Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

The Beginning of The End: 6 steps to making the most of the rest of 2009

After today we will be in the month of October. OCTOBER . . .  2009!?!

I’m literally taking a moment to digest how nine whole months have flown by . . . . . OK! Moment Over.

With about 90 days (92 days to be exact) left in 2009, I want to mention 6 steps using the Achievers Focusing System (click image below to enlarge) from Success Principles to make the latter part of 2009 your best yet.


Step 1 – FOCUS AREA: In what aspect of your life do you want to make the most impact?

The Achievers Focusing System has divided areas of life into seven

  • Finance & Wealth
  • Career
  • Free Time
  • Health and Appearance
  • Relationship
  • Personal Development
  • Community & Charity

When the year began, you probably thought about making a change in 1 or more of these categories and somewhere along the way that got lost in translation (9 months wheezing by can do that). No matter, a lot can still be done in 90 days by making minute and incremental changes.

By the yard it’s hard, but inch by inch anything’s a cinch – Brian Tracy

Instead of trying to cover all these areas at once, start by selecting the most important area where you want change and then select the next most important area and so on.  Consequently, you will be creating a ranking system for the next three months.

Step 2 – GOALS: What are your goals for the rest of the year?

Write down one goal in the area(s) that you have chosen previously. Using the document, this can be written in the boxes provided.


This is where problems arise. In defining goals, they have to be measurable i.e. there has to be some sort of finish-line related to  an accomplishment and/or  time frame. The lack of a time frame usually results in complacency. The lack of defined accomplishments usually results in a loss of interest and boredom. Using goal #1 above, I will have to pay off $1,000 in the next 3 months. With this, I have defined the accomplishment and the time-frame. How can you measure the goal you want to attain? Is it a series of accomplishments or is it one you can measure with time?

Step 3 – ACTIVITIES: What steps need to be taken to accomplish this goal?

Outline the necessary steps to completing this goal. This can be done using the time-frame or accomplishments as a guide. The point of doing this is breaking down the goal into manageable chunks. By so doing, the viability of the goal is maintained and it would seem neither large nor looming.


For my goal, here’s what I’m thinking:

Time frame based

Accomplishment based

  • October 31st: Have paid $334
  • November 31st: Have paid $667
  • December 31st:  Have paid $1000
  • Pay off first credit card ($173)
  • Pay off half of second credit card ($413.5)
  • Pay off half of second credit card ($413.5)

In addition, list some non-activities as well i.e. activities you shouldn’t engage in which will also help with accomplishing your goals.

  • Leave credit cards at home ALWAYS
  • Pay for purchases using checking account

Using the Achievers Focusing System, these activities are then spread out over 12 weeks. This allows for looking at the overall picture while keeping track of the activities spread out over the 90 days.

Step 4 – SMALL VICTORIES: What happens when you complete an activity?

Sometime ago I mentioned how celebrating small victories are essential to boosting morale. As you slowly advance towards your goal week by week, remember to take a moment to digest how far you have come. This moment of reflection can be used:

  • to further fine-tune future activities
  • to ensure that the pace is still being kept
  • to rest before going on to the next task

Once each activity is completed, take a breath and congratulate yourself on making it this far. For me I will take great joy in seeing Balance: $0.00 and I will also update my account at NetworthIQ at the end of every month because seeing that bump provides additional motivation. Then keep pressing on knowing that you are closer than when you first started.

Step 5 – ACCOUNTABILITY: Should I involve others in my goal?

The Achievers Focusing System includes a section for an Accountability Partner. This is the person who you have shared your goals with and you know will be a willing motivator in your cause to improve. Sometimes goals are like a new toy: you play with it for a few days excitedly; then over time, the excitement fades and the toy starts to collect dust. This is when your partner(s) can help to dust off some of that dust and remind you of what you set out to do.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw everything that hinders . . . . and let us run with perseverance the race set out for us. Hebrews 12:1

Your accountability partner serves as that witness to your commitment to yourself in that area of your life.

Step 6 – FINISH LINE: When does my goal end?

