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Debunking Myths 5 – You’re Either Confident Or You’re Not

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I must have been around 7 years old when my primary school teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I reflected for a moment and torn between two options I said “I’m not sure. Either an artist or an inventor.

I had two pictures in my head. One was me in a huge, light-filled studio; canvasses, oil paints and energy everywhere as I was swept along by the magnificent work of art I was creating. The other featured me in a lab coat, crazy-haired and surrounded by bubbling test tubes and walls of equipment with blinking lights as I used all I knew to build Something Amazing (TM).

I was confident that one of those 2 scenarios would come to pass. But then I was also confident that I could learn to climb buildings like Spider-man.

But my point isn’t about the foolishness of childish dreams (they’re essential, right?) or even how cool Spider-man is (i.e. very cool) but about the simple fact that as children, we all have confidence.

When you played with your friends you did so by giving yourself to the moment and just playing. There was no question of whether you were confident enough to play or what might happen if you fall over.

Sometimes, falling over was the whole point.

I see it with my nieces and nephews today, just as you might see it in the children in your family. Kids are confident in a way that us grown-ups tend to forget. We learn to be mature. We learn to think before we act. We learn to play it a little safer.

Somewhat tragically perhaps, you can even watch as children learn about doubt and fear, that natural, exuberant confidence slowly becoming constrained as they learn to play things safe.

But there are times when us grown-ups play freely, naturally and confidently. What about when you’re with your husband, wife or partner, reading the papers on a Sunday morning? When you’re in the zone with a pet project or favourite hobby? Or maybe when you’re out at dinner with good friends? These are the times when things feel easy and natural; you just let yourself be part of the moment and you do what comes naturally.

There’s a sense of freedom and safety in those moments that might not be there when you’re about to present to the board or when you’re on that first date. Those more uncertain moments trigger different kinds of thinking and activate different parts of your brain that can make you feel as though any confidence you had has vanished.

And so people say that you’re either confident or you’re not, because in the times when they feel they need it, they don’t feel it.

Time to put on your debunking hats; here’s the thing.

EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET HAS CONFIDENCE. INCLUDING YOU.
IT’S SIMPLY THAT THINKING SOMETIMES GETS LAYERED ON TOP THAT MAKES IT HARDER TO EXPERIENCE DIRECTLY.

In those moments that are easy and natural, the question of whether you’re confident enough to be part of the moment never arises. You just are part of the moment, just like when you were playing as a child or dreaming about what you might be one day. That fact, that experience of confidence means that it’s real and that you have it.

The trick then, is to practice coming back to it when you need it the most. You can remember the sense of freedom you feel when you’re surrounded by good friends. You can feel the sense of ease or warmth you have when chilling with your partner. Or you can feel the sense of flow you get from losing yourself in a rewarding task or challenge.

Those things are how it feels to be confident, and the sense of ease it brings is the thing that makes it okay to take that nervous step forwards, even if you’re shaking in your shoes as you do so.

Confidence isn’t a binary element that you either possess or you don’t. It’s the ability to trust your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour – regardless of how scary things might appear to be – and it’s the level to which you choose to embrace that trust over the fear of uncertainty.

Everyone has it. YOU HAVE IT. It just takes practice to trust it.

Debunking Myths 4 – There’s a Fine Line Between Confidence And Arrogance

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tightrope
Arrogance. It’s the thing that separates the can-do’s from the can-do-way-better-singlehandedly-with-my-eyes-closed’s, and it’s the quality that rubs you up the wrong way faster than an amorous Edward Scissorhands.

Common perception is that there’s a fine line between being confident and being arrogant, when in fact the gap between them is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

But I have to admit to times when someone’s screwed up or dropped the ball when I’ve been known to say, “Yet another reason why I should run everything”.

The thought that I could have done it better, faster or with less of the smelly stuff hitting the fan leads me to a place of hubris, where I elevate myself to a place of peerless effectiveness and achievement.

Let me tell ya, I’m good, but I’m not that good.

Even worse (and I hope I haven’t been guilty of this one) is when people prioritize bluff and bluster over content and insight, preferring to pull the wool over peoples eyes rather than own up to a mistake, tell stories and point fingers to paper over their own cracks and be happy to dodge responsibility until it’s time to claim a victory.

