Enduring Value

I start working around 8 in the morning, and I’m normally done by 8 at night. Last week I took Sunday off, and built some games.

But what am I doing that I call work? How can I look back at the end of the day and know I was “productive”?

Hours worked are irrelevant. The real question is:

What have you built today that has enduring value?

I could argue that my photo readings have enduring value because they can change peoples’ lives, and who knows what value will come from that in the long term. But using that logic, sneezing at the right place and time has enduring value.

Energy Anatomy: A Grounded Guide to Energy Work & Energy Healing

No, what I mean is producing something that didn’t exist yesterday, that is valuable now, and will continue being valuable for the foreseeable future. I always feel like I accomplished something when I release projects like my Energy Anatomy book, which will be helping people learn about energy work for years to come. I always feel productive when I’ve published a blog post that I know will inspire someone and continue inspiring people.

And I think, assuming you follow through, it’s productive to build part of a project that will be released. Most of my days are spent working on projects that are not yet ready to be released. When they finally are released to the world, all the “potential productivity” is transformed right then to actual productivity. Before that moment though, you’re just spinning your wheels.

Research is spinning your wheels. Thinking is spinning your wheels. Half completed projects are wheels that are spinning in place.

But let’s be honest. We all spin our wheels, and spinning is necessary. It’s like training for a triathlon. Sure, practice swimming and running and biking. But then show up to the race. Otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels.

Not only that, but sometimes we take a day off and play. If you’re just running for the joy of it, don’t worry about the race. I do photo readings because I love doing them, even though they don’t meet my definition of productivity. I write software most of the time just for fun, not to be productive.

The thing is I know the difference. When I’m doing something for fun, I let it be fun. When I’m doing something to be productive, that simple question is how I keep myself honest.

What have I built today that has enduring value?

10 or 11 hour work days are well and good, but they don’t mean shit except that I’m a masochist unless I produce something that has enduring value.

What have you produced today?

9 Ways to Change For Good

Achieving freedom means changing the way we interact with and experience the world. You don’t think yourself into freedom, only actions can take you there. You may think I’m telling you something you already know, but are you sure you know how to truly change your behaviors in the long term?

Most people don’t know how to motivate themselves to act toward their passion without any lunch bells, office hours, or stern authority figures. That’s why the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University shared the top 10 mistakes people make when they are trying to change their behavior. The presentation is insightful, but lacks actionable advice or concrete examples. The information is important enough to explain more fully, so read on for a full treatment.

Willpower Isn’t Enough

It’s a mistake to rely on willpower alone for long-term change. I know a brilliant girl named Jeanine who is also a chronic yoyo dieter, with dreams of a svelte figure and a perfect 22 BMI. When she’s on a diet, she scrapes by without her habitual Caramel Macchiato, without her Ton of Fun sized Luncherito, without her double chocolate Sara Lee cheesecake. Finally, after a long and stressful day of making her boss a lot of money, she succumbs to the open bag of Cheetos that her son left in the pantry.

Her heart is in the right place, but she was doomed from the start. I’ve already explained in detail why she cannot fight her urge to consume sweets over the long haul. But more than that, she hasn’t set herself up to succeed. She hasn’t asked herself a critical question:

How would I achieve my goal if will power simply didn’t exist?

Make the Change Easy by Default

Boulders don’t have will power, but they roll down hills because gravity compels them to. Girls who have packed a few too many ribeyes around the midriff won’t lose their wobble by hoping really hard. But Jeanine is a busy woman. She’s going to just grab whatever is available.

So she should make it easy for herself. When she shops for groceries, she should buy only healthy foods. Those cheetos should never have been in front of her. She can’t eat food she doesn’t have. That’s just one small example of making the good behavior (eating healthy food) the default behavior.

Think of yourself as that boulder. Don’t struggle to move, because you can’t. Ask yourself instead: How can I create a hill that I can’t help but roll down?

Change Your Context

The key lesson from the question of how to create a “hill” around yourself is that your environment shapes your behaviors. Sometimes “environment” refers to your social environment, as in the five people you spend the most time with. Other times it really is your physical environment, like an alcoholic bartender.

