Jun 032012
 
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dream big

Do You Remember When You Used To Dream Big?

I vividly remember when I used to talk with my friends and dream big as a little kid.  Didn’t we all do it?  We’d talk about the vision we had for our future and all the wonderful and exciting things we wanted to do in our lives.

As kids, we didn’t know what we were doing.  Vision boards were not part of our vocabulary.  We had no idea how to set goals in a way to increase the probability that we’d achieve them.  More importantly, no one had ever told us that we couldn’t do something.  The possibilities seemed limitless.  Those were exciting times that gave us a ton of hope for the future.

What happens to our ability to dream big as we mature into adulthood?  Why is it that so many of us go from the boundless enthusiasm of dreaming big as children to the cynical disappointment of “being realistic” and “accepting our limitations” as we become adults?

In all my experience in life, from business, to coaching and playing sports, to teaching and learning a wide variety of subjects, I have found that the ability to dream big is controlled by one person.  Can you guess who it is?  It’s me; just as your ability to dream big in your life is controlled by just one person – that’s you!

When I have found it hard to think big in my goal setting, it has always been because of limitations, usually mental in nature, that I have imposed on myself.  Now, those self-imposed limitations may have resulted from thoughts and doubts I allowed myself to have based on what other people had said or done.  But at the end of the day, the limitations were self-imposed!

I bet that if you take an honest look at times when you failed to dream big in your business or in your personal life, you can trace the reason(s) back to limitations you imposed on yourself.  How crazy is that?  You’re the one who has the ability to either give yourself permission to dream big or limit yourself from doing so.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s great news!

Here’s how I now approach the natural tendency to get into a rut and impose limitations on myself unnecessarily:

1.)        I regularly check in with myself to get a better handle on my state of mind.  I don’t simply go with the flow without frequently monitoring where I’m at mentally.

2.)        I give myself carte blanche (free reign) to think and dream big, regardless of whatever challenges I may be facing at any one time or experiences I’ve had in the past.

3.)        I set goals and I monitor my progress toward those goals.

4.)        I take “failures” as isolated and independent events and I try to learn everything I can from them, then I move on.

5.)        I encourage others in my life, whether they be clients, family members, partners, friends, or some mixture thereof, to dream big.  It is extremely rewarding to help others see and achieve their potential!

6.)        I reinforce with others and with myself that, as my brother once told me, “it’s better to aim high and hit medium, than it is to aim low and hit low”.  Don’t sell yourself short before ever getting out of the gate.

7.)        I pursue excellence in everything that I do, even in my slacking off sometimes (please don’t tell my kids)…

8.)        I work with a coach and/or mentor in all areas that matter the most to me.  I have found the perspective of those who’ve “been there and done that” to be invaluable in accelerating my progress and maintaining my sanity as I pursue my goals.

9.)        I fight off shiny object syndrome every day, many times a day.  I have found that I love to try new things, but I’ve also found that maintaining focus is absolutely key to achieving big dreams!

10.)     I maintain my individuality, but I embrace the opportunity to work in teams much more than I ever have in the past.  I have always been very self-reliant and determined, but I have found that I can have a much greater impact in all my endeavors if I am willing and able to work well with teams.  I also find that greater interaction with others stimulates my mind and pushes me to dream big and think more creatively.

I hope these ideas help you as you fight for your dreams and perhaps rekindle that kid-like spirit of dreaming without self-imposed limitations.

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

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Nov 152011
 
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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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

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Nov 032011
 
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Goal-setting - Where am I?

Goal-setting – Do You Know Where You Are?

A lot of times a coaching relationship will start with a goal-setting exercise.  This makes some sense, because if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know if you get there?  Goal-setting is necessary, but not sufficient.  In order to get started correctly, you MUST first know where you are!

What does it mean to know where you are?  In part that depends on what your goals are, which we’ll get to later, but fundamentally it’s about who you are and how you think.  For example, what are your core values?  Are you more individualistic, or are you more interested in the consensus of the group and the status quo?  Are you more cautious or are you comfortable being daring and making bold decisions without a lot of data?  Do you think mostly with your head or your heart?  The permutations are almost endless, but there are assessment instruments available that allow you to zero in on your core values, decision-making and communication style.

