Triggers

I have a chair in my office that has one overriding use. Reading.

This chair is one we bought for our daughter a few years ago. She knew I always loved it, and when she no longer needed it I got it! And it’s for reading only. 

When I get up in the morning, my first action is to get the coffee. Critical. My second action is to sit in my reading chair in my office. And I read something to help me improve – my business, my marriage, my faith, my disciplines. Growth-focused reading.

The chair is my trigger. Strange as it may seem, my mind knows that when I’m in this chair, I’m programmed to read. I’m not forced, not limited, not stressed. It’s just a trigger since I don’t do anything else there. At least not significant – I might check some email on my cell, or some mornings I’ll finish reading and meditate/rest for few minutes, but those all happen after reading. That’s the chair’s purpose – provide a place for reading.  And the reading is not leisure. I have multiple leisure reading spots – the couch, the deck swing, the porch chairs, the kitchen table, but not my “reading” chair – that’s for growth only!

I shared this at a business conference recently and another guy at our table quickly said that he has a nap blanket trigger. Might sound silly, but this guy has a specific blanket he whips out only for power naps. These are 10-20 minute naps that allow for excellent relaxation, refreshment and revitalization, without the sleepiness that follows longer, deeper naps. The blanket is only for that purpose, and he drifts off immediately when he uses it. A trigger. 

Another woman at the table shared that she can never nap, tried it but never got into it. Slept too long or didn’t at all – as her brain wouldn’t turn off.  Maybe she needs a trigger like he has. I think she missed that point entirely and will likely continue to struggle with this discipline until she finds the right trigger.

If you’re struggling with some discipline, perhaps you need a trigger. Something to set the stage for the action you want, something that is not confused with anything else.  Maybe a blanket for that power nap, or a reading chair, or a specific location or place where you meditate, reflect or strategize.  Power napping, reading, meditating and strategic thinking, we’d all likely agree, are excellent uses of time, but so inconsistently acted upon, if ever.

If you haven’t tried a trigger, maybe it’s time to create one.

Anchor Points

One of the very best lessons I learned on personal development was shared with me over 25 years ago. It’s clearly been one of the most influential habits for positive change in all kinds of important areas of my life – areas including my faith, my marriage, parenting, sales, and leadership.

Here’s the advice:  Read 15 minutes a day for 30 days out of a book that stretches my thinking in one of those key areas. Then, repeat.

Well, I’ve been in and out of this habit many times over the last 25 years, but mostly I’ve kept up with reading.  Yet, as recently as last year I doubled back on this daily habit of reading. I amended the advice to coincide with my workdays, so now it’s really about a 5 day a week habit.

And it’s made a massive difference. Why?

Beyond the obvious – knowledge…it helps by gaining a sense of daily victory, gaining self-confidence through self-discipline; it sets an excellent example; it’s congruent with the advice I give and hope to live. And so much more. But the daily impact is the real difference. Daily book learning raises my immediate awareness around the topic I’m attempting to learn. Easier that way. Plus it provides teaching opportunities – daily – and nothing reinforces learning as much as teaching.

Now to the problem.  Execution.

Reading is likely to be one of the more difficult habits you’ll ever develop because it’s so simple and easy NOT to do. You’ll plan it, intend it, but not do it, at least not consistently. Trust me. I’ve encouraged so many people over the years to build this life-changing habit and few have actually done it.

So let me suggest some of the best advice for execution of this habit, or any new habit, I’ve ever known.

Find “anchors” and fix that habit firmly to that anchor.

That’s why my reading commitment is only 5 days – workdays are anchors - because they’re relatively predictable. From there, I find the daily anchor that works best for me and fix reading to it. My best daily anchor is pretty simple and very predictable – waking up. If I ever miss that anchor, reading won’t really matter. So I wake up, get my coffee, go to my office, sit in my “reading” chair and read.  I have not checked email or any other social media at this point because that would separate reading from my anchor.  Not doing it.

Anchors are just one strategy for making habits stick. You’ve also got to believe in it, want it and have some self-discipline along the way. But the anchors help tremendously.  It’s so much nicer going through my day without carrying the weight of wondering when I’m going to do what I said I’d do – read.

Somebody once said, “We don’t determine our future, we determine our habits which determine our future”. So choose your habit. What one new habit would have the greatest positive impact in the next few months? Pick it – I might suggest reading! – and then find the anchor and hitch it up!

My challenge to you? – Read 15 minutes, 5 days a week, for 30 days, from a positive book. Up for it?

Not a 50/50 Marriage

My wife and I are coming up on our 27thwedding anniversary – as of this Friday, the 26thof May! Hard to believe it’s been 27 years!

