In his new book, Peter Arnell draws on nearly 30 years of marketing experience to explain the concept of “Shift,” a strategy for attaining sustainable change in everything from your career to your health. On a personal level, Arnell managed to lose 256 pounds by applying the same strategies he used with brands such as Donna Karan, Home Depot and Samsung.
Intrigued? Read on for an excerpt from “Shift: How to Reinvent Your Business, Your Career, and Your Personal Brand.”
You have a plane trip in the morning: traveling for business from New York to Los Angeles. You work late to get everything ready. Your presentation is perfect. The potential of your trip is astounding. You can taste success. You pick up some Chinese take-out food and head home to pack. You eat from the health menu. You have a cup of oolong tea, and at the end of your meal, feeling good, you open the fortune cookie. “Tomorrow is not a good day to travel,” warns the fortune. Do you go on your trip anyway? Would you fly or would you cancel? If you got on the plane regardless of the prediction, would you be worried? Would you do something to counteract fate — say a prayer or wear a good luck charm?
If you cancel your trip because of the fortune cookie, it is fair to say that you believe that the future can be predicted and, in fact, already exists. If you disregard the fortune cookie’s importance, it is fair to say that you believe that the future is what you make it, that you are responsible for your future.
Today, I am the person who would eat the cookie, throw the fortune away, get on the plane, and do the job. And that was not always true of me. Today, I am the person who does not look for excuses or make them. I am not a victim of myself anymore. I also am not a doctor, a therapist, a preacher or a self-help guru. I am a guy who did something that worked, and worked so well that I knew it would be irresponsible of me not to share how I achieved such success. I lost 256 pounds and gained a new life.
It sometimes scares people to hear someone talk about wanting more out of life. They hear a challenge or a rebuke to the way they’ve been living for years. But they are missing the point. I’m talking about how the present can be the lever to a new future. I’m talking about the power of change. Anyone who does what I do for a living comes away with a healthy respect for the potential of even a single minute — a minute spent watching a good TV commercial. Most people my age remember the first time they saw the classic Apple ad in 1984 that features a woman with a sledgehammer being chased by marching minions. Was that message, that impression, that indelible memory “only advertising”? Or how about basketball legend Charles Barkley declaring, “I am not a role model.” Was that “only advertising”?
I want to challenge assumptions. And if you are up for that challenge, “Shift” is for you. If you’re willing to be surprised, to be astonished by the power of change, then stay with this thought: It’s not your fault, whatever it is you think you’ve done or not done. You don’t have to blame yourself. In fact, I insist that you don’t — self-blame serves no purpose, believe me (I failed with my own diet many times before finding success). And once you accept that you don’t have to blame yourself, you can open yourself up to something thrillingly new — or maybe to something old that you have the power to make new again.
Like a lot of people who work very hard and put in a lot of hours at the office, I see my work life as an extension of my private life. I don’t make a neat distinction between them. I believe it’s a terrible mistake to try to separate our professional lives from our own lives. This is not the era of the company man or company woman and no one has to pretend to check his or her personal life at the door and give everything to a corporate culture that demands adherence to business rules that fly in the face of personal values and needs. If you work in a corporate culture that in one way or another implies or tells you that a good “professional” always has a finger ready to lick and hold up to see which way the wind is blowing, at any expense to your personal happiness or fulfillment, it might be time for you to focus some of that energy back on yourself and on what will make you happy. It’s time to integrate and live one life. I used to look a lot different than I do now. I used to be physically imposing — that’s a diplomatic way to say that I was obese. My obesity was what people noticed first when they met me. I’ve always loved food. I used to devour good food the way I devour life, savoring every new sensation (or new thought) that comes to me over the course of the day. I still do that in my life, but not with food anymore. Eventually, my love affair with food made me seriously overweight.
Even as I kept eating and adding pounds, in my heart I wanted to slim down. I tried diets. I tried exercise. I tried meditation. I asked people for help. I asked my dogs for help. Nothing worked. When I weighed more than 400 pounds, I was limited to wearing a loose, billowing shirt and huge baggy trousers, day after day. My clothing sizes were off the charts. My neck was 19.5 inches, my waist size was 68 inches, and my jacket was a 56 — then each piece was further let out by tailors to make them even bigger. My outfit never varied. That became my look, my brand. I could sense how prejudiced against me some people were because of my weight. Those people, who didn’t know me, judged the book by its cover and assumed I was lazy or weak. Some felt sad for me. Others saw me as an unfit man who couldn’t buckle his seat belt on a plane without an extender. But many times, they couldn’t see me for myself. My girth didn’t allow them to see beyond the surface.
When I made the decision to remove the barriers to change I had created for myself, when I freed myself to go from more than 400 pounds to around 150, I decided to stop blaming myself for past mistakes and take possession of today so that I could lose the weight. I know now that removing barriers is the first act in setting yourself free. But I discovered that it’s a long act; it can take your whole life, because as you eliminate one set of barriers, you will see others that you’ll want to change. This is the nature of shift, slight movements as made by the turtle, who knew that slow and steady wins the race.
I’m not comfortable telling you about the days when I weighed 406 pounds — I’d rather not — but it is necessary and part of paying change forward. Only when I decided to tap the power of what I had learned in my creative work about branding — about powerfully defining an idea and an emotional frame of reference — did I have the power to see my life in a new context and create a new set of realities about what was possible and not possible for me. It took me twenty years, constantly struggling with weight gain and weight loss, to finally click in to the idea that I, too, could benefit from some of my own branding and innovation expertise. I don’t believe I was simply slow to apply myself to myself. I think the thought came, as most inspirations do, attached to some higher purpose that was no longer merely my own.
It’s so funny, because we know these things when we are children. As children, enveloped in the golden light of curiosity, we embrace life without question or prejudice. But as adults, we are weighed down by our histories and past narratives. That baggage limits our ability to be open, to be truly and honestly alive, and to see things with the freshness that once came so naturally.
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Truth is a difficult thing for us. We build mirrors in our lives that we think are reflections of our souls, but usually they are nothing more than distortions. The real trick is to devise a new mirror, one that can enable us to liberate our inner truth. Such optics can be painful, however — the truth is not always easy. You have to be able to face the truth head-on, without flinching.
After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, his brother Ted delivered a powerful and poetic eulogy. He finished with a quotation that both John and Bobby Kennedy had used, adapted from a line in a George Bernard Shaw play: “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say ‘Why not?’ ”
Why not? Believing “why not” is a way of life. If you want to crack open a sense of possibility in your life and work, you’re going to have a lot more luck if you show a willingness — a serious commitment — to “why not.” Don’t limit yourself or allow yourself to get stuck in the boxes others build for you. Don’t compartmentalize your life. If you want to feel a wide-open sense of possibility, you need to knock down the walls and open up your life into one giant space, encompassing work and home life and everything else. I call this space “One Life.” I think you’ll find that the sky is not the limit, nor is the universe.
Excerpted from “Shift” by Peter Arnell © 2010 Peter Eric Arnell. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive