Be your own consultant or be fired

Common: Feeling “stuck,” bored, and/or uncreative in a cycle of repeated lackluster results

Uncommon: The night’s entertainment was a hypnotist.  I knew better than to volunteer myself to become a public stooge, but fortunately there will always be people in a group who are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of entertainment.  I watched the unsuspecting victims make phone calls from their shoe, drive imaginary cars, and passionately make-out with creme-filled donuts.

It was alarming to see how vulnerable the volunteers were to the hypnotist’s spell with seemingly no authority over their thoughts or actions.  The irony I noticed that evening was a doleful, yet familiar parallel of our nonsensical behavior in everyday life.

I realized how often we become somewhat hypnotized in our daily routines as a result of clinging to the familiar, mirroring others, blindly following tradition, and repressing our curiosity to examine what we’re doing or why we’re doing it.  We gradually adjust to living our life in a trance-like state by going through the motions.

It’s not surprising then, why so many people who experience the same results again and again claim to feel “stuck.”  An all too common tragedy.  Thus the real coup is not becoming hypnotized, but rather becoming de-hypnotized.

Breaking the trance:

Every so often I write down every activity I engage in for a 3-day period as a way to reexamine my actions more impartially.  Recently I noticed myself repeating some rather nonsensical behaviors in my schooling, my business, and even my exercise routines simply because… it’s what I did the week before.

If it worked in the past, it will work today, right?  Not necessarily.  This is one perilous concept we buy into far too easily.  The rate of change we experience daily is astounding and consequently, repetition eventually leads to mediocre production.  Merely going through the motions gradually sets the stage for many disheartening Groundhog moments where each new day becomes a reflection of yesterday.  As a result, innovation must not be viewed as a luxury, but a personal ongoing effort to creatively question everything we can.  Recreating results from yesterday may not get you far.  Remember, innovation is less about recreating and more about reinventing.

So, how is this best accomplished?  Through a change in how we process our daily reality.  In other words, our mental habits.  Although I use the metaphor of being hypnotized, I am not insisting that our behavior is fatalistic or unmanageable.  (As a result of psych experiments I’ve inflicted upon myself, I have witnessed will power shape stubborn behaviors.)  Innovation begins by interrupting old patterns of thought to view the familiar as a “mature newborn” absent from customary assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors.  This is much easier said than done, but there are numerous people who have trained themselves to do this very well.  In fact, there is an entire industry based upon this ability and the professionals get paid handsomely to turn common assumptions on their head.  As you probably guessed, I am referring to consultants.

A good consultant recognizes deficiencies and then develops solutions to issues that most people didn’t realize existed.  They are appointed to question usual patterns of thought (or social/company culture) and look for more effective ways to delegate and use resources–time, energy, tools, talent, money, etc.  To do this successfully they must be able to remove themselves from the daily minutiae, dismiss all preconceived expectations, and ask questions that no one else does–questions that lead to observations that no one else makes.

A (non)passive existence:

Nature’s default mode of operation is arguably the path of least resistance so it’s not surprising that the allure of mindless routine often supersedes conscious, creative actions that require additional forethought and examination.  We’ve all experienced this at some point before.  But feelings of comfort and ease in the current moment give us a false sense of security–the belief that our passive behavior will suffice.

In some misguided sense, we commonly believe that merely “showing up” is enough.  It’s not.  Attendance alone won’t even buy you a “C” average in life anymore.  Competition is increasing and so is the rate that it is occurring.  Cruising in “auto-pilot” mode is a sure way to make yourself expendable in every area of life.

Admittedly, it’s frighteningly easy to become complacent–especially when most of those around us act in a Frankenstein fashion.  What I found particularly interesting during the hypnotist’s show was how those who were hypnotized never found the behavior of their fellow stooge’s foolish at all.  They looked like absolute idiots, yet none of them were able to break their trance to recognize nor point out the ridiculousness of their partner’s actions.  They were all participating in the same reality, which gave the illusion of normalcy and the environment necessary for the stupidity to continue.

So how do we break a pattern of passive existence?  Well, it may help to identify the opposite of merely “showing up,” which is, of course, becoming engaged in the activity at hand.  Again, it’s a habit that is not acquired on the initial conscious attempt so frustration in the process of engaging yourself more frequently is a common experience (but well worth the effort).

