Saturday, February 23, 2013

BBQ and the Sweet Taste of Quitting

quitting tastes delicious
Shortly before the Ravens and 49ers duked it out in what was to be a fairly memorable and amusing Super Bowl, I decided to go for a run. It was a good run for just getting going again (as I have been doing for the last couple of years). A warm day for early February in Denver. No wind. Streets nearly deserted. It was seven miles of easy cruising. Except for the goddam smell of barbecue. Everywhere. Barbecue.

Apparently, barbecue is the preferred meal of choice in Denver on Super Bowl Sunday. On more than one occasion during my run, I was more certain that I was about to knock on a door and solicit a meal from a complete stranger, than I was to actually finish the run. I'm pretty sure some delicious wafts of smoke physically tugged at my arm, quietly cajoling me to stop.

Quitting would have been much more than easy. It would have been glorious. If only the run had felt like the easy option.

Hard Work is Easy... When It's Easy

Years ago, I had considered myself a runner. As a rower in college, running was about pain and winning. Mostly about pain, because we didn't win a lot.

In the early pre-dawn hours, we'd jolt ourselves out of sleep and into a flat out sprint as soon as our vans lurched to a stop on the eastern edge of the Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Susquehanna River.

Heaven forbid any of us "lose" a warm-up run. I can still feel the burning in my lungs as the urgency and competitiveness of youth found my body's limits at the flip of a switch.
Pain wasn't like it is now. It wasn't something to suffer. It was something to celebrate. It was a right of passage. Feeling pain was proof of something-- manliness, I suppose. Which is what a young man wants to feel more than anything.

That being the case, eventually the bridge wasn't enough space with which to express our manliness, so some of us took to running the additional couple of miles from the bridge to our dock. Stupidly fast. Before practice. Running was always like that, as were circuit workouts, stairs, and of course, the rowing. Rowing is for experiencing pain, I'm now convinced. I even tore a muscle in my back. Cuz, you know. Can't be stopped!

But of course, pain we sought. And so one day, a few of us decided to just run the whole freakin' way from campus to the river. 16 miles. None of us had gone that far before. We made it, and we were fine, because we were 20 years old.

At that time, if me and my teammates were the hardest workers we knew, it surely had something to do with will, but more to do with chemistry. Quitting would have literally felt worse than pushing through the pain.

Getting Dosed on Dopamine

Dopamine is the secret to doing anything worthwhile. Ironically, it's the same thing that makes you want to do easy things, instead. Dopamine is your brain's way of saying, "Yes, please, let's do that again!" Every time you engage in a pleasing habit, eat something tasty or have a pleasurable experience of any kind, dopamine flooding your brain is what makes it feel so good.

Learning to find my physical limits-- and those of my college teammates-- was all about dopamine. It doesn't matter that it was wrapped in what might be considered "hard work." I didn't have some virtuous trait that helped me work hard, I had a compulsion. That compulsion led me to enter quite a few running races after college, including four marathons. I often decided that I hated running in the moments before a run. And then I'd go for hours, because I had to. You might say it felt too good to stop. That's what a strong habit does for you.
Being successful isn't about suffering pain and exercising willpower. It's about finding what feels good. It's about positive feedback loops.
Most hard tasks that we also consider important don't feel good while we're doing them. Unlike eating cake, sitting down on the couch with the remote control or fooling around on Facebook, important tasks don't usually elicit immediate gratification. They don't have a built-in positive feedback loop, like simple pleasures do. Engineered properly, however, they can.

Finding Your Feedback Loops 

I'm not 20 anymore, and I've been sorta busy with things like having a kid, selling a house and launching a start up. That makes running feel harder than it did. These days, the actual pain and physical discomfort easily override the positive feedback loop I experience by finishing a run. Such is the case with so many things, amiright? Here are a few simple ways to start building habits that suit you, without beating yourself up about them.

