Investing in Stock Markets: 101

   The stock market is one of the most common areas to invest in. But what exactly is the stock market?

What is the Stock Market?

   The stock market refers to all markets and exchanges where you can buy and sell shares in public companies. In aggregate, the stock market refers to all publicly traded companies in the world. Ownership of these companies is represented by shares of ownership, or shares. Most countries have their own exchanges, though with the global nature of business, consumers can buy and sell shares across exchanges around the world.

What is a Stock Exchange?

   A stock exchange is a collection of companies deemed to be traded on that exchange. For example, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and/or the NASDAQ is where many of America’s public companies can be bought and sold. Toronto has their own Exchange, through the TSX (Toronto Stock Exchange), and London has their own Exchange (LSE). Basically, a stock exchange is just a large store where you can buy and sell a variety of financial instruments, from shares to bonds, and even options. The shares on offer at each “store” may be different. For example, Enbridge is a Canadian energy company, and can only be bought or sold on the TSX.

The Stock Market and Stock Exchanges are Different. Why is that important?

   The stock market refers to the all-encompassing marketplace for buying and selling financial instruments, including shares. Each exchange operates on their own currency, for example the TSX buys and sells in Canadian dollars, the NYSE and NASDAQ operate in USD, and the London Stock Exchange operates in the British Pound. This means that buying and selling across international exchanges opens you up to foreign currency fluctuations. Also, since the exchanges are based in a specific country, that country's tax laws will also impact your investments.

Investing in Exchanges: ETFs and Index Funds

   As an extremely popular method of investing, Index funds seek to track the overall performance of stocks fitting a certain set of criteria. Some of the most popular indexes that are reported on are the S&P 500, or the 500 largest companies traded in the USA. Another index is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), which is comprised of 30 of the largest companies in the US. By investing in ETFs, investors are able to diversify within an exchange at a relatively low cost of ownership. Rather than purchasing one share of each company in the market, an ETF allows you to purchase the general movement of the exchange as a whole.

Market Fluctuations in Today’s Economic Climate

   Understanding the difference between stock exchanges and the stock market in general is even more important during these difficult times in 2020. As the coronavirus is a global event, every country is impacted. But the impacts are not felt equally across the entire world. This means that the business disruption will be more severe in some countries than in others. As a share is simply a purchase of ownership in a company, certain companies and exchanges will be affected more severely than others.

   To illustrate this, we can look at the returns for the TSX Composite Index and the S&P 500 for the week of March 23 to March 27, 2020.

Opening and Closing Level of the TSX and S&P 500 for the week of 3/23/2020.

   In that time, the TSX saw an increase in value by 7.5%, while the S&P 500 grew 10.93%. How each government responds to the health crisis will influence how exchanges perform in the overall market. To diversify your investments, it is wise to consider investing beyond your local exchange. But, the calculations aren’t always as straight forward, depending on the accounts you are using, tax laws can impact your returns quite substantially, especially when foreign markets come into play.

US Withholding Taxes on Stocks (For Canadians)

   At the risk of diving too deep into the rabbit hole, it is worth a quick look at US withholding taxes. The two largest stock exchanges in the world (based on market cap) are located in the US, the NYSE and NASDAQ. Given the size of these exchanges, it is extremely likely that you will invest some of your financial resources on these exchanges. Canada and the US have tax treaties which allow for preferential treatment, but most investment proceeds in the form of dividends and interest are subject to withholding taxes. These additional taxes can be avoided however, if you are making these investments in a qualified account.

   The accounts that qualify for this favourable tax treatment are in general your retirement accounts, such as an RRSP. This is an important distinction to make, because the TFSA, which is another popular Canadian tax advantaged account does not receive the same special treatment for US holdings.

   If you are using an account that isn’t your RRSP to invest in the US, you will need to file a tax form with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to take advantage of the Canada-US tax treaties that reduces (but not eliminates) foreign withholding tax. This form is the W-8BEN.

Summary

   Investing is an important element in everyone’s financial plan. The stock market is one place where many of us will invest some of our money. Even in the stock market, there are different subsets, groups of companies in different regions, traded on different exchanges. These exchanges operate as stores, selling slightly different merchandise. Some of these stores will do better than others, as global events impact different regions at a different scale.

   Aside from investing in companies around the world, the savvy investor also needs to know how currency fluctuations and tax laws will impact their returns. With the right mix of investment accounts, you can capitalize on the benefits of diversifying into different exchanges. RRSPs receive preferential tax treatment in the form of eliminating withholding taxes on interest and dividends from US sources. When considering investing in the US, it is more beneficial from a withholding tax standpoint to use the RRSP over the TFSA, as long as your objectives for both accounts are the same, investing for retirement. For all other investments on US stock exchanges, it is important that you file a W-8BEN to take advantage of the existing tax treaties between Canada and the US. This will ensure you aren’t leaving money on the table. After all, less taxes paid means higher returns for you!

   Knowing how to use the tools available to you will help you build the right financial plan for you. Financial freedom isn’t a lofty ideal, with the right knowledge it is a realizable goal.

Evaluating Routines: Spring Cleaning in Your Life

   With measures taken to combat COVID-19 including social distancing, millions of people have had their daily lives radically changed. Work has been radically transformed as people are either temporarily displaced, or embracing remote working options. Coinciding with spring's arrival (in the Northern Hemisphere), this provides an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate our recently upended routines.

   As a result of this self-imposed quarantine, this year spring cleaning is taking on a whole new meaning. We are finding out what elements of our lives have changed (a huge number of things changed). And most importantly, how these changes are impacting the rest of our life.

   My regular routine, which I had thought was carefully constructed has been radically altered. The local gym has closed doors, meaning I need to find different methods for working out. While I previously had no difficulty making it to the gym every day, by moving that workout space into the kitchen, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate what is fitness time from food time, and even work time. Work has also taken on a new meaning - regular office hours are harder to enforce when my devices are within arms reach 24/7. The chaotic aftermath of losing my regular routine has left many openings in my schedule. Left to their own devices, those openings threaten to disrupt the progress that I’ve made.

   These experiences are not mine alone. With no commute time people have reported sleeping in longer, and staying signed into their work well past their previous “punch-out time”. These changes aren’t necessarily a good thing. While many of us could benefit from an extra few minutes of shut-eye, hitting the snooze button repeatedly for an hour is not the answer. Working later hours, being plugged in all the time also has negative repercussions. With no clear boundaries over work and home life, they bleed into each other. This means we’re always “on”, and never take the time to power down and recharge. As a result, despite putting in longer hours, for many people their overall productive output has decreased.

   For spring cleaning this year, we need to evaluate what our routines were, and determine what has changed in the past few weeks. Where are the areas that are no longer being served by your previous routine? Were there areas in your previous routine that weren’t driving success in your life?

   Take a look at the pillars of your life. How are your routines serving your greater success?

   Physically - is your health where it should be? What are you doing to stay active, to stay healthy? When, for how long, and how often do you workout? As many changes have impacted our lives, are you staying accountable for your own physical wellbeing? If you are finding it challenging, there are countless free and paid apps that can help you with ideas for fitness. I have found myself engaging in daily yoga practices guided on Youtube, in addition to strength training apps to keep me fit and healthy during these times.

   Mentally / Spiritually - what practices are you doing to reflect? How do you unwind? What are you working for? What are you grateful for? Proper mental practices are even more important, as isolation can be a tough burden to bear. Gratitude, exploring what you are thankful for, and counting the many blessings that you do have can help you retain your sanity through these tough times.

   Financially - are your financial systems in check? Are you investing regularly? Are you monitoring your spending? Changes in our routines don’t change the underlying principles of personal finance. Are you sticking with your plans?

   Career - what are you doing in your career? Does that excite you? What are you doing to improve yourself and your skill set? While work for most people has been changed right now, what are you doing to ensure you are better equipped for success as the world settles down?

   Relationships - how are you staying connected? Who do you miss talking to and seeing? Let those friends, family members, and colleagues know that you’re thinking about them. There are numerous ways to keep engaged, through video conferencing and online games, being social has changed in the manner of delivery, but still remains as important as ever for our social species.

   Romance - are you spending more time than normal with your spouse? How is that affecting your relationship? Many of us are now at home full time with our families. Are these changes good? Or are you having difficulty bridging your different worlds of work and home life? Setting clear boundaries, and making sure you stick to them will help keep things stable. 

   As you are spring cleaning this year, think about the things that you miss in your old routine. What was going well, and needs to be continued? And conversely, what wasn’t driving your success? We all pick up seemingly innocent habits along the way that we really don’t need. Identify these, and ensure that your new routine helps you more than your old routines did.

   Success is the accumulation of a million tiny wins. By making sure your routines are earning those points each and every day, success will be inevitable.

No Zero Days

   What separates a top achiever from everyone else?

