The Jail You Build

Everyone faces obstacles. Everyone has challenges to overcome. While everyone is created equal the environments they are born into are far from equal.

Some people ignore those inequalities and go on to accomplish great things. Some people use them as an excuse to not succeed. Some people who are born with “built in” advantages have to invent excuses to not succeed. The more excuses they invent the better they become at it. They also become very good at not succeeding.

From time to time everyone invents excuses for why they fail at something or why it’s not even worth making the effort to try. This is dangerous because the excuses you invent are addicting. If you make excuses long enough you’ll even start making excuses for making excuses.

These invented excuses are created from negative thoughts and self-talk. If you’re wondering if you talk to yourself you just did, when you asked yourself if you talk to yourself. It doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you human.

Your negative thoughts and self-talk become limiting beliefs. You tell yourself something is impossible and presto, it’s impossible. One thing you and I have in common is that we are the most credible person we know. If we say we can’t do something then we absolutely can’t do it.

You don’t have to say you “can’t” very many times before it becomes fact. You have built a jail around yourself and that jail is keeping you from success.

So here’s a life changing jailbreak for you. Humor me and do this even if you never tell yourself that you can’t do something.

Immediately start paying attention to your self-talk. Write down every limiting thing you say to yourself. You only need to do this for a day to be shocked by how often you say something to yourself, about yourself, that is very unflattering. It’s also most likely not true. But because you thought it you’ll believe it. That negative thought quickly becomes your reality.

Once you get a few limiting thoughts on paper pick one. If the thought includes the word can’t this will be easy….just get rid of the “t.” Change the can’t into can and put that thought back into your brain. The next time you think that thought replace the can’t with the can.

Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? It’s so corny I can hardly believe I’d write it. It’s sounds so simple that it’s stupid.

Except for one little thing…it works. It unlocks the jail door and opens it wide enough to drive a truck through.

We humans are funny creatures. We all claim to want success but most of us tell ourselves something every day that puts us in failure jail. No one can talk themselves into success. It will always require sustained effort to achieve lasting success. But everyone can talk themselves out of success just by telling themselves they can’t have it.

Change your thoughts from “I can’t” to “I can,” it doesn’t guarantee success but it makes it a whole lot more likely.

Learning from Mistakes

Mistakes happen. They are a part of life. With any luck they are also part of learning. Actually luck has nothing to do with it. Humility does. Honesty does. A desire to grow does. Authenticity does.

You will never learn from a mistake you will not admit. You will never learn from one of your mistakes that you attempt to blame on someone else.

People who will not admit a mistake are not much better off than the people who won’t try anything outside of their comfort zone because they are afraid of making one.

Mistakes you don’t admit you make again and again. Mistakes you blame on other people you make over and over. There is however a school of thought that says after you make the same mistake 3 or 4 times it’s not a mistake anymore, it’s a decision. I am firmly enrolled in that school.

Successful people are not afraid to admit their mistakes. They accept responsibility for them, learn from them, use what they can to grow and then they move forward towards greater success.

But even better than learning from your mistakes is learning from the mistakes of others. This is most commonly accomplished by paying attention, having a mentor and asking the right people for advice. Notice that I didn’t say asking for advice, I said asking the right people for advice.

It is my belief that the right people are those who have already accomplished something that I’m hoping to accomplish myself. The right people won’t only tell you how to do something, it’s likely they will show you. They can also provide you insights on how not to do something and that’s the advice that can help us learn from their mistakes.

I say “can help” because in order to learn from the advice of others you must be willing to both listen to the advice and do something differently than you otherwise would have because of it.

So let me offer you this advice: Make a mistake! In fact, make lots of them. A good portion of your success will be determined how fast you can make your mistakes. The rest of your success will be determined by how fast you can learn from those mistakes so you don’t repeat them. Extraordinary success will find you if you’re able to learn from the mistakes of others rather than making them yourself.

Everybody makes mistakes. Not everybody can learn from them. Which everybody are you?

A Self Leadership Checkup

Everybody says we need Authentic Leadership right now, perhaps more than ever before. Well it must be true since everybody can’t be wrong. But it seems to me most people talking and writing about leadership these days are missing an important point.

Before you can lead others authentically you must effectively lead yourself.

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know the people you lead really need you now. That’s because especially in challenging times people need to be led, not managed. But you’re people too. You need leadership as much as anyone. The difference is you may well have to lead yourself.

So let’s do a quick checkup on your self-leadership skills.

You know that your people need some extra inspiration right now. They look to their leaders to provide it. But it’s pretty tough to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself. In those quiet moments (perhaps few and far between right now) how are you staying inspired? What does your “self-talk” sound like? Are you aggressively looking for positives to keep your mindset where it needs to be.

