I grew up in a pretty conservative evangelical Calvinist “Christian” church and household. Thus, I learned to look at things in a very binary way.
Right/wrong. Black/white. Good/bad. Sin/not sin. Chosen/not chosen. Redeemed/not redeemed.
It’s an interesting way to grow up that doesn’t really hold up (IMO) once it comes up against the real world (outside of that line of belief’s safe bubble). I’m not here to debate religion though, so I’ll just say I haven’t been to church outside of holidays and when visiting family since 2014.
Suffice to say, I’ve done a lot of work over the last 15 years (starting with my first stint at the commune in Switzerland in 2006) and over that time many of my beliefs have shifted and with that have come major mindset shifts that now affect most of the decisions that I make.
I’ll admit too that one is only really able to have the space to think about these things once basic needs of food, shelter, and safety are met. Once these are met and you have skills that you can monetize either as an employee or self employed, mindset shifts are going to be the highest leverage thing you can have.
Today I am going to outline the five shifts that have had the biggest impact on my life and business.
Table of Contents
Shift 1: Scarcity -> abundance
When we believe that everything is a zero sum game and that in order to win someone else has to lose, we begin to adopt a mindset of protecting what we have. In my view, this accomplishes the exact opposite of what many of us want which is abundance.
Safety is important. I won’t debate that. We all deserve to be able to feel safe physically and psychologically, which also includes security around money and relationship.
Interestingly, a belief in scarcity serves us well until we get to the point where we are “safe” according to the description in the paragraph above. We *should* protect ourselves as much as possible until we’re at the point where it no longer makes sense to do so because we are safe.
Think about our hunter/gatherer ancestors. They ate what they could kill and gather, and they needed to store up as much as possible for the winter so that they could be confident that their stores would survive the winter even if winter ended up being longer than expected.
In our current societies and world though, it’s much more common that we have abundance rather than scarcity. This has changed a bit in the last few years as the Covid pandemic has driven scarcity in some industries and some common household goods. But even with that being true, when you look at today’s world versus the world even 20 years ago we have dramatically more abundance than before.
Once you accept this, you start to see that there is way more opportunity out there than we ever dared to believe before.
In business, the concept of a “zero sum market” is widely used but I believe it is completely misleading. I have not been able to find a single instance where there is only one company in a market that has customers and revenue.
Once we accept that, we see the bigger picture. Abundance abounds. Instead of everything being a competition, we start to see the opportunities to partner instead of just compete.
For me and my personal life, moving to an abundance mindset has meant that I am able to make better choices about where to invest because I see upside while also protecting the downside. When you have abundance, you have extra you can play with to take bigger bets.
I’m not going to go and mortgage my house to invest in Bitcoin. That’s not protecting the downside, which we should always do. Richard Branson has a good piece on that here.
But if I have an extra $10,000 that wouldn’t make that much of a difference if it was added to my ETF investments, should I put that into Bitcoin? Maybe. There’s upside there and I’ve protected the downside, so it’s pretty low risk if I am able to lose that and not feel it.
Shift 2: Derision -> curiosity
Let’s face it – life feels easier when it’s simple and we think we’re right in our beliefs. It is hard to change our beliefs, because once beliefs are cemented they become part of our identity and we build our lives around them. So changing our belief is not just about changing what we think. It has real ramifications for our lives.
I used to operate this way. If something didn’t make sense to me or challenged my worldview, instead of being curious about it I’d instead poo-poo it and dismiss it out of hand.
But as I’ve gone through life and been willing to engage with interesting and smart people, I’ve become much more willing to consider new points of view. I also form strong opinions of my own and have become self-aware of what those are and the broader principles in my life (trust experts, care about others, etc), but I try to not be closed off to new points of view.
Note that curiosity is not necessarily being willing to be convinced! Rather, it is a willingness to ask questions and learn more about something you don’t understand. It doesn’t have to be something that might shake your beliefs to the core.
Ramit likes to use the example of flying business class, which I think he learned from Tim Ferriss. Previously Tim’s perspective was “Paying for business class is ridiculous and such a waste of money!” His derision for business class was almost palpable.
But then he flew business class. His perspective shifted almost immediately and now he says that if he has an international flight for professional reasons he always flies business class because he can get a good night sleep, wake up refreshed, and be sharp for his meetings instead of being exhausted and jetlagged.
He would have saved himself so much pain, and not put himself at the mercy of Lady Luck to get upgraded one time to realize the benefits, if he has been curious about why people flew business class instead of deriding their decision.
