Why Success Is Never an Accident

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Successful people always seem to make their own luck and find opportunities, but it has more to do with their state of mind than anything else.

It’s often said that luck is when opportunity meets preparation.

That may very well be true. But all the big lucky breaks that got me to where I am today, and I mean every single one of them, happened when opportunity met an open and receptive mind. And I’m far from alone in that respect.

You see, it’s no accident that necessity is the mother of invention. Or that opportunity just seems to happen when you’re down on your luck or you’ve just experienced crushing loss or defeat. Those are times when you question your assumptions. When you’re emotionally available. When your mind is open to other possibilities.

Sure, there are lots of factors that contribute to your life, your career, and your business success. But I don’t believe that luck happens entirely by accident or that you have to be prepared to create opportunities for yourself. It has more to do with your state of mind at the time than people realize. Here are a few stories that illustrate how that works.

“One word … semiconductors

When I graduated from college, in 1978, I had a degree in physics that was essentially useless. I couldn’t get a scholarship to a good Ph.D. program, so that was that. I was stuck. So I moved back into my parents’ tiny Brooklyn, New York, apartment and got a part-time job earning minimum wage at a local bank. I felt depressed and lost.

Then my girlfriend’s father took me in his Porsche to visit a high-tech start-up where he was chairman. The guy told me that digital electronics–semiconductors–were going to be big. It was just like that scene from The Graduate, you know, “One word …plastics.” I had no idea what he was talking about. But I loved his Porsche.

While roaming around the building, I struck up a conversation with an engineer, a young guy about my age. He was new there. He wore blue jeans and sneakers, said he was making 20 grand a year (that was a lot at the time), and pointed to his brand-new metallic blue Firebird outside.

That was it. I was hooked. I went home, called the university, and went back and got a master’s degree in electrical engineering. By 1980, I was an engineer at Texas Instruments. And the rest, as they say, is history. But if I hadn’t been so down and adrift at the time, I almost certainly would have missed the high-tech revolution.

Sometimes, you’re better off just giving up and taking a break.

By 1988, I’d been through a few relationships that didn’t end well, including one botched engagement. Lonely and disillusioned, I swore off women for good. Really. I actually told a friend, “Put a fork in me; I’m done with women.” It felt good to do that. It took the pressure off. Finally, I was free of all those expectations I had set for myself.

The very next day–I kid you not–I met my future wife. We’re still married.

It never hurts to ask.

Like so many people, I spent a few years lingering in what I like to call the middle-management abyss. I needed someone to give me an opportunity to break into the senior executive ranks but had no luck.

In Silicon Valley, circa 1994, the chip industry was booming, but my career was stuck in the middle-management abyss. For years, I’d wanted to break into senior management, but it was starting to look as if that would never happen. Not only that, but the company I was working for had seen better days.

One day, I decided to just get out of Dodge and chill out, so I set up a trip to meet with some key customers and partners. For me, that was fun and relaxing. One meeting was with a midsize microprocessor company that was fighting an ultrahigh-stakes battle with archrival Intel.

Throwing caution to the wind, I asked what strategies they had in mind to take on the industry leader, Intel, and what I could do to help. You could almost see the light bulb go on in the guy’s head. Then he said something I never expected to hear: “You know, we can really use someone like you.”

That led to my first vice president of marketing job. A big, high-visibility one, at that.

So now, I’ve got a question for you: How open are you?

7 Ways to Use Habits to Reach Your Goals

By MARTINA MCGOWAN


We all have dreams we’d like to see come true, and goals we’d like to achieve. One of the keys to reaching any goal, especially if it is a new one, is to put habits in place that support the fulfillment of your goal. If your current habits are not working for you, or are working against you, you will need to change them or run the risk of coming up short and disappointing yourself more than anyone else.

How do habits help us reach our goals?

1. Identify your goal(s)

The first step is to clearly and specifically identify your goal (s). What is it precisely that you want to achieve, and more importantly, why do you want to do this thing? The question that only you can answer is, “Why is this goal important to me?”

