Archive for June, 2009

Simple Personal Growth

We all know that personal growth is important if we want to move forward in life, get better, and achieve our goals.  But how consistent is your personal growth? If you are like many it goes in spurts.  You’ll have a period of time when you are doing all the right things: you are listening to CDs and podcasts and reading books.  Because you pursue these activities in spurts you also grow in spurts.  You grow for a little, and then stabilize.

What is interesting is that your progress towards your goals will end up following the same track.  When you are growing and pursuing personal growth activities you will be moving towards your goals. There is a direct relationship between personal growth activities and progress towards your goals.

So what’s the solution?  A small but consistent daily commitment to personal growth.

Just FIFTEEN minutes a day!

That’s all it takes.  Fifteen minutes a day can help you stay focused on your goals, moving forward, growing, and a step ahead of your competition.

Here’s how you can make the most of your fifteen minutes a day:

1. Those fifteen minutes a day must be FOCUSED.

They must be FOCUSED on the field or discipline that you need in order to achieve your primary goal.  If your primary goal is in sales, you should be pursing personal growth activities that help you be a better salesperson and stay motivated.  If your primary goal is your blog, you need to be learning about how to be a better blogger.  If your primary goal is to run a marathon, you need to be pursing activities that keep you excited, encouraged and learning how to be a better runner.

This means that other personal growth activities that you pursue don’t count towards your fifteen minutes.  Only activities directly connected to your primary goal count as your fifteen minutes a day.

2. Know the skills and abilities that you want to improve.

Based on your goals, you need to know what areas you need to get better at.  If you are a salesperson, perhaps you need to focus on closing skills or on understanding your customers.  If you are a blogger, you may want to learn about developing WordPress themes or improving your marketing skills.  What are the skills that you need to excel in to achieve your goals and be excellent in what you do.

3. The fifteen minutes a day must be consistent.

You need to do this every day without skipping.  Initially this might be hard.  You may forget, there may be other things going on, and it may feel like you don’t have time.  Even if it is the last thing you do before you go to bed at night make sure you take that fifteen minutes pursing focused growth.

Personal growth in this manner is a habit.  That means after a period of time it will become a lot easier perhaps even automatic.  It takes time to form a habit, but it is worth it.

4. Have someone hold you accountable

Anytime you are looking to pursue a goal or create a habit, you will have more success if you have someone holding you accountable.  As you work to create a fifteen minute a day of personal growth habit, you will be more likely to do it if you have people holding you accountable.  Ideally these should be people who are pursing a similar primary goal and as such are working on similar personal growth activities.

I have a group of four other people that I work with to hold each other accountable to our fifteen minute a day of personal growth.  We email each other every couple of days and share how we have spent our fifteen minutes of personal growth time.  Not only does that help keep us motivated but it serves as a way to share ideas on personal growth activities.

5. Engage in personal growth activities

Just do it!  The slogan that Nike uses is useful here.  You need to get started and just do your fifteen minutes of personal growth time.  What should you do?  There are many options:

There are lots of options, choose one and get started!

Fifteen minutes a day is not a lot of time.  You can learn a new skill, move towards your goals, and above everything else grow!

Written by:
Danny Gamache – The Success Professor
Follow me on Twitter: @successprof

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Posted on June 29th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  2 Comments »

Goal Setting & Progress Check-up

Are you making progress toward your goals?  Last week we started a series of “check-ups”.  These check-ups are quick questions that help you make sure you making progress in different areas of your life.  The first part of this series was a health and fitness check-up. Today we move to a goal setting and progress check-up.

Once again the questions are all pretty simple.  There are no tips here that you haven’t read before…. But are you doing them?  Do you have your goals in place, and are you doing what you need to in order to move towards those goals? The questions are all YES or NO questions.  If you answer NO then you should make it a priority to complete the project and change your NO to a YES.  If you answer YES to all of these you are likely making significant progress towards your goals.

Question #1 – Do you have a clear understanding of the mission and values that drive your life?

Setting goals is irrelevant if you don’t have clarity about who you are. This means you have a clear understanding about the values that drive you and the overarching mission of your life.

Values are the core beliefs that drive you and guide you. They set the parameters around what you will do and what you won’t do.  They are internal and fixed.  Identifying these values is vital.  If you don’t identify your values you may find yourself inadvertently working against your values; doing this will make you miserable.  For example, if one of your true values is family-time, and yet you spend all of your time at work, then even success at work won’t satisfy you.

