Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Don't Stop Trying Something New - Journey to My First Triathlon

I completed my first triathlon on Saturday, August 24th. This is my story of trying something new and what I learned along the way, and it only took about 7 weeks from start to finish!

Someone asked me about 7 weeks ago if I would ever do a triathlon. "No way. Never!" was my reply. I am a terrible swimmer, long distance running has only created injuries in my past, and I didn't even own a road bike. Lots of great excuses.

Lesson Learned: Stop and listen to the excuses you are making. You've likely convinced yourself that they're valid, and they're probably not. If you really want something, it's amazing how the insurmountable excuses quickly disappear because you decide it's time to remove them from your psyche.

After training for and completing a 54-mile backpacking trip earlier this summer (yes, I had done a backpacking trip like it before), my wife asked what I planned for my next big activity/goal that would motivate me to keep training. I considered her question and reflected on my exercise activities over the last 6 months...a ton of time on a stationary bike at the gym. I have friends that own real bikes. They ride outside. They ride in casual and competitive races/events. Maybe I should do one of those. After all, I always enjoyed cycling when I was younger. So I decided to try road biking, bought a used one 6.5 weeks ago, and I can't believe I didn't do it years earlier.

Lesson Learned: Don't be so stubborn or convinced that your current path is the right one that you fail to do what it takes to be on the best path for you, your business, your family, or whatever else is important to you.

All that training on the stationary bike transferred pretty nicely to a real bike...I did rides of both 50 and 60 miles within my first 3 weeks of bike ownership! I plan to do a century (100 mile ride) at the beginning of spring 2014, if not sooner.

Lesson Learned: Whatever you are doing now will likely provide a foundation for you in whatever the next phase of your life will put everything you have into what you are doing's the foundation of your future. 

Purchasing a bike turned me into an avid participant in the sport overnight. With my new-found love of outdoor biking, two of my sons and I decided to become a relay team in a local Triathlon for a great cause, the Share a Smile Foundation, put on by Dr. Eric Vogel and the rest of his amazing team. I would do the cycling part, and they would cover the swim and run. So we decided to go to the pool and see how all of us did at swimming. To say "I tried" to swim is a stretch...I almost didn't make just one 25-meter length of the pool, and those who witnessed the spectacle affectionately named my stroke: "Spaz". My two boys felt strong enough in the swim that they quickly ditched our relay team idea in favor of competing individually in all three sports...the entire triathlon. That left me without a team, and the big hurdle of getting proficient enough at swimming to compete individually, too. Four weeks later I completed my first triathlon, with the swim being the part I feared the most.

Lesson Learned: The only way to truly and completely overcome your fears is to stare them right in the face and do whatever it takes to conquer them. For me it took 4 nights a week in the pool for at least 45 minutes doing drills and swimming laps, and even finding some open water for a practice session. 

I've had spurts in my life when I have tried to be a consistent runner. But I either over-trained and injured myself or I blindly accepted medical advice to wear foot orthotics or do other things that ultimately created new problems and injuries. With a need to run a 5k to finish the triathlon, I finally took ownership of my problems. I read everything I could on my injuries and realized I had been given and was following some pretty bad advice, and I implemented a plan that, after doing my homework, I knew would work for me.

Lesson Learned: Lots of people will profess to be experts and tell you what to do. Ultimately you are still the owner of the outcomes, and you have to decide what is best for you.

In the short time we had to prepare, my sons and I tried to consume as much material as we could about triathlons. Books, blogs, youtube videos...whatever we could find. All of the resources we encountered stressed the need to prepare for the two critical transitions...swim-to-bike and bike-to-run. Precious time is often lost by those who do not prepare sufficiently. So, the night before the race, we set up a mock transition area and practiced each of the transitions, carefully placing each piece of equipment and article of clothing in their optimal location for the most efficient transition possible. We weren't perfect, but the race went so much smoother because we were ready for the transitions.

Lesson Learned: There is no way to avoid transitions in life, including our careers, families, and relationships. Each transition we face will be a little easier if we've thought and planned ahead as much as possible.