As mentioned in the beginning, this goal(s) should be tailored to cover the remaining 3 months/12 weeks/92 days of the year. Therefore while striving to complete each activity always keep in mind your finish line by:

  • Tick off the days on the calendar
  • Cross out your to-do list each week
  • Little steps will yield great results

By so doing, you are constantly reminded of where you are trying to go


Image courtesy of Mr. Mystery


The Spending Pyramid: Personal Values and Financial Planning (Part II)

In yesterday’s article, we were able to explore the structure of a spending pyramid a la Robert Pagliarini.


Based on Dan Pink’s lecture on motivation (which I embedded in another article), there are three human motivating factors.

  • Autonomy – The urge to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – The desire to be better at something that matters
  • Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

As you begin to think about what motivates you in general, you will be able to rearrange the middle portion of the pyramid (in between basic expenses and miscellaneous expenses) to conjure up a picture that aligns with your own values.

Autonomy: Your Money and Yourself

SPPyramid2_1 Image courtesy of Flickr

If directing your life is what motivates you then debt reduction, financial independence and personal improvement will rank high in your pyramid. The most important thing to you is being in control of what happens in your life and blazing your own path. Therefore, neither owing money to credit card companies nor retiring while being financial dependent sit well with you. As such, most of your spending will be directed at your money going mostly into your pocket prior to anything else.

Purpose: Your Money and Others

SPPyramid2_2Image courtesy of Flickr

For some, being financially fit is the means while the end is the ability to serve others and the community. If the realization that there’s more to life than your own needs, then donations to church and charity will rank high on your list. Those who attend church have a set value at 10% (tithing) and will also donate in others ways. Even if you don’t attend a church, you find that donating towards a cause brings about a certain kind of satisfaction. In addition, these donations can also be used for tax deductions.

Another area not reflected in the pyramid is provision for family (both immediate and extended). I told a story of how my father laid the foundation for my siblings and me to go to college. That couldn’t have happened if he didn’t believe that part of his purpose was leaving a legacy to his children.

Mastery: Your Money, Yourself and Others

SPPyramid2_3Image courtesy of Flickr

Sometimes, motivation lies in being better at something for the sake of just being better (epitome of kaizen). Two of the most popular New Year Resolutions in the U.S.A. are managing debt and saving money. Hence it would appear that most people would fall under this category as most believe that finances matter. This belief combined with the desire to understand finance could be a motivating factor for another set of people. Therefore, Goals and Emergency Reserve would rank higher in your pyramid. Goals motivate towards reaching a pinnacle while mastering personal finances starts with being prepared for emergencies. Personal Improvement would also fall under this category as mastering finances would include studying financial matters and learning from others.

Most of the time, personal motivation will come from a combination of two or all three factors and therefore you will find that your values overlap. In the end, the final picture is letting the things that motivate you in life also motivate shaping your finances. Create your own picture and it will lead to spending habits that are aligned with what you think is important.

Get the Ball Rolling: How Physics taught me to get things done

What is the hardest part of embarking on any new project? Usually it’s fear of the unknown. However, when this fear has been overcome, the next hardest thing is actually starting the project. Some people stay in the planning stage forever. Strangely enough, the key is to just begin the project and slowly gain momentum. But, what is momentum?

Momentum – A property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)

Momentum is a wonderful term in physics used to describe the relationship between the mass of a body and its speed. If a body is large, it will have a large momentum. If a body is moving quickly, it will also have a large momentum. Using the definition from the dictionary, momentum is related to the amount of time it takes to stop a body that is moving. Once momentum starts to increase, it becomes more and more difficult to stop.  In other words:

Large Body – – – > Large Momentum – – – > Long time to stop motion


Like most scientific principles, this law of momentum is connected to everyday life and human behavior:

Major Project – – – > Major Momentum – – -> Long time to Stop Working

Think about this: Ever been in a situation where you’re just setting up your books to study some material and then someone calls you? Is it more difficult to quit when you haven’t started or to ignore the phone? You might find yourself saying, “Let me finish this paragraph” or “Let me solve these problems and then I’ll call back.”  How about when you decided to start saving up for emergencies? How much easier was it to spend on a whim when the emergency fund was empty as opposed to when you’re a quarter of the way to the goal?

