We need another article on SMART goals like we need practice sitting in traffic. So, after spending thirteen years in military special operations, I figured a completely different perspective might shine some new light in an otherwise unlit room of the mind. Here are ten ways to kick life in the ass not just this year, but every year:
1. Speak To The Positive. And I don’t mean in the rainbows and unicorns sense. When you speak to the positive you train yourself to look for solutions and growth opportunities rather than react to boundaries or constraints. Here’s how: Avoid using any words that end in a contraction such as “-n’t” such as “can’t,” “don’t,” won’t,” isn’t” and instead, focus on the opposite. For example, replace the following phrases “I don’t think I’m going to make the meeting today” with “I believe I may be a little delayed for the meeting.” Doing so does two things. First, you force your brain to look for the positive angle in life rather than the negative. Second, you assert yourself more by using phrases like “I believe,” or “I want to…”
2. Gut Check Yourself Every Day. In BUD/S we had a motto: “The only easy day was yesterday.” Find a personal challenge to aspire towards every day. It could be something as simple as holding the door an extra thirty seconds for somebody, letting another car in your lane (that lane DOESN’T belong to you, people!), or running for an extra minute at the end of a treadmill workout. Whatever you do, aim to stretch the metaphorical mental rubber band more and more every day because without pushing yourself, there is no growth, no learning, and no improvement. Here’s a personal example…
While my workouts are posted every day (except when they’re not), I use that time for what I call physical and mental broadening. My last serious gut check was driving across country—with no stops. I drove from San Diego to Washington, D.C. in 42 hours because, well, I told myself I would. Not exactly the smartest thing I ever did but, hey, nobody ever accused me of being a genius.
3. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt! Adaptability builds resilience. To adapt to something (in my non-psychologist degree holding world) means to morph into whatever the current situation demands despite your personal wants, thereby putting personal desires aside for something else. After the first time I was shot (yes, you read that right—the “first” time) it took me about fifteen seconds to realize that I was okay and that I could carry on. I knew my team needed me and that feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t do any good.
4. Speak every day. I’m not talking about standing in front of the mirror and telling yourself how great you look. Instead, whenever you have alone time, choose a random topic to speak out loud to yourself about for just two minutes. It can be so simple as seeing a license plate and debating to yourself the creative design of its shape, or why there should be eight numbers instead of seven. Be creative. The purpose of this daily exercise is to improve a few things:
- Your Creativity. By looking for ways to connect random “things,” you force your brain to look for solutions (see #1 above) and reasons why they tie-in together, rather than just simply seeing two different objects that don’t.
- Speaking Is Paramount. I cannot think of a single effective leader in history who did not speak well. Consider this: Stephen King writes every day, 365 days a year, and you know what? He’s not exactly a bad writer. If you want to improve something you need to do it consistently. Speaking is no different.
5. Stretch. Yes, stretch your muscles. Of course stretching is always preached upon and there are myriad ways to stretch but the fact is, there is a right way and a wrong way to do (most) things. Stretching is not sexy, not exciting, and never feels like you’re getting anywhere, which is probably why so many people blow it off. I never realized how important stretching was until the second time I was shot. After going through months and months of physical therapy with no results, I was pretty disheartened. Until, that is, I met a guy who specializes in just stretching. That’s it. And guess what? He fixed in three weeks what some of the most technologically advanced physical therapy failed to do in nine months. Stretching works.
6. Aspire To Be. Practice your values, cultivate behaviors. Anything and everything slowly fades away into the sunset without focused attention. Values are no different. Ben Franklin used to assign himself a value to practice every day in his quest for moral perfection. He would then map out his progress on a chart to visually depict his strengths and weaknesses, and therefore know to improve upon the latter.
7. Choose Learning Over “Failure.” The word failure is in quotes because it’s not something I believe in. Failure, you see, is a mindset; it’s a willingness to accept the current state of being for what it is, rather than seek the next milestone to improve it. Every setback, every criticism, every seemingly negative in one’s life can be flipped over and immediately turned into something positive from which to learn and grow simply by changing perspective. You see, there are two ways our brains work: To find pleasure and to avoid pain. That’s it. Find ways to associate more pleasure with things you avoided in the past because our brains don’t know the difference between perception and reality—they just “know” whatever we tell it.
8. Build Your Body, Build Your Mind. You’ve probably heard it before: A strong body yields a strong mind. Well guess what, it’s true. In John Ratey’s book Spark, he discusses the positive impacts of exercise upon the brain, such as changing your mood, improving memory, enhanced alertness, mental acuity, and more connections made inside the brain that result in greater academic performance. The bottom line is, exercise helps you not just for the beach, but for the boardroom, too.
9. Debrief Yourself. In the military we conducted after action reviews (AARs) after every training evolution and certainly after every mission. We examined everything from mission conception to returning back to base and everything in between and, specifically, what actually happened versus what was supposed to happen—and why. This is not only something you can implement within your own team or organization, but for yourself, too. Personal reflection helps you identify any gaps that exist between your espoused values and behaviors, and reality. Then it’s up to you to fill them.
10. Make Sure Your Shit Is Tight Before Complaining To Others. Nobody wants to listen to little Johnny complain about something that he himself violates – his word, a promise, a commitment. Stick to your guns, keep them clean, and they will (metaphorically) work when needed.