Today’s guest is Terry Lancaster, who just published a book called “Better! Self Help For The Rest Of Us.”
He recently reached out and offered me an advance reading copy of the book, and since I’ve been a silent stalker of his for some time, I eagerly accepted. I read the entire book in one evening because it was too much fun to put down. Terry has a great sense of humor and a no-nonsense approach to life that I find refreshing.
So I invited him on our podcast to talk about it.
And you may wonder… what does “self help” have to do with business and marketing? Well, don’t let the genre fool you. It has everything to do with business and marketing – from how productive you are to how happy you are and a whole lot in between.
This episode (and Terry’s book) is just in time for your New Year resolutions (tip: skip them this year and take some of Terry’s advice) and perfectly coincides with a lot of what we’ve been saying lately about work-life balance. Or maybe not so much “balance” as “intertwining.”
Trust me, you want to hear – and read – this.
Terry Has Actually Lived His Talk
One of the fascinating things about Terry is that his book is essentially based on how he made his life… wait for it… better.
By his own admission he ate a little too much and drank a little too much (more) and one day he thought, wow, I need to do something better with my life.
And instead of setting out to be awesome and rich and beautiful and shiny, he set out to improve something. One step, one action at a time.
He’s tired of everyone telling him (and the rest of us) that were not rich enough, not thin enough, not good looking enough. That we don’t have the nicest, whitest teeth or the wealthiest client list or the most perfect 6-pack abs.
The cool thing about Terry is that instead of doing the whole “woe is me” routine, he decided that he didn’t need to be any of those things. He just needed to be better than he was.
Be who you are. Only better.
Great, So How Does This Work?
Not only do you not have to strive for perfection but you can be perfectly content with what you have. And that sounds fabulous, but it sounds a little idealistic, too. Doesn’t life just suck sometimes? Aren’t we sometimes just fat and broke and cranky?
Maybe… but Terry insists that the first step to making your life better is to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Most of us, he says, are busy trying to get from “bad” to “best”.
Instead, start by thinking of how good you already have it.
You probably have a roof over your head. If you’re reading this, you have internet! And a computer. You’re probably not living in a van down by the lake.
So begin to believe that you have it pretty good right where you are now. Be grateful.
And once you stop feeling like you’re starting from the worst possible scenario, you can take the next step which is to stop feeling like you have to get to the best possible scenario. You only have to get… wait for it… better.
The Miserable Crowd
Some people like their misery. Some people are comfortable complaining. They will perpetually compare themselves to other people (and find their own lives lacking). They will lean towards pessimism and negativity.
Admit it, you’ve been there. We all feel disappointment in where we are. We want more.
And a lot of people are prone to complaining instead of gratitude. So I want to know… how do we help those people? The ones who aren’t satisfied with their lives? Our friends and family who complain, who feel lacking, who can bring a party down every time someone asks them, “So, how are you?”
These are people we care about and even if we feel grateful, it still makes us feel bad when people we care about feel bad. So what do we do?
Terry is realistic. He says we can’t do anything. We have no control over other people, how they feel or behave. The only thing we can control is our own behavior and responses. His advice is simply to live your life in a state of gratitude, work toward the thing you want to be better at and let your joy shine as an example to others.
I have to admit, I completely agree. In fact, it’s something I’ve struggled with, too. When people I care about are perpetually unhappy, I want to help. And there may be practical things I can do to help in difficult times, but as far as changing how someone feels, that’s not in my control. And it’s not in yours. No matter how much you care about someone, you can’t fix their problems or lives.
But what you can do is live yours. Instead of participating in negativity and pessimism, you can lead by example. Instead of indulging people who complain constantly you can live in what Terry refers to as your own joy.
You don’t need to convince anyone that your way is right (or better!) You just need to do what you need to do. And the same way that those negative, complaining people can bring you down, you can bring them up – just by existing in their space.
Marketing Is The Problem
Terry says something else that I agree with, which is that the reason many of us are so dissatisfied is because of marketing.
After all, what is marketing if not the pursuit of proving that something is missing and you need it right now! You need that car, those white teeth, that job, those clothes.
And what sells those things is the story of extremes. People who lose a hundred pounds. People who start a business in their basement that gets bought out by Facebook and they become billionaires overnight.
Those stories make us think we want that. We can do that or be that or get that!
But those are extremes.
And nobody tells you the story of the guy who lost five pounds but is super happy about it. Or landed that one awesome new client. That stuff doesn’t make the evening news because it’s ordinary. But that stuff is also real life.
The sooner we can live our real lives and not the ones we’ve been told to want, the sooner we will actually be happier and get better at the things that matter.
