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Why you Stop Achieving Goals

By Justin Wright

What happens once you set goals and follow through with developing habits, but suddenly stop making progress? What if your output seems to slow, if you can’t accomplish things at the same rate as before? This is a pivotal time, one which can make or break an individual who has started to accomplish important tasks.

The problem is not with the desire to work hard; lack of effort is not the reason progress begins to slow. It is instead a lack of reflection and analysis. Both must follow anytime we check a goal off our list. Developing habits and creating systems only ensures success if we revisit those systems to make sure they are still appropriate once progress is made.

Learning to reflect, assess, and update habits is critical for continued growth and progress to occur. Taking a scientific approach to our goals becomes necessary if we wish to continue achieving them. For whatever reason, people fail to approach goal setting and self improvement with the same mindset they would bring to creating a budget or optimizing output in the workplace.

Self-audit

We must reflect and take an honest assessment of our strengths, weaknesses, and character on a regular basis. When it comes to our goals, we can add another layer to this reflection. The self-audit with regards to goal setting aims to determine which habits and systems have been effective and which can be tossed aside.

Let’s say you created a list of daily habits and steps necessary for running a marathon. You checked the boxes each day and each week, ultimately running the race you had been preparing for. Once the race is over, you should reflect on those habits and how they contributed (or failed to contribute) to your success.

Maybe a friend had suggested that you take a specific supplement as part of your training regimen. You added this supplement to your daily routine and took it religiously throughout the process, hoping it would give you the extra edge you needed each day. When you think back to the training, you realize that the supplement likely didn’t help at all and was an unnecessary part of the process. By looking back and analyzing the process itself, you learn which routines worked and which didn’t. This is valuable knowledge for setting goals moving forward.

Revise and replace

While optimizing habits based on our reflections is important, an even simpler benefit of these audits is the ability to set new goals. Once you accomplish something you have been working towards, human inertia allows you to continue this trend. Success begets success, and it is easier to set and achieve new goals fresh off the tailwinds of your previous victories. Looking back allows you to see how the goal you recently accomplished fits into the larger picture of your vision and your future.

Now that you have checked one thing off the list, what comes next? Remember that our mid-term goals are stepping stones towards our larger goals. Once we have completed one, we must look to the next step in the process and determine what follows. This review is a necessary step after any goal is accomplished.

The law of adaptation

Human beings are incredibly resilient and adaptive creatures. Regardless of the environment or surroundings, humans can find a way to adapt and thrive. This is one of our many evolutionary advantages, and one that most people avoid tapping into. Comfort becomes a pursuit, instead of harnessing the power of adaptation to drive further progress.

Stress creates change. There is a limit to how much stress can be considered positive, but there is a reason that we are encouraged to “step outside our comfort zones” in order to achieve important milestones. The comfort zone is simply a place where adaptation has stopped occurring. It is a place where the status quo is maintained and change is nearly impossible.

When it comes to setting goals, the entire exercise is based on a desire to escape this comfort zone. If we simply wanted to stay comfortable, there would be no reason to set and accomplish goals. This is exactly why many people fail to set proper goals, or work to accomplish them after they have been set. In an age where comfort is king, only those who continue to push the envelope can stand out from the crowd.

This is precisely why reviewing and revising goals and habits is so important. As we overcome the stress and discomfort of setting small goals, we adapt and gain increased capacity for future goals. An obstacle that once seemed insurmountable may, in fact, appear laughable in the future. 

Accomplishing goals in the present gives us the ability to accomplish more, larger goals in the future. If you stop pushing the envelope, stop reaching towards discomfort, eventually the adaptation stops as well. Like a drug addict, our old tasks and habits are not a high enough dose for us anymore. What challenged us in the past fails to challenge us in the present. Reviewing and revising our goals and systems allows us to make sure that the stress and challenge we face is adequate for continued growth.

A living organism

Humans are living, breathing, growing organisms. We must treat our goals in much the same way: constantly evolving and adapting. It is not enough to simply set goals initially and assume that they will carry us where we want to go. Our lists, our actions, and our accomplishments must grow in stride with us.

There is a reason that success is exponential instead of linear. Why does someone like Dwayne Johnson appear to be on top of the world, constantly churning out new movies and building new partnerships? He has the same 24 hours available to him each day that we do. The difference is that his period of adaptation has been much longer than most. By constantly pushing himself to achieve new goals and overcome bigger obstacles he has allowed himself to effectively take on challenges that would be impossible for most other people.

Self-development and goal setting are constant processes. Most people fail to achieve their goals because they don’t know what to do after experiencing some measure of success. Instead of going back to the drawing board they celebrate their accomplishments and stop. The law of adaptation wins and they re-enter their comfort zone. Nothing special happens in the comfort zone, so avoid it like the plague.

Your antidote is reflection, is the ability to learn from the past and alter the future accordingly. Determine what routines and habits were helpful and which can be discarded. Search for the next stepping stones en route to your larger goals and visions. Lastly, realize that success increases your capacity for future success. Once you get a taste of victory, keep pushing the envelope. Take on bigger, more intimidating challenges. If you follow this blueprint, you will be able to look back years from now and realize that your success was inevitable as you continued adapting to your environment.



