A Simple Formula for Your Best Year Ever

math formulas

The new year is more than turning the calendar forward to start a new 12-month cycle. It is an ideal time for a reset, to adopt new beliefs and practices. The result of this reset could be better job performance, a healthier body, greater feeling of peace, or increased income. We start the new year with good intentions to affect change in our lives. Unfortunately, setbacks and discouraging moments often knock us off the rails of self-improvement.

The words of the late tennis legend Arthur Ashe are reassuring as I think about what it will take to achieve personal growth this year. His advice is simple, yet we often fall short in meeting one or more of these directives. Failing to embrace this advice thwarts even the best intentions for personal growth.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. - Arthur Ashe quote

Start Where You Are

It is logical to start where we are, yet our starting place could be one that we dislike or are embarrassed to claim. Starting where we are requires acknowledging the good and bad. In other words, we must candidly assess strengths and weaknesses. In our book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I encourage taking a snapshot (i.e., conduct a situation analysis) of where you are. It serves as a starting point for setting personal brand goals.

Use What You Have

Chances are where you are now is not where you want to be… and that is OK. Dwelling on weaknesses could cause us to overlook strengths we have (i.e., personal brand assets) that can support personal growth. Arthur Ashe’s words “use what you have” is a reminder that our personal brand makeup abilities, skills, knowledge, and experience can be used to create value for others.

In order to realize growth and change, now may be the time to add to what you have. Do you have a self-learning program in place? Are you investing in yourself? Career expert Dan Miller says success is guaranteed if you invest 3% of your income back into yourself.  Use what you have while at the same time be disciplined to add to what you have.

Do What You Can

Plans without follow-through are little more than dreams. “Change” and “grow” are verbs, actions that arise from actions. The bottom line is we must do (i.e., leverage where we are and what we have) in order to affect change and growth. We cannot merely think about personal growth; we have to be the driver of change and growth.

Efforts to advance your personal brand should come with a commitment to measure performance and progress. Evaluate progress toward goals regularly (e.g., weekly or monthly). Doing so sheds light on where you stand and allows you to adjust as needed. Otherwise, one year from now the only change could be that you are one year older.

Your Best Year Ever

I get excited when I think about having my best year ever. It is such a lofty place that it is almost intimidating to think about it. What exactly would my best year ever look like professionally? What would it look like personally? How the heck do I get there? How far will it push me out of my comfort zone to have my best year ever?

These questions are enough to consider dialing down what we want. A really good year or one of my best years ever will suffice. The enormity of pursuing my best year ever can be calmed by following the guidance of Arthur Ashe.


What Are You Counting?

countdown clock

An exciting time of year is approaching for students and faculty at colleges around the country: fall graduation. Thousands of students will complete the final leg of their education journey. The crowning moment will be taking part in their graduation ceremony. Anticipation is rightfully high among soon-to-be graduates. They are the envy of nearly all other students at their institution for whom work remains to complete their degree.

A running joke in my classes this time of semester is to ask how long it is until graduation. Someone in class has a countdown clock (like the one pictured above) set to the scheduled time for Commencement. They can tell me the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the big event. Asking the question elicits laughs from students, but it also should serve as pause for reflection. Do we put too much emphasis on the countdown and not fully enjoy the journey that takes us to the end goal?

Don't count the days, make the days count. Muhammad Ali quote

Be Careful What You Wish For

This week’s One to Grow On quote comes from boxing great Muhammad Ali. His words encourage us to focus on getting the most from each day instead of wishing away days in a countdown. Please do not misunderstand, I love the anticipation of counting down to a milestone or  goal as much as anyone. What can get lost in the excitement of a countdown is finding joy and value in the days that lead up to the end result.

I learned not to get too consumed in the countdown several years ago. My youngest son was in preschool, and as his final preschool year dragged on I thought about how nice it would be to have him on the same school schedule as his older brothers the next year. In my mind, I was rushing him through preschool to have a more convenient schedule. On the day of his preschool “graduation” ceremony, it dawned on me that we were moving on from this stage of his life forever. As our youngest child, my wife and I would never have the opportunity to take one of our children to preschool again. I cried when realizing I had foolishly wished away a few months of time for the sake of convenience. In short, I counted down the days when I could have done more to make the days count.

