Excellent Habits

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit. ~Aristotle

Are you one of the millions of people gearing up to make New Year’s resolutions? This article is for you.

Not planning on making any big changes in the new year? This article is for you, too.

No Difference

People like to think somehow things are going to be different just because it’s January 1st. In reality, however, how you stick to your resolutions is exactly how you stick to any decision you make in your life in the other 11 months of the year.

Your life is the product of the choices you make. The choices you make without thinking are called habits.

Your habits will either save you, or kill you.

Your life isn’t going to magically get better with a single resolution. It takes making little changes done again & again & again & again, every day, all day long.

What’s Holding You Back?

“[To create a beautiful sculpture] all you have to do is to take a big chunk of marble and a hammer and chisel, make up your mind what you are about to create and then chip off all the marble you don’t want.”

Too often people are searching for something new. Something to add to their life. Some new tool, system, technique, or insight.

But none of that gets results. The only question that matters is, what are you doing?

You need a system that’s a simple as possible so it can spend more time focused on doing the things that will get you the results you want.

Some people love the Get Things Done framework, or Bullet Journals, but for me they’re too complex. Too many new changes to make before I even get to the good stuff; the doing.

Simplify

Here is my list of simple habits that have helped get me results all year long, every year, for years at a time. These are habits that introduce enough structure for me to be effective, without being too rigid or complex.

Don’t try to put all of them into practice at once. No multitasking allowed. Go slowly. Focus on implementing one habit fully, and once it becomes ingrained in your daily practice, you’ll be prepared to integrate another. Use 30 days as a guideline.

Doing one thing fully, and then the next is what I like to call “Sequential Habit Stacking.” Each new habit will multiply the effectiveness of the one before it. Contrarily, attempt two or more in parallel will only sabotage your results. Think “slow and steady.” This is not a race to the finish. Ironically, the harder you work at this, the slower your progress will be.

The order these are presented are a loose suggestion. Feel free to jump around if you already do one of these in your daily life, or if you feel one calls to you.

1. Gather your thoughts. You have a lot going on inside your head. There’s a lot to worry about. You’re the posterchild for the term “scatterbrained.” The best way I’ve found to get a handle on all the mental chatter is to write it down. I always have a mini notebook in my pocket, or a stack of 3×5 notecards held together with a binder clip. Don’t think of it as a journal; it’s simply a place where all your thoughts go. The physical act of writing them down allows your mind to move on to the next idea. If you find yourself stuck in mental loops, this will break them. Plus, you’ll be amazed at how many good ideas you have; when you tell yourself “I’ll remember this later” your mind assumes it’s not important, and it will never bring it up again. That’s why you can’t remember those brilliant thoughts anymore. Write them down as soon as you have them, and you’ll have it where you can reread it.

2. Deal with it. In martial arts there’s a lot of talk about timing. If you wait too long to deal with an attack, you’re less likely to defend against it. Same goes with your relationships. Bills. Chores. You name it, you gotta deal with it. The longer you wait to do something important, the more likely it is to head south on you. So whatever needs doing most, do it first and do it right away. Letting things pile up is only going to make it more difficult in the long run. As Tony Robbins says, “Kill the monster while its small.” Don’t let it grow up to destroy your life. Deal with it before it’s a problem. Work from most to least important. Not most to least urgent. (Things of low importance often feel very urgent. Don’t prioritize based on urgency. You’ll never make it to the important thing. That’s how days, weeks, and years will slip away from you without doing anything important.)

3. Plan for it. Failure to plan is planning to fail. No plan survives contact with the enemy. A good plan executed ruthlessly now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. You’ve heard all these quotes before, but how much planning have you actually done? Or do you let the problem of the day dictate where you focus your attention? With a failure to plan you’re letting life be the magician who directs your attention from secret of the magic trick. Creating a list of the 1-3 most important things you need to accomplish will help keep you on track, and minimize the amount of time you spend being distracted from what’s important.

4. Execute. Once you have your plan of action, you absolutely must put it into motion.  Without doing it, the plan is worthless. I’ve found doing the important things first in my day means there are fewer opportunities for me to get derailed. I focus on doing one thing at a time. No checking email while I chat with a friend. If I’m talking to someone, I’m talking to them. That’s it. Complete focus on what I’m doing without diluting my attention (and ultimately my ability to do my best work). The first thing I do every morning is roll out of bed, do body weight exercises, read, write, and then reach out to a friend via phone, email, Facebook Messenger (or however they like to be contacted). These are the four most important things I do for myself, so I do them first.

