Michael Neuendorff on Habits that Lead to Success

Julia Miglets

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JM: At the beginning of your presentation, you quote Arianna Huffington, who said: "You have to do what you dream of doing, even while you're afraid." For people who are in search of success, what would you say are the most common reasons why fear is inhibiting?

As much as we like to say it's a great thing, we live in a society that doesn't embrace failure. It comes down to human nature and the innate fears that come along with it. The first fear is change, which people are afraid of. There is a law called the law of inertia, and it dictates that whatever is in motion will continue on the same path. For example, as life coach Marshall Goldsmith puts it, a few minutes from now, you'll probably be doing the same thing that you're doing now. Most people are like that because they fear change.

To seek success requires courage. That doesn't come naturally to most people because we are weary of the unknown.

The second fear that people have is failure.

We are conditioned our entire lives to be successful. In school, we are always being graded and evaluated.

To go to a particular university, we have to get high marks.

To get high marks in school, we can't fail.

If we take risks and get lower grades, we might not get what we want, which is acceptance to the University we hope to get into.

People are conditioned to be afraid to fail, and there are a lot of companies that often talk about embracing failure, but that's not the reality in day-to-day work.

Often, when an employee gets a review, what's pointed out in the discussion are the ways that the employee has failed, and what they need to do to correct those things.

Failure is just a necessary part of the learning process. It often precedes success. Few people succeed before they fail. A significant difference between the average and the super successful is how they look at failure.

Here in the Bay Area, we have a rising cost of living. It has become very expensive to either rent or buy a residence, and because of that, there is a lot of pressure to earn, because if you don't have a real income, you could find it difficult to find a place to live here.

That can inhibit the boldness and willingness to fail because you may not be able to afford it. A lot of people here feel like they can't afford the risk, and risk is a necessary part of seeking success, right? If you're fortunate enough to live in a place where the cost of living is low, the cost of failure is also lower.

JM: You talk about how associating with the right people is a key element to getting to where you want to be in your career and life. Which types of people would you say are the "right people"? How do you go about building these connections?

Jim Rohn, who was one of the greatest motivational and inspirational speakers in our society in the last 80 years or so, said that you're the average of the five people you hang around the most.

To associate with the right people. First, we have to understand who the right people are.

The right people are people who are where we want to be, where we want to go - people who have achieved what we believe is success, whether it's relationship success, career success, financial success, or parenting success.

You have to decide what success is for you, because if you want something like marital success, you want to make sure you associate with people who have that, people, who can be mentors to you.

If you want career success, talk to people who have already found it. Seek out advice and stories of experience.

So you have to seek out people who have already walked that path and have shown that they have some sense of what it takes to be successful in their endeavors.

These people should have healthy habits.

I believe that habits and discipline are keys to success.

Once you get to know somebody, you can tell if they have good habits and good discipline; they do what they say they're going to do, they always honor their commitments, they don't have bad habits, and they're role models - models of integrity. How do you find these people? You need to go out into the community.

Travel to conferences. Conferences are usually a great place to find people that are at a higher level of success than you. There are organizations like Vistage or Young Entrepreneurs.

Here in the Bay Area, we have the Commonwealth Club, which is a local club that hosts high-level speakers.

At a small business level, chamber of commerce holds meetings that you can attend to meet people that are successful with larger businesses than yours. There are civic clubs like Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs.

You'll find they are very successful and giving of themselves. For example, the Rotary Club's motto is "Service above self." Those people are givers. You want to associate with these people. You'll have to be proactive, and a bit aggressive in seeking relationships with them. It's not often that a very successful person seeks out a relationship with a less successful person. It happens because the less successful person reaches out to them for mentorship or coaching. You have to seek those people out aggressively. Within a company, seek to network with senior people in the organization.

You have to make an effort. I worked with a person at a large company who sought people out in the executive ranks to find people that might be willing to mentor him. It takes real tenacity to target these people and seek them out.

