Universal Principles of Success

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One of the things I’ve been grappling with for some time now is how to teach people to come to terms with life’s key paradoxes. These are special cases in which two opposites are both true at the same time – and both must be understood and fully embraced if we’re to find the universal success we’re all searching for. But how do we make sense of that? How can two opposites be true? Why is it so when we inhabit such an empirical world?

And what do we do with these paradoxes?

Before we get to answering that I’ll need to cover some basics to ensure everyone is on the same page. Then I’ll take a look at the practicalities of handling what I’ve termed the Universal Principles of Success…

You are not your body. It is simply a vehicle you are trapped in. It’s real, in fact we could say there would be no life without it, but it’s transitory. It cracks, breaks and eventually wears out. You are not your thoughts. Again, they are real enough, but they’re also transitory. You are not your emotions. You can be enraged, heartbroken or terrified but those things will all pass – they are transitory.

So, if you’re not your body, thoughts or emotions – then what are you?

You are a spirit, manifested here on earth to have a physical, mental and emotional experience. Anyone who loves you knows this because they see it – they love the most essential part of you, your core, your essence, that which is perfect.

If you ask a child who is young enough, “Are you beautiful?” they’ll answer with an unwavering “Yes.” There’s no doubt in their mind that they are indeed beautiful. Of course, that doesn’t last long because as we grow we begin to develop a self-image. That image, that sense of who we are, is flawed so we see ourselves as less than perfect. We look at what we can’t do, the things we struggle with or the things we’re bad at. We identify with phrases like too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short or not smart enough. We spend our lives trying to build self-image by achieving things, but the older we get the more of a beating the self-image takes. As a result, we become entranced by the idea that if we could just achieve more, do more, be more – then we’d feel better about ourselves.

But our achievements don’t contribute much to our sense of self-esteem because it’s impossible to achieve at a level higher than that which we believe we are deserving of. So the self-esteem works away in the background, limiting most of the things we do. It covers over the spirit so effectively that for most people, it becomes the truth of their existence and thus creates great difficulty.


Since we believe that we are flawed, we develop a personality or ego. It’s designed to shield us from the damage we think the world would do if it found out how imperfect we are at the self-image level. We think we’ll be judged, found lacking or attacked, so we put this defensive mechanism in place to protect what we’re ashamed of about ourselves.

Here’s a practical demonstration of how we project ourselves into the world via the self-esteem and ego. It’s easy to see how the spirit gets stifled and any connection with it lost.

Meanwhile, the world at large is telling us what we should do and how we should behave. There’s a constant barrage of messages, internal and external, that we go to battle with. And it’s a battle we just cannot win. All of the achievements in the world won’t change how we feel about ourselves at a self-image level, because nothing on the outside can fix anything on the inside.

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And that’s how I’ve arrived at this concept of the Universal Principles of Success – I realised that we need to focus on the truth of our existence, to look within. We need to determine how we can live a more spiritual life, because that’s the only thing that reliably creates success.

What is success, really?

There’s no one true answer to that. Personally, I define success as the ability to reach a goal or target, set by yourself, under your own steam. That is, not that you necessarily have everything you need to reach that goal when you set it, but that you possess self-awareness and ability to create everything you need to achieve your dreams. For the purpose of this subject, that’s what I’m referring to when I talk about success.

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So, let’s take a closer look at the key paradoxes I mentioned earlier. I’m not suggesting that these are the only concepts that matter, they’re just the ones I see most commonly in my clinical practice. I believe if you can master these nine paradoxes, the world will be your oyster.


Paradox 1: Wants – Needs

One of the greatest challenges in life is mastering the balance between what we want and what we need. Wants are things like possessions, chocolate, achievements and relationships. Needs are things we must do to survive and thrive – things like exercise, nutrition, education and rest.

At first glance it appears that you have to be at one end of the spectrum or the other – that is, you can’t be practicing good nutrition and eating loads of chocolate. The problem is that we tend to get stuck wherever we’re comfortable and begin to exhibit personality traits connected to one of the ends of the paradox.

Let’s look at the person who always gives themselves everything they want. They’ll have plenty of temporary happiness produced by the shopping, chocolate, alcohol or workaholic tendencies – but that happiness is short lived and creates a person who is out of control. They’re likely to end up unhealthy, poor and lonely if they continue to do only what they want to.

