6 lies that stand between you and success

In his 2013 book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results , Gary Keller reminds us of how often we get in our own way to reaching our potential. Beliefs we have either adopted or that society foists upon us or conventional wisdom dictates or that no longer work for us act like a false ceiling. They keep us from realizing our fullest capacity.  Here are the six lies:

  1. Everything Matters Equally
  2. Multitasking
  3. A Disciplined Life
  4. Willpower Is Always on Will Call
  5. A Balanced Life
  6. Big Is Bad

Everything Matters Equally

In a previous blog post, I spoke of the success of Richard Koch, one of the most successful investors of our time. He has written several books. One of which is a treatise on the 80/20 rule and how applying it has helped him to have a 50% hit rate on his investments. Keller speaks of similar impact by not treating everything the same since everything and everyone are not the same. Most of the meaningful results are generated by a few decisions, actions, and/or people.

Those of us who figure out what The One Thing tend to drive the bulk of the progress and success in our business are usually the ones that succeed beyond expectations. Here is an example I came across last night while watching The Founder about Ray Kroc:

Kroc visited the McDonald’s hamburger stand in San Bernadino because they ordered an unprecedented 8 Multi-Mixers (milkshake mixers) to keep up with growing demand. Kroc drove half way across the country to meet them since this was such an unusual order.  Over dinner, Mac and Dick McDonald told Kroc how they figured out how to run a highly productive restaurant. One discovery was that 87% of their profit came from three menu items – hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks. They soon cut the menu down to just 9 items from 27.

The other key breakthrough was speed. They redesigned their facility so they could deliver a consistent and delicious meal experience in 30 seconds versus 30 minutes. We call this an X-factor in Gazelles.

A combination of a few meaningful changes made a huge difference, was recognized by Kroc and became the largest and most famous restaurant chain in the world within a relatively short amount of time.


How good of a multitasker are you?  Trick question.  If you think you are a multi-tasker, you are lying to yourself – unless you count chewing gum and walking or breathing and writing. Science has long proved that the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time.

There are many examples of new drivers (and experienced drivers) placing focused attention to their phone and absent-mindedly taking their foot off the brake while at a stop light.  Many drive into the car in front of them as they realize too late that they are moving.  The reason is that the human brain can only focus deeply on one thing at a time. This is why practice pickpockets are so good at their chosen field.  Those of us who think they are multitasking are actually doing “rapid context switching”.  While it seems like you are getting more done, the process is actually less productive over time since it takes us up to twenty minutes to fully re-engage in the previous task.

Bottom line: Don’t multitask, you can’t do it. Here is a video to show you a real-life driving test from National Geographic. Spoiler alert: this self-professed multitasker fails miserably.

A disciplined life

Conventional wisdom says that disciplined people that live disciplined lives are the most successful. As with most conventional wisdom, this does not hold up.

The key to success is to be disciplined at the right time. A great example is Michael Phelps. He is considered a success by many standards. However, he is arguably not someone that has lived a disciplined life. His life has been chronicled publicly showing how his ADHD got him in trouble many times over many years. His Olympic coach, Bob Bowman, noted that Michael could often be found next to the lifeguard chair due unruly behavior at the pool.  His kindergarten teacher stated how he has no focus, can’t sit still and can’t be quiet.

Phelps eventually practiced what is called selective discipline. He focused on one thing – training. He spent 365 days/year in the pool channeling his energy into one endeavor. This focus also spilled over into other parts of his life. Later in Phelps’ career, Bowman was quoted saying that Phelps’ discipline was his strongest attribute. The same guy who made him stand next to the lifeguard chair years earlier!

The key to discipline according to Keller is to be disciplined long enough to create a habit. He cites a study at the University College of London that showed that the average amount of time to create a habit is 66 days. If you are having trouble sticking with something it is most likely that it is not yer a habit.  Give it a try for a couple of months and see what happens.

