Dr. Henry Jekyll didn’t set out to create a potion that would turn him into a maniacal lunatic half the time. That was the experiment going wrong. What he was trying to do was create a serum that would take all of the nasty, horrific parts of us – the parts that became Mr. Edward Hyde – and separate them. His thesis was that his chemical would, in fact, create a Hyde-like character, but that it would be a separate entity from Jekyll.
Why did he want to do this? In the book, he wanted to create his Mr. Hyde so he could kill it.
When we have fear, anger, malice, despair, or anything like it – we bury it. We hide from it. We push it down and fight against it. We think we’re stopping it from taking us over, but we’re actually giving it all of its power.
99% of all fears evaporate if you not only say them out loud but talk through the actual sequence of events you’re afraid will happen. If you allow your fears to manifest a little, you can see how weak they really are.
Then you can kill them.
Every month, ask yourself these three questions:
- What did you learn about someone else that you didn’t know before?
- What did someone else learn about you that they didn’t know before?
- What did you learn about yourself that you didn’t know before?
The only wrong answer to any of those questions is “nothing.” As long as you have any other answer, every month, then you’re building a better life. Three questions at a time.
Sometimes you are the captain of a sinking ship. Or at least a damaged one. Things are looking grim, and the grim people are looking at you. How do you keep everyone looking upward and onward?
Here are the three things I like to remember:
- Small victories matter, and so does gratitude for them. When nearly everything is going poorly, gaining even a single yard of territory is a huge deal. You need to let people know that without qualifying it. Don’t say, “well, at least we got that, so good job I guess.” Cheer for your people like there’s no tomorrow. There might not be.
- Roll up your sleeves and contribute. If the ship is sinking, people will listen to just about anything you say if you say it while bailing water yourself. There are tasks that simply don’t make sense for you to do in the times of plenty, but in the lean times, anything can serve the purpose of putting you where your people need you – in their hearts.
- Don’t Panic. Advice so good it spawned a sci-fi empire (and earned a permanent spot as a tattoo on yours truly). Exigent circumstances don’t change what actions are valuable. Adapt as much as you need to, and not an inch more – 95% of what you normally do is still as good as it ever was. Keep people at their normal tasks, take the time to remind them why those work, and don’t suddenly get frenetic with your oversight. If you’re responding to an emergency by micromanaging or making drastic and untested changes, you’re spiraling.
Look for each little win, fight for them yourself, and don’t panic while you do it. Every dark patch can be beaten with this.
When you first move into a dark space from a bright one, you can’t see. Your eyes need time to adjust to the darkness but eventually, they do. In fact, human night vision is incredibly good when it’s allowed to be; most humans can function perfectly well in nothing but starlight if they’re given enough time to adjust to the conditions.
When you first move into a bright space from a dark one, you can’t see – and you’re in agony. The sensory overload causes physical pain. You recoil from it. You squint your eyes, turn away from the light, shield your face. The very thing your eyes need exposure to in order to readjust is also the thing you fight to avoid.
The descent into darkness is gentle. At first you can’t see, but the world gradually fades into view as more and more detail reveals itself to you. The world comes alive, sharing secrets one by one until you’re wrapped in a new world. And that dark world has literally, physically changed you – your eyes are a different shape, different chemicals start firing out of your brain.
The world makes it painful to leave it. It wraps its shadowy arms around you and it changes you in such a way that makes it harder to leave it.
There are other kinds of darkness, and they do the same thing. It wraps you up and makes the light painful. The transition down was gentle and easy. The transition up is painful and hard, so part of you – maybe a big part – resists doing it.
The first glimpse of light can be so blinding and painful that you retreat even further down.
But you have to remember that your eyes adjust. In both directions. The light won’t kill you; in fact, it will save you. You just have to endure the temporary pain of the transition. Your eyes adjust. So does your heart.
One time when I was a kid I had a bicycle tire that kept losing air. I couldn’t get more than a mile before I had a flat, so I asked my dad about getting a new tire. Instead, he suggested I patch the one I had, but I didn’t know where the problem was. The leak was slow and there was no way to tell where it was, or so I thought.
My dad took the tire over to the little kiddie pool my sister had and held it underwater while he squeezed it. Sure enough, a tiny but visible line of bubbles rose from one spot in the tire. Once the leak was found, it was easy to patch, and I rode my bike without problems the rest of the summer.
Okay, so something isn’t working about your current whatever – your business, your sales process, your daily life. You may not need a complete overhaul if you can find the part that’s leaking. So do what my dad did – put it in a different environment.
