Transcending the Cult of Average with Tom Davis #178

Aaron McHugh


Today, my friend and guest Tom Davis liberates our thinking by guiding us to a values-based operating system for our lives. We huddled in our ’74 VW Bus and talked about the pitfalls of living in a survival only mode. Tom is the Chief Positivity Officer of Leaders Elevate a leadership consulting firm living in Barcelona, Spain with his family. 

Tom Davis, Chief Positivity Officer and eternal optimist

About Tom Davis

What If People Could Instantly Become Their Best With A Flick Of A Switch? Lives Filled With More Inspiration, Courage, Motivation, Love, Compassion And Happiness? This Vision Of The World Is What Tom Davis Is Giving His Life To And The ‘switch’ Science Has Discovered Is Positivity.

Have you ever wondered why successful people rise to different levels than the majority of the population? What are they doing that the rest of us aren’t? What is the key to becoming a better leader, a more successful entrepreneur and a more inspiring friend?

As a Chief Positivity Officer, Tom has been captivated by how great leaders think differently and how they have learned to cultivate the power of a positive lifestyle into every aspect of their lives. Their neurology has been sculpted with the tools and principles that Tom has discovered in his research. Positivity is a powerful principle that can be taught and learned. It literally has the power to rewire the brain.

As a humanitarian, speaker and author, Tom Davis has twenty years experience as a CEO and Leadership expert (coach) to Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. He’s worked with major companies around the world and trained executives at Ingersoll Rand, Intel, Nationwide Insurance, Ficosa, Lear, Pfizer, Forest Laboratories, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth, Merck, and 3M.

He completed his Doctoral research in 2018 focusing on Positive Psychology and Global leadership development. He has written articles for over twenty-five national publications and is the author of five books; Fields of the Fatherless, Red Letters, Confessions of a Good Christian Guy, and two novels: Scared – A Novel on the Edge of the world and Priceless.

Tom believes in adventure and experience and currently lives that out in Barcelona, Spain, with his family of optimists who believe anything is possible.

Transcript of Transcending the Cult of Average with Tom Davis

What started as a conversation at our breakfast table became a podcast conversation in our 1974 VW Joy Bus podcast studio on Transcending the Cult of Average

WLP: Tom Davis, ‘the internally driven leader’ and an upside-down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need is what I see here on our scribble sheet. We were in the kitchen having a conversation, now we’re in our 74 VW bus.

Tom: Yeah, it’s very cool.

WLP: It’s your first time, right? On a bus.

Tom: It is.

WLP: First time to record.

Tom: I mean this is super unique.

WLP: Right, so here we are, recording an episode of ”Work Life Play” on the bus, and we’ve got some stories to tell about what it means to be human. What it means to show up wholehearted at work and in life, and things that get in the way. It was a rich-enough conversation that it felt worthy of ‘let’s hit record.’

So, you spent a lot of time with leaders globally. Your home today is actually in Barcelona, Spain, and yet here you are in Colorado Springs.

Tom: My old stomping ground.

WLP: That’s right, your old ‘hood. What you do, the conversations you have, are all centered around this idea of what drives us and what gets in the way. So let’s take it from there.

Tom: It’s actually how I got to Barcelona, but we’ll talk a little bit about that. Most of my leadership philosophy is built around this whole concept of not the ‘what’ but the ‘why.’ I spent so much of my life growing up in an environment that was really difficult. I didn’t know my real dad growing up and my mom left my step-dad around 7 times.

That created this way of surviving, and of seeing the world, that taught me I wasn’t important. That I needed to survive. I needed to perform. I needed to make sure that I was a good athlete and that I made good grades because I interpreted that then I was a good person.

All of us grow up with things we learn as kids; what’s important to us, how to stay safe. Then we find ourselves as adults realizing that many of those things don’t work very well. In trying to really answer some of the deeper questions of life, like who am I, why do I exist, and what’s my purpose in life, I really wanted to deposit my life into the lives of other people in a way that was meaningful and significant. That led me to help orphans all over the world.

I was a CEO of a nonprofit here in Colorado Springs, trying to get to the core of this issue of being internally driven. I guess a good place to lead off with is that most of the world is much more externally driven.

When you’re externally driven, you find your value based on two things. First, how other people see me and, in turn, how they accept me, like me, or love me. The more that I can perform in that aspect, the more that I can do whatever I need to make sure that I’m included and accepted, then that becomes how I see myself. The second is literally how well I perform. If you’re playing high school football, the way to get attention from the coach or the girls or your parents and the community is to score, right? If you have a great football game that means that you get all this acceptance, all this connection, all this attention.

