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– J

What You Can Learn from Fantasy Island

One of the TV shows I grew up with was called Fantasy Island. Has anyone ever pointed to the sky and said, “De plane! De plane!”? If so, they were mimicking the most famous yet least important part of the show – namely, Tattoo pointing to the twin-engine floatplane about to arrive with another batch of unsuspecting fantasy-seekers.

The premise of the show was pretty simple: Guests would come to the island having laid out major money for their fantasy to come true. And over the ensuing weekend, it would. The host, Mr. Rourke, played by Ricardo Montalban, and his sidekick Tattoo would see to that.

For example, one lady who showed up wanted to be a world-class figure skater. She’d dabbled on the duck ponds in Minnesota, but with the pair of skates that Mr. Rourke gave her she was able to beat the best figure skater there was.
Another guest wanted to be an accomplished pianist. With the ring bestowed upon him by the management, that’s exactly what happened.

But there was something almost upsetting about the ease with which these fantasies would come to life. The man longing to be a trapeze artist so he can marry the girl in the troupe rubs magic powder on his hands, and suddenly he circumvents all the years of training that go into becoming good at it. Doesn’t really sound fair, does it?

…the fantasy would never come true in the way the guest imagined.

Well, the fantasy would never come true in the way the guest imagined. I suppose you saw that coming, right? Otherwise there’d be no story.

In each case, the person with the fantasy was faced with a decision. The entire TV series can be summed up with the expression “be careful what you wish for”.

I touch on this kind of thing in The Right Question, and it’s perfectly valid. Your dreams will come true, but almost never in the way you imagine. That’s just simply what happens when things are lost in translation between the request you send out and the resources you have available for the request to be fulfilled. And it was no different for the guests on Fantasy Island. The guests’ dreams came true, but never in the way they thought they would.

Between the time they arrived on “de plane” and the time they left, they would have to face a truth about their desire. Something about it would take a toll on their conscience, and they would be asked…well, they’d be asked the Question.

If you don’t believe me, dial in a few episodes wherever you watch old tv shows. You’ll see exactly what I mean. Sometime during the course of their fantasy coming true, the character would realize that contained within their fantasy was the seed of an unresolved internal conflict.

Usually, the basis for the desire behind a fantasy was that it represented something they’d never had in their real lives. An insecurity, a feeling of failure or at least having never succeeded, permeated their lives and they wanted to make up for it somehow. Or they wanted to take an ability or talent, or at least the idea that they had an ability or talent, and parlay it into something grand – being a famous author or movie star, or something similar.

I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how little talent an individual has, they can amass great fortunes with it.

If you surf YouTube long enough you’ll see one video after another of people with incredible talent who aren’t making a dime from it. Then look for those who are famous and rich, and the number of those people with genuine talent is, well, let’s just say it isn’t high.

What makes the difference? Obviously those with more money than talent do know something that the talented but broke people don’t. So do I, and I’ll teach it to you. It’s called the Right Question.

It isn’t that having a fantasy come true is bad, it’s that there is a price to be paid for everything. I’m not the kind of person who believes that some things are better left as fantasies. Far from it. I think that whatever you want in life wants you just as bad, and you should pursue what you want until you get it.

Just for fun, let me lead you through a weekend on Fantasy Island. You board a seaplane at a tropical airport, and after a flight of indeterminate time you touch down on the water at a small tropical island. You’re greeted by your host, who assures you that your fantasy has already begun to come true.
Let’s say you want to be an author. He shows you the novel with your name on it, already a bestseller on a continent you don’t live on. Sounds great, right?

Now it strikes you that you’re not the one who actually wrote the book. It’s a fantasy. You aren’t sure who wrote it, but it wasn’t you. And now, all the adulation from your fans on the island feels hollow, and you feel like an impostor. Or…or perhaps you are indeed happy that all the years of your struggling as a writer have finally paid off, no matter how it came about, and now you want to take all that your new-found fame has to offer.

…no matter what, you’re going to make a choice about what you say you want.

Either way, there is going to be something you’re going to have to deal with. Either the feeling of being an impostor will make you rise to the challenge, or you’ll decide that fame is not for you. Either you’ll love the feeling of accomplishment as a writer, or you’ll find yourself choosing between the love of writing and the burden of fame it brings. But no matter what, you’re going to make a choice about what you say you want.

Something to note is that the real nature of the decision wasn’t so much what the character wanted as…well, the answer to the Question.

I’ll say it again in a slightly different way – it didn’t matter what the person wanted. The issue at hand was watching them find the answer to the Question. And the same is true of you. Succeeding in life isn’t a matter of what you want. The only thing relevant to whether you’ll live your dreams is whether or not you use the Question.