You’re surrounded by familiarity in both situations, so your brain will automatically try to act the way it’s been trained to act in that context. When I quit smoking a month before my 21st birthday (telling myself I could pick it back up when the big day came), the only difficult moments were when I was drinking with my friends. I learned to avoid that context while my addiction subsided because it triggered my addiction.

Harness the Power of Triggers

No behaviors happen without a trigger. Drinking and spending time with friends causes a cascade of chemicals that triggered my desire to smoke. A momentary lapse in stimulus in the context of unstructured access to the internet triggers my obsessive need to check e-mail.

But I got some benefit, however small, from smoking and checking your e-mail. Those actions met some primal need that I had. That’s why avoiding bars isn’t enough to make an alcoholic stop drinking. It’s not completely about convenience or opportunity. Maybe it’s about coping with emotional distress. Maybe it’s about relaxing after a stressful day at work.

To change behaviors in the long term you must address the underlying needs your reptile brain is trying to fulfill. When I’m triggered to check my e-mail, I acknowledge my urge, and fulfill it with a positive behavior. I do 10 pushups instead.

Create Positive Behaviors

Shift your focus from avoiding bad behaviors and triggers by creating positive behaviors that fulfill the same need. When triggered by a negative self image to down a gallon of ice cream, call your BFF instead, she’ll make you feel like a million bucks. Instead of smoking to relax, try breathing deeply. Instead of checking your e-mail to get that dopamine rush, try 10 pushups.

Whatever behavior you have and whatever triggers it, develop a plan for a better, alternative behavior, and stick to it when the time comes. It’s not that you’re trying to “quit smoking.” It’s that the very next time you’re tempted to smoke, you will choose to do something else instead. You’ll choose to spend 5 minutes on your exercise bike, maybe. It’s one trigger at a time that you’ll conquer until you’re behaving the way you’d like to.

Take Baby Steps

It’s one tiny success after another that adds up to big changes. Your goal isn’t to build a wildly successful blog, your goal is to write your next blog article and post it when you scheduled yourself to post it. Do that a few hundred times, then maybe you’ll be successful.

Building a profitable company is not about eight or nine figure paydays, it’s about showing up, building one more feature, providing one more service, solving one more problem, selling to one more customer.

No one knows how to “be successful.” Lots of people know how to show up and take one more step in the right direction.

Focus on Concrete Behaviors instead of Abstract Goals

The problem is that “be successful” sounds like something you can do, but it’s not really actionable. “Take one step” may not be a fast track to fame and fortune, but it’s something you can actually do.

We fail at goals like “get in shape” because they are contentless. You can’t “get in shape,” even though your brain thinks you can. What you can do is walk 15 minutes every day. You can do 50 pushups before bed. You can drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Translate goals like “have a successful business” to actions like “get one more customer today.” But be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you need to read about how to get that customer.

Know When to Stop Thinking and Start Acting

We believe that if we have more information we can take action, but humans aren’t that rational. We normally use information gathering as an excuse not to start a business “yet” or not to chat up a cute girl “yet,” as if some esoteric insight is going to fundamentally change our approach to these situations.

You don’t need to research another fad diet, you know damn well that limiting portions and exercising will make you lose weight. You don’t need to research yet another online business model when you know damn well that you need to just create something, and iterate.

Don’t use information gathering as an excuse not to act.

There is a reason you’re trying to stall though. Change can be overwhelming, and in the same sense that tackling huge challenges is untenable whereas taking small steps is workable, changing forever could seem hopeless, but anyone can make a change for a little while.

Choose a Timeframe for the Change

Changing for a set period that you decide in advance takes the pressure off. Instead of imagining a dismal future, devoid of soda, you can tell yourself that you’re doing something good for your body and you can have soda again in a week. Or two weeks. Or whatever you decide.

Probably the most well-known application of this rule is Steve Pavlina’s “30 Day Trial” concept. His idea is to commit to a new action for only 30 days. At the end of the 30 days you can do whatever you want, but you promise yourself (and maybe others) that for those 30 days, you’ll stick to it.

This helps overcome the indomitable concept of “forever” by only committing to a little while, but it also keeps you going long enough to actually instill the action as a habit. That way you can make a conscious decision about whether to continue with the now-habitual action, or whether the action really doesn’t meet your needs and expectations.