This “bluff and bluster” flavour of arrogance is nothing more than hiding behind an edifice of effectiveness out of fear that you’ll be truly seen, a thought that strikes terror into many of us. The natural defence mechanism to the fear of being seen is to build protective walls that stop you being vulnerable, and the arrogant paint those walls and use bluff and bluster to try to persuade people that how those walls are painted are who they really are.

In this way, sometimes the people with the highest opinion of themselves are often the ones with the lowest self-esteem.

So when I see people talking about someone who’s “too confident”, bordering on arrogance or erecting a massive tower in their name in the centre of Hubris, the capital city of the land of Arrogance, I’m keen to debunk the link between the two ideas.

ARROGANCE IS NOISY AND NEEDS OTHERS TO EXIST.
CONFIDENCE IS QUIET AND NEEDS ONLY TO BREATHE.

Confidence is round and whole, and establishes a foundation of trust based on that roundness and wholeness. Arrogance is dissonant behaviour that’s disconnected from that foundation, based instead on the need to prove your worth, gain recognition or establish control.

Being “too confident” doesn’t start straying into arrogance. It’s not even possible to have too much of it. To operate from confidence will always be plenty; there’s no 110%.

Control, recognition, status and validation are phantoms that can lead you into arrogance. You don’t need to chase them.

You’re just peachy without them.

How to Keep Your Pecker Up When Your Hopes are Dashed

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Hope On One, For All.
I just attended my 4th World Domination Summit in Portland Oregon, from where I’m writing this post.

I say “attended”, but actually I kind of slept my way through the whole thing. And I say “writing this post”, but really I’m fumbling around in the dark for words and hoping they make sense together.

WDS is one of those things I look forward to all year, where a combination of remarkable people, a great town and open conversation see me at my absolute best. I bloody adore spending July in Portland, laughing until my ribs ache and having conversations that challenge how I think. It pushes me, warms me and gives me so many ideas I can’t help but get excited about what’s next.

But this year, my old pal Chronic Fatigue Syndrome decided to pay me a visit and pretty much prevented me from enjoying it the way I planned to. The times I wasn’t in bed, the brain fog made it hard to distil anything but the most basic of thoughts. Food. Rest. Need pee-pee. The muscle pain has been so intense it’s felt like a building’s fallen on me. And the fatigue keeps pulling me horizontal.

My WDS experience this year has been totally different from the one I hoped for, and as I sit here in Sisters Coffee shop, my body is aching for me to close my eyes and sleep.

I tell you this not to be self-indulgent (which is about as much use as a tit on a fish), but to demonstrate that sometimes—perhaps even often—something happens to dash your hopes.

I don’t want to put a downer on your day here, but I’m all for calling it like it is. Life doesn’t go to plan, and in those times when your hopes or plans are dashed you need to find something a little extra to keep your “pecker” up. That is to say, to keep yourself buoyed while the waves crash down around you. Here are some thoughts:

  1. You are always more than your circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you need to be master of those circumstances. Sometimes you gotta just let it be, and that’s cool.
  2. Gratitude isn’t dependent on things going to plan; quite the opposite. It’s letting go and softening into the things you can be truly thankful for regardless of how things turn out.
  3. Strength is about rigidity and struggle and only gets you so far. Way down past strength is peace, and that’s both inexhaustible and delicious.
  4. A feeling of crappiness (and man alive, does my body feel crappy right now) does not need to equate to a crappy experience. Don’t bury or filter how things are, but similarly recognise that you still get to chose to be okay or to exhibit your best.
  5. What if this was needed? What if the way things went was actually a heap more wonderful or important than you might be thinking right now? That would be something, right?
  6. The very thought that your hopes have “been dashed” is one that sets you up as the victim of something that’s been cruelly done to you. That’s bullshit of course, you’re no more a victim than you are a pentagon.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m no fucking Zen master and I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been frustrated. I’d have loved to have cocktails with old friends, chat (and flirt) like crazy with new ones and exchange ideas that might just be Amazing. I’d have loved to have another “time of my life”, but if I keep those hopes close I’m only going to get more frustrated and probably more sick.

Loss is something we all feel, particularly if it’s for something we hold dear. But just the other side of that, smooshed up really close so you almost miss it, is gratitude.

So I’m going to smile deeply, because that’s really the only choice that makes any sense.

What do you do when life “dashes your hopes”?

Debunking Myths 3 – Confident People Are More Extroverted

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Shout!
There’s an expectation out there that to get ahead you’ve got to be “alpha”, at least some of the time. You’ve got to go out and get it. You’ve got to ask people for what you want. You’ve got to put yourself out there, and you’ve got to stand out in the crowd.

