Here are articles on beliefs

How to quit smoking without going nuts

On my Facebook page, a member of the Get-it-Done Guy community asked: how do I quit smoking without losing my mind?

How to quit smoking is a huge topic. I’ll answer in a couple of seconds, in the hopes I can at least point you to some good resources. If I were going to quit smoking, based on everything I’ve been exposed to, here are the tools I’d use. I don’t know if this will work—I’ve never smoked—but this is what I do whenever I’m trying to change a physical habit.

I’ve used these techniques around eating, when I discovered that my diet as a 19-year-old somehow didn’t look or feel as good once I was past adolescence. I also use these techniques to overcome my resistance to exercise and pushing myself at the gym.

There are three areas I concentrated on: dealing with the physical sensations, dealing with my beliefs and mental habits, and dealing with the actual behavioral triggers to eating.

Physical sensations. I would eat until I felt stuffed, instead of eating until I stopped feeling hungry. I used self-hypnosis and gave myself a lot of suggestions like, “as soon as my body is no longer hungry, let me feel full.” And “with every bite I take once I’m no longer hungry, let me feel fuller and fuller.” For the gym, I used hypnosis so sore muscles now feel good to me and immediately make me think of how studly I’m becoming. *grunt*

For smoking, I would pay close attention to the physical sensations of wanting a cigarette and use hypnosis to make those same sensations triggers for feeling like taking a deep breath, or feeling good about how I was quitting smoking.

Beliefs that trigger me. When contemplating going to the gym, my first thought would be, “that’s so much work!! It will be so unpleasant!” I would also think, “I just don’t have the genetics to be able to get a really good-looking body.”

The most effective thing I’ve found to identify and deal with beliefs that trigger or get in the way of physical behaviors is The Work of Byron Katie. You can buy her book, Loving What Is, or download the entire important pieces of the book for free at http://www.thework.com.

Though Katie markets The Work as self-help, I even use it for very concrete things like physical preparation for singing. I used to have trouble hitting certain high notes and noticed that right before I sang the note, I thought, “This is a high note. I’ll have to reach for it,” and that thought triggered the tension in my throat. I did The Work on that thought and suddenly became calm and clear in my singing.

For smoking, I would write down every belief I could find about smoking and do The Work on them. For example, “I look cool when I smoke,” “I need to smoke to calm down,” “Smoking feels good,” “Smoking will help me feel better,” etc.

Behavioral triggers. When you start to do an unwanted behavior, you can change the very action of the behavior into a reminder to do something else. For example, if I give in to my desire for Oreo ice cream cake, I arrange for the sight of it approaching my mouth to trigger a reminder that looking like a stud-muffin is way more important to me than eating a second piece of Oreo ice cream cake.

For behavior triggers, I use the “swish pattern” from NLP (neurolinguistic-programming), as discussed in the book Using Your Brain—For a Change by Richard Bandler.

For smoking, I would use the swish pattern to shift from the image of my hand approaching my mouth with a cigarette or lighter to a reminder of how great I’ll look, feel, and smell(!) when I no longer want or need cigarettes.

I hope this helps.

How did younger-you become present-day-you?

It’s my birthday today! I thought up a rather fun way to spend some time celebrating. Here’s my game:

Think of your age 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc. and write down all the things you appreciate about the younger “you.” Spend some time pondering what’s been constant, what’s changed, and how that younger “you” contributed to who you are now. This is an exercise I’m designing for a speech on Living Your Life for younger people. If you’re willing to share, please chime in. What did you like about younger-you?  What’s been constant? What’s changed? (What, that you thought would be constant at the time, changed?)

Richard St. John’s TED Talk on Success. Is it nothing but delusion?

I was just watching a TED talk by Richard St. John on the 8 Rules of Success. Richard interviewed 500 TED attendees to distill down eight principles. His recommendations are depressingly trite: have passion, work hard, yada, yada, yada. You can see the talk here: http://bit.ly/6VxMaC

REVISION: October 25, 2012: I may have found the recommendations trite, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true and rigorous. I wrote this article originally making several incorrect assumptions about Richard’s methodology. My bad. My very, very bad. I inappropriately dinged him on research methodology when I, myself, wasn’t doing my own homework vis-a-vis verifying that my points were correct.

Richard writes: Hey Stever – Just so you know, I did also interview unsuccessful people and homeless people as a control group and they DIDN’T follow any of the 8 Traits that are necessary for success. They didn’t love what they do, they didn’t work hard, etc. As for the Halo Effect, many of the most successful people couldn’t articulate why they were successful. They’d say “I don’t know.” So I’d look for examples of what they’d actually “done.” I’d ask, “How often do you take vacations?” A lot would say “I don’t take vacations.” I’d ask, “Why not?” They’d say, “I’d rather work.” I’d ask, “Why?” They’d say, “I like it” or “It’s fun.” So it wasn’t like they automatically blurted out the 8 Success Traits. I had to find them through examples. And by the way, I’m not saying everyone has to be a big success. I’m just saying is if you want to succeed at something this is how you’ll get there.
Richard St. John

What follows is the bulk of my original article. I’ve edited it to remove specific examples to Richard’s situation, since it does not apply to his work. It does, however, apply to a lot of what passes for “how to succeed” literature, so the points are still useful to keep in mind.