   Top achievers know exactly what they want to do, and then spend the time working on those priorities. If you want to find more success in your life, you need to be able to answer the questions:

   How are you spending your time? What are you working on? Is what you are working on a top priority?

   While we all have endless to-do lists, super-achievers understand that it simply is not possible to get everything done. For these elite performers, they have adopted and embody a simple philosophy: No Zero Days.

   A “zero day” can be defined as a day that doesn’t drive the needle on your top priorities, your big hairy audacious goal, the life defining work we all aspire to. Zero days don’t mean that nothing gets done, quite the opposite in fact. On those zero days we work our asses off, clearing out our to-do lists and attending meetings, all working towards someone else’s agenda.

   This week, I challenge you to have No Zero Days. Start by writing down your biggest 3 priorities. Now spend time each day working on those priorities first. You don’t need to devote all your time towards those goals, that would be impossible. But make sure each day you do something to drive the needle forward. Let’s see if we all can go 5 for 5, making meaningful incremental progress each day. 

   Be sure to review your progress at the end of the week - if those small daily wins feel good, strive for two weeks of No Zero Days, then a month. Success is in your reach, one day at a time.

How to measure success

How do you measure success?

   Most of us are completely comfortable with the idea that the most successful among us have the trophies and accolades to go with that success. Therefore, to be more successful, you need to accomplish more things. The measure of success is the number and size of goals that you have achieved.

   This measure of success, the number of trophies earned, couldn’t be further from the truth.

   We can see this when we look at one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant (08-23-1978 - 01-26-2020). Kobe was known for his intense practice routines, shooting hundreds of shots each day, and for his 666 workouts. 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, 6 months of the year. In one interview with Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum, Kobe reportedly said the following:

Interview with Kobe Bryant where he discusses his practice routine.  

(Tony Manfred, https://www.businessinsider.com/kobe-bryant-describes-shooting-practice-routine-2013-2)

   In this simple exchange, we can learn quite a lot from one of the most successful basketball players in history. 

Leading Behaviors

   As a professional athlete, Kobe Bryant tracked his workouts, how many hours a day, how many days a week. See, Kobe had the understanding that time spent improving in the gym, on the court, reviewing game tapes, all would lead to more success during the game. These are called leading behaviors.

   Knowing that to shoot better on the court, Kobe needed to shoot more in practice. That is the power of his simple exchange with a reporter. Kobe wasn’t keeping track of his game stats, but rather how much time was spent improving in practice. 

Lagging Results

   Closely tied with the leading behaviors are lagging results. Which takes us back to where we started, the number of trophies earned. By tracking the number of achievements that we have already accomplished we risk two things. The first, is putting focus and therefore energy on the wrong activity. 

   In Kobe’s case, this would have been focusing solely on his shooting percentage. Points win games, if he can score more points each game, that would lead to more wins. But, his strength and fitness also played a huge role in both his personal, and the team’s overall success. Building a routine that tracked gym time (Kobe’s 666 routine), as well as practice shots thrown built the skills that would eventually lead to victories.

   Secondly, by focusing solely on results we risk falling back on our past successes. We can see this in another basketball player, Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). Shaq relied heavily on his size and skill to drive his success. By focusing on what led him to the NBA, and not embracing Kobe’s relentless drive for improvement, Shaq plateaued far below his potential. As a result, Shaq arguably did not achieve as much of his potential as Kobe did.

Leading Behaviors vs. Lagging Results

   The lessons learned from professional athletes can be applied in all our lives. Determining what actions, or behaviors, drive success forward in your goals will help you achieve more. Whether that is time on the trails when training for a marathon, or time spent just thinking on projects in your career. This focus on the behaviors that lead to success will ensure that the trophies and accolades fill your shelves.

   What behaviors are you going to embrace that will lead to your spectacular results?

Staying Focused on Your Goals

What goals have you set your sights on?

   It is important to remember regularly what you are trying to achieve, what your goals are, where your dreams lie. In today’s busy workplaces, it is far too easy to get lost in the busyness of someone else’s priorities. 

   With the advances of technology over the past couple of decades, communication has become instantaneous, and people are looking for answers in about the same amount of time. From the late night frantic phone calls to the early morning tidal wave of emails, it is far too easy to get caught up in the mad rush without pausing to see where you are rushing to. If you mention in a passing conversation that you are busy putting out fires, every busy professional can relate. But there is one fire we shouldn’t put out. Those kindling embers of your dreams need to be nurtured, not extinguished.

How do you stay focused?

   If you’ve ever been camping, or spent time around a campfire, you will from time to time see someone blowing on the coals. See, when a fire starts burning out, often you can revive it by blowing air on the coals. The additional oxygen helps keep the fire lit. 

   Our dreams are no different, you need constant air blowing on the coals to keep your flame lit, to keep your dream alive.

   But when we spend our days reacting to other people’s demands, other people’s priorities, we often forget to take a deep breath, and blow some life back into our own dreams.

Staying focused on what you want to achieve can be hard. Constant reminders about what is important to you helps fan the flames of success. 

   To stay focused on your own dreams, you need to take a moment every day to reflect on what it is that is truly important to you. Some of the questions I ask myself every day are: 

   What are my dreams? Why are they important to me? What can I do today to work towards those goals?

   Take some time and think about how these questions fall into your own life. Are you spending enough time focused on your dreams?

   Taking time to ask yourself questions like these is essential. But how can you take a moment in quiet self reflection when the world is burning down around you?

Finding Focus Through Your Environment

   Often it is difficult to remember to step out of our routines to think about what we are actually doing. As we run from meeting to meeting, remembering to pause and reflect on what we were planning to achieve today can be a challenge. To assist us against ourselves, we need to design our environment with little reminders of our true objectives.

   For example, I have a large whiteboard set up with my goals and plans. Seeing this whiteboard daily helps me remember what I need to achieve next. But of course, I am not always home and able to see the whiteboard. For those moments I have signed up for daily emails that prompt me to think bigger, to contemplate topics that will grow not just my business, but more importantly, will grow myself. Sprinkling reminders about my goals and dreams throughout my day helps keep me focused on my goals, allowing ideas to germinate and bloom while I am fighting other people’s fires.

   Many of us do not have the luxury to chase our goals and priorities all day, every day. Often  we find ourselves in careers and positions when we need to put someone else’s priorities ahead of our own, if only to pay the bills. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is during these days that we need to remain extra vigilant that we also allocate some focus and energy to our own goals and priorities. It is far too easy to find yourself swept up in the whirlwind and raging inferno of other people’s problems. Without reminding yourself daily as to what your goals are, and what you can do to make progress, those burning embers of your dreams will go cold.

Take-away:

Ask yourself these questions each day:

  • What are my dreams?
  • Why are they important to me?
  • What can I do today to work towards those goals?

   Answering these questions will help you remain focused, fanning the flames of your own success. But there will still be days that threaten to overwhelm your good intentions. Sprinkle little reminders about what your goals are throughout your day. These reminders can be as obvious as a 6 foot whiteboard, or as subtle as a mid-afternoon alarm that triggers you to take a moment and reflect on what you are doing, and if that is helping your goals or not.

3 Excuses for Abandoning Your Goals

   What is your progress towards your New Year’s Resolutions? Are you still on track?

   After several conversations recently about people’s New Year’s Resolutions, it seems that already people are falling off track. 6 weeks into the New Year, and already for many people this year will be much like last year. And with that alarming realization, I thought it worth investigating what is derailing people from their goals.

   What I found is that the list of excuses is surprisingly short, yet alarmingly consistent. Here are the top 3 that I found during this informal survey:

  1. Not enough time
  2. Too exhausted after work
  3. Not that important to me anymore

Not Enough Time

   Perhaps the most pernicious of all excuses is the Not Enough Time excuse. This excuse is so damaging, and so widespread, because it is easy to rationalize. If only we had more time, we would easily be able to work on our goals. When we spout this excuse in a conversation, other people immediately relate, and hence we are let off the hook for our own shortcomings. Unfortunately, there is simply no more time in each day. 

   If time isn’t the answer, where does the answer lie?

   While there are many solutions, let’s look at one in particular: the way you track time, your calendar. If your goal is important, you need to allocate time in your calendar to its achievement. While you can’t find more time, you can certainly control how you spend what limited time you do have.

What time in your calendar will you block off for achieving your goals?

Too Exhausted After Work

   The next excuse has to deal with energy. After a long day at work, the amount of willpower and physical energy required to work on our goals simply isn’t there. Understanding how your body works, when you experience the most energy, is important to optimizing your routines. 

   For me, I have the energy to work on my fitness goals early in the morning. As such, I have aligned my schedule to allow time for the gym before the workday begins. This all begins with a good night’s sleep, allowing me to be rested when I wake up early, and then awake by the time I reach the gym after a light breakfast. Advancing my knowledge through reading comes over lunch and at right after dinner, allowing me ample time to process the information and wind down before bed in the evening. 

