May 272017

How To Get Lucky In Business And In Life

Do you know many people who you’d consider to be lucky in business? In life? Would you consider yourself a lucky person?

What is luck anyway? The first definition of luck in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows:

A force that brings good fortune or adversity. For example, luck was a big factor in the outcome.

If you look back at the best things that have happened to you in your business and your life, how important was luck in the outcome?

When I think back on the best things that have happened to me in my business and my life, it was always one part luck and one part (at least) my initiative.

For example, when I applied to college, I was lucky enough to be awarded several scholarships that led me on a different path in life than I otherwise would have taken. I was lucky in that regard (I say “lucky” because I was a mediocre student in high school), but had I not applied to the particular college I ended up attending, luck would not have had a chance to intervene with the scholarship awards I mentioned.

In business, a particular deal where I received a sizable fee was one that we stumbled upon in a conversation with a prospective client in a completely different market! So, luck was involved, but had we not taken the initiative to meet with this prospective client, and perhaps more importantly, had we not recognized the potential of this other deal and pursued it, we would not have received the large success fee we received.

I could go through many more situations where I’ve been lucky in life, but rather than bore you with those, I will cut to the chase of what I’ve learned about luck based on those experiences and the experiences of people around me. Getting lucky in business and in life usually involves the following key elements:

  • You have to be “in the game” to get lucky. It always amazes me the people who sit on their couches complaining about how this or that person is so lucky. If they took just one second to think, they’d realize that the only reason so and so has a chance to be lucky is that they’re out there playing the game. So, if you want luck to intervene on your behalf, find a way to get into the game.
  • You must be open-minded. As I mentioned above, sometimes a big opportunity may be staring you in the face, but you don’t recognize it because you’ve developed tunnel vision. I’m not saying to not be focused and to chase every shiny object that comes your way! But I am saying that you have to keep your eyes open for opportunity. Develop goals and stay focused on your goals, but also be willing to consider opportunities as they come up. Most of them you will turn down, but sometimes when luck intervenes, you’ll realize that there are opportunities outside your current goals that are worth pursuing further.
  • You must develop the habit of taking initiative. When you do get lucky and an opportunity arises because you’re in the game, you must be willing to take initiative. Many times, opportunities are perishable and you must pursue them before the “freshness date” expires. This can be difficult sometimes, particularly if you’re already in a pretty good situation relative to the opportunity that is staring you in the face, but as the saying goes, it’s not possible to steal second base without taking your foot off of first.
  • Become comfortable with luck. Many “Type A,” driven people I know have a hard time acknowledging that luck plays a role in just about everything. You say “good luck” to them before an important event and they’ll say that they don’t need luck, as they are prepared. While I admire their drive and confidence, based on what I’ve seen in life and business, there’s little to no downside to admitting that luck and “randomness” play at least some role in the outcome (and the beginning) of most scenarios that matter. As humans, particularly when successful, we tend to like to attribute way too much of the outcome to how great we are. Nassim Taleb wrote a whole book about this called Fooled By Randomness – it’s not light reading, but I highly recommend it if you want to dig deeper into the topic.
  • Don’t use the existence of luck as an excuse not to prepare. None of what I’ve said above should be taken as justification to be unprepared! Purge from your mind any thoughts like “well, if luck is going to be the deciding factor in how this works out, then I don’t really need to be prepared”. No, that is not the correct interpretation. Luck is a factor; it is not the factor. You still need to prepare every time as if you’re in complete control of your destiny. You must do your best to make sure you’ve done everything possible to get the outcome you’re seeking. Then, if luck intervenes to help you on your way, it is just a bonus. If luck is against you that particular time, it is not the end of the world; learn what you can and move on.

