Knowing is not doing: 4 keys to making sure you are actually making progress.

When you want to make a change in your habits, it is common for people to start researching all the different options to make that change. They will find products that say they can help, they will find experts whose methods are the best and all the activity starts to feel pretty good. The research is movement. The studying is progress. Or, that is how it feels. The reality is that many people never make it past the research phase.

Knowing is not doing.

The question you could be asking is..

How do I actually make the significant change in my life?

That is the right question to ask. The answer that I share with people is that they need to:

  • start today
  • start with something uncomplicated
  • set their first milestones close enough that they can evaluate their progress today
  • make the change so easy that they are guaranteed to succeed

Start today. Planning is not doing.

If you do not start today, when will you start? On Monday, so that you can kick off a fresh week. Next month, when things have settled down and you have more time. After the kids go back to school, when you have the ability to take a little more time for yourself? Those are all good times to start your journey, but they are not today. And today is the best opportunity you have.

There should be no reason that you can not start today. I will remove some of the things you believe are obstacles in the way.

Avoid complexity.

The reason that complex planning should be avoided when you start is because you end up a with plan that a normal person, with a normal lifestyle can not implement. It is much better to start very simple and get positive momentum. As you start to implement the change, you can learn and adjust in real time. Testing small changes and iterating is a management process taken from the software development world and works well when trying to make a personal change.

After you have been working at implementing the change for a short period of time, learn from the experience, adjust the plan and then carry on. The real value is that you will be making decisions based on real data and experience and not on theories and random testimonials of strangers.

It doesn’t take too many cycles before you have a new way of living that seems like it took a lot of hard work and planning. The reality is that it likely did take some hard work, but you spent your effort on creating change and momentum, while many others with the same goal are still planning on the best way to do it.

Create short feedback loops.

When you get started, don’t set your first evaluation period a month away. You need to have tighter feedback loops that enable you to better understand how your behavior is impacting your progress towards success. When you set milestones to far away, it becomes too easy to explain away the lack of progress to all the other things that happened during that period.

I recommend you have daily milestones. Weekly milestones would be the largest acceptable duration, however in those instances it would have to be done with behavioral metrics that do not lend themselves to a shorter duration.

Guarantee your success.

In order to be successful over a long period of time, set yourself up for guaranteed success in the short term. When you find success with your outcome metrics early, you will start to build:

  • Self confidence
  • A new sense of identity
  • Self efficacy
  • Motivation

Changes in all four of those are critical to becoming a healthier and happier person. The truth is that we all have a certain amount of resilience and capacity to self motivate. This capacity is often not sufficient to overcome consistent failure when you begin and finding consistent and recurring sources of external motivation can be difficult.

The better alternative is to create a goal for change that is nearly impossible to fail at. When I share this concept with individuals, I can often be faced with skepticism, because the goal might seem trivial. However, once they’ve steadily and progressively found success at these small changes, they begin to realize that they’ve started to develop a new lifestyle.

If you need one take away message from this article, it would be – start today. Go find the most simple and easy to execute activity you can, and go do it today. Then repeat.

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Two lessons about successfully changing your behavior that are not fun.

When you want to make a change in your life it is important to first have a solid understanding of where you are today. This is true whether the change is associated with your health, fitness or any other aspect that is open to change. This seems like a fairly basic principle, however it is something that is easy to avoid. The self assessment process is the piece that creates uncomfortable answers, while day dreaming about what life will be like after everything has changed is inspiring and motivational. The self assessment piece requires that you take account for the behaviors that have been previously established, it also includes the the resources, skills and ability that you have available.

