Oh, wait a minute, there is a chocolate pie. It is right there for your present self to enjoy. For YOU to enjoy. Future self does not need to know about it. You can just have a slice and never speak a word of it, to them, to anyone. It will be like it never happened. Except if it does happen it DID happen.
It is probably going to happen to you. You are a healthy eater, you like yourself enough to do the things that your future self will be grateful you did. Heck, you LOVE your future self and are really looking forward to meeting them. For them you would do almost anything. They do not exist yet, but you are willing to do almost anything to make sure they have the best life possible. Good for you! They will thank you for it.
Oh, wait a minute, there is a chocolate pie. It is right there for present self to enjoy. For YOU to enjoy. Future self does not need to know about it. You can just have a slice and never speak a word of it, to them, to anyone. It will be like it never happened. Except if it does happen it DID happen.
Saying no all the time can be tough. It is possible and there will be a time in the future when you are glad you did. But life is not necessarily all about the future. The present moment, now, is actually a lot more real than the future. There are a lot of things to be said about getting the most out of each moment and sometimes that means saying yes to something that is a small speed bump in your journey.
You should give yourself permission to say yes to the things you like but that hurt your progress so long as you are not addicted to them and so long as they do not trigger an all or nothing type of event. Alcoholics are best to always say no to that first drink. X smokers are always better served to never take another puff. People on a massive weight loss journey are best to stick with the program until they achieve their predetermined celebration milestones. If this is not you, if you are a healthy eater who avoids sugar and baked desserts and do not have any celebrations lined-up, saying yes to the chocolate pie occasionally is not a big deal and, if done with planning, can have a very small impact on your progress.
Pay your bill BEFORE you eat. If you are going to enjoy an occasional 750 calorie dessert, create the 750 calorie deficit before you get stuck in.
If you are going to eat it on Sunday, in the 4 or 5 days before, eat 125 calories less than what you normally would or burn off an extra 125 calories with exercise. So long as doing this does not drop your calories below 1200-1400 on any of these days, it will be a wash and everything will work itself out by Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week.
Better than the lay away approach is to burn the calories as close to before the meal as possible. An intense work out primes the body to shuttle the calories into the cells that need them for recovery before moving them into fat cells for storage. If you have depleted 500 calories of muscle glycogen just before you eat a piece chocolate pie, many of the sugar calories you consume will be help replenish this energy. The sugar will spike your insulin which will also help with protein synthesis further aiding recovery and possibly help you gain some lean muscle. From time to time it is fine to look at food as molecules void of any context, provided you have done the work right before the use the molecules as you would if they were just individual ingredients.
Chocolate pie is NOT the same thing as coco, glucose, fructose, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and water. The ingredients interact with each other to do things that the individual ingredients would not do on their own. Glucose and fat consumed together create a massive release of reward chemical that glucose or fat on their own do not. The whole is great than the sum of its parts. But occasionally and when done mindfully these treat experiences can promote a great sense of well-being with very little or no negative impact on future you. Just make sure you pay the bill before eating.
Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work.
When it comes to personal training and basically any type of training, there are two type of clients, those who do what they are told and everyone else. Those who do the work are generally self-motivated. They may not know exactly why they are doing what they do, but when pressed on it they can come-up with a good reason, or two, or more. Intuitively they understand that they must pay the metaphoric bill before they eat the metaphoric meal – the bill is the work and every decision that moves them forward while the meal is the results they are seeking. For me, these clients are moderately interesting to work with and most of the joy comes from the validation that my methods and programs work and from the empathetic joy of seeing someone work hard, get what they earn, and feel good about it. I enjoy the conversations as well because these types of people have a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.
Everyone else acts like training is a meal at a fine dining restaurant. It’s an experience to have and the bill will be paid at the end after they know that the experience was worth it. These people are a lot more work. There is a different problem to be solved and I may not know the answer because they don’t know the question. They don’t necessarily do what is being asked of them because they don’t really know why they are in front of me, asking for my help, on a journey that they may not even have started. It’s messy with a much lower success rate. The best case is that they actually start the journey and figure out why it is important OR that a light gets shined on the life they are living, the future that this will create for them, and a sense of peace about both.
The truth is that it is much more important to me that they find out what their goals actually are and not important at all that they achieve a goal that was never theirs in the first place.
I like my life and I believe everyone else should like their life too. If I can be of service and guide / help them automate the making of the life of their dreams then all the better. Sometimes they are already living the life of their dreams and just have never taken the time to notice it. They may not realize what is involved with chasing down a goal and that the actualization of the goal can be rather unfulfilling. After you reach your goal you are still you. You may be a leaner, more muscular, faster you, but at the end of the day, you remain you.
I used to believe that everyone should work out and improve their health. This is something that I no longer believe. I know everyone will benefit from moderate exercise, improved nutrition, reduced stress, and a more mindful approach to life, but that doesn’t mean everyone should go after these benefits. Sometimes these benefits actually make people miserable. Having single digit body fat is hard work and requires a lot of sacrifice. Once you achieve it, it requires continuous effort to maintain because it is a possession of sorts. It is now YOURS to lose, and this knowledge can generate a considerable amount of negative mental energy. And regardless of what you do, if you live long enough, you WILL lose it. Everything that arises will pass away, your discipline, your 6 pack abs, your youth, even your earthly existence.
A quick conversation can unpacked that a person just want to feel happier with who they are, the solution for which is meditation. After a few months of twice a day practice is all that is needed for the laws of nature to reveal themselves, and equanimous acceptance is bound to follow.
An effective consultation can reveal that the goal is simply to feel better. The prescription here is simple, improve posture through the use of structural balance movements, core and breath training. When we automate standing up straight when your head back and breathing deeply into our belly our psychological mind set shifts towards confidence, security, and contentment. The experience of pain is reduced and we feel and act more capable.
Cultivating and maintaining mindfulness is very easy and will add tremendous value to your life because of the compounding effect of experience over time. Improving and maintaining posture and appropriate breathing requires 5 minutes a day of work and offers similar compounding lifelong benefits. These things are easy, and anyone can achieve them. And if they are actually what the person is seeking, it is better for everyone in the long run to just go straight for them.
I am not suggesting that someone should not work out to improve their health. They should, most people should, but it is even better if the person actually wants to do it. There is no downside when someone works hard to get what they want AND need. The same cannot be said when someone gets what they need but do not want. Needs and wants are not the same and when they are not aligned who are we to decide what another person needs?
I find this approach helpful when it comes to training and coaching. Is the person willing to pay the bill before they start – do they know the value of what they are about to do and do they know why they are enrolling you in their possibility? Are they clear on why it is important to them today and for the person they are going to become? If the answer is yes, if it is obvious that there is only one way forward, success is inevitable and this mutual partnership will work. Anything other than this is an indication that they do not really know what they want or that they have not taken the time to get clear on why they want it. A simpler solution likely exists for them, one that has them invest a lot less time and allows them to go directly to what they want.
While the conversation will be taking place in the present moment, the words are being translated by a unique dictionary that was written by and for them. Even the most skilled, clear, and concise communicator will be plagued with having to relate ideas through an interpretive filter that is a reflection of the listeners’ life.
