Here is the full text of organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy’s talk titled “The 100 Percent Rule That Will Change Your Life” at TEDxKlagenfurt conference. In this TEDx talk, he shares the secret on how making a radical change is not only possible but required to live a life of integrity, meaning, and purpose.
Listen to the MP3 Audio:
This is my friend right here. His name is Tom Hartman. Tom is over 400 pounds, just barely got divorced, has very little confidence of what we’re just talking about. And he has a very persistent brother.
His brother has been trying to convince him for a few years to come to a motivational conference, actually by a person named Zig Ziglar. And this is a couple of decades ago.
After a lot of prodding, Tom finally gets convinced and he goes to this Zig Ziglar motivational conference. And he is not comfortable in that environment. It’s the last place he wants to be. He’s around all sorts of people who are motivated, all sorts of people who are excited. He sees this guy up on stage, cheering rah rah, and he’s just very uncomfortable.
And he’s very resistant actually to what’s being taught. But over time just listening over the first 90 minutes, Zig is up there teaching about self-image, about how you see yourself, and about how most people view themselves in a very powerless way. They have a very negative story about themselves.
And how your story about who you are and how you see yourself is generally a direct correlation with how you perform in the world. How you see yourself is how you act.
And he was listening to these ideas and he was hearing about how Zig was talking about how it’s important to go from powerlessness to powerful, where you see yourself not from your current circumstances but from the circumstances that you hope to have. And a lot of his shells got broken down during those first 90 minutes.
And actually after the first session he asked his brother, he said, “Is it all right if we go and buy some of the tapes that are in the back?” Because there was tapes that he could buy near the end, and if he couldn’t afford it he had no money. He was pretty much out of a job, just got divorced. His whole life was kind of in shambles.
And his brother really liked the idea of him getting these tapes and so his brother got him the tapes. After the conference he ended up listening for five hours that day, seven hours the next day and ended up listening for over and over. He was listening to these things on repeat, essentially rewiring his belief system.
There’s a really good idea that your input shapes your outlook, and your outlook shapes your behavior. And so he was changing his input rather than listening to the radio or rather than listening to things that were kind of low energy, low level. He was just listening to stuff that was completely retraining him to see himself differently.
Because of this input, he decided to do something very bold. And the bold behavior that he did ultimately led him to having a peak experience. And that peak experience altered his identity. And there’s a lot of really interesting science behind the bold behavior that he did.
So ultimately what happened was after about a week of the Zig conference, he got the idea that he wanted to go and buy some suits. He bought two very nice fitted suits. He actually had to put a down payment on these suits… over $700. And he had them fitted. Obviously he couldn’t have them fitted on himself but he bought two smaller suits.
And the person selling the suit said, “Tom, who are you buying these for?”
And he said, “Well, I’m buying them for myself.”
And the guy who was selling the suits had to hold back a laugh because he just couldn’t believe it. You know, Tom was still over 400 pounds at the time.
But what’s very interesting about this behavior is, is that Tom was investing money into his future identity. He was not investing money into his current identity. And he was actually saying in a very real way with his words what he was going to do.
There’s a few things that are very powerful about this.
Number one is that the story that he was telling to the clerk was a story based on his future, whereas all of the stories he had previously been telling people were based on his past. He was explaining himself in former conversations: This is why I am the way I am.
Now his story was: This is who I’m going to be.
And there’s a lot of really interesting science behind the idea of spending money on your goals. So for the last four or five years I’ve been getting my PhD in organizational psychology. And one of the research studies that I did was studying the difference between wannabe entrepreneurs and actual entrepreneurs, people who had been successful.
And I asked them a bunch of questions, trying to figure out what is the difference between these two populations.
And one of the questions that I asked the wannabe entrepreneurs and the actual entrepreneurs was: Have you ever had a point of no return experience?”
And almost all of the wannabe entrepreneurs said no. A lot of them hinted to the idea that they hoped to have that experience one day.
Almost all of the entrepreneurs said yes, and not only were the entrepreneurs, I asked lots of authors, professional people at all scales and they all said: “Yes. I’ve had them and at multiple stages have I had a point of no return experience.”
So my follow-up question was: Well, what happened after that experience?
And actually I was interested firstly in what was that experience? What was the point of no-return? What created that shift? Then my next question was what happened after that?
But I was kind of surprised, what often created a point of no return experience was making a financial investment in the goal.
So I interviewed like a 17 year old entrepreneur, for example, and his point of no-return experience was when he and his friend… they were both seniors in high school… when they invest… they put their money together their savings they invested $10,000 into a huge shipment of shoes because they wanted to sell shoes.
And he said his point of no return was first, when they spent the money but second, when a huge truck came and offloaded basically a mountain of shoes. He said he realized that at that point he couldn’t go back. He couldn’t give the shoes back. He had this mountain of shoes now completely filling his garage.
