All posts by Robert B O'Connor

Your Most Important New Year’s Resolution: Put Excellence Before Success – Part II

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The Difference between Success and Excellence

Focused on success                                Focused on excellence

The result                                                    The performance
Failure is not an option                            Failure is a teacher
The destination                                          The journey
Winning                                                       Fulfilling potential
Can’t stand to be beaten                           Can’t stand to be outworked
Opponents are a threat                             Opponents make me better
Power over others                                      Power over myself
The end justifies the means                     There’s a right way and a wrong way
Building reputation                                   Building character

Excellence Before Success

So be wary of people or products that focus on outcome (“instant weight loss”) over process (“this can help you in your work of getting to a healthy weight”).

Focus on the journey rather than the destination. There are no elevators to the top of the mountain you are climbing. Put excellence before success and you will get there.




Get to the top of that mountain in 2018.  Let Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan help you get there.

Your Most Important New Year’s Resolution: Put Excellence Before Success – Part I

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Contemporaries of William Shakespeare rated him just on par with other notable playwrights and poets. Fifty years after Shakespeare’s death, John Dryden noted that the bard’s plays were being performed about half as often as those of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Beaumont and Fletcher had become more successful than Shakespeare, especially with Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding.

By the end of the seventeenth century Shakespeare’s excellence had shone through. He took the place he maintains today as the greatest of all English-language poets and playwright.

Success relates to the standards and opinions of others and is fleeting. Excellence relates to personal development and has enduring value. You may or may not have success, but you can be excellent.

Put Excellence Before Success

If you must have success, you place your happiness outside of your control. Focusing on personal excellence, however, creates an internal center of gravity. As any tightrope walker will tell you, controlling your center of gravity builds courage.

Excellence is built by process: hard work, sound methods, and time. Success is influenced by luck. A person, a company, or a nation stumbles across a pair of seven-league boots and quickly laps the field.

If I win $10 million in the lottery or Chevron finds vast oil deposits under my house, I am a great success.

Success is often the by-product of excellence, but excellence is never the by-product of success. In fact, brilliant success often produces arrogance, complacency, and mediocrity:

When was the last time you saw a Sony Walkman?

Why did Martha Stewart go away for five months in 2004?

How could General Motors, the leader in worldwide car sales for
seventy-seven years, have filed for bankruptcy in 2009?

How far did Vanilla Ice fall from the day “Ice Ice Baby” became
the first hip-hop song to hit the number one spot on the Billboard

The drive for excellence is about building legitimate pride in the growing mastery of a skill gardening, say, or swimming, playing the cello, selling shoes, or using Excel spreadsheets.

The drive for success, however, is often rooted in vanity, that is to say in the usually doomed attempt to feel worthy by making others see you as worthy.

Pursue excellence and you will be in control of your center of gravity.

Pursue excellence and you will build your courage. And it takes courage – buckets of courage – to make meaningful and lasting change in how you live.


Want to achieve your goals in 2018? ? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will show you how.

Satan’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions

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1. Start with what other people think you should do. That way your personal sacrifices will feel like punishment, thereby breeding resentment, resistance, and ultimately rebellion.

2. Be optimistic. Never mind that over the years your bad habit has become deeply ingrained. Count on sweeping it away in a few months.

3. Better yet, pick two major things you want to change at the same time!How to fail in 2018

4. Ask your wallet to do the work for you. Assume that buying enough frozen diet meals, gym memberships, brightly colored storage containers, bee pollen, packs of nicotine gum, how-to books and videos will be enough to reach your goals.

5. Be passionate about your plan, about the new you just around the corner, but forget that the meaning of passion is suffering.

6. Don’t adapt proven self-improvement strategies to your personality and your situation.  Don’t think about the predictable barriers that will arise to block your progress. You must not adapt your plan. Cannot start over in February after you face plant in January.

7. Demand a fast start and perfection. No low-hanging fruit, please. No rewards for progress along the way. And please be highly discouraged by any missteps or slippages.

