Reality – Not confusing how things seem for how things are.
We humans walk around with beliefs in our heads about “how things work”. The closer or farther my beliefs are to how things really work (in reality), the better or worse equipped I am to realize the life I want.
The task of gauging or improving the accuracy of my beliefs requires awareness, discipline and humility:
- Awareness: I need to be aware of what my beliefs really are.
- Discipline: I need to continuosly compare my beliefs to the information I receive from other sources with curiosity and healthy skepticism, evaluating the credibility, bias, and incentives of those information sources along the way. In time this can become a habit that flows naturally, but initially it requires focused attention and discipline.
- Humility: I will learn some of my beliefs are not-quite-right or flat-out wrong. This is normal and happens to everyone. A little humility goes a long way to smooth and speed the unlearning process.
Treating my understanding of reality as a “working draft” requiring ongoing review and revisions (i.e., vetting and improving my beliefs) can be uncomfortable, but it beats the alternative: Holding beliefs disconnected from reality, that guarantee my plans to live my best life will fail.
Empathy – Not missing insights and opportunities other people offer.
Part of vetting and improving my beliefs about reality and “how things work” entails seeking insight from other people. But not just any other people. I’m best served by seeking out people with the most credibility and experience related to the beliefs in question – and especially those with different backgrounds, experiences or perspectives than mine. Further, I listen to those people with my eyes as much as my ears, because what people do is a far better indicator of their beliefs than what they say.
Aspiration – Not confusing hopes for goals or activity for productivity.
Living my best life doesn’t just happen. It requires intention, clear thinking, and smart action. I use the Build-Track-Learn¹ Cycle to guide my efforts.
Based on my beliefs about reality and “how things work”, I formulate a hypothesis (e.g., If I do _____ or if _____ happens, then I will get ____ or ______ will happen), then I build a plan to test the hypothesis using SMART, Domino goals.
Example of a SMART Goal: Lose 37 pounds in 9 months.
- Specific (e.g., lose 37 pounds, not “drop some weight”)
- Measurable (e.g., lose 37 pounds measured with my scale, not “feel slimmer”)
- Attainable (e.g., in 9 months, not “in 9 days”)
- Relevant (e.g., lose 37 pounds, not “lose 0.37 pound”)
- Time-based (e.g., in 9 months, not “someday”)
Domino Goals: Goals that build on each other over time, as if you set up a line of dominos where each successive domino is larger than the previous one and, as they knock down, they have increasingly more force and power.²
I then track my performance against my goals and my learning related to the hypothesis, which helps me avoid confusing activity with productivity. The goal is not to be busy; the goal is to be productive.
Logic – Not confusing easy decisions for good decisions.
Being as objective and dispassionate as possible when analyzing my performance against my goals and what it tells me about my hypothesis is key. But it’s no cake walk. It’s not uncommon for people to fall in love with their hypothesis or the underlying beliefs about “how things work” that led them to formulate the hypothesis in the first place. Some people may even feel personally threatened by the idea that a cherished belief may not be perfectly accurate. (I have first-hand experience.) But while ignoring or explaining-away results that threaten one’s hypothesis is an easier decision, it’s not a good decision. And growth and living my best life requires good decisions.
¹ I’m not familiar with who initially authored this Build-Track-Learn framework, but it appears to have its roots in the scientific method.
² Keller, G.W. & Papasan, J. (2013). The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Bard Press.