Charlie Munger, business partner of billionaire Warren Buffet said, "Rather than trying to be very intelligent, we try to be consistently not stupid."
This project started out as my attempt to be less stupid about my own challenges, but after sharing it with friends and clients it took on a life of its own.
If you find yourself lost, procrastinating or lacking motivation, then invest the time to read on and complete the exercises below.
It might just help you work out what you really want, find the focus and energy to get started, and enjoy the adventure while you're going for it.
There are no guarantees though. It's just me, sharing what I've learned, and what I continue to practice, in the hope that it may be useful to you as well.
(P.S. I'm not a Doctor, or a shrink, so if your problems could be described as medical in any way, it's probably best to seek professional help.)
Let's crack on.
Let's start at the beginning. From the moment we are born we have to work out how to solve the problems of survival. Warmth, food and safety are our top priorities.
In our search for food, we will attempt to eat just about any object we can put into our mouth. We are infinitely curious. But right from the start, our learning process involves a degree of pain.
Each new food represents a solution to the problem of nutrition. But with each new food comes a messy struggle as our body learns how to digest that new source of energy.
The more foods we learn to digest: milk, vegetables, meats, sea food, nuts, legumes, tubers, grasses and fruits, the more likely we are to survive in varying conditions. We are building a repertoire of solutions to the problem of nutrition.
And so it is with everything we learn in life. Our curiosity for solutions is balanced by the pain of learning and our tastes are acquired over time.
We shouldn't expect to feel passionate about anything right from the beginning. We should start out in a state of curiosity. As we experiment, curiosity becomes interest. And as our experiments pay off, interest becomes passion.
Our freedom and independence then, in so far as they exist, are our own achievement. We must develop our own repertoire of solutions to life's problems. The more skilled we become, the more comfortable we are in a wider variety of situations.
Stay alive, stay safe, reach maturity, procreate. Then protect and train your offspring so they can achieve the same cycle.
Those are our deepest priorities as healthy human beings. And the most powerful parts of our brain are focused on achieving those aims, well below our level of consciousness.
Our senses allow us to move towards resources and away from danger. Our tendency to form groups and work together in unison makes us stronger and safer.
Our attraction to others motivates competition and high performance. And our enjoyment of sex promotes procreation.
Even our most recent powers: to reflect on our own behavior, imagine the future, and set conscious goals, everything we call human nature has evolved successfully to keep us alive and keep our DNA replicating.
But life doesn't serve up everything we want on a plate. The older we become, and the more problems we try to solve, the more setbacks and failures we experience.
When one of our goals doesn't work out, especially if we didn't see it coming, we feel lost and anxious. We can't move forward while we try to make sense of the world. A world that no longer matches the beliefs that kept us safe. Especially beliefs about ourselves and our abilities.
After experiencing unforeseen setbacks, our personality tries to make sure we don't make the same mistakes in the future.
We start to predict in advance whether a new situation is likely to strengthen or disturb our comfort. We can develop a general "avoidance attitude" to our work, our friends, or life in general.
We can become inhibited, cautious, hostile, suspicious and anxious. And to protect our own personality we can start to use blame and denial.
Once we get into the habit of blaming other people, we start to resent those people. And that blame and resentment becomes a trap that we just can't escape. We make ourselves into victims and victims are powerless.
This pattern of thinking can create a downward spiral of negativity. Self-reinforcing beliefs about how unfair the world is being to us. And, as we project our beliefs, consciously, or unconsciously out into the world, we make our situation worse. The very people who might be allies and provide resources, are repelled by the attitude we are using as a shield.
First, we need to accept that we are not victims. To remember that life is learning and learning is problem solving.
As healthy children we naturally approach life with open arms. We are uninhibited, confident, friendly, and open to new ideas.
If we reconnect with that attitude, we can start to replace our cynicism with curiosity.
Instead of being in a constant state of self protection and defense, our capacity for creative thinking and experimentation is re-engaged and we start to see answers that were previously beyond our perception.
We meet more people, we encounter new solutions, we develop more friendships and find more allies. Surrounded by support and ideas it becomes easier to realize our goals.