  1. Commit to one or two quick and easy habits you can do every day.
    Quick and easy. Say you want to blog more regularly (don't know anyone like that, do you?) schedule a daily task for yourself to jot down one new blog post idea each morning before you finish your coffee. It has to be that simple. Not one new post. One new idea. In order for the feedback loop to work, you have to make it short and satisfying. It can't be a hassle or dependent on other factors, either. If you can do it yourself in a few minutes, that makes it a good choice. 
  2. Pair your new task with a habit you already have.
    I mentioned coffee for a reason. You already score a dopamine hit with your coffee, so it's easier to pair another quick task with it that can tag along for the dompamine ride. Then some good ol' classical conditioning starts to happen. For example, you may start thinking of new posts while pouring your coffee, or even before your coffee while you're still in the shower. I so often spend time writing first thing in the morning, that I often have to put ideas into my smartphone when I'm going to bed.
  3. Schedule the task.
    An alarm goes off on my phone reminding me that even before I take my daughter to school, I want to spend some time on content and social media for my websites. Notice I used the term "want" not "should" or "need to." 
  4. Find ways to be accountable for your task.
    For better or worse, we humans are motivated by the fear of embarrassment. We don't want to look dumb or let others down. It's part of being a social creature. So use it for better, and instead of failing to start for fear of failure, ask for help. Commit to deliver on the task for others. Blog about it, tweet about it. Find a buddy. My dog lays on one hell of guilt trip when I neglect take him for a walk or jog, which suddenly makes my running challenge much more manageable.

Before long, you start looking for ways to expand your habits. I've been on a writing tear of late while also ramping up my mileage-- two activities that can feel especially things that feel boring, painful or otherwise unpleasant in the moment. And yet, they're becoming fun again. I find myself craving them.

I wrote a more in-depth article specifically about forming a blogging habit for the Search Engine People blog, where I'm a regular contributor. As someone who works in the content marketing and SEO field all day, producing more content is at the center of everything I do. I'd best be good at it.

It's stuff like that-- stuff that seems to take willpower-- that add up to make a difference in your day/week/month/year/life, which are the hardest habits to form. But those things are hard to do because they don't usually feel good while you're doing them, and something else you could be doing feels better. Like eating barbecue, instead of running.

If only you could figure out how to reliably do the hard things all the time. Dopamine is your answer. Find quick and easy feedback loops that feel good, and the habits you want will follow.

Do you have any habit-forming tips or tricks to share? Please let me know in the comments.

photo credits:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three-Step Success Part One: The Notebook

What is a good idea?

In the beginning, all ideas are just speculation. As someone finding your way in business (yes, bloggers and writers, you are "in business," too) you may have no shortage of ideas, but it's the good ones you're after. So, how do you know what path to take, what task list to start, what new project to develop? When do you know that someone else has a good idea you should copy, or tweak? Hmmm.

The irony of good ideas is that you never know when you have one; you only ever know when you had one.

That now famous and over-used business mantra, "fail faster!" is a recognition of this concept. The only way to break through to the things that work, and the results that bear out the validity of your idea, is to prove it with results. Try things to see what works. Stop doing the things that don't. Do more of the things that do work.

Indiscriminate effort, and grasping at any new and sexy idea that you come across isn't the way to go, of course. That's my main problem with the "fail faster" concept. For some, it seems to encourage them to damn the consequences, so long as action is being taken. While we romanticize this kind of hard-charging, fearless, short-memory attitude in business, it's not nearly as effective as most people think.

Would you accept that kind of attitude from your lawyer, your doctor, or your dentist?
Hey, Joe, you've got one heck of a cavity here. I'm thinking of trying something new-- tiny C4 explosive charges. I'm just gonna blow the s%!t out of your tooth and pop in a new porcelain one, mmmkay? It'll shave like 45 minutes off the process. Don't worry, I've got a lot more clients to work on if it turns out to be a bad idea. Fail faster, right? Let's do this!
We don't accept any kind of failure in many circumstances. But, when you're an employee at a large company and little is at stake when you fail, no one much cares because the costs are absorbed. You may be surprised to know that internal initiatives at companies fail at about the same rate as brand new businesses! That's right kids - somewhere north of 70%.

So, being that you're probably someone working on a blog or other self-directed venture of your own, do you have the time, the resources, the patience or-- let's face it, the self esteem-- to throw away about three quarters of all your efforts? You wouldn't willingly do that, of course, so I'll ask it another way:

Should a self-employed person try to fail faster?

