Tag Archives: personal development

What if Hope IS a Strategy

Merriam-Webster’s definition | https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope

They say “hope is not a strategy” but… what if it is?

Don’t get me wrong, it can’t be the only strategy; but what if it’s the beginning? What if it’s the starting point? Heck, what if it’s the main point?

Stay with me here. As I was thinking about my goals, I kept asking myself what my single, solitary main purpose in life actually was. What was the thing that was going to get me out of bed in the morning even when I didn’t want to? What was the thing that was going to help me push through when I wanted to pull back? What was my single, solitary purpose for being on this planet?

I’d been wrestling with trying to identify this for quite some time. But I was thinking of the way I coached others, the way I wanted to support my children, the thing that I wanted and craved most during my own challenging life events, it came to me: HOPE. Giving and being hungry for hope was everything. Not just a big thing, but the biggest of things.

Here’s why: when someone has hope, they set big goals because they believe though they may be challenging, they are doable. When someone has hope, they work to clarify their vision because they not only feel called to do the seemingly impossible, because they know there’s a way somehow. When someone has hope, they love better, they give more generously, they rebound more quickly when they stumble and they help others to do the same because part of hope is knowing that there’s more than enough room for everyone to thrive.

When I didn’t have hope, I didn’t want to put my goals out there because it felt like it was doomed before I even said them out loud. When I didn’t have hope, I scoffed when other people dared to dream big because it hurt too bad to see them doing the thing I couldn’t. When I didn’t have hope, I was jealous when people accomplished things I wanted because the “pie” felt fixed; if they won, then I lost.

You see, without hope we are the worst versions of ourselves, playing small, wishing others struggle, bemoaning others successes, inflating our own excuses and more.

But with hope, we are the best versions of ourselves, wanting to give generously, encourage sincerely, share our gifts, and keep plugging away even through the hard. With hope we truly shine in our own God-given way and genuinely want others to do the same.

Hope makes us better and hope produces endurance. Hope is a strategy.

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The Road(trip) to Vision

One of the people I admire most about his ability to create and maintain a clear vision about what he wants and where his business—our company—is going is our CEO, Dustin Hillis. He articulates the vision, he shares it appropriately, he generates enthusiasm around the vision from key-stakeholders and implementers, and no matter what, he maintains a “find a way, not an excuse[1]” mentality. You should have seen our company pivot in March of 2020 when the world seemed to be turned upside-down with no end in sight.

At any rate, I admit, I sometimes struggle with clarity of vision. It can be a challenge for me to not only to create a strong, specific vision but even more challenging to hold on to it through the bumps along the way. However, in working with a client yesterday and talking about vision, we had a little a-ha moment. A simple a-ha, but a powerful one nonetheless.

Your vision is really like the trip you want to take, allegorically, of course. For example, my family and I road-tripped from our old home in Salem, OR to our new home in North Fort Myers, FL. We had a final address in mind. We also had several planned stops along the way from Chicago, to Macomb, then to Nashville, and onto Orlando even before we made it to North Fort Myers.

Like any road trip, you may find your vision must have elements that are negotiable, malleable, and flexible, even if not by choice; while other parts are anchored and unwavering. Sometimes your hand becomes forced and you must call an audible—like that time our Suburban’s oil pump failed and we added an unexpected stop in Jackson, Michigan as we were forced to grab a hotel for a night to figure out what was wrong with our rig.

Other legs of your journey are unwavering—you are going to find a way to be there no matter what, even if it’s by tow truck which was how we unceremoniously arrived in Macomb. Sometimes you find that the metaphoric head-winds are in your favor and actually arrive ahead of schedule, like when we drove straight through what we planned as a three-day drive with multiple overnights, but the kids were doing so well in the car we kept going to make it to our first stop in Chicago inside of 36-hours.

What’s important with your vision journey is to be locked in and almost rigid when it comes to the components that are of significance. And at the same time, to be willing—almost expecting—to find a way around or through unexpected, unplanned redirections and blockages.