Make the Days Count

Let’s modify Muhammad Ali’s point—you can count down the days and make the days count. The aim should be to create value while counting down toward reaching a goal. For example, a college student who is counting down the days toward the end of the semester should identify tasks that must be completed and schedule them. Have a research paper to write? Select the days you will work on the paper and follow through on the plan. Final exams have been scheduled for weeks; set a plan for studying and work toward that goal. The journey will be more enjoyable and less stressful than if you realize the night before a final exam that it would be a good idea to study for it.

Advice on project management (i.e., a countdown to completing a major task or responsibility) is plentiful. The point is do something so that you are managing time rather than time controlling you. Check out this article by Michael Hyatt on how to make time to work on an important project. Make days count by realizing most great accomplishments do not occur from one big action. It is small, gradual progress that moves us toward goal achievement.

You Can Count Down, But…

This post is not intended to be a bucket of cold water thrown on your countdown to a big event. Rather, it is a call to embrace the countdown journey so that we get the most out of the time we put into realizing a big outcome. Go ahead and count down the days; just make sure the days count, too.

Stop Playing the Blame Game

pointing finger

The blame game is one for which many of us have potential to become an all-star. It is easy to attribute failures and shortcomings to external sources when things do not go our way. Why should I take the fall for an outcome that I did not want, and by extension, could not be possibly caused by me? If we allow ourselves to have enough practice at the blame game, we could evolve to the point at which we do no wrong. All failures are due to other people, events, or trends.

Our goal should be to give up playing the blame game. Pointing the finger elsewhere is convenient and absolves us of responsibility… at least in our mind. However, former FBI international  kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss points out a downside to playing the blame game. Voss says blaming others denies us of a chance to change.

When you blame others you give up your power to change. Chris Voss quote

Rather than doling out blame every chance we get, should we be seeking opportunities to accept responsibility for our failures?

Why We Play the Blame Game

The idea that attributing failure to others does more harm to us than good is one I can accept. However, living that idea can require a significant mindset shift. It is a place I have to prepare myself to be as I am not there yet. Sadly, it is a place at which some people will never arrive. Why are we often inclined to place the blame elsewhere?

Blame is easy. Attributing failure to external sources is a quick and painless way to diagnose shortcomings. Sometimes, external forces can be very difficult to overcome—a brutal economy, an abusive boss, or a ruthless competitor come to mind. We cannot stop any of these negative forces, so how could we possibly be at fault when they are around?

Blame is painless. When we deflect taking responsibility, it saves us from taking a hit to our pride. If you lost out on the promotion to Gina, you can take comfort in the explanation that the boss likes Gina more. It has nothing to do with you… or does it? It is not a consideration when we use external attribution like medicine to treat failure.

Blame is normal. External attribution of failure is an accepted practice. Identifying something or someone other than ourselves as the cause of our woes is common in our culture. Doing so saves us the trouble of deeper introspection to understand our role in personal failures.

Blame versus Growth

This week’s One to Grow On quote suggests blame is a threat to personal growth. It offers short-term relief from the sting of failure but does not address how I can learn and grow so that I do not experience similar failure in the future. Instead of being a source of relief, blame should make me squirm when it enters my mind as an explanation for falling short. The reason is that external attribution prevents us from taking internal inventory of our strengths and weaknesses. If we are the reason for not making the sale, passing the exam, or strengthening the relationship, pinning the problem on others will mask our inadequacies. The bottom line is a me-first approach is needed to examine failure and being open to change.

The Point

One of my favorite sayings about blame is when you point at something or someone else as the problem, you have three fingers pointing back at you. The idea is we are more likely to find the root cause of failure by looking at where the three fingers are pointing, not where the lone finger is pointing. My goal is to become a horrible player of the blame game.

Reasons: Excuses in Disguise

We are masters of rationalization any time we do not attain a goal, fail to do something we should have done, or otherwise fall short. We can offer up seemingly legitimate reasons for failure. Perfecting this technique over time means we can absolve ourselves whenever it is convenient to do it. This exercise may shield us from being accountable for our missteps, but in the end it is little more than a fabrication of excuses that cloud the truth—we messed up.

