The 2 Mental Shifts Highly Successful People Make
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”— Max Planck, German quantum theorist and Nobel Prize winner
There are two primary mental shifts that occur in the lives of all highly successful people. Many make the first, but very few make the second.
Both of these shifts require a great deal of mental stretching from conventional and societal ways of thinking. In many ways, these shifts require you to unlearn the negative and sabotaging programming from your youth, public education, and even adulthood.
The foundation of the first shift is the sublime power of choice and individual responsibility. Once a you make this shift, you are empowered to pull yourself from poverty of time, finances, and relationships. In other words, the first shift allows you to create a happy and prosperous life, where, for the most part, you control how and on what you invest your time.
Unfortunately, the results of the first shift can be overly-satisfying on one hand or paralyzing on the other. Thus, few people ascend to the second shift. Hence, Greg McKeown, bestselling author of Essentialism explains, “Success can become a catalyst for failure.”
For example, when a musician starts out, they write lots of music for the love of it. Their dreams are often huge. If they end up becoming successful, in almost every case, they’ll begin producing less and less music overtime. This happens for one of two reasons:
- Their focus shifts from why they’re writing music to what their music has brought them. Consequently, they are either satisfied with their results and no longer have the drive to write more. Or, they desire to make more music but the fire (their “why”) is gone, and thus, they can’t create the same depth and quality they once did.
- They become perfectionist and paralyzed. They fear their best work is behind them. Elizabeth Gilbert describes her paralysis in her beautiful TED talk. After the mega-success of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert couldn’t get herself to write. She knew she wouldn’t be able to replicate the results of Eat, Pray, Love. This paralysis is where many, many people get stuck.
However, Gilbert is different from most, because, as she explains in her TED talk, she continued forward in spite of her success. In order to do so, she forced herself to fail a few times — just to “get it out of her system.” Once she did this, her emotional blocks were gone and she was able to continue her creative career.
The foundation of the second shift is transcending your own independence, wherein your thinking stretches far beyond yourself. Thus, the second shift begins with 10x thinking and subsequently requires you build a team/network that brings your ideas into physical form.
In this article, I explain the process of experiencing the first and second shift.
Shift 1: The Power of Choice
The following are the core components of your mental model after you’ve experienced the first shift:
You are responsible
“If it is to be, it is up to me.” — William H. Johnsen, famed African-American painter
In order to make the first shift, you must go from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control. This is the scientific way of saying: you stop playing the victim to external circumstances and take responsibility for your life.
You are responsible for how you respond to life. No longer do you impulsively react. No longer do you blame others for any lack on your part.
You are 100% responsible for your marriage, for example. None of this 50/50 business. It’s all on you. If it fails, it was your fault. You made choices and now there are consequences. Of course others may be involved, but you can’t blame them for your choices.
In the book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain this level of responsibility as fundamental to true leadership. Hence, there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. Any negative outcomes of a team operation fall square on the leader. Any positive outcomes, conversely, are awarded primarily to the team.
Self-leadership, similarly, involves the same level of responsibility. If something doesn’t work out, who (or what) do you blame? If anything but yourself, you’ll remain hostage to things outside your control.
Every choice has a cost and consequence
“Free-will” doesn’t exist.
You aren’t “free” to act however you want, unless you’re willing to accept the consequences of those actions. As Stephen R. Covey explains, “We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from those actions are controlled by principles.”
The only way to avoid negative consequences, then, is to understand the principles governing natural consequences. Hence, highly successful people are continually learning and striving to better understand the world around them.
You can’t be free to act if you don’t understand the consequences of your behavior. Ignorance is not bliss, but bondage to negative consequences without understanding the source and reason for those consequences. Combine this ignorance with a victim mentality and you have a destructive cocktail.
Yet, once you realize that every choice — even small ones — will yield an outcome, you can then decide which outcomes you want. No choice is free. Every choice is tied to an outcome. Thus, every choice has meaning.