But once you learn it, why don’t you watch an episode of Fantasy Island and see for yourself what’s involved? Trust me, it’s a piece of cake. And just like in the show, every ending is a happy ending.

Why We Hate Happy People

Yet another of life’s many ironies is that we all want to be happy, whatever that means to us, yet many of us secretly resent those who already are.

Maybe it’s because we feel they’ve discovered a secret we don’t know, or maybe we assume they have already ‘made it’ when we’re still struggling, or maybe we just think they need to be taken down a notch. Maybe we think (or know) that their happiness isn’t the result of anything we did, and let’s face it, we all like to be the reason someone smiles. If they’re happy whether we’re around or not, perhaps it means they don’t need us, and that might be an uncomfortable realization.

Regardless of what we tell ourselves, there is one thing behind it, and it’s easy to define. Therefore it’s easy to deal with it, and when people envy you for your happiness you’ll know what’s really going on.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of happy people is the absence of its corollaries. Think about what happy people aren’t – they aren’t angry, they aren’t worried, and they aren’t afraid, regardless of the state of their health or finances. And when you think about how nervous and unhappy many people are, this comes into closer focus.

The absence of worry or fear indicates that something’s going on in that person under the surface that we’re all working towards. It tells us that this person has confidence and self control. No matter what may happen, this person knows that they’re able to roll with it.

Inwardly, many people who appear happy are fighting the same battles anyone else is. They have bills to pay too. They’ve got medical issues, family troubles, they’re recovering from heartbreak or some setback or other, just like you are. But they aren’t letting it bring them down, and that indicates that they’re drawing on some resources that are available to you too.

People don’t like happy people because often we interpret happiness as self control and confidence, and the presence of a concomitant threat that happy people could control others too, even though a truly happy person has no need to control others at all. That degree of confidence inspires jealousy.

To those who don’t experience happiness much or often, there’s somewhat of a mystery to it. But it’s easy to explain.

Happiness isn’t just the absence of worry or fear. Actually, it has more to do with being immersed in the moment than anything else. Think about the times in your life when you were happiest. The moments you felt the most joy. I can guarantee that they are moments when you were just letting yourself feel what was wonderful about the situation you were in. You were on a date with somebody wonderful, or you were feeling the ocean breeze on a long-awaited vacation, or you were watching your child or spouse or good friend do well and celebrating with them. Maybe you were just inhaling the fragrance of a flower. Whatever it was, that moment is what everyone’s chasing after. That’s happiness.

It’s only elusive if you allow fear and worry to seep in, but it isn’t the opposite of those things. It’s what replaces them when they’re gone, but it isn’t the other side of that coin. Happiness is something of its own, and it will gladly come to you as well.

To experience happiness, first remind yourself that you’re not in charge of the world’s problems. No one person is. Celebrate when those you love succeed. This way you’ll join them in that feeling instead of letting it drive a wedge between you.

It’s difficult to learn how to drive worry and fear away, but it can be done and the rewards are astounding. You’ll still have bills to pay and problems to overcome, but one key difference is that this time you will be in a more resourceful state of mind, able to deal with your problems so much better.

You see, happiness isn’t just a nice warm glow. It puts us in a state where we are acting from a position of power because we aren’t being dictated to by negative emotions. It allows us to enjoy being powerful, and to associate with powerful people who won’t feel as though we just seek their company to gain something.

Happiness is not only a wonderful feeling, it’s an essential tool for dealing with adversity. So don’t hate happy people. Help the world out by being one of them.

Ask the Question every morning, before every task, before everything you do, and you’ll never go wrong.

The Bucket List Accomplishment Week

I’ve heard it said that most people overestimate what they can do in a week and underestimate what they can do in a year.  I couldn’t agree more.

Zorbing? I just put “find out what Zorbing is” on my bucket list. Image from abackpackerstale.com

I like a new week, that’s how I roll.  I like Sunday night because I’ve clicked the odometer again.  There’s a good mile behind and a good mile yet to come.

If you’re the kind who keeps a bucket list, do you ever marvel at how overwhelming it looks?  Mine is still three pages long and in some places the handwriting is so tiny that only I could ever decipher it.  There are arrows pointing to items that are related to each other, point-form lists in margins, you name it.  It’s the same paper it was written on when I was in grade twelve, before they were even called “bucket lists”.  Even when I cross things off, I still have yet to toss the paper out because there are things on every page I have yet to do.

One thing that has helped tremendously is to view a year as nothing more than a sequence of weeks.  This sounds pretty obvious, but here’s the thing:

I tried breaking it down into smaller chunks, with a daily approach, but that didn’t fit the way I do things.  Nor did it help to view goals on a monthly basis.

