How could three words change your life?

And the lives of those around you

No quick and easy answers

In this Insight I’ll focus on just three words that could help you achieve more of what really matters to you.

So, this is about your biggest life goals – for yourself or your loved ones.

And, if you’re a parent or a coach, these ideas will help you help those you care about too.

Goals for lifeNow I know that’s a big claim and this is quite a big Insight too

(estimated reading time is 10 to 20 minutes – depending on your reading speed)

There are, of course, no quick and easy answers to our biggest life challenges.

(I’ve simply distilled these ideas into 3 words to make them easier not to forget!)

Elephants never forget

The truth is that we need time – and lots of it – to master the skills we need to achieve our bigger life goals.

And we need solid guidance on the way – which is what I want to focus on today.

So, we’ll explore the ideas that are grounded in solid science and distilled from the works of world leading thinkers in motivation and psychology.

And we’ll also learn why, not every guru standing on a stage has a rightful claim to be your sage.

Indeed, that’s where I’d like to start by asking who we can really trust for guidance.

After all, without the right team behind us, we’re all going to struggle for success.
Know about evidence based ideas

How much do you care about the Truth?

Okay, I know that sounds like a stupid question but whilst we all know that the world is full of fake news and various other forms of ‘misinformation’, a great many people are regularly getting hurt by it.

Our natural instinct, it seems, is to trust what’s written  – and what people tell us. And, sadly, there are a lot of snake oil sellers and crooks taking advantage of this fact.

Road to riches

That’s why I wrote my first book, ‘Who can you trust about money?’ to help you understand who misleads you about money – and how.

It’s a two part book – and in part 2, I also explain how we mislead ourselves. So, that part covers the behavioural science that everyone’s talking about.

The thing is, if we want to tackle an issue as important as our personal future – whether it’s about our health, wealth or personal performance – it’s essential for us to start by asking who you can trust for good guidance?

We don’t need a rocket scientist to answer this question – but it’s worth reminding ourselves what they say on the importance of  science and ‘truth’.

Einstein. Careless with the truth

Of course, ‘Fake news’ is not new – it just seems like it because it’s so easy to access in this digital age – and because it’s a (relatively) new phrase that’s ‘hit the news’.

And knowing it exists is very different to knowing how to spot it – which, quite clearly, many do not.

I guess that some (slow) progress is being made to educate people on this -and these sorts of cheat sheet can certainly help. But it all involves quite a lot of brain work – and, as we’ll see later, that’s something we generally like to avoid 🙂

How to spot fake news

We certainly do need to learn how to spot this rubbish though because there’ll always be some people promoting stupid or deliberately misleading ideas.

There always has been – although, to get this in perspective – this whole issue was a lot worse in the past.

I mean, we used to burn people at the stake in England – for challenging stupid religious rules !

Nowadays, it’s a relatively small minority of lunatics who kill people for leaving (or refusing to follow) a particularly warped idea of religion.

And whilst some massive problems persist in the ‘religions’ arena, the wider (and arguably easier) fight we all have today is against fake news on other issues – where the risks are to our health, wealth and general well-being.

Of course, we wouldn’t have any of these problems if everyone followed Charles Darwin’s brilliant advice here.Darwin. To kill an error

And I wonder what Darwin would say, if he knew that in our, so called, ‘information age’ c. 40% of the US population deny his proven science of evolution?

Incredibly, in many US states today, they still teach their children that humans were placed onto the earth, in their present form, by God !

I’m sure that Darwin would be shocked and saddened to learn that ☹

The good news is that we have a lot of intelligent people who ignore this stupidity (and the crooks and the misleading adverts and those attention grabbing but misleading headlines in the press) and just quietly get on with the work of making the world a better place.

So, despite all that fake news noise (and our wars about who controls what and which religions we should follow) the world has made enormous progress over the past 200 years.

Here’s the evidence 🙂

Rising living standards

You can find more detail behind these charts here

The key point here is that most of this progress has come about because we’ve used solid science.

