A Different Approach to the New Year

As I was scanning my email this morning, I expected to see a lot of posts on New Year’s resolutions . . . and I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s a common theme, of course.  No matter how last year went, there’s something “fresh” about January 1st.

If we had a good year, we want to make it better.  If we had a crummy year, we want a “do-over.”

So everybody has ideas on how to make resolutions stick, and they post them online.

I saw one that said we should only have one goal for the year.  Another said we need multiple goals, but need to prioritize them.  Others talked about setting goals, but then ignoring them and focusing on the activities that will get you there.

Who do we believe?  And how come we keep trying every year, but never quite succeeding?

I think it has to do with willpower.

dog_and_cat_at_table“Resolution” comes from the word “resolve.”  I looked resolve up in the dictionary.  It said:

To decide firmly on a course of action.

That’s willpower.

Willpower means we think, “I just need to make a promise to myself to do better, starting on January 1.”

So between now and then, we binge on bad choices.  After all, it’s our last chance to eat the things we’ll never eat again, buying things we’ll never buy again, and doing things we’ll never do again.  We know our bad habits are going to be conquered soon, so we don’t try to control them.

It’s our Mardi Gras before lent – a chance to live the way we want before the restrictions start.  We don’t have to exercise willpower for a few days, because we know it’ll soon take over our lives.

But there’s a problem . . .

It means we’re committing to pain, starting on January 1.  Willpower means we can’t do what we really want to do.  It’s a total commitment to the negative.

Willpower means committing to eating celery in a room filled with freshly-cooked bacon.

That can’t last very long, and it usually doesn’t.  A month from now, the bacon will still smell amazing – and the celery will be . . . well, celery.

So, what’s the alternative? 

Reframing the whole concept of New Year’s resolutions.

There are habits that need to be broken and changes you really want to make in your life.  That’s OK – but don’t make those your resolutions.  Work on those later in the year.

Look at New Year’s resolutions as a chance to make a few simple tweaks in your life, not a major overhaul.  Pick 2-3 things that you could do that would be sustainable, and that would actually make a difference over time.

A few tips:

Make positive resolutions. Sure, bacon isn’t the best for you – and you might want to deal with that later.  But for a New Year’s resolution, decide to drink 8 glasses of water every day.  It takes less willpower to add something positive than to eliminate something negative.

Track choices, not results.  If you want to lose weight, don’t focus on the scale – that only reflects what you’ve already done.  Focus on behaviors that you can control, like walking 10 miles this next week. You can’t control the past, but you can make choices about the future.

Start today.  January 1 is an artificial date; why not start today?  Pick two or three simple things you’d like to make a pattern in your life, then start immediately.

No, it won’t feel the same as in past years.  But how effective have these annual do-overs been in the past? You’ll be giving up the traditional resolutions, but doing something that might actually stick.

Maybe it’s time for a new way of jump-starting your success!


What simple thing could you commit to in this next year?  Comment below . . .

Help Me Read Less This Year

I wish I could get paid to read.

That would be like getting paid to eat ice cream.

I heard recently that the average person reads less than two books a year. I have trouble wrapping my head around that statistic, because I love to read so much.  Two-book-per-year people make New Year’s resolutions like, “I need to read more this year.”  And that’s a wonderful resolution.

I’m not one of those people. Neither is Craig.

Craig shares my love of books. In the next few days, I’ll be receiving an email spreadsheet from him with his annual reading list summary for last year.  It will be broken down by:

  • Monthly pages read
  • Annual total pages read
  • Titles
  • Personal rankings
  • Total number of books read
  • Fiction vs. nonfiction
  • DNF (Did not finish)
  • Top 10 books of the year

. . . and about ten other categories. Last year he read around 60 books.  I read about 40. (If you’re a two-book-per-year reader, you probably have a therapist in mind for us.)

I can’t wait to see his results. I always look forward to his list, and his top picks from last year often end up on my shelf for this year.  His list inspires me to read more.

Book pileThis year, I want to read less.

And I need your help.

Here’s the thing. I read mostly nonfiction, and love the insights I get.  But I find myself reading a lot, but not applying much.  I stuff my mind with all these great ideas that I want to try, and then feel guilty because I’m not doing all these great things I need to do.

This year, I’ll still read quite a few books – both fiction and nonfiction. I enjoy the process, and don’t want to give that up.

But I want to decide on one significant book to focus on.

Just one.

And read it 12 times. Once per month.

So I need your suggestions.

If you were to suggest one book that would be worth spending an entire year on, what would it be?

I’m open to any kind of topic. It could be about productivity, relationships, faith, communication, business – it’s up to you.  I want to keep it in the nonfiction category for the purpose of the experiment.  I’ll track the insights, and implement the things I’m learning.

That’s my experiment for this year. I want to immerse myself in one book until it sticks.

I’ll collect your ideas for the next couple of weeks. Then, I’ll make the final decision.  I’ll let you know what it is, in case you’d like to join me.  I’ll write about what I’m learning occasionally, and we can chat together about it.

Kind of a mini-book club without the croissants or chairs in a circle.

You might not choose the same book to focus on that I do. That’s OK, because we’re all at different places in our lives.  We each need to choose the book that’s most relevant at the moment.  It will be interesting to see what others suggest.

You can share your ideas in the comments section – or by email – or text or skywriting or personal conversation or Facebook or Twitter (and I’m just getting on Instagram in the next few days). Whatever channel we usually use to connect.  (Craig – we need to do this over breakfast.)