Other than their potential links with the cult of hustle, these more outgoing, extroverted tendencies are good, reasonable things. They can play a part in getting what you want and can surely help you find meaningful success. I’ve got nothing against them.

Other than the fact that if you lean more towards introversion you’ll find these qualities foreign, frightening, oppressive and even damaging.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, describes introverts as preferring less stimulating environments than their extrovert neighbours, tending to enjoy quiet concentration and listening more than talking.

Introverts aren’t energised by social situations in the same way as extroverts are, so in a culture that seems to be biased towards the out-going and socially adept (even selecting these kinds of people over those who aren’t as outgoing or socially adept), it’s easy to feel like you’re not as good as your extroverted friend or lacking something that your extroverted colleague has in spades.

The temptation is to feel that you’re less than simply because you’re more introverted, and the perception is that introversion is about shyness (it isn’t) and a lack of confidence (it isn’t).

I’ve spoken with introverts who’ve told me how broken they feel, how they’re afraid they’ll never be able to have the kind of life they want because they don’t feel capable of going out and getting it in the same way as confident people do. One introverted lady I spoke with told me, “The world hardly notices me, I don’t amount to much.”

This is not how it should be, so let me debunk this myth with gusto.

EXTROVERSION AND CONFIDENCE IS A POWERFUL COMBINATION, BUT DON’T THINK FOR A SECOND THAT INTROVERSION AND CONFIDENCE ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE OR ANY LESS POWERFUL.

Vert comes from the latin “to turn”, so introversion and extroversion is simply a matter of where you lean.

When you get down to it, this “vert” business is just turning towards the things that gives you energy, nourishment and value.

Extrovert or introvert, it’s about leaning into the things that make you feel whole.

And this is where confidence comes in, because leaning towards the things that make you feel whole – and having those things be enough – is precisely what confidence allows you to do.

Extroversion and introversion are independent of confidence, but each can be partnered beautifully by confidence and each is made powerful by it.

Forget about extroverts and introverts. Let’s hear it for the verts.

Debunking Myths 2 – If You’re Not Confident, Fake It

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I hope you get by a bus and die! :D
I attended a dating event a few years ago where I was coaching singles who wanted a little help with their nerves. It was a dressy affair in London, so I wore my sharpest suit and I swear I walked a little taller and with a little more swagger than normal.

I strode in, believing I was all that and a bag of potato chips, and for the first 10 minutes found myself eager to demonstrate my alpha qualities to all around me. I was on a brief power trip until I realised that I was behaving very much like a prize asshole, so I gave myself a metaphorical slap around the chops and cut it out.

There’s been some research to support the fact that things like power dressing or adopting a “power pose” can help to jump you into a more powerful, “confident” state.

Harvard Business School professor Amy J.C. Cuddy conducted research that backs up my experience at that event. In “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance” (catchy huh?), Cuddy found that simply holding your body in expansive, high-power poses for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance) and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Cuddy links these “power poses” and the ability to leverage facial expressions to levels of confidence. “We used to think that emotion ended on the face,” she says. “Now there is established research showing that while it’s true that facial expressions reflect how you feel, you can also ‘fake it until you make it.’”

Cuddy and coauthors Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap of Columbia University performed an experiment with forty-two male and female participants, finding that high-power poses decreased cortisol by about 25 percent and increased testosterone by about 19 percent for both men and women.

When asked to indicate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt on a scale from one to four, high-power posers of both sexes (those who were ‘faking it’) reported greater feelings of being powerful and in charge.

The thing is, of course, power and dominance aren’t the same as confidence.

Someone who’s trying hard to come across as confident, for example, can mistakenly behave arrogantly simply because they haven’t figured out what real confidence is or what it means to them. They’ll talk over someone in a meeting because that’s what they think confident people do. They’ll voice an opinion without thinking about its impact, because they think that confident people make themselves heard. And they’ll steam-roller their view forwards because confident people stick to their guns.

People who set out to fake confidence until they make confidence are far more likely to create dissonant thinking that’s counter-productive. Think about it, “fake it til you make it” is a comparative exercise at heart – it requires the thought I’m not where I want to be, so I’ll pretend that I am,or I’m not who I want to be, so I’ll pretend that I am.

That pretence may afford you a temporary boost in perceived power or dominance, but it also sets up layers of thinking based on the foundation that something’s not where it should be, ought to be or needs to be, otherwise you’d already be there, it wouldn’t be so damned hard and you wouldn’t need to fake anything.

