RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

CAT | Challenges

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins starts with the premise that Good is the enemy of Great.

The argument is that it takes a lot of hard work and organization to create a good company, hire good employees, have good policies, etc. And once all that hard work is done, people have a natural tendency to feel good about the good company they have created. And so they stop trying to improve beyond the “good” they have.

In order to achieve greatness, companies need to move past the good. They need to strive for greatness and not be satisfied with Good.

In this video I discuss how you can apply this to your personal life. After all, many of us have achieved many good things – personally and professionally. But if we’re happy with that, we might miss the opportunity to take ourselves to the next level and become Great in some areas of our life.

You know the things you do well, and the things where you are really good. You might even have a few things in your life where you know you’re great. Now, consider where else you can move from good to great in your life.

:-)

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I have friends whose dream was to build a custom home exactly the way they want. Most of them achieved that. Some are still working on it. I have other friends who dream to climb every significant mountain peak in their state, or to start a charity, or to run 100 marathons.

Those aren’t my dreams. And most or all of them are not your dreams. I don’t want a “perfect” house or to build a large company. My dream is to build a life that allows me to inspire success through a balance of serving myself and serving others.

To that end, I want my life to be filled with travel, reading, writing, teaching, speaking, and helping others to improve their lives.

That’s a very odd dream, I know. But it makes me happy. And it’s not easy or clear to many people. And that’s okay. It’s mine. And the only one who can ever achieve it or hold me accountable for it is ME.

 

What’s Your Dream?

Do you have one? Well, here’s the sad reality: If you don’t have a dream, it can’t come true.

I’m not talking about goals. Most people (about 97%) don’t have written goals. In fact, only about 14% have UNwritten goals.

You should have written goals!!!

But goals aren’t the same as dreams. Dreams are bigger, grander, and more engaging. A dream grabs you and pulls you into a better tomorrow. Dreams are also extremely personal. You can’t get them wrong. Your dream is your dream.

I suspect more people have what I would call a dream for their better life. They think about it from time to time. It’s always changing and always over the horizon. And the start-date for working on it? Well, that’s in the future as well.

Having a dream can bring focus and energy to your life. It can help you to improve many other aspects of your life. It can move everything in the right direction. When you have a dream, you can literally go back to it again and again. You can fill out the details and change it in any way you want.

I highly encourage you to spend at least 15-30 minutes per week just sitting in a chair and thinking about your dream. If you don’t have one, start there. Dream about your better tomorrow. Dream about what it will look like. Dream about the biggest, most visible aspects, and the smallest details.

Don’t worry about making it come true at first. Just dream about what you really, really want your life to be like. The very act of having a dream will change your life. You’ll start to unconsciously think about it at other times. And before you know it, you’ll start working on goals to make it come true.

As I always say: You get better at whatever you put your attention on. Once you start building a dream, and thinking about it, you will naturally start working to make it happen.

 

Now A Bit of Reality Check

Making your dream come true will take actual work. That comes later. Right now, just work on creating the dream. Later, you’ll have to start working on the goals that will make it happen.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1) Make it your dream. Don’t worry about what society thinks, what your spouse thinks, what your kids think, etc. Dream your dream. If it’s not personal, then it’s not your dream.

2) When you’re ready, write it down. You don’t have to show it to anyone, but you should write it down.

3) If it sounds stupid, that’s okay. Human beings flying through the air was stupid for a long time. Now we do it every day.

4) Escape to your dream from time to time. Dig in. Explore what it might actually look like. Enjoy working on it. The more you do this, the more real it will become.

5) Don’t worry about “reality” and the big challenges that will become obvious as you start thinking about the details. If you can imagine an obstacle, you will someday be able to imagine a fix for it.

6) Dream BIG. Again, your dream is not my dream. What BIG, awesome, amazing thing do you want to come true? Say it out loud. Make it part of who you are. Then start working on it.

7) Your dream will change over time. That’s totally ok. You don’t have to commit your entire life to it just because you dreamt it. There is no failure in dreaming. You just change to a new dream and make that come true!

