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.

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.

Succeed at Anything

The Right Question is the most powerful sentence in the world.

Once you learn what it is and how to use it, you will be unstoppable.

I want you to live your dreams.  And you will.

My name is James de Garmo, and I want you to live your dreams. I don’t care how old you are or what you’ve done with your life up to now, or how far you think you’ve fallen from where you were or where you wanted to be. I want you to succeed at life.

If we all did that, we’d act from positions of power, understanding, generosity, acceptance, gratitude and effectiveness.

Whatever it means to you, you want to succeed at something.  Maybe it’s making a lot of money.  It might mean overcoming a personal hardship.  Perhaps you want success with the opposite sex, a fulfilling relationship.  Any of these things seem like moving targets, elusive, and a matter of luck more than anything.

Success is the result of doing the right things at the right time. Many other factors play a part – everything from knowing the right people to just plain and simple good luck – but absolutely nothing happens without some action. Even winning a lottery means you have to buy a ticket. At some point, you have to do something.

Naturally, this leaves most people wondering what to do. What is it that successful people are doing that unsuccessful people aren’t doing, and where can you learn this, anyway?

Read on to find out how I came up with the most powerful sentence in the world, the one that every person who has ever succeeded has asked. You’ve asked it too, but it’s possible that you didn’t really understand its power or thought it wasn’t important. Believe me, it is.  In fact, it’s impossible to succeed without doing this one crucial thing.

Unless you already knew the Question, you never stopped to ask it. But if you want consistent results in your life that are measurable, positive, and guide you towards the life of your dreams – in every sense of whatever that means to you – then you need to do so.

You need to ask it on purpose. And when you do, you’ll realize why some things succeeded and others didn’t. You’ll immediately realize that the good life isn’t just for other people. You will understand that you can have it all, and you’ll begin living it.

I’m not talking about ’embracing your inner halo’ or some other New Age excuse for accepting an unfulfilling existence. It is important to want the life you already have, because that’s where you start from, but make no mistake – the life you really want to live is waiting for you.

Asking the Question is a compassionate way to examine your current way of living and understand how it drifted away from what you really wanted, but its purpose is to get you back on track and make you realize that the life you’ve always wanted is yours with so little effort that you’ll wonder why nobody told you this before.

“Is this self-help?” I hear you asking.

Please, no.  No more self help, okay?  I’ve had all I can handle.

I studied self help for over 20 years before I realized it had done absolutely nothing for my bank account whatsoever.  The thing I wanted most was financial independence, and it was the thing that had eluded me the most.  You’d think two decades of gaining intimate knowledge of the self help field would have produced some result – something, anything – but I was just as broke as I was as a teenager.

Interestingly enough, this is how self help backfired on itself and led to the Question.  When I say I followed all the instructions in those books, I mean it.  I wrote down my goals in the positive, I meditated, I filled a binder with pictures the places I was going to go and the cars I was going to drive, everything.  This includes the advice about having conversations with some very wealthy people about how they did it.  And those conversations led me to understand the one thing – really, the only thing – that wealthy people had in common.

Sure, most of them worked lots.  But some didn’t.  Some were happy, some weren’t.  Most of them said they’d build another fortune easily if the one they had was suddenly lost.  But not all.  Some drove beautiful cars, others walked.  Some found that their business took them around the world, others barely left their home town (these ones were tough to find, and though their fortunes were modest, they were rock solid).

However, every single one of them told me the same thing – that when it came to overcoming challenges and finding a way to succeed, when it came down to the business of getting it all, keeping it all and enjoying it all, no matter how humble their beginnings, they all asked themselves the same question.

They didn’t all word it the way I’ve done.  Some took an entire conversation to explain it, others who were kind enough to give me five minutes outside their hotel or convention center said it much more succinctly.  But they all, every one of them, said the same thing in one way or another.  And it was something I’d never, ever read in any self help or success book before.  Not explained in such simple terms, anyway, and certainly not as such an easy-to-understand concept.  I read one book that came close, but it didn’t quite hit the mark.

…when they actually told me how they did it, none of them thanked self help books for their wealth.  Only the Question in one shape or form was what made the difference.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Self help and success books told me to see how wealthy people became wealthy, yet when they actually told me how they did it, none of them thanked self help books for their wealth.  Only the Question in one shape or form was what made the difference.

