Arm’s Reach and Your Life’s Direction

Arm's Reach and Your Life's Direction

If somebody puts Mint Creme Oreos on our kitchen counter, I will eat them. Why? Because they’re there. I will also put on weight and my blood sugar will get jacked out of proportion. Rarely will I win the battle to say “no.” After all, they’re small, taste so good, and they’re there.

Jonathan Cawte calls this the Law of Food Proximity. Briefly, “If you can see it, smell it, or reach it, you will eat it.”

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear—chapter 6 “Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More”—tells the story of Anne Thorndike, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who wanted to change the eating habits of staff and visitors to the hospital. She and her colleagues did this by designing a six-month experiment in “choice architecture” in the hospital cafeteria. By simply adding bottled water to the refrigerators next to the cashiers, which had previously contained only soft drinks, and positioning additional bottles of water in spots all over the cafeteria, they saw a soda sales decline of 11.4 percent and an increase in bottled water sales of 25.8 percent. This is the power of proximity. More water + less soda = healthier staff and guests.

We tend to make choices based on physics—location—rather than ideals. It’s easier. Advertisers know this and design grocery store layouts strategically to leverage this basic human tendency. Why do you think the Kit-Kat bars are staring at you while you wait in the checkout line?

What and who you have close at hand will largely determine the life you live. Jim Rohn has said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The choices in food, friends, function, and fun at your arm’s length are worth knowing and designing intentionally.

Here are some practical suggestions to design your environment for the outcomes you want:

  • Keep healthy foods in reach and in sight. Put junk food, if you have it, in a place where you must stand on tiptoes or a chair to reach it. Your brain will often translate that little bit of effort into, “Too much work. Just eat a piece of fruit.”
  • Keep exercise equipment out and close at hand. I telecommute and keep dumbbells in my home office two feet from my desk. They’re there, so I lift every day.
  • Put an app on your smartphone to limit time on social media. Constant nibbles on Facebook and Instagram are about as healthy as constant nibbles on the Oreos.
  • If you’re a musician, keep your instrument out of the case where you can grab it quickly. Even a little practice, done daily, adds up. I always keep a guitar out and on a stand.
  • Choose your social environments, and therefore your friends, wisely. A lot of our friends have become so simply because of proximity. Same workplace, same watering holes, same church and civic groups.

Suggested Resources:

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen)

The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz)

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Showing Up or Phoning It In?

showing up or phoning it in

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1988, I was hired as the sole manager of a full-line bakery in Upstate New York. I was twenty-four years old and newly married. The owner of the bakery lived a hundred miles away. We did business twenty-four hours a day, 364 days a year. We closed for Christmas; that was it. I was on call always. I learned to get on well with fatigue, my constant buddy.

I learned a lot during the two and a half years I managed the business. One lesson I learned early was the importance of your attitude toward your work, however menial or apparently insignificant. That first year I had one particular employee who worked the counter as one of our bakery clerks. This lady was bright, but not very motivated to keep busy in her tasks, which included waiting on customers and preparing baked goods for the showcases. She told me one day, “When I get a real job, then I will work hard.” (Apparently preparing and selling food, a basic life necessity, didn’t qualify as real work.) Eventually she moved on.

That is the one thing I remember about her. She came to work but she didn’t show up. She punched the clock and did minimal enough work to ensure she didn’t get fired. But she didn’t try. Her attitude colored everything. I’ve wondered a lot over three decades where she ended up in life.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. The best you can. We cheat ourselves and our colleagues when we give the least amount of effort necessary rather than being a professional and acting like it.

Here’s a few reality checks that will help you:

  • What is your attitude as you approach work? Is it engaged and focused, or passive and listless? Trust me, those to whom you report or who report to you can tell the difference.
  • With your tasks, how attentive are you to the details? It’s in the details that excellence and mediocrity part ways. Take the time to do it right. The first time.
  • Are you committed to continuous learning and improvement in your work or do you stay only as current as you need to keep afloat? Doing the latter will catch up with you, eventually; doing the former will serve you.