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How to Deal with Entitled Millenials

By Justin Wright

My generation is woefully misrepresented in the modern workforce. I have often heard the refrain that “millenials don’t want to work hard” or “millenials are too entitled.” While there are always exceptions to most rules, the problem is not with millenials, but rather with the stories they have been told.

Simon Sinek, a prominent leadership consultant, has an entire TED talk centered around the concept of managing millenials. He firmly believes that they are often mismanaged and, when participating in a positive workplace culture, actually contribute to company success at a high degree. Effective leadership, in most instances, requires a shift in perspective; we must metaphorically place ourselves in the shoes of our employees to gain the nuanced understanding required to lead well.

When it comes to the millenial generation, part of this perspective shift requires diving deeper into the way that this generation of young people was raised. Sports with no losers, poor advice on careers and education, the idea that we can “be whatever we want if we work hard enough.” All of these things have compounded to leave an entire generation confused, burdened with debt, and frustrated for the future. The solution to the problem requires understanding the other half of the story.

For the love of the game

Youth sports are a shell of what they once were, and the end result is a generation of people unprepared for competition. Life is competition. There will always be winners and losers, haves and have-nots. This is an evolutionary reality: certain species prevail and reproduce while the weaker members of that species die off. This reality has controlled the migration of humans and their DNA for centuries.

This is not to say that life is a zero-sum game. Winners create a more prosperous society for everyone. When competition is encouraged, limits are challenged. By pushing these limits, human beings have been able to accomplish incredible things. Competition for land fueled expansion which has allowed humans to populate every corner of the globe. The modern airplane is a direct result of competition to discover flight. Feats such as the first sub-4 minute mile were all fueled by individuals pushing the accepted limits of performance.

Millenials are confused because they were told to love the game more than competition, but not taught to love the game alongside competition. Success in life requires understanding that there are winners and losers, but loving the process of improvement all the same. It requires knowing that losing today has no bearing on our ability to win tomorrow. This half-truth stifles growth because many young people don’t understand that failure is part of the process. They weren’t allowed to fail when they were young, and this lack of understanding inhibits their ability to learn by experience as adults.

You can be whatever you want, but…

Another particularly sinister deception is the concept that we can “be whatever we want” and that we should “pursue our dreams.” This concept is absolutely true, but only if the rest of the sentence is provided. It is true that you can be whatever you want, but only if you are willing to work harder than everyone else trying to do that thing. Remember, competition is an innate part of life. You aren’t the only person who wants to be a movie star, or a musician, or a professional athlete. You should absolutely pursue your dreams, but don’t delude yourself about the quantity of work required to do so.

This deception is compounded by the fact that young people have been encouraged to go through the standard school system and do things the same way their parents did. The problem with this is the cost of attending college has skyrocketed, and lending institutions have burdened the millenial generation with high-interest debt at a criminal rate. Leaders complain about the millenial sense of entitlement, but fail to realize that the landscape has changed. Graduating college with a degree does not guarantee a job and a career in the modern workforce. Understand that these young adults have been promised security by going through a broken system. They are not entitled, they are confused.

Imagine taking on $200,000 worth of debt just to land a job paying $40,000 per year? When you factor in taxes and the cost of living (which has also gradually increased to astronomical levels), it is no surprise that many young professionals struggle to get out of debt. They have been crippled from the beginning by a system that told them half-truths. Pursuing your dreams is financially impossible if you have gone down the standard path of schooling fueled by loans. Thinking vertically and working up the corporate ladder is no longer a viable solution when qualified candidates can be found for most positions from all over the world.

Going through the motions is no longer adequate. In order to be successful, in order to get rid of your debt, in order to keep your head above water, you must distinguish yourself from the rest of the field. The only way to do this is to compete and to grind; if you have never been taught or encouraged to do these things, your parents have sent you into a metaphorical gun fight with a dull knife. Most millenials are woefully underprepared for the reality that they need to fight tooth and nail for the right to pursue their passions.

What is the solution?

It may seem like this situation is truly dire and no solution can be found. Fortunately, progress can be made if everyone gets on the same wavelength. In the same way that successful teams and businesses foster a positive workplace culture, we must foster a positive culture in our society. We must support and encourage the next generation by telling them the whole story. Instead of trying to protect them from the world, we must teach them how to face it head-on. We must finish our sentences. You can be whatever you want, and you can be successful doing so. Just understand it requires working harder and, more importantly, working smarter than your peers. We must foster competition, not discourage it.

Fortunately, we live in an era where information has never been more readily available. Instead of pushing the archaic system of education put forth in our universities, we must challenge them to evolve with the times. It has never been easier to learn from true experts in any arena. Want to learn how to start a business? You can read books, listen to podcasts, watch interviews, or view documentaries by and about the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. Want to learn how to escape the crippling debt of student loans and build a more stable financial future? There are countless media by and about the most successful investors and financial minds as well. We live in an age of abundance when it comes to information, yet so many people fail to take advantage.

