One day, and I don’t remember how, I discovered the work of James Clear, the author and photographer (JamesClear.com). He uses a lot of science-based research in his articles and books, and as a former statistics professor, I appreciate that greatly. By his own description, he writes about how to live better, and his theory is that “the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: start with yourself and work your way out from there.”
He had me hooked from the first article I read, “This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened.” It was an excerpt from his New York Times bestselling book, “Atomic Habits.”
I’m just going to copy the beginning of his article because I can’t improve upon it at all. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing (link above) and consider buying his book.
The fate of British Cycling changed one day in 2003.
The organization, which was the governing body for professional cycling in Great Britain, had recently hired Dave Brailsford as its new performance director. At the time, professional cyclists in Great Britain had endured nearly one hundred years of mediocrity. Since 1908, British riders had won just a single gold medal at the Olympic Games, and they had fared even worse in cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de France. In 110 years, no British cyclist had ever won the event.
In fact, the performance of British riders had been so underwhelming that one of the top bike manufacturers in Europe refused to sell bikes to the team because they were afraid that it would hurt sales if other professionals saw the Brits using their gear.
Brailsford had been hired to put British Cycling on a new trajectory. What made him different from previous coaches was his relentless commitment to a strategy that he referred to as “the aggregation of marginal gains,” which was the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. Brailsford said, “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
Brailsford and his coaches began by making small adjustments you might expect from a professional cycling team. They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable and rubbed alcohol on the tires for a better grip. They asked riders to wear electrically heated overshorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature while riding and used biofeedback sensors to monitor how each athlete responded to a particular workout. The team tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel and had their outdoor riders switch to indoor racing suits, which proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic.
But they didn’t stop there. Brailsford and his team continued to find 1 percent improvements (click to see also, The Pareto Principle) in overlooked and unexpected areas. They tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the fastest muscle recovery. They hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold. They determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider. They even painted the inside of the team truck white, which helped them spot little bits of dust that would normally slip by unnoticed but could degrade the performance of the finely tuned bikes.
I probably don’t have to tell you the ending. Within five years, the marginal improvements added up and they dominated the cycling events at the Olympic Games, with lots of medals, and then again at the next Olympics, and then set all kinds of records. The team also went on to win five Tour de France victories in six years.
I’ll make this quick and painless: don’t tell me your New Year’s resolutions. Tell me ten areas of your business or personal life that you are going to improve 1% this year. And don’t forget to look in unexpected places. Here are mine:
1. I am going to stand up 1% straighter. I’m a sloucher. Probably because I’m tall. But my mom slouches too, and she’s much shorter than I am. Believe it or not, it feels like a lot of work for me to keep my shoulders back. I started working on this last year and I feel like I’ve made good progress. This is an “unexpected place” skill. You may think it’s not really that important in the whole big scheme of things, but if I am doing speaking events around the country and getting paid for them, which I am, then I have to look confident. I have to stand up straight.
2. I’m going to call people 1% more. Most people don’t like to call people, myself included. But it’s inefficient sometimes to text or email someone and try to set up an appointment to call them, when you can just call them. If it’s an inconvenient time, they won’t pick up — no big deal. Usually they will. I wrote an important email today. If the intended recipient doesn’t get back to me before end of day Monday, I’m going to call her. I didn’t tell her that in the email. I’m just going to do it.
3. I’m going to do my bookkeeping 1% better. I’m going to tackle it at the end of each month — put everything into Quickbooks instead of at the end of the year. It will help me with my budgets too. Good budgets mean better money management and less worry.
4. I’m going to do a 1% better job responding to people who follow me on Instagram. I already started this and my followers went up 63% in one week. An unexpected result. If I want to do collabs with people and prove to the media and event planners that I am relevant and increase my sales and bookings through Instagram, I have to increase my following. This is my demographic more than any other social media — mothers with young kids who care enormously that their children are healthy.
5. Speaking of kids, I’m going to talk to my (grown) kids 1% more. Actually I want it to be more than that. But at the very least, I’ll call them more and when we’re talking, talk to them longer, travel to see them, spend more get together time here, more family dinners, etc. I want to spend more time with them. It’s an important part of my new Passion Planner roadmap.
6. Ditto for my mom.
7. I want to improve my HA1C by .5. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a type 1 diabetic. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to my new insulin pump. I’ve got to do better. If I don’t, nothing else will matter.
8. Accomplish 1% more things on my to-do list every week. If I have finished and crossed off 100 things I need to cross off one more thing.
9. I need to do at least 1% more school book-selling events. Originally my goal was four by the end of the first quarter. Then I multiplied that by 10 — so 40. Now I need to do 41. More than 1% but close enough.
10. I need to sell 1% more books for 2019. My original goal was 10,001 books. I accomplished that last year and increased it to 100,001. Now I’m going to increase that 1% — a thousand more books. 101,001.
Photo Credit: Erik Binggeser @truemarmalade on Instagram
What ten things are you going to improve by 1% this year?
Part 1 - Answer These Four Questions
Photo Credit: Robson Hatsukama Morgan
Many years after my dad passed away, my cousin Bridgette was visiting and we were chatting about him and something her mother (his sister) had told her. Of course I wanted to know. She conveyed that my dad wanted four main things in life. To marry my mom. To have a family. To fly airplanes. And to live on a farm.
Well there you go. He had such a clear, simple vision for his life. What is astounding is that he knew he wanted those things in high school.
That was his vision. What was his strategy though? Did he manage to do it? And if so, how?
My grandpap drove an eighteen wheeler for a fish company. His route went from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and back for blue crabs, to Boston for haddock, and to Maine for fresh lobsters. When my dad graduated from high school, he too started driving a truck for the same company. And yes, we ate fish every Friday night.
My mom was beautiful and willowy with green eyes and brunette hair like Elizabeth Taylor back in the fifties. She was smart in mind and dress, a cheerleader and prom queen, and she spoke un petit peu French. All the guys with a promising future would consider themselves lucky to date her. My dad, who graduated a year ahead of my mom, was a smooth-talker; our last name is Wylie. He was handsome and charismatic in a James Dean sort of way, and somehow the year after graduation he talked my mom into eloping with him to West Virginia of all places because you could get married there at eighteen without your parents’ permission. When she went back to tell her mom, she was greeted at the door by my grandmother holding a pillowcase stuffed with dirty laundry. She threw it at my mom and said, “Get used to it. You’ll be doing it for the rest of your life,” and unceremoniously slammed the door. She was crushed. She had wanted better for my mom than for her to marry a poor truck driver.