Yes, we still have plenty of problems in the world (including those of our own making – like global warming) but I’m hopeful that, if we can get over our ridiculous tribal belief based fighting, we’ll find the technological (and behavioural solutions) to clear up the mess we’ve made in the world.

We certainly need to make it a better place – for our children and our children’s children.

And I don’t fancy the alternative – of escaping planet earth on a rocket ship to Mars with Elon Musk 😉

Which brings me nicely back to earth – and the three words of this Insight.

Let’s stand on the shoulders of giants

Newton GiantsIf you’re going to take your personal performance and motivation seriously – you really do need to take Newton’s advice – and ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’.

You need to seek out the ideas of those quietly capable people – who just happen to be the world’s leading experts in these areas.

The good news is that these people are much more accessible today, than they ever were in the past. You can read (or listen to) their brilliant books on their proven ideas and you can even watch their TED and other talks online.

But you can only do this if you know the right people to follow.

And the right people to follow are NOT the ones you’d expect.

So, I’m not talking about the likes of Tony Robbins or Brendan Burchard or Rhonda Byrne (author of ‘The Secret’) or Esther (Abraham) Hicks here.

Goodness me no!

Indeed, the evidence about their work suggests a need for some very big wealth and health warnings.

You should certainly be aware that ‘just believing you can do it’ will not, necessarily, stop you burning your feet if you do the fire walk at one of Tony’s gigs 😊

And I’d certainly recommend that you avoid that ‘law of attraction’ idea. It’s not just nonsense, it’s been proven to be ‘counterproductive’ for the very people it claims to help. More on that here.

If we try to live our lives according to random sets of “beliefs and claims” that have NO basis in fact we’re at a serious risk of coming to more harm than good.

Sadly, this is what many tens of thousands of people do with their lives.

And the double sadness is that we know why they do it – it’s all to do with our human condition and our, curious, behavioural biases.

At least two of these biases are at work when we’re misled by a guru.

Firstly, we have an overwhelmingly strong tendency to follow the instructions of people we ‘believe’ to be in authority.

More on that here

And secondly we like to follow people with super levels of confidence.

If you really need evidence on that – just take a good hard look at some of these silly ‘belief system’ leaders (or some of our most powerful world leaders) 😉

Seriously, what else do these people have – other than an abundance of confidence?

Okay, so, that’s the end of the science selling introduction 🙂  and I’m sorry to take up so much time on it.

But I really do want to help you achieve more. And you can’t do that if you waste your time running down any of the many ridiculous idea rabbit holes that are being promoted out there today.

 To summarise this section -just remember this:

Never allow anyone to be your sage,

just because they’re confident or they stand on a stage!

Unless the ideas you’re taking on have solid evidence to back them up, you risk wasting an enormous amount of your time and your money on them .

And I’d really prefer that you didn’t do that.

So, who are the giant thinkers to follow?

Well, there are a lot of them – and it really depends what issue you’re dealing with.

But, on matters of the mind and motivation I’d strongly suggest that you start with these four world leading thinkers.

Dr Steve Peters, Psychiatrist and author of Chimp Paradox – and mind coach to the multi-gold medal winning British Olympic Cycling team.

Steve Peters on effort and success

Professor Carol Dweck, professor of Psychology at Stanford University and author of ‘Mindset, how you can fulfil your potential’

Carol DweckDr Susan David, Psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of “Emotional agility”

Susan David. Face into your thoughtsAnd Dr David Burns, Psychiatrist and author of bestselling book ‘Feeling Good’ –Acclaimed by health professionals the world over for helping many thousands of people (including me) to deal with depression.

David Burns. Only one personAnd, once you’re done with these you can find more of my book recommendations here

Alternatively, you could join my IRATE Wealth builders Facebook Group from which you’ll get a new recommendation of a ‘master of thought’ every week – plus access to help and ideas on other matters. More details about what we do in there – here.