It temporarily pushes any doubts and fears about not being good enough into a box and places centre-stage a pretence of being good enough that might not be based on a genuine sense of being good enough.

Faking it ’til you’re making it compartmentalizes your experience based on fear and reward, and the more your brain gets a rewarding little hit of dopamine from the power and dominance that comes along with faking it (it does feel good temporarily, as I found out at the dating event), the more it will use that as a strategy going forwards.

Keep that up and pretty soon this dissonant, comparative thinking can easily create, support or intertwine with beliefs that you’re not good enough or that others are better than you (because they don’t have to fake it, right?), beliefs that undermine any sense of confidence, not supports it.

So, here’s the debunking.

FAKING CONFIDENCE IS WHAT LEADS PEOPLE INTO HUBRIS AND ARROGANCE. REAL CONFIDENCE IS CHOOSING TO TRUST YOUR BEHAVIOUR BECAUSE YOU’RE ALREADY GOOD ENOUGH, NOT PRETENDING TO BE A CERTAIN WAY BECAUSE YOU DON’T FEEL GOOD ENOUGH.

This distinction seems subtle at first, but is MASSIVE.

Faking confidence is like a puppy dressing up like a duck and trying to quack. Strap on a bill, stick on a pair of wings then run around asking everyone to throw chunks of bread because “I’m a duck, don’t you know”.

“Woof, shit, I mean, quack. Quackity, quack, quack.”

That puppy is only ever going to enjoy it’s awesome, fun-filled life when it realises it’s a puppy and doesn’t need to be a duck at all.

You don’t need to fake confidence, you already have it. It’s there in the times when you’re at your best. The times when you’ve felt most like you. The times when you felt like everything was flowing. The times when you’re just playing.

That’s all you ever need.

Debunking Myths 1 – Confident People Are Less Afraid

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Fearless Tom Cruise?
One morning before the days shooting began for Mission Impossible 4, Tom Cruise took a crew up to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai via helicopter, then climbed out and sat on top of it.

No safety ropes. No net. Not even any shoes.

The Burj is, of course, the tallest building in the world. For context, here’s what he was sitting on the very top of:

Would you sit on top of the Burj?

When asked if he was afraid up there, Tom answered with a simple “No”. He wasn’t afraid, he just wanted to do it.

So it might seem appropriate to draw the conclusion that super-confident Tom can do anything, because he appears to be fearless. A fair conclusion perhaps, and one we’ll come back to.

For the rest of us, sitting on top of the Burj—even with a rope harness—would scare the living bejeesus out of us. I know for sure that I’d need to take a spare pair of shorts with me.

Fear of falling to your death is quite reasonable when you’re sitting a kilometer in the air without anything to stop you becoming pavement pâté other than your bare hands, but what about everyday fears, like screwing up or finding out you’re not up to the challenge in a new job?

What about the fear of being dumped by your partner, or that someone will see you for who you really are and move on? Then there are the classics, like the fear of public speaking, the fear of being laughed at and perhaps the biggest, baddest fear of them all – the fear of dying.

First things first. Fear is a hard-wired mechanism your brain uses to keep you alive. It told our ancestors not to play with the big cuddly bear with huge claws because death might ensue. It told us not to go to the bad part of town in the middle of night because bad things might happen. And it tells us not to take unnecessary risks because we might end up on the losing side.

This is one way that confidence gets eroded, by hearing and acting on your fears, whether real or imagined.

Once again, it seems like the logical conclusion here is that confident people are less afraid, possessing the ability to beat down the fear, keep their emotions in check and take action.

Here’s where I sound the debunking alert (cover your ears).

A CONFIDENT PERSON WHO DOESN’T FEEL FEAR ISN’T A CONFIDENT PERSON. THEY’RE TERRIFIED LIKE A TINY NUN AT A PENGUIN SHOOT WHO’S TRYING TO CONVINCE YOU THAT THEY’RE BULLET-PROOF.

Everybody experiences fear. You, me, Tom Cruise and every tiny nun in the world.

Real, natural confidence is knowing that you’re whole, no matter what your experience is in any one moment.

Fear isn’t who you are, just as being hungry isn’t who you are. Or being tall, or being cold, or being funny, or being tired.

Those things are like passing weather – coming and going, sweeping through, sometimes changing the light or the landscape for a moment. These weather systems happen all the time, regardless of whether you want them or not (believe me on this, I live in England).

