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Lisa Smith

Conquer Fears, Develop Good Habits, Set Goals

I’d like to compliment the students of LDS Business College. I’ve worked in four or five places, and the students here are the most kind and gracious students, not only to each other but also to the faculty, that I’ve ever worked with. So I want to compliment you.

I’ve given this talk three times in my head, and it went really well, so I’m hoping that we can have the Spirit here and that will happen again. As far as the finance goes, that’s just—I don’t know, I just like it. Some people think it’s weird, but I get a kick out of it.

Okay, we’re going to talk today about maxing out our agency. My philosophy in life is—in fact, I’ve kind of made a life study out of how can you get the most freedom, the most opportunities and the most happiness just by the way you live, by the choices you make and the habits you have. So living within the laws that Heavenly Father has given us and within those parameters, how can we maximize our mortal experience? How can we become the best person possible? I believe in continual improvement. I believe in striving for excellence. And kind of one of my mottos in life is “Make choices that give you more choices.”

Winston Churchill said this: “To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.” (

That quote actually has meant a lot to me in my life, because I want to be prepared for opportunities that come. I don’t want to have Heavenly Father saying, “Well, I would have given this to Lisa, but she’s not ready, so I’m going to give it to somebody else.” I want to be prepared. So how is it that we—how are we prepared for the work which would be our finest hour?

I’ve come up with a couple of things that I think would make a big impact in a person’s life. The first thing is fear; we must overcome fear. We must live courageously. I’ve kind of watched and just noticed that, more than any other thing, fear prevents people from living their dreams, from becoming the person or doing the things that they really want to.

We’ve all felt fear; we’re all going to feel fear in the future. But some people make excuses as to why something can’t be done. They talk around the topic; they never identify the thing that scares them. That’s fear. Other people claim, “Oh, it wouldn’t work anyway,” and they don’t want to do it. That’s fear. Some people just talk and talk and never act, and that’s also fear.

Sometimes we don’t want to admit that we’re afraid, so we avoid and dismiss and procrastinate. It doesn’t matter if the fear is real or imagined; it holds the same power in our mind. So the more you try to accomplish, the more fear that you’re going to have to overcome that you’re going to come up against.

I have come up against fear in my life. I was born a pretty conservative person, not a huge risk-taker. I’m the oldest of six, and so I was to set the example. Yet at the same time, I had this huge passion for accomplishing really big goals. So those two things kind of conflict. I’m a conservative, and yet I really want to do big things. So these two things are in constant battle. But if you talk to my family, my friends, and my colleagues, they would say, “She’s not afraid. She never has fear.” But that’s not true. In reality, it’s something that I’ve had to overcome again and again. I’ve had to wrestle fear to the ground, have it walk beside me haunting me, and I’ve had to look it in the eyes and go for it anyway.

When I was little I used to be really shy. Really shy. And when I was 12 years old I was asked to speak in church, and I was terrified. I pretty much wanted to throw up. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to play sick. I wanted to get out of it. I just didn’t want to do it.

I remember lying in bed before I had to give my talk—so this would be Saturday night—and I thought, “I would rather take a bullet to my big toe than speak in church tomorrow.” Maybe a little dramatic, but that’s how I felt at 12 years old. Public speaking was not my idea of fun. And so now I speak in public for a living. But that didn’t happen overnight. I served a mission in New Jersey, I worked at the MTC for a while, and I’ve also taught for a long time. So it’s something that I overcame with practice or repetition.

In my classes my students are asked to give an oral report, and sometimes I get dirty looks from students when they’re just about to give their oral report. But so far nobody has died, and I’ve seen some wonderful examples of courage as my students teach each other the gospel. We’ve had some really strong spirit in our class.

So let’s talk about how we overcome fear. What are some things that you can do? And it’s best if you plan out ahead of time what you’re going to do, instead of just ignoring it and saying, “Well, I’m not going to do big things because it’s not easy.” You have to realize that fear, failure and frustration are part of life. It’s just something that you experience. And if you know ahead of time that you’re going to come up against that, then it’s not such a big deal. It’s expected when it happens. It’s not devastating. If you’re afraid, it’s okay. If you’re frustrated, it’s okay. If you feel like a failure, it’s okay. It may or may not be true, but it’s okay if you feel that way.

You can also practice whatever it is you’re afraid of. Practice. We get better with practice.

I think one of the really powerful things that I’ve done is exercise gratitude, where you either think in your head or write down the things you are grateful for. And gratitude brings in the Spirit, brings in this power that overcomes fear. You feel powerful, you feel courageous, and you feel you can do whatever it is that’s freaking you out.

I worked in the temple, the Salt Lake Temple. They do live endowments, and I was an interpreter for sign language. And for seven years, I had to memorize different scripts, and I had to stand up in front and obviously it’s not my first language, so it was really difficult for me to memorize these things. And then I would, without any prompting, stand up and you would have to sign for an hour. And I remember the first time I did that, I thought I was going to pass out or something, which I didn’t. But I remember waiting for people to come in and all of a sudden the idea came to me: What are you grateful for? I started listing all the things I was grateful for. The fear dissipated, went away, and this power came into me. And so I think gratitude is really powerful.

Sometimes we just have to have courage in the face of fear. You can’t always make the fear go away. But you can do it anyway; you can just go for it. Sometimes we have to do things that scare us.

You can also prepare by talking to other people who have done what you want to do. You can read, you can study. You can also talk yourself through it and say, “You can do this. You can do this.” Or “I can do this. I can do this.”

I think another effective thing is asking yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and then don’t make things up. You’re not going to pass out while you’re giving a talk in church. So if you’re willing to work through your fears, you’ll discover that you can accomplish some incredible things.

I’m going to talk about habits for a minute. We can max out our agency by developing good habits. Now this is something that is overlooked by a lot of people. They don’t think about it; they don’t plan a lot for habits. They don’t look at their habits, examine them. Yet this one thing, little thing separates people who are successful from those who are not—your habits. So I want you to think about your own habits right now. What do you do when you get home from school? What’s the first thing you do? Do you automatically go in and sit down in front of the television and all of a sudden it’s 10:30 at night, with no homework done? What are your habits? What are the things that you do?

Let me read from—this book is called The Success Principles. It’s by Jack Canfield. He says: “Psychologists tell us that up to 90 percent of our behavior is habitual. Ninety percent! From the time you get up in the morning until the time you retire at night, there are hundreds of things you do the same way every day. These include the way you shower, dress, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, drive to work [or school], [and] … shop [for groceries]…. Over the years, you have developed a set of firmly entrenched habits that determine how well every area of your life works, from your job to your health and …relationships.

“The good news is that habits… [allow us to] plan [our] day… in the shower, [to do two things at once]. The bad news is that habits…. [lock us into behavior that may limit our growth and success].

So “whatever habits you currently have established are producing your current level of results.” If you want to be more successful, you have to drop some of your habits—staying up late, procrastination, being late to appointments—“and replace them with more productive habits”—eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, exercising. (The Success Principles, Jack Canfield and Janet Switzer, HarperCollins, 2005, p. 247.)

Robert J. Ringer said, “Success is a matter of understanding and religiously practicing specific, simple habits that always lead to success.” (Million Dollar Habits)

Tommy Newberry in his book, which I really like—it’s called Success Is Not an Accident—he says: “Your habits determine your outcomes. Successful people don’t just drift to the top. Getting there requires focused action, personal discipline, and energy to make things happen. The habits you develop from this day forward will ultimately determine how your future unfolds.”

