Monday, January 30, 2012

I Completed My Thirty Day Challenge, Now What?

It's the last day of January and it marks the completion of my thirty day challenge which was to walk three miles each day. I've been doing these for nearly a year now and so I know what the next step is. But if you just completed your first thirty day challenge, you might be asking yourself, what do I do now?

The idea behind the thirty day challenge is to teach you how to change your habits. But if you only do it for thirty days, have you really changed anything if you don't continue doing it after thirty days?

The trick here is that when you initially tell yourself mentally that you only have to change for thirty days it's a little easier than telling yourself it's a permanent change. It's mentally tougher to tell yourself to change for a lifetime. But once, you make it through a whole month, that is exactly what you want to do - continue your thirty day challenge after the initial thirty days.

The key to doing this is to immediately change your focus to the next challenge and to build on your success.

I call this setting the bar. Let's review some of my past challenges.

  • I gave up diet coke

  • I gave up fried food

  • I started walking every day

  • I gave up snacks wrapped in plastic

  • I walked for three miles every day

  • <----- The Bar of Mental Strength ----->

  • My next thirty day challenge


So you can see above where my bar of mental strength is. The goal is to continue lifting the mental weight I have been lifting and to progressively add a little bit more each and every month.

This is how you create change. Do a challenge. Complete it. Continue it. Add another challenge. Repeat.

I've actually forgotten some of my challenges that I know I am still doing. But those above are the biggies I remember.

So now that you have completed your thirty day challenge. Start your next one and continue the last one. Build on that success. You can join our discussion in the forums as we track our challenges if you are a member. If not, you can join now.

 
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Next Step Of Active Visualization

Yesterday I talked about beginning your active visualization. Today, I wanted to start going over step two of your active visualization which is to identify the next actions you can take to make those images you have in your mind come true. In this podcast, I talk about how I suggest you do it and include some tips and ideas that can help you get started.

Enjoy today's podcast.
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

How To Begin To Actively Visualize What You Want

In today's podcast, I talk about how to begin to actively visualize what you want. There are three main components to becoming a white belt master here at the Black Belt Project. They are, creating change with thirty day challenges, building mental strength with checklists and designing your life with active visualization. It's the last one that I start to talk about more today.

The concept of having a vision or purpose is a challenging one. It's probably not something you can fit into one concise statement. It's probably a number of different things. I talk about how I am using active visualization here to create the Black Belt Project so you can see exactly how what I recommend works and you can see it at work in my own life.

Enjoy today's podcast.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Start Planning Your Next Thirty Day Challenge

As I approach the end of the month, I have a few things on my mind. The first is that I am excited that I'm about to complete a thirty day challenge. This month, I've been walking three miles every day. The next thing I start thinking about is maintaining what I start this month as a habit. It's important to make change take hold in my life. So, when I start a thirty day challenge, I tell myself mentally that I only have to do it for thirty days. Once I make it through a whole month, I switch gears and set the bar there. The goal is to continue what I started and continue to walk three miles every day from this point forward. The final thing that's important to me is that I need to start thinking about the next thing I want to work on.

So, if you have been doing your thirty day challenge, over the next few days you need to start deciding on what you can do next month.

If you haven't added my Black Belt Project Calendar, I've added this as a reminder on the 25th of every month as a recurring event to remind you it's time to start this process.

As you begin to think about that, you'll want to make your challenge something that is progressively harder than last month. It doesn't have to be that much harder. Small increments actually work better.

Let your mental strength be your guide and set yourself up for success.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Many Thirty Day Challenges Do You Need To Do?

This is the first month, I've "officially" had members doing thirty day challenges along with me. As we near the successful completion of a month of creating change in our lives, does doing a thirty day challenge for one month mean that you have mastered change in your life. And if it doesn't, then how many successful thirty day challenges do you have to do to achieve mastery?

I think that there are actually two levels to this question. The first level is mastering the concept itself. The second level is actually mastering it in your life.

Let's talk about the first level. Mastering concepts are the exciting part. It's new knowledge. There's the optimism of new techniques and ideas that challenge your self in ways you didn't know that you could.

I've often fallen into this trap. I get interested in a subject, I find the best information I can on the subject and I start applying it. Eventually, I start to see some success and feel that I know what I need to know. Just the knowledge that I know how to do it is enough and it's a powerful feeling. It's almost an addiction. It's an addiction to knowledge. Once it wears off, I move on to satisfy the craving once again.

Here, the concept of a my thirty day challenge is easy. You decide on something you will do or not do for thirty days. You make it through the thirty days. You continue it beyond the thirty days and you start another one. Rinse and repeat.

In reviewing the requirements of a white belt master, I have to decide when you have mastered the concept of a thirty day challenge. Because there are actually two parts to a thirty day challenge, one is making it through a whole month. The second part is continuing that habit beyond the first month while you start a new challenge.

It's hard for me to say that one month is mastery when it's really only one component of the challenge. Without making the change "stick", you haven't really mastered permanent change. If you want to change your life, permanent change is essential to your success.

For purposes of becoming a white belt master, I think it's important to recognize that you understand the concept plus actually that you have actually completed it. So in looking at my own personal experience, I know it takes a few "successes"  to actually get it and to get those successes to stick and to give you the momentum you need to create a mindset of constant improvement.

I think that for you to really start the see the power of this concept, it's important to set a goal of doing three consecutive thirty day challenges while making the first two stick.

If you do that, I think that you have mastered the concept.

You should make that your first objective. You should master the concept.

But after that, after the newness of the concept has worn off, you have to make a decision. Am I satisfied that I understand and truly know the concept. Or, do I want to really master it.

Once you think about that question, I think a true black belt knows the answer to how many successful thirty day challenges they need to do to be considered a master.

