Continue Buying Those Lattes

January 22, 2014

latteThe way you ask a question will have a profound impact on how you answer it.

This is a fundamentally critical concept in the world of innovation. If you are working on a problem/opportunity, changing just one word can influence the types of solutions you get. I’ve discussed this concept extensively on my blog.

But did you know that the way you frame your New Year’s Resolution (if you set one) will have a huge impact on the actions you take towards the achievement of that goal?

According to a survey I conducted a few years ago, over a third of people set financially related goals each year.

For many this means, “save more money.”

Paradoxically, the goal – “save more money” – can have unintended consequences that might leave your bank account with less money in the long run.

When we want to save, we look at where we currently spend money, and how we can reduce those expenditures. For many, their daily stop at Starbucks is one of their guilty pleasures.

As a result, there are many financial advisors who will tell you to “stop buying lattes.” If a latte costs $4 a day, you could save about $1,500 a year by cutting them out. That’s a lotta lattes!

But cutting out your lattes requires a lot of willpower. And as it turns out, willpower is not an unlimited resource.

Let’s examine some scientific research on this.

Imagine individuals tasked with solving a complex problem. In the room where they are sitting wafts the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. On the table in front of them are two dishes: one with the cookies and another with radishes.

Although the combination of the olfactory and visual stimulation made the cookies irresistible, some individuals somehow managed to use their willpower to stay clear of the gooey chocolate.

Kudos to them. They win. Right?

Well, as it turns out, the people who resisted the cookies performed significantly worse on problem solving and other tasks. The willpower it took to resist the delicacies robbed them of their ability to perform a variety of activities. Researchers call this “ego depletion.”

What this implies is that the energy it takes to save $4 may in fact be robbing you of your skills required to make even more money.

What if, instead of focusing on saving $4 a day, you put your energy into finding ways of making an extra $10, $100, or even $1,000 a day? What if you used your latte as fuel for making more money?

There is of course nothing wrong with saving money. I am certain that all of us could do a better job and would benefit from it. But it is important to recognize there is a hidden cost.

As an entrepreneur, I would rather spend money on the guilty pleasures that energize me, help me stay focused, and in the long run enable me to make even more money.

P.S. Of course there are health implications of too many lattes. At 200 calories each, this may add an extra 30 pounds to your waistline each year. Other than bacon, my guilty pleasures are usually healthier (or at least lower calorie) alternatives.

Resolutions That Can’t Fail

December 27, 2013

It is that time of year when everyone sets their New Year’s Resolutions.

But only 8% of people are always successful in achieving the desired results. 92% fail!  (if you are interested in some fascinating statistics about resolutions, read this article: Interesting New Year’s Resolution Statistics)

But all is not lost. There is a better way.

Here is an article a wrote a while ago, but is timeless: Making Resolutions That Work

Or, if you prefer, you can read the variant of this article that appeared as a full-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago (jpg).

The general premise is that instead of setting resolutions that are specific goals (e.g., lose 10 pounds, stop smoking, exercise 3 times a week), you want to create themes that help guide you and your decision making throughout the year.

These themes get me excited about the New Year.  They also make activities that might have seemed tedious, more enjoyable.

Starting today I am off for a week of reflection and contemplation. Early January I will share my themes for 2014.

What are your themes for the new year?

P.S. If you want to learn more about how to live a more “present moment” life, read Goal-Free Living

Facts About Happiness That May Surprise You

May 11, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

At the end of this month, I will be speaking in Copenhagen at a Happiness at Work Conference.  This got me thinking about what it is that makes people truly joyous.

Business Insider gathered some research on this topic and amassed 36 Scientific Facts about happiness, some that may come as a surprise.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself:  Perhaps that is why Forbes reported that approximately 543,000 new U.S. businesses are started every month. This is one of the reasons I work for myself. If I don’t like my boss, I only have me to blame!
  • Greater rewards mean less motivation and poorer performance:  “Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment. If someone offers a good Samaritan $5 for helping with a flat tire, then he starts thinking about the actual market rate for tire-changing, so a fiver is now insufficient—when a minute ago, he’d have been perfectly content with $0.” I have written about this extensively in the past. See my article, I Won’t Work for Money.
  • Happy people are lucky:  Lucky people tend to focus on the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse.  For example, an individual arrived to an interview with his leg in a cast and mentioned that he had fallen down a flight of stairs. When asked whether he still felt lucky, he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before as he could have broken his neck. This is absolutely how I live, maybe sometime to a fault. I do operate from the belief that everything happens for a reason – I learned this from my father.
  • Happiness is not a destination:  I will be happy when I’m married, have more money, or move to a new location. This is what we tell ourselves.  But the reality is that while these things can contribute to happiness, it is not as much as you may think.  According to Web MD, achieving these milestones account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture. “Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think — things you control — than with many of life’s circumstances.” This is the essence of my Goal-Free Living book.

Other studies show that people with more money are happy. But what is intriguing is that the researchers found that money did not cause happiness.  Happiness was the creator of wealth.

What other things make you happy?

