“Just put your name in the damn hat!”


So, this happened …

I was wearing a tuxedo, and I looked amazing.

At least, that’s what everyone said when I arrived at our formal dinner, where the theme was The Oscars. The dozen seats at my table had been filled with friends who had arranged to attend together, and we looked forward to a fun-filled, film-themed, food-rich evening.

I knew everyone at my table, some a little better than others.

J was an accountant and a movie buff, who couldn’t wait for the movie trivia quiz to begin. S was a civil engineer who spent a fair amount of time on construction sites, so was very excited about dressing up in a tuxedo. He probably wore a little too much eau de cologne that night. H was a graphic designer who had recently left a large agency to set up on her own.

And then there was Alain.

He was an insurance claims assessor whose job was 95% doing calculations and 5% communicating the results of his calculations. Alain was not generally a risk-taker, although his G&T’s were flowing freely, which looked quite risky to me!

After a fantastic dessert of fig & stilton squares, mini-cheesecakes, and popcorn (the closest the food came to being Oscars-themed) the organizers began the final event: a raffle.

There was a top hat in the middle of each table, and all we had to do was throw our business cards in to get entered. I dropped mine in, as did ten other people. Everyone did, except Alain.

“Go on!” we all pressed, “It’s just you.” But he refused. He was, after all, not a risk-taker. Oddly, this seemed to apply even to positive risks where there was only upside.

“I never win anything in these competitions. I just don’t get lucky that way. Oh leave me alone! No! What’s the point, since someone else will win,” he protested.

But we knew Alain, and we weren’t going to put up with his negativity. S grabbed his wallet, and before Alain could wrestle it back, S had taken a business card out of the wallet, dropped it in the top hat, and was carrying it to the MC at the front of the room. The hatful of cards then joined all the others, just as the MC was donning a gold blindfold.

No one at our table won the 10th prize, nor the 9th. Not even the 8th. In fact, even after awarding 2nd prize, none of us had won anything.

“And the winner of the first prize, a week’s holiday in Italy, courtesy of General Travel Company, is . . . Alainnnnnnn!”

There were 11 whoops at our table as we all turned to look at him. Alain looked totally surprised. Not because he had won (he hadn’t even realized that yet), he was just surprised that we were all looking at him.

You’ve really got to give him credit. He so totally didn’t believe he would win a prize, that he wasn’t even listening to the names being read out as the winners were announced. And yet, here he was, standing on stage and smiling for the camera!

In spite of his efforts not to enter, in spite of how he wrestled S to not have his card thrown into that hat, he still ended up having his card in the fray. And Alain won.

Left up to him, he would not have entered. And he would have not won. This self-fulfilling prophecy of “never winning” was feeding off his negative attitude.

It doesn’t make a difference how pessimistic you are. It doesn’t matter what your track record is. It doesn’t matter how committed you are to believing you won’t win.

If you’re at least in it, you can win it.

So stop standing by the sidelines, watching everyone else walk away with the prizes.

Your attitude is limiting your actions.

Just put your name in the damn hat!

Simple Definition

Just put your name in the damn hat!  This #hashtag-story reminds us that our pessimistic attitude can actually prevent us from taking the actions which allow us to succeed. We often don’t succeed because we don’t even try, not because our efforts fail.

Summarizing what it means

Alain didn’t believe he would win so he refused to enter the raffle. It wasn’t that he doubted his abilities, he was just pessimistic about the potential outcome. And he won anyway, not because of his abilities, but because his business card was thrown in the hat for him.

The damage to our lives often comes not from failing when we try, but from failing to try.

