Extracting Excellence

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Wikipedia defines excellence as a talent or quality which is unusually good and so surpasses ordinary standards”.

Excellence is a constantly moving target. You don’t achieve a level of excellence in any area of life by staying the same. Forward progress is required for anyone striving for excellence. Professional athletes don’t just show up to a game without putting in long, hard hours of practice. Authors don’t just publish a book without countless hours of writing, rewriting, and revising their work. CFO’s don’t take on huge organizational responsibility without years of studying, understanding and applying financial literacy.

Average is to excellence what good is to great. And Jim Collins says it best

Good is the enemy of great.

If you think about it, many people are average (or good) at many things in life. But very few achieve excellence (or greatness). Excellence requires us to show up, day after day, giving our very best effort, with laser focus and determination. Excellence is…HARD. So we settle for average, or good enough. We settle for comfort, ease, and the path of least resistance.

I recently attended a talk by Matthew Kelly called Living Every Day With Passion and Purpose. During his talk, he shared several qualities all individuals who have achieved a level of excellence have in common. These qualities are universally understood and applied, from professional athletes to comedians, doctors to teachers. These qualities include:

    1. A hunger for best practices. Once you have identified something you want to improve upon, research and find others who are considered “the best” in that industry. If you want to improve your photography skills, follow the best ones on Instagram. If you are looking to sharpen your leadership skills, reading a book by the one and only John C. Maxwell certainly wouldn’t hurt. Excellence requires a hunger for new, fresh perspectives and practices.
    2. Commitment to continuous learning (on-going personal growth). Learning doesn’t end when we graduate from school. The world is constantly evolving and changing. We live in an age of information abundance, and it’s up to us to find the information we need and apply it. Attend a workshop, watch a documentary, listen to a podcast, read a book, have coffee with an industry expert, subscribe to blogs and newsletters. Put a system in place to continually learn from the industry experts. Just imagine all you could learn in a year if you just spent ten minutes a day learning something new.
    3. Personal clarity. When you know who you are, what you are here for, what matters most and what matters least, you can get really good at saying no. In order to achieve excellence, you have to get good at saying NO, so your yes can be a fiery, passionate, energetic YES. Olympic athletes have personal clarity. They push through all those years of 4:30 a.m. workouts because they know exactly what they are training for. When we don’t have clarity, we are easily distracted and influenced by popular culture. We become swept away by what’s new, popular, easy, and fast. “Oh look, a squirrel!”
    4. Have a mentor, coach, or accountability partner. Those olympic athletes aren’t showing up alone for 4:30 a.m. practice. They have coaches, helping them develop and implement a training plan. If there is something you want to achieve, it’s imperative you have a coach, mentor or accountability partner. No one has ever achieved excellence alone. When I started a new job at Discovery Education, I immediately found a mentor. We read books together and discussed our key learnings, and she held me accountable for goals I wanted to accomplish. A few months into the job, I told her I wanted to go back to school to get my Master’s degree. She gave me a deadline, and even sent me a link for more information on the company’s reimbursement policy. I can promise you there is NO WAY I would have followed through with the application process if I didn’t have someone holding me accountable. Similarly, in every city I’ve lived, I’ve made it a priority to find running buddies to tackle those early morning runs. I wake up and get my butt out of bed 100% of the time when I know someone is counting on me to run with them. If I’m attempting a 5:30 a.m. run solo, there is a good chance it isn’t going to happen. Find someone to hold you accountable for goals you know will help make you a better version of yourself.

Excellence isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t something that can be accomplished overnight. You have to show up for practice, day after day, not just when you feel like it. Establish daily habits that will help you achieve your goal, and over time you’ll find yourself experiencing a level of excellence you’ve been dreaming of.

 

 

 

FOMO Made Me Do It

IMG_6577FOMO, which is an acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out”, is becoming more and more of an issue in this hyper-connected world. All it takes is thirty seconds on any social media platform, and suddenly we feel left out, less important, not as smart, not as funny, or worse- not enough. In Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong, she talks about the negative impact FOMO can have on our lives.

“The ‘fear of missing out’ is what happens when scarcity slams into shame. FOMO lures us out of our integrity with whispers about what we could or should be doing. FOMO’s favorite weapon is comparison. It kills gratitude and replaces it with “not enough”. We answer FOMO’s call by saying YES when we mean NO. We abandon our path and boundaries and those precious adventures that hold meaning for us so we can prove that we aren’t missing out.

But we are. We’re missing out on our own lives. Every time we say YES because we’re afraid of missing out, we say NO to something. That something may be a big dream or a short nap. We need both. Courage to stay our course and gratitude for our path will keep us grounded and guide us home.”

Look back on the decisions you made over the past few weeks. Was there something FOMO caused you to say YES to?

  • Walking to Starbucks with your co-workers when you really needed to stay behind and finish the project out of fear they would have a fun conversation you would miss out on.
  • Buying a ticket to a concert because ALL of your friends posted on Facebook they were going even though you know your budget is tight out of fear they would have the MOST EPIC NIGHT EVER without you.
  • Signing your child up for yet another activity highly recommended by your mommy friend even though you know your child just needs a break from the hustle out of fear of what other mommy friends will think of you.

There are a million scenarios, but in the end, each time FOMO wins, it can crush our spirit.

FOMO can’t win without FEAR. And fear can’t win when it’s confronted with the truth. So it hides the truth, instead filling your mind full of false information. A friend of mine recently shared this acronym for “F.E.A.R.”:

False Evidence Appearing Real.

When we don’t have all of the information, our brains are actually horrible at filling in the gaps. We believe the lies, or false evidence, as truth, and we make decisions based on those lies. Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain. Those thoughts and feelings are not true, and they hinder our ability to become the best-version-of-ourselves.  Don’t let FEAR or FOMO guide you off course. Here are a few strategies to keep them at bay.

  1. Planned Neglect: In the book Walking With Purpose, Lisa Brenninkmeyer tells the story about a famous concert violinist. When she was asked the secret to her success, she replied, “Planned neglect.” Then she explained, “When I was in music school, there were many things that demanded my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted the floor, and did whatever else came to my attention.  Then I hurried to my violin practice. I found I wasn’t progressing as I thought I should, so I reversed things.  I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. That program of planned neglect, I believe, accounts for my success.” What can you plan to neglect so that you can focus on your most important work? Instead of checking social media as soon as you wake up, plan to neglect it until you have completed your morning workout, spent time with your children, planned your day, or cleaned your home.
  2. Pull, Don’t Push: I’m convinced those “push notifications” on our devices are killing our ability to live in the moment. The second you hear the beep or see the information flash across your screen, FOMO has won. Because guess what, that hysterical Facebook post you just shared, Susan just commented. SUSAN! As in- everyone loves Susan because she is THE funniest, prettiest, smartest woman in all the land. And SHE commented on YOUR post. I bet she said something funny. Classic Susan. Read it! READ IT NOW! You have to comment on her comment! Think of something funny to say. Never mind the work meeting you are in the middle of, or the child begging for your attention to help you with his lego building. WHAT DID SUSAN SAY?!……Last year I decided to turn off ALL “push” notifications. I decide when I want to “pull” those notifications by logging into those apps. I TRY (sometimes I fail) to do it when I don’t have something else (or someone else) more important that needs my full attention. When my loved ones are trying to speak to me, and I continue to look down at my device, half listening, I am communicating loud and clear “this device and the information on it is MORE IMPORTANT than you”. I am modeling this behavior to my precious children, who will likely become copy-cats. Put the device down. Find quiet times throughout the day when that device is the ONLY thing that needs your attention.
  3. Say It Out Loud: FEAR doesn’t like the light of day. It grows best in dark, quiet places. When FEAR and FOMO flood your mind with false evidence, say those thoughts out loud. Share your thoughts with a friend, or just say them out loud to yourself. Sometimes the simple act of verbalizing your thoughts and hearing them out loud is all you need to realize just how ridiculous it sounds.

Don’t let FOMO allow FEAR to keep you from becoming the best-version-of-yourself. Work on developing self-awareness so you can kick them to the curb next time they knock on your front door.

 

Energy Management

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If you were to type in the words “time management” into a Google search, you would receive 499,000,000 results. Countless books, blogs, articles and seminars have been written and built based on this concept. I’ve read and attended my fair share over the last 2 decades. There is no lack of content if you want to learn more about how to best manage your time.

We live in a culture where a crazy, busy schedule is the norm. Expected, almost. With more “to-do’s” fighting for our daily attention than ever before, it’s no wonder time management is a topic many are trying to master.

The purpose of this post is not to give you my insights on how to best manage your time. I think the bigger issue is how you manage your ENERGY.

In my last post, I talked about the idea of creating Core Habits, a concept I found in the book Off Balance by Matthew Kelly.

In his book, Kelly also tackles the issue of energy management. People, places, things, and activities all have energy. Some energize us, and some drain our energy.

Your capacity for life increases with the more energy you have. Your ability to embrace, absorb, and enjoy all the good things in this world, and your ability to respond and react to the not so good things in this word, depends upon the amount of energy you have….Knowing how to balance various activities in our life to produce the maximum flow of energy is perhaps the most important skill any of us can learn to develop…Your experience of life expands with the more energy you have.

Keeping in mind that everything has energy, take a look at your daily schedule. Are there times in the day where the negatives outnumber the positives? How can you reorganize your day to better balance the scale? (A word of caution: don’t overload your daily schedule in an attempt to add more positive energy. Ten pounds of fun will never fit into a five pound bag. Nothing empties your energy tank faster than the overwhelming feeling of being rushed.)

Is there a certain time of day where your energy goes to die? Mine is 2:30. EVERY DAY. Trying to do more energy-sucking tasks when your tank is already on “E” is no fun.  And I’ll let you in on a little secret – caffeine and/or sugar is not the answer to your empty tank. They only make matters worse in the long run.

You may also notice a certain time of day where you have a surplus of energy. Early morning is my favorite time of day. I try to schedule all of the things that require the most energy and focus first thing in the morning. If it’s not done by dinner time, chances are good I’m not going to have the energy to do it.

Here are a few strategies I use to help manage my energy flow throughout the day.  (Caffeine and sugar free!!)

    • Multi-energy-task. I know what the research says about the negative impacts of multi-tasking. But there are certain tasks that can be done with minimal cognitive effort (things you do often that don’t require much thought), and can be combined with something else. For example- if you are like me, and feel that completing necessary household chores (laundry, dishes, dusting…) sucks the very life out of you, try to schedule a phone call with your best friend, parent, or someone who fills up your energy tank every time you talk to them. Enjoy the uplifting phone date while you fold the laundry and see how much easier it becomes. Maybe you work full time and can’t seem to escape a co-worker who drains your energy tank each and every day. “Who ‘ya gonna call” to lift you up and give you the energy you need? Play your own “fight song” before or after you talk to them. Play it loud and sing along with it. It’s amazing how music can lift you up and make you feel less alone in this crazy world.
    •  Take Five: If your day does not start out on the right foot, it is highly unlikely it will end well. It is difficult to change the trajectory of your day once you set the course. What begins as a tiny snowball of negativity in the first few minutes of your day becomes an unstoppable avalanche by lunch. Not good. Spend the next week experimenting with the the BEST way to start your day. For the first five minutes- do something that gives you energy. (If you have longer than five minutes-take it!) It could be a quick exercise, quiet meditation, prayer time, reading, drawing, or planning your day. If you don’t take the initiative to run your day, your day will run you over.
    • Waffle Wednesday. Hump day often gets a bad rap. If Wednesday were a body part, it would be an armpit. A smelly, ugly, hairy (but necessary) energy sucker. Poor Wednesday. About a year ago I decided to give Wednesday an energy overhaul. Every Wednesday morning my kids wake up excited for “Waffle Wednesday”. I realize the irony of this sugar-filled energy boost. But what was once a mid-week day we all dreaded has now become one of my favorite mornings of the week. Having something to look forward to GIVES us energy. Maybe Monday is tough for you. If so- what energy giving person, place or activity can you add to prevent having another “case of the Mondays”?  case of the mondays
  • Move. I try not to sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. I’ve heard it said more than once, and I couldn’t agree more, “sitting is the new smoking”. (There is also plenty of research to support this claim.) Instead of sitting down for a meeting with your co-worker, try a walk-and-talk option. Then come back and write down any action items. If you have a job that requires you sit at a desk all day with minimal options to get up and walk, try doing some chair yoga moves. If you stay at home with your kids, turn on Pandora’s 80’s station and dance together in your living room. It doesn’t matter how you move your body. Just move. (Especially during the time of day when your energy is the lowest.)

Take a moment to write down your daily schedule. Identify the energy givers with a “+”, and the energy suckers with a “-“. Give yourself a 1:1 ratio in order to balance your energy scale. Set boundaries and build in opportunities to recharge your battery. If you are a chronic people pleaser, use the power of “no” more often than you are comfortable. Give yourself the space and time you need to fill up your tank, and you’ll uncover energy reserves you never knew you had.