Keep the Change

So now you know how to make a change and maintain it.
Willpower isn’t enough. You have to rearrange your life so that the behavior you want becomes the default behavior. You do that by changing your context to create new triggers and get rid of your old ones. When you can’t get rid of the triggers that lead to bad behavior, you replace those bad behaviors with positive ones that fulfill the same basic needs.

You take baby steps toward concrete actions, instead of fantasizing about abstract goals. You stop thinking and just do it. And finally, you choose a timeframe for whatever goals you may have.

Changing behavior doesn’t have to be difficult. Use these findings to set yourself up for success.

What is the Key to Success?

You have goals and projects that you want to be wildly successful. You’re a writer who wants to be published. You’re a programmer who wants your weekend project to turn into a company.

You’re hoping you meet the right people, learn the right things, have the right ideas. You’re waiting for the day that you are in the right place at the right time to grab and opportunity and run with it.

And you’re wondering what the key to success that you’re missing is.

The answer is simpler than you think.

Revisiting Your Work So Far

I’ve been connecting with people in the local print media lately. I wrote a featured article about blogging for Advantage Small Business Magazine, and they are about to run my second piece about giving away expertise to build a customer base. I’m the cover story this month for the Jacksonville Observer. An interview I did with Dirk at UpgradeReality.com will be posted in a week or two. I have several more appearances in the pipe that haven’t come to fruition yet.

Part of my process for writing and being interviewed is reviewing my past writing. I do that to get a sense of the story as I’ve told it so far, and to prime me to be able articulate whatever ideas I’ve published.

In light of that, I’ve noticed how atrocious my writing was, even a year ago.

The Bomb and the Bystander is one egregious example of embarrassing writing.

One moment calm, the next an enormous sound shook the building, making the plates and light fixtures shudder; a flash of bright light, all the electric lights popped and went dark…

One moment the restaurant buzzed with a lunch crowd talking over mariachi music piped in from overhead speakers, the next moment an enormous blast rocked the building, shuttering the plates and light fixtures. A flash of bright light, all the electric lights popped and went dark, the music fell silent with a crack, everyone in that restaurant jumped from their seats at once to run.

Aside from awkward phrasing and vague waffling, the whole essay wanders. Leadership. No, a Mexican restaurant, then to a college class, oh wait, a different college class, then there’s a seizure, and maybe an ice sculpture? What the fuck am I talking about? I had a point, but it drowned in the puke I set it swimming in.

The result is flaccid. No one has ever read that essay. I couldn’t understand why because I wasn’t a good enough writer to notice how vapid it was.

But the point isn’t that I was bad. The point is that I’ve improved.

How do I improve?

I write.

I post essays on Mondays and Fridays, even when I really don’t feel like it. I write articles for other publications. I also help other people with their writing, and I read authors who are better writers than I am. But the main factor that makes me a better writer than I was a year ago is that I write.

This site is my art gallery that exists.

Daily Progress

Readers, interviewers, and acquaintances ask me almost every day for the sound bite that makes my story of freedom possible. They want the key to unlock their own potential, and they want it to fit neatly into their sweaty, outstretched palm.

Good news: the key to success really is easy to grasp. I’ll give it to you right now, and I hope your wildest dreams come true:

The key is doing it. You show up every day and you add one tiny, ill-placed paint stroke to your art gallery.

You don’t think about doing it, or dream about doing it, or read about doing it, or plan about doing it. You do it.

Thinking, dreaming, reading, and planning are all worthwhile, but do those after you do something.

The Power of Retrospect

You know you’re making progress when you are embarrassed of your art gallery that exists. When you’re good enough to notice how bad you used to be, you’ll realize the incredible power of just doing something—anything—daily.

Looking back at your progress will motivate you to continue moving forward because it provides a frame of reference for your improvement.

Taking small actions toward your goal every day will build the history, experience, and body of work that are fundamental to creating success. Those people you want to meet, and the brilliant ideas you want to capture will come to you as you hammer away, day after day. Having a schedule and sticking to it will also build the discipline you will definitely need to push past the difficult parts of that process.

Too many people are stuck thinking and dreaming about the life they want to build. Those people are waiting for the day they are good enough to bust onto the scene in a blaze of glory and take over the world. But that’s not how success works.

