[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Friday, June 29, 2012

Which Goals Shouldn't Be SMART--My "Someday" List

Today, I'm disagreeing with what I've said before.  Earlier this week I posted on goals, arguing for them to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Aggressive, Realistic, Time-Bounded). However, I'm now saying that not all goals should be SMART.

I still believe that well-defined goals provide greater motivation and ability to take action--they get done more than vague goals.

But, in some cases, I will stop trying to make them too specific. As you look into the future, it's basically a waste of time to do detailed plans. Of course, there are a few exceptions, like knowing your kids will plan to attend college in several years. But so much else is going to change that for most goals I'd be reduced to wild guessing. I'm not willing to commit myself to a goal that's a wild guess.

So, just skip writing  them down, right? Wrong. There's still value in capturing great ideas for later. In fact, I just finished a conversation where I wrote down an idea that I'd love to do someday--I just don't know when I can do it.

Specifically, one of my best friends showed me a graduation present given to him (he just finished an MBA) that was a custom made book (the title even included his name) of fun articles and information to read now that he doesn't have reading for school to do. I love the idea, but I don't have anyone else in my life with a similar enough situation that I can give them a custom book, printed just for them.

So I added it to my "someday list".

A few years back a movie made the term "bucket list" popular. My list is kind of like that, but there's an subtle difference. When I put items on my someday list, I have no commitment whatsoever to do them. They're amazingly fun, cool ideas--I love them all. But if I don't get to them before I die, I'll be fine.

So why write down something you are committing to do? Why not just make a mental note and let it go?

  1.  Capturing these ideas and reviewing them a few times a year greatly increases the chances that they happen. It's normal for me to read my list and "remember" that I wanted to do one of those things. I find myself looking for those opportunities more--and sometimes even moving one off the someday list to my actual to do list.

  1. It sparks creativity and excitement and helps me dream about what kind of life I want to live.

In the spirit of that, I thought I'd add a portion of my someday list (over the years, it's grown to 107 items--you see why I'm not holding myself to do them all). Oh, and you'll get a fun glimpse of my personality here. My wife does not plan on joining me for many of the most extreme ones (it probably won't be hard to guess which ones).

  • Visit the best of the 58 national parks (Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc)
  • Race on a dogsled (and yell "mush" while doing it)
  • Eat at Berns Steakhouse in Tampa, FL (and do tour of their kitchens & wine cellar)
  • Visit MIT's Media Labs to see latest inventions (and how they come up with them)
  • Kayak the top rivers in the US (including at least one 15+ foot drop)
  • Go to Knobb Creek gun range in Kentucky for their Machine Gun Shoot, using 50 caliber machine gun to destroy vehicles, appliances, etc (including added dynamite for fun)
  • Set up a "creative lab" in my home office (foam & glue to prototype ideas, unusual objects, inspiring quotes, microscope, big whiteboard, etc)
  • Expand the rules on the strategy board game I've created and try to sell it
  • Jump off a giant ski jump (and survive landing)
  • Surf giant waves off of Maui using jet skis to pull you on to the fast moving waves
  • Fly--well, jump from a cliff in a wingsuit and zoom through a canyon
  • Visit the Parthenon (in Greece) and write an essay sitting on it's steps
  • Do a leadership development workshop for Mensa
  • Take sword-fighting/fencing lessons--become a black belt (or similar) with at least one sword/style
  • Ride in a through-the-forest horse race--create it if necessary (note: I'm only a passable rider, so I'd probably have some training to do)
  • Write a series of novels on the fantasy world I've created
  • Go on a deep sea dive to view bioluminescence--in a deep sea rover?
  • Do an outdoor adventure expedition to either the North or South Pole (I'm told there is a company called Quark that has 1/2 price tickets on polar adventures the week before if they have open seats)
  • Take my kids to the moon (space tourism, here we come!)

What's your someday list? What ideas were sparked in your head when you read mine? Write them down somewhere. Maybe it's a document on your computer or a notebook on your desk. Start dreaming--no commitment required.

Oh, and share with the rest of us. Dreams shared inspired more dreams.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Goals Can Accelerate Your Life--But Not All Goals Are Created Equal

Want to change an aspect of your life? Have a dream you'd like to see come to pass? Goals accelerate your life's progress toward exceptional. But not all goals are created equal.

