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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Better Way To Think About Choices

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

If only every choice was this clear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You figure it all out by asking the Question.

TRQ Press Release

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

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

Here’s the text of the release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook:  https://facebook.com/tgimylife

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/tgimylife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is setting New Years’ Resolutions a waste of time?

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

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

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

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

From Addington, to me, to you

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Referent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye 2014, and thanks for everything

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

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

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

But better late than never.

I’m a Self-Help Traitor (pt. III)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take appropriate action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Self-Help Myths that are Killing Your Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2)  “Set Goals”

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

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

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

3)  “The power of ‘why’ ”

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

4)  “Visualize your outcome”

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

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

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

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

5)  “Use the ‘Law of Attraction’ ”

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

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

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

6)  “Take Massive Action”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only answering The Right Question will help you do that.

Destination: Unknown

The first time I moved to the tropics, it was thanks to a job offer that had come out of the blue.  It wasn’t something I planned.  I’d love to say that the first time was the result of hard work and financial success, but it wasn’t.  In fact it was more or less desperation that drove me to accept the offer.  But it taught me incredibly valuable lessons about what I was going to do when I really did make that move on purpose, for my own reasons, with my own money that I’d invested and worked for.  I’m going to share some of the points I think you’ll find most useful if you’re thinking of ditching away and rising up somewhere you might find more agreeable to the human spirit than the cold climate I came from.

First off, plan for some confusion.  It’s a lot to think about, knowing that you’re going to Leave. Everything. Behind.

I remember being bewildered at what I was going to do with my house and all the belongings in it.  Didn’t I need all those pictures, books, DVDs, trinkets, and so on?  What about all my collectibles, antiques, memorabilia?  Wasn’t I going to need, well, everything?

The first thing you should understand is that if you were to take a serious look at what you actually use throughout a day, you’d realize it’s only the barest minimum percentage of what you’ve no doubt accumulated.  I talk about managing the Front End and the Back End in The Right Question, but for now let me just assure you that you’ve got way too much stuff and moving away from it might really be the only way to get rid of it.

About a month after I landed at my new job, I was talking on the phone with a friend back home.  I mentioned that I’d been too busy and having too much fun to miss any of my stuff.  I’d bought clothing more agreeable to the new climate and was surrounding myself with my new life.  In that instant as I spoke I realized that I’d never needed any of it anyway.  And I resolved that when I returned to my house, as I knew I would, I would instantly go through it and get rid of half of it.  Fifty percent.

So that’s what I did.  When the job came to an end several months later and I returned home, I spent about a week seriously contemplating who I was.  It was odd, coming home to a house lived in by somebody I no longer recognized – in other words, the old me.

I’d kept boxes of things never unpacked in the basement.  I went through each of them carefully (by the way, there are some wonderfully helpful books about organizing.  One of them I have no hesitation in recommending is Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out) and decided whether it went in the Keep, Discard, or Donate piles.  The rule was that the Keep pile could be no larger than the other two combined.  I knew I’d be moving back to the tropics before too long, and although I’d miss some of the people I knew, I’d have enough money to come back and visit whenever I wanted.  The amount of face time I had with many of these people didn’t amount to much, so in that sense electronic communication would keep me in contact with the people who were most important to me anyway.  Those friendships that faded away were obviously not strong enough, or simply not meant, to stand the test.  I accepted that and knew I’d make new friends where I was headed, if I wanted to.

As an aside, it’s a very different world you are in when you’re a local as opposed to a tourist.  When the expatriates see you for longer than a couple of weeks, you become one of them to a certain extent, and now you’re privy to inside information about who does what, what the rumours are about how so-and-so made their money, who’s dating whom, and so on.  In every city you visit, this is the same.  It’s amusing and comforting all at once.

I want to come back to the issue of emotional confusion before I go any further, because whether you’ve admitted it or not, it’s probably the biggest obstacle you have to living the life of your dreams.  Fear, whether masquerading as confusion or manifesting as physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea, can keep you from ever really living to the fullest.  In my case, the first time I took a job in the tropics I was scared to go because I had no idea about anything there.  I didn’t know anything about how I was going to get around, go shopping in a different language, all the things that travelers have to face.  Yet even by then I’d traveled around the world already.  The reason this was different was because I couldn’t just dismiss it as being the rookie mistakes of a tourist – if I was going to live there, I was going to have to learn how.

