Life is like a bicycle; it derives its stability from forward motion, and what is true of your life as a whole is also true of your career or business, as well. Like a spinning top that wobbles as it slows, a person who takes too much time to relax and rest will eventually feel life becoming more and more unstable. Year by year, almost imperceptibly, progress will come to a grinding halt. For this reason, it is essential that you accept the unchanging reality that you are either actively building a better life or it is, by default, slowly getting worse. In this regard, the law of inertia exerts its influence on your life just as it does the physical world: an object (or person) at rest tends to remain at rest, and an object in motion tends to remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. This is why the struggles of unsuccessful people tend to multiply. The slower their progress becomes, the more likely it becomes that they will slow even further, and the harder it becomes to reverse the trend. Success and failure, alike, tend to accelerate exponentially. This is also why successful people usually move from one success to the next. They enjoy the luxury of being propelled into the future, surfing on the wave of forward momentum their past actions have created. Their momentum earned through past efforts has purchased for them the privilege of “coasting” from time to time in the present and even more in the future.
However, this momentum cannot be created – much less sustained – without proper motivation. For some, the driving force that propels them onward comes from living life paycheck to paycheck, fearing bankruptcy or homelessness. For others, the catalyst for action is a demanding boss and the acute awareness that a pink slip might be their reward for even the slightest slip-up. Still others, like those in social work, ministry or education, the inspiration for tireless work is the betterment of society, the good of other people, or the belief that they are pleasing God. But your motivation will only reach its zenith when its source is a personal vision that is of vital importance to you. This is where the inertia illustration in the previous paragraph fails: in the physical world, inertia may only be overcome by an outside force. In the human sphere it is overcome only by an inside force. Negative inertia relinquishes its stranglehold on your growth only in response to an unrelenting determination in your soul. It succumbs only to a positive vision of life, a soul-encompassing dream, a magnificent obsession. Such a vision can emerge from only one place: your well.
Inferior motives often beget unfulfilled lives. The woman who works late into the night and then brings work home for the evening in order to please an austere boss is probably driven by fear – fear that she is not worthy of a better job and lucky to have the one she does. On the giant silver screen of her imagination she sees herself scanning the want ads every morning, pounding the pavement week after week searching in vain for even a menial job to pay her bills. The loop tape in her brain depicts her being rejected again and again by interviewers who shake their heads sadly, telling her she just doesn’t have what it takes. The mental movie’s predictable climax is reached when she runs completely out of money and becomes destitute. This is her vision of life. It motivates her to work diligently where she is, frantically running in place, but seldom moving forward. The man who slaves day after day, just barely getting by, is also motivated by fear. The driving vision he sees in his mind is one of embarrassment, failure, and loss. Each day on the 52 inch plasma screen of his psyche he watches in full color and Dolby® surround sound eviction from his home, the repossession of his car, the loss of what few possessions he has, the collapse of his family. He imagines the neighbors shaking their heads in pity, and his family members whispering to one another about what a loser he is. Whatever he usually envisions about his future is, by definition, his life vision. This fearful image is the impetus for his survival, but not for success. Similarly, whatever you regularly envision about your future, then, automatically becomes your vision.
In each of these two scenarios, the waters flowing from the well have been clouded by self-doubt, and the impure contents of the well have manifested themselves as mediocrity or failure. Your vision of life, hidden in your mind whether you are consciously aware of it or not, is not merely a way of looking at things, it is your destiny, because it almost always grows into a self-fulfilling prophecy. What’s down in the well, and only what’s down in the well, can possibly come up in the bucket. It is impossible to draw clear water from a murky well. Likewise, it is ludicrous to observe the filthy water of failure that has “come up in the bucket” (that is, become your current life situation), but declare that the well is nonetheless pure and untainted.
People who are highly successful are invariably driven by a dream, a goal that is of profound importance to them. But vision alone deteriorates into mere daydreaming if it is not coupled with diligent work. Mere vision transforms itself into a life-shaping Megatude only when it burns so deeply in the soul that it propels, for example, a musician to practice the guitar until his fingers bleed, or an athlete to lift weights to the point of utter exhaustion or a business-owner to toil late into the night and live on little sleep for years on end. This level of motivation causes a few otherwise ordinary people to rise above those with superior gifts, intelligence or opportunities. Almost all of the world’s best musicians, athletes, poets, actors, chess players and writers alike, driven by a vision to be the best, slogged away endless hours in obscurity. Known as the “10,000 Hour Rule,” this principle observes that the world’s elite in every area of endeavor practiced their craft at least 10,000 hours in order to reach the top. As Eddie Cantor (1892-1964), the singing star of early radio and Broadway, said, “It takes twenty years to make an overnight success.” The list of examples is impressive.