We have a wide array of emotions. But they are all variations of a few basic instructions. All emotions are directing us to either...
Go. Keep moving ahead.
Stop. Hide, get help.
Back-up. Get the hell out of here.
When we're taking action and moving towards our goals, the feeling of Hope reinforces our progress. Joy is the emotional reward for making progress. Ecstasy is the reward for accomplishing our highest goals. Keep moving ahead, this is working, is the message.
After setbacks, we can lose sight of our goals and our sense of direction.
In this misaligned state it becomes impossible to feel positive emotions. We cannot be rewarded for progress towards our goals, because we are not making any.
That's when our negative emotions can take over, screaming out warnings.
Anxiety tells us that we're doing something wrong and we need to stop! Sadness is very literally a cry for help when we can't cope on our own. We mourn the loss of our former direction with feelings of Grief. And Fear prepares us to avoid challenges, real or imagined, and get the hell out of there.
So, to move past our negative emotions we must consciously set new goals, and develop new skills to make them happen. Only then can we trigger positive emotions, as a natural reward for our progress.
The act of defining what you want comes at a price.
Setting a new goal means taking responsibility. You see where your skills are lacking. You see how much effort you're really prepared to put in. You see how much progress you make, or don't make.
If you choose not to define your goals, it's easier to feel good about yourself. You can simply blame your lack of progress on the world, the system, and other people.
That may make you feel better in the moment, but it won't improve your situation.
So the first choice you get to make, is whether to define what you want, or find an excuse to avoid it.
Action: Ask yourself, every morning, am I the creator of my life, or a victim of it? (Use your workbook)
If you do choose to take back control, to define what you want and take action towards it, there are a few things to keep in mind...
Don't set goals that are needy, or seeking validation. Like proving your basic worth, competence or likability.
Don't set goals that rely on other people choosing you. Or goals that require other people to change.
Don't set goals to make someone else happy and don't try to be politically correct. You can't virtue signal yourself.
These types of goal are a high predictor of depression, anxiety and failure.
The more we tell ourselves that we need something, that we must it have to be OK, to be an acceptable person, the less likely we are to achieve that goal, or find happiness if we do.
When our personality feels threatened, it closes ranks to protect its integrity. We double down on playing out our old habits and growth becomes impossible. So it's important to start from a place of self acceptance, whatever your situation.
Do set goals that are about your own growth.
Your desire to learn, to develop your capabilities, to be the best person you can be.
Goals to develop your skills, so that you can be more comfortable in a wider variety of situations.
Growth goals like this bypass our fear of failure and the need to protect our personality. They create curiosity, excitement and hope which allow us to confront difficult challenges and persist until we succeed.
More importantly, growth goals allow us to appreciate and enjoy our success after all our hard work.
Action: Decide what you want and write it down. Use the format "I'm ok. And it would be exciting to..." Do it now. (Use your workbook)
Action: List the skills you'll have to master, and the actions you'll have to take, to deserve the goal you've chosen. Use the format "I am learning to... I am taking action on..." Do it now. (Use your workbook)
It will become obvious if you've set the right kind of goals, ones that are in your power to achieve, when you break them down into individual skills and actions.
Action: Now prioritize your list into a logical, step by step plan. Make it clear what you're going to start working on first. Do it now.
When prioritizing, consider the energy and motivation you have available at this point. You have to be entirely realistic about what you're capable of and set yourself up to succeed.
The paradox of a good goal, is that you must be humble enough to lower the bar, but ambitious enough to want the world's best for yourself.
By lowering the bar to what is realistically possible, we get to feel good about starting our journey. Once moving, we can build our skills, as our emotional and physical resources improve.
And at the same time, there's something incredibly energizing about the thought of becoming "world class" at something. Even something small and simple. It reminds us what it's like to feel pride in doing something well. To get a taste for excellence and mastery.
Think of your personality as a collection of values, beliefs, habits and skills.
It's everything that you've learned over the course of your life. Influenced by your biology and backed up with memories from your experience.
A value is anything that we move towards, or away from.
A belief is the story that we tell ourselves about why we hold that value.
If we practice a value over and over it becomes automatic and unconscious, and we call it a habit.