The practice of offering reasons for failure that are nothing more than excuses wrapped in logic (or purported logic) is a shortcoming brought to the forefront in a book I am reading. Bernard Roth, a professor at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, raises the reasons-as-excuses issue in The Achievement HabitStop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life (HaperCollins, 2015). Would it surprise you that in a book about achievement the author says we must stop with the reasons (excuses) for our behavior?

Reasons provide people with excuses to keep behaving dysfunctionally. Bernard Roth quote.

The Reasons We Reason

Talk about change—I have years of experience as a “reasoner” that will be for naught if I buy into Roth’s view that the reasons have to go! I see his point and also see how rationalizing our behavior, especially when it contributes to falling short of desired outcomes, is a threat to growth. So, why do we allow reasoning to justify our behavior?

  • Shifts focus to external factors. It is convenient to point at forces beyond our control as reasons for our failures. The economy, the weather, competition, workload (feel free to add some of your favorites here) could interfere with goal achievement. But, are they really the reasons we fail? One “reason” I need to remove from my library is “I’m too busy.” It is an excused dressed as a reason. What “I’m too busy” usually means is I am not good at time management or I need to become more selective in the projects I agree to take on.
  • Avoids need to confront weaknesses. Reasons we do not achieve serve as a buffer from an uncomfortable conversation we must have with ourselves. Weaknesses limit our growth. We must be able to acknowledge their existence and resolve to negate (if not overcome) them. Admitting weaknesses can damage our pride, but pretending they do not exist potentially does far more harm to our personal brand.
  • Preserves image. Every person has flaws, but we usually do not leverage them as part of our brand. We position ourselves on positive attributes possessed. When we offer reasons for failure or lack of success, we shift blame for failure away from our own brand. This deflection preserves the image others hold about us. However, be mindful that regularly citing reasons for failure could have the unintended effect of projecting an image that you always make excuses when things do not go your way.

Be Unreasonable

Bernard Roth is on to something when he says reasons are provide us with excuses to behave dysfunctionally. Too often, we want to use a pass for our actions rather than reflect on what we could do create better outcomes for ourselves. This week, I am going to put an emphasis on being “unreasonable.” Don’t worry, I am not planning to be unreasonable in my opinions and actions. My goal is to cut out leaning on the reasons for falling short that do not really explain my shortcomings.

Life is not a Spectator Sport

watching tv

When it comes to blogging, there is no shortage of advice on how to develop ideas for posts. Writing the One to Grow On entries in my blog is a straightforward process. Inspiration comes from thoughts and quotes I come across in daily readings and interactions. Sometimes, they are witty or insightful statements that convey a positive message. Other times, a thought or quote feels like a smack in the face. I was smacked in the face the other day by words of wisdom from the legendary Jim Rohn.

The few who do are the envy of the many who watch. Jim Rohn quote

As a person who has put out creative works for a living and personal growth for more than 20 years—courses, lectures, articles, books, and more—I still struggle with magnetic pull of going to the sidelines to watch. Author Steven Pressfield refers to it as the Resistance. Whether it is resistance, procrastination, or sloth, one thing is for sure: It is destructive to development of your personal brand. It sucks, and I desperately want to beat it. The temptation to watch rather than do is an ongoing threat to personal growth.

Why We Watch

Let’s get one thing clear up front: It is OK to do and watch. We can learn a great deal from watching in various forms—reading books, checking out blogs, watching videos, attending conferences, and enrolling in courses. Learning from others and adding our unique perspective to that knowledge is a form of innovation. We do not have to decide whether to watch or do, but we must strike a balance between consuming versus creating.

What causes an imbalance that leads to too much watching and not enough doing? We are distracted in the following ways:

  • Watching is entertaining. I am a college football fan. Saturdays often mean hours in front of the TV watching exciting games. The pageantry and drama of college football attracts millions to attend games or watch on TV. As much as I like consuming the entertainment on Saturdays, I realize that it would be easy to fall into this practice seven days a week.
  • Watching is educational. We must build in time to learn regardless of our age or how much formal schooling we have had. However, just as we can overdo entertainment, we can spend too much time and focus on learning. Rather than striving for perfection, “do the work” is a mantra that can serve us well.

The takeaway is not only is it OK to watch, some watching is needed in our preparation to do. We must guard against letting the pendulum swing too far to the point we become passive spectators when we should be players.