The answer is twelve a year.
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

How To Improve Your GTD System To A Black Belt Level

Over the last few days I've started building a daily review checklist. To get it started, I've been taking a close look at exactly all the steps that I take to do that and getting them down on paper. I've also streamlined my email a bit by setting up a bunch of filters to get things that I don't need to look at right away out of my inbox and into my Read/Review folder. My email inbox is empty. The first step in mastering my email is complete.

Let's take a closer look at my folders in my email. I refer to them as folders but in gmail and google apps they are called labels. I will use those interchangeably. Here are my labels.

  • Inbox (0)

  • Sent Mail

  • Drafts

  • Spam

  • Trash

  • 3775 (0)

  • 5151 (0)

  • 5726 (0)

  • 7636 (0)

  • Action (202)

  • Calendar (21)

  • Faxes

  • Read/Review (9)

  • Someday/Maybe (3)

  • To Print (0)

  • Waiting For (43)


I want to point out that I added a label called "Reference". I was using the Starred feature in gmail to do that but I decided that I don't like to use the stars. I use this for emails that have information in them that I frequently referred to. Once I moved the starred emails into the Reference label, I then hid the Starred label from view in my settings since I won't be referring to it anymore.

In addition, the number in parentheses is the number of items that need to be dealt with at some point. You'll notice the inbox is at empty.

If you remember from yesterday, I mentioned that I look at each of the files above as just another inbox. Once I get the main email inbox to empty, then I start working on the next one.

What I try and do is to do them in order from easiest to hardest. The idea here is to get momentum and push everything down into my system.

What I mean by that is that I start at the very beginning of my GTD system. I call it the front end. I get everything working at the front end of my GTD system and slowly move improvement down to the end.

I take the very easiest things to do. Do them first. Since they are easy they create momentum. And then use that momentum to help give me additional mental strength to get more of my system in shape.

Let's take these folder as an example. If you look above you'll see that there are 202 emails in that folder that need some sort of action. These are things that I already know will take more than a couple of minutes because of the two minute rule I applied in when I was processing my inbox. That means that folder will take a lot more effort to empty than say the "3775" folder because that is just a voice mail box. That is one that is extremely easy compared to the action folder.

What I do then is put them in order from easiest to hardest to process. Now before I move on, I know that if you have several thousand email in your inbox, that it will seem like a pretty hard folder to get to zero. But once you realize the inbox is just a place to make a decision on where to put it, that inbox becomes a lot easier to empty. Why? Well if it needs extended action, it immediately gets put in the action folder. The engine starts with the inbox as well so we have to put it first on the list to do for that reason anyway.

So here are my folders arranged by difficulty:

  • Spam - always easy to scan to see if anything was misfiled that should go into inbox

  • To Print - if at printer, easy to print

  • 3775 - voice mail messages

  • 5151 - voice mail messages

  • 5726 - voice mail messages

  • 7636 - voice mail messages

  • Inbox

  • --- The Bar of My Mental Strength --- (also my Black Belt level)

  • Calendar

  • Waiting For

  • Read/Review

  • Someday/Maybe

  • Action <-------Hardest folder to empty

  • Faxes - Reference only, no action

  • Reference - Reference only no action


What I want you to picture here is that everything above my mental strength bar is at a black belt level. It's running perfectly. Everything below the bar is not yet. Imagine if you will pushing that bar down the list smoothing perfection down one level at a time.

Another way that I like to look at this is you can tell exactly what level of Black Belt GTD'er you are. Right now, I'm a Black Belt to the Calendar folder in my email system.

This is easier to do if you put all of the easier stuff at the top and the hardest stuff at the end.

Get in the habit of pushing improvement down through your GTD system like this and before you know it, you will be doing weekly reviews consistently because you will finally have clarity to understand how it all works together..

The reason this is important is because the next step for me is to start organizing my daily review checklist. The way I want to organize it is an easiest to hardest order.

All the things I've been putting getting out of my head and into my checklist have to be organized in a logical fashion. Thinking along these lines will help you organize your checklist in a way that creates momentum, helps you see exactly where you get stuck and provide you with a method to break through that wall.

My checklist is available to members as I build it. If you are not a member, you can join now.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Example On How To Use The Tasks On Your Daily Review Checklist To Raise The Bar And Increase Your Mental Strength

OK. Yesterday, I finally got to the main concept of building mental strength. That was figuring out where to set the bar. The bar is placed at the place on your checklist that you didn't get to on the previous day. Your goal each day is to get to the bar and to strive for some improvement each day by doing at least one additional task or more.

Building your checklist into a complete and accurate measurement of your mental strength means that you have to spend some time each day working through the exact steps you take to do all of your tasks. I've started with email here since it's a core component of just about everybody's day.

I want to delve a little deeper into that subject today and show you how to raise the bar to increase your mental strength using your daily review checklist.

When I worked through my checklist yesterday, you might recall that I got my inbox empty but couldn't get any further. My goal today is to at least get to my Calendar folder and open it. Based on the fact that I feel my mental strength is strong enough, I don't think getting to that point will be a problem today.

First, though, I need to get out my checklist. I'm not where I can print it out today, but I strongly suggest printing out your checklist so you can see the tasks at hand. As you do the tasks on it, you'll want to check them off. This "checking off" action gives you a mental boost that your brain loves because it can actively see action and it starts feeding the brain. As you work through your checklist you will want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the next step on my checklist really the very next thing I do or is there a step left out that I need to add?

  • Is there an item on my checklist that's out of order that would be better moved to another place in my checklist?

  • Is there a better way I can word the items on my checklist?

  • Have I really cleared my head of all the steps?

  • Is there anything I can do to get rid of that step or automate it?


The reason I'm doing this is because I am looking to achieve the following things:

  • Get absolutely everything out of my head.

  • Optimize the order of the list for maximum efficiency.

  • Get the list to a point where I could if I want hand the task to someone else and they could complete it with my checklist.


Let's pick up where I left off by using my email account as the basis for the checklist I've been working on.

