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What Makes A Person Naturally Successful?

What Makes A Person Naturally Successful?

I felt like I was living a lie.

These past few months, I was supposed to be working on my new book, Thinking Things Done.  But somehow, I didn’t seem to actually be getting anything done on the book itself!

Sure, I made videos, tons of notes and outlines, struck marketing deals, traveled to conferences doing promotion, and even figuring out how to swap out my entire business’s technology infrastructure.

But the book still wasn’t getting written.

And even worse than that, was the feeling that my schedule was slowly slipping away, and soon I’d have to delay my promised launch dates.

And in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, “Oh god, what is it going to say about the book if I don’t get it done on time?”, and feeling…

Absolutely Ashamed Of Myself!

Now today, though, I find this amusing – almost hilarious.

See, I’m no longer the same person I was when I started work on the book.

Back then, I was still in the “naturally struggling” mindset, as a way of life.  Sure, there were many areas in which I was able to use “naturally successful” thinking.  (Like giving workshops, for example.)  But for the most part, I still had a very negative and pessimistic outlook.

Sitting here right now, trying to write this to you, is deliciously frustrating.  I want to tell you all the stories of my challenges and dark nights of despair…  but I’m honestly having trouble remembering what all the fuss was about.  Because when I think back to those times, my brain is automatically making the memories better, instantly.

Just Like a Naturally Sucessful Person’s Brain Does!

And so, even though this makes it rather difficult to write about what happened, I can’t help but think, “Hot damn!  I finally really did it.”

And it’s been a really long time coming.  Four years now, writing this blog.  So very many dead ends and wrong turns in my studies and experiments.  Hell, I didn’t even properly formulate the idea of a naturally sucessful person or naturally sucessful thinking until earlier this year.

At first, I thought that the only difference between natural success and natural struggling was the presence or absence of mental or emotional blocks.  Therefore, I assumed, it should be possible to become naturally successful, simply by removing enough of one’s blocks.

But even though I’ve gotten very good at removing mental blocks, and teaching others to do the same, I had never seen anyone actually change into a naturally sucessful person.

Not Even Me!

Sure, we were all getting better by leaps and bounds.  My social confidence is at a lifetime high, for example, and pretty soon I think I might even be able to pass myself off as a normal person.  😉  And my personal productivity and motivation had already improved by an order of magnitude since I started this blog.

But I still wasn’t naturally sucessful.

I mean sure, if I remembered to use my own methods, if I remembered and actively chose to think in the ways that I teach, I could, in almost any situation, turn things around and make a positive move forward.

I just didn’t always feel like it.

So in the back of my mind, I kept having this nagging suspicion that maybe, just maybe…

I Was Practicing Religion, Not Science!

See, I had no real evidence that removing blocks was enough.  I was just taking it on faith.  I had no proof at all.

And so I’m really, really glad, that when the chips were down…  I didn’t depend on faith to pull me through.

I trusted my doubts, instead!

As Dr. James Prochaska once wrote (in his book, “Changing For Good”):

“But I was prepared to go back into my study and subject my precious principles of progress to the riskiest tests available.  I was prepared to destroy in the afternoon what I had discovered in the morning.  This is the terrible obligation of a scientist: You must be prepared to falsify what you most want to believe is true.”

And so I went looking for what else might distinguish naturally sucessful and naturally struggling people, besides specific mental blocks inducing “pain-brain” behavior.

And I Found Something…

More than one “something”, in fact, as members of the Circle know.  In the last few months, my newsletters, CDs, and workshops have been unveiling the discoveries I’ve made.  Not only on my own, but also the previously-existing scientific research I managed to dig up on phenomena very closely related to “natural success” and “natural struggling”.  There have even been experiments attempting to change people from one into the other!

(Not very successfully, though.  One unfortunate problem with most self-help books and psychology experiments is that they don’t take into account just how difficult certain things are for naturally struggling people to do.  As a result, they end up prescribing things that only work for people who’d manage to succeed anyway!)