People frequently respond to fear by trying to push it way, bury it or run from it, but try doing that with a passing cloud and you’ll wind up equal parts exhausted and unsuccessful.

The belief that fear is undesirable, unwanted and unhelpful is the problem here, not the fear itself.

Naturally confident people don’t judge fear, try to force it to be a certain way or have their world shaped by it. They just see it as a thing that happens.

Fear is always there in some form or another, and it only becomes a problem, a blocker or a drama if that’s the narrative you weave around it.

Sometimes, like Mr Cruise sitting on top of the Burj, an experience of “fear” can be transformed by welcoming the entirety of the moment rather than a narrow definition of what fear might mean.

It’s just living.

Debunkapalooza 2014

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There’s a lot of nonsense out there. You’ve probably noticed. Particularly in the world of self-help and especially when it comes to the area of confidence, I see so many things written and spoken that make me stand up and shake my fists out of frustration and incredulity.

“No! That’s bollocks!” I cry, yelling in the face of self-help hogwash.

It might be that I’m turning into a cantankerous middle-aged man, or it might be that I just want to set things straight. It’s probably a little of both, but over the next few articles I want to get some myth busting going so I can show you what confidence really looks like and how common misconceptions get things more wrong than serving penguin pie at a Greenpeace picnic.

So I’ll be offering a smart dispelling of the 7 biggest myths around confidence; exploring—and then blowing up—some of the biggest piles of horseshit I’ve seen.

Things kick off tomorrow. Bring your debunking hats and fist-shaking gloves.

You Shouldn’t Even Be Here. But Here You Are.

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Barred Spiral Galaxy
30 seconds after the big bang (around 13.75 billion years ago), the entire universe was smooth and uniform, having expanded and stretched exponentially due to something called the inflation field.

The universe didn’t really know how things worked back then, and tiny quantum fluctuations meant that some parts of this vast uniformity were slightly less uniform than others. Bits of the universe were more dense than others, and in one tiny, infinitesimal quantum fluctuation grew something called the Virgo supercluster.

Somewhere in here was a random clump and cluster of density, a bit like a birds nest in an overgrown bush on the edge of a wood that you drive by at 70kph. Within that cluster, the result of the minutest, random quantum fluctuations imaginable, is the Milky Way. That’s where you and I hang out, but without those minute fluctuations we simply wouldn’t exist.

Gravity, matter and anti-matter danced for around 9 billion years, forming our early solar system. 100 million years into the life of what we now call the Sun, the solar system wasn’t the homely place you and I are familiar with today. Chunks of rock whizzed all over the place on irregular orbits, and one day (scientists think it was about 4.5 billion years ago, a Tuesday) a lump of rock the size of Mars collided with the Earth, causing quite the stir. Some of the rock embedded itself here on Earth, while other fragments from the collision were blasted out into space.

Hello Moon

Some of this material would eventually form the moon, an occurrence that’s generally regarded as a “good thing” as without the moon there would be no gravitational influence to steady the tilt of Earth’s axis, resulting in massive variations in solar heating and catastrophic changes in climate that would make conditions for life on our planet about as likely as Paris Hilton becoming a Nobel laureate.

But that wasn’t the end of the Earth getting walloped by rocks, with the “late heavy bombardment” around 3.9 billion years ago seeing a re-alignment of orbits in our solar system that resulted in a whole heap of trouble for us. Comets, asteroids and other space debris effectively kicked the shit out of the planet, some of them bringing ice from the outer reaches of the solar system which, due to our fortunate position close enough to the sun for water not to freeze but not so close that it boils, gave us water.

Then came life. Nothing as awesome as you and I at first, but single-celled bacteria filled the seas and pretty much had the run of the planet for a billion years or so. Nothing more than dumb chemicals that happened to give out a little oxygen into our sweet, breathe-it-all-in atmosphere, these little critters were perfectly okay as single-celled organisms go. But then an accident happened that changed things considerably.

A bacterium and an archaeon walk into a bar…

One day, one of these cells (a bacterium) was just hanging around wondering how to spend the day (coffee shops hadn’t been invented yet), when it was engulfed by another cell called an archaeon. These guys were a little surprised by the turn of events, but fortunately they got on like a house on fire and formed a clingy kind of relationship that could be termed symbiotic. That single event kicked off a chain of evolution that led to things like cell mitochondria (the batteries that create energy in your cells today) and sex (for which I for one am grateful).

