Why Your Grass is Always Greener Thinking Won’t Make you Smarter, Richer, or Thinner

Updated to Productivity on December 14, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

The iPhone 6 is here. Yippee.

There is a grass-is-greener attitude about new stuff. Sure, the last app you downloaded, or on-line solution you subscribed to didn’t solve all your problems, but “This one.” you say to myself “This one is going to be the game changer.” 

So, at 11:00PM, when your willpower has dropped to Death Valley depths, you hit the BUY button. 

For a while, there’s that familiar warm fuzzy feeling. “This will make ALL the difference.” you try convince yourself.

A day goes by and you were too busy to try it out. Two more days, and you’ve added a reminder to your To-Do list. Meanwhile, you’ve discovered two new and AMAZING apps that look really promising.

You realize you can’t remember the name of that wunderkind app that seemed so exciting a week ago. The entry to your To Do list is simply “Try that thing.

Here’s the deal. A new app, faster phone, more expensive shoes, or gym membership won’t make you smarter, richer, or thinner.

Just like:

  • a snazzy new sports car doesn’t make you more attractive (sorry).
  • graduate school won’t make you worth more (tried that one).
  • going to conferences doesn’t get you more business.
  • and wearing a buzzing, blinking exercise-tracking wrist band won’t make you thinner.


You do what few do. 

You use what you’ve got, before you move on. And that’s all about out-smarting smart marketers.


There are five motivators savvy marketers are so enamoured with they’re probably tattooed on their chest. They are: fear, guilt, exclusivity, greed, and approval.

You see these being exercised so often you might not even recognize the road you’re being taken down:

> FEAR: “Cutting your sun exposure is easier than cutting out a skin cancer”images_key

> GUILT: “Disconnected?” (father checking phone during son’s birthday party)

> EXCLUSIVITY: “Only 100 tickets will be sold at this price.”

> GREED: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

> APPROVAL: Think about the brilliant “I’m a Mac” ads from Apple.

And all of these (plus others listed by Robert Cialdini in the must-read Influence) feed into one classic twist in our insecure mental machinations: we believe the grass is always greener over there.

I call it the “as-soon-as” myth.


I work with lots of entrepreneurs – many in the public speaking, expert field. And most fall into the trap of thinking they are lacking. It’s easy to do. Start comparing yourself to someone with more: success, letters after their name, employees, or whatever and pretty soon you feel like a gooey mass of smallness. Been there.

It doesn’t take long before you’re convinced that as-soon-as you get over this one hurdle you’ll enjoy the lottery of success. And when that fails to hit the mark, you convince ourself the next time will be better (maybe that’s why the North American divorce rate is over 50%?) 

Yesterday I was working with a group of engineers and planners. All hard-working, dedicated people. In their work, it’s easy to start thinking “as-soon-as.” “As soon as I get through this project…”, or “As-soon-as we add more staff, then…”, or “As-soon-as I take that course, then I could…”

It’s a no-win cycle – you will never be happy with where you are.


As I write this, I’m in that place. In the next three weeks I am delivering 11 speeches, for 11 different clients, in 11 different cities, all requiring a specific list of unique preparations. Plus, I’m coaching my clients, busy adding more clients to our S.O.S. social posting service, marketing two of my own events, blogging, shooting videos, and managing our small team. You get the picture.images_key

Every day I’m pushing down the “as-soon-as” thoughts. It actually scares me to go there. From being in these trenches many times before, I’ve learned to never allow myself to think that right now is anything less than perfect.

“The reason this [the grass is always greener] attitude undermines mental health” said Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., psychologist, in Psychology Today, “is that it leads us to turn away from the main task of life, which is to make the most of what we have.”

When I step on stage, go onto a conference call with a potential client, or prepare for a keynote – I remind my insecure self (the gooey mass of smallness) that this is the perfect time for me. I’m 150% here. And I don’t want to be anywhere else. The time for rest will come soon enough. For today, I am savouring the privilege of my labours.

I heard a great distinction at a meeting, last night: instead of saying “I have to…”, turn that around and say “I get to…” Try that today – it’s a beautiful synapse-twister that can instantly flip your energy from resenting and resisting to ready and rejoicing.


Sure, all of those future events would be great. No question. The problem is that today, you’re still you, fighting fires, building the fort, and feeding the hungry.

In computer programming, they might call “as-soon-as” thinking an endless loop. By definition, it means once you get what you are hoping for, you STILL won’t be happy, you’ll just have a new “as-soon-as” to think about.

It’s like the lottery winner who is broke six months later. They never learned how to take care of what they’ve got. So when they get more, they just blow it. “He who is not contented with what he has” wrote Socrates “would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

“As-soon-as” thinking also takes you out of today, the present, and weakens your ability to hunker down, get focussed, and get work done. The trick is to maximize the use of what you already have.

It’s like going hiking into wilderness – you take what you need on your back. And you make do.


Img00033When the last sounds of the tiny Pilates Porter STOL airplane faded away over the horizon, our little team was very alone in the centre of the Kluane. The Kluane (the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, nestled in the South-West corner of the Yukon) is a daunting, roughed, awe-inspiring piece of real estate, at the best of times. Being alone, in the centre, at the foot Mt. Logan (Canada’s highest at 5,959M, 19,551F, and second highest in North America only to Denali) tends to loosen the bowels, and force you to take stock. This is not a great time to remember the rope you left at home, or phone call you forgot to make. All_I_Really_Need_Know_Robert_Fulghum_compact_discs

You are there, with what you brought. Now, get on with it.

It’s no different every day, with the kids, cleaning your bathroom on Sunday, or steeling yourself to pick up the phone one more time and make that sales call. You have what you need. You “get to do it.” Now, get on with it.

“The grass is greenest where it’s watered” wrote Robert Fulghum, in the much beloved All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. “tend the grass wherever you are.”

Now, get on with it.