However, even with all the things I was discovering, I still wasn’t quite there yet.  Each discovery would kick me to a new high, but when something went wrong – as it often did – I would find myself back in a pit of despair.

But oddly enough…

The Pit Was Getting Shallower!

The highs were getting higher, in other words, but so were the lows.  It was like I was losing my belief that things were bad (and always would be).  So, even when I was very disappointed in myself, I was taking it a lot less seriously than I used to.

I really wish there was a single moment or technique I could point to and say, “that’s what did it, that’s what made me a naturally successful person”.  (Not only would it help a lot of people, it’d be great for marketing, too!)

But the simple truth is that it was dozens of moments (and quite a few hours!) applying about a half dozen techniques, over the first few weeks of October.  As Jared Diamond put it:

“We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success. For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate causes of failure.”

And so I had to fix a variety of different “causes of failure”.  For example, not facing the truth about what I really wanted.  Not looking at things from the right time perspectives.

Having a fear of letting myself and others down, every single time I didn’t get done as much as I tried to in a single day.  Feeling like everything I did in life needed to be “the best” (as in universally best).

The belief that moods and inspiration are fragile things, easily lost and hard to get back.

And Those Are Just The Ones I Wrote Down!

And although each of these “bugs in my brain” took only minutes to fix, they each took a good deal of self-examination to find.

(Typical software bugs, in other words!)

So the bad news is this: no, I did not find a single “miracle technique” for becoming naturally successful.

But the good news is, it’s possible with the techniques I already teach!  (One technique to add positive qualities, and the rest, to remove negative ones.)

Because what my studies these last few months turned up was not so much a new technique or change in approach, as it was a better understanding of how the brain constructs our “personality”, and a better understanding of…

How The Naturally Successful Mind Works

And with this improved understanding, it’s now possible to “find and fix bugs” in the mind much faster than before, and with greater accuracy as to what changes will have the most impact.

Indeed, I believe I’ve made as many changes in myself during October as I did in the preceding three months!  (Although I can’t verify that for certain, since I’ve only recently gotten serious about recording them all.)

So we’re still “mind hacking”, but now instead of making only small changes, we can use the same techniques to make broader changes now.  The result is that we can now make changes at various levels of mental abstraction, so that instead of only changing individual behaviors or responses, we can…

Change The Whole “Personality”!

And being naturally successful, you see, is really a personality-level characteristic.

What’s more, it’s a positive characteristic – an active skill, in a sense – rather than the mere absence of negative characteristics, as I previously thought.

However, just like any other positive quality or skill, it can’t be installed in the presence of conflicting “software” – beliefs, blocks, judgments, etc.  For example, if you believe that optimistic people are airheads who “live in happy cotton-candy land” (as one Circle member described it in a workshop a couple months ago), then you’re going to have a lot of trouble becoming optimistic yourself!

Indeed, that’s why I had so much trouble myself, at first.  Because even though optimism is one of the most important “drivers” of natural success, it’s got to be the real deal.

In other words, it’s not the fake-o, “it’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity” bullcrap you hear in the corporate world.  It’s not the salesman’s plastic smile, or his cry of “Outstanding!”, every time you ask how he’s doing.  And above all else, it’s not hoping things will turn out okay…

While Still Expecting They Won’t!

And you see, for as far back as I can remember, I’ve always expected that things would not turn out okay.

That everything was not “for the best”.

That I was not good enough, not smart enough, and doggone it…  people didn’t like me!

And unlike “Stuart Smalley”, I believe that only the truth can set you free.  Because pretending to be an optimist doesn’t make you successful, or optimistic.

It just makes you a phony!

Because you cannot act, affirm, or “visual-lies” yourself into being something that is in conflict with your current nature.  Because then,…

Even When You Succeed, You Fail!

And every time you go against your nature, you experience being a phony.  A struggling impostor.

A clumsy duckling in a pond full of swans.

So, if you want to change, you must begin by accepting the truth about where you are now.

However scary that truth might be.

And you need to learn…

One Vitally Important Secret

I’ve talked a lot over the years about the importance of not merely intellectually understanding something – of needing to learn to do, not just “know”.

