Jan 012013

Learn To Give Yourself An Attitude Adjustment – 20 Ideas To Make It Happen

It’s important to be able to recognize when you need to give yourself an attitude adjustment.  It took me a while, but I’ve learned to do this when I start obsessing about negative stuff or other things out of my control.  As I sat at my desk yesterday fuming about a couple of personal and business issues I was confronting, I decided to write down some of the ways I give myself an attitude adjustment.  Maybe you’ll find them helpful in your quest to “get your head right”.

Here are some of the ways I’ve found that usually work for me:

  1. Listen to classical music.  I know this isn’t for everyone, and sometimes, classical music isn’t the ticket for me, either, but I do find that listening to music, whatever the genre, often can help me get my attitude back on track.  Usually, the louder the music, the better it works for me.
  2. Watch (or listen to) TED talks.  This is one of my favorite ways to get my attitude back on track.  TED is an acronym for technology, education and design.  It’s a series of conferences where they get all the best thinkers and innovators in the world to give talks on a variety of topics.  GREAT stuff.  Check it out at www.ted.com.
  3. Read an inspirational book, blog or quote.  This approach is tried and true.  Whatever your favorite written source of inspiration may be, have at it.  We all have our “go-to” sources for getting our attitude back on track.
  4. Exercise.  Even if you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in a while, give it a shot.  You’ll be amazed the miracles a bit of exercise can work on your state of mind.  If you can’t (or won’t) make it to the gym, exercise at home or somewhere else where you’re comfortable.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
  5. Eat ice cream.  Just kidding – I’d stay away from using food to adjust your attitude.  It’s a bad habit that’s far too easy to start and tough to break.  Choose something else from the list.
  6. Take a walk on the beach.  Or take a walk in the mountains.  Try to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and get some exercise at the same time.  If neither beach nor mountain is available nearby, take a walk anywhere.  Bring along some music if it helps.  This is an easy one, requiring no special equipment other than walking or running shoes.
  7. Look at your vision board.  Assuming you’ve create a vision board for your future, taking a look at that can help change your state of mind.  This is especially true if you’ve populated your vision board with images that inspire and motivate you.  If you don’t have a vision board, I strongly recommend creating one.
  8. Look at photos that make you happy.  This is an easy one.  Look at your own camera roll (iPhone terminology) or photo album.  If you have neither, look at Instagram or Pinterest, or whatever site contains images that you enjoy.  This can be a quick and painless way to get your mind back on track.  It can also be quite distracting, so use this one with care.
  9. Plan a trip.  Take a few moments to plan your next trip.  This can be a great virtual getaway for your mind, as you think about some of the details of your next escape from reality.  If you don’t have any trips in your near future, make a list of some of the places you’d like to visit when you do get a chance to travel.  Don’t spend the whole day on this, but putting a few minutes into it can help return your mind to a positive state.
  10. Get some sleep.  I find that a lot of times when my attitude is out of whack, I’m at least somewhat sleep deprived, if not totally exhausted.  If you’re having attitude challenges and you know you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, get some rest.  Take a short nap, or get to bed early.  I’m not saying to sleep all the time – that too can be taken to an extreme – but it’s worth making sure you are rested.  Your performance on all levels should improve when you’ve had enough rest.