To Set Goals or Not Set Goals, That is the Question

March 29, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

My Monday Morning Movie discussed some concepts from my book, Goal-Free Living.

I have long questioned the practice of goal setting.  My book (published in 2006) challenged traditional thinking about goal setting and discusses how we can not only succeed in business (and life) but to do so while achieving great happiness and satisfaction.

Due to its prevalence in business, this goal-free concept is often met with resistance.  But apparently there are others that have challenged this conventional wisdom as well.

In a Harvard Business School working paper, the authors of Goals Gone Wild reviewed a number of studies that indicate that the ”beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored.”  They state that the side-effects that goal-setting can have include a “narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. “

One such study is highlighted in a recent New York Times article:

Three groups of participants were asked to create as many words as possible using random letters – similar to the game, Boggle.  Two groups were given a specific goal to formulate at least 9 words.  One of the two teams was offered a financial incentive for hitting this goal, the other was not.  The third group of participants was simply told to do their best.

At the completion, the participants turned in only the answer sheets stating how many words they had created and had disposed of their worksheets.  “But the academic researchers running the experiment had a code to match the worksheets with the answer sheets and discovered that both groups that had been given a goal of creating a certain number of words — whether or not money was involved — cheated 8 to 13 percent of the time. Those in the third group rarely did.”

To set goals or not to set goals.  The debate continues.

Meander with Purpose

March 25, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

Back in 2003 I drove across the country with no plans and no agenda. It turned out to be a life changing experience.

After that trip, I wrote Goal-Free Living.

In this video I discuss two concepts from the book: “Use a Compass, Not a Map” and “Remain Detached.”

Not Wanting What You Want

December 12, 2012

Some will claim that a component to happiness and success involves detachment.  That is, not worrying about how things turn out.

But this is easier said than done!

People want what they want.  And the more you try to not want something, the more you focus on it.

How do you break this cycle?

While working on Goal-Free-Living, I discovered a useful way to become detached: Attach yourself to something of higher value.

That is, replace the “unhealthy” attachment with a “healthy” one.

For example, if you are in sales and really want to close the deal, you might come off as desperate or pushy.  This usually prevents you from getting what you want: the sale.  The solution? Attach yourself to serving customers rather than focusing on the sale.

Or, if you want to stop a bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit.  Every time I tried to kick my Diet Coke habit many years back (I drank as much as 5 liters a day back in the late 90′s), all I could think about was the vending machine near my desk.  When I chose to drink two liters of water a day (a healthy attachment), without worrying about how many cola’s I drank, my habit was immediately kicked.  Yes, I still had a can from time to time. But the obsession ended and I could focus on work rather than soda.

In the workplace, this can have profound results.

Doug Busch, former Chief Information Officer at Intel once told me, “The best things I have ever done in my career came shortly after I decided that the best thing that could happen to me is that they fire me.”

This is detachment in action. Detachment is not indifference. It is about acting with a commitment to the future while focusing on the present.  When not worried about “keeping his job” he could do his best work.  He no longer played it safe.

If you are in a job interview, remaining detached would mean listening carefully and answering honestly, without concern about the outcome. You will come across as more confident and authentic.  And then you can truly determine if they are right for you, rather than worrying if you are perfect for them.

If you are going to attach yourself to something else, make sure it is healthy.  Some people, to avoid conflict, will avoid it altogether creating more problems in the long run. For example, some people will “attach” themselves to work so that they don’t have to deal with domestic issues. This isn’t a healthy attachments; it is a distraction.

How can you tell if your attachments are healthy? Healthy attachments should:

  • be present moment focused and not about achieving a future objective
  • have you engage and interact with others
  • (potentially) be in service of, or contributing to others
  • increase the level of honesty in your interaction with others

In the book I quoted David Wood the (then) Vice Present of Sales for the Americas for the Bose Corporation. He said, “I’m personally satisfied at the end of the day if I made a difference for someone personally; if someone’s efforts were furthered along with my help. I have this intense desire to feel like I have made an investment in someone else and the company. I am not driven by money or status. I’m not even comfortable partaking in privileged company benefits. Rather, I am driven by contribution, what I do, and the value I add.” This is a very healthy attachment.  And it helped him be a successful leader.

How can you improve your life through the concept of detachment?

Podcast: Interview with Author of “The Antidote”

December 7, 2012

Today I am thrilled to share with you a 45 minute conversation between me and Oliver Burkeman, the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

I met Oliver several years ago. We got connected through a book review he did back in 2007 for the Guardian newspaper in England.

He opened his review by saying, “One of the most stress inducing books I’ve ever read is called GOALS!, by the management expert Brian Tracy.”  Reading this, given my contrarian perspective on goals-setting, I knew I was going to like this guy.

