Russell Bishop Blog

#41 – The Ends are the Means

The Ends are the Means

Very early on in this book, we wrote about Symbols vs. Experience. In that section, we suggested that people often focus on the symbols side of the equation, hoping that they will eventually wind up on the experience side.We offered a rough example that looked like this:

Symbols Experience
Money Freedom
House Security
Car Peace of mind
Toys (golf clubs, boat, etc) Success
Travel Happiness
Perfect Relationship etc

In my coaching, consulting and training work over the past 35 years, I have worked with thousands of people who have focused great amounts of energy on producing money, jobs, houses, etc.  Many have been hugely successful at building up large stores of symbols and yet still find themselves somewhere along the unhappy or dissatisfied side of the continuum.

Many of us have been given to believe that if we only have enough of the physical or fiscal stuff (money, house, car, career, etc) we will eventually find happiness, fulfillment and peace of mind.  However, life experience shows that for many, happiness, fulfillment and peace of mind lie just out of reach, no matter how much we seem to produce on the symbols side.

We have already suggested that the real object of our focus is on the experience side.  As Eric Hoffer said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”   Or, as I often misquote him, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.”

The main point is that for most of us, what we really, truly want out of life can be found in the right hand column.  Please don’t mistake me for saying that money, house, job, etc are unimportant.  Indeed, I like those as well and wouldn’t mind a bit more in some of those areas.  And, at the end of the day, if I am truly happy, secure, at peace, etc, then the other stuff is just a bonus.  If I don’t have much of the left hand column and yet find myself happy, secure, fulfilled and the like, then how important can the other really be?

Not UNIMPORTANT, just not THAT important.  It becomes a priority of focus thing.  If I can produce the experiences I seek, I just might be able to produce more of the symbols side.  And, if I don’t, no big deal because I have what really matters.Now if this makes even the slightest amount of sense to you, we are ready to consider a perhaps profound twist on an old cliché.  I once experienced my friend Terry Tillman, working with someone in an Insight Seminar who was struggling with how to create greater satisfaction and fulfillment in his life.  As the dialogue continued back and forth with the participant still seemingly stuck on the left hand column while still proclaiming that the right hand column was important to him, Terry stopped and asked if he knew the old question:  “Do they ends justify the means?”

When the participant acknowledged that he did, Terry then put an interesting twist on the subject.  Terry said something to the effect that the question missed the real point.  It isn’t really about ends and means in terms of some kind of ethical dilemma.

Instead, if you truly understand the ends that you seek, they actually become the means!

Think about that one for a minute:  the ends are the means.

So, if you want more peace in your life, how about approaching this minute in a more peaceful manner? If you want more love in your life, how about being more loving right now?  If you want more caring, how about being more caring right now?

In the previous section, we talked some about the search for peace and wound up with the statement that “Peace is Present.”  In order to experience more peace, all you have to do is become present, attune to the here and now, and you will likely become increasingly aware that you can experience peace without having to change anything other than your focus.

So, too, with this notion that the ends are the means. Now, I recognize that this notion is perhaps less compelling and less obvious than the one about experiencing peace.  In fact, it can even break down a bit if you focus on the one about success.

Are you already successful?  I guess that depends on your definition of success.  If you are working with common definitions of success, you are probably thinking about a level of attainment or an outcome.  Our friends at ( offer their first two definitions as:

  1. “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors“
  2. “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like”

Further on, they turn the definition more broadly to:  “the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted.” The word “success” comes from the Latin successus or succedere.  Successus translates as “an advance, succession, happy outcome” and succedere means “to come after.”  (

Taking a few more liberties as I am wont to do, we can define success as a current experience measured against a desired outcome or experience.  So, if we combine the definitions, it isn’t much of a stretch to say that if my desired outcome is greater happiness or peace, then experiencing even some peace or happiness right now is “successful.”  Perhaps not completely “full of success,” and yet successful nonetheless.

I like to call this kind of thing, “directionally correct.”  I may not be all the way there, but I am on the way.  My experience suggests that “claiming” success as it shows up invites more progress, and that success builds on success. By claiming progress, I am affirming my ability, competence, and progress which make it easier and more likely that I will build on that success.

If, instead, I deny, belittle or otherwise lessen the progress I have made so far, it becomes that much more difficult to progress the next day.  I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who suffers from a kind of inner conflict:  on the one hand, I like recognition, acknowledgement, and the kinds of “pat on the back” that help me stay focused, motivated, and involved.  On the other hand, the critical nature of my mind keeps pointing out what’s missing, how much further there is to go, and errors I have made along the way.

If I focus too much on the latter, I wind up losing steam – it’s hard to continue in the face of constant criticism, even if it’s my own criticism!  If I focus more on the progress I’m making, even if the progress is measured in the smallest of increments, it is easier to build on “directionally correct” small steps.

Remember the piece earlier on about spelling tests?  This is another example of taking the “plus 44” approach, rather than the “minus six.”  Even if it’s “plus 6,” on the way to fifty, the plus part is important in terms of encouragement, motivation and the likelihood that I will persevere to the end.

No matter what your definition of success might be, can you consider the notion that I can be even more successful tomorrow than I am today?  And, if I am more successful tomorrow than I am today, does that mean that yesterday I was not successful?

Part of the consternation that this may raise has to do with a distinctly Western mindset that in order to get better, something must be wrong in the first place.  I call that, ”deficit thinking.”

What I am proposing here is the notion of “good and getting better” rather than “bad in need of fixing.”  Emile Coule taught a lovely affirmation that has been stated in various ways; the one with which I am most familiar goes like this:  “Every day, in every way, I am getting better, better and better.”

If you adopt Coule’s way of thinking and apply it to the Symbols vs. Experience concept, it might not be too hard to get to the notion that the “ends are the means.”  By focusing more on success, happiness, peace, security or whatever other positive experiences you are seeking, you are likely to find that you will begin producing a little bit more each day.

And each day that you produce more of the experiences that you seek, the more “successful” you become.  And each day that you produce more of the experiences that you seek, the more fulfilled you are likely to become as you become increasingly aware that your life is characterized by that which is truly important to you.

Hearkening back to the previous section on being present, the only time in which you can experience anything, is right here, right now, in the present.

So, if we turn our focus toward that which we seek, we are likely to start finding it in our immediate experience.  As my mom used to day, “Russell, it’s right in front of your nose.”

Such wisdom:  my eyes are just behind my nose.  Where my nose points, is what I see, and my body tends to follow where I point.

So, what is the object of your focus?  Get clear about your preferred focus, and point your nose in that direction.  It’s pretty hard to get somewhere that you prefer if you don’t focus.  And, it is possible to get just about anywhere if you don’t focus.  You just might not like where you wind up without sufficient focus.

Remember we earlier wrote that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”

So, get clear on what you prefer, focus on it, produce or allow it as much as you can right here, right now, acknowledge your progress each day, and you are likely to begin filling your life experience with that which you truly seek.

Because, truly, the ends are the means.

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