That’s pretty empty, right? Of course, we live in a world now that promotes being externally driven. If I can have this perfect Instagram profile, and the pictures, and the trips on Facebook, then everybody looks at me and is kind of envious. The more likes I get (externally driven) the more I feel important and popular. Everything’s going against being internally driven.

And these devices, they’re a blessing in many ways, but they can become completely out of control and take over our lives more, and more, and more. Trillion-dollar companies basically brain hack us. They know what we want better than we do. They know what Netflix show we should watch better than we know. Amazon knows our shopping list better than we know it, and that’s just going to get more and more so.

All those externally driven things really fly in opposition to being internally driven. What I’ve learned is that being internally driven is key because then I’m defining myself not based on what others think, but by the most important things to me.

WLP: In this diagram that you have here, Tom, you have this upside-down pyramid. What was the term that you used?

The upside down pyramid External motivations like “Pay the rent” are at the top vs. Internally Driven motivations “Vision-Why I do what I do” are at the top.

Tom: The cult of average. When you look at it statistically, 95% of us in the world are card-carrying members of the cult of average. What I mean by that is we’re basing our lives on what other people want from us, what we’re being driven by, what we have to do, how many fires we have to put out, whoever is screaming the loudest. This is the typical person that wakes up in the morning and starts their agenda based on somebody else’s agenda.

One of the things I say over and over to leaders is that either you lead your life or somebody else will. When we wake up in the morning and grab our Facebook profile or our email automatically, our brains kick into our amygdala, which drives our cortisol and our adrenaline. Boom—we are right in the middle of the rat race. We’re starting the day not based on the things that are most important to us, but on these areas that I call ‘pay the rent’ areas, right? You have to pay the rent or else you get kicked out of the house, but ‘pay the rent’ has become a lifestyle.

A ‘pay the rent’ lifestyle is one that is based on living life for other people. It’s about paying the rent, paying my bills, going to my job, doing what everybody else tells me. What happens is, slowly but surely, I start to erode away. I start to disappear because the things that matter to me, my core values, the ‘why I do what I do,’ there is no time for them anymore. There’s no me because I’m just trying to survive.

That’s the problem with survival mode; all you’re doing is getting through the day. You go home and you collapse and say, “I was so busy working, but what did I actually do that mattered?”

WLP: You mentioned that I stare at myself, and this is a generalized statement about us in humanity. I stare at myself in the mirror every morning figuratively or literally asking the question, “do I matter?”

Tom: Exactly. That’s the essence of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Not to go into a bunch of technical terms, but Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is basically, what do we need as human beings to survive? At the bottom of that pyramid is food, clothing, shelter, and you move up through security. In our world, we have the answers to the vast majority of those. It’s the one at the top, this self-actualization, and it’s subconscious. So much of our information, 80% to 90% that goes on every single day, resides in our subconscious.

We’re not aware of the messaging that we’re getting every day. We’re not even aware of the thoughts that we’re saying to ourselves every day. We have this internal messaging system reminding us what aren’t the best things for us based on hurts and wounds and difficulties of the past, people who have let us down. It’s all fear-driven.

The number one driver of human behavior, Aaron, wouldn’t it be great if it was love? Love, connection. But it’s not, it’s fear. We’re fear-based. It comes from our biology, where we needed to be fearful to survive, but we don’t need that anymore. Now, we need to thrive. What ends up happening, whether we recognize it or not, all these things we do every day, the jobs that we have, the relationships we have, the decisions we make, the things we do in public and private, force us subconsciously to answer these very deep questions.

The core of that question is that when we wake up and look at ourselves, we’re asking ourselves, “do I matter? Is what I’m doing with my life making any difference? Is it significant to anyone? Would anybody notice if I didn’t show up today in my job? Does anybody really care about me when the chips are down and I don’t have anything?” This happened to me, quite frankly. I don’t have the reputation I used to have, I don’t have the accolades publicly that I used to have. Would anybody still care about me? How we answer that question is how we behave in our lives.

WLP: And how did you answer that question when that happened to you?

Tom: Well, I’m referring to one particular incident, but I think that I’ve struggled to answer that question throughout the course of most of my life because I thought the answer was to perform well. I had to be a good student. After a rough life as a teenager, I went to this school, that school eventually got my doctorate… I did all these performance-based things trying to prove that I’m somebody.

