Roads or Ruts?

I have been thinking and talking quite a bit about new routines. It all started earlier this year around resolution time. I have a visceral reaction to resolutions because I associate them with failure.

The concept of new routines has helped me immeasurably. Although my performance has been far from stellar, my attitude toward the whole process is quite different. If my new routine practices had been resolutions, they probably wouldn’t be in place right now.

I have talked about the necessary elements of change outlined in Switch, a wonderful book on change.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the clear path forward; in the book, it’s the third ingredient necessary for change. Pathways are important. Imagine trying to drive across fields, rivers and the like without roads. Inefficient at best.

But sometimes what looks like a path can really be a rut. For me, a rut acts like a rail. I tend to disengage and simply go through the motions. Often it’s quite comfortable because it doesn’t require much thought or effort.

Ruts can be subtle, sometimes I don’t even realize I am in a rut, at least initially. I start to notice subtle changes don’t make any difference. Attempts at change are easily thwarted.

If you have ever been driving in a rut, you may notice that you no longer feel you are in control of the vehicle–it’s like this “tractor beam” has taken over and is pulling you along against your will.

In my experience subtle changes don’t work; a little nudge of the steering wheel doesn’t do much. If I want out, I have to “yank” the wheel.

I realize this may be an oversimplification of a more complex issue; however, sometimes we have to decide to make changes that are uncomfortable or require more effort than we would like in order to move out of our rut.

Now there may be times when a rut is a good thing (imagine driving down a road with six inches of unplowed snow); in this case, ruts are actually tracks that help you move along. The key is recognizing the difference and making the choice.

What’s your rut?


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Making the Turn

My good friend has a motivational poster. It’s a picture of what appears to be a vast Arizona landscape with a distinct road that makes a switchback turn just before running off the frame and it continues back in the direction it came.

The caption: A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.

You may have heard about it. Recently I was planning on a trip to Bulgaria. This was to be my second trip.

On the morning of my scheduled departure, I finished packing, then went to my office to check-in online. As I was checking-in, a pop-up message indicated my boarding documents were insufficient. I called the airline and discovered that my passport expiration was too close to my scheduled return date.

I called the Bulgarian embassy; there was nothing they could do.

I contacted the passport office in Washington D.C. The soonest appointment available for a walk-in renewal was one day after my planned return. A call to the office didn’t produce a solution either, there are stand-by slots but these were already taken.

At this point, I conceded and notified my contacts in Europe.

Here is what I am learning:

It’s easy to trust when things are going as planned; it gets tricky when the road appears to double back.

I don’t have to understand to trust, I believe in a God that is bigger than events like this one.

When my passport is within one year of expiration, renew it!

I met a new contact who lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. We have had a Skype conversation. This wouldn’t have happened.

Life happens, be thankful for all of it.

I have some new material that I prepared for the trip!

Trust God for all things.



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Creating a Personal Dashboard

One of my themes for this year is new routines. This seemingly simple concept has made all the difference in helping me grow and change. It’s the clear path forward. In Switch, the Heath brothers describe this as one of the three fundamental elements necessary for change.

I have wanted to write about this topic for a while; however, I didn’t feel I was ready to talk about it until now.

A lot of my inspiration for the concept of new routines, and now the personal dashboard comes from 300 Words a Day, a blog post I follow, written by Jon Swanson. Recently he wrote about Monday routines.

I really like the idea of creating a Monday routine. Until now I haven’t been able to settle on a routine.

Monitoring is an important aspect of what I do as a marketer. Without goals and objectives, there is nothing to measure; and without measurement, there is no accountability. Accountability helps ensure we are headed for a destination of our choosing, it informs what we are doing and how we are doing it.

I don’t know about you, but I bristle a bit at the term “accountability”. I bristle because the term is often misused and abused. Used properly, accountability can be my friend; it helps by alerting me when I start to drift or see a shiny new object that is destined to lure me off course.

Cars have dashboards with gauges that monitor things like engine temperature, oil pressure, and these days, a host of other data. None of these elements are all that exciting; however, lose oil pressure or oil itself and everything can come to a dramatic halt.

There are different kinds of gauges, some provide current levels of performance – think engine temperature; others are monitored by lights (affectionately called “idiot lights”) that only work when something requires attention.

Engineers have decided what needs to be monitored and provided a mechanism to enable us to quickly scan the dashboard and know what, if any, action is required. The luxury of being a vehicle-owner is that these built-in monitors have already been designed and implemented by mechanical engineers; not true for most aspects of life, a quandary for those not intentional about self-monitoring.

There is at least one other challenge to monitoring. Often what we are measuring becomes the end not the means. In education, for example, getting the “A” is more important than actually learning the material. In business, hitting the target trumps all else. This tendency doesn’t mean we shouldn’t measure; we just need to keep a healthy perspective, understanding the “Why?” so we can monitor and make the necessary adjustments.

