Perfectionism is Totally Flawed

For many years, I was what the average person would call a “perfectionist”.  This meant at the time that I wanted to make sure everything was just right before I’d call it acceptable.  I wanted every detail perfect.  I prided myself on my perfectionism.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now fully understand that all I was doing was revealing how afraid I was that things wouldn’t be good enough.  I was worried that people would judge my standards as being too low if I allowed something to be called ‘finished’ when it wasn’t perfect.

However, I want to illustrate some glaring problems with the pursuit of perfection, and what perfectionism really is.  It can kill your progress, delay or completely destroy your chances of success, and make you frustrated and unfulfilled long before you enjoy any progress at all.

That word – progress – is a very important clue as to how you can break free from being a perfectionist and instead become somebody who Gets Things Done.  Because let’s face it, every moment you spend making a perfectly good thing “perfect” is a moment you’re wasting, that you could be spending making something else perfectly good.   You know it, I know it, everybody knows it, and you aren’t fooling anyone by trying to make us all think you’re as perfect as whatever you’re working on.

We all want to be known for who we are, not necessarily what we do.  But you need to understand that people already judge you through their own ideas of what you’re doing and who you are.  Even for this reason alone, there’s no such thing as perfect.  Can you stand in front of the Mona Lisa and point out things you don’t think are good?  Of course you could, if you had made your mind up that the painting wasn’t “perfect”.

But maybe there’s an important clue as to the difference between the average person and a Leonardo da Vinci.  He ultimately reached a point where he decided that his work was good enough.  He probably felt every bit as reluctant as anyone else about calling it a day, since there was a brush stroke here that could have been a little more precise, and there’s a color there that could have been a bit darker (or lighter).  But if he had been a “perfectionist”, nobody would ever be able to appreciate his talent because we would have never seen it.  And that’s not a good ending for anyone.

You need to understand that perfection is the state of constant progress.  Anything else is stagnation, and stagnation when measured against progress appears to not be stagnant at all but in fact moving backwards.  So while a perfectionist is putting yet more finishing touches on that report or design project or app, someone else is already submitting it and getting the kudos (and getting paid!).  Perfection is the state you reach when you understand that nothing in the world is ever going to be good enough, and it’s also already just absolutely fine the way it is; and not only that, there’s nothing that can’t be improved upon.  Does that sound contradictory?  It shouldn’t.  Perfection is what we achieve when we express our love and curiosity and desire for something better through our focused action.  The song you’re writing?  It’ll never be perfect.  Give it to me, somebody who loves drums and percussion as well as bass and guitar, and I’ll be wishing you had done a drum roll here or there, or taken one out, and wouldn’t it have sounded better with a minor third on top of that chord…on and on.  It never stops.  Practically no musician who hears it will be able to resist hearing what they would do with it.  That app you’re coding?  There are probably a hundred things you should be taking into account and aren’t, but that’s what feedback scores and comments are for.  Sure, it might not work as it should on everybody’s device, but if either Microsoft or Apple refused to release anything that didn’t have bugs we’d all still have Windows 95 or Macintosh…actually no, we wouldn’t even have those.

People are more forgiving and accepting than you think they are.  One of the reasons for this is that on some level we all appreciate the struggle to make things better, regardless of what you’re working on, because we’ve all been through it.  As far as I’m concerned, anything that isn’t necessary for survival qualifies as art, so it doesn’t matter to people like me whether you’re trying to fix a carburetor or paint a mural; you need encouragement, and we’re happy that you’re trying, and we may not directly benefit ourselves from what you’re doing but somebody somewhere will and that’s good enough.  Besides, if what you release is truly awful, you’ll probably know before we do.  Maybe you’ll have the integrity to try and make up for it and maybe you won’t.  Either way you’ll have taught us something.

During the process of writing The Right Question, I would often go back to various chapters and try every trick in the book to make sure they worked.  I second-guessed myself a million times when I finally came up with the wording of the Question in the first place.  I asked myself over and over again, “Is this really saying what I want it to say?”  So I’d change the wording, and apply it to a situation, and I’d find that it wouldn’t be as efficient.  The Question may not be the most eloquent-sounding thing ever written, but I guarantee it’s the most powerful sentence in the world.  That’s because this process took literally years.  It wasn’t something I threw out on my coffee break or over a beer at the beach one day.  And while I’m sure that no matter who reads it there will be something more they wished I’d said, or something else anyway, the fact remains that I reached a point where I read it to myself, out loud, over and over, and decided, “This is what I want to say.  This is the most powerful sentence in the world.  It’s going to help people,” and I let it go.

