Thursday, May 07, 2009

How We Get Stuck

A little while ago, Leslie called me into the kitchen for some help.  The kitchen cabinets she was putting together didn't come with enough cam locks -- the little metal things you use to lock the boards together with.

She showed me how many holes there were for the cams, and said that 16 were needed to fill all the holes.  But the instructions said that only 14 were provided, and there seemed to only be 12.

I puzzled over it for a few minutes, trying to figure out what was wrong.  There were indeed as many holes as she said...  in fact, there were more.

Finally, I decided to verify the instructions by checking them for the opposite part: the posts that went into the locks.  There were 14 places for those to go, and 14 of them.  Logically, then, there should only need to be 14 cam locks for them to go into.

A few minutes later, we both sighed with relief as we verified that four of the places where she'd put cam locks, were not places where the instructions said to put them, even though they were cam lock holes.  The problem was that those four holes were for camlocks that came with the countertop, not the cabinet!

So we got it all sorted out, and Leslie thanked me for my help, saying I was "smart"...  but I had to decline the compliment.

Because, as I thought about it, I realized that I would've done exactly the same thing in her position.  There were camlock holes, there were camlocks, what else would you do but put them there?

And when I later realized there weren't enough camlocks left, I would also have blamed the manufacturer, and complained that the instructions weren't specific enough...  even though, in retrospect, it's easy to see that they never said to put camlocks in those holes!

And if our positions had been reversed, Leslie would've done the exact same thing I did, too: she'd have rechecked every step and instruction, trying alternate theories and starting from an assumption that there must be some way to make it work.

Now, there are at least two morals to this story.  The first, of course, is that if you look at something as though it must have a solution, then you are already well on your way to finding it.  And conversely, if you're seeing the world through an experience of frustration and defeat, you'll find only more of that, too.

But the second, more interesting moral to me, is that whenever you substitute your own expertise in place of following directions, you can easily go off track.  (Especially if it's something you're adding to the directions given!)

And when I think about the number of self-help books I read, but whose advice I never really took, or that I misinterpreted because I was seeing it through the filter of what I already believed -- like always starting a furniture project by putting camlocks in every camlock hole! -- I can see just how much time I wasted.

Because nowadays, I see that the things naturally successful people wrote about in their books, really are as useful and meaningful as they claimed.  It was me who didn't understand, and who didn't act, because I thought I "already knew" what they were saying, or that I "knew better".

When really, I didn't have a clue!

Now, it certainly would've helped if the instructions for the kitchen cabinets had at least put big X's over the holes that didn't need camlocks, just as it would've helped if more self-help books listed what likely preconceptions would keep you from being able to understand what they're talking about.

But ultimately, the responsibility for doing what the directions say -- and more importantly, not doing what they don't say! --  lies entirely with ourselves.

Now, I'm not saying you have to blindly follow anybody or anything.  You absolutely have to use your own judgment, to decide whether to try something.  But if you've gone so far as to buy somebody's book in the first place, it might actually be a good idea to try whatever it is they suggest!

Without altering it, and without second-guessing it.

Because, surprisingly enough, the skill of "not second-guessing" turns out to be pretty central to confidence, commitment, and concentration as well.

Heck, I just recorded a CD about that earlier this week, for Mind Hackers' Guild members.  It was called, The Secret of Single-Mindedness, and on it I taught three simple mental strategies to turn "second guessing" into "single mindedness", instantly bypassing most mental blocks and routine procrastination.

(You can download a sample track here, or you can press the  play button if your browser shows one here.)

Anyway, I explained on the CD how, if you critique and second-guess your plans or your writing while you're still trying to create them...  if you're too busy questioning what to say to someone to really pay attention...  or if you're thinking "I can't do this" when you really should be thinking about what you're doing, instead...  you're not going to do very well at it.

And the trick to fixing all this is not about "believing in yourself" or "having confidence" or some other thing that you have to do.

In fact, it's the exact opposite: it's all about what you don't do.

And how you don't do it!

(Indeed, this very same bit of "not-doing" is what would've let me succeed at dozens of things I tried from other self-help books, if only I'd known about it beforehand!)

But even if all I'd done was to "not do what the instructions don't say", I'd still have been much further ahead, much sooner.

See, self-help books don't tell you to think, "I can't do this," while you're doing what they say to do.  They don't say to think, "I'm no good at this," or "this is no good, I can think of something better."

They don't say to think, "this is too much trouble", and they don't say, "if you don't do this, you're a loser."

And while it's true that they also don't say not to do these things, to list all the things that you should not do when using a self-help book...

Would make for a very, very long self-help book!

And even then you could still -- upon reading it -- think...

"Well, but that doesn't apply to me.  I'm different."

And there is no way to make a book or recording that can fix that.

So think about it.

And then do something.

--PJ

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