And basically at that moment his identity shifted. He said at that moment he realized that he was running a company, that he was leading a company. And from that moment forward he acted from that leadership role.
So he put himself in essentially a position where he had to move forward. That’s why it was a point of no return, because in a lot of ways he couldn’t actually go back. He couldn’t actually give the shoes back.
But what was more important about the point of no return for the 17-year old and for Tom Hartman was, is that there was an identity shift. There’s a really good quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes and he says:
“A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its former dimensions.”
So this episode of Tom led to actually a more profound peak experience that gave him the realization that his identity had shifted, that he was no longer the person he had formerly been but now he was this person who he envisioned himself to be.
So Tom was hanging out in a grocery store. He was actually in an aisle looking for food. And he… and a four-year-old girl walked by with her mom. And the four-year-old girl said, “Mom, look there’s a fat man.”
And Tom swung around and he looked, because he wasn’t sure who the girls talked about and he realized that there was no one else on the aisle. And it very quickly kicked in: this girl is talking about me.
And he just started laughing, like this was the first moment where it just hit him and he was just laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing. And then eventually a tear came to his eye. And he realized at that moment that he no longer identified as a person who was overweight. And at that moment he realized that he was going to succeed.
Fast forward 18 months, Tom Hartman has lost 175 pounds. He now weighs 225 pounds. He has started and successfully created a company and is becoming very successful. He’s become far more spiritual. He’s changed in every area of his life. He’s a totally different person.
How you do anything is how you do everything. And in a lot of ways, Tom Hartman’s example is pretty much a very clear case that things like fad diets, a 30-day diet, trying something for a year is not a way to change your behavior because changing your behavior has to be first to shift an identity.
When you shift your identity first, then the behavior that is up here where your goals are is in alignment with your identity. If you keep your identity down here and you’re trying to act up here, then you’re actually acting in conflict with how you see yourself. And that doesn’t work.
So kind of to portray this example or to take this idea a little bit further, I want to introduce you to a person named Elco.
Elco is an entrepreneur from Amsterdam. He’s 38 years old and he as well has struggled with weight his entire life. And he’s always had a bad diet and he’s always had a story in his head that was actually planted in there from his mom.
His mom told him when he was a teenager that they are the kind of people who always are going to struggle with weight, always struggle with food. And that was the idea that he had in his mind.
He actually also had the idea in his mind that he was going to be able to potentially willpower his way to holding off just self-destructive behavior until about his 40s 50s or 60s but then at that point it would just go all downhill.
And because of his bad eating habits he actually struggled to sleep. He couldn’t sleep very well. And so one night he was up all night struggling to sleep and a thought came to him. And he said what would happen if I went back to eating nature. What if I just went back to nature and just ate clean.
And then a second thought popped into his head and that thought was: what would happen if I did this for the rest of my life. Rather than thinking what if I did this for like 30 days or what if I did this for a year.
The question that really seized him was what would happen if I did this for the rest of my life. And as soon as he had that thought happening, sitting there laying in his bed and all of a sudden he has like this vision, this picture in his mind of himself in his nineties, totally vibrant, totally healthy. He sees himself with his kids, his grandkids, and at that moment he just makes the shift.
From that moment he saw what was possible and so he just committed to it. This was over a year ago and Elco has not touched any bad food. Literally he’s one of the healthiest people I know. Hasn’t touched any bad food since then. He lives under the mantra: 100% commitment is easier than 98% commitment. That’s actually a quote from Harvard Business professor Clayton Christensen.
But that idea is also actually backed by a lot of very interesting science in psychology. So again the quote is: 100% is easier than 98%. And the reason why this is so important is because if you’re only 98% committed to something, what that means is that you’re not actually truly committed. You’re not actually fully there. You haven’t actually made the decision.
And if you haven’t made a decision about something, what that means is that you’re not actually sure what you’re going to do. If Elco was only 98% committed and he was in an environment where his favorite dessert was served, then he would have to play a tug of war in his mind about what he was going to do: Do I eat it this time? Do I not eat it?
And that… right there, that mental tug-of-war is called decision fatigue. Basically the idea of decision fatigue is… it’s another word for willpower. But it means you haven’t yet made a choice and you’re not actually sure what you’re going to do. And because you’re not sure what you’re going to do, often the situation wins.
That’s one of the most consistent things that’s found in social psychology, is that generally people are the byproduct of their situation. And the reason for that is because people are not decided.
Michael Jordan actually had a very powerful quote. Michael Jordan said: “Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.”
And kind of the Latin root of the word decision means that once you make a decision you have to actually cut off alternative options.
And so because Elco made a 100% commitment rather than a 98% commitment and he also shifted his identity by asking himself: can I… he didn’t ask himself the question: could I do this for the next 30 days? Because if you think about it, if you want to do something for 30 days, then you definitely haven’t changed how you see yourself.
