These 3 Widely Accepted Paradigms Explain Why People Are Ineffective And Unsuccessful

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.” 

— Richard Bach

Ever felt like you’ve been dealt some disappointing cards in life?

Maybe poor genetics. Or an environment that doesn’t nurture growth and success.

Has anyone ever placed limitations on your potential?

“You’re lazy.”

“You’re incapable.”

“You’re not athletic.”

“You’re not smart.”

At first, you scoff and ignore them.

But maybe this pattern continues over time, and you begin to believe it about yourself.

Maybe consciously, you begin questioning it. “Maybe I’m not as capable as I thought…”

If this continues, maybe it goes to the subconscious level. Now it’s an underlying paradigm or script that you’re living out without even being aware of it.

Until we’re aware of these external influences, they can start influencing our lives. And many times… in a very destructive way.

Philosophers, scientists, psychologists, and people from all walks of life have observed that we live in a world of conditions and conditionings.

And it’s widely accepted that they largely influence us.

But how much does it influence us? Do these conditions and our conditioning doom us? 

Some people claim that they determine our behaviors and circumstances and that we have no control over them.

You might say, “Nope. I’m in full control over my life.”

From my own experience of coaching people — where conversations reveal limiting beliefs — it’s become clear that these conditionings and conditions are in our blindspots.

This observation has surprised me. And it’s forced me to ask myself, “Where are my limiting beliefs and blindspots??”

We all have them.

It turns out there’s a whole philosophy that encompasses this belief that our conditions and conditionings determine our life situation and that we have very little control over them. 

And it’s become a widely accepted philosophical view.

But here’s the truth. You have a lot more power than you might think.

In this article, I’m going to share…

  • What this philosophy is and why it’s holding you back.
  • The 3 most popular paradigms that create limiting beliefs when taken to the extreme.
  • And how we can put the power back in your hands (instead of feeling disempowered).

Determinism: How Much Control Do We Really Have Over Our Lives?

Anything can be used to help you or hurt you.

And for many people, that’s what has happened with the Philosophy of Determinism.

It’s an area of study that’s provided valuable insights into the mechanics of cause and effect relationships. And it’s provided models that help us better understand human nature.

But it’s also been used by some people to rationalize and justify limiting beliefs. Some of these beliefs ultimately condition you to become ineffective and unsuccessful, holding you back from achieving your desired results in life.

Determinism is the philosophical view that all events are determined completely by previously existing causes.

In other words, your conditions and conditionings determine your life situation now and in the future.

This philosophical view has value. For instance, perhaps you’re familiar with the classical Pavlovian conditioning and the experiments performed with dogs. Physiologist Ivan Pavlov was able to condition his dogs to salivate in response to a bell being rung because he trained the dogs to associate food with the bell.

We now understand that behaviors can be conditioned when leveraging a specific stimulus.

This model has helped develop our understanding of how people think, feel, and behave.

Psychologists such as John Watson would even go as far as to say that classical conditioning could explain all aspects of human nature.

But there’s a negative implication to accepting this philosophical view without balancing it out with other perspectives…

The underlying assumption is that our genetics, upbringing, and environment ultimately determine our behavior and circumstances… which reinforces an identity of being helpless, disempowered, and incapable of successfully achieving our goals.

How does this play out in our lives?

Many times, someone with a Deterministic lens will abdicate responsibility. Because if they’re helpless, disempowered, and incapable of being successful… then what’s the point? Quickly, we transfer responsibility elsewhere.

This choice to abdicate responsibility trickles down into our behaviors and actions, making them fundamentally ineffective at achieving our desired outcomes.

Even if it’s your first time hearing about this philosophical view, everyone has adopted a deterministic paradigm in some shape or form throughout life.

Myself included.

So what are the three most widely accepted Deterministic Paradigms that we see in modern living?

3 Widely Accepted Deterministic Paradigms

There are three widely accepted Deterministic Paradigms:

  1. Genetic Determinism
  2. Psychic Determinism
  3. Environmental Determinism

Someone can have these beliefs at either the conscious or subconscious level.

They may be aware of them. Or they could be completely unaware that they’ve taken on these beliefs.

