Live With No Contracts: The Path to Greater Happiness and Impact

Sep 15, 2023

“What’s in it for me?”

At the heart of this question is the source of all human troubles: the desire, above all else, to take care of ourselves first. Paradoxically, it also keeps us stuck.

During his later years, Mahatma Gandhi lived by a philosophy he called “Reducing yourself to zero.” Through his experiences, he learned that he was most effective and impactful when he got himself out of the way of God’s will—in other words, when he reduced himself to zero.

Gandhi wrote:

There comes a time when an individual becomes irresistible, and his actions become all-pervasive in their effects. This happens when he reduces himself to zero.”

This same principle applies to ALL areas of life.

As I’ve been considering this in my own life and how to apply it, the idea of “Living with no contracts” came to mind. In other words, we can reduce ourselves to zero when we act with no expectation of return. I’ve come to realize the biggest mistake I’ve been making in my commitments is making them transactional—only willing to give with the promise of something in return. By never fully committing, I limit the impact of my contribution.

It’s sort of like trying to swim without getting wet. I’m always holding back a little something, making sure I get “what I deserve.”

But that’s thinking backwards!!

If we truly want to have an impact, we must be willing to commit fully with no promise of return. There are no guarantees. When we realize that, we can give and live more fully.

True commitment is acting in pure faith and charity for the benefit of others. It’s giving from the deepest, truest parts of ourselves—holding nothing back regardless of the reward.

The American monk Thomas Merton wrote after struggling with his own desire for greatness: “We cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great.” 

The same could be said for most all desires. By releasing any sense of control over the outcome, we allow ourselves to give and receive more fully from the fruits nurtured through pure contribution.

Not surprisingly, the reward for this type of commitment and service is greater than we imagined.

I’ve often felt like I’m living below my potential. In fact, I know it. Now I know why.

So how does one go about living this way?

Here are a few ideas I’ve been using to identify and eliminate contracts in my life.

Identify Contracts

The first step is identifying where you’ve been living with contracts. Below are a few of the most common forms of contracts we live by.

Relationship Contracts:

Much of the strain that exists in our personal and most intimate relationships is due to our expectations of something in return. When we choose to love and give without expectation, we will find deeper joy and connection. Take the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. He gave with no expectation of return and even offered more if needed. We don’t learn anything about the Samaritan’s reward, and that’s the point. We all know he was a true brother to the beaten man because of his selfless service.

Service Contracts:

Though there are definitely times when people should be paid more for their service, that’s a topic for another day. Here I want to share one mantra that has always been effective for me, “always do more than you’re paid for.” Regardless of your agreed-upon work contract, you can never go wrong doing more than is asked of you. Doing so will not only make the job more enjoyable, but you’ll also build better skills, better relationships, and almost without exception, open the door to more opportunities. Just don’t be surprised when the opportunities don’t come in the exact form you imagined. While most of the world is holding out until they “get what they deserve,” living with the mantra of all-in will allow you to thrive. Note: This doesn’t mean you should never ask for a raise or request a promotion; it simply means you should not wait until then to fully engage. Who knows what could happen when we go all-in. When we hold something back until we get more, we’re really only holding ourselves back.

Self Contracts:

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of “imposter syndrome” and no doubt lived through it. The contracts we place on ourselves are by far the most limiting. Here’s how it normally goes. We feel a desire or call to contribute in some way. Our immediate reaction is one of doubt in our own abilities. We look for any excuse to avoid diving in, but we can’t help but be interested and intrigued. So we study a little bit and maybe even test some things out. When we don’t see immediate success or positive results, we take that as proof that we aren’t ready or the method is wrong. So we go back to studying and researching. We often repeat this process for years, with little to no progress because we haven’t fully committed. This contract is all based on fear and ego. We want a guarantee of success before we go all in. We want the reward before the contribution. We don’t want to risk what we have for something uncertain, even if what we have is painful or insufficient. The problem with this way of thinking is that it’s backwards—we can’t fly without leaving the ground and we can’t swim without getting wet.

Consider where contracts might be holding you back.

Now I want to share five ways to start living with full contribution, liberated from self-serving contracts and expectations.

Five Ways to Live with No Contracts

Work for FREE:

That’s right. Work for free. One of the best ways to remove limiting contracts is to work for free. As I’ve been pondering on living with no contracts, I’ve found countless examples of people who started working for free. One of my mentors coached hundreds of people for free before he had any paid clients. By serving for free, he was able to develop his own skills and provide great value to his clients. In addition, most of my favorite follows on Youtube and Social started sharing their best ideas for free before they ever earned a dime doing that type of work. And across the board, all of them say something like “I never expected it to go this way.” Yes, they had goals. But their goals were focused on contributing at their highest level. And they were willing to give it all away for free. Working this way can build your skills and establish trust with those you seek to serve.

Do More Than is Asked of You:

This applies to service contracts like we mentioned before, but it goes much further than that. Giving more than is asked or expected will serve us in every aspect of our life. Imagine how many conflicts would be resolved if everyone took the approach of doing more than was asked of them.

Take 100% Responsibility:

One lesson I learned several years ago has stuck with me and I think it applies here. In every relationship, I have 100% responsibility. This seems counterintuitive because we might think it’s 50/50. But it’s not. We don’t control what someone else does regardless of our actions or words. When we put requirements on our love, it diminishes the value of our actions. Can you imagine if in the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan came back later and demanded that the injured man repay him? Imagine if every gift you gave came with a note that said the receiver owed you something of equivalent value in return. Sounds crazy, right? But that’s often how we treat our closest relationships without realizing it. What if instead we gave from the heart with no expectation of return? It does indeed make us vulnerable, but it also opens us up to receive joy like we never thought possible. We just need to decide if it’s worth the risk.

Give Generously:

There’s something that happens in us when we give generously with no thought of return. We open ourselves up to receive the greater part. When we treat others as ourselves, we become one with them and start to see all of humanity differently. Our focus is turned outward, and our energy is multiplied to the level of our impact. Call it Karma or the Golden Rule; simply put, anything you desire, first give it away. Gandhi, not surprisingly, had a nice way of saying it: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Practice Gratitude:

The best ideas never change. When you want to feel more positive, hopeful, or energized, there is no better way than to consider all you are grateful for. Gratitude is the fastest, most effective way to put your mind in a more positive and creative state. When we think of all we lack, we are in the gap. When we consider all we have, we are in the gain. Gratitude is the fastest way to get back to living in the gain.

I’m guessing most of these have been reminders more than revelations for you. But when put into the context of living with no contracts, this list has been a great resource for me.

I’ll let the late C.S. Lewis sum up this idea in one sentence: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

That’s the essence of living with no contracts.

All the best in your quest to reduce yourself to zero so you can contribute at your highest level.

It’s time to start living your best life!

P.S. Download the Free No Contracts Quick Guide to put this practice into action in your life.

B.T.W. Have you joined the Magic Monday movement yet? Get a short email every Monday packed with our best tips for crushing your goals and living a life of greater freedom and contribution. 

+Subscribers get first dibs on our free action tools—designed to help you put ideas into action.