People Power: Doing hard things – May 2023

By Sam Allman

Some things are harder to do than other things, and we all have a tendency to do the easy things first when we have to choose. That’s why most of us struggle with procrastination, putting off things that are important but harder, in favor of things that are either more urgent or easy. The problem is that the hard things we postpone are usually the things that would benefit us the most. Worse still is having too much to do, which can overwhelm us into helplessness, immobilizing us and causing us to do nothing. I learned about doing hard things and helplessness early in my career in floorcovering.

Years ago, when I opened my flooring business, there was always more to do than I had time for. Often, deciding what to do was overwhelming. And yes, that feeling occasionally paralyzed me. I would just sit in my office shuffling paper to give the appearance of working, but I wasn’t accomplishing much. I was waiting for something to pull me out of my funk and kick me out of my chair, for someone else to decide my next action-an installer showing up or a customer calling or a rep walking through the front door. It was just easier when I didn’t have to choose what to do; customers and circumstances made those choices for me.

All I wanted was to be successful. In the early ’70s, growing a flooring business was relatively easy. Demand was high-commercial and new-home construction was booming; the economy was very healthy; and consumers were spending money. The early days of my flooring experience spoiled me into thinking all I had to do was take care of my customers and solve any problems my business generated, because that’s how entrepreneurs operated. After all, that is what I was: an entrepreneur. At least, I thought I was. I learned later that I was actually a business owner.

Business owners do business, whereas entrepreneurs build them; business owners work in their business, while entrepreneurs work on them. The goal and purpose of a business owner is to make money. The goal of an entrepreneur is to maximize the value of the business, and his or her purpose is to eventually sell it. Bottom line: Business owners make themselves indispensable to the business and hence own a job. Entrepreneurs work to extricate themselves from the business. The business functions well without the entrepreneur, which makes the business easier to sell.

The differences between entrepreneurs and business owners may be slight, but, for me, acting like a business owner was much easier than acting like an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial actions require doing harder things with a separate thought process. Put simply, owners react to circumstances; entrepreneurs do the same but also initiate and create their own circumstances.

When Kemp Harr, publisher of Floor Focus, called to update me on the state of the industry as background for this month’s People Power, he said: “Retail sales are down 10% from the same quarter last year, but there is still business out there. There is uncertainty about what the second half will bring, but there is a good chance that we’re not going to see an uptick in retail traffic for the remainder of this year. But at the same time, the gains we made in the last two years are not going to be erased. Downturns and soft periods are when share shift occurs. Now is the time to sharpen the saw and spend time training. Only the complacent will lose share.”

Now, consider the different thought processes and actions of entrepreneurs versus owners. What would each do in these conditions? They would probably do some of the same things, but there would also be major differences. A business owner would likely work harder and longer and consider cutting costs, lowering margins, downsizing staff and limiting marketing to maintain profits. How would these actions affect the business’ ability to service the customer? Would the business owner lose or increase marketshare?

On the other hand, an entrepreneur may think about investing in training to improve customer service and the selling skills of their sales team. These actions might help the team increase closing rates and the average sales ticket and, thus, improve marketshare. Which decision is right? Cut back or invest? Hunker down or speculate? That always depends, but the entrepreneur will seek ways to minimize any negative influences that might move their business off its desired track.

Business ownership requires less thinking. Actions are determined by circumstances, the economy and customer demands. Entrepreneurial thinking requires the same, in addition to being proactive in deciding the business’ future, size, appearance, culture, brand, methods, policies, customer experience and more.

I use this example to demonstrate that choosing what to do in any aspect of life is rarely easy or clearly evident. If we want to live our lives our own way, we must choose to be entrepreneurs not only of our businesses but of our lives. Letting circumstances decide our next action step is not always an effective strategy. What separates those with people power from the pack is what they actually do. As entrepreneur, author and speaker Jim Rohn said, “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” We could identify a mountain of reasons why people don’t do things, but in this case, the bottom line is they don’t do it because their mind is telling them it is just too hard to do at the moment.

