This Article Continues From How to Broaden Your SCOPE
Let’s now discuss your 3 inner powers and how you can use them to ‘get yourself right first’.
#1 Inner Power: Immagination
Among his many quotes, Earl Nightingale said that as a 29-year-old, after years of searching for the secret to success, he found it in the pages of Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich. Just a few words, six in fact, but enough to change his life and, by default, change millions of people’s lives who have read his books and listened to his audiotapes:
“We become what we think about.”
For Nightingale, these words were prophetic. His years of research and reading had prepared his mind to receive this insight like a farmer’s toiled land is prepared for the seed of his crop. This insight, Nightingale realised, wasn’t new. The notion that with your thoughts you create your world had been passed down for thousands of years through the words and writings of the prophets and philosophers:
“As ye think, so shall ye be.”
How you think, it turns out, determines how effective and successful you will be.
Your imagination is your superpower, and it is this power that is behind all your thoughts and all your beliefs. Your imagination is first cause: everything begins with and follows from your imagination—first you think, then you feel, then you act.
As such, your imagination is a two-edged sword that can either work for you or against you. It can excite you, or it can deflate you. It can inspire you, or it can defeat you. It can help you soar like a hot air balloon to the destination of your dreams, or anchor you down like heavy sandbags.
You know this in your own experiences. Think of a time when you really wanted something. For example, a car, a house, a holiday, a course to further your education and job prospects. You had a vision of what you wanted, a goal you wanted to achieve.
You probably thought about that car, house, holiday, or course all the time. While you were at work, while you were at home. While you were even sleeping. You probably thought about how you were going to afford it. You probably thought of all the ways you could save the money or borrow the money, and then you worked out a plan to pay for it.
Then you did it. You got what you wanted; and you got it through constant thinking about it, then getting motivated and enthusiastic about it, then taking action on getting it. That’s how it worked for you in the past, and that’s how it will work for you now and in the future.
Who you are in your inner world, therefore, is what you are in your outer world. As ye think, so shall ye be.
But just as your thoughts got you what you wanted, they can also prevent you from getting what you want.
What would happen if instead of thinking about all ways you could save money or borrow money to pay for your car, house, holiday, or course, you spent all your time thinking about all the obstacles in your way preventing you from getting what you wanted? What if all your thoughts focused on all the reasons why you couldn’t save money or borrow money? What if all you thought about were the pathways that led you to failing to acquire the necessary funds to acquire what you wanted? How different would the result have been?
So it’s quite pertinent to remember what Henry Ford said about the power of your imagination, and thus the power of your thoughts and beliefs:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Learning how to control your imagination superpower is essential to ‘getting yourself right first’, lest it work against you to your detriment instead of working for you to your benefit.
Your thoughts are the only thing you can truly control in this world. One way to rein in your imagination and start taking control of how you think is to understand your Problem-Solving Orientation (PSO). Your PSO is what psychologists referer to as your ability to develop and utilise an adaptive mindset when confronted with problems and difficulties. Another term for this is ‘cognitive flexibility’.
Adaptive mindset and cognitive flexibility are not hardwired into your brain like IQ. They are skills that you can learn [Buitenweg JIV, van de Ven RM, Prinssen S, Murre JMJ and Ridderinkhof KR (2017) Cognitive Flexibility Training: A Large-Scale Multimodal Adaptive Active-Control Intervention Study in Healthy Older Adults. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:529. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00529] so that you can better adapt your behaviour, or switch between differing concepts, to achieve your goals when confronted with new or changing situations.
People who have developed high cognitive adaptability and flexibility generally have high PSO and high ‘mental capital’ [Beddington, J., Cooper, C., Field, J. et al. The mental wealth of nations. Nature 455, 1057–1060 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/4551057a], which is a measure of an individual’s capacity to contribute to society and to improve their quality of life. In effect, people with cognitive flexibility are better able to leverage their imagination to think of new ideas and find novel connections between existing ideas and concepts than those with less cognitive flexibility.
For instance, when comparing managers of similar age and IQ, research has shown that entrepreneurial founders of multiple companies have high cognitive flexibility [Lawrence, A., Clark, L., Labuzetta, J. et al. The innovative brain. Nature 456, 168–169 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/456168a], or what they’ve called ‘functional impulsivity’.
