Hello? Is Anyone Home? How to Stay Present When You’re Drifting

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Have you ever been in a meeting or at a family gathering and you can just feel your eyes glaze over and you start thinking about your last marathon or the latest episode of Blacklist? You’re smiling and nodding at all the right spots. You’re body is there, but you are definitely not. Why is that? The meeting you’re in is probably one you requested. You love your family. You’re a great listener and a brilliant conversationalist. So why can’t you seem to stay there, in the moment?

A couple of things can be happening here and they all come down to mindset, focus, and saying no. Let’s work on this through the process of elimination.

Are you in a meeting, hanging out with friends, or conducting an interview, but you’re mind isn’t there? Well, why did you say yes in the first place? Out of obligation? FOMO? Because you’re letting someone else or something else dictate your time and priorities? Because no one else can do it as good as you can? JUST STOP. The first step is saying no and making sure you’re only doing the things and spending time with the people who are going to get you one step closer to your goals. I was listening to Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill a few weeks ago and the Devil made a solid point – business leaders take care with who they surround themselves with because negative mindset, low level conversations, and mediocrity may cause drifting. Now, the Devil was referring to the aimless drifting of an individual, one who never finds or accomplishes their definite purpose in life, but either way – surround yourself with just anybody and you will drift! It may sound brutal, but your time is precious. You’ve got industries to disrupt and lives to change. Ain’t nobody got time for mediocrity. SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t read Outwitting the Devil go read it now! Napoleon Hill was SO far ahead of his time. The book is fascinating. 

Okay, so let’s say you’ve got this part down – you’re surrounding yourself with the best people on the planet and you’re only saying yes to the critical meetings, activities, etc. that will move you forward. So why are you still not present? It’s time to do a mental and physical energy check. Have you exercised that day? Did you eat breakfast? Is it time for a snack? You could simply need to get up, move, grab some water and then you would be able to refocus immediately. Keep these things in mind. It’s why I prime my body every day with exercise and the proper nutrition. If I know I have X number of meetings that day (that I consciously said yes to), then I still need to make sure I’m 100% present in all of them, no matter if it’s 8am or 4pm.

Taking that a step further, how’s your mindset? Are you meditating, journaling regularly, taking time to think and just breathe? These should be regular parts of your routine so that the possibility of drifting away during a board meeting and missing a crucial piece of information is mitigated. But, shit happens and it’s all about how you deal with it. If you are truly not in the right frame of mind or are mentally exhausted from a massive challenge the day before, then reschedule that interview. It would be a waste of both of your time because no matter how great they were, you may not like the candidate simply because you’re not all there. It’s okay to cancel that board meeting if you know you just don’t have it in you to make one more decision. It’s just a different way of saying no. Say no to the meeting so you can say yes to taking care of you, so you are back at it full force the next day. Now, this shouldn’t happen often if you’re working on your mental, emotional and physical fitness everyday, but it does happen and you just need to be prepared. Decision fatigue is real. Anticipate it, plan for it, and do everything in your power to maintain your energy levels in order to be completely there, wherever you are, whoever you are with.

And the best way to do that is by practicing the art of being fully engaged or strategically disengaged, which is definitely not easy with all the daily distractions, Facebook alerts, and people wanting to just “pick your brain for a minute.” Protect that brain! When you’re on, be on and fully present (using some of the tactics above). If work is kicking your ass and you need to just get things done, then double down and be totally engaged at work. Then, when you get home an hour late, strategically disengage and spend time with your family. So many people may get home from work earlier than you do, but they turn on the TV (wait, there is no TV anymore, I mean Netflix), start chatting with people on Twitter, or bust out Call of Duty for 3 hours and totally miss being present with their family. And these same people have the audacity to talk shit about people who work a lot! It’s not the quantity of time, at home or at work, it’s the quality. An hour of uninterrupted, soul time (giving yourself over completely to your kids, your dog, your best friend) is much more rewarding than 4 hours of being a blob on the couch. You can accomplish far more by being full engaged at the office and strategically disengaged with your family. It’s a choice. In fact a lot of people at my company practice this strategy – work hard until family time, spend purposeful hours with them, then shift focus back to working, thinking, writing, etc. after the family is asleep!

You can employ these strategies too. Your family, friends, co-workers, and employees will thank you for it, because no matter how good you think you are at hiding the fact that you’re thinking about where to take your wife for your 10 year wedding anniversary in two years, people know when you’re not really there.

How do you stay in the moment? What keeps you grounded and present during all life’s moments?

