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Resetting Your Success Thermostat

by Tom Terwilliger on Apr 01, 2007

Turn the heat up on your career by changing what you believe about your possibilities.

As personal trainers, we may tell clients that in order to adjust their calorie-burning capabilities, they need to reset their “metabolic thermostat.” In a similar way, in order to change the level of success in your life, you may need to reset your “success thermostat.” Chances are that where you are in your career at this moment is exactly where your success thermostat is set to keep you.

For most of us, the self-imposed inability to achieve and sustain what we want in life, or to reach the level of success we deserve, is a result of the limiting decisions we have unconsciously made over the years—decisions about the world around us, who we are, what we feel comfortable achieving and what we deserve in life. Those decisions were influenced by our upbringing, our early childhood experiences, our parents and other authority figures in our lives.

In our childhood, our unconscious mind is wide open for blueprinting and conditioning. In some cases, this openness is a good thing. For example, most of us were conditioned to believe that if we played in the street, we could get hit by a car. That conditioning led us not only to avoid street play but also to look both ways when crossing the road.

But sometimes the conditioning we received in childhood can be limiting. For example, I grew up thinking that having more than you need is a sin. I was conditioned to think that wealth is for the less honest, or for those who are born into it, not for “good, honest, hard-working folks like us.” At what temperature do you think that conditioning set my financial-success thermostat?

Proof of the results of early conditioning can be seen in the lives of middle-class and lower-income lottery winners. According to Stephen Goldbart, PhD, licensed psychologist and co-director of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute in Kentfield, California, follow-up studies show that although a lottery win can create great elation for a while, the winner’s sense of overall well-being eventually returns to its former level—whether the person was previously happy or unhappy. In fact, a significant number of lottery winners lose their winnings within 5 years—returning to the set temperature on their success thermostat.

Sigmund Freud said that we will always behave in a way and manifest the things in our lives that are consistent with what we believe about ourselves and the world. So does that mean we are stuck with our old programming, destined to flounder about in self-imposed mediocrity for the rest of our lives? No!

Resetting your success thermostat is a process, during which you develop the skills, attributes, tools and beliefs you need to make changes and sustain them.

This process involves five strategic steps:

1. Identify your current setting—and the limiting belief that is keeping you there.

2. Produce a new outcome by creating a new belief.

3. Create a new internal representation.

4. Map out a plan.

5. Take consistent action.

1. Identify Your Current Setting

Success comes in many forms, so you will have to determine the gauge to use to measure your current level of success. For example, if success for you is based primarily on net worth, then take a look at your current level of income, as well as your bank account, assets and debt.

Then, on a blank piece of paper, draw a vertical line between 2 and 3 inches long, and above it write “My Success Thermostat.” At the bottom of that line, write 0 degrees; at the top, 110 degrees; and in the middle, 55 degrees. Now ask yourself: “If 110 degrees represents everything I want in this particular area of my life—or total success—and 0 represents none of what I want, where am I currently?” Make a small, horizontal line at the point on the thermostat that represents your current level of success, along with the coinciding “temperature.”

If you have been stuck at that temperature for a year or more, you can be pretty sure that your success thermostat has been programmed for that level. If so, ask yourself: “What must I have believed about myself or the world that has kept me from achieving my potential?” Write that old belief down on a piece of paper and, as you draw a big red line through it, begin to notice how silly, obsolete and absolutely untrue it is.

2. Produce a New Outcome

To produce a new outcome, you need to create an empowering new belief. Simply knowing where you are is not enough; you must know where you are going and who you have to be to get there.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • “What is the one thing I must accomplish this year that, when achieved, will take me to the next level?”
  • “What do I need to believe about myself and the world to move to the next level?”
  • “What if believing in a new outcome with every ounce of my being would, by virtue of the belief itself, move me toward the success I deserve in my life?”

Then make a small, horizontal red line at the temperature level that you believe your new outcome and belief represent. Be ambitious, yet realistic, with this new setting, which should be the next step up from where you currently are. Then give yourself permission to reset the comfort level to that temperature.

3. Create a New Internal Representation

Picture yourself living the results of your new belief and desired outcome. More than visualization—which we know can and does produce tremendous results for high-level athletes, actors, politicians and top business executives—an internal representation (IR) uses all four primary communication systems (visual, olfactory, kinesthetic and auditory) to create a very real yet imagined representation of what you want to experience. The more vivid your IR is, the more powerful and empowering its impact will be on your reality. Repeat the IR process at least twice a day for 21 days.

4. Map Out a Plan

Without a plan, your new outcome is nothing more than a desire. Identifying and mapping out the strategic steps needed to succeed will go a long way toward resetting your thermostat. You will need to “chunk,” or break down, your outcome into small, achievable goals. What do you need to accomplish this week, next week, next month and the month after that to be on target for your intended outcome? You can’t get to C from A without going through B, so plan to do so.

5. Take Consistent Action

You need to be consistent to attain your outcome. You must take that crucial first step before anything can happen, much less something great. I believe that every single day that you are a little uncomfortable with the status quo, you must take some specific action to build the emotional muscle you need to achieve success in life. You have a plan, but without action that plan is worthless. If you were sitting in an uncomfortably cold room right now and needed to turn up the heat, you would have to get up off your chair, walk over to the thermostat and flip the switch, wouldn’t you? Most people would freeze half to death before they were uncomfortable enough to get up off the couch. Until you reset your thermostat for a new temperature and it begins to adjust automatically, you will have to step up and take action. Don’t wait; take action today and reset your success thermostat by creating the momentum, confidence, empowering beliefs and emotional muscle you need to succeed.


Dilts, R. 2003. From Coach to Awakener. Capitola, CA: Meta Publications.

James, T., & Woodsmall, W. 1988. Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Capitola, CA: Meta Publications.

Money, Meaning & Choices Institute,

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About the Author

Tom Terwilliger IDEA Author/Presenter

Tom Terwilliger is the founder and CEO of Coaching Leadership Excellence in Denver, Colorado. He is a certified NLP master practitioner, life coach and speaker for Peak Potentials, one of the largest ...