How I Was Introduced to The E+R=O Mindset

As a professional speaker, I have the privilege of keynoting for business and association conferences. And over the years, I've become known for a specific core message. I view this message as an amazing gift that was given to me that I now get to share with hundreds of audiences.

What is the core message?

The E+R=O Mindset vs. The E=O Mindset.

E+R=O stands for Event + RESPONSE = Outcome.

Most people, however, do not embrace an E+R=O mindset.

Instead, they have an E=O mindset (Event = Outcome). In fact, E=O is what humans tend to naturally believe. I'm not sure why, but it's almost as if it's part of our DNA.

An E=O mindset believes the events we experience determine our outcomes. This is why so many people have a victim mentality. If events determine outcomes, there's not much we can do to positively shape our lives. Since most of the events we experience are out of our control, we simply become victims of what happens to us.

But if you add an R to the equation, everything changes!

Those who embrace an E+R=O mindset (Event + RESPONSE = Outcome) realize that most of the events they face are out of their control. However, they also know they can choose their response. And by choosing their response, they shape their outcomes. This means they can take a negative event and turn it into a positive outcome. They can face adversity and turn it into an advantage. This is what I call being Response-ABLE.

Not Original With Me

Earlier I mentioned that the E+R=O message was an amazing gift that was given to me.

I first learned the crux of this message from a basketball coach when I was an at-risk kid (see “My Introduction to the E+R=O Mindset” below).

Additionally, as a young professional facing significant leadership challenges, I heard Jack Canfield speak. Jack shared how he came to learn about this mindset, and his story helped me go deeper in my understanding and implementation of E+R=O.

This is why I see my core message as a gift. The E+R=O message made appearances during key moments in my life, and each time it helped me become more Response-ABLE.

My Introduction to the E+R=O Mindset

In elementary school, I was a loser and I knew it. It’s not as though I was depressed or unhappy; I was one of those nice kids that got along with everyone. However, I did struggle. Academically, I had a significant speech impediment and could not pronounce the sounds associated with the letters “f, g, j, k, l, r, s, v, z, ch, sh, th, and related consonant blends.” Additionally, by the time I reached third grade, my teacher had a private conference with my parents and asked how I had passed the previous grades without being able to read. Simply put, I wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box.

Physically, I wasn’t much to look at either. I was short, chubby, and wore Tough Skin Jeans. You probably have no idea what Tough Skin Jeans are, so just think of the dorkiest pair of pants a kid could wear (they actually had built-in knee pads) and that’s what I had plastered on my chunky little body.

But what was most difficult for me was my lack of athletic ability. I loved sports, but my arms and legs never supported that passion. Let’s just say when it came time to choose teams for kickball, I prayed not to be picked last. That way, at least I knew I wasn’t the biggest loser on the playground.

Bottom line . . . the word “confident” was not in my vocabulary.

When I hit middle school, I grew so fast in fact that, by the beginning of eighth grade, I was almost as tall as I am now. Along with this growth spurt came some athletic ability, not a ton, but enough that I decided to try out for the middle school basketball team in seventh grade.

Jim Vaught, the middle school coach, decided to keep 15 players that year. When he met with me, he told me I was the last person to make the team. The conversation was not an Aren’t-You-Lucky speech, but more of an I-Believe-in-You chat. He told me I probably wouldn’t see a ton of playing time, but if I worked hard, next year could be a different story.

To be honest, I wasn’t really listening. I was just thrilled to make the team. In my mind, I would never be a real athlete, so just being associated with the athletes was a step up from my loser status. I still wasn’t confident, but at least now, I could fake like I was.

During the season I made a major personal mistake; something that to this day I am still ashamed of having done. The details aren’t necessary; just know it was MAJOR! When Mr. Vaught called me into his office to confront me about my alleged transgression, I had no idea I had been caught. When he dropped the bomb, I was devastated. The mistake was bad enough, but at that moment I realized my parents, my teachers, and a basketball coach who believed in me were all disappointed.

All the confidence that was budding within me was cut short.

Or Was It?

Mr. Vaught helped turn a potentially devastating situation into a positive watershed moment in my life. He was firm. He was even disappointed. Yet he still believed in me. I could sense it. I saw it in his eyes and heard it in his words. Even in the midst of saying some very hard things to me, I knew he believed I was a special kid with a special future. He clearly communicated that my tomorrow did not need to be created from my yesterday; that my future was still in the future. He challenged me to own up to my mistake, seek forgiveness, learn from it, and move on.

At the end of the season, Mr. Vaught pulled me aside for another chat. The incident had happened only a few weeks earlier, so I had been avoiding Coach. I’d see him in math class and at basketball practice, but always kept my distance. So at first, when he wanted to talk, I was afraid he was going to rehash my mistake. Instead, all he said was, “Kent, I think you could get significant playing time next year if you work hard this summer. I really do!” When the next year rolled around, not only was I starting, I also led the team in scoring.

At the awards ceremony, Mr. Vaught stood in front of a packed gym and said something along these lines: “I want to recognize Kent Julian. Last year he was the last person picked for the team. This summer he dedicated himself to practicing four to five hours a day. Because of his efforts, he was our most improved player, our leading scorer, and our most valuable player.”

Nice words, huh? Almost thirty years later, I have a hard time writing them without getting choked up. But honestly, Jim Vaught left out one, very important detail. I accomplished those things because he believed in me. If he had handled my watershed moment any differently, those words would have never been uttered, at least not about me. My relationship with Mr. Vaught—a teacher and coach who saw me at my very worst, yet chose to believe in my absolute best—was what inspired me.

Because he believed in me, I started to believe.

And it didn’t just affect my basketball skills; confidence spilled over into other areas of my life as well.

(Two sections above taken from the book: Who Wants To Be Normal, Anyway?!)

Why the E+R=O Mindset is Important

The E+R=O message changed my life!

This is not hyperbole.

I was an at-risk kid with a significant learning challenge. Not only did I feel dumb, but I believed I would always be stupid. There wasn't an ounce of confidence in me.

Yet when I was introduced to the essence of the E+R=O mindset by my basketball coach, there was a glimmer of hope.

Things didn't change instantly, but even as a young teenager, I started to recognize a pattern. I could shape the outcomes I experienced if I took ownership of my response. Instead of being a victim, I could choose to be Response-ABLE.

And the more I applied this simple but powerful mindset, the more joy and success I experienced.

More to Come

This post is the first of several in The E+R=O Mindset series. Upcoming posts will include:

My goal in writing these posts is to share the gift that was given to me. If Jim Vaught had not taught me the essence of the E+R=O mindset, my life would look very different today (and not for the better).

My hope is that the E+R=O message impacts your personal and professional life as positively as it has impacted mine.


E+R=O Mindset in Your Daily Life

Go Deeper

Success is easy as long as life goes according to plan. 

But what happens when life throws you a curveball?

It’s easy to live it forward when everything is going smoothly, but when you hit a few bumps, overcoming obstacles becomes more challenging.

Grab this FREE RESOURCE if you'd like to go deeper and discover how to live the E+R=O Mindset in your daily life.