In the open air, an air leak is hard to see. Underwater it’s clear as day. You’ve been living inside that process for however long, so it’s become air to you. Someone else who’s never encountered it might be like water. Run something new through the system.
Those weird little tests can tell you a lot. If nothing else, they’re great creativity spurs – put your mind underwater and see what bubbles out.
Most things don’t happen, most things that do happen don’t affect you, and most things that affect you don’t leave a lasting impact.
Your life is far more affected by the culmination of millions of tiny impacts than it will ever be by one giant event.
So you should spend very little time worrying about most things, and spend most of your time on things you like.
Sometimes, it’s okay to sacrifice pleasure to responsibility. It’s never okay to sacrifice pleasure to guilt.
Ancient people used to sacrifice goats to the gods, in order to get bountiful harvests. Modern people think that’s cruel to the goats. I’ll be honest: if killing a goat would actually bring you a good harvest, it’s a heck of a deal and you should do it. The problem wasn’t cruelty to the goat, it was needless cruelty to the goat.
Sometimes we’re backed up in our responsibilities and we say “I can’t do something I’ll enjoy because I have too much to do.” Okay, but if you don’t play with your kids, are you actually going to use that time to meaningfully make progress on your goals so you can play with them more in the near future? Or are you just torturing yourself because you feel guilty?
Only make sacrifices that mean something. Good trade-offs. Don’t just sacrifice out of penance. That gains you nothing but a dead goat and a bad harvest.
A colleague of mine led our group in a really interesting exercise. She challenged us to pair up and have constructive conversations with each other, with one person taking on the role of someone communicating a problem. The other person – the one listening and helping – had the restriction of only being able to use three words in their responses.
What a challenge! The exercise was fantastic, and broadly applicable even outside of my industry as a professional listener-and-helper. When you have to keep your responses to three words or fewer, you really, really listen. You pay careful attention. You think before you speak. You don’t speak over the other person. You don’t immediately try to “fix.”
These are all excellent things for anyone to do. There’s an enormous value in being able to restrict and control yourself when your instinct is to just vomit out as many words as you can think of. We try to sound smart via quantity more often than quality, and this is a good check on that.
You don’t have to artificially use “three words,” but the next time someone comes to you with a problem, challenge yourself to keep your responses to the bare minimum number of words that gives them a solid direction to go next and the space to do it. Watch the conversational magic unfold.
Try it out.
In an emergency, get the lights on first.
There was this young-adult, coming-of-age novel called The Hatchet that I read when I was a young adult coming of age. It’s about a teenage boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. He has a hatchet (a gift from his father) with him, and it proves essential to his survival. One of the most stressful parts of the book involves him accidentally dropping it in water and frantically diving into the dark for it, knowing that his survival is entirely dependent on it.
That part stuck with me. You need your tools.
Light is a tool. A clear brain is a tool. Tools are tools. The end result of a thousand disasters depends on you maintaining those things.
When the lights go out and your house is flooding, get light first. Light helps you fix flooding, but dry feet don’t help you get lights on.
I’ll ask this question of people who have already paid to work with me. They look at me funny.
“Not in money,” I say. “Time. How many hours per week do you have to dedicate to the work we’re going to do?”
They’ll shrug, and they’ll guess. “10?”
That’s a ridiculous answer. It’s meaningless. You don’t have ten hours. How do I know? Because even without having ever met you, I know this: in the last week, you absolutely did not sit around motionless for ten hours.
“Give me an example of something you did for at least ten hours last week, besides your day job.” Unless your day job is going to suddenly give you ten paid hours off each week to work with me, that’s not usually feasible. Most people can’t name any one thing they did for at least ten hours, besides maybe sleep.
So now they begin to see my point. Whatever your life is now, it has climbed like a hermit crab into the shell of your current schedule. If you want to change your life, you have to pry that sucker out. You have to cull whatever chronological cholesterol has clogged up your calendar. You have to be brutal.
Sometimes – very often, in fact – it actually does mean quitting your day job. You can trade hours for dollars almost anywhere, so if you’re not getting more than that out of your current job, why also allow it to block you from self-improvement?
If you’re so happy with every other facet of your life that you wouldn’t dream of doing less of those things – if all your non-work time is spent in enlightening pursuits or enjoyable activities with your family or great feats of altruism – and yet you’re still made miserable by the one black mark on your daily planner?
Then tear that page out, my friend. Start anew. On your way out, slam the door.