13 Life Lessons from Running My First Marathon

The Finish LineI have run thirteen marathons so far in my life and each was an amazing experience in itself. However, none of the marathons I have run compares with the experience of running my first one. It was one of those events in life you never forget. I would like to share with you that experience and the life lessons I learned from it.

Many years ago I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish sometime in my life. On my list were things like traveling around the world, getting a pilot’s license, running a marathon, and visiting the pyramids of Egypt. I put the list away and promptly forgot about it.

A few years ago my wife found my list and was surprised to know that I had a desire to run a marathon. She stole my goal, trained for it and ran a marathon. I was totally amazed that she actually did it. In fact, I was so impressed I said to myself, if she can do it, so can I. And I did.

Running a marathon is no small thing. A marathon is 26.2 miles long or about 44,500 steps. To get a grasp of how far that distance really is, I suggest the next time you take a drive in your car to set your trip meter. Watch the miles tick off and when you get to 26.2 miles think about running that distance. Again, it is no small task.

Running a marathon is a unique experience. It is the only sports competition that I am aware of where the greenest beginner can rub shoulders with and compete with the elite athletes of the world. You don’t find that in football, or basketball, or golf or any other sport. But in a marathon, I was running with the Kenyans!

To train properly for a marathon you must begin nearly a year in advance. When I began my training I couldn’t run two miles. But week after week, month after month, with the training and guidance from my sweet wife, we gradually built up our miles. This means running 2 or 3 miles a day for four days a week, resting on Fridays and then running a longer run on Saturday mornings.

The Saturday morning training runs get longer and longer. Our final Saturday training run before the marathon was 24 miles long. On that training run we started at 5:00 a.m. It was pitch dark. On just that run we encountered many deer, a fox, a skunk, a mother raccoon and her babies, 2 owls, a rabbit and a snake. So after many such training runs totaling over 800 miles and wearing out a $75 pair of running shoes, we were ready for the St. George, Utah marathon.

We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon. –Emil Zatopek

I love that quote because it is so true. Running a marathon is truly a remarkable experience. I would like to give you a small taste of what that experience was like for me. This is taken from my personal journal.

My First Marathon Experience – from my journal dated October 1, 1999

What an awesome day! Lisa and I just ran the St. George Marathon. It went great. We got up this morning at 4:00 a.m., ate breakfast and then I shaved and took a shower. We got our running gear on and went out the door at 5:00 a.m. We walked to the busses at the park. It was still very dark. We boarded our bus and rode up to the beginning of the race.

The bus ride up was long and bumpy and by the time we got to the top I really needed to use the restroom. Luckily they had tons of porta-potties and I was able to go. That was a huge relief!

When they dropped us off it was pretty cold and we were wearing our sweats. There were huge lights lighting the whole area. Thousands of people were there to run the race. They had loud motivating music playing. It was an exciting atmosphere with everyone visiting and talking about the race. It was awesome!

To keep people warm they had lit a large number of campfires and for a while Lisa and I kept warm that way. But Mother Nature was not to leave me alone and before long I needed to go again. Now the lines at the porta-potties were very long. Since this time was not “big business,” I just went off into the bushes to go. I found myself surrounded (in the dark) by many other men and women runners doing the same thing. It was pretty weird. This was something I would never in my life imagine me doing and yet there I was sharing a moment of relief with a bunch of other fellow runners.

Well, before long it was near the time for the race to start. We took off our sweats bottoms and put them in a collection bag provided to us so we could get them back later. We met up with some friends who wanted to run with us. There was so much noise that we could hardly hear the starting gun go off, but it did. Soon we were off and running. It was still dark.

The others who were going to run with us were soon lost in the sea of runners except for Marilyn. I have to admit that I was a little bugged at first that she was running with us because I felt she was horning in on Lisa’s and my run. But her constant talking and conversation turned out to be a blessing as the miles ticked by much quicker than I had anticipated they would. She was a real blessing in disguise. She was also very spunky and pushed us enough to get us to do better than we had ever done before.

It was awe-inspiring as it got lighter to see the thousands of runners along the road like a big long snake in front of us and behind us for as far as we could see.

The Run

The water stops were every two miles and at each one I usually took one cup of Gatorade and one cup of water and mixed the two and drank it. At some water stops I took bananas to eat. They were cut up into small pieces. At two of the stops I took some of that goo stuff to eat. I think it all helped.

