Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If you think you can, you can!

Have you heard of Roger Bannister? He was the first athlete to run the mile in less than four minutes. And in doing so, he not only broke the four-minute barrier, but also taught all of us a valuable lesson.

Back in the 1950’s, it was considered impossible for anyone to run the mile in less than four minutes. The world record – 4 minutes 1.4 seconds - was held by Sweden’s Ginder Haegg. He did that in 1945, and the record stood for several years. Athletes, experts and the world at large were convinced that it was impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes. In fact, some even argued that the human body was biologically incapable of running the mile in less than four minutes!

And then, on 6th May, 1954, Roger Bannister did the impossible. He finished the race in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. The four minute barrier was broken!

His rival – Charles Landy – had thrice run the mile in less than 4 minutes 2 seconds without breaching the 4 minute mark. After one such run, Landy had said the four minute barrier was “like a wall”. But guess what? Just 56 days after Roger Bannister’s feat, Landy broke his own mental wall, and ran the mile in 3 minutes 57.9 seconds. And that’s not all. By 1957, sixteen athletes around the world ran the mile in under four minutes. The four minute barrier was well and truly shattered!

So what really happened? Did coaches get smarter and teach the athletes new techniques? Did running shoes get more sophisticated? Did bodies suddenly get stronger? No. The four minute barrier it turned out was not a physiological one, but just a mental thing. As Roger Bannister explained later, to him it seemed illogical that you could run a mile in 4 minutes and a bit, but not break 4 minutes. His mind refused to accept that barrier. And that made all the difference. Once that belief – that mental barrier – got broken by Bannister, everyone else too believed it could be done! And once the belief changed, the rest was easy.

We are all like that. We all have our beliefs about what we can achieve - and what we can't. It’s important to understand that our achievements in life are limited not by what we can do, but by what we think we can do. More than ability, it’s our attitude that makes the difference. As Henry Ford said “If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you are right.”

You will probably find your mind constantly grappling with two competing thoughts: “I can’t!” and “I can!” How do you ensure the “I can’s” win? How can we break our mental barrier of “I can’t”? Simple, as the following story shows.

There was a man in Alaska who had a black dog and a white dog, and his dog-fights attracted large crowds. Every week people would bet on which dog would win. Sometimes the black dog would win, and sometimes the white one. One lady noticed that no matter which dog won each week, the owner always bet on the right dog, and won each week. Several years later, when the man retired the two dogs, the lady went up to him and asked him the secret.

“Simple,” said the man. “I always bet on the dog I had been feeding all week.”

So whether “I can’t” wins in your mind or “I can”, depends on which thought you are feeding!

Feed the “I Can” dog in your mind. What you feed, grows! Focus on your strengths, and they will grow. Or keep thinking of your weaknesses and your fears. And they’ll grow too.

Unfortunately, you won’t always find a Roger Bannister to break your mental barrier. You need to do it yourself. Once you do that, and start feeding the “I can” thought, you will achieve more than you ever thought was possible!

(This was first published in Careers 360. For more, check out www.careers360.com)

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Magic of Goal-Setting!

Imagine a game of football with a slight twist. It’s Manchester United versus Chelsea. There’s Giggs and Rooney, Lampard and Drogba. But there are no goal posts. What would happen?

The players would dribble and pass - but not know what to do after that. They wouldn’t know which direction to kick the ball. The defenders would have nothing to defend. And while Ronaldo would probably still swerve that free kick, he would have no target to hit. Soon, the players would probably lose the motivation to sweat it out and strive harder. There would be no winners, no result, no game.

Sounds silly, right?

Perhaps, but that’s just the way many of us lead our lives. We have no clear goals. Having written down goals can be the first and most significant step you can take towards achieving success in life.

The story goes that a group of psychologists did a study in 1953 on the graduating class at the Harvard Business School. They asked the students if they had written down goals for themselves. Only 3% of the class had written down goals.

Twenty years later, they tracked down that batch of students to see how they were doing. And here’s what they found. The net worth of the 3% of the class that had written down goals was more than the net worth of rest of the batch. That is the power of having written down goals! Goals give purpose to life. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Here then is a five step plan to help you set goals and get you started on your journey to success:

Step 1: Decide what you want. Set balanced goals. Make sure you cover all areas of your life – your career, relationships, wealth, health, and your interests.

Step 2: Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific-Measurable-Actionable-Realistic-Time bound). So if you want to lose weight, don’t just say “I want to weigh less”. (That’s a wish, not a goal.) Say I will shed 5 kilos and weigh 60 kg by July 31st. That’s SMART.

Step 3: Write them down. Just the act of putting your goals down on paper, will increase your commitment to achieving those goals. A goal that’s only in your mind is no goal at all.

Step 4: Commit to doing whatever it takes. One American billionaire had a simple two-step formula for success: Determine what exactly you want. And be willing to pay the price. Many of us have goals (losing weight, for instance) but are unwilling to pay the price (say no to that cheesecake!). And remember, when it comes to achieving your goals, you cannot pay through your credit card. You must pay in advance. Often, you will hear someone say ‘Once I get promoted, I will stay late and work harder’. No, that won’t do. If you want to get promoted, start by putting in the extra effort. You cannot reap first and sow later.

Step 5: Take action. What does it take to achieve those goals? That old Chinese proverb still holds true. ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ Take that first step, today.

There was a devout man, who prayed to God that he should win the jackpot. He prayed regularly, but someone else always seemed to win the weekly lottery. He prayed harder, urging the Gods to reward his devotion. But the Gods did not seem to be listening.

