There is No Recipe for Success

In case you run out of time to read this blog, a writer for the Guardian pretty much summed up everything I’ve said or am going to say for the forseeable future:

Spoiler alert: here are the secrets.

  • Get up at 5am;
  • commit to an exercise regime;
  • practice mindfulness and time management;
  • nourish your body with wholesome foodstuffs;
  • dress professionally;
  • set personal goals;
  • schedule quality time with loved ones;
  • declutter;
  • breathe.

So now that you know that – and now that I’ve said it, in many different ways – why are we bothering with talking about it any more?

We Are Not Cake.

“My work…it’s all about the ‘things that get in the way.’ I’m not about the ‘how-to’ because in ten years I’ve never seen any evidence of ‘how-to’ working without talking about the things that get in the way.”
– Brené Brown, the Gifts of Imperfection.

That’s why I’ll keep talking about it, and why I’m skeptical about the efficacy of things like simply emulating the Morning Rituals of successful people in order to become successful. Derek Sivers, in a recent podcast with Tim Ferriss, talked about how he’s started a list of things that people should simply do – without the pesky necessity of understanding the why or the burden of experience.

I’d heard great things about Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. But 450 pages about the history of food? Eh…Then two years later he wrote “In Defense of Food”. It sounded like a tighter argument at 250 pages, but… eh….Then he wrote “Food Rules”, a tiny little book that compresses all of his advice into 64 sentences. Hell yeah!

It takes only 30 minutes to read, with succinct advice like “Eat only foods that will eventually rot.” and “Avoid food products that make health claims.” Each point has just a few sentences of explanation. That’s all I needed, because I already trust him.

Compressing wisdom into directives — (“Do this.”) — is so valuable, but so rarely done. It feels arrogant and imperial to tell people what to do. Who am I to order people around? On the other hand, who am I not to? It’s useful to people, so do it.

I understand – it’s tempting. Unfortunately, that feeds right into the illusion of control – the idea that everyone starts with the same “raw materials” and if you mix them just right, heat them this much for this long, ding! out comes an identical success story – just google “recipe for success” and you’ll see just how far we’ve taken this metaphor.

Fortunately for us but unfortunately for personal development “gurus”, we are not made of flour, eggs, and water. There far more variables to each of us both by nature and by nurture to have any “sure thing” work out. Even brute-force experiments in Skinnerian behavior modification are only somewhat successful – and at a cost that makes it not worth it.

This is why I don’t believe in “The Morning Ritual”, I just believe that it might be useful to have “A Morning Ritual.” I also believe that meditation is likely a useful part of that morning…not because it’s going to automatically turn you into a great person, but simply because it will give you the space to figure out what you need and want.

I wish we could just all subscribe to Blinkist and get all the information we needed for perfection – as Mr. Sivers, put it, “if knowledge were all that were needed, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” Instead, though, I will share what Brené Brown calls “the stuff that gets in the way” – with the hope that together we can figure out how to get past the obstacles, maybe helping a few other people along the way. I also think that the way an idea is expressed or conveyed makes a difference. You can get people to imitate behavior, but I’ve got to believe that it’s going to work better if it’s coming from internal motivations rather than external.

What do you think? Do those kinds of directives work for you? I have to think it’s a case-by-case basis – so let me know what your case is!

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