I just want to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful to you, my readers and course participants. Also, I know that this can be a frenzied week and time of year. Thanksgiving is intended to be a time of counting our blessings and grounding ourselves in our gratitude, however it can be hectic preparing for the meal and celebration (and also a little crazy with Black Friday the next day!).
If I start to feel stressed during weeks like this one, I just remind myself to “draw the box.” I think of the comments and issues from others as being outside my box, and I remind myself of the idea: what can I do in this moment. What can I control?
Just taking a breath and thinking about the box produces a subtle but powerful shift; by shifting my attention off of my anxiety and stress, I can transition to a healthier mental and emotional state.
If you are feeling stressed this week, try to draw the box (more info in Optimize for Victory). I hope that helps bring you some peace.
Again, have a very Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with loved ones.
Course: Design Your Success Academy
Cultivate Good Habits.
Improve Your Mindset.
Create a Vision.
Wake up Early.
Do this, don’t do that…
A bit overwhelming, right?
All the above concepts are touted in the areas of personal and professional development. In some ways, it’s almost a vicious cycle. People seek help in order to take the next step—to overcome a problem or to improve a particular area, but it can be paralyzing.
In the process of trying to take the next step to improve, you hear all these things you are supposed to be doing, and in doing so, you deepen your state of inaction—because you don’t know where to start. You may think, “Well I don’t have a vision, so I’d better create that, but then I have to improve my productivity, and then I have to improve my mindset…so I can’t really improve anything until I fix all those,” and in the end, you wind up doing nothing—because you need to return to your survival mode. How can anyone improve all those at the same time and see a difference in their lives the next day?
And in many cases, people actually feel worse about themselves, because they start taking inventory of all the things they are not doing. And that certainly doesn’t lead to individuals overcoming their challenges or achieving their dreams more easily!
One of the most common questions I hear is with regard to not knowing how to take the next step. It’s very easy to get caught up in realizing everything you’re not doing as described above, and that can be justification for not making expected progress in your life. This is why I am focused on resources that can help you take action. It’s even one of the reasons I use the word “optimize” because it’s like what we do in engineering—let’s yield a high quality product with minimal cost (i.e. yielding an even higher quality product for 100x the cost, in time/money, may not be profitable nor will it provide you the supply you need for your customers tomorrow!).
If we’re looking to improve something, we don’t necessarily want to take a year to get our systems in place; we typically need a different result as soon as possible and need to “optimize” the current situation for the better. And while it’s important to have good systems in place, realistically people need to see improvement more quickly. Therefore, I suggest taking action as soon as possible (while keeping in mind the overall system you’re aiming for in the future). I’m concerned that if you work on the system and don’t take action immediately, you’ll get so focused on perfecting the system that nothing will actually get done in the process!
Over time, you’ll find that the small improvements will compound, which is often discussed in the Kaizen approach. And if you do this intentionally, knowing the overall system or place you want to wind up, you’ll find that life helps you “course correct” along the way. But you can’t “course correct” unless you start taking action.
Therefore, if you’re in the boat of not knowing what to do next, check out my baby steps article for reference, and also keep the following in mind:
Just start working on what makes sense. While it’s important to take time to reflect and take a step back, don’t do that for days on end while waiting for an epiphany. Take a break and then get back to the task at hand.
If you’re not happy with your current situation and want a change in your life, keep doing #1 while also investing in yourself: take a few minutes each day to think about your overall system.
Sometimes when I present the above two points, an individual will respond to me and say, “Yes, but what makes sense for the next step?”
Naturally this is something best discussed in person. It’s very personal, but it may help for you to use some of the tools discussed in Success Blueprint or Design Your Success Academy. It’s hard to cover all the iterations of where you could be in your life or imagine what your situation is. But my quick, general advice would be:
Continue what you’re currently doing and just keep trying to do your best at it until you’re clear on your new goals. For instance, if you’re in a career you don’t like, keep working at it while you start preparing for a new one (taking online courses to increase your skills, posting your resume, etc.)
