Tests We All Take & Must Pass (Part II)

Successful people understand that they are influenced the most by the five closest people to them – the ones they listen to the most and spend the most time with. My question is, “who speaks into your life?”

The older I get in life, the smaller my inner circle becomes. Several years ago, I realized that I cannot be friends with everyone and spend time with everyone. Time has become, and maybe always was, my most precious commodity, so I am very selective about who my inner circle is. These are people who have proven themselves trustworthy and wise over the years and have earned the right to speak to my life and the lives of others. After prayerful consideration and some discussion, the inner group was formed. I found it amazing that the others who joined together were looking for the same thing I was. We meet regularly and are attentive to each other in the following areas – faith, marriage, family, business, and health. We also like to have fun!

Because I recognize that I have blind spots (things I do not see but others do) and cannot know everything, I utilize the following approach:

1. I choose to be open to input in my life and actively seek it out. My favorite book is one that contains 3000-year-old ancient wisdom. It says that the wise actively seek input and counsel so they will succeed and be safe. That is the person I want to be!

2. I carefully consider input that I do not initially like or agree with. Because I trust those closest to me, I seek input from multiple sources (many advisors). If there is a consensus, I will most likely follow their input.

3. When I seek input from my inner group, I give enough lead time for them to think and pray about the advice they will share. I do not announce to my inner circle what I am doing and ask for their blessing. I try to give the appropriate time before the decision is needed and seldom make impulsive decisions.

This three-step approach will help you make better decisions and avoid the regret of poor decisions. Remember that all worthwhile endeavors are uphill and take effort, so enjoy the journey of seeking wise input from those closest to you.

Tests We All Take & Must Pass

It seems to me that the world is changing at a faster and faster pace. New versions of cell phones, online apps, computer programs, tech toys and they are all the latest, greatest and will save you time and money. I have an older friend who decided that the world is changing too much & too fast, and he is not coming along for the ride. He will keep his old flip phone, his old truck, and his old home where he has lived for almost 50 years with few upgrades. Keeping the familiar and jumping off the continual change superhighway is one option to deal with the fast-changing world but there might be another option.

The second option is to be a continual learner. When I was younger everything was new, and I had to learn diligently and quickly. This was a daily task and took a lot of mental and emotional energy. As we get older the ability to learn new tasks sometimes takes more energy than we have. What can we do? Here is a list of the things I do to stay in the continual learning mode day in and day out:

1. Focus on the areas that I want to have a degree of mastery in. Several years ago I decided that a narrower focus was more important than ever before in the fast-changing world. I narrowed my focus down to master these three areas – Mission & Life Purpose, Marriage & Relationships and Marketplace (Business) & Leadership. This allowed me to say “Yes” to the three focus areas and “No” to the rest. This simplified my life considerably.

2. Develop a growth plan to learn in these three areas. Most people have heard of the 10,000 hour rule to mastery – it takes about 10,000 hours of study and practice to master an area. The interesting thing about this rule is that in the first 2000 hours we accomplish 80% of the mastery. This is more mastery in 2000 hours than the masses of people today will ever have, and you will be considered an expert.

3. Everyday work on one or more of the focused areas of learning you have decided. This involves a list of books to read, courses to take and products to develop and sell. My wife Debbie recently said that your business should not be a hobby – hobbies cost, businesses are to make a profit. Whatever activity is not bringing value needs to be eliminated or delegated.

This three-step approach will help you stay in the game of life & business, and you will be relevant and successful. Remember that all worthwhile endeavors are uphill and take effort – enjoy the journey of continual growth.

Choices that Help Me Grow & Maximize Success

I have been re-reading the 2017 book by John C. Maxwell called "No Limits." In the book, John talks about focusing your energy on your strengths, not your weaknesses. The older I get, the more I am convinced that when I take time to work on my weaknesses, I can minimize them to a degree, BUT when I work on my strengths, I can significantly move my impact and success forward. I try to consistently apply the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule, which is spending 80% of my time and effort working on my strengths and 20% minimizing my weaknesses.

In his book, John Maxwell has a simple formula to grow your capacity: AWARENESS + ABILITY + CHOICES = CAPACITY. In previous Minute with Mike (MwM) articles & podcast episodes, I talked about awareness and growing your ability. In this article, I want to talk about the third part of the formula: the choices I make.

