Itwas late at night, and I was laying in bed thinking about my day.
I spent the day leading a workshop for leaders and executives in Human Resources and People Operations. That workshop has evolved over hundreds of iterations into a program we call, “Mission-Driven”. In short, it is focused on creating the results that every company wants… a mission-driven culture that attracts and retains the best employees, executives, and ideas.
But “Mission-Driven” is not what you might expect. In fact, there was (and still is) one part of the workshop that makes MANY people uncomfortable. What follows is a short back-story of how the training evolved, thanks to advice I got directly from Tony Robbins.
When I first left the military, started a business, and then began delivering the talks and workshops that became Mission-Driven, there was always one part that made people very uncomfortable. It was this:
This is the number one individual challenge that every single person faces. If left unchecked, this problem will destroy a company culture from the inside.
Sound like a simple problem to fix? Not even close. As humans, we addict to everything, and we’re always at risk of becoming addicted to our EGO. If we always cater to ourselves, prove ourselves right, and fight to “win” at all costs over others… we’re in trouble, and it won’t be long until this neurosis spreads throughout the entire company. The Mission is based in Silicon Valley, where EGO runs rampant through most companies. It’s why employee and executive turnover at most technology companies is 12–18 months.
EGO can only be tamed through adversity. It’s only through psychological shocks followed by adequate recovery that we can tame EGO.
This is where the military and veterans have a lot to offer, teach, and bring to technology companies and every corporation that is looking to survive and evolve.
As veterans, we have faced adversity and struggle. We’re forced into a situation where we have only two options:
Post traumatic stress
Post traumatic growth
The technology companies and corporations that survive the coming waves of disruption and technological advancement MUST figure out how to engineer cultures that facilitate and embrace adversity. In short, they must learn how to encourage and engineer post traumatic growth.
When I first began delivering talks about how to engineer this, it made people incredibly uncomfortable, and for awhile, I could never figure out why. So back to that night when I was lying awake in bed. I spent the day encountering dozens of different EGOs who didn’t like the idea of adversity. They didn’t like the idea of giving up, moving past, or letting go of petty things. During that same time period, I had begun writing, publishing, and syndicating my work online. As anyone who has explored doing this knows, if you do it long enough, the coolest people and companies start reaching out to you!
When I woke up in the morning, I saw that Huff Post Live had reached out to me. They asked if I wanted to ask Tony Robbins a video question for his interview that day.
I knew exactly what to ask. I grabbed my phone and shot a quick video with the following question.
This was my question, and a question I’ve never heard Tony Robbin’s answer before:
“Whenever I work with groups, the real challenge seems to be getting people to unconsciously admit that there are solutions to their problems. Whether it’s other veterans or corporations, it’s challenging to get the focus to be on post-traumatic growth, instead of obsessing over all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. I know you’ve helped a lot of veterans and companies suffering from stress. What are some results you’ve achieved and how do you get people to embrace the concept of post-traumatic growth and the solutions to their problems?”
I sent the video to the Huff Post team, and a few hours later, they played the question on-air to Tony.
Tony’s response was on point. In it, he:
1. Illuminates the ego’s biggest addiction (we can’t fix something if we won’t admit the problem!)
2. Points the way to how individuals and companies can focus on post traumatic growth
3. Shows us how we can escape our ego’s biggest addiction
Here is Tony’s Response:
“First of all, I’m impressed. I can tell you’ve done your homework. Most people know about PTS, they don’t even know about PTG. So everybody understands what he’s talking about, you have to understand that, we’re all going to have extreme stress in our lives. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how rich you are, how many people love you, how many wonderful children you have, extreme stress is part of life. It’s only a matter of WHEN it’s going to happen. The difference is how we deal with it.
And so, we all have a choice. We can have post-traumatic stress, when I say it’s a “choice” it sounds avant-garde. If you’ve been in Iraq and seen things none of us have seen, you’re going to have PTS. But post-traumatic growth is what CAN happen. Research shows that if you do certain things, you can take the most painful things in your life, and you can turn them into muscle. It’s like if you can get through hell on earth, on the other side of it, a couple things happen. Number one: you know who your real friends are, cause they’re the ones that are really there. Number Two: you know what you’re really made of.
So I’ve worked with a lot of wounded warriors, and I’ve done films with them where somebody comes on stage and the guy is shaking; he’s got his eye glasses from light oversensitivity, and he’s got migraines. I was on CNN with one of them, and it took me about two hours with him to help him rewire himself so things can be done. But the biggest challenge I’m hearing you echo is, people don’t want to hear about growing, because… the biggest addiction we human beings have.. It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs, it’s not food, it’s not cocaine, it’s not pot, it’s PROBLEMS.
Because the deepest fear we all have is that we’re not enough. We’re not sexy enough, smart enough, rich enough, young enough, old enough, something enough, and we’re afraid that if we’re not enough, we won’t be loved… What I want to say to you though is, when that GROWTH happens, that growth will really happen if we give up our addiction to problems.”
