Episode: How Life Works: A More Empowering Model

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast designed to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to be talking about sort of… It’s going to sound esoteric and maybe a little philosophical, but we’re going to be talking about a model of the world. Now, why in the world is this important, Megan?

Megan: Well, that was a very vague and big statement you made. There are kind of two ways of seeing the world. One is really empowering, and one is really disempowering. The disempowering version looks like, “Hey, things happen, and as a result of what happens, good stuff happens or bad stuff happens.”

We’re kind of not in the driver’s seat in that world, yet that is the default way of experiencing life. That’s a default way of moving through the world, yet there’s a totally different option that is far more empowering and enables you to design your life, as we talk about often on this podcast and in the rest of our work, that I think you guys need to be aware of.

Michael: Okay. Let’s start off by citing our sources. This is not original thinking with us. This is at least in three different places we’ve found. It’s kind of in the general ethos of self-development and leadership, but most of what we’ve learned on this subject has come from one of three sources. One is Gap International, which is a growth consulting firm I employed at Thomas Nelson as I was going through the Great Recession, and, Megan, you’re involved in their coaching program right now. Some of their thinking is based around this.

Another pocket of this is in something called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). It’s kind of the science of how your thinking impacts your results. Then another source, a final source, and somebody who has made it very practical, is Brooke Castillo who has a podcast called The Life Coach School, which is an outstanding podcast. I just want to make sure we’re giving credit where credit is due, and if you want to explore this topic we’re talking about further, you can go to one or all of those sources.

Megan: Yeah. That’s great.

Michael: Okay. Let me just give you the big outline. Normally, we unpack these one at a time and don’t give you the big outline, but here’s how Brooke expresses it. Again, neuro-linguistic programming has a version of this, Gap has a version of it, but I like this particular version of it. I think Brooke nails it here. She says circumstances (that’s number one) can trigger thoughts (that’s number two) which cause our feelings (number three) which cause our actions (number four) which cause our results (number five). So, one more time: circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, results.

Now, these don’t always happen in strict sequence, but this is pretty much if you kind of deconstruct what led to the results you’re getting in your business or your life and back that up to the actions you took, the feelings you felt, the thoughts you thought, and maybe the circumstance that triggered it. So, let’s start with circumstances.

Megan: This is really funny. Before we even get into this, I just have to say, most of us are walking around believing our thinking, but here’s the problem: our thinking is not factual. Our thinking is our brain’s attempt to make meaning and sense out of what our circumstances are. Let’s imagine that you launch a product and it doesn’t go very well. You sold like three of your courses. That’s the circumstance. It’s a factual circumstance because you can see those transactions happen. You can see the money in your bank account. It’s observable fact.

However, then you start to have a thought based on that circumstance. It might be, “Man, I am such a loser. Nobody cares about my expertise.” That is not a fact; that’s your interpretation or your story around what actually happened. Then, as a result of saying, “I’m a loser; nobody cares about my expertise,” you’re going to have feelings. You can kind of put yourself in this mentally, go along this little journey with us. What kinds of feelings might you have? Well, shame, self-doubt, anxiety about the future…all that kind of stuff. Well, if you’re in that place, then what actions would you necessarily take?

Michael: You might not take any.

Megan: You might not take any. You might quit. You might stop that product launch before it’s even over because you’ve already determined that it’s terrible and it’s only going to get worse. Then, as a result of those actions, what kind of outcome or results would you get? I mean, terrible. Right? You’re going to have terrible results. There’s no scenario in which some kind of magical scenario comes in, and at the last minute the trend line spikes up and to the right and you’re kind of delivered from all this. Instead, these things create a chain reaction. It’s very predictable. If your thinking stinks, then your results are going to stink.

What I’ve found as I’ve started using this model (as you said, Dad, the Gap International model is slightly different but functionally the same) is most of us, as leaders or as people who care about achievement, really focus on our actions, like, “What actions do I need to take?” Then we wonder sometimes, “Well, why are my results not getting better? Why is my revenue not going up? Why am I not healthier? Why are my relationships not better?” The problem is that our thinking is constantly and sneakily sabotaging our actions. We have this intention to take these actions that are maybe better actions.