We limit our actions all the time:

  • You don’t approach the person who you fancy, on the assumption they might not want to date you
  • (Not even that they will not want you, but that they might not want you!)
  • You don’t apply for a job because you think you’re not sufficiently qualified
  • (Or because you over-estimate the quality of the others who might be applying)
  • You don’t challenge your boss at bonus season, on the mistaken belief that it can’t make a difference
  • You don’t push back against a prospect because you believe that you can’t change their “no” into “yes”
  • You don’t write your book because you assume that maybe no one will want to read it
  • You don’t take a risk because it didn’t totally succeed last time you did (which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of ongoing failure)
  • You don’t go on a diet (or exercise program, or learning a new skill) because you believe that, somehow, your genetics, your body type, your self-discipline, will prevent you from ever achieving your goals.

The first problem we need to deal with is the ongoing negative thinking that fills our minds. For some people, it’s worse than others (you know who you are!), but even for the sometimes-pessimist, the habit of jumping to bad conclusions leaves us feeling bad.

The second problem is that when we believe that things won’t work, we are less likely to take appropriate action. In a lottery sense, “You have to be in it to win it”. But even constructive actions (like applying for jobs, negotiating harder for a winning outcome, asking someone on a date) are stopped before they even begin.

Don’t lose before the race has even begun.

Before we get into the detailed discussion below, make sure that you don’t fall into the ironic trap of pessimism by believing that there’s no point in trying to understand the problem, and no point in learning ways of dealing with it. Because that would be a vicious circle!

As a reminder, this is how #HashtagYourLife works:

  • Understand clearly the nature of the situation (in this case, be clear on the two problems stated above – in relation to Attitude and Actions)
  • Have a label for the situation (here it’s #[Just put your name in the damn hat!])
  • From now on, you will instantly recognize the situation when you see it happening (whether it’s you, or someone else doing it) because you have a label for it
  • Now Take Control of the situation.

If you’re short of time, you now know enough about “Just put your name in the damn hat!” to be able to benefit from being able to spot it and dominate it.

You’ll be much better off by reading the rest of the chapter, but at a push, you can stop now.

(Whatever you do, don’t be pessimistic by assuming there isn’t something valuable for you below.)

Discussing what it means

We know it’s true, we know that other people lose out on their dreams by not even trying. The big awakening happens when we accept in our hearts (and not just in our brains) that we do that too. 😢

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take


It’s not just Black & White

As you’re reading this chapter, I’m reading your mind!

It’s true. I can sense that you’re already having an argument in your head that says, “That’s not me. I am not as pessimistic as that. I do not limit myself as much as that!”

And maybe that’s partly true, BUT of course you don’t have to be as pessimistic as Alain, nor do you have to be as anti-action as Alain, in order for this #hashtag-story to be relevant to your thinking and behavior.

It’s possible to have only a slightly negative slant on life and still end up taking fewer actions, and as a result of that, having a less fulfilling life than you might otherwise have had.

It’s also possible that your pessimism might only slightly impact your actions, so that you apply for 14 jobs instead of 15 (and thus miss out on the ideal one), or you swipe right just one too few times, thus missing out on the person of your dreams.

So when working out how vulnerable you are to the lessons of this #hashtag-story, remember it almost certainly does apply to you.

What might these Limited Actions look like?

Consider the situation of applying for a job. Limited action isn’t just about “not applying for the job”, because there are actually many shades of limiting behaviors:

  • Maybe you don’t apply for the job because you think you’re not good enough
  • Or you do apply for the job, but don’t give it your full effort, so it fails
  • You do apply for the job, and you do make a solid effort, but you don’t follow up and thus miss out because you didn’t think you deserved the role anyway
  • You do apply and you do get the job, but then you turn it down because have a sense of imposter syndrome
  • You do accept it, but your efforts at the office disappoint your boss because you lack confidence and constantly second-guess your actions
  • You do accept the role and you do an OK job of it, but your attitude leaves you constantly ill-at-ease, and your stress levels rocket.

Can you see the shades of inactivity? Now you understand why I am confident that this #hashtag-story also applies to you, even if you aren’t a hardcore pessimist.

Don’t let denial get in the way of you benefitting from this chapter, and making significant improvements to your life.

