Do you know who you’re talking to?

By Marianne Renner,
Leadership Development Coach

Knowing your audience will help you get what you want

I recently spoke to a group of business owners in the creative services industry. We spent some time talking about how to handle difficult conversations over creative differences with clients.

We discussed questions such as, “how do you communicate your message in a way that influences others to see things your way?”

I spent more than 15 years in the marketing/communications field and one thing I learned in all of those years is that all of life is marketing/communications.

Let me explain what I mean. Marketing is about identifying a target audience, studying those individuals and learning their behaviors and motivations. When you understand what drives their decisions, you can then craft a message and communicate that message in a way that influences them to buy a service or product.

That’s the same formula for many things in life that we want to achieve. Because more often than not, our goals and desired achievements involve other people and influencing others to see things our way.

Just how do we effectively handle conversations with others when we have differences of opinion? And how can we elevate our level of influence in those conversations?

Whether you want to motivate your team to improve performance, turn a prospect into a client, or just get your kids to pick up their stuff around the house, there are techniques you can learn to improve your level of influence. And at the top of the list is understanding dominant motivating factors.

Know your audience

Just as in marketing, the key is to know your audience. People have different motivating forces, they have different fears, different characteristics that make up their personalities.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of your own children. If you have more than one child, you know that what works for one, doesn’t work for the other. You have to get creative in how you influence and motivate them. One will respond and follow instructions when you threaten to send him to his room. But if you send the other child to his room, he skips up the stairs singing all the way because he would love nothing more than to sit in his room all day and day dream. Do you ever wonder, “how did these two kids come from the same parents?”

Scientific research has proven that there are four dominant personality types, and each type has its own set of distinct motivations, fears, and characteristics.

When leaders learn to identify these characteristics, they improve their communications with teams and customers. They become better influencers, earn more respect from co-workers and bosses, and get others to embrace their ideas.

Let me give you an example.

Have you ever met someone who is assertive, strong willed, gets right to the point and makes quick decisions? I’ll bet you can think of someone right now who fits that description. On the other hand, you probably know someone who is a real team player, a cheerleader, always keeping the peace and wants to make everyone happy?

Would you communicate to these individuals in the same way? Of course not. These two people have different fears and different key motivators. Once you understand this, you can communicate with greater impact.

If you have your own business or aspirations to grow, advance, make more money, or get promoted – you need to develop this communication skill.

If you want to achieve professional success, it’s not enough just to be good at what you do. You need this skill to earn new clients, keep clients and get more referrals. You need this skill to ask for a promotion, ask for a raise or influence team members to achieve greater success on projects.

A quick and easy way to get started is to download my free DISC “cheat sheet,” a 1-page summary of the four DISC personalities. Keep it on your phone or print it out and keep it in your pocket. It’s a great, quick reference to skim over before any conversation or meeting.

You can instantly improve communication and outcomes of the next conversation you have.

Talk back to Imposter Syndrome


Have you ever felt like you don’t belong in a room full of successful people, and you think to yourself, “it’s just a matter of time before they find out I’m a fraud!”

Believe it or not, there’s a name for this. It’s called, “imposter syndrome.” Seriously, it’s really a thing.

And what’s more, it’s unbelievably common. Successful people often experience this phenomenon, and the more successful they are, the stronger it becomes.

The problems that result from imposter syndrome can range from general stress and anxiety to complete career sabotage. Many professionals, although successful, have actually stunted their career growth due to their internal dialogue that they are not as good as they appear to be.

I recently spent some time in Colorado, and had a fascinating discussion with a nice young couple on vacation. The gentleman had a terrific job as a technology specialist for one of the top tech companies in the world. We spent quite a bit of time talking about his work, and it was clear that he was a sharp, talented and hard-working young man.

So I was amazed when I started talking to him and his wife about imposter syndrome, to which he replied, “wow, I’ve been experiencing that my entire career.”

