Mind Shift #0:
Change Your Mind
“Some people are simply structured for failure.” I will never forget the moment I heard those words as I was driving through downtown Dallas listening to sports radio. Though the host was trying to explain what had happened the day before in the boxing world, the words have haunted me ever since.
Eight months earlier, Buster Douglas had erupted onto the boxing scene by knocking out the undefeated world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman before him, Tyson was a heavyweight who defined boxing for a generation. For fans of the sport, he represented the most devastating, ferocious, and terrifying fighter who ever walked into a ring. Tyson didn’t simply defeat his opponents; he destroyed them. Only two years earlier, he had beaten then champion Michael Spinks by knocking him out in the first round. Tyson’s last opponent before Douglas had made it only ninety-one seconds before a vicious left hook dropped him to the mat.
The fight between Douglas and Tyson took place in Tokyo, Japan, with Tyson a 42-to-1 favorite not only to defeat Buster Douglas but to render him unconscious. The outcome of this contest seemed inevitable. Except, of course, no one told Buster Douglas that it was impossible for him to win. After ten rounds of holding his own against the most dangerous man in the world, Douglas did the unthinkable. He knocked Mike Tyson out and walked away with three world heavyweight belts.
Now, eight months later, Douglas was defending his title for the first time against Evander Holyfield. He went into that fight overweight and out of shape, weighing in fifteen pounds heavier than when he faced Mike Tyson. In the ring, he was slow and sluggish, and he looked nothing like the champion who had defeated Tyson. For two rounds, Holyfield completely dominated Douglas. Then in the third, Douglas threw a telegraphed uppercut that was so out of control he lost his balance. That’s when Holyfield threw the counterpunch that knocked him out.
Douglas’s reign as the greatest heavyweight boxer in the world ended with him flat on his back, motionless, disoriented, and defeated. He retired after that fight and soon ballooned to nearly four hundred pounds, nearly dying from a diabetic coma.
The tragedy of this story is not that Buster Douglas lost his belt in the very first defense of his title. Neither is it that he lost to a superior fighter who would now reign as champion himself. The tragedy is that he didn’t even try. The theme of the fight was “The Moment Of Truth!” It could not have been more accurate. We do not know the details of Buster’s preparation—or lack of it. I remember hearing stories that he was seen at McDonald’s the day of the fight. And while that nuance might be apocryphal, what is undeniable is what happened in the ring. Success turned out to be the anomaly for Douglas; sadly, it was not his internal structure.
Which brings us back to that boxing expert, who in one brief moment opened Pandora’s box. Some people are simply structured for failure. The idea began to haunt me. Can a human being really be structured for failure? More personally, am I structured for failure? Have I consciously or unconsciously embraced mental frameworks that essentially destine me to fail? Can these frameworks be so subtle that they cause me to live beneath my full capacity or even lead to self-sabotage?
The answer is an ominous yes.
But I am an eternal optimist, so instead this epiphany flooded into my brain like morning sunlight. If my mind can be structured for failure, then it can also be structured for success.
This is the premise of every chapter in this book. Within all of us, there are mental structures that not only shape our thinking but shape us. If you believe you are incapable of learning another language, you likely will be bad at languages. If you believe people never change, you will never change. If you believe you cannot succeed, you will fail. Researchers have even found that the level of physical pain you can endure is mostly in your head. These mental constructs have more to do with our failure and success than any external factor. It doesn’t matter who your opponent is when you step into the ring. If you are structured for failure, a lesser foe will drop you to the mat.
Fortunately this works the other way as well. Your mental structures can unlock untapped potential and unleash unimaginable capability. I have witnessed this many times. Your body can heal from a traumatic injury when your mental fortitude pushes you through the pain of therapy. You can overcome setbacks that would be insurmountable for others when you believe that you are unstoppable. You will surpass expectations and confound your doubters when you are convinced that hard work is more important than talent. There is an ancient proverb that tells us that you become your thoughts. Your thoughts are the road map to your future. If you transform your thinking, you will transform your life.
I’ve spent my life trying to change people’s minds. In a way, it’s ironic. Everyone knows that you can’t change anyone’s mind except your own. But I’ve given my life to the mission of helping others become the best version of themselves. I love watching people grow, change, and achieve what they previously thought was impossible, and I’ve done this in dramatically varied contexts.
I’ve spent four decades working as a social entrepreneur, community developer, and faith leader. For my first ten years out of college, I invested in people who faced extreme poverty and lacked formal education—many of whom were in street gangs and violent drug cartels. For another decade I worked as a futurist for universities and global organizations, designing strategies and degree programs that moved the institutions toward relevance. During this time, I traveled globally, consulting with thousands of leaders and speaking to millions as an expert on transformation and optimal performance—both personally and organizationally. For the last decade, I have dedicated a significant part of my life to coaching and advising high-capacity entrepreneurs.
In the midst of all that, I founded a church in Los Angeles called Mosaic. Our principal campus sits on Hollywood Boulevard, with additional locations and houses across the world. Our community’s average age is twenty-six and it is populated by what the media has described as the highest concentration of industry artists in the world. Every week approximately twenty thousand people access messages focused on their spiritual well-being and personal transformation.
Identifying, developing, and optimizing talent has been the unifying theme in all of my work. One thing that’s become clear to me is that really good people can make really bad decisions. The kind person forfeiting their dreams while waiting on friends and loved ones to affirm their new direction. The caring leader surrendering the future of her organization in an effort to keep everyone on board. The world-class athlete ignoring how his hyperfocus is crippling his relationships and stealing his happiness. The highly successful entrepreneur trying to fix his marriage as if it were a business. The person who has always performed for the approval of others discovering that they lack the resilience required to master the skills of their craft.
Though we may sense that we have a recurring problem, we are blind to the patterns of thought and behavior that create the same problem over and over again. Knowing how to help people break through their self-limiting beliefs and unlock latent potential has been the key to my personal success and the critical component in helping others achieve. That work has been as monumental as helping them find their life’s great ambition, or as simple as reminding them that when they walk into a room, they belong there.
I turn sixty-four years old as I write this book. Maybe it’s a function of my age, but the number one question I get when I travel the world is this: What would you tell your twenty-five-year-old self?
For the longest time, the question irritated me. Is that really the only thing people want to know? However, in retrospect, it’s a great question. What people are actually asking is: What can you see now that you couldn’t see then? What do you see now that we need to see? The fact that this is the one thing people seem desperate to know tells me that we all long to maximize the one life we have, and most of us don’t feel confident that we know how to do that.
Growing older, by itself, is no great accomplishment. Mostly it means I’ve avoided death so far. (That, by the way, has been no small feat. I have been close to death many times—facing down both gunmen ready to shoot and stage four cancer that had already metastasized—but that’s not the point of this book.) However, I’ve learned that, unfortunately, most of us not only avoid near-death experiences, we avoid near-life experiences as well. We almost risk for love. We almost pursue our dreams. We almost overcome our fears. We almost live the life we long for. We almost make the decision that would have changed everything. And then we get to the end of our lives and realize that we were so close. We were always just one choice away.