Category Archives: Mindset

7 Ways to Be More Fearless

how to be fearless

Being fearless doesn’t necessarily mean jumping out of airplanes or traveling to the world’s most dangerous regions (although it certainly can if you want).  For some people, cultivating a sense of fearlessness is more about gathering the courage to ask for a major promotion or to make a cross-country move for the chance at a better life.

No matter what specific end result you’re working towards, the following tips should help you to minimize fear and embrace courage in your life:

Tip #1 – Identify your fears

The first step towards becoming more fearless is to simply identify what it is you’re afraid of.  If you’ve been fighting a vague sense of anxiety or unease, it’s a vital part of the fear-busting process!

However, while some fears are fairly straightforward (for example, the fear of spiders or snakes), lifestyle fears tend to be more complex.  If, as an example, you’re afraid of tornadoes, be aware that it’s not just the weather phenomenon that scares you – it’s also the threat of death, devastation and loss that these types of systems can bring about.

By taking the time to really get to the root of what scares you, you’ll be able to process your fears using the following tips in order to reduce the impact they have on your life.

Tip #2 – Explore worst case and more likely scenarios

Once you know what it is you’re afraid of, take the time to map out the worst case scenarios that could result.  Say you want to ask for a raise, but are afraid of being rejected.  In this example, the worst case scenario would be your boss telling you to pack your bags and leave.  But it’s much more likely that your request will either be approved or turned down politely.

Use these more likely scenarios to prevent your mind from running away with the absolute worst possible outcome in a given situation.

Tip #3 – Pick a relaxation technique

People deal with stress in different ways.  Having a relaxation technique that suits your personality is a vital part of managing fear in your life.

For example, to help control your fears, you could try:

  • Engaging in meditation
  • Getting an intense workout
  • Writing in a journal
  • Singing along with loud music
  • Attending religious services

There’s no right or wrong way to relax, so listen to your own mind when it comes to finding activities that’ll take the edge off your fear.

Tip #4 – Avoid anticipatory fear

Being scared of an event or action is one thing.  But it’s also common for people to build up certain scenarios in their own minds to the point where the fear of anticipation is worse than the fear of the event itself!

Don’t do this to yourself.  If you find yourself feeling fearful about a future event (or something that you aren’t sure will even happen), use the relaxation techniques described above to calm yourself down.  There’s no reason to make your fear worse by psyching yourself up unnecessarily.

Tip #5 – Tell somebody your fears

Fear tends to be a very personal thing, which distorts our perspective and magnifies our fears.  If, for example, you’re afraid of being rejected by a potential date, you might revisit the fear over and over again in your mind – until you’re certain that you’ll never get a date again.

It might be scary to think about telling a friend or family member about the things you fear, but often, getting this type of outsider input can help you to see your fears from a different angle.  You’ll immediately feel less alone after confiding in another person, and you may find yourself coming away from the exchange with advice and recommendations from others who have dealt with the same fears.

Tip #6 – See a therapist

We all face fears and – nine times out of ten – these fears are manageable.  However, in some cases, fear grows out of control, becoming something that actively prevents people from living full, engaging lives.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in fear and anxiety management.  There’s nothing shameful about seeking professional help, and you might be surprised by how much of a difference this type of support can make in your life.

Tip #7 – Confront your fears head on

Finally, once you’ve worked through all of the tips listed above, there’s nothing else to do but to confront your fears head on.

On a regular basis, try to do things that scare you.  Don’t be stupid or take unnecessarily dangerous risks, but do make it an effort to counteract fear with action.  If you’re afraid of romantic rejection, ask the hottest person in the bar out on a date.  If you’re scared about asking for a promotion at work, set a deadline for yourself and commit to talking to your boss on a particular day.

We all have fears, but there’s no reason to let them control your life.  Adopt the above tips in your own life and start being more fearless today!

Want to Succeed? Get Used to Rejection

how to handle rejection

I have to admit, sales and the process of selling both come pretty naturally to me – a fact that I’m incredibly grateful for, as these talents have helped me to build a career and grow the different businesses I’m involved in.

That said, when I tell people that I’m in sales, I invariably hear one reaction over and over again: “Oh, I couldn’t do that – I couldn’t handle the rejection!”

Here’s the thing…  Rejection is something that we all have to deal with.  Maybe you aren’t putting yourself on the line every day as you would in a sales career, but if you’ve ever been rejected by the hot girl or guy in the bar, been turned down admission to a school you wanted to attend or been told you couldn’t have the raise you felt you deserve, you’ve experienced rejection!

In fact, rejection is so common that I believe if you aren’t experiencing it on a regular basis, you’re doing something wrong by not taking enough risks!

