Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours

This series covers my doing my Write Your Beliefs exercise, which I’ve found one of the more valuable self-awareness exercises that my clients, my students, and I have done. It builds on the Inner Monologue exercise, which I also call “The most effective self-awareness exercise I know.”

Click on the table of contents to the left. The first entry motivates the value of this exercise, the second describes the exercise, the third and fourth describe my experience doing the exercise, and the rest describe the mental models and beliefs that came up from doing the exercise.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

Who or what is a Cathedral-builder and why should I care?

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The great business guru Peter Drucker illustrated how different people find different value and meaning from their work (and lives) through the parable of the three stonecutters.

An old story tells of three stonecutters asked what they were doing.

The first looked unhappy. He said, “I’m making a living cutting stones.”

The second looked happier and proud. He kept on hammering while he said, “I’m doing the best job of stone-cutting in the entire country.”

The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Most people sense meaning in this parable but don’t see how to use it to improve their lives or careers. They use it evaluate their situation instead of improve it. You might have asked yourself these questions:

  • Which of the three would I rather be?
  • Which one am I now?
  • Which one would I hire first or want in my community?
  • Which one are more of my friends and peers like?

Those questions aren’t bad, but they evaluate without giving direction. We already know we would rather be cathedral-builders; we’d rather hire them and have them in our teams and communities; and we want people like them in our lives.

Those questions don’t help us improve our lives. These do.

How do you become a cathedral-builder?

and

How do you lead and inspire others to become cathedral-builders?

This series shows you how to become a cathedral-builder. Then you can lead and inspire others to become cathedral-builders too. The people you inspire will thank you for leading them, feel loyal to you, and want you to lead them again.

What makes someone a cathedral-builder?

First let’s see what makes people cathedral-builders.

They perform the same activities in the same environments as the other two types, but they love their work and are happier. As a result we expect they’re healthier, fatigue less, get promoted faster, get offered other jobs more, and so on than the other two. The story doesn’t call the cathedral-builder a fool. He’s not “fat, dumb, and happy.”

What makes him different?

Ultimately the cathedral-builder has different beliefs. Business books, even on leadership, shy away from talking about beliefs. They can’t be measured or directly observed, despite affecting everything you do. Lack of awareness of others’ beliefs will undermine collaboration and foment misunderstanding. On the other hand, awareness and skill with beliefs can motivate, inspire, and create meaning, value, importance, and purpose.

I want to point out I won’t say anything about your beliefs manifesting themselves, a secret law of attraction, the power of positive thinking, or anything mystical, though if that perspective works for you so will a lot of what I write. I have a PhD in Physics, respect the natural world, and dislike new-age thinking and ideas that can’t be disproved. When I talk about effects of beliefs, I don’t mean they mysteriously affect the world. Still, as Albert Einstein noted,

Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed,

so beliefs do directly affect you and your behavior, and your behavior affects your environment, which I consider reasonable talk. I intend all my  talk about beliefs and mental models to stand to reason and testing. (Please contact me with any mistakes and I’ll correct myself.)

The cathedral-builder’s advantages come from his beliefs. They change how he sees his world, leading to more happiness, emotional reward, effective behaviors and communication, meaningful relationships, and so on. You could specify that his beliefs are broader and connect to a greater purpose, but that’s more than necessary. The fundamental difference from which all others derive is his beliefs. If you can choose your beliefs, you can make your life as good as his. If you can lead others to change their beliefs, you can lead them to find meaning in their work, leading to greater productivity, satisfaction, loyalty, and more. They’ll thank you for helping them after working hard for you.

We may all live in and interact with the same physical world, but our thoughts, emotions, motivations, and decisions come from our beliefs and mental models of that world. Our beliefs determine how we feel about our worlds.

So if we only need to change our beliefs, why don’t we?

We don’t because believing something means believing something is right, meaning believing something else is wrong. People who aren’t cathedral-builders believe the cathedral-builder is wrong. They’ll say things like

Look, I’m a realist. I really am just chopping rock. That building-a-cathedral guy isn’t really building a cathedral. He’s wrong. He’s just playing a bit role and fooling himself into an unearned fake happiness. That’s what’s really happening. If you stop kidding yourself you’ll realize how miserable your situation is too.

That person could be you or someone you work with. In their minds people who say such things are right. They’re also miserable and self-righteous. More importantly, they’re inflexible. We’re all inflexible when we refuse to try new beliefs. Merely tolerating others’ beliefs won’t change us. They may not realize it, but they can switch beliefs, end up just as right, and enjoy life more.

People clinging to their rightness (and misery) object to challenges to their beliefs.

Some object “The making-a-living guy hates his job. If he started liking it, he’d lose his motivation to switch and get stuck instead of leaving,” suggesting he shouldn’t change his beliefs.

The objection sounds plausible but I suggest otherwise. In my experience, job dissatisfaction doesn’t help get new jobs.

First, if he wants others to hire him, ask yourself which guy would be recommended for promotion or other jobs first?

Second, I’ll describe what I see as a leadership coach. Many clients hire me to help them change jobs. In the process, if they can’t yet leave their old job, I help them make it more palatable. As they learn the lessons you will from this series, they learn to tolerate, then accept, and then celebrate their old jobs. They learn the solutions to their problems are often not external, but internal. They learn to appreciate their work, their teammates, their managers, and so on.

Some clients end up finding enough meaning in their old jobs to stay. Those who still choose to change jobs seem more calm and thorough in their searches. Their friends seem more open to help them and they seem more confident about interviews.

In other words, again, job dissatisfaction doesn’t help get new jobs, at least not in my experience.

Others object “Maybe the cathedral-builder loved chopping rocks in the first place. He just got lucky finding a job he would love before he started. If I found a job I loved, I’d be as happy as him too.” Maybe, but more likely he had to face as many problems as anyone else, as does everybody who loves their jobs. Do you think you uniquely have problems with your job, team, spouse, parents, or whatever? Hardly. We all face problems, including the guy in the story.

For that matter, he found his greatest value not in his low-level activity. Nobody finds their greatest value in low-level work. Like everyone who finds great meaning in life, he connected his low-level activity to something greater. Think you can’t? If your company provides a product or service customers pay for, they find value in it. You can find big-picture value in your contribution to your company too.

Whatever your objection, you never benefit from feeling miserable. Even if you don’t like your job, you can more effectively do something about it when you aren’t miserable from it.

You always benefit from at least having the cathedral-builder skill to choose your beliefs. Yet few resources help you develop it. This series does.

This series helps you change your beliefs

Convincing someone to change their beliefs rarely works and this series doesn’t follow that approach. Like learning to dance or play the piano, having a book and teacher helps, but ultimately you learn through experience. You start with simple scales and work your way up to music.

This series presents examples of beliefs someone (me) consciously chose to adopt and a few exercises to start you off adopting your own. I describe the beliefs, how they work, when I use them, what old ones they replace, and where they lead. The exercises are simple and take little time or resources but increase your awareness and flexibility in adopting beliefs.

I was as self-righteously opinionated as anyone, yet learned to become a cathedral-builder. I may have been well-educated and successful before learning, but inside derived nowhere near the joy and reward from my achievements I knew I was capable of. I have no special abilities to change. Anyone can transform like I did.

I wouldn’t have expected I could consciously choose my beliefs. I thought beliefs I didn’t hold were wrong. But small changes led to bigger ones and I got good at it, like playing piano. With practice it gets easier and you can play more challenging music – that is, you learn to adopt more challenging beliefs, like how to win an NBA championship as a 66-year-old grandmother or to turn jerks into people who improve your life.

After all, when I was in college, mainstream society believed pasta healthy and bacon deadly. Now it seems to believe the opposite. Doubtlessly many individuals changed their beliefs 180 degrees. If so many people changed, you can too.

This series’ goal is not to cover all my beliefs or even my most important ones, though I did cover some I consider very important, especially ones relevant to leadership and personal development. Nor did I intend to cover the most earth shattering ones. My goal was to show ones you might have come up with yourself. The more you could have come up with them, the more accessible and empowering I consider them and the more they teach you to create your own.

This post describes a simple exercise you can do that founded this series. The exercise is to list the beliefs you notice filtering your perception for a week. Before first doing it I thought I would come up with five or ten that defined my world. Within a week I found closer to one hundred and was learning to find new ones even faster. I expect you’ll have the same experience of finding more beliefs than you expected. I’ve been changing beliefs for a while and found many I had consciously adopted in the past few years.

I want this series to show enough diversity in beliefs to show the range you can choose in my main goal of enabling you to become a cathedral-builder by showing the human ability to choose ones beliefs and the value of flexibility in that choice.

The beliefs I present work for me. If you want a life like mine – calm, friendly, curious, fit, resilient, and a few things like that; with little stress, angst, regret, blame, and guilt – you might try many of my beliefs yourself. If you want a different lifestyle than mine, some may still work for you, but read the series as much to see how someone can change beliefs and become a cathedral-builder.

As valuable and helpful as my beliefs are to me, they are the minor point of this series. The major point is what they illustrate – that you can create and choose your beliefs. I’d rather have someone reject every belief in this series but figure out how to create better ones for themselves than to adopt each of mine but not learn that skill.

Whomever you are or want to become, some new beliefs will improve your life. Maybe you want to become a competitive athlete. Then you might prefer beliefs about dedication, perseverance, physical mastery, etc. Maybe you’re a new mom, in which case you might want more beliefs related to children, patience, and making due with little sleep. Whatever you want to become, somebody more successful has beliefs that helped create that success that you can adopt.

To go further, I expect you’ll view many of my beliefs as stupid or unbelievable. Fine. Mine aren’t for everyone. I don’t list them prescriptively, but to show you some diversity in everyday beliefs and illustrate that you can create and choose your own, as different from mine as you want.

You may consider my beliefs false and disprove them. This post attempts to liberate you from this judgmental trap keeping you a making-a-living grunt. You’ll see, if you didn’t already know, the point of a belief is to help you live your life, not to be absolutely right. These beliefs work for me. You’ll find ones that work for you.

The important thing is that you choose them by and for yourself.

This series’ purpose

This series is designed to help you improve your life. It can’t improve your life on its own. Only you can do that. But it can show how someone else improved his life in ways you can too. It

  • Shows you you can change and choose beliefs.
  • Presents a examples of beliefs you can adopt if you want; some date back thousands of years, others I made up, one came from Warren Buffet’s friends, another from a great dancer, and so on.
  • Contrasts new beliefs with the old ones they replaced to show you what changes you can make.

Some key concepts and terminology

What does it mean to improve your life?

I don’t believe money, power, fame, and other external or material things alone improve your life, not that I have anything against those things. Even your achievements, relationships, and family don’t say whether you like your life or not. What makes one person like their life may make another person dislike theirs. People have different values.

What matters to you is what brings you meaning, what you value, what you consider important, and where you find purpose. We filter everything external through these personal concepts. Though meaning, value, importance, and purpose each have slightly different meanings, in writing this series I found anytime I used one of these four words, I wanted to write the other three as well. Instead of writing all four each time I coined and started using the term MVIP to represent the combination of them all – not to diminish the nuances but to include all their meanings each time.

I found myself interchanging two other sets of words with slightly different meanings too. I’ve written about beliefs so far, but in the rest of the series I use the terms model, mental model, and perspective synonymously. Likewise, I’ve talked about emotions so far, but in the rest of the series I use the terms motivation and mood synonymously too. Rather than repeat all the terms all the time, I used them interchangeably. I hope this doesn’t cause confusion.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

An exercise in knowing your beliefs; so you can change them

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

We all know the story about the three guys doing the same physical work at quarry yet feeling different — one felt miserable because he felt like he was just chopping stone, the next kind of enjoyed his work because he felt he was practicing a worthy profession, and the third who loved what he did because he was helping build the most beautiful cathedral the world had ever seen.

How do you become the cathedral guy? As long as you’re doing the same work, wouldn’t you rather enjoy life? I’m sure studies have found cathedral guys don’t just enjoy their work more but also get more done and enjoy the rest of life more too.

Still, many people stick to living like the first guy, defiantly claiming to be realists who see things as they really are, not realizing they’ve chosen to live in misery. But nobody prefers being the first guy. He doesn’t get as much done, hates his life, and probably resents the guys loving life.

How do you make yourself the building-a-cathedral guy?

So how do you transform yourself to become the cathedral guy?

I’ll tell you one thing — you don’t just wait for it to happen. He isn’t believing anything you can’t. So you start by believing you can learn the skills to change your beliefs.

You do it by learning to create new beliefs, to be flexible about what beliefs you hold, and to crowd out counterproductive beliefs (counterproductive to your goals, presumably of getting the job done and living a great life).

Start with awareness (today’s exercise)

My first step for improving any part of life is awareness. Today’s exercise will make you aware of your current beliefs.

Here’s the exercise:

1. Carry a notebook with you every day for a week.

2. When something in your environment triggers you to notice a belief, write that belief in your notebook.

That’s it. It costs nothing and takes a few minutes a day. At the end you’ll have a list of most of your daily and weekly beliefs.

Some beliefs you’ll have once in that week. Others you’ll have daily. Some more than daily. Some will annoy you. Others will calm you. The point is to record them without guilt, blame, or any judgment — just to record them.

Benefits of this exercise

First, you’ll clarify the world you live in — not just the physical world you sense directly, nor the world you consciously think you live in, but the world you actually believe in.

What’s the difference between these worlds?

If the exercise asked you to write what you observed with your senses, you might write something like “My boss walked into the room.”

When you write your beliefs, you might instead write, “My boss sucks. I hate working for other people. Bosses make you do things you don’t want to.”

Very different worlds!

The world you sense exists, but you only interact with it superficially. You spend your mental effort on the world of your beliefs. And you can change your beliefs.

Without awareness, change is hard. Most people don’t realize how much their beliefs affect their perception of their worlds, and therefore they don’t know how much their beliefs influence their emotions, motivations, and behaviors.

As a result they make themselves unnecessarily miserable and miss opportunities to improve their lives.

My experience doing yesterday's exercise and what it means to you

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Since my results surprised me, I bet your results will surprise you when you do yesterday’s exercise to record your beliefs (aka mental models or just models).

First, the quantity. I felt like I had five or ten main models that I used a lot. I had about sixty or seventy. So the mental world I live in, from my mind’s eye, is more complex than I thought.

Next, how new they are — that is, most of them aren’t more than a few years old. I expected to have many going back to childhood.

Next, how intentional they are — that is, I created my most important beliefs.

Next, how much these beliefs replaced old ones that made me miserable. Almost every belief I wrote improved my life and made me think of an old belief it replaced that made my life worse.

Finally I noticed the overall effect of all these beliefs I created: I’ve created a mental world of

  • Calm
  • Understanding
  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Discipline
  • Resilience
  • Nonreactive
  • Emotional awareness
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Creativity
  • Trying new things
  • Entrepreneurship

and more. When I look at what it replaced, I see I left a mental world of

  • Complaining
  • Reactivity
  • Less emotional stability
  • Entitlement that went unfulfilled
  • Self-righteousness
  • Independence that isolated me
  • Lack of awareness

My life is better today than ever before and is improving as fast as I can. I made the changes happen myself, I know how to change more, and anyone can do it.

I don’t want to overstate things. My life before had great stuff — I succeeded in business, academics, sports and more. And I’m sure plenty of people embody my values better than I do. I’m sure they live lives embodying their values better than I do. I hope you live by your values better than I do, since I probably have different values. But…

I’ve become the cathedral guy. My life is better today than ever before and is improving as fast as I can. I made the changes happen myself, I know how to change more, and anyone can do it.

Though I’ve hardly changed the physical world around me, I only superficially interact with it. The value of everything is in my mental world. I live more by my values, get more done that matters to me, have better professional and personal relationships, and so on. You can do the same for yourself in your life — at no cost and needing no one else’s help.

Your life and this exercise

Think about what you want in your mental life. Your mental life isn’t about money, travel, family, and other external things. But all those things only have value for what they mean to you — that is, for how you represent them in your mental life, meaning by what beliefs and models you use. This exercise reveals those beliefs and that meaning.

The next step after understanding your situation is to change it, which is what the Model and Method do.

You don’t want to live my life. You want to live yours. But whatever life you want, you want the best life for yourself by your standards.

If you wanted to be an athlete you’d probably want more competition, drive, exercise, and such. If you’re a parent you’d want more familial elements. You know what you value better than I do.

Whatever mental world you want for yourself, you’ll still want to do what this exercise helps with. You’ll want to replace beliefs that conflict with your goals with new ones that support it. You’ll even want to support beliefs that work for you with beliefs that work even better for you.

My next series

I’m going to post the beliefs I adopted that created the mental world like I described above. If you want a life of calm understanding and everything else I listed above, you might want to adopt the beliefs yourself. If you want a different world for yourself, you’ll still benefit from replacing counterproductive beliefs with productive (to improving your life). I think you’ll benefit from seeing how someone else replaced theirs.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

Should you change your beliefs? Or at least consider alternatives?

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Say you have an identical twin and you walk into a party together. Now say your twin finds the party fun while you find the it boring and yourself in a miserable mood.

Same party. Similar backgrounds and abilities. You’d rather have fun than be miserable. Why are in different moods and what can you do about it?

You could say it’s just your mood and moods are random, but can we say more?

Since you and your twin have roughly equal abilities and backgrounds and you’re in roughly similar environments, you’re probably in different moods because you have different beliefs influencing your perception. The same environment may look different through lenses of different beliefs. Maybe you wanted to go to meet people, your twin went to dance, and the music is too loud for conversation. You’re miserable and that’s a problem.

The solution? Change your beliefs.

Maybe in a specific case like this party you could ask the host to turn down the music, but often you can’t change your environment. The general solution of changing your beliefs works in nearly all situations. You could, for example, ask your twin for their beliefs and try to adopt them.

(I’m not saying to “think positively,” to ignore your environment, or to lie to yourself. I’ve described the art of choosing new beliefs not to push against old ones but to complement them.)

Your life

Now consider the same situation as you and your twin at the party, only instead of a party it’s your life and instead of your twin it’s the you you could be if you weren’t so stuck with your beliefs.

If you feel miserable or know you could at least feel better and can’t change your environment, you can change your beliefs.

Again, I’m not suggesting believing a lousy party is great. I’m saying if anyone anywhere and any time was in a situation like yours and was able to enjoy themselves, learn something, or feel better than you in any way, you could think of them like that imaginary twin and adopt their belief.

That’s why people like Victor Frankl inspire us so much. He found ways to create meaning in life in situations more challenging than most of us will probably ever face. If he could do it in his situation, you can in yours.

Why consider someone else’s beliefs

My next series of posts will present beliefs that work for me. Do I think I have the best beliefs ever? No. Do they help me stay calm under pressure, bring me great relationships, keep me effortlessly in shape, and all the things I wrote yesterday? Yes.

I’m not writing my beliefs to convince you to adopt them, only tell you what worked for at least one person.

If a belief I share conflicts with your beliefs, you don’t have to adopt it. But if it applies to an area of your life that isn’t incredibly awesome, before rejecting it, consider that whatever your beliefs, if you scrutinized them enough, you’d find flaws in them too. Because no matter how much you believe it, all beliefs simplify, meaning they leave out information and contain biases. No matter how right you think it is, you can still look at things from another perspective.

If you can make yourself happier, more capable, or however you want, why wouldn’t you try?

Instead consider if it could improve your life. And consider how yours affect you. Or consider if yours works better in some areas, it may not work everywhere.

Considering other beliefs helps even if the beliefs don’t

Even if a model of mine doesn’t work for you, I wrote the series to show that you can change your beliefs too. You don’t have to adopt mine to realize that if you’re not in absolute heaven, you can at least change yours to something else to improve your life.

If you have a belief that works better for you, please share it. I’d love to try something that works better.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

A belief to motivate trying new things

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Are you nervous to try new things? Do you wish you tried more things? Do you see others enjoying things you’re too scared to try?

I found a way to motivate trying new things.

My model to try new things: I have low standards the first time. That is, the first time I do something, I consider it successful if I just do it at all, not by how well I do it.

I wrote about this model almost two years ago, so please check out that post, “I have low standards the first time.”

Today I’ll note that I think most people shy away from trying new things mainly from fear of others (or themselves) judging them. They don’t want to be embarrassed. They want to try singing karaoke but are afraid of judgment. Same thing with trying a new sport, a new style of clothing, salsa classes, asking an attractive person out, meditating, or whatever.

Sometimes they’re afraid of injury and avoid trying to ski or skydive, no matter how much they want to do it.

This model replaces fears of judgment or putting yourself at risk with low standards. When you confidently decide that merely trying something at all is enough, you’ll find yourself more eager to do things you’ve never done before.

So tell people you’ll sing karaoke and invite them to laugh at your voice because you consider the mere act of singing a huge success. Ask out that person because just asking means success for you (not asking means no anyway). Go skiing for the first time and don’t worry about getting off the bunny slope.

You get the idea.

When I use the belief

I use the belief when I want to do something new, but am afraid of judgment or failure.

Lately I’ve used it buying and wearing new clothes, approaching people I didn’t know, and working on a new entrepreneurial project.

What it replaces

My believing in having low standards the first time replaces evaluating my performance against people with experience my first time. I have a goal of having it overcome fear, shame, anxiety, and related emotions when I consider trying new things.

Where it leads

This belief leads to new activities and behavior with less fear.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

A belief to choose without getting mired in indecision

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever get stuck unable to choose among options? Do you wish you could just go with something and be done with the choice?

I found a couple useful models to help me choose.

Model for choosing 1: my skiing model for choosing

I wrote a few times about this model. Here’s the most comprehensive post on it. Briefly, the model is this: when you ski a slope, the path forks, and you can’t tell which path you’d enjoy more, sometimes you can’t get all the information you’d like before choosing.

In that case, I conclude my best strategy is first to eliminate any options I can, then to make a choice rather than standing in the cold while other people pass me. Then to make the best I can of the choice I made.

I’d rather ski than stand in the cold. And I’d rather take responsibility for the choices in my life than abdicate it. Even if my choice leads me somewhere I didn’t want, if I chose the best I could at the time, I never have reason to regret my choice.

(I also think about this model in terms of surfing, deciding which wave to take. You can never tell how a wave will turn out until you get on it and surf, which means letting go of other options, but if you don’t pick a wave you’re just sitting on a board, bobbing in the water. Once you choose a wave, the best thing you can do is ride it as best you can.)

Model for choosing 2: choosing the one you want isn’t hard; rejecting the others is.

When faced with many options, it’s easy to choose ones you like. The hard part is letting go of the ones you don’t choose.

I also wrote about this model before. English and some other languages show this hard part in the language: the -cide in decide is the same root as in insecticide and homicide. It means cut or kill.

So the hard part of choosing is cutting or killing the options you decline.

When I use these beliefs

I use these beliefs when faced with choices among things that are hard to compare (should I use the money I saved to take classes or to travel for a vacation?) or nearly equal.

These beliefs help me avoid getting stuck analyzing things for too long, help me not regret choices after making them no matter what the outcome, and motivate me to enjoy the choices I’ve made and the responsibility that came with choosing.

What these beliefs replace

These beliefs replace getting stuck choosing forever, over-analyzing and feeling like victim of fate. I remember first starting to develop this perspective in second year of business school, when many of my classmates had multiple job offers. Instead of choosing one and getting ahead, they went back and forth between choices, living in limbo when they could have been laying down foundations for where they would work.

Where they lead

These beliefs lead to taking charge of your life through taking responsibility for your choices and relaxation that even with important decisions, it isn’t that hard to accept you have to choose with less information than you want.

So when I have to pick between two job offers, or I have to pick one entrée from the menu, or can’t figure out which party to go to on a Saturday night, I ask myself

Do I want to stand in the cold watching others enjoying skiing or do I want to ski myself?

Of course, I still remember I can still wait. I just remember the cost of not choosing.

Once I’ve chosen, if I learn something that changes what choice I would have made I remind myself

I didn’t know that when I had to choose. I still made the best choice I could have at the time.

Finally, once I’ve chosen and I think about what I might have done or wonder what I can do, I think

The best thing I can do on this slope is to ski it as best I possibly can, get as much out of it as I can, and enjoy life as much as I can.

Then I do.

Top models and strategies for negotiating

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

You negotiate every day. If you think you only negotiate when you’re buying a car or creating a deal, you don’t realize you negotiate every time you decide with a friend where to get lunch, with your spouse what movie to see, with your boss if you can work from home another day per week.

Any interaction with some give and take involves negotiation. And if you think of negotiation as each of you trying to beat the other, you’ll miss what a growth experience it can offer.

The book Getting to Yes is the book on negotiation. It was my first business book and the human side it showed to business led me to the great experience of business school and all this emotional intelligence, self-awareness stuff as much as anything else. Most business school students have read it for the past several decades (or at least they were assigned to read it).

Getting to Yes also transformed negotiation for me from a give-and-take zero-sum adversarial practice to a collaborative relationship-building one; needless to say, a great improvement.

I stopped buying the book because I kept giving copies away. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading the book so I recommend it to everyone. As with any activity, your negotiation skills improve with practice, so you need to augment reading with practice, but, as I mentioned, you get to practice every day.

The book presents four high-level strategies. I haven’t disentangled the root model from which the strategies emerge, so I’ll just write their strategies. If you’ve read the book, I expect just reading them will remind you of their meaning and depth. If you haven’t, they probably won’t mean as much, in which case I recommend reading the book.

Getting to Yes strategies

1. Separate the people from the problem.

2. Focus on interests, not positions.

3. Invent options for mutual gain.

4. Insist on using objective criteria.

5. Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)

Wikipedia included the fifth, but I remember the book listing only the first four. As long as they have another, I’ll put another one:

6. Always try to improve your BATNA.

And one more general enough to apply to nearly all skills so you might take it for granted, exactly why to include it:

7. Practice.

There, now you have the top strategies for negotiation.

Come to think of it, I’ll add one more model.

Negotiation always has two components: dividing the pie (called distributive), where negotiators’ interests are adversarial, and making the pie bigger (called integrative), where negotiators’ interests align.

I find working on the integrative part fun and constructive. If you only think of the distributive part, like if your model for negotiation is a used-car salesperson, you’ll miss opportunities to build relationships, build businesses, and enjoy life more.

When I use these beliefs and strategies

I use these beliefs and strategies every time I have a give-and-take interaction with someone, which tends to happen several times per day.

I use them almost every time I interact with someone, even not negotiating. I haven’t formally thought about these strategies together for a while, but now looking at them, realizing I tended to practice their opposites, I can’t imagine how difficult working with me would have been.

Sadly, I know people who still practice their opposites. It’s hard to work with them, so I tend to avoid people like that. You probably avoid people like that too. If you don’t want people to avoid you, learn Getting to Yes strategies.

What these beliefs and strategies replace

These beliefs and strategies replace my old used-car salesperson model of negotiating, where I imagined the other person had these strategies

Hide information from the other person.

Get what you can because whatever you don’t get the other person will.

Dominate the other person to get them to agree.

Act nice to get them to trust you so you can get more from them.

Lie if you can get away with it.

Stick to your position. Get them to abandon theirs.

Just looking at those strategies you can see they’ll create an unpleasant and unproductive environment. (Here are two posts that illustrate such an environment: Do you want to win debates or enjoy life? and If you think you’re right and they’re wrong, you’re probably annoying someone, illustrated)

Those strategies still emerge in the distributive part of negotiation, which I believe is inherent, but they aren’t the only part. In longer-term relationships that part becomes easier to handle.

Where they lead

These beliefs and strategies lead to productive, constructive relationships, especially in business but also in personal relationships. They lead you to get to know the person you’re negotiating with, not just to try to beat them. They lead you to look forward to negotiation — a daily activity — as a creative, human experience, not a contest.

So when I want to decide what movie to watch with a friend we don’t end up arguing over which one to watch tonight, but learning what types of movies and actors we like, why, and what types of movies we’ll watch different times, what other types of activities we’d like to do together that we can roll into the agreement, and so on. Instead of just figuring out what movie to watch one night, we build a relationship built on common interests we share and diverging interests from which we learn from one another.

In business it means I look to build things with people, not just compete to win. When I have to compete to win I don’t take it personally, which makes me more calm and capable of solving problems.

A simple, effective strategy for improving yourself -- probably the best I know, and it's totally free: Feedforward

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What if I told you the best way for you to improve yourself takes two minutes, costs nothing, and people will feel honored and flattered to help you with it? And you can do it anytime. Sound too good to be true?

It’s not.

Read on.

Oh, and make sure you get to the section on when I use it for how using it can help in your most important relationships at the most important times.

Have you noticed the one person you can never see from another perspective is yourself? Yet you’re the one you most wish you could see from another perspective than your own. After all, everybody else sees you from another perspective.

If you want to improve your life, getting others’ perspective is indispensable. Most people get feedback. At work they get reviews from their managers. In sports their coaches give them feedback. They ask friends how they did at something.

As much as feedback helps, it has limits. Fundamentally it evaluates the past.

When you ask someone to evaluate, you always create communication issues. People often hold back sharing information they think you won’t like hearing or might react in a way they might not like. If you ask someone how you did on a project and they say “You did part X great, part Y great, and part Z great” does that mean you didn’t do anything badly or just that they didn’t want to tell you the parts you did poorly? You’ll never know, not because they aren’t a great friend, but because of inherent issues with communicating evaluation.

When you ask about the past, you’re asking about something you can’t change. If you want to improve, you have to translate information about the past into something you can do now.

Today’s model and strategy show how to get the information and advice you want without the baggage of feedback. I wrote about it before in the context of my communications and social skills series and recommend it for all my clients and students.

Strategy for improving yourself: Feedforward

The term feedforward is a pun on feedback because it looks forward instead of backward. Feedforward is a simple, two-minute practice that can get you more useful information than feedback. I’ll give some background, then write the practice in a simple script.

The technique comes from Marshall Goldsmith — author and executive coach. His two most recent books, Mojo and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, were best sellers. He was ranked the 14th most important thinker in business. His personal web page offers tons of free resources.

His page on feedforward gives all the instructions on how to do it and reasons it works you need. The video below adds more.

The exercise

Marshall’s page has the full script for feedforward. I teach an abbreviated one.

  1. Identify something behavior related you want to improve – e.g., public speaking.
  2. Identify a person who can help and why they would be helpful – e.g., the person has observed you and others speaking in public.
  3. Say to him or her: “I’d like to improve my public speaking. You’ve seen me present and others who are great. Can you give me two or three things that could help?”
  4. Write them down. Clarify if necessary. Do not evaluate.
  5. Say “Thank you”
  6. Optional: ask for accountability.

