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Just Check Out My Guiding Principles

Photo by Dan Greenwald – Red Spotted Newt – June 2020 – Eastern PA

“What are you doing these days?” 

Since I live in NYC, I’m assuming the curiosity behind this FAQ vanilla question is about earning, not about my nature photos, the 3-mile hiking trail I just blazed through the woods, or my soul-driven purpose. 

No worries. I’m game with letting people know that from my 30,000 ft. view – I’m in the business of helping people thrive. This started as an NYC educator trained in curriculum design, and I’m currently doing this by supporting people and companies hitting newly defined targets using a framework called ThirtyTenZero. This framework is designed to tap one’s inner power, refine your current target, and customize a measurable game plan for how to hit it. It’s also a useful structure in quickly outlining any concept or challenge.

However, zooming down to 10,000 ft. and simplifying, what I’m really doing is following my guiding principles.

Inspired by Ray Dalio, these three guiding principles maximize my time, energy, and focus, with a practical impact of sharpening my daily actions. These are the same principles that continue to shape ThirtyTenZero.

  1. Time is the greatest commodity
  2. Seek authenticity not approval 
  3. Fear equals opportunity 

#1 – Time is the greatest commodity 

While this first principle seems obvious and trite, it’s not. Intellectually we understand we have a finite amount of time in this world. However, it is when we live through life experiences that we emotionally internalize “life is really short.”

Examples of some experiences are when you lose a number of people close to you over a short period of time. Or someone in your life suffers an illness with an uncertain outcome. Or a relationship ends. Or your ideals have been shattered. Everyone gets hit with “life is short” reality checks. It’s a characteristic of being a human creature.

Regardless of socioeconomic reality or where in the world you live, time is a human’s greatest commodity. 

This is my ThirtyTenZero using the Done app by TreeBetty

Here’s a how I implement guiding principle #1 in to my daily life.

In my customized ThirtyTenZero framework my second area of focus is to be a Master of My Time (indicated in by the red actions from my daily tracker). These are some of my key daily actions I measure, which gives me a weekly score as to how well I’m doing in achieving my overall life-target.

  • Review my weekly schedule every Sunday evening
  • Start each day by prioritizing my TTZ Daily -ToDo’s
  • End my day by reviewing what I have lined up for tomorrow
  • Touch my CRM multiple times a week

The goal is to not waste time. My time or someone else’s.


#2 – Seek Authenticity Not Approval

This means applying greater self-awareness to the source of my actions.  Recognizing the self-serving biases my mind creates in the form of stories designed to keep me “safe.”  Or when my delicate ego needs to feel; relevant and goes looking for “likes.” 

Our world is changing at an exponentially rapid pace. Like you, I’m a cog fueling our focus economy. I’m inundated with focus-sucking media, emails, and posts that add minimal or no value. Marketing experts, please don’t tell me the “only way” to sell is by carpet-bombing my target with click-funnel messages pushing mindsets of fear and scarcity. I’m always open to learning about people and companies doing great things, but please sow your seed through lasting value even if I don’t purchase. Some great examples are Andrew Barry and how he markets Curious Lion and The Mission Daily.

One of my 12 favorite problems I put together for this writing program called WriteOfPasage was “ How do I tell my authentic story of growing ThirtyTenZero (TTZ) in order to help grow TTZ without being a part of the digital pollution? I’m banking on my guiding principle #2 to help me navigate this challenge.

I have a bank of content to share. I held back because I questioned the value I was offering. With honesty, I know these posts are solid. It’s the stories of fear are what stopped me from pushing the “post” button. This leads to guiding principle


#3 – Fear Equals Opportunity

If we’re not growing we’re dying. As a human or a business. The immedaite way to fuel change is to recognize our fears and lean-in instead of running away. Growing up with a stutter helped teach me this. You either take the time to say what you want or don’t and avoid shame. 

The human mind has one goal, which is to keep us alive. It does so in three ways. 

