Success by default is a valuable lesson we learn when we stop and view things through the rear view mirror on our drive through life
SUCCESS by DEFAULT
By Bill Cottringer
“Great gains come when you start noticing what you have been failing to notice all along. A great thing to notice is how well you do when you get out of your own way. –The Author.
I’d be willing to bet that you have a negatively flavored opinion of the concept, “Success by Default.” But it is this very viewpoint that keeps the secret of this enormously powerful notion hidden away behind more positive but much less powerful success gimmicks. And maybe even the word “success” helps keep the idea unpopular and unused.
Let’s start out with what I mean by the idea of Success by Default:
Success = Getting what you want from doing what you want. This can be playing, working, serving, studying, making a difference, creating, or doing anything to get things like wealth, health, power, influence, peace of mind, genuine satisfaction, fulfilling contentment, authentic happiness, recognition, meaning or wholeness. Great success is finding your private definition of the Land of Plenty.
Default = Your original factory settings, which regulate your mind, heart, soul and body and look out for your best interests under normal and especially adverse conditions.
By now most of you know about The Secret. This is a video presentation of the simplest and most profound truth in life—the Law of Attraction, which basically says positive energy attracts positive realities and negative energy attracts negative realities. Now the real secret is still a secret. And this is that the default settings of your natural self are already geared to the successful application of The Secret. In other words, you are set up to be successful in life and the best thing you can do is get of your own way.
It is a good idea to stop every once in awhile and look through your rearview mirror as you drive through life. This is good because the view will help you see where you have gone to get where you are now in your journey. Then you have a better idea of where you are going and how you can best get there. This is because we are usually already three-quarters to our destination before we realize where it is we are going. Imagine that!
There seem to always be two levels to anything—there is a material world and a spiritual world, knowledge and wisdom, abstract ideas and concrete applications, quantity and quality, liking and loving, and knowing and doing, just to mention a few. With success there are also two levels—surviving and thriving. There are those people who chase success shadows and those who make the shadows. Closing this gap is going from good to great.
A quick glance in the rearview mirror will usually tell you a few important things about this intriguing notion of success by default:
• We all try to run before we learn how to walk. With your attempts to be successful, you try to thrive before you master the art of surviving. But to get to this important insight, you have to arrive at the realization that everything you think you know may not necessarily be so. That is not the sort of possibility that is easy to swallow.
• When you open up to learning, you see when it is best to return to your default settings. They were designed to understand and deal with most problems that come your way, especially during stormy seas.
• So in this sense, your whole life is aimed at becoming who you already are, rather than who you think you want to be.
• The gap between where you are and where you want to be is mostly imaginary. More than likely you are very close to where you need to be to get to the next location on your itinerary.
My last glance through my own rearview mirror helped me to remember ten important life tests for which my own default settings can best help me to be successful in doing what I want to get what I want. In retrospect, I am amazed at the success I have accomplished on these tests, in spite of my mistakes and failures. These ten tests are:
1. Seeing past the illusion of opposites.
Unfortunately this business of reconciling opposites has to occur before you can appreciate important paradoxical ideas such as success by default, the wisdom of insecurity, and being who you are rather than trying to be who you think you want to be. Much of life really is paradoxical and catch-22, but even the worst of these situations work out well enough to keep hope going. After all paradoxes are just difficult challenges, not impossible.
The difficulty in getting past the illusion of opposites is that you always have to experience both half of the equation—happiness and sadness, success and failure, night and day and all the rest of the this and that—before you can see that they are both just different sides of the same coin. At that point we head for the middle to double our pleasure.
2. Restoring order to the chaos I created.
When I worked in mental health in the early seventies, I was amazed at how many patients and even “normal” people didn’t know the difference between when they were creating chaos and when they were restoring order. They would mix up these two primary activities without knowing it. When they thought they were restoring order, they were really creating chaos and vice versa. Now that is chaotic but not uncommon!
Oddly, the same glance in my own rearview mirror awhile back from which I got these ten tests, gave me a fairly accurate assessment of all the chaos I had created in the first half of my life. This now represents the challenge to restore order to my chaos in this second half of my life. I secretly wonder if I created all that chaos just to give me something to do when I got older? Surely not.