It’s as easy for a leader’s attitude to go south as it is for anyone else. If you’re going to keep other people’s spirits up them you’ll have to keep yours up first. Find the possibilities in every challenge. Problems are an opportunity to learn and grow. They provide the chance to become better and more nimble.

Coach yourself to see obstacles as growth opportunities. Remember, your people will do what you do far faster than they will do what you say. Model the attitude and mindset that you want your people to possess.

You are the master of your emotions, no one else. If you do not make the conscious choice of a positive attitude every single day then a subconscious choice will be made for you by events and circumstances. It will not be a choice that serves you well.

Positive attitudes do not happen by chance, they happen by choice.

How are you doing with time management? If you’re suddenly finding yourself leading from home you may find that you don’t have the same level of discipline that comes with working in an office environment.

Setting daily goals can help with this. Goals create discipline. Discipline is simply choosing between what you want now and what you want most. Your goals should be what you want most. Holding yourself accountable to do the same amount of work at home that you would do in the office requires that you keep in mind what you want most.

The “work things” that you may be less accountable to accomplish right now are the means to the things you want most. When my daily work goals are achieved I allow myself what I want most. That would be ice cream! If the work isn’t crossed off my list then the ice cream doesn’t cross my lips.

It is important to remember that no one on earth has more time than you do. No matter how pressured you may feel you do not, I repeat, you do not have a shortage of time. What you most likely do have is a lack of prioritization skills.

Pursue those daily goals with the zeal of a crazy person and you’ll discover you have all the time you need to accomplish every one of your goals.

Are you carefully choosing your words? A leader’s words carry more weight. In challenging times they weigh even more. Choose your words to convey the exact message you’re trying to get across. Remember how you say something can be even more important than the something you say. Are you being mindful of your tone? It is likely you’re doing more communication over the phone than normal. People can’t read your body language so they use the tone of your voice to decipher the meaning of what they are hearing.

It is your responsibility to make sure they are hearing what you intend for them to hear.

Leading others begins with leading yourself exceptionally well. These three areas are not the only leadership skills to focus on for exceptional self-leadership but they will get you on the right path to being a leader who is prepared to lead others in turbulent times.

The Power of Focus

Somebody a lot smarter than me once said “the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” I don’t recall who said it but it’s absolutely true.

But there is a way that guy can catch both rabbits. He just has to chase them one at a time.

That’s focus.

If you can’t say no to many things then you’ll find it impossible to say yes to focus. In most areas of your life what you choose not to do will determine what you are able to do. If you’re trying to do too much you fall victim to what is known as task saturation. If you fall into that trap you end up accomplishing far less than the person focused on one thing at a time.

That’s the big illusion that multi-taskers present to themselves. They believe they can do many things well and that they can do them all at once. But every bit of research shows without a doubt that they are fooling themselves.

One person doing eight things one at a time will do them better and faster than one person trying to do all eight of them at once. That’s the power of focus.

Some people would tell you they can’t focus. That’s not exactly right. What they can’t do is decide. They can’t decide on their priorities. They are like a kid in a candy store…they want it all and they want it right now.

That “kid in the candy store” mentality causes them to accomplish things right at the deadline. They get them done in the nick of time because suddenly they didn’t have to decide what to do next, a deadline made the decision for them. The problem is, things done at the deadline are seldom done as well as those things done with time to spare.

The most successful people possess laser like focus. They invest a bit of time, well actually some serious time, in determining their priorities and then they go after them to the exclusion of all distractions.

Warren Buffett has laser focus and he has a dependable process to keep it that he shares with people who struggle with their own focus.

He’ll ask them to invest some time to write out their top 25 goals. These can be life goals, 10 year goals or goals for the coming month or year. Once they have that list he asks them to review it and select their top 5.

So now they have two lists, let’s call them list one and list two. Buffett asks what the person intends to do with list two. Most say that they will work on them as time permits because while they are not as important as list one they are still important.

That’s when Buffett gives them life altering advice. He tells them list two is actually their “avoid at all cost” list. He says that list should get zero attention until list one is 100% complete. That’s what focus looks like in practice.

I can tell you from personal experience that focusing is easy when compared to developing the lists. If you want success with your own list one you must be willing to sacrifice everything on list two.

Most people are able to do that but are unwilling to do that. Those 20 things on list two prevent them from achieving any of the things on list one. In their case, ALL the rabbits got away.