Here's the checklist so far:

  • Turn on computer

  • Log into email account

  • Open email inbox

  • Open the first email


Since my inbox was emptied last night, twenty seven emails have landed in my inbox. I do the above steps and open the first email. I notice that the very next thing on my list from yesterday was "process each email in the inbox until it is empty". I notice though that step is pretty open. It doesn't summarize the very next thing I do which is:

  • Determine if I need to continue to get this email.


I review the email. It's an email alert from a penny stock investing site that I followed while I was working on a project a while back. It's not something I need to continue to get. Getting rid of this email I never look at is one less thing I would have to process. The very next actions are to:

  • If not, can I unsubscribe to it?

  • If yes, is the unsubscribe link one I can trust?

  • If yes, unsubscribe from email.

  • If no, set up a filter to filter it out of my inbox.

  • Archive or delete email.


In this case, I trusted the email's sender, unsubscribed and archived the email.

The next email was from a company I bought my printer from. I usually don't read these but don't mind getting offers from companies I buy things from. But I notice that the next action on my checklist doesn't account for this. Here are the next steps that actually came to my mind after I decided it was an email I wanted to continue to get along with the actual steps I took once I did that. Notice I wrote them down as well.

  • Is this an email I will read or review right when I get it or can I read or review it at a later point.

  • If it's an email I will read right away, read it.

  • If it's actionable, do it right away if it can be done quickly.

  • If it's actionable but requires more time, put in action folder.

  • If it requires no action, archive or delete it.

  • If it's an email that I can read at a later time, set up a filter to send it to my Read/Review folder.

  • To set up a filter, copy sender's email address.

  • Open mail settings

  • Click filters

  • Click create a new filter.

  • Put sender's email in the from field.

  • Click next step button.

  • Check skip the inbox

  • Check apply the label.

  • Check the drop down box and select Read/Review

  • Decide whether to filter the conversations on the bottom of that page

  • If so click that box to filter all emails in the list below

  • If not click the create filter button

  • Go back to inbox

  • Open the email I just set up the filter for

  • If it requires action, move to action folder

  • If not, archive or delete it.


Now, the next time I get an email from that company, since it's not urgent it will go right into my read/review folder for later review and completely bypass my inbox since it's not urgent. Then when I am in read/review mode, I can do those things all at one time.

The next email was spam. I added that item onto my checklist:

  • Is it spam?

  • If so, click the spam button.


The next few emails were ones that I set up filters for to read/review later. The next email was from a social networking site that I never use. I considered that a subscription and unsubscribed. The next was a comment from this site. And another was from a client. This added a few more steps.

  • Is it actionable?

  • Can I do it in under two minutes? If so do it.

  • If not move to action folder.


The next email was a utility bill. I have all my utility bills in my calendar set up as recurring events. When they come in, I update the amount due and put it on my calendar. So I added a couple of other steps to my checklist:

  • Review utility bill amount

  • Open calendar

  • Edit calendar event by adding the amount due and the date it is due.

  • Archive or delete email.


The next email was a fax I received.

  • Review fax for action

  • If it requires action, do it or put in the action folder

  • Otherwise, file in the Fax folder


The next email was an email alert from my bank.

  • Review alert from bank

  • If it requires action and can be done quickly, do it now, then archive or delete it

  • If it requires action that can't be done quickly, then move it to the action folder


You'll notice that there is some overlap in some of the actions above. For now, my goal was to get all the steps out of my head. As I put them in my checklist and start to work through the checklist, I'll start to refine the order and duplicate any overlap.

After going through the steps of processing, I got to the point that my email inbox was empty. Once you get into the habit of recognizing that you can indeed get your email inbox to zero, you will start to see how it's really the easiest place to start in your email. The real problem for a lot of us is that we spend so much time in the inbox trying to do or just scanning instead of moving the emails into our action folder for when we get into "ACTION" mode. The first step in your email is just organizing it into the rest of the system.

Now, I've reached goal number one which was to get my inbox to empty. That's where the bar was the previous day. So now, my second objective was to open my calendar folder, which already has email reminders from my calendar filtered into it. These are items that are specific to a certain day and therefore go on my calendar. When the day arrives, I get an email letting me know. Then it's up to me to review the items on the list and see if I need to do anything.

Many of these emails are informational. For example, some are birthdays and anniversaries. Some are for bills that are automatically drafted out of my checking account. Some are for things that I need to complete. But the very next action is for me to:

  • Open first email in the calendar folder


I've been a little behind in my calendar reminders. I've got around 134 calendar reminders in that folder. To clean that up, my first very next step is to:

  • Delete reminders that are taken care of


That left me with 21 email reminders in my calendar folder. And that's where I will set the bar for today. As you can see below, I've now raised the bar and effectively increased my mental strength a little bit more. I set the bar now and try and do a little bit more the next time I hit the gym (office).

  • .....Previous stuff on checklist

  • Open email calendar folder

  • Delete all email calendar reminders that are taken care of

  • ---------- THE BAR ---------------

  • Decide the steps to take for the rest of the calendar reminders.

  • ...the rest of my of the stuff on my checklist


So now, as far as my checklist is concerned, I'll put the above items I went through into my daily review checklist. And then print it out and review it.

Start making your checklist and start figuring out where your mental strength is. If you want to see my actual checklist and are a member, then click the link to my checklist in my forum signature. If you are not a member, you can join here.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Figuring Out How Many Tasks You Can Do Each Day So You Know Exactly How Mentally Strong You Are

Yesterday, I started to break down the email checklist I am building to illustrate how you build mental strength. I wanted to pick up where I left off in the last post and talk more about that today. Before I get into it, just a reminder, I'm of the view that before you can increase your mental strength, you have to know how strong you are. Now, when I say "know" how strong you are, I don't mean have a general idea, I want to know exactly. You should as well.