If you’re waiting for your labor of love to be perfect, identify what it is you’re afraid of.  Maybe you’re scared to be identified with your creativity as something less than perfect, or maybe you don’t want somebody getting the wrong idea of what your standards are.  You need to realize that letting it go is part of that process we call perfection.  It’s necessary, it’s normal, and besides, we’re waiting to see what part of the world you’re hoping to make just that much better, no matter how tiny.

Good people appreciate that.

 

Make Your Own Basics

Cook it first, maybe? Or is that not a “basic”?

If you’ve ever tried to master anything, you’ve learned the importance of “the basics”.  And there are a few things about the basics that it’s important to remember, re-learn, or learn the first time if you never discovered them.

I’m going to share it a little anecdote here.  It concerns a monk who went to study martial arts.  There are many variations of this, but I’ll simplify it.

For many months, the monk’s teacher told him to stand at a large bowl of water and slap the surface to see if he could keep it level.  Invariably there would be waves in the water.  Some were created by the slaps he made, others by wind, and so on.  He found this boring but he kept at it.  Then when he was allowed to make his way home to see his family, he was attacked by thieves.  Instinctively he defended himself with expertly-delivered slaps, perfectly placed where they could do the most damage, and made good his escape.

Learning the basics of any pursuit is an experience colored by our perception of how difficult the activity is, what we want to learn it for, what we think we’ll gain by learning it and so on.  But invariably, everything you do is built upon a relatively few number of fundamental concepts.

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most imaginative and prolific minds the world has ever known, once remarked that, “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication”, and it’s as true today as it was then.  One of the reasons for this is that it’s sometimes difficult to push our own egos out of the way for long enough to forget about dazzling our audience with our technical skills, and just deliver what they need.

When it comes to your success, the same rules apply.  That’s one of the reasons why I wrote The Right Question.  Out of the countless thousands of self help and success books out there, all the great ideas they contain really only come down to a very basic concept when you’re discussing your results.  The rest of it is nice to know, but they aren’t basics.  They aren’t what you need to know.

One of the reasons is because “the basics” change depending on who’s teaching them and what their expectations are of the student.  To one group of students learning music, the basics will consist of memorizing the notes on the staff, and not much else.  To others, the basics will consist of being able to not only name those notes but sing them when they see them.  In this regard, there’s no such thing as a basic in the sense that absolutely everything can be reduced to something even simpler.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

The Right Question was written with this concept in mind.  Ultimately the result you want in life is success in whatever form it means to you.  And regardless of your thoughts on setting goals, the Law of Attraction, motivation or anything else, what you achieve is the result of what you do.

That’s why I suggest you spend time thinking about your own basics, and make sure that they’re comprehensive enough to keep your skillset sharp.  Don’t bore yourself.  And don’t choose things that are easy for you already.  You want to progress in life, in whatever sense of that word means the most to you.  Ask yourself what the basics are in terms of your family life, for example.  Is it better quality time, making the most of what you’ve got with the people you love?  Or perhaps you think that your communication could be better, letting those you love know how you feel.  And when it comes to your money, the basic things that make you a success at your job or business could always benefit from being emphasized.

We all make our own basics.  Make a list of what’s helped you become good at what you do, or what you haven’t mastered yet that will help in the future.  And make that basic skillset fundamental but comprehensive.  Like a broad, flat rock – basic, but broad and strong enough to support whatever you choose to pile on top of it.  Those are your skills, your ideas, your commitments, and your life.

What you want is irrelevant, and here’s why.

Let’s face it, we’ve all done the “what if” scenarios, as in, “what if you had unlimited time and money”.  Where would you go, what would you do, what would change, what would be the same?

As I cover in The Right Question, you don’t necessarily know that.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but the most important reason is that it simply isn’t real yet.  So there’s no reliable way to tell exactly what you’d do.  You probably think you know, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it, but you can’t know.  None of us really can.

