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Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.

Earl Wilson

Life Coaching

Building Focus, Energy & Courage - to Make a Better Life for You

Learn Fast - Stay Stupid!


As I write this article, the switch-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has focused the world on the nature of reality and physical exploration.

The methods we use to advance understanding in physics, should be supremely logical, rigorous, and fact-based, but that is not generally the case. The Mark 1 Human Being is not built that way. None of us are. Not you, not me, and not Einstein. We rely on a whole bag of tricks designed to help us function in a world of hunter-gathering, starvation, and big toothy tigers. And some of those tricks don't serve us too well in the modern world.

Let's take a brief walk through physics over the last thousand years. Bear with me - this is relevant to you, I promise.

Large Hadron COllider - LHC
Large Hadron Collider

Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. He was a Mark 1 Human Being and a very smart man. He used his bag of tricks (one of the best bags of tricks ever to walk the planet), to look at the world around him, and he formalised his observations. Here's some of what he came up with.

Clearly, the world was composed of five elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Ether (wrong). A thing moves only when you push it (wrong - think of the Earth orbiting the sun), and a heavy object will fall to Earth faster than a lighter one of the same size (wrong - they would land together were it not for air resistance).

Aristotle's views were held as absolute truth for two thousand years.


Newton published his major work on physics, the Principia, in 1687. He thought the unthinkable. He unseated a vast body of knowledge (stuff we knew was true) that had gone before, including Aristotle's views on physics.

He looked at the world around him, and formalised his observations. Newton's laws are familiar to all school children even today, and they are accepted as truth because, for almost all human experiences, they accurately describe what we see. They were even used to put men on the moon.

Newton's views were held as absolute truth until the turn of the 19th century.


Einstein received the Nobel prize in 1921 for his contributions to physics.

Einstein overturned the gospel according to Newton, showing that matter and energy are interchangeable, and that space and time are not what we thought they were, and that even the concept of causality - the notion that events lead to consequences - is up for debate.

His bizarre theories have been born out by real-world observations, many of them made in labs like CERN.

But you know what? He's wrong too, as Steven Hawking and others have proved. We keep getting closer, but there always seems to be room for corrections.

What's To Learn Here?

Well, the history of human understanding has been characterised by long periods of established certainty, which has resisted and even ridiculed ideas which threaten it. Part of our bag of tricks, as human beings, is a need to feel that we understand things. There was never a time in history, when we were happy to say "Dunno!". Shamans knew, elders knew, and now scientists know.

Beliefs are Treasured - and Defended

If we didn't know (believe) that there were five elements, as everyone did in the two thousand years following Aristotle, then we might have been freer to observe that that could not have been true. It took Newton to do that for us. And it took Einstein to undo Newton's truth (beliefs), and so it goes on.

On a smaller scale, the same is true for each of us. We know what we know, and we'll fight to keep on knowing it despite evidence to the contrary!

If you've tried to help a friend before, you'll know how this goes. Even when a belief limits or damages us, we would rather cling to a bleak certainty than to uncertainty (also known as "ignorance"). You can pull your hair out with frustration as your friend fails to "see the obvious" or clings to some smaller, sadder option, when a bright shiny wonderful option sits there ready for the taking. Badgering seldom helps. Rational discussion seldom helps. This is why coaches don't give advice. It's not because they don't know what to advise, it's because it won't work. We have to find other ways to allow the client to approach new options willingly.

And you can be sure that you have a bunch of beliefs right now, which are limiting you. They are the elephant in the room. They don't get discussed or acknowledged. They are so much a part of your thinking - of you - that you don't see them, nor the corrosive influence they can have on your life.

I know I've said it before - more than once - but it's such a powerful idea which is re-enforced every single day I work as a life coach. Every single one of my clients says things which are not true - they're not lying - they believe what they say, but their beliefs are distorting their view of the world, and they can't help it.

The Technique

So here's a game for you to play, which I've developed as a tool to use with my clients. It's designed to loosen up your certainties. It's not a perfect tool because clients are usually too tenaciously blind to reap the full benefits, but it's still useful, and the price is great :o)

Give this exercise at least 30 minutes, and obey the steps to the letter. Imagine there's a big 'airy man standing over you with a shotgun. If you try to cheat, he's going to pull the trigger. Take it that rigorously.