Several times on this eight week adventure we hit traffic; we crawled through construction zones; we even had to take a detour at least once. But none of these things meant we were cancelling the trip. Not one time, during these slow-downs did we even consider turning around and heading back. It simply meant, for us, that we had to navigate, to figure it out, to stay patient and to stay the course.

Ultimately, we knew the GPS would get us there even though neither my husband nor I had made this exact drive before. We knew that even if we veered off course, we had to tools to figure it out. We would find a way because we had to find a way. And so, too, with our vision. If it is one of true significance to us, turning back is not an option.

Slow down if you must. Detour if you must. But keep the destination in mind and continue driving.

[1] The Southwester Family of Company’s former Chairman of the Board, Spencer Hays, was known for saying “there are two times of people in this world, one that finds an excuse; and the other that finds a way. It doesn’t take guts, gumption or determination to find an excuse; anybody can locate one. It takes quality people to find a way over, under, around or right through any obstacle that stands in the way.”

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Upstream vs. Downstream Habits

Habit formation is my life-long quest. I wasn’t aware of it until my 20s when I was selling books with Southwestern Advantage and I was introduced to The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino (see it here on my Best Books list as well as many others that I consider life-changing).

One of his scrolls (lessons from the book) writes “I will form good habits and become their slave. And how will I accomplish this difficult feat? Through these scrolls it will be done, for each scroll contains a principle which will drive a bad habit from my life and replace it with one which will bring me closer to success.” Pretty powerful, isn’t it?

And at this point in my life, I had some habits; however, they weren’t really good habits. Now, lest you think I only have good habits today, let me fill you in on a dirty little secret: I still have habits to which I am a slave, but not in a good way as inferred by Og. Things like binge-watching too much TV, too much scrolling on social media, sloppy morning routines, allowing distractions to cannibalize my income-producing activities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

If the above doesn’t describe you whatsoever, feel free to stop reading here. But, if you, too, have found some habits have crept in that aren’t serving you, then continue on and perhaps I will shine a light on habit-knowledge that might be useful to you in the future.

We actually have two distinct categories of habits. We have Upstream Habits and we have Downstream Habits.

Upstream Habits make us better, but like rowing upstream, they require work, energy, and consistency. You can’t row for a little bit and then take a break without moving backwards. You can’t keep your ores in the water and not create drag. You must row; you must act; you must keep going no matter what.

Downstream Habits, are just as strong (heck, maybe even stronger) than upstream habits. But they require little to no work to form—yet, TONS of work to break—and they certainly don’t make you better in a particular area of your business or life. Sometimes they take hold, and begin moving us backward without us consciously recognizing it until we catch that we aren’t at a destination we had been hoping for.

They both work similarly in the sense that once something truly is a habit it will have a tendency to continue with the aid of momentum and get easier with the increased muscle mass you have built. Upstream Habits are much like riding your bike uphill where you have to peddle—yet, as you continue on your journey of becoming a cyclist, you may find that a hill that was once near-impossible is almost a breeze now—versus riding downhill which only requires steering but peddling is quite optional.

They both get easier. But only Downstream Habits happen are effortless and thoughtless. Upstream Habits will continue to require your conscious thought, recommitment to your decision, reinforcement of your belief-system, and daily discipline of your Upstream Action. That’s not up for debate.

The only question that remains is where do you want to go and what do you need to do to get there?

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How to use Visualization to get what you want

Visualization is critical in goal achieving.

Affirmations are important, journaling is important, planning and strategy are important. But visualization is critical.

In this video I explain how to incorporate visualization into your goal achieving strategy:

Visualization copy

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How to Win at Communicating: Why focusing on being right is wrong

win at communicatingWhen I work with teams and individuals on the problems they face with clients, bosses, employees (heck, even their own family members) ten times out of nine, said problems are rooted in communication malfunction. Frankly, humans are difficult. We are nuanced, unique beings with a complex make-up of rational and irrational thought; a mixed bag of 21st century adaptation and stone-age reflexes. And to make matters worse, communication (with other humans, specifically) is one thing many of us are never taught.

Think about the hours logged to get certified in a particular industry. Or the amount of time passed in a math class. Or training hours invested in order to understand a new client database. Strangely, even my graduate program—a regularly recognized school for business—didn’t include more than a passing reference to different communication styles. Collectively many hours have been accrued learning the what and the how of the objective areas of business. But what about the subjective ones?