In personal settings, those with an adaptive mindset and cognitive flexibility are more resilient to emotional events and negative situations [Genet JJ, Siemer M. Flexible control in processing affective and non-affective material predicts individual differences in trait resilience. Cogn Emot. 2011 Feb;25(2):380-8. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2010.491647. PMID: 21432680].
Older people who exhibit an adaptive mindset and cognitive flexibility also have a better quality of life, especially women [ Davis JC, Marra CA, Najafzadeh M, Liu-Ambrose T. The independent contribution of executive functions to health related quality of life in older women. BMC Geriatr. 2010 Apr 1;10:16. doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-10-16. PMID: 20359355; PMCID: PMC2867806].
In contrast to cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity, which is akin to a fixed or narrow mindset.
Michael Douglas’ character, William “D-Fens” Foster, in the movie Falling Down, is a convincing example of someone with entrenched cognitive rigidity. As Foster treks across LA to try and make his daughter’s birthday, he is met with a series of encounters that cause him to spiral out of control and eventually commit suicide by police shooting. During his journey across town, we learn that he has been fired from his job as a defence engineer, something that he had found difficult to reconcile. We learn that, despite having no job for many months, he continued to get up in the morning, get dressed, and drive to work where he would sit in his car until the end of the day and return home.
Foster’s struggles are examples of someone who is not able to adapt to new situations or routines. Yet, although cognitive rigidity is associated with some mental health disorders like autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, we can all succumb from time to time with rigid thinking and set ways of doing things. We like to take the same route to work or school every morning. We like to make our coffee the same way in the morning. We like to button up our shirts and put on our socks and shoes in the same order.
The essential thing to consider, however, is whether you are being adaptable when situations change? Are you being flexible when events are not happening the way they used to? Are you resilient in emotional or negative situations?
Even though people approach problems in many different ways, for our purposes we can divide them into two groups according to their PSO:
- Positive Problem-Solving Orientation (PPSO+)—people whose approach is geared to a positive resolution or solution of a problem.
- Negative Problem-Solving Orientation (NPSO-)—people whose approach is geared to avoiding problems and who are not interested in resolution.
The main differences between the two types of PSO are summarised in the below table [Table 1: Positive and Negative Problem Solving Orientation Mindset]:
With the information in Table 1 in mind, where do you see your Problem-Solving Orientation on a scale of 0-10 (where 0 is very negative, and 10 is very positive)?
Use the poll below to register your PSO and see how others have answered
Wherever you sit in the PSO spectrum—low, average, high—the aim of this book and associated articles is to move you into a higher position where you can confidently answer ‘9’ or ’10’ and approach difficulties and problems you face with more optimism, self-belief, confidence, and success.
In fact, it will be an interesting exercise to see how much you have progressed by coming back to this page and doing the poll again once you’ve read this book and associated articles.
#2 Inner Power: Emotion
As with your imagination, the dual nature of your emotions means they can either help you along the path to success or push you over the edge of failure.
Such is their power, your emotions can be the wind pushing your hot air balloon toward your destination, or they can be the anchor ropes tying you to the spot. Or worse, they can be the flames that burn your balloon to the ground and all your hopes and dreams with it.
To harbour and encourage negative emotions such as fear, anger, hate, greed, idolatry, and pride—emotions that I term ‘The Six Thieves’—is to harbour and encourage failure.
When you choose negative emotions, you choose to limit yourself.
In my own experience, the fear of failure and the fear of rejection caused me to procrastinate for 15 years before I started writing my first book, The Golden Chalice. As a 15-year-old high school student, I wanted to be a bestselling author. As I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to be just like my heroes, Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, John Irving, and later Paulo Coelho.
But the fear of failure and rejection prevented me from even trying. For 15 years I told everyone who’d listen that I was going to write a book, but I didn’t. I procrastinated instead and made excuses.
“I’m working 80 hours a week, when do I have time to write?” I repeated to myself over and over again. “I also want a social life. I want to travel. I also have to study for my specialty exams. I simply don’t have any spare time.”
Even though I could efficiently problem solve in the Emergency Department and on the wards, I had an extremely negative Problem-Solving Orientation when it came to my writing. I had a lot of self-doubt about my ability to become a successful writer, which resulted in deliberate and intentional avoidance behaviour. I also had a lot of self-judgement, convincing myself that I wasn’t a particularly good writer and that nobody would want to read what I wrote anyhow, so why bother?
