The best way to predict the future is to invent it. - Alan Kay
This works both ways, both from empowerment and disempowerment.
At one location where I worked, there was a guy who, before he even finished new hire orientation, said he was going to set every performance record at that facility. Everyone looked at him like “who does this jerk think he is?” Then he did it, both personally and his recruits/hires created programs which hadn’t even existed there before. The same guy used to say, “I WILL be 260lbs by end of winter,” and then he’d blow up in size and strength precisely as predicted. On the other side of it, he’d say, “I will be 5% bodyfat by end of summer;” and then he would be.
People say, “this work environment is going to destroy me.” Then they’re defeated and exhausted. They say, “with upcoming stress, I won’t be able to __________ .” Then they aren’t. They say, “this system won’t let someone like me get ahead in the world.” And then they don’t.
No magic. Some call it self-fulfilling prophecy. Some call it manifestation. Norman Vincent Peale called it “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Napoleon Hill called it “Think And Grow Rich.” Paulo Coelho called it “The Alchemist.” Rhonda Byrne called it “The Secret.” A scientist like Alan Kay calls it invention, innovation, engineering, creation.
Sure. Life goes sideways. The unexpected perturbs your plans, your desires, your commitment. This is not a new human experience, by the way. Every person you’ve ever looked at in awe or whose achievement you revered had a road with many pot holes. Maybe they didn’t even have a road, when you do. Maybe they didn’t have a scholarship, when you did. Maybe they didn’t have a single helping hand, while you’ve had many.
I used to roll my eyes too. I still do, when someone talks “can do” versus “can’t do” attitudes. But through coaching thousands of hours I’ve found another sneakier “can’t do” attitude. It’s called “try.” Try? You’re going to “try” to make it to your kid’s school performance? You’re going to “try” to make it to work on time? You’re going to “try” to stress less? You’re going to “try” to eat like a grown adult?
I get it. We’ve promised before, only to find something in our way: traffic, road construction, sleep deprivation, overwhelm. We don’t want to break a promise again. So we “try” instead. But the loss of agency is palpable.
I enjoyed Precision Nutrition’s contribution to the coaching community. They put an emphasis on lowering the bar of sequential goals, such that “try” can become a thing of the past. The clients stop saying “I’ll try.” They change the language to “I’m confident I will.” Instead of trying to do anything, it’s a matter of committing to execution. We just lower the ask, so the imposition doesn’t feel too great.
It’s a solid tactic, but insufficient I’ve found. Additionally, there has to be an infectious change in the person’s worldview, a painfully high self-awareness about their self-sabotaging triggers. Then we drive in the opposite direction. This IS life invention.
Put it however you like: you’re the driver, the captain, the pilot. When you drive a car, do you “try” to avoid driving directly into a brick wall? No. You just don’t. Another driver might make it happen, but that’s incredibly unlikely and infrequent. If you’re a captain, do you “try” to avoid sailing through the harbor and running the ship aground? No. You just don’t. A technical malfunction might make it occur, but rarely. When you pilot a plane, do you “try” to not nosedive into a mountain? No. You just don’t. Conditions do make this possible, but seldom.
Even in the very rare circumstances which thwart an otherwise-uneventful drive, cruise, flight, there were MANY events leading up to the crisis. And at each checkpoint, we have the opportunity to lower risk and raise chances of success.
Likewise with any endeavor in life, there are inescapable tragedies and some unavoidable disadvantages. That’s doesn’t stop invention. The greater the challenge, the greater the inventor.