Three steps to making your new approach stick

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I described a process for changing your approach. Two weeks ago I described three indicators that your current approach is not working. In this post, I will share three steps for making your new approach stick. The steps are easy, but as we all know making a change stick is not. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Implement it – don’t expect anything to be different until you implement your new approach. This step is actually the easiest to complete – all you have to do is start. But, it can also be the most difficult. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many times I decided to make a change but never implemented a new approach. Several times I even spent a lot of time and energy crafting a new approach, but never got around to making it happen. The main reason I think implementing a new approach is difficult is fear of failure. What if it doesn’t solve the problem? What if your new approach does not work better? What if it actually makes things worse? Many times these fears are unfounded. Bottom line is that you will not know how well your new approach works until you try it.

Don't get stuck in the starting blocks
Don’t get stuck in the starting block

2. Measure progress – it will be hard to tell if your new approach is working, or not unless you measure your progress. Come up with the metrics you will use to determine if you are actually solving the problem. For example, I have been in debt numerous times. One time the amount of debt I had accumulated troubled me greatly, so I decided to change my approach. The approach was somewhat radical. I implemented several changes that wiped out the debt quickly. I was not confident that this approach actually addressed the root cause of the problem – more money going out than coming in. I decided to measure both the amount of debt I carried and how quickly it grew each month. After only two months, the same problem started to surface. I knew my solution worked in the short term, but would not suffice for the long term. After this analysis, I implemented a different approach – I changed jobs to make more money. I continued to measure my progress using the same metrics. This time the change worked. The problem was finally solved. More income than expenses equals no debt.

Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working
Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working

3. Stick with it and make tweaks – sometimes you will make progress after implementing your new approach, but improvements are not happening fast enough. You may ask yourself what do I do now. Should I stick with my new approach, or stop it and try something else. I recommend making tweaks rather than abandoning your new approach. Tweaks are different than major changes. They are small adjustments you make to your new approach. For example, one time I changed my approach to eating in order to lose some weight. As I measured my progress I recognized that I was losing weight, but not as quickly as I hoped. In fact, I would lose five pounds and then regain five pounds, and then lose the same five pounds. My weight was going up and down like a yo-yo. Overall my approach was working but I had to make some tweaks. One tweak I implemented was to start drinking black coffee rather than put cream and sugar in it. This one change made a positive impact and helped me achieve the result I was looking for. Make tweaks to get to the finish line. Don’t abandon your new approach to quickly. Give yourself some time. On the other hand, if your new approach is not working at all, then it is time try something different. You may end up trying several approaches until you find the one that works.

'I must say, that was quite a tweak you came up with.'
Tweaks can make a big impact

In this series, I have attempted to pass along my advice on how to implement positive changes in your life. Talking about it is easy. Making it happen is difficult. Enough talking – get out there and make it happen.

Process to change your approach

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I discussed three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should seriously consider making a change. In this post, I will describe how you do it – the process to change your approach. The process is easy and described below. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Determine where you are – the first step in changing your approach is figuring out where you are. When I was in US Army Ranger School we would navigate through various terrain to include mountains, swamps, and deserts. If you were in charge of the patrol it was important to always know where you are. At some point during the patrol, the Ranger Instructor would ask the patrol leader to point out where you were on the map usually with a pine needle. You were not allowed to use your fat finger and fake it. Pinpoint accuracy is what they expected. If you were wrong, you were in trouble, and you knew it. They drilled this expectation into us because it is really easy to get lost if you have no clue where you are. Any path will work. I think the same can be true in life. If you have no idea where you are on the map of life, then how will you know if you are lost.

Determine where you are on the map
Determine where you are on the map

This step sounds simple, but it can be a real struggle. The reason why is that many of us are overly optimistic when it comes to evaluating where we are on the map. Are you ahead of schedule, or behind? Are you on a mountaintop, or in the valley? Have you crossed a bridge, or not? For example, if you have changed jobs, then you have already crossed the bridge. If you determine that the new job is not working out, and a change is needed, then you need to decide what to do next. Walk back across the same bridge (assuming that you did not burn that one), or find a new bridge to cross by finding another new job.