  11. Drink alcohol.  Just kidding – I’d stay away from this one as much as possible.  It’s been an approach I’ve used at times, but it’s a rough road to take, particularly if you use it with great frequency.  Whenever possible, select something else from the list.
  12. Call a close friend you haven’t talked to in a while.  This is a great one!  Getting in touch with old friends is great for your state of mind!  Use this one whenever you have the time to talk for a bit.  Often times, these conversations will go on for a while, and time will stand still as you’re talking about old times.  This will be good for your attitude and your soul.
  13. Watch a comedy movie.  Laughter is often the best medicine.  Check out a comedy you’ve heard is great, or go back to an old standby that you know will make you laugh.  Laughing causes physiological changes in your body and often has a positive effect on your attitude.  Use this one when you have a couple hours to watch a movie.  If you have less time, watch a sitcom.  Just use this with care – this one can be addictive, and a huge time waster if you’re not careful.
  14. Take a ride in your car.  This isn’t for everyone, but for some, driving can be therapeutic, particularly if you live in a place where you can take a scenic route.  It can also be fun to hit the accelerator a little harder than usual – use that one at your own risk though and stay safe, based on where you are and who’s around.
  15. Play a game with friends or family.  I find that playing a game with my kids can, at times, be a great distraction from ”reality”.  Obviously, it also has the collateral benefit of allowing you to spend some quality time with your kids – a win-win situation.  The same can be said if you play with friends.
  16. Remember, “it’s only a time and it will pass”.  This is one of my Mom’s favorite expressions.  I’ve found it quite helpful sometimes when I need an attitude adjustment.  When confronting difficult situations, it’s often quite helpful to bear in mind that whatever it may be, it’s not going to last forever – “this too shall pass”.
  17. Realize that whatever you’re facing, it’s likely relatively minor.  This is not always true, of course, but often times we get all bent out of shape over small issues.  We tend to blow things out of proportion.  Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves that there are people out there with much more difficult situations and challenges.  Get a sense of perspective.  It should help you get your mind right.
  18. Do something you’ve been putting off.  There are few better feelings than knocking something off your To Do List, especially something you’ve been putting off for a while.  When your attitude gets bad, respond from a position of strength and attack something on your list about which you’ve been procrastinating.  Do that and your attitude will change instantly.
  19. Buy yourself a gift.  This one’s often referred to as “retail therapy”.  Use this one with care – it can be addictive and usually really doesn’t fix much, but it can snap you out of a negative state of mind.  Learn what works for you, hopefully something relatively affordable.
  20. Remember where we fit in the universe.  This is another good one for gaining perspective.  You’re facing an issue that’s giving you a bad attitude; it’s likely a minor issue.  In the meantime, we’re really a small speck in the universe – quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  We’re inhabitants of a small (but beautiful) planet in a solar system, the center of which is a star that is one of BILLIONS in the universe.  How big is your problem in this context?  Don’t blow it out of proportion.  Put your big boy (or girl) pants on and get back on track!