Some of it was healthy because my grandfather always told me, “Son, you gotta get your education because it’s something no one can ever take from you.” And it kept him from the front lines in World War II. I was doing it to honor him, but I was also doing it to try to propel myself forward.

The story I’m referring to is that when I was running this nonprofit, I had written four books on poverty and justice, and it was in the stages of all kinds of conferences and churches all over. Fantastic organization, fantastic work. I can’t imagine anything more meaningful than helping a kid who’s in abject poverty as an orphan to get into a university. All the programs that you’re helping to lead are doing that. It’s an incredible experience.

But, through a series of circumstances, I ended up leaving. It was kind of a fight, really, but it started with this values collision. I started asking these questions, “Who am I? Why do I exist? What’s important to me?” and I started to feel like I was gone over 200 days a year and getting on an airplane all the time. I loved the work, but I had this anxiety and turmoil inside. I loathed getting on the airplane and leaving my family.

One of the things that I started to realize is that I was basically leaving my family on the altars as I was out saving the world, and my family is one of my core values. I have five core values that are very, very important to me, that I base all of my decisions around. I want to look back and have created a values-driven life.

WLP: And what are they?

What five values do I live by? They become the core pillars of our Why (purpose) driving everything we do. Clarifying what I want, why I am doing what I am doing and where I am aiming my intentions, prayers, hopes, behaviors, decisions, habits and actions.

Tom: Faith and spirituality, family, freedom, hope, and vulnerability. I could talk for an hour on each of those words. Vulnerability, I got this from Brené Brown. Actually, it was the first time I ever heard this word because it’s not what I’m good at, right? I lived my life trying to hide my emotions, trying to pretend to be somebody I wasn’t, living in fear. Vulnerability, to me, is authenticity. I want to be real with people. I want to say the things I really feel. If I really care about someone, I want them to know that. But because of how I was brought up, I would just ignore those things; you don’t want to be vulnerable because you’re going to get burned.

When I started having this values collision that eventually caused me to leave, I got dropped like a hot potato by all of these people because I was the big speaker for orphans and widows, the advocate. All of a sudden my phone went from ringing off the hook to being completely dead. I was like, “Wow, have I based my life on something that was so externally driven, even in this world, I didn’t realize? Did it matter?”

Thank goodness I had a lot of people that had read my books and adopted, and of course, my wife reminded me about all those people’s lives that were changed because we ended up adopting two girls from Russia. I realized that there was value in it, but I found myself in a very empty and lonely place.

That’s what really caused me to switch into this motive of being internally driven, asking a different set of questions, and taking this pyramid that we were talking about and turning it upside down.

Instead of living to pay the rent and basing my life on what I thought everybody else wanted or needed from me, I started being internally driven to say what matters the most to me. How do I want to shape my life based on these things? It started with those five core values.

WLP: What is the experience of your life today now that you are internally driven and motivated?

Tom: That’s a great question. The first questions I try to answer are, am I true to my core values? Are the decisions that I’m making getting me closer to those things I value the most?

One of the lessons that I had to learn is that every time I say yes to one thing in my life, whether I like it or not, I’m saying no to something else. I and everybody else better be really clear about what we’re saying yes to because you want to be saying yes to the right things. What often happens in the cult of average is that people are saying yes to the wrong things. You’re so busy that when you get to the end of the day, you don’t have time or the energy to say yes to the things that matter the most to you.

WLP: Walk us through the cult of average, how it’s easy for us to live in that, and then walk us through how you live differently now.

Tom: So research says that if you win the first hour of the day, you win the whole day. If you lose the first hour of the day, the day’s gone. If I wake up and I start down that road of answering everybody else’s email, I kick into gear the survival instinct inside of my brain. Cortisol floods my system and I am off to the races, that cortisol stays in system four hours or more.

WLP: Which is a stress hormone.

Tom: It’s a stress hormone, right, so that’s why we live from stress to stress, to stress, to stress.

WLP: So I feel stressed all day because I’m starting the first six minutes of being awake by infusing my brain with cortisol, which then keeps me amped and keyed all day.

Tom: A hundred percent, and we’re addicted to it.

WLP: And addicted to distraction.

