Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

Book Review-Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

It’s an artful thing to create the right choices so that people are nudged gently into the behaviors that are best for them. That’s what Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness is all about – helping people make the best choices for themselves. With the idea of libertarian paternalism, choice architects help to shape the way that people choose.

Choice Architects

Inherent in the idea that you can nudge someone is that doing so is subtle and something they barely notice. There is no such thing as a completely neutral design. Simple psychological factors, like the desire to pick the first option, means that choice architects carefully manage whose name is first on a ballot. Choice architects are the ones that are structuring the system such that the choice that is the best for people is the one they get most of the time.

Most of the time when we’re consumers, we have no idea what work has gone into the choice architecture. We don’t know that we’re subtly being engaged in ways that help us – or help the organization that we’re shopping with. However, these subtle influences are there, as we find impulse items on the end of the shelves in grocery stores and drive past stores that are having going out of business sales – continuously.

As architects of choices we rarely consider all the factors that might go into someone selecting a particular choice. Instead, we create a list of choices quickly and move on. Rarely do we think about the order that the choices occur in or what the default answer should be.

Nudge insists that there is no neutral choice design. So whatever we do, whether by intent or by design, will shift the results – at least slightly.

Libertarian Paternalism

Paternalism is thinking about the consumer as a child who cannot make good decisions. Authoritarian or dictatorial paternalism restricts the choices that consumers have, and only gives them the solution that they must “choose” because someone – a choice architect – said this is the only solution for them. Most of us would resist this attempt to enforce a choice on us. It’s what we expect out of communist dictators, and, certainly in the United States, we’re not going to stand for it.

Libertarian paternalism has the same basis but instead of preventing what the choice architect sees as sub-optimal solutions, the choices are allowed, but they’re deemphasized. The degree to which you must go out of your way to pick a different choice is a measure of how truly libertarian it is. If it’s easy to choose, it’s libertarian. If it’s hard to choose, it’s more authoritarian – disguised as a real choice.

The authors believe that libertarian paternalism is OK, or even a moral obligation where authoritarian paternalism is wrong, but admit that the line between these two extremes isn’t always the easiest to distinguish.

The goal is to balance the number of people getting the perceived optimal solution while maintaining their ability to make choices for themselves.

The Paradox of Choice

The first step is to ensure that the person has as many options available as makes sense. The challenge with this is knowing how many options make sense. In an ideal world, every option would be available to the chooser, but in a practical world, choices promote inaction, and inaction is frequently (if not always) not the best option.

The Paradox of Choice skillfully points out that we like our choices less the more options we have – and we make fewer decisions. In short, more options are the enemy to actions. If we want someone to make a choice, we need to manage the number of options.

Forced Choice

Brené Brown is careful when confronted with forced choices – “either-or dilemmas,” as she calls them. She wonders in Rising Strong who has something to gain by forcing the choice. In the case of our nudges, the hope is that the person making the choice is benefited. With an ethical choice architect, the forced choice causes the person to steer their own course. With luck, the choice architect created the situation to keep most of the people off the rocks most of the time.

The forced choice is a tool of the choice architect. They get to make someone choose between A or B, and in the process cause the person to indicate what they think is better. The problem with the forced choice, in addition to whether it really serves the person making the choice, is that too few people take action, even when faced with a straightforward choice, and what is to be done with the folks that fail to make a choice.

The Power of Default

The next tool in the choice architect’s toolbox is the power of the default option. If you do nothing, you’ll get option C. This option is often very powerful in terms of the number of people that fall into it. The option is typically one which isn’t particularly risky, because no one wants to inflict undue risk on someone just because they didn’t decide; so the choice architect creates a safer, but less rewarding, option to be the default.

We learned that the default answer is the one which is taken when neither the rider nor the elephant are paying attention to what’s happening. (See Rider-Elephant-Path in The Happiness Hypothesis for more on how powerful the defaults are.) The default is all too often the most popular answer, because people making the decisions are neither experts nor sufficiently engaged to research the correct result.


Without insisting that the default is a specific action, most consumers fall victim to the “status quo bias.” That is, they expect that things are going relatively OK now, so why would they change? In fact, while we sometimes describe people as change adverse, it’s not that they’re change adverse at all, they just see no point in it.

John Kotter’s work in The Heart of Change and Leading Change includes a model, in which first step is to break this inertia by creating a sense of urgency. This is sometimes called a “burning platform” from which people must jump. While this is an aggressive strategy, it’s often needed to fight the strong pull of the status quo bias.

Controlled by Experts

Too often, consumers find themselves in a foreign land. The foreign land isn’t on any map that you find, but is instead demarcated by the front door of the store they walk into. Whether it’s buying a new TV or shopping for wine for a special evening, the consumer is rarely as educated as the store workers. In this scenario, it’s relatively easy for the salesperson to overwhelm you with technical jargon and features and to nudge you into purchasing what they want you to buy.

In retail, particularly electronics, it’s common for manufacturers to run contests for store employees based on their ability to sell that manufacturer’s products – sometimes even a single product. In these cases, the manufacturers are intentionally tipping the scales in their direction through nudging the sales folks.

Nudging and Shoving

The distance between a nudge and a shove are often too close to call. Nudges aren’t forced: they are, after all, libertarian paternalism. But even in the spirit of not removing options, sometimes the influence of the “expert” salesperson can drive people to a product in a way that feels more like a shove than a nudge.

The focus of the book is on nudges, though it’s clear that, by knowing what is a nudge and not a shove, there’s an inherent risk that some people will use shoves instead of nudges – because in the short term, they’re often more effective.

Mistakes in Choosing

Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow and Hubbard in How to Measure Anything speak volumes about how our ability to make guesses, the right choices, and decisions can be systemically flawed. The rules of thumb that we use to make our decisions are sometimes grossly distorted in their applicability or effectiveness. I have a deck that isn’t square on the house, because the person I hired used the rule of thumb – based on the Pythagorean theorem – of a side length of 3 feet and a side length of 4 feet should have a diagonal of 5 feet. That’s easy enough when the deck is small, but when it’s a 20′ by 40′ deck, the amount of measurement error is substantial.

It’s because people make so many mistakes in choosing that it’s important that choice architects exist to disrupt the incorrect application of rules of thumb or other knowledge in domains where it’s not helpful.

Unintended Consequences

It used to be that Christmas clubs were great ways for banks to make money. People deposited money on a regular basis in an account that accrued little or no interest. They could withdraw these funds to purchase gifts for Christmas. It was an ingenious idea for the banks and, at a level, helped consumers. No one wanted to be caught short at Christmas and be unable to buy toys for their children. So the banks really won, and the consumers who weren’t capable of saving throughout the year with normal options were given a solution.

However, another choice opened. That is, the ability to charge things on credit. So now, even if you didn’t have the money to pay for the toys that you wanted to get your children, you could borrow that money on a credit card and pay a substantially higher interest rate on the money that you borrowed – making the banks more money.

This is a case where the choices got away from the choice architects but in a way that further favored the banks. No one would have necessarily predicted that credit cards would virtually eliminate Christmas clubs, but that’s what they did. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more on unintended consequences – even on well-intended interventions.)

Social Nudges

While I’ve shared about structural nudges – those relying on the architecture of the situation – they are not necessarily the most powerful. As is revealed in Influencer, there are many ways to influence a person, some of which are social. Social nudges have accomplices who sway the decisions of others. Whether the accomplices are knowing accomplices being paid, or are instead just caught up in the system themselves and decide to amplify the message to capture others through social media, they are accomplices nonetheless.

The researcher Solomon Asch demonstrated that if you asked someone a simple question, you could get 100% right answers – unless the subject heard someone else give the wrong answer. In those cases, even though the questions were easy, the subjects gave incorrect answers as much as 1/3rd of the time.


So powerful are social nudges that they can sometimes create a panic. In Seattle in 1954, there was an epidemic of windshield pitting – that never actually was. Someone noticed pitting on their windshield and shared this with their friends, who also noticed the pitting. They got together to wonder what was causing this damage to their cars and proceeded to drag more people and media in. That is, until it was finally concluded that pitting was a normal effect of driving a car. The pits had been with the cars all along, but someone noticed them, and concern for folks’ precious cars continued to feed more energy into the epidemic.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens all the time where something has been going on “forever”, gets discovered, and becomes some conspiracy plot that must be addressed.


Epidemics are facilitated through a concept called “priming”. That is, we’re more likely to follow a train of thought once it has been laid down. This is at the heart of social hacking. Social hacking is the art of gaining access to systems, equipment, or information by use of social, rather than technical, means. In simple terms, just getting someone to say yes a few times before they answer a question they should tell you no to increases the likelihood that they’ll say yes. (See my book review of Social Hacking for more.)

By creating the expectation that there is something going on or a preferred choice, we sensitize our reticular activating system (RAS) and become more aware. The RAS is important for our wake-sleep cycle, but also pays a critical role in what we look for – and what we look for, we’ll find. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

Checklist for the Choice Architect

As choice architects, we should consider how to create effective nudges, and here’s a book-provided mnemonic for that:

  • iNcentives
  • Understand mappings
  • Defaults
  • Give feedback
  • Expect error
  • Structure complex choices

You may not get your nudges exactly right but maybe this review is just the nudge you need to read Nudges.

Raise Your Line

Book Review-Raise Your Line: Success Is a Higher Line Mentality

Most books about success have some obvious plot lines. Work hard. Do the right things — even when it’s hard. They share their unique perspective on the world and then provide the recipe for getting success by following their steps. Raise Your Line: Success Is a Higher Line Mentality certainly fits into this category. It’s a collection of ideas that Robert Stevenson believes will help you elevate your life. Certainly, this can happen, but the story is a bit more complicated than that.

What Works for the Goose Works for the Gander

One of the challenges with popular leadership, management, and self-help books is that they promise success. If you simply follow this formula you will succeed. As was discussed in the Heretic’s Guide to Management, this isn’t likely. It’s more likely that the author will find a set of behaviors that work for them to improve their life. These behaviors may be generally applicable to everyone – or unique to their situation. For instance, if I shared that you should read a book a week and blog about it, you might think I’m crazy. However, it works for me. There’s no telling whether it will work for you or not.

The old saying that, “what works for the goose works for the gander” may not be the case – depending upon what the author is sharing. For instance, I mentioned that The ONE Thing recommends focus when that may or may not be the right answer. As Bold pointed out, different leaders have different approaches to how to manage (or ignore) risk. It takes different strokes for different folks.

Reading Between the Lines

What about how you implement the suggestions they offer? I’ve mentioned my appreciation for and my struggle with the Stockdale paradox from Good to Great in my reviews of On Dialogue, Willpower, The Psychology of Hope, and Rising Strong. How do you know when to persist with an idea and when to adapt to what the market is telling you? I get plenty of feedback on the projects that I’m working on. Some of that feedback may be well-intended, but can send me in the wrong direction. (I get lots of that.) How do you know when to follow the voices you’re hearing, and when to stand firm on the idea that you started with? There are no answers here.

They say that the devil is in the details – and that’s certainly true. All the cliché advice in the world won’t help you be successful if you don’t understand how to make it a part of the way that you live. It’s the making it a part of your life that is the hard part. Thus while there’s some good advice in Raise Your Line, I wonder how much people will be able to integrate it into their daily lives.

Choosing Hard Work

Glassier described in Choice Theory that we make choices, and those choices determine our outcomes. He speaks of choices – even choosing to be depressed. (Which I think isn’t wholly a choice but has psychological components.) The good (and bad) news about these choices is that they lead us towards other outcomes. (For why I say lead us toward, see The Halo Effect for more on probabilistic thinking.) All-in-all, if we’re willing to work hard and make hard choices, we’ll generally end up better off in the end.

There’s the old cliché “work smarter, not harder”; but like all clichés, it’s important to realize that it may not be possible to understand how to implement this. The reality is that the saying is intended to keep people thinking about how to optimize their efforts, but has been applied to folks who are working hard and don’t seem to be making any progress. Said differently, it’s a way to guilt people into thinking that they’re not doing enough. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt – and shame.)

Over the years, I’ve observed that lucky people are the ones that make the big splashes in the news and who are at the top of the wealthiest men on the planet. However, looking deeper, I’ve discovered that many of these men worked very hard for what they got. Albert Einstein admitted that he wasn’t the best student. However, he explained that he was much more persistent than his other colleagues.

Fear of Failure

One of the recurring themes is the fear of failure. I’ve spoken about it in my reviews of Creative Confidence, and Helping Children Succeed. It’s the belief that failing at something makes you a failure – or more precisely, it somehow makes you unlovable, and no one wants to be unlovable. Being a vulnerable human, there wouldn’t be someone to rescue us when we get overwhelmed.

