Ep. #66: Imaginary Rules (Business Episode)

If you’re not earning the money you want, it’s because you’re following rules that you should break, or that possibly don’t even exist, or you’re breaking rules that should never be broken. Imaginary rules are the rules that don’t even exist and that hold down your profitability. Listen to this episode to learn how to know when you’re dealing with an imaginary rule, and what to do about it.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you earn more and weigh less. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth if you’re thinking that it’s high time to make your Rich & Thin™ dreams come true, then I’m glad you’re here. In our continuing discussion about getting more bank with less bulk, this month we’re talking about advocacy. April is for Advocacy, and the reason I want to talk about this is because advocacy is a critical component to making effective offers, and if you’ve been listening, you know that in this show, 2019 is the year of the offer. If you don’t have an offer that brings customers and revenues into your business, you won’t have a business, so effective offers are key.

Advocacy means to support or recommend a particular cause or proposal. If you’re trained as a lawyer, you know all about advocacy because advocating for their clients is what good lawyers do. And what I find in working with my clients on increasing their earnings is that often, they don’t advocate for themselves. Rather, they advocate against themselves, and this month I want to spend the entire month working on that, because if you don’t support or recommend the cause or proposal that you’re offering, it’s pretty much a slam dunk that you’re not going to get anything good, in business or in life, and to turn that around, you must learn how to become your own advocate.

Because advocacy is tool used by lawyers, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise when I say that advocacy involves rules. Lawyers are always advocating for a certain way that a rule should be interpreted, and even whether a rule is valid, whether it exists at all. And I’m a lawyer so this is something I’m familiar with, but the funny thing is, the place where I find myself advocating on behalf of my clients the most is when I’m not in an attorney-client relationship. As a business coach to my entrepreneur clients, when I’m just their coach, not their lawyer, I’m often advocating on their behalf, while they are advocating or supporting an interpretation of the rules that works against them, and their businesses, and even their freedom.

This happens when my clients are observing imaginary rules that they’ve legislated in their own heads, and then litigating in favor of those rules and against their own interests. And as their coach, I help them see that the rule isn’t valid, it’s imaginary, and that if they stop fighting for a rule that hurts them, they will be happier and earn more money. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, so imaginary rules are the topic for this week.

Next week, we’re going to discuss agreed-upon rules, when you’re in a business arrangement with someone else, and I’m going to show how we commonly advocate against ourselves in those situations, and why, and how to stop doing that because if you’re advocating against yourself in your dealings with other people, what’s going to happen? You’re going to head about from your Rich & Thin™ goals, and straight towards broke and bulky. There are two directions in business, and I think we all know which direction we want to go.

In the following week, our third week on advocacy, we’re going to discuss government rules, and how the way you think about those can impact your business.

And in the last week, we’ll talk about golden rules. These are the rules for success that you should never violate if you want to create wealth, and here of course I’m not talking about just financial gains but living a truly Rich & Thin™ life in which you have everything you want and you’re unburdened by anything you don’t want.

So that’s the lay of the land for April: first are the imaginary rules, then the agreed-upon rules, then the government rules, and last, the golden rules. And I really want to encourage you to listen to all of these episodes, because I don’t think I’ve heard this kind of subject matter discussed anywhere but in my private coaching sessions with my one-on-one clients, and I think these discussions will help you expand your brain in ways that will seriously help you earn more and make your business run much easier.

But it’s not just about business episodes this month. In our April body episodes, we’re going to discuss how these rules, and advocating against yourself, impact your body, because as we’re learning in Rich & Thin™ Workshop, every great business principle has a great-body corollary, and if you want to make your Rich & Thin™ dreams come true (and who doesn’t want that?) observing these principles in all aspects of your business and life is the way to make that happen.

Before we proceed, I’d like to first say that in these episodes about rules and advocacy, I’ll be drawing on my skills and training as an attorney to help you think about rules, and breaking the rules, in ways that you may have not thought of before. This might seem like a funny topic for someone who’s trained as a lawyer to talk about, but the reason I’m going to talk about it is that if you’re not earning what you want to earn, one of two things is happening. You are either breaking rules that should never be broken, or you are following rules that you should break or that maybe don’t even exist at all. However, although I’m fluent in rules and advocacy because I am an attorney, I want to say that no one should take what I say in these episodes, or anywhere in this podcast, as legal advice. This is a coaching podcast, not a legal podcast. And no matter what podcast you’re listening to, even if it is legal, the last thing any of us should do is decide that we now know enough to embark on a legal strategy or make a decision that has legal consequences because we heard someone talk about something when they’re sitting alone in a room, or maybe even a closet, talking into a microphone. If the speaker doesn’t know you or the facts of your situation, they can’t give you competent legal advice, so I hope we can all agree that you taking something that’s said in any podcast as legal advice that’s applicable to your particular situation is a really bad idea.