When you build physical strength, you know exactly how much you weight you use when you do an exercise. You look at the weights and see how much they weigh and then you use them. You don't grab a weight and guess how much it is. YOU LOOK.

It's the same with mental strength, but instead of weight, you use tasks instead. And for me to know exactly how mentally strong I am, I have to actually see the tasks in front of me in the form of a checklist. This tells me how much I can lift "mentally". How far I can get into my checklist tells me that.

Once, I know how far I can get, that's where I set the bar. I make it my priority to get that far from that point forward. To gain mental strength, I would then push myself to add a few more tasks each time I go to the office (our mental gym).

I've spent the last few days working on determining the exact amount of mental strength that I have when it comes to my email account. I can tell you that, because I know exactly how far I get into my checklist.

To keep it simple, here's a basic email checklist:

  • Turn on computer

  • Log into email account

  • Open email inbox folder

  • Process each email in the inbox until it is empty

  • ---------- THE BAR ------------------

  • Open email calendar folder

  • Process each email reminder

  • Open action folder


With this sample checklist, you can see that right after I get my inbox to empty, I've put "THE BAR". That's because that's how mentally strong I was today. I was able to get through all of my email and get my inbox to zero. I couldn't however move onto the next item on my checklist which was to open my calendar folder.

So what I do, is tomorrow, when I work through my checklist, is to make sure that I again get my email inbox to empty. That no matter what I do, I get at least that far. That's my first objective.

Secondly, the next most important thing I will do is at the very least go one more task down on my checklist. In this case, that would be to open my calendar folder and look at my reminders.

Now, even if I don't do anything else but OPEN that folder, I can see that once I do that, I actually lifted more tasks than the previous day. And I can move the bar down and set my bar there.

Depending on where you are and your mental state, you might only have the bar at turn on computer. Or, you might be at your Action folder. Or, even farther down your checklist. The point is that all of us reach a wall somewhere and that's where we get stuck. And where we get stuck is our mental strength.

Small increases in the number of tasks is how you get through that wall.

A basic checklist above will do the job, but if you have been following me, you will probably notice that I am going into greater detail with my checklist.

Like today, I spent a great deal of time analyzing the types of emails I get and exactly what I do with them when I receive them. I've discovered that up to this point, I get about 20 -25 different types of emails. To find that out, I analyzed the last 1500 emails I received. And for the most part, many were repeats. I receive them over and over again.

Here are some basic types I received:

  • Email from friends and family

  • Email from bloggers I like to read

  • Email from bloggers I like to read but can wait until I have time

  • Discount offers from companies I use

  • Email from coworkers

  • Alerts on financial accounts

  • Email from social networking accounts

  • Spam or other unsolicited email

  • Quickbooks alerts

  • Calendar reminders

  • Comments and pingbacks from blogs I manage

  • Payment confirmations

  • Renewal notices

  • Unsubscription notices

  • New member registrations

  • Paypal notices

  • Faxes

  • Notices that statements are ready

  • School notices

  • Bills

  • Appointment confirmations

  • Other reminders

  • Domain renewals


So in addition to finding where I need to set the bar, I am also looking at how to make the process quicker and more efficient. To do that, I am breaking down the steps I take for each type of email as well and also putting that in my checklist.

The plan is to then set up filters to handle the things I can see that I can automate. That's the beauty of email. I can batch things together and process the same thing at the same time - like calendar reminders.

I've been building the rough skeleton of a daily review checklist and putting it online for others to see it. If you are a member of the Black Belt Project, you can find a link to my checklist in my forum signature. If you are not a member yet, you can join here.

 
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Starting My Email Checklist So I Can Begin To Assess My Mental Strength

Yesterday, I talked about my folder structure inside my email account. I then made a list of those folders and put that list into my daily review checklist. While a lot of people look at their email account as an inbox, I look at each folder in my email account as an inbox. I list these folders in an order that is conducive to my workflow and then set out to master the procedures necessary to get each folder working at peak efficiency.

Today, I wanted to start taking the first steps towards getting all of these procedures out of my head and start putting them into my daily review checklist. This in turn will help me build more mental strength by reducing the amount of mental overhead required to process things so that I will have more of it to help me get my email inbox to empty.

To review the purpose of my checklist:

  • Decrease the amount of stuff in my head that I have to remember

  • To define what done looks like on paper

  • To fine tune the order and items on the list for maximum efficiency

  • To determine exactly what my mental strength is (how many tasks I do)

  • To figure out how much weight (tasks) I need to progressively add to increase my mental strength

  • To reduce the time it takes to do the steps on the checklist


The first items on my checklist are easy items. Those are:

  • Turn on computer

  • Log into email account

  • Open inbox folder

  • Open the first email


Now, I have to start to ask myself some questions. I've opened the first email. It's a note from my wife that includes something I need to update on my webpage. It's something I can do quickly (the two minute rule) so I take care of it. I can the archive or delete it. This adds two additional items to my checklist. Those are:

  • Do any tasks I can do in under two minutes

  • Archive or delete email


It's at this point, that I'm also going to start making another checklist. That is to track the kinds of emails I get. The first category of these email "types" is:

  • Email from friends and family


The purpose of recording the type of emails I receive is to batch them together so I can process like things at the same time. I'll discuss this more later when I get into how to filter my email.

For now, let's move onto the next email.

This email is from a blogger I like to read. For this particular blogger I usually read his stuff when it hits my inbox - as opposed to some I get that I kind of pay attention to but don't necessarily feel like I have to read it. This leads to another set of steps.

  • Quickly scan email from bloggers I follow

  • Decide to read it now or read later

  • If I want to read it now, read it

  • Make a note of any actions I might want to take

  • If I want to read it later, file in my read/review file

  • If I read it now, archive or delete it


And also puts another email type on my list which is:

  • Email from bloggers I like to read now

  • Email from bloggers I like to read but can wait til I have time


I read it and filed it in my read/review file.