Fellow millenials: challenge yourselves to be educated instead of entertained. Do things that scare you, where you are likely to fail. Take risks and push your limits so that you know what it feels like to compete. Pursue personal growth and development in spite of the fact that it is awkward and uncomfortable. And, above all else, lead the next generation with the knowledge and understanding that you were misled. If you were born and raised to be ignorant, that is not your fault; if you die ignorant, however, only you are to blame.



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Anti-habits

Anti-habits
By Justin Wright

There are many characters in popular culture, film, and novels who do things we often disagree with but who we support nonetheless. Many of the most relatable main characters are those who exhibit qualities we frown upon, but we understand why they take certain actions. Their motivation is understandable because these characters are often shockingly human, exhibiting all of the negative qualities we share but may be embarrassed by.

While every classic hero has a fatal flaw or weakness, the anti-hero often has more flaws than positive qualities. An anti-hero is defined as, “a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.” For those who grew up reading the Harry Potter series, Professor Snape was the quintessential anti-hero. In more modern times, Ser Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones is another excellent example.

We grow to love these characters as much for their flaws as for their actions. They often create a strong, emotional shift in us. At first they are despised because their negative qualities are overpowering, and they often clash with the story’s true hero or protagonist. They are not true villains, although at first they exhibit the characteristics of one. As we get to know these characters more, their true intentions and motivations are revealed. It is when we understand why they act the way they do that we forgive them. This is where a deep, emotional connection often occurs.

I would expand this concept to include any person in life who teaches us who we should become by acting as a stark example to the contrary. In a twist on the classic example of an anti-hero, any person who helps show a path that we shouldn’t follow is just as helpful, if not more helpful, as a mentor. If we can avoid ruin and disaster using the example of someone else, then we can more fully align our actions with a better reality.

Struggles lead to success

In my own life, my father played this role. He abandoned our family when I was still a baby, and I struggled with this reality like so many others who grow up in a single-family home. While difficult in the short-term, I would argue that this ultimately was a long-term advantage. I had a very clear, personal example of qualities and characteristics I did not want to have as I grew older.

Malcolm Gladwell delves into this topic in his book David and Goliath. Gladwell argues that seemingly disadvantageous situations often provide the tools necessary for success later in life. Out of great pain comes great determination. Those who are able to rebound, bounce back, and grow are often the ones blazing a trail in their fields.(1) If we can use our bad memories and experiences to chart a better path into the future then these hardships become valuable. Again, knowing where we have been and where we do not want to return can provide great examples for how to move forward.

If we take this anti-hero concept a step further, we can directly relate it to goals and habits. The reason that we can use hardships or negative individuals as examples is because we can analyze the scenarios and habits that created these individuals. There are many factors that go into developing someone into who they eventually become. Environment plays a role, but it ultimately boils down to the actions that person has taken on a regular basis. If we inspect these actions on a deeper level, we can gain a better understanding of how to correct course in our own lives.

The anti-habit, then, is an action we must specifically avoid in order to be successful. Destructive behaviors that take away from our other goals have no place in our routines. It is just as important, if not more so, to understand exactly what actions or thoughts we must ignore. Sometimes the most useful habit we can develop is one that steers us away from some other action.

Applying anti-habits

This positive growth requires a great deal of self-reflection and introspection. The defeatist mentality pervades modern society where, upon facing hardship and struggle, most would rather concede and start something new. There is a great deal of challenge in soldiering on in the face of adversity, but those who ultimately wish to succeed must persevere. Fortunately, many of the strategies I have written about in the past are the antidote to this negative mindset.

In order to know what to avoid, we must first look internally and become aware of behaviors or activities which impede our ability to drive forward. There is a reason that the first, and often hardest, step in any addiction recovery program revolves around becoming aware of, and admitting that there is a problem. This awareness then allows for positive change to occur surrounding these negative behaviors.

When creating your list of daily and weekly tasks, focus on the major items that can derail progress. If there are addictive behaviors that pull you in, aim to avoid these behaviors at all costs by understanding what factors precede them. Gaining a greater understanding of these triggers will allow you to steer clear of their influence.

It is also important to maintain a positive mindset when going through this exercise. The point is not to dwell on the negative influences in our lives but to gain an understanding of things we must maintain control over. Knowing our weak points or what activities have the potential to derail us are vital to long-term success. If you know where you are likely to falter, you can bolster your defenses against such missteps.

A common example of an anti-habit would be limiting the number of days per week you go out to a bar with friends. I have worked with many clients who adhered to their diet strictly during the week, but each weekend night saw them going out with friends and completely losing sight of their long-term health goals. The negative influence of being at a bar, having drinks, and the subsequent environment created would lead them astray and affect other aspects of their wellness. These nights out often led to poor sleep and food choices.

By placing a limit on the number of nights out per week or per month, you can regain control over these influences. We are all human and likely to make mistakes, but reflecting on the things we must limit gives you the power to create change. Tracking these anti-habits makes you acutely aware of whether or not you are being influenced in a negative way. When you notice that you are, you can put your foot down and realign your behaviors with your goals.