Hopefully these ideas will be helpful to you next time you need an attitude adjustment.  If you have others that work for you, I’d love to hear about them!

I look forward to your thoughts!

Paul Morin



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Dec 072012

Sometimes The Long Way Is The Right Way

Like many people I know, I usually try to do things as quickly as possible; purposely taking the long way to get something done goes against every fiber in my competitive body.

Recently though, I took the long way for a very personal reason and it made me realize that sometimes taking the long way is very definitely the right way to go.  Let me explain.

Not long ago I had to travel unexpectedly on a family emergency.  I received a phone call that my Dad, at 87 years old and reaching the final stages of a debilitating dementia disease, had taken a quick turn for the worse and had been put on hospice care.  My understanding of hospice care was that death was imminent, so the news hit me like a ton of bricks, especially given that I was 15 hours away by car and given the timing of the news and my location, there were no flights that were going to get me there much quicker.

So I packed everything I could think of that I may need to run my life and business for an indefinite period of time and jumped into my car.  Given the unpredictability of traffic, I worried that I would arrive too late to say goodbye to my Dad.

As I drove, I ran into the inevitable traffic problems and was doing everything I could to navigate to get there in time for the meeting with the hospice care team and my family, and of course, to get there in time to see my Dad and say goodbye to him.

During all of this navigation and rushing as safely as possible, there came a Robert Frost type of moment; two roads diverged and I had the choice whether to take a longer route and drive through a beautiful mountainous area where I spent every summer of my childhood camping and fishing with my Dad and family.  When the roads diverged, my immediate thought was, “I need to take the shorter route.  If I don’t get there in time, I won’t get another chance and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life”.  Then, I took a moment to think about it and realized that the route through the mountains would likely have much less traffic and may actually get me there at the same time, or earlier.  In some ways, with just a little more thought and less impulse than normal, it seemed like a better decision, even from a speed perspective, as there was less risk of traffic jams.

At the end of the day, I took the longer route.  The reward was immediate, as when I changed the route, my GPS immediately indicated that with current traffic, my expected arrival time was 15 minutes earlier!  Further, the sunshine that morning was amazing as it reflected off the mountains and led me all the way to the meeting and to see my Dad before he passed away.  The results could have been different, but in this case, it was better to take the long way.  It gave me some much-needed spiritual nourishment and it actually got me where I needed to go more quickly – a great result.

That experience led me to think more generally about intentionally taking the longer route sometimes.  When I reflected a bit on my experiences and those of others I know, I realized that many of the greatest and most rewarding experiences I’ve had, have come when my approach was not all about taking the presumed shortest, most efficient route.  This will impact my decision-making in the future.  Sometimes taking the long way is the way to go.  Do you agree?

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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What’s Your Why?

 Posted by at 10:57 am  Mindset, Why  9 Responses »
May 052012

What's Your Why?

What’s Your Why?

In recent years, I’ve heard the expression “What’s Your Why” quite a bit.  In fact, I’ve heard it (and variations thereof) so much that it became almost cliché – you know, the expressions you hear all the time that tend to have little impact on you, as they’re overused.

Recently, as I’ve been working on mapping out my life and what I’d like to accomplish, a process I like to go through on a regular basis,  I found that question ringing in my ears:  What’s Your Why?  Why is it that you want to put so much effort into these particular tasks and activities and you don’t want to spend even one second on these others?

So, I guess you could say that I finally allowed the “What’s Your Why” question to penetrate my consciousness, rather than simply dismissing it as an overused phrase.

As I thought about this question in the context of the choices I’ve made in my life, I realized that pretty much all of them are rooted in experiences I had and observations I made in my childhood.  I found that kind of ironic, given that quite a few years have passed since those occurrences!  Furthermore, what did I really know as a child?  Not much.  So maybe it’s a bit scary to think that much of what I do in my life now is based on my experiences and observations of my childhood.

Specifically, over time, I have focused my life and the activities of my life in a few areas.  First, family is very important to me.  I grew up spending every summer with my family at a lake about an hour from our home.  We fished, we played sports, we cooked out, and we enjoyed all the activities one would expect from summertime camping activities.  All those experiences and memories taught me how rewarding it could be to spend a lot of time with your family, particularly in the context of recreation and relaxation.  Whether I acknowledged it or not, I think I always knew I’d get married relatively young and have a large family.  That has proved correct and it has been the most rewarding aspect of my life, on all levels.

Second, I’ve always been an entrepreneur.  From a young age, it became clear that I was going to start many businesses and was going to find it a lot easier and more comfortable to make a living that way, than I would working for someone else.  I chalk this one up to watching my older brother make money by buying low and selling high at yard sales and flea markets.  He was a master at “turning a buck” and I was fascinated by how a person could essentially make money out of superior knowledge and negotiating skills.  Perhaps more importantly, the independence of doing so without having to turn the money over to a boss was very appealing.  That has stuck with me my whole life.