I am in the middle of successfully fulfilling a massive dream. And in the beginning stages of working on the next one. Is my life perfect? No. Could it be improved? Of course. That’s the human condition.

Everyone dreams at some level. I challenge you to take your dreams seriously, formalize them, and make them come true.

Good luck!

:-)

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Silence Means Nothing

One of the truisms I live by is that we should strive to avoid having both sides of a conversation. For example, we are often tempted to say things like, “He would never agree to that,” or “She wouldn’t pay that much.” We tell ourselves that other people will act or think a certain way. As I say in the book Relax Focus Succeed, you need to let the other person have their side of the conversation!

Somewhat related to this is the human tendency to write meaning into silence. Silence means nothing.

Worry

I catch myself in this all the time. I send a text and don’t get a reply. Is that bad? Did I offend someone? Is silence a yes or a no? Then . . . I finally decide to text again and see that I never pushed send, so the text never left my phone.

If you’re waiting to hear back about a loan or a job offer, you might be tempted to write meaning into the long silence. Don’t.

Once you tune into this, you’ll see examples everywhere. A client takes a long time to make a decision. Then you find out they went on vacation. You really need feedback on an email. Then you learn that the person was sick. You’re waiting to get started with a project. Then you find out that there’s a company reorganization in the works.

The ultimate example is when people speculate about a jury taking a long time to deliberate a verdict. Is it better for a short deliberation or a long one? Which favors the defendent?

Silence means nothing.

So what do you do about it? Well, you need to practice a little mindfulness here. What do you know and what do you not know? Then stop worrying about it. Spending your time worrying about something you cannot control (or affect in any way) is a waste of energy.

Have you noticed how often stuff like this gets built up in your head and then turns out to be nothing? Most of the time, the stuff we worry about doesn’t happen. So we literally worry for no good reason.

Worry brings anxiety, which gets our brains all hyped up – and keeps us from paying attention to whatever else we should be doing! As you can see, it’s really worth limiting this whole process before it goes too far.

How do you do that? Step One is simple awareness. Recognize when you’re worrying over something because you’re trying to determine what the silence means. Step Two: Say to the words to yourself: Silence Means Nothing. Step Three: When it’s over, label the worry. Was this legitimate? Was it worth worrying about? Virtually every time, the answer will be NO!

If you do this a lot, it’s worth drawing a sign and putting where you can see it. Silence Means Nothing. And, if you do it a lot, imagine how much better your life will be when you remove that unproductive worry and anxiety.

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I was reading a very old book by Seneca the Younger called On the Shortness of Life. Although it was written almost 2,000 years ago, it reads like a message for today.

Seneca talks about people spending all their time in foolish activities rather than leading their lives. When we look at our lives today we see the same thing. Instead of leading our lives, we spend too much time thinking about the future or the past.

The past is a powerful time waster. I’m not talking about reminiscing or remembering a particularly fun time. I’m talking about time spent dwelling on bad experiences, fears, embarrassing moments, and all the trivial things from days gone by.

You cannot change one minute of the past. It’s done. Baked. All you can do is waste precious time in the PRESENT reliving bad experiences from the past. You can re-write them and mis-remember them. Or you can relive the details in excruciating clarity. But you can’t DO anything about them.

The future is not quite as bad. We need to plan. But we don’t need to plan TOO MUCH. There’s a point at which we work so hard trying to get things perfect that we take no action at all. We need a healthy mix of planning and acting. The acting part is called living.

The thing about time is that it’s easy to waste. Most of us don’t place much value on time. But it passes at exactly the same pace for all of us. You can use it or you can waste it. Unfortunately, too many people use up too much of their time without a thought to how valuable it is.

You get exactly 1,440 minutes each day. The same as everyone else. The same as presidents and prime ministers; the same as actors and singers; the same as professors and teachers. Every one of us gets exactly the same allocation every day. How do you use your allocation?

Living? Planning to live – someday? Fretting on the past? Watching TV shows you can’t remember?

We all need to “recharge” our batteries and have downtime. But we also all need to take control of our lives and use our precious time wisely.

One of the guiding rules of my life is to work on the highest priority activities I can. From that follows a process of setting priorities. How important is giving the cat fresh water today? How important is meditating? Reading? Writing? Paying bills?

