Tag Archives: practice

Resources: Making big changes

I’ve provided a lot of information in the last couple of weeks on how to select a new year’s resolution — that is, how to decide which major change(s) you want to make in your life. But I haven’t talked at all about how to actually make those changes.

I was going to write a blog post on this, but as I thought about what to say, I realized that others have already said it.

Christopher Penn talks about the three questions to ask yourself before you jump off the cliff towards your aspirations.

Steve Pavlina talks about using the first few days of your motivation to set yourself up for success. He also explains the structure of a habit change (hint: it’s not 1. decide to change 2. change easily 3. live happily ever after), and gives an example of that structure in one of his habit changes.

Basically, it comes down to this: if you decide to make a change, you have to think about other changes that go along with it. Deciding to change your spending habits means also changing your eating-out habits and your spare-time habits and your grocery-shopping habits and your clothes-decision habits. Changing your eating habits means also changing what you order at a restaurant and which aisles you go down in the market and which foods you stock in the cupboard.

So think about all of that, and put together a plan to make it happen.

And since there wasn’t much value added to this post, you’ll also get your regularly-scheduled Thursday post this afternoon.

“Habit is habit and is not to be flung out the window by any man, but must be coaxed downstairs gently one step at a time” – Mark Twain

Lack of Instant Success is NOT Failure

Last time, I used my new attempt at adwords as an example of how success actually works in the real world, ie slowly. (To date, it’s generated a total of 579 clicks, 577 of which were before I realized that I needed to adjust my settings to generate useful clicks. Which is to say, I’ve had 2 clicks.)

Have I failed? Well, certainly it didn’t go like a movie montage, where it’s an instant success, I go on to fame and fortune, and never have to work again (*sigh*). On the other hand, I didn’t lose anything (I lost $81, but that’s not going to break even me). There’s no teacher saying “Raina, you stupid child, can’t you get anything right? F- for you!”. There’s still a terabyte of Google Adwords Help I can read. I can try again.

  • My nephew, Dragon, has not yet stood up without falling down. Has his learning-to-walk campaign failed? Of course not! He’s still learning. Give him a break; he’s not yet two.

  • A teenager tries to park his car next to the curb, but starts turning too soon and can’t fit into the space. Has he failed? No… he pulls out and tries again.
  • The plumber comes to your house, replaces the leaky valve, and your hot water heater still leaks. Has he failed? No, he’s identified another problem that needs to be solved.

Issac Asimov got rejected several hundred times before he went on to become the most published sci-fi writer ever. Thomas Edison tried thousands of potential filaments before he hit on tungsten and invented the lightbulb. Look up Abe Lincoln’s political track record sometime.

I haven’t succeeded. I haven’t failed. There’s a status in-between the two, which we might call “Pending”. I’m pending. I’m trying. Despite what Yoda says, trying is a very important part of life.

You can’t judge in the middle

The thing is, it doesn’t even make sense to determine “success” or “failure” until you get to the end of the trial. When you judge in the middle, you determine that Asimov will never get published, Edison is on a fool’s mission, and Lincoln should give it up and start a store (oh wait, he already did that. It failed, too.)

Lack of instant success is not failure. But you can make it so, by judging someone or something to be a failure before they have a chance to try again. When you say “You failed!” to yourself, or your kids, or your classmates, you’ve declared an arbitrary end to the trial. You’ve decided, on the basis of the first iteration, not to bother experimenting any more.

By what right do you do that to someone else? By what possible logic would you do that to yourself?

What to say instead

“You failed” doesn’t help anyone. Can we replace it with my brother-in-law’s solution instead?

    What happened?
    Why did it happen?
    What are you going to do different next time?

Resources for Further Reading
This Ain’t Middle School
Pessimism Vs. Realism
Shipping Hurts
Why Courage

Success Isn’t Instantaneous

Taking a big step towards your dreams can be is really, really scary. You like the idea of success, but taking a step that might actually bring about success? No, that’s just terrifying. Trust me, I’ve been there. I was there when I started this blog. I was there when I got as many visits in 1 day as I used to get in a month (Thanks @daveseah!). I was there this last week, when I decided to launch an info product on how to design a marketing plan.

I have good news for your lizard brain — success doesn’t come like it does in a Disney movie. You may well have a Tipping Point. But what comes after weeks or months or years of hard work and dedication… is more hard work. Like last week, when I decided to launch my info product. I wavered back and forth and paced around the room and cried (yes, literally) before I went ahead and took action. I registered a domain name, set up the website, and….

realized that I have no idea how to use paid internet advertising. I have an adwords campaign. Setting one up is as easy as they claim. Setting up a good or effective campaign… that’s something else entirely. My results to date have been:

  • 670,454 impressions, resulting in 552 clicks, resulting in 3 orders… all from countries I can’t yet ship to. [campaign corrected to show ads only in countries I can ship to]

  • 17 impressions, 0 clicks [modified campaign according to google’s advice]
  • 5 impressions, 0 clicks [started over. Actually read help files]
  • 26 impressions, 0 clicks
  • 511 impressions, 0 clicks (2000% improvement!)

I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. And as long as my campaign sucks enough, it doesn’t cost me anything. And the really good news is that my lizard brain has determined that this is no threat, so it’s curled up and gone to sleep. By the time the incremental success catches up and turns into actual success, it will be too late.

So whatever you’ve been thinking about doing — it’s not as scary as you think. It probably won’t work anyway. So go ahead and try it.

