By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 20, 2014
This is a subject they don’t teach at Harvard.
What exactly is self-reinforcement?
It’s not just patting yourself on the back or telling yourself, “Good work, kemo sabe” (one of my own favorite me-to-me phrases). In the two examples above, we’re talking about self-reinforcement for actions we’ve taken that have not produced results and that may not for a long time to come.
This, of course, is the most important kind of self-reinforcement. It’s self-reinforcement at the Ph.D. level. It’s professional self-reinforcement.
Let’s review, from last week’s post, Nick Murray’s concept of “the game of numbers.” Nick is a guru to financial advisors, i.e. the investment professionals that you or I might hire to help us take care of our money, to be sure we have enough to get our kids through college or to see ourselves and our spouse through a possibly-multi-decade retirement.
According to Nick, the most important skill a financial advisor needs is the ability to “prospect,” that is, to make cold approaches seeking clients. This is a helluva daunting chore. It elicits in most individuals profound, monumental, excruciating Resistance. Many financial planners fail simply because they can’t make themselves prospect or keep prospecting.
Nick Murray’s answer: make X approaches a day, rain or shine, and evaluate your success only by the fact that you made the approaches, not whether they produced immediate results.
If you keep prospecting, says Nick, the Law of Large Numbers infallibly kicks in. It may take 500 calls to get one client. It may take a thousand. But if you keep grinding, you will get the clients. The law permits of no exceptions.
Your job, Mr. or Ms. Financial Advisor, is to keep believing. And keep making approaches.
And you, Mr. or Ms. Writer, your job is to keep doing your pages. And keep believing.
Which brings us back to self-reinforcement.
How do we keep believing?
What keeps us from quitting?
Let me make a non-overstatement:
Self-reinforcement is more important than talent.
I myself possess no massive abundance of talent. I’ll bet 90% of successful working artists would say the same. I can’t remember the last sentence I wrote that I didn’t have to twist, tweak, and twerk before I accepted it as ready for prime time.
But I can self-reinforce.
I can self-validate.
I’ve taught myself over decades.
Seth Godin’s famous mantra is “Don’t wait to be picked. Pick yourself.” The inner version is, “Don’t wait for someone else to validate you. Validate yourself.”
But let’s get more specific. How exactly do we reinforce ourselves? What is the arena of self-validation?
Its seat is upon the most barren, glamourless, nether sphere of our psyche—a monde perdu out of Dante or Milton. Upon this plain, no visored knight stands at our shoulder. No sun. No soundtrack. No audience.
There we stand, a twenty-three-year-old financial-advisor neophyte sharing a $750-a-month office suite with a secretarial service and not even a parking space. It’s seven-thirty at the end of a profitless day and we’ve just gotten off our fifth total-waste-of-time cold call to a soon-to-be retired dentist or a just-starting-out English teacher, both of whom have hung up on us or, worse, taken pity on our obvious plight and signed off with, “Good luck, buddy.” We turn off the lights, lock the door, and phone our spouse, telling her/him we’re on our way home.
This is the landscape upon which self-reinforcement dwells.
In this moment, can you say to yourself, “I made my five calls today,” and keep believing?
Can you tell yourself, “I did my day’s pages,” and hang onto your faith?
In the movies courage is usually depicted amid explosions and fireballs and epic Technicolor landscapes.
But the artist’s courage (and that of the athlete or the entrepreneur or the recovering alcoholic) reveals itself in a far less cinematic arena—a sphere that is silent, unseen and unheard, void of romance, and in which the artist/athlete/entrepreneur is profoundly, inevitably, infallibly alone.
Can you strive here and keep believing?