The Common Denominator of Success plus the Science of Forming Habits
By Bob Davies
Six hundred members of the California Assisted Living Association made their way into the main ball room at the Hyatt Regency in Orange County, California for lunch and my 45 minute keynote speech titled, “The 1.2% Factor-How One Small Change Leads to Large Results”.
I was a bit apprehensive because of the time frame. I usually present a 90 minute program so I was challenged as a professional to deliver value in half the time. It’s rare that I have a local program close to where I live since I present all over the USA. I invited Jeff Golan, Regional Managing Director for Principal Financial Group to come hear me. I wasn’t sure if he could make it.
The program went off very successfully! The audience raved about the talk and only I know what I had to leave out because of the time frame. Breakout sessions followed 15 minutes after my program so I went outside where I had some flyers on a table and visited with those who wanted to speak with me. One of those was Jeff.
After the crowd dispersed Jeff and I found a quite place to chat. We talked about what he was in the beginning stages of building at PFG and what some of his challenges were. He explained how he already had a solid structure and system for teaching the advisor the “what to do and the how to do it” logical information. What he liked about what I do is that it is directed towards the most important issue, the individuals’ ability to form habits and to consistently do what they need to do to generate results. He promised to send me an old white paper, “The Common Denominator of Success” by Albert Gray.
A couple of days later an email with an attachment from Jeff arrives. I opened it expecting it to be some outdated boring what you can believe you can achieve type of stuff.
I am happy to say that this paper caught my attention immediately with the first quote:
“The common denominator of success-the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful-lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”
Wow! This was written in 1940 and it is still a core underlying necessity today! Albert Gray delivered this at the NALU annual convention in 1940. Remember National Association of Life Underwriters?
What I plan to do with this paper is to add some of the scientific discoveries of the 2000’s on forming habits to the wisdom of Albert Gray. I’ll first reveal some of the most profound statements from Gray in his address.
“I had become convinced that hard work was not the real secret even though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.”
In one of my presentations I ask for a volunteer to come on stage. I ask them to state a goal that they have such as increase assets under management. Next I ask them what they need to do to reach this goal. For the sake of simplicity let’s say prospecting. Next I ask them to tell me three things that might stop them. One, busy with current clients, two, need to prepare for meetings with prospects, three, not enough time.
Now it gets interesting. I bring up three of the biggest guys in the audience. Each one of them represents one of the three obstacles just mentioned. Two guys stand in front of my goal setter and grab his wrist with their outside hand and hook their inside arm under the persons arm and the third obstacle stands behind the goal setter and puts their arm across the persons throat. I instruct them to resist and not to let him break through.
Here we go the competition. A person’s desires and commitment to action versus their obstacles. The person tries as hard as they can yet they will not break free. I yell “work harder” yet still no results, the 3 obstacles are just too strong. (You can watch this in action on my website, www.bobdavies.com demo video).
This is a perfect example that hard work is not the key. I ask the audience, “Did he try? Did he try hard? Did you cheer him on? Did it matter?”
I do give a solution here. The solution is to accept that he does have limitations and obstacles and to negotiate. Even though he has to prepare for prospective clients, meet with current clients and has limited time, here is what he commits to do this week.
To highlight Albert Gray’s first point;
- Hard work is not the difference.
Gray also made this statement;
“Success is something which is achieved by the minority of men, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences. We don’t like to call on people who don’t want to see us and talk to them about something they don’t want to talk about. Any reluctance to follow a definite prospecting program, to used prepared sales talks, to organize time and effort are all caused by this one basic dislike.”
This is as simple as I have ever heard the core issue stated. We are going to avoid doing things that we view as being uncomfortable. It’s that simple!
There are a number of scientific experiments that clearly show this. Put a rat in a cage with a gate. Place food at the end of a corridor and open the gate. The rat runs up the corridor and starts to eat the food.
However, we don’t let the rat eat. Instead we place it back behind the gate. Next we place a metal grid on the floor separating the rat from the food. We also place a shock on this grid; it’s called a “shock grid”. We open the gate; the rat sees the food and starts to run over this grid. It gets a tremendous shock and instinctively retreats away from the grid.
Now we take the shock off of the grid but leave the grid. When we open the gate this time the reality is that there is nothing stopping the rat from reaching its goal. However, what will the rat focus on? Will it focus on the opportunity to get the food or the past painful experience with the metal grid? The rat will remember the shock and will never go over that grid again. This is called learned helplessness.
It doesn’t matter what the truth is. The only think that matters is what is the rat paying attention to? The rat has what is called a “cortical limbic loop”. This is a protective memory where the outer area of the brain associated with wants, needs and desires and is linked to the middle area of the brain, known as the limbic system, which is associated with emotion, fear, avoidance and threats to survival. Just the sight of the metal grid triggers the limbic area and the rat is in automatic avoidance.
We are genetically coded to avoid activities that we view as being threatening. Our instincts trump our intentions.
Gray goes on to state that the biggest producers also do not like to do this prospecting either. It’s just that they have a purpose and have formed habits.
“Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods. It is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one. Just think of all of the things you are willing to go without in order to avoid doing the things you don’t like to do.”
I couldn’t believe what a profound insight that Albert Gray had in 1940 that is as true today as it was then.
Again, Gray says;
“Every single qualification for success is acquired through habit. Men form habits and habits form futures. If you do not deliberately form good habits, then unconsciously you will form bad ones. He success habits in life insurance selling (and all selling) are divided into four main groups. Prospecting habits, calling habits, selling habits, working habits.”
Now the question is how do you form habits? I have the answer. This was helped by another 21st century discovery, brain plasticity. Go ahead and “Google it”. Isn’t that amazing? Google is now a verb!
Brain plasticity is the brains’ ability to form new neurons and neurological networks. A neurological network is a habit. In its simplest form it’s no more complicated than stimulus response. The alarm rings in the morning and off to the gym you go. You plan at the end of the week you execute your plan in those four areas as identified in 1940 by Albert Gray, it really is that simple.
A habit is a neuron that has dentritic growth to the cortex and to a structure in the limbic system called the amygdale. The cortex is the thinking and planning area of the brain and the amygdale is the emotional area. A habit also has dentritic growth to the hippocampus are of the brain which is now the wiring for memory.
The rat is hungry. It looks at the food but it has a protective instinct, a memory involving the hippocampus that links the metal grid with the amygdale as dangerous and to be avoided.
Humans have another layer to add to this. We use language to rationalize our avoidance and believe that the truth is that we were just too busy to make those calls.
I’ll end this by giving you a quick method to rewire your brain and form a new habit. Use behavioral contracts. Make one commitment to one activity this week they you are capable of doing but also know you won’t do unless you are held accountable to complete. Tell one other person that if you don’t take this action you will give them $100. You will instantly create a cortical limbic loop where the cortex, amygdale and hippocampus will view this penalty as the highest level of pain and instinctively compel you to avoid this pain by doing what you said you would do.
Yes it does take about 30 days for these dentritic projections to remain solidified and permanent so use this consistently and wisely and you will rewire your brain forming the habits you need for success. Albert Gray was absolutely correct even without knowing the science of it all!