Have you crossed a bridge, or not?
Have you crossed a bridge, or not?

Based on my own experience, I tend to overestimate my current situation. In my head, I picture that things are not as bad as they seem, and will work out in the end. What I have learned is that I need to be honest with myself when determining where I am. You may need help determining where you are. Friends, family, and colleagues can provide perspective. When in doubt, ask you heavenly father for help in determining where you are. He sees all and may open your eyes to see a bigger picture than what is right in front of you.

2. Seek guidance from others – after you determine where you are, next you should think about what you will do next to change your approach. When I was younger I tended to try and figure out most things myself. A stupid mistake that really limited my options. Nowadays, I am a big fan of getting help from others. I have learned over the years that I do not know much. Others possess wisdom, knowledge, and experience that can benefit me. Why not take advantage of their life lessons. Don’t be afraid to talk with your friends, family, and mentors about your situation. They may have dealt with what you are going through, and have ideas for a better approach. In addition to seeking guidance from people you know, you can also learn a lot from experts. The number of resources available to you from experts in all fields is staggering. You can read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and research on the internet. Remember everything you find on the internet may not be true, or helpful, but there is plenty of great content available to you. Take advantage of all these resources when trying to figure out how to change your approach.

Seeking guidance from others can help
Seeking guidance from others can help

In the last blog post I mentioned that my approach to running was not working. I trained hard, probably too hard, to maintain the same pace and race times as I got older. But, it came at a price. My body suffered. I experienced multiple injuries and did not feel well almost every morning. Just getting out of bed was a painful event. Something needed to change. I spoke with several of my friends who also run, and they noticed the same thing. They were experiencing more pain and suffering than normal. I listen to a podcast called Fitness over 40. During one broadcast the guest was two college professors who created a training plan for runners to keep running into their later years. I read their book, and it really opened my eyes. The research they conducted shows that too much running is bad for you, and results in injuries. Duh – exactly what I was doing to my body. The book contained the training plan, that I implemented earlier this year, and I can already tell the difference. I feel better physically, and have a much better approach than the one I was using the past decade of my life. I can only imagine how much damage I would have done to my body if I kept to my old approach. I am avoiding all that pain in misery because I was smart enough to seek the guidance from others. BTW – I let all my friends know about the book. It is shown below.

Train smart to run forever
Train smart to run forever

3. Craft your plan – the last step in changing your approach is to craft your plan. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what changes you are going to make. Go ahead and craft your plan with all the details you will need for success. I am a big fan of actually writing down your plan. Writing it down forces you to really think through the details. I tend to get more clarity when I commit my plans to paper. In fact, I write down my goals for each year. Last year, I read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. Michael recommends that you create a life plan, and offers other life planning tools that I used for the first time this year. The tools really helped me craft my plan for the year. I highly recommend both the book and tools to others. It is one thing to craft a plan for a new approach- that is the easy part. It is another thing to implement the new approach. Next week I will cover that topic.

Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt
Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt

If your approach is not working – change it

There will be points in your life when you have to decide if your approach is working or not. You may ask yourself the question am I making progress, or am I just spinning my wheels going nowhere? It can be really hard to tell if a change is needed. Oddly enough, the easy path is usually to continue down the path you are on. The older I get the more I recognize that staying on the same path may not be the best choice. Changing your approach may be difficult, but it is worth considering. Over the next few weeks I am going to share my perspective on this topic – how do you change your approach. In this post, I will discuss three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should consider making a change. I hope you learn something from my experience.

1. You are not making suitable progress – measuring your progress can be challenging. In some scenarios calculating your progress is pretty straightforward. Let’s say you are trying to lose weight. Clearly, you can calculate your weight using a scale, body weight composition test, or other methods. The good news is that the scale does not lie. As many of us have learned, the bad news is that the scale does not lie. I actually weigh myself just about every morning. I am not obsessed about my weight. Rather studies have shown that weighing yourself every morning is an effective way to prevent putting on extra weight which is a challenge I face at my age. It will not appear overnight. This article explains more details about why weighing yourself everyday is not a bad idea. Remember – it is just one data point. Don’t panic.

