Author Archives: Kyle Larson

  1. How Changing Your Beliefs Can Help You Achieve More: Carol Dweck – Mindset

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    growth mindset

    “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.”

    Carol Dweck

    Changing your mindset can completely affect they way you lead your life. It can be the difference between stopping at a plateau of accomplishment or continuing to flourish throughout your life. The good news is that by understanding how mindsets work, you can change your mindset and help teach others how to be more effective. According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” people fall into two primary groups: having a fixed mindset or having a growth mindset.

    What is a Fixed Mindset?

    Someone with a fixed mindset has learned that their basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, are fixed traits. They are focused on demonstrating their existing skills instead of improving them. They believe that they don’t need to put in effort because they are naturally good at some things and bad at others. However, this is not true.

    What is a Growth Mindset?

    Someone with a growth mindset believes that their abilities can be developed with hard work. They may have some initial strengths, but those are just a starting point which can be built upon. This mindset encourages the learning process. Failures are seen as part of the path toward achievement and motivation to work harder. Virtually all great people have these qualities.

    How Your Mindset Impacts You

    Once you understand the two mindsets you will start to see them in yourself and others. I immediately remembered back to Math class in high school. I received low grades in Math because I just assumed that I wasn’t good at math and didn’t want to put in any extra effort and fail. I had been told that I was really talented with art and computers which tends to ingrain thoughts of all skills being fixed.

    Carol Dweck has done a number of studies on the affects of the two mindsets in children. In one study, she gave 5th graders three consecutive tests. The second test was purposely so difficult that every child would fail it. This way she could see how they’d bounce back on the third test based on differing feedback. She found that when students were praised for their ‘effort’ on the tests, they finished the 3rd test with scores that were 30% higher than the first test. Students praised for their ‘intelligence’ were discouraged by their failure and had scores that were 20% lower. This is why it’s so important to praise others for the work they’re putting in rather than their innate brainpower. Instead of being devastating, failure becomes a learning experience.

    Another issue with the fixed mindset is that it prevents people from trying things and reaching their full potential. Dweck did another study with children and found when offered the option of redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle or moving onto a harder one, those with a fixed mindset wanted to re-do the puzzle they already solved. These children told researchers that smart kids don’t make mistakes and thus were afraid to make one. Children with the growth mindset thought it would be strange to do the same puzzle again and wanted to learn something new. The growth mindset is focused on becoming smarter rather than the immediate gratification of success.

    How to Develop a Growth Mindset

    A growth mindset is something that you can nurture and cultivate within yourself. People may argue that we are all predisposed to certain skills based on our genetics. While it is true that at top performance levels genetics may be a limiting factor, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon where you’ve started and even excel beyond most people. Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Companies) struggled in school as a child because he is dyslexic. Instead of viewing this as crippling, he learned to work around it and built one of the largest companies in the world. Ultimately, a person’s potential is unknowable.

    I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

    Michael Jordan

    To develop a growth mindset, begin by listening to your internal voice. Fixed mindset thoughts are things like: “What if I fail”, “I’m just not good at this”, “It’s not my fault”, or when receiving feedback “They don’t know what they’re talking about”. Realize you can interrupt this voice and change it. Start to catch these thoughts and change them to a growth mindset by saying: “How can this help me?”, “This is an opportunity to improve”, “I just need to keep at it and work harder”.

    Additional Growth Mindset Tips

    • Adopt a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.
    • Don’t ignore feedback that can help you improve, ask for this feedback.
    • Think of life as a continual process of learning. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
    • Own your mistakes and failures. Learn from them and stick to it rather than running from them.
    • Look for friends, partners, and experiences that will challenge you to improve.
    • Focus on your dreams and set goals that you’ll need to work at to improve on your current position.

    How to Teach a Growth Mindset

    Once you’ve established your own growth mindset, you can also encourage this mindset in others. These are really important skills for parents and teachers to ingrain in their students. You can also be an example to others by responding to comments about how talented you are by telling them how much effort and practice you’ve put into your skill.

    Additional Growth Mindset Teaching Tips:

    “Parents should praise children for their effort, their concentration, their strategies,”

    Carol Dweck
    • Explain the mindsets and how they work.
    • Teach children that as you practice and learn new things, your brain makes new connections which makes you smarter.
    • Dweck mentions schools using a grade of “Not Yet” instead of “Fail” to show that knowledge is a growth process.
    • Praise others for their focus, work, and improvement rather than their talent. Instead of “You’re so smart!” say “Good job. You must have worked really hard!”. You might think praising someone’s intelligence helps their self-esteem, but it actually jeopardizes it and increases the fear of failure.
    • Instead of deflecting a failure by saying “You were great” or “You deserved to win”, encourage any progress and point out there is an opportunity to continue to grow and find future success.