Third, I’ve been a coach now for over a decade, both in business and in sports (mainly soccer).  I love to coach and truth be told, I’d do it and have done it many times, for free – don’t tell my coaching clients!  I love to help people and to watch them achieve their dreams and goals.  I think this comes from all the time I spent with my Mom as a little kid.  I used to follow her around as she got everything done in our household.  She was the dream coach in a sense, as she’d always tell me that I could do anything I wanted in my life, but at the same time, she’d always challenge me.  I remember that one of the games she’d always play with me, or better said, I guess, songs she used to sing to me was “Anything you can do, I can do better”.  She didn’t do it in a mean way at all.  Her tone was very supportive, challenging and playful.  It was her way of teaching me to strive to do my best and always believe that I could compete with anyone.  My Dad and brother, on the other hand, created a very competitive environment.  Everything was a competition, which was very stimulating and I think helped me quite a bit in various achievements, but it was something I had to temper as an adult, so that competing could also be enjoyable.  The tension between these two approaches is something I enjoy bringing to my coaching situations and exploring with my clients and teams.  There’s a balance; it’s not always easy to find it, but it’s there.

Life is, of course, more complex than three things, but the greatest part of my life does boil down to these three:  Family, Entrepreneurship, and Coaching.  Even with these three in place, answering the question “What’s Your Why” is not always easy.  If you are having trouble figuring it out and using it to direct where you may want to invest your time, for both business and pleasure, I encourage you to go back to your childhood experiences to look for answers.  If childhood was not a pleasant place for you, don’t be discouraged.  Use what you can learn from your childhood experiences to help others overcome the challenges that may be similar to those you’ve faced.  It will be cathartic for you, and in the process, you will likely find a positive outlet to contribute and grow in your own life.

What’s Your Why?  I challenge you to think it through, then use the answers you find to optimize the way you spend the rest of your life.  If you’re not already there, now’s the time to take charge of your life and direct it in such a way that your “Why” is well aligned with the activities in your life.  I can also tell you from experience and observation that once you achieve this alignment, your results and happiness are likely to go through the roof.

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

Paul Morin



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Oct 132011

Entrepreneurship can be lonely

Being An Entrepreneur Can Be Lonely

As much as I love being an entrepreneur, it can be a lonely endeavor.  My time as an entrepreneur, since I was a young kid, and my time working with entrepreneurs over the course of my career, have taught me that being the one in charge can make you feel very alone.  Sometimes it feels like you’re on an island.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur in a one-person company or a CEO in a larger company, if you are the final decision maker, it’s easy to feel like it’s you against the world.

Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news on this.  First, the bad news:  it’s not likely to change.  If you’re the person upon whose shoulders rests final decision making authority, it’s virtually impossible not to feel sometimes like all the pressure is on you and you’re on “an island”.  Now, the good news:  there are tons of other entrepreneurs and CEO types out there who feel exactly the same way!  So, while it’s often unavoidable that you will feel alone in your role at your own company, there are plenty of other people who are in exactly the same boat.  That’s good news, because if you can find ways to link up with them, you can share your war stories, feel less alone, and learn from and support one another!

Let’s talk about some ways of linking up with other entrepreneurs and CEO types.  Here’s a quick list.  It’s not meant to be all-inclusive, but I hope it will give you some ideas.  The options range from free and not time-intensive, to relatively costly and much more time-consuming.  The options typically are not mutually-exclusive, so select whichever ones you like and give them a try.  Depending on a variety of factors, including your personality, your schedule and your objectives, certain options will be more appealing to you than others.

Here are some ways to link up with and interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs, locally and online:

Social Media

  • Twitter:  Search on hashtags, such as #smallbiz #startup #entrepreneur #sme #ceo and others that are relevant to the persons with whom you’d like to interact.  Send out your own tweets and others will react to you as well.  Also, look for tweet “chats” that occur periodically on particular subjects.  It’s true that Twitter is only 140 characters and you can’t say much in a tweet, but you can include a URL link and you can use the brief Twitter interaction as a bridge to further communication via phone, email or other media.
  • Facebook:  I used to view Facebook as a huge “time sink” and to a certain extent, I still do.  It has an enormous number of users though, and thus, cannot be ignored.  Also, with the advent of Pages and with the exceptional utility of Groups, it can be a great tool.  Just be sure to stay focused on your objectives, in this case, interacting with other entrepreneurs and CEOs and don’t get sucked into a lot of the “shiny object,” time wasting activities that such a platform also offers.
  • LinkedIn:  This is the social network that tends to have a very high percentage of business people and professionals.  Like the others, it also has groups, so it can be a great place to interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs.  It can also be extremely useful for finding and maintaining contact with former colleagues and acquaintances, which represents another way to combat the loneliness of entrepreneurship.
  • Other networks:  There are a ton of other social networks and platforms!  I try to stick to a short list though, because otherwise you could end up spending far too much time on these sites and activities.  I encourage you to explore others, then pick a few that give you the most bang for your buck, and for your time.