Believe me, take every opportunity you can to make those mistakes.  Most of them you’ll only make once, and people will forget about them.  They’ve got their own lives to live and can’t be bothered remembering your first stumbles.

It doesn’t take long to become a local.  If you’re wondering about acceptance on the part of people who already live where you’re headed, think about immigrants in your own corner of the world.  They’re the same as anyone else.  Some are helpful, some aren’t.  Some are cheerful and friendly, some aren’t.  Some make an effort to learn your language, some don’t.  My advice is to respect the fact that there are free countries in the world who will welcome you with open arms, and to repay that courtesy when you go there by being friendly, helpful, and not trying to make them do things your way.  Act wisely and you’ll learn from them.

If you’re moving to a climate that’s very unlike the one you’re in now, your entire lifestyle will be different.  Your wardrobe will reflect this, your house will too.  You might be surprised to find how many houses around areas like the Caribbean have exactly the same kind of architecture as those in Vermont or Russia.  At first this disappointed me tremendously.  Where were the open verandas, the tiered decks, the open floor plans and so on?  Well, I discovered where when I looked at buying a property – they’re in wealthy enclaves.  Most people can’t afford that kind of thing.  The days when everyone had more than enough are long gone, in the sense that the same amount of work now in countries like the US nets you a lot less disposable income as it did in the ‘70s.  Having said that, however, there is more than enough money for everyone if you know where to look and what to do.  It truly is an abundant world, but you have to look in places you wouldn’t have looked twenty years ago.  And I believe this is how it should be.  The world is a fluid, changing, dynamic place, and rolling with it is the only way to love it unconditionally.

Anyway, back to Your Stuff.  That’s what prompted me to write this in the first place.  I’m looking around my house at the things I ended up bringing with me.  Some of it is in boxes and I don’t use it or look at it often – this includes sentimentally valuable things such as photographs, as well as items that are hellaciously expensive to purchase locally because of freight costs such as tools and so on (I enjoy tinkering with my cars).  I brought most of my books, because I love to read, but they’re heavy and expensive to ship and I don’t really recommend bringing them with you now that the internet has made them all available in a virtually invisible format.  I did because I have the financial wherewithal thanks to years of asking the Right Question, (yes that’s a shameless plug), but I wouldn’t advise it as a general rule.  Same with furniture.

I kept my house back home simply because I do go back to visit now and then.  But I’ll tell you something – it feels strange every time I go there.  I remember moving in many years ago, talking with the contractor unknowingly provided me with the last phrase of the Question, sharing time with a girl I thought I was going to marry, and filling it with the memories that make up an ordinary life.  I go out to the garage and put the battery in the Viper, turn the crankshaft a few times with a wrench to lube the cylinders before I fire it up and cruise for a while down highways that used to take me to dead-end jobs.

Every time I come back it’s as though I’m renting somebody else’s house, not returning to my own.  It’s gotten so strange that I’m going to put it up for sale and just buy a condo at a mountain resort and leave it behind me.

None of this would ever have happened unless I’d taken that first step and accepted that job.  Even though I was confused about how to proceed and afraid of what I’d find at my new destination, it was what to do with all my belongings that weighed on me the heaviest.  And in retrospect, it was the easiest thing to handle.

If you’re contemplating a move, don’t make it into a Big Huge Scary Thing.  It isn’t.  You accumulated your belongings to serve a purpose at the time, but that may have changed and you might not have even noticed.  Take a serious look at what you’re surrounded by.  I’ll guarantee you could get rid of half of it and never even notice.  I’m not talking about hoarders, I’m talking about everybody from the average Jane and Joe to backpackers.  The difference is that backpackers are mostly aware of this, whereas houses are usually pretty silent about how inconvenient it is to be crammed full of Stuff.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s you doing the deciding, not your fear of the unknown.  If we all allowed our fears to make our decisions none of us would ever leave the house after watching ten minutes of the evening news.  I don’t recommend you read the news anyway, personally, since almost none of it affects you directly and most of it exists in order to coerce you into thinking a certain way.  If the news was presented as facts, without mentioning anyone’s skin color or using any adjectives, everyone would have to think for themselves and interpret those facts themselves, and in general education has been a failure at that in every corner of the globe.  The only thing you should make sure to bring with you is a toothbrush, your passport for those times you aren’t going to sneak across a border, and an open mind with a loving attitude.

