The Art of Self-Discipline

I have my parents to thank for my level of discipline. I think perhaps I’m naturally wired for discipline, but there’s no doubt that the conscripted nature of their approach was very influential. As a young boy, every morning for nine years, I would get up and practice the piano at 5:30 AM on weekdays. I practiced the clarinet every weekday as well. I (dutifully) mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, cleaned up the dog poop in the backyard, did my homework and practiced basketball. There was no choice. It was either get with the program or I’m sure there would have been even more horrific chores for me to do around the house. So I complied – I didn’t want to find out what the consequences would have been otherwise. So, today, whether it’s diet, exercise, investments or daily routines, I’m blessed with more than enough discipline. But I’m well aware that I may not be normal in this respect.

Discipline is a critical ingredient to an entrepreneur’s recipe for success. Without it we lose the “stick-to-itness” that is needed to follow through on a project or focus on a long-term strategy. The beneficial implementation of various systems and processes is dependent upon a level of discipline. It’s obvious to every adult that adopting a disciplined approach to multiple facets of our lives is essential.

So what do we do if we are less inclined in the discipline department? First, we decide where to pick our battles. I’m a neat freak – my wife, not so much. My shoes are organized in cubbies in my closet and every time I take off a pair they go directly into the cubby in which they belong. My wife’s shoes may be on the floor in front of the love seat where she sits in our den. In fact there may be more than one pair there. She has cubbies in her closet too, but they are packed full and she has dozens of pairs strewn about haphazardly on the closet floor. Naturally this used to bug me being the ultra-disciplined obsessive compulsive individual that I am. But I’ve learned that it’s not that big of a deal. And I’ve actually taken a page from her playbook and decided that there are some things on which I can lighten up in my daily routine. The point is that we don’t have to be disciplined about everything. Thus, we give ourselves permission to be less so with the things that don’t really matter.

Next, we identify those areas where we definitely need to be more disciplined. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. This starts with envisioning what it looks like when we get there. In other words, we paint the grand picture of success for whatever endeavor we are pursuing. Let’s take an easy example – weight loss. We see in our mind’s eye what we look like when we are 25 pounds lighter. We visualize a new wardrobe, how much easier it is to climb stairs, how wonderful the compliments are from our friends and overall how much healthier and vibrant we are. This visualization exercise needs to be performed daily until we have the desire to fulfill it. This process is necessary to build commitment. Without commitment discipline may be fleeting – look at gym attendance in February (or even half way through January).

Once we visualize our outcome and become fully committed, we next determine the steps that must be taken to achieve our outcome. Perhaps we want to become more disciplined about being aware of current affairs in our industry. Just jumping in and starting to read more trade publications, doesn’t ensure that we’ll have the discipline to continue this on a long-term basis. Instead we decide which information channels will be most productive. We determine a specific time of day we want to set aside for this initiative, and we also pick the environment most conducive to making this happen. In my case, it would be the easy chair in my den at home between the hours of 7:00 and 8:00 PM. I may read a couple of print and numerous online publications that are proven to have the content I’m seeking. There are some endeavors requiring discipline that need to be broken into bite-sized pieces or require a build-up of some sort. I walk about 10 to 12 miles each day but I didn’t start out that way. My initial Fitbit goal was 10,000 steps. Then it became 20,000 and now it’s 30,000.

Developing self-discipline is a process that starts with identifying what actually requires such discipline, followed by a visualization of the outcome we desire which builds to a commitment to follow-through. Then we map out the steps we’ll be taking – but always, always we keep visualizing our end goal.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 86 – Alligator Food

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Narrow Guardrails

Consider the following conversation that an entrepreneur named George is having with himself. “I really would like to accept the invitation to speak to the Downtown Civic Club. But I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous.” Here’s a similar conversation being held in the head of Megan, another budding entrepreneur. “I just don’t know. Maybe I should apply for that fellowship – but the odds aren’t in my favor to win.” And finally, Entrepreneur Don is thinking, “I’m reluctant to invest in a new product line because I’m not convinced it can succeed.”

