The Curse of the Zero Sum Game

There are so many examples in our society of win or lose, black or white, right or wrong, right or left as if everything has to be one thing or another. There can only be one winner, one gold medal, one number one hit single. The danger with this is that it can stop people reaching their potential as they think, if I can’t be the best, the number one, then there’s no point in taking part.

What is a number one hit single? It’s the music track that sold the most from a select number of outlets in seven days. There can only be one, the rest of the chart is full of singles that are not number one and yet many more music acts have had wonderful success without it having to be confined to such arbitrary measures of sales.

What is an Olympic gold medal? It’s an award given to someone who performed the best at one task on one particular day. The rest of the participants were also-rans, they lost.

Because these type of successes are so visible we can make the mistake that the concepts should apply to our everyday potential. We fall into the trap of thinking that we need external verification for success instead of internal satisfaction and that for us to win, others must lose. The bigger slice of the pie I can get, the less there is for you. This is the Zero Sum Game, the ZSG.

There’s nothing wrong with being, or aiming for being, the absolute best in the world but if you feel that no other place counts then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I’ve seen this time and time again with aspects of people’s creativity. “I can’t draw” is the classic. Of course they can draw, everybody can draw. And like everything else, if you practice you get better. But people notice that they can’t draw like Leonardo so they label themselves within the ZSG: Leonardo can, I can’t. Leonardo wins, I lose or more seriously, they refuse to take part so that I avoid being labeled as a loser.

Being the ‘best in the world’ would be a wonderful thing to be, but a short lived and arbitary thing to be. Chasing the ZSG is a battle you can only temporarily win. But being the best you can be is different. Getting as far as you can get compared to what you’re capable of, compared to your own personal best is different. It isn’t a ZSG but a continuous journey to excellence and one where others can win with you along the way.

The most damaging thing anyone can do to their potential is to compare themselves with someone else. There is always someone who appears more successful, better looking, cleverer, richer, happier, funnier or whatever. Creating a secret ZSG competition like this between yourself and another person leads to stress. Such a race can never be won because unlike all sports competitions, the players will never have an equal starting position on all attributes except the one that is being tested.

If you’re on a racetrack aiming to take home the gold medal then you need to compare your performance with others to reach and snatch that discreet ZSG victory. You’ll know you’ve achieved it due to the brief externally verified reward. You know you’ll have won because others will have lost.

In almost every other endeavor we engage in this is not the case. Competition has its place, but when it comes to your talent, your goals, your desires, a much better idea is for us to aim to be our best, our personal best, every single day. Do that instead, aiming for internal satisfaction, and we can continually take the gold home every single day. And so too can everybody else. Decide not to play the Zero Sum Game.

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New Years Resolutions are a Waste of Time

You may be surprised to hear that but it’s true. New Years Resolutions are a waste of time. If you don’t believe me just think how many people you know who have a New Years Resolution to give up this or start doing that, and then of course do no such thing. If you attend a gym regularly you’ll notice that the car park gets full up in the first few weeks of January. But by the middle of the month it’s getting back to normal. All the time-wasters have given up. They’ve probably started smoking, drinking too much coffee and eating too many pies again as well.

The truth is that, as Zig Ziglar points out, New Years Resolutions are nothing more relevant than New Years Confessions. ‘I confess I’ve got to give up smoking’, ‘I confess I’ve got to lose some weight’. Now confession is a great start. It’s the first thing you should do when setting a goal. But don’t end it there! People just don’t seem t o be able to grasp the basics of goal setting. I even saw a woman on television saying her New Years Resolution was to win the lottery. How did she figure that one out? This is all a mess. We’re going to do something about it right now.

I want to make it really simple. Get a pen and paper out and do this exercise right now: write down a list of all the things you did in 2008 that were great. All the things you were really pleased with. Don’t stop writing until you’ve got at least fifteen. Anything you were proud you did. Small things, big things. Work things, family things, pleasurable things. Get your diary out or anything else out that can remind you. This is your ‘Glory List’ for last year.

