Whether it’s starting and growing a side business, taking the family on an epic vacation, or breaking the world’s record for the longest pogo stick jump, we all have things we’d like to accomplish in life.

Unfortunately, many of those things lie on the other side of a ceiling.

The ceiling I’m talking about isn’t just a physical barrier. Nor is it the famous “glass ceiling” that exists in corporate culture. It’s the “virtual” ceiling in our minds that keep us from the success we desire. In fact, these mental ceilings can be even more restrictive than any cultural or physical ceiling… because they can short-circuit our success cycle right at the start, before it even begins.

Can you out-succeed a flea?

The very first success book I ever read was Zig Ziglar’s See You At The Top. In this book he shares a story about training fleas.

This annoying little parasite makes its way from dogs to cats to even humans by jumping incredibly far. How far, you ask? How about 150 times its own height? Fleas have been measured to jump 8 feet straight up. If we vertically challenged humans could do that, we could jump over a skyscraper. (I suppose the transportation potential for becoming a superhero by being bit by a radioactive flea would be pretty great.)

Now before you think that fleas and Atomic Flea-Men (or Fleawomen) are unstoppable, think again. According to Zig, if you put fleas in a glass jar and put a lid on the jar, the fleas will adjust their jump to avoid hitting the lid. After awhile you can come back and take the lid off and the fleas will not jump out of the jar. Not only that, but when you take them out of the jar, they will never jump higher than the level of the lid. And here’s an even more astounding fact: that if they reproduce, their offspring will not jump higher than the level of the lid.

The Key To Success Isn’t What You Think It Is

You see where I’m going with this. I know what you’re going to say: “Now wait a minute…I’m much smarter than a flea. I know better!

And that would work in your favor… if being smart helped. The truth is, being intelligent has very little to do with how successful you are. Intelligence is just as much a liability as it is an asset, especially when it helps us articulate elegant arguments that something is impossible when in fact it isn’t.

The key to success isn’t what you know, but how effectively you can reprogram your brain to see that something is possible, to chart a path to achieve it, and to “jump” to take sufficient action. And not only that… but when you smash your head on that ceiling, to be able to keep from giving up.

So how do we overcome these mental ceilings that we have to get what we want in life and business?

Fortunately, unlike the illiterate flea, we have centuries of human achievement that leaves us clues. After studying many of these success principles, I’ve developed a formula that when followed can give you the best chance of smashing whatever ceiling stands in your way.

I call it the SMILE method. Each letter of the word corresponds to a different part of the process.

S stands for Stop, See, and Set.

This is actually a mini-sequence of three steps that will get you on the right path to success as quickly as possible.

“Stop” means to literally stop doing what doesn’t work and give yourself a break. Give yourself time to pause and reconsider your approach, gather your thoughts, and just plain rest. This pause is absolutely necessary in order for the rest of the process to be effective.

One word of caution, of course, is to not stop for too long… if you do you could be using this step as a procrastination tool! (As a recovering procrastinator, I had to put that caveat in.)

“See” is to adjust your perception to take in all of the possibilities that you may have missed. Seeing is actually a very important skill, and it involves being able to objectively view all the facts without being biased. It also allows you to have a long-term vision for your future success, which is critical to setting goals.

It helps to ask “What” and “Why” questions. For instance, try asking, “What do I really want and why do I want it?”

“Set” is to set goals. I’m fond of setting vision-based goals, because they have a magnetic effect… they naturally pull you toward them. By nature we put a lot of emphasis on what we can easily and readily perceive, but that is the low-hanging fruit that marketers shovel to the masses of people. The best way to succeed is to see differently, to use our imagination and visualize our goals.

Helpful questions to ask for goal setting are “Where, When, How, and Who” questions.

Once you’ve begun this with this three-step process, the the next three letters are non-linear and you can do them in any order.

M Stands For Master Your Mind.

Your mindset will account for the vast majority what makes you succeed. Being aware of yourself in developing your mental states into productive states is really what this whole process is all about.

You will need to do “mindset checks” frequently throughout the process… especially if you’re a solo entrepreneur going your own way. This can keep you from being the single point of failure that stops progress.

A healthy mental state can enable you to transform negative thoughts into positive ones, provide energy and motivation when you need it, and transform your fears from adversaries into allies.

I Stands For Improve Your Skills And Environment.

Improving our skills allows us to invest in ourselves. There are a lot of ways and modalities to increase our skills… while some of us learn best by watching videos, others learn better by reading. A hands-on class or personal coaching is even more effective and has a degree of social accountability built-in. Know yourself and how you learn best, and use that method to learn the skills you need to succeed.

Skill acquisition involves not just learning how to do something, but actually doing it. This commits the skill to memory and allows us to use it as a tool. Having these “mental tools” at the ready naturally leads to strong success habits.

Become a “forever student” who never stops learning, and you’ll do amazing things. This is especially necessary in our always-changing environment today, where we must constantly shift strategy and be flexible to accommodate new challenges and opportunities.

In addition to improving our skills, we can improve our environment. We often are not conscious of our environment, but it has a huge impact on our effectiveness in reaching our goals. By optimizing our physical, emotional, and intellectual environment, we use it to help us instead of hindering us.

L stands for Leverage your Network and Resources.

Leverage is a powerful practice that allows us to take what we can do ourselves and magnify it many times. A great way to think of leverage is to imagine a large boulder that you wouldn’t be able to budge if you tried to move it unassisted. When you take a lever (like a thick board) and a fulcrum (like a smaller rock that you place under the stick) and wedge it under the boulder, you would be able to push down on the lever and move the boulder more easily.

We use leverage all the time without really thinking about it… just think what we can do when we use leverage more purposefully!

One thing we can leverage is our personal network. This is a fantastic place to go for inspiration, advice, and business opportunities in the form of referrals and clients. (Note that the latter carries with it a certain degree of finesse… you don’t want to come off as that overbearing family member who tries to push his multilevel marketing on everybody.)

We can also leverage our resources. We all have resources at our disposal, and sometimes we don’t think about all of them. Resources can be anything we have that helps us achieve our goal. They can be physical, such as a workspace or computer, or they can be virtual, such as the knowledge you gained from a marketing class that you took last year.

One of my favorite personal resources is story. It’s amazing how compelling you can make a piece of content by mining your experience and injecting your personal story into it.

E Stands For Execute.

Last, we have the E which stands for execute. All of our efforts are worthless if we don’t take action. Execution requires not just the previous steps to be done well, it also takes courage as well as a healthy dose of good old blue-collar working mentality.

If you’re a sports fan, you know very well that the team that wins a game isn’t necessarily the team with best talent or even the best game plan. It’s the team that executed the game plan that usually wins.

It’s the same thing in just about any other avenue of life. While even flawless execution can’t make up for a bad plan or subpar capability, it can definitely shine the light on it and give you the data you need to go back to the drawing board. With even a mediocre plan and talent, however, a well-done execution can still yield success.

Nowhere is this more evident than in launching a product. I’m always amazed at how many ho-hum, less than spectacular products are out there getting bought every day. Because the person or company that made the product actually took the steps to market, sell and ship it (execution), they are making a business work and even be profitable. (And think how much profitable and sustainable that business would be if they listened to customer feedback and improved the product over time.)

Here’s a quick review of the five steps:

S is for stop, see, and set goals.
M is for master your mind.
I is for improve your skills and environment.
L is for leverage your network and resources.
E is for execute with courage.

Ready… Set… Smash!

Even though the best things in life are often on the other side of a ceiling, that doesn’t mean you can’t get what you want.

Remember the SMILE method, and you’ll always have a blueprint for smashing  your personal ceilings and getting more success in life.

Happy Smashing!

– Mike