What an incredible experience – the whole thing from start to finish. The miles ticked off one by one. Veyo hill came and went. Then the long, gradual hill. At the top of it I wasn’t doing so well. I was getting tired and queasy in the stomach. I had a strong urge to walk. Finally after what seemed like an eternity of uphill we came to long downhills. We needed that. It was great to see down into the valley where St. George was.

Along the way there were small groups of people cheering us on. There was a helicopter flying low filming us along with a ground camera crew on four-wheelers. We tried to look good for the cameras.

Marilyn told us about her previous marriage and her family and her new marriage and her job. My, could she talk! It was interesting and kept our attention off our misery and pain and helped us pass the time.

At mile marker 16 we came to the road that goes to Snow Canyon. There were many people there cheering us on and giving us high-fives. Boy did that give me a boost.

On we went mile after mile. One of my biggest worries was my lower left leg. I had had so many problems on my training runs with my calf, my knee and my foot. Luckily my prayers were answered and I had no serious problems.

Finally we rounded the bend where you could see the city. Now there were more people cheering us on. It was great! At mile 23 Marilyn took off ahead of us. Lisa and I were slowing down. We did a lot of walking those two miles. Finally we rounded the corner to the final stretch. By this time both of my knees were starting to really hurt. We really had to push ourselves now even with the finish line in sight.

We were now at the final stretch. We were in what they call the chute where the street is lined with crowds of people on both sides. They were cheering us on. It gave us both such a boost of energy and we stepped up our pace. Then we came to the bleachers and saw our four little children cheering us on. With a burst of energy we sprinted for the finish, holding hands as we crossed it. Then we kissed each other. Wow! What a great feeling to cross that finish line! How can you possibly describe it?

The Medals

As we walked on through they put the finisher medal around each of our necks. We really earned them. And our time? Well, we told ourselves long ago we would be happy with anything between 4 ½ to 5 hours. Based on our training runs I was expecting closer to 5 hours. Well, we came in at 4 hours 29 minutes and 20 seconds. Wow, even better than we had expected. Everything went so well.

13 Life Lessons from Running My First Marathon

I hope that gives you some idea of what it was like. For the full effect you’re going to have to run a marathon yourself. Now, let me share with you 13 lessons I learned from that remarkable experience.

1. Anyone can run a marathon. I used to have a picture in my mind of what a marathon runner looked like – a wafer thin gazelle-type person from Kenya. After running my first marathon that image changed dramatically. I was amazed at the variety of people running the race. I realized that size doesn’t matter. A friend I trained with was nearly twice my weight and would consume what seemed like a gallon of Gatorade at each water stop and yet he was a much faster runner than I was. Age doesn’t matter. I can’t tell you how many old ladies passed me during that first marathon. Young, old, large, small, thin, wide, you name it, they were all running a marathon. It was amazing.

2. Coming in first doesn’t matter. Finishing does. In a marathon, everyone that crosses the finish line is a winner and receives a medal. That’s good because I certainly am not a fast runner. Just making it to the end is a major accomplishment. I think life is like that. To be successful you don’t have to have the most or be the best or the fastest – just make it gracefully to the end.

3. Make it through the trial mile. My wife and I have come to learn that the first mile of each training run was always the trial mile. It was the mile you had to get through before your heart and body warmed up and got into its rhythm. Basically you feel lousy during that first mile. But if you can make it through it you always felt better during the following miles. Some people never make it through the “trial mile” of whatever endeavor they are pursuing. So hang in there, it gets better.

4. Don’t skip the training. I have run marathons where I trained well and I have run marathons where I skimped on the training. You are so much better off when you properly train. The pain and misery and injuries that occur when you attempt something you haven’t trained well for are not worth it. Do the proper training.

5. Cheering really works. We’ve all been to sporting events and yelled and cheered for our team. I never thought it helped much until I was on the receiving end during my first marathon. It was amazing how much it increased my energy and drive when people were cheering me on. We all need cheering from time to time in our lives.

6. We need friends. Good company makes any journey more pleasant.

7. Don’t stop. Sometimes we have a tremendous urge to quit, to give up, to throw in the towel. Having the ability to overcome those urges and keep going makes all the difference in life.

8. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When I first began training for a marathon I would start off running at a quick pace. I would do well for a mile or so and then run completely out of gas. My wife had to tell me I needed to slow down and take it easy. I had to pace myself. It wasn’t easy at first but I soon learned I couldn’t spend all I had during the first mile or I would never make it through the other 25.2 miles. In many other areas of life the same rule applies. Pace yourself.

9. You need a coach. I consider myself a fairly smart person and can figure out a lot of things on my own. But in looking back at my training for my first marathon, I can’t imagine doing it without the help of my wife who had the experience of training for and running a marathon herself. It was so great to have her lead me and guide me literally every step of the way. Don’t be too proud to let others show you the way.

10. The mind game matters. As much as we like to think that success in sports simply requires having a perfectly tuned and trained body, its much more than that. It is as much a mind game as a physical game. After all the physical preparation, much of your success has to do with what goes on in your head. And let me tell you, after 25 miles of running, some weird things can go on in there. It’s a constant mental battle that must be fought to succeed.

11. We need mile markers. In life, as well as during a marathon, we need mile markers. During the St. George marathon every mile was marked by a large silver mylar balloon. You could see it coming up from quite a distance away. If you thought about the finish line, it was so far away and seemed impossible to reach. But if you thought about just making it to the next mile marker, that seemed doable. So the immediate goal was always to just make it to the next mile marker. When you passed each one you felt a sense of progress and accomplishment. Then you would set your sights on the next one. In life, we need short-term goals to help us reach our long-term goals.

12. The more you do something, the better you get at doing it. Sounds simple enough and it is. Think about the first time you did any hard thing such as playing the piano, typing at the computer, or driving a car. They were all difficult at first and yet, as time went on and you worked at it every day, it became easier, almost second nature. Just because something is hard at first doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it enough yet.

13. Be inspired by others. I had set a goal years ago to run a marathon. Nothing ever happened with it until I watched my wife Lisa do it. When I watched her come across that finish line I was completely amazed and inspired and decided right then that I would do it. And I did. Having a goal was nothing. Being inspired by a great woman was everything.

To conclude let me share with you one final lesson, the biggest lesson of all:

Life is like a marathon. You get out of it what you put into it.

Thank you.

Master Yourself, Master Your Life

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson

The Big Lie: “That’s Just the Way I Am”

DestinyToday I want to explore what habits are and how they get created. Each of us have things we do in our lives that we know aren’t good for us and are holding us back. We call these habits. There can be good habits and bad habits. Bad habits for some might be smoking or drinking or overeating or anger or swearing – it could be any number of things.

You hear people say, “That’s just the way I am. I was just born that way.” My response to that is – Baloney!

Yes, you were born with certain gifts and talents. But I don’t believe that an all-wise and loving God would implant in us destructive behaviors. Those behaviors or habits were learned after we came to this earth. The package we were born with did not include those items. Most of our habits, behaviors and personality traits were learned and I believe that anything that can be learned can be unlearned or changed.

What are habits?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a “habit” is described as a “constant, often unconscious inclination to perform an act, acquired through its frequent repetition.” So basically a habit is any action we perform so often that it become almost involuntary.

A habit is just your brain’s way of accomplishing a task easier or more efficiently. Once it learns a pattern or a habit, it can then repeat that action or behavior again with much less effort. It’s like a computer program which is simply a set of instructions for the computer to perform. A habit is just a set of instructions that your brain is given to do and then it goes on its merry way and does it. You don’t have to do much about it.

How are habits created?

These habits, behaviors and personality traits you possess are just a set of neurological relationships or pathways that have been created over a period of time. It’s like a trail in the wilderness. The first time over the trail you can scarcely see anything – a few footprints, a few bent blades of grass. But as you walk that trail again and again it becomes well worn. Every time you pass that way it becomes easier. After a while you don’t even have to think about it. That’s the simple explanation of how habits are created.

Let’s explore deeper how these habits are created.

Conditioned Response – Pavlov’s Dogs

We’ve all heard the story of how Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate at the ring of a bell. Every day, just before his dogs were given their food, he would ring a bell. The dogs made the connection in their minds that when a bell rang it was time to eat. It came to the point where he did this so often that when he rang a bell the dogs would begin to salivate even when no food was presented because they anticipated food was coming. It was a conditioned response. A habit.

