What if you had dozens of the world’s top experts giving you advice about how to improve your life? I’ve interviewed these experts and asked them for simple action items and easy first steps you can implement right now to create a big impact in your life. These are the top answers of over a hundred responses.Read More
Your perception of the world, life, yourself and others affects each and every decision you have ever made, or ever will make. Neuroscientist Beau Lotto has devoted much of his work to understanding perception, creativity, biases, and much more. He is the author of the book Deviate, which reveals startling truths about the brain and it’s perceptions. Beau argues that the next big innovation in the world is not a new technology, but rather a new way of seeing.Read More
We’ve interviewed some incredible guests on The Science of Success. From many walks of life including spy recruiters, astronauts, bestselling authors, and more. Across each of our guest’s from widely different fields, we see many overlapping mindsets, strategies, and practices for achieving goals and a more effective life.Read More
There’s an age-old debate between the right brain, the left brain and whether or not we are able to use both evenly. After completely losing the function of the left side of her brain in an unexpected stroke, Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Taylor, stumbled upon new insight on our ability to strengthen both sides.Read More
As Wharton’s top-rated professor for the past six years running, Dr. Adam Grant knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed. He’s one of the world’s 10 most influential management speakers, the best-selling author of Give & Take, Originals and Option B and a member of Fortune’s 40 under 40.Read More
The ability to ask good questions is one of the most valuable tools in life. Not only do great questions lead to great podcast content but they also allow you to learn more completely from another’s experience.Read More
There are few situations in a young professionals life more stressful than a job interview. Especially for those first time job hunters who are unsure of what to expect. While waiting for your interview you’re left sitting alone with your thoughts. Running through all your relevant experiences you want to mention in hopes of influencing the interviewer or panel and landing a job.Read More
History is filled with tales of great men and women and their triumphs. But rarely do we get a look into one of the largest factors that made them great, their struggles. Specifically their internal, lesser-known struggles, that shaped how they saw the world around them and thus, allowed them to approach changing the world in a unique way.Read More
The most legendary fighter pilot to ever walk the face of the earth knew what it took to thrive in the chaos and uncertainty of war. His life is one of the greatest largely untold stories of the last century.
This man’s name was John Boyd. But John Boyd went by many names in his life. During his time as the premier instructor at the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis (the Navy later copied this school and named it “Top Gun”) he was known as “40 Second Boyd” because he never lost a single dogfight and would take less than 40 seconds to defeat any opponent.Pilots from around the globe flew to Nellis to challenge him. All went home defeated.
Later, when Boyd would go on to confront the entire Air Force establishment, and fundamentally change the way the United States military fights and wins wars he would earn the nickname “The Mad Major.” He literally wrote the book on air-to-air combat with his Aerial Attack Study, combined the concept of entropy from physics to create the “Energy Maneuverability” theory that transformed how militaries around the world evaluate aircraft performance. Boyd is known as the father of the F15, F16 and (along with Pierre Sprey) the A10 Warthog.
That was just Boyd’s warm up act. Fed up with military bureaucracy he retired and immersed himself in a massive deep dive of everything from psychology, to philosophy, to creativity and much more. Boyd earned his final nickname “Ghengis John” when he merged the knowledge across all of these disciplines — along with a complete study of every recorded conflict in human history — to formulate a theory of war called “Patterns of Conflict.”Patterns transformed US warfighting doctrine, reshaped the US Marine Corps, and was the impetus behind one of the most devastating and rapid military campaigns in military history — the 100 hour allied victory in The Gulf War.
In short, John Boyd was a man of many talents. The lessons Boyd discovered scorching through the sky at the speed of sound are the tools that will make you someone who thrives in a chaotic and uncertain world, too.
The Biggest Lessons From Studying Every Major Conflict in Recorded History
Patterns of conflict was a massive undertaking — so much so that Boyd “condensed” these learnings into a 14 hour briefing and refused to give the briefing to anyone who wouldn’t sit through all 14 hours. Once being ordered by a General to give him a shortened briefing, Boyd told the General to “get fucked.” That General never got to see Patterns of Conflict.
There were several core ideas within Patterns. You’re probably not fighting a war anytime soon (if you are — you can get the full slides of the briefing here, though without Boyd delivering them, they are missing a lot of context) so I’ll spare you the 14 hours and give you a few key ideas below.
Here were the key themes of Patterns of Conflict:
· Fluidity of Action
· Strength Against Weakness
· Attack with Multiple Thrusts
· The Power of Ambiguity
These are the major commonalities Boyd discovered when studying every successful military campaign in recorded history — especially with a focus on examining situations where an outnumbered or disadvantaged army won the engagement.