When I talk with my clients about imposter syndrome, they tell me things like, “I was in a meeting today, and I just don’t belong with these other smart, successful people.” This can result in a negative downward spiral of thinking that prevents career growth.

Professionals who struggle with imposter syndrome, are terrified of being discovered for the frauds that they believe they are. Even though they are accomplished in their careers, they believe they’ve gotten to where they are by luck or chance or an unbelievable interview that didn’t really show who their true colors.

In general, they’re lacking a sense of empowerment, self-confidence and self-esteem.

So how can you get more confidence, empowerment and self-esteem?

Answer: you have to give it to yourself. You can learn to exchange your limiting beliefs for new, empowering beliefs that will impact how you see yourself and how others see you. By developing a few new habits, you can earn new levels of respect in the workplace and accelerate your career growth.


Begin having regular meetings with yourself, just as you would with an employee who wasn’t performing the way you’d like. Consider these meetings to be performance evaluations with yourself, and remind yourself that you are smart, capable, competent, intelligent and creative. Remind yourself that you earned your right to be in your position.

The key to real change is that these self-conversations must be backed up by evidence. The things that we truly believe are reinforced because we have evidence to prove them.

Document your successes

I have my clients keep a journal or log of their successes so they can begin to create new, evidence-based, empowering beliefs that replace the old limiting beliefs.

This can be difficult to do on your own, because oftentimes people discount their successes. If something comes easily, people often assume that it really isn’t a success. I once had a client who worked full-time, owned his own business and earned an advanced degree, graduating on the dean’s list. But he didn’t think of this as a success because school came easily to him. He would not have documented this as a success. He needed an outside perspective to help point out this huge accomplishment.

Continue to document your successes as they occur. Writing out every key win will build momentum. You will feel a sense of growing empowerment that over rides the old, automated thinking.

Download this Limiting Beliefs worksheet to help you stamp out imposter syndrome once and for all!

Going the extra mile: take this 30-day challenge and see what happens next!

I remember years ago my dad telling me, "it doesn’t matter what you do, but always do your best." I was talking with someone recently who was telling me about new responsibilities being added to his work. He was doing a great job of not only meeting the demands of the job, but exceeding them. 

I encouraged him to keep charging forward even though it was at times difficult. When some people might dig in their heels and say, "that’s not my job, I’m not doing that," he’s stepping up. I told him to think of this time as an opportunity – a job interview. Anytime you go the extra mile, above-and-beyond, exceeding expectations, those actions will pay great rewards.

If you’re in a position where your business isn’t performing the way you’d like, or you feel you have not been promoted to the job you want, or you didn’t get the role for which you interviewed, ask yourself, "where can I go the extra mile? How can I exceed the expectations? How can I perform a function that is not likely to be part of the everyday expectations of my job description?"

Or as a business owner, "what can I do that I haven’t done before?" You’ve probably heard the saying that successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Successful people don’t want to do them either, but they keep their goal in mind and l go the extra mile because they know it will pay off.

Try this for 30 days and watch the results. Volunteer for projects you wouldn’t normally do. Offer to help a colleague who has a heavy workload. Spend an hour every day on the telephone building relationships and making sales calls instead of hiding behind the comfort of social media. I guarantee you that after 30 days, you will see results. You will earn greater respect from peers, leaders and those whom you supervise. People will treat you more kindly. You will feel more empowered, and opportunities that you never expected will appear. It’ll be a great way to start the new year.

The greatest problem-solving tool you can use

Have you ever been summoned to the conference room, for an all-day, intensive problem-solving session? You spend the day locked in a room with the best minds in the company,  the flip chart paper, the white board, the markers, the PowerPoint presentations, the bottomless coffee, the debating and head-scratching.

And finally, yes, finally, you come up with the answer of all answers.  You put it all into a report. And perhaps you even implement your solution.

But fast forward one year later, and you realize you’re right back where you started. You find yourself still trying to solve the same problem.