5. Track it. That which gets measured gets managed. You have to have a system to manage your projects, tasks, & to-dos. Having programs with all the bells and whistles are nice, but with the increased capabilities comes more complexity. The complex a system, the more time you’re going to spend on the details instead of spending time on the doing. I suggest having a separate mini notebook for to-dos. Using a handwritten system will force you to be more effective instead of allowing yourself to feel like you’re doing work when you’re really playing with your program’s features. If you’re a nerd like me and enjoy turning successful habits into a game, then you might like to try a wonderful online task management platform called Habitica. It has the added benefit of built-in accountability. If you wind up signing up for it, let me know and I’ll invite you to be a part of my group!

6. Organize it. By now you have a pretty good idea of what kind of information, obligations, and details you’re handling on a regular basis. Create a place for everything, and then put everything in its place. Have a single place where all incoming requests for your time are placed so you can then choose to sort them when it’s appropriate to deal with them. Don’t allow them to pull your attention away from the important work. The only way to do this is to have control of your time. If you feel resistance to the idea of organizing your space & time management, understand that you already have an ad-hoc system in place; this is just to make it official outside just your mind.

7. Review everything. How well is your system working for you? How effective have my actions been this week? What tactics are working? What isn’t working? What progress have I made towards my yearly, quarterly, and monthly goals? Reviewing everything through the lens of “How is this helping me make better use of my actions?” will dramatically reorient your priorities and where you choose to focus your attention. Do this monthly at the very least.

8. Remove more marble. If something isn’t working for you, take it out. If there are tasks that aren’t getting you closer to where you want to be, take it off your list of to-dos. Only by removing that which isn’t serving us can we have the time, energy, and willingness to do the things that do serve our purpose. This involves saying no to what’s not important, and that can be difficult. Think of it like you’re removing marble from the beautiful sculpture that is your life. Or barnacles from your hull. Whatever the analogy, realize that all the excess weight (mentally, emotionally, and physically) is holding you back. Every time you simplify, you’re multiplying your effectiveness.

9. Implement routine. A routine is nothing but a series of habits. I have a morning routine. It involves doing the most important things I need to do that day, and those things never change. I need to exercise my body, mind, creative abilities, & social bonds. If I left it to chance, I’d never do those things. Instead I’ve chunked the most valuable habits into a single routine so I don’t have to think about each one. I don’t have to choose anything. I know exactly what I’m going to do, and in what order. I’m not starting my day with decisions. This delays choice fatigue, and the erosion of my willpower. My evening routine involves me prioritizing what to deal with tomorrow, writing down any anxieties or problems my mind comes up with (allowing me to rest easier because my mind isn’t constantly looping them as I try to sleep), and prepping anything I need ready for tomorrow. Build a routine out of your habits of excellence.

10. Follow your curiosity. This one is more abstract, but it could easily be the most important one. So many gurus will tell you to find your passion, and there’s not much else that could be more condescending. If you don’t know what your passion is, how the hell are you supposed to follow it? Following that advice will send you in circles. So, what should you follow instead? Your curiosity. What are you curious about? It doesn’t have to be something society deems worthy. You don’t need a social stamp of approval. You don’t have to be curious about something you think is a viable business proposition. No. What are you already curious about? Allow yourself to explore thatIf you never allow yourself to follow your curiosity, you’ll never find that thing that gets you fired up. Once you find it, you may never make a living off it, and that’s ok. It’s ok to have something just for you. You can keep it sacred. But, whatever it is, once you find it, you’ll realize you’ve found an inexhaustible source of energy, excitement, creativity, and enthusiasm.

Wrap It Up

With these 10 habits, you will finally have the space in your life to be passionate about something. You won’t be saying yes to everything and filling your life with useless distractions that are keeping you from the life you truly want.

Spend the energy over the next year to make these habits so deeply ingrained that they become second nature, and you’ll find yourself with better health, friendships, and whatever you really want in your life.

If you’ve found something valuable in these ideas, chances are someone else would, too. Take 5 seconds to share it with your network, and you’ll be doing something good for everyone! You’ll help your friend discover something useful, you’ll help me help more people, and you’ll help yourself by helping others. It’s a win-win-win!

And if you find success with this approach, I’d love to hear about it. Tell me on Facebook, or contact me privately. Either way, I want to know what you’ve done.

5 Mental Locks (& How to Pick Them)

Standard Social Narratives

Disney cartoons. Romantic comedies. Books. Family upbringing.

They’re all selling you a story about how things should be; I call it the standard social narrative. It’s a collection of assumptions about how you should be, how others should treat you, and so on.

