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Personal Development

Get One Percent Better Every Day

Get One Percent Better
 

Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.  —  Albert Einstein
 

By John Millen 
 
Think about a time you’ve tried to achieve change, perhaps to lose weight, exercise more often, increase sales, or develop new skills at work.
 
Most of us want to improve our business or personal lives. So we often set big goals, and start strong with great effort and enthusiasm. Over time we plateau, we back off the effort, and we may even reduce or abandon the goal.
 
Lasting change
The secret to long-term change, it turns out, is small, sometimes imperceptible, changes of habit.
 
As John Wooden, the late Hall of Fame college basketball coach, said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning.
 
“Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts,” Wooden said.
 
James Clear argues for the power of small changes in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.
 
Clear calls habits “the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.”
 


One-percent solution

Clear cites the effects of simply improving 1 percent every day. If you were to improve at an activity 1 percent, you would improve results by thirty-seven times in a year! 
 
Think about that in the context of what you’re trying to improve: one more sales call per day, one healthy meal per day, one short walk per day. A 1 percent consistent, positive movement can improve your results by thirty-seven times in a year!
 
“This can be a difficult concept to appreciate in daily life. We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment,” Clear writes. “It is only when looking back over two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”
 
Continuous improvement
I have a client, the CEO of a Fortune 1000, who is leading a massive change initiative. He often refers to Kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. He asks his leaders and associates to take personal responsibility for change by improving their own work and skills every day, which will contribute to the whole company’s success.
It’s bringing our attention to the micro, to the incremental, that creates lasting change.
 
I learned the power of consistent improvement when I trained for a marathon some years ago. While I’ve had a life-long devotion to fitness, 26.2 miles at once seemed daunting. But as I followed a training plan that slowly added mileage each week, I soon found myself happily crossing the finish line of my first marathon.
 
In the same vein, my wife was an inconsistent exerciser until I gifted her with a Fitbit for Christmas several years ago. With a specific goal of 10,000 steps per day, she became obsessed with making her daily quota and remains a devoted daily exerciser. 
 
Develop a simple habit or process that you can repeat every day. This is the secret to long-term, sustainable change.
 
What can you improve 1 percent every day that will improve results in your life or business by thirty-seven percent after a year?
 
If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for me, visit my contact page to connect with me directly.

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Three Ways to Differentiate Your Personal Brand

At a local women's leadership conference, I had the opportunity to hear Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, give some really great advice for women, and men, on achieving success by differentiating yourself in the workplace.
 
As an African-American woman on white-male-dominated Wall Street, Harris has learned to position herself in a way that allowed her to thrive while being true to herself.

She offered a wide range of wisdom, focusing on three core messages. (If you’re tempted to read ahead, go for it – people loved her third idea as much as I did and I would recommend you seriously considering trying it in your workplace.)
 
1) Be authentic
Too many people try to act in a way at work that is not really who they are. This causes anxiety, disconnection and feelings of being an impostor. Being your authentic self, Harris says, positions you for success, because:

  • You are your own competitive advantage. No one can be you the way you can be you! The last thing you should ever do is to submerge that which is uniquely you.

  • Anytime that you are trying to behave or speak in a way that is inconsistent with who you really are, you will create a competitive disadvantage for yourself.

  • If you bring your authentic self to a relationship, people will trust you, and trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.

  • Most people are not comfortable or confident in their own skin, so when they see that trait in you, they will gravitate toward you.

Harris, who also is a highly successful gospel singer, said early in her career she would bristle when her colleagues would tell clients about her singing. She would roll her eyes when they said, “Carla is an amazing gospel singer, with three CDs and four sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall.” 
 
She changed her mind when she saw enthusiastic client reactions. Potential clients would ask about her career and whether she would talk to their daughters about integrating business and the arts in their lives. 

“We ended up having a fifteen-minute meeting before the meeting,” Harris said. “When I sat down to pitch, they heard me with a different ear, they saw me through a different lens.” These conversations helped her to win business as it differentiated her “from five other investment bankers pitching that IPO.”

From that moment on, Harris said she brought to business “all my Carla Harris’s” – singer, prayer warrior, golfer, football fan – because you never know who will connect with something you love.
 

Another great example of a totally authentic leader is Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx.

2) Take risks
A second way to differentiate yourself is by showing you can take risks, Harris said. During challenging times in a workplace, everyone tells you to keep your head down so you can fly under the radar.

Harris recommends the opposite. “When everybody else is besieged with fear and everybody else is ducking, you have clear vision to see the opportunity,” she said. 
“In a difficult environment, it’s time to speak up. 
 