Next up is an email from a company I work with. It's a special discount offer from the company I host my website with. When I get these offers, I usually archive them so if I need them at a later date, I can pull them out of my email just by searching for the name of the company.

  • Archive offers from companies I work with if not needed now

  • File offers from companies I work with in "Action" folder if I need it now


And add another type of email to my email "type" list:

  • Offers from companies I work with


So basically, I do this with each email I receive until I have exhausted the types and started to put the steps in to handle each type.

Once I have done this for a few sessions, I'll have a pretty detailed checklist as well as a fairly good idea of most of the types of emails I receive. The next step for me is to start to fine tune the checklist by optimizing the order of the items on the checklist and add or subtract things from the list as well as start to automate some of the things such as filtering emails like offers from companies I use into a read review file for later sorting.

Also keep in mind that as I build this checklist, it's a rough draft that will be refined as I go along.

If you are a member, you can see my full checklist by clicking the link in the signature of my forum posts as I work on it by becoming a member of the Black Belt Project today.
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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Getting Started On Building My Mental Strength Using My Email Account As The Starting Point

A couple of days ago, I started talking about the two types of mental strength. The first was the mental strength we use to remember everything and the second form of mental strength was what we use to get our tasks done. I suggested that the first way to get your mental strength up was to reduce your usage of trying to remember everything and that alone would free up some additional mental capacity to help you get your tasks done. After that, then you would have to work on building up the second form of mental strength by using progressive resistance - slowly adding more tasks over time to increase what you can do.

I also feel that while a lot of you can buy into the usage of thirty day challenges to change your habits and build mental strength, I might have a tougher time getting you to buy into the strategies I am going to outline in the lessons over the next few weeks. Why? Well, the main reason is because it's going to take a little more effort on your part to do and you might not necessarily feel like doing it.

As a Black Belt though, I think it's a critical lesson in improving your life. The reason is that the more time you spend on figuring out what done looks like, the easier it's going to be to get it done, and more importantly to know when you are done.

But, I look at my task here as not so much trying to convince you that this is the path that you should follow as much as it is to show you how to follow the path I recommend.

So, what I'm going to do, is spend time breaking down a task that I'd guess is central to all our days and that task is handling email and getting it down to zero.

I'm going to break this task down in a step-by-step series of articles so you can follow the steps I take to show you how I tackle getting all of the steps I do in checking my email out of my head and organized into an efficient checklist that I can then use to follow on a daily basis to start to measure my mental strength and then also build it.

Once you see how I do this process for email, then you can then use the same series of steps for just about every other thing you do each day.

As I've gone through most of the stuff on my site, I've let you see it from the beginning as it evolves. Some of you who have been following me for a while might notice the subtle changes I have made to this site every day. I let this process play out so that you can see how something starts from the beginning and ends up as a final product. What this means is that the first run through, the second run through and following run throughs bring consistent improvement.

[caption id="attachment_1310" align="alignright" width="123" caption="My initial folder setup inside my email account."][/caption]

My series on taking on email will follow a similar process. I will break down what I do each step of the way. As I look at it each day, I will then refine it as I go along as this is the way most people do stuff. Breaking down your day is something that will take you a number of hours to fully complete. This is what it will look like. Imperfect at first but eventually refined into a polished system.

It will also be taken in small steps at a time each day.

The first step for me, will be in getting my initial setup of folders inside my email account out of my head and onto my checklist. I have put a picture of my folder structure today over to the right so you can have a look.

With the exception of a couple of these, like starred, sent mail and trash, I look at each of these folders as it's own separate inbox. What I will do, is start by getting the Inbox folder in shape and then move down the folder list until I've studied what I do with each and every email that flows through these folders until I can say I've completed downloaded all the steps required to process it all PLUS actually do it each and every day. In my case, I plan on getting it to zero twice a day. Once at the beginning of the day and once at the end.

In case you are wondering, the four digit coded folders are the last four numbers of the Google voice numbers I use.

If you are a Black Belt Project member, you'll notice that I put a list of my folders in my checklist you have access to. The link to my checklist is in any of my forum posts in the forum. If you are not a member, join now to gain access to it.

So that's it for today. I broke down a little of what is involved in getting my email to zero and will pick up where I left off tomorrow.

 
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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Two Components of Mental Strength

As we are near the half way point of this month's thirty day challenge, I wanted to start working on the next phase of the white belt master training. With several members progressing through their first official challenges, I have to stay one step ahead of everyone. The nice thing about seeing other people do these thirty day challenges is that I can get some good feedback on the effect it has on people when they work through them. How they succeed, how they struggle. This feedback is invaluable to me as I fine tune the training that lies ahead.

The thing I have learned thus far is that people work at different paces. Some work fast and other work more methodically and at a slower pace. I sometimes forget that I have done a number of these challenges and they are a habit with me now. And I felt that for some I might have been moving at too fast a pace before the first lesson sinks in. So I decided to wait a few days before I started our work on the next phase which is building mental strength with checklists.

The great news is that I think phase 1 of the white belt master training - which is the thirty day challenge habit - is a concept that everyone can pick up quickly, this next phase of building mental strength with checklists might pose a bit more of a challenge.

Because that's the case, I will probably devote most of the rest of this month talking about it in detail.

For those of you that haven't been following me so far, mental strength is the amount of effort you can expend to get your daily tasks done. Those that are highly productive have much more mental strength than those who don't accomplish much every day.

I compare it to physical strength but instead of lifting weights, the weights you can lift when it comes mental strength are the tasks you can complete. If you find it difficult to get something done, it's probably a function of just not being mentally strong enough to do it.

Mental strength varies from person to person and even day to day for each person. All of us possess mental strength. Some not very much because they are out of shape. Others a lot because they work on it every day.