I admonish you to post your shitty writing, to sell your crappy product, to add that tiny paint stroke to your art gallery. That’s how success works.

That is the key to success. Whatever you do, show up and do it.

The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work

“If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.” – fortune cookie

I am a professional software developer by trade, and there’s a movement within the field called “agile software development.” Agile basically means that instead of trying to plan and schedule every aspect of a project in minute detail, we just build the minimum version that does something useful, then iterate.

That in itself is a phenomenal lesson for business: don’t try to plan everything because you’ll get bogged down in planning, and the plan will go wrong anyway.

In order to make this philosophy work you have to stop second guessing yourself about how to get something done by wondering if what you’re doing will work in the future. Instead of trying to build elaborate, future-proof systems, you need to just do…

The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work

You say you don’t know how to drive traffic or sell your product, but that’s wrong. You know how to e-mail your mom. You know how to talk to your friends. Those are simple things, and they can possibly work. You didn’t think about doing them because they don’t seem elaborate or long-term or serious enough to you.

But the thing is that when you’re ready for elaborate, long-term, serious strategies those strategies will become the simplest thing that could possibly work.

You will have done all the ground work by e-mailing your mom, talking to your friends, plastering your neighbor’s windshields with shitty fliers you printed off from Word. You will have made progress by doing those things, and learned about your market. Those new resources and that new knowledge will make it possible to do the bigger things that seem daunting right now: the things you’re currently using as an excuse to stall and “research” instead of going out and getting something accomplished.

So stop agonizing over how to get “prospects,” and just pick up the phone. Stop researching different mailing list services, and just use mailchimp until you need something better. Stop pulling your hair out about web design and just use a wordpress template for now.

You can fix it later. You can fix everything later… as long as it exists to be fixed.

Be Consistent To Be Successful

It’s relatively easy to be great. Most of “great” is just putting in the time and practice.

The factor that divides the successful from the average is not greatness.

It’s consistency.

No matter how busy or distracted or distraught you are, if you show up every day and do what you do, and you do it and do it and do it and do it, you will win.

Go do it.

Goal Mapping Alpha

It’s finally ready! As promised, the alpha version of my Goal Mapping software is ready.

For those of you who aren’t down with geek lingo, an “alpha version” is a complete piece of software, but it has only been tested by the developer (me), so it has loads of bugs, it’s probably ugly, and may not do everything that later version will do.

For those of you who didn’t have a chance to read my previous post about Goal Mapping, here’s a brief rundown:

Goal Mapping enables you to create a plan with concrete steps to go from where ever you are now to where ever you want to be. You create the map, then the software calculates the best path to reach your goal and tells you what your chances of success are.

I’m pumped to hear suggestions from people using this, but I’m really practicing what I preach with this release, because frankly I’m embarrassed of this software. I know it’s ugly, and I know it has bugs. What kind of a perfectionist am I!?

  • In particular, it’s not compatible with any version if Internet Explorer. The fix would have pushed the release of the software past today, and that was unacceptable to me.
  • It works on Windows in Firefox 3.5 and Chrome. It hasn’t been tested on a Mac, or in Opera, Safari, or any of the many lesser used browsers.
  • My immediate plans are on this ultra high tech to do list, and I’ll continue to update that list as I receive feedback. Over the next few weeks, you should see the software stabilize dramatically.

Instructions for using the software are built right into it, so without further adieu, I give you:

Goal Mapping, by Pete Michaud →

Planning Right? You’ll Fail.

Planning Right: The Problem

Imagining your future is usually right brained: your creative center generates a story for a future that could plausibly happen. It hits the highlights, and it puts magical arrows between them as if one event leads inexorably to the next. Get into MIT, start a successful company with your smart roommates, and retire early to a country that you can’t pronounce the name of.

But the arrows are wrong. They skip important chunks of the story, and you generated the whole thing backwards anyway.

It turns out that right brained planning uses the same cognitive process as creating a fictional story. When you generate the narrative that leads you from your present situation to your goal, your brain works backward, inventing events and circumstances that fit together like the plot of movie.

It’s a story that makes perfect sense: if you heard that it actually happened you would believe it. People go to MIT and get rich all the time, so we’re told.

