The corridor of the convention center was crowded after my speech, when a man stepped directly in front of me, stopped, and asked the question I am frequently asked, "Why did you become an expert on simplicity?" We laughed together when I answered with one word, "desperation."
Some time ago I notice that for me to be as orderly as I wanted to be, I needed to concentrate. It wasn't something that came naturally. I also realized that for me to be as successful in the marketplace as I wanted to be, I had to simplify. So I became a lifetime student of simplicity. And one of the keys to success is to simplify your life.
But how do we simplify? The key is to clarify your thinking. When you are thinking at your best, you automatically discover how to gain the simplicity you want. The sharper you keep your thinking, the easier it is to simplify. And there are two powerful ways to sharpen your thinking. Keep your mind sharp defensively by using the techniques that clean out the five viruses that limit thinking power. And keep your mind sharp offensively by reading inspirational material or what I call "wisdom quotes.' They're great for the mind.
The psychological theory behind the five major types of compulsive behavior was developed for therapeutic applications by Tabby Koehler, a brilliant psychologist in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Koehler found, and I have also observed, many people operate in limited modes of thinking, 50 percent to 90 percent of the time. When people are functioning in these modes, they do not think well. It's like a brain virus.
When you're pressured, you're more likely to fall back into these limited or compulsive ways of problem solving and operating. Dr. Koehler chose the following highly descriptive titles for each of these five types: Hurry up. Be perfect. Please. Try hard. And, be strong. Although most of us operate in each of the five at some time, most of us engage in two more frequently. As I describe all five viruses and the reinforcements that reduce each one, be thinking which ones relate to you the most closely. You'll probably identify with one or two of the viruses. If you don't recognize the ones you slip into, just ask the people around you. They will be able to give you some good ideas. And also be thinking which two or three reinforcements will benefit you the most.
The first virus is "hurry up." People who operate with a "hurry up" virus constantly rush. Sometimes it's necessary; sometimes it's not. They rush to meet deadlines; they talk fast; they finish your sentences. They may ask two or three or four questions before you have time to answer one. They feel their schedule's so full they are rushing all the time to meet their commitments.
Here are some reinforcements to reduce the "hurry up" virus: I do first things first. I know where my time goes. I track how long I spend on tasks. I set mini-deadlines rather than only one big final deadline. I plan how to get to appointments early.
The second virus is "be perfect." People who engage in the "be perfect" virus waste valuable time on trivial or marginal matters because they feel they must perform every task perfectly. "Be perfects" also have difficulty admitting a mistake, and they waste time defending it or trying to cover it up. They document explanations for the mistake rather than admitting it, correcting the error, and moving ahead.
In their personal lives, people operating from a "be perfect" seek perfect relationships. They spend considerable time searching for the ideal man or the ideal woman; however, at the first sign of clay feet on their latest idol, they leave. They feel compelled to find someone else. Since ideal men and women are rare, if not impossible, to find, their search is never-ending.
People playing "be perfect" roles often postpone completion of a project because of their compulsion to do everything perfectly. Scientists and engineers often exhibit this behavior. They may work on a project for six months and compile enough data to produce 90 percent of their findings, but they'll feel compelled to spend another 18 months perfecting that last 10 percent.
Here are some reinforcements to reduce the "be perfect" virus: Every day I have fun, deliberately doing something imperfectly. I skip the perfectionism on things that don't contribute to my objectives or yours. I am willing to learn from people, even those who are not perfect. I listen. Rather than waste time searching for something, I find an alternate, a plan B.
The third virus is "please." Do you often say yes when you want to say no? If so, you've probably caught the "please" virus. "Please" types often have the best intentions in the world. They don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. They hate to give bad news. They want to avoid damaging anyone's morale. Therefore, "please" types frequently don't say no often enough, and they overcommit themselves. They say yes to so many people that they are not able to deliver all they promise. They wind up disappointing others and hurting themselves.
The "please" types also expect others to please them without asking for what they want. They have unfounded faith in hinting. And they say, "He should know what I want. I shouldn't have to tell him."
Here are some reinforcements to reduce the "please" virus. I ask directly for what I want. I smile and tell people I need to check my calendar before I can give them a good answer. I practice saying yes to the person and no to the request. Every day I make sure I have five or six things written on my calendar that I am going to accomplish. Every day I do something toward what I most want to accomplish.
The fourth virus is the "try hard." People who function from the "try hard" virus get the Saint Bernard award. Give them something that needs trekking through the snow and persisting, and they will do it. Too often, however, they trek through the snow when they don't need to. They often do a lot of sighing. They often talk about how hard they have worked. They often have two vertical lines etched deeply between their eyebrows. Look into their early childhood programming and you'll usually find a parent who constantly reminded, "Well, at least you tried. That's what counts."
Here are some reinforcements to reduce the “try hard” virus: I keep myself focused on results by mentally picturing the successful outcome I’m working toward. I spend time planning and making sure I am working on the right things. I find a measure of success to work toward. I find ways to simplify every day. I get closure.
The fifth virus is the “be strong.” Traditional time techniques often work for the “be strong” mode. These methods emphasize discipline and unemotional evaluation. That’s meat and drink for the “be strongs.” The number one tool in their tool kit is more self-discipline. In fact, sometimes it’s the only tool. The person who’s a “be strong” and also has the first virus, thrives on traditional time books and programs.
The “be strong” types are often regarded as insensitive and unfeeling. They don’t believe on relying on others for help. They often don’t delegate well. They avoid any situation in which they might appear weak, even if it is something as simple as asking for directions after they have driven around lost for 45 minutes. “Be strongs” accomplish a lot, but they often pay the price. They waste a lot of their time and that of others because they don’t ask for help even when it’s appropriate to do so.
Here are some reinforcements to reduce the “be strong” virus: I am happy to ask for help. I pay attention to my feelings. I pay attention to the feelings of others. I give myself appropriate rewards. I give myself total time in for production and total time out for rest and recreation.
Now that you’ve heard about the five viruses that limit thinking power and the ability to simplify, ask yourself, which of these viruses relate to you? In fact, you may want to turn off this program for a minute and recall the names of all five viruses. If you have trouble remembering a couple of them, those are usually the ones you are in at this moment. Go ahead and use this experiment as a good indicator, but your knowledge of your behavior and the input from the people around you are actually the best ways to determine viruses to which you are most susceptible.
Keep your thinking sharp offensively by putting wisdom quotes to work in your daily life. This means reinforcement, listening to or reading the same thing frequently. You might ask, Why should I reinforce a wisdom quote over and over? I only read things once. The reason to reinforce is that because while our minds can accept something in one exposure, our hearts need to be bathed in this wisdom frequently for it to become part of our belief systems. For mind knowledge, once may be enough. For heart knowledge, reinforce a number of times.
I started doing something like this when I found a little black book the size and thickness of a stack of credit cards. It contained the proverbs of King Solomon. The leather binding, the thin paper, and the ribbon bookmark first appealed to me. Then the wisdom captivated me. This reading has given me powerful insights into preventing problems, building better beliefs, managing money, and enjoying more fulfillment. I read one of the 31 sets of Solomon’s wisdom quote each day when I’m having that first cup of coffee or just before I go to bed.
Whatever your system, add to your clear thinking each day by reinforcing wisdom. Remember, one of the biggest secrets to enjoying more life in your time is to simplify, simplify, simplify. And the sharper your thinking, the easier this will be. And by affirming this direction daily with wisdom quotes, you’ll reap the reward of King Solomon’s advice: Get wisdom and you will have a bright future.