Simply put, rejection occurs when you put yourself out there – when you ask somebody out, when you ask for something you really want at work or when you put yourself up for some major award or promotion.  If you aren’t doing any of these things, you’re living a safe life.  And while that might be fine in some situations, it’s sure as hell not going to help you experience success.

If you want to succeed, you have to get used to being rejected.  It isn’t a fun thing to do – especially if you’ve grown up believing that failure is the worst thing that can happen to a person – but it’s hugely important if you want to reach new heights in your personal or professional life.

The following are just a few of the different ways you can learn to embrace rejection and the eventual success it helps to bring about:

Idea #1 – Reframe rejection in your mind

In a lot of ways, I think our current education system does students a huge disadvantage by enforcing the idea that failure is always bad.  Students today are constantly pressured to succeed (even if that’s measured as something as arbitrary as standardized test performance) and reminded that failing will lead to a host of negative life consequences (as in, living in a van down by the river).

The problem with this black-and-white way of thinking is that failure – when used appropriately – can actually represent a tremendous learning opportunity.  When we fail, we have the chance to figure out where we went wrong and how we can change things in the future – that is, if we’re given the opportunity to do so.  If we’re constantly berated for making mistakes, it’s no wonder that we begin to fear failure and rejection.

The key to getting out of this harmful mindset is to reframe your way of thinking about rejection.  Instead of beating yourself up, learn to recognize that failures can be powerful ways to improve – but only if we learn to let go of self-flagellation and embrace the new opportunities that rejections can represent.

Idea #2 – Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Of course, the thought of learning to embrace rejection is one that’s easy to imagine, but much harder to put into practice.

If you’re having trouble seeing the upside of a past or future rejection, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Odds are, it’s not as bad as you think…

Say you go after a major sales prospect at work and wind up not getting the contract.  You haven’t failed on some epic level – in fact, chances are your life hasn’t changed much at all.  You might not be getting a big, fat commission check, but nobody’s going to come tear the roof from over your head because you weren’t able to close this single sale.

Idea #3 – Actively seek out ways to be rejected

As with so many other things in life, the best way to practice reframing rejection in your mind and extrapolating future harm scenarios is to practice!

If you want to level up your ability to confront rejection like a boss, you’ve got to get out there and seek it out.  When you hit the bar with your friends, work your best lines on the “Perfect 10” sitting next to you.  Ask salespeople to give you unprecedented perks when buying major items like cars and appliances.  Try getting restaurant chefs to serve you entirely unique meals that aren’t listed on their menus.

Really, the possibilities are endless.  By making an effort to actively seek out rejection, you’ll learn that it’s truly no big deal to fail from time to time (although you might also be surprised by how willing people are to help you out with your requests).  And once you’ve learned how to diminish the power that rejection holds over your life, you’ll find yourself taking more chances and experiencing more success than ever before.

So now, I want to hear from you…  What’s the biggest rejection you’ve ever experienced and how did you handle it?  Share your responses in the comments section below: 

How to Be Awesome at Life

be awesome at life

Sounds like a pretty tall order, right?  Usually, we reserve the term “awesome” for people who do amazing things like climb mountains or break sports records.  But the thing is, you can be awesome too with a little effort!

If you’re ready to break out of the rut you’ve been in, check out the following action steps that’ll turn your life around in no time.

Step #1 – Try new things

First things first – nobody was ever called “awesome” for doing the same old thing, day in and day out!  If you want to be truly awesome, you need to have awesome things to talk about with others – and that means taking risks and trying new things from time to time.

For example, could you…?

  • Try a new restaurant
  • Join a new meetup group
  • Take up a new sport or hobby
  • Learn a new language
  • Check out a new band

Really, the list of possibilities is endless, but you don’t need to go all out at first.  Challenge your comfort zone by starting with small activities and then work your way up to larger attempts.

Step #2 – Pick your passions

As you go about this whole “trying new things” process, you’ll probably find that some activities “click” for you.  Maybe you hate spending your weekend nights listening to loud bands playing in dingy clubs, but you love the camaraderie and exercise you get from having joined your neighborhood’s pick-up soccer team.

That’s great!  Part of being awesome at life is knowing what to invest your efforts into and what to give up right away.  After all, awesome people don’t waste time committing to things they don’t truly care about.  Instead, they evaluate their options by actively experimenting with new things and then paring down their list of engagements to the ones that really matter.

In general, it’s a good idea to have at least a few different passions – nobody wants to be stuck around that guy who has nothing more to talk about than his love of craft beers.  Instead, choose a few passions – say, your career, a sport and a volunteer opportunity – that you’ll dedicate your time to and weed out other activities that don’t appeal to you.

Step #3 – Give 110% effort

Every office has that guy who half-asses everything.  For some reason, it’s become passé in our culture to act like you don’t care about things.  And while that might make you look “cool” in the eyes of your coworkers, it’ll never make you awesome.

