Month: September 2013

The Single Greatest Technique for Breaking Through Mental Roadblocks

Mindstorming, also called the 20 Idea Method, is a term that Brian Tracy developed to describe a slight variation of brainstorming. Start with a question/topic, and then write down the first 20 ideas that come to mind. No contemplating, no censoring, no pressure. Just write.

Bassam Tarazi calls it the 5 Minute Exercise. For example, instead of trying to force yourself to “clean up your room,” (the very thought of which undoubtedly stirs up countless unpleasant childhood memories) you set an alarm for 5 minutes, and then do as much as you can before it goes off. The beauty of this is that because of the deadline, there is far less pressure to get started. In other words, the barrier to entry is very low.

Ramit Sethi calls it the 5 minute straight jacket technique. As far as I understand it, in involves sitting down for 5 minutes, and forcing yourself to come up with ideas to solve the particular question you are working on.

See how all these techniques are similar by the way? That’s no accident.

But Shir, 20 ideas sounds like a lot!

It did to me too, at first. But then I started doing it and saw that as long as I don’t censor myself, it’s actually very easy to reach 20 or more ideas. Granted, most ideas are unusable. In fact, sometimes it takes 19 bad ideas to get out of your head to make room for that 1 brilliant idea.

The nuts and bolts of Mindstorming

Even though Brian Tracy doesn’t mention using a timer, I have found it to be extraordinarily effective. And since I work well with music, I decided to play songs without lyrics that lasted for 5 minutes. Here are the 2 that I typically use:

  1. “Cancion Triste” by Jesse Cook
  2. “Fable” by Amethystium

Most often I find myself doing this on the subway, with my noise canceling ear plug-like headphones by Shure. More on how I get work done in the subway in a later post.

Naturally I use my favorite app Outliner, with only the date and the topic of the Mindstorm at the top. Then I open the flood gates of my mind and record whatever gushes out.

So what topics are good for Mindstorming?

Personally I have found the following topics to be perfect for Mindstorming:

  • Preparing questions for an interview or business meeting.
  • Coming up with a name/title for a company, product, book, blog post, or anything creative.
  • Identifying different ways to qualify prospects
  • Uncovering potential business or marketing strategies
  • Creating a list of possible blog topics

Here is a sample of an actual Mindstorming session.

  • 8/29/13 – Questions for [Censored Client Name]’s dashboard requirements
    • What metrics are you currently measuring?
    • How are you measuring these metrics?
    • How are you currently reporting these metrics to clients?
    • How often do you update these reports?
    • How long does each update take, on average?
    • Which metrics are you not measuring that you would like to measure?
    • How many people will be using the dashboard? Will they need to use it at the same time?
    • How important is being able to share the dashboard with others online?
    • Which accounts do you have that contains data you’d like to be included in the dashboard (aside from Google Analytics, and Bing in the future)?
    • What other data do you have that you would like to include in these dashboards? Other databases?
    • How often would you like to be able to review the metrics? Weekly? Daily?
    • If you could have an ideal scenario in terms of dashboards, what would it look like? Please describe.
    • What version of Excel are you using? Mac or PC? Note: must be using PC, I recommend 2010 over 2013. Can’t go back to 2007 though
    • What types of charts would you like to see in your dashboard?
    • If you had to limit your metrics to only the most vital ones, what would they be?
    • What are some additional metrics that would be nice to have?

Sure, there are only 16 ideas here, but this was an excellent jumping board to my Dashboard Requirements Questionnaire (DRQ for short), which I will now use with every client I create dashboards for. Not bad for a 5 minute session! In the past I would have slaved over this for over an hour, or worse yet, not done it at all because I didn’t know where to start.

So let me ask you this…

What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months? It could be professional or personal, whichever is more important to you at this point in your life. Write it down in the form of a question. For example:

“How will I start my own business and earn 6 figures in 12 months?”


“How will I be in a committed, loving relationship in 12 months?”

Got it? Awesome!

