Gratitude for the Long Run

About a year and a half ago, my family settled into a new home. As anyone whose moved a family to a new home can attest, it can be a big change, even if it’s just 20 miles away. It means more than just a new place to lay your head and keep your stuff. It means a new commute, new grocery stores, new neighbors. All change takes energy and can be a challenge, even change we pursue.

One of the challenges I didn’t anticipate was that my eldest daughter, who would be settling into a new neighborhood, school, and room, might not be fully on board with the change. While there were many things my wife and I tried in order to help her overcome her resistance to the change, the one that I think has helped the most was the addition of a simple bedtime routine: Gratitude.

As we say our goodnights, her and I started saying one thing - just one thing - that we were grateful for from the day. We agreed that the rules were simple: We could pick whatever we wanted, big or small, but we had to pick something we were legitimately grateful for. And we said no repeats for a month.

What happened was transformative. Besides ending the day on a positive, we found ourselves searching not only at the end of the day for things to be grateful for, but also throughout the day we took notice of the things we were grateful. It picked each of us up in a really amazing way, because in reality, we had much to be grateful for.

This journey that I started with Long Run Leadership is a bigger change than I probably want to admit to myself. It’s probably at least the equivalent of a six-year old moving to a new neighborhood, school and room.

Today, I’m grateful for:

  • My spouse, who without her extraordinary calmness and support none of this would be possible.

  • My kids, who not only teach me lessons on Long Run Leadership every day, but were the most excited people in the world when I told them I was starting a company. (seriously, they jumped up and down and clapped)

  • Friends and neighbors who have encouraged me. I was nervous about telling people because admittedly, it felt like a big leap for me. Every single one of them was encouraging and awesome. Thanks to Brian, Barry, Ryan 1, Ryan 2, Laura, Spencer, Sara, Claudia, Bob, Bry, Paula and about a hundred other people who’ve offered words of encouragement. Every little word of encouragement mattered to me.

  • Another friend, Jesse, who generously donated his time to make a logo for me that I absolutely love. I think Jesse understood my vision for the company before I did! Thank you, Jesse. By the way, check out Mauled By Design. They are cool and amazing humans.

  • My friend, Brian, who used his legal expertise to help me think through how to get all this started. More than an attorney, he was a like a therapist! You can’t go wrong if you work with him at his firm.

  • My sister-in-law, Jenny McDermond, who took time to take photos of me in 20 degree weather with snow up to our knees. She’s a truly gifted photographer. If you need a photographer, you should hire her. She’s really amazing!

  • And finally, it goes without saying that I want to thank the good colleagues (and dare I say, friends?) that I made the past four years at Employee Strategies. I’ve learned much from working with you, and I look forward to a great partnership in the future.

Writing down what I am grateful for feels amazing. You should try it! You don’t even need to post them to get the feeling. Just scribble them on the back of a piece of junk mail. And if you do it daily, you’ll find that you start viewing the world through a whole new lens.

What is your Long Run?

Goal setting can be about as boring of a concept as one can imagine. So why bother writing an article on a topic that I think is rather played out and boring? In fact, the reason I wanted to write about it is because I think that there is almost no value to setting a goal.

Almost none!

Let me share a couple of stories to illustrate the point. Two years ago at the typical goal setting time of year, I vowed I was going to lose the extra pounds I had gained that year. How’d it go? I gained an extra 10!

Last year, I set a goal to lose 25 pounds. How’d it go?

The result was that I lost even more than I hoped, faster than I hoped, and the change has been sustainable.

What was different was that I employed a modified method. After I applied this approach I started noticing it being used by leaders to make big changes with dramatic results in a variety of settings. Yeah, it was that think where you buy the grey Honda Odyssey and you see a grey Honda Odyssey everywhere. (that might be because they are actually everywhere)

Over the years, I have seen (and participated in) strategy sessions where many very smart and well intentioned leaders spend 75% of their strategic time setting goals. What happens with that time is discussions of where to focus resources, what markets to enter or leave, debating what should be most important, and thinking about what levels they should or could set their targets. These are all important discussions to be had. In fact, I don’t know if they should spend much less time on any of these topics.

