Editor's Note: Over the course of our wealth building journey, we have sent you many opportunities to generate extra streams of income. All these ideas have a few things in common - you can start them with little or no capital, with just a few hours of focus a week, you can do them from home, and without an elaborate education or specialized skill-set i.e. anyone should be able to do them.
A few of these ideas are writing or communication-oriented. In fact, the first and most important idea was that of copywriting, not only for those who want to use copywriting itself as an extra income opportunity, but also for those who want to understand the power of persuasive communication in selling - whether you want to sell a service, a product, an idea, or yourself.
Whatever business you want to start, or idea you want to pursue, the power to communicate well - in speech and writing, gives you an enormous advantage. After talking to many of our members who want more input on the area of communicating well, we have decided to create a series on persuasive communication, Wealth Through Personal Power.
Below is Marks first essay in the series…
Double Your Personal Power by Mastering One Simple Strategy I've Used to Make a Fortune In any organization, power moves inexorably to those who speak well.
By well, I don't mean eloquently. I mean persuasively. There is an art and a skill to persuading people to accept your ideas. In today's essay I will tell you about the simple, four-part strategy that I use.
It is a strategy that is responsible for a great deal of the success I've had in business. It can be used online, on the phone, and in person. And you'll be able to use it as soon as you finish reading this.
But before I reveal my technique I'd like to persuade you that speaking well is indeed a very powerful success tool. Because if you have any doubt, you won't put my trick to work, will you?
Think about some of the most powerful people in the world. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, to name a few.
What do these people have in common? Intelligence? Yes, but there are plenty of intelligent people who don't have power and who aren't successful. Our universities are filled with them. No, intelligence is not it.
What these three people share is the ability to speak well and persuasively.
Oprah Winfrey is a master speaker. Her secret to becoming the world's most powerful woman (and there is no doubt that she is - even more powerful than Hillary Clinton, another great speaker) is that she found a way to make millions of people believe she cares about them.
Bill Gates became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the history of America not by being a computer genius (he isn't) but by knowing how to convince a select group of people that he could deliver a system that could change the world.
And Warren Buffett? His persuasion skills have been a huge part of his success.
“Speaking well is… the number one reason for career advancement,” Virginia Avery asserts in The Power of Your Speech. “Every time you meet with a client or make a presentation, your image is affected - for better or worse.”
Woodrow Wilson, Avery points out, began his career as a reserved political science professor with a stilted speaking style. When he decided to go into politics, he set about becoming a skillful orator. And when he delivered his inaugural address as the 28th President of the United States, it was said that “not since Lincoln has there been a president so wonderfully gifted in the art of expression.”
“If all my talents and powers were to be taken from me by some inscrutable Providence and I had my choice of keeping but one,” Daniel Webster once said, “I would unhesitatingly ask to be allowed to keep the power of speaking, for through it I would quickly recover all the rest.”
Although I consider myself a writer first and foremost, my skill at speaking has been responsible for most of my most important accomplishments.
Saying the right thing got me a 25% share in the first information product I created. That stake in the business made me a millionaire in less than two years. Speaking well landed me additional partnership deals in the years following that first one. As a result, my share of the business grew to include one-third of a group whose yearly revenues exceeded $135 million. Less than two years after I “retired” at 39, I talked my way into a high-paid gig that has generated a substantial seven-figure income ever since.
Speaking persuasively continues to help me form partnerships and make alliances that are both pleasurable and profitable.
So… have I convinced you that being able to communicate persuasively is a critically important success skill?
Then my next question to you is this: What are you doing about becoming a more persuasive speaker? What steps are you taking right now? Are you reading books on speaking? Are you taking courses? Are you thinking carefully about how you communicate with your colleagues, your clients, and your boss?
How would they rate you as a persuasive speaker? If the answer is anything other than “great,” you have work to do!
And don't tell me you “don't have enough time.” Stephen Covey poked holes in that argument in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
In the rush to get everything done that we are given to do every day, said Covey, we tend to take care of the urgent tasks first and push off the non-urgent ones. Yet, it is the important-but-not-urgent tasks - like those that help you improve your speaking skills - that will make the greatest long-term difference in your life. So you have to make them a priority. And once you make them a priority, they will get done.
It is impossible to overestimate the value of speaking well. Whether you are negotiating a lease on a car, presenting an idea at a business meeting, having a conversation with a powerful person you've just been introduced to - what you say and how you say it matters.
So let's begin your mastery of speaking with the simple four-part strategy I talked about at the beginning of this essay. As I said, you can put this strategy to work immediately. And you will notice the difference as soon as you start.
Persuasive speaking has four parts: knowing what you want, understanding what the other person wants, understanding the possible objections, and then presenting your case as simply as possible.
Step One: Figure out what you want.
Let's say you've been invited to take part in a business meeting… or perhaps you're gearing up to have an important conversation with a family member. Spend some time beforehand thinking about the topic you will be discussing. Figure out how you can benefit from it. Set a specific, measurable goal for yourself. Then figure out how you can achieve that goal.
This may seem like an unnecessary step. You might be thinking, “I don't need to think about what I want. I am always aware of it.”
In fact, most people don't know what they want. They have some general impressions of what being successful means. But they don't analyze those impressions. They don't break them down. They don't understand how to achieve them strategically.
Step Two: Figure out what the other person wants.
Contrary to what some self-improvement gurus will tell you, you won't get what you want in life simply by asking for it.
Everybody is ultimately motivated by self-interest. Achieving your specific goals, therefore, is a matter of figuring out how you can satisfy the desires of others.
If, for example, your goal for that business meeting you've been invited to is to be nominated to head up an upcoming project, plan for it by making a mental list of how your nomination will help each person attending the meeting. Figure out how, in leading the project, you can provide that.
Most important, think about how you can direct the project so that it will achieve growth and profitability for the company. Spend some time formulating the phrases you will use to drive that point home.
By putting the company first, you will enlist the respect and support of just about everyone. You will establish yourself as a natural leader. And then, when you explain how the project will benefit each person individually, you will see how quickly they line up to support you.
Step Three: Take time to consider the objections.
After figuring out how you can achieve your goal by providing benefits to others, make a list of the objections you might encounter.
Good copywriters do this when they write a promotional package. Good public speakers do this before giving a speech. You should do it too before making any informal presentation.
Of course, it's not enough to list potential objections. You must craft concise arguments that will overcome those objections. You must show your listeners that you are sympathetic to their concerns and that you have a plan to deal with them.
Break the objections down into their component parts. Analyze those parts. Discover their weaknesses or find ways to minimize them. Base your thinking on research, if you have time to do it. But also think about your past experience. Remember that your ultimate objective is to find solutions that are good not just for you but for the people you're speaking to.
Step Four: Keep it simple.
After you have taken these first three steps, you will be very excited to present your case. But then you will start coming up with all sorts of extra ideas. All sorts of secondary benefits and arguments that might be useful if you were writing a long paper, but which will only hamper your effectiveness if you include them in your oral presentation.
So before you make your pitch, make a conscious decision NOT to mention these secondary considerations. Just focus on the main idea and the primary benefits. And state them as clearly and compellingly as you can.
Ready, Fire, Aim
Most of us, most of the time, speak impulsively. We are stimulated by some event or remark and utter the first thing that pops into our heads. We don't stop to consider the effect our statement will have on those to whom we are speaking. Neither do we consider how our words will affect us. Yet they surely do.
“Words are all we have,” Samuel Beckett said. And this is often true.
You can't force your colleagues to listen to your ideas. You can't force your boss to give you a raise or a promotion.
You can't force your spouse to agree with everything you say. But if you follow these four simple steps before you speak, you will be amazed at the persuasive power you will have.
The journey of a thousand manuscript pages (or even 150) begins with a single idea. Here's how to find one.
Many people who attend my book-publishing seminars already have a book idea in mind. Others, however, have a strong desire to write a book, but are stuck on coming up with a suitable topic. If you fall into this category, here are 10 sources of ideas for books you may want to write:
An obvious but often overlooked source of book ideas is your job. Thousands of excellent books have been written by authors about a skill, expertise or career experience gained on the job.
This is how I came to write my first book, Technical Writing: Structure, Standards and Style (McGraw-Hill). My first job after graduating college was as a technical writer for Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Baltimore. After several months writing technical materials, I began to feel the need for a writing guide to assist technical writers with matters of style, usage, punctuation and grammar. (For example, does one write 1/4 or 0.25 or one fourth in technical documents?) Being book-minded, I went to the bookstores and found nothing appropriate.
My idea was to compile a style guide for technical writers modeled after the best-selling general writing style guide, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. I wrote a content outline and book proposal, and began to pursue agents and publishers. I was extremely lucky: The first agent who saw Technical Writing agreed to represent the book, and within three weeks, he sold it to the first publisher to look at it, McGraw-Hill. The advance was $8,500 - not bad for a first-time author in 1981 for a short (100-page) book.
Not every book I've written since has sold so quickly and easily. But subsequently, I have written a number of books based on skills and experiences gained in various careers and jobs.
Do you hold a highly desirable position or work in a glamorous industry? Then you can write a book telling others how to get into your line of work.
Have you developed specific and valuable skills such as computer skills selling, marketing, finance, negotiating or programming - skills that others need to master? There's a need for a book telling them how to do it.
A Course You've Taught
If you get the opportunity to teach a course, keep in mind that the topic and content outline you develop for the course may have appeal to a publisher as the outline for a potential book on the same subject.
In 1981, a private seminar company offering low-cost public seminars in New York City asked me to do an evening program on marketing and promotion for small business. The pay was lousy, but I accepted. A year or so later, I took the course title and outline, turned it into a book proposal, and sold my second book, How to Promote Your Own Business to New American Library.
If you want to write nonfiction books, there are two advantages to teaching a class or seminar. First, in developing and teaching the course, you will simultaneously be doing most of the legwork necessary to produce a book on the subject. Therefore, once you've presented the course, transforming it into a book is a relatively quick and easy next step (or at least quicker and easier than doing a book from scratch).
Second, teaching the course positions you as an expert in the subject, making you more attractive to book publishers. They figure that anyone who can lead a course on the topic must have a substantial amount of information and expertise to share. If you taught the course at a prestigious, well-known institution, that further boosts your credibility.
A Course You've Taken
Taking courses can also give you a fresh infusion of ideas and information that can become the basis for a book.
The same private seminar company I was teaching small business promotion seminars for offered a number of courses in different career areas, which as an instructor, I could take for free. After taking several, I came up with the idea of doing a career book on how to break into some of the more exciting, glamorous industries and professions, such as music, film, advertising, travel and television. The book, Creative Careers: Real Jobs in Glamour Fields, was published by John Wiley & Sons.
Warning: When you take the course, don't steal or plagiarize the instructor's seminar, reprinting it word for word as your book. Consider it a starting point and supplement it with additional research from many other sources (book articles, interviews, other seminars, etc.).
If the instructor does have good information you want to reprint (such as lists of contacts and resources), get his permission in writing. You can also ask the instructor if he or she will agree to be interviewed by you for inclusion in the book.
“It is in the totality of experience reckoned with, filed and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world,” writes Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing. Every person and every life is unique, and this is why they say that everyone has at least one book inside them. What has happened to you has not happened to other people, and your experiences will make for a book that is either instructive, entertaining, moving or any combination of these.
This applies to everyone. For example, if you have chosen to remain single, you can write Living Alone and Loving It or a similar book on the joys of being single. If you are married with children, you have unique experiences as a parent, and can share your knowledge and experiences with others in an entertaining or informative book. If you are married but have been unable to have children, you have credibility to write a book on infertility. If you and your spouse have not had children by choice, you can write a book on Choosing to Live Child-Free. If you have only one child, you can write Raising the Single Child. If you're a single parent, you can write Straight Talk and Advice for Single Parents.
In 1982, the New York City engineering firm employing me told me I would have to relocate. My fiancee did not want to leave Manhattan, so I resigned and started a new career as a self-employed industrial writer, producing brochures and data sheets for chemical companies and industrial equipment manufacturers.
The transition from employee to freelancer was an educational experience, one I knew many others would go through (or would hope to, someday). This became the topic of my book, Out on Your Own: From Corporate to Self-Employment, also published by Wiley.
A Process Or Task You Know How to Do
Through work, leisure or life experience, we all have done things that many other people have not done, and therefore know a good deal more about these things than they do. The inexperienced would like to learn from your experiences and avoid your mistakes, and a book is the ideal vehicle for this.
For instance, after resigning from the engineering firm and becoming a self-employed industrial writer in 1982, I was forced to learn how to succeed in the commercial writing field on my own; there was no book to guide me. I made many expensive mistakes and learned from experience.
To help other writers speed the learning curve and avoid these mistakes, I wrote Secrets of a Freelance Writer, published by Henry Holt & Co. The book is about the process of running a freelance writing business, covering everything from getting started and finding clients to setting fees and negotiating contracts.
Hobbies that fascinate you no doubt fascinate a lot of other people. As a hobbyist, you have much more knowledge than a journalist or other outsider who would have to research the field from scratch. Why not turn your hobby into a profit center by writing a book about it?
One of my hobbies is collecting comic books. I love Superman, Batman, Wolverine, and the other DC and Marvel superheroes.
When I graduated college in 1979, I burned with the desire to write a book and get it published. I started two book projects. One was a Harlequin romance novel, which I started not because I enjoy Harlequin romance novels - I've never even read one - but because I figured it would be easy to do.
I was wrong. I wrote 40 pages of the worst Harlequin romance novel of all time before abandoning the project.
But writing those pages taught me an important lesson: Don't select a topic or form for your book just because you think it is commercially viable and will make you a lot of money. If you do, your lack of enthusiasm will show through in your writing.
On the other hand, if you are passionate about your topic, your enthusiasm will show through in your writing. The book will be easier and more fun to write, and the final product will be much better in quality.
The second book project I started working on was a trivia book on comic book superheroes, written in quiz form. For example: What are the six types of kryptonite? (Green, red, blue, white, gold, jewel.) What was Spider-Man's major in college? (Physics.)
I wrote a short manuscript and, having no contacts in publishing, and no knowledge of the publishing business, sent it to editors at various paperback publishers with a cover letter. It was rejected by all. I gave up and put it in a drawer.
Years later, when I was cleaning out some files, I came across the manuscript. I was going to throw it out, but instead mailed it to my literary agent with a note saying, “Do you think you can do anything with this?”
Six weeks later, she called and said she'd sold the book. I was speechless, The book, Comic Book Heroes: 1,101 Trivia Questions About America's Favorite Superheroes From the Atom to the X-Men, was published by Citadel Press.
The second lesson I learned from this experience was: A book idea that doesn't sell now might sell later. If you get rejected by publishers, don't throw away or forget about the book proposal. File it and make a note to take another look at it in six or 12 months. Sometimes you have success on the second or third try because the timing is right. Other times, you see the idea from a fresh perspective, rewrite it, and make the sale with the revised book proposal. When asked to address the graduating class at Oxford, Winston Churchill, a great writer, stood up, and said only, “Never give up,” and sat back down. These three words are good advice for authors who want to sell book proposals to publishers.
Eventually, a third lesson revealed itself: Every book published gives you credibility that can lead to more book contracts in the same field.
I enjoyed writing the comic book trivia book. After it came out, I thought about doing trivia books on other topics in a similar format.
I was always a big Star Trek fan. This resulted in two books with Harper-Collins: The Ultimate Unauthorized Star Trek Quiz Book and Why You Should Never Beam Down in a Red Shirt. As publishers began to see me as a writer of popular culture trivia, I received several more contracts along this line, including What's Your Frasier I.Q.?, a quiz book on the TV show Frasier.
Books about hobbies can be how-to, money-making, reference, specialized or general information. If you have an interest in tropical fish, for example, you could write How to Keep Tropical Fish (how-to), How to Breed Tropical Fish for Fun and Profit (money-making), An Illustrated Guide to Aquarium Fish (reference), Care and Breeding of Fancy Guppies (specialized) or Your First Fish Tank (general).
Notice that the first six methods on this list involve you, the author, having some special insight, experience or information on the topic of your book. Author and publisher Dan Poynter says, “Write about something in which you are a participant. The world needs more books written by writers who are also experts, not writers who are journalists.”
“Concentrate on the area that interests you, and if you're not an expert now, you may become one,” writes Tom Peeler in The Writer. “And even if the area of interest still requires consultation with recognized professionals, specialization will allow you to develop regular sources and will give you credibility with them.”
One of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons shows an author autographing his book at a book signing. The caption reads, “After being frozen in ice for 10,000 years, Thag promotes his autobiography.” The title of the book: It Was Very Cold and I Couldn't Move. Obviously, no publisher expects you to have 10,000 years of experience in your subject matter. But writing about something you know, have experienced or have achieved is one route to coming up with a book idea a publisher will buy from you.
Tidbits of Scattered Information You've Collected Or Compiled
Are you interested in a specific field of knowledge or study? And are you the type who clips articles and collects tidbits of information on your topic? If so, you can convert this passion for information by compiling your collected knowledge into book form.
For a while, I became fascinated with all the toll-free consumer help lines and hotlines I saw advertised, giving free information on everything from AIDS prevention to gardening tips to stock market quotes. I became an obsessive collector of these numbers, clipping articles and writing down 800-numbers I heard on the radio and saw on TV. Finally, I compiled them into a book, Information Hotline U.S.A., published by New American Library.
Similarly, a friend of mine, Don Hauptman, is obsessed by language in general and word-play in particular. Don is a collector of information, and began collecting acronyms (such as DNA, LSD, scuba, laser). When his collection got large enough, he turned it into a book on acronyms, Acronymania, published by Dell.
A Gap You've Found in the Reader's Knowledge You Know You Can Fill
An excellent way of finding marketable ideas is to talk with people and find out what they want and need to know, then write a book to satisfy that information need.
For example, an attorney with good negotiating skills heard many clients telling him that they, too, wished they had good negotiating skills and would like help becoming better negotiators. The attorney became a millionaire by writing and selling books, audio and videotape programs, seminars and training sessions in negotiating skills.
Working as a business consultant, I saw there were dozens of books on sales, but almost nothing on how to generate leads for salespeople. I proposed The Lead Generation Handbook, which sold to Amacom, the publishing division of the American Management Association.
And when we moved out of New York City and bought a home in the suburbs, we knew nothing about plumbing, electricity, gardening, cars, aluminum siding, roofing, or the dozens of other things every homeowner eventually becomes familiar with. I thought, “Why not write a book that will be an instruction manual for first-time homeowners?”
I wrote a proposal for a book titled The Homeowner's Survival Guide. No one was interested, and I put the proposal away in a file and forgot about it. Several years later, a major publisher - one for whom I've now written several books - came out with such a book with the exact same title.
Another lesson learned: Pay attention to your own gut feelings. Had I kept trying with this book, as I advise you to do, it might very well have sold within a year or so. But I gave up on it, and now another author's name is on the cover.
An Existing Topic You Can Target to a Specific Audience
A common situation is the author who wants to write a book on a specific topic but finds the field overcrowded.
This happens to all of us: You get an idea for a book and get excited about it. Then you visit the bookstore and find two shelves' full of books on the same topic, books that seem very much like yours. You become discouraged by the competition, give up and drop the idea. Don't! You can still write that book. You just need a fresh slant, angle or hook.
One of the easiest and most successful methods to finding this fresh slant is to target your book toward a specific audience within the market. For example, a seminar leader told me she wanted to write a book on presentation skills, but was afraid to try because so many books already exist. She mentioned at one point that she trained mainly women. I asked her if women making presentations in the business world face a different set of challenges than men do. “Of course,” she replied.
“Then,” I suggested, “the title of your book should be Presentation Skills for Women.”
In the same way, I wanted to write a book on selling, but found the market overcrowded. Since my experience is in selling services vs. products, I offered Holt a book on Selling Your Services.
Whatever Interests You
In addition to finding out what interests other people, an excellent source of ideas is what interests you. You are a curious, intelligent, creative human being, constantly thinking and wondering about the world around you. Chances are what interests you will interest many other people, too.