To make matters worse, my fears caused me to play down the benefits of writing the novels I wanted to write and the fulfillment of becoming a published author. It was almost as if I had a fear of success, and if I had been asked to register my PSO with the above poll during this time, I would have answered ‘0’ or ‘1’.
It wasn’t until I was 30 that I started to overcome my fears and start writing. Only when I put to one side the fear of failure and not being good enough did I find the courage to sit down at my computer and start tapping away at the keyboard. Within a year, I had finished the first draft of The Golden Chalice (The Naked Soul was its working title) and resigned from my position as a paediatric trainee at The Royal London Hospital to follow my calling.
Unfortunately, by then, procrastination had already stolen 15 years of my life, but I console myself that at least it wasn’t 50 years of my life, which it could well have been.
So your emotions, especially fear, such as the fear of failure, can work against you and severely limit your effectiveness and success if you’re not aware of how they manipulate your thoughts and behaviours behind the scenes.
This is one of the lessons we learn from the fable of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The queen, caught in her own vanity, reacts with fear, anger, and hatred toward her step-daughter, Snow White, when the magic mirror replies that she, the queen, is no longer the fairest in the land. Her obsessive thoughts convince her to murder Snow White, first by ordering a woodsman to do her dirty work, and then, when he couldn’t go through with it, to venture into the woods disguised as an old hag and give Snow White a poisoned apple herself.
Ultimately, however, it is the queen’s own fear, anger, and hatred that are the cause of her own demise. Likewise, if you’re not aware of how fear and other negative emotions pull your strings and control your life, at worst you risk your own demise. At best, you severely limit your power of self-determination and personal growth, which are essential for your effectiveness and success.
Yet, you also have the power to choose positive, self-supporting emotions that can work to your benefit, as long as you are also aware of how these emotions can work for you. In particular, emotions such as enthusiasm, vitality, vigour, passion, courage, confidence, and self-love.
Enthusiasm is one such positive emotion that can drive you toward success (which we will discuss in greater depth in E: Energy, Effort, and Enthusiasm). Not every enthusiastic person finds success, but like any fuel, effective and successful people have learned to use enthusiasm in the right manner to propel themselves forward in the direction they want to go.
Enthusiasm stems from the Greek meaning ‘to be filled with God’. It’s the energy and excitement of doing something that you love doing. It’s the emotion that drives you toward action, which is vital because without action you cannot succeed.
There are many other positive emotions that can power you forward and keep you heading toward your worthy goal:
- the love of what you do
- the bliss of creating
- being in ‘the flow’
- harmony with what you’re doing and with your environment
- peace of mind
- the joy of being alive
- the freedom of being without limitation
- the awareness of abundance
- and many more
In the late 90s, when I eventually found the courage to overcome my fears and chronic procrastination and start the novel that I had always wanted to write, I discovered something that had been dormant in my sense of being for a very long time—bliss.
Growing up in Australia means you’re never too far from the beach. Over 80% of the population lives within the coastal zone, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the shoreline. Which means whatever beach you drive past that has any semblance of a decent wave, you’ll find surfers bobbing up and down on their boards just past the first break waiting for their next ride. Then, as the swell builds, they’ll flip onto their stomach and arm-paddle to catch the momentum of the wave, jumping to their feet before it breaks and sliding down its face, cutting across the line of the break before the wave crashes and loses its power.
All in all, from the time the surfer starts paddling to the time the ride is over, about 10 seconds of joy has passed, maybe 15 seconds if it’s a really good wave. But when I am sitting in front of my computer and tapping out the words of my latest book, I can experience 10 hours of joy each day. If I have a clear day of writing, from the time I get up in the morning to the time I shut down the computer, I’m surfing that writing wave for hours upon hours upon hours.
To me, it’s bliss, and it’s the fuel that powers me forward to keep writing, to keep achieving, to keep pumping out book after book after book.
When used properly, that’s the power of emotion that’s inherent in all of us. You just need to learn how to tap into it, and it usually begins with your passion, your joy.
I mentioned before that when you choose negative emotions, you choose to limit yourself. The reverse is also true. When you choose positive emotions, you choose to go beyond your limits.
So what is your passion? What is your joy? What gives you greatest fulfillment?
Then, once you are clear about what makes you happy, all you need to do is consciously and intentionally choose more of it.
