Know Better – Do Better – Get Better

Tips & Tactics for Personal Development

Tag Archives: Discipline

Easy is usually not the best way

We like easy. Easy is, well, easy. But easy is also a trap.

If we always take the easy way, we will not be challenged (read uncomfortable), and we won’t grow much. If you like the way you are now and don’t really want to grow, go ahead, take the easy way. But if you want to improve yourself and your life, and help the people around you, watch out for easy.

I’m not saying to avoid the easy way at all costs. I’m saying don’t make it your default setting.

Easy often sneaks into our lives in disguise.

It’s easier to procrastinate than start something you really don’t want to do.

It’s easier to swallow your feelings than to confront a bullying manager and try to improve the situation.

It’s easier to stick to your routine rather than try something new.

In other words, it’s easier to remain who you are right now. So just how happy are your with your current life/career/circumstances? More importantly, how much are you giving to the people around you? Are you helping them become better or merely aiding them in avoiding change?

Beware of easy. It’s very easy to put off doing the hard work of changing and growing. Everything of value in life must be earned, and this requires work. There is no magic. If you want something you must do the work to deserve it. This isn’t easy.

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Beware the “Can Do” attitude

While I am all for enthusiasm and drive, I’m suspicious of people who are too “gung-ho.” I’ve seen too many situations where someone was too quick to take action to solve a problem, and their actions actually made the situation worse.

A recent example was a situation I observed where a customer service agent was so intent on helping a customer that she never actually listened to what the customer was saying. Her solution not only failed to satisfy the customer, it also upset them, since what the customer really wanted in this case was to have someone listen to their complaint and assist them in choosing the best option for resolving it. Instead the customer was left feeling run over by the agent’s good will and drive.

I think that this attitude is often driven by our desire to solve problems as quickly as possible, because we can’t stand the discomfort that an unresolved problem causes us to feel. In addition, if we don’t take the time to properly assess a situation, we are unlikely to come up with sound solutions. Good problem-solving requires time and planning, and experienced people know this and make time for it.

Ask yourself how you would react to the following situation:

You have been given a task that needs to be completed in 30 minutes. How many minutes would you use to plan how you are going to solve the problem, and how many will you use to actually do the work involved?

Real artists ship

Steve Jobs reportedly said this to some programmers who were reluctant to stop working on their code and allow the product that included their code to ship to Apple’s customers. Seth Godin focuses on this in one of the chapters of his recent book, Linchpin. Says Godin, “The purpose of starting is to finish.”

Real artists ship. And determined people change.

Anytime we set out to make a significant change in our  lives, we need to make sure we know when to ship, that is, when we need stop analyzing what we will do and actually do it. I have found that people (including myself) can put an amazing amount of thought and energy into planning and talking about what they are going to do to improve their lives or start a new venture. But they never ship. They never set a goal together with a timeline and actually start. And if there is no pressure to ship your product, there’s also no urgency to change. It’s just an intellectual exercise.

So learning how to ship is vital, both for individuals and for companies. We can all learn how to set a goal, make a plan and set milestones and deadlines for evaluating our progress. And if you are having trouble shipping, it can be very helpful to get a partner and share with them your plan and timeline so that they can help you stay on course.

And remember that there is no such thing as change in the future. Change only occurs in the now.

Find out what doesn’t work; then don’t do it.

The goal of all learning is to improve your ability to do something. So it’s not surprising that many success strategies claim that by learning something new, you can change your life. And in some cases this is true. For example, learning how to drive does change your life and give you the freedom to take advantage of opportunities that were not previously available to you. Learning to speak a foreign language opens your mind up to new ways of thinking. So there is something to this strategy.

However there is another strategy that I believe is equally effective. It is summarized in the title above: Find out what doesn’t work, and then don’t do it. When we are trying to change our lives, it is often hard to begin and then maintain the new habits that are required to make the change permanent in our lives. I believe this is because we have not first removed the thoughts and habits that stand in the way of our making these changes.