It’s not his fault his results are trite, however. As discussed at great length in The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig, when you interview someone after-the-fact about why something was successful or a failure, you always get the same answers.

That means, sadly, that such answers are meaningless. If you ask someone who’s a known success how they got that way, they’ll say it was vision, passion, hard work, etc. If you ask their friends, the friends will say vision, passion, hard work, etc. If you ask someone who’s a failure how they got that way, you’ll also get the same stories over and over. Humans seem to have built-in explanations for such things.

Most success talks miss the point by not interviewing people who had vision, passion, and worked hard, and failed. Why? Because most success studies start by identifying successful people who have already achieved success and interview them. It may be that for every 100 people who have vision, passion, and work hard, 99 of them end up burned out, divorced, and miserable, and only one goes on to be successful. But if you select only the successful ones to interview, it’s easy to conclude that those traits correlate with success.

A simpler example: every successful person in the world drank either mother’s milk or formula as a baby. Does that mean that drinking mother’s milk or formula leads to success? Not at all. It just means that pretty much everyone drinks those things as babies.

I know some very rich finance people. Their vision? Nil. Really Nil. Like, no imagination whatsoever. Their passion? To show off and impress the neighbors. Their hard work? Signing checks. It’s tough if it’s not special 24-bond paper made for smooth writing. And then all that waiting and waiting! Years of playing golf, waiting while thousands of people work their butts off so the providers of capital can walk off with the profits (that’s what “capitalism” means–providers of capital get the rewards). In short, I know many example of people who don’t have all those nice, feel-good attributes, and are even more successful than many who do.

Since Richard St. John is giving his talks to high school students, he is in the perfect position to do a real experiment to find out what leads to success. Have half of the students he talks to do the things he recommends. Have them work hard, have vision, and so on. The other half? Have them slack off and meander through life. In twenty year’s we’ll be able to see whether or not there’s a real correlation between his recommendations and subsequent success.

What are some rules and beliefs of organizational life?

Hi! For my book, I would like to gather a set of beliefs that govern how people operate in organizations. I’m especially looking for beliefs that really drive people’s behavior, decision-making, etc. Contradictions and alternate viewpoints welcome and encouraged. For example:

  • Never help out a colleague too much, because they’re just competition for the top spot.
  • Always help your colleagues, because when we work together, we accomplish more than when we work alone.
  • Our competitors will never be able to produce a product as good as ours.
  • Management is stupid and doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I will be using these in my book. By submitting them here, you give me permission to do so. I would like to list everyone who contributes in the acknowledgements section. If you wish to be acknowledged, just sign your comment with your desired name (first name, full name, etc.).


Science has worked so well that superstition now reigns supreme

I grew up in the era of the Apollo moon launches. One of my earliest memories is traveling to Cape Canaveral and watching from the beach as one of the missions was launched towards the moon. It was pretty incredible.

Despite frequent moves and attending six schools between elementary school and college, science was in the air. I got a firm grounding in how to think critically, how to use data, and how to observe the physical world around me in pursuit of Doing Great Things. Whether my school was in a failing Pennsylvania steel town or in a full-on major city, science was present.

Science has given us great things. And therein lies the problem.
read more…

The world is what you make it; what are you making it?

Chris Matthews was just commenting that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was “a reminder of the dangerous world we all live in.”

In that moment, it struck me: we all live in a world of our own making. Oh, I don’t mean literally, though fans of The Secret may disagree. But our experience of the world is so deeply tied to our interpretations that what most of us call “truth” is nothing more than our own made up stories.

I look at the world today and see more than 6 billion people surviving. Many don’t have enough water or health care, but they’re surviving. It fact population continues to rise. That doesn’t sound like a dangerous world to me; that sounds like a world that’s provided us pretty much everything we need to thrive. Heck, we’ve even exterminated or controlled all of our natural predators.

To the extent we live in a “dangerous” world, that danger comes from other humans. For example, investment bankers and financial managers who deal in collateralized debt obligations. And yes, the occasional human being kills others. Sometimes it’s in war, or for political reasons, or whatever. And the media focuses on those events precisely because the violent, dangerous events are the exception, rather than the rule.

Most Americans have never suffered pain worse than a stubbed toe. We’re surrounded on the east and west by oceans so broad that no one can cross them without ample warning. We have Mexico and Canada to the south and north. The greatest danger there comes from having too much cheap labor and better ice hockey teams, respectively. As for the rest of the world, we have more intercontinental warheads than everyone else put together and then some.

