How you can make this an exceptional year (part I)

13 success strategies to improve your results

Happy First Monday of 2016!

photo courtesy of Anita Ritenour

Welcome to a new year of opportunities and possibilities!

While there’s nothing we can do to change our past, we can, however, stake a powerful claim on designing and creating our future. To that end, I hope you’ve arrived at this point in time with a hopeful heart. I hope that you can gaze upon the bright white canvas before you, and smile. Fearless. With eyes…wide…open.

Yes. It WILL be a year of opportunities and possibilities for all of us.

But there’s no free lunch, my friend. You’ll have to get ready and then do the work. Achieving breakthrough results is nearly impossible without a dramatic change of perspective and massive action.

To seize the opportunities before you, you may have to upgrade your thinking and upgrade your habits. I think I can help. After thinking about this a great deal, I’ve compiled 13 strategies that can help you take your life, career and organization to a new level.

May you find them helpful and effective in this New Year!

Here they are:

Strategy 1: Start by getting clear on your values to achieve true success

I used to have a wrong-headed view of success. Though it was hard for me to admit it, I subconsciously believed that success was the equivalent of amassing material riches. You know, a fat bank account, exotic cars, and palatial estates. Isn’t this what we tend to glorify in our society?

I wised up though.

I realize now that of the roughly 100 billion people that have lived before me and reached the final days of their life, not one (not a single one) ever said: “Damn! I wish I’d bought that Ferrari or acquired more stuff!”

I’ve also come to realize that success cannot be found at a destination, but during the journey itself! Not only that, I now understand that we can be successful RIGHT NOW by being clear about our values and being faithful to them at all times.

Being true to your values = success. That’s it.

Your values are defined as your “principles or standards of behavior.” They represent your “judgment about what is important in life.”They are the great non-negotiables.

Unfortunately, too many people spend too much time pursuing the wrong things in life, only to later discover, regretfully, that they’ve frittered away too many years, or that they are not as happy (or productive) as they had hoped (or could have been).

So please, don’t set goals or do anything unless you are certain that they align with your deepest values. Would you go on any big travel adventure (an apt metaphor for life) without a little planning and clarity about where you want to go?

If you’ve never stopped to think about what your values are, stop and define them now. I like this exercise developed by Stan Slap. Complete it. This is how you ensure a successful and productive life, this year and beyond.

Strategy 2: Understand your unique brand of genius and how to use it to maximum effect

Haters gonna hate, so forget them! You have special abilities and insights, and you have the opportunity to make a unique and important contribution. Don’t you ever believe anyone who ever tells you otherwise. There’s no doubt about it in my mind, your maker endowed you with a unique ability for genius and connection but it’s up to you to discover what your unique genius is, refine it, and find ways to share it. This is critical.

The worse thing you can do is pretend to be someone you’re not or work too much, or for too long, on things that don’t tap into your genius. Time spent becoming competent on things that don’t tap into you unique talents is time poorly spent. That time would be better invested on polishing your unique abilities until they shine and dazzle us with their brilliance.

Most people I encounter can’t quite tell me what their unique brand of genius is. Though they may sense what it is, they can’t tell you with clarity and conviction what their superpowers are or how they use them to make a unique impact on their colleagues, teammates, and organizations.

Do you know what your unique strengths are? If not, use the Strengths Finder evaluation to find out.

Once you know your strengths, you can use this to understand how to Standout and make a unique contribution wherever you may be.

Strategy #3: Develop the right mindset

Turns out that there are two groups of people in the world. The people in the first group are stressed out, frustrated and only achieve mediocre results. The people in the second group seem much happier and though they may also struggle, they seem to enjoy engaging with challenges which helps them to create remarkable results.

The first group has what social psychologists call a fixed mindset, the second group has what seems like a better approach: a growth mindset.

If you have a growth mindset you know that with commitment and practice, you can become much better at just about anything. When things get hard, as they invariably do, those with the growth mindset get curious and engaged with the challenge. They seek a deeper understanding at precisely the moment that others are giving up and saying things like, “I’m just not good at this!” or “What’s the use, I guess it’s not meant to be.”

This allows the growth oriented people to be optimistic, persistent, and relentless in their quest to achieve remarkable results.

The bottom line is this: if you’re “not good” at something it’s because you made a choice, conscious or not, and not because you can’t.

And not knowing how to do something is no excuse for not figuring out a way to learn how to do it and then keep trying to do it better.

You owe it to yourself to learn more about the growth mindset right now.

Strategy #4: Think like an owner

Don’t think of yourself as an employee, think of yourself as the owner instead. This is a strategy that has served me well all my life. I don’t walk in anywhere I’ve worked thinking I’m just an employee. I walk around like I own the place.

That’s not to say, of course, that I act with bluster, or arrogance or with some sense of entitlement, actually it’s quite the opposite. I hold myself accountable for more than my own performance.

I work to demonstrate that I care about my colleagues and that I’m committed to trying to be among the best teammates they ever had. After things within my sphere of direct control are in order (i.e. make sure you own house is in order) I get busy looking at the organization like a CEO would. I seek to get a deeper understanding of the needs of all the people in the organization (employees, customers, partners, vendors, shareholders) and then work to challenge the status quo so that the organization can serve those needs better than our competitors.

