The Rise and Fall of my Intention Log

Every once in a while I start a new self-tracking habit that doesn’t quite work out for one reason or another. This post is dedicated to one such endeavor: the “Intention Log” which began on 9/29/13.

My Intention Log was directly inspired by Mariel Hemingway (yes, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway). I saw her interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday.

I particularly enjoyed her interview because she shared her personal stories of how she overcame her struggles. She voiced her vulnerabilities, which, according to Brené Brown is a really good thing. More on vulnerability in a future post….

At one point she mentioned something about rituals, and how her morning ritual of making tea is sacred to her (watch an excerpt from the interview here). Ever since then I’ve really enjoyed my morning ritual of having coffee in the kitchen while answering emails.

It’s funny, but I used to think of ways I could automate the coffee brewing process, kind of like Doc Brown from Back to the future and the dog food. But ever since that episode of Super Soul Sunday I’ve actually really enjoyed making it all by myself.

I know, I’m so grown up.

Back to Mariel (sounds like a great 70’s sitcom right?)

Another thing she mentioned was how every night before going to bed she would set an intention for the next day. I really liked that idea. And since I had already created the habit of creating new habits (more on that in my pioneer post New Habits), I decided to see what all the hullabaloo was about and give it a shot for myself.

I created a new outline in my CarbonFin Outliner account and began writing intentions for the next day. Of course, I also added a task in my ToDo app and set the repeat interval to “daily.”

To bring the abstract into the concrete, here’s an example of an early entry:

  • Add value to [censored client name]’s life
  • Brighten everyone’s day at Blake’s office and improve their workflow by enhancing the Beyond Tells excel tool
  • Bring smile to people’s faces
  • Feel love for everything and everyone, and spread that with others

As you can see, I wasn’t sure how broad or specific to go. After all, what is an intention, really? Instead of investigating this question further, I just did whatever came naturally to me. At first it only took me a minute or two to jot down my intention and then just go to sleep.

And then a few things happened…

First I noticed that it was taking me longer and longer to come up with my intentions.

Here’s an example of a later entry:

  • Wake up feeling rested and full of joy
  • Have a remarkably productive day and be damn proud of it

Believe it or not that took me a while to come up with. Not because it’s so incredibly complex, but because I was trying to find a balance between broad/specific, and abstract/tangible.

Secondly, and here’s the real kicker, I noticed that I didn’t feel any better as a result of writing these intentions. Especially when I compare that to the effect mediation had on me. I didn’t find myself thinking about my intentions during the day, and I didn’t feel any more grateful or happy as a result of having recorded them the night before.

So just like that, on 11/6/13, just 38 days after beginning, I stopped cold turkey. Not to be confused with hot turkey, which I’ll be having next week for Thanksgiving. Mmmm….

So what did I learn here?

It’s great to be open to trying new things, since that’s how I began self tracking in the first place. However, it’s also super important to pay attention to when things do NOT work out.

It actually reminds me of the Lean Startup methodology. Fail early, and fail often (and if at all possible, learn from those mistakes). It’s funny, but even though I’ve heard so much about Lean Startup methodology and framework by Eric Ries I still haven’t read it. Perhaps it’s a whisper that I should take the time to actually read it?

So yeah, even though this intention log was… wait for it… well intentioned (badam ching!), I decided to abandon ship after only 38 days. To not do so would mean going down with the ship just for the sake of saying that I didn’t quit.

No thanks, I’ll choose activities that add value to my life instead 🙂

What have you tried recently that fell flat on its face? How long did it take you to realize things weren’t working and stop? Don’t forget to share your story (or a small excerpt of it) in the comments.

Accountability Partner: You Don’t Have One? Get One!

Last week we discussed how joining a group and sharing your personal goals can catapult your effectiveness into the stratosphere: Collective Inspiration, Meet Personal Accountability.

This week I will share some of the specific benefits of meeting with my accountability partner Georges Janin, every week since December 2, 2012.

So how did it come to pass you might ask?

I see it as a series of fortunate events (not to be confused with Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I accepted a commission-only sales position for Your Office Agent in Dec 2011, and proceeded to spend about 4 months, and well over 100 hours, to earn a big fat $ZILCH in commission. For those of you who aren’t math wizards… this wasn’t exactly the best use of my time.

In reality, I have nobody to blame but myself. And as I’m sure you’ve already deciphered, it actually worked out for the best anyway. #woot

So there I was, in a position of selling temporary real estate solutions to small-medium sized businesses in NYC. I needed to improve my selling skills. And fast. Luckily (or was it fate?), I stumbled upon a Skillshare class taught by Georges Janin called “The Art of the Cold Call” and enrolled on 2/8/12.

