September 2012

Welcome to week three of my Secrets of Success blog series. If this is your first time reading, I won’t keep you in suspense: the secret of success is determined by your daily agenda. That means the key to your long-term success is found in your daily short-term decisions. When you choose to make wise decisions in key areas each day, you experience significant growth over time. That growth is what fuels your success.

I’ve chosen to focus on three key areas where your daily decisions make the most impact. In week one, I wrote about making good choices for your health. Last week, I wrote about choosing to make personal growth a priority each day. Today, I want to move you beyond yourself and turn your attention to the people around you.

I’ve said before that the best leaders surround themselves with great people. In fact, the Law of the Inner Circle says that you can only fly as high as the people around you. After all, you can’t soar with eagles if you’re surrounded by turkeys! And while that statement is true, there’s a flip side we should pause to consider: what happens when you’re the turkey?

Let me illustrate with a story.

A manager sat down with two of his most valued employees to discuss a complaint from one of their clients. It seemed that the client hadn’t received some crucial documents, and the two employees were blaming each other for the failure. The manager wanted to get to the bottom of things.

“Well, Fred,” the manager began, “since you’re the account manager, I’ll let you start. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

“It’s simple,” Fred said. “Bill didn’t listen to me.”

The manager turned to Bill. “Bill, what do you have to say?”

“Fred’s out of his mind. I can tell you every last word out of his mouth,” Bill replied.

The manager turned to Fred. “How do you respond, Fred?”

Fred said. “I gave him some specific instructions regarding how the final documents were to be sent. Let’s see if he can remember them.”

The manager looked at Bill. “Well, how about it, Bill?”

Bill smiled and began rattling off a long list of specifications, down to the type and amount of postage to be used. The manager was impressed.

“That was amazing. I doubt I could remember all of that,” the manager said. “It seems like Bill listens to you just fine, Fred.”

“Really?” Fred asked. “Then ask him for the address he was supposed to mail it to.”

The manager laughed. “That shouldn’t be a problem. Bill, what was the address?”

Bill looked at the manager blankly. “I don’t know.”

The manager was astonished. “You just proved you could remember every word that came out of Fred’s mouth! How can you not know the address?”

“Simple,” Bill said. “Fred wrote it down.”

Imagine this story if you and your spouse were in place of Fred and Bill. Or maybe you and one of your children. Chances are you’ve experienced something similar and learned the story’s truth: if we want to be successful, we have to connect with the people around us. Truly connecting with others is essential for our relationships.

Because it matters so much, I want to share four simple actions you can do each day, with everyone from your spouse to your kids to your co-workers. Hey – you can even do these four things with perfect strangers! If you want to transform all of your significant relationships for the better, you need to:

Listen – spend time trying to understand the perspective of others. Don’t rush to talk or solve problems; give them your full attention, your open mind, and your reservation of judgment.

Encourage – ask questions that draw out the opinions of others. What do they care about? What do they see? Why do they think or feel the way they do? Good questions help you uncover great insights.

Reason – carefully think through your response. You want to consider how the other person will react to your ideas. Don’t just rush to get an answer out; take time to reason through your ideas.

Respond – share your ideas with the other person, making sure to include your reasoning and how you took the other person’s ideas into account. Follow up with any action you propose.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just four little things. But if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll recognize the need to improve in at least one area. Taking time each day to be deliberate with others can be the key to changing a relationship for the better.

I learned this the hard way early in my marriage. Whenever Margaret and I would get into a discussion, I was always preoccupied with being the one in the right. Finally, after I’d “won” another victory, Margaret said, “John, you’re winning the arguments, but you’re losing me.”

Wow. That hurt. But it taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me to be intentional about my relationship with Margaret, and to make connecting with her the priority. I’ve done everything I could every day to become a better listener, and a better husband, with every passing year.

My friend, you can make each relationship you have better with just a little bit of effort each day. The more you value and connect with the people in your life, the greater your potential to see great things from those relationships. The secret is making connecting with others a daily priority.