I remember once when I got off the phone with a good friend who works in the film industry.  She occasionally rubs shoulders with some pretty big names, and always has a hilarious story to tell about how this big Hollywood star or that threw a hissy fit and stormed off the set.  It happens so reliably that it’s comical.  And the way she tells her stories are so engaging, so humorous, and so full of detail and life that it makes me want to run away and join the circus myself every time we talk.  On this one particular occasion I remember hanging up the phone and realizing that my very idea of who I was faced a challenge because of this.  I knew enough people in the film industry to get myself working; I taught acting, I’d worked with these people before in some capacity or another.  Involving myself in that world was a distinct possibility if I wanted to.

And there’s the issue – we can all do anything we want.  Any one of us can.  There’s nothing different or special about any one of us that makes one life easier or more achievable than another.  Whether we know it or not, the lives we’re living are our answer to the Question.  The ones who succeed are ones who’ve asked the Question, and that’s all there is to it.

Now here’s a guy who succeeded simply because he answered the Question. LIfelong dream? No. Wanted it furiously? No. Just asked the Question a few points along the way.

After that phone call, I knew that a few days would go by, and I’d find myself enjoying the life I already had.  Flying my airplane, lying on the beach, tending to my little house in the country, writing a song.  Connecting with people on the internet through sales of The Right Question.

Was that because I didn’t want to get into film?  I don’t know.  I remember it being fun, the times I did work with those people, but I also remember thinking that since I feel comfortable anywhere doing anything, it wasn’t really a pull to me one way or another.

It doesn’t matter what you want.  What you get in life will be the result of asking the Question.

I remember when all the things I do now frightened me.  I imagined myself getting my pilot’s license, but nothing could have prepared me for my first cross-country flight when I had passengers and the rain was coming down really hard.  The first time I stepped out on a stage to sing a song I’d written myself.  The first class I ever taught.  All these things have a quality about them that completely changes once they become real.  And the biggest thing about them that’s different is how we relate to those experiences based on who we actually are.

When we think about what we want in life, an excellent question to ask is this:  Am I thinking about what I really want, or just what I think I want?

I’ve said in The Right Question that in regards to what you’ll actually achieve in life, what you want is irrelevant.  It doesn’t matter what you want.  What you get in life will be the result of asking the Question.  Everything else is in the category of “nice to have” or “maybe someday”.  Wanting something is a fun mental exercise, and it can be an emotional exercise too if we get really good at projecting ourselves into that situation or that life and really feeling it, but the fact is that we’re only ever going to get what we discover and decide in advance by answering the Question.

Am I thinking about what I really want, or just what I think I want?

The point is this:  Instead of thinking about what’s possible, realize that the answer is “Anything”.  Instead of thinking about what you want, think about who you are.  Ask The Right Question, and you’ll never go wrong.

A Better Way To Think About Choices

There’s a sketch by Mary Engelbreit, justifiably famous, of a girl setting off down a path into a forest.  She’s just come to a fork in the road.  One sign says, “Your Life”, and the other one says, “No Longer an Option.”  It’s brilliant.  But seldom are choices ever this clear.

If only every choice was this clear!

By now you know I’ve read an endless string of self help books.  And all had at least one good thing to say.  Despite my mildly skeptical stance on self help, what I don’t say as often is that without it, a lot of people would be in a lot of trouble.

There’s a book I’ve held onto even though I’ve only read it once, called The Breakthrough Factor by Olympic track star Henry Marsh.  There is one concept I took from it that I’ve thought about in much higher proportion to the amount of time I spent reading it.  (Shameless plug:  That’s what you’ll get with one reading of The Right Question).  And it’s a good one.

Basically, the idea is this:  Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.

See, the idea behind it is that very often our long-term goals aren’t compatible with our short-term goals.  We want to be slim, which is a future ambition, but the present ambition of enjoying a beer or a piece of cake is easier to satisfy in the short term.  Or when it’s time to work harder toward a long-term goal, it’s easier to take the day off and satisfy a short term goal of improving our golf swing.  Marsh’s take on this is that by choosing the path of least resistance, you’re missing an opportunity to get closer to your loftier ambition.  And he frames it in the perspective of giving up what you want most for what you want now.