Tom: You have these trillion-dollar companies now that are experts at picking you apart, picking your brain, hacking you. Neil Harari just wrote a book about this, “21 Laws for the 21st Century,” where he talks about the danger of this. These companies know more about you than you know about yourself, and t’s just going to get worse with virtual reality and everything else. I get on this treadmill that I don’t even realize is running and I can’t stop. Unfortunately, people go two, three, five years, before they realize, “I’m in a place I never wanted to be.”

WLP: And I have no idea how I got here.

Tom: Right, I have no idea how I got here. And now I define myself based on how well I’m performing in these areas so I’m exhausted.

WLP: And now I’m depressed, anxious, lonely, despairing, and wondering, “Does my life matter and would anyone notice if I wasn’t here?”

Tom: That’s right. And I say no, it doesn’t matter. Then you take the work of other people, whether it’s Joe Dispenza or Dr. Bruce Lipton who says that 95% of our decisions every day are already pre-programmed.

We’ve learned old habits to protect ourselves, and then we just rerun that script every single day. When you combine those two with pay the rent and externally driven living, you are just…you’re in a hamster wheel.

The difference is that you completely switch your life. You take this pyramid and turn it upside down and you start to ask yourself different questions. When you wake up in the morning, you don’t touch your electronic device. You ask yourself a question that kicks in a different part of your brain, which is called your neocortex, which has problem-solving but also meaning and significance. What result do I want to create today?

Instead of answering what everybody else wants for me, I look at my own core values, my vision. Even if you do a sloppy job, clarify your values and your vision as much as possible. We live in a world where what’s important is what we do, right? What you do, how much money you make, what car you drive, how well you’re able to pay for your kids and chasing ‘what, what, what?’ The truth is we don’t really care what we do. We care about why we do it, right?

I watched a phenomenal talk on this by Simon Sinek, and he wrote a book called “Start with Why.” The best organizations and the best-lived lives start with this question, why am I doing what I’m doing? Because if I’m not answering adequately, then the ‘what’ doesn’t mean anything anymore. That gets into the idea that I’m not a human doing but a human being, and it’s who I am that matters. That is the core of what being internally driven is all about.

So, in the midst of this crisis and feeling like I had been abandoned by a lot of so-called friends, people who I thought cared about me, I started asking myself, how can I live a life based on being internally-driven and living on my core values? Our kids were getting older and in a few years we were gonna be looking down the road of college for several of them, so we decided, based on our values, on our family creating experiences together.

There was a Forbes article right at this time in my life and it was all about experiences over things. That we put all of our time, effort, and money into things. Really what’s meaningful and significant in the long run isn’t the thing, it’s the experience. That motivated me, along with all of that talking to you about being internally driven. We had the opportunity to move to Europe, and everybody told us it was a crazy idea. Everyone told us it would fail. You know, you’ve always got all these people telling you what they think. But we were so committed to our vision and our values and said, we’d have such an incredible experience with our kids through learning a new language and a new culture, getting out of our comfort zone and taking this huge risk. Even if it failed after a year, we’ll talk about this until we’re in our 80s and 90s, right?

The Cult of Average feel trapped in a constant struggle for survival, “Pay the rent” and rarely find time and energy to concentrate on their values, purpose (internal motivations) and are externally driven.

WLP: Yeah. Which we won’t regret that we tried, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’ll work. And isn’t that some of the gap, too? We were talking about my friend Carl Richards, and the behavior gap, this delta between my dreams and my behaviors on a daily basis. You as a family chose to bring those two together and live in the tension of uniting the dreams and vision and behaviors all at once. Even when we saw you in the fall in Barcelona, you’ve been there now for going on five years, it wasn’t a slam dunk, right? There have been challenges, right?

Tom: For sure. Challenges. You know, and I think that’s one of the things when you decide to make a leap like this, it’s a lot of uncertainty. But being internally driven means that you take that uncertainty and you look through a different lens first, right? So we all have a pair of lenses, right? I have these glasses, and whether we realize it or not, we wake up in the morning every day and we put on a pair of glasses. And the lenses of those glasses aren’t clear. We don’t just wake up for the first time and go, “Oh, what a wonderful world. I have no pre-judgments or biases.” No, these lenses that we look through are all coded based on our life experience; good things, bad things, positive things, negative things across the board.

One of the most powerful things I learned in my life is that when I put those lenses on—after I cleaned them through some soul work and some mental health work about things that have come from our pasts, which I think everyone should do to some extent or another— the first thing I was gonna see were my five core values. Is this decision gonna get me closer to living a values-based lifestyle? Is it gonna get me closer to my family?

WLP: Which is fundamentally a different set of lenses. It’s a different pair of glasses.