We know we need to get up earlier. We need to work out. We need to go on dates with our spouse. We need to spend more time with our kids. We need to be more aggressive in our business, yet somehow, we keep doing the thing we don’t want to do that gets in the way of the results we want to get, even though we have an intention around an action we want to do. We just can’t get ourselves to do it. The problem is in our thinking and the emotion that creates, and that’s the kind of go upstream to unpack “How do we access better actions that we can actually follow through on that lead to better results?”

Michael: Another way to say this… I actually said this to our BusinessAccelerator clients this past Monday. I get on a Zoom call with all of them on Monday. I said, “Whatever results you’re getting right now, there’s a recipe that’s producing that, and that recipe is a thinking recipe, by and large.” Well, you could argue it either way. It’s the actions you’re taking. It’s the feelings you feel. It’s the thinking you think. It’s a mix of all that.

The only way to change the results is to change the mix, change the recipe. If you don’t like the results you’re getting now in your personal life or in your business, then you have to change the recipe. The best way to do that, the furthest you can swim upstream, so to speak, is your thinking. Again, to give credit where credit is due, this is an insight I got from Dan Sullivan. Dan said most of us think about what other people are thinking. Very few of us think about what we’re thinking. We have little self-awareness about our own thinking.

Gap’s premise for growth and breakthrough and Brooke’s premise for how you take control of your life and how you begin to change the outcomes of your life is that you have to address the thinking. You have to become self-aware of your thinking. I talk about this a lot inside of my book Your Best Year Ever where I talk about limiting beliefs. I have this great sign that’s in my kitchen. Megan, you’ve seen it because you’ve been in my kitchen. Nick, you have too. (Nick is our producer.) It says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” I love that.

Megan: I love that too. We’ve talked a lot on the show and elsewhere about how self-awareness is a leadership discipline, that you cannot be a great leader unless you develop self-awareness. You will inevitably have negative consequences if you don’t cultivate that ability in yourself. I think we often think about self-awareness like emotional intelligence, you know, how we come across to other people, the impact of the words we say in our communication, that kind of stuff.

This is like an inside job component of that. It’s similar and actually more powerful. The first step to using this kind of a model and accessing the power of your thinking… Which kind of sounds woo-woo, but I hope this model helps you see it’s actually not. You’re already doing this. You’re just maybe doing it in an unpredictable or predictably negative way. You can do this in a positive way. The first step is to start to see your thinking as… First of all, see it period, but then see it as being totally subjective.

If you think about your thinking… When a circumstance happens and that thought pops into your mind, to start noticing that. Notice the sentences in your head. What are they saying to you? I think what you’ll start seeing (and maybe it’s easier to do it for somebody else) is it’s completely arbitrary. It’s rarely based on concrete facts.

Gap calls this files. Something happens, and those thoughts are like little file folders that we just start building on certain people or certain experiences, and before we know it, we have files on all kinds of things, all kinds of people, ourselves, what’s possible and what’s not possible. Those files, those thoughts, are running the show in our lives and we’re not even conscious of it.

So, the first step is become conscious and start to notice it and ask yourself whether or not it’s really true. Once you do that, you can start to ask if there’s something else you could believe that would be more empowering. We’re not talking, by the way… I mean, some people are into this. This is not our thing. We’re not talking about woo-woo affirmations and just looking at yourself in the mirror and saying things over and over again that you’d be humiliated if anyone heard you say.

We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about empowerment. What else could you think about that situation that would be more empowering? For example, go back to my example of this product launch that sold three copies of your course, and now you think you might as well throw in the towel because you don’t know anything.

Well, what if you just thought, “Hmm…that’s interesting. Maybe I have it priced too high” or “Maybe I’m not appealing to the right audience and I could dial that in and fix this.” All of a sudden, now you’re in control. That could be equally true… Again, it’s still just a story in your head. It’s still just an interpretation of why the circumstance happened, but one is so much more empowering than the other.

Michael: One of the things I learned from Tony Robbins and also from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) is that your thinking in regard to circumstances is an interpretation. What happened and your interpretation of what happened are two different things. That’s really the thing we’re talking about here: to challenge your interpretation. First of all, in most situations, you probably don’t know. I’ll give you an example. Megan, you’re aware of this situation.

