Measure your personal and professional growth for last year, and learn how to grow more intentionally this year.

todd herman webHow do you know whether you're growing? If you're growing, then you're stretching. Of course, you have to be genuinely stretching. Genuine growth requires genuine stretch. businessperson outside

If You're Not Gulping ...

John Maxwell, one of my favorite authors and speakers, has a monthly teaching talk series called Maximum Impact. In one of his recent talks, he makes an interesting statement:

"If you're not gulping, you're not stretching."

Dr. Maxwell then goes on to relate "stretching" with "growing."

Having recently reviewed my business and personal results for 2014, I realized how much I'd stretched and grown in 2014 – likely more than any of my 25 years in business. What I also realized? Just how much I'd "gulped" in 2014.

Gulps Come From Fear

What is it about "gulp" and "growth"?I believe someone gulps when a challenge presented seems beyond the person's ability to rise to the occasion.People gulp out of fear – risk is involved because one might lose something of value. Depending on the person and the challenge, the thing of value could be:

  • Money
  • Reputation
  • Grade on a Test
  • Rating on a Performance Review
  • Relationship
  • Job

Gulps assume the likelihood of success to be somewhere around 50%, which means the chances of succeeding or failing are roughly equal.

  • Making the challenge too hard will cause the person to say "no" because the risk is too high.
  • Making the challenge too easy will prompt a "yes" because it's a sure thing – there is no risk.

A few years ago, I wrote about "Round Tuits and Akrasia." In that article, I coined the term "Think-Gulp-Yes Test" to describe what happens when someone undertakes a new challenge.

  • Think – Some mental calculus is performed where the upside of success (gain, or other positive consequence) is weighed against the downside of failure (loss, or other negative consequence), and the likelihood of success is assessed.
    • Let's assume a 50% chance of success. Should you accept such a challenge, or not? There is a risk of failure, and most people are afraid of failure.
    • Saying "yes" will require you to face the fear and do it anyway – saying "no" means you've decided to play it safe.
    • Whether you say "yes" or "no," you'll likely feel butterflies in your stomach as you think about things.
  • Gulp – Let's assume your thinking moves you toward "yes." There's a point where you have only one last doubt about your ability to succeed – and this doubt can never be removed without actually attempting the task and thus risking failure. To me, a gulp indicates you've found courage sufficient to face this doubt, and have come to a mental "yes."
  • Yes – The last step is a formal "yes" – officially accepting the challenge, whether it is signing a contract or enrolling in a course, and beginning to work on the challenge.

Gulps in 2014

I both "had gulps" and "sent gulps" in 2014.

Realizing some improvement areas for my staff, and my need to act on these (my gulp).

Identifying the scope of some essential internal process improvements (my gulp), and then pushing my staff to make things run more smoothly (many gulps by the staff).

In all cases, there was some sort of risk associated with each gulp – yet, for every risk, there was also the opportunity for growth. In my case, 2014 presented many opportunities for me to grow genuinely as a manager and as a leader – and I'm pleased to say, I handled most of these opportunities very well. Not perfectly, mind you, and these gaps in performance revealed opportunities for future growth.

Gulps, Squirms, and Personal Accountability

For the last 9 years, my January e-update has dealt with some aspect of Personal Accountability. To me, the number of gulps someone experiences indicates their level of personal accountability. Personally accountable people like to challenge themselves. Linda Galindo, author of The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success...No Nonsense, No Excuses, and a popular speaker on personal accountability, has developed "The Accountability Cycle" consisting of:

  • Responsibility – "Personal responsibility is a 'before-the-fact' mind-set of personal ownership and commitment to a result." (page 58)
  • Self-Empowerment – "Self-empowerment is taking the actions – and the risks – that you need in order to ensure that you achieve the results you desire." (page 147)
  • Accountability – "Being accountable for your actions means showing that you are willing to answer for the outcomes that result from your choices, behaviors, and actions." (page 225)

Gulps occur in the first (Responsibility) and second (Self-Empowerment) items in the cycle, where you initially take personal ownership by committing to achieve a result, and then many additional times as you take actions advancing you towards your goal.

Does a gulp occur in the last item of the cycle? No, because I believe a squirm or a glow occurs when you have to answer for your outcomes.

