5 Steps to Challenge Success

This goes in the “easy in theory, hard in practice” bin. Just like constantly attempting to be IN it is a constant practice.

Daily, consistent work is not my strong suit.

Are you the same?

I’ve had need over the last few weeks to focus on achieving a goal. Thinking about what helps us to achieve, makes those tricks repeatable and breeds more success.

So to remind myself as much as anything, here are my 5 tips to pushing through and staying the course that I think are applicable to any agenda:

1. Start
2. Focus
3. Challenge
4. Flex
5. Share

Easy right?

Well if you’re like me, perhaps a little more depth and explanation is needed. So let’s take each part in turn.

Note: A physical challenge variation on those themes appears today over at my side-project Tredecem — the halfway point of my 6-pack abs challenge to raise funds for Pencils of Promise.


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

This should be the most straightforward, easiest, simplest, accomplishable step. “Just do it” right?

How often do we just not?

We know we should do the work. We ruminate on the work. We want to do the work. We plan the work.

We find crazy ways to delay and postpone just simply starting the work.

Starting often poses the biggest obstacle.

We procrastinate. “Oh but I work better under deadline.” Right? While that might be true, it doesn’t get the good work done.

What of projects with no deadline? Those big life projects we really want to achieve? Or ones that actually take consistent practice?

We have to start. Not do laundry, wash the dishes, rearrange our desks, check Twitter one last time, make a list, work on that one little quick thing… No.

Stop it.

What are you delaying?

Now start it.


Ok, we’ve — however begrudgingly — started. Kudos to us.

But now the reason we didn’t want to start (it is hard, mundane, boring, challenging, outside our comfort zone…) rears it’s ugly head and we want to quit.

1 – Don’t.

2 – Refocus.

I’m not just talking about truly focusing on the task at hand here though that of course is important. What I mean by “focus” is concentrating on the right part of what we are doing to insure that it is we continue doing it.

If we fixate on how much we don’t want to be doing the task at hand — be it making phone calls, entering data in a spreadsheet or holding a seemingly endless plank — the more it is going to suck. Finishing is going to be that much harder and likely we aren’t going to do a good job.

If we shift our focus to a positive horizon, breathe deep and relax into it, then the task becomes easier and we manage it much more effectively. If we embrace the suckage and then tuck it away, we are freed to focus on the good and right.

And more (seemingly) quickly will complete the assignment and move on.


This is another variation on the delay tactic that prevent us from starting. Don’t put your sweat into the small stuff.

If the task or achievement is too small, likely we won’t do it.

I know the reciprocal is true — that the big is daunting so we shy away from undertaking it — but that is the important work. It is supposed to be hard. The difficulty reminds us that it is important.

We must challenge ourselves big so we accomplish big.

This can take the form of setting ourselves to a daily practice (hello “I will work on Italian 20 minutes a day for the next month”) or giving ourselves some big life goal that requires consistent work to achieve. Once we are started and working — if the ideal big enough — it is that much easier to set ourselves to the work to continue.

Once we get going, we don’t want to break the string of successes. It isn’t worth it.

Seeing how far we have come, how much time and effort we have already put in towards the large or consistient, helps us stay the course to completion.


Every great plan needs some degree of flexibility and room to adapt… we just can’t get carried away and derailed.

It is important to take breaks when we need them and be kind to ourselves when we slip but we have to avoid allowing that to slippery slope into breaking faith entirely.

We are really, really, exceptionally good at talking ourselves into and out of doing what we ought. (see #1-3) So we must keep our deviations constrained. We have to be honest with ourselves and call ourselves on our own BS.

I find it is helpful to thus call the delays-slips-misses-self-convinced-breaks what they are: cheats.

We can and should allow ourselves to splurge. But we must keep it in mind that we are indeed splurging and we will refocus and rededicate back to the real work. For the rule is more important than the exception.


