My company trains college entrepreneurs. Our students attend a 2 day training in February where they learn the marketing, sales, and organizational skills to be able to launch their businesses. The 2 day training in February has always been step one, but this season we are experimenting with a pre-training development program, with the goal to reduce attrition and increases averages. We see the pre-training program as a step zero for our students, and consists as a 3 part workshop series. Part 1 is goal setting, Part 2 is discipline, and Part 3 is overcoming fear. Running a business as a college student is a big challenge, it pushes them out of their comfort zones, and these workshops will hopefully strengthen their mindsets before coming into the February first training.
Part 1: Goal Setting
Back in 2012 some friends and I created an iPhone app called Smart Goals, as well as a few other apps focused on goal setting. We also launched a blog called Smart Goals Never Fail, where we wrote more than 70 posts that all relate to accomplishing goals and self improvement. Over the years we did a lot of research through books, articles and workshops to learn all we could on the topic. After all that, we decided that these are the 3 most important factors in being able to set and achieve your goals.
Tip #1: Make your goals SMART
SMART goals is a commonly known goal setting methodology, and was the basis for our most popular app. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. When setting a goal, it needs to meet all 5 of these criteria. "I want to lose weight" and "I want to get healthier" are not SMART goals, but commonly heard, especially around January 1st with New Year's resolutions. "I want to lose 10 lbs by June 1st" would potentially be SMART. That goal is definitely specific, measurable, and timely. Is it relevant and attainable? Maybe, it depends on the person setting the goal. In my opinion, "is this important?", and "is it attainable?" are the tough questions you must ask yourself when setting a goal. I wrote about that in an earlier post here.
Tip #2: Break your larger goal into smaller, more manageable goals
Big goals are usually a summation of daily or weekly action. Doing a little bit every day or every week goes a long way. So the key to accomplishing big goals is breaking them down into smaller ones. For example, if you want to lose 10 lbs, a better and more manageable way to look at the goal is to look at it like losing 1 lb for 10 weeks. Losing 1 lb in a week doesn't sound anywhere nearly as difficult as losing 10 lbs.
A really good big picture example of this is Elon Musk's Master Plan for Tesla, Part 1 and 2. Elon's long term goal is to use Tesla to accelerate the achievement of a sustainable energy economy. Elon and many scientists believe that we need to get off our dependence on fossil fuels, and the faster we achieve sustainability the better. Elon wrote Tesla's Master Plan Part 1 10 years ago, and it's a good example of creating smaller goals that get him closer to his long term goal:
So, in short, Master Plan, Part Deux is:
Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it
Elon is truly trying to change and save the world, and most of us can't relate relate to that, and probably couldn't even accomplish even 1 of his many smaller goals in his Master Plan. But for our students, who are trying to run modest size $100,000 businesses, breaking down that big six-figure goal into smaller goals is the best strategy. If they have 20 weeks of sales, they can break their goal down to $5000 per week. That $5000 per week can be turned into 1.25 new clients per week, which can then turn into 5-6 sales appointments per week. Striving to sit down with 5-6 potential clients per week is a much more manageable, and less daunting goal.
Tip #3: Focus on the system or process, and let go of the outcome
To go back to our original lose 10 lbs example, losing 10 lbs is the desired outcome. Losing 1 lb per week is more manageable, but how are you going to actually achieve losing that 1 lb? That's where a system or process comes into play. Are you going to stick to a diet, or count calories, or commit to exercising more times per week? Once the process is decided, you can let go of the outcome and just focus on the process and probably still succeed. There has been a lot of articles written about this idea, but by far my favorite article is by James Clear, and is called Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead. James breaks it down pretty well:
None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.
Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.
- James Clear
The process is the how, the plan, and the execution. It's also the unsexy part. Losing 10 lbs is sexy, counting calories is boring. And the process is truly the hard part. Saying you are going to run a $100k business is easy, but actually meeting with 5-6 potential customers per week is difficult. Consistency is difficult. Long term effort towards a goal is difficult. Especially because maintaining motivation over the long run is impossible. Motivation comes and goes, usually as results and progress come and go. And this leads perfectly into Part 2 of our 3 part workshop series: Discipline.
