Stop Telling Me What to Do (The Normal Person’s Guide to Success)

Okay, I will eat my vegetables! (jorsan75 on Flikr

Okay, I will eat my vegetables! (jorsan75 on Flikr)

We all know the things we should be doing and shouldn’t be doing. We should exercise more, practice guitar more, work harder on our business, learn foreign languages and eat more vegetables.

We also know that we shouldn’t smoke, drink too much alcohol, eat junk food, watch TV and a million other things. The “what” is not the problem. The “how” is probably not even a barrier, because we can all learn how to do pretty much anything we want with a quick Internet search. We know the “what” and “how” of success, so why is it still so damn difficult?

Personal Development Advice from Idiots

Who doesn’t know what areas in their own life need improvement, raise your hand. There is little mystery about the areas of our lives we wish were better. We all want to read more, exercise more, eat healthier food, spend more time with our families and friends, learn more skills, make more money, etc.

We also have a pretty good grasp on the things we shouldn’t be doing. I doubt if there are many smokers who think that cigarettes are good for their health. Unless you are a sumo wrestler, it is unlikely that you are happy with your own obesity. We know that we drink too many soft drinks, eat too much potato chips, and waste too much time checking emails and browsing websites when we should be working on our personal ideas.

Hey! Get me some french fries with that too.

Hey! Get me some french fries with that too.

Everybody knows, so we don’t need to be reminded of what to do or what not to do. You start gaining a little weight and then some genius recommends,

“You should exercise more!”

“Thanks dude! Never thought of that.”

“You should quit smoking. You will feel better and save money.”

“Really, I was smoking because I thought it was a good way to save for retirement.”

“You should invest more money.”

“Yes, great idea. I will take some of the extra cash I have stashed in Swiss bank accounts and do that pronto.”

Again, the “what” is not a problem. Also, the “how” is not so much of a barrier anymore. So if everybody knows what area of their lives need improving and how to do it, why do so few get started?

The Root All of Evil

Here is the source of the problem, and it is a big one so listen (read) closely. You may want to lean in towards your screen for added effect. Imagine me looking to both sides to see if anyone is eavesdropping on the valuable advice I am about to share. Here it is. It is coming. Are you ready?

We don’t do the things we know we should because they are difficult and unpleasant. We enjoy all the bad stuff we do to our bodies because we gain immediate satisfaction.

“Eating 2 litres of Hagen Daz ice cream seemed like a good idea at the time”

It’s Fun to be Bad

It is hugely satisfying to chow down on rich, heavy, fattening foods. Your dilemma between a hamburger or broccoli is really about immediate gratification versus longer term benefit. In fact all of these arguments are the same. Things that are good for you, generally don’t manifest benefits for a long time. We get to enjoy the bad things right now!

Many of us would love to speak other languages fluently. We also know that learning a foreign language takes a lot of work. Studying tedious drills or reading dated articles in a foreign language at one tenth of your native language speed is incredibly frustrating and boring. You might as well read the DVD player manual you left out for your mother to browse. People learn foreign languages because they want to communicate in that language more effectively in the future, not because it is fun to study.

This ties in with the myth of passion. People are not passionate about the boring, tedious and seemingly endless amounts of sacrifice necessary to accomplish a goal. That part sucks. They are passionate about the results of that effort. I don’t like practicing scales and chords for hundreds of hours on the guitar, but I do have a passion to improve my music skills. Even small improvements in my ability, as result of all that effort are incredibly rewarding.

Delayed Satisfaction

That is the real secret of success in any endeavor. You need to be able to clearly envision the future benefits of your current pain. Going for a run is often the last thing I can think of doing. There are dozens of other more immediately enjoyable activities I can think of such as: lying on the sofa, drinking a beer, eating a bag of potato chips, watching TV and shoving pencils up my nose. I don’t run because it is enjoyable now, I run because I know how great I am going to feel after.

That is what success is all about. It is trading your immediate enjoyment for future benefit. Having enough money to travel the world for a year would be fantastic. Are you willing to trade your car, dinners out, fancy clothes and other materialistic purchases now? Before you hand your credit card over to the store clerk, ask yourself if this immediate pleasure of the purchase is more valuable than the opportunity to travel in the future?

We make conscious and unconscious decisions everyday of our lives that either pull us toward our goals or push us further away. When you light that cigarette, open the fridge door and turn on the TV, you are making a decision. Throwing away your smokes, going for a walk after dinner, and making some progress towards the project you have been delaying are also choices you are making.

Before you get ready to grab a beer and flip on the TV, ask yourself if the next three hours spend in front of the idiot box will make you feel better about yourself than going to the gym and exercising?

Instead of opening your RSS feed reader and spending two hours reading blog posts, consider if that energy can better be spent working on your own blog articles or maybe doing some research on the business plan you have been putting off for months.

Pain and Pleasure

Cigarette Anyone? (Ajka_Hungary on Flikr)

Cigarette Anyone? (Ajka_Hungary on Flickr)

The real secret to success is to flip around the ways we derive satisfaction. We need to associate pain with our detrimental short term indulgences and make distant goals seem more tangible and pleasurable. If you want to quit smoking, visit the cancer ward of a hospital or put up pictures of lung cancer victims around your house. Link pain to smoking.

If you want to travel the world, carry pictures of the places you want to see in your wallet. Tape a picture of the Eiffel Tower to your credit card and choose to make a purchase or save for your adventure.

Do you have the courage and will power to trade now for the future?

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

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