The following is a discussion of:

1. Why you should embrace a little discomfort during your self assessment.

2. Two statements about your personal assessment that are sabotaging your current progress.

Embrace discomfort today:

When individuals come to me and want my support to improve running, increase their fitness or lose some weight, they nearly always ask if I can help them reach some imagined outcome. The fact that they can visualize themselves at the end of this journey is a valuable part of the process. I might argue it is a critical piece of the process. I also think that it is the easiest part of process. Most people can envision a life that is totally different than the one they have today. We can imagine what it would be like to run faster. We can imagine how it would feel to be 50 pounds lighter. The person may have low self-efficacy associated with the outcome and it may be difficult to accept that those outcomes are possible, but in those moments of inspiration, we can at least envision our faster, fitter and healthier selves.

What I like to hear people talk about when they ask for support is their vision for what they want to achieve, along with acknowledgement of behaviors or habits they have identified as an opportunity for early success. Let’s look at a couple hypothetical examples:

“I would like to be prepared to run a marathon in 5 months. I feel like my current running schedule is not adequate to be ready. I also have been wondering if I should add some cross training or strength training as I progress.”

The reason I like this inquiry is because she has a clear goal. She acknowledges that her current program needs addressed, but is also willing to consider other ideas for her program.

“I want to lose 40 pounds for my daughter’s wedding, which is in 6 months. I have been doing some exercise, however I have a habit of going to happy hour every Thursday and eat pizza with the kids at least once a week.”

The value that I see in this inquiry is that the goal is specific and time bound. He also shared a couple observations he has already made about his current behavior and how it could be leading to his current status. Initially, I am much less concerned about what those specific observations are. The behaviors of focus can be addressed later in the process, the value is that he has already embraced some of the discomfort that is required when doing an honest self assessment.

In both of those scenarios it would be easy to be ‘committed’ to running a marathon or losing 40 pounds. It is uncomfortable to start digging through the sacrifices that will need to be made, behaviors that will have to change and the habits that will need to be added or subtracted from our life. A willingness to embrace some of that discomfort early is essential.

Two statements about your personal assessment that are sabotaging your current progress.

When doing a self assessment, two damaging statements include the following:

1. “If only… “

2. “I wish… “

I personally find it easy to follow up the process of doing an honest assessment with a list of excuses to justify the results of the assessment. Those excuses often begin with the words, “If only” or “I wish”, here are some commonly considered excuses:

  • If only I had started doing this ten years ago, it would not be so hard to get started.
  • I wish that I had more time to dedicate to this issue.
  • If only I didn’t have to spend so much time doing other things.
  • I wish that it was as easy for me as it was for her.
  • If only I didn’t have to worry about all the other things, I could focus on this issue.
  • I wish my body would let me do everything I needed it to do.

The list can actually grow fairly long. The damaging part of these type of lists that we create in our minds, is that with each statement, we lose a little power and control of our personal lives. Each one of the statements I just shared give power over to someone or something else. While there may be elements of truth to all of the reasons we have, to elicit changes in our behavior and improvements in our lives, we need to focus on where we do have control. Once we optimize the all the opportunities we have complete control, it can be amazing at how much impact we have had on reaching our desired outcomes.

If you are serious about making a change that will lead to a healthier and happier you, then there are some steps in the initial phases that will not be any fun. Embrace that discomfort and do an honest assessment. Then take some time and review your logical and emotional responses to that assessment. As you review those responses, if you have any “If only” or “I wish” statements, write them down and commit to taking control of your mindset. Once you’ve completed this identification and personal responsibility commitment, you will have established a great foundation for your future self.

The joys of getting older

The other night I was having a conversation where the topic of getting older was being discussed. This is something that I think about fairly often at the moment, maybe it is because I’m turning a year older soon and I see that forty is within spitting distance. As those milestones get closer, I often do more reflection and evaluation than is necessary. I do not live with a lot of regret, but I do spend time evaluating choices and the outcomes that resulted. Those periods of reflection are very valuable exercises for my continued growth. The lessons I have learned from this activity, over the years, have allowed me to make many positive changes in my life.