The Gender Issue

The issue of not putting your name into the hat isn’t specifically about gender, race, body shape, age, religion, sexual preference, or any of the many other factors which underlie discrimination. But it does overlap with every one of them because when people are concerned about being judged or discriminated against, that can hold them back.

Given how many people are subject to gender prejudice, and how this has the potential to trigger “Attitude Limits Action”, it’s important to address this one explicitly.

I remember reading about the scenario below, but can’t for the life of me find the original reference, so if you know about it then please let me know.

   There were two PhD students (a man and a woman) reporting to the same professor. Both of them were keen to do some part-time lecturing. Then one day, SHE found out that HE had been allocated a class to lecture to, and she was furious. The professor chose the male for this work without even offering her the chance, probably because she’s female. Or so she thought.

   She was upset and approached the professor, demanding an explanation. He responded by pointing out that he didn’t know SHE wanted to lecture, because she never actually told him. (She recognized that was true – she had assumed the professor knew what she wanted, when in fact she had never actually said anything.)

   On the other hand, the professor knew clearly that the MALE candidate wanted to lecture, because every week he’d go to the professor to ask to be allocated a class. So when an opportunity arose, the professor naturally gave it to the guy who had been constantly asking for it.

What she had ascribed to gender discrimination ended up being the fact that one candidate had regularly been putting his name in the damn hat, while she had held back doing so, assuming the professor knew, and naively accepting that all she had to do was wait for the opportunity to be presented to her.

My recollection of the story is that she realized that there is some gender conditioning, which results in a different willingness to, and likelihood of, putting one’s name in the damn hat. She then wrote a book on this, trying to address the problem by encouraging women to be more active about stepping forward, about putting their names into the damn hat.

(Again, if you know the source of this then please let me know so I can include it here. I know I didn’t make it up :) )

It’s (not) OK as it is

In order to address denial head-on, I’ve shown above that varying degrees of pessimism are possible, and there are many ways we limit our actions. In fact, unless you are super arrogant and over-confident, this #hashtag-story does apply to you. And denial is a bad starting point for improving your life.

It’s similarly worth reminding you that procrastinating on taking action, deferring decisions, and deciding not to act, is all effectively the same thing. Very often, “later” means “never”.

Failure to decide on action is the same as deciding not to take action.

Maintaining the status quo does not help either, as we tell ourselves “at least we’re not going backwards”. But the world is sufficiently competitive and growth-orientated that, as the expression goes, “If you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards.”

So catch yourself when you don’t throw your name in the hat. Or even worse, make sure you notice when you even fight to pull your name out of that hat.

The point of having a label “Just put your name in the damn hat!” is that you can understand the theme deeply, and have a flag pop up in your mind when it happens.

As soon as you realize something is a “Name in the Hat” type of situation, you will immediately recognize the situation for what it is and begin taking action. A great starting point is to explore in your own mind what thinking is driving your reluctance. Ask yourself …

Why am I limiting my actions?

You limit your actions, consciously or unconsciously, when you assume the worst, or even when you take a slightly negative view on what might happen.

This is where you will need to be honest about your own thinking, and explore your beliefs, your habits, the stories you tell yourself, your childhood programming.

I call this meta-awareness – it’s being aware of one’s own thinking.

I can’t do that thinking for you, but I can give you a bunch of examples to contemplate when you make time for this. (When would now be a good time to think about this? Because if not now, then … let’s be honest … when?)

Try these on for size. Which ones feel like they might be contaminating your thinking and keeping you from putting your name in that damn hat?

