This is the second in our series, Language Matters. In case you missed the first, you can find it here.

Today, I want to talk about the difference between “because of” and “despite”.

I work with lots of folks who’ve become very successful. Through brute force. Through working long, hard hours. Who’ve come to suspect that extreme stress is just something they have to accept if they want to continue to be successful. And it doesn’t feel great. They know they want a change, but they’re not sure how to get there. And they’re sometimes skeptical (at first) of the techniques I suggest. Why? Because while they know they want to change, they attribute (at least a little) their success to the way they’ve been doing things.

When we have achieved a certain level of success in our lives, we tend to attribute our success to ALL of our behaviors. We have a hard time differentiating which behaviors helped us along the way and which we would have done just fine without. Better, even. Likewise, we tend to view our failures as caused by certain behaviors, not despite them.

However, not all of our behaviors support our success. And not all of our behaviors contributed to our failures. It can be hard to know the difference. But there is a big difference.

What would happen if you changed the narrative in your head?

  • What if instead of being effective at work because you’re always available, you’re effective despite the fact that you have notifications pinging you all day?
  • What if instead of getting an A on that paper in college because you stayed up all night to make it perfect, you got the A despite overworking yourself and getting too little sleep?
  • What if your kids are doing well in school despite the fact that you nag them about their homework, not because of it?
  • What if you failed to get that new job not because you weren’t qualified, but despite the fact that you were extremely qualified?

When you look at your situation from a perspective of “despite” instead of “because of”, what additional possibilities would open up for you? What if the things you think of as necessary evils, as just part of the gig, are not actually pushing you towards success, but are instead hindering you from even greater success?

  • What if you could turn off those pesky notifications AND still be responsive at work?
  • What if you could get an A on a paper AND get a good night’s sleep?
  • What if your kids could thrive at school without you nagging them to do their homework (or finishing it for them)?
  • What if not getting that job left you available for a better fit role?

Now, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. This all might seem a little woo-woo. But I truly believe that language matters. How we talk about who we are and what we do matters. It’s not “just semantics”, the language we use can actually help us to change our behaviors. But how will you know for sure if what I’m saying could make a difference for you?

One of the best ways I know to test hypotheses is to experiment. Because, I, like you, often find it pretty hard to believe something without seeing it. So, you might need to test things out, too. Do you have a long-seated belief about a practice that’s led to your success? Are you brave enough to test it? To find out if there’s a better, easier, less stressful way to achieve the same goal? Yes? Then devise an experiment to test it out. And then ask yourself if it needs to stay, or if you can let it go.

Not sure where to start? Here are a couple of simple experiments you could try:

  • Turn off your notifications for a day or a week (and instead batch process your communications a few times a day).
    • Are you still able to be responsive? Are your colleagues still getting what they need from you? Are you better able to focus? Are you getting more done?
  • Close the laptop and turn in early to get 8 hours of sleep instead of answering those last emails right before bed.
    • How much more productive are you the next day? Did it make any difference that you answers a few emails at 9am instead of 10pm the previous night?

If you experiment, tell me what you find out!