Your mission stems out of your values; it is what you are meant to do, or who you are meant to be. Your mission can be broad and yet focused; broad enough that you have lots of ways of living it out, but narrow enough that you have a clear purpose and direction.

Question #2 – Do you have your long-term goals written down?

Long-term goals stem directly out of your mission; they reflect where you want to be, have or do in the distant future.  Some of these long-term goals may be ten or twenty years down, and others might be thirty or forty years. For example, if you are thirty you may have a long-term goal of retiring comfortably at sixty.  This would be a long-term goal.  You need to write this down and clearly define what “retiring comfortably” means.  Another example might be that you want your business to do $100 million in sales.  This might take ten years to complete, but it’s a clear goal that you want to achieve.

Any goals you have need to be written, dated, and specific. This is true, even for your long-term goals. You will likely have several long-term goals.  One way to think through and determine your long-term goals is to imagine what your ideal day would be like at some date in the future.  Write out what you would have, do and be at some date in your future.

Question #3 – Do you have shot-term goals for the next three-five years?

The next step of goal setting is to have short-term goals for three to five years out.  These are often a lot more clear and vivid.  Naturally, most of these short-term goals will be direct steps to help you achieve your long-term goals.  In essence, the short-term goals are the next major steps that you are working on. Make sure they are challenging goals that will advance your life in significant ways.

Question #4 – Do you have current goals for the next three to four months?

Likely the most important goals to have clearly defined are your current goals.  Current goals can be anything from one year goals to one month goals.  I recommend quarterly goals as the best option. Three months is a great length of time for you to focus on a few projects and goals.

Remember that these current goals can just be steps towards your short-term and long-term goals.  By breaking down the longer goals into more basic projects you will be more focused and motivated to see success.  You might not be able to see a lot of progress towards a long-term goal, but if you break it down to immediate goals of three or four months long you can be encouraged as you see daily progress.

Question #5 – Do you take your immediate goals and divide them into weekly goals?

The final step of breaking down your goals is to have weekly goals that build towards your immediate goals.  Your weekly goals can be set as a part of a weekly review time that you schedule each week.  This is where you can examine your accomplishments from the previous week, review your immediate goals and set new goals for the following week.  I follow my weekly planning process as part of this review process.

Question #6 – Do you have things that remind you goals throughout the day?

You can’t just set goals and forget them.  Ok, you can, but you won’t succeed in achieving them.  Instead you must think of your goals throughout the day on different occasions.  One great way to do this is to have reminders that you will see throughout the day.  These can be things in your home or office that help you to connect to your goals and inspire you to move towards them.

There are a lot of ways to set these kinds of reminders.  Some of my favorites are:

  • tape photos of your goals to your mirror
  • use a screen saver or desktop photo on your computer
  • design a goals poster and place it somewhere you will see it
  • put reminders and photos on the fridge
  • put notes on a bulletin board

Now that you have your goals clearly set, have a weekly review process in place, and have things to remind you of your goals throughout the week all that is left to do is to work.  Do the activities that you have set out to do.  Get started and go!  Before you know it, your goals and dreams will come true.

Written by:
Danny Gamache – The Success Professor
Follow me on Twitter: @successprof

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Posted on June 17th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  3 Comments »

Sunday Browsing: Underdogs, Motivational Misconceptions, and a Sneak Peak from StumbleUpon

As we move into summer it is a great time to work hard and move towards your goals.  Why?  Everyone else starts to rest, so if you work hard you’re moving past a lot of people.

Here are some great articles that I came across in the last week:

1. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers (see my review here), has an excellent essay on how underdogs win.

2. Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week, shares a great sneak peak at a new traffic creator service by StumbleUpon.

3. Bill Reichert writes about “Management Lessons from the US Navy

4. Tom Ziglar, son of Zig Ziglar, shares several “Motivational Misconceptions“.

5. Chris Brogan writes about the difference between creating an audience and creating community.

And finally, here’s a popular post from the archives to help you as you pursue your personal growth:

Top 5 Great Ted Talks

Have a great week:
The Success Professor – Danny Gamache

On Twitter (@Successprof)

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Posted on June 14th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  No Comments »

Health and Fitness Check-up

How are you doing in taking care of your health?  Are you making progress?  Are you achieving your fitness goals? It’s time to take a health check-up.