Have you spent anywhere near as many hours understanding the what and how of an ideal conversation with an insubordinate team member who gets his job done superbly yet no one wants to work with him? Or what about the passive aggressive administrative assistant who finds ceaseless reasons to not complete important parts of his role? Or the aggressive sales person that just thinks she is persistent?

For our purposes here, I won’t go into why communication is important. Frankly, if you aren’t aware of the why, you might be part of the problem. Rather, for the next four parts I’ll share ideas for the rest of us who know why, but don’t yet have a mastery of how.

To begin, let’s focus on a central truth that we as individuals want to be right. Even the most benevolent of individuals has chosen such a path based on a belief that it is indeed the “right” one. Consequently, the things we communicate are based on scenarios as interpreted through our lens. Thus, when we focus on being right, it is only our interpretation of what is right. If the other person has a similar lens, no harm no foul. However, problems crop up when his lens differs and then we tell him something that is inconsistent with what he believes to be true.

My contention is that all problems—Every. Single. One—can be over-simplified back to the differences between my lens and your lens followed by me telling you my lens is right and yours is wrong in an ineffective way. What’s worse, is even if I am right, pursuing it in this fashion creates a conflict whereby you are unlikely to come over to my side. Again, complicated human emotion (pride, shame, rebellion, spite, etc.) get in the way of us getting to the right outcome.

Therefore, it’s much better to pursue the right outcome then it is to pursue being right. That simple shift allows us to keep perspective of the long game.  In order to do that, we must  focus on four simple themes: 1) Ask More Questions, 2) Nurture Your Nemesis, 3) Watch Your Words, and 4) Speak Their Language.


1) Ask More Questions

Simply put, if we asked around 10 times more questions of our colleagues (family members, bosses, direct reports, etc.) we would see a dramatic drop in hurt feelings, resentment, team disunity and distrust, and sabotage.  Try it.

My prognostication is that we don’t ask more questions for two key reasons. One, we don’t always know what to ask (a function of that lack of training in the area as previously described). And two, we don’t want to (sometimes out of laziness, feeling rushed, or fear that we might be wrong). Fortunately, it is within our personal control to address both.

Picture this scenario: Sue then manager needs to reprimand her employee, Tom, who made a bad call…again. Most bosses would call Tom into the office, slap his wrist if she wants to keep him, or put a note in his file if she is trying to get Tom out. But what’s gained by this? Tom likely either doesn’t care much for Sue or his work at this time; or he’s learned that her bark is worse than her bite so his behavior won’t likely change. But, Sue was right; Tom screwed up. However, Sue didn’t get the right outcome (Tom fixing his behavior, discovering why he is doing what he’s doing, figuring out if he wants to be a productive part of this organization).

What if instead Sue asked Tom:

  • Tom, would you help me understand your process for deciding to solve the problem the way you did?
  • What other alternatives did you consider?
  • Why did you choose this one over that?
  • What were you hoping would happen?
  • What did you learn from this situation?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How committed do you feel to the team?
  • What do you find gets in your way?
  • How would you like me to support you?
  • What should I expect from you going forward?

Do you think Sue would have more effectively engaged Tom with these questions than the aforementioned slap on the wrist or write-up in his file? Do you think Tom knows I have higher expectations of him now? Do these questions communicate that Sue cares? And do you think Tom is likely to be more thoughtful in his subsequent efforts? Hopefully yes to all four.

Likely your questions will be different but the idea is that you ask rather than tell. If Tom knows he messed up, Sue telling him doesn’t achieve anything. If Tom doesn’t know, Sue telling him will only reinforce his beliefs about her but it likely won’t change his opinion of himself or respect for/trust in her in any positive way.


2) Nurture Your Nemesis

In helping Tom achieve the right outcome, questioning only works if Sue nurtures Tom in the process.  If Tom feels as though he is before a firing squad, he will act accordingly and rebel (fight) or cower (flight).  Do either of these scenarios get Sue to the right outcome? Obviously, not.