A balancing act

Success boils down to the balancing act between doing what you should be doing most of the time while also avoiding the things you know you shouldn’t be doing. The difficulty lies in the fact that what we shouldn’t be doing is often more fun and enjoyable in the short term. Maintain a long-term focus and aim to identify and eliminate the anti-habits in your life currently. These routines often hold us back in ways we cannot realize until we stop doing them. By purging yourself of the negative habits holding you back, you may be amazed at the progress you can actually start making each week.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Gladwell, Malcolm. (2013). David and Goliath, New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.



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Align with your Values

Align with your Values
By Justin Wright

So many positive changes can be made in our lives if we take the time to assess how our current actions align with who we want to become. If you have never taken the time to define your values, it is a useful exercise that can help you figure out exactly what it is that matters to you. There is so much noise in life that it can become easy to get distracted by what is constantly going on around us. Taking the time to stop briefly and reflect is invaluable and necessary to long-term growth.

Without taking the time to do this, we are merely wandering through life aimlessly. More important than goals is our ability to understand the qualities and characteristics we wish to possess. These things act as beacons to guide our thoughts and actions. Furthermore, our overall happiness can be greatly increased if we simply stop to reflect on who we want to become in the future.

Define your values

When is the last time you looked in the mirror and truly saw who you are? There are countless moments each day where we react thoughtlessly to our environment. Whether someone cuts us off in traffic, sends us an angry email, or confronts us in some other fashion, we often instinctively react to these situations. Instead of acting in line with our true selves, we react with anger or frustration. 

If we instead took time to consciously act instead of subconsciously react, we would learn to alter our actions and thought patterns to be more in line with our ideal self. The problem is that we must define our ideal self first! If you have never gone through this exercise before, work through the following steps. It may seem difficult right now, and you might not have all the answers just yet. The benefits, however, lie in the process; embracing the challenge and discomfort will serve you well!

  1. Start by reflecting on individuals in your life whose actions have inspired you. These can be people you have met, or simply people you have read about or seen in the public eye.
  2. Use these individuals as reference points to identify the qualities and character traits that you admire about them. Focus on traits that carry a visceral response — you want to feel these characteristics on an emotional or spiritual level. Identify what sets these individuals apart, and why you admire them.
  3. With these traits in mind, draft out a list of character traits you yourself wish to have. Keep them as simple as possible and utilize fewer than 3 words to describe each. For example: honest, loyal, loving, compassionate, hard-working, etc. This list should be concise and easy for you to understand at a glance when you reference it in the future.
  4. Afterwards, create a list of traits or characteristics you want to avoid at all costs. These can be traits possessed by those who have left a negative impression in your life, or simply things you otherwise feel strongly about. The key is, just like the positive traits, these should elicit an emotional response. For example: anger, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, etc.
  5. Once these lists are complete, and you have identified the traits you wish to possess and wish to avoid, you must now go through the hardest part of the process!

Reflect and redirect

After you have completed your lists, you will have a strong sense of the type of person you ultimately wish to become. While this process may be uncomfortable on its own, the true discomfort comes when we must face our actions up to this point. It is crucial that you reflect on your life currently and, most importantly, reflect on how your actions align with your values. Do your repetitive actions align with the lists you created, or are you currently living in a way that is pulling you away from those values?

It is imperative that you are humble and honest when going through this assessment. While many of us may want to believe that we rarely fail and are wonderful people, the reality is that we all make mistakes and we often do things we aren’t proud of. The goal is not to beat yourself up over your mistakes, but to understand how to better align your actions with the values you have written down.

From here, we must redirect our thoughts and actions so that we can more closely align them with our lists. If you wish to be compassionate but find yourself constantly frustrated with those around you, force yourself to say something kind the next time you feel frustration building. If you wish to be loyal but find yourself blowing off commitments, double down your efforts to help those around you. If you wish to be honest but find yourself telling half-truths, take time to confess your shortcomings with a close friend you can confide in. The goal is not perfection, but if we make conscious efforts to align our actions with our goals then we can vastly improve our lives.

The journey is the goal

What is crucial to understand throughout this process is that there is no true end or finish. The journey of improvement is itself the goal. This entire process should be done on a regular basis, as our values may change with differing life circumstances. Understand, however, that you must go through this process regularly. If you don’t concretely define the characteristics and traits that you aspire to possess, the winds of life will prevent your values from taking root.

Fight to act instead of react. Focus on defining who you want to be and who you want to avoid becoming. Create your lists and reference them often; the more you view them, the more you will be reminded of the traits you admire. Use these definitions to act as guides on your life’s journey, and always be willing to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The things that matter to you today may change in the years to come. By embracing the challenge of self-reflection, you will ensure that your thoughts and actions grow with you instead of being left behind in the dust.



