Luke: I can’t believe it.
Yoda: That is why you fail.
My research into the traits of influencers and achievers continues, and as I turn more pieces of this puzzle around to fit the whole, more ideas appear to me as a fit for this space. In this edition, reflections on falling short -- more precisely, why we fail despite ourselves.
1. Like Yoda said, you just don't believe it.
The crucial part of Yoda's dialogue with Luke is "believe." The human brain is a powerful problem-solving and prediction making machine, and it operates via a multitude of feedback loops. What matters most in the feedback loop dynamic is input -- what goes into the loop that begins the analysis-evaluation-action process, which ultimately results in an outcome. Here's the kicker: if your input shuttle for achieving a goal lacks the critical, emotionally relevant component of belief, then the feedback loop is drained of octane from the start. Another way to say that is -- why would you expect a convincingly successful outcome when you haven't convinced yourself that it's possible?
2. Other people have convinced you of your "station."
I've always thought the "know your station in life" idea to be among the most pernicious we humans have ever come up with. The only version of it I like is Tennessee Williams': “A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.” Love that Tennessee Williams. What's more pernicious than the idea itself is that it's often heaved upon us by other people, and they convince us that we are what we are and we'd better just live with it because, well, that's what we'll always be. Really? Says who? Show me the chapter on predetermined stations in the cosmic rule book, please. This also gets back to the feedback loop dynamic, because if this external "station" scripting is part of your input, you can expect sub-par outcomes all the time.
3. You don't want to be a distrupter.
The word "disrupter" has taken on such a heavy, mixed bag of meanings in the last few years. Reading both popular psychology and business books, I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing to be. One thing seems certain -- the notion of disrupting anything--of being the water that breaks the rock--is scary to most of us. Reason being, disruption is perceived as a threat to our threat-sensitive brains. Disruption means that consistency, stability and certainty might get jettisoned for a time, and that puts our hard-wired internal defense system on high alert. Sometimes, though, you have to override the alarms and move ahead anyway. If you never do, you'll never know what could happen.
4. You think, "what if I die tomorrow?"
We all think this from time to time. And you know what, sure, any of us might die tomorrow -- all the more reason not to waste time thinking about it and hamstringing yourself from going after what you want to achieve. Would you rather die as a monument to mediocrity or as someone who never quit striving? Which leads to the next one...
5. You wonder how you will be remembered.
The rub here is simply that, if you "die tomorrow," will people remember you as someone who clung to stability like an existential life preserver -- and is that what you really want? I know for a fact that many people do want exactly that, because it's a comfortable niche to occupy on the obituary page. "She/he was a good person, good friend, good...." Good is fine, but it ain't great. You can't strive for great achievements by dropping anchor in Goodville. My take on this is: it's OK to wonder how you'll be remembered, but don't let thoughts of "good and nice and stable" effect that all important feedback loop, because if you do your brain will be happy to oblige with lots of good and little else.
6. You think there must be a pre-established role for your life, and you might be screwing with it.
This one also touches on the "station" idea discussed above, but it goes deeper than that. We humans are prone to believing in something psychologists call "agency." We want to believe there's a reason for everything, and that everything has a prime mover -- an agent, whether human or otherwise. So, we think, what if there's a reason we are what we are -- what if celestial agency has determined it so? Should we be messing with that? The error in thinking here is clear -- agency is a figment our brains rely on to manage difficulty with as little trauma as possible. The first thing to do is recognize that, and then recognize that the role for your life has only one true agent -- You.
7. Your career appears to be well-established and that's good...right?
Well, maybe that's good, sure. The question becomes, is "established" what you really want? Maybe it is, and that's cool. But if "established" means you can't reach beyond certain imposed parameters to achieve anything else that you truly want, then maybe it isn't so useful after all. Like most things, this is a personal choice and it doesn't have a right or wrong answer. But it's worth acknowledging that you may very well be "establishing" yourself out of greater achievements.
8. You are afraid of losing what you have built.
A totally legitimate fear, and one we should kick out of our perspectives as quickly as possible. Here's one example why: Remember this little thing we've been suffering through for sometime now called a recession? Remember how many people lost all or nearly all they'd "built" during these last few years of economic erosion? The reality is, you can lose everything in a heartbeat through no fault of your own, so why allow that fear to stop you from reaching out for what you really want? This goes in the same basket as "I could die tomorrow." Yes, true, we can lose, we can die. So what? Push forward.
9. You think, "maybe I've hit my ceiling."
The proverbial "ceiling" -- so long have ye been with us, and yet so little have ye given us. I side with the late great Peter Drucker who said (paraphrasing from this classic article on Managing Oneself) if you reach a point in your career where you think you won't progress any further, then start focusing on the next part of your life. Actually, he added, you should start thinking about the next part of your life well before you begin it. The point is, forget about ceilings and focus on achievement. When you start using the cultural shibboleth of the ceiling as an excuse, you are achieving nothing and will continue to do just that.
10. Confusion about where to go.
Of all of these 10 ideas, this one is to me the most difficult because it plagues me almost constantly. Gearing up the cerebral feedback loop for achievement is one thing, but without a sense of focus and direction, all of that energy isn't going to yield very much in the end. My experience has been that sometimes you have to let the energy flow for a while without too firm a sense of direction and see if focus emerges organically. Once it does, you can then nurture it into a more structured method for getting where you want to go.
If you have thoughts on these 10 ideas, or suggestions entirely separate from them, please write them in the comments section. I and others want to hear them, so let em rip!
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