So the question is, what does all this have to do with a personal dashboard? I am going to start my new Monday routine, with the intention of self-examination. Each Monday I am going to ask myself a series of questions designed to monitor the state of my soul. I am guessing these questions may evolve over time. Some weeks I may not have answers for all the questions; the purpose isn’t to have a specific answer. It’s to monitor, to review and reflect.

Here is my personal dashboard:

How am I doing? Really?

Am I growing? If so, what are the indicators? If not, why not?

What is God saying to me?

Am I trusting God more? Am I more connected and engaged?

What Am I avoiding?

Where am I grumbling? Judging? Lacking in compassion?

I am going to try this and see what happens.


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A Clear Path Forward

It’s been a long time since my last post.

But that’s just it…to me, it feels like I just posted yesterday; however, when I look at the date of my last post here, it’s been almost an entire month!

My first reaction is: “Here I go again! I’ll never change. I’m not good at keeping to a routine or a schedule.”

I once heard a pastor say “our past describes us, it doesn’t have to define us”. There is hope in this statement.

Recently in a chat I co-lead, we were discussing influencing behavior. It turns out that 95% of our decisions occur in the unconscious brain. Basically, we are hard wired for the status quo. It’s where we feel safe and secure.

The objective is to recognize and challenge this process, to engage the conscious mind. One approach is asking questions that invoke a sense of curiosity and probing for solutions.

Switch is one of the best books I have ever read on dealing with change, especially when change is difficult. Mindset is an important part of this process; in fact, it’s key.

There is a fixed mindset, typically someone with this mindset feels “I am what I am, I can’t change”.  The alternative is a growth mindset. Here, someone believes change is a possibility, it’s a matter of discovery.

The authors identify three elements for change:

  1. The Rider – this is the intellect
  2. The Elephant – the emotions
  3. A clear path forward – we have to have a mechanism to channel our desire for a better or different future.

Without a clear path forward, I am right back where this journey started; it’s like I am making a New Year’s resolution. There isn’t anything to connect the emotional response to reality, and with 95% of my brain programmed for the status quo, I am not likely to be successful.

So, how do I combat failure? First, I am choosing a “growth mindset.” This is an important first step. More importantly, I am choosing it often because each time I encounter an obstacle, I find “fixed mindset” thinking is triggered. So step one is taking these thoughts captive.

Instead of statements, I am using questions. Questions like:

  • What am I learning?
  • What do I need to do differently?
  • What is causing this reaction?

So far, I am discovering I need boundaries. Part of my new path forward is a clearly marked lane with distinct self-imposed guardrails. I tend to process things internally and I am often reluctant to ask for help, at least personally.

I have realized I need some help with this process, especially accountability. God has provided a wonderful colleague who is gifted in this area.

We have spent time crafting an action plan that identifies and prioritizes tasks that need to be completed. She routinely follows up to ask about status.

Practically speaking, she is a coach. She has my permission to ask tough questions, make observations and suggestions.

Real lasting change takes time. In some cases, I engage thought processes that have created decades-old-ruts.

Change is often dynamic. We don’t live in a static environment. As things around me change, I have to adapt.

At some point, I may not require this level of accountability; however, until then, I choose to embrace this part of the journey.

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Dare – It’s Back to Bulgaria

SONY DSCThis will be my second trip to Bulgaria. So why is it a dare? What courage is required to go, especially since I have been before?

I am a creature of habit. I like my routines. But sometimes routines become ruts. It’s easy to put life on auto-pilot and go about daily activities with a certain degree of comfort.

Once you get in a rut (when driving anyway) subtle movements on the steering wheel usually don’t work, they aren’t enough to overcome the inertia. If you want out, you have to “yank” the wheel decisively.

So why Bulgaria? Why now? The why Bulgaria part is pretty easy. I enjoyed the people and the different culture; my past experience was a satisfying experience. Now there is an opportunity, an opening to go and teach. I really enjoy teaching. I go to teach, but I learn through the process.

So you may be wondering why a dare is involved…why would this take a modicum of courage? I value security and the predictable; call it managed risk. Traveling to the other side of the world introduces a whole new set of variables. There are concerns I have about the future, challenges and uncertainty.

I pray for God’s direction and listen for a sense of direction and timing. This is a trip focused on providing leadership training for pastors and leaders. This trip has an added benefit from my perspective, a business seminar.

After considerable prayer and conversation, I have decided: this is the right time. There are always reasons not to go, always concerns. The real questions are, am I willing to:

  • trust?
  • to be wrong?
  • to confront and share my concerns?
  • step out and participate in a new adventure?
  • have a new familiar experience?

Because the experience will be somewhat familiar, I am tempted to expect the same, rather than anticipate the new possibilities. Most important, this isn’t about me, it’s a chance to grow…to “yank the wheel” and travel a different path.