Whichever camp you are in, you want to improve your mental strength so you can get more done. Just like physical strength can be increased by lifting more weights, mental strength can be improved by doing more tasks.

Here, I advocate using a concept of progressive resistance. To improve your mental strength, the first step is to assess what your mental strength is and then add a progressively small number of tasks over time to increase it. These small increases in the number of tasks you complete don't shock the system as much but over time add a significant increase in mental strength if you keep doing it over a long period of time.

Once you understand that concept, the next thing I would like to go over is what I believe to be the two basic components of mental strength.

The first component is the mental strength we use to remember all of the things we do without the help of some reminder system outside of our head. The sheer volume of what we remember without outside assistance is incredible.

The second component of mental strength is the effort and energy we muster up to complete the tasks we do.

With that in mind, the first concept I would like to throw out to you is that if you reduce the amount of mental strength required to remember everything, you increase the amount of mental strength you have to complete the tasks you face.

This increases your capacity to get things done without much effort.

The way you do that is by getting everything that you do out of your head and into some sort of system you can refer to. The tool you use to do that is the checklist.

So when we tackle building your mental strength, the first thing that we are going to do, is to start recording everything we do into the form of a checklist.

As we start to do that, you will start to feel a little more mental strength as the overhead you carry around diminishes. Then the next step will be to start to work on improving the second component which is your ability to do the tasks you need to do.
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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Complete Step-By-Step Guide On How To Do Successful Thirty Day Challenges And Make Them A Habit

One of the first things that I suggest you master as a student is the ability to change your habits. I put this first because if you want to really accomplish things you have never achieved, you are going to have to change what you are doing. If you can't do that, then those goals will remain out of reach. It's for that reason that I wanted to put to together this complete step-by-step guide on how to do successful thirty day challenges and make them stick. It's the cornerstone of the program.

Here are the steps I would take to master the thirty day challenge.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

White Belt Master Training Day 7 Begin Visualizing What You Want Out Of Life

On day 7 of your White Belt Master Training, I'd like you to start thinking about what you want your life to be like because what we are going to do is start our work on actively visualizing your future. The first step is to start to picture how you might want things to be. For many people, getting a clear picture of what they want doesn't come easy. So, when you start out here, I don't want you to worry about it being crystal clear to you. Just to get started thinking about it.

I want to give you an example here of how we are going to go about this so you can see why complete clarity at the outset isn't the most important thing - just getting started is.

Let's take my White Belt Master Training. When I started the Black Belt Project, I didn't know what the completed product would be. I didn't even know what the colors of the belts would be or what they would represent. And even today, I I'm not sure exactly what it will look like when it's completely done. I did, however, have a general idea that in my own life, I wanted to get to a point where I felt I had gotten it to a black belt - or a mastered state.

I figured that other people might be like that too.

So, I just started thinking about it. And, I would start taking some sort of action on the site to get me moving in that direction.

And what's happened is that every day that goes by that I take some sort of action to keep moving towards the vague concept of mastery - both for myself and for you my reader - a clearer and clearer idea starts to take shape.

While it's not there completely, I've invited you along for the ride so you can see it take shape. To see all it's imperfection along the way.  In that way, you can see a vision take shape, you can see actions moving towards it and you can see the refinements in the process as we go along.

I do that so that you can see the master, I suppose that's me, practice what he preaches. But more importantly that you can see that the process works.

After you read this, start thinking about things you might really want. Where would you want to live? What kind of work do you want to do? Who do you want to surround yourself with? What do you think would have to happen for you to feel that your life was mastered?

Just get something in your head. Tomorrow, we'll start working on it further.

 
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Friday, January 6, 2012

White Belt Master Training Start To Track Your Milestones

In day seven of your White Belt Master Training I discuss starting to keep track of your milestones at the Black Belt Project. It's a video, be sure and maximize the screen to get the best view of the video.

[S3VIDEO file='video/whitebeltmastertrainingday6.mp4']
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

How To Set Up Your Checklists To Measure Mental Strength

Today is White Belt Master Training day number 5. In today's lesson, I did a video to walk you through how to use a daily checklist to measure your mental strength. This video is available to members only.

The New Year is a great time to start to create change, build mental strength and design the life you want. Several members have started their thirty day challenges and at the end of this month, we should have a few white belt masters we can congratulate.

What are you doing today to master your life? If you are doing the same old same old, it's time to figure out how to be proactive and join the Dojo today.
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White Belt Master Training Day 5 The Mechanics Behind Measuring Your Mental Strength

Today's training is a video lesson. Be sure and maximize the video so you can see it.

[S3VIDEO file='video/whitebeltmasterday5.mp4']
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why It's Important To Track Your Thirty Day Challenges

I wrapped up day four of the White Belt Master Training in the members area. Today I talked about how to keep track of your thirty day challenges and why it's important. As I have said in the past, one of the basics at mastering your life is the ability to master change. You master how to change by successfully completing thirty day challenges on a monthly basis.

You want to keep track of all of your successful thirty day challenges so you can see how much you have grown and how much mentally stronger you have gotten over time.

I go over specifically how to do that and also what to do if you don't successfully complete a challenge. So, as we work our way through the White Belt Master Training, I hope you will join us by becoming a member of the Black Belt Project.
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White Belt Master Training Day 4 Tracking Your Thirty Day Challenges

On Day 4, I want to revisit the thirty day challenges you are doing. Part of the psychology behind the thirty day challenge is to create a mindset that you can do something that you set out to do. That's why I suggest that you start out with something easy that you know you can succeed at for thirty days. Small successes create momentum that generate larger ones. That's why I want you to get in the habit of keeping track of these successes so you can look back and see how far you have come.

Plus, I want other members to see how much stronger you are from when you started to.

I've already notched several of these thirty day challenges. Here are several I have done already.