Sound familiar? Whether you’re in a complex corporate structure or you’re a sole proprietor searching for better project planning solution or a scheduling system, or you’re just trying to lose 10 pounds: the issue is often the same. It’s not that we come up with the wrong answers. It’s that we’re solving the wrong problems.

We’re focusing on the wrong thing. We’re solving what I call surface-level problems or symptom problems, not root cause problems.

How do we know we’re solving the wrong problem? Because it returns again and again.

When I see dandelions in my yard, my first thought is, “it’s a great day to cut the grass,” because I want them to go away as quickly and painlessly as possible. But what’s going to happen? They will return. Why? Because I didn’t get the root.

​Here’s another example. Have you ever lost weight using formalized weight-loss program, only to gain the weight back? Well, did the program work? Yes, of course it did, because you lost the weight.

But you solved the wrong problem. And the reason you can tell you solved the wrong problem is because it returned.

The question to ask yourself, is not “what program should I try next?”  The right question is “WHY did I go off the program in the first place?”

Now you’re getting closer to solving the root cause. The key is to ask not “what,” but “why.”

Decades ago in efforts to become one of the world’s leading car manufacturers, Toyota Motor Corporation looked at problem-solving in a new, revolutionary way. One of the tools they developed is called “The Five Why’s.” The basic premise of “The Five Why’s” is that if you have a problem and you ask the question “why” five times, you will get to the root cause and solve the problem in a way it doesn’t return.

I use this approach in my own life and with every single client I work with and have seen phenomenal results.

A few months ago, I worked with someone who was a very successful, high performing leader in his organization. He was planning to retire early and looking forward to starting his dream retirement career. When he came to me, he had spent two years on a project plan to get the new business started, but the problem was that he had made no forward progress on implementing the plan.

So, I asked him, not “what,” but “why.” And here’s how it went:

Why:  have you not started the project?

Answer: I don’t have time.

Why: don’t you have time?

Answer: I have a stressful job, I’m tired at the end of the day, and I just come home and probably watch too much T.V.

Why: do you watch too much T.V. instead of work on your project?

Answer: Well, actually, I’m a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to this project.

Why: do you think that is?

Answer: The project “to-do” list is too huge and overwhelming.

SOLUTION: We determined he would devote 10 hours a week to working on the project and selected a small subset of the most immediate tasks that could easily be completed each week. In three weeks, he had completed more work on the project than in previous two years.

I realize that sounds somewhat simple, but the answers often are simple. We just assume that the answers we’re looking for must be complex because nothing we’ve tried seems to work. But that’s only because we’re solving the wrong problem. We’re solving surface-level problems, not root-cause problems.

Clients come to me for many different reasons. But the one thing they have in common is there is a problem to solve.

If you’re not in the job that you want, or you’re not getting the sales you want, ask “The Five Why’s.” If your employees are not performing as well as you’d like, ask “The “5 Why’s.” Heck, if you can’t get your spouse to listen to a word you say, or get your kids to pick up around the house, ask “The “5 Why’s.”

Problems are painful, and we want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. But solving our problems has a much deeper purpose on our lives than just making life easier or making our pain go away.

It’s who we become in the process of digging below the surface and facing the problem head-on, that makes it worth the effort. We grow as people, we become stronger, we develop deeper character.

I believe each of us has a unique purpose to fulfill in this life. And when we can uncover, attack and resolve recurring problems that pop up over and over in our lives, we come one step closer to discovering, pursuing and fulfilling that unique purpose.

For a more in-depth look at “The Five-Why’s,” check out a presentationI did recently at the Fox Valley Business United networking group.

The power of daily habits: the smallest change makes the biggest impact

In doing some research recently for a coaching workshop on work-life balance, I came across an interesting statistic that states up to 80% of what we do every day is automatic. I started thinking about my day. I thought about my drive to work. I can’t remember the last time I read a street sign or put any thought into when I needed to make a right-hand turn. Using my phone is about as automatic as it gets, as evidenced by my frustration every time there’s a software update that moves around my icons.