8. Don’t arm yourself with facts. Don’t weigh yourself every day, don’t count your ciggies, don’t log your workouts.

9. Do this all by yourself.

10. See you in Hell.


Want to avoid failure in 2018? ? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will show you how.

Avoid Crashing: Make A Checklist

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On October 30, 1935, Boeing’s new four-engine bomber began its demonstration flight at Wilbur Wright Field. The A299 was favored to become the Army Air Force’s next generation long range bomber.

The plane rolled powerfully down the runway, took off, and climbed rapidly. Then it stalled, fell to the earth, and exploded.

The cause was an error by the pilot, the chief of flight testing. While seeing to the large number of takeoff procedures required by this advanced airplane, neither he nor his copilot remembered to unlock the rudder controls.

Human judgment is unreliable. It can fail at crucial times.You have a mission every day: to do what needs to be done.

The A299 outstripped the ability of pilots to execute required procedures in proper order. After the crash, it was considered too complicated to fly safely. The contract went to the Douglas DB-1, which later proved unsatisfactory for combat operations.

Boeing’s airplane was so much better, however, that a loophole in contracting specifications was used to equip one squadron. The Air Force named it the B-17. A reporter called it the Flying Fortress.

B-17s eventually flew thousands of precision-bombing attacks on German military-industrial capacity during World War II. The plane achieved iconic status for allowing American crews to complete missions despite sustaining heavy damage from enemy antiaircraft and fighters.

How did the risky A299 become the dependable B-17? Because the airplane was not too complicated to fly safely. It was too complicated to fly safely without help. There were too many things to remember.

B-17 pilots needed visible reference points. They needed a written checklist so they could see all the procedures for flying the plane. Here it is: The Actual B-17 Checklist.

Checklists are now part of standard operating procedure for flying any aircraft.


You have a mission every day: to do what needs to be done. You have work and family obligations. You have an obligation to yourself, to become more than you are now. There are distractions. Like B-17 pilots, your memory is unreliable. In addition, you lack an instrument panel and a copilot. Make a checklist. Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self-Improvement Plan will show you how.


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Your Great Ideas: Dime a Dozen
Executing Your Plan: Rare as Hens’ Teeth

Young mouse: We will put a bell around the cat’s neck, so we hear
it coming!
Old mouse: ’Tis well said, but who dares bell the cat?

The quarterback hands the football to the halfback. Two guards pull from the offensive line and lead him around the end. The tight end blocks the linebacker on that side. Here comes the power sweep.

The Green Bay Packers, winners of the first two Super Bowls, ran the simple power sweep over and over: 28, left; 49, right.

Adapted by Vince Lombardi from the old single wing offense, the play was strategically mediocre. It was simple, and easy to recognize. Opposing defenses knew the Green Bay power sweep was coming at them several times a game. They just couldn’t stop it.

The reason was execution. Due to constant repetition in practice and on the playing field, the Packers executed the play brilliantly. The Green Bay power sweep: a mediocre plan plus sound execution creates excellence.


Alternating days of Bikram Yoga, weight training, and swimming a mile is a brilliant plan for getting fit. It uses all the muscles, is interesting, lets you buy three different cool outfits, and is guaranteed to give anyone under seventy a great body. Just walking for thirty minutes every day: mediocre.

Execution - Gumptionade will help you turn your plans to reality - Learn more today!

Which program do you think most of us will be more likely to stick to over the course of a year? Those Speedos won’t get the job done from the closet.

We are going to make baby food from organic local vegetables; we are going to use only cloth diapers; we are going to iron those diapers; we are going to play classical music for baby every day; and we are going to employ only college graduates as babysitters. A brilliant plan for raising a healthy child. Fuhgeddaboudit.

How about: we are going to keep our children reasonably clean and properly clothed and fed. We will read to them when we can, not scream at them when we are exhausted, and take them to the doctor when they get sick. We will do our best to let them know they are loved. That is a plan most parents can pull off. Hey baby, let’s try that.