The issue with keeping your head down is you submerge your voice and your voice is at the heart of your power. Fear has no place in your success equation.”

Harris said to ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen? She said you might fail, but failure always brings a gift: experience, and leaders will see you as a person of action who should be kept around.
 
3) Manage your perception
Harris said the important thing she has learned after two-and-a-half decades on Wall Street is, “perception is the co-pilot to reality. How people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you.
 
She said that after five years in her career, a senior director told her she was smart and hard-working, but he didn’t think she was tough enough for the business of Wall Street. Harris was outraged.
 
magna cum laude graduate of Harvard and a graduate of Harvard Business School, she had overcome significant challenges to land at Morgan Stanley. In her colloquial speech, Harris shouted to the crowd, “You can call Carla Harris a lot of things, but ‘ain’t tough’ ain’t one of them.”
 
She thought to herself, “Suppose he really doesn’t think I’m tough enough?” One can’t be seen as weak on Wall Street. “I decided for ninety days I would walk tough, talk tough, eat tough, and drink tough, use tough in my language.”
 
It’s important to have consistent behavior and language, Harris said, and to “use this language in your environment, particularly when you are talking about yourself. You can train people to think about you in the way that you want them to think about you.”
 
Harris had a reputation for being very good at critiquing management presentations, so much so that before company roads shows for a multi-million dollar IPO or stock transaction, her colleagues would ask her to listen to a presentation and give the CEO feedback.
 
“Next time, after I’d gotten that feedback about not being tough, I said wait a minute, tell me about this guy, is he sensitive, does he have a thin skin? I don’t want to hurt nobody’s feeling, ’cause you know I’m tough,” Harris said, drawing laughter and applause.
 
“I kept using this language over and over to describe myself. Sure enough, after ninety days of work, I was behind a group of people, they didn’t know I was behind them.”
 
She said she heard a VP beating up an associate to make sure they were fully prepared for their meeting: “We’re going to see Carla Harris, and you know, she’s so tough.”
 
Carla Harris succeeded in one of the world’s most challenging business environments, Wall Street, by making her authentic self a positive differentiator.
 
She didn’t need to hide herself – she let the real Carla Harris shine through.
 
It may have been tough, but that’s Carla Harris. She’s tough.
 
Questions for you: 
How are you perceived in your workplace?
 
Is that perception consistent with who you really are?
 
Carla Harris recommends an exercise of choosing three adjectives you want people to use to describe you when you are not in the room, because that’s when all of the important decisions are made about compensation, promotion, and new assignments. The adjectives should be consistent with the position you seek.

I previously wrote about a similar exercise: 

Personal Branding: How Do People Perceive You
 
Carla has also written several relevant books.

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John

Image Credit: Morgan Stanley

How to Apply the Principles of Marie Kondo in Your Work and Life

Think of clutter.
 
Have you ever felt bogged down by your possessions? Your endless to-do lists? Your job or relationships?
 
We all have. That’s because clutter is everywhere in our lives: in our minds, in our digital distractions, in our businesses, and, of course, in our homes.
 
The clutter in our homes is where Marie Kondo makes her impact. If you’re not familiar with Kondo, she’s a Japanese organizer and author of the worldwide bestseller,The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizingwhich has nearly 14,000 mostly positive reviews on Amazon.
 
Kondo also has a new Netflix series which together with her book has prompted a decluttering of homes in the United States. Perhaps even your home. 
 
She has been credited with a huge increase in donations of discarded goods to Goodwill, Volunteers of America, and other sites, dubbed "The Marie Kondo Effect." The deluge has also caused some organizations in U.S. cities, including San Francisco, to limit when and how many goods they will accept. 
 
The popularity of Kondo stems from her unique approach, which I believe can be applied to any aspect of our lives and businesses. These are a few of her key concepts:
 
Clearing clutter changes everything in your life. As Kondo writes, “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order… It allows you to confront the issues that are really important.”
 
This is true in business as well. When we clear away the clutter, we have the opportunity to focus on the few priorities that matter. 
 
Focus on a specific area all at once. Don’t go room-by-room. In other words, take all of your clothing from anywhere in the house into one location. 
 
Make it a sprint. Don’t make “tidying” a life-long project. Get it done quickly and then maintain.
 
And here is Kondo’s differentiating concept:
 
Shift your mindset. Don’t focus on what to get rid of. Instead, think about what gives you positive feelings.
 
