Success Rules: Who Is Running You?

We have been exploring the Emotional Intelligence competency of Confidence or Self-regard. This Coach’s Corner is on how your thinking impacts your decisions, judgments and success. It is excerpted from one of the 10 tools to raise your Confidence in my book, Leading with Emotional Intelligence. As an Executive Coach, one consistent strategy I use with executives is to help them be more in charge of their default thought process.

In Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, Decisive, they write: “Why do we have such a hard time making good choices? …when it comes to making decisions, it is clear that our brains are flawed instruments.”

In this strategy, the objective is to become aware of your rules for being successful. All of us have them, but often they were made a long time ago and are outdated, too rigid, or over-generalized. It is like we have a nine-year-old inside of us who dictates what we should do and how. That is the age when we were becoming more on our own and trying to manage ourselves to get the best results. We made guidelines for ourselves such as:

  • “Stay out of trouble.”
  • “Be polite to others.”
  • “Don’t say anything stupid.”
  • “Don’t make others upset.”
  • “Don’t ever be satisfied.”
  • “Confidence is bragging.”

When you were nine, these guidelines for good performance were probably very effective. Because you were successful, you kept using them. In our brains effort to be economical, we take shortcuts, we go on automatic and use what Daniel Kahneman calls “fast thinking.” The problem occurs when:

  1. These guidelines become rules.
  2. Rules become calcified and are too rigid.
  3. Rules translate to everything, and you didn’t realize how you abstracted them to cover all situations.
  4. You fail to update or consciously challenge these rules to integrate your new learning and resources.

It’s like you have an old version of a smart phone, let’s say the iPhone 1, and are very happy knowing how everything works. It was once the best program available. Now with iPhone 5 available, your possibilities are far greater. The new version offers more services, apps and is faster and simpler to use. You may hold on to outdated rules or programs without even realizing they are outdated. These unexamined rules leave you feeling unsatisfied, not confident and often like a failure. This little nine-year-old sits behind the steering wheel of your life, barely able to see the road, clipping parked cars along the way. How can you change and upgrade?

Questions and Action Applications:

Write down the rules you live by as answers to the following: “What must happen for me to really feel successful?” Feel free to write as many rules as come to mind. This process forces you into Kahneman’s “slow thinking” where you can get richer answers.

Here are some sample answers to get you started: “To really feel successful…”

  • “I have to be the leader of whatever I do.”
  • “I have to be the smartest in the room.”
  • “I must earn….”
  • “I have to have answers quickly when people ask.”
  • “I must have the best house, car, etc.”
  • “I have to control everyone and everything around me.”
  • “I must feel happy every minute.”

Next to each rule you list, write #1, #2, or #3, if true for that particular rule. It’s fine to have up to three numbers per rule.

  • #1 = It is outdated.
  • #2 = It is too rigid.
  • #3 = It is over-generalized.

Now, answer these questions:

  1. How many of your success rules are outdated? Too rigid? Over-generalized?
  2. What is the price you are paying for holding on to these rules?
  3. What is the first step to take in rewriting some of your success rules?
  4. If you were to refresh this particular rule, how could you make it more helpful, constructive and useful knowing what you know now?
  5. What will be the benefit for you in rewriting your rules?
  6. How will you know when rewriting these success rules actually makes a tangible difference to you?

The result: These new rules can help you evaluate yourself better and more accurate so you can feel more confident and successful.

You can stay on automatic or be more conscious and in charge of your life and contributions.

Stay tuned for next week’s Coach’s Corner!



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