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The Seagull Theory

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In 1492, Columbus kept a diary of his voyage. In September, he wrote this:

“That day they navigated, on their westerly course, day and night, 20 leagues, counting a little less. Here those of the caravel Niña reported that they had seen a tern and a boatswain bird, and these birds never go more than 25 leagues from the land.”

In other words, he noticed the birds…and knew he was close to land.

You can use this principle in business and personal life, too. I call it The Seagull Theory.

The Seagull Theory describes how the subtlest of clues can signify you’re on the right track. For example, when someone says something once, you might not notice it. When you hear it again, that’s interesting. When you hear it three times, you lean in and start paying attention.

Listen for seagulls in business. For example, when I went on a book tour and asked readers, “What do you want me to write more about?” the first person said, “How to make more money.” I didn’t even remember the first response. I asked more people. Almost all of them said, “How do I earn more?” I was skeptical. After 15-20 people saying the same thing — or seeing 15-20 seagulls — I realized I had to dig into why I kept hearing this over and over.

I leaned in, listened, and turned that insight into a course, which has now helped thousands of students start side businesses and generated millions of dollars.

Listen for seagulls in your personal life. If you start to listen, you’ll notice people saying certain things about you:

“You’re always so serious”
“You always look so amazing. I don’t know how you pull those outfits together”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t go, but we’re thinking about going skydiving…”
“I know you’re busy, but…”
“Guys like you and me, we…”

Suddenly, you have a secret microscope on people’s impressions of you. ‘Why do they think I’m serious? Do I want to be serious? (What am I doing that’s giving off that vibe?) Wow, people think I’m good at dressing well. Weird…it just comes naturally to me.’

The Seagull Theory can also tell you when you’re not on the right track. If you listen to people describe this site, some of them will say, “Oh yeah, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, that’s the personal finance site, right?”

I haven’t written about personal finance in years. This seagull shows how difficult it is to change positioning in someone’s mind. It’s not their fault — it’s mine for not making it easier to describe IWT. (I write personal development, not personal finance.)

Listen for seagulls in your life. When you hear someone saying something once, twice, three times…lean in and listen.

What’s an example of a seagull you’ve noticed in your business or personal life? Leave a comment below.

P.S. I’m hiring a Product Developer. If you’ve ever wondered how we do research to create new products, I’m hiring one person to let “inside” to help us research and create future IWT products. For details and to apply, click here.

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  1. “You should be a therapist.”
    “Wow, you put exactly what I’m feeling into words.”
    “You’re such a good storyteller.”
    “Oh my god, I never thought of it that way!” (I hear this ALL THE TIME.)

    I get this kind of feedback a couple times a month, at least. I’m not exactly a therapist, more like a life coach, but I resisted the consulting field for years because I didn’t think people would be interested in my approach, which is to use metaphor and symbolism as a means of tackling problems my clients think are unsolvable.

    Who knew? I figured I was just telling stories and had a perpetually weird way of looking at things. In truth, I AM telling stories and offering my unique perspective, but as it turns out, that’s exactly what my clients are willing to pay for, and precisely what I happen to be good at.

    • Hi Renee,

      That is really interesting! I would love to hear more about how you “followed the seagulls” and got started in the consulting field. What kind of consulting do you do? How did you decide what services to offer and how to set up your pricing? How did you get your first few clients?

      I am really considering starting to consult on my own, so I’d love advice from someone who is already successful at this!

    • It is awesome that you took the feedback you heard about yourself over the years and turned your profession into the simple exercise of what you are good at!

      I have been importing from China for other sourcing companies for years, and realized what I actually liked best about my job was teaching new hires the steps to go through and serving as a educator and mentor to them. The positive feedback I received from managers was also usually around my willingness to teach others and my effectiveness at this.

      I finally took the hint, you could say, and am following my passion for educating others through instead of carrying on and ignoring my own seagulls.

    • Telling stories strikes a chord with most people-and it develops into a bond when you listen to them attentively and start empathizing with them. Taking a cue from Ramit Sethi, and the Seagull Principle, I have started this pro-bono blog for senior citizens ( take their place in society.

    • Hi Renee,

      I really like your theory. The seagulls that I’ve encountered in my life is my family and close friends who always tell me to launch and help SMEs to import with no difficulty and at a low cost MOQ. So, I started making which helps SMEs that can’t afford huge MOQ (Minimum Quantity Order) in importing products from factories globally. With the site, Small-to-Medium businesses can now band together to purchase a product that they can share with in a minimum cost.

  2. In one week, I had 5-6 people (some of whom I really trust and who know me very well) tell me I should become a business consultant – i.e. just go out and start consulting. I kind of brushed off the first person who told me that, but then I kept hearing it and couldn’t ignore the pattern.

    So I ran the idea by some other people who know me well and whom I really trust. I was hoping they would tell me they had reservations about this (“you need more experience first” or “you should get more training first”). But they all said I should go for it, and that I would be very successful and really enjoy it.

    So even though I feel under-qualified and afraid to get out there and start consulting on my own, the “seagulls” are telling me I’ve got something important to offer and could really be successful at it.