Part of the challenge is not judging yourself or others if you identify these beliefs negatively. It’s a part of the human experience.

What’s important is that we explore these beliefs with curiosity and gently identify and remove them. This approach is ideal if you want to achieve your desired results in life AND enjoy the process along the way.

Genetic Determinism

Your genes and DNA decide your fate. 

Your genetic predisposition will determine your behavior and successes in life, and it’s your ancestors’ fault for your current circumstances.

This philosophy towards life assumes that your genetic makeup largely determines your problems and achievements.

This paradigm has value in that it’s revealed breakthrough ideas in science and biology, and we’ve discovered various cause and effect relationships within the human body.

What are some common beliefs that we have about how our genetics influence our behaviors and circumstances?

Maybe we’ve learned that our DNA influences our behaviors, actions, emotional intelligence, IQ, and other facets of our life.

Recently I even saw an ad where someone was talking about Chronotypes. It’s the study of how your genes influence whether or not you’re a “night owl” or a “morning person.”

Your genetics can even determine whether you should wake up early or stay up late.

This is fascinating. But I can also see a future where herds of people refuse to wake up early because their chronotype forbids it.

I’m joking… sort of.

There may be some partial truth to this deterministic paradigm, depending on the context and your desired outcome. For example, it’s not likely that you’ll be an NBA star if you’re not built athletically and if you aren’t tall, since the average height of an NBA player is 6’6’’.

However, genetic determinism doesn’t paint the whole picture.

For example, people used to believe that your intelligence level was fixed. Your genetics determined this, and there wasn’t much you could do about it.

But now, the scientific consensus is that your intelligence isn’t fixed. You can improve it over time.

Taking this view to the extreme focuses on how your genetics determine your life situation instead of how YOU can influence your genes.

Since this rationalization focuses on the “fact” that someone’s genetic predisposition determines their behavior and circumstances, it’s “rational” to abdicate responsibility.

“I can’t change it, so what’s the point? Who cares?”

Psychic Determinism

Your childhood imprints and upbringing determine your fate. For instance, if you were conditioned to be shy as a child, then you’ll be shy as an adult.

Freudian Psychology falls in this category.

This has been valuable in showing us that childhood imprints and our upbringing do — in fact — have an impact on us as adults.

And there’s been practical methods of improving these challenges through psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, therapists, and people in similar fields. I’ve personally benefited from working with professionals in this domain.

The general philosophy postulates that these childhood imprints from your upbringing create scripts that determine how you’ll live life as an adult.

But taken to the extreme, this could become a rationalization for abdicating responsibility.

This plays out by pointing-the-finger and blaming people or things in the past that have traumatized or hurt you.

This more extreme behavior reinforces the identity of someone incapable of being a competent person, doomed with the scripts that play out their childhood imprints and upbringing.

This manifests in behaviors that prevent someone from taking control of their life and achieving their goals.

Notice how the emphasis is how your childhood imprints and upbringing influence your life, rather than learning how to “let go” of past trauma and influence your psychology.

Environmental Determinism

Your environment determines your fate.

Someone or something in your environment determines your success.

Your distracting coworkers prevent you from being productive. A demanding boss is making your life difficult.

The stresses of needy clients, national policies, and the economy are holding you back.

“It’s their fault I’m in this situation.”

For someone who takes this paradigm to the extreme, the problem always seems to be “out there.”

Does your environment play a cause and effect role in your life? Of course.

Does your environment completely determine your life? No.

I’m sure we could name countless individuals who made the best out of a bad situation and were able to survive (and come out of it stronger).

A fantastic role model for this is Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. His story is inspiring and shows us that he found ways of exercising personal freedoms despite being in the worst and most horrendous environment.

In the words of Stephen Covey, “In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.”

An extreme adoption of environmental determinism focuses on how the environment impacts the individual or group. It puts less emphasis on how that individual or group can impact their environment.

Since the rationalization is that the environment determines your behavior or circumstances, it’s much easier to abdicate responsibility.

“What’s the point? The odds are against me anyway.”

The Fundamental Flaw With Determinism

“Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.”