The interesting thing about health and fitness is that generally we already know what we should be doing.  The question is ARE you doing what you should be doing. That is the goal of this health check up.  Below are a series of questions.  Simply read through them and answer YES or NO.  If you are saying YES to all the questions, then you are doing great.  Pat yourself on the back and celebrate.  If not, and this likely will be most of you, use this as a chance to refocus and set goals.

Likely, most of you will say NO to several of these goals.  If that is the case for you, don’t beat yourself up.  Also, don’t try to do everything at once.  Instead pick one of the things you said NO to and make a focused effort to improve that one area.  The power of focusing on one thing to improve will work for you as you develop a habit.

Time to get started with your check up:

Question #1 – Do you get regular and consistent exercise?

I told you these things will be obvious.  But how many of you already said no to this question?  Regular and consistent effort is the most valuable thing you can do for your health.  Exercise will help to protect you from many diseases, will give you more energy on an ongoing basis, and will help you work towards a proper body weight.

You don’t have to over do it.  Thirty to forty minutes on three or four occasions each week will make a huge difference.  Simple activity such as walking or biking can be all it takes to make a significant difference.  Look for ways to keep your heart rate up with some form of cardiovascular exercise.  The health differences will be well worth the effort.

Question #2 – Do you take a quality multi-vitamin/mineral supplement?

Very few people get an optimal level of minerals and vitamins from their food.  There are several reasons for this.  The first reason is that very few people eat enough fruits and vegetables.  In an age of fast food and frozen meals it is easy to miss getting what you need from these categories.  Secondly, our food does not have the nutrition it once did.  That is why even people who eat well do not get what they need.  The minerals in food come from the soil, and soil quality has decreased substantially over the last century. More and more, farmers are forced to rely on fertilizer to grow crops.  That, combined with the lack of nutrients in the fields, means the food is not getting the minerals from the soil. Because of these factors, the Journal of the American Medical Association recommends that every adult take a multi-vitamin.

You may understand that you need a supplement, but with so many brands on the market it is difficult to know what to take.  Most mineral supplements have a very low absorption rate.  That means only a small amount of what you take in gets used by the body.  Further, researches have recently discovered that in most of these supplements have a problem. The minerals break down and destroy the antioxidants from the vitamins. There are good products available, just take a time to research your options.  (Personally I use this product: CBS NEWS CLIP VIDEO: I can help you get them wholesale if you email me at dannygamache [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Question #3: Do you eat enough ‘greens’?

The food guide pyramid recommends three to five servings of vegetables a day.  Within that category, green vegetables are the most packed with minerals and nutrients that can make a big difference in your long-term and short-term health. Because of these benefits, greens should be your primary source of vegetables.  Even if you are taking a great multi-vitamin you need to make sure you get enough green vegetables.  Green vegetables give you a greater health return than anything else you can eat. (more information)

Question #4: Do you take time to stretch?

Beyond basic exercise, stretching is an extremely valuable health habit.  It’s amazing the difference that I feel when I take time to stretch regularly.  Stretching can increase your energy level, improve your flexibility, and reduce tension.  Everyone should stretch daily.  You can do simple stretches as a break in your work day or when you watching television or listening to a podcast after a busy day at work. (more information)

Question #5: Do you get enough sleep?

Don’t skimp on your sleep. In a fast-paced life it’s easy to get in the habit of sleeping less and less.  And while your body may be able to handle this for a period of time, in the long-run it hurts you every time you cheat yourself on sleep.  The amount of sleep that everyone needs is different.  Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, although there is no magic number.  Most people sleep less than they need to for optimal health.  The amount and quality of your sleep has been connected to many diseases including obesity, diabetes, hypertension and depression. (more information)

Question #6: Do you drink enough water?

Drinking enough water is another well known health tip that is easy to miss out on. Drinking water can help you have more energy, lose weight, and works to flush your body of toxin. There are number of different formulas that help you know how much water you should be drinking.  One easy option is to follow the 8 X 8 rule.  This rule states that you should have 8 glasses of water each day that are 8 ounces each.  Based on this, how are you doing? (more information)

Question #7: Do you get enough Fiber?

Recently, more and more people have come to understand the benefits of getting enough fiber in your diet.  Fiber is most well known for helping with digestive health, and while this is true, there are many more reasons that you should be getting enough fiber. Fiber also helps with weight loss, and has been shown to help prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and kidney stones.  (note: one of the reasons green vegetables are important is because they are high in fiber) (more information)

Question #8: Is your weight within a healthy range?