Throughout our lives we have created thousands of conditioned responses in our minds. That’s how we live our lives and that’s how we were designed to be. When a certain condition is met, your brain responds in a certain way. That response was programmed into your mind. You weren’t born that way. Yes, there are some things you were born with. You came with some pre-set programs. But most of our behaviors and actions that we do now in our lives have been programmed into us. When a bell rings, we salivate.

Habits are neither good nor bad

These habits can be very useful for us in many ways but can also be very destructive in other ways. Habits are neither good nor bad in the same way that fire is neither good nor bad. A warm fire can keep you alive or a fire can burn down your house. A habit can make many daily tasks automatic and free your mind of the complex details of performing them. But a habit can also have a vise grip on your mind, causing you to perform destructive behaviors repeatedly.

Learning is the creation of habits

Sometimes we think learning is when you sit in a classroom and you learn facts and figures and information. That is part of learning. However, the real learning occurs in your physiological system, deep down in your nervous system.

You can attempt to teach someone how to swing a golf club in a classroom. You can show them pictures of it. You can diagram it on the blackboard and tell them everything there is to know about swinging a golf club. Your student can know everything about swinging a golf club but they still have not learned how to swing a golf club until they take that club in their hands and swing it over and over again. Only then is it programmed into their body, their mind, their nervous system.

Then, one day when this person is on the golf course and he picks up a golf club, his brain says, “Okay, run the ‘swing-the-golf-club’ program.” It brings back into his mind, into his memory, the software that has been programmed into his mind and he runs it. Now it’s not always perfect. You don’t run it exactly the same every time – but that’s what learning is about. That’s how we acquire these habits that we do every day. It’s a way of saving your brain from having to think about every little thing.

Sandwich Bag Example

Some time ago I had a simple little program in my brain that had to do with my kitchen at home. I used to get up every morning, eat breakfast, and make my lunch. At that time I liked to bring my lunch to work. For many years the sandwich bags had been in the second drawer next to the refrigerator. They had always been there and every time I made my lunch or needed a sandwich bag I would automatically reach for that second drawer.

One day my wife decided to reorganize the kitchen. When I went to reach for the sandwich bags I opened the drawer and there were a bunch of dish towels and I had to ask her, “Where are the sandwich bags?” She directed me to the third drawer, not the second drawer. So I got the sandwich bags out of the third drawer and made my lunch.

The next day I went to make my lunch. I reached automatically, without even thinking, for the second drawer. I was running my “make-my-lunch” program and my “make-my-lunch” program told me that when it’s time to get a sandwich bag to reach for the second drawer. I reached for the second drawer and there were no sandwich bags, only dish towels. I mentally berated myself for my stupidity and opened the third drawer, got a sandwich bag and made my lunch.

The next day I opened the second drawer for a sandwich bag, and did the exact same thing. This drawer has been changed now for several years and I still find myself from time to time automatically reaching for the second drawer when I need a sandwich bag. I have to stop myself and mentally tell myself to reach for the third drawer.

So why is it so hard for me to change that behavior? Well, first of all, I created that program long ago in my mind – the “Make-My-Lunch” program. The trigger is simple. It is simply the conscious thought that I need to make my lunch. The response is to reach down to the second drawer and grab a sandwich bag – I do this without even thinking! It’s programmed in. And when you’ve done that for years and years that program becomes stronger in your brain. Unlike a computer, your brain has the ability to strengthen a program and make it more powerful each time that it’s used.

Driving Home Example

Okay, another example, and I know all of you have done this. When you drive back and forth to a certain place every day, like your job, and you do it day after day for years, what happens? Do you have to think about how to drive home? Do you have to think about the speed limit? Do you have to think about where it is that you live? No! In fact, you don’t have to think about anything. You can think about something totally different the entire way home and you pull into the driveway and you may not remember anything about your drive home.

When you got in your car, that was the trigger or condition. Your external conditions told you it was time to go home. You looked at the clock. You saw you were getting into the car. You were at work and knew that every time you do that you drive home. So your conscious mind told your sub-conscious mind, “Take me home!” And your sub-conscious mind took over and you began driving home. You didn’t think about shifting gears, you didn’t think about anything. Your sub-conscious mind took over and it drove you home.