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Encouraging Ownership

Encouraging Ownership

By Justin Wright

There are countless reasons why some teams succeed while others fail. Some cultivate a culture of contribution, where everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued. More importantly, these individuals actually want to contribute and own their roles. On the other hand, there are many teams in which members push blame to others for failures and try to shirk responsibility as much as possible.

So why do some teams successfully instill the values of hard work and ownership while other teams create passivity and lack of attention to detail? The answer lies in the culture of these teams, and whether or not their members feel empowered to take action. Learning how to empower a collective group is the first step in developing this culture of success.

Empower others

If you are leading a team or organization, being able to empower others to take action and show pride in their work is crucial to success. Even if you are not in what most would consider a leadership position, understanding how to empower others will increase the effectiveness of any group you are a part of. These strategies apply not just to teams in the workplace, but also to sports, friend groups, and families.

Empowering others and developing trust are closely interrelated. When you give a responsibility to another individual, and express confidence that they will do the job correctly, then trust is built in the process. This is where many leaders make a critical mistake that actually lowers trust amongst their team. If you have given someone ownership of a task or process, and then supercede them and take ownership back, it gives them the message that their work is not up to standard.

Leadership requires oversight, and there are often times when you will need to fix the work that someone else has done before it is finalized. How can you balance this dichotomy and still ensure that your team grows and develops? The key lies in a process that I call “coach versus capture.”

Coach vs capture

Mistakes are inevitable in all walks of life, on any team, and in any industry. Think back to when you first started the job you are in now. What was the learning curve like? For most careers, on-the-job training is where we learn almost every skill that we utilize on a regular basis. Many of these skills are developed through trial and error. When supervisors, managers, and bosses give constructive feedback, we learn how to fix our mistakes and improve the quality of our work in the future.

If our performance is corrected, and we are allowed to fix and learn from our mistakes, then we are armed with increased knowledge and confidence the next time we face the same hurdle. On the other hand, many bosses take a very different approach to these problems. Instead of using failure as a learning opportunity, they belittle those who make mistakes. When work is not done to their standard, they take over and make corrections on their own. These bosses are also likely the first ones to take credit for work that is done well, while also pushing blame to others for things done poorly.

These types of bosses are the antithesis of a good mentor. Instead of coaching and correcting, they take control and then subsequently take credit. Their team doesn’t learn or grow, and instead makes the same mistakes repeatedly. This then perpetuates the cycle of the boss taking control, jumping in to make their own corrections, and taking credit for the end result. These teams lack trust, and most employees work in a state of fear: afraid to make mistakes and afraid to deal with the repercussions of those mistakes.

The funny thing is, this state of fear actually causes them to make more mistakes. The human psyche is easily manipulated, and if we no longer feel safe in our teams, it becomes nearly impossible to function at optimal levels. The method of coaching instead of capturing helps fix this, and consists of 6 key steps.

  1. Give full ownership of a project to a team member. Explain the deadline, the parameters and scope of the project, and a brief overview of expectations. From the outset, explain that you expect mistakes to be made and you will help correct and fine-tune these mistakes throughout the process. Set a deadline before the final due-date so that there is time for multiple iterations as needed.
  2. Allow the team member to work through the project at their own pace and with their own vision. Help establish a timeline for steps of the project early on, but allow them the freedom to reach these checkpoints on their own. Trust is built when team members are given full freedom to complete a task.
  3. Be available for help and guidance throughout the process as needed, but emphasize that you will not interject or check in frequently unless those check-ins are necessary. When key milestones are reached, you can touch base to see if additional help is required.
  4. When the first iteration of the project is complete, meet with the team member and review the results. Provide constructive criticism as well as assistance with how to make the suggested corrections. Keep ownership of the project in the hands of the person it was given to!
  5. Repeat the above steps until a final version is complete. Give a final seal of approval and submit this version. No additional corrections can be made or the trust built throughout this process will be destroyed. If any changes need to be made, the person who performed the task or project must be involved.
  6. Debrief the project after it has been completed. Review the mistakes made and hurdles overcome with the individual. Use this opportunity to teach and provide guidance and mentorship for future situations.

If done correctly, this process empowers the individual to own the success or failure of a project, teaches them important lessons for how to overcome these obstacles in the future, and develops trust between the leader and the team. Junior members of the team mature, grow, and learn, while more senior members of the team see a positive example of trust and collaboration being built. The leader is a guide and a teacher, but they do not overtake control and supercede their team.

Effective leadership

The method of coach versus capture is applicable on any team, in any industry. Imagine if more leaders empowered their team to take action and actually developed trust and confidence in those team members to do the job correctly! When trust is present, team members feel safe enough to make and learn from mistakes. Instead of covering up failures, these failures are used as opportunities for growth. Whether you are the boss of a large corporation, the captain of a small team, or the head of your household, these strategies will earn the respect and admiration of those who follow you.

In short, teams who successfully implement these policies are more successful. When the members of that team actually feel as if they fully own the projects they are working on, they take more pride in that work. When they know that they have the support of their leaders to function independently, they produce better quality work. Furthermore, when a culture of safety, autonomy, and ownership is cultivated, the morale of the team is highest. If more companies focused on cultivating a culture of ownership and trust, the positive impact they could effectively create would increase exponentially.