Unfortunately, I think we get so fatigued by this work that once we’ve accomplished the task of actually picking a goal, we’re ready to move on. Unfortunately, this is where I believe the real power of the goal lies. The power emerges when we build plans and systems to help us execute on the goal even when times get tough. Unfortunately, we spend far too little of our time figuring out how we’ll actually achieve our goals.

But what if we flipped how we spent this time? We could spend 25% (or less!) of our time thinking about our where to set the target, and 75% thinking about what we need to do to pull it off. After all, would it have mattered had I wanted to lose 20 pounds or 25? No! I just needed to get on the path to getting there!

Interestingly, there is real science we can apply to increase our chances of successfully accomplishing our goals. Let’s explore a few things I see effective leaders do that takes what the science says about goal setting that transforms it into real change. It is called the WOOP method. (Many thanks to the amazing people at woopmylife.org for their hard work developing this method - I am incorporating their thoughts in this approach)

First, we do need to spend a little time dreaming about our goals. This is the 25% of where we should spend our time. We must ask ourselves “What is our WISH?” We should spend focused time thinking about our wishes. One practice I have noticed effective leaders doing is journalling about their wishes. The result of “wishing” exercise might be something simple, like “Lose 5 pounds” or “Improve my team’s output by 5%” or “Fix my relationship with Steve.” Or it might be a biggie: “Start my own business” or “Increase sales by 25%.” Whatever it is, we need to write it down and ask ourselves:

  • Is this wish dear to me? (i.e. do you really care?)

  • Is it feasible?

  • Is it challenging?

  • Did I summarize it in 3-6 words?

Next, ask ourselves “What is the best possible OUTCOME?” If we achieve our wish, where are we? What happened and how will it have affected me? How would I feel? This might sound something like “I would be more comfortable” or “I’d sleep better” or “We’d fulfill all our orders.” It is important to articulate what our best outcome is and how it will make us feel. Once we do that, we must ask ourselves:

  • Is it a truly fulfilling outcome?

  • Did I summarize it in 3-6 words?

  • Did I take enough time to imagine this best outcome? 

  • If not: close your eyes and imagine the best outcome. Imagine it fully.

Next, ask ourselves “What is my main inner OBSTACLE?” There are two things we need to think about as we reflect on this question. First, focus on the word “inner." We need to explore what is holding us back because this is our controllable. We can’t control the market. We can’t control the weather. Focus instead on what we can control. Second, we must think about the obstacles themselves. I’ve found it helpful to write them down. This might be something like “I can’t say no to sweets.” or “I don’t want to ask people step up.” or “I am afraid of challenging the team.” These obstacles are real, and they are “inner” in that they are about us. When done, ask ourselves:

  • Is our obstacle an inner obstacle?

  • Is it a true inner obstacle or just an excuse? Think about it more deeply!

  • Did you summarize it in 3-6 words?

  • Did you take enough time to imagine your main obstacle? 

    • If not: close your eyes and imagine your main obstacle. Imagine it fully.

Finally, we must ask ourselves “What is my PLAN?” Let’s take time to develop our plan for overcoming these obstacles. This might be “Remind myself that I am fair” or “Don’t walk past the snack machine.” You might also try doing a little exercise called “if-then” for each of your obstacles. For example, “If Lauryn offers me sweets, I am going to say ‘I’m sorry but I don’t eat sweets during the workday now.’”

  • Did I find an effective action or thought to overcome my obstacle?

  • Did I summarize it in 3-6 words? (for each obstacle)

  • Check if the plan has the following structure: 

    • “If [obstacle], then I will [action to overcome obstacle]”

    • If not: Do the if-then plan again.

Of course, these are concepts. Take them and put them to work for you. Take your 2019 resolution (WISH!) and turn it into reality.

Eric Zakovich, founder and principal consultant of Long Run Leadership Consulting has been working with leaders, teams, and organizations since 1999. Want to learn more, contact Eric at eric@longrunleadership.com

Long Run Mindset: Shifting your perspective to make it up your hill

When out for a run through one of my favorite spots, there’s always a hill I dread. It’s near the base of Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, and it is about a hundred and fifty foot climb over somewhere around 100 yards. That’s steep!