  1. Write down a goal which you want but believe you cannot have. Use paper or, preferably, your PC.
  2. Write down the list of reasons why you can't easily have this goal.
  3. Now examine each of the reasons from the step above in turn, and ask...
    • Is it completely true as you have written it? If not, re-write it until it is, and if you can't do that - then delete it
    • Is it a show-stopper for your goal? If so, write down exactly why.
    • If it's NOT a show-stopper, write down the cost to you of tolerating this problem.
    • Write down your verification - how do you know what you wrote is true?
      [HINT - and verification with the word "just" in it is likely to be highly suspect].
    • Apply the two examination criteria above to your verification

Let me show you how this works, using something I've been working with someone on. I'll think out loud from her perspective.


I dream of supplementing my income by running special exercise classes for large ladies in my area.

I can't do that because:

  1. I am on tax credits and any more I earn would be worthless to me
  2. I can't see it working

[I'll stop with the list here - I'll use these items to complete the exercise]

Problem 1 analysis:

  1. I am on tax credits and any more I earn would be worthless to me

    Is it completely true?
    Yes. I have the paperwork and the bank deposits to prove it.
    Oh, but wait - as I have written it - it is NOT true.
    It would be worth l e s s - but it may or may not be worth nothing.

    So I'll re-write it to say:

    I am on tax credits and the first £2000 pa of whatever I earn would disappear as lost tax credits.

    Is it completely true?
    Yes, I have the paperwork.

    Is it a show-stopper?
    Well, I could still do it. I would lose the money, so I would not gain from it, but I could still do it,
    so no - it's not a show-stopper.

    So, the cost to me of tolerating this
    ... is that if I earn less than £2000 p.a. I will not make any money.
    So [does sums] - I would actually make about £3,500 p.a. all going well, which, after losing tax credits, means I would actually be £1,500 better off - and I would be off of tax credits!
    And actually, that would change my whole perspective on life
    - it's like losing that life ring is forcing me to swim, swim swim!

    Verification of analysis:
    It's an estimate based on reasonable numbers; it's good enough for me right now.

Problem 2 analysis:

  1. I can't see it working

    Is it completely true?
    Well, yes, it's true that I can't see it working..

    Is it a show-stopper?
    If it doesn't work then I guess the show stops.
    But the fact that it might not work doesn't mean I can't try. So no, it's not a show-stopper.
    So - I'm going to re-word this one too, to:

    It won't work

    Is it completely true?
    Well, it just seems like it won't work [DING DING DING - "just" alert!]
    OK - I'm not allowed to say "just"...
    [looks nervously at 'airy bloke with shotgun]
    No - it's not verifiably true that it won't work. Could you point that thing somewhere else?
    So... I have to delete it, right?
    This doesn't seem right somehow ... but OK, now I have an empty list of reasons I can't have my goal.


    I think....


I reckon that within your half-hour (maybe a bit longer), you'll have found some corker hidden beliefs and nonsense-thinking of the kind shown above.

You'll probably feel odd, and a part of you may actually be angry at having had the excuse ripped away, exposing you as .... my GOD - check out those big pants! ... Sorry, exposing you as being without any good reason you can't have your goal. You may still feel it's silly or pointless or not real - but at least you'll now know that you have no legs to stand on so you might want to sit down. More seriously, you may also feel more inclined to proceed cautiously towards your goal.

But then again - your sticky beliefs may re-assert themselves in the blink of an eye, and before you know it - you're back in front of the box. "Silly idea. Me? Teaching adults? Silly...".

This identical mechanism of self-defeating behaviour appears in my clients in all walks of life. It might be about leaving a tired career, moving to a sunny land, finding a perfect partner, kicking a destructive habit, or anything else.

In a coaching relationship I can be with my clients through this analysis (I guess I AM that 'airy bloke with the shotgun) and I can help them out the other side and keep them pointed at the issues until they've found the confidence and tools to get some real traction towards their goals. I'll have to leave you to your own devices, but I hope you can find some time to give yourself in trying this.

Cherish your stupidity - unlearn stuff often!


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