You think people are all good. Your actions say otherwise.

Our fundamental beliefs about people are tricky. They stay hidden, even from ourselves, for quite some time. How can that be?  

First, why is this important? Our fundamental beliefs about people show up all the time, in everything we do. They show up in how we organize our companies and just about every other structure in our life. It’s become incredibly popular in the last decade to give a lot of lip service to popular management practices like Theory X and Theory Y. Almost all Silicon Valley companies who claim to want to change the world espouse that they believe and manage from Theory Y: that most people are inherently motivated individuals who respond to a level of autonomy by approaching their work in a responsible and creative manner. However, observing people’s actions suggests otherwise.  

I won’t bother throwing anyone else under the bus. I don’t need to. I don’t have to look any further than the mirror to find a great example.  

Here are two of the nastiest assumptions that come up for me all the time.

  • People don't make good decisions all the time.
  • People often don’t make decisions that are in their long-term interest.

Where does this judgement come from?

It comes from me. Let me be more specific. This is my most common form of judging myself. I believe I’m not always smart. I believe I don’t often act in my long term best interest.  

My judgements about myself automatically get projected onto other people. It’s subtle: If you do these things more than I do, then I can still be a good person. My judgement about you makes me feel better about myself. My ego needs that boost. It's my mind's defense against the habit of being overly self-critical.

The worst part is that this approach is actually a reasonable approach. It works. I feel better about myself, and my level of self-critique doesn't incapacitate me to action.  

The good news is there’s a different way. I believe it’s a better way. When I have compassion for myself about mistakes, then that compassion extends to you. 

Let’s look at an example where I might be working and worn out. I cave in and start drinking beer, and my normal story kicks in:

"I lack willpower."

"I’ll never be a successful entrepreneur if I do that."

"I know a ton of more successful people that wouldn’t do that."

All those comments are judgements about myself. Once I’ve knocked myself down, I need to regain a level of confidence in order to be able to act again. I look around and see lots of people that have failed the same or worse than I have. I judge them. I rationalize my screw up as not being as bad as the rest, thus restoring my self-image to the point where I can get back to work.  

Let’s look at a different path. I could say "Hmm, is there a pattern here in getting beer when I’m stressed?"  

Yes, there seems to be a pattern here. OK. What need is this serving for me?  

It’s serving the need of getting rid of the stress.

Where is the stress coming from?

It’s self-imposed because I want to be a successful coach within 6 months.

OK, is that belief rational?

In this case, no. I’m not going to starve if it takes a year, or even two years to make it.  

OK, so what other belief could I have?

Well, I need to work AND make sure I’m rested as well. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  

I found that if I take the lengthier and more introspective thought process, it re-energizes me. It doesn’t work 100% of the time. And rarely do I have the motivation and energy to tackle my hardest problem. However, often I’m motivated to do something else that’s still productive. Maybe it’s reading or learning something new that I can apply later.   

OK, I tell myself, that’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty damn good. Most importantly, it’s miles from drinking and self-judgement. Particularly, it’s the self-judgement that’s so detrimental. Like most people, self-judgement becomes a vicious spiral for me. Self-judgement is the real enemy I’m fighting. The best weapon I have in fighting it is curiosity.  

I believe that your fundamental beliefs in people stem from your beliefs about yourself. At least they do for me.

Does this resonate with you?  Let me know what does and what doesn’t.  

Better Than Setting Goals

You’ve heard about SMART Goals.  You may have even heard about DUMB Goals.  These things are all wonderful.  I’m not here to bash goal setting.  I’m a big advocate of goal setting.  Goals have helped me make big moves in my life.

But I also have to be honest and say I’ve also fallen short of my goals... a ton.  Only 8% of people achieve their New Year's resolutions.  New Year's resolutions aren’t always the best or most achievable goals.  But even when I’ve done all the right steps in my goal setting, things don’t always work out.  I’ve made my goals SMART, written them down, shared them with other people, visualized achieving them, reflected on what’s working and every other trick I know.  Even after that, I have failed to meet my goals more often than I’ve achieved them.  That’s even more true for the big, life-changing goals.  

That makes sense.  Our world is set up to help us maintain where we are, not to go changing ourselves whenever we have some brilliant new insight.  The world is set up to help return to normal, i.e. our old state.

However, I realized last night that there is something else that has changed my life more than setting goals has.  Making decisions.

For instance, when I decided to go to University of Florida over Georgia Tech or MIT, that has had a ripple impact on the rest of my life.  Another huge decision I made is when I decided to start my own company.  

The decision to start my own company is a great case study.  I had a goal of starting a company in one form or another for 10 years.  I had a goal of getting my coaching company off the ground for 2 years.  Then I left my last startup and after some contemplation, I decided I was going to start the company.  In those 2 months I made more progress than I had made in the last 2 years.  

What was the difference?  For me, I was deciding just as much what I was giving up as well as what I wanted.  I wasn’t going to have a steady salary.  Hell, I probably wasn’t going to have any salary for a while.  I wasn’t going to have the free time I had before.  I wasn’t going to take as many trips with friends.  I wasn’t going to date as much.  

All these things happened because of the decision I made.  Decisions by their very nature shut down doors of Other Opportunities.  That allowed a tremendous amount more space for new things to happen.  I now had time to work on my business.  I was absolutely amazed at how the things I thought would take months were done in weeks.  I had stepped into the new possibilities that the decision had created.

