Many years ago, I read like half of the book Secrets of The Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker. The whole book is essentially about teaching you the reader the mindsets and attitudes of the successful…and upselling you on his course, but there is an idea that stuck with me since, and one I’ve been thinking about lately. The idea of your financial/success thermostat.
According to Eker, everyone has a high trigger point and a low trigger point. For most people, when you succeed and are doing well, better than normal, you eventually get to a place where you automatically dial things back, you work less, push less, spend more, maybe even self sabotage to get yourself back to a level of success or productivity that you are comfortable with.
And then when things get low enough or you get broke enough, then you kick back into high gear, and push all you need to do to get things done and get back up to a level of success you are comfortable with.
The space between these two points is your comfort zone. And for most people, it is set lower than you like. So if this resonates with you, if you always want to do more and be more, but seem unable to break through your glass ceilings, perhaps this will help.
I will try to answer the questions of how do you expand that comfort zone upwards. How do you get more comfortable with greater levels of success so you can naturally achieve more?
What creates our comfort zones?
The Law of Attraction attracts to you everything you need, according to the nature of your thoughts. Your environment and financial condition are the perfect reflection of your habitual thinking” – Joseph Murphy
Sigmund Freud said that we will always behave in a way and manifest things in our lives that are consistent with what we believe about ourselves and the world. If we agree that this is true, then we can see that if we are able to change how we see ourselves and the world around us, we can eventually change our reality.
Our perceptions of ourselves, what we deserve, what we are capable of and what we are comfortable with are built up and conditioned right from birth. We would usually find ourselves repeating the programming and patterns we learned from our parents or caregivers for better or worse.
There are three main layers through which that conditioning seeps through to our subconscious – what we hear and say, what we see modelled for us, and what we experience and how we interpret those experiences. All of these things weave to form the cords of expectations that bind us to our fate.
But we don’t have to be resigned to it. With effort and practice, we can change our programming and thus our lives. Our conditioning leads to the thoughts we have, which leads to our feelings, which leads to our actions and eventually our results. If we can change the programming, we can change the matrix.
How to break through your success ceiling.
To raise our comfort zone, to move to new levels of being and succeeding, we can follow a few simple steps – awareness, dissociation, re-creation, re-imagination, planning & action.
First we need to raise our awareness of our limits. We need to do deep dives within to figure out exactly where we are. What do we believe? What level of success do we currently attract and allow? What are we able to easily achieve? What have we believed about ourselves that has kept us from reaching our potential? What scares us about succeeding higher than this? What would that success change for us? Where do these feelings and attitudes come from? What events or experiences in our lives have instilled these ideas in us.
Once we are able to pull these things to the light, we are able to understand them deeper, know where they came from and then we can begin dismantling and replacing them.
Here we separate ourselves from our beliefs. We are not our minds. We are not our thoughts. Becoming aware of what we feel and think allows us to gain some separation from our most intimate and subconscious thoughts and see things objectively. As these issues rise up, greet them, acknowledge them, and let them go. They no longer serve you, and over time they will fade into the background.
Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made, for the times you didn’t reach your potential, for the times you self sabotaged, and for all the time you have wasted. Give yourself a clean slate.
Create new empowering beliefs to replace the old programming. You can ask yourself things like – what is the one thing I must achieve this year to take me to the next level? What do I need to believe about myself and the world to succeed at the level I want to? What opportunities are available to me? What wins and successes do I already have and how can I build on them?
Our self conception, the person we imagine ourselves to be has an enormous impact on how we behave, act and what we expect. We will have to take the time to see a new ‘us’ in our mind’s eye. We have to see ourselves, living and breathing in our new level of success. We have to tell ourselves new stories. The more we imagine and visualize ourselves at the new level, the more we are able to bring it into reality. Repeated visualization in this manner will begin to shift us in small but culminative ways, in thoughts, in action, in speech, in conduct, until we become what we think we are.