I’ve always appreciated the conversation we’ve been able to have. So in advance, thanks. Can’t wait to hear your suggestions!

What one book would you recommend to spend an entire year focusing on? Add your comments below . . .

Why I Haven’t Liked You

I thought you should know the truth:

I haven’t liked you for a while.

You may already know that.  In the past, you’ve posted things on Facebook about your life, your travel and your thoughts.  When I saw things I connected with, I would hit the “like” button so you would know.

I haven’t done that for a while.  I haven’t been spending much time on Facebook.

So when I haven’t responded to your posts, it’s nothing personal.  In most cases, I didn’t see it.

I still like you.  I just haven’t “liked” you.


I haven’t spent as much time as usual on email, either.  Or LinkedIn or Twitter.  Or social media in general.

There’s a reason.  It’s the same reason you haven’t seen a blog post from me for a few months.

It’s called bandwidth.

Bandwidth means you can only do so many things effectively at one time.  The more you try to do, the more diluted everything gets.  You end up really busy, but never accomplish anything.

We all have 24 hours in a day, but about 100 hours worth of opportunities.  There are so many things we want to do, and they’re good things.  It’s tempting to try to cram as many things as possible into those 24 hours.

But we can’t.  At least not while keeping our sanity.

I read a book earlier this year called “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller.  A friend recommended it.  It’s exactly what I teach every day in different corporations, so I identified easily with it.  But seeing it through someone else’s eyes gave me a fresh look.

The author says that the less we do, the more effective we’ll become. He suggests that we should pick the one, single thing that is the most important to do over the next six months to a year – something that would have huge payoff if we accomplished it.  Then focus our energy entirely on that one thing.

Just one.

The biggest takeaway for me was thisOnce you decide what that one thing is, everything else is a distraction.

Distractions are “shiny objects.”  They come unexpectedly from every angle, and they look a lot more interesting than the important thing we’re working on.

But if we go after them, it takes us away from the one thing.

So here’s what it means for me:

What has my one thing been for the past six months?

A new book that I’m writing that’s due at the publisher in three weeks.

What are my shiniest distractions?

Facebook, email, social media, other articles I want to write, blog posts, cleaning my office, maintaining my yard . . .

They’re all good distractions – things that fit into the category of “really important.”  But they keep me from writing.

Good writing takes time.  Great writing takes undistracted time.

I want to do great writing.

So, my apologies for not “liking” you.  Or emailing you.  Or blogging, or having coffee with you or responding to your calls.  It’s not malicious, but it’s intentional.

I’ll tell you more about the book another time.  But I’m in the home stretch – enough that I feel OK letting you know through this post.

As I put a ribbon around the manuscript, I’ll start ramping up again on blogging regularly.  I’m exploring what that should look like, and might change the focus in the future (depending on what you value the most).  It’s a gift to me that you let me into your mind and your inbox occasionally, especially when it’s a 2-way conversation.

I don’t take that for granted.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience.

Having been mostly away from Facebook for a while, I’m wondering how much I want to go back.  Something to ponder.   But whether I push the “like” button or not, rest assured:

I really do like you. 


Driving From the Rear-View Mirror

I had a conversation with an Uber driver the other day who was taking me back to the airport in Newark, New Jersey.  He also worked as a limo driver, and was working on his radiology degree.  We talked about his journey from his native country of Italy, his marriage to his bride from El Salvador, and his fluency in four languages.  He shared some fascinating details about his life.

“So, you’ve had a lot of life experiences so far,” I said.  “Where do you see yourself going with all this background?”

With all that he had accomplished, I was expecting to hear some carefully-crafted goals or a clear strategy for the future.  But his simply responded quietly with one word:


I asked him to explain.

“I’ve never focused a lot on long-term goals.  But every day, my goal is to move forward, not backward.  I figure that if I move forward a little every day, I’ll end up in some pretty amazing places.”

I help people set and reach goals for a living.  So his response caught me off guard – especially since it seemed so simple, and had the scent of power in it.  I explored more.

“Too many people focus on not repeating mistakes from the past,” he said.  “But to me, focusing on the past keeps me from focusing on the future.”

He pointed to the rear-view mirror.

“It would be hard to drive this car if I spent all my time looking in this mirror at what’s behind me.  And I think there’s a reason why the windshield is so much bigger than the rear-view mirror.”

mirror2How awesome is that?

Move forward.  Not backward.

What would happen if we did that?

Sure, we need to learn from the past.  But it’s easy to get stuck there.  If we focus on the past, we might tend to repeat it.

What if we looked through the windshield more than the rear-view mirror?

What could we do if we focused on “forward” instead of “backward?”

I’ve been pondering that all week.


The Value of Looking Further Ahead

A friend told me about teaching his teenage son to drive.  He said, “For some reason, he had trouble staying in the middle of the lane.  He was always veering over to the right.  Even when we reminded him, it’s like he just couldn’t figure it out.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I was talking to a friend who had experience as a driving instructor. He said that it’s a common problem with kids when they’re first learning.  They’re not looking far enough ahead.  When they’re barely looking past the hood, they’re trying to stay in the center of the lane – but they’re too focused on that close-up view.”

“Try telling him to look further ahead, so he’s focusing on where he’s heading, not where he is.”

It worked. Once his son got the long-term view, it automatically took care of the present problem.

Kind of like life.

Weaving carIt’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s going on directly in front of us.  Our to-do list is pages long, our family has last minute needs and our work goes from crisis to crisis. But it can cause us to drift off course without even realizing it.

We need good tools and techniques to manage all the urgent things in our lives. 