Disappointed and angered at his lack of success, he looked heavenwards and yelled “How come I am not winning the lottery? I’ve been praying regularly. That’s unfair!” Suddenly there was lightning and thunder. And then a voice from above said “For God’s sake, will you please go buy a lottery ticket first?”

Make a beginning. Today. Don’t go to bed tonight until you have written down your goals. And then take that first step. Do one thing – any one thing – that will take you closer to your goals.
Remember, to win the lottery, you’ve got to buy that ticket first!

(This appeared in the May issue of Careers 360. Check out www.careers360.in. Better still, buy a copy!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“If it is to be it is up to me!”


Have you heard of the rather unique funeral they had in an office in New York some years ago?

As all the employees of that firm trooped in to work on a Monday morning, they were greeted by a rather solemn-looking notice at the entrance. On it was written the following: “The person who was responsible for inhibiting you growth died yesterday. The body has been placed in the cafeteria, till 2 pm today.”

Sad to see a colleague pass away – and intrigued as to who that person might be - the employees trooped into the cafeteria to pay their last respects. There was a crowd inside. ‘Who is this chap who has been hindering our growth?’ they wondered as they walked up to the coffin to look at the person inside. One by one, as each person took a look inside the coffin, there was shocked silence. Almost disbelief.

Inside the coffin was a mirror. And below it was a placard on which was written: “There’s only one person who can set limits to your growth. And that’s YOU.”

That’s a message we would all do well to remember. When we find ourselves falling short of the successes we think we deserve, we often blame our bosses, our employers, the industry, or the current favourite – the economy. Everyone and everything in fact, except ourselves. For things to change in your life, you don’t need to change your job or your company or your town. You only need to change yourself.

Starting today, adopt a new philosophy for your life. Take charge. Of your own life. Tell yourself: “If it is to be it is up to me!” It is not often that you can get a set of ten two-letter words to form one whole sentence. A sentence which has the power to become a life-changing philosophy for you, for me and for all of us: “If it is to be, it is up to me!” Just say it to yourself, believe in it, and see the difference.

When you are not doing well at sales, missing your targets, what do you do? Blame it on the boss! Or the lousy territory you have. Or Competition. Or the current top-of-the-charts: the recession! Now when you blame it on any of these factors, you will find yourself helpless in solving the problem. You wait… for the boss to change. Or the territory, or the competition or the economy. None of which is in your hands, really.

Resist the temptation to blame some one else for it. When you do that, you shift the power to change away from yourself, onto someone else. You weaken yourself. But if you were to take the onus on yourself, you would ask yourself “What can I do to sell more?” Make more calls? Improve the sales presentation? Work an extra hour every day? Ask for references from customers? By taking charge, you empower yourself to change your fortunes. And that one act – taking charge of your destiny – is really the difference between winners and losers.

Have you ever seen sailing boats wander into the sea? They all take off from one place, the same jetty, around the same time, and yet reach different shores. Why is that? The winds are the same. The currents are the same too for all the boats. Yet they reach different destinations. Because where the boat will reach is determined not by the direction of the wind, but by the set of the sail.

So to reach your goals, its important to set your sails properly. Get your philosophy right. And don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Need new skills? Invest in training yourself – and don’t wait for your employer to do it. I find it somewhat puzzling that while young people spend money on their clothes, and new cell phones and the monthly visit to the beauty salon, they want the company to spend on training them, on making them better employees, smarter people.

Take control of your life. Starting today. And on the mirror in your bathroom, stick the ten word message to yourself: “If it is to be, it is up to me!”

(This piece first appeared in the April issue of Careers360. Check out www.careers360.in Better still, pick up a copy from the news stand! )

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Second Best Time to Do Anything!

Do you find yourself looking back and wishing you had done things differently?

Do you wish you had cultivated the reading habit as a child so you'd be a better-read person today? Do you wish you had played a sport and stayed with it beyond college, so you would be a fitter person today? Do you wish you had gone easy on sweets and on food so you wouldn't be an obese diabetic today? Do you wish you had told your parents and your spouse and your kids how much you loved them?

Or are you the kind of person who constantly sees things changing in the future? I will give up sweets - after Diwali. Or, once we finish the Annual Business Plans, I will spend more time with the family. Or once I have that magic number in my bank account, I will quit and do what I have always wanted to.

Well, in either case, it might be good to remember the wisdom contained in an old Chinese proverb: "The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now!"

The second best time is indeed now. The best time might appear to be yesterday - or tomorrow - but now is a terrific second-best - and it's up to us to make the most of now!

Business gurus and spiritual leaders have all talked about the power of now. The power of living in the present - versus the futility of living in a past that's gone - or dreaming of an imaginary future!

Often, our excuse for not taking action is either that the best time has passed - or is still to come. And our quest for the 'right time' helps mask our lethargy, and fuels our tendency to procrastinate.

Success comes to those who live in the present, who seize the moment. What's gone is gone - so no point living in regret. And the future? Well, as the saying goes, tomorrow never comes.

So whatever it is that you wish to do, do it today. Now. Make use of the second best time. Remember, it's never too late to become what you might have been.

Want to learn a new skill? Start today. Want to lose weight? Start that 45 minute daily walk - today! Want to have better relationships? Reach out and hug your loved ones - today. Whatever it is you want, make a beginning. Today.

Today is the tomorrow you thought of yesterday. Today is the yesterday you will look back longingly at - tomorrow. This might sound somewhat philosophical, but it's for real! When you start living in the present, that's when you unleash the power that's inside you.

As the Nike guys have been urging an entire generation, 'Just do it'. Right now!

And sure enough, twenty years from today, you'll be glad you planted that tree!