How your mind, heart, and gut determine your success

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

Think about what makes you… you.

Your brain is more than six pounds of gray matter; it’s the cranial hub for billions of neural pathways and firing synapses exploding into muscular actions and reactions, thoughts, memories, and even dreams. The difference between brain and mind can be paper-thin and yet, it can also be worlds apart.

Your heart is more than a blood pumping muscle; it’s the bedrock of your emotions. You give your heart away in love, but that never refers to your actual muscular heart. Your heart is wild which is why your ribs are a cage. Some of the smartest, most accomplished people in the world have made daring, courageous, and sometimes stupid decisions because they were following their heart.

Your stomach is where your body stores and processes food, but it’s also where your instincts live. It’s what goes haywire when you’re uncomfortable, nervous, and afraid. So much of who you are is grounded in the connection between your amygdala in your brain and your chemical instincts in your stomach. Sometimes it’s innate but inarticulate to the point where we use words like, “I just have a gut feeling about this.”

The integration of you - writetojoncook Jon Cook

How your body responds to risks, failure, and challenges

It’s in these three areas, our mind, our heart, and our gut, that we ignite our dreams. You may want to go back to school, which is what your heart wants to do, but your mind plays logic and reason as saboteurs. “You’re too old,” “You didn’t do well in school the first time, why now?” “It’s too much work,” “There’s no guarantee you’ll have a job ready when you graduate.”

You may be wanting to start your own business. This isn’t some random idea; it’s been burning a hole in your gut for years and now you’re wanting to make the leap. What does your gut tell you? What does your heart say? What is your mind trying to convince you to do?

When it comes to chasing your dreams, your mind, your heart, and your gut are all essential to your success. Trust your gut, even when it seems impossible. Listen to your heart, especially when you’re tempted to compromise or take a shortcut. Train your brain to feed on hope and opportunity, not objection and anxiety.

Leverage these three powers and your dreams will thrive. Lose touch with any of these and your dreams will be short-lived. May you use these God-given abilities to listen, learn, and follow how He leads you to pursue extraordinary opportunities ahead.

Do you deserve rest?

Did you feel guilty the last time you actually took a day off?

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: you work your butt off, kick your feet up on the weekend, and still feel lazy? Do you ever feel guilty while you’re resting, almost like you should be doing something productive?

You could work 50 or 60 hours a week, and still feel like you don’t “deserve” your rest. If you haven’t been working hard, then you don’t need rest; what you need to do is work. If you have worked hard, then rest isn’t just an option; rest is a necessity.

Do you deserve rest? - writetojoncook Jon Cook

It’s hard for me to take a day off and simply rest. I feel like I have to be constantly doing something, even if it’s not work. For the past (almost) two years, I’ve worked my butt off to build a business. It’s not uncommon for me to work hard Monday through Friday and then do house projects or other “non-business” work on the weekends.

God gave us the gift of rest. He called it the Sabbath. In the ancient times the people of God recognized the Sabbath as one day, Saturday according to the Gregorian calendar, that they simply didn’t work. It was a time to rest and breathe and think and decompress from six days of work.

After Jesus came to earth, Christians began recognizing Sunday as the Sabbath day. A lot of people still stick pretty tightly to Sunday being a day of rest. For me, I still try to keep at least one day a week, usually Sunday, as my rest day. And yet, there are still Sundays where I feel unproductive.

The truth is, resting is doing something. Resting can be very productive. Rest is a reminder that it’s not all about me. Rest is a reminder that the world spins on with or without me. Rest reminds our hearts that God’s power, not our own, sustains our lives.

How to find rest

  • Go to bed earlier. One of the highest spiritual disciples can be sleep. If you’re needing more rest, start with sleep. Don’t fall asleep to your phone or the TV. Just go to bed without an electronic glow lulling you to slumber.
  • Get away from the familiar. Drive to somewhere beautiful and soak it in without distractions.
  • Unglue your eyes from your screens. This means your phone, tablet, computer, TV, Apple watch, anything with glowing pixels needs to be detached from your focus.
  • If you’re really pressed for rest, block out time in your calendar (half-day or a full day) as a meeting that cannot be moved. It’s way easier said than done, but if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, you need your rest or there won’t be a you to rest at all.

