Have – Do – Be

“In order to have, first you must Do. In order to do, first you must Be”.

This concept comes from the Mastery Keys system; a program released in that served as the inspiration for both Think and Grow Rich and The Secret, which was thrust into fame by Oprah back in 2006 . The program was released as a book and was meant to be studied over 6 weeks, with each lesson being focused on for a full week. Original copies of the book are difficult to find but if interested you can find the course for free online here.

I first heard of the program during a Tim Ferriss interview of ex-NFL player, actor, and artist, Terry Crews. Crews, a self-proclaimed self-help book junkie, said that it is the book that he has gifted the most, all because of that concept.

“If you want to have, first you must Do. In order to do, first you must Be.”

There is a lot to unpack in this simple phrase.  If you want to Have something – be that money, success, fitness – you must Do the work consistently to achieve those aims.  But before you will Do the needful you must first become that person.  You must Be the change.  When you reach that point mentally then the rest falls into place naturally.  You’ve already won.

An example of this is quitting smoking.  Many people, myself included, have struggled with quitting.  Dates are set, or you swear this will be the last pack, yet you end up buying another.  The actual quitting doesn’t occur until you finally decide to Be a non-smoker.  Once that switch flips mentally you begin to Do what a non-smoker does until you Have the clear lungs and fresh breath that you wanted all along.

The example Crews gives on the podcast is another good one.  Early in his career he wanted to Have it all.  He wanted to be rich.  One day he decided “I already AM rich.  So what would a rich person Do?”.  His demeanor changed and his actions began to reflect that change.  By accumulating those actions consistently over time eventually he had what he wanted.

This is sort of like the act-as-if principle; also known as “fake it til you make it”.  If you act as if you’ve already achieved what you want to achieve your actions will be more congruent with that goal.  But I feel that this only brushes the surface.  You need to become your goal.  Once that happens then it is already reached.  Very zen.

Writing is a great example of this.  They say that writers hate writing, but love having written.  They dislike the Do, but love the Have.  But to Be a writer is to write.  Self-identifying as a writer is the first step to doing what writers do.  The more you write the more you reinforce that you Are a writer.  It is a self-fulfilling loop.  Eventually you look up and realize that you Have what you were looking for.  All because you decided to Be a writer.

An Exercise

What is something that want?  Something that is important but that you have ignored or self-defeated against?  It could be to lose weight, write a book, or finish school.  Let’s use fitness as an example.

In order to Have fitness you must Do things that make you fit – primarily eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.  Like most things in life we already know what to do; the problem is doing it.  You already know that waking up 30 minutes early to workout, followed by three healthy meals in a day, then bed at a reasonable hour is a great start.

Next, say to yourself “I am fit” and Do the things that a fit person would do.  Lay out your workout clothes, set your alarm, and go to bed.  Wake up the next day, put on your gear, and work out.  Eat right and say to yourself “I don’t eat garbage” because fit people don’t.  Repeat this process daily, thereby reinforcing that you truly ARE fit.

It is really as simple as that.  You just need to shift your perspective so that you are looking at the challenge from a different angle.

Be The Change

When you get into a bind, ask yourself “What would a rich/fit/artistic person do?”.  Then do that.  Until you start self-identifying as what you wish to become, no change will stick.  You need to Be in order to Do consistently.  The Have will surely follow.


Practice in Public

When I was younger I really wanted to play guitar.  Even as a young child, when asked by my parents if I wanted to take music lessons, that was the instrument I enthusiastically requested.  Then they put me into violin…

Later I got my wish in the form of a cherry red Stratocaster.  Weekly music lessons were started and my teacher jumped right in to teaching me Metallica licks.  I would take these home and practice without the amplifier, wanting to get it right first.

Later still, I bought myself a nice little acoustic in Greece while traveling.  One of the guys I was with was already really good and a bunch of us started playing together.  We’d trade off rhythm for lead, but when it was my turn I would usually play very softly, as if only for myself.

Looking back at those years I can see that my approach was all wrong.  I treated it like a solo activity even when in a group.  Scared of hitting a wrong note in public, I didn’t hit any notes at all.

Practice Required

Getting better at any skill requires dedicated practice.  That’s a no-brainer.  And a lot of that practice will be done in private.  But to advance quickly you need to receive feedback.  That’s why it is important to devise ways to practice in public.

Hanging it on the line does three things:

  1. Gets you the quick feedback you need
  2. Forces you to deliver imperfect attempts
  3. Trains you for the spotlight so you don’t choke when put on the spot

This doesn’t mean you should never practice scales in your bedroom again.  The idea is to prepare first, then perform what you’ve learned – no matter the level of development.  If you started playing guitar last week then I want you on stage playing Mary Had a Little Lamb this weekend.

Don’t Fear the Spotlight

Practicing in public is about devising ways to showcase your progress and release your work into the world.  Yet it can be difficult to do.  We fear being put on the spot; being ridiculed for our feeble first attempts.  While there may be some ribbing at first, those same people will quietly respect you for attempting something in public.