Awesome people give 110% of their effort to all of the passions they commit to.  They explore the full possibilities of every activity they engage in – probing these situations for the opportunity to learn more and do better in the future.  They aren’t “brown-nosers” – putting in extra effort just to attract the attention of senior management.  Instead, they engage fully for their own benefit, eventually turning them into better educated, more well-rounded people.

Take a second to think about your passions.  Sure, you say you value your career, but how fully are you dedicating yourself to its growth and development?  Are you taking advantage of networking and professional development opportunities?  Do you waste time at work that could be better spent advancing your skill set by completing more tasks?

We all slack off from time to time – and that’s fine.  But what’s not fine is consistently underperforming when it comes to your passion projects.  If you aren’t giving 110% of your effort to these key areas, you’re never going to be truly awesome.

Step #4 – Give back

Last but not least, awesome people give back.  This may take a number of different forms – from volunteering in the community to serving as a mentor for younger workers in your profession – but what awesome people recognize is that they didn’t become awesome on their own.

All of us rely on the support of others in some way or another.  If you’re learning a new sport as a passion project, it could be the coach or teammate who gives you pointers on how to improve your technique.  Or, if you’re trying to advance your career, your support comes from the professors who gave you your background training, the managers who have encouraged you and the mentors who have guided you along the way.

Awesome people don’t presume that they’re awesome because of some in-born, pre-determined greatness.  What they recognize is that we all depend on others to enable our success – and they aren’t afraid to show their appreciation by giving back in some way.

So as you proceed along your own path to awesome-ness, keep an eye out for the people or systems that help you out as you move forward.  Then, make it a point to find some way to recognize them, whether you say thanks directly, do charity work in their honor or undertake some other activity.  Above all, doing so will help to keep you grounded – one of the hallmarks of the kind of awesome person we all want to be around.


Are You a Pushover?

office pushover

In today’s competitive, demanding business world, being able to say “No” to projects that don’t fit your career objectives or schedule is a vital part of maintaining both sanity and productivity.

And yet, for many of people, saying “No” feels as if it’s as serious an offense as coming to work drunk or cussing out the boss over a bad review.  It isn’t easy, but if you’re an office pushover, it’s incredibly important that you learn to recognize and manage these behaviors in order to stay on top of your workload and your sanity.

Here’s how to do it…

Common behaviors of the office pushover

The first step in preventing the pushover mentality from disrupting your career is to recognize when it’s rearing its ugly head in your life.  To do this, ask yourself whether or not you can see yourself in any of the following common behaviors:

  • Allowing others to break your department’s rules – even when there’s no good reason for making accommodations.
  • Accepting additional work that falls outside of your job description when your “to do” list is already packed full.
  • Picking up the slack for others on committees or group projects.
  • Failing to defend your work or decisions against criticism from a superior.
  • Working late on a regular basis, because you’ve been too busy helping others to handle your own responsibilities.

If any of these descriptions hit a little too close to home, it’s possible that you’re an office pushover.  Don’t be embarrassed – plenty of people struggle to find the assertiveness needed to thrive in corporate cultures.  Instead, put in the effort to take back control of your career by minimizing pushover behaviors and employing more assertive techniques.

How to take control of your career

If you’re ready to make a change and develop the assertive behaviors needed to survive in today’s cutthroat business world, check out the following steps for instructions on how to be more authoritative and less of a pushover:

Step #1 – Prioritize your pushover behaviors

When it comes to managing pushover tendencies, you’ll first need to assess when they’re occurring in your life and which of these instances is most harmful to your career.  As an example, suppose you uncover two pushover behaviors – one that represents a huge drain on your time and self-esteem, and another that’s a mere inconvenience with no lasting ramifications on your personal or professional well-being.

In this case, tackling the first instance of pushover behavior will have a much greater impact on your overall career satisfaction than handling the second example will.  Start by addressing the larger issue first in order to bring about better results more quickly using the following steps.  From there, you might be surprised to find that your newly assertive attitude makes handling the other issues in your life a breeze!

Step #2 – Develop scripts to assert yourself

Going from meek and reserved to assertive and powerful is a scary transition.  If you’ve spent your entire life acquiescing to the requests of others, learning to stand up for yourself can seem as daunting as training for a marathon or adopting a vegan diet.

However, you can manage the discomfort of the process by developing anti-pushover scripts that enable you to stand up for yourself without having to think on your feed.  Any of the following examples should help to get you started:

  • “I’d love to help, but my schedule won’t allow it.”
  • “I’m sorry, but this is a bad time for me.”
  • “Unfortunately, my schedule is booked solid right now.”
  • “I can help with this task, but something else on my plate will have to go.”