Without these two little guys bumping into each other that day, no complex life would exist on Earth at all.

Not that it was a a straight line from there to here, not by any means. The planet was pretty damn tumultuous around 1.5 billion years ago, with molten eruptions and granite grinding against metal as areas of the crust cooled and shifted, creating a wonderful, wide array of elements for evolution to start playing with.

Then there was the accident that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago, when (and this is our best guess, there’s no footage unfortunately) a 10 kilometre wide asteroid hit the Yucatan peninsula in what we now call Mexico. Not only did this create the conditions in which the dinosaurs and other reptiles perished, but created conditions where certain small, sex-loving mammals could adapt and survive, free from their mammal-munching predators. Thanks Mr Asteroid. We owe you our very existence.

Give us a freakin’ break…

You’d think at that point that we’d be given a break and left to our own devices, but from around 20 million years ago to 6 million years ago the Earth spewed enough magma to create two massive mountain ranges in Africa. Running from north to south and standing 2 kilometres high, these new mountain ranges blocked moisture-laden weather patterns, created deep water lakes that disappeared after a couple of hundred years and forced the local primates to adapt.

Being forced to migrate from area to area and to move food from one place to another, those environmental shifts created an evolutionary moment that (you could say) was the precursor to America’s Next Top Model. We learned to stand upright and walk on two feet.

As if that wasn’t enough cosmic coincidence for you, a gene mutation around 2.4 million years ago saw our jaws become weaker than our chimpanzee cousins. Perhaps because we no longer used a bite as a form of attack and spurred on by the ongoing need to either “think your way out, or eat your way out”, as Mark Maslin of University College London puts it, a smaller, weaker jaw meant that we no longer needed the thicker, supporting bone at the back of the skull. The removal of that constraint meant that evolution was able to give us a bigger skull and bigger brain.

But even that wouldn’t have been possible without our old pal Captain Protein. Proteins are made of long chains of amino acids that have evolved over millions of years to organise themselves within thousandths of a second into working, biological nanomachines. These proteins can fold themselves into a mind-boggling number of formations, and all it took was a single mutation in gene MYH16 to have these proteins form a little differently. And hey presto, smaller jaws.

Me got smarts…

With the constraints lifted, our brains grew and we became pretty darn smart. Changes in the brain caused a snowball effect, where mutations caused further changes that not only made sense in themselves, but opened the door for further mutations that enhanced the brain even further. Not only that, but we adapted ways to fuel our larger brains (they need around 20% of our energy at rest compared with 8% for other primates) by mutating ways to pump more blood and glucose into our noggins.

As we spread into the Middle East and Asia, we found all kinds of bountiful new environments and continued to flourish as a species. It was around this time (70,000 years ago) that a couple of mutations meant that protein FOXP2 was folded a little differently, changing just two of the amino acids needed to build it. Until then, we’d used sound to signal aggression, to call others to gather together and other basic calls to action. But this chance mutation allowed more complex vocalisations with more complex rules; the birth of language.

Now, some may argue that this isn’t such a good thing (watch Fox News, for example), but it’s hard to argue with the 16 mutations that lead to the evolution of our opposable thumbs, or the mutations that placed our eyes centrally and allowed us to focus at short distances, allowing us to create and build.

And this is where we arrive, more or less, at the present day.

By all rights, you shouldn’t be here…

From tiny quantum fluctuations, to cosmic collisions on an unfathomable scale, to the nuanced interplay of gravity and mass, to the grinding and spewing of elements and to the accidents of evolution, if even one piece of this chain had gone even slightly differently, humanity wouldn’t exist. You wouldn’t exist.

This whole chain of evolutionary accident and celestial coincidence, played out over billions of years, has given birth to you.

Sitting atop an extraordinary pyramid of happen-stance and luck, you’re the culmination of around 14 billion years work.

You’re extraordinary.

Go enjoy it.

13 Things Happy People Do Differently

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Smile
People aren’t simply happy or sad, we’re both.

Sometimes at the same time.

Happy and sad are momentary experiences, just as hunger, melancholy, joy, grief or clarity are things you experience in a specific moment.

These things define a moment, not a person, so while happiness isn’t something you possess as you do with a shoe size or eye colour, it is something that you can cultivate more of.

