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?

Where to Find Success

I wrote a post a few years back that I titled “The True Secret to Success” or something close to that. It got lots of views but I suspect many people didn’t read to the end. They quickly discovered that there really is no secret to success. 

 

For as long as there have been people, people have searched for that “secret” to success. They look for shortcuts and the easy way. The reality is that if they put as much effort into working for success as they did trying to “luck” into it they would have had success long ago. 

 

The only place to find success is in hard work and honest effort. Anyone who tells you that you can succeed without thinking, without planning and without working will also try to sell you ocean front property in Montana. (They might also ask for your vote but that’s another story) 

     

If you’re thinking you don’t have what it takes to succeed then think again. If you have enough desire and discipline you can be or do almost anything you want.

     

Actual research now shows that the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. Even when you are talking about people like Tiger Woods and Warren Buffett natural talent takes a back seat to hard work and practice. Not just any hard work and practice but painful and demanding practice and hard work. Hard work again and again. Practice and more practice, over and over again. 

 

Yes, talent helps but hard work always beats talent when the talented person doesn’t work. 

     

We need to understand that talent doesn’t mean intelligence, motivation or personality traits. It’s an innate ability to do some specific activity especially well. British-based researchers Michael J. Howe, Jane W. Davidson and John A. Sluboda conclude in an extensive study, “The evidence we have surveyed … does not support the notion that excelling is a consequence of possessing innate gifts.”

     

You can make yourself into almost anything you want and you can even make yourself great.

     

One thing all the “greats” have in common is that no matter how “great” they are, they never stop trying to get better. They strive to grow each day and they never substitute good enough for great.

     

If you’re like most people, including me, and you can’t readily identify your innate gifts don’t worry about it. Get to work and you’ll soon pass up those people who were resting on their “gifts” while you were busy making the effort required to succeed.

Do You Know the “Needs” of Your Business?

I used to work for a guy who when it came time to allocate resources would always ask the same question… is that a “need to do” or a “nice to do?” 

 

It didn’t make any difference if the resource being allocated was time, people, money or a combination of the three the question was usually the same. It always made me stop and think. 

 

What I discovered was that for any business or organization relatively few things are a “need to do.” There are some activities that are vital for success. Things like investing in future products, excelling at what should be your core competencies, preparing the organization’s next generation of leaders, and building long-term meaningful customer relationships based on trust are a few of the key “need to do” items.

 

If you’re wondering what some of the “nice to do” things might be let me sum it up like this…if it is not “need to do” then it is “nice to do.” Most things businesses and organizations do are nice to do. They may not have a long-term impact but they “seem” productive and oh by the way, they are usually easier to do than the “need to do” things.

 

I have no problem with anyone doing the “nice to do” things that can sometimes be described as “the little extra” that customers love. I have no problem so long as the “nice” things aren’t done at the expense of or instead of the “need” things. 

 

For instance, let’s say you run a car wash and a “nice” to do is giving every customer a free air freshener as they enter the car wash. The customers seem to appreciate the air fresheners but they do not appreciate the fact that their cars are returned to them dirty. 

 

If you’re running a car WASH then getting the car clean would seem to me to be a core competency. Air fresheners are nice but I can’t imagine a car wash customer that wouldn’t trade that for a clean car. 

 

Every time you make a decision to take action in your business or organization you should ask yourself is this a “need to do” or a “nice to do?” I cannot imagine a single “nice” that would ever take precedence over a “need.” At least not if you intend to be successful.

 

Of course you also must be honest with yourself about what the “needs” really are. I’ve been known to convince myself that a “nice” was a “need” simply because I wanted to do it. 


I try to think of it like this: nothing can be nice until the needs are taken care of. Adding up all the “nice” you could possibly do will not outweigh a single “need.” That’s why it’s so important that you know the true “needs” of your organization. 

A Settled Life

It is a sad reality that more people have “settled” for the life they have than have chosen the life they want. 

 

People “settle” for less than they could have in many areas of their life. They settle on a unrewarding and unchallenging job. They settle on being paid less than they deserve for doing that job they don’t love. They settle on friends that hold them back. Sometimes they even settle on a life partner that doesn’t truly care about them. 

 

I have heard all the reasons, or actually excuses, for why that happens. Once in a great while I’ve even used those excuses myself. Fortunately I’ve resisted using those excuses far more often than I’ve taken the easy way and settled. 

 

Here’s the difference between settling and busting through the easy way to earn what you actually deserve… the uncertainty and discomfort of breaking through eventually ends, the never ending tinge of sadness that comes with knowing that you’ve settled doesn’t. It’s like you’re haunted by the ghost known as “what if.” 

 

I’m all for a compromise now and then but using your hopes and dreams to build that compromise is like building your home in quicksand. Sooner or later you’ll come to regret that kind of compromise and it’s far more likely to be sooner.

 

Refusing to settle is hard work. That’s why I so often recommend having a coach or a mentor who cares enough to hold you accountable for achieving your goals. Good mentors will not allow you to settle. 

 

You must have goals before you can be accountable to achieve them. The most successful people take the goal setting process very seriously. They set goals that mesh with their core values then they develop an actionable plan to achieve them. Highly successful people rarely settle for less than they believe they deserve. 