Weighing yourself everyday
Weighing yourself everyday

In other situations, it can be difficult to accurately measure your progress. Some goals may take years to achieve, such as earning a college degree. In this case, I would monitor your progress against the graduation requirements for your degree. If you are off track, then you will likely need to change your approach. For example, I changed majors during my undergraduate years. As a result of this change, I was not on track to graduate in four years. Rather than stay in college longer I decided to take several classes during the summer so that I would still graduate on time. If I had not changed my approach, then I would have required more time and money to graduate. When it comes to professional goals, measuring your progress can be even more tricky. You are several years from that, so I will not cover that topic right now. Suffice it to say that if you are not making suitable progress then you may need to change your approach.

2. You are causing more harm than good – achieving your goals will take time, energy, and effort. In a previous post, I talked about the fact that some days you have to grind it out. I am a big fan of putting in your best effort, even when times get tough. Having said that I also think it is important to make sure that you are not causing more harm than good. You need to monitor the impact you are causing to yourself and others. The ends do not justify the means. You should not sacrifice everything to achieve your goals. This point is especially true when it comes to relationships and your health. If you are causing more harm than good in any of your personal relationships, then you need to reevaluate your approach. You may need to make changes to include ending a relationship. No one deserves to be miserable. Also, if your approach is causing health issues, then you need may need to change it. I am not saying that some pain is not needed for physical progress. Rather I am saying don’t be foolish when it comes to your health. Learn from my mistakes in this category. Many times I ran when I should have rested while training for an upcoming race. In my mind, I was doing the right thing. But, what I was really doing was tearing up my body. It seems like every time I took this approach I paid the price later with either poor performance on race day or an injury. Don’t’ be stupid like me. Listen to your body, and take care of yourself. Trust me – if you don’t you will pay the price later.

Take care of your body or pay the price
Take care of your body or pay the price

3. You lose your why – when things get hard I often ask myself “why am I doing this”. I think most people do. A strong reason why makes it easier for me to keep going. If I cannot answer that question clearly, then I may be in trouble. Sometimes you may lose your why. It does not happen all the time, but this question will show up in your life at some point. I remember being in Graduate School. At the time I was working a full-time job, trying to be a decent husband to your mother, and a good dad to you boys. Needless to say, I had a lot going on at this time. When I asked myself why I was getting a graduate degree the answer was clear. I was preparing for the future. I was getting ready to leave the Army and needed current skills to enter the civilian workforce. That why helped me get through some late nights and tough times. If you do not have a good answer to that question, and you have lost you why then it is time to consider changing your approach. I am not saying just quit. I am saying that you may need to come up with a new approach which is what I plan to talk about in the next post.

People lose their way when they lose their why
People lose their way when they lose their why

Follow the 10-10-80 rule

Gavin finished his first summer job recently. He earned a fair amount of money and asked me about the process I use for managing my money. Gavin is just learning about money. I recommended that he keep it simple, and follow the 10-10-80 rule. This formula represents how you should allocate the money you earn – save 10%, give 10% (some call this tithing), and spend the remaining 80%. I cannot remember when I learned this rule, but I have tried to use it over the years. It seems to work well, although it can be tempting to spend more than 80%, especially if you experience a windfall.

1. Save 10% for yourself – there are multiple reasons to save 10% of your paycheck. First, it is helpful to have an emergency fund to deal with surprise situations that may arise. Opinions vary about how much money you should have in an emergency fund. One month salary is a good starting point. Second, you may want to save money for a specific purchase so that you don’t have to borrow money and pay interest. In general, I like to stay out of debt as much as possible, but I think it is okay to borrow money for some purchases. For example, you will likely need a loan if you decide to buy a house. Third, you will need money for retirement. In fact, you will likely need a lot of money. Start saving early for retirement, so that you don’t have to play catch-up later on. I did not save nearly enough early on in my career and am paying the price now. Avoid this mistake if you can. Most companies offer employees ways to save for retirement. Take advantage of these savings opportunities. Here is a video that talks about various ways to save for retirement.

