01/11/2013 02:47 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2013

Simple Math: Same Old + Same Old = Same Old

A good friend of mine, Steve, has been a gym rat for the last 12 years. He's not into body building or impressing anyone (his wife already knows he's a hunkalicious 60-something, at least in spirit). He just wants to maintain his optimal weight, build good cardiovascular health, and keep his stress levels in check. The other day, he mentioned that he couldn't help noticing how some people have been going to the gym as long as he has, but their bodies haven't changed over the years. Same guts, butts, arms, and legs, perhaps a little droopier as they age.

"Why do you think that is?" I asked. He said they seem to go almost every day, but they do the exact same thing each session. And that's the problem -- some say that if you don't shake things up through "muscle confusion," your body simply adjusts to the exercises, the activity level becomes your norm, and there are very few improvements.

Steve's comment took me back 30 years when BOB started making an unwanted appearance in my life. ("BOB" stands for "belly over belt.") This was most disconcerting, because I'd always prided myself on being in good shape through martial arts, weight lifting, and rigorous workouts. My expanding real estate activities kept me on the run and made it hard to work out and eat right all the time. Hence, the expansion in my waistline area.

I thought I'd send BOB packing with a bit of modern technology -- the belly vibrator belt. (In fact, the vibrator belt has been in vogue since the 1850s when upscale folks used them as a no-sweat means of getting rid of fat. There's certainly skepticism about whether these things really work, but I did perceive that my abdomen was a bit tighter. Maybe I just became more conscious of my stomach muscles, diet, and posture, but I felt the belt was doing me some good. For about a month. Then BOB crept back in. Yet I continued wearing the belt for almost three more years, even as BOB dug in for the long haul. In light of Steve's comments, I fell into the same trap as the folks who are stuck at his gym: Same old plus same old equals... same old.

It's not just our muscles that need shaking up -- our brains need it, too. Otherwise we get stuck in the same patterns, thinking the same thoughts. This was brought home to me in the '80s when I started doing condo conversions. I remember my first condominium conversion project in Boston. I advertised that I would give away a fully-renovated kitchen free to anyone who pre-purchased a unit before the project was complete. This was an innovative idea and worked like a charm with numerous buyers. The tactic became my standard marketing procedure -- until it stopped working.

What was going on? The answer wasn't clear until a prospective buyer, a sweet retired school teacher, pointed out to me that I wasn't really "giving away" a renovated kitchen since my competitors across the street were offering the same sized condos with the kitchen included, at the same price.

Wow. Instead of treating the marketplace as a dynamic arena and keeping tabs on the competition, I'd gotten complacent. The teacher had taken me to school and made me realize that continual growth requires continual questioning about what I was doing and whether it was working. In exchange for her good advice, I took $10,000 off the price. That was a small amount to pay for a lesson that yielded major dividends. I began transforming my acts of desperation into thoughtful new strategies and tactics. Buyers began flocking to my condos faster than BOB filled out my profile.

Whether the issue is working out at the gym or continuing a business practice, we're creatures of habit. And there's nothing wrong with habits -- they can keep us on track. The problem is when habits become "dead zones," void of mindfulness and awareness. Without mindfulness, we walk at the same speed on the same treadmill for years, oblivious to the fact that progress stopped a long time ago. We use the same old strategies to move and maneuver through our personal and business lives, even if those strategies aren't leading to satisfying results.

Being mindful of when we're not being mindful is a tall order, but it can be done. Work at maintaining a list that identifies the tunnels that serve as express routes to the land of disappointing sameness. Then get daring and try something new. Take a cue from Helen Keller, who said that "life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Which do you choose?

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