Maybe you don’t have to be ambitious as all that, but you should hold yourself accountable for more than your own performance. Make sure you take responsibility for your team’s performance as well, and that you are working to find ways to be more effective, as a team.

In other words, don’t be the Michael Jordan who scored 50 points per game consistently on a team that couldn’t get much traction in the playoffs. Be the Michael Jordan that scored 30 points per game and worked diligently to empower teammates to step up their games and make a greater contribution,

In other words, challenge yourself to take responsibility for being a leader instead of a follower. This will change your life.

Strategy #5: Set a Big Scary Audacious Goal, or two

This is the 5th strategy for a reason. To achieve remarkable things you can’t just jump in and set remarkable goals, it’s first about getting your mind right (attitude adjustment). See all of the above.

Then and only then should you set a Big Scary Audacious Goal (BSAG), a concept that I’m stealing from one of my teachers, Jim Collins. You already know how to set goals, you’ve been doing it your whole life. I can only entreat you to make sure they’re specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (S.M.A.R.T).

That’s good advice but I want to clarify something about what is “attainable” and “relevant”.

Relevancy goes back to your values. A goal is irrelevant if it is not in alignment with your deepest values. If you set a goal like “I will live in a multi-million mansion in less the 3 years” you’re in for disappointment, that is, if living in the lap of luxury is not one of your deepest values. You won’t believe you can achieve such a goal because it doesn’t really resonate with you. Be careful. Sometimes we set wrong headed goals because we’re just trying to impress other people. Forget that.

What do you TRULY and DEEPLY desire to manifest in your life? Set a goal around that!

I also want to pick a beef with your notion of what is “Attainable”. Seth eloquently showed us the true danger here: not that you will set goals too high, but that you’ll sell yourself short and set them too low! That’s why I beg you to think BIG and AUDACIOUSLY. You goal should scare you and you should feel like you’re not quite sure how exactly you’re going to achieve it. Listen to that inner voice that beckons you to think bigger and have the audacity to heed it. That’s your genius talking to you, so listen up!

If you were a boxer and I were your trainer I’d tell you to stop being cautious and “let your hands go!” Give yourself permission to think bigger than you have in the past.

And so what if you fail at achieving your big scary goal?

If it’s aligned with your values and you pursue it earnestly you will find yourself smarter and stronger than before, and your life will be in a much better place than if you had set a safe, wimpy, mediocre goal. So I ask you, did you fail? Did you lose? Of course not. You only lose if you don’t learn anything or if you don’t apply what you’ve learned to the next thing. When you have this mindset you can’t lose.

Strategy #6: Learn to detach from unhelpful thoughts

Ok, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is what determines if you’ll gain traction or slip and slide out of control.

I liken what happens to the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. Near the middle of the first movie you see the heroes assembled in a “Fellowship of the Ring” a brotherhood tasked with a bold and danger-fraught adventure (BSAG) to save Middle-earth.

And what happens next?

The usual: Friction! Struggle! Self-doubt!

The same happens in Real-earth. And it will happen to you.

You will encounter real challenges and struggles, but that’s not all— your ancient brain (aka “Lizard brain”, “the Resistance”, or inner-demons) will, like Lord Sauron’s One Ring, conjure up within you feelings and thoughts that won’t help you any (and that’s an understatement). Whether or not you succeed on your quest will depend on whether or not you can get “unhooked” from those negative thoughts and latch on to a more positive thought that can help you re-align with your values and make progress, no matter how small, towards your goals.

I’ve struggled mightily with this in my life and the best tool I have found to “combat” those feelings and emotions is something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). To quote the Wikipedia entry on ACT: “The objective is not elimination of difficult feelings; rather, it is to be present with what life brings us and to “move toward valued behavior.”

If you struggle with self-defeating feelings and thoughts (and who doesn’t at least some of the time), I can’t stress enough the importance of learning more about what ACT can do for you.

This is a good place to start.

Strategy #7: Get plenty of rest

This one’s a no brainer.

Confession time, I used to be envious of people who claim they can sleep 4 hours each night and yet perform at a high level, all day, every day.

“Wow!” I thought to myself.

“I wish I could do that!”

Bill Clinton, for example, was famously super-human in this regard.

Or was he?

Look, maybe you can manage your body like it’s a useless piece of junk and maybe you get away with that for a while until, one sad day,  you drive your body to the brink of calamity. This is precisely what happened to our 42nd president, a recipient of a QUADRUPLE heart bypass surgery in 2004 and another serious heart procedure in 2010.

Why God, why?

Now, I’m not making a direct causal link between sleep deprivation and heart disease, though I am gladly asserting that they are not completely uncorrelated. Scarfing down quarter-pounders and sweets, and letting your midsection expand like the national debt doesn’t help matters any, but call me a liar if lack of sleep does not impair your memory and cognitive ability, create severe hormonal imbalances, deplete your willpower and ability to stave off negative emotions, make you cranky (and potentially obnoxious) and to top it all off, make you age quicker than a tomato drying in the sun.

Basically, depriving yourself of sleep can make you sick.

So bottom line: get at least 7 hours of sleep each night and you’ll be healthier, happier and more productive each day.

Living your best life takes lots of energy!

photo courtesy of Anita Ritenour.