The potentially negative side to this process is when I start to compare what the outcomes were to what my expectations had been. This does not have to be negative, because there are many times that I have far exceeded my own expectations. However, I tend to focus on areas where I have yet to meet those expectations. As someone who has high expectations for himself in every aspect of life, I can be my own worst critic. I do not think that I am alone in this, as I have many discussions with friends and family who use their birth date as a time of reflection.

An aspect to aging, is that it’s a forever progressive and forward moving process. The biological implications of this are something I help people deal with daily. Helping others understand how to age well through exercise, nutrition and behavior change is all underpinned by this human struggle we all face to some degree. The physical process of aging is often discussed and highlighted by the negative consequences: achy joints, decreased mobility, less strength, lower energy levels, increased sensitivities and less adaptability.

Even after we discover how to bring biological aging to a near standstill, we won’t be capable of stopping time. With that time comes mental, emotional, spiritual and social experiences that we have to be capable of fitting into our psychological model of the world in which we live.

The best and healthiest approach for this that I have been able to adopt, is to remain mindful. To understand that this instant is truly the only moment we have. The past is the past and tomorrow will come tomorrow. The mindful mindset is not my natural state, more of an aspiration.

The reason that the discussion of aging the other night stands out to me, was because it quickly took a turn in the positive direction. Instead of falling into the normal piling on of reasons why getting older sucks, the person I was talking to immediately shared that she loved getting older. She recently had a birthday, so she could have fallen into the common traps also. However, she said she could not wait until next year when she was a year older. It definitely challenged me to think about the joys of aging, so here’s a list of reasons why getting older can be joyful:

1. I have more experiences to draw upon when making decisions.

2. I have more data points to use, allowing me to understand my strengths and weaknesses as it relates to my career.

3. I possess more understanding of myself as an emotional and spiritual person.

4. I know my body better, what it can do and what it’s limitations are.

5. I have more wisdom that I can offer to others.

5 things to add and subtract to be healthier and happier

On my walk to get coffee this morning, I was listening to the James Altucher Show as he interviewed Noah Kagan. James was sharing how he completely eliminated every material thing in his life other than three sets of clothes, his laptop and a kindle. It sounds like he’s living a pretty excellent life moving from Airbnb to new Airbnb each month, but then Noah asked “How does this related to the person in Ohio?” It’s a fair question, as most of us don’t have the desire to get rid of everything, however we might benefit from evaluating the excesses in our life.

The minimalist movement is not new. There are Netflix documentaries, a book section on amazon and the entire tiny house movement. One of the books that continuously comes up is, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” When I moved several months ago, I spent the time thinking through the value that items had or didn’t have. I felt like I got rid of many things, however on moving day I realized there was still a lot of stuff.

The conversation between James and Noah got me thinking, what are five things a person could remove from their life today that would make them happier and healthier (a guidepost for my decision making). It also sparked the question, what five things could they add to be happier and healthier?

I did not limit myself to material items, here’s what I came up with:

Eliminate:

1. Daily news from television or radio. This is something I did years ago now and it has paid me back exponentially in terms of happiness. The reality is that it’s impossible to hide from all news stories, but that was not my goal. I simply wanted to avoid the heightened state of anxiety the 24 hour news cycle tries to keep us in.

2. Alarm clock. This may not be possible for everyone, but sleep is a major factor in one’s journey to health. The alarm clock was not created to help us sleep better.

3. Push notifications on your phone. I will admit that I have not done this yet. As a product manager and creator, I know the value that push notifications can provide to positively influence behavior. However, I’d argue that the majority of push notifications you get are interruptions and not helpful, nor supporting your health.

4. Daily Commute. The research is pretty clear that the longer your daily commute, the less likely you are to be happy and the more likely you are to have depression. There are multiple strategies to limit or eliminate your required commuting, so before you say it’s not possible, at least spend some time thinking creatively.

5. Storage units and junk closets.  It’s easy to allow our things to grow into the spaces we give them. If we have storage units and junk closets, it’s likely we have a lot of junk. I still have a storage unit that is hopefully going to be cleaned out in the next week. Sadly, I couldn’t tell you what is in it. I clearly don’t need anything that’s in there.