But there’s more of a story behind each of these “conversations.” For George, he remembers the time several years ago when he made a presentation at a conference and was unprepared – he bombed. Megan recalls once applying for a highly coveted membership in a leadership organization. The process was very competitive and Megan’s application was rejected. Finally, Don previously invested in a product line that failed and he lost a chunk of change on the idea. I’m going to use a descriptive phrase for what is happening that will probably demonstrate a generation gap. What George, Megan and Don are doing is “playing old tapes.” Some younger members of the audience who may not know what “tapes” are. In the old days, some of us “old people” listened to music and dialogue on a thin magnetized strip of plastic film. There were reel-to-reel tapes, eight track tapes and cassette tapes to name a few “tape” formats.

To “play old tapes” is to recall negative experiences from the past and make decisions today based upon those experiences. Playing old tapes generally embraces the notion of lack and limitation. It’s based in fear – often an irrational fear – that shakes our confidence. Over time, these old tapes can have a paralyzing effect for an entrepreneur. Eventually we can fall into a rut with narrow guardrails that are reflective of our past failures. What we really want to do is to venture off this rutted road to nowhere and get back on the freeway that will take us to our dreams.

Getting rid of old tapes is harder than it sounds, but it can (and must) be done. First, we embrace who we are right now. We cannot change the past. There’s not a single person alive today who hasn’t made mistakes. And I think it’s safe to say that all of us have made many. We should use the past for its instructive elements while discarding the emotional aspects of how it felt to be embarrassed, hurt or even shamed. The instructive element for George is to always be sufficiently prepared for future presentations. It’s in his best interest to release the humiliation that he carries for it serves no purpose. In a sense, it’s time to get rid of the rearview mirror.

Once we have determined the instructive elements from our past mistakes and thrown out the emotional rearview mirror, we move on to the next step. What exactly does our success look like? For Megan, she holds an image in her mind’s eye. She sees herself attending a luncheon with hundreds of other people. And at the appointed time, she hears her name being called and watches as she walks to the stage to receive congratulations for winning the fellowship. This visualization is powerful and is a “tape” worth playing over and over. In so doing, we pattern our brain to be receptive to the success that awaits us.

Finally, we celebrate by making new “tapes.” This is accomplished by rejoicing in the small victories that we constantly encounter. We entrepreneurs think big. We set lofty goals and we are always pushing for the big wins. But we tend to overlook the small wins we experience every single day. Entrepreneur Don realizes that his sales are growing at a respectable pace. His team has been 100% intact for four years. His defective product returns are zero. All of these factors are wins and Don should take pride in their achievement. He now sees that he’s on the right track and is perfectly capable of making the right decisions.

We stop the process of playing old tapes by discerning the instructive elements from our past mistakes and eliminating the negative emotions that we remember. Then we repeatedly visualize our success and celebrate the wins we are experiencing on a daily basis. The end result is a completely new set of positive tapes that are free of lack and limitation.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 52 – Ice and Eskimos.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Few, The Proud . . .

The U.S. Marine Corps is well known for taking raw young men and women and transforming them into lean, mean fighting machines (or so goes the saying). The process they use is fascinating and very instructive. It involves breaking down an individual and then building them back up. Legendary drill instructors use a variety of physical, mental and emotional techniques to accomplish this. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming. Recruits are pushed to their limits and beyond. After weeks of training a recruit who was 45 pounds overweight can climb a thirty-foot rope with one hand or run three miles in 19 minutes.

How does any of this apply to us as entrepreneurs? There was a statement in the preceding paragraph that is the key. “Recruits are pushed to their limits and beyond.” Many of these future Marines never dreamed that they could perform some of the physical tasks required. They never knew they had the mental fortitude and emotional stamina to endure. But here’s the truth – they totally underestimated themselves.

As entrepreneurs we may also have a tendency to underestimate ourselves. We fail to see our full capabilities and understand our greatness. Sometimes this is due to a lack of confidence. But it may also be because we just don’t think big enough. And there’s a lot of societal noise that is difficult to listen through. Remember when we were children and an adult asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up? Some of us answered an astronaut, movie star or even the President of the United States! Then something happened and we didn’t become astronauts, movie stars and U.S. presidents. Certainly our interests changed, but we also felt pressure to be more “realistic” with our expectations. We were herded into more “achievable” chutes and we eventually conformed to generally understood limitations. All of this imprinted upon us as adults and we lost the desire to dream in a large way.