Choose one of these scripts and modify it to your particular needs.  For example, if you have a boss who continues to pile more on your plate than you can handle, using a variation on the fourth script listed above can help you to have an honest conversation about what should be prioritized.  Or, if you’re constantly facing assistance requests from a slack-off coworker, saying, “I’m sorry, but this is a bad time for me,” can effectively shut down the conversation without impinging on your schedule.

Once you’ve chosen and modified an anti-pushover script to your needs, practice saying it over and over again until it becomes effortless to repeat it in the heat of the moment.  Practice your script in the car, in the bathroom mirror – whatever you need to do to make the words feel as natural as possible.

Step #3 – Recognize that it’s okay to make others uncomfortable

One of the hardest parts for pushovers to deal with is the thought that saying “No” might make other people uncomfortable – whether their assertiveness will result in angry bosses or coworkers who no longer want to make the weekly trip to happy hour together.

The thing is, though, that in pushover situations, somebody is always uncomfortable.  If you’re the pushover, you’re shouldering the burden of this discomfort in order to minimize the stress of others – which seems like a silly way to align your priorities!

Accept that it’s okay for others to be uncomfortable every so often – and that it isn’t your sole responsibility to look out for the emotions of others.  Obviously, you shouldn’t use your newfound assertiveness to tear your boss a new one over the way he’s taken advantage of you in the past.  Instead, make a commitment to moving forward from your past pushover ways and to enabling others to treat you with the respect you deserve in the workplace.

Practicing Gratitude: Earn More by Giving Thanks

Regardless of your race, religion or personal credo, I believe it’s important to use the holiday season as an opportunity to be thankful for all the different blessings in our lives.

No matter how much we may struggle from time to time, we’re all blessed in one way or another – whether due to the skills and aptitudes we’re fortunate to have been granted, the support we receive from our loved ones or the simple fact that living in a country like the United States means that we’re free to pursue our hopes and dreams without the imminent threat of war, famine or extreme poverty.

But, as the saying goes, “silent gratitude helps nobody.”  Letting the people in our lives know how thankful we are for their support doesn’t just help everybody to feel good – it’s also an important part of strengthening the relationships we’ll continue to rely on throughout our lives.

When we take the time to say thank you for something – no matter how small – we pull the people in our lives closer to us.  As these bonds form, we’re more likely to remember those who have thanked us for our efforts and more likely to seek out future opportunities to connect, based on this mutual appreciation.

If that sounds a little selfish, know that that’s not my intention.  I’m certainly not saying that you should practice gratitude with the sole intention of getting what you want or securing future favors from the people in your life.

That said, it’s impossible to deny the potential for financial benefit that exists when gratitude is freely expressed.  Telling a boss that you appreciate the effort he’s put into mentoring you may put you in line for an earlier promotion than a colleague who’s perceived as being ungrateful.  Similarly, treating the customer service workers you encounter throughout your daily errands with gratitude and appreciate can get you plenty of extra perks – simply because you’re a more pleasant customer than the jerks these workers frequently encounter.

But even though practicing gratitude is a “win-win” situation for most people, the hardest part is just getting started!  If you aren’t accustomed to expressing your thanks on a regular basis, try any of the following different opportunities for practicing gratitude within your life:

  • Recognize the business mentors who have helped you get where you are in your career.  A handwritten thank you card, a personal email or even a small gift can help to express your gratitude for the people who have contributed to your professional success in some way, as well as ensure that these relationships continue to be strong in the future.
  • Say thank you to your friends and family members for supporting you in both your personal and professional endeavors.   Too often, we assume that these people understand how much we care about them – even as we recognize in our own lives that it’s nice to hear these sentiments expressed explicitly from time to time.
  • Tell customer service workers who go above and beyond to help you resolve issues how much you appreciate their efforts.  Working with the public is incredibly challenging, which makes “stand out” service all the more rare.  When you see exceptional work happening, be sure to recognize it with an appropriate thank you.
  • Send cards to former teachers or other educators who played a positive role in your formative years.  Many successful people can point to a single teacher who inspired a life-long love of some specific topic, yet many of these same people express this gratitude to everyone but the teacher himself.  Remember – these great mentors won’t be around forever, so take the time to recognize their impact on your life while they’re still around!
  • Donate your time to organizations that have supported you or your family in the past.  Anyone can send in a check, but what many charities actually need is support in the form of working hours.  If you have the time and have a particular cause that’s near and dear to your heart for any reason, actively contributing to the organization’s success through the use of your time can be an incredibly rewarding way to practice more gratitude in your life.

Really, it doesn’t matter what you do – just that you recognize those who have helped you to become the person you are today in a way that’s meaningful for everyone involved.  While the potential for personal benefit through the practice of gratitude exists, this shouldn’t be your primary purpose.  Taking the time to say thank you to the people in your life who deserve it is often rewarding in and of itself!

