Recognize The Value Of Your Past For Business Success And A Bigger Future
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Shannon Waller
While the typical entrepreneur might be focused on the future, you simply can’t underestimate the importance of your past. In this episode, business coaches Dan Sullivan and Shannon Waller discuss the best way for entrepreneurs to engage with, and utilize, their past experiences.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
How your past is more than just what happened.
The present and future benefits of being creative with your past.
How Dan uses his past to create new thinking tools for The Strategic Coach® Program.
Why some people get trapped by their pasts.
How to easily start appreciating and owning your past.
In your lifetime, you’ll only ever have direct access to one human being—you.
Events in your past didn’t necessarily happen the way you’ve interpreted them.
Your past is your property, which means you can do anything you want with it.
Even if you were with someone else in a past experience, you were each experiencing your pasts separately.
In the present, you can look back at any past experience, and reconfigure it in your mind.
There’s an unlimited amount of raw material you can pull from your past.
The more you take your past seriously, the more people will take you seriously in the present and future.
Taking ownership of your past requires spending a lot of time alone.
If you’ve freed your past from other people’s opinion, you won’t care about other people’s opinions about what you’re doing in the present.
Freedom with your past allows you to just be who you are.
Shannon Waller: Hi, Shannon Waller here, and welcome to Inside Strategic Coach with Dan Sullivan.
Dan, you were having a conversation in the back of a workshop room not that long ago, and one of the things that you said is that the past is really important. And I think we live in a world where everyone’s focused on the future, there’s a lot of uncertainty, but you regularly educate people in terms of the past, their past history, and really help provide context.
So let’s dive into the question, why is the past so important? And you have a really cool way of bringing that forward for people, but why is it important?
Dan Sullivan: Well, in my case, it’s 100% my property. What I mean by that is since it’s my property, I can do anything with my past that I want to. One is, I don’t need anyone’s permission because nobody else knows what my past is. So I’ve got 78 years and I have a phenomenal number of memories that are my memories from a very, very early age. I actually have memories of sitting in the highchair at the dinner table, and I have memories of, not what was being said or anything else, but I have memories of sitting in the chair and seeing all my family—mother, father, and four siblings—around the table. So I think that I was unusually observant at a very early age that things were going on.
And so the big thing is that we talk about the Free Zone in Strategic Coach. Well, I’ll tell you, the biggest Free Zone is your past, because nobody else has any insight into your past whatsoever. They don’t have any of the experiences, they don’t know how you’ve thought about your experiences, they don’t know what you’ve done with your experience. You are completely, totally, 100% the owner. It’s your property. And since it’s my property, I keep expanding the value of my past that I can use in the future.
Shannon Waller: That’s really interesting. And other people participated in some of your past, but you own it.
Dan Sullivan: We were together, but they were experiencing their past and I was experiencing my past. We don’t experience other people’s past.
Shannon Waller: We don’t.
Dan Sullivan: We don’t have no access to anyone else’s past.
So I’ve had a lot of time on my own, and in order to keep myself amused and self-educating I just took what was available to me, and that was my past. I have a marvelously rich, multi-dimensional past, and I keep pulling stuff from it. And I said, “How do you want to think about that now?” “What’s something from something that happened 25 years ago that I can reconfigure in my mind?” In other words, we have some nice tools for doing that. Experience Transformer is a great tool.
Another one is the new Triple Play: “Okay, so I’ll take walking down the path on the farm. That’s in one arrow. And then I’ll talk about the first day of school, walking in the front door of the school and walking down the lawn hallway to the back of the school and then taking a left and going into the room at the far back left and sitting in the desk. And then Sister Mary Josepia came in the room.” I was six years old, September of 1950. I can remember it as clearly as today.
Little nuns. It was good because we were little and she could feel tall with us. And I can remember her talking. I remember what she looks like and everything else. So I’ve got two experiences walking down the path. Then the first time a pilot at the local airport took me up for my first flight in a Piper Cub, which was a small training plane. They still exist, but these were really bare basic planes. And he had the window flopped down. So I was in, but it was all air, and it was a very, very thrilling experience. And he says, “When I bank right, you may want to grab the side of the seat so you don’t feel like you’re falling out.” And we didn’t fly very high, but it was marvelous experience.