Language is both amazing and clumsy. Amazing, because there is nothing quite
like it for taking an idea from one person’s head and putting it into someone
else head. Clumsy, because there is no way to be sure that the idea that is
recreated in the other persons hear is the same as the one that was intended to
be shared. As far as we can tell, human beings are the only species with this
problem because the communicative intentions of other creatures are rather
primitive in comparison. “Get away,” “stay back,” “come here,” “danger,” “I
like you,” and “let’s get it on” are about as deep as the verbal communication
gets with non-human animals. While they are capable of communicating more, most
of the rest is communicated through modeling, which has the learner watch the
actions of the teacher. It needs to be said that gorillas and chimpanzees has
been taught to communicate with humans using sign language, and most of the
great apes in the wild will use a variety of hand movements and gestures to
communicate with their group.
Communication with human beings is many levels above what exists in the most
articulate of primate species. We are able to talk about things that are not
real, are not present, or are abstract in nature meaning there is a near
infinite number of things that we are able to share.
The problem is that we do not have any method of evaluating the accuracy of
communication on the fly and are faced with the choice of continuing to try and
share our message or disrupting the conversational flow by asking the other
person if things are still on track. Because we favor the first option, we tend
to rely on non-verbal indicators or verbal placeholders as an indirect way to
make sure the message is being received. Head nodding, eye blinking frequency
and speed, facial expressions, shifting eye gaze patterns, and single word /
sound vocalization serve as an inaccurate but highly utilized proxy for asking
“are you following me?” or “what did you hear me say?” These things are really
only accurate for indicating confusion, disengagement or overwhelm. When we
notice that our conversational partner squints their eyes and kind of scrunches
up their face, we instantly know that they didn’t understanding the last thing
we said and likely need us to step back and take another run at it. But when we
see them nodding or hear them say “right” we take this to mean that the idea
that is in our head is being reformulated inside of their head and there will
soon be a shared and complete understanding.
This is a mistake. All these communications mean is that AN idea is being
formed in their head. This idea is going to be based a little bit on the words
you are saying and a lot of their life experience with reference to those
words. In fact, what is coming up for them is mostly going to be a reflection
of their past both in terms of the literal meaning of words and the feelings
those words evoke. While the conversation will be taking place in the present
moment, the words are being translated by a unique dictionary that was written
by and for them. Even the most skilled, clear, and concise communicator will be
plagued with having to relate ideas through an interpretive filter that is a
reflection of the listeners’ life.
Almost everyone knows this but chooses to ignore it because of the ease
afforded by the assumption that our words are the same as their words. What’s
the point of getting wrapped around the axle by being overly pedantic about the
meaning of “okay” and “uh huh?” Except it isn’t even remotely pedantic and a
good argument can be made that by NOT taking the time to get clear on the
differing definitions of the words we journey deeply down the road of confusion
When I took an NLP course a few years ago, they have a number of
presuppositions that help to define the field and determine the role that each
of us play when communicating with other people. There are more than a dozen of
them, but one of them struck me much harder than the rest and it relates to
“The meaning of communication is the response you get.”
Embedded within this statement is a rich understanding about the world. It
captures what I was making reference to with the first portion of this post,
that human beings may have a shared vocabulary but this vocabulary does not
necessarily have a shared meaning. It also captures the essence of taking an
idea from one person head and putting it into another person’s head as being a
stimulus / response transaction, action / reaction exchange or a cause / effect
relationship. And it talks to a level of responsibility that the speaker has
when it comes to the meaning the listener generates from the communication.
It was a course, so it is obvious that those who choose to attend it are
invested in getting something more out of life and will therefore be willing to
see themselves has having the power to get it. In environments like this, it is
not unreasonable to see the locus of control shifted onto the participants or
students in an attempt to get them to realize that at the end of the day, THEY
are responsible for generating the outcomes they want and are therefore
responsible for the outcomes they get.
But there is an irony here that people seem to miss, and one that is having
a negative impact on communication accuracy. It has to do with the polarity of
the left and right in terms of who is responsible for what. Specifically, the
responsibility movement holds that everyone is responsible for their own
actions and is therefore responsible for the outcomes they get. The opposite of
this holds that the powers that be are responsible for the outcomes that people
get and are therefore responsible for making things better for the people they
are controlling or oppressing. Like most polarized things, the reality is
somewhere in the middle – people are responsible for their actions but not in
control of the outcomes. With reference to communication, the speaker is in
control of their words (their action) but they are relying upon the listener to
generate a meaning (the outcome). The irony with that is the speaker is the
person who is motivated to share an idea and has the incentive to have an
accurate meaning generated in the brain of the listener. Okay, that isn’t
ironic on its own, but when combined with the prevailing notion that the
listener is responsible for the meaning that THEY generate, it becomes rather
Think about it this way, when someone doesn’t take the time to check in to
determine whether or not the generated meaning is the same as the intended
meaning, they are abdicating their responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of
the communication. Sure, they’ll fall back onto the talking point of the
responsibility movement and suggest that the other person is responsible for
their own action, but this changes nothing while enriching the speakers’ belief
that they have done everything they could and any misunderstanding is solely
the result of the listeners’ shortcomings.
This is pretty screwed-up, and it makes me a little bit angry because it
lazy, careless, and completely avoidable. It is also very short-sighted on the
part of the speaker. If they have a point of view or an idea that they need to
communicate, why does the listener suddenly become responsible for the
successful rendering of that POV or idea inside their own head? Of the two
parties, the listener has the least incentive to do this work yet the
responsibility movement dictates that they are the one who has to do it.
It lands on me like arrogance because it implies that what the speaker has
to say is so valuable that it is worth it to the listener to put in the effort
to completely understand it. There are times when this is the case, but these
are few and far between. Most of the communication that comes from speakers is self-serving.
It is for their own benefit so they should do the work.
It would understandable if human beings had limited working memory and
storage capacity in their long term memory, but this is not the case. When
communicating one on one or in small groups, there is an ample supply of
bandwidth to ask the question to ensure the message is getting transmitted and
received accurately, sufficient working memory to manage the specific concerns
or word meanings that the listener has, and plenty of long term memory to store
specific details that will ensure smooth and more complete communication in the
Instead, they just want to talk, be understood and play no role in making
this clearer or better in the future.
The truth of the matter is that, for honest operators, pushing the work onto
them will result in them doing an unconscious benefit cost analysis of the
interactions. If they pay off is sufficient, they will continue to put in the work,
but they are doing it only because there is an incentive to it. When the payoff
is not sufficient, they will begin to disengage and start to not care about
what the speaker is saying. This means that we’ll listen to our bosses when
they continue to force us to do the work to understand what exactly it is that
they are talking about. It also means that we will begin to withdraw from our
peers and friends when we notice that they take no steps to adjust their
communication approach towards us when they realize that there is a gap in the
shared understanding of words or meanings.
