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This week we bring you a guest post from John Schreiber, creative director turned entrepreneur & a self-described human Swiss Army knife
He’s created, consulted and provided design strategy and consumer insight to many global brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple, and others for more than twenty-five years and now teaches meditation in Portland at www.euthymiamind.com.
“In the long run we only hit what we’re aiming at.” John Schreiber
Anthony Robbins said, “Committing yourself to long-term results rather than short-term fixes is as important as any decision you’ll make in your lifetime.” And I’ve been uncommonly fortunate for many opportunities to chase passions both personally and professionally, from startups and campaigns in business to Ironman triathlons and ultra-marathons. My modus operandi and ultimately my results have always come from some simple strategies and few but simple rules.
Strategies for staying focused and motivated in pursuit of long-term goals.
While it’d be cool to make this post one big lengthy word burlesque with a final reveal, I’ll just come straight out and say it.
Success comes from consistent right effort over time.
That’s pretty much it.
Maybe you hoped for something more esoteric like a fact I drank Bulletproof coffee every day or read like a gazillion books a year with the help of a speed reading app.
Just the right actions applied daily over days, week and even years. It’s true of most expeditions. It can be hard to accept; I get it, I do.
We live in a hyperbolic and consumer-based culture that promises; hell even demands immediate results from 8-week abs to paying off your debt in a year schemes.
Everything is sexed up from yoga to water these days – to make it sound healthier or more supercharged than it likely is. (see Hot Yoga and Smart Water.)
And every day we’re celebrating, it seems, a new ‘overnight’ millionaire.
It’s intimidating for sure and the reason most people want to quit before ever getting started.
It might be why long-term goals seem more daunting and more difficult than ever.
So how do you stay motivated then – through these comparisons and inevitable plateaus or setbacks even? How do you weather lack of support, criticism or worse, self-doubt?
#1: Tune out the hype. Call bullshit!
Stop comparing yourself to others, especially the 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 narratives.
Be happy for them, as you should always be of other’s success but they’re the outliers (see the Malcolm Gladwell book by the same title). They’re the lucky ones, not the norm and as someone who’s met many “overachievers” let’s say don’t buy into the myth – at the very least, it’s certainly not worth wasting time comparing yourself to them.
The author Ann Voscamp said it well, “Comparison is a thug that robs your joy.”
But more than that, comparison can make you a thug who beats down others – or your soul.
Truth: When I signed up for my first Ironman, not only had I never attempted a triathlon before, I couldn’t swim – more than doggie paddling 20 yards at the most.
Comparing myself to anyone else at this point would have been a nonstarter.
Start from where you are.
Because what other choice do you have?
#2: Be specific and be (mostly) realistic
Know exactly what your intended outcome is.
By specific I mean make it measurable.
Saying you’re going to lose weight is not precise.
But declaring you’re going to lose 20 pounds of fat and add 5 pounds of muscle in six months and keep it off for a full year is.
This specificity will not only help you identify precisely the action items, KPIs, and behaviors you’ll need to reach your goal, it allows you to track progress and celebrate moving that needle one step closer to success along the way.
Also, Quantitative benchmarks counter our usual dysmorphic tendencies.
Dreams are fragile things, especially in the beginning, and it doesn’t take much to kill them. Even an off day or the smallest disapproving nod from a respected friend can crush our confidence if we allow it.
Get stats on your side. Don’t subject your dream to subjectivity. It’s a killer.
And it probably goes without saying but be honest in your abilities.
That’s doesn’t mean not stretching yourself because if the goal requires no growth in the process, you probably would have achieved it years ago.
A good goal should scare you a little and excite you A LOT.” – Joe Vitale.
But if someone’s already achieved what you want then it’s likely you can too – if only by simple modeling.
Then remind yourself that those that have reached what you’re after have the same 24 hours a day, no more and no less. They have to sleep, eat and shit just like you.
And though we may all start from a different place or with various advantages, our potentials are virtually equal.
#3 Now Burn a bridge.
In ancient times generals were known to burn the bridge once their armies had crossed to give them no choice but to fight since retreat was now impossible.