  • 1. Homeostasis -making sure our body temperature and fluids are where we need them to be. 
  • 2. Acts as a file cabinet for our memories and experiences. 
  • 3. Creates stories that drive our actions to keep us safe. The flip side of the word “safety” is “fear.” Our mind creates stories that tell us what we should be fearful of. Classic example: don’t go outside at night because you might meet this hungry bear looking for the bird feeders.
This is one of three bears that would come visit during our Spring2020 quarantine adventure.

What’s confusing for us is that the stories of fear leading to our safety are what also limit our growth. 

Example: don’t post this and risk the shame of people thinking you’re a __________. 

Practically – I measure facing my fears monthly with a concept called the “Courage Muscle.” This idea was hatched when I started presenting to groups of fellow stutterers. I explain how this is our most important muscle. It grows by recognizing our fear and intentionally leaning into it with action. Each action builds another layer of courage muscle “fibers.” The larger the muscle, the more your able to accomplish. The younger you learn this, the greater your life-impact. 

In my ThirtyTenZero, I keep track of each time I lean into a noticeable fear and I record the action I took (see visual above in blue). Months, where I have four or more courage-muscle actions, the data shows my overall life productivity increases. The correlation is obvious. 


I’m a dreamer and a romantic idealist who’s allergic to settling. I’m most comfortable existing up at 30,000 feet thinking about the big picture, spotting trends, or hatching visions. When I’m engaged in helping people thrive my voice shifts and my physiology changes with excitement.

If you’re really curious about “what am I doing these days”, simply ask me about my guiding principles. 

Exterminate or Relocate?

On March 3rd, I woke up to this text:

My default is living in gametime mode, even when there’s no gametime. On March 5th, I arrived at The Farm with the family to quarantine.

We walked in the door and I immediately heard the footsteps across the kitchen ceiling. I froze in focus. My German Shepherd ears extended. My ears were literally three inches from the ceiling of this circa ~1865 farmhouse. 

Where is this critter going? How quick? What size feet make that sound? 

Breathe. Impulse control. 

With that breath, I accepted another unplanned reality—having another “family” quarantining with us at The Farm. I told the boys to be on the listen for critters running between the 1st and 2nd floors. Refocused, we unpacked the rest of the car.

The next night, priorities of protecting my family shifted again. We had just sat down to dinner, when my wife, Babette tells me she heard something run toward the bathroom. I froze. Ears up. Staring at each other with silence and listening. I heard it again. 

Targetted. The creature was in the bathroom behind the wall next to this old circuit breaker with already detached wires. Then came the sound of the top front teeth of a large vermin gnawing on old wood and wires. The vibrations reminded me of the “heavy impact” drill dentists give an extra warning about. 

These animals had to leave. We were safe from COVID but chewing on live wires results in a burning old farmhouse. Success was a must. 

In gametime situations, my decisions are simplified. Do I relocate or exterminate? 

I’d prefer to relocate them. 

Feasting – Spring2020

First of all, I grew up roaming this property, mostly alone since age five. This place taught me about my maker, the reality that I am a creature in this world among many creatures, and there is a cosmic alignment and respect between all of us that I call “Nature Karma.”

This property is in Lenape territory on the top of a Pocono mountain close to the Delaware River. “The Farm” as it’s now called was last commercially used in the 1950’s to grow Black Angus Steer. My father, the beloved county pharmacist for 30+ years, seized the quiet opportunity to purchase it in 1969 with a back of a napkin bank loan. It’s no longer a working farm. In any case, nature karma or not, I’m the caretaker now, and I hate dealing with dead animals. 

What would it take for relocation? 

Recon was activated immediately. Over the next four weeks, I learned we had a squirrel family, their feeding schedule inside and their work outside was literally from dawn to dusk. Not too different from my life.

I found the point of egress. There was a hole where the old and less old additions meet.

Recon – Spring2020

Without thinking of larger ramifications, I focused on shutting down this Grand Central Station. I clogged the hole with spray foam and rocks. It worked immediately. 

I walked in the house a champion. Babette handed off five-month-old Hannah Banana as a trophy. 

Hannah Banana & GirlDad – Spring2020

And then another unforgettable sound stopped me: squealing desperation. Now, we had crying babies separated from their mother. 

Nature Karma—here it is. Another decision. Allow for relocation or do nothing and extermination happens by closing awareness. 