The final consequence (and cost) of every choice is TIME! You can’t get your time back. Of course, you can course correct. You can learn from past mistakes. You can solve problems. But there is always a cost. Once you realize that, you’re far more sensitive about spending time on non-essential activities.
Success (and happiness) is a choice
Success, health, and happiness are all consequences. They are by-products.
They are effects, not causes.
You can’t control the effects; principles control these. However, you can control the causes of these things, which are your behaviors. Negative environmental factors? Change them.
A recent meta-analysis shows that most people misunderstand confidence. Confidence doesn’t lead to high performance. Rather, confidence is a bi-product of previous performance.
For example, if you start your day well, you’re likely to have confidence throughout the rest of your day. If you start poorly, that prior performance will sap your confidence, even subconsciously.
Get this clear: confidence is a direct reflection of past performance. Hence, yesterday is more important than today. Luckily, today is tomorrow’s yesterday. So, even if your confidence today isn’t optimal, your confidence tomorrow is still within your control.
Once you’ve made the first mental shift, you know that your emotional state is your own responsibility and the product of your choices. If you want to be confident, that’s up to you. If you want to be happy, that’s up to you. If you want to be successful, that’s up to you.
Momentum is essential
“When you experience positive momentum, you’ll never want it to stop.” — Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach
Finally, people who have experienced this first mental shift really care about momentum. They’ve worked hard to develop their momentum and know what it feels like to not have momentum.
Being without momentum is rough. It’s how most people live their lives. And without momentum, results are minimal, even with lots of effort.
Consistency is key to developing momentum. You get it by putting intentional effort toward a singular goal or vision, and eventually the compound effect takes over. It’s as though several outside sources are working for your good. Because, they are.
Keeping momentum once you have it, then, becomes very important. Hence, you must maintain a thirst for continual learning and growth.
Most people get stuck at the first shift
If you take complete responsibility for your life and choices, you will develop a love for learning. You’ll come to understand and live principles which will organically facilitate success in your life.
However, there’s a far higher level beyond this first shift, and most people never get there.
In the book, Tribal Leadership, authors Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright explain the different cultures of organizations.
Most organizations operate in a “Stage 3” culture, where everyone is “out for themselves.” Thus, the goal of Stage 3 cultures is competition rather than collaboration. Yet, this competition actually occurs with the other people within the same organization. Everyone is trying to “get up the ladder.” Hence, there is sucking up, backstabbing, secrecy, and other nonsense.
People within these cultures don’t care about the organization as a whole. They only care about what the organization can do for them. They also only engage in relationships so far as those relationships benefit them. It’s all about them. And for this reason, they suffer. They can’t think beyond their own needs and wishes. Thus, their vision for themselves and the world is actually quite small and limited.
The primary stumbling blocks for successful people who have made the first shift are as follows:
- It’s all about “them”
- Their vision doesn’t extend beyond their own needs and goals
- They become satisfied with and distracted by their success
- They stop doing the very things that created their success (i.e., they stop learning and working)
- They forget their “why”
- They become perfectionist, and lose their drive to fail and learn
- They over-attach themselves to their success and perceived identity
- They go from offense to defense — rather than seeking more they focus their energy on maintaining what they’ve acquired
- They become obsessed with constant affirmation from themselves and others, and stop seeking genuine feedback
- They don’t learn how to work well with others
- They think their way is the “right” way
- They can’t trust other people enough to delegate or collaborate
If you are seeking a life of individual happiness and prosperity, you need read no further.
However, if you want a much higher degree of growth, relationships, and contribution, here’s how the second shift works:
Shift 2: The Power of Context
“Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.” — Stephen R. Covey
In the book, Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday explains that many successful people “stop being a student.”
When you’re a student, you actively seek to have your paradigm shattered. You want to be wrong and you want feedback. You care more about learning than what other people think about you.