― Terry Pratchett

It’s fair to say that we’ve all adopted some form of Determinism throughout our life, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Before we continue, let’s do a short visualization exercise. This will give you context for the rest of this article.

In your mind’s eye, take a moment and visually project yourself up into the corner of the room you’re currently in.

Visually observe yourself reading this, right here, right now… in this moment.

What does your environment look like?

What are you feeling?

What do you notice?

Keep your body as the fixed point of focus. Imagine switching angles from different parts of the room or environment you’re in. See yourself from different perspectives.

If you did this short visualization, then you just went “meta.” You exercised self-awareness.

This is your ability to observe aspects of yourself.

When we gather self-awareness, we can take responsibility for our behaviors and circumstances and then self-direct our actions based on our awareness.

This is a uniquely human trait and separates us from different animal species.

Stephen Covey explains…

“Even the most intelligent animals have none of these endowments. To use a computer metaphor, they are programmed by instinct and/or training. They can be trained to be responsible, but they can’t take responsibility for that training; in other words, they can’t direct it. They can’t change the programming. They’re not even aware of it.”

Animals tend to have a specific role, whether through instinct or training.

However, animals can’t go “meta” and exercise self-awareness. Because if they did, they’d have the self-awareness to change their programming, ultimately self-directing their behavior.

Honey Bee’s could spontaneously decide one day, “Hey, I don’t really feel like making honey anymore. I’m going to collect sticks. That sounds like a good idea.”

The deterministic paradigm comes primarily from animal studies (rats, monkeys, pigeons, and dogs).

So even though it provides a valuable model for cause and effect, there are limitations when you rely entirely on this model to explain human nature.

This main limitation being…

Determinism doesn’t take into account our ability to exercise “self-awareness.”

“But Colton, surely some of these Deterministic Paradigms are true.”

Sure, each deterministic paradigm has partial truths depending on the context and desired outcomes.

Our conditions and conditionings inevitably create constraints and limitations. If you want to be an NBA player, then certain conditions would be ideal for achieving this — such as favorable genetics.

But the fundamental flaw with Determinism is this…

  • Your focus gets placed on the weaknesses of others (and yourself).
  • You focus on things that are outside of your control and ultimately can’t influence.
  • And you focus on transferring responsibility to other people or circumstances.

When you solely use this paradigm to navigate life without complimenting other perspectives, it can become destructive for your success and happiness.

When entrenched in this paradigm, it disempowers you. 

How could you ever be effective if you don’t even fundamentally believe that you can influence your life or your circumstances?

Stephen Covey explains the identity of someone who flips the script and takes control over their life:

“Instead of living out of the scripts given to me by my own parents or by society or by genetics or my environment, I will be living out of the script I have written from my own self-selected value system.”

An ineffective person focuses on what’s outside of their control.

And an effective person focuses on what’s within their control.

Stephen Covey’s 1st Habit Of A Highly Effective Person: Be Proactive

“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.” 

— Samuel Johnson

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he shares that the first habit for being an effective person is proactivity.

Though simple in theory, it takes a bit of mastery to implement at a high level.

Covey defines proactivity as being “more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.”

Behaviors are a result of our own conscious choice, not our conditions or conditionings.

Notice that the essence of being a proactive person is acknowledging that we are responsible for our life situation or circumstances.

This is causal and forms the root system for your growth.

“Response-able.” We have the ability to respond.

We live in a society where it’s easy to be consumers. But being proactive is a “creator” paradigm. You can proactively create a life that you want.

The reason why this is important is that your behaviors and actions will determine your success.

And if you’re abdicating responsibility, you’ll be reinforcing a paradigm of being helpless and disempowered. Someone who feels disempowered is unlikely to behave in a way that generates their desired outcome.

This is why being proactive is critical.

It puts the power back in your hands.

Your Circle Of Concern and Influence

“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”

— Robin S. Sharma

Stephen Covey shares a great model for how we can improve our proactivity.

There are two primary components to it.

  1. There are things outside of your control. These are things within your “circle of concern.”
  2. And there are things within your control. These are things within your “circle of influence.”

Where are you spending the majority of your time?

An ineffective person focuses on their circle of concern.

An effective person focuses on their circle of influence.

Being proactive is essentially focusing on your circle of influence.