That’s why it’s so hard sometimes to break out of that pattern. You know what I’m talking about. My wife would call me at work and ask me to stop and pick up a gallon of milk on the way home. I say “sure” and when the time comes for me to come home I jump in my car and before I know it I’m home, with no milk! Then I think, “You idiot, you totally forgot the milk.” I let my program take over and off I went with my mind wandering in a totally different direction.

Driving Stick Shift Example

When you drove a car the very first time with a stick shift, how difficult was it? Remember grinding the gears, putting in the clutch, thinking “where’s the brake?” and then “oh my gosh, you mean I have to think about steering at the same time!” It was terrible! You thought, “How am I ever going to learn this?”

And now, after you’ve learned to drive, you jump in the car and start driving and you don’t even have to think about it. Why? Because it’s all programmed into you. You just run that program and you don’t have to think about it any more. Now your conscious mind is freed up to think about other things. You can be preparing a speech in your mind while you’re driving home. You can be thinking about your vacation two weeks ago. Your mind can be doing something totally different and your subconscious mind has taken over and is driving you home.

We are also programmed to feel emotions

I’ve talked about behaviors, about programs that get created in your mind that really have to do with actions. But aren’t we also programming our minds to feel certain emotions – not just actions but feelings?

Food Example

For example, is there a certain food that you dislike very very much? Think about that for a moment. Is there a food that you really dislike? Now think about that food and why is it that you dislike it. Other people, perfectly normal people, happen to like that food. Why? Why do they like it and you don’t? Why is it revolting to you?

More likely than not there was some time in your past when you had an experience with that food and that experience was not a good experience. Have you ever gotten sick and vomited up your dinner? You know, maybe you had, let’s be really grotesque here, macaroni and cheese with hot dogs in it and you got very sick. Your face turned green. You vomited it up all over your bed at night as a kid. Those slimy hot dogs covered with macaroni and cheese were all over you face and your pajamas and your bed. Not a very pleasant experience at all!

That is how you create a program very fast. You don’t have to do it over and over again because of the intense emotion you’re experiencing at the time. That is the fast path to programming your mind. It’s with emotion – intense emotion.

Music Example

Another example of programming your mind is with music. You may recall a time when you were driving along in your car and you were listening to the radio. A song comes on and all of a sudden you are flooded with wonderful feelings. It takes you right back to a certain time in your life when you were with that certain special someone. It could have been twenty-five years ago and you’re right back to where you were. That song – you love that song because of the way it makes you feel. It may not even be a very good song but it doesn’t matter. It’s what it makes you feel and experience that makes it such a special song. Whenever you hear that song it immediately sends you back to that wonderful time in your life.

Why is it that that song does that to you? How did it get programmed into your mind? Again, it’s the same thing. You were in a deep, powerful, emotional state when that song got programmed into your mind. You were in love. You were feeling wonderful feelings and that song came on the radio and you were with that special someone and it got embedded into your mind and linked up with that experience. That’s how your mind can be programmed in one step.

Smell – Cattle Yard Example

What about smell? Smell is another trigger. It is one of the most powerful triggers that we have of past experiences and emotions.

I have an example in my own life and it’s kind of strange. You know we smell certain smells and some are pleasant to us and some are not. We smell bread baking and it brings us back to when we were a kid at grandma’s house and so we love the smell of baking bread. It brings up back to happy times, good memories, Thanksgiving, etc. So a smell can be very pleasant to us.

I happen to have a memory or a program in my mind that is very unusual. Have you ever driven past a cattle yard? You know, you’ve been out in the country for a drive and you go past a cattle yard where there are hundreds of cattle in big pens and you smell that SMELL of the cattle yard as you drive by. It’s powerful. It’s made by cattle dung – piles of it. You drive by and you plug your nose and say, “OOOO, this is disgusting!” You roll up your windows and drive by it as quickly as you can. It’s not a pleasant smell to you.

Well, when I was a kid I lived out in the country. Every day on the way to school and on the way home from school our bus would drive by a large cattle yard. We would smell that pungent smell every time we drove by. Back then it was not a pleasant smell. None of us on the bus liked it. But that period of time in my life was a happy time for me. I had many great experiences during that part of my life. So now, when I drive past a cattle yard and smell that smell, what kind of feelings do you suppose it gives me? Strangely enough I love the smell of cattle yards because it takes me right back to that time in my life when I was 12 years old. So to me it’s a pleasant smell. I like the smell of cattle yards.

