There’s a personal development myth that’s floating out there in nearly every program and in almost every product we buy, and falling for it can hold us back.
It comes from the question, “How can we make things easy?”
I’ve been working on building this version of my website for the last month or two, and all sorts of thoughts ran through my head. Old beliefs that I thought I had dealt with crawled out from their caves to say hi.
Many of the personal development books and articles I’ve read treat people in a linear fashion. “If you do this, you’ll achieve that.” Which in many cases, it’s true. And it’s fun to think of our progression in a linear line, always going up up up.
After all, it’s how we age. We start at point A (birth), and go to point B (death).
It’s the same way for many of the movies we watch, books we read, and games we play.
But people aren’t like that. We’re a lot more like the stock market.
We go in cycles.
We take two steps forward, only to take one step back, and losing progress isn’t sexy, no matter how natural a process it is.
That straight line though? Damn. Now there’s a sexy infographic. The line says, “It’s easy.”
The line says, “If you do what I tell you to do, you’ll become incredible.”
The line says, “If you work at it, and you’ll become as sexy, successful, and rich as you want to be. You’ll have the biggest house, the biggest car, the hottest husband/wife, and you’ll never have any problems again.”
The line is a liar.
But it’s a really attractive liar.
It’s hiding the wizard behind the curtain. It wants you to think it’s perfect, that a path is easy and paved with gold.
This happened to me when I was a Salsa dance instructor. Before I started teaching, I took a training program from my at-the-time mentor. To sum it up, she laid it out like this: If you take my training, and do everything I say, you’ll be rolling in money and you’ll be able to go on vacations and sit on the beach while your classes run themselves!
Now that is a sexy thought. If I do all this, I’ll be living the easy life? Sign me up!
Lots of scams follow the same formula: “If you do this one thing, all of your problems will be solved!” There are lots of multi-level marketing scams and other types out there .
To make matters worse, when the scam doesn’t work and people don’t achieve the results they expected, who takes the blame? Whoever runs the scam or the small percentage of people it did work for blame the person who it failed for.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
“You’re not doing what we told you to.”
And so on.
It’s how the straight line works. If the system doesn’t work for you, it’s your fault, and not a poorly designed system. (Now, not all failures are the result of the system – a system still requires you to do work – if you don’t do it or don’t follow it, then it’s not the system’s fault. But if it’s actually designed to fail, then it’s like building a house on cracked foundations).
Feel free to call me naive, because I went all in on this training. I was presented with a straight line, and it looked great.
And it didn’t work for me.
The straight line is presented to us because it’s easy. And the line may not be a scam at all. It may just be glossing over what it really looks like.
The straight line is the photoshopped version of reality. Before being photoshopped, this is what is really looks like:
The jagged line is important. It still goes up in the long run. (if it’s a scam, it’ll completely drop off a cliff at the end).
And those drops?
Those are the opposite of sexy. They’re not fun, and they’re usually uncomfortable to go through, which is why they’re easy to gloss over.
But they’re necessary for us. Sometimes those drops are minor setbacks. Sometimes they’re like falling off a cliff until we catch ourselves and pull ourselves up (either by ourselves or with help from others).
Those drops present our biggest learning and growth opportunities.
When I started teaching Salsa years ago, those drops got glossed over. We often want things to be easy, but it’s not. Starting a business is tough. And I had no idea how tough until I started one.
For instance, I was told that marketing was easy, as was creating super successful Salsa classes. Fast forward two years later and I realized I had no bloody idea how to actually market myself.
That included things like: how to create a website that actually attracts clients, how to use social media, and numerous other things. The marketing I did learn was marketing that was a complete mismatch with my personality.
Those drops serve a lot of purposes, and they’re often the same as what Seth Godin calls “the Dip,” in his book… “The Dip.” I highly recommend giving it a read.
People often gloss over the dip. But it and the numerous drops we face not only help us grow, but they can be an indication that it’s time to quit.
Quitting can be a good thing, especially if we’re working in an area that’s wrong for us.
Salsa instructing? That was the wrong area for me. The drops and dip was not worth it for the energy I had to invest. If I had stuck with it, would I have eventually been financially successful with it?
Probably. But that’s the thing – there are no guarantees, even if we want their to be.
Even if I had done everything right, I still could have failed. If I had succeed, the question I asked myself was: “Would I be enjoying it?”
The answer was a resounding “No.” I would be stressed out, and not feeling fulfilled. I could’ve trapped myself, so I left.
Those drops never go away. Peaks break up the valleys, but they’re always there.
I don’t worry about them.
I embrace them.
I go through them, and I grow. I become better.
Personal development is the same way. We might want to believe it’s a straight path, but difficulties and issues we thought we overcame can come back, even if it’s just for a moment. Or a block we worked through turns out to be the tip of the iceberg and now we have to deal with breaking through a whole lot more ice.