And an interesting phenomenon happens when you focus on your circle of influence.

It expands.

The more proactive you are, the more influence you acquire over time.

But when you focus on your circle of concern, your influence and personal power shrink.

Where you focus your attention will ultimately empower or disempower you.

Expanding Your Circle Of Influence: 3 Types Of Problems That Guide You Towards Empowerment

Covey explains how every problem you have will fall into 1 of 3 categories. And each of these problems will indicate how to best respond within your circle of influence…

  • Direct problems (problems involving our own behavior)
  • Indirect problems (problems involving other people’s behavior)
  • No control problems (situations we can do nothing about)

How does each problem affect how you engage within your circle of influence?

1. Direct problems require your direct influence. Your personal habits can influence this. Covey calls these “private victories.”

For instance, if you have a problem with not completing projects by a certain deadline, then the best way to solve this is by implementing personal habits to resolve it.

2. Indirect problems require your indirect influence. This can be achieved by how you communicate with others. Covey calls these “public victories.”

For instance, if you’re encountering drama with a team member, the best way to achieve the desired outcome is by improving the relationship and quality of communication.

3. Problems that you have no control over can be influenced by shifting perspectives and approaching the situation with emotional maturity.

Viktor Frankl is a great role model for this one. He literally had no control over his physical environment. So he exercised his freedom to choose his emotional response and give meaning to his suffering. As Ryan Holiday famously says, “The obstacle is the way.”

Whenever you face a problem in your life, try to identify which type of problem it falls into.

And once it’s identified, how can you best respond within your circle of influence?

In summary:

  1. When you notice yourself abdicating responsibility, try to uncover the deterministic paradigm and root source: genetic, psychic, or environmental?
  2. Acknowledge your ability and freedom to choose between the stimulus and response.
  3. Identify and narrowly frame the problem. Is it a direct, indirect, or a “no control” problem?
  4. Now, how can you exercise freedom of choice within your circle of influence?


Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

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Google’s Famous PageRank Algorithm Was Discovered By Accident

“Most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas – they discover them.” – Peter Sims

Sergey Brin volunteered as a guide for potential first-year students at Stanford.

Larry Page was considering Stanford for Grad school, and Brin was assigned to show him around.

They famously clashed heads about nearly everything during their first encounter.

But this wouldn’t stop them from making a revolutionary discovery.

The Stanford Digital Library Project: The Catalyst For PageRank

When Page officially arrived at Stanford, he chose computer scientist Terry Winograd as his adviser.

Sergey Brin was being advised by another computer scientist — Hector Garcia-Molina.

As fate would have it, their advisers — both Winograd and Molina — were running the Stanford Digital Library Project.

The goal of this project was to prioritize library searches online.

Brin and Page would collaborate on this project together.

As they searched for solutions, they realized that the best way to prioritize library searches online was to measure how many other citations referred to a source.

They found that you could analyze the number of incoming links to a page in the online library when you issued the correct query.

And they’d spend tons of time searching for the number of incoming links for different pages.

Why was this important?

The World Of Academia: Incoming Links Are Just Citations

This insight — measuring page quality by the number of incoming links — comes from the world of academia.

When publishing an academic paper, getting cited is one of the most important things that can happen.

Besides the original idea itself… the quality of published papers is primarily determined by the number of papers it cites, the number of papers that cite back to them, and each citation’s perceived value.

The “citation count” of a document would indicate the quality of the academic paper.

The significant insight that Page and Brin had was that incoming links were just a form of citation count.

This idea was the genesis of measuring page quality by the number of links it had.

These links served as votes. And the more popular each page, the higher the rank.

So Larry created a prototype web crawler to experiment with ranking pages, focusing on the number of links. Initially, he did this on the Stanford Site.

This is how the PageRank algorithm was born. And the rest is history.

Experiment With Your Ideas Before Committing To The Long-Term

In the beginning, Page and Brin weren’t trying to create a behemoth of a company.

And they didn’t start with a massive mission like “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

It became their mission as the company grew.

Their story shows you don’t need to have the perfect idea when starting out.

If you’re passionate about an idea, start experimenting with it and see what happens.

