Five Simple Things

Five Simple Things

A few words of wisdom from an old guy

simple things

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a friend to share some “life wisdom.” As I reflected on how I would respond, I thought about some interesting stats I recently read in an “Inc. Magazine” article by contributor Matthew Jones.

Over 40 million people suffer from anxiety, 14.8 million have some form of depression and almost 8 million people suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. In 2016 alone, the US spent almost half a trillion dollars on medications — that’s half of the global medication market.

I’ve long been a proponent of the link between mental and physical health. it has become clear to me over the years that there is an undeniable link between what goes on in our head and what happens in our lives. I’ve also spent much of the past 25 years studying the topics of leadership, personal success and workplace high performance. I’ve studied these topics academically, as a university professor and I’ve studied them practically, as a global business executive working in multiple countries, across five continents.

Relying on my research, as well as on my personal and professional observations, here are the five pieces of wisdom that I shared with my friend:

  1. Master your thoughts and change your life.

The single greatest battle you will ever wage is the one that goes on between your ears. But I am amazed at how many of us can develop such bad habits in our ‘thought-life.’ I’ve become a proponent of the simple equation T + F + A = R. Simply translated, our Thoughts lead to Feelings (or emotions). These feelings and emotions generally spur us to take some form of action and, as a result of those actions, we get a specific result. A simple example might include our beginning to think about losing weight. As we think about it, we begin to imagine what it will be like when we are slimmer, trimmer and in better shape. These thoughts begin to evoke certain positive feelings and emotions which lead us to tie on our walking or running shoes and start moving. When done consistently, over time, we begin to lose weight. This makes us look better, feel better and as a result, we continue the process.

This process also applies to inventions and disruptive innovations. You see, everything that exists in our man-made world today first began as simple thoughts. Those thoughts generated specific reinforcing feelings, which led to focused actions and as a result, we have things like automobiles, televisions, computers, smartphones, and the like.

Negative thought patterns are where we get into trouble. We develop an habitual negative perspective on many of the external events that happen to us, or around us, and that fuels a chain of negative thoughts. Those thoughts generate negative feelings and emotions which lead us to habitually do unhealthy or unproductive things.

Consequently, if you don’t like the results you’re getting, examine what’s going on between your ears. Make no mistake about it, the person who masters his or her thought-life, recognizing the inextricable link between thoughts, feelings, actions and results, is the one who has a leg up on generating sustained success.

2. Discover your calling and then dream big dreams.

The word “calling” is not one that is used very frequently within the professional workplace. The terms “mission” or “purpose” are much more common. It has become my personal and professional conviction, however, that each of us has a very specific calling (mission or purpose) for which we were created. This calling is not something we create, it’s something we discover.

For some people, their vocation IS their calling. These people have the opportunity to earn their living doing what they are specifically called and uniquely gifted to do. My father-in-law was a pastor. My wife was a pediatric nurse practitioner. Many others in the “helping professions” such as teachers, counselors, clergy, health care providers, and the like get to wake up each day and go to work and simultaneously fulfill their calling while doing so.

For others, and I place myself in this category, their vocation SUPPORTS their calling. In other words, the work they do on a daily basis, for which they earn their income, may not specifically be in line with their personal calling, but the work they do creates a platform from which they can fulfill their unique calling.

I will say, when I made the connection between what I believe I am specifically called and uniquely gifted to do and the work that I do on a daily basis, it was a complete and total game-changer for me. Take some time to make the conscious and emotional connection between how you earn your living and how it intersects, connects with and/or otherwise supports your calling.

3. Walk the tightrope of Results & Relationships.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been studying top performance among individual contributors, leaders, teams and organizations for over three decades — both academically and professionally. One question that drives me is this: “Why is it that so many people can generate sustained top performance, while others can only get spotty results at best?” This question has driven me for my entire career as I have examined top performing individual contributors, leaders and teams across startup companies and small businesses, large corporations, academic institutions, and non-profits.

What I, and many others, have found is that top performance requires a delicate balance between Results and Relationships. Furthermore, refusal to understand and honor this balance will result in one’s ultimate failure. In order to help me explain this balance, I like to use a simple set of scales.

