Make Your Own Secret Sauce

make your own secret sauce

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Editor’s note:  This is a guest post by Kevin Lam, and I have to say you’re in for a treat. If you don’t know Kevin, he’s a master of pragmatic insight. He’s always pushing the envelope and he’s a serial Entrepreneur. Kevin is also a continuous learner and he’s always testing his ideas and setting a new bar for himself.  Without further ado, here’s Kevin …

Occasionally I get mistaken for someone who is very successful and get asked if I have a list of steps to follow so that others can enjoy the same successes. I don’t have a step-by-step guide (though I do highly recommend JD’s Agile Results), but what I do have are nuggets of wisdom that I like to call “secret sauces” that I’ve picked up along the way since starting my Internet security services and data protection businesses. My hope is that they can be useful for you in helping you create your own list of secret sauces. Here are my top 5:

  1. Pain from regret versus pain from discipline
  2. Emotional intelligence versus actual intelligence
  3. Fear is false evidence appearing as real
  4. Gold bar or crap sandwich
  5. The secret to happiness

Secret Sauce #1: Pain from Regret Versus Pain from Discipline

Besides actual physical pain, there are two pains in life that I know of: the pain from regret, and the pain from discipline.

The pain from regret is the discomfort you feel after you should have done something, but the opportunity has already passed. For example, this is the disappoint in yourself when you had a whiz-bang idea that someone else capitalized on because you were too lazy yourself to execute on it. Or that test you failed because you didn’t study the night before.

The pain of discipline however is the discomfort you feel when you are doing something that isn’t pleasant when you are doing it, but it’s something that has to be done or needs be done. For example, it’s the pain you feel in your arms when you push yourself to do 10 extra push ups in the morning.

Here’s the key difference: Pain from regret stays with you for a long time, eats away at you and drains your energy. Pain from discipline on the other hand is momentary and fills you with a sense of accomplishment afterwards. The United States Navy SEALs have an interesting motto that I think captures the essence of this secret sauce and goes something like this: “Pain (from discipline) is weakness leaving the body.” Mint. Think about this the next you’re trying to push through a difficult task.

Secret Sauce #2: Don’t Let Your Emotional Intelligence Override Your Actual Intelligence

The rapper T.I had an MTV show where he went around to various cities to help troubled teenagers. He gave this piece of advice to one of those troubled teenagers, but I think it can be applied to just about everyone, troubled or not. Your emotional intelligence is the part in all of us that causes us to sometimes lash out and do stupid things like physically abuse a spouse and say irreparable or hurtful words (and be an all-around jackass). Your actual intelligence is the part between your ears that lets you look at problems objectively and logically. Make sure one is not unnecessarily overriding the other.

Secret Sauce #3: FEAR = False Evidence Appearing as Real

Richard “Mack” Machowicz, a former Navy SEAL and host of the Discovery Channel’s show “Future Weapons” sat on a TV panel and was asked how he handled fear especially when he was faced with difficult situations. His response was that he looked at fear as “false evidence appearing real” indicating that we often and irrationally fear things that have not materialized. What’s more, the fixation on that fear often immobilizes us and prevents us from accomplishing our dreams. For example, quitting your job to start a business, getting that promotion or asking that special stranger out on a date. Look at the fears you have in your life right now, have they actually materialized and what are they preventing you from achieving?

Secret Sauce #4. Gold Bar or Crap Sandwich? Choose Battles Worth Winning

Either it was Sun Tzu or it was Bruce Lee who said this (it’s really not important as you will see shortly from this section): “If you battle, you must win.”  The author of this quote was making the point that is if you have to fight for something it must be a fight that you can win. I’d like to add a modifier to this quote if you will, and that is “if you battle, you must win … and you must pick battles worth winning”.  That is, before you engage in a battle (argument with a co-worker, law-suit against a family member, whatever) look at (1) can you win that battle, and (2) if you do win what is the prize and is it worth the effort? Gold bar, or crap sandwich?

