Shrink the monster

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“The Monster In Your Head” is the label given by Jerry Colonna (a highly successful venture capitalist and business coach) to the imaginary fears that stop people doing The Thing;

By this I mean the thing you really want todo; The Scratching of the Itch (to quit work, start a business, learn a new sport, move to a new country, etc.)

The Monster In Your Head is a smart and humorous label for the way we each block our own path by allowing our vivid-imaginations to conjure up worst case scenarios. It almost becomes a mind game – thinking of all the worst case, what-if, possibilities; like being a script writer for your personal disaster movie.

But, like imaginary conversations, it’s no good for you.

Instead of this, what you should be doing is taking a pad of paper and asking the question: “what’s really the worst that can happen?”

Rationally and calmly analysing the worst that can happen means actually writing down the things that can go wrong. The simple act of writing down and articulating these fears immediately makes them more smaller , realistic and more manageable.

You are then left with a totally different and manageable situation to the noise of un-examined fears that otherwise swirl and scream around your head.  And that allows you to plan how to mitigate the risk.

Examining the “worst that can happen” is to look the Monster in the Eye. And at that point you may realise the monster is not as scary as you thought.

Grab a pen. Shrink the monster.

 

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Look what the postman brought!

whhaamm

I just received the first copy of the book – hot off the press!

…and I felt WHHAAAMM!

After all it was something I talked about a lot. And now I’m holding it.

If you haven’t “Liked” the facebook page at facebook.com/stoptalkingstartdoing then PLEASE DO!

For the next month there are Kindles to be won every week if you put your stoptalkingstartdoing commitment on the wall. And that’s not all.

If you do make a commitment to, let’s say stop talking about learning Spanish and actually doing it, then you are more likely to achieve your targets.  See here http://www.richard-newton.com/make-it-public.

Someone – an office worker not a pro-athlete, but someone who has cycled stages of the Tour de France and run marathons in half a dozen cities told me yesterday that he could NEVER commit to training and taking his preparations seriously until he had told his colleagues and friends about the next event. That made it real for him.

I haven’t yet said I will commit to doing an “etape” of the classic race yet. But I’m thinking about it…

I’m acutely aware that f I say I’m going to do it then  – after all this – it’s on. Yikes!

Here’s a few photos of the book acompanied by some of the original sketches:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All about the ride

Entrepreneur, you will build a great company. Make a best selling app. Create a restaurant chain. And make millions…And then finally start living!

Wrong. 

Doing what you do is living.  Sure, making heaps of money and success means you did it well and got lucky (by some standards). But living is what happens when you’re on the the ride. Not once you arrive.

And since you almost certainly won’t end up doing what you intended you’re unlikely to arrive precisely where you planned to anyway.

The fruits of your labour, if you get it right, are not just the pay cheques but the adventures as you build your dream; the ones that happen while you labour.

You hit the motherlode if the fruit of your work is your work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a thing you’ll never hear a hang-glider enthusiast say.

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Make it public

public commitment
One of the most powerful StopTalkingStartDoing things you can do is to make your commitment public.

Of course, we’re tempted to keep our real ambitions secret so we can handle our fear of failure in private. But this is a mistake. Making it public gives you strength.

  • It makes real your determination to achieve something
  • It makes you accountable
  • It is a foundation for building a personal and supportive team
  • And the benefits kick in the moment you declare  it

On the  stoptalkingstartdoing facebook wall people are making their commitment to Start Doing something.

Here’s why it will help them:

1. Willpower: It makes real your determination to achieve something
The moment in time when we make a public commitment is the one when we’re feeling strong and determined and, maybe, exasperated with the same old pattern.
Harder days will be ahead – whether you’re giving up smoking or trying to raise cash for your business. And the temptation to give up is ever present.
But because we make the promise when we’re strong we hold ourselves to the standards of our strong positive self; our better self.
That’s the beauty of it:
It’s a kick in the pants to our weaker self.
The public declaration of your ambition states where you want to be in the future
It pulls you forward.

2. It makes you accountable. 
There are two sides to this coin: If you reap the glory of announcing your mission then you also have to tell the world if you back out and don’t give it your best shot.
This has a surprisingly material affect, listen up:
A line was drawn on a piece of paper. Researchers asked people to guess its length. Some declared their estimates publicly, others not.  When told their estimates were wrong those who kept their answers secret were tended to pretend they had never made the wrong estimate in the first place. In other words – even in this trivial example –  a public commitment helps you stay true to yourself and your promise.
Stating your commitment creates the pressure behind you not to turn back.


3. Emotional Support: It is a foundation for building a personal and supportive team
If your friends and family know about your commitment to StopTalkingStartDoing they’ll urge you on.
When you’re flagging or doubting they’ll be there to help.
They become your team.