Ray Bradbury, the acclaimed author of Fahrenheit 451 and scores of other science fiction books and short stories, began writing 1000 words every day at the age of 12 and continued into old age.
Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver in the history of the National Football League, was passed over by 20 teams because he was deemed too slow and too small to compete. But his practice regimen was so intense that others who tried to keep up with him often became sick from exhaustion.
Wayne Gretzky, known to hockey fans as “The Great One,” was renowned for his habit of being the first one to arrive at practice each day and the last one to leave, even after being recognized as the best hockey player of all time.
Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of our generation, works out or practices golf from 6:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. every day.
Bill Gates learned in the 11th grade that there was a computer terminal at the University of Washington that sat unused from 2:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. every day. Since computers were few and far between in those days, he seized the opportunity to hone his skill. He regularly set his alarm clock for 1:30 a.m., when he secretly slipped out the window of his bedroom, walked two miles to the university and practiced programming until 6:00 a.m. He would then sneak back home and crawl into his bed, only to be awakened by his mother a few minutes later for school.
The Beatles played 8 hours every night, seven nights a week for 27 straight months at four strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany before becoming famous. This amounts to 1200 concerts before they ever came to America. By comparison, The Rolling Stones have played only about twice that many concerts in 50 years!
Bobby Fisher was a chess grandmaster by the age of 16, but by that time he had already been studying relentlessly for 9 years.
Michael Phelps, who won 8 gold medals in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, swims for six hours a day, six days a week, without fail.
Pablo Cassals, the greatest cellist who ever lived, practiced six hours per day even at the age of 95.
Thomas Edison’s typical work day lasted 18 hours. It is no wonder that he was issued 1093 patents.
Liu Shikun, one of China’s most brilliant pianists, was imprisoned from 1949 until 1956 for his refusal to renounce western music. Though denied a piano for those seven years, he nonetheless emerged as an even better pianist than before. How? He spent those seven years practicing relentlessly every piano piece he had ever learned – on an imaginary piano!
Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century’s greatest orators, was known to practice his speeches almost obsessively.
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, has maintained a work schedule averaging 100 hours per week for more than 25 years.
Warren Buffet, one of the world’s greatest investors, is renowned for his daily routine that includes hours poring over graphs, charts and articles looking for investment opportunities.
Every great leader or highly successful person is marked by a clear vision and an unending zeal to make it come true. Such an obsession drove Alexander the Great to conquer the world by age 33, and Abraham Lincoln to persevere through the Civil War to preserve the Union. Mother Teresa was motivated by spiritual passion to give up all her worldly belongings and move to the ghetto of Calcutta, India, where she spent decades ministering to the poor, the orphaned and the dying. Billy Graham invested a lifetime of effort in his quest to promote the gospel. At the opposite end of this spectrum lies Adolph Hitler, whose sick and twisted passion was to rid the world of the Jewish people and establish Germany as the dominant power in Europe. Those who accomplish great things do so not so much because of their personality, intelligence, looks or talent, but because of the intensity of their drive and motivation.
Leaders who are driven by grand visions succeed in direct proportion to their ability to infect the people around them with their dream. A classic example of this phenomenon was Martin Luther King, Jr., who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and declared, “I have a dream, that this nation under God shall rise up and live out the true meaning of her creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.…” Such dreams are contagious because they are noble, rather than self-centered ones. People are magnetically drawn to those who passionately hold dreams that are great and good, believing that those who catch such visions are made better by them. Even Hitler, himself, expressed his dream of a powerful and prosperous Germany in beautiful and glowing terms, conveniently failing to mention his murderous intentions. So soaring was his rhetoric and so inspired were the masses by his vision that he was elected Chancellor of Germany with 95.7% of the vote and Austria with 98% – a mere eight months before his persecution of the Jews began. Had the vile dictator been honest about his intentions and motivations the landslide may well have been in the opposite direction, for people are repelled by dreams that are base, selfish or petty, let alone evil. If your dream is about you – to become rich or powerful – others will not be inspired by it. The only people who will help you achieve it are those whose own motivation is to siphon away some of your wealth and power for themselves. Your dream must be about changing the world, helping others reaching their potential, meeting a need, providing a service. A vision attracts others like a powerful magnet when it is perceived as noble and grand. But dishonorable ambitions emerge from a well polluted with small and self-centered thinking.