But a story isn’t a plan, and the problem is that just because a story “makes sense” in retrospect doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen and it doesn’t mean you know how to make it happen.

Planning Left: The Solution

I was starting to get an inkling of this problem when I was still writing as Ken Sharpe. My plan to have a big exit for at least $2 million wasn’t really a plan at all: it was just a story.

To solve my problem I invented Goal Mapping*. A goal map is literally a map that contains the exact steps to get from where you are now to your goal. I started by simply making a flow chart:

Flowchart of Ken Sharpe's Goal

Click to Enlarge

Goal Maps have:

  • Boxes that represent events, actions, or goals.
  • Arrows pointing from one box to the next.
  • Box colors representing the influence you have over the events and actions on the map.
    • Green means you have control
    • Red means you have no control
    • Green with Red means you have some control
    • Yellow marks a goal node

Also notice:

  • There are multiple paths to the end goal, and the nodes are subjective. You can be as detailed or as general as you want, and you can add as many alternate paths as your creative mind can generate.
  • You should always prefer green paths over which you have a lot of control. If each step along your path is determined by outside forces, you are doomed to fail. If each step is firmly within your grasp, then you’re guaranteed to succeed.
  • There are events over which you have only partial control. You can see the green block that represents getting the infrastructure project working really well. It has a red outline—that was my way of saying that I have influence, but not direct control over that event. Those are better than red blocks, but not as good as green blocks.
  • It’s okay to admit that you don’t actually know the steps between one node an another. It’s very much to your advantage to mark the cloudy areas because those blocks are similar to red blocks in that you’re not sure what will happen in them. Without those blocks the connection between two events might look like smooth sailing, when it’s actually a quagmire.

If you know my story, you’ll recognize the path on the top of that flow chart as my original plan, and path going down the middle as very nearly what I ended up doing.

The act of making this flow chart forced me to create a plan out of my story. Here’s how it helped:

  • I used it to see the missing steps. The story went: “fix the company to become the CTO.” Fix what? How? How do I get a promotion after that?
  • I used it to see the improbability of the steps that were there. Even if I could become the CTO of the company, would I get stock options? Would they be enough? Would the company be bought or go public as I hoped? I had no way to know and no control over any of it!
  • I used it to generate contingency plans. When I saw how terrible my story was when it tried to be a plan, I generated other options that turned out to be better.
  • I was ahead of the game with a goal already in mind, but Goal Mapping can also help you set and work toward clear and explicit goals instead of floundering with only a notion of where you want to be.

Goal Mapping Software

It’s possible to build a goal map with any tool you want, including paper and a pencil. I created my original goal map above in an open source flow chart application called Dia. Anything can work, but I always wished there was software that:

  • Focused on making it easy to make nodes with text, instead of on crazy graphics and colors.
  • Colored the boxes based on how much control I had over the event, so I could visualize the probabilities in my map without tweaking individual boxes.
  • Told me what my best path was, based on the map I built. Bonus points if it could tell me my exact probability of success by taking that path.

No software like that existed. Now it does.

Barely Visible Screen Capture, Tah dah!

Building a goal map used to be a cumbersome process, but in the next week I’ll release an early version of the goal mapping software I’ve been building over the last two weeks. It’s free and web based, so there’s nothing to buy or download. I’ll give you the link, you’ll build a goal map.

It’s useful in its current state, but I’m hoping to get feedback from those who use it so I can make a tool that will stand the test of time as an intuitive and useful way to plan for the future.

Exciting things are coming up!

UPDATE: My Goal Mapping has been released! Check out this post for details.

* I’m aware that Brian Mayne of Lift International has something called Goal Mapping also. It’s not the same thing. I didn’t know about Brian when I originally created the technique years ago, and I agonized over what to change the name to now, but in the end the name is just too perfect: it’s literally a map you follow to the goals you set. It’s a goal map. What else could it be?

Pete Michaud Techzing Interview

I had a great interview with Jason and Justin at TechZing.