People often talk about the power of goal setting--and there's a ton of evidence supporting that. From 8th graders at inner city schools to Harvard Business School graduates, study after study shows that people who set goals significantly out perform those who don't.

The people who set goals aren't smarter or more hard working than those who don't. But something about setting a goal stimulates us to make more productive choices.

And this is where many goal setting stories stop--leaving it a mysterious principle. But you need to know that not all goals are equally helpful. And when you see what makes one goal better than another, much of the mystery of goal setting goes away.

For starters, goals need to be written down and shared with others.
Least helpful--a private goal in your head
Moderately helpful--a goal spoken verbally (but not written)
More helpful--a goal written, but not shared
Most helpful--a goal written and shared with others

Written goals force you to think with more clarity and make the goal feel more concrete. It has it's own substance--it's a real thing existing outside of you. Also, you can (and many do) put that written goal up where you can see it on a regular basis (bathroom mirror, fridge, computer monitor, etc).

Don't underestimate the power of reminding yourself of your goal. Patrick Lencioni (bestselling author, speaker, consultant, etc--check out more on him here), says, "People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed."

If the goal stays in your head, you can't be reminded of it unless you're already thinking of it...kind of ruining the point of being reminded to think about it.

Sharing it with others also makes it more real. It's easier to walk away from something you've kept secret. It's easier to say you didn't really want to succeed. This probably isn't news to you. People who have work out partners skip sessions less, people who have weekly accountability partners control their behavior less...you get the idea. This isn't especially insightful--but it works.

However, you can do all that, using a weak goal, and it won't do much for you. But if you craft a great goal, you can get great results without the other elements (writing & sharing). Of course, a well-crafted goal that's written and shared accelerates your progress the most.

So what makes a goal well-crafted? The best goals are SMART:


Here's a common example of a weak goal: I want to get in shape this year. Great idea, but too vague. You can do a hundred different things this year and that scattered effort will produce little results. Let's make it SMART.

Specific: I want to lose weight. I want to get stronger. I want to have a smaller waistline. Pick one, but get more specific than "in shape". What exactly is driving you to make the change?

Measurable: Is losing .001 pounds enough? How much weight? How much stronger? What waistline size do you want? Putting a number on it is crucial. For some goals you may have to get creative here (i.e. measuring the number of times you lose your temper) but don't skip this. It might be the most important difference between a weak goal and a powerful goal.

Aggressive: People are motivated by grand goals. Losing one pound a month is hard to get excited about. But 10 pounds this month would be a noticeable change. Motivation is key to goal accomplishment.

Realistic: Because motivation is so important, you've got to set goals that aren't too far out of reach. Losing 25 pounds this month isn't realistic (unless you join a special program), no matter how motivating that might seem at first. It's demoralizing to fail repeatedly, so set goals you can actually reach.

Time-Bounded: When will you do? When will you start? When will you finish (and reach your goal)? What are the milestones along the way?

Using SMART goals helps you go from "I want to get in shape this year" to "I want to lose 18 pounds in the next 3 months, six pounds a month." The well-written goal inspires more and better choices than the vague, weak goal.

Are you pursuing exceptional? If so, define it. Make the various aspects of your dream life a written goal--a well-written SMART goal. Then write these goals down, share them with a few close friends, and post them where you'll see them. You can always change the goals as you learn more. But starting with something tangible to pursue will dramatically change the pace of your progress.

In fact, I'd love for you to share some of your SMART goals for your life here as comments to encourage each other as we all pursue exceptional lives.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Avoiding Failure Doesn't Lead To Success

"The opposite of avoiding failure is not the same thing as seeking success. If you get too good at avoiding failure, it becomes its own goal, a deadly chimera. You can't be a force for good by avoiding failure."

--Mike Horstman & Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools

What does a great week look like for you? How will you know you've been successful this week?
In your job?
In your family?
In your spiritual life?
In your physical life?

Just because you have a busy week doesn't mean it will be a productive week. You can get a lot of things done, but not move much closer to the life you want to live. Don't waste another week going through the motions with a full schedule.

Identify one or two critical steps that would move you closer to your exceptional life and decide when this week you will do them. Write those steps down. Better yet, tell someone you're going to do them--publicly commit.

Pursue an exceptional life. Be intentional about it this week. I've never seen anyone drift into greatness.