Mission accomplished — number one on my dad’s vision. Age 19.
The next year my older brother was born.
Mission accomplished — number two. Age 20.
Next was flying airplanes. As he was driving a truck, he scrimped and scraped and spent every extra penny and then some to take flying lessons at the local airport. He quickly flew a plane solo and continued racking up his hours. I was born two years after my brother, and I remember my early years as eating a lot of Spam with ketchup. If you don’t know what Spam is, join the crowd. I don’t think anyone really knows what Spam is. My mom made all my clothes, and bought used furniture and recovered it. Christmas was one gift and oranges and crayons in our stocking. My grandparents, whose view of my dad had softened thank goodness, used to make food for us and bring it over.
Back then, in the early 1960’s, you only needed a certain amount of flying hours to become a pilot. My dad carefully kept track of his, and wrote them meticulously in his flight logbook. After several years doing this, he finally had enough hours to be hired by Allegheny Airlines.
Mission accomplished — number three. Age 27.
Relatively quickly his salary grew to the point where he was making more money than anyone in his whole family and even our whole neighborhood.
After a couple more years and my two little brothers, we needed to find a bigger house. I had to share a tiny bedroom with my youngest brother who at age one discovered the light switch above his crib and like a hunter spotting deer turned the lights on and off all night. We lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh, but my dad figured if we moved further north to Butler County, there was farmland and it was still within an hour’s drive of the airport. He never liked living in or near a city. He and my mom started looking for a farm to buy.
They learned of a widow of the owner of a local hotel and restaurant. Like an original farm to table, the restauranteur grew the vegetables, and raised the livestock that he used in his restaurant. He had died suddenly and left his wife with much debt and few liquid assets. The farm had a huge, beautiful house on a hill with 32 acres of woods behind it and fields and pasture in front of it, two barns, a greenhouse, a built-in swimming pool in the lower pasture, tractors, a garage, a chicken coop, a river that ran through it, and two caretakers’ houses. To all of us, it felt like we had moved into a palace. I was ten years old. My Christmas present that year was a pony. We stopped eating Spam. My life was then complete.
Mission accomplished — number four. Age 31.
My dad accomplished his vision by the age of 31. I was jealous. Granted I had successfully co-founded, managed and sold two companies, but none, I felt, was my dream, my life’s purpose, my vision. When I finally figured out mycompany, my vision, Bloomers Island, I was pushing 50. Side note: it’s never too early and it’s never too late to bring your vision to life. Colonel Sanders was in his sixties.
The Magic of Four
The American psychologist, George Miller, is known for testing and developing a theory that the human mind could only digest and remember seven pieces of information at a time. Supposedly, that is why phone numbers became seven digits long (before area codes). Later, through follow up research from Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, that number was changed to four. His research showed that it is hard for the human mind to concentrate on more than four things at once. The seven digits Miller wrote about would actually be broken into four pieces by people. For example, if a phone number was 789–5876, us humans would break it down into 78 95 87 6. That would be the easiest way to process and remember the seven digit number — in chunks of four.
The author of “Chart Your Own Course,” Caryn A. Spain (mentioned in my last article, “Start Here to Figure Out Your Life’s Purpose”), used this theory when she came up with the methodology for writing a strategic vision statement. Her approach was somewhat novel; most vision statements are simple, one or two sentence lines that are easily memorized, but in my opinion, not of much use if one doesn’t include a strategy to achieve it. My favorite business quote is: There are no good ideas. There is only good execution.
A vision strategy should focus on four things then. Please note that this doesn’t mean you are not going to do other things, it merely means you will spend most of your resources — time, energy, money — on making sure that you focus on doing a fantastic job on those four things. More on this in Part 2.
The Four Questions
In case you didn’t read my aforementioned article, I will summarize it here because you will need to use it as a foundation to build your vision strategy. It is a list of at least fifty skills, strengths and talents that you possess. I call the list, My Top 50.
You can do a vision strategy for both your career/business and for your personal life. You will just need to do a separate Top 50 for each. I recommend doing that anyhow.
Consider your Top 50 list and pick out the talents, strengths and skills that best answer the following four questions:
1. How have I made the most money?
2. What will be most relevant for the future?
3. What do I do better than my competitors?
4. What is my personal definition of success?
You can only pick one for each question, and you can’t use the same skill for more than one question. Go ahead and write those down along with accompanying notes, and sleep on it for a few days.
My next article will be Composing Your Vision Strategy Part 2.
“It is one of the great tragedies of civilization that ninety-eight out of every one hundred persons go all the way through life without coming within sight that even approximates definiteness of a major purpose.” ~Napoleon Hill
To be honest, are any of us certain that we’ve found our true calling in life? I love what I’m doing, but there are parts of my job that I find awfully tedious. Further, I believe we can have more than one purpose in life or that our purpose will most surely change as we age. For myself, I was a partner in my own company for many years and when we received a good offer, we decided to sell it and move on. That was around the time that my children were embarking on their own journeys in life and going off to college. I also had to overcome some health issues. All of these things combined — some good, some not so good — led me to a bit of a crisis of confidence. What was I going to do next? While I liked my job that I had done in my company and I appreciated what it afforded me, I didn’t feel like it was a true calling or my life’s purpose.
An older friend was talking to me about his large and prosperous company one day. He had become enormously wealthy starting and growing this company which in all honesty, sounded incredibly boring to me. At one point I stopped him and asked, “Yes, but was it your dream?”
He responded, “No, it was my opportunity.”
Fair enough. Would you do a job for your entire working life that you weren’t really passionate about, if you could make a very large amount of money doing it?