I have taken a variety of such instruments in my career and I’ve used several in my work with family businesses and other coaching and advisory clients.  Recently, I was introduced to a few of the tests developed and administered by Innermetrix.  I found these instruments to be some of the more helpful and informative ones I’ve used.  In particular, they allowed me to get a great deal of clarity around my profile as an entrepreneur and gave me insights into why coaching and helping people is so appealing to me.  In my opinion, such clarity is important and really acts a “starting point” in any discussion regarding your goals and the most effective and efficient path to achieving them.

Goal-setting - Do You Know Where You Are?

Per the diagram above, depending where you are starting from, the correct route to your objective or destination will vary significantly.  There is no one size fits all solution; what you should do and where you should go depends almost entirely on from where you are starting.  Think of a street map or GPS system; there is no way to get precise and optimal directions to your destination without first knowing your starting point!

So, at a fundamental level, you must know your starting point.  You must know your mindset.  At the next level up, which is the skills you’ve already developed that will help with your journey, you must also understand your starting point.  For example, if you want to take your soccer game to the next level and ultimately try to play professionally, you must follow a progression.  There is a fairly well worn path.  You must know your starting point on this path, before you can put together the optimal training program to follow the path as efficiently as possible.  Forgetting age for a moment and just talking about skills, let’s say that you do not yet know how to shoot, pass, and dribble effectively.  If that’s the case, you should develop proficiency in those areas before moving on to more complex aspects of the game, otherwise you will only ingrain your bad habits more deeply.  The same is true in business and almost any other endeavor.

This is not to say that everyone will take the same path, even if they have the same starting point.  Everyone’s path will be slightly, or very, different, depending on the individual, coaches and the particular endeavor.  However, it is key to learn the fundamentals first, then move on from there.  If you don’t, you may still make it to your goals, but it is likely to be a much less direct path, and in my experience and observation, your odds of making it at all are greatly diminished.

In summary, first understand where you are as a person.  Understand your own mind and how to make it work in your favor, rather than against you.  Next, understand the fundamentals of what it takes to excel at your endeavor, and where you stand in regard to development of those fundamentals.  Then, chart a path that takes into account your strengths and weaknesses, trying to maximize use of your strengths and minimize the harm of your weaknesses.  As you are on your way, monitor your progress.  Make sure you are practicing deliberately.  Be sure to incorporate feedback from your previous performance, in order to improve your future practice and performance.  This approach of “deliberate practice” will increase the probability that you get to your destination, and it is also likely to get you there more quickly.  Be patient though, as most research points to ten years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice as the typical amount necessary to become an expert at anything.  If becoming an expert is not your objective, then you will be able to get by with a shorter period of practice and learning.

It’s key that your goals excite you and get you fired up enough to tap into your willpower and stick with the journey for as long as it takes.  Don’t be another victim of shiny object syndrome.  Set goals that really matter to you and make sure you are committed to achieving them, so you will persevere through the inevitable challenges that arise when you are trying to achieve something worthwhile.

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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but we’ve had a few get caught up in the filter.

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Oct 112011
 
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The Biggest Challenges

The Biggest Challenges

Do the biggest challenges bring out the best in us?  As entrepreneurs, athletes, achievers, even just as “regular old human beings,” we usually have a choice what we focus on and how challenging we make our lives.  For some, it seems, the less challenges, the happier they are.  For others, including the crowd I like to be around, the more challenges, the happier they are.  Why the dramatic difference?  I’m not sure, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the focused and driven folks who can make a real difference in our world.  In my experience, entrepreneurs often “fit the bill,” at least those entrepreneurs who are looking to do something unique and special in their lives.  They seek out the biggest challenges they can find, then get to work on overcoming them.

I was reading a recent blog post from Guy Kawasaki about what he had learned from Steve Jobs.  One of his points was that “the biggest challenges beget best work”.  In my experience, this is absolutely correct.  In fact, as I’ve written elsewhere, I think it’s key that you don’t forget your next big goal either.  That is, not only should you have at least one big challenge you’re working on at any particular time, but you should also make sure you have the next one lined up on the horizon.  If you don’t, in my experience and observation, it’s too easy to get consumed by “shiny object syndrome” and jump on whatever the next great looking project is that may come along.  While this may be okay sometimes, it takes some luck for that “shiny object” to take you in the direction of your most important goals.  Why rely too much on luck, when you can be deliberate about taking on big challenges that you know will take you toward accomplishment of your most important goals?

