What I learned about momentum from Will Smith and the wall metaphor

This week I reflected on a powerful metaphor told by actor Will Smith. I found this years ago, and I occasionally come back to it. It helps me avoid losing momentum. For convenience, I’ve transcribed his monologue here.

“You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s even been built. You don’t start there. You say ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. There will not be one brick on the face of the earth that’s gonna be laid better than this brick that I’m gonna lay in this next 10 minutes’. And you do that every single day and soon you have a wall.”

During childhood, Smith and his brother built a brick wall. The task was done in after-school hours and took weeks if not months.

The wall metaphor is powerful for a few reasons:

• Breaking down impossible goals into manageable pieces.

• Building habits and creating momentum.

Breaking down impossible goals into manageable pieces

When you set out to achieve something great, the first reaction is ‘stop, that’s impossible’. You want to build a wall but you’ve never touched a brick in your life.

For you, in that moment, it is impossible. There’s no proof you can do it because you’ve never done it before. Breaking down challenges into small pieces helps overcome this. Which brick will you lay today?

The project starts at 0. No forward movement. Through sheer will you push it forward. You get the ball rolling. You lay the first brick.

Building habits and creating momentum

When you first start a new craft or hobby, it sucks. The first few reps go in the trash. You don’t have much to show for the effort. But, you do have something. You have momentum. And if you stop, you do lose something. You lose momentum.

Momentum is subtle. It’s hard to see it when you have it and when you don’t. To see it you have to look into the past and measure your performance. You have to look at your half-finished brick wall and admire the straight lines, the consistency.

I’ve experienced this first hand with writing and with running. I hit a stride and I’m raising the bar week after week. Then some curveball flies and knocks me off course. I stop writing/running.

Weeks go by. I come back and look at what I did just before stopping. I am amazed by what I had done. And I ask myself: why did I stop? Then I start the cycle again, regaining momentum. After taking a long break, the next brick is never laid to the previous standard.

My high school band teacher used to say: “skipping a day of practice is like losing a week of practice.” He understood momentum.

What I learned from wanting lifestyle changes but failing to commit

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Image from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/turtle-tortoise-swim-sea-turtle-863336/

A long time back I read a piece by Derek Sivers called “No Yes. Either HELL YEAH or No“. I never really applied it. The main idea is to say ‘no’ to more requests, and to sign up for exciting things. Things that excite you.

I haven’t applied the ‘HELL YEAH’ or ‘no’ strategy. I’m not quite ready for that. I have to deal with some ‘maybe’s first. I have applied a say ‘maybe’ less strategy. This has changed my lifestyle in positive ways.

It begins like this. While I get ready for bed, wife asks: ‘are you going running or going to the gym tomorrow?’. The best answer is ‘yes’. The second best answer is ‘no because [completely valid reason i.e. an early morning appointment]’.

The weak answers are ‘maybe’ or ‘we’ll see, ask me again in the morning’. These answers reek of procrastination.

Why is ‘maybe’ a weak response?

‘Maybe’ is uncertainty. You can’t effectively plan ahead because you’re not certain about what to plan for. Uncertainty is the enemy of confidence.

‘Maybe’ is commitment avoidance. The decision is deferred. You shrink a little bit inside and lose some confidence.

‘Maybe’ is confrontation avoidance. You don’t want to offend him by saying ‘no’. So you inflict him with uncertainty.

‘Maybe’ shows a lack of direction. Unclear goals and priorities. If you know your priorities you can more easily decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You become more decisive. And more confident.

It Works

It works. After I replaced ‘Maybe’ with ‘Yes’ I showed up at the gym more.


We haven’t gotten to the power of ‘no’ yet. Save that for next time..

What I learned from having too many ideas and too little time

Just before the twins were born I realized my time was more valuable than ever before. I shifted from adding to subtracting things to\from my life. Choosing what to add is hard enough, how do you choose what to subtract? At some point you find you can do everything you want at the same time, but you cannot do all of it well, and definitely not by yourself.

James Clear recently shared a powerful mental model with his email list. It’s a strategy for solving this same problem of choosing what to subtract. For helping you prioritize life and business. I personally struggle with prioritizing between ideas and activities, so James’ piece resonated. I re-read it several times and I think about it daily.

Photo of roses from our front yard.

In our front yard we have 4 waist high rose bushes. My favorite is the white one nearest the side-walk. If left on its own it grows into a leafy, thorny mess. Without pruning the branches choke each other out, wasting valuable resources like sunlight and water. And then as a result it’s flowers fail to bloom to their potential. Pruning is essential for beautiful, thriving roses.

The strategy shared by James calls for you to think of your life as a rose bush. Roses need to be pruned once a year, every year. Subtracting things from your life is like pruning branches. What do you prune? How much do you prune?

Pruning is uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to prune a perfectly healthy branch. The branch goes the wrong direction, competes with, or conflicts with another nearby branch. Similarly in life you might have to prune things you like but aren’t going the right direction. Pruning is necessary in order to make space for something with more growth potential.

