Take a minute and think for yourself what the most common self help lessons are… We’ve all heard them both in real life and parody by now. You’ve probably come up with something like:
- Think positively
- Tell yourself how good you are and that you have self worth
- Create a positive self image by reciting “Affirmations”
- Make use of the Law of Attraction – “Thoughts become things” – This one can be true if you full understand it’s meaning as you can read in my blog here. It has it’s place, but that place isn’t all alone as your guiding principle for success.
- blah, blah, blah
Does that sound pretty close? We’ve all heard that stuff to some extent and obviously I’m going to now tell you that’s mostly wrong and half-true at best.
Do you think Kobe Bryant or Lebron James getup every morning or sit down before every game and tell themselves:
- “Gosh darnit, I’m a great basketball player”
- “My J is like butta” (i.e. I have a great jump shot)
- “I have mad handles” (i.e. My ball-handling skills are awesome)
Do you think Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin do the same thing every morning or before hitting the ice? What about Warren Buffet? Does he sit down every morning and tell himself he’s the greatest investor in the world?
Of course not (though they may visualize taking a game winning shot, or negotiating a billion dollar deal but we’ll get back to visualization in a different blog). That’s ridiculous. Why don’t they do that? Because they already know it to be true. They know this in both their conscious and sub-conscious mind. In other words – they know logically and instinctively they’re great at their given profession because they’ve already proven to themselves (and the rest of the world) that they are.
Ok, but maybe they’re great because ever since they were little they told themselves they were. Of course we’ve heard of the professional athlete who predicted as a 10 year old he’d be in the NFL. But then again which 10 year old doesn’t think they’ll be a professional athlete? Sorry, that’s not enough. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore. Think that helped his self-esteem? So did he sit around for the next year telling himself he was a great basketball player? Of course not, he went out and practiced until he actually was a great basketball player. And he kept practicing, and kept working hard until he was arguably the greatest athlete to ever pick up a basketball. Even the self help genius, Stuart Smalley, didn’t quite understand why Michael didn’t need affirmations.
Are you starting to see the failed logic of the self help “guru’s”? They tell you to tell yourself that you’re great before you ever are. Sorry to break it to them, but your mind knows the difference between truth and fiction. Even worse yet, as a general rule, your mind will reject the fiction and you’ll be no better off.
So what are you REALLY supposed to do to become successful? (And why should you listen to me about this?)
- You can NOT be anything you put your mind to. Sorry, your mom is flat out wrong. Think about it for a second, there are only a mere fraction of human beings every physically or intellectually capable of becoming Olympians. I say intellectually because you can be the greatest physical specimen the world has ever seen, but without discipline you’ll never be world class. We all can’t be Einstein’s. Doesn’t matter how good you are at high school physics or how long you study, it’s just not possible. If you need more proof than simple appeals to logic, read, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham. With very exhaustive research, he demonstrates why your mom’s words of encouragement are not at all realistic. Instead he points out that by a combination of nature and nurture we are predisposed to be good at something. Figuring out what that is, is obviously the trick.
- Visualizing vague potential future scenarios doesn’t work. In the book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath references a UCLA study that had 3 groups of students try to resolve problems in their lives. The first group (the control group) was given some basic instructions on how to deal with problems by thinking about the problems and coming up with ideas to resolve them. They were then given a list of benefits for fixing the problem such as reduced stress. The second group was instructed to visualize the problem and all of the steps that lead up to the problem in an effort to find the solution. The third group was told to picture the problem being resolved. In other words visualize the future of how the problem will be resolved and what that will look and feel like. If you’ve heard the self help preachers, as I have, then you instantly “knew” the third group did best. Sorry, wrong answer. By almost every measurable dimension the group that visualized the steps leading to the problem, NOT the group who visualized the possible future solution or how that solution would make them feel, did better. Sorry, self help guru’s. You’re wrong. (Honestly, that came as a shock to me too. But when you consider the science and a bit of common-sense, its easy to see that they’re obviously wrong.)