The renowned psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed and wrote about the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. He called the two factors that influence people in choosing jobs or sticking with them, motivators and hygiene. Hygiene factors are things such as comfort, benefits, location, colleagues and salary. These are mostly extrinsic factors — beyond one’s control — and that must be there for people to choose a job. But they will not make people happy about their job, they will just keep them from hating their job. The opposite are the intrinsic factors, or the motivators. They are things such as, “achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement,” or growth factors.
This is what we need to go after our life’s purpose, our passion. The risk is the hygiene job. You start a career because the salary is good, and then you get married, have kids, and you can’t leave, and all the while, you are not satisfied with your career, and yet you stay in it for obvious reasons.
How many of us have found ourselves in the hygiene careers?
Around the time of my crisis of confidence, a couple friends and I started our First Friday Mastermind group (which I initially wrote about in my S.W.O.T. Analysis article). I got the idea because I thought about all the business principles I applied to my business that helped it become successful to the point we were able to sell it, but I never did that kind of planning for my personal life. I’m talking about vision strategies, mission statements, S.W.O.T. analyses, goal setting, marketing plans, projections, board of directors, and so on.
I deserved that. You deserve that.
I was also re-reading the iconic, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill. He’s the one who suggested the idea of a mastermind group, to take advantage of collective intelligence.
Five of us got together the first Friday of every month, to learn about business principles which sadly most people don’t know about or use, and also to drink (wine) and eat (potluck) and check-in with each other and pour out our hearts and cry and laugh and hold each other accountable. In written, almost beseeching snippets of exercises, told with heart-wrenching honesty and longing, every one of us wrote knowing, knowing we could do better, we could be better.
I remembered that my partner and I had gone through this period in our company where we were just struggling all the time and nothing we did seemed to work or improve our situation. Money was always an issue and I was tired. We hired a consultant who used a methodology called, “Chart Your Own Course,” by Caryn A. Spain and Ron Wishnoff. The idea was to choose the four things your company should focus on — your vision strategy — and do those things really well. Every management decision or action taken, should be to further something on your vision strategy. The value of a vision strategy in business cannot be overestimated in my opinion. Our business turned around and within a few years we were able to sell it for a huge multiple.
“Chart You Own Course,” suggested starting your exploration process by listing all the things your company does well. At the first meeting of our little group, we convened on a wet and chilly December evening, took off our shoes, and did our first tell-tale, potent exercise. It was a variation on that first step. I called ours, The Top 50, a list of fifty things that you do reasonably well. It didn’t actually need to be fifty things and could be more, but fifty is a good number.
Some felt that there was no way they could come up with fifty skills or talents, but I told them that they could. We looked at it like a brainstorming exercise and did it right there in the meeting and then read the results to each other. I personally, completely missed some of the things at which I excel. No fewer than two Masterminders put down, “loading the dishwasher.” One of us came up with over seventy five that first night.
The TOP 50 was a list we would use over and over as a springboard for other exercises, like in writing our vision statements and our mission statements. It was the start of a process for many of us to figure out what we wanted to do, to question our direction, our life’s purpose, our calling in life, our dreams. We then utilized business tools to put our dreams into action.
Here is the theory behind The Top 50 and why it’s important:
First of all, you’ll be surprised at how many things you do well. It’s an esteem booster. I revisit my list whenever I am feeling down about myself, frustrated, or impatient with how things are going.
Second, the reason we use this list as a springboard for other exercises is because it makes sense to start from a position of strength: we’re reinventing ourselves not the wheel.
Third, you want to do something you enjoy, and typically people enjoy the things they do well.
Fourth, I believe that writing things down makes them real. It is an acknowledgement in ink. Indelible.
Fifth, by thinking about your strengths and writing them down (and even being reminded by your friends in the room when you have momentary lapses about the things you do well and have never acknowledged), you may discover something helpful about yourself that surprises.
My last word about the importance of working from the TOP 50 LIST: Don’t let anyone else define you. There is a Latin expression: Temet nosce. Know thyself. The longer version of that is, “Know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the Gods and of the universe.” This is your choice, not the Universe’s or God’s or your spouse, mother, children or monk’s choice.
Here’s what I learned about myself from my Top 50 list. I was really good at business skills, but I also possessed many creative talents like writing, painting, music, and graphic design. I knew that with my next company, I had to be doing something more creative. Even though I could make a lot of money in management and finance, I didn’t want to do that anymore. Working through all the exercises as a part of my mastermind group helped me to start my company, Bloomers Island.
I highly suggest that if you are reading this, do your own Top 50 and let me know if you discovered any surprises. Also, I’m curious how many of you think you are living your life’s purpose.
Next up is your vision strategy.
There seems to be a lot of hate out there these days. According to the F.B.I., 2018 was the third consecutive year of increases in hate crimes. What do we do about it? I’ve always thought that the antidote to hate is love, but sometimes loving is hard. Is there another way?
I’ve been thinking about this problem. I did some research on hate. In psychology circles, hate is not considered a primary emotion, it’s a secondary emotion, or a reaction to a primary emotion. The primary emotion that typically drives hate is fear. You’re afraid of something and so you hate it.
We’ve been told that to combat hate in this world and in our lives, we should counter it with love. That’s nice, but sometimes it’s hard to feel love or respond with love when someone is writing hateful comments about you and your beliefs, or calling you names. At those moments, it is hard to conjure up love, to think about love, to be generous with our feelings. At best it is difficult. At worst, impossible. And what does loving even mean?
Talk to any kid who has been bullied at school. They are afraid. Tell him or her that they should be loving toward their nemesis. As someone who has been bullied, I can tell you that it would have been impossible to love this person.
One of my earliest memories was going to the enormous public swimming pool in our town. To my four year-old eyes, this pool was like one of the great lakes. At the time, my six year-old brother and I were complete landlubbers. I never even saw the ocean until I was a sophomore in college. I was terrified of the water and my brother had no swimming skills beyond doggy paddling. In what was a common practice at the time, and what I now refer to as, “The Great Pool Incident,” my dad unceremoniously picked up my brother and in one swift motion threw him into the deep end of the pool. My brother sank like a stone. With a sideways glance to me, my father said that it would force him to learn to swim.
I was mortified. After a long few moments with my brother on the bottom of the pool, my dad finally jumped in and peeled him off. My brother, in a panicked mode, clawed at my dad’s chest. When the whole ordeal was over, they both climbed out of the pool, my dad bleeding profusely from surprisingly deep gashes down his front, my brother heaving and coughing, his eyes open wide like a cornered wild animal.