Tom: Totally.

WLP: Right? Because the wake-up, pay the rent, survive is very different than wake up, put on my glasses, win the first hour of my day, and look through what do I wanna create? What is meaningful and valuable to me? What am I saying yes to and, subsequently as a result, saying no to? And then, therefore, it may mean all that of all the shit I have on my to-do list, some of it probably doesn’t belong on the list in the first place. And then these big decisions, I was just listening to this book called “The Second Mountain” by David Brooks. It’s this fundamental idea that in the beginning, I was climbing the first mountain, and the first mountain was achieving my career. In your case, you said, I sacrificed my family to go on to save the world, right?

So from this first mountain experience, then we find ourselves either fallen off the first mountain, ejecting from it, being rejected from it, whatever it may be, and we find ourselves in this valley. And in the valley, in the Joseph Campbell, at the bottom of the hero’s journey with the death and rebirth, and where the dragons live, where we wrestle and reconcile with all of those aches and wounds and pains, then we begin to ask some different questions.

And that’s true for all of us. All of us have the first mountain, and some of us may still be living it, attempting to achieve ultimate success only on that first mountain.

Then on the second mountain, what he talks about is that we could begin to shape our lives around the things that are dear to us, most important to us. Then we begin to allow the chips to fall on the ‘what.’ The ‘what’ of our life begins to just say, let it be wherever it is. We’re gonna take a swing at Barcelona. We’re gonna take a swing at “now your career looks different.”  We’ll see what takes shape around our ‘why,’ which is very different than how our life takes shape around our ‘what.’

Actually, in this book, there is a chapter called ‘the Instagram life’. In this part of the book, he says, ”If you go to dinner with friends who are first mountain people, here is the substance of the conversation you’re gonna have. If you go to dinner with friends who are living on the second mountain, here are the conversations you’re gonna have.” They’re fundamentally different because the first mountain conversation is what is your job, what vacation have you been on? How are the kids doing? Are the kids succeeding? What school did they get into? How much are they getting paid? You know, are they making you look good as a parent?  Or, here’s the new shit I bought, right?

He said, “Second mountain people, are very different.” So he tells his story about going to dinner for the last five years with a family who takes in orphans. And he said, there are no less than 10 to 12 people there usually. And these are kids that are their kids or maybe foster kids, they’re taking them in or maybe they’re kids who used to live with them. But every Thursday night, they have the same exact meal. They sit around a table. The family, the mom, dad, they’re not wealthy. They’re hardworking people that go to bed tired and exhausted most nights, but they’re giving their life away.

And he said, ”What’s really fascinating?” He goes, ”I’ve had the dinner at the White House with politicians, with every top of the first mountain categories in life. But when I sit around and have dinner with these people on a Thursday night ‘the conversations we have is, ‘What are you grateful for?’”

Tom: Meaningful.

WLP: Meaningful.

Tom: Internally driven.

WLP: Internally driven. What is getting you out of bed today? What’s worrying you? What’s keeping you up at night? And he said, “to my left is a teenage pregnancy that’s just come up. Across the table is, ‘I just lost my job.'” But they’re engaged, back to your top five, through vulnerability, faith, freedom…

Tom: Talking about what matters.

WLP: It’s the stuff you can’t buy, that isn’t for sale.

Tom: One of the stories that stand out in my mind, packed with things about externally and internally driven, is a story of Boris Becker. So Boris Becker won the Wimbledon at a very young age, which, you know, you’re at the top of the top for tennis people. You’ve reached your upper echelon of success. And then he won it again, I believe it was several years later, and he tried to commit suicide after he won the second time. People came to him and said, “Boris, how could you? You’ve got everything.” You can imagine all the externally driven things, fame, fortune, money, attention, whatever it is that you could possibly imagine, and you’re young. “How could you commit suicide? How could you try this?” And he said this, which is haunting and very profound. I’ve never forgotten it. He said, ”I wish when I got to the top, somebody would have told me that there’s nothing there.” And that is the definition of an externally driven life.

What he thought is, “When I win this tournament, I’m gonna feel significant. When I win this one, I’ll have enough money to make me feel good about myself. When I win this one, then people are gonna like me and care about me,” all externally driven. And every time he got to that place, he was emptier and emptier and emptier. That’s eventually what being externally driven does to us. The only other option for us, and this is the beautiful thing, is when you wake up in the morning now. I’m not living for externally driven things. I’m turning on a different side of my brain, not my survival mode, not my cortisol and stress hormones. I’m lighting up the best part of my brain that releases dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin.