Addition:

1. Walking without the requirement of exercise. I believe that movement for the sake of moving, along with the ability to take the opportunity to enjoy the interesting things you discover is one of the most beneficial things we can do. I love to exercise and also think it’s critical for your health, but this is different. Exercise invokes purpose and expectation, I’m simply talking about going for a walk.

2. Pomodoro Timer. It’s one of the best additions to my day in the past year. It’s helped productivity and breaks me from getting stuck in long durations of sitting.

3. Social engagement. There are many studies that show a healthy and connected social life is predictive of longevity. While it’s hard to create this in a day, it’s possible to commit to an activity where you will engage with others. I get myself out and work in a co-working space, but you could also try meetup.com to find a place to start. This does not include social media engagement, which I know would feel much easier and be less scary.

4. Food you could grow. Eat something today that you know you could grow yourself, if you had the time and desire to grow it.

5. Therapy. I used to have a stigma associated with therapy. The saying, “you need to see a shrink”, was never a phrase shared with empathy or kindness. However, seeing a therapist is one of the best things I’ve ever made the decision to do. I have friends and family that are there for me, always willing to listen if I want to share. But, the value of having a completely non biased person listen to me verbalize my thoughts without judgement or agenda, is invaluable. As long as I can afford the service, I will keep it in my schedule.

10 things you can do today to become a better runner

This time of year is often a busy time for individuals seeking running advice. There are many ways to make running complicated, but if you are just starting out… it’s best to just keep it very simple. Start way easier and slower than you think is necessary, then progress at a rate you think is too slow. In 3 months, you’ll be healthy and still running. In 1 year you will be amazed how how your life has changed. In 10 years, people will come to you asking for your secrets!  In 20 years…

Here are 10 things to do today to get started!

  1. Go for a run: any distance, any duration
  2. Find a running partner that will hold you accountable.
  3. Start a training log and track your runs (or use Strava, Fitbit or Garmin to do it for you).
  4. Join a running club, to add social benefit to your running.
  5. Sign up for a 5k (or any race), so there’s a target to work towards.
  6. Relearn (or learn) how to skip.
  7. Get a new pair of running shoes or running clothes, to solidify your commitment to running.
  8. Attend a running clinic that teaches you proper running form.
  9. Learn 1 new stretch, that is specific to your needs and mobility.
  10. Go run “hard” for 1 block, recover and then repeat a couple times.

Run free Kelty

Last night my best friend, my most loyal companion and for many years the most dedicated running partner decided her old body was too tired. I have visions of her running strong and free again today, something she hasn’t been able to do for awhile.

To manage the sadness and tears, I went for a run last night and realized that one of the only athletic events I have ever won was the year that Kelty became Lexington’s Mutt Strut Champion. The truth is I got to participate in the win, only because the rules required Kelty to drag a human over the course. I remember on that day being worried she might kill herself by working too hard in the heat.

I have written a lot about Kelty over the years, in fact, she is the only thing that has a dedicated archive section on my blog. Every other category of interest always seemed less important than she did. Every dog owner believes that their dog is the best, so it would not be that impactful to say that she was the best dog. However, it’s not possible to overstate the value she had in my life for the past 13 years.

On Saturday, I had an almost perfect day, which I shared in a post. I am so thankful that she and I were able to have that day together. In my heart, I think we both knew it was a long goodbye. I am so thankful to Dr. Cundiff at Hartland Park Animal Hospital, he not only took great care of her the past 10 years, but last night he enabled me a chance to say goodbye.

Goodbye Kelty.. Run free.