It can also get you into trouble if you go about it in the wrong ways (by padding life out with the accumulation of stuff rather than filling it with moments of value, for example), and it’s something that I’ve been prodding at and digging into recently. It’s a rich, deep and misunderstood concept that I’ll be writing about further, but when you get down to brass tacks, happiness simply reminds you of all that’s good in the world right now, rather than focusing on all the bad things.

Happiness lends you a simpler way of looking at things.

We’re not setting out to be part of an inane, smiling, delusional cult of happiness here. I can’t think of anything worse or more irritating. But if happiness feels like something you’d like to experience more of, here are 13 things happy people do differently.

1. Practice gratitude

Being grateful and thankful doesn’t turn you into the kind of simpleton who would say “Thanks! I love ducks!” right after being pushed into the boating lake.

It does however, create thinking that tunes you in to the good things you have in your life rather than becoming more and more blasé about them. Practising gratitude focuses you on what life brings rather than what it doesn’t, and that’s where happiness comes from.

2. Prioritise nourishment

Nourishment is more than eating your vegetables and getting a decent night’s sleep. It’s about making sure your head, heart and body are kept topped up with the stuff they need not only to function, but to flourish.

If you’re not taking good care of yourself little else will matter.

3. Don’t pursue status

Your brain is wired not only to figure out where you sit in the professional and social pecking order against others, but to reinforce your position in that pecking order.

When you get wrapped up in establishing or maintaining status, the moment your place in the hierarchy drops you’re going to feel pretty horrible, like you’ve screwed up, that you’re no good or that others are better than you. Worse, it’s why some people behave like assholes.

Don’t get into the status game – there are no winners.

4. Separate success from outcomes

Your level of happiness is not dependent on reaching a goal or objective.

Your success and happiness have nothing to do with what happens, and everything to do with how you perceive your achievements, your value and how you’re engaging with your life.

Every time you make your success and happiness conditional on something happening, you’re missing point entirely.

5. Don’t reject or bury the bad

If you’re in the habit of brushing the bad stuff under the carpet, sooner or later you’re gonna trip up over that small hill that’s grown in the middle of the room and end up smashing your ego all over the place.

You can only ignore or shut out the bad stuff in life (and there will always be bad stuff in life) for so long.

Respect it. Integrate it. Welcome it. Learn from it. Accept it.

6. Stay out of the drama

Happy people don’t spend their time whining about how hard they’re having it, how everything’s going wrong, how everyone just needs to stop screwing everything up for you and how life would be so much easier if it wasn’t for everyone and everything they do.

Getting into all of the “he said she said” of the world will keep you down in the detail and drama and you’ll be excluding all the beautiful and extraordinary stuff that’s right there in front of you.

7. Dump the expectations

Inside that noggin of yours, your brain is doing its best to figure out what will happen next so that it can make sure you’ll be safe and sound.

So it starts creating expectations for how things will go, what you’ll do next and how you’ll do it. It creates expectations about what others will do and what that means for your world. It even creates expectations about what other people might expect of you, just so you can fit in, not draw attention and keep on staying safe, secure and certain in your environment.

Only, those same expectations will drastically limit your quality of life and resultant levels of confidence and happiness. So get rid of ‘em.

8. Know what makes them tick

It’s redundant to talk about happiness unless you know something about what makes you happy. So what are the things that make you tick – the stuff that matters to you enough for you to do something about?

You’ll experience more happiness from doing the things that foster meaning, flow and contribution, so doing a little leg work to see what makes you tick goes an extraordinarily long way.

9. Don’t fight against their environment

So many people waste time and energy flapping their wings against the bars of the cage they think they’re in, they never figure out a better way to use that same energy.

If you struggle against your environment, your environment will win. Instead, put in some effort to create an environment that’s congruent with what matters to you – an environment that brings what matters to life.

10. Are connected

Feeling isolated is pretty darn sucky. It’s a bit like being alone in an attic while the zombie apocalypse happens in the world outside. You end up scared, stuck and listening out for sign of an undead brain-eater heading your way.

Okay, so it’s mainly the scared and stuck thing.

Feeling connected (to others, a project, a community, a family, a cause, etc.) gives you a sense of belonging, a sense that your life and your world are bigger than just you and that you’re part of a network that counts for something.

11. Notice the small things

I talk a lot about doing stuff that matters to you and creating value, and the temptation is to think that this is some big, grand, oh-so worthy endeavour.

Truth is, there’s wonder in the tiny things too. Holding hands. Sunlight through trees. A steamed-up bathroom. The way someone smiles. That song you love. Squirrels playing in the park. A car letting you cross the street. The first page of a book. Laughing out loud.

