Spiral Staircases

I’m sitting in my basement trying to write.  My mind is blank.  It’s interesting how we can make something as simple as writing difficult.  Often we know the first logical action to take when working towards a goal, but for some reason don’t take it.

When I first sat down to write I had one goal.  Complete an article before getting up from my chair. I had a clear objective goal, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there.

What I did know, however, was the first logical action towards completing my goal.  The first step in writing a page is writing a sentence.  And from that first sentence I would be able to write a paragraph, which would eventually lead to me being able to write a whole page.

Here’s the way I see it.  Goals with clearly identifiable first actions, but unclear proceeding actions are a lot like spiral staircases.

It’s impossible to see the top until you start walking, but each step you take reveals another stair.  A similar process occurs in many goals.

It’s often impossible to fully understand the actions required to achieve your goals before you start taking action, but with each action you take you’ll gain more clarity on the steps required to achieve them.

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Compared To Who?

As human beings, it’s natural for us to compare ourselves to others.  The way we look, the way we walk, the way we talk, whatever.  I’m not sure you can consciously choose to stop comparing yourself to others nor am I sure it would even be beneficial to do so.

What I do know, however, is that you can decide who to compare yourself to.  Most people make this decision unconsciously and compare themselves to the average person.

But like most unconscious decisions, it’s not the best choice if you want to be successful.  If you compare yourself to the average person you’re setting yourself up for failure.

By comparing yourself to someone that’s 30 pounds overweight, just carrying an extra 10 pounds doesn’t seem so bad.  By comparing yourself to someone that’s depressed, being emotionally numb doesn’t seem so bad.  At least in comparison.

And that’s the problem.  By comparing yourself to average, the average person becomes your standard.  Mediocrity becomes acceptable.

Fortunately, there’s a much better approach to optimizing our natural inclination to compare ourselves to others.  And that’s comparing ourselves to the people we want to become.

At the NFL combine they don’t compare incoming rookies to the average person.  That wouldn’t make any sense.  Under that standard a wide receiver running a 5 second 40 yard dash would actually seem fast.

In reality, scouts compare draft prospects to successful NFL players because that’s the standard they expect their draft picks to meet.

Consequently, if you want to be a successful person you can’t compare yourself to the average person.  You have to compare yourself to the Albert Einstein’s, Steve Job’s, and Michael Jordan’s of the world.

Your work ethic may be light years ahead of the average employee, but comparing yourself to the greats allows you to puts thing and perspective and realize just how much better you could be doing.

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Never Miss Two Consecutive Days

Most habits are relatively easy to maintain if they’re done everyday.  However, because of the chaotic nature of life you’re going to occasionally miss a day.

Something I’ve noticed in my life is only getting off track for a single day isn’t a big deal.  It’s the second day that’s killer.

A couple years ago, when I first made the commitment to stop playing video games, I remember feeling upset with myself because I spent a whole day playing them.  It was especially painful because I had managed to avoid them for a couple weeks which was a HUGE accomplishment for me at the time.

But what followed was even more painful than breaking my initial promise.  I justified to myself that because I was only on day one it was ok to spend another day playing video games because I had no streak to protect.

And then it was alright to spend another day consumed by them.  And then just one more.  And before I knew it I was once again a full-fledged video game addict and had wasted another six months of my life.

It hurt to have lost so much time, but I eventually eliminated video games from my life and learned a valuable lesson.  NEVER miss two days in a row.

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Arbitrary Future Dates

It’s funny how every year people decide they’re going to start exercising January 1st.  They claim that starting January 1st they won’t eat a single serving of unhealthy food.

But almost everyone who begins a new diet on January 1st breaks their New Years resolution.  Why?

For one, they set goals that are initially too aggressive. Because willpower is a finite resource, they’re setting themselves up for failure.

But more than that, the reason they fail is because they set an arbitrary future date to begin forming new behaviors.

This alone almost guarantees they’ll fail.  If making a change in your life is truly important you won’t wait until tomorrow.

If you truly cared about changing something in your life you’d start working towards it now.