If a collection of our habits prove useful in the world, we call them a skill.
For example, we might value coffee. The story we have about coffee is that it helps us wake up, face the day and focus. We make our coffee without conscious thought or effort every morning, it's an essential part of our routine. Combined with other habits we might call it the skill of preparing breakfast.
For us to remain "ourselves" and function "just like us" when we get up every morning, our brain has to protect that unique collection of values, beliefs, habits and skills.
It becomes "just like me" to drink a cup of coffee in the morning. To get up quickly, or to sleep in. It becomes "just like me" to eat broccoli, or donuts. Or be repulsed by the idea.
It also becomes "just like me" to read books, or play video games. To think of myself as a good learner, or a poor student. As an extrovert, or introvert.
These ideas about "who we are" are learned from our experiences in the world and from those around us. They become our personality. And regardless of whether our personality is optimal or not, we subconsciously strive to act consistently with it at all times.
This need to be consistent with our personality, works on a very simple principle, below our level of consciousness...
Our values and beliefs have kept us alive so far. Especially the ones we learned from our parents as children. And because staying alive is our primary goal, we should keep relying on them. Unless something life threatening happens.
Because of this tendency to be consistent with who we are, we sometimes struggle with learning and developing new skills.
That struggle isn't the fault of our teachers or mentors. It is an act of resistance by our own personality. We resist because, at this point, to change our behavior does not seem consistent with who we are.
Resistance can physically stop us dead in our tracks. It can make us run for the hills. Or it can chatter away in our mind with rationalizations.
Resistance can also come in the form of hopping from one goal to another, tunnel vision, fantasy and delusion, physical exhaustion or sickness.
One way or another resistance is telling us - "It is not like me to do this."
So if we're learning something outside the boundaries of our current experience, if we are attempting to grow, we will often experience some resistance. The first thing to know is that our resistance is not the enemy. It's just trying to keep us consistent, so that we can remain safe. Once we understand and accept that, we can learn to use it to our advantage.
How do we use our instinct for self consistency to our advantage? To help us move towards our goals, instead of having it stand in our way? The method is as follows...
a) First we must identify the unconscious belief that has, so far, prevented us from taking action. The belief that has prevented us from developing the necessary skills to achieve our goals.
For example, "I'm no good at speaking in public".
Once we've identified that limiting belief, we need to be clear on its opposite, the personality we are moving towards.
For example, "I am a confident public speaker".
b) Next, we need to identify all the positive beliefs that we already hold about ourselves.
For example, "It's just like me to be tenacious, and do whatever it takes to provide for my family."
c) Finally, we're going to leverage our beliefs. Demonstrating, to our unconscious self, that developing the skills we need to achieve our goals is consistent with our personality or "just like me".
To do this we're going to frame the new skill as something we're learning, one step at a time.
For example "I am tenacious, and do whatever it takes to provide for my family, so it's just like me to learn how to be a confident public speaker, one step at a time."
That's a lot to take in, so let's look at each of those steps in more detail...
First we must identify the unconscious belief that has, so far, prevented you from developing the skills necessary to achieve your goals.
This belief might be on the skills level, for example, "I am not good at speaking in public".
Examples of skill level beliefs that hold people back:
Not a math person
Not a swimmer
Not a reader
Not good at selling
Not good at networking
Not good with conflict in the office
Not good with being rejected by potential clients
Not creative enough to stand out
Or the belief that's holding you back might be on a deeper level and affect your behavior across multiple skills, for example, "I'm a quitter".
Here are some other common core beliefs that hold people back.
A poor learner
Your answer may look like one of the examples above. Or you may have a completely different belief about yourself. Something that tends to crop up repeatedly and hold you back.
Your answer may be more of a doubt, than a definite statement. For example "I'm not sure if I'm smart enough." Whatever comes to mind, write it down in your own words.
If you're struggling to identify a limiting belief that's holding you back, a useful question to ask is, "how am I most likely to screw this up?".
Do not judge yourself.
Trying to put a positive spin on things in this exercise is counter productive. We're trying to get to the uncomfortable truth of what's holding you back. It may feel painful to face and to admit. But it's an essential part of the process. We can't change our behavior, if we're hiding from how we generally behave.
