Achieving any goal has two components: the obstacles we must overcome to get from point A to point B, and the inner transformation required to move past those obstacles. In today’s episode, we discuss principles that will make it easier for you to conquer both external obstacles and inner challenges, so you can reach your goals with more fun and more efficiency.
The Story of Your Success
Story is an art form that you can use in life and business, and it’s the ultimate tool for wealth-building. It will help you reach any goal, achieve self-mastery, and even attract customers into your business. We’ll talk about story a lot in this show, but to get us started today I just want to touch on a few story principles that can help us all on the road to wealth.
Whatever the destination we’re aiming for, whether it’s earning more, losing weight, getting out of debt, finding a great life partner, story describes the process of getting there. The beginning of every story is the “before” picture. It’s the extra 10 or 50 or 100 pounds we’ve been lugging around. The paycheck that isn’t what it should be. Attending the wedding alone when our best friend is marrying his or her true love. Whatever the plot, whether it’s fictional or occurring in real-time in your own life, the story always begins with the main character wanting more, but the thing that they want is eluding them.
- Why We Should Heed Calls to Action
If a story occurs on the screen instead of real life, then there’s a call to action that the hero always regards as a sign to take action. In the movie Legally Blonde, Elle Woods heads off to Harvard law school chasing after her true love. Amnesiac Jason Bourne leaves the fishing boat and go to Switzerland in search of his identity. If the hero doesn’t take action, those movies wouldn’t get made and we wouldn’t go see them.
We demand action in our movies because we love transformation, about becoming something better than what we are right now. Growth and transformation are what moved us forward as a species and so those of us who are here on the planet today have the desire to grow and transform baked into our DNA. The reason we like story so much, the reason we crave it and will binge on it and ignore everything else that is happening around us at the time, is because every story tells a tale of transformation and growth that occurs by taking action. It’s not just about Elle Woods going to Harvard or Jason Bourne going to Switzerland. It’s about who they become as a result of that journey.
Heeding the call to action is where we tap into the richness of our lives and what is possible for us. We demand it in a movie because it is our ultimate satisfaction to see that and if it isn’t there it is very frustrating for us. We walk out of the theater or we throw the novel across the room.
In our own lives, we get frequent calls to action, but we often ignore them. We say things like, “No. This is who I am. This is what’s realistic. This is what I’ve been told about how the world works. This is how it is for me.” We’re wired for growth, but we remain stuck.
This is why so many of us are frustrated. By not heeding our own calls to action, we’re living in lackluster stories that go nowhere, and we’re depriving ourselves of the richness of the lives we could lead. And then what happens? We compensate for that deprivation with things that weigh us down and frustrate us even more. This is not a movie that any of us would ever watch. So, a question I’d like to pose for all of us to consider today is why we would want to live that movie.
A big reason is because we think we don’t know how, and this is another area where the principles of story are illustrative for us and can help us achieve success in our own lives.
- Decide to take the Journey: Don’t Wait for “How”
When the hero in a movie heeds a call to action, how does that happen? It starts with a decision. This is the point in the story when the hero points to the promised land and says, “I want that. I don’t want this (before picture) any longer.” It’s Elle Woods saying, “I have no idea what’s going to happen when I get to law school, but I am going because I want to get my boyfriend back.” It’s Jason Bourne saying, “I have no idea what’s going to happen when I walk into that Swiss Bank which is the only thread I have to pull on to figure out who I am, but I’m going to go because this is important.”
So, notice what happens here: the decision comes first, I am going to head off on this journey. The how follows the decision. This is another place where the principles of story can help us reach our goals. Too many of us are waiting until we know how before we make the decision. This isn’t how stories work, because it’s not how life works. No one ever gets anywhere waiting around for the how to materialize.
Consider the movie Hidden Figures. That’s the story about the space program when the US is making the push to get to the moon before the Russians. They decided to go to the moon and THEN they figured out how to get there. Why must the decision come first? Because everything is impossible until someone DECIDES to do it anyway. If the how isn’t powered by a decision that we’re going to do this no matter what, it’s just too easy to throw up your hands and say this is never going to happen. When we decide that we are going to make something happen, we shift from “I don’t know how” which shuts everything down, to “I’m going to figure out how,” which opens everything up. Our brains work differently when they’re fueled by a decision.
Once the decision is made, then the hero struggles along, and the obstacles are coming at him harder and faster than he can handle. It’s where everyone is shooting at Jason Bourne and chasing him across Europe. It’s where no one will be friends with Elle Woods at Harvard, and they all think she’s a bimbo. In every story, this is the part where it feels like there’s a lot of work without a lot of traction. Everything feels difficult, because the hero isn’t really all-in yet. They’re going through the motions, they’re taking the actions, but they’re not getting any traction yet. In real life, this is where many of us want to quit, and fortunately, another story principle can help us keep going.
In every great story, there’s a moment when the hero looks in the mirror and an inner shift begins to occur. The hero discerns that it’s not enough to just go through the motions on this journey. Success also requires a resolution—an inner transformation in which we resolve as to who we’re going to have to become to get there. In the Godfather, Michael Corleone decides he will get his hands dirty if that’s what’s necessary to protect his family. In Gone with the Wind, it’s when Scarlett O’Hara throws up after eating a dirty, rotten radish in her garden, and vows that she’ll never be hungry again. In Legally Blonde, it’s when Elle Woods sees herself in her ex-boyfriend’s eyes, the boyfriend who said she was too much of a bimbo to make it as a lawyer, and she decides she’s going to show everyone who she really is.