   There’s quite a lot of science and research done in the realm of energy management. Here’s a few key take-aways that you should apply to your life to find greater success:

  • It all starts with a good night’s sleep. 8 hours is recommended for almost everyone.
  • Understand your energy and stress levels, and work the gym into your schedule. You should aim to workout when you have energy, and to relieve stress.
  • Energy is a function of sleep and diet, make sure you are eating healthy foods! Eat foods that make you happy and healthy, just understand how your diet affects your energy levels.

   Being too exhausted is often a symptom of not understanding how your energy works. Designing your lifestyle and achievement around your energy will help you reach greater levels of success.

Not That Important To Me Anymore

   Another big reason I heard about why people weren’t sticking with their resolutions was that their goal simply wasn’t that important anymore. There were two main reasons for this. First, their resolution was made under the pressure, and having just heard, someone else’s resolutions. This led them to the trap of “that sounds good, I’ll do that too”. I see this all the time, people buying certain items, or trying to do or become certain things because they see someone else doing it successfully. 

   The second reason people’s resolutions end up neglected is that they have cast a wide net. Their goals are to become as ripped as Arnold Schwarznegger, as zen-like as the Dalai Lama, as rich as Warren Buffet, and as successful as Richard Branson. Becoming known for any one of those areas requires years of intense focus. Having a goal to achieve world renowned excellence in all areas means none of the areas will receive the focus it needs. 

   We all need goals in 6 key areas of our lives, physical, financial, mental, career, relationships, and romantic. But trying to achieve everything, in all of these areas, will lead us to achieving mediocre results across the board. Understanding what is important to you, and focusing on that will lead to greater success. Of all the excuses, the not that important anymore excuse is the most valid. But only if conscious thought is put in to determine where your priorities are.

   To avoid this excuse in the future, you need to become clear on what you want, and why, before you set your goals and resolutions. 

What is most important to you? What areas of your life are you okay with good, but not world-class results in?

   Knowing how to structure your routines will help you manage your time and energy. This will ensure that when you are most alive, most focused, most energetic, that you are focused on the most important thing. Deciding what is most important to you, and setting the right goals is half the battle. Organizing your day according to your energy and focus will bring execution to your best laid plans. And that, is a recipe for success.

What is Your Next Milestone?

   What is your vision of the future? Where do you dream of being 10 years from now?

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” - Bill Gates

   Setting life changing and awe-inspiring goals often sounds very much like dreaming. The enormity of the goal is so daunting we don’t always know where to start. In these situations we also need to set milestones, smaller markers of progress that are more manageable. 

The Reason for Milestones

   Milestones serve a few essential purposes in goal setting. First, milestones provide a closer range target to aim for. This helps shrink the gap between where you are, and where you are trying to reach. Making the goal less daunting enables you to plan the action steps easier, and helps you keep motivation. As you progress towards a shorter range milestone, your progress is more easily seen, reinforcing that your efforts are making an impact.

   Milestones also provide something to celebrate. While achievement is certainly an important element for finding fulfillment, celebrating the smaller wins along the way keeps the journey light and fun. Your BHAG’s and long range vision shouldn’t feel like a chore, it should feel like you are doing exactly what you were put here to do. 

Milestones in Action

   For this example, let’s look at my BHAG. Within the next 10 years, by 2030, I am going to help 1 million people find greater success. I will help these million achievers through my speaking, writing, and online courses. Even as I write these words, I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with excitement, and the nagging thoughts in the back of my head asking, how? 1 million people is a lot of people. And that is where milestones come in.

   To reach 1 million people in the next 10 years, I need milestones to let me know that I am on track. Therefore my first milestone is to reach 100 weekly readers, then 500, then 1,000, and so forth. Each of these milestones is small enough to be attainable, yet each milestone drives the needle towards my BHAG. Of course, for a BHAG of helping 1 million people find greater achievement in their lives there will be many more milestones along the way. But starting small with a list of 100 is something that I can achieve in the short term. It’s something that I can celebrate. It’s something that will motivate me to hit my next milestone of 500 subscribers.

Where to begin with your Milestones?

   When getting started with any new goal, it is important to provide yourself a quick win. It would be entirely logical to say 1,000,000 divided by 10, is 100,000 people impacted per year. But when starting from 0, even that seems like a big goal. Since success breeds more success, the first 100 will be harder than the first 1,000, and so on. As I build momentum, recognizing what works, and what doesn’t, I’ll be able to refine my strategies.

More Milestones in Action

   Assume you set a career BHAG to become a Director of Sales in 10 years. Starting in an entry level inside sales role, your next milestone isn’t to become a Director. Your next milestone is to develop the skills that will help you succeed as a sales executive. Once you have the skills to succeed at the next level, you will be able to effectively grow into that new role. Hitting that milestone, celebrating, and setting your sights on the next set of skills that you’ll need. In that case, it might be better communication and leadership skills. Step by step, milestone by milestone, you will progress towards your BHAG, refining your process and abilities as you grow.

What is Your Next Milestone? 

   Now it’s your turn. What is your BHAG? Now what one small win can you achieve in the next 1-3 months that will help fuel that fire inside of you? That quick win is your first milestone, followed by the next win, and the next. As you grow and develop, that mountain of a goal you originally set seems to get smaller and more surmountable each step of the way.

   As you knock milestones down, you become more of who you were meant to be. And that’s certainly something worth celebrating!

What is holding you back from achievement?

   When we set goals, we identify a future state that we want to bring into existence. Whether that is a slimmer waistline, a healthier bank account, or a more fulfilling job. This vision for the future provides us hope, and the strength to overcome difficulties. But even knowing where we want to reach, often times we fall short of our stated goals. Why? What is holding us back from achieving our dreams?

The Achievement Problem

   When setting goals, it is important to have a clear vision of the future. But equally as important, we have to recognize where we are right now. A goal is the way to bridge the gap between your current state and your future state. The achievement problem often arises when the bridge simply isn’t long enough to span the gap, often because our current reality is distorted. In these cases, we assume we are further ahead than we actually are, and after the first few weeks or months of effort we become discouraged. Our reality catches us to where we thought we were starting from, but you don’t feel any closer to your goal.

   For example, our health is a common goal that many of us set. We plan to shed those extra 5 (or 15) pounds. And so we begin, our current state is 5 pounds heavier than our goal state. After a few weeks at the gym, sure you feel a little stronger, but the scale hasn’t moved an inch. Maybe the gym just isn’t for you? It sure is a lot of work, and for what? Where are the results?

   In reality, that gym has made you stronger. And your muscles are developing, but that doesn’t immediately move the needle on the weight scale. The true current state is more complicated than a simple number. It takes into consideration movement in your daily routine, your diet, your sleep schedule. All of these factors contribute to those extra 5. And all those factors need to be considered when looking at your current state.

The Gap Analysis

   To effectively plan for achievement, you need to consider all of the factors impacting your current state, and all of the limiting factors that need to be overcome to reach your desired state. The difference here is often a wider chasm to bridge than you first recognize. 

   Identifying where you are, where you truly are, and where you want to be is called the Gap Analysis. The objective is to list out where you are right now, and everything that is holding you back from achieving more. This won’t be easy, or comfortable, but it is necessary if you want to overcome your obstacles.

   With some deeper thought, you can conduct your own gap analysis, understanding where all the obstacles are that hold you back from achievement. Once you’ve identified the obstacles, only then are you ready to develop an action plan to bring your goals to fruition.

Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving More

   What is holding you back from achieving more? The obstacles that you don’t consider are often what trip you up. Spend some time performing a thorough Gap analysis, and you will have the list of challenges to overcome. Quite often simply recognizing these challenges exist is enough to build counter measures, to make small adjustments to succeed.

   In our gym example, this could be a more comprehensive plan that involves an extra 30 minutes of sleep a night, a couple more glasses of water during the day, and a 30-minute walk at lunch. These minor changes build up over time, and magnify the efforts that you put in at the gym. Soon enough, those pesky 5 pounds were last years’ problem.

   Where are you right now? What is the gap between your current state and your goal state? Once you know the gaps, you can more easily build the right bridge, carrying you up, over, and to the brighter world on the other side.

How much will achieving your goals cost?

How much will achieving your goals cost?

   Knowing how to avoid the common pitfalls of achieving goals increases your chance of success. But there is one other often overlooked cost of achievement, and that is the financial cost of progress. For all of our goals or resolutions, there will be an impact on our bank account. Recognizing these costs will help you build them into your financial plans, and clear one last hurdle to your achievement.

What type of costs will you see?

   For my fitness goals, the gym membership will cost several hundred for the year. And while I have some gear already, continued use will ensure that needs to be replaced. By the end of the year, I expect to have spent $ 2,500 on gym memberships, workout clothing, running shoes, equipment maintenance, etc.

   As I progress my career goals, I will need to have the wardrobe for the positions I plan to be in. For new suits and dress clothing, $ 2,000. The courses and professional development that will get me to my career goals? Another $ 8,000.