But we can’t forget to look ahead.  Regularly.

If we lose sight of where we’re headed, we’ll constantly get distracted from getting there.

And we’ll end up somewhere else – wondering why we’re spinning our wheels and never making any real progress.

Know where you’re going.

Remind yourself where you’re going.

Focus on where you’re going.

Then step on the gas, and move forward.

You’ll find yourself in the center of your lane – and making progress toward your destination.


How long has it been since you looked ahead?

“More Parties” – The Key to Reaching Your Goals

partyOn January 1, many people make New Year’s resolutions.  They set long-range goals and say, “I’ll work like crazy to achieve these goals, and then I’ll celebrate.”

At the beginning, we’re motivated. But we run out of steam when things get hard – or tedious – or boring. Things take longer than we expect, require more energy, and have more unexpected problems. The celebration is so far away that it doesn’t keep us going, so we give up.

We need quicker celebrations.

Celebrations give us something to look forward to. They provide the fuel to keep going.

If we only have a reward at the end, it’s like only eating breakfast and expecting that one meal to last all day. We need regular refueling to stay energized, so we eat several times a day.

Without regular rewards, we sabotage our efforts to achieve our goals. 

Want to increase your chance of achieving your big goals? Try this:

  1. Set a clearly defined long-range goal – maybe for this time next year. Define:

Where you are now.

Where you want to be.

The exact date you want to be there.

  1. Determine the value of accomplishing the goal.   

Why do you want to achieve it?

  1. Decide what you’ll do to celebrate at the end.  

Make it big. Make it specific. Make it motivating.

  1. Decide where you need to be in 30 days to reach your long-range goal – then plan an appropriate reward.
  1. Decide where you need to be in 7 days to reach your 30-day goal – then plan an appropriate reward.
  1. Decide where you need to be at the end of today to reach your 7-day goal – then plan an appropriate reward.

Don’t take any reward until you complete that step – but be sure to take it. Those small rewards provide the fuel for big results.

Plan a big celebration when you reach your goal.

But plan little parties along the way.

Those little parties could make the difference in reaching your goal.

Ready to party? (Comment)


How To Finish the Year Well

Everybody focuses on January 1.  That’s the day for the clean slate – the fresh start – the “do-over.”

That’s a good thing.

But in doing so, there’s a tendency to think, “Well, it’s too late to fix anything in five days.  I’ll just focus on next year, and everything will be better.”

So, we develop a familiar pattern:

  • Start each year strong.
  • End each year weak.

We say things like, “Since I’m going to get in shape after the first, this is my last chance to splurge.”  It’s the Mardi Gras mindset.  Mardi Gras is one, final, big party before Lent, where people feel like they have to behave.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Kids runWe can rescue the end of this year.  The next five days could be the most significant of your entire year.

How? Try these four ideas:

1.   Set a 5-day goal. Pick one thing that you’ve been wanting to accomplish – something that would bring great satisfaction and value in the future.  It could be cleaning the garage, detailing your car (or your spouse’s), taking an online course or working through a tough project that you’ve been putting off.  Decide how much to do each day, and put it on your calendar. Commit publicly to completing it before the fireworks start.

2.   At the same time, plan each day around relationships instead of your to-do list.  Instead of looking at all the stuff you need to accomplish, start by deciding who you’ll contact today.  Pick someone that you care about that you haven’t connected with for a while.  Hand-write a note; make a leisurely phone call; invite them out for mid-afternoon coffee with no agenda.  Just give them the gift of your presence. Once a day for five days.

3.   Make a thanks log for this last year. Take an extended dinner with your spouse or family, and create a list of the best things that happened this year. List at least twelve (one for each month).  Better yet, go for 52 (one for each week).  Get as many as possible, then keep it out where people can add ideas over the next few days. No matter how bad the year was, focusing on thankfulness can change our entire perspective.

4.   Get a head start.  There’s nothing magical about January 1.  If you start today, you’ll have a 5-day head start. 

We only get each day of our lives once.  Whatever we choose to do with each day determines the value of that day.

There are five days left in the year. 

Let’s make them count!


I’d love to hear what you decide to do – and how you feel on January 1.  Let us know! (Comment)


Pond Scum

I’ve written before about the park behind my house – one of my favorite places in California.  It’s where I walk my Schnauzer on the days I’m not traveling.  Winding streams feed into a central lake that empties into more winding streams.  It’s beautiful, and a great place for refreshment when life gets crazy.

There’s fish.  There are squirrels. There is every imaginable kind of bird, flitting among every imaginable kind of tree.

And there’s pond scum.

Not all the time.  But fairly often.

Pond scumIt’s a green, foamy sludge that floats on the surface of the lake.  It’s only in one spot – about the first ten feet from the shoreline next to a road.  There’s a stream that enters right there.  But it enters through an inlet that goes under the road.  That means the stream comes in at the bottom of the lake rather than the top.

That means the water doesn’t get stirred up from the stream’s movement.  It’s quiet and still.

And it grows pond scum.

I did a little online research to find out about pond scum.  It forms when still water is warmed by direct sunlight.  It’s the perfect storm for growing green stuff.

The green stuff isn’t all bad.  In fact, there’s some serious talk in government circles about using it as fuel.  Seriously.

But it doesn’t look nice.  It could ruin my walk if I let it.  A beautiful landscape, tainted with pond scum.

I’ve learned a simple truth about life from observing pond scum:

Scum grows in my life when I’m disengaged and still, and spend too much time being warm and comfortable.