So keep choosing what makes you happy, and soon you’ll find there’s no power for negative emotions in your day.
#3 Inner Power: Response-ability
As with your imagination and your emotions, your instinctive reactions also determine your levels of success and failure.
How you react on impulse to people, events, ideas, and even yourself can either set you on the path to success and freedom, or it can imprison you behind the bars of limitation and thoughtlessness.
The truly successful know this. They know life isn’t determined by the cards you are dealt, but by how well you play them. They know and fully understand the line from Kenny Roger’s song, The Gambler, that every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser.
They therefore they take responsibility for all their successes and failures.
Successful people take responsibility for who they are, for what they want, and for how they behave.
Successful people, on the whole, are people that I call response-able. They tend to respond with thoughtfulness and consideration. They have a ‘responsive mindset’.
Unsuccessful people, on the other hand, are generally reflexive. They tend to react unthinkingly and without due concern. They have a ‘reactive mindset’.
If you’ve seen any of the Loony Tunes cartoons created by Chuck M. Jones, you’ll be familiar with his characters, Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and more.
With his suave, cool, calm, unfazed demeanor, always ready to quip, “Whatsup, Doc?” Bugs Bunny gives the impression that he always has everything under control and that everything will turn out for the best. Daffy Duck, on the other hand, is forever frustrated, as though nothing is under control, that everything is always working against him, and that if anything can go wrong it inevitably will.
When asked in an interview which of his creations he was most alike, Chuck M. Jones replied that he always wished he was Bugs Bunny. But in reality, he was Daffy Duck.
I like to think that Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck characterise the two types of mindsets we’re discussing, responsive mindset and reactive mindset respectively. Bugs Bunny responds thoughtfully and calmly to each situation. Daffy Duck is quick to react unthinkingly and reflexively.
In medical terminology, a reflex is an action that bypasses the higher centres of the brain. For instance, you might have seen video footage of a doctor tapping the knee of a patient with a patella hammer to check the patient’s knee reflex, or you might have even had a doctor do this to you.
When the patella (knee cap) tendon is tapped, the muscle spindle in the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh is stretched, which produces a nerve signal that travels up to the spinal cord at the level of L3 (3rd lumbar spine). This signal returns or ‘bounces back’ to the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh, triggering a contraction—causing the foot to kick. This all happens independently of the brain, without any thought.
Unfortunately, we can spend a great deal of our lives in such an unthinking, reflexive state. We can spend a lifetime reacting to the world independently of our brains, without any thought.
Reflexively reacting to others, the world, and ourselves without engaging your brain, however, is not the best strategy for success.
Habits can fall into this category, especially if they are self-sabotaging habits. Research in the past decade has revealed that approximately 40% of our daily activities are not decision-based. Rather, they are repetitions, or habits. [Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “How we form habits, change existing ones.” ScienceDaily, 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931>.]
This means that a significant portion of our day is controlled by habits that we’ve developed over much of our lifetime, and this implies that 40% of the waking day we’re not actually thinking about what we’re doing. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, as the saying goes.
If we’ve developed good habits that help us achieve our goals, then this isn’t such a bad thing. But if we’ve developed bad habits that get in the way of achieving our goals, then we probably need to do something about our unthinking behaviours.
Let’s use the example of going to the gym to achieve your goal of getting fitter and losing weight. For 22 years I managed to go to the gym on average 3 times a week. Some weeks I went 5 times, some weeks only 2, but on average over the course of 22 years I consistently worked out 3 times a week. Although it was a difficult habit to start (for much of my young adult life I preferred bars and nightclubs to the gym), once the habit was ingrained it was more difficult to stop going than not go at all.
But then I had a disc prolapse. A simple, lift and twist movement getting out of the car caused the disc between L4 and L5 to suddenly squeeze between the vertebrae and protrude into my spinal canal, impinging on my lower spinal nerves. The sciatic pain shooting down both legs was beyond excruciating, and without doubt the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t walk without collapsing in pain. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t lie down. I couldn’t sit.
Nothing I did over the next couple of months could ease the pain. I tried acupuncture and kinesiology, to no avail. Even bucket loads of prescription medication barely touched the edges. Needless to say, I was severely sleep-deprived and continually on edge, anticipating even the slightest movement to trigger unbearable, neurogenic pain.