As you continue to pursue your goals and dreams, if and when luck intervenes one way or another, don’t take it personally. Life is not conspiring for or against you! Most of what you achieve in life will be a function of the path you pursue, the initiative you take, and your willingness and ability to learn along the way. As long as you get yourself in the game, though, you give luck, or “lady luck” as she’s often called, a chance to make you lucky and help you along on the path to your goals and dreams. Just remember, don’t take it personally, and sometimes, as the saying goes, “it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Paul Morin

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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Oct 112011

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


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Sep 032011

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

Sep 022011

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

Aug 282011

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 ( 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

Jul 312011

Why Goal Setting Is So Important

I finally figured out and understand at a visceral level why goal setting is so important.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, based on my extensive work and research with entrepreneurs and achievers of all types, the strength of your willpower is perhaps the most important differentiating characteristic for those who accomplish “great things” versus those who don’t.  My interaction with “super-achievers” has been even more intensive lately as I write and prepare to release my latest book, called 10 Steps to Greatness:  The Super-achievers’ Little Handbook.  This more intense interaction with those who’ve achieved “greatness” has convinced me more than ever that having an indomitable will to succeed is the single most important characteristic of those who most everyone would agree have achieved exceptional levels of accomplishment in their fields of endeavor.

Ok, so what does all this have to do with the importance of setting goals?  Well, today I experienced first-hand something that I’ve experienced many times before without a similar “a-ha moment”:  a simple goal can keep you on track and keep you from quitting, no matter how much you might like to do so.  Let me explain the circumstances of this “a-ha moment” and how it drove home the importance of short-term goal setting as it relates to the all-important matter of willpower.

Today I was going for a standard weekend workout, which consists of 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise of varying levels of intensity.  In this case, the workout was a combination of running and cycling.  As is customary these days, I do the running first, and then finish off the workout with cycling.  The difference today, which hit me in the face as I walked out the door to get started, was that although it was just 6:15am, the heat index was through the roof.  Although it was pretty early and the sun had not yet come out, the humidity made it feel like being in a sauna on full blast – not an ideal environment for an intense workout.  We decided to give it a go anyway.  My wife wanted to do just the first half of the workout with me and we decided to do it at a quick pace.  So by the time we finished the first half, I was already relatively spent, but I decided to take an energy gel and another electrolyte pill and push on through the rest of the workout.

When I arrived at the one mile circuit for cycling, which is about four miles from our house, I knew I was going to be in for a tough hour and roughly fifteen minutes.  The sun had come up and it felt like a sauna with no roof and a strong sun shining in.  That was the first point where I would have liked to have quit and said, “I’ve done enough already; there’s no need to push it,” however we’re preparing for a couple of upcoming races and I knew if I could just push through it, it would be excellent preparation for those races, which will take at least 2.5 hours and may be in relatively high heat conditions as well.

Even though I wanted to “soldier on,” I was feeling pretty lousy, so I knew I needed something to keep me going and not throw in the towel.  That’s when I remembered one of the articles I’d written relatively recently about the Navy SEALs Pool Competency Test and how short-term goal setting could get you through pretty much anything that’s very uncomfortable and challenging.  So I decided to give it a try in this pressure cooker heat environment.  I calculated exactly how many miles I needed to do to reach my overall goal for the day, taking into account that I’d also ride another four miles to get back to my house.  The calculation led me to realize that my cycle computer would read 202 when I reached that number.

So, from then on, whatever negative thoughts came into my mind were quickly replaced simply with “202”.  I would not allow myself a single negative thought.  Into my mind would pop, “man, this is ridiculous,” only quickly to be replaced with “202”.  Then would come up “who would ride this many miles in a sauna without a roof,” which would be quickly erased by “202”.  And so on.  I’m not sure how many times this happened, but it was a bunch.  And you know what?  It worked.  Before I knew it, I looked down at the cycle computer and it read 200.3.  I was virtually ecstatic.  I knew it was just a couple more miles and I could head for home.  Without this approach I’m pretty sure that all the suffering I was feeling would have caused me to head for home much earlier.  [Note:  I was sure that I had everything covered from a hydration and general fitness perspective, so I wasn’t worried about serious physical problems – this is obviously extremely important any time you’re “pushing the envelope,” especially in high heat conditions.]