These principles form the core of the concept of “Maneuver Warfare” which Boyd was a staunch advocate of. These are the same themes that led to the stunningly rapid US victory in the Gulf War.
The key idea of these principles is to disorient and confuse your enemy, to cause them to unravel before you even engage in combat.
That’s all well and good and believe me I love a good military history as much as anyone (after all I did read Boyd’s massive biography) — but what I really care about is applying these principles to my life and business.
After all, business and war are very different. While in warfighting the idea is to destroy the enemy, in business that is not always possible and you also have to proactively build your own business and grow your sales.
There is a major shared thread between these two domains however. A thread that, once pulled, can lead us some major insights into how we can use the lessons of Genghis John to thrive in chaos and uncertainty.
How To Thrive In Chaos, Like a Fighter Pilot
This common thread, between the military and business, is that in both cases groups of people are working together under immense pressure and stress to try and create results.
Looking under the hood at some of the greatest military victories of all time, Boyd uncovered several key ideas around organizing people in tough situations that are directly applicable to business and life. These are the cornerstone of thriving under uncertainty.
Fight The Enemy — Not The Terrain
Boyd’s most well known idea is the concept of the “OODA” loop. OODA Loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This is framework designed to explain the process of collecting information, interpreting it, deciding what to do with it, and then taking action.
Much has been written about the OODA loop (here’s a great in-depth explanation of it) but I want to focus on one particular aspect, the piece that Boyd thought was the most important — Orientation.
It’s easy to skip over Orientation or think it’s essentially the same as Observation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Orientation is about your relationship to reality and the observations you’re seeing.
Orientation is about confronting your cognitive biases, your ego, and your own limited perception of the world — peeling back those layers so you can get a clear picture of reality as it truly is, not as you wish it to be.
In tough, confusing and uncertain situations we often get stuck — frozen in what was — not accepting things as they are because we don’t like them or we wish that they were different.
This is one of the most devastatingly sinister cognitive biases and can put you in serious jeopardy.
Boyd sums this up beautifully with a simple quote:
“Fight the enemy, not the terrain.” — Col. John Boyd
Don’t get stuck in your conceptions of what “should” be — don’t fight the terrain — fight the enemy as they are, not as you want them to be.
This is a lesson not only uncovered in Boyd’s deep dive into human conflict and the path to victory, but shared by world champions and financial traders.
World champion martial artist and international chess master Josh Waitzkin sums this idea up powerfully as well:
“While I learned with open pores — no ego in the way — it seemed that many other students were frozen in place, repeating their errors over and over, unable to improve because of a fear of releasing old habits. When [our teacher] made suggestions, they would explain their thinking in an attempt to justify themselves. They were locked up by the need to be correct…[They] got stuck, like the guys doing [martial arts] who don’t learn from their mistakes and practice with a desperate need to win, to be right, to have everything under control. This ultimately cripples growth.” — Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
If we fail to properly orient ourselves — to see our own weaknesses, biases, flaws in our thinking and much more, we prevent ourselves from growth and we invite disaster.
Trader Jim Paul describes the same danger of getting stuck in your ego — and losing sight of the best course of action — in his book “What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars”:
“Taking either success or failure personally means, by definition, that your ego has become involved and you are in jeopardy of incurring losses due to psychological factors. Having tied your self-worth to the vicissitudes of factors beyond your control, you will be primarily concerned with protecting your ego rather than trying to determine the appropriate course of action.”- Jim Paul
You must be aware of your Orientation and consciously work to sweep away ego distortions and cognitive biases so that you can get a crystal clear picture of reality.
A tool like Charlie Munger’s Psychology of Misjudgment (a list of mental models that cause people to make bad decisions) is an excellent starting place for this. Once you’ve done that it’s often easy to Decide what to do and Act on it.
Agility & Rapid Tempo
Boyd constantly preached the importance of “Agility.” It’s critical to understand that Agility does not mean speed, but rather speed of decision-making.
The ability to rapidly move through “decision cycles” (Boyd’s OODA Loops) is what distinguished victory from defeat.
Here’s how Boyd himself put it:
“In order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries — or, better yet, get inside [the] adversary’s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle or loop … Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries — since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing, as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns, they are competing against.” — Col. John Boyd
This quote also underscores the power and importance of building clear and accurate mental models, which reinforces our need to Orient properly.
If you’re working to grow and improve yourself — the faster you can run through decision cycles (OODA Loops) and break away from the biases and errors that will keep you frozen in place, the faster you will grow. This rapid iteration and execution of OODA loops is how you see some people quickly advance while others seem to be stuck in place.