A week is a small enough period of time to manage in your head, and not so far away that it’ll never get here.  If it’s Monday and you’re gearing up for something to happen on Thursday, it’s a lot easier to work it backwards and know what you have to do now in order to reach that stage.  I’ve noticed, however, that by the time I start thinking in terms of the month ahead, I lose focus.  And when it comes to a year, forget it.  I do have things planned out on a dry-erase calendar eight months from now such as “…by now we should have contract firmed up with Carib island” and here’s why:

There’s a huge difference between focus and action in the sense that your focus lies down the road, in the future, but you can only take action in the present.

When a year has gone by and you’re thinking about all the things you wanted to do over the past year but didn’t, I’ll guarantee that although your long-term focus may need to be adjusted, it’s your short-term action strategy that’s the problem.  If you’re overestimating what you can do in a week, you’re going to be that much more prone to give up when what you want doesn’t immediately appear.  You’ll get frustrated and quit, or worse, if you can’t do it in a week you won’t even bother trying.  You’ll still want what you wanted before, but your actions were miscalculated, and now it seems as though what you want is never going to come.

Don’t let this happen to you.

It’s great to plan your life out a year in advance.  Hell, don’t stop there.  Do you have a five-year plan?  That seems to make people feel good, a five-year plan.  Never mind that things have happened to you in the last five years that you never could have seen coming, and could have dealt with a lot better if you’d been thinking of your week instead of your year.

Here’s the thing:  If you put a dollar in a jar every year, at the end of the year you’d have $365, obviously.  Do it every day and it’s a habit, you don’t have to think about it.  Coming up with seven dollars a week requires only a tiny bit more thought – the perfect amount, in my view, because the thought it requires makes you stop and assess where you are versus where you want to be.  It takes a few minutes, then you continue on.  But at the end of the year, if you’ve done nothing, now you’re scrambling to find $365 and thinking to hell with it.  And another year down the tubes.

One year is going to come and go whether you like it or not.  One year of surprise job offers, breakups, new dates, all kinds of things you had everything from a huge hand to no hand in planning.  But one thing I can tell you is that it’s going to come at you one week at a time.  Learn how to manage a week, and do that fifty-two times, and suddenly your year has made a lot more sense.

Download The Right Question and you’ll never have this problem again.

 

TRQ gets an interesting mention…

One thing I’ve noticed that people have in common who berate themselves for being unsuccessful is that they don’t take action.  It seems to me that they’re waiting until they want to do something about it before they take that action, but because they feel that everything is futile, they know that they’re never going to want to take action towards a better life because it means that they would have to have a certain degree of faith in a positive outcome before they even bothered trying.

It came to my attention that someone had posted a short mention of my book on a website called http://www.imatotalloser.com/.  I had never heard of this site before and I read through it.  If you haven’t been there, trust me it’s an eye-opener.

It’s a very simple website, not choked up with ads or anything.  It’s basically a blog site where anyone can vent their troubles to the world at large.  If you feel that nothing is working, you go to imatotalloser and share your story.

The post that TRQ was mentioned in was several months ago. If you read the post you’ll see why I’m flattered in a rather…unique way, you could say.  But I’m glad that the person who wrote it found some value in my book, and I want to address more about it.

Imatotalloser is crammed full of very similar stories.  The details vary but the underlying philosophy behind why the contributors feel that they’re losers is strikingly similar.

First, there’s contempt for themselves because they aren’t contributing anything.  A lot of the posts are just one person after another saying how they can’t seem to get their act together.  Some of them are getting good grades, some aren’t, some are married and wish they weren’t, others aren’t married but wish they were, but they are in the same boat in the sense that they just can’t bring themselves to be productive members of society.

Another thread running through them is a feeling of hopelessness, as though there is no point in wanting anything or working towards anything.

In my view, these two things are inextricably linked.

We all know that we respect people who take action.  They may be the wrong actions but we usually don’t know that until later.  People who do nothing don’t earn respect.  Obviously there is a part of our psyche that knows very well that taking action is something that mentally and emotionally healthy people do.

But who wants to take action when there is no faith that things will turn out the way we want?  And if there’s no faith that things will turn out the way we want, then why would we bother doing something in the first place?  This goes back to the entire reason why I wrote The Right Question in the first place – the fact is, it’s pointless to wait until we want to take action.  Because if our lives aren’t working, it’s going to be a very, very long wait.

Instead, ask The Right Question, spend a minute or two on the answer, and you’ll never post to a site like that again.

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.