2. Give 10% for a worthy cause – it honors God and helps those in need. I would love to say that tithing is easy, but it can be a challenge to give away 10% of your money. I recommend starting early so that it becomes a habit. Don’t tell yourself that you will give money away when you earn more and can “afford it”. I think it actually becomes more challenging the more you make. Once again, keep it simple. If you are a member of a church then you should tithe to that church. The tithe is intended for the church to operate and support the local community. If you are not a member of a church then look for a worthy cause to support. Plenty of them exist. I have taken different approaches when it comes to charities. One year I decided to support as many as possible – even with only a small amount. More recently, I decided to focus my donations to a few specific charities that I am passionate about. For example, this year I am focused on the Lead the Way Fund. They do great work. Lastly, some charities are not worth supporting. They spend too many resources fund raising, or other events, rather than making sure the money gets to those who need it. For example, I used to send money to the Wounded Warrior Program, but stopped due to a recent scandal about how they were wasting donor’s money.

3. Spend 80% to live your life – this part covers the rest of your expenses like housing, food, utilities, clothes, and other bills. 80% sounds like a lot. Not spending more than that seems easy, but I will warn you that it is not easy. What is easy is spending more than you earn by using credit cards and other methods for borrowing money that you do not really need. Trust me, it is really easy to buy stuff, esecially nowadays. You don’t even have to leave your house to shop and they will deliver many things straight to your front door. I am a big fan of online shopping, but it can be a slippery slope when it comes to spending money.

Lastly, I have warned you before about the dangers of credit cards, and will reiterate to be careful. At one point in my life I wracked up over $10K in credit card debt and had to refinance our house to pay off the debt. Really big mistake on my part. You should not be shocked to learn that the credit card company never called me to ask why I was spending so much money. The reality is that we had just moved and it cost a lot more money getting the new house set-up than I anticipated. The credit card company did not care because they make money out of the deal. The more I borrow, the more they make.

Managing your money can be tricky. I recommend keeping it simple, following the 10-10-80 rule, and avoiding debt as much as possible.

Here is another video in which Dave Ramsey and Chris Hogan answer a question about retirement from someone who is 23 years old.

Lessons from the Tour de France

July is here and that means it is summer time. A major international sporting event that happens every July is the Tour de France. It is the most important bike race in the world, and it is brutal. It always has been. Basically 200 bike riders race all over France until the winner is declared. This year the race includes 21 different stages that cover over 3500 kilometers. The graphic above shows even more statistics about the race. I like the Tour, and enjoy watching the race, even thought cycling is generally boring. Just a bunch of bike riders peddling around the countryside. One of the reasons I enjoy the tour is that it teaches many lessons that you can apply in life. Here are three that come to mind.

1. Life is a team sport. Many people think that the Tour de France is an individual event due to the fact that there is a single winner. The overall winner is awarded the coveted yellow jersey. The reality is that every rider belongs to a team, and it takes a team to win. No single person will outperform everyone else. Instead you need the help of your team whether it is drafting off them on the flats, or following behind them on the climbs. I think life is a team sport also. You will need help along the way, and be willing to help others. To go it alone would be a tragic mistake, and lead to misery. Life is tough. Don’t go it alone.

2. Keep peddling, especially in the mountains. The Tour is a really long race. Day after day the riders have to cover hundreds of miles. Some have compared riding the Tour de France to running a marathon everyday for three weeks straight. Ouch. One of the things that makes the Tour so difficult is the mountain stages. All the riders have to navigate up and over towering mountains to include rides in the Alps and the Pyrenees. I have driven a car over some of these mountains and they are really tall – up in the clouds. Some riders specialize in climbing, but these stages are tough for everyone. If you are a sprinter, the mountains are especially difficult, but they still have to ride over them. They are not allowed to skip these stages and wait for the next flat course. I have watched these stages for years, and I remain amazed that anyone can make it through the mountain stages.