I think my dad was embarrassed that his son couldn’t just tough it out. My brother was fearful and then angry and finally hateful that my father had betrayed him like that. Through all this, I clung to my mother’s leg, just in case my father got the thought in his head that I should be subjected to the same failed experiment.
I give my father a teensy bit of a pass on this. He was 25 at the time, not particularly adept at parenting, heck, no one was adept at parenting back then. Grownups were still spanking their kids and subjecting them to all kinds of old-fashioned, humiliating parenting techniques that make us cringe now.
My brother was afraid of the water. My father’s method to help him overcome that fear was ridiculous. Equally as absurd would have been to tell my brother to think loving thoughts about the water. What would have been better? Simply, to practice.
Here’s the thing, it is a lot easier to act on something than to think something (or to not think something), especially when emotions are in play. I wrote about this in my blog post: IT’S THE MESSENGER NOT THE MEDIUM. Action is easier than thought and practice is an action.
Practice to overcome your fear, and as a recommendation if you know someone else who is filled with fear and perhaps its resultant hate. If anyone does something over and over, it loses its power over them. They are not afraid anymore.
In the “Great Pool Incident,” if my brother had been given some swimming lessons and the luxury of time to practice them, none of this would have been necessary. He could have jumped into the deep end himself, and my dad could have joined him, playing with the beach ball, diving for pennies, and perhaps racing from side to side. Instead, my brother didn’t learn to properly swim for many years. And me? Not until my senior year in college when I needed one last Phys Ed credit to graduate and Swimming 101 was the only thing left that fit into my schedule. (I really liked it and even took Swimming 102 — the benefit of a four-year college degree.)
When your children are afraid of something, have them get out there and practice. Back to the bully, a good idea would be to role play with your child against their bully. That is practice. Or practice self-defense. Or have him or her practice asking for help.
We can apply this in our own grownup lives. We can communicate it to others. We can apply it in business. You’re afraid to call a potentially important customer? Pick up the phone and practice calling smaller customers. Write a script and role play with a friend or colleague. Practice. (I think role playing in business is highly underrated.)
If someone is afraid of immigrants, invite them to dinner with an immigrant or a refugee family. Invite them to volunteer at a local refugee center. Who knows? Maybe it will make a difference. In the meantime, send them a link to this article.
If you are afraid of something, practice what you are afraid of. Start really small. Practice sports. Read more. Learn more. Educate yourself. Practice job skills, foreign languages, writing. Practice going out and meeting other people. Practice your social skills. Don’t be afraid of other people. Improve yourself.
By defeating fear, you go a long way to overcoming name calling, bullying, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, otherism, and hatred.
Oh, and by the way, you can practice love too. Maybe start small with a smile and a complement.
What fear have you learned to overcome by practicing?
My Four Bloomers - the Original Inspiration
As a published children’s book author, people have often asked me how I came up with the idea for my book series, Bloomers Island by Rodale Kids, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Most people don’t know that my stories are based on my own children from many years ago. It all started with my daughter, Sophia.
When Sophia was in preschool she had two best friends, Rosie and Lily, whose names were not as ubiquitous as they are today. I thought, how sweet, they are like little flower girls. Around the same time, I hired a babysitter named Iris. She was older, single and childless and not the warmest or most fun babysitter, but with four kids and only five years between the oldest and youngest, safety and control were more of my concern.
My kids didn’t really like Iris. She made them eat their vegetables, take their plates to the sink after dinner and take a bath before bed. I LOVED Iris. I always knew that with her iron rule, there was little chance for any mishaps. I was right.
I started thinking about a make believe, little group of flower girls and tree/plant boys, that had to tolerate a babysitter that they thought was mean. Her name was Iris, and she wore a live snake boa, and had a swarm of pet bees. She foisted all kinds of arbitrary and unfair tasks, rules and chores on them. Some of her more egregious assignments were scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush and then brushing their teeth with it after. Or they had to eat manure (cow poop) — which is fertilizer for plants, but … did it taste good? Or being drenched in cold rain without an umbrella! While I probably broke many of the commonly accepted maxims of parenting in these stories, you have to understand that I tried to make the list as onerous as possible to make my chores and my rules seem not-so-bad in comparison.
Of course, my kids knew that I was a complete pushover and they were entertained by my stories without taking them too seriously.
Over the years I drew pictures of these characters and came up with a fantastical place that they were from; an island which was far, far away in the South Pacific Ocean where no human had ever been. On this island, evolution took a different turn and plants became the intelligent species instead of mammals. Plants learned to move in order to find what they needed, richer soil, more water, and brighter sunlight. They had petals instead of hair, leaves instead of hands, and roots instead of feet. They learned to laugh and make friends. They learned to read and tell stories. These curious creatures became known as “the Bloomers”, and I named their home “Bloomers Island”.
I used our four children, Cassie, Alex, Sophia and Mac as the inspiration for the original four Bloomers –Lilly, Big Red, Rosey Posey, and Bud Inski. I wove their personality traits into their namesakes, their loveable qualities, eccentricities and ever endearing shortcomings.
At the end of the original Bloomers Island book, the little kids who were listening to the Bloomers’ story, hugged their mommy. They were grateful that she was fun and nice. She closed the book and informed them that she and their daddy had to go out for the night. Just then, the doorbell rang. When the kids answered the door, they were stunned to see none other than Iris at the door with her hissing snake wrapped around her shoulders and her pet bees swarming around her petals.
Eventually, the stories evolved so that instead of “Mean Iris,” it became the wise and wonderful Professor Sage who ran the Tree House School and dispensed sage advice to all his Bloomers. At school, the Bloomers had to learn to grow and eat their veggies where the tomato plants happily handed over their tomatoes, and the pumpkin plants their pumpkins. The lettuce heads were always happy for a trim. This was one of the things that encouraged my kids to eat their vegetables. When we visited Grandma back on our family farm, my kids harvested vegetables in her garden, looking for the Bloomers under the potatoes and peeking out from behind the cucumbers. That is when they learned to eat the fresh vegetables because they harvested them and they tasted even better than the vegetables from any grocery store. And obviously, fresh vegetables are much tastier than manure.