If you are overweight your risk of diseases increases substantially.  As such, for many this question should be your first focus area to improve.  Thankfully, many of the other things on this list will help you develop a healthy lifestyle that promotes weight loss. For many, dropping their body weight by 10% could be the most important thing they can do for their long-term health.

Remember, losing weight is not about dieting.  Rather it’s about your complete lifestyle: eating the right foods, and exercising.  It’s about creating habits.  One effective habit that helps people manage their weight is to eat smaller meals more frequently.  Eating a small meal every two to three hours will help to increase your metabolism and improve your health.

How did you do on the checkup?  Did you pass with flying colors?  If not, what do you need to work on?  Start with one area to improve and build a habit around that area.  Your body will thank you.

Written by:
The Success Professor – Danny Gamache
Follow me on Twitter: @Successprof

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Posted on June 10th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  3 Comments »

Lessons from “Outliers: The Story of Success”

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell is a book I was excited to read from the moment it was released.  The previous books by Gladwell, Blink and Tipping Point set a high standard for excellence.  Often, however, when I’m this excited to read a book, my expectations are not met and I finish disappointed.  Thankfully Outliers lived up to its advance billing. It is an excellent book that everyone should read.

Outliers is a fascinating read that uses research from Psychologists, Sociologists, Anthropologists and others to try to understand what makes people successful.  Gladwell builds on this by doing his own research into fascinating people and events that help to build an understanding of what success is.

Early on in the book we see that Gladwell truly is focused on the exceptional.  These are the outliers, those “markedly different” from the rest of people.  The book takes these outliers and looks to determine what makes them successful.

Gladwell’s findings in many ways go against the grain of what we might expect: “What’s the question we always ask about the successful?  We want to know what they’re like – what kind of personalities they have, or how intelligent they are, or what kind of lifestyles they have, or what special talents they might have been born with…….  I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work.  People don’t rise from nothing…… They are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”

Now this might sound a little fatalistic.  People become successful because of factors that they can’t control.  In reality, as you read the book, you see a trend.  Yes, successful outliers tend to have some advantages over others.  But the purpose of those advantages was to create the type of person who will work hard, practice hard, and get the right sort of training to become successful.

The first section starts of by looking at athletes in team sports.  The particular case study looks at hockey players in Canada and soccer players in Europe.  The same phenomenon occurs in both, because there is a January 1 cut off for when kids play with a certain age group. The best players tend to be born early in the year. This is not because there is some magical quality that makes kids born in January, February, or March better athletes, but rather it is because these kids are bigger when they are young and get chosen to be on teams that have better coaching and get more practice.  So the success factor is better coaching and more practice.

The second chapter is called “The 10,000 – Hour Rule” and it shares how researches have found that to become an expert at something it takes 10,000 hours.  That’s 10,000 hours of hard work and extra practice that it takes to become successful. Gladwell looks at what kinds of childhood advantages allow someone to have that much time to put into an endeavor.  He looks at Bill Gates and The Beatles as examples.  Of course they didn’t just have the opportunity to put in the hours, but they had the passion, the drive, and the willingness to work hard for that much time.

Later, Gladwell compares geniuses and looks at how geniuses from different backgrounds perform later in life.  The thing that separated geniuses who succeeded from those who didn’t was often the family background and economic status of the home they grew up in.  Those that grew up in middle class homes had the opportunity to be in more activities.  This gave them more confidence, taught them skills like teamwork, and gave them the ability to interact with others.  In other words it helped with social preparedness.

As you read through the book you’ll continue to be exposed to fascinating research and examples that show why people born at a certain time, or from a certain ethnic background living in a certain city tend to be more successful.  Usually it’s because something about these events drove them to work hard, study well, or get better education.  All of which then allowed them to become successful.

One final study I’ll share is Gladwell’s look at why Asian students tend to do better in math.  He traces it back to two factors.  One is the nature of numbers in most Asian languages.  They follow a logical system that makes math easier than the English language.  A second, and perhaps more fascinating reason, is because of the cultural heritage.  The cultural heritage is traced back to the way rice farmers work.  He argues, “the people who grow rice have always worked harder than almost any other kind of farmer.” The effect of this kind of hard work on a culture, caries on for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.  Today this is seen in the success of Asian students, particularly in the area of math.  It also helps them have an attitude that doesn’t give up.  In math, Gladwell concludes, “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.”