Once we've identified that limiting belief, we need to be clear on its opposite, the personality we are moving towards.
For example, if your current belief is...
"I am not good at speaking in public"
then the opposite belief would be
"I am confident speaking in public".
Action: Write down your limiting belief, and its opposite. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
We've all experienced many, many moments of pride or successful learning in our lives, but they aren't always easy to remember right away. Especially if we're in a protective state of mind.
The main purpose of our memory is not to store pleasant experiences, but the opposite, to remind us of potential dangers. Like most of our systems, the default setting is to keep us safe, not make us feel good.
Because of this, our past can often seem like its filled with nothing but mistakes and missteps.
But if we relax and keep digging, we will always find examples of times when we were proud of our progress. When we felt good about our actions, our skills, and our achievements.
Times when it was...
Just like me to learn new things.
Just like me to do my part.
Just like me to be courageous.
Just like me to take charge of my own life.
Just like me to step up when the time is right.
Just like me to look after my family.
Just like me to be a survivor.
Just like me to be a good husband/wife/son/daughter/citizen.
So considering your past learning, accomplishments and efforts, and the goals you're now moving towards, ask yourself - what am I proud may be true about me?
Or, another way to think about it - when I am feeling optimistic, how am I most likely to succeed?
Here are some more common examples, relating to our core beliefs.
"It's just like me to be..."
Helpless -----> Powerful.
A Victim -----> A Creator.
Weak -----> Strong.
Undeserving -----> Deserving.
Dependent -----> Self Reliant.
Useless -----> Useful.
Unlovable -----> Lovable.
A Quitter -----> Persistent.
Immature -----> Mature.
Fragile -----> Resilient.
A Coward -----> Courageous.
A poor learner -----> A great learner.
Your answer may look like one of the examples, or you may have some different beliefs about yourself that you are proud of. Whatever comes to mind, write them down. Don't try to sensor or judge yourself. Write as many as you want as long as you feel strongly about them.
Action: Identify all the positive, motivating beliefs that you hold about yourself. Use the format "It's just like me to be..." Do it now. (Use your workbook)
For example, "It's just like me to be tenacious, and do whatever it takes to provide for my family."
We're going to use our conflicting beliefs to create leverage, and a daily reminder of the life we are choosing to design.
So put the information you've written down in the last two steps together, in the following format...
"I am (positive beliefs x, y and z) so it's just like me to learn how to be (opposite of what's stopping you) one step at a time."
For example "I am (tenacious, and do whatever it takes to provide for my family) so it's just like me to learn how to be (a confident public speaker) one step at a time."
Action: Create your own leverage statement. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
"The patient was a three year old boy, Peter, who was afraid of white rabbits, fur coats, feathers and cotton wool. But rabbits seemed to cause the greatest disturbance, and the removal of the fear of this animal was taken as the problem.
The successful technique was as follows: the child was seated at a small table at the end of a room some 40 feet long, where he was served his mid-afternoon lunch of crackers and milk. Just as he began to eat, a rabbit was displayed at a distance in a cage, and then brought slowly forward until just far enough away to disturb, but not stop, his eating.
This point was marked and the next day the rabbit was brought still closer until signs of disturbance again appeared. In this way the distance was gradually decreased, day after day, until the rabbit could be placed on the table beside the food, and finally in the child's lap.
At the end of the experiment the child would play with the rabbit with one hand and eat with the other. The fear responses to cotton wool, the fur coat, and feathers were found to have disappeared completely."*
Of all the tools we have for shaping our life, the most powerful is the principle of gradual exposure.
Forget the idea of diving into challenges at the deep end. Most people who do drown. The smart thing to do is head down to the shallow end and dip your toes in the water.
When you come back tomorrow you won't be as anxious. Overnight, as if by magic, your personality with have integrated the experience of dipping your toes into the water and surviving.
The water is no longer an unknown environment. You have first hand experience, and new memories to call upon. Your survival systems have learned "this didn't kill me last time".
And so the next time you venture into the water you're comfortable going a little deeper, or staying a little longer than last time.
