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Here's to living your Best Day Ever. Every day.

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Here's to living your Best Day Ever. Every day.

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You Can’t Divorce Discipline from Success

Discipline is what makes success look easy Success isn’t some amazing good luck people stumble across. It doesn’t just happen, and it’s often not the result of some special skill or ability. But success requires something important, something that’s available to you, too—discipline. Discipline is the secret sauce to success; it’s the behind-the-scenes magic that makes success look easy.  And it’s anything but easy. If you happen to be a working parent, your mornings are probably filled with the pandemonium of childcare, cajoling, spilled coffee, and mad-dashes to school drop-off. (I know mine are!) Then, I spend a full day at work doing whatever it takes to support my team, lead the company, and make a difference. Dinner happens. Family time happens. Cleaning up after the kids go to bed happens. And the next morning, the whole cycle starts again.  This would make anyone feel stressed and overwhelmed. Some days it does! It can be a struggle at times not to wallow, “My life is just too much. I’ll never pull off everything I have to do. I just can’t.” Those are the days when I remind myself that I have the freedom to choose to live a different story. To do that, I choose to activate daily discipline. Willpower is like a muscle“Willpower” is often used as another word for the kind of discipline I’m talking about. Psychologists define it as the ability to “delay gratification”—in other words, you do something you don’t want to do now, so that you can get something you want later on. According to an American Psychological Association survey, the No.1 reason people give for not making healthy lifestyle changes is: “I don’t have enough willpower.”  People talk about willpower as though it were something similar to a musical talent or the ability to curl your tongue—you’re either born with it or you’re not. If you don’t have it … oh well, too bad. It turns out, though, willpower is a little like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Like a muscle, it can also get exhausted, so you need to take care of it. It uses a part of your brain, scientists say, that has to be replenished the same way the rest of your body does—with sleep and healthy foods. When you have to use all your powers of self-discipline in one particular area of your life over a long period of time, you may find it harder to control yourself in other areas of your life. For example, in one study, people who were asked to control their emotions were more likely to spend money on unnecessary items, while other who were told to resist sweets tended to procrastinate more. Scientists have also found that certain activities can drain a person’s willpower, such as sitting through a boring meeting while resisting the urge to fidget or doodle or yawn. According to some researchers, resisting the urge to check our phones, e-mail, or social media accounts is another constant factor that depletes modern-day willpower. The human brain was not set up to deal with all the immediate gratification that’s offered online. Quick hacks to strengthen willpowerThe good news, though, is that there are tricks to help you strengthen your willpower. (It’s a little bit like distracting your inner toddler.) Here are a few I’ve come across that usually work for me: Find something that puts you in a good mood. Scientists asked a group of people to use up their willpower by resisting a particular temptation. After that, half the group received unexpected gifts or watched a funny video (things likely to put them in a good mood). The other half of the group simply rested during the same period of time. Compared to people who just rested for a brief period, those whose moods were improved did significantly better in resisting another set of temptations. Clench your muscles. Studies say that exercising control over any body part causes you to become more disciplined in other facets of life. You could clench your fist, squeeze your eyes shut or tighten your calf muscles  Meditate. We all know that meditation is great for a lot of things (like managing stress and increasing mental focus), but some recent research indicates that even a short period of meditation can help build willpower. Don’t let yourself get hungry. When we’re hungry, our blood sugar drops, and when our blood sugar levels are low, scientists have found that we have less willpower. Don’t just grab a candy bar, though, which will make your blood sugar spike and then plummet. You need to eat the right kinds of food—plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats—to keep your blood sugar steady. Distract yourself. Sometimes willpower isn’t about forcing yourself to do something; it’s not allowing yourself to take the easy path. Distraction can help with this type of willpower struggle. Just put a timer on and do anything else for 20 minutes. This is often how long a craving sticks around. After 20 minutes, you might be ready to move on from whatever was causing you to want the cookie, the drink or to skip the dishes in favor of Netflix. John Pierpont said, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” It takes discipline every single day for any successful person to get out of bed and do all the things that need doing in a busy day. Most people, if given the chance, would rather sleep in than do all the things it takes for a successful day. That’s one of the features of discipline: it’s something you do over and over, day after day. You slip up some days. And then you get right back to it the next day and the day after that, deciding morning after morning how you want to live that day. Make It PersonalOn a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being next to nothing, and 10 being lots and lots), how would you rate yourself when it comes to how much discipline (or willpower) you have? Are there some areas of your life where you would rate yourself higher in terms of discipline? (For example, maybe you’re good at exercising but not so good at saying no to junk food. Or you’re terrible at turning the television off at night, but you jump out of bed every morning for your meditation time.) Make a list under each of these two headings: DISCIPLINE SUCCESSES                DISCIPLINE CHALLENGES Now look at these two lists and ask yourself: Why is discipline easier in some situations than in others? What makes the difference? Now ask yourself: Can I use these insights to move at least one item from the “challenges” column into the “successes” column? If so, which ones and why? Next, take some time to think about this: Is a physical reason—tiredness, lack of sleep, or poor diet, for example—making it harder for you to have willpower in certain situations? Which items in your “challenges” list might become easier if you made certain changes in your lifestyle—and what would those changes be? Over the next month, practice using discipline to tackle at least one item on your “challenges” list. Write down which behavior you’re going to address with willpower. Describe the changes you will make in your life to help you do so. Notice if it becomes easier or harder as the days go by. (You should expect it to become harder before it comes easier. Like all muscles, the willpower muscle “hurts” when you first start to exercise it!) Photo credit: "Discipline" bench - Trophy Point at the United States Military Academy at West Point by Dave Lowe

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You Can’t Divorce Discipline from Success

Discipline is what makes success look easy Success isn’t some amazing good luck people stumble ac...