What are some other ways you find rest? Share your thoughts in the Comments or by replying to your subscriber email.

Dream Chaser: Aaron McHugh

Every once in a while I like to feature another dream chaser, someone hustling their way to a better tomorrow. These are people I’m blessed to cross paths with, encourage, and serve in their work. Believe me, your life will be richer and better because you get to know these people, too.

Aaron McHugh - writetojoncook Jon Cook

I met Aaron McHugh last summer when a mutual friend introduced us. Aaron needed help with his eBook Don’t Quit Your Job. Fire Your Boss. The title caught my eye as interesting and then I saw that Seth Godin endorsed it. You officially have my attention.

Don’t Quit Your Job. Fire Your Boss. is a fantastic read. In the trendy, sometimes escapist world of entrepreneurism, the easy answer is to start your own venture when work isn’t going the way you’d hoped. Aaron turns the “flight” work attitude of many in our society on its head in this work. Do yourself a favor: download a copy today.

Aaron McHugh - Work Life PlayI love the premise for Aaron’s platform: Work. Life. Play. His podcast features a myriad of voices speaking into these three areas. Some of his previous guests include Andrew Todhunter, Erica Dhawan, Seth Godin, Jeff Goins, and Tripp Crosby.

The crazy thing is that blogging and podcasting aren’t Aaron’s full-time job. He’s already built an incredible platform through his side hustle. (Spoiler alert: you can also build your dreams through side hustle.) He’s also an Ironman triathlete, mountaineer, and an avid adventurer.

One of the most inspiring experiences I’ve witnessed this year is watching Aaron reposition significant parts of his life. He and his wife recently sold their house, served at a youth camp/ranch for part of the summer, and Aaron’s currently biking through the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile excursion.

I get to be a part of helping Aaron build his platform. There are some incredibly exciting opportunities on the horizon and I can’t wait to see what God continues to do through Aaron. There are a few easy ways to connect with Aaron’s voice:

Thank you, Aaron, for the privilege of playing a small part in your platform.

Be a Mercedes-Benz, not a Ford

Ford is a good car manufacturer, but it’s no Mercedes-Benz.

Ford makes a series of good cars. Ford helped set the initial standard for pickup trucks with the F-150. You may be a Chevy fan or a Dodge defender, but you can’t deny that Ford makes good cars. If they didn’t, no one would buy them. As great as you may think Ford vehicles may be, they’re no Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-Benz is on pace to overtake BMW and Audi as the top-selling luxury car brand in the world. (Statista) Mercedes-Benz makes luxury cars with rocket launch-style flip covers for their ignition switches.

Ford sells more cars than Mercedes-Benz. More people buy Ford vehicles than Mercedes-Benz at used-car dealerships. More people can afford a Ford than a Mercedes-Benz. And yet, Mercedes-Benz is valued at $22.5B compared to Ford ($12.5B), a $10B difference!

Be a Mercedes-Benz, not a Ford - writetojoncook Jon Cook

When it comes to chasing your dreams, do you want to be a Ford, or a Mercedes-Benz. Whether you are or are wanting to become a writer, a brick-and-mortar entrepreneur, a speaker, a nonprofit, an artist, whatever your dream may be, you have a choice: create a dream that appeals to the masses (Henry Ford), or create a premium experience affordable and appreciated by a select few.

Luxury doesn’t have to be pretentious (Aston Martin), but it needs to feel extremely valuable. A Mercedes-Benz is more than the price tag. It’s an experience for which people pay a premium price. What might be a luxury add-on for a Ford, like leather seats, are standard features on a Mercedes-Benz.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of “Ford” writers. There are countless “Ford” businesses. There are artists who will never have the luxury type of art appeal and style of a Mercedes-Benz quality. And that’s okay.

