Jan 122013

sense of purpose

A Sense Of Purpose Is So Important, Especially During Tough Times

How important is it to have a sense of purpose in all that you do?  I would argue that it’s extremely important, especially during tough times.

What is a sense of purpose?  If you take a look at the definition of “purpose,” (see http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/purpose) you realize that it is a loaded word, with many potential meanings.  For the purposes of our discussion here, I’ll focus on the fifth definition:

         5.  The reason for which something is done, or the reason it is done in a particular way.

Other definitions and synonyms include such concepts as goals, intentions, and targets.  Here, I’d like to go for a higher sense of purpose.  While goals may be part of the picture, as we’re looking at it here, a sense of purpose takes it to a higher level.

Let’s look at an example of the difference between goals and a sense of purpose.

Example.  My wife and I decided we wanted to run a Tough Mudder (www.toughmudder.com) race together.  The race is usually a run somewhere between 11 and 12 miles, interrupted by roughly 25 military-style obstacles.

Our goals included:

1.)   Training sufficiently, so we would reduce the likelihood that we’d get injured during the race.

2.)   Finishing the race.  Finishing the race together.  Finishing the race in a certain amount of time.

3.)   Doing all the obstacles – not skipping any.

4.)   Helping others during the race.

5.)   Doing as well as the younger people in the race (other than the military folks and the top athletes).

Our corresponding sense of purpose included:

1.)   Staying in shape, in order to maintain a high overall level of health and fitness, in an effort to increase our longevity and our quality of life.

2.)   Enhancing our relationship and sharing an experience that we could always have in common.

3.)   Overcoming any fears we may have had, which would make us more confident in overcoming challenges in all areas of our lives.

4.)   Taking part in the camaraderie of the race, reinforcing our own contribution and our positive sense of the nature of human beings.

5.)   Showing our kids and ourselves that, to a large extent, age is a state of mind, and it is possible to be active and competitive throughout your life.

My wife and I have done several Tough Mudder and other challenging mud and endurance races together.  It’s been a great series of experiences, from which we’ve benefited in numerous ways.  I can assure you that if we did not have a sense of purpose, we would have been lucky to complete one such race.  In fact, we likely would have had a hard time even making it through the several months of intensive training that preceded each race.

I could say the same thing about many challenging experiences we’ve had in our lives.  I’ll bet that you can think of examples in your own life, where if you hadn’t had a sense of purpose, it’s likely that you would have quit somewhere along the way.

A clear sense of purpose gives us the ability to access our willpower on a level that simply is not available to most people who have no such sense of purpose.

I think there is a close connection between the idea of a sense of purpose and the common question, “what it your why”?  It gets closer to the core reason you do what you do, than do simple goals or ideas.  The real power comes when you are able to find your “why,” and back it up with goals that are specific and measurable.  Without a “why” or sense of purpose, it’s likely that, regardless of how precise and well-thought-out your goals may be, you will find it hard to persevere toward achieving them, especially when the inevitable tough times come along.

Set goals and monitor your progress toward achieving them.  But before you do so, make sure you have a sense of purpose for what you’re doing.  It’s not necessary that you fully understand that purpose(s), but at least have a sense of your “why”.  In my experience and observation, such an approach will greatly increase the likelihood that you will achieve your goals, and perhaps more importantly, that you will enjoy both the journey and destination.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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Apr 262012

push beyond

Want Extraordinary Results?  Push Beyond.

Achieving extraordinary results is not the domain of those who are not willing to leave their comfort zone; it is the territory of those who are willing to push beyond.

This means that just at the moment you feel like you cannot take any more, you need to reach deep inside and push beyond the pain you are feeling, assuming you can do so without causing any permanent damage.  Let me emphasize that qualification:  assuming you can do so without causing any permanent damage.

What does this mean in practicality?  Well, I do a lot of consulting and coaching in both business and in the sports world (particularly soccer), so I need to differentiate between those two worlds.  In the business world, pushing beyond typically means doing things that you’re not necessarily comfortable with, for example, making sales calls.  In the sports world, it usually means that just when you think that you cannot do any more (reps, distance, practice, etc.), you’ve usually arrived at the point where you’re in a position to learn and make true gains.  In both worlds, this must be done in the context of preserving both your physical and mental health.  Furthermore, you must learn to take responsibility for knowing yourself and recognizing when “a push beyond” may actually cause you serious and potentially permanent damage.  There’s often a fine line between making extraordinary gains and causing irreparable damage.  Top achievers learn to walk that line very carefully.