Now set a timer for 5 minutes. Feel free to play a song if it helps you too. Once that timer starts, DO NOT STOP writing until the 5 minutes have elapsed.


Ready. Set. Go!

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rewards

Earlier this week I found myself strolling through the Highline Park in lower Manhattan. I was waiting to meet a friend and then go see an improv show at the UCB Theater. It’s all part of my “live a balanced life” approach. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday evening if you ask me.

As I sat on one of the benches, reading Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few, a father and son sat down next to me. It didn’t take long for the kid to start pestering his father for a popsicle.

“No, you’ve already had your sweets for today.” The father insisted.

The son continued to whine “but dad, I really want one! Please can’t I have one!”

“I said no,” the father replied in a raised voice.

After another minute or so of nagging, something interesting happened. The father rolled his eyes, let out a big sigh, and said “Fine! Go get a popsicle and be quiet” as he handed his son some money.

It didn’t take a degree is psychology to figure out that the father was tired, and probably at the end of his rope. But do you see what he inadvertently did?

By giving in to his son’s whining, he was communicating to his son the following message: if you want something, all you have to do is whine, nag, and be obnoxious, and eventually you’ll get it. In essence, the father was rewarding the very behavior he wanted to avoid.

The trouble is, this behavior will undoubtedly continue because the son felt good as a result of his actions. With his words, the father was saying “don’t nag” but with his actions he was instructing his son “nag and you’ll get what you want.”

This made me think back to Tony Robbin’s PowerTalk series on Creating a Change & Making it Last.

I highly encourage you to check it out. It talks about the laws of conditioning, and how we can unconsciously program ourselves to create new behaviors or modify existing ones by simply using three types of reinforcement: positive, negative, and punishment. The most effective (and most fun) is positive reinforcement, a.k.a. rewards.

Want to modify a small behavior like cleaning your room? Give yourself a small reward like watching half an hour of guilt free television. Want to change a big behavior like going to the gym 3 days a week? Treat yourself to a fancy dinner with friends at the end of the week to celebrate your accomplishment.

Tony Robbins also talks about “jackpot” rewards, the point of which are to prevent the rewards from becoming too predictable (and therefore ineffective). As long as you are staying on track and doing what you need to do, you can administer jackpot rewards like a trip to Europe, or an expensive flatscreen TV (not that I’m trying to put any ideas in your head).

Here are some examples of my rewards:

  • Small Rewards
    • Sour patch candy
    • Can of soda
    • Ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s)
    • Chocolate
    • Beer/wine
    • Watch Tango videos
    • Go on Facebook for 5 minutes
  • Medium Rewards
    • Dinner in a nice restaurant
    • Fun Groupon
    • Wine tasting
    • Buy something from Amazon wish list (under $50)
    • Stand up comedy DVDs
    • Running shoes
  • Big Rewards
    • Trapeze lesson on the Hudson for 2
    • Massage – deep tissue or swedish, 1 hour
    • Big technology purchase
  • JACKPOT Rewards
    • New mattress – full sized Tempurpedic
    • Vacation in Italy!

So how did I stay on track with these?

I put a task in my todo list to dish out small rewards daily, medium rewards weekly, bigger rewards monthly, and jackpot rewards sporadically.

It’s a little strange seeing as how I’m the one administering it to myself, but it’s still having a positive impact. If nothing else, it forces me to look at what I did each day and acknowledge my accomplishments.

Rewards in action

One of the biggest challenges I was facing this year was to create my first online Excel course. It was a monumental undertaking, and I was determined to see it through. To help motivate myself even further, I put up a sign behind my desk that read “ONLINE COURSE” with a sticky note identifying my reward.

Rewards Desk Sign rotated

I even went the extra step and scheduled the massage for a few days after my course was scheduled to launch. It’s a good thing too, seeing as how on the day of the launch, I had a string of negative thoughts pop into my head:

“I could have done better.
I still need to add the other lectures I didn’t finish.
I still have parts 2-5 of the course to worry about.”

