You ever notice how people answer a question about what they’re looking for… with what they DON’T WANT?
I once had a friend tell me all the things she didn’t want in a boyfriend. I listened as she ran out of breath, collected her thoughts, and CONTINUED RUNNING DOWN HER LIST OF CAN’T-HAVES.
“Well, I don’t want anyone who works in finance,” she told me. “No short guys. No lame Tinder lines, obviously no players. Oh, and if he wears Crocs, forget about it.”
I probably looked like I was deep in thought, but I was just trying to figure out a way to summarily end my life on this planet. I just kept repeating: “Don’t say anything, Ramit. Don’t say anything.”
But I couldn’t help it.
“You have a really long list of things you don’t want,” I finally blurted out. “What about the things you do want?”
She was speechless. She had no idea she was even doing this.
Why are people answering questions with what they DON’T WANT?
You’ll see this everywhere — start noticing:
Q: “So you want to lose weight?”
A: “Well yeah… but I don’t want to lift weights or get too bulky.”
Q: “What kind of business do you want to start?”
A: “Yeah, I want to start a real business, not one of those online course sites…I don’t want to be too salesy. I want to keep it small, not a lot of employees.”
Q: “Where do you want to go to dinner tonight?”
A: “Not Thai… maybe pizza… but definitely not Chinese.”
Q: “What kind of job are you looking for?”
A: “I know that I want to help people, but I don’t want to work in marketing anymore. I don’t want to work for a big company, either. And I don’t want to work with a terrible boss!”
Think about when you’ve done this. When has someone asked you what you want and you responded with what you DIDN’T want?
Why do we do this? Why do you do this?
Understanding this will help us “get” the way we behave — some of which isn’t even obvious to ourselves.
We love control. The first thing to know is that we love having control, and saying “No, I don’t want that” gives us the illusion of control. For example, we know we don’t want Chinese food (or a guy who wears Crocs) — we’re sure of it. So we lead with that.
Saying what we want is scary because it means we have to have a plan. If you say you want to have a $1 million business, now you have to know how. You have to have a plan. So what kind of business do you want? “Uhh… not sure… but I can tell you what I don’t want.” That’s easier.
Saying what we want is deeply vulnerable. If you get specific and say you want to date a man / woman who has a certain kind of job, or can cook, or looks a certain way, that naturally raises the question: ‘If you know what you want, why haven’t you already found it?’
It gets deeper: Your values — the things you really, truly want — are the most intimate part of you. If you share them, people could laugh at you. (Just ask any guy — ANY GUY — what kind of porn he watches.)
If you share your values, people could tell you they’re stupid. People could make you justify them.
It’s safer to be detached, cool, even cynical. “Whatever, I don’t care. I don’t even know if I want to get married.”
I find this endlessly fascinating. It explains so much of why we do what we do.
By responding to the question of what you want with what you don’t want, you never truly get what you want.
Average people vs. you
Do you think people know they do this?
No. HELL NO.
People believe they’re rational, logical beings. And they really don’t like being told they act in irrational ways that are hidden to even themselves.
This is where I want to make a distinction between average people… and you.
Average people — like the people you meet every day in your coffee shop, on the street, at work, etc. — don’t really “do” self-improvement. It’s “embarrassing” and “weird” to pick up a self-help book or read a self-help blog.
Here, you can see for yourself: Go ask someone who’s been trying to improve something — losing weight, starting a business, finding a new job, whatever — a single question:
The uncomfortable truth is, even if average people did know that they lead with the things they don’t want, they still wouldn’t change it. You would think average people would care… but they don’t.
If you’re reading this, then by definition, you’re not average. What weirdo reads self-development and inner psychology instead of some stupid January tip to make green smoothies?
I love people who actively seek out new ways to improve.
Look at this kid, one of my new heroes. He decided to dress up and do video reviews of chicken shops in London. Why? Because it’s awesome.
His videos got so many views, he was featured in this hilarious press interview.
He didn’t start off worrying about monetization or deciding between an S-Corp or LLC. He just started NOW.
Because he knew that whatever imperfections his videos had, NOT DOING IT would be even worse. A few mistakes are nothing compared to a life of playing it small.
The invisible risk of playing it safe
One of the most interesting curiosities of human behavior — of the way you and I act — is how we can’t recognize the invisible risk of playing it safe.
For example, how many people do you know who don’t invest in the stock market because they’re worried they’ll lose money? Instead, they leave any money they have in a savings account, earning basically nothing.
They see the risk as a probability they’ll lose money from a “bad investment.”
What they don’t recognize…
…is that running out of money is a CERTAINTY. Keeping their money in a savings account is losing them money every single day.
We do this all the time.
Dick Talens, a fitness expert, writes about training clients who focus on the wrong thing:
You’ll notice this among those neurotic people who talk themselves in circles and end up in analysis paralysis.