I'm a big Stephen King fan, as are many others. Having written the TV and comic book quiz books, I naturally thought of doing a quiz book on Stephen King. My agent promptly sold it to Kensington Books, a paperback publisher in New York City.
I recommend you keep a notebook, file folder or computer file labeled “book ideas,” and whenever an idea for a book comes to mind, write it down and save it. Don't worry whether the book will eventually interest a publisher. Creating ideas and analyzing/assessing ideas are two separate activities, and should not overlap. Don't hold your creativity back; let the ideas flow and quickly get them all down on paper. Later you can decide which won't work and which merit further effort.
But first, you must have the idea.
Best, Bob Bly
I have been in the marketing business for more than 30 years. And in all that time, I've read only a handful of books on advertising.
I love books and read plenty of them. But I didn't think I'd find anything in a book about marketing that I didn't already know.
I'm embarrassed to admit that. Since I write books on marketing - and expect people to buy and read them - it's downright hypocritical of me not to read other books. Don't you think?
About a year ago, we published an essay by Clayton Makepeace. He excoriated marketers who haven't read any of the great books on advertising.
That hit home. How could I assume I knew it all? How unbelievably arrogant!
So I promised myself I would read all of the world's greatest advertising books. I asked friends for recommendations and consulted published lists (including Clayton's). I ended up identifying about 25 books that seemed to be widely considered “musts” in the industry.
Some were the old classics:
Scientific Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins
Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
Billion Dollar Marketing by Maxwell Sackheim
My First 65 Years in Advertising by Maxwell Sackheim
Ziglar on Selling by Zig Ziglar
Breakthrough Advertising by Gene Schwartz
And some were modern classics:
Power Packed Direct Mail by Bob Bly
How to Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girard
The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy
Your Marketing Genius at Work by Jay Abraham
I asked Giovanna, my personal assistant, to find them for me. Several were out of print and available only in first editions that were very costly. Determined to have a complete library, I told Giovanna to go ahead and order them all.
They began arriving a week later. Two books one day. Three books the next. I cleared two bookshelves in my office and started lining them up.
They looked great. I was excited to read them. But for months, they just sat there.
Then, last month, I had a series of meetings with the marketing managers of one of my clients. These were people who were making key decisions on tens of millions of dollars' worth of advertising campaigns. They were professionals. And they were confident they knew what they were doing.
But they didn't. Not really. For the most part, they were making decisions based on advice their bosses had given them. For example, one young executive told me he was doing an advanced early renewal program for a newsletter. I asked him what he hoped to accomplish by that since the subscribers were already signed up for automatic renewal. He said, “We'll get the money in faster.”
I said, “But you have plenty of cash. You'll be using a valuable advertising slot to bring cash forward when you don't need it.”
He didn't look like he understood me.
“What you should be doing,” I explained, “is increasing the lifetime value of your subscribers.”
He still didn't look like he understood. So I explained that the merchant's instinct to bring money in quickly does not make sense when you are building a quality business based on trust and good service. What you want to do is to offer your customers additional value all the time at reasonable prices.
The light bulb finally lit up and he looked excited. “This is really great,” he said. “I can see how we can make more money this way.”
I could tell you about half a dozen disturbingly similar conversations I've had since then - all of them with marketing executives who had several years (in some cases, decades) of experience.
The point is that even among educated professionals there is an alarming lack of specific knowledge about the principles and practices of direct-response marketing.
You can't be a great marketer (or copywriter) if you are making decisions based on hand-me-down protocols. You must understand the science behind what you are doing.
It scared me to think that my client was running his business with so many empty cylinders. So I persuaded him to let me develop a retraining program for his marketing people.
Part of that program would consist of ideas I've been jotting down for years. But another part of it, I decided, would be a Recommended Reading List comprised of the best of the books sitting on that shelf in my office collecting dust.
So now I had a purpose to read those books. And I began with the oldest one: Claude Hopkins's Scientific Advertising, first published in 1923. You might wonder whether a book published more than 80 years ago has anything relevant to say to the marketer of today. That was certainly a thought in my head as I picked up the slender volume.
Two hours later, I put the book down and tried to sleep. But I couldn't. I couldn't stop thinking about everything I had just read.
Scientific Advertising is an amazing piece of work. It is the fruit of a master marketer, the accumulation of a lifetime of experience boiled down to 89 fast-reading pages.
Hopkins was a mentor to legendary Madison Avenue advertising guru David Ogilvy. Ogilvy is often called the father of modern advertising. But he learned most of what he knew from Hopkins.
Hopkins was the first one to argue that advertising has only one purpose: to make sales. Clever and entertaining advertising might win awards, but the company that pays for such advertising is wasting its money.
Hopkins was also the first one to preach the importance of knowing the customer and emphasizing customer benefits rather than product features. Customers don't care about your product or about you, he boldly asserted. What they care about is themselves.
He was also one of the first to argue that long copy will almost always perform better than short copy. That was a revolutionary thing to say at the time. And even today, many marketers - including Internet marketers - have a hard time believing it.
If those were the only ideas in the book, it would be well worth the two hours it would take you to read it. But there is so much more.
Hopkins also recognized the power of advertorials - advertisements that have the look and feel of editorial. This is still one of the most powerful and least understood techniques of direct-response marketing. Hopkins had it sussed out more than 80 years ago.
One of the major problems with the advertising on the Internet is the proliferation of fancy layouts and eye-popping graphics. Hopkins explained why that is likely to diffuse the message and reduce sales. Yet advertising professionals today continue to make this basic mistake.
Another gem from the book: the importance of plain language. I've written about the power of clarity of expression many times, and it is a foundation of the writing programs I developed for American Writers - & Artists Inc. (AWAI). Still, the majority of the advertising I see online is full of flourishes and jargon.
And yet another one: When writing advertising copy, never write to a group of people (even though you are writing to thousands). Imagine that you are writing to a single person and make the copy feel like it is personal.
Of all the many great and wise ideas in Scientific Advertising, the one that impressed me most was Hopkins's comment on intimacy. “Intimacy,” he said, “is much more important than salesmanship.” I am willing to bet that nine out of 10 people who read that have no real idea what it means.
It took me 30 years to learn what I know about marketing and copywriting. I learned mostly by experience. And as I said at the beginning of this essay, my initial reluctance to read books on advertising was the product of confidence and arrogance.
There is no doubt that what you learn from experience is more deeply learned than what you learn by reading. But as you are gaining that experience, it certainly doesn't hurt to read great books written by the masters. I keenly wish I had read Scientific Advertising when I was starting out.
If you haven't read Scientific Advertising, you should read it now. If you have read it, you should read it again. Read it seven times - until you understand everything I've mentioned in this essay and everything else you'll find in the book.
Getting fired is not fun. But getting fired when you think you are doing a good job - that really sucks.
The purpose of today's message is to alert you to an important danger: Someone at your business may be thinking of letting you go.
In fact, it may be more than one person. It may be two or three powerful, influential people. Maybe even a committee.
Does that seem ridiculous? Even impossible? After all, you are showing up on time, completing your assignments. Maybe you aren't the boss's pet or the company superstar, but you are more than earning your income. How could anyone even think of firing you? They should be giving you a raise!
I've fired my share of people. It's never fun. But calling someone into your office who thinks he's doing a good job, and giving him the “you're out of here” message - that kind of surprise attack is very painful.
And here's the thing: Senior executives talk about firing middle managers all the time. Just as middle managers discuss letting rank-and-filers go.
We discuss these “worst-case scenarios” when we encounter bad work, or when our business is suffering.
When those two factors collide - that's when you get surprise firings.
Forbes magazine did a cover feature on a particularly difficult aspect of this subject (firing senior employees).
The article pointed out that “in the old days,” such a firing meant the employee would go through a period of introspection and planning, followed by another job with a more suitable company… often doing more challenging, better-paid work.
That's not the case today.
“Get fired when you are in your 50s today,” Forbes warns, “and you can scramble for years - and still find nothing.”
Forbes dubbed this “the cold new world of the prematurely, involuntarily retired.”
Case in point: Bob Miller, 55, an energetic, accomplished senior insurance executive who lost his job in 2003, and hasn't been able to replace it since. According to the magazine, Miller now passes his time making phone calls, reading, and “mulling over what the hell happened.”
As I said, I've fired my share of people - including well-paid, midcareer executives like Bob Miller. When it came time to call them into my office and deliver the news, I was always astonished to see how surprised they were.
No one - save the business owner - is entirely secure in his job.
When the economy turns against your industry, chances are, your company will react. In an attempt to trim the budget, the first thing a CFO will do is take a look at all the well-paid execs and ask, “Who can we do without?”
I just came out of a meeting with one of my clients. The company is doing very well. For several years, it has experienced amazing growth in both revenues and profits. The customer base is expanding, and new products are being created almost every month. Naturally, the employee base has increased.
So, what is the response to all this good news from the top brass?
“We need a nuclear fallout plan,” the CEO announced at the senior strategy meeting. “Things have been going too well lately. Chances are, something will happen. If it does, I want to be prepared.”
With that as the rationale, divisional vice presidents were asked to prepare plans for sustaining a “significant drop in revenue - one that could destroy profits and even set the company into monthly losses.”
The contingency plans were to identify which products and people would be cut. When the lists came in, there were a good number of fairly senior executives deemed expendable.
I don't think this contingency layoff will occur. Thanks to strategies implemented over the past dozen years, the company is too stable to suffer too badly in an economic slowdown.
But the exercise reminded me that even in good times at good companies, job security isn't guaranteed.
In fact, I'll bet at least one of those executives designated as expendable will be dismissed in the coming year. Not because business got bad, but because his boss realized he wasn't working up to snuff.
That's something I remember about firing those surprised executives. Although they showed up for work and did their jobs, none of them were star performers.
In all the firings I've done (and I'm counting in the dozens, here), I've never fired a superstar.
So, that's one thing that needs to be said. An executive's best chance of keeping his job, regardless of how well his company is doing, is to rank in the top 10% of the employee base. Not in terms of seniority or salary (in this case, that's an onus rather than a benefit), but in terms of his reputation for performance… how well he gets the job done.
But being a superstar employee doesn't give you 100% assurance against dismissal.
There are companies out there that are so screwed up, so political, so disconnected from their business purpose, that they allow really great employees to be fired for personal or political reasons.
If you work for such a company, your good work is no protection for you.
Of course, you shouldn't be working for such a company anyway, because there is no future in it. It's better to quit and get another job - even a job with less pay - at a better company. (But, get the new job before you quit your current one. When it comes to your livelihood, discretion is always the better part of valour.)
How to Tell If You Might Be Fired
Take the following quiz. Each “yes” answer is worth one point.
I am considered among the top 10% of performers in my entire company. I am on the cash-flow side of my business. That is, I am either a marketer, sales person, profit center manager, or product creator. I am the best person in my department, and everyone in my department believes that is so. I am personally responsible for profits - not sales - of at least five to 10 times my annual compensation. I am currently in a very positive stage of work development in terms of contributing to the company's success.
If you scored a perfect 5, you have nothing to worry about.
If your score was 3 or 4, you are probably okay. But get to work on improving the areas you are currently just “okay” at.
If you scored less than 2, you need to be concerned. Although you may be satisfied with your efforts and output, it's quite possible your boss is not.
The best way to find out is to schedule a personal interview (over lunch or coffee) and ask a series of questions that are nonthreatening (yes, bosses can feel threatened), such as:
Is there anyone in my group whose work habits or skills you think I could learn from? What would you say are my strongest and weakest characteristics as an employee? What are three things you'd recommend I do to improve my contributions to this company? On a scale of one to five, how would you rate me on the following?:
Understanding of job Passion for work Job knowledge Job performance Reliability Punctuality Ease to manage Future prospects
If there are several people - influential and powerful people - at your workplace who would indulge you in such an interview, you'll find out all you need to know.
Whatever you do, don't argue.
Accept the implied criticism graciously, and thank them sincerely. They have taken their time to help you achieve your goals. You should be grateful.
I have written on the subject of making yourself a better employee many times in the past. It's also a key part of one of my books, Automatic Wealth. Any work you do to improve yourself as an employee will also improve your basic business skills - the ones you'll need later on to run your own home-based startup business.
The basic steps toward making yourself invaluable to your company are:
Face reality. Make a realistic assessment of how valuable you are. Identify your weaknesses. Come up with a specific plan for improvement. Set detailed objectives with deadlines. Learn the key secrets of your company. How does it make sales? How does it convert sales to profits? Identify your greatest business skill or strength, and make sure it is something you can contribute to your company's sales or profits. While you are correcting your shortcomings, spend an equal amount of time enhancing your strengths. We make our greatest strides learning to do better what we already do well. This is especially true when what we do well counts.
And remember: It takes 1,000 hours (less 25% or 30%, if you have a good mentor) to become competent at a complex skill. That means you can make yourself a valuable employee by devoting 20 weeks or less of your full-time attention to it. Twenty weeks is only five months. That's not a lot of time to invest in your future.
I've been fired once, when I was working as a waiter at Scotty's restaurant in Rockville Centre, New York. I still feel a twinge remembering the shock and humiliation when Scotty sat me down and said, “Son, I've got to let ye go.”
I promised myself that wouldn't happen a second time.
Develop your financially valuable skills so you'll have job security until the day you can afford to walk away happy. Those same skills that will keep you safe now will make it easier for you to develop your own profitable business in the future.
When it comes to personal productivity, we all have the chance to have good days or bad days.
Good days are those that leave you feeling good because you have accomplished your most important tasks. Bad days are those that leave you feeling bad because you have failed to do anything to advance your most important goals.
If you want to have a better life, you must fill it with good days. The best way to do that is to organize your day according to your personal priorities - doing the most important things first.
It's easy to do. Yet most people don't. Eighty percent of the people I know - and I'm including all the intelligent and hardworking people I work with - do exactly the opposite. They organize their days around urgencies and emergencies. Taking care of last-minute issues that should have been dealt with earlier. Or doing tasks that help other people achieve their goals while ignoring their own.
Doing first things first. It is a very simple discipline. Yet its transformative power is immense. It can change your life - literally overnight.
It changed my life. Several times, in fact.
I've used this amazing technique to write six books, produce a record, and script and direct a feature-length film. I used it again last year to write 350 poems - one a day, after I began on January 15. And I am using it this year to get that book of poems published and to write six other books (five business books under the Michael Masterson pen name, and a novel with my personal byline).
MaryEllen Tribby used this technique to write her first book on marketing, “Changing the Channel,” which John Wiley & Sons published in 2008.
It is the single best technique I know for change. And it's the fastest and easiest way to turn your life around if you are not happy with the way it's been going so far.
Doing first things first. Is that what you do?
Here's what I do:
I get up early - never after 6:30 a.m.
I get to work early - never later than 7:30 a.m.
I spend my first hour doing a task that advances my most important goal.
If I'm going strong, I spend the next hour doing the same thing. If not, I switch to a task that advances my second-most-important goal.
I spend my third hour on another priority.
Only after four hours of doing important work do I allow myself to deal with less important work and other people's urgencies.
By the time most people start wandering into the office - between 8:30 and 9:00 - I've done at least an hour and sometimes two hours of work that is helping me achieve my important goals. Goals that correspond to my core values. Goals that will immensely improve my life.
That's how to begin a very good day!
I do this five days a week. And on weekends, I find at least two more hours each day to devote to my top priority. In a year, this averages to about 600 hours. Six hundred hours may not sound like much, but it is.
Six hundred hours is fifteen 40-hour work weeks. That's almost four working months! Think about it.
Here's what you can accomplish in 600 hours:
Learn to speak a foreign language with moderate proficiency.
Become a reasonably skillful ballroom dancer, with a good command of the swing, the fox trot, the salsa, and the hustle.
Achieve a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or a brown or black belt in one of many other martial arts.
Develop a decent singing voice and feel comfortable singing at parties.
Write five 60,000-word books on a subject you know.
Write and edit two novels or 365 poems.
Write, direct, film, and edit a 30-minute movie.
Start a multimillion-dollar side business.
Do any of those things sound interesting to you?
Now let me show you how I organize my workdays to tie into my long-term goals. Here is the exact schedule I followed on a recent Friday:
6:30: Woke. Dressed. Sprinted, walked, stretched, and meditated on the beach.
The first thing I do is sprint and stretch and meditate. This is the most important thing I can do (besides eating well) to ensure a long and happy life.
7:00: Showered. Changed. Went to my home office.
7:30: Revised two poems written last year.
8:00: Wrote a new poem.
8:30: Wrote 600 words of a new fiction book.
9:30: Wrote 600 words of the marketing book I'm working on.
10:30-11:30: Wrote an essay.
I devote four hours entirely to writing - which is one of my four top priorities. About half my writing time is spent on creative writing and about half on business writing. This reflects a balance that corresponds to my current goals.
11:45: Went to the office. Trained in Jiu Jitsu with my trainer. Showered. Changed.
Jiu Jitsu is a hobby for me. It strengthens me, expands my mind, humbles me, and invigorates me.
1:00: Met with my assistant. Assigned tasks to her.
1:30: Luncheon meeting.
2:45: Another meeting.
3:30: Did a phone interview
4:00: Met with PP to discuss real estate holdings.
I don't take any meetings until after my midday workout. (I've trained everyone I work with not to interrupt me in the morning.) Beginning at noon, my day takes a dramatic change: from a schedule devoted to my primary objectives to one that is devoted to others' needs. Most of the meetings scheduled during the afternoon, for example, accommodate the wishes of others. They have time to see me each day, but it's only after I have taken care of my own top priorities.
4:30: Returned phone calls to GP, DT, and LG.
I return phone calls in the late afternoon. It's not a top priority for me. It's as simple as that.
5:00: Wrote a blog entry.
If I have a spare half-hour during the afternoon, I devote it to an important but not urgent task… like writing things that don't have to be done by a specific deadline.
5:45: Reviewed and returned e-mails.
My penultimate task of the day is to review and return e-mails. I used to do it twice a day. Now I do it only once.
6:15: Planned the next day.
This is the last task of my workday.
6:30: Had a fitness workout with JM.
Feeling good about accomplishing most of my priorities, I often reward myself with a second workout.
7:30: Got home for dinner on time!
None of what I've said so far should astound you. It's all good common sense. It's advice we've been giving you on Common Sense Living for years.
But it's one thing to recognize a good technique and quite another thing to learn to use it. Most people who read this essay will think to themselves, “I should do that. I should wake up early and spend time working on my dream.” They'll think it, but they won't do it. They may get into the office earlier, but when they do they'll probably turn on their computer and read their e-mail.
People sometimes ask me if it's really necessary to get up early. “I'm a night person,” they say. “I get my best work done after dark.”
“Sure you do,” I think when I hear that.
I used to say the same thing. But I was wrong. And I think you will change your mind if you allow yourself to experience the natural, unbeatable advantage of doing your most important work when your body is fresh and strong.
Get up early. Get to work early. Do your important but not urgent tasks first.
Over the years, I've had the awkward duty of declining raises to dozens of employees. Most of them simply sulked and disappeared. But, a few of them took the experience as a wake-up call and fought back. They didn't see themselves as losers, and they weren't going to let me view them that way, either.
If you get turned down for a raise, arguing with your boss won't do you any good. But if you can take advantage of the situation by following the suggestions listed here, you may be surprised at how dramatically you can improve your future income.
Thank your boss.
Yes, thank him or her. If you didn't get the raise you wanted, there is a very good chance it's because you didn't deserve it. If you are like most people, this idea is going to be very hard to try on. But, if you spend some time thinking very objectively about your performance - asking yourself questions such as, “Was I always early?,” and, “Did I stay late?,” and, “Was I always eager and energetic and helpful?” - you will probably come to see your performance for what it was: less than stellar.
If you thank your boss for making you see the light, you'll shock him or her into paying attention to you. If you follow that up with some kind of modest pledge to do better, your boss will be watching for you to do so.
Come in earlier.
There is no more impressive way to show you are serious about your work than to get in earlier than you have been. A half-hour is enough. If you can, get in before your boss does. Get in earlier, and make sure your boss knows it.
However hard you've been working so far, it hasn't been enough to establish you as the No. 1 worker in your department. Getting in earlier and then paying complete and serious attention to your work will demonstrate your intent. As time goes by, the extra time and energy you give your job will show up in higher-level skills, better knowledge, and - most probably - more money.
