame a current challenge in my life as an opportunity to improve?

Action:  Do it.

Rule #1: Expect Obstacles

Brian Johnson has read and distilled the key learnings from over 500 books as part of his Philosopher’s Notes.

His rule #1?

Expect obstacles and challenges.

It’s a new year. One thing we know for sure? There will be challenges.

Rather than be surprised when obstacles present themselves (and they always do!), Brian encourages us to embrace the challenges we face as opportunities to hone our skills.

Because dealing with challenges is how we get better. The small obstacles are opportunities to practice and get ready for the really big ones. We can think of the big, bad obstacles as a “training partner,” something pushing us to improve.

The opposite approach is to live life feeling entitled. Expecting it to be easy.

That’s dead-end thinking.

A better strategy is to cultivate gratitude. For the good things in our lives – of course. But also for the obstacles and challenges. Because doing battle with these makes us better.

_________________

Reflection: Think about a current challenging situation. What is one thing I am grateful for in it?

Action: Journal about it. Today!

How to be more proactive

1: Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday, we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations. On Friday, I share something more personal or what we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot on Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Earlier this week, we explored the benefits of blocking off time to focus on what is most important, as outlined by Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin in their terrific book Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude.

“Every morning, for thirty minutes, I sit in the garden or in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee, reflecting,” says former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant. “I think about five things: my family, my work, my community, my faith, and my personal well-being. I think about how I’m doing with each of these five things, and get reconnected with my values and my different roles in life. It’s a wonderful way of keeping me centered on what I truly believe.”

I, too, have a consistent morning routine. Several years ago, I started getting up at 6 am, several hours before my first scheduled meeting. Why the morning? Because as philosopher Brian Johnson points out, we tend to have more control over the beginning and end of our days.

I start my day by doing push-ups and sit-ups. Then, I write in two different journals; first, my gratitude journal about one thing from the previous day I am grateful for and why. Next, I review my goals for the year and think about what I’d like to get done this day or this week. Next, my wife Carey and I read aloud and discuss something from the Bible and pray. For the last several months, we’ve been reading through A Good Confession: Daily Reflections on the Westminster Catechism. Then, we read aloud something inspirational or thought-provoking. Of late, we’ve been selecting something from David Whyte’s Consolations or a poem from Mary Oliver. Next, we do a mindfulness practice. Then, I work on this blog. 

One of the benefits of doing these practices consistently is I begin each day feeling grounded and focused. It’s also much easier to enter the day in proactive rather than reactive mode. Life still knocks me around, but I also make steady progress on my most important projects and initiatives. 

As the year winds down, I’m making headway on many of my goals for the year. One is to launch a “new and improved” RiseWithDrew website in early 2022. I’m in the process of finalizing a slightly revised look and adding some new functionality for better search and indexing. In 2022, I’m also planning to experiment with video and interview thought leaders on building great workplace cultures. Stay tuned!

Finally, a note to say thank you for reading and for your words of encouragement. Let’s make 2022 the best year of our lives!

___________________________

Reflection: Am I happy with the amount of time I have to reflect and plan? Are there any changes I’d like to make?

Action: Do it!

How to make 2022 the best year of your life

1: That’s the opportunity.  

How?  

By setting powerful 2022 goals and then achieving those goals through a simple process designed to optimize follow-through.

Over the past four years, I’ve utilized a goal-setting methodology from Trent Hamm titled: “Developing a Real Plan for a Better Life.” Implementing Trent’s framework has resulted in:

*The decision to get married!

*Tremendous progress on a new business opportunity called the Oral History Project

*My starting this blog

2: Our first step is a simple one: Decide which parts of our life we want to focus on in the coming year.

“One thing you can do to get ready for your session is to think about the key areas of your life,” writes Trent. “There are lots of lists of such areas and I think different lists work well for different people. For me, there are ten areas I really care about.”

Personally, I recommend reducing the number of categories to simplify the process. As you will see in later steps, there is quite a bit of work to do in each area we choose.  

If you are new to annual goal-setting, you might consider just two categories: personal and professional.

I’m a big fan of philosopher Brian Johnson who suggests we focus on three areas of our lives: love, work, and energy.

Another option is Steven Covey‘s four types of intelligence: IQ (mental intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), PQ (physical intelligence), and SQ (spiritual intelligence).