So if up to 80% of our daily tasks are automatic, how can we use this to our benefit in achieving personal and professional growth and success? If we can incorporate more habits into our daily lives, our chances of success skyrocket, and here are 3 reasons why.

1. Maximize our Energy Resources

We’re wired for automation because of the overall energy it takes to mentally process the enormous amount of information coming at us each day. The amount of time we have in a day is finite. The amount of energy we have to expend in a day is finite. So the key is to maximize our activities with most efficient use of energy. Simply put: if we can develop habits, we use less energy to complete a task, which gives us energy left over to complete more tasks.

Think about anytime you have started a new job. The first few months are exhausting, aren’t they? Why? Because you have to process every small bit of information: where do I find a notebook, what’s the name of that person I just passed in the hallway, where’s the cafeteria, how do I request time off or schedule a meeting, what are the expectations of my boss. But over time, daily tasks become automatic, and you have more energy resources free to focus on projects, ideas and major accomplishments. And if you can break those projects and ideas into small repeated tasks, you can leverage even more energy.

So the more habits we can create around reaching a goal, the more energy we have to move closer to the goal.

2. Small things add up over time.

Pretty much every conversation I have regarding goals focuses on the importance of daily habits to achieve measured success. If you want to lose 20 pounds, it will be the small, daily tasks that ultimately will bring you to your goal. The thought of losing 20 pounds is daunting. But what if you could develop a daily habit of taking a 35-minute walk every morning? Just that one habit done every day for a year can result in losing 20 pounds. Trust me, I’ve done the math. Burning 200 calories every walk over 365 days adds up to 20 pounds!

Years ago as a competitive bodybuilder, I had to weigh, measure and count calories of everything I ate every day in order to achieve a specific level of body fat for a competition. At first it took discipline and willpower. But after doing this for 20 years, I can pretty much look at plate and know how many calories are in the meal. To this day, I write down what I eat every day to monitor my calories. Writing down daily food intake has become such a habit that it involves no extra time or energy  for me. It’s just part of my routine life.

3) Sustaining results

Most of us can identify with getting excited about a project or idea, starting strong, then losing our way over time. Developing habits creates a built-in sustainment strategy for any important goal in life. No matter how much discipline and willpower we have, we always go into autopilot during times of stress or storms. Habits will carry us through when the storms come.

When we feel uncertain, tired, or overwhelmed, we retreat into our comfort areas. And habits are our comfort areas. So if I have a 20-year habit of cooking egg whites and vegetables for breakfast everyday, I will continue that habit no matter what. If work gets busy, the holidays are here, or I’m traveling more – no matter what, I will eat a healthy breakfast. To do otherwise is uncomfortable. 

There is incredible power in creating small, daily habits.

With the new year around the corner, this is the perfect time to take a look at areas of your life you want to improve. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Completing new tasks starts with discipline and willpower. It takes time to develop a habit. So start with one or two small changes that over time will help you reach your goals.

Reaching Goals: chances of success increase if you write them down

Today, as I walked to my mailbox I could see a large yellow envelope jutting out from the box, and I couldn’t wait to see what it was. From the return address, I knew it was a book written by my friend and fellow coach, Dr. Clark Gaither, called “The Graduate’s Handbook, Your No-Nonsense Guide to What Comes Next.” I told him I wanted to buy several copies to give away as graduation presents next year, but I figured I’d better read a copy first.

I didn’t have to get beyond the first page to know it was a winner. The first words I read were, “whatsoever you write down in this book will come true… If you don’t write it down, it isn’t likely to happen. My 1-year goals are: (fill in the blank).”

Just a few hours prior to opening the book, I started working on this month’s blog about the importance of writing down goals. So I guess it was just meant to be.

Believe it or not, in just a handful of weeks you’re going to be talking about your New Year’s resolutions. Well, I’d like to save you the trouble. Trash the idea and instead, start now to write out a set of goals for yourself that you can work toward in 2017. I mean, do you even remember your resolutions from last year? I can probably guess the answer. Resolutions don’t work, but goals do.