Get more training.
Take every chance you get to become better educated about your job. Take advantage of whatever programs your company offers. If something comes up, and your company doesn't want to pay for it, pay for it yourself. (As with working harder, you don't want to let your extra training go unnoticed.)
Help your boss plan your future.
After a few weeks as the “new” you, ask for an appointment with your boss. He or she may be afraid you are going to ask for a raise. Assure your boss nothing is further from your mind. When you get your boss alone, reconfirm your gratitude for the wake-up call, brief him or her on the changes and improvements you've made, and then ask what else he or she thinks you can do to move forward even faster. Don't ask for anything in return. Make it seem as if job satisfaction is your only interest.
This is a radical approach.
Ninety-five percent of people who read this will never give it a try. You may be the exception. If you are, you will see dramatic results. Your income will improve in six months or less - and it will keep improving thereafter.
Before you know it, you'll be at a whole new level. Just as important - or maybe more important - your job satisfaction will skyrocket.
You'll like your job better because you'll be better at it - and everyone around you will take notice, including your boss.
If you could be on a first-name basis with anyone in your trade or industry, who would it be?
Whose power - or position - would you most like to gain access to?
Who, among all the people you know, could have the most positive impact on your future?
Imagine having an address book full of people like this - people you could turn to for help or advice whenever you need it.
You can build such a network. It'll take some time and effort, but it can be done. And it'll be valuable.
You can't create a VIP contact list by simply contacting the “right” people and asking to be their friend. You have to first win their interest. Then you must earn their trust.
You can win their interest by using a technique I've recommended before: Write a short and sincere letter to the target individual, complimenting her on a specific thing she did that you honestly admire.
For example, if someone in your industry just came out with a great product or clever marketing campaign, write them a simple letter saying how much you like it. A handwritten note will almost always be read. And it'll be appreciated, as well… if it doesn't feel false. So don't overdo your praise, and be specific. And don't ask for anything in return.
A publisher whose career has been meteoric told me she reads the trade journals. And when she sees a story bylined by a powerful person - whom she'd like to have in her network - she writes a personal note complimenting him on his article.
“It's amazing how often you'll get a reply,” she notes. “And how open they are to starting a correspondence.”
You can start today.
Make a list of all the people who could give your career a real boost. Your list could include people who run successful businesses similar to yours. It could also include people in unrelated fields who have qualities or skills you'd like to have.
Start with the person at the top of your list and work downward, looking for a reason to write a complimentary note. Or search for their publications on the Internet. If you put in a bit of time, you'll find reasons.
Make a commitment - perhaps a letter per month or per week - and stick to it. Ten names isn't enough. You're looking for 100 and hoping half of them will say thank you.
The thank you notes are what you're looking for. But they're just the first step.
You've gained their interest. Now it's time to earn their trust.
This will take longer - months or years. Earning their trust means showing them you're not just a fan, but someone who can add value to their lives and careers.
You can do that by sending the occasional clipping on a subject of mutual interest. Clippings have a greater impact than links.
The next step, if this first step seems to be working (i.e., you get thank you notes), is to ask for advice. You might ask the contact's opinion on a certain matter, suggest a possible joint venture, or request a personal interview. You can, for example, say something like this:
“I know you're very busy - but if you ever have a spare half-hour, I'd love the chance to get some advice from you on my own business.”
If you get an answer, don't try to push the relationship faster than your target person wants. (This, of course, is good advice for all relationship building.)
If he seems neutral or slightly negative, back off. Move on to other people. Remember, you're looking for genuine relationships, not trying to be an annoying pest.
At some point in this process, you'll realize you have a real relationship. You'll be communicating on a first-name basis, and there will be “good will” in the content of your communications. Your target may even reach out to you… to ask a question, recommend a contact, or suggest something you might do together.
That's what you're looking for - a mutually respectful relationship. Then - and only then - you might be able to suggest doing business together.
Gain interest first, earn trust later. Always be specific and sincere in your praise. Don't expect to receive an answer to every note you write. Ask questions. Be grateful for answers. Suggest business only when your target person is ready.
If you commit yourself to this program, you'll eventually be on a first-name basis with a handful of very influential people. This will have a positive - though unpredictable - impact on your future.
Of all the skills you can have - the ability to speak like Winston Churchill, to paint like Rembrandt, to calculate like Albert Einstein - none will help you achieve wealth as well as knowing how to sell things.
Every private enterprise - every school, every art gallery, every restaurant, law office, hospital, building supplier, hardware store, and entertainment complex - survives and prospers by virtue of its commercial activity.
In my own life, this lesson was hard to learn. Coming from a non-business background, I looked at the commercial world from the outside in. A bookstore, to me, was a place where bookish people gathered to page through old volumes, talk about literature, and make bookish friends. When I fantasized about owning my own (as I often did), I saw myself sitting in a comfortable leather chair, catching up on the classics and having conversations with beautiful women wearing reading glasses.
I had a similar delusion about art galleries. Until I actually bought one. A successful local art dealer I knew told me in passing one day that he was planning on retiring in a few years. I immediately suggested that he allow me to buy into his business.
In my mind, I was going to be sitting in that same leather chair, reading those same classic books, and chatting with those same bespectacled women in my bookstore dreams. The only difference was the conversation. Instead of chatting about Proust, we'd be musing about Pollack.
A month after I started, I bought myself out of the art business. I realized almost immediately that the dream I'd bought into was, in fact, a business based on hard-core selling. Something that I found offensive at the time.
It was a very expensive lesson. But it taught me a great deal about business and life that has been enormously helpful to me since then.
The reason this art dealer had been so successful (he was making a very high income even during periods when other dealers were going out of business) was because he was an expert at selling art. His knowledge of art history was limited. He wasn't ignorant, by any means. He knew the important, inside stuff. What type of paintings a particular artist was admired for, what periods of production were considered the most valuable, etc. But his main skill was in (a) getting people to come into his shop and then (b) getting those who bought to keep buying, year after year.
I began to see that virtually every private enterprise functions that way. To keep doing what you want to do (and to make a profit from it), you have to (a) attract customers at a reasonable cost and then (b) convert them into repeat buyers.
Let's call the first task making the “front-end” sale and the second task making the “back-end” sale. In the years that have passed, I've learned to look at virtually every private enterprise - from regional theatres to restaurants to pet hotels - in terms of these two selling skills.
And this perspective has given me an inside view as to how these businesses operate. It's no longer a mystery to me why, for example, so many restaurants and small hotels go out of business. Why people in the travel and leisure business make so little money. And why most good small businesses fail when they attempt to get bigger.
This fundamental perspective has also allowed me to provide advice to all sorts of different businesses in almost every conceivable industry. I can see now how every successful business is based on understanding the correct answers to two very simple questions:
What is the most cost-effective way of attracting customers?
What is the best way to keep those customers buying?
If you can learn to see your business that way and can one day discover the correct answer to these two questions, you will quickly become known by everyone in your company as a bit of a marketing genius. That will happen because you will understand your business from the inside out. You will know it better than 90% of your fellow workers.
Even the stickiest problems in business - which are always “people problems” - can be analyzed effectively by considering possible outcomes against these two objectives:
* Lowering the cost of acquiring new customers.
* Increasing the lifetime value of each existing customer.
The primary purpose of a good business is not to produce profits. It is to provide good value. But the most effective, least political, and ultimately most enduring way of measuring the value you provide is twofold.
First, by the profit you generate each year. (That pays the bills.) And second, by the long-term profit value of each customer. (Which is a measurement of how much they value your products and services.)
If you want to radically increase your income, my advice is to turn yourself into a marketing genius. And the best way to do that is to:
* Understand how your business works in terms of front-end and back-end selling.
* Become an expert in one or both of these forms of selling.
The most popular prescription for happiness is also the stupidest. I'm talking about the idea that you can defeat depression by “paying attention to yourself.”
Paying attention to yourself doesn't make you happy.
In fact, the more attention you give yourself, the less happy you're likely to be. Focusing inward can perpetuate your feelings of hopelessness.
Think of the least happy people you know. What are they always talking about? Their accomplishments. Their troubles. Their hopes. Their worries. In short: themselves.
I have a friend. Let's call her Shelly. Shelly's a smart, good-looking woman. But she can't maintain long-term relationships. “People are always disappointing me,” she says.
Every time I see her, she talks nonstop about all the people who've failed her. She complains about her boss. She gripes about her husband. She does it with a certain sense of humour - but it's all “Wah! Wah! Wah! What about me?”
I've suggested she'd be happier if she did some volunteer work or took on a hobby. Perhaps got a pet. But she doesn't listen.
To the outside observer, Shelly has nothing to complain about. She has perfect health. She has a healthy family. And she is financially secure - putting her among the luckiest people on Earth. Yet, from her perspective - from the inside - she sees nothing but negatives.
You probably have a Shelly in your life. Maybe more than one.
The trouble with the Shellys of the world is they spend too much of their valuable time thinking and talking about themselves. Their lives never get any better. And they can't figure out why.
They believe the solution lies in getting other people to feel sorry for them. They don't understand that seeking attention is a big part of their problem.
It feels good to have people pay attention to you. But even at its most intense (imagine being a movie star), the pleasure dissipates almost as soon as the attention shifts away.
It's like taking drugs. The effect is temporary. It's addictive. It leaves you wanting more. And each time you get more, it's not enough.
Eventually, it kills you.
The next time you're feeling sad or angry, recognize there is a way to become happy again.
Accept the fact that it's perfectly normal to feel crummy sometimes.
Despite your core strengths and your many accomplishments, you will occasionally find yourself down in the dumps. It's natural for ambitious people (like yourself) to feel that way.
As productivity expert Tim Ferriss says, “The occasional bouts of self-doubt and sadness are an integral part of building anything remarkable.” If you're upset because of something you did to yourself, forgive yourself.
It's okay. You screwed up. What matters is what you do next, not what you just did.
I sometimes get angry when I feel pressured by work obligations. But when I examine the reason for all the work, it's usually because I volunteered to take it on in the first place.
When I recognize my mood is being affected by my own prior actions, I remind myself I'm lucky. “It's okay you're angry. But you don't have to be. You can get through today. And you can have better discipline tomorrow.” It helps me feel better instantly. If you're upset because of something someone else did to you, take a chill pill.
Count to 10. Recognize you can't control the behaviour of other people. The only thing you can control is your response to their behaviour. Nobody can take that away from you.
I used to get upset when my family, friends, or colleagues made a mistake. I realize now how stupid that was. It didn't do me any good. And it made me unproductive, unhappy, and unpleasant to be around.
I changed by learning to turn the other cheek. The moment I stopped resenting others for their shortcomings, I began to feel better about myself.
It's amazing how well this works.
Somebody bumps into you on the street and you sprain your ankle. You have a choice. You can be angry at that person. You can be upset with yourself for not being more aware of your surroundings. Or you can forgive the person and yourself and change the way you think about your injury.
Rather than rue the inconvenience of being laid up for a week or two, see the recuperation period as a gift - the chance to start a new project or catch up on your reading. Don't let unrealistic expectations interfere with your relationships.
(This is a subcategory of not allowing the behaviour of other people to upset you.)
Instead of being upset by your spouse's habit of (fill in the blank), resolve to accept the fact that she won't be changing, and find a way to forgive her…and even love her.
Instead of being angry your child's a slob, find a way to love him for his strengths while gently teaching him (by showing, not telling) the advantages of being orderly.
Instead of being angry at your business partner because she didn't perform as well as you expected her to, learn to appreciate what she brings to the table and negotiate a new deal with her out of love, not anger.
Accepting people for who they are doesn't mean allowing them to make your life miserable. On the contrary, it means being realistic - realizing that 90% of the time, a person's fundamental characteristics can't be changed.
If you find a certain behaviour unacceptable, change the way you deal with it (something you can do) instead of trying to change the person (which you can't do). If you're upset because of circumstances beyond your control, take a double dose of chill pill.
If it's one thing psychology has taught us, it's that you can deal with your troubles more effectively if you define them as “problems” (which can be solved) or “predicaments” (which can be coped with).
Getting caught in a storm or catching a cold isn't a reason to get mad at yourself. Neither, by the way, is being caught in a worldwide economic collapse. If you're unhappy at work, find a way to care about what you're doing.
As Nobel Prize-winning author Albert Camus said, “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”
You won't experience happiness if you work at a job you hate - or if you do poor work on a project you like. But if you learn to care about the work you do, you'll find your energy will improve and you'll start to enjoy it. Engage in a sport or challenging exercise - something that's so demanding, you can't think while doing it.
Walking, stretching, and yoga are great forms of exercise. If you do them with a tranquil mind, they'll make you healthy and happy.
But if you do them when you're sad and feeling sorry for yourself, they'll give you no relief. You will forget about the exercise and focus on your negative thoughts. That will make things worse.
Jiujitsu and weightlifting are good examples of challenging exercise. They require complete focus - giving you no time to think about anything else. Recognize your health has a great deal to do with your mood.
If you feel bad much of the time, you probably need to make a few lifestyle changes:
Eat healthy. Eating too many carbohydrates will make you crazy, cranky, and tired. To have consistent energy all day, use food like fuel. Eat six smallish meals a day…avoid junk food…and favour organic food, lean meat, and plenty of protein. Sleep (and rest) adequately. For me, adequate sleep is a major contributor to feeling good. Studies show people who get seven good hours of sleep a night live longer, suffer from fewer illnesses, and achieve more because they have more energy. If you get tired during the day, take a short nap. Get advice about antidepressants from a good doctor. I'm generally against putting chemicals in my body. I much prefer natural cures. But antidepressants have helped some people close to me, and they may help you, too. Take positive steps to pay less attention to yourself and more attention to others.
A few examples:
Make your friends happy. Smile when you see them. Listen to their stories. Give them the advice they want and shut up when they don't want any. Become the person they turn to when the chips are down. Learn to love - and help them overcome - their faults. Above all, be loyal. Be a reliable and steady resource for your business colleagues. Help them achieve their goals. Not because you want them to reciprocate in some way - but because you care about them and want them to succeed. Do something for someone you don't know - a stranger, a foster child, or a sick or poor person who can benefit from your help. Spend time and money.
Make this outward focus a natural part of your life. Do it purposefully and deliberately until it becomes second nature. You'll know when that happens because you'll feel happy most of the time. And when you become sad or angry, you'll be able to get over it…quickly and easily.
You reach for the mug and knock it over. Hot coffee washes over your laptop.
You arrive home and realize you've left your shoulder bag - with all your IDs and banking information - on the subway.
Your doctor reads your EKG and says, “Gee, I've never seen anything like this before!”
Life dishes out such disasters, big and small. How we react to them says much about our characters and bears heavily on our ability to carry out a happy, successful life.
If I can't find my wallet, I'm prone to think it's been swiped by a sophisticated geek who's already stolen my identity and emptied all my bank accounts.
Waiting for the results of any sort of medical test, I imagine the worst possible outcome.
That, for some reason, is how I'm wired.
My wife, K, is the opposite. She's a natural optimist and doesn't fret at all about the small disasters (except those involving dinner parties). And she confronts the larger ones with a positive frame of mind.
Having a positive disposition is helpful when you're faced with a challenge - big or small.
And although these sorts of emotions are deeply ingrained and very difficult - if not impossible - to eradicate, it is possible to develop mental habits that'll help you overcome your fears and respond to crises - big and small - productively.
Recently, my nephew got himself into some trouble at school and told me it had really overtaken him emotionally. He couldn't sleep, couldn't study, could barely eat, etc.
Knowing what I knew about his situation, I believed he was overreacting. But I knew - because I'm built that way - that his fears felt real to him.
So I wrote him a note with the following advice, based on my own struggles with negative thoughts and feelings:
Make friends with the devil.
What is it that's scaring you? It's probably some “worst-case” scenario that you keep running through your mind.
An optimist, like K, will tell you not to worry about that. She'll remind you, quite correctly, there is a good chance something less than the worst case will occur.
But such advice is useless to the person who's already got the worst-case scenario in his head. It is, after all, a very scary movie. And he's the star of it. Not thinking about it is not an option.
The solution that works for me is to let the movie play itself out in its entirety. I allow myself to imagine the worst… in vivid detail. And then I find some way to see myself accepting that dire reality.
If, for example, my mental movie is one of identity thieves stealing all my money, I direct a mental scene where I'm sitting in my banker's office and he tells me the bad news. And then - close up - a smile comes over my face.
The banker looks at me, astonished and confused. “Mr. Ford, did you hear what I said? You are wiped out. Penniless.”
“Yes, young man,” I see myself saying. “I understand quite clearly. I've been relieved of the burden of all that wealth.”
And then I walk out the door, still smiling, while he watches me… dumbfounded.
I'm having a bit of fun with this, but I'm very serious. This is something I've learned to do over the years, and it works amazingly well.
The simple act of picturing yourself being okay with some imagined disaster is soothing. And if you do it over and over again, that soothing feeling will seep into your psyche, exorcise your fear, and make you stronger and more productive.
Invent a third act.
This little trick - creating a mental movie scene - is very powerful. But there's something else I've been doing recently that adds to the beneficial effect. I create, in effect, a third act to my mental movie.
As you'll remember, the second act ended with me walking out of my banker's office with a smile on my face. That's not bad, but it's hardly the end of the movie.
To give the movie a happy ending, you need a third act. And my third act is about me finding the silver lining.
Every disaster has a silver lining. A torn ligament might put you in bed for a few weeks, but it can also give you a chance to read those 10 books you've been meaning to read. The traffic jam you feared might give you a chance to have that conversation you've been putting off.
Even terminal cancer has a silver lining. You have some amount of time to organize the end of your life and say your goodbyes. You wouldn't have that chance if your fate was to get run over by a train.
So the first step is to practice imagining yourself being okay with the worst-case scenario. And the second step is to identify a silver lining and imagine yourself enjoying it.
Again, this is not the sort of thing you can do once and be done with it. This is a process that gets better every time you repeat it.
But the good news is the more you do it, the easier it is to do it again. You may still have the same old bad instincts, but they'll last only until you begin your positive mental movie. From that point on, everything will get better.
Develop a Plan B.
Having dealt with the worst-case scenario, you will be calmer and more able to assess the likelihood of the various possible outcomes… and make plans for each.
Disaster planning of this kind should deal with at least three eventualities: worst case, bad case, and good case.
Imagine each one. Assess its likelihood. Figure out what you can and can't do about it. Always look for the silver lining.
Making friends with the devil, finding a silver lining, and developing an action plan will make you feel 100% better - and you can do all that in a matter of hours (or days, at most). But that improvement in your emotional state won't last unless you start acting on your plan.
As in all other areas of life, action is critical when you are faced with disaster. The moment you start moving your response plan forward, you'll be making progress… and lessening the chances of things ending up really bad.
You'll feel better about yourself the moment you start, and you'll continue to feel better as long as you're taking positive action.
Getting to work early is such a common virtue of successful people that I'm tempted to call it the single most important thing you can do to change your life.
I wasn't always an early riser. For most of my twenties, if I saw the sun rise it was before going to bed. And in my thirties, I'd struggle to get in to the office by 9 a.m. I wasn't afraid of the work. Most days, I'd put in 12-14 hours. But since I had accustomed myself to late hours in college and graduate school, I saw no reason to change my waking and sleeping habits. 'I do my best work after midnight,' I used to say. And for a while, I even believed it.
My conversion happened in my early forties, after I'd already become financially independent. That being the case, I can't argue that it's impossible to become successful unless you get up early. I did it. And plenty of others did it, too. But I can say that the success I've had since then has been more dramatic…and has come a lot easier.
At the time of my conversion, I was working about 65 hours per week, beginning each workday at 9 a.m., working until about 8 p.m., and working at least half a day on Saturday and Sunday. (Needless to say, I wasn't seeing much of my family.)
My partner at the time was getting to work at 7:30 or 8 a.m. (I can't be sure, of course, since I was never there to greet him!) and leaving at about 6:30 or 7 p.m. He was working about the same number of hours as I was during the week but didn't work at all on weekends.
