Too good to be great?

This is a favorite of Angie Youngblut, one of our longtime subscribers. It was originally published August 9, 2006. I think it’s a great message to share again in our first issue for 2014. If any of you have favorites you think are worth sharing again please let me know. Thanks Angie!

By Jim Whitt

Whenever I’m speaking I’ll ask the audience, “How many of you want to reach your full potential?” Every hand goes up. Now, I believe they mean it. They really want to. But I also know that when most of them walk out of the room they will continue to do what they’ve been doing and that means they will continue to live far below their full potential. Why? I think the answer is found in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great: “We don’t have great schools because we have good schools. We don’t have great government principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life. The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good — and that is their main problem.” He summarizes it in one sentence: “Good is the enemy of great.”

It’s just too easy to be good. We talk about living the good life. That’s code for complacent. We live in the most affluent time in history. We complain about the heat while we live in air-conditioned homes, drive air-conditioned cars and work in air-conditioned buildings. We eat out more than we cook at home. Life is good — too good. Too good for us to even think about great. So how do we go from good to great? How do we climb the ladder to the top of our potential? You have to build a new schema. Schema is the root word of schematic. A schematic is a structural or procedural diagram. Your schemas are constructed from your past patterns of behavior. They are intricately constructed neurological pathways through which your thoughts travel. Those pathways have been constructed to steer you around the road blocks of pain and send you full speed ahead to the destination of pleasure. If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, avoid it. The good life. Ah, but good is the enemy of great.

You come to the fork of your neurological pathway and one road leads to great but the other continues down the path of good. You want to take the path to greatness but you can’t. The problem is you’re addicted to the pain and pleasure which confine you to the path of good. The ruts are cut too deep. You lack the motivation to crawl out of those ruts so you just keep going down the good road.

You have to build a new schema to go from good to great. To do that you have to tap into the one motive that is unique to the human species. Purpose. We’re actually designed to do great things. You were created for a purpose and uniquely equipped to fulfill it. You have to know what that purpose is in order to build a new purpose-based schema. Purpose establishes the destination on the road to great. It takes time. You’ve spent a lifetime building your good schema (reward and punishment, pain and pleasure). Once your purpose-based schema becomes stronger than your reward and punishment based schema, you become intrinsically motivated. Studies show that our productivity and effectiveness increase by as much as 40% whenever we are intrinsically motivated. You have to be intrinsically motivated to go from good to great. As your purpose-based neurological pathways are strengthened you start crawling out of your good (pain and pleasure) ruts. You start climbing the ladder to reaching your full potential. Now you’re on the path from good to great.

Do you want to reach your full potential? Do you want to fulfill your purpose in life? Yes? Do you really mean it? Are you sure? Or is life just too good to be great?

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