Ep. #41: Living Your Dream Part V: Are you Programmed to Fail?

How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t fix this. It’s how I was raised.” This is an example of prior programming, but the important thing to know is that prior programming is not your destiny. Listen to this episode and find out why.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is the fifth in our series on living your dream in 2019, and today we’re talking about your prior programming. The question here is, are you programmed to fail? I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and I’m glad you’re here, because the way you answer this question will make or break the process of achieving your dream, and too many of us are looking at our past programming in certain areas, and deciding that our future is doomed.

You know you’re in this camp in certain areas of your life if you find yourself saying, “That’s just not who I am.” Or, “That’s not the way I was raised.” Or, “This stuff runs so deep, there’s no way I can change it.” Or, “I’m too old for that.” And even “I just don’t have the energy for this.”

These kinds of remarks are symptomatic of a certain type of thinking that makes making a change very difficult, if not impossible. Underlying all of this resistance to change is the idea that to achieve my dream, I basically have to change myself in some profound way, and that’s just not going to happen, because this part of me is impossible to change. It’s fixed. It’s a done deal. So if we even talk about making this change, much less try to make it happen, we’re just banging our heads against a rock, and it’s going to be exhausting so there’s no point even trying.

To this I have to say, ouch. How painful it is to be in a place where you want something, perhaps you want it desperately, but your brain is refusing to let you pursue it and telling you it’s impossible.

Last week we discussed massive ownership, which is basically the very powerful concept of owning that everything in you feel comes from your thoughts, not from what other people do or say or what’s happening around you, and every thought is a choice, so everything in your life is the product of a thought/feeling/action combination that you selected consciously or subconsciously. We also discussed that if you want to create wealth, if you want to earn more and weigh less, for example is to acknowledge that this is the case. You acknowledge that your thoughts created your current situation, and if you want to change your current situation, changing your thoughts is step one. That’s massive ownership in a nutshell.

This week I want to talk about a problem that I’m going to call over-ownership. I don’t think that’s actually a word, so let’s just call this category of problem “hoarding.” Hoarding is what happens when you own too much. When you’re hauling things around with you that are no longer useful. Maybe they were never useful, but you thought they were, or you think they are now, or you think they might be useful at some point in the future, but all of this is a thought error. The thing you’re hoarding, the weight you’re lugging around, isn’t useful at all and may in fact be counterproductive but because of the thought error, you’re afraid to let go of big heavy thing that isn’t useful at all.

In many cases, we won’t even acknowledge that the thing is separate from us. For example, letting go of certain ideals is, to many people, tantamount to asking them to remove their heads from their necks. When we’re feeling this way, it’s because we’ve bought into the idea that our prior programming isn’t an idea that’s separate and apart from us. Rather, we’re thinking that the programming is us. It’s no longer an idea. It’s woven into our DNA. It’s “who we are.”

So here’s what I have to say about prior programming. It is not who you are. It just feels that way sometimes, and now I’ll explain why I think this.

I remember standing in a McDonalds one day, waiting for food, and there was a woman there with her little boy, he was maybe about six, and every time he even hinted at opening his mouth and saying something, she scolded him. She’d say, “No. Stand here. I’ll decide what you’re having. Don’t even think about it. Stop that.” He wasn’t acting up. He wasn’t misbehaving. This kid couldn’t move or speak without her telling him, basically, you’ll get what you get and you’re lucky to get it.

What was happening there? As a child, he was being programmed with the idea that good people make do with what they get. The proper way to conduct oneself is to suffer in silence. Don’t ask for anything, and don’t dare move to a better place or a more interesting place, even if it’s only inside McDonald’s. Your life is fixed, and staying stuck in what I decide is right for you, what mom decides is right for you, is how you get approval. It’s how you get love. It’s even how you get food. Your survival is dependent on this idea.

Is this programming of this kid at McDonald’s a done deal? Is he destined to live the life described in those messages? Absolutely not, because what can we do with messages? We can accept them or reject them, and we can do this even as children. I know that I rejected a lot of things I was taught as a child. In my younger years, my mom was a bit of a neat-freak. She was the leader of my Brownie troop, and in one of our group meetings, she taught all of us how to make hospital corners. In another Brownie meeting, she taught us all how the proper way to rinse and wring out a dishrag so you could keep using it. After you’d cleaned something, you could use the same rag to clean something else.