Focusing on overcoming the biggest challenges also has the collateral benefit of preventing you from becoming bored, which in turn again helps to avoid Shiny Object Syndrome.  This is true whether you are working individually, or in a team.  In fact, in a team, in my experience, the benefits of focusing on a big challenge are magnified.  Not only does such a focus force everyone to “get on the same page,” it often has the collateral benefit of minimizing infighting and maximizing collaboration.  Rather than the constant, “my idea is better than yours,” which can be prevalent among bright, achieving people, a cooperative environment of “us against the enemy” (the big challenge), often ensues.  A related benefit of a big challenge, or series of big challenges, becoming the focus of the team, is that divisive personalities, of which there are always at least one or two in any decent-sized group, are often kept in line by the peer pressure of the team.  It becomes a “either you’re with us or you’re against us” mentality.

Can you create a “common enemy” in the form of the biggest challenge you can think of for yourself and your team?  Are you concerned that you or your team will not be up to the challenge?  My advice is to take the risk.  My bet is that you will be astonished by what you and your team, whether it’s in business, athletics, charity, or wherever, can accomplish with the help of the unifying focus a big challenge commands.  You may lose a person or two who are not up for the challenge, but my bet is that you will be shocked by some of the people who “step up”.  Your best contributions to overcoming the big challenge may come from the places you least expect, including from yourself!  What do you have to lose?  Give it a try.  Being ordinary and not at least trying to take on some big challenges is boring and unfulfilling.

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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Sep 182011
 
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Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

A question I get quite frequently is, “Can entrepreneurship be taught”?  It’s a tough question and the answer is highly dependent on how you define “entrepreneurship,” so let’s start there.  If you look in Webster’s dictionary online (http://www.merriam-webster.com), there is no separate definition for entrepreneurship, but here’s the definition you find for entrepreneur:

One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

Frankly, I find that definition a bit lacking, as it’s very dry and does not embody any of the spirit or mindset it takes to be an entrepreneur.

If you take a look at first the definition of entrepreneur on thefreedictionary.com it’s similarly unexciting and dry, but a bit further down there is another definition that is more in line with the way I think about entrepreneurship.  That definition is:

The owner or manager of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits.

This one appeals to me a bit more, because entrepreneurship is all about taking initiative, and the motivation for taking that initiative and assuming the related risks, is usually to make profits.

We could wordsmith the definitions of entrepreneur and entrepreneurship all day long, but the definition above should be sufficient to allow us to think more about the question at hand: Can entrepreneurship be taught?

The short preview of my opinion is that I believe certain aspects of running a business can be taught very well; however, the “entrepreneurial mindset” is difficult to teach and correspondingly tough to learn, but for the most part, it is possible.  In order to look at this aspect of the mindset a bit further, let’s review my list of the 5 Key Character Traits To Be Successful As An Entrepreneur.  Though I acknowledge that this is not an exhaustive list, in my opinion, the five key traits are as follows:

1.)  Perseverance

Having been in the entrepreneurship game for more than 30 years now, I have learned that, without a doubt, if you don’t have perseverance, you are highly unlikely to achieve any meaningful level of success as an entrepreneur.  Although you may plan and do your best to predict the future, I haven’t met anyone who can do that with 100% accuracy.  Therefore, there are going to be unforeseen challenges and you will need to persevere in order to overcome them.  The good news is that, like many of the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, this one can be learned — you don’t need to be born with it.

2.)  Goal Setting

I’m not sure this is one that I would always have included on this list, but over time, I have learned that the ability to set goals correctly, monitor progress toward those goals, adjust course as necessary, and make sure they are completed regardless of the obstacles you encounter, is critical to the success of most entrepreneurs.  The alternative is to not set goals, but where does that leave you?  As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.  Setting goals and keeping them on your radar on a regular basis can also help to keep you motivated and on track when times are tough.

3.)  Tolerate Uncertainty

One thing most successful entrepreneurs I know do very well is to tolerate uncertainty.  They are comfortable and very often stimulated in situations of uncertainty.  Unlike many other traits, this is one that may be difficult (but still possible) to learn — to some extent, you’re either born with it, or you’re not.  Those of you who have sought certainty and predictability in your careers and elsewhere in your lives may find it very challenging to be in the relatively chaotic world of entrepreneurship, particularly at the early stage of a venture.  In your case, you would be wise to associate yourself with others you know who perhaps have more of a tolerance for those situations, so you can lean on them a bit when the inevitable chaos and uncertainty arrive.  You may also want to take a role in the venture that allows you to deal with some of the tasks that are a bit more routine and predictable.