I’ve come up with six areas to focus on – which I call my “Six F’s:” Faith, Fitness, Family, Function (i.e., career), Finances, and Fun.

3: The next step involves blocking off time to work on our goals for the year in each category.

More tomorrow.

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Reflection: What specific areas of my life do I want to improve in the coming year?

Action: Journal about the above.

Why today is always the answer

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on… WHEN.

First question:  Who am I at my best?  

Second question: What’s Important Now? 

Third question: Why is it important to me?  

Fourth question: How do I get really good at creating good habits and eliminating bad habits?

Fifth and final question: When?

Today.

When things are going great?

Yes.

When things are falling apart?

Yes.

When?

Today.

Even better?

Now.

______________________

Reflection:  What’s important now?  Reflect on the one habit I could start or stop which would have a big impact on my life.

Action:  Commit to starting it.  When?  Today.

What is the secret to living the good life?

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on… HOW.

One of the secrets to living a good life?

Get really good at installing and deleting habits.

Creating a new habit is a skill.  It starts with believing we can change our behavior.  With a little focus and effort, this is something we can do.  It is something we can get better at.  

To create a new habit or eliminate an old one, we map it.  

Bad habits are design flaws.  Not character flaws.

To learn a new habit or delete an old one, we must learn the A-B-C’s of habit change.

A is for Anchor.  We look for or create a trigger to remind us.  We want the prompt to be obvious.  Something we are already doing.  Example: every time I brush my teeth (anchor), I will do a set of push-ups (new habit).  

To delete a habit, we remove the trigger or make it harder to do.  Example: If we want to stop watching so much TV, we remove the trigger by hiding the remote on the top shelf in the closet.  

If our goal is to stop snacking and we have a habit of going to the vending machine around 3 pm every day (anchor), we set an alarm on our phone to go for a walk at 2:55 pm.  

B is for Behavior.  This is the new habit we are looking to install.  Start small, the experts tell us.  Make the new behavior ridiculously easy.  If we want to start doing push-ups, we start with one or two or five.  Not 25.  

C is for Celebration.  Immediately and intensely.  Brian tells us one simple thing we can do is say, “That’s like me!”

What do we do when we fall short?

What we don’t do is beat ourselves up.  No guilt.  No shame.  

We ask: “What needs work?”  We re-commit and start again.  

Ask: What’s my #1 goal right now?  Go all in.

ABC it: After I do it (anchor), I will do this tiny action (behavior), then I will reward myself (celebrate).  

Who, then what, then why, then what.

More tomorrow.

_____________________

Reflection:  What is the trigger for a habit I would like to stop doing?  What is a trigger for a habit I would like to begin? 

Action:  Experiment today with one of the triggers outlined above.

What is the “magic question?”

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on… WHY.

Why is the magic question.  

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote.

Answering why taps into our deepest reserves as human beings.  

Why is it important to me?  

Why am I fired up about this goal?

We want to be clear.  We want to be specific.  We want to make our why concrete.

Because when we do the right thing, we feel great.

Heaven and hell are not way off in the future, Brian tells us.  We experience heaven when we are connected to the divine within us.  Hell is when we don’t.  

Asking why provides a path forward.

Who, then what, then why.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Who do I want to be with my one wild, precious life?  Why is it so important to me?

Action:  Journal about the specific benefits to me of starting a new habit or stopping a current, unproductive one.

What simple question leads to powerful habits?

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on…  WHAT.

The first step is awareness.

Always awareness.

We pause.  We breathe. 

We ask: What’s Important Now?  Or, WIN.  

We do it to the best our ability.  Then, we celebrate by saying “That’s like me,” Brian suggests.

Reflection is key, Brian suggests.  We ask ourselves: What is the #1 habit we could start or stop doing? 

We shine a light.  What’s the #1 new habit which would improve my life?  We identify what Brian calls a “keystone habit,” where the positive impact spills over and benefits other areas of our lives as well.  

Or, what’s the #1 bad habit I could eliminate?

Or, what’s the #1 self-care habit that gives me strength?  What’s in the way?

Having embodied the best version of ourselves, we decide to close the gap.

We take one tiny, micro action.

Who, Then, what.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Reflect on the one habit I could start or stop which would have a big impact on my life.

Action:  Commit to starting it.  Today.

What is our true “super power”?

It’s the littlest decisions that shape our lives.