Social Pressure. Again, we are admiringly good at creating for ourselves the most flimsy of reasons for not doing what we know we ought to do. Peer pressure can work towards our advantage.

If we share our goals with others, with the reasons behind them, we self obligate into achieving them.

It also makes it easier when social pressures are working the other way and on the side of our splurgy gremlins.

How many times do we hear: “Oh just take a break for a night and come out.” or “You don’t want to miss this one opportunity right?” In those moments, if we have laid the groundwork previously, instead of trying to explain or — worse — giving in, is easy and quite effective to say:

“I wish I could but you know that goal I am working on that I told you about that is super important to me? I really got to do that.”

This is actually a win, win, win, win: We are more likely to start because we just said we are going to (Start). We have rededicated ourselves to the purpose, concentrating on the positive (Focus). We feel more obligated to do the work because we are giving up something to do it (Challenge). And we saw the splurge for way it was but — this time — chose to not take it (Flex).
"actions speak louder than blogs" #realitycheck #travel



Oh and through it all…

Always Be IN,



PS – Did I mention I am halfway through my abs challenge? Public Accountability right? I’m raising money for Pencils of Promise and you can help! If you are short on $, a click and a share are free and help me for my Social Media Class. Feel good of the day.




To -er is human

you are lovely anywayI pushed myself hard. 2 hours at the gym and even thowing-up in my mouth a little on a trainer bike.

I was pushing because I hadn’t moved my body like that in 2 days. Pushing because I had eaten poorly for the last 3. Pushing because I felt I needed to punish myself for sins that only I see in myself.

As I was blowdrying my hair — well just the bangs — and still sweating a little after sauna and shower, when a woman came up behind me and said “I want your figure.”

Over the sound of the dryer I wasn’t sure I heard her right. Clicking it off I smiled, “What?” She gave me a lovely but somewhat wry-twanged smile back and said, “I wish I had your figure.”

I was stunned.


INspiration cuts all ways

Granted, she– Laura — is overweight and I am not. “Svelte” I am also not. Surrounded by coeds, their slim legs and flat torsos clearly visible under greek lettered tops and shorts, Laura told me that she was envious of my frame.

“Pray for me.” she said “I have 100 pounds to get there.”

I still don’t know how to react to that.

“Do it slow,” I said “and take it easy on yourself. But stick with it. You’ll get there.”

I felt — feel — like all my words are inadequate.

“I couldn’t run a mile a year ago,” I tried again “and now I’m working out for 2 hours a night and able to do things I never thought I would be able to do.”

“Did you lose a lot of weight?” she wanted to know.

I paused. “It isn’t so much about that for me. I want to fit into my old favorite jeans again. I have some races coming up I want to do.”

Seeing something catch in her look, knowing I was dodging, I went on: “Yeah, I lost about 10-15 pounds… but now I can run a mile and more. That makes it worth it.”

“Pray for me.” she said again.

“I’ll definitely keep you in my thoughts…?” I extended my hand.


“I’m Joanna. You can do it Laura.”

“I hope so” she said with an overly bright smile that was smudged with sadness at the edges.

“Just keep at it.” I said to her back as she walked away. I sighed as I clicked on the hair dryer again. Then I looked in the mirror and, for the first time in a long time, I smiled at myself.

Working towards what?

Workout ScheduleAs I wrote out this story that night my nose was still twanging with dammed tears that I don’t know how to let fall. It is easy to want to be a source of inspiration from behind a keyboard. It is much harder to meet that head on… and feel like such a fake.

WE ALL think we need to do this or that to be better

Was I taking my own advice? Was I going slow? Was I really focused on my events and not my scale? DoI have clear goals that I am working towards and not pushing just to nebulously push towards some ideal of perfection?

Push tonight and maybe that will make the difference — tomorrow too. And the day after that. As long as I am working to be better, I will finally get there and be happy right? No. Not really.