If you’re stuck not necessarily in terms of wanting a career change, but you want to feel better about yourself in terms of discipline or productivity, try to implement one small change while you continue to invest in yourself (described above). For instance, if you can’t bring yourself to start something you don’t want to do, create a spreadsheet (described in Optimize for Victory) and track your progress on simply working on it, with no expectation to how much time you spend on it. Your goal is to ensure the time you spent on it each day is simply not zero (0).
To wrap up, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s understandable. It’s easy to “go down the rabbit hole” so-to-speak when you’re looking to make a change. Start small and enjoy the compound effect of small improvements each day as you keep your intention about the new person you want to be (or new career, or whatever it is your heart desires!).
And one final note: I’ve noticed that as hard as it is to start something I don’t feel keen on doing, it typically doesn’t seem as bad once I’ve begun it, and I often feel a sense of relief and a release of tension for at least finally starting it!
Optimize for Victory: A Simple Approach to Overcome Challenges and Achieve Your Dreams
Success Blueprint: Get Out of Survival Mode, Regain Control of Your Life, and Get Ahead at Work and in Life
Course: Design Your Success Academy
In the past few years, I have made the following observation about the relationship between people and money:
Many people are overwhelmed by money
They are trying to “achieve success” to increase their income and overcome their money troubles.
In some cases, people are simply trying to “achieve more” because they are trying to achieve a particular goal and are seeking fulfillment by pursuing that endeavor. I am finding more and more, however, that sometimes one of the underlying factors to wanting increased success can be related to money, so I think it’s an important topic to bring up in the blog!
[Since I have noticed this, I am including some discussion and references to “optimizing your finances” in the blog (hence the recommendations page I started!)]
If you are in one of the aforementioned areas, I would recommend taking a step back and focusing on learning more about “optimizing your finances.” This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a rigid budgeter. It simply means learning to assess your personal situation, so you can convert your worries into a feeling of clarity, particularly about how to move forward.
A new book that can help reframe your perspective and make you feel more empowered in terms of assessing your net worth and re-evaluating your life (ie evaluating your choices as risks) is Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms.
It’s important to note that the book was written by Amanda Steinberg, Founder and CEO of DailyWorth and WorthFM (both have primarily a female audience). Therefore, the book is written with women in mind, however the overall concepts about how to reframe your life and money can serve everyone.
Read more below:
Title: Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms
Author: Amanda Steinberg
Formats: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, Audible, Audio CD
Reviews: 4.7/5 Stars (Amazon)
Why I Recommend: Many women (and people) are stressed and anxious about their finances. This book cuts through all that. It’s definitely not a boring book. The author brings up her personal backstory to give the reader context and relates relevant stories, statistics and concepts. I like the “roots and wings” analogy as well as the emphasis on understanding the risks associated with buying property, starting a business, etc. and how all of that needs to be considered.
Warnings: Written with women in mind.
Structure of the Book: The book is divided into 3 major parts (11 chapters with an epilogue and “cheat sheet” at the end/summary):
Introduction: What is a Woman’s Worth?
Women are more powerful than ever in US history. So what’s wrong with our value?
Part 1: Your Life: Telling Stories. How your life story is also about you and your money.
Chapter 1: Hit the Reset Button.
The (money) story of my life: what I learned, when I rose, why I fell, and how I started all over again from scratch.
Chapter 2: Rewrite Your Story.
Wake up, Sister. Time to take this story in a different direction.
Chapter 3: Grow Your Roots, Spread Your Wings.
Tether yourself to solid ground; set sail accordingly.
Part 2: Your Money: Getting Clear to Set Yourself Free.
Grow your money, feed your mind, expand your life.
Chapter 4: Know Yourself.
How are you when it comes to money? Discover your MoneyType to make your best investments.
Chapter 5: Fund Your Future.
Support the life you want to live and the self you want to be.
Chapter 6: Go to Market.
You don’t need to learn stocks–you need to learn how to invest according to a few basic guidelines.
Chapter 7: Value Property.
Is buying a home the right investment for you?
Chapter 8: Run the Show.