It’s baked so deeply into our culture that it’s difficult to recognize which story we’re writing and which story we’re reading.

Given long enough, if you wind up reading someone else’s story more than you write your own, these silent mental narratives can bind you more strongly than any physical chain.

What you believe is stronger than what is real.

Make the Invisible Visible

“I need to find the one.”

“My friends don’t actually like me; they just tolerate me hanging around.”

“I need to get a real job.”

These are just a couple examples of the mental narratives that we tell ourselves that can quickly constrict our way of thinking if we’re not careful. You’ve likely been thinking them so often that you don’t even realize they’re passing through.

Even though your conscious mind might not register them, those thoughts still shape the way you think about life, make choices, and interact with others. In short, they affect everything.

That makes them incredibly powerful, and without controlling them they can destroy you.

And you can’t simply wish your way out; you have to address them directly and dismantle their hold on you.

Every year you don’t deal with these silent narratives is another year you’re holding yourself back in business, relationships, money, and health.

5 Most Common Mental Locks (and how to pick them)

Over the years of studying the mind, working with clients, and reading as many books as I can by the best thinkers through time, I’ve uncovered 5 of the most common silent narratives that are keeping you trapped in your status quo.

Lock 1: “I need to figure things out first.”

Never before in the history of mankind have we had more information on hand, instantly. “Knowledge is power,” we say.

Information, by itself, is one of the worst ways to make change in our lives. You already know what to do. You have the answers already.

If “knowledge is power” were true, you’d already be the most powerful person in the world. You keep searching for the next detail. One more secret. And everything will change.

But when everything stays the same, you make a shift.

Instead of aggregating information, you now start looking for ways to apply it.

This is what I like to call “tactical hell.” You now try anything under the sun without an overarching strategy to guide our efforts. Eventually this will completely demoralize you, drain your energy, and make you less likely to try anything else in the future.

So what’s going on?

Lockpick 1: Potential to Kinetic Energy

Information overload, and paralysis by analysis keeps people from putting in effort by taking ACTION.

Action means you’d actually have to try. You’d actually have to care.

You might fail.

Once we figure out strategies to get our needs met, we tend to stick to what works. Even if it’s not working all that well. We get comfortable.

And the only thing that’s going to make a difference is action.

When I was learning to drive, I drove my Dad crazy with questions. I wanted to know everything there was to know about driving. Eventually though, I realized I was, in a way, stalling.

Instead, I had to take action.

We went out to a parking lot & I learned more in 10 minutes of trying it than I did in weeks of talking.

Since then, I’ve learned a way of thinking about opportunities I like to call Regret vs Disappointment.

I’d rather be disappointed than live with a regret because that means I at least tried.

Failure, disappointment, and making mistakes are an ESSENTIAL part of success and it’s the fear of all those that’s keeping you in the comfortable status quo.

Information is out there free and it’s worth exactly what you paid for it.

Action is priceless.

Lock 2: “I don’t have good ideas.”

Guttenberg screwed everything up.

Before him, humans were essential for everything. But that bastard put thousands of scribes out of work with his printing press. From that moment forward, we’ve been moving faster and faster towards a future where automation will eat every kind of manufacturing job that humans used to do.

With the development of the internet, it’s moving forward at light speed.

As we move out of an economy of labor, all our job security is leaving too. The only way to have control in the middle of the chaos is to start your own side business. It’s the fastest, most cost-effective strategy to drastically improve your income.

One of the biggest mental locks I see clients run into is the story, “Starting a business is hard.”

The belief is a dangerous shape-shifter that can take many forms.

  • I don’t know what people would pay me for.
  • I have so many ideas that I don’t know where to start! I don’t know how to start making money off ‘em.
  • I haven’t had one original idea. Seems like someone’s already doing anything I dream up.
  • I get distracted too easily. I never see a project through to the finish. I’ll start something, and then start something else.

Lots of people have versions of these beliefs rattling around in their head. So if you recognize one of those in yourself, you’ve got good company.

So how do we pick this lock?

Lockpick 2: Two Factor Authentication

My whole life is online. Keeping that information private is incredibly important to me. That’s why I’ve enabled 2 step verification on all my profiles online.

Not only do I need to remember my username & password (step 1), I also require a physical token or single-use number code texted to me (step 2). This way, I’m the only person who would feasibly have both pieces of information.

This keeps private things private, and drastically reduces the number of unwanted eyes on my information as low as possible.

Success is the same way.

It’s like success has its own 2 step verification, and if you don’t know the two questions to ask, you won’t have access to all the money, freedom, and control waiting on the other side of your efforts. Fortunately, I’m going to give them to you.