In life and business — this principle applies to both competitive threats and opportunities. The more rapidly you can Orient yourself to what’s really true, accurately collect information about the problem, the market, your product, etc — the faster you can make the correct decision.
Over time this slightly incremental speed advantage generates massive results. Without a rapid decision-making and analysis tempo, you’re leaving yourself at risk for external forces (competitors, markets, etc) to move away from where you think they are — and your understanding of those dynamics will be flawed and incomplete, leading to a poor Orientation.
Pronounced “Shh-where-punked” — the notion of Schwerpunkt is the single most important organizational principle to come out of Boyds work in Patterns. Schwerpunkt is a vital tool for working with others and thriving under chaos and uncertainty.
Schwerpunk is one of those words that doesn’t fully translate from German to English. The meaning is rich with an idea that a single definition cannot express. The definition of Schwerpunkt is something like center of gravity, crucial focal point, point of the main effort, key goal, or commander’s intent.
This guiding principle explains another one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history — the Blitzkrieg of WW2. German forces operated under a largely decentralized decision-making structure that was imbued with mutual trust and the ability for unit commanders in the field to make the key decisions — in alignment with the overall Schwerpunkt of the campaign.
This focus on decentralized organizational structures — where the core goal, key focus, and commander’s intent (aka Schwerpunkt) is communicated and understood by everyone — is a cornerstone of the most successful military campaigns in history.
When you let decisions happen on the “front lines” — you’re empowering people to make decisions not only much more rapidly but with much more accurate and real time information.
More importantly for you and me — it’s also a highly effect management tactic and organizational structure for modern day organizations.
Books like The Outsiders have studied companies that massively outperform over a long period of time and the concept of a highly decentralized organization that pushes decision-making to the lowest level possible is one of the cornerstones of those businesses. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway is a classic example of a highly decentralized company.
You Can Become Someone Who Thrives In Chaos and Uncertainty
The powerful toolkit of Orientation, Agility, and Schwerpunkt will allow you to thrive in any chaotic or uncertain environments. These ideas are literally battle tested in the most unforgiving crucible imaginable — war.
Boyd explains how all these concepts fit together neatly and why they are so powerful for thriving under adversity and under stressful and chaotic situations.
“War is ever changing, and men are ever fallible” -Col. John Boyd
I like to adjust that slightly to:
“Life & Business are ever changing, and people are ever fallible.”
Cognitive biases and the inherent biological limits of the human brainconstantly cause people to make mistakes. If you are properly orienting yourself, not getting frozen in your past conceptions of reality, and rapidly iterating through your decision-cycles — you will be running circles around your competition and aligned with market demand and expectations — setting yourself up for success.
John Boyd was the ultimate bad ass. He lived an incredible life, fought in three wars and transformed the way our military fights and wins.
The lessons Boyd uncovered in Patterns have the power to transform you into someone who thrives under chaotic, uncertain and adverse conditions.
As Boyd would say, what are you waiting for, Tiger?
Learning More About Boyd
If you want to learn more about Boyd here are a few resources.
I also highly suggest reading his Biography “John Boyd The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War”
If you want to dig into the source material, here is a catalogue of all of Boyd’s work in a military archive.
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No matter what your job is — no matter what you’re working on — creativity and resourcefulness are the cornerstones of building a successful life.
I’m sure you’ve heard the quote:
“It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness that stops you.” — Tony Robbins
History is filled with examples of people who’ve achieved epic things thanks to being resourceful, despite having a lack of resources.
One of my favorites is the story of how Peter Diamandis launched the creation of a spaceship. He did this with no money and no engineering ability but got it done purely through the raw power of resourcefulness.
Peter wanted a spaceship. Pretty ambitious, right? To start, he didn’t have the money, he didn’t have the technical ability — he didn’t have any real resources at all to help him build that spaceship.
And yet — through sheer creativity he created the X Prize– and found a sponsor to fund it — effectively leveraging some of the smartest people in the world to create dozens of space ship designs and ultimately produce the SpaceShipOne.
So if Peter can create a freakin rocket ship out of thin air — is it possible you could get a bit more resourceful and creative towards achieving your goals?
I’ve been there too. I was stuck in the same rut in my life — feeling frustrated and thinking that nothing I could do would make a difference in my life and business
But then I broke out of that rut by beginning a daily creativity practice that has helped me get super focused and incredibly creative.
It’s helped me begin building my own rocket ships and it can do the same for you, here’s how.
How To Build Your Creative Rocket Ship
The way I execute this is simple — every morning (at least three times a week) I force myself to brainstorm ten ideas.