Steps 1 and 2 are preparatory and you do them on your own before approaching others. You can pick anything about yourself you want to improve — being on time, sleeping better, reading faster, losing weight, quitting smoking, saving more money, whatever.

Your area of improvement will determine whom to ask. If you want to improve something at work you might ask colleagues or a mentor. If you want to lose weight it might be someone you know who lost weight. If you want to improve your relations with a family member you might ask another family member or someone you know with great family relations. If you want to improve your first impressions you could ask random strangers on the street. You’re only asking a couple minutes of their time.

By the way, the person you ask the advice from will feel like you consider them an expert. People usually feel honored and flattered when asked feedforward. Notice you don’t have to tell them you’re doing feedforward. They just feel like you considered them important enough to ask their advice.

Note that the wording of the exercise is precise. Marshall cut out many things people say that would hurt the exercise and included only what’s necessary. Unlike the storytelling or meaningful connection exercises, where embellishing and following tangents contributes, feedforward doesn’t benefit from deviating from the script. If your change adds judgment, which I see happen often when people first practice feedforward, you’ll hurt its effectiveness.

In particular, he wrote steps 4 and 5 to avoid you expressing judgment of what they say because judging discourages their open communication. People rarely like being evaluated, especially on a favor they are doing for you. Saying “That’s a great idea” or “Oh, I don’t like that idea,” no matter how well-meaning or inadvertent, discourages them from giving you more ideas or sharing ideas openly. Even if you evaluate one positively to be nice, you implicitly evaluate others negatively.

He wrote step 3 to ask for advice, not evaluation or judgment. If you phrase your question to be about the past, people will evaluate your past, which creates the problems I noted at the top of this post. Marshall’s wording gets past that. The most common mistake I see people make is to rephrase step 3 to include something like “can you tell me how I do now,” prompting judgment, thereby discouraging openness and asking about the past.

This exercise done properly gets the value of the feedback without its discomfort or holding back. If I ask people for feedforward about public speaking and three people tell me I should use humor more, I can figure out they don’t think I’m funny, even though they would not likely have told me had I asked. Asking for feedback almost never gets you that kind of information, often the most useful.

Asking clarification helps, as does taking notes. Giving them attention and appreciation motivates them to help people in the future, possibly yourself.

Follow up

Step 6 can make the difference between just hearing advice and doing it. Most of us do what we’re accountable to someone else for. If someone gives you advice you want to follow, accountability will increase your likelihood of doing it and the quality of your work.

For example, if you asked for advice on public speaking and they suggest speaking every chance you get from making a toast at dinner to someone’s eulogy, you might say

Thank you, I would like to follow that advice. I figure I’ll have a couple chances to speak per week. Would it be okay with you if I check in once a week for a few weeks to make sure I’m following your advice? A phone call or email once a week is all I’m asking, though I’d welcome more advice on how I’m doing it.

Notice I don’t suggest saying it’s a good or bad idea, which would be evaluative and risk discouraging them from helping.

You will know or can figure out with the other person how to follow up — how frequent, how to interact, for how long, etc.

When I use these beliefs and strategies

I use the beliefs underlying feedforward any time I want to improve something about my behavior or another person’s perspective on my behavior.

Since asking feedforward makes people feel honored and flattered, and because it gives me useful, or at worst, neutral, advice, I often use feedforward when I meet people, just as regular conversation. If I meet someone knowledgeable in a field I’m curious about, I’ll ask them feedforward about something. Or if they work in an area I want to move into, I find it opens them up and gets them talking. If you meet someone at a company you want to work at, try using feedforward before asking them if the company is hiring.

Following up my teaser at the top of this post, feedforward helps in arguments, especially with loved ones or other intensely emotional situations. When someone is yelling at you for something they think you did wrong, it’s incredibly disarming to respond with

I’d like to improve that. Can you suggest how I can do it better?

By the way, I use the word disarming deliberately. Fights, especially with loved ones, get people to arm themselves — to create verbal weapons to attack each other — which provoke defenses, which gets people to stick with their positions. Disarming means taking away weapons, which allows people to lower defenses, which allows them and you to move and change.

Note feedforward doesn’t require anyone to admit wrongdoing, nor does it accuse anyone of wrongdoing, demand apology, or anything judgmental. It merely asks advice from someone who wants to tell you something and feel heard.

I should note that in my experience using feedforward in times of intense emotions, sometimes I have to politely repeat the requests for suggestions because people don’t often get that you’re really simply asking for their advice. Stick with it. It works.

What these beliefs replace

Feedforward and its underlying beliefs replace shutting people down by asking them to judge you and getting information you can’t use about the past.

In arguments, feedforward replaces trying to convince others about how right you were or listening to them tell you how right they were with giving them a chance to voice what they want to see in the future.

Feedforward replaces judgment with useful advice.

Where these beliefs lead

Feedforward and its underlying beliefs lead to productive direction and change.

A model to allow yourself to fail, which gives you freedom to succeed

[Today is the fifth in a series on my daily and weekly beliefs, in no particular order. See the introduction to the series and the value of flexibility in beliefs for background.]

Do you ever not do something for fear you’ll fail at it? You’ve probably heard the phrase that the perfect is the enemy of the good. You may also have noticed that people who achieve greatness don’t do things perfectly.

How do you become great if you don’t do everything perfectly?

Here’s a model I use to allow yourself to do something without worrying too much about failing — ironically, the best way to succeed. It’s one of my most important ones I think about almost daily. It fits with my practice of having low standards the first time. It also enables you to act on the perspective most successful people I know of realizing the importance of failing. (I also wrote about it before).

A model to allow yourself to fail, which gives you freedom to succeed: the karate master and his students

The scene is a martial arts class. A few students learning from a great master. The students ask the master how he never loses his balance.

He asks, surprised, “what do you mean?”

They say “You’re always on your feet. You never fall. How do you never lose your balance?”

He says, “On the contrary, I’m always losing my balance, but I’m always recovering.

I love this line. It tells me I can fail. I just recover. As long as I keep recovering, I keep succeeding. When you do that, people on the outside see mastery.

I used to think you prepared to prevent mistakes by foreseeing and anticipating every problem. I wanted to avoid mistakes. Now I prepare mostly to have the presence of mind and skills to handle things I can’t foresee, not to try to avoid mistakes completely. I don’t think you can avoid problems. Nor do I see as much value in avoiding mistakes as I used to.

I value handling problems and solving them over avoiding them any day.

I wrote a few times about this model. Here’s the most comprehensive post on it. Briefly, the model is this: when you ski a slope, the path forks, and you can’t tell which path you’d enjoy

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I work on challenging projects. Instead of making perfection my goal, I try to make something good enough and recover from problems. That means sharing my result with others, soliciting their feedback and feedforward, and improving my results.

I use this belief when leading. I don’t try to be a perfect leader. I try to do the best I can, share my flaws, solicit feedback and feedforward, and try to improve all the time. I think people prefer a leader they know is as human as they are.

I use this belief in relationships, personal, professional, family, and all others. When someone tells me I don’t listen well enough, interrupt too much, or didn’t meet expectations in some other way, I don’t conclude I’ve failed. I have something to recover from.

This model helps me think about life overall. If you don’t mind my getting more philosophical, no result, however unwanted, completely defeats you. Every failure is just something else to recover from. Likewise no success means nirvana. Life has no ending point except death (sorry if you didn’t already know) and anything before then is just something to make the most of and keep going.

What these beliefs replace

This beliefs replaces the anxiety that you have to do something perfectly or you fail.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more actively participating in your activities since everything you do leads to something else. It liberates you from fear and anxiety.

This belief saves time because you don’t have to prepare so much. It saves energy because you don’t have to try to foresee every possible outcome.

It also leads other people to think you’ve mastered things, like those students thought of their teacher. When you face what other people consider failure and calmly move on to the next thing, people conclude you overcame what they couldn’t. They follow people like that.

A model to get people to show up on time for you

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you get annoyed at people showing up late? That they don’t respect you by wasting your time showing up late, when you respected them for showing up on time?

I used to fume at people showing up late. Fume!

Then I tested a strategy that works so well, I never again had a problem with people showing up late.

If I hadn’t tried it I never would have believed it. For that matter, I would have fought against it. In fact, I expect the more angry someone gets at people for lateness, the more they will resist this model and strategy, yet the more it would help them. I don’t remember how I came up with it because it ran so counter to my judgmental perspective, which underscores its value, both in its goal and in revealing the value of flexibility in beliefs.

A model to get people to show up on time: everybody gets fifteen minutes

My rule for myself is that everybody gets fifteen minutes and I don’t mind.

If someone shows up fourteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds late, I act as if they showed up on time, no questions asked, no explanation necessary.

Does it sound counterproductive?

Before I tried it I would have opposed trying something like it tooth and nail. Wouldn’t it create more problems, not solve them? If people realized I wouldn’t punish them for showing up fifteen minutes late, I was sure they would learn they could show up twenty minutes late. A half-hour! I had to punish them to change their disrespectful behavior!

To my surprise that never happened. As best I can tell, people continue to show up with the same distribution of lateness and earliness as before.

The difference?

I don’t consider them late, so I stay calmer, we don’t get into fights, we enjoy our time together more, and we spend our time doing whatever we planned to do instead of talking about time.

People now sometimes fall over themselves apologizing when they arrive more than ten minutes late. My graciousness in having no problem with it and getting on to our business often somehow leads them to apologize more and feel they owe me. Fine with me if they do. They’ve bought me lots of beers that way.

By the way, if they show up later than fifteen minutes late I often still don’t mind.

I also feel liberated in two ways. At fifteen minutes, if I don’t feel like waiting and have other things to do, I leave with no worries. I expect the same generosity with their time that I gave with my time, so when we get in touch after, I calmly say I waited fifteen minutes and left. My calmness leads them to respond calmly too, and we move on to rescheduling.

The other liberation is that, while I try to arrive on time, I also give myself fifteen minutes too. If I show up twelve minutes late and someone gets mad at me, I point out my policy (publicly posted two years ago on this site) and that I followed the Golden Rule.

I can’t tell you the liberation from anger, self-righteousness, and judgment Everybody Gets Fifteen Minutes has brought me.

Another thing. While I wait, I rarely try to optimize my time texting, emailing, or whatever, as if my time is so valuable any waste is a disaster. If I have something to do, I’ll do it, but if not, I’ll just sit there watching the world go by, often singing this song to myself

Listening to this song writing this post just puts me in a good mood, like I don’t have a problem in the world.

Seriously, can you think of anything you’d rather do than enjoy listening to the Rolling Stones sing a great song? If whoever you’re waiting for shows up in the meantime to do whatever you planned, all the better!

Now say someone routinely shows up more than fifteen minutes late. What do I do? Then I change how I meet that person. I’ll tend not to schedule things where their timeliness matters, like instead of going to movies with them, I’ll only invite them to join group events where if they show up late the rest of us are still having fun. Or I’ll decrease the time I spend with them.

Or I’ll arrange to meet at my place or at my work. If we’re meeting at my place, I almost don’t care how late someone shows up. I have so many things I could do, I’ve come to see their lateness more like a gift. I get stuff done instead of spending time with someone busy with other things.

When I use this belief

I use this beliefs when someone after our scheduled time, including myself.

What these beliefs replace

These beliefs replaces my anger at them showing up late with graciousness. It replaces starting meetings angry and defensive with starting them doing what we wanted to do. It replaces my fuming with calmness.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to you feeling like nobody ever shows up late anymore. You realize the value of changing yourself when you can’t change the world. You realize how much better relationships go when you don’t try to control other people.

It leads you to realize much struggling against things you can’t change creates stress and learning to accept and celebrate them makes life fun and enjoyable.

EDIT: while finishing editing this post on a Friday evening, I got a text that someone was going to have to be about an hour later than planned. Before Everybody Gets Fifteen Minutes I’d get annoyed. Now it means two things: I have time to start writing another post and I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a bottle of wine out of it. People don’t like being late and when I don’t punish them they find ways to make it up themselves.

A model for stress that calms you down

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Does the world stress you out?

Do people and things cause you stress? Do you get even more stressed at your helplessness to reduce how stressful the world is? Do you get even more frustrated and depressed at your bad luck that you had to be born at a time when the world was so stressful?

Would you be glad to know you can decrease all that stress?

No medicine required. You don’t have to change anything except your beliefs. But when you do, you’ll realize you can get rid of all that stress.

You’ll realize you aren’t helpless when you change your beliefs. When you believe the outside world causes stress you can’t do anything about it. Today’s belief changes that perception.

A model for stress that calms you: you want the world to be one way and it’s not

When I first came across this belief (in the book Are You Ready To Succeed, by Srikumar Rao, whose leadership class I took at Columbia Business School), I looked at it incredulously. He first wrote that all the stress in your life comes from one source. I read with skepticism and optimism, asking myself how could so many sources of stress all actually come from just one, as he continued to write his model:

All the stress in your life comes from one source: you want the world to be one way and it’s not.

At first it seemed too simple. But as I thought about it, as I hope you are thinking about it, all the various sources I used to think of did seem to boil down to one thing. It soon started to seem plausible.

This belief has tremendous consequences, mainly that stress doesn’t come from outside you alone. It comes from what you want. That means you can do something about it. It means you can take responsibility for decreasing your stress.

But you can never again blame the world for causing you stress. The world does what it does. How you react to it causes stress. Someone else can respond to the same thing without stress.

Stress results from a conflict involving things you can control. This model suggests a few top-level strategies when you feel stress.

Strategies to respond to stress

If you want to decrease your stress, three main strategies seem clear

  • Change the world to fit what you want.
  • Change what you want to fit the world.
  • Change both.

If you want to change the world, something many people don’t realize to do, but this model makes obvious

  • If you want to change the world, figure out what you can change and what you can’t change. Learn to accept and embrace the things you can’t change.

I’d love to fly like Superman, but I don’t think it’s possible, so I accept it. Actually, anything I can accept I find a way to celebrate, but that’s another post.

Actually, I could think of a million things I can’t do. They used to stress me out. Now they don’t, largely because of this model.

Another part of this model is if you want to change the world, you can allow the stress to motivate you. I’ve come to see stress as motivation to act. So when I feel stress, I’ve learned to distinguish between the motivation to change the part of the world I don’t like from feeling bad.

In other words, this model has helped me transform stress from something bad to something motivational. You can too. Then when you don’t like something, instead of feeling bad, you feel motivated to do something about it.

Whom would you rather hang out with — someone who feels bad or someone who feels motivated? So transforming yourself in the same way makes you more attractive to others.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when the world is one way and I want it another — that is, when I feel stress. I think of this model and realize I’m not powerless to feel this way.

In other words, I use the model less and less all the time. Or rather, I don’t actively think about it. It just fades into the background as fewer and fewer things provoke stressful reactions.

What these beliefs replace

This belief replaces the belief that stress results purely from external things. It replaces helplessness and feeling bad with motivation and calmness. It replaces frustration and futility with ability to find and create direction.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a more calm, stress-free life where you react with motivation and calm ability to solve problems instead of aimless and ineffective complaining or feeling sorry for yourself.

A model on achieving goals: The Samurai Walk

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

You want to do something meaningful. You know it will take resources — time, energy, attention, etc. You have your goals. You have a general plan. So far so good. Most people get this far.

How do you finish your project? How do you stick with it despite inevitable distractions?

Would you be amazed to find you can use those distractions in your favor?

Today’s model gives an effective way to work on something, keeping your goals in mind, avoiding getting stuck, and keeping things fresh.

(I learned it from Bill Duggan, one of my professors at Columbia Business School. He learned it from a the teachings of a samurai from centuries ago. The samurai part isn’t actually necessary, but it creates a vivid image of a samurai walking.)

Context: The Standard Model for Doing a Big Project

For context, let’s look at a common planning method, which I’ll call the Standard Model for Doing a Big Project. In this model, you first identify your goals, then you identify the steps to achieve that goal, then you do each step in order, and you achieve your goal.

For example, if you want to bring a new product to market you could identify the steps to reach that goal as: do market research to clarify the product niche and the product’s properties, do research and development to create a viable prototype, do product testing to perfect it, plan a launch, and launch it.

That’s six steps to do your project. Each step needs different resources and depends differently on the others, but you could imagine going with that plan.

You could picture the process as you identifying a spot six steps away from you and taking six steps to get there. In my seminar I demonstrate this model by walking six steps from a point I call my starting point to another point I call my goal.

Nothing wrong with that model when it works. Let’s consider what happens when it doesn’t.

What if something goes wrong? If something blows you off-course? You could lose funding, the competition could scoop you, the market could lose taste for your type of product, you might lose a key member of your team, etc.

In the Standard Model for Doing a Big Project, when you get blown off-course, you figure out how to get back on-course. In the illustration of you taking six step to your goal, if you mis-stepped, you would go back to where you wanted to step and re-continue toward your goal.

In this model, you resolutely fix on your target and get there.

Model for achieving goals: The Samurai Walk

Let’s consider a different model than the Standard Model for Doing a Big Project: The Samurai Walk.

The Samurai Walk begins the same as the Standard Model. You know your goal, you think of the steps to do it, and you take your first step.

Here the models diverge. In the Samurai Walk, you notice after you take your first step you are no longer in the same place as when you planned the rest of the steps. You’re closer to your goal, which you can now see better. Maybe what you thought seemed simple from six steps away has more structure to it when five steps away. Or maybe step two, now one step away instead of two, appears easier or harder than you expected. New things entered your horizon in the direction you moved. You might care about those things — like other competitors, other demands for your resources, and so on. Likewise, things behind you left your horizon and maybe you don’t need to worry about them — some competitors may have left the market.

In the Samurai Walk, you treat each step like a new beginning. You reevaluate each time. Do I still want to go for the same goal? Should I revise my goal? How should I change?

You can imagine a very alert samurai taking each step thoughtfully, with heightened awareness of his surroundings, how they change, how he sees them differently, and constantly readjusting his approach. Work with this model for planning and execution and you’ll be that alert, aware samurai.

If the original plan was optimal — the six steps in our example — the Standard Model and the Samurai Walk will lead to the same process which will create the same outcome.

More generally, information you learn along the way can help. In that case, the Samurai Walk will usually produce a better process and outcome.

Some people might wonder “Won’t all this changing distract you? You don’t want to change a horse midstream. Doesn’t the attention you devote to reevaluating distract you from your task?”

In my experience those would-be problems don’t occur. In both models you have to deal with new information and devote resources to handling it. The difference is in how you handle it and how prepared you are for it. In the Standard Model you force yourself back on track. It resists change. In the Samurai Walk you fluidly respond. It expects change.

Results and side benefits

A major result of the Samurai Walk is that since you are always readjusting, you tend to feel like you’re always at the beginning of a project. I feel more fresh. I feel like I’m always on the helpful end of an 80/20 rule. That is, since in so many projects the first eighty percent of the task takes twenty percent of the work, I’m constantly getting most of the work done.

You might object that I’m never finishing the project. On the contrary, I finish many what-feel-to-me-as side projects that, since they came about through a lot of work, others see as major originally intended goals. That is, you often see something great you can achieve along the way you couldn’t have seen from the start, you achieve it, and people think it was your goal all along.

The Samurai Walk in action

An example for me was an early application of my art. About ten years ago I was just trying to get started, to get into a gallery. Unrelated to my fine art direction, a friend happened to be a manager in a new club about to open called Crobar. She invited me to see it before it opened and I brought some of my artwork to the yet-to-open club.

I finagled showing the art to some other staff, who passed me to the owners, who saw the work and asked if I could install some pieces by the grand opening.

I did, and ended up one of the two artists whose work showed from the grand opening through the life of the club. While showing at Crobar didn’t advance my fine arts goals directly, I had permanent VIP access to the top club in the city for years, got to show work to thousands of people each weekend, and had them pay for my substantial expenses making the art. Many artists dream of such exposure. Many club-goers dream of such access. I got both.

You could call it simply being in the right place at the right time and having a bit of gumption and foresight to bring my art. That’s what the Samurai Walk looks like from the outside.

When I use this belief

I use this belief on every multi-step project. It keeps me flexible and always looking out for alternative paths to simpler goals.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the Standard Model for Doing a Big Project and the rigidity that comes with it. It often replaces the last twenty percent of a project that takes eighty percent of the work with new projects where you keep finishing eighty percent of the work with twenty percent of the resources.

In entrepreneurship, the Samurai Walk replaces the need to have The Perfect Idea before starting the project with having a Good Enough idea plus the ability to listen to the market and the flexibility to change based on what the market says.

Where this belief leads

 The Samurai Walk leads to getting more done with less effort that you enjoy more.

It keeps you calm when your environment changes in ways you can’t anticipate.

A model to motivate physical and emotional fitness

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Your body is the physical manifestation of your thoughts and behavior.

Two starting points for today’s belief.

First, how do you decide what diet, exercise, and beliefs are right for you? Some people are more muscular, some are thinner, some seem happier, others the opposite. Diet and exercise books flood the market. How do you make sense of it all?

Second, before your next shower, stop for a moment, look at yourself in the mirror, and think about the person you see. Discount the things you can’t do anything about — age, height, skin color, size of your nose, results of diseases and accidents, and such — and assess what you see. Do you like what you see? Do you love it? Do you feel shame, pride, confusion, or what? Note your face as well as your body. Does your face look happy? Sad? Excited? Resigned?

What these starting points have in common answers the questions in the first point: how you decide how to treat your mind and body.

A model to motivate physical and emotional fitness: your body is the physical manifestation of your thoughts and beliefs

Whatever you saw in your face and body, not counting the things you couldn’t change, didn’t happen by accident. They resulted from the choices you made in your behavior and thoughts.

Your body is the physical manifestation of your thoughts and beliefs

If your body appeared energetic, you’ve been thinking energetic thoughts and taking care of it. If it appeared withdrawn or weak, you’ve been thinking withdrawn thoughts and behaving accordingly. If your body was covered with fat, you’ve been filling it with fattening things. Maybe you’re covering your body up. Maybe you’re indulging yourself.

I’m not implying and value judgments here. Your body displays your choices — whether you like the choices or not isn’t the issue. But that’s what causes the body and face you see. Maybe you love enjoying life and have no problem with the consequences. If so, having that fat is great for you. My point here is that it all has a cause.

Whatever you see in your body and face came from your thoughts and beliefs.

Do you think you can be angry or vengeful a lot and no one will notice? This belief suggests otherwise. It forces integrity, authenticity, and genuineness on you because it implies your body reflects everything inside.

So your body and face tell you how you are living your life. They are like a barometer, a passive readout.

You can also use this model actively. If you want to change your life, figure out what body and face you’d like and make it happen. If you want a happy, friendly face and you don’t have one, use that knowledge to guide you to filling your life with happiness and friendliness. Is your life too full of things you can’t avoid to fill it with happiness and friendliness? Well, now you just found out why you look that way. You’re filling your life with unhappiness and unfriendliness — meaning you value those things.

Life isn’t like that. Your life is like that. By your choices of your behavior.

Want to change it? Change it. Can’t because of your values? Either change your values so you can change your life or realize you’re going to stay this way until you do, but don’t blame anyone else. Or learn to love your life as it is.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I decide how healthy I want to eat, how much I want to exercise, and what beliefs I want to have.

When I see unhealthy food that might taste good this belief suggests I ask myself how unhealthy I want to make my body. And I usually eat healthier, though not always.

When I wonder if I should exercise, this belief suggests I ask myself if I want a disciplined body or a lazy, undisciplined one. I ask myself how I want to portray myself to others and whom I want to attract into my life.

When I think a mean or antisocial thought — anger, vengeance, argument, and so on — this belief suggests I ask myself what face I want to put forward to the world. And it usually leads me to consider other perspectives.

These days my body is in decent shape. I think it portrays discipline and health, not that much need to prove anything by building big muscles. I think I walk with a relaxed gait. I think my face generally looks calm, definitely calmer than when I was younger and fought so often to prove I was right.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces helplessly feeling you’re just stuck with what nature gives you. Of course you are stuck with some things, but I think most people discount the things you can’t control. At least in my circles, I don’t see people think less of someone else for their skin color, age, and so on.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a healthy body, healthy behavior, and a healthy mind.

It also leads to living with more integrity and authenticity.

A model to motivate success instead of feeling sorry of yourself

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you envy others’ achievements? Or happiness? Or true love? Or something someone else has that eludes you?

Today’s belief helps keep me resilient to feeling bad in such cases and motivates me to improve my life. I expect it will work for you too.

A model for what you can do: Anything one person can do I can too

I believe that for anything important in life,

anything someone else can do, I can too.

I don’t think anyone else has greater access to them than me. Nor do I think I have greater access to them than anyone else.

So I believe

anything anyone can do, you can too.

Most people’s first thoughts on difficult achievements are big ones, like conquering nations, building buildings, running companies, running governments, and so on. With rare exception, meaningful achievements come from team efforts.

Well, team efforts mean one person didn’t do them. And I can lead a team. So, in principle, I can do those big things. I may need the right circumstances, which might not happen in my lifetime, but I can still do them.

I tend to value more modest goals, like self-awareness and emotional intelligence and the improved relationships that come with them.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I look at the achievements of others, compare mine to them, and have a hint at feeling sorry for myself.

Then one of four things happens, which I summarized in this table here.

Can do it Can’t do it
Want to do it Start doing it Accept limitation or improve self
Don’t want to do it Move on

Three gray quadrants are easy. If I don’t want to do it, I move on, whether I can or can’t do it. If I can do it and I want to, I do it.

The challenging quadrant still improves my life — where I want to do something but can’t. In rare cases someone has an ability I don’t — like an ability to win an Olympic Gold Medal. Then I recognize the other seven billion people on Earth can’t either, realize they can live just as happily, and move on.

(The person who won the Silver often looks unhappy, like they lost, and the Bronze even less happy. By the time you reach the people who didn’t place, they already start looking happy just to be there.)

More commonly when I want to do something but can’t, I realize a way to improve myself. Most of my personal growth came from things in this quadrant.

Things I can’t do often require teamwork. If I want to do them, I create a team — which is why I value entrepreneurship and leadership skills so much. And why I want to share them; since they can improve anyone’s life so much.

Yes, things in this quadrant are challenging, but today’s belief leads them to improve my life the most.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces feeling sorry for myself.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to personal growth or, at worst, acceptance.

How to win an NBA championship if you're a 66-year-old grandmother

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s post illustrates yesterday’s model instead of introducing a new one. It’s one of my favorite illustrations from my leadership seminar.

It shows that with flexibility in your beliefs and understanding your emotions you can bring anything to your life that anyone else can bring to theirs.

Winning an NBA championship

Say you want to win an NBA championship. What exactly do you want? It’s not possession of the trophy, which is just a physical object. It’s not even necessarily to shoot a game-winning basket, since at most only one player gets to do that. It’s a team effort. The coach doesn’t play at all and he deserves credit.

I believe what you want in winning an NBA championship is the emotional reward you get from winning. That feeling comes from all the effort you put into it, the recognition of your peers, and so on. I believe the value of winning comes from that emotional reward. Would you want to win if you didn’t get any feeling of emotional reward?

I’ve never won an NBA championship, so I don’t know what it feels like. I’ve only seen players win on TV, so I can only go by what it looks like they feel. They look about as happy as I can imagine.

Even then the team shows a big range. If the team has a main star, he’ll look particularly emotional. Some of the bench players you have to search for since the cameras don’t point at them, and they don’t look that emotional. They know the main players on the other team were better than them as individuals, even if their team won.

Still, everyone on the winning team, for the rest of his life, knows he helped win an NBA championship. Everyone he knows will recognize the value of the accomplishment.

A 66-year-old grandmother

So how does a 66-year-old grandmother win an NBA championship?

I’ve written about my mom running her first marathon at 66 years old as a grandmother of five, never having run more than five kilometers at once before training, so I won’t retell it here. Well, I’ll repost my telling the story at The Moth here for quick reference.

Like with an NBA championship, I believe the value of finishing a marathon is in the emotional reward it brings.

Like the feeling of winning and NBA championship, I also don’t know what it feels like for a 66-year-old grandmother to finish except what I saw when my mom finished. Through the fatigue (you have to wait a bit for someone to recover after crossing a finish line for a marathon), she seemed to show a lot of emotional reward.

In fact, as best I could tell, my mom’s emotional reward seemed as great as the NBA players’. Her emotional reward might not have seemed as intense or great as a team leader’s, but it sure looked greater than that of a bench player who hardly played.

Like the NBA players, she will always know she finished that marathon and everyone will recognize the value of her accomplishment.

It seemed to me she got all the value of winning an NBA championship.

You can get the same value

She didn’t do anything you can’t do. Even if you can’t run a marathon you can still do something that will bring that amount of emotional reward. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will probably never win NBA championships, after all, and they probably don’t feel like they haven’t accomplished anything.

Whatever your impediment, you can do something to get a comparable reward.

My mom didn’t do anything you can’t do. So like I wrote yesterday,

anything anyone can do, you can too.

A model to free yourself from being categorized

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you like being judged and put into a box? Do you like being told you can’t change things about yourself that limit you from living the best life you can? Do you like it when these categories have no scientific basis?

Personality traits, types, and dispositions are models that I don’t find helpful.

A model to free yourself from being categorized: personality types and traits have little to no validity

I’m sure people will attack me on this belief. When my psychology teacher taught it to me in college I didn’t believe him. It seemed obvious some people were extroverted, others introverted, some conservative, others liberal, some type A, others not type A, and so on.

As overwhelming the evidence for traits seemed, his brief explanation got me skeptical. Then looking at the world with the new perspective yielded just as much evidence that so-called traits or personality types didn’t explain anything meaningful about people. Rejecting that view also improved my life by suggesting I could change myself more than I believing it suggested.

The more I and people I knew grew and changed beyond what believing in types would have allowed, the more I came to adopt a new model.

Besides its consistency with my observations, and the blatant inconsistency of the trait model, not believing in traits improved my life tremendously. It liberated me to change more than I would have otherwise and to expect more of others. Since I try to change my life for the better, the new model allowed me to improve my life.

New Model: So-called traits, types, and dispositions aren’t meaningful

People behave according to their abilities and always try to do their best based on their perception of their world. They can learn new abilities and change their perceptions by changing their beliefs.

Take introversion and extroversion. Believing in traits leads you to believe a consistently introverted person is introverted. It says you’re just that way, discouraging you from doing anything about it. Believing in traits, through this discouragement, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Other would-be traits that could sound plausible but don’t endure: all other Myers-Briggs categories and all the ones in the list on this Wikipedia page on “trait theory.”

Believing in the no-traits model is consistent with what trait theory explains, suggesting that everyone who can behave introverted and thinks it’s the best thing to do will. People who don’t know how to act extroverted never will — but that doesn’t mean they can’t. It only means they haven’t learned to or they think the same behavior best in different situations.

The no-traits model also suggests people can change. It says introverted people can learn extroverted skills. The other way around, as well as for any other trait. The more they do, the more their behavior will change, eventually to feel more and more natural to them.

So when someone says they’re introverted or whatever psychological trait, they aren’t telling you what they are, they’re telling you what they haven’t learned to do. If they stopped believing in traits, they’d also be telling you how they could improve their lives — by learning the skills opposite the trait they say they have.

As Wikipedia says about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The MBTI is not recognised as being scientifically valid, and is largely ignored within the field of psychology. The statistical validity of the MBTI as a psychometric instrument has been the subject of criticism. It has been estimated that between a third and a half of the published material on the MBTI has been produced for conferences of the Center for the Application of Psychological Type (which provides training in the MBTI) or as papers in the Journal of Psychological Type (which is edited by Myers-Briggs advocates). It has been argued that this reflects a lack of critical scrutiny.

or as it says about The Big Five personality traits

A frequent criticism is that the Big Five is not based on any underlying theory; it is merely an empirical finding that certain descriptors cluster together under factor analysis.

I find traits and types not based in nature — just made-up beliefs that constrain people from improving their lives.

When I use this belief

I use the no-traits belief when someone tells me they are just that way and can’t change something about themselves that I’ve seen others change about themselves.

I tend to see descriptions of people’s types more like their horoscopes — accurate to the extent the person’s belief in them motivates them to act accordingly and continue to believe in them.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the constraining belief that you have to be what someone categorizes you as, that you can’t change some things about yourself that you can.

Where this belief leads

Believing that what look like traits actually describes a person’s abilities and beliefs points you to examining your beliefs and learning new abilities to improve your life. Traits and types discourage this introspection, learning, and growth.

If you want to lead, not believing in traits will allow you to influence people, and yourself, more than believing in them.

A model to prioritize things

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you have too much to do? Are you so busy you never seem to have time for the important things?

Today’s belief is quick to describe, but among the most important in this series.

A model for prioritizing things: You have to say no to a lot of good things to have a great life

This model explains itself. I confess I don’t follow it as well as I’d like to, but at least I know it. It bears repeating:

You have to say no to a lot of good things to have a great life.

It cuts to the chase about your priorities. If you don’t know your values, you can’t choose among different things. The more things of lower priority you say yes to, the worse you make your life.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have multiple things to do but not enough time for them all.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces busy work and low priority things with things you want.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a better life than you would have if you didn’t choose by your priorities. It leads to more time to do what you value and higher value in the things you do. It leads you to stop fooling yourself into thinking doing more things improves your life. Everything you do distracts from something else.

A model and strategy for getting things done

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever have so much to do you can’t figure out where to start? Or you bounce between things, unable to complete them?

Most importantly, does the stress of having things to do make you miserable?

I found a strategy for handling things that worked pretty well, but reading the book Getting Things Done by David Allen refined it. I wrote about it recently.

A model for getting things done: Your mind fixates on obligations it wants to remember, distracting you from everything else

Written that way, the model sounds like a problem. It would be if you didn’t take the time to think of solving it. That’s one of the values of stating and understanding your beliefs. When they create problems, you can solve them, which you can’t if you sweep them under the rug and don’t expose them.

When you have something you need to do and your only way of remembering it is your memory, your mind devotes as much resources as it needs to remember it and get you working on it. It will pull mental resources from what you’re doing otherwise, lowering your quality of work and causing you stress.

That means if you have more than one priority you’re trying to remember, you can’t focus on either without distraction.

My original solution was first to know my priorities and work on things in their order of importance, second to write to-do lists of the other things, and third to forget about unimportant things. This loose system was based in knowing my values — they tell you your priorities. It worked and it motivated me to understand my values but it was loose, so not as effective as it could have been.

Getting Things Done explained a comprehensive system that many follow to the T. I merged his system with mine into something simpler that works for me.

According to another model of mine, which I’ll write about tomorrow, everyone does what they think is best given their view of the world — that is, their beliefs — which turns models and beliefs into strategies. Today’s model, after David thought about it enough, led to a strategy to avoid relying on your memory to get things done. It works.

Strategy to solve the problem of today’s model

I boiled the process down to creating a system once and for all for how to sort stuff coming into your life without worrying you might lose something valuable.

  • If I can do it in a couple minutes, do it.
  • If it’s worth doing later, put it in a place I won’t risk forgetting it.
  • If it’s not worth doing, get rid of it.

I boiled down the storage part to:

  • I keep my inbox to a few items overnight.
  • A to-do list on my computer (a text file).
  • A calendar on my computer.
  • Paper mail worth responding to goes into a pile on my kitchen counter that never gets to more than a few items.
  • The rest worth keeping goes into files on my computer or two file holders in my closet, which is basically taxes, receipts of things I might return, and letters from people I like.

(David also includes regularly reviewing your priorities on different time scales, which I haven’t felt the need to formally implement.)

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have more than one important thing to do, which means all the time. The strategy leads you to create a system that, once created, you don’t have to think about anymore. You just get things done and your worry decreases.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces not knowing what to do in what order or trying to do more than one thing at a time with doing one thing at a time and doing it well.

Where this belief leads

David Allen told me at a cocktail party that he uses his system not primarily for productivity, but for mental freedom, calling himself a “freedom junky.” His term stuck in my mind and made me realize the value of having a system that works. Efficiency and productivity are nice, but it gives you freedom.

My result: mental freedom. That’s why I recommend it.

A model to rid your life of guilt and blame in favor of getting things done

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you get that guilt and blame don’t help your life but you can’t stop yourself from blaming others sometimes and feeling guilty other times?

Do you wish you could get over feeling guilty for things you can’t change? Do you want to stop getting into arguments and losing friendships over blaming them?

Today’s model almost completely removed my habit of blaming others and of blaming myself, which led to guilt. I wrote about this topic at length about two years ago.

A model for overcoming guilt and blame: Everyone does the best they can at the time, given their perspective of their environment and capabilities.

It’s a mouthful, but once you get it, it’s simple to remember. It came to me when I realized that everyone says they do their best, even though they might call others lazy or something else they wouldn’t accept being called themselves. Call someone out on a shortcoming of theirs and they’ll often respond by explaining that they did the best they could but extenuating circumstances prevented it. If you understood them, you realize anyone would do the same.

If everyone says they do the best they can, it occurred to me to extend that consideration to everyone.

Everyone does the best they can at the time, given his or her perspective of his or her environment and his or her capabilities.

Once I extended that consideration, I noticed that everyone seemed to do the best they could from their perspective. Your perspective may differ, but they choose based on their perspective, not yours; just like you choose from your perspective, not theirs.

So I think everyone does like me — they perceive their environment, subject to their beliefs, and do what they think will most improve their lives at the time.

To understand someone’s behavior, you have to see things from their perspective, including believing what they do, not what you do, and imagine having their capabilities, not yours.

Before you call someone lazy or judge them negatively, try to imagine their perspective, beliefs, and abilities. That is, respond with curiosity. When you do, I predict you’ll find yourself understanding their choices. You may not like their beliefs and choices, but you’ll understand them.

Note that understanding doesn’t mean agreeing or supporting. If you want to influence someone, you’ll be more capable working with their beliefs, perceptions, and motivations. Since you often want to influence people you don’t like, doing so may feel distasteful, but otherwise you lose your ability to influence them.

Strategies

Yesterday I alluded to how today’s belief leads to strategies. I don’t mean formal strategies like in chess, politics, or the military. I mean that when people do what they consider best, they end up creating a plan of action.

If you believe your boss wants to sabotage your career, you may act defensively. Or maybe offensively. In any case, you’ll always behave in a way to create the outcome you want based on that belief. You’ll never behave contrary to that belief.

Today’s belief’s strategy: Don’t look for blame but take responsibility for making things better to the extent you can

This strategy is one of my most important strategies for interacting with people. I can’t tell you how helpful it is:

Don’t look for blame but take responsibility for making things better to the extent you can.

It naturally follows from today’s belief, so if you adopt and internalize the belief, you’ll naturally follow the strategy. It incorporates many effective practices, particularly that you can’t change the past and that taking responsibility is on of the best ways to get things done. It also recognizes you can’t do everything, just what you can.

Using this strategy will get a lot more done than blaming others (or yourself) and avoid a lot of arguments. Arguments over blame tend to be unwinnable since the other person usually feels justified in their motivation. Worse than unwinnable, they’ll usually motivate the other person to feel more strongly justified — the opposite of your goal.

When you don’t blame but just take responsibility, people who you could have blamed will often apologize for anything that might have slowed people down, even without your asking.

Just think about it. Whom would you rather follow — somebody looking forward and trying to get things done or somebody pointing fingers and trying to get people to admit they’re wrong?

You may be wondering, “What about when people really are wrong and deserve punishment?” In that case, I recommend treating that as a separate issue. Let the team know you’ll revisit it in another context, but for the time being get the job done. Before you start addressing the person you believe needs punishment, you usually have to figure out your goal in punishing them

  • Do you want them to admit wrongdoing?
  • Do you want to make them suffer for what they did?
  • Do you want to deter others from doing something wrong in the future?
  • Do you want to reform them?

Those are the main purposes of justice. When you figure out what you want to do, then you can plan your action to achieve your goal. That’s another topic. I write it here just to note you can separate blame from getting a job done and revisit it later in a different context without losing your goals in addressing what you think they deserve punishment for.

No more guilt and blame

Back to the idea of imagining having the same beliefs and abilities as someone. This belief suggests that if you were in their place, you’d do the same. Since you can never have exactly their beliefs and abilities, you can never verify this, but we can consider it plausible.

Then we ask ourselves

How can I blame someone for doing what I would have done in the same situation?

and we realize we can’t. Blaming someone for doing what you would have done in the same situation hardly makes sense.

The result is that we stop blaming others. Instead, when we don’t understand them we respond with curiosity to find out what about them we didn’t understand made them do something we wouldn’t. Usually the difference stems from different beliefs, though differences could also come from different abilities or environments.

At some point when you berate yourself for some choice or behavior you did, you realize that guilt more or less means blaming yourself in the past and the guilt disappears faster than the blame.

The result? Your life improves tremendously, you judge less, and people like you more, including yourself. Instead you feel curiosity (because you want to understand their motivations), empathy (when you do understand them), and compassion (when you realize what they’re missing out on).

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself blaming someone or feeling guilty.

This belief is my starting point for leading or influencing others — to motivate them I have to first understand them. Believing they are different than me doesn’t help.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces believing that some people are fundamentally better or worse than others. It may be that some people are lazier than others, but this belief suggests otherwise. It suggests we all have the same emotions and emotional systems underneath, creating empathy and compassion.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a world free of guilt and blame, full of curiosity, empathy, and compassion.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a life free of guilt and blame, full of curiosity, empathy, and compassion. And getting things done effectively, with less arguing and more people following you.

Model to motivate putting in the effort to get good at something

[Today is the sixteenth in a series on daily and weekly beliefs that improve my life and may improve yours, in no particular order. See the introduction to the series and the value of flexibility in beliefs for background.]

Today’s model is a simple picture that illustrates the difficulty in getting good at a complex skill. It motivates me to put in the effort to get good at something and prepares me for the challenges.

A model for how hard it is to get good at something

This graph illustrates how hard I think getting good at something is. It shows that before you put significant effort into learning a new skill, it doesn’t create any difficulty in your life.

Difficulty with effort

As you put in more effort, that skill creates more and more difficulty in your life.

Consider, for example, if you want to improve your public speaking. Before you try to improve, you don’t speak in public, so it doesn’t cause any difficulty. As you start to put in effort, it makes your life harder — you speak in front of more people, you try techniques that risk making you look silly, you realize nuances you didn’t know before that you’re doing wrong, and so on.

While you’re still ramping up, more effort makes your life more difficult. It doesn’t seem worth it. Except for that cusp. After that cusp, more effort makes you life easier.

Reaching that cusp doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve mastered the skill, but once you reach it, you tend to want to practice that activity more instead of less. So reaching mastery from there is like rolling downhill.

For example, think of people you know who find playing a musical instrument relaxing. For them to improve is easy since they like it. They are past the cusp. My music lessons growing up never got me to the cusp, so I never took to playing. I was always going uphill. On the other hand, learning math and physics got me over the cusp somewhere in college, so that I liked working on those problems.

Same with sports. When I first starting playing ultimate, my skills weren’t great. I enjoyed playing, but it was hard to improve. I wasn’t a complete player, so playing better only exposed other weaknesses. If I did improve, it didn’t stick. After I reached a certain level, improvements got me more playing time and I enjoyed improving more.

Same with romantic relationships. When you first meet someone, you are nervous to share things about yourself. It’s scary risking rejection. After you share a certain amount you pass that cusp and you find yourself wanting to share things you haven’t before. Then you want to put in more effort.

Same with getting in shape. If you don’t try, no problem. Once you start trying it gets harder—you newly have to pay attention to what you eat, you have to exercise when you didn’t before, people might suggest you can’t do it, you have to work before you see results. The cusp may come when you start seeing definition you didn’t before, or people start to compliment you, or you start enjoying what you eat more, etc. Then you enjoy working harder at it, or cooking with more fresh fruits and vegetables, or whatever made things easier and more enjoyable for you.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I’m on the left side of the cusp learning a skill. It makes me feel calm about how things keep getting more difficult because I expect it and it motivates me to get over the cusp, because then I know the skill or activity will make my life easier and more fun.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces feelings of frustration that come when trying to learn something hard with the expectation that it will get easier. Not just easier later, but increasingly easier.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to putting in the effort to get good at challenging skills and enjoying the process more.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

A belief to promote integrity and authenticity

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you rank integrity as one of your highest values? How much integrity do you have?

Today’s model hit me one day accidentally, but since it did, I’ve held it closely.

One day after talking to someone I got into an elevator alone. As I did I noticed I slouched because no one was there. Rather I didn’t do it for a reason, I just did, subconsciously thinking it didn’t matter because no one could see.

Then for some reason it occurred to me it did matter. Even if no one could see, I could. And my behavior then would influence my behavior elsewhere.

A model for integrity: It matters even when no one can see

Slouching in an elevator may seem trivial, but I immediately applied the same thinking to all my behavior. I realized my behavior matters all the time, no matter who sees it or not.

I see behaving consistently with your values even when no one else can see basically the core of integrity. It leads you to understand your values better so you know how to behave. It reinforces your values. It also adds accountability because people see your values all the time.

When I use this belief

I use this belief all the time. That’s the point of it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces thinking you can get away with cutting corners or that what others don’t know but you do doesn’t matter.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to living a life with more integrity.

A model for living every moment to its fullest

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you enjoy every moment of your life? Do you wish you could?

Have you ever felt like you wasted a lot of your life? Do you wish you hadn’t?

Do you wonder how you could live more in the moment?

Today’s model shows you how.

It comes from an unlikely source. You might know about the researchers who asked people who won huge lotteries and people who just had accidents leading to becoming quadriplegic how happy they were (you should because I wrote about them about six months ago). The lottery winners were happier. But when they asked them a year later, the difference in happiness disappeared. Everyone seemed about as happy as they had been before either event.

What can we learn from this? If you didn’t think that much about it, you might think that in the long run it doesn’t matter what you do today — you’ll eventually end up no happier a year from now.

I talk about this experiment with many people and when I ask them if in the long run you end up no more happy, why do you prefer winning the lottery to becoming quadriplegic? Few people come up with meaningful answers.

My answer is today’s belief. If you’re happier one way even temporarily, all else being equal, that extra happiness counts, even if fleeting. If one way you were happier, or you had more of something you wanted, for only one moment more, all else being equal, that way would be better.

A model for living every moment to its fullest: Every moment counts

Every moment you live could have more or less of what you want in life. In fact, your life consists only of moments (I liked the title of a book on meditation I once saw: “You have only moments to live.”).

Every moment has value. Every moment counts. Any moment you let go by without getting value out of it is a moment lost.

You know this intuitively, but you may forget it when choosing what you do with your life. I’ve heard people choose jobs they don’t like for decades for imagined futures yet more decades away. They live miserably for longer than they plan to enjoy the fruits of that labor.

After decades of learning misery, I’m sure they’ll be so skilled at it, they’ll find ways to be miserable after retirement too. What else do they know?

More people choose to sacrifice smaller times, but they’ve made similar choices. If you wouldn’t sacrifice thirty years for some hoped-for future but might sacrifice ten, consider lowering your limit of what you’d sacrifice. After you lower your limit below ten, try lowering it to five, then three, and so on, and see how low you can get your tolerance for choosing misery.

You might be surprised at how much you can achieve in life without misery. I’m not saying it’s easy to switch to practicing this belief if you believe you have to trade joy for security or stability, but you can. I was raised that way too.

The alternatives don’t mean you have to act recklessly. Sometimes you learn to find joy in something you otherwise would have found miserable — your environments and beliefs may stay the same but you might change your beliefs, for example. I won’t try to convince you because you have to figure out how on your own, and you have to experience it to believe it, but you can.

When I use this belief

I use this belief every moment, but especially when I’m thinking about what to do. I used to not worry about my time sometimes, like I’d watch TV for an hour even when nothing was on, just letting time pass.

I don’t do that anymore. Because every moment counts.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces wasting time with valuing time. It replaces wasting moments in the present while worrying about the future or past with noticing the present moment.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to paying more attention to the present moment.

I came to this belief from the experiment I mentioned at the top of this post, but that was just the entry point. I’ve come to reinforce the belief by noticing that every moment does count for me.

A model on the foundation of personal freedom

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today I’m just copying what someone else said about mastering a complex skill or mode of creative expression, connecting

  • Freedom
  • Spontaneity
  • Simplicity

with, perhaps ironically to some, but without question to those who get it

  • Conformity
  • Discipline from within
  • Dedication

As odd as it may seem for conformity and discipline to lead to personal freedom, I agree with the quotes below from Martha Graham, the best description on the foundation of personal freedom I know. By personal freedom, I mean being able to know and express yourself as you want.

She doesn’t just connect those things, she says freedom is based in conformity.

A model on freedom arising from discipline, drill, and conformity from Martha Graham

In her words:

The dancer is realistic. His craft teaches him to be. Either the foot is pointed or it is not. No amount of dreaming will point it for you. This requires discipline, not drill, not something imposed from without, but discipline imposed by you yourself upon yourself. … Your goal is freedom. But freedom may only be achieved through discipline. In the studio you learn to conform, to submit yourself to the demands of your craft, so that you may finally be free.

And when a dancer is at the peak of his power, he has two lovely, powerful, perishable things. One is spontaneity, but it is something arrived at over years and years of training. It is not a mere chance. The other is simplicity, but that also is a different simplicity. It’s the state of complete simplicity, costing no less than everything, of which Mr. T. S. Eliot speaks.

Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

These quotes nail for me why it’s worth working so hard at something — why it’s worth getting past the cusp in the model of a few days ago. Because on the other side of it is freedom.

When I use this belief

I use this belief all the time. It helps set my long-term purpose and goals.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces passivity in hoping for personal freedom to come my way. Personal freedom comes from diligent work.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to working diligently to achieve what I want in life — mainly freedom — and embracing discipline and conformity to get it.

It also leads to trying things out even when I’m not good at them.

I believe personal freedom exists within a structure. Without a structure you have aimlessness and randomness, which I distinguish from personal freedom.

A model to improve your environment

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

How would you like for everything in your life to look better and for everyone to treat you better? For everything in your life to improve?

Today’s belief is one of the most powerful you can have, as is the strategy it leads to.

People also happen to oppose it the most. When I state it simply and abstractly, they agree with it. When I apply it to them, they push back against it. You will too.

If I can take for granted that we agree that our beliefs influence our perception, I’ll write today’s model:

A model for improving everything in your life: You can choose your beliefs

An exercise from my leadership seminar helps illustrate how much you can change your beliefs.

  • First, think of three adjectives to describe yourself. Write them so you don’t forget.
  • Next, imagine on a job interview a prospective employer asked you for three adjectives to describe yourself. What would you say? Write them too. Are they the same as the ones you wrote in the first part?
  • Next, imagine yourself on a date with someone you want to date again and they asked you for three adjectives to describe yourself.  Would would you say? Write them too. Are they the same as in the first two parts?
  • Next imagine your parents asked for three adjectives to describe you. What would you say to them?

If you changed your adjectives at least once, you use different models for yourself in different situations. In other words, you changed your beliefs based on your situation.

If you can change your beliefs about yourself, you can change your beliefs about other things too. About anything.

When you change your choice of adjectives for different situations, you don’t stop believing the others. You just put them to the side while they aren’t useful. You don’t stop thinking, say, you’re sexy when on a job interview. You just focus more on, say, your dedication and let that belief crowd out the less useful beliefs.

Same with any other beliefs. You can consciously choose your beliefs about anything. Say your boss yells at you and you initially think he or she is a jerk but realize this belief isn’t helping your life. You might consciously choose to believe he or she has high expectations of you, or is under a lot of stress and actually protecting you from worse from above, or something like that.

As new information comes in you may refine your beliefs, but you can always find alternatives to beliefs. Since beliefs lead to strategies, choosing your beliefs means choosing your behavior, which means choosing potential outcomes.

If you can rule out some beliefs, rule them out, but of the remaining ones, why not choose the beliefs most likely to create outcomes you like?

So the belief that you can choose your beliefs leads to a strategy.

Strategy

Always interpret for your best outcome.

I’m not suggesting always thinking positively. Sometimes things happen that you don’t like. Sometimes you want to feel sad. The point isn’t to try to feel good every moment. It’s to choose your models to create the outcome you anticipate will be best for you.

“Best” means knowing your values. Not anyone else’s. Yours. So knowing your values better will help you with this strategy.

When I use this belief

I use this belief all the time. Everything you observe takes on value from the emotions observing it evokes. And those observations get filtered through your beliefs. So choosing your beliefs changes how you see and value everything.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces passively accepting the world as you first see it.

It replaces being trapped in mental jails.

It replaces reactivity with leadership because if you believe you can’t change your beliefs, you can only react to things as you see them.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to the ability to create the life you want. It leads you to learn to perceive things as more helpful and productive. Everything in your world will seem to improve. Actually, you’ll be surprised at how you used to see the world, how confined you felt. How confined you made yourself.

It leads to taking responsibility for how you perceive your world.

This belief leads to seeing beauty and all sorts of other things you like where you never saw it before.

A model to make problems go away

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Have you notices some people never seem to have problems? And others seem to complain all the time about their misery?

Today’s model will help you become part of the group that doesn’t have problems.

I’ve come to believe that some people look for problems in life. Others look for solutions. I consider it tragic that both types of people get good at what they do. Practice makes perfect.

A model to make problems go away: Some people look for problems. Others look for solutions. Both get good at what they practice.

I’ll give an example where solving a problem in one area led to improving many other areas.

I used to go dancing a lot. In New York that means getting past a lot of doorpeople — the people with the lists of who can get in or not. Getting past doorpeople can be challenging, so a lot of people look at them as problems. I did at first. Over time, I found some people were skilled at getting past doorpeople. They didn’t seem to see them as problems. I noticed they went up to them and talked naturally, like they belonged. The doorpeople often liked them right away and let them in.

They saw doormen as their route in, not as a barrier. Seeing solutions instead of problems made the problems go away. They still had to talk to the doormen, but they and the doormen enjoyed it.

As I learned to emulate them, I came to stop seeing what was once a big problem.

Moreover, I’ve come to believe that people who look for solutions don’t even know some “problems” exist that others sweat over. The more solutions you see, the easier life seems.

It doesn’t stop there, because solutions to one problem tend to solve other problems. Who else is like a doorperson? How about gatekeepers at workplaces? People who interview you for jobs? Or to get into schools?

In my case, when I applied for business school, I interacted with my interviewers with skills I learned with club doorpeople. I adjusted for context, of course, but when you have lots of solutions, you can solve lots of problems. Since I started business school 23 days after deciding to apply, I enjoyed a process other people sweat over.

There’s nothing special about getting past doorpeople. People see problems everywhere you don’t have to. I once had a girlfriend whose mother was sick every time I met her. And I dated that girlfriend for years. Maybe her mom was sick for years. I don’t know. But I don’t see sickness as a problem. I keep waiting to write a post about doing burpees when I’m sick, but in the roughly eighteen months I’ve been doing them, I haven’t felt sick enough to merit saying I did them sick.

Did I feel ways that others who felt the same way might claim sickness? I can’t say for sure, but I think so. I just do them. Feeling sick is a part of life, so I just do what I think will make me healthy, which includes exercise. There. Problem solved. If I feel sick I still do burpees. So I don’t notice I’m sick. Or maybe I don’t get sick because of the twice-daily exercise.

The same patterns happens all over in life.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I face problems. I start to imagine that if anyone anywhere has solved this problem, I can too, and I stop seeing it as a problem.

Then I realize my life feels better. I’m more able to solve the “problem” at hand.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces problems with solutions.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to remaining calm when others sweat about problems because you see solutions. Like my friends enjoyed talking to doorpeople or me handling sickness, you enjoy what others fear.

A model to find the best in someone, including yourself

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s belief helps overcome a challenge in helping someone’s growth. It also helps you shine as a leader or mentor.

When you lead or mentor someone or work to improve yourself, it helps to track progress, but you often can’t. You can for external things, like how fast they run 100 meters, how they scored on a test, how much they increased revenues, etc.

When you develop someone as a person, you can’t always see the development externally. Especially with important things like emotional intelligence and self-awareness. When you coach someone you see clients change, but often can’t quantify or specify how.

How do you focus on and motivate internal growth? How do you get excited about something you can’t see and measure?

A quote from Michelangelo about his sculpture, David, helps focus me. The context is about art, but it applies equally to leadership and personal development.

Michelangelo's David

How do you go from a slab of marble to such a sculpture? Is it a stretch to imagine you and someone you lead or mentor’s personal development and growth like finding a David like that inside a slab of marble?

A model for finding someone’s value: Michelangelo on carving David: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

We have inside us a freer person — an angel, if you want, or a David like Michelangelo’s — that gets covered up. That freer person is friendly to everyone, helps people, is spontaneous, and so on.

Society, family, school, and so many social forces tell us who to be. After you get hurt you learn to protect yourself. No matter how much you try to avoid becoming what they want you to become for whatever their reason, some of their influence sticks to you.

The result: layers of identity, like shells around you, protecting you from the outside world, making you seem something different from what feels most natural to you.

By the time you meet most people, their angel, their David has been covered up. To the extent your body is the physical manifestation of your thoughts and beliefs (which you know I believe), you meet this, which has the David you know inside, only covered up:

Michelangelo's David, Fat

Might as well start from a slab if you want to find the angel within!

You don’t have to be covered with fat to cover up your angel. Nor does being fat mean your angel is covered up. Fat isn’t bad if you like it on you. But for those who don’t like fat on them, it represents that they’ve covered their bodies like we all cover that innocent part within us.

But you can reach the angel within. The point is you don’t have to try to change them.

Learning to lead or to bring out the best in others often means identifying these caked-on external layers and removing them. When you do you release a core of you that feels and acts more naturally, not trying to copy others or avoid getting hurt.

This identity is their angel you can help set free.

When I work with a client or lead someone, I assume they have an identity inside that, when not covered up, will behave naturally and freely. If you help identify and release this part of them, they will forever feel grateful.

I think of these shells like when you get caught in the rain in the morning and your socks get wet and never get the chance to dry. All day long you have wet socks. At the end of the day when you finally take them off you realize they were annoying you all day but you didn’t notice. Taking them off feels so good, though it partly reminds you of how long you endured misery.

If you help someone take off their wet socks, they’ll value you forever.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when working on improving myself or others in something not obviously measurable, to assume they have an angel. My goal isn’t to change them but help relieve them of the burdensome beliefs that constrain them from behaving more naturally.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces trying to change people with giving them space to share who they are underneath, what they want to release from those shells, and supporting them. Or yourself.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to living more freely, helping people grow and develop, and having less protection or reactive behavior.

It leads to accepting and celebrating others, not trying to change them, and them seeing you as someone who helps them become more themselves, more free, and less what others tell them to be, less protected.

A model to enjoy things more and promote future success

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s model is simple. It helps you enjoy things more.

I’m going to state it very simply about something I like a lot, but it generalizes to everything in life that you like. And the more you use it to enjoy things more, the more you bring things into your life you enjoy. And you can use it with emotions other than joy. Anything you like.

I find the model works especially well in improving relationships. I’ll explain why in a second.

A model for enjoying things more and having more of them in your life: Mangoes taste better when you pay attention while eating them.

You’ll eat food that tastes good whether you pay attention to it or not. But if you don’t pay attention, you can easily eat delicious food and not get joy. Or you could eat crappy food without stopping yourself.

Since doing the three raisins exercise, also known as the best exercise I know to raise awareness, I take a moment in most meals to focus my attention on at least a few bites to get the most enjoyment I can from it. Since I normally eat food I like, that’s extra joy and pleasure that costs nothing.

It helps motivate eating slower and choosing food with more complex and interesting flavors, like fresh fruits and vegetables.

But please don’t think I’m only talking about food.

Relationships are another place I apply this model. For example, during one of my start-ups, the other co-founder and I would sometimes argue. After a few arguments, we learned each other’s style to where we could pick up the patterns and could jump to resolving things without animosity. We decided to mark instances of coming up with great solutions without the rigmarole of arguing with a beer.

Instead of just solving problems better, we decided to relish the progress we’d made by making special note of it.

As a result, I applied what I learned to all my other relationships too. I found ways of communicating formerly argumentative points without arguing.

It works professionally too, especially with teams you lead. Most leaders and managers spend more time and attention focusing on problems. Maybe circumstances merit that time and attention, but focusing on what works helps too. Giving your team members greater feelings of reward based on success will motivate creating more success.

I have people in my life I say “Hey, that went well. Let’s make sure to taste the mango” when something goes well I want to reinforce.

You can also learn from the opposite of this belief. I remember once in class an obese classmate sat down with a bunch of junk food. I remember noticing him opening a package of two peanut butter cups. I looked away for a second and when I looked back only one cup remained. I didn’t know what happened to the first because it was too fast for him to have eaten it. Then I saw him eat the second — he just threw it in his mouth and swallowed, maybe one or two chews. I’d never seen anyone eat something so fast.

