And what you can do to avoid the same mistakes
I sat alone in my house after my friends had gone.
It was my 40th birthday but I hadn't felt like celebrating. My Mum had died in my arms just a few weeks before, so the boys came up and we went for a quiet curry and a few beers.
As I looked around the room I realised I was a 40yr old, divorced, single dad of two kids, broke and surviving on a monthly top-up from my folks.
Sure, I had £45K a year job but the costs of where I lived, commuting, and maintenance meant little was left. And I was in a career I had come to hate.
Where had it all gone wrong?
It’s not what I had imagined for myself as a 21year old who had started his own limited company while devouring the works of Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar.
A few months after this reflective moment I found myself redundant…again. So, up to my eyeballs in debt, with a mortgage to pay, I did the only sensible thing I could…and took a time-out.
I knew I needed to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life that meant something, pay the bills, and hopefully enough to crawl out of debt and put something away.
I also needed to figure out where the hell I had gone so wrong.
I’m 48 now and well on my way. My new fiance and I have taken the keys to our first owned-home, with a mortgage, of course. I have my own business doing what I love, writing, coaching, speaking, and training. My debts are gone and we are putting something away each month.
I’ve also realised why only now I am starting to be ‘successful’ and where I had been going wrong all those years.
What this means is you simply don’t want it enough. Whatever that ‘it’ is for you. It happens every year on Dec 31. You are filled with good intentions, possibly spurred on by negative emotions like regret, guilt, frustration and jealousy.
You set your New Year’s resolutions and then by 31 Jan you are wondering what went wrong. Life takes over, you get busy and before you know it, it’s Dec 31 again. The cycle continues.
For me, this insincerity began in my teenage years. Unlike my little brother, who knew from the age of 11 that he wanted to be a surgeon, I didn’t have a scooby-do what I wanted to do.
By the time I’d left school and then university I was still no clearer. Although I knew I didn't want a nine to five job, working for the ‘man’ and crawling along in traffic every day.
I set up my own business and made a decent fist of it for a while. I paid my parents some rent, ran my car, paid off my student loans, and had enough to go and visit my mates on the weekends who were still at university.
Then after 12 months or so I got bored and became frustrated by my lack of progress. I had set some rather lofty (read stupidly unrealistic goals) around how much money I wanted to earn and when I wasn’t achieving that, I became too easily discouraged.
What I had failed to do was to really understand why those goals were important to me. I was merely scratching at the surface-level-reason, money. Looking back as a more mature person, I was probably also driven by the need for some status that supposedly comes with being ‘successful’ and making money.
The reason for that I put down to the fact I had missed out on going to university first time around and had to re-take my A-levels. Then, bored with education I left university after two years of a four-year degree. In my head, I needed to be a ‘success’ at this to get some self-esteem. That’s rarely a great starting point on which to base a goal.
This problem, a lack of insincerity about my goals has held me back throughout my life. I’d get passionate about something, start with huge amounts of energy and gusto and then fade on the back straight.
To use a running analogy I was living my life like a sprinter, eye-popping effort for 10secs, and collapse in a heap at the end. Only life and ‘success’ tends to demand that we pace ourselves better.
It also demands that we understand the deeper level of motivation behind our goals. My goals were not aligned with my values enough. Making money for money’s sake has never been a motivation for me.
What I lacked was the maturity and insight to know what was really motivating and important to me.
There is a health-warning that comes attached to the systematic setting and failure to achieve these types of insincere goals. Every failure damages your self-esteem. Every half-hearted attempt instills the belief that you are a quitter, that you are a failure, that you can’t stay the course or you just aren’t good enough to be successful.
Over time this becomes your self-image and you will never consistently out-perform your own self-image. Ask yourself, “Will setting and going for this goal weaken or strengthen my self-image?”
The best way to do this is to think about and understand your values.
In my experience, most of us aren’t really aware of our values, not beyond surface levels ones that we might come up with, like; honesty, fairness, equality, truthfulness, integrity, etc.
When your goals aren’t in line with your deeper values then it can be hard to motivate yourself when the going gets tough and over the time it often takes to achieve your goal.
To find out what your values are and to reflect on them try taking the free Barret Values Assessment. The Barrett Model is rooted in understanding authentic motivations — the values that matter to and motivate us.
Another way to get a better understanding of your motivations behind your goals is to ask yourself, ‘Why?’ But not just the once. At least five times.
Pro Tip: Five Whys
The technique is called the five whys and was originally developed as an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.
It’s great at helping to uncover deep level motivations. You can use it on yourself. Here’s an example:
“I want to lose weight.”
Why is losing weight important to you? “So I look and feel better.”
Why is looking and feeling better important to you? “Because I’m sick of having no energy and looking crap.”
Why is having more energy and looking better important? “Because I want to spend more time having fun with my wife and kids and it’s impacting my ability to earn money.”
Why are those two things important to you? “Because I’m already 48, I haven’t got enough saved for retirement or to be able to help out my kids because of my divorce.”
Why is that important? “Because I’m afraid if I don’t look after myself I won’t be around long enough to see them grow up and have their own kids and I won’t have enough to be able to spend money on them as my parents did for me.”
