This article by Todd And Deb Duncan originally appeared on success.com (SUCCESS Magazine).
Kim was a wedding planner working seven days a week. She was a wife and mother to three young kids—one with Asperger’s—and she was missing out on their lives. Between client meetings, events, paperwork, errands and household obligations, Kim was constantly on the go. Each of her children had full schedules as well, and she found herself being pulled in a million different directions at once. She felt anxious, exhausted and constantly behind schedule.
Kim’s story is one we hear all too often. From burnout to a sense of overwhelm to hopelessness, the symptoms of lack vary from person to person. But they all signal the need for something more—more happiness, more health, more wealth. And the secret to gaining all three of these is the same. It’s the secret of Er.
Er is any adjective that describes something you want more of in your life. Most people want to be wealthier, happier and healthier. What they don’t realize is that the secret to getting more in your life rests in amplifying an Er already in your life. It might be that you need to risk bolder, dream bigger or connect closer. If you’re a business owner or leader, it could be that you need to be clearer, franker, kinder or steadier. In your personal life, it may be time for you to step out and be braver, stay committed and be stronger, or be vulnerable and be barer to those you love.
The secret of Er is a decision to reject your old, acceptable ways of living and working that are creating unacceptable results. Nothing changes until something changes, and, as Kim learned, one change can change everything.
For Kim, the true value of the changes you make through Er are emotionally healing, and not just financial or material gain. The secret is a strategy for whole life happiness and fulfillment, and it can (and should) impact every area of a your life—spiritual, relational, financial, physical and mental.
So, why do we get to a place of such lack in our lives in the first place? There are four reasons:
1. Bad tapes: Many of us continually play bad “tapes” in our heads, and they become the voices we hear the most. These negative beliefs echo in our minds until we believe the ideas that say we will never succeed. What we say to ourselves is a predictor for how much Er we will get—at a certain point, we must say, Enough is enough, and become willing to change.
2. Clarity: Sometimes we lose our passion. Our purpose becomes fuzzy. We become passive and procrastinate any real change. Without a clear vision of where we want to go, we can’t possibly get more of what we want in life.
This was Kim’s problem. When she started as a wedding planner, she loved the time freedom it offered her and enjoyed working events. But as her schedule became more hectic and after becoming a mother, she discovered that she no longer had the same passion for her business.
3. Lack of observation: Benjamin Franklin once said, “The eye of the master will do more than both of his hands.” When we don’t stop to truly analyze what new efforts would drive our desired results, we get stuck in a rut of unproductive action. We just throw brute force, time and money at a problem or goal without really thinking through and observing what specific changes would make that goal a reality or that problem go away.
4. Absence of faith: Often, we know what we should do, but we don’t apply the effort because fear has taken over. We feel a deep uncertainty about whether or not we will be able to achieve it. Fear must be replaced with faith, which is partly defined as the assurance of things hoped for in order for new and proper action to occur.
The good news is that no matter what got you into the rut, the way out is the same. Here are four critical questions you can ask yourself and then apply to any situation, goal or problem to unlock the abundance of Er in your life:
1. What do I want, and where do I want to go?
Crank up your dreams! If you are not dreaming, you are declining. Your best days are ahead of you if you’re clear on where you want to go. We have a Dream Board that illustrates 13 areas of our life in which we want more Er. It’s 3’ x 4’ and we stare at it four to five times a day, ordering our actions around those key areas.
2. Why don’t I have what I want?
Take off your rose-colored glasses and decide what’s unacceptable. Get honest! Your unacceptable list is the most powerful list you can create. Life will tend to give you what you tolerate. If you are not willing to “stop” something, there is no value in beating yourself up for those negative results.
Kim was routinely missing dinners, baseball games and church with her family. Finally, she stepped back, drew a line in the sand, and said, “That’s unacceptable.” In doing so, she unlocked the opportunity for new behavior and new results.
3. How clear are my plans, and when will I start and finish?
Break it up. Define your problem, situation or goal, and decide mandatory daily steps that, once taken, will move you in that direction. Then determine “by when” you’ll get it. Here’s the key: If you don’t put a date on your dream, you won’t have the discipline to drive to that destiny. Every day, without fail, do the next step.
4. How is my progress, and do I feel a payoff coming?
Most people are not willing to be uncomfortable or make the big tradeoffs to get the things they say are important. Pay the price. The pain is short term—the payoff can last a lifetime. Commit daily to whatever it takes to ensure progress, small or big. Your rule of thumb should be, It’s never a matter of if, only when it’s going to happen.
For Kim, this meant going back to school. She knew that to change careers, she would need more education. So she cut back on a couple days of work and committed to studying those days. By sacrificing her income for the short term, she invested in long-term payoff.
By unleashing the secret of Er, six years later, Kim has her B.A. and master’s in Special Education. She teaches only when her kids are in school, freeing up time and energy for her family. And she feels fulfilled in her career, which offers her the opportunity to help other families.
Once you have more Er, the real secret is how to keep it. We all know how to start a new habit, but the hard part is staying consistent. Practice these strategies and your Er will grow by leaps and bounds:
1. Dump and run.
Get rid of the naysayers in your life. No more drag-me-downs. Surround yourself with winners, people who can cheer you on and push you forward. Find support, in a coach, a therapist, a friend, a manager, a mentor. To get positive outcomes, we need to surround ourselves with and immerse ourselves in deep vats of positivity.
2. Hit control+alt+delete.
Don’t let setbacks stop or discourage you. The past can set you free. If you need a reboot, ask When was I at my best? Look to the past and ask, What made me great and how do I repeat that? Then don’t take your eye off your progress. Know that any setback does not define Er—it refines it. It keeps you focused on your increasing positive results. Shift gears, pivot and recommit to a new course of action as often as necessary and you will keep your Er.
3. Celebrate big time.
Be really, really, really proud of yourself. Saying I love myself has an enormous impact on performance. In her interview with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, Dr. Christine Northrup said, “You’d be amazed what turns your life would take for the better if for 30 days, you stared into the mirror and simply said, ‘I love you. I really love you.’” This small ritual 20 times a day rewires your brain and brings your inner soul and your worthiness alive. Find the victories as many times a day as you can. Love and reward you! Celebrate the small milestones, and you will achieve the big results.
4. Find your pigtails.
What are your pigtails? What is your core reason for everything? There is power in having a mainspring from which you derive significant motivation. One of our clients, Brian, discovered the secret of Er when his business was floundering. He applied the principles we laid out for him, and his business performance increased by 300 percent in 12 months. When we asked him how he stayed so focused on his plan, he simply said, “Pigtails.” Then he held up his iPhone and the picture on his screen was of his 8-year-old redheaded daughter in pigtails. That was his motivation. What’s yours?