Local Networking Groups

  • This is an area where, again, you could end up spending way too much time, without a huge amount of benefit.  There’s the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and dozens more.  The best idea here is to experiment with a few groups, but don’t commit to any until you understand what the investment of time and other resources is, weighed against the benefits you are receiving.  In this article, we are talking about trying to overcome the loneliness of being an entrepreneur or CEO.  Sometimes these groups can help with that, but many times they don’t attract the caliber of people you’re looking for; it really depends on the particular group and its composition in your location.  If you don’t find a local group that serves your needs, then start one!  Find other entrepreneurs and CEOs of a caliber that matches what you’re looking for, and get together with them on a regular basis to exchange war stories and lessons.  It doesn’t have to be formal.  Remember, you’re not looking for rewards or recognition from such a group; you’re looking for people who can understand the unique issues and situation you face, who can interact with you and offer advice, in a symbiotic relationship.

Mastermind Groups

  • “Mastermind” groups are typically informal alliances among entrepreneurs with similar interests, often in the same or similar industries.  In reality, such groups have been around for a long time, but only recently has the name “mastermind” caught on.  Their purpose tends to be similar to that of the formal peer groups you will read about in the next section.  The idea is to get a bunch of very capable entrepreneurs together regularly, usually by phone in the case of masterminds, and work through current and reoccurring issues that confront the group members.  It boils down to peer support and is often slanted a bit more toward the technical side of your particular industry, but in reality, over time relationships build and as bonds and shared experiences grow, it helps to combat entrepreneur and CEO loneliness issues as well.

Formal Peer Groups

  • There are CEO groups out there, such as Vistage (http://www.vistage.com), which for a fee will connect you with other CEOs in similar circumstances, so you can have formal interactions to support one another and share ideas on solving specific problems.  Such organizations are not inexpensive, however they can be excellent tools for getting you the answers you need, from credible sources, in a very efficient manner.  The formal interactions of Vistage members usual take place in-person and thus are typically relatively local in nature, but they have recently launched a new service called Vistage Connect (http://www.vistageconnect.com), which has more of an online interaction focus.  My understanding is that the service is less costly and also offers the opportunity to interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs from around the world, not just those in your geography.

So there you have a few options for seeking out other entrepreneurs and CEOs with whom you can interact in an effort to not feel as lonely, particularly when you’re faced with tough decisions that you do not feel like you can share with others at your company.  This way, you still may feel like you’re on an island at times, but at least now there will be other entrepreneurs and CEOs there with you!

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 052011

Entrepreneur – Be True To Who You Are

It took me a while to figure this out, but now I see it as a truism.  You must be true to who you are.  I think this is particularly important as an entrepreneur, as when you are charting new and different paths, there will never be a shortage of naysayers.  You must be true to who you are so that you will have an inner confidence that allows you to look beyond the negativity and press on in the direction of your goals and dreams.

I’ll give you an example in my own case, which was one of my early indications that it was futile for me to fight my entrepreneurial tendencies.  I had been an entrepreneur since a very young age, had done very well with it, and most importantly, loved every minute of being my own boss.  Yet, when I finished undergrad, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to go work for a large company.  As if that wasn’t enough, I went into a staid, high-end consulting environment.  The pay was good, the nice offices and prestige were abundant, and I was miserable.  In fact, I don’t remember a time in my work life when I felt more like a fish out of water!  I watched the work being piled on and the partners making excellent money.  I felt like an indentured servant.

