The Most Important Thing to Know

I often tweet about success. I also often get replies that I have no business defining success for someone else. That is 100% true.

Defining success is deeply personal. 

I met a couple a few years ago who felt very successful. They were in their sixties and didn’t have a dime saved up for retirement. They had worked on and off through the years and for most of their adult lives had received some kind of government assistance. They had no disabilities and except for a few aches and pains that come with being in your sixties they were both healthy as could be. 

I was very curious about these two and that perhaps made me overly bold about asking them a few questions. One I asked was about their plans for living in retirement with no income besides a likely small social security check. They weren’t the least bit offended. In fact they smiled and said, “we’re talking to our retirement plan right now.”

There assumption was that “somebody” will always take care of them because in America, “they have to.” And they were fine with that. They didn’t need a lot to be happy and they were okay with living off the efforts of others. Having what they needed and being comfortable with how they received it was their definition of success. 

I was a little shocked with their answer but the longer I thought about it the more I began to think, “good for them!” They have found their personal formula for success. Who am I to judge? Their definition of success is about as far away from mine as you could get but that’s okay, it’s THEIR definition of success. It works for them. 

Whatever your definition of success is, it only needs to work for you. If you’re going to be happy in life it is important that you know that. Do not let other people define what success looks like for you. Ever!

You also must be willing to accept the fact that other people might disagree with your definition. As for the couple who are willing to live off the effort of others I would prefer to burn my money in a pit before they get their hands on it. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the most important thing to know and the most important thing to know is that your definition of success belongs to you and you alone. 

I kinda hate writing this post. In fact this is one of those posts where I sat down to write one thing but something completely different came out. I really do wish the whole world would accept a unified, socially acceptable definition of success so we can properly judge people as successes or failures. I also wish the Easter Bunny was real. 

But since neither of those are real I’ll share with you what may be the second most important thing to know. You’ll never make yourself happier by trying to judge someone else according to your standards of personal success. 

So don’t judge. Realize that one of the things that make people special is how different we all are. So when somebody doesn’t meet your standards of success don’t try to sway them to your way of thinking. Just say, “well ain’t you special,” and they can’t take that however they want. 

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?

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?

The Enemy Within a Me

People get frustrated with me when I tell them that it’s very likely the greatest obstacle to success they face is themselves. 

They tell me I don’t understand, but I do. They tell me I don’t know, but I do. They tell me I don’t know how tough it can be “out there,” but I do. 

I also know that in any situation where I’ve struggled to advance or accomplish a goal my greatest enemy was within me. That enemy slowed down my progress. My doubts about my own abilities prevented me from moving forward. Those doubts opened the door to my true enemy which was fear of failure. 

Despite the compliments I get about my speaking ability, the things I write and other stuff I do, I know this undeniable truth about myself…overall I’m a pretty average person. I don’t say that about myself in a bad way, in fact my “averageness” is one of my greatest strengths. It helps me relate to the people I’m trying to help. 

That’s why I can say with a high degree of confidence, I do understand, I do know. 

I also know my main enemy is within a me! 

I know the best way for me to block that enemy is to believe in myself. People who believe in themselves are pretty darn near impossible to stop. When YOU believe in yourself you are pretty much unstoppable.

Believing in yourself leaves no room for doubt. Without doubt to open the door fear has no way into your head. 

Any battle is halfway won when when your enemy within is kept away. Obstacles become opportunities when the enemy within you can’t mess with your head. 

So the next time doubt starts to creep into your thoughts you need to immediately ask yourself,  “is this an actual problem, or is this the enemy within a me just tearing down my confidence?”

If you’re average like me, and most of you are, (see, that’s how “average” works) you’ll know it’s the enemy within. You should also know you can defeat it by ignoring it. I know that if you believe in yourself you will be unstoppable. 

I know that about you cause I know that about me. I’ll never let the enemy within a me make me doubt my ability and neither you should you.

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Follow-Up”

Congratulations! You have a plan. If you’ve followed the steps we laid out in the previous 7 posts you not only have a plan, you have a plan based on your values and goals. There are not too many people who can say that. So good for you.

While your plan is ready to be implemented, or “launched” it is not yet done. In fact, the best plans are never done. That’s why the 8th and not really “final” step in the process is called The “Follow-Up.” 

Even as you work your way through your plan you should be reviewing it periodically to make sure it still “works” for you. If we’ve learned anything from 2020 it’s that life has a not so funny way of turning our plans to mush. 

Mushy plans are not good plans. So constantly be tweaking your plan. 

While tweaking your plan you must keep this undying principle in mind…you plans can, will, and should change as circumstances require. The Core Values upon which you’ve built your plan should remain rock solid. 

Your well thought out and developed plan is a living plan. Do not allow it to die a circumstantial death. As your environment changes, as you change, as circumstances change, your plans must change as well.

The “Follow-Up” step is where you schedule 30, 60, 90, 180 day reviews of your plan. During the 180 day review schedule additional follow-ups as needed. Put these follow-ups on your calendar. Ask your coach, mentor, or accountability partner to review the progress you’ve made towards your plan. They can offer suggestions for adjustments or advise you to stay the course. 