Click here to listen to the interview →
Click here to read a transcript of the interview →

We covered quite a bit of ground in the interview:

Click here to listen to the interview →
Click here to read a transcript of the interview →

A couple things I want to correct for the record—they are just details, but I don’t want them to bite me later:

  1. I actually didn’t major in statistics, even though I took a couple statistics courses while majoring in business. I am a math enthusiast, but my wife is the one with a math degree! I think Justin’s point was that I brought an analytical approach to life and business which worked for me.
  2. Dr. Yakuboff did offer to waive his surgeon’s fee at a time when my parents couldn’t afford any more. It’s my understanding that the insurance came through at the last moment, so he never needed to do work pro bono even though the offer was there. I might be wrong about that, he might have done it pro bono, but I was only 8 or 9 at the time, so I’m not sure.
  3. Ironically, I have to rely on witness accounts of the immediate aftermath of my accident. Some people like my mom report that I died, but in the course of researching a book I wrote with my wife, Dr. Yakuboff said in an interview that my heart never stopped, which means I didn’t literally die. He’s probably right, he is in a position to know, although he didn’t see me until about 45 minutes after the accident. The important thing for me, whether I did or not, is that I grew up believing and internalizing that I died. My outlook was affected as though I had died, even if the witness evidence suggests that I didn’t. That’s a mouthful in an interview, so I left it alone. Just for the record!

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed doing it!

Click here to listen to the interview →
Click here to read a transcript of the interview →

5 Steps to Stop Procrastinating Forever

Obvious truth #1: We think about the things we like to do, and those things make us feel happy. As a result, we do those things whenever we can.

Obvious truth #2: We try not to think about the things we don’t like to do. Those things make us feel frustrated, stressed, bored–anything but happy. As a result, we avoid doing those things whenever we can.

I’m going to teach you how to use these two obvious truths to overcome procrastination. This mental technique works better than any other technique I’ve ever tried. I am actually amazed at how effective it is, because it seems so simple (it is), and so easy to do (it is).

When a technique for overcoming a nigh universal problem is easy and simple, and is based on an “obvious truth,” the technique is bullshit most of the time; otherwise the universal problem wouldn’t exist.

This is not “most of the time”: this works, and it’s not wide spread because even though it’s easy, it’s also counter-intuitive.

Without further adieu…

Push Motivation Steps

Picture of a messy office

(Before these steps begin, you’ll need a task that you want to motivate yourself to do. I’m going to choose cleaning a messy office.)

Step 1: Take a look around at the clutter and mess in the office. Hold the image of the dirty room in your mind.

Step 2: Close your eyes. Now imagine the room is perfectly clean, like a cleaning crew came through organizing every paper and polishing every surface. Don’t try to imagine how it got that way, just see the picture of the clean room in your mind.

Step 3: Keep your eyes closed. Now, feel good about the clean room. Imagining that amazingly clean room, you feel great about how clean and tidy it is.

Step 4: Still with your eyes closed, ask yourself: why do I have this good feeling? Maybe the room looks brighter, or you know where everything is. You feel more creative, or more free to move around and think without all the grime and clutter around you. Take a long moment, and really absorb how good the clean office makes you feel. It feels comforting like a snugly pillow or comforter. Mmmm…

Before going on to Step 5, it’s important that you have really completed the previous steps. If you skimp, it won’t work!

Step 5: Keep the image in your mind of the sparkling clean office and the snugly, positive feeling you have about it, before you finally open your eyes and see what the messy office really looks like. Don’t do anything yet: just look around.

It’s like you can see right through the clutter to the perfectly clean office underneath it all. As you look around your mind will offer suggestions about how you could make the real office more like the perfect office in your mind. Throw those papers away, move that cup to the kitchen, arrange the couch cushions properly. All these ideas will come to you effortlessly as you look around, but don’t do anything just yet. Let the pressure build up.

Soon, you will be forcing yourself not to clean your office; finally you give in to your overwhelming desire to clean!

How does it work?

Our brain’s motivation works in a very simple way: we imagine the things we want, they make us feel good, and that good feeling propels us to go after the thing we want. Nothing magic there.

It also works the opposite way: imaging things that make us feel bad pushes us to avoid those things.

So when you’re faced with checking your favorite forum just once more, or slogging through a term paper, your brain sets you up to fail.

The hack works because you’ve harnessed the fundamental nature of the brain to actually want what you used to just want to want.

(Thanks PJ!)