At the point when I started “sharing” my work with other people at my “lowest on the totem pole” level, everything started to go seriously downhill.  One partner comment I remember:  “It’s not your job to delegate!  You need to do the work we give you.”  My response, “But he doesn’t have any work on his plate and I’m inundated.  Don’t worry; I’ll make sure it’s correct.”  There were many mildly humorous incidents like this.  I lasted just seven months, then left, probably shortly before they asked me to leave, to take a job with a small, entrepreneurial software company, where I felt much more at home.

It was a good learning experience for me.  I learned that I was not cut out for a large corporate job and all the realities inherent in such an environment.  I’ve had quite a bit of success in advising such companies, but as an outside advisor, not an employee.  I went through a phase, probably before maturing a bit, of thinking that one environment is better than the other, or said more directly, that entrepreneurship is better than working in corporate.  However, with time, I have come to realize that it’s not what’s better or worse.  In reality, we need both.  It’s about what works for you.  You have to be true to who you are.  My Dad spent over thirty years with the same large company, and if you asked him, I don’t think he’d tell you he regrets it.  I maxed out at seven months in such an environment.  Is one of us right and the other wrong?  I don’t think so.  You just have to be true to yourself.

So thus far I’ve talked about being true to yourself mainly when choosing between entrepreneurship and corporate.  Now let’s talk about it in a bit more depth, assuming you’ve taken the entrepreneurial path.  You must also be true to who you are as an entrepreneur.  What do I mean by that?  Well, you can take a lot of paths as an entrepreneur.  You can sell professional services.  You can open a convenience store.  You can develop proprietary technology, assemble an A-level management team, raise venture capital, and try to take your company public or sell it to a strategic buyer.  In other words, there is a very wide range of possible ways to pursue being an entrepreneur.  Before you start your venture, you should take some time to think about who you are as a person.  Consider what you like to do.  Take into account what skills you bring to the table.  Think about whether you want to work with a team or grow something yourself.  In short, you need to figure out what type of business you want to start up.

As you consider these questions, be true to who you are.  Start a business that makes sense for you.  It may not be what others recommend.  They may not even “approve”.  Who cares?  It’s your business.  You will be the one who has to run it, day in and day out.  Make sure that it suits you!  It will be your “blood, sweat and tears”.  If you start a business to try to please other people, trust me, you will never be happy doing it.

First, make sure you understand the difference between an idea and an opportunity.  Once you screen your business ideas and identify true opportunities, all else being roughly equal, choose the one that you feel the best about.  Once you’ve identified business opportunities that truly have a chance of succeeding, go with your heart!  Remember, you will spend a ton of time working on your business.  Make sure it’s something you enjoy.  Be sure it’s something that suits you at a visceral level.  Be true to who you are and you cannot go wrong.

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



May 202011

We all have fears. It is part of the reality of being human. Those who deny having any fears typically are lying or are not being honest with themselves.

The following comments are based on my work and research with athletes, business people and other elite performers such as Special Forces members. Further resources for information on this topic include many articles, books, audio and video works, including the 2009 History Channel documentary called The Brain. The GAMES Approach mentioned below is adapted from a Navy SEAL approach to dealing with fears, which was covered in the History Channel’s The Brain documentary.

Can fears get in the way of accomplishing your objectives? Can they keep you from becoming great at whatever it is you want to conquer? Absolutely! Fears can stop you dead in your tracks, quite literally. This is due to how the brain functions and sometimes this reality works to your benefit, particularly in the area of physical safety.

However, in the area of “mental safety,” fear can be a real problem. In the brain’s desire to protect you from the unknown and apparently dangerous, it can actually impede you from accomplishing your most important goals.