You now have a plan that clearly states who you are and where you are. You have a plan that says specifically who you will be in the future. You have a plan that illuminates the path that you need to follow to arrive at your goals in life. 

Continuously feed your plan with fresh thinking. Provide it with the effort and discipline needed to keep your plan in constant forward motion. 

Your reward will be a life full of the things you earned while working your plan. Pay particular attention to that previous sentence. Your reward will be the things you EARNED while WORKING your plan. 

You have an awesome plan but it will not work for you if you do not work for it. Work your plan and enjoy the life it helps you earn.

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Launch”

The “Launch” is the seventh step in our planning process. It’s also one of the most frequently skipped steps. It is amazing to me how many times I’ve seen a person or a company invest time and in the case of companies, huge amounts of money, to develop a great plan and then do nothing with it. 

Years ago I was working for a company and we were contacted by one of the largest banks in the world. While they were already huge, their growth was stagnant and they wanted a plan to begin growing again. 

We advised them that the first step of developing a plan would be determining where they were at right now…we needed a crystal clear idea of their “As Is.” As I said this was a large bank and the most effective way to determine their current situation was to conduct a needs assessment throughout all levels of the organization. This would a seven figure investment and they would receive an actionable plan that would lead to a return to growth for the organization. 

We delivered the plan to the bank on time, which was four months after the process began. They were a little overwhelmed at the amount of detail we provided but they agreed wholeheartedly with our findings. They were excited to be moving forward. 

We scheduled our first follow up meeting (The Follow Up will be the 8th and final step in our process) for 90 days after they put the plan into action. 90 days later when we called to confirm the follow up meeting they asked to reschedule. They were still preparing to launch the plan “in the very near future.” Remember they paid over a million dollars for the needs assessment and the plan that came out of it. 

The bank NEVER did actually launch the plan. They had the best of intentions. They invested heavily to make certain their plan was actionable and that their desired outcomes would be achieved. But they failed to launch!

The “Launch” is where having a coach or a mentor can make a huge difference. Without someone to hold you accountable you may never begin. Or, you may have a few “false starts” and then never get going again. 

Think of all the time you’ve invested to this point. You likely know more about yourself then you ever have before. You’ve dreamed your dream and made a plan to make it become real. You’ve done the hardest part. 

All that’s left is to implement the plan. 

You need to take that first step. Some of us, okay, most of us will still need a little push. That’s what your coach or mentor is for. If you think coaches or mentors are only for big shots then don’t get one.  But find yourself an accountability partner and ask them to hold you accountable. The only requirement for an accountability partner is that they care enough about you to actually hold you accountable. 

I can’t say that strongly enough…whoever you ask to hold you accountable MUST truly CARE for you. That is a must must must! They need to be willing to keep encouraging you, pushing you, even scolding you in that’s what’s needed. Your accountability partner needs to stay along side of you when you tell them you’re done. They must care enough to not allow you to be done. 

Some people seem to misread the title of this step. After completing their plan instead of going to “launch” they simply go to lunch…and apparently never come back. Lunch can wait, your future will not! Implement your plan ASAP…as in today because in you’re always waiting for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. 

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Time Table”

Some people use time as an excuse. Highly successful people use time as a tool. 

Now that you know what you’ll stop doing in order to succeed and you know what you’ll start doing to achieve your goals you need to commit to a time table. This is such a critical step in the planning process yet many people skip it completely. 

Years ago when I would present Goal Setting Workshops for Dale Carnegie people would present truly outstanding goals. They presented them with such passion that it was obvious they wanted to achieve them. 

But when I asked when they would begin the pursuit of those goals they were completely flummoxed. They had not considered a starting date and time, they were simply going to do it. Except I knew they likely wouldn’t. Because they would most probably use time as an excuse for never actually beginning. I’ve seen it happen again and again. 

So for everything you committed to stop doing you need to add each one of those individually to a time table. EACH ONE, INDIVIDUALLY! If you think you can lump them all together and stop them all at once you need to be more realistic. 

Keep in mind you’re using a TIME table, not a date table. When adding a “stop action” to your time table list the date you will implement the stop action AND the time of day. Specifically. Exactly. Then put that in your calendar. In ink. In all caps. 

Tell the world about your commitment. Ask them, ask everyone, to hold you accountable. 

Use exactly the same process for everything you committed to start doing in order to achieve your goals and bring your plan to life. Specificity is key. You need to determine the exact date and time you will begin….or you’re unlikely to begin…ever.

Setting an exact date and time to begin your journey to goal achievement is an example of using time as a tool. Having an exact date and time in your plan and on your calendar gives you the tool of accountability. It helps you hold yourself accountable. Sharing that exact date and time with others might even give you more accountability than you want. 😀

One a word of caution about adding action items to your time table. The farther into the future you plan to stop or start an action the less likely it is that you’ll do it. The best time to begin is today. The second best time is tomorrow and the third best time is the next day. You can imagine how effective it WON’T be to start something 6 months from now…that’s almost as bad as having no start date at all. 

Today is the best day to take control of your life. If you begin today then all of your tomorrow’s will have a much better chance of going according to YOUR plan. If you don’t have a plan then you’ll have to settle for whatever happens to come your way. 

Don’t settle…plan!