I’m not talking about relaxation.  I’m all for “restoring my soul” as often as possible. 

But when I disengage and lose a sense of purpose, I get too “still.”  If I forget that I was designed to “make a difference” and lose my focus, I stop moving.  When I stay in my comfort zone too long, it becomes all about me instead of others.

And I start growing scum.  I lose my keen edge.  I don’t make an impact. 

We’re made to move.  We need times of rest, but as a means rather than an end.  We can make a significant difference in the lives of others if we stay engaged.

Catch your breath today.  Refresh.  Restore.

Then start moving.  Impact the world, one life at a time.

It’s time to commit to a scum-free life.







Why We Need Mr. T

Years ago, I bought a portable GPS system to put in my car.  I loved the idea: Put in the address where you want to end up, and the GPS will tell you how to get there – turn by turn.

It wasn’t very sophisticated back then, but it worked.

The best part was that the one I bought provided two weeks of free celebrity voices.  Instead of listening to someone that sounded like my 7th grade algebra teacher saying, “Turn right in 400 feet,” I could pick someone I was familiar with from TV or movies. 

I picked Mr. T.

Mr. TIt was a little unnerving at first – but it was awesome.

I’d make a wrong turn, and he would shout, “HEY! TURN AROUND, FOOL!”

If I didn’t get back on course soon enough, he would say, “I PITY YOU, FOOL, IF YOU DON’T DO WHAT I SAY.”

I knew it was only a recorded voice.  But somehow, I found myself doing exactly what he said because I didn’t want him to be upset with me.

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone like Mr. T in our personal life?

We set goals, and commit ourselves to great purposes. We want to make an impact on the world.  We want to make a difference.

But we get distracted.

Imagine what it would be like if Mr. T showed up every time we lost our focus:

We want to move ahead in our career:

“What’cha doin’ watching that stupid show?  Turn off that TV, Fool – and read something to make yourself better.”

We want to lose weight:

“Get your hand off that refrigerator door – NOW!  Drop and give me 20 . . . “

We want to rebuild a strained relationship:

Why you talking ABOUT them to some other fool?  Go talk TO them.”

We want to get out of debt:

“Calvin Klein doesn’t wear clothes with your name on it – why should you wear their name?”

People loved Mr. T because he was a “straight-shooter.”  He never allowed excuses.  He might frighten them, but they knew he was telling the truth.  They also knew he wasn’t being mean; they knew he did it because he cared.

So let’s try it today.  Whenever we find ourselves feeling out of control, or distracted from our goals, or wavering on our commitments – let’s ask ourselves this question:

What would Mr. T say?

We already know the answer. 

We just have to face up to the truth.

Ready for a new voice in your personal GPS?

Do We Need a New Definition of Success?

I’ve never known any kid who said, “When I grow up, I want to be a complete failure.”

Everybody wants to be successful.  We all go through life hoping to achieve something.  We want to leave a mark, and make a contribution.

We want to make a dent in the world.

success kidI’ve met a lot of people over the years who are doing exactly that. They’ve achieved financial independence, and maybe even built a small fortune.  They own companies that stand at the top of the marketplace, and they’ve become the type of leader that others want to emulate.

From all appearances, they’re successful.

But many of them don’t feel that way.

I’ve talked to people who had the external appearance of success, but they felt like they hadn’t achieved it.  It’s always something they’re striving for.  Whether they make $40,000 a year or $4 million a year, they still feel like they haven’t arrived.


I wonder if it’s because they’re comparing themselves to others.

If we define success by how we rank in the marketplace, there will always be others who are doing it better.

If we define success by our finances, there will always be someone who makes more.

If we define success by our possessions, there will always be someone who has a newer model.

Comparison is a common, but shaky way to be successful.  We’ll never be satisfied, because we’re always trying to move up the pecking order.

So, what if we changed our definition of success?  I recently heard Darren Hardy (publisher of Success Magazine) recently suggest a new approach:

What if success meant we did better today than we did yesterday?

That’s measurable.  It’s achievable.  It’s possible.  Then we’re not comparing with others who are further along.  We’re comparing ourselves “today” with ourselves “yesterday.”

Success would mean we’re moving a little further ahead today.  It doesn’t depend on what anyone else does; it’s something we can control.

I’m still thinking about this, and haven’t reached any firm conclusions yet.  But it seems that if my measuring tape for success was internal instead of external, I would have a chance to feel successful at the end of every day.

And if we did a little better 365 days in a row, think where we’d be next year at this time?

Interesting.  Tell me what you think – I’d love to hear your perspective.  (Comment below)

How the Future Can Steal Our Joy

I stopped a high-speed car chase.

It was 1978, and I was driving my wife’s Pontiac Firebird.  Blue, sporty, white interior.  Classy, just like her.

The light turned green, and I started through the intersection – unaware of the police chase approaching from my left.  The driver had stolen the car after robbing a liquor store, and ran the red light at about 50 mph.

He hit my driver’s door at that speed.  My wife’s classy car was totaled, but I wasn’t scratched.  The ambulance took me to the hospital for observation, but everything was fine.

People said, “Wasn’t it terrifying?”  I replied, “Nope.  I didn’t see it coming, so I didn’t have time to worry.”

Now, suppose that a week earlier, someone had accurately said, “Next Wednesday at noon, you’re going to be in a serious accident.  Your car will be totaled, but you’ll be OK.”

I’d be terrified.  I’d spend the whole week worrying about it.

futureLife’s like that.  A lot of bad things happen to us.  But we often put a lot of energy into what could happen, and we live in constant low-grade fear.