Goals are much more likely to happen for you, especially if you write them down. A Harvard Business study found that people who have goals are 10 times more successful than those who don’t, and those statistics increase if the goals are written down.

Last month I was rummaging through my filing cabinet, looking for an empty notebook. I pulled out a spiral bound notebook that I thought was full of blank paper. But on the first page, I noticed some of my own handwriting. It was dated “July 7, 2011,” and it read, “Career goal: life coaching.”

I vaguely remember writing that down five years ago as I engaged in some soul-searching and brainstorming about where I wanted to go with my career. I didn’t give it much thought after that. But writing down that goal on that day had planted a seed that has been germinating all this time until it bloomed earlier this year.

There’s no better feeling that looking back at your goals and crossing them off your list as they come true.

Your goals don’t have to be life-changing. But they certainly can be. They can be career goals, financial goals, improving your relationships or personal development.

This is the perfect time of year to get your goals down on paper and start the New Year ready to get to work.

I have several worksheets that can help you get started on clarifying and developing goals. Contact me via my website at, and I’ll be happy to email them to you or talk with you further about achieving your goals and dreams in 2017.

Marianne Renner is a professional development and life coach, helping people increase success in business and career by eliminating mental barriers, clarifying goals and creating actionable plans for achievement. Visit

Limiting beliefs: weeding out those negative thoughts

Over the years, I have spent countless, yet rewarding hours in my yard planting and maintaining more than 2,000 square feet of perennial gardens. I love my yard with its gorgeous sprays of color and scents that last from April into November.

But I didn’t start with a blank canvas. Before I could plant, I had to clear the space of dense weeds and other unwanted and deep-rooted intruders. And even today with my beautiful roses, hibiscus and daylilies, I still have to get into those gardens every couple of weeks during the growing season and pull thistles, clover, dandelions and other creeping invaders.

I often tell my clients that the mind is like a garden. If you let it go, it doesn’t just sit still. Unwanted visitors will grow – namely negative thoughts.

Recently, I’ve had some conversations with clients and others about the power that thoughts and deep beliefs have in our lives.When we’re not intentional about our thinking, negative thoughts sprout up. Some of the messages I hear again and again from people I talk with include, “I can’t because….

I’m too old, I’m too young, I don’t have time, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, I don’t have the right education or degree, I don’t have the right resume, the economy is holding me back, my boss is holding me back, I don’t have the right title…”

You get the picture.

The problem is that these thoughts, repeated over and over become beliefs, and those beliefs grow like deep-rooted weeds resulting in negative outcomes in our lives.

As Henry Ford said, “if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

If you have a goal, a desire or a dream, you first have to believe that you can achieve it. Before 1954, people believed that it was impossible to run a mile in under four minutes. But that year, Roger Banister did just that. He ran a mile in 3 min 59.4 sec.

His record lasted only 46 days. Within a year, dozens of others ran a mile in under 4 minutes. Why was it that no one in the history of the Olympics could do this until Bannister achieved the feat?

No one believed it could be done. Their beliefs were limited. But after seeing  Bannister do it, their beliefs changed with the new evidence.

Limiting beliefs come from habitual negative thinking that can be changed. How difficult the change depends on how strong the habit and how deep the belief. I have little tufts of clover in my garden that I can pluck out with a firm grasp of two fingers  because it hasn’t been growing very long.

Then every once in a while, I come across something that has been around a while that takes a bit more work to remove. I have to get the shovel and dig deep to get that doggone root. Those weeds with deep roots are like the thoughts that have been watered, fed day after day, year after year.

So when I work with clients on changing their limiting beliefs, we focus on creating new, empowering beliefs.

Here are a few steps to take:

First, identify and write out the limiting belief.