And those are neurochemicals that make us feel connected and make us feel loved and valued and appreciated and give us meaning and to the ‘why’ questions, right? So then I start to ask myself this, “What result do I wanna create today? Based on my values, based on the vision that I have for my life, I know I’m not gonna do it perfectly, but how can I spend enough meaningful time, focus on the things that matter, the people that are important?” Most of us don’t have clarity around, even what that looks like.

WLP: Well, you mentioned earlier that when we live in this cult of average, by the time we get to the part of our day where we would have some time and margin to actually consider these things, we’re exhausted and depleted. So we’re actually out of energy because we’ve expended so much of ourselves in the doing and paying the rent and the survival. We don’t actually prioritize our energy to even get to these questions, so people live in this vagueness of, “Well, I don’t know what my purpose is,” or, “I don’t know that my life is meaningful because it’s not, look what I didn’t do.”

As people are listening, what are some practical things we can do today, tomorrow to begin to slowly invert this to more of a values-based experience of the why? How do we even begin to have some clarity around big, gnarly questions, like, “Why am I here and what am I here to do?”

Tom: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, first and foremost, I take people in all my leadership processes through a values experience. Through a process of elimination, we take all these values and then narrow them down. It forces their brain to say, “Well, I like this, but I love this. This is what I deeply, deeply care about.” Basically, we have five core values that other values hinge on. I start reassigning meaning to myself based on how well I’m able to live out those values. And then I should ask myself, “How can I make changes based on these values?”

So first and foremost, values are the foundation of everything. Second, you start to create a vision. One of the other struggles for us is that we are more in love with our past than we are with our futures, right? I start thinking about all the opportunities I didn’t get and all of the hurt that people put on me in the past. So then an event comes to me and I’m telling myself the story of what happened in my past, right? When we don’t have a clear vision of our future, that just means that we’re stuck, and that’s why the ‘pay the rent’ just keeps paying the rent over and over and over again.

I need to clarify the picture of what this result looks like that I wanna create in my life. I have a really great book on this called ”Vivid Vision” and it’s from a business framework, but it’s the story of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and how the author of this book, who was the leader of that organization, created from nothing in that company to over hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in a very short period of time by creating a vivid vision.

What a vivid vision is, in our own personal lives, is to say, at the end of 2020, at the end of 2022, whether it’s a year out or three years out, what do I really want my life to look like based on the values that I really love and care about? If I could be doing anything, what would I be doing? How would I feel? Because you wanna create a feeling. It’s not just the what, it’s the why. I mean I can say I’m on the beach in Costa Brava, North of Barcelona, but why? What is that doing for me? I have to see that vision is me surrounded by those that I love with a table that’s, you know, 15-foot long. A kitchen where I’m cooking and there is laughter and joy. You want the emotion to be connected to that vivid vision.

That’s what I did when we were in Barcelona. After a year, we’d kind of spent out all our savings and now we loved what was happening. My kids were being transformed, but I didn’t know what was next. And so I started to create this vivid vision and say, “Well, what would it look like in a perfect scenario for me?” As I always say, there are two things I’m in love with, besides my wife and children and our core group of friends, and that was orphans and widows. That transformational process that takes place when the light bulb comes on from people and they move, like that hero’s journey, out of darkness into the light, that whole process. I love it. I just love it. And, for over 20 years, I’ve been a leadership consultant on the side.

So I created this vivid vision from Spain. Everyone will tell you, you can’t start a company from a foreign country but that’s exactly what I did. I did it because I had this vivid vision of what it would look like. And the vivid vision for me was this quality time with my family, where I could go and I could create the best leadership development content in the world. That’s my goal, right? The most transformational leadership content in the world, who deposit that into the lives of people who would have the light bulb come on for them and their life would never be the same, right? This would be a defining moment for them, this leadership process that they would go through. And I would be able to work for a week to 10 days a month doing leadership development that I love and then spend the rest of the time with my family living in Barcelona, enjoying the things that we love there, spending time with our friends on the beach, meaningful moments with each other that you can’t get back, and join my kids in the moment of life that they’re in and the age that they’re in. I created that vivid vision before it ever happened. It was like a pipe dream, right?

WLP: Well, it’s a superpipe dream, because, at the time, none of that existed. You just were over there licking some wounds from what the first mountain experience was like.

