We’re here today with Michael Bernoff, the author of Average Sucks.
So, let’s say you’ve built the business you’ve always wanted and you’re making good money, and nothing is really wrong on the surface. And yet, you’re unsatisfied with where you are.
Well, Michael believes it’s not your fault that you feel stuck. In fact, there’s an invisible force holding you back. And in this episode, he shows you what it is and what you can do about it. Even though Michael works with entrepreneurs and athletes and executives and Fortune 500 companies, he’s not actually teaching business strategy and he’s not trying to bury you in busywork. This is an invitation to meet the real you.
Michael is the founder of the Human Communications Institute, which is dedicated to creating rapid and lasting change in people’s lives. If you believe you deserve better than average and you know you’re capable of it too, this is the episode for you. And now, here is Michael Bernoff.
Charlie Hoehn: Average Sucks. I’d like to start with a story about when your life was maybe average.
Michael Bernoff: I grew up in a very, very average middle-class neighborhood, which there’s nothing wrong with, but I realize the majority of the people in the world did. And my parents taught me a couple of really big rules in life and they said, “If you want to get ahead in life,” and I remember, metaphorically, writing this down, “You have to work hard and you have got to be a good person.”
Going into business later in life, that was the big thing I did. I worked hard. I was a good person. But I never seemed to get the results that I want. I kept on getting a little bit better, moving a little bit in the right direction and getting super excited but it was almost like something was always holding me back. I knew there was nothing there, and I couldn’t figure out what these other people were doing that I wasn’t. I realized that there was this metaphoric force that we’re all dealing with on a regular basis and it’s this automatic program we have which I call in the book your ‘average.’
It’s this piece of your life that has been there forever that is attached to your identity as a person that really says, “If you want more, you’ve got to change this big piece of you.” For my own life, one of the things that I’ve dealt with is that what your average is today, typically would have been a great idea five, ten years ago. If you only would have been here five, ten years ago, it would be great. Most of us are operating from a very outdated program of what we want.
What Are You Capable Of?
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, you were saying before we started this interview that everybody is coming to you in droves now because of coronavirus, which kind of surprised me but it makes sense. Could you explain what they’ve been telling you, and why they’re coming to you now?
Michael Bernoff: Yeah, I think a lot of people are recognizing right now that what they’ve been doing up till now–and this is where the whole average thing comes in. There isn’t a person right now in the world that’s saying, “I wish I would have gone to Starbucks one more time, I wish I would have had another bottle of wine with my friends out and about.”
I think everybody’s saying, “I wish I would have educated myself differently. I would have had different principles when it came to savings or investing. I would have built a less fragile business or less fragile relationships,” and that’s really what Average Sucks is about.
I mean, I literally get stopped because I wear Average Sucks t-shirts all the time. It’s a movement. People stop me all the time and they say, “Hey. I agree, man. Average sucks. You’re right.” And then I always tell them, “Do you know what it means?” And people say, “Yeah dude, I’m better than you because that’s what everybody thinks.” That’s a superficial thing.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. Average sucks really means that what you’re capable of and what your average is, there’s typically a gap between those things. Most people live their version of an average life, an average relationship, an average sex life, an average health life for themselves, an average business.
They never really live their actual potential as a human being. So, they’re living this automatic program instead of understanding there are very simple psychological triggers that people can do that can break them out of what their mold is. A lot of times it takes a catastrophic event in someone’s life or in the world to wake somebody up and for them to realize that they’ve been sleepwalking through their life.
Are You Where You Want to Be?
Charlie Hoehn: I’ve heard so many stories of people who have had near-death experiences or were diagnosed with cancer and then they go on to create the life that they want. Or at least that force that held them back is no longer in their way. Why is that? I don’t get it.
Michael Bernoff: The biggest reason why human beings take action when they have to is that we typically don’t do things right off the bat when we want to. That’s the thing. Again, if I were to tell you how strong this average is that’s inside of us, it’s an identity that we have as a human being and we have a vested interest in continuing being who it is that we currently are.
This is why it’s very hard to get ahead in business, why someone loses weight for a couple of months and then gains it back, why a smoker has trouble quitting. Yes, there’s the addictive factor, there’s the addiction to the actual substance, and then there’s the addiction to the identity of how you see yourself. When a catastrophic event happens, a heart attack, a pandemic, you lose your job, you start to rethink things. And you start asking yourself questions. The biggest question we talk about in the book is, “Are you where you want to be?”
The second you ask that question, “Are you where you want to be?” Three things happen immediately. Number one, an opportunity presents itself. You think, “I’m not where I want to be? Where do I want to be?”