Next identify the evidence or reason for your belief. For example, perhaps you think you are too old to get a new job. The evidence is that you see people of a certain age having difficulty finding new jobs or you are having limited success with finding a new job.

Next to the limiting belief, write a new, empowering belief, and write new evidence to support that belief. Remember, people believed they could run a 4-minute mile only after seeing the evidence from Roger Bannister. So it’s important to identify and document evidence.

For example, if your new belief is that you will get a new job, your evidence can be a list of successful projects you’ve completed that demonstrate your value to an organization.

You can document a lifetime of experiences and knowledge you’ve gained. Practice reading and repeating your new beliefs to create new habitual thought patterns. After I planted my gardens, I had to continually tend to them – treat them with fertilizer, weed them, prune the plants, water them, and keep them protected in the winter.

Replacing any old habit with a new one takes time, attention and repetition.

This may sound like a lot of work. And truthfully, it is. But ask yourself this: what do I really want for my life, and is the work worth the reward? I would bet it is.

Work-Life Balance? Or do we want something else?

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot from people who tell me they want help with the familiar old problem of work-life balance.

One client literally said to me recently, “my job is sucking the life energy from me.” Sadly, I hear a version of that theme quite often.

But when people say they want work-life balance, usually what they’re really saying is that they are overwhelmed, burned out or dissatisfied at work, and that other important areas of their lives are neglected. We’re not so much looking for balance, as we are seeking deeper fulfillment and satisfaction in all areas of our lives. We want deeper relationships, more meaningful work, the opportunity to use our talents, the ability to grow and contribute to our families and to our communities.

The term “work-life balance” really is erroneous if you look at it closely. It implies that we have a life and then we have this thing we call “work,” which is completely separate from our lives. In reality, work is part of our lives – it is one of many facets that can bring us a sense of fulfillment, purpose, contribution and growth. The key is not to work less necessarily, although that may be true in some cases. Rather, the answer is in finding ways to increase satisfaction in our work.

Our lives consist of work, family, personal growth, physical health, friendships, spiritual growth and financial health, among other things. So if we are to take the concept of balance on its face, we would see a 24-hour day pided roughly into seven segments of our lives. “Balance” would mean devoting roughly 3.5 hours daily to each of those areas. Clearly, that’s not reality. So the idea of balance is deceiving.

What we need to focus on, is how we want to live our lives, what’s most important to us, and what can we do to increase our level of fulfillment and satisfaction in these important areas. The answer is different for each of us.

So rather than trying to solve the work-life balance dilemma, our strategy should be to design the life we want and establishing clear priorities to make that happen.

The three key ingredients to this process are: prioritize, plan and act.

1. Prioritize

Does designing the life we want mean we can have EVERYTHING? Of course not. There are only 24 hours in the day, yet the possibilities of what we could do are endless. A deeply enriched and meaningful life is not about getting everything we want. Rather, it’s about choice. It requires prioritizing what’s most important.

You cannot be an Olympic gymnastics gold medalist and president of the chess club at the same time. Saying yes to being the Olympic gold medalist means saying no to other things that are less important. I’m not implying that work and personal life are at odds. I believe it absolutely is possible to have a meaningful professional life and personal life as well. This is why the next step is critical.

2. Plan

The next step is to create a plan that supports our priorities. What are those things we will do that get us to what we want. What are those things we will stop doing that distract us from our ultimate goal?

Achieving satisfaction professionally and personally requires hard work and commitment. It doesn’t happen by accident, so the plan helps give us focus and accountability.

The plan doesn’t have to be a major life-changing overhaul. Small, daily tasks can make a huge difference.

For example, what’s the plan to improve family relationships? Perhaps, it’s to have more intentional, meaningful conversations with the kids.

I have a friend who changed the daily conversation with her 9-year-old son. She stopped saying, “how was school today?” Just what do you think was the answer to that question? “Fine.” She now asks him to tell her one high point and one low point of his day. NOW, there is a meaningful conversation taking place.