We can’t just dwell only in the feely, psycho-spiritual aspects of this process. The rubber also has to hit the road, the ideas and plans have to become concrete. We have to be clear about what we want to accomplish, and begin to map out a plan there. What do we need to do, who do we need to talk to, what do we need to learn, what actions do we need to take to succeed like we have never succeeded before.
You just have to do it. Move in spite of your fear. Take bold consistent action. You have done all the work so far. You have untangled the mess that is your subconscious feelings and conditioning, you have let go of the ideas that don’t serve you and have embraced new empowering ones. You have made a plan, and committed to a system. Now embrace it, do what you need to do and make it happen. You will fail, but you will learn and become better, eventually you will break through.
As you take action and rack up new experiences, you will further reaffirm the new conditioning and programming you have installed into your psyche.
In doing so, you would have changed your programming, raised your comfort levels and changed your life.
Personally, I’m a lazy artist. I want the biggest bang for my buck. I want to do the absolute minimum and still make an impact. That’s why I love Jean Michel Basquiat. His work is proof that you can paint with the proficiency of a 5-year old, and still make a statement worth listening to. Also, doesn’t he look like what would emerge if Kid Cudi and The Weeknd did the fusion dance?
Basquiat was an incredibly gifted artist, cut short in his prime (he died at 27) and namechecked by rappers ever since. His work was distinctive, full of childlike youthful energy, irreverent, and seemingly nonsensical, but also revealing a profound knowledge and respect of art, its history and social commentary. In 1980s New York, an electric nexus of time and space, Basquiat emerged as an unlikely artistic force, rising as a black man, from the grimy streets, to global stardom.
He is the quintessential example of the artist who throws himself with reckless abandon into his work. Moving out of home for good as a teen, he spent most of his young adult life basically being a bum, surviving off money picked up in the streets, and immersing himself in the culture and the scene of the time, bouncing from place to place and party to party. His early creative efforts included cryptic haikus scribbled in graffiti under the moniker Samo scattered all over the city, as well as experimental live music with his band (none of them could actually play an instrument, but that was part of the appeal).
He is charming, talented with a keen air of innocence, and he befriends and eventually moves in with his sort-of-girlfriend, Suzan. At this point he had progressed from graffiti to full on painting at the insistence of another friend. Suzan worked and paid the bills, while he spent his time painting. And it is this one anecdote about his life that really earned my respect. Basquiat was too broke to afford canvasses, so he would salvage broken doors, windows, fridges, scraps of paper, tins, anything with a surface he could paint on. He didn’t wait to get proper canvases, or the right kind of paint or tools. He worked with whatever he could find.
If you really want to create, if you really want to do something. You just do it.
That is the crux of true creativity, its raw essence. The true artist doesn’t allow a lack of resources to become an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, we are drawn to such art-forms, pieces made with the scrappiest, bare essentials, because through all the limitations, and perhaps, even because of then, we can see the passion shine through, we can see the potential. We see a brave artist battling against his restrictions, turning his obstacles into stepping stones that pave his way. Basquiat has nowhere to paint, so he turns an abandoned fridge into a priceless work of art.
This same energy you have to bring to your life and to your work. If you have ambition, a burning desire to create something that resonates, that has impact, if you want to devote your life to the mastery of a skill or an artform, or a career, you start where you are, you work with what you have.
Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can
The biggest companies on the planet right now all started small. The origins of the slick phone you’re reading this on now can be found in a dinky garage decades ago with a bunch of nerds, hippies, and a couple pieces of hand-assembled circuit boards. Facebook the almost omnipresent behemoth it is now, started in a dorm room. The colossus that is Amazon started in a garage with doors as its first desks, Jeff Bezos packing books with his team to fulfil customer orders. The first Star Wars movie was produced with a shoe string budget and a lot of DIY.
Our problem too often is that we want perfection right out the gate, before we have earned it, and we want to do it with the absolute best tools. We think we need the light ring and DSLR camera before we start the youtube channel, the best mic and mixers before we start the podcast. So we don’t start.
