Cattle graze on ranges that are enormous in size. It used to be that a gate would be installed wherever a road crossed a fenced area within the range, allowing trucks to enter and exit while keeping the cattle contained. But installing a gate wasn’t very cost-effective. So years ago, the cattle guard was invented. Instead of a gate, a ditch was dug, and a metal grate was laid across the ditch. This would allow trucks to pass freely, but cows wouldn’t be able to traverse given the size of their hooves and the space between the metal bars of the grate. The solution worked well, but it was still costly. And passing over the metal grate of the cattle guard was a jarring experience for the driver and the passenger.
In his wonderful book Play to Win: Choosing Growth over Fear in Work and Life, Larry Wilson tells the story of some enterprising ranchers who decided to replace the cattle guard by filling the ditches and painting stripes across the place between the fence where the bars of the cattle guard used to be. It worked! The cows had been so conditioned to respect the cattle guard, that they would walk up to the painted lines and turn away, even though they could have easily crossed the imaginary boundary.
One day, the ranchers noticed a group of cows who had somehow crossed over the painted lines, grazing freely outside the fenced area. What happened? It’s likely that one of the cows – let’s call her the wise cow – approached the area where the cattle guard had been, put her hoof on the first line of paint, and realized that there was really no barrier. She then walked through the painted area, and her herd did the same.
As I write in Master Your Code, you go through life run by a program – a set of safety-based, subconscious beliefs, values, and rules that automatically drive your behavior and limit your results. The cattle guard is a great illustration of this. Like the lines of yellow paint that constrain and imprison the cows, you have beliefs and rules that were subconsciously constructed to protect you and keep you safe. If you’re like most people, you aren’t even aware of this program. And even if you are, you likely haven’t examined it to see if it is actually serving you.
We can all learn from the story of the wise cow. To master your code, you first have to be aware that much of what drives you is a hidden set of rules that you just take for granted about yourself and the way the world works. You have to courageously challenge the conventional wisdom, the yellow lines of your program, that tell you to play not to lose. Instead, you must choose to consciously construct a code that serves you and produces extraordinary results.
In what area of your life is your program holding you back? What subconscious belief do you hold about yourself or others that are limiting your actions and compromising your results? This week, I invite you to test the imaginary boundaries of your life and play to win.