I am seemingly always out of time for hobbies and pursuing ideas. Writing, running, reading, etc all compete for limited time. And there’s not much time left after factoring in a career and other important things like family, relationships. Making space for ideas to really blossom requires pruning away some good branches.

You can have anything you want, but most things worth having require some kind of sacrifice.

What I learned from mediocrity

How to Stand Out

Do you hope to be outstanding? Do you hope to stand out? Hope is not enough. Hope will not cause a sack of outstanding to land in your lap. Hope is not a strategy.

To stand out you must craft, do work, create. Artists and entrepreneurs. Hackers and painters. Creators reshape their world to match their dreams. The rest of us let the world reshape our dreams.

Lots of people have ideas. Ideas are cheap. Few people execute on ideas. The graveyard is the richest place on earth. It’s filled with unwritten books, unbuilt companies, unsong songs, unshipped products.

Many conversations go like this:

“I had an idea and I worked on an app.”

“Is it on the App Store? Can I use it?”

“No, I never took it that far”

No excuses. Ship it. Publishit. Build a portfolio of work. Take a risk to put your imperfect creation out there. You will experience a fear of criticism. There is a tiny group of fans to cheer you on. To overcome this fear realize almost no one knows who you are and even fewer know about your work.

Become a creator now, and thousands of hours later you will find acclaim. Until then you will crave real feedback. There is no overnight success. People are rewarded in public for what they’ve practiced for years in private.

Creators are stand out. Outstanding creators crave feedback. Document what you’re doing. Ask for comments. Appreciate every bit of feedback. And engage with anyone who generously gives you their attention.

Do deep work. Create work that evokes emotions. If no one feels emotional connection to your work, no one cares that it exists (besides you). Experience the joy of human connection, connect with people through your work. What makes it all worth it? The joy of human connection.

Then you will stand out…

“I do not choose to be a common man.
It is my right to be uncommon … if I can.
I seek opportunity … not security.
I do not wish to be a kept citizen,
Humbled and dulled by having the State look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk,
To dream and to build. To fail and to succeed.
I refuse to barter incentive for a dole;
I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence;
The thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia.
I will not trade freedom for beneficence
Nor my dignity for a handout
I will never cower before any master
Nor bend to any threat.
It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid;
To think and act for myself,
To enjoy the benefit of my creations
And to face the world boldly and say:
This, I have done.”

Dean Alfange (1952)

What I learned from struggling to make an impact

Looking for a new challenge, project responsibilities? Look inward to yourself. Strive to become a jack of all trades, and a master of one. Be responsible, manage yourself. YOU are the project.

Want to have more impact? What you do at night after work is even more important than what you did all day. Give up one hour of television in exchange for 1 hour of reading. Stop complaining about your commute and fill the time with audiobooks. Read. Drink deeply from good books. Lead and have impact. Readers are leaders.

Identity precedes action precedes reward. First be a reader. Second do reading. Third have the rewards of reading. First be a leader, second do lead, third have the rewards of leadership. Be, do, have.

Books hold lifetimes of mistakes, struggles, and triumph. Centuries of human experience stacked together to make giants. Grow. Climb. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

Knowledge is the antidote to fear. Choose knowledge. Reject fear. You decide every morning when you wake up. Fear is a choice.

Fear gets in the way of action. Perfectionism is just another form of fear. Most people go through life with the brakes on, holding back. Take imperfect action. What would you do if you were not afraid?

Build a world free of fear, full of knowledge. Read and lead. Spread the word.

What I Learned from feeling STUCK

Sometimes you feel like you aren’t moving toward your goals. You’re either moving in the wrong direction or you have no velocity. You aren’t moving. You are stuck.

Remember that the outcomes are what matter most. Small results are better than no results. Celebrate small wins, because they add up to big wins. Results rule.

20% of what you do generates 80% of your results. Whats in that 20% and how can you do more of that? What’s the other 80% of activity that’s not helping and how can you do less of that? Remember the 80/20 rule.

All the routines, habits, knowledge you have now may have brought you lots of past success. They got you to here. But they may not be the right stuff to get you to your destination. You’ll need to keep learning, adapting. What got you here won’t got you there.

No one’s going to come save you. You have to save yourself. No one understands the problem better than you do. Survive! Thrive! If not me, then who?

There’s no time like the present. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The 2nd best time is right now. Take massive action. If not now, then when?

Get moving!

What I learned from getting hit by a car

Friday morning, March 30th, 2018 I was super excited to start the day. At 9am it went South. I spent 5 hours the day before preparing an awesome project demo. I was pwning my gym routine, I felt on top of the world. The thought popped into my head “I am unstoppable”.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out of my car dazed and confused. A car came from nowhere and hit mine behind the driver’s seat. Wham! I momentarily lost control and the car hopped the curb, slowing to a stop in grass.

The message was very clear:

The moment you think you are unstoppable, it’s game over.

What I learned from struggling with procrastionation

There are 15 items on my to do list right now.

Some of the items have been on the list for months (but not years).