This doesn’t mean you can cheat the system.  Saying “I’ve decided I’m going to lose 10 lbs” doesn’t work any better than having a goal of losing 10 lbs.  But deciding that you’re going to be healthier can be a game changer.  When you honestly look at what you have to give up and say “Since I’ve decided to lose 10 lbs, I can’t snack after 10 p.m.,” things start happening.   

So what big decisions have you been thinking about, but haven’t made yet?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Fuck Your Passion & Go Do Something Hard

The advice I hear most often repeated is ‘you’ll find success by following your passion.’  I believe this advice is crap.  This advice stops more people from moving forward than it helps.  People say ‘I don’t know what my passion is.’  Or I hear ‘There are lots of things I’m passionate about, what should I choose?’  I felt the same way when I was trying to figure out my passion.  It seems like such simple and powerful advice.  And it seems so well intentioned that it couldn’t be wrong.

Now let’s add in the bigger picture of what the world needs.  Let’s imagine that everyone started with their passion.  It seems obvious that we’d have an excess of video game designers and astronauts, and a severe lack of plumbers and electricians, and garbage men.  And this second part is exactly the trend that we’re seeing in the world now.  We have fewer electricians, plumbers, and mechanics than we did last year.  Few people start off with the passion focused on keeping the world running.

But a weird thing can happen when we dive into something that needs to be done and where we make a difference.  We find something deeper than passion.  We find meaning.  We find satisfaction.  Sometimes we even find Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  There may or may not be passion for most people in plumbing, but there seems to be a large amount of satisfaction in being able to help make a difference in people’s lives and support ourselves while doing it.  

If I followed the first thing I was passionate about, I’d still be figuring out how to make a living drinking beer and floating on a river.  I can think of lots of ways I could make a living at that now.  Thankfully my younger self wasn’t quite so clever.  I would have missed out on a tremendous opportunity to help the world in other ways.  The coaching I’m doing now takes a lot more work.  But it engages a lot more of me, and I believe that has allowed me to contribute more to the world than just providing some fun times for other summer suds seekers.

I just saw a presentation from a wildly successful neuroscientist this weekend.  She was talking about her life’s work, but for the past decade she was working on it because of a sense of obligation to her parents.  It was only after 10 years of working in neuroscience that she started seeing the ability to impact areas like social justice that she felt passionate about.  Now she’s incredibly passionate about what she does.  She wouldn’t have this opportunity unless she persevered through that challenging decade.  Moreover, the world would have missed all the tremendous ideas she has contributed.  She was leaning into what was hard and found her meaning along the way.

It’s possible to learn about yourself by doing.  You might uncover a new passion.  You might also find something that you hate.  It’s OK either way.  Lean into the most difficult thing you can find.  Don’t just pick anything, though.  Pick something that has a good chance of being useful to other people.  Do the hard work.  It won’t kill you.  It will make you stronger.  

So my advice is not to ignore your passion.  Far from it.  Knowing what you like to do is awesome.  Wanting more of your passion in your life is worth striving for.  My point is that using passion to avoid hard work is a huge mistake for you and for the world.  Do the hard work.  The world will reward you for it.

Has Goal Setting Failed You? Maybe Decisions Can Help.

You’ve heard about SMART Goals.  You may have even heard about DUMB Goals.  I’m not here to bash goals setting.  I’m a big advocate of goal setting.  They’ve helped me make big moves in my life.

But I also have to be honest and say I’ve also fallen short of my goals…a ton.  8% of people achieve their new year’s resolution.  New year’s resolutions aren’t always the best or most achievable goals.  But even when I’ve done all the right steps in my goal setting things don’t always work out.  I’ve made my goals SMART, written them down, shared them with other people, visualized achieving them, reflected on what’s working and every other trick I know.  Even after that, I have failed to meet my goals more often than I’ve achieved them.  That’s even more true for the big, life-changing goals.  

That makes sense.  Our world is set up to help us maintain where we are, not to go changing ourselves whenever we have some brilliant new insight.  The world is set up to help return to normal, i.e. our old state.

However, I realized last night that there is something else that has changed my life more than setting goals has.  Making decisions.

For instance, when I decided to go to UF over Georgia Tech or MIT, that has had a ripple impact on the rest of my life.  Another huge one is when I decided to start my own company.  

The decision to start my own company is a great case study.  I had a goal of starting a company in one form or another for 10 years.  I had a goal of getting my coaching company off the ground for 2 years.  Then I left my last startup and after some contemplation, I decided I was going to start the company.  In 2 months I made more progress than I had made in 2 years.  

What was the difference?  For me, I was deciding just as much what I was giving up as well as what I wanted.  I wasn’t going to have a steady salary.  Hell, I probably wasn’t going to have any salary for a while.  I wasn’t going to have the free time I had before.  I wasn’t going to take as many trips with friends.  I wasn’t going to date as much.  

All these things happened because of the decision I made.  Decisions by their very nature close down doors.  That can allow you to fully step into the possibility of the decision.  

This doesn’t mean you can cheat the system.  Saying “I’ve decided I’m going to lose 10 lbs” doesn’t work any better than having a goal of losing 10 lbs.  But deciding that you’re going to be healthier can be a game changer.  When you honestly look at what you have to give up to get there, that can be the difference that you need.  

So what big decisions have you been thinking about, but haven’t made yet?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below.