Why you must change the rules to advance.

Several years ago I was in a very unpleasant situation that had become a protracted problem with no practical end in sight. I was extremely frustrated, and stood to loose significant assets. I could see no way forward, I was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

On afternoon, as I was reviewing the situation with one of my closest friends who has a penchant for disruptive suggestions, he of course put forward the unthinkable proposition. 

I was furious, but he was right, and somehow I knew it.

First I collated all the reasons why that option was absolutely not viable. But little by little I stumbled over small gaps in my arguments, Instead of refuting the original proposition, I had inadvertently begun looking for ways around some of these secondary obstacles. Before I knew it I was making plans and soon the entire situation was resolved. What was more important was that I did so at complete peace with myself, and in absolute control of the process!

My friend’s precise words ring in my head to this day: “Have you thought about walking away from it all?”

The proposition itself is not that radical, but it forced me to rethink my priorities at the time. It forced me to challenge all the values that I had held on to during the conflict. Once I had literally freed myself from some of these constraints, a whole new set of possible solutions appeared.

When you are stuck or your options are so limited you can’t make progress, stop yourself and be that disruptive friend to yourself.

Ask “what is the most ridiculous, unimaginable proposition that you absolutely don’t want to consider ever under any circumstance?”

But wait, before you try to figure that out, ask why. Why is that proposition so unimaginably ridiculous?

I am certain you will discover at least one priority, one value that is not serving you, that is hindering you. I am not suggesting that you let go of ethical principles and integrity. Look for things like desire to own, control or influence situations, of gaining upper hand, of monetary gains. Look for things that you can afford to loose (even if it hurts!) but that will leave your integrity intact.

When you make the choice to omit that criteria from your problem-solving process, you will discover a vast menu of possible new ways forward.

Sure, there may be some pain, some loss, but like in my situation, the benefits far outweighed the temporary loses. And the whole process came with an unexpected benefit: it made me mentally stronger and gave me an incredible sense of achievement. It was not the result I was after, it was not even a result I had imagined. It was far better than anything I had thought possible. All because someone suggested I walk away from it all.

What is possible for you if you change the rules?

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There is no fact without that feeling…

Expertise not sticking? Losing the argument, even with all your facts unambiguously right?

We see start-ups with innovative feature-loaded and superior products eclipsed by a more expensive, clumsy and less featured competitors.

We see electoral campaigns fought on truths, half-truths and blatant misinformation, and rarely does the person with the credentials, the integrity and the visionary leadership win.

We see a poorly prepared candidate with lesser credentials and experience beat a well prepared, highly experienced and better suited one to the position.

We see magnificent artworks that are true masterpieces loose awards to peculiar and not-quite-the-real-thing experiments.

We see solid and verified science effectively challenged with flawed arguments, fabricated evidence and flamboyant generalisations.

Why is that?

Its all about “the feeling”. Literally and figuratively.

We have evolved to be emotional beings first, and rational being second. In evolutionary terms, our rational part of the brain is a very recent addition, hence its name “neo-cortex” or literally “new layer”. If you had to wait to find out by evidence that some wild animal was going to devour you, your odds for survival were not so good. If instead you were fearful and watchful, and managed to escape the the grumpy hyenas, your chances were far better.

Emotion takes a higher priority in our minds than facts. This is true for all of us, no exceptions.

If you want your audience to engage with a fact, make them feel it, imagine it. Emotion is the bridge, the barge that takes a fact across the lake and to the shores of their mind. There, once landed, it can become theirs, relevant and meaningful, engaging. Without this emotional connection there is no message, no fact or truth that is powerful and compelling enough to ever get across. It will silently drown just metres from your shore.

For my pragmatic and scientific readers, I know that doing this will be really difficult, as it goes against the very factual foundation of scientific thought. Yet no-one can argue that emotion has lent power to politics and religion since time immemorial. And it will continue to do so. Every great speech, every successful advertising campaign, every powerful brand engages through emotion, not fact.

The more intense the emotion, the deeper the connection, and the more profound and lasting the conviction. Unfortunately, once the bridge is built, it does not really matter if what crosses is true or not, but it must always be consistent with the expectation, it must always rise upon the emotion. So do the right thing, always always be truthful. Be truthful in the feeling you convey. Be truthful with the facts that ride upon it.

Be felt if you want to be heard.

 

Put your sunglasses on…. and stop being normal!

People are looking at you.

They are looking you up and down, passing a brief but significant judgement, and most likely moving on to the next person. By then you have most likely been forgotten.

You know, because it is precisely how you are looking at them.

We as humans naturally have an interest in other humans. Most of it is driven by our primeval instincts to find a mate and to commune with a friendly tribe. You only need to go to any large public gathering and see people-watching in action. Yet we ignore the simple most obvious detail: we are also on show. By that I mean we are either displaying our sameness or our differentness.