The word “vision,” as it is used in this book, is not a carefully-crafted statement developed to focus your efforts or a sentence written-up on a business plan to unify your employees behind a common goal (though articulating these clearly can be helpful). Instead, your life vision is one that has already existed in your subconscious mind since childhood, and is being fleshed out daily in the circumstances of your life as an adult. Merely writing down a statement that is contrary to the destructive vision poisoning your well, therefore, is a frustrating exercise in futility. You might consciously set very high goals for yourself. You might even attend a seminar that inspires you to write those goals down, but until the message emerging from your well is in agreement with them, significant progress will be almost impossible.
In 1909, the American explorer Admiral Robert Peary (1856-1920) was making his assault on the North Pole by dogsled. On one occasion he and his entourage hurried northward for an entire day, only to take their bearings and discover that they were further south than when they had begun that morning. Only later did he discover that he was traveling on a huge sheet of ice that had broken loose from the polar cap and was floating southward faster than his dogsled was traveling northward! His plight mirrors that of a person who is striving mightily to succeed, unaware that his subconscious mind, his vision of life, is pulling him toward failure at an even faster pace.
The conscious mind is incredibly small when compared to the subconscious one, like a solitary human being standing atop an ice sheet that is many miles across. In sheer proportions, the subconscious mind occupies many thousands of times more of our mental faculties than does the conscious mind. To make its dominance even more commanding, the subconscious mind labors 24 hours per day, while the conscious mind functions only while you are awake. The “ice sheet” of a negative life vision – if that is what you have – is pulling you backwards even when you are asleep! It should not surprise anyone, then, that substantial progress in a positive direction, which only occurs when you are awake and working, is almost impossible when your life vision is generally negative. The solution is not to travel faster while you are awake. That approach is futile and exhausting, doomed to failure from the start. The answer lies in changing your subconscious mind’s vision of who you are and what you are to be and do. Peary’s dilemma couldn’t be solved by simply “mushing” faster; it could only be corrected by choosing to travel on ice that wasn’t moving backwards to begin with. Better still would be to travel on a surface that is already moving the direction you want to go. In this way, the potential positive influence of the subconscious mind can be just as astonishing as its negative effects are.
The subconscious mind is never completely negative. It could never be completely anything. It is a hodgepodge of helpful, harmful and neutral thoughts, memories, assumptions, feelings and beliefs. Every piece of data that enters your mind through your five senses is recorded by your brain, for good or for ill. It is analyzed, sifted, interpreted and either stored, ignored, rejected or repressed. In this way, every bit of input, no matter how tiny or insignificant, changes you slightly. In the same way that anything dropped into a stew pot alters the composition and flavor of the whole pot, everything that goes into your well alters it slightly. Every bit of salt makes it saltier; every bit of sugar would make it sweeter. Therefore, just as the damaging beliefs dissolved in your well water never cease to exert their influence on you, the positive ones are also at work 24/7. Almost everyone has had the experience of going to bed at night with a vexing problem, only to awaken the following morning or in the middle of the night with a brilliant solution. We’ve all heard people respond to a challenging question by saying, “Let me sleep on it.” In other words, they are saying, “Let me shut down my conscious mind and allow the creative genius of my subconscious to grapple with the issue.”
Due to their contrast in size, your conscious mind is helpless to overcome the vision of life harbored in the subconscious. Day after day you may toil relentlessly to build the life you long for, but night after night the billions of neurons programmed for failure in your brain create a mysterious but overwhelming desire within you to sabotage your own success. Rigorous dieting is easily and predictably overcome by the irresistible urge to binge. Tireless efforts at the office are more than counteracted by the insatiable and bewildering need to challenge or antagonize the boss. Great opportunities are ignored or squandered in an involuntary quest to confirm that it is the vision of life held in the subconscious mind that is accurate, not the more positive one nurtured in the conscious mind. Like a man trying to swim upstream in a strong current, the effort required for even small gains is enormous. To make matters worse, whenever he stops to rest all his gains are rapidly erased. In this way, as the years go by, you will find yourself progressively further from your goals, having traveled “north” with all of your conscious energy, but somehow having found yourself afloat on a subconscious sheet of ice that is pulling you relentlessly backwards. How do you keep it all from “going south?”
Your subconscious vision of life may be revised, but the process is a long and difficult one. It is, however, well worth the effort. By reprogramming your subconscious mind, you can slowly stop the “southward” trend, and even reverse it. The benefits of accomplishing this are be enormous, because if you are successful in this endeavor you will find yourself moving forward even as you sleep! Eventually, the river in which you are swimming will start moving the same direction as your goals, amplifying your efforts instead of diminishing them, accelerating your pace rather than slowing it, buoying you up rather than weighing you down. This being the case, the challenging journey will pay abundant dividends in the end. Imagine your car, with the engine off, rolling slowly backwards. It is your task to stand behind the car, stop it and begin pushing it forward. Just getting the car to stop would require an enormous amount of effort. Starting it the opposite direction also calls for intense, backbreaking effort. But once the car is moving along the proper course, it begins to travel of its own momentum, requiring comparatively little effort on your part. Such is the job that awaits you as you attempt to reverse the direction of your life.