Launch a business for fun and profit–if you’re cut out for it.
Part 3: Your Terms: Mastering Cash Flow.
Save your money, save the world.
Chapter 9: Wings.
Create affluence on any income.
Chapter 10: Overcoming Overspending.
You didn’t really want it in the first place.
Chapter 11: Money Clarity.
From chaos to clarity.
Epilogue: Design Your Life, Fund Your Dreams.
Summary: Formulas and Checklists.
Closing Comments: It’s a good book to reframe your perspective about your relationship to money. Instead of being afraid of it, you will learn to assess your current relationship/MoneyType. In the end, you will have greater clarity around money and how to view it as a part of your life.
Want to get this book for free? You can get two free books when you start a free trial with Audible.
It has been a long time since I have written in the blog. 2017 was a year of stepping back (and personal change) for me. I continue to focus most of my time on my growing family. I have also returned to teaching part-time at the university (NJIT). Interestingly, the course I’m teaching this semester is not a traditional chemical engineering course — it’s actually a “Career Planning” course for chemical engineers!
In terms of my website and my books, I’ve been teaching myself to code (very slowly!). I’ve also spent a lot of time planning out my next books and blog topics. While I had started to plan out one book earlier this year, it was feeling very forced; I decided it was time to take a break and “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey would say.
During my break, I had time to reflect on the tagline for this site and I have decided to call it “Think Inside the Box” based on the free ebook I wrote a few years ago. That ebook, and the concept of “thinking inside the box” explains the overall optimize approach and therefore is quite applicable to the spirit of the site.
Some additional changes you may notice is that I cleaned up the site (deleted old articles/announcements) and changed email providers. I also added a “Lisa Recommends” page; personal finance is a hobby of mine, so I will keep this page updated in terms of how I “optimize my finances” using various services.
In terms of content going forward, I am keeping in mind the special review I received from author John Schwartz a few years ago. He had entitled his review for my book Optimize for Victory with “Stick to her website with good current advice.” Therefore, I will resume writing in the blog in an effort to create value for you:
Going forward, I will continue to write occasional posts reflecting on how we can optimize our lives in various ways. Further, as I come across helpful resources, I will blog about those as well. For instance, I read a lot (either on my Kindle or via Audible). Some of the books I read may be helpful for my readers, and therefore I will break some of the titles down for you so you can decide if you’d like to read them, too.
Thank you for reading my blog and now on to a recent book I read.
Title: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
Author: Michael A. Singer
Formats: Kindle, Paperback, Audible, Hardcover, MP3 CD (I listened in Audible)
Reviews: 4.7/5 Stars (Amazon)
Why I Recommend: Many people struggle with perspective and self-awareness. This book is written in a way that you can unravel and understand your current awareness and consequently raise your level of self-awareness while improving your perspective. In the past, I have written about the concept of taking the “aerial view” to gain perspective. I’ve also mentioned how critical self-awareness is in self-improvement. If you struggle in these areas, this book may help.
Warnings: For open-minded individuals. It’s not prescriptive or religious; however, the concepts come from various places/sources to increase your level of “consciousness.”
Structure of the Book: The book is divided into 5 parts:
Part 1: Awakening Consciousness
- Helps you recognize “the voice in your head” and relate it to your “inner roommate.”
- First step to stepping back and viewing yourself differently.
Part 2: Empowering Energy
- Introduces the concept of being “closed off” and how you can start opening up.
- Discusses how your energy and how you feel is related to how “closed off” you are.
Part 3: Freeing Yourself
- Discusses “letting go” and how to do that.
Part 4: Going Beyond
- Challenges you to surrender and live freely as a way of life.
Part 5: Living Life
- Brings up death and rounds out your perspective as the book is wrapped up.
Closing Comments: Overall, a good book to broaden your perspective, especially if you are plagued with negative, habitual thoughts. Further, if you have trouble “letting go” I would recommend reading it. I recall someone once asked me how to let go, and this book might help if you struggle with that.
Want to get this book for free? You can get two free books when you start a free trial with Audible.
With 2017 approaching, some people have already started thinking about their upcoming goals for the next year. These individuals are the ones that always seem to know exactly where they are going and always seem to be in control. They know what they want, and they are going for it! And, they even seem to like and enjoy what they are doing in their lives.
In other cases, however, there are individuals who don’t like what they are doing in their lives or careers. They don’t know what to do next, and they don’t know what they want for their future.
If you are in the latter group, you may be wondering, “What’s my next step? How do I change my life for the better, if I don’t even know what I want?”
If you’re in that situation, and would like some answers — and to change your life — there are seven steps you can begin to take (today)! Feel free to check out the highlights in the following presentation, or keep scrolling to read the entire article!
Step 1: Let go of the idea that you need an epiphany before you take the next step.
I have worked with some clients who feel trapped and stuck by their decisions. They may have built up their education and expertise in an area that turned out to be unappealing, or they may feel like they have plateaued in their career.
In the vast majority of these cases, I have found that these individuals know they are unhappy, would like things to be different, but don’t know what they want. As a result of not being sure of what they want, they just keep waiting for the “lightning bolt” to strike them. They keep hoping for an epiphany, that moment of clarity which gives them all the answers. In fact, in many cases, they may be seeking answers in the wrong places, or asking lots of people for advice, but getting nowhere because they keep waiting around for that unattainable moment of hearing, “Do this exactly.”
Therefore, the first step to changing your life, is to actually let go of the idea that you need an epiphany or major moment of clarity to make change in your life. Waiting around for inspiration will lead to simply more waiting around, and typically no answers!
Step 2: Shift your mindset: you just need to know the very next step…not the exact destination!
Building on Step 1, once you let go of the idea of needing an epiphany, it’s best to start shifting your mindset to the idea that you don’t need to know all the answers, or even what your eventual path or destination will be.
The key to changing your life is taking action. While it’s important to think before you jump into something (more on the process of deciding the next steps shortly), the most important thing to consider is to take a next step in the first place! The idea is that taking action will actually give you more answers.
For instance, once you take the very next step, and you begin the process of getting data and feedback about what you are trying or attempting, you’ll start getting the answers you have been seeking — such as “I like this” (or don’t like it). Beginning this process will enable you to collect feedback as you go along and eventually you will be able to “course correct” and make adjustments because your goals will become clearer as you collect the data you need to make your decisions.
Step 3: Take inventory: Write down all the things you know how to do and all the things you are interested in!
Now that you have let go of the idea of an epiphany, and understand the importance of taking action, it’s time to start the process of figuring out what those next steps will be! To do this, it’s often helpful to “take inventory” of your life. Often we are running on autopilot — we don’t even realize what we know (or don’t know). Therefore, I recommend taking a few minutes to list out your skills and interest areas. This will give you something concrete to work with in the next steps, and it will help you get organized!
Step 4: Identify the next step for each skill and interest area from your inventory.
Once you have your concrete list of skills and action areas, you can create an adjacent column, and list out the very next action step for each of those skills or areas. For instance, if you have writing skills, the next action step would be to further those skills or make a product from those skills, such as a book or a blog. You could list out the next action step to read a book on the subject of writing or publishing a book.
Though you may have a “hunch” about an area you should explore, it’s best to attempt to be as objective as possible during this process so that you consider all options and possibilities. Therefore, be sure to list out your next action steps for every area you listed!
Step 5: Choose one of the next steps you identified and start it.
Now that you have everything laid out on paper, everything from your interests and skills to the identified next steps for each of those areas, you can visually see all the possibilities available to you. After reviewing all this visually, you can more easily choose an interest or skill that you would like to pursue further.
Naturally it may be difficult to make this choice. Taking some time to examine your feelings about each of the areas, and also what may make sense logically for the ones you feel strongly about, will be helpful for your decision on which area to pursue.
It’s also important to consider that it’s not “the end of the world” if you start to pursue one of these paths and later determine it’s not right for you (more on this in the forthcoming steps). To a certain extent, you need to rule things out so that you can narrow your focus. Sometimes you don’t know what you like until you try it. Again, this is better than sitting around and waiting for inspiration to hit you. You’ll have made the most of your time by beginning the process to get feedback and answers for your life.