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Improving Communication

Improving Communication
By Justin Wright

Communication breakdowns happen in every industry, to every team, and within every family. A high percentage of my clientele hire me specifically to aid and assist with communication strategies for their team. These breakdowns can be frustrating to deal with and often difficult to diagnose internally. In addition to the headaches involved, businesses also lose countless dollars every year as people work to remedy the adverse effects caused by poor communication.

So where do we begin? Understanding first what communication is and what the requisite steps are is a good place to start. From there we must analyze where things go wrong at each step, and how messages can become distorted and misinterpreted. This will give us a roadmap for better understanding where communication errors occur within a specific team or organization.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; communication breakdowns happen for a number of reasons which are often specific to the industry or group in question. Regardless of where in the sequence your specific problems lie, there are strategies at each step which can reduce pain points and improve the effectiveness of your team.

What is communication?

To understand where breakdowns in communication occur, we must first understand what exactly communication is. Communication between two parties essentially involves three phases. It is first a transmission of a signal, followed by the reception of that signal, and lastly followed by the interpretation of that signal. Each of these phases provides opportunities for things to go wrong, and each is critically important.

When a signal is transmitted, we must analyze how effective that transmission was. Let’s use the signal from a radio station as an example. If there are issues with the radio tower, then regardless of the content of the message being sent from the station, it will never be received properly by the target individuals. There is an inherent issue in the signal being sent that is unrelated to content or context. 

Likewise, if your personal radio is broken or malfunctioning then you will be unable to receive the transmission as intended. The radio station is sending out perfectly clear, high-quality audio, but difficulties in reception limit the audience’s ability to hear that signal. A more personal example of issues with reception include language barriers; if the listener does not understand the language of the message, they will be unable to deduce its meaning.

The last phase of communication is a bit more nuanced. Every message requires interpretation after it is sent by one party and received by another. This category is difficult to understand and can be difficult to positively affect, and thus it largely goes ignored. Part of this is an unwillingness for many to step inside the shoes of another and try to see things from their viewpoint. It can be difficult to think of how we would interpret a message if we were the receiving party, because we all carry our own inherent biases and life experiences. These life experiences drastically affect the way that we interpret the messages we receive. Nonetheless, this category is an important area to put forth effort when it comes to improving our own communication.

Transmission

There are a number of ways we can improve the transmission of any message that we send. First, and potentially most obvious, is to make sure that we are clear with the articulation of our message. Whether we are sending a message digitally, or delivering it in person, we should be clear and concise with our delivery. Adding more variables is a common strategy that I suggest as well; this can be accomplished by delivering a message over the phone versus email, or in person versus over the phone. By adding in voice and, progressively, body language, the signals we are sending become even more clear. The more serious the message, the more variables are required. There is a reason that we do not traditionally inform relatives about a death in the family via text or email.

Avoid using unnecessary words and make sure that the instructions are clear. If you have trouble being verbose, practice delivering shorter messages more regularly. I told a coworker one time that if they couldn’t deliver their entire message in the span of a 1-minute instagram video, they were probably speaking too much. Find ways to condense what you are saying so that the main deliverables, points, and action items are clear. Combining these strategies will ensure that your message is as clear as possible to those you are delivering it to.

Reception

Issues with reception generally stem from timing, language, or technical errors. If a message is delivered quickly and at a bad time for the person receiving it, there is a high likelihood that they will not retain the important details of that message. Oftentimes important communication is delivered as individuals are heading out the door in an effort to inform them before they leave. The downside to this is that the message is rarely received correctly. Additionally as we have previously discussed, if there are any language barriers or translation issues then the message will be incorrect as well. Prioritizing accurate translation and clarity in these situations is critical.

Technical issues have created more problems in the modern age of communication as well. If you are having a video conference and the feed is fading in and out, this distraction can cause people to miss key pieces of the presentation. If the cell reception is poor from where you are calling from, words or phrases can be dropped from the call. Working to improve these factors to the best of your ability will make communication more clear across the board.

Interpretation

The interpretation of a message is where many factors are at play which can negatively affect how this message is processed after reception. The primary issue with interpretation is that it is based on a wide range of life experiences, biases, previous interactions, cultural norms, past history, etc. A person’s life story will literally affect how they interpret every message that they receive.

With this knowledge in hand, it becomes important to remain sensitive to these factors any time you are delivering a message to someone else. You must give thought to how they will receive and process the information you are giving them. For example, the phrase, “Break a leg!” means something far different in the acting community than it does in other industries. This knowledge is critical when choosing which colloquialisms or phrases to use in conversation. Even certain hand gestures mean something far different in other countries outside of America.

Ensuring proper interpretation of a message relies, in large part, on having empathy for the individuals you are speaking with. As a teammate in any capacity it is our responsibility to understand our teammates and gain a deeper understanding of their life experiences, wants, and needs. With this information in hand we can more effectively communicate in our daily lives.