While going to school (even at the University level), it was clear to me that the majority of students went to class simply because “they had to.”  It was just part of the their routine.  However, the successful students never shared the objective of merely “showing up.”  Top performers, I noticed, always had a purpose and a habit of engaging themselves.  They kept their mind active by asking themselves dynamic questions that the rest of the students did not, such as:

  • What will we cover in class today? (Thinking of this in advance primes the mind and improves retention – it’s incredible how few students care to ask this basic question)
  • What are main points being discussed?  (Summarizing concepts also improves retention)
  • How does this relate to my experiences?  (Drawing parallels is a simple way to help understand and memorize key concepts)
  • How is this applicable to my life?  (Moving from theory to application leads to better understanding)
  • How could this be presented on a test?  (Obviously tests are not the full measure of “education,” but grades do matter)

Of course, becoming engaged is not only useful in the realm of education (although there are few things we do in life that don’t involve learning).  From one’s professional pursuits to seemingly trivial daily tasks, being able to engage ourselves mentally is crucial to free ourselves from a mundane sleepwalking-existence with poor results and very little fulfillment.

Since much of our lives involve doing something, one of the simplest and most powerful questions to ask continuously each day is, “Is there a more effective way to do this?” Many times, when I ask this of other people, the response I usually get is an abrupt, “No.”  “Why not?” I ask.  “Well… because.”  (The second response is often as brief as the first)  A classic example of self-hypnosis.  Without interrupting ourselves with inquisitive questions, a multitude of options, opportunities, and daily possibilities are hidden from our conscious awareness.

You Inc., Consultancy:

Thankfully, we don’t need to be a corporation to utilize the efficacy of a “consultant mentality.”  The most productive, accomplished, and innovative individuals I know have trained themselves to become their own consultants.  They have made a habit of constantly thinking ahead, reassessing their performance, analyzing their results (not their opinions of the results), and searching for more efficient methods of action.

Since the questions we ask ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, direct our focus of attention, our feelings, and ultimately our behavior, asking pertinent questions is a logical place to begin the process of developing a consultant mentality.  Of course any change in routine requires an ongoing conscious effort because habits are not formed overnight (see Inciteful Actions below for ideas to get started).

Being your own consultant is an extremely important topic when we consider the fact that we must be able to rely on ourselves to perform at our best.  Whether you work for a company or for yourself, our own ability to produce quality results is the only real security we have in life. We cannot wait for other people to crack the whip on our backside as a viable strategy to keep us from drifting into complacency.  Now, more than ever before, our own unique set of skills most accurately determines our true market-value in what is quickly becoming a free-agent economy.  What are you doing to make yourself valuable?  If you’re not actively thinking about this and working on it, you are building a house made of straw.


If a business becomes complacent and ceases to innovate they would rapidly lose value in the marketplace until eventually becoming replaced by a more innovative and efficient company.  It’s basic common sense.  But most people fail to look at their role in the marketplace in the same way.  The failure to constantly strive for better performance through personal innovation is a turnpike to mediocrity (and eventually unemployment).

Whenever you can approach the same situation with a different frame of mind you will notice new possibilities.  Whether it’s plotting your life course or completing a daily task, knowing the result you want, testing assumptions, and trying new approaches will improve your performance in the long run.  Be your own consultant and reap the benefits.

Inciteful questions and actions:


  • Methodically track every personal action for a 3-day period and review the list on the morning following the 3rd day.  Scrutinize every item to see what can be done differently or what can be eliminated entirely.
  • Seek a mentor or close group of accountability-partners whom you can collaborate with to question each others daily actions and share productivity experiments.
  • Write the questions below on brightly colored pieces of paper and leave copies of the list in the places you see frequently throughout your day (Your desk, computer screen, fridge, car, nightstand, etc.)


  • Why am I doing this?  Is this absolutely necessary?  Would I be better off delegating this task?
  • Am I inventing busy-work as a way of avoiding what is most important?
  • What might be a better way of accomplishing the outcome I want?
  • How can I accomplish my objective and enjoy the process?
  • How might this repeated action be masking a potential fear of mine?
  • What should I add to my “not-to-do” list?  (more on this topic in a follow up post)

Your thoughts?

What other questions or actions do you employ to maximize efficiency and encourage innovation?  What is your experience in becoming your own consultant?  Please post your thoughts below.

Stay uncommon,

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