Once you have chosen which next step you’d like to take, you’re ready to take the action associated with that step!
Step 6: Identify and take the very next steps for the path you started
After taking that first step, it’s important to assess what the next few immediate steps would be for the path you began, and take the corresponding actions identified. This part of the process is a “data collection” period. Often you don’t know if you like something or if it’s right for you based on the very next step; you need to take at least a few action steps, and spend a few weeks or months on it. Of course this is case-by-case and dependent on the specific area you chose.
The important thing is to be observant during this step: notice if you like this path so far and focus on your progress. The first few steps of any process, especially something new or outside of your comfort zone, will be difficult, so be careful not to immediately rule out a path. After you hit a milestone and have completed a number of steps, however, you can get a better assessment of where you are (and where you’d like to be).
Step 7: Evaluate and make adjustments based on the feedback and data you collected.
Collecting data, feedback and making observations from Step 6 will enable you to implement Step 7, essentially to “course correct” as needed. As mentioned in Step 2, having additional information will enable you to make informed decisions about your path forward. You can determine if you’re on the right path, or if you need to tweak your path slightly. You may be able to refine your focus and create a goal around that path. There are so many more possibilities that will open up to you once you have taken these steps, especially as opposed to waiting for an epiphany!
In summary, these seven action steps are not hard in and of themselves — in fact they are quite easy to take, once you have accepted the idea of making change through very small, daily changes (which is more realistic than waiting for a bolt of lightning or overhauling your life)!
To learn more about this, and to access special checklists and additional information and resources on this topic, check out my new book, Success Blueprint: Get Out of Survival Mode, Regain Control of Your Life, and Get Ahead at Work and in Life.
You can access the Amazon version by visiting: http://success.lisakardos.com!
College students and new graduates often seek advice from me. Typically, they want to know how they can maximize their chances to gain employment at various companies in industry. What we often don’t get to discuss, however, is what they can do to maintain their jobs once attained – and even better, how to grow their career inside and outside of the company going forward.
Interestingly, it is the “soft skills” that often defines a young professional’s chance for professional growth. Typically, people have fairly comparable technical skills for the roles in which they have been given. But it is the soft skills, the ability to have a bigger vision – for themselves and the company – and how they can best serve and provide value to their colleagues and leaders, that distinguishes them.
Unfortunately there are some cases where politics and workplace issues may negatively impact one’s chances for career growth at a particular company. The other issue that comes up is that individuals often think that career growth means jumping from company to company. And while it is true that we can often get a better title and salary by changing companies, we also need to make the most of our current roles, to develop our experience and demonstrate why we can handle the next level roles. If there is no leadership experience, as an example, it’s hard to make a case or justify hiring someone from the outside applying for a leadership position.
Ultimately, regardless of the paths taken, if one’s goal is to truly grow as a person, and provide value in his or her profession, then cultivating and incorporating the following five concepts will be beneficial for that individual:
As discussed previously on my blog, recent psychology research from Carol Dweck, Ph.D. emphasizes the importance of having a growth mindset (click here to access that post). Very quickly, a “fixed mindset” means that we believe we have a finite amount of intelligence or ability (and wind up defending or proving that in our endeavors), whereas “growth minded” individuals go through life thinking that they can always improve and learn more. Essentially, growth minded individuals focus on the process of learning and essentially don’t pressure themselves into thinking they only have so much ability or intelligence — that ability and intelligence are not necessarily innate.
This is something I absolutely wish I knew at 22 years old. Interestingly, I recall one of my first managers talking with me about how it was okay to make mistakes, that it’s part of the learning process. I’m not sure why he mentioned that during a conversation with me, but I suspect he detected that I didn’t want to take much risk with my work! I remember thinking, “How could I possibly allow myself to make a mistake? I could get fired!”
