Every now and then, I get set on fire with a burning desire to figure it out. You know… Life, The Universe and Everything.
This is one of those posts. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to throw you into the philosophical deep end. I’m simply going to reveal the simple psychological formula shared by some of the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.
It’s the philosophy I try to incorporate into my daily behavior. Despite being “deep”, it’s also the most practical decision making strategy I’ve ever stumbled across.
Get this one thing, really get it, and you’ll rapidly transform your world. Indecision will vanish. Wealth, freedom and happiness will be yours. Really.
I was at dinner in Manhattan. My friends, seated around the table from left to right, were an MD redefining “empowerment” through charity, the CEO of a private jet company, an entrepreneur hellbent on revolutionizing the food industry, New York’s premiere General Contractor (renovator of insane apartment spaces) and the CEO of a trapeze school.
Sometimes, I have to pinch myself. Having friends like this is something I’m phenomenally grateful for and it makes last year’s journey to get to New York 110% worth it.
Inevitably, the conversation went deep.
We shared “the best advice”, trying to distill the ultimate, greatest and most profoundly useful suggestion.
Jonathan, the trapeze guy, talked about the secret to becoming the ultimate romantic. Nick, our jetset pal, talked Freedom. I mentioned “Perception is Projection”.
Then, James, our General Contractor extraordinaire (who, incidentally, destroys any pre-conceived perception anyone might have about a GC) threw down a thought-bomb of such magnitude… well, I had to write about it:
“If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.”
Jonathan chimed in: “…. and if you fear it, confront it.”
It may have been the plantain crusted sea bass, but this sounded (and still does sound) like the most profound principle for mindful living I had ever heard.
If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. If you fear it, confront it.
My hypothesis is that the majority of pain in people’s lives is caused by not following this principle. Assuming a baseline of internal integrity (that “doing good” feels good etc), this is the ultimate life principle.
It busts through every notion that distorts people’s view of the world and the decisions they make. It destroys the notion of “should”.
You should get a good steady and secure job.
You shouldn’t take so many vacations.
You should work harder.
Does it feel good? Because if not, the only should is this: You shouldn’t do it.
Now, this principle comes with a pretty major caveat or two. You need a built-in sense of ethics (hurting people shouldn’t feel good) and you need to be sufficiently psychologically “healed” – you need to be free of most baggage.
The obvious examples, like teenagers (who are a mess) and victims of sexual abuse (who tend to have baggage), should play with this principle carefully. Or, invest time and energy in healing, before embracing it.
But for those of us (most of us) who are in a pretty good place, following this rule can create wealth, freedom and more happiness than we ever thought possible.
Take a good look at your life and think about the things you do that don’t feel good. When did you decide that you have to do those things. Why? What motivated you?
One of the best examples at the dinner was the whole notion of parenting. So many happy young couples transition into Miserable-Parent-Mode the moment they see the blue strip on the test. Suddenly, by feeling trapped, they do things because they have to. They deny themselves permission to ask “What would feel good?”
What’s worse, is that in this example and many others, we forget to ask “How can I make this feel good?” about the things that we clearly need to do. Caring for an infant fits into that category.
Applied to business, this principle of applied hedonism becomes really interesting. Instead of looking at other people’s business models, trying to build the business people tell you that you “should”… you can ask yourself “What would feel good?”
Instead of building some kind of venture-of-misery, you might be able to create a business where the journey is just as much fun as the destination. Another strike against the Four Hour Work Week principle.
This principle, when applied as a decision-making mantra (“Does it feel good?”) will awaken you to the frequency with which you make decisions that, simply put, make you feel like crap. It will show you that the criteria you normally decide on are fairly bogus in the context of your overall happiness.
How many entrepreneurs are driven only by trying to impress others? Or to satisfy their inner voice (parent driven – let’s be honest) that whispers “Should, should, should”?
This new principle actively encourages a form of enlightened hedonism. Should that be a crime? Does reading this article make you angry?
Curious. For some people, even contemplating acting so “selfishly” raises a cacophony of “should-nots” – it’s scary! When did we become so committed to suffering in the service of our goals and responsibilities?
When did we decide we can’t do the things we need to do, without suffering? We like to think that martyrdom is a concept leveraged only by suicide bombers, but most entrepreneurs are crucifying themselves to their business goals, or the commitments thrust upon them.
Yet we chose to be where we are today. We’ve arrived at this spot as a result of the sum total of decisions (both conscious and unconscious) we’ve made in our lives. It’s not an accident. We chose.
Which means we’re free to start choosing to do what feels good. If you have a life filled with commitments that feel miserable, it might take some time and energy to shift those. But it can be done.
My experience is the longer someone has been making decisions that don’t feel good, the longer it takes to reverse the process. It’s never impossible though. And it always happens faster than you think it will.
Does it feel good? Do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. If you fear it, confront it.
Apply this rule to your business interactions and you will win. Every time. You’ll crush sales opportunities, while pushing yourself into all sorts of new dis-comfort zones. The kind that feel fantastic to conquer.
You’ll also avoid interacting with your business commitments (taxes) from a place of suffering, martyrdom and misery. By not doing what feels bad, you’ll procrastinate on important things (taxes) until you force yourself to find a good, pleasurable way to do it.
You’d think it’d be impossible in the context of your health – except one of the weight loss coaches I know has built a business that revolves around this principle. And, applying this principle to exercise is the way that all the pros do it.
This applies to every sphere of life, but it’s the most important for entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs have this terrible habit of starting businesses in pursuit of wealth, freedom and happiness then rapidly painting themselves into a corner where they have access to none of those three.
It’s not okay. And it’s completely unnecessary.
Happiness is just a state. It isn’t a goal to be pursued. You can have it whenever you want. You can lose it just as quickly. Yet entrepreneurs with established businesses can be some of the most miserable people around. They sometimes joke (har-har!) about wishing they could just go get a job!
This happens to entrepreneurs who are consistently making decisions to do things that don’t feel good. Who aren’t confronting their fears and who refuse to find the goodness, the pleasure and joy, available in their lives.
If you ever feel like you might be one of these people, you can perform a full one-eighty. It’s simple. Ask yourself:
Does it feel good? (you know the rest)