We work to get faster, stronger, fitter. Wthout comparison, quantitative or qualitative, that ideal will forever remain unfulfilled. And along the way we get so mired in our imperfections we forget to look up and see what we are working to be, might already be our reality. 

Unless we have a clear, honest, true definition of what better is, we will always be working towards something that doesn’t exist. If we only -er, we will always fail (and be pretty miserable in the process).

This goes for the rest of life too. We grind out work when we are past the point of exhaustion. We pull the all-nighter. We squeeze one more appointment, phone call, email, thing into our days. We chastise ourself for not making more, doing more, being more. We try to be smarter, richer, happier, more more more…

We goal-suck the joy right out of life.

Yes, Laura needs to eat more healthfully, move her body and lose some weight to be healthy. By doing so she will likely have a longer and happier life — but the concrete goals — the inspiration — come first and remain the focus.

Am I doing that? Did I need to push myself so much that night? Everyday?

How do we find the balance?

Missing the accomplishments for the all goals

The first step is to be clear with ourselves about what we are working towards. There is a forest of objectives out there to scale and summit to be “happy and fulfilled” in body, mind and spirit. There are millions of paths through that forest and everyone’s journey is different.

We must decide for ourselves what we want to achieve and, most importantly, be specific in those expectations of ourselves.

The balance comes by not getting so single-mindedly focused that we neglect to intentionally enjoy our journey. We should see where we are as much as where we want to go.

We must be kind to ourselves. We must treat ourselves like a friend. We tell her that she looks great. We give him hearty congratulations for the work completed. We give constructive criticism wrapped in good intentions.

Our friend might need a little encouragement or push now and then but never needs to be berated or punished for not living up to expectations.

How often do we do that to ourselves though? How often to we chastize ourselves for what we have done wrong instead of focusing on what we have and are doing right?

I have been trying to consciously shift my internal monologue to be more positive, encouraging and helpful. 

I am also trying to be more mindful and clear with myself about what I am pushing for. What am I actually trying to accomplish? What does that look and feel like?

How will I know when I’ve gotten there?

Be IN- not -ER

We often have a desire to of be “better” — faster, skinnier, richer, happier. It is a error to -er ourselves out of being content where we are. 

The -er is nebulous and will never be finished. Banish the -ers and instead be INtentional. 

Our goals can change. We can update our plans and desires. We can quit and go after something else. We can run through the finishes and set our sights on the next line. Yet we should always be mindful of where we are and what we are working towards. 

Be honest with ourselves about what we want and specific about how we intend to get it.

Be a good coach and friend to ourselves: always there with a pat on the back and “good job” for the small/big victories; encouraging that last bit of effort to succeed but not breaking our spirits.

Be mindful of what we have already done. Keep that list of victories and accomplishments close at hand and heart.

Be on a path towards fixed ideals AND enjoying the journey to get there.

INternal Check

Laura has her 100 pounds. What is my motivator and my goal?

Speaking to her reminded me to check in and recalibrate — my expectations, my intentions and my enjoyment level.

Kicking my own ass at the gym isn’t “fun” but I admit that I most often enjoy it. I certainly enjoy knowing that I am indeed more capable, stronger, and faster than I was 6 months or 2 years ago.

The -ers are comparisons to where I have been to where I am, not my expectations going forward. 


Looking up from my efforts I see realistically where I have been and realize I am happier with my body and how I feel. I can, from a place of accomplishment and pleasure, refocus on the why of future goals and with intention work towards them.

Thank you Laura for the reminder to fix my points of purpose.

Thank you Laura for reminding me how far I have come.

Thank you for getting me to look in the mirror and smile at myself as I would smile at a friend. 

Be IN always,

Jo Signature

Have you had a similar moment when you realize where you are, or what you have accomplished, after missing it in persuit of your goals? Need help banishing an -er from your life? Leave a comment – I read and respond to every one.

PS – I am a writer. (Just needed to say that to remind myself of where I am)

PPS – To get more of my writings sign up for emails for exclusive content and the latest from the CBB world.