3. Capturing the 5% important truth from the 95% nonsense.
In keeping with the spirit of the lesson learned on this test, let me just say that it is safe to say that 95% of what we think we know probably isn’t so, and even if it was, it would represent one iota of what is out there. Capturing the few important operating principles of life, like success by default, is a good definition of success. Someone once told me that my 95% nonsense was better than most people’s 5% truth, making my 5% platinum. That was the best compliment I have ever received. Let’s just keep it at that.
4. Controlling the controllables and letting go of the rest.
I now know by default that when I started out my life I mistakenly thought I had more control over things than I really did. Now oddly, my list is reversed. I have a lot more controllables because I have already let go of most of the rest. Here is my short list on the things I still can’t control:
• My moods.
• Other people.
• The things I don’t know or understand.
• My fate or destiny.
But even with this short list of uncontrollables, my default wisdom shows me what parts of these things are controllable:
• How I express my moods and how long they last.
• How I approach people to influence their thinking.
• How I learn from undesirable outcomes.
• How I spend my money.
• How I use my time when I am impatient.
• How I increase my knowledge and understanding.
• How sensitive I become to avoid moments of danger and take advantage of moments of opportunity.
Now look at all the things I can control from the get-go:
• Increasing my positive thoughts and feelings and decreasing the negative ones I allow to escape my consciousness.
• Increasing my ability to love unconditionally and decreasing my anger, fear, guilt, shame, and selfishness.
• Resisting the tempting, short-range irresponsible choices and making more responsible, long-range ones.
• Becoming a little more flexible in the expectations I have with other people and situations.
• Opening up to growing, learning and improving in my self-development.
• Offering effective advice and guidance to people who ask for it, in the right way at the right time.
• Reacting with more character, confidence and competence to adverse, uncomfortable and stressful situations.
• Influencing my health positively with proper diet, rest and exercise, especially when I don’t feel like it.
• Listening more to understand better.
• Choosing words more carefully to speak and write for more clarity and impact.
• Developing and enjoying my passions more fully.
• Looking for something positive to appreciate in even the worst of situations.
• Decreasing my aggravations and annoyances of other people’s differences and growing my tolerance and ability to forgive.
See the power of default thinking and how that is a prime example of success by default?
5. Developing a philosophy of life with answers to five important questions.
I think many of us play Jeopardy in providing the life questions to which our pre-arranged answers apply rather than vice versa. At any rate, we all have five very serious, fundamental questions in life to find the answers to. These questions serve as a plan for individuals, relationships, companies and sports teams to resolve and carry out in order to be successful. Here are these five basic questions, with some explanations following.
• Why am I here?
• What am I supposed to be doing?
• How do I know if I am doing it right?
• What’s in it for me?
• Where do I go for help?
Now the nice thing about this “system” of five questions is that it fits into both ends of the spectrum. Big picture people can apply the questions to life in general to develop a sound philosophy of life; and more practical people can apply the questions to resolve problems in any here-and-now situations at work or in personal situations. Sooner or later these same five questions seem to pop up in any situation.
• Why am I here?
Globally this question has to do with discovering your fundamental purpose in this life, or more “locally,” to know what your main goals are in a situation at work or home. We are all here to make a unique contribution in fitting into life’s big game plan and all the situation and choices that make up that game plan . Many of us don’t give this question the thought it deserves and many wander around trying out all sorts of answers, not ever discovering the correct one.
The trouble with searching for our overall purpose or even our purpose in a given situation is it is so close to us, that it is difficult to see clearly. Never-the-less we need to keep looking because our measure of success and contentment is directly tied to answering this question and the answer is very relevant to the other four questions.
This unique purpose you are here to accomplish to fill in some details or help paint the big picture with has to do with an agreement you made in return for this life opportunity you have been given or the situation your choices helped bring about. This is something only you can find out, but if you are currently experiencing too much difficulty, then by all means you can skip ahead to the last question, which in this case, is an answer to this first question. Your purpose is often more obvious to others because they can stand back and see where your feet have been taking you all the time you have been too busy walking to notice, from a few short months to several decades.
Another resource for finding out the answer to this first question is looking inside and seeing what you seem to be having the most fun doing, what you seem to be doing well, what you do most, and the defining moments of a painful experience during the dark times, which may reveal a unique ability not had by many. This can apply to either your life mission or resolving a work or relationship conflict.