3. Act

Finally, we take action on our plan and follow what we set out to do. We commit to moving projects forward at work or to stop attending meetings aren’t productive.

This all may sound like a lot of work. It is. But compare the price to the value that will be added to your life.

Contact me to learn about how you can attend a free upcoming workshop on this topic to create your own plan for a more satisfying life.

Thinking differently – why so tough?

By now, most people are familiar with the picture of the old lady in Stephen Covey’s highly acclaimed book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Or wait, is it the young lady? The answer, as is often the case in life, is it depends.

It depends upon where you place your focus. Do you focus on the black lines, or do you focus on the white space in between. If you haven’t seen it, Google it.

Probably the number one thing I talk about with my coaching clients more than anything else is the power of shifting paradigms, or ways of thinking. The specifics differ in each case: someone wants to plan their next career move, or find more fulfillment through work, or someone is trying to figure out how to stop feeling overwhelmed in the workplace.

But the common denominator is that there is a problem to solve, and they haven’t found a way to solve it. The solution usually presents itself only after a new way of looking at the problem emerges.

Have you ever played scrabble and struggled to figure out how find your next triple-point word? You search and scour every inch of the board, but there’s just no way to play your letters. Then, you turn the board a quarter to the right and suddenly, there it is: xylophone!

What changed? The circumstances didn’t change. The opportunity didn’t change. You just saw the game from a whole new perspective.

We all have developed paradigms, a basic way of seeing the world and circumstances around us. Once we develop these paradigms, they can be difficult to change on our own.

When we see the old lady in the Stephen Covey diagram, we need someone to point out that there is a young lady. Sometimes, we need someone to take their finger and show us until the young lady emerges before our eyes.

Paradigms are our brain’s way of filing information to keep us from becoming overloaded and overwhelmed. We are simply not capable of stopping to process every piece of information that comes before us. So the brain files familiar stimuli and we go into autopilot when we need to access that information. When we come across a familiar experience, we don’t have to spend time and energy processing new information. We skip right to a conclusion without effort. Therefore, we are able to take in more and more information.

Let’s take, for example, our use of computers. Much of what we do is automatic. We don’t even question which icons to click or where to find our favorite search engine.

Ever stop to think about what it actually means to “cut and paste?” Why do we use those words when we remove typed words and put them somewhere else in a document? I mean, you’re not using a scissors, you’re not using glue, right? When I started out in the newspaper industry many years ago, we would layout the newspaper by printing out the type on glossy paper and run it through a wax machine so it was sticky on the back. Then we would use a scissors to cut out paragraphs and words and paste them on a template. We would peel them up, cut them shorter, put them in different columns or on different pages. We would paste them around so they all fit like a jig saw puzzle – we literally would cut and paste.

But of course, we don’t stop to ask these questions. We simply create a paradigm that cut and paste is just part of how we work on the computer – no questions asked. We just don’t have the capacity to stop and process every piece of information.

So, in this sense, paradigms actually work to our benefit, allowing us to skip ahead when we can so we can think about other things. But paradigms also can be tricksters and sometimes detrimental in other aspects of our lives.

For example, if we’re job hunting long enough and get enough rejections, we begin to develop a paradigm that it’s impossible to find the job we want. That’s our experience, and we mentally settle in to this negative paradigm.

If we experience something enough times, we develop a paradigm and stop processing information. This can crush our chances of success, because we don’t see the opportunity that is right before us. We see the lines of the old lady, but we don’t see the blank space between the lines that shows us the young lady.

The next time you find yourself in a dilemma, or telling yourself that “this is the way it is, and that’s that,” stop for a moment. Question your paradigms. Give the proverbial scrabble board one-quarter turn clockwise. There is always another way of seeing things, which will open up possibilities beyond your imagination.

The Power of Progress

What’s the difference between someone who gives up on a goal, dream or idea, and someone who pushes through all the way to the finish line? Why do some people get excited about a new idea, and at first go after it with all their might? But in the end, the results never materialize. Yet others seem to have “all the luck.”