More to the point, he couldn’t have gotten that much joy out of it — just the fleeting pleasure of putting something down your throat. If he paid attention to it, he could have eaten it more slowly, or might have been motivated to eat something with more flavor than just pure sweetness, and consumed less junk.

Strategy: Pay more attention to things you like

You can do this with anything you like.

When you notice something you like, note it and what about it you like, and relish that part of it.

When I use this belief

I use this belief with things I like, on my own, in a relationship, or as part of a larger team, whether they bring physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, reward, or anything else I like.

I use this belief when I want to motivate having more of what I like in my life.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces letting parts of life you like pass you by without you noticing. It replaces mechanically acting with feeling.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to enjoying life more. When you share such things with someone else, it improves the relationship.

A model to avoid or overcome frustration

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you get more frustrated than you’d like? Do you give up early? Do you wish you could have more optimism? Do you wish you could be more resilient to problems and challenges?

Today’s belief is something I say almost daily. Sometimes I mutter it to myself, sometimes I say it out loud. I’ve come to behave as if it’s true even though I can’t prove it. I say it like others say “c’est la vie” or “that’s the way it goes,” only it’s more optimistic and makes me more capable of handling problems.

As I wrote in the introduction to the series, all beliefs have flaws, so whatever this one replaces is just as flawed. I’ll still justify it to help you incorporate it.

I should note that I say it only about how things affect me. When someone else has a problem, I don’t suggest it to them. With that understanding, I introduce today’s belief.

A model for reducing or overcoming frustration: Everything always works out.

As I said, I can’t prove everything always works out, but the way I see it, if I’m not dead, everything so far has worked out. No one has shown me a problem that someone somewhere hasn’t been able to overcome, and if anyone anywhere can, I think I’ll be able to.

And if something doesn’t work out and I die, then I won’t be alive to feel bad about it.

So everything always works out.

If you’re in a fight with someone or facing a problem you can’t imagine how you’ll overcome it — personal bankruptcy, debilitating injury, relationship falling apart… — it will pass and you’ll have enjoyable times again.

Years ago I’d consider the worst case scenario that I’d have to work hard for a long time to improve things if I faced a hard problem. Now that I’ve found overcoming challenges so rewarding and the source of so much valuable personal growth, including all the most valuable, I consider my once worst case scenario my best case scenario.

When you develop the skill to turn the worst things in life into the best, you can easily say

Everything always works out.

Now you might reasonably come up with cases where things don’t work out. There are people being tortured with little hope that torture will ever end in their lifetime. Some people have diseases that will cause them pain for their entire lives.

I guess in recognition of such cases I could more accurately say “Nearly everything nearly always works out,” but if you’ll indulge me, I shorten it to the superlative form and hope anyone who hears me understands I except a few out of a billion cases.

I don’t know what inspired me to think it, but it might have been this song by Bob Marley:

Or from Tracy Chapman:

I could list other covers. I probably mostly got the idea mostly from Victor Frankl anyway.

I offer this belief not to try to prove it but as a way that improves at least one person’s life.

When I use this belief

I use this belief whenever I don’t know how something will work out.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces sayings that, to me, lead to resignation and complacency, like “c’est la vie,” “what can you do,” “that’s the way things go,” and such with optimism, calmness, and motivation.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to calm optimism and resilience to feeling bad, enabling you to solve problems instead of helplessly succumbing to them.

A model to simplify

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever have more stuff than you need? Do you find yourself susceptible to people selling things that you later realize you don’t need?

When I realized how little stuff improved my life and how much it got in the way, I found myself wanting things.

Today I offer a belief that helps me look at acquiring things skeptically.

A model for simplifying life: We’ve found almost nothing in the past few thousand years to improve our quality of life.

Maybe longer.

I realized this when I reread Aristotle writing about happiness after becoming more curious about emotions and realizing how much he knew then. Not that I think Aristotle knew how to be happy more than anyone else. He was just a data point.

I asked myself what we know today that he didn’t know then that improved our lives. With my science and technology training that took me to the frontier of human knowledge, I thought I’d rattle off a list quickly.

In no time I realized that in the context of thinking about my list of most emotionally rewarding things — relationships with friends and family, enjoying the beauty of nature through all our senses, learning, and being a respected and valued member of your communities — almost nothing else compared.

New technology immediately lost its luster. For example, I thought about how we can listen to any music we want any time. Then I thought about the Walkman, one of the most successful products ever.

Walkman

If someone offered you this Walkman today you wouldn’t accept it. You’d throw it away. To have to play a cassette?!? At most an hour of music, having to buy batteries all the time, no ability to jump from song to song… totally unacceptable today. Yet some 220 million of them sold less than a lifetime ago.

If you thought its value came from its ability to give you any music any time… well, that original model can still do that today, but no one will buy it.

The only way I can explain how something ostensibly offering so much value on something so eternal — our love for music — losing all its value in less than one lifetime is that it didn’t offer something eternal. It offered something short-term — a mix of novelty and showing off to your neighbors.

Before the Walkman nobody complained about the lack of a Walkman. Now people complain of short battery life on phones that do much more than a Walkman could. Believing these latest-and-greatest products offer enduring emotional reward or happiness became untenable and made my life worse.

I began to believe that before the Walkman people probably played more musical instruments themselves. Or sang. Or directly involved themselves in their friends and family playing music.

Seeing the same pattern in many other products led me to wonder if any of them improved my life over what they replaced. Nearly everything that seemed to save time, money, or other resource seemed to take away from something else. Television, radio, cars, planes, elevators, and so on… none clearly created more happiness or emotional reward, especially compared with just spending time with friends and family, learning, or contributing to my communities.

Television entertains, but numbs and isolates. Cars move you faster but pollute and isolate, dissipating community. Planes make the world smaller but lead to people moving apart. You get the idea.

Meanwhile we’ve lost a lot of the benefits of community. Our media, now globally transmitting messages at the speed of light, seems to be used as much to spread fear and outrage as learning and creative expression. I could go on, but I think you get the idea of the double-edge-ness of things called progress by people promoting them.

The best candidates for things that unquestionably improved  our lives since Aristotle, to me, are

  • The germ theory of disease
  • Knowledge of nutrition

and I’m not sure about the second. Knowing about germs, leading hygiene and cures, improved people’s lives. Nutrition helped overcome some diseases, but people don’t seem to eat that healthily today. I understand before agriculture people lived as long and as healthily as we do today, though I could be wrong on that.

I’m happy for someone to point out other candidates, since I’d love to improve my life, but I’m hard-pressed to find anything else. I’m mixed on the internet, especially after finding leaving Facebook improved my life more than joining it. The output of the industrial revolution doesn’t seem any more valuable than the Walkman, especially considering the costs to the environment etc. Aristotle had democracy, philosophy, and science, and they aren’t clearly improving people’s lives relative to then. Contraception? Maybe.

Common objections

People often ask if I’m suggesting we return to living in caves or hunting and gathering, as if pointing out some flaw or inconsistency I foolishly didn’t realize. Of course, I’m not proposing any change to society or anybody else’s life.

I’m merely suggesting that as much as I love living in the West Village, if you magically transported me to Athens in Aristotle’s time, or any other peaceful community of any time and place, I think I could live just as happy and rewarding a life, especially if the same magic gave everyone knowledge about preventing and curing disease.

Or from another perspective, if we could magically measure everyone’s amount of emotional reward and happiness, I’m not sure today’s average would be greater than many other times’. I see a lot of misery today whose remedy Aristotle knew but that iPods and fast cars distract us from.

Anyway, I’m not trying to change the world. I’m suggesting a model that helped me improve my life in a world I can only change to a limited degree hoping it might help you improve yours.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when someone, usually marketers, try to motivate me to buy their stuff.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces beliefs that stuff will improve my life, especially new stuff, with skepticism and the expectation that I can improve it more with age-old basics

  • Relationships with friends and family
  • Enjoying the beauty of nature through all our senses, including eating
  • Learning and growing
  • Being a respected and valued member of your communities, including work that others value

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to getting less stuff, resilience to others’ influence, and devoting more time, attention, and other resources to those basics.

A model to make you more intelligent and free

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I once spoke with a psychologist who specialized in intelligence. She told me that flexibility in how one sees the world is a major part of intelligence. At first I didn’t see the connection, but then it made sense. The more ways you can look at a problem, the more ways you can try to solve it. By contrast, if you limit the number of ways you see something, you limit the number of ways you can solve it.

Most people want to be more intelligent, but that’s a mere side benefit of today’s model.

A model to make you more intelligent and free: Flexibility in your beliefs is important

Inflexibility in how you see the world will ruin your life. Developing the ability to drop models and beliefs that don’t work for you and adopting ones that do gives you incredible freedom. And intelligence.

People have various ideas the cause them to stick to models — that the one they have is more accurate. they had that one first so anything else must be rewriting history, or the old one works well enough so why change it, or any number of other beliefs. They’ll sit their feeling both miserable and self-righteous, clinging to an old belief, not considering a new one.

The example that gets me the most is when people say “I just can’t do “, where the something may be getting in better shape, controlling their anger, saving money, leaving a job they don’t like, starting exercising, or anything similar. They get stuck in that belief and won’t consider an alternative.

I used to try to motivate people not to hold on to beliefs, but then realized telling people not to do something is hard. Now I promote valuing flexibility in their models, with the side benefit that it makes you more intelligent.

I also want to discourage people from confusing models with what they represent and thought of this relevant scene from Zoolander, in my opinion a funny movie. Derek Zoolander gets shown a model of an educational center — an actual architectural model, but an architectural model has the same properties that the beliefs and mental models that we talk about here. He looks at it and says “What is this? A center for ants?!?” and broke the model.

He can’t tell the difference between the model and what it’s supposed to represent so he thinks inaccuracy is a problem. In terms of accuracy, he’s right. The model is too small for people and is closer to ant-sized. I want to get people thinking that when they confuse their models for what they represent, they’re missing the point that models are always wrong.

When people say to me

I just can’t get in shape.

I’m going to start responding to them

What is this? A center for ants?!?

Just like Zoolander is “right” that the model they show him is too small, you’re “right” when you say you can’t leave your job or whatever. But your belief that you can’t leave is just a model. Your beliefs are different than the objects of your beliefs.

Unlike a physical model that he could only break, you can create new mental models immediately. You can borrow them from others, adapt other working ones from other situations, and so on.

So next time you feel miserable or could feel more emotional reward, ask yourself if you haven’t confused a model for what it represents, making it hard to drop it. Other people will see you like Zoolander. At least he broke his non-working model. Can you at least break yours, then create a new one?

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I feel miserable and know others in similar situations don’t. If anyone anywhere can feel better than I do in such a situation, I know I can too.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces inflexibility and thinking only one model can work. It replaces not realizing I view the world through the lens of my beliefs.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to being more flexible in how I see my environment, which lets me effectively change my world.

And since I can solve problems better, it makes me more intelligent.

A model to promote responsibility

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s model polarizes. That is, it doesn’t build consensus or bring people together.

While building consensus and bringing people together may sometimes help in politics, if you want to stick to your values, you won’t improve your life by living partly by your values while mixing in some other peoples’ values you disagree with.

So today’s model will create a model that, for me at least, separates an embodiment of my values from its antithesis which, for me, helps me live by my values. I don’t know if it will work for you.

A model to promote being more responsible: the leader and the victim

When I was growing up and something didn’t go my way, I would say “but it’s not my fault” to try to make myself blameless. I would often then find someone to blame and imply they should be punished and I should get something for my suffering.

When I didn’t get something I wanted I would say “why don’t I get candy [or whatever]? My friends do!” I complained things weren’t fair, implying others should agree with my sense of fairness and that someone else should make it fair.

In other words, I acted like a victim. By saying it wasn’t my fault I implied I was powerless. By saying it was unfair I implied others should agree with me and help fix my situation. By blaming others, I implied those others who agreed with me should take something from the people I blamed and give it to me.

Sounds great if you can get everyone to agree with you.

The small problem is that not everyone agrees with you — not the people you want to give the dirty work of getting from others and giving to you, and especially not the people you think owe you.

Another small problem with victimhood is that it motivated me to magnify my problems and act as miserable as possible to get more sympathy and help.

(By the way I call these problems small not because they aren’t important but because they’re small relative to what I call the big problem below)

It’s easy to connect this example to politics because everybody thinks the government should do the dirty work and that it already does it the wrong way. Rich people think the government gives poor people free stuff and should stop. Poor people think the government gives rich people free stuff and should stop.

But I’m not talking politics. I’m talking about your personal life. To keep myself from getting into politics or judging others, I stick to evaluating my life by where my behavior and beliefs stand between powerless victimhood and leadership based in responsibility.

Leadership and victimhood are the two poles on an axis along which I polarize my behavior. Now, I don’t care how I label things. I care about how I live my life. Do I solve problems or not? Do I fill my life with reward or not? If I live my life by my values and create reward, I don’t care if I’m nearer to one pole or the other. I just find that being near the victim pole rarely improves my life, so finding myself there warns me to examine my situation closer and see what else I can do.

The big problem with blaming others and identifying yourself as a victim is that you risk behaving consistently with your beliefs — that is, you risk acting powerless.

When you blame someone else and hold yourself blameless, you imply you didn’t cause it, generally implying you can’t do anything about it. You also look at the past, which you can’t change.

I don’t argue whether that view is right or wrong. I only point out I look at it differently. I don’t look at the past, nor do I look at what I can’t control, which is the other person. I look at the present and ask what I can do. Maybe it was their fault, maybe not. I don’t think about that. What can I do — that’s what I think about.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself blaming someone else for my problems and notice that it makes it harder to solve the problem.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces making myself powerless with my own beliefs. It will also replace the victims and martyrs in your life with people who solve problems. It replaces blame with responsibility.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to leading myself and others. To solving problems instead of getting mired in them. It leads to self-empowerment. It leads to taking responsibility in the present over dwelling in the past.

If you’re not careful it can also lead to political discussion if people read more into this than I imply.

A model for direction in leadership and personal development

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

We are a social species. Most of what we care about in our environments are other people.

Maybe I’m different than most people because I spent so much of my life not working on or valuing social skills — a PhD in physics doesn’t force you to learn social skills. Learning them later in life, I think I value them a lot more than I would have if I had them earlier in life. The social and leadership skills I’ve mastered have brought me reward and achievement beyond what I would have expected otherwise.

Of course other skills matter and become more important if you don’t have enough. I don’t know what the threshold for non-social skills would be, but I assume any readers not over it know to prioritize getting over it. Once over that threshold, I believe improving social skills improves your life more than any other.

A model for direction in leadership and personal development: Social skills are among the most important skills to develop

To me social skills mean leadership skills. Well, not all social skills relate to leading, but I find the important ones do.

If you don’t know how to lead, you can only do what you can do yourself. If you can lead, you can achieve anything anyone else did with a team. Since we are social and influence each other, even if you want only to live a quiet, happy, rewarding life you still have to lead yourself.

The more you know how to lead, the more you are in control of your life, career, and relationships. The less you know how to lead, the more your life, career, and relationships are out of control or controlled by others.

Whether you want to lead only yourself to an authentic life of integrity by your values or teams of others to great things, you need to know how to lead yourself first.

What other types of skills apply to so much?

Strategy: Improve your social skills

If you’re wondering where to develop yourself, unless you have serious deficiencies elsewhere, you generally won’t go wrong developing social skills.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when trying to figure out what to work on.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces working on non-social skills, like technical skills.

Needless to say, I’m saying this as someone who devoted the better part of a decade to learning science and math skills, which followed an undergraduate education in liberal arts.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to better relationships, better knowing yourself, and greater achievement.

A model that answers all of life's most important questions

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Answering all of life’s most important questions is a tall order, but if you’ve read this web page long, you know the value I put on the Model, my model for human motivations and emotions. The Model forms the foundation of what I consider the best way to view and live life.

A model that answers all of life’s most important questions: The Model

If you haven’t read my series on the Model, I wrote about it at length. I put a table of contents on the Model at the bottom of this page. Yes it’s a lot to read, but it will tell you more about yourself and others than anything. It will simplify your life while helping you achieve more than anything else.

Here’s the Model, illustrated. Deceptively simple, it gives structure to a lot about people and how they interact with their environments. The posts below give it more depth and explain its consequences.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

When I use this belief

I use the Model all the time, every day. I use it to understand my environment and myself and what I can do about both.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces thinking your emotional system is irrational and random with thinking it’s consistent, reliable, and predictable. It replaces misunderstanding yourself and others with understanding them. It replaces not knowing how to learn about yourself with direction and focus to do so.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which lead to a better life, better relationships,… better nearly everything.

Table of contents of posts on the Model

I copied the following table of contents from this page.

Introduction and overview

Examples of models

Models: passive and active

Models: exercises

Building the Model from first principles: environment, beliefs, perception, emotions, behavior, and reward

Now that we’ve developed the Model, let’s understand it.

Discussion and examples of the Model

People familiar with other methods of improving your life may see similarities between my Model and the model underlying cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ll develop the comparison more later, but for now I’ll compare the two models briefly.

The Model and cognitive behavioral therapy

Now that the Model has some context too, let’s understand it in more depth.

The Model in more depth

Everything so far has been about the Model itself. Now let’s look at its implications for us in our lives.

What the Model tells us about our lives

A model to implement the answers to all of life's most important questions

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Putting into practice the answers to all of life’s most important questions — that is, the Model — may seem like a tall order, but I’ve written up how to do it. I call the process the Method. If you worked with the Model long enough, you’d probably develop the Method yourself, but why not learn from my mistakes and get farther with less effort?

A model to implement the answers to all of life’s most important questions: The Method

I’ve written up the Method before too, so, like yesterday’s post, I’ll put the table of contents to the main posts on it at the bottom of this page. Here’s an illustration of the Method. The links in the table of contents below explain it, give it depth, and tell you how to implement it.

The method

When I use this belief

I use the Method all the time, every day. I notice when parts of my life could give me more reward, based on the Model, and use the Method to create more reward.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces being powerless to improve your life, or improving it inefficiently or not systematically with an efficient, systematic process that works.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which lead to a better life, better relationships,… better nearly everything.

Table of contents of posts on the Method

The Method is how to use the Model to lead yourself and others and to improve your life, in particular, using the elements you have voluntary control over.

Voluntary levers

The Method, step by step

Before anything else, the Method begins with you knowing your emotional system — the foundation of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. You only have to learn it once in your life. From then on you may refine it or refresh your memory, but you won’t have to re-learn that you have a consistent, reliable, and predictable emotional system.

So I call the step of knowing your emotional system step 0. You only do it once in your life, then when you do the Method, you start at step 1 for each application.

  1. Know your emotional system
  2. Understand your relevant emotional cycles and constraints (plus an extra note on points 0 and 1, on awareness)
  3. Conceive of new emotions
  4. Conceive of new environments, beliefs, and behaviors
  5. Implement the environments, beliefs, and behaviors

Here is an illustration of the Method. Step 4, implementation, generally requires the most effort, so I break it up into a few stages.

Implementation stages

The following stages all lie within step 4 of the Method.

  1. Overview
  2. Transition (also a caveat)
  3. Support
  4. Regular life

Here is an illustration of the implementation stages.

These descriptions will benefit from examples so I’ll precede them with a few.

Examples

  1. A home run after three strikes
  2. Overwhelming joy on a bleak morning
  3. Two simple but effective examples

Long term

One transformation — that is, one application of the Method — makes future ones easier, more productive, and more rewarding. So I wrote a few posts on what to expect with more transformations.

  1. The Method from another perspective
  2. Long-term growth from many transformations
  3. Improving your life as much as you want is all based on one transformation

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

A model of where value, meaning, importance, and purpose come from

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

You hear about values-based leadership, living based in their values, giving meaning to their teams, having meaning in their lives, having purpose in their endeavors.

If I asked you your values, you could probably mention your family, projects, friends, making the world a better place, security, and a few things like that. If I asked what gave you meaning or purpose or what was important, you’d probably give a similar list. You might not list money or television, but many people spend a lot of time, attention, and other resources on them.

Besides listing a few values, things that bring meaning and purpose, and things that are important, can you define value meaning, importance, and purpose? Can you say where they come from?

If can’t define them, it’s hard to create more of them. Today’s model clarifies and defines them. I posted on them at length before.

What do the terms mean?

All of these terms — value, meaning, importance, purpose — imply something affecting your life. After all, if something doesn’t affect your life, can you say it meets one of those terms?

If something changes your life, it means you do something different because of it than you would have otherwise. It means it changes your motivations. Motivations mean emotions.

The more something has value, meaning, purpose, or importance, the more it motivates you. Emotions have characteristics, like intensity, complexity, and how long they last. The characteristics of the emotions something evokes describe the thing’s value, meaning, purpose, and importance to you.

Your values, meaning, purpose, and importance are yours alone. You can’t force someone else to adopt yours. You probably don’t feel you have much control over these things, but recognize they change with time and your environment. These are properties of emotions.

Let’s look at emotional characteristics and value Something that evokes happiness, reward, or other emotions you like is something you value. If it creates long-term emotions it has long-term value. If it evokes no emotions, it has no value. If it evokes hatred, anger, or an emotion you don’t like you might say it has negative value. If it evokes complex or intense emotions, you’d say the thing’s value was complex or intense.

In other words, a thing’s value derives from the emotions it evokes. The same follows for meaning, importance, and purpose. While the four terms aren’t perfect synonyms, for today’s post we can use them that way. In fact, I’m going to coin the term MVIP for meaning, value, importance, and purpose in this blog and see if it sticks.

For example, something with enduring MVIP, like a family connection, has enduring emotion. That’s where its value comes from. Out of billions of cute kids in the world, what makes my nieces and nephews have more MVIP to me? The time we spent together developing emotions. Same with you and your family, pets, job, possessions, etc.

Likewise, what you don’t value or attach MVIP to evokes little emotions.

A model of where value, meaning, importance, and purpose come from: They describe the emotions they evoke in you — their intensity, how long they last, and their complexity

Why bother defining these concepts in terms of emotions? Because so many people have vague ideas of these concepts, yet you have perfect access to your emotions. In fact, since you feel them directly, not through a fallible medium like sight, sound, smell, and so on, you have better access to your emotions than anything external.

In other words, the better you know your emotions the better you know your MVIP.

Strategy

If you want more MVIP in your life, learn emotions.

If you want to know something’s MVIP to you, think of what emotions it evokes and the characteristics of those emotions.

Knowing to look at your emotions can keep you from distractions like what other people say you should value, what you used to value another time, or other unrelated things. Only your emotions matter.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I examine my life and what I want in it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces misunderstanding or vague understanding of the most important parts of your life — MVIP — with precise understanding of it.

It replaces valueless things in your life with valuable things.

It replaces meaningless things in your life with meaningful things.

It replaces unimportant things in your life with important things.

It replaces purposeless things in your life with purposeful things.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to understanding and having more MVIP in your life.

This model simplifies your life by clarifying the most important parts.

A model to find reward anywhere, anytime

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever find yourself frustrated, impatient, disappointed, anxious, or feeling some similar emotion and wish you could not feel it? Do you wonder how some people can keep calm or at least not lose control in situations more difficult than you can and wish you could too?

Do you want to know how to handle yourself in situations you don’t like and can’t control?

Today’s model derives from the Model. If you get the Model, it will be obvious. I’ll remind you of a distinction the Model makes, that I believe follows regular uses of the words, between pleasure, happiness, and reward. If the following uses of the words aren’t exactly how you use them, please don’t get hung up on the words so much as the meaning behind them. The meaning of the terms overlap in regular usage and I’m artificially distinguishing them to highlight slight differences.

I’ll use the word pleasure to describe a physical feeling you like. Maybe physical pleasure might be a better term; substitute that if it works better for you. Many things can give you pleasure — food you like, smells you like, a massage you like, falling asleep when you’re tired, and so on. The cause always comes from your environment.

I’ll use the word happy to describe emotional feelings you like. Many emotions can be happy emotions. They always motivate you to keep something in your environment the way it is. Many things can bring happiness — good times with friends, finishing a project, seeing your child succeed, and so on. Compared to something that brings just pleasure, something that bring happiness is more complex and doesn’t just come from something you sense. When you feel happy or a related emotion you want to keep whatever caused it the way it is.

I’ll use the word reward for the feeling you get when things are the way you like them, but in particular for something you helped bring about. You get reward from how you interpret and react to your environment, even parts of it you can’t change, because you can always change your beliefs to interpret your environment differently.

A model to find reward anywhere, anytime: Pleasure and happiness depend on your environment. Reward doesn’t. You can get reward under any conditions.

Did you notice this major difference between pleasure and happiness on the one had and reward on the other? Happiness and pleasure come from something external, meaning they depend on things outside your control, meaning you can lose them. Reward comes from how you interpret your environment and behave with respect to it — which you can do independent of the environment.

In other words, you can create reward under any conditions. I believe Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankl meant this when he wrote about finding meaning in life even under worse physical conditions than anyone reading these words will likely face

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.

When I use this belief

I use this belief in situations I don’t like but can’t change. I think of how to perceive them differently by changing my beliefs. The result? I can create reward even amid pain (physical, emotional, or otherwise) and unhappiness. Then I’m more capable of handling the situation and creating results I want.

In other words, I feel better and improve my life faster. What more could you want than a better present and as good a future as you can create?

Will I be able to handle situations as difficult as Frankl if I face them? I hope I never have to find out. I hope nobody ever again has to find out. But if I do, I hope I learn from him and find myself able enough to create reward and meaning amid torture and deprivation. In the meantime, I plan to use what he shared to live life with as much as possible.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces helplessly accepting situations I don’t like. It replaces misery and complacency with reward and effective action.

I can’t solve every problem that comes my way but I can control how they affect me and how I react to them.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to independence and resilience.

A model to remove limits from your life

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you want an okay life? Do you want limits on how much you can get out of life?

Or do you prefer to have no limits on how much you can get out of life?

Remember from two days ago that the value, meaning, importance, and purpose (MVIP) of a thing comes from the emotions it evokes. Remember from yesterday that you can create reward any time any place.

It follows that you can create more reward all the time, even when you’re feeling as much reward as you think you can. There’s no limit to how much reward you can have, which means not limit to the MVIP in your life. And MVIP is what matters, more than anything physical.

A model to remove limits from your life: You can create as much reward as you want. There is no upper limit to reward.

When I started looking for ways to improve my social and leadership skills or any part of my life, I looked for areas lacking reward — parts of my life that evoked anxiety, confusion, impatience, disappointment, and other emotions arising from conflict between my environment, belief, and behavior (the elements in the Model I can control). I would resolve the conflict that prevented the related parts of my life from bringing me reward, a process some people call conquering their fears.

It didn’t take long before I had transformed most of my anxieties into rewarding things. Then I realized I could improve my life not just by increasing the reward from unrewarding things. I could improve my life by increasing the reward from anything — even already-rewarding things.

I realized sometimes the best place to increase reward — thereby creating MVIP — was in places I had just improved. Then I realized I could work on any part of my life.

Next thing I knew, I was improving every part of my life. I don’t mean I was changing my material state. More money didn’t magically appear in my account. New friends didn’t pop into existence. Remember, the value of material things comes from the emotions they evoke. As I learned to create emotions in more areas, mainly by changing my beliefs and behavior, more things evoked reward. Then more reward.

So while I couldn’t get unlimited material stuff, which I wouldn’t want anyway, I got unlimited MVIP from what I did have.

When I use this belief

I use this belief all the time.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces thinking you need more stuff, which is finite, to get reward and MVIP, which is unlimited.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads more MVIP in your life — without limit.

A model to help create the life and relationships you want

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you want an awesome life filled with things you love or do you want a crappy life filled with things you dislike and hate?

I’d consider today’s belief too simple and obvious to post except that so few people seem to get it. At least they don’t live consistently with the strategy it suggests.

A model to help create the life and relationships you want: You get good at feeling and expressing the emotions you practice and express.

Today’s belief, that

You get good at feeling and expressing the emotions you practice and express

is no different from similar beliefs about any skill. As we said in sports, you play like you practice. The more you practice something, the more skillfully you do it.

If you didn’t realize how systematic your emotional system was (systematic is what the system in emotional system means) and just thought emotions randomly occurred to you, you might not realize you could develop skills to feel and express emotions. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like that the word happy derives from the root hap, meaning luck or chance. Or that we suggest Cupid’s arrow or creative Muses create emotions. They don’t. Our environments, beliefs, and behaviors, combined with the emotional system our ancestors evolved, did. But you already read about the Model the other day, so I don’t have to repeat it here.

The more you get angry, the better you get at feeling and expressing anger. Now people know you as an angry person.

The more you have fun, the better you get at feeling and expressing fun. Now people know you as a fun person.

The more you stay calm, the better you get at feeling and expressing calmness. Now people know you as a calm person.

The more you’re happy, the better you get at feeling and expressing happiness. Now people know you as a happy person.

The more you inspire, the better you get at feeling and expressing inspiration. Now people know you as an inspirational person.

The more you love, the better you get at feeling and expressing love. Now people know you as a loving person.

At the risk of sounding too touchy-feely, I’ll restate today’s model with everyone’s favorite emotion

The more you love, the more you can love.

You get the idea. It follows for every emotion. The more you feel and practice each emotion the more you fill your life with the environments, beliefs, and behaviors that create it and the more it becomes a part of your life.

What emotions do you want in your life?

Strategy

If you want more of some emotion in your life, start creating more of it and build on that. I recommend using the Method.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I notice an emotion I don’t want in my life taking up more of my life than I want. I also use this belief when I feel an emotion and realize I want more of it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces helplessly thinking emotions just happen to you with empowering you to create more of the emotions you want, crowding out emotions you don’t want.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more emotions you want and less of ones you don’t want. It leads to you creating emotions with your emotional system like a piano player creates music with a piano. It leads you to practice creating emotions like a piano player plays scales.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

How to win an NBA championship if you're a 66-year-old grandmother

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s post illustrates yesterday’s model instead of introducing a new one. It’s one of my favorite illustrations from my leadership seminar.

It shows that with flexibility in your beliefs and understanding your emotions you can bring anything to your life that anyone else can bring to theirs.

Winning an NBA championship

Say you want to win an NBA championship. What exactly do you want? It’s not possession of the trophy, which is just a physical object. It’s not even necessarily to shoot a game-winning basket, since at most only one player gets to do that. It’s a team effort. The coach doesn’t play at all and he deserves credit.