Here are the unofficial results of a 400m pool swim, 11.2 mile bike ride, and a 5k run (I was handed this as I crossed the finish line).
Officially I finished 14th overall and 9th in my age category. You can see all of my final event and transition times HERE. Both of my sons finished well and had great experiences with the sport, just one more way to stay connected in their lives doing something we all enjoy. Yes, I am already signed up for my second triathlon (and so are my boys). This one will be a full Sprint Tri with a 750m open-water swim...Kokopelli on Sept 14th.

Lesson Learned: Don't stop trying new things. In less than 60 days I see the world and my life from a much broader perspective, and we can all benefit from more breadth and depth in our perspectives!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Are You Just Doing Curls, Or Are You Building Real Strength?

Let me start by offering this disclaimer...I am not an exercise or weightlifting expert. I have, however, read enough material and listened to enough trainers and fitness experts to know some of the main do's and don'ts of lifting weights and general exercise.

First, a little background and context so you can have the correct perspective on a conversation I recently overheard, hopefully empowering us to apply it many areas of our lives. One of the main rules of weightlifting is that you always begin a workout session with at least one main exercise (like bench press, squats, dead lift, or military press) that works several muscle groups. This effectively warms the body up and ensures strength is being built in a balanced, healthy manner. Then, you move into working targeted, specialized muscles (like biceps, triceps, calves, shoulders, or back). This allows you to focus on improving weaknesses or developing specific muscles that are important for a sport you play or the way you want to look. Balanced workouts among all of the muscle groups are strongly encouraged. An example would be to start with several sets and repetitions of bench press (which works many of the upper body muscles), and then do additional exercises that target the chest and tricep muscles. Then your next workout would hit another group of muscles like shoulders and back, or legs.

Author Note: This is not my bicep!
Next I need to make sure you know what curls are. Curl exercises target and work only the bicep, meaning they should usually be done after at least one exercise that targets multiple muscles (see image to the right). Yet many people bypass the core strength-building routines because curls make biceps bigger and more defined. And those are the muscles you flex when you look at yourself in the mirror, giving the appearance of overall strength and fitness. For more perspective on this subject, read this: Stop Doing Curls.

With that background, here's a conversation I recently heard as two guys walked into a weight room:

Guy 1: "So what do you want to lift today?"

Guy 2: "Let's do curls. I like doing those, and I'm pretty good at them."

Guy 1: "Cool."

As they headed towards the dumbbells, I shook my head a little and then made a brief outline in my head for everything that I think went wrong in that conversation. Here's my list and what I think we can learn from it.

What were these two weightlifters really after? Where do they want to be in 5 years, or even 1 year? Are they training for a sport, or do they have other fitness goals they are trying to achieve? I got the sense they really lacked an overall objective.

Whatever you are doing professionally, do you have an overall objective of where you are going and where you want to be in 5 years, or even 1 year? By taking some time to think this through and articulate it in writing, you are well on your way to achieving it. Failing to define it means you will likely not achieve it. Hard to hit the target when you don't know where it is, right? This can apply to any aspect of your life, especially if you feel like you are "spinning your wheels" in that part of your life.

Without a clear objective, it was impossible for these two weightlifters to connect their daily activities to helping them move closer to accomplishing their goal. If their objective was to try and lift a certain amount of weight for certain exercises at the end of the year, then they could focus their daily activities on what will best help them accomplish that objective. With no objective and no plan, what they choose to do in the gym doesn't really matter. Interestingly, they could end up doing more damage than good if they continue to randomly select exercises without an overall plan and objective. They would create serious imbalance, gain no real strength, and even create the potential for serious injury if they always select to do curls. 

So, think about your life. Are you a dreamer, with lots of amazing objectives and goals for the future, but with no real, viable, plan to get you there? Or, do you love to plan out your days but without an overall vision or objective to guide your activities. Both scenarios are less effective in terms of building real strength (if you are a weightlifter) or making the most progress possible. 