Why did this work?  As I was going through this experience and coming up to my “a-ha moment,” and when I wasn’t saying “202” in my mind, I was asking myself that question:  “why does setting simple short-term goals and focusing on them help you get through tough challenges?”  At some point, it occurred to me that the effectiveness of this approach is strongly linked to the importance of willpower in success and extraordinary achievement.  The human will can be absolutely incredible, but we need a way and a reason to access it.  We need a simple and powerful “why” to keep pushing on through exceptionally difficult circumstances.  In the immediate- and short-term, that “why” is a simple, clear, easily understood goal (or goals).  For me in this case, it was “202,” which I knew would get me to my overall mileage goal for the day.  This only explains the immediate- and short-term, of course, but we must get through them before we can get to the medium- and long-term.  The graphic below shows how this “virtuous cycle” works.

Goal Setting - Willpower - Virtuous Cycle

So, how can you put this goal setting “virtuous cycle” approach to work for you?  First, you must decide what, if anything, that you are trying to accomplish at this moment would make it worth “turning yourself inside out” (to use an expression the Tour de France commentators love) in order to achieve.  Is there anything you care that much about achieving to put in a “superhuman” effort?  We’re not just talking about a sports or exercise setting here.  The reality is, no matter what your field of endeavor, if you want to accomplish extraordinary things, you will need to put in a “superhuman” effort sometimes, if not very often.  Second, you need to decide what you are willing to do to achieve something extraordinary.  How far are you willing to push yourself?  Third, you need to do it!

The key is that you know what “it” is.  Do you know what it takes to be great in your field of endeavor?  If not, find out.  Once you have discovered what it takes to achieve greatness in your endeavor, formulate your goals accordingly.  You’ll need short-term, medium-term and long-term goals to keep you on track, focused and interested.  Make sure the short-terms goals build toward the medium-term goals and that the medium-term goals put you on track to accomplish the long-term goals.  Once you’ve done this, make an agreement with yourself regarding what “price” (pain, sacrifice of other activities, etc.) you are willing to pay, then, to quote a famous shoe company, “Just Do It”.

Once you’ve used this technique of having simple, clear short-term goals to access your willpower and get through difficult challenges, let me know how it goes.  For my clients, we’ll be talking in any case.  For others, shoot me an email or, if you have comments to share with everyone, please leave them below.

Paul Morin

Jun 222011

How To Set Goals So You Will Achieve Them

Assuming you agree that setting goals is a worthwhile step, it is key to understand how to set them in a way that will increase the likelihood that you achieve them. The best and simplest model I have seen and used for setting goals effectively is the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which encourages you to set goals with the following characteristics:

[S]pecific: The goals you set for yourself should be as specific as possible. So, for example, you wouldn’t say “I want to have a profitable business”. Instead, you’d say I want to have a business that generates $2 million in sales and 25% EBITDA by year-end 2013. If you are setting a goal for yourself in the area of marathoning, you wouldn’t say “I want to run a fast marathon”. Rather, you would say, “I want to run a 3:10 marathon, with a 1:30 half split, by November 2012”.

[M]easurable: The goals you set should be measurable. That is, they should have a numeric or quantitative element that is measurable, rather than just be qualitative. If you cannot come up with a numeric element, you should at least come up with something that a third-party, objective observer could look at and relatively easily say whether you have or have not achieved that goal. For example, in business, it may be hard to specifically measure “empathy,” a desirable characteristic particularly for sales people, however if you’re working with a coach or mentor, they may be able to observe whether your demonstration of empathy toward prospective and current clients has improved over time. In sports, it may be hard to measure “awareness” of overall scenarios during a game; however, you may be able to come up with a proxy statistic that gives you a sense of the improvement in your awareness. Such a statistic in hockey or basketball, for example, may be assists. Where possible though, you will want to make as many of your goals as possible directly measurable. Examples in sports would be x number of assists, goals, wins, runs, etc. Examples in business would be sales, new accounts opened, net income percentage, etc. Chances are that in your endeavor, whatever it may be, you have a good sense of the metrics that you should be measuring and striving for.