So why do I bring up this concept of pushing beyond?  In my own experience and in my observation of those whom I train and advise, it is only those who are willing to push the limits that truly accomplish extraordinary things.  Think about it.  If you are someone who is comfortable with just doing the minimum or doing what everyone else is willing to do, how can you expect to achieve extraordinary results?  By definition, anything that is extraordinary is not ordinary!  It cannot be achieved by ordinary means, except with a big dose of luck.  If you’re a high achiever, or aspire to be one, you cannot be content to let luck play too big a part in your success.  Rather, you must learn to take control of your own destiny, commit yourself to achieving the challenging goals you set, then be willing to push beyond when pain, fatigue and other issues such as fear of failure get in your way.  You have to commit to yourself that you will do whatever it takes, within reason, to make your goals a reality.

In soccer there’s a term you hear used frequently called “work rate”.  You’ll hear coaches and announcers say, “Her (or his) work rate is excellent”.  This means that the player is putting in a significant effort.  He or she is not standing around hoping that good things will happen.  Rather, they are being proactive and working hard to create opportunities for themselves and for their teammates and limit opportunities for the opposing team.  In other words, they are doing what they can to take control of their own destiny, in that game or practice, and by extension, in their career and their lives.  The same holds true in business.  A person’s work rate can have a profound effect on the ultimate success they achieve.  Granted, luck will always play some part, but the achiever does everything they can, in their power, to achieve the goals and results they are seeking.  This includes pushing beyond when things get tough.

How is your work rate?  Do you push beyond when the going gets tough?  Take an honest look at how you approach the endeavors that are important to you.  Make adjustments as necessary and I’m confident that you will begin to see results that are more in line with what you are hoping to achieve.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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Nov 152011
Unrealistic Deadlines

Image by NASA via commons.wikimedia.org

Unrealistic Deadlines – If You Really Want To Get Something Done

Let’s assume for a minute that you have a task you want to get done.  What is the most important step you can take to ensure you will get it done?  Set an unrealistic deadline and make sure there are consequences for not hitting it.

These days no one has time for anything.  You have to make time for those tasks that are most important.  How do you decide what to make time for?  You must prioritize, based on which tasks you think will make important contributions toward accomplishing your goals.  If you have not set goals, that’s another discussion.

Let’s think for a moment about how we as people without any extra time actually get anything done.  It’s useful to invoke a well-known example of extraordinary accomplishment, so we can learn from what drove the success in accomplishing the seemingly impossible.

Let’s look at the incredible story of Apollo 13.  Most have seen the movie or read the book.  Who can forget the horror when an oxygen tank exploded two days into the journey to the moon and caused numerous, some would say insurmountable, mechanical problems?  The explosion forced the crew to abort its lunar landing mission and try to find a safe way back to earth with the help of mission control.  The team encountered numerous deadlines and tight windows, based on the physical realities of trying to return the craft and its crew safely to earth.  Realities such as the need to jury-rig a repair to the failed carbon dioxide removal system made these deadlines life or death.  The composure of the crew and mission control and their ultimate success in returning the crew safely to earth were due to exceptional training and preparation, as well as the focus brought on by the reality that “failure was not an option”.

One of the challenges that we face in our day-to-day lives is that almost no one is regularly facing unrealistic deadlines and life-or-death realities such as those faced on the Apollo 13 mission.  Many of the realities confronted on that mission only occur for a very small percentage of the population, and even for them, only on a very infrequent basis.  So how do we summon the energy and focus that are unavoidable in an Apollo 13 scenario, but often nowhere to be found in the comparably ho-hum mundane activities of everyday life?

First, we must make sure that we have well-defined goals that actually matter to us.  They need to be our goals for ourselves and we must be passionate about them.  If they are someone else’s goals for us, or if they are goals that don’t get us fired up, we may be able to stay enthusiastic for a while, but typically that enthusiasm will not be sustainable.

Second, we must understand how to set our goals so we will achieve them.  The most useful construct for this that I have found and employed for myself and with clients is the S.M.A.R.T. approach.  That is, the goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive.  I have written in detail elsewhere about the S.M.A.R.T. approach, but the focus here is on the time-sensitive aspect – the “unrealistic” deadline.  In my experience, even if you get the other four pieces correct, if you don’t set a deadline and preferably one that motivates immediate and sustained action, the odds of accomplishing your goals diminish significantly.