Shift 3: Certainty -> confidence
I’m an avid reader (and newly a listener to audiobooks), and this shift comes from a combination of studying risk as well as listening to Annie Duke’s Thinking In Bets.
The world loves to ask for “proof” or “guarantees.” In fact, guarantees are a super strong conversion tactic when it comes to business. “Get $XXX in value or we’ll refund you 110% of your fee.”
This works in business not because of the guarantee, but because you are increasing the potential buyer’s confidence that they’ll get the value they’re paying for or they’ll get their money back (and only be out the time they spent).
Unequivocal proof is not a reality. But what we can do is see enough evidence that something works that we can make a good decision.
That’s not proof. That’s confidence.
And this is a much more honest way to view the world, I have found. Couple confidence with the concept of risk, and what you find is that when we are more confident in a decision we feel like there is less risk, and when we are less confident in a decision our feeling of risk is higher in equal share.
Many of us, myself included, go through life trying to reduce risk.
We wear a seatbelt because we know that if we get in a car accident we are much less likely to go through the windshield.
We buy car insurance so that if we are in an accident we are covered.
We don’t jump out of airplanes without a parachute (and for many, don’t jump out of airplanes at all).
We try to make good sound decisions that we are confident enough in that they’ll turn out how we want.
How we get to confidence is going to vary, but there are ways to do it.
For example, with investing we can look at the historical gains of the stock market and see that over long enough of a time horizon stocks go up on average 6-8% a year. If we invest $10,000 in the market, we can be pretty confident that in a few years we will have 6-8% more compounding each year. So historical performance can be a way to build confidence.
For me, the shift has been from “how can I be sure this will get me the result”, which is a losing question and all too often results in indecision (which is a decision in and of itself), to “how confident am I that this decision will get me the desired outcome?”
If I’m highly confident, I do it. If confidence is low, I do more research and if I decide to do it then I make sure I’m protecting the downside first.
Shift 4: Later -> now
This is actually a mindset that I have had for most of my life that has served me extremely well. In American society there’s a common theme of procrastination, of putting something off until another time.
I personally believe in doing something that needs to be done now, or scheduling a later time to do it. If something is going to take a lot of time and effort, I’d rather start earlier and work on it consistently over time to get it done when it needs to be done rather than cramming it all at the end.
In university, I was famous in my classes for always being chilled out about papers or projects that were due. I chose a major that only had projects, instead of tests, because I am bad at tests and knew that projects play to my strengths.
There was a coffee shop on campus that I frequented, and I would often see fellow classmates there right before class. I’d start heading to class a bit early (I am also a prompt person) and would often come across classmates who were scrambling to finish up their paper that was due to be handed in 10 minutes later.
I’d smile, because I knew I had finished my paper the previous evening at 8pm, gotten a great night sleep, and was confident I had done my best work because I had been working on it for over a week and had taken the time to go back through for editing and quality control.
It is amazing to me how planning something out and taking action now, or doing something when you notice it needs to be done (such as moving dishes from my office to the kitchen, and in the evening from the sink to the dishwasher) just keeps things under control and makes like less stressful.
Shift 5: Volume -> quality
Businesses love to talk about “more.” More leads, more traffic, etc.
In my opinion and experience, “more” is only useful or good when it maps to one thing – more revenue.
Let me illustrate it for you with this example. Which of these is better:
- I spend $3,000 and get 675 visitors, which is $4.43 per click.
- I spend $300 and get 516 visits, which is $0.58 per click.
Volume is similar. Per click on the first is a 8x the second. Which is better?
My answer to the question is “I don’t have enough data to know.” Reality is, it all comes down to what you’re optimizing towards.
If you’re optimizing to CPC because you’re just trying to run volumes of traffic, then the second is undeniably “better”. The Cost Per Click is lower.
But if I’m optimizing towards leads, then the answer might change. If I get 10 leads from the first one and 2 leads from the second, which is better? Suddenly it gets murkier. Those 10 leads could turn into 5 contracts, or they could turn into 0.
Point is, more of the wrong thing isn’t better especially when you’re also doing something like email marketing and storing those leads somewhere. Most ESPs charge on a cap to number of contacts, and generating a lot of unqualified “leads” could cause you to pay more to keep storing these unqualified leads.
We absolutely need enough volume to get to enough of whatever it is that feeds your business. But we have to move away from the “more” mindset and learn to focus on more of the right thing (traffic, leads, contracts, clients, etc).
You can always find someone to get you more of something. Just make sure it’s more of the right thing.