JM: What are some of the qualities that a person should have for someone to agree to mentor them?

Ambition. Because if your employer can see that in you, then they can see a willingness to do and try things that they might advise you because you have integrity and follow through. So, for example, if a person who is very successful agrees to spend one hour a week with you and advises you to do certain things, and it turns out to just be a conversation because you don't take the action, then they'll quickly lose the interest in working with you.

They won't think that you are truly willing to follow through and take action. You have to be action-oriented and ambitious. You need to make an effort. I worked with a person at a large company who sought people out in the executive ranks to find people that might be willing to mentor him. It takes real tenacity to target these people and seek them out.

JM: You implemented the words of Warren Buffet into your presentation; he said that successful people say "no" to most things so they can say "yes" to the bigger and better opportunities. Do you have any stories or examples in which this advice was used?

I had a client who was teaching at San Francisco State University. He was teaching a social media class, and he was nearing the end of his interest in teaching that position.

He asked me if I was interested in taking over for him because I was doing social media consulting at the time.

I said sure.

Being on the faculty of a university is a good thing to have on your resume. I went in for an interview, and I received the position. I started teaching the class, and I enjoyed it.

But after two years I realized that it was now holding me back from other things.

I wasn't getting that psychological reward anymore.
There were other opportunities that I was missing out on because I had this commitment. So, sometimes, it's not that you say "no" to a new opportunity; it's that you say "no" to an existing opportunity.

You have to fight that inertia that I mentioned earlier.

We don't like change. We fear change.

It's difficult for us to give up a source of income to seek out seek out something even more rewarding.

It was difficult, but I put in my resignation after two years of teaching the class. After that, I was able to release myself to do greater things, and more business came to me after that. Greater business opportunities rewarded me.

As you start to grow and become more successful, you have to say "no," and that's not always easy.

JM: A tip that you gave (which can benefit your physiological well-being) was to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. People have too much going on, and too many stressors to get a proper amount of sleep. Is there a strategy you have to separate responsibilities from rest?

Every night at 9:30, I have a notification that goes off on my phone. It says "update Asana, review calendar, go to bed." Asana is the task management tool that I use that lets me delegate tasks to the two people that work for me through Asana. So I update the tasks, and then Asana will send it to them as an email, telling them "Mike has assigned this task to you." That's a great way for me to handle my responsibilities.

I try to delegate as much as I can so that I have less on my plate and less on my mind. After this, I review my calendar. Use your calendar appropriately. Block time on your calendar for your most important work. Once you feel on-top of what's coming up, your stress levels are reduced. Often, stress is caused by feeling uncertain as to how you're going to get everything done, or you feel overwhelmed as to all that you have ahead of you.

A good technique to handling all of this is to write out tomorrow's task list today. Another thing that I've started doing, and this is a success secret of a lot of super achievers, is to meditate. I'm not a good meditator, but I'm trying to do it more and more because I continue to read about really successful people who take time out of their day to just sit and chill.

People who are stressed and hyperactive and don't know how to relax are the type of people that have the hardest time falling asleep at the end of the day.

JM: How has your advice impacted you? Was there a certain place where you didn't want to be, that inspired you to achieve success in a strategic way?

I was associating with people that weren't exactly good for me. I spent too much time on things that were non-essential. I was staying up too late. I'd stay up all night working, and then I would brag about it. But I came to realize that it totally burned me out for days. It felt good to get a lot of work done overnight, but the next day I realized I was almost useless. Rest is essential.

That's when I started doing things like putting "Go to bed" on my calendar. Your clients are paying for your freshest self. What they expect is your best. Reducing stress is what creates energy. I came to a point where I was succeeding, but it was at great expense. I realized that there was a better way, like delegating through other people. That was another key to my success.

Use your calendar appropriately. Block time on your calendar for your most important work. Prepare in advance for your commitments so that you're not doing everything last minute. Those were all changes that I made over the years that have helped me to be more successful.

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