So how do we deal with this? First we identify habits we want to get rid of—things that are negatively affecting us. Once we’ve identified negative habits, then we select a better, more successful habit and set up a system that will support your new habit—deadlines for yourself, plan ahead so you can arrive on time, listen twice as much as you talk by asking questions. So this is my suggestion: I would try to form a new habit once every quarter of the year, once every three months. So you sit down and determine, what are the four habits that I want to accomplish in the next year’s time? And every three months you try to work on—for three months at a time, you work on a new habit. And you just work on one at a time. Hopefully, after three months it becomes a part of your life. So essentially, within five years from now, you would have twenty new habits and potentially be a completely new person. That becomes pretty powerful.

All right, let’s talk about the habits of successful people. One of the habits I think successful people have is they are willing to take responsibility for their own choices and actions. So we have to accept responsibility for ourselves, our behavior, and our choices. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Let him learn of prudence of a higher strain. Let him learn that everything in nature, even dust and feathers, go by law and not by luck; and know what he sows, he reaps.”

In the Doctrine and Covenants 6:33, “Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.”

Let’s go to a quote from Tommy Newberry about success, or about accepting responsibility. He says, “This God-given natural law was old when the pyramids were new; like gravity, it works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, everywhere in the world, regardless of whether anyone has ever told you about it. It is simply impossible to harvest something that has not been sown. Though many squander their entire lives attempting to do just this, only to end up in frustration. Success is the effect generated by right thinking and right actions. Success, and failure for that matter, are not accidents but consequences. If you want to know what you have sowed in the past, look around you and see what you are reaping today.”

You begin your climb toward your full potential as a human being the moment you accept and absorb the truth that cause and consequence are inseparable. The mark of a fully mature and mentally healthy individual is the acceptance of complete responsibility for one’s life. When you accept total responsibility, you recognize that you are the cause of all of your choices, decisions, and actions. When you are anchored in the reality of responsibility, you are far more likely to act in ways that will not later become a cause of regret, frustration, or embarrassment. Life is a two-for-one deal. With every choice, you get a free consequence.”

Nathaniel Branden said, “We are not passive spectators but active contestants in the drama of our existence. We need to take responsibility for the kind of life we create for ourselves.” (“Passion and Soulfulness,”

I think another habit that would benefit—that benefits people is hard work. I’ve discovered an important secret, and that is that there are no shortcuts to success. You have to pay the price, and you have to do the work. There are a lot of infomercials and other things out there selling the shortcut to success, get-rich-quick schemes. And you might be able to trick others, but you can’t trick yourself, because confidence and growth come from doing the work and not looking for ways to avoid it. See, you have to do the work. You have to pay the price. That’s the plan of salvation. Satan is the author of shortcuts. He tried to take a shortcut himself to glory, and you see where that ended up. We can’t become like God if we take shortcuts.

Let’s talk about keeping a long-term perspective. I think this is huge. People who have a long-term perspective make better choices than those who do not. Nolan Watson, who was the youngest CEO on Wall Street at age 26, said this about making choices, making long-term choices or having a long-term perspective. He said it “comes from a place of making the right long-term decisions as opposed to the right short-term decisions, which often turn out to be the wrong long-term decisions. There are a lot of people who are focused on the ‘now’ instead of the obvious long-term things. The long-term things are easier to predict. I don’t make a decision unless I think it’s the best in the long run.” (from an article dated Dec. 21, 2012)

So when you’re young, you can get away with things like two hours of sleep a night or eating junk food all the time. But what I have noticed is that when you reach the age of 36-40, your personal choices become public information. So you want to develop the habits now that you’re going to be happy with when you’re older, and it is true, to some degree, that you can get away with that now. But those aren’t the habits that you want to develop.

I want you to think about the long-term consequences of the following choices. So where would you end up if you made these choices? Where would you end up if you hit the snooze button twelve times every morning? You don’t need to raise your hand if you do this, okay? Where would you end up if you invested thirty percent of your income monthly? Where would you end up if you spent more than you make every month? Where would you end up if you robbed a bank in a rabbit mask? There’s a lot of people that are making decisions that are going to limit their choices in the future.