    More on the Growth Mindset

    If you’d like to learn more about mindsets, I’d recommend reading Carol Dweck – Mindset or listening to the audiobook. She also did a TED talk which I’ve included below.

  2. Simple Daily To Do List Template

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    It’s important to understand where you’re headed in life, but to be exceptional you’ll need to have an intense focus on what you’re doing right now. This can be a very tough balance to maintain, but there are some tools that can help. I’ve found the combination of keeping a permanent list of long term goals and a disposable daily to do list extremely effective. I tried out a number of to do lists before discovering this simple, daily to do list template that I’ve been using.

    Make It Simple

    Longer term goals require tweaking and reviewing, but daily task lists should be as simple as possible. Their purpose is to remind you where your focus should be for the day so you can quickly take action. I’ve tried a number of apps to do this (Wunderlist, Any.do, Evernote) and they all have their strengths and work well. However, I’ve found that an even simpler method works better for me.

    I saw a couple of posts from John Zeratsky and Daniel Burka on Twitter a while back which showed John’s idea for a Post-it to do list. I’ve been using this daily to do list template for almost a year now and I love it.

    Simple Daily To Do List Template

    Get a Post-it and divide it into 3 rows:

    1. Make the first row 1 big item. This should be the most important thing to do today, and often will take the most time. You should feel like your day has been successful if you can accomplish this.
    2. Divide the second row into thirds and put in 3 medium things (maybe an hour or so each).
    3. The final section can hold some tiny tasks. I don’t always plan to check all of these off. Sometimes I also list things that I need to remember and will move into the top buckets on tomorrow’s to do list.

    Planning Your To Do List

    I plan out this simple to do list every morning right when I sit down at my desk. My first thought is, “What one thing can I get done that will make today a success?”. Sometimes this top item is obvious. If it isn’t as easy to decide, I’ll often take a look at my long term goals and figure out what I could do to move one of them forward. Otherwise, I’ll think of something that I’ve been putting off doing and make sure it gets done.

    Once you’ve got that one thing, the rest of the items should be a bit easier. Think of things that aren’t that time consuming, but that you’d like to get done. Don’t overload your day with too many large items. I also like to reference my list from the previous day and transfer things that I didn’t get done or that I added to the bottom bucket.

    Tips for Using the Daily To Do List Template

    These are a few tips that I’ve found helpful from using this method:

    • List only things you can accomplish, otherwise break them into smaller chunks.
    • I often have a free 15-30 minutes before I need to do something else. That is a great time to pick something off row 2 or 3 and get a quick win.
    • When something comes up during the day that I won’t be able to get to, I jot it down in the 3rd row so I can transfer it to tomorrow’s to do list.
    • Put the list wherever you’ll see it often. I put it on my laptop next to the trackpad. You could also put it on your phone, wallet, or desk.
  3. Creating New Habits

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    Creating New Habits

    “Successful people are simply those with successful habits.”
    – Brian Tracy.

    Reaching a goal often means creating new habits. Once you’ve got a clear goal that you’re passionate about, you can break that into small steps that are more approachable. It’s often the system that you apply to accomplishing a goal that defines how successful you will be. Building progress into your daily life as a habit can drive you toward your goal and beyond.

    Start Your Habit with a Goal in Mind

    When you’re ready to start creating new habits there are a few steps you can take to increase your chance of success. First write down your end goal and be as specific as possible. Instead of general goals like “Floss my teeth”, “Workout more often”, or “Read more books” find a specific target that seems reasonable like “Floss my teeth every night”, “Run a 7 minute mile by July”, or “Read 8 books by the end of the year”.

    You can set aggressive goals, but it’s a good idea to make sure they are possible. For workout goals you might check where you’re at and compare it to fitness levels for your age range; for other goals try breaking it down to see what you’d need to do each month/week/day to reach the goal and if it is reasonable.

    Begin Your New Habit with a Small Change

    Next, find a small win that you can start with on the path to reaching your goal. This is just a starting place that should require very little effort. For example, don’t try to start working out by heading to the gym every day; instead try doing 5 pushups somewhere convenient. You’ve just eliminated a whole bunch of unnecessary barriers (gym membership, travel time, etc) that might stop you from reaching your goal. Some other examples of starting places: “Read for 10 minutes before bed”, “Floss 1 tooth”, “Eat 1 vegetable”, “Get up 10 minutes earlier”.

