I love starting things and it’s exhilarating to close out a project, but the middle ground can be a drag and it is your habits in the middle that will either move you across the “great divide” to complete your project or risk shifting into neutral and allowing projects to slowly fade and die.
I know the feeling of being in neutral all too well. It’s the feeling of being stuck, of lost passion, of not moving ahead. I hate that feeling and because I am naturally results driven, I absolutely cannot stand not moving ahead — in anything! But making a decision and being decisively committed to that decision are not always the same thing. You need to develop habits to bridge the gap in the "between", for being decisive even when those around you are unsure and uncommitted so that you can maintain your focus and push through the drudgery of the middle ground.
Start with why
The key to making a decision worth fighting for is wrestling the strong “why” to the ground before you start the project. The stronger the “why”, the more sustainable the project can be because it becomes your driver for when you naturally hit the drudgery of the middle ground.
Overcome fear of failure
One of my favourite sayings in this regard is “It’s easier to steer a moving car than a parked one.” That makes it clear to me and to those around me, that we had better get moving and avoid stalling out and that we can easily make course corrections once we are moving ahead. The key is to see the greater danger in being indecisive as a leader, as opposed to the danger of making a mistake.
[bctt tweet="As a leader your greatest danger is being indecisive. Not of making a mistake." username="kellystickel"]
And while not all opportunities are the right opportunities, we often never know unless we seize them.
Having a clear “why” and not being afraid to make a mistake helps you analyze the cost of seizing an opportunity. I have learned to decide which opportunities are right for me and for the organization based on how strong the why is for the opportunity. If there is not a strong “why”, then we say goodbye. If we have a strong why, then the next step is to overcome the fear of it not being the right decision or of it not working out. With a strong why we know that when we hit the inevitable obstacle, we will have enough determination to make it work regardless. Without a strong why, we won’t and therefore it’s not even worth starting.
[bctt tweet="Take a flying leap and develop wings on the way down @JohnCMaxwell" username="kellystickel"]
I love how John Maxwell advocates saying yes to opportunities and then figuring out how to make it work when you’re already committed. I did this in just becoming a pastor. I was asked to become the lead pastor of our church in Canmore when I was just a 22 year old worship leader. I didn’t have the foggiest clue what I was getting into or even what a pastor did all day, but I said yes and then have been developing my wings all the way down since then!
Prepare before the opportunity
The key is to prepare yourself before the opportunity arises. Many people miss opportunities because they fail to prepare themselves for it. Here’s what preparation is not: Knowing all the answers before you start. The key is to recognize when you know enough to start down a road. Otherwise, you’ll be plagued with the paralysis of analysis.
You might not be able to prepare yourself for all of the little details and the “hows” a new position or opportunity will give you, but you can prepare yourself as a leader. You also can prepare your emotional quotient and mental toughness that new opportunities demand. You have to challenge yourself and lead yourself first, before you can lead from a new position - and that takes discipline. I know that’s a four letter word to most of us, but it’s true none-the-less. Discipline is the ability to lead yourself.
[bctt tweet="Discipline is the ability to lead yourself." username="kellystickel"]
I find that each project or opportunity looks different and requires a different approach, but what is constant is me. If I keep growing myself then I know that the projects I am involved with will not stall out either. So, regardless of how busy I am, I have weekly personal growth times marked out on my calendar.
[bctt tweet="“When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” ~John Wooden" username="kellystickel"]
Establish invaluable habits
The biggest danger to completing a project is to be distracted by another one. So, in the attempt to avoid being distracted I have learned to use the app Evernote to write down my ideas and to categorize them. Then I block my week in categories of responsibilities and/or projects I am working on. I put that block right into my calendar. That way I can focus for a blocked period of time on my current projects and my mind knows that I will get to the new ideas in another block, so it relaxes me and I’m able to stay focused — well, mostly focused.
Priorities change with every step of the race and you need to prioritize an agenda that keeps you moving forward without backtracking or overanalyzing past decisions. I learned a couple of invaluable habits to prioritizing a forward moving agenda from John Maxwell in his book “Thinking for a Change.” The habit of planning and the the habit of reflective thinking. I have learned to take time to think and to plan. I actually take a week or most of a week, once a year for nothing but planning and thinking ahead for the year. It’s during this week that I pray through and think through my priorities and what is most important to me and the church for this next year. Then I go to work making it happen with our team.
The second habit I use is the habit of reflective thinking. This is taking time to think and reflect on the day or the past week and review what I did. I review my habits and determine if I am on track with my priorities and then make any necessary adjustments. This helps me in the middle to identify what needs to change. It is important to practice reflective thinking individually, but I also believe it is important for a team to practice reflective thinking. There needs to be regularly scheduled update meetings to review how things are progressing and to make any mid-course adjustments that might be necessary. And remember, if you are working on a project that involves others, any mid-course adjustments requires excellent communication. You start communicating by simply asking yourself, “who does this affect? Who else? Who else?”
Decision making doesn’t end at the starting line. Decision making in the middle requires better resources, different relationships and updated points of reference.
I am a rabid football fan and I was watching a program on the NFL Network (yes, I have an entire channel on my tv dedicated to 24/7 football — it’s glorious!) about the 2017 Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. This wasn't just any game, it made history in so many ways and is a great example of how a habitual winning mindset can led to victory. The program was called “sound of the game” and they mic’d up a number of the players in the Super Bowl so you could see what they were saying during the game. What fascinated me was what two of the players and leaders on the Patriots, Tom Brady and Julian Edelman were saying in the middle of the game when they were down 21-3 and didn’t seem to have a prayer to win the game. Edelman kept saying “this is going to make one great story.” Right after, Atlanta scored to go up 28-3 late in the third quarter. Instead of giving up Edelman said again, “now this is going to make an even better story.” I love that! What a mindset. His thinking in those moments is what made it possible for them to make the historical comeback, and he was right. It was one amazing story!
So learn to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I enjoy learning new things, so I embrace that, whether I learned those new things from doing something right or from doing something wrong. This is really all about embracing an attitude of gratitude. Being thankful for the little things and enjoying each stage along the way is vital — not easy — but vital.
T. S. Elliot said this: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” Soren Kierkegaard said this: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare, is to lose oneself”. World changers have different habits.
My top 5 habits might be…
- Reading the Bible daily - to see what God says about me and to be inspired by some of the greatest comeback stories in all of history.
- Praying - this is the part where I remember God is still in control even if it seems everything around me is not. He’s on the throne — I am not.
- Confessing my “I am” statements - like I preached the Saturday night at Fire conference 2017, I regularly make confessions about who God says I am and who I feel called to be. Confessing these daily reminds me of my why and of my destiny.
- Practice reflective thinking - I call this my hot-tub time, because I often do this in my hot-tub, but I like to reflect on the day or on my week and make regular course adjustments if necessary.
- Recreation time - I have talked about this often, but I use my off time on purpose, to not just rest but to recreate. Part of my recreation time is used to read books, and I have often gotten unstuck because I read something that gave me the answer I was looking for to keep moving.
“If you want to live a life that matters, don’t start when you get good; start now so you become good.” Your habits matter.
So how do you avoid shifting into neutral in the middle ground?
- Establish your why.
- Overcome your fear of failure.
- Analyze the costs.
- Be prepared.
- Establish invaluable habits.
Being prepared with a strong why and invaluable habits developed before you even begin the project will propel you forward, maintain your focus and guide you through the drudgery in the middle of a project.
So, start today by developing the habit of preparation and work on your personal growth plan.
If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email email@example.com.