I don’t want to be a Ford. I work very hard to reject a Ford-type quality of my writing. I wouldn’t say I’m a Mercedes-Benz-level of writer yet, but I’m working on it. Not everyone loves my writing. Not everyone loves driving a Mercedes-Benz; they’re horrible cars for hauling dirt or pulling a trailer.

As you create art, hone your craft, and build your business, you need to ask yourself, “Do I want this to be a Ford, or a Mercedes-Benz?” Again, there’s nothing wrong with Ford, if you want to be grouped with a main-stream appeal.

If you want to be exceptional, premium, even luxurious, the Mercedes-Benz of your industry, you need to work harder, push for elite quality, and make luxury add-ons become standard features in your work.

10,000 hours, quick wins, and becoming a humble master

Does 10,000 hours make you an automatic expert at your craft?

You’ve heard about the 10,000-hour principle: invest 10,000 hours in your work or art and you’ll become a master at your craft. Malcolm Gladwell first proposed this idea of the 10,000-hour principle in his book Outliers. (If you haven’t read Outliers yet, it’s an exceptional read.) It’s an attractive principle: put in 10,000 hours and the world is your oyster.

The problem is the 10,000-hour principle seems to only apply to industries and arts with set parameters, like chess, tennis, and golf, among others, where the rules simply do not change. A recent study by Princeton University of 88 sub-studies involving deliberate practice showed only a 12% difference on average across disciplines. The 10,000-hour rule is no guarantee of world-class success.

10,000 hours, quick wins, and becoming a humble master - writetojoncook Jon Cook

Investing 10,000 hours as an entrepreneur is extremely different from becoming a Grandmaster at chess because there are very few rules and the context is ever changing. I still believe that I will be a much better writer (my vehicle for entrepreneurship) if I invest 10,000 hours. However, there’s no guarantee of exact success because writing is both subjective and ever evolving. New words are created, paragraph sizes change, and even the latest version of The Elements of Style says prepositions are now allowed to end sentences with.

I’ve only been on this entrepreneurial path for almost two years. I’ve written over 1,000 blog posts in five years, approximately 1.1-1.2 million words between personal writing and business writing. It may sound impressive, but I’ve also written some “stinkers” just in the past two years. I’m blessed to have some very prominent clients who rely on my writing to build their business, so getting “quick wins” can easily tempt me to think I’ve arrived as a writer.

The best masters of a craft are the humble ones. They know that 10,000 hours does not guarantee future success, only expertise for the world of today. A series of bad choices, or sometimes only one, can destroy your reputation, your expertise, even your livelihood with a snap of the fingers. The difference between a world-class expert and an out-of-work job hunter is a change in technology or industry. Think about how many microfiche experts are still alive today.

10,000 hours is an excellent goal in achieving expert skill. Quick wins are good to build momentum and confidence. But, it’s the expert who values the moment of relevance that will make a lasting impact.

As you pursue your dreams, cherish the journey. Remember how much work you invested to be where you are today. It’s not easy to become exceptional. Knowing how hard you worked to become a master and knowing how quickly it could all be irrelevant is what makes humble masters truly great.

How resting improves your work

How often do you rest?

I’m not talking about just getting a good night’s rest, although the CDC does say insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. I’m talking about taking a rest during the frantic scramble through your everyday life. The type of rest we all need allows us to detach our brains from work to enjoy different rhythms of life. Without rest, I’m just pounding away on the treadmill of success while someone slowly cranks the tempo higher.

I don’t always rest well. Sometimes I push myself so hard for so long that I lay down to take a short nap on a Sunday afternoon and wake up two hours later. A really long nap is usually a sign to me that I’ve been pushing myself to the max.

How resting improves your work - writetojoncook Jon Cook

We need rest to make our work better. If you push yourself past the point of rest, your brain will begin forgetting or missing details, your body will begin to shut down, and you will slowly lose your effectiveness. Rest gives your brain a chance to breathe, to think, to declutter the debris of the stress, pressures, and demands of life. Rest is your spirit saying,”Timeout. Take a knee.”

Rest allows art to season. Rest reminds me that my business is actually God’s business and I get to be a steward, not try to be some demi-god. Rest lets my inspiration, passion, and inner drive take in the sights and sounds of God-given success. Rest lets me see where my dreams are and refocus before pursuing them again.

