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Project ABC Update: How I Made Failure a Non-Option in 2014 and How You Can Too

abc“Success doesn’t happen in a night, it happens in the thousands of nights that no one will ever write a song about.” ~Paul Angone

What would you desire if you knew failure was not an option?

What would you be capable of if the people around you refused to let you fail?

In 2012, I chose to lose 40 pounds.

What it Feels Like to Not Have Failure as an Option

I came into college overweight and wanted desperately to lose the extra luggage and carry a six-pack instead (not the alcoholic kind).

In high school, I had much going for me: my grades, my extracurriculars, my friends, but not my health. If Jared was the spokesperson for Subways, I was the poster child for McDonalds.

I tried multiple times to change my diet and exercise.

P90X, Insanity, Low-Carb diets, you name it.

I failed.

In high school I did most things on my own. I thought I had enough motivation to do anything, but that wasn’t enough to overcome my own obesity.

While studying abroad, I took a course called Game Theory where I learned about commitment devices: a way to commit to your promises and turn them into results by changing the incentives (instead of rewarding an action, you punish non-action).

Consider the Chinese military general Han Xin, who supposedly created a commitment device for his soldiers: he placed them with their backs to a river to make sure they would fight. His men would have rather retreated than fight, and fight rather than die. By removing the option to retreat, his men chose fighting instead of a sure death.

I told Tina, my then-girlfriend, of my goal to lose weight and asked her to keep me accountable. To keep me accountable we set up a commitment device. Tina and I have known each other since we were 11, but for college we were 1,000 miles apart and saw each other only 4 times each year.

Our device was this: If I decide to “cheat” my diet or skip a workout, then Tina and I would not see each other the next time our school breaks aligned.

I had two choices: Workout and eat healthy or lose face with Tina and not see her.

As much as I disliked the gym and eating my greens, I hated not being able to see Tina even more.

Failure no longer became an option for me.

Each night she checked up on me to make sure I stuck to my diet and workout routine. Over time, with the fear of not seeing Tina again, I started to lose weight. A year later, I was 40 pounds lighter and saw going to the gym as one of the best parts of my day.

Lesson Learned: When you surround yourself with people to keep you accountable and make failure a non-option, you can achieve anything.

What Does This Have to do With My Business?

Are you falling behind from where you wanted your business to be?

Are you pushing things off to the next day?

Do you wish you had started what you’re doing today a year ago?

I know I am.

I haven’t written a guest post since November (my last Project ABC update).

For me, it was my lack of accountability. In my last update, I mentioned my work with Speak for the Meek leading to me to connect with one of my heroes and joining her revolution. The start-up grows each day and this summer I will be in Manhattan continuing our work

But between school and working with Susan, I had very little time to grow Speak for the Meek.

I do not regret it, because the collaboration that I am doing with Susan has been some of the most meaningful and impactful work that I have done. But in 2014, among a few other goals, my professional goals are to continue to grow Quiet Revolution while also making time for Speak for the Meek.

I needed to find some accountability.

How I Removed Failure From My Business

Over Christmas, I started talking to two of my best friends about our goals for 2014. We had different goals, but wanted to support each other nevertheless. We agreed to have brunch together each Sunday to hold each other accountable. Thus our mastermind (accountability) group was born.

As with any mastermind group, we broke down our goals into weekly objectives. For example, my goal of hitting 10,000 subscribers was broken down to writing at least one guest post a week, blocking out 2 hours each day to write and building online relationships, and to wake up and sleep earlier.

We named our group the “Retire at 35” club. It was mostly a joke, but as Emerson wrote, “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” As I did with Tina, my friends and I set up a commitment device for our group. After 21 minutes of brainstorming during our first meeting, we found the perfect device.

On our campus, there is an event known as the Naked Run, which happens the midnight before the start of exams, where about 100 or so students run naked across the busiest library on campus to the cheers of hundreds of other students.

As confident and fun-loving as my friends and I are, we are part of the 98% of the campus who would never think about signing up for the Naked Run. Our commitment device (if you haven’t guessed it) is that the failure to complete any of our weekly objectives results in an automatic registration for the Naked Run.

With the support of the “Retire at 35” club, I have submitted 6 guest posts (and it is only the 3rd week of our group – I am writing this post in mid-January).

Danny Iny once told me about how his mastermind group, the A-List Bloggers, kept him accountable. I did not see the true power of being in a group of passionate people until now.

Now, I want to show you how you can do the same by surrounding yourself with people who will keep you accountable and remove failure as an option.

How to Own Your Own Mastermind Group with Three Questions

Before I started “Retire at 35”, I did a lot of research into what the best mastermind groups were already doing. One of the people I reached out to was my friend Scott Dinsmore, who has a course and tons of free material on creating mastermind groups.

Here I summarize what I found to be three essential questions to answer if you want to form a mastermind group or re-evaluate the quality of your current group.

1. What is the Point of Your Group?

Mastermind groups come in all shapes and sizes. What will yours look like? Will it be centered around blogging-specifically, like A-List Bloggers, or more general goals like “Retire at 35”?

I chose my mastermind group to be a general one, because while building Speak for the Meek is one of my goals for 2014, it is not the only one I have. Goals such as exploring my spirituality, continuing my diet, and doing more pleasure reading are a few of the others. By having a variety of friends in my group who aren’t business-focused, I can draw on their experiences with different areas of my life.

2. Who Are the People Who Won’t Allow You to Fail?

Are the people in your group committed to their success, your success, and to the group?

Last semester I formed an online mastermind group with a few friends. While everyone in the group was committed to their own success and the success of everyone else, there was no commitment to attending the meetings. People stopped showing up after 4 meetings.

Keep the group small. I prefer groups of 3 to 5. My current group has three and another successful one I had last semester had 5. While a larger group allows you access to greater expertise and networks, they are hard to manage and each person has less time to be the focus.

3. What Are the Rules?

What’s On the Agenda?

“Retire has 35” has a simple agenda. Everyone is given 15 to 20 minutes to talk about progress of their past week, any personal or professional struggles they are having (we all brainstorm together how to best approach these obstacles), objectives for next week, and one thing for which we are grateful (I like this part best).

Decide on your agenda to maximize your time together and keep everyone focused.

Who is the Leader?

Who will make sure the meeting is on track? You can have one leader or switch it among the members to share the role.

Who Gets to Talk and What Can They Say?

This is a simple, but overlooked consideration. Will you allow someone to speak and then have a discussion period, or do you integrate the two? The smaller the group, the easier it is to integrate and have a conversation without someone feeling left out.

How personal will your group get? For example, if you are a business-oriented group, are members allowed to bring up personal relationship problems unrelated to the group? This gets messy if not addressed early.


What is your process for adding or removing members?

Set Accountability Rules

“Retire at 35” keeps an Excel sheet of everyone’s goals. At each check-in, we mark where everyone is on their goal, and we use a commitment device (the Naked Run) to keep us accountable.

What is yours?

When, Where, and How Often

This last one puts your planning into action. The more often your group meets, the more accountability and commitment you will have. However, if goals are more long-term you can also meet less frequently.

Once you have answered these three questions and formed your group, the last thing you have to do is actually meet and keep each other accountable – the hardest but most rewarding part.

What are your goals for 2014 and how are you staying accountable?


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