Personally, I dislike it when someone replies with “uh huh” when I say
“thank you.” “Thank you” followed by “you’re welcome” is a behavioral pattern
that is nearly always transactional and automatic. It probably doesn’t mean
anything at all, and is just a carryover from our parents teaching us to be
Much has been written about “uh huh” being a replacement for “thank you” and
I am willing to say that I might just be old. “You’re welcome” apparently, is
loaded with meaning that serves to dis-empower the person who says it and the
person it is directed at. By saying “you’re welcome” you might actually be
implying that the listener SHOULD have said “thank you” or was obligated to say
it. In this case, saying “you’re welcome” is an act of dominance that will lead
to feelings of inferiority and eventually a state of servitude.
I did not know this.
This is actually the fault of the person who says “thank you” (apparently)
because by hearing “thank you” the listener is powerless to feel anything other
than the need to dismiss their actions as being nothing or as them simply
playing their role in a social transaction or fulfilling their obligation in a
So there you go.
I’m not in a position to say that any of this is in fact bull crap but I
feel comfortable suggesting that it does kind of have a manure smell to it. But
I do need to take the time to consider my own role and actions in it.
I say thank you when someone does something to which I am the beneficiary.
This is me, it’s a part of my programming and I am not going to make any
apology for it. IF the person I am saying it to takes it as a negative, they
are completely free to never do that thing for me again. While it isn’t my
intention to suggest that I appreciated the outcome of their action, actually,
it is. That IS my intention. Even if they are doing their job and have no
choice in the matter, I am still slightly better off as a result of their
action. I went to the hardware store and bought a drywall knife. I paid cash
and said “thank you.” No matter how transactional that is, I went into the
store with some cash and a need of a drywall knife and I left with slightly
less money and no longer in need of a drywall knife. My life is better and the
cashier played a role in that. So I express my gratitude by saying “thank you.”
If I go over to my in-laws house for dinner and I eat any of it, I will say
“thank you.” I’ll say it even if dinner is take-out or the food was delivered.
If a co-worker or a manager does something that is within the scope of their
job I will say “thank you” even though they didn’t really have a choice and are
doing it only because they want to remain employed. It’s the same thing, my
life is slightly easier because of their action and I am grateful for that.
I am willing to accept that maybe my saying thank you is unnecessary. I am
also beginning to open-up to the fact that maybe my saying it is triggering
negative feelings inside of them as the feel the dynamic shifting because of
their perception of a shift in the dominance hierarchy. My intention of sharing
my gratitude shouldn’t be the trigger to someone else’s suffering – I can be
grateful while remaining silent. As “the meaning of communication is the
response you get” presupposition suggests, if my words are causing the other
person to respond in a negative way – that is, they do not catch on to my
intention of relating my gratitude to them for their action and instead take it
that I am suggesting that they are somehow less now as a result of it – that is
in fact the meaning of my communicating “thank you.”
Framed like this it is completely reasonable that they will respond poorly when I tell them that they are a piece of crap, which explains the noise “uh huh” that the cashier gave me in return. “Uh huh” is not the same thing as “you’re welcome.” It holds none of the power of tradition that the click whir reply “you’re welcome” possess. It is also not the same thing as saying “no problem” or “don’t mention it,” nor is it the same as saying nothing and smiling or saying nothing at all. At least for me and to my ears, it is two syllables of mouth and nose sounds that land as compendious as opposed to transactional. It is so much more than uttering something that serve to acknowledge our interaction has come to an end. It lands on my like our interaction should never have begun and should never be re-established.
It is a sound that is loaded with a lot of negative meaning to me. I do not
recall when the conditioning occurred, but when I hear it, it triggers feelings
that have a pain-like flavor. It is a psychological punishment in that regard.
When I hear it, it initiates that innate unconscious process that all living
beings possess that sets to track down, isolate, and eliminate the actions that
immediately preceded the punishment. However, being a human being, my brain
deals with context when tracking down this cause of the punishment. I don’t get
all that bothered when I hear someone use “uh huh” as a substitute for “yes”
when they are in agreement with something. It only fires up when it is used as
the closer to the “thank you” “you’re welcome” interactions. When it is used in
this context, and particularly when I am on the receiving end of it, I tend to
just stop saying “thank you” the person for anything, even when they go above
and beyond or actually do something extraordinary.
And before today, just a few moments ago actually, I hadn’t realized that
there was even a possibility that this is actually what the person want. In my
arrogance, I had assumed that “thank you” means the same thing to everyone. It
hadn’t even entered into the realm of possibility that when I say “thank you” I
am communicating something that makes the other person feel bad. Since they do
not like feeling bad, they do what they need to do in order to stop it from
happening again in the future and administer a punishment. This works well
because I stop saying it.
The funny part of it is that I was thinking that they were being rude
without ever considering that it was ME who was being rude. There they were,
minding their own business, not bothering anyone as they try to do their job
and I show up, mock them, and effectively tell them that they suck by saying
“thank you.” I bully them by projecting my understanding of the term “thank
you” onto them without understanding the complexities and nuance of the social
interaction that is paying for something or being grateful that someone did a
part of their job that allows me to keep doing mine.
Thinking and writing the previous paragraph hits me like I am being sarcastic and possibly irreverent. I don’t actually know why people respond with “uh huh” when I thank them for something. I selfishly made it about me feeling slighted as opposed to being open to the possibility that something else was going on. It could be that they are just trying to save some energy by avoiding the speaking of three syllables by mouth nose sounding a substitute. But I am going to start asking when it happens because maybe I don’t know what is going on and maybe they don’t know what is going on.
I’m sure the reality is somewhere in the middle. They are not being rude and have no ill intent with saying it, but they also have no real desire to engage in a social interaction that serves no purpose and which only exists because our parents wanted to teach us that manners and politeness are behaviors and not a state mind.
The funny thing about an honest person who actually believes nonsense is that they are telling the truth when they are lying to people.
In many of the leadership books and blogs, the notion of mistakes comes up a
lot. To be a leader, you need to take action and any time you take action,
there is a chance that this action will not lead to the desired outcome.
Mistakes are a big part of learning and the best leaders in any industry tend
to make more than their fair share of them.
It makes a lot of sense to regard any mistake as lesson. This will make them
more powerful because it will reduce the long term consequences of the action.
Letting go of a poor decision is easier when we know that we are less likely to
make the same decision again in the future.
But I question the validity of the assumption that actual learning has
occurred when one habitually label mistakes lessons, given the apparent
tendency for people to do the same things over and over again. What may
actually be occurring is more akin to a karmic cleanse vs. a real lesson. It is
easier to call something a lesson and to state that the outcome was the result
of a lack of knowledge / experience than to really dig into what happened and
to accept that you had the resources to think the thing through and still chose
to act impulsively.
To be clear, I’m not talking about innovation here. Making something new
that performs its function perfectly necessitates it having been made and NOT
perform that function perfectly more than once. Each previous iteration was not
a mistake because the inventor could not have known better. Each version is a
lesson that builds upon all of the lessons from before. The outcome was not a
result of having information / resources and choosing not to use them.
What I am talking about are all of the times when taking a few minutes to
think things through beforehand would likely have revealed a lot of the blind
spots or things that did not immediately come to mind.