Everyone makes choices every day that affect their life. Some of the choices we make move us forward and other options hold us back. In his book "No Limits" John Maxwell lists ten choices we make that will grow our capacity and, therefore, our success. Here are a few of them:

1. Responsibility – we choose to take responsibility for our own life. Taking responsibility is the foundational step in our success. When we play the victim card and blame others, we choose to abdicate responsibility and will therefore take no positive action. Michael Korda says, "... the one quality all successful people have is the ability to take responsibility." It is also important to remember that taking responsibility makes you ready for action. "Action springs not from thought but from readiness to take responsibility," Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

2. Character – we make choices based on good values. Remember that good character is consistent in all areas of life and speaks much louder than the words we speak. "Good character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow" Abraham Lincoln.

3. Abundance – we choose to believe that there is more than enough available in the world. John Maxwell asks a good question, "what does it look like to live on the other side of NO?" It is limiting because it keeps us from opportunities. It is easy because we do not have to do anything. It is comforting because it feels familiar. Lastly, it is crowded because most people live there. What about living on the other side of YES? Firstly, it is exciting because we will have to figure things out and use creativity. It is enlarging because we will grow in our experience. Lastly, it is rewarding because we often find more YESES on the other side of the first yes.

4. Discipline – we choose to focus on the now and follow through. It is so key in life to live a life of discipline because when we do, we find the freedom we are looking for. To live a disciplined life is to know what is most important and focus on it. I am reminded that I must act even when I do not want to act. If I waited for the right moment and the right emotions, I might never get much done.

Enjoy the journey of self-awareness, growth in your abilities, and making consistently good choices. Tony Robbins says, "most people overestimate what they can get done in a month and underestimate what they can get done in a year." I am excited for you to accomplish more & more and live out your dreams. Your best days are ahead!

How Do I Grow My Capacity?

Over the years, I have been focused on how to grow my ability, skills, attitude, actions, and success. I have been re-reading the 2017 book by John C. Maxwell called "No Limits." I was reminded that "counseling helps people work through their weaknesses but equipping helps people work on their strengths." The older I get, the more I am convinced that when I take time to work on my weaknesses, I can minimize them to a degree, BUT when I work on my strengths, I can significantly move my success forward. I apply the Pareto Principle - the 80/20 rule, which is spending 80% of my time and effort working on my strengths and 20% of the time working to deal with my weaknesses.

In his book, author John Maxwell has a simple formula to grow your capacity: AWARENESS + ABILITY + CHOICES = CAPACITY. In a previous Minute with Mike (MwM), I talked about awareness, and in this article, I want to talk about the second part of the formula, which is ability.

Everyone has abilities based on their natural talents and gifts. We possess several general abilities to varying degrees and can grow. A few of them are:

1. Energy – the ability to push ourselves when things get challenging. John C. Maxwell reminds us that "momentum is not the result of one push but the result of many continual pushes over time." I recently reflected on an event I attended in California with Navy Seal Commander Mark Divine (Ret.). The event was a combination of teaching sessions and physical training. Many times during the week, I heard the phrase, "If you want to be pushed to your limits, you have to train to your limits." It is important in life to find a way to push ourselves when things are good and when things are challenging. This sustained push is the pathway to growth.

2. Emotions – the ability to manage our emotions. One of the questions I ask myself is, "what events in life throw me off balance?" When I figure this out, I ask myself, "what am I feeling, and what is at the root of my feelings?" This exercise helps me manage my emotions more effectively.

3. Thinking – the ability to think effectively. Nobel laureate Albert Einstein was credited with the phrase, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." There is an ability to think profoundly and sustainably that can help us to solve problems and generate innovative solutions. My good friend Dyke Rogers has a famous quote, "I know it can't be done, but if it could be done, how would you do it?" This phrase/question has helped me more than once change my perspective about a problem and discover the needed solution.

4. People – the ability to build relationships. If we want to be more successful, we must be able to have good relationships with people. "People can usually trace their success and failures to the relationships in their lives" John C. Maxwell. Some practical steps we can take – are to value people every day, ask for their opinion, put yourself in their world first, focus on benefiting others before ourselves, be consistent, and finally, believe the best about others.

