Practice affirmations and be highly aware of your self-talk. It’s incredibly effective to say phrases to yourself like, “I’m a person who follows through” or “I am locked in — nothing can distract me.” Affirmations are not a quick fix; like anything, they take practice and commitment. Nothing is more worth it, though!
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingRon Alford of Southwestern Consulting.
As a senior partner, the vice president of recruiting, and an executive-level sales and leadership coach for Southwestern Consulting, Ron Alford is an expert in recruiting, sales training, and coaching, helping individuals and teams to reach higher than they ever imagined.
Alford has shattered every sales and revenue record at Southwestern Consulting since joining the company in 2013. He is a company record holder, having personally achieved the highest level of sales seventy times with Southwestern Advantage. He’s also a leadership record holder, coaching and training more top 1 percent producers than any other manager since Southwestern Advantage was founded in 1868.
Most of all, Alford is a devoted dad to three kids and a loving husband, all while continuing to push the distance in the endurance world with his mountain and trail ultrarunning endeavors.
His book, Redefining Possible (coauthored with Dustin Hillis), releases in January 2021.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised by my single mom in Southern California and Hawaii. She remarried when I was five years old, giving me a dad and an older brother. As a military family, we moved around a lot. We lived in Colorado, Alaska and Washington state. I learned how to adapt through these experiences and grew to love sports and anything competitive.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was about to enter the Marine Corps (like my older brother) when a local buddy told me about a seasonal job selling books and other educational products door-to-door. It was eighty hours a week on straight commission. The job scared the heck out of me, but I went to Dallas that summer to give it a go. It was very much a love/hate relationship at first. I needed to learn how to manage my emotions better and work on myself. When I returned the following year, I realized that I loved the freedom of running my own business. I liked controlling my own income by how hard I worked and how much I was willing to learn. I enjoyed the rush of the sale. And I loved recruiting and leading other college students through that life-changing experience. Through my coaching, I helped them grow and watched as they learned to break belief barriers. That started my career in sales and my journey with Southwestern Family of Companies. I still work there today, 27 years later.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Nate Vogel was my direct leader, and he was an incredible example of how to treat all people. He taught me that no matter what I had to gain or lose from others, I needed to treat people with love and compassion and truly listen to them. Nate was my first example of true servant leadership.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I remember an especially tough 14-hour day selling door-to-door in New Jersey. The city was breaking local records for heat that summer, and it felt like no one was home and no one was buying. My spirits were at an all-time low, and I was especially missing home. I returned to my host family’s house late that evening around 10:30 to eat and get some sleep before another day of grinding it out. I started to get in bed when I realized the host family’s dog had pooped directly in the middle of my pillow! I literally remember looking at it for a minute, about to feel all the anger and sadness boil over before I started to laugh with my roommate. This was a test. I realized that the job, just like life, was not about what was happening to me but about how I responded. I needed to control what I could and learn to accept the uncontrollable parts of life and not fight them. It sounds so simple, but most of us struggle with this idea, especially when it comes to our kids, our health, the government, the weather, sports, and so on. It’s an unbelievable lesson that has helped me in business and in my personal life.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Crush your ego. Humility is the true key to personal development. Pride kills so many dreams. Even people who taste success rarely enjoy it when they are filled with pride and ego. What good is money or power if we can’t learn to truly enjoy being teachable? There are simple joys in being a lifelong learner.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
One of my favorites is The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino. The book’s 10 ancient “scrolls of wisdom” are astute and activate every sense in the human body. The book talks about how to persist, how to laugh more freely, how to love unconditionally and how to share so we can lift up those around us. It’s powerful.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Good is the enemy of great.” I love this quote from Jim Collins because it constantly reminds me to move out of my comfort zone, to push the limits and to think incredibly BIG.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I just finished coauthoring the book Redefining Possible, which has been in the works for over three years (or dozens of years, depending on how you look at it!). The essence of the book is all about impact and how we can live a truly significant life by the way we serve those around us. To do this, we take a deep dive into six principles that help us live more fully: focus, ownership, vision, belief, confidence and faith. I’m incredibly excited about this book and thankful to keep working on these concepts in my own life in the years ahead.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Our habits define us. There is not one part of our life that won’t benefit from strengthening habits that serve growth and squashing or minimizing habits that hold us back from who we were created to be. I’ll never forget when a friend challenged me to not take my phone into the bedroom. That simple principle has improved the way I begin and end my day. I’ve also learned that no matter how busy life gets, I’m always better after I’ve had some sort of a morning workout. These are just two habits that have made life so much sweeter and more joyful. The examples are endless.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
I make a habit of reading great books and being selective about the friendships I invest in. What we put into our heads, hearts, souls and bodies is what we get back out, and the books I read and people I associate with have made all the difference.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
In Redefining Possible, we talk a lot about how powerful it is to have layers of accountability. Ego is destructive because it makes us believe we can do it alone. We grow stronger when we allow multiple people to hold us accountable to the habits that will bring us results.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
The first is turning my phone off or putting it in airplane mode at least twice a day. This little device can suck the life out of me with distractions and notifications if I let it. Literally turning it off creates incredible space for me to relax, breathe, read, and regain intentionality in my day versus constantly reacting.