These lessons from my mom continued long after the other Brownies went home. But I didn’t accept this programming. As a child, I rejected the way my mom wanted to clean a house because it seemed inefficient to me, and the result is that now as an adult, I make beds a lot faster than my mom does. There are no hospital corners, because nothing gets tucked in, and that’s the way I prefer to sleep. I don’t like when the sheets are cramping my feet and contorting them into strange positions. I also clean a lot faster than my mom does. I never rinse or wring out a dirty dishrag. I just grab a new one, and I let the washing machine do all the rinsing and wringing out of dishrags. It does a much better job than I ever could. I’m able to do this because I rejected the intended programming about how to wring out a dishrag, because here’s how I think about it: My job is to helping entrepreneurs create wealth. When I was a kid, I thought my job was to go play. In all cases, in all stages of my life, I was very clear that the washing machine’s job was to rinse and wring out the dirty dishrags. And I don’t know about the washing machine and what it thinks, but I’m definitely much happier with this arrangement in place. I thought this way back when I was a child: why would I spend one second on these dishrags, when we have a machine to do it?  And I think exactly the same thing now.

So today’s episode isn’t a lesson in how to clean your house, although that’s something I’d like to teach everyone because I think I’m amazing at it. Rather, it’s a lesson in the fact that much of the programming our parents threw at us as kids, we didn’t accept, even then. If something didn’t make sense then, we may have rejected it right then and there.

Other things, we do accept, because they do make sense to us. In my own life, unlike the mom of that little boy at McDonald’s, my mom taught me that it was okay to ask for whatever food I wanted. Every morning when we were little, she would make breakfast for me and my two sisters, and if one of us wanted waffles, and one wanted pancakes, and another wanted French toast, that’s what she made: waffles, pancakes, and French toast. And from this, I learned that it’s okay to ask for what I want. It’s safe to ask for what I want. This is programming that I wanted to accept. The idea that I could eat what I wanted seemed a delightful way to live in the world, and I was very thin when I was operating under that paradigm.

The same thing can happen with that little boy at McDonald’s. He can reject what his mom is telling him about not asking for things, right then and there whenever this programming is offered up, or, he can accept it. But if he accepts it, this doesn’t mean he’s programmed for life. If he accepts an idea as a child, because the way we operate as kids is kind of forced on us, he can reject it later, when it’s no longer necessary for him to operate the way his mom wanted him to operate. He’s not doomed to living a life in which he never asks for anything, and thinking that’s the way to get love and food. No one is doomed by their childhood programming, but few of us know this.

I was talking with a client the other day, who has a hard time telling anyone what she’s thinking or what she wants. She grew up in a similar household to this kid at McDonald’s, where the m.o. was basically, you get what you get and you’re lucky to get it, and we, this client and I, were talking about whether she was going to tell someone about something that was weighing heavily on her mind. And she said, no, she wasn’t going to do it, because that’s “not how she was raised.”

And I said, “How does it feel to carry this thing around, the thing you’re not talking about?” And she said it felt terrible, but she couldn’t let it go. She couldn’t tell the other person the big scary thing she was “programmed” not to say. And I asked why not, and she said, “Well, if I tell the other person, I’m going to hurt their feelings.”

And to this, I thought Bam! This is the bam moment, my friends. Whenever we’re feeling trapped in prior programming, when we’re falling into the idea that our prior programming is the problem, it’s something we can’t ever deviate from, what I’d like to offer you today is that it isn’t the prior programming that is the issue. The issue is that we’re currently thinking that the prior programming is correct. This way I’ve been taught to behave is the proper way to conduct myself.

But notice something else: The moment we decide it’s incorrect, the programming can leave us just as slabs of ice detach from a glacier on a hot day. The process is effortless. The thing that’s weighing us down just falls away, and we don’t have to lug it around anymore.

Gretchen Rubin talks about a strategy for changing habits that she calls the Lightning Bolt. The Lightning Bolt is when habit change happens suddenly and effortlessly. Examples are when a woman is suddenly able to give up caffeine or alcohol or drugs, because she discovers she’s pregnant. I saw this happen with a waitress I worked with in college. She woke up from a cocaine hangover, went to the doctor and discovered she was pregnant, and never did cocaine again.