Watching TV for eight hours or more? I had a roommate and that’s what she would do. If she was in the house, she would watch TV. And sometimes on Sunday she was able to watch more than eight hours of TV. And there was a permanent dent in the couch where she was. She was not a happy person. What if you played video games all night long and then you fell asleep at church or on the job? There actually was a girl in my ward who would play video games all night long and then she would sleep out in the foyer on the couch because she was too tired to stay awake. Where would you be if you wrote down goals and you systematically accomplished them?

Long-term consequences of driving 120 miles an hour down I-15? I had a student tell me that he did that—not here, at the U. What are the long-term consequences of cheating in your classes? The long-term consequences of exercising several times a week? The long-term consequences of being last to help but first in line for dinner? Or the long-term consequences of eating only a diet of double cheeseburgers, chips, and soda? The consequences of never, ever flossing your teeth?

I think you get the idea. If you look at where do I want to be, how is this choice going to affect me in the long term versus just right now. If we keep the long-term perspective in mind, we will make choices consistent with our long-term goals, and it makes it easier to accomplish our goals.

Tommy Newberry says, “If you live your life like most people do, you will get what most people get. You will settle for what most people settle for. If you want to lead an extraordinary life, find out what the ordinary do and don’t do it. That is the simple but true formula. Remember, no one plans to become mediocre. Mediocrity is the result of no plan at all. High achievers are motivated by pleasurable outcomes. Underachievers are motivated by pleasurable methods.”

Okay, I’m going to explain that. I’m going to say it one more time: “High achievers are motivated by pleasurable outcomes. Underachievers are motivated by pleasurable methods.” So the world can be divided into feelers and doers. Feelers take action and initiative only when they feel like doing so. In other words, they feel their way into acting. If they don’t feel like doing something that will advance their goals, they won’t do it. If a feeler feels like exercising, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t. A feeler’s decision-making ability is wired to his short-term emotional appetite. He’s a prisoner of the desire for instant gratification, and will naturally suffer the long-term consequences of this short-term perspective. Feeling-driven thinking is shallow thinking, and lacks character, conviction, and maturity. Feeling-driven thinking is also a habit.

Doers, on the other hand, act their way into feeling. After determining what needs to be done, doers take action. They just do it. If they don’t feel like taking action, they consider that emotion to be a distraction and take action in spite of it. They refuse to let their desire for short-term comfort divert them from their long-term goals.

So there’s a secret to overcoming the feeling-driven choice making, or bad habit, and it’s called the no-exceptions rule. So once you make the 100 percent commitment to do something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal, and non-negotiable. You don’t have to think about it again and again, you don’t have to re-decide every time. There are no exceptions no matter what the circumstances. The discussion is over; there’s no other possibility. You don’t have to wrestle with that decision again and again. It’s already been made, and it makes life simpler.

If you’ve made the 100 percent commitment to exercise every day for 30 minutes no matter what, then it’s settled. You simply just do it. It doesn’t matter if you went to bed late last night, if you have an early morning test, if you have a full schedule, if it’s raining outside, or if you just don’t feel like it. You do it anyway.

I’ll use a personal example. When I was teaching previous to now, I had to be to work at 7:00 a.m. But I decided that I wanted to go work out every morning, and so that involved me waking up at 4:30 so that I could be at the gym when it opened at 5:00. Have any of you consistently woken up at 4:30? It’s slightly painful. Physically, it’s painful. Like, when you wake up, you think “Ow.” So it actually, it took me three months…I would make the decision while laying in my warm bed. Not a good place to make long-term decisions. I would lay there and think, “Do I want to get up and go to the gym today?” And I would think, “Uh, comfortable surroundings, no, I’m not going to go in today.” So I kind of got tired of that. I got frustrated with myself after about three months and I said, “I am going to the gym no matter what.”