Your mom was right when she told you how you said things mattered. Our tonality, body language, and empathy are critical here. If these don’t come easy to you, practice is essential. If you don’t care enough to incorporate these things, you likely aren’t getting lasting right outcomes from your people. You are missing opportunities for personal growth as well as for impacting (more specifically, you may be inhibiting) the growth of those around you.

Again, I doubt that if you are reading this that is the case. It’s more typically a case of howHow do you sound more empathetic and nurturing? How do you even practice a soft skill? To practice and thus develop sounding (and actually being) more empathetic, catch yourself talking to people you really care about when talking about something you really care about.  Listen to you volume, vocal inflections, cadence. Most likely it’s lower, slower, and more rhythmic as opposed to loud, fast, and unvarying.  Write out your questions and say them the way you would if you were saying them to that person whom you adore.

Practice being nurturing and asking questions in situations where there isn’t much as stake—like making dinner plans or talking to friends about unimportant issues.  If you don’t figure out how to find your nurturing voice when you don’t need it, you’ll never find it when you do.


3) Watch Your Words

Though I said your mom was right because tonality matters, she may have overemphasized that the what-you-say didn’t. Said differently, our words do matter.

Take the phrase “that’s not my job” or insert “our policy” or “my problem”; how does that make you feel when you hear those words? Even if (or especially when) delivered in a sing-songy voice.  Did your blood pressure just increase a few points? Were you jolted back to the last time you heard that?

Our words matter. They matter even when tonality is involved but especially when it isn’t so be extra careful with (read: avoid at all costs) sending emails in a difficult situations.

Some additional trigger words and phrases that I have heard recently and would encourage you to avoid are “interested in”, “what can I help you find?”, “you would love…”, and generally anything where you are assuming something about the other person instead of asking.

Rather than saying “are you interested in meeting about X?” ask “would you be open to talking about X?” “Interested in” implies a commitment, “open to” indicates that we are still exploring.

Rather than asking what you can help me find, for which I will most-definitely respond “just looking, thanks”  without hesitation, ask “for what occasion are you shopping today?” or “where you browsing for yourself or as a gift?” These questions make me think rather than give a knee-jerk, insincere response.

Rather than telling me how I would love your product (and make me feel trapped if I don’t), let me know people who have X,Y, Z problems love your product, but it’s okay if I don’t; then let me self-identify in my time.

Words matter. They matter especially when we are feeling frustrated, irritated, and annoyed. Yet, it’s when we are feeling that way that the right words are hardest to articulate. So again, practice your words when little is on the line.


4) Speak Their Language

In high school I went to France on a class trip. Madame Blanc assured us that speaking French is Paris was a must. But not to worry, once they heard our verbal skills, most Parisians (who knew better English than our lot) would jump in and rescue us in our native tongue. The Parisians weren’t looking for mastery; they were looking for an attempt.

It is my belief that the attempt is what most of us really want. A little effort. A bridge. The opportunity to meet in the middle and to see that you are as uncomfortable as I am.

When we only speak “our language” we rob people of helping us and seeing our vulnerable side. We also rob ourselves of growth and right outcomes. When I coach clients, our organization uses the Extended DISC model. It’s not a personality test, but rather a communication style assessment.

Each of us has a unique way in which we interpret the world. We have a preference as to how we get things done. And those interpretations and preferences can be summarized using two axes. The vertical axis defines if a person sees problems through the lens of tasks or people. For example, if the internet goes down in my organization, am I thinking of which boxes to cross of to get it fixed (call the IT company on record, notify the managers, call top clients)? Or am I concerning myself with the people-aspect (will this affect how people view us, which customers does this impact most, which employees will be best at smoothing over the issue?)

Neither is inherently right or inherently wrong and a well-functioning team needs all bases covered.

Similarly, the horizontal axis addresses my speed and degree of detail that most concerns me. Some people want the overview, the big picture, and tend to get bored with details. These are the “we’ll figure it out when we get there folks”. Then we have our “cross our Ts and dot our Is” crowd. The former usually makes quick decisions in the name of progress and momentum; the latter sees how ill-configured progress just creates more problems.

Again, both are right. And yet, neither are completely right.

