Several years ago, I found myself working too many hours and serving too many clients. While I was making a good living, my quality of life wasn’t great. I knew something needed to change, but could never find the extra motivation — or the time — to discover how to close the gap between where my practice was and where it needed to be.
Finally, I decided a bike ride would clear my head. But rather than take to a nearby trail or whirl around the block, instead I went on a 400-mile trek that took me through three states. For the most part, it was a peaceful and uneventful journey, but it didn’t do much to solve my problem. Five days later on the way home, it happened.
As I turned left, facing into the sun, there was a bone-jarring impact, followed by a terrible thud. When I looked up, I saw a black Honda Accord. My bike handlebars were pointing in one direction and my front wheel was pointing in the other.
As I glanced back at the car, and through the sweat running down my face and the glare of the afternoon sun, I realized that no one had hit me. Instead, I had plowed into a parked car. It all took place within shouting distance of my house.
At that point, I took care of things with my neighbor (whose car I hit) and hobbled home, blood running down both of my legs. If ever there was a metaphor, that was it: I rode all that way and still fell short of my overarching goal. That was my business in a nutshell.
Change or Die
With that dose of perspective, I later came across “Change or Die,” a book written by Alan Deutschman, who asks readers whether they could make a major change to prevent their death. It’s unlikely, he says, unless three things are present: relationships, reframing and repeating.
All lasting change starts with a relationship. It may be a connection to a coach, a teacher, a love interest or a best friend. Or it could be a broader organization, like Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers or even the Christian faith.
Whatever the case, for change to stick we must reframe the situation. Take something complex and look at it from a different perspective with clarity and simplicity.
Alcoholics Anonymous does that by telling members to acknowledge a higher power, Weight Watchers by telling customers to assign points to everything they eat and the Christian faith says to turn the other cheek. All are powerful ways to look at the world from a different perspective.
The third element is to repeat the process. Because we’re human, we usually don’t get things right the first time. We must go back to the fundamentals, continuing to address the relationship and reframe the situation until it starts to stick.
Why We Fail
Many don’t think twice about hiring a trainer to help them feel better and get into shape. But for some reason, we often balk at getting someone to help us when something is amiss in our careers. That’s a mistake.
Bill Bachrach, the renowned financial advisory business coach, notes that people often lack three things when they fail to reach their goals: a compelling vision, a concrete plan and the discipline to execute that plan.
There must be a big driver or a compelling “why” behind what you do, he says. Otherwise, it’s too easy to quit. As for the importance of having a plan, I often think about my trainer, who runs eight miles a day in just over an hour as part of his regime to stay in top physical condition.
Without putting in the work, day in day out, there’s no way he’d be able to run at that pace. The same premise applies to business, because without having the fortitude to bounce back when you get distracted or discouraged, lasting change is impossible.
Armed with these new tools — what it takes to change, what stops us from reaching our goals and a coach to keep me focused — I was able to change my practice. For me, that meant working with fewer, more profitable clients as well as revamping my software and processes to improve efficiency.
For others, it could mean incorporating a different set of changes altogether. What matters, however, is the changes you make aren’t nearly as important as learning how to make them stick. That’s what ultimately puts you in a position to succeed over the long term.
Greg Luken is founder and CEO of Luken Investment Analytics (www.lukeninvestmentanalytics.com), a turnkey quantitative research and asset management firm.