The most recent example that sticks in my mind happened the night I was drafting this article for JD’s blog.  At the gym I go to, there this a fellow who was looking to start his own business and knew that I had already started a few of my own. He was telling me about how he read that start-ups struggle and are rarely profitable for the first five years “like yours.”  Huh? Last time I checked I’ve been profitable each and every year I’ve been in business. I corrected him, but he kept insisting my businesses were not profitable. Now, I could have easily won this battle by showing him my books, balance sheets and yearly profit and losses, but remember that’s half the battle. Even if I did show him my books and convinced him otherwise, what would it get me? The approval of someone who clearly has a listening problem? Crap sandwich. I just smiled and said “yeah sucks to me” and let him ramble on a little more before excusing myself from the conversation. Save your energy for battles that are worth winning.

Secret Sauce #5:  Happiness = Reality – Expectations

This one I learned from Warren Buffet. Basically it says that happiness is reality minus expectations. Put another way, the less expectations you have in your life the happier you will be. When I started to really internalize this everything around me transformed. My marriage, my businesses, how I saw and appreciated my friends and family and much more. Stew on this point a little more if you have to and you’ll see that Buffet is right. Powerful, powerful stuff.

Bonus Sauce:  Practice Asking Why (Look for the Sauce Inside the Sauce)

I am going to bet that most people won’t read this far, so I saved the best and most potent secret sauce that I know of  for those of you who did and that is to “look for the sauce inside the sauce.”  One more time so it sticks: look for the sauce inside the sauce.

Thus far I’ve shared with you my top 5 secret sauces. That’s the what part, but there’s another more important part to consider, and that’s the why part (i.e. the sauce inside the sauce). Yes these are the top 5 secret sauces that drive me, but why do they drive me? Take secret sauce #5 for example. Ok, there’s the formula for happiness (the what). But why is this one so profound? Well to reduce expectations one needs to be aware of them. That’s the why: building stronger self-awareness. The more self-aware you are … how do I put this the easiest … the more successful you will be at everything, forever! Now take a look at your own list of secret sauces and practice asking why. I am betting your list is transforming right before your eyes.

Train your eye to also see the why and you will start seeing the world, people and events around you much more differently. Pssss … there’s secret sauce everywhere.

Good luck.


Kevin Lam is a serial entrepreneur and the owner of a company that develops a secure file transfer solution. Kevin has many goals, but the key ones are (1) learning some new everyday (2) competing in everything and (2) creating amazing software that enables people to protect themselves from malicious hackers, identity thieves and other online threats. Here are some of the most impactful things he’s learned during his journeys. Kevin can be contacted at [email protected].

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14 Comments on "Make Your Own Secret Sauce"

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  1. alik levin says:

    Kevin, very refreshing read!
    I love #1 and #4 the most. I just came out of the meeting where there was a debate how we should invest in correcting things. I made a point that i’d better invest that time in designing things the right way upfront so you have less to correct afterwards… huh? :)

  2. Marlee says:

    Hey Kevin,
    What an enjoyable read! Thank you. I love your bonus point. In fact, I’m a big proponent of asking yourself why because the more you know yourself, the more you capable of (as you alluded to).

    I might have to take issue with Mr. Buffet, however. I do think you should have expectations, but I can see what he means in the context you described. That said, I guess within a specific framework expectations can work against you, but in my life they’ve always served as encouragement.

  3. So much to say! First of all, thanks much for your insights, Kevin.

    Pain from regret versus pain from discipline: Pain (from discipline) is weakness leaving the body. What a great frame!

    Gold bar or crap sandwich: This puts a label on the choices I have in a situation I’m currently dealing with. I fear I’m not clever enough to figure out how to exchange the sandwich for the bar. 😉 But now I’m going to work on it a little harder.

    The secret to happiness: Great equation! I appreciate @Marlee’s words, yet Buffet’s words remind me the words of the swamee: “Expecations reduce joy”.

    Thanks for the sauces, Kevin. And J.D., thanks for introducing Kevin to us.

  4. Kevin Lam says:

    @All: Thanks, and glad you enjoyed this article. To Marlee’s thought, I should have added this: I am a simple minded guy, but I look at expectations in two frames: (1) ones you can’t control and (2)those you can.

    If you have more of (1), you eat away at your own happiness and are toxic especially if you have lots of them and they can’t be achieved. This is what I believe Buffet is talking about. For (2) … there’s another name for those … goals. These are the healthier variety, you can achieve these, and most important to me, you can grow from them.

    I suspect Marlee and I are talking about the same things, just different way to look it.