For example, I used to say “it takes 21 days to learn a new skill and make
it a habit” without any sense of irony. I had heard it when I started working
at a gym and it was something that we were encouraged to say to new or
potential members to let them know that changing course to move towards a more
healthful life requires some effort but that the effort doesn’t really need to
be sustained (3 weeks was all that was needed before the body would do it on
its own). The lack of irony was due to my missing the fact that I had created
the habit of saying that saying in about 30 seconds.
Some behaviors will require 21 days, others 1, some 261, etc. I was wrong. I
wasn’t learning a lesson, I was making a mistake every time I lazily repeated a
simple phrase that served a sales purpose. It turns out that I was lying because
I should have known better than to repeat something so trite and catchy. If I
had taken the required 3 moments to consider what was going on in the context
of my own life I would have realized that 21 days was not an average, was not
an actual and did not reflect how things progressed in my own life. When I was
learning to become a cycling instructor, I started practicing every day the day
after the training workshop ended; so less than 48 hours to create the habit –
I didn’t need to convince myself to practice, I was excited to do it. When I
decide to wake-up earlier in the morning, it takes me about a week of
deliberately getting out of bed at 5:15 am before I find myself walking around
at 5:16 am without a desire to push snooze and stay in bed. The habit of
mindfulness as it applies to my baseline level of anxiety has yet to full take
hold, even after years of knowing that I can be an anxious person and will seek
out the experiences that will create anxiety. My journeys down the rabbit hole
though are much shorter than before but I am still starting them.
On some level I knew I was talking nonsense. However, it was my job to sell
gym memberships so I just kept saying the line over and over again. I got good
at it. Prospective members believed me and I think I started to believe me.
The funny thing about an honest person who actually believes nonsense is
that they are telling the truth when they are lying to people. Someone who is
that convinced that life will be completely different in 3 weeks is able to convince
other people of that “fact.” There I was, pouring out sincerity, stoking the
flames of hope that their future would be better and all it would take was a
few weeks of effort before the body just did the work willingly. I closed a lot
of sales because I believed what I was saying, and that made it easier for the
people on the other side of the table to believe it too.
It didn’t take long, about 22 days after my first sale, before the evidence
began to grow that my silly little phrase wasn’t true. Over a few months it
became evident that I wasn’t going to be able to excel at selling gym
memberships for much longer because it was clear that people have a baseline
and it can take months and maybe years for it to be updated.
I moved on to management, then personal training, and finally fitness class
instruction growing further away from the notion that “it takes 21 days to
learn a new skill and make it a habit.” For me, selling gym memberships for
that club was like convincing someone to convert all of their dollars into the
currency of a country that doesn’t exist anymore – it was something that can be
done but was probably going to be a mistake and when it came time to correct
it, the exchange rate would ensure that the customer lost money. Going from zero
to a sustained full speed, which is what is required when someone makes the
decision to transform their body composition, is going to require that they
create a bunch of new behaviors, put a lot of effort into continuing to do
them, and endure whatever sense of loss going without the things that got them
to the position of needing to change their body composition in the first place
causes. It is possible, but for almost everyone it is going to SUCK.
And that is the power of labeling a mistake a lesson in the fitness
industry. There is no cost to it, so doing it eliminates the incentive to
actually change future actions. In fact, there is a disincentive to changing
because you move away from doing what you know works and into the realm of the
unknown. The new actions may not work so you will be, at the very least, going
without the sense of certainty that what you are doing is going to be
effective, and, more likely, be going without the money. Better to call it a
lesson so you get to continue to do what you did before and get the same
outcome. This is what immunizes the fitness professional from the pain
associated with making a mistake because the reframe allows the “lesson” to be
the cost of knowing something and because it ultimately is the responsibility
of the member / client / participant to put in the work. If the habit doesn’t
take after exactly 3 weeks it is probably the clients fault for doing something
wrong. The mistake was not in the BS statement, it was to belief that the
client or member was willing to put in the work to form that new habit.
So long as there is no pain associated with the action, the motivation to do
anything different will never grow. The client will experience the pain. When,
on the 22nd day, going to the gym and eating more healthful food is not the
automatic, they will begin to feel the pain of their blown expectation. And
this is the problem with not being completely honest with people when it comes
to the fitness industry. People are hopeful about their future and very much
want to believe that it will not only get very easy to do, but that it won’t
take very long for that to happen. “It takes 21 days to learn a new skill and
make it a habit” is tailor-made to capitalize on their vulnerable state of
mind. They are coached into thinking “sure, it’ll be tough for a couple of
weeks but then it will get easy and after that, it’s only a matter of time
before I look and feel amazing.”
That just isn’t true. Well, the second part of it might be, that it will be
just a matter of time before they look and feel amazing so long as they
continue to consistently put in the work in the gym and the kitchen. But for
95% of the people who take-up fitness it can be months or years before their
body and brain make the pursuit of physical improvement automatic. Until then,
and even occasionally afterwards, it will require will-power. In my experience,
the only people for which the 21 days saying actually applies are for those who
have taken a short period of time away from their exercise habit. For everyone
else there is an almost 100% chance that the saying is false and for those who
sign-up for services based on their belief of it will be disappointed and have
less money because of it.
My approach now is almost complete honesty and to even attempt to talk
someone out of joining or starting because a lot of people do not want to
improve their fitness, they simply want to be happier. While becoming a regular
exerciser can improve happiness and improve someone’s feelings of well-being,
it can also contribute to a lot of suffering, misery, and feelings of shame and
inadequacy. If you don’t believe this, consider what goes through someone’s
mind when they hit day 22 and find that they haven’t really learned a new skill
and have definitely not made it a habit. When they find going to the gym on
week 4 to be as tough as or even tougher than they did on week 1, what are they
going to think about themselves? When they start to compare themselves to the
other members who seem to be showing up 3-5 times a week without any effort and
when they remember the certainty in which the sales person or personal trainer
told them that it would only take 21 days it will be nearly impossible to not
be flooded with feelings of inadequacy and failure. Experiencing these feelings
is not conducive to being happy.
I made a mistake and I changed course because I felt horrible for lying to
people when they were vulnerable, easily influenced, and when I stood to gain
from saying something that sounded true but was clearly false. When I had to
face myself in the mirror I realized that I had been using BS to harvest
peoples hope in an attempt to help sell them gym memberships. And morally I
felt awful because I knew that I had contributed to their suffering. It wasn’t
a mistake because I SHOULD have known better and it wasn’t a lesson because I
already knew better.
This brings me to some of the other things I was told when I was learning
how to sell gym memberships. The sales managers and sales coaches tried to make
me feel bad for applying what I knew about people. The statement “how are they
supposed to believe in themselves if you don’t even believe in them?” was
directed towards me more than once. As was “who are you to judge them for
something that might happen in the future? Who are you to deny them the
opportunity to have a better life?” These statements feel like they might be
true, except I knew that they were not. It wasn’t that I was a pessimist, it
was that I was both a realist and someone with a back ground in psychology / human
behavior. I believed in the prospective members as much as I believe in people.