   By now this is starting to sound like a MasterCard commercial, and that’s only considering the costs for two of my pillars. Once we add in social outings, date nights, romantic get-aways, journals, guided meditation apps, etc. The financial cost of all that I plan on achieving climbs even higher.

   Of course, achieving what I have set my sights on this year? Making this year my best year ever? That, is priceless

How much will achieving your goals cost?

   Setting the right goals will put you on the path to living your best year ever. But an important part of achieving your goals is to understand the costs associated with each of those goals. Here’s how you can be better prepared:

  • Pull out your list of goals
  • Under each goal, list what you’ll need to get there
    • A coach? Courses and seminars? A weekly entertainment fund? New gear / clothing?
  • How much do each of these prerequisites cost?
  • How much more do you need to set aside now, and ongoing, to ensure you can achieve your goals without undermining your financial foundations?

   Understanding the costs of achievement helps you plan accordingly. No matter the numbers you come up with, it is essential that you create the plan, and keep your eyes fixed firmly on the achievement of your goals. Because the cost is nothing compared to the value you’ll experience when you make this year your best ever. The value of that? Priceless.

Resolute Resolutions

   Have you decided on your New Year's resolutions yet? How devoted are you to achieving your goals?

   For many of us, the start of the year brings a renewed focus on our career, health, and financial goals. “This year will be the year I get in shape. This year I will get that career promotion. This year I will take control over my finances.”

   As anyone who has been to the gym that first week of January will tell you, it is crowded. People are committed to their yearly goals. But one by one, as the days go by people lose that firm grasp on their resolutions. Perhaps you  notice something similar when you look at your previous goal performance. Soon enough, as we approach the end of that first month, that crowded gym is back to looking just as it did before the new year began. 

Why do people abandon their goals?

   There are a few reasons why people abandon their goals. The most prevalent one that affects most “New Year New Me” people is overwhelm. Overwhelm assaults our good intentions in many different ways. That top 10 list of things they want to do differently in the new year, but if they were to stick with them all they would lose sight of who they are. Or that BHAG that isn’t set 10 years into the future, but rather 10 months into the future. Progress seems almost non-existent despite working exhausting hours, and suddenly that goal looks like we just bit off more than we can chew. Or life simply gets in the way. How many good intentions have faded away after life throws us a curve-ball, an untimely illness, or a sudden vacation or work trip. Overwhelm has many weapons with which to cause us to falter in our quest for greatness. 

   Another reason is the goal is too vague. “Get healthier” doesn’t come with an action plan. Neither does “get a promotion”, or “be better with my money”. If you aren’t specific about the result you are wanting to achieve, it is impossible to put an action plan in place. And without an action plan, it becomes easy to talk ourselves out of doing anything.

   Finally, the inability to measure our progress hinders our ability to grow and develop. Without seeing if our actions are paying off, it is easy to rationalize that our efforts simply aren’t working. Certainly some things are easier to measure than others, but all of our goals should be measurable. Seeing progress will help us stay the course throughout the ups and downs of life.

How do you stick with your goals?

   Knowing about overwhelm, vagueness, and measurability is an important first step to overcoming those obstacles. But what can you do to ensure you actually achieve your goals? 

   To face overwhelm, you need to ensure you only have a few goals at a time. And these goals need to be ambitious, but achievable, in the time frame you allow. If there is no way you can achieve in that time frame, perhaps you need to allocate more resources to working on it, or shrink the goal, or extend the time frame. Keeping the goals in sight, yet achievable, will prevent some of the overwhelm. And finally, you need a contingency plan. It is easy to work at a goal when the sun is shining and you have nothing but free time. But what are you going to do when life gets busy, when things aren’t going your way? Knowing how you will adapt to life’s uncertainties greatly increases your chance at success.

   How else do you increase your chance at success? Specificity. You need to know exactly what you want to accomplish, and how you plan to get there. By getting specific in your goal, often you will also uncover the action plan that helps you get there. This action plan can be measured, and you can track and evaluate your progress even before you reach the prize. Specificity, being specific about your goal, clears up your vague intentions and provides you an action plan with which to measure progress. This clarity will set you up with the optimal chance of achieving your goals and resolutions.

   As you set your New Year’s Resolutions, or any other goal, make sure you are ready to combat overwhelm, vagueness, and measurability. By being specific in what you want to achieve, and building a contingency plan for when things go wrong, you will be well prepared to crush your next goals.

Setting your sights on 2020: Planning the New Decade

   Who are you going to become over the next decade?

   As we focus on our own growth and development, we can achieve incredible things. This achievement fundamentally changes us, as we recognize our capabilities and pursue new heights.

   There is no better time than now, the start of a new decade, to plan your next great accomplishment. This goal, the one that inspires you for the next decade, is your BHAG.

What is a BHAG?

   Pronounced bee-hag, the term was popularized by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies”. This is where Jim and Jerry introduced the concept of Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAG for short. These long term goals proved, in the corporate world, to be an indicator of exceptional company success. A BHAG has a way of motivating people, and reminding them of their overarching objective, in a way that a long-winded mission statement cannot.

   With proven success among corporate goliaths; think Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, or Tesla, it’s about time we applied some of these world-changing principles to our own pursuits.

How do you set a BHAG?

   Big Hairy Audacious Goals have a few key characteristics that they must be:

  • Forward Looking - does your BHAG tell you where you’ll be in the future?
  • Exciting - does your goal fill you up with energy? Will it continue to inspire you for the years to come?
  • Adventurous - is your goal hairy and audacious enough? Is it big enough to keep you up at night? Or to wake you full of excitement in the middle of the night?

Examples of BHAG’s

   It is one thing to think of a company like Google (Alphabet), and their BHAG to organize the world’s information. Certainly, they have near unlimited resources to devote to their goals and ambitions. But can you set a BHAG for yourself, that would lead you to new heights?

   The answer is a resounding yes, we’ve all heard the stories of individuals who set BHAG’s for themselves; Thomas Edison in harnessing electricity to generate light (the light bulb), Alexander Graham Bell by sending near-instant communication across the Atlantic (the telephone), or Roger Bannister in his athletic achievement, breaking the 4-minute mile. These individuals all set Big Hairy Audacious Goals, and achieved things that changed the world.

   Often we think these successes were made by extraordinary individuals, but that simply isn’t true. These successes were achieved by normal folks, people like you and I, who had extraordinary goals.

   Let me ask you again, what BHAG are you going to set for this decade? Who will you become, as you grow into further success?

   I can’t wait to experience the future you are going to shape.

Closing out the 20-teens

   The holiday period is officially drawing to a close. With the end of the decade almost upon us, it’s time to reflect on the past, and look to the future.

   Before we can take on the new year, we need to look at our successes and failures of the past year, of the past decade. Let’s take an inventory of what happened for you in your life. Answer the following questions, preferably by writing down the answers, but at least reflect on them and learn from your past failures and successes.

  • What were your goals on January 1st, 2019?
  • What wins did you have over the last year?
  • Were your wins on your list of goals at the start of 2019?
  • What helped you accomplish those goals and wins?
  • Who was most influential in your successes? Send a quick thank-you to that person(s).
  • What were the goals you didn’t accomplish?
  • Are there any lessons you can learn? Why were you unsuccessful at achieving some of those goals?
  • How can you be better prepared to accomplish your next set of goals?
  • Who can help you along the way?
  • Who can you help accomplish their goals?
  • What are you most grateful for over the past year?

   Success is a journey with it’s own ups and downs. Taking time to reflect on what has gone right, and what hasn’t, ensures that you are continually learning and growing. That growth makes you better tomorrow than you are today. As you learn, grow and develop more, there is no telling how far you can go. The world is yours for the taking, seize it!

Doors of Opportunity

Are you ready for opportunity when it comes your way?

   If you want to achieve more than what you currently have, you need to be ready for the next level. This is true in all areas of our life, but especially in our careers, our life's work. But to be ready, to be truly ready, it takes more than passive development. We need to be actively involved in our growth.

How can you be actively involved in growth?

   To be actively involved in your own development, you need to focus on developing the skills that you need to take yourself to the next level. Identify what skill you want to focus on, and then begin learning it. Reading books, taking online or in-person courses, attending seminars, and more. And the final aspect of your growth journey is sharing what you are doing, what you are learning, and where you envision that taking you.

Why share your development journey? 

   As you grow, you want to let the world know that you are becoming more than what you were before. To paraphrase a personal development legend, Jim Rohn. Sharing your growth journey is akin to knocking on doors, looking for the chance to showcase your new skills. Most doors will remain shut, people will scarcely pay attention to your journey, as they are so engrossed in their own struggles. But every once in a while, one of those unlikely doors will open.

"If you keep knocking, you'll find open doors." - Jim Rohn

   When a door opens, and you have the chance to shine, you must be ready. That is why it is important to set yourself up now to have the best chance of capitalizing on that opportunity.