Imagine two friends: Brad and Charlie.

They live in the same neighborhood.  They have similar sensibilities. They each make around $75K a year.  Both are married and are of average health and weight, Darren Hardy shares in his wonderful book The Compound Effect.

Brad makes some small, seemingly inconsequential changes.  Every day he reads 10-pages of a good book per day and listens to something inspirational on his way to work.  He decides to cut 125 calories a day, trading in one can of soda for a seltzer water and walk a couple of thousand steps a day (less than a mile).  He’s committed to doing these new habits consistently leveraging the power of Brian Johnson‘s principle of “using his willpower wisely to install habits that run on auto-pilot.

Charlie makes a few poor choices.  He invests in the latest big-screen television so he can watch some more of his favorite shows.  He loves the Food Channel and enjoys trying out some recipes.  Two of his recent favorites are chicken Alfredo pizza and funnel cake fries.  He’s a bit stressed at work and enjoys one additional drink per week.  He adds about 125 calories a day to his diet.  No big deal.

Five months into our experiment, there’s no perceivable differences between Brad and Charlie.  In fact, looking at their weight, we’d see a rounding error of… exactly zero, Darren writes.

Ten months in, still not much of a change.

Around 18-months, there is a bit of a difference.  

But then around month 25, the compound effect kicks in and we start to see observable and measurable differences.

By month 31, Charlie is now overweight and Brad is trim.  By simply cutting 125 calories a day, Brad has lost 33 pounds.  (31 months = 940 days.  940 days x 125 calories/ day = 117,500 calories.  117,500 calories / 3,500 calories per pound = 33.5 pounds).

Charlie, on the other hand, has gained 33 pounds.  

But that’s just the start of it.  Brad has now invested one thousand hours reading and listening to good books and self-motivating audios.  He’s putting this new knowledge to work and has earned a promotion.  His marriage has never been better.

Charlie’s unhappy at work and his wife is unhappy with him.

Darren’s little story illustrates the power of the compound effect in our lives.  Small, seemingly insignificant changes in our behavior done consistently over time will create a radical difference.  Our choices shape our actions which become our habits.  

The ability to create new habits is our true “superpower” as human beings.  By eliminating bad habits and installing positive ones, we can take our lives in any direction we desire.

The challenging part according to Darren?

We don’t experience the power of the compound effect because we don’t see results fast enough.  

Many of us quit after the eighth day of running because we are still overweight.  Or, stop practicing piano after a couple of months because we haven’t mastered anything other than “do-re-me.” Or, cease making contributions to our 401K because we need the cash and it doesn’t seem to be adding up anyway.

But, if we keep at it consistently over time, we will see the payoff.  

It’s not magic.  Just hard work, discipline, and good habits.

____________________________

Reflection: What’s one new habit I’m willing to commit to?

Action: Start today.

What happens when we fall short?

1: Over the last several days we’ve examined the components of philosopher Brian Johnson‘s self-mastery formula.

Self-Mastery = Willpower + Habits + Algorithms.

Our goal is to use “our willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot.”

But what happens when we don’t?  What happens when we fall short?  Because we will.

With our behaviors.  Our thoughts.  And, certainly with other people.

Like the director in our own movie, we will have “mistakes.”

2: Brian suggests we create a “needs work” algorithm for when we mess up.

An algorithm is simply a rule we create: “If this, then that.”

First, we remove any hint of judgment.  We don’t beat ourselves up.  We treat ourselves as we would a beloved child.  We give ourselves some grace.  

Next, we approach the situation like a scientist.  We rewind to the moment of choice. We envision what we could have done instead. We imagine ourselves doing this opposite behavior.  We commit to what we will do next time.  Then, we let it go.

3: Brian calls someone who can take an unwanted behavior and do the opposite the next time an alchemist.  When we are tempted, we commit to do the opposite.  This ability becomes a way to spiral up to the highest version of ourselves.  

We get good at recovering.  We learn to catch ourselves.  

If we forget or fall short today, we make it the #1 thing on our calendar tomorrow.  We repay the debt.  If we know we are going to miss, we can “pre-pay” and do the behavior in advance.

After completing something, we reflect: 

What went well?

What did I learn?

How do I optimize for next time?

______________________

Reflection:  How have I responded in the past when I’ve done something I’ve regretted?

