How to Do What You Actually Want to Do

Our brains have a hard time letting go of things. It’s why things pile up in our garages and attics— and it’s called loss aversion. This is why we have trouble parting with money for a risky investment, and it even affects how we change jobs and relationships. But once we understand the principles behind how our brain sees loss, we can use them to drive our life decisions directly toward our biggest goals and dreams.

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Transcript:

Welcome to the Cara Brookins Show, where you’ll find all the tools you need to get unstuck and build a better life. I know what it feels like to need a friend to talk you through the hard stuff. From cleaning off your desk, to building a new desk, or even rebuilding your entire life from scratch, I’ll be here with you for every step. Let’s get moving and build exactly the life you want.

We’re talking about your favorite pizza toppings today. That’s right, pizza and losing things. And besides making you hungry, this pizza discussion will help you reach goals and let go of some clutter you didn’t need anyhow. Are you ready? 

I have wasted a lot of time and space in my life by holding on to things that I don’t need, even some things that I barely even like. Sometimes I hold on to things even if letting them go would give me something even better. Why do I do this? Because letting go is hard. It’s hard for me, and for all of us, because our brains are wired to hold on to things. 

This was a really great personality trait back in the caveman days when there wasn’t much stuff and it was important to hold on to things, but now we live in a time with so much stuff, it’s a problem. 

That’s right, in both life, and in pizza, this mindset is not serving us well. We’ll get to the letting go details of this idea in a minute, but first let’s talk about the pizza.

You’re going to like this part. 

There’s this really simple study about how we see loss that’s based on a pizza experiment. People were asked to order a pizza in one of two ways. Half ordered by starting with a plain pizza and adding toppings, and the other half  started with a loaded up pizza and removed toppings. Okay? So you’re either building your perfect pizza from scratch, or removing things from an everything pizza. But either way, you get to decide what’s on and what’s off, and you’ll end up with your perfect pizza. And in both cases each topping costs the same amount. So more toppings equals a more expensive pizza in both cases. For all intents and purposes, everything is equal. 

Now it seems like, just logically, you would end up with the same pizza no matter which way you start. Right? My perfect pizza is my perfect pizza. You’re probably thinking: I’m not going to change what I like based on wether I’m adding or subtracting stuff. But, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong.

Because it turns out, when you start with a whole lotta toppings on your pizza, you don’t like letting them go. Your brain takes ownership of those toppings and taking them off the pizza will actually give you a sense of loss. And our brain doesn’t like loss. You had the pepperoni right there on your pizza, and keeping it feels a lot better than losing it. It’s a little strange to think of loss in the same sentence as pepperoni or mushrooms, but you can understand that letting go of things is hard because we’ve all felt that sense of hesitation over losses of all sizes. Here’s where it starts getting really weird though.

When you start with that loaded up, everything pizza, letting go of things is so hard that you will end up keeping toppings on your pizza that you don’t like all that much. Things you would never intentionally put on your pizza when you were building it from scratch. Isn’t that bizarre? So for example if we’re talking about ham, even if you’re the type of person who wouldn’t add ham in your top five favorite pizzas built from scratch, you would be pretty likely to leave ham on the pizza if it started there on the everything pizza. Think about that for a minute.

You can have whatever kind of pizza you want in this experiment. You’re not sharing with someone who likes things you don’t. This is YOUR perfect pizza. And it’s less expensive to take the things off your pizza that you don’t want on there. So why in the world would anyone leave things on there and eat things they don’t care for and pay more to do it?

It’s because we can’t help ourselves when it comes to holding onto stuff. Seriously. Our brains have a very, very strong negative feeling about losing things. We just don’t like to let go of stuff that belongs to us. It’s why our attics and basements are full, it’s the reason we hesitate to part with our money in risky investments, and it’s why the more toppings you start with on your pizza the more you’ll end up with in the end. The whole idea sounds a little silly, but it isn’t.

Because this idea actually shows us how our minds have evolved to work, and understanding what’s happening in your head can change how you react to everything from pepperoni to your next life-changing project.

