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Your biggest breakthroughs are on the other side of courage

Your clients are usually trying to control events in their lives by deciding – or anticipating – what outcome would be good or bad, and then working hard to achieve one and avoid the other.

If things turn out well, they feel great. If things don’t go to plan, they feel deflated, devastated or irate. 

I cried when I was let go from my job as a Vice Principal. I even begged my boss not to fire me. Seventeen years later, I am so grateful that she didn’t listen to me, otherwise I’d probably be a very unhappy School Principal, right now. Being fired was one of the best things to ever happen to me…

When I met Monique, I proposed to her ten days later. Most of my friends thought I was crazy. They tried to convince me to do something different. Sometimes even I wonder why I didn’t simply ask her on a date! But she said yes and we’ve been married for 15 years this year. Marriage has had its share of ups and downs – but she’s still the hottest, most interesting, fun and rockstar woman I have ever met. If I’d followed my head and not my heart we’d probably never have got together. 

Clients need your help to anticipate second and third order effects

In the book, Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert explains the humans propensity to try to predict the future. The problem is we’re extraordinarily bad at it. You see our brains fall victim to a wide range of biases that mean our predictions of the future – and also our memories of the past – are often inaccurate. 

These mental errors make it remarkably difficult to predict what will make us feel happy. 

What you assume will make you happy often won’t. The hedonic treadmill is a metaphor for our tendency to pursue one pleasure after another. Any surge in happiness that’s felt after a positive event usually returns to a steady personal baseline over time. 

Lottery winners become accustomed to their new lifestyle surprisingly quickly and experience a corresponding decrease in happiness.

And fame probably won’t make you happy – famous people are four times as likely to commit suicide as the rest of us. Studies show that it causes huge stress when your goals are tied to the approval of others.

On the opposite side of the equation, fears are often a mask for desire. Have your clients create a What Scares Me list. Find out what scares them then help them do that. The biggest breakthroughs are most often on the other side of courage.

The Law of Unintended Consequences states that actions always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.

Solutions often create the seeds of your next problem. And problems are often blessings in disguise. 

History is replete with examples of The Law of Unintended Consequences and second order effects. 

The Holy Roman Empire was the most powerful European state of the Middle Ages. It was dissolved in 1806, following a military defeat by the French. 

But the French occupation of large areas of Germany led to a rise in German nationalism. 

And this, in turn, led to an arms race between Germany, Great Britain and Russia. 

In order to protect themselves from more powerful states, countries throughout Europe created mutual defense agreements. If one country was attacked, allied countries were bound to defend them. 

But this solution became one of the causes of The First World War, due to the many political alliances that pulled European states into conflict… When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia joined the conflict to defend Serbia. When Germany saw Russia mobilizing, it declared war on Russia. France felt it had to defend against Germany and Austria-Hungary. When Germany attacked France through Belgium, Britain was committed to defend its allies. 

Then Japan entered WWI, to support the alliance of Russia, France and Great Britain. 

The United States initially remained neutral because of public opposition to entering the war, although they supported the allies with exports of armaments. 

However, in 1917, Germany hoped to tie down American forces and slow the export of American arms. So they sent a secret telegram to the Mexican government to propose they declare war on the United States. But the telegram was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence. 

And it so enraged Americans that it helped to generate support for the American declaration of war on Germany, which ultimately led to victory for the allies.

At the end of WWI, there were great celebrations when Germany and its allies were defeated. But the roots of WWII lay in the peace settlement at the end of the war. 

Understandably, the Allied nations wanted to make Germany pay for causing and perpetuating four long years of devastating conflict and 10 million soldiers’ lives lost. 

The Treaty of Versailles blamed Germany for the war, cut down their army and navy, carved off huge areas of their territory and made them pay reparations payments to the French and Belgians. 

But one of the results of this was that German citizens felt humiliated at being blamed for the war. The economic impact of reparations led to hyperinflation, which wiped out the savings of the middle class. The subsequent increase in poverty, a desire for security, and the promise of simple measures to protect the German people led to support for fascism and opened the doors for Hitler’s Nazi party. 

The Treaty of Versailles, was designed to prevent worldwide conflict from ever happening again but it literally helped sow the seeds for World War II, which was an even more terrible global war.

Solutions to complex problems often lead to greater problems. As George Santayana once said, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

When a client asks you if they should take a specific action, it’s good to remind them of the wisdom of a Zen story, first told hundreds of years ago…

An old farmer had worked on the land for many years. One day his horse ran away and hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. 

“We’re so sorry to hear this. It’s such bad luck.” 

The farmer responded, “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?” 

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. 

“What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed. 

The farmer responded, “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?” 

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, got thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy, “We’re so sorry. What bad luck…”

The farmer responded, “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?” 

A day later, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. As the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how lucky his son was. 

The farmer responded, “Bad luck. Good luck. Who knows?” 

I wrote the 1,100 words above in order to challenge and provoke your thinking. 

That’s your job as a coach, if you want to support high-performing, high-fee clients. You see, the wealthier, more successful and more intelligent your clients, the more they need someone in their lives who can see what no one else can see – and who is brave enough to say what no one else would dare to say. 

Love. Rich  


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