The Common Denominator of Success plus the Science of Forming Habits


Six hundred members of the California Assisted Living Association made their way into the main ball room at the Hyatt Regency in Orange County, California for lunch and my 45 minute keynote speech titled, “The 1.2% Factor-How One Small Change Leads to Large Results”.

I was a bit apprehensive because of the time frame. I usually present a 90 minute program so I was challenged as a professional to deliver value in half the time. It’s rare that I have a local program close to where I live since I present all over the USA. I invited Jeff Golan, Regional Managing Director for Principal Financial Group to come hear me. I wasn’t sure if he could make it.

The program went off very successfully! The audience raved about the talk and only I know what I had to leave out because of the time frame. Breakout sessions followed 15 minutes after my program so I went outside where I had some flyers on a table and visited with those who wanted to speak with me. One of those was Jeff.

After the crowd dispersed Jeff and I found a quite place to chat. We talked about what he was in the beginning stages of building at PFG and what some of his challenges were. He explained how he already had a solid structure and system for teaching the advisor the “what to do and the how to do it” logical information. What he liked about what I do is that it is directed towards the most important issue, the individuals’ ability to form habits and to consistently do what they need to do to generate results. He promised to send me an old white paper, “The Common Denominator of Success” by Albert Gray.

A couple of days later an email with an attachment from Jeff arrives. I opened it expecting it to be some outdated boring what you can believe you can achieve type of stuff.

I am happy to say that this paper caught my attention immediately with the first quote:

“The common denominator of success-the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful-lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”

Wow! This was written in 1940 and it is still a core underlying necessity today! Albert Gray delivered this at the NALU annual convention in 1940. Remember National Association of Life Underwriters?

What I plan to do with this paper is to add some of the scientific discoveries of the 2000’s on forming habits to the wisdom of Albert Gray. I’ll first reveal some of the most profound statements from Gray in his address.

“I had become convinced that hard work was not the real secret even though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.”

In one of my presentations I ask for a volunteer to come on stage. I ask them to state a goal that they have such as increase assets under management. Next I ask them what they need to do to reach this goal. For the sake of simplicity let’s say prospecting. Next I ask them to tell me three things that might stop them. One, busy with current clients, two, need to prepare for meetings with prospects, three, not enough time.

Now it gets interesting. I bring up three of the biggest guys in the audience. Each one of them represents one of the three obstacles just mentioned. Two guys stand in front of my goal setter and grab his wrist with their outside hand and hook their inside arm under the persons arm and the third obstacle stands behind the goal setter and puts their arm across the persons throat. I instruct them to resist and not to let him break through.

Here we go the competition. A person’s desires and commitment to action versus their obstacles. The person tries as hard as they can yet they will not break free. I yell “work harder” yet still no results, the 3 obstacles are just too strong. (You can watch this in action on my website, demo video).

This is a perfect example that hard work is not the key. I ask the audience, “Did he try? Did he try hard? Did you cheer him on? Did it matter?”

I do give a solution here. The solution is to accept that he does have limitations and obstacles and to negotiate. Even though he has to prepare for prospective clients, meet with current clients and has limited time, here is what he commits to do this week.

To highlight Albert Gray’s first point;

  1. Hard work is not the difference.

Gray also made this statement;

 “Success is something which is achieved by the minority of men, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences. We don’t like to call on people who don’t want to see us and talk to them about something they don’t want to talk about. Any reluctance to follow a definite prospecting program, to used prepared sales talks, to organize time and effort are all caused by this one basic dislike.”

This is as simple as I have ever heard the core issue stated. We are going to avoid doing things that we view as being uncomfortable. It’s that simple!

There are a number of scientific experiments that clearly show this. Put a rat in a cage with a gate. Place food at the end of a corridor and open the gate. The rat runs up the corridor and starts to eat the food.

However, we don’t let the rat eat. Instead we place it back behind the gate. Next we place a metal grid on the floor separating the rat from the food. We also place a shock on this grid; it’s called a “shock grid”. We open the gate; the rat sees the food and starts to run over this grid. It gets a tremendous shock and instinctively retreats away from the grid.

Now we take the shock off of the grid but leave the grid. When we open the gate this time the reality is that there is nothing stopping the rat from reaching its goal. However, what will the rat focus on? Will it focus on the opportunity to get the food or the past painful experience with the metal grid? The rat will remember the shock and will never go over that grid again. This is called learned helplessness.

It doesn’t matter what the truth is. The only think that matters is what is the rat paying attention to? The rat has what is called a “cortical limbic loop”. This is a protective memory where the outer area of the brain associated with wants, needs and desires and is linked to the middle area of the brain, known as the limbic system, which is associated with emotion, fear, avoidance and threats to survival. Just the sight of the metal grid triggers the limbic area and the rat is in automatic avoidance.

We are genetically coded to avoid activities that we view as being threatening. Our instincts trump our intentions.

Gray goes on to state that the biggest producers also do not like to do this prospecting either. It’s just that they have a purpose and have formed habits.

“Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods. It is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one. Just think of all of the things you are willing to go without in order to avoid doing the things you don’t like to do.”

I couldn’t believe what a profound insight that Albert Gray had in 1940 that is as true today as it was then.

Again, Gray says;

“Every single qualification for success is acquired through habit. Men form habits and habits form futures. If you do not deliberately form good habits, then unconsciously you will form bad ones. He success habits in life insurance selling (and all selling) are divided into four main groups. Prospecting habits, calling habits, selling habits, working habits.”

Now the question is how do you form habits? I have the answer. This was helped by another 21st century discovery, brain plasticity. Go ahead and “Google it”. Isn’t that amazing? Google is now a verb!

Brain plasticity is the brains’ ability to form new neurons and neurological networks. A neurological network is a habit. In its simplest form it’s no more complicated than stimulus response. The alarm rings in the morning and off to the gym you go. You plan at the end of the week you execute your plan in those four areas as identified in 1940 by Albert Gray, it really is that simple.

A habit is a neuron that has dentritic growth to the cortex and to a structure in the limbic system called the amygdale. The cortex is the thinking and planning area of the brain and the amygdale is the emotional area. A habit also has dentritic growth to the hippocampus are of the brain which is now the wiring for memory.

The rat is hungry. It looks at the food but it has a protective instinct, a memory involving the hippocampus that links the metal grid with the amygdale as dangerous and to be avoided.

Humans have another layer to add to this. We use language to rationalize our avoidance and believe that the truth is that we were just too busy to make those calls.

I’ll end this by giving you a quick method to rewire your brain and form a new habit. Use behavioral contracts. Make one commitment to one activity this week they you are capable of doing but also know you won’t do unless you are held accountable to complete. Tell one other person that if you don’t take this action you will give them $100. You will instantly create a cortical limbic loop where the cortex, amygdale and hippocampus will view this penalty as the highest level of pain and instinctively compel you to avoid this pain by doing what you said you would do.

Yes it does take about 30 days for these dentritic projections to remain solidified and permanent so use this consistently and wisely and you will rewire your brain forming the habits you need for success. Albert Gray was absolutely correct even without knowing the science of it all!

How to Avoid Getting Fat Over the Holidays

There seems to be a mindset of disorder over the holidays. Perhaps you have been disciplined and ate clean, worked out, watched your caloric intake and did good deeds all the way up to now.

I is only natural for you to say forget it; I deserve it and then just bust out and binge. I’d say you can just about count on that happening unless you get M.A.D.

That’s right, get M.A.D. Make a Decision. It all starts with the intention. Who says that you’ve got to gain weight and that if you don’t you will be depriving yourself?

Reality is in the mind of the observer. You get to declare what your waist line is going to look like during and after the holidays. Here is how.

First, know your numbers. Take your body weight times ten and that’s how many calories you can have on a daily basis and you won’t lose or gain weight. There are 3500 calories in a pound of body fat. Divide that by 7 days and that number is 500. Subtract 500 from your body weight times ten and that’s what you will need to net out daily to lose one pound per week. Your net can be either calorie restriction or a combination of exercise.

That’s the left brain information. Now you need to right brain input. This is your attitude, your intentions, your why. You do need to identify your “why bother?” Why should you actually lose weight this holiday season? What is the benefit for doing so?

You might have a tough time identifying the Why. It doesn’t matter. You can tap into the latest in brain research and create a winning combination of right and left brain input through the use of one small intervention-behavioral contracting.

Try this and I know it will work for you. Keep your commitments to one week. Make a commitment to how many calories you will have, what types of food you will eat, how much you will allow yourself to divert, how much exercise you will do over the next seven days. Make specific and measureable statements of your promise. An example would be “I will exercise 4 times by Sunday”. Of course I assuming that you can specifically define what “exercise” means and that it is verifiable.

Next place a penalty, say a $100 fine if you don’t do what you said you would do. That’s right, for each promise you make place a $100 penalty if you don’t accomplish the commitment. Have someone else check in with you and be able to prove your results. Now you will be tapping into your genetic coding of avoiding the highest level of perceived pain. Your human instinct will compel you to avoid the pain of the consequence by taking the actions you committed to.

If you apply this and if you have someone who will hold you accountable and enforce the consequence then you will lose weight over the holidays.

I’ll hold you accountable. Send me an email at and tell me what your weekly commitment is. I’ll keep you on track or it’s a $100 fine.

You have far more capability to create the events and circumstances in your life then you are aware of or are using. This is a start.

Happy Holidays.

Coach Bob



The Secret of Life Time Weight Control

The alarm rings at 3:50 am. You swing your hand over and press the snooze button without opening your eyes. Settling back into your warm and comfortable bed you notice how sweet it is to continue to sleep.

The alarm rings at 4:00 am and you repeat the process. This goes on until 5:30 am when you make the decision that this will be a non-workout day.

This is a worldwide problem. Why is that? I’m going to answer that question and give you a solution.