I knew what it took for me to change my behavior and I knew a lot of the
theories about what is required for human beings to be ready for change. The
truth is that there are only a couple of short cuts to the process and unless
someone arrives at the gym for the first time having taken one of them, having
had one of the requisite experiences OR is actually ready to change, they will
have extreme difficult making the changes.
Informed consent is a thing that is very important and it was the only thing
that we were NOT seeking. We needed and wanted their consent in terms of a
signature on a legally binding agreement to allow the gym to access their bank
account to withdraw the membership dues. The act of informing them of the
actions they were going to need to do was vacated in favor of cultivating their
hope and filling their mind with grand ideas that do not hold up. When they
failed to form the new habit it was their decision and completely their own
responsibility. When I would talk about my concerns about the entire
transaction I was reminded that maybe the habit didn’t take because I didn’t
believe in the member enough. The fact that behavior change is hard and
requires sustained unreasonable effort was completely ignored. My crappy
attitude was probably contributing to the member’s challenges in automating a
difficult set of complex behaviors that are both physical challenging and are
experienced as psychological pain. Initially I adjusted my attitude but it
became obvious very quickly that my sincere belief in other people is not
sufficient to move them to do anything more than to sign-up and come in a few
times during the first few weeks. The heavy lifting needed to be done by them.
This all comes down to the following couple of facts:
The first is that people operate using a system of rewards and punishments.
Rewards serve to fuel action and to repeat an action that lead to the reward.
Punishments serve to reduce action in general but specifically the action that
caused the punishment. At the shallowest level, things that feel good are
rewards and things that feel bad are punishments. With references to the “it
takes 21 days” line I learned, it was initially reinforced because it seemed to
be effective at getting people to sign-up for a gym membership. The closing of
the sale felt good because it meant that I had performed my job well and would
result in higher wages come pay-day. However, after the first month, I began to
notice that the new members were not that much different from me and many were
having difficult forming that habit. Their pain and eventual disillusionment
started to weigh on me. They had a desire to finally make the life of their
dreams and started with such hope that it would become a habit very quickly.
Reality landed on them HARD after the first few weeks turned into a month and
it remained a constant challenge to eat better and drive to the gym to do
movements that are not innately rewarding. Either because they were telling me
this, I was reading it on their faces, or because they stopped coming into the
gym, I was getting absolutely clear that the exercise habit is a tough one to
create. The words that had once been powerfully reinforced though sales began
to be experienced as punishments when I realized that I had lied to the people
who had trusted me.
On a deeper level, the pleasure and pain can be perceived as either reward
or punishment, and this is the area that my NOT taking the effort to more fully
inform them of what would be required to become an habitual exerciser and more
effective eater came back to haunt me. At this deeper level, were pain can be
viewed as a reward and pleasure can be viewed as a punishment, the person needs
to take the time to think about what is going on in order to manufacture the
meaning that matches reward or punishment. For me, as a sales person, closing a
sale would only feel good when I made it as clear as possible what the first
few months of the gym would be like for them and the sense of loss or sacrifice
that comes along with changing your diet to remove sugar and junk food while
increasing the consumption of highly nutritious foods. My aim became disclosing
as possible about how long it would take to reach their goal and the number of
times they would have to say “no” to something they wanted and “yes” to
something that felt uncomfortable in the short term.
Of course two things happened here. The first was that the sales managers
and coaches did not like me going off script and tried to move me back on
course; which I wasn’t having any of because I had grown tired of feeling like
a lying jerk. The second was that the members who signed-up became active
members because they were fully aware of what was about to happen, had
considered it, and had still made the decision to join. When, 8 weeks later,
they still found that they had to call upon their willpower to come to the gym
at the end of their work day, they were not plagued with any feelings of “why
hasn’t this become a habit yet?” or “what is wrong with me, why can’t I like
this?” They did not like it, but they accepted it as something that they were
going to have to do in order to get the thing that they wanted. This, more than
anything else, is the formula for success – consistent hard work over time.
They were able to view showing-up and making it to the end of a workout as
rewarding in spite of the fact that NOTHING about it brought them any
measurable pleasure. They manufactured a meaning that served as a proxy for
pleasure to allow their brain to reward the behavior.
This is what is called the “discipline high.” You trigger chemical rewards
in response to doing things that are hard, require will power, and for which
there is a big disincentive to doing. Pain becomes pleasure-like, pleasure
becomes pain-like and the person takes the actions they accepted as part of the
journey. This type of meaning manufacturing might have been what the “21 days
to learn…” statement was getting at, but it was never outlined or explained to
me this way.
Now it turned out that because of my updated approach, the powers that be
thought that I would be a better manager than sales person and I got the
opportunity to perform that role at a different club. I employed the same
updated approach with managing the team as I had with selling memberships and
they responded in more or less the same way. Improving at anything will take
sustained work, a lot of which will not be directly rewarding. The sooner you
accept this fact and just start doing it the better the process is going to go
Years later, when I look at those first steps into to the fitness field I
smile and feel grateful that they are behind me. At the time I didn’t realize
that it is a self-help industry and that no matter what I bring to the table
the members, participants, or clients will need to perform the work. I can
motivate, want, coach, etc. until I’m exhausted, but if they do not put in the
effort there will be NO transformation. They need to help themselves and until
they are willing AND doing it, nothing is going to happen.
It is a fun job for many but for me it is only fun when there has been full
disclosure and the person is agreeing to perform their role KNOWING that it is
going to be hard work, mostly thankless, void of any physical reward and is not
something that feels good initially. Each of us have the potential to learn how
to work our muscles in a way that causes them to release feel good chemicals
but reaching this point requires the body to work at a particularly hard level for
an unpleasantly long period of time. Put another way, you need to be very fit,
have strong muscles, and the ability to tolerate a large amount of discomfort
before the body will respond by releasing endorphins to numb the pain and boost
the pleasure. This can take 3 to 9 months, which is a lot longer than the 21
days I used to promise. BUT when you know that it will happen and that the
journey towards that moment might just suck completely, you are much more
likely to accept the work as part of it and just do it.
I’m now much more inclined to consider a mistake both a mistake AND a lesson. It is a mistake because the pain is a necessary part of the process. It reduces the chances of me repeating an action that causes pain. This simultaneously creates the opportunity of a future perceived contrast reward in so far as any elimination of pain is experienced as pleasure when contrasted to the possibility of that pain. The pain eliminates the actions that do not work as the prospect of pleasure serves to fuel different actions in the future. In the absence of certainty that an action WILL lead to a rewarding outcome, we leverage this hope of a rewarding outcome to keep trying.
Don’t let yourself off the hook by labeling a mistake a lesson. Your brain learns better when there is something on the line so keep it there and learn from your mistakes.
This sounded familiar to me because when I started practicing [meditation], I had the same belief that it would fix things. After years of practice I had come to accept that it did not fix anything. In fact, it does not do much of anything OTHER than make you more aware of what is going on from moment to moment. What will be will be, you just seem to feel it more intensely
If someone was to ask me about that time I said something wise I would tell them about the last full day of my third mediation retreat. But of course I would, because that was a moment when there was no doubt that the words that came out of my mouth were demonstrably truth, wise, and an act of complete compassion.