Guy #2 made an interesting comment about liking to do curls. Yet doing what we like is not always the most effective to help us accomplish our goals and objectives. If you are trying to stretch yourself to accomplish something, then it is likely that you have to do hard things. Often you have to learn new things and feel highly vulnerable in the process. Sometimes you have to do things you don't like to get where you want to go. But you're the one that picked the direction and objective, so it must be worth it!

Objectives may change occasionally, but plans need to be dynamic, always adapting and pivoting to best position yourself to accomplish your goals and objectives.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Short vs. Long-Term Results: How Do You Prioritize?

Whichever you are more focused on means you are likely neglecting the other.

I am suggesting that an appropriate balance needs to exist between the two. It is not easy to balance, and once balance is achieved it will be fragile, sometimes swinging back forth on the pendulum several times daily.

Example: If you are losing money today, focused on how all of those losses are an amazing investment into your long-term future success, then you are likely neglecting some things you could do to improve your short-term performance and results over the next 3-6 months. How quick we can be to rationalize our long-term aspirations and neglect short-term "wins".

Example: If you are dialed-in on hitting your target this quarter with a laser-like focus, you are likely neglecting and potentially compromising your long-term prospects to maximize success.

What behavior does your corporate culture reward the most? Do you even try to maintain a balance between the two?

Here is a quick gut check. Make an honest, transparent investigation into your recent track record. If you always miss (or even fail to establish) short-term goals with the excuse that you will make up for it in the long-term, then you are likely a little too visionary and not tactically addressing short-term opportunities adequately. On the other hand, if you are always hitting your short-term goals but complain that you can never get to or complete your long-term projects, you are possibly sacrificing your future.

The key is to find the right balance and then discipline your organization to constantly evaluate and make adjustments as you go throughout each day, week, and month to stay on track with both. A good leader will sense when short and long term focus is out of balance and get things back on track. No easy solution; just hard work, discipline, and leadership to create the best overall result.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Integrity & Keeping Promises to Yourself

Last week one of the members of #tmfit, a group of individuals that hold each other accountable in quest of various health and fitness goals, posted an article titled: Check the Boxes. The author of this post explains how he has great ideas and sets goals for himself, but then he allows himself to be distracted by other things, ultimately keeping him from achieving his most important aspirations. He writes:
I know I can be a better rider. But to be that, I have to check all the boxes. And I don’t always do that. In fact, I usually only check the boxes that are easily checked. Riding a lot is fun. But it isn’t really training. It’s playing. Playing is easy, and although it’s often mistaken for training, it’s not the same thing. Training hurts. A lot. It’s often tedious, boring, and nothing at all like playing. But it’s the only way to get better, faster. Training is also eating right, being lean and light, and getting adequate rest. Empty box. Empty box. Empty box.
I like the analogy of boxes that need to be checked, with empty boxes representing failure to accomplish the task at hand or neglecting to push ourselves to do the hardest things. I started thinking about the empty boxes in my life. This prompted a train of thoughts about different goals I have set and various promises I have made to myself. I questioned how many boxes are unchecked, and how many excuses, distractions, and acts of laziness I have offered to myself to try and explain why some of the boxes are unchecked.

Upon inspection, some of my unchecked boxes exist because I have been more focused on keeping promises I've made to others, not the ones I've made to just myself. As humans we often value public accountability over private accountability. If I make a promise to someone else and don't keep it, I could face a loss of credibility, embarrassment, or other uncomfortable consequences. If I make a promise only to myself, that promise is easier to break, right? Without disappointing others, I only disappoint myself, and I can easily brush that aside, right? Or, if I have boxes unchecked in my life, am I lying to myself? What negative consequences would come from that? Oprah Winfrey had this to say on the subject:
Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. 
I think this is the very core question of integrity...keeping the promises I make to myself (because it is the right thing to do), especially when there is no one else to hold me accountable to that promise except myself. In his article 5 Ways to Train Yourself to Be a Great Leader, Marc Sanborn says this:
Sometimes keeping promises can be challenging, if not downright painful. This commitment will develop discipline and integrity.
So, keeping promises develops integrity. We have also established that promises made privately to ourselves are harder to keep since they lack any external accountability and associated consequences for failing to keep them. I would suggest that those who possess the highest and most meaningful level of integrity are those who are honest with themselves and keep the promises they make to themselves. Public integrity may not be enough if private integrity doesn't exist.

