“Be yourself” can be really bad advice

There’s a category of advice that sounds good in theory but is pretty bad in practice. “Follow your passion” is one example. “Be yourself” is another.

The issue with “be yourself” is that it reeks of the fixed mindset and gets in the way of self improvement. It does so by encouraging the “This is just who I am – take it or leave it” mindset.

That is not to say we can change everything about ourselves. If you are an impatient person (speaking to myself) by nature, you are not going to become the most patient. But, you don’t have to either. Our traits and temperaments are part of a spectrum and we can always put in the work to stretch ourselves to move along that spectrum and learn to be flexible with how we apply ourselves in situations.

Put differently, if who you are is getting in the way of what you’d like to get done, stop being yourself and get better.

Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to ask folks to “become yourself.” It doesn’t just add a necessary air of intrigue to what is a fascinating lifetime journey of discovering our ever expanding capacity for change, it also focuses the journey on growth.

Besides, as Carol Dweck might say, becoming is better than being anyway.

When you are ready

We were scouring blogs on “potty” training for kids recently. A common question around potty training is about the right time to do it. There’s plenty of advice on timing and the recommended range is between 2 and 3 years.

But, one of the wiser pieces of advice we read was from a blogger who said – a parent’s readiness is as important (if not more) than the readiness of her child.

We’ve found this to be true every time we’ve tried to make a significant change as parents (moving baby to her own room for example). Her readiness generally follows our own.

It strikes me that this is applicable for most changes we try to make in our lives. It is easy to look around for the best time to do so.

But, there isn’t a best time. The best time is when we are ready…

Tool problems and clarity of purpose problems

When we’re trying to drive change, we typically run into two types of problems – i) Tool problems or ii) Clarity of purpose problems.

For example, I’ve come to believe I am one true reset away from being a much better version of myself. This is coming from months of observing my desire to ‘seek to understand and then to be understood’ wilt as I move through the day. I kept telling myself the importance of finding a way to reset over the course of the day – but, change never came as I was clear about why it mattered.

I finally got a timer app to remind me to do so every 30 minutes and resetting has worked better since.

Similarly, an organization may want its employees to start entering granular expense reports for compliance reasons. If this isn’t communicated, employees may not get on with the program. Then again, even if they do understand, if their expense recording software is draconian, employees may still be dissuaded from entering expenses.

When we’re looking to drive change, it helps to be clear if we’re trying to solve a problem with the tool or with a clarity of purpose. And, zooming back further, the best solutions are designed for problems that are well understood.

Butterflies and Erosion

When we talk about change, we often talk about the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies. We’ve all heard a version of this analogy at some point in our lives. It is the ultimate story of dramatic transformation.

We are drawn to dramatic stories – ergo the entertainment industry – because they provide the escapism we crave. But, these stories are the exception and not the rule.

Most change, for example, is akin to erosion. Erosion is the process by which rocks are gradually worn away by flowing water or the wind. You can’t erode a piece of rock in a day and there’s definitely no beautiful transformation story. Instead, a stream might effect the change it desires over a period of months and years. And, it can only do so by showing up and keeping at it every day.

Maybe more of us would stick with our plans for change if we thought of change more like erosion?

Stable self illusion

We tell ourselves a story about the stable self illusion. This illusion involves telling ourselves that our personalities are stable over time. They were formed long before today and won’t change for the rest of our lives. All attempts at change are, thus, useless.

But, that isn’t true. The longest running psychological study (63 years!) just released results that confirm that. Just as our physical traits change over time, our personality becomes virtually unrecognizable.

One study doesn’t a strong conclusion make. So, here’s a different question – how many of your friends behave in exactly the same way they did ten or twenty years ago? What about you?

Everywhere I look, I see change – both conscious and unconscious. Our environments and company constantly shape and mold us. We tend to associate that shaping and molding to kids. But, those of us who enjoy studying human nature know that we don’t really grow up.

Telling ourselves that we can’t change is our way of letting us off the hook. We can, and we do.

The best part of this story is that it isn’t too late to move toward our aspirational self. We can start today.

