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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

I’m a Self-Help Traitor (pt. II)

I feel like a self help traitor.  All the familiar faces, the names on the covers of the infinite number of success and self help books I’ve come to know over the years, I feel like they’re looking at me disapprovingly, reproachfully, shaking their heads and saying, “We taught you what you know, and now you’re turning your back on us.”

But I can’t shut up about it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the success genre of self help is virtually ineffective.  The points in it that get stressed the most are the biggest wastes of time.

You could argue that what made me successful was what I learned in these books and audio programs.  Isn’t using them what led me to the Question?

Emphatically I say no.  No, I can honestly tell you that what I learned from self help books could fit into one question.  And it took twenty years of banging my head against the wall to figure it out.

The Same Traps

I fell into all the same self help traps so many others do.  I remember when Tony Robbins discussed a similar time for him in Personal Power (which I have on cassette, purchased from a classified ad in a newspaper because I couldn’t afford to buy it new) when he was explaining to a friend that he had done everything right and still hadn’t succeeded.  His friend told him that maybe it wasn’t the system that was at fault, maybe Tony wasn’t using it right.  That scene was really important for me.  I still have that program but I don’t refer to it anymore.  It led me down too many paths that led nowhere.

I don’t mean to single Tony Robbins out.  I know that he believes what he says, he does have valuable insights to share, and there’s no doubt he has helped very many people.  He’s made a much bigger fortune than I have from self help (I made mine in a totally different area, and writing TRQ was something I did to share with the world, not to pad my pockets).  I’ve actually never met anybody who has ever become a known name in the self help genre and I probably never will.  But if I do, I know what I’m going to say.

Over the next few articles, I’m going to pick apart the major basic tenets of self help.  To reduce success and self help books down to their basics, they all revolve around a few key ideas:

  • Set goals
  • Find your passion
  • Visualize yourself successful
  • Think about how great it’ll be once you have it
  • Want it like crazy
  • Believe in yourself
  • Find out why you want it
  • Use the Law of Attraction
  • Find or make your motivation

All the above are mentioned to some degree or other in every single self help book I have, and they’re all a waste of your time.  They’re all nice to have, but unless you’re using the Question they’re meaningless.

There is one other idea in those books, that of stepping outside your comfort zone, that not only doesn’t get enough press but is absolutely necessary for success if not basic survival in some cases.  I agree with that idea completely, but by itself it isn’t much help.  If you constantly do push your comfort zone limits, I applaud you, and I hope you’re aware of when you’re doing it and are doing it on purpose.

I’ve already done an article on what I think of looking for “why” you want something, which you could say is Pt. I of this series, so today I’ll look at the common method of setting goals.

What’s wrong with setting goals?

First off, I’d be the first guy in the room to put his hand up when the overhyped brylcreemer at the front of the room asks, “Who here sets goals?”  I do, I do.  And they’re great.  But as anything more than a way to keep me focused?  No.

A goal is a dream with a date marked on the calendar indicating when it’s going to come true.  As such the idea behind a goal is that we are galvanized to take action to make it come true by a certain date, and put our efforts into its achievement.

Setting a goal should be worded in the positive, and in the present tense.  “I have my ____________ by June 1st” or whenever.  “I love enjoying my _________.  It’s mine.”

If you’re new to setting goals, there are tons of articles about it on the internet and in self help books, so I’m not going to go into it any further in regards to the recommended methods of going about it.  I’m good at visualizing things, (which helps immensely with my golf shots by the way) and I suggest you add visualization exercises to your goals whereby you see yourself fully in ownership of the thing, or doing the activity, or whatever it is that you associate to the goal, see yourself having it.

So far so good, right?  Sounds like a basic move everybody should learn.

After All That…

But here’s what I found:  It’s demotivating when you don’t achieve a goal.  In fact it can be downright demoralizing to set your sights on something that doesn’t come to pass.  And when it doesn’t happen, self-doubt sets in.  You end up wondering why you can’t make any of your goals come true.  Why can’t you make the money, lose the weight, buy the car, take the vacation, and win the game?  Didn’t you set it as a goal?  Didn’t you write them down?  Write them in the positive?  Didn’t you go around broadcasting to everybody who would listen that you would be a millionaire by this time?  Should you not have seen it coming, the date on the calendar looming and still no Maserati in the garage?  Didn’t you combine this goal with massive action, the Law of Attraction, knowing why you wanted it, and all that other stuff?

You did?  And you still didn’t reach your goal?