The lightning bolt also worked with Gretchen Rubin and her food that she was eating. She’d been struggling with her weight all her life, and was always hungry, when she read a book about eating more fat and fewer carbs, in other words, eating to manage insulin, and she instantly changed how she ate with no effort whatsoever. In her book Better than Before, she writes, “[d]iscussions of habit change often emphasize the importance of repeating an action, over and over, until it becomes automatic, and such repetition does indeed help to form habits. However, it’s also true that sometimes we’re hit by a lightning bolt that transforms our habits instantly. We encounter some new idea, and suddenly a new habit replaces a long-standing habit—without preparation, without small steps, without wavering—and we pass from before to after in a moment.”

The book goes on to discuss a multitude of examples of instant habit change: the mother who stops dropping her kid off to school late, when the kid says, you’re never late picking me up. Only in dropping me off, because you’d be embarrassed to be late picking me up, but dropping me off late only affects me. Not you. When the woman saw this, she started thinking differently. She started thinking, me taking my kid to school late is hurting him. This thought enabled the woman to pick up her child on time, and drop him off on time. The book discusses someone who starts flossing the moment they realize they don’t have to be scolded at the dentist anymore. They could just begin flossing. As I said earlier, the book talks at length about when Gretchen Rubin read Why We Get Fat, and learned how insulin, not calories or exercise, are the cause of weight gain, and she instantly changed her diet and stopped eating all sugar and other foods that caused her insulin to surge, and achieved her lowest adult weight without hunger and without dieting.

What’s important to notice here, in all of these examples, is what’s going on. Why do lightning bolts happen, and here’s where I have one quibble with the book. Where I disagree is when Gretchen Rubin writes, “[t]he most surprising kind of Lightning Bolt is the bolt-from-the-blue change, which seems to lack any perceptible cause.” She describes a two-pack a day smoker who quit instantly, by asking herself “Why am I doing this?” and answering, “Time to stop.”

Here I would say that the cause is very perceptible, and fortunately for all of us, also very easy to duplicate. The cause of this smoker’s ability to quit smoking on a dime was a decision. A decision marks the moment when we decide to stop thinking one way, smoking is okay, and to start thinking another way, smoking is not okay and I’m not doing it anymore.

Every habit changes the moment we change our minds. Change can happen in an instant, because your thoughts can change in an instant. Every example Gretchen Rubin gives, when she discusses the strategy of habit change that she calls the Lightning Bolt, is that someone changed their mind.

When habit change takes a long time, why is that the case? Because we’re vacillating back and forth between two distinctly different thought patterns. In one, smoking or overeating or underearning, or whatever habit we’re trying to change, is okay. In another, it’s simply not acceptable and something we don’t want to do anymore. It’s not even fun.

The longer we vacillate, the longer we take to decide, the longer it will take us to change a habit, to achieve our dreams. But if we decide right now, we have a lightning bolt, and we can create these for ourselves, in fact, we always create lightning bolts for ourselves, because a lightning bolt is just another way of saying that we made a decision. Every lightning bolt that effects change is a shift in thought that happens in our minds. We can create a lightning bolt whenever we want one.

So here’s what I have for you this week: if you’re thinking that some past programming is affecting you, or if you’re thinking, “this is just how I’m built. I can’t possibly change this” I want you to look for a current thought that’s motivating you to see things this way. I promise you, it’s there. When my client said, “I can’t say what I want out loud. It will hurt the other person’s feelings,” that’s the current thought that’s preventing her from speaking up. Past programming is not the problem. It’s never the past programming. It’s always a current thought. If she lets go of this thought about hurting other people’s feelings, if she accepts the truth that her words can’t hurt another person’s feelings, only their thoughts can hurt their feelings, and she has no control over what they think, then she will be able to begin speaking her mind and asking for what she wants.

