How To Set Achievable Goals

How To Set Achievable Goals

Almost exactly a year ago I made a decision that changed my life. I decided that I wanted to be my own boss. I felt trapped and cornered by my full-time job. I needed the money to pay the bills, but working all day seemed meaningless. I needed time to work on my personal goals and dreams, but that time disappeared every day at work. I wanted to find a way to escape from the rat race and work towards a lifestyle of freedom to choose what to do with my time. I also hoped to find a way to make more money in less time. I must admit that I have not reached my original goal of making a million dollars in a year’s time.

When I began my Amazon business, things were looking pretty good. I had no idea that the platform was about to make significant changes that would affect my ability to make money. I realize now that I had no idea what obstacles I would face. It just seemed like a good idea to make a big goal and shoot high.

The trouble with starting something new is that there is no way to know how difficult the obstacles will be. I was entirely new to being an entrepreneur and had never tried to run a business of any kind. I had no experience to prepare me for what was in store.

When setting goals, it is best to start small.

Last week, I went on an awesome hike with my wife to “the waterfall.” The waterfall hike was a favorite for me back in the days when my wife worked nights and slept during the day. I would take the kids out for a hike to the waterfall to keep them out of the house so mom could sleep.

The waterfall was a great hike because it was short and easy. Still, hiking never sounds good at first to the kids. To get them moving, I would take them to the store and let them pick out some snacks. I would then use the snacks as bribes to get them to do the hiking with fewer complaints. We also named some of the landmarks on the trail to make it more fun.

I stopped and pointed to the big mossy rock formations and told my wife, “Look, there’s snack rock!” I showed her the spot where I would stop and let the kids have some snacks. We would climb on the rocks a bit, then head on down the trail to the next snack spot, “breakdown rock.” Breakdown rock is where I remember tears and whining the most. We would have to stop and eat some more snacks to get everyone’s mood back up to make it through the next leg of the hike. By the time we made it to the waterfall, everyone would be in good spirits. The kids would become lost in the wonder of the smooth rocks, water, and beautiful nature. Often we would hike on and find more cool sticks and snack spots. It was a great way to entertain the kids, get some exercise, and enjoy nature all at the same time. All while letting mom sleep in silence.

While hiking with my wife, it occurred to me that the waterfall hike is a good metaphor for the concept I am working on with this article. I realized it also ties in well with what I learned in my recent interview with a famous author.

On the hike with the kids, it helped to set small attainable goals. When the kids got frustrated, we just had to look forward to the next snack spot and forget about the rest. I think we can all use this psychology on our minds when the going gets tough.

In an entrepreneur group on Facebook, my friend Kaylee posted a challenge to write a letter to a hero. After writing a letter to Thomas M. Sterner, I woke up astounded the next day to find his well thought out answers to my questions. Tom is a humble and kind gentleman. He took an hour out of his busy schedule to talk on the phone with me and record an excellent podcast episode.

In his self-published book, “The Practicing Mind,” Tom tells remarkable stories from his personal life. I found his lessons educational and inspiring. He illustrates simple methods for dealing with overwhelming situations. In Tom’s second book, he has a chapter that deals with setting goals using inaccurate data.

As in the case of my million-dollar pipe dream, I had no idea what I was up against, so I set an unrealistic goal. I am not suggesting that you should quit setting goals. In fact, I have enjoyed many small success points in the last year as a result of setting weekly goals. What I have learned is that it is best to set mini-goals that are achievable. Tom Sterner’s system called ‘The Four S’s’ has helped me through some of the hardest times.

Short, Small, Simple and Slow

The idea is to keep it simple.

Suppose you are dealing with a huge problem, like a long arduous hike in the forest. You can give yourself a small goal to make it manageable. To start, try making it to snack rock, where you can have a reward and prepare for the next leg of the journey. Rather than thinking about the whole hike, just keep your eye on each footstep and each breath. You have to glance up from time to time to make sure you are on the right path, but most of the journey is the moment you are currently experiencing. The idea is to enjoy making one movement at a time.

Slow down and take it easy.

My realization after a year of working as an entrepreneur is that it is going to take some time. My friend Michael said that starting a business, as a solo-preneur is “not so much of a sprint as it is a marathon.” His encouraging words remind me that the lessons I learned this year are worth more that money. I have not reached my financial goals, but I have learned lessons that are invaluable.

When I am feeling anxious or stressed, I remember Tom’s advice to slow down. I stop and create a small mini-goal that I can handle. A good rule of thumb is to stick to one or two primary goals per day. I love days where I cross ten or twelve things off my to-do list, yet inevitably there will be the tough days too. On those days one small, short, and simple thing will be enough.

If you are taking on a new venture, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Give yourself plenty of time and take it slow and steady. I highly recommend Thomas M. Sterner’s books. Find his work at this website:

Tom also offers coaching services. Real life experience is invaluable for someone who wants to start a business. Check out our interview here:

I’m Starting From Scratch Podcast

Give some thought to this method of setting goals. Practice living in the present moment. See it work for you.

 

 

Harness The Power Of Encouragement

En=Make,put in. Courage=Heart,bravery
encouragement=“make strong, hearten”

Do you need encouragement?

Do some people need encouragement more than others?

I have spent time with people who say they don’t need encouragement. Some folks think that encouragement is unnecessary. They act as if there is a such thing as ‘too much encouragement.’

“Be careful, that guy is all jacked up on encouragement. He got way too many pats on the back today- he could do something rash!”
-unlikely scenario guy

I’ll be the first to admit that I thrive on encouragement. It’s the difference between dry spaghetti and spaghetti with sauce. Imagine a piece of dry bread compared to bread with peanut butter. Encouragement is that extra ingredient that makes things happen.

I believe in the power of encouragement because I have seen it in action.

I had a job many years ago taking groups of kids on top rope climbing trips and ropes course adventures. I remember one kid who wanted to give up on his climb over and over. As I kept talking to him and cheering him on, the other children started yelling out “you can do it!” He overcame the fear and climbed a tricky steep rock face. This boy was so proud of himself I still remember his big grin. I don’t think he would have ever made it to the top without the added encouragement.

If you need encouragement, ask for it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in my head, worrying about small things, and feeling inadequate. So many times a few comments from a good friend have changed my outlook. A new perspective offers leverage to get out of the pit of introspection.

Looking at an obstacle from another point of view makes it seem smaller, easier to overcome.

Speaking to a person who has already dealt with an issue and hearing them say it was not so bad gives me new confidence. At one point in my entrepreneurial journey, I was feeling stuck. I reached out to a complete stranger who gave me some great advice and encouragement. Check out my interview with Kaylee Summyt on “I’m Starting From Scratch” Podcast.

Can you think of a time when some encouragement helped? Perhaps you would not have gone that extra mile without someone’s urging push?

In the last year I have realized that it helps to ask for some kind words from my family. It’s not that hard. When I’m feeling beat up and ragged in my mind, it helps just to let the family know. I say, “Hey guys, I’m feeling bummed out today. I’m going to lay down for a few minutes. I sure could use some positive words tonight.” This simple choice to ask for help alerts the family that I might not be in a great mood. As a bonus, I also avoid possible conflicts and arguments.

Most people that love you will jump at the chance to help you out. Especially if you are the type of person that helps them out when they need it. If you do not ask, it is the rare person who senses that you need help.

The Dangers of Encouragement

The problems with encouragement are:
1. Aggressive, annoying approaches to “forcing” an idea or action.
2. Too much talking without action or result
3. Insincere motivations

Folks shrug off the importance of encouragement because the word is misinterpreted. Insincere statements such as “it will be OK,” or “don’t worry” are frustrating. I have learned the hard way that things can go from bad to worse.
I intend to use the term “Encouragement” in is purest sense. From the heart. Selfless motives, honest criticism.

Can encouragement come in the form of criticism?

Yes, why not? Or in silence, like the old guy saying “wax on, wax off” in The Karate Kid. In my experience, good feedback can come from unexpected sources. Old grumpy construction guys rarely offer compliments. I can remember one day when a boss who did rarely smiled or say kind things did give me a compliment. His few words meant a lot to me because they were hard to earn. Encouragement can come in various forms. A helpful word or compliment must come from the heart with honesty to be effective.

Encouragement helps.

When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you’re making a commitment and difference in that person’s life. Encouragement really does make a difference.
-Zig Ziglar

Give out lots of positive encouragement to your friends and family and coworkers. You will not regret it.

“What comes around, goes around.”

The Motivational Tool: Dealing With Low Points In Life

The Motivational Tool: Dealing With Low Points In Life

 

I have experienced some pretty drastic mood swings and levels of motivation in the last year. In the last few months, I’ve been in a productive flow that makes me wonder if it can last. After getting past a weak point, I ask myself some questions about how to avoid or prepare for the next tight spot.

 

How can I prepare in this time of high vibrations for the next lull?

 

What is the secret for maintaining motivation?

 

I feel that there must be a way to stay motivated and feel more fulfilled in life on a consistent basis. After thinking on the subject and asking a few other folks I’ve come up with an explanation that makes sense to me.

 

The core reasons for loss of motivation are a lack of meaning and lack of preparation.

I have also experienced a low in motivational energy due to a sad event or feeling like a failure. I plan to write a future article to deal with depression and anxiety.

Sad times and weak points are part of the natural flow of life. Often, the moments when I feel down are the times that inspire me to get things done to get out of the bad feeling.

Recently, I was on a trip with my family coming back from visiting my mother-in-law. It was a good trip, but I was dealing with anxiety the whole drive back because of money troubles. I came to the realization that I had not worked enough in recent weeks. I was going to have a hard time paying all the bills that were due in the next two weeks. All I could feel at the time was stress.

My mind kept looping back to the same depressing thoughts. “Where am I going to get the money?” “How did I let things get like this?” I was stuck in a circuit, thinking about what I did not have and how would I solve this problem.

The mind is an incredible problem-solving machine that does not give up. The brain will just keep working and pondering on a problem. It will keep looking for solutions. This process can be good, but it can also be quite damaging. On the long car ride where there was little that I could do to solve the money troubles. It did not help to think about finding work because thinking would not produce results in that arena.

When I’m feeling stressed out, my mind does not operate as well at problem-solving. My brain just tends to cut tighter corners running around the same thought loop faster and faster.

What to do about it?

Here is a short list of some of the best tools I have found for dealing with the lack of motivation. These actions all help to relieve the pressure of being stuck in a rut of feeling down or out of fuel. These activities can also contribute to getting out of a rut.

 

  • Exercise
  • Dealing with fear
  • Confronting guilt
  • Instilling positive habits
  • Gratitude
  • Small wins leading to large victories
  • The power of the present mind

 

Motivation is not a goal it is a reward.

Motivation is not like a destination. In my personal experience, it has not been something I plan for. I could shout out loud, “I’m going to be motivated next week!” It’s unlikely that I could convince or force that outcome to come to fruition.

Motivation is more like a fire.

You spend time collecting kindling and firewood. The wood needs to be dried out. The sticks have to be piled intentionally to leave air space. You need an ignition source and a spot out of the wind to keep the flame going long enough to get the kindling going. Motivation starts almost by magic when all the ingredients are in place. When the time is right, and the environment is conducive for it to flourish, the fire flares up in the blink of an eye. We can take actions to create the correct environment for motivation to take hold.

 

Taking positive forward action is the best way to get the ball rolling.

 

I got back from the driving trip feeling disgusted. I was so frustrated with the anxious feeling that I jumped right into action. I couldn’t wait to start working on dealing with the problem. I went out and did some Uber driving that night. Just making some money right away got my week off on the right foot.

I was still in the hole, but not quite as bad as before. I woke up the next day, and things started happening. I made some phone calls and lined up some work for later in the week with clients from previous handyman jobs. I got a call out of the blue the next day from a new client who needed my help with some random odds and ends. The new customer had a pretty decent job for me where I worked for a couple of days.

Things fell into place, and I made more money in one week than I had for months. I worked seven days in a row and managed to pay all the bills I was stressing over. Once I got into the process of working, all the weight on my shoulders drained away.  I just put one foot in front of the other and dealt with the task at hand. I got into a flow and started feeling like my happy self again.

 

A champion needs motivation above and beyond winning. -Pat Riley

 

Life is not always going to be easy. No matter what success a person reaches, there will be new troubles and challenges. Every day is a new journey and every moment is a new opportunity. It makes sense to stop and think about the big goals from time to time, but the day-to-day work is right in front of us. I’ve learned it’s best to look at the road directly in front of me. I must deal with the obstacles that are in that direct path and forget the rest. In times of high stress and anxiety, some of the pressure has to do with the way I am thinking about the problem.

When I tried to take on the whole problem of money on a drive, it was completely unproductive. There was no action immediately available to fix the problem. I was just setting my mind up for a short circuit. I can’t say I’ll never make that mistake again, but I will be more aware of how to deal with it after working on this article.
Like building a fire, you cannot always prepare for every rainstorm or gust of wind. You can choose a dry area that has a natural wind block. You can store a pile of dry twigs under a waterproof tarp and prepare for storms with a healthy sized pile of dry logs.

So, next time I’m feeling on top of the world, I am going to make a few preparations for the future. I can set aside some money for a rainy day. I am setting aside some good motivational quotes. I created a section in my notes called “Inspiration” so that I can look at it when I need some help.

Another good idea is to pick out inspirational music and make a rainy day playlist.

Another strategy I’ve been working on is to take care of loose ends. The more things I can stay on top of the better. It’s good to deal with issues now, so they won’t compound the problems that are sure to come along later.

My hope is that this story will help to encourage you to take action in your life today. Start preparing the ingredients for your bonfire. Create the right environment for motivation to flourish.

Let the fire burn inside of you to achieve your goals! 

 

 

Screw New Year’s Resolutions

Here we go again.

The New Year shenanigans used to get me tied up in knots every year. I would think all the worst things about myself and overanalyze my shortcomings. Then I would create an unrealistic goal. Later, I would come up short and feel guilty about failing miserably.

Can you relate? Are you going through this now?

The holidays are stressful.

Sure, Christmas was fun, but you know what I’m talking about. It’s great to see family and share gifts. It’s also the time of year where many of us are taxed financially and physically. It’s been extra cold this time of year, which makes it harder to get outside for exercise. It can be difficult to bounce back from the holiday treats and leisure time. After all the excitement everyone is dreading going back to the work grind. Its not much fun figuring out how to pay for all the fun we had. Why do we try to give up our favorite vices and comforting habits when we most need them?

I’m not trying to say that bad habits shouldn’t kicked. In my experience, the traditional New Year’s resolution pattern doesn’t work over time. According to a recent Washington Post article, “about 25 percent of us don’t stick with it for seven measly days.”

Bad habits are self-perpetuating and cyclical.

In my personal experience I have battled with several bad habits. I’ve managed to recognize several of the main adversaries. The largest obstacle in the battle is the mental struggle. The mind has the power to outsmart itself. I have observed my thought process; my mind will play with my emotions to maintain a behavior.

“I had a rough day, I need this tonight.”

When the habit is finally confronted, the stage is set for a new problem. Overcoming a vice creates a gaping space, which begs to get filled in with something just as bad or worse. It’s not easy to change because life keeps bringing up the same issues.  The human mind has a way of creating solutions for problems. Finding a superior solution requires strategy.

Trying to “Quit” just leaves an empty hole.

It could be that you feel like you indulge in too much caffeine or sugar. Maybe it’s overeating, too much television or too much social media. You know best which habits you are ready to change. It usually does not work to just “stop doing it.” An addition strategy is superior to an elimination process.

 I recommend a long term strategy for making serious life changes.

I have finally changed my daily habits and improved my life. I am going to share what I have learned, so others can gain from my experience. If you are serious about making changes in your habits permanently, read on, and give this method a shot.

Use HOPE.

I propose a simple acronym to aid in implementing a serious transformation.

Choose a new hobby and make it a habit.

Rather than trying to “stop” or “quit” an old habit, I recommend starting a new practice first. My method has been to strengthen a new hobby before attempting to let go of the old routine. I prepare and nurture the replacement activity so it’s ready to fill in the hole. Here is the breakdown of the acronym:

H=Health

O=Opportunity

P=Productivity

E=Efficiency

Have you ever had a severe neck strain?

I used to experience neck aches that would last for days. I remember feeling a pain that felt like a spear going through my chest to my shoulder. Since I started making exercise a daily routine, these shoulder pains just don’t happen. I do still get a sore neck at times, but this goes away as soon as I get off the computer and get some rest. Daily exercise has drastically improved my physical comfort.

Healthy choices can’t hurt.

It helps to have something to look forward to every day. How much better would it be if you could look forward to something that makes your body feel better in the long run? A healthy habit like running or jogging seems like a burden at first. After a few weeks, it becomes a regular part of the daily routine. The hardest part is getting it started. I started small with a jog around the block after a few sit-ups. Choose something that you know you can pull off. You can build on it later over time. When I REALLY don’t feel like doing it, on those tough days, I tell myself I only need to run, or walk, or stretch, for five minutes; I inevitably feel better once I start and can go longer than I would have thought initially.

Look for an opportunity to achieve.

Choose an activity that involves room for improvement. Exercise offers the opportunity to increase the number of repetitions. Reading books or listening to audio creates a way to learn new skills or gather research. Meeting new people or joining a group may offer a way to network.

Productive habits build up confidence.

I often used to spend hours in the evenings sitting on the couch playing video games. These days I spend that same time either working on my business ideas or writing articles. I look forward to the time just as much, and the result is a productive accomplishment. It’s not wrong to play video games, but I know that I feel better about activities that build my self esteem.

Stack your goals for efficient use of limited time.

One idea I have been considering is joining a Meet Up group for people who go hiking. Nature is good for my soul. Meeting other folks who share this joy leads to great conversations and synchronistic connections. Combine two self-nurturing habits like exercise and friends. Consider asking a close friend to meet with you every week for a hike or finding a co-worker to walk with at lunch. An efficient use of time will help make you feel better and produce new possibilities for growth. I have also found that weekly check-ins are great for accountability. Having someone who will be expecting an update gives me that extra boost to try a little harder to reach my goals.

Looking back at 2016, I am proud of the strides I have taken. I feel better about my health, and I spend more time working on taking proactive steps. I have a larger community of people that I communicate with that are inspiring to me. I have studied books and read more articles than I did in previous years. These changes originated in my decision to start doing seven push-ups every morning. After a few weeks, I started increasing the repetitions.

Replace the bad habits with new HOPE activities and have an excellent 2017.

Starting something simple is a superior tactic than the New Year’s resolution game. Try adding a new routine using the four words from the acronym H.O.P.E as guidelines. Replace habits over a few weeks or months. Make it happen one small step at a time. This method has worked wonders for me, and I sure hope it does for you.

 

 

Turning Financial Loss Into Motivation To Succeed

Turning a Huge Financial Loss Into A Powerful Motivational Tool

 

With no previous business experience, I decided to start an online Amazon Seller account with a minimal input of capital. I had decided to change my career path in an extreme U-Turn style maneuver without a good plan.

A friend of mine was making some pretty decent money online selling products, so I gave him a call and asked if he would be willing to teach me some of the basics. I was feeling desperate without a job and needed something new to fill in the financial hole. I knew I could always turn back to my construction and carpentry skills, but I really did not WANT to go that route.

 

I wanted to learn to be my own boss.

 

The journey I started in March of this year has been a tricky one with a roller coaster of feelings, anxiety, depression and exciting wins. I may not be rich yet in terms of money, but the concepts and ideas I have learned are worth more than money. What I have gained is the keys to being motivated and staying consistent with my goals. My organizational skills have improved, my circle of friends has expanded, and I have a whole new set of tools to earn money.

 

I started off with some cool tricks and easy wins.

Amazon is the billion-dollar marketplace which offers the opportunity to reach a very large audience. When I summoned up the courage to call my friend out of the blue and ask for some advice on starting out to become an Amazon seller, I was surprised at his enthusiasm to help me out. He was extremely patient and generous. He explained to me some basics of what is called “SEO,” or Search Engine Optimization. He had been in this business for quite some time and had figured out on his own how to apply some of the strategies to selling products on Amazon. With my meager couple thousand dollars, I started with a headphone splitter and took his advice very seriously. I took notes on everything I was taught and applied the knowledge carefully, staying up late and getting up early trying to figure it all out.

 

Hard work pays off.

For the first three or four months, I was amazed at how perfect everything went. Just as I was taught, I managed to get my listing showing up on the first page of some popular keywords, and was selling the product faster than I could keep it in stock. I made back the money I put in originally and reinvested it in more stock. Things were going great until I hit a solid roadblock.

 

Amazon doesn’t care about my small business.

All of the sudden, sales screeched to a halt. My advertisement page was totally changed. The title had been altered in a way that did not even represent the product. The images I had so carefully crafted with my mentor’s helping hand were not even showing up. I went from 100 customer reviews down to less than 40. They just erased them. After weeks of phone calls and struggle, I managed to salvage the title somewhat, but to this day I have lost the bulk of the sales. As it turns out, the powerful tool I was using for leverage was no longer effective due to changes in the Amazon platform. Since the primary concern is serving the customers, a small seller like myself really does not amount to much in the eyes of the behemoth marketplace of Amazon. I was dejected and depressed. I had put much hope in my projected gains, and had big plans for the end of the year. My dream was all falling apart.

 

A failure is also an opportunity to learn.

After a few weeks of feeling really bummed out, I began seeking creative solutions to the problem. Without the easy win strategy I was taught I was going to have to learn to sell things the hard way. I began to study marketing. I set goals. I wrote a business plan. I watched training videos. I continue to study every week, learning new skills in the process. I have discovered a few new ways to make money. The pressure of being broke and not having a steady income has forced me to try new things and be brave. One big move I recently made was signing up as a creative writing freelancer. I realize now that I have always had some skill for writing, but just never realized there was a good way to get paid for it. I recently received my first bank deposit for articles and website copy that I wrote. A month ago I would have never imagined such a thing possible.

 

The key to motivation is desire.

In many ways, the fear of not providing for my family and being a jobless bum has been the kick in the ass to try new things. Fear is a motivator, but it is not the secret ingredient to motivation. When I was operating in a state of fear my reaction was to just go back to what I knew, and do construction and handyman work. This is a way to make money, but it is very limited. It is hard on the body, takes up a lot of time, and the pay is decent but not awesome. I am not looking to just get by anymore. I have something to prove. I am on a mission to succeed at finding a way to work for myself from home. I found I had to get creative and try new things.

 

“A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning”. –Pat Riley

 

There is room at the top.

My father-in-law has been quite successful in his own lawyer practice and has told me multiple times that “there is room at the top,” meaning that most folks are satisfied with decent, but if you really push hard, you can achieve success that most folks just wont imagine possible. I have always believed this concept in theory, but for the first time I am putting it into practice.

 

Making money in five different ways in one day

A couple days ago, I realized that I had made money from five separate streams. I sold some splitters on Amazon, did some handyman work, sold a tool on Craigslist, drove for Uber, and got paid for writing an article on Upwork.com. I still did not make the money that my wife makes in a few hours as a nurse working nights, but I was very proud of my accomplishment. A year ago I would not have believed it possible. I felt trapped in a dead end job. I now see a world of opportunity and wake up thankful for another chance to make my own decisions.

 

Motivation is more than money

Currently, my aim is figuring out how to make money. Money is not my motivation, desire or end goal. My goal is to live a life of purpose. My mission is to help people and be a good father, husband, and friend. My goal is to create a strong resilient community for my kids and future generations. To accomplish these things I need to feel positive and upbeat in a very challenging and destructive environment. I have big ideas for ways to improve our society, and I desperately want to be a part of positive change. On that path, I need to make some damn money. So that is what I am learning to do. I’ve learned that motivation comes from hard work, dedication, and consistent action. The results will show up later.