As far as that goes, I’m with him.  Marsh spends some  time discussing how to reconcile the short term and the long term goals.  And it’s a valuable point to make.  You need to be able to have a good reason to forgo the short term pain for the long term gain.

A short term decision is a long term decision.  I don’t mean to paralyze you, in the sense that everything you do is going to be somehow responsible for your ultimate success or demise.  But if you’ve read The Right Question you know that it’s scalable; you can ask it anytime, anywhere, about anything.  So it occurred to me one day that really, I didn’t have to think about them as two different goals at all.

Here’s what I mean.  Let’s say you’re facing a choice between an opportunity to further your career by attending an evening workshop, or date night.  Normally you wouldn’t think twice about passing on the date, but this person is super sweet and you don’t want to cancel because you’ve done it before.  So in light of the circumstances, it actually is beginning to look like a choice between long term and short term.

Well, it’s only a choice between a long term goal and a short term one if you frame it that way.  Realistically, the “best” option is the one that gives you the most satisfactory answer to the Question.

What I’m saying is that your choices may seem as though they’re competing with each other when the contrast between instant gratification and future success is highlighted, but it’s the same choice it always was.

You figure it all out by asking the Question.

TRQ Press Release

Since I’ve studied self help and success literature for the better part of 25 years, I truly consider TRQ to be the results of those studies.  Toward that end, this press release was sent:

http://www.datsyn.com/article/3464/2014/12/27/Groundbreaking-Results-Released-from-25-Year-Study-of-Self-Help-and-Success-Lit

Here’s the text of the release:

Groundbreaking Results Released from 25-Year Study of Self Help and Success Lit

December 27, 2014 (datsyn.com) – Most innovative book since Think & Grow Rich distils every concept in the genre into one sentence after multi-decade study of the field

When James de Garmo received a set of cassette tapes about building prosperity from a family member, he began a study of the self help and success lit genre that spanned the next 25 years.

“It was the late ‘80s,” he explains, “and authors like Tony Robbins were starting to take off.  Jim Rohn, Brian Tracy, all these gurus had books and tapes out.”  He decided to experiment on himself and apply every single idea in the genre.  “I thought I’d hit upon a shortcut to health, wealth, and happiness.  I read every book, listened to every tape, and watched every video I could get my hands on.”

Fifteen years later, however, he looked around and realized that despite following the advice of these authors to the letter, the self help genre in general just didn’t live up to its promises.  Most of his success had come from his own experience or advice from wealthy individuals who had told him personally how they’d done it.  “Self help made me feel better about not succeeding,” he says, “but I found that there wasn’t a lot of truly worthwhile actionable content in it.”

So de Garmo made it his mission to distil everything he’d learned about how to achieve success and self development into one sentence.  “It had to be easy to remember, accurate, and most of all, useful in any situation,” he says.  “It also had to be a question, in order to personalize it and give the power to the one asking it.”  After ten years of testing and perfecting it he explained it in a book called The Right Question.

The Question consists of three parts, and de Garmo explains each phrase and even each word in it.  “This is what every wealthy person, every celebrity, everyone who has ever accomplished anything worthwhile has asked,” he says, “whether they knew it or not.”

De Garmo’s website and blog is at http://tgimylife.com

Facebook:  https://facebook.com/tgimylife

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/tgimylife

Does Your New Year’s Resolution Answer The Right Question?

Happy New Year, everyone!  Let’s take our joy seriously!

Soon 2014 will be a memory.  Most of it already is.  And for the month of January, the gyms will be crowded with people who are all pretty sure they’re going to get fit this year; thankfully most of them will be out of your way by February and it’ll be business as usual.

For the rest of us, who take our happiness seriously, it’s a time to approach life for a checkup.  So grab a glass of wine and spend the next few minutes with me as I humbly offer something that might clarify things for you.

By now you know I’ve been a self help student for decades.  Self help, as you know if you’ve read my blog much, is something I both enjoyed and resented through the years.  I enjoyed it because it gave me hope that things would get better during dark and impoverished times, but I also resented it because in retrospect I feel strongly that really, hope is the only thing it gave me.  I didn’t realize that all I had to do was ask myself The Right Question.

