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Too far behind

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Does it matter, now? You’re too old to go back to school. You can’t learn a new skill. You didn’t make it into honors class. you’ve invested too much already to switch directions.

Here’s the thing, there will always be someone who has read more books, done it for longer, or has more resources; but why should that stop you? There are enough people out there who will care what you are doing to make it worth it.

So what if you aren’t seeing the kind of results you want to see, yet. Just because others are a few years ahead of you doesn’t mean you should call it quits. That shouldn’t matter. If you talk to anyone, they, too probably feel like they got a late start or are behind.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the one that makes the first move doesn’t always come out on top.

Deciding. Daily

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There’s something special that happens when you decide to do something, daily. You really only have to make that decision once. you’ve committed to it. No more wrestling each morning about what you are going to do. You already know.

Now, the only decision you have to make is how to do that thing you’ve committed to.

I set one goal a year

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I used to set at least 20 goals a year. The list would include the typical things like working out more, reading x amount of books, reaching certain milestones at work, doing something more with my website, learning a new skill, buying things, traveling places, and the list went on and on.

But now I set one goal a year. It’s the same goal I set every quarter, which is the same goal I set every week—that is, to make a plan every day and then stick to the plan.

See, there were times when I would look back at my year and review the list of things I wanted to do only to realize that things changed. We moved locations, so buying a new car was no longer important. I learned something new and adjusted my career direction. I grew up and different things became bigger priorities. Then, one year, I decided to try something different. I instead focused on my habits, my system for getting things done, and my attitude toward how I approach each day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love goals. And when I say I set one goal every year (to make a daily plan and stick to it), what I’m really saying is that I set lots and lots of goals every day. I break down each day into categories. For each category I have habits and actionable items. I’m updating these on a daily basis as well. Simply put, I don’t set large goals anymore. I have a vision for the type of person I want to become, sure, but I don’t set 90-day targets for myself or even monthly goals. I make a daily list (it’s a really long list) of everything I am working on or seeking to improve and I stick to it. I focus on continuous progress. Because I’m realizing that goals come and go too quickly and I prefer, instead, to set systems.

Here’s what I’ve learned and here’s how this approach has worked for me: I now get things done. When I say ‘we should get together sometime’ I log it onto my daily list of things to get done that day, I get it scheduled, and it happens. I complete projects. I get to all my emails. I’ve changed jobs, switched careers, traveled a bunch, read over 100 books, and cooked more at home. I now do things for the sake of making progress. If I want to build something, I no longer spend the next few weeks thinking about what tool I need to get it done, I just put the next action item onto my daily list and complete the next step toward building the thing I want to build.

And I’m always tweaking my approach. If something isn’t working—if something has been on my daily list for a few days, I either drop it, or (if it’s still important to me) I reflect on how I can prioritize that thing into my daily schedule, and I make it happen.

So this year, if you have already given up on your New Year’s resolutions, try something new. Focus on your system. Yes, I’m even suggesting to completely ignore the big goal in the back of your mind and instead worry about how you are going to do better today.

I’m with James Clear on this one. Check out his post on setting systems. You just might come across something that actually works.

"I had no choice"

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Which actually means “I had only one path that was easy at the moment.”

The choices we make when it doesn’t even seem like we have a choice determine who we really are. Do we respond or react? Do we act or are we acted upon?

What follows is the impact we make—or not, your choice.

One at a time

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There is something amazing that happens when the focus of your efforts is on one at a time.

One post a day. One person at at time. One action at a time. One more each time.

It’s the process. You won’t get what you are looking for today, but you might if you stop worrying about it and instead worry about doing one more, then one more, then one more.

The mother of all learning

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The Russians have a saying: 

Повторение - мать ученья.
Repetition is the mother of all learning.

We learn two ways: passively and actively. We passively learn a new language when we live in a foreign country and are forced to learn how to say “milk” so that we know where to find it in the grocery store. If we were to actively learn a new language we would sit down with an instructor or a book to study vocabulary and grammar. Active learning usually requires more focus than passive learning, but passive learning is more difficult to facilitate. 