The retreats that I go on last for 10 days and are silent from 8 PM on the evening before the first day until 9:30 AM on day ten. Basically you meditate as much as possible from 4:30 AM until 9 PM, day after day after day. There are people around you, but you don’t talk to them and instructors recommend that you do not even look at other people, at least not in the eyes. It is just hours on end of you and your mind sitting quietly with your eyes closed, noticing the sensations of being alive. Vegetarian food is made available two times a day, at 6:30 AM and 11:30 AM, and there is a video discourse every night at 7 PM. There are four group sittings each day, three hour long ones at 8:30 AM, 2:30 PM, and 6 PM, and a shorter one from 8:30 to 9 PM. The rest of the time is spend mediating, resting, or looking after personal hygiene or laundry.
It can be remarkably boring, extremely intense, profoundly insightful, or a flat neutral experience. There is nothing to distract you, no phones, no TV, no music, and nothing to read. It is all you all of the time and this reveals the nature of your mind with untempered clarity.
I LOVE it and I HATE it and no matter how many times I go, the experience is never the same but always follows the same sort of pattern. It is kind of like walking along a forest trail at different times of the year. The route or path is the same but the journey is always different depending upon the season.
My wisest moment arrived at around 11:35 AM on day 10. This is the final day and at 9:30 AM the silent portion of the retreat ends. We are allowed to talk to other people if we like and it is presented as an opportunity to slowly re-integrate ourselves into the real world by communicating with the other participants. At this moment in time, each of us have more in common with each other than almost everyone else in the world. By ramping up our conversations with each other, we are in a better position to reengage the world the following morning when we leave the center.
I have no opinion about the accuracy of this and tend to find the elimination of silence to be jarring and unpleasant. As happy as I am to have the retreat wind down, the contrast between silence and people talking is almost too much for me to handle. But so is life from time to time, so maybe that is the point of it.
There tend to be three types of people who go to these retreats. The first are psychonauts. These are the people who have found out about mediation, think it is cool, and relish in the thought of completing a retreat as though it is a badge of honor or an accomplishment of something. The second are the mindful-curious. These are the people who have, for some reason, started to consider the possibility that consciousness is not the thing that they thought it was. They are not sure what it is, but they are interested in finding the true nature of the mind and what existence is all about. The final group is the psychology skewed. These people have, for one reason or another, an internal operating system that doesn’t serve them as well as it could. They are not necessarily, or even likely, to suffer from a psychological pathology that is chemical in nature or for which they need to be medicated. They just engage the world, their mind, and their brain in a way that to some degree less than optimal. This causes them existential difficulties in so far as their life is tougher than it needs to be or is lived with a sense that they are living slight out of phase with the real world.
I am a member of this final group, and I rediscovered mediation when I noticed the thought that life was tougher than it needed to be. I’ll eventually write more about the specifics, but generally speaking, I have a tendency towards feeling anxious and would have labeled my prevailing thought patterns to be those of something approximating generalized anxiety disorder.
The flavor of the conversations you have on day ten will be determined the group that you belong to and your group affiliation will be obvious based on the level and nature of the energy you give off once you begin talking again. Basically it will be one of three things – “I made it” pride, “I realized” curiosity, or “I am like this” acceptance.
I was talking to a guy from the third group on our way back from lunch when he mentioned that he was going to ask the instructor a question at the end of the next group sitting. I asked him if we was willing to tell me what he was going to ask and he mentioned that it was about anxiety. Specifically, when he was younger, about fifteen years ago, he was diagnosed with anxiety because he was having panic attacks at school. The solution was medication to be taken when an attack was starting. It worked in so far as it treated the acute nature of the attacks but it didn’t stop them from occuring. As he got older, they occurred less and less frequently and he hadn’t experienced one in five years since he had graduated from university and started working. However, earlier that morning he had experienced what felt like the start of one during the group sitting. This was a concern because he thought he was cured, so he wanted to ask the instructor how long he would have to meditate for before he would be cured. He believed that after developing and continuing a practice for a few months or years that the brain would clear itself up and he would never have anxiety again.
This sounded familiar to me because when I started practicing, I had the same belief that it would fix things. After years of practice I had come to accept that it did not fix anything. In fact, it does not do much of anything OTHER than make you more aware of what is going on from moment to moment. What will be will be, you just seem to feel it more intensely. You still get angry, you just realize that you are angry sooner and feel the anger more. You still get sad, you just realize it sooner and feel it more profoundly. Mediation helps me because these two things work together to more quickly move me through whatever emotional experience that I am having. The end result is that I feel more and suffer less, which is a positive. I am still the same as I ever was, the same code is running, I’m just a little more in tune with what I am experiencing from moment to moment and this awareness gives me the clarity to not get so wrapped up in it. I react less and more often choose to respond by doing nothing.
So I asked him what he thought the instructor was going to say and then what did he hope they would say? I don’t recall the exact words that he used, but the essence of how he replied was a single answer to both questions. That it is normal right now and that everything will go away completely within a couple of months, and maybe as long as a year.
I try to do things that reduce suffering in other beings, and baring that, I try to avoid doing things that will cause suffering. I did not know how the instructor would answer the question, but I knew how I would answer it, so I asked him if he wanted to know what I thought the instructor might say. He said sure, so I answered. Be aware that by answering the question I was trying to reduce his suffering in the long run but knew full well that the action I was taking had the potential of causing it in the short term.
“I used to want the same thing, but I come to realize that it is never going away. I am prone to experience moments of intense and almost overwhelming anxiety and went on my first retreat because I was almost certain that there was a better way to experience life. And I was right and I was also wrong. The fact of the matter the anxiety is still there and it is probably always going to be, but it doesn’t mean what it used to. It used to be something that I wanted to get rid of, so I’d resist it and approach it as a problem to solve. Maybe there were times when I was able to make it go away, but I always feared that it would come back again. I wanted to be free of it so I could just go about living my life the way I believe everyone else does.”
I paused for a moment to make sure he was still with me and started-up again when I realized that he was.
“But what meditation has taught me is that there isn’t anything wrong with me and there is no reason to actually want to get rid of the anxiety for ever. Most of the time it is just a drag, but some of the time it is actually helpful, so I know my life wouldn’t be the same if it never came back. It’s natural and normal for me, so there is no point in battling with it or labeling myself as defective or less than other people. We are all equally worthless, sentences to live out our live on this planet in the middle of more or less no where. The universe is just so big that my anxiety and your panic attacks can’t actually mean anything in a cosmic scale.”
I pause again and notice that the wheels are starting to spin a little faster in his head.
“I still get anxious. Probably just as often as I used to. It kind of feels worse now than it did before, but there is a big difference now. Now I know that it is going to pass, just like everything else. It is temporary and if I wait long enough it will go away. And you know what, then I’ll be glad it is gone. It’s kind of like the opposite of feeling happy. Happiness doesn’t mean that same thing that it used to any more because I know that it will pass and when it does I will no longer be happy. But just like the anxiety, it will probably come back in the future and I can be happy again, for a moment before it leaves.”
This pause was different, at least what I noticed was different. There was a look of pain in his eyes, and his face wore that heavy weight of the world look. This was the suffering I had anticipate causing.
