Adventures In Accountability: How To Finish What You Started

accountabilityMy mind is a crazy place. I like to think of myself as a creative adventurer, always chasing change and innovation. New ideas seem to bounce around my imagination like a bumper car birthday party. Unfortunately, sleep seems to get in the way of non-stop action, and I often go to bed feeling as if I’ve forgotten the milk.

The simple translation: I start a lot of personal projects that never get finished.

Don’t get me wrong; I take care of the priorities in life (paying my bills, getting work done, watching Boardwalk Empire every Sunday.) It’s the less important tasks that typically fall through the cracks. Luckily I’ve recognized this weakness, and I have embarked on a quest to learn more about what makes humans accountable.

Almost by fate, I stumbled into an interesting passage about self-discipline in Tim Ferriss’s new book, “The 4-Hour Chef.” In it, Tim notes:

No matter how good a plan is, how thorough a book is, or how sincere our intentions, humans are horrible at self discipline. No one is immune. The smartest, richest, and most dedicated people abandon commitments with disgusting regularity.

This made me feel slightly better about myself, but it begs the question: What methods can we put into place to make sure we finish the most important tasks? How can we manipulate the equation to increase our rate of completion? Upon further inspection, I’ve found three “pressure points” that I think will help me become more accountable.

1. Social Pressure

A promise is a powerful social contract. It’s the currency of trust, and the commitments we make to others often shape the strength of our friendships. When you break a promise you’ve made to yourself, it’s easy to rationalize the loss and move on. Breaking a promise you’ve made to others has much more serious repercussions.

This is where group accountability comes into play. Instead of tackling your projects solo, include others to solidify your pledge to finish. A great example is fitness. Find a dedicated gym partner that will work on the same schedule as you. Choose group activities so that your involvement is crucial to the other person’s success (for example: kickboxing.) This social pressure should convince you to commit to any cause, or risk losing a valuable relationship.

2. Fiscal Pressure

Like it or not, we’re all slaves to money. Every dollar you have determines what you can do. No money? No hamburger. Plain and simple. And as Ferriss notes, we’re much more motivated at the fear of losing money than we are at the prospect of earning. Countless psychology experiments have shown that people work harder when they know that failure to complete a task will result in money lost versus a reward based structure.

Fiscal pressure works great when you’re tackling solo tasks, such as learning a new skill. Let’s assume your goal is to earn a new certification at work. Choose an amount of money that will make you cry if you were to lose it (Tim suggests 1% of your yearly salary.) Now, hand that money over to someone you trust, and instruct them to donate it to a charity of their choice if you fail. I’m not a normally betting man, but I’d place a wager on your success. That’s a lot of cheddar on the line.

3. Deadline Pressure

OK, so this isn’t entirely independent of the other two, since most projects or goals have a deadline. Use this pressure to transform your low priority tasks into high priority tasks. If your goal is to learn how to cook a four course meal, schedule a dinner party at your house in two weeks. Canceling would be awfully rude, and would make your friends mighty angry at you (see “Social Pressure.”) Given the extra food you’ll have to buy, your hard earned cash is also on the line. You are now left with two weeks to make the best damn chicken parm of your life. Tick, tock.

Currently I don’t have any empirical evidence that proves these pressure points will work, but common sense and basic logic screams their validity. I promise I’ll follow up in 1 month to let you know which works the best for me (social + deadline pressure!)

How do you create accountability for yourself? I’d love to learn some new techniques, so feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments!

Apple Is Past Its Prime

I’m a little late to the party here, but I honestly think Apple has finally made the shift from an innovator to a profit protector. When I got my iPod in the early 2000′s, it was one of the best tech investments I had ever made. My second Apple purchase was an iPad 2, which was the best tablet on the market by miles. Nothing could touch Apple products, and their popularity skyrocketed.

When I looked at their recent product releases, they are all just incremental adjustments to past innovations. Faster processor. Thinner body. Brighter screen. While these are certainly improvements, they don’t come with the same flair that propelled them from nearly bankrupt to the most valuable company on Earth in a little over a decade.