No! As an individual, you aren't afforded the luxuries of being an employee, insulated from the consequences of your choices. There are no other business units that continue to turn over healthy profits, regardless what happens to yours. You ARE the business unit.

Granted, you can't simply decide to have good ideas from the start, as we've discussed. Good ideas are borne of experience, insight and creativity. They evolve, and those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. You've got to keep your thinking moving forward, by building upon what you learn and do every day. Jumping around in herky-jerky fashion like you're dancing the jive might look cool and burn a lot of calories, but it won't get you to the finish line of a marathon.

But how to you make sure you are on the right path? How do you keep "moving forward?" This is not where I tell you to make a plan. In fact, don't make a plan. I believe that you're already working hard, you've already got some kind of inertia going in one direction or another. You just have to figure out how to keep it going and speed it up.

Your Astonishingly Powerful Tip for the Day: Buy a Spiral Bound Notebook

It's for notes. All your notes. All day long. Don't go making a thing out of this, like going to a bookstore for some fancy-pants moleskin notepad, or spend hours finding and trying out iPad apps, or wondering what web app can sync with your phone and your PC and... No! Spend the whole one dollar a cheap notebook will cost you, or use an old one. My wife, a teacher, brings home half-used ones from school and I just tear out the used pages.

Why am I recommending this?

First, you need a reliable, fail-safe way to seamlessly jot down your ideas and whatever else you need to keep track of every day, the moment they occur. It's your go-to power tool for tracking whatever you think about, from simple tasks to bigger projects, to writing ideas, to idle speculation. I use browser extensions, phone apps and all that too, but nothing serves me like my notebook. It's part of my brain.

I got this habit from a CEO I worked with years ago. I loved my Treo (don't make fun of me) and how little I ever wrote down. He loved remembering everything. All the time. About every single meeting we had, about every priority, about every passing idea. He had no need to file or sync anything. Just flip backwards to the date, the subject at the top of the page, it doesn't matter. It's all right there.

Second, it shouldn't be ceremonial, or have a cosmetic or sophisticated appeal. Sounds strange, I know. If you respect that fancy little notebook, and you want it to memorialize your brilliance, or you just love an app because it isn't paper, you're not going to put everything in it, or you'll try organizing it and lose track of things in folders, tag schemes that fall apart, etc. As soon as you filter and organize what you put down, it loses it's value and you cheat yourself. Mine often sits on my desk, right under my elbows as I type, getting dog-eared and coffee-stained. I set it aside, then it finds it's way back because I write in it and refer to it so often. If you want to do some "journaling" go ahead, but don't do it in here.

Third, to improve both your thinking and your behavior, you have to see where you've been. You have to go back and look at all the things you did, and all the things that remain undone. You also have to connect ideas over time. So often, the germ of something brilliant was sown at some point in the past before you even knew it. The magic is in the doing, and if you erase your past, by failing to track your little daily doings, you keep starting over, wondering why you aren't making better progress.

Mining Your Past Intelligence

As you learn a little more about your field of work, the tendency for many is to toss out everything that came before. To me, that's like a scorched-earth approach to self-improvement. My business partner and I have a saying: We weren't stupid three weeks ago. Just because something we did or thought happened in the past, and we've learned more since then, doesn't mean we shouldn't have done it.

Every choice is an iterative step toward what comes next. Most steps are small, logical, not revelatory, yet I love "aha" moments. You might even say I live for them. Some are total bunk, and some are pretty good. (And I write them all down to revisit with fresh eyes on a regular basis.) However, without the benefit of the perspective that your daily efforts give you, chasing your new big ideas will undo everything you've done before. You weren't stupid before, so why discredit all your work?

Here's an example: While working in one online niche, my partner and I began to learn a lot about SEO and link building. Over the course of  many months, we discovered an unmet need in the SEO market, and we formulated a concept for a brand new business, based upon what we learned. It took us about six months to realize that we had already thought of the new business! We've since spun out two complementary businesses from the first.

Looking back a year ago, we feel like we were naive, shortsighted noobs, focused on that other niche, but based upon what we've learned, the first business is still alive and making money. It's not as cool, nor does it have the potential of our new projects, but so what? A dollar is still a dollar, no matter how "cool" the idea that earned it, when you thought of it, or why.