4.)  A Strong Desire to Succeed

Most of the great entrepreneurs I know have an extremely strong desire to be successful in everything they do.  They are usually quite competitive, sometimes to an annoying degree and sometimes regarding tasks that, at least on the surface, don’t seem very important.  This drive to succeed is what pushes them to be the pioneer, to take the proverbial arrows, while others are content to sit back and fall into a routine.  If you don’t have such a strong desire to succeed, this may be another one that is a bit difficult to learn — but I do think it’s possible.

5.)  Different Definition of Failure

Hardly any entrepreneurs in the history of time have achieved great success without a failure, usually many, many of them.  Sure, a few have done it, but some people have hit the lottery as well.  It happens, but it’s highly unusual.  Much more common among successful entrepreneurs, are stories of repeated failure — sometimes 10, 20 or more failures — then what appears to be a sudden success that came out of nowhere.  The reality is that it did not come out of nowhere; it came from the ability to learn and course-adjust, based on previous approaches that did not work.  As with achievement in most disciplines, mindset is everything as an entrepreneur.  This is best illustrated by a comment made by Thomas Edison, when someone asked him if he had failed on a particular experiment.  His response was to the effect, “no, I just eliminated another way that does not work.”

So, let’s take a look at each of these traits in a bit more depth at it relates to “teachability”.  In the case of perseverance, perhaps the most important trait, let’s say it can be learned but cannot be taught.  A coach or other third party may be able to help you push your way through difficult situations (i.e. persevere), but the drive to do so must come from inside.  Another person can teach you how to set goals correctly.  They can also teach you and encourage you to monitor your progress toward those goals and to course-correct along the way.  A third part cannot teach you to have a personality or mindset that tolerates uncertainty well, at least not easily.  Your risk and uncertainty tolerance is something you’ve developed over a lifetime, so it’s not easy to change.  It’s possible, but only with concerted effort and incremental progress, mainly on your part.  A coach or mentor can encourage you in this process, but the desire to change will need to come from within.  If you are to develop a strong desire to succeed, that too will have to come from within.  Again, outside parties can encourage you, however, the desire will have to come from you, and it will likely be based on how important your goals are to you.  You need to set goals that really get you “fired up”.  You can redefine your definition of failure and this is something that can be taught.  It may take some time, but it is vital to your success as an entrepreneur.  If you are going to look at every small bump in the road as a failure and allow it to cause you to get off track, rather than learning from it and moving on, entrepreneurship is going to be a very tough road for you.

In summary, in my opinion, many aspects of entrepreneurship, include some parts of the “entrepreneurial mindset” can be taught and learned.  For all aspects though, the desire to learn and continue becoming a better and more successful entrepreneur will need to come from within.  You will need the drive to succeed that leads to the willpower to overcome obstacles and “make it happen”.  If you don’t have, or can’t muster this drive and willpower, no amount of teaching or learning is likely to allow you to become a successful entrepreneur.

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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but we’ve had a few get caught up in the filter.

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Sep 032011
 
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Stay Focused – Stick To The “Main Path”

Ok, I’ll admit it – as someone who has a very broad range of interests, knowing how to stay focused, particularly early in my career, has at times been a challenge for me.  Probably like most of you who are “afflicted” with broad interests and a desire to learn as much as you can about each one, I don’t really feel as though I should apologize for this “affliction,” rather I remain keenly aware that I must keep it under control.  This requires the ability, and perhaps more importantly, a proven approach, to handle “shiny object syndrome” and stay on track.

While there are many ways to deal with shiny object syndrome and other external and internal factors that may cause you to lose focus, I have a particular metaphor that my brother taught me that has been very useful for me for over 20 years now.  For lack of a better name, I’ll call it the “Main Path Approach” to maintaining focus and perspective.

I still remember vividly exactly where I was when my brother explained the Main Path Approach to me.  I was still in high school and had just cooked up another far-fetched idea for what I intended to do immediately after graduating.  Honestly, I don’t recall exactly what it was, but most likely it involved flying or sailing to some far-away place and living off the land, or becoming a pirate, or something like that.  Those types of ideas occurred to me (more) frequently back then, and while my family largely tolerated them, they all had one clear goal in mind for what they wanted me to do:  go to college.

So on this particular day, I was with my brother, telling him about my latest idea.  He listened, said it sounded interesting, then explained to me the Main Path Approach, for which he also drew me the following diagram (roughly).

Main Path diagram

The idea, as you can see, is that you’re at some starting point and there’s a “Main Path” that you need to follow.  You can stray from the Main Path, but you must always return to it, so that you accomplish what I guess you could call your “Main Goal”.  In this case, as I mentioned, the Main Goal that he and the rest of my family had for me was going to and finishing college, which would then lead to my future.  In your particular case, at this point in your life, your Main Goal may be something entirely different than college – this example is just used for illustration purposes.

I think my favorite part of this diagram, at the time and to this very moment, was the little segments that go off the Main Path, then come back.  I loved the fact that they gave me license to try other things and still be a bit adventurous.  My brother and the rest of my family were smart enough and knew me well enough that if they pushed me to ONLY stay on the Main Path, it would cause me to go crazy and I would rebel.  I still feel that way to this day.  We have to give ourselves license to deviate from the Main Path, as long as it’s always with the knowledge that we’ll come back and accomplish our Main Goal.  For some people this “license” to deviate a bit is more important than it is for others.

What is your Main Goal at this time?  What should your Main Path look like?  If you have not done the goal-setting you need to determine the answers to these questions, I highly encourage you to do so.  If you don’t have a “Main Goal” (or Main Goals, if you so choose), it is very tough to determine what the Path should look like, and as a result, it’s highly likely that you will flounder or head down “rat holes,” from which you won’t know how or where to return.

P.S.  I’m not sure I ever thanked my brother for this diagram and metaphor, but just in case:  Thanks, Rob.  It’s been very useful to me, particularly in those times when I’ve known I got off the Main Path and needed to know which direction to head to get back.

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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com.

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Sep 022011
 
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When A Positive Attitude Isn’t Enough

I will start by saying I think it is very important to stay positive whenever possible!  Further, I think it’s always possible, but we’ll get to that later.  That said, I believe that “staying positive” can sometimes lead you to think that a positive attitude is, in and of itself, sufficient for success.  Your positivity (yes, it is a word!) can lull you into thinking that positivity alone will get you where you want to go.  It can look as though you’re brainwashed and it can become a vicious cycle that only breaks when some naysayer penetrates your positivity and compels you to take a look at results, which gives you a reality check on what your positive attitude has yielded.

Again, I want to clarify that I’m not a naysayer.  In fact, a good portion of my work, particularly in the area of coaching, has to do with helping clients stay positive and on track to achieve their goals.  The difference is that I like to work with what I like to call “reality-infused” positive thinking.  This involves staying optimistic about reaching goals, but meticulously tracking progress and making adjustments to ensure that you keep moving toward your objectives, in reality, not just in your positive thinking.  Such practice, where you set objectives, take action, get feedback, and then use that feedback to accelerate your progress toward your goals, is often referred to as “deliberate practice”.  It has been proven to be one of the most effective ways, if not the most effective way, to reach your objectives and even achieve “greatness” in your chosen endeavor.

So, a positive attitude, in and of itself, is usually not sufficient to allow you to reach your goals in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  Even so, maintaining a positive attitude is important in almost all achievement scenarios.  It’s therefore critical to understand how to maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of a great deal of potentially negative and stressful external input.  As I’ve written elsewhere in an article about the GAMES Approach to overcoming fears and managing extreme stress situations, the structured way to maintain your positivity consists of five elements.  As per an adaptation of the approach the NAVY Seals use in training to help recruits overcome extreme stress scenarios, such as the Underwater Pool Competency Test, those steps, in brief, are the following:

[G]oal-setting:  This involves creating very short-term and achievable goals, so that you are not overwhelmed by a bunch of extraneous thoughts and concerns and can remain focused on the task at hand.  So, for example in the case of the Underwater Pool Competency Test, when you were underwater and the instructor tangled your breathing apparatus, you wouldn’t think to yourself, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me next…”, or “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…”, or “I wonder how the candidate next to me is doing…”.  Rather, you would say to yourself, simply, my goal is to untangle these knots – nothing more and nothing less.  You would then say to yourself:  I will employ the knot untangling procedure we learned in training step-by-step.  Then you would execute step one, step two … etc.

[A]rousal Control:  This element focuses mainly on breathing.  Taking deeper breaths with longer exhales simulates the body’s relaxation response and helps to mitigate some of the effects that the Amygdala’s panic response can create.  So, in the Pool Competency example, when the instructor tied your hoses or pulled your mask off, rather than immediately starting to try to breathe rapidly (which you couldn’t anyway if what the instructor did interrupted the air supply), you would calm your mind with a decent exhale and then calmly get to work on accomplishing your goals and following procedures to address the issue, step-by-step.