Moreover, once you’ve developed the confidence and skills to do incredible work via the first shift, you may realize you can only get so far by yourself. The “lone ranger” mentality is played-out and overrated.
You may be able to rock life by yourself. But you could rock life far more with the help of the right people. Naturally, this is the very ascent Stephen R. Covey explains in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The first several habits are to help you experience the first mental shift, or what Covey calls the “Private Victory.”
The habits Covey outlines to experience this private victory are:
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
Once you master these habits, you will go from dependence on others to a high state of independence — the first mental shift.
However, three additional habits of Covey’s book are intended to take you beyond independence to a state of interdependence, where you experience synergistic relationships in all areas of your life. What I’m calling the second mental shift Covey calls “Public Victory.”
The habits Covey outlines to experience this public victory are:
- Think win-win
- Seek first to understand… then to be understood
I know several “successful” people who do not demonstrate these three habits. Rather than seeking to understand, they only seek to be understood. Rather than synergizing, they only do things “their way,” seeing others as inferior. They aren’t team-players. They aren’t teachable. They don’t set up relationships that are mutually beneficial. Indeed, they care very little about other people.
It’s been said that the 21st century is the time of the woman, because naturally, women demonstrate many of the characteristics needed to thrive in today’s global and team-driven economy. On average, women are far better team players and collaborators. Men, on the other hand, are prone to ego and self-absorption. Men more often want the glory while women simply want to contribute and grow.
The following are the core components of your mental model after you’ve experienced the second shift:
“When 10x is your measuring stick, you immediately see how you can bypass what everyone else is doing.” — Dan Sullivan
Becoming “successful” requires taking personal responsibility for your life and choices. By nature, it’s beyond average, since, to be average is to not take responsibility.
Thinking 10x is much different, though, than simply taking responsibility. It involves a grand vision wherein others must also be responsible. Moreover, 10x thinking involves far more boldness and creativity than simply “being proactive.”
10x thinking takes you from the goal of earning $100,000 a year to earning $1,000,000. Or, from helping 100 people to helping 1,000. Or, from getting 10,000 page views to getting 100,000.
When you do this, your strategy immediately shifts.
In his book, Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss explains that 10x thinking can come from asking “absurd” questions, such as the question billionaire Peter Thiel asks himself: If you have a 10-year plan of how to get [somewhere], you should ask: Why can’t I do this in 6 months?
Of this type of questioning, Ferriss continues:
“For purposes of illustration here, I might reword [Thiel’s question] to: ‘What might you do to accomplish your 10-year goals in the next 6 months, if you had a gun against you head?’ Now, let’s pause. Do I expect you to take 10 seconds to ponder this and then magically accomplish 10 years’ worth of dreams in the next few months? No, I don’t. But I do expect that the question will productivity break your mind, like a butterfly shattering a chrysalis to emerge with new capabilities. The ‘normal’ systems you have in place, the social rules you’ve forced upon yourself, the standard frameworks — they don’t work when asking a question like this. You are forced to shed artificial constraints, like shedding a skin, to realize that you had the ability to renegotiate your reality all along.”
If you want to think bigger, ask better (and more absurd) questions.
I once asked myself how I could write a blog post that would get one million social shares. The product was a 10,000 word list unlike anything I’d ever seen to that point.
These types of questions lead to creative breakthroughs and different avenues of thought. They also organically facilitate a very different strategic approach.
What absurd question will break you out of your limiting and traditional ways of thinking?
“Delegate everything but genius.” — Dan Sullivan
When you begin thinking 10x, you realize you can’t do it all on your own. You need to be far more focused.
Thus, it becomes essential to build a team around you immediately. Your network is your networth.
The sooner you build a team around you, the faster, wider, and deeper will be your results. In almost every case, you won’t feel ready to build this team.
Don’t get caught-up with any preconceived notions of what “building a team” means. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to “hire” people in the traditional sense. It could mean that you exchange favors. Or that you have win-win relationships — such as the one I have with my literary agent, my editor, and friends who help.
