Archive for Motivation

Dec
30

Embracing the “Word of the Year”

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As 2013 draws to a close, many of us (myself included) start thinking about what we want to accomplish during the next year. There’s nothing magical about a new calendar year, of course – January 1 is just a day like any other. But it’s as good a time as any to review, retool, and refocus.

Like many people, I have been guilty of making New Year’s resolutions. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology indicated that 62% of Americans made resolutions at the beginning of 2012. Of those people, though, 73% failed to keep their resolutions, and 19% only had minimal success. Only 8% actually achieved their goals. Not great odds by any standard (and I admit that most of my own past resolutions have ended dismally).

I happened upon Christine Kane’s Word of the Year Discovery Tool a while back – it’s been around for quite a while, but like most 40-somethings, I’m a little slow on the uptake. Anyway, I’ve been working with the tool for a few years, and it’s an interesting alternative to the standard New Year’s resolution.

What is the Word of the Year?

Simply put, you choose one word – noun, adjective, verb (pronouns seems to have been given a miss) – that embodies what you will focus your time, energy, and thoughts on throughout the coming year. It differs from a resolution in that it does not focus on what you want to get rid of (a hallmark of New Year’s resolutions), but instead, what you want to add to your life.

Let’s use weight loss as an example, since this goal perennially tops the New Year’s resolution list. If your resolution is to “lose weight,” the focus is on negative aspects:

  • dissatisfaction with personal appearance
  • deprivation (I can’t have that greasy pizza, so I really want it now)
  • judgment/uncertainty (If I had the willpower to lose weight, I wouldn’t be the size I am today)

This leaves you trying to muscle through both the process of losing weight and the negativity through sheer willpower. And if the only weapon you have against pizza/cigarettes/booze/codependent relationships/whatever is willpower, chances are pretty good that you’re eventually going to lose.

Choosing a “word of the year,” though, can establish an anchor that makes willpower irrelevant. Using the above example, we could choose from any number of words – “health,” “energy,” “confidence,” etc. When we focus on that anchor as we go about our day, the things that don’t support the “word of the year” lose their importance.

If I want to become the embodiment of health, nightly junk food binges don’t support that goal. This moves you from a mindset of “I can’t have it” to “It’s just extra baggage.” You focus on the positive goal and everything else falls into place (and you don’t have to beat yourself up when it doesn’t – very few paths are perfectly straight).

My Word of the Year

Lets face it – I have tons of crap in my life that, as they say down south, “needs fixing.” Limiting beliefs, unproductive habits, you name it. I drink great gallons of coffee, habitually skimp on sleep, and have a personal organizational system that only a hoarder could love. But I’m not going to resolve to get organized or stop drinking coffee.

Instead, I am dedicating myself to the word “service.” The next 12 months will revolve around alleviating suffering, supporting the success of others, and being a benefit to those with whom I come in contact.

Can I truly embody service if I am unhealthy/sleep-deprived/disorganized? No. But I’m not going to worry about any of that. By embracing service as my purpose for 2014, the choices I make will naturally support that purpose.

If you’d like to explore the “word of the year” concept, you can download a workbook from Christine Kane’s website. There’s no charge for the workbook, although you will have to pony up your email address. Fortunately, Christine has yet to flood my inbox with emails (I get maybe two a month), so I don’t think you’ll have to worry about getting bombarded with marketing messages.

Anyhoo, this is probably the last post of the year, so I’d like to wish all of you a prosperous, fulfilling, and enjoyable New Year!

 

 

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BodyMind

We all have those days… you know, the days when you’d rather be doing anything… anything at all… other than working. Those of us who are entrepreneurs and small business owners, though, know that for the most part, we’re not making money if we aren’t being productive.

There are mornings when, frankly, I’m more interested in what’s in the fridge than I am in tackling my task list for the day. And then there are all of the other convenient distractions, like YouTube, the cat, that strange hum coming from the clothes dryer, and those travel emails with wonderfully airbrushed images of tropical beach resorts. If you work from home, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Fortunately, over the years, I have found several strategies that help me keep my rear end in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, even when my mind is on the verge of an early checkout:

1) Tackle the simplest task first.

Ordinarily, I recommend getting the hard stuff out of the way at the beginning of the day so that you can work on easier tasks as your energy begins to wane. On those days when you’d rather watch NCIS reruns (or, in my case, The Big Bang Theory), though, completing an easy task can motivate you to keep going. “Oh, look, I checked this project off my list. I’m good. Let’s knock another one out.”

2) Opt for a change of scenery.

Routine is boring, and it can quickly diminish motivation. If you can’t change your work schedule or rearrange priorities, you can at least take your work to a different location. Looking at a different set of walls (or, if you’re fortunate enough to have nice weather, no walls at all) can give you the spark you need to get moving with your day. I happen to have favorite chairs at Tim Horton’s, Caribou Coffee, Starbucks, and Panera… and woe to anyone who might happen to be sitting in any of them when I arrive. :-)

3) Stipulate a reward.

What if you showed up for an office job and your boss told you, “As soon as you get these five tasks done, you can leave for the day. I don’t care if it takes you one hour or 10. And by the way, you get paid the same no matter how long it takes.”? Would that motivate you to get cracking so that you could leave and go enjoy the rest of your day?