Number two is, massive insecurity, because you realize, “Wait a second. What I’m doing isn’t working for me. I’m not where I want to be. Everything I’ve said up till now maybe isn’t as good as I thought it was.”
Number three is the path reveals itself.
I believe that once a human being recognizes that they’re being controlled by outdated programming, whether they put it there or someone else put it there, and they realize that their average is so controlling, they’ll realize that you don’t have to work as hard as you think you do.
I mean, literally, you could sit on your butt for the next nine months of your life, do nothing, and then the last 90 days of the year, you’re going to kick ass, you’re going to make things happen. The reason why is, your identity and your average have a vested interest in you continuing to be what it is that you are. This is why no matter what the economy is, people make about the same money if you’re any good at what you do.
You don’t have to work any harder to be who you are. But you are going to have to do things differently to become the person you want to be.
Charlie Hoehn: Michael, I’m curious, before we get into the triggers that you mention to help break out of the psychological trap we get into, what was your journey? How did you learn about this stuff?
How You Communicate with Yourself
Michael Bernoff: I had a very simple journey. I went into business at a young age and I struggled like you wouldn’t believe. I took the advice my parents gave me as a child, and I attempted to apply it to business. Here I am in business, excited, passionate, and happy, I was selling these insurance-style products back in the day through direct sales. I was super excited about it, fired up, and I was 19, 20 years old, and still going to college.
I applied my parent’s advice. I remember working at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey and parking cars. I said, “Mom, look at those cars.” And she nicely let me know those are not for people like us. She didn’t mean we couldn’t have it. She said, “If you want that, you’ve got to work hard, be a good person, and you’ll get one.”
I went into business myself and I applied ‘work hard, be a good person’ and I failed miserably. I got put on academic probation because I wasn’t focused, I had ADD. I wasn’t really into college at the time. I went to junior college and while I was there, a professor at the time said that I could pick any book that he had on this list. One of them was, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Carnegie. I read the book and wow, was it interesting. It wasn’t even that the book taught you how to influence people. I was a single guy and what a great thing to have at 19 years old.
I had no idea that you could get better at things by more than just hard work. That you could re-identify yourself. For example, I could become an influential person. I could become a wealthy person. I could become somebody who is good with people. I could become somebody that’s less bothered. I thought that you get the cards you’re dealt with and if you work a little harder, you can get, give or take 20%, the things you want.
So, that book opened up doors for me and I started studying personal development and human psychology. What makes people do things? And through that, I recognized that my entire life I had thought these things, but nobody ever showed me how to do it.
I realized there is an entire world full of people that are looking to bully their way through life instead of understanding this simplistic process and what the process is, if you want to change who you are and you want to grow, what do you do? It’s typically through the power of how you communicate with yourself. That was the biggest breakthrough moment I had. I didn’t fix it overnight. But now, I truly get that everything you want in your life, you can get through the power of communication.
Charlie Hoehn: I love that. So, tell me about when that breakthrough started to get traction and get momentum in your life. What were you doing on a daily basis?
Michael Bernoff: The biggest way that I got traction in my life was a big commitment. I went through learning and listening to stuff. I spent years liking and loving personal development. I used it as a drug. It kept me going and I loved it. It was fun, and I would keep myself positive, but I really wasn’t getting the results that I wanted.
The biggest breakthrough moment–I remember being at the Newark Airport and I was flying back between the holidays. I was in this transition period in my life where I loved helping and serving people, and I also had this other business going on the side that I liked, but I didn’t love. I was getting more kudos, more joy, more satisfaction for serving, helping, coaching, and training people, but I didn’t want to let go of this thing that I had. Literally, I remember sitting there at the Newark Airport about to get on the plane and I said, “I got it.”
I don’t want to say I surrendered, because that wasn’t the word that I said. But I really just said to myself, “I am not doing what I want to be doing with my life.” And at that moment, I heard these words inside of my head that said, “What do you really want to be doing?” And I said, “I want to share with people the stuff that excites me, that works for me, and not just sell something.” And at that moment, this massive clarity came over me. I got on the plane and I started writing things down.
I sat next to this guy on the plane and we talked for a little bit and he said something to me. He had a thick accent and he said, “Do you know what the one thing is that all human beings need to do to get whatever they want?” We went back and forth for over an hour on the plane and he wouldn’t give me the answer. And he finally said, “Communicate.” I got off the plane and I thought, “That is the answer.”
