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The impact of Dan Steer on your everyday life, by Tim Van Acker

Tim Van Acker followed my Leadership Foundation training at the University of Gent in June last year and apparently I’ve been haunting him ever since 🙂

What follows is a short article Tim wrote to share with other members of my LinkedIn group “Leadership Foundation”, where previous participants and people interested in the topic can share references outside of training. I think some of what you can read here is a great example of getting and staying in Flow – a wonderful story of intrinsic motivation and awesome success, despite drawbacks and a very busy life. As a fellow marathon runner, I know what it takes and Tim has done a great job!

As a side-note, my insurance broker asked me to underline that I can take no responsibility for injuries sustained outside of training with me 🙂 Any further attempts to complete a marathon remain unsanctioned 🙂

 

In June 2011, I followed Dan’s “Leadership Foundation Course” at Ghent University. During one of his classes on prioritizing, Dan stressed out that if something is really important, you just do it. If you don’t do it, it means it isn’t important. This struck me, as I always said to myself “one day, I will run a marathon”. Up to that day, I didn’t run it, it was one of the things on my bucket list, something I wanted to prove to myself but I hadn’t done it yet… Was it really important to me? I didn’t want people to mock me as “the guy that runs a marathon with his mouth but not with his legs”… So, on that very day I made the decision that in 2012 I was going to run a marathon!

 

I had some running experience previously but I never ran further than 15km. In August 2011, I started training 3x a week to run a half marathon. I accomplished this goal in November 2011. It was hard, but I enjoyed the race and achieved my time goal as well. Ok, this was only half the distance I needed to run and winter was coming up which makes training harder… I decided to maintain my level of training throughout winter and spring and use summer to get in shape for the complete marathon.

 

In April 2012, I needed to pick the marathon I was going to run. I felt I needed something big, not a race where only 5 people and 6 horses are watching. So I enrolled for the New York City marathon. This was it, the registration was final, my flights were booked, I had some supporters to join me, now I really had to run the race, no way back… I had my physical condition tested in the University Hospital in Ghent and via a mutual connection, I got in touch with a multiple Belgian marathon champion. My new coach did a test run with me and gave me a schedule for 6 weeks after which I had to do a test over 5km to see how my progress was. We are now August 2012. The schedule consisted of 5 trainings a week: 2 interval training (very fast and exhausting), 1 very long and slow training and 2 recuperation trainings. As I still had my daytime job to do and I’m also involved in a contemporary dance group (for which I have to train 3 evenings a week), I knew I was going to be busy the next couple of months… Some days were quite hectic: getting up at 6h, starting work at 7h, finishing at 18h, going home and eat in a quicky off to dance class, returning home at 22h, suiting up for a run of 1 and ½ hour, taking a shower and going to bed at 1h. But I really wanted this, I wanted to run the marathon, I wanted to prove to myself I could do it, I wanted to be an athlete and I wanted to be able to say “one day, I ran a marathon” instead of “one day, I will run…”.

 

Six weeks later, my coach was happy with my progress and adjusted my training for the next six weeks. He really wanted me to perform at the best of my ability so the training volume increased. In November, I felt ready for it. My physical condition and confidence were peaking, I was going to conquer New York! Until hurricane Sandy arrived… The race was on Sunday 4th of November, we wanted to take a plane on Monday to adjust to the hour difference but Sandy made it impossible to leave… Our flight was rescheduled to Friday. Less recuperation time, but I still felt confident and motivated! We arrived in NY, retrieved my runner’s number… and found out just 15 minutes later that the marathon was cancelled… I have never felt so disappointed as I felt that moment. Three months of training, all for nothing…

 

The next morning I decided that this wasn’t going to stop me: I was going to run a marathon and I was going to run it as soon as possible! The same day, I signed in for the marathon of Valencia which was held 2 weeks later. I contacted my coach and he adjusted my training schedule. Back to the training ground…

 

Two weeks later, after all the training, the disappointment, the new trainings, I was more motivated than ever before. I was going to Valencia and I was going to give it all I’ve got! And so it happened that last Sunday November 18th, I finally did it. I ran the marathon of Valencia in 3h 23min 59sec. I was hoping for a time under 3h 30min and I achieved my goal. During the race, after 32km, I endured a pain I had never witnessed before but I kept going. Pain wasn’t going to stop me, everyone was suffering at that point, I had to succeed. Despite of the pain, I enjoyed the race. The atmosphere was great, especially during the last kilometer. When I entered the “stadium” were the finish line was and I heard the roaring sound of the crowd, my legs felt brand new and I sprinted like reborn to the finish line. I was an experience I will never forget, for that one moment I really felt like an athlete at the Olympics with thousands of people cheering for me. Once I crossed the finish, I was barely able to walk normal and I thought to myself “When did I ever had this stupid idea to run a marathon??!!”. But a couple of hours later, I was thinking “Actually, this was pretty cool, I might do it again one day…”.

 

To conclude, after a course of just one week, Dan Steer controlled my life for almost a year… Thanks Dan, for triggering me to really go for my dreams! I suffered I don’t know how many hours in rain, wind and cold on the road, but I enjoyed every minute of it! And perhaps even more important than finishing the marathon (of which I feel so proud), I now feel like I can accomplish everything I want! It really was an experience I will tell my grandchildren about and I all started one day in a class room at Ghent University with Dan Steer…

 

 

You’ve got to WANT it (or not, I suppose)

Today is day 7 without Coca-Cola in my life.