Action:  Look for an opportunity today to show myself some grace.  Then, consider what I will do differently next time.

How to re-train our brain

1: Philosopher Brian Johnson tells us there are three steps on our path to self-mastery.

Self-Mastery = Willpower + Habits + Algorithms.

We aim to use “our willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot.”

Monday we explored the role of willpower.  Yesterday we looked the power of habits.  Today, we turn to the third component: algorithms or autopilot.

2: There is a supercomputer inside our brain called the basil ganglia.  Brian tells us it’s been around for 500 million years.  It drives our behavior: when this happens, we do that.  The basil ganglia loves repetition.  It is indifferent to good or bad.  

The positive news?

We can train our brain.

Brian defines an algorithm as “If this, then that…”  We can be intentional about the habits we want to create.  

Initially, we use our willpower to install the new behavior or eliminate an old one.  We identify the trigger.  “If this, then that…” 

We make the decision once.  Then we repeat, repeat, repeat.  In time, the new algorithm runs on auto-pilot.

We can create algorithms for any time of our day or night.  

3: Once we’re clear on the habits we want to run on auto-pilot, Brian suggests we “WOOP” it.

W stands for the wish:  What is the new habit we want to create? 

The first O stands for outcome: What positive things will happen if we create the new behavior?  We want to be crystal clear on the benefits.  Why are we doing this?

The second O stands for obstacles: What’s in the way?  Mentally? Physically?  Emotionally?  We anticipate and plan for obstacles.  Too often, we skip this step.  We’re not prepared when we get tripped up and lose our momentum.

P is for Plan:  How are we going to overcome the obstacles and experience the outcome of achieving our wish?

______________________

Reflection:  What is a trigger for a habit I would like to stop doing?  What is a trigger for a habit I would like to begin? 

Action:  Experiment today with one of the triggers outlined above.

Fear and Perseverance

“I won’t let fear of a possible ‘no’ interfere with my telling,” writes Peter Guber in his terrific book Tell to Win about how we can use storytelling to achieve our business goals.

The trick is not to eliminate fear, but to use it.  We channel the adrenaline instead of resisting it.

Philosopher Brian Johnson tells us courage is not the absence of fear, but being aware of fear and choosing to act in spite of it.

Rejection is a fact of life.  “Next is the most powerful word in the English language,” says Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  He and his partner Jack Canfield were turned down 144 times before finding success.  Today, they have more than 200 titles in print and have sold more than 112 millions of copies of their books.  

Ross Perot, founder of EDS, was turned down 77 times before winning his first contract.  But that first contract was worth $4 million.  Ross went on to build a world-class organization. He sold his stake in EDS for $2.4 billion.

“Sometimes rejection can be a gift,” says Nancy Traversy, co-founder and CEO of Barefoot books, a publisher of children’s books.  In the early 2000’s, she and co-founder Tessa Strickland pitched Borders marketing executives on the idea of a Barefoot Boutique within Borders stores where parents could connect with their children through reading.

No chance, they were told.  

What resulted was a whole new way of distributing and marketing children’s books involving their biggest fans, mothers who appreciated their high-caliber books for children.  “That’s when the whole ‘living barefoot’ idea came to me,” Nancy remembers.  The publisher encouraged this network of women to tell and sell their own stories or Barefoot Books to their friends and family.  Today, the more than two thousand Barefoot Ambassadors account for more than 20% of the company’s revenue.  

_________________

Reflection:  When in the past has rejection motivated me to do my best work?

Action:  Don’t try to eliminate fear.  Channel it into adrenaline.  Today.

Energy + Vulnerability = A Powerful Equation

If we tell a story we don’t believe in, our audience will sense it immediately.

Like intention, authenticity and energy can’t be faked.  

This week we are looking at how to best deliver our message utilizing best practices from Tell to Win, Peter Guber‘s book about storytelling.  Peter quotes Williams College professor George Marcus who has studied the role of unspoken communication in the success and failure of politicians: “If we sense the other person is phony or distracted, we’ll automatically put up our defenses, either by tuning out entirely or listening with suspicion.”  

The moment we see someone, our ancient survival system kicks in and deciphers whether this individual is friend or foe, authentic or fake, trustworthy or dangerous.  “If we see a frown or can’t meet the other person’s gaze, our guard goes up and we feel anxiety, anticipating emotional attack or rejection,” George tells us.  