Some would say if you’re focusing on more than one thing you don’t really have focus. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt and say so long as you’re focusing on one at a time you can maybe have five or six things on your radar.

Any more than that and you might as well be Elmer J. Fudd.

The Lottery of Life

I don’t often buy lottery tickets. I do when there is a jackpot over $500 million or so but why bother with those pesky $200 or $300 million ones. 

 

I think lots of people are just like me. Lottery officials seem to confirm that. The higher the jackpot the longer the lines to buy tickets and the faster the jackpot grows. 

 

There are a lot of people who play the lottery of life the same way. They ask for a little help but what they mean is “do it for me.” They will actually refuse “some” help because they want enough “help” so that they don’t have to do a thing on their own to succeed. 

 

The people who truly win the lottery of life are the ones who have developed the discipline and work ethic to succeed on their own. Except they know they never really do it on their own. They work their butts off and accept whatever help they can get along the way and use it to boost their own efforts, not replace them.

 

There are certainly people who seem to “luck” their way to success. There are people who have the appearance of success handed to them. There are also a whole lot of people hoping for success to somehow magically appear.

 

But the surest way to find success is to look for it in the hard work and effort you put forth to earn it. 

 

The legendary baseball player Babe Ruth once said, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” Are you that person? Do you suffer the setbacks that life offers and bounce back to try again? Are you working for success or hoping for success?

 

I don’t want anyone to stop hoping for something better but hope alone doesn’t accomplish much. Never allow hope to stop you from making a concerted effort to earn the success you’re hoping for. 


If you’re willing to work for it then I’m willing to bet you’ll find it. You’ll find it or you’ll make it but either way you’ll have won the biggest lottery of all. You’ll have won the lottery of life! 

The Best School in the World

Almost every successful person in the world attended this school. I should probably remove that “almost” qualifier and say every successful person. It is a tough school with lessons so difficult they often seem insurmountable. Some people, the less successful types, don’t even have the courage to walk through the virtual doors of this school. 

 

It’s the school known as “The School of Hard Knocks.” Some people call it the school of life.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with this school it isn’t found in a building. It’s not located in any particular place. The school never closes, not even when you want it to. When you’re trying something new or working your butt off to succeed you can find yourself in this “school” with no notice. All of the sudden it just happens!

 

The “classes” taught there can be very challenging but once learned they tend to stay with you forever. They are frequently life changing. They are most often self-taught. The “tests” associated with these classes can leave scars that last a long time. Some of the scars can be seen but many of them are only felt. But the feeling can be incredibly painful. 

 

These lessons cannot be bought, they must be earned. As difficult as they can be I’d encourage anyone to attend “The School of Hard Knocks” because some of life’s best lessons are taught there. It seems as if that Hard Knocks place is the one that shows you how to use all those fancy degrees and formal education you received from the other schools.


Don’t shy away from life’s tough lessons. The stuff you learn in a school with four walls can help you make a living but the stuff you learn outside those walls can help you make a life.


Are You Chasing a Dream?

The answer to that question is yes, you are most certainly chasing a dream. The bigger question is whether it’s your dream or somebody else’s. 

 

There is nothing wrong with helping someone else chase their dream so long as it doesn’t prevent you from chasing yours as well. Sadly, most people never realize the difference. 

 

If you’re working for someone else then you’re helping that person or that organization chase their dream. There is NOTHING wrong with that, many, in fact most, very successful people are employed by an individual or a company.

 

But they ALSO chase their own dream at the same time. 

 

I find it impossible to describe anyone as successful if they are merely chasing someone else’s dream. I can confidently say that I’ve never met a truly happy person who was chasing someone else’s dream at the expense of their own. 

 

But, and this is a big but…you must have a dream in order to chase it. Many people who work for other people helping them chase their dream don’t have definable dreams of their own to pursue. They seem to “settle.” 

 

They kind of float through life not even realizing they are chasing someone else’s dream. They get a paycheck that they divide up between their creditors and they think they are happy if there is something left for them at the end of the month. 

 

But there’s so much more to life when you’re chasing a dream of your own. The fullness of life comes from understanding your purpose in life. Your dreams come from your purpose.

 

I am fortunate that I figured out long ago that helping others chase their dream IS part of my dream. I succeed when those I help get closer to their dreams.

 

If you don’t know what your dreams are then some serious self-reflection is required. Have you ever considered what true happiness looks like to you? Have you ever defined success for yourself? Do you know why you’re doing the things you’re doing this very day? 

 

If you can answer those questions with a high degree of specificity then you have a path to success. If not then you have some work to do. 


The most successful people do not follow their dreams, they chase them. Find some running shoes and get a move on today!