Part 2: Discipline and Habit Forming
I took a cold shower for 230 days in a row. Tony Robbins jumps in ice cold water every morning, and says "every cell in my body awakes up... its like training my nervous system to rock!" I heard that and decided to give it a try. As you could imagine, cold water, especially on a cold morning, isn't pleasant. But it became like a little game, if I did the cold shower, I won, if I skipped a day or turned the water to warm, I'd lose. Every morning when I turned the shower to cold, i would think the same thoughts before jumping in. "Why am I doing this? This is stupid. I should just turn it warm." I would hesitate for a second with these thoughts, but then would silence them, and get in the shower and get it done. I used this little cold shower game to build discipline. To me, discipline is when you are able to get it done even when you don't want to or don't feel like it. As I built willpower and self-control through the cold showers, I could start to apply the discipline to other areas of my life, like diet, exercise, and work. I realized that discipline could be developed, and just like a muscle, it is something that gets stronger with practice.
So why is discipline important? Our friend James Clear has another good article that explains the answer pretty well The article is called 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed, and references the famous Stanford Marshmellow Experiment.
Why do we need to develop discipline? There are so many negative forces that prevent us from doing great work and accomplishing our goals. Steven Pressfield calls these negative forces 'the resistance" in his book The War of Art. The forces include procrastination, lack of motivation, fear, complacency and laziness, among many others. Procrastination is something that we should all be very familiar with, as we are all guilty of it. If you’ve never seen Tim Urban’s TED Talk called Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, go watch it.
I think that developing more self-discipline is the best way to counter-act many of these negative forces. So if discipline can be built and developed, like a muscle, how do we do it?
Let's learn about discipline from some Navy SEALs:
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that's Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we’re aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
- Adm. William H. McRaven
Discipline starts every day when the first alarm clock goes off in the morning. I say “first alarm clock” because I have three, as I was taught by one of the most feared and respected instructors in Seal training: one electric, one battery powered, one windup. That way, there is no excuse for not getting out of bed, especially with all that rests on that decisive moment. The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win – you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life.
I learned in Seal training that if I wanted any extra time to study the academic material we were given, prepare our room and my uniforms for an inspection, or just stretch out aching muscles. I had to make that time because it did not exist on the written schedule. When I checked into my first SEAL Team, that practice continued. If I wanted extra time to work on my gear, clean my weapons, study tactics or new technology, I needed to make that time. The only way you could make time, was to get up early. That took discipline.
Waking up early was the first example I noticed in the SEAL Teams in which discipline was really the difference between being good and being exceptional. I saw it with some of the older, experienced SEALs. Those who were at work before everyone else were the ones who were considered the best “operators.” That meant they had the best field craft, the most squared away gear, they were the best shots, and they were the most respected. It all tied into discipline.
By discipline, I mean an intrinsic self-discipline – a matter of personal will. The best SEALs I worked with were invariably the most disciplined. They woke up early, they worked out everyday. They studied tactics and technology. They practiced their craft. Some of them even went out on the town, drank, and stayed out until the early hours of the morning. But they still woke up early and maintained discipline at every level.
Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom. When you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time. When you have the discipline to keep your helmet and body armor on in the field, you become accustomed to it and can move freely in it. The more discipline you have to work out, train your body physically and become stronger, the lighter your gear feels and the easier you can move around in it...
- Jocko Willink
Why are Navy SEALs so worried about their beds and alarm clocks? Don't they have bigger and better things to focus on?
They believe that discipline is the difference between being good, and exceptional, and sometimes can even be the difference between life and death. And discipline isn't about the big things, it's about the small things. You build discipline by focusing on doing the small things right, like making your bed and not hitting the snooze button. To become more disciplined, you have to focus on small simple habits that you can practice daily. If you try and do something every single day, on some days you will be challenged. Sometimes, it won't be easy, or convenient. Sometimes you won't feel motivated to do it. BUT... if you do it anyways, you build discipline.
For me, my first discipline habit was cold showers. Then I added another habit, not eating meat, in which I went 365 days in a row, and still rarely do. Then I added another habit, not hitting the snooze button. I failed that one a few times to start, being a pretty bad snoozer, and on my 3rd try did 160 days in a row, and now rarely snooze. Currently, I'm doing yoga everyday for 15 min. All of these is to practice and build discipline.
Some other examples could include making your bed, flossing your teeth, reading 10 pages, exercising x minutes, drinking more water, no fast food, and many more. The point is that the habit is small, simple, and something you can do everyday, and to track it and build up a lengthy streak. You can track it either in an app like Coach.me, Streaks, or Way Of Life, or just with pen and paper or a calendar. Most importantly, even when you don't feel motivated or it's not easy, you get it done regardless. Through doing this, you learn how to show up even when you're not feelin' it. You learn how to make it happen even when its hard. You learn how to do something when the motivation is gone. You learn how to not take the easy way.