In short, we’re the most dangerous thing in the world, and in the absolute scale of things, even we aren’t doing much damage. (Except unintentionally, to the environment, but that’s not what Chris Matthews was talking about.)

So Chris lives in a dangerous world because he finds the danger and then calls the world dangerous. He could also look at all the good things and call the world safe, secure, and happy. His choice.

And what is your choice? Which world do you live in?

If you want to bring this into a business context, since this is a business BLOG, let me ask you: when you look at your competition, your industry, and your trends, what stories do you tell? How do you explain the actions of others? The actions of markets? Do you tell a story of luck? Of skill? Of timing? Are you a victim of the market (“the failure of our initiative was because of a bad economy”) or are you a driver of the market (“we did everything we could think of and found the combination that let us become market leader in a mature market”)?

Examine your stories. They’re only stories, and they dictate your every perception, your every decision, and your every action. Choose your stories well.

Is being nice worthwhile?

I just had this exchange of answer/email/response on LinkedIn on the topic of: should you be nice?

The original question:

Is there power in being nice, with people in general or as a management tool?I’m reading the new book “The Power of Nice” because it was sent to me by Bzz Marketing. It is quite interesting and turns what everyone should do anyway (IMHO) on its head slightly.

Call it pay it forward, golden rule, random acts of kindness, the book makes the point that this is good business, good for your health and good for your overal happiness.

Do you agree, or is this just so much psychobabble?

My reply

I haven’t read “The Power of Nice,” though I’m amused that we’ve created a culture where we believe we have to make a case for treating each other nicely.It can certainly be better business to screw people. Prof. Howard Stevenson of Harvard Business School did a study about that years ago. He concluded that being unethical did, indeed, pay, but it produces a world we don’t want to live in, so we tell stories like, “Being ethical is good business.”

In my life, I find when I’m centered and calm and at my best, I naturally want to be nice to people, and it feels darned good. And yeah, there’s more and more research supporting that position.

Clarification added 1 hour ago:

I notice many of the respondants are personal and executive coaches. So take us with a grain of salt. Perhaps the I-bankers and Swim-with-the-Shark types can give us their perspective? Too bad Leona Helmsley is no longer with us–she could argue the other side.

The author wrote back

Are you saying there are times when the best thing to do is “screw people”?

My reply

The “best thing to do” depends on your value system. In business, if you value profits over people, you can sometimes maximize profits by screwing people. Nicotine-enhanced cigarette, anyone? Unethical behavior is common in business. The Conference Board did a study showing 60% of all people interviewed over a wide range of companies and industries routinely were asked to do unethical or illegal things. That makes it the majority way of doing business. That says to me that unethical behavior is more normal in the workforce than being female. (Copy of the study is available in PDF form here. See page 22.)

Personally, I value people over profits. I would love to live in a world where, if a business can legally, but unethically, make a profit, it would go out of business regardless of profitability. I used to stand up in meetings and point out when we were doing something unethical. Now I’m self-employed; honest self-examination isn’t a survival trait in corporate America. What was a survival trait, however, was the willingness to help everyone convince themselves that the profit-maximizing choice was also the ethically and morally “right” choice.

My own life has been a continual effort to deepen my integrity and building a life that aligns with my values. It disturbs me to see people damage their own integrity through self-denial.

That’s why I quoted Prof. Stevenson’s research. There’s this very comforting, but empirically false story that we can somehow maximize our business fortunes and our ethical/moral fortunes in one happy bundle. When we adopt the story, we get to have it all. When we face tough choices with very real tradeoffs between being a “good businessperson” and being a “good human being,” we relieve ourselves of having to confront the real choice, since our little story lets us maximize people OR profits, and claim that in the long run, our decision was magically best for both.

So back to your original question… I’ve had a very happy, satisfying, successful life on many levels, and have forgone chances to get a lot richer, legally, in ways that would have compromised my personal sense of integrity.

You may be different. If you prefer profits to people, then yeah, the best thing for you may be to screw people. I suspect if you do that, you’ll find yourself at life’s end surrounded by people you don’t like very much, with fewer happy memories than you might like. But that could simply be MY wishful thinking. I’m sure there are people who’ve been total jerks their whole life, accumulated huge fortunes, and died quite happy and quite oblivious to any suffering or harm they cause to others.

The good news is that you get to choose who you’ll be.

All the best,


When you define life as war, you get hurt.

Wow. Walking through the airport, I saw a sign:

Shell Oil says: When Mother Nature doesn’t back down, we have experts up to her challenge.

Think about that framing! Shudder. That’s the framing of extinction. Mother Nature, dear Shell Oil, is what gives us life. Food. Clothes. Even *gasp* oil.