And now, with that out of the way, let’s dive in to the problem of imaginary rules, and here the most important thing to know is how to know when you’re dealing with an imaginary rule. I created a test for this, and it’s called “You can’t just…”

The test works when you suspect someone else is trying to foist an imaginary rule upon you, and when  you have one clunking around in your own head. What happens is someone says, or you say to yourself, “You can’t just ____________.” And then you go through the step-by-step. What if you do “just ____________,” and there is absolutely no consequence? Then you know you’re dealing with a made-up rule. Today I’m going to share with you two examples of made-up rules so you can see how the test works.

The first example is with other people’s imaginary rules, and it’s an example from my own life. I remember back when I was managing my hedge fund, I went on a blind date, and the guy asked me, “So what do you do again?”

And I said, “I’m a hedge fund manager.” And he said, “Whose fund is it?” And I said, “Well, it’s my fund. I manage it, and I invest in it, and other people invest in it, too.”

And he said, “Yeah, so you manage it and you invest in it, but whose fund is it? It’s not just, ‘Kelly Hollingsworth’s hedge fund’.” He kind of scoffed when he said this, as if it would be preposterous for a person such me to have a hedge fund.

And I said, “Well, actually it is. It is ‘Kelly Hollingsworth’s hedge fund.’  I had an idea to start a hedge fund, so I started this fund.”

And that’s when these words came out of his mouth. He said, “You can’t just start a hedge fund.”

And I kind of laughed then, because clearly you can “just start a hedge fund” and I knew you could do that because I had done it, and he sat there for a minute, and eventually I think he started to see this, too, because then he said, “Well, okay so you… Okay. So what? You’re telling me you just went out and started a hedge fund????”

And here I could see his brain was exploding a little bit, and I love this exchange because it illustrates that we very often have these kinds of ideas running through our heads. These kinds of rules, and they’re entirely imaginary because you can just start a hedge fund. That kind of makes sense right? It seems like something that you just can’t go out and do, but the fact is, once you scratch the surface at all, you realize that you can. Any one of us can just go out and start up a hedge fund, but most of us don’t realize this. Our brains are programmed with, “You can’t just _________.”

This leads me to a great point about entrepreneurship that I probably do not make often enough. Starting your own business is one if not the only place in the world where you are required to self-select. You choose yourself. There is no hedge fund committee. There is no membership commission. This isn’t the Nobel prize. There is no king sitting in Stockholm who’s going to decide who the winners are. Who the hedge fund managers among us are going to be. Who the seven-figure solo practitioner lawyers are going to be. Who the 20-million-dollar life coaches are going to be. If you want that kind of income, and that kind of business for yourself, you have to stop listening to anyone who tells you. “You can’t just ___________,” because they are talking smack and they haven’t even thought about what they’re saying.

And this brings me to the rules that you’re making up in your own head. The “you can’t just __________” test works here, too, and all of us need a coach to run this test for us, because other people are going to tell you “You can’t just ___________”, do whatever it is that you want to do, over and over again, and you’re going to tell it to yourself, because unless you were born in a pod and raised on another planet, all of their programming has seeped into your brain as well.

So just as other people make up rules, we do it to ourselves, but the rules we make up in our own brains deserve a special category, they deserve what lawyers call a higher level of scrutiny, because when it’s our brain telling us that it’s a rule, we are highly inclined to believe it. Other people, we might argue with, but if your brain tells you “that’s the way it is,” and that’s not true, you have a special kind of problem.

We must pay special attention to the made-up rules in our own heads because so often, when a rule is made up in your head, instead of fighting against it, as you might with another person who’s telling you a made-up rule, you will fight for your own imaginary rule, you will advocate for a rule your brain has conjured out of thin air, and you will do this even when following that rule and fighting for that rule is making your life difficult, inhibiting your business, and holding down your profitability.

I see this so often I can’t even tell you, and I’m always glad that I’m not just a coach, I’m also a lawyer, and the reason for that is, as I said earlier, I spend a lot of time in one-on-one coaching sessions litigating these rules with my clients. They have written a made-up rule in their head, and in our coaching session they assume the role of lawyer for the made-up rule and they argue strenuously for why the rule exists and why they must follow it.

It is the most fascinating thing, and one of my clients and I just went through one of these litigation sessions (I’m using the word litigation in keeping with our advocacy theme this month, but the exchange is sort of lighthearted because it’s funny when it happens that a client is arguing against themselves.) Even they can see that they’re doing it, but our brains want to be right so much that they often put us in the perverse position of advocating against ourselves, of arguing against our own interests, and we know when it’s happening but we can’t seem to stop ourselves. This is why everyone needs a coach who’ll call your brain on its b.s.