I believe what you want in winning an NBA championship is the emotional reward you get from winning. That feeling comes from all the effort you put into it, the recognition of your peers, and so on. I believe the value of winning comes from that emotional reward. Would you want to win if you didn’t get any feeling of emotional reward?

I’ve never won an NBA championship, so I don’t know what it feels like. I’ve only seen players win on TV, so I can only go by what it looks like they feel. They look about as happy as I can imagine.

Even then the team shows a big range. If the team has a main star, he’ll look particularly emotional. Some of the bench players you have to search for since the cameras don’t point at them, and they don’t look that emotional. They know the main players on the other team were better than them as individuals, even if their team won.

Still, everyone on the winning team, for the rest of his life, knows he helped win an NBA championship. Everyone he knows will recognize the value of the accomplishment.

A 66-year-old grandmother

So how does a 66-year-old grandmother win an NBA championship?

I’ve written about my mom running her first marathon at 66 years old as a grandmother of five, never having run more than five kilometers at once before training, so I won’t retell it here. Well, I’ll repost my telling the story at The Moth here for quick reference.

Like with an NBA championship, I believe the value of finishing a marathon is in the emotional reward it brings.

Like the feeling of winning and NBA championship, I also don’t know what it feels like for a 66-year-old grandmother to finish except what I saw when my mom finished. Through the fatigue (you have to wait a bit for someone to recover after crossing a finish line for a marathon), she seemed to show a lot of emotional reward.

In fact, as best I could tell, my mom’s emotional reward seemed as great as the NBA players’. Her emotional reward might not have seemed as intense or great as a team leader’s, but it sure looked greater than that of a bench player who hardly played.

Like the NBA players, she will always know she finished that marathon and everyone will recognize the value of her accomplishment.

It seemed to me she got all the value of winning an NBA championship.

You can get the same value

She didn’t do anything you can’t do. Even if you can’t run a marathon you can still do something that will bring that amount of emotional reward. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will probably never win NBA championships, after all, and they probably don’t feel like they haven’t accomplished anything.

Whatever your impediment, you can do something to get a comparable reward.

My mom didn’t do anything you can’t do. So like I wrote yesterday,

anything anyone can do, you can too.

What happens when you change beliefs

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

The movie Moneyball and the book it’s based on illustrate how new beliefs take root and can challenge and crowd out your old beliefs. Today’s post is long, but the movie very well illustrates some stages and the emotional challenge of adopting a new belief, facing and overcoming resistance, and how it can lead to effective leadership and creating community.

I’ll quote enough of it here if you haven’t seen the movie, but it was nominated for seven Oscars and stars Brad Pitt, so you probably won’t hate it.

Though we’re looking at personal beliefs and how we react to them and the movie treats groups handling new beliefs, in this case they overlap enough we can learn from the movie.

I should also note that in the movie, the new belief turned out to work better and the gamble to try it paid off. We know gambles don’t always pay off. On the other hand, most of our choices don’t put the lifestyles of dozens of other people and tens of millions of dollars at risk. Though all models affect our emotional state, which is as important as things get to ourselves.

I’ll describe the stages and perspectives the movie shows that parallel what we face when we consider adopting new beliefs, focusing on the emotions involved.

Context

First I’ll note the overall conflict and resolution of the movie. Baseball scouts and managers traditionally evaluated players by certain values, like how fast they run, how confident they looked, and other criteria. That system and those values worked for a lot of people, who enjoyed that system. That system didn’t work for manager of one team, Billie Beane of the 2002 Oakland A’s. He learned about another set of values by which to evaluate players that clashed with the old system, implemented it, and succeed. But he didn’t succeed right away. People who liked the old system stuck with it and pushed back at him, citing evidence, historical precedence, intuition, and so on until and even after his system worked beyond anyone’s expectations, setting records and outperforming teams using the old system. He had to make gut-wrenching decisions, risk his well-being, face harsh criticism, and endure other challenges with little expectation of success along the way.

This same process occurs within us as individuals when we consider and adopt new beliefs and crowd out old ones.

Here are the perspectives in the movie

  • Before you start, the old beliefs work for some people
  • You realize the old belief doesn’t work for you
  • You come to realize and clarify the new belief. That doesn’t mean you believe it yet, just that you’re aware of it.
  • As you play with it you will find conflict between the old and new beliefs. You know the conflict will come in the abstract, but facing them intensifies everything.
  • Those invested in the old beliefs will attack the new beliefs
  • Resistance to the new beliefs persists. Few people can change their beliefs quickly.
  • You will feel self-doubt
  • At some point you will need to steel your resolve, let go of your safety net, and crowding out your old beliefs
  • If you succeed you will create community. That is, people will follow you.

Moneyball illustrates these many stages. In the case of the movie’s main character, he stays the course, his belief works out, and he emerges a leader.

The old belief worked for some

The old belief created a chummy good-old-boy world. Knowing how history played out, we cringe that they’d evaluate player’s ability to play by his girlfriend’s looks, but they probably had great reasons and could point to evidence backing themselves up. Of course, the movie dramatizes things, so they probably had a lot more values besides that one that made more sense. Also, they had years of experience with that system.

This scene shows scouts evaluating a baseball player, if they should sign him up.

Scout 1: Artie, who do you like?
Scout 2: I like Perez. He’s got a classy swing, it’s a real clean stroke.
Scout 3: He can’t hit the curve ball.
Scout 2: Yeah, there’s some work to be done, I’ll admit that.
Scout 3: Yeah, there is.
Scout 2: But he’s noticeable.
Scout 4: And an ugly girlfriend.
Scout 2: What does that mean?
Scout 4: Ugly girl friend means no confidence.
Scout 2: Okay.
Scout 5: Oh, now, you guys are full of it, Artie’s right. This guy’s got an attitude and an attitude is good. I mean it’s the kind of guy who walks into a room his dick has already been there for two minutes.
Scout 6: He passes the eye candy test. He’s got the looks, he’s great at playing the part. He just needs to get some playing time.
Scout 4: I’m just saying his girlfriend is a six at best.

Recognizing that belief didn’t work for him

One guy realized the system didn’t work for him and started looking for other ways. Here we see the General Manager, Billy Beane, pointing out flaws in the old belief. Since believing something means you think it’s true and right, those flaws aren’t enough to convince someone who believes in the old belief, but once you don’t believe in it, it no longer seems logical.

You see believers in each believers see the other as crazy and illogical, but themselves as making so much sense they can’t imagine any need to justify themselves.

Billy Beane: No! What’s the problem, Barry?
Scout 2: We need three eight home runs, a hundred twenty R.B.I’s and forty seven…
Billy Beane: The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game. And now we’re being gutted, organ donors for the rich. Boston has taken our kidney’s, Yankees takin’ our heart and you guys are sittin’ around talkin’ the same old good boy nonsense, like we’re selling deeds. Like we’re looking for Fabio. We got to think differently… If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.
Scout 1: Boy, that sounds like fortune cookie wisdom to me, Billy.
Billy Beane: No, that’s just logic.

The new belief

Here we see the analyst, fictional Peter Brand, who represents a group of people proposing new ways of evaluating players whose values haven’t yet been tested, describing the problems with the old beliefs, hinting at new beliefs, and describing the emotion and power of the reaction whose beliefs he challenges.

If you’re lucky you’ve faced such powerful and emotional challenges, weathered the storms, and overcome them. If not, I suggest that improving your life will force you to.

Peter Brand: There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening and this leads people who run major league baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams.
Billy Beane: Go on.
Peter Brand: Okay, people who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins and in order to buy wins, you need to buy your run. You’re trying to replace Johnny Damon. The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon and they see a star who’s worth seven and a half million dollars a year. When I see Johnny Damon, what I see is…is an imperfect understanding of where runs come from. The guy’s got a great glove, he’s a decent league off hitter, he can steal bases. But is he worth the seven and a half million dollars a year the Boston Red Sox are paying him? No! No! Baseball thinking is medieval, they are asking all the wrong questions and if I say it to anybody I’m…I’m ostracized. I’m a rebel, so that’s why I’m…I’m cagey about this with you, that’s why I respect you Mr. Beane and if you want full disclosure, I think it’s a good thing you got Damon off of your payroll. I think it opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.

Peter Brand [later]: It’s about getting things down to one number. Using stats to reread them, we’ll find the value of players that nobody else can see. People are over looked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James [a major historical figure who started this belief] and Mathematics cuts straight through that. Billy, of the twenty thousand knowable players for us to consider, I believe that there’s a championship team of twenty five people that we can afford. Because everyone else in baseball under values them. Like and island of misfit toys.

Peter Brand [later]: Billy, this is Chad Bradford. He’s a relieve pitcher. He’s one of the most under valued players in baseball. His defect is that he throws funny. Nobody in the big leagues chases that, because he looks funny. He’s got to be not just the best pitcher in our ball game, but one of the most effective relieve pitchers in all of baseball.

Conflict between models

Billy Beane has the authority to manage his baseball team as he wants, but people remain on his management team that disagree with him, just like you will have people in your life who will disagree with you. Beane’s management team doesn’t believe they are opposing him, they believe they are helping the team. And people who conflict with you won’t feel like they are challenging your values, they will feel like they are helping you while you’re acting crazy.

When people change their beliefs and values but others don’t recognize the new beliefs and values, they appear crazy, not thoughtful, which this passage illustrates well.

Note the emotions in the conflict. Note how they don’t talk about the different beliefs, they talk about the consequences, so they can’t address the source of the conflict.

Also, note that when you change beliefs, the conflict illustrated here will also likely happen within yourself. Different parts of you will play the different roles here. You’ll have to deal with conflict between yourself and others and conflict within yourself.

Billy Beane: Okay, here’s what we want. Jason’s little brother, Jeremy.
Scout 1: Billy, that’s trouble.
Scout 2: Uh…Billy, look. If I…if I may, he’s certainly had his problems off the field, but we know what he can’t do on the field. There’s reports about him on the weed and strip clubs.
Billy Beane: Well, his on base percentage is all we’re lookin’ at now. And Jeremy gets on base an awful lot for a guy who only cost two hundred and eighty five thousand.
Scout 3: Jeez, Billy…
Billy Beane: Number two, David Justice.
Scout 1: Oh, no!
Scout 3: Not a good idea, Billy.
Scout 2: Old man Justice?

To us, Beane’s logic makes sense — on base percentage matters more than what a player does off the field. To the believers in the old beliefs he sounds crazy. And he gets more crazy proposing old players beneath their consideration.

Scout 3: His legs are gone. We’ll be lucky to get sixty games out of him. Why do you like him?
[Billy points to Peter to answer]
Peter Brand: Because he gets on base.
Billy Beane: Okay, number three. Scott Hatteberg.
Scout 2: Who?
Scout 1: Hatteberg.
Billy Beane: Exactly! He sounds like an Oakland A already. Yes, he’s had a little problem with his elbow…
Scout 3: A little problem? He can’t throw!
Scout 2: He’s a clear two sixty hitter. The best part of his career is over.
Billy Beane: I say it’s just gettin’ started.
Scout 4: I know Boston wants to cut him and no one wants to pick him up.
Billy Beane: That’s good for us, he’s cheap.
Scout 3: Let me get this straight. You’re gonna get a guy that’s been released by half the organization in professional baseball because he’s got non-reparable nerve damage in his elbow and he can’t throw!
Billy Beane: He can’t throw and he can’t field, but what can he do? Guys, check the reports or I’m gonna point at Peter.
[the scouts look at the report]
The Scouts: He gets on base.
Billy Beane: He gets on base!
Scout 2: So he walks a lot.
Billy Beane: He gets on base a lot. Do I care if it’s a walk or a hit?
[looks over at Peter]
Billy Beane: Pete?
Peter Brand: You do not.
Billy Beane: I do not.

Tempers flare. Beane has authority to act without their approval. I don’t like the management style the movie shows. Movies dramatize things by making conflict confrontational and positional. I won’t get into negotiation technique here, except to suggest that there are alternatives to such confrontation and positional negotiation.

Scout 3: Let me get this straight. So you’re not gonna bring in one, but three defective players to replace Giambi? It’s what I’m hearing.
Scout 2: You’re not buying into this Billy James bullshit, right?
Billy Beane: This is the new direction for the Oakland A’s. We are card counters at the Black Jack table, but we’re gonna turn the odds on the casino.
Scout 3: I don’t see it.
Scout 4: Seriously guys, I think we have to remember this is the man. He answers to no one except ownership and God. And he doesn’t have to answer to us. We make suggestions, he makes decisions.
Scout 3: Look that’s all fine and well, but we’ve been working our asses off for the last six and a half weeks to make this ball club better and you’re shitting all over it!
Billy Beane: Hey, this is not a discussion.
Scout 4: What are we discussing?
Billy Beane: Barry, not a discussion.

Attacking the new beliefs

I don’t care how much you believe you can persuade or convince people of your beliefs, ultimately you will face not logical but emotional attacks on your beliefs. People attacking you won’t feel like they’re being irrational, illogical, or attacking. They will feel you are.

Billy Beane: You look unhappy, Grady. Why?
Scout: Wow! May I speak candidly?
Billy Beane: Sure. Go ahead.
Scout: Major league baseball and it’s fans they’re gonna be more than happy to throw you and Google boy into the bus if you keep doing what you’re doing here. You don’t put a team together with a computer, Billy.
Billy Beane: No?
Scout: No. Baseball isn’t just numbers, it’s not science. If it was then anybody could do what we’re doing, but they can’t because they don’t know what we know. They don’t have our experience and they don’t have our intuition.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Scout: Billy, you got a kid in there that’s got a degree in Economics from Yale [Peter Brand]. You got a scout here with twenty nine years of baseball experience. You’re listening to the wrong one. Now there are intangibles that only baseball people understand. You’re discounting what scouts have done for a hundred and fifty years, even yourself!

We see a scout trying to hold on to a tattered and flawed system. He doesn’t. He sees a crazy person who’s lost his bearings and is ruining his own life. He fears his job and his values. You will see this when you lead.

With no other recourse, the scout gets angry and personal. You will see this happen, from other people with vested interest in old beliefs and from parts of yourself.

Scout: This is about you and your shit, isn’t it? Twenty years ago some scout got it wrong.
Billy Beane: Woh! Okay.
Scout: Now you’re gonna declare war on the whole system.
Billy Beane: Okay! Okay. My turn. You don’t have a crystal ball, you can’t look at a kid and predict his future any more than I can. I’ve sat at those kitchen tables with you and listened to you tell those parents ‘When I know, I know! And when it comes to your son, I know’. And you don’t. You don’t!
Scout: Okay, I don’t give a shit about friendship, this situation or the past. Major league baseball thinks the way I think. You’re not gonna win. And I’ll give you a nickel’s worth of free advice. You’re never gonna get another job when Schott fires you after this catastrophic season you’re about to set us all up for. And you’re gonna have to explain to your kid why you work at a Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Resistance persists

Do you think you resolve conflict in one quick step? Sometimes, but not often. Here we see the on-field Manager, Art Howe, resisting the General Manager. You’ll see the attacks stay personal and they don’t directly address the change in values. Many appeals to experience and intuition.

This conflict plays out between two people, but the same thing will happen internally with anyone. I suspect the movie dramatizes the story by giving Beane more resolve and less doubt than he probably had, but I’m not sure.

[after losing the first game of the season]
Billy Beane: I should have made you a bigger part of the conversation from day one. That way we’d be clear what we’re trying to do here. That was my mistake, Art, and I take responsibility for that.
Art Howe: What are you trying to say?
Billy Beane: I’m saying it doesn’t matter what moves I make if you don’t play the team they way they’re designed to be played.
Art Howe: Billy, you’re out of your depth.
Billy Beane: Why not Hatteberg at first?
Art Howe: Because he can’t play first.
Billy Beane: How do you know?
Art Howe: It’s not my first baseball game. Scott Hatteberg can’t hit, he’s keeping us in the fences.


Billy Beane: Could this be about your contract?
Art Howe: No. This is about you doing your job and me doing mine. Mine’s being left alone to manage this team you assembled for me.
Billy Beane: I didn’t assemble it for you, Art.

One of the fired scouts, invested in the old belief, was interviewed on the radio. He publicly attacks the new belief, again, deeply personally. With hindsight we can claim the scout just missed the boat, but I expect that most people would have found his attacks persuasive, carrying the weight of a century of sport and decades of personal experience. Losing games would seem to support the attacks.

[on the radio]
Call-In Radio Host: Grady, can you interpret for us what’s going on?
Fired Scout: They call it Moneyball.
Call-In Radio Host: Moneyball?
Fired Scout: Yes. And it was a nice theory and now it’s just not working out.
Sports Announcer: Billy Beane has built this team on the ideas of a guy named Bill James.
Call-In Radio Host: Right.
Sports Announcer: He wrote an interesting book on baseball statistics. The problem is that Bill James never played, never managed, he was in fact a security guard at a pork and beans company.
Call-In Radio Host: Do you see this as a decimation of the whole team?
Fired Scout: I think that he bought a ticket on the Titanic.
Sports Announcer: Oh, boy! He’s tried to come up with a new approach, my hat’s off to him. It won’t work.

Here is a later radio show, apparently continuing to demonstrate how deeply wrong the new belief is. I’ve written about how any complex change will lead you to doubt yourself at some point something like “I’ve been working at this for six months and I’m worse off than when I started.” Here the criticism comes from outside, but it comes from internal personal doubt too.

Sports Announcer #1: Well with this loss tonight, the Oakland Athletics have incredibly lost fourteen of their last seventeen games. They are ten games back in the American League West.
Sports Announcer #2: It’s fair to say the experiment has failed.

Self-doubt

The stakes don’t let up. Here we see how even third parties to the conflict get involved. Beane’s daughter reads his worry. The tighter your identity intertwines with your beliefs, the more parts of your life will get involved.

By contrast, the more you distinguish your beliefs from absolute certainty, recognizing they have flaws as to any other beliefs, the more free you will be to try new things and not feel punished when things don’t go your way. The more you can get others to distinguish beliefs from absolute certainty the more freedom you’ll all have. Getting yourself to detach yourself from your beliefs is hard enough; getting others to is that much harder, but leads to effective leadership.

Casey Beane: Dad, there’s not way you’re gonna lose your job, right?
Billy Beane: What?
Casey Beane: Well, I don’t know. I’m just wondering.
Billy Beane: Where did you hear that?
Casey Beane: Well I go on the internet sometimes.
Billy Beane: Well, don’t do that. Don’t…don’t go on the internet, or watch TV, or read news papers or talk to…people.
Casey Beane: I don’t talk to people, I just read stuff.
Billy Beane: Honey, everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. Really. You don’t have to worry.
Casey Beane: But if you lose your job we’d have to move away.
Billy Beane: Honey, I’m not gonna lose my job. You don’t have to worry.
Casey Beane: Okay.
Billy Beane: Hey, there’s no problem.
Casey Beane: Okay.
Billy Beane: Right, I got uptown problems, but you’re not a problem at all. You’re not worried, right?
Casey Beane: No, I’m not worried.

Later…

Casey Beane: Are you okay, dad?
Billy Beane: You’re doing it again.
Casey Beane: What?
Billy Beane: You’re worrying about me.
Casey Beane: You have a sad face, dad.
Billy Beane: Do I look worried?
Casey Beane: Yeah.

Resolve, the critical moment, letting go of your safety net, and crowding out your old beliefs

In this scene Brand decides to fire the last of the players who made sense in the old belief system. He has completely crowded out that system from himself and his organization. As you can see, he justifies himself through his the new belief. It hasn’t been proved, but he believes it, meaning he believes it’s correct.

Peter Brand: Billy, Pena is an All Star. Okay? And if you dump him and this Hatteberg thing doesn’t work out the way that we want it to, you know, this is…this is the kind of decision that gets you fired. It is!
Billy Beane: Yes, you’re right. I may lose my job, in which case I’m a forty four year old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I’d like to be able to send to college. You’re twenty five years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don’t think we’re asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is, do you believe in this thing or not?
Peter Brand: I do.
Billy Beane: It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.
Peter Brand: Okay.
Billy Beane: Now, we’re gonna see this thing through, for better or worse. Just tell me, do you project we’ll win more with Hatteberg or Pena first?
Peter Brand: It’s close, but theoretically Hatteberg.
Billy Beane: What are we talking about then?

Community forms

Beane’s team ends up setting the record for the most wins in a row in the American League. Despite lingering doubts from many, some top people in his community come to agree with him. They see the evidence of the new belief even though people who still believe the old beliefs retain their evidence for their beliefs.

Ultimately success builds community of people who share your belief, not proof you are right. Forming community is the essence of leadership, which requires you to believe yourself.

Here a representative from the Boston Red Sox, a team steeped in the old beliefs, offers our hero the highest salary of any General Manager in sports. The mainstream is accepting the renegade idea. On a personal level, the representative recognizes the emotional challenges he must have gone through. Our hero has become a leader of a community he played a major part in forming.

John: For forty one million, you built a playoff team. You lost Damon, Giambi, Isringhausen, Pena and you won more games without them than you did with them. You won the exact same number of games that the Yankee’s won, but the Yankee’s spent one point four million per win and you paid two hundred and sixty thousand. I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall. It always gets bloody, always. It’s the threat and not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They will bet you’re crazy. I mean, anybody who’s not building a team right and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs. They’ll be sittin’ on their ass on the sofa in October, watch the Boston Red Sox win the world series.
[he takes out a paper from his coat pocket and puts it in front of Billy]
Billy Beane: What’s this?
John: I want you to be my General Manager. That’s my offer.
[Billy take the paper and reads the offer then looks back in shock at John]

Coda

Beane doesn’t take the Red Sox’s offer, but they adopt his philosophy and win their first World Series in 86 years, beating their arch-rival Yankees, the team most invested in the old ways — or at least having spent money the most profligately.

In real life the Red Sox hired Beane’s philosophical forerunner and main real-life driving force behind the new belief, Bill James, whose name showed up in the dialog above.

While Beane didn’t get to take part in the Red Sox’s win or enjoy that big salary, his legacy made it into a seven-Oscar nominated movie, played by Brad Pitt, celebrating his beliefs, resolve, and success, among other successes.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

A model to help you stay calm and ward off anxiety

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you wish you were born in easier times, when life wasn’t so competitive? When life was easier? The media always talks about today’s razor-thin margins, terrorism, and so on. We have so many things to worry about today. Who can keep up with the pace of change?

Who wouldn’t feel anxious and wish for the good old days?

Today’s model undermines that disappointment in today, thinking the old days were less stressful.

A model to help you stay calm and ward off anxiety: Today is no more stressful than any other time

When you recognize that stress doesn’t come from the outside world, it comes from you wanting the world to be one way when it’s another (a belief, like any other), you realize today isn’t any more stressful than any time before.

You measure your times by your standards, which make today seem the most exciting — a euphemism for stressful. They measured their times by their standards and probably found their times the most exciting.

Many of the main things that stress you today existed then — difficult relationships, concern about money, not having time to do important things, and so on. Most things you think of as uniquely stressful to our times caused stress then too. Technology seems to move fast now, but it did then too — they just didn’t have us to compare themselves to. Neither do we have tomorrow’s people to compare ourselves to.

Meanwhile, they had things we can’t think of then. They didn’t have anaesthesia or countless other things we take for granted.

The main issue is how you handle the world not being how you want. People who couldn’t reconcile things then were miserable, just as today. Those who could were happy. They didn’t have more or less than you do today to handle the differences.

Strategy

When someone tries to cause you stress or you feel miserably unlucky you live in such an unlucky time, consider you might not. You may live in as normal a time as any.

If you think people then could enjoy life, you can find how to enjoy your life. Look for the things you think they had that you wish you did and I’m sure you’ll find them in your world — probably family, friends, hobbies, the beauty of nature, improving yourself. Think of the distractions you wish you could avoid and you can probably find ways to avoid them if others did. Or if you can’t, you can probably find something that annoyed them as much that if they could deal with it you can too.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when someone tries to imply my world is stressful, often reporters or someone in the media.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces allowing others to create stress in my life with calmness and more self-control.

This belief replaces my thinking I live in a special time with believing I live in an ordinary time.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to enjoying life more and greater resilience to problems bringing you down.

A model to handle pain

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Does pain make you miserable?

I like the phrase “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” It says that pain doesn’t have to make you feel bad emotionally. How you respond to pain is what makes you feel emotionally bad, and you can control that response.

I prefer to say it more broadly.

A model to handle pain: Pain isn’t bad.

Most people understand the value to their lives of physical pain. Our bodies can be damaged and pain motivates us to protect them. Without pain we’d cut, burn, and break ourselves and worse. With pain we take care of our bodies. We don’t have to think hard to figure out how animals evolved pain.

As physical pain motivates us to protect our bodies, emotional pain motivates us to consider others. Without emotional pain we’d mess up relationships, hurt each other, undermine groups and society, and worse.

Pain isn’t bad. It’s helpful.

We all want to avoid pain. If we think pain is bad, which is different than painful, we risk avoiding it too much or living our lives less than optimally. Sometimes taking risks leads to the best outcomes for yourself. Sometimes the pain is worth it, like the soreness after playing sports, the heartbreak after an exciting fling, or the sting of a business decision that didn’t pay off.

If you think pain is bad, you’ll suffer after those things. If you don’t, you may learn from them.

Strategy

A strategy I’ve tried to adopt is to learn to handle and learn from pain, whether physical or emotional, more than to try to avoid it.

You’ll run a business more effectively if you aren’t afraid of bankruptcy than if you try to avoid it at all costs.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself avoiding something out of fear of pain, even when I want to do it. I use this belief after something causes me pain and I ask myself if trying what led to the pain was still worth it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces reactively avoiding pain with considering your options more comprehensively.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to pain not being such a problem and to making better decisions for your business and life.

A model to keep you from being manipulated by the media

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Does reading or watching the news enrage you? Does it depress you? Make you feel outraged or helpless or scared?

As much as the news media presents itself as something you need to participate as a citizen in society, they always have at least this goal: to sell more ads. They can separate the news from the business section all they want, but everyone knows what sells. Walk into any newsroom and they’ll tell you they have to make an emotional connection. And we know emotions mean motivation.

They want to motivate you to read and watch more.

How do you get people to read and watch more? With the emotions that motivate that — not happiness, calmness, and comfort, I can tell you that. With the emotions like I listed above — outrage, indignation, fear, and so on.

Yes, the media fills an important need exposing problems that would fester otherwise. I value it. But I recognize it always has that one goal. In a competitive environment, those who don’t will lose to those that do and go bankrupt.

A model not to be manipulated by the media: The media wants to keep you reading and seeing their ads.

I had to try this belief out to get it. Some book suggested not following the news for thirty days. The suggestion almost shocked me. How could a responsible citizen not follow the news? I should know the important things happening in the world.

But I tried anyway. I know I tried it in the spring of 2008 because of how powerfully the effect hit me. When I stopped following the news daily the main stories were about the race between Obama and Clinton, specifically who carried which states. A month later when I restarted following the news, the names of the states changed, but the stories were the same.

The candidates policies hadn’t changed. Nothing important changed. But the media presented it like huge things were happening. They want to create controversy and drama. I realized that the media always had that motivation to keep you hooked. I had long known it, but it hit me more when I saw how little the stories changed amid their claims of huge, breaking news.

And I don’t mean just the politicized, polarized cable channels. All news.

But that wasn’t my biggest awakening. That came when I went to a friend’s party with a bunch of politically aware people. I mentioned my experiment and how surprised I was at the results, expecting them to find the story interesting.

Their response surprised me.

They not only didn’t care about my experience, they couldn’t fathom someone would consider not following the news daily. They just about accused me of being irresponsible as a citizen. Needless to say, they didn’t care to hear my experiences and conclusion.

In other words, they sounded addicted. I was convinced. The media wants to addict you to the media.

Yes, I consider knowing some things about the world important, but I recognize the media will polarize and dramatize things to hook people. They will cover things that evoke outrage, shock, horror, and such over mundane things. Is shocking more important than mundane? It’s not obvious to me that covering a school shooting is more important than covering students getting straight As.

Besides, with seven billion people in the world, anything you learn about some you’re not learning about others. You can never learn everything about the world. You mostly learn the most gripping things, which we’ve come to consider the most important, but you don’t have to agree on someone else’s evaluation of importance.

Which is more important, war or peace? Which gets more news coverage? Which makes the history books?

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself hooked on the news. Also when I’m away from the news and wonder if I’m missing anything.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the addicting belief that following the news is always good, necessary, or both with skepticism.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to having more free time during the day and more freedom with your thoughts.

It leads to you reevaluating what you consider important and historical.

A model to keep from being scammed

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Have you ever been scammed into buying something that didn’t work? Has anyone ever tried to sell you something too good to be true? Have you lost money gambling you wish you hadn’t?

Do you not like that happening?

A model to keep from being scammed: The laws of physics, science, math, and logic.

Some scams are cons based on abusing trust, but a lot of them are based on things that aren’t possible — perpetual motion devices, fake controversy about the planet’s climate, fake controversy about the health effects of smoking or sugar, and so on.

When you don’t understand nature, causality, and logic, people can persuade you about things easily.

Our understanding of science changes all the time, but some things don’t change — like causality, logic, and the conservation of energy.

I won’t explain how much people miss these effects. Like when they think they can turn on the air conditioner without causing pollution or don’t understand how their diets affect their fitness. It’s frustrating when people miss this stuff when you understand it.

The funny thing is that science isn’t something that happens in a lab. It’s the study of nature — literally everything in the universe.

Of course I include chemistry, biology, and other branches of science. Evolutionary psychology forms the foundation of much of this web page.

When I use this belief

I use this belief all the time, since I’m always interacting with nature. And by nature, I don’t just mean forest streams and clouds. I mean everything.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces taking someone’s word for something with testing and reporting one’s results.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a greater respect for nature, observation, experiment, and honest reporting of the results.

It leads to more consistent and rational understanding of and communication about the world.

It leads to seeing more beauty in the world.

A model for consistency

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you have trouble keeping a habit going?

Today’s model is my model for maintaining my daily habits.

A model for consistency: If you miss one day you can miss two. If you miss two it’s over.

My friend who set this blog up for me told me this belief when I asked him how often he posted — a few days a week, every weekday, or what. He said he posted every day and that if you miss one day, you can miss two. If you miss two, it’s all over. It might not end there, but the countdown to missing more and more until you’ve dropped the habit has begun.

Since then I haven’t missed a day writing here, doing my burpees, nor flossing.