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How Leaders Can Solve Traffic Jams in Business

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If you’re traveling (or just trying to get from one end of the town to the other) for the holidays, I wish you godspeed. People are crazy out there! Rushing around making sure to pick up a Uncle Martin’s favorite cranberry sauce, texting their wife while driving, “Where am I picking up the kids?,” speeding down the interstate to catch a flight or that must-have Black Friday special, the iRobot Roomba 614 vacuum on sale for $199 (regularly $299). It’s the most wonderful time of year, right? It can be, if you keep yourself, your family, and your team focused. But it can also be disastrous for your business if you let procrastination, distractions, temptations, and overall lack of focus and clarity get in the way.

Here’s where you come in. I want you to think of yourself as a traffic director. And what you are directing is people and their energy.  You’ve got to be clear on the destination (the goal or result) and then get to work by focusing yourself and your team on the daily activities or a specific project that will get you there. Along the way, you’ll be keeping an eye on the traffic patterns, anticipating traffic jams, removing roadblocks, and keeping the flow of traffic, well, flowing. You’ll have to reset the course when needed, find different roads, maybe even build a bridge. You need to do whatever is necessary to keep your employees and team members moving in the right direction, with their full energy and full focus so they can reach their destination. And then do it again and again. You will need to do this shifting and course-correcting and focusing throughout your day to ensure the end goal is reached. That is your job as a leader.

Sounds a lot like micro-managing, doesn’t it? But let me clarify. Micro-managing only occurs when the desired outcome is not being met, repeatedly. When you’ve gone several days with your sales team not hitting their targets or your marketing division failing to deliver on a project, you’ve got to realize there is a traffic jam and get in there and see what’s up. There is something preventing you or your team from getting shit done. It will feel a lot like micro-managing at the time, but as a leader, you have to know when to jump into the street and start managing the traffic and inspect (sometimes closely) what you expect until the flow of traffic is restored.

Just a quick note: If you are being micro-managed all the time, it might be a good time to look at your role, your contributions, your passion, your results, and evaluate whether or not the position you’re in is the right fit for you. Are you the chronic micro-manager? Then maybe it’s time to evaluate your team. If they are continually missing their goals and you constantly have to be jumping back in, then there is a disconnect. Might be the classic case of right people, wrong bus. Or could simply be the wrong people. Evaluate and move forward. 

So, the fastest way to remove roadblocks for your team is by identifying them (what can sometimes feel like micro-managing) and then asking really great, disruptive questions. You don’t need (or want) to go in there dictating all the answers, because how will your team ever learn to drive themselves? Asking great questions will lead to self-discovery and the ability for your employee to see the roadblock or pothole next time and turn the wheel in time to avoid impact.

I give my leadership team a heads-up that they’re going to feel the pressure and feel micro-managed when their goals aren’t being met. Once we are back on track (which can be as simple as a quick conversation or reviewing the numbers and bringing those numbers to the attention of the group or a few individuals), I will go back to decentralized management. Don’t be shy about it! Let your leaders know what to expect and they, in turn, can employ this strategy with their team.

Our job as leaders is to continually monitor the traffic and let our team members know when we see a traffic jam and getting so good at identifying these roadblocks that we can remove them before they are even set up. But if you do run into a roadblock or traffic jam, you better be ready to quickly bring awareness, focus, and clarity so that your team can move forward and execute! That is your job on a daily basis. That is your job as a leader.

3 Tricks to Stay Grounded When You’re Out of Control

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I know you’ve been there before. You feel like you’re speeding down a winding road, cliff on both sides, the brakes don’t work, the windshield is dirty, and you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders (hell, you’re not even in the driver’s seat!). Your business is growing and you have to make sure cash flow keeps up, your children are getting older and have more and more extracurricular commitments, your employees are counting on you for a massive vision that inspires them to follow (and, a paycheck). You feel like everyone wants a piece of you, and you don’t have any more to give. So how do you handle it all without going off the cliff? Better yet, how do you manage your life, energy, and mental fitness, so that these out of control episodes are just fleeting moments that you experience and move on from in minutes, not months? Mental fitness.

We’ve talked about mental fitness before, but can we really talk about it too much? It’s the foundation of how I’ve designed my life and built five businesses over the past ten years. It’s the core concept that I teach in all of my business and leadership courses. It’s part of who I am now and the more people I can teach about mental fitness, the better. We have to train our mind, just as often as (if not more than) we train our bodies.

Here are some great tricks for gaining control, when you are feeling out of control (tricks I’ve used while racing, but apply to all areas of life):

  1. Count to 100. When we feel like we are spiraling and are caught in an endless cycle of panic, doubt, and uncertainty, what we are looking for is stability and control. The fastest way to change our state is to control our thinking. Counting to 100 serves multiple purposes – it is a distraction from your overwhelming thoughts, it gives you something to focus on, and it puts you back in control right away. It anchors you and allows the bad thoughts or feelings to pass, clears your mind, and gets you into a mindset of clarity so you can take action.
  2. Give. Give someone a high-five, give money, hold the door open for someone, smile, give someone your undivided attention, send someone a thank you note or shoot a quick text and let someone know how awesome they are. Just give of yourself, provide value, and spread love to others. It can be simple, it can be big. The trick is when you are out of control and feeling all the negative feels, finding it in your heart to come out from behind yourself and spread joy to someone else. And you know, that no matter how hard it is in the moment, you will immediately feel in control and happy. It’s impossible to be selfless and give and be fearful at the same time. Just try it!
  3. Be Grateful. When I’m racing and the going gets really tough, I move towards gratitude. I start making a mental list of everything I’m grateful for – my fitness, my health, the volunteers, water, my breath, my family, the other racers, the weather (yes, even if it’s cold, sweltering or raining), the view, anything that can occupy my mind. Again, focusing on gratitude prevents me from focusing on the pain (or any out of control feelings) and puts my mind somewhere else until I’m back in my groove.

And then, of course, the best way to keep these out of control thoughts and feelings at bay is by creating a daily routine of meditation, gratitude, exercise, giving, etc. to prime you for the challenges ahead. You can try my tricks above or create your own go-tos. But no matter what, when challenges show up, you have to make sure you have your practiced methods of breaking free of the thoughts that are holding you back.

With practice comes calm, clarity and control. But you have to be self-aware, disciplined, and practiced, so you can call upon your mental fitness whenever you need to. What are you go-to methods for developing your mental fitness?

Aim. Fire. Learn. Reload.

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Last week I was hunting in the wild woods of Kentucky (aka freezing my ass off). If anyone out there hunts, you know that it’s just a waiting game. You gear up and pack up for the day, hike out to your tree stand, climb said tree stand and wait. And wait. And wait. I think I’ve only shot a deer a couple of times (and I go hunting 2 or 3 times per year). Each time, I donate the meat to a local food shelf. It’s not about the hunt for me, it’s about the experience and the quiet and being removed from my every day surroundings so I can think. And think I did. Specifically about failure.

Building a business is hard. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Right now. Building a business is hard. It is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind and spirit. It takes hunger, drive, grit, passion, focus, discipline, and a whole lot of heart. Because you will fail and fail often and fail hard. The only ones who survive are the ones that can take those failures (and take them like a champ) and learn from them.

Aim. Fire. Learn. Reload.

AIM —> You need your target. You need to know the vision and you need to understand where you are going (and why!). You must clearly see the target in your sights. The clarity you have will spread to your team.

FIRE —> Stop thinking and shoot! Just pull the trigger. You’ve already set your sight on the goal, so pull the trigger, take action, and move. Don’t remain idle. Ever.

LEARN —> So you missed your target? So what? It’s not failure. It’s learning. And learning and failure is how we grow. That’s what business is. Therefore, in order for us to grow, we must fail, and we must learn from our failure.

RELOAD —> Failed? Good. Get your ass back in the arena and face whatever fear you have and own it.

Aim, fire, learn, reload. Know where you are going, take action, and fail forward. That’s the only way you’re going to learn and the only way you’re going to make significant progress. The faster you can aim, fire, learn, and reload, aim, fire, and learn again, the faster you will get to your goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be completely ready. If you wait too long before you fire, you run the risk of stalling progress, talking yourself out of it, or missing an opportunity.

Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, came up with the 40/70 rule that explains this concept. This rule states that leaders should make decisions when they have between 40%-70% of the information needed. If you make a decision with less than 40% of the information you’re shooting from the hip. But, if you wait until you have more than 70% of the information you could get stuck, overwhelmed and you may risk the productivity and effectiveness of your entire organization. You can read more about the 40/70 Rule in this article.

So what’s a leader to do? Set the vision and continue to communicate the goals clearly and consistently. You’ve got to know what you’re aiming at. Next, take action! And if the first arrow you shoot doesn’t work, pull another one out of your quiver. Do not give up. Your shot will not hit the target every time and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ll be a few marks off and sometimes your arrow will end up in a woods a few hundred yards away. Pause (briefly) and figure out what went wrong and why you failed. It’s what you learn here, that you then apply to your next move, that is critical. Then you reload and try again.

In the words of the great Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

When life is knocking you down, do you have the courage to get back up?

Transforming Lives On My Way to South Africa

A couple of weeks ago I was just finishing my 4th Ironman, this time in Tempe, Arizona. A race that would qualify me me for the 70.3 World Championship Ironman in South Africa. It’s hard to believe that only one year ago I was just learning how to swim (okay, I knew how to swim, dogging paddle really, but I didn’t know how to SWIM). My first TT (time trial) bike ride was in December of last year (I had only ever mountain biked before), and my first long run ever (more than a couple of miles) was in October 2016. For all intents and purposes I was starting at ground zero.

