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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

The Fact and Meaning Boxes

Your brain can store 100 trillion facts. Your mind can handle 15,000 decisions a second. You can smell 10,000 different odors. Your touch can detect a 1/25,000 of an inch of difference. You can taste one-part quinine in 2 million parts water.

So, why is it you don't feel special or capable? What an absurd notion! I suggest something happened and you decided you were not important or special. Write two words down: FACT and MEANING.

Facts are experiences, feelings we've had, while meaning is the "interpretation" we put to that experience or feeling. We have two boxes we put things into that we experience. One box is the FACT box, the other is the MEANING box. Have you ever said something factual to someone else, and they totally took it the wrong way? The "wrong way" is they attached the wrong MEANING to what you said and placed it in the MEANING box.

A friend of mine wanted a doll when she was very young. Her father would not get the doll for her. That's a fact. It's something that really happened. Then she put a meaning to it. She decided she wasn't worth it. If she was really worth it, her dad would have bought the $10 doll.

Can you think of another meaning she could have put to that very same fact? Sure, you can, such as, "We can't afford it, or Dad does not love me." I am sure you can think of more. In my workshops, we do this exercise all the time, and people are amazed at all the meanings they can come up with to attach to one single fact.

The point is, we make up meanings for everything that happens in life. It would be so powerful for you to begin to realize you are making the meanings up. Facts are not meanings! They are two separate things. Many people take meanings to be true and believe there could be no other meaning. This is huge! The best leaders, on the other hand, recognize that facts do not necessarily mean any one thing.

One exercise I really love doing with salespeople is: When you present something to a qualified prospect, what do you make the word "No" mean? Suppose it meant something other than the person wasn't interested? It could mean "It's not the right time for us," or "We don't have the budget" or "I don't fully understand how this could help us." Many young and new salespeople attach these meanings: "I don't like you," "Why are you taking up my time?" and even, "You suck."

Another example. If you have a manager who did not return a phone call, e-mail or text message, what did you make that mean? What if you picked the wrong meaning?

What happened where you decided you weren't special? What else could you make that same experience mean that would help you in living the life you want? It may not mean that, but at least pick meanings that support you in the direction you want to go in life.

When young students completely flunk a test, they invariably make it mean that they are slow, stupid, a failure, or something similar. It doesn't mean that. It means whatever the student decides it means.

Remember this, you are special, not because of anything you have done. It is simply a fact. All human beings are very valuable. Facts in and of themselves do not have any inherent meaning, only the meanings we attach and pitch into the meaning box.

You can do this exercise as a journaling activity. Write down the factual things that happened to you today and then the meanings you attached to those facts. See if you can spot any patterns.

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