It wasn’t all bad, though.  Every single book offered me at least something I could use.  And in the middle of all the rah-rah coaches there are quite a few thoughtfully-written and useful books.  I’d like to share a couple of ideas I learned from what I consider to be the best and most comprehensive one about goalsetting, All About Goals & How to Achieve Them by Jack Ensign Addington.

I’ve included a couple of pictures of pages I found particularly relevant, one with my notes on it.  My whole self help library is like this, dog-eared and worn books with my notes and underlining.

Is setting New Years’ Resolutions a waste of time?

I don’t advocate spending a lot of time on goalsetting.  Don’t confuse setting goals with “sharpening the axe” or practicing. I mean sitting down and thinking about what the next phase of your life is going to be like.  I don’t advocate it simply because if you already know who you are, you’ll be automatically moving toward things that motivate and delight you anyway.  When it comes to making a New Years resolution, let me remind you that talk is cheap.  Anyone can tell you they’re going to accomplish this or that this coming year.  So here’s what I’d rather do:

At the end of the year, tell people what your resolutions were.  Don’t bother telling them what you’re going to do, tell them what you did that you had resolved to do.

I’m a huge fan of what the French call a fait accompli, basically a short way of saying what’s done is done, and it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

I’m not saying that setting goals is irrelevant.  I do it myself.  In fact, the last phrase in the Question is designed partly to get you thinking about your goal, whether in a specific situation or in an overarching life design session.  What I am saying is that you end up achieving things you never even knew should have been a goal in the first place as long as you’re aligned properly with who you are and what you feel is best for you in life.  I’m saying, spend enough time on it and move on.

From Addington, to me, to you

I made my book available with one caveat – that readers never divulge what the Question is.  I think if they pay me good money for the book, they have the right to have that investment protected (and so should I).  But I freely share thoughts in the book that aren’t the Question itself, and here’s one of them:  “In order to live the life of your dreams, you must become the person who could have that life.”

Jack Ensign Addington's book "All About Goals" presents some good ideas
Jack Ensign Addington’s book “All About Goals” presents some good ideas

In part, that was inspired by the passage in Addington’s book, and the phrase that helped me form that idea is here.  He says, “…when we identify with our goal and mentally live in the atmosphere of the attained goal, we are well on the way of achieving that goal.”

What he’s saying is that if you live your life as though you’re the person in that reality, already having attained that goal, it’s much more likely to be realized.  When you slide behind the wheel of your dream car you’ll drive it like it’s yours, not like you’re borrowing it from a nasty ogre.  When you take the vacation you’ve been working so hard for, you’ll give it your all and therefore get the most from it.  The most relaxation, and also the most fun.  You’ll probably meet the most interesting people too.

I also discuss this phenomenon in The Lottery Winners (see Succeed at Anything), but basically, it comes down to this – lottery winners end up bankrupt and hospitalized for stress and depression more often than those who don’t win.  And that’s because the way the rich handle money versus the poor is very, very different.  Winning a lottery doesn’t make you rich, it only gives you a lot of money.  In the sense I mean it here, there’s a big difference.

The Secret Referent

The second phrase seems unrelated, but I think a lot of people need help with it.  It refers to what Addington calls the “secret referent”.

The secret referent is the person whose permission you feel you need before you really start living your life the way you want to.  We consider people brave when they act in the face of criticism from their referent.  Think of Romeo and Juliet, the unfortunate offspring of Shakespeare-era Hatfields and McCoys, from families sworn to destroy each other and therefore incurring wrath not only from their own families for fraternizing with the enemy but from their beloved’s families as well.

The idea of the "Secret Referent" from Addington's "All About Goals"
The idea of the “Secret Referent” from Addington’s “All About Goals”

The passage I underlined reads, “Many emotionally immature people never get past the secret referent stage.”  He asks, “Are we choosing (goals) for ourselves or to please someone else?”, and I made a note underneath that which reads, “OR steering away from a treasured goal because its completion will not please the referent?”

It should be obvious what is meant by this, but I’ll state it in a different way.  If you really want a goal, you need to be sure that this goal has been chosen for your own benefit and not for the benefit of others.  These are questions such as, Are you taking over the family business because you want to, or because you feel it’s expected of you, or conversely, Are you blazing your own trail because you secretly want to take over the family business but you feel that this way you earn more respect?  Either way it’s all about the referent, not the goalsetter (you).