Discipline and Entrepreneurship
Most of our students have only worked jobs where they have had a boss. With us, they are their own boss. The transition from employee to entrepreneur is a tough one. How much they work, how they spend their time, and how successful they are is truly up to them. The cold calling part of their business is one of the toughest. That is the grind for our students, where they face constant rejections and failure. No one enjoys or looks forward to the part of their week where they have to cold call, but more cold calls equals more clients. Everyone is very motivated in the beginning, and after a big sales week. But it's after the bad sales weeks, or when the burn out settles in, when the motivation just isn't there anymore. And this is when discipline is the most important, and separates the top performers from the rest.
Part 3: Overcoming Fear
The entrepreneurial experience pushes our students out of their comfort zones. They will have lots of responsibility, they will make many mistakes and face constant rejection, and there is the possibility of failure. They will also put in a huge amount of hours and effort. Naturally, there is some fear that comes along with the territory. How can we deal with the fear when we know we will be pushed out of our comfort zones?
Fear is our oldest emotion, predating even the drive to reproduce. Fear was wired into our brains to protects us, and helped early humans detect and avoid physical threats. But in the modern day, we aren't facing the same kind of physical threats as before. We aren’t trying to avoid lions for fear of being eaten. Now we fear much less tangible things, like public speaking. We fear failure, discomfort, rejection, and missing out (FOMO). The fear is biological, and can be managed. To learn how to manage fear, I'm pulling from Jamie Foxx, Tim Ferriss, the ancient stoics, and extreme athletes.
Tip #1: The Boogeyman isn't real (so don't be afraid of the dark)
Why are kids afraid of the dark? If you can remember back to when you were a kid, the answer is easy... because of the Boogeyman. Jamie Foxx has a great strategy to help his daughters deal with the Boogeyman. When they are afraid, he asks them “what’s on the other side of fear?” They respond, “Nothing, Daddy. Nothing.” Then they remember that the Boogeyman isn’t real. He doesn’t exist in the real world, he only exists in their imaginations. And when they realize that, their fear goes away. When the lights come on, has the boogeyman ever been there? No. The things we fear usually never actually manifest into something real.
When someone is afraid of failure, or rejection, it’s the same thing, just their imagination running wild. We can’t predict the future, so we don’t know if we will succeed or fail, or if we will get a yes or no. But we usually don’t think about succeeding, instead our brains instead focus on avoiding failure and rejection. That’s just the way our brains are wired to work, and we can’t change it or get rid of the fear. But we do need to remember that we are fearing something that isn’t real, so we shouldn’t act on that fear. Once we decide to not act on the fear, then we can look at failure as a possible scenario, and try to prepare for it or prevent it.
"What's on the other side of fear?" NOTHING.
- Jamie Foxx
Tip #2: Fear Setting (and the power of negative visualization)
I learned about a strategy called "fear setting" from Tim Ferriss. Fear setting should come before goal setting, and is arguably more important to goal setting. He says, "Typically, people don't overcome their fears because the fears are nebulous and undefined. To get over them, then, you need to drag your fears out into the open and confront them." The strategy is to begin by thinking of a goal that is important to you but that you've kept yourself from attempting, and divide a piece of paper into three columns.
Tim says that, "You come away from that exercise realizing, 'Wow, I was getting extremely anxious and all worked up over something that is completely preventable, reversible, or just not a very big deal.' "
This practice of fear setting is what the ancient stoics would have called negative visualization. Tim Ferriss reads a lot of stoic philosophy so this is probably where this idea of fear setting evolved from. Stoicism is about attaining tranquillity. If a person contemplates the bad things, it will lessen the impact when they happen. Seneca says, "Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune," and that expectations, not outcomes, have more influence over our happiness and tranquility. One common but misunderstood idea related to negative visualization is to "live each day as if it were your last." Many people think of the reckless and wild things they would do knowing they wouldn't have to pay the price the next day (YOLO?). But the idea is supposed to change your mindset, to help you enjoy the present moment and appreciate life.
I've more commonly heard the opposite advice, that you should to visualize success. I think that works good as a motivational tool. But for managing fear, we should visualize the negative possibilities. So let's try it real quick... imagine you fail. Or imagine a struggle. Imagine long work days and the things you might miss out on. How do you think you'll feel? How do you think you'll react? Is it really as bad as you thought?