• What am I supposed to be doing?
The first part of the answer to this second question is in answering the first question; the second part is to develop and apply the natural talents and skills you have to live out your unique purpose to help yourself and others be successful and happy, again generally speaking or in a particular situation before you. Here is one useful clue—when you know exactly what you want from life, work, game, or relationship, you will be on the path to knowing what you are supposed to be doing. And then how you define this thing you want, will help determine how much or how little of it you will get. From there you learn to separate your personal wants (the 95% nonsensical chaos) from your true needs (the remaining sensible 5% order).
It seems that the treasure chest we are all searching for in this land of plenty has to do with how we define the following pool of things: Happiness, success, peace, contentment, meaning, wholeness, joy, power, wealth, influence, making a difference or achieving worthwhile goals. How do you define these things? Are you doing what you need to be doing to get them? Often, success and happiness are what you do to feel satisfaction from doing them. That is called intrinsic motivation—doing something just because it feels good and right to do in and by itself, and not for some other ulterior motive, now or later.
• How do I know if I am doing it right?
The key here is in the word right and how you define it. When you learn to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons, you will get the right results, no matter how big the issue or problem is. Then you know you are on the right path. But if this success formula is too abstract or overly simple-minded, then try understanding life’s even simpler behavior modification program aimed at helping you know the answer to this particular question, without any doubt—keeping you on the right path to success.
Sometimes we tend to make things much more complex than they need to be. Such is the case with emotions. There are really only two types of emotions we get in reaction to things that happen and what we think about those things—positive and negative feelings. And we always know which is which, without too much thinking or debating. Positive emotions serve the purpose of letting us know things are right, whereas negative feelings serve the purpose of letting us know things are not right. Pretty simple when you think about it.
It seems to me that the biggest challenge in life is in making the choices to do this or that in reaction to this or that. Too often we have the wrong conversation in our heads—making the wrong interpretation of a negative event and then making all the wrong choices from then on, based on this single wrong interpretation and lack of understanding. Maybe our country is stuck in the Iraq dilemma because of a similar process. When you stop and think about it, it really is easy to do the right thing in the wrong way, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons or oddly, even doing the wrong thing in the right way can be a bad habit.
• What’s in it for me?
It could be that we get ahead of ourselves with our answers to this question, which throws us off the right track for answering the first four questions. In both jobs and relationships, problems begin when we feel we are not getting what we want from them. That is at least until we see the wisdom of making some important transformations, whether they are voluntary or more forced. Three very important personal transformations are moving from one perspective to its opposite: (a) shifting from ephemeral external motivation to more substantial and enduring internal motivation (b) exchanging the selfish habit of taking for the unselfish one of giving, and (c) seeing the benefit of forgoing short-term pains for longer-term gains. Of course this is usually by trial and error and a journey full of bruises, broken bones and bleeding.
• Where do I go to get help?
The trick here is to learn how to be a little more sensitive to becoming aware of when you are getting knee deep in alligators before they start biting you. This is known as catching yourself getting near the point of no return before it comes and goes. At that point it is helpful to know how to ask for help when it can still do some good before things get too bad. And this is a skill you want to begin practicing in everyday situations, rather than waiting for a major event in your life.
With work problems, this is where you go to your supervisor for help. But be prepared to take some possible solutions with you, so that you are not seen as part of the problem. With some personal problems, you can ask the experts for their help based on their experience at successfully solving the problem themselves. This is where reading, listening, watching TV or movies, attending classes, having intelligent discussions and participating in training seminars come into play.
With other problems that tend to be flavored with emotionality, it is helpful to get a second opinion (and the desired compassion) from friends or family or even marriage counselors, teachers and mental health professionals. And with profound spiritual or existential questions, this is where God, praying, communing in nature, meditation, churches, or spiritual groups are your empathetic resource. In any case, help is always just around the corner for the asking. Just know how and when to do the asking.
6. Understanding time.
Monks originally invented the sundial to force time into a definitive, mechanical sequence of past, present and future, to regulate the act of praying. And now all the watches, clocks and calendars convince us that time is consistent, orderly and sequentially predictable. Fortunately our default intelligence warns us that something isn’t quite right about over-embracing this reality of time. Something nags us.