But then the evening of my reward came along, and let me tell you, it’s impossible to be hard on yourself when you’re being massaged by a professional. By the way, the spa is called Rhemedy by Rhed, and I can’t sing their praises loudly enough. Judie is absolutely outstanding!

Anyway, the point is that sometimes I had trouble acknowledging my own achievements, so it’s important to force myself to remember on an unconscious level by giving myself rewards for good work. Ultimately it motivates me further, and allows me to enjoy the journey more. And isn’t that what life is all about?

It should come as no surprise that I’m creating a habit of it, and rewarding myself with another massage for each new online course that I launch. Can’t wait for the next one!

But enough about me, how about you?

What are some challenges you currently want to overcome? What are some behaviors you’d like to modify? And most fun of all, what are some rewards you can give yourself when you succeed?

How I Stay Wildly Effective with Wildly Important Goals

I first came across Stephen Covey in an interview he had with marketing genius Jay Abraham. I immediately liked what I heard and decided to find other work by Stephen Covey. It didn’t take me long to discover his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? (<– amusingly rhetorical question)

In it, Stephen Covey talks about the concept of Wildly Important Goals, also known as WIGs. Essentially they refer to your goals that are so important that they rise above all the rest. The ones that must be achieved, or nothing else you achieve really matters.

To illustrate this point, allow me to reference Tim Ferris’s quote about the difference between being effective vs. efficient:

“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe.”

Turns out I’m a bit of an efficiency nut, and I used to fall into the trap of getting a lot of work done, only to realize at the end of the day that I didn’t even touch the big project that I needed to get to. Email was notorious for sucking me in to unimportant minutia. More on how I tamed the email beast in a later post.

Instead of being proactive, making a game plan for the day, and accomplishing our goals, the vast majority of us (my old self included) would assume a very reactive role. “Ah, an email just came in! I need to stop what I’m doing and answer it!” Do you though? Really?

So anyway, Stephen Covey hit the nail on the big ‘ol head with this. He talked about creating WIGs for the year, the quarter, the month, and then narrowing it down to that upcoming week. Part of the genius here is starting with the big picture.

Bassam Tarazi introduced it to me as the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You know, the one that gives us butterflies, and we would uncork the champagne we’ve been saving for the past 3 years if we finally got it done.

Yeah, that one.

So start from the big picture, and then reverse engineer it to determine what actions I need to take this week in order to get there.

It’s funny, but I didn’t realize how long I had been doing this until I recently showed it to a friend.

Here is a look back to my first WIGs (10/19/11)

  • Goals for the YEAR
    • Earn $1 million in gross income by Jan 1st, 2013
    • Hire 2-5 employees for Shir Consulting
  • Goals for the QUARTER
    • Get first 3 paying clients for Shir Consulting
    • Earn $12,000 net per month by Jan 1st, 2012
  • Goals for the MONTH
    • Pitch Shir Consulting to at least 10 prospects
  • Goals for the WEEK
    • Create a preliminary portfolio of previous work
    • Create an ideal client profile
    • Brainstorm at least 5 completely different sources of new prospects
    • Create 2-3 versions of a sales pitch
    • Set up a system for Learning DAILY!
    • Surround yourself with mentors & like-minded

Sure, I didn’t quite reach my ambitious financial targets. And you know what, that’s OK.

Because this much I know for sure: I wouldn’t have made nearly as much progress had I not had these goals. After all, how can we ever reach our final destination if we have no idea where we are going?

How I stay on track with my WIGs

It should come as no surprise that I believe in the power of affirmations, and as a result I have recited my WIGs out loud daily since I began almost 2 years ago.

I usually say them at my desk right before I start working. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the rest of the day. I know where I’m going long term, and I know exactly how I’m going to get there by choosing to work on the most important things first.

I’ve had a lot of time to experiment with this, and I have found that when I accomplish my WIGs early in the day or early in the week, I am not only more productive, but I am also dramatically happier. I feel so far ahead of the game, that everything else I do after that is a pure bonus.