Physician Atul Gawande writes about the yawning gap between our nation’s ability to develop breakthrough therapies for disease and our ability to make them effective. Huge advances are made in medicine. Brilliant plans are written for improving public health. What is overlooked by government, foundations, and academia is blocking and tackling, the boring—crucial— task of execution.

Our approach to health care resembles the flea flicker: an entertaining, elaborate, and unpredictable football play. Anything but the simple Green Bay power sweep. Result? We are way behind.

New discoveries and new ideas are vivid and inspiring. They fill us with enthusiasm. We forget to plan the work of making them work. We forget about the laborious adaptations and manifold disappointments of personal development. The bright idea is fascinating. Execution is boring, the opposite of Easy and Magic. But like Easy and Magic, bright ideas will not get us past Day Four.


Stop trying to bell the cat! Use the free Gumptionade Worksheet #11 “Unbend Your Spoon” to overcome the damage that has done to your self improvement plan.

i. Physician Atul Gawande writes about the yawning gap… Atul Gawande, “The Checklist,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2007.

After Easy and Magic Comes Perfect

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Watch out. Perfect confuses performance with results. It ignores the role of forces outside of your control, including randomness and luck. Perfect doesn’t allow for human fallibility.

"Perfect is a trap. Striving to be excellent is not." Robert B O'ConnorPerfect is a trap. Striving to be excellent is not. Excellence is from process and growth, not outcomes and opinions of others. To be a perfect dieter requires a perfect diet and a perfect you. Not gonna happen.

But dieting can make you better than you were. You can learn about yourself by paying attention to the process. You can become a better person, and a better dieter. A little closer to perfect.

Perhaps the self-improvement program you select will give you the tools you need to become better. Don’t let that confuse you. The spade does not plant the garden. It is not the program that is changing you; you are changing you.

You can use the free Gumptionade Worksheet #11 “Unbend Your Spoon” to overcome the damage Easy, Magic, and Perfect are doing to your self-improvement plan.

Another Way Mr. Magic Defeats Your New Year’s Resolutions

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Mr. Magic can be most dangerous to your New Year’s Resolutions when he is pseudo-rational. When he serves up new age versions of the traditional life-as- journey metaphor: You are the CEO of your life; life is a work of art; life is like managing an investment portfolio. It’s not.

Heroic feats of productivity are part of Mr. Magic’s spoonbending. Not a moment will be lost. The apps, the hacks, the trading software, the notebooks, the juiced-up calendars and to-do lists online and off are indispensable implements for the superhuman parsing of every minute of every day.Real change begins with understanding the predictable weakness of human behavior. Eat coffee for lunch!

This is another version of Mr. Magic’s mind power spoonbending. Somehow you will find limitless knowledge, time, and energy for self-discipline and industriousness.

Now the products offered by Mr. Magic or the other spoonbender Ms. Easy are not useless. But like a bar of soap that does get you clean but costs $972, they are overpriced and oversold.

Despite initial appearances, Ms. Easy and Mr. Magic promote passive behavior, including passive consumption. Raspberry ketones! Their nostrums are diversions from the more challenging work of real change.

Real change begins with understanding the predictable weakness of human logic, and searching for the reasons why you can’t or won’t do better. That takes more than soap.

You can use the free Gumptionade Worksheet #11 “Unbend Your Spoon” to overcome the damage Easy, Magic, and Perfect are doing to your self-improvement plan.



i …life is like managing an investment portfolio. Micki McGee, Self Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 69.

How Ms. Easy and Mr. Magic Defeat Your New Year’s Resolutions

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“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is
the first duty of intelligent men.”

—George Orwell

Spoonbenders sell the illusion that the life you want can be had without sacrifice and struggle. The name comes from magician Uri Geller, who made sold the illusion that he could bend metal spoons with mind power.  There are two Spoonbenders to be wary of as you make your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions: Ms. Easy and Mr. Magic.New Year's Resolutions

Ms. Easy promises that you’ll change with almost no effort, because of her unique product. Mr. Magic promises that you’ll change via incredible feats of mind power, to which he has the secret.