How to Have Uncertainly Clear Successes

Eliminate UncertaintyI got the pictured political mailer the other day from our US Congressman. In addition to all the other promises he is advocating (which I also don’t support) there was this exceptional tidbit: Eliminate Uncertainty.

As if our typical southern, good ole boy Rep is going to float down in pink tule and crown and bippity-boppity-boo away all uncertainty from our lives.

Talk about silly, empty, political promises.

Uncertainty isn’t going anywhere. Even the Dalai Lama faces uncertainty with flying in the form of a fear of sharks. If you don’t have any worries in your life then you are either the most Zen person ever to walk the planet or not not IN your life.

I’ve talked before about flinching forward and faking confidence but after attending the $100 startup book event last night I had a new brainwave about risk-reward and pushing past our fears of the unknown.

If we cannot eliminate our the unknown and our worry about it, we can at least mitigate the fear by focusing instead on our clear goals.

All eyes are on you (except they are not)

We’ve all been there. We walk into a new space and feel like everyone is going to judge our every movement and syllable. Where do I go? Am I dressed right? How am I supposed to act? Who am I going to talk to? Will I be liked? Will I be able to accomplish what I want to?

[Read more…]

Working Out Works for Me

I got on a treadmill about 2 years ago and couldn’t run a full mile. I was shocked.

I had a mental image of myself as a physically fit person which shattered with the panting, sweating reality. This state of being needed to change both for my body and my spirit.

I was carrying a few extra vanity pounds but (thanks 5th floor walk-up) I was not overweight. I was, however, obviously not healthy or active. I started with making my sporadic Bikram practice a priority and hitting the treadmill. My only gidea was to get to running a full mile without stopping… that means I’m in good shape right?

Jingle Bell Jogger “Get more fit” is pretty nebulous and thus not at all likely to be successfully achieved.

The turning point came a friend suggested that we sign up for a 4mi run in 4 months time. Yes. A true goal and friendly competition. I can work with that.

By the time the Jingle Bell Jog came and went I was hooked on what exercise could do for my body but also what it does for my mind.

Looking over posts and social media presence over the last year I have been surprised at how much I’ve talked about my fitness goals. I never thought I would be that girl – not even to think about a gym rat – but here I am tweeting about lifting and facebooking about triathloning.

It is common to see bloggers and lifestyle designers working on their bodes as well as their businesses. Pushing physical limits beyond conformity (hello obesity epidemic) seems to come with the territory of breaking other social norms for life path. There is the idea that we just want to be around for a long time, stay up later, do more, so we begin to take care of ourselves physically. There is escapism and vanity but there are two additional big reasons for this correlation.

Why do we do it?
1. The Finish Line
2. The spirit-mind-body triad

[Read more…]


The Universal FlinchI forgot my book when I left the house this morning so started “The Flinch” on the train into work. I arrived home this evening and I got into a very cold shower.

No, not like that — read the book.

I don’t know how long exactly I was in there but it was at least the requisite 5 minutes.

I listened to all of the screaming voices in my head saying that it was stupid and dangerous and pointless… and I did it anyway. Stepping into the spray. Shivering. Feeling the needle pricks on my legs over and over and over. Counting my breaths.

Even now as I am typing it sounds so foolish because it was so little.

Yes, the inevitable comparison to how others live: As I switched over to hot water I thought about all those that don’t have that option.

I also thought about how I wished I had just talked to the person on the subway platform instead (read the book). I thought about talking to my boys at the bar. It doesn’t really scare me to go into an unfamiliar place alone and sit and either be by myself or talk to someone.

I smiled at some folks on the tubes. Made space for someone who needed a seat. But “no problem” was the only conversation I made. While I know I could have done more, I flinched and talked myself out of it.

Lesson learned.

I also did do was more difficult for me: I came home and got in the cold shower. I’m glad I did. [Read more…]