Getting Past The Abstractions
This all sounds nice, but how do we actually get better? Skip the motivational talks, Terry says. In fact, forget the idea of motivation entirely. Instead, work on building habits.
Do one thing at a time. Choose to run. Choose to make a sales call. Do it today. Then do it the next day. Then keep doing it.
Doing that will build a habit so the action becomes automatic.
By the way, this is totally possible and you can take it from Terry, who has clearly proven that he’s made his life better, or you can take it from me because I actually took his advice. Every day, once a day, I do a pushup. That’s right, one pushup. I’m not trying to get buff and strong. I’m just trying to do a pushup.
And after two weeks, I’ve been doing a pushup every day because… I don’t know, because that’s what I do now. And that’s when behavior becomes habit. The cool thing is that after a while I actually will become stronger, even though I didn’t do anything especially dramatic.
So your job is to pick something you can do, want to do, to make your life better in some small way.
Then do it.
Don’t make it a big goal or a huge challenge. In fact, don’t make it a goal at all. Terry says that goals are about outcomes and what we need to do is concentrate on inputs. And the inputs are the behaviors. Once we input the right behaviors, the outcomes (or goals) will follow naturally.
So go ahead, I dare you. Do one pushup, right now. Then do it again tomorrow. After a few days see what happens. I bet you’ll just do it. If you’re like me, you may even get off the floor eventually! And maybe after that you’ll even do two.
The best part is that you’ll improve your fitness along the way.
And by the way this goes for business, too. Make that sales call. Now. Then make one tomorrow. Eventually you will improve your bottom line.
We humans are excuse-making machines. So I pose some excuses… I mean very good reasons… for not doing what I know I need to do to make my life better.
For starters… I’ve been down the whole “improve your life” road before. I’ve gotten on good streaks with good momentum. Then something happens. I get tired. It’s the holidays. I’m busy. And I stop.
Now I’m off the bandwagon. So… what if I fail? What if I break my streak and stop getting better?What if I do a pushup for 300 days in a row then forget on the 301st and eat a whole pie instead? What do I do?
Terry says forgive yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to start where you are, whether that’s at the end or at the beginning of a streak.
Awesome. But what if I’ve fallen off the bandwagon and I want to start again but my inner critic is telling me I’ll never be good enough? It’s telling me I’ll always be broke or fat or never as smart as everyone else. Then what?
Terry answers this one pretty decisively. Tell your head to shut up.
Just. Stop it.
Everyone has that voice in their head. So just stop listening to it. In fact, Terry says that we have to train our brains the same way we train our bodies. We’re pretty used to working out at the gym but how many of us work out our minds?
We’re so used to the obnoxious voices that we assume they belong there. But with a mental workout we can learn to distance ourselves from those voices. And that workout is called meditation. The purpose of mediation is not to lead you to a mountaintop in Tibet but to teach you how to quiet the unhelpful narrative in your head and focus on the moment.
Great. I can do a pushup. And I can meditate. But what if I like Oreos? (And I do!) Should I deny myself what I want and call it progress?
Terry is pretty clear on this, too. He says… yes! Deprive yourself! Lots of people like heroine but do we tell them to use it once in a while? Hell no, we tell them stop it!
Oreos (or more specifically sugar) is just as addictive and I hate to agree with someone quite this much, but I know this from experience, too.
Ok, so we’re on our way to better health! And if you listened to our last episode you know how that leads to better focus and productivity at work.
But… what if I’m an introvert? And I don’t like networking? Or sales calls?
Terry says there are a million ways to connect with people. You don’t need to do any one specific thing. Don’t be afraid to try things that are outside your comfort zone but ultimately don’t make excuses for not doing something.
Apps: Helping Or Hurting?
These days there’s an app for everything. Or more accurately there are about a billion apps for everything. Whether you want to exercise more or be more productive, there are apps to help you track and even gamify your tasks.
But is this really a good thing? Are apps helping us track and improve or are they distracting us so we focus more on the app than on the activity?
We don’t have a good answer to this but truthfully only you can judge for yourself. If you use an app that helps or keeps you on track, then use it. But if it ends up as another reason to compare yourself to others (and find yourself lacking) or takes up more of your time than the activity you’re working on, it may be time to skip it.
The bottom line? Don’t overcomplicate it. Just get up and do something.
Your Action Item
From Terry: When you’re done listening to this podcast, take the next 25 minutes to focus on just one thing. Do you want to walk? Meditate? Clear out your inbox? Turn off all the beeps and alerts and focus on one thing for that period of time.
Links & Resources
Find Terry and his book online and as a bonus, if you go to his site during the week between Christmas and New Year’s you can download the entire book for free!
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