But it occurred to me today that I have never really explained how to do that.

Because it’s really really easy to hear a good idea and “agree” with it, but not do anything about it.

For example, I’ve been hearing for years now that “selling is good, because if you have something that’s genuinely worth more than what someone will pay for it, then you are doing someone a disservice by not telling them about it.”

And intellectually, that idea always made absolutely perfect sense.  But on a gut level…

I Just Didn’t Get It!

So I thought I “knew” this idea, because it was perfectly logical.  But it had no influence on my behavior at all!

I always dreaded the thought of sitting down to write anything whose purpose was to sell something, or to give a teleseminar in which I’d promote other products.  I’d be quite happy dreaming up things that would be useful to people and a great value, but even though I’d overcome my fears and blocks enough to be able to sell things, I was still making it way harder than it needed to be.

And I thought that this was just how things were.  I assumed that writing “sales copy” was tough because it “just wasn’t me”.  (Which is pretty stupid, because these days I make my living by teaching people how to do things that “just aren’t them”!)

And the few times it occurred to me that maybe I still had some issue with selling being bad, I just brushed it off.  After all…

I “Knew” It Was Good!

I had the idea that it was good, memorized.  I could recite it forwards and backwards.  I even “believed” it was true.

In the abstract.

But it’s important to understand that changing your abstract thoughts, doesn’t always change your real behaviors.

The brain is not a perfect database.  It’s built for speed, not accuracy.  So if it has a choice between giving you a well-thought-out answer, and a fast answer that at least keeps you alive, it goes for the fast one.

What this means is that when you “learn” an idea like “selling is good”, all you are doing is learning a rote response.  If you ask the same question, e.g. “Is selling good?” you can answer yes.

But in the context where you actually do the selling…

The Answer Isn’t Filed There!

Your brain’s database is indexed primarily by context: physical location and emotional state first, other things second. It’s like a physical filing cabinet: if you don’t make a specific effort to cross-reference things, then you’re not going to find what you’re looking for.

And that’s why you can read self-help books and “learn” all kinds of things, but not do anything different.

And basically, the techniques I’ve been teaching recently are all about creating cross-references in the mind, so that new ideas you’d like to act on, actually “stick”.  In computer programming terms, I’m teaching methods that “force a cache miss” in the mind, so that your brain drops the outdated information about how to think or behave in a certain situation, and refreshes it to correspond with a new, desired belief.

Of course, this only works if you don’t also have a conflicting belief.  Because that, you see, leads to…

An Installation Conflict!

But back to my story.  Last Tuesday, I was getting a critique of some marketing materials I wrote.  And the funny thing was, after I used my techniques to get rid of the feelings that made me take some of the criticism personally, there was still one thing I was having trouble with.

Their praise of my work!

Despite the criticisms they had, two of the five reviewers wanted to buy something from me, and were upset that in a five-day email sequence, I hadn’t yet told them how to order anything.

And pondering this in private afterwards, it was clear from the criticism that everyone loved the free materials I was offering; it was only the parts where I was trying to “sell” that they found boring.

And up until now, I’d just assumed that was normal.  Or in other words…

Not My Fault!

Now, I won’t go into the full details here of precisely how I tracked down the bug in my brain.  It took about thirty minutes, maybe forty-five.  What I want to stress to you right now is what made me look for a bug in the first place.

See, you can’t look for the cause of the bug, if you don’t know you have it.  And if you think that your beliefs or behavior are just “how things are” or “just me”, then you will be deceived into thinking your bugs are just “features”!

And the thing that tells you you have a bug in your brain, is whenever you emotionally disagree with someone more successful than you…  OR dismiss what they’re saying as something you “already know”.

Now, by “more successful”, I mean successful in a way that’s relevant to your goals.  If your goals don’t involve making money, for example, then you’re under no obligation to listen to some random rich dude.

Heck, you’re not really under an obligation then, either!  What I’m saying is not that you have to do whatever a successful person tells you.  What I’m saying is that when you are listening to a successful person…

Pay Close Attention To Your Emotions!