It’s good to set goals, and it’s wise to prepare for the future.  But we don’t live in the future; we live in the present.

When we worry, we attempt to live in the future.  We mortgage the present, missing the richness of life.  We focus on protection and prevention, rather than the pleasure of the present.

A friend in Oklahoma said, “How can you live in California with all those earthquakes?”

I said, “Honestly, I’d be more afraid to live in Oklahoma with the tornadoes.  You know they’re coming, so you live in dread for hours at a time.  With an earthquake, you don’t know it’s coming. When it does, you deal with it.  A few seconds later, it’s over – and if you’re still alive, you’re OK.  There’s no anticipation or fear because you didn’t know it would happen.”

But some people live in constant fear of earthquakes. They’ve given up their joy in the present for the terror of the possibilities.

It sells a lot of insurance, but it’s a crummy way to live.

We need to be smart.  We need to think through the things that could happen in the future, and take steps to prevent and respond.

But we don’t want to live there.

Author Leo Buscaglia wrote, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”

Let’s give today our 100% attention.  Make choices, savor the moments, build relationships and make a difference.

The future will be here soon enough.  Live there when it comes – not before.

How to Mow a Lawn

My favorite part of being in a baseball stadium is the grass.

It’s always perfect.  You know that the groundskeepers went to great lengths to get their mowing lines precise.  Relaxing with friends in the stands is always heightened by the park-like setting on the field.

Maybe I notice it because of my Dad.  When he mowed the lawn, the lines were always straight.  So today, that’s important to me as well.

My dad was born in La Mars, Iowa.  It’s a tiny little farming community, known as the “ice cream capital of the world,” the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream products.

I’m not sure exactly how much farming my dad’s family was involved in, but he always loved working in our yard.  Some of that heritage must have stuck with him.

Grass lines on baseball fieldI remember him teaching me how to mow.  We had an old, non-electric push mower that looked like it had been picked up in an antique store.  I was small enough that I almost had to reach up to grab the handle.

“If you want a straight line, look across the yard and pick a spot at the far edge – exactly where you want to end up.  Then walk towards it with the mower.  But never take your eyes off that spot.  Don’t look down.  Don’t look at the mower.  Don’t look back.  Just stare at that spot until you get there.”

I stared straight ahead and started moving.  I could feel the mower tossing back and forth as it hit uneven ground, gopher holes and low spots.  I figured it would be a complete disaster.  But I kept staring at my destination.

When I got there, my dad said, “OK, turn around.”

I did.  I was amazed.

The lines were perfectly straight.

I tried it a few more times with the same result – perfection.

Then I got arrogant, and took my eyes off the target, glancing back halfway-through to see how straight my line was.  When I looked back, there was a sincere detour right where I had turned around.

“Why does that work?” I asked.  “The ground is so uneven, and the mower is tossing back and forth.  How can it make such straight lines?”

“When you look at the lines,” he said, “you try to make corrections based on what’s happening around you.  When you look at the target, your corrections are based on where you want to end up.”

The life lessons are obvious.

  • If we keep our eyes on the challenges we face daily, we lose track of the end result.
  • If we focus on the goal, it automatically helps us make the right choices.

Make some straight lines today.

Then eat some ice cream to celebrate.

There’s Something Better Than Goals

I like goals.

Growth 2 kids

Because of goals, we accomplish things.  We move out of our comfort zone add richness to our lives.

Here’s my problem: Once I reach a goal, I tend to celebrate.  Then I do nothing for a while.

Sometimes for a long while.

Girl and growth chartIt feels good to accomplish something, so I stop and bask in that feeling. While I’m basking, I’m stagnant.  It takes me a long time to pick something else and go through the process again.

I did that with my first book.  After I signed the contract, it took me about six months to write it.  Then it took about a year for it to hit the bookstores.

During that year, I just thought about how fun it was to have written a book.  But I didn’t plan another one during that time.  In fact, it took another six months after publication before I started thinking about book #2.

I repeated that process for book #2 – writing and waiting, but not planning #3 until #2 had been out for a while.

I reached my goals.  Then I got stuck.

I heard leadership author John Maxwell say that goals were important, but not the most important.  He suggested one thing that’s better than goals


What if our primary goal was to grow?  Our goals wouldn’t be ends in themselves; they would be milestones in the journey.

What would we be doing if we made a lifelong commitment to grow?  What if we started every day asking, “What can I do to grow today?”

  • We’d probably do less talking and more listening.
  • We’d do less teaching and more learning.
  • We’d have less answers and more questions.
  • We’d have less regrets and more curiosity.
  • We’d have less routine and more dreams.
  • We’d have less expectations and more expectancy.
  • We’d have less fear and more passion.
  • We’d worry less about people’s opinions of us and spend more time building our opinions of them.
  • We’d watch less TV and watch more real life.
  • We’d have less rushed encounters and more relaxed connections.
  • We’d have less words and more communication.

I’m still going to set goals and go for them.

But I never want to stop growing.

You too?

Overcoming discouragement with slow progress

Are you discouraged about your goals?

Mud walk

Do you feel like it’s taking forever to reach your dreams?

I’ve heard it said that most people give up their dreams right when they’re on the edge of a breakthrough.  Why is that?

We get an idea that could change our life.  We roll that idea around in our minds for a while, and start designing a plan to get there.  We get excited.  We take the first steps, and we’re energized.

Then we take the next step.

Then the next.