Practicing Accelerated Evolution

Evolution rarely occurs through dramatic leaps and bounds, but rather through tiny changes that may or may not prove beneficial in the long run. What proves beneficial? The changes that make some slight improvement in the current state. In biological terms, evolution improves the chances of an organism reproducing. In business, evolution improves the chances of a business existing for another week, month, year, or more.

Notice that evolution doesn't necessarily create the "best" of anything, nor does it need to. Evolution just helps create things that are a little better-- things that are "good enough."

To accelerate your own evolution in business, you need all the information you can get about your behavior, your business niche and your past activities. (Did you buy that notebook yet, or find one in a drawer?)

Next, you need to take a look at how your behaviors, tasks and ideas help you perform well in your niche.  Here's what I mean: what do you learn about yourself from reviewing all your jots and remembering each day that passed? What do you like doing? What do you hate doing? What makes you feel smart and powerful? What makes you feel stupid and inadequate? What do you want to do better? What do you wish could just go away?

That information is vitally important in helping you find ways to stay in the most effective mindset, and working on the kinds of things that resonate with you. Refer to my page on finding flow.

When you're fighting yourself, you aren't in flow, and that puts you at a disadvantage. You must find your "ecological niche," where you have the best chance of survival.

More on how to find your own flow in Part Two of this series.

Finally, you must correlate your activities to revenue. As you get better at taking action that suits you, and makes you more effective, and you learn how to operate from a position of strength, your entire reason for being in business boils down to making sure your efforts make you money.

How far removed are your choices from yielding actual dollar output? If that seems like a silly or challenging question, you probably don't have a business model, and you may not even be looking for one. You might be impossibly "busy" but doing exactly what? Maybe it's time to give that some real thought. This will be explained in Part Three. Appropriate business activities are always purposeful and contribute to the objective: revenue.

I don't care if you find that last thought to be cold or harmful to your spirit. You can join the 70% who never really learn what that means. Or, you can take that one next step to success: Buy the damn notebook and write everything in it. After a few days have passed, take a look back. Do you like what you see?

This is where you start.

Great blog, Mike. Well done.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Are Your Resolutions Dead Yet? (Let's Hope So)

It's about that time of year! I can feel it in the air.

The skies are grey, it's cold outside and miserable. Another Hallmark holiday will burden us with commercial contrivances that are supposed to represent love and romance-- a time when kids, single people, and those stuck in unfulfilling relationships needlessly question their own self worth (or otherwise strike out frantically to proclaim it). New gym memberships have lost their luster. Rather than get excited to work up another good sweat, would-be treadmill-marchers grimace at the thought of smelling and touching other people's sweat yet again. Taxes are coming due. Credit card charges from the holidays linger. Some of us are delighted by the outcome of the Super Bowl, most are not. My God, the dollars spent and the calories consumed-- how many more excuses do we need to do both of those things?

So much for the New Year and all that damned hope.

Listen, it's not the calendar's fault that late January and February generally suck more than any other time of year. (It's fact, people. Google "Blue Monday.") Blame it on the weather and the tilt of the earth's axis if you like, but what good is that going to do you? You've got s%!t to do.

Resolutions and the misguided ideas we have about ourselves and how we enact change - those are the real culprits. We pin our hopes on things: events, outcomes, ideas, fantasies. We wish and pray and try to do something called "manifesting" even though we don't really know what that is. We imagine. For all intents and purposes, we're just playing make believe.

Make believe is useful in childhood, when you roll-play situations you have yet to encounter and you're learning to be creative, exploring relationships, planning, trying ideas on for size. Make believe in adulthood is quite often just another form of self-deception, procrastination and inaction. It creates a rift in you.

When you set about concocting grand schemes for how this year will be different-- for how you will be different-- you're doing nothing more than indulging those parts of your brain that like to take breaks from the here-and-now and instead dabble in fiction.

Last month, I wrote "Progress is in the doing." I am not against the idea of goal setting, but goals do not cause outcomes. Actions do. Actions are the only thing that have ever created any outcome. Ever.

The problem for most people is that few goals and resolutions and commitments and whatever aren't realized as actions. That's the depressing part.