One study showed that people facing a mountain judged it to be 15% less steep if they were standing with friends than when they were on their own. Things seem easier when your friends are with you.
Knowing what your goal is helps your team support you.
4. And it starts now.

Which is why making it public is a good way to begin.
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The posterity distortion device and living in the moment

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Specifically to see the Tour de France I went to Paris. It was the final day of the world’s most gruelling world class sporting event.

And the thing is: I haven’t got any photos to prove it. That’s why I remember it so vividly.

I wanted to see Lance Armstong win his record seventh Tour. I wanted to see this ruthless competitor in the flesh; see if I could spot anything in his eyes as he raced round and round the Champs Elysee. I was looking for something that explained his aura, his self-belief, the invincibility; his single-minded determination to rip the legs off every other cyclist in the world.

The blood lust.

I wanted to look him in the eyes.

Alas, he was wearing sunglasses so I was foiled. More than that, it was hard to pick out any particular rider amid the blur and whirr that is the flying rainbow of the peloton.

But no matter. It was electric.

Seeing the bikes and team cars race by,

Hearing the crowd cheering,

Jostling the crowd as they scrambled to get a picture.

To get a picture.

Hold on. Everyone was taking pictures.

Which meant they weren’t there. They weren’t in the present. In fact they were living in their anticipation of not being there but of being in the future. They were saving the moment for posterity by sacrificing the moment when they actually were there.

Merde. What madness?! What an extraordinary shame. Because they were standing within metres of one of the world’s greatest athletes as he smashed a world record and yet at the instant that the noise rose, the atmosphere fizzed and He flew by they slammed a device between their line of sight and The Man.

I put down my cognac. This was crazy. Thousands were blocking their gaze with their posterity capturing/time-shifting devices. Cameras.

Put it another way; they chose not to live in the moment but to be a hostage to  the future. They took a picture of what they would have seen if they were looking. This meant they could demonstrate to themselves or friends that they were there and “while I was looking at my camera this is what the camera was pointed at”.

Not only does this diminish their pleasure. But as I discuss in the book Stop Talking, Start Doing – experiences are better than things. Not only does an experience make you measurably happier after the event than you feel about things, but others like people more who talk about their experience more than their things.

Photographs help you remember great experiences. Who would argue with that. But professionals are paid to take photographs of these events. For a job. And they do it so that everyone else can relive the moment as if they were there.

But it isn’t an equivalent to being there. And yet it’s become that..

3.5 trillion photos have been taken since the invention of the camera according to some fancy guesswork by a company called 1000memories. Ten per cent of those were taken in the 12 months since September last year!

A large chunk of these go to facebook. 750m photos were uploaded to Facebook over the 2010-11 New Year weekend. 1000memories etimates that 140bn photos are on Facebook and on an average day 200m photos are uploaded daily.

Contemplating the amount of human years – of life – spent taking, uploading and staring at pictures sends me  reaching for the cognac I put down in Paris.

Thank God for simple things like sport. In five weeks time someone will win the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. I guess that Eden Park in Auckland probably holds about 40,000 people.

Millions will be watching on tv or online. But nothing beats being there in the flesh.

If you’re there when the winning points are scored. Be there. Live the moment. remember the moment you were there – not the moment you took a picture.

 

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When there’s no crowd to follow, make your own map.

“Generation Limbo” are out of luck. They have to make it on their own.

The twenty-somethings who invested in their university education to springboard themselves into a good career have found there are no jobs. They’re on their own.

As Luke Johnson recently wrote: “People don’t have any way of getting a job. They either opt out and become a bum or they become an entrepreneur.”

These aren’t the only routes but they sum it up: You can create your own job from thin air; You can quit the rat race before you start and, say, become a volunteer… or you can quit the West. Go East. Or south to Brazil. It’s a big decision.

And it’s down to you, the individual.

And as the Western economies fart and groan in their mire of debt and as each member of generation limbo seeks to make the right decision. Where do they turn for guidance?

Not the press, not the church, not the politicians and not mammon. All the players have let them down.

They turn to themselves.

A recent US study* found that the “moral unit” is no longer the group but the individual. This means that even when it comes to making decisions about the basic things: what is good and what is bad, the individual is on their own. In other words, when asked to decide whether they approve or disapprove of something the individual has to make their own mind up; the answer hasn’t been provided by society.

Asked to comment about moral dilemmas the young people interviewed typically responded with non-judgemental views. “It’s personal,” was a standard response. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

This is new. Instead of inheriting values (which is the usual path) now there’s no moral anchor but the self and how you “feel about things”. If you hadn’t learned a moral code during your school years then you would previously have learned behaviour, virtues and rules from the people you work with. But what if the twenty-something cohort can’t get work? What if this forces them to retreat further into individualism? If that’s the case – and it is – then the pressure is back on the individual.