What does this look like in practice?

   I have a work colleague who is currently taking accounting courses to expand her knowledge, pursuing her goals of becoming a designated accountant. She shares her journey, the courses she has taken, the courses she is taking, and where she thinks that will take her in her career. I have seen her journey, but can do little to aid her in any way right now. But, if someone were to ask me, a practicing CPA, if I know anyone who would be good for a junior accounting role, I know someone who is going, and growing in that direction. 

   By continuing to share her journey with other people, she is gently knocking on doors, looking for the next opportunity. And when that opportunity comes? She has spent many months developing skills that will help her take full advantage.

   This happens more frequently than you know. It is estimated that between 70 and 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking. This comes about by sharing your skills, what you are looking for, and how you are growing your professional expertise.

   As you look into the future of your life, your career, your goals, ask yourself; what skills you are going to need to take you to the next level? Who can you leverage to get you there? What doors of opportunity are you going to knock on?

   And remember as Jim Rohn said, “If you keep knocking, you will find open doors.”

Driving in a Blizzard

   Where are you heading? Can you see where you are trying to go?

   Earlier this week, I was driving on the highway, headed for a day of meetings out of town. Shortly after the sun went down, and darkness descended upon the roads, a snow storm moved in. At first the snow was fairly light, not really accumulating much. With a slow flick of the wipers, I was able to see where I was heading without much difficulty. 

   As time went on, the snow storm became more intense, until eventually I was driving in a blizzard. Even with the wipers fully cranked, my headlights reflected off the blowing snow making visibility nearly impossible. Suddenly I couldn’t see where the road was and where the ditch was. My progress slowed down as I let off the gas pedal, trying desperately to see where I was headed. And even at slow speeds, several other travelers still wound up off the highway and into a ditch on the side. Fortunately, with rumble strips on each side, at a slow speed I was able to continue driving along the highway, creeping ever slowly towards my destination.

   This night drive in a blizzard holds a few lessons about your journey to success.

Distractions will come.

   When visibility is clear, making that drive is quite simple. The roads are flat and straight, so setting your direction and staying the course eventually gets you where you are trying to go. But as with those first few snowflakes, distractions will come no matter your journey. Small pulls on your focus, an email here, a tweet there. Most of these distractions can be ignored when they are infrequent, and they don’t threaten to derail our progress.

   But if we let them, those distractions can pull away our focus, and we end up spinning towards a ditch.

There are cliffs everywhere.

   All along the highway, for hundreds of miles, ran the drainage ditch. Once again, if you have a clear objective, a goal, you can stay in your lane and progress easily. But when these distractions become too great, you will find it harder and harder to see where your lane is and where the ditch is. 

   Maintaining focus on your goal becomes harder and harder, visibility decreases amidst the endless distractions. Even maintaining vigilance over your goals and objectives might not be enough. Certainly none of the fellow travelers on that snowy highway were planning to end up spun out on the side of the road. They all had their own destinations, but without visibility over where they were heading, what they were trying to accomplish, they ended up derailed. 

You need rumble strips.

   What can you do to remain focused on your goals? You know that distractions will come. Certainly you can use different tricks and methods to deal with them. And those wipers work to help you maintain focus on your goals. But, there are times that visibility over your goal will shrink, when the distractions are too many and too great, and they threaten to send you spinning off track. That is why you need rumble strips.

   These rumble strips on the side of the highway were indicators that I was coming too close to the edge, that I was straying too far from the path I was taking. Once I heard and felt the vibrations that my wheels were at the edge, I knew I needed to correct my course. You also need rumble strips to keep you on track.

What do these rumble strips look like?

   Creating barriers helps you stay on track. This means you need to know where you are heading, and what it looks like when you are getting off track. With holiday festivities just around the corner, some of the major areas of our life will begin to get hectic, with distractions threatening to overwhelm our goals. 

   My rumble strips are therefore designed to give me an indication that I am falling off track. For fitness, I track the number of days that I miss the gym. If that number reaches 2, I know that on the third day I need to workout, or risk losing the health gains I have worked so hard for. My financial indicator is the amount of money I contribute to my investments each month. (This is easier to hit, because my financial goals are automated.) Or my career indicator is the amount of time I spend reading in an area of focus for me. Similar to my health goals, if I spend more than 2 days without reading and developing myself, on that third day I know that I must allocate time to personal development.

   We all face distractions, the blowing snow of life that pulls us away from our goals. Maintaining focus is essential to dealing with these distractions, but sometimes even that isn’t enough. Sometimes we need indicators that let us know when we are falling off track. Setting up indicators in your life will ensure that you are making progress towards your goals, regardless of how hectic life gets.

   As we enter the final few weeks of the year, take some time to reflect on what your goals were. Are you still focused on them? What are the distractions that you need to control? Where do you need windshield wipers clearing away the snow? And what rumble strips will you implement to ensure you aren’t spinning off into the ditch? 

   With the right focus and the right systems, you can reach your destination no matter how bad the blizzard of life is.

Finding Your Purpose

   Are you doing something you love? Do you wake up feeling energized and excited to keep going (most of the time)? 

   A staple in almost all motivational talks, at some point you will be told, Live your life with passion. While that sounds exciting, what does that really mean? And more importantly, how can you do it?

Live with Passion

   Living with passion really boils down to liking what you do, who you do it with, and who you do it for. Finding people that you care about, and that care about you, is an important step in living with passion. The good news is, you already know these people! These are the people that you already spend your time with, friends, family, community members. 

   The people in these areas that you enjoy spending time with are the people you should spend more time with. And those who you aren’t excited to see? Spend less time with them.

   When you take control over who you are spending the most time with, those energies feed the rest of our lives. We all have people in our lives that, when we’re with, we have excitement and energy, hope and enthusiasm. Spending more time with these people puts us in a better state, and our results are impacted positively. On the flip side, we also know people who have the unnatural ability to suck the air out of an already deflated balloon. We feel exhausted just entering the same room as them, and that also affects our results, but in a negative way. 

   If you want to live with passion, start by simply spending time with, living with, people that light you up inside.

   You know who you want to spend time with, and how much more energized you feel when interacting with those special groups of people. Now what are you doing to find purpose and meaning?

How do you find your purpose?

   One method that I found particularly helpful was in examining what I talked about with those people that light me up. What problems did people come to me for advice for? Where did our conversations naturally lead to?

   For me, these topics were focused heavily around a few core areas; personal finance, career growth, and health and fitness. These were the areas of life that I had a natural affinity for, or at least an interest that led to the pursuit of knowledge. Finding these areas of interest led to the eventual creation of Business Minded, and you reading this article right now. These areas that I talked about with my friends and family, they are important to many people. And the people who value growth in their careers, who value healthy living, and who value smart financial strategies? These are the people who light me up.

   Most of us already know who we like spending time with, and what we like doing. But taking the time to reflect on these elements can help us aim the direction we want to take our own lives. When was the last time you thought about the direction you were headed in life?

Action Items:

Take some time this week to reflect on your passion and purpose:

   Who do you enjoy spending time with? Who lights you up inside?

   What do you do when you are with these people? What do you talk about? What topics interest you? What problems do people come to you to help solve? 

   If you want to find your purpose, to live with passion, you need to do the things you enjoy, with the people that light you up. Find alignment between those two elements, and not only will you find fulfillment, but the world will be better because of it!

Be a Detective

   Be a Detective. This isn’t advice on a career path, but it certainly falls under career advice. We are taught many things when we are younger, and one such lesson is to analyze what went wrong in any given situation. This is good advice, and it is a good lesson to learn. Unfortunately, that is only half the lesson. 

   The other half of that lesson - to analyze when things go right as well.

   Learning from our shortcomings, from our failures, from the times we stumble and fall just short of the finish line. These moments provide valuable lessons. But if you’re anything like me, you won’t fail all the time. You will have your moments in the sun. These moments need to be looked at just as hard, perhaps harder even. You need to analyse what does go right, and learn from those experiences. 

   What went right? Why did it go right? How did it go right? Ask questions. Find the answers. It could be as challengingly simple as surrounding yourself with the right people. (Yes, it sounds so simple, yet often is so difficult.) Maybe it was your plan, executing on it just a little bit each day. Or maybe it was taking that pause, considering the outcomes, thinking first and then acting with decisive movements. Success comes in many different forms, in as many different ways, but each success carries with it a valuable lesson, if you’re looking for it.

   And don’t just look. Apply those lessons. We all know of people who seem to be in the zone constantly, people who have the magic touch, where everything they touch turns to gold. That is what happens when you figure out what you are doing right, and then doing more of it. 

   So analyze your failures, learn from your mistakes. A lesson learned will turn any complete and utter disaster into a minor victory, lessening the pain just that little bit. But just as importantly (if not more so), analyze your successes. Learning from those experiences, and applying those successful habits and practices will set you up for more success in the future. Find your sweet spot, your zone, Be a Detective, and never, ever, stop learning.

