Notes on the Landmark Forum—a Personal Distinctionary

This post is a response to requests for my notes on the Landmark Forum

I offer these to you with some caveats. 

For one, the Forum is philosophical, not scientific. It’s all about experiencing a personal epiphany. This is hard to produce, and it might not happen for you.

In addition, I was turned off by the Forum’s marketing strategy. I felt pressured to promote the training to relatives and friends. 

Even so, I still find many Forum ideas to be useful. What follows is my summary of them—a glossary, or “distinctionary”. (See distinction below.)

As you proceed, please keep these things in mind:

  • These notes come directly from my personal journal with minimal revision. You might find them cryptic. That’s because they are cryptic.  (I posted a cleaned-up version.)
  • I took the Landmark Forum in 2005. It’s possible that the content has changed since then. 
  • I have no affiliation with Landmark Worldwide. These notes have not been reviewed or approved by that organization.

Authenticity

We are inauthentic. We live absurd, small lives based on suppressed emotions, irrational decisions, hiding what we truly think and feel, and a total absence of integrity.

We live with a fear of looking bad in front of other people while we pretending that we aren’t really afraid.

Our whole existence is based on pretense, including:

  • Failing to keep our agreements
  • Settling for reasons, rationalizations, and excuses rather than results
  • Basing our behavior on irrational decisions 

We make up stories about what happens in life, and we use those stories to justify breaking our agreements, holding back, and avoiding risk. (See story below.)

We are machines. Our behavior is a series of automatic reactions — complex chains of stimulus-response pairs. (See machine below.)

We get to work with our inauthenticity for the rest of our life. And then we die.

We can, however,  be authentic about our lack of authenticity. And this creates a whole new realm of possibility.

Blind Spots

The Forum distinguishes between:

  • What you know that you know
  • What you know that you don’t know
  • What you don’t know that you don’t know — your blind spots.

Blind spots produce constraints that are invisible to us. Once we see them, we gain access to personal breakthroughs.

Breakdown

In the face of any breakdown, skip the conversation about what’s wrong. Just re-commit to the possibility that you originally spoke about. Then act in alignment with that possibility.

Certainty

Look for whatever you’re certain about. These are the points where you’ve stopped learning. These are the places where you your feet are nailed to the floor. 

It is possible to lead an authentic life without beliefs, without certainties. 

Change

Change is about getting more or less of what you had in the past. It’s about tweaking your habits. It’s about playing your old games in new ways.

Transformation creates a new realm of possibility — a whole new set of options. Transformation is independent of the past.

There is the game of change and the game of transformation. These are different games.

Conventional goal setting and problem solving is grounded in change, not transformation.

Choice

Choosing is independent of reasons. 

I choose chocolate because I choose chocolate. There are no reasons. 

Commitment

To commit is to stand for something.

Committing to a new possibility for the future means changing our behavior in the present. Action based on commitment produces results. In short:

  • Commitment —> Actions —> Results
  • Being —> Doing —> Having
  • Future —> Present —> Past

You create a new possibility by speaking it. The possibility comes into existence with your word.

Ask how you want a possibility to show up in your life. Then state it as a goal in specific, measurable terms.  

Remember that you don’t create results in order to become happy. You are happy and then you create results. (See gratification and satisfaction below.)

Context

To create a new context is to stand in a new place. 

For example, you can live from the context of satisfaction or the context of gratification. (See gratification and satisfaction below.)

Creating a new context creates a new view of life and new possibilities for action:

New context —> New commitments —> New actions —> New results

Transformation comes from new contexts — not from new circumstances.

Conversation

Human beings are “clearings” in which conversations occur — much like a blackboard is a clearing for writing with chalk to occur.

Organizations are clearings for networks of conversations.

Distinctions

To distinguish is not the same as to define.

To distinguish is to call something into the foreground through your use of language — something that was undifferentiated and not noticed before.

Enrollment

To enroll is to create possibilities and inspire people.

To register is to ask people to make a commitment to act.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is enrollment. 

Asking people to march to Selma was registration.

Enrollment is the heart of transformation. And enrollment starts with being authentic with someone about how you’ve been inauthentic.

Sharing is the basis for new results and enrollment.

Stop trying to fix or change people. Enroll them instead.

Games

A game is based on rules and declarations. In baseball, a strike happens when the umpire declares a strike.

We are playing a game called life. The stakes appear to be the highest imaginable — death. But we forget that we are playing a game and that we invented the rules.