By the way, I'm a huge fan of Manager Tools and their tons of free and very high quality content--podcasts, articles, etc. Check them out at www.managertools.com

Friday, June 15, 2012

Planning My Personal Retreat To Evaluate My Life & 2 Thought Provoking Agendas To Help You Plan Yours

Growth happens through evaluated experience. I know too many people (and so do you) who have lots of experiences they haven't learned from. One of the most powerful habits you can establish in your life is to regularly and systematically review your life and plan next steps forward.

So, I take 2 days a year to step aside and think hard about my life. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. I've done it a variety of ways, including driving to my local library and checking out their study room for the day.

Getting ready for my personal retreat this summer, I updated my agenda and thought it might be helpful to you as you plan for your next personal retreat. I recommend at least 4 hours, if you can't get a whole day. It takes time away from regular life and its distractions to do this properly.

Seriously, when is yours? Can you take 10 seconds right now and block off a day a couple of months from now (your calendar probably isn't very full once you get a month or two out). That 10 seconds could change your life.

Here's the agenda I send to people when they're taking their first personal retreat:


Name your passions and purposes and ideal lifestyle

  1. Who do I want to be? (think end of my life/eulogy)
Character traits
  1. What do I want to do? (still think ideal state job/end of life perfect position)
Specific activities
Kinds of work I want to do (i.e. speak, write, travel) 
  1. What legacy or impact do I want to have? (how will the world be different because of me)
World problems
Arenas of life that are impacted 
  1. What God does want me to be/do/impact?
Biblical guidance
What is God saying right now (pray in the moment)?

List all the possible opportunities/areas to explore

  1. Make sure to really brainstorm possibilities not just existing projects/areas you already know about
  2. Bucket each area of life separately (i.e. Primary Job, Personal, Other adventures outside my primary job)

Use the results from the first group of questions above to filter through list from group 2

  1. Rank order all opportunities in each area
Choose the top 3-5 in each area 
  1. Ask the questions:
What is required of me? What commitments have I already made?
If nothing gets done at the end of the year but this will I be satisfied with my year?
If everything else gets done by the end of the year but this doesn't will I be satisfied? 
  1. Make the hard choices

Here's the agenda I've just updated for me (since I'm coming into this retreat with all the information I generated from my last retreat using the above agenda):


  1. Exercise
Our brains are physical organs; we often forget that. And after an cardio workout, like running or swimming, your brain goes into super-productive mode. Thinking is clearer, faster, and learning sticks easier. Start your thinking day by firing up your brain to full speed.

  1. Review of Life Purpose & Core Values
    1. List each element of my purpose and each core value
    1. Rate myself 1-5 on how well I'm fulfilling each
    1. Make notes on why I gave myself that rating

  1. Prayer/Worship
    1. Reflect on results from above ratings
    1. Invite God to speak to me about my life
    2. Do any heart-level work needed (i.e. repentance, rekindling of purpose, etc)

  1. Food/Stretch Break (nap?)

  1. Review  goals for major life categories (i.e. marriage, work, health/fitness, spiritual life, etc)
    1. Note any I'm off the mark
    1. Evaluate any that need to re-prioritized

  1. Write new goals for each life category
    1. Establish a way to measure (may need to get creative: from self-ratings to asking others for input, like my wife)
    2. Put habits/disciplines into my calendar for each goal
    1. Set up reminders for when I'll review each goal (I have digital pages where I sum up my priorities and goals that I review weekly, monthly, etc)

Practical Thoughts:
Bring a notepad or laptop--whatever sparks more creativity and freedom for you. I much prefer to keep things digital (I don't like storing paper files at all). But I use a notepad because it feels more open/free for scribbling, scratching things out, imagining, etc. That's a totally personal preference. The point is that I always sacrifice efficiency for quality of experience when I'm doing a personal retreat. It's worth the extra thinking freedom to spend the extra 10 min later to translate my values and goals back into digital format.

Being out of your usual environment matters a lot. If you often go to your local library, go to one across town--or in the next town. If you like water, find a local lake (weather permitting). If you mountains inspire you (and have this option), go where you can see them. I've happily driven 3 hours to an amazing location for my personal retreat (I'm considering doing it again this summer).