The fear of failure prevents us from success – or raising our line – by keeping us stuck. We become paralyzed – or diverted – by the fear of failure, and are never able to walk the path we’re supposed to walk.

It was years ago now. I was in a training session. The point of the trainer’s exercise was that putting a puzzle together is easy once you know the solution, but that puzzles are hard until you know the solution. I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, he simply asked the class if anyone wanted to solve a puzzle. Generally, I score well on 3D spatial manipulation. The puzzle was a simple pyramid created of several pieces. I set about solving it and got relatively close when the trainer – realizing that his beautiful exercise was about to be spoiled — decided to provide me a bit of misdirection. I don’t know if I would have solved the puzzle if he hadn’t misdirected me. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s easy to get misdirected. It’s easy to get afraid of trying something and turn into another direction. The trainer later admitted that he believed I would solve the puzzle and thought the misdirection would keep his exercise from being ruined. I was surprised by my failure – but it didn’t stop me from trying again.


When it comes to excellence, there’s a lot of frustration. In fact, it’s frustration with the status quo that drives people towards excellence. What we’re doing today isn’t enough. The Fred Factor exposed how you can be excellent in anything that you do, even if what you do is as mundane as being a mail carrier. You don’t have to be in some powerfully influential role. You don’t have to be a captain of industry to pursue and find excellence.

I think that the greatest barrier for most folks to get to excellence is that they don’t believe that it’s achievable to them. What I’ve learned along the way is that the cost of excellence is low. All it takes is an inability to accept the status quo. The powerful way that it makes you feel is worth the effort.

Folks ask if it’s exhausting to try to push forward in every direction to the maximum extent possible. The answer is “yes, at times.” It’s not that excellence doesn’t take effort – mostly it takes thought – but it’s that if even only a few of the things that you do with excellence are recognized, it’s worth it.

Motivation and Persistence

If you want to get somewhere you must keep going. You must find a way to get yourself motivated to start, and the persistence to keep going when the going gets tough – and it’s going to get tough. I’ve been in business (this time around) for more than 11 years now. There have absolutely been times when I’ve wondered if the stress and challenges are worth it. There have been times when my friends have had to remind me that you must keep getting up to the plate and you must keep swinging – because the alternative isn’t much fun.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. It’s an interesting cliché. It’s interesting because it’s correct only if you’re willing to define “dawn” as the time when it starts to get more light. That is, dawn may be at 3 in the morning when only the first hints of light start filtering over the horizon, through the atmosphere, and towards our eyes. Sometimes when you’re trying to keep yourself motivated you have to seek out the dimmest hints of light and remember that they mean you’re headed in the right direction.

The book Switch speaks of the need to follow the bright spots. That is, whatever is working, do more of it. However, this can be looked at from the opposite position. That is, whatever seems to be working – and motivating you to continue – do more of it. Instead of doing more of the action because it’s working, consider doing more of it because it’s motivating you. Even if you know that ultimately whatever it is won’t scale or get you to where you want to go, keep doing it because the motivation may be more important than the end goal. (See Traction for more about models that won’t get you where you want to go – but you may want to do anyway.)

For me, long-term success, something lasting, comes when you can withstand the challenges of day-to-day life and business. The way that you withstand the challenges is to keep motivated. For me I know that we can do amazing things. We can save pain and save lives, figuratively and literally. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there, but it is the way that I motivate myself to keep going.

Be Exceptional

It’s easy to be exceptional. It’s easy to be different and special. One way to do that is to read a book. Stevenson quotes that 80% of Americans didn’t buy or read a book in the past year, and 70% haven’t bought a book in five years. Maybe it’s time to put yourself in the minority and Raise Your Line.

The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life

Book Review-The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life

There’s a running joke in the National Speaker’s Association (NSA). Someone addresses the members and asks if they’ve heard about NLP, and then says, “Wait, of course you’ve heard about NLP: this is the NSA.” In other words, understanding NLP – or, Neuro-Linguistic Programming — is an expectation in the NSA. Why is that? Well it’s a historic program for self-help through cognition. As a result, it’s expected that you just “know” about NLP. In truth, I did know about NLP, but the problem was it was so long since I was exposed to it that I barely remembered much. That’s why I needed something like The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life as a refresher.

It’s All About the Mindset

In the 1970s the idea that you could change your life by thinking was new, radical, and different. Thus when NLP was developed, it was a new idea. Of course, since the 1970s things have changed as we’ve learned about neural plasticity and the ability for our brains to grow and change as we think thoughts and develop practices. (See Mindset for more about neural plasticity.) While NLP as a specific protocol has been discredited scientifically, there’s a different way to view NLP.

I don’t view NLP as a rigid protocol for how to make your life better. I don’t see it as a cure-all. I don’t even see it as a properly structured clinical protocol. There’s little point in seeing it as a specific clinical protocol, since I know too few of them will validate when the research is tested. (See The Cult of Personality Testing, The Heart and Soul of Change, and House of Cards for some of the problems with clinical psychology.)

I see it as another interesting perspective on how people’s inner worlds work. It may not have the rigor of scientifically-based work like Incognito, but it’s an interesting view of the world.

Maps and Territories

Incognito drove home an awareness that how we perceive the world isn’t how the world really is. Our mind plays tricks on our consciousness to make us believe that we’re perceiving the world correctly, when in truth, we’re only perceiving the world as we can. NLP speaks of how we build internal models – maps – of the world we perceive, and how that map can be inaccurate.

Map-making in the real world is an exercise not in adding things to the map, but is instead an exercise in not adding things – in deciding what to omit. When we build our maps of our world, we necessarily omit details, simplify, and sometimes distort the real world to make our maps work. We do this because maps – both in the physical world and in our rational minds – are simplifications. If the map really matched the “territory” (the NLP word for the real world), then there would be no reduction in it, and would therefore be too complicated for us to process. We need the simplification that our internal maps provide.

However, things change and our maps get out of date with reality. We stumble across our distortions and trip ourselves up on the reality that we can’t see. An awareness in NLP is that we have to always be tending to our maps, to make them as rich as we can and to make updates for the updated information that reality brings.


One of the benefits of being a consultant is that I get to see most problems from a distance. They’re not my problems. They don’t directly impact my livelihood. Instead, I can see things more objectively. NLP teaches you to create this dissociation from the voices in your head. The idea is that you can move the movies that play in your head farther away and desaturate their color – thereby minimizing them and making them feel less real.

By approaching the things that cause fear and anxiety from a distance, it’s possible to create separation and dissociation from them. This minimizes their impact and makes them less powerful over our decisions and actions. Whether the visualization exercises of moving thing farther away and turning down the color are effective as a dissociation exercise or not, the benefits of dissociating are real.

Connecting Communication

There are many places which recognize that people communicate differently. Dialogue speaks about Power, Meaning, and Feeling as ways to communicate. Emotional Intelligence talks about connecting with others through language and body language. NLP recognizes the power of mirroring, or matching the other person that you’re communicating with, and how powerful it can be to reflect to the other person what they’re thinking.

Brighter Futures

In the end a key idea with NLP is that the person you’re working with should look forward to a brighter future. That is, NLP leverages hope as a powerful tool for lasting change. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about how powerful hope can be.) If you want a better future, perhaps a good starting point is The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.

Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

Book Review-Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

You can’t make it very long in business without a bit of grit. The statistics are daunting. Within 5 years, 80% of the businesses that were started won’t be around any longer. You can’t raise a family without a bit of grit. There are many times when you’ll wonder as a parent, “Am I doing this right?” In area after area of our lives, it’s easy to see where grit is required to accomplish our goals and live life to the fullest. That’s why Martin Meadows’ book Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up is such an important read.

The Trough of Disillusionment

Gartner created the idea of a “hype cycle” to graphically represent the emotions behind the release of new technologies, tools, and techniques. After the initial trigger, there is the peak of inflated expectations, followed by the trough of disillusionment. This is followed by the slope of enlightenment, and ultimately ends with the plateau of productivity. Gartner doesn’t run the line to the right far enough, though: there’s also some level of “sunsetting” that happens for every technology where it falls out of favor.

The beauty of the model is that it explains quite well how new technologies are adopted. Like Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations, it contains a model for the classic pattern that innovations diffuse with. However, the hype cycle is about the emotions felt through the diffusion process. While its name is associated with the “hype”, or hyperbole, the labels for the sections make it clear that, at its heart, we’re talking about the emotional component of the adoption.

Everything we do in life seems to follow a similar cycle. We fall in love and have our inflated expectations that we’ll never fight. We start a new job, and there’s nothing wrong with this organization. Over time, we begin to see things more accurately – or perhaps too pessimistically – and believe that perhaps our new love isn’t the right one for us, or this organization is sicker than the last one. (The Paradox of Choice
discusses some of the factors that can lead us to buyer’s remorse about our choices.)

Our real defeat in whatever we’re doing comes from the trough of disillusionment, when we allow our mind to decide for us that what we’re doing isn’t worth it, isn’t going to work, or isn’t what we want. Grit is the mental toughness that can prevent our minds from believing that we’re not good enough to be successful or that the goal isn’t worth the work. We don’t get exhausted as much as we think and feel that we are exhausted, and we become it.

Mental Toughness

There are three general views on mental toughness. There’s the naïve view that you just power through it. You lace up your Nikes and “Just Do It.” There’s the view that it’s some meditative state of nirvana that can only be reached by a backpacking expedition to Tibet. Then there’s the view of those who have been in the trials that required mental toughness. (One example is the book, which is like a journal of a man who has walked a hard road, called The Road Less Traveled.)

Each month, I sit with a group of CEOs to talk through where we are, and to get advice on how to move our businesses forward. And each month, I’m amazed at the challenges that life throws at us. Collectively, the challenges are crazy. One guy had an opportunity with a large oil company disappear because the agent managing the introduction literally died. Industries he was pursuing have collapsed out from underneath him. Another member of the group watches his fortune rise and fall based on the oscillations of the retailer’s whims. Each month, I watch these guys get pounded on by fate, and wonder whether they’ll “make it”, or whether their current project is just another failure on their road to success. (See Rising Strong Part 1 and Part 2 for more on the role of failure and getting back up.)

I’ve been in business this time around for over 11 years. There have been several times when I have considered giving up and moving on. I’ve considered the idea that I’d take a job somewhere and “hide out” long enough to regain my strength and will to fight again. I never pulled the trigger because everything didn’t line up quite right, but it’s something that I’ve considered.

It’s hard not to consider whether what you’re doing is right. If you’re trying to reach your peak, you’ve always got to be mentally rehearsing and evaluating what you’ve done. (See Peak for more about peak performance and what you do to achieve it.) Self-evaluation is a requirement when you’re trying to be the best you can be, and this self-evaluation drives you to the question about whether “it” will work, whatever “it” is.

Whether you’re a Navy Seal candidate who is trying to get past the limits of your body’s toughness through the pain and fatigue or you’re a business man who has struggled for years, the key to success doesn’t rely on your physical capacity or your business idea: the key to success rests on your ability to keep your head in the game.


Grit is — in part — the same as willpower. (See my review on Willpower if you want to compare perspectives.) The Psychology of Hope
considers it an essential ingredient for hope (and therefore happiness). While there are many that say it’s essential, the definitions sway between authors. Some believe that willpower is about self-control. Others believe that willpower is about “get up and go.” Obviously there are other perspectives as well. Willpower might be a shortcut way for describing a category of mental processes that are used to overcome barriers put in our way. (See Demand for how little a barrier needs to be to stop us.)

The problem with willpower is that isn’t a single thing. There are differing abilities to cope with different kinds of adversities in different areas of our lives. Willpower may be the resolve to push through our struggles – but everyone experiences their struggles differently. It’s hard to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”, as the old Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” points out.

Stockdale Paradox

Jim Collins in Good to Great discusses the Stockdale Paradox, which he explains as, “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Grit taken to its extreme is that unwavering faith. I’ve always had a problem with discerning between when you should continue to persevere and when it’s time to find another passion to pursue.

I call this spot where there’s a paradox that has no answer the “and then the magic happens” point of the story. That is, there’s no way to predict what will happen. You don’t create a special set of magical conditions that move you from one reality to another. Only by random chance, dumb luck, and perseverance are you successful. In fact, as I have come to accept more-and-more that life is a series of probabilities and not certainties, I realize that sometimes just the act of continually trying is enough to be successful. (See The Black Swan for more about probabilities and our failure to predict.)

Ringside Seat

For the battle that rages in my head as I attempt to discern when it’s time to try something new and when it’s time to “double down” and make another push to make my latest dream a reality, there are arguments like, “Better to live to fight another day”, and “nothing hard ever came easy to anyone.” Good grit isn’t always deciding to push through things. Good grit is deciding when to move to the next challenge.