Almost every one of us has the potential to be more and to do more. This is evidenced every time we learn something new. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has reached his or her full capacity to achieve. And yet we sometimes sell ourselves short. We tell ourselves in different ways that we’re not smart enough or persistent enough or creative enough to do something. “Where are we going to get the money to pursue this new idea,” we ask. Then we answer, “I don’t have the right contacts to do it.” This may be a true statement at a particular moment in time. So what are we going to do about it? We can avoid underestimating ourselves when we take intentional “I can” steps.

The first step is to reject the societal noise that tries to impose limitations on us. I’ve learned to catch myself when I start to think or say, “I can’t do that.” I replace this with the thought or statement, “How can I do that?” This sets a whole new tone and puts me in a problem-solving mode from the outset.

The “How Can I” notion will be the trigger that releases a creative stream into which we can tap. By throwing off our mental shackles we are shaping a mindset that is receptive to this creative flow. We explore a multitude of ideas and begin to see a path that leads us to that which we want to achieve. We don’t worry about our ideas being judged as stupid or crazy for we’re looking at all kinds of possibilities. I find the process of discovery to be exciting and challenging, and I thrive on the mental stretch that ensues.

The final step is that of visualizing the successful outcome we are seeking. Visualization is a powerful tool and cements our objective into our conscious and subconscious minds. What started out as the question, “How can I raise money for this idea,” now is revealed as complete. The idea has been implemented and boy is it amazing!

We can avoid underestimating ourselves by asking the question, “How can I” rather than affirming “I can’t.” Then we let the creative juices flow to figure out “How I can.” Ultimately we visualize the end result in grand fashion and move decisively to make it happen.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 36 – Not My Job-itis

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


2,300 Feet and No Ropes!

On May 15, 1963, astronaut Gordon Cooper blasted into space on Mercury-Atlas 9. The Mercury capsule was 10.8 feet long and 6.0 feet wide. The duration was 34 hours and 19 minutes 46 seconds at a maximum velocity of 17,547 miles per hour and an altitude of 166 miles.

Alex Honnold is a world-renowned big wall free solo rock climber. He is particularly famous for climbing Yosemite’s Triple Crown – The Nose (El Capitan), Mt. Watkins and The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome – completed in 18-hours and 50-minutes. Free solo climbing is done without ropes, pitons or carabiners.

Navy Commander Jeremiah Denton was a POW in North Vietnam for eight years (1965-1973) four of which were in solitary confinement. He was forced to participate in a 1966 televised press conference during which he blinked the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code. After his release from captivity he retired at the rank of Rear Admiral and became a U.S. senator from Alabama.

What is the common thread that runs through all three of these individuals? Of course their physical stamina is obvious. But perhaps even more amazing is their mental toughness. I can’t imagine what it would have been like stuck in a tiny Mercury capsule all by myself hurtling through space at an incredible speed. What if something went wrong and I couldn’t get back down? Or how about being 2,300 feet up the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan with no ropes or anchors and suddenly feeling sick? And being tortured and isolated for years in a prison camp is incomprehensible. Without mental grit, think about how easy it would have been to go stark-raving mad in each of these situations and just totally lose it.

Fortunately as entrepreneurs we’re generally not faced with situations that threaten our mortality. But developing a strong mental state is critical to our entrepreneurial success. There are many situations that we encounter that call for mental toughness. If we waver or lose our way, we can lose a whole lot – financially, in terms of relationships, team members and reputation.

Exactly what should we do to become mentally tougher? First, how do we contemplate and deal with failure? Failing is actually a crossroads for us. When something doesn’t work the way we had planned we have a choice to make. We either give up or we get back up and keep trying. Feelings of pain and discomfort create patterns that our brain wants to avoid in the future. True progress is made when we decide to move forward past the pain and into a state of endurance.

Second, we need to identify the self-imposed limitations that hold us back. Do we have routines that have actually become ruts? If we keep pushing the goal we achieve real growth. Breaking out of old habits and happily accepting new challenges is mentally stimulating and helps us become conditioned for success. As is always the case, constantly maintaining a positive attitude is an enormous step toward becoming mentally tough.

Finally, we visualize the end result then write the script for the journey to get there. Mental toughness cannot be achieved aimlessly. We must have an end game in mind. Gordon Cooper wanted to finish the mission and get home safely. Alex Honnold wanted to get to the summit of El Capitan. Jeremiah Denton wanted to put his feet back on American soil. In each case they had a clear objective and kept it front and center at all times.