Enjoy the journey of self-reflection, strategic planning, taking action, and enjoying the success it brings. Watch for another article on "Growing Your Capacity" by the "Good Choices" we make.

How Do “You” Grow Your Success?

I have always been fascinated over the years with how to grow my ability, skills, attitude, actions, and success.  I recently re-read a 2017 book by John Maxwell called “No Limits” and was fascinated by the positive impact of the book. It’s amazing in life that you can read a book once, and then read it again and enjoy a whole new perspective and level of insight on the material presented. One of the first insights I highlighted is “counseling helps people work through their weaknesses but equipping helps people work on their strengths”. The older I get the more I am convinced that when I take time to work on my weaknesses, I can minimize them to a degree BUT when I work on my strengths, I can significantly move my success ahead. I apply the 80/20 rule, which is spending 80% of my time and effort working on my strengths and 20% of the time working to deal with my weaknesses. 

In the book, author John Maxwell has a simple formula to grow your capacity - AWARENESS + ABILITY + CHOICES = CAPACITY. Let’s examine the first of three parts - awareness. To deal with the factors that are limiting my success I must be aware of what those factors are. When it comes to developing a higher level of awareness there are two key things we can do: The first is to ask the question “what am I missing?” We choose to give up the actions that sabotage our success and take responsibility for our life and its outcomes. Avoid things such as:

  1. Excuses and blame (being a victim does not often lead to positive change).
  2. Success fantasies that are not real (a dream without a plan is a fantasy).
  3. Talking too much and listening too little (self-evident).
  4. Unresolved negative emotions (they keep you stuck).
  5. An absence of personal reflection (success or failure, both needs analysis).
  6. Unwillingness to pay the price to learn (everything worthwhile is uphill).
  7. Looking for the secret shortcut to success (the secret is there is no shortcut).

The second thing we can do is enlist the help of trusted people around us who will give us honest and accurate feedback about our attitude and activity. We choose to:

  1. Develop relationships with people who care about our success and then ask for their help.
  2. Listen to their experiences and ask questions about how they became more self-aware.
  3. Listen carefully to the observations & feedback they give.
  4. Develop a plan of improvement and growth then take action.
  5. After taking action, seek feedback on the progress you make.
  6. Remember that small changes compounded over time provide great outcomes.

Enjoy the journey of growing self-awareness and watch for more articles on the second and third parts to the capacity journey (ability & choices).

How Do "You" Deal With Conflict?

My wife Debbie and I have been married for 39 years (August 2022). She is strong willed, and I am stubborn. With our unique “gift mix” we have had our share of conflict over the years. The issue is not the presence of conflict (if you are breathing you will have some conflict) but the resolution of the conflict. A great question to ask ourselves, “is conflict resolved on a regular basis or is it a chronic part of our relationship?”

In the early days of our marriage, it seemed that every decision was a win or lose proposition. Someone would have to win the argument and get their way and the other would lose; compromise was seldom an option worth considering. After about 12 years of marriage, plus three kids and a very busy life, we decided that a new strategy was immediately needed. We were at the breaking point in our marriage and really didn’t like each other very much. We heard a marriage speaker talk about relational conflict and the strategies to bring about a resolution that works for both spouses. Here is a summary of the 6 strategies that we learned and use on a regular basis. They have reduced the stress of conflict resolution by 90% and probably saved our marriage.

📌 Know the difference between a complaint and criticism – a complaint is how I feel about the action of my spouse (NOTE: I realize that I may have misunderstood the action of my spouse). On the other hand, criticism is a personal attack on my spouse that provides no possible remedy and is character based not activity based. REMEMBER that complaints are acceptable but not criticism.

📌 Give your spouse the right to comment and disagree with you about certain actions without having to pay the price. REMEMBER that timing is key – never complain in public but do it in private, don’t embarrass your spouse. Also remember its best to deal with one issue at a time, don’t store them up and dump them on your spouse when it's to your advantage.

📌 Do your best to not become defensive – it’s one of the four big indicators that is used to predict divorce. If things are hot call a timeout and cool off. The key is to come back to the issue in an agreed upon time frame.

📌 Have a friendly compliant department – the answer is “Yes” to correct things when they are brought to my attention. We all have blind spots and don’t see things the way our spouse does.

📌 Remember that my perception of things may be wrong. I am always open to the possibility that I could be wrong, and it brings a level of humility to the discussion. NOTE: easier said than done.