See, starting a business can be difficult. There are a bunch of skills you don’t have, questions you don’t have answers to, and your inner critic is yammering away nonstop. The cool part is, you don’t have to come up with a million good ideas; you just need a single profitable idea. One.

Usually, that idea is something you already know so well that you can’t imagine other people not being able to do it. Often you’re too close to it, and you don’t realize how valuable what you know already actually is.

Think about what you’re good at, what your friends & family ask your help with all the time, and what you enjoy doing already. If there’s a significant overlap of those areas you’re off to a good start.

Once you have an inkling of what your business idea is, here’s the 2 step verification to run on the idea to see if it will unlock success.

Think about your ideal customer you’re planning on selling to and ask these two questions:

  1. Do they have money to spend?
  2. Are they willing to spend that money?

If your idea doesn’t get a “yes” from both questions, it’s not a good business.

I’m not going to spend a majority of my time going after clients who want services, but don’t have money to spend on them.

I volunteer a couple hours a month at a professional development coalition for people who want coaching but don’t have the budget for it. It’s a great place to connect with motivated people who want to learn, but aren’t able to pay for it. Since most of the people who attend those free workshops don’t pass the first question, they’re not my ideal potential client.

I focus on working with companies and corporations because 1) they have a budget and 2) they recognize they need to spend money to make money. I focus on working with entrepreneurs who are already making money, but want to figure out how to free up more of their time with new ways of thinking about creating value.

So whatever idea you have, make sure it passes the 2 factor authentication process before moving forward.

Lock 3: “I want passive income.”

Ah, yes. The siren song. Money while you sleep!

Sounds good, right? Get paid while you do nothing! I know why it’s so attractive, too. It’s because you’re already super busy with your normal 9-5 job, and it’s stressful as hell. You’re barely maintaining as it is, and the idea of throwing a second job on top of that will only serve to push you over the edge.

So you look for the easy button. You look for the guy telling you, “I made six figures this year on auto-pilot!”

What they don’t tell you is how they made it. They made money telling you how they made you buy their product about how they made you buy it. It’s no different than a multi-level marketing scheme.

But your back is against the wall. What are you supposed to do? You understand that you can’t go on living the way you’re living, so something has to change.

Lockpick 3: Make what you’re already doing more profitable.

I know a lot of successful people. One of my favorite people in the world (who I learned a lot of this stuff from) makes a ton of money, and you’d never know it. He doesn’t have a flashy house. He doesn’t live in a high rise apartment. If you saw him, you’d think he’s just like any other guy.

But he’s not.

He has multiple ways of making money, and a lot of those qualify as “passive income.” He’s written books and created courses that sell at a steady rate without much attention needed from him. He put in the time up front, and then that effort pays off again & again.

But he doesn’t spend his days sitting back and watching the sales click in.

He’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen in my life. He is constantly working to optimize his systems, training his crew, and constantly finding ways to push how much he can achieve in one day.

He is about as far from passive as you can get. He’s active plus some.

If you want to be successful like him, you’re not going to get there by doing nothing. You don’t need to focus on your passive income, you need to learn how to make your active efforts more lucrative!

That means you’ll have to stop looking for that magic bullet. The short answer. You have the answer you’re already looking for; the job you already have.

Improve your active income.

Work on building skills that are rare and valuable in your industry. Find solutions for leadership. Find ways of doing things in a way that’s better than anyone else at your company.

Once you’ve demonstrated your value to the company (by showing how much money you’ve made & saved them), renegotiate your salary. Then, take the skills you’re already selling to the company you work for, and then start a small freelancing business on the side.

You’ll be able to make more per hour as a freelancer because a company’s whole goal is to sell your work to the client for more than they pay you. You might not be able to sell as many of your hours to your own clients, but the clients you do land will pay better than your job does.

This usually takes the wind out of people’s’ sails. They want the success pill. They want the easy way.

Building your pre-existing skills, working on being a more productive employee, and freelancing mean they actually have to put in some effort. It’s not the “sip coconut rum on the beach” dream they have.

That’s the bad news. The good news is most people aren’t going to do it. Which means you stand a much better chance of making it farther with less effort because you have fewer competitors.

Lock 4: “I can’t get a raise.”

There’s a part of Lockpick 3 that usually trips people up: negotiating a better salary. The main reason is they believe the silent narrative that the economy is garbage, and they should be thankful they have a job in the first place.