That simple process helped me uncover what was the real motivation for me to get back in shape. It’s not about how I look. That’s a surface motivation. It’s about something much deeper.
I could have carried on another two levels, but it illustrates the point.
Often what we tell ourselves motivates us is surface-level stuff. Your job is to uncover what really motivates you. When you do that, then you can build some momentum.
Once I’d got clear on my motivations and values it’s been easier to stay the course and overcome the obstacles and setbacks I have encountered along the way.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where — ” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“ — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
— The Cheshire Cat, in Alice in Wonderland
During my few months out of the rat race during my quest to find myself, I realised I had been largely setting somewhat vague goals. Some of them had felt quite specific but only in the broadest sense and only at a high level.
An early example was a particular car I wanted to own in 18 months' time. For the petrol-heads among you, it was a Williams Renault Clio.
With its bonnet bulge and gold alloy wheels it was a young petrolhead’s wet dream. The equivalent of dating Cindy Crawford. However, I had about as much chance of achieving the first as the latter, because I didn’t fully understand the importance of being incredibly precise about not only what my goal was but how I was going to achieve it.
At the time it was vague, “I want to have a Williams Renault Clio within 18 months.” Nothing more.
Now, I’m really clear about my goals. I have an exact and detailed picture of what I want my life to look like, what I am doing, what I have (and don’t have), and who I am being. How I behave.
The importance of process goals
What I’d lacked was clarity and precision, not just on the overall goal but on how I was going to achieve the goal.
I read a huge amount of personal development books during my reflective time and quite a few around what was fast becoming the most interesting subject for me, mental toughness and resilience.
It was during this time that I read the book, Executive Toughness by Dr. Jason Selk. In it, he talks about the difference between product and process goals.
Sure, I had been great at setting very precise product (or what I now term outcome goals) but what I had systematically failed to do for more than twenty years was set the process goals that would underpin achieving the outcome goal. Duh!
I also know what I need to do to get there. I have clearly defined process goals to get me to where I want to be. You can too.
Pro Tip: Set process goals and make a checklist
When you’ve identified what will be the process goals that will get you to where you want to make, the key is to making them become a habit. To do this I have created a set of a daily checklist of the things I need to do that will move me forward.
Would you want your airline pilot to decide on an ad hoc basis which things they’ll check are working before they take off?
Pilots have a checklist that they go through, each and every flight without fail. How would a checklist help you?
Incongruence is a humanistic psychology concept developed by Carl Rogers which suggests that unpleasant feelings can result from a discrepancy between our perceived and ideal self. The perceived self is how an individual views themselves and the ideal self is how an individual wishes they were.
It was also identified and talked about in the book Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. David Sandler, creator of the world-famous Sandler Selling System also referred heavily to the importance of self-image.
In short, what they all said is this…
You can not consistently out-perform your own self-image
My problem has been that for many years I simply couldn’t see myself as being successful and doing well financially. A comment my Mum once said to me as we were in the car, “We’ll never be rich in our family,” had stayed with me for almost thirty years.
Alongside side that, I had developed a belief about my earning capacity and what I was capable of. No matter what I might do I could not shake that self-image. In fact, truth the be told I wasn’t even consciously aware of it.
It was only later on as I started to learn more about psychology and self-image, I even realised it was a problem for me.
Once I knew that and accepted it, then I could start to do something to change it.
An uncomfortable truth
Many of the beliefs we have about ourselves come from our friends and family. My Mum achieved more in her life than many of her family did because she wanted more, she tried more and wasn’t scared of failing and because she could imagine herself as more.
She pushed me to adopt that mindset, yet even one comment in an area where maybe she had a deficiency of belief became something that stayed with me.
Sometimes these comments are off-the-cuff like my Mum’s, sometimes it’s deliberate. The uncomfortable truth is even the people closest to you can find it threatening to hear you talk about your goals and dreams. Unconsciously or otherwise they’ll say or do things to hold you back because they find it hard to see you succeed where they failed or didn’t even have the courage to start.
Pro-tip: Invest time in changing your self-image
This isn’t going to happen overnight. You don’t read one article and ‘bam!’ you’ve changed your self-image.
This takes time and investment. Start by taking an audit of what your goals are and asking yourself can you really see yourself having achieved them?
What does that look, feel, and sound like? What are you doing? What are your closest friends and family doing when you achieve them?
What beliefs might be holding you back? What do you need to work on? Pull no punches here. Be tough on yourself, because no-one else will be.
Then set to work dismantling your old-limiting beliefs and start building the ones that will support and sustain your ambitions.
Don’t shy away from investing in a good coach if that’s what it takes. To overcome my limiting beliefs around money I attended the Sandler Sales Training. That cost me £6K. I’m not suggesting you do that. I’m saying that was what I was prepared to do to help me grow my business.
I have invested lots of time reading and learning about psychology, in trying and failing and trying again. I’m not the finished article and I don't ever expect to be, but I am significantly better than I was for the best part of 20 years.
What’s been holding you back?
Of three mistakes we’ve talked about, which is the one that’s holding you back the most? Insincerity, imprecision, or incongruence.
Maybe, like me, it’s a combination of all three. If so, don’t despair, half the battle is self-awareness of the problem. You’ve done that hard bit. Now you can crack on with the rest.
. . .