“The fastest way to succeed is to double your rate of failure.”
“There’s an important phrase that we use here, and I think it’s time that you all learned it.
Act as if.
You understand what that means? Act as if you are the President of this firm.”
Jim Young (Ben Affleck; Boiler Room)
Grandeur starts with a delusion.
What I mean by that is: all great things sprout from peculiar ideas. This concept applies to any goal that you have ever wanted to achieve.
Have you ever wanted to have something new, or do something new? Have you ever wanted to develop something in yourself, either personally or professionally? Then you have had a goal. And the very first step you took to achieve that goal was to believe that obtaining it was possible.
When it comes to making anything happen in life, belief is always the starting point. Even if its only the inkling of a belief; the residue of a possibility. Whether you want to own a new car, get married, travel around the world, or get dressed in the morning, you first have to believe that it is possible. But everyone knows this, right? If you want to throw a crumpled piece of paper into the trashcan from across the room, you have to believe you can.
And why wouldn’t you believe it? After all, you’ve thrown wads of paper in the trash before. You understand how gravity and trajectory work (kind of). Sure, you’ve missed the trashcan in the past, but you learned from it. Your brain has a ton of references for throwing crumpled pieces of paper in the trash, so merging your belief with your goal is automatic. But what happens when your brain can’t find any references for your goal?
When your brain doesn’t have the information it needs to start moving you toward your goal, it can become scrambled. Your brain will compensate for its lack of references by throwing different emotions at you.
Unsure of the situation, the primal parts of your brain will become more active, causing you to feel afraid and dreadful. Your brain may start trying to predict every possibility, but since it lacks the necessary references, it won’t be able to draw any conclusions and it won’t be able to tell you what actions to take. Instead, it will tell you to feel anxious, restless and paranoid. As your brain recognizes that something valuable is missing (i.e. the references it needs in order to help you achieve your goal), you may even feel ashamed or embarrassed. All of these emotions: fear, anxiety and insecurity, are caused by uncertainty. Your brain doesn’t know how to get from A to B. As a result, you go from enjoying life to enduring life.
This is why most people stop having big dreams and learn to aim for more realistic and more manageable goals. They wait for their brains to say, “Ok, I have some references for this goal. It’s safe to take on.” These people spend their lives climbing foothills because anything higher is too emotionally taxing.
Yet, sometimes a person will stand at the bottom of Mount Everest and say, “I can scale this peak”, even though she’s never climbed a mountain before and doesn’t own any climbing gear. Sometimes a person believes in her vision so strongly that she takes the first steps towards fulfilling it armed with nothing but the vision itself. In other words, she fakes it before she makes it.
This is how Anthony Robbins went from being a janitor at age 19 to writing two New York Time’s bestsellers and building a personal development empire worth half a billion dollars by age 31. Without having a psychology degree or any public speaking experience, Robbins coined the title, Life Coach, and started giving free personal development seminars 3-4 times a week to anyone who would listen. This led to him helping millions of people around the world find new ways to enjoy life.
Richard Branson, the British billionaire best known for his Virgin Group of over 400 companies, was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD and ADD. Unable to pay attention to anything he wasn’t interested in, he dropped out of school at age 15. Rather than reading books and taking classes on how to make a living, he launched a magazine, then he launched an audio record mail-order business, then he opened a chain of record stores, then he started buying airlines and building rocket ships. He’s been to the bottom of the ocean and into outer space.
After spending her whole life posing in front of a camera, model Kathy Ireland decided she wanted to run a business. So she put her name on a line of socks. After they proved a bestseller for Kmart, she started her own clothing line. Instead of enrolling in business school, she founded a marketing company called “Kathy Ireland Worldwide” (insert Step Brothers joke here). By 2004, Ireland was marketing products from 16 manufacturers. By 2005, her products were sold at over 50,000 locations in 15 countries, generating over a billion dollars in retail sales. Not just a pretty face anymore.
So how did the above moguls achieve their goals while finding new ways to enjoy life?
By being delusional.
A delusion is a peculiar belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The very first step toward doing anything great is acquiring the peculiar belief that you can actually do it. The next step is to turn this belief into a conviction and to start taking action despite the lack of references in your head. In other words, you have to act as if you have already achieved your goal, regardless of any contradictory information you receive from yourself or others. The “fake it before you make it” mentality is a must if you want to start achieving your goals before your brain gives you the green light. And there are two key things you can do to help yourself embrace this mentality.
Here are the two cardinal rules of achieving your biggest goals before you feel ready:
1. Be audacious
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”
The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
Boom. How much do you admire that little girl right now?
Now imagine that you are the teacher and one of your peers or colleagues is the little girl. Would you still be amused by her reply? Or would you be annoyed by her “cocky” attitude?
For some strange reason, as we get older, the boundary between assuredness and arrogance becomes stricter and stricter. Society has a very low tolerance for coloring outside the lines of mediocre self-confidence. If someone is a pushover, society comes to the rescue and screams, “Stand-up for yourself!” But once that person starts believing in herself too much, society stands back appalled and sneers, “Show some humility.” Society wants to carefully control your confidence levels, thereby controlling your goals and behavior.