The best habit

The best habit is the one that’s slightly better than your current one. And, yes, this applies to diets, exercise, reading, sleeping and everything else you can think of.

This is because sticking to your better habit is way more important than attempting a radical change that brings you back to your old ways.

When attempting difficult change, revolutionary change feels very tempting. And, for extreme cases (e.g. getting off an addiction), revolutionary change is probably the only option. After all, desperate times call for desperate measure.

But, for all other changes, an evolutionary works much better. It isn’t as exciting. But, it is many times more functional.

Big changes are small changes applied consistently over time.


HT: Ken

5 books that might change your mind – 2016 edition

Here are 5 books I read this year that might change how you see the world –

1. The Accidental Superpower by Peter ZeihanIf you haven’t considered the world from a lens of geopolitics, The Accidental Superpower will likely blow your mind. I found the first half of the book particularly powerful. It included a view of the history of super powers from the eye of geopolitics. And, despite having read a similar view on history in another book, this was beautifully synthesized. Following that, Zheihan explains what’s going on by focusing on population demographics. Again, fascinating. The second half focuses on prediction. And, prediction is very hard. So, I took that bit with a helping of salt. After reading the book, I did wonder why we don’t teach geopolitics at school. I guess it flies against the face of our general narrative about what makes super powers. Geopolitics contends that it is all about geography.

(Note: There’s another geopolitics based book “The Next 100 Years” by George Friedman. Friedman was Peter Zheihan’s former manager.)

2. The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly: Kevin Kelly talks technology in a way only he can. He takes twelve verbs that technology has impacted (cognifying, sharing, updating, etc.) and takes them to their logical end. In that process, he gives us a view into what our future might be. It is powerful.

3. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: One of the most beautiful books about entrepreneurship I’ve read. It isn’t a manual in the way “The Hard Thing about Hard Things” is. Instead, it is a story from the heart of Nike’s legendary founder. It feels authentic and real while also being It is not just about the fact that it is beautifully written (it is), it feels authentic and real. Phil Knight takes us on a journey where he impresses upon us the strength of his belief that the world is a better place when we run with great shoes.

He makes mistakes and a couple of very questionable ethical decisions. Yet, we find it in our heart to forgive him. Somehow, he makes us feel the desperation that drove him in that moment. And, he then goes onto teach us how mission driven businesses are built. He explains that a business is about money just as living is about pumping blood. You need both. But, life and business are about a lot more than that.

And, while you are at it, I’d recommend picking the Audible version. Norbert Leo Butz does a fantastic job.

4. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias. An oldie, but a goodie. At its heart, it is really simple. Andrew Tobias explains that a penny saved is actually a lot more valuable than a penny earned since Ben Franklin didn’t have to deal with taxes in his time. So, save a lot more than you earn. And, once you do that, develop a simple approach to investing. Of course, he patiently lays out all the ways we can do that. But, this book isn’t so much about investing as it is about a mindset.

5. Daring Greatly by Brene BrownBrene Brown brings her research on shame and vulnerability together in this beautiful book. It is fascinating to learn that women have about 10 shame triggers. And, appearance and body image top the list followed by parenting. Men, on the other hand, have one very powerful trigger – showing weakness, or in her research’s terms, “being a pussy.” She also inspired my theme for 2017 – engagement. She wisely pointed out that we spend too much time asking questions like – “Am I being good/perfect?” Instead, we should ask – “Am I being engaged? Am I paying attention?” No good comes from seeking perfection. ”
(Quick note: The audio book narration didn’t work for me in this case.)

Here’s the Amazon list.

Books that almost made this list:
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck is a classic. The first half of the book was incredibly impactful. I especially loved his definition of love.
Peak by Anders Ericsson is the ultimate guide to deliberate practice research from the master himself.
Deep Work by Cal Newport rails against our distraction filled work environments and presses us to think deeper about depth in our work.
Persuadable by Al Pitampalli beautifully explains why it is important that we change our mind.
And, finally, Einstein by Walter Isaacson has a life lesson about not taking ourselves and our world seriously in addition to the expected lessons on curiosity and perseverance.

Other resources: Past lists of “5 books” – 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011. Book reviews here and book notes here.

Happy reading!