Reduce static

With a deeper understanding of the three phases of communication, it becomes possible to “reduce the static” at each phase. This allows for messages to be delivered more clearly, be received more readily, and properly transcribed or interpreted by those receiving them. Focus on truly understanding the people you spend time communicating with to ensure that your messages to them are received and understood properly. Constantly question and analyze yourself to make sure that you are being clear, concise, and direct with the messages you send out. Focusing on all of these areas together will allow you to reduce the common pitfalls of poor communication which negatively affect every industry in the world. Increasing the effectiveness of your communication within your teams will drastically improve the output and success of those teams; as all individuals get on the same page, massive, positive action can be taken more readily.



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Don’t Let the Past Dictate your Future

Don’t Let the Past Dictate your Future
By Justin Wright

Change can be difficult at times, and downright impossible at others. The conviction required to make small changes, let alone large ones, should be celebrated. Many of us know at least a handful of people who have turned their lives around, those who have set goals and taken control of their future. It can seem like they have cracked some secret code that eludes the rest of us.

One of the largest challenges that comes with change, however, is the biases we carry with us from the past. Many of us truly believe that “some people never change” despite evidence to the contrary. If we do not allow ourselves to grow and evolve, to look at situations through a new lens, then our previous experiences will adversely affect our future.

Some people don’t change, this is true. Many more push themselves to grow, and we must allow our perspectives to change as they do. Reflect on your own life experiences. How many times have you held previous actions against someone, despite them being very different now? How often has this caused you to react or respond in a way that may have been appropriate in the past, but has no bearing now? The reality is that this affects many of our interactions with others, and oftentimes prevents us from fostering stronger relationships and more fruitful collaborations.

Forgive and Forget

The old adage around forgiving and forgetting the transgressions of others is not practical in many situations, but lies at the core of embracing change. Let’s say that you try a new restaurant in town when it first opens and have a lousy meal. You return a month later once they have sorted out some of their initial problems and have a wonderful time. This sort of thing happens often when it comes to our experiences; we give ourselves the freedom to change our opinion when new information is presented and the experience changes.

Aside from a small percentage of extremely stubborn individuals, this type of change is common. The problem is that a much larger percentage of us resist changing our opinions of people. We are taught that first impressions matter a great deal, which is certainly true, but not as much emphasis is placed on additional impressions. Many of us tend to formulate our opinions of others within our first few moments with them, and these opinions permeate our thoughts surrounding those individuals in the future.

If we meet someone’s friend at a house party and they were rude or disagreeable, we tend to always assume that they will act the same way in future situations. What if that individual was later confronted about their attitude and, realizing that they had been out of line, corrected their behavior in the future? In our next encounter with that person, despite them making changes to better themselves, we may avoid interacting with them entirely or may be short or curt with them during the interactions we do have.

This behavior is caused by our natural biases which were informed by previous experiences. This was, and is, an evolutionary advantage; for the survival of our species we had to learn quickly which creatures in the wild would do us harm and which were safe to interact with. We needed to know the appearance and actions of members from warring tribes in order to preserve our own tribespeople. In order to communicate effectively in the modern world, we must override this tendency. We must learn to forgive and forget, to give others a chance to change our opinions.

Team culture and growth

This phenomenon can be especially detrimental when it comes to teams. Whether you are playing sports at a high level, in a boardroom launching a new product, or expanding the team at your business, culture becomes critical for success. A team that stifles growth by finger-pointing, covering up mistakes, or minimizing communication must experience a culture shift to become successful. This culture shift requires the members of that team to change their personal viewpoints and biases as well.

Far too often I see groups that are willing to change, fully committed to the process of growth, yet still view others on their team in the same light as before these changes occurred. If you have a boss who used to rule with fear decide to embrace change and empower his team, it is unfair for those team members to view him as the same tyrannical leader he once was. In the same way, new employees are expected to make mistakes as they grow in their roles; we don’t still assume that they are incompetent once they have learned to perform their job tasks effectively. Our opinion of them must change as they learn and grow.

When teams undertake cultural shifts and buy in to the process of changing, there tends to be a recurring pattern that emerges. There are huge, positive shifts early on and then things seem to plateau. Members of the team get frustrated when they feel like progress has stagnated, but forget to look internally at how their biases may be preventing further growth. Their expectations for the team have evolved, but they are still viewing other team members with the same lens as before. Someone who was historically lazy but has taken huge strides to provide value is still seen as a slacker. Someone who lacked communication skills in the past is still viewed as a poor communicator, despite development and progress to the contrary.

Review, revisit, revise

Just like with setting goals or building out plans and habits, it is crucial that we consistently revisit and revise our opinions of others in our lives. Especially if you are part of a team attempting to change, you should consistently review your biases and prejudices that come from past experience. Ask yourself if your opinion of someone else is based on current information or outdated information.