A great way to both passively and actively learn something is to teach it. Teach it everywhere you go, then take some time to study and think through how you would teach it better. In doing so, you will gain the necessary repetition required to become an expert in something. 

We all have things we are learning every day; therefore, we all have things we need to be teaching. Take some time not only to consider what you have gained knowledge in but also what your platform is. Are you a manager who runs meetings? Do you have a blog? Do you have a large social media presence? Are you well respected amongst your family and/or friends? We’re all teachers. Learn something with the aim to teach it and teach something with the aim to learn. 

And remember, repetition is the mother of all learning. 

Institutional habits

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Beside your desk is probably a thick book of rules, procedures and best practices. There may be a section in there about company values and another about how to conduct a successful meeting.

But then, on the Slack channels, there’s something else happening.

Like it or not, realize it or not, culture is always taking place. It’s adapting, changing, and pivoting. You can’t aways control it, but you can influence it—through habits and routines.

The best companies in the world are run by employees who have developed healthy habits. They aren’t micro-managed, they aren’t machines, but they are trained on how to react to certain cues. Angry customer? They don’t panic, they rely on their training on how to deal with this kind of situation; and the habit of kindness kicks in. Leads aren’t coming in? That’s the trigger that refers them back to whatever acronym they were taught on how to increase traffic; and the habit of productivity takes over.

Dysfunctional organizations have habits, too. Habits that are the catalysts for toxic behavior and catastrophic events. Then some big wig steps in thinking he can change everything by promising more revenue and lower costs. And the race to the bottom continues.

Take a look at the organizations, teams, and institutions that have changed things around. They didn’t see a drastic transformation at first. It happened over time. They started with something simple, celebrated the moral victories and the small wins along the way, and, little by little, started to see bigger and bigger results.

Turns out, we too can see similar transformations when we focus on the simple habits.

Start small. Take it one habit at a time, then give it some time. You will hardly notice a difference. But then, one day, you’ll see that you are different.

Habits of execution

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There are some projects that require months of planning along with multiple prototypes and iterations of blueprints. Building a house, adjusting the infrastructure, launching a project—by all means, plan, and plan some more. The cost of finding out crucial information is layers deep.

But for most of us, most of the time, the cost of finding out is very cheap. It’s as simple as a call, text, or email. Yet, we overthink it. We have come to believe that we need to do more research, act more strategically, or gather more data before we can move forward. In reality, we just need to do the very thing that all of the planning usually leads up to in the beginning, rather than at the end.

Here’s the thing, the thickest playbook doesn’t win championships, execution does. And, champions don’t do extraordinary things, they do ordinary things faster than everyone else—i.e.—they have developed strong habits of execution which helps them react faster than everyone else.

That’s because, most of the time, it’s not physical, it’s mental. It’s about an adjustment here and there, then repeating that adjustment time and time again that make all the difference.

Professionals, too, realize this. They know that there is no such thing as an overnight success. It’s about the small habits we develop over the years that accumulate into great results. It’s about persistence and consistency.

So again, think to yourself: is it information you’re lacking? Or is it execution? Is it motivation you’re lacking? Or is it execution? Is it talent you’re lacking? Or is it execution?

You get the point. No matter your circumstance, ability, knowledge, resources, there’s always something you can tweak and improve upon. Streak enough of those good habits together, you just might make things interesting.

The next big thing

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You will hardly notice when it’s here.

It’s like learning a new language. Little by little, you learn a word here, a phrase there, and, before you know it, you can talk to people.

It’s like artificial intelligence. The improvements are so incremental that it won’t blow you away when it finally arrives in full-force.

What’s your next big thing? What steady enhancements are you making to get there?

A chance to find yourself

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Your work might not be what you think it is.

Because there’s more to work than what’s in the typical job description.