My neurosurgeon said it was one of the largest disc prolapses he’d seen on the MRI scan in over 20 years, and he has often used my scans at surgical conferences around the world as a case of extreme prolapse. For weeks after the initial injury, he was sharpening his knives and doing all he could to persuade me to have an operation, but I refused, preferring to wait it out and only go to surgery if there was a neurological emergency.
As it transpired, the pain continued unabated for about 4 months before my body started to heal itself. The prolapse slowly shrunk and the pain started to improve. At least I could get a good night’s sleep. After about 8 months, I was virtually pain-free, and within the year I was on the Colorado slopes skiing with my family.
But by this time a bad habit had set in. Early on in my injury, I rang my gym to put my membership on hold for 6 months while I recovered. So for half a year, instead of hitting the gym and working out, I raided the fridge and started clearing out the contents of the pantry.
This continued for 2 years, and I probably added 10 kilograms to my frame that wasn’t there when the injury originally happened. Even though the gym membership restarted after the 6-month medical hiatus, I didn’t return, too fearful that the workout would cause a recurrence of my disc prolapse. At least that was the excuse.
The truth was, I had fallen into a bad habit of not exercising. In fact, I had swapped a good habit of exercising 3 times a week for a bad habit of daily ‘excusasising’. They say you become good at what you do often, and I could now rattle off a good excuse faster than I was gaining inches around my waist.
Unfortunately, even as I became pain-free and my movements returned to normal, I still allowed fear to do the talking. It was an irrational fear because I had been skiing, swimming, bicycle riding, and even body surfing. But it was convenient, and I spent over 2 years driving past the gym on my way home rather than pulling into the car park and walking up the stairs and through the doors to do a workout.
The situation, I knew, wouldn’t improve until I improved my mindset and accept that the only thing stopping me exercise was myself. I had allowed myself to fall into a habit of reactive convenience where it was easier not to do exercise and let my fitness slide, whereas before my injury it had been easier to do regular exercise and maintain a healthy fitness level.
I was able to kickstart my fitness habit of regular gym attendance when I tackled my irrational fear of reinjuring my spine and calling it out for the over-exaggeration that it was. Every time the voice of fear spoke to me—”Scott, you’re going to injure your back again.” “Do you really want to risk all that pain?” “You know it won’t take much for your back to pop again.”—I reminded myself of all the other physical exercise I’d been doing over the past year and silenced the fearful whining.
Convincing myself of the minimal risk of working out at the gym helped me to regain control of my thoughts. In particular, I was able to minimise the fearful thoughts that were continually obstructing me from getting fitter and healthier and to replace them with more positive thoughts that actively assisted me in my fitness and health goals.
What I learned from this 2-year period of inactiveness was this: Getting control over my irrational fears was an important step in regaining control over my thoughts and becoming response-able.
Which is why taking back control of your unthinking, reactive thoughts and actions—your reflexive habits—is essential if you want to take back control of your life and be more successful. Relying on reactive habits is not a good strategy. A better strategy is to become response-able, and it works this way:
- When you are able to control your thoughts, you are able to control your emotions.
- When you are able to control your emotions, you are able to control your reactions.
- And when you are able to control your reactions, you are able to respond with appropriate action—you are response-able.
Only when you are response-able can you intentionally benefit the way you want to live and who you want to be. If you don’t, if you continue to be reflexive and reactive, you will remain where you are, unable to move forward, stuck in the same routine, unable to progress toward your worthy ideal and manifest the success you deserve.
* * * * *
Successful people realise that they must first become successful human beings if they are to truly find success in life. Who they are takes precedence. What they do is secondary.
So if it is your intent to be a successful person, it is imperative that you understand the effect that your imagination, emotions, and reactions have on your ability to progressively realise your worthy ideal and achieve the success you desire.
Failure to understand the impact and power of your imagination, emotions, and reactions is to court frustration and, ultimately, failure.
But one of the best strategies to take advantage of your 3 superpowers and become the person you are capable of becoming is to broaden your capacity and grow as a human being.
Your success is dependent on your personal growth. When you grow, your success grows.
This is what we will now focus on in the next series of articles, namely how to “Broaden your SCOPE” and grow your success.
This article is an excerpt from Dr. Scott Zarcinas’ upcoming book, The SCOPE of YOU!
Why Success in Anything You Do Depends on Your SCOPE (and Your Failure Too)