Just as technology is constantly being updated, we must update our viewpoints. If you failed to update your cell phone, it would stop working eventually. The old software could not keep up with the apps and services you rely on. This is a simplistic comparison, but should paint a picture of the importance of revisiting our opinions. People do change, and we must recognize this if we wish to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

Do not hold an individual’s past against them. We have all taken actions which we regret, and it is the lesson that matters more than the mistake. The person you see in the mirror today is (hopefully) much different than the person you were five years ago. Realize that others are working just as hard to better themselves, to grow and develop into their ideal selves. Learn to revisit your opinions, and make sure they reflect the present instead of the past. By constantly revising your viewpoints you will be able to more effectively lead and follow, to contribute to your communities at the highest level, and to have stronger relationships with everyone in your life.



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Action!

Action!
By Justin Wright

I once worked with a client who was very analytical in her approach to health and fitness. We had a number of great conversations about the theory behind exercise, the science behind the approach to training and, when it came to nutrition, we built out a specific meal plan that aligned with our discussions and her goals. Every aspect of her training, nutrition, mobility, and sleep were meticulously laid out; the stars were perfectly aligned and it would be almost impossible for her to not succeed.

There was only one major problem: she didn’t actually make progress. How could this be? There was one key piece of the puzzle missing. No matter how perfect your plans are, no matter how well you outline the steps required for success, unless you execute on those plans and take action then all of the planning is irrelevant. My client had failed not due to lack of planning, and she had certainly put substantial effort into the thought behind her actions. Her failure was solely due to over-analysis, and a hesitation to take the first forward step.

Planning can be a mechanism to combat anxiety. It is scary and difficult to actually put one foot in front of the other and commit to forward progress. Failure is inevitable and you will make mistakes. To be successful and actually accomplish your goals, you must soldier on in spite of this possibility. Failure can be your greatest teacher, and you must embrace a culture of doing over thinking to get where you want to go.

This is not to say that planning is unimportant. Had my client not spent time thinking about what she needed to do, I would argue that she would have failed in a different way. As Warren Buffet has famously said, “An idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan.” Add to this the old adage, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and it should be obvious that planning is, in fact, important. What remains after you have formulated a plan is understanding how and why to put these plans into action. 

Direct your life

When a director yells, “Action!” it is understood that the scene is commencing and everyone on set works to bring the pieces together well enough to make the final cut. There is an explosion of activity as actors and actresses perform their roles, the camera crew works to achieve the right angle for the shot, and sound engineers optimize the voices and noises playing out in the scene. This one simple phrase creates all of the necessary movement for the production of the film to commence.

You are the director of your life. The set is your day, and the scene is how it plays out. Take control of each day by taking action, by pushing the pieces to move and align accordingly. Once you have created a plan by writing out your goals, by breaking them down into actionable steps, and by learning to create priority targets for each day, you have all the tools necessary for success at your disposal. All that remains is a strategy for aligning your actions with those goals.

Actions must follow plans

One thing I want you to focus on as you go through any goal-setting exercise is how you can take immediate action on each step. One way to increase your likelihood of success is to think about the smallest actionable step that you can take following each activity. If you have defined your SMART list and have broken things down into subsequent, repeatable tasks, how can you move the needle today instead of tomorrow? If your goal is to get up earlier in the morning each day, set your alarm as soon as you finish writing out your list instead of waiting until you go to bed. If you want to read more, put a book on your bedside table or on your desk at work as soon as you have established this goal.

The idea is to immediately begin to align your life with your new goals and the habits you are trying to form. This is more symbolic than anything; you aren’t taking massive action immediately but you are committing to forward progress instead of staying in place and over-analyzing. Even a small step in the right direction is still a step, and this action helps align your thoughts, plans, and purpose with your new goals. By doing something immediately, in the present, you are reinforcing the importance of your decisions.

Challenge yourself to accompany any plan with immediate action in all avenues of your life. The key is to debunk the notion that your actions need to be colossal in nature or that you need to move mountains every time. You just want to avoid planning without doing. Over time, you can effectively rewire your brain to immediately follow planning with movement. You will go from architect to builder, and your likelihood of success will increase dramatically in all avenues of your life. Every fire starts with a spark, and accomplishing your goals is no different.

Meeting resistance

Keep in mind that there will be resistance to these changes initially. The hardest part may be overcoming the natural fear of failure which we often harbor internally. In order to effectively change course and embrace action, it requires you to completely redefine failure for yourself. Understanding that failure is a necessary component part of long-term success can empower you to take action consistently and create lasting change.

Failure is a scary term for most people in the world today. The problem is not with failure itself, but rather the perception of it. To most, failure seems finite. “I have tried and I have failed” implies the end of something, not the beginning. It is important to question your own biases surrounding failure and deeply analyze where, exactly, they come from. Why do we view mistakes and stumbles as negative in the first place?

What if failure were simply the start of a new course? What if the entire process were much like getting an alignment for your car? This requires us to alter how we view failure and the stigma associated with it. If you can overcome the inertia provided by the fear of making mistakes and the natural hesitation to act on your goals, you can take meaningful steps towards accomplishing something important. You must be able to break through this resistance, and you must begin to align your life with what you want to accomplish. Always remember, you are the director. It is with your command that your movie begins, so stop hesitating and get the film rolling!



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