But who are the people we find most intriguing and interesting? The ones that blend into the background, the extras, the rent-a-crowd? Or the odd one out, the ones on the stage, the heroes?

How often do we hear someone tell us how they just want to be “normal”. Then in the very next sentence they describe the extraordinary life that they wish for.

The problem is that “normal” is a barrier to just about anything in life for the simple reason that with a “Rockstar Lifestyle” also comes “Rockstar Exposure”. If you want to live better than average, you first need to reconcile with this simple fact:

You will have to be different!.

  • You will think differently, and people will disagree.
  • You will do things that others may consider odd, perhaps even distasteful.
  • You will use your time very, very differently, and some will feel shut out.
  • There is no way around it, you will be seen, judged, scrutinised, hated and loved.

But best of all, you will no longer live like the majority.

When you choose to be normal, you chose a lifestyle package that comes with that. It means that you will live exactly like the great majority of people in this world. When you choose to be different you swing open the door of possibility. It does not guarantee glory, that ultimately depends on how you walk.

As you kick that door of normality down, and walk into the vast gardens of possibility, put your sunglasses on (they will make opportunity visible), walk tall, smile. Be proud to be different. People are looking at you…

Give them your most wonderful reason to remember you.

 

Timecounting 101: The True Price of Waiting.

15,000 Days.

That is the number of days most people spend in “working life” till retirement (assuming that you start a career in your early 20’s and retire in your early 60’s). Yes, that is not a typo: fifteen-thousand days. That’s it.

If you are not are reading this on your mobile device, go pick it up now, open the calculator app and type in your age. Multiply by 365. Read the result out aloud.
That’s roughly how many days you have already lived. 

When I did this a few years ago I found this exercise very unsettling.

  • The average life budget is somewhere around 27,000 days. Compare that to your number.
  • If you make it to 30,00 you are in very a small minority.
  • If you make it beyond that it won’t be by far, and you are an exception.

The problem with life is that we are not given a budget at birth. So, with a credit-card mentality, we spend liberally the most precious thing we have, as if there was time to do the meaningful stuff “later”. For a great part of the world’s people the precious available “now” is spent on totally worthless consumables: TV and “pulp” entertainment. Life is spent watching other people’s stories. Or it is spent in careers that fulfil other people’s expectations, not our own.

The problem is that “later” has a frightening price-tag. If your life right now is not the way you had intended, then the absolute worst thing you can do is stay on that track for another second!. It is quite simply put, your most expensive option, by far.

Why?

  1. It costs your time: You have one wallet, with an undisclosed limited amount of time in it. It is always less than you think. You must spend it, and can only spend it once.
  2. It costs you opportunities: while you wait to decide, someone else is taking the chance that you may have wished for.
  3. It costs you health: discontent and frustration deteriorate your health. The worse it gets the harder it is to recover and repair. Bad health also charges a hefty interest to your days credit, reducing the time you get.
  4. It costs you relationships: unhappy people propagate unhappiness, and the social cost of this is staggering. Time spent with bad company and mindless activities reduces the time available to spend with the people you care about most.
  5. It costs you money: For most, every dollar you earn is generated by “spending” your minutes. But while you can always multiply the dollars, you can NEVER multiply your minutes. It is a “spend once” commodity. There is no re-draw facility, no ATM where you can withdraw another 1000 days, no bank that can extend your limit. Real fulfilling success can not happen in this space.

I excel at procrastinating.

Most of us do, we are masters at it.

From small insignificant activities to big changes, we postpone with refined skill. We excuse ourselves with great eloquence: “just need to get a few things sorted, and then I will…”, or “now is not a good time…”.

But we know that later is always a WORSE time, as it is already reserved for a future activity, and we know those things will never get sorted UNTIL we make that change. It is easy to mask our lack of courage with justifications, but it does not stop the clock!.

Fortunately, we do not have to excuse ourselves, because we don’t have to embark on that daunting journey alone.  Most paths in life have been walked by someone before you, they are always willing to help, and have the tools you need.

Fortunately, no matter how many days you have used up, you can live amazingly, irrespective of how much is left in your time-wallet.

The important thing is not to postpone the decision to do so. Anyone can avoid paying the five great expenses of waiting.

One day – sooner than you think – you will draw your last time-penny out of your time wallet. Will you gasp with a knot in your throat and say “Wait…now is not the right time!” or will you look back, smile and say “Wow – what an awesome life I’ve had!”?

Today will be charged to your time credit. Spend it on “wait!” and it is wasted, spend it on “Awesome!” and you create a memorable legacy!.

[I enjoyed reading a book published early this year “20,00 Days and counting” by Robert D. Smith, which explores this subject in depth and is worthwhile and inspiring reading. I am however in no way affiliated with the author, there are many other books on this subject.] 

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