Now, I hope you can relax into the rest of this ‘Insight’ – in the knowledge that it draws on the ideas of people who are truly proven in their field.

So, let’s crack on and explore . . .

Here’s the first of three magic words for your success

And, just for fun, I’ll borrow a gag used by Mel Robbins in this talk to reveal our first problem word.

The word I’m thinking about has four letters and begins with the letter F.

Can you guess what it is?

Go on, have a guess

No, it’s not that word ! 😉

The word I’m thinking about is ‘fine’ . . .

. . . and it’s a problem word because it tells us that there’s no gap (positive or negative) between where we are now and where we want to be.

The TRUTH, of course, is that we all have gaps in one or more aspect of our lives.

Whether it’s in the mastery of our health OR in the quality of a relationship with a loved one OR in the funds we need to achieve financial freedom.

Whatever the gap is, if we don’t accept it exists, we won’t do much, if anything, to close it – right?

The question is – why do we say we’re ‘fine’ . . . so often?

Sure, we might tell other people we’re fine when we’re not – because we don’t want to burden them with our troubles. But why would we tell ourselves – in our internal dialogue – that everything’s fine in our lives – when it’s not?

Well, that’s a big question – and whilst there may be some natural (evolutionarily developed 🙂 ) self-protecting reasons for us to accept problems in our lives, we also know that there are some very unnatural and unhealthy reasons for denying our (so called) negative emotions.

The leading Pychologists of today are seriously concerned that we’ve all been misled into thinking that this is the right thing to do all the time.

A previous generation of less rigorous psychologists came up with the idea that ‘positive thinking’ – and a focus on ‘high self-esteem’ – was what we all needed.

These ideas were widely promoted in the 1990s and in some ways took over the western world. There were certainly a lot of parents who bought into what they saw as new age ideas for parenting.

But listen to Dr Carol Dweck, in this brilliant interview at Google, and you’ll learn (in the first 5 minutes) that the theory of focusing on self-esteem is now widely discredited.

That video interview is well worth watching – all the way through – when you have time. But, for now, in a nutshell, my take away is this

It simply doesn’t work to tell people (including ourselves) how fabulous, brilliant, talented and special they (we) are all the time.

And, contrary to those old ideas, we now know that all that ‘soothing’ did nothing to motivate people and boost their achievement. Instead it fostered an acceptance of mediocrity 🙁

We stopped challenging ourselves to fulfil our potential and, as Dweck’s research shows, the whole experiment backfired. So, after 30 years of messing with a failed motivational currency, built around allegedly building up people’s self-esteem, we need to adopt a new way now.

It doesn’t need to be harsh – but we need to encourage effort and acknowledge the fact that telling people they’re smart (or everything is always ‘fine’) develops a ‘fixed’ mindset that does nothing to help them ‘Grow’

Unfortunately, the well intentioned ideas of the so called positive thinking movement have also ‘morphed’ into all sorts of other silly ideas about the power of suppressing our so called negative emotions.

You may well have been told that anger, fear or anxiety are emotions you need to banish. And that success can be yours if only you’ll put on a happy face and restrict yourself to happy thoughts.

Some of those ‘change your life’ gurus will even try to sell you an expensive workshop on a promise that you can learn how to get ‘the universe’ to bring you what you want into your life – simply by dreaming about it.

Yes, seriously, that’s exactly what’s being promoted.

Clearly this is all nonsense – and it’s dangerous nonsense too – because it deters us from the very work required to really achieve anything.

So, let’s be super clear about success. 

It will NOT come from sitting back and saying “don’t worry – be happy”

That’s a catchy piece of music for sure. But it’s NO strategy for facing into serious life challenges.

The evidence from those serious psychologists is that the happy clappy crowd are making vulnerable people unhappy.

And I’m not happy about that.

You’ll find some more, brilliantly articulated, points here from Dr Susan David – the Harvard Medical School Psychologist.