The gap between you and your imagined self is the thing you'll fixate on, more so than your accomplishments. So forget about ever having resolved to have made something different by now and instead, make some damn thing different! 

You can start by re-reading my previous post, if you haven't already, then get on with the smallest of possible choices you can make right now that would make you happier right now.

What have I been doing so far this year, you ask, that allows me to buck these ridiculous psychological trends? I'm minding the gap, which is to say that I don't put a lot of time or energy into trying to create something from nothing. I keep my ideas of myself based upon my actions. I don't have to impress myself, after all. I'm intimately familiar with who I am.

I've been busy in the doing. Building a new business has filled up my docket most days, and since that's my thing, well, I do enjoy it. More on that another time. Here are two specific examples of taking action and actually making progress, where resolutions and grander plans so often don't.

First, since I work at a computer all day, and as it is winter, my physical fitness is less than desirable. How can I combat those two things without making some wholesale change that won't last? I installed a pull up bar just feet from my desk. No purchase necessary. I used materials in my garage and now it's up. What could be a simpler workout routine than firing off some pull ups, push ups and crunches here in my office?

I don't have a plan figured out. I just super-set the three exercises from time to time. Even just 3 minutes at a shot feels pretty good. No gym costs, no commute time, no scheduling, no pressure. I am willing to bet that this small adjustment to my environment (coupled with more running as the weather improves) will have me in good shape this year. I might even end up in great shape.

Who am I? I am a person who stays in shape. I don't plan to, I just do it.

Could I be in better shape? Hey doubting gremlin jerk-face, what's with the question about the gap? Who cares? Stop staring into the abyss. It'll make you weak in the knees and forget to look at what actually matters to you here, now.

Second, I have boxes and boxes of papers "filed" away in my basement and attic. Lots of them are personal files, many are old business files and the rest are who knows what. Like all clutter, they are just thousands of postponed decisions in physical form. I want to be rid of them, but I'm not going to take days away from other priorities just to clear out stuff I don't need. What I can do is spend 5 or 10 minutes at a time, at least 5 days a week.

Who am I? I am a person who clears out clutter. I don't plan to, I just do it.

Am I organized? Am I clutter-free? No. So what if I never am? You're looking at the negative space again. In a year's time, those few minutes here and there turn into a whole work week of dedicated action. (It's math, dude.) More importantly than the result of removing unnecessary stuff that takes up physical and brain space, my habits become natural and easy. There isn't any will power in it, see? A fat hand full of papers come out of a box and voila! They disappear quicker and easier than I ever thought they would, which is exactly why they've sat around all this time-- my thinking about the magnitude had stopped my progress.

Chris Brogan wrote a succinct little bit about this just today. He starts by saying, "People judge us by the path they've seen us walk before." We do the exact same thing when evaluating ourselves. The easiest way to start giving yourself and others some other measure by which to perceive you, is to start taking different steps. You can't be that imagined self, until who you are today acts just a little bit more like him.

So go out and shoot low. Do less. Make it easy on yourself. Discover that there doesn't need to be any gap at all between you right now and who you could be. Just start making choices that require no leap of faith, or imagination. That false idol of a future you is distracting. Stop looking at it.

This is not sexy advice, but it's probably some of the best advice you'll get today.

Great blog, Mike. Well done.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bug Off, Shiny New New Year. I'm Busy

Yeah sure, start anew. Resolve, rededicate, recommit. Don't fool yourself. January 1st ain't got nothin' on any other day of the year. Worse, it's a trap you set for yourself.

I used to love the idea of that one right time to start that one great new habit that would deliver me to personal glory. You know all those mini start dates that are embedded in the calendar? The first of a month on a Sunday or Monday. The first day of spring or summer. The day after some slob-fest of a holiday. That's the day I will finally [start regularly doing that thing I keep not doing, or stop doing that thing I keep doing all the time].

Let's call it the 'start date fallacy.' Who really knows why people are drawn to it, even though it simply doesn't work. For whatever reason, people love to memorialize the moment when everything will (hopefully) change for the better. It's as if we want to write a narrative and package the whole thing up, but we never manage to finish the story (if we even start it). There isn't much use getting into all that except to point out that progress isn't made in grand declarations. Progress is in the doing.

If something is worth doing, it's worth doing today.