I get it. The news is on a 24/7 cycle explaining why we’re headed for global financial ruin, and your manager is constantly talking about how tight the budget is. You’re happy for the 3% raise you got this year, so you should probably not stick your neck out by asking for more money.

If you believe that, you’re right; you don’t deserve the raise.

Lockpick 3: Cost/Benefit Thinking

Once upon a time I worked at Disney. I was hired as part of the college internship program, and a part of the agreement was getting to attend Disney University.

Disney. University.

I took as many courses as I could in the 9 months I was there. I recognized there would be no better opportunity to see the inner workings of how one of the most recognized brands in the world operates.

One of the classes I took that did the most good was “The business of marketing you.”

The instructor explained how to negotiate your salary during the hiring process, and explained it’s exactly the same way after you’ve been hired, too. Since that time I’ve been on both sides of the hiring process, and can tell you first-hand it works.

Hiring someone is a costly process. There’s so much time that goes into it that a company wants it over as quickly as possible. It’s not an unreasonable number to expect a company to spend between $5,000 to $10,000 searching for the right candidate.

Now that you know how expensive it is for them to hire someone new, you have. . . leverage.

When you go into your negotiation ready to explain the ways you’ve made the company money & saved the company money every week you’ve been there (you’re keeping track of that in an ongoing Google Slideshow, right?), you also know that it makes better financial sense to give you the $5,000 to $10,000 raise instead of gambling on the prospect of firing you and looking for someone new.

Your institutional knowledge, proven benefit to the corporate, etc are just too valuable to squabble over a couple thousand dollars.

It’s barely noticeable to them, but makes a huge difference to you.

Lock 5: “Yeah, well, negotiating might work when I’m getting hired, but my company won’t let me renegotiate.”

During my time as a traveling entertainer, I had the opportunity to travel to Istanbul, Turkey for a television thing. Fortunately (because I’m a hell of a networker) I had a friend who lived there, and could show me around. We met when I worked at Universal Studios (yeah, I worked both sides of the fence. Disney AND Universal. Don’t tell ‘em.)

When I had a free afternoon she took me to a couple bazaars and I shopped around for some trinkets to bring home. She was my personal negotiator. She was from there, so she knew how to haggle like a pro.

At a hookah shop we talked about how different it is in Turkey vs America. Americans don’t really negotiate for anything other than cars, and even then there’s a booming business for people who dread that whole process (carmax.com).

We don’t want to come across as cheap, needing charity, or rude. You might think you haven’t been working at your job long enough to re-negotiate your salary. There’s any number of reasons why you’re leaving money on the table. I get it.

But the thing is, everything is negotiable.

You can’t let your mind trap keep you locked out of making more out of your time.

Lockpick 5: Think like someone who has earned it.

The easiest way to think like someone who earned it is to be a person who has earned it! Exchange value for value. It’s the only way the world works. Otherwise someone is stealing from the other person in the exchange.

A top level lockpick knows that negotiating can actually make you more attractive to a company. When you do it the right way, you’ll make your boss eager to give you a raise.

Caveat. If you’re someone who complains all the time. If you’re someone who gossips all the time. If you’re someone who leaves at 4:58 everyday without saying bye to anyone. I’m not talking to you.

The cool part is, I know that’s not you. (They never get this far into the article. They’re looking for the easy path, and that leads to the lowest level. You’re a top level player!)

I don’t care how wrecked the economy is because no matter how bad it is, it just means the valuable people who know how to thrive (no matter what) are worth that much more. Your company (if it’s smart) will want to do everything in their power to keep you happy.

That’s why the first step of picking this lock is understanding the way an elite level performer thinks, and then align your thinking to match.

Before reading this you probably had an unspoken narrative that you should kiss the ground simply for having a job. You don’t want to cause any ripples and wind up getting fired.

Now, though, you understand you always have options. If you don’t have options, dammit, you’re going to create them.

Everyone benefits by negotiating. It’s a win-win approach to look for solutions that make everybody happy.

Congratulations!

You made it to the end!

*high five*

I know it’s a lot of information to digest all at once, and I think you’ll agree it was worth wading through. I hope you use everything in here to unlock your mind from those limiting beliefs, and then negotiate yourself into a better position in life.

Do that and you’ll be making powerful change.

If you think you know anyone else who could benefit from this article, please do you, me, & them a solid by sharing it with them.

If you want to learn more about how to approach life with the mindset of a mentalist, then you can join the email list by signing up there on the sidebar, or get in touch directly to set up a “brain picking session” where we can chat and see whether we’d be a good fit to work together for 1-on-1 coaching.

Or you can just send me an email to say hi. I read everything that comes my way.