📌 Ask each other regularly, “Is everything alright?” This is code for “you can tell me anything that is bothering you about our relationship AND I will listen with an open mind.”

These six things have been working for Debbie and I and I believe that will work for you. Discuss them with your spouse and choose the ones that will become the ground rules for future conflict resolution.

How Do You View Your Marriage?

How do you view your marriage at this moment in history? There are two ways you can view your life and therefore your marriage today.

  1. Through your imagination and dreams.
  2. Through your history and memory.

The first filter we use is based on our imagination and dreams of the future. When Debbie and I had our first date on April 30, 1982, the future looked very promising and without any challenges or problems. She was the girl of my dreams with no flaws or issues, and she saw me as a strong and focused man ready to take on the world. We later got engaged and eventually married August 27, 1983. When we got engaged in March of 1983, we soon attended a weekend retreat to discuss our expectations of marriage and how to solve potential issues of disagreement proactively. The facilitators asked discussion questions about the importance of faith in marriage, decision making, financial control, having and raising children, etc. Some of the items we had discussed in advance, but many were topics we were discussing for the first time. There were four couples in attendance at the weekend event and two of the couples eventually got married but two of the couples broke off their engagement soon after the event ended. Two of the couples discovered that their expectations of themselves and their potential spouse had imagination & dreams but not a fact-based reality. The good news is that the two couples eventually married other partners and enjoy great marriages to this day. In marriage you need a positive view of your future with big dreams yet to be fully realized. This hope for the future will keep you growing and improving as a person and as a spouse.

The second filter we use to view our marriage is our history and experience. This approach to viewing marriage can be a two-edged sword. If we experienced a good marriage modeled by our parents, then we will have a positive view of marriage BUT if the experience is negative, we will bring that experience into our current relationship. After having been married for a season, we begin to develop our own history and memory. Sometimes it will be positive & exciting and at other times it will be filled with challenges and disappointments. The question is, “do I let the history and memory of my marriage dictate the future success of my marriage?” 

Let me suggest an option that has worked for Debbie and me over the years to navigate these two views of our marriage. The first is to always have an accurate pulse of the state of our marriage. This involves a regular checkup and a yearly event we attend to evaluate our marriage. We address issues with maturity and wisdom, often getting help when we feel stuck and can’t move forward on our own. We also take time to dream about our future together and all that lays ahead in our marriage. This approach keeps us grounded in reality and also offers a compelling future and hope that keeps our marriage alive and vibrant. 

What Does "Real" Success Look Like? 

Often people look at those who are successful and wonder if they can become successful as well. The first thing to do is clearly define what “success” really looks like. I have a simple trifecta measurement that I think might help you to define success in your life.

  1. Spiritual & Purposeful Meaning
  2. Relational – Loved & Respected
  3. Financial & Generational Legacy

The longer I live, the more I see people who thought success was all about the measurement of their bank account, the size of their house or houses, and their cars. Though this may be enjoyable at the moment, the real measure of success is so much deeper and much more significant.

Spiritual and Purposeful Meaning – when someone lives out their authentic purpose, the reason for being on this earth, it brings a deep sense of personal satisfaction. My purpose is to impact people in a positive way, using my gifts, talents and wisdom to help them live their lives with clarity, focus and joy. Remember people often find their greatest joy in service to others. As a person of faith, I also believe that my life on earth matters, and I will give an account of my actions. It is important that I use my abilities and gifts to serve others and make my part of the world a better place for all. 

Relational: Loved and Respected – No one wants their life to be filled with shallow and meaningless relationships. People want to find a deep and abiding love and raise a family that can be enjoyed. I wanted this relational joy and found the woman of my dreams. We have been together for 39 years. We have three grown sons, two amazing daughters-in-law and five grandchildren. I live my life to love & impact them and also to be respected by them for the quality of the life I live each day.  

Financial and Generational Legacy – At the end of my life I will leave all the earthly possessions I have accumulated behind for others. The question is what will that inheritance I leave behind look like? In the ancient book of Proverbs, King Solomon says, “a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.” I know that this inheritance will involve money and businesses but also will involve positive values, success principles and accumulated wisdom. I want the inheritance I leave to allow my grandchildren to pursue their passions & interests and make a positive difference in this world. Almost every financial & business decision I make involves asking the question about the long-term legacy impact. 