Now, the fact that losing stuff in life hurts is no real surprise. We know and expect that. Lose a $100 bill on a walk? Ouch. Lose an apartment, or an account at work, and that hurts. But what may surprise you is that you have to gain at least   lost in order to overcome the loss. That’s right, losses hurt about twice as much as gains make you feel good. So on a small scale, well let’s go back to the pizza experiment.

Every topping you add to your pizza feels good. But on the other hand, every topping you lose feels twice as bad. And this feeling, even with something as insignificant as pizza, is powerful enough to affect our choices. Powerful enough to get you to eat something on your pizza that you don’t really like. And that’s something that’s really hard to do—ask any mom. This is technically called loss aversion, and it also applies to bigger life decisions, and in more profound ways. Here’s how it effects the types of goals we make. 

We hold onto our jobs, houses, and relationships even if they aren’t the jobs, houses, or relationships that are best for us. It’s so true. And I hear it all the time. I’ll ask someone to set a big career goal, like life-changing big, and they answer with a project they want to work on, or a promotion. Which is fine, in fact it could be a great goal, but what happens way too often after my next questions isn’t great at all. 

I ask: Do you want to be working this job in 10 years? In 20 years? Allowing for advancement of course—but are you working in the career or for the company that you want to be with for a very long time? And guys, I have to tell you the answer most of the time isn’t good.

You say to me, I don’t really like this job or this company, but I would hate it a little less if I had this promotion or worked on this project. 

Apply the same question to your relationship, your living situation, or any part of your life where you set big goals that will have a huge impact on your life. Are you living in the city or the house you want to live in. Do you have friendships or relationships you want to have 20 years from now?

Well, you say, this relationship isn’t ideal, my friends are discouraging, but I’ve known them forever and I’m committed to sticking with them. Or I don’t love this city at all, I’d rather live in Denver, but if I renovated my house with a mountain theme I’d like it a little more. Can you see what’s going on here? 

Of course you can. All these things, the job, relationship and location are all the things on our life everything pizza. And whether we like them or not, we’d rather keep them where they are than feel a sense of loss by removing them from our lives. Because we’d have to feel like we gained at least twice as much to make up the difference, and a gain like that isn’t instant. A gain would take time and maybe not happen at all so it feels risky. So instead of trying something new, we stay stuck where we are. That kind of stings doesn’t it. But we don’t usually see it that way. Because we usually tell ourselves a little fib.

We say: This is just temporary. SOMEDAY I’ll do something different. Someday I’ll apply for that other job, move to my dream city, date the person of my dreams, develop more positive supportive friendships. I can’t do it right now because of x,y,z and sometimes w, but SOMEDAY I’m going to do something very, very different. Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the cold hard truth is: no you won’t. Because life is like a pizza. 

Statistics, and loss aversion, prove you are way more likely to just hold tight to all the stuff on your pizza rather than scraping any of it off. Even though if you did let go of the stuff you don’t even like (stuff that’s not serving your life or leading you to your biggest dreams and goals) if you let go of that stuff, you could instead have right in front of you, your very own perfect pizza. So let’s make that happen. It’s about time we change the statistics once and for all and live the life we want. Thankfully, it’s easier than you think. 

. . .

Before we dig into those details, we’re going to take a short break.

Do you have an idea that you just haven’t been able to get off the ground? Or maybe you worked on it for a while and then got stuck? And even though you still love the idea—can’t get it out of your head, you just have no idea how to get unstuck. 

If you could *just* take all the time you spent putting off a project, and put that time into doing the work to reach your target it would change everything. Take the distractions, the extra coffee breaks, TikTok videos, and Netflix binges and instead spend all those hours, weeks, sometimes years making real progress toward your goal. 

If procrastination has been holding you back, my course Build Something can help.  

I’ve put EVERY SINGLE THING you need to build your ridiculously big project into Build Something. All the strategies, tactics, and methods I used (and still use) to successfully turn my big ideas into real-life projects and finish them. #BuildSomething will teach you how to: plan your projects, get started, take action, actually do the work, work through the hard parts, and stay motivated until you reach your goal. 