Expect Rejection: Learning from every ‘No’ in sales and online dating

There is a new podcast by Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) called ‘Masters of Scale’. It is a master class in startups with many of the top founders and CEO’s. The guests include successful individuals such as Brian Chesky, Sheryl Sandburg, Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt. If you only have time to listen to one episode, having listened to all of the episodes to date, my suggestion is listen to the Reid Hastings episode. It is the story about how he created culture at Netflix after learning hard lessons at Pure Software. I’d also recommend that you go view the ‘culture deck’ that they talk about within the episode.

As a bonus learning tool, they published an episode with Tim Ferriss. In that episode, Ferriss takes all the lessons and provides commentary and insight. He pulls together a “10 Commandments of Startup Success”. It was listening to the discussion around the first commandment that I realized that I’ve been getting an entire PhD in startups over the past eight months. I say it’s my PhD because I am now on my fifth attempt at creating a viable and sustainable company. Three of those companies are still in operation and at very different stages, so I would like to focus on Upper 90 and what I am learning through it today.

For context, Upper 90 is a development and sport science company at its core. We have a product that we are trying to bootstrap called PyCoach. PyCoach is an athlete monitoring platform that provides a window into an athletes readiness to perform, for coaches and performance staffs. In addition to the saas product, we provide data management consulting services for colleges and universities that are trying to better utilize data on their athletes.

Back to Tim’s first commandment of startup success,

“Expect rejection. But learn from every ‘No’”

This is something that I have heard successful startup founders and mentors talk about in the past, however I do not think that I have been in a mindset that allowed me to learn from rejection. Rejection was something that hurt a little too much and dug a little too deep for me to ever have a clear and positive reaction.

If you would have asked me about this in the past, I would have likely said that I was able to understand and learn from rejection. However, I had confused the difference between “rejection” and “failure”. There is another common saying in startup culture: “fail fast”. While I absolutely hate failing, I have been able to mature to a point where I understood that failing in the right ways can often be positive in the long term. I drew upon my knowledge and experiences in athletics to help me get to this understanding. In athletics, I have always been able to use poor performances to be the foundation for better performances in the future. The striving and self-competitive mindset becomes addictive. For example, I recently started to rock climb. I am absolutely horrible at it, however I know with each attempt I can learn and grow.

The “fail fast” paradigm isn’t what is meant when the commandment “Expect rejection” is shared. It has taken me awhile to work through this, plus a decent amount of therapy, but I now understand that a rejection isn’t (or doesn’t have to be) a failure. As I look at the two, I see failure as an outcome. In many cases it’s a binary outcome (the easiest to learn from), but it doesn’t have to be. Rejection is more of an interpretation by someone else regarding what you are offering and their desire and need for that offering.

This seems very nuanced, I understand the confusion, so let me share a couple ways that I am currently learning from rejection, but in ways that I don’t believe is failing.

Online dating as a window into rejection:

I’ve been talking to others for awhile about what it’s like to date. I was never good at it the first time around, so it’s pretty anxiety inducing to think about trying to do it again 15 years later. It’s even more challenging when I realize that I don’t have too many settings where it makes “discovery” possible. This is when I started talking to my friends about their successes. I learned that several friends met their partners on Match, two meet theirs on OkCupid and another friend has been using the Bumble app. Inspired by their stories, I first joined Bumble, a week later I signed up for OkCupid and after brief periods of time on those platforms, I’ve moved on to Match and Tinder.

What I’ve come to learn through experience and reading of others, is that volume of interactions is essential for men to be successful. It seems very counter intuitive to my long term romantic notion that you just meet someone as they walk into the room and you know they are the one. The idea of sending out dozens of messages to get no responses, then feel empowered to carry on, is difficult. Whether I want to admit it or not, there’s at least a small feeling of rejection every time I send a message and hear silence.

A reality of using the platforms is that it’s unclear why no response is given. My first interpretation is that she read my message, reviewed my profile and gave the hard pass. However, it’s a story I’ve made up. At least on Match, I realize now that there are profiles that are active yet the person never uses. So another possibility is that she never saw the message. The uncertainty of the situation makes managing the process that much more emotionally challenging.