Is the goal achievable? Obviously the answer is yes, or you would have stopped reading already. So, pick a goal and…

2. Write it down

Writing out your goals helps you to clarify them. It also gives your mind a focal point.

3. Develop supportive habits

Suppose your goal is to run a marathon. If you don’t already have the habit of running regularly, you are very unlikely to be successful until you can adopt that habit. Running regularly can help you attain your goal in several ways, including getting you into much better physical shape and strengthening your endurance.

Developing supportive habits is much easier than most people think and far more powerful than most can imagine!

4. Identify the habits you need

Before you can create new, effective, and positive habits, you will want to figure out which habits are going to help you get to your goals. For every goal, there are habits that can practically guarantee success. Reflect on your goals and what real and do-able actions you can take to help bring them about.

How do I choose the right habits? I’m glad you asked…

  • Look for daily habits. Habits that you can practice each day are much easier to put into place and keep than those that are less frequent.
  • Keep it simple. The more complex the task, the less likely you are to stick with it. If you really do need to implement a complex habit, start with a simpler version and then add more complexity on to it later. Break your tasks down into simpler steps, and add as you achieve the smaller successes.
  • Be specific. It is not enough to just specify what you are going to do. Your written goals should also include the how, when, and where as well. Time is always a critical element when creating a new habit. Be sure to specify a precise period of time in which you wish to implement the new actions. Set a deadline!

Saying or writing something like, “I’m going to exercise 1 hour per day” is insufficient. “I’m going to swim from 6-7 am, Monday through Friday at the YMCA” is much more focused. This has enough detail to be quite clear about what you want to accomplish and includes the how, the when and the where.

5. Prepare for interference

There are usually obstacles to creating new habits and behavioral patterns. Try to figure out and be prepared for these possibilities ahead of time so that you can eliminate them as quickly as possible.

For example, if you have decided that you’re going to eat a healthy breakfast every day, get rid of all the breakfast junk food in your pantry and freezer. Give it away. That junk food is an obstacle to successfully implementing your new and healthier habit. It is a whole lot simpler to reach for something quick then it is to check and prepare the night before. But the something quick habit is not supportive of your goals, is it? Back away.

The biggest obstacle for most of people is time interference. Maybe your family doesn’t usually leave you alone for 30 minutes every night so that you can meditate, write, read, or whatever it is you want to do toward your goal. Simply let them know ahead of time that you need be a short undisturbed period of time.

Let the people around you know what you are trying to accomplish. Enlist their aid. It would be great if you could all do it together, but not if that will be a hindrance.

6. Look for deeper supporting habits.

When you have determined which supporting habits will help you reach your goal, consider going even deeper into the details to find habits that will help you accomplish your other new habits.

For example, if one of your new habits is to make it to the gym every morning by 6:00 am, you will need to develop several supporting habits to help you establish this habit. Things like:

  • Getting out of bed by 5:15 am.
  • In order to get up at 5:15 am each day, you may need an additional habit of always being in bed by 10:00 pm.
  • Another supporting habit might be to pack your gym bag the night before. Get your special workout shoes, weight gloves, written routines, water, lucky towel, iPod, and headphones…..whatever it is that makes this new habit work well for you, ready.

These supporting habits are monumentally important. Take time to think about what additional habits you can develop to support your efforts.

7. Enjoy automatic success

Once an action becomes a habit, you will begin to do it automatically, without having to make the decision to do it each time. In other words,you will automatically move forward, day after day, toward achieving your goal until you finally reach it.

Just as those counter-productive habits can keep you from success, supportive habits can practically guarantee your victory. So reflect carefully on the habits that will best support your goals, put them into action on a daily basis, and enjoy your new success!

Trying to Reach a Goal? You’re Doing It Wrong

by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D.

