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I was listening on the radio to a TED Talk the other day by Matt Killingsworthwho studies happiness.  He built an iPhone app Track Your Happiness that lets people report their feelings in real time.  Among the results from over 15,000 people in 80 countries, he learned that the more our mind wanders the less happy we are. We’re often happiest when we’re absorbed in the moment.  His conclusion was that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

Even when we are thinking about pleasant things in our mind wandering, we tend to be less happy than when we are just focused on what we are doing at the moment. If we are focusing our minds on other things – even happy things – we will 1) not be enjoying what we are doing at the moment and 2) be unhappy in the near future. He also learned in his research that we tend to mind wander about 30% of the time on average.  So what does that mean for the intrepid Amazon FBA seller?

This means that to be happy in our work, we need to avoid distractions and be happy with what we are doing right now.  Sounds a bit like Zen, right? Be. Here. Now. But this isn’t just philosophy.  This is advice in urgent need of practice.  Happiness has a direct impact on our success in the business – particularly in the early days when we are still creating our systems and processes for the business. The past few weeks I’ve gotten an increase in unhappy calls and emails from FBA sellers. Here’s a summary of what I heard:

  • Amazon is changing the rules
  • I’m afraid of losing my selling privileges
  • I’m afraid of making a mistake
  • I’m not good enough/smart enough/motivated enough to do this business
  • Other sellers are doing better than me
  • I want to make $X and I’m not
  • I can’t make money with Amazon’s new fees
  • I don’t know where to find inventory
  • I’m afraid

What was interesting to me was how many of these folks mentioned that they had read something on Facebook or heard something on a podcast or visited a blog/group that triggered these feelings. That is the power of mind wandering.  With all the connectivity provided by social media and email, one bad story can blow through our community like a tornado. And then what happens? We see panic selling, poor buying decisions as people feel they just have to buy something and get it up there, “races to the bottom” to sell something, poor business practices and people dropping out because the business makes them feel badly about themselves and their futures. When we focus on our fears, we find a lot to fear. Positive affirmations and fake optimism don’t work either. Our brains are pretty smart, after all. How to get back on track, then?

  1.        Find the bright spots
  2.        Avoid distractions
  3.        Make a plan
  4.        Take it one step at a time
  5.        Prioritize
  6.        Be disciplined
  7.        Let go

Find the Bright Spots – It is easy to get distracted by the negative and let it overwhelm the positive.  Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch (one of the best books I’ve ever read) talk about bright spots and how focusing on the one or two things that are going right can often provide the answer to what is going wrong. Rather than say “I have 20 things going wrong,” they will have you ask yourself “why are these two things going right and what can I learn from them?” You then build from your own success. Are you unhappy with your business right now?  Stop reading this blog right now and think of at least three things that are going right in your business – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Now ask yourself “Why are these things working? How can I learn from these experiences and take them into the rest of my business? How I can I build on my strengths?”

You can download the first chapter of Switch from the link above if you want to know more or from Amazon if you have a Kindle.  This concept of bright spots is related to the concept of our “Magical Magnifying Minds” as presented in the original AA Big Book. Magical magnifying minds simply states that things we focus on become bigger. In the story, a resentful alcoholic who blamed his wife for his problems changed his life and their marriage by focusing his magnifying mind on all the things about her that he liked or at least didn’t dislike. Not only did he notice for himself the things she did for him, but he began to genuinely appreciate her and thank her.  His sincere gratitude in turn led to her opening back up to him and recognizing all his good qualities and why she married him in the first place.  They both became much happier and fell in love again. What started out as a difficult task turned into an easy joy for him.

You don’t need to be an alcoholic to make this technique work for you. My husband and I have been married for 20 years and I have re-focused my mind when I find myself resentful and blaming. The change in our relationship was so dramatic the first time that I felt like a complete ass. It finally sank in, ahem, that was the problem and not my sweetie. My mind was choosing to focus in on the negatives instead of the positives and I was making myself unhappy. When I focused on his good qualities, he changed! Hee hee. In reality we both changed for the better.

That is true for many things in life. It is often us that’s the problem not the other person or thing in the case of Amazon.  They will change the rules.  How we perceive these changes is the difference between happiness and unhappiness in our businesses. When a new rule or fee change upsets you, make a list of what you do like about your Amazon business. Make those attributes bigger with focus. Look for the bright spots so you can build a solution to your latest problem. This will affect not only your happiness, but also your success in the business.  This is why happiness in our work matters.

Avoid Distractions – Our wandering minds love Facebook, Pinterest, groups, videos, podcasts…you get the idea. It is fun to make friends and learn things. The dark side, however, is that tornado of bad feeling that can blow through the community when someone complains a lot or tells a scary story. The other issue is there is a lot of conflicting advice about Amazon’s FBA program.  One person will tell you to do things one way another person will have another suggestion.  You can drive yourself crazy trying to follow everyone’s advice. There is always this little gnawing of doubt that says “maybe I should be listening to so-and-so.” If you find yourself growing anxious from what you read or hear on the blogs and groups, I suggest you cut back on your social media time. Put your blinders on and focus on what needs to be done in your business.  It doesn’t matter what someone else is doing or how they are measuring success. What matters are your business and the work in front of you.

Make a Plan – One of the best ways to avoid distractions and keep your head down is to have a plan.  Confused by all the gurus out there? Pick one and stick to them for a while.  Tell yourself, “I’m going to follow this person for one month and not look at the rest.”  After a month, evaluate your experience.  Was their advice helpful to your business?  I suggest one or two at a time because the point is that you don’t want to deal with conflicting and confusing advice here.  You want to make your business better, more efficient, more profitable, etc.  You have questions and want to learn. Some of your questions are Amazon oriented some are business oriented like where to find good inventory, etc. Keep your eye on your prize and ignore the other stuff.  When I started I went to Amazon with a lot of my questions.  I read their help section, I called them all the time about their side of the business. They were a reliable source of information.