The value, for me, of using an online platform at this stage of understanding how to date in a modern world, is that the individuals on the opposite end of the conversation are mostly unknown. I do see people I know on the platforms and for the most part I do not engage in conversations with them, as rejection from someone I already know might be too difficult.

The main lesson that I’ve learned, that applies to this discussion, is that there are many stages along the dating path. At each stage, the opportunity for rejection exists. While I have not experienced anything beyond the initial stages of communication to this point, I anticipate that the pain that comes along with rejection also increases with each step forward. As commandment number one suggests, “Expect rejection, but learn from every ‘No’”. If rejection is not a failure nor a binary outcome but an interpretation of your offering by someone else, what can I learn from rejections in the dating world? Here are some thoughts:

1. Did the person communicate values they desired, that I did’t offer? For example: family, political or religious values.

2. Did she want someone that has the personality that I possess? If not where there early signs?

3. Did I communicate my values and desires clearly upfront? Is it possible to improve the way I represent myself better?

Startup sales as a window into rejection:

I am not a great salesman, but in the initial stages of most startups , founders find themselves taking on roles by default. That is where I have found myself many times over the past eight months. Whether it be selling PyCoach to colleges and universities, or selling our consulting services, I have come to realize that you can take all the lessons I just shared about online dating and transpose them into sales. In fact, it’s not uncommon that I find myself sending sales emails to a college coach one minute and then responding to a message on a dating app the next. The majority of messages I send out, even to a coach I have a direct connection with, receive no returned response.

In the sales process, I have had several situations where the communication back and forth start to create feelings of shared vision and alignment. In at least two of those situations, what felt promising and potentially life-changing (for a small bootstrapped startup like us anyway) resulted in eventual rejection. It hurt. What are a few things that I learned from those hard “No’s”?

1. I got a little caught up in the potential sale, even when the customer didn’t exactly fit our targets.

2. I struggled to communicate our value prop in a clear manner.

3. I lost track of the stage of ‘courtship’ we were on, partly due the timing and impending decisions being made.

Some final thoughts on rejection:

Everyone goes through rejection. Going through the process of getting rejected doesn’t mean it’s a failure, however that also does not mean it won’t be a little painful. When I listened to the Master of Scale summary episode with Tim Ferriss, I initially was not sure I believed that a lesson about rejection should be commandment number one. I do now. If not number one, than at least in the top three, because without being able to manage rejection well a founder will never possess several characteristics I believe to be critical:

1. Resilience

2. Self-awareness

3. Humility

If all of this is true, how does someone practice getting better at handling rejection? There are workshops targeted to founders that need to learn about product development, financial processes and fund raising, however I’ve never seen a weekend seminar focused on rejection. My guess is that handling rejection is something we are expected to know, or that we were taught how to handle it at a young age (which doesn’t seem likely, especially in today’s environment).

I believe that we should practice and prepare for important things in our life, to which I’d encourage a founder to not wait until their first big deal to find out how they’ll react to getting turned down. If you are not ready or in a position to face consistent rejection that comes along with online dating, my current training ground, I’d recommend you start small and with something that is very low stakes.

Noah Kagan created the coffee challenge several years ago as a way to get startup founders exposed to the feeling of being rejected. If you haven’t completed the challenge, I’d encourage you to start there. If asking for 10% off your Starbucks is difficult, how will you ever face the risk of rejection associated with your business contracts worth thousands or millions of dollars?

By doing the challenge you’ll learn a lot about yourself, including whether you are an ‘asker’ or a ‘guesser’. I’m 100% a guesser, which is why learning about rejection is so fundamental to my growth as a person, startup founder and romantic partner.

Resources:

1. Master of Scale Podcast

2. Netflix Culture Deck

3. Tim Ferriss summary episode of Masters of Scale

4. Noah Kagan’s Coffee Challenge

5. Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability (which is a requirement, imo, to face rejection)