So let’s say you want to change how you deal with a difficult person. You can try new tactics, but I believe that until you stop doing the things that aggravate the relationship and distort your perspective, these new tactics will be only minimally effective. Before you can strengthen the relationship, you have to first stop doing the things that make the relationship unpleasant. If you want to listen more, you have to first stop speaking and focus on the other person and their needs. If you want to understand the other person’s perspective, you have to first stop planning your responses to them while you are listening and actively listen to the other person.

In other words, you have to first identify and acknowledge the actions or habits that stand in the way of improving the relationship. Then you have to actually stop doing them.

This may not sound as glamorous as trying out some new and trendy tactic. But I believe this is actually easier and more effective than simply changing your behavior. In fact, I think that unless you first get rid of the habits of thought and action that are undermining your attempts to change, these ingrained habits will ultimately trip you up, no matter how determined you are to use the new tactics. The challenge is often identifying one’s own habits that so often subtly undermine efforts to change.

So don’t give up trying new strategies. They do add value. But make sure you also weed out the old habits that are holding you back, so that the new strategies can take root and become your own.

Learn to read; read to learn; read to lead

Reading as a skill has been displaced in our modern world. While electronic media certainly have made our lives easier, their dominance has also degraded certain other skills. I believe that reading is one of these skills, and that its loss has undermined our ability to communicate with each other, and to learn from and teach each other.

Full disclosure: I am an avid reader. I read anywhere from 20 to 30 books per year. Just so you know where I am coming from.

It’s been said that those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t read. While this is perhaps an overstatement, I think there is some truth in it.

Reading requires time and discipline. Both are in short supply in our modern world. However the payback can be enormous.

Reading allows the reader to control what they learn and how they learn it. It also allows for reflection, for thinking over what one has read and forming new ideas and conclusions from what they have learned. Reading provides perspective.

Reading is free. I don’t know of any other training program that provides so much for free.

Reading requires discipline at the start, and teaches discipline of thought as one reads. 2 for 1 here.

So why don’t more people read?

I honestly think it’s because they don’t see the value. If they knew how much the successful people around them read and thought, and how this made them successful and disciplined, they might be more inspired. But until we advertise the benefits of reading, we will continue to think that life consisted of tweets and e-mail, and we will miss the much larger universe of human thought that has inspired generations of people to think for themselves and make better choices in their daily lives.

“Winging it” rarely leads to success

Many people would like to believe that they don’t need to make plans for how they will succeed in life. They simply take events as they come and make the most of them.

While this may work for some people, I doubt you will find many high-performing people leaving much to chance. They know what they want and they deliberately plan for how to reach their goals. They also know that with a plan in place they can handle the unexpected things that always happen along the way. And the unexpected always happens.

As a case example, I think we all admire the Navy Seal Team that captured Osama Bin Laden. It’s exciting to imagine the soldiers secretly flying into Pakistan and dropping out of the sky in their surprise attack. And even their plans did not go perfectly. Despite the flaws, the mission succeeded.

What we don’t see is the work behind this success: the thousands of hours of planning and drilling. the raids that were carefully planned and then abandoned at the last minute due to outside events, and the emotional toll of waiting for OK to start the mission. We don’t see that the Seals’ success here had a very high price – we see only the glamorous results.

Our lives work the same way. Success always has a price, and it must always be earned. Our lives and the experience of the successful people we know will confirm this.

This confirms our first rule of success: success in any area requires discipline, and this means taking the time to think through what we want and then making a plan for how to get to our goal. Understand the time commitment required and invest in planning for success! Don’t leave success to chance.

No success without discipline

If you were going to take a vacation to a place that you had wanted to visit for many years, how would you go about doing this? Would you simply pack a suitcase and head off? Or would you take some time to sit down and plan your trip so that it would be all that you expected?

If you take the first approach, you might have a great time. If things worked out for you and there were no problems with your arrangements, it could be wonderful!

On the other hand, if you ran into problems, what resources would you have to help you out?

If you take the second approach, you would plan first the outline of your trip and then all the details that were necessary. You wouldn’t need to plan every single detail, but enough to know what to do at each point in the trip.

What’s strange to me is that people will spend hours and sometimes days planning a vacation, but they won’t apply the same structure and discipline to their personal goals. And I’m as guilty as any one else in this area.

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