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The only question that really counts

There are approximately 200,000 years between you and the first modern human.

Which means that you have around 10,000 ancestors who had to operate with extreme caution. 

You see, your ancestors lived risky, stressful lives in a world that was actively trying to kill them. 

Almost every one of them was deathly afraid of everything… for a reason. 

Almost every one of your ancestors (with the possible exception of your parents or grandparents) faced irregular food supplies, daily physical danger, disease, poverty, predators, high injury rates and social violence.

For most of human history, you could die from a single scratch. 

Your optimistic ancestors tended not to pass their genes on in the human gene pool. 

That dark cave looks fun. Let me see what’s making that growling sound…” 

Our crop yield was great. Let’s take a break from planting for a year…” 

Or even, It’s the 1920s and there’s nothing safer than the stock market. I know where I’m going to put all of our money…

We are biologically designed to be pessimists. 

For most of history it saved our lives.

Try telling this story to someone:

“It was a beautiful sunny day. A young woman was smiling, as she pushed her baby in the stroller. He was giggling softly. She heard a noise behind her and turned her head to the left as she began to push the stroller across the road… What happened next?”

More times than not, you get a dark, sad response. When I read that passage to my 7 year old, even he finished the story by saying, “She got crushed!”

We are hard-wired for pessimism. 

For most of history, pessimism kept us safe. 

But the fact is that if you’re reading this article, life is far less risky than for every one of your ancestors. 

Even successful, wealthy, intelligent clients default to scarcity thinking if they’re not paying attention. 

For top performers there’s a huge cost in not upgrading a pessimistic outlook on life.

Which means your job as a coach is to snap your clients out of scarcity thinking… 

Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better. Hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. – Jonathan Sacks

The upper-limit mindset

In the excellent book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks proposes that many people believe they deserve only limited happiness. They will sabotage themselves when times are going well and limit their happiness.

He calls this the upper-limit mindset and it’s a common obstacle on the road to success. 

Have you ever experienced a period of happiness and success but—something inside you tells you that things can’t last forever—so you create unnecessary obstacles for yourself in order to return to normal? That’s your upper limit kicking in.

We create upper limits because of some combination of 4 hidden barriers:

  1. Feeling fundamentally flawed — we feel undeserving or worthy of great success and happiness.
  2. Fear of disloyalty and abandonment — we fear that too much success means we will abandon our friends/family and we will be left all alone.
  3. Fear that more success equals a bigger burden — we fear the problems that success may bring.
  4. Fear of outshining — we’re afraid our success will make others look or feel bad. 

Gay suggests you practice talking to yourself. Since you are doing this constantly anyway, you may as well insert some positive ideas into your subconscious mind. 

He proposes you say the “ultimate success mantra” out loud to yourself every day—even though it’s a bit cheesy.

“I expand in abundance, success, and love every day, as I inspire those around me to do the same.”

The only question that counts

Look, the truth is that life still ends the same way for all of us. 

You won’t get out alive.

That’s not scarcity thinking. What it means is that there’s only one question that really counts—for you and your clients…

In the words of Mary Oliver: 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Love. Rich



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  1. Rich Litvin’s 1:1 Coaching Playbook: Learn my top 10 proven tools for coaching elite clients in this live training. Over 100 people joined me for our first live call – and all calls are recorded, so it’s not too late to join me…
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