So, while reading Outliers won’t give you a magic list of things to do to become successful, it will open your mind to the forces at play around you.  The events that take place “behind the scenes” so to speak that help people become successful.  But you’ll also be inspired by one trend that Gladwell brings up as he brings the book to a conclusion: “Virtually every success story we’ve seen in this book so far involves someone or some group working harder than their peers.”  So….. get to work!

Written by:

The Success Professor — Danny Gamache
On Twitter: @successprof
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Posted on June 5th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  5 Comments »

How to Work in Bursts

Last week, in my article “How Fatherhood Has Changed My Life” I mentioned that I’ve learned the importance of working in bursts.  A burst is when you take a short period of time and work full-out for that period of time.

Working in bursts is valuable for many reasons:

  • you can make use of short periods of time that might otherwise not feel productive
  • you can complete a short burst when your motivation is to low to start something bigger
  • you can get  a lot done with focused energy

So how do you best work in bursts?  Here are some tips:

1. Have projects arranged

The only way you will be able to make use of a short burst is if you have your projects arranged in an easy to use system.  One way to do this is to use folders for each and every project you have that you are working on.  This is one of the most valuable things that I took out of Getting Things Done (see my review here).  By having each project in a folder you only need to have to one folder on your desk at a time that you can focus on.

2. Know the order of importance

Having your projects arranged is only half the battle; you need to know what order that they need to be accomplished.  Which project is the most important?  Doing a burst session on a low priority project might be valuable, but doing that same burst on your top priority project will allow you to excel.

There are many ways of establishing your order.  It can be as simple as a to-do list that you rank or it can be an elaborate process that is part of a full productivity system.  I use my weekly planning system to prioritize my products based on the goals I am pursing.

3. Have a clear workspace

The next step is to make sure you have a clear workspace.  Get rid of everything except the project that you are working on and any tools necessary to complete that project. If you have your projects arranged and set in individual folders you should have no need for a cluttered desk.

Having a clear workspace helps you to focus. You won’t be distracted by other things on your desk that vie for your attention.  You won’t be tempted to pause what you are doing to work on something else.  It also gives you the ability to spread out and organize yourself as you move forward on your project.

4. Turn off all distractions

The point of your burst period is to single task. You don’t want to be moving back and forward between tasks.  In order for you to do this you need to turn off all distractions.  The biggest distractions are often forms of communication.  Things such as email, telephones and Twitter can easily pull you away from the task at hand.  Closing your email box, web browser and putting your phone on silent will allow you to work without interruptions and get a lot more done.

If you work in a public place that is prone to interruptions put a “do not disturb” sign on your door or wear headphones to indicate that you are not to be interrupted.  This may take some time to train those around you but once they learn your policies it will be well worth it for you.

5. Have a pad of paper and pen off to the side

As you work away on your project, your mind will naturally tend to wander at times.  You’ll think of new ideas, projects that you could start, or things you need to do.  Having a pad and paper at your side will allow you to record your thoughts and return to your main project. Your mind will then forget about the thought and focus on the project. If you don’t write it down you’ll be tempted to take action towards what has come to mind, and your brain won’t be able to refocus on the project.

6. Go full out for a predetermined period of time

Once you have taken these steps you now need to work; work hard and steady for the time that you have set aside.  This is the essence of working in bursts.  Go full out, using all of your energy. If possible set yourself a time limit as to how long you will work.  Having a deadline for when you will stop working keeps you moving.  It also gives you something to look forward to.  So you’ll be both pushed to work harder during the time you have, but you will also be assured that a reward is coming when you are done that time.

Working in bursts is powerful.  It will allow you to get more done in a short period of time.  Perhaps you only have a short period of time.  It’s easy to put off meaningful activity because you “don’t have enough time.”   Instead you can do a burst of activity towards an important project.  Perhaps you don’t feel motivated to settle in and work.  Instead commit to working just a short time in a burst.  Often getting started like this with a burst will give you momentum to carry forward and keep working.

How can you apply bursts?  Take a minute right now and don’t leave this article without taking some action. Write down three priority activities that you can do in a burst period, and write down at least three different times of your day, or situations that you face, where a burst effort might be appropriate.  Now go and do it!

Written by:
The Success Professor – Danny Gamache (Follow me on Twitter: @successprof)

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Posted on June 2nd, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  3 Comments »