The real key here is not to suppress our so called negative emotions but to listen to them. They’re perfectly natural and can help us achieve more.

Even anger has a useful side – as Mahatma Gandhi told his grandson Arun – who’s now written a book on the subject.

I’m not talking about rage here – that’s a problem behaviour without question. But anger, as Gandhi said is:

an energy that compels us to define what is right and wrong.

Susan David talks about the need to “face into our thoughts and emotions with curiosity and Kindness”

Whilst Dr Sarah McKay (neuroscientist and science communicator) says we need to feel for the sweet spots in our lives between Boredom and Fear.

Sarah McKay REFIREMore on Sarah’s ideas here

And here’s my take on this key idea

Where the magic happensThe ‘fine’ zone is where we’re bored whilst the ‘fear’ zone is where we’re overwhelmed with the scale of our task.

The magic, unsurprisingly, happens somewhere in the middle.

And if we want some magical achievements, we simply need to get comfortable with a bit of discomfort.

We won’t get out of our comfort zone if we keep using the word ‘fine’ so, how about we use it a lot less and replace it with a word that ‘truthfully’ describes how we’re feeling about out current situation.

If the answer is ‘shite’ then, yes, that’s uncomfortable but at least, once we recognise the reality of our situation we’re more likely to choose what we’ll do about it.

And yes, sometimes that choice may have to be – to adjust down our expectations in that area.

Alternatively, if we’re making great progress on one of our goals, let’s recognise that too – and celebrate it.

I really can’t see how the word ‘fine’ is, very often, a helpful one to use.

The second key word for your success

Okay, so, this problem word is a real biggie – and has been identified by both Drs Steve Peters and David Burns as a KEY word to avoid because it can seriously block us from achieving our goals.

So, let’s take a moment to think about this.

If we’ve bought into the idea (from the previous section) that some or other aspect of our life might not be completely ‘fine’ (and assuming that we have a rough idea of how we might, at least start to, solve that problem) then why would we NOT simply get on and do that thing?

What word might we be using that could possibly STOP US from making progress?

Any ideas?

Have a think on that– before you look below for the answer.

Well, it turns out that the big problem word is ‘should’

And, like many things in life, the answer is obvious – once you know it 😉

There’s a great book on this topic by the way, called ‘Everything is obvious – once you know the answer’  By Duncan Watts. And you can find it listed here with some of my other favourites

We all know what happens to the tasks we put on our ‘should do’ list – don’t we?

Yes, those jobs never get done – and that’s because we don’t want to do them.

Should dos are ‘unwanted expectations’ according to Psychiatrist David Burns.

The word is clearly oppressive and associated with rules that you might have been given by your parents, teachers or bosses.

Or rules that are ‘dished out’ by fanatical religious leaders and loony, celebrity, motivational gurus 😊

Any of which could mean that being told what you ‘should do’ will make you feel like you’re ‘no good’ if you don’t do it.

So, this is a truly awful word.

But here’s the interesting thing. Despite the fact that we hate being told what to do by others – we tell ourselves what we should do, all day long.

Yes, come on, let’s admit it, we all do that sometimes and we most certainly talk to ourselves on other matters too.

And that’s because we have (as Dr Steve Peters explains in ‘Chimp Paradox’) two main characters in our heads.

One is a logical human whilst the other is a short-termist, pleasure seeking Chimp!

Of course, there are lots of other parts in Steve’s model of the brain but you’ll need to read his book to understand those 😊

For now, all we need to remember is that, as far as the two main characters go, the chimp is the more powerful one. So, it’s a good idea not to provoke your chimp into a fight.

Hint: Telling it what it should do – without a good reason – will almost certainly do that. That will just upset your chimp and send it into one of those difficult fight, flight or freeze modes. Rather like we see with a stubborn child.

So, we need to learn to sell our chimp on the benefits of our important development tasks.

Chimps – like children, it seems – love benefits.

Now, let’s get back to those ‘should dos’ on our list.