Get in the Game

Resistance can be a powerful force. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the date of this blog post and the preceding post. I take no pride that it has been three weeks between posts. And, I cannot use a lame excuse like “I’ve been busy” to cover my tracks. I have been guilty of watching others rather than being true to my work. It is clear the problem is me; I have become the person Jim Rohm describes in today’s One to Grow On quote. I loathe that person, so how do we get in the game? Here are three techniques for beating the tendency to watch:

  • Eat that frog. Author and business expert Brian Tracy says begin the day by tackling a task or project that you are reluctant to tackle. Once it is completed, the pressure to do decreases… you’ve already done!
  • Work in short bursts. A time-based work approach like the Pomodoro method blocks off time to work on a specific task. The Pomodoro method is based on working in 25-minute blocks with short breaks in between. A seemingly daunting task can be done in short time intervals.
  • Celebrate victories. Reward yourself for meeting a daily or weekly goal—a milkshake, glass of wine, or shopping trip—whatever would be a fitting treat for completing an important task on your to-do list.

The Struggle is Real

Resistance is nothing new, and its staying power is amazing (albeit annoying). We can mistake resistance for comfort and makes ourselves at home as spectators. The problem with doing so is that life is not a spectator sport. We grow and develop primarily by doing, not watching.

Keep watching, but do more. Show the Resistance who is charge.

Ride the Waves of Change


Benjamin Franklin is known for saying and doing many things. One quote often attributed to him is “in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” The statement is at the same time humorous and sobering. Death and taxes are imposed upon us all (and sometimes taxes do not end with death).

As timeless as this statement is about the certainty of death and taxes, I have always added a third certainty to the list: change. Whether it is individual interests or tastes or the environment in which you spend significant time (community, work, school, etc.), change is almost certain to occur. The scope and magnitude of change is a continuum that ranges from hardly noticeable to radical. Sometimes, change may not alter daily routines at all. Other times, it can rock our world.

A healthy approach to dealing with change is offered up by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and meditation expert.

You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf. Jon Kabat-Zinn quote.

Think of waves as a metaphor for change. Some waves are little more than ripples in the water. Other waves are powerful and have potential to effect change on anything in their path. We cannot stop waves (change), but we can be prepared to to adapt to the waves. They need not create hardship or adversity for us if we are willing to learn to surf the waves of change.

Why Waves Crash Upon Us

Sadly, too many people choose to do something other than learn to surf in order to deal with the waves of change. Why do we try to avoid waves when we could be benefiting from them?

  • Denial. Sometimes, pretending waves of change are not present is a comfortable solution. We can rationalize the change and tell ourselves it is a non-issue—”the merger won’t affect my job” or “we have a 20-year head start over the latest competitor”— could be a dangerous dismissal of significant disruption that is looming.
  • Fear. The potential effects of change may be realized, but it would make us uncomfortable to deal with them. You know full well that your position became redundant as a result of the merger. The possibility of being laid off and being forced to market yourself after 12 years with your employer scares you, not to mention a mortgage, debt, and two kids just a few years away from college. We know change is occurring, but it is convenient to pretend it will affect others, but not us.

Denial and fear are not unusual responses to change. Unfortunately, they fail to address the impact of change because they are reactive responses, not proactive ones.

Take Surfing Lessons

It is naive to think we can avoid the effects of change in our lives. Too many external variables are in play that stand to affect us. Marketers monitor and respond to external environment factors including:

  • competition
  • economy
  • technology
  • government and regulatory climate
  • social trends.

The common thread through these external factors is no one person or organization can do nothing to alter the direction or intensity of external occurrences. We can be prepared to deal with their effects and more importantly, take actions that potentially allow us to benefit from these external occurrences.

We must be willing to learn how to ride the surf because the waves are coming. Waters may be calm now, but in the back of your mind you know they will not remain calm. The personal growth equivalent of taking surfing lessons is a combination of mindset and skill set refinement that enables you to adapt to change.

Don’t be Afraid

A comforting takeaway from Dr. Zinn’s quote is to not be fearful of change. The reality is we almost never have the power to prevent change from happening. What we do have the power to do is deal with change in a manner that minimizes harm to us and maximizes benefit. Instead of allowing our energy to be consumed with denial or fear of impending change, I like the visual image of grabbing a surfboard and going for a ride.