The subconscious mind is programmed by three factors: 1) The nature of the content it receives, 2) The frequency of that content and 3) The emotional impact the messages create. Assuming that you are willing to feed your brain uplifting content and do so on a regular basis, the remaining necessary ingredient is emotion. Think for a moment about your earliest memories of life. Now think of more recent events, those from adolescence and beyond, that are the most vividly recorded in your memory. Chances are these memories were indelibly etched in your medial temporal lobe by powerful feelings. My only recollection of life as a toddler is burning my knee on our home furnace. I remember it because it was emotionally and physically traumatic. Had the furnace been off that day, I would have no memory of touching it at all. But as the imprint of the hot furnace grate was being seared into my tiny leg, the imprint of the event was simultaneously being seared into my memory by the fear, sadness and sense of danger it created.
The clearest memories you have of childhood are probably those that caused you tremendous pain or great joy. You remember the other children teasing you, the broken leg at the playground, or the vicious scolding of a teacher, parent or coach, or the death of a grandparent. Or, perhaps you remember receiving the bicycle you always wanted, or the arrival of a baby brother or sister, or moving into your family’s new house. One of my clearest memories of childhood was watching as my best friend, five-year-old Peter, moving away. I stood in the middle of the street and stared as his face grew smaller and smaller in the rear windshield of his family’s station wagon. Similarly, every strong emotion you experience has the potential of programming your subconscious mind. A child who is repeatedly teased or scolded is almost certain to find himself as an adult fighting a powerful current of negativity. The fortunate few whose childhood was almost an uninterrupted stream of positive reinforcement is likely to find success easy as an adult, for swimming with the current is a simple matter.
The events of our teen and adult years also tend to be those that are accompanied by strong feelings. We remember the weddings of those we loved dearly, but forget the unions of those we barely knew. The vows were similar, the ceremonies much alike, and the venues comparable. Why do we remember one, but not the other? Because we experienced strong emotions as we watched loved ones being wed. We easily recall the game or two in which our favorite team won or lost the championship, but can’t remember the hundreds of games that were of little importance. We easily recall the deaths of those few people we knew well, and the moment we heard the tragic news is sometimes riveted in our memories, but we forget the hundreds deaths of those we didn’t love, or didn’t know. The circumstances are the same, yet the vividness of the memories remain starkly different; only the emotions associated with events causes one to stand out from all of the others in our memories. For this reason, the events that produced powerful feelings in you, whether positive or negative, are the ones whose impacts linger for decades in your subconscious mind. They are the seasonings that change the “flavor” of your well most profoundly, and once they are down in the well, they have no choice but to come up in the bucket.
At different stages of life, similar events might have markedly different emotional impacts on your psyche, because as you age your ability to properly evaluate those events improves. If someone called me stupid when I was a child, the words would cut deeply, cause me great anguish and likely flavor my well for many years to come. I might run home crying and stare in the mirror wondering why I had to be born so dense. I may angrily demand of God, “Why did you make me brainless?!??!” I might become anxiety-ridden before school exams, wondering if I could overcome my dullness. Even years later I might be hesitant to approach girls I found attractive, “knowing” that I would probably be rejected by them. After all, who would want to date a dim-wit? I’d probably stumble all over myself and say something idiotic, anyway, right? As an adult, however, I would respond to the same situation quite differently. If a colleague today told me I was stupid it might hurt my feelings slightly, but the event would not flavor my well much. Rather than crying and running away, I would simply shrug my shoulders and say, “Sorry you feel that way, but you’re mistaken. I’m actually pretty smart.” Why the difference? Because over the years I have received frequent, positive and emotionally uplifting input regarding my intelligence. I’ve had many people tell me I’m smart, done well in school, scored highly on I.Q. tests and been successful at work. I’ve sensed the exhilaration of making perfect scores on tests that others in my class failed. I’ve experienced the satisfaction of graduating from two Masters’ programs with honors. I’ve felt a sense of accomplishment after writing books and articles, and even been called brilliant on occasion. In other words, there is so much “sugar” already in my well (on that one issue, anyway) that a pinch of salt makes little difference. The water remains sweet.