[M]ental Rehearsal:  Often referred to as visualization, mental rehearsal involves running through in your mind whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, envisioning all the steps, then a calm reaction to any stress and ultimately, a successful outcome.  Mental rehearsal is seeing yourself doing it over and over again successfully, as if in a movie.  You can visualize the scenario from a first-person perspective, where you are seeing it through your eyes as you perform the actions, or from a third-person perspective, where it’s as if you are seeing it through the eyes of someone else who is watching you perform the task successfully.  You should visualize the scenario in as much detail as possible, so it looks and feels as realistic as possible.  There is a great deal of research out there that indicates that your mind has a hard time differentiating between a scenario vividly visualized and one that actually occurred.

[E]ndurance:  This element is a recognition that this pro-active approach to mastering the fear response and accomplishing your goals is not something that will happen quickly.  It is a war of attrition against your Amygdala’s fear response and against a host of other factors that can come between you and your objectives.  You will have to have a great deal of endurance and determination as you do as many iterations as necessary to overcome the obstacles you encounter in your particular endeavor.  You will need to commit to stay at it as long as necessary, bravely confronting and conquering the challenges you encounter, knowing that by doing so, you will greatly increase the probability of achieving greatness in your chosen endeavor.

[S]elf-talk:  As has been discussed and proven in many other contexts, the Navy SEAL commanders came to the realization that in becoming an effective Special Forces team member, what you say to yourself, particularly in times of stress, is very important.  You can say as many as 1,000 words to yourself in a minute, but at a minimum, you are likely to say several hundred words.  If you are filling your mind with negative thoughts, you don’t increase your chances of success; instead, you increase your probability of failure.  Discipline yourself to focus on positive self-talk.  Repeat encouraging phrases to yourself.  Find specific phrases or words that are particularly calming for you, or particularly motivating for you.  Use them constantly to prepare for scenarios and use them during scenarios that occur, in the “heat of the battle”.  Be your own best fan.  Be your own cheering section.  Again, this is not mindless positivity.  It is another tool in your toolbox to help you keep moving forward toward your goals.

I encourage you to add the GAMES Approach to your toolbox.  Use it in high-stress situations and calmer scenarios as well.  See it as just another weapon in your arsenal as you fight the battle to accomplish all your objectives.  Use the elements of the GAMES Approach to complement and enhance your overall positivity.  I am confident that if you do so, you will be amazed at the versatility of the elements of this approach.  If it works for you as it has for me and several of my clients and colleagues, you will be very pleased with how this approach allows you to maintain level-headedness even as you encounter exceptionally challenging obstacles and potentially fear-inducing situations en route to accomplishing your objectives.  Maintain your positive attitude, always, but enhance its strength with some or all of the elements of the GAMES Approach.

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

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com.

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Aug 282011
 
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Don’t Forget Your Next Big Goal

If you’ve taken the step to commit your goals to paper and track your progress toward them, don’t forget to put your next “big goal” on the horizon.

Have you ever accomplished a major (“big”) goal, celebrated a bit, and then felt completely lost, wondering what you were going to do next?  It’s happened to me a couple of times and I’ve seen it happen to my clients and colleagues as well.  In my experience “super-achievers” are the most susceptible to this phenomenon, as they are typically the ones who get so immersed in what they are doing that they often lose sight of everything else happening around them, including lining up their next big challenge.

The good news is that this situation can be relatively easily avoided if you are willing to be deliberate and “plan two big goals ahead”.   When I say plan two big goals ahead, I’m aware that in fact you may have dozens of smaller goals that support your “big goals” and I’m also aware that if we’re talking about long-term planning you may actually have more than two “big goals” that you’re working toward.  The two big goals I’m talking about are relatively short term in nature, say less than one year.  Please note that these goals can be for any part of your life, but they must be goals that really get you fired up, in order to be considered “big goals” and for this approach to work most effectively.  Let me give you an example for clarification.