I have been dreading writing my proposal (mentioned in my Goal Report) since I realized I had to do one. This dread led me to continually postpone while I kept thinking about the perfect structure in the back of my mind. Well, I never got the perfect structure I wanted until I began typing. Once I started, my ideas started to take shape and I was able to rearrange and integrate my thoughts better within the structure of the proposal.  The same thing happened when it came to investing. I had been talking about investing since I started graduate school 5 years ago but I didn’t start until this year. I always just told myself I didn’t know enough. Last March, I decided to just plunge in and this forced me to begin to learn more. I initially sought advice from 2 uncles who had been involved in financial markets before and they provided tips on what to look for (one uncle actually thought I had started because I had talked about it so much). It wasn’t until I began investing that I learned the different kinds of mutual funds that were out there and then started looking for funds with low expense ratios.

What have I learned?  The way to overcome the lethargy of beginning a new project is to just start (Nike slogan comes to mind here), no matter how small the actions are. You want to save $1000, start by saving 2%-5% of your income today and slowly increase that. You want to improve your cardio rate: start by jogging for 5-10 minutes a day. You want to start investing:  there are mutual fund companies that begin at $25 and others at $50 per month for mutual fund accounts. It takes time to get the ball rolling, but as time passes with you chipping away, it becomes a lot harder to stop. Take a step today, it may be in the wrong direction but you won’t know unless you step.

Joe Wilson, Kanye West and the 1st Habit of Highly Effective People

I know what you might be thinking. Why am I bringing this up when the dead horse of Outbursts Anonymous (Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” and Kanye Wests “I’ll let you finish but . . . “)  has been beaten to many times this week? Well, their snap reactions made me think about something I learned a while ago.

In Stephen Covey’s book (7 habits of highly effective people), the first habit is described as be proactive (rather than reactive).

To illustrate, this is reactive

JWKW1st_1 copy

And this is proactive


Mr Covey explains that to move from dependence to independence, the choice  to be proactive is the first step i.e. realizing that we control our actions. Not our environment or our upbringing or our nature. It’s easy to say “That’s the way I am” or “They made me angry” but that does not explain the response. When there is no gap between stimulus and response (reaction), fireworks always result. The point is not that we shouldn’t react at all, but to produce a measured response that reflects thought.

I was reading an article recently where an older man was advising a younger man on marriage (The source of that article is a man talking about his first 100 days of marriage. His wife is also blogging. Very entertaining and eye-opening reads). What the older man does when he senses things getting testy between him and his wife is ask “How important is this to you?” Just 6 words. Yet, those words and the silent moment aftwerwards alone would greatly reduce the divorce rates and breakups that happen. Just taking a small moment to think and then respond always makes a huge difference.

Now this habit is not saying that there should be no response. I have seen and experienced the danger of bottling up emotions can do. It is important to respond, but just as relevant is the thought prior to response. The stimuli for the Mr Wilson and Mr West was a difference in opinion, what’s yours and how do you deal?

Brain image from Wikipedia.

Why Always Trumps How To

Yesterday I read this article at Seth Godin’s Blog. Seth Godin is the author of numerous business and management books. Never really knew much about the guy until I started hearing about his 6 month Alternative MBA program. Anyway, in his post he draws out the hierarchy of success: Attitude –> Approach –> Goals –> Strategy –> Tactics –> Execution and how most businesses and people spend time on Execution but not enough time on Attitude and Approach. How can I have have more money? How can I lose 10 pounds? How can I get As? Obviously, these are all great questions to ask. The problem is they cannot sustain our actions. It’s not a surprise that when there’s a great best-selling idea in the market, people try it for 1 – 2 weeks, then give up. When the next next idea comes up, people jump on that bandwagon again. Why? Maybe the method is the problem. Perhaps, yet an even deeper question is even if the method is intact, is it the right thing for me to do?

I remember when I first began working out because my friend would always tell me to work out with him. He was a very muscular guy and loved going to the gym and talked about it all the time. It became contagious so I would tag along with him and try to learn the tricks of the trade. After about 2 weeks of lifting, I would be disillusioned and would go back to being a hermit at the library once more. This would happen once a quarter.  I would be excited to work out again, but my reason for going to the gym was never strong enough to overcome the difficulty of the situation. I had a high metabolism, so I wasn’t doing it for the weight. I didn’t care about bulking up and I hadn’t seen a difference in 2 weeks (naïve I know) so what was the point?

