Whenever I'm discussing a challenge -- oh, all right, whenever I'm whining about something -- my wife only lasts about 30 seconds before she says, "Okay, I get it. What are you going to do differently?"
Hearing the same thing time after time could be pretty irritating... except she's right. The only way to overcome a problem is to do something differently.
But here's an even better approach: Instead of waiting until you're forced to make a bad situation better, why not turn a decent situation into a great one and tackle your challenges head on?
Let's call this business -- and personal -- strategy The Five As of Awesomeness. (Then again maybe not; I might have just gone all Tony Robbins on you.)
All you have to do is pick a few of these to do differently:
- Switch measurements. Over time we develop ways to measure our performance. Maybe you focus on time to complete, or quality, or end result. Each can be effective, but sticking with one or two could cause you to miss opportunities to improve. Say you focus on meeting standards; what if you switched it up and focused on time to completion? Measuring your performance in different ways forces you to look at what you do regularly from a new perspective.
- Shift benchmarks. If you create apps it's fun to benchmark against, say, the runaway success of Angry Birds. Setting an incredible goal is fine -- since if you don't aim high you won't reach high -- but failing to hit a lofty goal can kill your motivation. Choose a different benchmark; look for companies (or people) with similar assets, backgrounds, etc. and try to beat their results. For a motivation boost, consider finding an enemy.
- Be who you are. I would like to climb like this guy. Or ride a motorcycle like this guy. Or change the world like this guy. I won't. And for the most part I'm okay with that because I can always be a better me. I can climb better or ride faster or make a bigger difference in the lives of my family and friends. Think about who you admire and pick a few of their qualities to emulate, not necessarily their accomplishments. You can't be them -- and they can't be you.
- Let others be who they are. Your boss isn't going to change. The company you work for isn't going to change. Your customers, your vendors... they aren't going to change. Don't expect them to. Pick one source of frustration and decide what you will do differently, including, possibly, walking away. When you stop focusing on negatives you may start to notice positive qualities you missed. No one is as bad or as good as you make them out to be -- and that's okay.
- Help a coworker. Don't wait to be asked. Pick someone who is struggling and offer to help. But don't just say, "Is there some way I can help you?" Be specific: Offer to help with a specific task, or to take over a task for a few days, or to work side-by-side. A general offer is easy to brush aside; a specific offer shows not just that you want to help but that you care.
- Help a superstar. Counter-intuitive? Hardly. Compared to others, the best-performing people don't need help, so they rarely get it, and as a result they're often lonely, at least in a professional sense. Ask if you can help with a specific task. Not only will you build a nice interpersonal bridge, you may create a connection that helps improve your own performance.
- Help anyone. Few things feel better than helping someone in need. Take a quick look around; people less fortunate than you are everywhere. For example, I did an interview skills seminar for prison inmates (after all, who needs to know how to deal with tough interview questions more than a convicted felon?) It only took an hour of my time and was incredibly rewarding. Most were touchingly grateful that someone -- anyone -- cared enough to want to help them.
- Go opposite. If you haven't reached a goal, what you are currently doing isn't working. Instead of tweaking your approach, take an entirely different tack. If traditional advertising isn't working, try cold calling. If you aren't getting the promotions you want, start a small side business. Pick one goal you're struggling to achieve and try a completely different approach. Sometimes adjustments will eventually pay off, but occasionally you just need to blow something up.
- Drop one thing. We all have goals -- often, too many goals. It's impossible to do ten things extremely well. Take a look at your goals and pick at least one that you'll set aside, at least for now. (Don't feel bad -- you weren't accomplishing any of your goals to your satisfaction anyway, so what can it hurt?) Then put the time you were spending on that goal into your highest priority. You can't have it all, but you can have a lot -- especially when you narrow your focus to one or two key goals.
- Change your workday. Get up earlier. Get up later. Take care of emails an hour after you start work. Eat at your desk. Pick one thing you do on a regular basis, preferably something you do for no better reason than that's the way you always do it, and do it in a different way or at a different time. Familiarity doesn't always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency is an improvement and progress killer.
- Pick a habit. Successful people are successful for a reason, and that reason is often due to the habits they create and maintain. Take a close look at the people who are successful in your field: What do they do on a regular basis? Then adopt one of their habits and make it your own. Never reinvent a wheel when a perfect wheel already exists.
- Pick someone to mentor. I'm convinced I learn more from teaching than the people I teach. (Hopefully that says more about the process of teaching than about my teaching abilities.) Not only will you help someone else, you'll build your network and learn a few things about yourself.
When you do, tomorrow will be better -- or at the very least more interesting.
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