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8 Stupid Mistakes Smart People Make

Posted Mar 07 2011 12:59am

Stupid Mistakes Smart People Make

I bet you know quite a few capable people who are staggeringly unproductive.  They work long hours, stress themselves out and never seem to make any significant progress, right?

Over the course of our lives we all develop unproductive habits that hinder us from gracefully achieving our critical goals.  And often, in the fast-paced world in which we live and work we don’t even notice that we’re making the same mistakes over and over again.  To live a balanced, beneficial life and engage in a long-term satisfying work, ridding ourselves of these oversights is imperative.

Here are eight mistakes smart people often make and how to avoid them:

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek , Tim Ferris says, “Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference.  Being busy is often a form of mental laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”  This is Ferris’ way of saying “work smarter, not harder,” which happens to be one of the most prevalent modern day personal development clichés.  But like most clichés, few people actually adhere to it.

Just take a quick look around.  The busy outnumber the productive by a wide margin.

Busy people are rushing all over the place, and running late half of the time.  They’re heading to work, conferences, meetings, social engagements, etc.  They barely have enough free time for family get-togethers and they rarely get enough sleep.  Yet, business emails are shooting out of their smart phones like machine gun bullets and their daily planner is jammed to the brim with obligations.

Their busy schedule gives them an elevated sense of importance.  But it’s all an illusion.  They’re like hamsters running on a wheel.

The solution:  Slow down.  Breathe.  Review your commitments.  Put first things first.  Do one thing at a time.  Start now.  Take a short break in two hours.  Repeat.

Personal growth is healthy.  Personal growth is an achievement.  So long as it’s real.  The problem is the pressure to grow brings with it the incentive to make growth easier.  Or more precisely, to make growth seem easier.

‘Growth games’ that promote bogus achievements are popping up online at an alarming rate.  Many of them are contained within products and services provided by popular brand names like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  They each contain a psychological underpinning that supports a growth game filled with bogus achievements – an accumulation of points that’s tied to the intended benefit of the core product or service.

With Facebook it’s friends.  With Twitter it’s followers.  With LinkedIn it’s connections.

Yes, each of them serves a legitimate purpose if used purposefully in moderation.  But most people get so carried away – obsessed – with the growth game’s point system that they completely forget about the legitimate reason they started using the product or service in the first place.

If you’re playing the game simply for entertainment’s sake, and you’re aware of it, great, more power to you.  But if you’re striving to achieve more and more friends, followers and connections for the sake of achieving them, your achievements are totally bogus.

This is why it’s imperative to get your mind right about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

The solution:   Simply ask yourself:  Is this activity making a positive, tangible difference in my life or anyone else’s life?  Is it a true prerequisite for a genuine goal?  Alternatively, am I absolutely okay with doing this just because I like doing it, laboring free of any delusion that it benefits me or anyone else?  The Success Principles is a great read on this topic.

Sadly, very few people ever live to become the success story they dream about.  And there’s one simple reason why:

They never take action!

The acquisition of knowledge doesn’t mean you’re growing.  Growing happens when what you know changes how you live.   Most people live in a complete daze.  Actually, they don’t LIVE.  They just ‘get by’ because they never take the necessary action to make things happen – to seek their dreams.

It doesn’t matter if you have a genius IQ and a PhD in Quantum Physics, you can’t change anything or make any sort of real-world progress without taking action.  There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it.  Knowledge and intelligence are both useless without action.  It’s as simple as that.

The solution:  Success hinges on the simple act of making a decision to live – to absorb yourself in the process of going after your goals.  So make that decision.  And take action.  For some practical guidance on taking action I highly recommend The Now Habit .

You can’t control what you don’t properly measure, and what you measure predicts your future.  If you track the wrong things you’ll be completely blind to potential opportunities as they appear over the horizon.

Imagine if, while running a small business, you made it a point to keep track of how many pencils and paperclips you used.  Would that make any sense?  No!  Because pencils and paperclips are not a measure of what’s important for a business.  Pencils and paperclips have no bearing on income, customer satisfaction, market growth, etc.

Let’s use blogging as a real world example.  Many wannabe probloggers (folks who aspire to blog for a living) actually view their blog’s RSS subscriber count as their number one measurement of success.  They track it meticulously and then freak out when Feedburner (a popular  RSS tracking service) experiences one of its frequent hiccups.  But what they fail to realize is that their RSS subscriber count is not a crucial measurement for their goal of becoming a problogger because most RSS subscribers have a very low level of engagement with the host site and its various revenue generators.  And generating revenue is a must for a problogger.

Once again, what you measure predicts your future.  You should be measuring the things that are directly tied to your primary goal.

The solution:  The proper approach is to figure out what your number one goal is and then track the things that directly relate to achieving that goal.  In my example above on problogging, that goal should be “making money from a blog.”  And a few things worth tracking would be click through ratios on ads, affiliate conversion rates, in-house product conversion rates, customer/reader feedback, etc.