Now isn’t that strange? What makes a smell good or bad? What makes food taste good or bad?

You are the programmer of your mind

What I’m trying to get at here is this: there are conditions in your life that trigger certain responses. Some of your responses are behavior responses and some of your responses are emotional responses. Those were all created by you. Every day you are creating them. You create good programs and you create bad programs. You are the programmer!

It stands to reason that if you are the programmer of your habits and behaviors then the way you are is NOT just the way you are and always will be! If you are the programmer then you can control what new programs get created. If you are the programmer then you can erase and re-write old programs. Instead of allowing programs to be created sub-consciously without even knowing about it, you can now be the architect and designer of who you are! The malicious and obstructing belief that the way you are is just the way you are will no longer hold you back. You can put that belief away and move forward with your life. You can create a totally new YOU by reprogramming the software of your mind.

Thank you.

Master Yourself, Master Your Life

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson

Marketing Yourself, Part 4 – Improve Your Message

 

Your marketing message

(Note: This is Part 4 of a four-part series on Marketing Yourself)

Communicate your verbal message with care

People not only judge you by how you look but also by what you say and how you say it. How you talk about yourself, your work, your boss or even your competition sends a message about you. If you aren’t careful, your verbal communication can undo any other self-marketing efforts you may have made.

What kind of message are you communicating?

When you are around others, what kind of message do you bring to them? Is it positive or negative? Are you someone who continually complains about life, rarely having anything good to say? Do people like to have you around or do they cringe when they see you coming? Are you the storm cloud that goes around raining on everyone’s parade or are you the type of person that spreads cheer and sunshine? How you communicate is critical to building a positive reputation.

How you judge others will be how others judge you

We read a verse in the Bible that says, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” This is good advice for human relations too! Whenever you are in the process of judging others it gives other people a clue of how to judge you.

I have had the opportunity to counsel a number of married couples on the verge of divorce. I have noticed that whenever a husband or wife starts to tell me all the horrible, mean and nasty things the other partner has done, I learn more about the person who is doing the talking than the person they are talking about.

The repelling nature of complaining and criticizing

Complaining and criticizing give a bad impression. Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable and unpleasant it is to be in the presence of a chronic complainer? For me, to be around someone like that is like listening to fingernails dragged across a chalkboard. I just want it to stop or to get away from it. No only do people not like it but they are smart enough to subconsciously reason that if you are so negative about life and everyone around you then you must also think the same about yourself. If that’s the case then why would I want to associate with you?

Be of good cheer

We are told eight times in the Bible to “be of good cheer.” Usually this was told to people facing fairly dire circumstances. Proverbs 17:22 teaches: “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” Let the message from your mouth be positive and cheerful and it too can be like medicine to others.

A wise man made this statement:

“In my lifetime I have seen two world wars plus Korea plus Vietnam and all that you are currently witnessing. I have worked my way through the depression and managed to go to law school while starting a young family at the same time. I have seen stock markets and world economics go crazy and have seen a few despots and tyrants go crazy, all of which causes quite a bit of trouble around the world in the process.

“So I am frank to say tonight that I hope you won’t believe all the world’s difficulties have been wedged into your decade, or that things have never been worse than they are for you personally, or that they will never get better. I reassure you that things have been worse and they will always get better. They always do…” – Howard W. Hunter (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter p. 202)

Upgrade your personal marketing message

Things may seem bad and even if they are you don’t need to go around continually telling everyone just how terrible things are. Every cloud has a silver lining. Look for it. Find it and focus on the good and positive things in life. Make the message you communicate to everyone around you be one that is pleasant and uplifting. You are judged by it. Your reputation is built on it. Create a positive self-marketing message and people will want to be around you, help you and do business with you.

Marketing Yourself, Part 3 – Improve Your Packaging

Improve your packaging

(Note: This is Part 3 of a four part series on Marketing Yourself)

What is your packaging saying about you?

There are many ways products are marketed. One way is by their packaging. As you walk up and down the aisles of any store you will be confronted with every type of retail packaging, fighting for your attention. Retail packaging is meant to do several things. Its first job is to get your attention, almost saying, “Hey, look at me!” Second, packaging communicates a message about what’s inside the box or package. Third, by its style and design it sends a message about the quality of the product inside.