I’m surprised at how much easier keeping up a habit is when you don’t introduce choice into it all the time. You just choose to do it regularly and then you’ve done the mental effort. From then on you just do it. The physical work may burn more calories but it takes less mental effort.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I’m doing something I want to do but takes effort. You can also apply it to other types of consistency than daily habits, of course.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces starting a habit and then absent-mindedly letting it go with keeping it up.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to maintaining daily habits and living more consistently.

A model to live like beautiful people do

[Today is the forty-second in a series on daily and weekly beliefs that improve my life and may improve yours, in no particular order. See the introduction to the series and the value of flexibility in beliefs for background.]

People commonly believe that beautiful women have better lives than everybody else and that they have access to more valuable things. I came across that belief a lot when I used to go out dancing a lot. The evidence seemed overwhelming — they automatically get invited to the best parties, they get past the doorpeople, men buy them drinks if the club doesn’t already give them, and so on. In regular life, studies show attractive people get paid more, get promoted more, and so on.

Sounds great if you’re a beautiful woman, but what if you aren’t?

Before today’s belief shows you what you can get, let me first poke a few holes in the old belief.

Interlude: Beauty alone doesn’t make life rewarding. Everyone gets emotional reward the same way, and it requires effort.

First, I’m not so sure how much the free drinks and invitations improve their lives. Sure, they get the pleasure of luxury and maybe even some happiness, but getting something through something you were born with and didn’t put your own effort into deprives you of the chance to feel emotional reward for it.

I wrote recently about the difference between pleasure, happiness, and reward. Living a life without reward turns pleasure and happiness into distraction from the lack of meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP) from lack of reward.

Second, most of the models, dancers, and other beautiful women I met worked hard for what they got too, and they felt reward from their efforts, so beauty doesn’t prevent you from feeling reward. Not contributing your own effort does. Nor does being beautiful mean that’s what got you what you got.

Anyway, today’s belief is not about beauty. It’s about how anyone can get what the mainstream believes beautiful women get.

A model to live like beautiful people do: Charisma gets you everything beauty could, and you can develop as much charisma as you want.

I noticed when I went out that my guy friends could get more people past doorpeople than beautiful women could. And those guys weren’t beautiful women.

So what got them in?

My friends weren’t rich. They didn’t come from special families.

They had charisma. They had social skills. I didn’t, but I found I could copy them and, with practice, get better. The most common searches to my site are to my social skills exercises so people know they can improve.

Two experiences that drove this belief home for me were

  1. When using the skills I learned from my charismatic friends helped get me into business school.
  2. One time when a bouncer told me to go inside and have fun, almost pushing me in, despite not being on any list nor knowing anyone and there being a long line. I had just been having fun with him and he decided the place would be better with me in it than not. I’m far from a beautiful woman myself.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I think anyone anywhere has an easier time than me, or that anyone has life handed to them on a silver platter. I don’t begrudge anyone any so-called “privilege” that I don’t have because things like money you didn’t earn, connections your family got you, beauty you were born, or whatever with may get someone pleasure or even some happiness, but rich, complex emotional reward still requires your effort.

And that’s where MVIP comes from.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces enviously wishing I was somebody else, powerlessly feeling like a victim of fate, with the ability to do something about it. It reinforces the importance of social skills and responsibility.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to learning charisma and other social skills, which brings better relationships, better business, more fun, more ability to do complex things that require teams, and so on.

It also gets you into clubs.

People will call you beautiful too, appreciating that you helped them remember beauty isn’t purely visual.

A model to help accept things without judgment or feeling sorry for yourself

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you find yourself feeling sorry for yourself and not like feeling that way? Do you get depressed or feel helpless when things don’t go your way?

Do you wish you could take things in stride better so you could move on from or solve problems and get on to better times?

A model to help accept things without judgment or feeling sorry for yourself: “Good thing bad thing, who knows?”

Here’s an old story that comes in many versions (here are seven, dating back to before most existing religions), but I learned from Srikumar Rao‘s book Are You Ready to Succeed (text edited from this blog).

An old man lived happily with his son. One day, the old man used all his savings to buy a young wild stallion, a beautiful horse for breeding. The day he bought it, the horse jumped the fence and ran off. The neighbors sympathized. “How terrible!” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

Ten days later the stallion returned. It came with a whole herd of wild horses that the old man was able to corral. “What good fortune!” the neighbors said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

His son started to train them. One threw him and stomped on his leg. It healed crookedly and left him with a permanent limp and pain. “Such misfortune,” said the neighbors.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

The next summer, the King declared war, forcing all the young men from the village into the army. They spared the old man’s son because of his injured leg. “Truly, you are a lucky man,” exclaimed the neighbors who cried over the loss of their own sons.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

I come back to this story and its lessons all the time. I can’t change what happened in the past. Calling a past event good or bad doesn’t change it. The model that we can’t tell if something is good or bad serves me better than labeling things I can’t change. It brings me freedom to live my life rather than categorizing or labeling things.

I find accepting (or celebrating) things without judgment and moving ahead with the situation as-is more productive.

Alternative perspective

Imagine you’re a pianist, conductor, actor, or some other performance artist. You’re performing in front of an audience. If you prefer, imagine you’re giving a business presentation. While playing, acting, presenting, or performing you make a mistake. You play the wrong note, miss a cue, … whatever.

You know you did something you consider wrong or bad. What do you do?

For the audience and probably yourself, the worst thing you can do is stop or call out that you made a mistake. In most cases, the best you can do is recognize it’s in the past, you can’t change it, you have other notes to play, continue in the moment you’re in now, and keep playing.

The same follows for the rest of life. Whatever happened that you didn’t like, once it’s in the past you can’t change it. It exists in the present only in people’s memories, all the more so for the more you dwell on it.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when something happens a way I don’t like. Instead of categorizing it as right, wrong, good, or bad, I skip judging it. It happened and I can’t change the past. All I can do is act in the present.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces judging and evaluating the past, dwelling in it instead of figuring out what to do in the present, and disagreeing with people over how to label events of the past.

It replaces feeling sorry for myself with living my life.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from past events weighing you down.

A model to get in fewer arguments and influence more effectively

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you get in more arguments than you’d like? Do you feel like people don’t understand you and you have to explain yourself a lot in these arguments?

I can’t stop all your arguments, but today’s belief and strategy will cut down on them.

It will also increase your ability to influence.

A model to argue less and influence more: No two people completely agree on what’s right, wrong, good, or bad and they resist when you try to get them to agree with you

People intellectually get that others have different values, but they often forget when they want someone to agree with them. They often find conflict when one want to help the other person. Trying to help often deepens the conflict, despite their best intentions.

Some people condemn the belief that morality is not absolute, pejoratively labeling it “moral relativism.” Yet I’ve never found two people who agree on all issues of what is right, wrong, good, bad, or evil. Even people who agree on some tradition or book as the source of what they consider right, wrong, good, bad, or evil still disagree on major points.

People seem comfortable with moral absolutes on issues others agree with them on. They seem to want others to change, but not themselves.

When we lead or even just work in teams, we have to face others’ values and recognize they disagree.

Strategy

Whatever system you have of right, wrong, good, bad, or evil, nobody seems to mind as long as you keep it to yourself.

So what do you do when you have to communicate your ideas?

An exercise I made up for fun once helped me a lot. Before doing it I thought it was too superficial to make a difference, but it ended up influencing me a lot.

The exercise is simply not to use judgmental language. Why not try it for a week? I started by avoiding the words good, bad, right, wrong, and evil. I later included should, ought to, balance, better, worse, improve, and some other words.

What made a big difference in this exercise for me was finding I could substitute “I agree” and “I disagree” for “right” and “wrong” and “I like” and “I don’t like” for “good” and “bad.”

Judgmental words
Example Non-judgmental words
Example
Right “You’re right.” Agree “I agree with you.”
Wrong “You’re wrong.” Disagree “I disagree with you.”
Good “The President’s policies are good.” Like “I like the President’s policies.”
Bad “The President’s policies are bad.” Don’t like “I don’t like the President’s policies.”

This seemingly small change in language had a few big effects:

  1. I realized communicating opinion communicated values better than communicating judgment.
  2. I got in fewer arguments.
  3. People communicated more openly with me when I used non-judgmental language.
  4. Judgmental words seem to imply absoluteness that opinion doesn’t.
  5. I realized how often people impose their values on each other, often without meaning to or realizing it.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself imposing my values on others — that is, judging them.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces judgment with opinion, argument with seeking understanding, imposition with consideration, and push-back with discussion.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to fewer arguments, greater understanding and empathy, and more effective influence.

A model to get more sales and to stay calm under pressure

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you want to get more sales? Even if you don’t sell anything, you probably propose things, pitch things, apply for things, and so forth. Do you want to be more successful there and to close more?

I learned today’s model in sales class in business school, but it applies to many cases — nearly any situation where you try to persuade someone of something nontrivial they have to agree to.

Think of anything you bought for more than pocket change. Take the clothes you’re wearing now, for example. I bet for at least a couple of the items after you were pretty sure you would buy them but before you did, you had objections. Maybe you wanted to make sure the price was right, or the fit, color, or whatever. But you still bought it.

When you’re selling, pitching, or influencing, objections near or after you thought the deal closed can be incredibly frustrating. Losing your composure then can lose you the sale.

Today’s model helps you keep cool at times like that.

A model to get more sales and stay calm under pressure: An objection is a statement of an unmet need.

People buy things to meet their needs. A big part of sales is communicating that what you’re selling meets their needs. An inevitable part of any sale is that, no matter how much you think you covered everything, before signing they will always object about something.

Many people get frustrated. “How could they not understand?” “I already explained that to them!” “Why didn’t they mention that before?!”

Today’s belief overcomes this frustration. It says that

An objection is a statement of an unmet need.

Instead of being frustrated, this belief tells you they are still interested (they wouldn’t have objected if they didn’t care). It doesn’t mean they disagree. If you listen and follow-up right, you have a good chance at getting the sale. They want you to get the sale.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I’m in sales mode and somebody objects to whatever I’m selling. I also use this belief when preparing my presentation. Since I know they’ll object with something at the end, I don’t have to get every last thing in the presentation. I know they’ll ask me if I miss anything.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the frustration of thinking the objections criticize my product with the expectation that addressing unmet needs at the end is part of the sales process.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to greater sales and increased ability to influence and persuade.

A model to help get you in better shape

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s belief counteracts a common trend I see about exercise. I forget if I’ve written about my impressions of seeing five-kilometer walks in Central Park with water stations and ambulances. While I support being prepared, I can’t help but wonder if the suggestion that a five-kilometer walk could be a health risk might stop more people from exercising than these walks promote.

I’m sure there are people for whom walking five kilometers could be a risk, but I imagine they would know it enough not to try. Humans lived before cars and I can’t help but imagine there used to be a time when nearly everyone walked more than five kilometers daily.

Today’s belief comes from the many times when I’ve felt sick, sore, tired, hungry, depressed, or in any way less than enthusiastic and happy and still managed to exercise. Or times it’s been raining, too hot, too cold, too far, too early in the morning, too late in the evening, too anything less than totally convenient.

I don’t remember ever regretting exercising. However hard to motivate before, I’m always glad I did after. However physical the activity, I’ve never permanently injured myself. I’ve never hurt myself more exercising as much as I hurt myself sitting on the couch.

I should note I didn’t always feel this way. Growing up I didn’t exercise much. I was chubby. My parents didn’t promote sports much. I was scared to go to the gym until I started getting good at Ultimate because I though people would make fun of me. My sisters and I watched a lot of television after school growing up.

Strategy

Find reasons to exercise. Could this be simpler?

A model to help get you in better shape: Exercise never hurts one’s life and it usually helps.

Whenever I’m trying to decide if I should exercise or not, I know I’ll never regret choosing to exercise. I always feel better after I exercise. It’s almost an unqualified good in my life.

By exercise I don’t necessarily mean changing clothes and going somewhere. It could mean walking somewhere instead of taking the subway. Or taking the stairs instead of an elevator.

I don’t even exercise that much. I do burpees twice daily, but I think of that as a part of regular life, not exercise. I don’t belong to a gym. My running shoes are barefoot style, not fancy. I don’t have much workout clothing.

I just find getting my heart pumping improves my mood. And I like how my body feels when not covered with fat. And I like participating in sports with others. Those are the only reasons I exercise. But mostly because it makes me feel good.

Oh, and when I’m in shape I feel more free to eat whatever I want.

Oh, and I think it keeps me from getting sick. Or rather, when I have a cold, allergies, fatigue, or other things that keep me from homeostasis, exercise always helps restore it. And if I have a cold, upset stomach, or something annoying or painful that takes time for my body to overcome, it never hurts while I exercise and I recover faster. I haven’t found lying in bed as effective in overcoming sickness as getting my heart pumping.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I’m deciding between exercising or not.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces not exercising with exercising. It replaces indecision with surety.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to feeling better, eating better, and living healthier.

EDIT: I just did fifteen push-ups just for the fun of it.

A model to help you get more out of traveling and to save money traveling at the same time

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Most people I share today’s belief with seem surprised or even shocked when I express it. Probably because the way I say it — that I don’t like traveling — seems contrary to something nearly everyone values. Also, I travel a lot and talk about how much I get out of it.

If I have to travel, I’ll find ways to make it amazing, but if I don’t travel I can make staying home just as amazing. The best way I know to put it is through one of my favorite passages of the Tao Te Ching, which describes how the opposite of traveling opens opportunities unavailable to those who don’t learn to stand still.

A model for traveling: You can learn as much from your next-door neighbor as anyone else.

From the Tao Te Ching:

Learn how to stand still
if you want to go places.
Get on your knees
if you want to stand tall.
If you want wisdom,
empty your mind.
If you want the world,
renounce your riches.
Push yourself until you’re exhausted,
and then you’ll find your strength.

You can go far
if you don’t have anything to carry.
The more you acquire,
the less you can really see.

Most people view traveling as an unqualified good. You learn about the world, other cultures, other people, other food; you learn about yourself, your culture, and so on.

I agree you can get these things while traveling, but I believe you can learn as much from your next-door neighbor as from anyone else in the world — whether from Paris, in Machu Picchu, on the pyramids, in the jungle, or anywhere. People are people around the world. No matter where you go, you’ll always find certain similarities. Likewise, between any two people you’ll always find differences. No matter how similar your next-door neighbor is to your, and their background to yours, they’ll always have differences you can learn from.

Sure you can find differences between foreigners and you, but those differences are harder to find when there’s an Eiffel Tower in the background. Most people go to where famous sites are, which means they’re interacting less with what might be different. I believe that if people go to where famous sites aren’t, they’ll find people more like the people back home.

If you think you can learn more from people in different cultures than you can from your neighbor, I believe you haven’t learned how to learn from your neighbor yet. Which means you aren’t getting as much out of travel as you could.

That said, I recognize some things only travel can bring you. Travel exposes you to different parts of nature — different plants, animals, geology, climate, and so on.

Also, if you do learn to stand still, you can get things out of traveling you can’t from staying in one place, though while traveling you don’t get what you could from staying in one place. Again, I don’t see traveling is an unqualified benefit. The only way I can is if I devalue what I get from staying in one place. Maybe I spoiled myself living in as diverse a place as New York City, but then I value diversity. I figure someone who doesn’t would get as much from where they chose to live. Unless they chose a place to live they don’t like. In which case traveling will cover up and possibly extend the misery they’ve inflicted on themselves for choosing to live in a place they don’t like. Again, I think they would do better for themselves by staying in one place, realizing they don’t like it there, and moving.

In today’s world, traveling usually involves putting a lot of jet fuel or gasoline into the environment. I don’t like polluting. Also, coincidence or not, when I leave New York City, I almost always get invitations to awesome parties I miss for leaving.

When I travel, I tend to travel for work, when someone wants me to, pays for it, and gives me time to explore while I’m there, not just work.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when deciding if I should travel or not.

When I travel, I use this belief to get more out of the experience.

When I don’t travel, I use this belief to get more out of staying where I am, generally as much as I would get from traveling.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces feeling compelled to travel with the freedom not to travel, knowing you can improve your life just as much without it. It replaces feeling like you lose out when you don’t travel with the opportunity to benefit from your neighbors.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to traveling more purposefully, learning more from your neighbors, and getting more out of your travels.

A model to think deeper

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Have you gotten to consider and tackle the important things in your life? Do some important issues still elude you? Do you still spend time in the unimportant parts of life? Or even when on the important parts, do the urgent fires take more of your time than you want?

Urgency
Importance Important, not urgent Important, urgent
Unimportant, not urgent Unimportant, urgent

Today’s belief helps you get to those topics.

A model to think more deeply: You think on the time scale of what distracts you.

When you’re thinking about an idea that takes five minutes to understand it but something distracts you every two minutes, you’ll never fully get that idea. The distractions could be email, kids, colleagues, or anything. Most television shows keep you from thinking about anything at all.

The most important distraction is how much your mind wanders. If you can’t keep your mind still for more than a few minutes, the most complex ideas you’ll be able to understand will be few-minute ideas.

Distractions aren’t always a problem. When you’re riding a roller coaster or playing sports you’re living in the moment and probably don’t want to think about complex ideas. No problem.

But if you never take any time to free yourself from distractions and slow your mind down, you’ll never tackle or even understand some important issues. Your life will lack richness and complexity.

Can you sit still without any distraction for ten minutes? Five?

Strategy

This belief leads you to realize how distractions and an unfocused mind limits you from understanding important things. It leads you to

Identify and limit your distractions. Then learn to slow your mind down.

Meditation, yoga, rock climbing, hiking, walking, and things like that give you the chance to think beyond few-minute ideas.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I realize I haven’t thought about rich, complex ideas in a while. If my schedule feels busy and I feel like I’m doing a lot of work but not getting a lot done, it usually means I’ve gotten distracted from important things by unimportant things.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces distraction with focus, unimportant things with important things, reactivity with leadership, and busy-ness with relaxation and flow.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a life with more meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP).

A model that explains why your enthusiasm when planning disappears when doing

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Scene 1: You plan something big. You’re excited. You know there will be challenges, but you also know you’ll overcome them. You will do what it takes no matter what.

Scene 2: You started the project but it petered out. You don’t know what happened to that feeling of invincibility, but it’s gone.

What happened? How did you lose your motivation? Why didn’t your willpower work?

Today’s model answers.

A model that explains why your enthusiasm when planning disappears when doing : Your emotions react to what perceive in the moment. When the moment changes, your motivation changes.

When you’re planning, you’re comfortably thinking about what you could do, which isn’t the same as doing it. You’re also thinking about the great consequences. Thinking of doing the project takes moments and suddenly you’re thinking about the great results you’ll get.

Doing the project takes time and requires overcoming the challenges. The need for motivations kicks in then. But you’re in a different time and place, perceiving different things. Your motivations now are different than then.

Motivation comes from your perceptions of your world in the moment. Our ancestors evolved motivations to react to their world in the moment. If a lion starts chasing you now, you better run or hide now. Not a moment later.

Facing actual obstacles evokes actual discouragement you don’t feel when imagining obstacles.

Your emotions react to what perceive in the moment. When the moment changes, your motivation changes.

Psychologists call this effect “empathy gaps” and it’s a popular study now.

Empathy gap examples

  1. Trying to make a hot shower fast on a cold morning. Even if you were in a huge hurry to get to work on time before the shower, feeling that warm water will motivate you staying in that shower.
  2. Trying to eat healthy when surrounded by rich food. Whatever your diet plans, we evolved motivation to eat rich foods.
  3. Distance running. It’s easy before starting a ten-mile run to say you’ll run the whole way no matter what. By eight miles your motivations may change.
  4. Maintaining an exercise plan. When you plan to get in shape you feel relaxed. A rainy day exhausted from the office discourages you from going to the gym.
  5. Not getting angry. Before talking to someone who always pushes your buttons you can easily say you won’t take their bait. When they’re pressing your buttons you don’t think, “I’ll drop my plans.” You think “they need to learn a lesson and I’m the one to teach it.”
  6. Waking up quickly when tired. You might say before getting in bed, “I’ll wake up quickly tomorrow no matter what.” You wake up to different perception, so your motivation changes.

Strategy

Overcoming empathy gaps isn’t easy. You don’t always realize your environment is changing so you can lose your motivation without realizing it, just thinking you’re behaving consistently with your environment.

One strategy is to know about the effect. When planning, remember how your environment will change when you’re trying to go to the gym after a long day at work. How will your willpower work then? What can you do to prepare for feeling discouraged?

Another strategy is to observe empathy gaps in others, where the effects are easier to see. Their change in emotion might not happen with you. Then you can better understand the effect.

Another strategy is to build on experience. When you sense your emotions have changed, note how the change feels. consider how you can prepare for it next time.

Also, build experience by creating empathy gaps and overcoming them. Marathon training helps me prepare for marathon-like obstacles because the motivation to climb a hill at twenty-miles is like the motivation to keep my patience with someone antagonizing me at work. Overcoming one prepares me for overcoming the other.

A big strategy is to change your environment. When you don’t feel like doing something you told yourself you wanted to before, simply changing your environment can change your motivations. Getting up off the couch, turning off the TV or computer, and changing into your workout clothes may do the trick.

Another big strategy is to change your beliefs. Your beliefs filter how you perceive your environment. My model for processed industrial food is that some major corporation is trying to deceive me to make money at the expense of my health. Whatever pleasure their products might give me, I don’t want to do business with people like that. I don’t even want to increase demand for their products. So I don’t eat them.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when planning something that will require motivation in a difference context than when I’m planning.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces losing motivation in the middle of a big project with preparing for it and knowing you can do something about it.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to foreseeing, preparing for, and handling emotional challenges more effectively.

A model for what makes a great story

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Storytelling seems so common to all cultures it’s probably in our genes to like a good story. We love hearing messages in the format of a story. If any has given you advice on how to give a presentation, someone probably told you to make it like a story.

Storytelling skills are a universally useful and attractive social skill.

So what makes a great story?

Why do we like to listen to some but not others?

I don’t claim to be the best storyteller, but when I started the personal development kick I’m still on, I organized a group of like-minded people to meet and practice storytelling. I figured the skill would benefit everyone no matter their goals or field. Getting the group to meet wasn’t that hard, so I imagine people saw the benefit.

I read a bunch of books on storytelling for ideas and suggestions. I used to think plot and theme were the main elements of a great story, based on what teachers asked us about books growing up.

These books suggested otherwise. I boiled down several books’ suggestions to what they all agreed on.

A model for what makes a great story: CCSG: Characters, Conflict, Struggle, Goal

All the books agreed, and I’ve found, that characters make the most important element of a story. If you wonder where to invest time into your stories, you almost can’t go wrong giving characters depth, detail, motivation, and such. If your characters have no richness or motivation, people lose interest.

Most stories have main character and an antagonist. Often the antagonist is more interesting, but we side with the main character.

As you describe the characters, a conflict almost always emerges. If they don’t have any conflict, you end up just describing people and a series of events. That might not bore people, but they won’t get hooked like when they learn of a conflict. For some reason we want to know how it plays out.

The struggle among the characters is what most people consider the plot. Usually most of the story plays out there.

Achieving a goal makes the story feel complete. Without it people feel cheated or consider the story empty.

Put those four elements together and you’ll have a decent story, even if you make it up on the spot. Leave any out and your story will feel incomplete or empty.

Like I said, I’m not the best storyteller, so I don’t claim my word is final here. I’m sure people can tell great stories without this structure, but I find when I use it I don’t lose people.

One of the easiest things to add to make it funny is to talk for the characters in a funny voice. Or to react in character.

The structure is only one part of a story, but it’s a big part. Other things include how you use your voice and arms, your confidence, timing, and other things. But I find this structure one of the quickest things to learn to improve with.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when starting to tell a story to think about how to structure it. If I don’t know, I focus on giving richness to the characters at the beginning. That description usually reveals a conflict. Once the conflict emerges, people are hooked.

I often use this structure when creating presentations.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces for most people just recounting a series of events without exposing the underlying conflict that would hook people to hear the struggle and goal with a structure that does hook people.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more engaging stories. Since people in all cultures like stories, storytelling is a universal social skill.

A model to replace jerks with people who improve your life

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Who hasn’t had to deal with an annoying coworker? Or boss? Or family member? … someone you couldn’t get away from and had to treat respectfully, no matter what you felt about them?

I once worked on a consulting project for a company with a difficult-to-work-with (to put it mildly) CEO. He was friendly before the project started, and you could see how he brought in clients, but I found him overbearing with his team.

Soon after the project started I decided to leave, since why bother working with someone I didn’t like working with. But before leaving I thought, “If I leave every time I don’t like a coworker or boss, I’ll have to leave a lot of companies. That won’t help my life.” I had just finished business school where I supposedly learned how to work in business. This was my chance to put those skills into practice in real life.

I already wrote my belief that social skills are among the most important to develop. A major part of learning them is practicing them.

Difficult-to-handle people (jerks) are how you practice and learn. Exercises like I post here help start the process. I design and share ones that are safe and easy to do, to start the process. Practicing on friendly people in regular life helps and challenges you more than practicing in alone or in a safe context.

But practicing with difficult people challenges you the most. If you don’t like working with them, they’ll help you grow the most. Normally the idea of seeing challenging people as helpful may normally sound odd, but I hope it makes sense in this context.

If you want to build muscles, working with only light weights won’t help much. The heavy weights strengthen you most.

If you want to run fast, sprinting as fast as you can gets you that last bit of speed.

If you want to learn an instrument, playing scales helps, but you learn the most from the most challenging pieces.

Of course the heavy weights, sprints, difficult pieces and so on work best when you build up to them. If you use them unprepared you can set yourself backward. I take for granted on this page that you use things effectively. Or that you can find a coach, trainer, or equivalent.

If you want to develop social skills, the most challenging people are like the heaviest weights. If you agree with me on the value of social skills, difficult-to-handle people help you the most.

A model to make difficult people so helpful you’ll want to thank them: Difficult-to-handle people are like the heavy weights in a gym: they help you develop the most.

Back to the challenging CEO I had to deal with. Once I decided to use working with him as my chance to practice in regular life what I learned in business school I started to look forward to seeing him. Not like I looked forward to seeing a friend, but like I looked forward to going to the gym. Like I was going to work out.

Seeing working with him like exercise meant I prepared for meeting him by reviewing what I’d learned. It meant reviewing interactions afterward to figure out how to improve for next time. It meant seeing ill feelings afterward like soreness after working out — it meant I was growing.

The result? While I wouldn’t say he became a close friend, I came to look forward to seeing and working with him. After a while we developed a working relationship and finished the project.

But the major result came afterward. I felt confident I had developed and refined some important social skills and wanted to move to the next level. Like a successful weightlifter, I wanted to move to heavier weights.

Crazy as it may sound, I consciously looked for a harder-to-work-with person to work with. To my surprise, I couldn’t find a bigger jerk! What I learned from him applied so broadly, I found I couldn’t find anyone that could annoy me as much as he had a few months before.

Did the rest of the world change? No, I did. I could handle people better than before.

I first thought of him as a jerk. Now I don’t think of him as a jerk. Nor do I think he was a jerk then. On the contrary, I look at myself as having limited social and business skills then. I took responsibility for improving myself. I improved myself, but the result feels like I improved my world because now my world has fewer jerks in it.

(I feel funny that I wrote “I couldn’t find a bigger jerk” above because I don’t think of him as a jerk anymore. I now interpret someone calling someone else a jerk to mean they have poor social skills.)

I look back at my time with him as one of my periods of greatest professional growth. It happened in a professional environment, but what I learned applied to all types of relationships.

When I use this belief

I use this belief two times. The first is when I face someone I don’t like working with. I ask myself what I can learn from this person. Then I look at them like a weightlifter looks at heavy weights — a challenge, not pleasant, but necessary for maximum growth.

The second is when I suspect I might feel too proud about my skills. I know someone out there can push me past my limits, so I look for someone to take me down a notch so I can learn again.

What this belief replaces

This belief makes jerks with your best teachers. It replaces frustration with discovery and personal growth.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to a life devoid of jerks. It fills your life with people who improve it.

What more could you ask for?

A model that will bring you happiness

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that will make you happy, no matter what’s going on?

Today’s belief came from observations. It almost always happens. I mean, sometimes I’m too unhappy or stressed for it to work, but almost always.

A model that brings me happiness: If I’m enjoying good food at a table with good friends, I’m in a good mood.

Today’s post isn’t deep. I just found that sitting around a table with friend enjoying a meal I like puts me in a good mood. I prefer effective over deep any day.

Since happiness is so important to most people, today’s belief simplifies one of life’s bigger challenges. It doesn’t take much. Our needs as humans are simple. It undermines a lot of what marketers try to sell us, making us independent.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I could use a good time and I wonder what to do. Do I need big elaborate plans? Do I need to work hard? No, good friends and good food will do the trick.

A nice wine never hurts.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces wondering what creates happiness with at least one thing that works.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more good meals with good friends.

A few models that don't improve your life that effectively

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I wrote about The Method being an effective way to improve your life and, when applied to a team, to improve your leadership style. Based on the Model, The Method says that if you align your environment, beliefs, and behavior with the emotions you want, you’ll feel emotional reward.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

Illustration of the Model.

Feeling reward means you’ll feel motivated to continue your change through to completion.

Most people don’t know the Model or follow the Method. They use techniques that can work, but generally not as well (my science background forces me to say that I base this on my anecdotal experience), because they don’t ensure you’ll feel emotional reward from the process, which The Method does. Without reward, you’ll more easily fall back to your old ways. With reward, you’ll want to keep at it until you finish.

Four common models that don’t improve your life that well

People improving their lives often use one or more of the following methods, each based on its own model.

“Once I get a new car/house/job/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc, then I’ll be happy”

The first not-so-effective model says the solution to your problem is external to you. I call it the “Once I get a new car/house/job/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc, then I’ll be happy” model (note capital M Model means my Model; lower case m model means some other model). If you’re lucky and your problem is based only in the outside world, this model’s strategy might work for you. If your problem isn’t only based on things external to you, it usually won’t work because it won’t address those needs.

Since changing things in your environment takes a lot of resources like time, money, relationships, etc, people put off changes for a long time. Then if they don’t work they have to do it again, usually needing more resources. How many people work at jobs they don’t like for years before finally getting around to changing them?

If you don’t like your job and part of the reason is you don’t respond well to authority, you first might not change for a while because changing is hard. After you change, you’ll likely find your next job no better. So you switch again. And again. Maybe you later change cities. If you never change your strategy, you’ll never solve your problem and you’ll “learn” not to try anymore, feeling like you have to accept jobs just suck.