Ms. Easy starts with this premise: Do better at this one thing (whitening your teeth, conditioning your hair, losing weight) and you will be better. Ms. Easy overpromises: this is going to be (pick one) effortless/convenient/cheap.

Possibly, if your goal is controlling dandruff. Absolutely not for more profound changes, such as a mature long-term approach to diet and exercise.

Nevertheless, in one form or another, Ms. Easy’s siren song “eat what you want and still lose weight” echoes in your ears around the new year.

The only way to do that is to change what you want to eat. Simple. Not at all easy.

Mr. Magic also starts with a reasonable premise: Be better and you will do better. But then he gets out the spoons.

He may take a mystical approach. Mr. Magic may even borrow from evangelical Christianity and use revival-style meetings to deliver his message and sell his merchandise. He’ll also put an exaggerated focus—like Uri Geller—on mind power.

Mr. Magic may even tell you that positive thinking and proper mental alignment will quickly cause improvement in bank accounts, advancement at work, and family relationships.

Now you know people can call forth latent courage to do more and be more. But Mr. Magic makes it sound so easy and so final. (Like painless weight loss!)

If that doesn’t get you to open your wallet, Mr. Magic may declare that the power is not within you, but out there. You will, he says, grow your wealth, lose weight, get happier by aligning yourself with the universe, which will then provide you with abundant prosperity.

Mr. Magic suggests that being broke is just a blockage of energy. He advises opening up your channel – with his help – so money and consumer goods can flow through: “Prepare your wish list to the universe.”

Prepare for spoonbending, actually.

Everything you want is out there awaiting delivery, says Mr. Magic, if only you will provide the correct address. Like the lie of painless weight loss, the Laws of Attraction are much more convenient than the work of real change.

Like Uri Geller’s spoonbending, close inspection reveals the content of Mr. Magic’s message to be less compelling than the delivery. This is a new-age version of “eat what you want and still lose weight.”

Keep this in mind when you make your New year’s resolutions: so-called universal laws gain traction on your wallet through magical thinking, the absence of common sense.

Gumption ignores the spells and promises of Ms. Easy and Mr. Magic and gets on with the work of real change.

You can use the free Gumptionade Worksheet #11 “Unbend Your Spoon” to overcome the damage Easy, Magic, and Perfect are doing to your self-improvement plan.

No Spoonbending

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“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is
the first duty of intelligent men.”

-George Orwell

A magician named Uri Geller received widespread media attention in the United States in the 1970s. He claimed to be able to bend metal spoons using paranormal mind power.

Geller appeared on many U.S. and European television programs to demonstrate. Critics showed that he used simple tricks. This did not stop Geller from making a living from the illusion that spoons can be bent with mind power.Spoonbenders make a living selling the illusion that the life you want can be had without sacrifice and struggle.

Some people make a living selling the illusion that the life you want can be had without sacrifice and struggle. That’s magical thinking. Over one hundred million people in the United States go on a diet in any given year. Dieting is a growth business, despite and because of the fact that the customers fail to get the results they want.

There is copious spoonbending centered on the illusion of painless, convenient change: Eat what you want and still lose weight! Spoons are not bent by magic. Losing weight is neither convenient nor painless. Even people who succeed tend to add the lost weight back in a year or two.

Every January many of us become powerfully infatuated with the idea of a new and improved version of ourselves: fit; organized; rich; and—above all—thin.

Infatuation knows nothing of common sense. We don’t foresee, let alone prepare for, what Carl Jung called “the laborious adaptations and manifold disappointments” that accompany any sort of significant personal progress.

We buy soap instead: Spray ’n Change.

The problem is not that this soap won’t get us clean; the problem is that the sellers claim it will keep us clean forever. And they want $972 per bar.

What we spend is not surprising. America is a rich and optimistic nation. Most of us hope to be better than we are now.