I am a big fan of planning. I constantly sing its praises. But while no one is particularly surprised to hear that planning is a good thing to do, they are usually surprised to learn that the plans they have been making have been pretty much useless.

Most plans are not structured in a way that makes them effective. If-then plans, however, are — and making them is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over 100 studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take steps to reach your goal (e.g., “If I am hungry and want a snack, then I will choose a healthy option like fruit or veggies,”) can double or triple your chances for success.

But once you’ve decided to make an if-then plan, the next thing you need to do is figure out what goes in it. And this is where, once again, it’s very easy to screw up. According to recent research one particular type of plan can backfire — leaving you doing more of whatever you were trying to avoid doing in the first place.

Researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands looked at three types of if-then plans. Replacement plans do just what the name suggests — replace a bad habit with a good one. If you are trying to do a better job controlling your temper and stop yourself from flying off the handle, you might create an if-then replacement plan like “If I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm down.” By using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your anger, your bad habit gets worn away over time until it disappears completely.

Ignore if-then plans are focused on blocking out unwanted feelings — like cravings, performance anxiety, or self-doubts. (“If I have the urge to smoke, then I will ignore it.”) In this case, you are simply planning to tune out unwanted impulses and thoughts, in order to diminish their effect on you.

Finally, negation if-then plans involve spelling out the actions you won’t be taking in the future. With these plans, if you have a habit you want to break, you simply plan not to engage in that habit. (“If I am at the mall, then I won’t buy anything.”) This is, in a sense, the most straightforward and head-on way of addressing a bad habit, and the one we most often end up using.

All three types of if-then plans were put to the test, with surprising and consistent results. The researchers found that negation if-then plans were not only far less effective compared to other plans, but that they sometimes resulted in a rebound effect, leading people to do more of the forbidden behavior than before.

Just as research on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that constantly monitoring for a thought makes it more active in your mind, negation if-then plans keep the focus on the suppressed behavior. Ironically, by simply planning not to engage in a bad habit, the habit gets strengthened rather than broken.

Remember that when it comes to reaching your goals and avoiding temptation, you need to plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Ask yourself, What will I do instead? The answer to this simple question could mean the difference between another year of setbacks and disappointments, and the real, lasting change you been looking for.

Set Goals for 2013 You Can Achieve

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You have big goals this year. Make sure you set out to achieve them in a way that works for your brain. If you’re a left-brained thinker who behaves in a calm, focused manner, read another article. You already think rationally, schedule fastidiously, document your objectives clearly, and check them off your list. So stop reading this already.

For the rest of you–the right-brainers, the multi-modal people, who are known to be gregarious and abstract thinkers–pay attention.

You need to set big goals in 2013. You already know that. The challenge for you is to turn those big goals into action, keep yourself accountable, and do what you say you’re going to do.

You have the ability to do this, but, the truth is, when it comes to setting goals, especially in business, it’s a left-brained and logical, process-oriented, structured world.

Your challenge is that you’re not going about goal setting and goal attainment in a way that aligns with the way your brain works.

You’ve been coached on goals the old way:

1. Write down your goals.

The stats even back up how important this is. People who write down goals are 33% more likely to achieve them!

2. Cull a detailed, organized list.

Tie your goals to specific dates with smaller deliverables every step along the way.

3. Make each goal SMART.

SMART goals are specific, meaningful, achievable, relevant, and timely.

These steps are useful–for left-brainers. They won’t work for you. You probably wrote down a careful list of SMART goals, but how many times did you look at it? Are you still even working on the same goals you wrote at the beginning of the year (or even the day)? I doubt it.

The key for you–an outgoing right-brainer–is to look deeper at what your goals are about. Give yourself manageable and actionable deliverables that will result in productivity. And tap into your brain.

Here’s how:

If you’re a social thinker, record your goals on paper, but also in conversations and interactions with other people. Have others keep you on task. It’s amazing how well this works and you’ll actually enjoy it!