This generational shift from finding strength in the group to locating it in the individual was evident in the political show This Week. The 25 year old  recording artist Tinchy Stryder  was asked whether he had been ambitious when he was a kid:

“Yeah I was ambitious.”

where did it come from?

“From my heart. My family helped but it came from me.”

The 57-year old politician Michael Portillo was asked the same question.

“I think for me it came externally. Because of the school I came from.”

Of course there are bucketloads of difference in background and circumstance between Portillo and Tinchy (and indeed you, me and everyone else) but the difference is still striking.

Whether it’s making up your mind how to get work, what to do for a living or a way of life, what’s right and what’s wrong, you are on your own. To a large degree this has always been the case but, previously, you could always go with the flow and follow the answers and rules provided by everyone else.

Now there’s no flow. Now you don’t have a choice. Every act is decision time.

 

*Lost in Transition by Christian Smith, Notre Dame University

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When your gods turn out to have feet of clay. What do they do? It’s not the blame game.

On Saturday one of world rugby’s greatest ever points scorers missed five kicks at goal. In a crunch World Cup match against Argentina Jonny Wilkinson had his worst kicking display for England in 13 years. I know, I know, I don’t care what time it is, pass the scotch.

Ten days before that the world’s fastest man sprung out of his blocks before the starter fired his gun. Usain Bolt was disqualified from the World Athletics Championships 100m.

16 months ago one of the world’s greatest businessmen launched the revolutionary iPhone4. But Steve Jobs’ new phone had a flaw. It could suddenly cut off phone calls.

When great men or women fail in front of audiences of billions, how do they respond? How do they stay great? Do they blame external forces or themselves?

Commentators blamed Jonny’s poor kicking on the rugby ball being used in the World Cup tournament. Did he blame the ball? In fact he said: “I had a bad day. The blame is on me”. No excuses. And he went out and started practising again.

And when the world’s sports fans were denied seeing Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint the commentators unanimously blamed the new One False Start rule. It was a travesty that a regulation designed to please TV scheduling ended up disqualifying “Lightning” Bolt they said. Yet the moment he false started Bolt knew what he had done, he knew the rules and he took off his shirt and left the track. ” Looking for tears?”, he asked reporters. “Not gonna happen.” No excuses. Then he went away and won gold in the 200m with the fourth fastest time ever.

Meanwhile the tech commentariat quivered with horror, disappointment or delight at the humbling of Apple; The design flaw was simple: if your thumb or hand spanned two parts of the external ariel then the phone lost the signal. Speculation took wing that millions of iPhones would have to be recalled. Jobs called a press conference and told the world: “You’re holding the phone wrong”.

(Then launched a smart PR campaign that sent the share price soaring).

What unites these responses to adversity is not whether they blame themselves or not, it’s that they all determine that they will not rest until they come back stronger and better. Failure is just a setback. What unites them is that they do better next time.

 

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The blue tit syndrome and the cape that turns into a tomato

So, you hit upon a great idea for a business.

It could be anything. Let’s say your genius idea is to make a disposable raincoat made of potatoes which you can plant and it turns into a tomato.

You might think: My idea is unique.

It ain’t.

When you get that inspiration: Act on it.

This is your moment.

Stop talking, start doing.

An idea rarely hits a single person. The brainwave isn’t yours. Ideas come into your head not from your head. What you did good was recognise it.

Your next trick is to make it real.

Or as they say in business school:

                                                                                     execute it 

(which means make the idea come alive, not make it dead… but wrong words is something for another post)

The magic arrival of ideas is best described by the Blue Tit Syndrome. To understand the blue tit syndrome you need to remember (or learn now) that milk used to be delivered door to door by a milkman. And it would come in glass bottles sealed with a foil cap.

Life was good. But that was a hundred years ago.

Then one day in 1921, in Southampton, someone reported seeing a blue tit (this is a little blue and yellow bird) peck through the foil cap to get at the milk.

The idea that a smart (or twisted) bird should work out that if it pecks a hole in some foil on a bottle left on a concrete doorstep it will be able to drink cow’s milk which it will then like… is in itself a crazy idea. Perhaps more crazy than the potato-raincoat idea.

Yet within twenty years every blue tit in the country was at it.

But here’s the odd thing – the milk-top pecking didn’t spread virally. It didn’t emanate from Southampton. It wasn’t a trick learned by the population gradually. It arose suddenly and independently in random towns and villages all over the British Isles. No-one knows why.

And this is the way ideas land. They arrive in clusters. All of a sudden. In art. In business. In technology. In blue tits.

When they come to you:

Recognise it. Make it real. Do it now.

