Day-tight Compartments

The world is being overtaken with worry. Well…that’s not exactly right, it would be more accurate to say the world has been overtaken with worry. We have more to worry about than ever before. 

Or do we?

I think it’s good to keep “things” in perspective so let’s look at a few numbers. 40% of the things most people worry about never happen. 30% of the things people worry about are completely out of their control. They couldn’t change them if they tried. 20% of our worries come straight out of someone else’s opinion and have nothing to do with fact. 

If I’m counting my fingers and toes correctly that adds up to 90%! 90% of our worrying is a complete waste of time and energy. 90% of our worrying does nothing but pummel our joy and enthusiasm. We receive no return on that investment of time and energy so stop investing in worry. 

So what about the other 10%?

In Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (the greatest book every written on the subject of controlling worry) he provides a set of principles that are life changing. One of them has served me particularly well. It’s one of the first principles in the book and it says to “live in day-tight compartments.” 

That principle simply says don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. It says to focus all your energy on what is happening right now because that’s what you have the greatest chance of controlling. 

Take the pandemic for instance. I have no idea (does anybody?) how this ends. I have no idea what happens tomorrow or next week. I just know what I can do today to give myself and my family the best chance of staying healthy…so that’s where I’m focusing my energy. 

I have a bunch of big presentations coming up in the next few weeks. If I tried to focus on all of them I’d probably go crazy. So I’m only focused on my next one. That’s the presentation that has to be the best. Once I’m done with that one then it’s the next one that must be the best. The fact that some of these are on the same day or consecutive days makes no difference, they are all in their own “tight compartments” and they will happen one at a time. So why worry about one a couple weeks away?

I know the first thought of many people when they hear “don’t worry” is “easier said than done.” Well EVERYTHING worth doing is easier said than done. But here’s another bit of advice from Mr. Carnegie’s book that might help.

He says when facing trouble to do these three things:

  • Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is if you can’t solve your problem.
  • Mentally prepare to accept the worst if necessary.
  • Then calmly work to improve upon the worst possible outcome.

I’ve found very few antidotes to worry that are more effective than using your time and energy to solve the issue that’s causing the worry. Even if you’re unsuccessful you’ll have eliminated a great deal of worry from your life. 

So worry if you must but don’t worry about yesterday, that’s now completely out of your control. And don’t borrow worry from tomorrow, just deal with it as it comes. There is at least a 40% chance that it never does. 

Stop Telling and Start Asking

I like salespeople who love their products. Enthusiasm is vital to success in sales. If the salesperson can’t get excited about what they are selling how will they ever get a prospect excited enough to buy it? 

But…

Great salespeople temper their enthusiasm long enough to ask questions. They discover what it is about their products that will excite and benefit their customers. Instead of telling prospects EVERYTHING about their products they ask questions. The answers help them determine how and even if, their product or service can help the customer. 

We’ve all come across a salesperson who begins their “pitch” by claiming to know exactly what we need. Aside from the fact that the most professional salespeople make presentations and not pitches, I just don’t buy from people who know exactly what I need before they ask me a single question.

I know salespeople don’t do it intentionally but they do great damage to their credibility when they tell before they ask. They appear interested in moving product whether it helps a customer or not. They seem to be purely transactional salespeople. 

The best salespeople ask the best questions. They almost always ask the most questions too. They ask questions that cause the customer to think a little. They also don’t mind a bit of silence while the customer is thinking. 

If you’re in sales and your prospects and customers can instantly answer any question you ask then it’s likely you’re not asking “deep” questions. Deep questions uncover your prospects real issues. Sometimes the prospect isn’t even aware of the seriousness of the issue. Questions help the sales professional bring it to the surface. Those deep questions help you, and sometimes the prospect too, understand what it would mean to resolve the issue once and for all. 

Ultimately deep questions help the sales professional know whether or not their product or service is a match for the prospect or customer. 

That’s vital because no ethical salesperson will ever sell or product or service that they know will not benefit the buyer in any way. 

Professional salespeople never “wing it” when it comes to asking questions. Some may not have specific questions prepared in advance. But all will certainly have the information they need well mapped out before they begin even an initial sales call. 

Odds are, and I’m mean no offense here, but odds are overwhelming that you are leaving important customer information buried for the simple reason that you’re not asking enough deep questions. 

If you’re in sales then ask more questions. In fact, even if you’re not in sales you should know that asking questions…and listening to the answers, is the fastest way to learn. I understand that some salespeople find asking questions to be scary, but I don’t understand why.

