It seems to me that the most pervasive belief related to changing anything is that people can’t change. In some ways, it does make sense. Research shows that humans crave certainty above all else. Research also makes it clear that when times get stressful, or busy, we default back to our habitual behaviors.
In other words, if you tend to seek out a whole tube of cookie dough when you get stressed or busy then you are most likely going to head to your fridge for the cookie dough when faced with those circumstances, despite how many times you have “told yourself” you’re not going to do it, and despite what your goals are related to getting healthy.
I have a different take on change. I believe that humans are built for change and thrive on it. Think about it, what is life without change? It is our mind games about change that really keep us stuck.
As an example think about the changes of going to college, getting married or having children? These constitute profound and completely life disrupting changes, yet we embrace them. In fact we look forward to them.
Contrast that with the level of change it takes to start a business from scratch, quit a job you hate or leave a relationship that does not fulfill you. These changes can be a bit more difficult with some people being able to grow from them, and others crumbling under their weight and reverting back to a life that is less than what they wanted.
Think about all the stories of transformation that come from illness, loss and hardship. There are many people who changed for the better as a result of the story things they told themselves and how it related to their hardship; yet there are countless others who allowed their life to sink into darkness instead.
The Stories We Tell
My theory is that change is hard for so many of us because of the stories we tell ourselves. Ironically, these stories are not always written by us, instead they are written for us. The stories are so pervasive and common we don’t even think to question them; we just embrace them.
They then believe this story, whether conscious or not, and set their expectations accordingly. I call it the PMK syndrome:Prom, Marriage, Kids.
It is almost as if the path is set out for you and you need to “experience” these things as a right of passage to be “happy.” Most people don’t even give it a second thought.
First you go through high school, and the Prom is the “big event” that we build up and look so forward to. Does it symbolize growing up? Maybe? Many young men and women even plan to lose their virginity during this time regardless of who they are dating and how they feel about them?
Next is marriage, with perhaps a brief stop over in college so you can have a career, make money and get a nice house. All so you can support the marriage and the kids that come along with it. Kids and marriage go hand and hand right?
Now before you start hating my guts and think I am a condescending, anti-social jerk who hates our traditions and cultures, I want to set the record straight. It is true, I have always thought a little different about these things.
I never went to the prom. I told my high school girlfriend that I would rather she and I go to a nice fancy place all by ourselves on a night of our choosing where we could create whatever we wanted. She hated the idea and went to the prom with someone else.
I got married because I met someone who is a dear friend above all else and who I fell in love with. We went to the courthouse to get married; and then treated our entire families to a getaway in the NC Mountains to celebrate. There was no ceremony, but we loved every second of it. No one had to pay to be there and our “wedding” was more a celebration and gathering of family.
Kids? Neither my wife nor I want or wanted them. I always joked that I hate kids. But the truth is I adore them. I love my nieces and nephews and love to spoil them, laugh with them and just spend time with them. I love learning from their perspective and imparting any wisdom I have when they express interest.
If I ever had the need to have my own kids I would adopt. My theory is that there are plenty of kids out there who need love, guidance and support. Why do I need to make my own? I also love the idea of extended families where a couple splits and meets other people and their kids get to benefit from having more than two parents.
Some would see splitting up and divorce as “horrible for the kids.” I guess it depends on what script you choose to write. Rest assured whatever story you write, your kids are likely to emulate.
I tell my story, because it is my story. I wrote it through thinking about it. I wrote it consciously. And continue to write it consciously.
The prom never made sense to me so I did not go. I did not go to college to look for a girlfriend or wife but rather to get educated and learn. I am not religious and have always disliked the way weddings were done and how costly they were to the family of the bride and groom. Kids are wonderful, but I have no desire to have my own and I always knew that.
Creating New Realities
At this point you may be wondering, “Jade, what the hell is this blog about?” Simply this, it is your story and your ability to write, edit and rewrite it that determines success or failure.
To me this is one of five of the greatest “superpowers” we humans possess (the others are ownership, wisdom, engagement and resolve). The ability to change our perception and see things differently. The ability to create new realities through the stories we tell about ourselves and the world. Without this ability we can never hope to have any creative say in our lives.
I was always seen as a “dumb jock” growing up. It was a story I bought into early in my life. But it is also a story I chose to rewrite as soon as I got out of high school. Now my story looks different.