Well it’s not luck. In fact, it’s not necessarily even skill or having more smarts. It’s simply the fact that the person who arrives at the determined destination understands the power of progress.

I guarantee you that every person who achieves success in reaching goals has a way to track progress at every step along the way.

Progress is what keeps us going. It’s our motivation. It’s that feeling of success before the big “ta-da!” It’s the desire to pay off your mortgage early, and seeing that principle payment go down month by month – progress. It’s shooting for that 4.0 GPA and seeing those daily homework assignments come back with a score of 100% – progress.

Any goal you set in your life must be accompanied by a series of small steps by which you can achieve and measure results. If that’s missing, you’re sunk.

Most everyone I talk to at one point or another has attempted that fateful journey into the overwhelming world of weight loss. People try the latest and greatest diet program, and for the first few days their focus and energy keeps them motivated and on track. But day after day of no results on the scale usually ends up delivering feelings of futility and defeat. They throw in the towel.

Keys to Success

Focus on daily tasks.

Although it’s important to keep your eye on the prize, as the saying goes, the best way to stay motivated is really to keep your eye on small, daily tasks that will ultimately drive you to your goal.

Having a task to do every day gives you something to celebrate often. You now have the satisfaction of knowing you are on the right track, the confidence to know you can do it, and the empowerment and enthusiasm to keep going. Each day gives you a feeling of success, and this feeling of accomplishment is what will keep you going.

Let’s stick with our weight loss example. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, getting on the scale every day and looking for those pounds to melt will only bring disillusionment and frustration.

Instead, come up with what I call “behavioral measures.” In other words, ask yourself the question, “what is a behavior that I can do every day? And if I do that task every day, it will move me closer to my goal.”

One example might be to take a walk for 30 minutes every night after dinner, or decide to eat five servings of vegetables every day. Eating a pre-determined amount of calories every day would be another option.

Now, you have something by which you can measure your progress. Every day you can achieve success by taking a walk.

When I was studying for my master’s degree, I figured out after a couple of classes that I needed to invest an average of 10 hours of weekly studying to get an A in each class. So I broke down my studying into a minimum of 2-hour increments every day which left me with two free days each week. It was a manageable behavior that I knew I could follow. Each day I felt successful and confident.

Track your progress

Progress is only powerful if you can see it. If you track it, you can see it. Keep a calendar of every day you achieve your daily behavior or task. If you are trying to lose weight and your measure is to walk for 30 minutes every day, you might have a day that you miss. In fact, you might have 2 days in a row. After all, life happens. Heck, maybe you’re hosting a family reunion and miss a whole bunch of days. That’s when danger lurks and you tell yourself “I’ve blown it. I’m finished. I’m sunk.” But if you have been tracking on a calendar, you can look at the big picture and see that you’ve only missed 3 days out of the last 60. Gosh, that means you’re still hitting the mark 95% of the time.

The key is to know that you’re moving in the right direction. Progress is never one straight line, so knowing your overall trend will save you from what’s called, “all or nothing thinking.” Either you’re doing it perfectly or you’re not going to do it at all. You eat one cookie on a diet, and suddenly you decide to eat the whole bag because you figure you’ve blown it.

So, you ask, what the heck does walking and eating cookies have to do with my professional career? Maybe you’re looking for more job fulfillment or to develop better relationships with your leaders in the workplace. The power of progress works for any goal in your life. The key is, once you know your goal, put some thoughtful consideration into what daily tasks you can choose that will drive you close to the goal. If you’re looking to improve your relationships in the workplace, maybe your daily behavior is to have lunch with a co-worker or leader from your department.

Be creative. Be specific. Keep it simple, manageable and something you can track. Keep your focus on the behavior rather than the end game. The empowerment you will feel from your success will compound and propel you to achievement.

To learn more about achieving your goals, check out our upcoming workshop, "5 Steps to Reaching Your Goals."