Examples of rest

Regular rest comes in a variety of ways:

  • Napping. Ronald Reagan took an afternoon nap every day that he was President of the United States. Other fantastically successful men, such as Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon Bonaparte regularly napped as well.
  • Unplugging from screens. Close the computer, take your thumbs off your tablets or smart phone, turn off the TV, and just enjoy life without a screen for a day. Set an email auto-responder if you need to that lets people know you will respond… tomorrow.
  • Turn off your phone. This goes hand-in-hand with getting off your screens, but not everyone has a smart phone. Have someone screen your calls for a day, only taking or returning calls if absolutely necessary.
  • Get away from the familiar. Take half a day and go down to the river or up to the mountains or wherever you can go that is a distance away from the familiar. Spend half a day in a small town, maybe get some ice cream or tour a library or old train depot. Go to an overlook and just sit for an hour. The point is to get away from the familiar to unlock your tightly wound brain.
  • Quit something on your schedule. Just quit it. Write an email of resignation, make a phone call, do whatever you need to do to quit a schedule-clogger. Several highly successful people make a habit of quitting one commitment once a week. It frees you up to be constantly starting something new and keeps obligation from forming.

A well-rested body and mind are positioned for greater success. You need rest to make your work more meaningful. What are some other ways you’ve found rest?

Who’s in your corner of the ring?

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – John Watson

Part of intentional living pushes the spotlight off your life and highlights the value of others. The quote from John Watson has changed my perspective. We often don’t know even a fraction of the struggles and hard decisions other people are facing.

Notice the people walking past you today. Do you notice how many people look weary and strained? Notice the bags under the eyes. Notice the slump in their shoulders. Notice the blank look in their eyes. It’s when we truly notice others that we start to see their God-given value worth protecting.

Who's in your corner of the ring - writetojoncook Jon Cook

It’s easy to get so caught up in our own little worlds and schedules. It’s easy to miss the struggle of those around us. Some of the heaviest burdens to carry are emotional, relational, and mental. It’s hard to see the intangible weights that may be crushing those we care about the most.

Everyone is in a fight. It may be a smaller battle, like a tough project at work. It may be a much larger battle, like beating cancer or the death of a loved one. It’s tough to see the budget fears, marriage struggles, problems with kids, pending layoffs, over-crowded schedule demands, and other heavy fights to overcome.

If you’ve ever watched a boxing match, you’ll notice there’s a group of people in each corner of the ring. Between rounds the fighters retreat to their corners and get swarmed by people. They shout encouragement. They give experienced insight, even calling out dumb mistakes the fighter just made. They patch up the fighter from the beating they just took.

In the prize-fighting ring of everyday life, the contender always needs a bigger cheering section. Each of us could always use one more person in our corner of the ring.

Today is about being an encouragement. Give your co-worker a hug around the shoulders (in a non-creepy way). Send someone an encouraging note. Pick up the phone and text or call someone to tell them you’re a fan of theirs.

If you’re in a battle of your own today and it feels overwhelming, reach out to someone. It may sound selfish, but it’s so good for your soul to know that you’re not alone. Confide in someone you know, like, and trust. Ask them to give you a little pep talk. And when they encourage you, find someone in need of a pep talk and share encouragement with them.

Find someone today who could use another person in their corner of the ring. Share an encouraging word. Pray for them. Help patch up their soul from whatever beating they just took. Listen to them. Let them know they’re not alone in their fight. Be in their corner of the ring.

Build a platform, not a kingdom

There’s a fine line between building a platform and building a kingdom.

First off, as a Christian, I know I’m not here on earth to build my own kingdom. My job is to introduce people to Jesus and let His love and grace show them the way into His kingdom, not mine. As an entrepreneur, as a communicator, even more simply, as a human, it’s easy for me to try building my own kingdom.

God gives different people unique opportunities to be influential, to have a “platform,” as it were. Bloggers have platforms, speakers have platforms, CEOs have platforms, politicians and musicians and cause-creators and business owners all have platforms.