Have you ever noticed how small children spend a lot of time talking about “one day”?

“One day, I’ll be big enough to ride that ride.”

“One day, I’ll be able to make my own decisions.”

“One day, I’m going to have a pony.”

When you’re a small child, you want to be a big adult. You don’t pay attention to the details of adult life. You just see that adults – big people – get more privileges, get to have more fun.

What we don’t understand until we’re adults is there’s a price to pay for growing up. You have to go to work – every day. You have to take care of things around the house – every day. You have to pay attention to things like bills, car maintenance, emails, and projects – every day.

Children think about “one day.” Adults think about “every day”.

Here’s the truth: if we want to grow, if we want get “big,” we have to get intentional about “every day”.

Last week I started the Secrets of Success blog series to highlight the three most impactful decisions you can make for your life. The idea is that the secret to your success lies in what you do each day. We began with health, because your body is a crucial asset. If you take care of it, it will take care of you!

This week, I want to focus on personal growth. And just like we must be intentional about our health every day, we must also be intentional about our personal growth.

Unfortunately, many people treat personal growth as a by-product of life. They seem to think if they stick around long enough, they will magically accumulate maturity, wisdom, and skill. But acquiring the right seasoning to make a difference in the world takes more than longevity. It takes a commitment to get just a little bit better each day.

Here are two things you can do daily to help your personal growth. They are simple, but just remember, simple to understand doesn’t always mean simple to execute.

Make Growth a Daily Priority

You’d be surprised at how many people fail because they don’t make growth a priority in their minds and schedules. They have every intention of growing and want to grow, but they lack the ability to translate their intention into action. They need something to help them get growing.

I’ve shared before about my Rule of 5. (Click the link if you haven’t heard of it before now.) It’s a simple but powerful system that helps me focus on the five small tasks I do each day to maintain my growth in certain areas.

For instance, if I want to continue to grow as a writer, I know I need to spend time each day reading, thinking, filing, asking questions, and—of course—writing! I could do all of those things each day without my Rule of 5, but I wouldn’t be nearly as intentional about it. One or more activities could easily fall through the cracks. It’s a simple system, but it helps me maintain my daily discipline of growing as an author.

To make growth a daily priority, make a Rule of 5 for personal growth. For example, if you want to get better at work, choose the five tasks, attitudes, or habits you need to emphasize each day to improve. It could look something like this:

  1. Begin each day with the the two most important tasks
  2. Spend time connecting with my supervisor and doing more than expected
  3. Return client emails in a timely fashion
  4. Choose to be positive with co-workers
  5. Leave my office tidy and ready for the next day

Which five things you include in your Rule of 5 is up to you; in fact, you should adjust your Rule of 5 as you grow! Creating the system is the important thing because it creates a pathway for daily growth.

Make Growth a Defined Pursuit

But maybe you’re not a systems person. Maybe you work best when your options are open. You can still be intentional about your growth if you’ll get intentional about your time. Start with defining your priorities, and then allot each a certain amount of time based on importance. Give your growth activities more weight than your rote activities, to minimize the distractions that might set you back.

A great example is the email inbox. Set a time limit for checking email, say maybe 20 minutes at the start of the day, 15 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes before you leave to go home. It sounds severe, but you’d be surprised at how quickly email can eat quality minutes from your day.

Defining how much time you’ll give to your priorities allows you to utilize that time to its fullest. Chances are you allow more time than you realize to slip through your fingers. After all, rabbit holes aren’t just for public speakers; anyone can get lost in a task that doesn’t offer much value.

How ever you choose to go about it, remember that growth doesn’t just happen. You have to plan for it. It’s what Kurt Campmeier taught me when I was just starting my career, and it’s something I’ve repeated countless times. I’m so dedicated to it that I created the Maxwell Plan for Personal Growth, which takes you even deeper into intentionally choosing a life of daily improvement.

Remember, personal growth is the cornerstone for success. By being intentional about growing better every single day, you can experience incremental growth, “five good swings” at a time.

Why is it some people always seem to get ahead?

How has that older couple kept the magic of their marriage alive all these years?

What does the fitness instructor at the gym, the one with the perfect biceps, know that you don’t?

It’s simple: the secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda.

That guy who’s always getting promoted knows he has to make decisions every day to grow better in his job. That couple celebrating 50 years of marriage knows they have to choose each day to love and honor their relationship. And the fitness instructor at the gym, the one with the perfect biceps, she knows you have to be disciplined in your daily choices in order stay fit and trim.

It’s the power of daily decisions. Everyone makes them – but not everyone makes them well. In my book, Today Matters, I outline how the key to being successful is determining ahead of time the decisions you will make and then managing them each day. The book takes a good long look at the twelve crucial decisions that shape our lives, and gives some powerful insights on how to manage those decisions each day.

But this is a blog, not a book. We only have so much space! That’s why over the next three weeks I want to focus on three critical decisions that impact everything else in your world. If you can win these three each day, you are on your way to living life successfully. We’ll cover one a week so you’ll have plenty of time to marinate on each one.

The first area I want to address is health. After all, you can’t do much of anything without your body and mind, can you?

As someone who hasn’t always taken his health seriously, I want to emphasize the importance of this area of your life. I took my health for granted until I had my heart attack in 1998 – and even after that, I struggled to embrace healthy living. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over time. And I’ve discovered that there is no substitute for making daily choices to eat the right amount of nutritious foods and engage in the right amount of physical exercise. I talk regularly with my doctors to know what is safe and effective for me, and that’s a good place for anyone to begin.

You see, how you eat, how you exercise, how you choose to feel about the day, all have significant impact on your quality of life. If you eat poorly, it can make you feel tired. If you go to the gym early, it can be the kick start your day truly needs. Even something as small as waking up and saying to yourself, “Today, I will choose to be positive” can transform how you experience the day.

That’s what makes this decision so vital – the choices you make about your health affect everything else. And yet is there another area where people struggle more?

Quite often I hear people say they don’t have the time, or the resources, or the discipline to do better with their health. And my response is always the same.

“Yes you do. You just have to choose it.”

As simple as it sounds, that’s the truth. You can choose each day to live a healthy life. It doesn’t require a gym membership, or switching to a vegan diet, or anything more complicated than just making a decision you already know you need to make. It’s a two-step process, which I’ll explain right now:

1. I decide I will be healthy today.

2. I choose to eat, drink and do healthy things today.

That’s it! Nothing more to it – you simply repeat those two steps each day. But to give you some practical handles for this idea, allow me to suggest the following:

  • Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs.
  • Instead of drinking a soda, drink water.
  • Instead of ordering the super-size meal, order the small.
  • Instead of parking next to the building, park farther away and walk.
  • Instead of ordering dessert, be content to pass.
  • Instead of allowing the day to dictate how you feel, choose to see the good in the day.

Your health is the accumulation of your choices, good or bad, over time. If you decide each day to make good choices, no matter how seemingly insignificant, those good choices compound as the days pass. You may not run a marathon on day two, but you might in year two – and that’s the point. When you choose each day to do what you can to be healthy, those choices add up.

I can think of no better decision I’ve made than the choice to manage my health. Every time I go to dinner with Margaret, or spend the weekend with my grandchildren, I’m reminded that the small sacrifices I make each day to be healthy give me so much in return. Because in the end, I’m not just choosing to be healthy for me; I’m choosing to be healthy for them as well.

My friend, you can do this. You can make the small choice to have a salad instead of a burger, to hear the compliment instead of the criticism, or to take the stairs instead of the elevator, and you can do it today. I promise you, if you’ll start today, and make the same healthy decisions tomorrow and the day after that, you won’t regret what you’ll gain.

You can be successful with your health. I believe in you – and I’m right here beside you.