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Last Updated on July 21, 2020

The Secret of Success: 10 Tough Things to Do First

The Secret of Success: 10 Tough Things to Do First

Eat the ugly frog first.

I enjoy tossing that line out when I give a speech, often accompanied on the big screen by a photograph of a large and exceedingly unattractive reptile. But it is based on the truth that if you eat an ugly frog for breakfast, the rest of the day will be much better.

This gets to the heart of procrastination and its counterpart — self-discipline.

Procrastination is more than the art of keeping up with yesterday. It is the active avoidance of doing things that are dull, tedious, disinteresting, boring or stressful. Yet life and business have a lot of these elements. I ran a publicly traded semiconductor company for 37 years, and there were days I did not want to look at the latest financial numbers or help debug production facility equipment issue. But those were my ugly frogs, and I ate them with gusto.

Discipline overcomes procrastination because, and I note in my book Tough Things First, discipline is doing what you don’t like doing and doing it well.

If you have 10 things that need to be done, and you put off the one thing you dislike, it still needs doing eventually. Yet while you do the other nine tasks, the single unpleasant one weighs on your mind, drains your enthusiasm, zaps your motivation, saps your energy, and generally makes you miserable.

Contrarily, if you do the tough things first, if you eat your ugly frog for breakfast, the other tasks fly by. You are liberated from delay, freed from anxiety, and joyful in all other pursuits. I have discovered that my personal productivity rises 20% when my disagreeable task is in my “out box”.

This is not just a business prescription. Life is loaded with ugly frogs. This is why New Year resolutions are always made (because the tough things have fallen by the wayside) and quickly abandoned (because they are still tough things). Yet each procrastination creates a drag on your body, health, mindset, willpower and spunk. Each ugly frog you avoid ingesting is the one you see on your breakfast table the next morning. They simply don’t go away, and they spawn newer and uglier frogs.

Soon enough, you cannot wade through your breakfast nook for the thicket of frogs you have allowed to accumulate.

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Here is a personal case in point. My partner and co-founder Warren led a frog-free life. This included his health habits. He was not one to diet or exercise, and he smoked relentlessly. His life was not devoted to eating the ugly frogs necessary for good health. He died at age 69, while I’m still running strong at age 81 in what can only jokingly be called “retirement”. Truth be told, I’m working harder and enjoying it more than ever.

What ugly frogs do you have in your cupboard? Here are 10 frogs you should swallow.

1. A Rigorous Daily Exercise Program

I once saw a stand-up comedian who said he didn’t exercise because “it is boring, and it hurts.” That’s two ugly frogs on one plate!

But your body and mind are an interrelated system, one in which maintenance is critical. A “healthy mind in a healthy body” is the oldest of adages and was written because it is a core truth.

And here is the fun bit:

Exercise makes all the other tasks easier and more enjoyable because the body and mind are fully ready to take them on.

2. Eat Three Healthy Meals Each Day

I have had employees for who donuts were a primary food group. Some salesmen live on fast food while on the road. Others think whiskey and fried chicken is all they need for dinner. And none of those people excelled.

As with exercise, the body – and thus the mind – cannot operate well enough to do the tough things ahead, and this enables procrastination. This in turn allows the ugly frogs in your life to gather and breed.

Here’s some nice advice for you: 9 Simple Healthy Eating Rules for Busy People

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3. Do the Task You Dread First

Not second. Not after lunch. Not “when I can get around to it.” But now!

Before anyone else has had enough coffee to speak coherently, when you awake, write down the 10 things you need to get done and order them from the least pleasant to the most. Then don’t dare move on to item #2 until item #1 is complete.

4. Repair a Relationship

Find someone with whom you have a problem and do a little work to heal things.

We are not alone in life or in work. We depend on people and they depend on us. When relationships are dysfunctional, so are our lives.

It can be very unpleasant approaching someone with whom you are not getting along, but it is vastly more unpleasant to allow the relationship to fester. Heal it sooner rather than later.

Take a look at these 15 Ways to Rebuild a Broken Relationship and learn how to repair a relationship.

5. Find Someone Different Each Day to Shower Praise

Humans need to feel valued. That is part of the problem in our inner cities – the youth feel devalued and turn to gangs for any sense of validation.

Your family, your friends, your coworkers, your boss, your pastor, your mechanic, your waitress … they all need to feel appreciated because they are all human beings.

Don’t praise only the select few with whom you associate most often. Find someone for whom your praise will seemingly come from out of nowhere. It makes their day.

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6. Read a Good Book Once a Month

Groucho Marx once said:

“I find television very educational. Whenever someone turns on a television, I go into another room and read a book.”

Books are educational. Even good fiction exposes you to other societies, philosophies, cultures and thinking. With the marvels of the digital age, there are more and more books one every conceivable topic hitting the “shelves” every day.

Instead of wasting an hour watching TV after dinner, invest an hour reading.

Leo Babauta has some unique suggestions on picking up reading: 14 Ways to Cultivate a Lifetime Reading Habit

7. Limit Your Time on Devices

We stare at rectangles a lot these days — our phones, our tablets, or computer monitors, and our televisions.

Digital devices do provide a lot of value, just ask any grandparent who gets videos of their grandchildren on a regular basis. But some people don’t know when to stop, endlessly scrolling through page after page of meaningless content.

Set a daily limit on your device time and stick to that limit. Here’s a simple guide on how to do it: The Ultimate Guide To Unplugging Technology For A Better Life

8. Work No More Than 48 Hours per Week

I ran a semiconductor company in a very competitive industry for 37 years and rarely worked longer than this.

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If you find yourself working long hours, then add this ugly frog to your list for tomorrow:

Discover and cure what is dysfunctional in your job, team or company that is causing you to work overtime … and fix it.

9. Be Frugal – Spend Wisely

Money is like oxygen – life gets unlivable if you run out. Yet people commonly spend on things they don’t need, stuffing older possessions into storage to make room for the new items.

Being frugal is not being cheap. It is merely not spending on things you really do not need.

By not spending, you both increase your cash/oxygen and remove the stress of wanting “things”. The Buddhists are right in observing that desire is the source of much misery.

Get more inspirations from this article: 7 Ways To Spend Money Wisely

10. Learn to Love What You Hate Doing

Enjoy your ugly frogs. When I ran my company, I found joy in joyless tasks by knowing that my attention to those details and seeing how every aspect of my company was operating, fulfilled my vision. Eating my ugly frogs led me to being profitable 36 of my 37 years in business.

Above all else, know that doing is the soul of life. Doing what you don’t like doing, and doing it well, brings vast rewards … but only after your plate of ugly frogs is cleared.

More About Achieving Success

Featured photo credit: Eunice De Guzman via unsplash.com

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Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author and the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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