I’m thankful that they’ve been excellent years, and hopefully, we’ll have endless more to go.  Reflecting on our marriage, I’m reminded of some great advice our friend and mentor offered us nearly 27 years ago…

Marriage is not 50/50; it’s 100/100. 

Simple as that sounds, it speaks to several things that I believe have contributed to what Amy and I both feel continues to be a wonderful marriage:

  1. Don’t keep score. If we’re focused on 100% giving, keeping score is unnecessary.
  2. Love is unconditional.  We each give 100% regardless of what the other is willing to give - it's not about looking for balance, just being willing to always give our best.  Kind of goes back to the scoring thing.
  3. We minimize or eliminate the danger of comparison.  While there are some things I do better, and definitely many things Amy does better to make our marriage thrive, we always strive to give all of us to it – 100%. No comparison – my contribution is not “more” or “less” than Amy’s. It’s 100%. Period.
  4. We’re both ALL IN. As opposed to HALF IN. All is better.

We have our issues and challenges, just like everyone else. But, this 100/100 mindset has proved to be a very healthy way to drive our relationship. 

In fact, it might just apply to other relationships as well. Imagine 100/100 in our sibling relationships, customer/client relationships or workplace contribution – the teamwork, synergy, and engagement would be remarkable!
Whatever the relationship, be all in, 100%. It’s just better.

Dry Hands

I was at a John Maxwell event last year and heard a great little story that has stuck with me.

We were asked to show up with a 5-minute table presentation to help hone our speaking skills.  We could choose any topic to speak about - with the purpose of showing strong speaking and engaging skills.  I think we all did a good job, felt good about my own presentation as well, but one stood out to me.

It wasn’t the delivery or engagement that caught my attention, but the message in itself. And I doubt the presenter even sensed the real depth to his message. Plus, he came up with it only a few minutes before we were to present.  In fact, it came to him shortly after visiting the men’s Room.

After washing his hands, he quickly grabbed some paper towels to dry them off. You know how it is drying your hands…are they really fully, “hand-shake-ready dry” when you leave? Well, he was in a hurry and thought, “They’re dry enough, and who am I going to run into anyway?”  Did I mention this was a John Maxwell event? Yep – that’s who he immediately saw upon exiting the bathroom, and there was no way to avoid an introduction. So, what happened next? The handshake. And it was a wet one as he described, or even better, a moist handshake. A moist handshake coming out of the bathroom leaves little to the imagination. Nothing like a first impression with the most well-known leadership author and teacher in the world!

His 5-minute presentation was about changing our “good enough” mindset. He thought his hands were good enough coming out of the bathroom. Wrong. Definitely not good enough.

Where do we need to be less accepting of the “good enough” mentality?  In what parts of our business and life do we need to be more thorough, more complete and more exceptional?

I can tell you, I always remember this story when I’m drying my hands. They’re 100% bone dry when I leave. Not taking any chances! 

Morning Routine

Every workday morning here’s what happens for me:

  • 90 minutes before I need to leave, I get up
  • I go downstairs for that most important first cup of coffee (warning: this step is critical!)
  • I make my smoothie and toss it in the fridge
  • I head upstairs to my office, close the door and sit in my “reading” chair
  • I grab my book or books and begin reading – usually about 30-40 minutes
  • I turn off the lights, check email – primarily for any schedule changes
  • I then shut down for about 10 minutes’ meditation – relax, be silent, and be still
  • Shower, grab my smoothie and out the door.
  • In the car, first thing – prayer
  • Second thing, I start my Bible app/sermon
  • From this point on, everything begins to vary depending on the day’s schedule

That’s it! Exciting!

I share this not to impress; it’s likely not overly impressive anyway. I share it to demonstrate why and how this is important and helpful to me.

First, it’s a victory, in two key ways. One – in completing it.  And, two – in what I’ve completed.

Second, I’ve honored two “big rocks” (top life priorities – see Covey’s 7 Habits book) before I’ve technically started my workday. Which ones?

  • Personal/professional development (reading)
  • Faith (prayer and Bible app)

This might all come across as a bit “legalistic”, especially the faith part. But to me, it’s not. It might have started that way, to a degree, but it’s evolved in a remarkable way. While there are many other ways throughout the day and week I might honor these areas of priority, this routine guarantees my daily attention and focus. Everything else is additional. I might read another hour later on, or go to church that evening and prayer can be anytime, but if not…

This routine also helps me to honor the other “big rocks” in my life. By being sure I’ve done the above so early, it makes my evening much more free to be fully present and engaged with my wife and kids. No work, no reading unless it’s with Amy, and church includes all of us.

Where’s the exercise you might ask? That’s a bit of an anomaly for me – I just really like it, kind of can’t go without it, so it’s pretty easy to execute. So long as I’ve scheduled it into my day in advance.  And I do.

How about you? Would any of you share a key morning routine that’s proved highly valuable in your life?