    You’ll want to decide the what, when, where, and how’s of starting work on your habit ahead of time. That way you can dive right into it without any distractions. According to this article in the NY Times, willpower is like a muscle that you need to build. It slowly depletes throughout your day, and when it is weak you’ll tend to compromise more often. As you develop this habit, it’ll take less willpower. For this reason you’ll only want to try and build one habit at a time. You might even consider removing some decisions you currently make and replacing them with a system. These might include what you eat, scheduling your day, or what you wear. For example President Obama always wears blue and gray suits to eliminate an unimportant decision from his busy day (Steve Jobs did the same thing with his famous jeans and black turtleneck).

    Visualize to Strengthen Your Goal

    “Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not.”
    – David Eagleman, Neuroscientist

    Once you’ve got your goal and your starting place for your habit, you can try some helpful visualization exercises. Visualization will give you insights into how to reach your goal and how you will benefit from achieving it. Having a picture of success will help you stick to it when you inevitably find difficulties or temptations. Start by imagining yourself achieving your goal, just like watching a movie. What do you see? How do you feel? How is your life better?

    A UCLA study found participants were more successful when they visualized the whole process of reaching a goal, taking each small step on the path to success. Building a habit is a journey, and you want to visualize this as a process of growth. Many top-performing athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods used visualization as part of their training. Focusing on success trains your brain and helps make that image come true.

    Use a Trigger

    Habits are initiated by something triggering them. Most people have routines they do everyday without thinking. An alarm clock is often a trigger for people to start their daily routine which usually consists of a series of items that trigger each other. If you commute the same route to work every day and find yourself taking that route for another reason, visual cues might trigger you to head off your intended path and toward work instead without realizing it. According to researchers at Duke, 45% of everyday behaviors are repeated tasks set in the same location. You can use these location triggers to help establish your new habit. (Note that these triggers are equally important to remove or disrupt when trying to change a bad habit.)

    Try finding something that is consistent in your current patterns to leverage for the new ones you’re trying to create. For example, Ramit Sethi was trying to build a habit of working out and found that setting out his workout clothes at night, so they were right there when he jumped out of bed in the morning, helped him get right into his new habit. You could try adding something in your environment like he did, setting an alert on your phone, or placing your habit in the sequence of your current routine (e.g. when your alarm goes off, now you make your bed before continuing on with your routine).

    Build a Routine

    Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
    – Jim Rohn

    Now that you’ve started your habit, you’ll want to slowly build on it. Set a specific timeframe to stick to this new habit. For example, think of it as a 30 day experiment to get started and then see how you’re doing. There is a common misconception that it takes 21 days to create a habit, but the time varies greatly depending on the person and the habit. Research by Phillippa Lally showed that creating new habits took people anywhere from 18 to 254 days. Remember your visualization of success to stay motivated.

    Only try to make small improvements upon your initial simple habit (e.g. increase your number of pushups by 1 every day). Even if you only make a 1% improvement each day, it has a compounding effect, which will end up being outstanding over time. These small wins will help improve your willpower and reenforce the habit. Start thinking of yourself as a person who already has this habit (e.g. “I am a healthy person” “I am an athlete” “I am successful in business”).

    Deal with Failure

    Fear of failure and past failures can prevent you from creating new habits. This is why it’s important to start simple and take small steps. Researchers at University College in London found that missing your habit one time doesn’t affect the habit formation process, so don’t let it throw you off. Realize that top performers also make mistakes and get off track; they just adjust for the current reality and don’t give up.

    A better way to think about it is to plan for potential failures and decide how you will overcome them. Tim Ferriss uses a “cheat day” in his diet plan where he can eat absolutely anything he wants for one day each week. This helps prevent slipping during the rest of the week because you know in only a couple more days, you can eat anything. If you’re struggling, look for a way you can make your habit easier. What things are making you feel like giving up? Can you eliminate them or work around them? It’s important to keep a growth mindset; it isn’t about being perfect, it’s about continuous improvement.

    Celebrating Success in Creating New Habits

    As you’re building your habit, consider rewarding yourself afterwards. It’ll give you something to look forward to and help the process. A reward might be a smoothie after a workout, a cheat day on a diet (like mentioned above), or using some of the money you’ve saved for something fun.

    Once you’ve established your new habit it should start to feel automatic, but don’t take it for granted. Take a look back at where you started and reflect on how far you’ve come. Use that momentum when you’re considering taking on your next habit.