Choose to be Good

archer with great aim; hits bullseye

Do you remember the first job you dreamed about having? It may be far removed from where you find yourself today. My mother told me the first job I expressed admiration for was garbage man when I was four-years old. The first job I recall saying I wanted to have was driver of a Coca-Cola truck. The big, red truck that rumbled down our street every afternoon on the way to the Coke warehouse captivated me—I wanted to be in the driver’s seat!

My interest in garbage collection and truck driving waned. In its place I developed an interest in marketing. The way I came to it was unusual. As a teenager, I often skimmed the help wanted ads in the newspaper. The practice started by chance (I think the classified ads followed the sports section). The number of ads for sales and marketing jobs caught my attention even though I was not a job seeker. I asked my father why there were so many ads for these positions. He pointed out that no matter what a business did or made, it had to be sold. Sounded like job security to me!

Today, I am still in marketing, having spent more than 35 years learning, working, and teaching in the field. The last 18 years have been in higher education as a professor, a far cry from the garbage man or truck driver I envisioned for my career as a young boy.

Your Choice

As a new academic year begins for me, I am keeping a quote by Abraham Lincoln in mind. My goal is for this year to be the best ever in my higher ed career. A lofty outcome, for sure, and one that will only be reached by striving each day to be good at what I do. It will not hinge on one event or project, but small actions I take to become a better teacher, researcher, and colleague. Lincoln’s words offer encouragement on two fronts:

  • You can choose “whatever you are.” While I drifted away from my aspirations to be a garbage man or Coca-Cola truck driver, we desperately need people to take on those roles. Moreover, you can be happy regardless of what you choose to do for work. I am currently reading The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha. Early in the book he points out that many of us mistake how to achieve happiness. It is not a linear progression that takes us to happiness. So, instead of this:

Great Work > Big Success > Happy

we need to choose happiness at the outset and go on the journey from there.

Happy > Great Work > Big Success

The good news is we get to choose. Sometimes, we make the wrong choice. If that is your case, choosing happiness first could make it easier to shift the work you do and how you define success.

  • You control whether you are “a good one.” Note that Lincoln does not say we must “be the best” or “rise above everyone else.” We only need to be good at what we do. Why is that important? I believe many people fall in the trap of comparing themselves to others and feeling so inferior that it paralyzes them. “Why bother blogging or building an online presence, I will never be like Seth Godin (or whoever the people are that are the stars of your field).” These far out comparisons do nothing to help us. They hurt us by discouraging action and in turn, improvement. Not only will we not become the best, but we hurt our chances of being as could as we could be.

Whatever you are, be a good one. Abraham Lincoln quote

Get Started

The opportunity create value for the audience I serve does not require me to be the best at what I do. Students do not care how many research articles I publish or in which journals my research appears. The number of blog posts written or Twitter followers gained are not indicators of being good. Yet, we often chase such vanity metrics as if it was a competition.

Choose to be a good one of whatever you are. It is completely within your control. In order to get to good, step back and ask yourself what behaviors will help move you in that direction. Then, do it!


Find Your Fans and Forget the Rest


One of the hardest lessons for me to accept as a young marketer was that my company’s offerings were not for everyone. On top of that, there were some non-customers that simply disliked us. Maybe they had a bad experience with our company years ago. Or, a competitor made disparaging remarks about our company. In some instances, it was that people disliked our product, perceiving it to be inferior relative to competition. Whatever the source of negative beliefs, our products were not going to wind up in their shopping carts. Safe to say people in this camp were not fans… nor were they going to be.

The sooner you accept the fact that you will have detractors, the sooner you will be freed up to create value for those people who believe in you. I suppose it is human nature to want to be accepted and liked. The reality is universal acclaim and support is not going to happen. Do not compromise your beliefs or integrity in an attempt to win over naysayers.

The late Kurt Cobain succinctly states the importance of being your authentic self. When you “play it down the middle” to not turn off anyone, it is very likely that you will also fail to turn on people.