“AHHH, I really want to start a business this year, but I don’t have an idea yet… but if I find an idea, I’ll have to put up a website, and I don’t know how to do that, and doesn’t it cost a bunch? I don’t even know how much it costs, so I’ll have to go find out, but then I have to…”
I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Now imagine talking yourself in circles for every decision:
- Losing weight
- Cleaning your closet
- Finding a new job
- Deciding where to live
- Deciding what shampoo to buy
- Deciding where to go on Friday night
- Figuring out your finances
- Deciding if you still want to hang out with Jack (“Ugh, I don’t want to talk to him about that… so awkward.”)
Ah, circular logic. Smart people can screw themselves by trying to identify every single risk and get caught in the weeds. They might feel smart, but ultimately they lose.
I see this mistake a lot in my self-development work. We have over 35,000 paying customers and a million readers/month. There’s a common pattern among people who’ve been on our list for years and years but still haven’t taken action: the fear that they’ll make the wrong choice.
These people worry that the course isn’t right for their exact situation. “Hey, does your course work with left-handed aborigines who don’t like spicy food? No? I KNEW IT!”
Now, I get it. The self-help world is full of losers who couldn’t compete at life, so they decided to be a life coach. The skeptics might be technically correct when deciding not to join a given course or coach.
But they’re still wrong.
Better to get lots of help, even if 5% is bad. You get 95% good advice & build the skills of discernment. Alternative: being a 100% skeptic https://t.co/2eWsEotABn
— Ramit Sethi (@ramit) December 22, 2016
Don’t worry about getting bad advice. Worry about not taking any advice at all.
BETTER YET, STOP WORRYING AND ACTUALLY START TAKING ACTION!!
I call this Ramit’s Law of Stagnant Skeptics: Better to dive in full-force — even if you make a few bad choices — than to sit on the sidelines and analyze every last option to death.
Yes, of course you should do your research. And if you try something and it truly doesn’t work, stop doing it.
The point is to develop a bias for action, not for analysis paralysis.
And the time to do that is NOW.
2017 is The Year of NOW
One of my promises to you is to always tell you the truth — even when it’s uncomfortable.
Look at every article this week that is focused on New Year’s resolutions. I know it feels good to plan a magical year where everything is possible, where we can write down what we want and not worry about time or money or motivation.
“What do I want to change about myself this year? Where do I want to travel? What do I want to happen?”
It’s fun to go through the fantasy of all the things we’re going to “magically” change. In the back of our head, we know it’s not true…
…until next year, when we do it all over again.
If we’re honest, didn’t we do this last year? And the year before? How many of us followed up on our resolutions?
I’d rather go through the real work of making it happen, instead of just imagining it.
None of them. I use systems, not resolutions https://t.co/HPPEBzyrhb
— Ramit Sethi (@ramit) December 29, 2016
Take my bowling:
On my Instagram page, you see a masterful spare:
But here’s what happened behind the scenes:
No one likes to talk about failure.
But the biggest failures aren’t things you did. They’re things you didn’t do. Playing it safe is one of the biggest failures possible.
The first step is learning to recognize it.
The invisible risk of relationships means it’s easy to turn down that invitation to go out on the weekend, or that blind date… until you stop getting texts on Friday and your friends settle down.
The invisible risk of waiting to figure out your money means you’ll never really have enough money to start investing. And if you wait until your 40s or 50s, it’s too late.
The invisible risk of not starting a business is the people who wait to find “the perfect idea” get passed up by people who’ve started profitable businesses. The longer you wait, the more demoralizing it is to see other people soar — and the harder it gets.
The invisible risk of working at a job you don’t love is every day you’re not being challenged, you’re not just stagnant — you’re actually going backwards compared to other people who are learning new skills, getting more responsibility, and getting paid what they deserve.
The invisible risk of not traveling puts it off another day, then another day, until soon we’ve created the identity of someone who “will do it later” — but never does.
The invisible risk of bad health means we don’t worry about that piece of cheesecake — “it’s just one, right?” — but over time, we look in the mirror and see a belly and love handles. Something we vowed wouldn’t happen to us.
Now, the truth is you don’t have to do anything about any of these things. What’s the worst that could happen?
On a given day, nothing.
Over a year, maybe a little.
Over 10 years, the invisible risks of playing it safe add up, compound, and soon become as inescapable as a black hole.
It’s not just the weight, or debt, or drudgery of marching to a job we don’t love. It’s the identity we create of someone who’s accepted the way things are.
It’s as if we got on the wrong highway 500 miles ago, just realized we’re going the wrong direction, and we shake our head and shrug, realizing “I guess this is where I’m going.”
That’s when we start changing our language:
- “I’ll do it later”
- “It’s not that bad… at least I have a job in this economy”
- “It’s fine, whatever…I don’t even want that”
From the youthful excitement of YES…to the jaded, resigned sadness of NO.
YES, you’re going to start with what you want — not what you don’t want. Lead with YES.
YES, you decide what you want to do this year. Get a $25,000 raise? Start a profitable business? Start a charity? You decide what a Rich Life means to you. Think big.
YES, I’m going to push you harder than others. They let you get away with mediocrity and accept excuses. I never will.
YES, you will make mistakes. Better to make 5% mistakes and get 95% of the way there.
YES, I’m going to show you example after example of people doing this — people just like you.
NO, I will not accept “I don’t have time” as an excuse.
You do have time. And this is a priority. Own it.