I mean after all, when was the last time you saw a headline in the newspaper that said, “Salesperson shot dead for asking a deep question? 

I’ve never seen that either so ask away! 

One Good Thing

I’d like to ask you to do yourself a favor. It’s not a big ask, it’s really very simple. In many ways it’s a small thing but the results could be anything but small.

In fact this little thing could have a huge positive impact on your life. 

I’d like to ask you to take note of one good thing that happened to you or around you. I’d like to ask you to do that every single day…forever. Then I’d like you to share that one good thing with someone else. Tweet them, text them, post it, pin it, or call somebody to tell them. But tell at least one person each day about that one good thing. 

Then, ask them to start taking note of one good thing that happened to them or around them and ask them to share it with at least other person a day. Every single day…forever. 

Despite what you may initially think it’s not difficult to find one good thing every single day. We only have to keep our eyes and hearts open to it. We may need to “tune out” some of the negative stuff to see the good things but that’s not such a bad thing. That might actually be the biggest benefit of looking out for the good stuff. 

Let’s flood social media with good stuff. Let’s overwhelm every instant messaging app on the planet with good things happening to people everyday of the week. Let’s clog every cell phone tower in the world with cell phone traffic talking about the good we see and feel as we go about our lives. 

Let’s do those things even on our most challenging day because even on our “days from hell” something good is happening to us or around us. So share the good with others. Every single day! 

If every single day seems like too much for you then just do it today. Don’t concern yourself with every single day. Make it easy on yourself and just do it each day…I’m pretty sure that will work out fine too. 

The Customer is Always Right

There is an excellent Grocery Store chain in the Northeastern United States. It’s called Stew Leonard’s. In the grocery business there is formula that determines the retail volume you should expect given the square footage of your space. The bigger the store the more retail volume…seems pretty basic. 

Except Stew Leonard’s has always been known to blow past that formula. In theory they should not be able to sell as much as they do given the size of their stores. 

But their most basic business principle has always been, “The Customer is Always Right.”

That principle is so important that they have it etched into a three-ton granite rock that is placed near the entrance to their store. It also includes an equally important second principle, or rule if you will. 

On the rock you’ll see: “Our Policy – Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1!”

Now that’s kinda nice in principle but we all know in real life it’s a bunch of bull. Except it’s not. Not for the most customer centric businesses anyway. 

When I do Customer Service training I’ll begin by asking the groups about their roles as customer service representatives. I want to know what they think their job is. I get all the usual answers and for the most part they are pretty accurate. 

But I have never gotten the one answer I’m looking for. The answer I’m most looking for is this: “to make the customer right.” 

When everyone, not just customer service people, but everyone in an organization sees their fundamental responsibility as “making the customer right” you’ll have customers beating a path to your door. 

Making the customer right can sometimes mean influencing an often emotional customer to think differently about the situation. Sometimes it can mean adjusting your organization’s policy on the fly. Sometimes it can just mean changing your way of thinking… actually it will almost always mean changing your way of thinking. 

It means changing your way of thinking from “how can I show this customer they are wrong to how can I make this customer right.” It means changing our mentality to one of “winning” a dispute with a customer to one of winning the customer for life. 

Making the customer right can sometimes seem impossible. Sometimes the customer doesn’t exactly motivate us to want to help them be right. But seeming impossible is not the same as being impossible. It is also not the customer’s responsibility to motivate us to help them. 

Of this I am certain; if you do not always put the customer first in your business then you run the risk of becoming the last place they want to do business with. 

That doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to me so never forget rule #1, the customer is always right…even if you have to work some magic to make it so!

Back to Basics

As the story goes, the legendary former coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, would start every training camp the same way. He would hold up a football and announce with great gusto, “This is a football.” 

Keep in mind he was speaking to a room full of professional football players. I think I’m safe in assuming that they all had at least a passing familiarity (pun intended) with what a football looked like. 

But Coach Lombardi was making a point. His point was we are going to begin with the basics because it’s the basics that will make us champions. 

You may not be a professional football player but that point is as applicable to you as it was to those Green Bay Packers. 

Skipping the basics, or believing your skills are so advanced that the basics no longer apply to you is one sure way to fall short of your potential. 