Then it hit me! (“Eureka!” said Archimedes)


No matter how high my metabolism was, it didn’t mean I was healthy. I still couldn’t run hard on the soccer field for more than 3 minutes without getting winded and bent over. I couldn’t do more than 20 pushups at a time. Basically, even though I looked fit, I just wasn’t. So my attitude changed from wanting to look like my friend to I need to improve my overall physical health. It didn’t mean that it made it easier for me to go to the gym often; I still didn’t like running or any cardio activities. The difference was now my reason held up to the rigors of what I was doing. When I felt too tired to exercise, I thought about the idea of not being able to run around with the kids or being sick due to high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

In connection to this same article, Dan Pink (Al Gore’s former speech writer) delivered the talk below on TED (TED is a really great site of entertaining speakers sharing ideas. There’s a lot of amazing stuff there to check out at your own leisure)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A direct link to the video is here

The relevant point (as far as this post goes) is at the end where he mentions that there are 3 reasons that motivate us to do things

  • Autonomy – The urge to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – The desire to be better at something that matters
  • Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

One or a combination of these is what governs our attitudes and actions towards the physical, spiritual, financial, intellectual and social aspects of our lives. However I am finding that execution only succeeds when the attitude is right and strong enough to hold up to this execution.


Image courtesy of Physics Department Weber State University

Life lived as a Business Model

I’ve heard the phrase “Treat your life as a business” many times and it got me thinking of how this could be possible. How does the way businesses are started and operated translate to life itself?

Establish a Niche

One of the first things businesses do is establish their niche. Sometimes this could be a previously non-existent niche e.g. Twitter and Facebook in social media or continuing an already profitable niche e.g. Operating a Burger King Franchise. Either way, the business defines its niche prior to establishment.


To truly live, we have to establish a purpose. It’s the reason why most success books start by asking what your desire is. Chris Guillebeau in his World Domination Manifesto asked “What can you offer the world that no one else can?” Stephen Covey in 7 habits calls it “Beginning with the end in mind.” This  search for a purpose It’s the reason why The Purpose-Driven Life was on the New York best Seller list for a long time. The answer to this question is the first step to living your life to your fullest capacity. Sometimes purpose is established through the divine, other times it’s wrought through passion, but there’s no denying that this is the first step in living life.

Compose a Business Plan

All businesses need some form of capital to take off. This usually comes in form of a loan, angel investors, family etc. However before this happens, the entrepreneur will be asked to come up with a feasible plan. This detailed plan shows the expected profits, expenses, gains and pitfalls of the business and illustrates what the bank and the investors are getting themselves into.


In the same vein, once your purpose is defined, the next step is a detailed plan on getting there. This is essentially your written GPS with purpose being the destination. I remember stumbling on this guy’s twitter and his description said: “Working on my life, it’s gonna be flippin’ awesome when it’s complete.” It made me think about how our lives are a work of art. Every day we spend on earth is a day in crafting that work and every day that passes without making a dent on that craft is a waste. Your plans at 20 will differ from your plans at 30 or 40, but the plans you make at 20 will get you to 30 while remaining on the right path. It’s even more fun to look at how plans change from year to year with the big picture intact.

Dominate the Niche

Once the niche and plan has been formulated, the next thing the business tries to do is make their name known through focus on quality, great customer service and advertising. All this is done to fill in the niche that has been previously chosen. One of the greatest disappointments is when we live mediocre lives. It’s disappointing because the world is blessed by the achievements of individuals like you and I, and mediocrity erases our ability to share those blessing with others. History is littered with the achievements of great men and women who worked every day to quench their burning purposes as should we. When we live the best lives possible, we satisfy that desire and simultaneously give the world something that no one else can.

Make Profit

The primary purpose of a business is not just to make money, but to make a profit. Souns simple enough, but it’s the reason why business go broke and eventually fail. Essentially resources will be spent, but more has to be made than is spent or this leads to bankruptcy. To do this, the business attempts to reduce costs and maximize sales. Some businesses have taken this too far and have done this as a detriment to their purpose (Enron as a classic example). The businesses that endure realize that reducing costs also involves maximizing resources and not cutting corners.


