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  • Great Quotations and their explanations #4 “Don’t let people live in your head rent-free.” Richard Flint

    Richard Flint is an unusual man.  He operates across the United States out of Florida as a conference speaker, coach, management trainer and more.  He’s unconventional not just in that he continues to work way past the point most people would retire, nor in his penchant for the very loudest of loud Hawaiian shirts (I’ve never seen him in anything else), but in his style; very American.  VERY.

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    Buy yourself a book about behavioural economics by Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and many heavy chapters later (plus hundreds of pages of research data) you’ll understand a bit more about why people buy the things they do, how they make those purchasing decisions and what sometimes stops them.  Listen to Richard Flint talk on the same subject for half an hour and you’ll arrive at the same place.  He won’t quote the research and his justifications for his thinking bear no resemblance to those of the academics because they are personal to him.  His lists of “five main reasons…”, “three ways people…” or “four aspects of human behaviour when…” are arrived at from his personal observations and in that respect he’s an academic’s nightmare.  But he’s still right about so many things.

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    He’s like some maths genius whose exam papers have all the right answers but whose workings-out are unfathomable to the examiner.  There are whole areas which make perfect sense and the conclusion is bang-on, but it’s full of unconventionality and some things here and there don’t quite add up.  Never mind how he got there, pay attention to the bigger message and you’ll learn something invaluable.

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    I met Richard through one of my bigger U.S. clients who had used him for years and trusted his judgement implicitly.   Richard became the final part of my interview process; he needed to approve me before my sales training could begin.  After the meeting my client said Richard liked me a lot and, (put on your best southern-states-drawl for this), “That young man’s got all his ducks in a row.” Well, good to hear.

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    I’m not sure Richard could say anything without using metaphors and analogies and if you heard him and weren’t familiar with the one he’d just used it might well be because it was one of his own… and he has lots.  Go online, you’ll find him easily.  His delivery style may not be to everyone’s taste, but I promise that while his ducks might seem to be in a muddle, they are really great ducks!  Jeremiah Muddleduck.

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    I can’t be certain that Richard is the original source for “Don’t let people live in your head rent-free.” but I think it’s likely.  I heard it from him twenty-five years ago, quoted him on it many times since and never heard anyone else say it until the last five years or so.  Just a few weeks back I heard it on TV, so it has spread into a wider consciousness now for sure.

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    The principle is this.  We have thoughts about people and those thoughts have qualities.  For instance, Sarah might think of her slightly-stern mother and remember the many little lessons she gave her, of her father and feel warm and fuzzy because he’d adopted the hands-off, co-conspirator approach and always made her feel better, of her brother, whose premature death leaves her sad, of her college sweetheart who betrayed her so caustically that it took her years to get over the pain, of a neighbour who gives her the creeps because of the way he looks at her and of the new chap in her life who gives her goose-bumps and tummy-wobbles.  There are thousands of others, each attached to an overriding emotion and possibly other minor ones too.  They’re all in there and can be accessed at will and when they are, the attached emotions flood in behind and take over.  So, Sarah can go from happy to sad to angry to creeped-out, to warm and fuzzy, just by thinking about all these different people.  We can all do likewise using our own catalogue of friends and acquaintances.

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    Now remember something; whose brain is it?  It’s yours!  So, if you want to feel happy, thinking about someone who makes you feel happy would seem to be a good idea and easy to do too.  Equally, if you want to feel more resourceful, thinking about someone who was always good at making you believe in yourself and dig deep, might be just right to get you started on a difficult project.

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    Imagine Sarah is staring at a mountain of work and a difficult deadline.  She’d much rather be doing something else, anything else in fact but this is what she has to do because it’s her job.  She’s not a fan of her new boss and thinking about him whining about the work being late and knowing full well he’ll take the credit when he uses all of her stuff at the next Heads-of-Department meeting almost makes her want to quit, but a new thought takes over:  It’s payday on Thursday and she’s using a chunk of it to put a deposit on a forthcoming trip.  She’s taking her new man to Paris, her favourite place in the world and somewhere she knows well. He, on the other hand has never been and she can’t wait to share the City of Light with him.  This is why she’s working so hard right now.

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    Thinking about all those people except her boss was useful, so in respect of this quote, they are paying their rent.  Sarah keeps them in her head and thinks of them and gets something (rent) each time she does.  But is her new boss paying rent?  It seems not as he’s draining her energy, making her want to give up.  Maybe we can twist it around to make those negative thoughts useful, but don’t bother, just find someone else in there to achieve that end who doesn’t drag you down.  Maybe she can’t forget him because she has to deal with him a lot at work, but whose brain is it?  Hers, so she needs to generate new thoughts about him and neutralize the negativity, maybe like this:

    “At forty-four, he’s more than ten years older than me, he’s been over-promoted and is clearly struggling in his job because he has to rely on everyone in the department to support him and he has very little idea of what they do, or more to the point, how they do it.  No one likes him (poor sod!), although that’s not quite true, Jim likes him but then no one likes Jim so that figures and look at them together – pathetic!  Plus, I heard a rumour his marriage is a bit pants, someone overheard one half of a private telephone conversation and said it sounded pretty bad.  Aw, I almost feel sorry for him.  The last three people in that job have all struggled and the only one we liked was Pete and he retired early because his wife’s family had money.  It won’t end well, it’s only temporary, if I cut him a little slack and stop hating his guts it’ll be better for me.  Yes, I like that plan.  That feels better already.  What do I think of him now?  Um… nothing really, I guess he’s out of my head.”

    Good because he was in there rent-free.

