Get The Most Out of Any Situation With One Mental Karate Chop

It was the second day of the Tony Robbins, Unleash The Power Within conference when I spotted him. Two rows up in the next section over, sandwiched between dozens of ignited souls and watery eyes was a small, red-headed child with his face buried in a Gameboy.

I didn’t watch him intentionally. I tried to forget him. But as captivating as Tony Robbins is, after a few 12-hour sessions you start to notice people. And this kid and his indifference to his surroundings both intrigued and annoyed me.

I was there on the company’s dime, sent along with other members of the sales team. Some of us were there to “level up” and others were happy just be out of the office. “I’m here out of curiosity,” I told the group I’d been paired up when they asked. “I’m here with an open mind.”

The group I’d been paired up with was a mixed bag. Entrepreneurs seeking an annual reboot, married couples hoping to rekindle a fading spark, and more sensitive souls in desperate need of inspiration and connection to the outside world. Some had very specific intentions and agendas, others were just along for the ride.

And then there was the kid. That little, five-alarm-fire headed child who hadn’t cracked a smile or looked up from his game in hours. He tugged at my attention. He was taking away from my experience. Tony Robbins would say something profound, moving the room to laughter and epiphany and my eyes would scan the kid’s face. He’d be yawning.

Picture this: an auditorium packed with five thousands of humans purging their souls, stitching old wounds, and confessing on the microphone how they never forgave their mother, or how they aren’t sure they still love their husband. Grown men weeping and dancing in unison. Revelations were happening in every row and this kid couldn’t care less.

I know it shouldn’t have bothered me but it did. I was soaring at 30 thousand feet on a red-eye to self-discovery and this pimple-faced monster was kicking the back of my chair.

Finally, I saw the child’s father look down at his son with disapproving eyes. This is it I thought. Tell him. Tell him you brought him here for a reason. Tell him he should be taking notes. Tell him how these seats ain’t cheap.

The father looked down at his son and mouthed the words, “Just try and keep an open mind.”

We hear it often: Keep an open mind. Arrive without expectation. Assumptions are for assholes.

Expectations often rely on external forces, outside our control, so we’ve learned to avoid them. We protect ourselves from disappointment by saying, “Whatever happens, it’s cool. I’m just along for the ride.”

And while that might protect us from letdown, it still outsources outcome and leaves the probability of having a meaningful experience up for grabs.

It’s the next step, after the removal of expectation, that most of us miss. It’s the step the kid’s father and I had both overlooked at the conference.

If you really want to get the most of something, you have to replace expectation with intention.

On the James Altucher podcast, Navy Seal veteran and best-selling author, Jocko Willink explained how he began reviewing books on his website. After reviewing three, he went back to re-read old books that, when he first read, didn’t think had enough value to warrant a review. He tells James,

“I stretched it to one more book and thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t really read this deep enough the first time around. This is really good and has a lot of information I didn’t think about.’ What I realized within 10 books is that I’ll never be able to cover all the books I should because when you read them with intent, when you read them with curiosity, when you read them with questions there’s so much more there.”

Nothing changed inside the books Jocko re-read. The information was the same but his intention had shifted. He didn’t place any expectations on the books to give him information, he just shifted the responsibility towards himself to find the lessons inside.

An open mind picks up a book and says, “Maybe I’ll learn something.” A mind set in intention says, “I’m going to find something valuable here.”

Intention-setting, manifestations, the law of attraction — these terms are rooted in the lexicon of spirituality and for those weary of anything outside the realm of practical, might come off as silly.

One could point to the scientific studies of how seeds planted with intentions grow faster and taller than those that weren’t. Or, the famous experiment by Dr. Masaru Emoto where he proves water reacts and changes its shape based on the intentions projected onto it. The truth is that every positive thinking think-tank has an experiment that proves the mind has power over external factors, and wherever you fall on the spectrum of true believer is up to you. But when it comes to cold-hearted practicality, I think it’s easy to agree:

Expectations lead to disappointment and indifference lends itself to mediocrity, but through intention we find flow. Intention provides structure, guides creativity, and funnels intellectual energy towards a desirable outcome.

Intention setting in everyday life means putting skin in the game and taking responsibility for what you get and what you give. It’s walking into the conference room, the dinner with an old friend, or seeing that movie you’re not all that interested in with an attitude of, “If I want to learn, if I want to have fun, if I want to be surprised… It’s up to me.”

On the last day of the seminar, I spoke with some of the people I’d been paired with the day before. The budding life coaches, disillusioned newlyweds, skeptics turned true-believers — everyone got more than they had bargained for. Some confessed that they were surprised by how much they had learned.

But it was the others, the ones who arrived with an agenda, the ones who were on a personal mission to leave with a new roadmap for life, that had the real fire in their eyes.

I decided, right then and there, I needed to set an intention for the last day. I asked myself, “How can I be fully present? How can I get the most of my time here without being bothered by anyone else’s experience? What would Tony Robbins do?”

I saw the kid and his family. He was loading his Gameboy up with a fresh set of batteries and I walked toward him. I walked with intention. It was time take matters into my own hands.

I thought about what I would say, what he might say back. I wondered if it was possible to fling a gameboy over a couple thousand people’s heads without hurting any innocent bystanders. For a second, I thought about how ridiculous I was being and how this whole thing says a lot more about me and my issues than some kid who is probably only here because his parents couldn’t find a sitter. I ignored that thought and picked up my pace.

I marched right up to him and for a moment I stared into his disinterested little eyes. And just before my make words come out of my mouth I felt my feet walk right past him.

Sometimes taking action on an intention is as easy as going to the other side of the room to find a new seat.