So the “Once I get a new car/house/job/girlfriend/boyfriend/etc, then I’ll be happy” model leads to delaying change and learning futility.

New Years Resolutions

The next not-so-effective model says the solution to your problems comes through your behavior only. I call it the New Years Resolution model because people use it when they resolve to eat less or exercise more after January 1, though people do the same thing throughout the calendar. They rely on their willpower to instill a long-term change in behavior. Long-term behavior results from your emotions, so this model’s strategy forces you to fight yourself — your willpower versus your emotions. Already this conflict is hard.

If the new behavior happens to be one they like, this strategy may work. Maybe at the gym they find an affordable trainer they like or a team sport they like. But willpower works in the short-term and long-term changes need long-term motivation so it’s easy to revert to your old ways when your willpower gives out. Worse for your goals, since your long-term motivations — your emotions — result from your beliefs, if your willpower loses to your emotions, you will reinforce beliefs you wanted to change. That’s why so many people who tried and failed say things like “I just can’t lose weight,” “I just can’t stop smoking,” or “I’ll never learn to speak well in front of an audience.”

So the New Years Resolution model pits you against yourself and risks reinforcing the beliefs motivating the behavior you want to change.

The law of attraction / The Secret

The next not-so-effective model says you can solve your problems just by changing your beliefs. I call this model the “Law of Attraction” model, based on the popular term, which it resembles. Changing your beliefs only will change how you perceive your environment, which will lead to different emotions, which will lead to different behavior, which will change your environment so, in principle, you can drive your emotional cycle through only changing your beliefs.

But only changing your beliefs can go slowly. If you wanted to have more friends and only changed your beliefs accordingly, it might take years for the cycles to come around. If you also changed your environment (say going out more) and behavior (say, practicing social skills exercises) the process could happen faster. If you wanted to lose weight by only changing your beliefs, you might take a long time more than if you also exercised more and ate more healthily (behavior) went to the gym or joined a team (environment).

Moreover, if you don’t start by focusing on your emotions, as the Method suggests, you might create change you don’t value. And while you’re waiting for your behavior and environment to catch up to your new beliefs you won’t feel reward you would have had you changed all three at once, so you might give up faster.

So the law of attraction model when it works works slowly, isn’t rewarding from the start, and doesn’t necessarily point you in a direction you value.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Another not-so-effective model says that thinking positive thoughts can improve your life, which I call the “Power of Positive Thinking” belief. Like the law of attraction model, it also suggests solving your problems by changing only your beliefs and has the same problems.

Since many people think when I suggest changing your beliefs I’m suggesting thinking positive thoughts, I want to call out major differences between The Method and positive thinking. First, this model I posted recently should suggest I don’t find categorizing things as positive or negative helpful. The Method starts by working with your emotions, which I especially don’t label positive or negative. I don’t consider anger, rage, or any other emotion bad. Since all our emotions evolved and helped our ancestors survive, if anything I’d call all emotions useful, which makes it hard to call them bad. Just as physical pain helps protect us from physical injury, so do painful emotions protect us from other injury.

If you call anger bad or negative, people will try to avoid it even when it could most effectively motivate the behavior they want or they may deny feeling it when they do, motivating the opposite of self-awareness.

Sometimes thinking something someone calls negative can be effective. Sometimes you already feel something someone might call negative and you realize it could help. Sometimes, as in the good-thing-bad-thing-who-knows parable, something that seems good might later seem bad and vice versa. Might as well not call things positive or negative in the first place.

So the power of positive thinking model suffers the same problems as the law of attraction model while also risking lowering self-awareness.

The Method avoids this problem by starting with emotional awareness and aiming to creating the emotions you want.

What I use instead of these beliefs

I use The Method instead of these beliefs. If I try to change something and don’t feel reward, I realize I haven’t aligned my environment, beliefs, and behaviors with each other, meaning I likely used of the above models instead of the full Method.

Then I start The Method from the beginning.

What replaces these beliefs

The Method replaces these beliefs.

Where these beliefs leads

These beliefs lead to strategies that don’t improve your life as effectively as The Method. They’ll probably improve your life more than not trying, but not as much as The Method.

A model to cover life's basics

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with obligations? So much that you find yourself losing sense of your priorities?

Today’s simple model reminds me of my basics. If you’re reading this at some regular, calm time, it may seem too basic to think about. Its value comes when you’re stressed or overwhelmed. Then it can shift your perspective and simplify things.

A model to cover the basics: You can’t improve anything until you’ve covered sleep, food, and exercise.

However you want to improve your life, if you don’t ensure you’ve covered the basics, the rest won’t matter. Today’s model is what I consider the basics

  • The right amount of sleep (varies per person; was about eight hours when I was younger, under seven for me now)
  • Healthy food
  • Exercise

It’s easy when stressed to put off any of these. After all, you can get by without enough of any for a little while. But today’s model says once you let them go, the rest of life will deteriorate.

By contrast, these basics aren’t hard to remember, nor hard to implement. If you think you have to skip one, a simple strategy emerges:

If you feel you have to abandon sleep, food, or exercise, even temporarily, imagine how you’d have to change your life to restore it and ask yourself if that change improves your life and brings it closer to your values.

If you are skipping any of them already and are trying to figure out ways to improve your life start with them.

Only a few critical necessities for life itself are more important, like access to air, water, protection from the elements, and the like. Readers of this blog probably don’t have to worry about those things, though you might consider them.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when life feels overwhelming or I’m too stressed by some deadline that I find myself skipping these basics. The belief helps remind me I work on projects to improve my life so if I’m worsening it, I realize I should probably do what it takes to restore the right amount of sleep for me, healthy eating, and exercise.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces thinking you can skip some important things in life to handle stress with realizing skipping those things usually contributes to stress.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to making sure you cover the basics of life — sleep, food, and exercise. If you don’t have them, it directs you to the areas you can most effectively improve your life.

A model of emotional intelligence and self-awareness

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What is self-awareness? What is emotional intelligence?

Everybody I know agrees that improving them improves your life and ability to lead yourself and others. “Know thyself,” a basic instruction for improving yourself that has stood the test of thousands of years, means improving self-awareness.

Yet few people can define either of these terms effectively.

Today’s model explains them both.

A model for emotional intelligence and self-awareness

First, some basics I’ll take for granted. You have a head and body. You breathe. If you pay attention you can feel your heart beating. You know your thoughts.

The more important and subtle parts of self-awareness are knowing how your mind works.

I illustrate the emotional system, how to use it, and how it relates to the rest of your mind below. Those illustrations work for me. You might have other ways of thinking about them, but you’ll need something like them

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is your voluntary conscious mind knowing about your emotional system — both how it works and what state it’s in at any moment — and having skills to lead your emotional system (and those of others).

The Model covers how each emotional cycle works. You have cycles for all the motivations your ancestors evolved — hunger, thirst, rage, empathy, etc — which operate all the time involuntarily.

Knowing about your emotional system means knowing The Model, or whatever model you use for the emotional system.

reward environment beliefs emotions behavior

The Model of the human emotional cycle, the foundation of emotional intelligence.

The state it’s in at any moment is however you feel. I don’t know how to illustrate that, but you can tell just by mentally sensing your feelings. You can tell if you’re angry, sad, in love, or whatever set of emotions you feel at a given moment.

The skills to lead your emotional system means knowing The Method, or whatever system you use to influence your emotions.

The method

The Method — a strategy to improve your life based on The Model.

Note that your emotional intelligence will decrease the less effective your model, the less you know your model, the less effective your method, and the less you know how to use your method.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is knowing how the mind operates and what state it’s in. Self-awareness involves knowing more than just the emotional system as covered by The Model. You have some voluntary mental abilities, like willpower, focus, self-talk, and so on. You also have other mental abilities that aren’t relevant to self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Self awareness diagram

A rudimentary illustration of the important non-trivial parts of self-awareness. At the bottom is the emotional system, illustrated by innumerable emotional cycles. Above it is voluntary conscious thought like attention, willpower, and mental chatter. Above that are other mental processes less relevant to emotional intelligence.

Others have illustrated the human mind other ways. The illustration above shows the parts of self-awareness relevant to emotional intelligence and leadership — that is, the emotional system and the voluntary conscious thought that interacts with it.

When I use this belief

I use this model as a structure to understand what self-awareness and emotional intelligence are and for direction for how to improve them.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the widespread vague notions of what emotional intelligence and self-awareness are with more specific meanings.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to an easier time understanding and improving your self-awareness and emotional intelligence and less wondering what they are.

A model and strategy for getting things done

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever have so much to do you can’t figure out where to start? Or you bounce between things, unable to complete them?

Most importantly, does the stress of having things to do make you miserable?

I found a strategy for handling things that worked pretty well, but reading the book Getting Things Done by David Allen refined it. I wrote about it recently.

A model for getting things done: Your mind fixates on obligations it wants to remember, distracting you from everything else

Written that way, the model sounds like a problem. It would be if you didn’t take the time to think of solving it. That’s one of the values of stating and understanding your beliefs. When they create problems, you can solve them, which you can’t if you sweep them under the rug and don’t expose them.

When you have something you need to do and your only way of remembering it is your memory, your mind devotes as much resources as it needs to remember it and get you working on it. It will pull mental resources from what you’re doing otherwise, lowering your quality of work and causing you stress.

That means if you have more than one priority you’re trying to remember, you can’t focus on either without distraction.

My original solution was first to know my priorities and work on things in their order of importance, second to write to-do lists of the other things, and third to forget about unimportant things. This loose system was based in knowing my values — they tell you your priorities. It worked and it motivated me to understand my values but it was loose, so not as effective as it could have been.

Getting Things Done explained a comprehensive system that many follow to the T. I merged his system with mine into something simpler that works for me.

According to another model of mine, which I’ll write about tomorrow, everyone does what they think is best given their view of the world — that is, their beliefs — which turns models and beliefs into strategies. Today’s model, after David thought about it enough, led to a strategy to avoid relying on your memory to get things done. It works.

Strategy to solve the problem of today’s model

I boiled the process down to creating a system once and for all for how to sort stuff coming into your life without worrying you might lose something valuable.

  • If I can do it in a couple minutes, do it.
  • If it’s worth doing later, put it in a place I won’t risk forgetting it.
  • If it’s not worth doing, get rid of it.

I boiled down the storage part to:

  • I keep my inbox to a few items overnight.
  • A to-do list on my computer (a text file).
  • A calendar on my computer.
  • Paper mail worth responding to goes into a pile on my kitchen counter that never gets to more than a few items.
  • The rest worth keeping goes into files on my computer or two file holders in my closet, which is basically taxes, receipts of things I might return, and letters from people I like.

(David also includes regularly reviewing your priorities on different time scales, which I haven’t felt the need to formally implement.)

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have more than one important thing to do, which means all the time. The strategy leads you to create a system that, once created, you don’t have to think about anymore. You just get things done and your worry decreases.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces not knowing what to do in what order or trying to do more than one thing at a time with doing one thing at a time and doing it well.

Where this belief leads

David Allen told me at a cocktail party that he uses his system not primarily for productivity, but for mental freedom, calling himself a “freedom junky.” His term stuck in my mind and made me realize the value of having a system that works. Efficiency and productivity are nice, but it gives you freedom.

My result: mental freedom. That’s why I recommend it.

A model and strategy to lead people so they appreciate and thank you for being led

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Want to know a great way to lead people so they appreciate that you led them?

Today’s model and strategy show how. Often they’ll thank you and look forward to being led again by you later.

Note that it works when you and they both care about the goal. It may not work on projects that they have no internal motivation to work on.

The first few times you do it, it may seem mechanical, but if you pay attention, you’ll understand how it helps you connect on emotions to create meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP) in someone else’s life. The first few times will be like a musician playing scales — it’s not yet music, but you need to do it to reach where you do play music. After your first few times going step by step, the next few times you’ll deliberately and purposefully inspire them.

A model and strategy for leading people so they appreciate and thank you for being led

Today’s model is that

most people, even if they know what they want done, don’t want or know how to organize people to do them. With motivation to contribute they will, and they’ll thank you for motivating them to contribute.

A strategy emerges from that model, mainly to evoke the emotions that will motivate their participation. If they aren’t contributing already, that won’t always be easy. Today’s strategy gives a high level structure for making it happen.

The strategy: make the project about their MVIP

Though I’ll describe the strategy in basic steps, recognize the overall pattern: You will make achieving the project about their emotions. You will create MVIP for them. People crave MVIP in their lives, though most don’t know how to create it. When you create it for them, they will appreciate it, potentially incredibly deeply, and want you to create more for them, meaning they will want you to lead more.

If you lose sight of the MVIP you created and motivating them, they’ll value working for you less. These steps create MVIP in your teammates.

Here is the strategy.

  1. Know what you want to achieve.
  2. Know that they want to achieve the same thing as you and the team, even if they never expressed it, which may require some faith.
  3. Ask them what about the goal appeals to them. Their answer should have some emotion to it. This step is like your foot in the door to their contribution.
  4. Over several personal conversations, have them expand on how that appeals to them. These conversations will be about meaningful emotions to them. The more you can get them to expand on these emotions, the more they’ll feel and act on them.
  5. From now on, when you talk about achieving those things, always refer to them in terms of what they get out of it.
  6. You have to contribute to them achieving their goal. The more they see you contributing, the more they will feel compelled to contribute.

The result after step 5 is that they will always see you as helping them, even though you are leading the interaction. You now have someone helping you, but what you get out of it is a side effect. For them, they’re doing something they’ve long wanted to do for their reasons. They will appreciate that you motivated them to achieve their goal.

By the way, there’s nothing sneaky or manipulative about this strategy. You can tell people what you’re doing, it will work just as well, and you’ll be open about it.

Two examples

Here is how this pattern might play out.

  1. Say you want to stop a developer from turning a public park in your community into a shopping mall.
  2. Know that the people you want to lead genuinely want the park to remain. (Note not everyone will. Some may benefit more from the mall. You may not want to work with them.)
  3. Ask people who also oppose the mall why they do. Their reasons will generally differ from yours (if you assume they have the same reasons, you may alienate them). Maybe they want control of their community, maybe they want a place for their children to play, maybe they don’t want more traffic.
  4. Now find out their history, their goals, and the relevant reasons they want to share. Ask with empathy and compassion. If you do nothing past this stage and you do it respectfully, they’ll at least feel you care and sense you want to understand and help.
  5. Say they opposed the mall for environmental reasons. From now on, when you talk to that person about the mall, talk about the pollution it would cause and how little a park would contribute, if anything. Though you’re getting help achieving your goal, whatever your reason, that’s not why they’re doing it, so talking about your reason won’t help.
  6. Now you contribute to stopping the mall. It could be by organizing or whatever. You may be contributing for your reasons, but they’ll contribute for theirs.

The goal by step 5 is that they see you as someone who understands and supports their values. They won’t see you as a just park person but as a person who helps them achieve their values. They wouldn’t know what to do without you.

Your relationship as a leader with them will be about their emotions. You may get elected, promoted, or otherwise directly benefit, but you don’t communicate on that. You communicate on their MVIP.

Here’s another example

  1. Say you like a shoulder massage at the end of the day and want your significant other (SO) to give you a massage regularly.
  2. Know in your heart your SO wants you to feel the happiness and relaxation of a massage, or however the massage makes you feel, even if you fight sometimes.
  3. Get your SO to state why they like giving massages or making you feel happy and relaxed. The first time they say it doesn’t have to be that strong a statement. But get their reasons. Maybe they like to make you feel good, but they may have different reasons. Say they say they like that it makes them feel closer to you.
  4. Now spend some time over several conversations for them to expand on what they get out of it. Do not focus on the massage. Focus on them, their feelings, their emotions, and their MVIP. If you don’t continue to the next stop, they will appreciate the attention you’re giving them. Why do they like feeling close? Have they always been close with others or have they always wanted more? How close do they want to be? etc (Even if you never go past this stage, your SO will appreciate that you gave time and attention to something that mattered to them — closeness. They’ll feel appreciated and cared for.)
  5. From now on, when you would talk about massages, talk about closeness. When you see another couple being close, comment on their closeness. When receiving a massage comment on how the touch and communication makes you feel close, even if you’re appreciating it for the relaxation.
  6. Now, since they value closeness, you have to contribute to something in their life that makes you closer. It could be massaging them back, but not necessarily. Step 4 would have revealed something — maybe it will be more about talking openly or helping them with something unrelated. The more you contribute to this thing of value to them, the more they will contribute to theirs (massaging you). You will get a lot closer. You’ll also get a lot of massages. They will increasingly appreciate you for creating closeness through massage.

Note that in this example the emotions will be more intimate than in the first, but you will have inspired the person just the same. If you do it well, then massages and closeness will become a major part of your relationship. You can make it become one of “your things,” the type of thing other people recognize you for — like you’re the couple that gives each other shoulder massages so much and it makes them so close.

When I use this belief

I use this belief and strategy when I want to create a long-term relationship with those I want to lead because I know we will all contribute deeply to what we work on together and we will both appreciate the other all the more.

I can also use this belief when I need to lead by something other than authority.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces feeling you have to convince or cajole someone to lead them with the understanding of how to evoke their motivations to do what they want to do.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to you taking on leadership roles and people wanting to follow your lead. You will create MVIP in people’s lives, contribute to their lives, and inspire them.

A model to identify the parts of your life most ripe for improvement

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Today’s model has special meaning to me because realizing it set me to learning about anxiety, the first emotion I started to learn analyzing to understanding emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me.

Context

It started with performing on stage for the class play in business school.

Months before the performance I wrote a sketch for Follies, the business school class play. It’s mostly inside jokes for business school students, not high art, but everyone loves it and there’s a great party after. I hadn’t performed on stage since about third grade and had no interest to, but I wanted my sketch performed and a Follies rule said for Follies to perform a sketch, the author has to be in Follies and perform on stage. So I joined Follies so my sketch would be performed, figuring I could quit after it was too late to drop it.

I ended up loving Follies and decided to risk going on stage. Not having been on stage in front of an audience, let alone 500 people, which is the Follies audience, twice a night, I was nervous. I hadn’t gotten my lines right once in rehearsal.

The moment

I stood off stage, waiting for my cue to enter — to risk flubbing my lines in front of 500 people, including many friends and classmates. I was scared and anxious enough almost to feel like throwing up. I couldn’t back out now. I had to go on stage and risk humiliation.

So I forced myself on stage. As soon as I got up the rehearsals kicked in and I performed like I practiced. In fact better, because I got my lines right for the only time of all.

Most importantly, the audience loved it. I forgot to mention that people liked the sketch a lot. In our dress rehearsal the band, which practiced separately so saw it for the first time, loved it. Now most of the school did too. I was on stage for the funniest part of the funniest sketch, which I wrote.

The upshot? I felt ecstatic. Elation. I can’t describe how good I felt. Almost better than I ever had for that length of time. And I noticed that what made me most anxious before doing it brought me the most joy and reward when I did it. And that’s today’s model.

A model to identify the parts of your life most ripe for improvement: The parts of my life that bring me the most joy today entered my life bringing me the most anxiety.

This experience showed me once instance where overwhelming anxiety preceded almost ineffable joy. Soon I noticed that pattern for all my most joyful things.

The parts of my life that bring me the most joy today entered my life bringing me the most anxiety.

I saw the pattern in school, sports, business, performing, and other places. Seeing the pattern showed me something new about anxiety. It’s different than fear. Anxiety has both desire to do something and fear of the consequences if it doesn’t go well. You don’t feel anxiety for things you don’t see any potential for reward in. The more anxiety you feel, the greater the potential reward, though also the greatest fear of the consequences.

After a while I realized that my great life joys came from overcoming the fear part of various anxieties, which suggested I should look for other sources of anxieties to turn what I considered great negatives into great rewards.

I also realized that the more I understood emotions, the more I could create the ones I wanted and avoid ones I didn’t. Not just anxiety and joy, but all emotions. So began my quest to learn emotional intelligence and self-awareness, though I wouldn’t have identified it that way at the time.

Some people call my process “conquering your fears.” I put it into practice, overcoming anxieties, learning about emotions, and building my skills to do more of it.

Anyway, today’s model is that the parts of my life that bring me the most joy began by bringing me the most anxiety. The strategy it leads to is overcoming your fears and anxieties to find the sources of joy they conflict with. The greater the anxiety, the greater the latent joy within.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when looking for parts of my life to improve.

I also use this belief to find value and ways to improve my life in anxieties and other emotions I wouldn’t otherwise like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces things that create emotions you don’t like with things that create emotions you do like. It replaces avoiding and denying emotions you don’t like with understanding them and using them to improve your life.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to overcoming anxieties and conquering fears so they don’t bother you anymore. It leads to comfort and satisfaction.

A model to help live and let live

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

One of the things I love most about where I live, the West Village, is its diversity. And not just in the things people most talk about, like skin color, where they’re from, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and a few others. As the neighborhood continues to gentrify that diversity seems to decrease. I feel like here people support or at least tolerate what others do as long as you aren’t hurting anyone. That diversity seems intact.

I like that mutual support.

A model to live and let live: If everyone involved is adult, I support them doing what they agree to.

To me, if everyone involved in an activity is an adult and everyone agrees, that’s all I need to know. What they keep private is their business and doesn’t affect me. I respect their privacy. Many behaviors I would never do myself I have no problem supporting others doing if everyone involved is an adult who agrees to do it. Why should I mind?

I support what adults doing what they agree to.

If they try to force values and behavior on me and I don’t agree, or anyone else who doesn’t agree or isn’t adult, well then that’s not only involving only consenting adults so I may resist. I don’t see that happening much in my neighborhood. That happens more in legislative bodies and groups that lobby them.

Come to think of it, supporting consenting adults is a strategy. It’s pretty close to the Golden Rule of treating others as you want them to treat you. I’m surprised how difficult a time some people have following a strategy so universally espoused.

Since strategies come from models, I should distill the model leading to this strategy from the strategy (you can probably see me thinking as I write). When you believe the model that leads to the strategy, you don’t try to do the strategy, you just do it because it feels like that natural way to live your life best by how you perceive your environment.

On thinking about it, the model that leads to the strategy of supporting what adults agree to is that I don’t believe I know better than another adult how they should live their life. To that I’ll add that if someone keeps something private it’s not my business. So there’s today’s model:

I don’t believe I know better than another adult how they should live their life and if someone keeps something private it’s not my business.

From there follows the strategy of supporting adults doing what they agree to. I can only suppose that people who impose their values and beliefs on others do believe they know better how others should live, even when it doesn’t affect them. I’ve felt that way before. It made me feel right, even righteous and superior, inside, but it made me feel terrible in interactions with people I disagreed with and led me to provoke a lot of arguments. For that matter, I think it reduced my ability to influence the people I wanted to influence.

Come to think of it, adopting this belief has improved my life more than most others. It feels like one of my major components of my concept of maturity. But I haven’t thought that idea through, nor fully considered how I would rank the contributions to my life of different beliefs.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I learn of people doing things I wouldn’t do myself. I ask myself if everyone involved is an adult and agrees. If so, I move on to other things.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces interfering with other consenting adults minding their business with not interfering. It replaces telling other people what to do and confrontation with living your life as best you can.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to understanding, mutual support, peaceful coexistence, diversity, and living and letting live.

A model to tolerate when people pre-judge me

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Doesn’t it bother you when someone treats you like a preconceived notion instead of the person you are? Doesn’t it feel dehumanizing?

Today’s belief came from an experience I had riding a bike as a kid and helps me visualize what happens and resolve the problem. I was riding near some trolley tracks. When I crossed them at a slight angle my front wheel fell into the track, making it impossible to steer. The bike and I fell down.

If I had crossed the track at a wide angle, closer to ninety degrees, my wheel wouldn’t have risked falling in and getting stuck. If I had ridden parallel or far away instead of crossing, my wheel also then wouldn’t have fallen in.

The wheel only falls in and gets stuck if you go at a slight angle.

Like the wheel falling into the rut of a nearly parallel track it crosses, I believe people’s thoughts about others fall into ruts of similar ideas they cross. If a wheel is in danger of falling into a rut, almost no force on the handlebars can prevent it from falling in. The deeper the rut, the harder to get out. Blaming the rut won’t change anything.

Likewise, if something about you resembles someone’s preconceived notion about people they think you’re like, almost no amount of trying to prevent being seen that way can stop it. The deeper their preconceived-notion rut, the harder to get out. Blaming them for it won’t change anything.

A model to tolerate when people pre-judge me: People have preconceived notions and if you resemble one, they’ll likely see you that way.

Do I like when this happens? No more than I like falling off my bike. But I accept it happens. Getting angry doesn’t help. What helps? Awareness of preconceived ruts lets you tell people you don’t belong in one can help. So does stopping when you realize what happened and straightening things out, preferably before you fall.

Strategy

I do my best to be aware of other people’s ruts.

If I’m near a rut, I try to stay away from it or cross at a right angle — that is, to clarify that I’m not what they might think I am.

If I fall in, I try to stop and get back out — that is, pause our interaction, clarify what they think of me, clarify what they got right and wrong, and then get back to our other business.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I realize I might fit into someone else’s preconceived notions.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces getting angry or frustrated at someone doing something nearly everyone does with accepting it and helping them learn something.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more non-judgmental acceptance of others.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

A model that makes changing beliefs easier

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

As you read posts in this series you may have read beliefs you liked and wanted to adopt but thought “I can’t believe that. It clashes with my current belief.”

You’ve certainly had things like that happen before. Maybe before giving a presentation you realized simply believing you were confident enough to give it confidently would help you give a fantastic presentation, but your lack of belief in yourself held you back.

Or you wanted to cold-call a potential sales lead but had never cold-called anyone and thought it would be rude. Others told you it was standard business practice,. you wished you could believe them but couldn’t, and you never got the sale.

All you needed was to believe and you’d do great. Or maybe you believed you should be humble and believed confidence clashed with humility. You believed you couldn’t change your beliefs.

Today’s belief suggests otherwise.

A model that makes changing beliefs easier: Beliefs are easy to change.

My clients have a hard time with today’s belief, but once they get it I know they’re nearly independent of me. Once you believe you can change your beliefs easily, you can voluntarily change how your beliefs filter your perception. That means you can change your mental models of your world — one of the major components of The Model and The Method.

Writing about beliefs about beliefs can get recursive and confusing, but getting today’s belief can unblock a major mental logjam. For one thing, once you believe it, it proves itself correct, especially if you didn’t believe it at first, so it reinforces itself. For another thing, if you have trouble believing it, if you just keep it in mind, eventually you’ll have your first experience willfully changing a belief and finding it easy. That experience will support this belief and you’ll start believing it.

In other words, having this belief in mind helps you adopt it when you first start intentionally changing other beliefs. Then you start believing it, which makes other beliefs easier to change, which reinforces the belief, continuing in a self-reinforcing pattern leading to having great flexibility about beliefs.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I sense a belief is holding me back from improving my life.

I also use it when people ask my advice, but it’s harder to get others to believe it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces fixedness in beliefs with flexibility.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom in seeing the world how you want to and independence from beliefs others impose on you, including yourself in the past.

A model to make sense of complexity

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

If you believe everything that happens has a cause, when something happens you want to change you look for the cause and change it. You might have to dig deep for the “root” cause, but once you find the cause of something you can influence the thing by influencing the cause.

For example, if your project is late because your boss isn’t giving you the resources you need, you can try to get your boss to give you more of the resources you need.

Simple, right?

But things rarely work so simply. Even if your boss wants to give you the resources, they come from somewhere so giving them to you affects others, which means you have to consider more than just one cause.

Or maybe you’re caught in traffic because the person in front of you is moving slowly. Honking at them, even if they didn’t misunderstand getting honked at, generally won’t speed up traffic. They’re moving at their speed for a reason and those reasons have reasons. Likewise your boss’s resource-allocation reasons have reasons and so on.

You yourself may influence things that influence you, creating feedback loops.

Todays’ model suggests a more nuanced way of looking at things that I find more effective at understanding and influencing things how you want.

A model to make sense of complexity: Many things exist not on their own but in systems of elements that interact with each other over time for a purpose.

A field of study and practice called Systems Theory takes a view that many things exist in systems that interact with each other over time for a purpose. I find it solves many problems more effectively than modeling things as simple cause-and-effect relationships. Trying to speed traffic by motivating one car to speed up usually won’t work. Understanding the system of cars moving on a highway and bottlenecks will help more.

I won’t be able to do justice to the wonderfully effective field, except to point you to a brief book that treats the field well — Thinking in Systems, by Donella Meadows — and to note that the popular book on running organizations — The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge — systems thinking is the fifth discipline of the title.

All I can tell you is that when you understand and adopt systems thinking, once-complex systems start to make intuitive sense. You start to see why attempted solutions that never worked didn’t work. And you find yourself more calm when you realize situations and events that hurt you usually didn’t happen just to hurt you.

Strategy

Learn systems theory and how to apply it.

I apologize I can’t explain it simply and actionably in one post here, but I found Thinking in Systems such an effective book, I’ve pointed you toward a great resource.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when dealing with situations with more than a few elements interacting.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces frustration and poor problem solving of complex systems with a more subtle, comprehensive, and effective way to understand and solve problems.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to solving problems better and feeling less frustration before solving them.

A model for strategy

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Strategy is a fundamental study for many fields, including leadership, military, games, and plenty areas of business. If you’re reading this page, you don’t need motivation to understand its value.

I’ve read a bunch on strategy, taken classes, written a book on strategy and North Korea, and lived through my share of strategic situations. I play chess decently too.

Of all the resources I know, one stands above, the book Competition Demystified: A Radically Simplified Approach to Business Strategy, by Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn. Though it’s about business, most of the book’s strategy applies anywhere strategy applies.

A model for strategy: Strategy begins with the sustainable competitive advantage.

You’ll have to read the book for its thorough treatment of the concept, but I consider it worth it to understand the most fundamental concept to strategy.

The book points out that one consideration dominates all others in business strategy — do you have a sustainable competitive advantage.

What is a sustainable competitive advantage? The name describes this critically important concept, but it can take a while to nail it. Many people consider things sustainable competitive advantages that aren’t sustainable or competitive — a first-mover advantage and differentiation come to mind. The book shows how the former is not sustainable and the latter is not a competitive advantage, with advantages from history.

In short, a sustainable competitive advantage means that new entrants to the market have a disadvantage relative to incumbents. There aren’t that many sources of sustainable competitive advantages — supply (privileged access, proprietary technology protected by patents or experience), demand (psychological or actual costs of switching – includes branding, loyalty programs, laborious setup and coordination issues), and scale economics.

