When John called, he told me that he was having financial problems. He knew from his prior experience with me that I would be able to give him some insight as to what he could do to solve his problems. Since John lived 90 miles away from my office, he had to set aside an entire morning so he could travel to Peoria to meet with me.
When we met, John outlined a grim picture of his financial condition. In addition to owing several thousand dollars to the IRS, he had a significant amount of other debt that he was trying to manage. John was a solo practitioner, and he had one employee who answered the telephone and performed secretarial services for him.
When John and I finished discussing his financial condition, I asked him whether his wife was aware of all the debt that he had accumulated. He replied that she was not aware of the extent of his credit card debt, which exceeded $50,000.
We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of filing bankruptcy, and we both agreed that it would do more harm than good if he were to file. I mapped out a plan for him that included the development and implementation of a direct mail marketing system for his law practice. I chose direct mail because it was the cheapest and most effective marketing tool he could put into place in the shortest period of time.
I told John that his financial situation was like a burning building and that he had to act like a fireman and run as fast as he could toward the building to put out the fire. If he hesitated or ran away from the building, the building would be consumed by fire. It was clear to me that if he didn’t immediately take measures to deal with the raging fire that he was facing, it was going to consume and destroy his law practice and maybe even his marriage.
John left my office and never followed up with me. I found out later that his secretary quit and that he didn’t hire a new secretary.
Last month, I stumbled across a notice that had been published by the Illinois agency that disciplines lawyers for inappropriate behavior. The notice announced that John’s license to practice law had been suspended. I looked up the originally filed complaint and the final decision that was posted on the agency’s website. Among other things, John had collected money from clients and failed to follow through on performing services that he had promised.
You may have heard of Earl Nightingale (1921-1989), one of the founders of Nightingale-Conant, which later became the largest publisher of personal development products and success programs. Prior to starting Nightingale-Conant, Earl was a radio personality, writer, speaker, and author. He was known in the motivation and personal development arena as the “Dean of Personal Development.”
Earl’s most famous audio recording was The Strangest Secret. In that recording, Earl outlined the key distinctions between achievers and nonachievers. In a nutshell, Earl revealed that the strangest secret was: “We become what we think about the most.” Earl emphasized that (1) we are the product of our own choices, (2) we have total control over those choices, and (3) all our choices begin with what we think about the most.
The important element that Earl left out of his presentation was that most of our thoughts and choices begin with and are dependent upon our self-images.
A person’s self-image is a complex picture of who the person is, what the person believes he or she is capable of doing, and what the person believes he or she deserves. A person’s self-image is primarily developed by the person’s past experiences and the conditioning the person received while he or she was growing up. Ultimately, a person’s self-image defines and limits the possibilities the person sees for himself or herself and the choices the person is able to make for himself or herself.
I’ve written before about how most of our foundational beliefs about religion, politics, money, work, family, etc., were formed in our minds during the first six years of our lives. Along with those beliefs came artificial limitations that were imposed upon our self-images by those beliefs.
Even if we are aware of the limiting beliefs that we possess and how those beliefs may hinder our progress, there is nothing in our life experience that provides us with a process or system for changing those beliefs.
The lawyer that I told you about agreed with me that the plan I laid out for him was the correct course of action that needed to be taken in order for him to get control of his finances. Why did he fail to follow through on the plan that we agreed upon?
Why do most of us fail to follow through on our plans and goals?
Now that we’re into February, most people have already abandoned their New Years’ resolutions. While they may have had the intention to stick to the goals they set for themselves, their self-images may have limited and hindered their ability to make the choices that were necessary to move them in the right direction toward the accomplishment of their goals.
What I should have mentioned to the lawyer, but didn’t think about at the time, was that there is a process that a person can go through to change the person’s self-image, which would then prompt the person to modify his or her limiting beliefs and make the right choices.
I’ll write about that process next week.