Rather than focus in depth on the physiological realities that cause you to stop “dead in your tracks,” I’ll give you a basic primer on what happens in your brain when confronted with “scary” situations, then we’ll quickly move on to what you can do about it, so that you can, to quote the Doors, “break on through to the other side”.

When you are confronted with a scary situation, in basic terms, your brain presses the “panic button”. The danger is perceived by your senses then makes it way over to the Amygdala, one of the regions of the brain that deals with emotion, where if the danger is perceived to be real and imminent, the brain starts a cascade effect of panic responses. Your heart beats faster, you breathe faster, your blood pressure rises, and if the level of panic is sufficient, chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into your bloodstream. The fight or flight system is thus activated and you’re in full panic mode, like it or not.

Unless the Frontal Lobes of the Cerebral Cortex can get the Amygdala’s panic cascade under control, or prevent it from occurring in the first place, the likelihood of pushing through your fears is quite limited. The Nervous System response and blood stream chemical effects are simply overwhelming. The problem is that research has shown that the sensory data arrives more quickly to the Amygdala than it does to the Frontal Lobes, where rational thought could potentially prevent the fear reaction from cascading out of control. Then how can the Frontal Lobes possibly prevent the Amygdala from reacting and triggering panic mode? Per The Brain documentary mentioned above, this was a question very much on the mind of instructors at the Navy SEALs Special Warfare Command in San Diego, California.

They came to the realization that they were losing a large number of potential SEALs from the training process due to one simple fact: they could not control their fear response.

Image of BUDS - Navy SEAL Pool Competency Training

Image by Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr

This inability to control the fear response was most apparent in what’s called the Underwater Pool Competency Test. This is the test where SEAL candidates spend as much as 20 minutes underwater with SCUBA equipment, during which time they are constantly harassed by instructors. The instructors will turn off their regulators, tie their breathing gear into knots and generally make it difficult to breathe from the SCUBA tank for more than a short time. This harassment leads to a steadily worsening mental and physical condition and the candidates must do everything they can to resist the desire to surface for air. It is an incredibly strong desire that is extraordinarily difficult to suppress. The human brain has been hardwired to understand that breathing is absolutely fundamental, that we cannot breathe underwater, and without oxygen for any prolonged period, we’re dead.

So realizing that the Amygdala pushes the panic button, and further realizing that the only way to overcome this automatic response would be to get the Cortex/ Frontal Lobes involved, the SEAL commanders came to the conclusion that it was important to be pro-active and condition a “non-panic” response by repeated exposure to the “right” emergency procedures. What it boils down to is that the Cortex / Frontal Lobes cannot get involved “realtime” before the Amygdala at the moment the danger is perceived, as they receive the sensory input more slowly, so the response needs to be conditioned based on practice before any event that could induce panic. The candidates need to override their panic system, based on previously obtained and internalized knowledge and a set of step-by-step procedures and techniques. While there are more, SEAL instructors decided to focus on what they call the “big 4” techniques: Goal-setting; Mental Rehearsal; Self-talk; and Arousal Control. I have added a fifth, “Endurance,” and re-orderded them a bit to come up with the “GAMES” Approach to conquering your fears. Next we will touch on each of the elements of the GAMES Approach.

[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. In other words, you would block out all extraneous thoughts and factors and focus totally on the task at hand, step-by-step. Can you see how you could use the same approach with any fears you may have in business, sports or life?

[A]rousal Control: This element focuses mainly on breathing. Taking deeper breaths with longer exhales stimulates 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 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. The relaxed breathing is harder to do in this example underwater, but can you see how breathing in a more relaxed fashion in business, sports or the rest of your life, and remaining calm rather than immediately going into panic mode, could help your performance?

[M]ental Rehearsal: Often referred to as visualization, mental rehearsal involves running through in your mind whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish, envisioning all the steps, then reacting calmly to any stress and ultimately, achieving 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. As one SEAL psychologist says, by performing this step of mental rehearsal, the first time you do something “in real life,” as far as your mind is concerned, it won’t be like the first time at all and you may have greater success controlling the panic reaction that typically would occur. The process of mental rehearsal has been of great assistance in enhancing SEAL performance; can you also see how doing this could help you perform better in all of your endeavors?