The increase in the elevation takes everything you have just not to walk. When running it, there’s occasionally someone coming the other way who will give you a like that reads “Ooooohhhh….sorry for your pain.”

I’ve discovered a mindset shift that helps me make it through that hill. It helps me make it through challenging periods in life, work, and living in the world today.

Here’s the trick: When I am running up that evil, awful hill, I start out by looking at the top (or as far up it as I can see.) Then I shift my eyes downward, focusing just a few steps in front of me. I focus there for about 10-15 seconds, then I look up and look for the top of the hill for a second. Then I focus back on the steps just a few feet in front of me. And back and forth I go. After a few rotations like this, I am at the top of the hill. I’m still exhausted but I manage my way through that hill. I come out of it stronger (not at the moment, but in the long run) and I have a sense of real accomplishment.

This trick applies in many areas of our lives. You’re working on a project right now, that might feel like a slog. Your team is in the middle of a big system change and it seems you’ll never finish. Your relationship with an employee, peer, boss or friend is frustrating you.

Try answering these questions:

  • What’s the top of the hill?

  • What’s 5 feet in front of you?

Maybe the top of the hill is that a big system change is implemented. Five feet in front of you is designing a piece of a process and soliciting feedback on it.

Maybe the top of the hill is a perfect relationship with your employee. Maybe 5 feet in front of you is sharing some courageous feedback with them.

It’s a simple trick any of us can employ, but it requires that we think in both the long term and short term. It’s not either / or. It’s both.

Eric Zakovich, founder and principal consultant of Long Run Leadership Consulting has been working with leaders, teams, and organizations since 1999.

Blog 0000001: Why Long Run Leadership?

When I decided to start this company, I wanted to inspire real change.

Every consultant basically says that same thing. So how is Long Run Leadership different?

It’s different because Long Run Leadership doesn’t want to help you make changes just for tomorrow, or just this month, or just this quarter. I want your changes to matter - to really matter. And to me, that means these changes should stand the test of time. I want clients who want to be in it for the “long run.”

Sometimes we spend our seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and years focusing on just making it to the next thing. I want to inspire people to value the “long run.” I want to work with clients who have, or want to gain the mindset of the “long run.” I bet if you’ve read this far in a blog, you’re the right person for me to be talking with. So, let’s keep talking.

Truth be told, there is a cornier reason for the name of this company. Running is a personal passion for me. It is about more than just a form of exercise. It takes discipline, passion, planning, strategy, patience and a whole host of other concepts that I call the “long run mindset.” From time to time, I’ll share a bit of that runner mindset with a client and I always been surprised at how much they benefit from it.

What I have come to notice over the many years working with clients is that this mindset seems to be the primary differentiator between those that make changes that are sustainable, and those that get a temporary improvement before an inevitable backslide. Almost anyone can get results for a little while. We’ve all lost a few pounds only to see them magically reappear. We’ve all patched up an important relationship, only to see it return to a stressful place. And we’ve all found a way to get the financial results we are after, if only for a month or a quarter. But it takes a mindset shift to get those results repeatedly.

You might be saying to yourself: “First of all, Eric, I hate running. Second of all, you are really limiting your market. Get to the point!”

Well, I have good news for you! I’ve discovered that this mindset isn’t something unique to runners or athletes. Anyone can learn it. And anyone can benefit from it. You don’t have to like running at all to learn the mindset.

This mindset unlocks leaders, teams and organizations to achieve their goals, and enables them to keep achieving them. The mindset shift doesn’t happen overnight - it happens in increments over time. This is about long term sustainable results.

It’s why I've added six zeros to the number of this blog. It’s a symbolic reminder to me that this blog, this company, and the mindset I want to share with you is going to take time.

If you’re someone who wants to participate in furthering the message of the long run, connect with me, check back, comment, or tell a friend about this blog.

Happy Long Running!

Eric Zakovich, founder and principal consultant of Long Run Leadership Consulting has been working with leaders, teams, and organizations since 1999.