So I put my alarm on the other side of the room so that I had to get out of bed. Maybe you have tried this trick on yourself. So I had to get out of bed and I…the first morning I jumped out of bed and I just stood there like this: “Don’t get back in bed.” And I knew the bed was still warm, right? “Don’t get back in bed.” And I stood there—okay. And I realized that the first five minutes were the most painful, of getting up. If you could just get out of bed then that was half the battle. And so eventually I started waking up about two minutes before my alarm, which I kind of felt satisfied with. If you wake up before your alarm…I just got into a habit, and so I would go every single day, no matter what. The ironic thing is that I didn’t get sick during that time either, so I didn’t have to use that as an excuse not to go.

So you can train yourself, or you can develop habits, and if you exercise every day like that, it really makes a difference in how you think and what you think about. And you have endorphins running through your body and that’s always good.

Let’s talk about goals. If you want to max out your agency, you need to set and work on goals. I often hear people say that others have been successful—they have a great job, they have a great family, great house, or great life—and they call it lucky. That person is lucky. Everything always works out for so and so. But it’s really not luck or chance; it’s a choice. Tommy Newbury, again, says, “An extraordinary life is simply the accumulation of thousands of efforts, often unseen by others, that often lead to accomplishment of worthwhile goals.” You are rich with choice.

Michelangelo said about the Sistine Chapel, and also his sculptures in stone: “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.” (Wikiquotes:

Okay. I would like you to raise your hand if you have goals. Good. Okay, keep your hand up if you have written them down in a journal or notebook. Okay, keep your hand up if you review your goals periodically. Okay, then keep your hand up if you have a written copy with you right now. Okay, a couple of people. Awesome.

Goals can be really powerful. They’re really motivating. When you write down goals, it should be something that you really want to accomplish. The test for a goal, if you write it down, is, will I get up at 4:30 in the morning for this? If the answer is no, then you’re not committed to the goal. If you’re willing to sacrifice sleep or something else for the goal, then it’s a real goal.

President Ezra Taft Benson said this about goals: “When we set goals, we are in command. If we know where we are going, we can judge more accurately where we are now and make effective plans to reach our destination. If we keep a goal firmly in mind, we will know when we have reached it. This gives us a sense of accomplishment and the challenge of establishing fresh, new goals—always keeping the long-range objective in mind. If we can state our goals clearly, we will gain a purpose and meaning in all our actions. Clearly understood goals bring our goals into focus just as a magnifying glass focuses a beam of light into one burning point. Without goals, our efforts … may be torn by conflicting impulses or desires.” He gave that in a mission president’s seminar in 1974 in Salt Lake. (Quoted in Sampson, Robin, Wisdom: An Internet-Linked Unit Study, Heart of Wisdom Publishing, p. 99)

So I’m going to give you a little challenge, and that’s to make a compelling list of goals in all areas of your life—financial, spiritual, physical, health, family, school—and to work on those and to review those. You need to write down what you want to become. Maybe picture yourself in thirty years from now. What do I need to write down so that I can accomplish that?

John Roans says, “You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it, you become someone worth becoming.”

And Andrew Carnegie said, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” (Quoted in Foy, Terri Savelle, Imagine Big: Unlock the Secret to Living Out Your Dreams,Regal, 2012)

John Goddard, who was a legendary goal setter, he at age 15 created a set of 127 life goals that shaped his life for decades to come. And some of them are like “wrestling bears” and stuff like that. You don’t need to put that on your list, but whatever works for you, whatever you are motivated by.

I had about 284 life goals; I have them down to about 50 lower than that now. But goals are motivating, goals are inspiring, and goals also help you keep a long-term perspective because you are willing to sacrifice to accomplish a specific goal. So I would write down, what do I need to do to accomplish this goal? How am I going to accomplish this goal? And then come back to it periodically and review your goals. It keeps your perspective in mind and also it helps you be open to opportunities, to see opportunities that will help you accomplish your goals.

My goal for you—I get a kick out of watching people accomplish goals—and my goal for you is to become very successful and to be able to max out your agency by making choices that will give you more choices.

I want to end by reading Winston Churchill’s quote again: “To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which will be his finest hour.” And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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