Shareholders are certainly happy with the influx of money now, but so were Microsoft shareholders in the 90′s. Complacency has set in, and if they don’t start taking risks and pushing the envelope once again, Apple will die on the vine like so many other tech giants.

</rant>

Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

obstacles-into-opportunitiesWe face new challenges everyday, both big and small. Your boss gives you a new project with an incredibly short deadline. You can’t find a parking space at the mall. Bad weather knocks your power down for a few days. Regardless of the event, the natural response is to feel crappy and eat Häagen-Dazs until you pass out.

I’m no different from anyone else, and my typical response is to follow the boo-hoo-why-me protocol. But all that is changing with a few mental tweaks.

Creating Productive Rituals

Lately I haven’t been accomplishing the lofty goals I have set for myself. Blame it on moving to the beach, or lack of motivation, or a million other things. At the end of the day, it comes down to habits. I’ve created a series of unproductive habits, and I have put in place a plan to create new, productive daily rituals (thanks to Tony Robbins for this term.) One of these rituals is to write for an hour each night. Another is to drink three liters of water each day. These are small changes, but I believe the benefits will be massive. But I digress…

My latest ritual is forcing myself to find a silver lining in all of life’s grey clouds. Here’s an example:

Recently my town was hit by Hurricane Sandy, leaving hundreds displaced, distressed and down right depressed. I lost my house, my car, and many of my possessions. Clearly, this was a shitty situation. So how did I apply my new ritual? I was probably paying too much for rent anyway, so this gives me a chance to find a more affordable housing option. My car was a lease, and the comprehensive insurance coverage allows me to get into a brand new car with virtually no extra expenses. Finally, I am somewhat of a hoarder with old stuff (especially clothing), and this gives me a reason to finally buy some grown up clothes.

Boom, positivity.

This works on a much smaller scale too. If your friends don’t invite you to the bar, you’ve just saved $50 for that new camera you’ve been eyeing up. Can’t find a parking spot close to the mall? Congratulations on your new commitment to exercise. Give it a try; see how many ugly ducklings you can turn into swans.

Transforming Rituals Into Success

There is a method to all this madness. My hypothesis is that with enough repetition, I’ll train my brain to see opportunities where others only see obstacles. My self imposed ritual will become second nature. The most successful people see the world this way. I want to see the world this way.

How has it worked so far? Its too early to tell, but the results look promising. I’ve noticed that positivity is contagious, and it can light a fire under the people around you. I also feel better about the future, because I know that each day will bring new opportunities (instead of just problems.) My stress levels have also dropped significantly, which reflect on my overall well being.

I encourage you to try this new ritual in your life. Its free, takes only seconds out of your day, and the potential gains can be incredible. All I ask is that you share your results in the comments, or with someone else in your life.

Surround Yourself With The Best

be the bestBack in 8th grade, I received one of the most memorable Christmas presents of my life. It was a shiny blue, semi-used Ibanez bass guitar that my sister bought from her boyfriend at the time. This gift “rocked” my world. There was only one slight problem: I didn’t have a damn clue about how to play the bass.

Lady luck came knocking when a new neighbor moved down the street from me. He was a music teacher who had just started his own business, and was eager to sign me up at a discounted rate. I signed up for weekly lessons, practiced every day, and made my family permanently hate each and every song I learned.

It eventually came to a point where I was no longer satisfied playing with myself, and I longed for others to join me (have fun with this one.) I told my guitar teacher I wanted to join a band, and at this time he dropped a wisdom bomb that I still live by today.

“Steve: If you join a band, make sure you’re the worst one.”

This confused the hell out of me. No one likes being the Ringo Star of the band. Why would I want to put myself through that kind of misery? He then elaborated for me.

“If you’re the best player in the group, you’ll never be challenged and you won’t get any better. If you are the worst, you’ll work your ass off. And that’s how you’ll become the best you can be.”