Wow. The hardest part about Tony’s answer is internalizing how deeply and ravenously the ego seeks out and clings to problems.
The ego’s biggest addiction, and the #1 human addiction?
Now problems can be a great thing, but we have to look at each one we have as a challenge that can be solved. We have to look at them for what they are, sometimes horrible, but know that they always come with a solution. You can find those solutions, and trade your problems in for higher quality challenges. But whatever you do, don’t become that person who remains addicted to the same problems throughout your whole life.
When you start looking for this addiction in the real world, you’ll see it everywhere. Don’t be afraid to judge, as long as you’re able to turn the mirror back on yourself. Noticing, escaping, and transforming our problems isn’t something we’re able to do alone. Sometimes, you’ll need someone else (who knows you well enough) to point out solutions to your problems. When they do, the ego’s natural response is to hate them, because they’re coming in between you and your addiction. Often times, when we hate another person, it’s unconsciously because they’ve shown us a path out of our artificial, Westworld-host-like loop of repetitively seeking the same problems.
So what are three steps can we take to escape the ego’s biggest addiction?
1. Become a ninja at identifying problems.
Observe and scrutinize your own life. Examine where your time is spent. Do you acquire solutions? Or do you purchase and invest your time into reinforcing your problems? Are you acquiring technology that solves your problems? Or are you acquiring more (and better looking) distractions? Those two questions helped me start the process of getting clean (it might be a lifelong process). Now, when I acquire new things, or when I make purchases, choices, interactions, or new friends, I start to think in terms of, “am I just gravitating towards a problem in a new size or shape? Or am I moving towards fewer problems?”
The old business mantra of, “people buy solutions” is only partially true. I think that people buy things for comfort or to save time. But I also think that subconsciously, most people know that buying a steady supply of stuff ensures that they’re always mired in problems.
This habit of acquiring our problems through purchases gives us alibis (in perpetuity) and keeps us from doing work that matters. It also crushes the possibility that we’ll ever be able to find the time (or build the mindset necessary) to enjoy sitting alone in a room by ourselves.
One we learn to identify problems, the game will be to solve them, or trade up for higher quality problems that actually need solving.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” — Blaise Pascal
2. Go through the withdrawals and get clean.
The practice of letting go of your current problems is horrible, but as you push past the withdrawals and recover, you’ll find that the process gets easier. You’ll gain energy when you look back at who you were a year ago and realize that you are no longer addicted to the same problems.
Sometimes the greatest inspiration for these pursuits can come from studying others. It might sound mean to judge, but I don’t think that it is. Oftentimes what we see in others is a reflection of our own inner-state. So feel free to quietly judge others with uncompromising sincerity, but be aware you might be spot on, or you could be looking into a mirror.
When you notice others who have problems, the first thing you’ll spot are what look like solutions for them. Although you might be screaming with ideas to help, one has to be super careful for how they go about pointing them out. The art of presenting solutions to other people’s problems is a learned skill, and requires some finesse to do so in such a way that doesn’t result in a violent backlash. Until you are clean from your own addiction to problems, helping others is impossible.
Get clean first, and eventually your presence will inspire more introspection in others. It also appears that fictional stories, parables, and metaphors are the only safe way to carefully present others with solutions (more on this later).
“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that, you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”―Joseph Campbell
3. Transform your addiction for problems into a mindful hunger for challenges.
Another word for mindfulness might be awareness, or increasing the time delay between our impulses and action. It is a battle that you must wage, every single day.
The simple place to begin is to watch your desires as they arise. Are they useful? Not useful? Do they bring you closer to problems? Our desires can lead us from one mediocre problem to another. But, if we fight for awareness, we can find it, and move through the withdrawals into a place where we become obsessed with seeking out challenges, solving them, and finding better ones to solve.
When you’re learning at a solid pace (and fighting to be mindful), your current problems will begin to lose their appeal. Your mind becomes content without them. Once you trade in your addiction to problems, and replace it with an addiction for mindfulness, you’re well on your way to inspiring others to get clean.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Being addicted to problems isn’t something we should feel shame about. The ego has a voracious appetite for problems, and it is always ready to cling and addict.
When you’re ready to identify your problems, let go and endure the withdrawals, and then mindfully seek out challenges…
…you will conquer the ego’s biggest addiction.
We all struggle with problems, but if others can get clean, and find worthwhile challenges, then you can too.
The ego’s biggest addiction is one that you wield the power to escape.
Face it, fight it, and escape.
Thanks for reading. I’m a veteran turned founder of The Mission. We offer Mission-Driven for the best technology companies and corporations. During the Mission-Driven program, you, your team, and your company will learn how to:
1. Incorporate leadership lessons from the military
2. How to create a culture that solves problems instead of clings to them
3. And how to create a culture that embraces post-traumatic growth
If you enjoyed this article, let me know in the comments! If you want to help fight the worst parts of EGO, and the human addiction to problems, please share this article!