I gave Hannah back to Babette and worked to open up the hole. Their rush-hour comfort returned, and the babies were fed. 

Trapping started mid-March. I had three havaharts. The bears mangled one. 

Black Bear #3 – Spring2020

That’s how I learned not to leave feeders or traps with peanut butter on them overnight. 

Another trap was too small. I was down to one trap. 

Operation Relocate

My Rube Goldberg strategy was to use the bird feeders to seed the traps. I placed the trap with it’s mesh metal holes under the feeder with the black sunflower seeds. These seeds were like Reese’s peanut butter cups for squirrels. As the early morning birds ate, the seeds would shake free into the trap below. 

Symbiosis – Spring2020

Once caught, they were relocated down the hill, across the highway next to the river. They would have to frogger back home if they wanted to return. Over the next month I got most of them.  

Caught #2 – Spring2020

We were down to three. Two “toddlers” and the mother. James, my 10 year old, came in and interrupted a training I was leading to let me know we got “mama chungus.”  He was right. 

As I picked up the trapped mother and marched to my truck to continue Operation Relocate, she squealed a sound that once again stopped me. 

While still holding the trap in my right hand, I looked down and saw this creature’s belly. This mother was holding onto the top with her four paws reaching for the corners. There were eight teats, ready for use. 

Creature to creature. She had mouths to feed. Without thinking, I put the trap down and let her out. This is Nature Karma, and Operation Relocate was never ending. 

Here was a slap of reality. How much bandwidth and overall energy will I have to sink into relocating these squirrels? Did they know I was also balancing keeping my family healthy and growing, finding time to work and giving Babette time to do what she needed? 

I was honestly reconsidering my policy of relocation over extermination. I was hearing the loud voices of “You are man. This world was given to you. Own it. Next time you catch the animal, stick the trap in the water.”

In early April I had found another point of egress. This family stopped using the original entrance when I flooded Grand Central with foam and rocks. Their entry was now through a vent in the back of the house. With recon cameras repositioned, I watched the remaining squirrels come and go.

Using zip ties and some chicken wire, I covered their back door. Over the next week, I would open their door in the morning and close it after they went in.

Penn Station – Spring 2020

Finally, it was time. These guys were big enough.  I needed this energy and focus invested elsewhere.

I tightened the vent closed and kept the camera about five feet away. The trio returned. I could sense anger, but after a few minutes, they accepted their door was locked.

What happened next amazed me. Here’s what they did upon recognizing they had outgrown their farm house.

  1. They accepted reality and looked around.
Reality Check – Spring2020
  1. They seemed to have recognized they were being watched. Next they went for the cameras. 
Spite – Spring2020
  1. Their actions turned the cameras around to face the other way. The cameras weren’t knocked down; they were turned 180 degrees
Until Next Winter – Spring2020

I could take it as an FU or a thank you. I’m going to choose to see this as an acknowledgment of respecting creature-to-creature Nature Karma. 

I’m happy I stuck with Operation Relocate. I was up there protecting my family during my operation. Spring 2020 brought many challenges, value-defining decisions and growth. These squirrels gave me a powerful reminder that we are creatures like they are creatures. They protect and feed their young like we do. 

What if you saw yourself as a creature, a human creature? Just because we don’t live around dense forests doesn’t mean we aren’t creatures with our own habitat. We are creatures. No matter where we live, whether it’s on a farm in the woods or New York City, we aren’t just part of nature; we are nature.

That’s why Concept #1 in StoryWatch is looking at humans as human creatures. Exploring this gives us the ability to deconstruct ourselves so we can reconstruct how to become and get what we want.

Cheers to 180 degree turns! (Thanks Key!)

StoryWatch: My Weapon of Choice

Spiders catch insects to survive. We catch our stories. (Photo by Dan Greenwald)
Spiders catch insects to survive. We catch our stories. (Photo by Dan Greenwald)

I had no idea there was one thing that controls all of my success. 

I’m talking about success as a parent, entrepreneur, spouse, leader, provider, teacher, student, writer, farmer or quarantiner.

The industry calls them limiting beliefs and poets refer to the voices inside.

I call them the stories in my mind. Here’s how I learned to control and harness them.