Well, you did remember that goals are elusive, right?  You did take into account the fact that you might have to change horses midstream, change your goal?  You did really expect it to happen, didn’t you?  Because if you didn’t expect it to happen so that you could avoid disappointment just in case it didn’t happen, well, you’re Setting Yourself Up To Fail, and that’s your fault, not self help’s.  Hm, maybe you didn’t “believe in yourself” enough, or weren’t “confident” enough.  You did remember to completely inventory your personality before you even bothered setting out after this cherished dream, so that you’d know if it was in alignment with who you are?  Sounds like a tall order, but what the hey, you weren’t doing anything important anyway, were you?

You did all that, and it STILL didn’t happen?

Uh-oh.  Now what?

You go over what went wrong, if you can stomach it, and if you can’t, you chalk it up to experience and set a “more achievable” goal for next time.  And because you’ve been smacked in the face once already in pursuit of this thing, you’re more cautious the next time out.  And life starts to enter its gentle, floating, barely noticeable feather-in-the-wind-over-many-years downward spiral.

It can be pretty demoralizing to set your sights on a brand new gleaming Thing and honestly believe it’s going to be yours in six months when the rest of your life is a mess and you have no money, and therefore six months comes and goes and you still don’t have that Thing.  Self-doubt taps you on the shoulder and asks what you were thinking.  Don’t you realize the rest of your life makes no sense?  Who are you to set such a lofty goal anyway?  You’re not cut out for that.  Great living is for guys like Jimmy de Garmo, who climbs mountains and rents zoos for private parties, but not you.

If I could find your self-doubt I’d knock its teeth out for you and then take you ziplining in Haiti or to the Sahara for a Bedouin tea, or urban exploring in old Russia, or just sit with you at Starbucks and help you find what makes you smile.  Besides, let me toss this at you, there’s no such thing as “self”-doubt.  Think about it…

Anyway, back to goals.

As obvious as it sounds, as commonsense an idea as it is, there is nothing in goal setting to help us understand how close or how far away that goal is from becoming reality.  Sure, we’re told to adjust our actions accordingly, but what does that mean exactly?  If we’re setting a goal that seems unachievable because it seems so far away, something we’ve never done before, how do we know that what we’re doing will even get us there?

Obviously if you want a $60,000 vehicle in the next six months, you’re going to have to come up with either $60k or something valuable to trade.  You could use the Law of Attraction, but it’s pretty hard to measure your results as the deadline comes near. You know you’ll need $10,000 a month extra if you want to break it down into a monthly goal, but if you’re Max or Caroline from 2 Broke Girls, working at the diner and making cupcakes on the side just isn’t quite going to do it.  Yet.

But to hell with patience.  The self help books said your dreams could only come true if you take massive action, right?  So get out there, champ!  Go out the front door and “take massive action”.

I can see you already, standing on the step with your coat on against the rain, asking, “Um, what action exactly do I take?  I know it should be massive, but James, um…” and now the expression on your face begins to clear as you get to the bottom of the problem, “WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?”

Ah, the problem clarifies.

So far, we’ve been concentrating on the goal.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it too often means we’re ignoring ourselves in this equation.  And that is the most dangerous part of it.

What we need is a way to discover and decide in advance how successful we’re going to be.

In my view, self help leaves too much of success up to chance.  I’m a very lucky guy, and I love European casinos for that reason (and also for the extraordinarily diverse clientele), but I sure as hell don’t think it’s luck that got me where I am.  Before I enter into any situation I ask the Question, align the three parts of it, and I know before I ever even begin how far it’s going to take me as a result of my own efforts.  Barring natural disasters and being zapped into an alternate dimension, I’ll have the best idea possible of what the future will hold.

When I fly home and throw my keys on the table after a fun trip somewhere, I know damn well it wasn’t goal setting or the Law of Attraction or knowing “why” I wanted to go that got me there.  Driving home from the airport in my G-Wagen and falling asleep listening to the surf through the linen curtains aren’t experiences that happened because I “found my passion”.

I am where I am because I used the Right Question.  I suffered through heartache, defeat, depression, and poverty.  I did almost two years of therapy.  I took jobs that only a few years before I would have considered beneath me, jobs that tested my emotional stamina every bit as much as my physical endurance.  And I was handed a few great chances in life that I completely wasted because I didn’t see them for what they were.

Hindsight did help me begin to understand that one of the keys in life is knowing a good thing when you see it.

I’m flying high now, not a care in the world.  I feel a kinship with good, sincere, successful people that I didn’t even know was possible.  I accept money because it loves me.  Think of that as the difference between petting the cat for the cat’s sake, and the cat coming to you.  But not because of the hundreds of books I’ve read telling me to believe in myself, set my goals, find my passion, figure out why, and all the other stuff that keeps selling again and again and again because it is virtually ineffective.  It’s because of a few chance conversations and my own synthesis of what I learned.

All of which led me to figure out the most powerful sentence in the world.

Download The Right Question and you can know it too.