Its tough! After years and years of more than 1litre a day of the brown stuff, I’ve stopped. Since I don’t drink coffee, this makes me caffeine free for 7 days. And significantly lower in sugar too.

I tried this before and failed. You can read my other blog-post about it here (PERSONAL goalsetting). This week, I’m confident I’ve got the key (touch wood) and I realise that’s its the same as when I quit smoking… You’ve got to WANT it!

 

When I first “tried” to stop smoking (last century) I was20 years old. I had been smoking for 8 years already and thought it was bad. I thought “I must stop” and I “tried”. For a day or two I managed not to smoke, but it was hell. I wanted a cigarette so badly.

That failing experience was repeated a couple of times over the coming years, in differing degrees of “success” and hellishness.

But one day (a Sunday) at the age of 26 something different happened: By habit, I went to get a cigarette and suddenly realised “I don’t want this crap in my life”. And I really didn’t. I had suddenly understood. As Charlie Sheen says: “I blinked and cured my brain”. I haven’t smoked since and stopping was the most easy natural thing I’ve ever done.

 

Trying to stop drinking Coca-Cola has been the same in the past. I’ve told myself “I should” and “its bad” and despite several good runs of not drinking it, I always wanted it, craved it. I was fighting against another stronger motivation (for Coke). I failed and like alcoholics, I suppose, falling off the wagon was worse than before I got on it…

Last Monday at 6.29am I suddenly realised: “I don’t want Coke”. I thought I did. My body thinks it does. But I don’t. There’s no should, or must, or “you’re going to die if….”  ….I just get it. And its easy. (OK, my body hates it, but its easIER).

 

Why am I telling this story? I think the same is probably true for any goal. As Dan Pink says, real motivation has to be intrinsic, with a sense of autonomy. Carrots (“buy yourself an iPOD with the money you save”) and sticks (“…or you’ll become diabetic”) might get some things done, but motivation gets everything done. I am motivated, all by myself …and it works.

 

If I compare this to the learning world…. I see that when people “get it” (the need to improve, that something else could be better) learning is easy. They just “do it”. I help them, but its easy. But when “my manager sent me” or “I ought to get better” or “I need a promotion” or “its part of my development plan” learning is a lot more painful.

 

In short: You’ve got to want it.

Thanks for reading.

(If you want to have a list of Coca-Cola-cold-turkey-symptons, mail me)

DAN

 

 

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Creating Strategic Action in 4 Steps

This blog post has been written as support for homework for participants from my training on “Creating Influence”.

…but the exercise described below is an excellent approach to defining strategic action for any mission you may undertake.

 

First, let’s describe “strategic action”

How is strategic action different to normal action? It considers one’s current position in close relationship to the mission. In this way, strategic action is focussed on high level priority-driven steps that are more likely to get us to where we want to be.

Example: Suppose I want to complete an IronMan race. I might be inclined to imagine that swim-training is the best action to undertake. But if I first do a good strategic positioning exercise, I might realise that my priority is in fact to first develop my business offer in order to earn more more so that I can liberate more time for training. If I don’t do this, I will have to a) squeeze in training in an already busy schedule and b) end up paying divorce costs due to marital negligence 🙂

 

Ready to think strategic??

 

STEP 1: Start by defining your mission

There is no sense in doing a positioning exercise if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve.

Example: If I ask you if I am strong, depending on what objective you imagine me working on, you may come up with completely different answers…

When defining your mission, be sure to use quality goals. Read my other blog post on PERSONAL goal-setting for some starter ideas..

 

STEP 2: …then assess your current position

One of my favourite tools for doing this remains the SWOT analysis. A good SWOT will give you ideas on recurring themes for improvement. Note: I said a GOOD SWOT !

 

Another tool I really like regarding personal influence is the network influence-grid proposed by Jo Owen in his book “How to Influence“. He suggests that for all the people in your network, you need to assess them in terms of whether or not you have a good relationship with them and whether or not they have power (to help you in your mission). A network influence-grid therefore has 4 quadrants…

 

When the people you know are mapped out in their relevant quadrants, you will better focus on people who are realy useful (top-right) or think about how to better leverage the existing relationships you have to get what you need.

 

STEP 3: Now, look for priority areas for action

I find that if I have done a good job of assessing my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, when I look at the results there are recurring and linking themes. These are the things to work on. Don’t worry about action yet, just look at which things seem to come back and back.

For example, in my last SWOT exercise I saw that:

  • My network was very complete
  • …but that I wasn’t using it well enough
  • I have great references for training work
  • …but never ask for referrals
  • There was an opportunity to better develop my own client base

An obvious priority strategic action: Leverage own network.

 

STEP 4: When your priorities are clear, plan baby steps

I am finally reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen right now. One of my clients said it was a great book, but I thought: What else could there be to learn about priority management? In the first 10 pages I had my answer:

Turn unmanageable TO-DO lists into “next concrete action” (baby-steps) lists.

 

In the scope of our exercise, this means asking 2 questions for each of the priority strategic actions noted previously:

  • What would be an ACCEPTABLE outcome?
  • What is the NEXT CONCRETE ACTION you need to take?

 

If you’ve followed the 4 steps ahead, you should have some good ideas to get moving with.

 

Good luck!

Thanks for reading 🙂

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