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Burning the ship: When your greater success depends on walking away

In 1519, the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortés and his 11 ships landed on the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula in what is now Mexico. They were far from home, and many of them must have been scared of the unknown world they encountered—so their hearts must have really sank when Cortés announced that he was burning the ships. Retreat was no longer possible. They had to commit totally to Cortés’s vision. We all cling to something that makes us feel safe. We postpone action until we no longer feel fear, or we make merely shallow attempts never designed to succeed. To truly achieve the level of success we each desire, there are times when we need to “burn the ships.” Business coach Travis Roberts recommends looking at the following “ships” to determine if one of them needs burning: Your current job: Are you so comfortable where you are that you’re afraid to step out of your rut and try something new, something that might be more creative and fulfilling, something that would align your life more closely with the things you value most? Do note, however, that “burning your ship” does NOT mean quitting your job without a safety net. Your field of employment: Have you been dreaming of a career change? Do you tell yourself, “It wouldn’t make sense to do that”? Maybe you invested years and money getting the education this field requires. Maybe it just seems too scary to walk away from financial security and try something else. But does this field make you feel disconnected from the values you hold most dear? A bad business deal: Sometimes we stick with a bad business relationship, determined to make it work, because we don’t want to admit that we made a mistake. If there’s a relationship like that in your professional life, ask yourself: Why can’t you let it go? Would it be better for everyone concerned if you burned this ship? The same principles hold true for our personal relationships. An unrealistic dream: Sometimes we can’t let go of a dream, even though life keeps telling us it will never come true. It’s one thing to keep working against the odds in order to achieve something great—but it’s another thing altogether to keep trying something for which we truly lack the abilities or resources. Make sure your goals aren’t just fantasies that are impossible to achieve. Be realistic enough to burn a dream  that could be getting in your way of discovering a practical way to match your values with your goals. Keep in mind, though, that the point of “burning” these “ships” isn’t just to give up and die. Cortés burned his ships so he and his men would be freed from ties to the past, able to commit themselves without reserve to the future. We, too, need to examine ideas that could be holding us back, motivations that are no longer relevant or goals, and even those goals that aren’t serving us any longer. When we identify and free ourselves from those things, we will be able to give our all to becoming the best we can be in our personal and professional lives. Photo credit: Diego D’Ambrosio on Unsplash

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Burning the ship: When your greater success depends on walking away

In 1519, the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortés and his 11 ships landed on the shores of the Yu...

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Choose to be optimistic

Choosing to focus on the best in yourself and in others is powerful behavior that creates positive results. Studies show that almost all successful people are optimists.

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Choose to be optimistic

Choosing to focus on the best in yourself and in others is powerful behavior that creates positiv...

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Focus Your Plans with a Personal Mission Statement

No matter how much you think about your mission, things don’t happen simply because you think about them. They happen because you do them. And that takes planning.

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Focus Your Plans with a Personal Mission Statement

No matter how much you think about your mission, things don’t happen simply because you think abo...

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Make sure your values shape your habits—and not the other way around

A woman I was talking to recently confessed that, rather than working at her current job, what she really wants to do in life is help people. “I need to feel as though I’m making a difference in the world. I’d love to volunteer at a nursing home—or maybe the hospital. Or a youth center.” “So why don’t you?” I asked. “Oh, I can’t,” she said. “I just don’t have time.” “Run through a typical day for me,” I suggested. “Tell me what you do.” It turned out that most of her days looked pretty much like this: She went to work at an office job where she spent most of her day sitting in front of a computer. She usually worked late, and she often brought work home with her. At night, she was too tired to do anything but collapse on her sofa and turn on the television, snacking on junk food while she watched. Before she went to bed every night, she always had a bowl of ice cream because she said, “I deserve to have at least one thing I look forward to all day.” Then she’d do it all again the next day. If you listened to this woman talk, you would hear that she really values things like kindness, helping others, making a difference in the world. But if you looked at her life, you wouldn’t see those values present. You’d think her values were work, television and junk food. Does your daily life align with your values? She’s not unique. Despite our best intentions, we don’t always live our lives in a way that aligns with our true values. When that happens, we feel as though we’re missing something important in our lives. We instinctively know something is wrong, and that cognitive dissonance leads us to try to fill the hole—with a bowl of ice cream or TV. But those things are never going to give meaning to our lives. Best-Day-Ever lives match up values and action. They’re built, piece by piece, by aligning the things we choose to do with the values we hold most important. Does this mean you’re never going to enjoy a bowl of ice cream or a mindless TV show? No. But it means those things do not become the steady diet of your life. To make that happen, we must be willing to change. The woman whose life is too busy for anything but work, television and junk food needs to reassess how she’s spending her time. It doesn’t mean it’s all bad, but it does need refining to match up to her values. Maybe she needs a new job—but even more importantly, she needs to consciously align her values with what she does every day. For example, even the most boring office job will provide opportunities for her to demonstrate kindness to others. She might begin looking for occasions to help someone—her colleagues, her neighbors, her family—in small ways. She also might find that if she did volunteer work one evening a week, it could energize her instead of making her more tired. Living our values isn’t always easy. Often, we’ve fallen into habits—deep ruts in the way we use our time—that lead in opposite directions from the “why” that would give more meaning to our lives. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” Don’t let habits choose your values for you. Think about what you believe is most important—and then be willing to change your life, routine and habits so that the two match. Make it personal Want a quick way to assess how well you are living your values? Check out the Life Balance Wheel exercise to get a visual representation of where you shine and where you need to put more attention.   Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

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Make sure your values shape your habits—and not the other way around

A woman I was talking to recently confessed that, rather than working at her current job, what sh...

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