So I haven’t done that with those three. I’m just recalling three experiences, but I will do it after our podcast here, and I’ll see how I can pull all sorts of lessons from those three experiences. And they all happened, six or seven years old. And then I say, “So what’s this tell you?” And everything like that. And I create full lessons out of this and thinking tools and everything, and it’s just limitless. There’s just unlimited amount of raw material there.
So a lot of why I have a big future for myself all the time is that I’m continually making my past bigger.
Shannon Waller: It goes back to what you’re saying, it’s your property and you can do whatever...
Dan Sullivan: It’s my property.
Shannon Waller: ...you want with it.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. It’s my property. Nobody can tell me anything about my experience. I mean, I can hear their interpretation and maybe there’s some insights or anything else, but they can’t tell me a thing. And that independence, what I would say, that sense of independence about your past really, really makes you independent of the present.
Shannon Waller: Mm. Say more about that, “independent of the present”.
Dan Sullivan: Well, anybody’s opinion about what I’m doing or what I’m up to is so meaningless to me in the present because I’ve freed my past from anyone’s opinion. Yeah, I mean, if I wanted to invite you in, I can’t.
Shannon Waller: Right. Yeah.
Dan, this freedom is very appealing, because I think people get trapped in their thoughts about their past, they get trapped in other people’s interpretation of their past. Just watching a Jordan Peterson interview with this woman who experienced something as a microaggression, but in fact kids were just interested and curious and not critical. So how people interpret things really shapes it. And she was coached on that. But it’s like when you get freedom over your own past, I can totally see how that gives you freedom about your future.
And I think the other cool aspect of what you’ve talked about is even many, many years later, you can bring those things forward from when you were six or seven or when you started as an entrepreneur. I mean, the things... You can do the Triple Play on is amazing, what you choose from your experience, and you’re always refreshing your thinking and your mindset on those things. So you’re never trapped by it. And so many people I see, or my interpretation of it, is they look and feel and talk like they’re trapped by their past. And you’re just looking at it as raw material by the sounds of it.
Dan Sullivan: Well, that’s how they’re owning their past. It was a trap, it was a prison, and everything. I said, “Well, go for it. Does that do your future any good to think like that?” And it doesn’t. Because your freedom of your future isn’t going to be much greater than your freedom in relationship to your past.
What it means, after a while, you are freed up from having to explain yourself to other people. And one of the benefits of that, you have the time to listen to how they actually talk about your experience because you’re not really relating it to your own experience. Their experience is their experience, and they’re as free as they want to be to claim ownership over their experience. They don’t have to justify their experience to me or explain their experience to me—first of all, because I only have their say-so on what it is, and I only have their say-so on how they’re looking at it. In my entire lifetime I only have direct access to one human being.
Shannon Waller: And he’s sitting in your chair.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. And fortunately, I’m with that person all the time, so I can do it.
But I think there’s a misinterpretation of what ‘past’ is. The past is just all experience that you’ve put various judgments on. You’ve created various experiences. “Did the events actually happen?” Yes, they happened, but not necessarily in the way that you’ve interpreted them. And once you find out...
Defense lawyers in the courtroom really have this down pat. They can get somebody to change their interpretation of the past with about five questions. And all of a sudden the person who was certain that it happened this way says, “Well, I’m not so sure.” And the prosecution’s case falls apart. I’ve got this tool that I created a month ago that’s called Play to Win With the Hand You Have”. Whatever your dealt in life in terms of your experiences, play to win with all your experiences.
Shannon Waller: Your experience is real. It’s real for you. So that’s all the validity that you need. It’s not that you should have had a different experience. And some of our clients, they’re just such stellar examples of this, Dan. They came from hard, rough, incredibly challenging beginnings, and they have used their experience to be incredibly successful entrepreneurs, leaders, contributors, make a big impact. It’s incredible. Most of us would be very challenged, I think, to do what they’ve done. Anyway, it’s been impressive to me what they’ve done with their experience and not gotten trapped by it. They just keep repurposing and reutilizing it to create a much better future for themselves. I’m thinking of a couple of our coaches, one of your collaborators—very different history than you or me.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. But humans are… If they give themselves permission, they can be as creative as they want with their own past. In a certain sense, your take on your past is all made up. I mean, you have the raw material, sort of the event, but even in the event you were interpreting it in a certain way and your interpretation can change.