In any case, because this conversation with this client took place as I was preparing these episodes on advocacy and rules and breaking the rules, and she very graciously said that I could share this exchange that she and I had together with you on the podcast.

So here’s the story. The client’s name is Dolores Garcia, and she is an integrative fitness coach in Scottsdale, Arizona. What does that mean, integrative fitness coach? To see what that means, I want you to go to the website, rich and thin.com/66. In the show notes for this epsidoe, I’ve posted a photo of Delores. In this photo she is 52 years old, and she is standing on the stage winning six trophies as a bikini competitor at age 52. She looks amazing. And how does she make this happen?

Through integrative fitness coaching. It’s the trifecta of getting the best body of your life, no matter how old you are, because it integrates three important talents that Delores possesses. She is a personal trainer, but unlike most personal trainers, she knows a lot more than just the work you need to do in the gym to get this kind of body. She’s also a professor of nutrition. She has taught the future doctors and nurses of America about nutrition and eating and what you need to do in the kitchen to get this kind of body. And last, she’s a causal coach. So she’s an expert on helping her clients manage their minds to stay on track in the gym and the kitchen and off the couch and out of the Cherry Garcia, so that they can actually do what they need to do to get and maintain the kind of body that she is rocking on the stage in this photograph. Rich and thin.com/66. I want you to go and take a look, because she is an inspiration for all of us.

So now that you know who Dolores is, and what she does, I want to tell you about the light-hearted litigation that was going on between Dolores and me in our last coaching session. She can coach anyone anywhere in the world, you can work with Dolores wherever you happen to be, but if you are in Scottsdale, Arizona where she is, you can work with her in-person. One type of person she’d work with in-person is someone who wants or needs to drive an amazing body around and they want a high-end trainer with them in the gym to make sure they’re shaping exactly the type of body they want. And when I say that they “want to drive an amazing body around,” what I mean is, you know how a top real-estate agent or another type of salesperson is almost universally going to have a very high-end car? The car signals success, and in certain professions and businesses, that signaling is critical. We can say it’s optional, but probably it isn’t. Can you imagine the Realtor® who’s  taking you to see a five-million-dollar house showing up in a Gremlin or a Toyota Tercel? It just wouldn’t happen.

And just as your car signals a certain type of competence and a certain level of service and success, in many, if not most or maybe even all businesses, so can your physique. So if you really, really want or need to show up in a certain way, to convey a certain message with your body in your business life just as you might do with a high-status car, or just because you’d enjoy that having that kind of body for your own personal satisfaction, it is totally possible to do that, even if you’re thinking your best body is behind you, and in Scottsdale her business is to help a very serious type of client who wants that kind of high-touch, super-individualized experience in the gym and the kind of body that results from that.

So where was the argument, between Delores and me? What dispute was the subject of the litigation we  were engaged in? It was a venue question. People in Scottsdale have been asking Delores, “What gym? If I sign up for this high-touch super-training experience to get this amazing body of my dreams, where do we meet? Where do we do the physical part of this program while I’m on the way to the body of my dreams?”

In relaying these questions to me, Delores said, “I have to find a gym. I have to go in and talk to the powers that be inside each gym and see if training my clients inside their gym is okay with them.”

To this, I asked, “Really?” If you ever coach with me, sidenote here, please know that when I ask this, it’s often code for, “Are you sure you’re not making up a rule inside your head?” And when I asked delores, “Really?” she said, “Oh, yes, absolutely.”

So here, my radar is going off, because what I’m hearing, what she’s basically telling me, is that she’s going to voluntarily set up meetings with people who have nothing to do with her business, to give them a huge chunk of her income, and also to seek their permission that it’s okay if she conducts her business in the way that she and her clients want to work together.

And to this, I thought, “Hmmm.” I was skeptical, because as a business coach, waiting around for permission, and voluntarily signing on for lower profitability, are two things my clients decidedly don’t want to do.

So I proposed a reconnaissance mission. I said to Delores, “Okay. Go to the best gyms and athletic clubs in Scottsdale. The places where you’d most like to do the physical-training portion of the work you do with your clients, and look around, get a feel for the places, see if you like them, and also ask each of them for a copy of their membership agreement.” I told her that my guess was, there wouldn’t be a thing about this “rule” in the agreements, that she couldn’t train, as a member, other members in the gym.

And so she went looking, and a few days later we had a brief conversation in which she reported that she’d visited some stellar facilities—really stunning places to work out–and their membership agreements did not prohibit one member, one customer of the facility, from training another customer who’s also a member.

And I was inclined to think that this resolved the issue of needing permission and potentially having to share profits, but did it? No. It came up again, in a few ways.