My hope is that you would consider these three success measurements and live your life with passion and focus. Then at the end of your days on this earth, you will enjoy the peace of having lived a full life with few regrets and much joy. ❤️‍🔥

THE SUCCESS FORMULA – Clarify The Mission, Build Momentum & Adjust Quickly

Do you know that the vast majority of new businesses fail? The most recent data I read said that after 1 year 50% of the businesses have failed, after 5 years 80% and after 10 years 96%. This was a shock that only 4% of all businesses that start are still standing after 10 years. With the business landscape changing post-Covid, there is an adjustment required in business marketing, sales, and strategy. There is an acronym I like, it’s C.O.D. “change or die”. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but with the business world changing rapidly in the last 12 – 24 months, it would be wise to get ahead of the wave of change that is still to come. 

With this in mind there are some constants that will help us navigate the uncertain and turbulent waters we find ourselves in today.

1. Whatever business you are in, the mission has to be clear. The mission will involve making money (and it should) but this cannot be the central driving focus of the business. The mission needs to involve positively impacting people at some level. We often will do more for others than we will do for ourselves. 

2. Be ready and willing to continually take massive and sustained action – this builds momentum. People look at those who own a business and see Facebook or Instagram posts of leisure and fun. They think that having a business is easy and always profitable. The reality is you need to plan to work harder and longer than you ever dreamed possible. Remember that “Overnight Success” takes about 10 years to accomplish.

3. Be ready & willing to adjust and change when customer preferences & market conditions demand it. The worst line in business that can quickly lead to failure is, “this is the way we have always done it.” Adaptability in business is not a guarantee of success but will stack the odds in your favor.

4. Always maintain a “Long-Term strategy” in your business planning. The mission should have customer service principles and core values that do not change as the business adjusts and grows. What do people want today? Products that work well, are delivered quickly & efficiently, and with great and responsive customer care. It’s not a complicated formula but it’s not always easy to execute.

5. Remember it’s not a lack of resources that leads to failure but a lack of resourcefulness. When I am not sure what to do, that’s when we can get creative, think outside the box and find solutions. Many of the solutions we discover may not work but we may find the one that does and leads to massive success.

From one entrepreneur to another - Enjoy the journey! 

If I Have A Strong Enough “WHY” I Can Endure Any “HOW”

Have you ever felt like you can’t seem to get any traction with new changes in your life? We start a new activity whether it be exercise, weight loss, money management, spending more time with family, or learning a new skill. We start out with wild enthusiasm and after 48 - 72 hours the emotion of change is gone and we feel discouraged and eventually quit after a few weeks.

There are some very simple ways to improve the chance of success. The strategy to succeed is based on taking the time to dig in and answer some two very specific questions with crystal clarity.

#1 What is my WHY? To have a fighting chance of success over the long term, you have to answer this question with clarity. When I had my heart attack and quad bypass surgery 2 years ago, I had to make some major changes. The changes involved weight loss (I lost over 40 pounds), a healthy diet, and more regular exercise. As I looked at my life, I realized my wife Debbie deserved a healthy and strong husband, my three grown sons wanted a father who was present and my five grandkids just loved grandpa and wanted me to be fit enough to play with them. I now had my compelling “WHY” and it was for the most important “OTHERS” in my life.

#2 What are the SPECIFICS? Now that we have our “WHY” we can develop the specific details of the plan, remember the importance is in the details. What do I need to do and also not do? What is my plan to record and report my progress? Who am I accountable to? Several things work well for me:

A. I track my food intake every day on my phone app. This provides immediate feedback and also allows me to check food options before eating. I also track my activity level on my phone which includes my steps and the time spent doing weight resistance training.

B. I hired a coach who helped me set up the exercise program with incremental progress built in. I also pay monthly for accountability because I need to report my progress and get daily feedback.

C. I repeat the positive activities every day even when it gets boring. This repetition can lead to mastery; the key is course correction along the journey. Remember that success is not a straight line. There are twists and turns & ups and downs along the way and it’s the regular course corrections that will eventually lead to success.   

D. One last thing to remember: don’t compare yourself to others (this can often lead to discouragement) but celebrate the progress made and reward yourself occasionally (maybe once a month) with something that enhances your journey forward.