We can go to the needs end of the paradox and get stuck there too. The person who only does what they need to becomes bereft of any fun or spontaneity. There’s never the right time for celebration, doing things just because or getting caught up in the joy a moment.

Clearly, too much time spent at either end of the paradox is a problem. How do we solve that?

Easy! The secret to success with these paradoxes is in how quickly you can travel from one end to the other.


Paradox 2: Desire – Detachment

It is the desire to succeed that often brings out the best in us – which is why we need goals and targets. It’s true that the more we desire something, the more power we’ll find within ourselves to go after it.

It’s also easy to overcook desire and when we do performance deteriorates dramatically. In sport, we say, “That guy needs to relax.” I’m sure you’ve seen someone in the grand final kicking for goal who missed by a mile. This is a person who plays that sport professionally, yet they couldn’t kick a goal they could make with their eyes closed in training. Why? The desire became too much and transformed into pressure the goal kicker couldn’t move past. The trick is to be able to detach – to be capable of saying, “I really really want this goal or target, but I can let go. I don’t need it to be happy.”

To continue using sports as an example, you’ll hear people going into big important matches saying, “Look, I’m just going to go out and enjoy my game of tennis.” What they’re really saying is they’re looking to turn it into just another game, because they know if they can do that, they’ll be relaxed enough to be able to tap into all the training they’ve done.

So, you have to really really want it, but if you need it, it owns you. Remember – it’s just an achievement. When you get there, no one’s going to love you any more or less.


Paradox 3: Being – Doing

You’ll notice we don’t use the expression human doing. We use the expression human being. Ask anyone who loves you what they want from you and the answer will be nothing. They simply want you to turn up so they can be with you. The purpose of being is to connect with the spirit. Get that right and everything else will flow.

Meanwhile, we also need to be doing things. If we don’t have something to do, there’s nothing to rise above. We need to experience the challenge and excitement that draws the best out of us when we do things.

Unfortunately there’s a heavy cultural bias towards doing, so we often overdo this end of the paradox. The technological advances that were supposed to bring freedom and convenience have just got us doing more and as a result we’re less free and less capable.

Most of us experience too much doing and not enough being. Personally, I’ve been working with this paradox a lot and have developed a daily success routine that means I’m achieving more by doing less, which would be difficult for most people to accept.

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Paradox 4: Strength – Vulnerability

Another of the most common struggles we have is the one between being strong and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

What do I mean by strength? I’m talking about the times you need to stand up and be counted. The situations in which you’ll have to hold tight to your beliefs and be ready to cop the criticism that might come with that, because if you don’t then you’ll know yourself to be weak. I’m referring to those cases where you’ll have to bring sheer, brute strength to a situation, be that strength of character, emotional strength or physical strength.

But that strength can also become brittle and when it does, it’s pointless. Sometimes, you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable. To do that, you’ll have to be open, available and truthful. You will need to own your flaws, pain and frailties. Perhaps you’ll need to admit that you don’t know everything, apologise to people you owe that to or ask for help and work out how to graciously accept it.

(By the way I would recommend to everybody that you read Brene Brown’s work on the value of vulnerability. For years I’ve been saying your strength is in your vulnerability. That’s the only place where you don’t need to run and hide. Just be openly vulnerable. Brene Brown came along and just said it a thousand times better than I ever could. Click the link and have a look https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en I would recommend to everybody that you have a look at her work).

It’s easy to see how being stuck at one end of this particular paradox could become a part of someone’s character. When that happens, it prevents living spiritually because the spirit can move and respond. It isn’t locked into programmed reactions.

Again, balance is not a place in the middle. It’s about how quickly and easily you can get across the middle of the paradox and out to one end or the other. How quickly you can swap from strong to vulnerable and back again depending on what is appropriate.


Paradox 5: Predictions – The Unknown

The truth is, we have no idea what’s going to happen next. Everything beyond the current moment is unknown. Despite that, we live in a world obsessed with the notion that we should be able to predict things.

If you stop and think about it, you can’t even predict that you’re going to be here in half an hour, let alone tomorrow. What happens next is really a complete unknown, which scares most people to death. Since the unknown frightens people so much, they put things in place designed to make them feel secure. Predictions are one of those things – they make us feel safe and secure. On the flip side, the unknown brings us a sense of adventure, excitement and challenge.