Maybe it’s time for you to get your own Grit.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Book Review-Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

If you were to ask people about their biggest failings, the one thing that if they could get a handle on their lives would be better, what would it be? It might be that solving a lack of willpower might top the list of failings – as it does in research on the subject. We’re all subject to times when our willpower is weak. However, what is willpower and how do we build it up for the times we need it. That’s the subject and goal of the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.


Defining Willpower

Often people will describe their lack of willpower from the perspective of eating more than we should. However, this is just one dimension of willpower. There are, however, four different categories for willpower which are:

  • Control of thoughts – The ability to focus our attention on appropriate or desirable activities or the ability to stay on a single train of thought.
  • Control of emotions – The ability to regulate emotions so they don’t become excessive or overwhelming
  • Impulse control – The ability to resist temptations
  • Performance control – The ability to manage speed, accuracy, and completeness to complete the task at hand.

In addition to these categories, power can be broken into its magnitude and stamina. That is can you avoid the most alluring desert or not or can you resist it for the entire evening. So willpower isn’t just one thing as we like to simplify it into. The fact is that you may have great amounts of willpower in one area, and little or none in another area.

The difference between good willpower and those with little willpower seems to have more to do with the situations and habits they create for themselves rather than a natural wellspring of willpower.

Stacking the Deck

Sitting at a table with your friends you reach over and grab another chip from the bowl which sits just within comfortable reach and within your peripheral vision. The conversation drifts between the game of cards, politics, and “last week’s goings on.” All the while you’re silently munching on chips. When you wake up the next morning and weigh yourself you discover – much to your horror — how many chips you really did eat.

The challenges you faced here weren’t high-stress or a “bad day at work.” The situation was setup to weaken your willpower. You were distracted by stimulating conversation (so you weren’t paying attention to your consumption.) The logistics were such that your subconscious was fed a constant stream of data about the availability of the snack. Your ease of reach could make the acquisition of the chips transparent.

In short the cards were stacked against you. The situation itself required a huge amount of willpower to resist and engaging conversation with friends was more than enough distraction to prevent you from summoning up the willpower that you normally have.

Willpower Exhaustion

When muscles get tired and have really been torn up by the process of their exertion and are quite literally unable to apply as much force as when they started. Slowly the more you exert yourself the more damage is done to the muscles. In the case of muscles, like willpower as we’ll see in a moment, after some time and recovery you’ll have a greater capacity. When your body has a chance to rest after physical exertion it goes about the process of rebuilding the muscles which were torn up and in a desire to prevent damage again they’re rebuilt slightly better and slightly stronger. This is how over a long period of concerted exercise body builders transform their bodies into muscular machines.

While building up their muscles in a pattern of strain and recovery, they quite literally can’t do as much at the end of a strenuous workout as they could do at the start. Their physical ability has been reduced – or in some cases exhausted.

Willpower works much like our physical muscles in that as we expend it, we’re expending some of a fixed amount of capacity. With our physical muscles it doesn’t matter whether we’re lifting weights or walking up the stairs, we’re consuming from the same pool of resources. With willpower it doesn’t matter if we’re making decisions or resisting chocolate cake, we’re drawing from the same pool of resources.

That’s why it’s important to recognize that we can exhaust our willpower. With rest and self-care, it will recover, but for a time we’re completely unable to muster any additional self-control. In 12 step programs they speak of the risky time of HALT which is an acronym for: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. As it turns out these are all conditions that require a great deal of willpower and can send us hurtling towards willpower exhaustion and in the case of an addict, tumbling back into the addiction.

On the one hand, it’s important to exercise your willpower “muscles” on the other hand it’s important to know how to exercise them in ways that improve your chances for success. Part of that is managing your situation and part of that is building enduring habits. However, before you can build the right habits, you have to know how willpower is fed.

Blood Glucose

Many moons ago I had the privilege of working on a study which leveraged technology to assist patients with diabetes. This was my introduction to blood glucose – and the things that go wrong when your blood glucose isn’t carefully managed. Patients with diabetes are unable to properly regulate their blood sugar on their own. Their body either doesn’t produce insulin to keep the blood glucose low, or the body resists the insulin to such a degree that it can’t produce enough. (Technically there is one other option one’s liver can be converting too much fat into blood glucose but that’s rarer.) The result of too much blood glucose is that the patient’s blood becomes more like a syrup and this causes a whole plethora of complications from damaging the retina to increasing the work the heart must do and loss of neural sensation from the extremities.

In the management of this disease sometimes patients managing their own care and overzealous physicians create the opposite problem that is there’s not enough blood glucose for the body to function. The brain as the powerhouse of the body starts shutting down – like rolling brownouts in the power grid – causing some truly whacky responses. However, the blood glucose problem doesn’t just effect patients with diabetes. Low blood sugar is common in adults – just not as severe. The result for regular adults is that their body – and its largest power consumer, the brain – have to start conserving energy. As we learned in The Rise of Superman, while the brain’s normal energy consumption is the same, it can shut down places where energy is being consumed in order to prioritize other systems. When we’re depleted of blood glucose the brain shuts down the anterior cingulate cortex which is the center of self-control (and manager of the self in general). So when our blood glucose is low, we have less willpower.

One of the factors that leads to low blood glucose is high consumption of (blood glucose?) which is caused when we exercise willpower. So we quite literally run out of the body’s energy source – at least temporarily – when we’re using our willpower.

Situational Management

Consider the scenario that we introduced above where you’re snacking unconsciously on things which are within eye sight and within reach. What if we moved the bowl across the room or out of our peripheral vision? We’d eat less. If we want to simply replace the fattening snack with a healthy alternative, the odds are that we’ll eat that instead. (In smaller quantities, generally.) By manipulating the situation, we manipulate how much willpower we must direct towards our eating habits – and given the limited nature of our willpower, conserving it can be a good thing. (I spoke of a longer view of situational management in my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.)

Sometimes increasing willpower is creating situations where it’s not needed and is therefore not consumed. If you’re an alcoholic, then perhaps your first career choice may not be a bartender. With easy access to the addictive substance you fight, you’re bound to find times when your willpower is waning.

In Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis we were introduced to the model of the rider, the elephant, and the path. Situational management is all about managing the path. What’s going to be the default behavior when neither your reason nor your emotions are exerting control? The other component of the path is, however, creating the right habits to start with.

Creating Habits

The best way to use willpower, it turns out, is to use willpower to develop habits which then eliminate the need for willpower. If you get up each day and exercise – then you’ll get up each day and exercise without the willpower fight that accompanies the decision to exercise or not.

The precursor to a habit sometimes is the introduction of the “bright line.” That is the line you’re unwilling to cross. Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, says “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” That is once you’ve decided that you’re never going to do something, you need not consider the option again and therefore you don’t need to consume willpower to decide.

Once you’ve made the bright line decision, you can create habits around behaviors that you do want. In 12 step program circles there’s an idea of a stoplight. A stoplight has red, yellow, and green lights. The activities we do on a given day fall into three categories. Red activities are the things that we don’t want in our lives. Be it drinking, smoking, overeating, or something else these are the things that we know are bad for us and that we’ve decided (with our rational rider) that we’re not going to do. Yellow are those activities which aren’t bad in and of themselves but they sometimes lead to the red behaviors that we want to avoid. We avoid yellow behaviors not because they are inherently bad but because of where they can lead. Green activities are life giving to us. They renew us, enrich us, or make our lives better. We want to create more of these activities in our lives – these are the activities that we want to turn into habits.

Using our precious willpower to create habits around our green light activities isn’t easy – but it frees us up to use our willpower in other ways later. It eliminates the need to fight to do the green light activities while at the same time refreshing and renewing us and there by building our willpower.

Habits, according to The One Thing, take on average 66 days to form. Thus successful people focus on the development of one habit for two or three months and once that habit is formed and solidified they work on the next habit. John Kotter when speaking of organizational change in Leading Change and The Heart of Change
cautions for the need to reinforce change in the organization – the same is true of habits, they need to be reinforced. Benjamin Franklin was someone who was considered to have well-worn habits and to be a man of great willpower (except when it came to women) and even he admitted that building his habits – and supporting his virtues – was a life-long endeavor.

Building Willpower

I first encountered a living statue while in Las Vegas for a conference. I was walking through Caesar’s Palace and amongst the statues were sometimes people who were performing by not moving. Much like the Buckingham Palace guards they have to choose not to react to the people around them. (Excepting in the case of the living statues for those who choose to leave them a tip.) Willpower speaks of Amanda Palmer who brought the European tradition to the United States and more specifically to Harvard Square.

Palmer would stand on a box for hours at a time fighting the urge to scratch her nose or do any sort of physical movement. In the process she was demonstrating and developing her willpower. She would come home from her performances absolutely exhausted though she had barely moved. However, slowly and consistently she’d leverage the willpower she had and through it’s consistent use develop it further.

David Blaine is also profiled for his feats of endurance. Interestingly, and surprisingly, despite the ability to marshal his willpower for amazing feats, David Blane without the push of public eyes admits to not exercising willpower. Though he’s developed a set of mental tricks that he can use both to develop his willpower over the long term and the ability to marshal out the capacity he does have, he chooses not to exercise it every day – or in every part of his life. Instead when he’s preparing for a new stunt, he’s creating little goals and achieving them. He’s using repetition and practice to change little things over and over again until the momentum of his changes seem spectacular and unreachable by others.

Not Using Willpower

If willpower is an expendable resource perhaps the answer isn’t to build willpower but to stop using it all together – without the consequences of succumbing to temptations and lack of self-control. Creating “bright lines” and establishing habits are big and long term ways to conserve willpower by making decisions ahead of time about how you’ll behave. They’re in fact powerful examples of the strategy of precommitment.

In Greek mythology Odysseus had his shipmates tie him to the mast with orders to not listen to his cries to be set free or to change course while they were passing an island which was reportedly inhabited by sirens. By making it impossible for him to make a decision concerning his fate or the fate of his men he had precommitted to a course of action and saved himself the agonizing struggle between his desires and his willpower.

Another variation of this strategy is to make your decisions public. It’s easy to rationalize a private decision (See Change or Die for the major and minor defenses of our ego which include the tools necessary to distort reality.) Twelve step programs advocate accountability partners whom you agree to discuss your falters with. David Blane’s approach to making his willpower public is the extreme. Whether being encased in a block of ice or suspended above people in a glass box, Blaine’s demonstrations of willpower were excessively public – and therefore are great examples of how making your use of willpower a public matter can be a way to provide additional support and leverage to the willpower you have.

Seeing the Future

One of the common characteristics of people who are described as having little willpower is their focus on immediate gratification. They’ll take higher risk for lower reward than successful people with more willpower. That is success seems to be associated with the ability to see the future.

Mischel’s famous marshmallow test has come up before in Emotional Intelligence (and other books), the idea of delaying gratification being powerful isn’t new. However, what is new is that people who are considered to be of greater willpower (those with higher earnings) seem to set their sights much further in the future. They’re not looking an hour or two into the future, they’re looking years down the road. This vision for what they want in the future and the willingness to make small continuous decisions towards that goal seems to matter.

So while folks with a great deal of willpower can’t literally see the future, they certainly do envision it more often and more vividly.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The fable of the tortoise and the hare is well known. The hare is capable of easily outrunning the tortoise in short bursts of fury. The tortoise, however, has learned through years of being outrun in the short term that his strength lies in perseverance. The tortoise knows that as long as he continues towards his goal – no matter how slowly – he’ll eventually get there. The hare with natural speed knows that he doesn’t have to try. He can afford to be lazy and lazy he becomes.

Successful people are people who have decided to be tortoises – committed to making slow steady progress over the long term to develop their willpower, create the right habits, and leave themselves in the right situations for success. There’s no quick fix or one-time treatment to magically improve willpower. It takes hard work over a long period of time to create the kind of future that includes a large source of willpower and the need to not have to use it.

Short and Long Term Goals

You’ve undoubtedly heard the advice to plan for success. You’ve seen the value of planning instilled by numerous teachers and leaders over the years. However, as you dive into creativity and innovation you begin to realize that most innovation didn’t have a plan. Whether it’s the random idea or taking the random idea and making it real sometimes “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” according to Robert Burns. So what’s the real story on planning and setting goals?

First, goals presuppose that you can know what is best in the future by looking at what you know now. Daniel Kahnman in Thinking: Fast and Slow described the planning fallacy by explaining that they “describe plans and forecasts that are unrealistically close to best-case scenarios.” Here the planning fallacy takes on additional character. It also refers to the mistaken belief that you know today everything you need to know. Whether it’s Helmuth von Moltke’s admonishment that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” or something more mundane than the art of war great men (and women) recognized the need to adapt. (Some examples of extraordinary men are in Extraordinary Minds.)