Back in the early 90s, I had a client, a very prominent client, who fired me. Man, it was a huge setback. At the time it was my biggest client. It was enormously discouraging. I literally had suicidal thoughts. I thought about quitting the business. I was really hurt by the whole thing, only to discover six months later that I was caught in a dispute between this person and his spouse and it really had nothing to do with me.

Megan: Right. You thought, “This must mean I’m terrible. This must mean I’m incompetent. No one is ever going to trust me.” You had all of these thoughts, which created all of those emotions you were just talking about, when in reality…like, actual reality, facts, circumstances…there was a marital dispute that was not about the business at all. You just happened to be in the crosshairs of it.

Michael: One of the things Bob Goff says on this point is “What’s the least creepy explanation?”

Megan: It’s kind of helpful to think of. I feel like we come up with the most far-fetched, dramatic, self-flagellating explanations for what happens in our lives, especially if you’re given to anxiety or shame, which most of us are in some way. It’s a real problem.

Michael: It is. I like the “least creepy” test. What’s a more rational or less catastrophic or less extravagant explanation for what has happened?

Megan: Especially if you’re interpreting a circumstance with someone else.

Michael: The classic example of this is in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think I just gave this example a few episodes ago, where he talks about a man being on a train and really annoyed with this other man and his children, because the children are out of control. They’re screaming. They’re running around the train. They’re not behaving.

Finally, the first man is at his wit’s end, and he goes to the second man and says, “Would you please get control of your children?” The man is totally embarrassed, and he says, “I am so sorry. We just came from their mother’s funeral, and they don’t know what to do with themselves.” The creepy explanation is the guy sucks as a parent, he’s doing a horrible job. And, Megan, you’ve probably experienced this yourself, because you have children who are high needs and who have had trauma in their background, and people make up all kinds of stuff about why they are the way they are.

Megan: Being on the receiving end of that, of course, is really difficult, but it has given me a lot more empathy for the kind of story you just told, because you just never know. You never know why somebody cuts you off. You never know why somebody made that comment in the meeting. You never know why somebody looked at you that way across church. You just never know, and it’s usually not about you. It’s just usually not about you.

If we take this in a leadership context, when we think about 2020… We talked about this a few episodes ago. The circumstances are we have a global pandemic that has significant economic impact, at least for many sectors of the economy. We don’t know when it’s going to end, and it’s significantly altering our habits and the way we work, the way we live. Those are the facts.

What we tell ourselves about that is so significant when we think about the business results we want, because if we tell ourselves, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to wait and ride it out and just hope I survive,” that creates certain kinds of emotions, which then lead us to take certain kinds of actions, which predictably deliver certain kinds of results.

If instead we say, “All of those circumstances are factual. And you know what? Inside every crisis are opportunities, and it’s my job to find those…” That’s your thinking. All of a sudden, the emotions that creates are maybe excitement, maybe creativity, maybe enthusiasm or passion or energy. That’s going to lead you to take very, very different actions, which will absolutely and predictably lead to very different business results from the alternative. That’s really what we’re talking about. That’s what you have access to using this kind of a thinking model.

Michael: As a practical matter, just a tip… I try to remind myself of this. Something happens, and it’s right then that you have to interrupt your thinking and say, “Okay. I have to make a choice about what I’m going to think.” The alternative to the creepy thinking or the catastrophizing about it is to give the other person or the situation the benefit of the doubt. One way to do that would be to say, “Well, that person probably wasn’t even thinking about me at all when they cut me off in traffic or when they were rude to me when I was standing in line.”

Or another way to interrupt the thinking is to think, “I know everybody else sees that as a problem, but what if there’s an opportunity embedded in that that if I solve would benefit me personally, benefit my clients and customers, benefit society at large?” Maybe you don’t go to those three levels, but at least you could talk about how it could be of benefit. That’s a different way of thinking about it and a way to challenge your thinking in the moment.

Megan: Here’s what’s great. When you challenge yourself… First of all, you said this earlier, but I think we need to make sure everybody hears us saying this. You’re still going to have those disempowering, crappy thoughts come up in your head as probably the first thing that happens for you. That is just called being human. That’s just, as I call it, the little lizard in your brain in the back that’s all concerned with keeping you safe and making sure you survive. It’s just that limbic part of your brain that goes there first.