Bring snacks. Thinking is hard work on your brain--literally. Your brain consumes 20% of your body's blood sugar--before you start thinking hard. Bring healthy snacks to keep your brain supplied with enough energy to keep going.

Allow yourself an afternoon nap. Beyond blood sugar, 95% of people (including adults) need an afternoon nap. That 3:30pm lull you have every day? Normal. We just trained ourselves to push through it. So bring an alarm of some kind and allow yourself to lay down for 20-30 min and take a short nap. You'll think clearer, faster, better if you nap.

Even if (or when) life throws frustrations, fears, or failures at you just before going on the retreat--don't cancel. Whatever excuses or fears cross your mind, tempting you to put this off until it's "easier", pain can actually be a powerful focusing experience on what really matters. Also, thinking about your whole life can put your daily frustrations in perspective. (Maybe it's time to finally do something about what's going wrong in that area of your life!)

Of course, customize these agendas to fit you better. In fact, I'd love to hear what you'd add or take off to make it better. Post your ideas as comments so we can all make our personal retreats as powerful as possible.

Remember, growth happens through evaluated experiences. When are you going to evaluate your life?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

9 TED Talks That Will Blow Your Mind (They Did Mine!)

Fortune magazine called Harvard the preeminent educational institution of the 20th century. And then they said that the TED Conference and website was that for the 21st century.

Below are links to mind blowing TED Talks--some lasting only 5:51 min long and the longest only 20:28 min. TED brings in guest speakers who are living on the cutting edge for a conference with an overwhelming amount of incredible ideas. And then they put videos of those talks on their website (www.ted.com) for free. It's an amazing resource and I agree with Fortune magazine.

I don't endorse all the ideas presented at TED--not by a long shot. In fact, TED often has speakers who promote worldviews I disagree with. But I do believe that the path to greatness includes lots of new ideas, the willingness to stretch your thinking, and a frequent need for inspiration. TED Talks have all that in spades!

I try to watch one TED Talk a week, to add some fuel to my brain and heart. If you want to see some of my favorites so far, try one of these links. Stimulate your brain. Fire up your heart. And prepare to be blown away in less than 6 min!

Tan Le's astonishing new computer interface reads its user's brainwaves, making it possible to control virtual objects, and even physical electronics, with mere thoughts (and a little concentration). She demos the headset, and talks about its far-reaching applications.

Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script -- give students video lectures to watch at home, and do "homework" in the classroom with the teacher available to help.

Studies show that sketching and doodling improve our comprehension -- and our creative thinking. So why do we still feel embarrassed when we're caught doodling in a meeting? Sunni Brown says: Doodlers, unite! She makes the case for unlocking your brain via pad and pen.

Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions -- motion, speech, self-awareness -- shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

At TEDMED, Sheila Nirenberg shows a bold way to create sight in people with certain kinds of blindness: by hooking into the optic nerve and sending signals from a camera direct to the brain.

You've never seen data presented like this. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, statistics guru Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called "developing world."

Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche come from Moto, a Chicago restaurant that plays with new ways to cook and eat food. But beyond the fun and flavor-tripping, there's a serious intent: Can we use new food technology for good?

John Hunter puts all the problems of the world on a 4'x5' plywood board -- and lets his 4th-graders solve them. At TED2011, he explains how his World Peace Game engages schoolkids, and why the complex lessons it teaches -- spontaneous, and always surprising -- go further than classroom lectures can.

Surgeon Anthony Atala demonstrates an early-stage experiment that could someday solve the organ-donor problem: a 3D printer that uses living cells to output a transplantable kidney. Using similar technology, Dr. Atala's young patient Luke Massella received an engineered bladder 10 years ago; we meet him onstage.

Description from TED's website:

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences -- the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer -- TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Find Your Three To Change the World

All great movements follow a general pattern. They begin with the Three, spread to the Twelve, take root with the Hundred, and ignite to change their world.

We like to tell stories about the one man or woman who changed the world. We focus on Steve Jobs at Apple, for example.  He did have great impact. But he didn't do it alone.

Steve Jobs used the computer that Steve Wozniak invented (Apple 2) to start a company. And then he had to build a core team to produce the first Mac (remember, Jobs didn't actually code or manufacture anything, he just cast vision for those who did).