Jim Collins in Good to Great speaks of the Stockdale Paradox where leaders must hold onto their visions while constantly being confronted with reality. In other words accepting that the world is as it is, not as we want it to be. Bob Pozen admits in his book Extreme Productivity that even though he works hard and plans that his life has often taken unexpected turns that made his old plans obsolete. He had to adapt to the situation he was in and reset his goals and aspirations to match his circumstances.

At the same time, even if you don’t subscribe to Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich strategy or The Secret, there is something to planning. There’s something to having aspirational goals and a fixed endpoint that you set your sights on. It allows you to weather the momentary setbacks without wavering in your belief that you’ll reach the end goal. It allows you to accept the undercurrents pulling you – temporarily – from your goal. By having the endpoint in mind you have a frame of reference with which to recalibrate your efforts.

From a willpower perspective then, is it better to plan – or not plan? As it turns out the answer is both. The development of strategic goals is good. Knowing where you want to go greatly improves your odds of getting there. The impact of long term goals on willpower seems negligible. However, setting too many rigid short term goals creates an internal conflict between what you said you would get done and what you actually got done which depletes willpower and makes it hard to get done what you really want. More than that it sets you up for a cycle of guilt and shame which further depletes your mental resources. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt and shame.)

Too much focus on short term goals may also focus us too much on the things that we’re not getting done. Rather than silently fading into the background and being forgotten the short term goals remind us of our unfinished business.

Unfinished Business

Have you ever had a song “stuck in your head?” Of course you have, we all have. Why does it happen and what can we do about it? It turns out our brains don’t like unfinished business that we can’t wrap a neat bow around. When you hear half of a song because you get out of your car or you’re interrupted by a phone call your subconscious is trying to finish the song. Since most of us can never finish the song from our memory and without further interruption it’s stuck in our head.

This is an example of what is called the Zeigarnik effect. That is our propensity to want to finish our business. One interesting trick for addressing this is, however, to simply create a plan to resolve the unfinished business later. It seems like our brains can’t tell the difference between planning to resolve something and having actually resolve it. As a result we can create a to-do list with the item on the list and then move effortlessly through our next task without the nagging song in our head or the thought that intrudes on our reading.

Weight Loss and Management

We started with the idea that most people consider willpower in the context of eating and dieting. Though this is a narrow application of willpower it is the one that most people admit to struggling with. As it turns out, that makes a lot of sense.

Consider our conversation about blood glucose above. Our bodies know that they need blood glucose to survive and when it begins to drop we’re naturally signaled to seek out sources of food. In the process the portions of our brain which are the sources of willpower are shut down to conserve energy. The net result is that the time when we most need willpower to prevent us from overeating is the time when we least have it available.

We’re further challenged in that avoiding a bar is easy to do. Since food is required for life, we can’t exactly avoid all food. So as it turns out the greatest test of willpower may be maintaining our weight. Perhaps you can pick up some hints from Willpower.


Book Review-Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change

Do you have influence? Most of us want to believe that we wield influence like a machete that can cut a path through the jungle striking a bush or tree in our path and having it instantly fall out of our way but most of us who have tried to wield this weapon have been disappointed. We have left a wake of poorly adopted changes that are unwelcome proof that there’s opportunity for improvement when it comes to leveraging our influence. Influencer seeks to help us to understand how to successfully influence change and what we might have done wrong in our failed attempts to influence others to change.


Six Sources of Influence

Key to Influencer is the idea that there are six powerful sources of influence that most of us don’t use in the right proportions or at the right time. As we’ve influenced other’s we’ve leaned heavily on one or two of the six sources and it’s because we’re not leveraging them all together that we’re not as effective as we can be. The six sources of influence are:

Motivation Ability
Personal Personal Motivation Personal Ability
Social Social Motivation Social Ability
Structural Structural Motivation Structural Ability

As you can see they break down into two dimensions. The first dimension around motivation and ability and the second dimension about the scale – whether personal, social, or structural.

The motivational categories are relatively straight forward in that they’re seeking to provide the energy for the system – the drive to change things. The other side, categorized as ability, is really about preventing barriers and providing resources. It’s about how you change the dynamics of the situation so that they’re easier. If motivation is the gas pedal in the car, ability is releasing the emergency brake.

The Reality of Change

As I mentioned in The Heart of Change and Leading Change, even those like John Kotter struggle to make organizational change work consistently. The failure rate on organizational change projects is appalling. There are so many forces inside the organization designed to resist change it’s very difficult to get change accomplished. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more about the factors in an organization that resist change.) So while there’s a culture that is talking about how the world is changing faster now than it ever has – we’re just as resistant – if not more resistant to change than we’ve ever been. There are so many change initiatives and programs that it’s hard to pick the ones to look at much less decide which approach is right for your organization.

The result is that we’ve got a reality where we need to have adaptability and to be able to change our organizations but it’s more likely that we’ll try and fail. We’ll further entrench the cynicism that has already taken hold of most of the members of the organizations that we work for.

Fuzzy Objectives

Perhaps the most powerful speech ever given in the history of mankind was when John F. Kennedy laid out the plans to safely transport a man to the moon and back as a part of a special message to congress on May 25, 1961. Specifically he said “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” His goal was quite specific in the objective and in the timeframe. It was a crystalizing vision that was specific and engaged the emotions of a nation which believed they were losing the space race to the Russians. However, most of the objectives that we see inside of an organization aren’t so clear.

Improving morale is certainly a worthwhile endeavor but without any sort of metric or clear timeline it’s still fuzzy. What’s more it’s not clear to most folks how to actually change that. While we may not personally know how to build a rocket we know that there are people who do who were tasked with getting us to the moon and back. However, most people don’t know how to improve morale or who we would go get to do that work.

There are lots of ways to improve morale. The Romans pacified the masses by bread and circuses. You can improve moral by having a Christmas party or a summer picnic. However, these are short term solutions to the challenge of improving morale. When we’re looking for morale improvement are we looking for a lasting change in the perception – or are we simply looking to change the number to hit our latest set of management objectives?

By clearly articulating our goals we can set on a course to achieve them. If the goals can’t be clearly articulated then there is little hope of reaching them.

Measuring Change

As Edward Deming noted, “You get what you measure.” This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the good side if you measure the right things for change you can accomplish the change. On the bad side if you measure the wrong thing, you’ll get that too. The beauty of measurement is that by planning measurements you’ll develop a better understanding of the objective that you want to accomplish and in that you’ll automatically tighten the objective itself.

One of my “Nine Keys to SharePoint Success” is planning measurement. That is you have to plan how you’re going to measure change to be successful. Often people and organizations don’t put enough effort into designing the metrics. We look for simple process measures which indicates we’ve completed the process or we look for the results that we’re hoping for, but rarely do we look for creative metrics that are somewhere between the behaviors we’re asking for and the results we’re hoping for. They are a blend of both leading and lagging indicators.

Leading vs. Lagging indicators

Anyone who has ever tried to lose or manage their weight knows that the ultimate end judge of success is the scale. There’s no other measure that stands up to the number on the scale. However, there’s nothing you can do – directly – to change the number on the scale. From a systems point of view (See Thinking in Systems) our weight is largely a matter of the additional stores that we’ve put on by way of fat. In order to influence the amount of fat that we have stored in our bodies we have to burn more energy than we take in. We can control how much energy we expend by exercising or making small changes such as walking up the stairs. We can change the amount and type of food we take in to control the number of calories that we’re getting. There are other factors like our metabolic rate that influences our total calorie burn but really by managing the number of calories we take in and the number we put out through various forms of movement we control our weight.

So the leading indicators for success in managing our weight may be the number of calories that we’re taking in – as most weight management programs focus on. In fact most of those programs are focused on making the problem simpler so we can actually achieve our goal of taking in less calories. Tools like Fitbit and other fitness bands track our relative activity level. Together these metrics help us to predict what will happen on the scale.

There are many things that you can measure like the number of pushups that you do or the amount of fat that you take in. These may help you assess what will happen on the scale, but they’re not the best predictors. These leading metrics can impact the end result – the lagging indicator – we’re looking for but only when all other variables are the same. If we pick these metrics we’ll likely be disappointed as our leading metrics don’t lead to the results we’re looking for. A good leading indicator reasonably predicts the outcome of the lagging indicator (result) that we’re looking for.

As it turns out figuring out what the right metric for an initiative is – well, it’s difficult.

Right Metrics

Metrics are necessarily a simplification of success. They measure just a part of the equation. The end result doesn’t measure sustainability. Returning to Kennedy’s call to go to the moon, we know from the book Lost Knowledge that we’ve forgotten how we got there. If the objective was to get to the moon we’ve accomplished the goal but more often the goals are layered and we really wanted to build the capacity to get to the moon. A one-time program is a good start but sustainability tends to be much more important in business.

Norton and Kaplan created the concept of a balanced scorecard in 2005. The idea is that you wouldn’t look at a single indicator to determine the health of a system. Instead you would look at a set of metrics that together gave you a picture of how the organization or initiative was working. Instead of deciding whether to look at the lagging indicators for which there was little direct control or leading indicators that might impact the real goal but aren’t necessarily directly correlated, you could look at both. In fact, they encouraged a look at a small set of metrics that together created a sketch of how things were operating.

Knowing that you don’t have to get everything into a single metric makes it easier to pick metrics – but it doesn’t instruct you as to how to pick metrics. Here are a few of my tips:

  • The overall goal – If it’s getting to the moon it’s binary and insufficient but it’s the first starting place for the metrics. In cases where you’re looking for a particular sales goal, the goal can be much more useful.
  • The prerequisites – In our moon example we needed to have a rocket design that had sufficient thrust to escape the gravity of the Earth. The rocket capacity might be one of the metrics that you would track.
  • Leading Behaviors – Behaviors which you believe are tied to the goal are good metrics. The key here is ensuring that the leading behavior really does drive the result.

Storm the Castle

One of the characteristics of an influencer is their ability to over-determine their success. (This goes by other names in other contexts.) The heart of this idea is that influencers don’t leave important variables to chance. If there’s a question about whether there’s enough internal marketing for an idea, they’ll lobby for additional messaging. If they’re concerned about the outcome of an important decision they’ll plot out a plan for all the possible outcomes so they’re ready to respond when they’re informed of the results of the decision.

If they’re looking for a connection to a person or organization, they’ll look for multiple connections from different angles to ensure that their linchpin connection doesn’t fail. Influencers know that failure isn’t an option – it’s a certainty. It’s just a matter of time and preparation. The more preparation you put in the longer it will be until the failure – and quite often the lower the impact will be.

Influencers aren’t afraid to overdo it when the component is essential to their objective.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

How do you get normal people to behave as monsters? It turns out that it isn’t hard. It seems like we’ve all got monsters inside of us who aren’t limited by our rational thinking. Consider the research by Stanley Milgram which discovered that 65 percent of research subjects were willing to administer seemingly lethal shocks to another person when they couldn’t see the other person. More troubling is that when he introduced an accomplice who was willing to do seemingly lethal shocks to an unknown and unseen accomplice, the percentage of people who would administer seemingly lethal electrical shocks stood at 90%. So in answering the question of how folks could be complicit in the extermination and genocide of Jews during World War II we found the monster – and we are he. Also, when an accomplice refused to issue the shocks only 10% of the research subjects would administer the shocks.

Humans have a fundamental attribution error which leads us to believe our poor choices are based on circumstances and others poor choices are based on their character (See Crucial Conversations, The Advantage, Switch, and Beyond Boundaries for more.) We explain away our weaknesses and vilify others. What Milgram’s research shows is that we are the villain – at least 90% of us are. The way that we can truly influence the world we live in is the way that Milgram accomplished it – by demonstrating to someone that they have a choice. That they can say no. The more that we can make the normal behavior the one that we want the easier it will get.

Social Norms

It turns out that we’re not so driven by our rational minds as we would like to believe. In fact we’re not as driven by our emotional considerations as we would like to believe. The rider (reason) and the elephant (emotion) are often blindly walking down the path of the social norm. (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more on the model of the Rider, Elephant, and Path and how it works.) In Thinking, Fast and Slow we learned that our unconscious processing (System 1) often makes judgements that it passes along to our conscious processing (System 2) that our conscious mind doesn’t question. So even when we are able to think about something we may not be able to question the social norms in which we live. (See also Incognito which talks about the unconscious being aware before our consciousness is.)

This is the second, social, and third, structural, portions of the motivation framework. It’s the social aspects that drive social norms and the structural components that drive the social norms – much like how calculus is able to tell you the slope of a line at a given point, structural influence drives social influence.