Ultimately my story became a bigger story in the sense that grownups care and parent in different ways. Some are laid back and permissive like I was. Some are more orderly. Some are more restrictive. Some parents don’t allow any television. My kids all had a T.V. in their rooms.
I think, after raising my kids and interacting with hundreds of other parents over the years, I realized that kids are resilient and it doesn’t really matter that much how you parent, as long as you’re not too extreme and your parenting is done with love. And that was always the main theme in my books; caring for oneself by eating healthy, taking good care of our children, and loving our planet. I hope that comes across successfully. Let me know what you think. I love hearing from my readers of all ages.
Kids (Almost) Grown Up
Let me tell you a story about someone I knew.
She was a single mother with four kids in daycare, an out-of-work partner, a very tenuous job situation, a boss that hated her and she didn’t have the money for a week in summer camp for one kid let alone a down payment for the house she wanted to purchase. Those were her weaknesses.
Those were my weaknesses. That person was me.
What were my strengths? I was making a good salary and had an aggressive loan broker recommended by a colleague. She said she only “claimed” $25,000 a year in income and that if he could get her a $1,000,000 house in Los Angeles then he could get anyone a loan, even me with a zero down payment. And he did! I got a first and a second for the down payment. In hindsight, I suppose I was one of those “sub-prime borrowers” that ultimately contributed to the crash of the economy. But I’m happy to say it worked out well for me (and my bank).
My weakness: not having money for a down payment. My strengths: my network of colleagues, the loan broker, my high-paying job. What I achieved: I bought my house.
This is Part 2 of my original article, “You Should Know How To Do A S.W.O.T. Analysis,” published in Medium, October 3rd. As a part of that article, you might remember that to do your S.W.O.T. Analysis, you should start with what you want to achieve. I want to sell 100,001 books in one year’s time. Last month I covered the O.T. part of S.W.O.T., Opportunities and Strengths. This article focuses on S.W. or Strengths and Weaknesses.
As I continue on in my career journey, I am reminded more and more how much of my success is based on just believing in myself and not taking no for an answer. And isn’t that really about recognizing my shortcomings and figuring out how to fix them, go around them, over them or through them? Or looking at my strengths, owning them, and using them to achieve what I want to achieve?
Let’s start with owning your strengths. If someone asked me if I was a good writer a year ago, I probably would have said no. Wait. I am a published author of five books with Random House Children’s Books. Of course I’m a good writer. In my defense, maybe I denied that because I was turned down a million times. Okay, not really a million, but it felt that way.
One of the things we did in our first meeting of our Masterminds (see Part 1 of my S.W.O.T. Analysis article), was to write down fifty things we do well… your strengths. If you’ve never done that, it’s a worthwhile exercise and can be quite revealing. It’s based on a business school idea that if you want to come up with a winning vision strategy, you should start with something you do well, because you will probably enjoy doing that. Furthermore, why start from ground zero? If you are focusing on something you already do well, you will come up to speed much more quickly and therefore reach a level of success much faster.
It has to be at least fifty. Why? Because anything less just isn’t enough. You have to trust me on this.
The interesting thing about this assignment is that initially people protest that there is no way they can come up with fifty things. I always have to reassure them that they can and if they come up short they can always put down that they are a good parent or child or sibling. People usually think of skills and don’t really think about personality strengths. Are you optimistic? Outgoing? Empathetic? Organized? Those are all strengths. I had more than one younger woman list that they were a good dishwasher loader. Okay, it’s the small victories. Go ahead and list them.
Finally, narrow down your strengths to those that are relevant to what you are trying to achieve. For me, it was to sell 100,001 books.
1. I am a good writer
2. I am disciplined
3. I am not afraid to ask for what I want
4. I am an extrovert
5. I am good at technology
6. I am relentless
7. I have a good network of friends and family
8. I already have a licensee I’m working with who manufactures my gardening products
9. I like to travel and I am in a position to do so
How do I leverage my strengths:
1. Keep writing. Keep creating content. Use this in marketing.
2. Come up with goals and work at them diligently every day.
3. Ask my publisher for help. Ask my followers for help. Ask friends for introductions.
4. Plan and go on a book tour.
5. Launch my website, develop email marketing campaigns, social media, little videos, etc., to increase my engagement.
It is important to recognize our weaknesses because if we’re going to improve, we need to overcome or work around them. Paradoxically, I think that weaknesses are easier for people to list. Most of us are hard on ourselves. However, some of us are in denial or simply haven’t yet recognized what our weaknesses are. Many of us, myself included, aren’t adept at honestly evaluating ourselves. Here are some helpful suggestions:
1. Talk to someone who knows you well, whose opinion you trust. Ask them what they think your weaknesses are. Buy them a cup of coffee and tell them you’re doing a S.W.O.T. analysis. Ask your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, mother or mentor. I asked my daughter. That was the motherload (pun intended) of information. It amazes me that most people have never asked their own children how they are doing or how they did.
When whoever you’re asking tells you, don’t be defensive. Listen. Take notes. Remember, they’re taking time out of their day to help you. You may not agree with everything they say, but if everyone is saying the same thing, then you’ve probably got a legitimate weakness on your hands.
2. Another thing I recommend is evaluating what part of your job or daily routine you don’t like. What tasks drain you? Those are probably your weaknesses.
3. Take a test. There are many personality tests out there. Myers Briggs is well-known. They can tell you what your weaknesses are.
4. Self-evaluate. Identify negative patterns in your life and ascribe what weaknesses may be contributing them. You’re don’t finish what you start. Why do you think you do that?
5. Therapy. Find a good licensed therapist.
After making notes, observations and evaluations sit down and make a list of your weaknesses. Edit it to reflect the things that have relevancy to the goal you are trying to achieve.
Ultimately, more important than the specific ways to overcome your weaknesses is the idea that you CAN overcome or work around any weakness you acknowledge. This is not an exercise that is meant to bring you down. Everyone has weaknesses. It shows strength that you are able to look honestly at your situation and then think of ways to improve upon it.