- Lying to yourself is just plain silly. Noah St. John points this fact out in his book, The Secret Code of Success. He suggests that if you tell yourself every morning that “I’m rich” and you aren’t, your mind knows the difference and you won’t just become rich. Instead he claims that your mind prefers to look for solutions to problems. In other words, if, instead, you ask your brain, “Why am I so rich?” every morning, your brain will instinctively try to find the solution to that problem. He has plenty of anecdotal evidence though no real scientific studies to back up his assertion. In my book, that makes a LOT more sense to me than lying to yourself.
- Confidence comes with experience. Two weeks ago I went on my first off-road mountain bike ride in about 5 years. Our trail was one of the top 50 ranked trails in the US called “The Alien” in Aztec, NM. The trail was a complete blast to ride, but I must admit there were some hairy parts. It’s mostly single-track and you spend a lot of time looking into canyons, riding between large boulders, and trying not to lose your traction on desert sand. Lizards regularly run across the trail. My guide was a friend who has quite literally ridden the trail about 50 times. He even completed a race on the trail less than 2 weeks before. He also just happened to be a national BMX champion in his youth. He has half a room filled with biking trophies. In the particularly scary parts of the trail, of which there were really only 2, he warned me ahead of time. He could ride the trail with his eyes closed (actually he does often ride it at night) but he knew I was on a new bike on a new trail doing something I hadn’t done regularly for a decade. I was a bit nervous. He was not. He had mastered the trail. I was just glad I hadn’t wrecked. He had immense proficiency due to years of riding in general and in particular on this precise trail. I had neither. No matter how much time I spent that morning, or even for the last 10 years, telling myself I was a great mountain biker I wasn’t going to do as well as him. On the other hand, I promise you, he didn’t expend one ounce of mental energy “affirming” for himself that he was a great rider that day. Confidence comes with practice and experience and not with mental repetition (visualization is something entirely different).
So why do all of the “guru’s” get it wrong? I can offer a few guesses:
- They are naturally positive, confident, and good at things that bring success such as public speaking, learning, negotiating and leading people. Or they have some of those qualities and taught themselves the others. Since much of it is natural, they can’t ever figure out why other people aren’t that way and so just guess that if everyone else repeated to themselves daily what these guru’s already know to be true about themselves, they’ll improve themselves. Seems like a somewhat logical guess. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
- They don’t really dig deeper. By that I mean they don’t read and research the books and studies that attempt to explain the human mind and soul and so never get a full picture of what they themselves are probably doing naturally.
So how do you get it right? Let me sum this up in one simple quote:
“The difference between where you are and where you want to be is knowledge.”
In other words, if you aren’t wealthy, popular, successful or a star athlete but want to be, you need to learn what people who are the those things are doing. You need to know what they know. You need to know how they came to know it. You need their knowledge and eventually experience and skill. Once you have that, you will have the confidence you need without tricking your own mind. Obviously this also assumes that you have the ability (either mental or physical) and temperament to do all the things they were capable of doing.
The simplest explanation I’ve heard for this is Do x Be = Have. Read my blog explaining that formula.
That’s pretty much it. Sounds a bit too simple doesn’t it? No memorization, no daily recitations, no lists of positive self qualities. Though it is simple, if that sounds easy to you, you misunderstood what I said. If you want to be as wealthy as Bill Gates, you have to know and do all of the things that Bill Gates knows and does (and be lucky enough to have the timing and potential that he does). That’s not easy. If you want to simply be a millionaire, find a few who you’d like to emulate and learn everything they know and do. Unfortunately, this is a lot MORE work than the self help guru’s would lead you to believe. Fortunately, this will actually work. How do I know? I’m working through it with my businesses every day. You don’t have to believe me. Let me know how those daily affirmations work out, though.
To your success, Bryan
P.S. This, I am aware, goes against some of the ideas of great authors such as Og Mandino, Napoleon Hill, and Tony Robbins and obviously that means some people may passionately disagree. However, I have 2 quick counters to that disagreement. Firstly, I see this as an improvement not a replacement of those great minds. We’ve learned more about human psychology and are able to more effectively apply it now then they were. Secondly, that’s what blogs are for. If you disagree, comment and let me know. 🙂