Personal Motivation

We’ve all been through some sort of a motivational event. Perhaps it’s not an event where at the end it seems like everyone would sign up for a six month mission to the Congo but there are definitely times when we feel like we’re sold on an idea. If you’ve ever been to a time share event you’ve experienced the psychological warfare that is designed to get you to buy into a time share – and it’s effective. However, personal motivation created in those ways don’t last. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that it’s an illusion.

To create personal motivation there are four tactics that you can use:

  • Allow for Choice – You can’t expect to motivate people to an activity if they don’t have a choice. If they can’t say no then they won’t say yes. (See Choice Theory for more)
  • Create Direct Experiences – Make it real for them by engaging them in what they’re going to be doing. The more real you can make it – and the more the person can feel it the more they’re likely to want it.
  • Tell Meaningful Stories – Sometimes you can’t involve people in the solution directly, sometimes the only answer is to give them a vicarious experience through an emotionally engaging story.
  • Make it a Game – A lot has been made of gamification these days but it’s more than badges and achievements. Making something a game is creating the balance between ability and challenge that is essential for flow. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman)

The reason we need to create personal motivation lies in the marshmallow experiments of Walter Mischel. Children who were able to delay gratification were much more likely to succeed in life. (See How Children Succeed, Introducing Psychology of Success, and The Information Diet for Walter Mischel’s famous test.) As Steven Wright says “Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.” By teaching the skills necessary to delay gratification we’re able to improve the possibility that we’re going to accomplish our goals – both personally and organizationally.

In truth most of the challenges that we have with folks when it comes to motivating them isn’t the fact that they have some moral or character defect. Instead the issue is simply moral slumber. That is that they don’t realize the problems that their behavior is causing. It’s not that they are callus and don’t care for others. It’s that in the moment, in what they’re doing, they aren’t realizing their impact on others.

Personal Ability

If I were to tell you that right this very second there’s an asteroid barreling down on the Earth and it’s quite likely to end all life on the planet I won’t motivate you. I’ll create deep emotions of dread and anxiety perhaps but I won’t motivate action. The reason for this is simple. You can’t do anything about an asteroid barreling down on the planet. It’s unlikely you know anyone who could do anything about this. You would be motivated to change the outcome but intensely frustrated that you have no power to change it.

When we work on personal motivation and we create a burning desire in someone to make a difference but make no effort to create a belief in the person that they are up to the task of achieving the goal that the motivation is aimed at, we create frustration. So the other side of the coin from motivation is creating ability – or at least the perception of ability.

Often times the object of the motivation can feel overwhelming. How can you solve starvation in Africa is an immense goal. You can’t possibly solve that by yourself. However, what you may be able to do is save one child, one family, or one village from starvation. By narrowing the focus of the motivation into something achievable we create the perception of personal ability.

There are, however, other ways of creating the belief of personal ability necessary to drive someone forward. It can be a framework “proven” to be successful on the kinds of problems that you’re interested in. It might be training on new skills that you can use to get closer to or work on the chosen motivation. It could be – as it often is for me – reading a book and trying to understand the insights that it offers so I can unwrap one more layer of the mysteries about why organizations rarely change.

For me, increasing personal ability is at the heart of lifelong learning as well as flow. (See The Rise of Superman, Flow, and Finding Flow for more on flow). Improving personal ability is about a willingness –if not a hunger – for learning and the application of continual challenges to continue to drive improvement – often through flow.

Social Motivation

Perhaps one of the most telling examples of how people motivate others is the work of Everett Rogers as described in his book Diffusion of Innovations. Rogers explains how innovations – particularly farming innovations – disperse through the community. He identified five factors that lead to adoption but also how the cosmopolitan tendencies in people made them more motivated to adopt a change – and in turn how this would help to motivate the peer groups which they operated in.

While Brene Brown may caution against shaming (See Daring Greatly), social shaming is a powerful force and it can be a powerful force for good. Consider what happens when you report to a household their energy consumption – almost nothing – as compared with what happens when you show a household how inefficient their consumption of energy is when compared to their neighbors. The resulting social shaming causes even the most hedonistic and unconcerned home owner to start to consider their energy usage.

Social Ability

Have you ever wondered how Weight Watchers works? I don’t mean how the point systems works. I mean how the program works. How is it that you can get together a set of folks who all struggle with their weight and the end result is that they – for the most part – lose weight? The answer lies in the social connectivity that is built. Weight Watchers groups are designed to support and reinforce the successes that people are having and to support those that are struggling. It seems like a simple thing but it works.

Similarly how did two drunks create Alcoholics Anonymous, a twelve-step movement, and a path for “sanity” in the lives of otherwise broken people? The aspects of acceptance and support help motivate alcoholics to not drink. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about acceptance.)

This is at the heart of social ability – leveraging the support and acceptance of others to motivate us to do better.

Structural Motivation

Any organization is perfectly designed to get the results you’re getting. If you want to change the results you’re getting – change the organization. In systems thinking (see Thinking in Systems) our goal is to find the best leverage point on the system to effect change. This is quite often to change the equation. When you change the reward systems you change how everything works making it easier to create the social and personal motivators that you need. All too often folks reach for these big levers and hope that the downstream influences will just line up correctly. Politicians set policy and law and hope that they’ll get the results they want. However, often what they’re looking for doesn’t happen.

As was discussed in Dialogue Mapping and The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, there are some systems so complex that they become wicked problems where you can’t predict the outcome when you change the system. Instead, you have to accept that what you’re doing may have different – and sometimes opposite consequences. Drive describes how sometimes providing extrinsic motivations sometimes destroys or reverses intrinsic motivations. So on the one hand, the big lever in the system is changing the game so that there’s a new set of motivations. On the other hand, using the lever may not have the reaction that you’re looking for. The Law of Unintended Consequences (discussed in my review of Diffusion of Innovations) guarantees that there will be some unintended consequences of every change you make – those intended consequences may be a big deal – or they may be trivial. Consider for a moment the experiment to tame the Red Fox which has resulted in the Russian Domesticated Red Fox – and that while selecting only for one attribute – inherent tameness – they happened to bread in other changes such as spotted fur. The fur differences aren’t a problem – but they are an unintended consequence of breading for tameness.

With this in mind structural motivation are the carrots and sticks that we can use to try to control the situation. While these are necessary, they’re the last thing to choose – not the first.

Structural Ability

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

If you were trying to predict which researchers would work with one another, what do you think the largest factor would be? Would it be that they have the same or similar disciplines? Would you think that it would be how far apart you place their desks that would matter most? Perhaps not and perhaps it’s not the strongest factor in your situation but sheer proximity has a profound effect on collaboration. Churchill was right when he said that we shape our buildings then they shape us. Great buildings change the nature of how we interact together.

Structural ability is about creating the right circumstances so that the desired outcomes are easy. For instance, if you’re working on your weight it’s about hiding the candy and sugar and setting healthy fruits and vegetables out on the counter – or better yet by keeping food out of sight all together so it’s not something you think about. In the case of a building if you want serendipitous interaction then creating large open foyers can be helpful as can a subsidized cafeteria so that employees want to stay together and sit at big round tables to talk to one another.

Demand talked about hassle maps and particularly how some rather small and insignificant hassles have a big impact on outcomes. Structural ability is removing those hassles, small barriers, and insignificant hurdles so that the right answer is the easiest answer.

Discussing the undiscussable

Influencing others is difficult. Being a good influencer is being someone who wants to grow other people. The best way to create real growth in people is through creating groups of safety where the undiscussable can be discussed – where there are opportunities to examine old patterns of thought and old ways of acting can be done. We won’t look deeply into ourselves unless we feel safe. We don’t discuss undiscussable topics unless we know that there will be no repercussions.

Whether you’re talking about the sex trade in Thailand or the destructive impact that your secret behaviors have on the community, being an influencer means in part making the impossible to discuss only difficult to discuss – and then discussing it. Being an influencer isn’t for the faint of heart, for those unwilling to slay the sacred cows (You can learn more about sacred cows and being defensive in general in my post Defensive Routines), but influencers are powerful. Read Influencer to learn how.

Hardwiring Happiness

Book Review-Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence

I’ve never considered myself particularly gifted at mixing audio for live performances. I’ve been a servant who has done them. There’s been more than a few worship services that I’ve supported over the years where I’ve been doing the mixing. However, I’ve never considered it to be a gift of mine. Experience has taught me how to use some tools to make things sound better and how to keep myself out of trouble. However, perhaps the most useful thing that running live sound has taught me is that you can listen through the noise and pick out a single voice or a single instrument. If you focus your attention on it you can hear how hard the keyboardist is playing – or pounding — the keys. You can hear when the electric guitar starts to muddy the vocals. You can hear when the electric bass is too loud – or too soft.

However, most folks don’t hear these things when they’re listening to music. They simple don’t listen with the intentionality of figuring out how to make the music better – and why would they? If you can’t change the music why try to find specific things in it? Most of the time we go through life just enjoying the music. We sit back and if we get a little bad with the good so be it. If we need a little more rest or feel a bit too stressed, it’s not a big deal. However, for some just listening to the music without being intentional isn’t a happy thing. For some the happy song isn’t so happy. This is at the heart of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. That is that it’s possible to focus your attention on parts of the music of life that make you happy. You can breathe them in more deeply and in doing so improve your happiness in life.

Feelings that Grow into Moods

If you’ve spent much time with babies you know that some babies just seem happier – and some of them are just – well – less happy. There’s something to them from the very beginning. This is what the Happiness Hypothesis would call winning the cortical lottery. They’re naturally born with a higher happiness “set point” than others.

As children grow older it seems like they’re all moody as hormones and the creation of new neurons seems to push them from mood-to-mood over days and weeks. Through the storm of these moods you can still see the child’s natural happiness “set point” coming through like the harbor that they always return to when the storms are done. Moods are much less permanent than the neurological happiness “set point” but are still able to hang on for days, weeks, and sometimes even months.

Compared to the relatively stable foundation of moods, feelings can feel like a plastic bag caught up in the wind, moving wherever the wind blows. Feelings seem to mostly fit into the space of the mood. Rarely do you have a sullen mood and a feeling of intense joy. There’s just something incompatible between a positive mood and a negative feeling – and vice versa.

This is the order we often think of happiness. We consider it from the perspective that our feelings are cast upon us – that we don’t have the capability to change them. If you believe that you are helpless and can’t change your neurological set point why even bother to try to become happier? Well, Mindset points out that our situation isn’t nearly as fixed as we believe it to be.

What if the flow occurs – sometimes – in the opposite direction? What if by directing your feelings you impact your moods? What if your moods become so long that they actually change your happiness “set point?” This is, of course, the point of the book that you can learn skills to direct your feelings which will lead to better moods and ultimately a shift in your neurological happiness “set point.”

Pack Your Happiness

What if instead of just unconsciously listening to the music of life you started to actively look for the happy things in life? We’re not talking about just the top of the mountain type happiness experiences. I’m talking about the everyday moments of warm-heartedness that we often look by. Consider the smell of your favorite coffee brewed by your spouse just because you like it. Perhaps it’s the sun on your face as you sit at a stoplight on your way to work.

You can choose to focus on the traffic or you can focus on the warmth of the sun. You can find happiness in little things or you can find the negative. Your reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of your brain that controls attention along with your sleep-awake cycle. You can teach it what you want to focus on more. Consider the last time you bought a new car. Before you started shopping you probably rarely ever noticed another car on the road like the one that you wanted. However, once you started the process and decided on the new car, you likely saw many more of them. It’s not like the car suddenly hit the streets. It’s that your RAS started focusing you on them. (You can see more about RAS in Change or Die.)

Hardwiring Happiness is about choosing to focus on the things that will bring you joy.


There was once a time when folks sold untested and unproven medicines – snake oil – to cure a variety of diseases. Now we have the Food and Drug administration to oversee manufacturer claims about effectiveness of their drugs. Strict regulations have curtailed the outrageous claims that some manufacturers were making and have – generally speaking – made it easier to know that a drugs claims are backed up by some level of research. (Despite this there are still many findings in prestigiously published research that are reversed on further review and study as was discussed in The Heart and Soul of Change.) One thing that is challenging for the Food and Drug administration to test or regulate are feelings like compassion – or said differently love.

While hope may be the primary ingredient in placebo (as was discussed in my review of The Heart and Soul of Change) , Love is like the daily vitamin. It’s not associated to specific resolution of pains but is amazing at improving your overall health. The Bible says that “Perfect love casts out fear.” We’ve learned that fear, shame, guilt, and other “negative” feelings are detrimental to our health. Daring Greatly brought us face-to-face with the shame and guilt we all carry and how that shame and guilt can bring us down. Love – including self-love and compassion – is the general cure for the maladies caused by these emotions.