Or we are insecure in our creative ability, and so hide behind our lack of tools. Sure, the right tools do help, but it is the artist that precedes the tools. A writer who knows what he is doing will do a lot more damage with an ordinary pen than a talentless hack with a Mont Blanc. You cannot hide your lack of skill behind expensive tools, but you can use the lack of tools as an excuse to procrastinate. You just have to begin. If you are really good, the world will respond, and better tools will present themselves to you.
Every master was once a disaster.
T Harv Eker
We all have to start from somewhere.
If you waited till everything was perfect and you had all the resources, you will be waiting forever. And even if you did get it – the perfect studio, the perfect lab, the right writing chair, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. At most, you would churn out works of stunning mediocrity. The tools don’t make the artist, the work makes the artist. The lack of tools is a gift. You get to work with the scrap, failing, prototyping, learning, crashing, rising up, drafting and tearing up, you need the grind, you need the work, because that is where you hone your skill. That is where you work around the obstacles, that is where you distil and learn the principles of your craft.
I started my design journey on dinky little Toshiba laptop (that was everything to me then by the way), a pirated copy of photoshop, and a design magazine. Now, I type this to you from a MacBook Pro. But it was all the work I designed on that first Toshiba, and then a PC, and then this sexy huge white Dell I had, that allowed me to finally get my first MacBook and then another one, and now, all the bells and whistles I need to create.
The obstacle is the way.
Creativity is just as much about limitations as it is about infinite exploration. The searching and playing around is an important part of the process. It is necessary to go far and wide in ideation. But it is the limitations – the brief, the deadline, the boundaries that really focus us and unleash the creative power to combine ideas, materials, colours to create something inventive, something remarkable.
With inventiveness and creativity, you can make the limitations you face a distinguishing feature in your work. Don’t have enough money for different colours? Limit your palette. Can’t make the special effects you really want? Hack it and let it have a DIY vibe to it. Whatever the obstacle is, use it to your advantage.
You don’t have to be fancy. You just have to begin. Even Basquiat started by painting on abandoned doors.
Having a written set of goals is not enough, you have to take action and then systematically measure your progress – Michael Hyatt
There is the idea (and I am bastardizing it here) that on a quantum level, things do not ‘exist’ until they are measured. Until you actually view light for instance, and depending on how it is measured, it will either exist as a wave or as a particle. Every atom is in a state of uncertainty, it is either there or not until you observe it, sort of like Schrödinger’s cat. Or something like that.
There is something else that does not really ‘exist’ until it is measured or observed. That is your goals and your dreams. The more attention you pay to your goals and dreams, the more you look at them and measure them, the more defined they become, the faster they come true. This is part of the reason why having a vision board works. It pays to keep the target before your eyes at all times.
A big dream killer is being vague. I know all about being vague, it is one of my favorite things. Vagueness is a comfortable nebulous zone where the potentiality is sky high, and you can be anything, you can be the greatest or you can be utterly crap, but you haven’t ‘been’ yet so it’s easy to revel in the idea of what you are going to do, instead of actually doing it. It is nice to wallow in the primordial soup of uncertainty.
But nothing exists, until it is made real. Nothing exists until it is born concretely. And that is where the fear lies. The fear of the irrevocable first step, a first step or an entire journey that could end up being less than perfect. The commitment to a dream, to a path. The forsaking of others. The burning of the ships, the tying yourself to the mast. Going all in, etc. All that can be scary.
But your dreams and goals must move from being vague to being defined and definite. It is easy to have aspirations, to want something to change. But for real progress to be made, the goals have to be defined, the metrics have to be clear. It is not enough to say you want to make more money, say exactly how much money you want to make and by when. Break your goals down to numbers that you can measure and aim for. Now there is accountability. Now there is a target, now there is a deadline. Now you can focus all your energy and make sure you hit them. You need a goal that can focus your faculties and provide you with the necessary direction, motivation and limitations to achieve it.