How useful do you think it is, to make ourselves feel guilty about not doing things – that we’ve already (quite clearly) decided not to do.

Seriously . . . how pointless is that?

And yet that’s exactly what a ‘should do’ is . . . right?

Right, well, hopefully I’ve persuaded you to stop using the word ‘should’ – so we just need to agree on what world we’ll use instead?

Any thoughts on that one?

Well how about saying ‘could’ – it’s certainly a gentler (and more persuasive) word to use when thinking about our futures.

Saying ‘I could’, tells us that we have some autonomy (aka freedom of Choice) in our life. And that, according to some psychologists is amongst our BIG 4 motivators.

What are the other 3? Well there’s:

  1. Connectedness to others
  2. Community (or Purpose) and
  3. Competence (or Mastery)

Notice how they all start with the letter ‘C’ ?

That, like our three words here, is just another nifty trick for remembering the really important stuff 🙂

When we label a task as a ‘could do’ we don’t resist it. Instead, we open our minds to the benefits of doing it – and that helps us to work out which tasks we really want to get on with.

So, please do away with your SHOULD DO list – and explore your COULD dos instead.

It’s SO much more fun.

And here’s the last of my three magic words 

This one, I’ll tell you up front, is ‘Process’ (or ‘Approach’ if you prefer a less ‘business-like’ word)

And to see the value of a solid approach (or process) let’s explore how our brains fail us when we fail to use one.

You’re probably aware that we all have, broadly, two modes of thinking right?

They are, what Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman described as, thinking fast and slow.

So, your fast thinking mode tells you the answer to the question of what is 2 x 2?

It’s easy because you just pull the answer from memory.

Whereas your slower, problem solving mode of thinking needs more time to give you the answer to the question of what is 16 X 23?

If you try working that out in your head you might notice that it hurts a bit  – as your brain switches mode – to do the work!

(The answer is 368 by the way)

What’s clear here is that, provided you have a process – even if it’s just pushing the buttons on a calculator – you can get to a smart answer reasonably quickly.

So far, so obvious.

But what happens when we face trickier questions, like this one?

What are the chances of any 2 children in a class of 30, having the same birthday?

Any guesses on that one?

Well, don’t worry if you’re struggling.

Everyone will struggle to solve that one – unless they’re a ‘whizz’ at probability calculations.

And even those who are, will struggle to work it out in their heads.

The lesson here is that for some types of complex problem, most of us don’t know the process. And even those that do, need a reasonable amount of time to find the answer.

Oh, and the answer might surprise you by the way – it’s 70% !

Yep, that’s right – in an ordinary group of 30 people, it’s very likely that there are at least two people with the same birthday.

How amazing is that?

You can find the proof and more riddles for exploring how our brains mislead us, in my book, ‘Who can you trust about money?’

Okay, but what does all this ‘cleverness’ tell us?

Well, in a nutshell, it reminds us that our brains are lazy, or rather that they prefer not to waste energy on problem solving if they ‘believe’ that there’s an obvious answer that’s quick and easy to grab from memory.

And so it is with other FAR more complex questions about life, love and money.

Rather than taking time to do boring old ‘detailed analysis’ we prefer to run to ready-made answers to these big problems too.

Indeed, we use them so often that we even have a name for them – we call them common sense.

So, for example, we say:

• Never look a gift horse in the mouth, or

• Don’t cross your bridges before you reach them, or

• Better safe than sorry, or

• Money can’t buy you love !!!

• Etc etc

Which is all useful guidance that’s stood the test of time . . .

. . . or so you might think.

The quite astounding truth is that for all of these (and most other) common-sense sayings, it’s quite easy to find another one that gives exactly the opposite advice!

Don’t believe me?

Take a look:

‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’ – is completely at odds with – ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts’

• ‘Don’t cross your bridges before you reach them’ – argues with –  ‘if you fail to plan you plan to fail’

• ‘Better safe than sorry’ – suggests a very different strategy to –  ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’

And ‘Money can’t buy you love’?  Well, that’s certainly at odds with the evidence!