I was jealous of his weekends, and promised myself repeatedly that I'd not work weekends either. But when Friday came to a close, I never felt my work had been done. There were always several very important matters needing attention. Therefore, one weekend after the next became filled with catch-up work.
My family didn't like it. I didn't like it. But the really frustrating thing was that nobody at work seemed to notice all the extra time I was putting in. In fact, I was getting ribbed about coming in late.
After working especially late one night, I stopped for gas at about two o'clock in the morning. As I handed my credit card to the lady in the glass booth, she said, 'Man, you look beat!'
'I've been working almost 12 hours a day,' I told her. 'And half-days on weekends.'
She looked at me, unimpressed.
'You talk about it like it's a virtue,' she said.
'Well, if working long hours isn't a virtue,' I shot back, 'what is?'
'Getting to work first,' she said.
It was bizarre - being lectured about virtue by a gas jockey at 2 a.m. But I knew she was right. For all the extra hours I put in, my partner - who had his weekends free - had cornered the market as far as the puritan work ethic was concerned. He seemed more virtuous not only to our employees but also, I suddenly realized, to me!
There is something about getting in earlier that seems wiser, nobler, smarter, and just plain more industrious than working late. Getting to work earlier says something about being energetic, organized, and in control. Staying late leaves the opposite impression: You are diligent but disorganized, earnest but erratic, hardworking but a drudge. In How to Become CEO, Jeffrey J. Fox puts it this way:
If you are going to be first in your corporation, start practicing by being first on the job. People who arrive at work late don't like their jobs - at least that's what senior management thinks… And don't stay at the office until 10 o'clock every night. You are sending a signal that you can't keep up or your personal life is poor.
The lady in the glass booth was right. Getting to work first was better than working until dawn. From that moment on, I resolved to come to work earlier.
And I did. At first, it was difficult and my success was sporadic. But then I came upon a plan that worked. I resolved to set my alarm clock a minute earlier each day. A single minute would feel like nothing, I figured. Yet in the course of two months, I would have moved the start of my day back by an hour.
I used this minute-per-day program to move my at-work time from 9 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then to 8 a.m. and then to 7:30 a.m. Nowadays, I typically wake up at 5:30 a.m. and arrive at my desk (or my workout) at 6:30 a.m.
'Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,' Ben Franklin advised almost 300 years ago. Taking that path really did make a big difference in my life. And I'm not the only one. There are several studies showing that successful entrepreneurs and most CEOs typically get to work at least an hour before their employees. Most of the wealthiest people I know get up early.
In fact, this is such a universal trait among successful people that I WILL now call it the single most important thing you can do.
You go to lunch with a colleague. Everything is good. When the waiter puts the bill on the table, the total is Rs 900.
Do you pick it up? Do you wait and hope he does? Or do you suggest you split it?
On the surface, this is a minor decision. But in truth, it is one of a million chances you've had, have, and will have to become wealthier.
A cheapskate might look at it this way:
If I pay the whole bill, I'll be Rs 900 poorer. If we split the bill, I'll be Rs 450 poorer. If I can get him to pay it, I'll be Rs 450 richer - richer than I would have been if I had to pay for my meal. To the cheapskate, the best decision is obvious. So when the bill arrives, he gets up to 'go to the bathroom,' hoping his colleague will pick up the check.
But I have a different view. Wealth building, like quantum mechanics, often operates according to laws that seem contrary to what is 'obvious.'
Paying the tab, in other words, might actually make you richer. Because the 400 bucks you spend on your lunch partner might give you a return of much more than Rs 400.
Your generosity might signal to him that you are the kind of person he can trust. It might tell him you are someone who is willing to give first without demanding recompense. If he sees you in that light, a relationship might be seeded by this small investment on your part. A year later - it is possible to imagine - he might recommend you for a promotion when he himself gets promoted to head up your department.
It depends on your assessment of his character.
If he impresses you as a person who believes - as you do - in reciprocity, you will know that the Rs 400 is a wise investment. If, on the other hand, he shows you that he is a person who believes in exploiting others, the wise move might be to pay only your share of the bill and not develop the relationship any further.
In either case, you are richer. In the first case, you are richer in a potentially lucrative business relationship. In the second case, you are richer in knowledge - knowledge about him that can help you avoid trouble or seize opportunity in the future.
I am making two points: First, almost every event in your life is an opportunity for you to become richer. And second, by seeing every situation as a wealth-building opportunity, you can take the actions that will gradually make you very rich.
The people I call 'instinctive wealth builders' understand this on a gut level. They see every transaction - social, personal, or business - as a wealth-related opportunity. They are always angling, even subconsciously, to increase their wealth.
Most of us aren't born with that instinct. For us, a casual conversation is just a casual conversation. And choosing to join a club or hire or fire an employee is that and nothing more.
But the moment we put this principle into practice, we see the world very differently. Its potential is no longer limited. It is enormous, maybe even infinite. And we view every action we engage in as a chance - big or small - to increase or diminish our wealth.
Train yourself to ask the following four questions - keeping in mind that every situation, big or small, is an opportunity for you to become richer…
'In what way is this an opportunity for me to become more wealthy?' (Note: I don't ask, 'Is this a wealth-building opportunity?' - because every situation is a wealth-building opportunity.)
'What is the potential of this opportunity?'
'What are the possible problems with this opportunity?'
'What can I do to seize this opportunity?' Look at every situation you find yourself in as an opportunity to make yourself richer. And I do mean every situation, even the most mundane. This includes:
The first thought you put in your mind when you wake up each morning. What you listen to on your commute to work. How you greet your boss and fellow workers. What you talk about at the coffee machine. The expression on your face and the firmness of your grip when you shake hands. The conversation you initiate with the person next to you on a plane. Whether you buy a brand-new car or a used one. How your voice sounds when you answer the phone. How you prepare for a meeting. Whether you buy your clothes at Saks or Marshalls. Whether you go out to lunch or eat at your desk. Some of your opportunities will be small and some large. But by asking yourself the four questions above first, you will bring your batting average way up…
If you make it a habit to approach every situation this way, it will soon become automatic. And before you know it, you will have seized hundreds - even thousands - of wealth-building opportunities…each one making you a littler richer.
I hadn't seen Dave in almost 20 years.
He was my dentist when we moved to Boca Raton, Florida, in the early 1980s. He continued to take care of my wife K and the kids after we moved to Delray Beach 10 years later, but I opted for dental care closer to home. Dave contacted me when he discovered I was the man behind the 'Michael Masterson' pen name. So he got my email address from K.
'How about lunch?' he wrote. 'I've got a bunch of things I need to ask you.'
Several weeks later, we were eating chopped chicken salads at City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue. Dave seemed nervous. It was as if he was intimidated by the Michael Masterson persona. I did my best to assure him I was the same person who used to wince in pain when he cleaned my teeth.
We talked a bit about family news, but it was clear he had something else on his mind. On his mind was a decision he was trying to make: should he spend $100,000 on the highest level of an internet marketing program he'd been looking at?
'I've been studying their stuff,' he told me. 'It's really good. But I'm not sure it makes sense for me to invest that kind of money.'
'A hundred grand is a lot of money,' I said.
'But you get an awful lot for your money,' Dave explained. 'They do all the technical stuff for you, which I'm not very good at. All I'd have to do is come up with the ideas.'
'Well,' I said, practicing my best Sam Spade drawl, 'what ideas do you have?'
In fact, Dave didn't have a single one. 'All I know is that I'm in the wrong business,' he said. 'I took this self-test online - and I found out I'm in the worst business in the world for me.'
At nearly 50 years of age, Dave had just concluded that his entire career had been a waste.
'I've wanted to be a dentist since I was 8 years old,' he told me. 'If I had known then what a bad business it was for me, I would have done something else.'
'Like what?' I asked.
'Like what you do,' he said. He was smiling, but he looked serious.
'Look,' I told him. 'My business is a great business - but I don't think you should conclude that your life has been wasted simply because you took some pop quiz that was probably designed to sell you something.'
'But it was right,' he insisted. 'It proved something I'd always known but was afraid to admit.'
The waitress filled our drinks. We ate in silence for a while.
'So, what I'm thinking is, since I'm not into the technical stuff, this internet marketing program would be very good for me.'
'How much time have you invested in learning about internet marketing?' I asked.
'About three years,' he answered.
'And how many information products on the subject have you bought in that three-year period?' I asked.
Dave laughed. 'I can't even count that high,' he said.
'How much money have you spent?'
'Tens of thousands. Probably more.'
'And yet, you haven't actually started an internet marketing business,' I said.
He nodded, then rattled off the names of every internet marketing program he'd bought - all the ones I knew and dozens of others I'd never heard of.
'That's a lot of buying,' I told him.
'Tell me about it,' he said.
Dave explained that when he reads an advertising promotion pitching a new internet marketing product, he is 'totally taken in by it,' even though he realises he's just reading 'a sales pitch'.
'But even though I know that I'm being seduced by a professional wordsmith, I can't stop myself from buying.'
'I hear you,' I said. 'You are an information junkie.'
'What about you?' he said. 'I read that you read a lot of informational books - about one every week.'
'I do,' I said, 'but I'm not an information junkie. I'm an information user.'
'So what's the difference?' I explained the difference is huge. An information junkie is addicted to the process of buying information. Although he may delude himself into thinking otherwise, he has no intention of ever using the information he buys.
An information user is very practical about his purchases. He buys information for specific, pragmatic purposes. He uses the information he buys to achieve specific goals - to start or grow a business, to learn a new language, to improve his negotiating skills.
An information junkie is happiest at the moment he is buying the information. His enthusiasm soon wanes, however. Within hours or days of receiving it, the information junkie is on to other things. The new product goes up on the shelf with the old products. He's excited about the next new one.
An information user makes progress. See him reading a book about nutrition, and there's a very good chance (if he likes the book) that his eating habits will change in the immediate future. The information junkie, in contrast, may have 26 books about nutrition in his living room. He may have even read them all - while he was lying on the couch eating potato chips.
An information user is someone who consumes information to profit from it. If he invests $100 in learning about some subject, he expects to see a substantial return on that investment - perhaps a thousand dollars' worth of value, material or spiritual.
An information junkie consumes information like drugs or candy bars. It gives him an immediate rush and then nothing afterward. That's why he needs to buy more.
The information user has long-term expectations when it comes to knowledge. He believes the knowledge he acquires now will compound over time as he learns more and is in a better position to leverage what he's learned for a greater benefit.
The information junkie is in it for the here-and-now. He doesn't believe in saving. He's always on to the next hot thing.
What about you? Are you an information junkie? Take this test and see…
In the past year, I've purchased more than 12 books I haven't read. (If your answer is Yes, give yourself 2 points.)
In the past year, I've purchased: Only information products that I have used. (Yes = 1 point) Between one and three information products that I haven't used. (Yes = 2 points) Between three and five information products that I haven't used. (Yes = 3 points) More than five information products that I haven't used. (Yes = 5 points)
In the past year, I've purchased at least one high priced information product that I didn't use. (Yes = 5 points)
I am most excited about the information I buy: When I am ordering it. (Yes = 3 points) When I receive it. (Yes = 2 points) When I begin using it. (Yes = 1 point)
When I read a book, I feel compelled to read it from cover to cover. (Yes = 2 points)
I generally take notes when I read something. (Yes = 1 point, No = 2 points)
Well… how did you score? If you scored 8 or above, you are indeed an information junkie.
If you are an information junkie, don't despair. You can convert yourself into an information user simply by following two rules:
When you buy an information product, set specific deadlines for reading it and implementing what you learn. For instance, set a goal that you'll take one of its recommended actions within 24 hours of receiving the product. Then resolve to take at least one more recommended action each week thereafter. Don't buy another product until you have made some progress with the one you previously purchased. That's all there is to it. Obey these two rules, and you'll not only break your addiction, you will radically improve your life.
ou can give yourself a competitive edge - one that could pay you big dividends one day - by doing a little carefully calculated extra reading this year.
I know you are busy already, but what I'm about to suggest won't take too much time - and the benefits you'll get from it will be wonderful. I'm going to show you how to read an extra 52 books this year and every year thereafter.
Every day, new non-fiction books are published on every possible topic. Some of these contain information and advice that will help you achieve your goals. The trick is to locate the good ones and read them quickly, efficiently, and strategically.
Tracking down good books is easy and fun. Make it a habit to browse bookstores, especially in airports and train stations (where business and self-help titles are abundant). Pick up any title that interests you. Scan the table of contents. If it seems promising, read the first page. If you find the book interesting and easy to read, hold on to it. Keep going until you have twice as many books as you can read, and then keep the ones you are most excited by…
If you follow these simple steps, you'll be eager to get home and start reading. Eagerness alone won't get you through an extra book a week, no matter how interesting and well-written it is.
To keep up with a weekly schedule, you have to find a way to cut your reading time by less than half. If you approach non-fiction books tactically, they don't take very long to 'read.'
The first and most important thing is to realise books like these are raw material for your imagination, not finished artwork. So you should go through them as you might go through a big pile of kindling, looking for a few straight, dry pieces. Don't waste your time fooling around with what's not important. And don't feel compelled to read every word.
I like to think that every good book has one big secret to convey and several smaller ones. Your job is to find out - as quickly as you can - what they are. There are many ways to speed-read, several of which I've tried over the years.
The system I use now allows me to get through most business books in two to four hours.
Here's how I do it (and I'm a painfully slow reader):
Read the table of contents. It should give you a quick idea about the range and depth of the subject matter. Figure out what you want from the book: what it can teach you.
By doing this beforehand, you can dramatically shorten the amount of time you need to spend with the text itself. Your subsequent reading will be targeted and efficient, because your subconscious mind has already begun to think along the right lines and your interest has been primed. Read the introduction and/or first chapter. One of them usually serves as a sort of executive summary of the entire book. Here is where you can pick up the author's main argument and discover - if the book is well-written - their big idea.
(In my experience, most good non-fiction books have, at base, one Big Insight or Secret. If you miss that, you miss the book.) Read the first paragraph of each successive chapter and the first sentence of each successive paragraph. You will be amazed at how much information you can pick up that way.
In terms of actual reading, you are covering only 20-30% of the text, but in terms of content, you are getting 80-90%.
To get the most from this process, I usually assume that each chapter has one useful thing to teach me - and that's what I look for. Finally, read the entire last chapter and/or epilogue. Like the introduction/first chapter, at least one of these will often serve as a summary. Reading them gives you a chance to internalise what you've already discovered and to make notes if you haven't already. I recommend keeping some sort of reading journal in which you record the title, author, Big Idea, and smaller ideas of each book. If you make your entry just after you've finished a book, it shouldn't take more than five or 10 minutes.
Review what you've written once within 24 hours and then again sometime the following week. You'll be amazed at how much you'll remember about the book.
Once you get used to this way of reading, you'll find it addictive. You'll have a constant stream of new ideas coming to you that will help you in every important area of your life.
You'll get smarter and better with each passing week - and that will make you feel better and more confident. Your friends and colleagues will notice the difference. And sooner or later, one of the ideas you pick up will be the big one that takes you to the next level.
Start today by going to the bookstore after work and picking up your first title. Feel free to mark it up with a pen or highlighter, but remember that you are not looking to study it in detail but to select from it a few very helpful secrets.
Use the scanning method I recommended if it helps, but make sure you get through this book within the next seven days.
The most important thing to remember is not to try to learn too much. One big idea and half a dozen little ones are plenty. Get them down and move on.
The year was 2014. My general physician was surprised when I visited him - how could a 23-year-old suffer from chronic anxiety disorder. Never before in my life had I felt so surrounded by thoughts…and so hopeless about the future. It had been going on for eight months.
I lost my appetite…and substantial weight. I lost sleep…and my eyes looked tired all day. The chronic disorder started show physical symptoms. I rushed to my physician after a minor anxiety attack.
'You are 100% fine physically,' my doctor said. 'You are just overstressed.'
'What?!' I was shocked.
'Stress is very common. Everyone has some kind of stress. From students to executives… But when it is prolonged, it needs to be managed. Chronic stress can have bad impact on health. If not controlled, it may result in various medical conditions like hypertension and type-2 diabetes.'
My doctor gave me a prescription of vitamin tablets, calcium bars, etc., and said that I should practice mindfulness (or meditation). I didn't know anything about meditation… Moreover, the idea of sitting still with closed eyes seemed, frankly, quite boring.
I decided to follow the prescription. The medicines resolve my physical symptoms, but my mind was still a battleground of thoughts. I didn't want to go for traquilisers and anti-depressants so early in life…so I turned to meditation.
I enrolled in a Yes+ course organised by The Art of Living Foundation. It was a five-day course that bundled pranayama (a form of yoga) and Sudarshan Kriya (a breathing technique)…with a small discourse by the teacher at the end.
On the first day, they advised me to give up tea, coffee, and alcohol (if I was taking any) for the next five days. They also asked me to drink as much water as I could. As I had enrolled in the morning course, I woke up at 5am every day. It felt amazing to rise early…while the rest of the world slept.
I started the Yes+ course with enthusiasm and high expectations, and - I must say - it didn't disappoint. I felt a noticeable surge in my energy levels. No matter how hectic my days were, I almost never felt exhausted. Sudarshan Kriya - a beautiful breathing technique - refreshed my mind every time I practiced it.
After weeks of practice, I decided to explore deeper levels of meditation. I enrolled in a 12-day Vipassana course in the town of Dharamsala. The experience was ecstatic. Not only did it help me deal with anxiety, it made me question beliefs I'd had for many years… It made me realise that temporariness is the only truth that prevails. Be it joy, worry, anger, frustration, shame…every emotion will pass. Bad times are temporary. We live in an ever-changing universe, we should witness and accept everything as it is.
What is mindfulness after all? I'd heard about meditation all my life. Several definitions, several meanings. But my idea of it was something like this: You sit still with your eyes closed, resisting all kinds of thoughts, and you eventually reach a point where you have nothing but space, or emptiness, inside your head - that's meditation.
I learned I was wrong. Completely.
Now if someone asks me what mindfulness is, I answer in one word - 'acceptance'. Acceptance of our present state - no matter what it is - without getting attached to it or affected by it.
When I sat to meditate for the first time, my teachers told me, 'Let the thoughts come. Don't resist them. However, don't let them affect you.
'Observe them as you would observe a passing train…by remaining indifferent and believing that it will eventually pass.'
From then on, whenever negative thoughts sprang in my mind…I was indifferent towards them, and eventually they passed.
One must remember…it is important to live in the present and not worry about the future or dwell on the past. Because that's how stress is born.
There's a popular story in Zen culture. Which throws profound light on living in the present.
It happened once that two monks were travelling together. During their travel, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another; they had taken vows never to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, one of them picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.
The other monk couldn't believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.
Two more hours passed in silence… Then three… Finally, the other monk couldn't stop himself any longer and said, 'As monks, we are not permitted to even touch a woman… How could you carry one on your shoulders?'
The first monk looked at him and gently replied, 'I placed her down on the other side of the river… Are you still carrying her?'
Many of us carry emotional baggage from the past for too long. And the weight of it breaks us down along the way. Learning to detach from the past is the base of mindfulness. Only then can we focus and do the right things in the present.
Why one should meditate There are various reasons one should meditate. But let me tell you the simplest one.
Imagine your room… I am sure it gets cleaned every day. Whatever dust, dirt, or waste accumulates over a day, you make sure to dispose it in the evening…or the next morning. But what if you don't? After a few days, you begin to see mosquitoes and flies… After a few weeks, it starts to stink, and attracts pests. After a month, you can't enter without falling sick.
In the same way, our mind needs to get rid of negativity, bad memories, and bitter experiences. Only then can it completely focus on the present. Or else we suffer from lack of productivity, lack of creativity, bad thoughts, and stress. A healthy mind is a must for overall healthy being.
Regular meditation has physical and mental benefits.
Here are some physical benefits of regular meditation:
Lowers blood pressure Improves cardiac health Resolves anxiety disorders Manages diseases that arise from chronic stress such as inflammation, indigestion, and insomnia. Manages stress related aches: headaches, muscle and joint pains. Improves energy levels Here are some mental benefits of regular meditation:
Helps manage stress and depression Improves concentration Improves creativity Improves emotional stability Induces harmony and acceptance How to get started? Meditation is easy to start with, but it must become a part of your daily routine… Only then you can reap benefits from it.