Third, if we have the courage, we should make the deadline “unrealistic”.  In the case of Apollo 13, they had an unrealistic deadline thrust upon them.  They had no choice, it was either meet the deadlines and time-windows that they confronted, or the goal to bring the crew home safely would fail.  Even if the unrealistic deadlines are not thrust upon us though, we can choose to put them in place.  I have found that when you do this, it tends to galvanize the team, or even your own effort, if you’re working solo, and extraordinary achievements start to happen.  Instead of thinking about why something can’t be done and spending energy on coming up with excuses, all energy is focused on finding a solution, ASAP.

Fourth, make sure there are consequences for failure.  Again, in the case of the Apollo 13 mission, the consequences were clear and they were dramatic; failure meant the death of the crew and a major disaster for NASA.  Most of us are not facing such dramatic consequences in our day-to-day lives, but it is still possible to put into place meaningful consequences if deadlines are not met.  This again can help to increase focus and galvanize the efforts of those involved.

Finally, it helps to have a common enemy, and if one doesn’t exist, create one.  In the case of Apollo 13, the common enemy was lack of breathable air and potable water, among several other things.  In the case of the Manhattan Project, there was the prospect of Hitler and other malevolent forces running the world and wreaking massive destruction at will.  While the enemies we face may not be as drastic, they’re out there and history has proven that most teams and individual achievers can accomplish extraordinary things in the face of a common enemy.

So, do yourself a favor and make sure you set deadlines that you are not just interested in, but committed to meeting.  Make those deadlines aggressive, perhaps even unrealistic, and you are likely to see your accomplishments move from ordinary to extraordinary.  For achievers, unrealistic deadlines are friend, not foe.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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Aug 032011

Avoid Boredom. Challenge Yourself!

Why do people quit?  There’s a wide variety of reasons, of course, but in my experience, boredom is one of the biggest culprits!  Imagine that.  Many people, particularly top achievers, don’t end up quitting because it’s too hard; rather, they quit because it is too easy or too monotonous!

Most of the highest achieving people in my inner circle have illustrated this point to me time and time again, unknowingly.  I’d see them move from activity to activity, from challenge to challenge, relatively quickly.  When I’d ask them why, they’d tell me it was too hard, or simply, “I’ve found something more interesting to do”.

In my research for the book 10 Steps to Greatness:  The Super-achievers’ Little Handbook, which will be published shortly, I have interviewed dozens of top achievers, many internationally known, in a wide variety of fields, from sports, to music, nuclear physics, Special Forces, “big business,” and entrepreneurship.  One of the questions I always ask is regarding the biggest challenges the interviewee has faced in reaching the pinnacle of their field.  You guessed it:  “boredom” has come up more frequently than any other answer.

Remarkable isn’t it?  People who’ve arrived at the pinnacle of their profession often state that boredom is one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced.  How can that be?  With all the work they’ve had to put in to reach that level of accomplishment, it seems like boredom would be last on their list of major challenges, if it made the list at all!  However, as it turns out, the mind of even top achievers can quite easily become distracted and suffer from what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome“.  They are, after all, almost always extremely motivated people, so I guess it’s not surprising that they’re constantly seeking “new challenges”.

Here’s what differentiates the “greats” from the also-rans and the “mere mortals” in any particular field of endeavor:  rather than quitting or moving on to something else when they become bored in their chosen field, the “greats” are able to find “new challenges” in their own field.  Like most all super-achievers, they need relatively constant stimulation and new challenges undoubtedly provide such stimulation.  The difference is where the greats go to seek something new.

What I’ve found with the most accomplished people in my client and research base and in my circle of friends, is that they become very good at finding the “new,” in what for many would be “old”.  How do they do this?  They do it by becoming true students of their endeavor.  They study and are fascinated by every nuance of what they do.  If they’re a chessmaster, they’re constantly studying new board positions and combinations.  If they’re a CEO, they’re constantly observing, learning and setting new goals that push them to achieve more and stay focused.  If they are athletes, they’re always working to figure out how they can become faster, stronger, more focused and skilled in their sport.  They do all this passionately and often times, they develop such a love for their field of endeavor, that while they savior the victories, the trophies and/or the financial rewards, they realize that they’d do it all just for the fun of it.  The accolades and rewards are great, but they learn to truly love what they’re doing.