I grew up with a stutter.  I learned about the power of my stories early on. The majority of my life I was “in my head.” I existed in a daily identity crisis of stuttering my face off or avoiding shame and the situation entirely. From age six I knew something was holding me back.

Everyone is given a “stuttering” life circumstance. It’s the source of the most valuable and painful stories holding us back. This is with every human creature, whether we stutter or not.

 I’m now 43 and for the last three years, I’ve been practicing StoryWatch. It’s training to own the stories in my mind and keep me out of my own way. StoryWatch takes our innate abilities, provides a rational structure and a practical process to capture the negative stories in our mind before they morph into (in)action.  The more I practice it, the stronger I become, the more productive and better equipped I am for each day.

I now run StoryWatch trainings. Here are the three core concepts StoryWatch is built on.  


Concept #1 – All Human Creatures are the Same

We are creatures. Every creature has a superpower. Dogs have their amazing sense of smell, unmatched obedience and an ability to connect deeply with humans. Hawks have their sharp eyesight, razor talons and speed for attack. Squirrels are champion climbers, bird feeder destroyers and know the optimal time to gather autumn nuts. Explore any creature and you will find their superpower.

This guy turned me into Caddy Shack Bill Murray

What is the creature power of humans? 

A quick exploration gives us a baseline understanding for how all humans are the same, and it starts with the human creature’s mind.

The primary purpose of our mind is to keep us alive. It does so in three ways:

  1. Moderates our bodies to ensure its balanced for homeostasis and survival
  2. Archives experiences and memories for when we need them
  3. Creates stories that drive our actions to keep us safe

As human creatures, our minds keep us safe by creating stories that drive our actions. Whether or not we’re aware of these stories, they trigger us to act. That means our actions, good or bad, are determined by the stories our mind creates.

To keep us safe and drive us to act, our mind creates stories in the form of fears. 

Examples: 

  • Smoke cigarettes and you’ll get cancer 
  • Don’t get too close to the edge or you’ll fall
  • Wear masks and wash your hands often or you’ll get COVID
  • Don’t start a business. Do you know how much time and money you’re going to waste?
  • Or the classic, don’t go outside because you might get eaten by a saber tooth tiger

When the mind believes our survival is at risk, it’s on guard for what to fear. The way all humans combat fear is to find what we can control. This is the reason for the great toilet paper panic of spring 2020, and why there’s an instinct to consume constant news during a pandemic. Regardless of a global plague happening, the mind is constantly activating stories to keep us “safe.”

The mind is a storytelling machine of fear activated when faced with any difficult situation.

“Your minds are designed to stop you at all cost from doing anything that might hurt you.” 

Mel Robbins

The primary mission of the human creature’s mind is about survival and not a happy or fulfilled life. 

So when we attempt to build a business, write a book, speak in public, be vulnerable to someone we love, post something we wrote or anything a human creature finds difficult, the mind creates stories to avoid doing it. To our mind, what is hard is not safe.

All humans experience stories that impede our growth and achievement. Our mind is in default mode when creating stories of fear. As a teen consumed with my stutter, my “safe” story was “Don’t worry. You’re a good driver. You could drive a truck so you don’t have to speak much.” My stutter was an endless source of limiting stories. 

“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”

James Allen

After my senior year of college, I had enough. I was ready to face any wall that was holding me from growth. That summer in Boston, I dove into a month-long stuttering modification program that guided me in deconstructing and then reconstructing how to speak – physiological and psychologically. It took another 18+ years of constant self-work to activate the courage and the choice to be true to myself. Had I known about StoryWatch, it would have cut down that time. 

For the human creature, the terms “safety” and “fear” are flip sides of the same coin. Safe is important, but it also keeps us from growing. 

Here are some classic stories the mind creates to keep us “safe” when difficult actions stand in front.

Example #1: “I’m going to workout, but

  • I don’t have the right sneaks.”
  • I have no one to go to that class with.”
  • I can’t work out at home.”

Example #2: “I’m going to post some writing every week, but

  • It’s not good enough.”
  • What are they going to think?”
  • What makes me an expert?”