I've said before that I want to run at least one more marathon and I think I can break 3:00 hours. That's going to be a challenge. Without having picked a race or laid out a training plan, however, I do manage to get out and run from time to time, keeping myself in that frame of mind. That's what I can do today. It affords me the simple and undeniable realization that "I am a runner." I didn't consider myself a runner for some 5 years after stopping cold turkey following a great 13 mile run in the middle of summer. I was on track to hammer out a fast marathon that fall. Meh. Didn't have it in me.

Then one day I got some new shoes. I started jogging here and there. I even got in some hard runs. In fact, I'm rather proud of an 11 miler I did in November just because it was a nice day. I've been getting outside without any pressure to do anything in particular, and that is an end in and of itself. Even better, that kind of regular (though far from religious) practice put me in a position to clock an 8:30min/mile pace on my longest run in years. It was longer than I thought I could go and faster by a lot.

Have I followed that up with anything special? No, not yet. As a runner, I know I can. When I decide to, I will. In the meantime, burning 500 calories on a 4 mile jog is nothing to scoff at. I am a runner.

I don't know the day I bought those shoes to start again, or the day I got another new pair off the clearance rack last month. I do know that I am a runner again, and that didn't need a plan. It just needed me taking one small step at a time-- to put on the shoes and go. What difference does it make that I'm not in marathon shape yet? What difference does it make that I can't run three miles at my previous marathon pace? It doesn't. Not a bit. I am a runner. I can't become a runner in the future-- I have to have done it first.

Nothing worthwhile ever happens in the future.

Plans are abstract concepts. Actions are real. Results are, too. No one ever cares that someone intends to plant a tree, but we're all happy that people did plant them years ago. So if you focus your energy on the actions you decide to take now, you live in the time and space where things really happen-- where you get to enjoy the results. It's a place where you can relax in the shade of those trees you planted, instead of fretting over how big someone else's trees are and how it takes so much time and effort to get them.

If you're thinking about starting a new habit or setting a big goal, I do not recommend reading Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits stuff. His approach is such a production which, although it does work for some, and only sort of works for many more who keep buying his planners, it doesn't work for a great many people. The reason is, who you want to be isn't in the planning.

At any given moment, who you want to be is but one choice away and that's all there is to it. When you realize that, there are no hurdles, and no reason to start it all on one super-awesome day, after which everything will be different. Those days are imaginary. Yes, goals are important, but why set more goals for yourself if you keep stumbling on the daily doings?

Robert Maurer wrote a beautifully short and simple book called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. The central premise is that there is no unit of change that is too small. Rather, small changes work better than big changes, almost all the time. Over weeks, months and years, they really add up.

Instead of thinking about yourself in the future, think about yourself right now. What can you be happy about today? In the next five minutes? No one ever said it has to be a big deal, or a change you make forever. What is the smallest possible action you can take toward a desired outcome?

When you start sorting that out, making big plans seems kinda silly. What is there to plan if you're already deep in the doing? Like I said, "Bug off, shiny new New Year. I'm Busy."

Great blog, Mike. Well done.

Monday, August 22, 2011

When Inspiration Needs a Kick in the Pants: Create Your New Normal - Pile It On

I'm not one for feeling lost and and without any sort of creative spark for very long. As you might notice from the timing of this post, however, I haven't written in a few weeks. I've got my reasons, most significantly that my partner and I launched a second online start up. Yeah, I know. Well, if one start up is awesome, surely two are better, right?

Why in the world would we do that? We want faster results. Seriously. Faster results. By increasing our workload. It's worked for me in the past, and it's working well right now. Many of you who are fans of hyper-activity and absurdist comedies can probably relate to the idea that sometimes the only way to break out of a pattern (not really even a bad one, per se, but not the one you want) is to shock the system.

P90X followers (and really anyone who knows something about athletic performance) know that "muscle confusion" is the fastest, most efficient way to cause significant change in your body. You don't break plateaus and build muscle just by trying harder, you have to rig the game so that your muscles have no choice but to try harder, because they have no pattern to follow!

Full disclosure: I don't do P90x. I own it, but I don't bother with it. Maybe that'll change with this admission.