A Sample of Genesis

One of the main points I emphasize about The Right Question is that it encapsulates everything I’ve ever read in any self help book, ever.  I also describe in Succeed at Anything how I decided to write my own self-help book that I could refer to whenever I needed inspiration or motivation, and how in doing so, The Right Question was born.

I’m going to include my notes on one of the more helpful books.  It’s called SuperSelf, by Charles J. Givens.  I saw a battered, water-damaged copy of it at a garage sale.  I love books, and am always looking for one that will teach me something, so I grabbed it right away.  I don’t remember what I paid, if anything, but whatever it was, it repaid its investment to me many times over.

As in the case with every other self help book I made notes on, I wrote at the top what the title was, in case I wanted to refer to it to expand on an idea more.  I listed the headline of the idea I was taking from the book, and then I made a point-form list if there were more things to consider about that central idea.

The reason for all this, as I’ve said elsewhere, is that I wanted to have a reference manual of my own, in which every single page would contain the best ideas from all the self help books I had.  But as I wrote, I began to see just how much these authors borrow from each other, and I also saw what it was they were leaving out.

I think the reason that Givens’s book made such an impression on me is that he isn’t a self help writer, he’s a successful investor.  He’s not dispensing what I call “attaboy theory”, the fist-in-the-air motivation that runs out two days after the seminar, he’s dispensing practical advice and tips that worked for him.  In the book he describes a rather unappealing childhood, to say the least, and his path up the ladder to multimillionaire.  This personal approach based on historical fact is what makes his book different from many others I read at the time.  Not for long, though, because it turned me onto a genre I hadn’t studied much before, that of biographies of successful people.

So sit back and watch one of the steps toward The Right Question beginning to take shape, and in the process, get a bird’s-eye view of a great self help book.  I wrote this in the summer of 2008 or so.  See how towards the end I begin to lose interest and the notes just sort of arbitrarily stop?  I did read it to the end, but this book is one of the last ones that made it through the gate before I realized what I was actually trying to do – find the one sentence that would make it all come alive – in other words, to find The Right Question.  I think that SuperSelf is recommended reading for anyone looking to understand how a successful person became so.  I know it helped me along the way.

I’ve cut and pasted this from Word.  In the process it didn’t keep my highlights, but I’m sure you’ll find points in it that leap out at you.

If you want them all in one sentence, just download The Right Question.

 

Charles J. Givens SuperSelf Outline/Summary

Doing more of what doesn’t work won’t make it work any better.  Live your life as most people do and you will be forced to settle for what most people settle for.

PART I – EXPERIENCING YOUR SUPERSELF

1. “Where You Is, Is Where You Is.”

·         Your only point of power is in the present moment.
·         To design and control your future, you must first let go of your past.
·         To go where you want, firmly plant your feet on ground where you are.
·         Use losses and failures of the past as a reason for action, not inaction.

2. Playing to Win: The Ballpark Principle

·         Being right is often in conflict with winning.
·         To win in other people’s ballparks, play by their rules.
·         Accept the rules or change ballparks.

3. Trying Is Lying

·         Failure is the refusal to establish a plan and work toward its accomplishment regardless of the obstacles.
·         When striving to achieve your goals, there is no such thing as trying.
·         You never fail until you quit, make excuses, or die.
·         Cut your losses short and run your wins long.

Use near misses as sign you’re off course, not sign that you have failed.
Use negative feedback to make positive course corrections.

PART II – PLANNING AND CONTROLLING YOUR FUTURE

4. Developing Your Blueprint

Organize your blueprint into a three-ring notebook.