We are all very busy. Perhaps all overwhelmed at times.

And yet we let other people simply interrupt our day. The phone rings and we answer it. An email pops up and we read it. An instant message comes in and we stop whatever we’re doing and look at it. Someone walks into the office and we give them our attention.

I recommended to a coaching client last week that everyone in his office should keep an Interruption Log. Literally write down every time they were interrupted (by a beep, a tweet, a knock at the door, a message, a phone call, etc.). And then write down whether this interruption was high, medium, or low priority. In particular, was it higher or lower priority than the thing they were working on when the interruption occurred?

If you work from the perspective of priorities, you can always be working on one of the most important things that needs to be done. And when you do that intentionally, it becomes easier to resist interruption.

For example, talking to the sales person on the phone is almost never higher priority than anything else you can do in your day – personal or professional.

Live in today. Live in the now. And guard your precious time wisely. No one else will!

:-)

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Feb/17

5

Mindfully Unplugging

I’m an amateur photographer. So when I see something really cool that I could share with others, my natural reaction is to take a picture. But there’s one important time when I can’t.

I love my hot tub. From this relaxing location I look across my back yard to a vine-covered fence where orange trumpet flowers invite hummingbirds. It’s also a resting place for birds and a playground for squirrels. And every once in awhile I see something that would make a perfect picture.

My hot tub is also a great place to meditate. I’m totally unplugged, warm, relaxed, and I have great scenery.

( I didn’t take this picture )

A few days ago I spotted a mommy and baby squirrel making their way across the top of the vines. Every once in a while they would stop and all I could see was two tails sticking up from the leaves. I thought, “What a great picture!”

But here’s the deal: I’m not taking my camera in the hot tub. It would take me less that a minute to either drop it or splash it. So I’m just not going to take the chance. And while I have a bit of frustration about that, it’s also a blessing.

There are times when you need to put down the technology and just enjoy the moment – knowing that it cannot be captured. You can choose to live in this moment or spend your time fretting because you can’t do anything but live in the moment.

Some people define “mindfulness” as emptying your mind. Dismissing all thoughts. Stopping the flow of images and ideas through your head. But that’s not the only way to look at it. Being mindful truly means to stop and notice what’s going through your head. It means acknowledging what you see and hear. And then, without dwelling on it or passing judgement, continuing the journey of being mindful.

People often ask me if their running or swimming or other exercise counts as meditation. My answer is always: As long as you are unplugged. Exercising while listening to a book or songs with words is great. But you’re filling your head with those words. And as a result, you’re not fully focused on the activity and the experience. It’s not bad in any way. But it’s not the same as mindful meditation.

Even if you don’t have a hot tub, you can choose to unplug and practice quiet time without external stimuli.

Sometimes the experience is as simple as a chattering squirrel.

:-)

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Aug/16

16

Scheduling for Success

I recently posted a quick video on the subject of scheduling (using a calendar) vs. working from priorities. See my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/karlpalachuk

I’m particularly interested in how you add things to your to-do list in order to be more successful. You might want to add one or more of the following activities:

– Daily quiet time
– Exercise
– Reading
– Writing / Journalling
– Studying a hobby or new skill

We are all super-busy these days. So how do you add something to your routine when you’re already so busy? I’m assuming that what you want here is to help build new habits.

If schedules help you build habits, then they’re excellent. If working on priorities help you build habits, then they’re excellent. For most people, I think attaching new habits to your existing schedule is the easiest way to make sure the new habits are exercised.

If you prefer to work on priorities rather than schedules, you’ll need to make the new habit a high enough priority so that it actually gets some attention. After all, it’s easier to add something to your calendar than to suddenly make it a higher priority than anything on your to-do list.

Whichever method you use, you have to overcome the societal influence that says you should put work above personal improvement. After all, we find it much easier to add work-related tasks to our over-full lists. For some reason, it seems more acceptable to add work to our list instead of things like reading or exercising.

The irony is that you need the non-work related tasks in order to recharge your batteries, maintain your health, and improve your skills. But instead, we fill up our already busy schedules with more “tasks” that may or may not contribute to our overall success.