I think there is a parallel in life in that we all will face tall mountains, obstacles that we have to get over. How do riders get over the mountains – they just keep peddling. They use different techniques, different gears, and different approaches to make it over. It is not always pretty. In fact, for many it is rather ugly, but they make it. Sometimes we have to do the same thing in life – head down and just keep peddling. Don’t quit, keep moving forward, dealing with what life throws at you. The easy way out would be to quit. Many people do. But, I want to encourage you to keep peddling, even when it gets ugly. You will find joy after you reach the peak, and enjoy the ride down the back side of the mountain.

3. Play by the rules. It is well known that cycling has experienced many scandals over the years. The most famous is Lance Armstrong, who used to be a hero of mine. Lance “won” the Tour more times than any other rider, and became a sporting legend around the world. But, the reality is that all those victories are tainted. They were taken away because he cheated to win. He broke the rules repeatedly, lied about it, and was finally caught years later. He has been dealing with the shame of these revelations the past few years. Many years ago, I was a big Lance fan. I wore a live strong bracelet, read the books he wrote, and really enjoyed watching him ride. But all that admiration was based on a lie. Learn a critical lesson from Lance, and that is to play by the rules. No victory is worth breaking the rules, and cheating to win. In life, you will be tempted to cheat, to bend the rules to your favor. The reality is that many cheaters don’t get caught. Even so, don’t fall into this trap. It will take away the joy of victory, and you will always know what you did, even if others never find out.

For anyone not familiar with the Tour this video helps provide some context about why it is the most challenging bike race in the world.

Hit the reset button – New York blunder

As you know, this past weekend Gavin and I visited New York City. It was a great trip, and every thing was going really well until we arrived at the airport for our trip back home. Once at the airport I noticed that our flight was not listed on the arrival board which seemed strange. I should have stopped there, but we went through security and on to the departure gate. At this point, I could tell something was wrong. Our flight was not listed at the gate, so I checked my ticket. Crap – our flight did not depart at 9 AM…but 9 PM. I made a huge blunder, a really big error. We were at the airport twelve hours early with nothing to do, and no other flights available.

What to do next? Gavin and I pondered the situation and we decided to hit the reset button on the day. We trekked back to NYC, found a place to store our luggage, and spent another day exploring NYC. The weather was not great, but we had a good time being tourists. We went to the top of the rock, hung out in Times Square, visited the wax museum, explored Ripley’s, and an array of other attractions. The day was topped off with New York cheesecake at a diner. Not a bad day considering we had not planned any of it beforehand.

As this experience shows – sometimes you have to hit the reset button on a day. The bottom line is that I messed up big time. But, we could recover from it. Rather than spending the day beating myself up over my mistake (Gavin did a nice job reminding me about it), I decided to get on with it, and make the most of what was left of the day. The ability to “hit the reset button” is an important skill in life. Many times, you will make stupid mistakes, or have things not go your way. It is easy to get really upset about the situation, and even pout about it. But, a more mature response, is to get over it, and then get on with it. You will be amazed at what will happen when you hit the reset button – you will meet new people, see new places, and gain new experiences.

Keep this lesson in mind the next time you travel, and things take a turn for the worse. I have traveled a fair bit, and trust me, these kind of things happen. Flights are delayed, and your plans will need to change. Hopefully, I will avoid making this kind of big blunder again. But, if it does, I know what I will do. Hit the reset button, and start all over again.

Standing in the middle of nowhere,
Wondering how to begin.
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday,
Between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started,
Here we go round again.
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again
– Do It Again by the Kinks

Thank your mom – today is her special day

Today is a special day for women. Today is Mother’s Day. Make sure you take time to thank your mom for all she has done for you over the years. I know I will. For a long time I was not very close to my mom. Some things happened in my youth that strained our relationship, and I did not see a compelling reason to do anything about it. Neglecting my relationship with my mom was a big mistake – one that I regret to this day. The reason that I regret it is that my mom is awesome. When I think about why my mom is great, three words come to mind.