What is surprising is how poorly most of these products perform. Their goal is to overcome your resistance to buying, not your bad habit.

Spoonbenders encourage passive consumption over creative suffering. They are false guides. They direct you away from where you need to go.

Gumption doesn’t buy Spray ‘n Change, even on January 1.


How will you combat the spoonbenders? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will show you how.

i. “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious…” George Orwell’s January 1939 review published in Adlephi, of Bertrand Russell’s book Power: A New Social Analysis; Accessed March 13, 2015.

ii. Over one hundred million people in the United States go on a diet in any given year. ABC News Staff, “100 Million Dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight-Loss Industry by the Numbers,” Posted May 8, 2012; http:// dieters-20- billion-weight- loss-industry/ story?id=16297197. Accessed August 24, 2014.

iii. …the illusion of painless, convenient change. Keith Girard, “Startup Stories: Challenging Diet Industry Giants with a Computer,”, undated; structures/5963512-1.html. Accessed August 24, 2014.

iv. …add the lost weight back in a year or two. Rena R. Wing, Ph.D., Deborah F. Tate, Ph.D., Amy A. Gorin, Ph.D., et al., “A Self-Regulation Program for Maintenance of Weight Loss,” New England Journal of Medicine, 355:1563–1571, October 12, 2006.

v. ... “the laborious adaptations and manifold disappointments that accompany any sort of significant personal progress.” C. G. Jung, AION: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), 34.

Gumption Is Curious

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“Do not block the way of inquiry.”
– Charles Sanders Peirce

Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was appointed to the commission investigating the Challenger space shuttle disaster (seven souls lost in an explosion caused by a fuel tank leak).

“Feynman is becoming a real pain,” said Chairman William Rogers at one point. Of course he was. Feynman was curious. Feynman was a scientist. He wanted facts.

The Rogers commission conducted many hours of hearings and received many written reports. Two facts available to members—and to NASA before the disaster—were:

  1.  The outside temperature at lift-off was much lower than for any previous shuttle launch, and
  2. Rubber O-ring seals played a crucial role in preventing fuel tank leaks.

Feynman was curious: Had a connection between these two facts caused the disaster? A piece of O-ring was passed around during expert testimony. Feynman cooled the sample in his glass of ice water and pinched it. It failed to spring back into shape. The commission saw that very cold O rings lost flexibility. Inflexible O-rings could cause a fuel tank to leak.

Smoking gun.

Feynman went on to uncover the fact that NASA misunderstood commonly accepted measures of risk, understating the chance of a shuttle disaster “to the point of fantasy.”

Nobel laureate Richard Feynman was smarter than the other members of the Rogers commission. He was also more curious. He had more common sense. He had gumption.

Curiosity helps you bypass obstacles to clear thinking, including incentives to ignore unpleasant facts. NASA’s obstacle that cold afternoon was “Go Fever,” the top-down bias of a group toward consensus and forward movement without effective consideration of risk.

Here on Earth, money is the primary cause of bias. If you find yourself unsure about where someone is coming from, be curious and follow the money.

Let us say you are sixty years old and have significant left knee pain while walking. The orthopedic surgeon says you need a knee replacement ($40,000). The chiropractor recommends manipulation (full course, $1,700).

The acupuncturist recommends needles in your leg (five sessions, $600). Pfizer recommends Celebrex ($150 for thirty pills). The manager of the GNC store recommends Instaflex Joint Support supplement ($69.99).

Why would they each have a different opinion about what is best for you? Follow the money.

Your family doctor recommends you take aspirin (ten cents per day) and lose weight (free). This option will not make her any money. This is the best thing to try first.

How will you follow your path to inquiry? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will show you how.

i. “Feynman is becoming a real pain.” James Gleik, “Richard Feynman Dead at 69; Leading Theoretical Physicist,” New York Times, February 17, 1988. deadat-69- leading- theoretical-physicist.html. Accessed July 8, 2014.

ii. NASA misunderstood commonly accepted measures of risk… Gleik. Ibid.