As an adult, those events which are emotion-packed can actually change the speed of the ice sheet in your brain, whether it is traveling in the proper direction or not. If your life vision is one of failure and victimization, being fired from your job will tend to turbo-charge the ice sheet’s southward flow. On the other hand, if you were to receive an unexpected promotion, the flow of the ice sheet would be slowed. However, since the current is already flowing the wrong direction for most people, those events which confirm our damaging world view have a much more powerful influence than those which contradict it!To return to the car illustration, slowing down the backward roll of the car would require far more energy than merely increasing its speed in the wrong direction would. In other words, standing in front of your moving car and pushing it in the (backward) direction it is already rolling in would be easy. You could do it with one hand and little effort, giving it an occasional shove to help it on its way. However, standing behind it and reversing its direction is much more difficult. You would have to summon all your energy and strain mightily just to slow it down. Herein lies the problem: there will probably never be enough positive events in the natural flow of your life to reverse your negative life vision. And since those vision-shaping events cannot be fully controlled anyway, the key to reprogramming your brain lies in finding a means of artificially manufacturing the powerful emotions that take your life where you want it to go.
The subconscious mind responds to emotion, irrespective of whether those emotions are rooted in reality or not. Emotions felt deeply or consistently in your formative years imprint messages on your subconscious mind, even if they do not accurately reflect the truth. Those messages play back over and over again through adult life, long after you discover that the events that produced them were childish misunderstandings. For example, a small girl who grows up believing she is physically unattractive will – even after blossoming into a beautiful young woman – still tend to feel insecure in social situations. When she looks in the mirror she will invariably see tiny blemishes, invisible to others, which reinforce her belief that she is ugly. When a potential suitor delays in returning her phone calls, she imagines that it is because she is undesirable, and her ice sheet accelerates slightly. Her mother and friends may tell her that she is lovely, but these messages are insufficient to change her vision of herself. A man might tell her she is attractive, but she will dismiss the compliment as empty flattery. After all, she has a mirror, doesn’t she? She knows in her own mind that she is ugly, even if objectively this is not the case. What will it take to convince her otherwise?
If a long series of men begin to treat her as though she is quite attractive, she will eventually begin to doubt the objectivity of her own assessment of her looks. Once this occurs, these men might be able to make her feel beautiful, and the ice sheet will gradually come to a halt and even reverse direction. Ideally, truth should seep into all of our minds this way. However, the scenario just described is unlikely to happen to anyone who is not exceptionally good-looking, and so very few people will receive enough positive input to create this natural change in vision. Yet, by artificially and intentionally implanting the same emotions in our minds, the vision will change nonetheless.
I call the process of reversing your life vision “Emotionation.” This term is derived from combining the words emotion and imagination, and aptly so because those are the two ingredients necessary to transform your vision of yourself and your world. Your subconscious mind received messages when you were a child, ones that later proved to be false: “No one loves me,” “I’m stupid,” “I can’t do anything right.” Yet their impact lingers to this day. Since your mind so readily received false messages back then, it stands to reason that it will continue to receive them today, as well, even if their impact is not as profound. When you were a child, the feelings that programmed your brain were triggered by events, words, and circumstances that were beyond your control. As an adult, however, you have much more control over the messages that enter your mind, and how deeply they penetrate your psyche.
Emotionation is achieved when you deliberately imagine an event so vividly that you feel the same emotions you would experience if the imagined situations had actually occurred. A man who won the Heisman Trophy or a woman who was crowned Miss America would undoubtedly experience such positive emotions that their confidence level would be enhanced for decades to come. But the fact that only one man and one woman receive those honors each year need not prevent you from enjoying the same benefits, because vividly imagining similar positive events programs the inner workings of your brain in much the same way! Through a carefully planned series of mental exercises occupying no more than a few minutes each day, you can bring your life vision (the one forced on you by circumstances when you were a child) into line with your life dream (the goals you most want to achieve).
Emotionation is achieved by imagining with great concentration the success you desire. You need only invest two to five minutes per day in this effort. Sit alone in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and focus intensely on the outcome you long for. Reduce your goal to a single brief sentence and repeat it silently until you experience the exhilaration that should come with success. Then recall the greatest defeats or rejections you have experienced, but imagine them turning out completely differently. The goal of this practice is to attempt to erase the negative influence those events have had on your brain. Once you begin to feel elation and excitement as though your goals have already been achieved, your subconscious mind will absorb them and start the long process of slowing the southward flow of your ice sheet. While the change will be initially imperceptible, over months of repeating this exercise their combined impact will make a noticeable difference in your confidence level and, therefore, your behavior. As the ice sheet slows, your progress will accelerate. When it finally stops and reverses direction, you will be headed for great success and the fulfillment of your vision.