  1. There’s always a finite set of things you need to get done. Worrying about how many things and trying to juggle them all in your mind doesn’t work
  2. There’s always a first step or a next step. Writing down the step is helpful. It might not be the right time to take action right now, while you’re in planning mode.
  3. A lot of times, things don’t go according to plan. New steps come up while you’re working towards the goal. It’s ok, and flexibility is necessary. Make a note and change course.
  4. Tell someone what you need to do

What I learned from Menfluential 2018 conference

This post summarizes my attendee take aways from Menfluential Conference 2018. Antonio Centeno and Aaron Marino host the two day Menfluential event which showcases social media influencers, businessmen, fitness gurus, men’s fashionistas and men’s grooming experts.

I’ve broken down my key takeaways into categories: mindset, productivity, social media, fitness, business. Jump down to the section desired. Other topics were covered at menfluential such as fragrance, hair, but I wasn’t interested and didn’t pay attention.

If you are interested in Menfluential conference there is a similar, virtual event organized by Bill Masur called Men of Character conference. MOC includes additional topics like fatherhood and relationships.

Mindset

Starting anything new sucks. It’s painful and the results are embarrassing. You have to hang on until it starts to be fun. “In 500 years you won’t exist, in 1,000 years you won’t matter, so don’t be afraid to try something new” said Ryan Masters. Don’t wait, get started!

You have to invest in yourself and continuously learn. A $30 book or a $1000 course could give you an edge worth 10X the price tag. Once you decide learning isn’t worth it, it’s game over, you’ve lost.

Productivity

“Clear to neutral” when taking a long break from working. Tidy up your desk, close windows on your computer, close tabs on your browser. Resume work from a clean slate. Less clutter leads to clearer focus.

Social Media: YouTube, Blogging

Until you reach 10,000 subscribers, you have to bring traffic from another platform. The algorithm won’t recommend your content in the beginning, not until you have a strong audience.

Choose simple headlines like “how to do X without Y”. Don’t try to be too clever, keep it simple.

Choose photo/thumbnails that spark curiosity. Make the viewer ask a question desperately needing to be answered. Consider simple questions like: “what is going on there? Why is he making that face?”

Consistency and volume are crucial for growing an audience. Publish new content on a strict cadence (daily, weekly, monthly). Cranking up the frequency from weekly to daily resulted in exponential growth for one YouTuber.

YouTube is a platform, not a business. Most businesses don’t make money directly from content, they make money by converting viewers into customers who pay for products and services.

If you don’t have haters yet, you’re still getting started. “You could teach blind kittens to read on YouTube, and someone will have a problem with it.” says Aaron Marino.

Monetize now, not after you get subscribers. 1M subscribers multiplied by 0 profit is still 0 $$. What if the money never comes? You will have wasted a lot of time and resources for nothing.

Fitness

The added value of fitness is building toughness through voluntary hardship. You muscles and your mind grow.

Strength training is the foundation. If you’ve never been to the gym, start here, get on the “strength ladder”. After strength builds, everything else falls into place, including body fat percentage.

Focus on the big 3 (compound lifts) – bench press, squat, dead lift.Find a trainer to teach you safe technique so you don’t break your back.Strength is a better measure than the scale, because your weight may fluctuate or plateau. Measuring your fitness level by tracking the amount of weight you can lift is a satisfying way to see progress.

Business

The standout business speaker at Menfluential was Dan Lok, who wore a blazing metallic red suit. Dan Lok is known for books like FU Money and his expertise in high ticket sales. He also offers a training program called high ticket closer.

People buy their way out of problems. Look for a bleeding neck problem, one the must be solved, fast. Paint a clear picture of what will happen if your product/service is used or not used.

On solving problems… > Find a need> Fill a need> The worst that can happen is nothingFocus on the simple, avoid complexity. Complexity is an excuse for a failure. You can blame the complex stuff instead of holding yourself accountable. John D. Rockefeller, the 340 billion dollar man, got his start with boring business tasks of turkey farming and book keeping.————————

There are three types of people in your sales funnel:

  1. Freeples
  2. Sheeples
  3. Leads

Freeples have a hard drive full of free ebooks, spreadsheets, and other junk. They collect stuff and never bother to contact the business or buy products.Sheeples follow the crowd and don’t know what they want. They stay lurking in the background and never contact the business or buy products.Potential clients know what they want. They know you can help solve their problems. They contact you to ask for help. They will pay you to help solve their problems. This is the type of person that can support your business. Focus on converting these people into paying customers.


Waste less time emailing and instant messaging clients. Get potential clients on the phone. Close them on the phone. You can quickly weed out clients who aren’t serious enough to get on the phone. And, you can work out details much faster on the phone compared to back-and-forth emailing.


Thanks for reading!

You Don’t Have a Motivation Problem, You Have a Vision Problem

I need a compelling #vision to know where I’m going. Once I know what direction to go, I can move as fast as possible. If I don’t have a vision, I go in circles, moving slower than a snails pace.

It takes vision to live deliberately. A lack of vision takes you to your default future, you just go with the flow. Where do you want to end up?

So ask yourself, what is my vision for my #self? My #home? My #family?

#manager, what is my vision for my employees?

#leader, what is my vision for my team?

#engineer, what is my vision for my project?

#blogger, what is my vision for my blog?

#entrepreneur, what is my vision for my business?