Human creatures are not solely mind and intellect. We are also “heart”, referring to being emotional creatures with powerful yearnings. This yearning is ingrained into our survival. Neuroscientists have packaged this emotional reality to live in the amygdala of our brains.   

This emotional yearning lights our inner power to push through our fear and take risks beyond our safety. My mother was a child Holocaust survivor in the Czech woods and a great teller of her story. When speaking to students, she would start by looking at the crowd. Lean into the silence for a few more moments and say, “You’re all stronger than you think.” 

The creature power of humans is made up of this imperfect balance of mind and heart. The mind works to keep us safe, while the heart’s emotional yearning pushes us into vulnerability so courage can emerge to conquer what’s needed. 

Having completed the month-long stuttering intensive, and determined to strangle out all the negative power rooted in my stutter, I landed my first teaching job in Washington Heights, NYC. Driving a truck wasn’t my only option. 


Concept #2 – Everything Starts with STATE

If all human creatures have the same creature power, then why do some succeed over others?

There’s a practical concept I heard Tony Robbins simplify. I paraphrase it like this:

STATE → STORY→ACTION

State is the vitality or energy a human engages life with. 

The state a person is in dictates the type of stories their mind creates, which drive the type actions they take. 

State is made up of our mental, physical and spiritual health. When one is weak then so is our state. 

It looks like this – when I’m in a strong state, I have strong stories, which lead to strong actions.

When I’m in a shitty state, my mind creates those shitty stories, which results in my shitty actions.

When I’m not in a strong state, everything I’m doing feels like I’m hiking uphill with a 60lb pack in flip flops. 

The inverse is also true. When I do the work to consistently farm living in a strong state, the subsequent stories propel the actions that show me I am stronger than I thought. 

Once I saw this, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know. It was a Morpheus moment. 


Concept #3 – Every STORY serves a purpose

We now understand why all human creatures create their stories. It’s about survival. Even the negative stories we look to avoid serve a purpose.  All human creatures experience negative stories, and while they’re designed for survival and safety, they can be destructive and inhibiting for humans looking to achieve more than just survival. 

There were times in my life the negative stories pushed me to a breaking point of saying “ENOUGH!” 

Using the structure of  STATE→ STORY → ACTION, what if there’s a way to capture the stories before they turn into action? What if I was up all night with 6 month old Hannah, and I was able to recognize that those shitty stories flooding my sense of self existed because I was in a shitty state, not because I’m incapable of balancing life business and family. 

What if human creatures were able to recognize this cause and effect, identify the “shitty” story and then use their powerful intellect and ask,  “how is this story serving me? Would I like to change this story?”  Would their actions be any different? 

What if human creatures were given the ability to quickly recognize not only their own stories driving their actions but also those of others?

This is how StoryWatch works and something I work on daily. StoryWatch is a skill like a sport, learning an instrument or a language. Like at the gym, the more you put in, the more your StoryWatch muscle grows. Having been working on my own StoryWatch over the last few years, and sharing it with other ThirtyTenZero users, StoryWatch literally becomes a superpower.


Here’s an activity we work on in the training. 

Activity: How’s this Story Serving Me?  

Here’s how to apply this concept of STATE → STORY → ACTION to anything you’re navigating.

Identify a challenge. Maybe something that’s consistently showing up for you. What’s the story around that challenge? Write it out. I use Evernote or the Done app.

  1. Ask yourself with radical honesty, “when the stories around this challenge show up, how’s my STATE?” Rate it from 1-low to 10- strong. 
  2. Ask yourself out loud “How’s this story serving me?” Remember, your story exists because your mind is looking to keep you “safe.” Our stories are always serving a purpose. Decide if you want to keep this story as a driver for your actions. If so, you’re good.
  3.  If not, what story do you want to put in its place? What actions do you need to do to activate this new story being true?

StoryWatch is the first step of the ThirtyTenZero framework. Only when we’re able to recognize the stories that get in our way, are we able to rise up to our 30,000 foot view and identify our target for what we really want. 

Photo by Mike Kleba @30,000 ft. – La Grande River, OR RiveOROR

Stuttering was my training. StoryWatch is my weapon. Every day I’m on guard hunting for these stories. No longer am I haunted by them. As I’m alive they exist. The more I find the stronger I get. My stutter is now a light on my dash, informing me I’m in a weakened state.