From giving and receiving love we develop a sense of peace and joy that leads us to a long-term happiness. We unconsciously expect the law of reciprocation. If we give love then we are more likely to expect that others will do the same. And for us love is like that blanket insurance policy. We don’t have to go it alone if others love us. It becomes more ok to fail and less stressful. It’s no wonder that love can have such a profound impact on our happiness.

Neural Darwinism

From a neurological standpoint there’s a battle going on. It’s not the survival of the fittest that Darwin discussed. It’s the survival of the busiest. That is to say that the neurons that are the busiest are the ones that are the most connected to the rest of the brain and the rest of life. Instead of being off in a lonely place with few roads, the neurons that you fire tend to wire. That is they build pathways between themselves and other neurons and make it easier to get back to them in the future.

What this means on the journey of developing happiness for yourself is that if you want to be happy you should make a point of encouraging happy thoughts. Some may say that they don’t have happy thoughts but that’s not true. We all have happy thoughts and sad thoughts. We can all focus on, enhance, and amplify the time we spend thinking about happy thoughts and in so doing create a long term bias towards them.

Consider the idea of addition and subtraction. For most of us we’ve overlearned our addition and subtraction tables. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about overlearning.) Because we overlearned them we rarely think about them when we’re doing a task that requires basic addition and subtraction. They’ve become so wired into the rest of our brain that they’re automatic. (See Thinking Fast and Slow for more about System 1 – the automatic system.) We can learn happiness the same way so that it’s automatic and doesn’t require a thought. However, just as learning our addition and subtraction tables took effort at first to get it ingrained in us, so too must we focus on learning to soak in happiness until it becomes automatic.

Leaning a Ladder against Happiness

There’s not a direct line between our circumstances and how we feel. In truth, there’s a ladder. Chris Argyris created a metaphorical ladder of how we take the information through our senses and create meaning – and judgement from it. (I discussed this in my review of Choice Theory as well.) While most folks want to blame their circumstances for their level of happiness I can tell you that in my own experience and in the research I’ve read from Stumbling on Happiness to The Happiness Hypothesis and beyond, people in the same circumstances see things differently. They focus their attention on additional data – they apply meaning to the data they have – build assumptions – and so on.

I can tell you that I’ve seen people transform their attitude through recovery/care programs. From the time where they’re unhappy to the time when they are happy their objective circumstances haven’t changed. Their finances may be out of control, there may still be impending doom in their marriage but their attitude changes and they become happier because of how they choose to view things—not because things have changed.

The point here is that it’s not your circumstances that controls your happiness – it’s how you choose to see your circumstances.

Desire to Be Happy

So the key to being happy is to truly desire to be happy. Some will say that they strongly desire to be happy – and yet their behaviors say something entirely different. In recovery programs they tell you to believe behavior – that is you’re only really ready to stop an addiction when you’re ready to change your behaviors. (I’m not speaking directly about the addiction. I’m speaking more about dangerous behaviors that lead to indulging in the behavior.) The first step in a 12 step recovery program is to admit you have a problem. It’s that admission – or in this case determination – that drives the rest of the process forward. It’s great that you’re interested in being happy – but are you committed to becoming more happy. Are you willing to invest time in life giving activities that make you happy – or are you too busy to make time?

Good enough for now (Not seeking perfect)

One of the final factors that influences the ability to be happy is the desire towards perfectionism. Whether it’s perfectionism in ourselves or in the things that we do, perfectionism is hard work and a road filled with only disappointments. In the language of The Paradox of Choice we should seek to be satisficers – looking for good enough – rather than maximizers – looking only for the best. The trick is that there is no best. There is no perfect way. There’s only good enough for now. So go be happy enough for now – until you’re ready to be happier. The first step may be reading Hardwiring Happiness.

The Heart & Soul of Change

Book Review-The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Therapy

I’ll be the first to admit that my reading list isn’t always the most mainstream. I can’t tell you how few people would find a book on effectiveness in psychotherapy interesting – but I know that it’s possible I’m in the minority here. However, I’ve been to a few counselors over the years. I’ve read more than my fair share of “self-help” books on psychology over the years and I began to become intrigued by the differences between different approaches and what different practitioners – whether authors or counselors – thought worked.

In The Heart and Soul of Change there’s the answer to how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb. The answer is one. However, the lightbulb has to really want to change. As I read the chapters I began to form a picture in my mind about how therapy actually worked and how the process being followed isn’t the key – it’s the belief that things can change and will get better.


One of the most interesting challenges in the research about what is and what isn’t effective therapy is the impact of the placebo effect. That is, how do you provide a service to someone that isn’t therapeutic? That’s pretty hard when you don’t know what is – and isn’t therapeutic. At some level just being heard can have some benefits so creating an environment that has no measurable impact is hard.

Harder still is the idea of a double-blind study. That is that neither the doctor (in this case therapist) nor the patient know whether the drug that they’re getting is active or simply a placebo. The therapist has to understand the course of treatment and anyone with professional certification will surely know if the treatment plan won’t produce effects.

While in medicine it’s called a placebo and the placebo effect, what’s really happening? The answer is hope. Quite simply, the most effective predictor of whether there will be progress made or not is the hope that there will be some change.


Hope is an amazing thing. It’s more resilient than any emotion known to man. You can push a man down. You can beat him up. As long as he’s got hope, he’ll be alright. Pandora’s Box is the mythical Greek story of Pandora who opened a box (or more accurately, a jar) containing all the evils of the world – and hope. Though hope was beaten down – lying on the bottom of the container – hope survived.

Hope is powerful stuff. In my own life the times when I’ve felt the worst is when I felt things were hopeless. I’m a relatively future focused guy (see The Time Paradox) and I firmly believe that having a growth mindset is essential. (See Mindset) I believe that hope is a mental wonder drug for a variety of maladies.

Are You Alright?

While we often ask “Are you alright?” we often are not interested in the answer. We don’t care about the other person, really. However, there are sometimes diseases and conditions which are met with scorn. Alcoholism, for instance, has a stigma associated with it that people believe if you are an alcoholic that you’re somehow a lesser person. For the most part, people have let go of this stigma when it comes to professional counseling, however, it’s not completely gone.

Still other factors, like cost are important. However, as barriers go, immediately after the factor of cost is the doubts of efficacy. In other words most people don’t believe that they can make things better by simply talking with a counselor. Perhaps this is because of a fixed mindset (See Mindset) but it could equally be that people know others who have tried counseling and it hasn’t made them any better. There is one mental health provider for every 350 people.

Choose Wisely

One of the interesting insights from the book is that the variability between therapists is larger than all of the other variability. That is more than any single factor the quality of the therapist that you choose will determine the outcome. The problem with this is that it’s nearly impossible for you to be able to determine a good therapist from a not-so-good therapist on the outside.

There are recommendations for standardized reporting and assessment of treatments but they’re so infrequently used that even if a centralized database were collected it wouldn’t be statistically valid.

So unfortunately the biggest impact on treatment outcome is a hard one for a consumer to control. Similarly, therapists are given a set of conditions that encourage better outcomes but no specific plan as to how they can become a better therapist. While there are some things that can be done (see the following sections) these don’t guarantee that the therapist will become better – it only makes the chances of positive outcomes more likely.

Set Clear Goals

One of the best things that you can do to improve outcomes in therapy is to decide on what you really want. That sounds really simple – and it is. However, it’s one of the keys to effective therapy – and in life. As Lewis Carol wrote “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Setting clear goals will help in nearly any aspect of our lives so it’s not surprising it helps with therapy.


It’s powerful to feel like there’s someone who is on your side. Everyone wants someone who is in your corner. When it comes to therapy, the compatibility of the therapist’s behaviors and the client’s desires leads to a sense that the therapist is on the side of the client – or not. The research data says that the more effective the therapist is at helping build an alliance with the client, the better the results will be.

Therapist alliance is one of the most important factors considered – substantially more important than the chosen treatment. When you realize that nearly half of people who begin therapy never complete it, it is little wonder why alliance is so important.

Pain of Changing and the Pain of Staying the Same

When people enter therapy they presumably do so because there is some level of pain in their life. Perhaps their marriage isn’t fulfilling their needs. Perhaps they’re stuck in a dead end job. Maybe they’re dealing with a sense of guilt or shame from the way that they were raised. Rarely does someone walk into a therapy office saying “I feel great, but I want to feel even better.”

However, making any kind of a change has a cost and the cost of making a personal change is often times pain. Often it’s the pain of changing that keeps people stuck in their bad situations. The pain – or the fear of pain – prevents people from breaking out of the cycle that they’re in.

Pain is sometimes a difficult (or crucial) conversation. (See Crucial Conversations) Pain is sometimes rewiring old bad habits.

Rules and Guidelines

One of the questions that comes up is whether there are a rigid set of rules that must be adhered to in therapy or in a specific therapy. Or conversely, is too much adherence to a rigid set of rules detrimental. The answer seems to be mixed. It seems that in some cases the rules are an important part of getting good outcomes in therapy and in others the opposite is true that the rules become too restrictive and they make it harder to be successful.

A rule is a specific statement of what can and cannot be done. It provides a clear delineation between complying and disobeying. This is great when the ultimate goal is arbitrary. Consider for a moment the idea of someone who eats too much. The rule may be that they need to eat what’s on their meal plan for the day – and only their meal plan. That’s a rule.

In the case of someone who struggles with eating disorders this might be an appropriate rule. However, ultimately as time goes on and there’s a greater understanding and appreciation for things it makes sense to shift to guidelines. Consider the guideline that you should be on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you’re under one day and over the next it’s OK. However, if you’re over for several days in a row – particularly if you’re significantly over – the guideline breaks down.

So rules are good when you can’t put together the thinking processes that will support long term good behavior. Yes, they’re restrictive but they may be useful for a time. This is particularly helpful with addicts. Is it true that every alcoholic will lose themselves to their addition if they take one drink? Probably not, however, if you don’t set the standard at one drink where do you set the standard?

Longer term in most cases a guideline that can be processed by the client seems to be a better answer. In some situations, like the alcoholic above, it may be that it has to be a rule and never get converted to a guideline – but that’s not the rule – it’s the exception.

The more you can help folks climb from apprentice to journeyman to mastery of a space the more you can move to guidelines instead of rules. You can look at my post titled Apprentice, Journeyman, Master for more information.

Client Resources and Discoveries

Have you ever had a friend come up to you and thank you for advice that you never gave them? They earnestly believe that you told them to pursue a relationship, a job, or a hobby that you don’t remember recommending to them? If so you’ve experienced what can happen when you’re listening to other people. They form their own opinions of what you’re saying – whether you say it or not.

Sometimes you share some part of an idea but they combine it with something else they knew, another idea, or something else and they come up with something totally different than your original intent but yet they still attribute the idea back to you.

The research seems to show that clients are more successful when they’re relying on their own resources to get better. They utilize the things that they’ve been taught and don’t depend upon the therapist to solve their problems but instead find ways to solve their own problems with the information and tools that they have. There’s no escaping the fact that it’s the client that has to do the work.

Quick Fixes

Pseudo-science sells. Everyone wants the weight loss pill that will solve their weight management problems. They crave the easy solution to quit smoking. They long for an easy way for their marriage to be better. The fact of the matter is that we want is the quick and easy. In many cases healing our thinking is a lasting change– but it is not always quick. Consider that 32% of the medical studies in highly regarded journals didn’t hold up to later studies. There’s concern that published research findings might easily be proven false.

If you can get any supposed expert to say something positive for the price of a consulting fee, how can you trust that what you’re reading is real?

Talking and Taking

Psychotherapies are as effective as drugs – though the efficacy may be quicker with drugs. However, the effects of psychotherapy continues on after the therapy ends where with psychotropic medications the drugs must be continued to continue to receive the effects. We’re facing an epidemic of prescribed drugs without therapy. We’ve become a world consumed by people who are expecting some magic pill to be the quick fix they want – without the pain of having to confront the real issues and address them.

The High Cost of Mental Health

Mental health workers are making less and less. However, the cost in the mental health system isn’t the cost of mental health. The cost of mental health in our society is the impact it has on our health care system. As mentioned in Change or Die 80% of our medical expenses are spent addressing what are effectively behavioral – or mental health problems. Add to that the fact that mental health disorders rank first among causes of disability in the United States and Western Europe.

The cost of our inability to manage our mental health is quite literally our physical health and our ability to contribute to the society.