Many of us live as spectators. We’re “in the stands” rather than on the court and in the game. We avoid risks and stay in our comfort zone.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines and just observing, you can participate. You can play full out. You can be in the game rather than in the stands.

Taking risks brings aliveness.

The conversation that happens between players during a game is a form of action. 

The conversation that happens in the stands — explanations, reasons, excuses — does not change what happens in the game.  

The Forum is a game. The leader is a coach. Be coachable. When others share, listen for ways to apply it to yourself.

You can have reasons or results. You choose.

Gratification

We experience gratification when we satisfy a need, achieve a goal, or solve a problem. 

Contrast this with satisfaction — an experience of being fulfilled and complete that is independent of circumstances and conditions.

Insanity

Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting new results.

Integrity

Integrity means being complete, whole, and powerful. Levels of integrity include:

  • Following the rules (less power)
  • Being true to your values (more power)
  • Honoring your word as yourself (even more power)

Your word has creative power. You create new possibilities simply by speaking about them and then aligning your behavior with them. 

Being powerful means that your word produces new results.

Keeping your agreements allows you to access transformation. 

Keeping your agreements is not right or wrong; it just works. 

Failing to keep your agreements is not right or wrong; it just does not work.

Jerk

We are jerks when our life is about dominating other people by making them wrong and making ourselves right. 

We do this at the cost of being in relationship with other people.

Machines

We are machines. Our behavior is a collection of reflexes — chains of stimulus-response patterns that happen without our conscious awareness.

Like machines, we respond automatically to stimuli. We get “turned on” and “turned off” by events. We do not consciously choose to act. We simply react.

You don’t act. It acts.

When a machine observes itself, it stops being a machine in that moment. 

We stop being machines while meditating, for example, and while we sleep. But when that’s over, we go back to being a machines.

Meaning

Life is empty and meaningless.

And, the fact that life is empty and meaningless is in itself empty and meaningless.

At crucial points in our lives, we make meaning through our rackets (see below) and strong suits (see below). Transformation means transcending those meanings.

Money

It’s not the amount of money you have that produces suffering — it’s the meaning you make up about the amount of money you have.

Don’t look for money to bring satisfaction. Be satisfied. Then make money.

Nothing

When you see through your rackets (see below) and strong suits (see below), you are left without a personal identity. You are left with nothing.

This is what you get out of the Forum: the experience of being nothing.

Nothing is an open space. Nothing is a clearing that allows for new possibilities. 

From nothing you can declare a way of being. That way of being comes into existence the moment that you declare it.

Everything that we’ve learned tells us that the most important factor in shaping who we are is the past. This is wrong. We can choose and create possibilities independently of anything that happened in your past. 

Starting from nothing, we can create anything.

Sartre saw nothingness and it left him with nausea.

We see nothingness and then create a new realm of possibility.

We forget that we are nothing — and therefore everything — and can never die. 

Possibility

Possibility means bringing something new into life. This is inspiration. 

A possibility changes you in the moment that it occurs. A possibility changes you as you take action based on that possibility.

The future that you’re living into creates your experience of the present. Action brings your future into the present.

Create possibilities that draw you forward by practicing new ways of speaking:  

  • I invent the possibility that…. 
  • I create the possibility of being…. 
  • The possibility I am inventing for myself and my life is the possibility of being….

Some ways to complete those sentences are:

  • fully alive
  • authentic
  • connected
  • self-expressed
  • complete with the past
  • contributing
  • present
  • satisfied
  • someone who shares and invites other to share
  • an extraordinary human being
  • a space where love happens
  • a space where negativity disappears
  • free from judgments
  • free from fear of looking bad

Procrastination 

People tell you that your life will really start someday, such as when you:

  • Graduate from grade school.
  • Get your drivers license.
  • Graduate from high school.
  • Graduate from college.
  • Get married.
  • Have kids.
  • Retire.   

The result is that your life never actually starts. You keep living a “practice” life in preparation for “real” life.

Give up someday. Stop becoming and start being.

We get it now or we don’t get it at all.

Problems

Any solution creates new problems. The result is an endless series of problems — a problem-solution mass.

Problems will keep happening. So find bigger problems — those that are worthy of your attention and action.

Rackets

You run rackets by complaining constantly about circumstances while receiving a secret payoff from those circumstances.

A 40-year-old man complains for years about being broke. His parents respond by giving him regular infusions of cash. The payoff: He gets money while not taking responsibility for under-earning. 

To discover your rackets, look at your complaints. What are you doing to perpetuate the sources of those complaints?

Registration

To enroll is to create possibility and inspire people.

To register is to ask people to make a commitment to act.