Turning back or quitting as an option was off the table! Our egos are bad things, right?
“Ego sucks us down like the law of gravity.” – Cyril Connolly.
Or maybe not. I call it ego judo. Why not leverage yourself with it?
Tell others about your goal, especially those that will hold you accountable.
Go ahead and let your mouth write a check that you now MUST cash lest you look bad.
It’s so convenient that you never tell others of your dream to write that great American novel because no one will call you out when you don’t – and you won’t.
Last summer I made a goal to run over a dozen marathons and half marathons in different national parks – that came out to more than one every other week and more than 20,000 miles of driving.
So the first thing I did was make a large image of all the parks I intended to conquer and post it on my Facebook page for all my friends to see.
Now I had committed.
And while some might call it bragging, as Muhammad Ali famously quipped, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
#4: Practice the 80/20 principle
The reason you don’t get more done is because you’re doing too much.
You don’t need to do everything, nor can you; trying will only burn you out and lead to inevitable discouragement. What you can do is identify those actions and behaviors that will bring you the most return on your investment.
It’s common for many businesses that 80% of profits come from 20% of their customers.
About 20% of drivers cause 80% of accidents, and you likely wear about 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time.
The point is every action is not equal, some will have a far more significant impact on our result than others, and those are the ones to focus on like a laser.
Identify those actions that will give you the most significant return on your time or resources.
Every day that you’re lucky to wake up there are going to be things that are in your control and things that aren’t.
Unfortunately, most people waste considerable time even if it’s thinking about those things that are not in their control.
Stick to what you can influence and after that stick to only those actions that will have the most significant impact or take the least effort.
Said a million times, and it’s true, don’t sweat the small stuff.
#5: One Bite at a Time.
That’s the cheeky but profoundly right answer to the question, ‘How does one eat an elephant?”
Small choices, decisions, and actions over time will not just give you incremental gains towards your goal – They’ll give you compound benefits!
Like interest on your money, consistent small steps over time provide significant results in the end.
With that 80/20 mindset, you can now identify those small actions, habits, and decisions you’ll make every day.
Come up with no less than ten things that will move you towards your goal.
Ten small things over days, weeks and months add up to 3,570 small steps and actions over a year.
It might be three cold calls to new prospects every day or just one note of thanks to a current client or even a friend. Maybe yours is 20 pushups, a 10-minute walk or even 5 minutes of meditation.
One could be as simple as drinking a large glass of water, one of the easiest, cheapest and most proven ways to lose and maintain body weight.
Here’s an amusing recent example of this idea.
Years of training my body to go far in a straight line have wreaked havoc on my flexibility, and I’m embarrassingly tight in some areas.
I asked my coach and a good friend if we could address this as I didn’t want to be sixty and fit but unable to tie my shoes. I asked for the most aggressive stretching program we could design and what was the best yoga that’d turn me into a human contortionist worthy of the carnival.
His advice was this: Stop using furniture.
Yes, stop using the furniture in my house.
Get off the couch and sit or squat on the floor when I read, relaxed or watched TV.
Sitting on the floor in different positions without support he explained, would stretch my lower back, open my hips and force me to use better posture as well.
He also encouraged me to take my stairs two steps at a time, because as we age, we tend to shorten our stride and further limit mobility.
I’m not ready for the Cirque du Soleil yet, but the results have been nearly miraculous.
#6: Addition by Subtraction
Eliminate the obstacles.
We could spend countless hours making the list of all the things we need to do to succeed in our pursuit of a goal.
But as necessary are identifying those actions, habits and yes, even people that undermine our best efforts.
Willpower is a myth and if you don’t take steps to eliminate these gremlins from your environment, they WILL derail your dreams.
If your goal is to lose weight, you have a much better chance of success once you remove all the sugar and processed food from your kitchen than if you think you’ll be able to reach over that bag of Oreos several times a day while retrieving the cottage cheese.
And while you’re at it, limit your time with people who don’t actively support you too.
Lastly, edit without mercy those things that suck your time, one of our most precious resources and the something you’ll need most of while you’re focused on those new habits and actions.
