Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Micro commitments

In my last post I talked about the importance of making small changes in our lives and how these can be more effective than trying to make big changes. It is often easier to start and maintain small changes over time, as every change requires focus and energy.

Today I want to introduce the idea of micro commitments.

Micro commitments are time- and situation-limited commitments we make to ourselves to help build up our ability to make and stick to them. They help us build our commitment muscles.

An example would be choosing to focus on doing something unpleasant for 15 minutes, rather than saying that you will wait until you feel more inspired. You make the commitment for a limited time and situation and when you keep this commitment, you start to build up your ability to keep larger commitments.

The power of micro commitments is that we can use them in situations where we don’t have the time or the energy for larger changes, but we want to start making changes. We can make them for an hour, a day or for a single situation. And each time we succeed we build up our ability to make and keep larger commitments.

I use micro commitments every day to help me manage the tasks that I would otherwise put off. It’s better to do something small to move you toward your goal than it is to either put off doing something or beat yourself up because you didn’t do something positive. Try it for yourself. Start with small tasks and gradually build toward larger ones and watch your commitment muscles grow!


Growing through small changes

We all have things in our lives that we would like to change. Perhaps we’re not eating right or getting enough exercise. Or we are working too many hours and not getting enough rest. We know we need to make changes. And every now and then we get inspired and try to overhaul our entire life. And for a few days we feel really motivated. And then we skip a day. Then 2 days. A week goes by and we don’t keep up our new routine. And now we feel even more depressed because we couldn’t maintain our new routine.

When we do this, we set ourselves up to fail. Major life changes require an intense focus and lots of energy – two things we often don’t have when we want to make a change. If we do this often enough we will come to believe that we can’t change.

There is a better way. We can make small changes that can grow into big changes.

Rather than trying to change your entire diet, pick 1 or 2 small changes and keep them up for 30 days. For example, eat 1 less snack per day, or eat only healthy snacks between meals. Drink water instead of soda. Go for a walk 3 times a week instead of making yourself do it every day. Go to bed 1 hour earlier 3 times a week. Notice how these changes make you feel. If they make you feel more positive about yourself and your life, keep them up. If they are not helping to motivate you, try something new. Keep going until you find something that you look forward to doing, so that you will keep at it.

When you find the right combination, you will feel better about yourself and your life – and you may also find that other parts of your life start to work better. This is the bonus that comes with making small changes and maintaining them over time.

For more inspiration, check out Doug Grady’s book, The Ripple Effect. It’s Doug’s story of how 1 small change led to bigger, positive changes in his life. It’s available on Amazon at the link below.

Why failure beats fear

Which is worse – the fear of failing or actually failing?

All of us have things that we won’t attempt to do since we believe we will fail when we try. We’re not interested in finding out if we are right about them or not. We’ve decided that whatever it is, it’s not worth attempting – the potential cost of failure is too high.

Note that it’s the fear of failure and not failure itself that keeps us from trying. We don’t actually know if we would fail, and fear keeps us from finding out if we are right or not.

I’m not in favor of failure, either. It’s no fun, it can be painful, and the memories can last a lifetime. But I am very much in favor of failure when it is the result of thoughtful planning and a sincere effort to achieve something. (More players lose at the Olympics than win.) Failure is a form of feedback, a form of learning. For example, when children fall off their bikes while they are learning to ride, they get feedback, and they can learn that they need to sit or balance in a different way. Then they can try again. When we try to solve a problem and the method we choose fails, we get feedback, and we can learn to adjust our approach.

Personally, I would rather deal with failure than fear. I can’t fight fear. It’s like a ghost that appears and taunts us, but when we try to suppress it, it vanishes only to appear later. Failure, on the other hand, is often concrete. We fall and hurt ourselves trying to climb a tree. We get a D and learn that being good at math requires far more work than we thought. We lose a job due to our lack of judgement, spend money on plans that fall through, and say or do things that drive people away from us. We can correct these mistakes, which failure has made clear. But we can’t remove the fear that colors our anticipation of failure.

So for me, failure beats fear. I can learn from my mistakes, but I’ll never grow from the mistakes I’m afraid to make.


Success or satisfaction?

Each person defines success in their own way. For some, success is measured in what they own or whom they know. For others, success is based on the experiences they have had and the people they have become. For most people, success is a very personal matter.

However, if we don’t properly define success for ourselves it can be a trap.

Do you really want the big house or the boat, or do you want to feel important and impress people?

Do you want the important job with the fancy title or do you want to make a difference in the industry and in people’s lives?

When you define success for yourself, make sure that what you want to achieve will also bring you satisfaction and will help others. After all, there’s no point in owning a big house if you have no one with whom to share it. And the important job that destroys your personal life may not bring you the lifestyle you want and in the end it may cut you off from the very people who you most want in your life.