The reverse is also true.  Our subconscious picks up on genuine enthusiasm and conviction.  

The lesson for when we are presenting?  

We need to let ourselves feel it instead of suppressing it  Instead of telling ourselves to relax, philosopher Brian Johnson suggests we say, “I’m excited!”

“Our success or failure is determined by our level of energy,” says television mogul Mark Burnett.  “I tell my people, ‘Much more than our creativity, our level of energy inspires the people around us.'”

When we smile and look directly into someone’s eyes, the other person begins to relax and feel more trusting.

Our body language also sends messages.  When we stand or sit up straight and look our audience in the eye, we communicate we are alert, aware, and excited.  When we slouch in our chair or lean on the podium, our audience senses we are tired.

Does this mean we can only tell an effective story when we are feeling upbeat and happy?  Not so fast, Peter tells us: “Energy takes on many different emotional forms and it’s often most compelling when combined with vulnerability.”

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone tells us, “Vulnerability is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today.  Everyone has something in common with every other person.  And you won’t find those similarities if you don’t open up and expose your interests and concerns, allowing others to do likewise.”

_____________________

Reflection:  Reflect on a time when being vulnerable allowed me to connect with another person or larger audience. 

Action:  Prior to my next presentation, tell myself I’m excited!

Why be grateful for our failures, mistakes and setbacks

The balance sheet is a key component of any business.

We also have a personal balance sheet.  Yes, this includes our cash in the bank and investments.  But these financial assets aren’t our only assets.  We also have our strengths, our passions, our personality, our skills, our experiences, and our memories.  

This week we are exploring the power of gratitude to increase our happiness and success.  Yesterday we examined the assumption: first, be successful; then, you will be happy.  The research is clear and turns that idea on its head.  Happy people are more successful.  And, one of the strategies we can leverage to increase our happiness is to cultivate our gratitude.  Intentionally. 

The word appreciate has two definitions: (1) to see the value in; and (2) to grow.  Keeping a daily gratitude journal allows us to do both.  We give thanks for our strengths and experiences.  And, by focusing on them, we expand our capabilities.

The other important aspect of our personal balance sheet is our mistakes. Or, as philosopher Brian Johnson says, our mis-takes.  We see our failures, setbacks and challenges not as liabilities, but as valuable assets.  We want to capitalize on them, not waste them.  These experiences provide maturity and wisdom.  Our most important learning experiences many times involve extreme challenge and even trauma.  There is a bevy of research detailing what researchers call “post-traumatic growth” which leads to an enhanced appreciation of life. 

The person who isn’t making any mistakes is likely sitting around doing nothing.

The liability side of our balance sheet is a list of all our bad habits that get in the way of living our best, most purposeful life.  These we want to minimize or eliminate all-together.

In 1921, my grandfather Rocky founded our predecessor company.  During the recent kickoff of our 100-year celebration, I suggested we at PCI have much to be grateful for.  We’ve been blessed to have a string of strong years, certainly the best in our long history.  

But, as many PCIers know, it wasn’t always so.  We’ve had our share of tough, challenging years as well.  And, we are grateful for these years, too, because they made us who we are today.

The one thing we know about any organization like PCI that has stood the test of time is the people who make up that organization are resilient.  Capital R: “Resilient.”

Brian tells us there are people and organizations which are fragile: they fall apart quickly.  There are people and organizations that bounce back from adversity.  We call them resilient.  

And, then, there are people and organizations where the greater the challenge, the stronger they get.  He calls these organizations “anti-fragile.”  Brian’s phrase “obstacles make me stronger” or OMMS is one of my favorites.

As I’ve written about before, at PCI we went through an extremely difficult stretch in the mid-2000s.  It was white-knuckle time.  Very difficult.  Layoffs…  Zero bank balance…  Hard, hard times…

But it was during this period when we articulated our purpose: “We inspire dreams and transform lives.”  It was during the darkest of these days that we became clear on our enduring organizational goal/rallying cry: “Every client should be referenceable.”  We shaped our five client promises: Be proactive.  Be accountable.  Be positive.  Be trustworthy.  Be passionate.  And, it was during this period during which we first coined the phrase “notthebigcompany” which defines our workplace culture, our business philosophy, and even the way we live our lives.