[A]ttainable: It is important that the goals that you set for yourself are “attainable” or that you at least believe strongly that you can attain them and can put a plan in place to do so. If you are simply throwing down huge, unreasonable goals with unreasonable timeframes, you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m a huge fan of “stretch” goals and I strongly believe that you should challenge yourself as much as possible. That said, it is important that you set incremental goals along the way, so that you can see a clear path to your ultimate objective(s) and so that you can experience some successes along the way. If you structure your goals in such a way that you cannot experience success until the very end, you run a great risk that you will lose interest and/or belief in the process. So, in sum, challenge yourself with your goals, as that is the only way to achieve greatness, however, you should do so in such a way that you are able to experience incremental successes along the way.

[R]elevant: Often times I’ve seen the “R” of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym for goal setting used to represent “realistic,” but as far as I’m concerned, that is too similar to “attainable”. For this reason, I prefer to use “R” to represent “relevant”. Given that if you are focused on becoming great at your endeavor, you are undoubtedly a very busy person, it’s important that your goal setting be not just effective, but also efficient. It does not make sense to pursue goals that are not relevant to obtaining your ultimate objective of greatness. This idea relates closely to the concept I covered elsewhere of “taking out the trash,” or doing those things that you may not necessarily love doing, but you know need to be done. For example, in the context of goal-setting, it does not make sense to note goals for concepts or activities you have already mastered, even though it may feel good and be squarely in your comfort zone to do so. Rather, you should focus your efforts and your goal-setting on mastering those things you need to work on to accelerate your journey toward greatness in your chosen endeavor(s). There are exceptions, of course. For example, in tennis, if getting your first serve in is absolutely critical to success, there’s no harming in noting a first service percentage goal, even if you are already a great server. The point is, don’t do so to the detriment or exclusion of, for example, setting lateral and forward quickness goals, even if those may be areas that you don’t enjoy quite as much.

[T]ime-sensitive: Make sure that ALL the goals you set have a deadline or target date associated with them. This is of critical importance. A deadline usually forces us to become more focused. It ignites our competitive spirit and usually makes us achieve more, more quickly. Without a deadline or target date, a goal is more like a wish and it is far less likely to be accomplished. On the subject of time, it is also important to bear in mind that you should set short-, medium- and long-term goals for yourself. There are a couple of major reasons for this. First, as mentioned above, if you have some short- and medium-term incremental goals, this is more likely to permit you to enjoy some successes along the way to your ultimate goals. This should help with your self-confidence. Second, having incremental goals along the way is more likely to allow you to “course correct” on the path to achieving your ultimate goal(s). If you simply have one long-term goal out on the horizon, it makes it a lot more difficult to know if you are on the right track and make sensible adjustments if you are not.

It is important to set goals for yourself in all areas of your life. In particular, it is important to do so in the area(s) where you are trying to achieve “greatness”. It allows you to enjoy incremental victories en route and it also makes it easier to determine whether you’re on the right path and make course corrections as necessary. Make sure that as you develop your goals, you do so in a S.M.A.R.T. way.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Jun 202011

Where Does Greatness Come From?

Let’s focus in on human greatness here, as there are a lot of types of greatness in the world. So, where does human greatness come from? No one knows exactly, but I will give you some ideas of the steps to get there, based on my in-depth study of over 250 of the all-time great historical figures in a variety of fields, as well as my interviews and conversations with a large sample of contemporary greats, in fields ranging from entrepreneurship, to the military, to science, sports and many others.

The first and most important lesson is that generally speaking, people are not “born great,” simply knowing from the very start that they are gifted in a certain area and that they will become one of the “greats” in that area. As previously discussed, as much as there’s a great deal of folklore and exaggerated stories out there to that effect, most human beings do not become great at something from one minute to the next, without a huge, concerted and inspired effort. The common wisdom now is that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to move from beginner to expert in a particular endeavor. That does not necessarily make you “great” of course, but usually, if done correctly, it will at least get you to “expert” status. You will know more and be better at your chosen endeavor than the vast majority of the remainder of the human population.

