This is part of a 5-part series called the “5-Powers.” To read the previous blogs & complete the series they can be found here:
Engagement: The Fourth Power.
I was about 3 or 4 years old the day I learned how to swim. I remember it vividly. My older brothers were jumping off of the diving boards and splashes all over the place. I wanted to do that more than I wanted to learn to swim.
My “crazy uncle” Jay was with me, as were my mom and my brothers and sister. He was called my “crazy uncle” because he was always doing unpredictable things that kept everyone on their toes.
A few days earlier I watched as my mom introduced him to a lady he did not know who was completely dressed. He was in the pool, and when she bent down to shake his hand he just pulled her right in. My mother was horrified, but the lady just laughed. He always seemed to know the people he could do these kinds of shenanigans with.
The day I learned to swim, I was walking around the edges of the deep-end of the pool dipping my toes in the water and then quickly pulling them out. I was scared to go in. I would look back at my uncle and he would say, “just jump in, that’s the only way to learn.” My mom was saying, “Jade, I don’t like you that close to the pool. Go over to the shallow end please.”
Next thing I knew my uncle scooped me up and threw me dead center into the deep end of the pool. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday: here I was flying in the air, hearing my mother screaming, and getting ready to land in 12 feet deep water when I had no idea how to swim.
Before I could even think about it, I was kicking and screaming and swimming toward the ladder. I got out of the pool and went running, kicking, punching, screaming and crying at my uncle. My mother was yelling at him too. But in the middle of my tirade he says, “Jade! Jade! Did you see that? You were swimming! You swam in the deep end!!” It stopped me in my tracks. I looked around in astonishment. I did swim! My cry turned into a smile and then into laughter.
The next thing I knew, that very same day, I was going off of the diving board and swimming in the deep end like it was nothing. It makes me laugh now to think I actually have a real life “sink or swim” story.
That is the power of engagement. The idea of acting before knowing. The action mindset.
The Power of Engagement
The famous poet Rumi wrote, “The Lion Is Most Handsome When Looking for Food.”
I have this quote hanging in my living room.
This piece of art has a lot of meaning to me because, it is an original piece of art gifted to me by the artist, a close friend. He knew it to be a value and belief system I subscribe to.
To me, this quote is the most succinct expression of a truth I have learned and mastered over the years; success & happiness come not from wishing for it, but acting on it. It comes from engagement.
The Engagement Superpower
Engagement is one of the five superpowers of the most successful people in life. The other superpowers are: perception, ownership, wisdom and resolve. These “powers” seem to be mastered by only the super successful among us.
Do you know the types of people I am referring to? Those people who seem to achieve things others only dream about! The ones who seem to live lives in complete alignment with their purpose using a unique skill set only they have!
As I have begun to study the mindset of creation and success, I have come to see engagement as perhaps the most important of the five powers. Nothing gets done unless you act.
My favorite definition of the verb engage is to “involve oneself.” Engagement is involving oneself in something. It’s a choice to act.
Choice versus decision
I will tell you the most important lesson I ever learned about the concept of “choice,” which is the essential element for engagement. I was at the last day of a four-day self-improvement seminar that ran Thursday to Sunday from 8 in the morning until midnight. I was exhausted and the material being covered was intense. I will be honest and say I was not loving it and did not quite grasp all the ideas. It was the final night and there was one more exercise. They where asking for one volunteer out of the 300 or so to test if they “got it.” They asked for people to raise their hands, and I purposely kept my hand down, but my friends sitting beside me had other ideas. They were pointing to me behind my back and I was chosen. “FUCK!!”, as Dave Chappellel says: “That’s not what I said, but that’s how I felt on the inside.”
So I reluctantly go up to the front of the room and the leader asks, “Jade, do you know the difference between a choice and a decision.” I said, “aren’t they the same thing?”
The leader than said, “a choice is just an act, a decision has considerations attached.”
He then asked me, “Let’s see if you know the difference. Choose your favorite ice cream, chocolate or vanilla?” I said, “vanilla.” Then he asked “why?” I said, “because I have always eaten vanilla.” “WRONG,” he said. I was confused. He said, “you just made a decision because what you liked in the past is a consideration.”
Then he got in my face and said, “make a choice.” He asked again, “Choose chocolate or vanilla.”
I said, “vanilla.” He once again asked. “why?”
Then it hit me. I knew the answer. I had never realized this subtle distinction before and I was super excited to get this insight. I answered him, “I choose vanilla because I choose vanilla.”
He looked at me and said, “Exactly. That’s a choice.”
Do you understand? Most people go their entire lives making decisions instead of choices. A choice comes out of your own truth and desire in that moment without any consideration for anything or anybody else.
It does not matter what career your parents want for you. It does not matter who your friends think is a good partner for you. It does not matter what someone else thinks. Taking other people’s opinions, expectations, emotions, wants, needs, etc. into account is a decision. And that is why so many people are lost.
To master the engagement power means you need to start making choices NOT decisions. These choices come from your truth and therefore you MUST know what that truth is.
That is why perception is the first superpower you must master. If you can’t see the world and your place in it accurately, you will constantly be distracted into decisions.
Engagement is about decisively taking action based on your own choices, without any considerations.
Lazy and fearful
The problem with making choices is that once they are made, action must follow; especially when it comes to making big changes, that is neither easy or comfortable. People are inherently lazy and fearful. We are ALL like this. That is why it is such an anomaly when someone chooses and then acts decisively without hesitation. You almost never see this except in those who have mastered the superpower of engagement.
Have you ever seen one of those TV shows where a scenario is staged to see how people will respond?