I followed every single suggestion and step to the letter.  I wasted oceans of time trying to figure out why my life wasn’t working, before I realized that “why” is irrelevant.  It took me a long time to realize that the purpose of mainstream self help, from what I could see anyway, was simply to make me feel better about my problems.  I’m not talking about academic studies of self-esteem or personal interaction by writers such as Nathaniel Branden and Eric Berne, though I read those as well (and recommend them).  I mean the standard diet of crap like The Secret or Tony Robbins or anyone else who panders to the frustrated masses.  There’s only so much rah-rah fistpumping you can do before the rush wears off and you realize you’re worse off than you were the day before, because you’re not richer but you are older.

Self help isn’t just about getting rich.  Love and weight loss are the other two huge subjects in which self help books insist that they can pave the way for you.  And they’re just as useless in those fields.

The reason is simple:  They don’t answer the right question.

When it comes to your success, there’s only one thing that’s going to light a fire under you and ensure that you stay on track until your dream comes true.  And to get that answer, you have to ask the right question.

Have you heard these tired old saws:

  • “Figure out why!”
  • “You have to want it!”
  • “Set your vision!”
  • “Take massive action!”
  • “Follow your passion!”
  • “Set great goals!”

In the long term, they’re useless.  They’ll fire you up for a while but it is very rare that any of these methods provide long term results you can rely on.

To fully understand why, think about the fact that success and failure are two sides of the same coin.

In twenty-five years of reading self help and success books, I ran into countless others who were bona fide self-help and success lit junkies.  They made me look like a hobbyist, even with my huge collection of books, tapes, videos, you name it. These people knew a lot more than I did about the genre, but they were just as broke and confused as I was.  Obviously there was either something missing or something wrong with what we were being told.

I found out what was wrong, and I discovered what was missing.  And now I want to share it with you.

I’ve made it my mission to help you understand why everything you’ve wanted seems just as far away as the day you first wanted it.  Until now.

I’m going to share a secret with you that will put you back in touch with the life you’ve only thought could happen if you won the lottery or met a magic genie.  Back in the driver’s seat of your dreams, with the people you love, and above all, I’ll put you in touch with yourself.

You’re going to get your life aligned with who you really are.  You’re going to see every single area of your life blossom and grow in ways you never even imagined.

Along the way, you’re going to gain a permanent and lasting understanding of how to beat your problems. You’ll conquer the things that have been holding you back.  You’ll finally understand why you procrastinate, divert your attention away from what really matters, eat when you’re upset or bored, are generally unsatisfied, and are consistently broke no matter how much money you make.  And you’re going to change all that.  Completely.

 Download The Right Question right now and discover how to achieve success, no matter how far away it seems.

Faith and Evidence

It’s tough sometimes to justify not spending whatever extra money you have on indulgences when you could be investing it in your own business or project/s instead.  Your future is exactly that – the future, out there in Somedayland where fantasies and antigravity suits exist.  That fast food lunch is now, and that new cd or download is now, and… well, you get the idea.  In all of this are our thoughts about how we’re going to get ourselves into the life we’ve been dreaming of.  But when our faith wavers, it all seems so far away.  And once we start thinking about how far away it seems, all the things we’ve tried in the past that haven’t worked out come around for attention too, and before we know it, we’ve diverted our energy and time away from our desires and into the immediate present where this current idea suddenly doesn’t look so promising either.  Stopped in our tracks by the fear that the life we want might never come, we give up and ask why we even bother.

If you look at the history of nations, companies, groups of any kind at all, you’ll see this pattern repeat over and over again.  Sooner or later there comes a time when even the most successful of them forget what got them there, and they start thinking only of what’s five minutes ahead of them.  There are many reasons for this, but one of them is quite simply faith.  Both a lack of faith and too much of it can cause the same effect for two totally opposite reasons.