At the heart of our doing is our thinking; a thought always precedes an action. “You are now, and you do become what you think about. Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality,” said speaker Earl Nightingale. In my January column, “The Destructive Power of Stinking Thinking,” I explained how destructive thinking can sabotage our willingness to act. Destructive thinking, like dwelling on what’s wrong, on how you have been mistreated or on why you deserve better, creates the feelings of victimhood. Choosing to be envious or resentful of others creates pain and anger inside us. The fact is, destructive thinking distorts rational thinking, and it makes us reactive instead or proactive. When we choose to be reactive, we choose to be a victim. A victim is controlled by circumstances.

When I look back at my life, one of the most effective things I did to get better was taking a time management class. Time is the single greatest resource we have. It’s the great equalizer; we all have the same amount of it in a day. That class dramatically improved my effectiveness at work and at home. In that class, you would clarify and prioritize your values, identify your purpose and most important priorities, and clarify your vision-the clearest possible mental picture of your future-by setting long-term and short-term goals with specific action plans and a commitment to daily action planning. I have learned that the very best thing you can do to get something hard done is to pick a day, a time and schedule it. Then just do it. Good time management skills are essential skills of entrepreneurs because they encourage proactive thinking.

“Just do it” is a phrase that is easier said than done. Even with good time management skills, odds are there will still be hard things that will be left undone. Good time management will increase your effectiveness, but it is your mind that makes the ultimate decision to act. “Control your mind, or it will control you” (Horace). Have you ever made a commitment to do something, like go on a diet, exercise or have a crucial conversation with a loved one, but when it came time to do it, you couldn’t, and you didn’t? Controlling your mind can be like riding an elephant; it goes where it wants, no matter your urgings. It requires coaching and training.

That training is similar to the training that astronauts and world class athletes experience. It starts with getting the mind to practice constructive thinking. This training may seem rudimentary, but I guarantee it works. I learned it as a young adult from a clinical psychologist. I dramatically changed by using these simple mental exercises. I have used them throughout my life. I wish I had used them more consistently and more often.

To get that elephant inside you to do what you want it to do, you must increase your faith and belief in yourself. You may be held back by deep-seated beliefs like you are unworthy, incapable or incompetent, or by fears about success or failure. You will never get your elephant to do what you want unless it believes it can do it and is worthy of it. “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right” (Henry Ford). If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t try. Or maybe you tried, failed and never tried again. Remind yourself that no one is coming to your rescue. If you want something to happen, you will have to make it happen. Decide to believe you can do this hard thing.

However, deciding is not enough. Your decision plants the thought, but you must nourish that thought with repetitive affirmations. Remember the “Little Engine that Could”? “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” My first affirmations were, “I am an ‘A’ student, I am an ‘A’ student…” The more I repeated it, the more my elephant and I believed it. I started to act more like an ‘A’ student. I studied and prepared as if I were an ‘A’ student. Then, I became one.

Getting better did not happen overnight. Getting better takes time, effort and practice.

The mind begins to believe what it hears repetitively. It also believes what it sees. To further cement the affirmation into my psyche, I would visualize and create a vivid mental picture that would generate positive emotions of motivation and accomplishment. For my affirmation of being an ‘A’ student, it was a mental picture of my professor congratulating me for my performance on the last exam. They say that the mind cannot tell the difference between a vividly imagined experience and a real one. I don’t know about that, but that imagined experience made me feel good and extremely motivated. I know the process did not make me smarter, but it helped me quit procrastinating and do the hard things associated with getting A’s. It especially helped me behave the way I wanted: I studied more, prepared more effectively and mastered the requirements of the class. As a junior attending university, for the first time in my life I permanently became an ‘A’ student. My son won the Nationals in BMX racing by using the same process when he was nine years old.

Choosing to believe and practicing positive, affirming self-talk combined with a vividly imagined mental picture of doing that hard thing can put you in control of the independent elephant that usually won’t follow your directions. You will procrastinate less and the stress you feel from the undone hard things will dissipate. You will become a true entrepreneur of living.

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