Tom: And out of money.

WLP: And out of money, living in a foreign country, where you didn’t speak the local language, right? Your kids were struggling even in some of their schooling experiences and friends, and you weren’t finding a lot of ex-pats around. One of the things that could get lost for people as they listen is that this could sound really easy for you. And I just wanna footnote it wasn’t.

Tom: It wasn’t. You know, back to the hero’s journey, there’s always a dragon, right?

WLP: Or a couple.

Tom: Or a couple. And that represents, you know, our fears and our own darkness. But here’s the beautiful thing about facing that dragon: the dragon’s protecting something. There’s gold. When you defeat the dragon, there’s gold on the other side. Now, you don’t necessarily know how you’re gonna beat that dragon and you don’t know what the gold’s gonna look like, right? But you’re there like St. George, the dragon slayer, to slay the dragon to save the princess and to capture the gold. That’s the real beauty of the hero’s journey, which is why if we don’t take risks and don’t step out and answer this cry of our heart,  then we won’t face the dragon and we won’t get the gold.

So in the middle of all that darkness, I was fighting the dragon, and when I didn’t have tons of money sitting in a bank account I couldn’t just live in Barcelona forever. You had to figure this out and you have to pay the rent, college, and what’s that gonna look like? Moving my kids to a foreign country and our community, what’s that gonna look like?

We just did these eight steps to your most amazing year ever, where you look at what are the wow moments? That’s step number one. What are the wow moments of 2019? You wanna pull all of that. Because what happens is we spent 365 days living our lives and then we don’t even squeeze the gold out of it.

Number two, what were the painful moments? The things that I don’t want to have to repeat again. When you go back and rehash what you did wrong, you learn from it, you don’t do it again.

Number three, what are things in my life now that used to be just goals, visions, or dreams? Because you wanna prove to yourself that when you focus on something, you can accomplish it. If you have a vision, you can find it. You will find a way if you focus on it enough to be able to achieve it.

Step number four, if I could accomplish anything in my life, what would it be? Where would I go? Would I travel the seven seas? Would I write a book? Would I create a leadership company? What is it? What would I do?

Number five, you really narrow down to what of those are my top goals and visions that I wanna accomplish in 2020?

And then number six, you write a paragraph of why it’s important for you to accomplish those goals. Why? Why does it matter? And then you create a strategic plan. What am I gonna need to do? What are the big things that I’m gonna need to do in order to accomplish this goal?

Number seven is that you’re gonna now change your lifestyle. I call this vital few. You’re gonna start to change the things that you do every day. So you’re gonna create a morning routine where you wake up in the morning and have your coffee, whatever. But before you touch your phone, before you touch the email, you start to look at your vision. You start to ask yourself, what are the most important things for me to accomplish today? What results do I wanna create and why do I wanna create them? And you spend time on those. You spend time in the beginning just envisioning and dreaming what it looks like, and you start making small changes.

I’m a big proponent of a 1% incremental change. You don’t need to make huge changes. I mean, I know us moving to Barcelona, that’s a huge change, but there are a lot of 1% changes that led up to that. I just wanna improve one thing today that’s different than yesterday. You wanna create a morning routine. If it’s your health, maybe you say I’m gonna do 25 pushups a day every single day this year. You’re telling yourself that you can do new things. You’re creating new habits. I call them trigger habits that then open the door for you to spend more time on these things that you want, your vision and your values.

Step number eight is that you wanna create an accountability group. Throw it out there on your blog or Facebook and say, “I am gonna write this book this year. Here’s the title of it.” You know, you get a mastermind group, people, their friends in your life, you meet once a month, once a quarter, holding each other accountable. You hire a coach. I mean, I coach lots of people and I’m holding them accountable for these kinds of things. But you have to find an accountability system and then you wanna create action immediately.

So I’m gonna create this morning routine tomorrow morning. Here’s what it’s gonna look like. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s creating something new that creates new neural pathways in your brain. It’s the science called neuroplasticity. And you’re creating new behaviors so that you can propel yourself into a forward movement where you have positive acceleration towards the things that matter most to you, which is your vision and your dreams.

WLP: Boom. I see. I knew this would be so good. So tomorrow when I wake up, what is my 1% incremental change? Walk me through some simple things I can do tomorrow to begin to bring these things to life slowly and then talk me through the grace I need to have for myself.