“All I can do is choose what I pay attention to. That’s it. I can’t control what my brain and body do from moment to moment, at least in terms of a anxiety showing up. But I can choose to be completely happy when happiness rolls in and enjoy it for what it is, just as I can choose to notice what anxiety actually feels like. When I’m anxious I can direct my attention to the sensations on my body and notice what the moments of anxiousness actually feel like, and if I feel them all over, it it feels the same on different spots, and if my noticing the sensations of anxiety change how my brain deals with. I’m free to pay attention to it, to ignore it, or to play around with it and try to think about what it reminds me of. If I needed to act, I would have acted. Since I didn’t, there is no survival trigger for the anxiety so it doesn’t matter very much.”
He was still with me.
“But it isn’t going to disappear, or it might. I hasn’t for me, and I haven’t read or heard from anyone who has eliminated it from their life entirely through meditation. But by paying attention to it as an experience in the moment as it is happening, as opposed to treating it as a problem to solve, it starts to mean something else and this I have found to be a lot easier to deal with. But it isn’t going anywhere and meditation isn’t going to fix you because there is nothing wrong with you. You just get anxious from time to time and you have convinced yourself that it is bad. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just an experience you have from time to time. Be curious about it and teach yourself to notice what it is actually like as an experience as opposed to giving it power by making it into something it isn’t.”
There was a little back and forth, but not much that seemed to matter. I had crushed his dream that mediation was a solution to this problem and obliterated the hope that he was one day going to be free of panic attacks and anxiety in general.
A few hours later, after the afternoon group sitting, I asked him what the instructor had said and he told me he didn’t ask. When I asked why, he said that during the sitting, the anxiety started to fire-up again and he choose to just notice it as an experience as opposed to react to it as a problem. It hadn’t been all that bad. In fact, it was just something that was happening that wouldn’t be happening for very long. It wasn’t that it disappeared instantly, it just seemed to shrink in significance and became the rushing sensation that was his experience of anxiety. I thought this was great, but when he continued, I realized the wisdom of what I had shared.
“If it isn’t going to go away, I’m going to be living in fear that it is going to show up. And that thought is actually one that kind of begins to trigger it. That is unreasonable. I’m either going to be having panic attacks or living in a state of fear that I’m going to be having one. So if I just accept that they will show up from time to time and really make the effort to uncover whether or not they are a problem, I’ll at least know if I need to do something more about them. If that last sit is anything to go on, they are just kind of shittie, like the feeling you get after running up some stairs or trying to catch a train that you’re late for. My heart was going faster than normal, but I was free to direct my mind onto whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to pay attention to it. This didn’t make it go away, but it made it just a thing that was happening.”
I smiled and replied with “that’s cool, and kind of a powerful insight eh?”
The retreat ended the next day and I drove home with the radio off, happy that it was over and excited to be seeing my girlfriend again.
In the days and weeks, and months that followed, as I continued to practice, anxiety still continued to show up, and I think it will always play a role in my life. Most of the time I’m able to just label it by saying “there’s anxiety” and it fades away. Other times it gets a grip and I have a moment of wondering if I ever didn’t feel it or if it will ever go away, but then I catch myself and start to pay attention to the sensation it triggers, or the sensation that triggers it. I notice just how similar it is to excitement, or too much coffee, or to the moments after a tough working set in the gym that causes my heart rate to fly. The key is that after all of the mediation, I’m able to notice when it rolls in and make the decision to do something about it if doing something will help or to just let it be.
I am not cured, and I have very little reason to believe that I ever will be, because there is nothing to be cured from. This is how my brain operates. I’m just free to choose my approach, so by deciding to view myself as normal, and to act with curiosity when it comes along. Because it is going to come along and realizing this fact was a moment of wisdom.
When someone has a skill and they are asked to answer the question “so what?” when it concerns their skill, what comes next is an outline or list of some actions that they can take using their skill that other people might value and will be willing to pay for. A clear so what answer is effectively the instructions on how to capitalize upon a skill
Last week I had coffee with a good friend with whom I used to work. She left the company a few months before I did, and this was our first opportunity to catch-up. She and I have what I would consider actual conversation. Neither one of us view the other one as being wrong, less than, or in need of assistants or help; unless of course one of us asks for it.
The consequence to operating this way is that every conversation we have is
about me; and from her perspective, it is about her. When there are no problems
to solve, predatory listening ceases to be something that is helpful. Instead,
you listen to what the other person is saying and you actually take the time to
hear it – listening is what the words do to your ears, hearing is what the
words do to you brain. It is engaging and while the conversation may have a
starting point, there is no map and definitely no ending point. It goes where
it goes and it lasts as long as it last. And when it ends, our brain continues
to process the conversation and make whatever hay out of it that it can. This
is what I enjoy most about talking to other people, and it might be the reason
why I have a tough time making small talk and talking about the sports.
She left the company to work for a company in a different industry and is
enjoying the learning opportunities that her new role is giving her.
When I left the company, it was to pursue writing, or coaching, or, well,
something other than working for a company doing a task that I was good at but
had no real connection to. I was competent at my last job, but it wasn’t
alivening and it wasn’t a manifestation of who I am or the expression of what
brings me the most fulfillment in terms of using my brain and body.
As conversations like ours do, it moved on to what I was going to do next,
and generally what was I going to do to generate an income. Her asking gave my
brain the task of thinking more about the question “so what?”
The way I see it, the notion of value is connected to the answer of this
question. Specifically, when someone has a skill and they are asked to answer
the question “so what?” when it concerns their skill, what comes next is an
outline or list of some actions that they can take using their skill that other
people might value and will be willing to pay for. A clear so what answer is
effectively the instructions on how to capitalize upon a skill.
For example, someone who knows a lot about exercise can answer so what by
saying they can teach other people how to exercise, they can exercise safely
themselves, they can teach other people how to coach movements, and they can
review the quality of other people’s exercise programs and offer helpful
advice. Some of these things are jobs because they will allow the person to act
as a proxy or stand-in for the lack of skill other people have concerning
I have been wondering about the “so what” of my skill set for a while now.
The first moment of it in the most recent phase was about six months ago during
dinner with one of Heather’s friends and her husband. I have known this lady
for about four years and have always had extremely intense conversations with
her. She’s exceptionally bright and having lived a very different culturing
life, she has a very different way of looking at the world than I do. It’s a
welcome change although it can be a big challenge to manage being so absolutely
clueless around someone who is so intelligent. I lean into the discomfort
because if nothing else, I will get a different perspective of things if I
swallow my pride accept that I do not know as I listen and hear what she has to
say. True to form, this was one of those moments.
It was nice to have her say some lovely things to me. She mentioned that I
always had a way of talking about subjects that was free of judgment, loaded
with information, and lacking the normal dogmatism that tends to follow people
who have thought a lot about something. Talking with me was always going to be
interesting because what I would say would land somewhere between unique way of
looking at something and profound insight. I made her think, and since she
enjoys thinking, time with me was rewarding. She was always going to be better
off at the end of the conversation and at no point would she feel like I had
attempted to use manipulation to drive home a point. “You know you don’t know,
and that doesn’t stop you from voicing your theories because you almost seem
willing to be wrong so that you don’t have to be wrong like that again.”