I encourage you to spend time evaluating priorities – and then putting daily reflection high on the list. Make that the first thing you do every day and chances are very good that all the other priorities will fall in line much more easily.

:-)

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Over the last year I’ve consumed a large number of books on habits. Creating habits, breaking habits, good habits, bad habits, etc.

3d-businessman-with-the-brain-exposed_M1KbxcAOIt’s interesting how much we focus on the physical side of habits. For example, in your morning routine. You probably do the same things in the same order almost every day of your life. SO: Adding a new habit to that routine is difficult. You’ve created a box of time and packed it full of things that need to be done within that time. So it’s hard to wedge one more thing into the box.

Those things are physical. Get up. Got to the bathroom. Make coffee. Brush teeth. Activity. Activity. Activity.

Mental activities are also habits. And one could argue they are harder to recognize and harder to change. It takes a certain mindfulness to examine yourself in real time and explore what you’re thinking.

For example, when I’m given advice to change something in my life, I am immediately resistant. It doesn’t matter whether the change is large or small. It doesn’t even matter if it comes from a stranger or a trusted friend who is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. The strange thing is: I’m surprisingly open to recommendations and criticism. Even in my mastermind groups, I have to remind people that I’m far more open than I appear to be.

So my first reaction is resistance, followed by contemplation when I’m alone and don’t have to worry about the responses of others. Then I try to look at the advice I’ve been given. And very often I take that advice. But I still acknowledge my mental habit of resisting as a first response.

Think about your mental self-talk. Is there a lot of “I’m not good enough” or “I need to change …” talk inside your head? Those are patterns. They are habits of thinking. Spend an hour trying to keep track of where your mind wanders and your first responses to things. After all, you’re awake most of your life and your brain is always working. What’s it working on?

Mental habits are hard to change. Unlike physical habits (which are also hard to change), mental triggers are harder to spot sometimes. If a driver cuts you off and you become angry or judgmental, it’s easy to see the trigger. But what about if you’re just walking down the street or driving peacefully and your brain starts chattering on about all the problems in your life? What was the trigger? How do you step back from the current mindset and try to find the trigger?

When changing a physical habit, we first recognize the trigger. For example, stepping into the line at the grocery store. Let’s say that as soon as you do that, you start eyeing the candy bars and virtually always end up throwing one in the cart. Recognizing that trigger can help you choose to attach a different activity as your response. Maybe you’ll grab sugarless gum. Maybe look at the magazines instead. Or maybe you’ll go in the quick-check line with no candy bars.

The point is, you recognize the trigger-response-reward and begin building a different habit. You start to lay down a different response and reward.

Now consider a mental example. What triggers judgmental attitudes? What is your mental response? What’s the reward? It takes quite a bit of work to identify your responses and rewards – especially if they are purely mental.

If you’re interested in exploring this, I recommend a two-step process. First, spend some quiet time each morning thinking about thinking. Relax, quiet your mind with a few deep breaths. Then just pay attention to the thoughts that wander into your brain. When you recognize a thought, label it. For example, say the word Happy. Then set that thought aside and wait for the next. Label it. Perhaps Hungry or Tired or Frustrated. The interesting thing about our brains is that they never stop. There will always be another thought. It might be a memory, a plan, a worry, or a distraction because a bird flew by.

The goal is to teach yourself to identify your thoughts. You have millions of them every day. And if you’ve never spent time recognizing them, then you won’t be good at it. So the first step is to identify the kinds of thoughts you have. What does a positive thought look like? Or a negative one. Or a self-blaming one. etc. All of that work takes place while you are sitting quietly, trying to simply observe your self.

(The oft-quoted numbers of 50,000-80,000 thoughts per day are literally just made up numbers that got repeated again and again. We don’t have a way to measure how many thoughts we have. But even a little research suggests that it’s much higher than the mythical number.)

The second step is to practice labeling your thoughts as you go through your day. When that driver cuts you off, what goes through your brain? You clearly have a choice about how you react. Your thoughts and reactions are not outside your control. BUT you do have a mental habit of response. Without thinking about it, you have laid down a pattern of response.