If you’ve ever seen inherent friction between sales and operations departments, it is this communication breakdown at play. One group saying it must be done fast; the other saying it must be done right.

I had similar friction with an operations manager who was frequently sending back my contracts for revision and always irritated with me. It was mutual. The shift from disunity to a more united front began when I started calling her before submitting a contract. My approach was to communicate that I thought I did everything accurately, but would she help me by reviewing it just to be sure.

I chose to incorporate a question rather than a demand. My tonality was nurturing. I used words like “help” as not to sound ungrateful or that I wanted her to do it for me. And, by acknowledging that her communication style was exacting in detail and I wanted to do it by her standards, I was creating a metaphorical communication bridge between our very opposite styles. Best of all: it worked beautifully!

She was more helpful than ever. I was less irritated than ever. Contracts continued to flow in and occasionally she did do it for me (because it was her choice and not my demand).

The irony of the whole situation was that the actual process barely changed. The old way was: I sent her a contract. She looked it over. She called or emailed me disdainfully with my errors. I fixed them. I returned the contact.

The new way: I called her to let her know I was sending her a contract and asked her to kindly let me know if I missed anything “before I submitted it officially”. I sent her the contract. She looked it over. She called or emailed me with any errors (and sometimes fixed what could be fixed without me now that we were simpatico). If needed, I made corrections and returned the contract.

One phone call asking for help (me reaching across the aisle) led to her helping me where she could (her reaching across the aisle) and to both of us to enjoying and appreciating each other and our respective roles.

Because I desired the right outcome (office manager and me working more smoothly together while getting contracts submitted timely), I focused on what I needed to do to accomplish that. Rather than focusing on being right (“sales is my job, contracts is yours, do your job and let me do mine!”)

I don’t share this story to say “look at how I do it, I am awesome”. In fact, many more are the stories that I failed to take my own advice. But the laws of communication still stand whether or not I heed them. And other people believe they are right even when we know we are.

So next time you feel a tense situation coming to a head—or better, before any potentially tense situations—incorporate the immutable rules of 1) Ask More Questions, 2) Nurture Your Nemesis, 3) Watch Your Words, and 4) Speak Their Language.

My father-in-law once said “diplomacy is helping other people get your way.” No, sir, that’s just effective communication.



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Dance Like Everyone Is Watching

snap (1)My daughter had her first dance recital this weekend; she’s four. I loved watching her and all of the students get out on the big stage with the bright lights shining onto them, facing a huge crowd of over a thousand people. They danced their hearts out for us; well… some just stood there watching their classmates. And, some forgot their steps. Some were off-beat. But, all were perfect.

Yes, perfect.

Why? Because they were perfect for exactly where they were supposed to be with what they were supposed to know given their experience and training—or lack thereof—to date. Perfect for who they were and where they were.

Contrast that with my youth where, by the time I was jealous of all of my friends in sports and dance and theater, I was simultaneously too embarrassed to start from the beginning. I was all too aware of my clumsiness and awkwardness to submit myself to the torture that would be—GASP!—making a mistake.

There are many things I never started and to this day I regret robbing my younger self of those opportunities.

How often do we put too much pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection and not nearly enough pressure on ourselves to start? How often is the fear of learning something new greater than the joy of it? How often is our own stage fright robbing us of a standing ovation?

My daughter was one of the ones who danced a few seconds behind the more experienced girls. She didn’t care; in fact, I’m pretty sure she didn’t even notice. To her, it was about the experience and the experience was fun.

When I asked her if she wanted to dance again next season she responded with an emphatic grin and nod. She’s not painfully aware of missing her steps; she’s not self-conscious; she’s not afraid of starting. And if I have any influence, she will never learn those things.

It’s time we dance like everyone is watching. Time we get out there on the big stage, under the bright lights, in front of the big crowd. Because we’ll have a lot more fun than those who stayed home. And when we’re done, we might even be willing to do it all over again.

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She said ‘Yes’

I have this amazing opportunity in front of me. However, taking it means giving up one of the projects on which I am currently working—which I love. In fact, I love it so much when I was approached about this other opportunity I informed them that I likely wasn’t interested.

