Let People Scratch their Heads in Awe

Posted on March 12, 2015 by Robert Ringer


It’s always a good idea to exercise discretion when it comes to private matters, choosing both your words and actions carefully. What makes discretion so important is a little reality of life called human nature. To the extent we ignore this reality, we invite bad consequences into our lives.

Perhaps the number-one rule of human nature is for people to want what they don’t have and be apathetic about what they do have. This applies not only to things, but to people as well.

Thus, to the degree you overexpose yourself, you become an inflated commodity, which in turn causes people to devalue you. Neither you nor I have anything to say about it; human nature is what drives this phenomenon.

The most poorly received words in the English language are I, me, and my. Some people display an almost childish naïveté in this regard, appearing to believe that everyone in the world is intensely interested in the wart on their big toe or the fact that their dog had puppies last week.

The well-adjusted adult, on the other hand, separated himself from childish, self-centered obsessions early in life. In fact, one of life’s great crises is coming to grips with the reality that our affairs simply aren’t that important to most people.

Inundating others with your problems is an especially self-destructive, self-centered habit. Human nature makes it a certainty that it’s a practice that is certain to tarnish your image with those unlucky souls who are on the receiving end of your woeful monologues.

It’s human nature for others to keep their distance from people who are enshrouded by problems. Thus, the more you talk about your problems, the worse your chances of attracting positive people. Even if someone is a good friend, it’s not wise to babble on endlessly about the details of your private life, because there is much truth to the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt.

Yet another lack-of-discretion mistake is to announce your plans to the world. There simply are too many envious and malevolent people out there who would love to see you trip (preferably breaking three or four toes in the process). If you should completely flop, why give card-carrying members of the World Order of Malevolent Mammals something else to cheer about?

Thinking about it logically, there’s no need to pound your chest in advance, because if your plans end up yielding the results you’re hoping for, the world will hear about them soon enough. Thus, you should avoid revealing the heart of your enterprise to anyone who does not play an integral role in your plans.

This is especially true when you’re confident that you have a deal wrapped up. It’s the height of indiscretion to celebrate prematurely. Again, the surest way to invite trouble into your life and get malicious people thinking about possible ways to derail you is to spout off about results prematurely.

In that vein, never confuse the term almost done with done. There’s a big difference between the two. Remember: You’re not through until you’ve crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s, and the check has cleared the bank.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a smooth closing. Like a good pass receiver, you should get in the habit of looking the pass into your hands before celebrating.

I learned this lesson very early in my career when I managed to line up financing to build an apparel factory in Glenville, West Virginia. After working on the deal for many months, the time finally came when I was able to get everyone involved to agree to a closing date. I was so excited, I was already counting the profits I was going to be earning in the coming years.

Being a twit in my early twenties, I ignorantly boasted to everyone who would listen (an order taker at McDonald’s, two derelicts on a park bench, and a phony prince from Nigeria) about my deal. You think you know the finale, right? Well, in order to guess this one correctly, you’d have to be a closet sadist.

The day before the closing, I received a call from the secretary of the man who was financing the project. Would you believe that she was calling to tell me that her boss had suffered a fatal heart attack sitting at his desk — just twenty-four hours before the papers were to be signed and the money was to change hands?

I was stunned. It convinced me that some people will do anything to kill a deal! Seriously, even when a deal does close (and, contrary to popular belief, it really does happen now and then), you still should avoid yakking to the world about how you managed to pull it off.

Always remember that he who postpones declaring his purpose, particularly if it involves a major undertaking, envelopes his actions in a veil of mystery that commands respect. A plan fully declared is rarely well thought of and is fair game for criticism. Instead of arousing universal expectations, let people wonder and watch.

As Don Shimoda said in Richard Bach’s Illusions, “Learn what the magician knows and it’s not magic anymore.” It’s much cooler to let people scratch their heads in awe.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.