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    Who’s bugging you?   When you think of someone and it’s just negativity and pain, that’s not good.  It’s not some kind of useful motivational pain (whatever that might be) but just a fun-sucking, energy sponge.  Whoever they are, evict them.  They have no place in your thinking other than self-abuse and/or because it’s a habit.  Spring-clean!  Get them out if they aren’t paying rent.

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    Sometimes it can be a matter of unfinished business.  It might be someone is haunting you (living in your head) because you owe them a call, the return of their wheelbarrow you borrowed (and broke), an apology, an overdue catch-up (you used to be such friends but drifted apart), or all manner of things.  If so, weigh up the pain and strain of accommodating them in your head versus just doing the thing which needs to be done to get them out, or to turn them into a positive rent-payer and keep them.   This quote then, might also be the spur to sort out some of your overdue baggage.  If so, good!

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    Let’s just examine this process again.  Maybe it’s obvious to you but I know from experience that this is harder for some than for others.

    1. You think about someone, they just pop into your head. Notice what comes with them, the internal dialogue (what you are saying to yourself), the emotions which arise.  Useful?  Pleasant?  Motivational?
    2. Evaluate the result. For people you know well, there may be dozens of facets, so you can think of them in a variety of ways which produce an equal variety of emotions.  That’s fine, just learn which is which so you know which one to access for what desired outcome.  If there are some facets of an otherwise good person you don’t like so much, evict those facets (those versions of the person) and keep the others
    3. Neutralize the negative ones by rethinking and dismissing their meaning. It might seem easier to say than do, but if you find their hold over you to be difficult to shake, resort to telling them to get out, that they’re not welcome, that it’s your brain and you’re in charge (aren’t you, because if not you, then who is?).  When your mind goes there, redirect it somewhere else
    4. Practice and repeat
    5. Learn who to think of and when. Fill your head with useful people paying good rent.  Some give you belly laughs, some make you smile warmly, some make you feel valued and important, some make you want to be better, some make you sigh, but then get off your backside and do what you know needs to be done.  None should suck your energy or simply make you feel bad about yourself and leave it at that.  That type has all gone now

    Not long after making this part of your normal thinking, it’ll dawn on you that it applies equally to stuff.  So don’t let stuff live in your head rent-free either.

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    If you’re lucky enough to own a motorcycle, there’s a chance that you only have to think about it to feel better.  But that can apply equally to anything.  We could say your horse or your cat and it would be every bit as true but I’d like to focus on inanimate things here.  If your sofa makes you happy when you think about it, then think about it!  Particularly when you’d like a quick hit of ‘happy.’

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    Maybe it’s the book you’re reading, the trip you have planned, the TV show you are binging on, the meal you plan to cook, your car, shoes or a whole new outfit, a song you love, something you are making, your adult colouring book, Lego Technik, a jigsaw, Cards Against Humanity, YouTube cat videos, your collection of china pigs, an instrument you are learning to play or a language you are learning to speak, a painting you are doing, or a room you have decorated or an old piece of furniture you have restored or the patio you have laid.  Get it?  Anything at all, whatever works for you.

    And evict the bad stuff.  Maybe there’s something which annoys you every time you see it.  Maybe it’s cluttering up your bedroom (a thing BTW, not a person!) or it’s in the way in the utility/garage/shed.  Get rid of it, you’ll feel better.  It annoys you to look at it so bye-bye!

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    An example I came across back-along was to do with someone selling and old games console.  These things cost hundreds and then get outdated pretty quickly as technology develops.  He had games, a console and loads of accessories and it was taking up valuable space in the wardrobe of his smallish home.  Calculating what it all cost he knew he wanted something back but baulked at the verbal offer from one of those high-street used gear shops.  Prices were a bit better online, but he decided to stay local because it was such a big pile of stuff and so put it in the local advertiser.  No response.  He lowered the price but still no response and started to bug his friends and especially his girlfriend with stories about how much it all cost, how hard it had been to get some bits of it, what a profiteering villainous industry it is, how people are fools because they are only interested in the latest stuff (ignoring how he’d behaved when he bought it all in the first place) and how he couldn’t possibly let it go for the pittance he’d been offered.  These random people and bits of plastic stuffed with electronics occupied his head.  His girlfriend, took it all to the shop, accepted the derisory offer, added some extra cash and told him she’s sold it to someone at work.   He was happy, she’d rid herself of the stuff not paying rent to either of them…  …which is exactly what he should have done much, much earlier.  We get trapped, by memories, by stuff, by people, but most of all by our own confused thoughts about it all.  So, Spring-clean!  Get it out and get it gone.

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    During training, I will ask people what they’ve learned so far.  This is a proper training technique (who would have thought…?) designed to focus minds, especially those folks who tend to drift along nodding in all the right places and it helps people take responsibility for learning something, or realising what’s key to them personally.

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    One day while working in the U.S. I fired off the question at the end of the day and a lady repeated this quote, with emphasis.  It meant a lot to her.  Six months later she got in touch again by email and reminded me of the training and reiterated how that one quote had impacted on her.  She’d realised her head was fully occupied by freeloaders exerting a negative influence, that she’d become a suppository for other peoples’ problems, failings and demands, but that she herself had no power over her life.  She’d gradually been strangled by events and circumstances and it was time to take back her brain.  This was why she now lived in a different state, worked at a different company, but most of all, was a long way from her (now) ex-husband.  Thankfully, this was all good, her life had turned around and she’d found herself again and with it, real happiness.  Phew!

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    It doesn’t need to be that dramatic.  This is a quote which can help in smaller ways just as usefully as changing your entire existence.  It’s your brain and it comprises 100 billion neurons which create valuable real estate and a potentially high rent-yield.  Take charge, enjoy your paying tenants and evict the negative ones.

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