The furniture company might think that it’s job is to create furniture—go figure—but it’s more than that. It has a responsibility to influence and an obligation to connect. Same goes for Graphic Designers, Writers, Chefs, Teachers, Salesmen, the aim is the get the job done, the purpose is to do so with integrity, grit, and passion. Otherwise, there won’t be much meaning in your designs, people might not read what you write, your food will turn out bland, students may lose interest, and sales will go down.

The objective of work is given. It’s your job to provide results, complete a series of tasks in order to move the needle. This is important, but work involves more than that. And the results, too, should be more than that. There is value in the work itself. In how you do it, and it how it shapes you, changes you (if you let it).

To quote Joseph Conrad:
”I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”

The challenge, therefore, lies in defining what your work is, what it entails. Your job might be to answer some emails and jump on a few phones calls, but your work paints a larger picture. What masterpiece are you creating with your work? Why does it matter? How is it changing you?

On sharpening the saw

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You don’t just sit back and wish your way to a sharper saw.

Sharpening the saw still requires effort, training, and concentration.

It’s about taking calculated (and timely) breaks. Not merely taking time off, but effectively using your time off.

Try:
- Reading
- Blogging
- Meditating
- Serving
- Engaging in a conversation
- Working on your passion project
- Learning a new skill

If it sharpens your mind, develops your emotions, refines your process, increases your knowledge, makes you stronger, improves your health, your blades are probably getting sharper.

And, if they’re not getting sharper, they’re getting duller.

Sitzfleisch

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In english it means Staying Power.

Another word for it is perseverance.

It’s persisting at something over and over again for a long period of time. It takes courage, creativity, and determination. It’s the long game.

The Haitians would say: Deye mon, gen mon – Beyond mountains, there are mountains. For life isn’t about overcoming one obstacle to achieve one goal. It’s about many.

Whatever you want to call it, if you practice it, then keep practicing it, you will be all the better for it.

How to find a needle in a haystack

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We all have them. Needles we need to find. Haystacks to sort through.

For some of us, those needles are relationships, innovations, breakthroughs.

For others, those needles are goals, quotas, or projects. Whatever your needle is, there will come a time when you will need to find it in the most unfortunate circumstances, improbable scenarios, and unlikely obstacles.

Some will find their needles, others will not. The difference between finding what you are looking for, accomplishing what you set out to do and not, comes down to one word—persistence.

There is no such thing as an overnight success. The men, women, and organizations that have gone on to accomplish great things didn’t get there because they just happened upon ‘their needles’ in the thick of a ‘haystack,’ they got there because they were more persistent than everyone else.

Genius is often just persistence in disguise

Nikola Tesla spent a year in Thomas Edison’s lab during the invention of the lightbulb. He once grumbled that “if Edison needed to find a needle in a haystack, he would proceed at once to simply examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.”

Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes. That job you are looking for, that book you are writing, that deal you are closing, that mission are you embarking on, that person you are influencing, that thing you are learning—persist.

Work works—it’s simple, but not easy.

The thing that will set you apart from everyone else will be your ability to tolerate the difficulty and mundaneness that will certainly arise as you continue toward solving the problem in front of you.

Here’s something that helps me. I keep telling myself that ‘it’s supposed to be hard.’ So, settle in, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and double down your efforts on finding your needle in a haystack.

The CEO of you

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What would your approval rating be?

Chances are, not very good. How do you talk to yourself? How well are you managing your health? How much time are you wasting doing things that don’t matter? How much blame are you placing on others? How much ownership you are taking over yourself and what happens to you?

Are you constantly learning and developing your skills? Staying positive and encouraging yourself? Planning out your career path? Focusing on the daily objectives while keeping in mind your long-term vision?

—Like most employees expect from their CEOs?

You are the CEO of you. If you can’t manage yourself the way you expect to be managed, then what are you complaining about?