So if it’s relatively clear what it typically takes to become an expert in a field, is it also clear what it takes to achieve “greatness” in a particular endeavor or field? Unfortunately, not really. In my experience as an advisor and coach and in my research, I have found a wide variety of paths to greatness. That’s good news and bad news, as the saying goes. It’s good news, since even if you are not or have not been on a particular path, it doesn’t, de facto, mean that you cannot become great in your chosen field or endeavor. It’s bad news because it doesn’t give us one well-defined path to zoom in on in an effort to achieve greatness. That being said, in my experience and my research, I have found some common threads of the path to greatness. I will lay out those commonalities in the form of a ten-step process to become great at anything. There are no guarantees, of course, as most of the hard work rests on your shoulders, but by using this approach, in my opinion, you will maximize the probability that you can become “one of the greats” in your endeavor.

The first step is to identify the area of greatness that you are pursuing. You should be as specific as you can, given that the more nebulous you leave it, the more difficult you will find it to make focused efforts toward achieving your goal in the steps that follow.

The second step is to uncover the key requirements to become great in your chosen endeavor. The four main approaches you will pursue in uncovering these requirements will be the following:

a. Go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do – become great in your field – and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

b. Talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

c. Read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. If you are more oriented toward learning from video, you should also be able to find plenty of resources in that medium.

d. Watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Likewise, if your focus is in business or another area, become a curious student of all that happens in your field.

The third step is to take stock of your natural abilities. Take a look at your physical and mental attributes. Don’t judge yourself or determine whether these attributes are good or bad at this point, just take stock. Are you exceptionally tall? Are you great with numbers? Etc.

The fourth step is to look at your strengths and weaknesses relative to what you’ve determined that it takes to be great in your chosen endeavor. You’ll want to go into great depth here, as understanding where your weaknesses are, for example, will allow you to structure your practice in a way that helps you to optimize your use of time and accelerate your road to greatness.

The fifth step is to focus in on your “why”? That is, why do you want to become great at this endeavor? What is it that’s driving you? Is it a “strong why”? In other words, do you think it is sufficiently strong to drive you to put in and maintain the extraordinary effort and concentration level that will be required to become great?

The sixth step is to set goals for yourself. You will want to set short-, medium- and long-term goals that take into account the requirements to become great, as well as the specific areas you’ve determined where you need to make improvements. Monitor progress toward your goals and make sure that you set a timeline for completion of each goal.

The seventh step is to constantly reinforce your belief that you can attain the goals that you’ve set for yourself to become great in your endeavor. This belief will be reinforced regularly if you have set your goals in a way that they are achievable on an incremental basis. Allow yourself to achieve small victories along the way, as this will nurture your belief. As with the later step of maintaining calm, you will also want to use positive self-talk and visualizations in this step.

The eighth step is to develop a detailed preparation schedule that is oriented toward reaching your goals and achieving greatness. Regardless of what your endeavor is, you may want to work with a coach or other qualified third party to ensure that your preparation schedule makes sense in terms of getting you to where you want to be without burning you out in the meantime.

The ninth step is to make sure that you have in place a calming mantra and approach for when you get into stressful situations on the road to achieving your goals. If you are trying to become great at anything, no matter what the field, it is inevitable that you will encounter some, maybe even a huge amount of stress along the way. You need an approach to deal with fear and stress and keep progressing toward greatness. That approach will likely involve extensive use of positive self-talk and visualization.

The tenth step is to constantly work on and nourish your will to succeed and concentrate. In fact, based on my experience and research, this may be the most important step and factor in your success. There are very few exceptions among the historical and contemporary greats that did not have to exercise enormous power of will and concentration, usually on many, many occasions. Becoming an expert is challenging enough. Becoming great is another whole level and it almost always requires many instances of calling on massive willpower to overcome the inevitable obstacles that lie in the path to greatness.

We’ll go into each of these steps in much more detail, but this summary gives you an idea of the path you need to follow to move from beginner to expert, and then, if your “why,” your belief and your willpower are strong enough, on to greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Jun 162011

How To Succeed – Doing What Needs To Be Done

Once you have determined what it takes to succeed and become great in your endeavor, business, or sport, you need to do it. Sounds simple, right? Then why do we so often have a tendency to do other things, instead of what really needs to be done?