How do you remain focused on your goals?

   Achieving our goals is critical in our pursuit of becoming better versions of ourselves. But with the constant drags on our attention, how do we remain focused on our goals versus tackling the latest urgent problem that needs to be dealt with? 

   These problems assault us constantly, threatening to derail us from our objectives. The urgent work problem that requires us to put in overtime, rippling outward and disrupting our evening schedules and bumping gym-time off the daily agenda. These urgent problems of now war and rage against our dreams of a brighter future. 

   This situation came up in one of my coaching calls recently, as fitness goals started collecting dust on the shelf, while my client was putting out the endless fires at work and school. As days went by, losing the momentum of consistent action, the question was raised: 

How do I remain focused on my goals when life is pulling me a thousand different directions?

   The resulting discussion revealed a couple of areas that we all fall prey to. The first was the desire to do better, expressed as a hope. 

“I hope to get back to the gym next week.”  

   When we began looking into this desire for improvement more, it seemed that hope wasn’t the right word. Hope could be trumped by being busy, hope could lose out to not feeling like it, hope wasn’t a strong enough commitment. 

Don’t rely on hope.

   To remain focused on your goals, you must first tell yourself what you must do, not what you hope to do. These are called non-negotiables. When pursuing your goals, you need to make them non-negotiable, they will be done, no matter what.

   For myself, a couple of my non-negotiables are reading and working out. I try and have these done in the morning, so that I don’t give myself the opportunity to be distracted first. My time table works for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone. But the principle is the same, what are your non-negotiables? What are the steps that you take towards your goals each day? And will you commit, that you won’t end your day without taking those steps?

   That commitment makes your goals non-negotiable.

   There is another aspect of uncertainty held in the statement, “I hope to get back to the gym next week.” This is the lack of specificity surrounding when this gym time will occur. It is one thing to say “I must do this each day.” And another thing entirely to give those plans a set time and place. 

   When we have a meeting, or a scheduled time commitment, we almost always show up. By scheduling time for your goals, you are declaring that nothing else can take up that time. This means your non-negotiable is on your calendar, planned, and ready to be acted upon at that time.

   Going back to my morning, at 7:15 am every working day, I walk into the gym. This is my non-negotiable, and 7:15 am is the time that I have allocated to my fitness goals. Do you know what your non-negotiables are? What steps you need to take to achieve your goals? Do you know when, and where, you will be to take those steps towards success?

   By determining your non-negotiables, and scheduling them in your calendar, you are doing what it takes to remain focused. Because they are a must for you, you will take the actions necessary to drive achievement. There is no room for excuses, too busy, not enough energy, don’t feel like it. Those excuses, other people’s demands, the inevitable fires you have to put out elsewhere in your life; that all happens outside of your scheduled achievement time.

   The discipline to follow through with your non-negotiables is the key to remaining focused on your goals. And that discipline makes you unstoppable. Your achievement, the heights you will go, only you can say when you will stop.

Flippin’ Success

When do you become successful?

   Is there a certain mark, a single accomplishment that, once reached, signifies that you are a success? 

   To most single people, finding a loving relationship would be an appropriate goal. But with divorce rates skyrocketing, simply entering into a relationship cannot be sufficient to call yourself a success. As any married couple will tell you, the hard work begins after the wedding day, and every day from then on. 

   If success in your relationships isn’t found in a single act, in one defining moment, where does that success lie?

   This question applies to all areas of our lives. To our friendships, our financial health, and certainly our physical health. Have you ever looked at pictures of someone losing weight? Or even looked in the mirror every day as you strive to fulfill this years’ resolution of going to the gym 5 times a week? Just like a flip book, the image changes almost imperceptibly each day.

   When does that overweight person on the cover of the flip book become healthy? Is it on page 6? Page 49? Page 152? If we compare the pictures one page to the next, they look almost identical. Even comparing one week to the next provides almost no visible change. But as we flip through those pages quickly, the change is definitely noticeable.

   This is very much similar to how we view success in our own lives. We step on the scale each morning, and beat ourselves up for seemingly no progress after a grueling workout the day before. We frown at our bank account, barely increasing since the last time we got paid. Or we become frustrated in our careers because we’re doing similar things as last month, as last quarter. 

   Taking a short term view of our accomplishments is frustrating and unrewarding, but it’s what so many of us do. As such, we never feel like we are becoming successful in our pursuits. These feelings lead us to thinking we’ll never become successful.

What is the solution?

   We need to expand our frame of comparison. We can’t look at our progress today, compared to where we were yesterday. We need a wider lens to view our success. With my coaching clients, we take a deeper look at progress every quarter. This 90-day lens allows us to see real progress, that we wouldn’t be exposed to when only looking daily or weekly. Seeing progress is important, for two reasons. First, it allows you to make adjustments, to see what is working, and what isn’t. And secondly, seeing progress feels good. We all like to know we’re improving, that we’re going somewhere, and taking a wider lens to view our efforts provides that reassurance. 

When do you become successful?

   Surely there is no date, no grandiose accomplishment that says “I made it.” You become successful by making sure each day you are working towards your grander goals. Each small, almost imperceptible step is a success. And remember, to see those successes add up, don’t look at yesterday’s results, but expand your lens. Achieving anything worthwhile is a slow process, but by taking a small step each day, you can achieve your dreams.

It is Never Good Enough

   I hated doing dishes growing up. It was never the mountains of dirty dishes that somehow made our family look like a ravenous army. Or the soapy water that inevitably went cold and grungy. It was the glee on my sibling’s faces when they were able to hand back that pot that I swear was always dirty.

   “Good enough.” I’d grumble, lamenting as it was handed back for a second washing attempt.

   Oh brother was I ever wrong. What seemed to be a pain in the ass back then now seems like a blessing. Not the re-washing part, of course. But reaching into the cupboard and pulling out a dirty dish, ugh, I cringe just thinking of that. And as the cold sweat and shivers run down my spine, we come to the lesson of the letter. It is never, “Good enough”.

   Good enough, is not a reflection on the task at hand. It is a reflection of your values; of the thoughts, actions and words that define who you are, both to yourself and to the world you encounter. 

   Everywhere you look you will be confronted with the half-finished work and poor quality results of the “Good enough” crowd. It’s in the trash on the sidewalk, the mess on every counter and surface, all the little things that aren’t done quite right. There is enough of that already. Hold yourself to a higher standard.

   So next time you go to do the dishes, don’t let that mountain get in your head. That cold, murky water isn’t so bad. And make sure when you’re ready to move that never-clean pot to the dish drying rack, that this time, it’s clean.

   Apply that level of care to everything you do, because you’re worth the price of excellence.

   Every day is a use of our energy, our time. Don’t spend time on re-work, on fixing the little things that could easily have been done right the first time round. It’s never good enough, it’s simply, good. Because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

How to become more valuable at work

   When I was younger, I worked construction for a few summers. As anyone who has ever laid patio stones, decking, or fencing can tell you, a string-line is very important. We use the string, stretched out between two posts, to ensure we are operating on a straight line. That way, the newly constructed patio isn't wavy and unsightly. But as anyone who has used a string line knows, they get tangled into the most unusable mess of knots.

   As part hazing ritual, part real need, any new hire was given the task of untangling knots from these string lines. Often this was an irritating, but relatively fast process, taking only a few minutes to complete.

   One late spring day however, the knotted mess of string was worse than it had ever been, and Justin was our most recent new hires. Arriving early, our boss set the task to Justin, untangle the string. And there Justin sat in the front yard untangling string. The sun rose high in the sky as the rest of the crew were digging, sawing, and hammering away. Then the sun started sinking down, and exhausted, the crew made ready to leave. It was then that we noticed Justin, still sitting in the front yard, untangling string.

Do you know what the tasks you do every day are worth?

   In our professional lives, we often come across tasks that are time consuming. The question we must ask ourselves is, is this task worth it?

   Untangling string for those 10 hours certainly wasn't worth it for Justin. That $ 8.00 string line ended up costing the company well over $ 100 in wages on that spring day. And the cost was far beyond the simple wages cost, there was also the opportunity cost of doing valuable work for that day. 

   In today's work environment, being busy is worshiped. Running from meeting to meeting, task to task. And this busy-ness is destroying the value that we can command. Instead of focusing on being busy, we need to focus on becoming more valuable. 

How do we become more valuable at work?

   Ask yourself what the estimated cost of each task that you are doing is. You do this by taking your annual earnings divided by 2,000 hours. This will estimate what your hourly rate is. Next, multiply that hourly rate by the amount of time the task will take. The result is the cost of you completing the task. Now ask yourself, is the task worth the cost of that time commitment? Or could you be adding more value if you worked on something else instead?

   Understanding what the most valuable task that you could be working on at any given time makes you more valuable. Instead of sitting for hours untangling string, or some other equally unrewarding task, you will demonstrate your value when you focus on the task with the highest payoff.