    • Hi Lisa!

      Thanks for your interest in my work! To answer your questions, I am a professional psychic. I’ve been consulting for the last four years, but it has taken me a while to take my own work seriously. Not that there’s a stigma against psychics or anything.

      My first paying client was a neighbor of mine. She brought me a $20 bill and I was so freaked out by the concept of offering my services for pay that I read her for 4 hours, just to make sure she got her money’s worth. Now my rate is $80/hr. For the area that I’m in as well as the current local professional demographic, I think it’s a good fit. For now, anyway.

      As for my clientele, It began as anyone and everyone who would meet with me, but such a broad approach left me feeling a bit scattered and my clients were always inconsistent.

      I observed my style and began to specialize. Now my clients are almost exclusively professional healers. Reiki practitioners, sound healers, astrologers, other clairvoyants, crystal healers, etc. I operate in person only, so while that may limit my potential clients, it’s how I do my best work.

      Most of my advertising is word of mouth, which I prefer. I’m beginning to collaborate with some of my work friends, creating workshops and the like, but that part is new, and I imagine my advertising will be a little more formal for those events.

      Good luck with your business consulting! Being encouraged by those around us makes all the difference, I think. I know I never would have legitimized clairvoyant consulting in my own mind had people not kept offering me money to work with them. Here’s to the seagulls!

    • Maybe it is a cue to what your strengths really are. Sometimes you might not know what your good at, and other people may notice it. I would definitely explore those strengths and learn cool things about yourself to use it to help others!

      I think that’s also why having constant communication with others is so important. It can help you grow and become more self aware of your abilities and your role in your relationships.

  3. “Everytime we come to my parents you have a face…” I finally figured it out after hearing so much of it. I need to be there in the moment. My thinking is man… i could be out there working on something or .. no internet what do i do. So now, I place myself in a mindset that my goal of being there is to be with family and if I’m on the computer the whole time and told to put it aside and put “that face” I remember to be there in the moment and enjoy family life. You’ll be surprised what you can learn or share.

  4. Hey Ramit,
    Love your frank commentary on the blogs and interviews with James Altucher & Pat Flynn. Also learned you spoke at FitCon several years ago. I’ll be speaking at FitCon 2015.

    My Seagull Theory #1:

    I wrote a book about starting a business without a biz plan. (Start Me Up! The No Business Plan, Business Plan)
    When I spoke at associations, colleges and events, attendees continually asked me “How do I get on TV, in newspapers, blogs etc. like you do?” Only within the last few months did I realize that many were interested in that area of getting media attention. The other aspect is, how to drive the traffic you may get and convert it to fans or customers.
    That’s the second course I’m working on creating for select clients.

    My Seagull Theory #2 –
    At speeches, people would email me their fears on starting a business. They didn’t want to quit their day jobs…so I started helping them start on the side!


  5. My “Seagull Phrase” is “That’s a really good idea”. When I hear that from a potential client I know they
    “get” my value proposition. If they have an active need, they will ask me to help them. No selling required. If they don’t have an active need we have a basis for continued communication until a need arises for them or someone in their circle. Again, no selling required.

  6. I am a music producer and a singer/songwriter and for years ive been told by my clients and other musicians that with my skillset and talent i should start my own record label or production company. Every time i talk i always get the feedback : “If you had a tv show i would watch you everyday!” If you had a podcast i would tune in . Or “its just your vibe and your energy” I will make an effort to attract outlets where my creativity can reach the masses thats looking for what i have to say.

  7. “You should write a book!” – Working on it. 🙂

  8. Loved this article! So interesting. I hear a few things over and over. “You are so smart/intelligent”…or a comment about my physical attractiveness. Those are the big ones. I am a psychologist, with a private practice as well as a ‘public’ practice. I tend ot shy away from anything to do with my physical attractiveness because I don’t want people to focus on that. However, possibly I am making a mistake with that. I’ll have to give it more thought.

  9. I fold paper. It’s not origami in any traditional sense, and although this particular path taken by me was, up until about two years ago, totally devoid of any outside influence. I had no idea anyone else was doing it, but of course there are. Anyway, I fold paper, and then photograph, then manipulate the photographs with my computer. They capture the imagination of pretty much everyone I’ve ever shown them to. Comments like “they have an otherworldly quality” – “It looks like/reminds me of/is just like/could be (insert an enourmous variety of things here)”

    And of course I have lots of images and ideas myself, (shadowbox display, large-scale sculpture, tile design, build and design, textile design to name a few) but I’ve never follow through on any of them.

    And in an unrelated but probably more practical field, people are always telling me that I am great at helping them with their computer, especially novices, and older people (also in the novice category), troubleshooting problems setting up printers, setting up networking, organizing files etc.

  10. One thing I hear a lot about myself is my smile. I always seem to remind people of other people they like. Like oh I thought you might be the cousin or daughter of my friend. Or doesn’t she remind you of our co-worker …. This happens all the time. I’m always touched and flattered by such a warm compliment. I remind you of someone who makes you feel happy. That’s the best.