One of the most dysfunctional beliefs of successful people is our contempt for simplicity and structure. We believe that we are above needing structure to help us on seemingly simple tasks.
For example, as Dr. Atul Gawande reported in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, central line infections in intensive care units virtually disappear when doctors follow a simple five-point checklist involving rote procedures such as washing hands, cleaning the patient’s skin, and using a sterile dressing after inserting the line.
For many years, despite the checklist’s proven success rate, doctors resisted it. After years of medical training, many doctors thought that the constant reminders, especially when delivered by subordinate nurses, were demeaning. The surgeons thought, “I shouldn’t need to use a checklist to remember simple instructions.”
This is a natural response that combines three competing impulses:
- Our contempt for simplicity (only complexity is worthy of our attention);
- Our contempt for instruction and follow-up; and
- Our faith, however unfounded, that we can succeed by ourselves.
In combination these three trigger an unappealing exceptionalism in us. When we presume that we are better than people who need structure and guidance, we lack one of the most crucial ingredients for change: humility.
In my book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, I talk about the 20 bad (behavioral) habits of which everyone I have ever met has at least one or two of these to some degree. Many of these habits have to do with a lack of humility. None more so than my old favorite, #20, “an excessive need to be me.”
Every one of us has a pile of behaviors that we define as “me.” These are the chronic behaviors, positive and negative, that we think of as our inalterable essence.
For instance, if we’re the type of person who’s chronically poor at returning phone calls—we mentally give ourselves a pass every time we fail to get back to callers. “Hey, that’s me. Deal with it.”
If we are incorrigible procrastinators who habitually ruin other people’s timetables, we do so because we’re being true to “me.”
If we always express our opinion, no matter how hurtful or non-contributory it may be, we are exercising our “right” to be “me.”
You can see how, over time, it would be easy to cross the line and make a virtue of our flaws—simply because our flax constitute what we think of as “me.” This misguided loyalty to our true natures is one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behavior.
Change is possible when we recognize that this stern allegiance to our self-definitions is pointless vanity. When we stop thinking about ourselves, when we stop being so devoted to “me,” we can start behaving in a way that actually benefits others!
The lesson is this: the less we focus on ourselves the more we benefit. It’s an interesting equation: Less me. More them. Equals success. Try it.