If you’re conceptual, writing down goals probably seems pointless. Instead, dream big and trick your brain by thinking of your goals as a vision for the future. Draw a metaphor of your goals and revisit those images frequently.

If you tend to think in a multi-faceted way, you’ll find many different goal-setting models helpful. Don’t be constrained to one; instead experiment with many to find the best (or a few strong) fits.

In addition to how you think, know your natural behavior propensity, and set goals that match it, to help you succeed at your goals.

If you’re quiet, you’re probably perfectly comfortable writing down your list and personally checking it. But if you’re more on the gregarious end of the spectrum, you should use that fact to your advantage–get others involved with your goals, and ask for their help. Be loud about what you want to achieve.

If, however, you have a competitive and driving personality, try not to push objectives purely for the sake of it. Or if you’re more of an amiable person, create goals that will make a difference, and commit to doing them even if you rock the boat.

When it comes to flexibility, if you prefer clearly-defined situations, you probably already know that goal setting comes naturally–just make sure you revisit goals frequently to know if and when you need to change something to achieve them. If, on the other hand, you’re comfortable with flux and welcome change, goal-setting probably seems tough. Use your adaptability as a strength; since you’re open to new things, try out different goal-setting styles to hone in on the right path.

Goals are made to propel you to be successful. Use your brain to achieve big things in 2013!

7 Easy Steps to Get You Started with Goal Setting

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It’s not uncommon to be intimidated by the entire process of goal setting. You may feel overwhelmed by all of the areas where you can set goals, unsure how to get started, unable to identify what’s realistic, and even scared to make a commitment to a specific goal.

Many times, this fear around goal setting comes from the fact that many people think about their goals only once a year, like New Year’s resolutions. But goal setting is most effective when revisited on an ongoing basis.

To take some of the uncertainty out of goal setting, here is an easy 7-step process to help you get started. This is the first in a week-long series of posts on effective goal setting.

Step 1: Start by Brainstorming

You may have a lot of possible goals floating around in your head, or you may be completely stumped about where to start. Either way, a brainstorming session can help you identify some focus areas and pinpoint exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish. Take some time before diving in to brainstorm and get clarity.

Step 2: Think in Terms of Small, Medium and Large

All of your goals do not have to be large-scale and immediately life changing. In fact, you should have big and small goals that require varying amounts of time to complete. Think in terms of long-term goals (one year, five years, 10 years), short-term goals (this week, this month, this year) and mini-goals (now). You should have a mix of all three in your goal process.

Step 3: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Give yourself an opportunity to really experience valuable change by pushing your limits. It may be uncomfortable, but the more you’re willing to test yourself and take risks, the more you have to gain. Create goals that require stepping out of your comfort zone in order to fully experience growth.

Step 4: Focus on Performance, Not Outcome

In order to ensure you have control over your own success in accomplishing your goals, each one should be focused around your performance in a specific area, and not the desired outcome. For example, an outcome goal may be winning an award from a literary organization for writing a book. This is beyond your control because you can’t determine the panel’s final decision. A performance goal would be completing the book.

Step 5: Make It Exciting

Many goals are ignored or forgotten simply because they are boring. Setting goals that excite you will make it easier for you to stay committed and motivated during the process. If the goal isn’t one that keeps you moving, it may not be a valid goal.

Step 6: Put It All in Writing

Sometimes seeing things in black and white makes them seem more real. Make it common practice to write all of your goals down on paper. Not only will this give you a concrete set of metrics to measure your success, but it can help keep you focused.

Step 7: Create a Goal Check-In Schedule

We’ve already identified that the most effective goal setting process is one that requires regular thought, modifications and analysis. If you set a schedule for checking in on your progress, you will be able to make goal setting a common activity in your life and one that you are entirely comfortable with. You may want to break your check-in schedule down on a monthly or even weekly basis, especially for your mini-goals.

How do you feel about setting goals? What do you dread about setting them? Do you have a system in place that works for you?

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