[E]ndurance: This element is a recognition that this pro-active approach to mastering the fear response is not something that will happen quickly. It is a war of attrition against your Amygdala’s fear response. You will have to have a great deal of endurance and determination as you do as many iterations as necessary to conquer your fear response(s) in your particular endeavor. You will need to commit to stay at it as long as necessary, bravely confronting and conquering your fears head-on, knowing that by doing so, you will greatly increase the probability of achieving greatness in your chosen endeavor. Your mantra should be: As long as it takes, as many times as it takes. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Commit ahead of time. Be brave. Do not give up until you conquer your fears and reach your objectives.

[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. Prove by your self-talk that you believe in yourself and in the probability that you will succeed. This will help you keep the stress response under control and it will help you succeed in every aspect of your life.

So there you have in a nutshell the GAMES Approach to overcoming fears and achieving your goals and “greatness” in all areas of your life. Don’t limit yourself to one or two of the elements of the Approach; use all five. Use them pro-actively and use them together, in concert. Some fear responses are so strong that they will overwhelm anything but a coordinated effort to make sure that your rational Cortex wins out over your emotional, panic-prone Amygdala. In the effort to control the fear response and increase the probability that you will accomplish your objectives and become great in your chosen endeavor, you need all the reinforcements and coordination you can get.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Apr 182011


Make Sure You Have a Big Vision!

In my personal experience and observation in over 30 years in entrepreneurship (I started young :-)), if you want to achieve great things, you MUST have a big vision! Why? Well, let’s look at some examples to gain a better understanding.

Let’s say you want to start up, or you already have, a retailer of electronics, software and books. It doesn’t matter if it’s online, bricks-and-mortar, or both. You decide that your company vision will be as follows: “Our vision is to be the best provider of electronics, software and books on the planet”. That’s an interesting vision, agreed, but how does it compare to: “Our vision is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can find and discover anything they might want to buy online”?

The latter version in the example above is Amazon.com’s vision statement. We can observe a similarity and a couple of key differences between the first version and Amazon’s. They are similar in that they both refer to the whole world – “on the planet” and “earth’s”. That’s good! That’s thinking big! They are different in that the first one refers to being the “best provider” of electronics … this language is quite generic and doesn’t evoke a call to action. Amazon’s, on the other hand, talks about being the “most customer-centric company” – this gives one a sense of mission, and it’s specific enough to put the customer right at the center of the action. It’s something you can rally around. You can get behind this and feel like it gets to not just the vision of the company, but its mission as well.

Another difference is that Amazon’s vision statement does not limit the company to providing just a few items. It talks about building a place where customers “can find and discover anything they might want”. If you remember when Amazon started, they were really mainly known as an online provider of books; however, they have now expanded to all kinds of stuff for sale, new and used. Although they started with books, this was likely their vision from the very beginning. They did not want to limit themselves to just books.

Here is another corporate vision statement to further reinforce these points. Avon Products’ vision statement is “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women, globally.” Notice again how Avon does not limit itself to a small geography, nor does it limit itself to a few products. It doesn’t even mention specific products, rather it focuses on understanding and satisfying certain needs of one half of the people on the planet – women! That’s a grand vision! That’s something worthy of a great company! That’s something that can motivate and inspire all people associated with Avon for a very, very long time!

When you are crafting your company vision statement or your personal vision statement, a step you should absolutely take, think BIG. Don’t limit yourself! Create a vision that touches you emotionally, that motivates you, that when read, will inspire you and others to accomplish great things. Remember, a fish in a small fish bowl can never become larger than that fish bowl. Don’t artificially and unnecessarily limit yourself to a small “fish bowl”.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on the topic of creating a vision and vision statement.

Paul Morin