Specifically, Kondo says to hold an object and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is “no,” let it go.
 
If you’re a natural skeptic, as I can be, “sparking joy” might put you off. So, let me share that I asked for and received Kondo’s book as a Christmas gift a few years ago. I used her method to clean out the clothes in my closet. It worked very well!
 
All of the clothes went onto the bed and, instead of thinking, “I might wear this someday,” I asked, “Do I love this?” That Hawaiian shirt? Gone. Old suits? Gone. Ill-fitting pants? Gone. And on down the line. I was left with clothes that I love and wear all the time. 
 
It’s a great mind shift, and a concept that can apply to anything. I view it as an easy, practical way to apply the Prieto Principle, commonly called the 80/20 rule. Focus on the 20 percent that has the most impact.
 
I’ve gone on to apply Kondo’s principles in my business. This is my sixteenth year as a consultant, and I had accumulated a lot of paper files, electronic files, equipment, and other items that were bogging me down. The question is not, “will I use this someday?” but, “do I really value this? Will I use it regularly?”
 
I’ve also done this with my business relationships. I’ve stopped a couple of partnerships that I didn’t love and “fired” two toxic clients.

Do they bring you joy? 
Regardless of whether you buy Marie Kondo’s book or watch her Netflix series, I urge you to consider her principles in your life and business.
 
Ask yourself about your possessions and relationships, “Do these bring me joy?”
 
Hopefully they do, but the larger question is what can we do when relationships don’t bring us joy? 
 
The reality is that difficult relationships in business and in life can’t all be avoided.  Whether pleasant and straightforward, or complex and uncomfortable, we typically can’t or won’t easily discard them.  
 
This is where the Kondo “shift your mindset” principle can be applied.  Can you minimize your interactions with difficult people, keeping them cordial and focused?
 
In the same way, why not spend more time with those who are positive and energize you? This will improve your outlook and offset those who drain you. Or maybe clearing the air between you and someone else will move your relationship to the positive end of the spectrum.
 
I hope you’ll consider the applying Kondo’s principles to clarifying your possessions and your relationships.

After all, life’s too short to be lost in clutter.
 
John


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Photo Credit: Netflix

How to Change Your Habits for Success in 2019

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.  

–– Aristotle


As we begin the New Year, most of us get the urge to change our lives and make a fresh start.

This year’s NPR/Marist Poll finds the usual suspects as our top 2019 resolutions: losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, and being a better person.

Many of us make bold resolutions and ambitious plans to achieve these and other aspirations.

And we fail. We fail miserably: Research reveals that as few as 8 percent of us are successful with our New Year’s resolutions.

Of course, this is why fitness centers may sign up 5,000 new members in January for a facility that will hold only 500 people at a time.
 
As we enter 2019, how about considering a different approach?
 
Try making just two small changes this year. One now, and one in six months. I’ve put this into practice over the past few years with great success. This approach means that every year you will have changed two of your habits by the end of the year.
 
Small Changes are Powerful
Changing two habits a year might seem too small, too easy. But science proves that the lasting changes in our lives come from making small changes that are easier to implement.
 
Consider this small, but powerful example: “Replace a soft drink with water at just one meal — say, lunch. With this small change, you will drink approximately forty more gallons of water per year, while not drinking forty gallons of carbonated sugar. You also save up to fifty thousand calories and as much as five hundred dollars.” From Small Change, Little Things Make a Big Difference by Susan and Larry Terkel.
 
In his new book, Atomic Habits: An easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, * author James Clear notes the compounding effect of small changes in habits: getting one percent better every day will produce results that are 37 times better at the end of the year.

"Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement," Clear writes. "The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous."

The Power of Habits
I’ve always worked on continuous self-improvement, but never understood how to change habits until a few years ago when I read this great book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg explores the neuroscience of habits, using vivid examples from sports, business and life, including the NFL, Michael Phelps, Target, P&G and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, among many others.
 
Conserving Brain Energy
Habits are critical to our brain function. To conserve energy, our brains run routines by habit that we don’t have to think about. Duhigg says up to 40 percent of our daily activities are done by unconscious habit. This becomes clear when we drive to the same location so often that we sometimes arrive and don’t remember how we got there.
 
But the key to this book for me was understanding the simple process of how habits function and how they can be hacked to make a positive change.
 
The 'Habit Loop'
Duhigg calls this the "Habit Loop.” He explains: "This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward.”
 