Build a platform, not a kingdom - writetojoncook Jon Cook

My perspective changed from kingdom to platform when I realized why God gives me opportunities. I don’t blog to share my message because it’s the greatest in the world. There are lots of people with better messages than mine. I share because I know God’s brought over 2,600 people into my life who look to me for hope and inspiration. It’s my job to share whatever God-given words I can to make their days and futures brighter.

Platform vs. Kingdom

The tricky part is to keep your focus on building a platform instead of trying to build your own kingdom.

On a platform, others can share their message with you. In a kingdom, it’s about who’s in charge and dictating their will to the people.

Platforms raise others up. Kingdoms are about putting yourself in the position of power, the ruler of your castle.

Platforms have steps and space to invite a large group of people to share who may not be able to before stepping onto the platform. Kingdoms have moats and walls and siege towers to fight off anybody who seems like a threat.

Can platforms be distorted into kingdoms? Absolutely, I’ve seen plenty of platform builders turn into kingdom creators by putting their selfish desires in the center of their message. It’s not hard to do. Selfish kingdoms are built when we put ourselves at the center and keep others at a distance.

When we try building our own kingdoms, we tell God that our life purpose is about making a big deal out of us, not Him. That’s when things get dangerous very quickly. Keep asking, “Who is this for, and why am I sharing it?” If the answer to either of those questions ends in “me,” you’re building a kingdom, not a platform.

Creating a platform worth sharing

If God gives you a message or talent to share, He will give you a platform from which to share. It starts with knowing why He gave you your talent or message. We are gifted by God to be a blessing to others. Creating a platform that shares hope and blessing and inspiration to others is a gift. It starts with knowing how to share what you’ve been given.

If you have a message, the first step is simply sharing your message. If it’s a public speaking message, start sharing with one person, then five, 17, 25, a hundred, and more as God opens those doors. If you have a knack for writing and a message to share, start blogging, write a book, put something down on paper to get started.

Are you building a platform to share your God-given message, or are you building a kingdom with you at the center? There’s so much potential for good in building a God-given platform. It would be a waste if we try to create our own kingdoms in place of platforms.

What are some ways you focus on building a platform instead of a kingdom? Share your stories and thoughts in the Comments below or by replying to your subscription email. I’d love to hear from you.

5 Lessons I Learned on Blogging (Five-year Blogging Anniversary!)

I started this blog five years ago today.

I had no plans of becoming a writer. In fact, I hated English class all the way through college. My mom made me take a writing “intensive” in middle school, which I hated. I took a literature class during my senior year of college and I actually enjoyed it. I still didn’t want to become a writer, but I began appreciating the art of writing.

Now, five years into personal blogging, one year as a freelance reporter, and almost two years as an independent writer, I’ve learned a few things about blogging. Here are five lessons on blogging that every aspiring writer should know:

1. If you want to be a writer, get your at-bats by blogging.

This isn’t my first blog. I started a Xanga blog (remember those?) in college and wrote three posts before abandoning it. It was only after I started this blog that I wanted to write more. I realized that if writing was going to be in my future, then I needed more practice.

I blogged over 250 times in my second year of blogging. I just crossed the 1,000-post mark as a blogger. By my calculation, I’ve written close to a million words in the last five years. I still make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I still write some “bleh” posts. But, I’m also successful because I’ve put in the effort. Excellence isn’t an accident.

Five lessons I learned on blogging - writetojoncook Jon Cook

2. Consistency is key when it comes to blogging.

If you want to build a blogging platform, you need to be consistent. Consistent message. Consistent posting schedule. Consistent format. Consistent tone of voice. Consistent sharing strategies. If your audience can’t clearly share who you are and what you blog about, you’re inconsistent. For example, I blog about intentional living, being an entrepreneur, and following your God-given dreams.

3. Your audience and platform will change over time.

My own platform slightly changed around early April this year. I’m revising many of my past posts to fit my new content focus. It’s not what I expected, but it was clear my platform was changing. The key is not making huge changes to your platform, or you will confuse or lose many of the people who follow your blogging for a specific content message. Be open to small course corrections and know why change is necessary.