An example in my case at present, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is that I’m preparing for a challenging race called Tough Mudder (www.ToughMudder.com) that will take place in three months.  It’s a twelve-mile “mud run” race with between 20 and 25 challenging military-style obstacles.  That’s a big goal and to do it well, it takes a lot of discipline and preparation in both strength training and aerobic work.  Because this “isn’t my first rodeo,” I’m aware that if I don’t put another race or challenge on the horizon after the Tough Mudder, it will be all too easy to breathe a big sigh of relief after the race, then not keep training to maintain the tip top shape I will have achieved in preparing for the race.  For this reason, I am putting a marathon on my calendar for three months after that race, and importantly, developing the detailed training schedule for that marathon now.  That way, right after completing one big goal, I will not feel lost; rather, I will be able to step directly into my training programming for the next big goal.  No confusion.  No excuses.

You can take this same approach with “big goals” that you establish in any area of your life.  As you can see from the example above, since one of the big benefits of this approach is being able to build on previous accomplishments, it’s beneficial if the “second big goal” in such a sequence leverages whatever you’ve been able to achieve in preparing for and completing the “first big goal”.  That said, there is no rule that says that you cannot have two or more “two big goal” sequences going simultaneously in different areas of your life.  The only limits really are your imagination, your willpower, and available time.

I strongly encourage you to start trying “two big goal” sequences in various area of your life, including in your business, and let me know how it works out.  In my own experience and that of my “super-achiever” clients and colleagues, I have seen this approach pay big dividends.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com.

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Aug 142011
 
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5 Tips To Stop Procrastination

Procrastination can be a real negative.  It can keep you from reaching your goals.  In fact, procrastination, by its very nature, can keep you from ever getting started.

So if we can agree that in most cases procrastination is something to be avoided, let’s talk about what you can do to overcome it.

Procrastination Ending Tip #1:  Break your goals down into smaller pieces

Break your goals down into smaller, more manageable chunks, so they are not intimidating to the point that they keep you from getting started.  For example, if you want be able to run a half marathon, don’t just simply put down “run half marathon” on your list of goals and leave it at that.  If you approach it that way, it’s likely that you will procrastinate endlessly and never even take one step in the direction of your goal.  However, if you break your half marathon goal down into a four-month schedule that tells you what you need to do each day, gradually building up the level of challenge, procrastination will be less likely to set in.

Procrastination Ending Tip #2:  Do the hardest stuff early in your day

Everyone has certain tasks that they dread doing.  It does not matter what your endeavor is.  It could be sports, business, or family activities – anything that you are committed to achieving.  Regardless of the particular goal we’re talking about, there will typically be some things you need to do that, to be kind, let’s say are “not your favorite”.  You know what they are.  If you’re a triathlete, maybe you love running and cycling, but could do without the swimming.  If you’re an entrepreneur, maybe you love all aspects of your business except cold calls.  You get the idea.  It does not matter what your least favorite activity is, or why.  My suggestion to you is that you do that activity, or those activities, first thing in the morning.  It will make it much harder for you to come up with excuses to delay doing it.  It will also give you a great sense of accomplishment to have it out of the way as you move through the rest of your day.  Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

Procrastination Ending Tip #3:  Overcome your fear of failure

In order to stop procrastinating, you must overcome your fear of “failure”.  The good news is that most of us live in a society that is very forgiving of mistakes and “failure”.  The examples of entrepreneurs, athletes, politicians and achievers from all walks of life who’ve “failed” dozens of times before doing something spectacular are numerous. Before you can overcome any tendency you may have to procrastinate, you must forget the traditional notion of failure.  Begin to think more like the famous inventor Edison, who said, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”.  If you are not making mistakes, you are not pushing your limits, and thus you are limiting what you can accomplish.  For many people, the fear of failure is what causes them to procrastinate constantly.  Do not be one of those people.  Being willing to take risks and stop procrastinating.

Procrastination Ending Tip #4:  Publicly commit to key goals with deadlines

One of the greatest ways to not get caught up in the inertia of procrastination is to publicly commit to certain goals and also commit to a deadline.  I’ve used this approach quite a bit and I’ve recommended it to many clients, usually with great results.  There is something about having publicly committed to doing something that forces us to dig down deep, stop procrastinating and make it happen.  The easiest goals to do this with are races (running, cycling, etc.).  They’re easier because they happen on a certain date and often the results are publicized, so anyone to whom you’ve committed can and probably will look up your race results on the internet.  It can work for other types of goals though too and if they’re things that are slightly more personal, you may just commit to them with a family member.  Better yet, if a family member or friend has similar goals, you can work toward them together and this will really help you overcome procrastination.  If your goals are business oriented, find another entrepreneur to buddy up with and you can help push each other and end potential procrastination.