  5. Patricia says:

    I enjoyed reading this and recognizing again that self-discovery and understanding is one of the important places to begin anything.

    I for some reason thought of voodoo dolls while reading this – that someone is pushing pins into the dolls and hexing the recipient….I think this idea surfaced when I was reading the emotional intelligence section. As a person who leads with their emotions, absorbs other people’s emotions – I did not understand this until I was in my 40s and I was assisting my children is their growth – I did not want to tamp down their emotions, I wanted them to be able to recognize them and use them to add to the strength of being and the broader intelligence. When I was studying counseling for my degree – rational thought was just being pumped into the system and it turned out that it was another way to intimidate women and women’s thinking skills. This is not to say that they are irrational, but often begin on a more emotional level.

    I was delighted to discover a book called Women’s Way of Knowing – ( I am sorry I have forgotten the author) As a person who has a great deal of trouble thinking in linear modes – it was powerful to learn how to place emotional responses into a usable practice and not just an outburst or overwhelm. Carolyn Myss is my most public heroine

    thank you JD for Sharing this author with us and I wish you both continued success.

  6. Daniel Spurling says:

    Hello Kevin – terrific article and I think that you hit the key points on the head – humbly, not simply!

    One question regarding the topic of Emotional Intelligence- I would think that emotions in general would cause us to lash out; while having emotional intelligence (the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself) would act to stay or temper those emotional reactions. Thoughts?

  7. Vered says:

    “Happiness = Reality – Expectations”

    I love that. How come I’ve never heard about it before? Thanks. You gave me a lot to think about.

  8. Jk Allen says:

    HHi Kevin,

    Now that was value for the readers. Thank you so much for sharing that. I loved your Secret Sause #5! “…the less expectations you have in your life the happier you will be.” That’s deep!
    I owe that point a lot of thought. I get it…I get what you are saying – but I have a feeling that there’s a deeper understanding waiting for me that requires me serious thought prior to grasping it totally.
    Thanks for the introduction!

    Hi J.D. – Great guest…Kevin rocked it!

  9. Kevin Lam says:

    @All: Thanks again for your comments everyone. Hopefully I’ll be guest writing again soon for Sources of Insight again. Wait till you hear my 98/2 theory :)

    @Jk: Bingo! When you’re giving #5 more thought, focus on what it means to you (inward), but also what it means to other people (outward) and you’ll be looking at the world with a new, more powerful lens. Sounds cheesy, but hey it’s the truth.

    @Daniel: That’s a great explanation of emotional intelligence. I just simply grouped all emotional factories together, maybe too simply. My thoughts on emotions are another entire guest post, but I will share this very quickly: Emotions are great for producing energy (negative or positive). Energy, positive or negative, is all the same just how you react to it or use it makes the difference. Both can destroy you UNLESS you pair it with your actual intelligence. Try this: think of something that absolutely pisses you off. Could be a past ex, some social injustice, whatever. Visualize and feel all that negative energy in front of you like a pool of gas. Now think about some positive goal you want to achieve (actual intelligence) as a car. Put the gas into the car. Get it? 😉

  10. Kevin.

    I so liked your recipes for secret sauces — very clever. For me, Special Sauce #3 really hits home.

    As someone who has spent years studying emotional intelligence (dissertation and all), I think SS#2 is a bit limiting. The original authors of EI, Mayer and Salovey, which Dan Goleman and others spun off certainly included cognitive intelligence within emotional intelligence. The simplest way to think of EI is 1. self-awareness 2. self-regulation and 3. empathy. Thus Bonus Sauce becomes a yummy part of that.

    Thanks for your insights.

  11. Sandra I Always Well Within says:


    I agree wholeheartedly that self-awareness is the key to a happy and meaningful life. Through self-awareness we discover our own “secret sauce.” This is a brilliant model. Thanks for walking us through it.

  12. Hilary says:

    Hi JD thanks for bringing us Kevin ..

    I love Vered’s succinct formula .. seems so correct.

    We do have our own secret sauces .. it’s getting on and doing them .. and yes – JD’s Agile Way .. looks to be great .. life seems to happen here – but perhaps that’s it for a while and I can actually start.

    Get on and get cooking Hilary ..!

    Cheers to you both .. Hilary