My personal philosophy has always, but especially lately, been to be a “yes-[wo]man”. I believe this so whole-heartedly because I’m convinced that our subconscious minds are constantly working on our behalf, in a Secret-y, Law of Attraction-esque way we are searching for the answers—and solutions—to our souls biggest dreams.

In doing that we are drawn to those solutions even though they don’t always present themselves as solutions. In fact, sometimes they present to us as problems, inconveniences and nuisances. Because of this trickery, I have a personal policy to always say ‘yes’.

(Note: I realize there are some people that can’t say ‘no’ and so they become pushovers bombarded and bogged-down with ‘yeses’, and while that is a problem, I think saying ‘no’ too frequently is a greater epidemic. In the case of the aforementioned, time-management, setting boundaries, and understanding that guilt is poison are the oft real issues but that’s a post for another day.)

So, because of my Policy of Yes, I was very upfront with my suitors that I am always open to having a conversation but that I wasn’t sure that I could take on both projects with adequate attention, therefore, I may not be the right person for them. If, on that basis, they wanted to continue the conversation, I would be delighted.

And the conversation was had.

I was actually very intrigued.  And because of some other factors in my life, it actually makes more sense than I would have given credence to two months earlier. Oh, and I’d be damn good at it.

However, I kept finding myself wallowing in this pit of sadness. Feeling like if I changed directions I failed. And if I stayed put I was shooting myself in the foot—the proverbial damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t.

But then something dawned on me. The other side of the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t coin is blessed-if-you-do, blessed-if-you-don’t. For the first time on this particular journey and maybe in my life, I realized that I really do win either way. This is literally—and I don’t use the word ‘literally’ lightly—a win-win!

I am still scared. Believe me. It’s scary but if we are not scared, we aren’t growing. And if we aren’t growing we aren’t helping ourselves or those around us. See, we need to be evolving, improving, enriching in order to help others do the same. Stagnation is death (think: bed sores, the slowest zebra in the pack, moss overtaking the pond—sorry for the imagery, I suppose I could have just said ‘literally’).

If you aren’t scared, you are comfortable; and comfortable people are rarely at the top, living their dream.

reaching_the_summit copyUpon this realization, I felt a huge sense of peace wash over me. In finding peace we are free to try our hardest and know it still might not work out but that we are better for the effort, improved for having the opportunity.

And if we win, what a blessing.

How are you blessed-if-you-do, blessed-if-you-don’t? Are you ready to be a ‘yes-[wo]man’?

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The 10-minute List

You can’t make more time–I’ve tried–but you can use the time you have a little bit better.

I’ve talked about Power Hours many times before. In my opinion, it’s the single best way to maintain a high level of consistent achievement. But how do you get their if you are falling into the procrastination doom-spiral?

I’m one of those people who tends to freeze when I feel overwhelmed. If something feels daunting, then better to take my mind off the problem altogether with mind-numbing social media or by binge-watching Netflix than to face and solve the problem. This is my nature, my default state.

This is a problem for me—or it can be if I don’t address it.

Well, now I have a new way to address it. Not so much new as in different, but new and improved. Like ketchup or something, it’s already kickass but it’s now kickass-ier, with real sugar or non-GMO tomatoes or whatever.

Back to making Power Hours more kickass-ier. As I have talked about before, I traditionally recommend Power Hours in three blocks of 20-minute segments, two times per day, for a total of six segments. This works for a lot of reasons I have mentioned so I won’t rehash.

The problem is it doesn’t work for the person, also like me sometimes, who is feeling overwhelmed, feeling like the goal is too big or frankly just not feeling like doing it.

(I know I shouldn’t admit that there are lots of times I just don’t feel like doing something.  I know there are people out there who haven’t had an out-of-discipline experience, but frankly, I’m not talking to those people—or if I am it’s to help them understand the people like me who don’t come perpetually disciplined. This is for the rest of the worthwhile, talented individuals who occasionally struggle with motivation, and those who lead them.)