With this in mind, how do you intend to practice gratitude as we roll into the New Year?  Who in your life deserves a thank you for the impact he or she has had on your life?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below:

Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

When faced with a major business challenge, do you approach it with a “can do” attitude or with a mentality that prepares for the worst?

In fact, both optimists and pessimists (and everybody in between) exist in the business world – but really, there’s no right or wrong way to approach career projects and decisions.  Both optimists and pessimists have their own advantages and challenges in dealing with the business environment, so don’t let anyone tell you that your mental outlook is somehow “wrong” and must be changed.

That said, it’s important for both optimists and pessimists to be aware of the implications of their in-born mindsets, as identifying either way presents a unique set of considerations that must be made with an eye towards business interactions.  Both optimists and pessimists need to be aware of the limitations their mindsets present, as well as how each outlook can be used to maximize career success.

So, in order to get the most out of your work environment – based on your internal mindset – consider the following guidelines for handling business challenges:

If you’re an optimist…

Being an optimist can be a tremendous asset in business, as you’re generally able to see more potential in new projects and opportunities, compared to someone who takes a more negative approach.  Optimists can be incredibly fun to work with, as their enthusiasm for new endeavors is contagious and their positive outlook makes them able to find the up-side in any task.

Therefore, if you’re an optimist, play to these strengths.  Take on leadership roles that allow you to influence others with your positive attitude, as you’ll likely be an inspirational leader that others will choose to get behind.  When possible, bring your unique perspective to projects that seem stalled or to situations that have been unresolved for lengthy periods of time.

Of course, optimists have their own challenges as well.  Approaching projects from a “glass half full” mindset may cause optimists to pursue risky propositions as the result of their rosy outlook, putting entire projects and teams in jeopardy.

As a result, there are a few things that optimists will want to keep in mind when approaching business deals:

  • No matter how exciting a project may seem, it’s important to look before you leap.  Having a positive mindset doesn’t mean making rash decisions or believing that things will turn out fine (even when the data suggests otherwise).  Be cautious not to let your positive nature blind you to a project’s true challenges.
  • Back up your positive thinking with concrete strategies.  Plenty of people tune out perpetual optimists based on the impression that they’re overly-positive, empty-headed workers with the personality of a “can do” Disney character.  To dispel this notion, be sure to pair your outwardly positive outlook with actual plans of action that will help you to make measurable progress towards the rosy end result you envision.

Above all, don’t let people discourage you for having an optimistic mindset.  There’s nothing wrong with looking towards the bright side of things – especially considering all the different advantages this attitude can bring to a business environment.

If you’re a pessimist…

Pessimists sometimes get a bad rap as being the “Eeyores” of the corporate world, but the reality is that there’s as much value in this outlook as is offered by optimists.

Pessimists, as the result of their more negative outlook, tend to be more cautious in moving forward with new projects and priorities.  Because of this, they’re able to identify and eliminate potential pitfalls before they occur – contributing to higher success rates and more realistic expectations.

That said, pessimists may find themselves in situations where they need to worry less and jump more.  Specifically, pessimists need to keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Don’t let pessimism prevent you from taking action.  If you’re concerned that things will turn out poorly, you’ll be less likely to take the career risks that allow you to distinguish yourself from your colleagues.  Use your negative mindset to weed out bad opportunities, but don’t allow this attitude to hold you back from jumping on projects and promotions with a smaller downside.
  • Don’t voice negative attitudes without offering alternative solutions.  Don’t be that guy who’s perpetually putting down team members and dismissing team objectives as unrealistic.  Nobody wants to work with him, and he’s unlikely to advance at all throughout his career.  If you simply must voice a negative opinion, do so only when offering concrete alternatives and solutions.

Now, it’s pretty unlikely that you’re either 100% optimistic or 100% pessimistic, as few of us fall at either end of this spectrum.  Because of this, it’s important to use the guidelines above to learn how to identify when you’re behaving in an optimistic or pessimistic manner.  Learning to compensate for the strengths and weaknesses each of these mindsets presents in your business life will enable you to make more progress and avoid the pitfalls that are commonly associated with optimistic and pessimistic attitudes.

The Myth of the Work/Life Balance

I’m going to let you in a little secret here…  There is no such thing as a “work/life balance” – no matter how much all the pseudo-psychologists out there like to throw the term around in their self-help books and web articles!

Really, there are two problems with this notion.  First, it’s important to recognize that time is finite and that it’s impossible to work on both business and personal priorities at the same time.  You can’t simultaneously work late and attend a child’s soccer game – you’re either doing one or the other, at the expense of the other.  That isn’t balance – it’s consciously choosing one priority over another.

At the same time, pursuing work/life balance on the organizational level isn’t an effective approach either, as one person who chooses to focus more on the “life” part of the equation naturally creates a greater “work” burden on other members of the team.  Even if a company is committed to offering flexible hours to give employees more freedom, the same amount of work must be done – and that means that somebody’s picking up the slack (usually resentfully).