It’s also just as unlikely that any of the traditional self help methods are going to get you closer to what you truly want if you allow the disapproval of your referent to steer you away from a treasured goal.

However, I must caution you against Damage to Desire or a misunderstanding of the Law of Attraction.  What I mean is that many times our dreams come true and we don’t even know it because we don’t understand that there’s always something changed in translation between our desires and our reality.

Make sure you understand this.  I explain it fully in The Right Question.

Goodbye 2014, and thanks for everything

As we say goodbye to 2014 and open our arms to welcome the New Year, it’s a good time to think about the course we chose to steer this year.  To use the lawnmowing analogy in TRQ, we all hit some rocks buried in the tall grass along the way.  Some of them dented and dulled our blades; we needed to stop for a while, sharpen them, take a break and steel ourselves before pushing on.

But mowing the lawn is what gets the lawn mowed.  Not wanting it, not trying to figure out “why”, not setting it as a goal, not sitting on a mat wishing for it to get mowed.  Only cutting the grass stimulates it to grow more lush, rich, green and healthy.  Anything else qualifies as glorified wishing.

In the same way, self help made me feel great about the fact that my lawn was overgrown and full of weeds, but it shouldn’t have.  There should have been somebody writing The Right Question long before I did.

But better late than never.

I’m a Self-Help Traitor (pt. III)

“TAKE MASSIVE ACTION!” says the guy at the front of the room.  “BABY STEPS ARE FOR SISSIES!”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard or read a self-help guru tell me that I need to take massive action to realize my goals, I’d have even more nickels than I do now.  A lot more.

Now, because I’ve made a lot of nickels ignoring most self help authors’ advice, I thought other people might like to hear about a different way of approaching their lives.

Here’s the thing:  As I said in my previous post, when it comes to taking action, the advice that you should take massive action is not only hard to define, it’s meaningless.

Let’s say you’re driving an older car.  It needs a little lovin’.  Lately your lights have been flickering, and a website you’ve read suggests that your alternator isn’t as healthy as it used to be.

Now if finally one day it gives out as you’re cruising down the interstate, do you need to take massive action to fix it?  What would that look like, anyway?  Would it mean that you immediately charter a helicopter to whisk you to your destination as a dealership replaces the entire car?

Obviously this isn’t practical.  And to be fair, I also understand that this isn’t what self-help gurus are talking about.  But the problem is, neither are they clear on what they do mean.  Well, I am.  And here’s what I’d do:

Take appropriate action.

If you don’t have much money, you assess what resources you do have.  Maybe you’re not much of a mechanic either.  But now you have a problem that can’t be solved by hiring someone to come and help you, because you can’t afford it.  Use the tools that you’ve got.  You immediately put the Law of Attraction into effect by visualizing a positive outcome to the situation, whatever might be best for you in the long term (not the short term).  You find out where you can get a replacement alternator for as cheap as possible.  If you don’t have internet access you go to a library if you need to, to learn how to replace it.  You scrounge whatever tools you have or can borrow, and you change the alternator.  This whole process is going to take some time.

Massive action?  To some people, maybe it is.  I’d say it’s appropriate, though.

One criteria I would advise you to always use is to make sure your philosophies are scalable.  What I mean is, if it’s good for situation A, then use it on situation B.  Don’t let your ethics and motivation be dictated by the mood you’re in.  If “massive action” means “appropriate action”, meaning that it’s appropriate to the problem in order to get it solved, then great.  Otherwise, don’t confuse the two.

It’s tempting to get all fired up and assume you’re going to be a millionaire overnight if you “take massive action”.  But you need to figure out what that means, because otherwise it’s too easy to assume that the action you really are taking just isn’t massive enough.  This tripped me up for years because I didn’t understand it properly.  I’d take what I thought was “massive action”, and I didn’t understand that you have to just climb the steps as they come.  I’d sit down to take appropriate action on a project and get discouraged because a little voice inside me would insist that my actions weren’t massive enough.  But an airplane on its way up to 30,000 feet has to pass through every single foot of air before that to get there.