4. Write engaging, helpful content.

Blogging is a fantastic way to grow your business as an entrepreneur. You can share your ideas, product and service info, your back story, even upcoming deals and comparisons to competitors to attract the right clients to your business. If your content stinks though, no one will want to read or share it.

Share success stories. Share struggles. Make it fun at times, serious at other times, super practical and real-life. Your readers want to know there’s a pulse pumping through your key strokes. Make them see the human in you, man.

5. Writing is not for everyone.

I’m a good musician, but I should never record an album. I don’t have the musical chops to create a great-sounding album. It’d be decent, but it wouldn’t sell more than a few records (thanks for your support, Mom).

In the same way, not everyone is a writer. I work with a variety of dynamic personalities: life coaches, speakers, business coaches, counselors, fitness trainers, etc. Many of them have an impression that they have to write a blog to be successful. With all the technology avenues available today, you don’t have to write blog posts. You can create a podcast, do a video blog (called a vlog), or any number of things that would classify as blogging.

If you’re not a writer though, don’t try to write. You’ll end up frustrated, upset, and your audience will be silently (or not so silently) begging you to stop writing!

Here’s to five years of blogging! Thank you to the over 2,600 readers who share this incredible journey with me. May you be blessed for being a blessing to me.

What are some other tips you’d add to this list?

Chasing your dreams isn’t impossible, just difficult

There will be times when your dreams seem impossible.

The idea of chasing your dreams can be very inspiring, even romantic at times. Over two million U.S. works quit every month. (Forbes.com) A Business Insider survey of 225 executives shows that 22% of them want to start their own companies. (Business Insider) The chance to start fresh, create something extraordinary, become your own boss, and craft some dream job out of thin air is exciting.

Chasing your dreams isn't impossible, just difficult - writetojoncook Jon CookIt can also be terrifying. Sure, being your own boss sounds great, until you realize it’s up to you to make connections, attract clients, build a product or service, and all the other sweat equity-demanding tasks it takes to succeed. If you’re launching a brick-and-mortar business, you need funding. This means meeting with venture capital firms, creating a one-page pitch sheet, practicing your elevator speech, and shaking more hands and remembering name after name.

If it sounds impossible, it’s not. It may seem impossible, but it’s not. It may feel like an insurmountable mountain. It’s not. Chasing your dreams isn’t impossible; it’s just difficult.

There’s only one thing driving that impression of the impossible. Fear.

How fear shackles our potential

The fear of the unknown can make difficult tasks seem impossible. Fear can hijack our momentum, our hope, even our inspiration. Fear inoculates our passion and makes us think, “There’s no way you can do this. You don’t have what it takes.”

Some of my weakest moments as an entrepreneur is when I’ve let fear invade my future. I objected loudly when Kara and I first even considered drawing any type of substantial paycheck from my business. It was “too soon,” or “we needed to build up a reserve for the business,” or “let’s lower our budget to accommodate, even though we already significantly lowered our budget.”

These were all excuses driven by fear. If we actually drew a solid paycheck, it was go-time. No safety net. No coasting by on savings. It felt more real than ever and that’s when I saw God start to really bless my business.

As a Christian my hope is in the God who made me and calls us to do what seems impossible. When we get to the end of our abilities is when we first encounter faith. This is where God steps in and creates God-sized opportunities to continue the “impossible”. We know that the God who first began a good work in you will see it through till the end. (Phil. 1.6)

How to overcome fear and follow your dreams

Do you know how to take what seems impossible and turn it into difficult? Start with one step. Make a phone call. Send an email. Set up a coffee meeting. Start your research. File your patent application.

If you have an action plan, you already have a jumpstart. If you’re a person of faith, this is great time to pray and ask for faith to see what seems impossible as how God sees it. Mount Everest may seem impossible, but it’s still being climbed by a tremendous variety of people. It starts with a single step.

Chasing your dreams isn’t impossible, just difficult. Are you willing to do the work it takes to do the difficult and make your dreams a reality?