What does this story principle tell us about success? It’s not just about the external action that you can see on a movie screen. It’s about who you must become to achieve that goal. If the inner transformation isn’t there, the external change isn’t sustainable.
- Success Requires an Internal Shift. We Can’t Just Go Through the Motions.
Physical weight loss is a prime example. Too many of us get to goal weight through external action only—everything we do to achieve the goal is something you could see on a movie screen if they were filming you. You measure the food, run the laps, snack on the celery. But nothing shifts inside. When we blindly follow a diet without dealing with our over-desire for food, our emotional eating, all the reasons that keep weight on our bodies, that’s when we’re eating less, but we still want to eat more. So, our “success” of reaching goal weight isn’t actually a success, because it’s too tenuous. No one believes it will persist.
The same thing happens in business. If we become successful, if we begin earning money, but inside we don’t really think we deserve it, we have conflicted thoughts about the money and how we’re earning it, then we do things to sabotage ourselves that end up causing our downfall. These little acts of sabotage are seeds that are planted as the plot develops. They’re the things we ignore because there’s a lesson that we haven’t learned yet, that we’re resisting.
Matt Damon stars in a great movie called Rounders that illustrates this idea. He’s gifted enough to play professional poker, but his girlfriend would prefer he practice law. They’re wrestling with this when Mike’s buddy Worm gets out of prison and starts causing trouble for Mike’s poker career. He’s borrowing money from loan sharks in Mike’s name and cheating at cards where Mike plays. As viewers, we can see a storm brewing from a mile away. But Mike McDermott doesn’t see them, because he’s not protecting his career. He’s not protecting it because he’s conflicted about which profession is acceptable for him. No point protecting something that’s unacceptable.
And what happens? The loan sharks come after Mike and Worm. They have 5 days to make back the money Worm borrowed. And so they play poker. They make the rounds to poker clubs and private games and they almost have enough money to pay off the loan sharks. At their last game together, Mike insists on playing it straight, but Worm cheats and gets caught. Worse, they get caught at a private game for police officers, and the police beat them up and take their entire bankroll. That’s when Worm skips town and leaves Mike alone and busted up to face the biggest of all the loan sharks, a poker-playing Russian mobster named Teddy KGB, with empty pockets.
In story terms, this is what’s called the dark night of the soul. Every story has one. It starts at the moment when it seems like all is lost.
- The “Dark Night of the Soul” helps us achieve our most important realizations.
The reason that the dark night of the soul is present in every great movie is because it happens in real life. Story is an art form—an ancient art form–that depicts human growth and transformation. We’ve had story longer than language—we’ve been telling stories since before we had words, and the reason story follows a certain formula is because human transformation follows the same path. Things always seem darkest for us when we’re one realization, one internal shift, away from getting our heart’s desire. The darkness is what helps us see the light that signals the change we need to make. When we see the light in our stories, whether on the screen or in real life, we call that the aha moment. It’s when the hero digs in and discovers the one thing, the lesson they must learn and implement, and if they do this then it all comes together, and they achieve success.
Mike McDermott’s aha moment comes when he realizes he’s a born poker player, not a lawyer. He realizes he’s been struggling because he’s been living under the weight of an identity that’s contrary to his essential self.
Once this realization occurs, all the detritus in his life, everything that is frustrating him and bogging him down and preventing him from achieving his own version of wealth, falls away. Law school and the disapproving girlfriend and the fear about poker playing being too volatile of a career, he sheds all of that weight, and all that’s left is his talent and his focus on being the absolute best poker player that he can possibly be.
And this aha moment leads to his external breakthrough. When his talent is no longer weighed down by everything else he’s been dragging around with him, he borrows some money from a professor and sits down for the high-stakes game with Teddy KGB and the clarity that he now has enables him to spot Teddy KGB’s tell. Every poker player has a tell that indicates when he’s bluffing and when he really has a hand, and because Mike is no longer weighed down with all the stuff that was holding him back, he can now see Teddy KGB’s tell and then Mike goes all in on the big hand and wins. Then he pays his law school professor back for the loan and heads off to play in the World Series of poker.
What does this tell us about writing our own stories of success? The dark night of the soul doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s merely a sign that we need to begin looking for the lesson we haven’t learned, the thing we’ve been ignoring that is keeping us from our wealth.
I’ve heard it said that the universe is a giant university, and it will keep signing us up for the same class, tuition-free until we pass it. I agree with this except for the tuition part. As I see it, there is tuition. The cost of not learning the lessons is our precious time, our happiness, more days when we must carry around a heavy “identity” and fewer days on the planet to live our own essential purpose. And the price of tuition goes up every time we are re-enrolled. The stakes get a little bit higher and it costs more than it did the time before.
This is why it’s important for us to get started writing the stories that we want to live NOW instead of living in our before pictures. When we heed our calls to action, when we pay attention to the little things and the big things that are pulling us towards our interests and our desires and decide to take the journey, that’s when we begin shedding the parts of our identity that aren’t serving us and we start living our essential purpose with the kind of focus and clarity that makes us successful and even unstoppable. This is when we begin heading towards wealth.
Why are so many of us resisting this? Ignoring our calls to action and quitting along the way? It’s because we’re living in a painful story of the status quo, the dreaded “before” picture. We’re telling ourselves a false story that this is all that’s reasonable and possible, and the promised land isn’t real. It’s fake, or unrealistic, or it’s not for us. It’s only for other people. For selfish people or someone who is smarter or more talented or better equipped than we are.
If this is the story you’re living, and you want to start writing a bigger story or a better plot for yourself, let me know if I can help. Just go to richandthin.com to access my calendar and set yourself up with a free session, or email me at email@example.com.