And by using negative visualization and fear setting as tools, instead of letting the negative thoughts and fears (the Boogeyman) run wild in our imaginations, we can make better decisions and spend time preparing for the worst. We've all heard the phrase, "hope for the best, prepare for the worst." A good example of this comes from big wave surfer Greg Long. I saw Greg surf earlier this year in Hawaii, in massive waves at big wave competition called The Eddie Aikau (Greg pictured below, in the yellow). Here is how he says he deals with fear:
Fear, is actually a very healthy emotion to feel. I simply interpret it as I have stepped outside of my comfort zone…and that is one of the greatest things to do in the world.
Unfortunately many people have been conditioned into believing otherwise and let fear manifest into actions of panic which is the worst thing you can do in any situation, especially riding big waves. Knowing that I have the choice in every moment to decide how I feel and that I don’t have to let the reactive mind take control of my actions has helped me tremendously to embrace those moments of fear.
Here is something I do regularly to help prepare myself for those inevitable times; Well before any big wave session, I think about all the situations I may encounter that may invoke those feelings; be it getting caught inside, paddling over the steep ledge into a wave, dealing with a long hold down etc.
Then I identify the very best way to react in each situation, as well as what I may also do if I were to react negatively out of panic. In identifying the negative, it becomes easy for me to recognize and change, in the event I do start behaving accordingly.
- Greg Long, Big Wave Surfing Champion 2015/16
Greg uses negative visualization to prepare for the worst, and learn how to react in bad situations. You can't control the circumstance or outcome, but you can control your preparation and reactions in certain situations. When Greg gets held down and is unable to breathe, he stays calm and slowly climbs his leash to the surface. He’s trained for years to hold his breath past the comfort zone and knows what it feels like. “There was no panic, no questioning, just, This is what I’m going to do if I’m going to survive,” he says. “There were no negative thoughts or wasted energy. I was totally focused. Until we let go of our fears, we don’t begin to reach our potential capabilities.”
Having fear in business is very different than surfing huge waves. But the same thinking can be applied. What are the scary business situations that will challenge you? Trying to close and getting an objection? Dealing with a customer complaint? Firing an employee? Losing your best employee to a better paying job? You can train for those situations. The situations you fear should point you to the things you should spend more time preparing for.
Tip #3: Exposure Therapy
I read about this in an article in Outside Magazine called The Science of Conquering Your Greatest Fears. One common way to get rid of fear is to constantly expose yourself to what scares you, starting with baby steps of course. Here is an excerpt from the article:
The keep-on-doing-it-safely strategy can also work outside the shrink’s office. It’s how most of us learn to push ourselves in risky sports, a little bit at a time, gradually gaining skills and confidence. Taken to an extreme, you get Jeb Corliss, the videogenic BASE jumper whose recent stunts include flying 123 miles per hour in a wingsuit between two canyon walls spaced just 25 feet apart. Unexpectedly, Corliss claims he used to be a fraidycat.
“I’ve spent my whole life confronting fear,” says Corliss, who’s 38. “I’ve been obsessed with it since childhood. When things terrified me, I was compelled to confront them. I was afraid of snakes, so I started catching snakes—first garter snakes, then bigger snakes, then finally rattlesnakes. Then I became obsessed with sharks, so I started diving. I didn’t want these fears to have power and control over me."
Comfort zones expand with exposure. Experience leads to comfortability which eventually leads to skill and then mastery. So if cold calling, or sales, or firing, or responsibility scares you, but you want to go into business, there is only one solution. Expose yourself to it! The whole point of our business program is to expose students to real-world business–the failure, the mistakes, the stress, the grind, the scary shit. Have a client get pissed, and learn you can't please everyone no matter what you do. Lose money on a project, it's not your money anyways, and learn how to manage the money better next time. Have your best employee quit, then go get another one. Gone a month or 2 without closing any new business, are you going to quit? No, of course not. And after being exposed to all the "scary" stuff, you realize it's not that scary anymore!
Tip #4: Mindfulness and Meditation (how to not mind-fuck yourself)
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
How does it relate to fear? Here are 2 more excerpts from the Outside Magazine article:
Canadian slopestyle skier Kaya Turski says that if she can get a grip, anyone can. “I am a high-anxiety person, one of the most nervous athletes,” says the 26-year-old X Games gold medalist. “I tend to overthink things. Going into these events, I generally feel like the world is on the line.” After Turski ripped her third ACL on a switch 720 just six months before the Sochi Olympics, she knew the recovery would be as much mental as physical. Because of her anxieties, she’d already started working with Los Angeles sports psychologist Michael Gervais, who helped Felix Baumgartner overcome his panic attacks before dropping like a rock from space in 2012, free-falling 24 miles and breaking the sound barrier.