Tom: Let’s talk about what first that you need to do. Ask yourself this question, and I don’t mean to be morbid here, when I die, what values would I want people to say that I lived for? What values, what five values would be on that gravestone? Aaron McHugh lived for this, right? Just a little soul searching. Identify them so you have this idea of your five core values. Then you talk about what I call life pillars. What are the areas of life that are most important to me that reflect those five values? Typically people have at least five life pillars. They’re things like my faith and spirituality, my physical health and wellness, my professional life, my career, my finances, and my social life, my relationships, places I go deep, right? That would be an example of five. But what are the five that would be important to you or more?

So, in this case, we’re saying health and fitness. I have the value of my family and being the very best version of myself. I wanna live long for my kids. I wanna throw my grandchildren in the air, travel with them around the world, which is actually one of my vision statements and for my health and fitness. So here’s this big goal, or this pillar that I want for my life based on my values. Now, what are some things that I need to do in order to live a healthier lifestyle? To give you an example from last year. My health was horrendous. I hadn’t run. I used to joke I hadn’t run since I ran from the police when I was a teenager, which was true.

I decided to run a marathon. Now, this was way off in the vision. I’m like, I couldn’t even run a quarter-mile, much less 26.2. So I said, “Okay, there’s the big goal. Now, what do I need to do today?” And it was that 1% that I needed to do today. So that next day I went out and bought a pair of running shoes and a pair of running shorts, and I decided I’m gonna run a quarter-mile. I thought I was gonna die, right? But it wasn’t the running that helped create the habit for me. It was waking up, putting my shoes on, and walking out the door. And when I didn’t do it, I just got myself right back on that schedule again. I built that 1% incremental change from a quarter-mile to a half-mile. And I was just consistent.

So here’s something, Robin Sharma said this, and I love this truth, ”Consistency is the mother of mastery.” What you do every day is significantly more important than what you do once a week, once a quarter, once a year, right? So this is why people can’t hit New Year’s resolutions because it’s not consistent. One percent incremental change consistently over time yields massive results. So all of a sudden, that little quarter of a mile that I walked, ran, turned into a mile, turned into five. I ended up running the Barcelona marathon with a very dear friend of mine named Kevin Harrison, who challenged me to do this in the first place, but that started because I looked at my values. I created a vision of what I wanted, my health and fitness.

It was a big goal and I just started small. It’s the same thing in other areas of your life. I’m convinced that if you clarify whatever it is that you want deeply enough and you focus on it, your brain will find a way to achieve it. It’s something called reticular activation.

The story I tell about this, I heard on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, was a story by Scott Adams. Scott Adams was a nobody.

WLP: Who’s the creator of Dilbert?

Tom: You ruined my punchline! But he studied all this about the brain and vision, what we’re talking about, and said, “You know what I want more than anything in the world? I want to be a ‘New York Times’ bestselling author.” He had no connections. He couldn’t write. But, no less than 20 times a day, he wrote down or said to himself, “I am a ‘New York Times’ bestselling author. I am a ‘New York Times’ bestselling author.” Also, he added to that, “I wanna be one of the most famous artists in the world.” He didn’t know how to draw very well, wasn’t particularly talented.

So what happens when you do that as your brain goes, “Oh right.” You don’t go, “I want to be…”, you go “I am, I am” because you clarify what you want before you have it. Consistency is the mother of mastery. He said, ”All I can tell you, Tim, is that two and a half years later, I looked up, and I was a ‘New York Times’ bestselling author and one of the most famous artists in the world.” And that’s the power of reticular activation.

The cult of average focuses on the wrong things. When you’re externally driven, you focus on the wrong things. You become a professional firefighter. If you’re really good at putting out fires, you’re really good at handling emergencies. You’re really good at quelling whatever problem for the person who’s screaming the loudest. But you’re not very good at being internally driven, which is focusing on seeing your vision fulfilled, right?  So you flip that around and say, “All right, I’m gonna be super focused on the things that matter most to me. What I want, I can achieve if I focus.”

The more I think about it, the more it starts to be on my mind. My brain starts to carry that out in ways I have no idea. That’s how God created me, right? I’m a creator. Mankind is a creator. What we can conceive, we can achieve. Henry Ford said it best. “I think, whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

WLP: You’re right.

Tom: You’re right. So you focus on those things. That is as simple as I can say it. Find out what you want bad enough, put it in front of you, and focus on it every single day. Do one thing that gets you just a little bit closer every single day, and you’ll turn around in a year and be blown away at what you’re able to achieve.

WLP: The end.