Over and over, as you keep coming back, and keep practicing, your confidence grows. It grows because your skill level has grown.
The key is to never go so deep that you're not having fun any more. Because developing your skills, and moving towards your goals, should be thrilling but fun. And the only time that it isn't, is when we trigger our own resistance. And we do that by trying to go too far, too fast, for our current skill level.
*Prescott Lecky, Self Consistency, A Theory Of Personality. p 123. Based on the work of Mary Cover Jones, A Laboratory Study Of Fear: The Case Of Peter. 1924. 31, 308-315.
So how do we, "dip our toe in the water?"
We use an exposure loop.
This lets us break down, and practice, the skills we need to move towards our goals. Especially any step that seems unbelievable, or overwhelming right now.
An exposure loop looks like this:
Step 1: Choose a mentor.
Step 2: Identify the micro-skill.
Step 3: Prepare in the library.
Step 4: Practice "for the feel" in private.
Step 5: Practice "for the shot" with friends.
Step 6: Practice "for the score" in public.
Step 7: Review and recovery.
Then repeat the process, moving up to the next level.
The attitude we adopt at every stage of the loop is one of focusing on the process and the belief that - whatever skills I need, I can learn.
How much time we spend practicing at each level is flexible, there are no hard and fast rules. Each step should lead quite naturally onto the next.
That is, as we practice and our confidence grows, we should naturally feel propelled to test our competence at a slightly more demanding level.
An exposure loop lets us practice skills which are completely new to us, but in a professional way.
We are no longer winging everything at the last minute and hoping for the best. We are actively developing our repertoire of solutions to life's problems.
Let's look at each step of the loop in more detail...
There are a few attitudes that seem to work especially well when we're learning new things...
Learning like a Detective. (Sherlock Holmes)
Learning like an Inventor. (Thomas Edison)
Learning like a Creative. (Willy Wonka)
Learning like a Scientist. (Charles Darwin)
Learning like an Athlete. (Arnold Schwarzeneggar)
To bring some drama and fun to your learning, I recommend choosing a mentor of your own, someone who appeals to your personality. Use their character, their methods, and the learning environment they create to inspire you.
They can be an expert, who is relevant to the skill you're going to learn, they can be a historical figure, or a purely fictional one. But whoever you choose should have a strong ability to take failure, rejection and discomfort in their stride.
It can help to find an image of the environment they are known to work in, their laboratory, or study. And when your learning seems overwhelming, step back and ask yourself - what would (Sherlock/Edison/Wonka) do here?
Action: Choose a learning mentor whose dramatic and fun approach to problem solving appeals to you. Use the format "I approach learning like (mentor), using (their approach)". Do it now. (Use your workbook)
I approach learning like Sherlock Holmes, using deduction and reason and a love of the game.
I approach learning like Edison, with a love of the process and a high tolerance for failed experiments.
I approach learning like Willy Wonka, with a limitless imagination and childlike fun.
I approach learning like Charles Darwin, with a patient and thorough search for the truth.
I approach learning like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, it's all about practice. Sets and reps, sets and reps.
In step one we identified the goals we want to move towards. We listed the skills and actions necessary to deserve them. And we prioritized those skills, so we know what needs to come first.
It's time to start developing those skills. But first we need to ask - can I break this down even further, into a micro-skill, or action? Something manageable that I can make progress on, over the next week or two?
Think of the skill you need to master as if it were a sport, say basketball. And ask yourself, what are the micro-skills that make up the game play?
You might decide that playing basketball involves the micro-skills of: passing, dribbling, shooting and defending. As well as many others.
To become a masterful player, we'd have to study and practice those individuals skills to understand their nuances and subtleties. And we'd have to drill them enough in practice, so that they become automatic responses, under the pressure of competition.
Action: Look at the first skill you prioritized [Script 3 in your workbook], and try to break it down into micro-skills. Or micro-actions. Then decide which one you're going to start learning first. Write it down in the format "The micro-skill I’m learning right now is…". Do it now. (Use your workbook)
Preparation is all about acquiring the most useful knowledge from the best sources. It's about sitting down and studying.
