John Wareham writes of a psychic contract in his 1991 book, Anatomy of a Great Executive.

Wareham uses psychic contract to describe our subconscious influences.

I met Wareham in Wellington in the early 1990s and we discussed how people could become aware of their psychic contract and use it productively.

A psychic contract is a set of deals we strike with ourselves. We use these deals to define our life goals, how we approach reaching those goals and how we measure success.

Wareham says with the right kind of contract, even ordinary people can do great things. On the other hand, the wrong contract hinders development.

In his book, Wareham goes into depth explaining how we can know our own psychic contracts and how we can reset goals to give ourselves permission to succeed. Knowing your psychic contract is an important part of understanding what drives you.

Here are the five keys:

  • Parental Influence: Wareham says even people who left home a long time ago are influenced by the lessons learnt at their parents’ knee.
    What he calls the ‘prime parental injunction’ sits at the heart of your conscious. We go through our lives trying to become the people our parents wanted us to be. Even people who spend their lives trying to become exactly the opposite of what their parents wished are still influenced by this injunction.
  • Success Criteria: Success isn’t absolute; it is what you want it to be. There’s a close relationship between this and parental influence. Whether you know it or not, you have an internal goal which represent your own vision of success. You won’t feel you’ve arrived until you reach this goal – when you reach it you might set yourself a new goal.
    Wareham says that three-quarters of people in western societies set out first to equal, then to marginally improve upon the way of life and status level they enjoyed in their childhood home.
  • Driving Force: Again this relates back to the previous two criteria. This is our central life interest and we spend much of energy on it. For some people this might be attaining business success, others might look for a happy home life. It can be as simple as ‘being somebody’.
  • Culminating Achievement: Ask yourself the question; “I will know for sure I’m successful the day I ….”. Whatever fills in the blank is your culminating achievement. If you reach this goal then you will have filled your psychic contract. In many cases it is important to reach this goal by a certain age. For example, “I must own a beach house by the time I retire”, or “I want to be a millionaire by the time I’m forty”.
  • Financial Comfort Level: Everybody has a pre-programmed financial comfort level. Most of us work hard until we reach this level, once there we slacken off – not because we are lazy, but because we have satisfied our inner needs and don’t require more. This is particularly important for sales people who earn commission. It is common for a salesperson who has earned enough commission to reach their financial comfort level to sit back for rest of the month.
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