When Opportunity Knocks, Will You Be Prepared?

Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip:
“It is not the will to win but the will to prepare to win that counts.”
Paul “Bear” Bryant, University of Alabama football coach

Everyone wants to be successful. Everyone wants to have more, be more, do more and enjoy more of what life has to offer. That being the case, what is the difference between those who accomplish a lot and those who accomplish so little?

Coach Paul Bryant gave the best answer to that question. Everyone wants to be a winner. But very few people want to engage in the rigorous hard work that is required to prepare them to win.

Mary Lou Retton, the women’s gymnastics gold medalist of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, said that from the age of seven, she gave up all the activities of a normal childhood in order to prepare to win in the Olympic Games. For nine solid years, she paid an incredible price in terms of practice, practice, practice, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out. She missed the opportunities for many of the social activities that young people engage in — dating, parties, and the senior prom. But she knew from the beginning that winning the Olympics would only be possible if she was willing to make the sacrifice in terms of hard, hard work for months and years in advance.

I don’t know what success means to you. You may want to go all the way to the top in your organization. You may want to make lots of money. You may want to earn the love and respect of the people you value. You may want to achieve outstanding physical fitness. You may want a relationship that is so fulfilling that your emotional dreams really do come true.

I don’t know what you want. But I do know this. The way to incredible success has NEVER changed. Success requires preparation and more preparation. As human performance expert Earl Nightingale noted … if you don’t prepare for success, when opportunity comes your way, it will only make you look foolish.

The good news is … there is a series of things you can do to become ready for success. And they all require self-discipline … which may not come naturally to you. In fact, the most “natural” thing for many people is to try to get by without preparation. Instead of taking the time and making the effort to be ready for success, they fool around, listen to music, watch television, text their friends, cruise their favorite social media sites, and then try to wing it and dupe themselves into thinking they are more prepared than they really are.

The result? Author Brian Tracy says, “And since we’re all transparent, since just about everyone can see through just about everyone else, the unprepared person simply looks incompetent and foolish.”

Today’s purpose is to get you ready for success, I recommend the following:

1. Make an honest self-assessment.

Look at your work and look at yourself. Be honest and objective about your strengths. What are you good at? Ask yourself, “What must I absolutely, positively be excellent at in order to move to the top in my career or in my life?”

You must be brutally honest with yourself when you ask this question. Solicit the opinions of people you trust, asking them to be brutally honest with you as well. And if for some reason you don’t think this is important, just watch a few episodes of “American Idol” to see how self-deceived a person can become.

At the same time you are doing your self-assessment of your strengths; ask yourself what you’re poor at. What is your major area of weakness?

Norman Augustine, the former CEO of the Martin Marietta Corporation, said the important thing he learned in business was the fact that your weakest skill often determines the extent to which you can use all of your other talents and abilities. In looking at the hundreds of people who worked below him in the corporation, he found that people’s careers were determined not only by their strengths but also by their weaknesses. The very act of overcoming a particular weakness was often enough to propel a person into the front ranks in his or her career.

You need to be aware of your strengths, and you need to be using your strengths … so you’re ready to grab all the success you can as it comes your way. At the same time, don’t let one little weakness … such as your tendency to procrastinate … immobilize all your strengths. That’s why you need to start with an honest self-assessment.

2. Start your day earlier and better.

Some of you are not going to like what I have to say in this section. But the fact remains that most (not all) highly successful people go to bed early and get up early. Unsuccessful people (again most, not all) go to bed late and get up at the last possible moment.

Many successful people make a habit of rising before 6:00 am. And what do they do at that time? You can be sure they don’t read the newspaper or watch television. They use that time to get a positive start on the day. They use those precious moments to get themselves ready and give themselves an edge over their competitors.

I know this habit of getting up earlier in the morning has helped me enormously over the years … spending the first 30 to 60 minutes reading something spiritual, uplifting, educational, and motivational. As the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” It’s the hour in which you program your mind and set your emotional tone for the rest of the day. I’ve found … and you will find … that when you start your day this way, you’ll be more positive, optimistic, creative, and energetic. You’ll be calmer, more confident, and relaxed. You’ll have a greater sense of self-control and well-being. And all of these feelings will prepare you for greater success.

3. Plan and prepare for your entire day … in advance.

It’s a characteristic you’ll find in almost every highly successful individual. They review all the tasks and responsibilities they have in the upcoming hours and they prioritize those activities. They decide which items are most important to do, which items get secondary importance, and which things should not be done at all unless all the other items are finished. They discipline themselves to start working on their most important tasks and stay with them until they’re complete.

But you may wonder, “How do I KNOW which tasks are most important in my preparation for success?” Simple. Just ask yourself another question: “Which of these tasks will help me the most in reaching my social and economic goals?” You may love what you’re doing, and you may have the talent to do it, but there may be no future potential in what you’re doing.

Remember Will Smith trying to sell high-powered X-ray machines in “The Pursuit of Happiness?” All of his good intentions and hard work were about as useless as trying to sell a high-powered fax machine these days. Plan your day, but also make sure your plan emphasizes the most important tasks.

By contrast, losers and low performers don’t plan out and prepare their days for success. They tend to do what is fun and easy before they do what is hard and necessary. Like all underachievers, they like to do the little things first. They are drawn to the tasks that contribute very little to their careers or future goals.

There you have it … three strategies to get you started … to help you get ready to succeed. I cover many other strategies in a great deal more depth in my keynote and seminar on “The Payoff Principle: How To Achieve More Than You Ever Thought Possible.” But all the strategies come down to being a more responsible, pro-active, self-starter. And the when you’re a self-starter, others don’t have to be a crank.

Action:  Spend a few minutes each day … for the next 21 days … planning out your day…. before you start your day. You’ll see an instant improvement in the success you achieve.