You’re basically saying I think I can do this for about 30 days but then once that 30 days is over or that year is over I’m going to go right back to doing what I was. But maybe then I’ll have a little bit more control.
That’s not what happened to Tom Hartman. That’s not what happened to Elco. And as a result, those two people, they made a fundamental… a permanent shift and because of that permanent shift their behavior just went in line.
I actually told the story of Elco to my friend, his name is Nate Lambert. He was actually one of my professors. And Nate has also struggled with his weight his entire life.
And Nate and I were doing a one-year sugar-free fast because Nate wanted to go sugar-free. Again he’d struggled with his weight his whole life and I knew that it’s a lot easier for me to do something if someone like him is already doing it. He’s a very motivated individual.
But it’s also easier to do something like that in twos. But after hearing Elco story I talked to Nate and I said, “Nate, why would you do something for a year for someone like you who knows that this is going to be something that’s going to potentially plague you for the rest of your life.” He’s like 38 years old. He struggled with this his whole life. I said “Why would you just do this for a year? What’s going to happen a year from now?”
And I told him about the idea of 100% commitment is easier than 98% commitment, and the difference between decision and decision fatigue. Decision is the opposite of decision fatigue. Once you’ve actually made the decision you no longer have to play the mental tug-of-war. For example, if you make a decision about when you’re going to wake up the next day, you don’t push the snooze button.
If you haven’t made the decision the night before, then when the alarm goes off you’re not really sure what you’re going to do. Willpower often does not work.
And so because of that epiphany, that idea, Nate just sat with his wife, he made a list of the pros and cons of going refined sugar free for the rest of his life. He asked himself the question: what would happen if I did this for the rest of his life? What would happen if I did this for the rest of my life?
The list of cons was there, you know. There were certain social gatherings that he would miss, some few miss on some of the things but the list of pros was fundamental. And the biggest pro was that he would no longer have to think about it again.
Psychologists have found that on average people have about 50,000 thoughts a day. And Nate said that about 40,000 of those thoughts were about food, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. And that’s essentially the nature of addiction, is that you can’t stop thinking about it. And he was very addicted to food.
And that’s why the Michael Jordan quote is so important, that once you make a decision you no longer have to think about it again. That was the biggest benefit of Nate just making this shift and saying I’m no longer going to do this anymore. I don’t want to have to think about this ever again.
And once he let that go and once Elco let that go, and once Tom Hartman let that go, then all of a sudden, they were able to be exactly who they wanted to be.
The problem with them trying to control their behavior, willpowering their way to change, maybe setting short goals is that they never actually were able to let go of that thing that they wanted to get rid of that whole time. Once they were able to just make the shift in who they were and how they saw themselves for the rest of their lives, once you’re able to actually make a decision and cut off the alternative option, by committing a 100%, then all of a sudden their mind was completely free and they felt so aligned with who they were that they started doing things that they’d been procrastinating for years.
Elco started a business that he had wanted to do for three years. Within a week of having that vision of seeing himself, he had already started. And since then he’s done all sorts of things that he’s always wanted to do.
Nate’s the same way. Ever since he’s been able to let this thing go and he’s stopping… he’s no longer avoiding the behavior that he hates and he’s now pursuing the life he loves because he’s so aligned with who he is and where he’s going and because the story he’s telling himself is based on that future not based on: Oh well this is why I am the way I am, then all of a sudden he could be more courageous, he could be more confident.
The scientific definition of confidence is actually that confidence is the byproduct of prior performance. Once you start acting confidently or once you start acting powerfully, then you develop confidence.
And confidence then allows you to have imagination; it allows you to see a bigger future; it allows you to believe in yourself. And confidence allows you to be creative.
So now kind of pushing this question on you: What are some of the things that you’ve potentially been resisting? What are the things that you’ve been thinking about doing? And maybe they’ve been on your mind for a long time. It could be an addiction that you’ve been thinking about, weighing in your mind for years. Maybe you’ve tried it for 30 days at a time. Maybe you’re going off of it for a year but you haven’t had that shift.
On the flip side: what are those things that you’ve wanted to do for years that you’ve been thinking about? What are those things… you know going back to my wannabe entrepreneurs, what are those… a lot of those wannabe entrepreneurs who I interviewed had been thinking about this for years.
It actually took me years to get to the point where I jumped off the cliff and it all starts with the financial investment, it all starts with shifting your story and shifting your identity. You can’t do it through willpower. You have to do it through who you’re going to be.
Resources for Further Reading:
- John Lennox: The Truth About AI, Consciousness, and God (Transcript)
- How to Hack Your Brain When You’re in Pain: Amy Baxter (Transcript)
- How To Talk To The Worst Parts Of Yourself: Karen Faith (Transcript)
- Uncommon Sense: Moving from a Problem-Focused to Solution-Focused Mindset: Mel Gill (Transcript)
- Cold War II: Niall Ferguson on The Emerging Conflict With China (Transcript)