The crux of their work has been mindfulness training. “I meditate every day,” says Turski. “As soon as your mind wanders, that’s when you introduce fear. It’s as simple as tuning back into the now. I haven’t perfected this, but it has 100 percent changed my life.”
The work was central to her comeback. It helped her take her eighth gold in worldwide X Games, but it couldn’t keep her from catching a bad cold and falling—twice—in Sochi. She placed 19th. “That experience shook me more than anything had ever shaken me,” Turski says. “It was a reality check. Things don’t always go your way. So I got back on the meditation track. Life isn’t so bad. You have to emerge into the light. Here I learned that I could survive something.”
The military is also experimenting with mindfulness and meditation as a tool to help marines deal with their fears during combat.
The Naval Health Research Center, along with the Office of Naval Research, recently conducted a study in which infantry Marines learned other tricks for hacking their fear systems, including “nonjudgmentally paying attention” to passing thoughts and feelings. In brain scans, Marines who received the eight-week training [on meditation] showed less activation in the anterior cingulate, a midbrain region that processes emotions, and in the insula, which trafficks in physical sensations. Paulus, who was on the team for the study, says that these regions work to dampen the amygdala so the more rational cortex can step in.
Meditation and mindfulness help you be less reactionary. Fear is natural, it isn't right or wrong or good or bad. It's just there. And when it's there, notice it, be aware of it, and get to know it and why it's there and how you feel. And then let it go and focus on the present moment. Take deep breathes and focus on the breathing.
Put into practice in our business, it looks like this. You are staring at your phone about to make a phone call to a potential client. Then you think that's its only been a day since you called last, what if they think you are calling too often? Then you look at the clock, its 7pm, what if you call and interrupt them at dinner? Then remember that they said they had young kids, is 7pm too late to call? Then you remember that the wife told you to talk to her husband, but you haven't met the husband yet, and what if he's grumpy? What if he says no? This is what we call mind-fucking yourself. If practicing mindfulness here, you will realize that your mind is wandering, and if you just tune back into the present moment, all the fears go away, and you realize that you should just pick up the phone and make the call. (And I bet you $20 that they answer the phone, aren't eating dinner, kids aren't sleeping, husband is a nice guy, he's glad you called, and an appointment will get set.)
Tim Ferriss, on his podcast, interviews top performers from many different fields and disciplines. Some include Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Foxx and Rainn Wilson, and the chess prodigy Josh Watzkin, the photographer Chase Jarvis, and many many more. Jocko Willink has been on the show twice. A meditation practice is one thing that many of these top performers from different disciplines have in common. You should probably try it out.
Tip #5: Reverse the FOMO
FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a relatively new idea, and is common amongst newer generations. We hired a generational expert to consult us on dealing with Millennials and the newest generation: GenZ. One of the things he warned us of is this FOMO in young people, that comes from the constant bombardment of social media pings. When you are constantly seeing someones "highlight reel" on Instagram or stories on Snapchat, you start to feel like what you are doing isn't good enough. How do you feel when you are heading work, and on social media it looks like all your friends do is party and travel and have fun? No one posts an Instagram of themselves working, because most of the time work is not exciting, it's just work.
This FOMO can lead to a decision to give up on goals that require a lot of time and work. And most worthwhile goals require that. This goes right in line with the delayed gratification article I referenced earlier in the discipline workshop. It is even harder for young people to not eat the marshmallow when they go on social media and it seems like everyone is eating marshmallows. So the key is to reverse the FOMO. When you are hustling and your friends are goofing off, you have to think of the 2 marshmellows in the future. While that person is wasting time, you are accomplishing big goals, learning new skills, and doing things that will help the future you. Yes you might be resisting the marshmallow now while your friends are having theirs, but it's your friends are going to be missing out on the future success that you attain, the 2 marshmellows if you will. It's them that are missing out. That kind of thinking is reversing the FOMO.
So in closing, fear is a part of life. Fear can prevent us from accomplishing great things, or it can help us. We can learn to use fear to perform on a higher level and succeed. And for crazy extreme athletes, dealing with fear can even be fun. Everyone can learn to become comfortable with their fears.
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