There are various techniques of meditation… There are many organisations that run meditation courses on a regular basis - The Art of Living, Osho Foundation, Vipassana, etc. You can opt for them, and choose a course that suits you.
Make sure you start at a basic level.
Some time ago we spoke to Dr. Sharda S. Nandram - a scholar, international public speaker, consultant, and writer, who practiced meditation and spirituality.
In our brief conversation, she threw light on some meditation exercises that you can practice domestically.
At the end of a difficult day, imagine a vacuum cleaner is going over your whole body and cleaning out all the dirt. This will remove the negative energy and make space for the new. In the morning, close your eyes and observe your thoughts. Imagine them dripping into a bowl. In this way, the extra thoughts will be released while the ones that are important will stay. Before you sleep, count back from 50-0, and try to combine it with your breathing. As you count, you will see your over-active mind get calmer. It takes only a few minutes per day, but once you start meditating on a regular basis, it becomes an important part of your day. Meditation is like a seed. Once sown, fruits are bound to follow. And when you taste their sweetness for yourself, you'll be grateful you cultivated the habit of meditation.
Education is never a waste. - An Anonymous Wise Person
A typical Indian youth dreams and truly believes that once he has received a degree from a reputed institution, his life will be 'sorted'. That he will get placed overseas or with a top MNC and ultimately earn seven figures. Those with an entrepreneurial bent imagine they will start up. And after a few years of hard work and perseverance, success will knock on their door.
Life is divided into phases after all. You are supposed to get an education when you're young, then work to build a good future.
This was Mr J's plan. He was a confident and intelligent young man who'd recently passed out of a prestigious university and was looking for a job. He believed he had completed his education and now was the time to make money. When he wasn't giving an interview, he was mostly at the bar…charming the ladies.
Mr A, his childhood friend, graduated at the same time. He was sporty and industrious, but an average student who had passed out of a mediocre university. When he wasn't hunting for job, he was learning. How to cook…how to skateboard…how to speak German.
As chance would have it, Mr A and Mr J interviewed for the same position. Despite Mr J's better grades, better education, and flair for presentation…Mr A got the job.
The company had a good client base of Germans - recruiting a German speaker was a big plus. But more than that, Mr A came across as someone willing to learn new things - a trait that only makes us better with time.
Much as I love to write fiction, this story is real. It's the story of two of my friends in the US.
Now, maybe you'd say - that's pure luck. Mr A was lucky!
I say - no. It was not pure luck.
Mr A chose to keep learning after college. Autodidacts always have an edge - with hiring managers and everything else.
Renowned wealth builders around the world know the importance of lifelong learning.
According to a WikiLeaks report, Mark Zuckerberg is always hungry to learn, particularly about 'political operations' and philanthropy. Says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg: 'He wants to meet folks who can inform his understanding about effective political operations to advance public policy goals on social oriented objectives like immigration, education, and basic scientific research.'
Amitabh Bachchan, a superstar for more than four decades, believes it's important to keep up with the best technology and gadgets.
According to The Guardian, Bill Gates studies foreign languages on a mobile app.
When was the last time you invested in yourself? What was the last book you read? When did you last attend a workshop? Do you take advantage free online courses?
Or do you believe your education is over? That you know everything you need to know?
If you say 'yes' to the latter questions…you are making a decision that will hinder your growth and success big time.
In school, I had a passion for reading and writing essays in Hindi. 'You write beautiful essays,' my Hindi teacher told me.
I wrote a story in Hindi a few months back; it was terrible. I hadn't read or written the language in years. So I decided to get back to it…and now it's better.
This made me realise that I can't accumulate education and expect to retain it forever. No, I need a perennial supply of new and renewed learnings. Education is food for the brain, and your brain needs a regular meal.
Once we stop learning, we limit our thinking abilities. As well as our financial, mental, spiritual, and personal growth. Moreover - no matter how sincerely we once studied - we will lose grip on past learnings.
Why You Need to Invest in Yourself When you decide to invest in yourself…to educate yourself…you make an investment that guarantees manifold returns over time. If that's not enough to convince you, here are some specific benefits you can also bank on…
Increased proficiency Investing in education adds to your skillset and proficiency. It boosts your potential and makes you more versatile. Last month, when I helped a colleague with her podcasts, I learned how to edit MP3 files on a software called Audacity. Not only was it fun to learn something new, it added value to my professional profile.
Stay ahead of competition When you continue to learn, you acquire more skills. This will help you to stay ahead of the competition. You'll be more knowledgeable and useful than your competitors.
More income opportunities The more you know, the more you can do. If you invest in yourself, more business, professional, and entrepreneurial opportunities will be available to you. You will not only see opportunity where others do not, you will have the skills and knowledge necessary to capitalise on it.
New insights and constant growth Perennial learning will help you evolve continuously and get new perspectives on life. When you read books…when you are willing to learn more…when you never settle with limited knowledge…you open yourself to the many lessons that life is waiting to give you.
How to Start Before you gear up to educate yourself, it's important to know a few things and ask yourself a few questions.
'What do I want to learn?' Fortunately, you can choose anything that you want. But you should prefer something that:
Interests you The benefit of learning what you love is that it will keep you interested. And perhaps later you can pursue your hobby professionally.
If you love to take pictures, you can learn more about photography. If you love to write, you can enroll in a writing course. If you're inclined to the performing arts, you can take classes on the same.
Adds value to your work If you're more of a 'practical' person, you can learn something that adds value to your work. When I began writing for Common Sense Living, I was curious to know how many people read my articles, how many opened the e-mails, etc. So I learned to use Google Analytics, wich has added great value to my work.
In the same way, if your job requires high-level communication, you can take speech and diction, image management, and personality development courses.
Make it a daily routine When you've chosen what you want to learn, commit to it and make time for it on a regular basis. It's often easy to start something but hard make it a discipline. If I learn a new word today and don't get back to it for a week, I will probably forget it.
Whatever you are up to - learning mathematics, a style of dance, or a new accent - regular study and practice will bring the best results.
Decide the medium of learning It is important that you choose the right learning medium. The medium can make a big difference to the time and cost of the education.
Mobile apps We're fortunate to live in an age simplified by laptops, smartphones, and 4G connectivity. We can do a multitude of tasks on the go, and learning is one of them. For example, mobile apps are great for learning languages and improving your vocabulary. While Duolingo can help you learn French, German, and Spanish…VolT can refine your English vocabulary.
Mobile apps are also a great way to get daily news, GK facts, and solve puzzles to improve logical thinking.
Online courses Several websites provide dedicated courses on specific subjects. Many of these courses are free. Two years ago, when I wrote for a band, I took an online song writing course from Berklee College of Music.
Seeing that it was a good and cost-effective way to learn, I took more online courses.
You can take online courses on science, marketing, business, and entrepreneurship. On MOOC platforms like Coursera, you can scout any kind of course from universities around the globe.
Books What better way to learn than to read books?
The most successful people in the world - invariably it seems - have insatiable reading habits. Books - be it fiction like The Alchemist or non-fiction like Steve Jobs' biography - are a source of knowledge, life-lessons, and inspiration. Never stop reading.
You can browse through thousands of books on Flipkart, Amazon, etc., and choose the genre that interests you.
Institutes and workshops If you want to learn something that requires practice, you may want to enrol in a workshop or institute. For instance, if you want to act…it's a good idea to join a theatre workshop - where you learn to perform on stage in front of an audience. Reading might tell how to act, but you only learn to do it through practice. Same for sports, music, public speaking, etc.
To find good institutes and workshops, keep an eye on your local newspaper, consult people around you, or scout websites like eventshigh and allevents.
Research before getting started After selecting your medium, start researching it. For example, if you choose a mobile app…make sure it has a good rating and user reviews on Play Store. These are reviews from people who have already used it, sharing with us whether the app proved good for them.
In the same way, before enrolling in a class or workshop, make sure to get an opinion from the previous students. Your research will help you get the best education out there.
Don't lose focus and update regularly Knowledge is perishable. Can you remember the Preamble of India? Or Charles' law? I used to score well in mathematics, but today I can't solve a single matrices question. If not renewed, our education and intellectual abilities degrade over time. And this directly affects our calibre, attitude, and growth.
Successful people know that learning is not just a phase in life. It is a lifelong endeavor that pays financial, intellectual, and spiritual dividends. Never hesitate to invest time and money in your education; every penny invested in yourself will come back as a bag of gold.
Dinner is an important meal in my house. While our kids were growing, it was practically the only time we were all together. Five times a week, K would cook a great and healthy meal. Usually fresh vegetables, some pasta or potatoes, and fresh fish or organic chicken. We would come to the table well-dressed and with our hands washed. And everyone would be expected to eat properly and engage in sociable conversation.
Things were more relaxed on the weekends. On Saturday night, K and I had a 'date,' and the boys ate with friends or cousins. On Sunday night, we all went to a local restaurant - most often Mexican or Italian.
Although K and I are empty nesters now, we still like the formality of our at-home dinners. She still cooks great meals, even if they're just for the two of us. My contribution is very modest (and gives me great pleasure). Based on what K is cooking, I go out to the wine cellar and select a bottle for us to drink.
We eat at home just three or four times a week nowadays. On Wednesday and Friday, we have separate dinner routines: a book club and girlfriends for her; a different book club and poker for me. Saturday is still date night. And Sunday is still Mexican or Italian.
So that's dinner. A pleasant mix of formality and informality, dining with K and with friends.
The rest of my eating routine is designed around my work schedule.
I used to eat weekday breakfasts and lunches at restaurants, usually with a colleague. It felt like I was accomplishing more by making those meals business meals, but in retrospect I can see how much time I was wasting. (Plus, all that restaurant food was starting to make me fat.)
Between driving to and from, waiting to order, waiting for the food, and waiting for the check, eating at restaurants is a very inefficient process. Yes, you can have a business conversation while eating, but with very few exceptions it would be better conducted and take less time in the office.
Also, you can't work on documents very well when you have a plate of food in front of you. For another thing, you can't think well when you're hungry or express yourself well with food in your mouth.
These days, eating in restaurants is strictly a social pastime for me - a time to relax with friends and family members, usually on the weekend. During the week, I eat breakfast at home and lunch at my desk.
I will schedule or attend a business lunch (or breakfast) for only one reason: when the purpose is to interview a key person for one of my companies. I like the idea of including a meal in the interview process for the very reason I don't like business lunches: because eating is a social function. I like seeing the social side of someone I'm going to hire. I want to see how he or she operates outside of an office building. I also like to see how job candidates treat the waiter and busboy. It tells me about their character. And character is my top priority in judging a job candidate's worthiness.
Other than that, how do I feed myself?
It's very simple.
Here's my routine: Meal One: 7:00 a.m., while editing poetry. Two fried eggs (organic). One piece of toasted hemp bread. Fresh juice. Coffee. Water.
Meal Two: 11:00 a.m., while writing in my studio. Blended vegetable drink or a piece of toasted hemp bread with organic peanut butter. Water.
Meal Three: 1:00 p.m. or 1:30 p.m., after my workout. Salad with chicken or fish. Iced tea.
Meal Four: 6:30 p.m., after my second workout. Protein shake.
Meal Five: 7:30 p.m. A well-balanced dinner.
Meal Six: Does not exist when I'm being good. Once or twice a week I snack on something. When I do, I always regret it.
Like my work routine, my eating routine has been developed over time. It is now designed to give me optimum energy throughout the day and provide me with the nutrients I've been told I need to lead a healthy life.
Most of my current eating habits have been influenced by the research that my personal physician, Dr. Al Sears, has done on the subject. Al's approach to food is not difficult to understand: he believes that natural is better.
In particular, he advocates an eating regime that is consistent with how our long-ago ancestors had to eat: fish, free-range poultry, organic vegetables that grow above the ground, berries and fruits. He warns against grains, grain-fed meat, and anything that is infused with hormones and chemicals.
In The Doctor's Heart Cure, he puts it this way:
Remember those four basic food groups from grade school health class? If you've forgotten them, don't worry about it, they don't tell you anything about your natural diet. They were a nutritionist's attempt to make sense of a very contrived artificial diet based on grains and other processed foods…
… You don't have to count calories or record fat grams to achieve your ideal weight and maintain optimal cardiovascular health. All you have to do is to eat the same ratio and quality of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that we have for eons. How are you going to do that? Get started by remembering these three easy principles:
Principle #1: Eat protein at every meal
Principle #2: Limit carbohydrate intake
Principle #3: Eat natural fats
A typical day's meals for me supply the following nutrients:
Quantity Food Fat (g) Protein (g) Carbs (g) Fiber (g) 2 Eggs 10 14 1 0 1 Hemp Bread 2 4 12 5 8 oz Coffee 0 0.28 0 0 2 oz Apple Juice 0.07 0.4 7 0.1 8 oz Vegetable Shake 0 12 3 95 1 cup Green Salad 0.05 4 1 0.5 6 oz Broiled Fish 13 42 0 0 16 oz Iced Tea 0 0 1.4 0 8 oz Protein Shake 2 7 4 2 8 oz Grass-Fed Lamb 6 56 0 0 1 cup Green Beans 0.4 4 10 2.6 1 large Baked Potato 0.4 9 63 6.6 3 oz Cheddar Cheese 28 21 1 0 1 glass Red Wine 0 0.1 3.8 0 2 cups Berries or Grapes 1.6/1.5 3/2 30/55 16 TOTALS 63.5/62.4 176.4/175.5 137.162.2 127.8 I have tried dozens of eating plans over the year. This one works best for me. I like being able to eat five times a day. I don't mind if each of those meals is small. Food is primarily fuel for me. I want to put the highest quality fuel I can into my body as often as I can.
Of course, you don't have to eat exactly the same foods that I do. What you eat is a matter of personal choice. But to stay productive, energetic, and healthy, I recommend that you try for a similar balance of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber.
When you're full of energy, your goals will be easier to tackle. And you'll enjoy their achievement even more when you're feeling healthy and strong.
Ritika Bajaj Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, defined a 'connector' as “someone who knows many people.” But a connector doesn't just know many people, and have a wide network, he goes beyond that. He understands how he can connect two people. And he does this purely with the intention to help out, without expecting anything in return.
Wikipedia explains this well, saying connectors 'usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who “link us up with the world…people with a special gift for bringing the world together”.'
This 'special gift' of a connector stems from a deep-seated belief that his good deeds will eventually pay off - if not in the short term, in the long run. His understanding comes from knowing that everyone is connected to everyone and the more you connect, and join the dots, the sooner will the dots join back to you.
As an entrepreneur and employee, being a connector can help you progress much faster than you had expected. Everyone likes people who are helpful, and willing to share of themselves and their contacts. It reflects self-confidence and generosity.
But what is the mindset and skillset you need to become a good connector, one who is remembered even after you make those initial introductions. This essay will expound on that…
The difference between a networker and a connector Before we discuss the skills needed, let's understand the difference between a 'networker' and 'connector'. While both networkers and connectors focus on relationships and understand their value in the personal and professional world, they have different intentions…
The networker looks at relationships to advance his own career, while the connector consciously looks at ways to advance the careers of those in his network. In simple terms, one is in it for himself, one is in it for the other.
This may seem like a small difference, but for those who have been in business for some time, this is a big one… It truly reflects your place in society… It shows how far you've come with the network you've built and it also reflects your inherent sense of responsibility toward that network.
When you're willing to connect two people, it essentially means you're willing to put your own relationships at stake. You may have built a good personal rapport with people, but till you don't leverage that for the larger good, that network only serves you.
The other difference seen between networkers and connectors, is that while networkers are more of opportunists and 'social climbers', looking to meet people in higher positions, connectors looks to lift those in lower positions with those in higher positions. A connector helps boost someone's position.
The attitude and skills needed as a connector Being a connector requires more than practice, it requires developing an attitude and inculcating a life skill. And here's how that happens…
Put the other before yourself: Being a true connector is about helping another. You may eventually benefit from the introductions you make, but that should not be your primary motive. And hence, putting the other at the centre of those introductions is important.
For this, you may also need to know more about the people you connect. So ask questions about what they would like to do, how they spend their time, what their dreams or aspirations are in terms of a career. Once you get to know them better, you will be able to connect them to the right people. Get out of your comfort zone: In the case of a networker, you just have to go up and introduce yourself, but in the case of a connector, you have to go one step further and introduce that person to another person. And not many people are comfortable doing that, but it needs to be done at all times…
Whenever you're standing with two people, introduce them to each other, and give a little more information on the persons introduced than just their names or where they work. Personalising introductions requires some prior knowledge about the two, and a feeling of warmth and genuine concern on your end. Circulate as much as you can: As a connector, you will have to be out and about town attending networking events or even facilitating them in order to make connections. Nothing can be done sitting in the comfort of your home or office. So attend as many networking events as you can, and ensure you 'see' and are 'being seen' in the right places.
Joining trade organisations or online networking groups also helps you find people to connect with… Just in case you don't get many opportunities to go out. Linkedin groups or Quora are interesting places to expand your professional network. Moreover, by viewing people's profile online you already get a sense of their background, helping you join the dots faster. Join the dots, and quickly: Being a connector requires you to not just think ahead, but to think fast. You will meet a vast number of people, but the beauty of that network is when you connect one to the other with ease. This requires you to quickly tap into your resources and seek out who may be a good connect for someone.
Thus as a connector, you need to be a quick and resourceful thinker, one who can work all the knowledge at your disposal and give it some shape and direction. Additionally, you yourself should become the go-to person for many. People should look at you as a valuable resource for information for a particular industry or for your knowledge of people. So keep sharing ideas and anecdotes on your life, either online or offline… This helps people flock to you. Staying connected doesn't end: People change places, jobs and career paths. Thus stay abreast of these changes in their lives by staying connected with them. Send the occasional email or text message asking them what's new in their life.
This holds truer when you're reaching out to connect them with someone. You can ask them if they are still pursuing that particular business or interest, and if they would be interested in connecting with someone who can take that further. Seeking permission holds good for two people whose profiles you are updated with too… Getting consent removes any probable miscommunication between the contacts. The advantage of being a connector in society is unparalleled. And in fact, the most powerful and successful individuals pride themselves on exactly this skill. I remember Nandan Nilekani of Infosys once said in a newspaper interview, that all he attributed his success to was 'connecting people and joining the dots'. What he said sounds easy, but requires a lot of hard work. So get ready, to reach out to people and connect them, and be sure to get ahead in your life and career.
A few years ago, I was managing the counter of my restaurant when a customer started a conversation. Our regular customers often do…
'What are you doing these days?'
'My grad in business administration,' I said.
'Good', he replied. 'Your grandfather ran one of the most successful businesses in town!'
Then he said something I'll never forget…
'And he had no degree in business administration. Remember that it takes something else…something more.'
When my grandfather departed for a better place, the first tribute he got was from a relative who addressed him as laxmi-putra (son of Laxmi, goddess of wealth in Hindu mythology).
It made me think. Though society confers many titles on successful people, no honorific can do justice to a lifetime of will and hard work.
When my grandpa was in his twenties, all he had was a small rented space…a stove…and one pair of clothes he washed every night and wore again in the morning.
But in his fifties, he was one of the most respected men in town - owning a successful business, a large home, acres of land, and above all, a repute that makes us all proud till date.
One evening, as I sat with him, he casually shared what he went through to establish his restaurant business.
Like anyone who's paved their own way to success, grandfather's journey was - and is - full of lessons.
And though all of them are priceless, I always return to three in particular that inspire me to pursue my own dreams. And I thought I'd share them with you today…
Give your all Grandpa was a born businessman. He realised his calling at an early age. It wasn't by chance that he chose business; it was his choice. And after making his choice, he didn't stop until he achieved his goals - and he didn't stop then either.
No matter the season or day, grandpa would start work at six in the morning and continue till 11.30 at night. He worked for eighteen hours a day, every day.
Many people would say this is not a way to live…or perhaps that my grandfather was a 'workaholic'. But I say that he gave time to what he deeply loved. Business and family came first, and then old music. No travel, no movies, no other hobbies.