  • You have Imposter Syndrome
  • You don’t believe you’re worth it
  • You don’t have the right qualifications or experience
  • Money is the root of all evil
  • Pleasure is a sin
  • Time off is self-indulgent
  • You’re not meant to be happy
  • You always choose the wrong partners
  • They’re too busy to hear your perspective
  • You’ll just annoy them if you ask
  • Your time is worth less than theirs
  • Their priorities are more important than yours
  • You’re not lucky
  • You get what you deserve
  • You’re too fat for this
  • You’re too thin for this
  • Karma is out to get to you, for what you did before
  • Your parents kept reminding you that you’re not good enough
  • You’ll only ever get what you work hard for
  • You’ve been optimistic before and were wrong, so why try again
  • You’re just big-boned, that’s why you can’t ever lose weight
  • You’re bad with languages
  • You tried to quit before, but it didn’t work
  • You never had much of an education, so can’t do this
  • You’ve had too much of an education, so can’t do this
  • No one in your family has achieved this, what makes you special?

The list could go on a lot longer, but start with the above to zoom in on what your own thinking reflects. (And don’t let Denial win – just because your mild pessimism isn’t driven by one of the above factors, doesn’t mean it’s OK to stop searching!)

Let your Attitude DRIVE your Action

If you’ve read #[Pigs on your Birthday Cake], you know that often we tell people to do something, they insist that they’re doing it, but as an outsider, you can see that they’re not actually doing what you told them to.

If I could watch you while you claim to be addressing this “Attitude limits Action” issue, what would I see? Would I see you not throwing your name in the hat, all the while you’re insisting that you are?

This is how to put your name in the hat …

  • Be aware; You can’t solve it if you don’t notice it (and label it)
  • Do it anyway; Let the hiring manager decide you’re wrong for the role, don’t presume to decide for them
  • Keep trying; You can’t get it right 100% of the time, don’t let individual fails stop you
  • Keep improving; If you’re being rejected by publishers – try applying differently, or write another (better) book
  • Learn to focus; That can prevent your mind from wandering towards those pessimistic thoughts
  • Eliminate negative thoughts
  • Use positive thinking.

Making it personal

Let’s try a little mental role-play.

I’m going to describe some scenarios, and all you have to do is imagine the scene as clearly as possible, and then become aware of the internal dialogue that comes up as the scene plays out.

Seriously, what could you spend the next few minutes doing that would be more constructive than discovering the invisible scripts that are holding you back??

  • Imagine you’re at a coffee shop, just getting ready to leave. You’re single. A couple of tables away from you is someone that looks exactly like your type – someone you could easily fall in love with. You notice they’re reading a book that you love. You’d love to start a conversation with them, and as you walk past their table, just as you want to sit down to say hi, your mind tells you … what does your mind say?
  • Picture being at a work conference. There’s a coffee break, you’ve just come out of the toilets, and have got something to drink. You’re feeling a little “spare” and are looking for some people to join, rather than standing all alone. You see two people nearby, talking and laughing, they clearly know each other well. As you walk past them, part of you wants to join the conversation, while another part of you argues … what?
  • You’re replying to a couple of work messages on LinkedIn when you notice a post in your feed advertising a job in your city. It’s actually the kind of job you’d love to have, at a company you respect, so you click on it. They have 5 requirements, and you qualify for 3 of them (maybe 4 at a stretch). Your hand wants to click on the application button, but your mind is telling you to do … what?
  • You’d like to lose weight (or gain weight, firm up, build some muscle, etc.) and when meeting with your friend, you see that they’ve recently had great success doing exactly that. They look just like you want to look. They tell you what program they followed to achieve those results, and suggest you join up too. You’d love to, except … what?
  • Take the time to get to know your mind, and to get to know that little voice that stops you from putting your name into the hat.

The sooner you recognize the bullshit that the voice is telling you, the sooner you will start taking a lot more action than you’re taking right now. That will be nice.

PS. What was your excuse for not signing up to the exercise program in the example above? If you cannot answer that now, it means you didn’t actually do the exercise.  Come on!  Step up!  Go back and do the mental role-play – it’s for your benefit!

Related stories

#[Darth Vader’s Little Lego Head]
#[Pigs on your birthday cake]
#[Putting trees in your field]
#[What if I get on the wrong bus?]

Headline Picture Credit