Mud walkBut after a while, we get tired of just taking steps.  “This isn’t what I signed up for.”  We can’t see our goal any more – we can only see the next step, and another, and another.


It’s hard to keep moving when we’re in the middle of a long journey.  When the end isn’t in sight, it’s hard to stay motivated.  Everything inside us feels like turning back.

But here’s the thing: Those steps are building momentum.

We’re familiar with momentum from common transportation examples:

  • When the space shuttle would launch into orbit, it would burn 90% of its fuel in the first few minutes to escape the earth’s gravity.   From that point forward, the fuel consumption dropped to a fraction of that original amount.
  • An airplane builds up speed to take off, then climbs steeply to reach “cruising altitude” – then the pilot backs of on the power, and “cruises” easily to the destination.
  • When an 8-car passenger train starts moving, it seems to take forever to get in motion.  But once it’s going 50 miles per hour, it takes over a mile for it to stop.

That’s momentum.

When we’re taking those small steps, it seems like they take forever.  It’s easy to focus on those steps, wondering if we’ll ever “take off.”

It applies to every part of life – our jobs, our relationships, our health, our finances, and our dreams.

So what should we do?

  1. Have a clear picture of where we’re headed.
  2. Determine the best steps to get there.
  3. Realize that each step is building momentum.
  4. Keep moving forward, one step at a time.
  5. Enjoy the journey.

That doesn’t mean we do all the work up front and never have to do anything else.  Once the momentum is there, we have to keep it moving.

But that’s a lot easier than getting it started.

A friend of mine says, “When you’re halfway through walking through a pile of manure, it’s easy to give up.  But when you’re in the middle, it’s just as far to the far edge as it is to where you started.”

So we might as well keep moving forward.

There’s one thing worse than not having goals . . .

Everybody says you should have goals.

burning paper with magnifying glass

They say, “If you don’t have goals, you’ll never accomplish anything.”  They quote slogans like, “Reach for nothing and you’ll hit it every time,” or “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”

They’re right.

We set goals in different areas of our life: physical, financial, spiritual, social, learning, home improvement, business, character, and many others.  We dream about what our life will look like when we finally get these areas under control.

It’s energizing to set goals.  We get a clear destination in mind, and then break our goals into measurable steps.  We put them on our calendar or to-do list, and we’re excited about where we’ll end up.

We’re pumped.

We’re motivated.

And nothing happens.

It goes OK for a while, but then we get overwhelmed.  Life gets in the way, and then we get behind on one or two of those goals.  We feel like we have to work extra hard to catch up, and get stressed because of it.

One by one, the goals simply fade quietly into the background.

Maybe next year, we think.

So, what happened?  Isn’t goal setting supposed to be a good thing?

Yes – but one thing is worse – having too many goals.

burning paper with magnifying glassWhen we were kids, we all remember taking a magnifying glass and focusing the rays of the sun on a leaf or a piece of paper (or if you’re a guy, you did it on ants).  The sun had all this energy surrounding us – but if we could focus that energy, we could set stuff on fire.

Having too many goals is like standing in the sun.  It’s warm, and it feels good – but nothing ignites.

Research has shown that three goals is the maximum we can realistically focus on at a time and hope to see results.  More than that, and they all get diluted.

Several weeks ago, we talked about a question for the new year: “What one thing could you do this year – that you’re not already doing – that would make the biggest difference in your life?”

If you have a number of goals for the year, you might be spreading yourself too thin.   Think what would happen if you focused all your energy on just three – or two – or even just one.

I have two friends who set goals last year.  Ryan had 9 goals for the year, and started out like a hurricane.  Terry had just two goals – ones that would make a huge difference if he were able to accomplish them.

Ryan scrambled to reach his nine goals, but ran out of steam after a few months.  At the end of the year, he had accomplished two of them – and they were the ones that weren’t that important.

Terry put the same amount of energy into his two goals, but that energy was focused.  He accomplished both.

Ryan warmed up his life.  Terry set his on fire.

What would happen this year if you approached your most important goal with a laser focus?  And how would your life be different if you achieved it?

Time to turn up the heat . . . !

It’s Almost Time To Give Up Your New Year’s Resolutions

A couple of weeks into the new year, here are two important statistics:

Open ocean swim
  • It takes 21 days to form a habit.
  • Most people give up their New Year’s resolutions on January 17th.

If you’re planning to quit, you only have two more days left.

If you can hang in there through next Monday, it might just stick.

OK, I realize the numbers are artificial.  But it’s interesting that we often give up on something right when we’re on the verge of success.

I’ve wondered often about that.  What makes us hang in there for a while, but we eventually quit – even after we’ve made some good progress?

Here’s what I’ve observed:

At the beginning, we’re focused on our goal, not the day-to-day routine.  We use willpower to plow through.

But after a couple of weeks, we’re focused on the process instead of the goal.  The immediate “pain” is right in front of us, and it obstructs our view of the destination.

Open ocean swimI was reminded of the story of Florence Chadwick, a long-distance swimmer who attempted to cross the 21-mile channel between Catalina Island and Palos Verdes, California.

At 34, she had already crossed the English Channel twice.  But on the day of the Catalina swim, the water was icy cold.  The fog was so thick she could barely see the support boats that followed her.  Her team used rifles to drive away the sharks that prowled around her, while both her mother and her trainer yelled encouragement from their boat.

All she could see was fog.  For close to 16 hours, all she could see was fog.

She couldn’t see the shore.

So she quit.

The shoreline was only a half-mile away.

During an interview, she told a reporter, “Look, I’m not excusing myself.  But if I could have seen land I know I could have made it.”