…and one more thing. If you want to invent a raincoat made of potatoes that can turn into a tomato; It’s too late. Someone already did that http://spudcoat.co.uk/

 

 

 

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Stop smoking, stop talking, start doing

Everyone is brilliant at finding an excuse not to do what’s good for them.

As soon as you can construct the excuse: “the dog ate my homework” you are blessed and cursed with the ability to create a reason to do or not to do whatever you choose. Say…

Eat a kilo of chocolate in a day… because, you know, my plan is that by making this sacrifice of eating all the  chocolate in the house I will actually become sooo sick of chocolate that in fact it’ll be easier to start my diet tomorrow and it will be a sure fire triumph!

Put off writing your business plan … because I’ve determined that  it would be smarter not to start the actual hard work until, er, after the Summer because, well, for one thing it’s just too hot right now. Not to mention it’s hard to work when the days are so long and look I have to go sorry bye

Spend a whole day watching a box set of DVDs … because while I am committed to my new fitness training regime  the temptation to lie on the sofa and watch TV is more than any human can bear which is why I realised that the smart thing to do (strictly from a fitness point-of-view) is to lie on the sofa and watch all the shows back-to-back so that I have got it over and done with and thus cleared the path of temptation. Tomorrow, I will be superman for sure. Watchout.

Leave the night school alone another week … because frankly I’m exhausted and I don’t want to waste their time or mine. And there’s always the danger that if I go and don’t enjoy it because I’m so tired I may never go again so in the long run for my career and life chances this is the right thing to do. Besides there’s a singularly good party tonight (again just like last week – who knew?!).

Don’t bother giving up smoking … because I’ve been smoking so long already what’s the point?

Well hold it right there. Let’s start with the last one.

Now here’s the thing: No matter how long you’ve been smoking it turns out that within six months of giving up then your life expectancy immediately starts improving.

This evidence comes from a series of trials and studies by the University of Liverpool*. They found for example, that when smoke-free legislation was introduced in the isolated US community of Helena that the admission rates for actual and threatened heart attacks  (acute coronary syndrome) fell by 40% within six months. And as soon as the law was repealed it took just six months for admissions to fly back up to previous levels.

The instant benefits of being good to yourself dont just apply to smoking. Diet also has an instant feedback.

Here’s an example: Coronary death rates, throughout the 20th Century, rose steadily in the UK, US and Western Europe.

But there was a curious blip. In the middle of this upward surge death rates momentarily fell in the early 1940s. The reason: The second world war. Rationing of meat and animal fats meant that the a huge war made some people live longer.

That giving up smoking or eating healthily can produce such speedy results is amazing. When it comes to the life-enhancing benefits of Doing Stuff Now you just don’t get much better hard evidence than this.

And yet the temptation not to start doing what you need to do is ever present. (The powerful reptilian part of our brains always seeks instant gratification and the deferral of work).

Alas, temptation is bolstered by our mental agility to rationalise giving in to it. (Our reasoning brain gets co-opted to support the easy wins of our pleasure-seeking instinct-driven reptilian brain)

And to cap it all, we get immediate satisfaction from the chocolate, the DVD, the next cigarette while the benefits of doing what we really wanted to do takes a bit longer.

But as this study showed, the positive impact of doing the right thing doesn’t always take much longer. So dig deep. Stop smoking, stop talking about doing… and do.

 

*Research by Simon Capewell, Marton O’Flaherty at Institute of Psychology, Health and Well-being at Univeristy of Liverpool, UK.

 

 

 

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The autocue lesson

The guy was a real estate agent. Except he wasn’t.

“It’s just a temporary job”, he said. “I want to be an autocue operator”.

I put down my scotch. This was a career path never before encountered. In fact, autocue operator, was not even a job I had heard of.

Why?!

Is autocue operator higher up the scale of coolness than working in real estate? Do they earn more? Is there a union? As a group do they control our minds? Is it about demand and supply – Are there more autocue needs than autocue operators?

*            *            *

The psychologist Abraham Maslow talked of the hierarchy of needs.

He explained that we had basic needs – to be fed and watered… then once these needs were satisfied we needed to be loved… and we needed to be respected by society… and then we seek self-esteem for who we are and what we do. And then if we can do all these things then we can strive to do what we love to do and, in so doing, be all that we can be.

And for some people this might be found making money from selling property, or finding someone the perfect home… while for others it could be the autocue. The autocue… damn. Pour me another.

And I really don’t want to sound like a preacher but the truth is that we all find it in different places. And the real trick is to know what it is you’re seeking. To know what’s making you itch. Like this guy did.

As the vicar used to say, and he too liked a sneaky whisky: Here endeth the lesson.

 

*      *      *      *      *      *

It strikes me, as an afterthought, that maybe I’m over-thinking this…. Maybe selling houses is just a terrible business these days.

 

 

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