You can literally observe yourself as if you are outside yourself. Watch the driver cut you off. Then STOP your brain from responding. Now choose. As you watch yourself respond, try to identify the reward. How does anger or frustration or judgement serve you in this context? What’s the reward? And remember: In the world of the mental, the reward is probably mental. Satisfaction, self-righteousness, fear, anger, pity. Something inside you gets value from a specific mental response. What is it?

Once you recognize the trigger, response, and reward, you can decide whether you want to keep responding in that way. It may be that the answer is yes. It may actually make you feel better and contribute to your happiness. If that’s the case, you are now more fully aware of that.

But if you want to change your response, you also have that choice. For example, you could simply choose to be amused by the driver who cuts you off. Maybe you’ll enjoy pondering whether you’ll catch up to him at the next light. Now you can start to build a new habit. When someone cuts you off, you can slow down a bit and choose to be amused. Your reward is tiny bit of happiness. And if the drivers where you live are anything like the drivers where I live, you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice your new pattern of trigger-response-reward!

One of my favorite sayings is Slow Down, Get More Done. This is another example of that. After all, if you choose to, you can choose how you respond to every little thing in your life.

Habits got you where you are. Habits will get you wherever else you want to be.

:-)

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I had a conversation with someone the other day about meditation. He expressed a very common belief: I tried that and it didn’t work for me.

I couldn’t help wondering, “What do you mean by try?”Yoga Pose

Whether it’s meditation, exercise, playing the piano, learning a new language, or anything else, you can’t try once. Trying has to mean that you give it a real effort. If I try to do something once I am virtually guaranteed to fail (or be very bad at it). You can almost never do something right the first time.

On the flip side, if I work at something for an hour every day, I am virtually guaranteed to get good at it. That’s true of speaking a new language, learning a new exercise, wood carving, or anything else. You get good at whatever you put your attention on.

I’m a big believer in daily meditation. And guess what? I have trouble quieting my mind – even after sixteen years of meditating almost every day. I have trouble slowing down. I have trouble emptying my mind. I have trouble sitting still. I have trouble getting comfortable.

BUT I know how. I know what it feels like when my mind begins to calm down. I recognize that because I’ve experienced it thousands of times.

Another friend of mine posted something on Facebook a few days ago. He was starting a new I.T. project and referenced one of my books on project management. He referred to the “muscles of success” regarding projects. Those are the good habits that keep your project on track, on time, and under budget. Just like anything else, consistent activity becomes a habit – even making a profit!

Take stock the next time you decide to “try” something. Trying once is essentially useless. If you’re gonig to try, you need to commit to enough attempts to actually understand and make a little progress. Don’t quit after one attempt and say you tried.

:-)

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Saturday morning: I woke up in lots of pain and had difficulty putting weight on my left foot.

Bow PoseSo I hydrated my body and went to Bikram Yoga: 90 minutes of strenuous yoga in a 100 degree room (38 celcius).

Why? Because that’s what I need to do.

 
I have a chronic disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s not what most people think of when they hear the word Arthritis. RA is an immune disease in which the immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the body itself.

My disease is generally well managed, but from time to time I have a flare-up. When that happens, my joints become sore from inflammation. It also makes me very tired. Certain joints have a great deal of pain. The natural human reaction to this is to lie around, do nothing, and don’t move those joints!

In fact, that’s the worst thing you can do. First, you have to realize that there are many different kinds of “pain” in your body, and each kind of pain needs something different. Inflamation can cause pain, but moving your joints won’t cause damage. In fact, moving the joints will help prevent damange. It’s not the same as a pain from over-stressing a muscle.

Heat also helps the joints feel better. And yoga reduces inflamation. There’s more research about this all the time. So even though my workout was painful and exhausting, it’s what I need to do. In the long run, yoga helps me keep my disease in check.

This is the way with all good habits. At the moment, you might not want to do the thing you should. Or you might have great excuses not to (It’s raining; I only have a little time; I’m tired; etc.).

All good habits are like this.

I write when it’s time to write – whether I want to or not. I limit my night time activities so I can get up early, even if I miss some fun stuff. I limit my eating and drinking so my belly doesn’t grow too large. I spend within my limits even if I *really* want something.

