Tracy Goss is an adherent of Werner Erhard, who developed the est methodology that was later monetized into the Landmark Forum. What I knew of the Landmark Forum seemed pretty dodgy (see this 2003 rant on how I thought it was an evil cult), so I didn’t even want to open this book despite it being recommended to me a couple years ago by a coach I respect. But when I saw it in the library recently, I figured I might as well skim it…and, surprisingly, I actually like its message, despite its overblown rhetoric about helping people to “make the impossible happen”.
The core concept of the book is that most of us are trapped in the “Universal Human Paradigm”, which is stated as follows:
There is a way things should be.
And when they are that way, they are right.
When they’re not that way, something is wrong with you, them or it.
When we are in the Universal Human Paradigm, we spend a lot of energy interpreting whether things are turning out the way they “should”, and if they don’t turn out that way, figuring out who or what is “wrong” so we can blame them.
To deal with this endless cycle of interpretation and blaming, Goss describes how we come up with a “Winning Strategy”, which is our way of being successful within the constraints of the Universal Human Paradigm so that life turns out the way it “should”. The formulation she gives of the Winning Strategy is:
- Listening for: X
- So as to act by: Y
- In order to: Z
For example, what I identified as my Winning Strategy is that I am listening for expectations, so as to act by exceeding them, in order to ensure that I am valued. And once I started paying attention to how I was listening for expectations, it astonished me how that showed up in most of my interactions. When my wife was speaking, I was listening for the tasks I “should” do. When clients were speaking, I was listening for what they wanted from me so I could deliver that. I realized that I was treating most interactions as a chance for my ego to earn a gold star. In my version of the Universal Human Paradigm, if things did not turn out as they “should”, something would be wrong with _me_, and I couldn’t bear that, so I ensured it would not happen through my Winning Strategy. This strategy worked well for me through most of my life, so I kept doing it…but have started to see ways in which this approach is not serving me.
So once we identify our Winning Strategy and see the limitations it places on us, how do we move forward?
Goss lays out the first step as accepting that we will be unsatisfied. As she puts it:
Life does not turn out the way it should.
Nor does life turn out the way it shouldn’t.
Life turns out the way it does.
If you died today, you’d be satisfied in some ways and unsatisfied in others. And that would have been true ten years ago, and it will be true ten years in the future because of the Universal Human Paradigm. As long as you think you can get to “should”, you will be unsatisfied.
This may sound nihilistic, but it’s also freeing; if we can release ourselves from the tyranny of the “should”, then we can start reacting to life as it is. As she later puts it, “you consciously break the addiction cycle by recognizing that “bad news” never happened. Nor did “good news” happen. They are both interpretations about what happened. They are meanings you gave to what happened, meanings derived from your past.”
Goss’s suggestion to move forward is to stop trying to preserve the ego with a Winning Strategy, let go of trying to make things turn out as they “should”, accept things as they are, and take action in response to what happens. But why take action if there is no “should” to motivate us? Couldn’t we just do nothing, and life will turn out the way it does? Of course, but Goss is speaking to leaders who want to change the world. Those leaders are motivated by a vision greater than themselves, and letting go of their Winning Strategy allows them more ways to take action in moving the world towards their vision.
Goss calls this possibility the Re-Invention Paradigm, and says that in that paradigm “what happens – whether generated by you or someone else – is always and only a conversation: always and only a request or a promise.” These requests and promises “move possibilities to a reality” (shades of You Are What You Say). In particular, a leader with a vision of a possible future will make a promise in the form of a declaration.
A declaration is an act of speaking that brings forth a future the moment it is spoken.
A powerful declaration of possibility can move the forces that alter the world.
Unlike a goal, a realm of possibility is not a place to “get to” from the present. It is an invented future to “come from” into the present.
So what’s different about working from the Re-Invention paradigm? In the Universal Human Paradigm, when something doesn’t go as it “should”, we interpret it as a failure, and look for something or someone to blame. Goss calls this “The cycle of addiction to interpretation”, where something happens, we assign meaning to what happened by creating an interpretation, we take action in response to our interpretation, and then something else happens.
Within the Re-Invention Paradigm, “After a promise is unfulfilled or revoked, return to the designated responsibility, ask what’s missing and take the next action.
- What happened? A conversation took place.
- What’s missing? What does not exist that is essential for your designated impossibility to become a reality in the context of the game you are playing?
- What’s next? The answer is always “Take action from the future.”
In other words, rather than get caught up in a cycle of interpretation and blaming, we figure out what else we can request or promise to move reality towards our vision. By letting go of what “should” happen, we are more able to see what _is_ happening, and declare new possibilities in response.
Goss gives the example of an actor who wanted to be a rich and famous celebrity, but had a problem in that he was not getting the roles he wanted. He was a charming and likable guy, but those running the auditions thought he was lightweight and didn’t have enough acting talent. The actor talked about what was wrong with him (he hadn’t increased his acting talent despite years of classes and practice), what was wrong with the system (“Somebody who they think is a lightweight can never get a break!”), etc. Goss stopped him and invited him to notice that he had made an offer of his acting talent for a role, which was rejected. Rather than continue to make the same offer because he was stuck in a paradigm where the only way to be a celebrity was to be a talented actor, she suggested a future vision where he was a rich and famous celebrity _because_ he was lightweight and likable – by making the offer of his talent for likability (rather than acting), he started to earn bigger roles, and became a celebrity despite not having the acting talent he thought he “should”.
The main idea I am taking away from this book is to notice when I am interpreting what happens in terms of my Winning Strategy or my “should”, and try to let go of that interpretation so I am clear on what actually happened, and can make better decisions on what to do next. For example, when somebody says to me “You didn’t do X”, my Winning Strategy leads me to interpret that as “You should have done X”, which leads me to think I did something wrong by not doing X, which leads me to get defensive and start arguing emotionally in response. If I can let go of that cycle, I can agree that “Yes, I didn’t do X” without emotion, and get curious about why the other person cares about X, and use that information to decide what to do next. Perhaps my new understanding will nudge me towards choosing to do X in the future, if it is in line with my values and goals. But regardless, letting go of my Winning Strategy will enable me to be less reactive, and more intentional, in my actions, and I consider that to be a positive result.
The book goes into much more detail on the steps necessary to move from the Universal Human Paradigm to the Re-Invention Paradigm, and the final chapter includes six practices to help with making those steps. But I hope that my summary gives you enough of a taste to decide whether you want to invest in reading the whole book.