Now look at the things you’ve got on there. Some might be holidays you’ve had, achievements at work, skills you’ve learnt or whatever. Get another piece of paper. Write at the top, ‘Glory List 2009’. Go through your 2008 list and write down two things for every one thing you wrote down for 2008 that are just a little bit better or are the next stage for whatever the achievement was last year. Do it fast. Don’t let your conscious mind edit it. So if you put ‘One week holiday in France’ for last year put ‘Two weeks holiday in the Caribbean’ for this year as well as something else – or whatever’s right for you.

Now you should have a list for 2009 with thirty things on it. This is your Glory List for 2009 that you will be writing down on January 1st 2010, listing all the great things you’ve done in 2009. The only difference is that you know in advance what they will be, you’ve already done it! That is what goal setting really is. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve by when, writing it down and getting on with it as if it’s bound to happen.

You see, things will happen in 2009 anyway, whether you set goals or not. That’s what happened in 2008 and all the years that preceded it. The simple act of writing down what you actually want to happen means it’s so much more likely to actually happen. Don’t let me find out that you haven’t done this simple exercise. Stop reading now and do it!

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Goals Are For Life – Not Just For Christmas

Have you sat down at the beginning of this year and make a list of things you want to achieve or change about yourself and your life? Do you perhaps call these New Year’s Resolutions? What happens next? What will be the outcome, some six months later?

For 87% of people, not much. If the resolution was about a change in behaviour or addition change then it may have lasted into late February. For 10% of people the resolution may have got this far in a watered down form or perhaps has just been forgotten. 3% are still in there and are reaping the rewards. What does it all mean?

A New Year’s Resolution is nothing more that a New Year’s Confession (“I confess I’ve got to lose weight”, “I confess I’ve got to stop smoking” etc). Now confessions are great as a first step towards setting goals but on their own they are useless and will never be achieved. The 10% who did fairly well turned them into goals (“I will lose two stone by April”, “I will cut down and the stop smoking by Easter”) so at least there was something to aim for – a goal.

We all know about goals, we all understand them. If they forget to put the goals on the football pitch at the new Wembley stadium what will the score be on the all the games played there? Nil-nil. We get the concept of goals so what goes wrong? What’s going on?

It’s because there are rules to setting goals. The first one is very simple, it’s what 3% of us did this year and that was to write the goal down. Simply doing that dramatically increases the likelihood of the goal being successful. But it needs to be written down in the right way, in the present tense and positive (“I weigh ten stone”, “I am a non-smoker”) as that is the only way to programme the subconscious. (An even better way would be “I am delighted with my consistent weight of ten stone”, “I live a vibrant, healthy life everyday”.)

The other thing you need to do to achieve your goals is to passionately believe you need the outcome. This is because your subconscious mind just won’t bother helping you to finding a way of getting it if it’s not that important. It’ll be concentrating on making sure you’re stocked up with chocolate and cigarettes as it’s going to be still convinced that’s what you need. You have to be busting for them for your subconscious to throw out the old rules and motivate you to get them.

If you needed to visit the toilet in the middle of the night, your subconscious will (hopefully) wake you up before something unpleasant happens. If you need a salary of £50k a year, and convince yourself that’s what you need, your subconscious will wake you up to do something about it and a way will be found. Have you ever tapped your head on the pillow six times before going to sleep to programme yourself to wake up at 6am without an alarm clock? If not, try it.

This is programming the subconscious to act as your own personal coach, egging you on, finding ways to overcome problems to reach your real goals. Without it, you’ll always fall at the very first hurdle.

If we don’t plant what we want in the garden of life – it’s soon going to be overrun with weeds. Or put another way – if you don’t set goals you’re at the mercy of someone who does.

Plan to succeed. Prepare to succeed. Expect to succeed. Demand to succeed. And most important of all do it NOW! Don’t wait until next year’s 1st January to see how far behind you are! Goals are for life, not just for Christmas.

The antidote to fear

One definition of fear is that it stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear appears not when we know what to expect or when we don’t know what to expect but when we guess what to expect.