  • I gave up diet coke

  • I gave up fried food

  • I walked every day

  • I gave up snacks wrapped in plastic

  • I wrote on this site everyday


Over time, I am going to create quite a list of things that I was successful at changing in my life for the better and over time I will start to challenge myself with harder things to accomplish. And so will you. The longer your list gets, the better you will feel about yourself and the more likely you will know that you can succeed at things you set out to do.

A white belt master starts a new challenge every thirty days. And a white belt master continues the challenges you have already done. That's why, I haven't had a diet coke in nearly nine months now. I haven't had a french fry or those awesome chicken fingers in nearly eight months. I haven't had a nutty bar in probably three months. I have walked for many months now.

Were there challenges that I didn't succeed at? Yes there were a couple. But remember that the most important rule here at the Black Belt Project is that we don't talk about what we haven't done. Don't worry if you do a couple and then you fail one. Start another at the beginning of the next month. Your failures will start to be fewer as you get stronger.

So here is what I want you to do. I'd like for every member to have their own forum thread devoted to their thirty day challenges. Give the thread in the forum a name like this ( I've also linked it to mine as well):

Thirty Day Challenges - The Virtual Sensei

Then on the first day of the month, decide what your challenge will be, DO IT and then post what your challenge for the month will be and that you have completed day one. You need to complete the first day before you post what your challenge is. Not what you think your challenge will be. Something you have decided on and that you have completed on day 1.

Then as you succeed each day, go to your forum thread, post that you completed your challenge for the day. For me today, my post looked like this.

"Completed day 4 of my thirty day challenge. Walked for three miles!"

Do this every day until the end of thirty days. You'll then repeat the process with another challenge.

If you can't make it to the forum on a certain day yet still complete your challenge, it's ok to say, I completed day 3 and 4 of my challenge or something like that.

What do you do if you fail. You don't post and you start again the next month. This forum thread is not to be used for reasons why you didn't complete a challenge or to single you out if you fail. Remember we are a community of action takers. We only talk about what we have done.

If you are following another member and they didn't finish a challenge you say nothing to the member. Wait until they start another challenge. Then let them know to keep going for it.

Does that make sense?

Once you have created your thread, get the link to your thread and put it in your forum signature. See my thread for how this looks.

OK. That's it for day four. Go to the forum and get your thread started and put it in your signature.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

White Belt Master Training Day 3 - The Formula For Active Visualization

Over the last two days, you've started to lay the ground work to become a White Belt Master. You've started a thirty day challenge to learn how to change. You have started a checklist to start to begin the process to measure your mental strength. On day three, before I expand on those concepts, the next concept I want to introduce is how to begin what I call active visualization.

A few years ago, there was a popular book called "The Secret". It was marketed quite well. Even Oprah got behind it. The book is based on a concept called the Law of Attraction. Basically, the idea is that if you think it, it will come true for you.

And while, I do believe in The Secret's philosophy and believe that the Law of Attraction works, I don't believe it works without one important additional component. That component is - ACTION.

While it is entirely possible to attract what you want through the power of your mind, it becomes even more likely that you will get what you want out of life if you also take steps to achieve it.

I call this process active visualization and it works like this.

If there is something that you want to have or accomplish, you have to figure out what a small step would be to do it and then take that step. Then you have to repeat it by taking another small step and you have to repeat it again.

Your mind is a powerful thing. It can attract what you desire. But nothing gets your mind working when it knows you are serious about what you visualize.

Once your mind sees a mental picture it can help you figure out how to get it. Only thinking about what you want only uses part of the brains power.

What is even more powerful is when your mind pictures what you want and then sees an action taken to achieve it. Ask yourself what the next step is and you will be amazed at the answers it comes up with.

Results of actions taken give the brain more power to figure out how to accomplish what you want. It creates clarity. The more actions that you take towards a specific vision, the more data your brain has to work with and it starts identifying more ways to get there.

And then a funny thing happens. The law of attraction kicks in. People and resources find a way into your life to help you achieve what you want and before you know it. What you visualized is a reality.

So here is the formula:

VISION + ACTION + REVIEW + REPEATED ACTION = REALITY

What I need you to do today is ask yourself, what is something that you really think you want. Then ask yourself what is one small step you can take to reach it.

I talk more about this in today's podcast.
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Monday, January 2, 2012

White Belt Master Training Day Two - Assessing Your Mental Strength

OK. So I completed my thirty day challenge for day two by walking for three miles again today. As a white belt, you need to continue your  thirty day challenge for the next thirty days. For day two of our White Belt Master Training, it's time to start assessing your mental strength.

Mental strength is what you need each day to complete the tasks before us. If you aren't doing, there's a good chance you aren't mentally strong enough to do those tasks. The solution, improve your mental strength.

I talked yesterday about how the thirty day challenge is a test of your mental strength. It's about learning how to change. I always suggest that you should change slow to create successes to prove to yourself that you can change. This creates momentum and makes it easier to create more change.

When it comes to mental strength. I think there are two things at work. One is figuring out exactly how much you want to do in a day. The second part is figuring out how to do it.

In my analogy yesterday, I talked about the gym and doing the bench press exercise. That if I was to teach you how to bench press, I would start you with the bar and then slowly add weight over time in small increments. This progressive resistance over a long period of time builds physical strength.

To build mental strength, our piece of equipment is the checklist. The checklist is just like the bench press equipment in the gym. The weight that we will add in small increments are tasks we want to accomplish on daily basis.

If you can, I want you to picture a big binder that contains a complete instruction manual on how to do everything you would need to do in a day. It would be a series of checklists for anything that came up that needed to be done. And it would be organized in such a way that someone else could step in and say oh, here are the exact steps I need to do that.

Next, I want you to picture the bench press with a bar with 250 pounds on it.

Creating a binder with all the instructions in the first example might require a comparable about of mental strength compared to the physical strength required to lift the 250 pounds.

Both might be hard to fathom you being able to do.

Now though, I want you to picture the bench press with bar with no weight and that you only have to lift it once.