I am excited about this opportunity. I plan to write about it here.

I leave March 13, 2013.

Part of my new routine for this year is paying attention to my themes. I am glad I had an opportunity to put this into practice so soon.



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My Three Words for 2013

My Three Words for 2013

My Three Words for 2013

I’m grateful to Chris Brogan for this concept of three words. Jon Swanson’s recent work reminded me of this concept.

Do you ever find yourself caught up in the New Year planning/resolution hype? I know I do. The idea of a new year and fresh opportunity is certainly appealing. Who knows? Maybe you are really good at establishing goals, laying out a plan and executing it.

This year I am committed to embrace the “growth mindset” discussed in Switch, the book about change when change is difficult. In a recent chat I co-host we discussed how one’s mindset plays a key role in determining planning success. Here is the transcript if you are interested. The bottom line: our outlook or mindset will either help us see possibilities or hold us back.

This year I have carefully selected three words to guide my journey. They are routine, dare, and explore. These three words are really broader concepts that will inform how I move forward in 2013 and serve as benchmarks against which I can measure my progress.


I really mean new routines. I have written quite a bit on the topic, here is the rationale, so I’ll only touch on it here. My resolutions fail because they are idealistic; while they may be aspirational, there is no clear path forward. Without the clear path forward, change is almost impossible.

I’ll be looking for ways to add scalable structure. I mentioned earlier that Kim, one of my colleagues, is helping me accomplish this. It’s important for me to remember that I need to reach out to others, this is a very important new routine.


I just finished reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Her works have been inspirational, challenging me to think differently, to pursue life and challenges by taking some risks. My natural tendency is to be conservative, to minimize risk. This isn’t a throw caution to the wind kind of risk; it’s more of a desire to push limits…to be less concerned about what others think and more concerned with pursuing those activities that offer meaning, purpose and fulfillment.


I chose this term because it embodies elements of the other two but adds a dimension of curiosity. The role of questions, especially good ones is key to moving forward. Are you asking the Right Questions? was one of my more popular posts in 2012. Being curious, discovering new options and alternatives requires a different mindset, one that questions and seeks to understand new possibilities. Our lower brain works hard to maintain the status quo, even when that isn’t in our best interest.

Part of my new routine will be monthly and quarterly progress reviews. By building on what works and changing or discarding what doesn’t, my goal is to be able to look back on this year and observe transformed thinking.

I’ll keep you posted.


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Planning for a New Routine

Change Switch

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I am out of town again. Last time I was out of town, my new routine was more like a resolution. It failed. At least that was my conclusion, I was thinking “new routine or resolution?”.

As I was planning for this trip I was thinking….

  • Will anything be different this time?
  • What kind of outcome would I like to see?
  • What can I do to ensure something different happens?

I have been spending quite a bit of time reflecting and reading about developing new routines. I have written several posts here too.

Here is what I am thinking.

New routines start with a new mindset. I have to remind myself that my history doesn’t have to define me, I can change. Reviewing some of the concepts from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (arguably one of the best change resources I have ever read), I decided to choose a growth mindset.

If I don’t think I can change, then I won’t…it’s that simple. After determining a mindset, I knew I would need a clear path forward, because without a plan, I am prone to wander right back into the wilderness I experienced during my last trip.

When I think of clear path forward, my first thought is “process”; and while process is important, I know that what is missing is connection. Without a connection to community, this will turn into another futile self-help attempt.

I am privileged to work with a very capable and organized colleague who is very wise. I shared my challenge and asked for her help in meeting the challenge.

Together, we decided what activities needed attention. Armed with this information she prepared an email that outlined a set of tasks for each day on my out-of-town excursion.

Here is what I have learned from this experience:

  • Ask for help; the sooner the better. Leverage the strengths of others.
  • Incremental change with a plan is powerful combination.
  • Communication, feedback and accountability are valuable assets.

The result: A very different, productive experience this time around.

Thank you Jon and Kim for the role you each played in this process.


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New Routine or Resolution?

I am getting closer to defining my three words for this year. I know that one word will be “Routines”. In fact this term inspired me to start writing in my personal blog. I talk about 2013 – new routines here.

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. While I fully support the idea of reflection and goal setting, I have a tainted view of the concept due to my own lack of success. From what I can tell, the failure rate is pretty high. One who works out at a gym will know exactly what I am talking about.

I am writing here to explore the possibilities of developing some new routines. I want to make changes–lasting changes–but how do I accomplish this?

Last week I was out of town most of the week; as a result, no updates. My first thought is: “Here we go again. This is the same old behavior, I’ll never change, what was I thinking?”

This is an emotional response–it’s the way I have allowed my mind to work. Then I think — I can allow my past to describe me; however, it doesn’t have to define me. (Thanks Rob Bell).