5. Discovering Your Dreams

·         11. Begin your life’s blueprint with a Dreams List.
·         12. Prepare your Dreams List as if there were no limits to your life.
·         13. Crystallize your dreams by writing them down.
·         14. Allow your Dreams List to expand to form framework for your entire life.

6. Generating Goals
·         Don’t confuse your goals with your expectations.
·         Defining what you are after is 50 percent of the battle in getting there.
·         Make choices, not excuses.
·         Accelerating your life by setting goals also accelerates but does not create the problems and setbacks you’ll encounter.
·         The difference between dreams and goals is in commitment and the length of time required to achieve them.
·         Success is the progressive, timely achievement of your stated goals.
·         The more specific and measurable your goal, the more quickly you will be able to identify, locate, create, and implement the use of the necessary resources for its achievement.
·         The more specific and measurable your goal, the more quickly it can be accomplished.
·         The impact of doubt is directly proportional to both the level of difficulty in achieving a goal and the intensity of the doubt.
·         Increased clarity equals increased opportunity.

·         15. Set goals to organize and structure your mind for maximum effectiveness.
·         16. Make your goals specific and measurable.
·         17. Make your goals believable.
·         18. Overcome doubt with positive, present-tense affirmations.
·         19. Commit your goals to a written list.
·         20. State your goals as single, concise sentences beginning with action verbs.
·         21. Set a realistic target date for the completion of each goal.
·         22. Keep a copy of your top ten goals where you will see it every day.

7. Seeing Success

·         23. Visualize your goals clearly to achieve them more quickly.
·         24. Make visualizing your goals a regular habit.
·         25. Add momentum to your visualizations with some high-powered emotions.
·         26. Visualize your goals just before you go to sleep.
·         27. Visualize your goals as if you have already achieved them.

8. Aligning Your Goals with Your Values
Conflict inevitably occurs when your goals and values are out of alignment.  The only thing more destructive to your life than setting goals that are out of alignment with your values is setting no goals at all.

·         28. For maximum enjoyment of success, first determine your top ten values.
·         29. For maximum satisfaction and effectiveness, align goals with top values.

9. Operating with Objectives: Your Action Plans
Activate opportunity by getting into action.

·         Complete one Action Plan for each goal on your list.
·         Specify a first step as the first objective on your Action Plan.
·         Break each goal down into a set of manageable objectives.

10. Prioritizing Your Activities
The mind tends to take the path of least resistance.

·         To double your effectiveness, apply the 20/80 rule.
·         Transform efficiency into effectiveness w/ prioritized activities list.
·         Divide your activities list into four sections.
·         Record, prioritize on activities lists all important phone calls and appointments
·         Review, revise blueprint at year’s end to assess past, chart future.

PART III – DOUBLING YOUR PERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS

1. Discipline
Discipline is a choice, not a legacy.  Focus is the process of keeping your thoughts, attention, and energy totally on the task at hand.  Excuses are only made for failure, never success.

·         Increase your level of effectiveness by learning to maintain focus.
·         Increase effectiveness, earn confidence and trust of others by keeping agreements.
·         Promise only what you can deliver, and deliver what you promise.

2. Controlling Your Time Line
1. Leave your life to chance and chances are you won’t like the way you live your life.

·         Take control of your time or time will control you.
·         Avoid triggering the no-slack principle by making, sticking to your plan.
·         Arrive on time, every time.
·         Arrive early, but never late.
·         Don’t make getting ready the last thing you do before leaving the house.
·         Leave your car keys in the same place every time you arrive home.
·         Combine all frequently used keys into complete duplicate sets.
·         Change door locks so that one key fits all.
·         Ignore the telephone and doorbell when getting ready.
·         Practice effective time management on yourself, not those around you.
·         Fill up your tank on your time–not at stress time.
·         Add a ten-minute fudge factor to your travel time.
·         Carry a local map in the glove compartment of your car.
·         Allow an extra five minutes to find the correct address or office.

3. Prioritizing Your Personal Time
It’s what you accomplish, not how long it takes, that determines your level of success.

·         Schedule personal time w/ same priority, attention to detail as business time.
·         Schedule personal activities as if appointments that cannot be canceled.
·         Don’t allow job-related problems to interrupt scheduled personal time.
·         Stop treating your family as second-class citizens.

