How do you figure out how to steer a clear course?

Planning can overlook the obvious, or can prevent you from doing anything

adrift or planningLI

That great American thinker, innovator and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, made this brilliant observations: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

So we plan. We know that planning gives us a better chance of success. But sometimes we miss the mark, inviting failure. Not the failure of failing to plan, but the failure of overlooking a key point or of falling into “analysis paralysis.” Other causes of failure, such as unanticipated changes beyond one’s control, are not included here because they are beyond our control other than to have a built-in “Plan B” or “bridge back,” or learning lessons and moving on to the next plan.

Overlooking a key point

Jerry left his job at one of the Big Four consulting firms and started his own business. While he had been making a lot of money, he never had time for anything but work. He had an MBA from a top Ivy League school and several years’ experience analyzing business problems, so he assumed the business end of things would be a cakewalk.

As a small business, he could offer the same consulting work he used to do but for affordable fees. Jerry assumed it would be easy to attract small businesses to his services.

Since Jerry knew all about business planning, and he had good habits that would allow him to carry out his plan, he imagined nothing but success.

Four months after opening his own consulting business, Jerry found that expenses far exceeded accounts receivable, and that the money he put into the business to cover expenses while he got up and running was running out. With no cash flow, he knew he had to come up with a plan or seek a salaried job.

Fighting off depression and a sense of failure he had never experienced in the past, Jerry swallowed his pride and called his mentor from his previous job.

“You only planned for success,” his mentor noted. “You need to plan for failure as well. Some people call that Plan B. I call it common sense.”

Jerry protested, “I should’ve planned to fail?”

“No, I mean you should have had backup planned into your plans. You could’ve traded services for some expenses you incurred. You had time to work in exchange for goods or services. Instead you spent money assuming you had enough in reserve to cover you until there was more business.

“You also have slow pays because you didn’t ask for retainers. So now you don’t have adequate cash flow.

“And what have you done to promote word-of-mouth referrals and a flow of new business? While you have great credentials and an impressive resume, many people care more about whether they like you as a person and what you’ve done for them.

“And one last thing,” his mentor said as he finished his drink. “When you left our firm you didn’t ask about referrals of small jobs that might help you get established. Or doing contract work. You built no bridge back in case things didn’t work out with your new business.”

Jerry looked downcast. “Is there any chance I could get my old job back?”

“No, and I don’t want you to give up this quickly on your new business. I think you have what it takes, and I think you now realize how important it is to plan for all contingencies. I also have a small piece of business we can’t afford to take which you would be good at. I’ll talk to this company tomorrow and refer them to you.”

Jerry went back to his office with his mentor’s words ringing in his ears. He had said to himself so often in recent months, “Failure is not an option!” It kept him going, it staved off fear. Now he realized it had kept him from being objective, it had kept him from planning for contingencies, that he had not done what all his training said was so important to do.

He drafted a plan. It wasn’t too late to offload some of his expenses. He would volunteer work and mingle with people more, getting to know them so he could explain the work he did. He would look for contract work. He wouldn’t spend more than he was earning. He spent an hour reviewing posts online and gleaned some practical suggestions.

He wrote a personal note to his mentor, thanking him for his advice and encouragement, before he headed home.

Overplanning and not doing

“Analysis paralysis” occurs when we overthink something and do nothing through indecision. By looking for the “perfect solution” we prevent any action that might lead to a good or better solution.

Shakespeare immortalized this in Hamlet, whose failure to act had a tragic outcome. More often our failure to act costs us opportunities. I had a friend who could not decide on what house to buy. She had the down payment money and a loan guarantee, but no house she saw seemed right. I’m just the opposite. If a house satisfies my short list of “non-negotiables,” I figure I can fix the rest and I sign immediately.

If we look for potential opportunities, then our plans must put us in the place to encounter them, rather than wait until everything is lined up exactly. Returning to Jerry’s story, he did volunteer work and encountered potential business connections with other volunteers. He also networked with fellow professionals. He had believed he was too busy to go out to what he considered social occasions. Now he saw them as opportunities to work the room and set up business contacts. The shift in thinking his mentor inspired allowed him to move forward with his original plans, with increased potential outcomes.

Some useful tools when we need to plan are questions that reveal our real reasons and obstacles that may cause “analysis paralysis” or set us back in some other way. In my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, I discuss the eight “START NOW” questions that lead to successful outcomes. You can bake in success before you spend a lot of time on an important problem/decision/project/goal. To get a free copy of the questions in a 2-page PDF, click here.

 The Personal Power Roadmap makes planning any project effective and practical. Get it now at a low introductory price as an ebook and print book.

Are you wrestling with negative thoughts and judging yourself harshly?

Kangaroos boxing-harsh on self

I had a friend in high school who exclaimed after every test, “I’m sure I failed it!” She would agonize over some perceived mistake – maybe an item she left out, or a misspelling – and mope for days until the results came out. She always got an A+, an A or at worst, an A-.

We can beat ourselves up and judge ourselves harshly when we do not measure up to our expectations. Perfectionists do this regularly. Negative thinking may be implanted early in life and not even be evident to our conscious mind. In cognitive behavioral therapy, “Negative Automatic Thoughts” (NATs) cause emotional problems. By identifying our negative thoughts and arguing with them, we can change our moods and our behavior.

Cognitive therapy was the brain child of a psychoanalyst, Aaron T. Beck. It’s an ancient idea. The Greek philosopher Epictetus was quoted: “Nothing else is the cause of anxiety or loss of tranquility except our own opinion.” We can change that opinion. Here’s an easy way to do it:

Note your negative thoughts. If you get stuck trying to identify them, read Burns’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

  1. Examine the evidence. Pretend you are in court, presenting your case. What evidence supports the NAT? What is against it? Now be the judge and make a ruling. If you come up with “yes, but” thoughts, repeat the process.
  2. Write the thoughts and your arguments in a journal or on the Four Thinking Hats to Explore and Remove Cognitive Distortions mind map you can download from:

It takes conscious effort and persistence to overcome our negative self-judgments. But the results make it worth the effort. Imagine being free from the distress these thoughts cause. Imagine reclaiming the hours or days lost to depression or anxiety over your perceived imperfection.

If you want to know more about this, read my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book.

How I failed the NOW test (but won with a “B”)

I had looked forward to flipping as fun and fulfilling, and instead it seemed like Rosemary’s baby, a scary disappointment.

Photo Credit: ©Ema Drouillard; Digital illustration by

rosemary NOW baby

In 2004, when the housing market was red hot and everyone and his brother were buying houses with ARMs and no down payment, I flipped houses as a sideline business. A friend convinced me it was an easy way to make money. It wasn’t long before I discovered it was time-consuming and stressful.

I was spending every weekend visiting open houses. At night I was reading books on how to make money rehabbing houses. I was spending time with contractors when I could even get hold of them, trying to figure out why everything was taking so long. Our contractor failed every inspection. I found out later he had paid someone to take the licensing exam for him.

Our realtor, like me, was practicing law full-time and working on real estate on the side. The first house sat on the market. One day I went through it and thought, this is such a beautiful house. Why doesn’t anyone want this? The staging was lovely, I had planted the back garden and the side strip, there were flowers in bloom, but the house did not sell. It was a jewel box, but small, before tiny houses got trendy.

Finally the house sold, and I got a new agent and contractor to work on the next house. There were similar problems and that house sat on the market a long time. I had come to hate the flipping business. I had looked forward to it as fun and fulfilling, and instead it seemed like Rosemary’s baby, a scary disappointment. I got my money out. The only houses I have remodeled since were my own.

We made some money, so I can’t say the business failed. What failed was the “NOW” test. No, this has nothing to do with right now, more it is whether you should start something now. The way you phrase the problem, decision, goal or project creates the solution or invites failure. Besides creating a sense of urgency, the “START NOW” acronym reminds you to ask and answer the questions of “what,” “when,” “why,” “how.” You need a doable objective, with specific actions and dates. If you invest some time into phrasing it well, you are well on your way to achieving success.

When I decided to go into real estate, if I had answered the eight “START NOW”questions I discuss in my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, I would still have gone into that business. It was only later that I realized that just because I like houses, didn’t mean I liked flipping them. I learned in the School of Hard Knocks that it’s not a business to go into part time. Only later did I realize that to make money in the business, one had to do a lot of the work oneself and had to do it nearly round-the-clock.

The “START NOW” questions must be reexamined as you go along. The answers can change based on experience and shifts in the marketplace. At some point, I realized that I no longer could answer the last three questions — the NOW test — with any enthusiasm. I no longer wanted to put the time and effort into the project that success requires. Besides from the money, which wasn’t much more than passive investments were making, I wasn’t getting the satisfaction one gets from achieving success. The stress outweighed the benefits.

