I erupted out of sleep only to be jerked back by the handcuffs and leg cuffs that held me to the wooden bench. It took a few minutes of drunken processing to realize I was in a Boston jail cell with zero recollection of how I got there.
Which version should I tell? The funny blackout version where I kicked cars and tried to break out of the paddy wagon? Or the real story of how my weekend college drinking had turned ugly? I could blame the vodka-Red Bulls* but the real cocktail that put me there was vodka-insecurity-anger-20s testosterone.
The next morning, handcuffed behind Plexiglas in the courtroom as the mother of all hangovers kicked in, the consequences kicked in too. Boston law was scary, but Boston University's strict law was much scarier: With months left until graduation, I knew BU was going to kick me out.
I asked a criminal lawyer for advice and he responded, "Pay me five grand and we'll deny the charges."
I asked** Tony Robbins for advice and he responded with a Jedi mind trick question:
"What's great about this situation you're not seeing right now?"
My response was, "What?! You're loco! I'm about to lose my housing, scholarship, prepaid tuition, and engineering degree! Nothing is great."
But then Tony explained the mind trick, which I'll paraphrase: "Your brain is a computer. Submit a question, get a response. Submit negative questions (Q) and get negative responses (R)."
- (Q) How'd I get into this mess? (R) I made bad decisions.
- (Q) Why can't I get ahead? (R) I'm not smart enough.
- (Q) Why can't I get in shape? (R) I'm lazy.
But if you ask your brain empowering questions, you'll get empowering responses
- (Q) What did I learn from this mess? (R) To make better decisions.
- (Q) How do I get ahead? (R) Find a book and a mentor to help me.
- (Q) How do I get in shape and have fun doing it? (R) Pick up a fun sport as a hobby.
Dig deep to find true answers.
Back to Tony's question: What's great about this situation that you're not seeing right now?
Here are my empowering responses:
- This is a wakeup call and I need to address my anger issues
- and my alcohol issues;
- this is an opportunity to turn my life around.
I had one week to prep before the BU hearing and fight for my future. I asked friends who witnessed my drunken night to write letters for me. I asked the two men I respected most, my father and BU's most beloved engineering professor, Theo de Winter, to come to the hearing with me.
The hearing was the most shameful day of my life: I read a statement accepting all responsibility, apologizing, and asking for a second chance.
One long week later at sentencing, I prepared for the terrible news. Instead, I received a $1,000 fine, mandatory therapy, and a warning that rang in repeat every time alcohol was on the scene: "Stay away from booze until you graduate," said the young but wise assistant dean of judicial affairs.
I threw that same intensity into academics and engineering research with a singular purpose: to prove to my dad, the dean, and Professor de Winter that I was worthy of their support. A year later, my research and academics scored a full ride into BU's engineering grad program and the dean recommended me for the resident assistant program. The money I saved with free housing became seed money for my first startup.
"What was great about this challenge that I didn't see at the time?" It taught me how a negative situation can turn around and supercharge positive outcomes.
So how can you use this Jedi mind trick question in your life and your business? Here's what worked in my life.
Relationships: Depression-inducing breakup with your partner. What's great about it? S/he isn't The One and now you get to find The One.***
Fundraising: Arrogant investor says you'll never raise money and you'll never succeed. What's great about it? Use his arrogance to fuel your engine.
Competition: The competition copies your marketing and steals customers. What's great about it? This forces you to step up your game and leave your competition in the dust.
What's your biggest obstacle right now?
Try it. Dig deep and find truth: What's great about this challenge you're not seeing?
*PSA: I stopped drinking Red Bull years later when I learned that if I need energy, I need to exercise. Red Bull/Monster/5 Hour Energy are poison in a bottle backed by really good marketing.
** I didn't actually ask Tony, I took his 30-day audio course: Personal Power. It's filled with life-changing wisdom in between cheesy 90s inspirational music.
***Spoiler alert! Found The One.