As the year ahead comes into focus it’s a great time to review your own “basics.” What have you skipped, or simply forgotten, that used to bring you great results? Maybe you used to send thank you notes…remember those, the kind you wrote out by hand, put in an envelope and dropped in a blue box on the corner? That practice remains to this day a solid basic skill when building and nurturing relationships. Perhaps more than ever considering how rare thank you notes have become. 

Maybe you skip making yourself a prioritized task list each morning. Using a prioritized task list is key to strong time management. For most people it’s not that they don’t have enough time, it’s that they lack a clear sense of priorities. 

People who prioritize what they want and need to accomplish will in fact accomplish much more than the people who don’t. Even if you’ve never applied that basic skill to your life before, now would be a great time to start. 

There are so many “basics” to success that I could go on forever. But instead I’ll encourage you to invest some time to think back to some of your greatest successes. What were some of the basics that helped you achieve that success? Are you still using them? If not can you say with specificity why you’re not? Or have they somehow faded away with not much thought as to why?

Consider the basics you need to be consistently successful and then go back to them. This is a great example of when “going back” is the fastest path forward to future success. 

So, what are you going back to?

Advice to Your Younger Self

I was in a TEAMS meeting recently doing some planning for a much bigger meeting. We were discussing conversation starters when one of the people in the meeting suggested an interesting question to get ideas flowing. 

His question was: What is the one piece advice, if you knew then what you know now, you would have given yourself when you were just starting out? 

I was immediately fascinated with the question. I also knew my answer almost immediately. It is probably easier for me to answer that question, particularly this time of year. That’s because towards the end of each year as I plan for the year ahead I reflect back on prior years to determine what they can teach me. 

Most people want to improve. They know they need to learn in order to do it. What we forget however is that what we learn from others can’t ever teach us as effectively as what we learn from ourselves. 

So how would you answer that question for yourself? Take some time because it’s a serious question. But here’s an additional follow up question to consider…are you now following the advice that you would have given yourself years earlier? 

Depending on where you’re at in your career the advice may or may not be applicable but it is worth considering anyway. 

For those of you wondering about my answer to that question here it is.

I would tell my younger self to listen FAR MORE than I talk. I’d add that I should listen intently to those who are nearest to the end of their career. There are far less likely to be playing politics or trying to lead you astray. They know more because they have lived more. 

A  few words of caution here…wisdom usually shows up with age but not always. Sometimes age just shows up by itself. 

If you can learn from their mistakes instead of making the mistakes yourself you will save yourself a lot of time and expense. 

I’d finish the advice by reminding myself that I’ll never learn one darn thing from talking. I’ll only learn from listening. So listen, listen, and listen some more. 

Most of that advice remains 100% applicable today…too bad I didn’t listen when it was first shared with me by someone else. 🥴

The Promise of Tomorrow

Every year holds it’s own set of lessons. Those who study history know that the years teach us many things that a single day will never know.

I don’t think we’ll need much history however to understand some of the lessons from the year 2020. For too many families around the world one of those lessons is that tomorrow is promised to no one. No one can know if their own tomorrow will actually arrive. 

But we also know that if our tomorrow does arrive we have much more control over it than we often choose to take. Many people let their days unfold as if they have no say whatsoever in the events of that day. They let the day happen. 

The happiest and most successful people never let a day happen “to them.” They make the day happen “for them.” 

They may not be able to choose each of the “events” that come their way each day but they are able to choose exactly how they will respond to them. They choose very very frequently to respond with a positive attitude.

That positive attitude allows them to take something good from every experience. It allows them to learn from even their least favorite event of any given day. It allows them to constantly be looking forward to the promise of an even better tomorrow. 

You have the same choice. The only question is whether or not you’ll actually make it. 

I know people who make the choice of a positive attitude 100% of the time. They are happier than me. I am happier than people who make the choice of a positive attitude less frequently than me. 

I know people who choose to look for opportunities in every problem 100% of the time. They are more successful than me. I am more successful than people who look for opportunities in problems less than I do. 

It is very clear that happiness and success come from our choices and no choice we make is more important than the choice of a positive attitude. Choosing to look for opportunities inside problems is a close second. 

Yet I’m tempted to tell you it’s not possible 100% of the time cause it seems impossible to me. But I know people who prove me wrong. It’s not only a possibility for them, it is a reality. So I’m going to keep trying to make it my reality too. 

The promise of tomorrow doesn’t wait. You need to go get it. Your choice of a positive attitude is the fastest ride to those promises you’ll ever find. You willing to hop on board with me?