To become mentally tough we embrace failure and use it to create endurance. We discard self-imposed limitations and through positivity, set the table for success. Ultimately we paint a clear picture of what our success will look like and then execute the strategy and tactics that take us there.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 5 – Now What?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


False Choices

It’s 3:00 AM. You’ve just awakened with a start. Your heart is racing – not pounding, just a generally anxious sort of feeling. You aren’t sure why this is happening. There’s no sound of an intruder and everything externally seems to be in order. Then you lay there struggling to return to your slumber. You know you have to get up in two or three hours, and you know you desperately need to finish getting your rest. But there’s one BIG problem. Your mind won’t let you.

I’ve never figured out exactly what causes this. There’s obviously something churning around in our subconscious. And it’s frustrating beyond belief to wake up this way, not know why, and then try to drift back to the Land of Nod. And I can attest to what happens next. I will allow my mind to conjure up False Choices. Perhaps I’ve been in the middle of a complicated real estate deal that has a lot of “hair” on it – that is, many moving parts that aren’t all moving as planned. At this point the game begins. Here’s the dialogue that occurs.

What if the appraisal for the apartment complex comes back at slightly less than is needed? Then the loan amount will be less and the equity requirement will be more. But wait a minute – I only have an equity commitment for the exact requirement and I don’t have time to raise the extra amount that will be needed! Oh my (or some other less printable phrase) – we won’t be able to close this deal!! If this happens we’ll lose the earnest money that is now totally at-risk; we’ll lose all of our credibility within the industry; we’ll never be able to do another deal again; I’ll go broke and have to live under a bridge!!!!!!

OK, the bridge part may be a little dramatic, but you get the idea. The point is that in this state of semi-consciousness it’s very easy for our mind to magnify our concerns and create wild scenarios that are disconcerting. Often, logic is totally absent in these moments, and because of this the False Choices become overwhelming. Fortunately I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely experience this anymore. But I can tell you that in years past I’ve gotten so worked up that I had to get out of bed and become totally awake to bring my full faculties to bear and find the solution. Kind of blows the opportunity to get any more sleep completely out of the water . . . right?

Rather than trying to figure out what triggers this kind of response, I’ve learned how to avoid letting my mind run away in this manner. If I do wake up with that general feeling of unease or even if something specific looms in my mind’s-eye, I immediately deny it. That’s it. I refuse to allow the monsters in my brain to come to the surface and get any satisfaction whatsoever. It’s my belief that we are extremely vulnerable when we are half-awake and half-asleep, and trying to resolve any sort of issue is futile and dangerous. If we let down our guard, invariably we end up in False Choices.

Learning how to deny these thoughts will not be easy at first. It will take a lot of practice. What I do is quickly translate the issue that is bubbling up into a visual image – perhaps it’s a dragon from a fantasy world. Then I take out my might dragon slaying sword and thrust it deeply into the dragon’s chest at which point it melts away and I fall asleep again. Thus, I’ve taken the horrible problem that somehow has invaded my sleep; turned it into a dragon; killed it instantly, and gone back to sawing logs. While this might sound corny, I can tell you that with practice it works. It doesn’t matter what the outer issue is, I simply turn it into a dragon and eliminate it.

We must avoid the False Choices that may be presented while we sleep. Denying them before they have a chance to take hold of our minds will allow us to deal with them in a rational fashion when we are awake.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


Visually Unimpaired

What does success look like for you? Is it something material? Is it a relationship or something intangible? What are you doing to achieve this success? How strongly do you believe that you can achieve it? How badly do you want it? What would you say if I told you that you can absolutely stack the deck in your favor? If it sounds like I’m selling swampland think again.

Success is not so much an end result as it is a constant state of mind. When we see success as an end result we may have a tendency to believe that we are less than successful during the time we’re working toward the end result. Think about it this way. Suppose we want to close a really significant transaction and it takes a long time to do so. Perhaps there are a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way. A natural human reaction might be, “I know this transaction is going to be hard and I’ll make large sacrifices to complete it. But in the end, all the pain and suffering will be worth it.” There is an implication in this statement that we won’t be successful until the transaction is closed. I submit that this does not have to be the case.