Success may bring satisfaction, but satisfaction is more often what we truly want.



For managers – 5 tips for better interviews

Interviewing potential new employees can be stressful for both the hiring manager and the candidates. Based on my own experience on both sides of the desk, here are 5 ideas on how to make these meetings less stressful and more productive:

1. Connect. When you interview someone for a job, you are hiring a person, not just a set of skills. So take some time at the beginning to really connect with the person as a human being. It may seem like a waste of time to talk about their favorite sports team, their pets and hobbies, or where they spend their free time. But remember that what you learn here may make a huge difference when it comes to managing them later. They want to be treated as a person, not a number. And you want to know what kind of person you are hiring.

2. Confirm. I’m amazed at how often the person leading an interview has little or no idea of what job description I was given prior to the meeting. In many cases they are looking for completely different skills and aptitudes than what the written description says. So take a few minutes and make sure that you are both talking about the same job description. You might be surprised.

3. Understand their background. It’s extremely difficult to fully understand what someone has accomplished by looking at their resume, and in some cases resumes hide more than they reveal. So in addition to asking them about their skills, also ask them to describe their job duties. How did they plan their day so that the important things got done? Ask whom they interacted with, and how often. Did they take breaks or are they a workaholic? Do they like working in a structured environment or do they prefer a more freewheeling atmosphere? Get to know the person behind the resume and you’ll make better hiring decisions.

4. Give feedback. For job candidates, going through a job interview is like being on trial for their life. Let them know how they did. Tell them what impressed you, and where you have concerns. Even if they didn’t win the job, they want to know how they did. When they hear nothing, they assume the worst. And if you do end up hiring them, you have already started to build a relationship that will make working with them that much easier.

5. Share. Let the candidate know a little about you as a person. He needs to know at least a little about what motivates you, both as a person and as a manager. After all, the candidate is evaluating you as a potential manager. So if you like what a candidate has to offer, both as a person and as a potential new employee, it pays to start building something of a personal relationship with them as early as possible.

Interviewing is hard for both candidates and hiring managers. Hopefully these tips with help both sides reduce the stress that comes with interviewing and allow for better hiring decisions as well – and maybe even make the process of interviewing a little more enjoyable for both sides.

5 poisons of the mind – #5 – surprise

The last of the 5 poisons of the mind is itself surprising. After all, who doesn’t like a surprise?

But in this case I am talking about a kind of surprise that works against us. It’s a way of surprising ourselves. We might call it anticipation. And here’s why it’s dangerous.

Suppose you are planning to ask your friend to lend you something. In the past there had never been a problem borrowing things from this friend. So you call him up and ask how he is doing, and then proceed to make your request. But instead of getting an easy yes, you get a “No”. In your mind you had anticipated getting a positive response, and so you had already begun thinking about what you would do after your friend granted your request. Now you are stuck. His response was a surprise you had not anticipated. Your plans are now in trouble.

In this simple example the stakes are not high, and you could probably work around not being able to borrow something from your friend. But what about when the stakes are higher? We often make assumptions about what will happen in our lives, how others will react, and anticipate what we will be able to do based on these assumptions. In many cases our assumption are correct – or close enough. But when things don’t work out, the consequences can be dramatic.

What about a car that fails to stop at a light and simply drives through the intersection? Surprised? You thought the driver would stop.

What about the storm that doesn’t look very threatening until you hear hailstones hitting your car? Surprised? You didn’t think it would be this bad.

What about the well-dressed man who tries to rob you? Surprised? How could this be happening to me?

I’m not saying we should be paranoid. But we must be aware of the assumptions we are making about the people and circumstances around us. If we fail to do this we will, at some point, be surprised. We will believe that what we assume about the world and people around us is the reality. It isn’t. And while we may have options – avoiding the stray driver, hiding from the storm, or fighting back again those who try to take advantage of us – these choices may not be very good ones. It’s better to know up front what we are assuming and make even a minimal plan to preserve our choices.

No one wants to be a victim, but our anticipation and assumptions can make us vulnerable. Hence the 5th poison of the mind – surprise.

5 poisons of the Mind – #4 – Hesitation

When faced with difficult choices most of us hesitate. Some of us hesitate longer than others, and some people simply freeze when confronted with hard choices. Most often we pause because we are waiting for more information. Sometimes we are waiting for a sign that it is OK to proceed. We crave clarity in our decisions and actions. And often it makes sense to wait until we have enough information to make a sound decision. But not always.

The hesitation that poisons the mind arises when we know what we need to do, but we delay. We say we need more information when in fact the real issue is our emotional discomfort. We don’t want to face the situation, person or decision right now. So we delay. And delay. And the opportunity or choice goes away. And then we doubt our ability to make decisions. So the next time we face a decision we question ourselves and hesitate again. Over time we develop a habit of waiting too long, and opportunities vanish and people no longer ask us for our opinion.