Go to carabrookins.com/buildsomething/ for all the tools you need for this project. The one after that. And the one after that. And—you get the idea. That’s carabrookins.com/buildsomething/

This is your chance to get unstuck and start the project of your dreams so you can #BuildSomething you’re proud of.

. . .

And now, back to the show. 

The trick is to put your time, energy and money where your goals are. Of course that means you have to really take the time to figure out what you want in life. I’m not talking about wishes or dreams but really declaring the things you want and are going to work to make happen. Goals. Targets. The big ones! So many people go through life waiting to see what happens to them or what opportunities might land in their lap without ever setting exact goals and just declaring what you’re going to go for in life, especially in the big areas that matter most. Not sure where you start with your life goals?

It honestly doesn’t have to be some complex thing. Just create a vision board, or a file with a list and photos of the life you want to live. Look at it often. Imagine exactly what it will be like when you have that life. Now this isn’t just something to look at. We can’t manifest things in into our life with our eyes, we have to work toward these goals. So that makes your goal list all about action. Every single time you consider taking a major life action, look hard at this vision board, wether it’s a physical board or a digital file, and make sure this action will lead you closer to one of the things on your board. Here’s an example.

You don’t really like your current job, but an opportunity comes up for a promotion. Getting more money for the job will make you feel a little better about it, even if it isn’t your dream job. Should you go for the promotion? At first glance it’s an easy way to feel a little bit better about life right now, and humans will take the easy-feel-better-now option every time UNLESS YOU ALREADY HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE.  And this is why setting your goals and looking at them often will help. Your next step is an easy decision when you have declared solid goals. Just ask yourself:

Will that higher position get you to your actual dream job? Or will it just take a lot of time and energy to get the promotion and perform in the higher level position? Hours you could instead spend going for the dream job? Once you have this measure to weigh your actions against, and you constantly check to make sure you’re on the right path, you develop a habit of always picking the option that gets you to your biggest goals. But wait, how does setting and reaffirming goals help with the whole loss aversion thing that had us keeping too many pizza toppings? The answer will make you do a happy dance because it all just falls into place. 

The secret is all about ownership. Remember we don’t like to lose things that we own. That is the definition of loss aversion. But when we are constantly focusing on all the things on that vision board or goal sheet—When we see our end goal as the dream job, or the mountaintop home in Denver, your brain sees THAT goal as the thing you own. That goal becomes the thing you don’t want to lose. So instead of sabotaging your goals by clinging to the junk you have right now even though you don’t really like it, your brain will be clinging to the big goal. See what this does? It directs your time, energy, and money toward the things you want most. 

This is another way that we can understand the way our brain already works, and use it. Because here’s the thing,

Life is short. And there’s just no reason at all to waste time working toward something we don’t even want, something that’s just marking time, staying in place, not getting you any closer to the things you want most in life. Don’t waste time on pizza toppings you don’t even like. 

Here’s a last thought experiment to really drive home how setting goals and loss aversion can work together. We’ll go back and apply this directly to our pizza study. 

If the two groups of people making pizzas were both asked to declare their perfect pizza the day before starting with a plain pizza or taking toppings off the everything pizza, what would happen? You declare your perfect pizza and then I hand you a high-def color picture of it with all the toppings you picked. At the top of every hour of the day before our experiment, you look at that picture. The melted cheese and all your favorite toppings. And you imagine what it’s like to bite into it. My mouth is actually watering, is yours? 

If we did this, every single person on both sides of this experiment would get exactly the pizza they had in their goal picture. Because that’s the one your brain owns. And getting anything else would feel like a loss. 

This may have sounded like a small step when we started today but you can see it will bring huge changes to the way you move through life. 

Declare your biggest goals. Share them with me on instagram. You can find me @CaraBrookins. Lock in the biggest things you’re going for in life. Share them with your friends and family. And then share a pizza, because, I mean, we can all work a little harder toward those goals on a full stomach. 

Make sure you put me on the calendar so we can meet up right here again next week to talk about the good side of boredom. That’s right, boredom can be good for you and you should do it on purpose. 

Thanks for hanging out with me today, head over to carabrookins.com for more (free) tools, and we should connect on social media too. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.

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