When I was eighteen I fell in love and had my heart crushed. For a while I told myself the story that I was unattractive, unworthy and undesirable. Then I rewrote that script and was able to create a different reality. Those experiences allowed me to grow, love myself and solidify my values because of my ability to change my perception.
I have rewritten my story in life so often now it has become a “superpower” of mine. I once knew nothing about personal finance, was $30,000 in credit card debt, had $130,000 in school loans and knew nothing about business.
I consciously rewrote that story. I told myself that I was an entrepreneur. I studied personal finance, startup tactics and internet business to prove I was. Now I have a million dollar business, have almost no debt and have a recurring revenue stream that makes money when I sleep.
I rewrote my story from personal trainer to personal trainer and doctor. Then I rewrote it again to add author and entrepreneur. What I really am is a dreamer and a creator because I have learned to be.
I want to share with you a little bit about how I did this, and how others do it too, because I believe change is possible and necessary.
How to rewrite your story
To rewrite your story you first have to be aware of the stories you are “buying into” or telling yourself. This is hard because it takes a lot of introspection. Knowing yourself is a critical first step to creating yourself, but there are two major things keeping you from clearly knowing yourself: distraction and delusion. Distraction is this invisible force that comes from the outside world and pokes, prods, cajoles and outright sabotages you. It is very similar to what Steven Pressfield called “resistance” in his classic book The War of Art.
Distraction is all the considerations from the outside world. Cultural norms, family values, peer pressure and concerns about money or job security. Other people’s emotions, expectations, wants and desires and how these things influence you, that is distraction.
Have you ever met one of those people who is constantly asking for others opinions? They never question their parent’s expectations and/or are completely emotionally hijacked by other people’s feelings? That is someone who is “distracted.” PMK is a grand cultural form of distraction (except when it is a conscious choice you make from your own understanding and desire).
Delusion is similar to distraction, except it comes from you and not others. Insecurity, arrogance, ignorance, bias, dogma and self-righteousness are all forms of delusion. These are internal states of thinking and beliefs which block your growth.
If you have ever watched a person get on stage at a talent show like American Idol, and not be able to sing any better than a howling dog, then you have witnessed delusion. How the hell did they ever convince themselves they could sing right? The inability to discern clearly your strengths and weakness and then honestly feedback to yourself in a realistic and accurate way. That is delusion.
Sometimes distraction causes delusion and vice versa. But these two forces are always at play keeping you from knowing yourself, and as a result making it impossible to create yourself.
The steps for rewriting your script
- Step 1: Beat Distraction
- Step 2: Tackle Delusion
- Step 3: Rewrite Your Story
- Step 4: Act “as if”
- Step 5: Gather unbiased feedback
- Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5
Write down the 10-20 people you deal with on a day to day basis and/or are close with. This should be family, friends, teachers/mentors, bosses, peers and coworkers.
Once you have their names down, you should do two things First, rank them in order of most to least influential by giving them a number. The number 1 would be the most influential and number 20 least influential.
Now create two columns to the right of their names. In column one write what they would have you do if your life was up to them? And in column two write what you would need to do differently to get what you want out of life.
Now simply read through this list. Do you see the trends? Someone who is very distracted will have a lot to write in the second column. Someone who is not will likely have very little to write or nothing at all.
This one is hard because it is difficult to see yourself clearly and accurately. It is like trying to tell if your breath stinks. You are too close to yourself and will never be able to tell. But those who are close to you will. The trick is to find ways to tell and enlist some friends to help.
For example, if people frequently offer you gum and keep their distance from you there is a good chance you have a breath issue.
It is the same with the rest of life. If you frequently find yourself getting let go from jobs, complaining of how people “don’t get you,” or wondering why everyone is so “wrong and rude” then consider that the problem is coming from you not them.
Delusion is one of the hardest of all human traits to beat because the default setting of our brain is programmed to judge. There are two psychological principles that explain different aspects of delusion. One is called the illusory superiority effect; it says that we will always overestimate what we do and underestimate what others do. The other principle is called subjective optimism; no matter how bad things get we eventually will brighten them with a psychological halo to make them more bearable. People who use terms like “meant to be,” or “God’s plan,” or “everything works out fine in the end” are falling prey to this principle.