After the class, I distinctly remember thinking “Now here’s a guy who is not only really good at his craft, but also genuinely enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with other people.”

Curiosity = Piqued

A few weeks later, a multi-session sales course offered by Georges found its way into my inbox. I signed up immediately. A few days before the course was scheduled to begin however, I received the following email from Georges:

(And by the way, notice the stellar customer service skills he exhibits here. It still amazes me how the overwhelming majority of businesses get this part so shamefully wrong, so take notes!)

“I wanted to update you on the Art of the Sale. A few large developments have taken place on my end…. Because of that I am not going to do the Art of the Sale at least for now. Sorry about that.

There are 2 options for you. I can:

-Refund you. Which I can do in a click.
-Do a 1-1 Sales Course that would take place over a 4 hour period and would be specific to your business. Sort of like the course but accelerated and personalized. We would do it in the next few weeks depending on your schedule.

Just tell me what your preference is and I’ll make it happen!



It was a no-brainer. “Sign me up for option 2 please!”

Fast forward to our first meeting

Georges deconstructed my professional goals, and identified how to best achieve them from a sales perspective. He also had a keen eye and a business savvy that I didn’t see in any of my friends or acquaintances at the time.

Before leaving, he mentioned that he wanted to learn how to salsa dance. How interesting… I just happened to have taught beginner salsa classes for 2 years to over 2,600 people. Why don’t we arrange a little barter? Sales/business training for salsa dance instruction? Let’s just say it was an easy sell :).

For 4 months I taught Georges everything I knew as a Salsa dancer. In exchange, I was getting a unique behind the scenes look into the mind of a sales genius. Georges had a remarkable way of breaking down my ideas and simplifying them. I can’t even begin to quantify how much time and energy he saved me. And you know how much I like to quantify things… haha.

To sum it up, here are some of the benefits of having met every week for the past year:

  • A fresh, outside perspective. Sometimes the solution to a particular challenge was RIGHT in front of me, but I could never see it because I was too close to it. Having someone from the outside who was invested enough in my success has proven to be invaluable, time and time again.
  • Accountability. You better believe that I wasn’t going to show each week NOT having accomplished what I said I would. Ok, so it happened a few times, but it felt really crappy, and I tried extra hard to not let it happen again.
  • Staying on track. I used to be notoriously bad at getting distracted by what Georges and I refer to as “shiny objects” or business opportunities that seem cool, but are actually not at all related to our primary goals. In other words, Major de-railers. Major no-no’s.
  • Fun. It was awesome to talk about what I accomplished each week to someone else who was as motivated as I was to succeed. After all, I couldn’t just talk to my friends for an hour about my business achievements. “That’s great Shir, but can we just enjoy this drink and play another game of shuffleboard?”

If that’s not totally worth it, I don’t know what is.

Want to start your own accountability partner sessions?

I have tried a few others and none have worked quite as well as with Georges. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Get to know each other before beginning sessions. I tried once without knowing the person too well, and I found myself feeling a lack of emotional investment on both our parts. I also didn’t know how to advise them because I didn’t know them well enough.
  • Compatible personalities is essential. If you can’t stand being in the same room together, it ain’t gonna work. Big fat DUH!
  • Similar core values and complimentary talents are a major plus. Both need a strong work ethic, and take self improvement and professional development seriously. It also really helped for example that Georges was really good at sales and I’m really good at staying organized and implementing strategies to stay intrinsically motivated.
  • You absolutely positively MUST respect each other’s time. I cannot stress this point enough. Show up late once and it might be forgivable. Show up late again and I will cut you out of my life so fast it will make your head spin. Is it just me, or is this a major deal-breaker?
  • You both need to be equally driven & dedicated to success. This should go without saying, but you’re simply not going to stick with regular meetings unless you’re both taking it seriously.

So what are you waiting for?

If you already know someone who fits the profile I just described, propose the idea to them. If you don’t, go ahead and sign up for classes or attend seminars/events in your area of interest. I have found speakers/teachers to be excellent candidates for accountability partnerships.

Either way, don’t forget to tell me about it in the comments!

P.S. Here was my inspiration for the title of this post: Toy Story moving buddy quote

Collective Inspiration, Meet Personal Accountability

What do you get when you combine Collective Inspiration with Personal Accountability? According to Bassam Tarazi, you get Colipera!, In his words,

“Colipera is a free 4-week goal setting & execution methodology that allows *you* to lean on *us*; It’s the social virus for getting things done. Together, be better. Ready to get infected?”

How Colipera Works from Colipera on Vimeo.