With a bit of practice that fear will subside and your skills will continue to grow.  You’ll be getting the quick feedback required to progress and confidence in your skills will soar.  And it doesn’t take much practice before you are far better than everyone around you who doesn’t practice at all, making your skills seem even more impressive by comparison.

If the ultimate goal is to showcase your skills in public then get used to practicing there as well – warts and all.  Progress will come faster and you will develop confidence in your skills.

I think it’s time to dust off that guitar.

The Two Sides of Improvement

We all have things we want to get better at; skills to learn and improve, projects to complete, or physical actions related to our health and appearance.  We often hang the success of these goals on the power of our self-discipline.  Conversely, failures to perform are blamed on a lack of discipline.

But discipline is only one half of the story.

Imagine waking up every morning, jumping out of bed into your running shoes, and heading straight out the door for a run.  Later, at the end of the day, you stuff your face with ice cream right before bed.  At the end of the month your weight hasn’t changed despite all the miles you’ve put in, and you bemoan your lack of self-discipline in achieving your goals.

Waking up to run each day takes discipline though, so it isn’t as if that is impossible to tap into.  The obvious culprit here is the nightly ice cream party.  And avoiding that doesn’t take discipline; it takes self-control.

The Two Sides

Simply put, discipline is what we do.  The actions we take.  It is the force that requires us to move, to put on those running shoes, or to sit at the desk and start writing.

Self-control is what we don’t do.  It’s what we bring in to play when we go to bed early to ensure a good night sleep, order salad instead of fries, or put down that ice cream scoop.

Discipline is what we do.  Self-control is what we don’t do.

This isn’t just semantics.  Recognizing that these are two distinct operating modes allows recognition of how they can be used in different situations.  Each requires different strategies to ensure success, and each can be strengthened through practice.  Recognizing which tool to use in different circumstances helps stack the deck for a positive outcome.


If discipline affects what we do and the actions we take, then how to best stack the deck in our favor to ensure success?

Discipline is the precursor to habit.  While it is difficult at first to wake up every day and go for a run, or floss every night, or write for 30 minutes, eventually the repeated action becomes a habit and is completed almost on autopilot.  The inflection point that triggers the habit routine becomes very small and is the lever where your discipline needs to be applied.

The key is to identify that lever then create optimal conditions for completing it.  Make it too easy to fail.

If you are trying to work out in the mornings, prepare your gear the night before so it is ready.  Put it on and then just focus on getting out of the door.  If you get outside you’ve won for the day, and at this point it is easier to just keep moving than it is to go back inside.

In The One Thing, author Jay Papusan figures that it takes around 66 days to build a new habit and encourages us to choose One Thing to focus on at a time.  At the end of each period the action has become a habit and the discipline required to execute it is minimal.  A new action is then chosen and will be “stacked” on top of the previous one.

Remove the obstacles to discipline and identify the lever where its application will have the greatest affect.


Often referred to as will power, this is described by the American Phsychlogical Association as “the ability to delay gratification, resisting short term temptations in order to meet long term goals”.

Self-control is what you don’t do.  It is avoiding the things that move your life in the direction opposite that you want it to go.  And it is the more difficult skill to master.

Our desires are formed from thousands of years of evolution and many of them rest deep in our lizard brain.  They can never be expunged and must be resisted time and time again.  Sometimes we win the battle and others we lose.  What can we do to improve the odds in our favor?

Environment design is the first place to start.  Just as we are often driven by our base desires, we are also inherently lazy and will gravitate towards the easiest option in many instances.  Trying to lose weight?  Get rid of all junk food in your house and keep a bowl of apples on the counter.  Want to spend less time on social media?  Delete the apps from your phone and only check it from your laptop.

Make it hard to do the things you want to avoid and easy to do something more positive.  Delay the gratification of these actions and use them as a reward, rather than a crutch.

I love reading, but there was a point where I would read when I should have been writing.  At the end of the day I hadn’t written a thing but had polished off another book.  Something had to give.  I made a deal with myself that I could start reading (reward) once I had written something (trigger).  A single paragraph was enough, but this had to happen each time before I picked up that book.  This helped establish a healthier balance and I was able to get things back under control.

A second technique that helps with self-control is to pre-determine your responses.  Use an “If this then that” statement as a guide.

“If we go to a restaurant then I’m going to order a salad.”

“If they bring drinks I’ll have one and then switch to water.”

“If I’m invited out then I’ll take a raincheck.”

Make your decision ahead of time so that you’ve already practiced the response.  This especially helps in situations where your default (easiest) decision is one that you are trying to stop or minimize.  Eventually these decisions will become the new default decision once they have been applied enough times.

Divide and Conquer

Changing out bad habits and developing new ones can be a big job, but is made easier by separating techniques for the things you do (discipline) and the things that you don’t do (self-control).  They are two sides of the same coin and, when used together, will help you achieve your goals more effectively.

One or the other will usually come more naturally to most people.  The trick is to realize where you are flagging, then take steps that are tailored towards specific action to stack the deck in your favor.