The stories our mind creates are the one thing that will make or break all of us

Abundance in a Raging Pandemic

Social Experiment: Project ReGrowth

Do you rubberneck? It’s hard not to.

In March 2020, I was focused on watching COVID carve the NewNormals. It was my way of feeling in control of this consistent uncertainty.

During Spring2020, I bounced between stories of scarcity – “I have no time” or abundance – “look at these new opportunities emerging.” 

Nature continues to be my ultimate teacher.

Humor me and look at this pandemic as a raging forest fire impacting all 7.8 billion people.

Trees scorched by the L.N.U. Lightning Complex fire, the second largest in state history, in Napa County, Calif., on Monday.
Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

COVID is shifting the world. Every age, industry and habitat feels the impact.

Like forest fires, the pandemic came from nature or a human mistake. It destroys what’s in its path, often making random exceptions. As we see in California and recently in Australia. The destruction is decimating. This analogy can keep going with our front line workers being the smokejumpers.

Firefighter Cody Nordstrom, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., takes a water break while fighting the CZU Complex Fire. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Firefighter Cody Nordstrom, of the North Central Fire station out of Kerman, Calif., takes a water break while fighting the CZU Complex Fire. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Eventually, the fires are contained before fully extinguished. Everyone stays on edge. A moment of environmental change risks re-ignition.

Like the animals navigating the forest fires, we are creatures finding our way through this pandemic. COVID keeps burning away our norms, ideals, relationships, jobs, and according to James Altucher, our cities.

All of us are surviving this hurricane of change. Every day we choose where to focus energy and actions. We consume information to be informed.

Be mindful: Rubbernecking COVID destruction saps already depleted energy sources .

Forest fires teach us how to navigate COVID.

Beyond the horrific destruction, the fires rejuvenate our forest ecosystems. Most are triggered by lightning and fueled by burning the dead flora clogging the forest floor.

In their wake, forest fire leaves a nutrient-rich soil, often now flooded with sun and ripe for regrowth.

As COVID continues, I’m changing my focus from words of scarcity and destruction to using “shift” to describe what we’re living through. In a number of years, we will read about how the new normals have taken shape. There will be examples of “burning cities” giving rise to new leaders farming out of this nutrient-rich soil.

Feeling hopeful about regrowth coming out of forest fires and this pandemic, I wanted to ground this idea with action. What emerged is this social experiment called Project ReGrowth.

Project ReGrowth took shape in Spring2020, during discussions with a good friend and education visionary Dr. Bill Brennan. He made it clear when talking about the shift in education.

“I don’t want it to be the same for our schools or for me. The global education system has never experienced this level of disruption before. We have a choice – embrace the chaos and the opportunities or be paralyzed.”

  1. All of us have two choices for how to navigate this pandemic.
  2. 1. See this time as decimation and horrific destruction, or
  3. 2. As a shift where growth opportunities are rising from this nutrient-rich soil.

Instead of rubbernecking at the COVID shock, what if we reinvested that energy into intention and action?


Project ReGrowth

  • Hypothesis: We can shape the emerging NewNormals by engaging our time of shared uncertainty with refocused thought and intentional action.
  • Why now? – Our clarity of purpose has fewer barriers. COVID burns away norms and a lot of nonsense.
  • Action -(4 Questions below) – Identify what COVID has been destroying for you, what regrowth is emerging, and what regrowth is important for you to protect.

The purpose of ProjectRegrowth is to:

  • Create a simple framework for people to invest their energy fostering abundance during COVID destruction and uncertainty
  • Identify specific and practical actions that will impact your NewNormal
  • Learn from, inspire, and align with other impact makers also owning this charge

Process:

  1. Click on the blue button below
  2. Answers will be populated to an airtable database below. You can submit anonymously or choose to share your responses publicly (encouraged).
  3. Connect with others and their shared vision for regrowth by clicking on their name.

Success Metric: Responses from 50 people

Updates here @ ProjectReGrowth. Reach out with any questions.

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Project ReGrowth Responses