Remember: Obstacles make me stronger.  Obstacles made us stronger.  Indeed.  We fought.  We didn’t give up.  We were resilient.  And, we persevered.

A great workplace culture is wonderful when times are good.  But, it’s even more valuable when times are hard.  It is my belief that if it were not for our notthebigcompany culture, we wouldn’t have survived.

Since then, we’ve rebounded nicely.  Top line revenue is up nearly 10x from its low point.  It’s been an incredible ride.  And, as we begin our next century, we believe we are just getting started.  We have a new service offering, the Oral History Project that makes it feel like we work at a 100-year old start-up!

The enduring lesson we’ve learned is to be grateful for the successes.  And the failures.

__________________

Reflection:  What is a challenging experience from my past that shaped who I am today?

Action:  Commit to keeping a gratitude journal for 100 days starting today.

How to make 2021 the best year of your life

That’s the opportunity.  

How?  

By setting powerful 2021 goals and then achieving those goals through a simple process designed to optimize follow-through.

Over the past three years, I’ve utilized a goal-setting methodology from Trent Hamm titled: “Developing a Real Plan for a Better Life.”  Implementing Trent’s framework has resulted in:

o My family creating wonderful memories during the last year of my wife Julie’s life when she was fighting cancer

o My creating a book for my daughters about their mom from interviews I did with Julie prior to her passing along with sweet memories from her friends

o Us taking a trip to commemorate Julie’s life

o Starting a new, fun family practice where once a quarter one of us gets to select a full agenda of events and experiences which we then do together

o Tremendous progress on a new business opportunity called the Oral History Project

o Launching an Intranet featuring associate recognition, best practices, and information on our culture

o My starting this blog

Today we focus on step one: Decide which parts of our life we want to focus on in the coming year.

“One thing you can do to get ready for your session is to think about the key areas of your life,” writes Trent. “There are lots of lists of such areas and I think different lists work well for different people. For me, there are ten areas I really care about.”

Personally, I recommend reducing the number of categories to simplify the process.  As you will see in later steps, there is quite a bit of work to do in each of the categories we choose.  

If you are new to annual goal-setting, you might consider just two categories: personal and professional.

I’m a big fan of philosopher Brian Johnson who suggests we focus on three areas of our lives: love, work, and energy.

Another option is Steven Covey‘s four types of intelligence: IQ (mental intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), PQ (physical intelligence), and SQ (spiritual intelligence).

I’ve come up with six areas to focus on – which I call my “Six F’s:” faith, fitness, family, function (i.e. career), finances, and fun.

The next steps involve blocking off time to write a draft of your life plan.  

More tomorrow.

_____________

Reflection:  What specific areas of my life do I want to focus on improving in the coming year?

Action:  Journal about the above.

Playing Poorly Well

This week we’ve been exploring how to architect what philosopher Brian Johnson calls “masterpiece days.” 

We think of our day like a canvas.  We focus first on the parts of the day where we have maximum control: the PM bookend and the AM bookend.  Next, we take action to optimize our energy, our work, and our love.  

We then bridge the gap between our current level and our ideal.  

Except some days we won’t.

Oops are going to happen.  And this is where it gets interesting. Because the best optimizers know how to “play poorly well.”

We don’t beat ourselves up.  We don’t shame ourselves.

Instead we ask:  

What was awesome?

What needs work?

What will I do differently next time?

We get good at turnarounds.  We reset.  We rebound.  One bad day does not create a bad week.

As optimizers, we focus on the process, not the outcome.  We know the game we are playing and we play it well. 

It’s about progress, not perfection.  In time, our worst days become rebound days, another step on our journey to the next best version of ourselves. 

We master the growth cycle:  We set a goal.  We fail.  We learn.  We improve.  We set a higher goal.

We master the death cycle:  We let it die and are re-born to the next best version of ourselves.

This mindset requires emotional stamina.  We stick to our protocols.  No matter what.  The worse we feel, the more we stick to protocols.  

According to Brian, we can go through life being fragile (handle with care), resilient (our ability to bounce back), or antifragile, which means the more life kicks us around, the stronger we get.  When we become antifragile everything becomes fuel for our growth. 

In time we develop confidence, a deep trust that can handle whatever life throws at us.

_______________

Reflection:  When have I been at my absolute best?  How specifically did I show up?

Action:  Play to my strengths today.  Close the gap between my best self and how I’m showing up right now.