The small things matter massively.

12. Leverage their confidence

Everyone has confidence (that includes you), it’s just that we sometimes forget all about it. Confidence is simply having enough trust in yourself so you’re able to choose your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour.

It’s knowing that you can get on, make choices and do stuff, and deal with whatever happens.

Using it is freeing, simple and powerful. Confidence just works.

13. Know they don’t need to be happy all the time

Happy people don’t bank on feeling happy all the time. They know that it’s transitory, and they know that there are moments when it’s a choice. Thinking that you need to be happy all the time or that you’re owed happiness will put you on the road towards Missingthepointcompletelyville.

Happiness is as much an intention – a precursor to a moment in time – as it is an outcome.

How are you with this whole happiness thing?

I Might Never Be a Successful Coach

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The Color of Money
I’m not a successful Coach.

It’s possible that I never will be.

Socks, soup and success…

I coached full-time from 2002-2007, but made only just about enough to keep myself in socks and soup. Working from home every day for 5 years also drove me a little loopy, so I decided to go back into a “real-life workplace” with real people and stuff, for the health of both my sanity and my bank balance.

Since then, I launched myself as The Confidence Guy and most recently launched The Code, each delving deep into my specialism of confidence coaching, something I bloody love.

In those 12 years I’m pretty sure I’ve helped people, but sometimes it feels like I’ve fallen way short of what I could have achieved, or indeed, dreamed of achieving.

In parallel, my freelancing work as a Producer in ad and marketing agencies has flourished. Quite unwittingly and unwanted, I’m in big demand in this capacity, and have the luxury to tell the big agencies when I’m working, when I’m not and how much I cost.

As a Producer I get to be in a room full of decent people, throw around creative, strategic and technological ideas, and shape something that’s hopefully pretty cool. That part of it works for me, but the day-after-day, office-bound nature of it doesn’t work quite so well. Plus, I’m acutely aware that advertising and marketing are simply about helping someone else sell more shit. I can’t really get excited about that.

So, I’ve built this flexible, high-income and in-demand role from nothing, and my “career” as a Producer is apparently a lot more successful than my career as a Confidence Coach.

What gives?

Does this mean I’m a better Producer than I am Coach?

Maybe. Who knows.

But actually, I don’t think that’s a helpful question.

A much better question…

I prefer to ask myself, what value am I adding, regardless of job title?

As a confidence coach I may not have a major book deal and a huge advance. I may not be able to charge $25,000 for a speaking gig. I may not have a sock butler (applications gratefully received here) to help me find my socks in the morning.

That stuff may or may not happen (fingers crossed on the sock thing), but in the meantime I have some simple choices to make.

Do I define my success solely by the currency of dollars and pounds?
Do I stop engaging with what I love because I’m not where I dreamed of being?
Do I quit the idea of adding value and making a difference because of an expectation I had around volume and reach?

Those feel like the right questions to me.

They bring me back to what matters, remind me of where I am and tell the expectations to jog on and get lost

Success is such an emotive and confused concept that it almost becomes meaningless. You succeed and fail all the time, just by living your life.

Take breathing, for example. Way to go! You just totally breathed in! That’s epic! You’re awesome at breathing in! Great stu…oh hang on, wait a second. Did you just breathe out? You let that breath go? Shit. Erm, what the hell, you were doing so well with the whole breathing in thing. Epic fail.

Both success and failure are thoughts we have to help weave a narrative around events. Success is a thought, just like a thought about how green the broccoli on your plate is or how stuffy the room is.

The narrative thought doesn’t matter; what matters is tasting the broccoli and deciding what you do in that room.

Of course, I don’t have all the answers any more than I have all the llama’s, rainbows or tambourines*. I’m not in the business of accumulating answers, I’m in the business of continuing to learn, adapt and shed.

So, it’s healthier for me to gauge my impact as a confidence coach by the quality of value I offer to a single individual, rather than how many thousands of seats there are in the stadium I’m talking at. If I’m able to make a real difference to one person, that’s bloody amazing in my book.

And it’s healthier for me to gauge my impact as a producer by the amount of fun I have when working with others, rather than how much money I’m making for Brand X. If I’m able to laugh with the people around me and make their working experience easier, that’s bloody amazing in my book.

Through the traditional lens of success, I might never be a successful Coach.

I think I’m okay with that.

* Actually, I do have all the tambourines. All of them. Mine.

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