I recommend that you take some time to identify your number one goal, identify the most important things for you to keep track of and then begin tracking immediately.  On a weekly basis, plug the numbers into a spreadsheet and use the data to create weekly or monthly trend graphs so you can visualize your progress.  Then fine-tune your actions to get those trends to grow in your favor.

Many of us are perfectionists in our own right.  I know I am at times.  We set high bars for ourselves and put our best foot forward.  We dedicate copious amounts of time and attention to our work/passion to maintain our high personal standards.  Our passion for excellence drives us to run the extra mile, never stopping, never relenting.  And this dedication towards perfection undoubtedly helps us to achieve results.  So long as we don’t get carried away.

But what happens when we do get carried away with perfectionism?

We become disgruntled and discouraged when we fail to meet the (impossibly high) standards we set for ourselves, making us reluctant to take on new challenges or even finish tasks we’ve already started.  Our insistence on dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T’ breeds inefficiency, causing major delays, stress overload and subpar results.

True perfectionists have a hard time starting things and an even harder time finishing them… always.  I have a friend who has wanted to start a graphic design business for several years.  But she hasn’t yet.  Why?  When you sift through her extensive list of excuses it comes down to one simple problem.  She is a perfectionist.  Which means she doesn’t, and never will, think she’s good enough at graphic design to own and operate her own graphic design business.

The solution:  The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists.  It rewards people who get things done.  And the only way to get things done is to be imperfect 99% of the time.  Only by wading through years of practice and imperfection can we begin to achieve momentary glimpses of the perfection.  So make a decision.  Take action.  Learn from the outcome.  And repeat this method over and over and over again in all walks of life.  Also, check out Too Perfect .  It’s an excellent read on conquering perfectionism.

This point is somewhat related to the point above on perfectionism, but encompasses enough on its own to be discussed separately.

The number one thing I persistently see holding smart people back is their own reluctance to accept an opportunity simply because they don’t think they’re ready.  In other words, they believe they require additional knowledge, skill, experience, etc. before they can aptly partake in the opportunity.  Sadly, this is the kind of thinking that stifles personal growth.

The truth is nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises.  Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow emotionally and intellectually.  They force us to stretch ourselves and our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.  And when we don’t feel comfortable, we don’t feel ready.

The solution:  Remember that significant moments of opportunity for personal growth and development will come and go throughout your lifetime.  If you are looking to make positive changes in your life you will need to embrace these moments of opportunity even though you will never feel 100% ready for them.

Here in the 21st century where information moves at the speed of light and opportunities for innovation seem endless, we have an abundant array of choices when it comes to designing our lives and careers.  But sadly, an abundance of choice often leads to indecision, confusion and inaction.

Several business and marketing studies have shown that the more product choices a consumer is faced with, the less products they typically buy.  After all, narrowing down the best product from a pool of three choices is certainly a lot easier than narrowing down the best product from a pool of three hundred choices.  If the purchasing decision is tough to make, most people will just give up.

Likewise, if you inundate yourself too many choices, your subconscious mind will give up.

The solution:  If you’re selling a product line, keep it simple.  And if you’re trying to make a decision about something in your life, don’t waste all your time evaluating every last detail of every possible option.  Choose something that you think will work and give it a shot.  If it doesn’t work out, choose something else and keep pressing forward.

If you ask people to summarize what they want out of life they cough up a lot of words like ‘Love,’ ‘Money,’ ‘Success’, ‘Family’, ‘Recognition’, ‘Peace,’ ‘Happiness,’ etc.  But all of these things are totally different, and most people want all of them in their life.  Sadly, a vast majority of people don’t balance their life properly to achieve them.

I know an extremely savvy businesswoman who made almost a million dollars online last year. Every entrepreneur I know considers her to be wildly successful.  But guess what?  A few days ago, out of the blue, she told me that she’s depressed.  Why?  “I’m burnt out and lonely.  I just haven’t taken enough time for myself lately,” she said.  “Wow!” I thought.  “One of the most successful people I know isn’t happy.”

I also know a surfer who surfs almost all day, every day on the beach in front of our condo complex in San Diego.  He’s one of the most lighthearted, optimistic guys I’ve ever met – always smiling from ear to ear.  But he sleeps in a van he co-owns with another surfer and they both frequently panhandle tourists for money.  So while I can’t deny that this man seems happy, I wouldn’t classify his life as a success story.

These are just two simple examples of imbalanced lifestyles.  I could think of dozens of other examples like these just out of the small pool of people I know personally.

The solution:  When your work life (or social life, family life, etc.) is busy and all your energy is focused in that arena it’s all too easy to find yourself off balance.  While drive and focus is important, if you’re going to get things done right you still need to balance the various dimensions of your life.  Completely neglecting one dimension for another only leads to long-term frustration and stress.  For some practical guidance on balancing your life I recommend Zen And the Art of Happiness .

Photo by: Florian Leroy


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