While many people may disagree with his lifestyle, I discern a deep learning from it: Know your goals, put them first, and give them everything you got.
Be your own competition Grandpa's restaurant remains popular because of its quality of food and service.
When his competitors - none of whom survived long - compromised on quality for quantity, he always delivered the best. He started in the 1950s, and went against the traditional notions of business to put his customer first.
I did what I wanted. I never saw or judged what others did. I never heard what others said. I only aimed to give the best food at a right price, nothing else. He competed with himself… When you compete with yourself, you get better and better - and it doesn't even matter what others do.
Persevere when results don't show When grandpa started off, it was years before he got a taste of success.
Every day there was a new battle. People insisted that I should shut down. There were no sales, and sometimes I had to wait for a customer till 2am just so I could survive next day.
But I never gave up and never lost hope. It takes a lot of courage to persevere when results don't show up. But if you have courage, nothing will be able to stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Grandpa never retired. He worked till he was 87…till his last breath. I don't remember him taking a vacation either. He built his name and his wealth through tremendous personal power. And he left a trail for me and others to follow.
There are many success stories in the world. Though my grandfather's is not as big or not as famous and might not be talked about, it will inspire me. And I will look up to his many lessons that live after him.
If you're not a wealth builder through luck, you can be through extraordinary skill, persistence, and hard work.
Boldness in taking on new business opportunities is considered by many to be a virtue. And timidity, a vice.
I'm not so sure.
When I am bold, I often gamely invest my time and money into projects that are foolish, unnecessary, and/or unlikely to succeed. When I am feeling timid, I shy away from good and likely opportunities.
Emotional tendencies matter. If you know your basic nature, you'll be able to make better business and investment decisions by taking contravening measures against your dominant mood.
How do you figure out such a thing? Here are a few suggestions:
First, determine your basic nature: Are you fundamentally an optimist or a pessimist? Answering the following two sets of five questions should help:
When offered investment or business opportunities, are you instantly and positively excited? Do you find yourself immediately imagining how good it will be? Do you often take on projects that you regret later on? Do you enjoy meeting new people, seeing new sights, and going on adventures? When talking about a new business or investment with friends or colleagues, do you tend to exaggerate or minimize the benefits and profit potential? Do you often take on social obligations you later regret? If you answered yes to three or more of these five questions, I would call you generally optimistic. You may even be overly optimistic.
Now answer these five questions:
Do you feel that, generally speaking, you have more challenges and obligations than you can properly handle? In social situations, do you find yourself often thinking about business obligations or problems? Do you have difficulty staying in the “here and now”? On a scale of one to 10, would you rate your boss and colleagues higher than seven? Do you often feel anxious or even sad about going on business trips or attending business functions? Do you fantasize often about retiring or quitting your job and getting another one? If you answered yes to three or more of these last five questions, you might have pessimistic tendencies. If you answered yes to all five, you are probably overly pessimistic.
Admittedly, this is not a scientific test. But optimism and pessimism aren't really scientific terms. They describe emotional tendencies, not medical conditions. And as I said above, emotional tendencies matter when it comes to business decisions.
To push back against your dominant mood, then, here is what I recommend doing…
If you are an optimist, curb your enthusiasm. Understand that there is a part of your brain that is not operating efficiently. That is the part that, in other people, causes doubt and fear.
Be happy that you have a frame of mind that gives you the feeling that you can accomplish just about anything, but promise yourself that you'll run all your important impulses through an outside filter.
Don't sign any contracts or agree to any business deals without running them by a trusted lawyer and accountant first. Tell your advisers that their job is to spot the problems and to be tough on you when you try to dismiss them with quick rhetoric. (That's what you'll want to do when they toss a pail of cold water on your fire.)
Don't buy anything expensive on the spot. And don't agree to buy anything on the spot, either. When you find yourself alone in a sales situation, try to cancel the meeting and reschedule it for a time when a trusted (i.e., pessimistic) adviser can accompany you.
This applies to all significant purchases, including investments in financial instruments, real estate, businesses, and toys. Decide for yourself what is significant. A good rule of thumb: Do this for anything that amounts to more than 1% of your (or your company's) net worth.
Don't hire anyone on the spot. (Follow the advice above.)
Don't fire anyone on the spot.
Don't take a job on the spot. If it's perfect and you love it, say, “I'd love to accept this right now because I know it's perfect for me and I'm sure I'll do the job you are expecting me to do. But I promised my wife (mother, uncle, etc.) that I'd speak to her/him first, and I never break my promises. Can I get back to you with a positive response at 9 a.m. tomorrow?”
Don't send out “reactive” emails on the spot. Wait 24 hours and then either delete or modify the email. If, in reading the email 24 hours later, you get angry again and want to send it out unchanged, hold off for another 24 hours. Don't send out that first email under any circumstances. You will regret it.
Don't ever say anything in an email about anyone unless you wouldn't mind them reading it… because they surely will.
The same rule applies to anything written in letters or spoken on the phone or in person.
If you are a pessimist, fill your glass a bit more. Accept the fact that you have some deficiency in your brain chemistry. Recognize that your instinctive tendency to see the dark side can sometimes limit your success by dampening your enthusiasm or the enthusiasm of others.
Be happy that you have a natural ability to detect the potential problems in every situation. Use that talent to assess the risks and problems inherent in any major venture you undertake.
Make it a habit to always say something positive before you say whatever it is that's on your mind. If you think the soup is over salted, say, “Gee, this soup has a great texture and a perfect temperature. It would be even better if it were a little less salty.” (Note: Try always to avoid the dreaded - and easily detected - “but” signal. As in, “The soup was great, but…”)
After you get through writing your daily task list, spend five or 10 minutes visualizing every task. Imagine yourself happily achieving the objective. Even if you find the job odious and the person you are doing it with repugnant, find some way to imagine actually enjoying the experience.
This may seem like advice that borders on the silly - it certainly did to me when I first tried it - but you'll be amazed at how well it works. Not only will you feel better about the task when you do it, but you'll also accomplish your objectives more easily and with less resistance from the other parties involved.
Practice smiling in the mirror. Do this as often as you can stomach it. And then do it some more. Again, this advice may seem ludicrous… but it will work.
When talking on the phone, smile. The person on the other end is cueing off the energy from your voice. If you want him to respond enthusiastically to your ideas, you need to breathe that enthusiasm into the tone of your voice.
Every time you see someone for the first time, greet him with a firm handshake, a smile, and a confident “eye lock.”
If you are bipolar (like me), learn how to recognize what mood you are in. You may find that your mood swings between optimism and pessimism. If you are like me, that swing can be very large.
After going through a rather deep depression some time ago, I began to chart my mental state in terms of how I felt, what I thought about, and what sort of functionality I had.
At the bottom of the scale, I felt suicidal, had repetitively negative thoughts, and could not get out of bed or even carry on a conversation. At the top of the scale, I was euphoric. I loved everyone and everything I encountered.
By logging my moods every two or three hours over a six-month period, I discovered that when I was below a 6, I made bad decisions. I shied away from every challenge or opportunity, including many that could do me nothing but good.
When I was above an 8, I often made bad decisions in the other direction. I would take on almost any new project or invest in any new business opportunity.
Nowadays, I follow a rule that keeps me in good stead. I never make business or investment decisions unless I'm in the 6 to 8 range.
You don't have to use my system to get the same effect. Simply recognize that if you have significant mood swings, you should defer decisions when you are feeling especially good or bad.
In other words, say yes to new opportunities only when you are not being swayed by your emotions. Whether optimistic, pessimistic, or something in between, recognize that whatever your goals are, you'll have a better chance of achieving them if you approach them with a level mood.
Of all the many prescriptions for happiness that populate the media these days, the most popular one is also the stupidest. I'm talking about the idea that you can defeat depression by “paying attention to yourself.”
The truth is that paying attention to yourself doesn't make you happy at all. In fact, the more attention you give yourself, the less happy you are likely to be. Focusing inward can perpetuate your feelings of hopelessness.
60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace defined depression this way: “Sunshine means nothing to you. The seasons, friends, or good food mean nothing. All you do is focus on yourself and how bad you feel.”
Think of the least-happy people you know. What are they always talking about? Their accomplishments. Their troubles. Their hopes. Their worries. Their this. Their that. In short, themselves.
I have a friend. Let's call her Shaila. Shaila is a smart, good-looking woman, but she can't maintain long-term relationships. She has no idea why this is true. “People are always disappointing me,” she says. And she has stories.
We have lunch together two or three times a year. And at every meeting, Shaila talks non-stop about all the people who have failed her. She complains about her boss. She gripes about her husband. She does it with a certain sense of humour - but it is all “Wah! Wah! Wah! What about me?”
I've suggested to Shaila that she would be happier if she did some volunteer work or took on a hobby. Perhaps got a pet. But she doesn't listen.
To the outside observer, Shaila has nothing to complain about. She has perfect health. She has a healthy family. And she is financially independent - putting her among the luckiest people on earth. Yet from her perspective - from the inside - she sees nothing but negatives.
You probably have a Shaila in your life. Maybe more than one.
The trouble with the Shailas of the world is that they spend too much of their valuable time thinking and talking about themselves. Their lives never get any better. And they can't figure out why. They believe the solution lies in getting other people to feel sorry for them. They don't understand that seeking attention is a big part of their problem.
I have a theory about why this is so.
There are essentially two impulses in the universe: contraction and relaxation. Everything - every animate and inanimate thing - is, literally, becoming more or less dense at any given moment. The ultimate denseness is a black hole, which sucks in light but gives out none.
As psychological creatures, our consciousness is always in flux between the contraction and the dissolution of the ego. Our egocentric impulses are the source of much of the work we do and the art we create, but they are also the source of tension, sickness and despair. Our dissolution impulses are the source of our loving relationships. They relax us and prepare us to accept the ultimate dissolution of the ego, which is death.
Contraction gives us the egoistic pleasure of being loved - being acknowledged and appreciated. Relaxation gives us the exocentric pleasure of doing the loving - of our work, our lives and the people who inhabit them.
Both contraction and relaxation can deliver pleasure, but the pleasure of contraction (the pleasure of the ego) is temporary, whereas the pleasure of relaxation is the enduring pleasure of the soul.
It feels good to have people pay attention to you. But even at its most intense (imagine being a movie star), the pleasure dissipates almost as soon as the attention shifts away. And when the pleasure of the ego leaves, a vacuum of sadness takes its place.
It's like taking drugs. The effect is temporary. It's addictive. It leaves you wanting more. And each time you get more, it is not enough. Eventually, it kills you.
“Enough of all this deep thinking,” you say. “What does this have to do with me?”
Just this: The next time you are feeling sad or angry, recognize that there is a way to become happy again: Relax your ego.
Accept the fact that it is perfectly normal to feel crummy sometimes.
Despite your core strengths and your many accomplishments, you will occasionally find yourself down in the dumps. It's natural for ambitious people (like yourself) to feel that way. As productivity expert Tim Ferriss says, “The occasional bouts of self-doubt and sadness are an integral part of building anything remarkable.”
If you are upset because of something you did to yourself, forgive yourself.
It's okay. You screwed up. What matters is what you do next, not what you just did.
I sometimes get angry when I feel pressured by work obligations. But when I examine the reason for all the work, it's usually because I volunteered to take it on in the first place. When I recognize that my mood is being affected by my own prior actions, I remind myself that I'm lucky. “It's okay that you are angry. But you don't have to be. You can get through today. And you can have better discipline tomorrow.” That's what I tell myself, and it helps me feel better instantly.
If you are upset because of something someone else did to you, take a chill pill.
Count to 10. Recognize that you can't control the behavior of other people. The only thing you can control is your response to their behavior. Nobody can take that away from you.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” said Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I used to get upset when my family, friends, or colleagues made a mistake. I realize now how stupid that was. It didn't do me any good. And it made me unproductive, unhappy and unpleasant to be around. I changed by learning to turn the other cheek. The moment I stopped resenting others for their shortcomings, I began to feel better about myself.
It's amazing how well this works.
Somebody bumps into you on the street and you sprain your ankle. You have a choice. You can be angry at that person. You can be upset with yourself for not being more aware of your surroundings. Or you can forgive the person and yourself and change the way you think about your injury. Rather than rue the inconvenience of being laid up for a week or two, see the recuperation period as a gift - the chance to start a new project or catch up on your reading.
Don't allow unrealistic expectations to interfere with your relationships.
(This is a subcategory of not allowing the behaviour of other people to upset you.)
Instead of being upset by your spouse's habit of (fill in the blank), resolve to accept the fact that she won't be changing and find a way to forgive her and even love her. Instead of being angry that your child is a slob, find a way to love him for his strengths while gently teaching him (by showing, not telling) the advantages of being orderly. Instead of being angry at your business partner because she didn't perform as well as you expected her to, learn to appreciate what she brings to the table and negotiate a new deal with her out of love, not anger.
Accepting people for who they are does not mean allowing them to make your life miserable. On the contrary, it means being realistic - realizing that 90 percent of the time, a person's fundamental characteristics cannot be changed. If you find a certain behavior unacceptable, you change the way you deal with it (something you can do) instead of trying to change the person (which you can't do).
If you are upset because of circumstances beyond your control, take a double dose of chill pill.
If it's one thing psychology has taught us, it's that you can deal with your troubles more effectively if you define them as “problems” (which can be solved) or “predicaments” (which can be coped with).
Getting caught in a storm or catching a cold is not a reason to get mad at yourself. Neither, by the way, is being caught in a worldwide economic collapse.
If you are unhappy at work, find a way to care about what you're doing.
As Albert Camus said, “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” You won't experience happiness if you work at a job you hate or if you do poor work on a project you like. But if you learn to care about the work you do, you will find that your energy will improve and you will start to enjoy it.
Engage in some sport or challenging exercise - something that is so demanding, you can't do it while thinking.
Walking, stretching, and yoga are great forms of exercise. If you do them with a tranquil mind, they will make you healthy and happy, too. But if you do them when you are sad and feeling sorry for yourself, they will give you no relief. You will forget about the exercise and focus on your negative thoughts. That will make things worse.
Recognize that the health of your body has a great deal to do with your mood.
If you are feeling bad much of the time, you probably need to make a few lifestyle changes. To wit:
Eat healthy. Eating too many carbohydrates will make you crazy, cranky and tired. To have consistent energy all day, use food like fuel. Eat six smallish meals a day, avoiding junk food and favoring organics, lean meats and plenty of protein.
For specific advice on healthy eating and exercise, read my previous essay, “Maximum Health for a Full-Capacity Life.”
Sleep and rest adequately. For me, adequate sleep is a major contributor to feeling good. Studies show that people who get seven good hours of sleep a night live longer, suffer from fewer illnesses and achieve more because they have more energy. If you get tired during the day, take a short nap.
Get the advice of a good doctor about antidepressants. I'm generally against putting chemicals in my body. I much prefer natural cures. But antidepressants have helped some people close to me, and may help you, too.
Take positive steps to focus “outward” instead of “inward” - to pay less attention to yourself and more attention to others.
A few examples:
Make your friends happy. Smile when you see them. Listen to their stories. Give them the advice they want and shut up when they don't want any. Become the person they turn to when the chips are down. Learn to love their peccadilloes and encourage them to overcome their faults. Above all, be loyal.
Be a reliable and steady resource for your business colleagues. Help them achieve their goals - not because you want them to reciprocate in some way, but simply because you care about them and want them to succeed.
Do something for someone you don't know - a stranger you come upon, a foster child, or a sick or poor person who can benefit from your help. Spend time and money.
Make this outward focus a natural part of your daily life. Do it purposefully and deliberately until it becomes second nature. You will know when that happens because you'll be feeling happy most of the time - and when you become sad or angry, you'll be able to get over it quickly and easily.
My wife and I abused our children.
With Liam, our first, we shared an unspoken ambition of gracing the world with the first perfect child.
To achieve that goal, we did all that we felt might give him an edge in his pre-toddler years. We fed him the right foods, read him the best books, and kept all but the most intellectually stimulating toys from his grasp.
As he advanced toward early adolescence, we accelerated our efforts at improving him, despite some hairline cracks in the shell of his youthful perfection. Most of our free time was spent chauffeuring him to and from myriad educational, sporting, and social events.
And we didn't simply drop him off to fend for himself. We stayed there to “support” him by shouting at him from the sidelines and sometimes offering his teachers, trainers, and coaches the benefit of our amateur opinions.
We hardly noticed that we were suffocating him with our egocentric intentions. Nor were we aware that we must have looked just as obnoxious and overbearing as all the other parents who were doing pretty much the same thing with their children.
When Patrick, our second, was born, our goals were less ambitious. We could tell almost as soon as he slid into the world that he had a different personality than his older brother and might likely turn out differently even if our parenting was exactly the same.
We continued to give Patrick the same basic educational, physical, and social advantages, but we no longer felt compelled to insert ourselves into every activity. We had more faith that other people - his teachers, coaches, tutors… his surrogate parents - would do as well as or better than we would.
By the time Michael, our third son, was born, we had come to the conclusion that hyper-parenting had little long-term benefit. Some of it was negative.
So with Michael, we provided most of the same educational, physical, and social opportunities, but we were less insistent that he participate in all of them. And we left the coaching to the coaches.
Before “Helicopter Parenting” This ideal of hyper-parenting is quite recent. It has become common in upwardly mobile, upper-middle-class parents. Today, parents often spend fortunes to give their children early advantages.
For parents who have the money and the time, I believe it's quite natural for them to lavish so much of it on their first- and even second-born children in the belief that it will contribute to their later success.
I don't know for certain whether affluent parents in my generation coddled and “abused” their children with attention the way we did. But I doubt it. The great majority of them simply couldn't afford it. And a good percentage of the affluent had more than three children. That's why I think the popular view of parenting back then was less about giving children every possible benefit and more about discipline and benign neglect.
My parents, for instance, expected all eight of their children to do daily and weekly chores (mine was to clean the bathrooms), walk a half-mile to school each day, and get good marks or there would be penalties to pay. On Saturday mornings, I worked with my father in the yard or fixing the house. On Sundays, after church but before we could go out, we had to memorize and recite a poem of my mother's choosing.
In terms of sporting options, there were only baseball teams, which only accepted about 20% of the children who tried out. As for other sports, we had to find empty lots and open fields to play them. And we did so without parental involvement or concern.
Under the roof of our parents' house (it wasn't ours - the kids' - that was clear to us), we were strictly disciplined. Outside, we were largely left to fend for ourselves.
Some people today might consider this style of parenting abusive. And it's quite possible that many of my generation felt the same way. Or at least felt that it was inadequate. How else to explain the parents we became?
How to Cure Hyper-Parenting Syndrome There is a great deal of media support for this child-centric approach to parenting… in books, in magazine articles, and on television.
Rude, self-centered children (whose parents are forever trying to satisfy their never-ending, always escalating demands) populate practically every movie made by Steven Spielberg and his ilk.
It was refreshing, then, to run across a book that takes a different point of view.
The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap takes the position that it may be better to let your kids control more of their own time.
Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, the author, recommends limiting the number of formal activities you put your child in. “Think before you sign your child up for something,” he says. “Do the benefits outweigh the sacrifices?”
Instead of making the child the center of your universe, he suggests, make the family the center. The family starts with the parents but includes the kids. Family activities - things you do together - are good for your kids, even if they don't think so at first.
This is the approach K and I developed. Not purposefully, but naturally over time. On week-long vacations in Nicaragua, for example, we did crossword puzzles together and took Spanish lessons (in two groups: beginner and intermediate), and played cards, horseshoes, and even charades.
After some initial whining, the kids' complaints diminished and were gradually replaced with chatter and good-natured banter and even laughter. As one day followed the next, the initial resistance to these low-tech ways of having fun morphed into a restrained interest and finally into unashamed enthusiasm.
Childhood is preparation, Rosenfeld reminds us, not a performance. Yes, we all want our children to be as wonderful as we know they can be - but a major part of having a good and productive life is learning how to be good and happy in a family situation. Turning off the television and banning video games is a good way to start.
