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.

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.


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.

The Annoying Internet

There’s something that has begun to really annoy me about the internet over the last year.  I would like social marketing gurus to take note, because I’m going to give them a free idea here to make them richer, their clients richer, and me less annoyed.  We’ll all win.

I really love the internet.  The potential for it to change humanity for the better is truly unlimited.  It allows us to connect with one another and share in ways we never could have imagined, that were impossible twenty or sometimes even ten years ago, and it has changed the world forever.  Like television, however, it can either be used to educate and elevate us, or to satisfy baser desires or watch cute cat videos all day long.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either.  Personally, when the day is ending I like to grab some wine and sit out on the patio and listen to the surf as the sun sets while I see what the rest of the world thinks is important that day.

But here’s the thing:  Too often when I visit a site, I read for a few seconds and then my reverie is interrupted by a lightbox that comes out of nowhere asking if I want to sign up for a newsletter.  I’ve been contentedly reading a website’s article about this or that, getting into it, or at least scanning the page, and my concentration is shattered by a marketing ploy.

I have never asked for an email address from any of my website visitors, ever.  And because of this, I’ve been told straight up by marketers that I’m missing out on a tremendous amount of business.  I’ve read tons of statistics that back them up, but I don’t think I’m missing much.

Now, I understand everybody else has gotta eat lunch too.  I have the kind of life many of them are working towards, and I fully sympathize with the drive to make money.  But when you think about how much time each of us has in the day, and then think about the number of websites trolling for you to sign up to a newsletter, the math doesn’t add up.  I spend about 6 hours a day working at most, and that includes reading newsletters, tending to business, and so on.  I also read newsletters about expatriate living, fitness, aviation, science and tech, and so on, and beginning with this article I’m going to share my thoughts on more than just self improvement and the psychology of money.

So, internet marketers, here’s what I propose.

What I need is the reassurance that I’m not going to be interrupted by a signup lightbox.  And if I am, I can click one button and one button only that will automatically enter my email address into a service database that will compile all the other newsletters I’m subscribed to, and deliver them at the same time all in one email.  It will say which websites it’s from, so I know I’m not missing any, and I can read them all at once.  Each newsletter in that compilation will have an unsubscribe link.

If I visit a site with a signup lightbox that I’ve already clicked ‘No thanks’ to, there will be a cookie that will remember that and not nag me again.  I’d be perfectly happy with a static box in a sidebar that said, ‘We’re sad you didn’t want to sign up last time, but you’re missing out on a great upcoming article!’ or some such thing.  I’d think that’s perfectly game.  But to let me read an article for thirty seconds and then shove a signup box in my face usually makes me hit the ‘back’ button.  ‘Like what you read?’ it’ll ask, and my answer out loud is, ‘Well I was reading this newspaper until the waiter shoved the bill right under my nose’, because that’s what it feels like.

I have faith in human innovation, compassion, technology and desire for improvement.There is a better way.  There is always a better way.

Download The Right Question and find out what it is.


Looking for “why” is a waste of time

Too much time is wasted trying to figure out “why” things are the way they are.  This approach is a luxury, diverting attention and energy away from actually getting positive results.

The idea behind it sounds icily logical – if you know why you became the way you are, then you can fix it.  Knowing what made you broke should, in theory, help to figure out how to correct the problem.  Finding out why things went wrong in the past seems like a logical step towards putting them right in the future.

But we all know people who have said, over and over again, “I know why I’m like this, I just can’t seem to stop”.  People who are aware of why they spend all their money instead of save or invest it, who practice self-destructive behavior due to abuse as a child, or for any of a million reasons persist in taking action that does them no good, all the while in complete possession of the facts.

Not only that, but there are too many situations in life where we can never fully know ‘why’.  So putting too much importance on a factor that might never be known can work against us when we realize that and then don’t know what else to do.

I suggest you transform the problem completely, and forget about ‘why’.  Focus on something you know you can learn, such as ‘when’, or ‘what’.  Go through the journalist’s W5 – When? What? Who? Where? Why? – and leave ‘why’ for last.  You’ll never get there because you’ll have solved the problem by then.  You might ask ‘how’ too, but that’s usually solved by asking ‘what’ or ‘when’ first anyway.

Let me come at this from a slightly different angle so you understand this fully.  I’m going to relate an incident that involved a software designer trying to figure out why there was a problem in a program.

Yevgeny Karasik was asked if he could correct an issue for an online casino.  They had a video camera set up over a roulette wheel, and customers could place bets online by watching the wheel through live video on their computer.  The problem was that sometimes, the video would freeze.  The problem usually happened when a customer double-clicked on the video player before the video had completely loaded.

I don’t keep any records of customer information about who buys The Right Question, because a buyer’s privacy is important to them and therefore important to me, so I don’t know if Karasik has bought my book or not.  But I can tell you that he used the Question in solving that problem.

He saw that there was nothing in the code which would suggest why the player on a customer’s computer would freeze.  It was clean, logically-written code, no problems with it.  So in his own words, “But then it entered my mind that instead of searching for answer to this question (which may never be found) I better forbid clicking on video at the very moment that it appears.”

He had analyzed the code and found no errors.  He determined that the reason why the player might freeze on a customer’s computer was a factor out of his control and might never be known, but he had to solve the problem anyway.  So he turned his attention to when the problem started, not why, and engineered an answer.

He inserted a line of code immediately before the one telling the video to become active which disabled mouse clicks on video, and inserted a line of code after it which enabled the mouse again.  Problem solved.  The code disabled the mouse, loaded the video, and once the video had loaded, enabled mouse clicks on the video again so the player could be used.

Karasik never did find out why, but he solved the problem, got paid, and moved on.  In his own words, “Most real life problems are not solved as stated but first transformed.”

In your own life, you’ve suffered setbacks and problems, and you may have thought it was logical to find out why you turned out the way you are.  I’m telling you, looking for ‘why’ is a waste of time and it is taking attention away from you solving the problem, getting paid, and moving on.  Finding out why doesn’t tell you what you think it does.

Besides, as I stated earlier and as we’ll explore in another article, knowing why things went wrong for you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to fix them.

I spend a lot of time talking about this issue in The Right Question, with examples of how the search for ‘why’ does nothing but derail you and take your energy away from the pursuit of your objective.  Even when the search for motive in a crime is of paramount importance, you can’t find out why by sitting around staring at the ceiling.

In the meantime, if you’re still convinced that looking for ‘why’ is a good use of your time, think about the best way to prove me wrong – download The Right Question, right now, and analyze my logic.  You can use it to solve coding issues as Karasik did, or make your first (or second, or third…) million.