And whenever you feel a need to disagree, disregard, or just plain avoid something they’re saying…  watch out.

Doesn’t mean they’re right.  Doesn’t mean they’re wrong, either.

What it does mean, though, is that you’ve got something stored in your brain’s “cache” that conflicts with what they’re telling you.  The feelings you have associated with an idea are part of your brain’s “heuristics” (a fancy programmer word for “hint” or “clue”) for selecting appropriate thoughts and actions.

And so, if you get a strong reaction to something, that’s an indication that you don’t have a lot of choice in relation to that idea.

See, to actually have a rational choice in something, you can’t have any strong negative emotions attached.  If you do, the lower parts of your brain kick into an emergency response, and literally take over your logical mind.  You might still think you’re being rational, but you won’t really be.  And that means…

You Won’t Learn Anything New!

So on Tuesday, when I noticed I was having trouble processing the idea that people wanted to buy stuff from me even when I wasn’t “selling” them anything…  and that further, they were upset that I hadn’t done a better job of selling to them…  I paid attention.

See, what they were telling me was a perfect match with what I “already knew” to be true: selling is good if you have something that actually benefits people, and in fact you’re doing them a disservice by not doing everything in your power to sell it to them.

But somehow, it seemed strange to apply that idea to me!

Of course, once I traced the problem down, it was really just the “usual”: another installation conflict.

The idea of selling being good had never really “sunk in”, because there was already something else filed in the relevant “moral judgment of behavior” slot in my brain.  But what that something else was

I Never Would Have Guessed!

Which is why the next most important thing after you’ve realized you have a conflict, is to identify what the conflict really is.

Not to guess.

Because what most people forget when they try to debug their brain is, you’re using a broken tool to fix itself.

In programming terms, it’s like using a buggy debugger to debug itself.  Or in English, it’s like trying to adjust your appearance by looking in a funhouse mirror: you don’t know if what you’re seeing is a problem with you, or just a distortion in the mirror.

(And that’s just one of the reasons it’s so important to establish a test condition before you begin changing anything in your head!)

Anyway, point is this: if your logical brain knew what the hell was going on, and had any direct control over your emotional brain…

You Wouldn’t Have A Problem!

(And there’d be no need for such a thing as mind hacking, either.)

Anyway, the point is that if what you find during a mental debugging session doesn’t surprise you, then you’re damn well doing it wrong.  The more certain you are about the problem before you start debugging, the more certain it is that you have no freaking idea.

In my case, it turned out that my emotional reaction to writing sales copy was based on…

Wait for it…

Kids tricking me in school.


That’s right.  See, when I was little, the kids in school would always offer some kind of benefit up front…  tell me they wanted me to play with them, or that they liked me, or that there was some candy to be had.

Then, once they had me hooked, there would always turn out to be some kind of catch.

And somehow, I’d managed to equate this with selling.

You know, like offering somebody a benefit.

And then making them pay for it!   (muahahaha)

WTF?  I mean, seriously, WTF.  There is absolutely no logical connection between malicious trickery and a trade that benefits both parties.  None whatsoever.  But once this idea got stuck in my emotional brain’s cache…

It Totally Controlled My Behavior!

Any time I’d start to think seriously about sitting down to write some marketing material, I’d want to find something else to do.  And all the materials I did write were horribly, horribly corrupted by the emotional influence.

In retrospect, I can now see that so much of what I wrote came off sounding hollow, because it was trying way too hard to persuade people of things that were never in question to begin with.  And the result was almost as painful for others to read, as it was for me to write!

That’s because, in my emotional brain’s view, I was doing something hurtful and wrong.  What’s more, I believed that no intelligent person would “fall for” such trickery, which led me to pile on lots of extra logical arguments in order to be sure that intelligent people would be convinced, too.  (Of course, this just made what I wrote more boring!)

So even though I was able to get myself to do the writing (though not as much as I wanted to), the result was often so bad that I’d have been…

Better Off Not Writing In The First Place!