Homework: figuring out what to do

The common way to live, where you graduate high school, go to college, graduate college, get a job… in that model, picking your career is fairly easy. At least for most people, it goes like this:

You pick some stuff that looks interesting in college, possibly relating to what you did in high school or what your friends are doing. Maybe you change majors a few times.
Eventually you get sick of being in college, so you stick with your most recent choice, and graduate with a bachelor’s in that field.
Then you run searches on Monster.com, Craigslist, and whatever network you have, searching for jobs that relate to your degree. Someone offers you a job (maybe in that field, maybe not) and you stick with that career forever because you don’t know how to get out of it.

Sure, maybe it’s not fun. But you didn’t ever have to think really hard, and that’s the main thing.

Monetizing yourself is harder. Like Seth Godin, I believe that you’ll be safer, happier, and wealthier in the upcoming decades if you do something remarkable, that no one else can do. Which means you need to find that sweet spot of happiness in business: the intersection of what you like, what you’re good at, and what you can get paid for.

How do you do that? It’s kind of an iterative process: you try something and see if it works. If not, you see what needs to change and try again. It won’t come to you in a revelation, but if you keep thinking about it and pursuing it, a clear picture will start to emerge.

Your Assignment

(also called action steps, if you feel like being fancy)

Journal daily (at least 1 page) on any or all of the following topics

  • What I really enjoy doing

  • What I wish I could never do again
  • What feels “right” or “meaningful” to me
  • What I wish I could do better
  • What I think I do well
  • What I did today that I enjoyed
  • Why I enjoyed those things
  • Which of the things I did were of value to others
  • How I could monetize that value

Using the time you have

Trent at The Simple Dollar posted today yesterday two days ago (It appears I’m behind on my RSS feeds) a story about a guy he knew in college, who had a dead-end low-paying job as an overnight cashier at a gas station. But when Trent went to visit him, he wasn’t bemoaning his sad situation: he was using his sketchpad and pencils to practice his skills drawing perspective, lighting, shading and so on. Now he’s a graphic designer.

I’ve been talking to one of my friends who’s in high school right now, and thinking how much of a waste (US) high school is. Since the teachers have to assume that students are only paying attention about 20% of the time, they repeat everything 5 times. Which means that there’s really no point in paying attention more than 20% of the time, even if you really do care. So out of the 6 hours of the day you have to spend in class, you only get about an hour and a quarter of useful information. The other 4.75 hours are just wasted. Unless….

What could you do in your situation?

My sister wrote her first novel in high school (the teachers thought she was taking notes). I practiced my writing (primarily in the form of satire, aimed at our teachers, but hey, practice is practice.) But you could also practice:

  • Focus Being able to pay attention to what you choose is a useful skill, and one that most of us lack. Don’t believe me? Play this game:

    1. Get a stop watch
    2. Hit the start button

    3. Think about lemons
    4. As soon as you think about anything other than lemons, hit the stop button
    5. See if you can get over 10 seconds.

So the next time you’re stuck in a pointless lecture or a useless meeting, practice your focus. Try to listen to what the speaker’s saying, and see how long you can go before you get distracted.


  • Proactivity Another highly-useful skill — the #1 habit in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — is the ability to decide what to do, instead of letting other people and events dictate it for you. Whether in a dead-end school or a dead-end job, look for places to do stuff on purpose. Ask your teacher or your boss for permission to do something different — a different focus for your assignment, or a video blog instead of an essay, or something more advanced than what you’ve been doing. Even if they turn you down every time, you’ll still get the benefit of having learned to think and choose for yourself, which will serve you well when you get out of here. And you’ll be surprised by how many times your proposal gets accepted.


  • Vision Questing This one takes some outside work, but may be one of the most useful things you can do. I wrote a while back about our culture’s lack of a vision quest or initiation to adulthood: we’re graduating high school, college, grad school, our first job, our second job, our last job… without ever learning what we could offer the world, and what we would like to offer the world. Nobody helps us identify the talents and skills that would help you find a successful niche. Nobody gives you the opportunity to think about what “success” means to you and how to achieve it. Nobody asks you what your goals are. Of course we all live lives of quiet desperation!

    But you could start. The process will take years, so you’d best start quickly. Brainstorm stuff you like to do, and stuff you find easy to do, and stuff people ask you to do. Jot down connections between them. See if any vocations suggest themselves to you, and test them out to see if you really like them as well as you thought. Journal your findings. Brainstorm some more. There are no easy answers, but if you keep asking the questions, you’ll find that the answers eventually take shape.

  • Courage I’ve written about the need for courage already, so I won’t bore you by repeating it again. But no matter where you spend your days, there are opportunities to increase your courage. Ask a cute member of your preferred sex for their phone number. Speak up in a group discussion when you don’t agree with the direction the conversation is going. Stand up to the local bully on behalf of someone else. Don’t act like everyone else around you, just for a few seconds.

    Don’t be irresponsible

    Please note, I am not advocating doing these things at the expense of what you’re supposed to be doing. You really are going to have a hard time if you graduate high school without knowing basic math, and you’re getting paid to do the work your boss gives you. So do what you have to do.

    All I’m saying is…if there’s some time left over after that… don’t let it go to waste.

    The link to 7 Habits is an affiliate link. If you’re interested in buying the book (which is an awesome book, and I would recommend it to everyone), and if you have found my blog interesting and/or helpful, you can help me out by purchasing the book through that link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps me keep posting stuff despite my dead-end, low-paying job. Plus you give a boost to world literacy. What more could you ask? Learn More.