The problem is human nature. There exists an undeniable genetic code that translates into a compelling instinct:

All Human Performance is the Avoidance of Pain or the Seeking of Comfort.

This is the code of life. This is what motivates every human being. As a species we are very limited in our perceptual ability. We can see only certain frequencies of wavelengths of light, hear only a limited frequency distribution of sound, in fact, all of our senses have limitations. Since we have these limitations, evolution has genetically designed us to recognize the highest threats to our survival, the most potentially painful and dangerous experiences and to avoid them without thinking. This is called a cortical limbic loop.

We are predisposed to recognize our most dangerous and painful threats and then compelled to avoid them.

We don’t have an option here. This is an instinct that does not request our compliance, it compels it. We are avoidance machines!

We also have language. Humans are “meaning making machines”. We give meaning to everything that happens in our lives. It is rare that we accept things or events as just being. We are constantly flipping from the past to the future and having a dialogue about what we are experiencing.

Here’s how this works. You have a goal of weight loss. You intend to wake up at 3:50 am and exercise. You are motivated to do this. You’re committed. You set the alarm for 3:50 am and go to sleep with the greatest of intentions.

The alarm rings at 3:50 am. Your brain immediately goes through a search like a computer looking for any link to pain or any threat associated with the activity. Exercise is hard. You might be tired throughout the day unless you sleep in. It’s cold outside. You have found the links to pain.

Next, you are compelled to avoid. You can’t help it. The trigger has already occurred. Then language comes in and you have an internal dialogue that justifies your avoidance. You never consciously come into conflict. You rationalize and you don’t know that you’re doing it.

The purpose of rationalization is to protect you from feeling guilty for not doing what you said you would do. The method of rationalization is to justify your avoidance.

You start to think that you’re over training and an equally important part of physical fitness is rest. You pay attention to the pain you have in your back and you remember the last time you worked out through that type of pain your back went out and you lost several days of production. You count how many days you have already worked out this week and you justify that you can make it up tomorrow.

The solution lies in understanding how the brain works. This would involve an examination of the reticular activating system. The reticular formation as it is called is a bundle of densely packed nerve cells located in the central core of the brainstem. Roughly the size of a little finger, the reticular formation runs from the top of the spinal cord into the middle of the brain. This area of tightly packed nerve cells contains nearly 70% of the brain’s estimated 200 billion nerve cells-or a total of over 140 billion cells.

The reason for this tremendous concentration of brainpower is because the R.A.S. is your front line of defense and is an absolute protector of your survival. The R.A.S. instantly recognizes friend or foe and starts the necessary physiological and psychological response.

You already have a default program coding the R.A.S. That coding is the search and recognition of perceived danger and then the activation of what is referred to as the “survival mechanism” of avoidance and rationalization. This is an instinct, not an option. You will be compelled to avoid all that you perceive as painful, threatening or dangerous.

Reality is not an issue here. It doesn’t matter weather the threat is real or not. Your perception is your reality. Rejection from sales calls is not a real threat yet that perception keeps many sales people average as they avoid prospecting calls and then justify how busy they are. It’s the same process going on. Your brain does not differentiate between what is real or imagined. You are an avoidance machine, it’s an instinct.

There is good news. You can have an intervention. You can influence what the R.A.S. drives you to pay attention to. The solution lies in surrendering to avoidance. Surrender to the ways of human nature. Ride the horse the direction it is headed. The way that you do this is through Behavioral Contracting™.

Consider the following formula for excellence through a behavioral contract:

Specific Declarations + Accountability = Elite Performance

Specifically make a decision about what you want and why. Answer the question, “Why bother?” Next ask yourself, “What are the actions I need to take to reach this goal?” Follow that question with “What actions will I take over the next seven days?”

Now, you’re almost ready to influence the R.A.S. but there is another major part still missing. That would be accountability. Accountability has two parts. The first part is the check in, “Did you do what you said you would do?” This must come from another person outside of you.

The “check in” is not enough however. You must have the next part of accountability and this is the part that will influence what you pay attention to. The second part of accountability is an enforceable painful consequence for non-performance.

The consequence is the key. It must be more painful then the perceived pain embedded within the activity itself. For example, what is more painful, getting up early in the morning and exercising or paying $100.00 to another person if you don’t? As you’re lying in bed and the alarm rings at 3:50 am, your brain searches for the highest perceived level of pain. Instantly it notices your Seratonin level is high from sleeping throughout the night, it’s warm under the covers, exercise is hard, it would be so nice just to sleep in and roll over and hit the snooze button. However, the brain continues to search for the highest level of perceived pain and you make the association of how painful it would be to have to pay a fine of $100 for not getting up and you perceive that as the highest level of pain. Now, you are compelled to get up and do what you said you would do. You can’t help it. Human nature is making you avoid the highest level of pain. You are a perfect avoidance machine.

This is an undeniable intervention that will predispose you to find the opportunity to take the action that avoids the penalty. Use behavioral contracting and you will see immediate results. Apply this to one activity and watch yourself avoid your way to accomplishment. I’m only an e-mail away for accountability.