Instead of negative thoughts, I can choose to ask some curious questions. Questions like:

  • What can I learn from this?
  • Why did I choose to post nothing?

Just asking questions changes my attitude. I’ll soon be writing a post to share what I am learning about scheduling chat topics. I shared about new routines here.

In answer to some of the questions above, I have learned that I need to create some draft posts, like Chris Brogan suggested. It’s more difficult working from a blank screen when time is precious and the setting is completely different.

Plan ahead – If I am going to be traveling, anticipate that and have something prepared before I leave or something I can edit.

“Winging it” isn’t a strategy, at least not an effective one.

I talk a lot about learning from “failure.” Time to practice what I preach.

I may have failed this week, but I don’t have to be defeated. Because, choosing to be defeated is a choice (and an attitude that won’t get me where I want to go). So I still choose to make developing healthy routines a priority. It’s not too late, I can still commit to that.


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New Planning Routine

I co-host a weekly chat with my friend Ken Rosen; it’s on Mondays at 3 PM ET. It’s called #usguyschat . Typically some time before Monday we put our heads together and come up with a topic and questions to guide the chat.

I am committed to developing new routines this year, so when Michele Price (@prosperitygal) generously offered to help brainstorm some topic ideas, I immediately took her up on her offer. Michele is a well-known speaker, coach and she hosts her own weekly radio show, so I knew she would have a lot to teach me.

We quickly set up a Skype call and what followed was one very productive call.

Michele really knows how to organize and plan. She helped me understand how mind_mappingvaluable a simple mind map tool can be. In a matter of minutes, I had a framework for the entire year.

Next, we started talking about topic ideas. Michele helped me to think about the idea of themes and topics in a whole new light. She shared her best practices of observing chats and watching for questions or comments that could open doors to deeper follow-up chats.

Then she provided some ideas on finding guests to participate in our chats.

Here are a few of my takeaways.

1. Have a plan – I knew this intellectually; however, Michele brought this concept to life for me. But most important, she taught me how to fish (as the old saying goes), she didn’t do it for me.

2. Develop a process – You need a mechanism to work the plan. Here, Michele gave me a way to think about the plan. She showed me some new ways to connect and link ideas and concepts.

3. A good tool can really help. While I have dabbled in mind-mapping tools, I finally realized how helpful it can be.

4. Be generous. By helping others, we gain from new experiences, interactions and thoughts.

5. Accept help from others. Adopt a growth mindset and constantly look for opportunities to learn and grow.

Michele, thanks so much for your generosity, insight and support.



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Creating New Routines

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Image courtesy of Idea go at

Isn’t it interesting the way something new draws your attention. For instance if you get a new red car suddenly you began to notice red cars everywhere! I started writing about developing new routines.

Since I have started thinking about new routines (thanks to Jon Swanson) I am seeing information in the most interesting places. I was scanning Time’s online business section and noticed this Practice Makes Perfect article. I almost overlooked this gem of an article because of the “psychology of money” sub-head.

Basically the author begins by addressing a popular topic, New Year’s Resolutions, head on. This time honored tradition is based on the assumption that a new year brings with it new hope for changing behaviors. This practice is compared to jumping in to the deep end of the willpower pool, a wonderful picture. No wonder the success rate is so low.

Turns out studies show that practicing the skills and thought processes you’ll need before committing to a goal will greatly enhance your odds of succeeding. Here is a quote from the article that captures the essence of the idea using a weight loss example.

In other words, rather than starting to diet immediately—which invariably requires a difficult combination of behavior changes, deprivations, focus and willpower—the Maintenance First dieters tackled all four challenges without the added burden of actually having to lose weight. They got good at the daily business of dieting before they tried to lose weight. That resulted in a greater ability down the line to keep their lost pounds from returning.

For reasons I am trying to understand, some of my behaviors are routine, physical exercise, morning quiet time, while others (like writing, for example) are far from routine. Exercise and quiet times were not always routine. So what made the difference? What makes these sustainable and others seemingly unattainable?

For one thing, sustainable begins with small consistent activities. Quiet time started with 10 minute readings. I remember thinking that 10 minutes felt like an hour, time felt like it stood still. However, once the routine was established 10 minutes didn’t seem like enough because I was getting value from that time, not serving out a sentence.

It’s certainly important to begin with a vision–whether it’s personal growth or physical health, first I need to understand the “Why?” behind the routine. The vision helps me explore the routine’s potential barriers and motivations. I can explore the activities that will be necessary to create the routine.

So here is the tension for me: I need goals and I need to be able to measure progress against those goals;  however, I wonder if timing and experimentation without the “burden” of performance might be a helpful routine incubator. What if measurement was a part of the growth process rather than the launch?

Of course there are other factors like priorities, we all have to make choices. I will tackle that notion later.

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