Anything you can do, I can do better…

You can do anything if you want. Start by identifying the behavior needed for that.

Remember that old clichĂ© “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you”.

I’m probably showing my age here, but there were movies and songs about that when I was growing up. Check out “Annie get your gun.” One of the old classics.

My parents taught me that “If you set your mind to something, you can do it. You can do anything you want. If you fail, try, try again.”

Thomas Edison put out over 1,000 patents before the age of 21. We often quote him on his attempts to create the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And then he found the way that worked.

Here’s a question: At what level did Edison’s mind operate? Was it at the level of values, the deepest of levels? Or was his mind operating at the level of beliefs? “I can do it if I just keep trying. If I believe I can, then I can.”

And here are a few other questions: Was he born with that belief? Did this belief define his behavior? Or did he act in certain ways that defined his belief?

We know today thanks to neuroscience and our deeper understanding of how the brain works that in order to develop a belief we need to practice a behavior that elicits feedback. This feedback either encourages or discourages the behavior. When it encourages it, when it’s positive, the behavior gets practiced more, building and strengthening a positive belief. When the feedback discourages a behavior, then we learn to associate this behavior with a negative belief.

Let’s make one more thing clear here. Our values and guiding principles — the principles that we use to distinguish between right and wrong — don’t shape our beliefs. In fact, values and beliefs are thought to be the result of two separate brain functions, one leading to the other. Were you born with values, or were they nurtured?

Here’s how it goes. I develop a skill by practicing a behavior that reinforces my belief about my abilities without changing my values. For example, my values about honesty and integrity will affect my behavior in a context that these apply to. Yet these values were built by me acting in a certain way — exhibiting a certain behavior — and being either encouraged or punished for it. This feedback then gave rise to a belief and as soon as the belief was strengthened sufficiently, by me getting the same feedback every time I acted in this way, it became a solid value.

Highly competitive people who have consistently received feedback along the lines of “You can do better than them” hold a belief that they could always improve on someone else’s achievement or even their own past achievements. “Anything you can do, I can do better.” This could be challenging, not to mention tiresome (but that’s another topic for another day).

At the other end of the feedback spectrum is “If I believe I can’t, then I can’t.” That’s a limiting belief that people carry around in their heads and it prevents them from realizing their full potential or even acquiring something as simple as a new practical skill.

If we look deep enough into their past we’ll see reinforced negative responses to their attempts to do something. Repeated reinforcements that led to a belief that can be summed up as “I am a failure”, “I am not good enough”. “I’ve been told that over and over again throughout my life.”

So it’s not enough just to try something. It’s important to get the right feedback.

Perfectionism is another challenge some people have to deal with as a result of the wrong feedback. “I don’t want to be seen as a failure, so I shouldn’t do something I am not good at in case others see me as a failure.” These people spend their time over-engineering, over-thinking, and often won’t attempt anything new because of that.

In such cases I am reminded of an expression: “What other people think of me is none of my business”. Who cares what other people think of you, really? The only thing that matters is what you think of yourself. If you want to succeed you must fail first, take the lesson, learn it, and get back on your horse and try again. Because you just learned another way how not to do something.

By trying different ways, different approaches to a task, you will have eventually cataloged all — or most — of the ways not to do it. Eventually, you will find the successful approach. After all, that’s how Sherlock Holmes solved problems, by elimination. “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

So, let’s sum up. In order to develop beliefs and values one must first act on something. By doing something, anything, you elicit feedback. Behavior is where it all starts. You can’t develop any values or beliefs about anything if you never do anything. Behavior is the foundation.

If we want to develop, grow, or change in any specific area we need to identify the behavior that will get us there as well as the one that is failing to bring us closer to the goal. Cataloging these specific behaviors allows us to test them out. To find out what works and what does not. Approaching a new challenge with the understanding that there will be failures is key to success, along with persistence.

And here’s something else worth keeping in mind. In the pursuit of anything new, it is only by mere fluke that you’ll get it right first time. As a rule, it will take many attempts to succeed, whether it’s sports, business, invention, or whatever else you decide to tackle.

What do you think?

Through our work with behavior and AccuMatch, we remove doubt and self talk and just focus on the actions, actions that reinforce beliefs to get results.