So what does private integrity look like? This is a person who is completely honest with themselves. They do not tell themselves they will run a marathon in the summer, and then start making excuses every day they fall behind their training schedule, ultimately dropping out of the race before it even starts. However, they don't just sit on the couch and refuse to ever make promises to improve themselves. People with integrity know they need to improve and get better to add value to their professions, become more meaningful to their families, and deliver more relevant service to others.

It is possible to appear to have integrity by keeping public promises only, but lacking honesty and accountability with ourselves would be a difficult "mis-alignment" to hide from others, especially those who know us well. Lying to ourselves undermines our integrity and our ability to keep promises to others.

I have had many unchecked boxes in my life, so I'm certainly not perfect at this. Yet the point remains the same: people with the highest level of integrity are those who place the highest priority on keeping the promises they make to themselves. We should aspire to this and seek to surround ourselves with others in the same pursuit.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Know Your Channel

In an effort to keep entrepreneurs and founders as focused on their customers as their product or service, I have written a lot on the need for founders and entrepreneurs to know their customers intimately. Business models differ by industry and business, and, quite often, knowing your customer is not often enough. Sometimes there are several layers between you and the final user of what you make and/or sell. This is called a sales or distribution channel.

Here are a few of examples of sales/distribution channels:

  • A manufacturer of consumer goods sells their product to retail, big box stores through sales reps who call on those stores. Then those stores resell the products to their customers, the end users of the manufacturer's products.
  • A manufacturer in the United States sells their products to an importer in an international country. The importer then sells the products to dealers using their in-house sales reps, then the sales reps of those dealers sell the products to their customers, the end-users of the products. 
  • A manufacturer "white labels" their product, meaning they put the name of another company or brand on their products, and they sell them to this other company. The other company then sells the products to their customers, usually people loyal to or very aware of the quality and reputation of this brand.
  • You make components that are just a part of a final product. You sell the components to a manufacturer who then sells his finished products to online resellers who then sell to their customers, the end-users of the final product.
  • You manufacture products that you sell directly to your customers, the end-users, who buy from various websites that you own and operate.
So, what is the structure of your sales/distribution channels? How many "layers" are there between you and the final end-users of your products?

Here are a few quick observations about channels:
  • The more layers in your channel, the more "hands in the pot". This means that each layer needs to add value to the process and expects to make money in return. The economics of your channel are critical to making sure your goods or services can be priced competitively based on your overall strategy. 
  • If your business model does not clearly flesh-out your sales/distribution channel, then your business model is incomplete. This also applies to your business plan...a weakly defined channel strategy is a weak business plan.
  • You can execute more than one sales/distribution channel, but that adds a lot of complexity to your business. You will likely need to carefully maneuver through the politics of several industries as well as hire leadership to run each channel separately. 
  • For startups, trying to launch more than one channel in the early days is nearly impossible. Analyze all of your channel options, find the one that you think is the best, and put all of your money and focus on that. Unless you have clearly selected the wrong channel strategy, this will afford you the most significant results.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Accountability - The More Personal & Public The Better

My high school football coach was great at motivating young men. One of his consistent messages that deeply resonated with me had to do with accountability on a public and personal level. I'm paraphrasing, but his message went something like this:
Each of you are having a different educational experience than your classmates. You see, they all get to study, take their exams, and receive their grades privately. But not you. You have chosen to take the class of football. That means you study (practice, game films, etc.) in public, and you take your exam every Friday night in front of the entire community. Your performance, whether good or bad, will be scrutinized publicly. You put yourself on the line in this way, making yourself personally (you can't hide on that football field; your name is on the back of your jersey and everybody knows who you are) and publicly accountable. That takes guts. That takes courage. And the very experience will generate better results in you than any other high school activity with which I'm familiar. You'll be better men for it, especially if you seek to hold yourself personally accountable throughout your life and you never shy away from being held accountable publicly.
I held myself to a higher standard because of this message, and my performance was better as a result.