So to beat delusion you must do two things. Be completely honest with yourself and enlist others to be completely honest with you as well. But being honest with yourself can be difficult so you need a feedback system.
Write down the 5-10 most positive traits you feel you are or wish to be. Now create two columns on a piece of paper, one that confirms and one that rejects. Look back over the last week to month and find as many examples as possible where you failed to live up to these things.
For example I believe I am generous. So I might write in the left column: paid for dinner, left a big tip, bought my nephew a computer and left some money for the cleaning staff at the hotel. I might put in the right column: dominated the conversation at dinner, did not allow my father to pick up the tab, got annoyed with the lady in front of me at the checkout counter.
I may also want to increase my business revenue. So in the left hand column I would write: invested 20K in a new supplement. In the right column I might write: spent 20K on a working vacation, bought a new software program I have not looked at, hired two staff members I did not actually need, have not built a new program in two months.
Can you see how in scenario one I questioned my generosity and in scenario two I am obviously not managing my revenue well?
The next aspect is making sure I have a very frank conversation with people close to me. The way I do this is to simply say to my friends the following:
“I am really trying to be more effective in this area. You are someone I trust to tell me the truth despite what you think my feelings might be. I feel like without getting your honest feedback I am in the dark. What are your honest thoughts? I really need to know.”
This almost always results in a conversation that is beneficial to me. One caveat here is not to get caught in their distraction. Just because they give feedback does not mean you have to accept what they say as truth. In fact, you need to question yourself and others constantly. But it will give you a good perspective.
If you are not comfortable with having these face to face conversations, you could send a survey using something like www.surveymonkey.com. This is an excellent way to get anonymous feedback from friends and family about how they really see you.
The Creation Story
Now you should have a good idea of your level of distraction as well as what you are and are not good at. This is important because often change requires a huge amount of learning. It took me five years of studying every internet marketing course I could get my hands on to really understand internet marketing.
It was also important during this time of “trying to become a businessman” to avoid those who were distraction machines. I had to rid my influence of those who said “you should do it this way,” or “business does not work like that,” but who also had no track record of success in business.
I instead had to seek out mentors who did have an established track record and learn from them. If I stayed distracted and deluded this would not have been possible. In fact I would have been completely unaware.
The story edit is the next stage. This is where you write down in bullet points or in story format what you want to accomplish and where you want to be.
This is what I wrote down in 2004 as I drove cross country after finishing medical school:
- Create a workout that reaches people all over the world
- Build a lifestyle company that teaches people how to eat, exercise, live and think for optimal health and happiness
- Create a silent multiple six-figure business that requires only a few people to run and runs on its own
- Stay real, stay true to myself, love/learn/teach, give back as soon as I can
I am writing this from memory as I have since lost that notebook, but this is basically what I wrote. At the time I did not know how I would do this. I did not realize the internet would become my tool. But as I look at this list, it is sort of magical and incredible to think I actually accomplished all this.
But here is the trick as I look back now. My ability to do this hinged on one superpower I have always had even as a little kid; I call that superpower perception.
I had the ability to see things others did not and to believe I could do things others did not. And most importantly the ability to rewrite my story again and again to accommodate for change.
When the bootcamp I started was not growing fast enough I rewrote the script to include workouts in gyms. When that did not seem to generate revenue, I rewrote the script to put out a book and put the workouts online. In other words, my ability to rewrite the stories of my business and my life has served me well.
You can often find my favorite quite on my Instagram feed: “The only thing certain in life is uncertainty. The future you imagined can always be reimagined.” I truly believe this and I embrace this belief every day in everything that I do.
Make sure you take your time writing your new story, but also be ready to rewrite it again and again. The person you love rejects you, rewrite your story. Your business fails, rewrite your story. You discover you are a selfish person, rewrite your story. You and the people around you don’t believe you can do it, rewrite your story.
The “As If” Principle
Thinking positive thoughts means nothing without action. Certainly positive thinking can eventually seep into your actions, but research shows action is a much more powerful change agent than your thoughts despite what the self-help experts like to teach.
Want to be happy? Research shows forcing a smile makes you happier immediately compared to thinking happy thoughts. Want to feel more confident? Research shows adopting a confident posture and walking style immediately gives confidence.
In other words, actions speak louder than thoughts. If you want something you have to act “as if.” This is known in psychology research as the “as if principle.” Psychologist Richard Wiseman wrote an entire book on this called The As If Principle (highly recommended).