I also schedule a weekly time to change the WIGs, always leaving a historical record of what my WIGs were each week. Most times the long term goals stay the same from week to week, but occasionally I’ll come up with something new.

Tune in next week when I discuss the wildly enjoyable topic of WIG rewards, inspired by Tony Robbins.

Lastly, I leave you with my WIGs as of today

  • 10 YEAR – 12/31/22 (Age 36)
    • Net worth of $50 Million
    • Be in a committed relationship with someone who challenges & inspires me every single day, while keeping me on my toes
    • Enrich the quality of life for millions of people in the field of personal development
    • Travel the world to give talks and teach millions of people
    • Create a school to help people achieve excellence
  • 5 YEAR – 12/31/17 (Age 31)
    • Net worth of $20 Million
    • Own two condos in NYC (bar, dance floor, recording studio, breathtaking views)
    • Purchase homes for my mom, dad, and brother
    • Help millions of people become more productive with technology
    • Surround myself with a team of expert coaches in every area of life
  • 2 YEAR – 12/31/15 (Age 29)
    • Net worth of $500,000
    • Earn $45,000 net per month from Excel products
    • Reach 5,000 subscribers for ExcelShir blog
    • Reach 500 VIP Do-Gooders for Excel it Forward
  • YEAR – 12/31/14 (Age 28)
    • Net worth of $100,000
    • Earn $12,000 net per month from Excel products
    • Convert all former Skillshare classes into online classes
    • Reach 1,000 subscribers for ExcelShir Blog
    • Reach 100 VIP Do-Gooders for Excel it Forward
  • QUARTER – 12/31/13
    • Publish Excel Mastery Course parts 2 & 3
    • Set up Excel it Forward blog & measurement back end system
  • MONTH – 9/30/13
    • Edit and publish Excel Mastery Course Part 1 conclusion lectures
    • Submit [client name] Dashboard v01 no later than 9/25/13
  • WEEK – 9/14/13
    • Create flexible hand ranking system for Beyond Tells project
    • Create final notes & scripts for Excel Mastery Course Part 1 conclusion lectures
    • Spend 5 hours on [client name] dashboard project
    • Publish ExcelShir blog post

How about you? What are you going to achieve in 5 years? And how specifically are you going to get there?

Daily Affirmations: Part 2

Last week we talked about what affirmations are, how they work, and when to say them. We even went through a few examples of some of my earliest affirmations.

This week we’ll get to the really juicy bits: tangible examples of how affirmations helped me.


Let’s dive right in!

In the summer of 2009 I started dating this girl. You know how the story goes…she was smart, funny, adventurous, the whole kit and caboodle. In other words, the kind of girl that would have left me at a loss for words only one year prior.

For a month or so we got to know each other as friends. Make no mistake, I was attracted to her immediately, and the more I got to know her, the feeling only intensified.

So eventually I did the only logical thing I could, which was to ask her out on a date.

When the day finally arrived to take her out, I led her on a scenic hike in Washington Heights (one of Manhattan’s better kept secrets). We found some boulders to sit on, with a spectacular view of the George Washington Bridge and the sun setting behind it.

So there I sat…on the rocks, next to an incredible girl that I was really starting to like, with my blood pressure spiking to unhealthy levels. Part of what made me so nervous was that if I didn’t make a move soon, I would lose my chance with her forever. After all, meekness is not a particularly attractive quality, right? I needed to go in for a kiss.

Right on schedule came my old familiar fears and doubts: “What if she rejects me? What if I scare her away? What if I screw this up?”

But then something incredible happened.

The monkey chatter faded away, and I actually heard one of my affirmations in my head. “I am a powerful, confident man. I know what I want and I go for it.”

I thought “It’s totally fine to feel nervous, because that just means I’m excited and I have a lot riding on this. I got this.”

John Wayne once said: “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

And saddle up I did.