Well, you’re the boss, and you can do just that. Stipulate a reward for yourself that you get to enjoy if, and only if, you make a certain amount of progress toward completing your work for the day. One of my personal favorites is a trip to the local Indian restaurant. (This is a great reward for me because 1) I love Indian food; and 2) the restaurant closes at 3PM for lunch. So there’s a real time restriction there to add to my motivation level.)

4) Remember why you’re an entrepreneur.

If all else fails, take a minute or two to think about what life would be like if you were stuck working for someone else. Even with all of the deadlines, headaches, and stress of entrepreneurship, most of us would rather scoop our own eyeballs out than work a traditional job.

When I absolutely can’t seem to get motivated, I close my eyes and remember all the three-hour meetings I had to attend as a corporate employee… trying to keep from dozing off while execs with high salaries and bad wardrobes locked metaphorical horns over minutae that never got resolved. I visualize my old boss heading out for a three-martini lunch in his just-detailed Mercedes S600 while I gnawed on leftover meatloaf at my desk. And I think about putting out five-alarm corporate fires while vice presidents turned off their cell phones as they ordered another round of cocktails poolside at the Bellagio.

Grr… argh… ok, wrapping up this web design project doesn’t seem so bad now.

I’m not saying you’ll win the motivation game every time. It’s a good idea to build in a time cushion so you can call a mulligan on your day once in a while. But when the work absolutely can’t wait, you can fall back on these strategies to give yourself the motivation to get stuff done.

 

Photo Credits: davecobb, _dennis_

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May
02

4 Steps to Achieving Mental Focus

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Mental Focus1.1

Achieving anything great takes more than talent and vision. Ask any Olympic gold medalist, self-made millionaire, or award-winning actor. Talent is essential, but simply having superior ability won’t get you very far. In fact, it won’t get you anywhere at all.

Years ago, I had piled a ridiculous number of challenges on myself. I spent 50 hours a week conducting legal research and drafting policy documents for a large insurance company. My daughter was a toddler at the time, and I wanted to make sure to be there for all of the little joys and big milestones. And somewhere along the line, I let my boss and coworkers convince me that going to law school was the ticket to advancing in my career.

Of course, there were all of the day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, keeping the house in order (well, sort of), managing finances, and making sure there were clean clothes in the closet. Any of this sound familiar?

The problem was that I wasn’t doing any of these things very well. No matter what I was doing, there was a voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I should be doing something else. Many days, I was completely stressed out. I felt like I was being pulled in a dozen different directions.

As a result, I spent a lot more time worrying about what I needed to accomplish than actually getting things done.

After my semester finals, I decided I needed a better way of approaching things. So I headed to the library and picked up a stack of books on time management, including Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. I spent the next several days devouring the information contained in these books.

Through my research, I discovered the problem wasn’t a lack of time.

It was a lack of mental focus.

See, managing your time is easy if you have a system in place. Managing your mind… now that’s a challenge.

Over the next several months, I kept a journal that allowed me to identify the things that improve mental focus, and the things that interfered with it. I ultimately found that four simple (but not necessarily easy) steps greatly increased my ability to focus on each activity:

Bruce Lee mental focus1) Maintaining an organized work environment. When I felt rushed and pulled in multiple directions, the last thing I wanted to think about was keeping my workspace organized. My office desk was piled with books, folders, notepads, pens, and study guides. Then there were the crayons, picture books, toys, and whatever else my daughter brought into my office to make a desperate plea for my attention. Oh yeah, and coffee cups.

Once I disciplined myself to organize my workspace, I felt less stressed. Clutter distracted me and made me think of the million other things I needed to do. Clearing my desk of everything but what I absolutely needed for the task at hand eliminated those distractions. As a result, I could focus my attention and get things done more quickly.

2) Following a predictable schedule. I was guilty of coming home from a long day of work and law school, and studying until 3 or 4 am… then trying to catch a few hours of sleep whenever I could. Weekends were just as bad, because I used those days to catch up on whatever I had missed during the week. I never had a set “day off,” much less a predictable schedule during the week. Once I consciously established a schedule and stuck to it, the “when the heck am I going to get this done” panic surfaced much less frequently.

3) Getting off my butt. Exercise seemed like a laughable option, considering my already packed schedule. But I started walking 30 minutes each morning before I launched into my daily routine. The increased focus allowed my to accomplish tasks more quickly and with fewer errors. Each half-hour I exercised probably saved me two hours or more of time wasted trying to keep my mind on task.

Some of you might say that walking doesn’t really count as exercise. Fine. Jog, swim, ride a bike, bench-press a Buick… whatever. I’ll stick with the low-impact stuff.

4) Taking time to reflect. Some of you might call it meditation. Others might call it daydreaming. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t have to take long. I spend about 10 minutes each morning in meditation, which lets my mind settle so I can get ready for my day. I do another 10 minutes before bed to avoid having mental chatter screwing up my sleep. If I skip either session, I definitely notice a decrease in my ability to focus on work and play.

I’m sure there are many more steps you can take to improve mental focus – these are just the ones that work for me. You might keep a journal and note what works best for you. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – I even used the voice memo feature on my cell phone to note ideas before they fell out of my head.

 

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