What are the best ways to overcome your weaknesses? Education, research, practice, affirmations, trying anyway, using a partner who already possesses the skill, hiring someone, subcontracting tasks to outsiders. There’s always a way. Always.
In regards to my goal, (selling 100.001 books) these are my weaknesses as I see them:
1. I get easily distracted.
2. I am impatient.
3. I don’t have a lot of followers.
4. I am not good at prioritizing.
5. These are my first books — I don’t have a track record or a reputation.
6. I am uncomfortable in front of the camera.
7. I don’t consider myself good at marketing.
8. I don’t have the time to do everything I need to do.
Overcoming my weaknesses:
1. Daily to-do lists. Pick the top six things I need to do every day to move me closer to my goal of selling 100,001 books. This helps me to keep focused and to prioritize.
2. Build followers. Spend more time on social media. Have contests. BECOME RELEVANT.
3. Utilize influencers to help me get the word out about my books. Offer them a tradeoff (I will market their products or services). Give them free books.
4. Set up affiliates with the Amazon affiliate program.
5. Get more reviews on all the websites that are carrying my books and other sites such as Goodreads.
6. Get more press: television, magazines, newspapers. Practice talking and filming myself. Make sure I am comfortable in front of the camera. Practice good posture.
7. Work with regional booksellers to book school events. Make a parent brochure to send home with the children. Work on my presentation. Make it great!
8. Establish myself as a thought leader in healthy living for children — speak at relevant symposiums and conferences.
9. Continue to read marketing books to educate myself.
10. Utilize outside experts in marketing and subcontract time-consuming tasks when possible.
11. Continue to learn about the business of publishing. Reach out to other successful authors. Talk to booksellers.
In closing, my most recent S.W.O.T. analysis was incredibly helpful to me. I have already incorporated many of these ideas and tasks. I started with the goal of selling 10,001 books and accomplished that within three months. I therefore increased my goal to 100,001 books.
Do your S.W.O.T. Analysis! I look forward to hearing back from you on your progress toward your goal. I will keep you posted on mine. Follow me on Medium or my RSS feed here for updates.
A couple weeks ago, I read with dismay a new report from the U.K. that showed child obesity rates continue to rise there. Likewise in the U.S., obesity rates amongst children remain stubbornly high and perhaps even more disturbing is that 13.9% of preschoolers are considered obese. While the levels of overweight children have plateaued, and even fallen a bit in some areas, the prevalence of extremely obese children continues to rise.
This, of course, has enormous implications for healthcare systems in all of the developed world because obesity is associated with many kinds of health problems: higher levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, not to mention expensive health conditions such as knee and hip replacements, and other morbidity and mortality issues. And the bad news is, once a child or adult is overweight, it has proven to be extremely difficult to lose the weight and maintain the loss. According to the American Heart Association, obese kids have an eighty percent chance of staying obese their entire lives.
This begs the question: what is going to happen to these children when they become adults? As an economist, I ask, who is going to pay for their health care costs?
As stewards of our children and therefore, our future adults, we must be vigilant about really helping them to be healthier eaters. And here is the simple truth I refer to in my title:
We have to start when they are young.
We must help our children to not become overweight, because if they do, it is going to be a battle they will have to fight their entire lives and usually with little success.
Let me make a distinction, I am not talking about baby fat here, I’m talking about obesity. If you have a question about this, look at the Body Mass Index (BMI) charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We must be vigilant to help our children and here’s the thing — it’s a lot easier to do when they are young, because of course we control the type and amount of food that we buy and prepare for them.
My life’s work is about teaching and inspiring children to lead a healthy lifestyle. As a part of that mission, I help parents understand ways that they can encourage their children to be healthier. One of the main ways to start a child off on a good foundation, is to help them to eat more vegetables. Nine out of ten children, after all, still don’t eat enough.
Because I’m a geek and I’ve done a lot of research on this, it might help you to know that human beings are hard-wired to not like vegetables. Way back when humans were in the hunter/gatherer stage, sweet foods such as fruits, were much less likely to be poisonous than savory foods.
That makes it hard to succeed in getting our kids to eat more vegetables. I get it. That’s where I come in. There are many tips and suggestions I give to help you along. But, as a broad stroke, we have to start thinking as a society and culture how to improve our children’s relationship with vegetables and fruits and other healthy foods, and to use the science that already exists to help us do that.
One of my favorite books that I’ve mentioned before is “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything,” by Kerry Grenny, Joseph Maxfield, David McMillan, Ron Switzler, and Al Patterson. They make the point that to change anyone including yourself, you should start by looking at what works. Find someone who has done and succeeded at the thing you want to do, and then study their methods.
The book makes a case that usually only two or three things account for success and therefore focus on just a couple things. This tidbit of information makes any task seems much less daunting. I mean, who can’t change two or three things? (They have tips for how to change behavior too.)
And here’s the cool thing about researching and finding successful methods: in this day and age, chances are someone has already studied what works and written about it. (By the way, this is an excellent book to read whether you’re running a corporation or a household, trying to change a reluctant customer’s mind or a recalcitrant teenager’s behavior.)
Back to our kids. Here are three already researched and proven methods to get your child to eat more vegetables:
1. A 2007 study suggests that persevering in offering children a particular vegetable can help them develop a taste for it. In a study with young children, it was explored if kids would accept a vegetable into their diet if they did not previously like it. What was found is that toddlers can be made to like a new food by introducing it five to ten times. It might take a little longer with preschoolers, up to fifteen times, but you can still help them develop a taste for it. Eventually more than 70% of the young children liked the tested vegetable. The cool thing is that nine months later, 63% of the originally tested group, still liked it.
When I am doing book readings at schools, I tell the kids that they have to taste a vegetable seven times, and if they do, they will like the vegetable. They always love this. It’s as if I have given them some kind of valuable secret (which I have), and a way to removing the nagging and actually enjoy their meal.
2. Researchers at Texas A&M University, looking for patterns in food consumption among elementary school children, found an interesting quirk about when and why kids choose to eat their vegetables. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, it seems there’s at least one variable that tends to affect whether kids eat their broccoli, spinach or green beans more than anything: what else is on the plate. In short, kids are much more likely to eat their vegetable portion when it’s paired with a food that isn’t so delicious it gets all the attention.