In the moment of our greatest weakness, habits help us do the things we really should be doing. And the best part is, there’s nothing heroic about this. Once you have a good habit, the “default” action is to excercise that habit rather than break it. So doing the right thing is just a matter of doing what you do every day/week/month.

When was the last time one of your good habits helped you out on a bad day?

:-)

 

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I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. One of the powerful effects of this disease is exhaustion. In fact, the most common way that people discover they have RA is that they wake up one day and they’re so tired that they can’t get out of bed. This gets worse and worse until it takes more than an hour to just get out of bed in the morning.

sleeping-eyes_450My disease is very well under control after sixteen years, but I have been through long spells of exhaustion. And I still have to be careful not to over-exert myself.

One of the beautiful side effects of social media is that you can appear to be everywhere at once, doing lots of things, and producing lots of “content” all the time. That’s what people tell me they see of me. In reality, I have periods when I work and periods when I rest, and I am rigorous about working when I work and resting when I rest.

From time to time, I have to take medicine that prevents me from drinking alcohol. Let me just say for the record, I like a beer now and then. Well, now and now again. I’m glad the surgeon general recommends that I have two or three drinks a day, and that other countries’ surgeons general recommend more than that.

But sometimes I have to just stop.

As we get older, we are supposed to learn that overdoing things is bad for us. That’s easier said than done for some people. And some lessons we need to keep learning year after year. In my case, there’s also a little mixture of fear. Eventually, with RA, I will have flare-ups (“flares”) that cause permanent damage to my joints. This just will happen. Even if I’m stable for five or ten years, eventually there will be flares and eventually they will cripple me.

So my goal is to avoid things that will cause flares or make them last longer. And so, I take the doctor’s advice. Whatever it is.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn isn’t about alcohol or even what most people think of as self-care. It’s simply about rest. I try to rest up enough on the weekend so that I’m “fresh” on Monday morning. I try not to over-do it all week, but I have a little less energy every day. And so – with rare exceptions – I have stopped planning anything for Friday night.

Fridays I stay home. I don’t go out on dates. I might be talked into a dinner, but I don’t let it drag on. I go home so that I can collapse and go to sleep. As a result, I can do almost anything on Saturday. As you can imagine, Friday is a very popular night for doing things. So I quietly avoid all those things.

Sometimes people push, and they push very hard, for me to break this rule. “You can sleep in Saturday.” Or, “It’s just one night.” After all, I seem very healthy and I seem to be able to do what I want. So what’s one more night?

They don’t see the cane hanging in my closet, which I rarely use. They don’t see the medicine I inject in my leg. They don’t see the yoga and the meditation and the Karl who crashes hard night after night from simply leading life one day at a time.

I’m not ready to say I’m thankful for my RA, but it has taught me a great deal about discipline. I know for a fact that my body will deteriorate. I also know that I can slow the progress of that deterioration if I am committed to certain behaviors.

Friday IS just one night. And I CAN sleep on Saturday. And I can bend the rules and break the rules all I want. There’s no one to stop me. But I have to be committed to the long-range plan. The rest-of-my-life plan. The plan that keeps me upright and working and playing.

I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for about sixteen years. I’m pitiful at it, really. I can’t do hardly anything at all. I go and I try. It’s painful. And frustrating. But I go and I try. Why? Because everything would be worse if I didn’t.

So I go and foolishly try to stand on one leg . . . even though it feels like I’m standing on 1 x 1 Legos. I bend and stretch and get frustrated that I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees. Sometimes my muscles just give out and I lie down and wait for the next posture.

But I go.

And I keep trying.

I’ve learned that pain and weakness are literally moment-to-moment things. I might not be able to get into a posture the first time. But sixty seconds later, I can do it fine (or at least “some”).

All of these lessons have helped me in my personal life and business life as well. I have to have rules and I have to stick to them, no matter what others want to tempt me to do. I have to stick to my formulas for success even on days when I can’t see the progress. And I have to realize that failure literally lasts sixty seconds and then you’re on to the next thing.

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