  4. GoalChamp Helps You Track and Achieve Your Goals

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    I’m excited to officially be opening the web app I’ve been building, GoalChamp, to the public. GoalChamp’s mission is to help you track and achieve your goals. Lots of people set goals or have New Years resolutions, but there isn’t a great way to track them. I found the same issue in tracking my own goals and that is why I created GoalChamp.

    Why I Created GoalChamp

    I never used to track goals. Instead I’d just live day-to-day and take whatever opportunities came to me and run with them. After college I was freelancing and wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do next, so I decided to try setting some goals. I wrote those goals in a notebook, for lack of a better place to put them, and over time found myself accomplishing a lot of them. Just that process of writing them down helped me focus on what I wanted and quickly identify opportunities that would help me get there.

    After awhile, I realized I hadn’t set any new goals and had no idea where that notebook had gotten to. I wanted somewhere that I could more easily track my goals, but wasn’t able to find a solution. There were print out templates and to-do lists that didn’t really fit the goal setting process. That led me to decide I should take a shot at creating a system that would help me and hopefully others as well.

    How GoalChamp Works

    goalchamp add goalOnce you sign up, you’ll be ready to add your goals. Currently, those goals are grouped into 1, 2, 5 and 10 year groups. When you click the button to add your first goal, you’ll be guided through 3 simple steps to create a goal. Each step has some helpful tips for creating effective goals.

     

    GoalChamp track goalOnce you’ve added some goals you’ll be able to open up GoalChamp anytime to do a review of your current goals to keep them fresh in your mind. Doing this often (I recommend in the morning or before bed) will help you see opportunities in your daily life that will move you closer to achievement.

     

    GoalChamp edit goalYou can also update your existing goals to track your progress using a counter (e.g. 1 out of 10) and view the amount of time left that you’ve targeted to complete the goal. You can add a to-do item that will be your next step to focus on in achieving your goal.

    Create an Account

    All you need is an email to setup a GoalChamp account (yes, it’s free). I hope you’ll sign up and give it a try. Let me know what you think, if it helps in reaching your goals, and if you have any suggestions. Also check back here on the blog where I’ll be writing some helpful articles on goal setting, goal tracking and (most importantly) achieving.

    Create a GoalChamp Account Here!

  5. Accomplish Big Goals With OKRs – Objectives & Key Results

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    This is an excellent talk on OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) for goal setting from Christina Wodtke, a consultant who has previously worked with/for Linkedin, Myspace, Zynga, Yahoo, and the New York Times. She goes over how to set OKRs, which were invented at Intel and are currently used a companies including Google, LinkedIn, and Zynga.

    A few notes on OKRs:

    • Objectives are qualitative mission statements – a shoot for the moon goal (Become the best tea provider in Northern California).
    • Set one objective per quarter.
    • Key results are what will result when you reach the objective and are quantitive, not tasks (e.g. revenue of $20k).
    • Key results can be graded on a scale of achievement (Google uses a 0 – 1.0 scale)
    • If the key results are all achieved, you made them too easy. Ideally you’d achieve only some of the key results (0.6 – 0.7 is an ideal score).
    • OKRs are to be used for alignment with a company mission, not for grading an employee in a performance review and therefore people shouldn’t be punished for not achieving them, but rather reviewed to find the right balance of difficulty.
    • It’s a good idea to share OKRs throughout your company and with other people so the team feels a common goal and so the owners of the OKRs can feel accountable.

    You also might want to check out this video from Google Startup Lab workshop if you’re interested in learning more about OKRs and how they’re being used within Google.

  6. Foundation Biz Stone Interview

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    Check out this great interview with Biz Stone (founder of Twitter and Jelly) from Kevin Rose’s Foundation series. Biz discusses the hard decisions he made to leave what may have been great opportunities (a full-ride scholarship and a cushy job at Google) to stay true to himself and his goals. His greatest piece of advice is that you need “to have an emotional investment in what you are working on”. It doesn’t guarantee success, but when things get tough it means you’ll hang in there longer and care more about what you’re doing.

  7. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

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    zero to one book

    Zero to One by Peter Thiel is an interesting look at how large companies are built. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Thiel, he was a founder of PayPal which eventually sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. Later, he made the first outside investment of $500,000 in Facebook and joined its board. After that Thiel created Founders Fund, a venture capital fund with investments in Airbnb, Spotify, and Lyft. He’s also the founder of Palantir Technologies which analyzes large sets of data for customers like the US government. Thiel writes from a place of experience on how startups can successfully go from inception to dominating their market.