Try this: put a vegetable on your child’s plate (make sure you do a good job cooking it for Pete’s sake), put the plate in front of the child who is waiting for his dinner and tell them that they can get started and the main dish is almost ready. That way the vegetable is not competing with the chicken nuggets or french fries. Or try pairing it with liver or baked fish.
3. My company, Bloomers Island, has found that over 90% of the thousands of kids we’ve worked with will eat a vegetable if they’ve grown (or are growing) it. This is based on our own metrics. So we set about to make growing a vegetable as fun for kids and as easy for grownups as possible.
Growing is a long process that also improves children’s delayed gratification skills, but in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the vegetable to grow and ripen, you can take your child to the grocery store and tell them that this is what they’re growing. You can buy it, ask them to help you find a recipe they might like, and then help you cook it. These are all important steps to establishing a healthy vegetable relationship.
There are other scientific ways discussed in the studies linked above, that work. You can read about them and try your own interpretations based on the research, but remember to try only two or three methods at once.
I’m not saying that if kids eat more vegetables they will not have to worry about being overweight or that childhood obesity will be cured, but … it is a good first step.
What successful methods have you used to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Please share in the comment section below.
Today we went to Newtown and for me, it was the first time. I’ve done a lot of firsts and gone to a lot of places for the first time during my 100,001 Book Tour. Dennis had a meeting at the Cyrenius H. Booth Public Library. I was along for the ride, as he is so often with me. I planned to donate a book to the library. That’s not out of the ordinary, because I have done it with many libraries touring around the USA this year.
Newtown is a Norman Rockwell town. Yet, a pall had been cast — no fault of the residents, but nevertheless one that they had to contend with for the rest of their lives. You would think that a town where an unspeakable horror happened would be shadowy and foreboding and unwelcoming with cheerless streets. Not so. Like much of Connecticut, I found myself marveling over the perfect porches on the perfect homes on the perfect streets as we drove into town. Pumpkins sat next to cornstalks on the front stoops. Fall leaves lay on the grass lawns patiently waiting to be raked. I compared it to the messy streets of my hometown of Los Angeles with its gum-stained sidewalks strewn with tell-tale signs of the homeless interspersed with street art, cigarette butts and food wrappers, the detritus of streets well-lived in or on, as it were, but at least in L.A. what you see is what you get.
We went to the library and had our meeting in a private room made available to Newtown residents. It was 12:30 when we finished so we agreed to meet at a local coffee shop to have a coffee and a bite to eat. On the way out, I signed and donated my first book, “Bloomers Island The Great Garden Party,” to the library, and we made a big deal out of it as I took a photo with the librarian downstairs in the children’s book area, surrounded by the innocence of, “Goodnight Moon,” and “Oh The Places You’ll Go,” and “Where The Wild Things Are.” My book would be in good company. I was grateful for that.
Leaving the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, like so many old buildings in Connecticut, Dennis dropped his backpack on the crunchy leaves and we snapped a photo of us on the front steps before driving off. In the safety of our car, I mentioned that every house we passed caused me to think, maybe a child was lost there and a child lost there and a child lost there? We were both thinking that in the quiet of the car ride.
I was reminded of my mom’s long-term partner, Ed, whose son had died in a bicycle accident as a young boy. His wife had passed away from early onset Alzheimer’s, and he was diagnosed with it, too, also at a relatively young age. I always thought that maybe they had just checked out mentally. Life had become too painful for them and so they moved on. Who could blame them? The folks who had lost their precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, were irretrievably changed and their lives permanently altered as well and there was no coming back from that. These thoughts ran through my mind as I looked out the window at the beautiful Connecticut countryside.
I have a confession. Although Ed was a wonderful guy who loved my mom deeply, I started resenting him. I felt like his deteriorating condition was too burdensome on my mom. She was somewhat frail herself and she had to do everything for him: drive him to all his appointments, make sure he took his medicine, make all his meals and clean up after him. He couldn’t do anything for himself anymore, not even get dressed in the morning. It was a slow, sad, form of decline, and during our prior visit, we had helped her make plans for him to leave.
After arriving to the coffee shop, we sat down with our soy lattes and Caprese sandwiches and the man who we had met for our original meeting sat down next to me. His name is David, a handsome young guy with close-cropped hair, piercing eyes and full lips. He told me that he was married and had two young children. He wanted to remind me that a tragedy had happened in the town. Did I remember? I admitted that I was well aware. He told me that he was in town when the shooter had driven through on his way to Sandy Hook Elementary School. He remembered him because he ran a red light — so intent was he on his murderous mission — and no one ever ran a red light in Newtown. A short while later, this young father was with a group of friends in nearby Danbury when the word started coming out. There were whispers, like the swirling leaves in the Autumn wind. Did you hear what happened? Did you hear about that school? The school in Newtown? Sandy Hook?
David confided that thankfully his child was not in school yet, a year too young at age four, but he knew many of the children in the small community. He also told me that there was a tremendous outpouring of love and help and healing that descended upon the town thereafter. He was concerned that not much was said about it. The media didn’t report it. He told me an example of someone who gave $5,000 to a local restaurant and anyone who came in had their meal paid for. Surely I had heard about Ben’s Bells? I had not. It was an organization started by a woman from Tucson, Arizona who had lost her own son many years before. Its mission was to spread intentional kindness in a community. She came into Newtown and many of the townsfolk made bells out of clay and string and brass and hung them on trees, hidden in plain sight. The idea was whoever found one would take it and keep it, and it would represent good luck, a memory, a kindness, an angel.
He had gone with his family and they too had made bells, placed them around the town, a process of grieving, of letting go. Our friend Amy, the fourth in our little meeting said that one day, David found a bell hanging on a tree. He then dug into his pocket and pulled out a bell strung with colorful ceramic balls, twine and in the middle was a pink flower cut out of clay and fired hard and bright in a kiln. He handed it to me. “Here. Now you have found one.”