That said, here are 10 antiquated rules (some from Rosenfeld and some from our own experience) for raising pretty good kids:
No more than one extracurricular activity at a time. And try not to get too involved. When you go to games or performances, don't cheer more loudly for your child than you do for others. And never, ever complain to their coaches or teachers about how much play time they are getting. Give your children plenty of time away from you. You are not supposed to be their best friend, so don't take up all their after-school and weekend hours. Let them make their own friends and find their own places to play. Don't worry so much about how dangerous it is out there. It's no more dangerous than it was when you were a kid. It's just that you are more paranoid than your parents were. Make them do chores. Aside from having them clean up after themselves and keep their rooms cleaned (zero-tolerance policies on these), assign them weekly family chores like washing floors or folding laundry. Teach them that family work is shared by all members of the family. The older they get, the more they can do. Make their weekly allowances embarrassingly low. My son Michael, when he was 15, got about $3 per week. That seems insane even to me, but my wife K stuck to it and it has had a profound and beneficial effect on our children. They don't hit us up for money. Let them earn money. They won't be able to buy much with their allowances, so give them a chance to work for extra cash. Paid jobs take place after the non-paid family chores are done. Wages should be generous but not excessive. Make them save half of what they earn. Use the “Seeds of Wealth” system to ensure that your children not only understand the value of saving but actually build the beginnings of their future wealth by putting away 50 cents on every dollar they make or are given. No television. We didn't have a TV set while the kids were young - and that was a major blessing. But if you don't want to give up your idiot box, at least restrict its use to an hour or two each weekend day. No video game consoles. By now you are thinking that K and I were nuts. But we successfully banned all Game Boys, PlayStations, etc., from the house - and it worked surprisingly well. It forced the kids to focus on other things. Not every child is capable of straight As - but unless your child has a learning problem, you should be able to get a solid B average out of him. When the grades fall below that, lay on the penalties. When they meet your modest (B) expectations, give them a modest reward. Pay attention to them. Try to be involved in your kids' lives through conversations about their chores, their schooling, and their friends. Know the players, the dramas, and the feelings associated with them. Okay, I never did do much of this. But K did. And it seems to have paid off. Doing these things developed her relationship with the kids into a connection that I'm missing. Don't end up where you look back and think, “Would have… Should have…”
We begin our work today with the most important challenge of your wealth-building goal: I am going to ask you to turn over a new leaf.
Why? Because until now - for whatever reason - you have failed to become wealthy, or at least as wealthy as you want to be. And that is why you joined the Wealth Builders Club - to see if we couldn't help you achieve your financial goals.
Yesterday, I outlined all the work we'll be doing together in the coming year. Some of that work will require you to develop special skills. Some will require you to develop new habits. Some of it will require you to learn new things. But most importantly, it will challenge you to think about wealth, and your relationship to wealth, in new ways.
All this takes not only a commitment to work but also a willingness to change.
Let me to begin by telling you about my own struggle with change…
“You show up late for class, seldom complete your assignments, and spend much of your class time daydreaming. Yet you produce C+ and B- work. Were you a child with modest potential, I would be happy with such grades. But you, Mr. Ford, are an underachiever.”
I was in tenth grade when Mrs. Growe, my homeroom teacher, called me out in front of my class. I was not surprised or insulted by the assessment. It was accurate. I knew it.
There were reasons. I was dyslexic. I had ADD (attention deficit disorder), and there were those adolescent hormones. But I always knew I could overcome them if I put my mind to it. Mrs. Growe had my number. I was a slacker.
I was a slacker and an underachiever, but I wasn't without academic ambitions. I fantasized about being accepted into a prestigious university despite my mediocre grades. Every six months or so I promised myself I would “turn over a new leaf” and spent the next several weeks working hard and making progress.
But that never lasted. I did manage to score well on the SATs, but my overall academic CV was such that my guidance counselor recommended a local community college or the U.S. Army.
The community college was happy to take my $400 per year and would have been equally happy to give me the Cs I had been earning in high school. But something changed that summer. I wasn't willing to be the underachiever any longer.
Going to a C school, I realized, was a benefit in disguise. I was going to be in an academic environment where mediocrity held sway - where I would be competing with mediocre students.
That thought was motivating. Equally motivating was the realization that this was a genuine second chance. My past was past. If I could do well during my first year, I could apply to a better college to get my degree.
And then there was a third thing: the thought that none of my new teachers or fellow students would know me. I would be coming into this new environment as an unknown person, not the perennial class clown I had been in high school. I could come into class on time, take a seat in the front of the class, and pay attention.
In short, it was an opportunity to “impersonate” a good student.
And that's exactly what I did.
From Slacker to Diligent Student I spent a good bit of time that summer on the college campus, learning everything I could about it - the curriculum, the teachers, the facilities, the extra-curricular activities, etc. My idea was to get ahead of the competition by knowing all the rules and requirements, all the good classes, all the best teachers, and lots of shortcuts.
I showed up for classes in September on time, prepared with the required texts. I sat in the front row and raised my hand whenever the teacher asked questions. I did my homework assignments and spent my spare time studying. Between attending classes, studying, and running a house-painting business on the side, I worked 16 hours per day, seven days per week.
From the very first encounter with you, the messages resonated with me, and I knew in my soul that this was RIGHT for me and that I could trust your advice. I am watching our portfolio grow, I stay on task with comparing financial statements from one period to another, and I have learned at a pace that is very comfortable for me. Club member LH.
By the end of the first semester, I was known as an A student. And not just any A student, but one of the best. It was a very good feeling. I became addicted to it. I went on to a better college and a top-10 graduate school and managed, even with tougher competition, to stay at the top of my class.
I often think about how I managed to turn over that leaf. After trying and failing so many times, what was it about that last time that worked?
When I first wrote this essay, my theory was that I had bottomed out emotionally - that I was finally so disgusted with myself that it made a difference. But in thinking about it since then, I can't say that's true. I had been disgusted with myself many times before. No, it was something else.
I think the real difference was this: As a high school student I had created a persona - the smart slacker/class clown who would never take himself seriously. My fellow students seemed to like it when I played that role, and their approval mattered. This was, of course, a self-destructive character. So long as I believed I was it, I was doomed.
When I realized I'd be entering college as an unknown person, I also realized that the role I had been playing in high school was a role I didn't have to play in college. I could put on a new face and costume and act a different part.
Envision Your Best Self And this is the idea I want you to consider today.
Is it possible the person you are being right now is not the person you were meant to be?
Is it possible that there is a better version of yourself - a more thoughtful, more articulate, more skillful, and more accomplished role you could play?
Only you can answer those questions, but I have a hunch that you wouldn't be reading this right now if it weren't true.
When we have spent years struggling but failing in some aspect of our lives, it is normal to believe that we are “simply not good” at this or that.
But the past is past. It has no effect on your future. Past failures can hold you back only as long as you see yourself as a failure. Past behaviour is addictive only as long as you see yourself as an addict.
Your current and future behaviour is not linked to its past. It is linked to your mind - the one thing in life you have 100% control over.
Use your mind. Think about whether you are the person you always wanted to be. Ask yourself, “If I were starring in a movie about my life, what role would I best like to play?”
Begin with a vision of what you want to be. Then figure out how that person should be. How should he talk? How should he walk? How should he interact with other people?
When presented with a challenge, how should he respond? At what time does he rise every day? How does he spend his day?
You get the picture.
Do what I did that summer before I started college. Figure out the kind of role you want to play. And then start playing that role. Nobody can stop you!
All the best,
P.S. These thoughts apply to any sort of change you want to make. But we are together for a reason - to achieve financial independence in seven years. That is a possible goal, but it will be impossible for you unless you recognize that what you have been doing has not worked. Not everything. I'm quite sure that many of your decisions have been wise. But the sum of them has left you with less wealth than you need or want. You can change that now. Make a commitment.
I didn't always plan my days. For most of my career, in fact, I didn't.
I had written goals. And I referred to them regularly. My goals kept me pointed in the right direction, but I was always moving back and forth. Often for no good reason.
Driving to work in the morning, I would think about my goals. That helped motivate me and often gave me specific ideas about what tasks I should accomplish that day. I'd walk into work meaning to complete those tasks… but by the end of the day, many of them were not done.
What happened? The same thing that may be happening to you right now. You sit down at your desk, and there is a pile of new mail in your inbox. You pick up the phone, and 15 messages are waiting for you. You open your computer, and find that you've received 50 new e-mails since you last checked. You tell yourself that you will get to your important tasks later. Right now, you have to “clean up” all these little emergencies.
Before you know it, the day is over and you haven't taken a single step toward achieving your important goals. You make an effort to do something, but you are tired. Tomorrow, you tell yourself, you will do better.
Does that sound familiar?
If so, don't feel bad. You are in good company. Most people deal with their work that way. Even people who set goals and achieve them. Over the long term, they get everything done. But on a day-to-day basis, they are constantly frustrated.
You can be successful without planning your days… but you will have to work a lot longer and harder. The reason? When you don't plan your days, you end up working for other people - not just for yourself. You feel that before you get to your own work, you should first deal with their requests.
Starting your day by clearing out your inbox, voicemail inbox, and e-mail inbox is just plain dumb. Most of what is waiting for you every morning has nothing to do with your goals and aspirations. It is work that other people want you to do for them.
If you want to be the captain of your soul and the master of your future, you have to be in charge of your time. And the best way to be in charge of your time is to structure your day around a task list that you, and only you, create.
As I said, simply writing down my goals helped me accomplish a good deal. But my productivity quadrupled when I started managing my schedule with a daily task list. If you use the system I'm going to recommend, I'll bet you see the same improvement.
I have used many standard organizing systems over the years, but was never entirely satisfied with any of them. The system I use now is my own - based on the best of what I found elsewhere.
At the beginning of the year, I lay out my goals for the next 12 months. I ask myself “What do I need to achieve in January, February, etc. to keep myself on track?” Then, at the beginning of each month, I lay out my weekly objectives. Finally, every day, I create a very specific daily task list.
Here's how I do it…
My Personal Daily Task List I begin each day the day before.
What I mean by that is that I create my daily task list at the end of the prior day. I create Tuesday's task list at the end of Monday's workday. I create Wednesday's at the end of Tuesday's workday.I begin by reviewing the current day's list. I note which tasks I've done and which I have failed to do. My new list - the next day's task list - begins with those uncompleted tasks. I then look at my weekly objectives to see if there are any other tasks that I want to add. Then I look through my inbox and decide what to do with what's there. I may schedule some of those items for the following day. Most of them, I schedule for later or trash or redirect to someone else.
I do all this in pen on a 6? x 9? pad of lined paper. I divide the paper vertically to create columns for the tasks, for the time I estimate it will take to do each one, and for the actual time it takes me to complete it. I also create a column for tasks I will delegate to my assistant.
On most days, I end up with about 20 15-minute to one-hour tasks.
Here is a typical daily list.
I like doing this by hand, in pen and ink. You may prefer to do it on your computer. The point is to enjoy the process.
Because longer tasks tend to be fatiguing, I seldom schedule anything that will take more than an hour. If you have a task that will take several hours, break it up into pieces and do it over a few days. It will be easier to accomplish. Plus, you will probably do a better job because you'll be doing it with more energy and with time to review and revise your work as you go.
A typical day for me includes two or three one-hour tasks, three or four half-hour tasks, and a dozen or so 15-minute tasks. The kind of work you do may be different, but I like that balance. It gives me flexibility. I can match my energy level throughout the day to my task list.
Ideally, you should get all of your important tasks and most of your less important tasks done almost every day. You want to accomplish a lot so you can achieve your long-term goals as quickly as possible. But you also want to feel good about yourself at the end of the day.
You may find, as I did, that when you begin using this system you will be overzealous - scheduling more tasks than you can possibly handle. So set realistic time estimates when you write down your tasks. And double-check them at the end of the day by filling in the actual time you spent on each one.
When you complete a task, scratch it off your list. One task done! On to the next one! I've been doing this for years, and I still get a little burst of pleasure every time.
Creating each daily task list should take you less than 15 minutes. The secret is to work from your weekly objectives - which are based on your monthly and yearly goals.
This system may not work for you, but I urge you to give it a try. I think you'll like it.
Before your colleagues, competitors, and coworkers are even sipping their first cup of coffee, you'll have figured out everything you need to do that day to make you healthier, wealthier, and wiser. You will know what to do, you will know what your priorities are, and you will already be thinking about some of them. You will not have to worry about forgetting something important. And you will have a strong sense of energy and excitement, confident that your day is going to be a productive one.
To help you become successful… to get you closer to where you want to be in life, you need to have a Master Plan.
A Master Plan is what Jack Welch used to communicate and achieve his vision for General Electric. And it's what some professional sports coaches use to lead and motivate their teams when the prospect of winning a league championship that year or even the following one is next to zero. They know that instead of pumping up their players on the impossible dream, it's much more realistic - and can be just as exciting for them - to chart a longer-term success plan that will take them where they can hope to be.
The same process can help you achieve your personal goals.
Your personal Master Plan will be not only the foundation but also the blueprint of your success.
A Master Plan says that you are serious about your life goals. It is a formal contract between the visionary you and the daily, working you that lays out, point by point, what exactly has to be done to achieve all your major objectives over time.
The ability to concentrate and use your time well is everything if you want to succeed in business - or almost anywhere else, for that matter. - Lee Iacocca (Iacocca: An Autobiography)
The Master Plan works because it takes very large, sometimes very nebulous, ambitions and breaks them down into specific tasks - things you have to learn, things you have to know, and things you have to do. Transforming dreams into tasks may take away some of the romance, but what you're get instead is a growing excitement about how increasingly likely it is that you will accomplish your dreams.
The reason most people don't achieve their ambitions is NOT that they aren't smart enough, shrewd enough, or complicated enough. It's that they are emotionally too complex, shrewd, and smart. They allow themselves too many subconscious conflicts of interest which stall their progress or derail them.
Making a Master Plan work is about simplifying your interests and acting upon them in a very simple way. When you get the emotional gratification of taking one forward step toward one cherished goal, it will make it that much easier to take the next step.
Think of your Master Plan as a behaviour-response system for the ultra-sophisticated (and highly interesting) YOU.
To perform better than you have in the past (and achieve more than you have so far), you have to act differently now. And if you really want to achieve those dreams you dream about, you have to make sure that what you do today - this very day, not tomorrow - will move you closer to those dreams.
In order to accomplish all your most important goals, start today by selecting them. The rest is easy.
Don't be cynical. This can definitely change your life. It has worked for me and for everyone who has tried it, including dozens of individuals I've personal coached. So let's get started.
Take out a sheet of paper. Title it “Life's Goals” (if you have no shame) or “Stuff to Do Before I Croak” (if you are afraid someone will see it). Make a list of everything you want to accomplish. Everything. Life making a lot of money. Writing books. Traveling to Rome. Learning to tap dance. Write till you are done. Let it sit for a few hours. Even a day. Then narrow the list down to your top 10 choices. Take another rest. Now many another cut. This time, you have to select your top four goals. (If you are having trouble figuring out what is really important to you, do this: Imagine your obituary. What would you want said about you?)
These are your Life Goals, your ultimate priorities, the objectives that will make you the person you really want to be. Spend some time imagining yourself in the future, as you will be when you've accomplished them. Now, pick the one Life Goal that is numero uno. On a separate sheet of paper… or perhaps on an index card… write down your four Life Goals with your top choice on top. Highlight that one. Now you must make one final and very tough decision.
Now you have to decide whether achieving your top goal is THE MOST important thing to you. You need to ask yourself if you would sacrifice everything else in order to achieve it. Here's why: There is a 99% chance you will achieve your top goal if you are willing to do anything to achieve it. That may mean compromising one or several of the other three goals. If you don't want to compromise the others, don't fret. You still have a very good (over 80%) chance of achieving all four of your Life Goals with my program.
So decide: One goal and damn the rest? Or a balanced life?
OK. Here's what you need to do now. Convert your four Life Goals into five-year objectives. For example, let's say that one of your goals is to have a net worth of $10 million. And let's say that you want to retire in 10 years. You might make “having a $5 million net worth” your five-year goal.
You are going to use this five-year list to create your one-year list. And you will use your one-year list to create monthly lists. And you will use each monthly list to create your weekly lists. And your weekly lists to create your daily “to-do” lists.
I know. I know. But it works. It really works.
Next, I'll show you how to make this conversion from a five-year plan to a daily “to-do” list. One you can get to work on right away.
Every successful person I know (or have read about) gets to work early. It's such a universal trait of accomplished individuals, I'm tempted to say it is the first and foremost secret of success. “Early to bed and early to rise,” Ben Franklin said, “makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I used to think that was propaganda from a Puritan. Now I think it's an observation from a very wise man.
Healthy, wealthy, and wise. Let's start with wealthy - since that's what most people are interested in.
How does starting early make you rich?
There is no better time to collect your thoughts and plan your day than early in the morning when the office is quiet. Not only are you undisturbed by phone calls and interruptions, but ahead of you is the potential of an unopened day. The solitude promotes a kind of relaxed, contemplative mood. You feel free to think in an expansive way. Later on, when the place is noisy and the pressure is on, it's difficult to pay attention to what's important. You feel your attention drawn in several directions at once. You feel the pressure of deadlines. And you may be hit with bad news, which could put you in a bad, unproductive mood.
We must use time as a tool, not as a couch. - John Fitzgerald Kennedy
A near-perfect morning routine
Over the years, I've studied and experimented with dozens of time-saving techniques and organizational systems. The simple three-step program that follows is a unique combination of what in my experience is the best of the best.
Step One: Getting your inputs (5 - 10 minutes) Start with your weekly “to-do” list. (This is derived from your monthly “to-do” list, which comes from your yearly “to-do” list, which is a derivative of your five-year Life Goals list.) On a sheet of paper, jot down anything and everything you think needs to get done. Make sure you have at least one task associated with each of your four primary goals.
Now, scan your email. Don't read the messages. You will get bogged down if you do. Just give them a quick once-over to see if there is anything waiting for you that may need to be taken care of right away and/or will take some extra time.
Next, check your phone messages, faxes, and in box. Don't respond to anything. Your job for the moment is simply to amass it all.
When you have done all of this, you will have completed the first step of your morning routine. You will have gathered up all the work you might want to do that day. You will already be thinking about much of it. You will not have to worry about forgetting something important. And you will have a good idea of how much needs to be done.
Step Two: Sorting and Ordering (5-15 minutes) Now comes the fun part. Get out a clean sheet of paper - or an index card - and write the date on top. Referencing all the inputs you have just gathered, categorize each item according to the quadrant developed by Steven Covey (the “Seven Habits” guy) as either:
Important but urgent Important but not urgent Unimportant but urgent, or Unimportant and not urgent Then select the items that you intend to accomplish before the end of the day.
When you start out, you'll be lucky to complete 15 tasks, so be realistic in your planning. As you become better at time spacing, you will do more. On a good day, I can knock off 35-40 tasks.
Make sure your daily “to-do” list contains nothing that is Unimportant and Not Urgent and a diminishing number of Unimportant but Urgent items (since they indicate that you are not in control of your schedule).
Now highlight four or five of the items on your list. These should all be Important and Not Urgent. (The Urgent tasks you HAVE to do. The Important but Not Urgent tasks will advance your Life Goals. They are critical to your success, but you will almost certainly fail to do them unless you make them a priority. That's why you are highlighting them.)
To the side of each item, you might want to indicate how much time you think it will take. And then you might want to add another column to record the actual time each task took. (I run a subtotal of the cumulating times to the right of that so there is some relationship between what I want to do and how much time I have to do it.)
As a general rule, it's a good idea to structure all of your tasks so that none lasts more than an hour. Ten-minute, 15-minute, and 30-minute tasks are best. If you have something that takes several hours to do, break it up in pieces and do it over a few days. It will be better for the extra time you give it and you won't get crushed on any one day. Also, be sure to slot in time for relaxing, eating, etc. When you are done, double check to make sure the time you allocated does not exceed the time you have available.
You will have now finished Step Two. Your day is organized - not according to what others want from you but according to what you want from yourself. If you have never done this before, it will be a major change.