It involves reading great books. Watching the best instructional videos. Learning under the most competent teachers. Or just doing our research on the topic we're about to approach.
Ask questions and seek differing opinions. It's often useful to go back in time and learn from the historical greats, the ones whose wisdom has outlasted fashion and stood the test of time.
Our biggest enemy in the preparation phase is the inclination to dive in and start practicing before we have any foundational knowledge. To start playing the game before we've learned the basic rules of the game. To combat this tendency we have to think more strategically.
In the preparation phase the primary feeling should be one of effort. The more effort we put into "reading the instruction manual", the faster we'll progress in training.
Do not move onto the practice phases without knowing how to practice first. Winging it, is for amateurs. Preparation is for professionals.
Action: Aim to take about 3 steps preparing "in the library" on the micro-skill you've chosen. Research the materials you're going to use, and schedule the time to study them. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
Practicing "for the feel" is all about calibration, and testing the intellectual theory we've just learned "in the library".
We want to practice the micro-skill we've been studying and see what happens in the real world.
It's important not to get emotionally invested in the outcome. We are not interested in trying to "score" yet. We're just getting used to the "feel of the ball". How much does it weigh? How does it move through the air? What's the strain on our body? What's the right amount of effort required to shoot from one distance or another?
Our biggest enemy at this stage is unnecessary judgement or criticism about our performance. Either from other people, or from our own expectations.
Our skill level is minimal and every attempt will require a great deal of focus. We're likely to miss, far more than we hit our target. And all this can make us feel incompetent and insecure.
Unless we have access to a really supportive coach or teacher, it's perfectly acceptable to practice this phase in private, without getting outside feedback.
At this early stage, it's more important to protect the personality from unnecessary criticism. So, keep your attitude light and be willing to laugh at your own lack of competence. The primary feeling should be one of curious experimentation.
Action: Aim for 3 private practice sessions where you focus on nothing but getting the feel for your new micro-skill before moving on. Schedule the time for each session. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
Practicing "for the shot" is all about drilling. Repeating the micro-skill over and over, until we can perform it with both technical and mental consistency.
We can start practicing with people we trust, in an environment designed for learning. An environment where we can get honest feedback from others who have our interests in mind, whether they are fellow learners, or coaches, teachers and mentors.
The attitude should be one of persistence. Amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.
How we respond to our hits and misses determines how long we persist. Let's imagine again that the micro-skill we're practicing is throwing a ball at a hoop...
If we make the shot, then the appropriate response is to tell ourselves, "that's just like me". It should feel satisfying but natural.
What we don't want to do is jump up and down and make a big deal of it. We want to teach ourselves that this is ordinary, not extraordinary behavior for us. And in doing so, we're more likely to repeat it.
If we miss the shot, we mentally wipe the slate clean and move right on to the next attempt. We do not bash ourselves, get frustrated, or dwell on what we did wrong.
Imagine missing a shot in your minds eye right now. See it, then imagine quickly swiping left with your finger and removing the image from the screen in your mind. It's gone, in the past. Case closed, next case.
We can start to record and monitor our performance in this phase. But at the same time we're not going to get overly attached to our score. It's just a tool to help us notice how well we are executing our process.
Action: Aim for at least 3 good sessions of practicing for the shot with friends or fellow learners. Schedule the time for each session. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
Practicing "for the score" is about executing our skill for real, in public. It's about testing ourselves and playing the game to win. It's about performing, publishing, going on the date, making the speech, running the race, or delivering the big pitch.
That sort of performance always comes with an additional set of pressures. Beyond the safety of the practice group we are facing public judgement and a threat to our personality.
But if we've done our homework, if we've put in the necessary effort in our preparation and practice sessions, then by the time we're "on the field" we should be able to focus on executing our process, mentally and physically, and pay little attention to the additional pressure.
When our personality is founded on growth and learning, it is no longer threatened by the temporary outcome of any single performance, game, or experiment. We are not destroyed by "a loss" because we are capable of learning and evolving from that loss. And we are not overly concerned about the judgement of the group, because we are honest and realistic about our own skill level and our place in the tribe.