The second is meal planning and eliminating temptation foods from the house. Sugar and bread/pasties are my favorites. I’m apt to mindlessly eat a ton of tempting foods after 8:00 PM if I don’t have a different snack ready, especially after a long day, when my willpower is lower.
The third is getting fresh air each day. I’m a huge believer in getting outside daily, no matter what the weather. Seattle is not known for beautiful sunshine, but that can’t be an excuse. It is life-giving to breathe in the great outdoors, whether it be on a hike, an outside run or even a brisk walk. I haven’t gotten sick in well over three years, and I believe it is mostly because of this habit.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
I plan each week in advance. I take one hour every Sunday to think through specifics — for example, I map out when I’ll turn the phone off, when I’ll meal plan, and so on. Then I just follow the plan. I don’t give myself any room for emotional thinking.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story
- By far, the number-one habit I recommend is taking time each week to think about your “why.” Our endurance in every part of life is directly tied to the clarity of our vision. If our vision/purpose is weak, then our performance will be average. When our “why” is clear and strong, we’ll stick to the tasks that bring us results.
- Each day (or at least each week) tell someone important in your life that you are working for him or her. We can often let ourselves down, but we are much less likely to let a loved one down if we’ve committed to that person. I remember starting to do this during those long, hot summers selling books. It took much of the focus off myself, knowing I was going to call that person later that night and tell them how hard I worked for them.
- Recommit daily. It helps to have a short memory when you’re in sales, leadership, athletics or anything performance related. Yesterday’s successes or failures are done. Today is all that matters. Each day, I recommit to being my best. It’s a habit that has been pivotal in my life.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
- Create a detailed schedule, from pillow to pillow. Many people resist this, but those with the highest levels of focus are oftentimes the ones who create the most detailed plans.
- Practice affirmations and be highly aware of your self-talk. It’s incredibly effective to say phrases to yourself like, “I’m a person who follows through” or “I am locked in — nothing can distract me.” Affirmations are not a quick fix; like anything, they take practice and commitment. Nothing is more worth it, though!
- Get good at saying “no.” I had a lot of practice with setting boundaries several years back when one of my three kids was diagnosed with leukemia. In the months and years that followed, I had to prioritize like never before. Today, my son is healthy, and I’ve developed a skill that has saved me vast amounts of anxiety and guilt.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Start with a 21-day challenge or a 40-day challenge where you can track at least three to five key habits. This has been an incredible tool — both for me and for a number of coaches I work with. Print it out, keeping it on the kitchen table or in a place where you’ll see it multiple times a day.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at that is challenging and meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of flow more often in our lives?
Practice gratitude when you first wake up and right before you fall asleep. Smile while you do it, even with your eyes closed! It sounds crazy, but how we start and end our day impacts every other minute of it. When we are focused on all the great things in our life, we attract more of the same.
Okay, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Invite a young person of a different race and/or nationality to live in your home. We are able to have compassion when we see the world through the eyes of others. A lack of understanding breeds judgment and divides us from our brothers and sisters on this earth. We are all in this life together. Living with someone who is different from us can help create a stronger bridge.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them. 🙂
Tim Ferris. He’s had the chance to interview hundreds of experts on every topic imaginable and pull the best of the best from each of them. I love hearing his greatest takeaways. In fact, I love to hear what stokes anyone’s fire!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me at www.ronalfordswc.com and on Instagram @ronalfordcoach
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.