Like retail product packaging, you too are communicating to those around you by your packaging, so to speak. The way you look can say a lot about you. People size you up in seconds and make decisions about you before you ever open your mouth.

Some say, “People shouldn’t judge me by how I look. They should judge me for who I am.” That’s nice to say and probably right but it’s not reality. People do judge you by how you look. We do judge books by their cover. We wouldn’t even look in a book, let alone buy one, if we weren’t impressed with the cover.

Here are 5 simple tips to help improve your personal packaging:

1. Dress nice

Okay, that sounds obvious, but look around you and see what people are wearing these days. You may have seen the Walmart People videos on YouTube. Make sure you’re not one of them! We all can do better. It doesn’t take a lot of money to dress nice in my opinion. Maybe some people can tell the difference between a $120 shirt and a $20 shirt but most can’t. A nice dress shirt that’s in good condition and pressed or a nice dress that fits well and looks good on you will make a big difference. It’s really not so much the price of the clothes but the choice of the styles and how they fit. If your clothes don’t fit, are old, worn out or out of style then it’s high-time you invested in some updated “personal packaging.”

2. Dress to fit the occasion

I think, within reason, you should dress to fit the occasion, meaning dress the part. For every occasion there is an expected level of dress. Obviously you can wear anything from a swimsuit, a jogging outfit, sweats and a t-shirt, jeans and a polo shirt, all the way up to formal attire such as suits, tuxedos, formal dresses and gowns. It depends on the situation. You have to judge what is the appropriate dress for the occasion, whether it’s formal, nice business casual, casual or whatever.

3. Dress slightly one notch above

Compared to other people in your organization, are you dressed on par with them or below? When others are dressed in Dockers and a button up shirt are you dressed in jeans, flip-flops and a t-shirt? This is probably not good for your personal marketing plan.

It’s always been my feeling that you should dress slightly one notch above what you think everyone else will be wearing. The idea is not that you will look ridiculously out of place but that you will simply stand out slightly.

It’s much better to be one notch above than one notch below how you think everyone is going to be dressed. It’s very embarrassing to be in a situation where you are obviously underdressed. If everyone else is in a suit and you’re in an open-collared shirt, you will feel very out of place and others will see that. You will feel it. You can stand out in a positive way or a negative way. The point is, if you’re going to stand out, stand out on the above-end not the below-end.

4. Mind your health

This can be a struggle for many, but let’s face it; a healthy, fit person comes across in a much more positive light than someone that isn’t. Again, you are being sized up by everyone around you within seconds of meeting you. Whether it’s right or not, it IS happening. You do it. We all do it. If you are serious about your personal marketing plan then you need to address any health issues within your control that may turn other people off.

5. Smile

Your smile is definitely part of marketing yourself. Your total self-image and your packaging include your demeanor. Do you have a smile on your face? Are you cheerful and happy? You don’t have to say anything with a smile. Just a simple smile at somebody sends a huge, positive message. People will want to be around you. They will have a positive impression of you.

Think for a moment about the people you deal with. Which people are you more likely to work with and cooperate with? Isn’t it generally those people who approach you with a smile on their face, who are cheerful and are in a good mood? You know how you feel when the person you’re dealing with has a scowl on their face. It’s not a pleasant experience. Their mood rubs off on you. By nature you tend to resist that person. You don’t want to be with that person. I’m sure, if you deal with any people at all, you can think of examples in both of these cases: those who are cheerful and have smiles on their faces and those who don’t. If you are like 99.9% of all human beings on this earth, you will prefer to work with and deal with the person who is happy and cheerful and has a smile on their face.

As part of your personal marketing plan you need to make sure you have a smile on your face as often as you can. Plus you just frankly look better with a smile on your face than when you don’t. So smile!

(Look for the upcoming final article in this four-part series on Marketing Yourself)

Marketing Yourself, Part 2 – Name Recognition

Name Recognition

(Note: This is Part 2 of a four part series on Marketing Yourself)

Part of any marketing campaign is developing name recognition. Professional marketers do this by getting their product name in front of people as often as possible and in as many ways as possible. Think of how many ways the Coca-Cola Company gets the name Coke in front of you. It’s everywhere it seems. I remember being in a small village in China, in the middle of nowhere, and there was the Coke logo on a sign outside a small shop. Coca-Cola has done a great job of developing name recognition.