OK, so that sounded unnecessarily raunchy. But you know what I mean!

The point is, the old Shir would never have been able to stare fear in the face and say “Out of my way!”

The new Shir on the other hand…let’s just say he officially became a badass on that day :).

And now for the 2nd example of affirmations being awesome

Fast forward a year and a half into the future. I was teaching salsa dancing in NYC, and by all accounts, living a rich life. Thanks Ramit for sharing that concept!

The only thing missing was that I wasn’t growing enough professionally. As much as I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, none of them were pushing me to succeed in my career, at least in the way that I was looking for. And you know what they say, you can only go as far as your 5 closest friends. Put another way, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn.

So, I did what anyone would have done with a track record of successful affirmations, and added another one to my list. It was so important to me that I actually put it before all the other ones.

“I am a savvy, successful entrepreneur and I surround myself with others who are better than me.”

About a week after I began saying this, I got an email from Ramit Sethi, who I was already a huge fan of from his personal finance book I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

In his email, he was announcing a new online course called “Earn1K: Earn $1,000 a Month Freelancing.” The price tag was substantial. $1,500 was no laughing matter.

Normally I would have dismissed the offer and said something like “I can’t afford that” or “the timing isn’t right.” However, because I had just begun saying my newest affirmation, I saw it as a sign. Here was a chance to surround myself with other successful entrepreneurs, even if not in physical proximity. The mere exposure to Ramit’s strategies would open my mind to new possibilities.

I decided to take the plunge, and it ended up being the best business decision I have made in my life to date.

In one month I found a computer tutoring client that had an antiquated Excel database desperately in need of an overhaul. Using the new strategies and techniques from Ramit’s Earn1K course, I made a proposal for an initial $2,000 payment to solve the problem. The president of the company took one look at my proposal, and then said “this looks reasonable, let’s do it.”

Within a week, I had a check for the exact amount of $1,000 (you know, the Earn1K per month amount). If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. I still have a copy of the check hanging on my wall.

What’s even more amazing, is that this one project turned into a 6 month engagement that ended up earning me $70,000. That’s an unprecedented 46 times return on my investment. How’s that for ROI Ramit?

To wrap it up…

Did my affirmation make me $70,000? No.

Did it find this client for me? Not really.

Did it create a frame of mind and a belief system that PREPARED me to identify and seize the opportunity that presented itself? ABSOLUTELY!

One of my favorite quotes is by Louis Pasteur:
“Luck favors the prepared mind.”

And hey, if that’s all affirmations do, than I’m more than happy with that!

Parting thoughts

Already saying affirmations? Share some with us in the comments. Want some affirmations of your own, but not sure how to phrase them? Write down the negative self-talk in the comments and we’ll try and help you phrase an affirmation that addresses it.

P.S. Here are some of my recent affirmations, which I still recite daily. If they resonate with you, please feel free to steal them!

  • I live each day with perfect health, balance, and gratitude.
  • I am a savvy, successful entrepreneur and I surround myself with others who are better than me.
  • I always operate at maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
  • I give everyone uncommon value.
  • All women are extremely attracted to me.
  • I am immune to all physical ailments.
  • I am always expanding my comfort zone.
  • I am a powerful, confident man. I know what I want and I go for it.
  • I am a phenomenal dancer, and women love dancing with me.
  • I always escalate with women I am attracted to.
  • I am always performing at my best.
  • I am remarkably effective in accomplishing my goals.
  • I am compassionate, encouraging, and supportive of myself and others.
  • As I love and honor myself, my relationships blossom.
  • I leave everything and everyone better than I found them.
  • Every moment of every day, I live my life abundantly.

Final note: Don’t get complacent

A potential trap to fall into is staying stuck with the same affirmations. The trick is to identify new negative self chatter as soon as they crop up (and believe me, they always find a way to crop up), and then create a new affirmation that directly addresses it. Another option is to modify existing ones to be more inclusive. The key is to be flexible and adapt as you go.