4. Managing the Mundane

·         Increase your effectiveness by eliminating mundane maintenance activities.
·         Think of cost of hiring out mundane maintenance as investment, not expense.
·         If cost is less than your per-hour value, hire someone else to do the job.
·         When in doubt, let someone else do it.
·         Begin giving up mundane maintenance now.

5. Eliminating Interruptions

·         Take back control of your time by eliminating interruptions.
·         Break telephone interruption habit; ignore telephone for an entire day.
·         Become the caller instead of the callee.
·         Let an answering device screen and record your incoming calls.
·         Check your incoming messages no more than twice a day.
·         Make all callbacks at the same time.
·         Use built-in speaker on answering machine to monitor for “must take” calls.
·         Keep unwanted guests out of your bedroom.
·         Unlist your phone numbers.
·         Install separate personal and business lines at home.
·         Don’t give business number to personal acquaintances; don’t give personal number to business contacts.
·         Stop playing switchboard for other family members.
·         Don’t allow thought of emergency to compel you to answer phone at all times.
·         Install phones in your cars and use them for “callbacks”.
·         Install a personal fax machine in your home.

6. Intercepting Office Interruptions

·         Install voice mail on your business telephone system.
·         Install fax machines in each department.
·         Write all letters, memos at same time during your Peak Performance Period.
·         Install select code security locks on departmental doors.
·         Keep customer service people in their seats w/ research support.
·         If you work in an office, create a controlled open-door policy.
·         To be successful in your own business, hire the best people.

7. Handling Talkers and Dumpers
Dumpers are drainers.  Don’t get caught in someone else’s problems, or they become your problems.

·         Screen talkers and dumpers with your answering machine.
·         Immediately set a limit for the time you will spend with a talker.
·         Listen, listen to the whole story, listen only once.
·         Ask the dumper, “What can I do to help?”

8. Cutting the Commute

·         Cut your one-way commuting time to twenty minutes or less.
·         Use commuting time to increase your knowledge by listening to audiotapes.
·         Use your commuting time to make necessary phone calls from your car.
·         Keep mini-cassette recorder in glove compartment for capturing ideas, dictating letters.

9. Extending Your Peak Performance Period

Determine your hours of peak performance.
·         Use Peak Performance Periods for activities that require maximum mind power.
·         Get best out of Off-Peak Performance Periods by scheduling routine, non-critical activities.
·         Avoid negotiating, potentially confrontational meetings during off-peak hours.
·         Exercise at least every other day.
·         Cut down on both the quantity of food and the quantity of fats you eat.

10. Fighting Fatigue

·         Push past fatigue.
·         Drink plenty of water.
·         Breathe deeply and sit up straight.
·         Do some quick exercises.
·         Trigger your adrenal glands.
·         Refocus on your goals and objectives.
·         Use short naps to overcome fatigue.

11. Flattening Your Fears
Caution is a mental process; fear is a destructive emotion.  Fear causes the reaction of avoidance or inaction.  Worry is an accumulation of thoughts about future, potentially negative outcomes.  Worry is the process of mentally creating potential negative outcomes.  The first step in confronting fears is to identify exactly what you fear.

·         Eliminate worry by refocusing your thoughts on the present.
·         Constantly confront the things you fear.
·         Act even in the face of fear.
·         Visualize a positive outcome for every fear-triggering situation you face.
·         Create a mind-movie to experience the event you fear in a non-threatening environment.

12. Handling Stress
The intensity of emotion experienced by an unmet demand is directly proportional to the intensity of the demand.

·         Exercise for twenty minutes to one hour every other day to help drain stress.
·         Eliminate negativity from your life.
·         Continuously affirm to yourself, “It’s just an event”.
·         To reduce stress, don’t make value judgments about people or events.
·         To cut stress, disconnect your emotions from the outcome of events.
·         State preferences instead of expectations or demands.

That ends my notes on SuperSelf.  As I mentioned, I did read it to the end, but by then I was beginning to realize that there was too much information to bother putting it into one book.  What I needed was a simple sentence that encapsulated everything I’d bothered transcribing from all these books.  Years later, after testing and refining it, it’s here.