Ya, dishes and laundry are the domestic hot-potato in my home. #Embarrassing

So, again, back to making Power Hours more kickass-ier. Here is my list, here is one sliver of one fraction of what I need to do today. I have been procrastinating on my taxes, well, for months now. I know it’s a job that’ll probably take me a couple hours. Laundry, that’s just a given at my house. There is never a time laundry doesn’t need to be done. The next three are for a consulting project I am working on; it’s a fairly substantial project about to take 50-plus hours. I have got about five in, and would likely leave the last 40 or so for the weekend before the deadline… if it weren’t for this trick.

  1. Set my phone timer for 10 minutes.
  2. Dive into starting whatever is first on the list—like a sprint. Go!
  3. Because it’s only 10 minutes, I start swiftly, like ripping off a Band-Aid knowing full-well the Band-Aid will be off soon enough and I can go back to Words with Friends. Just kidding. Sort-of.
  4. Timer goes off.
  5. I keep going because I am in the middle of something important.
  6. Often the task gets completed in its entirety (depending on the scope) and always I get further than I would have.
  7. Feel accomplishment. Relief. It’s over.
  8. Tackle the next thing on the list (BECAUSE IT’S ONLY FOR 10 MINUTES!)

That’s it.

No magic. No brain-surgery. No super-human powers or Spidey-sense required.

Just a list. A list of deconstructed issues I need to tackle. The key is two-fold:

  1. The list needs to be bigger than a simple task such as “call the plumber” because, at least in theory, that isn’t a multi-faceted issue to be addressed. Although, you will see, I do have “dishes” on my list, and there is nothing complex about that (i.e. empty the dishwasher, load it, and wash any that don’t fit) but I detest it enough that I can easily put it off for hours if I don’t address it formally. This isn’t a to-do list as much as it’s a list of issues to be addressed (and I assure you, in my house, dishes are issues). Just use your good sense, you know what’s an issue for you.
  2. Be willing to stop when your timer goes off. This is probably more important than the first point. It is in this willingness that the fear of starting disintegrates. It is in the fear disintegrating that we start. And it is in starting that we realize it’s not so bad and often-times keep going. But we must be okay with stopping. No pressure. No guilt.

That’s all that needs to be done: A list of important task somewhere between not-overly-simple and not-overly-complex and the acceptance of only subjecting yourself to that “horror” for 10-minutes. Allow the feeling of accomplishment sink in. Lather, rinse, repeat. Or don’t. But do bask in the feely-good-feelings of getting that list out of the way.

If you want to take it to the next level as I will with my “Tax” item, which obviously is more than a 10-minute endeavor (although I spent 20 or more), you can break it out further next time. So my list for tomorrow will say “Receipts”, “Donations”, “Mileage” as these are the next steps that I identified missing from my pile-o-taxes today. But headed into today, I didn’t even know what I had gathered and what was missing. And I wasn’t making any progress starting to look for it.

The 10-minute list trick gave me the motivation to start with the peace of knowing I could stop.

I believe that’s part of the psychology of procrastination and fear. We procrastinators build up in our heads—some based on reality, some not-so-much—the pain that doing something is going to cause. Scenarios like “It’s going to take forever”, “it’s so horrible” and the like pervade our consciousness until that’s all we can see making the whole project much more daunting than it really is.

That’s why the 10-minute rule works: because even the most wildly abusive torture can be endured for 10-minutes. And then usually in that time we realize it wasn’t that hard or horrible. And once we are at that point we are already victorious. Regardless of if it was or it wasn’t, we have accomplished more than we would have had we not started.

What’s been haunting the back of your mind for some weeks now? What tasks and goals can you chip away with today by using the 10-minute list?

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Are your words magic?

81cec8bd-7b86-42d2-877b-1972f9ad939bThe other day, with a cookie up for grabs, a family friend asked my precocious, four-year-old daughter what were the magic words. My daughter’s response: “bippity, boppity, boo!”

Not only is this a sign we watch too many princess movies, but it illustrates two salient points about human communication. One, the quality of the answers we get is directly proportionate to the quality (and relevance) of the questions we ask. And two, the answers given will largely depend on the perspective of the giver.

Let me talk first about quality. Quality is a funny word. What does it really mean—I mean really mean? I had a marketing professor who would shoot students the stink-eye if one were to refer to a brand as representing “quality”. Why? Because quality means many things to many people.

