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I had just finished speaking at an industry conference for 500 entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. As I was leaving the stage, a man from the audience rushed up and said that he wanted to hire me as his executive coach.
I asked him what he wanted to accomplish.
He replied, “Noah, I’m totally stuck. I’m only making $4 million a year.”
Naturally, I laughed — and told him that most people would love to be “stuck” at $4 million a year!
He said, “No, you don’t understand.” He explained that he owned a software company that had grown very quickly to $4 million per year in revenues. Yet for the previous four years, its revenues had not grown at all.
He told me that he had hired every big name “guru” and marketing expert to try and break through this income ceiling. In fact, he’d spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to fix the problem — yet even after spending all this time, money and effort, his company was indeed “stuck” at $4 million per year.
Since 1998, I’ve used the phrase head trash to describe why so many smart, hardworking entrepreneurs hold themselves back from the level of success they’re capable of. But what does it really mean — and how exactly does head trash stop you from making the money you want to be making?
Simply put, head trash is that voice in your head that says things like, I’ll never be successful. Why isn’t my business growing? I can’t do it because …
While the actual words that this nasty voice use vary from person to person, there are four distinct ways that your head trash is stopping you from making more money.
1. You hear that voice in your head that says, I can’t do it because …
And then you fill in the blank:
- Because I’m too old.
- Because I don’t have the time.
- Because I can’t afford it.
- Because I’ve made too many mistakes
- Because I didn’t go to college (or “the right” college).
- Because I don’t live in the right city.
- Because I’m a woman.
- Because, because, because …
2. You make yourself “right.”
We humans have a nearly infinite capacity to prove our own beliefs. Psychologists call this confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs.
For example, if you believe that you can’t grow your business because you’re “too old,” guess what? You’ll find ways to prove that you’re too old to grow your business.
If you tell yourself you can’t do it because you “can’t afford it,” you’ll find that you don’t have the money to do the things you want to do.
If you believe you can’t do it because you’ve made “too many mistakes,” you’ll keep beating yourself up forever.
3. You keep making yourself “right” by not taking action or sabotaging your success.
When you don’t take out your head trash, you’ll tend to do one of two things:
Not take appropriate action. The most common symptom is procrastination.
One thing I teach my clients is that procrastination is not simply “not doing things.” Procrastination is, specifically, not doing things that you know will be good for you.
The irony is, there are tons of articles online about “how to overcome procrastination.” Yet most of them ignore the basic truth: that procrastination is primarily a manifestation of making yourself (i.e., your head trash) right.
Sabotage your success. What happens when your head trash tells you, I can’t do it — but then you, um, do it?
Meaning, in spite of that negative voice, you actually achieve your goals?
Sociologist Thomas Merton coined the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” to describe “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.”
In this case, your self-fulfilling prophecy could take the form of sabotaging yourself in order to make yourself “right” — i.e., “See, I told you I couldn’t do it!”
4. Since you believe that negative voice and make yourself “right,” you either don’t take action or sabotage your success — which ultimately means you don’t get the results you desire in business or life.
Calvin Coolidge is said to have written: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
The crucial question, then, is: What causes persistence?
Persistence is a behavior that occurs when you believe in yourself and in your ability to achieve your desires. In other words, when you listen to the voice in your head that says, I can do it instead of the one that says, I can’t do it — it doesn’t mean you’ll always get everything you want.
Yet, it does mean that you will persist and not give up, in spite of the hurdles that life throws at you.
For example, remember that CEO who was “stuck” at $4 million in revenues? Two years later, his company had gone from being stuck at $4 million for the previous four years to more than $20 million in revenues.
The surprising takeaway is that it wasn’t marketing agency, customer service or financial management that was holding this company back. By his own admission, this CEO’s head trash was costing his company upwards of $16 million per year.
The question is: How much is your head trash costing you?
Whether it’s costing you time, energy, relationships or money, head trash can affect any area of your life or business. Worse, it’s often very difficult to identify our own blind spots — which is why most entrepreneurs need some help to take out their head trash.
Here’s a simple exercise to identify how much your head trash about money may be costing you right now, and a simple decision that can have a lasting effect on your legacy.
1. Write down five negative beliefs you have about money.
You may have dozens of negative beliefs about money (in fact, I’ve identified more than 85 negative beliefs about money that my clients have shared with me). But start with just your top five.
2. List how those beliefs are affecting your ability to make more money.
For example, if you believe, I can’t afford it, list all the ways that belief is holding you back from making more money. In addition, list the ways you’re either not taking action or have sabotaged your success because of those limiting beliefs.
3. Decide that you’re going to get rid of your head trash about money.
After doing this exercise, you may find that your head trash about money is costing you a lot more than you think.
That’s one reason that simply deciding, right now, that you are going to get rid of your head trash about money can be one of the most important things you can do for yourself, your loved ones and your legacy.