Why the Hand Sanitizer Mindset Is Bad for Your Life and Your Business

Posted by Chuck Blakeman

Eat Dirt. Be Strong.

I walked into the bread shop and there it was–a hand sanitizer dispenser on a pedestal standing like a security guard between me and the counter. Its job was to loudly remind me that life is full to the brim of things that just might go wrong.

As I dodged that pathetic monument to a sterile life, I realized it was symbolic of a lot of things that keep us from being successful. The hand-sanitizer mindset is a deadly germ-ridden disease for business owners. And really for everyone.

But it’s so logical. Why wouldn’t you want clean hands? Are you looking for trouble? Wouldn’t you want a business that is all cleaned up and sterilized, running without risk of sickness? Recent research on the “Nocebo Effect” gives a resounding and emphatic, “No.”

Two big problems with this mindset. When you focus all your energy on mitigating risk:

  1. You also remove the opportunity for reward.
  2. You can never remove it–it’s still there in spades.

Removing Reward

Outside of winning the lottery, which has the same odds as getting hit by lightning, great reward doesn’t come without risk. Living without risk means living without significant reward, and it condemns us to the great unwashed “middle”, where nothing remarkable happens.

The Nocebo Effect is the opposite of the Placebo Effect. The Nocebo Effect shows that patients who believe a drug won’t work, are likely to truly experience that it won’t, even though it is proven scientifically that it will. Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” If you believe all risk is bad and won’t help you grow as a human being or as a business owner, your sanitizer mindset will make that come true and you will have removed reward.

Removing Risk

The fact is, you can’t, no matter how hard you try. A friend of mine told me of a couple who were looking for the safest place in the world to retire to in 1980. After a year of research, in 1981 they moved from the U.S. to a peaceful, bucolic set of islands. Six months later war broke out all around them and 1,000 people died in the Falkland Islands war between Argentina and Great Britain.

No matter how much you sanitize your life and business, you can’t completely remove risk, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. I know someone who used skin sanitizers so much that it affected their immune system. The only cure was to go cold turkey for many months with no sanitizers so the good germs (reward) could grow again. They were much sicker than if they had never used the stuff.

The hand-sanitizer mindset in business has at least the following negative results, along with some you’ll come up with on your own:

  1. It kills the good germs (reward) as well as the bad (risk). When we remove risk, we remove reward.
  2. It reminds us to live defensively and reactively, not proactively and with forward movement.
  3. It dries things up–destroys the creative, innovative part of us.
  4. It creates co-dependency. When the good germs are gone, the need for the sanitizer increases.

It Creates Victims, Not Strong Fighters

A 10 year study found that one of the biggest causes of the recent epidemic of allergies and asthma among young children was that we were keeping our babies too clean. Another study showed kids regularly exposed to rodent, roach, and cat allergens are exponentially less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma.

Our kids need to eat dirt in order to become strong! Your business is no different. If your business is set up to run without risk, you’re going to experience a forty year run on the treadmill.

Change Your Pain

The irony of it all–You are the hand sanitizer that holds you back. Fear keeps us from building great companies or pursuing life-changing innovations. It makes us willing to spend forty years doing something we hate, all for the perceived benefit of a secure job. The unhelpful mindset here is, “The pain I know is better than the pain I have yet to experience.” I hate my life, but I’ve learned to live with the dull, aching pain of it, and I don’t know what pain I would encounter if I tried to change. The same mindset keeps us paralyzed in business.

The Fourth S–Significance

Why do we crave the hand sanitizer approach in business? Because we were all taught to pursue the three S’s of the Industrial Age, safety, security and stability. But sadly, attaining them ensures we will achieve nothing remarkable. The highest value in your life should be pursuing the fourth S of the Participation Age, a life of Significance. Intend to be the creative business owner you were meant to be, and be fully committed to building a business in support of your ideal lifestyle. You won’t get that without risk.

Don’t sanitize your business or your life. Eat Dirt. Be Strong.