Anytime I’m discussing a challenge—OK, fine, anytime I’m whining about a problem—someone eventually says, “Yeah, yeah. I get it. So what are you going to do differently?”

That response would be fairly frustrating if it weren’t right. Discussing—OK, fine, whining—never helps. The only way to overcome a problem is to do something differently.

But there’s no reason to wait until you’re forced to make a bad situation better. There’s a better approach.

Why not be proactive and turn average into awesome?

All you have to do is pick a way to do things differently.


1. Embrace Who You Are

I would like to ride a motorcycle like this guy. Or climb like this guy. Or run a company like her. Or change the world like him.

But I won’t.

And, for the most part I’m OK with that, because I can always be a better me. I can ride faster or climb better than I do now, and I can make a bigger difference in the lives of my family and friends.

Think about the people you admire and pick a few of their qualities to emulate, not their accomplishments, because you can’t be them.

But the cool thing is, they can’t be you.


2. Let Other People Be Who They Are

Your customers, your vendors, your suppliers—they aren’t going to change. Don’t expect them to.

Pick one source of frustration and decide what you will do differently, including, possibly, walking away.

When you stop focusing on negatives, you may start to notice the positive qualities you missed. Rarely are people as bad as you make them out to be—and if they are, it’s up to you to make whatever changes are necessary.

They won’t.


3. Help Someone Who Needs Help

Don’t wait to be asked. Pick someone who is struggling and offer to help.

But don’t just say, “Is there some way I can help you?” Be specific: Offer to help with a specific task, or to take over a task for a few days, or to work side-by-side.

A general offer is easy to brush aside. A specific offer not only shows you want to help; it also shows you care.


4. Help Someone Who Doesn’t Need Help

Think about it: Compared with others, the best-performing people don’t need help. So they rarely get it. And as a result they’re often lonely, at least in a professional sense.

So offer to help with a specific task. Not only will you build a nice interpersonal bridge, but some of their better skills or qualities might rub off on you as well.


5. Help Anyone

Few things feel better than helping someone in need. Take a quick look around; people less fortunate than you are everywhere.

For example, I conducted an interview skills seminar for prison inmates (after all, who needs to know how to deal with tough interview questions more than a convicted felon?). It took only an hour of my time and was extremely rewarding.

Most of the inmates were touchingly grateful that someone—anyone—cared enough to want to help them. I got way more out of the experience than they did.


6. Change How You Measure Success

Over time, we all develop our own ways to measure our performance. Maybe you focus on time to complete, or quality, or end result. Each is effective, but sticking with one or two could cause you to miss opportunities to improve.

Say you focus on meeting standards; what if you switched it up and focused on time to complete?

Measuring your performance in different ways forces you to look at what you regularly do from a new perspective.


7. Change Benchmarks

If you develop accounting software, it’s fun to benchmark against, say, the success of QuickBooks. Setting an incredible goal is fine—if you don’t aim high, you won’t reach high—but failing to hit a lofty goal can also kill your motivation.

So choose a different benchmark. Look for companies or people with similar assets, backgrounds, and try to beat their results. Then, after you do, choose another, higher target.

Aim for the heights, but always include a few interim goals along the way. The journey will be a lot more fun.


8. Go Opposite

If you haven’t reached a goal, then what you’re currently doing isn’t working.

Instead of tweaking your approach, take an entirely different tack. Pick one goal you’re struggling to achieve and try a completely different approach. If you’re hoping to finish a marathon and endless long runs aren’t paying off, try interval training instead. Sometimes small adjustments eventually pay off, but occasionally you just need to blow things up and start over.


9. Drop One Thing

We all have goals. Often we have too many goals; it’s impossible to do 10 things incredibly well.

Take a look at your goals and pick at least one that you’ll set aside, at least for now. (Don’t feel bad about it. You weren’t reaching your goals anyway, so what’s the harm in dropping a few?)

Then put the time you were spending on that goal into your highest priority. You can’t have it all, but you can have a lot—especially when you narrow your focus to one or two key goals.


10. Rework Your Workday

Get up earlier. Get up later. Take care of emails an hour after you start work. Eat at your desk.

Pick one thing you do on a regular basis, preferably something you do for no better reason than that is the way you always do it (which makes it comfortable), and do that one thing in a different way or at a different time.

Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity breeds complacency, and complacency is a progress and improvement killer.


11. Choose a New Habit

Successful people are often successful because of the habits they create and maintain. Take a close look at the people who are successful in your field: What do they do on a regular basis? Then adopt one of their habits and make it your own.

Never reinvent a wheel when a perfect wheel already exists.


12. Choose a Person to Mentor

When I teach I learn more than the people I’m trying to teach. (Hopefully that says more about the process of teaching than it does about my teaching abilities.)

When you mentor another person, you accomplish more than just helping someone else. You learn a few things about yourself—and hopefully find new inspiration and motivation in the process.


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Photo of climber courtesy of Shutterstock.