Lack of Faith

When we don’t believe that we’ll ever really be able to live the life of our dreams, a number of things happen.  It starts with a loss of focus.  Where once we honed in on our ambitions and acted as though we absolutely knew that they would be realized, now we are easily distracted by more temporary temptations.  So without us even noticing, we begin accepting that state as normal.  And because we accept it, that automatically means that we don’t feel that we really need our dreams to come true anymore.  It’s true that we don’t need our ambitions to be realized before we’re happy, because an unhappy person won’t be any happier when they’re a thousand dollars richer or two pounds thinner than they are now, but the loss of focus and drive means that we lose the things we would have gained along the way towards our dreams – the experiences, the friendships, the good times we knew would come had we accomplished our goals.

What we do next sometimes only makes the problem worse – we look for evidence to support our faith.  We look for signs that all this effort we’ve been putting in has been worth it.  Is our bank account any healthier, or are we?  Do we have a wider network to draw from, is our influence any greater, are our skills any sharper?  Have we lost any weight?  Are we, in one word, better?

Asking this on a day when we’ve just paid a lot of money for car repairs or eaten two desserts after a huge dinner isn’t the smartest strategy.  And the fact is, there is always somewhere to put your money other than into your fledgling enterprise that’s one day going to pave the way for your dreams.  Therefore, many times we don’t even see these temptations for what they are – something that takes away from our dream.  This in turn means we lose faith because we don’t see the evidence that what we’re doing is working.  So we allow even more temptations and distractions to erode our discipline, and we lose more faith as a result, and the cycle continues.

Too Much?

So far we’ve only been discussing what happens when we lose faith, but the flip side of that is an overzealous approach that disregards any enjoyment of the present because it is sacrificed in the name of the future and ignores the reality in the present.  And the problem with the future, of course, is that it’s always in the future.  It’s equally dangerous to live on faith.  Too much faith minimizes our actions by casting them in a light that renders them ineffective – we feel that nothing we do will alter the course of our advancement and success so it doesn’t matter what we do.  Obviously this is ineffective, for a goal achieved is the result of action.  And we can only take action now.  We can’t do it in the future because the future only exists as a concept.  In this way, having faith that everything will work out just fine means that we might as well do nothing at all.  But we know that’s never going to get us where we want to be either.

You don’t need faith (but it sure is nice)

Faith is rendered completely unnecessary when you do what’s required to reach your goal.  You don’t need to believe that your dream will come true, you just need to do what’s required to get there, and it will come.  As long as you behave accordingly, the energy and time you devote to your diet, business, blog, service, or whatever, will pay off.  But even that is difficult to understand without an illustration of how this works.

Nature relies on this concept.  Nature would not exist at all if it didn’t simply go ahead and do whatever’s necessary to live and reproduce or propagate.  Plants and animals don’t need faith because they just do what needs to be done.  They have to do it this way, as they have no options.  They can’t clutter up their actions with self-indulgent analysis, they just go ahead and grow.  Have you ever seen grass or a plant growing up through a crack in the sidewalk? That required no faith at all; it just went ahead and grew there.

I’m a poet at heart, so seeing life in unlikely and harsh places stirs the romantic in me.  I love to think about how the hardy little plant tries its best and struggles in adversity to overcome the risks of being driven over or tread on, but the fact is, that’s called anthropomorphism, a long word meaning humans ascribing human characteristics to a non-human entity.  I love plants, trees, animals, I even love rocks.  And when I’m surrounded by the beauty of nature I do absolutely treasure it.  But I have respect for it because it understands the Question better than most people do.

Asking the Question on a daily basis sets you on a path that doesn’t even need faith in order for you to succeed.  Faith ends up being a wonderful addition to your daily thoughts, but it isn’t necessary.  Faith, with or without evidence, becomes something you can think about in your spare time if you like, but you’ll notice that it does nothing to bring you any closer to your ideal life.  You either act according to what the Question teaches you, or you don’t.  Either way is okay, but at least by using the Question you’ll know both where you are and where you want to go.  That means you can never get lost.

If you assume that your success is coming from your faith, I would urge you to examine what is actually bringing you closer to the life of your dreams.  Faith is nice, and it helps warm our hearts when things are tough, but taking action towards our goals is the only thing that actually gets us there.  Using faith to keep you focused is great, but it’s been your actions that have brought results.

Either way, whether you’ve given up and lack faith or have found yourself coasting on all sizzle and no steak, it’s nice to know that simply learning and using the Question provides all you need.