Along with many other useful morsels of wisdom baked into this motivational framework, is the concept of synergy. You know, the whole two-brains-are-better-than-one spiel. When human beings are grouped together, wonderful, dare I say magical things happen. One of us will have an idea, and share it with the group. This can spark another idea, which creates a chain reaction of inspiration. David Kelley, founder of the design firm IDEO calls it “Design Thinking,” which he describes here in an interview with Charlie Rose.

My first Colipera group (Sounds like a great title for a family scrapbook, doesn’t it?)

Back in the winter of 2012 I participated in a collaborative, curated, Colipera group led by the one and only Bassam Tarazi. For 5 weeks, all 4 participants shared our goals and kept each other accountable.

By the way, why can’t we seem to finish what we start? Because finishing is a skill dammit! It doesn’t just happening magically on its own, as you can see in Bassam’s blog post: “The one make or break skill you think you have but probably don’t.”

But I digress…

The primary goal I set for myself in the Colipera group was to attain a certain sales goal and income level at a new job I had just started. It was a flexible real estate solution, commission only sales position at a company called Your Office Agent. Something which I knew nothing about, but seemed like a good way to expand my knowledge and skill sets, and potentially make a lot of money in the process. Didn’t quite turn out that way, but more on that in a moment.

In the meantime, here were my original goals for the Colipera group:

  • Earn my first $5,000 from Your Office Agent commissions by February 1st, 2012.
  • Contact at least 60 new prospects (3 per weekday), while following up with all previously contacted prospects.
  • Schedule meetings / show space to at least 5 interested leads.
  • Close at least 1 deal earning me $5,000 in commissions.

And then something interesting happened

Every week my goals kept changing. For a while it actually felt pretty discouraging. Was I not sticking to the program? Was I screwing up somehow?

Thankfully, Bassam and the other participants helped me realize that in fact, I was adapting to the changes in the environment. More importantly, to not adapt would be foolish. After all, it’s not that I wasn’t trying, it’s that my goals were no longer appropriate given my new insights into the company and the industry as a whole. When I set my original goals, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so it only makes sense that they might require some realignment.

Several weeks, and a few half eaten pints of Ben & Jerry’s later, my new goals looked like this:

  • Earn my first $1,000 from Your Office Agent commissions by February 1st, 2012.
  • Get 1-2 inquiries per day from Craig’s List consistently, and close 4-5 deals per month.
  • Train with Bob and learn how to run a networking group for at least 2 hours.
  • Work with Sam for at least 2 hours how to penetrate corporate accounts.

For the record, I didn’t achieve any of those goals either. But before you start picking out decorations to the pity party of the decade, you should know that I did learn a ton from the experience.

Here are some of my “Aha moments” from those 5 week:

  • When I wrote down my goals, it made it much easier for me to keep them at the forefront of my mind during my day to day activities, which invariably helped me stay focused, and keep my “eyes on the prize.”
  • As the week progressed, I was 10x more motivated to stay on track with my goals because I was meeting with other people who were holding me accountable. It’s not like they would have actually shamed or ridiculed me. Rather, it was the prospect of taking the subway all the way down to our meeting spot, and showing up empty handed. No way I would let myself end up in that particularly embarrassing pool of hot water.
  • When I helped other people with their goals I felt fantastic afterwards. The mere act of giving someone else feedback and encouragement motivated me to complete my own goals. I was beginning to see the genius behind the contagious virus analogy that Bassam created for Colipera.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you only go as far as your five closest friends. Put another way, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

Let me put it to you this way:

The single most effective way to master any skill or accomplish any goal is to surround yourself with people who have already succeeded in that area.

Think about it. One of two things can happen:

1) You stop spending time with those people.
2) You force yourself to adapt and rise to their level.

We simply cannot exist in the disharmony of continuing to spend time with them while NOT rising to their level. It’s like positive daily affirmations. My brain can’t handle me saying that I’m successful, while simultaneously facing the physical, tangible manifestations of me being a failure. Oil and water my friends. Oil and water.

How to set up long-term accountability

In next week’s post, I’ll talk about how I set up weekly meetings with my friend Georges Janin, which was the single biggest contributor to my success in the past year. Granted my journey isn’t over yet. I still have a long way to go to realize my dream of owning a condo in NYC with a bar, dance floor, and breathtaking views. (For more information on this and other goals, please refer to my posts on How I Stay Wildly Effective with Wildly Important Goals and The Best 15 Minutes of My Day)

But just to drive this point home, it’s not about how much further I still have to climb. Rather, it’s that I wouldn’t have made it nearly this high had I not met with him every week since 12/2/12.

Sharing is Caring

So tell me…

What groups, clubs, or communities are you a part of? How much more or less successful have you been at the behaviors regularly practiced in that group since you joined?