Once you understand this concept, you realize that if you’re competing in a market where no one has a sustainable competitive advantage, no matter what advantage anyone starts with, eventually everyone will compete on efficiency. Everyone will have the same strategy — to improve efficiency (or to find a sustainable competitive advantage to change the playing field).

If only you have a sustainable competitive advantage, your main strategy is to keep it. If someone else does and you don’t, you’re best strategy is to exit the market. If multiple players have sustainable competitive advantages, strategy can be complex, involving things like game theory.

This decision tree, from chapter 1 of the book, illustrates the initial strategy for all companies in competitive markets and many situations outside competitive markets.

Competition Demystified Decision Tree

The main decision tree for all strategy in business (and many other places), beginning with the question of if you have a sustainable competitive advantage (from Greenwald and Kahn)

Strategy

Read the book and learn the concept of the sustainable competitive advantage. Briefly,

If you have a sustainable competitive advantage and none of your competitors do, keep it. If you don’t and they do, consider leaving the field. If no one does, focus on efficiency and don’t bother spending on anything else.

When I use this belief

I use this belief in competitive situations. I wouldn’t consider starting a firm or investing resources in one without understanding its competitive environment from this book’s perspective.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces more complicated theories on strategy, like Porter’s Five Forces, for example, with a simple model.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to competing more efficiently and effectively.

A belief to help you let go when you want to

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

People say “You should just let it go” all the time. Are you able just to let go of important things? Personally, I never could. I don’t think many people can.

Yet I’ve been able to achieve the same effect. Today’s model covers how I’ve achieved it for myself, at least. I don’t claim to have made up this model — only that it works.

A model to help you let go: I can’t let ideas go, but I can crowd them out.

Letting go of ideas, to me, is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Since the idea you’re trying to let go of is in the mental instruction to forget it, the idea stays in your memory.

What works is not to try to stop thinking about one thing but to start thinking about something new and let the new thought crowd out the old one.

A common example of this practice is after a breakup to look for someone new as the best way to get over the person now gone.

Another common example is when someone feels depressed or lethargic to have them focus on something new, not whatever they’ve been thinking about (usually dwelling on), often including changing their behavior, like by going out.

Strategy

When I want to change a thought or emotion, I don’t look to get rid of it, I look to create new ones and let them crowd out the old ones.

Also, when people say, “Just let it go,” I recommend overlooking that they’re giving un-actionable advice. People trying to be helpful often aren’t, despite their best intents.

Crowd out what you don’t like by analyzing it

I’ve found a tremendously effective application for overcoming anxiety (and many other emotions I don’t like). I often feel anxiety from something I can’t avoid, like a deadline I’m not sure I can make or criticism from someone whose opinion I respect. I used to be unable to avoid feeling anxiety since I couldn’t escape what I thought caused the anxiety. (I have a new model for stress and anxiety, so now I look inward to over come anxiety.)

Now I look at the anxiety to understand it from the perspective of the Model — what perception and belief is causing it, what behavior does it motivate, what evolutionary purpose could anxiety solve, and so on.

People talk about how analyzing life gets in the way of experiencing it. I agree that’s a problem while you’re enjoying something, but analyzing something you don’t want stops you from experiencing it too. In this case it also tells you how to solve your problem.

Instead of avoiding unhealthy food, eat as much healthy food as you want

Any time you’re hungry for junk food, you can eat healthy food until you’re stuffed and you’ll crowd out the craving for junk.

You can always focus on your breathing

No matter how much something annoys you, you can always focus on your breath. Breathing happens automatically, it happens at a comfortable pace, and you can focus on it as closely as you want. Nothing can block you attention to it.

I’m writing this, by the way, just after a dentist appointment, a quintessential place you’d rather crowd out feeling the somewhat painful cleaning. Places breathing helps, off the top of my head

  • Arguments
  • Boring waits
  • When someone bothers you
  • When you get angry
  • When in pain

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I have a thought or feeling I don’t like.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces the un-actionable and often counterproductive intent to “let go.”

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to freedom from unwanted thoughts and feelings.

It leads to freedom to think and feel what you want… though not the obligation, I should add. Sometimes you want to experience a thought or feeling even if you don’t like it.

A model for the mechanics of how you change your beliefs

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

After reading a lot of this series, you probably found some beliefs you’d like to try. You might wonder “how do I change my beliefs?

If you haven’t intentionally changed your beliefs before and you don’t get how beliefs work, you might not realize how easily you can change or how easily you can learn that skill.

Today’s model will show how you store and change beliefs.

A model for the mechanics of how you change your beliefs: Your self-talk voices your beliefs.

Your mental chatter is the voice in your head that runs nearly every waking moment. It runs on and on. It communicates in English. A different part of your mind observes it. It often takes cues from your environment but can jump on its own to whatever topic. It often evaluates and judges.

Comparing mental chatter with how people answer “What are you thinking?” helps illuminate it. You might say “I’m thinking about what to eat,” but your mental chatter goes more like

I’m hungry… I wonder what I’ll eat… is it 12:30 yet?… oh no it’s only noon, it’s too early to eat now… but I’m hungry… man, I’ve been eating too much lately… if I make it another half hour I’ll be good… I’m so bad at controlling my diet… I better work out after work today… that’ll be good, I’ll work out… then I can eat early… what time is it now?…

… it goes on and on.

Like breathing, you can consciously control mental chatter but if you don’t it will run on its own. Learning to control and manage your mental chatter is one of the most fundamental elements to improving your life. And awareness of your mental chatter is the foundation to managing it. Amazingly, people tend not to notice their mental chatter despite its presence nearly every waking moment of their lives, like a fish in water.

The voice inside your head running all the time has many roles, but one of them is to voice your beliefs. Whether you believe “No pain no gain,” or not, because you’ve heard it before, you express it, often uncritically, as if you believe it.

Strategy

Learn to listen to and manage your self-talk.

The more you can and the better you get at it, the more you can manage and control your beliefs.

Also, the following exercise builds up your understanding of and ability to manage your self talk.

The exercise

  1. Carry a notebook or a few sheets of paper for a week or two
  2. A few times each day write your exact thoughts — not the general
  3. Note the following
    1. What prompts each instance
    2. What emotions relate to it
    3. How the instances relate to each other, what categories they fit in

Each time you write will probably take a few minutes. The whole exercise will take about an hour over a week or two.

At first writing your thoughts will feel like drinking from a fire hose. You can’t write fast enough to keep up with your thoughts. Writing changes your thoughts, so you have to figure out how to write what you were thinking. Part of the reason to do the exercise over a week is to get past initial distractions to observe your mind at work.

To get more out of the exercise, write up what you’ve observed when you finish, especially trends in what you noted in step 3. To get yet more, do it with others and compare results.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I want to change a belief. It’s one of my main standard steps.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces not knowing how to clarify how your mind and body construct beliefs with showing a major contribution.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more freedom and flexibility in beliefs.

Four models on entrepreneurship that counter discouraging myths

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you think about starting a company? Or something else entrepreneurial, like starting and leading a project where you work, a community-based project, or the like?

Do you also hold yourself back? Do you fear it might not go well? Or worry you’re not doing it right? Or feel like you should prepare more for it?

Today I’ll cover four discouraging myths about entrepreneurship and four encouraging beliefs that counter them. Having started a business out of school, presenting on entrepreneurship a lot, and having gone to business school, I talk to a lot of people who want to start businesses. I’m also in the process of starting a new project now, so entrepreneurship is on my mind. Once you’ve started a successful business, you see how much easier and accessible doing so is than people expect.

Surprisingly few of the people who say they want to start business do. I ask many people why they don’t if they say they do.

The four most common reasons people give me for not starting business are

  1. You need a great idea to start a business.
  2. Working for an established company helps prepare you for starting a venture.
  3. I should make some more money before starting my venture.
  4. Starting a venture is riskier than working at an established firm.

You can see why these beliefs would delay starting a business in favor of just thinking about doing it and working longer at an established firm.

These beliefs could stop anyone from starting a business. Many people use such beliefs to delay starting, believing they’ll start it later, partly training themselves to delay again.

Four models to counter four discouraging entrepreneurship myths

Belief 1: People don’t come up with great ideas on their own. They evolve from okay ideas interacting with the market.

Take any great idea on the market. However great it seems, its creator almost certainly first came up with a lesser idea and only improved it by taking it to market. The improvements may come from suggestions from investors, business partners, friends, manufacturers, or other partners. They may come from comparing with the competition. I suspect the biggest changes come from how buyers respond.

I’m willing to bet not one of the top business ideas in the market, by whatever ranking you want, started as the idea it is today, but rather as a decent idea. I also bet many of the improvements came from some form of listening to the market.

Belief 1a: An okay idea and the abilities to listen to the market and adapt quickly produces a great idea.

Strategy 1: Develop good ideas, take them to market, and learn to adapt quickly.

Belief 2: Running a business is the best way to learn skills to run a business.

Sure, working at an established company helps you learn to run a business, relative to sitting at home doing nothing. But relative to actually running a business, working at an established company holds you back.

Most people don’t marry their high school sweethearts and for most people who want to run businesses, the first one isn’t the big successful one. You don’t realize it at the time, but the early experiences end up teaching you for the later ones.

Belief 2a: The earlier you start your first business, the sooner you’ll succeed.

Yes, that means you may have a business failure or two along the way. Just like Babe Ruth struck out a lot and breaking up with partners led to deeper future relationships.

Strategy 2: View your early businesses as practices. Start small.

Sell lemonade if you want to. You’ll learn sales, accounting, manufacturing, and many parts of running a company. You’ll be doing it yourself.

Belief 3: You can start a company with other people’s money and you can make money while starting your company.

Many companies start with outside investment. If you can show your business will profit, you can show that you can share profits with an investor, meaning you can get investment in proportion to the profits you can share. If you can’t show you’ll profit you’ll have to keep working on your idea and business plan until you do.

Demonstrating your business will profit means creating a business plan with believable financials. That takes time and attention, but teaches you about the business, forces you to know and challenge your assumptions, helps you foresee potential problems, and helps in many other ways.

A business plan doesn’t need to take a long time to write. If writing it needs a lot of research and problem-solving, it likely means your business needed that research and problem-solving, not the plan itself, and writing the plan only revealed that need.

Strategy 3: Write a business plan strong enough to withstand investors’ scrutiny. Try seeking investment even if you don’t need it.

On another note, you don’t have to quit your old job to start your new venture. Or you can work part-time while doing it. Many companies’ early stages don’t have enough work to require your full time.

Belief 4: A founder can reduce their personal risk as much as desired

Many people consider starting a business risky. They also know how rewarding it can be, emotionally from running their own business and financially. In business you can reduce risk by sacrificing reward. In a new venture you can do this by selling shares in the company.

You can also look for ways to cut costs, get early payments from buyers, and other strategies. You can almost always reduce your risk.

On a personal note, I suggest that if you dream of starting a business, you take a bigger risk in your life not pursuing your dreams than by maintaining a stable income. And I haven’t seen working at large, established companies as that stable for the past few decades. They seem to let people go, often with less warning than a business owner would have running their business.

When I use these beliefs

I use these beliefs when I consider starting a new venture, which I’m doing now. I think my idea is decent, but I know it will have to improve. I’ve been marketing the idea already and making a little money from it — not enough to pay my bills, but enough to get a sense of how the business will run and see what customers are willing to pay. I can do that without risking any of my money yet. I’m spending time on it, but I love what I do, so I don’t consider that a loss. Regarding risk, I’m finding other people to work with to divide the work and reward.

What these beliefs replace

These beliefs replace the myths that hold many people back with productive steps to start companies.

Where these beliefs lead

These beliefs lead to early, low-cost steps to start companies. Big steps come later, but they’ll be smaller after doing these early steps. Besides, early steps are still the steps of starting a business.

A model for a great lifestyle

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

You want to do well in life. What areas are most important for you? Do you want fame? Fortune? Power? Family?

My explorations into meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP) led me to consider what I wanted. Since I’ve found MVIP are grounded in emotions, I found I could refine my understanding of what brought me MVIP by refining my understanding of my emotional system and my emotions.

I found that emotions stood at the foundation of all of MVIP. Not just emotion, but emotional reward, though also pleasure and happiness. While I like reward of all characteristics, I found some worth more time, energy, and other resources to get.

I found I considered long-term, rich and complex, intense, pleasurable reward most worth my resources to get. When I looked at what behaviors and environments created those types of reward, I found I came up with a short list, which looked to me like a lifestyle I’d like and work toward creating and keeping.

A model for a great lifestyle: To be a valued and respected member of my communities and family, enjoy the beauty of nature (including eating healthily), keep fit, and learn and improve myself.

That’s a long title. Let’s put it into four bullets. I find the basic elements to a great lifestyle — that is, one that creates the most MVIP of the characteristics I want — as follows

  • to be a valued and respected member of my communities and family
  • to enjoy the beauty of nature (especially eating healthily)
  • to keep fit
  • to learn and improve myself

I can’t imagine anyone finding problem with wanting a life like this.

I came up with these by exploring The Model and figuring out what would create the most long-term, rich and complex, pleasurable, and intense emotions and emotional reward. I also like simple, short-term, subtle, and even some painful emotions and emotional reward, but I find those easier to come by, so I don’t consider them worth working as hard for. I can get them when I want them.

Coming from The Model means they came from my belief in how evolution shaped our psychology. I believe our cultures and societies emerged from people behaving how our ancestors evolved, so behaving how you were born to leads to behaving harmoniously with your neighbors.

Maybe you believe people are bad or evil underneath and have to be managed, but I don’t. I believe and have found in myself that behaving more consistently with what feels most natural and least taught by society leads to the most social, friendly, and community-supporting behavior. It seems the simplest explanation of how humanity grew into what we see today in the first place.

When I use this belief

I don’t actively use this belief as that once I hit on it, I realized I didn’t have to wonder so much what life was about or what I wanted. It seemed to validate my understanding of myself and humanity through The Model. It cut through a lot of the purposes of philosophy, psychology, business, and various approaches to answer how do I make myself happy, what do I want out of life, and questions like that.

I’m open to adding other elements to the list or finding reasons to displace element from that list, but I like it as it is.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces wondering what the meaning of life is or what I want out of life.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to creating a life containing those four things and not searching or wondering about other things or wondering if something is missing.

A model for what improves life the most

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

What can you do to improve your life the most? Exercise more? Eat more healthily? Save or earn more money? Improve your social skills? Buy a house?

I’ve found success in many areas of life. I think I could safely say I’ve performed in the top few percent of performers (to the extent you can quantify these things) in fitness, earning, academic success, business success, relationship success, and various other important things.

Today’s belief is about what, of all things I’ve worked on, brought me the most reward and created the most opportunity to keep growing to more reward.

A model for what improves life the most: Awareness of your emotional processes and emotional state.

Knowing how your emotions work and where they are enables you to manage and influence them.

I consider knowing your emotional self what “Know thyself” means. Since I believe emotional response determines meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP), knowing your emotions helps you understand what creates MVIP and why.

Because your emotions motivate you, knowing how they work and your emotional state tells you had to change it and create the emotions you want. Since emotions come from your environment, beliefs, and behavior, creating the emotions you want means creating the life you want.

Whether you want money, power, fame, beauty, family, or whatever, the foundation comes from your emotions and the motivations to bring those other things into your life. Without motivation you’ll stagnate. Having it creates the best chance for those things.

Also, though many people contrast emotions with rationality and consider them mysterious and unpredictable, I believe the emotional system is consistent, reliable, and predictable — the most solid foundation for everything else.

Strategy

Working out The Model and The Method helped me a lot. If you want to get what today’s belief got me, I recommend learning what I did by clicking those links.

I also found meditation helpful to understand how my mind worked. It removes the distractions of daily life. Since you aren’t busy reacting to the world, you can observe how it works more on its own. Plus it’s free, though it takes practice to get it right.

I also found the exercise in this recent post the most effective exercise in increasing self-awareness, so I recommend it. It’s also free and takes little time.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when wondering where to devote resources. In my experience, putting resources into raising my awareness and acting on that awareness has contributed to every other part of my life succeeding better and my finding more reward in it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces not knowing my emotional system that well with knowing it better.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to more reward, direction, focus, and motivation.

A model for balancing pushing myself with enjoying life

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you work hard to improve your life — studying hard, working long hours, being patient with a significant other, etc?

If you’re always pushing, when do you get to enjoy life? But if you’re always enjoying, do you ever improve?

Do you wonder if you’re slacking too much or working too hard? Do you wonder how to balance both aspects of your life?

Today’s model shows how I think about how I balance pushing, trying, and improving with enjoying, relaxing and stopping to smell the roses.

A model for balancing pushing myself with enjoying life: If my emotional reward stays constant I’m doing alright.

Here’s how I think of how I improve

Overall personal growth over time I can’t say exactly how I quantify the vertical axis. Something about how good I consider my life. I’m sure you understand. The graph shows that I improve for a while, then plateau for while, then improve, then plateau, and so on. I’ve smoothed the graph for simplicity because sometimes I have spikes when I feel awesome or terrible, but they don’t usually last that long.

While I’m improving I push, I work, and I try. It takes effort. While I plateau I’m not pushing. I’m relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor.

The black line on this graph shows how much I learn over the same time.

How much I learn over timeThe gray line repeated from the previous graph just shows how my learning overlaps with my periods of trying versus my periods of relaxing. You can see while I’m trying and pushing I learn. When I’m relaxing I don’t learn. (I’m simplifying. I do learn some when I’m relaxing, certainly in different ways. I’m just illustrating schematically).

The black line on this graph shows how much fun I have over the same time.

Fun rate in my lifeYou can see while I’m relaxing I’m having fun. When I’m learning I don’t have fun. (Again, I’m simplifying. I do have fun while trying. It’s just schematic).

So you see that by alternating between the behavior of pushing and relaxing I alternate between learning and enjoying.

Now let’s look at my overall emotional reward. Note that I feel reward when my environment, beliefs, and behavior are in sync, which happens both when I learn and when I have fun.

Overall rewardThis graph shows my overall reward stays constant. I like to live my life that way. Whatever I’m doing — pushing, relaxing, trying, not trying, etc — I keep a constant level of emotional reward. Generally I don’t mind which activity I use to create the reward. If I get tired or bored of one I switch to another.

Also, I try to increase the overall reward, but I showed it flat here for simplicity.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when wondering if I’ve pushed too hard for too long or haven’t pushed enough and have slacked too long.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces wondering if I’m spending my time too much in one area or another with enjoying however I’m spending my time. I know that I’ll switch to the other soon enough.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to finding reward equally in pushing and relaxing.

A model for intuition, especially in complicated times

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Leading in complicated times can be challenging. Many people prefer not to lead because of the risk of visible failure.

Others thrive under pressure. They don’t have better odds of success than others. If you can become like that, people will want you around. Even if all you can do is stay calm beyond where others lose their cool, people will want you on their team or leading it.

How do you learn to stay calm and perform effectively under pressure — an attractive skill in business and many other situations? Experience is the best answer I know, which means failing a few times, preferably on a smaller scale on your way to succeeding on a big scale.

I found a great book by a great professor who teaches one of Columbia Business School’s most popular courses. The book is The Art of What Works. The professor is William Duggan. The course is on what he calls “expert intuition,” his name for choosing and creating strategy under pressure. He bases his theory on the first comprehensive book on strategy, On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, published in 1832, written about Napoleon, who, to this day, won more battles than any general in history.

Von Clausewitz points out that we often don’t have enough information to choose or plan as we’d like. More to the point in many situations we can’t. Yet we still have to choose and plan. How do successful people do so?

According to Bill, following von Clausewitz, writing about trying to choose and create strategy in the fog of war:

four key elements of strategy will help you make it through this fog of uncertainty.

First, you enter the fog with “presence of mind”—you expect the unexpected. Don’t go in thinking that you already know what to do. Be ready for surprise.

Second, you cut through the fog in a flash of insight. That flash is a coup d’oeil, which is French for “glance.” To von Clausewitz, a coup d’oeil is “the rapid discovery of a truth which in the ordinary mind is either not visible at all or only becomes so after long examination and reflection.”

Third, a strategist follows through on the coup d’oeil with “resolution.” To von Clausewitz, resolution is “removing the torments of doubt . . . when there are no sufficient motives for guidance.” There is no way to prove that your coup d’oeil is right, to convince every doubter with facts and figures. Despite the doubts, you follow through.

Fourth, the doubts are much reduced when “strategy . . . turns to experience, and directs its attention on those combinations which military history can furnish.” These combinations are the very content of the actual coup d’oeil. You see in a flash a new combination based on what worked in the past.

Presence of mind, coup d’oeil, resolution, and combinations from history—these four elements were the secrets of Napoleon’s success. To von Clausewitz, they formed the essence of strategy that others could also use.

Today, more than a century after von Clausewitz, modern research has given these four elements a growing body of scientific support, plus a modern name: expert intuition. Psychologists describe expert intuition as “recognition-based decision making,” where you see something similar from the past in the current situation. The greater your expertise, the more situations you see as familiar. A novice, in contrast, sees each situation as new and unique.

Bill’s book expands on these four concepts — presence of mind, insight, resolution, and combinations from history — and shows how successful people applied them in different areas, particularly business.

A model for intuition, especially in complicated times: presence of mind, insight, resolution, and combinations from history

If you want to learn strategy, especially in the context of leadership, I recommend his book (actually his books because he pursues these themes in later books). Know

  1. Presence of mind,
  2. Insight
  3. Resolution
  4. Combinations from history

His strategy is personal and helps you learn how to create strategies better.

One of my major advances in learning to solve problems came in working with Bill. It was to change my process to solving problems from trying to remove all distractions and imagining original brilliant solutions to asking “Can I find a similar problem that someone has solved before and apply their solution here?”. I also ask, “who can solve this problem better than I can and how can I enlist their help?”

Actually, I’ve started taking for granted other solutions exist so I start by looking for similar solved problems and their solutions.

I feel like many people value originality in solutions. Now I wonder who cares about originality when trying to solve a problem. The only measure of a solution’s importance is if it solved the problem and, if so, how well. I’ve learned to value effectiveness to the point where I don’t see the point in originality in solving problems except among known-to-be-effective solutions.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when trying to solve problems, choose, and create strategy, especially under pressure.

I also use this belief when I find a new solution to a problem. I try to think of other places in life I can apply that solution.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces trying to solve problems from scratch, losing your calm in stressful situations, gathering information when more information doesn’t help or is unavailable, and analyzing when no further analysis will help with relying on expert intuition.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to staying calm and making more effective strategy and choices under pressure.

A model that all models are flawed but inevitable

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Though this series covers models and their importance, one of their most important properties is that they inherently have flaws and inconsistencies. Flawed as they are, we can’t avoid using models — we can’t avoid believing things beyond what our experience allows. The universe is larger and more complex than we can observe or comprehend so we have to make do with flawed and inconsistent simplifications. You might say you can never be completely right about anything — not you nor anybody else.

As depressing as these properties may sound to the uninitiated, they are incredibly liberating. They free you from the stricture of having to be right, since you can’t be, nor can anyone else. (This paragraph alone may dramatically reduce the number of arguments you get into.)

You don’t have to feel you’re resigning yourself to flawed and inconsistent understandings of your world. Whatever your consider your purpose in life, it’s not to observe and comprehend everything in a universe that stretches billions of light years in every direction into which you can usually see only a few meters.

You probably prefer to live a happy life, leave the world better than you found it, or something relatively modest like that. As we’ve seen, mental models do the job for that, especially if you recognize them as models, not reality themselves.

A model that all models are flawed but inevitable.

Think of someone you’ve known a long time. Do you think you know them well?

Consider this: that person is as complex as you. Their brain and personality are as complex as yours. To know them as well as you know yourself, you’d need another brain, which you don’t have. What we think of as knowing someone else usually amounts to simplifying all the complexity of a human into five or ten adjectives. “Bob? He’s a great guy. Great sense of humor and always ready to help a friend. A bit of a temper, but down-to-earth.”

Needless to say, with simplifications like that, our models of others don’t do them justice. And there are billions of other people. Plus the rest of the universe. The models we hold in our minds contain a negligible fraction of the information in the universe.

On top of that, everything in the universe interacts, however indirectly, with everything else. No matter how well you think you know something or how isolated you consider it, other things connect with it. Everything else connects with it. Whatever your understanding, something you didn’t think about affects it. You’ll find your model wrong in ways you can never predict.

Your simplifications throw out information and introduce biases. Your models will always differ from everyone else’s. Your models not only don’t represent reality accurately, they differ from everybody else’s, and even your own at different times.

All your models, as well as everyone else’s, are wrong in some sense. Even this one.

Yet we do just fine.

Yet we do just fine. Again, our life goals are to live a life we want. We evolved to continue living, not to comprehend everything, something people can lose track of in trying to make their models perfect.

How to use models

The combination that all models are flawed and that people live happily anyway is incredibly liberating. Instead of worrying about accuracy, you can focus on living the life you want. Instead of arguing who is right, you can accept and celebrate different perspectives, knowing the inevitability of differences between everyone.

Models are valuable for how well they help you live your life. I recommend only evaluating models by that measure and never for its accuracy or internal consistency, except in serving that measure.

If you ever find yourself scrutinizing someone else’s models to try to prove it or the person wrong (as you may be doing with this one now), recognize that similar scrutiny will prove yours wrong too. Doing so means you misunderstand models. Anytime you find yourself arguing against a belief held by people happier or living a more rewarding life than you, you might benefit from remembering you could argue down your models too, then ask yourself if adopting their model might improve your life too. If so, you can try it out — yes, that means believe something you first disbelieve. If not, no need to argue them down.

Next, since your environment changes constantly, as well as your understanding of it, I recommend valuing flexibility in how you model things to reflect that change. When you find a better model than what you’re using, feel free to improve your life by switching.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when evaluating models or when I catch myself thinking a belief should perfectly represent reality.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces believing the model in my mind should or even can represent what it’s modeling.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to greater flexibility choosing models and more understanding, acceptance, and celebration of others’ beliefs.

It creates freedom in how you see the world, leading to freedom in how you think and behave.

A model for learning potentially painful, embarrassing, challenging skills

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you ever hold back from trying to learn something because you know you’ll have to try several times to get it right? Are you afraid of falling, failing, getting hurt, and getting laughed at?

Today’s model addresses that, giving you a model for trying new things. It gives a great visualization for people who master a difficult task, as difficult, painful, publicly viewable, and challenging as any project you’ll take on.

You’ve likely done this harder challenge yourself.

A model for learning potentially painful, embarrassing, challenging skills: Babies learning to walk

Think of a baby learning to walk. Each of them will fall many times. They look short to us, but I bet their falls hurt. Plus they do it publicly, so they’ll get laughed at. The challenge to balance takes more concentration and coordination than they have when they start.

Yet every baby that can walk learns to. Almost certainly you did.

Babies learning to walk don’t give up. They don’t say “I just can’t do it.” When they get hurt they get back up again. When they get laughed at they keep going.

They get so good at walking, they give up the old ways. When was the last time you crawled?

You’re smarter, stronger, more experienced, and more capable in almost every way than a baby. If they can learn to walk, you can probably do what you’re learning.

Strategy

When you’re trying to learn a potentially painful, embarrassing, challenging skill

Be like a baby learning to walk.

Be like you were!

When I use this belief

I use this belief when trying to learn a potentially painful, embarrassing, challenging skill.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces worrying about failing, getting hurt, being laughed at, and giving up with sticking with it until you make it.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to taking on new challenges with resolve.

A model for one of the most valuable skills related to beliefs

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

This series covered a lot about flexibility with your beliefs — the ability to try out believing something new and letting the new belief crowd out the old one. Doing so is hard because believing means believing something is right. If you don’t get it, changing beliefs is hard because you’ll think it means believing what you thought was wrong is right and vice versa.

I made a point of undermining beliefs being absolutely right or wrong — it’s impossible for our finite brains to handle the effectively infinite information and complexity of the universe, so we can never know absolute right and wrong. As simple as you might think any part of the world, everything influences everything else, so no system is as closed as you might think.

A model for one of the most valuable skills related to beliefs: Flexibility

To illustrate the value of flexibility in beliefs, I’ll use a case of one of my great historical figures — someone who flipped around a belief about 180 degrees, improved his life, lived by his values, and achieved great feats of leadership.

Growing up I held a few great historical figures in high regard as role models — Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, and a few others. Eventually I came to believe their philosophies all significantly descended from Henry David Thoreau, mainly his short book Civil Disobedience. I don’t know how much they read the book but I’ve read they said he significantly inspired them.

Thoreau wrote this book after he felt his government’s supporting slavery and the Mexican-American war forced him to stop paying taxes, unable to swallow supporting either. They jailed him. In jail he came to consider himself more free and honorable inside than out — a complete turnaround from the government’s intent.

I don’t here intend to take a side whether he was right or wrong — only that his flexibility in his beliefs was great enough to make his punishment feel like freedom and honor. And that this flexibility helped make him an influential figure.

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her — the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.

This passage exemplifies flexibility in beliefs and influence lasting centuries to some of history’s great leaders. Not many of us will achieve so much, not likely by avoiding paying taxes, but we can learn the value of flexibility in influencing others.

When we change our beliefs we can motivate ourselves to do more than we could otherwise. It also helps us learn how to influence others’ beliefs. When we influence others’ beliefs, we can motivate them far more than we could otherwise.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when a belief isn’t helping me achieve my goals.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces getting stuck in seeing things one way when it isn’t helping us with changing our beliefs, which changes how we perceive the world.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to greater ability to influence ourselves and others.

It can make a jail sentence feel like freedom and honor and more.

A model to make hard decisions easier

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

When I worry about a difficult choice I have to make I think of a parable.

Some martial arts students ask their teacher how he always keeps his balance. He asks what they mean. They say, well you never fall down so you must never lose your balance.

He says, on the contrary, I’m always losing my balance, but I’m also always recovering.

I try to live like that. Things are always making me lose my balance but I rarely fall. When I do I learn from it so people don’t think I fell. They end up thinking I’m superhuman because they expect everyone to fall.

I see no reason anyone else can’t do the same.

(Astute readers will see this post resembles one from six months ago. I hope you don’t mind the repetition, but I suggested the model to a client recently and it went very well so I think it bears repeating. Also, I framed that post about avoiding failure, this one about making decisions easier, which, I think, changes its meaning).