You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps, so don’t be afraid to take a big step where you have to.  But keep it in perspective.

The most effective approach is to discover and decide in advance how successful you’re going to be by examining your answer to The Right Question, and you can’t go wrong.

Six Self-Help Myths that are Killing Your Success

After over twenty years of reading self help books, listening to tapes and podcasts and programs and watching videos until my eyes bled, I can tell you that the same old saws keep popping up in self help.  And not a single one of them does what it’s supposed to.

I’m unimpressed, to say the least, with the fact that self help took my money for years and at the end of it I was every bit as broke as I was when I started.  I had a library of materials that basically all said the same things, each author ripping off the one before.

So I turned my back on all of it and started using only the things I myself had learned along the way, and my fortunes turned around almost immediately.  In the process of earning my wealth I became a self help traitor, someone who is angry about the amount of time and money wasted by self help authors trying to get rich selling the same old crap everyone else has since Orison Swett Marden, another man who meant well but was just as irrelevant then as Tony Robbins is now.

I want to change all that.  I mean every word I say.  I’ve written a book that explores why self help and success lit is utter crap, and what you need to do instead.  You don’t have to want it, you don’t have to set goals, you don’t have to use the law of attraction, you don’t have to do anything except ask the right question and act on the answer.

Here is a list of my six favorite b.s. lines from the endless well of self help blather.

1)  “You’ve Got to Want It” (also known as “Find Your Passion”)

We’ve all heard many stories of success that basically fell into the lap of people who happened to come up with a new product, or who were in the right place at the right time to get the inside track on an investment of one kind or another.  Wanting it is great but it isn’t necessary – sometimes, it never came into the equation at all.  Not turning away from success is vital, but it isn’t the same thing as wanting it.

How many people in your dream career fell into it after their initial plan just didn’t pan out?  I can’t count the number of people I’ve met in life who are “living the dream” – they own beach bars, are realtors in tropical paradises, have fascinating positions in research or academia – who had no idea their life would even take them there, yet they’re successful by anyone’s definition.  They’re happy, they have rewarding lives, and they’re doing something financially rewarding that they enjoy.  Human wants are too fickle and mercurial to expect them to take you anywhere meaningful.  I’d use your wants for material goods, and when it comes to pursuing fulfilling spiritual or emotional quests such as a rewarding and rich marriage or family life, don’t even let that be a “want” – make it a “must”.  But you don’t need money for that.

There are lots of youtube videos from successful people (see shows such as “How I Made my Millions” in which the entrepreneurs describe how success just arrived at their door one day, more often than not from a completely unexpected quarter.  Tony Horton of P90X fame had a passion for acting, not bodybuilding or fitness training.  It was that passion for acting that led him to get himself in good physical shape so that he could secure more roles, and then one day, he happened to make a fitness video.  It’s true that if you do what you love, the money will follow, but you have to know a good thing when you see it.

2)  “Set Goals”

Am I insane, telling you that setting goals is killing your success?  Well, think of this:  How many times have you set a goal, only to never achieve it?  And each time that has happened, you’ve died a little more inside.  Having dreams and goals is important, but not in the way we think.  I’ve already said that our wants change too quickly to rely on them to lead us anywhere meaningful, and goals are often the same way.  I encourage you to set goals, absolutely, but not the way self help lit commonly tells you.

Goals are indeed useful tools.  Yes, you should word them in the present tense, in the positive, use them with emotionally-charged affirmations, all that stuff.  It’s all good.  But I’ve found not only from my own life but from those of successful people that a “goal” to us consists mostly of little more than a Very Clear Idea of what we want to do.  Your average millionaire simply doesn’t have time to plot and plan every single accomplishment, because there are too many out there to pursue.

Have a clear idea of what you want, and recognize when you’re both on and off track towards it.  Know how you’re going to measure your progress, decide which corrections you’re going to make, and play the game as the ref blows the whistle.  Often just having a goal of being in the game is enough to win.  Ask those who have ended up on top simply because nobody else bothered to show up.