In a similar way you need to develop name recognition. You need to get your name and face out there in front of people on a regular basis. My tips today are slanted more to the corporate world but the ideas can be applied to other situations. Here are three simple ways to do develop name recognition:

1. Step Outside of the Box (physically and mentally)

We’ve all heard the term, “Think Outside the Box.” Well, we also need to Step Outside the Box, mentally and physically. You can no longer hide behind your PCs or camp out in your cubicles or offices. It’s easy to spend the entire day at our desks. Get out of the office. Be seen and be heard. Attend meetings.Visit other people in their environment and see what exactly it is they do. Find out what their concerns and frustrations are. You will be amazed at what you learn.

2. Communicate Regularly

Communicate regularly with your boss and with your bosses’ boss.  This means more than just memos. Use the phone or meet one-on-one with them. Try to arrange to meet with each of them each month.  Do this by having something to report or show them.  Show them you are interested in two things – making their jobs easier and increasing the bottom line of the business. This face-time with them is extremely important when it comes to building name recognition.

3. Participate in Company Events

Many organizations have events such as annual picnics, Christmas parties or golf tournaments. Make it a point to be to these events and actively participate. They sometimes seem like insignificant activities but that’s not the case. What these activities provide are opportunities to rub shoulders with and get to know people of all levels of the organization. You get to know them and they get to know you. Plus you are seen as a team player, as part of the corporate culture.

Each of these techniques help you build name recognition within your group or organization. When your name is recognized in a positive light by the decision makers, this can only be for your benefit.

(Look for the next two articles in this four-part series on Marketing Yourself)

Marketing Yourself, Part 1 – Why You Need It

Marketing Yourself

(Note: This is Part 1 of a four part series on Marketing Yourself)

“If you think marketing doesn’t work, consider the millions of Americans who now think that yogurt tastes good.”     Joe L. Whitley, management consultant

What does Marketing Yourself have to do with People Skills?

You may wonder what marketing yourself has to do with people skills. Is marketing yourself really part of people skills? I say definitely yes! Why do you want to improve people skills in the first place? One of the goals of improved people skills is to influence and persuade others. Another goal is to put yourself across to others in the best light. Marketing yourself helps you do this.

What is Marketing?

What is marketing anyway? Marketing is simply creating an awareness of value. If you’re marketing a product then you’re putting that product forward in the most favorable light. You’re exposing it to people and showing the benefits of it; why someone would want it, why it would be something of value to them.

Why do you need Marketing?

The same thing goes with marketing yourself. You can compare yourself to a product. You need to be creating an awareness of your value. You need to be tooting your own horn, bragging a little! You need to help the captain of your ship see you as part of the crew, not as useless cargo. Marketing yourself is using various means and methods to communicate to others your value.

Like it or Not – You Are Already Marketing Yourself

You might think it’s not your job to do marketing. Well guess what, you’re already doing marketing every day. What you say in meetings, in the elevator, at the water cooler, the way you look and dress – it’s all marketing! If you’re not paying attention to how you’re doing your marketing you may be in trouble. It doesn’t matter how much you know or how much you contribute to your organization if no one knows about it. What does upper management know about you? What does the rest of the company know or think about you? Marketing really can make a difference.

What are some of the benefits?

What are some of the benefits? Let’s say your company is in the process of choosing someone to fill a key position and they have a choice between several people, including you. If you have been successfully marketing yourself you will be looked at in a more favorable light because of the way you look, they way you act and the way you talk. With all things being equal they will choose you over the other candidates.

This doesn’t just apply to the corporate or business world but also to your personal life. When you have successfully marketed yourself to your family, your neighbors and your community, they will see you and think about you in a more positive light. They will see you as a person who is friendly and kind, who they want to be around. The relationship you have with your neighbors, your family or your book club will be a positive experience. This can then open up many other opportunities for your future success and happiness.

Truth in Advertising

All the marketing in the world isn’t going to make a bad product good. Marketing will only get you so far. You need to walk your talk. Your performance needs to match your marketing for it to be effective. There must be substance behind the marketing. Be good at what you do and then market the heck out of it!

(Look for the next three articles in this four-part series on Marketing Yourself)