Here’s how it worked for me: I like to work out a lot, so I’ve never had a weight problem, but a few years ago I found myself with a severe nighttime sweet tooth. I didn’t need the extra sugar and calories and started getting some extra winter “insulation” on the tummy.
 
CUE: At a certain point in the evening, whether I was watching TV, reading a book or doing work, I’d get the feeling it was time for a snack. You know, The Craving.  ;-)
 
ROUTINE: I would wander into the kitchen for a snack. It would usually be a nice helping of ice cream or a few cookies.
 
REWARD: I got the sweet taste of the dessert and the rush of blood sugar.
 
I wasn’t consciously being a Cookie Monster; I realize now that I was just caught in the loop.
 
I'm simplifying Duhigg's advice here, but his research found that the secret to changing your habit is to identify and tweak your routine.  I successfully used these steps to change my nightly dessert habit.
 
CUE: For me, the tweak was this: when the cue occurred, my evening dessert craving, I would still wander into the kitchen.
 
ROUTINE: In initially changing the routine, I told myself I could still have ice cream or cookies, but first I would have a piece of fruit and a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes. I did that and went back to whatever I was doing.

REWARD: This is the interesting part. I was shocked that from the very first time I ate an apple, drank the water and refocused on what I was doing, I was satisfied and not craving more sweets. My substitute reward gave me a sweet taste, the act of chewing and the water quenched my thirst. (Nutritionists say that often what feels like hunger is dehydration.)

Mistaken Rewards
Sometimes we are seeking a reward that is not necessarily what we might assume. Duhigg details getting up from his desk every day at 3 p.m. to get a cookie from the cafeteria at the New York Times building, where he is a reporter.

Then he would walk around and socialize with his colleagues. The reporter tweaked his routine to skip the cookie and go to the social break, which was really his reward.

The other interesting thing that happens is that when you change one habit, positive changes seem to build on one another. If you exercise regularly, you might find yourself wanting to eat healthier foods.

How about You?
What habit do you most want to change?

Think about this habit: What are cue, routine and reward of this habit and how can you tweak them to rewire your habit?

Would you consider skipping the New Year’s resolutions and instead change just two small habits this year?

Give it a try. I believe that if you change your habits, you change your life.

Thank you for sharing this year with me.

Wishing you great success and happiness in 2019,

John

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How to Say Thanks and Show Appreciation

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.–– William Arthur Ward

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week has me thinking about the power of expressing sincere gratitude to others in business, and in life.

Signs are all around us on the need for personal, genuine thanks to others:

  • In a digital world, where attention is a nano-second, thank you’s seem to come as after thoughts in brief texts (thx!) and hurried voice mails.

  • Employee engagement is at an all-time low.A Gallup poll found that only 13% of people worldwide are actively engaged at work. (Here in the U.S., the number was 29%, nothing to brag about.)

  • Our national dialogue, from hate-spewing politics to bleep-coated TV, has become a coarse joke.

People have become so busy paying attention to the constant noise that appreciation of personal relationships seems to have taken second place.

Harvard Research
The need is so clear that Ivy league schools are doing serious research to understand the power of thank you.

A Harvard professor’s recent book explores the science of gratitude. Her research highlights how leaders expressing gratitude motivates people.

The professor mentions that her husband is working at a startup. One day, after her husband had been up all night working on a project, the professor received a card and flowers from the company’s founder, thanking her for her patience. It was pleasant for her and a motivator for him.

I worked with a CEO who was the best I’d ever seen at saying thank you to people. There were times I would ask myself if it was too much, but I had to say no. The thanks were always delivered sincerely and with the appropriate tonality for the situation.

Sincere Appreciation
What can we do to bring sincere appreciation back to life? Think about these expressions as a starting point:

  • Sending a handwritten thank you card to a person’s home with a small, relevant gift related to one of their passions. (One leader recently confided to me that a quick, handwritten thank-you note he'd given an employee was still pinned to her cubicle wall three years later.)

  • Making a public statement, whether at a team meeting or family event, with clear, sincere thanks to one or more people. It lifts the morale of everyone.

  • A face-to-face, show up with no agenda, but to say thank you.


Of course, there’s also that opportunity around the dinner table this Thursday, or those moments this holiday season when you are one-on-one with someone you rarely see.

What better time to say, “I appreciate you?”

Also, readers, thank you for sharing your time with me this year.

Best wishes for the holidays,
  

John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please visit our contact page.

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How to Develop Grit in Your Work and Your Life

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. –– Tim Notke
 
 
A close family member of mine is a former U.S. Navy SEAL. He helped me overcome a fear of heights by teaching me to rappel on the cliffs in San Diego near his base, but that’s a story for another day.
 