The most important resource we have is time. It’s the one thing we cannot get more of out of in a day, so we have to ensure that it is well spent while achieving the optimum results. Setting goals and timeframes is one of the ways to do this. This helps ensure that time is being spent well even if means taking a break to refresh the mind and body. When time isn’t operated on the principle of profit, we consistently play the game of catch-up.

Involvement in the Community

Finally, most businesses understand the importance of being involved in the community they are a part of. Pizza places on college campuses sponsor student organizations; department stores perform highway cleanups and so on. Good businesses understand that the people who live around them are their customers and essentially factor in community effort as part of their expenditure. In the same manner, no man is an island. It is important that while attempting to be the best we can be, that we not forget people around us. The principle that “We get what we want by helping others get what they want” is founded on the belief that as we work together with other people, we fill in their weaknesses and they in turn do the same for us. Napoleon Hill calls it the “Master Mind Principle.” Dependent people fail, Independent people partially prosper but the interdependent individual uses personal resources and the resources of others to prosper.

The business of life is a tricky one and can be overwhelming when one has no idea where they are headed. As we make strides in forward progress, we create a life that is worth emulating.

Image 1 courtesy of Arborlawn United Methodist

Image 2 courtesy of Queen’s School of Medicine

Image 3 courtesy of Word Constructions

First of the Month: Whatever happened to those New Year Resolutions?


It’s the first of September today and as with the beginning of a new day, new month or a new year we are often inclined to set new goals/resolutions. I think it’s like having a clean slate, so like kids in a candy store we excited to just get home and start writing on the slate.  I’m excited about the new month too, so I decided to look back at the goals I set at the beginning of the year and see how far I have come.

When 2009 began, I made 10 resolutions and I sent them to my girlfriend to look over to hold me accountable to them. This is exactly what I sent:

  1. Eliminate 1.5 credit cards (Completed and Retooled)
  2. Save $1000 and put in a mutual fund or CD (Completed and Retooled)
  3. Write two papers (On-going)
  4. Cardio (Run or Bike) 3 times a week (Retooled)
  5. Don’t drink soda (On-going)
  6. Lift twice a week (Retooled)
  7. Sleep 6 hours (On-going)
  8. Read 1 book per month (4 non-fiction books read so far)
  9. Listen to 1 motivational tape per month (5 series completed)
  10. Graduate or at least be close to it i.e. proposal done and defended, comprehensive exam passed, experiments completed and in the process of writing dissertation at the minimum (Retooled)

This email was dated January 9th 2009, and I’m not even sure she remembers the contents of this email. It was the first time I had made resolutions and actually documented them and sent them to someone and not just chucked it away in my head.  All the books and tapes I have read and listened to always stress the importance of attaching activities to your goals essentially breaking down these goals to manageable chunks. Fortunately, I stumbled on resources from Success Principles (a book by Jack Canfield co-author of the Chicken Soup Series), specifically the Achievers Focusing System (Quarterly Breakdown) and Daily Success Focus Journal (Daily Breakdown). I also created a weekly sheet for myself too (Download here). Now I know that’s a lot of writing and a lot of paper, but at the time I wasn’t sure what method worked the best for me. Should I break down activities on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Biennially? It was all so confusing and I decided to try as many as I could and see what worked best for me. Currently, my system has been boiled down to a Quarterly Tracking and a spiral notebook for the daily to-do list. I especially like the Achievers Focusing System I mentioned above because it splits down goals into 7 areas (same concept I used in the weekly system):

  • Financial & Wealth
  • Career
  • Free Time
  • Health & Appearance
  • Relationship
  • Personal Development
  • Community & Charity

These resources aren’t anything fancy, but they have helped to keep me on my toes and aware of my progress.

9 months have passed since those resolutions were made. It’s a new month (new school year for some),  and there’s no need to wait for 2010 to renew this commitment and neither should you. Hopefully these resources here are useful or just type “goal organizer” (or something) into Google and I am sure there’s something out there.

As long as those goals are written somewhere, you have a reminder to check back on. As Tony Horton (of P90X fame) always says “Write it down. How can you know what to do if you don’t know what you did?”

If you’re wondering how I am doing on my resolutions, I have details on my Goal Report and yea . . . there’s a lot left to be done.

Picture courtesy of