One way it came up is that later Delores told me she’d had some “meetings” with managers of gyms and things were getting bogged down in her business, because she wasn’t getting this getting permission that she needed. I could envision the scene. I could see her telling them what she was doing, and them scratching their heads, and saying they had to discuss it among themselves and the whole process just got bogged down in indecision. I could see exactly what she was experiencing, that she was seeking permission and it was going nowhere. She also told me, again, that she was stumbling over the question, “So where do we work out?” when prospective clients asked her that. This wasn’t an issue before she moved her business to Scottsdale because she was affiliated with a single gym, but now that we’re working together and she is in Scottsdale, she’s cut the middle-man out of her business, always a good way to make more money, and so this question was coming up in Scottsdale.

And when she told me about these things, it was clear to me that this question wasn’t resolved. We were dealing with an unwritten rule situation. A made-up rule in her head. And I reminded her, “You’ve already looked at this. The membership agreements don’t prohibit one member from training another member. And you’ve also told me that this isn’t always the case. There are some gyms where there are big signs: “no personal training except by gym employees.” And those gyms have this prohibition embedded in the membership agreements.”

So what was happening here? Some gyms prohibit this practice  of members training members, and some don’t. That’s the circumstance. As with every circumstance, there are multiple ways to think about this. One way was Delores’s way. She was thinking that even if a gym or club didn’t take it upon themselves to insert a prohibition about this into their own agreement, it was her job to advocate for them, and make sure that they had considered this and that it actually was okay.

My thought? Everyone is their own advocate. In business, you should assume that everyone is looking out for themselves. So when someone doesn’t bother to prohibit something in their own form agreement, it’s very reasonable to assume that they didn’t insert the prohibition because the activity in question is not prohibited. You could even assume that the activity in question is exactly what they want their members to do. They didn’t prohibit this kind of thing in their agreement because they want their clients to bring in their own high-end coaches and trainers. Professional and Olympic athletes, titans of industry, seven-figure salespeople—it’s not a stretch to think that these folks have their own people who they want to work with. Folks at that level generally don’t just throw themselves at the mercy of the person who’s employed by the gym and who may or may not know what he or she is doing.

The other thing to think about here is that owners and managers of high-end gyms and fitness clubs would arguably want the kinds of people who employ highly qualified coaches such as Delores to work out in their facilities, and train others in their facilities. I’m sure that a lot of professional athletes have private gyms that the team they work for make available to them, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that if Charles Barkley and his trainer walked into a random high-end fitness club in Scottsdale, and bought memberships because Charles wanted to work out, and he wanted his own coach with him, that anybody would have an issue with that.

So what is going on with this made-up rule? Delores is a very smart businesswoman and a very gifted coach. All you have to do is take one look at her body at age 52 and know that she knows exactly what she’s doing and how to get amazing results. But, as is the case with all of us from time to time, she had a blip in her brain. She was certain that something was against the rules when it wasn’t, and this blinded her to the fact that she had read the agreements and the rule was not in there. They didn’t write a rule into their own agreement, but she was so certain it should be there that she wrote it into existence in her own brain.

When we do this to ourselves, we act not as business people but as both legislator and litigator against ourselves, our businesses, and our profitability. Through coaching, Delores eventually saw that she was writing an imaginary rule into existence that was causing delays in her business, and that was going to cut into her profitability now that she’s moved her business to Scottsdale. And not only that, she was arguing in favor of that rule against her own interests.

The good news is that eventually, after a few back-and-forths, I won on this topic. Her brain might not like it, because often our brains would rather be right than do business and earn money, but Delores is who really won, because even if her brain isn’t on board, she knows better. Her lower brain may be thinking, “stay in the cave, don’t do anything different, get permission, and make sure everyone 100% approves of what you’re doing,” but her higher brain, her pre-frontal cortex where the executive function is, can take over as CEO of Delores and declare that Delores, Inc. isn’t complying with this made-up rule that will hurt her business, and annoy her customers. They want to work out where they want to work out, and at Delores’ level of service, that’s exactly what they should get.

So what I have for you this week is to squash the imaginary rules. If you hear someone say, or you say to yourself, “You can’t just ____________”, ask yourself. “Really? What if I do that? is there some army that’s going to come and haul me away?”

If the answer is no, then you know you’re looking at a made-up rule that you can feel free to delete. And as I said earlier, these are the rules you really should delete if you want to earn some serious money.

I hope this helps you. I know it helps my clients, and I hope that if you need some help you’ll get in touch. kelly@richandthin.com, because I’m confident I can help you squash the made-up rules that are holding down your earnings. And I hope you join me for our body episode this week, where we discuss how squashing the imaginary rules around food will help you get the body of your dreams. Thanks for being here. I look

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