Step Three: Give your day a boost (30-60 minutes) Here's the best step. As your first task, take on one of the highlighted tasks. It might be something you enjoy doing or something you really don't want to do (because it will make you feel so good when it's done).
Do these three things right away - first thing when you get in (which should be about 90 minutes before everyone else) - and you will have accomplished more by starting time than most people do by lunchtime. (Or all day, for that matter, since most people see most of their day consumed by unimportant emergencies.)
Very Important: Make sure, as I said above, that you do at least one task each day to advance each of your four Life Goals. Really, you should do more than that. Your day's “to-do” list should roughly reflect, in terms of time devoted to each task, your Life Goals list, with priority given to your top goal, a bit less to your second, and so on.
Success is what happens when you do a little more each day
Success can come in a single windfall, but most often it arrives bit by bit. This is a way for you to give yourself a significant advantage over the people you compete with in life.
It actually gives you three advantages. You get much more done. You have to deal with far fewer unnecessary crises. And, most important, you spend a much greater percentage of your time doing things that you along toward the goals you desire.
My oldest son has many extraordinary talents and all the peccadilloes you'd expect from a 20-year-old going to school in New Orleans. Every time I see him, as I did recently, I'm impressed by his intelligence and good nature. He is more and has more than I was and had at his age. Still, when I hear that he had to talk his way onto the plane because he lost his identification six weeks earlier and that he's “having trouble” getting to his 10 a.m. math concepts class (“I mean, really. It's ridiculously early”), I feel the urge to advise him.
OK, I want to do more than advise him. I want to lecture. I want to slam him with a speech like the one Polonius gave to the departing Laertes. Since one of my son's many attributes is consideration toward the aged and feeble, I know he will listen to me. He will nod his head dutifully, but how much attention will be paid?
There's no point in a lecture of a hundred points - even good ones - so a pragmatic instinct prods me to restrict my advice to a single please. My hope is to get him to do only one thing that will spur him to do all the other things he needs to do.
Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence - neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish - it is an imponderably valuable gift. - Maya Angelou
After much consideration, I have discovered what that one piece of advice should be: Get up early.
There are many big reasons why getting up early can improve your life. It lets you get a jump-start on your competition and approach each day with maximum energy and enthusiasm. It signals to the world that you have high standards and that you are willing to work long and hard to achieve them. It gives you the time to need to plan your days, weeks, months, and years - to make your quotidian life support your long-term goals. And it forces you to get to bed earlier, thus avoiding a lot of activities and behaviours that won't do anything but slow down or impede your natural progress.
These are the big reasons, but there are other reasons as well. Some of them are mentioned in How to Become CEO by Jeffrey J. Fox. The chapter is short, so I'll give it to you in its entirety here:
Why Jeffrey Fox says you should arrive at work 45 minutes early and leave 25 minutes late
If you are going to be first in your corporation, start practicing by being first on the job. People who arrive at work late don't like their jobs - at least that's what senior management thinks. People don't arrive 12 minutes late for the movies. And being early always gives you a psychological edge over the others in your company.
Don't stay at the office until 10 o'clock every night. You are sending a signal that you can't keep up your personal life is poor. Leave 15 minutes late instead. In those 15 minutes, organize your next day and clean your desk. You will be leaving after 95% of the employees anyway, so your reputation as a hard worker stays intact.
There are too many times in your career when circumstances like airline schedules, sales meeting, year-end closings, and such will keep you away from home until late. During the normal periods, give more time to your family.
Plus, 45 minutes early and 15 minutes late is an hour a day. That's 250 hours a year, or 31 days. You can get ahead quickly working one extra month a year.
There are corporate mentality problems embedded in Fox's argument (e.g., “leave no more than 15 minutes late”) that irk me. But I don't argue with his basic advice.
Transform Your Life with a Pink Highlighter Try this trick when you make out your daily “to-do” lists: Make sure that at least one task is something that will get you closer to your ultimate goal. And make sure it is something significant. This will almost automatically make it more difficult in some way. More ballsy. More stressful. But write it down. Then, when you are going over your list and highlighting your priorities, mark this one in a different colour. (I use yellow for my normal, “business-maintenance” priorities and pink for “new growth” activities.)
Highlight it in a different colour, in any case, and don't… under any circumstances… fail to do it.
What are you doing? Are you getting to work, consistently, at least 15 minutes early? Do you stay late? Are you spending at least 15 minutes a day planning your schedule? Do you start each day with a list of tasks that relate, directly and purposefully, to your Life Goals? Are you taking care of your Important but Not Urgent tasks in a timely manner? Are you getting to bed earlier than you were when you started my program? Are you rising earlier too? If you are spending more than an hour relaxing after dinner, think about trading that time in for some sleep. Starting tomorrow, get up one hour earlier than you've been getting up so far. Get up and get right to work, doing something that is important to you.
Start planning for it now. Do it tomorrow morning.
Most people don't work as hard as they think they do. And many hardworking people aren't very productive.
A study I saw in USA Today a few months ago said that most people rate themselves as “hard” to “very hard” workers. Yet any reference book of statistics will tell you that the average employee puts in fewer than 40 hours a week - including overtime and working at home.
Please don't send me your personal calendar. I'm sure you are the exception to the rule. But you must sometimes wonder - as I sometimes do - how you stack up against other workers.
“The most common sort of lie is the one uttered to one's self.” - Nietzsche (The Antichrist, 1888)
Answering the following questions will give you a good idea of your personal productivity.
How many hours a week do you work on any one of your lifetime goals? Less than 10 (8 points) 11 to 20 (7 points) 21 to 30 (6 points) 31 to 40 (5 points) 41 to 50 (4 points) 51 to 60 (3 points) 61 to 70 (2 points) 71 to 80 (1 point) more than 80 (0 points) Do you use a daily task list? No (2 points) Yes (0 points) If you do use a daily task list, what percentage of the tasks that you assign do you finish? Less than 20% (4 points) 21% to 50% (3 points) 51% to 75% (2 points) 76% to 90% (1 point) more than 90% (0 points) Does your daily task list tie into a weekly project list? No (2 points) Yes (0 points) Does your weekly project list tie into a monthly list of objectives? No (2 points) Yes (0 points) Does your monthly list of objectives tie into a yearly goal-and-project agenda? No (2 points) Yes (0 points) Is your yearly agenda tied into four primary life goals? No (2 points) Yes (0 points) How many unscheduled interruptions take place in your typical day? One or two (0 points) Three to five (1 point) Six to ten (2 points) More than 10 (3 points) How would you define your normal work effort? Highly focused (0 points) Moderately focused (1 point) Mildly distracted (2 points) Wildly distracted (3 points) During working hours, do you do any of the following? (Give yourself 1 point for each one that applies.) Listen to talk radio Make personal phone calls Take personal phone calls Cruise the Internet Read newspapers, magazines, or books Play computer or other games Chat with other employees Shop online or read catalogs Daydream Attend to personal business in any other way Scoring: Add up your totals and compare them to the assessment below.
Zero: If you scored a zero, you are a Work Maniac. You will be definitely be successful and almost certainly unhappy.
1 - 5: You are a Very Serious Worker. You will be successful. You may also be happy. You already work hard to be successful. You may have to work harder to be happy.
6 - 10: You want to succeed but haven't locked yourself into a serious working pattern. You push yourself to get the job done and try to please your boss - but deep down inside you know you are not seriously committed. Your chances of success are about 50/50.
11 - 20: You are willing to work but you are not dedicated. You read about goal setting and successful habits, and you tell yourself you are going to get going “tomorrow”. But your performance is lackluster. Your chances of success are less than 50%.
21 - 30: You are showing up. Was it Woody Allen who said “Showing up is 90% of the game”? Well, he didn't mean the kind of showing up you are doing. You think you are a good worker, but you are not. Your chances of success are probably less than 10%.
More than 30: When it comes to work, you are a stone-cold loser. If you think you are a serious worker, you are delusional. Get real. Your chances of achieving your dreams - and for you they are mostly daydreams - are best measured in micrometers. Your best bet for success: Play the lottery.
Despite what some pundits have said, making people like you is not the secret to success. There are plenty of very rich, very powerful, and very successful S.O.B.s out there. In fact, there may be an inverse relationship between affability and accomplishment. Spend too much time and energy trying to please others, and you won't get your own work done.
That said, there is no good reason for arrogance and no possible excuse for rudeness. It may take a little extra care and attention, but you can attain everything you want in life, reach all your goals, and accomplish all your objectives without making people dislike you.
How do you get what you want in life without offending people? The answer is simple: good manners.
Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer (The Passionate State of Mind)
Being well-mannered means acknowledging people each time you meet them, remembering their names and something about them, expressing yourself in a thoughtful manner, and saying “please” and “thank you” every time it's called for. (Many employees, for example, never say 'thank you' for their Christmas bonuses. They simple take them for granted.)
In short, being well-mannered means doing all of the things your mother told you to do (or should have told you to do) when you were a child.
It's surprisingly easy to forget your manners as you climb the ladder of success. With each step up in power and prestige, it's that much easier to ignore a courtesy or to take one without thanks. Eventually, if you don't watch yourself, you can turn into a character you wouldn't like if you saw him on television or in the movies.
Here's a quick checkup on your manners:
Do you smile and say 'hello' to everyone you meet each day? Even your assistant? Do you listen attentively when your subordinates speak, even if what they are saying makes little or no sense? Do you never raise your voice or lose your temper? Do you say 'thank you' every time it's warranted? Do you criticize people carefully and in private? Do you praise people specifically and in public? Are you careful about your appearance? Do you know the first and last names of all those who report to you? How to Make People Like You - Over and Over Again As I've already said, while good manners are not a necessary component to success, they certainly won't hurt your progress - and they may even help you by limiting the accidental emotional damage, and its resultant animosity, that can be created by inadvertent rudeness.
But there is an even more active way to pave your road to achievement: by making people like you over and over again.
First impressions do count - more than most people realize. According to Nicholas Boothman, author of How to Make People Like You, what you do in the first few minutes of every personal encounter determines how people will respond to you later on.
And it's not just the very first impression. It's the first impression you give each and every time you greet someone.
Each and every time you encounter a friend, family member, or business associate, do the following:
The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one. - Joan Baez
Be aware of how you feel. Make yourself feel positive and allow that feeling to be reflected in the way you hold yourself. Make eye contact: Always look the other person directly in the eye, even if only for a moment. Beam. Be the first to smile. Let your smile, as well as your body, show that you're happy to see him/her. Make your 'Hi!' or 'Hello!' sound friendly. Take the lead: Extend your hand first. Shake his/her hand strongly. Shake it like you mean it. Lean toward him/her: An almost imperceptible forward tilt will very subtly indicate your interest in and openness to the other person. And here's an extra tip: However much you can, know what you want out of every new relationship or new encounter before you begin it. This will allow you to channel that positive first impression into something meaningful and beneficial.
Accomplishing a goal has three phases: deciding to do it, determining what specific actions are necessary and in what order, and executing those actions.
If you are following my program, you have chosen your Life Goals and derived from them five-year, one-year, monthly, and even weekly objectives. I have given you a very good system for getting them done. What's left is the doing.
Ah, there's the rub. Out of every 100 people who choose to do something, about 80 will give up before they begin because they don't have an effective plan. Of those 20 that remain, 16 will fail simply because they stop the doing.
So how can you increase the likelihood that you will be one of the four who finally succeed?
You need to begin with a realistic idea of how long your goal will take to accomplish. If you decide to become a lawyer to know that it will take you three years of full-time effort after college. If you decide to learn Spanish, you are better off recognizing that a certain sum of hours is necessary to achieve any level of proficiency.
Time is the longest distance between two places. - Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie)
I started to think about this when I began learning two new physical skills (ballroom dancing and Jiu Jitsu) and I was interested to find out how long it would take before I would become “good” at them.“ At the same time, I was coaching some friends and relatives on career choices and wanted to be able to tell them how long specific tasks might take.
In your case, you might want to know, for example, how long it takes to:
Learn Spanish Become a good public speaker Dance well at weddings Practice a martial art Play a musical instrument Learn the secrets of direct marketing Become a good copywriter Almost as soon as you ask the question, you realize that “good” needs to be defined. To make matters simple, let's say that, broadly speaking, you can have the following three levels of skill:
Competence Mastery Virtuosity Anything worth doing takes time. Let's illustrate this principle with ballroom dancing. You probably know people who move well on the dance floor. Whether it's cha-cha, a fox trot, or a swing number playing, they can go out there and make the moves. They are not professionals - they could not compete favorably in contests - but they are definitely competent. The next level - mastery - is the level of the professional dancer… a teacher or member of a dance troupe. It's easy to see the difference between competence and mastery, isn't it? Virtuosity? That's Fred Astaire.
If one out of 100 dancers is competent, one out of 100 masters is at the Fred Astaire level.
As I said, thought about how long it takes to achieve competence and/or mastery in certain areas. I spoke to professional teachers and read books. What I discovered is rather interesting. For most endeavours, it takes roughly the same amount of time to become skillful. More specifically:
It takes about 1,000 hours to become competent at any worthwhile skill. It takes about 5,000 hours to master any skill. It takes between 25,000 and 35,000 hours to become world class. (And then, only if you're gifted.) Now these are ballpark numbers, admittedly. But they have proven to be remarkably accurate for any number of skills. For example, how many hours would it take you to become a competent speaker of French?
Based on my experience learning French, here's a good guess:
300 hours to learn - cold - the 20 most common irregular verbs in three tenses 100 hours to master about 50 prepositions, conjunctions, and articles 200 hours to get a good grasp of French grammar 200 hours to learn about 1,000 useful nouns 100 hours to memorize gender 50 hours to acquire passable pronunciation What does it all add up to? 950 hours.
As I said, that would get you to a point of competence where you could speak French “well,” but it would hardly qualify you as a French teacher. To get to that level - a master's level - you'd need to do a lot more work. Say you studied two hours a day and practiced for another three hours… and you did this for three years. You'd probably be ready to teach, don't you think? You would have reached a level most would consider fluent.
Take one more example: Jiu Jitsu (which I have been taking). After three years and with about 700-800 hours of instruction and practice under my belt, I feel “competent”. I can easily handle newcomers to the sport, even those bigger, stronger, and more athletic. But I struggle with more experienced players. I am clearly not a master.
Seven hundred hours is not 1,000, but in my case I've had the advantage of being trained by an excellent coach. That kind of education counts. In this case, it “saved” me about 30% of the time I would have spend otherwise.
So I would make this adjustment to my theory of competence: Deduct 20-30% for good teaching.
How you can take advantage of my 1,000-hour theory Think about the Life Goals you have set for yourself. Have you allocated enough time to accomplish them? Have you established a clear-cut primary goal for yourself? Have you allocated the hours that it takes?
If not, do so today.
Proof Positive: The Case of the Terminal Bachelorette Now that I've explained my “1,000-hour theory” in terms of the time it takes to learn things like French, ballroom dancing, and Jiu Jitsu… let's apply it to other areas of life. Can you identify, before-hand, a time commitment for any objective - even a personal one?
Consider this real-life example:
A friend of mine - an attractive, intelligent woman - is in the market for “the right man.” She is committed to finding a man. And she has read books about how to do it. Yet, nothing has happened.
The reason? She spends almost no time doing the things she needs to do. She feels as if she spends all her time looking (because she thinks about it a lot and is open to blind dates, etc.) but she seldom actually goes out “there” and makes herself available.
I wondered if my 1,000-hour theory would apply to her romantic objective. To test it, I put the following proposition to her: If she put in 1,000 hours over the course of one year, she would have her man.
Since she has a full-time job, in order to spend 1,000 hours a year pursuing this objective she would have to work at it two hours every workday evening and five hours on Saturday and Sunday.
“Imagine,” I said, “that after work each day, you got yourself up and went somewhere - an art class, a charity event, a bar, etc. - and you did it by yourself and with focused energy on your task. And assume that each weekend day you did the same - maybe spending time in pro shops and health clubs, going to special events, etc. - but for five hours each day.”
“What,” I asked, “would be the chance that you could do that every day for a year and still not have the relationship you are looking for?”
“Zero percent,” she said.
Seek and ye shall find. - Bible (Matthew 7:7)
You can achieve what you want in life. You just have to make the effort, pay attention to what you are doing, and spend the time it requires to get there.
Now start thinking about what it is that you haven't gotten around to doing. Something important. Something that will really improve your life.
If you want to optimize your career, you've got to improve your core vocational skill. If you're a trial attorney, for example, you've got to hone your courtroom skills. If you're an engineer, you've got to stay in step with the technological developments of your specialization.
But there's another thing you should do. You should become a good writer. By good, I don't mean crafty or artful, but clear and persuasive.
You don't write because you want to say something: You write because you've got something to say. - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Other than speaking well, no other skill will fuel your career more efficiently than writing. Having advanced technical skills and abilities will earn you a reputation as being a valuable employee. But being able to advance ideas that shape the world around you - that's a skill that will take you to the top.
When it's about your career, being a good writer means knowing how to (1) clearly express an important idea and (2) persuade the reader that your idea is a good one. To achieve either objective, you don't need to have the literary sensitivity of a Cormac McCarthy. But you do need to do certain things.
The Three Biggest Secrets of Good Writing I've mentored and/or edited dozens of writers - beginners, journeymen, and masters. When the writing is bad, 80% of the time it's attributable to three mistakes: (1) writing about too many ideas, (2) writing fancily, and/or (3) writing vaguely.
When smart people write about complex ideas, they often get into trouble by trying to say too much. Telling the reader everything you know may persuade him that you are knowledgeable (and possibly pompous). But it won't persuade him to take the action you want.
The easiest way to make your writing clear and persuasive is to limit your communication to a single good idea. In working with writers, I call this the rule of one.
By sticking to one good idea, you increase immeasurably the likelihood that your reader will understand it. It also increases the likelihood that you will focus on a truly good idea.
The second most common mistake writers - beginners and masters alike - make is to use flowery language and complicating phrasing. The result is writing that is unnecessarily difficult to read.
There have been many books written on the subject of prose style, and the best among them provide guidelines for keeping your writing simple. You can achieve this simplicity by:
Never using a fancy word when a simple one will do Avoiding clauses (complex and compound) and the passive voice Keeping your sentences short (usually less than 10 words) The Flesch-Kinkaid (FK) online readability checker can help you with this. (You'll find it on the Tools menu of your editing software.) Hone your sentences till you get the FK score to 7.5 or below and you'll be fine.
The third most common mistake? Laziness. Trying to prove your point without specifics.
You may have a great idea. And you may be able to express it clearly. But if you can't prove to your reader why it is true, you will persuade only those that don't need persuading. To win over the doubters, you have to do some work - research - to compile plenty of convincing evidence.
If you can avoid these three mistakes, you'll be a good - i.e., clear and persuasive - writer. But if you want to be better than good, follow this bonus advice:
Keep your paragraphs shortish and varied. If persuasion is the goal, forget about page-long paragraphs. Half a dozen sentences, as a rule, should be the limit. But mix them with shorter paragraphs of three sentences or two or even the occasion single sentence. Occasionally begin or end a paragraph with an extra-short sentence. Or string two or three short sentences together to create cadence.
Literature is invention. Fiction is faction. To carry a story line a true story is an insult to both art and truth. The third most common mistake? Laziness. Trying to prove your point without specifics. To give your sentences a quick stop-and-go, use the interruptive dash.
New York is a city ripe with extremes - of wealth and poverty, of creative energy and rage. The second most common mistake writers - beginners and masters alike - make is to use flowery language and complicating phrasing. Use commands to grab attention.
Trek to the tops of mountains, the sources of rivers, and the earth's icebound poles. But if you want to be better than good, follow this bonus advice: Address your reader directly to make your message personal and compelling.
As a parent, you want to do everything possible to keep your children from experimenting with drugs. The easiest way to make your writing clear and persuasive is to limit your communication to a single good idea. In working with writers, I call this the rule of one. These guidelines are very simple. But they are also very effective. Put them to use the next time you write a memo or letter. The clarity and strength of your (one) idea should be immediately apparent. And once you get the swing of it, you will become a more powerful and persuasive person.