I’m seeing a similar thing happen in my journey on the way to 105 pounds. Last night we were at a restaurant and my mom arrived late. 45 minutes late. We were eating salad bar, so none of us waited to order. We just got our salads, figuring that when she joined us, she would do the same. When she got to the restaurant, she came up to the table and said, “I’m not staying. I’m going to go home and have soup instead.” She explained this was because Winston, one of our tiny dogs, had been home alone at her house and she wanted to go home and feed him dinner, but in my mind, I wasn’t sure this was the truth. I was wondering, and worried, that she was mad at us for not waiting, and that she felt left out, so we’d hurt her feelings. But then I thought about how much I hate it when she doesn’t believe my explanations about things, and decides that I have a secret reason or an ulterior motive for what I’m doing, and how she’s always wrong about this, so I decided to take what she said at face value and not get upset that I had somehow screwed up her evening. And this felt amazing, because here’s the truth: What my mom is thinking about me and what I’m eating or not eating at the buffet, or when I’m eating it, is none of my business. If she’s having thoughts about me, or if she’s not, I get to decide what I want to think. I don’t have to wonder about what she’s thinking, or worry about it, because I can’t control it anyway, and I certainly don’t have to use that as an excuse to go chow down on pistachio pudding at the buffet.

This was quite a revelation. It may seem small, but in the context of my eating life, it was huge, because how many times have I eaten food I didn’t even want because I was worried about what someone else was thinking; I was worried that they were upset, when they hadn’t even said that they were upset, and even if they were, it wasn’t my doing. They chose it based on how they wanted to view the circumstances.

Was this a lightning bolt? I have to say it was, maybe a mini lightning bolt because intellectually, I already knew this concept is true before last night. I tell my clients all the time, what someone else thinks of you is none of your business, it’s not anything you can control, either, and I apply this thought in a lot of areas of my life. Spending, for sure. I never overspend, because what someone else thinks about my car or my house or anything else I don’t spend a lot of money on is none of my business. I did the same thing when I started my hedge fund. A lot of people told me it would never work, but I paid no attention, and I ran a successful, albeit a pretty small fund, as a result. If I’m going to reach 105 pounds, if I’m going to get Rich & Thin in the holy grail sense of that phrase, I have to take this concept and apply it to food. Adriane has to do the same thing with money, and through our work together, we’re doing exactly this. She’s learning that what other people think about how she spends her time or her money is none of her business, and that’s helping her earn more and spend less, just as it’s helping me to eat less. This is new for us, we’re familiar with these concepts as casual coaches, but it’s new for us, and coaching each other on this is helping a lot. A good coach can help you learn to think differently, in situations where you’re stuck. Working together, me coaching her and her coaching me, we’re both rejecting the idea that the way we’ve been programmed is carved into stone, and this is changing things. The changes may be imperceptible to anyone else right now, I’m sure it’s imperceptible, but we feel the inner shifts, and we’re amazed at how amazing this feels.

This leads me to the last thing I want to tell you today, and it’s this: everyone talks about how scary and hard it is to delve into this stuff in our heads and let it go, and to this, all I can say is that it’s it never feels painful to let go of something that’s heavy. It always feels better. It never hurts to stop hurting yourself. That for sure always feels better. The process of letting go of this stuff is a little like getting your teeth cleaned or your house cleaned or your car detailed. Maybe you don’t jump up and down to go do it, but once it’s done it feels so much better. It feels amazing.

So if you’re thinking that it’s going to hurt to let go of the heavy stuff, if you’re thinking it’s going to be too difficult to stop hurting yourself, in terms of your body or your bank balance or anything else, you simply have some faulty programming in your brain that you haven’t yet rejected, and you need to reject it for two reasons. At least two reasons. One is, it feels so much better to let it go, and two, you have to reject painful programming if you want to escape broke and bulky. You must reject the idea that you’ve been irrevocably programmed to sabotage your body or your bank balance or both every single time programming that leads to broke and bulky comes up as an obstacle, because achieving a dream means making a change, and if you’re thinking you’re programmed not to change, you definitely won’t.

So to put a cap on this, here’s what I cannot emphasize strongly enough. None of us were born to live lives that are painful. You are not doomed to lug heavy things around forever, whether they are literal things or metaphorical things. Broke and bulky is not your birthright, so if you’re underearning or overspending or overeating or all of the above, or doing anything else that’s standing in between you and the life you want, and you’re thinking that there’s some prior programming that’s causing this for you, what I’d like to offer is that it’s not you. All that’s going wrong is that there’s a little piece of code, a sentence or concept running through your brain, that’s preventing you from getting where you want to go. I promise it’s there, and once you find it and let it go, you see that broke and bulky is not your destiny, and then everything changes. I want this for all of us in 2019 and beyond, so thanks for joining me today, and please join me next week for our sixth installment of living your dream in 2019.

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