Play it Again Sam

Rounding out the coverage in the book is that paraprofessionals (think life coaches, bartenders, hair stylists, etc.) may do as well as professionals. That’s actually interesting since I’m not likely to ever pursue a career as a licensed counselor. However, I might entertain a life coaching certification if the conditions are right.

The research has shown that consumers have grown weary of services that treat mental illnesses and substance abuse as lifelong conditions. While I believe that there is a dramatic amount of improvements that can be made quickly, I’d personally recommend periodic check-ins. However, this weariness may lead folks who have traditionally chosen counseling to consider options like coaching and other alternative ways of getting help.

Finally, research shows that by the time a client is ready to tell you that there’s a problem, they’ve already decided that it’s time to leave. So for a group of insightful people perhaps it’s a good idea to listen more carefully to the clients. Of course, a good starting point is reading what does and doesn’t work in therapy and that is The Heart and Soul of Change.

Making it Happen

Book Review-Making it Happen: Turning Good Ideas into Great Results

With a title of Making It Happen you might expect that the book is all about execution. How do you get the idea converted into action? At some level this is true, it’s about making ideas happen. However, at another level, it’s not. It’s less about execution and more about converting the good idea into something that you can sell. This is a marketing book. However, it’s not a marketing book in the same sense as Guerrilla Marketing, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR. It’s a marketing book in terms of how do you market your product through understanding and focusing. Making It Happen drives this further to talk about how to leverage your market offering once you get it refined.

Making it Happen has five main steps, steps that lead to the refinement of a single market proposition to the point that people will buy it and then on the other side an expansion of the idea into other places where you can have market impact. In addition to the five steps the book is littered with suggestions for how to refine your messaging and that’s focused on two main categories – the things that you’re offering and the people that you’re offering it to. We’ll cover those after the five steps.

Five Steps

Sheahan’s story about focus, is about how the fire from an acetylene torch is used to cut metal. A big yellow flame looks pretty but it’s not nearly as useful as a small focused blue flame. If you want to cut through you’re going to need the focus of the blue flame – that’s a focus that’s surprisingly hard to get to.

  • Packaging – Packaging is the conversion from an idea into something that you can sell. It’s taking the idea and turning it into a product.
  • Positioning – Positioning is the process of refining the package into something the market will buy by adjusting it to match an existing market need or creating the need in the market.
  • Influence – Influence is the point where you’ve convinced the customer to part with their time, money, or attention to actually purchase your product.
  • Acceleration – Acceleration is leveraging the conversion you have to adjacent offerings or to take the same offer to other clients – with a customer reference to get more return out of where you’ve cut through.
  • Reinvention – While you’re successful with your first offering is the time to pursue the next one. You have the first idea fund the next one. This is how you personally get more leverage. It may also be converting the acceleration around an idea into a platform.

Many ideas never get refined enough to really penetrate the market in a meaningful way. Part of that is the natural resistance to exclude audiences for your offering. The thinking is that the fewer people you include in your offering the fewer deals that you’ll get. This may – or may not – be the right thinking. Observationally, if you’re not breaking through with anyone on a broad message it may be worth focusing the message to a set of people that you can influence.

Things or People

When there’s an offer there are two components. The first component is the people you’re making the offer to. The second is the thing that you’re offering them. The thing may not be a physical thing – it may instead be a service offering or simply consulting time. However, in this context it’s separated from the person that you’re selling to.

It’s About Things

When it comes to refining the message for your “thing” there are three pieces:

  • The Offer
  • Differentiation
  • Credibility

Let’s take a look at these individually.

The Offer

It may seem obvious but knowing what you’re offering is a critical component to selling. The more vague, imprecise, or unclear the actual offer the less chance you have to penetrate the audience that you’re trying to sell to. Despite this and lots of sales training that encourages folks to have an “elevator pitch” or “back of the business card” answer to what they do and what they sell, most people can’t adequately describe what they do. One more palpable test is can you explain to your best friend’s wife or girlfriend what you do? If you can’t, you don’t have a refined enough offer.


As humans we are pretty dumb. I mean compared to the other creatures on the planet perhaps we’re smart but we seem to think that we evaluate everything. However, the cognitive reality is more that we try to find neat boxes that we want to put things in. If we can’t put an offer into a neat little box we’re likely to not remember it. As sad as it is, the more unique you are, the less likely you are to be remembered. At the same time, if there’s nothing about your offer that’s distinguishing you won’t be remembered either. That paradox is at the heart of the problem with marketing. You want to be different, just not too different.

Sheahan believes that we can differentiate the offer based on: the offer itself, an intangible (what he calls X-Factor), price, quality, speed, brand, or “you.” Further he believes that the success to differentiation are: being proactive, basing actions on research, timing it right, displaying proof, staying targeted, and playing the game. Often we need to focus on how the buyer perceives our offer including what category they put the offer in. Once we know the category that a buyer puts our offer in we’ll need to know how to differentiate it from the other offers and how to communicate that differentiation to them.


Sometimes we can differentiate our product in positive ways such as customer testimonials and independent third party reviews which don’t require much work of positioning. Instead they require that we gain credibility in the mind of the buyer. The most effective way to do that is to connect with the person that they want to be and either demonstrate that people like who they want to be accept our offer – or that people who are actually like them use the offer.

It’s About People

Even though we’ve been focused on the things – the offer being made – there’s been an inseparable aspect of the way that humans think and the things that drive us. Sheahan talks about the personal aspects that drive decisions in terms of our drives, our identity, our audiences, and inciting action. Let’s look at each of these in turn:


Citing P.R. Lawrence’s work Sheahan states that there are four key drives for all people:

  • Drive to acquire – We seek to acquire material and experiences that our sense of well-being or social status.
  • Drive to bond – We seek to connect with each other emotionally directly and through groups.
  • Drive to comprehend – We desire an understanding of the world in which we live and how it works.
  • Drive to defend – We protect what we already have including ourselves, our families, and our possessions. This is consistent with other works about sunken costs – including the book Paradox of Choice.

Lawrence’s division of drives is somewhat difference than other views that we’ve seen in the past like Dr. Reiss’ work in Who Am I? However, this may be a reasonable simplification for the purposes of attempting to market as the 16 drivers in Reiss’ work is a lot to try to process.


One of the challenges with the drives indicated above is the drive to bond. The problem with this is that taken to the extreme that would lead us to the idea that we don’t want to be different from others. And certainly there’s an aspect of our nature where this is true. However, conversely we’re often fiercely defensive of our identity and our need to be different and unique – which puts us at odds with our need to bond. Sheahan speaks of three views of ourselves – and six lenses.

Three Views

I’ve spoken before about integrated self-images and how important they are to use. (See Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types.) However, the integrated self-image is about how I see myself at different times. Sheahan speaks of how I see myself but also how I believe others see me and what I aspire to be. He states that it’s misalignment between these views that drives our desire to bond. These views – particularly the view of how others see me of the “boxes” from Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace. It seems to me that the less that you are concerned by how you believe others see you the less likely you are to get trapped in the “box.” However, conversely, Sheahan speaks about how others see you can make a big impact in your influence on them – so perhaps there is some middle ground.

In my own life and those around me who I care about, I can tell you that there is a great deal of energy when these three views of yourself come out of alignment. When you believe that you’re not moving to the person you aspire to be and when you feel like others don’t see you as you see yourself, there is a great deal of emotional energy that can be used productively – or unproductively. Each of us has some level of disconnect in these views when seen from all six lenses which come from Banwari Mittal of Northern Kentucky University and are quoted by Sheahan.

Six Lenses

In some parts of our lives we may be in total alignment about the views. Professionally, for instance, we may see ourselves as a successful accountant. Our friends and colleagues see us this way as well. If our aspirations are simply to be a staff accountant then the views are in alignment from that perspective. However, that’s just one aspect of our life. That’s just one lens through which we can perceive ourselves. When we look at the broader picture we may not see alignment in every area. Mittal’s lenses through which we see ourselves are:

  • Our bodies: Our physical appearance, looks, the clothes we wear, our level of fitness and so on.
  • Our values and character: What we judge as being important to us and how we behave.
  • Our competence and success: What we have achieved, our professional and social standing and the wealth we have accumulated.
  • Our social roles: The roles we play in our life, including family, friends and broader associations. We could be a mother, a daughter, a coach, a leader, a creator, an artist and so on.
  • Our subjective personality traits: How we behave. Are we extroverted, passionate, shy, clumsy? And on the list could go.
  • Our possessions: What have we got? What car do we drive? What sort of house do we live in?


Every buyer for our offer has a way that they see themselves and a way that they’re measured. A frequent challenge in dealing with people is in not focusing on how we measure our success but instead to understand how our audience – our buyer – will be evaluated for success. Sometimes those metrics align completely, and sometimes they do not. For instance, I was invited by a consulting firm to do a presentation to their prospect. I delivered a presentation that by all accounts was great. It helped the prospect understand the challenges and to some extent why they needed help. However, ultimately the customer didn’t purchase from the consulting organization. Clearly my metric of satisfaction with the presentation I did wasn’t aligned with the goal of my buyer.

When dealing with people it’s important to not just understand how they’ll be measured but to be able to communicate how they’ll be successful on their metrics. This would include what you’re going to do that will specifically move their metrics forward but also how you’re going to help them measure the success so they can communicate it. In Sheahan’s example the ultimate metric was the people who were registering for the conference where he was focused on satisfaction of the people in his keynote. That’s a big difference.

Inciting Action

I often say in my business that I have only one real competitor. That competitor’s name is “do nothing.” That is I don’t find myself losing deals to other consulting organizations. I find myself losing to the client deciding not to take action because the problem is bigger than they expected, they have other more pressing priorities, or they just don’t know how to get started. (The final one is my failure to communicate how we can lead them through the process.)

Sheahan suggests that inciting folks to action means aligning the offering to an existing market need – or creating the market need. Having spent years around parts of the technology space where vendors were trying to build the market need, I can tell you that having an existing need is much easier. In both the mobile space and search engine market the development has been painfully slow because the vendors are trying to create the awareness in the market of the need they have. It’s not that there aren’t important problems to solve. It’s simply that the market doesn’t understand the extent of the problem and the value they can get by solving them.


If you’re struggling to figure out how to cut through the noise and make a difference, maybe you need to consider Making It Happen. It won’t tell you about the latest new social strategy, talk about search engine optimization, or anything specifically related to how to engage the market. It may, however, teach you how to focus your message to cut through and how to leverage your success once you have.

Changes that Heal

Book Review-Changes that Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future

Sometimes clarity comes in the most unlikely places. It’s often hard to realize how much impact having a clear understanding of who we are and what we believe in can have on our professional lives. As many of the book reviews lately have been about personal growth, I’m including a review of another book that I read for personal development that can be applied to business as well. Many of these book reviews are building to a post that is in my backlog that needs some foundational underpinning which is found in the references I’m now reviewing.

As the Train song Bruises says, “We’ve all got bruises.” We’ve all got things that have happened to us that we need to heal from. So when we’re talking from the perspective of Changes that Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future, we’re talking about things that we can do that will help us heal from the hurts of our past. Changes that Heal provides some specific, practical guidance on how to move past your hurts and reach a place of strength.

I’m constantly reminded in my consulting practice about how personal hurts, injuries to self-esteem, value, and appreciation, ripple through meetings as one person triggers another and a simple misstatement of words becomes a full-blown disagreement or a knock-down drag out fight; all for a misspoken word and an old wound.

Four keys

In Changes that Heal, Henry Cloud, who also co-authored Boundaries, says that as children of God we start out life incapable of doing the four things that God can do:

  • Bond with others – To connect in a meaningful way with other humans
  • Separate from others – Learn when and how to be apart from others
  • Sort out issues of good and bad – Identify what is good for us and bad for us
  • Take charge as an adult – Be in peer relationships where you have to take responsibility appropriately

In fact the book is laid out along the lines of these four things – after the topics of grace, truth, and time are covered.

Grace, Truth, and Love

There are enough songs about love and its power that you don’t have to read 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”, to realize that love is what it’s all about. As I mentioned in How to Be an Adult in Relationships, however, in the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, there are three words for love. One of the challenges that we have in communicating in English is the lack of precision when we speak of love. We’re not clear what exactly we’re talking about. Love is one of those words, like trust (See Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life), that is difficult to define. In fact, many of us believe we know what the definition is – until we try to define it. Cloud’s approach to defining love (Agape) is to say that it comes from the components of grace and truth.

Grace itself is a particularly difficult word to explain. It’s difficult because it means so many different things to so many different people. Grace can be elegance in motion. Grace can also be a blessing that we do not deserve. It’s often used in conjunction with the word mercy, but mercy refers to (in terms of How to Be an Adult in Relationships) acceptance and allowance for someone or something that temporarily fails to meet a standard. Grace is, however, a blessing on top of mercy. Grace is free and unmerited favor. It empowers the person to make a change – a radical change. Cloud discusses grace as the relational aspect of God’s love. It’s how we’re connected to him.