Of course, just realizing that this was the problem didn’t fix anything, just as noticing a bug in a computer program doesn’t somehow automatically fix it.  But as is also the case with most software bugs, fixing a tough bug in your brain usually takes much less time than figuring out what was wrong with it in the first place.

And now, I’m actually rethinking my entire business.  Because as soon as I got this bit of outdated emotional information flushed from the cache, it became really easy to see how I’ve been screwing up all kinds of things about my business.

True, not all of them are related to this “selling” bug.  I actually fixed three bugs in my brain today!  (The other two had to do with feeling like my work was never good enough for people to like me, and the other was about feeling bad when people don’t like some aspect of my appearance or speech, etc.)

But this article is already drawn-out enough, so I’ll leave the others alone for now.  Suffice it to say that I am about to make some major changes to how I do business (like releasing several new low-cost products by year-end), and I’ve already made some major changes to how I’m living my life!

For example, I expect to finish several fun and challenging projects this year, such as losing another ten or twenty pounds.  In fact…

I’ve Already Lost Eight Pounds, Just Writing This Article!

(Well, I did start writing it on Tuesday, and now it’s Sunday.  Still, that’s not bad at all.)

Anyway, the whole weight-loss project is yet another change I don’t have time to write about here, especially since I just finished a write-up of it in the latest issue of Change Without Pain, Life Without Struggle!

But until then, I’d like to leave you with something that does explain a little bit more about how the naturally successful mind works.  If you take a listen to this interview with Josh Kaufman I did recently, you’ll get to hear me breaking down another naturally sucessful person’s thought processes.

Now, at the time I did that interview, I hadn’t actually made the transition myself yet, so you may find it interesting to compare my thinking between then and now.  Anyway, go check it out at ThinkingThingsDone.com., and then go do something with what you learn.

Best always,


Join the discussion
  • Good post, thanks.

    In your last post you said “See, you don’t have to have “nothing left to lose”, in order to be willing to risk. You just have to either be okay with losing, or not expect to lose.

    And how do you do that? Well, I’ll tell you. Next time!”

    It’s next time, I’ve been hanging out for the answer to that question and would greatly appreciate hearing it. 🙂


  • Okay, let me break this down. I've just reread the article (twice) and, in summary, here's what I get from it:
    1. Address multiple causes of failure with multiple techniques.
    2. Make a personality-level change by:
    2.1: removing the inhibitors to that change.
    2.2: cross-referencing the change to your emotional mind (and presumably applied mental skills) not just as intellectual knowledge.
    3: Identify miswires by noticing strong emotional reactions (esp. to advice by successful people).
    3.1: An example of this from your own experience re: selling.

    I was unable to find all the necessary information to answer the question "How do I become okay with losing?" (which is what I was hanging out for) because there seem to be some aspects that aren't addressed.

    * What techniques do you use in #1 & how do you apply them?
    * How do you remove mental inhibitors in #2.1?
    * How do you link the change to your emotions/applied-skills rather than just absorbing it as intellectual data (#2.2)?

    After reading the article, the "how" is not clear to me, and that seems critical to understanding and applying it.

    P.S. I also listened to the interview, to see if the details of "how" were in there, but they didn't appear to be.


  • Great summary… yes, you’re correct, I didn’t include much specific technique information in this article. Most of the techniques I’ve learned or developed have been covered in more detail in previous articles, spread out over the last four years. For example, in mid-2006, I gave fairly detailed information and links to a technique I use to eliminate negative feeling reactions; it’s the technique I generally use to eliminate my reaction to stuff successful people say.

    Also, I have a 5-day autoresponder course over at 5daystochange.com that includes two videos, one of which is a VERY detailed tutorial on eliminating negative beliefs and creating confidence.

    All this technique stuff is much too detailed for including all of it in one blog article… which is one reason I’m writing Thinking Things Done. I’m currently in the middle of chapter 7 of 16 chapters; the target date for completion is still January 12th. And if you’re on my email list(s), you’ll start receiving sample chapters soon.



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