The current information overload which is overwhelming us all, is leaving us with not enough time to do the things we need to get done, and demanding a solution. The solution is the default interpretation of time—its psychological nature. Our experience verifies what our minds deny: Time isn’t always perceived or experienced as consistent, orderly or sequential. It sometimes passes quicker than we want and sometimes lasts longer than we think it will. Time is more wobbly than a straight line.
7. Living the wisdom of insecurity.
This is one of those ideas that you just suddenly understand but really can’t explain it very well. For me, the tipping point in understanding the wisdom of insecurity came when my youngest daughter asked me for help with her senior high school thesis. The one question the teacher asked them to answer was, How can you be sure that what you think you know to be certain is in fact certain? I thought this was the best question that any of us can be asked, let alone a high school senior. This teacher deserves the Nobel peace Prize.
The only comfortable answer Abby and I could conclude after days of research and discussion was that you really can’t know anything with 100% certainty. Regardless of where you get the information—from critical thinking, your senses, intuition, higher authority or wherever, you always have to take a leap of faith between the information you have and its truth. So there really is no security except in accepting the reality of insecurity. Also knowing the default truth that no one is really that secure, helps us get a better score on the next test—relationships.
8. Building relationships.
There is no doubt about it—personal relationships are the most difficult life test to see how well we can walk our talk. Relationships bring out the best or the worst in our characters. But, they are a big key to achieving real success because our happiness or unhappiness in our relationships spills over into everything else. I once married a co-worker in a mental health clinic and know by default why that isn’t generally a good idea. Work is work and home is home, but try to separate them.
I have come to view good relationships as the best way to see the full 360-degrees. I know no matter how smart I work at being, I will only have half the picture and need another person to compliment my half. Together we can both share the whole picture. But the path to doing that is not easy at all because most of the mistakes and failures come before we finally get to this default viewpoint of relationships. Again, hindsight is always 20-20 and the rearview mirror is a good place to get it.
9. Overcoming conflict.
The default definition of a conflict is something worth considering. This viewpoint sees conflict as an opportunity for people to learn, grow and improve into a better person by having the courage to tolerate the increase in negative, uncomfortable feelings which are part of communicating past the emotions to get to the issues in order to resolve the conflict. Some even say conflict is just the way life teases us to explode into our full potential.
Obviously, the way we view conflict has a great deal of influence over whether the results are productive of destructive. One thing seems for sure—when we approach conflict with anything less than honesty, openness and assertiveness, we are stuck with an unresolved conflict that will just come back to haunt us later with more vengeance. But hindsight is always 20-20.
10. Repairing the few realities that need fixing.
There is another secret that only a few people know about. The secret is that you can get what you want by creating the realities you like. Learning success by default is the best example. This is one of the simplest truth in life and yet very few people fully embrace it, completely understand it, or totally use it. That is why so many people accept failure in trying to survive lives of quiet desperation instead of leaping forth and thriving in endless success. The problem is that you have to fix your broken realities before you can create the ones you want. As usual, we have the cart before the horse and the tail is wagging the dog.
Life, love and free will are the three greatest gifts God gives us. And when we use our soulful tools of compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation, we learn how to appreciate and enjoy life better, to love and be loved more fully and unconditionally, and to use our free will more responsibly to make choices that get the best results for us and others. By doing these things, we are living a good life and making a difference in creating a good reality; the result is an unmistakable sense of success, satisfaction, joy and peace. That is what we all really want. This is our mutual land of Plenty.
So what goes wrong in this sure success formula? Simply put, we are unaware of how we sabotage our own realities and shape them into what we don’t want. And to make matters worse, we fail to notice what we are failing to notice about the connection between our approach and the results we get. Below are the four main failures that need to be repaired to create the realities you want and like. Resistance in acknowledging these failures only prolongs their power over us.
• Wanting the right thing.
Being crystal clear on what you want is a good start on asking for it and then getting it. But taking the time to explore why you want it to make sure it is the right thing behind the packaging, will assure a higher success rate in getting it. If I want to be a best-selling author for all the money, glory and influence, I may not succeed; but if I just want to learn how to communicate some helpful ideas that I have learned the hard way and which I feel can help other people be happier and more successful, I am definitely going to get what I want. On another note, wanting to get out of debt is not the same as wanting to be financially responsible and solvent.