The attitude should be, that this is just a higher level of practice. We should give 100% effort. But no more, and no less. Over-trying should be avoided, or we'll become tense and rigid in our execution.
We should know in advance that there will likely be an additional sense of excitement. Our body releasing adrenaline, enabling us to think and move faster than normal. Helping us deal with the extra pressure. But we should breathe into it, and trust in the many hours we spent practicing.
Like every other step, our exposure to real world competition, or performance, should be carefully matched. Selected to test us, but with an appropriate level of pressure for the level of training we've done so far.
We want to stretch ourselves, whilst strictly sticking to the principle of gradual exposure. We should be moving "closer to the rabbit", while being mindful of protecting our personality. Constantly moving forwards. But never jumping too far, too fast, that our resistance kicks in and we shut down.
Action: Aim for one public performance, where you can practice technical and mental consistency while under pressure. Schedule it, and commit to it. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
Review and recovery is all about self awareness, honesty and humility. It's about seeing our performance clearly, but also being kind to ourselves.
After we've performed, we must briefly rest and recover our strength. (There will often be a short drop in energy after the heightened emotions of competition or public performance).
After a short break, we analyze our performance objectively and honestly. Internally the game remains the same, this is all learning, all experimentation, all impersonal data that will help us improve and grow.
Our enemy at this stage is our tendency to focus on the negative, on what we did wrong and how we fell short. A natural response to prevent us making more mistakes in the future.
So when analyzing our performance, we should be highly biased towards what we did right and the progress we have made.
Focusing on what we did well isn't about becoming blind or deluded. We should notice, and correct, what we did wrong. But never dwell on it for too long.
There is always another level of skill development, another level of nuance and mastery that can be attained. But the process should remain one of enjoyable, and steady progression.
Once we've reviewed our first complete loop, it's time to start the cycle again, moving up to the next level or onto the next micro-skill. We are creating an upward spiral of skill development, action taking and growth towards our goal.
Action: Make the time for both rest and a review, within one week of making your public performance. Schedule the time. Do it now. (Use your workbook)
However well planned our journey, once we start to take action we will inevitably make mistakes.
Learning theory is shiny and white and step-by-step. Just like this web page. But learning in real life can be a messy, embarrassing, sleepless process.
You're going to fail repeatedly along the way. It's inevitable. So get comfortable with it now.
What will determine whether we make it to our goals, is not whether there are setbacks along the way, but how we respond to those setbacks. Especially the ones we created ourselves.
How far we persevere depends on our level of optimism. And I don't mean, whether we have a sunny disposition when everything is going our way.
Optimism matters most when we've just screwed something up.
Optimism is important because it generates hope. And hope leads to action.
The opposite of optimism is pessimism. The pessimistic believe they see reality more clearly and in some cases this is true. But pessimism also leads to inaction, isolation and depression.
Whilst optimism, leads to more action taking, more allies and better results. Optimists are happier, healthier and generally more successful.
The beauty of optimism, is that it can be learned. Here's how it works...
When we encounter an obstacle we react by thinking about it.
When we repeatedly face similar obstacles our thoughts may become beliefs, a story we tell ourselves. That story may be repeated so often and so quickly, it becomes a habit that we no longer notice.
One person may hold an optimistic belief that gives them hope and motivates them to take action. Another person, faced with the same obstacle, may hold a pessimistic belief that makes them feel dejected and give up.
So it's these initial thoughts which trigger how we feel about the obstacle and determine how we act.
Thought > Feeling > Action
When we learn to notice our automatic thoughts, and question the story we're telling ourselves, its entirely possible to change them, and in doing so change how we feel and therefore how we act.
If we learn to tell ourselves pessimistic stories we tend to think in the following three patterns. We make the obstacle or setback personal as if it's all our fault, we imagine it will last forever, and we believe it will affect everything in our life.
Pessimistic = personal, forever, affecting everything. This pattern leads to negative rumination, helplessness and a lack of action.
Example. A customer didn't buy our product: "I've never been good at sales. I probably never will be. I'm just not cut out for running a business... I wonder what's happening on Facebook!"
