Procrastinate, Complain, or Achieve: Your Choice

ChoiceAs a coach, consultant, executive trainer, and writer, I’ve spent my entire adult life working with people who set earnest goals and work very hard to achieve them.

I’ve heard a zillion ideas on how to enjoy a good marriage, a good career, how to prosper, how to stay healthy, how to dare to be fabulous and all the other soaring aspirations.

But when it’s all said and done, there’s usually more said than done.

Executive coach Corrie Shanahan has a new book that simplifies the journey from aspiration to achievement. It’s titled Do It Mean It Be It: The Keys to Success, Happiness, and Everything You Deserve at Work and in Life.

Yes, the title itself is a mouthful of lofty promises. But the book delivers.

The author’s ideas are worth trying on for size.

Rodger Dean Duncan: You say it’s important for leaders to establish and build a “personal brand.” How can a person do that in a powerful way without coming across as self-absorbed or egotistical?

Corrie Shanahan: I think it’s really important to be authentic when you’re building your own brand. There’s no point trying to be someone you’re not. As the saying goes, everyone else is taken. One way to do that without seeming egotistical is to frame things in relation to the team you lead or the work you’re doing. When you act on behalf of the team or the work, it comes across as less about you, but by definition you’re raising your own profile as well. For example, when you send a “hero-gram” giving a shout out to someone on your team for a job well done, you’re giving credit to someone else. But whose name appears at the end of that email? Yours. That’s brand building. You’re associating yourself not only with good work, but coming across as someone who gives credit where it is due. Nice.

Duncan: You quote Michelangelo who reportedly said “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” How can that philosophy be applied to an individual’s quest for life satisfaction?

Shanahan: People often think they can’t have it all and assume they know in advance what the trade-off must be. A classic example is assuming that if you do more meaningful work, you will have to be paid less. But that is not necessarily the case, as I found out when I started my own business. If you have an ideal scenario, why not go for it instead of compromising before you even start? Don’t just sit around trying to visualize it into being. Instead lay out specific steps and map out what you need to do to get from here to there. Admittedly, if your goal is to be in Cirque de Soleil and you’re a middle-aged couch potato, no amount of practical steps will get you there.

Duncan: What advice do you give to someone who’s hung up on the unrealistic goal of perfection?

Shanahan: Perfection is a tough one, especially for women who suffer from it disproportionately. There are some fields where it can be a real strength—for example, the sciences and engineering. You really want your airplane mechanic to be a perfectionist for example. But for most people it’s a curse. Sometimes it takes life events to shake you loose. Events like illness or the arrival of children, especially more than one, can force you to stop seeking perfection because you physically can’t do it all.

Another way is to learn some prioritization and time management skills. How important is this task and how much time should I be spending on it? These are great questions for perfectionists. Then they can apply some of that perfectionist discipline to limit what they do and for how long. I often ask my perfectionist clients to look around and see the impact their perfectionism is having on others. What is it doing to your kids? What is it doing to your relationship with your spouse? Perfectionists are often very caring and are horrified at the stress they are inadvertently causing others by not letting go of stuff.

Duncan: Willpower, you suggest, is vastly overrated and routine provides a better path to creating new habits and behavior. Give us some examples.

Shanahan: Willpower is truly overrated. Ask any concert pianist. The path to excellence, unfortunately, involves repetition and practice. However that means there is hope for the rest of us. We can make it easier for ourselves to accomplish what we most want by building routine around it. When we take away the effort of making a decision, we reduce the chance of making the wrong decision. For example, many reluctant exercisers find that leaving their gym clothes out the night before makes it much more likely that when they roll out of bed, they head to that exercise class than get distracted. Other examples are scheduling the things you want to do. Sticking with exercise as an example, by booking time on your calendar to work out you’re more likely to get there than if you rely on hoping you’ll be free during the day and can fit it in. Chances are you won’t.

Duncan: You write that comparing oneself to others can be toxic and even undermine a person’s efforts. So what about role models? Can’t they provide aspirational templates?

Shanahan: Role models can be great and it really helps to look up to people. Just make sure it’s not the mythical character your “friend” has created on Facebook which portrays a life that bears little resemblance to anyone’s reality. Stay away from other people’s endless (over) achievements and instead get yourself a couple of good biographies of people who really accomplished something. They can be from any age or walk of life as long as they inspire you to do your best. I’m a sucker for historical characters and extraordinary individuals who lived in extraordinary times, like Winston Churchill. I’m currently reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations—about as good as it gets as a way to think about your life and how you want to live it.

This column by Dr. Duncan was also published by Forbes where he is a regular contributor. Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan

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Rodger Dean Duncan

Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP and a regular contributor to Forbes and Fast Company magazines. He is widely known for his expertise in the strategic management of change, for organizations and for individuals. In 1972 he founded Duncan Worldwide to train and develop leaders. His clients have included some of the top companies in the world, as well as cabinet officers in two White House administrations.
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