3)  “The power of ‘why’ ”

Trying to find out why is taking valuable time and energy away from actually doing the work that will make you a success.  Knowing why you aren’t getting off the couch isn’t necessarily going to change a thing.  Trying to figure out why you overeat or spend all your money only gives you more information about why you’re doing things wrong.  But you want to know how you’re going to do things right, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the opposite of what you’ve done in the past is going to give you the result you want.  We all know why rehab clinics exist – it’s because people keep putting chemicals into their body that they know are harmful.  Okay great, now what?  We need more than “why” to get and keep us in the life we want.

4)  “Visualize your outcome”

Firstly, this annoys me because it’s grammatically incorrect to begin with.  It should read, “Visualize your desired outcome”, but that’s a little nitpicky.  Is this the right time to mention that ‘overwhelm’ is not a noun?

Anyway, self help gurus take a lot of time telling you to visualize how great your life is going to be once your goal is realized.  But that’s completely redundant.

If I’m standing in the back yard with a shovel about to dig the hole where the pond will be for a beautifully-landscaped water feature, I don’t need help visualizing how great it’ll be once it’s done.  I already know it’ll be great when it’s done, that’s why I want it.  What I need is something that will actually help me do the work when it’s too hot out, and when my back hurts, and when the goal seems too far away.  I don’t need help visualizing how awesome it’s going to be when I’m cruising in my new Ferrari, I need help getting out of bed when I’m not feeling well to go in for overtime in order to pay for the thing in the first place.  If I’m trying to lose weight, imagining myself slim when I’m not just frustrates the hell out of me and makes me go and eat cake.

I don’t need help imagining myself slim and rich, I already want that because I already know it’s going to be great.  I need help when I’m trying to decide between a soft drink and a glass of water, because that and a thousand other moments just like it are what’s going to determine what I weigh a month from now.

5)  “Use the ‘Law of Attraction’ ”

Basically, this is prayer.  You set your goal, you visualize achieving it, you open yourself to the abundance of the universe, and the universe provides.

The thing about the Law of Attraction isn’t a question of whether it works, but rather the fact that it does.  However, it receives a lot of justifiably bad press because LoA gurus for the most partly simply don’t understand that the hardest thing about using it is knowing when it has been made manifest in your life.  In this respect most people are abject failures because they haven’t been told what exactly is at work here and what to look for to know when their prayers are answered.

For a quick, concise, accurate and useful explanation of what the Law of Attraction is and how it works, you can turn to well-written books on the subject such as that by Michael Losier, or even better, read the one-page summation in The Right Question.

6)  “Take Massive Action”

What he heck does that even mean?  I kick you out the door and say, “Go get ‘em, tiger!  Take massive action!” and you turn around and say “Well, okay.”  “NO,” I scream, “MASSIVE action!  Think BIG!” and you sound more and more confident each time I scream at you, and then finally you turn around and say, “But what exactly do I do?”  And that’s a darn fine question.

It’s all well and good to say “Take massive action”, but it’s meaningless.  ‘Massive’ is too subjective of a word to be of any use, and ‘action’ needs to be defined.  This is exactly the kind of phrase that gets my blood boiling when it comes to self help and success lit, because it sounds like it has a lot of weight and meaning, but when you ask the person saying it what they’re talking about, the best you’ll get is an answer about how you just need to work harder and longer and ‘smarter’.

You need to act in accordance with where you are now versus where you want to be.  That’s what you need to do.  Ask any dog who has dug under a fence if taking ‘massive’ action would have helped him get any more free than the actions he did take.  Short of renting a backhoe, the dog just simply did what he needed to do to get under the fence, and now he’s off enjoying his day.

He may or may not have been using self help techniques as they’re described above.  He may have been taking ‘massive’ action, or you could say he took ‘appropriate’ action.  Both those words are subjective and therefore not helpful.  He might have kept in mind ‘why’ he wanted to keep digging, and kept his goal in sight, but when his paws started hurting and he got thirsty there was only one question he was answering, I’ll guarantee it.

If you want to dig yourself under that fence and get free, you have to do the same thing.

Self help focuses on a lot of concepts that seem like common sense.  At first blush, all these things sound perfectly logical.  But the way they’re presented in self help lit all too often ignores the most basic, fundamental approaches to using them – and it doesn’t provide the answer you need when you’re trying to get yourself to actually do the work that’s going to determine your future, both deciding and discovering in advance how successful you’re going to be.

Only answering The Right Question will help you do that.