And is in conflict with another commons sense saying that:

‘when money goes out the front door, love goes out the back’

There are plenty more examples in the book.

Summary and next steps

Here’s this Insight summarised in a picture.Three Magic Words

And, as to what you ‘should’ you do with all this information. . .

. . . or, rather, what you ‘could’ you do with it 😉

Well, here are a few ideas:

  1. Question your own (uncommon sense) rules around life, love and money.
  2. Avoid the ‘made up’ rules of the self-appointed motivational gurus on the stage. Especially the ‘happy clappies’ who say you can ‘have it all’ – if only you’ll learn to dream hard enough for it. That’s just rubbish.
  3. Be super ‘choosy’ about who you follow for ideas and make sure that their work is grounded in solid science. You don’t need that ‘woo woo’ Universe nonsense.
  4. Remember that you’re far more likely to deal with your challenges if you accept them. Denying them, by saying everything’s ‘fine’ or by other means of distraction and escape, will not give you the success you want.
  5. Be kind to yourself, learn to manage your Chimp and be curious about your thoughts and feelings. They’re probably telling you something – so don’t blank them out.
  6. Explore the things you ‘could’ do rather than telling yourself what you ‘should’ do. You’ll only fight against ‘instructions’
  7. And remember that the quick and easy answers often do more harm than good – especially on your important and complex life challenges.  For these you need your feet on solid ground – and you’ll only achieve mastery and success if you work hard and follow a proven process. 

But don’t take my word for all this – just ask the Gold medal winners who followed the approach of their fitness coaches and that of their mind coach (Dr Steve Peters) to get their minds in shape too.

Now, if you decide to work with a coach, choose one who’s competent, experienced and trustworthy.

And someone who can guide you through proven processes for solving the particular challenges you’re working on.

Charles Darwin talked about the value of killing errors of thought.

And I certainly spend lots of my time doing that – because there’s a vast ocean of fake information out there – on matters of money and personal achievement

The sad truth is that there will still be a lot of people out there – trying to mislead you about money – and other matters long after I’m gone.

But you can have these lessons now – and they’ll last you a lifetime

So, if you have a group of people (at work or outside) who you know could benefit from some exposure to these sorts of ideas – in a live talk session – give me a shout

I’ve tested a live talk – based on the content of this Insight – with several groups recently and it’s gone down really well 🙂

Alternatively, if you’d like me to teach your group some simple processes for planning their money AND for protecting it from bad investments AND for working out how to achieve more of their financial life goals – let’s talk about that.

I’ve got a proven workshop on that material too. So just shout

Workshop testimonials

It’s really up to you to tell me what sort of help you’d like.

What I can promise you is this:

  1. I won’t tell anyone in your group what they “should” do 😉
  2. And no one will be asked to reveal anything about their financial situation either.

The whole point of my work is to provide friendly access to high value education on proven processes and ideas.

It’s up to you to use those ideas as you wish – or to call me back for more help if you need it later.

In any event, like the the lessons in this Insight, I can also promise to make any lessons easy to remember

All my core processes can be remembered with one simple acronym – which is the 5 letter word IRATE 😉

(Workshops currently cover, financial planning, rating investments before you jump into them and (for earning more money) Honing your sales and marketing skills) 

Just click the image to contact me if any of this is of interest.

IRATE Cross New

And PLEASE take care out there


To share your thoughts in the comments below, log in with your social media or DISQUS account OR, to “post as a guest” , just add your name and that option will pop up.

And for more ideas – for achieving more

Join my Facebook group here

join FB Group

Or, sign up for my newsletter

For occasional updates and some free downloads including:

My ‘5 IRATE Steps for planning your Financial Freedom’

and the first chapter of my book, ‘Who misleads you about money?’

All free of course 🙂

Turn your thinking upside down

Discuss this article