 

Goalless people won’t like this but it’s the lack of clear goals that makes it so easy to settle. Since they have no particular destination in mind they “rest” at the first convenient place that comes along. Before they even realize it, they have settled. 

 

The good news is they don’t have to stay settled. 

 

If you find yourself living a settled life then get a coach or a mentor. Find someone who cares enough about you to disrupt your settled life. Allow them to make you a little more uncomfortable than you think you can stand. 


You may hate it at first but that will pass. You’ll eventually be grateful that your motivation to achieve greater success was dislodged from under your settled life. 

What is Success?

My wife and I went to see a movie with some friends last week and as we left the theater the husband of the other couple says, “Well that guy was a complete failure.” I replied that while there could certainly be differing opinions as to his level of success “that guy” was anything but a complete failure. 

 

Here’s a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie “Hostiles.” It is a different kind of Western about an revered Army Captain (that guy) who is given the mission of escorting a hated and dying Indian Chief and his family, held prisoner for 17 years, from New Mexico to their homeland of Montana to die. 

 

The Captain is known for his fearlessness in fighting (and killing) scores of Indians. He strongly resists taking on the mission but relents when told his Army pension is at stake. He musters a unit together and along with the Chief, his daughter, his son and daughter-in-law and their young son they head north for Montana. 

 

To say the least they run into some trouble along the way. First it’s a scalp hunting band of Indians and then a murderous band of white fur trappers. The Captain rescues a woman along the way whose entire family had been killed by renegades but by the time the group reaches Montana all but one of the Captain’s soldiers had been killed. 

 

But they made it to the Chief’s homeland with all the Indians alive. Along the way the Captain and the Chief have come to respect each other and buried the hatchet. (no pun intended, well, maybe a little)

 

But the Chief is very sick and dies soon after reaching his tribes land. The Captain and his remaining solider bury the Chief as his family mourns his passing. They have no sooner finished burying the Chief than a man and his three sons ride up and demand that the Indian be removed from “their” land. 

 

The Captain refuses and a gunfight ensues. The landowner and his three sons are killed but so is the last of the Captain’s unit and all the Indians except the young boy. All that remains of the group is the Captain, the woman rescued early in the trip and the Indian boy. 

 

So did the Captain fail? He lost all his people so it’s hard to exactly call the whole thing a great success. But his mission was to get the Chief home to die and that mission was successful albeit not without great cost. So I don’t think the Captain could be described as a failure, certainly not a complete failure. 

 

What do you think? How do you define success? There are many levels to success and the best definition of success is a very individual and personal definition. 

 

As for me, I believe the Captain successfully completed his mission. He overcome great loss and many obstacles and still completed an assignment he didn’t want in the first place. He persevered and it’s hard for me to call anyone who does that something other than a great success. 


What say you?

When Goals Matter – Part Two

I should probably warn you right up front that the process of setting truly achievable goals is serious work. It requires some heavy thinking and a substantial commitment of time. If you’re not at a point in your life where you want to have a measure of control over every aspect of it then maybe this post isn’t for you.

 

If however you want to be the driver of your life then read on, I’m talking to you.

 

A solid goal-setting process begins with the investment of some serious time considering what is important in your life. That might sound easy but here’s the deal, what is important in your life isn’t what you say it is, it is what you show it is.

 

For instance, you might say that losing weight and maintaining a good physical condition is an important goal for you. But if I followed you around for a week would I be able to “see” that in you. I’d have my doubts if I followed you up to the snack counter at the movies for your third popcorn refill. 

 

It’s so much easier to say what’s important than it is to show what’s important. Other people see what is truly important in your life, often before you do. Before you set a single goal you need to understand that it’s your actions that really reflect what’s important in your life. So don’t “think” about what’s important in your life, “watch” yourself and “see” what’s actually important in your life. Better yet, ask your mentor or a close friend what they think is important in your life. That could be a huge eye-opener for you.

 

Once you understand what is important in your life then you’re almost ready to set some true goals.

 

I say almost because there is one other absolutely vital step in the goal setting process that most people completely overlook.

 

Before you can set a true goal you MUST set one or more “stop goals.” These are the things you’ll stop doing in order to start doing something else. Achieving most goals means doing something that you’re not currently doing. That means you’ll take on something new, something which requires some sort of time investment. 

 

Most people set this goal without any consideration of where the time will come from. Unless you’re one of the rare people who sits around wondering how you can burn a few more hours before bedtime, you’re day (and night) is already too busy. Setting a goal which requires more time without the time to achieve it is merely setting a fools goal. 

 

If you have no time to invest in achieving a goal then the goal will not be achieved. Period.

 

One of the biggest, if not the biggest mistake people make in goal setting is not starting by setting stop goals. 

 

So, in my next post we’ll start the goal setting process by discussing stopping those time consuming, low return activities that all of us do without even thinking about them. They are often mindless little things but that doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly expensive in terms of the time it takes to do them.


Until then start noticing how you use your time and ask yourself what you’re doing that really pays no return. If you could stop doing it without anyone, including yourself, really noticing then maybe you should just stop doing it. Think about it!