And I’ve done work with other people to go back and get rid of the negative aspects of my past. I’ve got the memories, but I don’t have the emotional tug backwards that I have to go back and examine this. I think freedom with your past allows you just to be who you are. Everybody’s got a unique past.
Shannon Waller: Right. And I like what you said. It gives you more space, more room to... You’re not taking up all the space with your own past. You actually have room to hear about other people and what they’re thinking about. So there’s a spaciousness about someone who uses their past as their own property and takes it like that.
Dan Sullivan: You only get to value your future to the degree that you value your past. So I really appreciate my past, and one of the reasons is I really want to appreciate my future.
Shannon Waller: And that means all aspects of it.
So Dan, why is this really critical for entrepreneurs in particular? For them to be very conscious and aware and owning their past? And how is that relate to their future? Why is it so key for entrepreneurs?
Dan Sullivan: One is that at all times they’re fully educated for everything they need to be in a bigger and better future. All they have to do is go back and make something in their past bigger and better, it automatically translates to their future.
One of the things is some entrepreneurs feel that here they are successful, but they didn’t get it through schooling. And they said, “There are people I meet that are much more schooled than I am, and they got better education and I don’t have that. So what explains my success?” And the reason why they can’t explain their present success and their future possibility of success is they can’t explain their past success.
Shannon Waller: So Dan, let’s dive into that, because this is one thing that you consistently do and you have a coaching principle around this. It’s like, “People can’t take on new ideas and new thoughts until they first see how they’ve actually done it in their past.” And that’s a huge part of your coaching and your thinking tools. In fact, in our last podcast we talked about failure and how useful and great failure can be. So it’s like asking people to reflect back, “Where have been the failures...”—you even said this in the podcast—“... that you have learned the most from?” “Where created breakthroughs? And then let’s look at that and then we can have a new way of...” So that you’re giving a whole different lens on something that most people would avoid, just through asking that question.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, you and I are just completing the next of our quarterly books, which is called Capitalism and Everything Else. And I’ve been observing and been subjected to all this talk in the modern age, mostly among teenagers and 20-year-olds, about, “Maybe we should switch to socialism.” And, “You know, the communists had a lot of good ideas.” And, “Other systems had it.” And I said, “You know, you’re profoundly ignorant, is what you are, you’re really profoundly ignorant.” And these are ideologies. Capitalism is not an ideology, it’s a methodology.
Over a couple hundred million years, humans, in exploring their way in the world, found out that there’s five growth stages that you have to go through if you’re going to be successful at anything. So you can say that capitalism started when the first humans started to try to improve their capabilities in such a way that tomorrow they’d be happier than they were yesterday, and they would expand their vision of what was possible.
So that’s when capitalism starts, and then it’s been worked on for a couple hundred million years, and here we... Couple hundred thousand, not a couple hundred million, but a couple hundred thousand years. But you’ve got to see yourself as valuable and other people have to see you as valuable. So you got to start with a sense of self-value, and then you show and demonstrate to other people why you’re valuable. And it’s a negotiation. Life is a constant negotiation between what you appreciate inside and what you get appreciated for outside. There’s this negotiation, and that’s capitalism, start to finish, that’s just capitalism.
The others are made-up stories about, “Why you’re not good at capitalism.” Socialism is made-up story about people who think themselves morally and intellectually superior, but the bank account doesn’t show that.
So anyway, I’m just saying this, that the reason why people are really successful individually, it’s not that they have a better grasp of the future, they have a better grasp of their past.
Shannon Waller: I love that. “They have a better grasp of their past.”
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. The extreme inequality on the planet in the present and in the future is because there’s an extreme inequality of people’s appreciation and ownership of their past.
Shannon Waller: Mm. I love that statement, Dan. So the more people appreciate, delve into, take their own experience seriously—which is one of your sentences that’s been very much resonant for me. It’s like, “The more I take my experience seriously, the better I become, the wiser I become, the smarter I become. And if I don’t take my experience seriously, then I keep tripping over myself over and over again.” And I really appreciate that. There’s a lot of wisdom there.