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If, for some reason, an individual places an undue focus on one component over the other, suboptimal performance will be the end result. For instance, if one develops an over-reliance on the Results aspect of performance, at the expense of Relationships, s/he will likely experience wild success very quickly. That is, until s/he alienates everyone close by who must help sustain those results (e.g. stakeholders, customers, superiors, team members, etc.)

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If, on the other hand, one places an extreme focus on Relationships, at the expense of Results, s/he will be very popular. People will love him or her, until s/he loses everyone’s respect because of inconsistent results. In both cases, the scale becomes completely imbalanced and performance is drastically affected.

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At the end of the day, sustained top performance requires a balance between the ability to manage things and to lead people, including the ability to manage oneself.

4. No matter how much you earn … spend less.

Unfortunately, the urge to spend money today is at an all-time high. We are constantly bombarded by outside pressures from print, online and broadcast ads to buy more “things.” In my younger years, my wife and I used to say, “We can’t save any money, because all of our friends keep buying things that we don’t need.” That quip may seem humorous on the surface, but it rings so true for many people … and its effects can be devastating.

We have become a “monthly payment” society. To prove it, consider the first question we ask when shopping for a car, a home, new furnishings, or any large-ticket item. “How much is the monthly payment.” Instead of buying large-ticket items based on their inherent value, we buy them based on what we can “afford” each month. This fosters a “cash flow” (income minus expenses) mentality as opposed to focusing on our “net worth” (own minus owe). As a result, most people live paycheck-to-paycheck and are often one or two checks away from financial ruin. We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even like.

Two very simple practices can easily and automatically aid in controlling expenses. The first is an exercise everyone should conduct regardless of their current financial condition. For the next 30 days, track every penny you spend. Take 10–15 seconds after each and every transaction and record that purchase by either asking for a receipt, and/or by recording it on a small pad. Regardless of the method you choose, record all of your expenses and identify the reason for the expenditure (savings, food, auto, clothing, etc.) At the end of the 30 days, categorize your expenses and look at the trends. Use that information to make positive changes in your current practices.

The second method is to invoke a “cooling off” period prior to making impulse purchases beyond a certain amount. We use a threshold of $100 and 24 hours as the basis for our cooling off period. If we find something that we weren’t looking for, that costs $100 or more and we have the strong impulse to purchase it, we invoke a 24-hour waiting period before we purchase it. If the desire to purchase it after a full-day wait is as strong as it was on impulse, we will then consider the merits of making the purchase. This helps us better determine whether it’s more of a “want” or a “need.” Your threshold might be $25, $50 or $250. Whatever it is, establish it and stick to it. You’ll be glad you did.

One final principle for sound financial management is to “pay yourself first.” Make a habit of living on 70% of your take-home pay (net income) and saving/investing/giving the remainder. And, deduct your saving, investing and giving proportions FIRST, immediately upon receipt of your pay-check. Ideally, this would be automated with your bank so that you NEVER see the money. Establish several accounts (Giving, Savings, Investing, etc.) and then have that money automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into those specific accounts.

Here are my recommendations for an ideal distribution of your income:

10% Giving — Used for paying tithes and other charitable giving

10% Short-term Savings — This your emergency fund. It should contain a minimum of 3–6 months of living expenses to rely on during unplanned drops in income (illness, disability, pregnancy, etc.) Once 3–6 months has been accumulated, shift this money to your long-term savings (below).

10% Long-term Savings — Used to eliminate consumer debt first and invest second. Begins as 10% of your net income, but increases to 20% once you have a fully-funded emergency fund.

10% Education — For your personal education/development, as well as for the education of your children.

10% Entertainment — Used for recreation, vacation, etc.

50% Necessities — This is for all required living expenses.

Of course, it may be difficult, or even impossible, to BEGIN with these allocations; however this should be your goal or desired state. Establishing the process, even if the allocations are a bit different to start, and then diligently following it, every single pay-day is very important. Quite frankly, the process and discipline to follow it every single pay-day is more important than the allocation percentages themselves.

Finally, a word about debt. U.S. consumers are now drowning in personal, consumer debt. In face, credit card, auto & student loans and home mortgage debt are either at or near all-time highs. In a new study by Northwestern Mutual, the life-insurer and financial services company found that 45% of Americans who currently have debit, spend “up to half of their monthly income on debt repayment.” An interesting article in Business Insider summarizes this fascinating, yet deeply concerning study.