Willpower is always on will call

“Where there is a will, there is a way.” Lie!

Many of you have probably heard of The Marshmallow Test.

The issue is that willpower has a limited battery life. We consume energy when we use willpower to not do something we really want to do. If we do not replenish that energy by eating well, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, it becomes harder and harder to resist. Here is an excerpt from The ONE Thing citing a Standford study:

Stanford University professor Baba Shiv’s research shows just how fleeting our willpower can be. He divided 165 undergraduate students into two groups and asked them to memorize either a two-digit or a seven digit number. Both tasks were well within the average person’s cognitive abilities, and they could take as much time as they needed. When they were ready, students would then go to another room where they would recall the number. Along the way, they were offered a snack for participating in the study. The two choices were chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad— guilty pleasure or healthy treat. Here’s the kicker: students asked to memorize the seven-digit number were nearly twice as likely to choose cake. This tiny extra cognitive load was just enough to prevent a prudent choice.

A balanced life

Making sure you live a balanced life is another myth that comes with the best of intentions. The problem is that if you try to attend to all things equally well, you will do nothing that well at all.

The key is to figure out what matters most and make sure you spend your time focusing on that first. Once that is satisfied, you can move back toward the middle or beyond the middle to the other side of the ledger – work and family, for instance, are on opposite sides.  The key is to counterbalance all the important areas of your life.

I heard Alan Mulally (CEO Boeing and Ford) speak recently and he was asked how he balances work and family. He said that he does not. He sees it all as one thing – life.  While he was busy turning around Ford and his daughter had an event that was in the middle of the day, he left work and attended the event as his daughter (and family)  were and are his priority. He may then find time in the evening to do some work when the opportunity presents itself as he had many people’s livelihoods relying on his ability to turn Ford around.

Keller writes the following: Start leading a counterbalanced life. Let the right things take precedence when they should and get to the rest when you can. An extraordinary life is a counterbalancing act.

Big is Bad

Few of us really know our limits or what we can truly accomplish if we focus our energies in the right areas at the right time.  Here is a great video example from Alan Fine, author of You Already Know How to Be Great, that illustrates the point.

Being growth-minded can lead to extraordinary results. It actually changes our brain wiring and helps us to accomplish wonderful things. There is a study that Carol Dweck cites in her book Growth Mindset. Here is her TED talk on the subject:

When thinking big, most fear failure which is real and compelling. I listen to a podcast called Startup and it is rife with fear of failure stories. The founders that are interviewed constantly talk about how they made promises and strive to live up to them so they do not let others down. One founder was most concerned with what her mother thought when the business was reaching a critical decision point.  She was likely going to lose her mother’s money but even worse was her fear that her mother would be disappointed in her. Growing up, she recalls always being successful at what she set out to do.  This was the first big thing in her life where she was likely not going to succeed and she was not looking forward to telling her mother.

The conversation with her mother went very differently than she thought. Her mother was proud of her for trying, glad that she took the risk and learned so much from it. There was no talk of disappointment. Sometimes what we fear most is all in our heads.

To avoid the fear of failure many compensate by setting their sites low so they can succeed but miss out on extraordinary results. Here are some suggestions from Keller to think about when you find yourself in this situation:

  1. Think big – If your first thought is 10, think about ways to make it 20 or 100.
  2. Think “different” – The way to be so much better than anyone else is to find ways that clearly set you apart.  Think Dyson, Apple, Next, Google, Facebook.
  3. Act bold – Come up with ways to be a breakout success.  Test all the ways you can think of to do so and pick the one that looks like it will work the best.
  4. Redefine failure – Failure is not lack of achievement.  It is not learning from that lack of achievement and applying it to the next challenge.

Pick one of these and focus on it in the next few weeks and see what happens. Please write to me and let me know how it went.

Good luck!

Be Exceptional!

(catalystgrowthadvisors.com; bill@catalystgrowthadvisors.com)

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Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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