These are mutually beneficial relationships wherein you focus on your superpower and have those around you who focus on theirs’.
Collaboration and synergy in all areas of life
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
Take a minute to examine your life.
When you go to the gym, do you have a workout partner? Surveys show that most people prefer working out alone. However, if you’ve experienced the growth available by pushing yourself with someone else, the idea of working out alone seems somewhat comical.
As Michael Jordan explains, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
In a Darwinian sense, most people compete with others on their own level. Those seeking rapid growth compete with others who are far advanced, what Josh Waitzkin calls “investing in failure.” An even higher order principle is collaborating with others who are far advanced of your current level.
For instance, if you want to get stronger or faster really fast, exercise with people in far better shape. If you want to do incredible work, work with more talented people than you. If you want to become a better person, date or marry someone “up.”
Of course, if it is a true collaboration, you’ll need to bring much to the table yourself. This isn’t about social loafing. It’s about intensive growth, and must therefore, be both win-win and synergistic.
As Andrew Carnegie, among the richest Americans of all time, has explained, “Teamwork appears most effective if each individual helps others to succeed, increasing the synergy of that team; ideally, every person will contribute different skills to increase the efficiency of the team and develop its unity.” Another billionaire, Richard Branson, similarly stated, “Build your own business team. Survival in business requires a synergy of skills.”
In everything you do, there should be collaborative and synergistic elements. Of course, there is work which is your work. However, that work should be embedded within a group of others and toward something much bigger.
Again, a huge difference from the first shift to the second is that you are responsible for more than just yourself. Because others depend on you to show up and do what you do best, you are responsible to your team.
These others could be customers, fans, family, a workout partner. Whatever. The point is, you are responsible for other people’s success. Moreover, in many ways, their success is your success. Their growth and development is just as satisfying as your own — sometimes more.
Rest and recovery
“Working with a 10x goal and game-plan requires that your brain is relaxed, rested, and rejuvenated.” — Dan Sullivan
Deep, creative, and strategic thinking and work is exhausting. An essential component of the second shift is doing “less, but better.” Where the first shift is often about quantity of work, the second shift is all about quality.
To experience the first shift, you often just need to throw a bunch of darts at a board. Simply throwing a dart is seen as a huge win, initially. Eventually, some of those darts start hitting the board and getting some attention. However, once you make the second shift, you are among the world-class. It’s not just about hitting the board. It’s about hitting the bulls-eye, consistently.
Conservation, rest, and recovery, then, becoming increasingly essential. This is true at all elite levels. For example, professional athletes spend an enormous time resting. Roger Federer and LeBron James have said they sleep an average of 12 hours per day.
Similarly, to build mass and strength, many people need to workout less, and give their body more time for recovery and sleep. Yet, during their workouts, they need to push themselves harder and heavier. Less, but better. The same is true of mental and strategic work.
Recovery is more than just physically resting. It’s also being completely unplugged from “connection.” For instance, a recent study found that constant smartphone use stops people from properly recovering from work (and life). In a sense, people are always “on” to distraction and connection. They never disconnect. People keep their smartphones on them constantly.
In the study, the experimental group, who became more conscious of their smartphone use, and took adequate breaks from it, were able to experience psychological detachment from work (which is essential for recovery and engagement), relaxation, and mastery.
Take away: Set healthy boundaries on your smartphone and internet use. When possible, keep your smartphone away from your person. If it’s in physical proximity, you will unconsciously use it. Keep it in your car when you get home from work. Or keep it in a drawer in a separate room. Allow yourself to actually rest and recovery so you can engage in life and work! This is absolutely essential if you want to truly make the second shift.
These mental shifts are incredible.
Wherever you are on your own journey, you can intensify and deepen your understanding of the principles at these various levels.
Never stop being a student. Never stop learning.
Shatter whatever paradigm you have and get a new one. When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.