I watched one once where a clerk in a clothing store, who was actually an actor, pretended to be racist towards a customer, who was also an actor. Of course none of the other people in the store knew the entire thing was staged. What do you think happened? If you are a student of human behavior you would predict nothing happened. You would be right. Most people pretended to ignore the bigotry which was purposely staged to be blatantly obvious to everyone.
Thankfully there were a few people who called the clerk out on her racism and took up for the shopper. These people made a choice to act decisively. They had mastered the engagement superpower.
The mindset of action and success
Doing nothing creates nothing, and those who have the superpower of engagement know this.
They act even when they are tired, uncomfortable or unsure of the outcome. They act because they know it is the only way forward. Inaction is the voluntarily halting of growth.
Years back I was sitting having dinner with my farther-in-law who is a professor at the Babson College School of Business, one of the best business schools in the country. I was talking to him about an argument I frequently had with MBA types in the early days of being an entrepreneur. The MBA types had the idea that to build a business you create a plan and then execute the plan. That may have been the case, but not being educated in business I just took action. I was just a guy following his passion and I went in every direction I could to make it work. After hearing me tell the story of the differences between my MBA friends and me, my father-in-law smiled and said: “in business it’s almost never Ready, Aim, Fire. But almost always Ready, Fire, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim!!!”
In that concise statement, one of the leaders, in one of the best business schools in the country, was saying that taking action, and then adjusting, was the way all businesses are built. It is the same in building a successful life.
The obstacle is the way
This idea of Ready, Fire, Aim, Aim, Aim. Is actually a very old one. The stoic school of philosophy started by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BC popularized this idea. One of the most famous stoics, Seneca, popularized the idea that people failed because they were too afraid to start or because they did not plan for failure.
He taught that the solution was to just take action and assume failure would happen at the onset. By doing this, he said you would be less fearful and more prepared. This idea is known as “realistic optimism” or “practical pessimism.” It is a concept embodied in the phrase “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
This idea can be taken further by seeing failures as not failures at all, but rather stepping stones to success. Each time you encounter an obstacle or sticking point there is an opportunity to learn. Without adversity there is no learning and without learning there is no wisdom or growth.
The interesting thing about engagement is that it is one of the only approaches to life that simultaneously builds knowledge and experience which is the very definition of wisdom. In other words, wisdom allows us to take better aim and to be more correct in our actions, and taking action also builds more wisdom. It is a feed forward loop.
Competency Confidence Loop
The most succinct way I have ever heard this described comes from Jill Coleman. She describes this as the “competency confidence loop.” As you develop competency (knowledge) in a subject you build more confidence to take action. When you take action you gain greater confidence which builds more competency due to the lessons and experience that action engenders. This in turn spurs even greater confidence for more action.
It is a snowball effect where the two superpowers of wisdom and engagement feed each other in a virtuous cycle of growth. Once in this growth cycle, it feels magical and inspiring, even when you hit sticking points. Those sticking points are no longer seen as obstacles but rather stepping stones. Soon these obstacles are not avoided, but sought out purposely for the growth they impart.
You have probably heard the saying, “leap and the net will appear?” Engagement takes things one step further because there is an element of control (perception) and ownership in it. Those using the power of engagement subscribe more to the idea of “leap and weave the net as you fall.”
How to learn engagement
Make more choices.
Just choose. Even in trivial matters. No longer be content to say, “I don’t know, whatever you want.” Instead choose decisively.
When in doubt do anything that requires action no matter what it is. I have gotten into the habit in my life that when I feel stuck, I workout. Even if it is dropping down to the floor and repping out as many pushups as I can. I just do something. It does not matter what, all that matters is that there is action.
Popular “how to” and efficiency gurus use a similar technique. Its called the 5-minute rule. If you have writers block you just write something, anything, for 5 minutes. It does not matter if you are copying it word for word. Just write. If you want to clean your house and you’re procrastinating, just start with your desk for 5 minutes. Just act. Often this action generates feed-forward momentum that lasts long after the 5 minutes has passed. A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stays at rest. So get moving and usually you will continue moving.
Nothing is permanent.
Often our fear of repercussions keeps us from acting decisively. But this is a false dichotomy. Very few things are completely irreversible. You can almost always backtrack, start-over or redo an action that you take.
When actions are irreversible you need to cultivate the NO REGRET mindset. Most people think regret is an obvious and irreversible consequence of bad decisions. It’s not! Regret is a choice. People who have mastered the superpower of engagement don’t “do” regret, ever. PERIOD. They simply wont allow it. They are so good at the idea of choice that they even choose their mental state. They simply will not regret. Regret is nothing but the conscious decision to hold yourself back from further growth. Putting energy into what you should have done, leaves less energy for what you need to do.
Engagement is the culmination of the other superpowers. Perception, ownership, and wisdom all increase the power of our actions. Perception allows us to accurately see the possibilities. Ownership allows us to use our signature strengths, personal declarations and boundaries to lock-in on what is right for us. Wisdom allows us to focus-in so we are headed in the right direction and have the knowledge and experience to increase our chances of hitting the target. Engagement takes the energy of these other powers and then supercharges them through the force of choice.
It is like someone pulling back the string on a bow and arrow. The force of the bow is perception, ownership and wisdom, the arrow is choice.
There is one final element to engagement. One thing that can stop it and that is fear. To deal with fear, you need the fifth power, Resolve.
Resolve is the concept that you can feel fear and move forward anyway. The idea that you have doubts and act regardless. The premise that when you’re fatigued and worn down, you dig in and complete the task despite it all.
Engagement is powerful, but it is unstoppable when it has resolve behind it. That is what the next blog will cover.