The “I have a dream speech” is enrollment.

Asking people to march to Selma is registration.

Enrollment is the heart of transformation.

Right

When we meet people who disagree with us, we typically shut down. Instead of listening fully and trying to enter their world, we do everything possible to prove them wrong. 

We do this at the cost of being in relationship with other people.

We can be right or be in relationship. 

Satisfaction

Werner Erhard described this in a paper about the est training

Each of us has experienced moments in our lives when we are fully alive —when we know — without thinking — that life is exactly as it is in this moment. In such moments, we have no wish for it to be different, or better, or more. We have no disappointment, no comparison with ideals, no sense that it is not what we worked for. We feel no protective or defensive urge — and have no desire to hold on — to store up — or to save. Such moments are perfect in themselves. We experience them as being complete.

Some implications:

  • The Forum is not about solving problems.
  • The Forum is not about achieving goals. 
  • No one needs the Forum.

Contrast satisfaction with gratification (above).

Self

Give up trying to “find yourself.” You won’t find anything. Just declare a possibility and then be that.

Seven Distinctions of Being an Unreasonable and Extraordinary Human Being

Be unreasonable in the sense of going beyond your reasons — your excuses for not getting new results in your life.

Be unreasonable in the sense of producing extraordinary results. Being reasonable leads to smaller results.

Remember that going beyond your reasons does not mean being irrational.

The seven distinctions of an unreasonable and extraordinary human being include:

  • Integrity. Honor your word. Follow rules. Make and keep promises that make a difference. Clean up messes from broken promises and then make new promises.
  • Being racket-free. Notice the early warning signs of a racket, such as losing your sense of humor. Give up being right all the time — even when you are. If you are right, then get off it.
  • Being powerful. Instead of using force, pressure, begging, or conning, produce new results through straight communication and taking what you get.
  • Being courageous. Feel fear, acknowledge it, and act on your word anyway.
  • Being peaceful. Be centered in the midst of chaos. Deal with what is rather than what “should” be. Give up the interpretation that something is wrong. Be free and unconstrained no matter what life throws at you. Greet criticism or attack with non-resistance.
  • Being charismatic. Be present. Be here now. Give up trying to get somewhere.
  • Enrolling. Share possibilities that touch, move, and inspire others.

Sex

The truth about sex is that you’re hot when you’re hot — and you’re not when you’re not.

Sex is pure machinery.

Don’t confuse sex with love. Love is unconditional acceptance — not simultaneous orgasm.

Don’t look for love or sex to bring fulfillment. Bring fulfillment to love and sex.

Someday

Give up the myth of “someday.”

Transformation happens now — not “someday.”

You don’t create results in order to become satisfied “someday.” Rather, you are satisfied and then you create results.

Waiting for “someday” is procrastination.

Story

We routinely collapse the distinction between what actually happens and our interpretations of what happens. Stories are interpretations of the facts.

Example: Your mother-in-law asks you to not call her “mother.” You make up a story about this: She doesn’t love me. 

From then on, your behavior around your mother-in-law is based on this story. You pretend that your story is what actually happened.

It’s possible that your mother-in-law never rejected you. Maybe she truly loves you — and just wants to be called by her first name.  

When you forget the distinction between what actually happened and your stories, you become inauthentic. You lose power.

Strong Suits

Your strong suits are fundamental decisions about how to live. You made these decisions at certain points in your life:

  • During childhood, you experienced a time when you weren’t good enough, and you decided to be…. (fill in the blank)
  • During adolescence, you experienced a time when you didn’t belong, and you decided to be…. (fill in the blank)
  • As a young adult, you experienced a time when you realized you were on your own, and you decided to be…. (fill in the blank)

These decisions are often random, hasty, irrational, and even absurd. Yet they can shape our thinking and action for a lifetime.

Transformation

Transformation is the genesis of a whole new realm of possibility — many possibilities, not just one.

Transformation comes from a new context, not a new set of circumstances.

Creating a new context creates a new view of life and new possibilities for action:

New context —> New commitments —> New actions —> New results

We access transformation through a new conversation. Transformation happens when you speak about a new realm of possibility. This conversation about what’s possible in the future changes your behavior in the present.

In transformation, you create your life rather than just react.

The purpose of the Forum is for people to transform.

Anyone can be transformed.

Gaining more information or more money or different circumstances is about change — not transformation. (See change, gratification, and satisfaction above.)

Urgency

All that will remain of your body-mind after you die is a pile of ashes.

So, live powerfully. Create a life that you love.

Live your life as if your life depended on it.