I remember an incident in my early childhood about not getting what I wanted that relates to not wanting the right thing as well as violating all these other reality repair areas. I was in the kiddy seat of a grocery cart in our local A & P Grocery store in Haddon Heights, NJ where they used to put all the goodies up high on shelving above the food. I spotted a pair of shiny silver six guns with white plastic handles and rich brown, intricately-designed holsters and belt that I just had to have worse than Ralphy wanted the Daisy Dual-Action BB gun in Christmas Story. I can still see those six-guns vividly.
So, I let my mother know just how much I wanted those guns in more of a loud tirade than a humble request. That’s what kids usually do. Of course my answer was not what I wanted to hear: “Billy you can have all the guns you want when you turn twenty-one.” Oddly, when I was 19 years old and in a fox hole over in Vietnam, I had quite an arsenal that would impress the best-equipped NRA members. Many years later I realized I did get what I wanted, but just not exactly what, how and when I wanted it! A good lesson in reality repair that actually took half a century to learn. But a pre-explanation probably wouldn’t have helped speed up my learning. I have always been too big on doing it all by myself.
• Asking for it in the right way.
These next two obstacles are very much interrelated. Both the timing and manner in which you ask for something contribute greatly to the results you get. There is always a right and wrong way to ask for what you want and only the right way at the right time gets the desired outcome. Demanding something you don’t deserve will not help you get what you want. Nor will wanting what you don’t have and not wanting what you do have or even asking for something legitimate at the wrong time. In praying or mediating, I don’t seek to be relieved of troublesome burdens, pains or discomforts but rather the smarts to see the best solutions myself and the needed stamina and tenacity to carry them out.
A valuable success clue is knowing when to change your approach when you keep asking for something over and over again and don’t get it. And of course, once you learn the proper way to ask for what you want, the slightest trace of negative expectation in your mind and voice will give you away; that is not the right way to ask for what you want. Being totally positive is what brings you and what you want closer together.
• Being sensitive to the right timing.
I read somewhere that time was nature’s way to keep the good things from happing all at once. I think it is beneficial to see it that way even if it may not be completely accurate. In a recent exciting Fiesta Bowl game finish, the quarterback for the underdog Boise State football team seemed to have blown the game in the last few seconds and assured himself as a lifetime bad memory in history by throwing an interception that went for touchdown. Over 59 minutes of a spectacular effort on top of a 12-0 season was on the verge of not counting for anything.
Seconds later, the quarterback became a lifetime good memory for everyone by stepping up to the plate and redeeming himself twice against all odds opposing a strong Oklahoma team that would just not let up. It was all a matter of good timing—realizing the right time to sneak in a razzle-dazzle unconventional last second play and understanding the near fatal disappointment was just setting up the situation for an unforgettable successful win that won’t ever be forgotten in the history of football. Patience and the faith discussed below are valuable, good reality-producing virtues.
• Letting go and believing you will get it.
The most subtle but powerful way you can keep yourself from getting what you want is to be unaware of the negative doubts you are having about getting it. Getting what you want requires complete positive faith that you will get it; if you don’t it is just because you may not be aware of how you may be engaging in these other three obstacles. The slightest doubt will build a mountain out of a molehill and you will surely end up empty-handed and frustrated. This is one of the few areas in life where temperance will get in your way: It is all or nothing. Total faith or none at all.
How did the Boise State quarterback in the 2007 Fiesta bowl get what he wanted? He wanted the right thing, made his best effort to get it in the right way at the right time and then the whole team believed totally in getting the successful win and got it. Everything gelled. And that is the whole story. Pretty simple when you stop to think about, and it is just a right mix of not being free or costing too much. What realities of yours need repairing? What are you resisting?
What I like about this idea of success by default is that it is life’s default. So whether you believe in its power or not, it doesn’t matter because is it always working behind the scenes—with or without your awareness, acknowledgment or support. You get to be successful even if you don’t want to be, but I can’t imagine that ever being the case.
William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security, Business Success Coach, Sport Psychologist, Writer and Photographer from Issaquah, WA. He is author of several books including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, Passwords to the Land of Plenty, and The Bow-Wow Secrets. Bill can be reached for comments at 425-454-5011 or bcottringer.pssp.net
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