Over the years, he’s described the extremely challenging physical and mental nature of his training, including seven days of constant physical activity with a total of some three hours of sleep the entire week. This is why they call it “Hell Week.”
 
Not surprisingly, the most recent Navy statistics say that on average 80 percent of SEAL trainees will fail to complete the first phase of training, including Hell Week. That means that in a class of 150 enrollees, only thirty candidates will remain after the first eight weeks of training. 
 
Candidates might include triathletes, former Olympians, huge bodybuilders like The Rock, and others. Surprisingly, these gifted athletes are often among the first to “ring the bell,” which signifies that they have given up. Instead,those who survive the constant cold, wet, sandy, harassment-filled beach experience have one consistent quality: mental toughness. They have the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL and nothing will dissuade them. They are relentless.
 
Navy SEALs have grit
The term “grit” has become popular in the business world since researcher and psychologist Angela Duckworth in 2016 released her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She set out to explore the biggest predictor for successful people – to determine if it was talent or if it was effort?
 
Spoiler alert: through her research, Duckworth concluded that effort beats talent. In determining success, perseverance continually triumphs over natural talent. Grit is what characterizes achievement, over and over again.

Sometimes success means just don’t quit, keep showing up.
 
So what is grit and, more importantly, is it possible to increase grit in yourself or others?
 
First, Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” 
 
Second, can you develop and grow grit? I know this is a question many leaders have both at work, and in raising children who they might suspect have had too little opportunity to experience adversity and develop grit.
 
The good news, according to Duckworth, is that grit can be developed. To grow grit, she identifies four psychological assets:
 
Interest: develop a fascination
While most would love to follow their passion in selecting a career, many eighteen-year-olds have little idea as to what their passion might be. Duckworth’s advice is to foster a passion. Many find the advice of “following your passion” to be foolish, but there seems to be practical value in developing a passion.
 
As Duckworth explains, “nobody works doggedly on something they don’t find intrinsically interesting.” It’s hard to have grit when you’re just not interested in something.
 
If you want a child to practice and persevere in something, they must have some kind of interest in it. Most successful people are interested in what they do. 
 
Practice: strive for daily improvement
You are no doubt familiar with the “ten-thousand-hour rule,” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success.This rule explains that to master a sport or instrument, one must spend ten thousand hours practicing.
 
However, this has been misconstrued by people who believe the fallacy that if they just do something for ten thousand hours,they will be masters.  The fact is that masters practice in a challenging, focused way.
 
The cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson developed the concept of deliberate practice. Experts practice by concentrating on improving specific weak spots and continue until they fix them. Then they set out to identify and improve their next weakness. 
 
This explains why people with grit are committed to continuous improvement. Journalist Hester Lacey interviewed many successful people and saw that all were determined to get better, even when they were already performing at a high level. “It’s a persistent desire to do better,” Lacey explained. “It’s the opposite of being complacent.”
 
As Duckworth notes, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 
 
Purpose: remind yourself of the higher purpose
A sense of purpose also helps fuel passion. Duckworth defines purpose as “the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.” While many believe purpose is fixed, it can be cultivated through deliberate steps.
 
Duckworth uses the parable of the bricklayers to illustrate her point:
 
Three bricklayers are asked: ‘What are you doing?’
The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’
The second says, ‘I am building a church.’
And the third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’
 
The first has a job, the second has a career, and the third bricklayer has a calling. Finding purpose in your work has a lot to do with perspective.
 
One such exercise is something psychologists call “job crafting.” It’s about finding little but meaningful ways of tweaking your current position to improve connection to your values. No matter what you do, there’s always some way to personalize your job. 
 
Hope: adopt a growth mindset
Hope is based on the idea that things will improve and life will be better. For those with grit, hope is about continually trying to make tomorrow better instead of just wishing it to be better. Duckworth uses this Japanese phrase to show what gritty hope is: “fall seven, rise eight.” 
 
One way to equip ourselves is to develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed one. A growth mindset allows us to believe that things can change and we have a direct impact on our lives and the world; we’re not helpless. 
 
With a growth mindset, you believe people can change. They can learn more and do better if they believe it and are given the opportunity and resources to do so. 
 
With interest, practice, purpose, and hope, grit is attainable. It’s putting in the effort and staying with something over a long period of time. 
 
What about you?
 
How have you seen grit in action?
 
How will you help to develop grit in yourself? In your team members? Or in your family?
 
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