Maybe we are, indeed, at war with Mother Nature. If so, it’s a war we can only lose. She’ll win. Can you say “Global warming?” Species extinction? Honey Bees?

The engineers aren’t up to those challenges, just yet. Especially in a country where Gallup reported today that 68% of Repubs and 40% of Dems/Indeps don’t believe in evolution, I don’t have high hopes that we’ll be leading innovation into solving world problems 20 years from now. Though we might still be drilling oil.

Finding the beliefs that trap us

My recent Harvard Business School Working Knowledge column discussed how we’re trapped inside our beliefs. It even got mentioned on the Boston Globe BLOG. I say that “thinking outside the box” means thinking outside your beliefs.

But this is just darned hard to do! It’s not natural to sit around analyzing yourself to figure out what your beliefs are, so you can think outside them. And reading stuff written by people with vastly different beliefs isn’t likely to help you think outside your box unless you can suspend your beliefs pretty deeply. (I know, I was just reading a newspaper editorial, gritting my teeth the whole way through. “I can consider this with an open mind,” I futilely told myself.)

So instead of identifying beliefs by challenging them, let’s take another approach. Here are a bunch of beliefs I’ve encountered in clients and friends that hold people back from doing the things they most need to do. Notice that some of these beliefs are polar opposites. Indeed, the same belief can limit one person while freeing another. It depends on each person’s situation and their other beliefs as well.

Ponder this list. If any of them seem familiar, stop a moment and do a thought experiment. Ask yourself, “what would I be doing, who would I be, how would I act if I didn’t believe this?” Then imagine that different-You going through a typical day. The goal here isn’t to change your beliefs, just to step outside and test the waters.

Beliefs about yourself

  • I’m successful.
  • I’m a failure.
  • I deserve what I’m getting.
  • I don’t deserve what I’m getting.
  • I can do anything I put my mind to.
  • I don’t have the degrees/certifications/recognition to do it.

Beliefs about customers

  • Customers buy the lowest-priced product.
  • Customers buy the highest-quality product.
  • We must give all customers great service.
  • Our customers are [insert your demographic here]

Beliefs about competitors

  • We have no competitors.
  • We have lots of competitors.
  • Company X is our competitor. (Are Google and Microsoft competitors? Why? or Why not? Are they even in the same business?)
  • We are better than competitor X.
  • We are cheaper than competitor X.
  • Competitor X is a threat.
  • Competitor X is not a threat.

Beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of doing.

  • We can accomplish goal G with resources R. (Often manifests after a layoff, as workforce is reduced but goals aren’t.)
  • We have the capability to do H.
  • We have the best programmers/manufacturers/documentors/operators/logistics in the world.

Beliefs about the future

I’ve chosen some of the hot topics that tend to be argued strongly from belief. Amusingly, most of the below beliefs have measurements and research available, but virtually none of us know about it (except as it is selectively cited by our favorite already-believes-with-us pundit):

  • We’ll have plenty of oil for the coming decades.
  • We’ll run out of oil in X years.
  • Economic health will lead to happier lives for us all.
  • Political party Z will win the next election.
  • We can pollute without having any really bad effects on the world.
  • If we spend more on schools, we’ll have better-educated kids.
  • Fixing education isn’t just a matter of money.

Beliefs about the world

  • Everything is politics. People are motivated by pure self-interest. I have to manipulate them to get what I want.
  • Everything is family. People are motivated by altruism. I can do good and appeal to their better nature to get what I want.
  • We have to see what the trends are, then act.
  • If we act first, we can shape the trends.
  • Life is a meritocracy. Rewards come to those who work hard.
  • Life is all about luck. Rewards have very little to do with working hard.
  • Taxes are bad. Period.
  • Taxes are the contribution we make to live in a country that provides common services.
  • Social problems should be solved by government.
  • Social problems should be solved by markets.

So why does it matter, anyway?

Your beliefs control what you do and don’t attempt in the world. If you believe you’re a bad negotiator, you’ll never put yourself in situations where you have to do difficult negotiations, so you’ll never go up the learning curve. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your beliefs also determine the options you generate when you want to try something new. If you truly believe that Wal-mart is an invincible competitor, for example, you won’t even consider business options that would pit you head-to-head against Wal-mart.

And lastly, your beliefs determine what you pay attention to. They determine what you measure. If you believe customers are out to cheat you, you’ll invent things like software activation(1). If you believe customers are honest, you’ll likely create a tighter relationship with your customers because you’ll naturally engage in trust-building activities.

So now that you’ve tried on a few different beliefs. Here’s a final question to ponder: what could you measure or pay attention to that would let you know if the new belief you tried is better, worse, or as effective as your current belief?

Just a thought…

(1) Software activation is a potential disaster for customers, but software companies don’t care.