So why do we continue to press forward with this nonsense notion of a work/life balance – even when it’s obvious that there’s little in the way of rational reasoning to back it up?

In part, it’s out of guilt.  We’re all torn between work and competing responsibilities, whether those include growing children, aging parents or hobbies that occupy our interests.  However, there are plenty of different ways to balance these competing demands without doing so under the guise of the false work/life balance approach.

Consider the following approach for making changes in your life and managing competing priorities, without frustrating yourself over the unattainable myth of work/life balance:

Identify 3-5 top priorities

First of all, let’s get one thing straight – you can’t actually have it all.  There are only 24 hours in the day, so it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll have a great career, a growing family, a booming social life, great relationships with your family members and hobbies that you’re passionate about (at least, you can’t have all of these things at the same time).

But what you can do is to determine which of these priorities are most important to you and to protect the place they hold in your daily life.  For example, if you decide to balance both a career and young children, be aware that your social life or hobbies may need to suffer in order to give these dual aspirations your full attention.  If, on the other hand, your passion is travel, focusing on this priority will likely mean investing less time into relationships with family and friends.

There’s nothing wrong with recognizing that you can’t do it all.  Instead, by taking the time to choose the few priorities that you’ll focus on at the expense of others, you’ll free up more of your time and energy to invest in the things you do care about.

Define limits on how you’ll protect these priorities

Now, once you’ve identified your top life priorities, it’s up to you to defend these pursuits from other demands on your time.  As an example, if you’ve chosen to focus on your family over your career, setting a rule that you’ll leave the office by 5:00pm every night will help you keep yourself honest about the priorities you’ve set for yourself.

Obviously, any limits you set on your career will be influenced in part by the requirements of your job.  If you don’t have access to flexible scheduling, you may not be able to leave early enough to take part in all of your family’s activities.  Or, if your career is particularly demanding, you may run up against the expectation that you’ll work longer hours than everybody else in the office.

At the same time, though, you can set limits in other ways.  You can turn down projects or business dinner invitations that don’t require your specific involvement in order to focus on your other priorities.  Or, you can clear out time in your evening and weekend schedules in order to give your family your full, undivided attention (rather than sitting around with your face buried in your phone or laptop).

It isn’t always easy to align your daily activities with your defined priorities, but it’s the only way to ensure that you’re living your life in accordance with the principles that are most important to you.

Ensure your personal pursuits don’t infringe on others’ rights

Finally, as you go through the process of determining where your limits lie, pay close attention to how your decisions affect others.  Nobody has the right to pursue his own happiness at the direct expense of others, so it’s important that any limits you set still allow you to contribute your fair share to both your work and personal expectations.

If you plan to take advantage of flex scheduling at work, make sure that your tasks are completed on time and that you reciprocate by allowing others the same courtesy of leaving early on different days.  Or, if your pursuit of a personal hobby will take you away from your family, find a way to help with the burden of household responsibilities left on your partner.

Finding a balance between your work priorities and personal interests isn’t always easy, but with a little foresight and planning, it is possible to come up with a workable solution that allows you to live a more fulfilling and more meaningful life.

Who’s On Your Team?

They say that a man is only as good as the people he surrounds himself with.  So with the New Year approaching, it’s time to take a look at all of the people on your team in order to determine whether or not the relationships you’ve built up to this point are strong enough to help you achieve your personal and professional goals.

Specifically, consider all of the following different relationship types, as well as how effectively they’re serving your personal mission:

Your family

While we can’t always choose the members of our family, we can make an effort to ensure that these relationships aren’t actively working against our chances of achieving success within our lives.

If your familial relationships tend to be positive, ask yourself whether or not you’re investing enough time into these bonds in order to keep them strong.  Often, it’s easy to let these connections fall to the wayside when we get busy – but doing so risks family ties weakening when we need them the most.  To prevent this from occurring, make an effort to connect with the family members you care about on a regular basis.

On the other hand, if your family members have been less-than-supportive throughout the years, there’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself by cutting ties with toxic relatives.  If the relationships you have with your family members bring nothing positive to your life, remove yourself from them in order to prevent this stress and anger from interfering with your chances of accomplishing your life goals.

Your personal acquaintances

It’s often said that friends are the family members we can actually choose – so take a few minutes to determine whether or not you’ve chosen wisely!

Friends can play a number of different roles within our lives.  They can be people who build us up and provide the encouragement needed to grow personally and professionally.  Or, they can be relationships that have long outlived their usefulness, comprised of people who don’t have your best interests at heart.

If you’ve got great friends, make it a priority not to lose these people by committing time to keeping in contact with them.  And if you don’t, consider a New Year’s Resolution to end relationships that aren’t serving your needs and to find better friends who can support you in the way you deserve.