Aim to Please

Attempting to create broad appeal seems to be a logical strategy. Product acceptance odds increase the larger the target market. Factors influencing our attempts to aim to please include:

  • Desire to be liked. Receiving positive feedback validates our work and strokes our ego.
  • Potential to grow. The wider net we cast, the greater the possibility of our brand and message being spread via word-of-mouth.
  • Fear. We may be concerned what detractors might do and thus attempt to minimize interactions with them. Will they have silent indifference, or will they be bent on communicating their dissatisfaction to anyone who will listen?

We can fool ourselves into seeing positive benefits and take precautions against stirring the pot of negativity. Unfortunately, the end result could be a personal brand without distinction.

Take a Stand

The alternative course of action to playing it safe is to take a stand. We need to look no further than the world of product brands to realize staking a position is a necessity. Product marketers segment audiences to appeal to those customers who they can best serve. We must take the same approach. The goal need not be create a large audience but rather a committed audience. Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, espouses a belief that the goal of a business serving individual markets should be to build an audience of 1,000 die-hard fans. This core customer group will buy, advocate, and refer on your behalf. The headcount may not be gaudy, but it represents a high quality group of believers.

If you think 1,000 committed fans is too small a number, we can find examples of popular brands also being polarizing brands. Look to the NFL for an example. The Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots are two of the most disliked teams in the league based on fan surveys. These same two franchises are also among the most popular. The top four players in jersey sales for 2016 were from these teams (three Cowboys, one Patriot). These teams evoke love-hate reactions from many fans.

Decide to Divide

If you have been clinging to the notion that you can attract more followers to your brand, it is OK to hang on to that thought. It is also OK to entertain a goal of creating detractors. Do not go out of your way to inflame people and encourage haters. At the same time, avoid being conservative so that you do not offend or alienate others. Follow the words of Kurt Cobain and embrace your authentic brand. Some will be attracted to it; others will be driven away. Both outcomes are acceptable as long as you consistently live your brand.

Image credit: Flickr/Adam McGhee via Creative Commons license

In Search of Persistence, not Perfection


Doing great work and attaining high levels of achievement are aspirations most people have. Who wouldn’t want to be known as being among the best at what they do? We look at leaders in our field and marvel at the brilliant work they consistently produce. Each article, podcast, speech, or book reflects mastery and occupying rarefied air within their field. We may want to get there but are discouraged because we do not see ourselves as having what it takes to become great at what we do.

This lament is not an objective assessment of our limitations. Rather, it is a dangerous form of self-sabotage. You may not be brilliant at what you do… nor do you need to be. The fuel that moves us forward is persistence, consistently doing the work. Leadership expert and author Robin Sharma says persistence will do more for our personal growth than being brilliant.

"Persistence gets you farther than brilliance." -Robin Sharma quoteThe Brilliance Trap

If persistence will do more to advance our development than brilliance, then why do we still chase achieving greatness? You do not hear many professional golfers say “I want to be the most persistent golf pro in the world.” Instead, their aspirations deal with measurable outputs—achieving a high rank, winning tournaments, or winning major championships. Yet, the pursuit of brilliance keeps us from winning tournaments or whatever the measuring stick we use.

We fall into what could be called the brilliance trap for the following reasons:

  • Focus is on the result, not the process. We associate brilliance with results achieved, but the truth is the results would never happen without following a process (i.e., hard work) to get there.  Our focus on results and the benefits associated them means we overlook the necessity to take small steps forward daily toward the big goal.
  • Brilliance is more fun than persistence. It is more enjoyable to bask in the glory that radiates from brilliance than the grunt work that takes place in the trenches. Many people want to write a book but cannot discipline themselves to consistently write and inch closer to their goal. John Grisham says if you would write 200 words a day you could complete a novel in two years. The latter sounds cool; the former requires commitment and resolve.
  • Great work is equated with brilliance. We see the output of high performers in our field and attribute it to talent or even luck. The work required to rise to a peak performance level goes unseen. We assume hard work played a role in that person’s ability to do brilliant work, but we are not there to witness the preparation and sacrifices made to hone a high performer’s abilities and skills. The potential for doing brilliant work is a gift, but it is also like a muscle that can be strengthened through persistence.

How to be Persistent

Becoming more persistent is a trait I want to develop. It will enable me to follow through more consistently on ideas and plans. I have made strides in this area thanks in part to three tools that give me direction.