    “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

    The most interesting points in Zero to One are where conventional thinking is challenged (contrarian thinking). Peter Thiel disputes the general consensus that competition is a good thing. His argument is that competition places the focus on one-upping the competition, rather than trying to make leaps in innovation. He uses Microsoft and Google as an example of two companies that have released products focused on competing with each other rather than using that effort to innovate in a space where they can control the market. This allowed Apple to carve out their own space and become more valuable than both companies.

    He argues that our educational system isn’t structured to help us build great companies. Instead, schools encourage students to learn very little about a wide variety of things to pass tests. In fact, they’re setup to fail people who might be extraordinary in a particular field and push everyone who passes into cookie-cutter jobs. He was on this path himself until he was turned down for a clerkship. This disruption ultimately led him to the entrepreneurial path where he found success creating companies.

    The most common way to create a company is to identify a need in the market and make improvements on what is currently being offered (or just copy them and try to get some small market share). Thiel considers this a “zero to n” approach (simply increasing the number of offerings available). The alternative approach that his book focuses on is a “zero to one” approach; starting from the ground up and creating something that doesn’t already exist. This allows the company to create a monopoly where they don’t have to focus on competition. When you think of a monopoly, you may picture some evil businessman plotting in his ivory tower, but Thiel’s contrarian view is that a monopoly is ultimately a good thing in business. He suggests it’s the only way to build a large, dominant company that is truly innovative.

    While most of the book covers Thiel’s view of the world and why businesses are successful, toward the end he covers his approach to investing and some thoughts focused on creating a startup. He suggests starting a company focused on small niche and then expanding to a broader customer base (e.g. PayPal starting with eBay Auctioneers). He lists seven questions that every business needs to answer:

    1. Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
    2. Is now the right time to start your particular business?
    3. Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
    4. Do you have the right team?
    5. Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
    6. Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
    7. Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

    Overall, this book had some helpful insights and some thought provoking ideas. It’s not exactly a step-by-step guide to creating a company, but rather a view into Peter Thiel’s philosophy, experience, and the commonalities that he has discovered working with a string of successful companies.

    Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

  8. How to Read More Books Using Audiobooks

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    how to read more with audiobooks

    Discovering the Problem

    When I’ve gone through the process of setting goals for myself, I have often attempted to read more books. Typically I’ve set a numerical goal (for example read 12 books, so I can read at least one book per month), but have either found myself not accomplishing the goal or finding myself in September having only read several books and trying to play catch-up. This year I finally figured out how I can consistently finish books and have really been enjoying it.

    The first step to solving this problem was figuring out why I kept failing at this reading goal. I have a hard time sitting somewhere quiet and focusing on reading without getting distracted or falling asleep. This makes reading a book take a really long time. Even if I’m enjoying the book it’s hard to get in a good consistent rhythm of reading, which led to a lot of partially finished books.

    How to Read More Books

    So the issue wasn’t setting an unrealistic goal or forcing myself to do something I hated, it was finding a better method to approach the goal. The first thing that I decided to try was switching to audio books. I had tried Audible in the past and had some success, but ended up having similar issues with falling asleep and then losing my place in the book, which was frustrating. So in addition to switching to audio books, I also switched the context where I was listening to them. I’m in the car at least a couple times a day (if not more) and it’s a perfect place where my mind is alert and there aren’t many distractions. I used to always listen to music in the car, so I just switched to listening to audio books. In just this short amount of time I can finish around 2-3 books a month. I’ve also found that going for a walk is a great time to listen, for similar reasons to being in the car (alert, captive mind). Not only am I going to easily achieve my goal this year, but I’m really enjoying it and learning a lot.

    Finding the Optimal Path

    My biggest take-away from this experience is that it can be extremely helpful to take a step back from what you’re doing and see if there is a better approach. To reach your goal try changing things like your environment, the tool you’re using, your sequence of actions, or even digging into your motivation for doing this in the first place. Even if you’re finding some success currently, you might find that there is a much easier path.

    Here are some of the books that I’ve enjoyed so far this year (I may write some more about these in the future):

  9. Welcome to GoalChamp

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    boxing gloves

    Hey, I’m Kyle and thanks for checking out GoalChamp. I’m a web designer, writer, entrepreneur, husband, dog owner. One of my favorite feelings is learning something new and putting it to good use. This blog is going to be a place where I can share what I’m learning for documentation, building a community to help like-minded people, and learn more myself.

    I’m currently running a handful of other sites, but none of them let me share the content that I’m most passionate about which I’ll be sharing here. That may include what books I’m enjoying, what I’m learning building my businesses (related to design, SEO, and other optimization), and cool things that others are sharing. This is all a learning process, so I fully expect to change my opinions over time and improve on what I share here. Not everything will appeal (or work for) everyone, but hopefully you’ll find something awesome here.