Don’t define success (do this instead)

With social media, you have no excuse for not knowing what people think. Head to a favourite platform, punch in a few words and see what happens. You can see what people ask the most, what questions other people think matter… really, there’s not a lot of human nature you can’t learn from the internet.

A recent foray into the mind of the masses was on the topic of success. I wanted to know what people thought about it, what strategies draw their attention and how they decide what sorts of success they should aim for.

An interesting side effect of studying hypnosis is that people don’t surprise you. Once you get in the habit of looking below the surface thoughts and finding unconscious explanations, other people’s behaviour makes a lot more sense. Every action, no matter how bizarre, has some logic at its core.

So when I say that their questions surprised me, you know I mean it.

The top questions weren’t about how to obtain success. They fixated on what success means. What is a successful life? What’s the difference between success and fulfilment? What does success mean to you?

These questions got great answers, none of which were of any use to anyone.

I mean, think about say. Say someone says that a good life is like good engineering – you’ve done it right when there’s nothing left to remove, not when there’s nothing left to add. Or maybe someone says it’s about making a difference in people’s lives. Okay, I can’t argue with those. But how on earth do you apply them?

If you’re stuck, how do these answers help? Do they provide clarity? Or do they raise further questions?

The answers don’t help because the questions are wrong. That’s not my opinion and it’s not subjective. Neurologically, the questions are wrong.

Your brain has two hemispheres – a left brain and a right brain. Any complex task or thinking uses both, but not in the same way. Each hemisphere specialises in different thinking styles. The left brain likes linear steps and precision. The right brain is more holistic and flexible.

Both styles are useful. Left brain thinking is perfect for procedures and algorithms – anything where you know all the steps and have all the details. The right brain would make a mess of these – it goes so far off script that it doesn’t even know what a script is. However, it’s great for situations where you don’t have all the information. It thrives on finding the best action amid ambiguity and confusion.

In a healthy brain, each hemisphere keeps the other in check. It’s not always a perfect balance, though. Engage one hemisphere and it can take a while for the other to reassert itself.

If you’re feeling stuck, it’s because you’re too engaged with your left brain. It’s trying to find the next step in the sequence. Guess what? There’s no recipe for your life. There’s no sequence or plan to follow. No matter how thorough you are, at some point you have to wing it. Life is too messy to plan – that’s why you have a right hemisphere at all.

The urge to define things comes from the left brain. It wants details, labels and information. It doesn’t know what to do, so it seeks clarity.

But it’s the wrong approach. Defining success does not take you a millimetre closer to it. If you want to thrive, you can’t rely on precision. You need to throw things over to the chaos-loving right brain.

Your right brain finds meaning in everything. If your right brain watches a leaf fall from a tree, it can trigger epiphanies that rock you to your very core. If your left brain dominates, though, then even a time traveller describing your perfect future will trigger only a ‘meh’.

All I can say is, thank goodness we have both hemispheres. Losing one – either one – makes life challenging.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised. Of course people who think about success with their left brain will ask left brain questions. They think the answers will help, but it’s more of the same trap.

What is a successful life? Who cares? You’ll know it when you see it. If something is close but not right, you’ll know it. Not by following a checklist and realising it doesn’t tick all the boxes. Your instincts will scream at you.

Don’t define success. You want less clarity about what it means, not more. Trust yourself. A dictionary cannot help you here. The only guides are mad prophets and blind fools. Learn to accept that. Learn to love that. There is no map through the fog of life.

What’s the best, most reliable way to activate your right brain? Don’t be surprised if I say it’s hypnosis. What most people call the trance state is a brain rebalancing towards the right. This is why it opens your mind and connects you to your inner resources.

If you are stuck, it’s because you’re thinking with the wrong mind. So start thinking with the right one.

Photo by PDPics at Pixabay