To me:

  • A gulp is future-oriented – it stems from the uncertain outcomes of planned actions and results you commit to undertake and achieve.
  • A squirm or a glow is past-oriented – its source are the known outcomes of the actual actions taken and results achieved, and which are now being judged against the plan.

How to "Draw" a Gulp

Mihaly Cs¡kszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, has a visual model of flow, which I have adapted to include the "Stretch" zone:

Flow Diagram

Image: Csikszentmihalyi, M. Finding Flow, 1997. (

Most people would think growth would start in the "Attract" sectors such as Control and Relaxation. After all, you're already pretty good at these things – why not get better? Read more on why pain trumps gain.

I happen to think growth is more likely to start in the "Avoid" sectors such as Worry and Anxiety. Why? Because if you're worried or anxious, it's likely because some situation is causing you pain AND you've admitted to yourself you're not doing as much as you could about changing the situation. Read more about stress caused by NOT doing your best.

Regardless of where, you begin in one of the sectors, and start by ...

Passing the "Think-Gulp-Yes Test" which leads you to ...

Stepping into the "Stretch" circle.

Where does the "Gulp" occur? nbsp;When you cross that boundary from your starting point into the "Stretch" circle.

Once you're in the "Stretch" circle, I view the growth process like a pinball ricocheting inside the circle – sometimes you'll make progress and feel Arousal, or you'll hit multiple setbacks and experience Apathy, or you'll succeed several times in a row and gain a sense of Control.

But remember, you've undertaken a challenge where there's a 50-50 chance of success. The pinball will stop moving at some point and will land in one of the 8 sectors. Hopefully, you'll be better off than where you started – yet there's no guarantee of this.

What do people with high Personal Accountability do?

First, they will "bump the table" as much as they can without tilting the pinball machine.

Second, regardless of where the pinball lands, they will "own" the outcome and be willing to be held accountable for their results. Owning the outcomes will elicit one of two basic feelings:>

"Glow" – You describe your actions, and can now bask in your success.

"Squirm" – When you have to admit you tried ... and came up short.

Third, if they're not in their desired end state, they'll find a way to try again and get the pinball back in motion.

For Me – 2014 and 2015 in Gulps, Glows, and Squirms

For me, 2014 was a year of record stretching. I entered the "Stretch" circle multiple times, and let out a "Gulp" each time. Most of the time, I had a "Glow" outcome. Even when I had a "Squirm" outcome, I fully owned the result, and thought of different ways to approach the challenge – then I quickly took another "Gulp" and stepped back into "Stretch."

Here's a recent example of a "Squirm" moment. Near the end of 2014, I had a pinball still in motion, and it looked like it would land where I wanted. Late one afternoon in early 2015, this particular pinball landed – just not where I had hoped. By chance, this outcome came while I was meeting with my coach. Thus, she gave me a "Real-Time Squirm" by holding me accountable – she had me own the outcome and describe what I could do differently next time.

I was bummed about this setback the rest of that day and into the next morning, when I debriefed this with one of my staff. She and I realized this setback was not fatal, and we could recover from it – thus, we devised a plan to get things moving again. A few days later, we had a good phone meeting, which validated our approach and put us back in the hunt.

Taking action is always a good antidote for a setback, because it helps you regain a sense of control over the situation. In our case, my staff and I could have chosen to stay in the "Anxiety" and "Worry" sectors or even slip into "Apathy" – yet, we did not. We chose to move forward. We both gulped, devised a plan, and began implementing it. By stepping back into "Stretch" we launched the pinball, and gave ourselves a fresh start.

What will my 2015 be like? I envision another year of high stretch AND high personal growth, one filled with many Gulps, Glows, and Squirms.

For You – Gulps, Glows, and Squirms in 2014? In 2015?

What was your 2014 like? How many Gulps, Glows, and Squirms did you have? If you can't easily recall any, you likely didn't genuinely stretch much in 2014 – and thus likely experienced little genuine growth.

You can't change the past – you can only learn from it. Regardless of 2014, how will you approach 2015? How many times will a challenge you face pass your "Think-Gulp-Yes Test" and you launch the pinball? Download the 2015 Stretch Sheet to identify your stretch opportunities.

Any insights along the way? I'd love to hear about them.



Todd L Herman