It's no secret that the world demands from us a productive life. In the United States, we operate in a relatively free capitalist economy. If we fail to contribute our maximum every day, our quality of living suffers. But how do we reach out full potential?
There are plenty of fortune cookie answers to that question, but I've found experience is the best teacher. Below I'll lay out a few proven strategies I've used in my personal life to break bad habits and unlock a better life by adopting more productive ones.
1. Accept Failure and Embrace It
Our habits stem from the very things that allowed our ancestors to survive and thrive in their environment. The root of habits is mental convenience and conservation of bandwidth. There's only so much the conscious human mind can monitor and process at any given time. To allow our ancestors to better fend-off predators and find food, our minds evolved to allow our subconscious to regulate activities that were routine and mundane; freeing up bandwidth for the activities related to survival.
If you're going to fight evolution, you have to accept that you're going to fail at times. It's why people gain weight, undergo a series of corrective plastic surgeries and fight to improve their mental acuity. Fighting evolution requires constant effort, but the end result can be a major improvement in our potential.
Takeaway: Give yourself permission to fail if you want to tackle a major goal, like altering engrained habits. Changing your mental programming isn't a linear journey; ups and downs will be par for the course. Remember: "A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor."
2. Focus on Process First, Results Second
According to Joe Lawrence, founder of Business Credit Workshop, "Many business owners over plan and over analyze when starting a new business. Actually starting the company is more important than over planning. Most people never get around to starting their company because they get stuck over analyzing things."
For many people, it's hard to let go of the goal and focus on the process for getting there. When I look for ways to grow my company or improve our efficiency, I find it incredibly challenging to just let go of the end goal and hammer down on process. But if you're constantly sweating over the goal, it's harder to focus on the process that will get you and your team there.
For example, our product development team recently decided we wanted to roll-out an expansion on one of our advertising campaigns. We needed to fine-tune the focus of the ad and better identify our core, target audience. While we were debating how we could get the advertisement rolled out before Mother's Day, I quickly realized we were loosing focus on the creative process. We were thinking about publishing and forgetting about content.
I refocused the team around creating ad concepts, refining the flow and substance of the ad and left the time pressure to myself. I gave the team space to be creative. They ran with it and had some great ideas well ahead of our production deadline. In the end, simply letting the team focus on process instead of the end goal created a much better end product that exceeded our goal.
Some startup founders espouse the value of the latest evolution in S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting. It has evolved to focus: Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable and Refinable goal-setting. Be clear, concise and earn employee buy-in by making both the goal, and its benefits crystal clear to your organization.
Takeaway: As The Profit's Mark Linus is known for focusing in on, you also need to shift your focus to your company's "...people, product and process." Success is the result of developing stronger habits that allow you to exceed the goals you set out for your organization.
3. Crawl, Walk, Fall and Run
The first step in hitting any goal is the actual moment you take that first step. Michael Josephson, an inspirational author and self-help guru, was quoted in a recent post by the Proctor Gallagher Institute: "What's crucial is to begin. Things happen and opportunities appear most often when we're moving, not standing still."
Don't let yourself stand still, considering the opportunities ahead of you. Get moving, do something! Life is a roller coaster ride, and business is like a roller coaster ride without the safety harness. Get swept up and enjoy the journey. You'll find that the more doors you knock on, the more opportunities will be opened to you.
As you gain confidence in your ability to actually make great things happen, you'll learn how to focus your efforts. Focusing efforts in progress is far superior to dreaming on paper. In-progress efforts provide real-world feedback. You'll know what can and cannot be done in real-time with reliable, first-hand data. Effort plus a little bit of brainpower will go a long way towards adopting new habits and reprogramming the way your mind looks at the world around you.