When I was laid over in Dallas on a trip to San Diego recently, I ran into an old friend from university. We’ll call him “James.”
After about five minutes of small talk and joking about each other’s choice in luggage, James let the floodgates open:
“To be honest Andy, I’m feeling a bit stuck in life. I’m 47 years old and I’ve spent the last 19 years at a job I hate. I can’t start over. I’m not going back to college. How would I pay my bills and send my daughter off to university without my six-figure salary?"
“Well, what is it that you want to do?” I asked.
“You know, I’m not sure,” James said. “But I know I want more. I’m scared I’m never going to be fulfilled and that I’ll waste the rest of my life feeling miserable. I’m not even sure where to get started sorting this out.”
I felt James’s pain because I’d been there before. At the peak of my corporate career, I felt frustrated with my lack of progress and just plain disappointed. I wanted to get past my plateau, and deep in my bones, I craved reaching the next level of what I was capable of.
To be honest with you: Getting to my next level wasn’t easy.
But looking back, the shifts I made can be taken by anyone regardless of age, career, strengths, or personality.
You’ll be happy to hear that there are just five of them:
Shift One: Get Clear, Get Visual.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the extraordinary power of visualizing your success. Athletes who picture themselves holding a trophy overhead. Singers who imagine hitting that one high note, over and over again. Or even actor Jim Carrey, who wrote himself a post-dated check for $10 million when he was still struggling to get by.
But if you’re like most of the people I work with, visualization might feel difficult at first.
Start by writing down your primary area of interest (the bucket your next level achievements will likely fall into), and answer the question,
“What do I really, truly want to do in this area?”
Next, imagine yourself as the person who does those things. Make it real; picture yourself not only doing those things, but also the daily routine you live as this version of yourself, from the things that you eat, the places you go, right down to the feelings you have as your head hits the pillow and you think about how your achievements have changed the lives of the people you love.
Walk through your visualization while in a meditative state of relaxation (if you’re new to meditation, apps like Calm or Insight Timer will be helpful).
Spend 20-minutes a day watching this movie play in your mind’s eye—the movie about what living at your best looks and feels like, will cement every action you take in the direction of your next level.
Shift Two: Be The Cartographer of Your Dreams.
To get to the place you’ve built that vision around, there’s no question that you’ll have to develop some new skills and enhance the expertise you currently hold. The key to your success here is gathering that knowledge and skill set in an organized, consistent way.
Before you go hiking through any new territory, you want to have your map ready. Likewise, it’s time to draw a map for everything you need to learn and implement to reach your next level.
List the five big moves you need to make, then create a task list and deadlines for each move.
Personally, I love pencil and paper for creating my maps because it allows me to doodle, but I’ve had clients report success using free tools like Workflowy.com or bubbl.us to break big ideas into manageable pieces and focus on one piece at a time.
Shift Three: Don’t Find the Time. Make the Time.
You make time for meetings, job interviews, watching big games on TV, right?
Most people make time for those things, but they don’t block time on their calendar for their life's work. Personal growth and development often take a back seat to things like deadlines at work and family obligations, but the fact is if it’s not on your calendar, it won’t get done.
Block time for your life’s work.
Apply the same intensity to the activities and moves you’ve mapped for reaching your next level. If there’s one thing that sets high achievers apart from dreamers, it’s consistency.
The other side of the coin here is that you might believe that you don’t have the time to block in the first place.
Don’t let this idea get in the way, not for one second. Before I pushed through to my next level, I was losing hours each day binge-watching things on Netflix, chasing links on social media, and chuckling at cat videos...but it wasn’t getting me anywhere.
When I decided to make my shift, I began asking the question “Is this activity actually moving me toward my dreams?” before every action I took, and it helped me stay focused on my big, gutsy goals.
Shift Four: Hit Negative Mental Chatter Where it Hurts.
“I can’t do this.”
“It’s too hard.”
“I’m too old.”
“I’m not good enough.”
You’ll be confronted with Automatic Negative Thoughts, or “ANTs” (I actually picture them as ants, marching into my mind) with any change you make in life, but when you’re working to make major shifts, they’ll come at you with full force.
In my coaching process, I recommend two action steps for countering these thoughts and hitting negative chatter where it hurts.
The first step is to prepare a list of positive statements that you see and repeat daily. Think of your thoughts like fly-fishing. Every time you get a negative thought on your line, release it like a fish that’s not fit for your dinner plate. Recast your line and hook one of the positive statements on your list.
The second step to counter negative thoughts is to make a conscious decision to celebrate your progress and the things that go well. Taking time to applaud your own accomplishments actually trains your brain to become addicted to success. It keeps you motivated and significantly softens the blow when things don’t quite go your way.
With these actions, you’ll be able to recognize your fears the moment they pop into your head and let go of them. You’ll have the room you need to set new beliefs as to what you can do and achieve—aligning you with the best within you.
Shift Five: Get a Coach
Let’s be honest: Going it alone, reading another book or attending another seminar or webinar will only get you so far.
Professional athletes and Olympic medalists didn’t get to where they did on their own, or by simply listening to podcasts and watching YouTube tutorials. They worked with coaches.
You need a coach in order to experience accelerated progress towards your big dream or goal.
If you’re ready and willing to make radical changes in order to meet your goals, coaching is for you. You’ll have someone there with the right background and perspective, to not only keep you on track, but also challenge and champion you along the way.
Selecting the right coach is so important—be sure to read their testimonials with a close eye and to ask lots of questions about their process, as well as the frameworks they rely on to deliver results to their clients.
If you’ve had a reality check like the airport encounter I had with James, remember: You might feel stuck, miserable, or lost, but you don’t have to remain this way. In fact, after working through these five shifts on his own, James sent me this update:
“Thanks again for talking me through this. I feel like I have possibilities at my fingertips again. I’m even talking to a new company about a role where I can put my true passions to work. My mind is open again and I’m excited about the future. And yes, I’m making time to celebrate it all (I'm taking Karen and the girls on a vacation to the Bahamas this weekend)!”
You have what you need to get to your next level—start making the shifts to get there today!