For the most part, consumers are “debt slaves” to credit card debit (likely the most expensive), auto loans, student loans and home mortgages. A few rules of thumb to prevent becoming slaves to consumer debt include:

a. Treat your credit card like the utility bill and pay it completely off each month. But to do that, you must refrain from buying anything on a credit card that you can’t pay off come payday.

b. Be willing to drive a used car. New cars lose thousands in value the minute they are driven off the lot by a new owner. And usually, three years into a five-year auto loan the debt on the loan exceeds the value of the car. So, be willing to drive a nice four or five year old car, for which you can pay cash, and make a faux “monthly payment” to yourself so that in five or six years (when the car is 10 years old), you can trade it in and pay cash for a slight upgrade (another four or five year old car).

c. Match your chosen educational institution with your desired major and career goals. The fact of the matter is, private and out of state colleges and universities cost considerably more than in-state public institutions. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying DON’T attend private or out of state schools by any means. But I am suggesting that you match your ultimate educational and career goals against one another and then conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the extra cost is worth the planned outcome. If it’s not, you might want to scale back your educational aspirations a bit in order to bring them more in line with one another. Secondly, if there is a risk you might drop out after a semester or two, consider starting off in a good two-year school, until you get your higher education legs under you. The impact of two years of college on wages is no different if your two years come from a community college, a state four-year university, or a private institution. Two years of college is two years of college, from a wage earning perspective. So, if you are a high risk student, consider a less costly alternative for your first year or two.

5. Give more and you’ll live more.

Now, this isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’ve had to develop it as an “acquired taste” over the course of my life and career. Giving has not always come easily for me. Growing up, I lived a good, middle-class lifestyle with a wonderful family. One thing my parents taught me well was the value of hard work. So much so, that I have worked extremely hard my entire life, beginning in the fifth grade mowing yards, continuing through high school where I worked at a local gas station. Upon graduation from high school, I entered Army Basic Training. Throughout college, I worked full-time as an emergency medical technician, paramedic and respiratory therapist. Money was always something I worked very hard for and when you work that hard for something, you don’t tend to loosen your grip on it very easily. Little did I know the enjoyment I would receive once I learned how to give more freely. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the ancient scriptures from multiple religions are abundantly clear about the importance of giving.

But giving does not always refer to giving financial gifts. It can also refer to giving of your time and your talents as well as your treasures. In fact, one of the best and greatest gifts we can give is the gift of our time. In 2005, Tim Kellerman and I wrote about giving the gift yourself in our book The Abundance Principle. In doing so, we offered a few suggestions of ways we can make ourselves available to others, including:

  • Write a letter of encouragement to someone who might be discouraged.
  • Spend an hour with an old friend and say how much you appreciate him or her.
  • Hug a member of your family and say why you love him or her.
  • Visit someone in the hospital and pray a prayer of faith.
  • Gif the gift of kindness to someone who needs help.
  • Spend some time in a nursing home encouraging the residents.
  • Volunteer your time in a local charity.
  • Offer to babysit the children of a single parent
  • In some other way, use your special abilities or talents to help someone who might not even know what you’ve done.

The burning question you should ask yourself is this, “If generosity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict, or even to charge me?”

There is a story about a wealthy gentlemen who took a detailed inventory of his personal belongings every year. Upon reviewing the listing of his possessions, he would retrieve his most prized possession from the list. After spending a little time with the treasure, he would then proceed to give it away. He described his purpose for doing so, “If I am able to give away my most prized possession, then I truly own it. If, however, I am unable to give it way, then it owns me.” The poignancy of that story hits me squarely between the eyes. Mother Theresa is quoted to have said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.”

When we realize that giving of our time, our talent and our treasure does not rob us of anything but actually generates both tangible and intangible increase in our lives, we start to live in a totally different way. When we make the leap from saying, “What must I give?” to saying “What can I give?” life takes on a whole new meaning. Trust me … this leap doesn’t happen overnight. It happens because we consciously choose to starting giving more … and as a result, very gradually at first, we start living more!

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field GuideThe Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit

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