1. German – my mom was born and raised in Dresden Germany. She met my Dad in Berlin and came to America with him in the early 1960s. Even though mom spent the rest of her life here, she is still very German. You hear it in her voice, and will notice it in her mannerisms. Mom speaks her mind when talking with others. This trait is unsettling for some. She expects excellence. Why do something if you don’t plan to be the best. And she is not physically affectionate. Germans are just not big at hugging. What I have learned by watching my German mom is to be myself, and not worry about what others think about me. I encourage you to do the same. Be who you are, not who others think you should be. I know a lot of people who drive themselves crazy trying to please others all the time.

2. Tough – my mom has dealt with a lot in her life. Dresden was bombed to the ground during the war, and conquered by the Russians. Her family was wealthy before the war, but not so much after Dresden become part of the communist DDR. Mom went to Berlin to find work, and met Dad there. The Berlin wall went up while they were there. As a result she would not see her family, or her home, for many, many years. She raised two young boys while Dad served in the Army, deploying to Vietnam for three combat tours. We moved many times before finally settling in the DC area. She dealt with all of these challenges, and many more. I have never heard my mom say, I cannot handle this. Her toughness set a great example for me to follow as I deal with the challenges of life.

3. Generous – my mom has given me more than I can ever repay. Both your Uncle Perry and I played multiple sports growing up. Mom drove all over God’s green earth making sure we made it to swim practice, swim meets, and soccer games every weekend. Dad did a lot of coaching, Mom did a ton of driving. Also, she has never hesitated to help you boys. I have not told this story before, but I will now. When your mom and I divorced it cause a lot of financial challenges to me. I was paying a large mortgage, rent for a townhouse, and for a divorce lawyer all at the same time. I was spending more than I earned, and on the road to financial ruin. I mentioned this challenge to my mom, and bemoaned the fact that I had to stop saving money to pay for your college. Without saying anything, she quietly went upstairs, wrote a check, and then handed it to me. It was enough money to pay for your first year of college. I told mom that I had no idea when I could pay her back. She did not want the money back. She wanted her grandsons to succeed in this world, and that meant going to college. Her generosity inspires me to do the same. I am in a much better place financially these days, and will do my best to help both of you, and your families.

Take a moment to reflect today about your mom, and what she means to you. Make sure you express your thanks. I bet she will appreciate it.

I got to grow up with a mother who taught me to believe in me.
– Antonio Villaraigosa

Be a learner – avoid repeated mistakes

It is impossible to always make good decisions. Everyone makes mistakes – some big, some small. What is important is that you learn from your mistakes, and avoid repeating them. One of the reasons I enjoy traveling so much is that you get to see the world, and you learn a lot about life. Unfortunately some of it is due to mistakes I make, bad decision, or short sighted judgments.

For example, it was a mistake not to use the free wi-fi that was available at the resort on our trip to Cancun last year. As a result, we wracked up hundreds of dollars in extra roaming charges – a costly mistake. Another example – it was a bad decision to return a rental car in Germany without the gas tank full. The customer service person was not thrilled, and it cost me a lot of grief and money. Lastly, I was short sighted when I received a parking ticket in Rothenburg and “forgot” to pay it. The rental car company added a hefty fee for dealing with the ticket when they billed my credit card.

These mistakes were learning experiences. I will make sure these mistakes do not happen again. Be a learner – avoid making the same mistakes over an over. Pay particular attention to your mistakes that result in loss, waste, or destruction. You want to avoid mistakes that create broken relationships with family and friends, results in losing large amounts of money, or wasting your time. Instead learn lessons from your mistakes and apply those in future situations. Smart people learn – fools don’t…and none of want to be a fool.

“Wisdom comes from life experience; life experience is the result of repeatedly taking corrective action while courageously learning from mistakes.” ― Ken Poirot

Avoid Making Decisions in the Late Night

One rule for you to consider – do not try to have serious discussions (especially if they involve big decisions) really late in the day (consider late after 10 PM).  Tired minds tend to make poor, or shortsighted decisions.  If you need time to contemplate different options, investigate alternatives, or discuss serious matters, then plan your day accordingly.  I generally get up early in the day, and do some of my best thinking then. Don’t wait until the last minute, late at night, to try and accomplish these kinds of things in haste. You might not like the poor results this generates.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  

Benjamin Franklyn