From that point on, I made it a point to surround myself with those who are more talented, more driven, more intelligent, more compassionate, and all around “more” than me. I’m still far from perfect, and I can’t wait to keep getting better. I look to those around me to keep me grounded and continue to show me areas I need to improve.

And so I pass this wisdom on to you. If you’re the best in your band, find others better than you to jam with. If you stop learning at work, take on new challenges to keep your mind sharp (or find another job that will let you.)

Surround yourself with the best, and you will become the best you can be. 

As an added bonus, please enjoy this throwback 80′s gem:

Sea Bright, Post Sandy

Our city is in ruins. Sea Bright, a place I spent my childhood summers and now call my home, lies in rubble from the storm of the century known as Sandy. Homes are wrecked, businesses gutted, and access to the tiny beach community is still restricted due to gas leaks and collapsed structures.

But despite the broken buildings, Sandy was unsuccessful in breaking the spirit of our community. I’ve seen strangers come together to start repairing and rebuilding. I’ve seen an unprecedented amount of love flowing between neighbors, friends and families. I’ve seen a tragedy spark a new sense of humanity that I haven’t seen in a long time.

Sure, there are some serious dicks out there. The looters, the selfish, and the malicious exist only feed their self interests. These people will not last long past the storm, but the spirit of community will only grow stronger.

It sucks to have lost everything (my home, my car, my clothes and possessions), but at the end of the day I see it as a chance to start again with a clean slate. Let’s move forward.

The photos below were taken by a group of gentleman who stayed through the storm to document everything. They are working to set up donations for victims of the storm. I’ll post the link once its all set up.

Update: Make A Donation Here

Photos: Daniel Ekdahl

Silent But Deadly: Why You Need To Speak Up At Work

speak upStaying quiet is easy. Just sit back, relax, and let everyone else do all chattering. But is this type of behavior beneficial to your growth? The answer is a resounding “hell no.”

By no means am I the role model for the meek. There are certainly situations where I talk too much, and others where I should step up to the plate and let the world know what I think. Still, I’ve found that voicing my opinion and being an open communicator has made an enormous impact on the way I live my life.

There are many reasons you might choose to remain silent in social situations. A few common examples include:

  • I really don’t have anything important to say
  • I’m afraid everyone will criticize and judge me
  • There are enough people voicing their opinions, so I don’t really need to contribute
  • This day dream is way too interesting to interrupt with real thoughts

This “silence is golden” mentality is an excellent defense mechanism, but it will rarely lead you towards meaningful personal growth in your career. Below are four reasons that I believe you should make a proactive effort to speak up more in the workplace:

1. Your Life Is Unique

Every single person on this planet has lived a different life. We hold a collection of unique experiences with us that guide the thousands of decisions we make every day. Your experiences can bring a new dynamic to any conversation. This is how innovation happens, and the input of many will usually beat out a single individual (crowd sourcing, anyone?)

2. It Relieves Stress

Multitasking is a myth. In reality, your brain can only concentrate on one task at a time. The more thoughts you keep inside your head, the less bandwidth you give your brain to work on any given task. By speaking out, you clear your mental cache and give yourself the opportunity to move on to something new.

3. Build Your Confidence

There’s a strong correlation between confidence and communication skills. A well placed comment or idea can help you command respect from your peers, which in turn results in a positive self outlook. Practice makes perfect, so try to make a habit of sharing your ideas.

4. It Creates Opportunities

Wayne Gretzky once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Aside from being one of my favorite quotes, it is also 100% accurate. Simply communicating your wants, needs, and desires will open an obscene amount of possibilities for you.

Speaking up might be uncomfortable for you at first, but it is far from an impossible task. Start simple by complimenting your coworkers each day. This is a low risk, high reward scenario that will let you open up without receiving much negative attention. Continue to increase the stakes until you are comfortable talking openly, and I guarantee you will see positive results over time.

Do you agree that speaking up fuels personal growth? Share your stories or comments below (its easy practice!)

10 Brands That Rule The World

Its amazing to me to see how many companies are actually just smaller subsidiaries of corporate brand giants. This image below does a great job of illustrating:

Source: Business Insider