When I coach people in public speaking, I explain to them that to overcome the fear you need to remove as many of the unknowns as possible (such as know your material well, you’ve examined the room, you know the profile of the audience etc.). Whatever unknowns remain, the one’s you can control are the ones that could remain in the dimension of fear, such as audience reaction. So for these last few we need to imagine their outcome as the outcome you want. Remember, the fear is always based on imagining the worst, so imagine the best instead. The ‘fear’ then become ‘excitement’.

There are only really two types of fear. We fear not being loved and we fear that we are not enough. Fear of failure is actually one or both of these: we fear people won’t love us if we fail (or even if we succeed) and we fear we’re not worthy enough to succeed.

Our faith should answer both of these. We are loved. We are enough. Faith not only removes fear – it is the polar opposite of it. To live in fear is to live without faith. In our secular world some people seem to think they don’t have or need faith. This is not true. We all have faith in gravity. We don’t need to hurl a stick in the air to see if it still works. It is more than just belief. We have a conviction that it still works and will always work. This is faith. Faith is certainty, the antidote to fear.

So if we’re living without fear is there a danger that being completely fearless puts us in danger? Actually no. We should still take risks, but only calculated risks, in confidence, through faith.

The only reason we have for not pursuing our dreams is the story that we tell ourselves that we can’t. In that situation, fear is controlling us and holding us back. We need to re-write that story. The secret to achieving is to imagine yourself already in possession of the goal and believe you have it with conviction. That is faith. That is certainty.

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Think Ahead for Glory

At this time of year sensible people do some form of goal setting exercise. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, so set the target. An easy and fun way to do this something I do every year. Give it a go yourself.

Get a piece of lined paper and write ‘Glory list 20** (this past year)’ at the top. Then write a column of numbers 1 to 30 down the left hand side. For each number write something that you achieved this year that was glorious. Include personal and business, large and small things. You must do all 30.

Then get another identical piece of paper. This time write ‘Glory list 20** (next year)’ at the top and the numbers down the side. Referring to what you wrote on the other sheet, write a new version of it next year that’s bigger and better. So if one of your glories from this last year was “I had a weeks holiday in France”, put for next year: “I had two weeks holiday in France and a week in America” or whatever would upstage last year for you. Write each and every line as if it has already happened.

On a third piece of paper write “Glory List 20** (next year) extra” and write anything else that you missed out on here. This is what you will have achieved come this time next year. Just by doing that you’ve made it so much more likely to come true.

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Stop the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign

I don’t like the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign and I think it should be stopped with immediate effect. But before you click away in disgust, please read on for my reasoning here.

I’ve studied loads and loads of some of the best goal setting techniques. I’ve studied the techniques of some of the most successful business leaders and spiritual leaders. I understand the ‘law of attraction’, visualization and prayer. In all that stuff, when you want to achieve something, or change something or gain something, the thing you must do, at all times, without exception is to focus on the thing you want, not the thing you don’t want.

‘Make Poverty History’? What are we focusing on there then? On Poverty and on History! Ok, some clever so-and-so came up with this catchy title, I can hear them now (“It’s a play on words! It means ‘let’s end poverty by making it historical’ and ‘let’s make history within the concept of poverty’….”)

Sometimes you can be ‘too clever’ for your own good. We should not be telling everyone to wear the words ‘Poverty’ and ‘History’ on little plastic armbands to remind them of poverty and history all day long. We should be telling everyone what we really want.

In the 1970s in the UK there was a campaign that started with the aim to make sport available for everyone. What do you think they called the campaign? “Make Couch Potatoes History?” no, of course not, it was “Sport for All.

So ask yourself, what do we really want? Have a think about it. Shouldn’t we really want to make everyone wealthy? Happy? Healthy? Shouldn’t we be focusing on happiness, abundance and the future? Shouldn’t we be focusing on not lifting people out of poverty but pulling them up into wealth and abundance? Shouldn’t our campaign be something like “Make Everyone Wealthy Now”? I know it doesn’t sound clever or flash. The truth seldom does.

The words we use are important. The words we repeat in our heads are important. The words we focus on is what we get. Make sure you focus on the things you want.

And don’t even think about getting me started on “The War on Terror”…

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