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.

17 responses to “Let People Scratch their Heads in Awe”

  1. J. A. says:

    The point on not celebrating too early was beautifully put. You don't score a run for the home run you "almost" hit – if the center fielder catches it against the center field wall, it is nothing more hthan a long, noisy "out." And boy will the malevolent people in the audience jeer and boo your efforts!

  2. Paul says:

    Nailed it again

  3. TheLookOut says:

    This article rings so true, nothing is over, until it's over. Life isn't a game
    of horseshoes, getting close doesn't count.

  4. Jon says:

    By not telling others what you're attempting to do, you also avoid the universal "Don't you know you can't do that?" response. As you opined, Robert, the World will soon learn of your success after you've achieve your goal. Accomplishment-first also avoids being labeled a braggart.

  5. Stephan F says:

    RJR has been established long ago as one of the premier givers of sage advice & wisdom, but articles like this proves once again he’s still the gift that keeps on giving. And as a bonus you get a few chuckles thrown in for good measure in the classic Ringer style. Kudos Robert!

  6. larajf says:

    The other difficulty when you telegraph your intentions is that there are those out there that love to poke holes in it, and try to break down your confidence. Yes, I'd much rather be seen as the person who pulled a rabbit out of her hat.
    I have been teaching my teenager the phrase "Quiet Confidence" in how to act. Just do things and know that you can handle whatever stumbling blocks pop up.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      This is so important, as it seems that those who do not achieve or prefer to make excuses for why they haven't achieved, will relentlessly poke holes if one is foolish enough (and I have been guilty of this numerous times) to share ideas during the formative or pre-realized period. Our culture is conditioned to find obstacles, believe success and happiness are based on luck, and generally complain about life . . . as opposed to creating it the way we would like it to be. Quiet confidence is a great trait to embody, and sometimes I have to remember to put my naturally gregarious nature in PARK, so as not to invite all the naysayers in the world.

  7. Jay says:

    In other words…if you've got a (potentially) good thing going, shut up!

  8. Will says:

    Got a major coming up. Thsx for reminding me.

  9. boundedfunction says:

    “Announcing your plans is a good way to hear god laugh.” ~ David Milch

  10. Michael Ty Cobb says:

    If you talk about a creative idea you'll never do it… because once you do blab you've given expression to it and it's done. Like a train jumping the rails, you'll likely not get back on track. -Michael Ty Cobb

  11. DJ Stevens says:

    Einstein said it well. "The key to being thought brilliant and creative is to never talk about or reveal your resources. So true. Just shut up!

  12. Scott theczech says:

    Humility is the beginning of wisdom. Thank you once again Robert!

  13. Lilian Brunstein says:

    Thank you for the wisdom, Robert. It is always a pleasure to read your articles. :-)

  14. Daniel says:

    RJR's "Sustenance" theory came to mind as an ancillary strategy: Only the naive brag about something that's likely to fail. Keep your mouth shut and work indefatigably toward the desired result, informing and involving only those who have a vested interest in a positive outcome. Still love that book, Mr. Ringer; the other ones, too.

  15. peter says:

    "It’s always a good idea to exercise discretion when it comes to private matters, choosing both your words and actions carefully."- this is so true.

  16. james says:

    Thanks for this article. "….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." – i find this quite interesting.