We need to embrace the idea that we can pick a direction, move towards it and relatively accurately make a prediction. At the same time we need to understand we’re really pulling that prediction out of thin air and accept that we don’t know exactly what’s going on.

Once again, the question that matters is how quickly can you move from one end of the paradox to the other.


Paradox 6: Unity – Separation

The fact that we are both part of a whole and separate individuals can be a tricky concept to understand.

In truth, we are all connected. When we tap into that connection there’s a sense of unity, of being part of a much greater whole. People will often experience this when they walk in a forest and feel like they’re part of it.

The flip side of unity is separation – that is, being alone and having to make it by ourselves. Separation is also how we explore and express our individuality.

My own example of going through cancer is a great illustration of this paradox at work. I felt very connected to my family because of the level of support they were throwing my way, the anguish we were all going through and their willingness to do anything they possibly could to make me feel better. At the same time, I had to go into the operation by myself. Chemotherapy is something you do by yourself.

So again, success with the paradox relies on how quickly you can move between the two ends. How often can you experience the truth of both? Can you make decisions based on that without getting scared or limited?


Paradox 7: Time Vanishes – Time Stands Still

If you’ve ever taken a minute to look into the eyes of someone you love and just be with them, you’ll know that time can stand still. The truth is, the only moment we have is the one we’re in right now. When we spend time being present in the moment, it becomes an eternity because we’re connected to everything.

Time can also vanish very quickly. When there are a million things to do and we’re up against a clock, time disappears and we wonder what happened. It’s a tragedy that so many of us spend our lives in such a massive rush to get things done that we miss life happening along the way.

There are great benefits to both ends of this paradox. Once again mastering it is about how quickly we can move between the two ends and back again.


Paradox 8: Abundance – Scarcity

If you live in a Western culture, this can be one of the most difficult paradoxes to get a handle on. Our culture emphasises scarcity – we’re taught that there is not enough to go around and we have to get ours before everyone else does or we could miss out. Scarcity creates grasping, greediness and nastiness, but also enables us to treasure things we might otherwise take for granted.

Abundance, on the other hand, says there are plenty more fish in the ocean. That we will have enough of whatever we need. That can be a tricky idea to wrap your head around if you don’t know where the ‘next bit’ is coming from, but it’s true.

Despite the cultural bias that keeps people feeling permanently stuck at the scarcity end of this paradox, the truth is that we can move across the line on a regular basis without difficulty.


Paradox 9: Me First – Service

Service is about getting involved in helping other people, simply because you can and without looking for anything in return. The personal benefits of selflessly giving time or money have to be experienced to be truly understood, but they are many.

The classic example of the importance of putting yourself first is oxygen masks dropping in a plane. The reason we’re instructed to put our own on first is that doing so enables us to be of service to others. Essentially, putting yourself first is about preserving the resource that is you.

Most people struggle with the ‘me first’ concept and as a result have a natural bias towards service. The problem with that is they burn themselves out doing the right thing and end up abusing their only resource – themselves. Getting ‘me first’ right boils down to this – will you take enough me time to ensure you’re refreshed, revitalised and full of vitality so that you can help the people you want to?

The Next Step: What To Do With The Paradoxes

The nine paradoxes detailed above are not the only ones that exist – they’re just ones I believe are the key to all success. That is, master the nine Universal Principles and you’ll be the master of your own universe.

The critical concept that you’ll notice keeps reappearing is this…

The key to mastering the paradoxes is in your speed across the middle. The question that matters is how quickly can you move from one end of the paradox to the other and back again depending on the circumstances you find yourself in.

And that’s where living a spiritual life becomes important – if you get connected to the truth of your existence, you’ll accelerate your speed across the middle. That’s what it all boils down to.

So, do whatever it takes to ensure you feel like you’re living your spiritual practices. If you’re religious, pray more or be in your church more. If you’re not, find the things that make you feel connected – try being still, observing yourself, meditating, practicing mindfulness.

However you proceed, remember – the key to universal success in life through the paradoxes is being connected with your spirit. Here’s a few practical tips on what to do next…