Fortunately, as humans, we have the alternative of “Oh, I could also think something else or something different. I don’t have to just go with the first option that pops up. There’s an alternative.” Here’s what’s really interesting that we haven’t talked a lot about yet. When you choose to adopt a more empowering way of thinking, after you’ve been presented with those two options, what’s really amazing is that your brain starts to solve for very different actions than the ones it would solve for in the disempowering model.

All of a sudden, when you think something more empowering and you have a set of more empowering feelings, the solutions you can come up with are solutions that were not available to you before. They were always out there in the world, but you did not have the cognitive ability to access those kinds of solutions yet because your brain was kind of biased toward them.

Once all of a sudden you open your thinking, you start to believe that different things are possible, it’s kind of like a key that unlocks this black box of what Gap International calls breakthrough thinking and breakthrough actions. When you start to have that breakthrough thinking, all of a sudden you get these actions that make themselves visible to you that would take you in a totally different direction.

This is where innovation comes from. This is kind of that “bullet train” thinking. You know, that great story of the bullet train in Japan where they cut the time it was going to take in half, where they didn’t make incremental change; they made quantum leap change. That’s what we’re talking about here. Those kinds of solutions present themselves to us when we set the stage in our thinking.

Michael: Okay. Two things I want to say about thinking before we move on to feelings, because feelings are important too. Feelings, as Tony Robbins often says, are the things that drive the bus, but they don’t just come out of nowhere. I want to say a couple of things about thinking. First of all, sometimes just writing down your thoughts… Brooke says thinking generally appears as sentences in our heads, so if we just write down our thoughts, what we’re thinking as we’re thinking… Don’t try to clean it up. Don’t try to edit it. What are the sentences in your head? That’s helpful.

Secondly (and this is easier to do with somebody else or to give permission to other people to do for you), your language expresses your thinking. If you’re expressing something that’s non-empowering, give the people on your team permission to challenge it…that limiting belief, that thing when you say, “Well, I don’t think I could do that.” There is a real sense in which you could say, “Well, if you say so,” because if you really believe that thinking, if you really believe that disempowering thought, it kind of has a way of being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Okay. Let’s talk about the feelings part, because I think most people think feelings are something that just happen. You don’t have any control. If you wake up sad or discouraged or happy and elated, that’s just kind of the hand you were delivered that particular day. Now, I want to hasten to say we’re not talking about things like clinical depression, things that have some root other than your thinking.

Megan: Yeah, absolutely.

Michael: Just a disclaimer there. Our feelings don’t just come out of nowhere. Usually, if you swim back upstream, there are thoughts, if you deconstruct it, that create that feeling. I can prove this to anybody. If I ask you to think about some great loss you experienced and just dwell on that and try to put yourself in that moment when you experienced it, you will start to feel those negative emotions.

In fact, Tony Robbins says, even further, that if you put your body in the posture of one of those disempowering emotions, you will begin to feel the emotion itself. For example, depression has a certain kind of physiology to it. If I hang my head, if I slump over, if I move slowly, it’s much more likely that’s going to trigger depressing thoughts. Again, all I’m saying is that feelings don’t just happen. Usually there’s something else that’s triggering that…a thought, an experience, an interpretation…something that’s triggering that feeling.

But notice how different we respond to circumstances when we feel empowered. If I’m feeling confident, if I’m feeling resourceful, if I’m feeling optimistic, that makes me approach problems in a way that doesn’t totally solve them, but I get a long way down the road of solving those problems when I have the right thoughts. Does that make sense?

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. And I don’t think what we’re advocating for is saying, “Hey, use this model and you’ll never have to have any negative feelings again.” No. We’re all human and we have a range of emotions for a reason. It’s fine to feel all of the emotions. There are not good emotions or bad emotions. I think that’s important to say. However, there are times when it would really be helpful if we felt certain things, like when we’re trying to solve a major problem in our business.

Many of us had to try to figure out, “How are we going to navigate this health crisis, this economic crisis, in a way that our business is standing on the other side?” That’s not a time when any feeling goes. That’s a time when we need to be extremely resourceful, when we need to have access to our best and most empowering thinking, because there’s a lot at stake.