Your brain behaves the same way. When none of the typical solutions can be found to resolve the current, most pressing challenges, new ones have to be developed. For most people, it's an uncomfortable situation which they feel motivated to fix. That motivation is really the mind's attempt to re-balance, and reduce the stress to the system. Is stress always a bad thing? Heck no.

In sales parlance, the "pattern interrupt" is a powerful technique that can dramatically change the dynamics of a typical salesperson-prospect relationship. That's because, if the salesperson chooses to create a different kind of interaction-- one for which the prospect has no pattern template-- the salesperson gets to take control and take the prospect out of the comfort zone of his status quo. Little productive action happens in the status quo, and an effective sales person is simply helping the prospect come to terms with whether the status quo is really something he wants. If it is, good! If it isn't, let's get really clear on what should be done about it, and make a change.

That's the same kind of position we found ourselves in this month when we channeled our best Richard Branson and said, "Screw it. Let's do it." Things were going fine, but what use is fine?!

There is no getting your ducks in a row. There is no right time. Time runs out. So here we are, going nuts with two major projects picking up steam at the exact same moment. Oh, and did I mention that the first site is getting a complete overhaul? And that I hiked a 14er last weekend? And that I am now an assistant high school girl's volleyball coach? And that I have new consulting offers? There's more, but you get the idea.

I do love the word "absurd" when it comes to describing my approach to work. Something about over-the-top action seems to push me. I even recall back in college, one of my best academic semesters happened while I juggled an over-loaded class schedule, a hard-ass rowing season, a 20 hour schedule at my on-campus job and a crazy ill-fated relationship. Was I under stress? Certainly. Was that bad for me? Not at all.

People are so often worried about balance and productivity and getting shit done that they can't imagine purposefully creating a situation that is harder than the status quo, when sometimes, that is exactly what they should do. Their patterns aren't working for them. They gotta shock the system. They have to find a new kind of balance, a new kind of status quo. One in which they are awesome.

In a guest post at I argue that trying to fix the stress and productivity problem by working on productivity is a losing battle. You have to find the balance first. But I don't mean go get quiet and sort it all out. I mean find your way right now, with all that you have to do and if that doesn't work, add 10 things to your plate!

Necessity is the mother of invention. If you think you can tweak your way to more productivity and inspired action, you can't. You have to dive in and force yourself to find the balance, the quiet in the eye of the storm, or as David Allen says, the "mind like water."

As a small business and franchise trainer, I always said that if you can't figure out how to build your business when you're busy, you'll never grow your business, because you don't know how to stay busy!

Now get busy! It's the only way you're going to figure it out.

Great blog, Mike. Well done.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Does Anyone Snowboard in July?

Just like the beach, only with boots.
Snowboarding in the summer is kind of absurd. Or completely absurd, depending on your perspective. Besides the fact there are seldom good opportunities to do it (even in Colorado's backcountry), it's far from what anyone would call ideal. Nary a boarder or skier ever used the word "epic" when talking about sliding down a mountain on snow that is euphemistically referred to as spring conditions.

First, it's hot. Direct sun at more than two miles high on top of a blinding white smear is not the least bit forgiving. Barring a breeze, you might as well be in an Easy-Bake oven.

Second, the solar radiation that turns your layers of clothing into a humid hell-jacket will gladly fry your exposed skin to bacon before you get off the lift. What to wear other than spf 150?

Third, while the mountain isn't exactly swarming with people, the one big fat (and sometimes sidewalk-narrow) strip of mush from the top to the bottom is jammed to capacity. High traffic spots grow slush pits that swallow unsuspecting passersby, usually face first. Moguls hide small children.

Fourth, it's still white, but the slush under your plank isn't snow anymore. It's... sno. As in, sno cone. It'll soak you like a sponge if you touch it for too long, or cut you to shreds, lest you touch down a finger in a turn.

So why the heck do people do it? Why did I do it? Why were we all there at A-Basin grinning like little kids on Christmas morning and refusing to complain about any of these things? Because it was awesome.