Your professional network

As 2013 starts to roll around, take a close look at the people you interact with in a professional capacity – including your direct reports, colleagues, managers and mentors.  Can you see yourself achieving your business goals with the support of these people, or do you feel stymied by a professional network that doesn’t match up with your expectations?

If, upon closer inspection, you find that your current professional position won’t likely allow for the type of growth you’d like to experience in 2013, do your best to change your circumstances!  Seek out new mentors, look into transferring to a new department or leave your job entirely if the situation can’t be resolved – just don’t let the people surrounding you currently prevent you from achieving your professional goals.

Your advisors

Depending on your personal situation, your team of advisors may include attorneys, estate planners, accountants, financial managers, insurance agents or other professionals who provide invaluable advice to manage areas of your life where you lack specific knowledge.

As a general rule, it’s better to have these relationships in place before you need them – rather than rushing around to find qualified advisors in the wake of an emergency situation.  So even if you don’t have an immediate need for any of the different types of professionals at this point in your life, it won’t hurt to start researching contacts and soliciting recommendations from others in your life so that you’ll have access to this information when you do need it.

On the other hand, if you have existing relationships with these professionals, it’s also important to check in regularly to determine whether or not their performance is up to par.  If, for example, your financial manager hasn’t delivered the rates of return he promised, use the New Year to start shopping around for new financial support for your personal team.

Your health support system

Finally, pay close attention to the people who help manage your health, as your overall well-being is one of your most important assets.  Specifically, examine the relationships you hold with your:

  • Doctor or holistic medical practitioner
  • Dentist
  • Eye doctor
  • Personal trainer
  • Massage therapist/chiropractor/acupuncturist
  • Therapist

All of these different professionals play a major role in the overall quality of your life, so it’s important that the relationships you have with them be as strong as possible.  After all, you’re a heck of a lot more likely to seek out the health care you need if you like the people you work with!

If you don’t like one of your support system members, but have been continually booking appointments out of habit – stop!  Ask around or search for reviews online in order to find the health support team members who will keep you healthy and happy as we head into 2013!

What Science Says About Motivation, Willpower and Burnout

We all know that making major lifestyle changes is difficult, but what’s interesting about this isn’t the fact that these shifts are so hard to make.  What’s much more interesting is the science lurking behind our common misconceptions about motivation, willpower and burnout…

Think about how you feel when you first start out with a new self-improvement plan.  Say you decide to lose 50 pounds over the next year, using a number of different strategies you put in place to curb cravings and minimize temptations.  At first, you’re excited about your daily walk and increased servings of vegetables, because they’re all going to help you get to the end result you so desire.

But over time, it becomes harder and harder to stick to your new habits.  Yes, the thought of being ready for next year’s swimsuit season is still appealing, but you simply can’t summon up the motivation to keep your unhealthy desires at bay.  You beat yourself up and get frustrated at your perceived lack of willpower – though if you understood the science behind this concept, you’d understand that you’ve set yourself up for failure.

According to an interesting meta-analysis study conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, which reviewed hundreds of smaller self-control trials carried out over the past few decades:

Exerting self-control may consume self-control strength, reducing the amount of strength available for subsequent self-control efforts.  Coping with stress, regulating negative affect, and resisting temptations all require self-control, and after such self-control efforts, subsequent attempts at self-control are more likely to fail.

In other words, self-control is like a muscle.  If you work it to death, you risk failure – just as you’d be unable to bench press a set weight after going over the maximum numbers of reps your body can handle.  At the same time, with repeated practice, the muscle of willpower can grow stronger, enabling you to handle increased self-control demands without failure.

So, if you go back to our earlier example of the failed weight loss attempt, it’s obvious that the hypothetical subject didn’t fail because he’s destined to be fat or because he doesn’t “deserve” to lose weight – he simply exceeded his personal capacity for self-control.

Knowing this, there are a number of different actions that can be taken in order to build willpower over time:

Step #1 – Tackle a single habit at a time

In my previous article on how to “Make Major Life Changes by Altering Your Habits,” I discussed how important it is to focus on a single habit at a time.  However, in light of this scientific evidence on the formation of personal willpower, this point bears repeating.

Tackling a major problem – like weight loss, career change or wealth accumulation – at once stresses our bodies’ self-control reserves, simply because so many habits must be changed.  Following with our weight loss example, you won’t lose weight by dropping Cheetos alone – instead, you need to pair dietary changes with new exercise routines, improvements to your sleeping habits and more.  Each of these individual habit changes requires a piece of your finite amount of internal self-control, limiting the amount that will be available for the next effort.

Instead, it’s vitally important that you hone in on a single habit to change at first.  As your self-control muscle strengthens, you may be able to add more changes to your daily routines.  But at the start of any self-improvement plan, focusing on a single habit will prevent your willpower reserves from failing when you need them most.