We can visualize our success from the outset. Visualization is another form of affirmation and you’ve heard me talk before about how powerful positive affirmations can be. So how does it work? Let’s use the example of a significant transaction described in the preceding paragraph. We begin by sitting quietly and formulating exactly what the desired end result will be. It’s important that we be as specific and detailed as possible. Where will the closing take place? Will other people be there? Is there a specific date and day of the week that this will occur? Once all the details are discovered we are then in a position to begin the visualization process.

“Today, Tuesday, July 22nd, begins with a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. A closing meeting with the buyer is scheduled for 11:00 AM. I am wearing my black pin-striped suit with a purple tie. As I walk into the boardroom I am greeted by James, my attorney; Todd, the attorney for the buyer; Susan, the buyer; Fred, the buyer’s banker; Linda, my banker, and John who is a consultant I work with. All parties have big smiles on their faces. A three-inch pile of documents is neatly stacked on the highly-polished mahogany conference table. We make short work of signing the documents at which point Fred hands me a cashier’s check in the amount of $2,500,000. I hold the check for a moment before sliding it across the table to Linda to deposit in my account. We all shake hands and then depart to the Capitol Grille for a celebratory luncheon.”

By visualizing our success in such vivid detail, we are setting the stage for it to become reality. Before we go to sleep at night, we allow this visualization to permeate our mind and being. When we awaken, we see the same vision. This becomes a pattern that allows us to celebrate our impending success every single day. We feel the joy of closing the transaction a multitude of times – to the point that it is a fait accompli. No longer do we have any doubts about whether it will happen for we’ve already seen it over and over. I challenge you to try this. You can’t stick a toe in the water. You must jump in cannonball-style. Do it with your clothes on! Visualize with abandon and the results will be spectacular.

We are destined to succeed if we believe without condition. And we can believe without condition when we see our success being repeated in our mind’s eye.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


A Road Less Traveled

I’ve written a lot about mindset and how much it influences our lives. Embracing a positive mindset is empowering but it requires us to establish new thought patterns. I thought it might be helpful to catalog some of the more common things that we may say from time to time, and offer an alternative. I find that when I intentionally pay attention to what I say verbally and silently, I catch myself before I go down the “negative road.” But if I don’t pay attention, it’s easy to end up there.

“I never have enough time.” Each of us has the same amount of time. It’s all about how we prioritize. I now say, “I have time to do what I choose.” Notice that I’m in control now rather than allowing myself to be tugged and pulled along the river of life.

“I just can’t win.” There’s no way we can win if we affirm defeat from the start. How about this instead? “I will continue to do whatever is necessary until I win.” There’s a hint of perseverance in this statement . . . which often is the secret ingredient to winning.

“I’m sick.” We all probably hear this quite often. In fact, we’ve most likely said it once or twice (or more). But again, why would we want to affirm something so negative? Here’s an alternative. “I see myself as healthy and whole.” Perhaps we are feeling a bit under the weather, but aren’t we better off affirming a positive vision of ourselves?

“I’m struggling with my finances and never have any money.” To allow good things to come our way we need to shed all thoughts of lack and limitation. Why? Because they block the flow of the positive energy we need to be prosperous. This statement (said with gusto!) will fully open the fire hydrant of creative energy. “Abundance is mine and I claim it!

“Something bad is going to happen, I just know it.” Hmmm. I know that I’ve been guilty of self-fulfilling prophecies and this one sure qualifies. It’s as simple as this. If we expect something bad to happen, it probably will. “I expect everything to proceed in perfect order and visualize the end result that I am seeking.” There’s no better way to inoculate ourselves from negativity than with a strong positive affirmation such as this.

“I don’t understand why so-and-so is treating me this way. It’s so unfair.” Conflict with others can lead to a feeling of victimization . . . if we let it. The truth is, we’re only victims of our own mindset, and that’s something we can control. When we are willing to take responsibility for our own actions we’ll say, “I am going to make a positive difference in the lives I touch.”

Yes, it’s possible that these positive statements may sound hokey. But here’s the point. The only way to break out of an undesirable mindset is to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations that we really believe. The best way to accomplish this is to understand exactly what we say that we want to change, and then be prepared with our replacement thoughts. Having practiced this for years, I can tell you that I still catch myself moving in the wrong direction at times. But that’s the key – we catch ourselves and move back into a positive state of mind.

Life is too short to live in anything but a positive mindset. For me the “negative road” has become a road less traveled. I see this as so for you too.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.