I also call this the “Be/Do/Have principle.” Most people think if they “have” something like money, then they will be able to “do” all the things they want and “be” a happy successful person. This is the “Have/Do/Be” approach.
Others think if they “do” what they need to do, like study and go to college, then they will “have” a job and stability and “be” a happy successful person. This is the “Do/Have/Be” mindset.
Those approaches can work of course, but the most reliable way to approach this is to “be” the thing you want in the moment. Act “as if” you are happy and successful right now. This will cause you to “do” the things happy successful people do, like be engaged in meaningful work and have passion and a focus. And then you will “have” what you desire, a meaningful life of happiness and success. Be, do and have.
One of my favorite quotes that illustrates this point comes from Mohammed Ali. He said “I am the greatest. I said that before I even knew I was.” That is what “be, do and have” means. You fake it before you make it or more accurately, you be it until you see it.
Of course, eventually you have to stop faking it. We all know people who talk a good game about all the things they are going to do and yet accomplish none of it. These people fall prey to one or both of two major mistakes. They either don’t have a work ethic, or don’t have a reliable feedback system to know when it is time to rewrite their story.
That is the next step.
Gather unbiased feedback
This one is tough because your nature as a human is to default back to bias and delusion, remember? So you have to be ever diligent in your self-assessment. If things are not progressing you don’t just keep digging in the wrong area.
This is one of the least talked about aspects of personal development and change. It is not hard work that gets the result, it is smart work. Working harder on the wrong thing just moves you further from your goal at a faster rate.
I know a ton of people who pride themselves on being hard workers who do nothing but dig themselves into such a deep hole they have no idea how to get out of it. Often their extreme bias and delusion make them keep digging even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are digging in the wrong area.
This is why you must develop an evidence based approach to change. You do this by setting up tangible feedback systems that are self-correcting.
I like to have both internal and external checks on my progress. My internal checks have to do with emotions. If I find myself in a stuck emotional state it is a sign to me I am hunting in the wrong woods. If I feel frustration, anxiety, depression, “stuckness” or confusion for more than a few weeks I start looking for what I am doing wrong.
I also use my physical fitness and bank account as a feedback system. If I am achieving the things I wrote about above my situation financially will be getting better. I will have to work less hard for my dollar not harder. If I find my work load increasing and my revenue falling, I know I am not focusing on the right things. If my life starts getting out of balance, I gain weight, my workouts suffer and my health declines.
If I feel my internal emotional state has lost focus, direction and passion I know to keep my eyes open for what I may be missing. I have become a relentless questioner and evaluator, often to the annoyance of my friends and family. I want tangible and objective evidence of progress, not biased opinion.
I often use my birthday as a yearly evaluation point for change. If my emotional state, health, fitness level, work enjoyment and bank account is not the same or better than the year before, I rewrite my story like I have done a thousand times before.
The final step is to repeat this process. This is not something you do once and forget it, this is something that is an evolving and adapting system. Over time, you develop the skill to rewrite your story almost as quickly as things change.
I was once doing life coaching with a young women who was newly married. She found out her husband had been with another woman and was with this person even before they got married. She lamented to me: “I thought we had the fairytale marriage, the one everyone dreams about. It was all a complete lie. What should I do?”
I reminded her that she could write any story she wanted. Her story of her “fairytale relationship” just got blown up. She could do what some people do and write a story about how she loves her husband regardless and either 1) make herself “ok” with it or 2) work on it with him. Or she could write a story about how she is unattractive, undesirable and a gullible naive person.
She could also write a story about how strong she is and take the hero narrative. All heroes go through hardship. They learn and they persevere coming out better, stronger, and wiser on the other side; inspiring themselves and others in the process.
I lost contact with her so I can’t say which story eventually ended up taking root, but I do know that the story she chose and her ability to rewrite her story again in other hard times in her life will be the most useful skill she could develop.
Changing your perception and rewriting your story as a result is a human superpower far too few possess; yet it is one that we are all capable of.
If you enjoyed this blog, let me know. A recent survey to the Metabolic Effect followers revealed they are hungry for the type of content that taps into my psychology and counseling background.
I have a love for all things related to self-help and self-development and am currently writing a book called “The 5 Powers” that examines the elements of mastery to become a superhuman agent of change.