In fact, you can do this for any story of great success, with a little effort. Of course, at this point, you're smart enough to notice that the specific numbers aren't always the same. It may be Two or Four at first (rather than always Three), followed by Ten or Fifteen...I think you get the idea. Three, Twelve, and Hundred are general ranges, not hard rules.

I'm not saying the one leader didn't have a crucial role to play. I'm not saying Jobs doesn't deserve some credit. I'm saying that by himself his ideas wouldn't have changed the world. It was when his "Three" formed that he could then reach his Twelve. It was the work of the Twelve (the first Mac team) that enabled the formation of the Hundred (the Apple company at large). And it was the Hundred who directly changed the world.

You want to be successful? You want to go far in business, art, changing a community, whatever...don't try to go from your idea straight to the masses. Build in layers.

Who is your Three (or Two or Four)? Find them first. They're your partners. Your co-creators. They not only "get it", they help develop whatever you're trying to do. Can you write their names down? After reading this, would they put themselves in this category, too? If it's not that explicit, work on solidifying this before moving on.

Who are your Twelve? They're the people who prove that it can be replicated beyond the founders. They're the first to fully adopt and turn rough drafts from the founders into practical, polished reality.

How will your recruit and empower your Hundred? This is your first fan base. They're raving fans who buy into the vision as if they were there from the beginning. The passion of these early adopters is what takes your movement viral, where it takes on a life of it's own.

This concept first came to me through the excellent book: Culture Making by Andy Crouch. Check it out at: http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Making-Recovering-Creative-Calling/dp/0830833943/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338830639&sr=8-1

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Question Every Assumption Or End Up Like A Circus Elephant

One of my personal core values has born much fruit in my life: Validate all concepts--no assumptions remain unexamined.

So much of what locks us into our ho-hum lives are assumptions about what we can and can't do. Examining the "obvious truths" that everyone else blindly swallows might reveal a life changing breakthrough.

It's like how they train circus elephants. When they're babies, they attach a chain with a stake in the ground to the elephant's collar. They're not strong enough to pull it out. So after many tries, they quit. After they've grown (on average) 6,410 pounds larger and stronger, their assumption about unmovable chains keeps them from even trying to pull up the relatively tiny stake.

I'm not saying all rules are wrong. Many rules exist for good reasons. Traffic rules are important to follow and the "freedom" gained from deciding you aren't bound by those traffic rules could kill you.

My core value doesn't drive me to reject all concepts--not even close. I want to examine them. Most will prove worth submitting to (I do drive on the right side of the road). But you might be surprised at how much of your life is defined by assumptions you've never thought through.

Here are some questions to get you started examining your assumptions:

Why do you watch TV? Seriously, what's your motivation? What's desires draw you to the particular shows you watch?
Why eat exactly three meals a day? Why not 5 or 2? What role does food play in your emotional life?
Who says you have to have money to make money? (By the way, that rule came from the industrial revolution of the 1800's--it's way outdated.) Why do you want money anyway? What will it do for you?
Which of your friends should you keep being friends with--any of them?

Don't get me wrong here--I watch TV for about 30-45 min most days of the week. I'm not against TV or any of the other things I'm questioning. Maybe you should keep all your friends. But you should have a thoughtful understanding of why you choose what you do. The point is not to go from one assumption (TV is just fun, no thinking required) to another assumption (all TV is a waste of time). The point is to seriously examine your TV watching, decide what you really want to get out of TV, and have a thoughtful plan to use TV intentionally rather than mindlessly.

What assumptions have defined you? How did you move past them?

[For rethinking assumptions about church and Christian living, check out my other blog: www.memberdrivenchurch.com]

Friday, June 1, 2012

3 Reasons to Pursue An Exceptional Life

Because you can. Brain science breakthroughs in the last decade or so are overturning our beliefs that the brain can only learn rapidly when we are children. It turns out that the lifestyle of a typical adult causes major atrophy to the brain. Literally, the brain of a 40 year old can learn as fast as the brain of a 4 years--given similar conditions. (I 'll write more posts on that later.) So, it's really possible to become the best in the world at almost anything you want, no matter how old you are.

Because it's more fun than staying ordinary. It's not more comfortable, but it's so much more exciting and--most importantly--satisfying.

Because the world needs you to be great. Great problems will require great solutions. Be one of those great solutions. Live a life that inspires the rest of the world.

Reject ordinary. Take the path less traveled, put in the work, and become exceptional.