Two months later, she completed the crossing.  The fog was just as thick.  But she kept a clear image of the shoreline in her mind throughout the swim.

It’s exciting to start a new year with new goals:

  • We’re picturing our success.
  • We feel energy about making changes.
  • We focus on how things will be different.
  • We feel like we get a “do-over.”

But we weren’t expecting the water to be this cold.  We saw “Jaws” and it stuck with us.

And we didn’t think there would be fog.

If we focus on the goal without thinking through the process, we’ll set ourselves up for failure.

If we focus on the process and forget the goal, we’ll give in to discouragement.

Both are realistic.  We need to keep both in view.

So before we hit January 17, what can we do?

Once a week, we need a tune-up.  We need to set aside time before each week begins to do two things:

  • Revisit the goal – We need an exact, clear picture of our destination, and review the exact reasons why we set that goal in the first place.
  • Plan the week – Before each week begins, we need to determine exactly what we’ll be doing this week to stay focused on our destination, consider everything that could go wrong, and decide ahead of time what to do when it does.

If the goal is important enough, it’s worth taking 20 minutes each week to make sure we’re not getting off course.

It’s almost January 17.  Are you thinking of giving up?  Think again . . .




How To Walk Across America (Without Leaving Home)

Several years ago, I walked across America.

Hiking sign

I started on the pier in Santa Monica, California and ended up at an oceanside bed-and-breakfast in Provincetown, Massachusetts  – a distance of 3,108 miles.  I took 7.5 million steps and burned 310,800 calories – the equivalent of 89 pounds.

And I did it within a few miles of my house.

It might sound impressive, since I worked a full-time job and didn’t take any time off work.  But it wasn’t as impossible as it might sound.

For years I’ve talked about making that journey in seminars, describing how the cumulative effect of taking little steps can give you huge results.  If I walked three miles a day, I knew I could cover 1000 miles in a year’s time.  Roughly, I could cross the country in three years.

After using that example so many times, I thought I should actually try it.  So on January 1, I began my journey.

I figured out how many miles I should have covered on each day of that first year to keep me on track.  Then I found a free online pedometer where I could click my beginning point, and add my mileage each day along a map of the country.

Hiking signI “started” at a bait shop on the Santa Monica pier and began following the route of the 10 freeway.  Most days I would go to the river trail near our house and cover three miles.  Some days I would break the walking up between morning, lunchtime and evening.  Sometimes I would go more, while I might skip entire days occasionally.

It took some commitment and creativity to fit that walking into my schedule (especially on the days I was traveling or teaching seminars), but I was amazed at the distance I began to cover.

I was motivated to take walks each day, because each mile moved me further toward my virtual destination.

It was only a few weeks before I had crossed metropolitan Los Angeles, and was walking through the desert towns of Boron and Barstow. 

I picked up my pace in Las Vegas, and strolled through southern Utah.

Most days I would check the weather in the city closest to where I was walking to get a sense of what conditions were on that day.  I used satellite view so see the actual landscape I was crossing, and checked online for local news events in the cities I “visited.”

I hiked over mountains, worked my way through corn fields, and watched the leaves change in the fall.  I went through big towns, little towns, and miles of open desert.  I tracked my progress daily.

Three years later, right after Christmas, I “checked in” to the hotel by the Atlantic ocean.

What did I learn?

The biggest goals, insurmountable obstacles and wildest dreams are much more achievable and realistic than we think.

How do we accomplish things that seem huge?

    1. Determine the precise destination.
    2. Take little steps.
    3. Keep track of where those little steps are taking you.
    4. Enjoy the journey.

What’s your big dream for 2013? (Comment below)

The #1 Reason We Don’t Achieve Our Goals

Several weeks ago, we started talking about focusing on one thing we’d like to change in our lives this next year (instead of multiple resolutions).  I asked, “Are you in?”  Based on comments and emails, many of you said “yes.”

Arrows missing target

On New Year’s Day, we focused more precisely on that question: “What one thing could I do this year – that I’m not doing now – that would make the biggest difference in my life?”

Whenever I read those types of posts, I get motivated – and excited – and I think, “That’s great.  Exactly what I need.  Let’s do it!”

And I don’t do it.

I’m realizing that motivational quotes, Facebook posts and slogans give me a quick “hit” of energy, but it’s not enough to overcome the gravitational pull of life.  Then I feel worse, because I didn’t do anything about it.

It’s like, “I really want to move ahead in my life, but I just don’t have enough time.  My plate is so full, and the demands on my time are relentless.  It takes all my energy just to keep my head above water.”

Last week, one of my favorite thinking partners, Dr. Derek Atchley (who I happen to be related to) posted the following on his Facebook page:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time.  You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)

That’s 100% true.

But I’m no Einstein,” we say.

No, we’re not.  But we have the potential to have the same impact that Einstein had.

What’s the difference?

Distraction iconsEinstein didn’t have email.

He didn’t have a cell phone, Facebook or Angry Birds.  He didn’t have 300 channels or texting or instant messaging.

He didn’t have as many distractions.

Instead of approaching our goals like a marksman focused on a bulls-eye, we find ourselves flinging gravel at dozens of different priorities that we want to achieve.

We don’t reach our goals because we have too many targets.

We’re distracted.

That’s the main reason we don’t reach our goals; we have too many good things in our lives that distract us, diluting our efforts to achieve what really matters most.  Because they’re good things, we feel like they’re essential.

But maybe we need to evaluate how those good things are keeping us from the great things.

We need to be undistracted.

