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.

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.

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.

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.