Step #2 – Start with habits that can’t fail

If you’ve never made an effort to improve your capacity for self-control, you may also find it helpful to start changing habits that are so small in scope that they’re nearly impossible to fail.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, cutting out one can of soda each day (even if you tend to drink several in one sitting) is one habit that could be changed in order to provide momentum for your self-improvement plan.  Sure, it’s not likely to result in major weight changes on its own, but successfully completing this habit – which can be done without much effort – will build your confidence and improve your ability to tackle more challenging habits in the future.

Step #3 – Plan major life changes around your calendar

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are good times and bad times to pursue self-improvement plans.  Energy is cumulative, so if you’re burning your available willpower on a major professional initiative, you may not have enough resources left over to commit to making changes within your personal life.

So before undertaking any major lifestyle changes, look at your calendar to identify times when the demands on your energy will be at their lowest.  Scheduling your self-improvement goals during these windows of opportunity will increase the availability of self-control energy needed to maintain motivation and avoid burnout throughout your habit changes.


It’s Not Time Management, It’s Energy Management That Matters!

Lately, it seems like you can’t stop by a single productivity website without running across yet another article on the importance of good time management.  And sure, managing your time is important – but it’s only part of the picture!

Suppose you sit down and map out a schedule that you’ll apply to your work life over the coming week.  Perhaps you’ve read some article that says morning people are most productive, so you design a schedule of future habits that involves working on priority projects first thing in the morning, and then trickling down to less important activities as the day progresses.

For all intents and purposes, this represents good time management.  But what if you happen to be an afternoon or evening person who hits his stride around 4:00pm?  In this case, waking up early and chaining yourself to the desk because some productivity expert told you to isn’t going to do you any good!

Instead, you need to map out your schedule to your highest energy periods.  Not only will you get more done this way, you’ll fight the fatigue and disinterest that have sunk more than a few well-intentioned time management plans throughout business history.

Here’s how to start planning your time according to the principles of energy management, rather than time management:

Step #1 – Identify your peak productivity periods

First things first…  We aren’t all built the same, which is why it’s so frustrating that the modern workplace has many of us stuck in cubicles from 9:00am to 5:00pm.  Instead, we all have naturally different times when we’re feeling on top of things (and, conversely, naturally different times when we want to crawl under our desks to take a nap).

The key to matching your energy management to your work load is to identify those times when you tend to have the most energy.  Some of you will already have your peak periods figured out, but others will need to spend a few days tracking how their energy levels fluctuate throughout the day.

Fortunately, this isn’t difficult to do.  Simply check in with yourself every hour or so and rate your natural energy level.  If it’s helpful, keep these records stored in an Excel spreadsheet or other tracking program so that you can compare them from day-to-day.  Keep an eye on any trends you see over time, and you should eventually be able to identify a pattern of peak productive times and low energy periods.

Step #2 – Find ways to boost your energy

Now, while it’s true that all of us have internal circadian rhythms that control when we’re naturally most productive, there are also plenty of things that we can do to boost our overall energy levels.  For example, we can:

  • Skip the coffee and donuts.  Serious boosts of caffeine and sugar might provide a temporary surge in energy, but they’re short-lived and lead to crashes later on.  In general, it’s best to wean yourself off of these items, rather than developing a dependency on them.
  • Eat energy-producing foods.  Beyond laying off the sugar, try to sneak a few more super foods into your daily diet.  Doing so will give you a natural energy surge that will help you to maintain productivity – even outside of your peak hours.
  • Get enough sleep.  Pulling all-nighters isn’t a sustainable strategy – even if you’re still a college student!  Think about the fact that some studies equate sleepy driving with being as dangerous as drunk driving.  If you aren’t any better off when you’re tired than when you’re drunk, it’s easy to see why getting the sleep you needed to sustain your overall energy levels is more important than staying up late in order to fit more into your day.

Step #3 – Align your work life with your natural energy fluctuations

Once you’ve gathered enough information on when you’re most productive throughout the day and how you can boost your energy levels using natural stimulants, try to schedule your work life with your regular energy fluctuations.

For example, if you find that you’re the most focused around 10:00am and experience a natural energy lull around 2:30pm, try to schedule any necessary meetings for the mid-afternoon in order to keep your mornings free for productive work on your top priorities.  Or, if you find that you’re more mentally alert at night than you are in the morning, see if your boss will be flexible enough to allow you to work from home some days.

Obviously, you may not have this luxury in your workplace – and you’ll likely come across a few meetings or other time-sucks that are unavoidably scheduled for your peak productivity times.  However, by understanding when your most engaged times are and making an attempt to base your schedule around these cycles as much as possible, you’ll get much more done as the result of proper energy management (rather than through arbitrary time management activities).