According to Cloud, Truth is the structural component of God’s love. It is the structure that life hangs on. Truth is the definition, the standard, the boundary. Truth is fact. It gets past perceptions (in as much as we humans can) to define what is good and what is bad.

Both grace and truth are necessary. The structure needs to be malleable – it must allow for grace. If you’re required to be at work at 8AM but your car breaks down, you have both the truth that you weren’t there and the grace that you will keep your job – and perhaps not even be docked the time that you weren’t there. Only grace doesn’t have any standards. Truth has standards which no one can meet all the time.

Cloud asserts that the major barrier to growth is guilt and that grace and truth are so powerful because they help to address this barrier. Grace says that you don’t need to feel guilty because not only are you forgiven but you are blessed in spite of the transgression. Truth holds up the mirror so you can see clearly how your behavior isn’t right. I don’t agree with Cloud that guilt is the barrier, I think it is shame.

Sidebar: About Guilt and Shame

There’s a lot of confusion about guilt and its relationship to shame. Cloud doesn’t specifically address this relationship but because Cloud feels so strongly about how guilt is a barrier to growth, I’ll say that I don’t believe that guilt is the barrier to growth – I believe that the barrier to growth is shame. The distinction is that guilt is negative feelings about something you’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are. One focuses on the action and the other on the actor. Guilt says that wewish we hadn’t done something. Shame says that we wish we weren’t the way that we are.

Guilt is normal. It’s expected. It’s changeable. You can change your future state by not doing the action again. Shame seems more permanent. Shame is about the character of the person and feels more condemning and harder to change. Of course, we learned from Mindset that we are changeable. However, shame makes you feel powerless.

It’s a Process and it Takes Time

More than any other part of Changes that Heal, the chapter on time seems like it’s the obvious thing that people miss. If you’ve ever seen the Selective Attention Test you’ll understand how sometimes we can get so focused on one thing that we can’t see the obvious. (I won’t give it away if you haven’t seen the video.) I feel like in my world I see people all the time that get so focused on their pain – and making it go away NOW(!) that they forget that getting into their problem took time and so will getting out of it.

I took a trip to Mt. Rushmore via private plane with my brother and a good friend of mine several years ago. When we took that trip, numerous things went wrong and we never got some of the end experiences we wanted – although throughout the trip we were constantly reminded that it was about the journey. Some of the feeling that it was about the journey was seeing a museum named Journey. Some of the belief that it wasn’t about the destination was hearing every Journey song known to man. However, the message was loud and clear that our schedule and our plans weren’t the only option. We learned that we couldn’t control our schedule. We couldn’t control the time aspect of our trip. Things were going to take what they’re going to take.

The trip was a flying trip, as I mentioned, so I think that a flying analogy may help to understand what Cloud is saying. He’s saying that change is a process – which you have to work on yourself before you can work on your relationship with others. So thinking of a plane, you have one source of power – the engine and the propeller it’s attached to. All you can do with the engine is make the aircraft go forward. You can’t generate lift directly.

When you’re on the runway cranking the engine up to full power and you let off the brake, the airplane starts to slowly move forward breaking the bonds of inertia. It takes a relative eternity as you accelerate towards the end of the runway. As more and more momentum builds there are a set of secondary forces that start to take over. Air over the wings starts to generate lift. You’re still applying power to go forward. More and more the plane gets lighter on the tires. Once the forward momentum gets high enough the lift force generated exceeds the force of gravity and the plane takes off.

The airplane didn’t generate lift directly. It generated forward motion and allowed the air – the invisible presence around us – to generate lift. The motor in the plane isn’t capable of lifting the plane directly. It doesn’t have the power to pick the plane up – it only has the ability to move it forward. It has to allow the air to do its job of creating lift.

The interaction of these forces is important because people want to soar – to escape the pull of their past. That isn’t what has to happen first. What has to happen first is you have to break free from the inertia. You have to work on yourself, on healing, and on growing. You have to generate forward momentum before you can fly.

Healing is a process. You don’t walk into a hospital and instantly get healed. Wounds heal over time. They may scab over. They may hurt every time you bend or move for a while. Eventually, over time, the wound may disappear completely or leave a permanent scar – a place where you are reminded of what has happened even if it doesn’t hurt any longer. We can’t short circuit the healing process. People who try to run or do activities before it is safe to do so often create more damage than the original injury. They’re trying to short-circuit time, and that doesn’t work.

I was watching a video series where James McDonald was delivering content from his book Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It’s Too Late. In that discussion he mentioned that people come up to him and tell him that they want his life. They as how they can be like him. How can they get the same things that he has? He relates his feelings as they say it. Did they want the years of struggling? Did they want the long hours of studying? Did they want the hardships? Clearly they wanted what he has now – success. However, he didn’t become a success overnight. You can’t become successful overnight either. You have to struggle through years of obscurity. You have to anguish over hard issues. You have to experience pain and growth. Cloud quotes an old proverb “The longest distance between any two points is the shortcut.”

One final, corporate example before we leave this critical section on time. Sometimes business pundits talk about Walmart‘s “overnight” success. The problem is that Walmart languished for years before the explosive growth began. Not to say that it wasn’t profitable or that it wasn’t growing – but the explosive growth, the real momentum, took time to get started. It took time to get the model right. It took time to get the right people on the bus. (a la Jim Collins’ Good to Great)

No matter what it is in life, it takes time to get it right. There are no shortcuts. There are no microwave ovens on life.

Emotional Attachments

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re social creatures – us humans. We’re designed to be connected to and connected with other humans. However, sometimes we forget this is a fundamental part of our human nature and it’s possible for people to isolate. Here are three stages of isolation:

  • Protest – We protest the lack of relationships (or appropriate relationships)
  • Depression and Despair – We feel like that we’re a fault somehow, as if we’ll never be connected to others
  • Detachment – We give up. We block out our needs for connection with others. We deny an essential part of ourselves

In our society, we have more and less acceptable forms of detachment. An alcoholic is not lauded for his love of alcohol. However the workaholic is praised for his productivity. Anything that keeps us from connecting to others is a barrier between us and ourselves.

Defense and Moving In

Sometimes the biggest challenge to working on an issue is getting past the defenses. Some of the defenses that we have against seeing our own limitations are so powerful that they deny reality. They prevent us from realizing that we’re using defenses. It becomes our greatest challenge to see ourselves with integrated self-images – to recognize ourselves for both our good and our bad qualities. Here’s a list of common defenses that we all use:

  • Denial – It’s not just a river in Egypt. We simply deny that we have any problems. We’re focused completely on the fact that we’re without fault – or at least this fault.
  • Devaluation – Yes but… The love and connection that is offered to me is devalued so that it doesn’t count. The emotional isolation I’m experiencing isn’t my fault because the connections that are being offered to me aren’t valuable.
  • Projection – This is the act of taking your feeling and ascribing it to someone else because you don’t want to own it. “I’m not angry; you’re angry – and it’s making me angry.”
  • Reaction Formation – This is saying that I’m the opposite of what I’m really feeling. Instead of saying I feel sad I say that I feel happy.
  • Mania – I’m hyperactive but disorganized.
  • Idealization – I visualize myself as perfect. I believe that it’s impossible to have a fault because I’m perfect.

By contrast, here are the things you do when you’re moving into the wound and the process of healing:

  • Realize the Need – I accept that I have a need be bonded and attached to others.
  • Move Towards Others – I recognize that I have to move towards others – not expect they will always move towards me.
  • Be Vulnerable – I must be vulnerable to get close to others. If I live behind impenetrable walls no one will ever be able to get close.
  • Challenge Distorted Thinking – I recognize that my perception is distorted and that some thoughts and feelings distort it further. (See Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace for more information.)
  • Allow Dependent Feelings – I have to allow a level of attachment to another person to be connected to them. I must care about them.
  • Become Comfortable with Anger – As I mentioned during the review of Emotional Intelligence, Anger is disappointment directed. I can use anger as a tool to better understand my relationship to others.
  • Be Empathetic – I need to share (or mirror) others’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions to truly connect with them.
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit – I have insufficient power on my own, but through the Holy Spirit, I can do all things.
  • Say Yes to Life – I must internalize that to be fully alive is to be connected with God and others.

Don’t Think about Polar Bears

There’s a funny little trick that happens when we focus on not doing something. We end up reinforcing what we don’t want. We do it by keeping the very thing we want to avoid in our heads. The heading for this section tells you not to think about polar bears. You’re not supposed to remember that they’re big, white, and live at the North Pole. However, just by reading the words polar bear you thought of one. The more I tell you why you shouldn’t think about polar bears – because they’re evil, or they’ll make your toes turn white, or whatever, the more you’ll think about polar bears.

Jonathan Haidt discusses in The Happiness Hypothesis that holding on to a negative thought is a difficult process because the very act of monitoring what we’re thinking requires that we think about the thing we’re trying to prevent thinking about in the first place. A more effective strategy is the strategy discussed in numerous books including The Information Diet, Introducing the Psychology of Success, and How Children Succeed — that is to think of something else. The research upon which all of these books draw was around delayed gratification and whether children could not eat one marshmallow for a few minutes so that they could have two marshmallows later. The most successful groups for the marshmallow test distracted themselves. They didn’t worry about thinking about the marshmallow, they simply focused on other things.

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to not think about the past, to avoid the time and place that we were hurt, that we focus energy remembering the event we’re trying to not think about. You may find that focusing on healing and on other things can be therapeutic.

Fences with Gates

There’s an old saying in computer security that the most secure computer in the world is locked in a vault in Fort Knox, turned off, and unplugged. That’s true. It’s completely secure. And equally useless. You can’t be in a relationship with someone – and therefore learn from the experience – if there’s no way to get to you.

Relationships are a delicate balance between allowing people in to help you and allowing too much so that they will harm you. Cloud suggests that we need fences with gates. That is, we need to have boundaries and we need to know when the boundaries aren’t necessary. We need to know how to let the right things in – and keep the wrong things out. We have to have permeable boundaries.

The book Beyond Boundaries discussed protective boundaries and defining boundaries. Defining boundaries are the fences. Protective boundaries are the gates. Deciding when and where you need them is the key.

If you’re thinking that you can get by with only boundaries, and that you don’t need to know anything about permeability or gates, consider that the only sea in the world which has no outlets is called the Dead Sea.

Fail Small, Fail Often

I love Mythbusters for more than just the explosions. I appreciate that they frequently do their experiments in small scale before going to a large scale. This allows them to fail more often – which on the surface seems to be a bad thing. However, failing more often and quicker in the small scale means that the large scale experiments are more likely to be successful. That’s an important aspect of their success at testing myths.

For myself, I had a friend say to me that I never seem to fail. After the long pause followed by a roar of laughter, I commented that I fail all the time. They didn’t believe me, but from my perspective, I do fail all the time. Different marketing approaches fail. Different product ideas fail. Different development spikes fail. However, these all fail and I learn from each failure – and I don’t do it again. I believe my friend was trying to say that, like Edison, I keep at it until I get success.

In order to succeed you have to be willing to fail. You can’t know if you’re able to ride a bike until you take the training wheels off. You can’t know if you can do it on your own until you’ve had to do it on your own.

Skills for Becoming an Adult

I would be remiss to not share the 10 skills that the book calls out for becoming an adult. They are:

  • Reevaluate Beliefs – I reevaluate my beliefs based on what I know. Humans are lousy at reprocessing what we know when our awareness and values change.
  • Respectful Disagreement with Authority Figures – I acknowledge and accept my disagreements with authority figures – and choose healthy ways of dealing with them.
  • Make Your Own Decisions – I don’t allow others to make decisions for me – I own my own life.
  • Practice Disagreeing – I need to accept that disagreeing with others is natural and healthy.
  • Deal with Your Sexuality – “‘Children don’t talk about sex’, but adults can. Stop whispering!”
  • Recognize and Pursue Talents – I will practice the skills that I’ve been given – with acceptance that failure is a pathway to growth.
  • Discipline Yourself – I will be responsible for my own discipline.
  • Gain Authority Over Evil – I have the ability to resist evil and temptation.
  • Submit to Others out of Freedom – I will submit to others out of love and respect for them.
  • Appreciate Mystery and the Unknown – I recognize that I’ll never know everything. I’ll accept that there are things that I cannot know.

In Conclusion

We’ve all been bruised. We’ve all been hurt – and we’re all going to be hurt again. We must accept that we must take responsibility to create the Changes that Heal in our own lives.