If we learn to tell ourselves an optimistic story, the pattern is reversed. We think about the obstacle or setback as external so it's not all our fault, we imagine it is only temporary, and we limit its affect to something specific.
Optimistic = external, temporary, specific. This pattern leads to hopeful action taking.
Example. A customer didn't buy: "They had their reasons, maybe it's the wrong time, or they don't have the money. It's fine, there are plenty more prospects. Rejection is all part of running a successful business... Let me see if I can sharpen my pitch."
The same event, explained with an optimistic style, rather than a pessimistic style, leads to perseverance and action, not rumination and helplessness.
So how do we teach ourselves to move from pessimist to optimist? From ruminator to action taker? Well, we have to catch ourselves in the process, notice when we're being pessimistic in response to our challenges, and choose a more effective way to think, in that moment.
There are 3 steps to the process...
1. Notice when it happens.
When you hit an obstacle and find yourself ruminating over negative thoughts. Or you know exactly what you need to do but you find yourself procrastinating. The first step is to mentally tell yourself to Stop! Halt that downward spiral of thoughts and feelings.
2. Write down what you did.
Make your habitual thoughts visible. Get them out of your head and down on paper. Use this format...
What happened: eg. Customer didn't want to buy.
What I thought: eg. I suck at sales, I've never been any good and never will be.
What I felt: eg. Like I'd been personally rejected and didn't deserve to be in this business.
What I did: eg. Decided to take the afternoon off and eat pizza.
3. Dispute your automatic thoughts.
What's the evidence for these thoughts? eg. There's no real evidence, I sold a product yesterday and one the day before.
What are the alternative explanations? eg. Maybe the client can't afford the price. Maybe it's just not the right time.
Is this really all on me? What are the external forces? eg. I can only present what I have, the client must decide and maybe they don't even have the final say on their budget.
Even if true now, is it changeable in the future? eg. If my pitch wasn't perfect, I can work on it, and I can refine the process for identifying prospects.
Does this really affect everything, or is it limited to a specific situation? eg. It always sucks to hear a customer say no, but I'll forget all about it when I make the next sale.
Even if true, are these thoughts useful, or destructive to me? eg. It's just not helpful for me to take a rejection personally, it doesn't help me improve, it doesn't help me approach more clients.
What better action could I take to improve my chances of a useful outcome for me? eg Polish my pitch, keep talking to new prospects with an optimistic attitude. Treat each one as a totally different situation.
When we make this process of identifying and disputing our thoughts a daily habit, we quickly see how inaccurate and unhelpful many of our automatic thoughts are.
Once noticed and questioned, we can turn rumination and procrastination, into hope and action. And with time, that becomes its own habitual way of thinking. And perseverance and optimism become just another part of who we are and how we achieve our goals.
*For more on optimism read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. For more on consciously disputing your own negative thoughts search for Albert Ellis.
Scientists and philosophers like to debate the question of free will. Are we simply a product of our DNA and our surroundings? Or do we get to choose our own path in life?
There is one point where our choice, and therefore our freedom is clear. Every single day we have the ability to direct our conscious attention. To decide where we focus. Even if its only for an hour or two.
We can choose to think about our goals, our problems, and how to solve them. To actively develop our repertoire of solutions to life's problems. Or we can choose social media, games, TV and simply react to whatever life throws our way.
This program is all about directing that conscious attention. Reading it is only the first step. Creating your own plan in the workbook is the second. But to make real change you have to turn that plan into a daily practice. An upward spiral of skill development and action taking.
If you're in a constant state of questioning, will it work? can I do it? The only answer you will ever hear is "No! Stay safe, stay small."
The game is over before you've even started.
We can only move forward by asking a more useful question. "How will I make this work?"
We can't commit to achieving an outcome. But we can commit to giving ourselves fully to an experiment. An experiment to start moving towards the life that we most want to live.
If you start and maintain this practice, if you sit with the rabbit every single day, it is impossible not to evolve.
"Burn the bridge. Nuke the foundation. Back yourself up against a wall. Have an opinion one way or the other, get off the fence and rip it up. Cut yourself off so there is no going back. Once you're committed the truth will come out." Mark Twight.