How to W.I.N. the Week

Attention Management is the first module in the Stagen Leadership Academy’s brilliant, impactful year-long Integral Leadership Program (ILP)

By being more proactive about managing our attention, the idea is to find two or more hours a week which can then be reinvested in learning the program demands.

Of all the attention management tools, Rand Stagen tells ILPers, the single most impactful is the “Weekly Focusing Process” where he encourages us to set aside time each week to plan out our week and schedule our most important activities.  

In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey recommends a very similar process.

This week we’ve been looking at how to create what philosopher Brian Johnson calls masterpiece days .  Brian suggests we make time at the beginning of each week to zoom out and decide “What’s Important Now” (WIN) this week?

Each week has 70 90-minute time blocks. Brian encourages us to look at the upcoming week through the lens of “the Big 3” – energy, work, and love.  We decide what’s most important in each category.  Next, we block out time in our calendar.  Then, we get it done.    

Brian’s tip #1: For maximum effectiveness, create a “tech free zone” each morning where we schedule our most important or most creative work first thing.  

Brian’s tip #2: Always focus on “micro wins” – the next small step we can take toward our larger goal.

Brian’s tip #3:  When we accomplish something, celebrate!  Say, “That’s like me!”

Brian tells us to have fun with our days. Make it a game and compete with ourselves to get more things done each day.  

Each week, we step back, and ask ourselves:

1: What’s working?  Lock it in.

2: What needs work?

3: What will I do differently this week?  

_______________

Reflection: What are the benefits of setting aside time to plan and schedule my upcoming week?

Action:  Experiment with one of the ideas above.

How Many Different Types of Love are There?

In our quest to create what philosopher Brian Johnson calls masterpiece days, so far this week we’ve looked of two of Brian’s “Big 3:” our energy and our work.

Today, we turn our attention to the third element: Love.  

To love, we must be deeply present.

What’s the #1 thing in the way?

Technology.

Yesterday we covered how digital distractions are the #1 enemy of doing genius work.  

New day.  Same lesson.

The single best thing we can do to both give and experience love is turn off and put away our phones.  

How does it feel when someone gives us their undivided attention?

It feels like a gift.  Right?

The reason it feels so awesome is because it’s so rare.  Who’s had this experience?  We’re talking with someone.  Let’s say it’s an important conversation.  We hear the phone’s notification ding.  And, what happens?  Someone whips out their phone to look at it. 

Who’s more important?  The people in our lives or random inputs?  

When we stare at a screen, we are not present to the people we care about.  Our presence is the greatest gift we can give our family and those we care about.  

Brian calls this Love 1.0.  With our partner, we aim for soul connection.  Brian suggests we make it a game: we can strive to “out-love” our partner.

Love this.

Before Love 1.0, however, there is Love 0.0.  Brian tells us before we can love others, we need to be able to love ourselves.  

How do we connect with our inner soul?  By putting our virtues into action.  

We ask: What’s our #1 self-care habit?  We do that.  We treat ourselves like we would a beloved child.

From there, Brian expands out the definition of love utilizing a framework from Barbara Fredrickson’s terrific book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. Barbara suggests we broaden our concept of love from just our family and few close friends.  

Love 2.0 is about looking for small moments to connect with other people.  Perhaps just 30 seconds or a minute.  

Opportunities to connect are everywhere all around us.  Instead of looking at our phone, we can choose to speak with someone.  We can stop comparing and complaining, and choose to connect and see what’s working.

Love 3.0 is heroic love.  Which involves encouraging others.  Brian tells us encouragement is one of the most underrated virtues.  Compassion is important.  But so is encouragement.  We don’t just suffer together.  With encouragement, we have courage together.  And, courage vitalizes all of the other virtues.  

Love 8.0 ties to the 8-hour workday and loving our work.  “Work is love made visible,” the poet Kahlil Gibran writes.  “For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.  And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.”  

Finally, there is Love. Infinity which involves loving all that life gives us.  With this infinite power, we say yes to all that happens in our lives, Brian tells us.  The good things.  And the bad things: OMMS: Obstacles Make Me Stronger. 

Today is the day.  Let’s create a masterpiece day TODAY.

__________________

Reflection:  What are some of the specific benefits to me of expanding my concept of love?

Action: Experiment with one of the ideas above.