Maybe you’re a news junkie or find yourself clicking away for updates like a lab monkey at the feeder bar on any one of the several social media options available to us.
You may have to wait until the very end of the day to see that latte and scone your friend from high school, the one you haven’t seen in thirteen years snapped today, but you’ll have to sacrifice.
Most of us think we make choices because of who we are.
But this is not the case; we are who we are, in part, because of our decisions and the actions we repeatedly make.
In psychology, this is called self-signaling.
And I’ve already touched on some decisions in #3 and #5, but there’s another area that needs addressing if we’re to get leverage on our goals and that is our environment.
We are shaped by environment and by the people we decide to spend our time.
The ‘5 People Rule’ and the science that supports this is a familiar anecdote to many involved in personal development.
Whatever your goal is, you MUST seek out and spend time with others that have already achieved what you are working towards, be it health, wealth, or relationships.
Who you spend your time with is one the most significant determinates of long-term happiness and success.
I used to keep this African proverb by my desk years ago when I managed larger teams: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Who you decide to spend your time with is as important, maybe more, than any of the actions or tactics you apply.
#8: Ready Shoot Aim!
Start, and I mean now.
I once told a mentor about a big audacious goal I had a few years back. I told him of my five-year plan for it too.
He smiled and without hesitation asked if I had a five-year plan or was it a one-year plan I was waiting four years to begin on.
Long story short, we achieved it in less than a year.
For some it’s fear and others it might be paralysis by analysis but waiting for that right moment or more information or more skills isn’t serving you.
Life is finite and short at that.
“Memento Mori (“remember you will die”) is an ancient stoic phrase used to remind us that time is a gift and not to be wasted. What are you waiting for?
We Buddhists often remind ourselves, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
#10 Keep Your Grip Loose.
In professional baseball, hitters know that keeping a loose grip on the bat improves bat control, but more so it increases bat speed, which increases power. Loose muscles are fast muscles.
You might think that by squeezing the sawdust out of the bat, biting down and flexing your arm muscles, you can hit even a ninety-five mile per hour fastball.
In actuality, the reverse is true.
Tight muscles are slow.
The tightness inhibits other muscles that you don’t even realize you are using. Ok, so now imagine your goal as that bat. Get the picture?
If you’re rigid in your pursuit or too narrowly focused on the horizon, you’ll miss new opportunities to learn and grow along the way.
Be flexible and willing to make adjustments because you WILL need to make adjustments.
And stay relaxed too because if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’ll flame out; you’ll lose your drive and motivation before you reach the finish.
And one last sobering reason to keep it loose; after all the dreaming, planning and work, you still might not achieve that goal.
That’s right – at least not in the exact picture-your-mind sense of the word.
While all the aforementioned tactics will give you the very best chance for success, there are never guarantees in life.
The fact is we can only control our actions but not the results.
It’s a pithy axiom but correct; shit does indeed happen. You will, however, achieve great things and likely beyond your expectations.
Bruce Lee said, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves merely as something to aim.”
Because the real reason we strive for goals isn’t for what we gain but for who we become along the way.
I began this list with a note of gratitude about all the passions and goals I’ve been fortunate to pursue in my life.
I never said I succeeded every single time.
But the growth, insight and perspective gained from these campaigns was worth every second of time spent, every ounce of effort and even every setback.
Even had I known the outcomes in advance, I would still do them all again.
Every single one.
John Schreiber is a stoic, traveler, 3X Ironman, endurance athlete, meditator and reformed creative director turned entrepreneur – a self-described human Swiss army knife.
He’s created, consulted and provided design strategy and consumer insight to many global brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple, and others for more than twenty-five years.
John now teaches meditation and is a stay at home dad while he and his wife, Dr. Summy To, have built a successful chain of optometry and eyewear studios in Portland, Oregon founded on a principle of contribution and community.
Myoptic gives a part of it’s profits to one of five local causes that customers help choose. They continue to provide hundreds of free exams and glasses, and grants for many other programs like Dress For Success Oregon and Rosemary Anderson High School for at-risk youth.
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Also published on Medium.