I have spoken about why you should build systems as opposed to setting goals. The concept that you should systemize the steps and daily actions you need to take to achieve what you want. This is very useful when you are starting out because you are still getting used to forming new habits and embodying a new vibration. You are not too concerned with hitting specific targets, you are just trying to get into the general ballpark of taking regular action towards those goals. While this idea builds our capacity and habits over time; to really squeeze the juice out of this process, you must take it to the next level by having discrete and clear targets to hold yourself accountable to. This is where you turn pro.
You have to know what your numbers are. They could be a once-off hit, like run a total of 20 000 miles in a year, or a streak, like blog once a week, every week for a whole year. They could be numbers to hit in the gym, an income target to reach in 6 months. It could be a new skill, being able to start and finish a project that you could not undertake before. In any case, you need a goal, you need a target to hit, and you need a way to measure your progress.
It is easy to fool ourselves and think we are doing work towards our goals. Once we start to look at the numbers for real though, we often see a different picture.
So how do we put this into practice? There are many ways to do this depending on your temperament and the nature of your goals. But I think it would generally look like this.
1. Define what success looks like
For every project, you have to define what success is. How do you know when you have won? For instance, I am working on a book now, and my time limit is 3 months, so by end of June I should be done. What does ‘done’ mean to me? It means I have taken the idea, put together all the material needed, as well as written and reworked and polished the manuscript to my personal satisfaction. At the end of June, I should have a book in Word that reads cohesively from start to finish.
That is a finite project, it has a beginning and an end. But what about projects with a reoccurring component? For my blog for example, success to me is maintaining a certain editorial schedule. And it is based on a scale. The absolute minimum is the once a week posts which I’ve been doing so far, and the higher limit is a schedule that sees me posting about 3 times a week. So, I know I am doing the minimum, but I have plenty room to improve.
2. Determine what it would take to achieve success
What gets measured, gets managed – Peter Drucker
Once you know what success looks like for your goals? You have to break it down further, looking at your schedule and how you spend your time and figure out what your daily or weekly actions must be to get you to that goal. For project-based goals like ‘writing a book’, it can mean drafting an execution road map for the project. It could play out like this – come up with book concept/idea, craft the book outline, collect all research and articles needed, write the book, edit the book (3 passes), design the book cover, design the book layout, create pdf file, upload, share.
Now I have a clear path to follow to reach this goal and I can set time frames for each section.
Another thing I would do, is break my goals down to daily or weekly activities I can do. For example, I can decide to work on my book for an hour every day, preferably first thing in the morning. I can round that off with 4 hours of dedicated time every weekend to really push forward on the project. This also gives me something to track and be accountable to in addition to the execution road map.
3. Be accountable
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t – Jay Z (Reminder, The Blueprint 3)
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. To make steady progress towards the goal of having a book done by June, I would need to be constantly taking steady action. Every day I wake up, I know where I am on that roadmap and what I need to do next. At the end of every day I know if I spent an hour working on my book or not. I can track that. The more important the goal is, the more important it is to track and review my efforts.
Now life is chaotic sometimes. Shit happen, things throw us off course. I could decide in the middle of the project, that this is crap and I actually don’t want to write a book. I could get busy with other projects and need to focus on those instead. But regularly I have the chance to review my work and my numbers and see if I need to adjust my plan to new realities or scrap the project all together. But at least, I have the numbers to back it up. I have a real frame of reference.
Measuring and tracking performance is not easy. It takes discipline and a commitment to the process. It is much easier to be vague and just play at it. But if you really trying to get what you want, embracing this idea will take you further faster than you could imagine.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m incredibly great at being vague. I’ll put off making a decision to the very last moment, and I’m not great at tracking the time I spend on client projects talk less of the moves I make towards my goals. But I recognize that being more aware of my metrics could have some value, hence this post, which is a stern lecture to myself as much as it is an exhortation to you.
So, do you have any tactics or frameworks you use to chart your progress? It could be health, exercise, finances, learning, projects, anything! Do share, I would love to learn from you.
Hi, I am Otoabasi Bassey, a brand strategist, designer and entrepreneur exploring ideas around personal growth, design, branding, business, strategy and technology.