Quality, as found on Google, means “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something”.

Well what things? How Similar? How many degrees?

Because we can’t know, and because those value assessments are themselves assigned arbitrary weights, quality, then is arbitrary.

So much for quality questions, right?

Wrong. Because what we do know is that questions like “what can I help you find today” don’t bring a quality response. When someone asks you that at Macy’s or on the car lot what do you respond? Let me guess…wait for it… “Nothing, just looking, thanks”.

Was I close?

Questions that are tired, like the aforementioned; questions that are self-serving like “what would it take to get you into that car today?”; questions that are pushy, insincere or too leading are all the antithesis of quality.

Now that we know what quality isn’t, what could it be? We can start with the opposite; words like unassuming, sincere, mutually beneficial, unattached to the outcome, and truth-seeking are all solid.

But quality questions also sound different. Quality questions are direct. They have no blame or judgment in them. Quality questions have a purpose. Even the tone of a quality question is nurturing (but never patronizing) in nature, especially when discussing difficult, important or sensitive topics.

In the case of the fairy-godmother-incarnate, a better question may have been “how can you ask that using your manners?” In the case of the car lot, it might be “what kind of cars would you consider test-driving this afternoon?” or “you probably aren’t interested in test-driving anything today, are you?” That last one had a little jiu-jitsu thrown in for good measure, but you can see that they are both immediately disarming and different. They ask about the truth and don’t speak in cliché.

And how about perspective? In the car example, what is the prevailing perspective of a driver pulling into a car lot? Typically, it’s one of mistrust with a chaser of “hold-my-cards-close-to-the-vest”. The perspective of the buyer is “I’ve got to get you before you get me” and that paradigm serves no one. While we can’t change how the buyers look at something, we can change what they look at.

It reminds me of this visual to the right: are you showing someone the round end or are you showing them the curved side (which actually appears square)? Are you showing them what you want to show them or what they want to see? Are you asking questions in a way that’s comfortable for you or that works for the other party?

As my daughter is concerned, her experience of “magic words” extends exclusively to Cinderella, so of course she nailed it with her response. Are your clients, coworkers, employees, etc. not giving you the answers you want because they are hearing your words differently based on their unique perspective? Presumably, if you have any friction with any person for any reason, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’.

Knowing you can’t change what they hear, you must change what you say to be relevant and resonant to them. We can debate that “communication is a two-way street” and we would technically be correct. However, I am reminded of my favorite Dr. Phil-ism: “Do you want to be right or do you want to win?”

If winning the effective communication game (i.e.: earning respect, getting what you want—ethically, having followers who follow you by choice, so on and so forth) is your goal, then the onus is really on you  to change the picture you are presenting with each and every question you ask.

You see, words really are magic. But as my daughter taught me, which words will depend on who you are asking.

*Warning: No car salesmen were harmed in the writing of this article.

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You Suck! (But, I promise that’s a good thing)

pacifier copyI’m not athletic. I’ve never been. I can remember as a child being so paralyzed by fear of sucking, and thus getting made fun of, that I would never try anything remotely athletic—not even lessons to help me suck less.

Fear of sucking, and getting made fun of (even behind our backs) prevents us from stepping outside of our comfort zone.

And not leaving that zone prevents us from doing the thing that will help us get better—at anything.

Yes, it’s true. You suck. You suck at all of the things you haven’t done yet. And you can avoid sucking by not doing anything new.


You can suck. A lot. And suck really badly. Often. And you can do that until you don’t suck anymore at that particular thing. But then you will (or at least should) have new goals and dreams, at which you will suck. Again.

The lesson here is if you aren’t sucking at something, right now, then you aren’t shooting high enough. Your dreams aren’t big enough.

And if you don’t get over—or at least figure out how to ignore—the fear of sucking, you won’t go for anything bigger than what you already are. And well, that sucks.

So bask in your suckiness. Because if you suck at something, it means you are growing. It means you are going after what you really want. It means you are willing to stretch and be uncomfortable for a chance at something better.

And only then will you find a life that doesn’t suck.

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