Oliver concluded his article by saying…

“Contrast that with the insight of Stephen Shapiro, whose book Goal-Free Living makes the case that you can have some kind of sense of direction to your life without obsessing about the specific destination. ‘Opportunity knocks often, but sometimes softly,’ he says. ‘While blindly pursuing our goals, we often miss unexpected and wonderful opportunities.’ That sounds a lot more smart to me.”  (For those in the goal-setting world, you will appreciate his last point as being a poke at the SMART goals, advocated by many)

After reading this, I immediately wrote Oliver, and soon after we met up in a pub in London. I quickly discovered that he has a contrarian perspective on so many aspects of personal development. And he has a great (dry) sense of humor.  I knew we would get along great.

Fast forward 5 years (after several meetings in pubs on both sides of the “pond”), Oliver wrote The Antidote. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to read a book. And I was not disappointed.  After devouring it on my Kindle, I asked Oliver if he would do a podcast with me.  Fortunately he kindly agreed. We did not discuss anything in advance. He did not give me questions to ask and I didn’t prepare any.  It was a totally goal-free, in the moment interview. I think you will agree, he has some pretty incredible perspectives.

You have three ways to enjoy this interview:

  • Listen to the audio (streaming): 

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Download the audio (mp3) (right click to save to your computer)
  • Read the transcription

Please share this with your friends.  I am sure that after listening to this, you will agree that this interview can have a profound impact on anyone who is addicted to positive thinking.

How Goals Kill Luck

August 17, 2012

Richard Wiseman is the author of many great books, including The Luck Factor.  I’ve spoken with Richard on several occasions, and we share a similar perspective: a myopic focus on goals can reduce how lucky someone is.

Dan Pink (an endorser of my Goal-Free Living book, and author of A Whole New Mind and Drive), interviewed Richard for Fast Company magazine. Here is a small excerpt…

What are some of the ways that lucky people think differently from unlucky people?
One way is to be open to new experiences. Unlucky people are stuck in routines. When they see something new, they want no part of it. Lucky people always want something new. They’re prepared to take risks and relaxed enough to see the opportunities in the first place.

But the business culture typically worships drive — setting a goal, single-mindedly pursuing it, and plowing past obstacles. Are you arguing that, to be more lucky, we need to be less focused?
This is one of the most counterintuitive ideas. We are traditionally taught to be really focused, to be really driven, to try really hard at tasks. But in the real world, you’ve got opportunities all around you. And if you’re driven in one direction, you’re not going to spot the others. It’s about getting people to have various game plans running in their heads. Unlucky people, if they go to a party wanting to meet the love of their life, end up not meeting people who might become close friends or people who might help them in their careers. Being relaxed and open allows lucky people to see what’s around them and to maximize what’s around them.

Much of business is also about rational analysis: pulling up the spreadsheet, running the numbers, looking at the serious facts. Yet you found that lucky people rely heavily on their gut instincts.
Yes. You don’t want to broadly say that whenever you get an intuitive feeling, it’s right and you should go with it. But you could be missing out on a massive font of knowledge that you’ve built up over the years. We are amazingly good at detecting patterns. That’s what our brains are set up to do.

Read the entire article

Be sure to read my article from yesterday which provides mathematical “proof” for why a focus on specific goals can reduce luck.

Never Trust An Expert

August 13, 2012

Given my recent articles on success, I felt it was appropriate to dig up an old one (from 2007) which talks about how we never really know what made us successful….

A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.

At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”

Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.

Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network. [NOTE: leverage is one key to success, so this is not necessarily a bad formula]

I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.

There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft (see my Sliding Doors Success article).

Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus. [NOTE: This is a significant part of my new research on innovation and success.  Stay tuned.]

So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.

P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.” There is a lot that can be learned from others.  

My O-The Oprah Magazine Article

March 16, 2012

As readers of this blog know, back in November 2005, I was on the cover of O Magazine.  No, my face was not on the magazine. But an article talking about my Goal-Free Living philosophy was featured on the cover. The picture to the right is the actual cover from back then. You will notice an article titled, “What the Happiest People Know for Sure (page 87).”  That is my article.

And now, after over 6 years, the article is online for everyone to read.

Some of you may remember an article I wrote for the American Express OPEN Forum, the title of which implied being in O “hurt” my business.  Yes, I chose a very provocative title to stimulate interest and discussion, and I succeeded.  For quite some time it was the most commented and viewed article on the entire AMEX site.  It was controversial. And yet I am convinced that many people did not really read the article and immediately jumped to conclusions.  I made it VERY clear that being in O Magazine had nothing (or at least very little) to do with the downturn of my business over a half dozen years ago.

My good friend Jane Atkinson often says, “Pick a lane and stay there.”  That is, choose an area of expertise and stay hyper-focused on that.  At that point in my career, I was operating my business like a drunk driver: changing lanes and confusing my clients and prospects.  I was an innovation expert featured in The New York Times. And at the same time, I was writing about not having goals (my Goal-Free Living book) and was featured in Oprah’s magazine.  My corporate clients began to question my dedication to innovation and big business.  And my prospects were confused by my lack of focus.  As Jane also says, “A confused buyer never buys.”  And so my business suffered at that time – not because of a magazine article, but rather a lack of focus on my part.

I want to make it clear: I am SO proud of being featured in O-The Oprah Magazine.  And I am thrilled that my article, after all of these years, is now available for everyone to read.


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