How many movies have you watched where the main character starts out having no self-respect? Then, the plot thickens and something happens that helps her start enjoying life and building self-confidence (e.g. her talent finally gets discovered, she adapts to a new career, she finds out she’s actually a princess). Her life gets better…her confidence grows and grows and grows and…finally, in the third act, she becomes overconfident and her audacious behavior leads to her downfall. She is taught that life punishes audacity. The movie ends with her learning her lesson and toning her self-confidence down to a healthy level.
Understand: life rewards audacity.
Audacity is defined as a willingness to take bold risks. If you are going to achieve anything great in your lifetime, you will need to learn how to be audacious. Audacity will help you power through mistakes. There are very few obstacles that can withstand the relentless attack of one bold move after another. Also, being audacious will focus your attention and give you energy. When you’re audacious, you put yourself out on a limb. You can either hold on firmly to your position or let go and fail completely. Most importantly, audacity is a sturdy counterbalance; it will anchor your dreams against the crabs of the world that are constantly trying to pull them back down into the bucket of mediocrity.
Here is one of my favorite quotes, which I carry around in my wallet. It’s an excerpt from the book, The 4-Hour Work Week, written by Tim Ferriss:
“It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time-consuming and energy consuming…The fishing is best where the fewest go, and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone else is aiming for base hits. There is just less competition for bigger goals…Unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve for yet another reason. Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel.”
Realize that life rewards audacious behavior. Let that take root so your brain can use it as a stand-in reference point for your unrealistic goals. Mastering the art of audacity is critical to enjoying life and gaining influence. Being bold is a highly effective way to sustain your vision until your brain has enough references to turn your belief into a conviction.
2. Fail first-hand
What is your desire-to-fruition turnaround time? For most people, it’s far too lengthy. First they have to decide whether or not a goal is safe (i.e. make sure there aren’t too many risks). Then, they have to make a bunch of lists (mental or otherwise) of all the things they need to learn and practice before they can achieve their goal. Next, they’ll buy every book that has ever been written about their goal, or they’ll spend thousands of dollars taking classes that survey their goal.
The problem is that learning about your goal does not take you any closer to accomplishing it in the physical world. Of course reading and taking classes are valuable: both will increase your references and help you build confidence in your ability to achieve your goals. But did you know that there is a faster and more effective way to increase your references and build your confidence? It’s called failing. Being willing to fail during real life experiences will drastically cut down your desire-to-fruition turnaround time. The key is to fail while achieving your goal. In other words, fail first-hand.
Let’s say you want to master canoeing. Instead of reading a bunch of books and lifestyle blogs about canoes, buy a canoe and get in the water. Rather than taking multiple-choice tests on canoeing safety, call someone who knows how to canoe and ask for a lesson. Recall the Anthony Robbins success story; he gained more experience and garnered more feedback on personal development during his first week giving seminars than he would have gained by reading a hundred books on psychology and public speaking. The risk of looking stupid or incompetent in a real life situation has a way of snapping your brain to attention. There are immediate consequences. Your brain gets immediate feedback.
At first, it may be hard to understand the full advantage of failing while you achieve your goal versus spending countless hours preparing to achieve your goal. It was definitely a hard lesson for me to learn. My sophomore year, two of the guys on my college wrestling team used to dog it big time on the long distance runs our coach made us do early in the season. And by dog it, I mean take a taxicab back to the practice room half way through the run. In fact, they wouldn’t give much effort during our team’s technique or lifting sessions either. But, when it came time to wrestle live matches at the end of practice, they brought it hard. They were consistently the toughest people in the room to win live matches against. Whether they were wrestling live matches at the beginning or end of practice, or in an actual dual or tournament, they were fully engaged. Anything else though, was considered a waste of their time. Our coaches hated them for this. However, looking back, I realized that their audacious behavior carried with it an important principle. The best way to get better at doing something is to do it, not to do things related to it.
In high school and college, one of my biggest goals was to be a championship wrestler. I read books, practiced technique year round, went to expensive wrestling camps, ran hundreds of miles and lifted weights constantly. I attacked my goal from every angle, which I thought was the best way to achieve it. The problem was that I spent thousands of hours going to camps, running mini-marathons, learning new technique, and doing ridiculous conditioning drills. Thousands of hours I could have spent doing the very thing I was trying to get better at: live wrestling. Of course I wrestled numerous live matches during the regular season and at least a couple every practice, but I also wasted a lot of time and energy jumping rope, doing bear crawls and running on the track.
In retrospect, any time I spent on activities merely supplementing the act of “live wrestling” was partly wasted. So why did I do it? I’d like to claim 100% youthful ignorance, but part of the reason was because supplemental training involved less risk and less effort. Here’s the lesson: it is better to fail first-hand while achieving your goal than it is to succeed at second-hand tasks merely related to your goal.
Take some time to figure what is the single best thing you could be doing to take you closer to your goal. Odds are it is the thing you feel most afraid of doing, or the thing you don’t feel like you’re ready to do. Use your emotions to identify it and then start doing it. Infuse yourself with some audacity and start failing while achieving your goal. Enjoying life and generating influence begin at the end of your comfort zone.