In fairness, this is arguable the nicest thing someone as intelligent as her
could say to me, so I just keep being me around her and the talks are always
This dinner was more of the same, although I had a lot less to say because I
do not know the world from which she was speaking. She has an MBA, has recently
moved on from her last corporate job to start a consulting company; which
generated more revenue in the first three months than she was making in the
previous year, and she understands how to deliver services when there is a
demand for those service. She’s very clean on her own “so what,” and she is
more than capable of setting up the service delivery once someone else has
figured out the answer to their “so what” question.
This is where we ended-up during dinner, and it was a painful place to be.
“What is your USP Pat? You have a lot of skills and a ton of information,
but what is your unique selling proposition?” As we talked – she talked, I
listened – it was evident that I didn’t know what she was talking about, or
what my unique selling proposition is. All I knew was that I really enjoy
learning and figuring things out, and left to my own devices, I would do this
full time just for the sake of understanding the world more clearly.
I didn’t know, I still don’t, and after a few days and weeks considering the
conversation, I began to realize that knowing my unique selling proposition was
the same thing as having a clear and concise answer to the question “so what?”
Heather is crystal clear on her unique selling proposition and she knows the
answer to the so what question about her skill set. She is a shaper and leader
of corporate culture, she is able to get people to generate the solutions to
their problems, and she is able to get large groups people moving together to
achieved a shared goal. It’s frightening and remarkable all at the same time.
Frightening because she is so good at it and remarkable because people end up
figuring out and choosing to do the things they need to do. She’s kind and
smart, and plays her role without anyone feeling that she’s pushing them to do
anything. At worst they let out a sign, announce that she’s doing it again, and
play their role in solving their own problems, but most likely the people are
unaware that she’s helping them and only tend to notice a few months later when
their existence has improved dramatically.
Now of course I would be crazy to not attempt to enroll her in helping me
surface my USP, but it would be even more crazy for her to try. Relationships
work because each partner plays a role, and they work best when there is a
complement between the two. There is a risk associated with one partner taking
on a non-established role this far along in the relationship – we give each
other the space to figure out stuff on our own because neither one of us want
the responsibility of having to manage any aspect of the others life. Had she
taken on the role of leading me at the beginning, our relationship probably
would not have progressed very far. It’s a catch-22 of sorts, and as much as I
would love to get her help, we both know that it isn’t going to happen.
The conversations we have shared over the last six months have been helpful,
but they amount to conversations the one would have with a spouse and NOT to
the ones they would have with their coach. All of this being said, I have been
thinking about my USP and trying to figure-out the answers to the “so what”
question of my skills.
Last weekend when the conversation between my old work friend and me landed
at the “what next,” I felt the urge to talk about the “so what” question. The
reason was very simple, I do a lot of my thinking through talking out loud, so
the perfect moment presented itself.
I have a thought that maybe the “so what” answers are not as clear cut as
they could be. I have no difficulty understanding how someone can take an
inventory of their skills and figure-out how they can use these things to earn
an income. It’s a matter of figuring out how to use them to add value to lives
of other people. The challenge I am running in to, at least I think I am
running in to, is that I don’t share the same definition of value that is
captured by that question. I don’t care about money all that much. I have a
relationship with it, but it is a second cousin type relationship, as opposed
to a sibling type. Heather likes money, but more than that, she knows she needs
it. She’s been able to work hard to cultivate her talents to the point that she
is able to bring immense value to other people and that this value can easily
be measured using money. Money is a place holder or proxy for something else
that she needs, wants or likes, and she has been able to establish a direct
relationship between taking specific actions and earning money. I don’t have
the same relationship. Money is more of a nuisance to me than anything else. I
don’t really want anything other than the opportunity to learn, write, and
think. Sure, I need some money to pay of things like rent, food, Internet, and
transportation, but once that stuff is taken care of, I just don’t seem to give
much consideration any more.
For a very long time I didn’t actually believe that I would get much older,
so I never conditioned myself to believe that saving for retirement or a rainy
day was something that I needed to do. That isn’t one of my habits or automatic
ways of thinking. The reality is that I am now much older than I ever thought I
would be and each day I wake up, I move further away from the expiration date I
had created in my mind. The truth was that for too long there didn’t need to be
an answer to the question “so what” because I wasn’t going to be around to deal
with there having to be an answer. I was able to do what I wanted and what felt
good because bills and money didn’t matter. Money is only a thing that has
value in the future when you are earning because it is a way of circumventing
the need to trade time today for goods and services later. But for me then,
later didn’t exist to the same extent or in the same way it does now, so I
would pursue what I found rewarding vs. what I found lucrative. This was the
habit I instilled and for a very long time I was able to take the mental steps
that were required to continue this line of reasoning.
But it became unworkable simply because the world doesn’t operate that way.
Other people set about generating wealth and saving for their future. When they
connect with me, I am a mark for them because I don’t care about money so if
they are able to provide me with fulfillment, I am satisfied. They get to keep
the money because I got what I wanted. But sooner or later I was going to die,
which would take care of things, or I was going to reach the point that money
would become important because it would come to represent the future. When that
happened, I would be stuck trying to figure everything out and would need to
determine what my USP in order to demonstrate value and bring services of
What I love doing, and what Heather’s friend highlighted as a unique skill,
is not really the easiest thing to bring to market. I love figuring out how the
world works, how people think, and why things are the way they are. I’m not all
that focused though – a mechanical engineer is focused on how machines work,
and can therefore bring a very specific set of skills to the market place, a
corporate lawyer understands a very specific set of rules and is therefore of
great value to those who need access to those rules – I am as interested in how
a hydro dam works as I am about the innate reward system of the brain, so am
not all that driven to learn all there is to know about a specific subject.
This is not to say that I know with certainty that I cannot train myself to
focus my drive onto the pursuit of learning everything that I possibly can
about a specific subject, just that I am not innately driven to do this. In
fact, there have been periods of my life when I did go after specific things
with all that I had and each time I did this, I was able to bring on board a
lot of knowledge and I did show a very large improvement in those things that
surrounded the subject.
So this is where I stand right now, it’s a good place to be, but it isn’t
prefect. If I didn’t need money I would just keep devouring information and learning
whatever I could that I was moved to learn. However, I do need money, and there
is a part of me that is beginning to grow annoyed at the ongoing nature that a
need for money creates.
Now is the time to shift course slightly and focus more of my efforts on
generating a substantial enough income that I no longer need to spend any time
having to address the need for money. To either generate sufficient enough
income that I can quickly save enough money to cross its pursuit off of my list
or sufficient enough residual income that I don’t need to think much more about
What is my unique selling proposition? Well, I don’t exactly know, but I
have a very good chance of figuring it out. Just because I have never
consciously set about trying to figure it out before does not mean that I
haven’t every taken advantage of it in the past. The answers are there, I just
need to spend the time looking for them. The “so what” is not a matter of
money, it’s a matter of freeing up the time to do the things that I want to do,
and maybe that reframe is all that I need to get after it….