Dan Sullivan: I think the other thing, the more you take your past seriously, the more people take you seriously in the present, and they’ll take you even more seriously in the future. And it’s totally self-initiated and it’s your property. You can’t be trusted with any more property because you’re neglecting the property that is entirely yours. You can’t be really trusted to use anybody else’s property because you’re not using your own property very well.
Shannon Waller: That’s awesome.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, it’s a hard thing because people don’t realize that their past is based on experiences that nobody has had. And it’s based on an interpretation that they give to the meaning of the experience they’ve had. And nobody else has access to either of those understandings. Nobody has access to that knowledge. You’re the only one who has access to the knowledge.
The other thing is, if you grant yourself the freedom to treat your own past as your property, then I grant that to every other human being, too. Every other being gets to have freedom of their past. I grant every other human being, “You have complete access to your own experience, and it’s entirely your property. And you can do anything you want with that property. You don’t have to look at your past the way I’m looking at my past.”
Shannon Waller: Right. Yeah. And again, there’s so much freedom in that, freedom of relationship.
The one other thing that, what you were saying triggers in my brain is it has you also appreciate the uniqueness of your own past, is another way to say what you were saying. And really, we each have our own unique experience of, even if it was a collective, it’s still something that we each have our own personal and unique experience of that. So when you really, again, take that seriously, incredibly useful things can come out of it for you, but until you really own it to that degree, it’s not useful, it’s living rent-free in your brain, as you like to say.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. And the thing is, a lot of reason why people don’t go deeper into this is they don’t have time. They’re watching television, they don’t have time. They’re on social media. They don’t have time. They can’t be in a room alone with themselves. They have to be busy and distracted all the time. Well, I can tell you, taking ownership of your past takes a lot of alone-time, it takes a lot of time where you’re completely happy to be by yourself and you’re going through your memories. And some people, that’s a terrible time. They would do anything not to have to be alone with themselves thinking about their past, and they’re cut off from all ownership of their uniqueness.
Shannon Waller: So on that note, Dan, what is one thing people can do after listening to go...? And let’s do the gentle easy version. What’s one way they can reflect on their past and maybe put things together that actually will kind of enlighten them into the value of being alone with themselves and their thoughts? What’s one simple action people can take to put this into action?
Dan Sullivan: Well, I think the easy app that we have that’s free on Apple, WinStreak. So I would get into the habit of interpreting the past since this morning. In other words, before you go to bed at night, think of the three best things that happened to you that day and just mull on them and see if there’s any similarities between those three experience. And then based on the three wins for today, what kind of three wins can you have for tomorrow? Because you should have a significant grasp on your past since you woke up this morning.
Shannon Waller: This morning.
Dan Sullivan: You’d be surprised, a lot of people don’t.
Shannon Waller: It’s true. It’s a very recent past. So that’s a good starting point.
Dan Sullivan: Yeah. I would start with the most readily accessible past, which is today. And then say, “What did I benefit? What are my insights from today that’ll benefit me for tomorrow?”
Shannon Waller: Oh, I love that.
Dan Sullivan: Just go to the Apple store and download WinStreak. It’s a little app. You can put it on your computer or put it on...
Shannon Waller: It’s free.
Dan Sullivan: ... on your cell... It’s free. And then it’ll keep track of... I don’t know, how long does it go back? I forget how long.
Shannon Waller: Quite a bit. You get little cartoon stickers as you go along, which is really fine as little awards.
Dan Sullivan: And I would train myself because that’s not a heavy weight. Then you’ll notice that if you can do it for a day, you can do it for two or three days. You can do it for a week, you can do it for a month. But you got to start by appreciating the past that you have most immediately available to you, which is today.
Shannon Waller: Dan, this is great coaching. I love this very simple-
Dan Sullivan: Since the last dark sleep. Between dark sleeps, you had a dark sleep, that you had last night, well just start when you woke up from that dark sleep and go forward before you have another dark sleep.
Shannon Waller: I love it. It didn’t even occur to me. What a great way to extrapolate the value from your past and mine it for the good things, and use those insights to educate your future. I love it. Thank you so much.