Once you truly develop a love for what you are doing, the sky is the limit.  You will find yourself accomplishing things you may never have thought possible.  You’ll find yourself reveling in the nuances, in the little details that to the untrained and unimpassioned eye, seem trivial or uninteresting.  You also will have greatly enhanced the likelihood that you will become a true “expert” in your field.  It is now relatively widely accepted that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach “expert” level in most any reasonably complex task or field.  That usually equates to between five and ten years, sometimes more, depending on the amount of time you are investing on average on a daily basis.  How could you ever expect to put in that kind of focused, deliberate effort on a sustained basis if you have not learned to love what you do?  You could force yourself, or be forced by someone else, I guess, but it sure would be a lot easier if you developed a passion for your field of endeavor and learned to find “new challenges” and nuances in that same field, rather than jumping from one domain to another.

Another key point is that it is OK to cross-train, whether it’s your mind or your body that you’re training and challenging, as long as you keep your primary focus on your chosen field.  I have found that it’s very important to complement a steady diet of business, entrepreneurial and intellectual challenges, for example, with tough physical challenges.  It helps greatly to keep one’s body healthy and to feel like you are regularly challenged physically.  In my case and those of many of my clients and the “greats” I have studied and worked with, overcoming physical challenges often greatly enhances the ability to perform even better on the business and intellectual tasks.

My latest big challenge is the “Tough Mudder” race.  You can check it out at www.ToughMudder.com.  It’s a ten to twelve mile run through a course with about 25 military-style obstacles.  It’s designed by British Special Forces and includes such fun obstacles as The Braveheart Challenge, Devil’s Beard, and Cliffhanger.  It is these types of challenges that get me fired up and get my blood flowing, which I find carries over to enhanced performance in all other aspects of my life.  What fires you up?  What will help you remain focused and impassioned, so you can avoid quitting and succumbing to boredom?  If you’re not sure, start looking, start trying to find “new challenges” and I’m confident that you’ll be amazed at the positive collateral effect it has on everything else you do.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin



Aug 012011

Why Perfectionism Is The Enemy

In the early stages of starting a business, or starting anything, for that matter, almost nothing goes according to plan.  For those of you who’ve ever started anything even a little bit complex, you understand where I’m coming from.  You can plan and prepare to your heart’s content, but there are always glitches and stumbling blocks that you have to overcome.  As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

This is where perfectionism and perfectionist tendencies come in.  What does a perfectionist do when everything is not perfect?  Do they have a meltdown?  Do they get discouraged and quit?  Do they never start in the first place, fearing that something may go wrong?  Any of the above can be expected of a perfectionist, of someone who has a strong need to control everything and to have it come out “perfectly”.

You can see where I’m going with this.  If you are a perfectionist, you will have a hard time starting things.  You will have a hard time making them run and watching them go sideways from time to time.  You will have a hard time finishing things, as you know they will never come out as perfectly as you want them to.  You will probably also have ulcers and many other negative side effects of requiring perfection of yourself and likely, of those around you as well.

Here’s what I’m NOT saying:  you should have low standards, then you’ll never be disappointed.  That is not even close to the point I am making.  I think you should have extremely HIGH standards for yourself and those around you.  I think you should do everything in your power to live up to those high standards and achieve more than the vast majority of the population.  But I DON’T think you should be a perfectionist.  Life does not have to be binary.  It does not have to be black and white.  There is a middle ground.

It is also extremely important to pick your battles wisely.  If you are starting or growing a business, or trying to achieve greatness in sports or any other endeavor, it is likely that you’ll confront dozens of different decisions and challenges each day.   These decisions and challenges are not “one size fits all” – they do not have equal importance and implications.  It is extremely important to look at each decision and challenge you face in context.  You must consider its potential impact on a micro and macro level, before you react.

Some issues and challenges you face WILL be extremely important.  Depending what your area of endeavor is, it’s not likely that they’ll be “life or death”, but in some cases they may be.  Whatever the case, you need to learn to maintain your poise and stay calm.  That is the only way that you can perform at your best.  When you run into stressful situations or those that invoke fear, use the G.A.M.E.S. Approach, which I’ve covered elsewhere and is based on techniques taught to the Navy SEALs to master extraordinarily challenging and stress-inducing scenarios.  It focuses on effective Goal-setting, Arousal Control, Mental Rehearsal, Endurance, and Self-talk.

Whatever approach you employ to overcome perfectionism, the first step is to recognize that you have an issue. From there, you can take a deep breath and each successive step should get a little easier.  Fear of failure should be less of an issue for you going forward.  You should become better at managing difficult situations and finishing what you start.  You should be less likely to let your perfectionist tendencies keep you from achieving all you’re capable of and from leading the less-stressful, happier existence you deserve.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin