Sunday, December 13, 2015

False Choices

"Better 100 friends than 100 rubles."~ Russian proverb

I don't always agree with proverbs, and I don't agree with this one. While I believe that friends are more important than money, I think the proverb is inspiring a false choice. Both are good and you can have both.

In his book "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind" T. Harv Eker points out that rich people think "and", the rest of us think "or". By thinking or, that we must choose one and not the other, we are making a choice when no choice is required--a false choice.

We can also make a bad decision by using or to justify a bad decision. Should we eat the fries or the dessert? Neither. Sometimes the right choice is to do nothing, or at least none of the above. When at a restaurant, look for what you'll wish you had eaten, not for what looks good. It all looks good, right.

As a computer programer, I learned that "and", "or" and not are logical filters that can precisely control what to include or exclude. When they are needed and used appropriately good things happen.

So listen for the words: and, or, not. Ask yourself why, and why not.

Fries or dessert? Why not neither?

100 friends or 100 rubles? Why not both? Why not 1000?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The School of Greatness

For the past few years, Lewis Howes has been hosting a podcast he calls the School of Greatness. During a typical program he will interview an expert on personal development or some related topic. His skill as a podcaster, the quality of the guests, and the value to listeners continue to go through a positive feedback loop.

Many of his guests are authors, trainers and educators--what else would you expect at a school? His goal us to help his listeners develop a lifestyle of their win choosing. Now he has released a book with the same goal. For example:

When you want to lose weight and keep it off, you don't go on a diet, because diets are about artificial restriction. They're miserable. Instead, change your lifestyle to match your goals.

This book is about changing your lifestyle to match your goals, a step by step process that can help you take control of your life and destiny.

The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Why I Subscribe to Podcasts

As far as I see it, there are two types of people: those who think they can multitask and those who know better. With minor exceptions, multitasking breaks focus and slows productivity. This is one of those exceptions. 

You can call it a habit, a goal, a standard or crazy, but I try to walk at least 10,000 steps--about five miles--every day. In the past month I have done this 28 of 31 days. As I walk I listen to podcasts. I subscribe to several and they fall into three categories. 


About half the walk is an audio version of the PBS News Hour. Once a week, I satisfy my inner science geek with This Week in Science. These and a couple others remind me that there is an
outside world. 

Personal Growth

I pick up an assortment of personal
growth podcasts doing interviews or offering ideas. Some of these lead to books to read, either in full or through a Blinkist summary. If I'm not hooked in the first couple minutes, I'm on to the next topic. 


This category covers hobbies and entertainment. 


By playing these podcasts while I walk, I can get a briefing on current events, pick up some useful ideas and catch a few messages about my hobbies while allocating the time to health and exercise. I generally play the podcasts at 1.5 speed, as fast as possible without distorting voices. 

Truthfully, this time is for the exercise. The podcasts are scanned for potential interests but not rigorously studied. Over the past few years that I've done this, the News Hour has dutifully reported the Dow Jones Industrial Average over 1000 times and I couldn't guess it within 10% or even define it accurately. I guess I was right--I can't multitask, but it does make walking those miles more pleasant. 

Your Turn

What podcasts do you follow and why? Are you giving them your full attention?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What Are Your Favorite Books

I am currently reading Become An Idea Machine Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher. The book offers prompts and challenges you to come up with ten ideas based on the prompt. The thought is to get in the habit of having and writing down ten ideas each day. Here was today's prompt.

Tell Me Your Favorite 10 Books Of All Time And One Thing You Learned From Each

This assignment was framed to be as broad as possible. I focused on books I recommend, many of them easy reading with significant impact on me. Here are my choices. 

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.  The power of choice to cope with anything. 

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  It's never too late to pursue your dreams. 

Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-free Productivity  by David Allen the systematic process of doing. 

Success Principles by Jack Canfield.  Take 100% responsibility for your life and dozens of other valuable life lessons. 

Good to Great by Jim Collins. Among several other ideas it reveals the value of a stop doing list. From this comes my own advice to get out of your own way. 

The Automatic Millionaire  by David Bach which teaches the latte factor, the long term cost of habitual spending. If you are looking for something specific to stop doing, this may help. 

Notes From A Friend  by Anthony Robbins. Robbins.  Robbins offers a wide variety of formats and many life changing ideas. This quick read introduces some of his most important ideas including the power of decisions. 

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker. Thus book points out several ways wealthy people think differently from others including think "and" not "either ... or ..."  

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S Clason. This old book teaches  the basics of personal finance. 

Eat That Frog  by Brian Tracy. Another small book full of great ideas including the one which gives the book its title -- eat the big frog first. That is, start your day by tackling your biggest, highest payoff activity. 

The point of the Idea Machine is to
generate tons of ideas, not stop at ten. So, what books would you add and why?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Podcast Review:This Week in Science

This Week In Science offers a weekly collection of science news for a general audience. As the name suggests, it focuses on current headlines, not in-depth reporting. You can catch live broadcasts each week at or catch it later off a podcast feed. Think audiovisual Time Magazine or Newsweek committed to science.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Review - Better Than Before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

By Gretchen Rubin

There are tons of self improvement books out, and countless articles on the Internet--my own among them. This book stands out from the piles because it boils valuable ideas to a couple useful models and offers guidance to applying them to your life.

The bulk of the book organizes and details 21 strategies for implementing habits to change your life. The first few are universal and obvious -- once the author has pointed them out. Others work for some people and not others. Taken together, they offer a solid toolkit for changing habits, one of the most important skills you can have for self improvement.

Taking the Long View

There are two ways to lose weight. 

Option 1: diet. All diets work if you commit to them because they all restrict calories. The bad news is you cannot keep the weight off without option 2.

Option 2: change your life style. Your life style caused you to put on weight and unless you change will do so again. So, let's focus on changing life style to produce a result that is attainable and sustainable. This can be done by a continuous series of conscious choices or by changing your habits. 

Weight loss programs try to address this and ensure your continued patronage by selling their food, services snd systems as long term solutions. As long as you consciously follow the program, you can maintain the weight. The problem is that conscious effort is an effort. 

In his book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman told how he lost weight by identifying sugar as his biggest problem and eliminating that. This was his version of a lifestyle change through conscious choice. In effect, he developed a stop doing list with one item on it. 

In her recently released book Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin offers an assortment of strategies for eliminating bad habits and installing good ones. Since habits put your life on autopilot, they become the definition of the lifestyle change you seek. She starts with four strategies. Let's consider each in terms of eating more wisely and exercising more. 

Foundation Change what is easily accessible so supporting the desired habit is easier than falling back into the old one. Get the unhealthy food out of the house. Put your walking shoes next to the bed so you put them on and go for a walk first thing each day.

Scheduling Put the daily walk on your calendar along with anything else that contributes to your desired lifestyle. Depending on your diet, this may mean scheduling when you eat. 

Accountability Find a partner who knows the change you seek and will check in on your progress regularly. Another variation of this is posting results in progress to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. 

Monitoring Keep a record of food eaten, exercise completed, and weight. Most diet programs build this in and your computer or phone have apps as well. There are    also activity trackers built in to everything from phones to shoes to watches. These will even post out to Facebook for you. 

These strategies work whether they are supporting the development of a habit or supporting the achievement of a goal. You can and should use as many of them as you can when installing a new habit. I used all of these, and more, when I did this three years ago.  

I still believe that focusing on a goal makes sense, but it helps to correctly define the goal, to recognize its price and understand the motivation behind it. Let's look at an example. 

On a recent trip to the East Coast, I drove a few hundred miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It is a beautiful road, designed to get traffic from one part of the state to another quickly and safely. Exits are several miles apart, so if your destination is between two exits you must pick the exit before or after. If you are in the wrong lane when the exit comes up, too bad. Why weren't you paying attention to the signs two miles back?

My Personal Story

On October 29, 2011, I committed to losing 28 pounds over a period of four months by walking ten hours a week and changing my eating habits. During that 4 months, I walked about 700 miles, ate smaller portions, and eliminated the worst of my eating practices. I attained my target weight of 150 pounds. 

Over 3 years later, I've sustained that weight. The scale still reports 150 pounds. I avoid really bad food choices most of the time and try to make better choices every time I can. My walking habit has logged over 7000 miles. 


Reaching a target weight is a great accomplishment but unless you're doing it to win a bet it's a milestone, not your final goal. Your real goal is to maintain the weight you desire. To do that, you need to develop habits that support a new lifestyle. Like preparing to get off the turnpike, this calls for planning ahead. Your chances of success improve dramatically if you adopt habits that contribute to your success. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

One Step at a Time

Some decisions really are no-brainers. If you carry around an Android or IPhone, and exercise even semi-regularly, using Charity Miles may be one of them.

What is Charity Miles?

Here's how the organization describes itself on the website.

Charity Miles is a free iPhone and Android app that enables people to earn corporate sponsorships for charity while walking, running or biking. We are supported by awesome companies like Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Timex Sports and Kenneth Cole.

I have used the iPhone version of this app for some time and could not recommend it until the latest release fixed some annoying problems. Since they are solved, there is no reason to list them. By using it to record your exercise, you direct a small charitable donation to any of over 30 worthwhile causes.

If you like, and only if you like, you can post your result to Facebook or Twitter. Here is one tweet I sent:

I ran 4.6 @CharityMiles for @Habitat_org. Thanks to #JNJ for sponsoring me. #NationalRunningDay #GlobalMoms

This is a bit misleading since I walked rather than ran these 4.6 miles. Even so, this looks like a good deal.

I do something I would be doing anyway.

A reputable corporation gets acknowledged for its charitable program.

A worthwhile charity of my choosing gets a small contribution based on the miles I walk.

In 2010, I set a goal to lose 40 pounds. It took me six months to achieve that goal and most of that success came from recording what I ate and what exercise I did. Since then I have logged over 7000 miles and worn out more than one pair of walking shoes. Charity Miles doesn't keep this kind of record, but it does make you conscious of your activity. Make a difference in your life and the lives of others by installing this app and counting your miles for a good cause.

Charity Miles is available to download for free in the iPhone and Android app stores.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Avoiding The Trap

In my last article, I told the story of how I (barely) avoided a credit card phishing exploit because I became suspicious while I cooperatively gave my card number to an anonymous voicemail system out to scam me. While I managed to avoid significant damage, this is neither the standard I aspire to nor one I recommend for you. This time, in the spirit of continuous improvement,!let's consider how to do better by avoiding the trap.

What Happened?

The short version is that I received a text message appearing to be from my bank claiming that my card had been locked and telling me to call an 800 number. The full story us here:

Scammers depend on greed, fear, and psychology so we feel compelled to act quickly and stupidly. In my credit card example, I fell for the bait and started giving my information in moments, mostly out of fear. I needed to slow down a little and think. By answering a few key questions, I could have done that.

Key Questions

We tend to speed up, not slow down, when we feel threatened. If the threat is real, this is a survival skill. If not , it may be a trap. We control this by asking appropriate questions.

How urgent is this?

In my example, I got a Saturday evening text message that my credit card had been locked. Even if true, I wouldn't use the card for 14 hours at the earliest. If someone had tried to tamper with my account, the bank had parked it into a safe condition. There was nothing urgent in this. It just felt urgent.

Who Sent the Message?

On the surface this looked like a customer service notice from the bank. It could be, and actually was, from a scam artist. Since this wasn't urgent, I should have taken the time to be sure.

How Can I Be Sure?

There are two basic strategies available. First, check everything you can. Second, contact the bank directly, either through a prearranged number or their approved email address. Let's look at both.

In the previous article, I described oddities in the text of the message. There was no indication what account was involved. The language, though grammatically correct, was capitalized oddly.

This was a text message which revealed a real US phone number in my area code. While this is plausible, using Whitepages to do a reverse number lookup identified it as a mobile phone.

Finally, what about the number to call? It is possible to do a reverse lookup on an 800 number but even a legitimate number may say only that it is a U.S. phone. Even so, no harm in trying.

What Am I Being Asked to Do?

For the moment, let's ignore that you're being asked to call an unknown number, by a text message of unknown origin, and focus exclusively on the conversation that would follow.

In my case, an automated voice mail identified itself as the bank's activation service. Since the card was already active, this should have raised an alarm. It no doubt picked up what it could about me from caller ID and asked for my full card number, then the expiration date. When it asked for the PIN I (finally) got suspicious and stopped. This was too much information, not enough confirmation.

So, What Instead?

There are several ways to check with the bank safely. What I did was call the number the bank printed on the card. This led to s human customer service representative who asked for only the last four digits on the card and a prearranged question. Record that phone number so you have it if the card is lost or stolen. I asked them to replace the card.

By contrast, when the new card arrived I went through the real validation process. The system asked for the last four digits of the card and considered that enough since I had called from the phone number it had on file for me.

Other Options

Your second option is to email the abuse group at your bank. If you don't have the address you can search for it online. Include as much information as you can. You'll get an automated confirmation at once and a followup later. This is fine if things aren't really urgent.

If you have a smartphone, odds are they offer a custom app to connect you to your account. You can use this to check the status of your card. It may also offer a secure messaging service to safely inquire in more detail.

Finally, you can go to a bank website from a browser. Just use URLs the bank gave you in advance. Never follow a link from an email or text message.

How Is This Possible?

The message was convincing only because it used the name of my bank. The 800 number I called also identified itself using the name of my bank. Since it came as a text message, they apparently had my bank and my phone number.

Where would that information have been available? I can't be sure. Late in 2013, I made a credit card purchase at Target, which days later discovered and closed a data breach. I replaced the card after that, but not the bank.


My experience with this has led to one simple rule: if you get a message that suggests a problem may exist, find a way to check it out without using numbers or links the measage provided. Beyond that, have multiple ways you can reach a bank quickly if an alarm is raised.

Sent from my IPhone

Sunday, May 17, 2015

You Can't Be Too Careful

Safely using credit cards is an ongoing battle with all sorts of thieves, hackers, and con artists. I think of myself as reasonably alert and knowledgeable about these things, but I was recently lured in by something I hadn’t seen. Here’s what happened, what I did wrong, and what I did right.

What Happened

Late Saturday night I received a text message:

BankName Mobile Banking Alerts: Your Card has been Locked. Please call 800.###.####.

The message identified itself as coming from a local (to me) phone number and the message had my bank name. I had been on the road and used the card in a couple atypical locations, so this seemed plausible. I called the number on the message.

The automated voice mail identified my bank and said it was for activation. It asked me to enter my card number. Then it asked for the expiration date. Then it asked for my 4 digit ATM PIN. That's when my radar bleeped a warning. 

I don't use the card this way and don't know the PIN. Also, I couldn't imagine why the bank would ask for it. Several seconds later, it asked again, then again, until the call ended.

At this point, someone had my card number and the expiration date. With caller ID, they had my phone number and probably my name. They didn't get the PIN or the CVV code, so it wasn't a complete success from their perspective.

Then What?

My next step was to pull out the card and call the customer service number on it. The man I talked to took my name, identified me through preset questions, and asked why I had called. I told him the details, especially that the card number and PIN had been exposed. I gave him the text of the message, including the phone numbers. 

He verified my last few transactions as legitimate, closed the card number, and set up a replacement card with a new number. At his suggestion, I emailed the text message to the bank abuse email and quickly got the automated response.

Once I get the new card, I can review the card statement and move all the automated payments. This will be a bit of a hassle, but it is trivial compared to what could have happened.

The Tipoff

An 800 number isn’t trivial to set up and runs an expense for its owner. I wouldn’t expect it to be part of a scam, and still don’t. 

Because the text message claimed to come from my bank, I gave it more credibility than I should have. In hindsight, there were warning signs I missed. Look at the message again:

BankName Mobile Banking Alerts: Your Card has been Locked. Please call 800.###.####.

The message does not give even a partial credit card number. If it were real, I would expect to see the last four digits if only to identify the account in question. Also, why capitalize the words Card and Locked? 

Text messages are tricky because not much can be checked. For email, I set up an email account dedicated to the bank. If the message doesn't come to that email, it isn't real. This works for email, but I don't have an equivalent trap for text messages.

What Instead?

Credit cards typically put their customer service number right on the card. Put it somewhere safe in case the card gets lost. When using the Internet, type in a bank URL you know and login directly. Don't call numbers sent via messages or follow links. 

The basic principles are:

Contact the bank through established channels, not through links or phone numbers you are given.

Strictly limit the way the bank can reach you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Do You Use Social Networking?

As Toastmasters, our clubs provide a structure for face to face networking that is hard to match. Our fellow members learn a lot about us through our speeches, our evaluations, our table topics, and our participation in club activities. We learn about them as they become friends and a part of our business network. We find ourselves on club email lists and websites. Does it make sense to invite them into our online social networks as well? Which ones?

I would answer this question with an enthusiastic but qualified yes. The enthusiastic part (yesss!) is because this helps make you a hub in the network, allowing your fellow members to connect indirectly with other people in your life, creating weak ties that benefit all. It also provides a way of promoting each other and your Toastmasters activities to a larger network. The qualified yes (yeees...) acknowledges that this isn't worth creating and maintaining a network you don't participate in anyway. That is, joining a network exclusively to connect with Toastmasters dilutes or eliminates the benefits of participating.

Here are a couple networks I use. If you are too, I recommend reaching into your Toastmasters contacts (including me) with them.

Professional Networking

LinkedIn is more than a resume exchange and distribution service. If you use it to promote your professional activities, the word can spread. I connect with other Toastmasters here because these are the kind of connections LinkedIn is designed to work with. On LinkedIn, I will connect with any Toastmaster. If you want to connect to me, my profile is here:

Club Networking

I recommend that your club set up a club Facebook page and use it to announce events and describe activities. Members should connect with the club page for the club's benefit and with each other as friends as they see fit. Here, I am more selective about who I connect with.

Other Options

Do you videorecord your speeches? If so, you can post them on YouTube and create a personal or club YouTube channel.

Where else on the Internet do you show up? If you use Google+, Pinterest, or something else to connect with your Toastmasters network, leave a comment below and let everyone know where, how and why.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ask These Questions

Let’s imagine two scenarios for driving into town at night.

Scenario 1 You’re in a blizzard on an icy road, stuck in traffic, and the gas gauge is close to “E”. You can’t see more than a few feet ahead, and all that shows you is how much trouble the car ahead of you has staying on the road.

Scenario 2 You come over a hill on a clear, dry, empty road and you can see the destination lit up in the distance. The road may have detours or potholes but you can see them coming. The gas gauge reads “F” and there are five extra gallons in the trunk, just in case.

Which scenario will get you into town? Probably, either one. Which car would you rather be in? If this wasn’t about a drive, if it was about one of the big goals of your life, which car would you rather be in?

Significant goals are enough of a challenge when we fully understand them, when we can see ahead, and when we have anticipated problems. For that, we need to answer four questions:

. What do I want?
. Why do I want it?
. What could go wrong?
. What will I do?

An Example

As we go through the four questions and what to ask with them, I want you to work on one of your goals. To get real value out of it, pick a significant goal, one that could use some traction. Since I’m suggesting that we apply the questions to your big life goals, let’s use an example from one of the biggest, clearest, most famous goals in modern history–landing a man on the Moon in the 1960s.

What Do I Want?

One of the best ways to clearly specify a goal is to make it SMART. My version of this acronym/checklist is:


Here is how President Kennedy laid out the goal for the manned landing on the Moon during an address to Congress on May 25, 1961.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.”

Why Do I Want It?

According to Anthony Robbins, many goals fail because the goal doesn’t have a big enough reason why. Why is the fuel that gets a goal to its destination. If your car breaks down en route to a dinner, you probably call and cancel. If the dinner is for your wedding rehersal, you probably call a cab instead.

Putting why in writing is helpful, but you can make this more powerful with some brainstorming. Here are some techniques that you can try:

Five Whys

Amy four year old knows that why is an endless question. You can ask why you want something, then ask why that’s so, until you get five levels deep. At that point you’re probably close to something significant.

Six Hats

In his book Six a Thinking Hats, Edward DeBono advocates looking from different perspectives (Hats). Some of these can help us identify why we want something.

Red - emotional reasons
Black - avoiding negative consequences
Yellow - positive outcomes
Green - wild success
Blue - business reasons

Positive and Negative Motivation

Any motivation you name will either send you toward something you want or away from something to avoid. We lose weight to go toward fitting in clothes and away from heart disease.

As far as the man to the Moon project, President Kennedy gave the following reasons during a speech at Rice University in 1962.

“We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …”

What Can Go Wrong?

The more significant a project is, the greater the chance that something will go wrong. By asking in advance what can go wrong, we both reduce the chance that it will and develop contingencies in case they do.

On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 spacecraft exploded on the launch pad, killing the three man crew and jeopardizing the entire program. Many things went wrong that asking this question might have svoided.

What Will I Do?

Here we develop and implement the plan, so let’s leave those details for another day. As a final thought, keep in mind that few worthwhile goals can be accomplished by just one person. When thinking about who else to ask, you may need or find some additional motivation.


Blizzards and icy roads are unpredictable and occasionally unavoidable. We can control our preparation and plan for contingencies.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Review: The Demon-Haunted World

The Demon-Haunted World
By Carl Sagan

As a science popularizer and scientist, Dr. Sagan has always been one of my role models. Since extreme common sense is about thinking, this book by Sagan about the thinking behind science was particularly interesting. 

The Los Angeles Times called this book "A manifesto for clear thought." I agree. Sagan, one of the great science popularizers of his time, makes the case for why science is important while offering lessons in scientific method and objective thinking. 

The book presents 25 extended essays. This isn't Contact, or even Cosmos. It isn't intended to be a movie or a TV miniseries. Some debunk topics including witchcraft, UFOs, and astrology. One explores the paradox of balancing wonder and skepticism that is at the heart of science.  

This book isn't science or science fiction. It is a collection of thoughts on the thinking that makes science work. It is a plea to make science interesting to the public by a person who made that his mission.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lighting the Path: Energize Your Goals

Let's try an exercise in imagination. Picture yourself caught in a foggy night a long way from your destination. You can make your way to your destination even you can see only a few feet ahead.

But who would want to? The trip is easier and more fun if your vision is unrestricted and your tank is full of gas. This is true for any goal you might have, so let's clear the fog and light the path to an important goal of your choice.

Picking Your Route

Start by clearly defining your goal. Put it in writing and make sure it is SMART.

S - Specific
M - Meaningful
A - Actionable
R - Realistic
T - Time bound

Make Sure You Have Fuel

A car on a trip needs gas. Your goal needs motivation. Although things can happen to get in your way,most goals that fail do so because you don't have a sufficiently big reason. If you get a flat tire on the way to a casual lunch, you cancel the lunch. If it happens when going to your wedding, you fix the tire or find another ride.

Take time to record the reasons for your goal Here are a couple techniques that may help.

The Six Thinking Hats

In his book Six Thinking Hats Edward deBono recommends brainstorming by focusing on six different points of view (hats) one at a time.

White pure facts
Red emotions (how you feel)
Black worst case (possible negative consequences to avoid
Yellow best case (what would wild success look like?)
Green Out of box thinking
Blue Management and mediating the other points of view.

Take each point of view one at a time. What reasons come up?

Try Different Shoes

Our goals compete with each other and with all the roles (shoes) we choose to wear. We might be home owners, spouses, lovers, parents, breadwinners, and many other things above and beyond any formal job. Sometimes we set a goal based on one role but motivation comes from another.

One man told a story of his home being heated by a radiator that heated the wall but not the house. As a home owner, he set a goal to upgrade to central heating but no progress was made. Then one evening, he noticed his wife covered to her chin in blankets. "Would I see you naked more often if the room were warm?" He asked. She nodded yes and two weeks later the job was done.

Five Whys

We all learned at age 4 that asking why can be an endless loop, but going a few rounds van help us get to our real motivation. Going through a why loop five times will get you a long way.

Make Your Plans

Every goal needs a plan. For simple goals, a checklist on the back of an envelope may be more than enough. More complex goals may call for one or more projects, each calling for a plan of its own. If you can get this down to physical actions, so much the better.

I will be leading a workshop,on this material at the Toastmasters District 40 conference in Cincinatti on April 18. Check it out here:

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Book Review: Seeking Serenity

Seeking Serenity: The 10 New Rules for Health and Happiness in the Age of Anxiety by Amanda Enayati is comprehensive, well researched, and fully indexed. It offers 10 different areas for dealing with negative stress and numerous things you can do to reduce it.

The author makes the distinction between negative stress (distress) and positive stress (eustress) to show how some stress can be useful, even necessary.

I downloaded a Kindleverdion after hearing the suthor interviewed on Lewis
Howes podcast. The book reads like a journalistic research report , not storytelling. Given the author's background this isn't surprising, but for me the book was a difficult read.

Seeking Serenity: The 10 New Rules for Health and Happiness in the Age of Anxiety: Amanda Enayati: 9780451471512: Books

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Location:Milden Rd,Upper Arlington,United States

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where Is It?

Panic erupts. Something you need is missing. It may be important, it is definitely urgent, and it's missing. Keys, glasses, cell phones, and other small, useful items mysteriously disappear when you need them most. Let's look first at ideas for avoiding the problem, then at strategies for when things get lost anyway.

Avoiding the Problem

Think about the last thing you lost. Where does it belong? Equipment, supplies and reference material all belong somewhere. That spot, wherever it is, is the easiest place to find whatever you're looking for. Take a moment to put it back where it belongs if you can. If you can't, put it in an inbox.

To avoid locking yourself out of your house or car, make a habit of having keys in your hand when closing the door. Lock the door with the key, or with the remote. Don't lock the door and push it closed unless the key us in your hand.

Here is a Jedi Mind Trick which can help you remember where you put something as you put it down. People learn things through visual, auditory or kinesthetic means, each according to his or her gifts. Which ever you prefer, your memory works best when you create links all three ways. Watch yourself put those kkeys down. Feel them as they leave your hand. Say to yourself "the car kris are on the bathroom counter under the toothbrushes" and be specific as you do it. In the best case, your learning processes have built strong links. In Thevenn worst case, you were paying attention at the time.

Okay, But My Keys Are Lost NOW!

You looked where they belong, where you thought they were, and the floor under where you thought they were. Either they weren't in the geinbox or the inbox idea is looking better -- for later. For now, some serious searching is in order.

Picture the item in your hand. Where were you and what were you doing the last time you saw it? Who else was there? Retrace your route, looking most carefully at the last place you were and where you had them last. Is there someone you can talk to?

If that hasn't helped, it's time to make a list. Where have they shown up when lost the past? Where could they be? Who might have seen them? Could someone have moved them? Are there other ways you can look, other people you can ask?


Develop the habit of limiting the places you put things. Pay attention when putting things down. Visualization can help as you put something down or as you realize it's missing. If you have to search, have a search plan, and always have a backup plan.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

4 Seconds-A Book Review

Peter Bregman tells stories about his life to share ideas on productivity, performance, and life. The ideas are simple to understand though they may be challenging to implement. Each chapter focuses on one key idea. Some you may already do, some you may question. The others may be useful, at least for a while.

Some of the ideas are focused on productivity. For example, he recommends limiting the number of times you check email. The ones I found more valuable address the far more important issues of interacting with other people and managing our own actions and reactions. Better to avoid a fire than have to fight it.

Each story / lesson / chapter is only a few pages long, and each stands alone well enough that it can be read by itself.

Four Seconds is structured like his previous book 18 Minutes. Both are intended to dramatically improve your life by introducing rituals that can be done quickly.

The book is unlikely to make you laugh or cry, but that isn't its goal. It will make you smile, and think, for at least four seconds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Perils of Automatic Dog Feeding

The world is rarely a series of dominoes lined up to fall in a pattern. It's  not even a Rube Goldberg device going through bizarre motions to a carefully calculated result. More often, it is like the complex automatic dog feeding machine Doc Brown created in *Back To The Future*, a process in motion unaware that it is making a mess because Einstein (the dog) wasn't around to eat the food it served up. There was no feedback loop in the system, nobody to realize the situation had changed, no way to respond by turning the device off.  

Focus and Feedback

Doc Brown's invention had no feedback. For us, the problem is that feedback gets overwhelmed by noise or deflected by focus. We create focus by selectively ignoring everything except the issue at hand. This is useful, until it isn't. When Einstein isn't around to be fed, when unexpected things happen in our lives, we need awareness, feedback, reflection and response. 


We need awareness to realize that something may go wrong at any moment. We all understand this, but focusing on one thing may make us deaf to another. Focus is a critical success tool, but so is shifting focus when we become aware of new information, new problems, or new opportunities. 


In one sense, feedback is free. When we do something, the world responds. If we notice the response, that is feedback, but not very effective feedback because it leaves the decision about significance to others. Unless something is important to them, they minimize reaction and thus minimize feedback. They don't complain when they could because something else is more important. 

"Actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." ~ Elon Musk

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk advises us to "actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." His point is that feedback is critical to solving problems. We must do more than listen for feedback; we must ask for it.

As Mr. Musk points out, we need to carefully consider the feedback we get. The feedback we get from competitors or enemies may be intended to mislead us, but it may have value. Only we can decide what the feedback means for us. 


Once we have listened to the world, there is one more voice to hear., the one inside our head. We need to take a moment of reflection to gauge our own feelings. 90% of the feedback that matters is internal. Feedback is vital, but hear your own heart first.  

90% of the feedback that matters is internal.


The thing about negative feedback is that if you don't respond there are only two possible outcomes: more damage or disaster. These are still possible outcomes if you do respond, but a response creates the possibility of less damage or the desired outcome. We drive cars safely by repeated response to continuous feedback. 


Awareness will make it possible to detect feedback.
Feedback tells us we are off course. 
Reflection gives us time to adjust appropriately. 
Response is the only chance for a better outcome. 
Don't let the feedback from the world overwhelm your internal voice.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Power to Change Your Life

In 1973, I took on a job as a computer programmer. The computer was given its own floor in an office building and various people supporting it were spread across other floors or in other buildings. In addition to programmers there were system designers, computer operators, data entry clerks, and production coordinators, not to mention the clients who were paying all the others to turn data into reports, usually on green bar paper. 

The process was complex and error prone. Data had to be collected, keyed in, verified, sorted, collated, edited, corrected and updated. The data itself might be incomplete, inaccurate, inappropriate, fraudulent or lost, which led to the first of two axioms.

Axiom 1: Garbage In, Garbage Out

A large part of  program design was keeping the garbage from getting in. Bad things could happen before good data was seen by the computer, which led to the second axiom:

Axiom 2: Problems are ALWAYS the programmer's fault.

To be fair, many problems were bugs that were the programmer's fault. Right now, though, I'm talking about problems that were not bugs. Even if the cause was outside the program, it was nearly certain that any problem would have to be addressed in a program somewhere. The axiom used the word fault, but it was used proactively to inspire responsibility. 

The goal of thinking this way was to avoid problems, or failing that to find and fix problems as early and as cheaply as possible. But isn't that what everyone wants?

Accepting Responsibility 

There are situations where a person is at fault. Society has many mechanisms for determining fault that work reasonably well. Fault comes with consequences. It is the business of courts and insurance companies and it can take care of itself. 

In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield encourages us to accept 100% responsibility for everything in our lives.  By doing anything less, we give up our power to do anything about it. Others may or may not find you at fault, but you need to accept responsibility for your life and your actions whether that happens or not..

The blizzard had nearly shut down the city when  Pete decided to study--at a coffee shop on the far side of town. He cleaned off his old Saturn and headed out. Once on the road, he detoured several miles to check in with a friend. Enroute to the coffee shop, his car was hit and totaled by another driver who lost control of a his car.  The other guy was clearly at fault, but Pete had made multiple choices that put him at a place he would not have been during a blizzard where people were asked to stay off the road. All Pete talked about was the idiot who hit him and should not have been on the road. 

Proactively Avoiding Errors 

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk advises "Actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." He understands that flaws in a product become incrementally then exponentially more expensive to fix as it works its way through the assembly process and into the world at large. The best way to save the most is to avoid errors as much as possible, find them as soon as possible, and fix them as well as possible. All this requires feedback. Criticism is your friend. 


Rightly or wrongly, others will find fault with what we do. When we accept responsibility anyway, we give ourselves the power to take action. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Evil of Indifference

oday is March 4th and thanks to a couple oddities in the English language we can hear someone say that and interpret it as "march forth" a call to action. Here is a far more eloquent call to action.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
— Edmund Burke

But how much action is enough? Our world is almost always competitive, occasionally combative. It's the result of billions of people responding to situations, to each other, and to their own desires and needs. Once we decide what we want, deciding what we are wiling to pay or do follows. 

In economic terms, when the desired outcome isn't a must, we seek a solution at minimum cost. EBay handles millions of transactions this way, peacefully resolving competition for things people want but can do without. 

If we are dealing with evil, or with vital goals, incremental bidding or incremental effort risks failure. Evil can triumph if good men do just a little less than is necessary. When the stakes are high, incremental action can be a huge risk. 

Tony Robbins recommends massive action, imagining and doing everything you can. Don't choose between skipping a donut or going for a walk, do both--and more--to achieve your weight goal 

Burke's famous quote isn't telling us to buy an item cheaply, it challenges us to recognize the real stakes, to exchange apathy for action. The best day for that is always today, even if it isn't March 4th. 

What's important to you? Find your cause. Take action. Fight evil, even if it is the evil of your own indifference. March forth!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Upgrading SMART Goals

Some of my goals work. That is, they move smoothly from initial idea to completion. Others hang around forever because they get stuck in the process of moving from an idea to a result. 

1. A wish that things were different.  (Inspiration)
2. A commitment to seek a new outcome. (Motivation)
3. Changing behavior to pursue the goal. (Action)

When a goal gets stuck, it is stuck on step 2. There's nothing wrong with leaving an idea on a wish list, but until you are motivated to make a commitment you aren't  making progress on the goal. 

When goals work, they do so for several reasons. First, they clearly identify what we hope to achieve. Second, they tell us whether we are on track or not and whether we are making progress or not. More often than not, a goal that really succeeds does so because it has meaning for us. 

The Traditional SMART Goal

Over the years, I have learned and taught that goals should be SMART:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Time bound

While this is a good list of characteristics for goals, I think it can be better. 

My Revised SMART Goal

My current version looks like this:

S – Specific
M – Meaningful
A – Actionable
R – Realistic
T – Time bound

So, let's consider why I think the two changes I have made are important. 

Measurable vs. Meaningful

In his book *Drive*, Daniel pink distinguishes between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. He referenced the University of Rochester study which revealed that graduates who had Cole's focusing on meaning as opposed to external rewards generally ended up with happier, more successful lives. Rich and miserable is not my definition of success, and I hope it isn't yours. I am now looking at my goals in terms of the meaning that accomplishing them would have for me.

I still think there is value in quantifying goals and measuring the results. I still understand that what gets measured gets managed.  I still think it is important to talk about making goals measurable, but I think this can be done as a topic inside making them specific. if you tell me you're goal is to weigh 149 pounds, your goal is both specific and measurable. I have no problem with that. I just think you can cover that under the label "specific".

My next step, one the original acronym doesn't trigger, is to ask why this school has meaning for you. Anthony Robbins talk about giving yourself enough reasons to satisfy your goal. If your goal is to quit smoking, here are some reasons you might have:

. You want to save money on cigarettes.
. You realize it is a disgusting habit and you have trouble getting dates. 
. Your health, perhaps even your life, is at stake.

All of these reasons are plausible, and depending on your situation anyone of them may give you meaning. The point is that without thinking about meaning, you haven't really empowered your goal. That's why I suggest that you let the "M" in SMART stand for meaningful. 

Achievable vs. Actionable

In the GTD language I have adopted from David Allen's book *Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity*, goals are outcomes. You finish them by taking actions. I don't know how to do an achievement, but I can figure out how to do  an action. Every goal should have a corresponding list of things to do.

Well we are considering the list of SMART goals, can you tell me when something would be achievable but not realistic? I have always had the impression that somebody picked the acronym then went to find letters that would satisfy it. Why don't we just expand the scope of "realistic" and give ourselves room to make sure we are doing things to meet our goals?

Let's Get Real, Or Not

We ask if a SMART goal is realistic as a sanity check. At some point it makes sense to be certain the goal is realistic--unless that's the point. It is sometimes helpful to set a breakthrough goal, a goal that defies reality, or seems to. Somebody wins the Olympic medal, somebody solved the problem of powered flight, and somebody will be the first person on Mars. When it  comes to checking reality, give your project.the benefit of the doubt

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
— Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ordering Off the Menu

I'm not a fussy eater, but I am selective. if I'm a regular at a restaurant, I typically have some item I order every time. This works well for me until my favored item is dropped from the menu. Now what?

One option is to turn this into a small adventure. I could look for something new. After all, new menus are created for a reason. In some cases, this may be the only choice. If a burger chain drops a sandwich from the menu, it is probably gone. If the item requires a seasonal ingredient, there may not be an acceptable substitute. There are valid reasons for dropping an item from a menu, on which case it's best to smile and look for something else. 

Other times, a restaurant is willing to serve items it has taken off the menu if you ask politely. In this case, the only real constraint is your being willing to ask. In a sense, this is no different than asking for special preparation. In the worst case, they will say no or quote a different price. 

It doesn't take much imagination to understand that your life will be better if you stop assuming against yourself and ask for what you want, but there is another side to it that is a true key to success. To understand it, you need to look from the provider's point of view. 

A couple months ago, I stepped into a small Greek restaurant in my neighborhood, something I've done a couple times a month for the past few years. I'm nowhere near being their best customer, but I am a regular and the manager knows me by name. When he saw me, he came to my table and told me that my usual sandwich was no longer on the menu. "But don't worry," he said. "Ask anybody and they'll get it for you." He had proactively solved my problem and protected a customer relationship at no cost whatever. If you want to succeed, don't just give the customer what he wants, encourage him to ask.

Zig Ziglar had it right when he said 

"You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." This gets easier for everyone when you ask. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Now, Later or Never

by Jay Elkes

Many things can be delegated, but not physical fitness. As Jim Rohn said "you can't hire someone  to do your push-ups for you." When it comes to health, we are all responsible for ourselves. For anything you might do, there are three possible times to do it: now, later, or never.

“You can't hire someone to do your push-ups for you.”— Jim Rohn

The Power of Never

Habits can be hard to break and addictions even more so, but the most direct path to any goal starts with a stop doing list. Many diets list what to eat (for example more vegetables), dealing with what not to eat (for example sugar) by implication. Try identifying a short list of things you eat frequently but should never eat. By itself, that might be enough.

This isn't just about diet. In the Automatic Millionaire, David Bach talks about the <em>Latte Factor</em>, then cumulative effect of frequent small expenses on lifetime prosperity. Doing something that doesn't contribute to your goals takes time and resources from something that does.

The most important items on your stop doing list aren't just consuming resources, they work against your goal. A 250 calorie jelly donut would take an hour of walking to burn off. If you skip the donut and the walk, you're 250 calories ahead. If you skip the donut and do the walk, you'rre 500 calories ahead, which for many is the difference between maintaining and losing weight.

Later: Procrastination vs Planning

Everything you do means the rest of your list must wait. Important things must be postponed, they must wait for later. If this is part of a plan where important items will get their turn, great. If it is procrastination, it needs to be addressed. Here are a couple key questions.

Did you put the task on your calendar?
 If so, this is planning. If not, check the next question,

Did you put it on a list you'll get to? This is also planning. If not, odds are against ever completing the task.

Now: The Moment of Decision

“Our lives are changed by our moments of decision.”— Anthony Robbins

On October 29, 2011 I set a goal to lose 23 pounds. I put the goal in writing, along with a plan for things I would do and stop doing. I had made a decision. The weight came off and hasn't come back.

If something changes in the external world, you've made a decision. If not, you've made a wish. In my case, I implemented my stop eating list and started a daily exercise regimen that continues to this day.  Until consistent action has been started, no real decision has been made. That moment of decision, that moment where consistent action begins, has a name. We call it "now" and it is the only time anything can change.


Deciding not to do something free up time and resources. Deciding not to do something counterproductive is a big step toward achieving your goal. 

Putting something off until later can be either procrastination or planning. If it isn't on paper somewhere, it's probably procrastination. Don't fool yourself.

“Inaction that results from indulgence is procrastination. Inaction that results from attention is patience.”— Rory Vaden
You know you've decided to change your life when planning stops and action begins. All you need to know are the outcome you want and the next action to take.