So why did I do? What started me down the path of becoming a triathlete? Between owning and leading five companies, building a new house, and spending time with my family, what was I thinking committing to this? I’ll tell you. It came from a deep desire to inspire others to move, make fitness and health a priority, and more importantly to just push themselves in any area of their life. I remember at our company Advance last October, I told everyone I was committed to training for my first Ironman and that I was doing it for them, not for me. And that is what drove me every day. My relentless drive to grow just 1% each day and to inspire others to join me in a journey for growth of their own.

To date, I have gotten 15 people (or more!) to register for either marathon or Ironman training (including my wife who has run several marathons now and my brother who is currently in training!) and at least five of these people will be joining me in Lake Placid, NY next year for the Ironman. Countless others have committed to healthier habits, controlling their time, being more purposeful in their business in order to be more present at home, etc. That’s what started me on this journey and has kept me going. Because let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy.

And that’s the funny thing. People think I LOVE to exercise and workout. Do I love getting up at 3am to ride for several hours? Do I love 8 hour training days on Saturday? Do I love running in the rain? Do I love jumping into a freezing pool at 5am? No. No. No. No. But I do love the feeling I get when I beat my mind. I love the endorphins and energy flow after the workout is done. The struggle is real though. Any athlete will tell you that. But the magic happens when you develop the ability to master you mind and overcome the voice in your head that says no. When you can do that, whether when training, in business, or in your every day life, you will win.

So, on October 22nd, almost a year after I jumped into a pool for the first time to learn how to really swim and ran my first 5k, I competed in the Ironman Arizona 70.3. The swim was held in Tempe Town Lake. Going into the race, I had some execution goals and some time goals. Though, because of weather, people, and the landscape of the course, it really should be more about placement in the group, rather than time. Those factors can increase people’s pace or slow them down. For instance, my swim time was 38 minutes and when I got out of the water I was pissed. I’d been swimming hard for months, day in and day out, improving my swim technique. But, come to find out, the swim was actually 1.55 miles, instead of 1.2, likely because a buoy drifted. Despite that hiccup, I ended up swimming the fastest I’ve ever swam and nearly 30 seconds faster per 100 meters than my first open water swim earlier that year. I’ll take.

Ironman, triathlon, or marathon training has so many parallels to business. I think that’s why I enjoy it so much. The mental and emotional fitness you have to cultivate, is nothing compared to the physical. Day in and day out the challenges of the course or the challenges of running a business require the same ability to remain calm, neutral, strong, confident, and decisive. There is no question that by training for the Ironman I have become a better leader.

Let’s get back to the race. The bike was right about where I thought I would be, 2 hours 28 minutes for the 56 miles with about 2,000 feet of elevation. But the run was harder than anticipated given the 95 degree temperature in Arizona (I’m a Vermont boy and am used to training in balmy 60 degree weather) and I was seeing sideways towards the end of the run. The run is by far the hardest part. At this time, your body is beat up from the swim and bike. The second lap or second half of the run is the hardest. This is where you have to draw upon all of the emotional fitness you’ve practiced every day. I like to break the run down into sets. If I have 13 miles to go, I know I have 13, 1 mile sets to complete. I can run to the next aid station, is my mantra. Then if it gets really bad, and it will, I start counting to 100 to get through that rough patch, because a good one will always come. I finished the half marathon in 1 hour 41 minutes which wasn’t my fastest time, but not too far off.

Managing those rough patches during a race is just like dealing with a WFIO (We’re F’ed It’s Over) moment in business. One bad meeting or seemingly catastrophic financial report can be followed the next minute by a great conversation or interview. Take full advantage of the good times and lean into them!

At Ironman Arizona 70.3 I placed 3rd in my age group, which earned me a spot at the World Championship in South Africa. Over the past year, there are times where I wanted to quit, races where my pace was just completely off, weeks when I just wanted a day off.  Not every training day has been perfect, not every race has been great, but each trial, each failure has fueled me to keep going. I knew that if I could just get better at the swim by 1%, get better on the bike by 1%, get better on the run by 1%… I was making progress.

In the end, it’s not about the race or whether or not you make it on the podium, it’s the relentless pursuit of progress which will then leak into all areas of your life and take your life, your career, your business to a level you may not have thought possible.

Want to know more about how I did it? The short answer is models, systems, and coaching. The longer answer will be released early next year. Yup, that’s right, I’m writing a book. The lessons I’ve learned (and who I have become) on my path from newbie to Ironman to World Championship qualifier are just too good not to share. I have become a better leader, father, husband, brother, son, business owner, and friend on this journey and I feel compelled to help anyone I can begin their own journey of personal growth. In the meantime, if you want a sneak peek into my daily routine and fitness training, send me an email and I’ll get you the info.

Keep pushing. Keep challenging yourself. If I can inspire just one person to transform their life by telling my story, then I’ve done my job. And remember, if I can be heading to South Africa next year to race against pro athletes (after just one year of training), you can do anything you set your mind to. Fight forward!