I hit a few drops (or icebergs) while building this website. It’s still a work in progress, and lots of little tweaks will happen with it over the next couple of weeks. As I was making it, nagging thoughts cropped up from time to time. Four icebergs I assumed I wouldn’t see again popped up, but there they were.
1. This will never work.
When we don’t know how something works, it can be like magic. This is because we don’t know the process, the “secret” behind it, or all the steps and effort that went into it.
That’s what makes seeing magicians perform so awesome – or seeing any incredible performer, really.
For me, marketing is similar, except I know some of the pieces. I see them, see how they fit together, and part of me still says, “This will never work.”
So I have to check myself before I wreck myself.
If I look back and find evidence to back me up of why it won’t work, I find this: “It won’t work because it didn’t work for me in the past.”
But what specifically didn’t work for me in the past? Marketing when I was a Salsa instructor? Yes. But what kind of marketing?
Badly implemented, ineffective marketing.
Now I know a lot more than I did, and I have help and other resources I didn’t. I’m still learning more and figuring some out as I go along, but that drop is a good reminder about how I can do better in the future.
2. No one is going to hire me.
This was one of those thoughts that falls into the category of:
The thought came into my head, and is really a variation of the limiting belief, “I’m not good enough.”
Is that true? Nope.
Our brains are pre-disposed to look for problems. We even get rewarded with a little burst of pleasure from dopamine when we solve a problem. It’s a survival mechanism, and sometimes it produces stuff that’s total BS.
And in my case, the evidence against, “No one is going to hire me,” is that people have already hired me as me as their hypnotist. Without a website. Same went for when I was a Salsa instructor.
The quality of our lives is often determined by the questions we ask.
If I ask myself questions like, “How will I fail?” I’ll come up with answers like the one above. But if I instead ask myself questions like, “How will a solid website help me?” I create a list of new evidence that not only contradicts the self-limiting belief above, but also helps motivate me.
Speaking of motivation…
3. I don’t have the energy for this.
This is coming up for me, well, now.
I’ve got a lot of my site set up in place, and now it’s onto the small details that I find tedious: implementing SEO, making minor changes to the site here and there, and more.
Like many people, I often enjoy thinking of the “big idea” without considering all of what that entails.
This is great for starting a new project as I have a large burst of energy, but not for following through.
If I actually don’t have the energy for it, it’ll never get done.
That’s not an option I’m willing to consider.
So instead, I’ll change the question: What will give me the energy I want to finish this project?
This completely changes my perspective, and I can come up with solutions instead:
I can plan to reward myself with something when I’m finished.
I can ask people to hold me accountable for it.
I can promise my girlfriend I’m going to do it.
I can schedule myself to go to a coffee shop and force myself to push through.
I can go hang out with a friend and work on it while they work on their own stuff.
I can ask for help or tips from someone I know.
I can imagine the consequences of NOT doing it.
Asking good questions is a hallmark of good coaching, and suddenly I’ve created a lot more possibilities where before I was feeling drained and stuck.
4. This isn’t worth it
This is like that #2 belief, in that it’s total B.S.
This is the kind of thought we have when we’re getting tired and stressed and focusing on the short term. If I’m exhausted and I look at only the negatives, of course it’s going to seem like it’s not worth it.
If instead I focus on what life will be like if I achieve my goals, and I focus on how good it feels to help a life coaching client get the results they want, then that statement totally changes to me, and becomes obvious: of course it’s worth it.
This is a good time to check ourselves. Because if I had looked at all of the good stuff and the answer had been, “Nope, not worth it,” Then yep, it would have been time to strategically quit (which is exactly what I did with Salsa, much to my benefit!).
If we expect the straight line, we’re going to hurt ourselves
The straight line looks great on paper, but it helps us to be disappointed or even crushed if things don’t go our way.
But all of us have moments that don’t go our way. We have moments of failure and adversity as we climb our zig-zag line of progress. The drops are the opposite of sexy, and there are people out there who don’t want you to know about them, who want you to think everything is easy.
If I expected the straight line when building my website or going into life coaching, I would probably end up quitting. I imagine a lot of coaches go through that, and do quit… there’s a lot of training programs and people out there who make starting your own business out to be the easiest thing in the world… and if you don’t succeed through their program, it’s your fault.
And for some people, maybe it is incredibly easy. But if you’ve had little experience with a business or marketing yourself, what are the chances of it being that easy, straight line we love to fall for?
I don’t expect the straight any more. I expect the drops, and even though they’re not comfortable, part of me looks forward to them.
Without drops we can’t climb higher.
They force us to grow. To learn. To become better than we are.
Overcoming those dips can be a challenge, but the feeling we get from moving past them is incredible.
And we can start figuring out how to move past them by asking the right questions.