That literally became my obsession almost twenty years ago–teaching human beings how to communicate with themselves because I truly believe that communication is the most underdeveloped, underutilized asset that we have as human beings in order to get anything we want in this world. Part of that is learning not just to communicate with others, but it is to communicate with yourself about how you see your life and how your life works for you.
Charlie Hoehn: Wow, you’re blowing my mind, Michael, because I realize that no one ever teaches you how to talk with yourself. You just have a bunch of chatter in your head and a lot of it is scripts and programming you got in the first seven years of your life, where you are not really your own person at all. It makes me think a little bit of the book, The Inner Game of Tennis, have you ever read that book?
Michael Bernoff: No, but I have read the Zen of Archery and I have read a bunch of things that sound similar to that.
Your Brain Wants to be Comfortable
Charlie Hoehn: It’s about self-talk. I am not a tennis player and it’s become this cult classic because of that in self-talks. So, talk to me about how we talk to ourselves–is this the psychological triggers you were talking about?
Michael Bernoff: Yeah, that is a big piece of the puzzle. We all have to accept that in our lives we have this thing that we do, and it perpetuates all the time. There is the self-talk and then there’s really identifying the program you have as a human being. Most of us in life are perpetuating an identity.
I was absent for two days in school. I say the two biggest days I was absent, and one was the day they taught success and then the other was the day you decided who you were. I laugh about that. But that is the truth, I literally was absent the day they decided who I was, and I went along with it. I would say that we have a vested interest in our lives in being who it is that we are. Because between your conscious and your unconscious mind, your brain truly desires to be who it is that you are.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you wanted to quit smoking or another habit you don’t want to have anymore. The second you admit that you want to change something your brain goes, “Wait a second, are you saying that we’re not good enough the way we live? Wait a second, are you saying we need to change?” And the brain starts to get uncomfortable. So, any time that you’re uncomfortable, your brain wants to slow you down.
So, the whole design of the brain is to keep you safe, to look for advantages in life, and to avoid things that could be uncomfortable for you. Even with getting this book out there in the world, becoming a person that is an author is different than the person that’s not an author.
I have to admit that if I want to be able to be an author, I can’t be who I am currently. So, is who I am currently not good enough? That is what my brain hears but that is not actually what’s really going on. What I am saying is that I am capable of more and I want to do more. What happens for people with these psychological triggers is that we have, as human beings, certain words that we use in our psychology–certain words that have a stronger emotion that is built-in.
For instance, if you have something you want to get out to people, you could say to yourself, “It would be a really good idea to get this done.” If people were really motivated by deciding and doing and being motivated that would be wonderful. But they are not. 97% of the world is motivated by things getting bad enough and they change. I think it would be better off with nightmare boards than dream boards because if dream boards worked everybody would be rich and happy and successful. That stuff doesn’t work. What people are motivated by is getting to a point where things get bad and then they have to change.
So, what I do is I use psychological triggers for things. This is how I got myself to go through stuff. I believe what I do is necessary. I believe the world needs what I do and if I do not share it, I am being selfish. I think a lot of people out there in this world are not using words like that.
I don’t call myself selfish. If I don’t do it, I am being selfish. That terminology drives my psychology to say, “I don’t want to be selfish.” Then I’d say if I had pride or integrity, I would get it done. So, there are certain words that when you use them, they instantly trigger an emotion inside of the body that changes the biochemistry. Once the biochemistry changes, I hate to give out science lesson right now, what immediately happens is you become more confident and you start doing different things.
Charlie Hoehn: It sounds like people respond to avoiding pain more than they do to seeking pleasure, is that fair to say?
Michael Bernoff: Yeah, it’s huge. I mean that’s been around forever. I always say that your brain wants you to be happy, your life wants you to be happy, your unconscious mind wants you to be great. It is just going to avoid anything that’s mildly uncomfortable. The challenge is in order to achieve anything you want in this world, the first step is your brain has to admit either you don’t know how, or you have never done it before, or you haven’t done it yet. All three things are uncomfortable. So, the pathway to getting where you want to go requires some level of adversity.
Unfortunately, this is where the average thing comes in, in the last thirty to forty years as human beings, life has gotten relatively easy for the majority of people on earth. Because we do not have natural adversity as people, we do not grow as easily as we did. This is a fascinating thing.
Charlie Hoehn: All right, guys. We actually had to wrap the interview a bit early because we ran into some technical difficulties. But believe me, you want to pick up a copy of Michael’s book. It’s Average Sucks on Amazon.com. Be sure and go grab your copy today and if you like this episode, take a moment to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. We read every one. It means a lot. That’s it for today’s show. We will see you next time.