In business, in our families, and in our communities, how often do we choose to not be accountable, preferring to ignore performance and results, or lack thereof, out of sheer laziness and fear. I have been guilty of this, and I am a personal witness that the results are never as good when I ignore performance and don't hold myself accountable. A favorite quote of mine on this topic comes from religious leader Thomas S. Monson:
Accountability is not for the intention but the deed.You must continue to choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong. (New Era, August 2008)
Choosing to not hold oneself accountable is always going to be the easier wrong. Accountability is the harder right. And I was reminded of this by a group of motivated people who want to hold themselves publicly accountable because they're not happy with where not holding themselves accountable has gotten them.

Understanding my background and propensity for personal and public accountability, you might understand a little better why I got involved as soon as I heard about #TMFIT (See the Twitter hashtag feed under #tmfit). Let me tell you about it.

About a week ago Alex Lawrence wrote a blog post titled: Don't Wait Until January. In it he describes how he was not happy with his slip into inactivity, poor eating, and an overall decline in health (in large part due to an injury). He decided to do something about it and has been on a mission to get fit, exercise more, and eat healthy. He has found that public accountability has helped him to obtain his goals, and this blog post was his effort to get a group together that would push each other and hold each other accountable.

Specifically, Alex proposed the following general guidelines for the #TMFIT group (see the Facebook Group #TmFit):

  • No Fad Diets or Crazy Stuff
  • Exercise a LOT
  • Do Not Wait!
  • Do Not Give Up!
  • Hold Yourself and Each Other Accountable Every Day
So, I decided to jump onto the #TMFIT ship, hoping it would help me meet some of my exercise, eating, weight, and overall fitness goals. And it already has. I started by making a public statement about my goals and plans to achieve those goals. Here is what I posted on Alex's blog:

Just posting this publicly has helped me stay motivated to do what I say I'm going to do. Then, on New Year's Day, I found out my gym was closed and I figured I would have to miss my exercise goal for the day...until a fellow #tmfit member, Nicole Bullock (@cuteculturechic on Twitter), defied all odds and went to Walmart to make sure she got her exercise done (Read her blog post here: #TmFit and the Walmart Workout). After reading about her commitment, my excuse was no longer acceptable. So I found a gym that was open, convinced my wife to join me, and paid the day fee get a workout in on New Year's Day.

Then, just last night, Alex Lawrence was interviewed by Fox 13 News about #TmFit and this group of people making public accountability personally effective. This morning another #TmFit member, Dustin Davis (@DustinDavis on Twitter), cranked out this blog post: The Fitness Revolution I Didn't Plan On #TmFit. All of the openness and transparency is refreshing and real, and flat-out motivating. 

I'm sure there will be more blog posts from participants to come. The Twitter and Facebook chatter will continue every hour. Everything a person needs to succeed in the form of a support group is in place. That leaves only one question...when are you going to join? Are you serious enough about making a change that you will put yourself out there, feel a little vulnerable, and then reap the rewards? I think you should.

Whether you decide to join #tmfit or not, the lesson is the same...accountability is an important element of being an effective leader (even if you are just leading yourself to better health) and achieving success. One of the best parts of accountability is answering when you've failed, when you've let yourself or others down. Facing failure is the only way to learn from it, grow from it, and allow it to propel you to your next success. When you make the accountability deeply personal and your hold yourself publicly accountable for the results, you have a winning combination of transparency, motivation, honesty, and commitment, which will almost always lead to far better outcomes.

As an FYI, this needs to get to and remain at 45 lbs for me to reach and maintain my weight goal. 

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