David then stood up and announced that he had to go. Our meeting had taken longer than he had expected. We left shortly thereafter, but many miles down the road we had to turn back around and return to Newtown. It would be my second time. Dennis realized he had left his backpack on the lawn in front of the library when we had stopped to take pictures. His wallet was inside. I called the library to see if it was still there. It had been over an hour since he had accidentally left it there, and the librarian said that no one had moved it. They just made a note of it at the front desk: “Backpack left on the lawn at 12:15.” They did not pick it up. No one had touched it. No one from the library. No passersby.
The country’s safest town, I thought with great irony.
It was also a town on the mend, a town being healed by a brand new school and bells and angels. There is a celebration of lives, of light that outshines the darkness. Survivors wanted to talk about it. We later told each other about the profound affect and change the visit to Newtown had on us. Dennis’ change was a commitment to speak about the children to other children in an upcoming project. They cannot be forgotten. And my change? I would have more empathy for loss. I would come back to visit, to work with the schools in Newtown. There is healing in planting a seed and watching it grow. That is something I could pass along.
I am an original founder of a mastermind group started over a decade ago. The idea is to apply business principles to our personal lives. I noticed that a lot of people don’t know how to properly construct and use business principles — things like vision strategies, legacy statements, marketing plans and financial projections — things that would really help them in their personal lives. Our mastermind group consists of five women (some have come and gone but it consistently remains five) who meet once a month and hold each other accountable as we work our way through our life planning. Part of this blog post is excerpted from the exercises that we are documenting.
One of my favorite exercises we have done is a standard business application called a S.W.O.T. analysis. It is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The formula I came up with to do a SWOT analysis is to first, decide what you want to achieve or evaluate, and then break your analysis down into two basic categories.
1. Evaluate the opportunities and threats that exist for what you want to achieve. Think of these as external factors.
2. Honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses. Think of these as internal factors.
The difference between the two categories, internal and external is huge because you can personally work on internal issues in order to improve. External issues are harder because you can’t change them. For that reason they are often the cause of worry which is fruitless and the nemesis of many of us. However, you can leverage external situations to your advantage or hedge against them to protect yourself.
Remember to start with what you want to achieve. My present goal is to sell 100,001 books in one year’s time.
Opportunities and Threats
What are my opportunities? I am with a major publishing house. My books are good. I know this because I read it to children all the time. They are engaged. It is being sold at almost all the major booksellers, and if they don’t have it in stock, they can easily order it. Penguin Random House has an entire structure set up for these types of logistics. Other products I’ve invented, such as my Bloomers Island VeggiePOPS and Growing Kits are currently being sold in major retailers. I can leverage my relationships there.
I can employ these things to my advantage. On my website and in all my sales sheets and brochures, I make sure that I mention Random House Children’s Books because it gives me legitimacy, after all they are the number one publisher in the world, for which I’m humbly grateful to be a part of. My licensee is calling on our current retailers and pitching them on including a book with one of our VeggiePOPS.
What are my threats? The economy can crash. Booksellers can and do go out of business. People read less books now. They buy eBooks which are cheaper and don’t make as much money.
How can I hedge against these threats? Help booksellers increase their sales with things like my influencer’s shop, Bloomers Island, on Amazon, and school events done in conjunction with book stores. Package the book with existing products that I am already selling in major retailers to substantially increase sales.
These are just some examples. There is a lot I can do to both leverage and hedge.
One of my esteemed advisors, John Michael Morris, used to tell me to make a list of twenty things whenever I was confronted with a worrisome or uncertain issue. I listed twenty ways I could protect myself and exploit opportunities to reach my goal. You might think coming up with twenty things is hard, but once you get started, it’s easier than you think. Start with five. You’ll get to twenty. Use your most powerful weapon, your brain. It also forces you to dig deeper (pun intended), and get really creative with solutions. You can do it.
Your Homework: Come up with your threats and opportunities related to your goal, and then twenty ways you can take advantage of the opportunities and protect yourself against the threats. Please share your methodology and your list and next week I’ll tackle strengths and weaknesses. Happy digging.
Let me tell you about a good teacher.
Good teachers can make a world of difference and I believe that many don't properly realize it. Being a children’s book author and doing school events across the country to promote my Bloomers Island book series, got me thinking about my favorite class in high school: Organic Chemistry. Upon reflection, I realized that Organic Chemistry was my favorite class not necessarily because of the subject, which I mastered well, but because of my teacher, Mr. Crawford. Without a doubt, he was the reason why I mastered the subject as well as I did. He was a shining example of the difference a good teacher can make for a relatively difficult subject matter and sometimes, that time, in the life of a student.
Another example that clearly backs up my argument, was my calculus teacher my freshman year in college. He was a recent immigrant from another country and didn't speak a word of English. I'm not exaggerating. Not one word. I was failing the class and had to drop it. My parents were not happy. I took the same class the next semester and aced it. I can measure the slope of a line like there's no tomorrow.
Back to Mr. Crawford. I was going through a particularly difficult time my senior year in high school. I was weathering some significant family and health issues. Mr. Crawford made me feel special. He made me feel smart. He was engaging and funny - traits you might not typically associate with a chemistry teacher.
He called me Cinderella.
When I started composing this blog I decided to Google Mr. Crawford. I didn't even know his first name! So I Googled: “mr crawford chemistry teacher seneca valley high school,” and up came his obituary notice from our local newspaper, “The Butler Eagle.”
Tears came to my eyes, but why was I surprised? I'm not going to go into the math (even though I aced Calculus), because I would then have to divulge my age, but suffice it to say that he died fifteen years ago at the age of 85.
His first name was Roy.
I learned that he was from Denver. He taught at Seneca Valley School District for 35 years. He served in the Army during World War II. He had a son and a daughter, two sisters, and a wife, Jane, who predeceased him. He had four grandchildren.
I'm not sure Mr. Crawford even knew that he was my favorite teacher. Or that he was one of the reasons I went to college and got a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture. Or that when I was in his class I was able to focus on how molecules are put together and forgot about why some families are put together in the dysfunctional way that they are.
Why don't a lot of teachers realize it when they make a huge difference in our lives? Maybe it is because so many of us don't go back and tell them.
I have a challenge for you. Share your story about a teacher that made a difference in your life and how, and then go tell them if you still can.
I’m lucky that I knew Mr. Crawford. He was a good man. He was a good teacher.