The reality is that, as human beings, we tend to do the things we like to do, rather than the things that need to be done. The term “comfort zone” arose from this tendency. We like to stay in our comfort zone as much as possible. Some naturally don’t mind venturing outside their comfort zone, but they are rare animals indeed. For everyone else, there are tricks to get you to “do the right thing” with greater frequency.

It all starts with ensuring that you understand what “the right thing” is. Have you carefully determined, as much as possible, exactly what it takes to be great at your endeavor? If you skip this step, you are shooting in the dark and leaving it largely to chance whether what you do and what you become good at have much relevance to becoming great in your endeavor. In startup entrepreneurship, for example, you may have heard that it’s important to raise capital, either via loans or from equity investors. So you become very good at raising capital and bring several million dollars of investments into your startup. You then quickly realize though that having sufficient capital on hand is only part of the picture and you squander the investments you’ve received. You must understand and strive to master as many of the key requirements as possible, not just the one that gets the most press, or the one you like the best.

If you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to truly understand what it takes to become great in your endeavor, you’ve created a very good foundation for reaching your goals. Speaking of goals, and we’ll talk about this more elsewhere, have you put any in place? If not, how will you know if you’ve succeeded? What will you use to motivate you to do all the things you need to do for success, rather than just some of them? Be sure to set goals that are well-defined, have a timeline, and are attainable. Set smaller goals along the way, so you can feel “successes,” however small they may be, which help you gain confidence and will further motivate you to “take out the trash” – to do those things you don’t necessarily like to do, but that you know need to be done in your preparation.

Ok, so now that we’ve brought up “taking out the trash” or doing what you don’t necessarily love to do, let’s go back to the example we used elsewhere – trying to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. Let’s take another look at the simple requirements/strengths/weaknesses table that we used in that example.

self assessment matrix - tennis

In this example matrix for becoming a great clay-court singles tennis player, our previous focus was on first understanding the requirements for becoming great, estimating their relative importance, and then assessing ourselves against those requirements, potentially with the help of a coach or other third party. The idea was then to prioritize our actions, giving higher priority to those areas of greater importance where we were not currently as strong. An example above would be working on improving our forward speed – it has an importance of 9 on a 1-10 scale and we assess our strength in that area as a 6 (also on a 1-10 scale). Our coach assesses our strength in that area even a bit lower. This would be a great area to focus in on, given that it has significant potential to impact our ability to achieve our goal of becoming a great clay-court singles player.

Continuing with this example of improving our forward speed, which would come very much in handy on a clay court, where opponents tend to hit a lot of drop shots, let’s say that you really dislike running drills. Then, to use the terminology from above, this would be an example of “taking out the trash” – doing something that you don’t necessarily love to do, but you know needs to be done. Given that your lateral speed in the example matrix above has similar importance and was also assessed as a relative weakness, it wouldn’t be too surprising if you truly viewed running as “taking out the trash.” What would most people do in this case? Quite frankly, they would do absolutely nothing. They would find every excuse not to “take out the trash” and they would continue to be mediocre at best with their forward and lateral speed. Those that were truly determined to become great, on the other hand, would do as much speed and running work as they could to overcome this known deficiency. They would also do the same with any other known deficiencies, thus giving their opponents less weaknesses to pick on and giving themselves more confidence to proceed en route to achieving their goals.

So what is “taking out the trash” in your endeavor? If you’re an entrepreneur, is it making phone and in-person sales calls to new prospects? If you’re a musician, is it practicing a certain note that constantly gives you problems? If you’d like to become a veterinarian, but don’t love math and sciences, is it somehow learning how to love them so you can achieve your dreams? If you’re an aspiring basketball player, is it shooting free throws? You get the idea. If you’ve done your homework to understand the requirements and been honest with yourself in assessing your abilities versus those requirements, you’ll know what needs to be done. Some of it you’ll enjoy doing. That will be what you want to do most of the time. Some of it you won’t enjoy doing; in fact, you may really dislike it. It may however be very important to your success. This will be the “trash” you need to take out.

Do you care enough to “take out the trash” as much as possible? Can you stomach going outside your comfort zone and doing whatever it takes to succeed?

I look forward to your thoughts, questions, and comments.

Paul Morin