How do you determine the value of a task?

   For many of you, each task doesn't have a clear cut line to profits or expenses. If you can measure the cost in terms of time commitment, but not the value you derive from completing the task, how do you prioritize based on value? To measure this, mark all tasks by which of your top 3 goals they support. Often, the majority of our To-Do lists will be unassigned, meaning the task doesn't directly contribute to our valuable goals. These tasks need to be either delegated, or eliminated wherever possible.

   Focusing on the tasks where the value, or contribution towards your goals, exceeds the cost of action will help you increase your value.

What to do with the unassigned tasks that can't be delegated or eliminated?

   Some tasks that pop up on our To-Do lists can't be given away or ignored. When confronted with these tasks, carefully consider if there are other options. If so, what are these other options, and are they the better course of action? In our example, Justin should have recognized the futility of such a task quickly, and we could have bought a new string line saving a day of wasted efforts. Identifying better alternatives is another way to increase your value, as you become known as someone who solves problems. Of course, sometimes the task can't be done in another, better way. In these cases, if the task is truly important, the best course of action is to buckle down and grind it to completion.

   We become more valuable when we think about what we are doing, and what we are trying to accomplish. Making sure our efforts are aligned with our goals helps us achieve more, and increase our value. When those moments come up where we must do things that don't directly add value, we should consider if there are better alternatives. Only if the task is essential, and no better alternatives are available should we commit the resources to accomplishing it. If we do this, we'll spend less time untangling string, and more time adding real value.

Lessons from the Scotiabank Marathon

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Toronto, Canada 

   Race day finally arrived. My first road-based marathon, a goal that had been set at the beginning of spring this same year. 

   Amidst a chorus of cheers and pump-up music, the pack of runners took off with me caught up in the midst. The excitement was contagious for those first few kilometers (miles), as we thundered down the streets of Toronto, several thousand strong. Passed the first few aid stations, and along the spectator lined race course.

   It was around the halfway mark, 20 kilometers (13 miles) that the pack really started to separate, with the marathoners continuing on for the grueling back half of the race. It's the back half that separates the trained from the untrained. It's the back half where your mettle is tested. It's the back half where I learned the lessons of success.

The process is painful.

   Around 28 kilometers I found out what endurance athlete's refer to when they "hit the wall". Exhaustion sets in, your legs hardly want to move. And when they do stride forward, each strike of the pavement is agony. This is part of running marathons. But this is also the first lesson of success. The process is painful.

   There will come a point in any large undertaking when pushing forward seems unbearable. The obstacles seem nigh insurmountable. Those challenges have knocked you down, leaving you bloodied and bruised, black and blue. But just like the quote on the guy's shirt in front of me said, Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.

   In the pursuit of any goal that you pursue, you will inevitably face challenges and obstacles that will hurt. To achieve success, you must endure the pain, with the belief that the reward is worth the cost.

Public goals help you push on when you feel like quitting.

   That period of exhaustion, where every step was agony lasted for quite a while. And with each agonizing step, those dark thoughts started to creep into my mind. Maybe I can't do this. Maybe I needed to train harder. Maybe I should quit. These thoughts were only compounded by the series of injuries that plagued my training. Nobody would blame me if those injuries prevented me from finishing the race. 

   These insidious excuses pushed me ever closer to quitting. And the worst part about those excuses? I believed that they were real. Heck, I really was injured throughout most of my training! But, there was one thing more powerful than my excuses. I had told everyone that I would be doing the marathon. Doing. Not attempting. I promised that I would cross the finish line. No matter the pain I was experiencing, I did not want to let down those people who were counting on me to finish. Therein lies the second lesson of success - publicly stated goals keep us accountable.

   It's easy to fall short of our goals when we keep our targets to ourselves. We can rationalize these shortcomings a million different ways, and as long as we're simply talking to ourselves, there's nobody to poke holes in our hollow excuses. That's why we need to publicly state our goals. When we have declared our goals out loud, those around us will keep us accountable for achieving them. 

   That is not to say that you will achieve every goal you announce, but simply that when you feel like quitting, you readily evaluate your reasons. There were several runners that I saw that certainly made their goals public, but for genuine health reasons they were unable to achieve. And that's okay! We shouldn't die in pursuit of a finisher's medal! We just need to be sure that our reasons are valid, and mixed up in the pain and exhaustion, even the smallest molehill seems like a mountain in our minds. And having a public goal helps us make the distinction between real hardship and in-the-moment difficulties.

Break a large task (42kms) down into games.

   Again, we return to those last 12 kilometers, feet hurting, toes bleeding, slapping down on the cracked pavement of downtown Toronto. When 12 kilometers seemed to stretch on forever, my heart pounding inside my chest. My mouth was dry, my tongue felt like sandpaper as I sucked in breath after breath of warm, dry air. And suddenly I wasn't really looking at 12 kilometers, I was only looking at the next water station 3 kilometers away. If I could reach that in the next 20 minutes, I'd be alright. Once I made it, it was only another 3 kilometers to the next drink of water, I could beat those last 20 minutes! How about doing it in 19 minutes. Then 18 minutes. Then, wait, the next stop is the finish line!

   Taking a larger task and breaking it down makes each bite more manageable. But if you add a game element into it, "beat my last 3 km time", the process becomes much more tolerable. Those 12 kms that seemed so far a moment ago was really only 3 short games and the finish line! These games keep us going when our minds would otherwise tell us to quit.

   When you break down your huge goals into smaller tasks, the goal becomes much more manageable. But you can take this concept further by making each task a game, allowing yourself to feel joy over a smaller accomplishment, and motivating you to keep going. And like any sporting series, enough wins in those small games will lead you to the championship!

   I pushed through to the finish line, and had achieved my athletic goal of the summer. But the real achievement isn't found in a new medal hanging on the wall, the real achievement lies in the hours of training that got me to that point. The real achievement is not my finishing time on the race web page, but in the lessons that I learned about success along the way. Lessons that we can all apply to whatever our goals are.

   The process is painful. You won't achieve anything worthwhile easily. There will be hardships and heartbreaks along the way. These painful experiences are there not to break you, but to build you into a stronger version of yourself. A version of yourself that is worthy of the goals you want to achieve. 

   To keep you focused on those goals, you can announce them to the world. The people you tell, of what you are planning to accomplish will hold you accountable. And when you feel like quitting, you will think twice before throwing in the towel, are the hardships really too much to bear? Would you feel comfortable telling all those that you announced your intentions to that your goal really was out of reach this time?

   If the answer is no, and you determine you can continue in the pursuit of success, breaking the remaining journey down into smaller games will help. Each mini game will lead you one step closer to the finish line, and give you a small dose of satisfaction and motivation each step along the way.

   These lessons helped me cross the finish line at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and they can help you reach your goals. Apply these lessons well, and there's no telling what you can accomplish in your life!

An Apple a Day

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. 

   We’ve all heard the cliche, often spoken by our parents or grandparents. And while apples may not keep us healthy all the time, there is certainly a positive lesson to learn. Making a small positive choice each day puts us in a healthier state. These positive choices add up over time, eventually bringing with them the succulent fruits of success. 

What are your Apples?

   The apple a day helps with our health. We’re selecting a fruit instead of something else, like chips or cookies. This trade-off provides a positive ROI, as we strengthen our bodies through improved nutrition, and stay away from foods that would do us harm. But that’s only one aspect of our lives where we are making a positive choice daily. To truly capture the essence of this advice, we need to find other apples, other positive choices that support all our goals.

   This could be reading industry news to stay abreast of the technological advancements in our careers. Or listening to a positive themed podcast in the morning, putting ourselves in an upbeat mood for the day. These apples help strengthen the important aspects in our lives. Perhaps far more important than goals, these small positive choices are the actions that we can take that lead us to both goal achievement, and the grander vision we have for our future.

What’s the catch?

   An apple a day, that seems so simple. And it is. It is also extremely simple not to do. Staying consistent with small positive choices is essential for reaping the rewards of long-term investing in ourselves.

How do we stick with these positive choices?

   If we consider each daily action like eating that apple, as a choice, then we are destined to fail. The issue here, is that we are allowing our willpower to decide if we eat the apple or the chocolate bar. Willpower is a fickle substance, and cannot be relied upon to deliver the same result day after day. 

   A far superior strategy is to create routines. These routines cost a lot of willpower up front, but then put you on an unconscious path to success. After a month or two, those decisions you used to make? They aren’t there anymore. You’ll find yourself subconsciously reaching for the apple every time that option comes up.

Time to go Apple Picking

   Now it’s your turn. What is your “apple a day”? What small thing, or things, can you do consistently to make sure you are on the right track to success? And how can you build these into a routine to make sure that you follow the path to success without relying on willpower in the future?

Pillars of Gratitude

   Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving!