It starts with you. Managing is hard, and managing yourself is even harder. But it’s a worthy pursuit—for there are few things that are more important to learn.

What pushes you?

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Or, maybe the better question to ask is “what pulls you?”

There’s a quote I came across that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about over the past few days. It’s by Viktor Frankl, who happens to know a thing or two about motivations and aspirations:

“Man is pushed by drives. But he is pulled by values.” 

When a situation presents itself, you are free to either accept or reject a value that is being offered.

Are you being ruled? Or are you ruling?

Being acted upon? Or acting.

Without the right values, success is brief. Happiness is fleeting. Progression is stifled.

Here’s the thing, the most successful people I’ve ever heard of or met, aren’t very well-known people. And that’s how they like it! Sure, there are plenty that get recognized, but the greats will never credit their achievements to their own devises. The need to be praised and heard may drive some people to climb the ladder, but not these people. They are pulled by something more important, meaningful, and bigger than themselves.

If man is only being pushed by his desires, then he is a slave to circumstance. There also needs to be a pull—in the right direction—something else that provides context and perspective. Only then can man be truly free.

Make it about the work you do and why you do it. Choose principles over accolades. Check your drives and evaluate your values.

Your story

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It can be easy to have fear. To feel like you're an imposter for teaching something you’ve learned. But have you considered the opportunity cost? Who could you be helping that you aren’t because you’re afraid of rejection? What opportunities are you missing out on because you're not sure if people will listen? 

Powerful stories have an impact.

Plus, minus, equal

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If you are always the teacher, it means you are no longer progressing because you aren’t learning.

LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams—they all have coaches, lots of them. They are at the top their game but are in no way, shape, or form below having coaches to tweak their performance and help make them better.

Even if you are the mentor, find yourself a mentor.

Be a true student, meaning, be a sponge. Soak in the important stuff, filter out the not-so-useful stuff, and always be improving so that you are ready to take on the next challenge that comes your way.

To quote an excerpt from Ego is the Enemy:

“The mixed martial arts pioneer and multi-title champion Frank Shamrock has a system he trains fighters in that he calls plus, minus, and equal. Each fighter, to become great, he said, needs to have someone better that they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal that they can challenge themselves against.”

A real student is also a teacher. There is always knowledge you can pass down—which is also an effective way to learn. But never shy away from those that are similar in skill to you. That’s how you get better. And, no matter how good you get, you should always surround yourself with people who are better.

When ambition backfires

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We talk a lot about passion. How passion should be the driving force for everything we do. But plenty of people have fallen without getting up in the name of passion.

Passion will get you kicked out, force you to surrender, coerce you to make irrational, inaccurate decisions.

What you need is not passion, it’s purpose. For purpose is passion with principles, boundaries, if you will. Purpose will allow you to detach, work toward something bigger than yourself, gain the proper perspective.

Ambition is an incredible trait to have. Give me someone ambitious over someone who doesn’t care any day. But with unbridled ambition comes vulnerability. So watch your back, because if you are too aggressive, you leave yourself defenseless to a counterattack.

Shiny new toy

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The new opportunity presented to you before you get the chance to show what you can do.

The young up-and-comer taking on the veteran champion.

The impulsive purchase on an Instagram ad.

We've all been there. How quickly do we forget why we are doing what we are doing, why we have what we do, and how great things actually are.

There's a difference between contentment and complacency. Being content simply means being grateful for what we have and putting things in perspective. Being complacent, on the other hand, means not bothering about trying to make things better. It's the difference between improving your circumstances verses merely trying to get out of every difficult situation that comes your way. It's the difference between investing in things that work versus constantly searching for the next best thing.

Work and chatter

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Don’t confuse the two.

Some activities you’ll do will contribute to the work you do. But, unfortunately, most things will be chatter.

And, the only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.

Those plans you are creating, the website you’re working on, those emails you’re spending so much time on, those meetings and seminars you’re attending—chatter.

The other stuff no one else sees—work.