Suggested Resources:

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life  (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

The Success Principles(TM) – 10th Anniversary Edition: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield with Janet Switzer)

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Habits + Time = Exponential Growth

atomic habits 190108

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”—James Clear

I’m currently reading an excellent recent book by James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. In this book, Clear argues that goals–while important for setting a direction—are not the things we need to focus on primarily to improve our lives. Rather, we should focus on processes to help us become the kinds of people who regularly meet their targets. The primary tools in the process tool chest are our habits. As the title suggests, the habits are small things that over time shape a life for accomplishment or waste.

Clear gives an example: “The goal is not to learn an instrument; the goal is to become a musician.” The same for becoming runners and readers, not simply finishing marathons or books. The more important target is making these habits a regular, automatic part of your life. You just do the stuff regularly without thinking and stressing about it.

The idea that “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world” has been attributed to Albert Einstein. Einstein surely understood exponents if not banking. What Clear teaches us is that the steady progress of all habits, good and bad, do not reveal their force immediately but over time. The “10,000 hour rule” for mastery of a skill comes to mind.

Habits + Time = Self-Improvement10   Habits are extremely powerful!

I will share more from this excellent book in the days ahead. It has changed my goal-centered approach to my own growth to one that values the habits I cultivate. The habits can be small, but if repeated over a good chunk of time will yield remarkable results. The task is to begin small and repeat faithfully to build the automatic instinct to continue into your lifestyle.

Here are a few practical ways to begin:

  • Commit to exercise ten minutes a day rather than a massive goal of five hours a week at the gym. That goal can come later.
  • Get up fifteen minutes earlier to read rather than one hour earlier. Anybody can do fifteen minutes earlier and the benefit of feeding your mind will encourage you to lengthen those early morning self-care times.
  • Have one half slice of pizza less than you normally would. Or one cigarette less. Or one drink less.

Suggested Resources:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (James Clear)

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (Robert Maurer)

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Decisiveness and Leadership

If there is one thing that defines a leader, it is decisiveness.  This is that indispensable ability to weigh the facts, select a course of action, then execute it at the right moment.  When the heat is on and somebody needs to act, it is the leader who looks at everything, makes a plan, and moves forward without looking back.

Chuck Missler, US Naval Academy grad (class of 1956, pictured above), once said, “Weak men hurt people.”  He made this statement in 1982, at a gathering where he spoke on business ethics.  Chuck made his living as a professional executive in the Defense and semiconductor industries for over thirty years.  He happened to be teaching a group of Christians to be ethical and stable in their business dealings.  Chief among these qualities are decisiveness and keeping one’s word.  “The sanctity of a commitment” was a value he saw in short supply after leaving the executive suite.  At the time of this talk, he was CEO of Western Digital Corporation, a proven leader with ballast.

You will never get anywhere being wishy-washy.  Vacillation and inability to come to a decision are fatal to leadership.  In contrast, people will follow someone who knows where he is going and knows how to get there.  And with dispatch, knowing that time is too precious to waste with “analysis paralysis.”

When the pressure’s on, the leader cannot afford to buckle.  Time, money, confidence, respect; all are lost when someone positioned to do the right thing can’t make a decision or takes too much time doing so.

It is far better to make ten decisions and have seven of them prove to be good decisions rather than to wait and wait and only make two good decisions.  The reason is that although both decisions turned out to be good, the effect of waffling has compromised your influence.  Playing it safe often makes your followers feel unsafe.    Why can’t he make up his mind?  Are we staying or going?

Your high calling as a leader—whether as a husband, business leader, captain of a sports team, etc.–means being decisive.  You cannot afford to be ambivalent in the clutch.  It is charming when we watch “Fiddler on the Roof” and see it with Tevye the Dairyman.  In real life, vacillating is uninspiring at best and dangerous at worst.  It certainly doesn’t win our respect.

Being decisive and stable brings a host of benefits not only to the leader but to those who follow him or her.  You earn admiration.  You inspire those watching.  In the marketplace, if you can weigh the facts and act quickly, you’re worth more money than those who can’t.  If you’re a military leader, you will undoubtedly save more lives than you lose.

Here’s the challenge.  This next month, make a calculated effort to make quicker decisions.  Do this with anything from where to go out to eat to vacation plans to starting a new growth project, like a blog or exercise program.  Weigh the evidence, do a cost/benefit analysis and then act.

You’re going to be pleasantly surprised.

 

Suggested Resources:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Chip & Dan Heath)

Decisiveness: An Essential Guide to Mastering the Decision Making Process to Quickly Move Forward in Life on the Best Possible Path (Sergio Craig)

 

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Wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha

Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s greatest investor, when considering an investment tends to look at and stay within what he calls his “circle of competencies.”  He learned this concept from Thomas Watson, founder of IBM.  Watson said, essentially, “I don’t know everything but what I know I know.  And I tend to operate within my circle of competency.”

When Buffett first met fellow billionaire Bill Gates in 1991, he declined to invest in computer technology, specifically Intel and Microsoft.  He didn’t know computers, simple as that.  (He later invested heavily in Bill and Melinda Gates and their philanthropic ventures.)

Bill Gates knows computers.  Henry Ford knew cars.  Gene Simmons knows rock and roll branding.  Warren Buffett knows chewing gum, soft drinks, insurance and textiles, among other things.  These successful men stayed and stay within what they know.  And they profit doing so.

What are your circle of competencies?  What things do you know better than the average bear?  Buffett tells potential job seekers to seek a job they would do if money were no option.  Corollary to that he likens the résumé building approach to career development the equivalent of saving sex for old age.  It misses the point.

Here are some things to think about when evaluating your circle of competencies:

  • What do you find yourself thinking about and pursuing when off the clock?
  • What ignites your passion—what subjects and pursuits? Dead giveaway on that one is your body language.  Your eyes fire, your pulse increases, you get excited and it’s obvious to those who know you.
  • What do you read about that is not part of some school or work assignment? Same goes for viewing and listening.

Challenge:  Focus on what lights you up and genuinely interests you—whether the pursuit is popular or not.  Then start doing deep dives in these areas.  You’ll be surprised how far you can go with them.

 

Suggested Reading:

Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist (Roger Lowenstein)

Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2013 (Carol J. Loomis)

 

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What Time Is It?

Time is the only inelastic commodity that any of us possess.  We are each allotted 24 hours to the day.  Given the fact that time has an end for all of us, it is priceless and demands we steward it carefully.

Those who make their mark on the universe learn this well, the earlier the better.  I’ve listened to some outstanding lessons on time management by Brian Tracy.  This material is about a quarter of a century old but is timeless (pardon the pun).  You can drink from the same well here.

A leader advances because he knows his time and that of those with whom he interacts is precious.  So without further ado, here’s some tips that will increase your effectiveness, production and value in the marketplace:

  • Arrive early for any appointments. People will take note quickly that you are a pro, a force in business.  Being fashionably late may be de rigueur for parties and proms but it will destroy you in the marketplace.
  • Use early morning hours to get a lot of work done. Tracy points out that it’s possible to get the work of a typical day done in 3 hours of undisturbed effort.
  • Turn off your smart phone. If it’s important, those trying to get you will leave a message or call back.
  • Find gracious ways of economizing or taking leave of people who tend to waste their time as well as yours. “Hi.  What can I do for you?”  You’re not helping them or yourself by letting them simply drop in to chew the fat when you should be working. Again, this is for business.  Don’t do this with family or friends.
  • Keep your workspace organized, free of clutter.
  • When making appointments to meet with someone, prepare an agenda on paper, smart phone, PDA or iPad. Set a definite timeframe for the meeting and announce it ahead of time.  If it’s 30 minutes, end it at 30 minutes and be on your way.  It will speak volumes.
  • Write down the contents of phone discussions or meetings. When meeting with customers, follow up your discussions with an email.  This keeps assumptions crystal clear.  It will save your time and your neck, believe me.
  • Remember that really high achievers understand the value of minutes, not just hours.
  • When discussing a topic, ask direct and specific questions. When answering, get to the point.  The only time you should exercise the urge to “Ramble On” is when you’ve got Led Zeppelin’s 2nd album cued up.

Enough for now.  If you follow these steps diligently, you will see your production increase, your influence grow and your income go north.

Suggested Resources:

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen)

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs (Kevin Kruse)

 

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