It’s OK to hesitate because we don’t know enough to make a good decision or because we are caught off guard. It’s not a good idea to hesitate simply because we are not emotionally prepared to choose or because we would rather wait. Choices go away and situations change rapidly. Opportunities evaporate.

So it’s good to learn to tell the difference between hesitating because you truly need more information, and hesitating because you are scared to make a commitment. And you can prepare yourself for situations and decisions that you see coming your way. When fortune calls, you don’t want your response to be, “Can it wait just a second?”

5 poisons of the mind – #3 – Anger

Anger always feels right. When we are angry it always seems justified. Someone has hurt us or circumstances have defeated us, and it feels good to lash out at the other person, at our fate, at ourselves, the weather, God and whoever else happens to be nearby. And the more we practice getting angry the easier it is to become angry. Anger can be addictive, and always seems justified. But we don’t need to practice getting angry.

Anger also blinds us. When we are angry we see only how our own world has been attacked. We can’t see how others may be impacted, or how our angry behavior may frighten others; and for the most part at these times we are not interested in other’s suffering. Anger shrinks our world down to only our own, very limited perspective. It creates mental tunnel vision.

Anger has a value. When I get angry at someone who has been told many times not to do something, but who chooses to do it anyway, my anger serves to let the person know, “Hey, I mean this!” However, within this anger must be an undeniable sense that I care for the person. I’m angry not at them, but at the danger they put themselves in, at the warning they ignored. And the secret here is that once the person acknowledges this, my anger must cease. Being angry at someone just to show off or because it feels “right” is inappropriate and unfair. So know when to be angry, and when to stop.

It’s important to observe what you say to yourself after you have been angry. Do you justify your action, claiming that it was the right thing to do, that the person who hurt you needed to hear what you said, that they had it coming? Or do you honestly admit that perhaps you were out of line, that a different response would have been more useful and helpful, or that walking away and addressing the issue at another time may have been a more mature response.

If used wisely anger can teach us what we care about, and where we need to be careful of overreacting to life’s injustices; but left unchecked its fire will scar both you and those you seek to correct. Use anger wisely, or it will use you.

5 poisons of the mind – #2 – Doubt

When we doubt something, we are questioning its value. When I doubt what you say is true, I am questioning the truthfulness of what you say. When I doubt myself, I am questioning my own value and abilities.

Doubt does serve a purpose. It stops us momentarily as we evaluate something. Where doubt becomes a problem is when it becomes negative. If we doubt that we can do something, but we go ahead and try anyway, our doubt may only be a safeguard. But when we doubt and then give up without trying, we allow our own thinking to block us from growing.

Negative self-doubt is poisonous. If your first response in facing something new is, “There’s no way I can do that!”, then you very likely won’t even try, and you will have already failed. So while doubt can be a tool that serves to guide us away from danger, it can also become a weapon we use on ourselves, which guarantees our failure.

If you always choose what to do or how to think based on pessimistically doubting the value or outcome of an action or plan, then you are allowing your doubt – which exist exclusively in your own mind – to determine your future.

So learn to doubt wisely, that is, to doubt without choosing to let your doubts be your only guide.

5 poisons of the mind – # 1 – Fear

Emotions can enrich our lives. Who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of pleasure that comes from accomplishing something difficult or helping someone who is in need? Who doesn’t like the delight that accompanies mastering a new skill? And who doesn’t  comprehend the relief that comes when we forgive someone who has hurt us deeply?

Emotions add color to our lives. However they can also darken our experiences, and we need to understand how to recognize and manage the emotions that don’t serve us well. Here’s my list of the 5 most dangerous ones:






Let’s look at these one at a time:

Fear causes us to freeze, to hesitate and doubt ourselves and our abilities. It is often an instinctive response to new situations and experiences. If we don’t acknowledge it and factor it into our lives it will secretly dominate our lives. What we fear controls us. It distorts our thinking and limits our willingness to grow.

We can’t will fear away. We have to work around it. And we can use it to our advantage.

Personal example: I dislike heights. Climbing ladders freaks me out. But I own a house where I have to use a ladder to do certain jobs. So I have learned to manage my fear. I know I am going to be nervous when I’m 25 feet up, so I factor this into my actions. I acknowledge the fear, and use it to slow myself down and focus on doing things safely, one step at a time. The fear doesn’t go away. I redirect it to help me succeed.

The result? I’m still afraid but I get the work done. I don’t expect the fear to go away. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. And the bonus is that now I know that fear doesn’t have to stop me. I know I can manage it and use it to perform better.

Don’t fight fear. Understand its value in protecting you and redirect its energy toward your goals.

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