Breaking Through The Brick Wall Of Success

Cracking old bricks wall

Starting From Scratch

Breaking Through The Wall: The Sledgehammer and The Digging Bar

After two full years of struggling, I am finally beginning to see a little bit of light. The struggle is not over by far, but the little crack of light shining through is enough hope to lift my spirits. I’m going to get through this brick wall that has been holding me back from my dreams of success.

Living in the middle of nowhere I was a short drive from town.
I had this really interesting job many years ago where I was a maintenance man at James Lick Observatory, which was situated at an elevation of 4200’ feet on a mountaintop only 45 minutes from San Jose, a huge bay area city in California. The observatory is barely visible from the city but if you know where to look there is a tiny little white dome up along the ridgeline of the distant mountains. One of the most fantastic things about living at the Observatory was that you were in the middle of nowhere despite how close it is to such a sprawling metropolis.
I began working there at a particularly difficult time in my life when my parents were having major issues. It was so nice to be away from all the drama. I could just concentrate on some honest hard work to do to keep my mind off my mom’s alcoholism and my dad’s mental problems. The structures at the observatory were more than one hundred years old, so there was plenty of hard work to keep me occupied.
What made work really fun at the observatory was the variety of different jobs. Sometimes things would be a bit slow and monotonous, but then I’d get called into action to go help repair a leaky pipe down at the water tanks or sent up to some weird building I’d never been in before to track down some random piece of equipment.
I woke up this morning remembering one job, which really stands out. I now realize that it is a perfect metaphor for the struggle I have been going through over the last couple years.

Bricks and more bricks
In 1939 a two-seater military attack plane had crashed into the main building at the observatory due to heavy fog. Years later there was a huge fire in that same building. Somewhere during the process when the building was rebuilt, they reinforced some of the walls with many rows of bricks. I got to know those bricks really well, up close and personal.
The director of the observatory came up with this idea to put a projector up in one room that would shine down through a little window into the larger presentation room to show slides and presentations. The only problem was that there was a thick layer of wall between the two rooms. That was where I came in.
The maintenance director sent me up to the little dark room with a hammer drill and a sledgehammer. He explained that we basically needed a hole starting from this room about three feet wide going through into the next room. After the hole was done we would make a little window and install the projector. Little did we know what laid between the two rooms; a reinforcement wall made of many, many layers of bricks. I use the word many two times because I don’t remember exactly how many layers of bricks it went deep. Let’s just say I was up in that room chipping away at that hole for more than a week. Getting started was the hardest part. I would drill about 10 holes in a semi-circle with the hammer drill and then pound away with the sledgehammer or a cold chisel. The result would be a tiny dent. I remember trying various tools and techniques, but really only the sledgehammer and persistence seemed to prevail. This process felt quite futile for the first couple days. I kept at it and started to make it through a layer of bricks. I would feel excited each layer deeper I busted through, only to find another layer of bricks each time. My hands often went numb from the vibration of the hammer drill and the impact of the sledgehammer. Sometimes one of the other maintenance men from the mountain would come up and spend some time chipping away with me for part of a day, I think partly out of pity.
Eventually, we did smash through the other side.
To tell the truth, I remember starting to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of the job at the point when bigger pieces started breaking loose and each day would show more progress. I made it to the other side, installed the window and the projector, and the director was pleased. I recently had a little break-though in my life that felt so much like the experience in the little dark room with the sledgehammer.
When I quit my full-time job eight months ago, I really did not have a direct plan for what I was going to do for a career. I just knew that I needed to find a way to work for myself and have more freedom to make my own decisions. I needed to feel like my work and my time were valuable and worthwhile. I have spent the last months trying various ways to make money such as odd maintenance jobs, some construction work, and my little Amazon business. Each of these has had varying success, and I’ve managed to pay my bills and get through so far. Trouble is, there has been depression, anxiety, and fear. Its really hard not knowing where the next paycheck will come from.  Meanwhile, my wife is beating herself up working long night shifts to cover the biggest bills.

There is a way and I have the will.
I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to figure out a new and more efficient way to make money that doesn’t require so much time and labor and wont get me locked in prison. In the effort of improving my website I had been spending more time writing.  In the process, I realized that creative writing is a talent that can be leveraged for money. As I explored the options to do freelancing work online, I found that this is actually not as hard as I would have imagined. I had my first interview with a client interested to hire me to write articles. I finally saw some light finally coming through my hole in the brick wall. Soon after, my first professional article was posted on a website.
The big lesson in all this is that life will present problems and obstacles. Sometimes the obstacles will seem insurmountable like the many-layered brick walls of bricks at the observatory.
Often we do not have the best tools available to get through the brick walls. When I started my little Amazon business I only had a couple thousand dollars to start, which really limited how quickly I could build and scale the business. When I work on construction jobs I am trading all my time and most of my energy for a wage that barely covers the bills. I have lots of great ideas for more businesses and products, but no capital to invest. Banks aren’t going to want to give a loan to someone with no business experience and no collateral. There are so many obstacles to success it can be as daunting as the brink wall with the little dent in it.
Just keep chipping away.
I keep hearing the same advice from multiple angles. Don’t give up. Try something else you haven’t tried yet. Do what works. Study what other people are doing, keep trying. We all know this advice but need to keep hearing it over and over throughout life. I may not have reached a place of financial freedom or independence yet, but I have realized my potential and I feel very confident that I am on a path to reaching my goals.

What is your brick wall?

There is something that is holding you back from the success you dream of. You may have a goal or desire that haunts you and seems out of reach. I am not going to tell you to reach out and grab at that dream. I am saying that it is probably going to take a lot of hard work and time. The sooner you start chipping away at it the sooner you will break through that wall. Grab the sledgehammer and get started today.

Chris Jantzen

Avoid The Snakepits! Having a Peaceful Holiday Without Arguments

snakes

Avoiding The Snakepits

The holiday season can be a very traumatic time. Although most of us love to be with our family, there are many dangers when it comes to this time of year. There is societal and cultural pressure to spend time with individuals that one might not otherwise associate with just because they are family. I feel very lucky that there is no family member that I can think of  I totally dislike. That being said, there are many conversation topics that come up during family gatherings that make my skin crawl.

A major issue that I have experienced in family gatherings and interactions is emotional triggers. Often even a family member that I really enjoy spending time with will bring up subject or phrase, which triggers a defensive reaction. I have seen red faces and tears at several family functions due to poorly placed words or bad timing. Often folks are already a bit stressed or on edge during the hustle and business of the season. This dangerous situation can compound when other folks within earshot start jumping in on the conversation and adding commentary or opinionated interjections.

I recently read a book that had a major influence on my thinking, called “The 80/20 Principle”, by Richard Koch. I can’t stop talking about this book. The point I wanted to share for the purpose of this article is really not the focus of the book, so I won’t go into detail here about the overall concept of the 80/20 principle. I just like to give credit where it is due.

Avoid situations where you don’t shine, and particularly where you do the opposite. Avoid the snake-pits of your life. If you can’t stand traffic jams, don’t commute. If you don’t like waiting, minimize all contact with public services. If you get bad tempered with stupid people, don’t put yourself into contact with people you define this way. –Richard Koch

Now I certainly don’t want to suggest that your family members are stupid people or that you should avoid being with your family. However, there are some extreme examples I have heard of over the years where it would probably better to completely avoid certain people or situations due to predictable results such as an uncontrollable drunk who gets violent every year at parties. Don’t party with that dude, it’s not worth it.

The piece of wisdom that I have picked up is more appropriate for dealing with folks that you DO want to spend time with.

My wife and kids have reminded me many times in the last two years that it is extremely frustrating when I go off on a speech or try too hard to make a point that they really are not interested in. I have been accused of guiding a conversation in a particular direction, away from the initial subject, in order to try and make my point. I have recognized that this is indeed something that I do, often unconsciously.

I will not go deeply into the reasons I have such strong opinions that put me in a place of complete disagreement with most friends and family members because that is exactly the diversion that has caused so much trouble. Let it suffice to say that subjects such as voting, taxes, global warming, politics, and government are all snakepits for me.

After a recent unproductive fight with my wife, it really sunk in just how useless it is to try and make a point and “teach” someone something that I think I know. If a person wants to know my thoughts on a particular subject, they will ask out of curiosity. If I can do enough work or research to prove myself to be an authority on a particular subject, eventually some folks might come to me for advice.

For the sake of conversation and getting along with others, there is really no point in trying to make a point. Adults really do not change their minds easily. Most realizations and discovery comes from a personal journey involving seeking out information or learning on ones’ own initiative.

I have developed an inner alarm system of sorts that begins to sound whenever I approach a snakepit subject. Over the last weeks, I have noticed a vast improvement in my overall well-being. If you are intrigued or want to experiment with my strategy, I have broken down the steps to achieving a peaceful interaction with people you disagree with.

Step One: Define the Snakepits Ahead Of Time

Before meeting with the family, take a few moments to consider some of the issues you have with these individuals. For the most part, we already know where it is that we disagree with most people. What are the subjects that are guaranteed to be divisive? What good can come from getting into the arguments that will likely not be resolved over dinner and especially over drinks? I would recommend going as far as making a list on paper.

Step Two: Prepare Yourself Mentally to Lose

I find that the biggest enemy is really my own ego. I hate to lose. It feels like a loss when someone gets the last word in. It feels like I got beaten in an argument when something is said that defames my moral character and I don’t thoroughly defend myself and make a point to the counter. People that truly love me continue to do so because overall I treat them well and offer value in their lives over time. Whatever is said in one particular discussion or debate can easily be forgotten or dismissed. I have been learning to just let it go. I dont need to win this battle. The true battle is my inner struggle to stay on good terms with people and feel happy and confident. When I’m in a good place, all interactions are easier.

Step Three: Replace The Words With The Ear

There is really no winning except realizing that love is the big picture. The best way to show love and prove a point is to listen to someone else’s point and not say anything at all. Just hear them out and let them hear themselves. That actually opens the door to curiosity in some situations, where that person may then ask for your opinion. If so, they asked for it and that’s different. I still operate carefully if it is a snakepit subject. I don’t want to fall in the pit. I don’t like getting bit by snakes.

Real love is listening. Time is the best teacher. Give folks an opportunity to think for a few days on their own. I often think about something I said and realize a day or two later that I was off base. Patience cures many wounds.

So if you are rushing off to a family engagement, take a minute while stuck in traffic or while you are waiting for someone to get their shoes on and define a couple snakepits. Consider today as an opportunity to practice your listening skills. I know you will not regret it.

One more quick tip. If you find yourself getting emotional, red-faced, or starting to get over enthusiastic about something you want to say, take a break. You can always excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. The bathroom is a great place to recalibrate and get your thoughts in order. Consider the big picture and what really matters. Splash some water on your face and come back out ready to listen and love.

Just an idea. Hope your holiday is fantastic!!

 

Chris Jantzen

Richard Koch article, Huffington Post

 

Hole In The Bucket

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza…old-bucket

It’s so weird how life can bring up the same old subjects over and over. Do you ever feel like you are living in a Bill Murray Groundhog day? The same old problems and issues just keep popping up in slightly different forms. I had a discussion with someone I really care about recently where I wanted to offer some advice, but I knew the way the discussion was going. We were going to circle the same old problem with the same old defensive emotional response. Have you ever tried to give advice to a friend or family member because you care deeply about the person, but you know that it is futile to offer the solutions that won’t be implemented? Let me move on to the screenplay.

Friend: I feel like crap today. I’m depressed.

You: Maybe you should not have stayed up until 3AM last night?!

Friend: Well, you know, I can’t go to sleep well. I just toss and turn if I go to bed on time.

You: Probably would be easier to sleep if you got some exercise during the day.

Friend: What are you talking about? I don’t have time to exercise! I had to run errands and work today!

You: If you get up a little earlier in the morning you will have time for errands, work, and exercise.

Friend: You know I can’t fall asleep. I just toss and turn.

The hole in the bucket is not just a disease or mental issue that exists in other people. This is an issue that we all face which I call the self-perpetuating cycle. There is some bad habit or addiction that each of us deals with that holds us back from reaching our goals and dreams. Some irritating obsession that is the biggest obstacle to the happiness that we imagine. Let me tell you a personal story so it does not seem like I’m just talking smack about my friends and family.

When I was eighteen I was going through an intense rebellious stage. I was mad at teachers, parents, and society. I’m still dealing with these feelings to this day to be totally honest. I started experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis. Over the years, I have struggled with when is the right time to use these type of recreational activities. Let’s just say there’s been plenty of times where I did not make the right decisions. One thing I have learned though is the importance of honesty with myself.

Just last year I was going through a particularly tough time for reasons I won’t get into here. I decided it was time to go pick up some tobacco. I got back into the habit of smoking. At first, it was just at night before bed. Then it crept into after meals. My mind rationalized and justified multiple reasons why smoking tobacco was a good thing to do. I came up with excuses to explain why I needed the tobacco or why it was helping my situation. Deep down I knew why I quit smoking tobacco years before. It makes me feel like crap and I get into a bad habit that takes over my mind and my cycle of thought. The negative cycles that get set up in the mind for an obsession or bad habit then create their own justifications. My wacky mind will even go as far as creating reasons to get depressed so more medicine is required. Do you know what I am talking about?

It could be that you are someone who has never dealt with addiction. If so, you don’t need to read this. For the rest, let’s discuss the solution to the self-perpetuating cycle. Be honest with yourself. This is the path to freedom. The mistake may happen again, but if you are prepared with the cold truth you will be better prepared for the solution.

My personal realization is that I can’t buy tobacco. I’ll smoke the hell out of it until I’m sick and my throat hurts. If I am in a bad spot emotionally and I feel like doing it, I just know now what will happen. I’ll buy a ten to fourteen dollar bag of tobacco, then I’ll throw it away within three days before things get worse. Why waste fifteen dollars? It has become much easier to say no because I have become more honest with myself about the truth of the situation.

Now that I am writing about my personal story of making a stupid mistake over and over I am a bit embarrassed. However, I doubt I will ever make that mistake again. It will be impossible to trick myself again now that I have publically been honest with myself. Can you defeat your self-perpetuating cycle?

There are many more tactics and solutions that go along with fixing the hole in the bucket. Get a new bucket, for instance. Start fresh with new habits that are healthier. Get help from professionals or people that have dealt with similar issues. Incrementally wean yourself from your bad habit. Meditate. Exercise. Find an accountability partner.

There are many tools and options to change habits. In my experience, none of them will work until you are sincerely ready. Total commitment to brutal honesty about the problem is the primary solution.

Is there a hole in your bucket?