And a blank piece of paper with one simple item to do on it like watch tv for an hour with the knowledge that is all you have do and everything would be done.

I think that you would probably agree with me that both seem a lot easier now, right?

So what I want you do today is to start putting tasks that you know you have to do each day on a checklist. These are the weights. I want you to start with five tasks at first if you think you can handle it. Don't worry about what the future of this checklist will be. Just start with five. If you can't do five. Add one.

These would probably best be things that you consider routine. Things you are probably doing anyway.

For example, I'm walking every day. It would be very easy for me to start such a checklist. It might look like this.

  • Put on compression shorts

  • Put on shorts

  • Put on T-shirt

  • Put on socks

  • Put on shoes

  • Put on sweatshirt

  • Get keys

  • Drive to gym

  • Take sweatshirt off

  • Get on treadmill

  • Press quick start button

  • Set warm-up walking speed at 2.5 miles

  • Increase speed by one tenth of a mile each minute

  • Set walking speed to 3.5 miles per hour at five minutes

  • Set incline to 1.0

  • Walk for three miles

  • At three miles start cool down

  • Reduce incline to zero

  • Reduce walking speed by .5 mph each minute

  • Put on sweatshirt

  • Drive home


As you can see, just for my walking three miles for my challenge, I put 21 items on my checklist. You can start with just "walk for three miles" and put that on your checklist. You don't have to be as detailed - when you start. But later, I am going to suggest that you do that.

What's going to happen here is that for each part of you day, we'll start building checklist for all of your routines and then start building a list that you will start to do from start to finish.

Wherever you eventually get stuck is how mentally strong you are.

For now, though, get at least five items on your checklist.

I'll tell you what to with it tomorrow. Here's today's podcast that let's you hear me explain the process as well.

 
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

White Belt Master Day 1: The Most Important Rule In The Dojo Kun And Getting Your Thirty Day Challenge Underway

Okay white belt students. It's day one of the journey to White Belt Master. I'm excited for you. I'm excited because I know that you want a better life than you feel you have today. In order to achieve that, it probably is a safe bet that you need to change some things in your life. Maybe better habits. Maybe taking action to move towards goals you have set for yourself. It all begins here, with one small step. But rather than just provide you with a cheer leading session, I'm going to do more than that. Over the next month, I'm going to show you how to do it step by step. I'm also going to train with you along the way.

Your first step is to read the Dojo Kun. These are the training rules of the Dojo here at the Black Belt Project. One rule I want to review today is the one that talks about doing.

My vision for you and for all members of the Black Belt Project community is that we will be action takers. It's all fine and well to talk about what we want in life but talk is cheap.

Not too long ago, I met a guy by chance at a restaurant. He was a talker that is for sure. He told me he didn't just talk the talk. He walked the walk. But the funny thing was that after he talked for a while, I got quite a different impression. That was, that he was probably just all talk.

You've probably encountered that situation before or been guilty of it as I have too. We all have lofty dreams and great aspirations. But just talking about them, doesn't make it happen. It takes one secret ingredient. That secret ingredient is that you must take action to make dreams a reality.

That's why, I've got one very important rule as you train here and it's going to form the basis for all our future growth. That rule is that we as students of our lives can only talk about what we have actually done.

This means that if you go to the forums and talk about what you want to achieve, instead of what you have done to achieve a result, if I see it, I'm going to ask you to revise it.

I see this as the biggest challenge to our membership. It's going to be easy to talk about what we would like to accomplish and quite another to actually do. Keep in mind, that the first main rule is that we only talk about what we have done.

With that said, your first mission as a white belt is to learn how to install change in your life. And to do that, you begin a thirty day challenge. The psychology behind the thirty day challenge is simple. It is to show you that you can change something in your life for thirty days. If you can do it for thirty days, you can do it for longer.

How do I know that? Well, you were strong enough to do it for thirty days. I know you are strong enough to continue it. The problem is that no one probably expects it of you. Most often, we don't expect it of ourselves.

It's often been said that it takes thirty days to change a habit, but no one really talks about how to keep it. I mean, what happens after thirty days. You can't just forget about it. So once you complete this first challenge, then that's where you set the bar. You must continue that change after the thirty days is up. You then begin another challenge.

With that in mind, it's important, especially with your first challenge to make it something easy. Make it something that you know you can do. Make it something you need to do. But make it something that you know you will do for sure.

Look at it like going to the gym and lifting weights. This first time out, I'm only asking you to lift the bar without any weights. Once you show me you can lift the bar, then I'm going to ask you to put some one pound weights on it and do it again. Every month, we are all white belts. We're just adding a little more weight to our bars.

I found it easy to not do something the first time out. I gave up diet coke. It required no effort. I found this the easiest thing to do. Give something up. Once you have a few successes like that, it begins time to start a challenge that requires effort. For me, that was to start walking. After a few successes though, I was up for it and did complete my walking challenge easily. I just didn't walk too far. I started with ten minutes a day.

You'll be tempted to take on more than you can mentally do for thirty days and beyond at first. It's only natural. My advice, go easy at first. Don't create a strain. Also, I'd also focus on one challenge at at time. You can do other things. You just can't make it an official challenge you measure yourself by.

For me, I've been doing this for a few months now. My thirty day challenge is to walk three miles each day. At first, that would have been a lot for me. But now, I know that I am strong enough at this point to do it. No problem. You will get to this point too.

So as you begin your challenge, you might notice that stating your challenge is not congruent with the major rule here at the Black Belt Project which is you can only talk about what you have done.

Here's how you deal with that. You can only reveal your thirty day challenge once you take one action to complete it. I walked for three miles today. I completed my challenge. I'll keep you posted on my challenge but only after I complete it each day.

You should do the same. I've included a podcast here for you as well that talks more about getting started. I'll talk to you in day 2 tomorrow.

 
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