This is really a tool you can use when there’s a lot at stake and you need to have access to the very best actions and solutions you can; therefore, you have to get your feelings in order, and in order to do that you have to get your thinking in order. This is sort of a tool for important, high-leverage, high-stakes situations. We’re not trying to say you have to just be happy all the time. That’s not the point of this.

Michael: Yeah. There may be times that you want to be sad. If you’ve experienced a legitimate loss, it would be silly, disingenuous to think of, you know, “Your spouse just died. Put on a happy smile.” That’s the most extreme example. Grieving is a part of the process. I don’t have any problem with that as long as people realize they’re choosing that that’s an appropriate feeling, that’s something they want to feel in that moment. But in other situations, and not that extreme, this is often a choice that’s based on the thoughts we’ve decided we’re going to think.

Megan: Right. There are times when that would not be helpful, like getting paralyzed in anxiety, for example. When you’re the decision-maker in your business or your department and everybody is counting on you, that’s not a great time to be debilitated by emotions you don’t want. So that’s really what we’re talking about here.

Michael: So, let’s go to actions. Again, circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions. If you’re taking actions you don’t like or you’re not taking actions you know you need to be taking…you’re procrastinating…that’s also a point where you need to stop, push the “pause” button, and say, “Okay. What am I feeling right now? What am I thinking right now? Was there a circumstance that triggered it?”

Again, the point is not just analysis for the sake of analysis but analysis for the sake of change. How can I look at that action, move it back upstream, and say, “Wait a second. What is the interpretation that needs to change my thinking? How will that impact my feelings so I can take different actions, or just take action?” I’ve noticed that many times, when I’m procrastinating, there’s something I’m feeling right before I don’t take that action.

Megan: Another way to think about actions is how you show up. How do you show up as a leader? This is something I’ve learned in my coaching with Gap International. They talk a lot about how your thinking and then your feelings would impact how you show up. What actions do you take? What’s your posture in a room? When you’re leading a meeting, are you kind of back on your heels? Are you leaning forward on your toes? Are you confident? Are you resolved? Are you hesitant? Those are all the consequence of your thinking and your feeling.

If you want to have access to a better way of showing up, if you want to show up as a leader who’s confident, if you want to show up as someone who’s decisive, if you want to show up as someone who advocates on behalf of others, who is willing to make hard decisions, then you have to get upstream and leverage your thinking and your feelings to set you up for success.

Sometimes we get really focused when we’re coaching other people… Imagine a direct report relationship. We spend all our time with people talking about, “Well, I really wish you would have done this or that instead of what you did” or “Tell me about your progress on your goals,” and this person is falling behind or they’re not measuring up in some way, and we start talking about what actions they could take, but the real problem is further upstream in their thinking.

So, to me, whenever I feel like I have an action problem, either in myself or someone I’m leading, my instinct now is to go farther upstream and say, “What feelings and what thinking is driving those actions, and what do we need to shift around and consider accessing in a different way so that we can come up with better actions, where they’re going to show up in their most powerful version of themselves rather than this compromised way?”

Michael: So, let me just summarize: circumstances, thoughts, feelings, actions, results. That’s Brooke Castillo’s model, and I think it’s enormously helpful as we’re trying to create different results in the world. So, if you’re not getting the results you want or you want different results than the ones you’re getting, it would be really helpful to begin to deconstruct this. Go back upstream and ask yourself the question, “How could I change my thoughts, my feelings, my actions to produce a different recipe that produces a different result?” Megan, any final thoughts?

Megan: I feel like the big idea here is that results are not random. Results are the consequence of a very predictable chain of events that starts with circumstances that lead to thoughts which lead to feelings which lead to certain kinds of action, and then those actions ultimately deliver the results you’re getting. The good news is it’s not random. The bad news is it’s a result of your leadership. It’s the result of how you’re showing up, everything from your thinking all the way down to your actions. But the best news of all is that you can change each of these pieces to deliver better and different results.

Michael: Well, the ancient writer of Proverbs said it best in Proverbs 23:7. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our thoughts have an impact. Megan, thanks for this conversation. Thanks for all of you listening to us. We’ll talk to you next time. Until then, lead to win.