But in hindsight, I think his real message was to adopt the growth mindset. I now realize his true warning, that by pressuring myself to be perfect all the time, I wasn’t giving myself the permission to grow. And putting that undue pressure on myself was making my life more stressful and perhaps inhibiting my learning.
Therefore, when we start our careers, it’s best to acknowledge we don’t know everything and to do our best to keep growing, that we “just haven’t mastered it yet.” This mindset will be more fruitful in the long run.
If you’re familiar with my first book, or a member of my coaching program, the Design Your Success Academy, then you know what the “Optimization Framework” is. But if you haven’t heard of it, it can be boiled down to this:
We can apply engineering concepts to our lives. We can look at ourselves as a “system to engineer” and put all extraneous things outside of our system.
While it may sound simple, I explain in my book that most of us do not operate that way. The world is so complex, with so many distractions, and it often requires conscious effort to separate ourselves from everything entering our attention. That’s why we have to consciously realize that the only thing we can 100% control is ourselves, and therefore we can look for ways we can “optimize” (as an engineer would) our success by optimizing ourselves.
If we applied this concept as new grads / working professionals, it would be so helpful. I have had hundreds of conversations with friends over the years about stressful work situations, managers, colleagues, etc. But the fact of the matter is, we really can’t change the things we complain about (and yet most conversations always ended with the glimmer of hope that the other entity – the perceived source of the issue — would change!) The best we can do is control ourselves, and perhaps by being our “best selves,” we can influence things for the better.
Adopting this framework would help reduce the stress, thereby allowing management of the multitude of issues that come up to be better. In turn, we can focus on our growth more and spend less energy on being upset about everything else.
Perspective: Practice Different Vantage Points to Develop Strategic Thinking
This is a concept I touched on it a previous post (click here to access it). The bottom line is that we need to develop strategic thinking. One of the best ways to develop strategic thinking is to practice looking at situations from different perspectives. For instance, if I start to get stressed by something in my life, I take the 30,000 foot view of it. Somehow, pretending that I’m in a plane, looking down on an issue, helps me separate and get the clarity and objective view that I need to make better decisions in a situation. Learning this skill is very valuable, especially when you start working and need to be objective as you manage various issues.
Entrepreneurial Mindset: Be the CEO
Thinking of myself as the CEO of my own company, as if my company is being paid to deliver services where I’m employed, is a subtle but powerful mindset shift for a working professional. This entrepreneurial mindset is an advanced version of the optimization framework I mentioned earlier, where you are learning to take responsibility for yourself. If you can get to this point, where you are taking full responsibility for every action (or lack of action) and looking at everything as an entrepreneur, you can really boost your effectiveness.
One of the reasons I think this is so powerful is because many working professionals I know don’t read any personal development books; however, entrepreneurs often do. I find it so interesting that “career development” and “personal development” are often different in terms of topics. One of the reasons I like to frame everything in the “engineering” or “optimization” framework is because it actually brings all of this together: figuring out how to optimize or be your best self; it doesn’t necessarily boil down to having the best resume. It boils down to having both the best resume and a DEEP foundation in terms of mindset, skills, approach, etc. — essentially the best of both the “career development” and “personal development” worlds.
Adopt a Productivity System that Works for You
I have experimented with many different approaches to be productive (hence my inspiration for my productivity book). There is no one system that is perfect for everyone, which is why it is important to find the system that works for you. Some systems are very complex while others are simple. My focuses on a system you can use if other systems haven’t really worked for you, and furthermore will focus on root cause analysis and deeper issues to help you in the future.
This post is only the tip of the iceberg (many books could be written on this topic); I hope it served you. Feel free to comment below!
Lisa Kardos, Ph.D. blogs about how we can optimize our lives for the better! (achieve happiness, success, and what we hold in our hearts!) She enjoys helping people overcome challenges to achieve their dreams.
Dr. Lisa Kardos has experience in chemical engineering, management, higher education, public speaking, and career development. She is the Founder of the Lisa Kardos School of Excellence and the Amazon Bestselling Author of Optimize for Victory: A Simple Approach to Overcome Challenges and Achieve Your Dreams.