I love the old Chinese proverb: “Man who chases two rabbits will catch neither.”

Let’s talk more about this in the next couple of weeks.  We don’t want to just have quick hit of motivation; we need to keep revisiting this until we have a blueprint for success.


What’s distracting you?  Comment below:



Better Than New Year’s Resolutions

January 17.

Willpower around cookies

That’s the most common day for people to give up their New Year’s resolutions.

January 1 feels like a new start.  We think, “OK, this year is going to be different.  I’ll lose weight, save money, spend time with my family, watch less TV . . . “

We’re motivated.  We’re working from a clean slate.

It’s easy to make that list of resolutions.  All we have to do is grab last year’s list and dust it off.  It’s the same one we’ve had for years, so it’s still fresh.

The dictionary says that a “resolution” is “a serious decision to do something.”  That sounds easy enough.

All it takes is willpower, right?

Willpower around cookiesSo we do well for a few days.  Then it gets tough, but we hang in there.  Then we slip a little – then a little more.  We beat ourselves up for slipping — and finally, on January 17, we give up.

Here’s the problem: Willpower is limited.

According to research, it’s like we have a “willpower” tank.  When it’s full, we can resist temptation.  But when it’s empty, we can’t.  That’s why we resist the box of doughnuts someone brought into work all day, then stop at Baskin-Robbins on the way home.

In Dan and Chip Heath’s book “Switch,” they use the analogy of riding an elephant.  The rider represents logic, making specific decisions about where he wants to go.

But the elephant represents emotions.  The rider might be able to yank on the reins and move the elephant by logic for a while, but he soon becomes tired from the effort.  Then the elephant simply goes wherever he wants.

Most of the time, the elephant trumps the rider – emotions trump logic. For us, the only time the rider wins is when we have a crystal-clear picture of who we want to be and make conscious, deliberate choices in that direction.

So, what if, instead of making resolutions, we carefully thought through this one question:

What one thing could I do this year — that I’m not doing now – that would make the biggest difference in my life?

The answer would help us make decisions throughout the year.  That “one thing” would be so impactful, that we can clearly see the value of achieving it.

It takes more than a casual response like “get in shape.” (There are lots of shapes . . .)  It needs to be carefully crafted – something that’s specific, measurable and motivating.

A better answer might be, “I want to walk 1,000 miles by December 31, 2013.”  That’s about three miles each day.  So we would make a chart and put it in a place we would see it daily and mark off the miles.

If we normally watch two hours of television each night, we realize that by skipping one program, we could knock out three miles.  Or we could make a commitment to only watch TV while walking on a treadmill.

A year from now, a lot of stuff will be unchanged (probably the things we were going to make resolutions about).

But how would you – and your world – be different if this one thing came to pass?

It could genuinely give us a “new” year – instead of another edition of the “old” one.

So, what one thing would make the greatest difference for you?

How To Fly To Paris

I recently had a conversation with a career pilot for a commercial airline. At least once a week, he makes a transatlantic flight to Paris, France.

Eiffel Tower with clouds

I asked the question I had always wondered: “So, that’s a really long flight. What, exactly, do you do in the cockpit for all those hours to make sure you make it to Paris?”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes – in non-technical terms.”

“OK,” he responded.  Here’s the simplest way I can describe what we do.  First, we take off.  Then, we aim the plane toward Paris.  Then we land.”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Well, sort of.  Once we take off, we encounter wind – and it blows us off course.  So we have to re-aim for Paris.  Then wind comes from a different direction, so we have to aim for Paris again.  The wind and other forces are constantly taking us off course.  So every few minutes, we have to aim for Paris again.”

“It’s all about aiming for Paris.  Every decision we make is based on going to Paris.  Otherwise, we might end up somewhere else without knowing how we got there.”

Eiffel Tower with cloudsI don’t know about you, but I have a lot of things clamoring for my attention.  Work pressures grow; family relationships take energy; the yard always needs to be mowed.  No matter how many things I check off my to-do list, there are always more waiting to take their place.

It seems like every day brings dozens of decisions for me to make.  Most of the time, they carry a sense of urgency.  Some of them are important.  But many of them just pretend to be important.

When we’re pummeled with urgent things, it’s easy to get distracted from the truly important things.  How can we protect ourselves from the tyranny of the urgent?

We need to remind ourselves that we’re going to Paris.

If we review our flight plan often, it helps us make smaller decisions:

  • “Should I make this phone call?”
  • “Should I accept this lunch invitation?”
  • “Should I serve on this committee?”
  • “Should I spend time with this person?”

Doing all those things might give us good results, and have some payoff.  But we don’t want anything to distract us from getting to Paris.

The best way to evaluate these opportunities is by asking, “Will this help me reach my destination, or is it getting in the way?”  As good as it might seem, we need to keep our focus on our destination.  Otherwise, the “good” crowds out the “best.”

What’s your destination for 2013?  Where would you like to be on December 31 of next year that would make the biggest difference in your life?

Then, work backwards:

  • Decide where you need to be at the end of each month to reach your destination for next year.
  • Decide where you need to be at the end of each week – to reach your monthly goal.
  • Decide what you need to do each day to finish the week on track.

Once you know what to do today, schedule those on your calendar and do them as early as possible in your day.  That way, when the urgent things hit, you can fit them around the important things you’ve already scheduled.

If we don’t, we’ll be at the mercy of the urgencies of others.

If we do, we’ll make progress toward out destination without being distracted.

We’ll make it to Paris.


What distracts you from achieving what matters most?