  • Setting goals. I write down what I want to achieve, setting trimester goals (four-month cycles). This time frame fits nicely with the fall, spring, and summer semester schedules under which I work as an academic. You probably have heard the statistic before that 97% of people do not write down goals. It is invaluable for me as it gives me end results at which to aim. Otherwise, I fear I would not make best use of time and not complete as many projects.
  • Identifying next steps. Goals set the finish line we want to cross. Now, all that has to be done is figuring out how to get there. This small yet crucial detail trips up many good intentions. For any goal set, break it down in to weekly and even daily actions that must be completed in order to advance toward goal attainment. Persistence is needed to follow through in order to transform goals from dreams to reality.
  • Managing time. The hyper-distracting environment in which we live is a threat to persistence. It is not hard to go from researching a topic to scrolling through your Facebook page (speaking from first-hand experience on this one). A time management device that has helped me focus and be more persistent is the Pomodoro technique. The premise of this technique is to work in 25-minute blocks of time, taking short breaks between blocks. During a 25- minute block, work on only one task. It has been a game changer for me.

Be Persistent to be Great

Greatness is not reserved for a select few. However, you have be incredibly persistent to get there. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hour rule in Outliers. He asserted that high level performers typically invested many, many hours of preparation and work to become exceptional. Persistence versus brilliance reminds me of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise relied on persistence (he sure did not have speed) to eventually overtake the hare and win the race. Similarly, we should look to persistence as the secret to our growth. It has the potential to take us farther than any brilliance bestowed upon us.

Accept Change as a Certainty


Benjamin Franklin made famous the saying:”Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” That observation has held true for more than 200 years. I would add a third certainty to the list: change. It comes in varying degrees of newness and impact, but change is pervasive in our lives. Rather than lament change or put up a fight to stop it, we would be better served to put our energy toward adapting to change. The words of Socrates fit this challenge. When facing change we are usually better off focusing on building the new instead of fighting the old.

Fighting is Futile

It is a natural reaction to question, if not outright resist change. A change stands to disrupt how things are done, how we behave, and what we believe. Do we want to subject ourselves to such uncertainties or prefer to maintain status quo? We are willing to go to battle to keep things as they are, even when change has the potential to improve a situation.

A favorite children’s story I read to my sons was “Silly Sidney.” It is a story about a squirrel named Sidney. What makes him Silly Sidney? He comes up with a silly idea that if the leaves do not fall from the trees, the seasons will not change from fall to winter. It is not pleasant for squirrels in the winter, and they have to gather food to get through the coldest season. Sidney had it all figured out. He would put leaves back on the trees as they fall, keeping winter at bay. His plan was a miserable failure, of course. The leaves fell from the trees, and winter came as usual. Not only did Silly Sidney’s plan backfire, he had not gathered food for winter because his focus was on stopping winter.

Like Silly Sidney, we sometimes expend energy to resist change that would be better utilized adapting to change. The decision whether to fight for the old or focus on the new must take into account the degree of certainty for change. “Silly Sidney” is an extreme example in that the change is assured of happening (change of seasons). Yet, are there times when we resist change that is all but going to happen?

Pick Fights Wisely

The advice to focus on change rather than resist it has an implication that must be addressed: What if the proposed change is wrong or harmful? We need not blindly buy into Socrates’ advice. Sometimes, proposed change is not for the greater good but is self-serving to a person or group. Other times, we draw the short straw. The greater good will benefit from change, but our personal situation does not improve.

When faced with change, determine your fight-or-focus response by asking these questions:

  • Is the change inevitable? If yes, it is going to happen whether you fight the change. Energy would be better spent on focusing on building a new way of doing things post-change.
  • What new value will be created by the change? In many cases, change is brought about because it is believed better performance or results will occur. How can you leverage the different outcome to your advantage?
  • If change is neither inevitable nor creates new value, what is the reason for change? If the first two questions do not have satisfactory answers, it is here that questioning change (or even fighting it) is appropriate.

View proposed change with healthy skepticism. Look for the good that can come from it, but if you cannot find benefits in a change do not let it go unchallenged.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Whether you resist or embrace change, it is likely to occur. Thus, figure out how to benefit or thrive when change happens. Don’t be like Silly Sidney and make the dual mistakes of fighting change and not preparing anyway in case it happens. You might not agree with a change, but it does not mean you cannot prosper from it.