   The first thanksgiving was back in 1621, as a way of celebrating the harvest that would sustain people throughout the winter months. Today, we still have such abundant feasts as we celebrate the fall season. Underpinning the entire holiday is the central theme of giving thanks.

   Gratitude is an essential mindset that helps highlight the various elements of our lives that we are grateful for. In the spirit of this season of giving thanks, I would like to encourage you to think of each of the pillars of your life. What are you grateful for in your; financial life? Career? Mental / Spiritual headspace? Physical health? Relationships with family and friends? And your romantic life?

   A few things that I am grateful for this thanksgiving:

Business Minded Tribe

   My career is the one area that I am most grateful for. That gratitude is directed entirely towards you, my loyal readers, who’s continued support allows me to do what I love. I appreciate all your stories when an article helps change your perspective, or encourages you to chase your dreams. Your success is the fire that keeps me going.

   A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has shared an article with their family and friends, or written in with a story of their own success, and to all who show up reliably every week to continue their pursuit of success with us.

My Pillars of Gratitude

   This Thanksgiving I was fortunate enough to spend hiking with my girlfriend, exploring Algonquin Provincial Park as we basked in the glory of the changing fall colours. This experience humbled me in its beauty, and helped me reflect on the many positives in my life. Having the physical fortitude to hike is a blessing, and the companionship of my girlfriend is second to none. Finding time to just exist with nature helps put the daily stresses into perspective, and clears my mind and spirit for the future.

Fall colours on our Thanksgiving hike
Fall colours on our Thanksgiving hike

   And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without spending time with family and friends. Having the good fortune to be able to afford a lavish turkey feast, surrounded by loved ones, is truly a gift that so many unfortunate families do not get to share.

What are you Grateful for this Thanksgiving?

   Gratitude doesn’t have to be a monumental occasion. It’s often the small things that bring us the most joy, and as we give thanks this fall season, it is important to remember those things. Something as simple as good health, which many of us take for granted each day, is truly a blessing.

   What are you grateful for this year? Think in terms of your Pillars of Success, the areas you set your goals in; financial health, physical health, career, mental / spiritual health, relationships with family and friends, and your romantic pursuits. These areas are a good start when expressing gratitude for all the things that are going well in your life.

How to Achieve Success, Simply.

   There are a lot of tips and tricks, productivity hacks, decision making criteria, time management techniques that I talk about in these Success articles you receive each week. 

   Tips and tricks are good. They can help us get more done, in a more sane manner. They can lead to success, but only when used correctly. Layering strategy on top of strategy doesn’t help, you need to select the best strategy for you, and use that. Simplify your decisions, simplify your work, simplify your success. 

The formula for success is actually quite simple: a few positive steps taken daily. 

   Deciphering what these steps are for you can be complicated, and that’s where different tips and techniques come in handy. Sometimes these techniques can change the steps we take in pursuit of success. But sometimes the steps that work for other people don’t work for us, and that is okay. That is normal. After all, we define success for ourselves, so what does work for someone else may only help you if your goal is exactly the same.

How does this look in practice?

Fitness

   The way I define success in my fitness pillar is: below 15% body fat, and over 40% muscle mass. Achieving these goals will enable me to be best equipped, physically, for any challenge life throws at me. Having defined my goal, my definition of success, I now need the routines and action steps that will lead me to those goals. 

   Learning what other people do helps tremendously, and it enables me to carefully evaluate what steps help other people, and if those same steps would work for my lifestyle and goals. For example, when you do a quick search for fitness tips you will be bombarded with a long list of different tips and tricks that work for some people: yoga, spin class, cross-fit, weight lifting, running, walking. 

   That list only grows exponentially when you throw a health query into the mix: green juices, keto diet, intermittent fasting, vegan diet, carnivore diet, nutrient and vitamin supplements, and the list goes on.

   It’s easy to get lost in the articles promoting each of these tips and tricks, and depending on your fitness goals, some might help you. But as I said, the path to success is simple. It might not be easy, but it’s simple. 

   To achieve my fitness goals I need to spend 3 days a week lifting weights, 4 days a week doing at least 30 minutes of heart-rate elevated cardio, and moderate sugars from both foods and alcohols. When compared to the “top 100 fitness trends of 2019”, these action steps are thankfully simple. And knowing that they are simple, I am more easily able to take these steps each day, each week. That consistent drive along the path of success leads me to my goals.

Career

   Your career is another area you need goals. Isolating one or two areas to grow will help cut down the clutter from a list of 10,000 things we could do better, and allow you to focus on those key areas. For example; my growth area that will drive future career growth, is improved communication skills. To do this, I need to make reading, writing, and speaking a daily practice. 

   These simple steps will help me grow, that that growth helps me tackle bigger projects and challenges in my career. 

   What are the simple steps that you can take in each of the 6 essential areas, or pillars, of your life? What are your goals financially, in your career, your physical health, your mental / spiritual health, your social relationships, and your romantic relationship? 

   Finding success in your life means achieving your goals in all of these areas. But that doesn’t have to be complicated. A few steps in the right direction each day, and you’ll be living a life of success on your journey to grow and achieve more.

How to Achieve Your Goals

(Zig Ziglar's method for Achievement)

   As we’ve discussed before, setting goals is essential for success. I actively promote the SMART methodology, renowned for its effectiveness. But having a goal alone does not guarantee achievement. To that end, let’s look at a method for achievement from a personal development icon, Zig Ziglar.

   Zig Ziglar, a true professional in goal setting, gives us another take on both the importance of, and execution of goals. His process takes us not only through the assigning of a goal, but continues until we have a concrete plan with which to take action. The steps are: Identify your goal, set a deadline, identify obstacles, identify people and skills that can overcome the obstacle, and developing a plan. Let’s briefly look at each of the steps.

Identify Your Goal

   We all have much we want to accomplish, and that’s good. But having widespread ambition can only take you so far. To truly accomplish anything, we need to focus. This involves setting a specific target that we can work towards. The imperative element is the target must be specific; such as lose 10 pounds, or achieve a manager promotion, or save $ 2,000 for a vacation. The specific nature of our goal gives us a clear target to strive towards.

Set a Deadline

   As with the T element in SMART goal setting, having a time element, or deadline, helps frame the problem and allows us to more clearly define the action plan. In Zig’s speech on goal setting, he uses his weight-loss goal to illustrate. He decided on the amount of weight to lose, and the deadline with which to achieve this by. Working backwards, he was able to determine a monthly, a weekly, and even a daily amount of weight he planned on losing.

   By setting a deadline, the big goal is more easily broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks, with an even closer time horizon. This allows us to measure and track our progress, and make corrective actions if required.

Identify Obstacles

   We all face challenges and obstacles when it comes to achievement. After all, if those obstacles weren’t there we would have already achieved our goals. There is much clarity to be gained from identifying what those obstacles are. For me, when I focus on my health goals, I know I cannot store beer in the fridge unless I plan on drinking it. Both the calories, and the lethargy that comes with consuming a beer with dinner is counter-productive to my health goals. Having beer in the fridge is hence an obstacle for me to achieving a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

   Once we know what the obstacle is, we can work towards overcoming that challenge.

Identify People and Skills to Overcome your Obstacles

   We don’t need to face our obstacles alone. There are people and resources that we can tap into to make our journey easier. This could be speaking to someone who has overcome the obstacle themselves. Or it could be as simple as asking a friend or a coach to keep you accountable for taking action. 

   What does this look like? If you have a career goal, you can identify several people who have achieved the success you seek. These people are valuable resources as you surmount the obstacle yourself. Achieving a fitness goal might need a session with a personal trainer or a nutritionist. The resources are out there, if you look for them.

   Other times it is additional skills that you need. Identifying what those skills are will help give you an action plan. Learn the skills, and you will be able to overcome the obstacle. In my previous example, the skills I needed to learn was environment design. By simply moving the tempting but unhealthy items from the fridge and out of plain sight, I was able to significantly reduce my consumption. This skill helped me overcome the obstacle to one of my health goals.

Develop a Plan

   By this stage you know where you’re going (your goal), what is stopping you right now (obstacle), who to turn to for guidance, and what skills you need to be successful. This is the framework of your plan, you simply need to put the pieces in place. Who will you talk to for guidance this week? What skills are you going to start developing? How? Books, seminars, online courses, all of these are available to increase your skills so that you can overcome your obstacles.

   Your plan is your way forward, your road map to achieving those grand goals and desires that you have. In this way, you will overcome the obstacles and reach for success. Not simply to leap the hurdle, but to grow and become a better version of you in the process.

   Set a goal, determine the obstacles preventing you reaching that goal, and identify the people and skills you need to overcome your obstacles. Putting these pieces into place reveals the beauty of your successful life, hidden among the puzzle pieces. That puzzle reveals a beauty that Zig saw, and that I see, if only you follow the steps to build it.

   Zig Ziglar’s guidance has helped hundreds of thousands achieve more in their lives. You could be the next, if you choose to chase those big dreams. Are you up for the challenge?