The One Belief You Must Kill - Michael Bernoff | Human Communications Institute
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The One Belief You Must Kill

The One Belief You Must Kill

Groundhog Day was a couple weeks ago, and it got me thinking about the nature of success.

So first let’s take the movie Groundhog Day. Whether you’ve seen it or not, let me give you a recap – Bill Murray gets stuck in a single day, over and over, where he can’t seem to get out of his nightmare, even when he tries to kill himself. He tries again and again to escape. He tries again and again to end it. But he just can’t.

Ultimately, the movie is about him becoming a better person. But it’s so much more than that. It’s actually about learning to do things differently. It’s about learning to let go of what’s not working and doing something new.

This is something that is very challenging to a lot of people. Personally, I was terrible at this at one point in my life. I was attempting to grow my business a certain way that had worked at one point. And since it’d worked before I kept doing it again and again – except now it wasn’t working any more. So then I would work twice as hard, still doing the exact same thing that was not working! I kept plugging away, pushing harder and harder using an old way that never led to more success, it just made me tired and very frustrated. If you’ve been in business for any length of time you’ve felt this before.

The Rut You Know

You see the problem is that most people are going along doing things a way they think works, and they don’t stop to look up and realize that it’s not working and they are stuck. It’s like a comfort zone and everyone knows getting out of your comfort zone feels scary and intimidating. So even though your current plan isn’t working, you keep doing it.

So here’s a great example – take my recent conversation with my wealth management team. They’ve been managing my money for years, using a plan we set up when I originally met with them.

Now as I’m talking to them they tell me, “Hey Michael, you’re growing pretty well. You’ve seen steady growth this whole time.” I’m nodding my head with my phone in my ear and a smile on my face, thinking “Yes and that is so great!”

But is it? Steady growth this whole time. They meant I was seeing the same return on investment that I was seeing almost a decade ago.

I’m sure you get what I mean when I say I had conflicting feelings about this. On one hand, reliable. On the other hand, it wasn’t really a reflection of my life. Because in the time that passed since I started investing with them, my business and life have grown a ton. So why haven’t my wealth management strategies grown along with them? It’s almost like my money was stagnant!

I bet you feel this way too, sometimes, right? Like you’re still doing “good,” but aren’t really getting better. You get stuck in the rut you know. And it’s for a very simple, very human reason: we get nervous.

Loss Aversion

Have you ever heard the phrase “loss aversion”? I remember learning this in high school economics class – basically it means you would rather avoid losing something than gain that same thing. The idea is closely related to risk aversion, but subtly different.

For instance, would you work way harder to avoid losing $100 than you would to go make it? By some estimates, the pain we feel at losing that 100 dollars is twice as great as the pleasure we feel at gaining it. How ridiculous is that?

It’s not hard to see how this translates to your unwillingness to stretch. What if you lose it all?

No one can blame you for feeling that way. But here’s the rub: it’s a completely false belief.

Let’s say I invested twice as much in the stock market. What could happen? Well, I could lose twice as much if something went wrong. But that would hardly destroy me. I’d probably be no worse off than I am now, and it’s unlikely to happen anyway. On the flip side what if I double it up? For sure there’s a lot I could do with those profits!

Now think about your own goals. Maybe you want to work on your health at the same time as grow your business. Maybe you want to keep focused on work yet your relationship needs attention too and you want to find a way to strengthen your relationship. Maybe you want to improve your marketing skills. Maybe you want to build an email list. So why not go for it?

Because fear is powerful. It makes us believe that doing something different will undo everything we’ve worked for. What we must do is fight the belief that we could lose everything, because it’s really the thing that keeps us stuck.

Enter the “Hedonic Treadmill”

Remember how excited you were to experience something for the first time, like the very first car you ever had? Many times the excitement over a new car you drive now, even though it may be nicer and more expensive, pales in comparison to the excitement you felt over your very first car. Social scientists like to talk about something called the “hedonic treadmill.” It basically says that we very quickly get used to good things. Once we get used to something it becomes part of our expectations for what is “good.” We quickly adapt to the great things that happen in our life (a new car, a new job, a marriage, a new income level, etc) and the same things that used to give us a “high” or a rush are now just status quo and expected.

That doesn’t mean that long term a steady relationship or lucrative career doesn’t bring happiness. What it means is that we adapt to achieving things quickly and constantly go for more.

Conversely, on our quest to get more, we also want to hold on to things. We don’t want to lose things. Do you see what I mean? We have less tolerance for losing and a high tolerance for gains!

And that also keeps us stuck. That my friends is the psychology behind Loss Aversion.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you get an offer from an incredible client. Say Steven Spielberg calls, and he wants you to manage his entire marketing team. He’s offering to pay you a million bucks a year, but if you can’t get the job done, he’ll fire you in 30 days. Here is how the mind works. You haven’t gotten the million dollars yet, but the brain already moves to the “What If?” of losing the million dollars you could gain!

Even if you took the job and bombed, you haven’t lost everything. You would have lost a great new opportunity, and that would be painful. But you still would have your existing clients. You still have your bank account. The opportunity is the only thing that was lost, so why not go for it? If you do the math, it doesn’t make sense not to.

The only way to take these challenges head on is to become emotionally competent, and to maintain your belief that the next time will be better. You have to kill the belief that trying something new could cost you everything, because that belief is almost always a lie.

You must get rid of it now. Otherwise you’ll stay stuck (and not grow). And for me that’s unacceptable.

What about you? Are you willing to push past the nerves and a fear and do the great things you were meant to do? I believe you are.