Next, prepare a weekly plan for yourself.  In my case, I started out with approximately 10 hours a week to work my business.  I had to decide what to do in that time that would make me money so I focused in the beginning with getting inventory up there. I planned my scouting trips.  Consistent shipments – even if they were small – made up the bulk of my plan. Because I had limited dollars, I did a lot of books, thrift stores, estate sales, etc. and saved up money to buy more toys and retail arbitrage for Q4. As my business grew, I was able to buy more new stuff year round but books and used items like collectible toys and games still make up a large part of my inventory.  Because I take a lot of my money out of the business each month, I often have to fall back on books and used items. I don’t have credit cards and run my business on cash.  Other sellers are able to keep more of their dollars in their businesses and/or they have credit and thus buy more new items and build up their inventories differently than me. So my plan is different from many other sellers including my Dad and my friends who are in the business.

Take it One Step at a Time – Admittedly step-by-step is my thing, but that’s because it works. It is easy to get overwhelmed. There is so much to learn and know about Amazon. It took me months to feel comfortable in SellerCentral and Amazon is constantly adding new things.  Rather than trying to learn it all at once and being frustrated, I suggest you learn things as you need them and for the other things, put them in your plan. Every time you find a new issue that concerns you – from negative feedback to sales tax, put a time to review the issue in your plan and then let it go until you reach that time. Maybe you allow one hour a week to explore/learn about new issues. I suggest no more than two new issues per month if that many.  For example, I tell a lot of people not to worry about sales tax right away.  If you are buying inventory in your state, you are paying sales tax at the point of sale.  Make some money first. Learn the business. Then tackle sales tax in your state.  After you’ve done the paperwork on that and are comfortable filing with your state (usually a few months to learn everything), then look at other states. Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once.  Remember, you are small in the beginning and only one person.  Treat yourself and your time with respect and compassion.  It will all get done over time.

Prioritize – Sometimes my to-do list can grow into 20 or 30 items which is overwhelming and discouraging. A helpful approach that I learned years ago from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits was to focus in on one thing at a time. He suggested that I have three habits/tasks that I’m working on at any given time. There can be lots of steps to these tasks, BUT I’m only focusing on three at a time. Some goals will take months to accomplish, some only a few hours.  I set aside time every morning where I work on these goals.  That way, no matter what comes up later in the day to distract me, I will have accomplished tasks that are truly meaningful to me and that move me forward to a larger goal. This is how I’ve written and revised my book, created a video and found time to write this blog.

In terms of your Amazon business, I suggest you prioritize your issues this way:

  1. Affects my ability to sell on Amazon (compliance with Amazon’s rules)
  2. Impacts my sales on Amazon (increases productivity and/or profitability)
  3. Administration (measurement, reporting, filing, taxes, etc.)
  4. Business (learn more about how to be a better business owner, fill in the gaps in your education. Don’t understand P&L? Set a time to learn it)

Whatever goals you have for yourself on your business to-do list, see which category they fall under and then designate an order in which you will tackle them.  Don’t add a new item to your list of three things until you’ve completed a current goal. You want to only have three items at a time on your “must do” list and work on them every single work day until they are done. You don’t have to work all day on these three items.  There will be other items you must accomplish in your life and business, but your happiness and your productivity will increase significantly if you are making progress every day on your most important goals.

One tool that some people find helpful is Evernote.  It allows you to clip anything you find from your computer, smartphone, tablet and the web and to organize and save it for later use.  See a story about an issue that interests you?  Clip it and promise to look at it later during your “issues” time. You can easily pull together all your research on a topic together in one place even if you are researching on different devices and platforms. In this way you don’t feel like you have to deal with it right now when you might perhaps be better served by processing your inventory or repricing. Does it seem overwhelming right now to even think about new software like Evernote?  Then don’t. Put it on your list for a later time. Focus instead on your three priorities for today.

Be Disciplined – This is a commitment to yourself that you will follow your plan and you will deal with concerning issues over time.  You will focus on the bright spots and you will avoid distractions.  Sometimes it seems that the hardest commitments are the ones we make to ourselves. Your happiness matters and all of these techniques will help you focus and be happier in the moment. This happiness will make you more successful which will make you happier in the long run as well. It is a virtuous cycle. If you get off track, promise yourself you’ll get back up.  Successful business owners are not gurus of positive thinking who never have a bad day, they are real people who know how to bounce back and keep going. They have a commitment to themselves to not stay in a bad place.

Let Go – If you have your plan in place, let everything else go.  Focus on what is important today and right now – not in the future. Your wandering mind will attach itself to all kinds of worries if you let it.  Since it seems our minds are programmed to wander, the best thing you can do is to be aware of when you are wandering and gently bring your mind back to the present moment.  No judgment, no anxiety.  Be kind to yourself.  “Oh! I see that I’m worrying over XYZ issue. I want to focus on getting this order out instead. I can come back to XYZ later.” One of the interesting side effects of the Track Your Happiness app was that people became happier while using it. Why? Because the program would interrupt their thought patterns and it would make them aware of what they were doing and how they were feeling in the present moment. They were suddenly more aware of the small everyday things that were good in their lives.  Their minds were focused on happiness and they found it. They could re-focus in a moment without trying to force themselves into happiness or fake a feeling.

Your best resource in this business is yourself:  Your mind, your resilience, your creativity, your patience, your persistence, your willingness to learn, your confidence in yourself, your ability to focus…and your happiness.  These characteristics all feed into each other.  You get to decide whether or not they create a negative cycle or a positive one. That’s the power of your magical magnifying mind.