Think about it.

…And then share it in the comments. You’ll be happy you did :).

NYC Subway + Tunnel Vision = Flow

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as “…a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.” Thanks Wikipedia!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I know it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: New York City is awesome!

Where else do you have access to any cuisine, anytime, anywhere? There are so many different people from all over the world, in such a small geographic area. Want to take a cooking class? Pottery class? Join a Flash Mob? You name it, NYC’s got it!

And how does the city that never sleeps get people from point A to point B? Public transportation, a.k.a. the subway.

I was 12 years old the first time I rode the subway by myself. To put that in context for all you non-native New Yorkers, it was the emotional equivalent of getting my driver’s license.

One huge advantage of the subway, is since I’m not driving the train, I can get work done on the way. This goes back to Tony Robbin’s concept of No Extra Time or (N.E.T.) time, illustrated here with him answering emails while walking on a treadmill. I’m already riding the train anyway, so doing work would take zero extra time away from other things. And until we develop transporter technology, that’s not going to change anytime soon. By the way, any diehard Trekkie fans want to get on that? I’ll be the first on your waiting list!

It’s not all peaches and cream though. Here are some potential drawbacks of working on the subway:

  • No Internet access. This is not actually a problem, since there is always plenty of work that doesn’t require being “plugged in.” Anyone else feel like Neo from The Matrix sometimes? This mostly takes the form of writing (like this blog post!) and brainstorming (like the Mindstorm that generated the idea for this blog post!).
  • Major service changes that affect my usual route. This doesn’t usually happen, but if it does I need to actually pay attention to announcements which invariably distract me from my work. Sad face.
  • Very crowded trains. Fortunately, I rarely travel during rush hour. I make a point not to go anywhere before 2 pm unless absolutely necessary. If I’m downtown, I also make a point to stay out later until the evening rush hour ends at about 7 or 8.
  • The massively annoying and infamously un-entertaining “showtime” guys. I’m not sure who started it, but there are at least a dozen separate groups performing the same exact “show” these days. For those of you who don’t know, they blast loud hip hop music with a very strong bass, clap louder than your audiologist would recommend, and dance in the moving subway car. At least once during the performance they have a signature move of jumping onto the poles and twirling their way down. The only people who are impressed are out-of-towners. Clearly, these showtime guys are majorly disruptive. Fortunately I’ve managed to pinpoint which subway cars to avoid at specific times during the day. For example, they seem to be on a weekday loop during the day, getting on the 2nd or 3rd car from the front on the A train at 125th street. Why 125th? Because it’s the longest time between the next stop of 59th street and allows for maximum disturbance potential. I really want people to stop giving them money so they would learn that it is not a profitable way to spend their time. The fact that they continue to do it leads me to believe otherwise though. Wow, that was quite a rant. I must have been more upset about it than I realized!

Since I always like to end on a more positive note, here are some of the benefits of working on the subway:

  • Increased focus. I am able to concentrate remarkably well, with the help of in-ear headphones and the playing of music without lyrics. I make sure never to have it on so loud that I’m oblivious to my surroundings, but it’s enough to make everything else fade to background noise.
  • Movement & people. Sitting at home all day makes me feel physically restless and socially isolated. Riding the subway requires some physical movement and also surrounds me with people. #winwin
  • Fewer choices = less time deciding what to do. I’m either reading, listening to an audiobook (something I usually reserve for long walks in the city), or most of the time I’m reading or brainstorming. This takes some of the mental burden off of not knowing what to work on. It’s Barry Schwartz’s concept of the Paradox of Choice, we have so many options that we feel overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Sound familiar?
  • Less pressure due to limited timeframe. When I arrive at my destination, the work must stop. That takes the perceived burden off of my shoulders in spending an indefinite amount of time on a particular task. I like that. It has the same impact as the 5 minute timer when I Mindstorm.
  • Helpful distractions. It allows for the option of momentary distractions and people watching. Again, it’s background noise so it doesn’t actually interfere with my focus if I’m in the zone, experiencing flow. However, if I hit a small road block or dead end of some kind, I can pause for a moment. I look up and people watch, and somehow it seems to help me come up with new ideas. I must have done that at least 4 or 5 times while writing the first draft of this post.

One last thing to point out is that on the subway ride home at the end of the day, it’s no longer my prime time for cognitive work. That’s why I do most of my self-tracking during that time. Diet Log, CANI Log, Life Balance Log, 1 Second Everyday, and of course the Subway Schedule Log.

The cool thing is that everyone works differently. It took me a while to become intimately familiar with my ideal working habits. Where do you work best? In an office? At home? At a coffee shop? On the train? Discuss!