In that short sliver of time, we all knew that we were lucky. We weren't supposed to be there. This wasn't supposed to be happening. So rather than obsessing with the "perfection" of it all, and finding things to nit pick and opine about, as we Americans are wont to do, there was a collective, unspoken understanding:
Enjoy yourself. Bask in it. If you have anything else to say that isn't about expressing your appreciation for this completely self-indulgent departure from the work week, the summer routine, the hemisphere, then you don't belong here.
I don't believe I've ever spent time among a happier group of strangers. Like a lot of people, I beat myself up on that mountain, not being in the right kind of shape for it, struggling with the sun and the heat, and generally working hard to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the day, like water from my gloves.

Mmmm. Leftover Risotto w/ mushrooms and asparagus.
It was just so much fun to be doing something that I didn't expect to be doing again until sometime in November or December. Perhaps it was also fun because I knew that only some tiny fraction of a percent of people ever do snowboard in July.

I'm not one to blast out a dozen runs in a day, but on this day, I ate on the lift and made sure that my legs were toast by the time I returned to my car.

On the drive home, I got to thinking. The pure enjoyment of that experience didn't have a whole lot to do with the environmental factors. (For reference, please review paragraphs one thru five above.) Sure it was unique, but it kinda sucked. There are a lot of fun things to do in Colorado this time of year, and summer snowboarding ain't got nothin' on a powder day. In fact, if I had gotten out on more powder days in this year of record-breaking snow fall, perhaps I would've scoffed at trying to snag just one more day on the mountain. And that's when I realized what I already knew:

Being at choice makes everything better. No one to blame, nothing to critique, no "if only," or "I should've," or "I just wish..." You choose your mental state, not your surroundings. Emotions are reactions to our thoughts, and when our thoughts and actions are aligned, it's a whole lot easier to be happy. What else should we be? We're wired to be happy, but we find new and ingenious ways to engineer it out of our daily experience every chance we get. Everyone chose to be on that mountain, and so everyone chose to be happy about it. We all have the same opportunities in everyday life, to choose our attitude and focus, but we get distracted and allow ourselves to be pushed around by circumstances.

Which goes back to my take on flow. Flow is natural. It's what happens when you do what comes naturally, when you aren't fighting yourself, your choice isn't forced, your mind and body are "all in" at the same time. Doesn't matter how challenging the situation is. It feels easy, fun, meditative, consuming... Like all those people on the mountain, finding their own moments of joy, I migrated to that strange place to do those strange things just to find me some flow. I couldn't control the environment, but I went out of my way to be there, and I loved it.

Lucky for me, I know when and where to find it in places other than snowy mountains in July, and I do so often. Like right here, writing this blog. Sharing some insight that matters to me. Developing new business strategy, marketing strategy, having challenging conversations, engaging people, prompting change. That's what comes naturally to me, in work anyway. When that's my focus, that's my focus. Can't stop it. Can't bottle it up. Like water flowing down hill.

When and where to you find flow? And what are you doing to get more of it? Seriously, try it. Life is easier that way.

Great blog, Mike. Well done.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Love Gary Vaynerchuk, and So Does He

Gary V courtesy
Just watched his TED talk. Yeah, so it's a few years old. Still good. Check it out here.

Doing what you love is an old and tired piece of advice. People are sick of hearing it. I get sick of hearing it. Until someone like Gary breathes new life into the idea by being so honest about who he is and what that means to his business: everything.

If you don't know Gary, Wine Library TV, now, is what made him famous in wine. His other site, is where he gets to be the social media and marketing guru that he's become. Both are worth your time, if you care at all about wine or social media. Don't care about either? He's a fun guy anyway.

The real issue about doing what you love isn't so much about being happy and blissful and all that stuff. It's about finding the things that drive you harder than anything else will. Things that allow you to be as open and honest and creative as you can be. Things that differentiate you. Things in yourself that turn what's difficult into something much easier. You've really gotta own it, whatever the hell "it" is.

That doesn't just mean you have to know yourself. You have to love yourself, too. This isn't goofy new-ageness. This is necessary.

Self-doubt, self-loathing, self-consciousness do nothing for you. Not ever. Being who you are, without apology will get you further than any of those mutinous "instincts." It's just too damn hard to be your best when you have to fight yourself. Is anything but your best good enough anymore? Not usually.

Just stop apologizing and let that load off your shoulders. You have enough to do.

Great blog, Mike. Well done.
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