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The Right Thing Is A Must

The vast majority of times we know what we should do.  But often we just don’t do it.  And because we don’t like to admit being wrong, we find lame excuses to justify why we don’t do the right things.

It’s been said that we tend to get pretty much whatever we settle for.  Which is exactly why the right thing can’t be a “should.”  The right thing has to be a must or it’s never going to happen.

Change requires one of two things.  A situation so painful, that changing would actually be less painful.  Or a desired outcome where the potential gain is seen as being more important than the pain of change.

In other words, if you want to change something in your life, stagnation can no longer be an option.  You’ll never improve an area of your life until you get to the point where as difficult as doing the right thing may be, doing the wrong thing would be even more difficult.

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Quality Questions

One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned came from a speech by Tony Robbins.  In Tony’s speech he really emphasized the importance of the questions we ask ourselves.

Our brains create answers for whatever questions we ask them. The difference between successful people and average people, is successful people ask better questions. Successful people ask how instead of why.

Instead of asking, “Why can’t I do this?” and getting a demotivating answer of, “Because you’re not smart enough.” They ask, “How can I do this?” and inspire themselves with a plan of action.

It may seem like a trivial change, but often the only difference between average and successful people is in the quality of the questions they ask.

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Habits With One Percent Payoffs

It’s relatively easy to break habits when you’re certain they’re bad for you.  It becomes much more difficult, however, to break habits that are negative ninety-nine percent of the time, but occasionally produce positive results.

For example, many people are addicted to Reddit.  For every hundred articles you read there, ninety-nine may be a waste of time.

But, because there’s the one article that may have information applicable to your own life, it’s easy to spend an endless amount of hours mindlessly browsing.

The solution?  Consciously assess the benefits vs time invested for your habits.  If a habit isn’t the best possible use of your time, eliminate it.

And more importantly, consciously fill the void created by the elimination of that habit.  Otherwise you’ll end up with another less than optimal habit.

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Why Over Promise?

Most companies over promise and under deliver.  It’s not uncommon for a company claiming to have the world’s best customer service to take 2 weeks to answer their emails.

In my own life I recently promised my youtube subscribers I’d have my latest video up by Friday.  I figured it was a reasonable estimate, but it’s Saturday morning now and I still haven’t finished.

I’ve only mildly disappointed a handful of people, but in doing so I’ve started to change the way I make promises.

People were disappointed in me because I didn’t live up to my word.  If I would have said to expect the video sometime this weekend, they would have been satisfied because their expectations would have been met.

People don’t like when others break their promises.  However, they love when they’re promised something and the promiser over delivers.

It’s like a straight “A” student getting a “C” vs someone on the verge of dropping out getting a “C”.  Same results, but because of wildly different expectations, the reactions for the two will be completely different.

Instead of making promises to others you can’t live up to, why not set low expectations and pleasantly surprise them?

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More Hours vs Productive Hours

The obvious solution to getting more work done is working longer hours.  Simply working more hours, however, usually isn’t the best solution.

It’s been said the average employee only spends 25% of their time doing productive work.  In a 40 hour week that amounts to about 10 hours of productive work.

If an employee was to work for 50 hours each week they would complete 12.5 hours of productive work.  Better, but still less than desirable circumstances.

However, if that same employee was to continue working 40 hour weeks, but increase their productivity by just 10% they would complete 14 hours of productive work.

Thus saving an extra 10 hours per week for their personal lives and still doing an extra 1.5 hours of work vs their workaholic counterpart.

Putting in more hours can be effective in getting more work done, but often it’s more beneficial to look at how you work.

Doing either will help you get more done, but if you’re a real hustler, you’ll do both.

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Waiting For The Perfect Pitch

If a baseball player decided to wait until they got a perfect pitch to swing, they’d never swing.  They’d strike out.  Every single time.

It sounds like common sense, but most people live their lives in the exact same fashion.

They wait for the perfect opportunity.  An opportunity with no chance of failure.  But they’ll never find it.  There will never be a situation where every possible objection can be answered.

If you drift through life waiting for one to appear, you’re going to strike out too.

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