That day I wandered through the house and thought, why doesn’t anyone want this lovely place, I was seeing a successful outcome to the renovations, but without a successful outcome from a quick sale. Without the money from this house, we couldn’t invest in another one unless we took a loan. The loan would have wiped out or overly narrowed the profit margin. So we were stuck with a lovely place and nothing to do while it sat on the market.

I now regularly revisit the START NOW questions to see if my reasons for doing something are still sound. Am I still willing to make the effort required for the project to succeed?  If not, I should work on the exit strategy built into the process when I began. If I fail the NOW test, I need to revisit my Plan B or “bridge back.”

If you want to know more about this process and how to apply START NOW, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, is available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book.

To get a free copy of the eight START NOW questions in a 2-page PDF, with examples of how to apply them to your problem\decision\goal\project, click here.

How can you get out of the perfectionism trap?

A technique to combat paralyzing perfectionism: Replace "it just isn't done yet" with "broad brush strokes."


Do you put off or avoid doing something because you believe you cannot do it well? Do you fail to finish projects because you think what you’ve done is not good enough? Do you go over your work repetitively seeking minute improvements?

Perfectionism can paralyze us. It can keep us from enjoying activities and finishing projects. And it annoys other people.

Life is not an endless report card, and striving to get an A+ for everything we do sucks all the joy from life.

There is a way out! my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book, I describe a technique I have found effective. 

Use Broad Brush Strokes

There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence. Perfectionism is the pathological side of the endeavor coin. A way to train yourself out of this is to create a mental image of broad brush strokes. This reminds you that you don’t have to do something perfectly, just get the bulk of it done well. As a reforming perfectionist, I trained myself to say those three words. “Broad brush strokes!” now pops into my mind without effort. I might do more than just broad brush strokes, but I am not doing it with that sense of the need to do it perfectly. So there is less stress and I can accomplish things well but with less effort.

Ask yourself, is the extra effort to make it perfect worth the delay? The strain? The annoyance it causes others? Unless you are a scientist or medical doctor and lives hang in the balance, will it matter to anyone that your project was only 98% excellent?

Make your goal excellence, not perfection, if it is an important project. If it is cleaning the kitchen or dusting or mowing the lawn, go for 85%. Get comfortable with lesser degrees for the smaller projects and save your energy for the bigger ones.

Do you have a technique for getting out of the perfectionism trap? I welcome your ideas.


Are you planning to fail?

Or did the dog eat your homework?


I was born in the adopted city of that great American thinker, innovator and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin. One of his many brilliant observations: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”

So what kind of plan do you need? My own preference is one that accounts for and counteracts the main reasons we fail to achieve what we want. My plan has 7 steps and is recorded on a 7-section chart, the Personal Power Roadmap.

But is a plan enough? If I had a $100 bill with Ben Franklin’s image on it for every plan I made and abandoned, and if I had followed Ben Franklin’s instructions to save money, I’d be rolling in dough today.

Why did I abandon plans I made? The usual suspects are I ran out of motivation, I got bored with the idea, “life happened,” or some other version of “the dog ate my homework.” I tried incentivizing myself through various means: I paid for a year’s membership at a gym, then went only a few times before finding I could never get there when it was open (it wasn’t 24-hour Nautilus, which might have been a better choice given my “I can’t get there in time” excuse). Or I let work get in the way, like the time I cancelled my plans to go to Nepal and lost my $500 deposit. I look back at those abandoned plans like flotsam washing up on the beach of my life. I don’t like making plans I don’t carry out, so sometimes I don’t make them because I know I won’t do them (no more gyms or exercise equipment!). I know I need really good “whys” to get me to do things I don’t like doing. The reasons have to be ones I care about, not ones I “should” care about.

When you think back over your life, did you fail to make plans? Did you make plans but then failed to carry them out?

Some people don’t make plans because they know they won’t follow them. Others don’t make plans because they don’t know how. Others naturally do things and don’t need to write out a plan to get motivated and keep at it.

It’s time to follow another one of Ben Franklin’s adages: “Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.” In other words, turn off the notification sounds, check your email no more than three times a day, let phone calls go to voicemail and retrieve them three times a day.

The time you will save can be used to focus on the next step to take to carry out your plans, or to make plans if you haven’t done that yet. An easy way to make and carry out your plans is to follow the 7-step system in The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals.

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