From there, you can decide if it’s worth pursuing in the long-term.

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This Is Why Being A Specialist Is A Prerequisite To Being A Polymath

There’s this long-standing debate on whether it’s better to be a specialist or a generalist.

Is it more valuable to focus on one area? 

Or should we gain a wide range of competencies in different domains?

British physicist David Deutsch – who has pioneered the field of quantum computation – has something interesting to say about this.

“It’s in the nature of foundations, that the foundations in one field are also the foundations of other fields…the way that we reach many truths is by understanding things more deeply and therefore more broadly. That’s the nature of the concept of a foundation… just as in architecture, all buildings all literally stand on the same foundation; namely the earth. All buildings stand on the same theoretical base.”

Imagine you decided to specialize in being a fitness expert.

After diving deep into that domain, let’s say you notice that there’s a small percentage of activities that lead to the majority of health issues.  20% of these causes lead to 80% of fitness challenges.

This is a powerful realization. 

Instead of dabbling in activities that create a small impact on your health, you can focus your effort on activities that create exponential results.

This would be a great insight for you, helping you better prioritize fitness habits and routines. 

But in reality, this 80/20 relationship goes beyond just your domain of focus.  It applies to the world at large.

A few examples are:

20% of your relationships give you 80% of your satisfaction.

20% of your clients give you 80% of your headache.

20% of your daily habits are responsible for 80% of your productivity.

And you can extrapolate this idea into many other areas of your life.  

You may be familiar with this mental model – Pareto’s 80/20 Rule.

By specializing in one domain, you can discover the underlying principles for how it works.

And as Deutsch mentions, the nature of foundations is that all domains can be connected to universal ideas, as all buildings stand on the same theoretical base (the earth).

The cliche of “jack of all trades” and its negative connotations are a result of people trying to become generalists first

When you haven’t taken the time to understand at least one domain at its core, then being a generalist is pointless.

By focusing on the tip of the iceberg, you miss out on the depth and the essence of how something works.

If you want to become a polymath and successful generalist, it’s important to first specialize.  

This will create the foundation for mastering different skills.

Tacit Knowledge: The Enemy Of The Modern Day Polymath

If you aren’t conscious of how you develop a skillset, then you’ll have a challenging time mapping it over to any new endeavor (holding you back from learning another skill effectively).

Tacit knowledge is when an expert has skills and is unable to explain them to others.

This idea is key to effectively specializing and diving deep (laying the foundation for being a polymath).

The term Tacit Knowledge is attributed to Michael Polanyi.  In his book The Tacit Dimension, he describes it as the ability to do something without necessarily being able to articulate it or even be aware of all its dimensions.  

It’s intuitive knowledge, like being able to ride a bike or drive a car.

Here are two more definitions of tacit knowledge: 

“Tacit knowledge or implicit knowledge is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.” – Wikipedia

“Knowledge that is informally acquired rather than explicitly taught and allows a person to succeed in certain environments and pursuits. It is stored without awareness and therefore is not easily articulated.” – APA Dictionary of Psychology

This is inconsequential for mundane tasks but detrimental for valuable skills and expertise.

It’s frustrating trying to learn from an expert who is unaware of how they achieved excellence.

It’s sort of like asking a musician for their best tips on learning guitar, and their response being, “Practice every day, persevere, and believe in yourself.” 

Though this is true, it’s not particularly helpful.

And it can be even more frustrating realizing that you’re an expert with tacit knowledge!  

However, if you have a process for becoming more conscious of the underlying foundation of your domain, then you’ll have a map at your disposal that can be used for future undertakings.  

One of the most researched ways of applying this is what’s called “deliberate learning” or “deliberate practice.”

This is when you reflect on your knowledge and experiences. Examples of this include journaling, teaching, and content creation.

The process of articulating and codifying your experiences help you become more conscious of how you’ve learned a particular skill-set.

And with consistency, you’ll dive deep enough to discover the foundation of your given domain.

Deep understanding gives you the ability to map your knowledge and experience to new skills more effectively since the underlying models are the same (like the 80/20 rule).

As is the nature of foundations.

If you want to become a polymath and successful generalist, consider specializing in one area first.

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