Procrastination Ending Tip #5:  Set goals that truly motivate you

Not surprisingly, I’ve found that if you set goals that truly motivate you, you’ll find it easier to stop procrastinating.  If, on the other hand, you set goals that don’t really get you fired up, you will find it much easier to procrastinate and eventually, forget about those goals altogether.  Depending how you think, it may motivate you more to set super-challenging goals.  I know that’s the case with me.  I have to give myself goals that when I think about what it will be like to complete them, I can say to myself, “if you complete this, you will have done something great”.  It’s OK if the interim and smaller goals leading up to the “big goal” are not blockbusters, but for me at least, the final outcome has to be something extraordinary.  The way I look at it is that life is too short not to set extraordinary goals for yourself that will push you to do things that you can feel really good about.

So there you have it – 5 tips to overcome procrastination.  I’d love to hear your comments and other ideas for how to overcome procrastination.  Leave a comment below!

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com.

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Aug 072011
 
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Expand Your Horizons.  Climb Out Of That Rut.

When was the last time that you did something completely out of character for you, so you could expand your horizons and climb out of the rut you’re in?

For many of us, the answer may be, “I don’t really recall.  It was quite a while ago”.  If that’s the case for you, I encourage you to do something completely out of character today (not tomorrow, TODAY).

It’s amazing how the daily grind of activities can cause us to get into a rut that just seems to get deeper and deeper with time.  If you think of a rut as something that’s created by car or truck tires on a softer surface, for example, it’s not so tough to figure out why you’d get “stuck in a rut”.  Over time, the tires passing over the same path, in the same tracks, cause the rut to get deeper and deeper, until at some point, the rut becomes so deep that the wheels sink in to the level of the axles and you quite literally are “stuck in a rut”.

Unless you like having the same routine day-in and day-out, you may decide you want to get out of the rut.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everyone – as you know, some people prefer the predictability of the rut and have no desire to exit.  For others, particularly the achievers among us, being in a rut quickly grows old.  Boredom sets in relatively fast for achievers, so it’s very important to “keep it fresh and interesting”.

So if you don’t want to get stuck in a rut, what should you do?  Well, if we continue with the vehicle metaphor, the first thing you should do is avoid following the same tracks all the time.  You should be very deliberate in looking for other roads and routes to where you want to arrive.  But wait a minute, do you know where you want to go?  Have you set goals that get you fired up and motivate you to keep putting out your best effort?   If not, that may be another part of the explanation of why you’re in a rut – you simply don’t know where you’re going and the path of least resistance, which most likely is the one you’re already on, is the easiest one to follow.  Until you figure out where you’re trying to go, it may be tough to get out of your rut.  You will remain on, as some like to say, “the road to nowhere”.

Once you do have some goals and a target “destination,” I advise you to mix up your routine on a daily basis, not just once in a while.  Keep your activities fun and fresh, so you don’t grow bored, quit and move on to some other activity that you’ll likely tire of just as quickly.  If your goals require you to undertake a lot of mental challenges, seek physical challenges to counterbalance the potential monotony.  If your goals are more physical challenge oriented, seek mental diversion and challenges to counterbalance the physical.

Even once you find you have good balance of physical and mental challenges, try to make sure you incorporate activities that push you to operate on both sides of your brain.  If what you spend most of your time doing is logical and analytical, look for activities that stretch you on the creative side of your brain.  Take up painting, a musical instrument, or whatever it may be that allows you refuge and stimulation on the right side of your brain.  If you are primarily creative, force yourself to partake in some analytical challenges and activities.  I know it will be tough in the beginning, but based on my own experience and that of my clients, I can tell you that you will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts.  In fact, I think you will be shocked by how much better you feel to have escaped your rut and you may even be more surprised by a common collateral benefit of such diversification:  the strong positive impact it has on your dominant-brain-side activities.  That’s right; such diversification of activities will often make you even better at what you’re already good at!

Challenge yourself today.  If you can, do it right now.  Do something that’s completely out of character for you, especially something that makes you work the non-dominant side of your brain or that pushes you a bit physically.  Embrace the opportunity to climb out of that rut and explore new horizons!  Obviously, when you undertake any new activity, you’ll want to take it slowly in the beginning so you don’t hurt yourself, but you can build up gradually with time.  Go ahead.  Start right now if you can!

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

paul@CompanyFounder.com

www.CompanyFounder.com.

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