This could be ten ideas for a new business, ten ideas to fix a problem in my current business, ten ways to get more customers, ten possible pivots for my business, ten ways to get more free time — any challenge you are facing in life or other areas where you want to improve and move forward.
I always keep a list of topics created ahead of time, that I add to on the fly using Evernote, so I don’t spend my time thinking “what should I journal about today?” — I always have a steady list of topics I want to apply this method to.
I’ve found this to be incredibly powerful.
In a company where I’ve recently taken over as CEO, I was facing a major challenge and I could not figure out how to solve it. I kept thinking of one or two solutions but was telling myself (in my internal dialogue and self talk) “there aren’t many things I can do to solve this problem.”
So I added that challenge to my list of topics to journal on.
When I set out to brainstorm 10 ways to solve this problem — I ended up finding 18 possible solutions — none of which I had implemented or executed yet.
It is much easier is it to face that challenge now, knowing that I have a tool kit of 18 possible solutions that could work to resolve it. It took less than 30 minutes to come up with those ideas.
So how do you do it? It’s pretty simple.
· Use a tool like Evernote to keep a running list of challenges or topics you want to brainstorm on
· Make sure you are distraction free when doing this exercise
· Set aside 15–30 minutes in the morning, a few days a week. A time constraint is good as it keeps the exercise from becoming overwhelming and also forces the brain to be creative.
· Brainstorm ten ideas or more on how you could solve this challenge in your life or business.
· Here’s another secret — don’t worry if they are good ideas or bad ideas — there is a distinction between idea creation and idea selection — you can’t be as fully creative as you need to be if you’re in selection mode — so throw off the shackles of judgment and just throw ideas out there. The more bad ideas the better.
Woah There’s Science That Backs This Up Too?
You bet there is! — there is a bunch of science that backs this idea up.
There is some fascinating research that has been written about this. Much of it popularized by Dr. Adam Grant in the book Originals. He also shared this insightful example in a recent interview:
“I was reading [Dean Simonton’s] research and he said, in a nutshell, that the more bad ideas you have, the more creative you are. I read that and I thought, “What? How could this be true?” I thought I always had this vision of creative people as dreaming up there masterpiece and then going and executing on it… What Simonton shows very clearly in his data and now we have experiments also showing that it’s s true for ordinary people, not just sort of outlier original thinkers, is a huge part of creativity is the volume of ideas that you generate…
So if you look at Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, one of the things that differentiates them from their peers as they produced not just a few more, but hundreds more compositions, into the 600 and 700. At least in Bach’s case, I think about a thousand, when most of their peers we’re in the sort of below a hundred range. And there’s a really nice linear relationship — number of compositions that you do in a lifetime and your eventual greatness… We see this in all kinds of domains.” — Dr. Adam Grant on The Science of Success
Looks like it’s time to get out there and generate some bad ideas.
Forming this habit was hard at first, but now it’s so much fun coming up with new, creative and whacky ways to look at, think about, and solve challenges in my life.
I find my brain is actually addicted to it — when I don’t do the journal in the morning my brain keeps going “hey when can I do some brainstorming? When can I unleash my creativity on something?”
It’s like weight lifting for creativity and resourcefulness. Try it for a week and you will be amazed how powerful it is. And maybe, just maybe, you can start pulling some rocket ships out of thin air, too.
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In my conversations with some of the world’s top experts I kept hearing this one idea come up again and again.
It seemed as if almost every guest I interviewed on The Science of Successkept bringing up the same key skill necessary for success in today’s world.
That skill is self awareness.
In fact, I kept hearing self awareness crop up so frequently in my interviews with experts, neuroscientists, and psychologists that I sought out a leading research psychologist who specializes in self awareness — Dr. Tasha Eurich.
She called self awareness “The Secret Weapon of the 21st Century.”
Self awareness underpins nearly every other skill. If you’re self aware, you can grow, improve, learn, and get better. If you’re not, you usually plateau and end up stuck.
Here’s how Dr. Eurich puts it:
“The reason self awareness is the meta-skill is basically our self-awareness sets the upper limit for so many of the skills that we need to be successful in the world right now. Things like communication skills, influence, emotional intelligence, collaboration. We can only be as good at each of those things as we are self-aware. The other thing I call it sometimes is the secret weapon of the 21st-century. So many people think they’re self-aware, but they actually aren’t. So people that work on it are the ones that really I’ve seen reap the rewards time and time again.” — Dr. Tasha Eurich
Are You Self Aware?
According to Dr. Eurich’s research — 95% of people think they are self aware, but only 10–15% of people actually are.
That’s pretty scary stuff. The even crazier thing is that those who have the least self knowledge are often the least aware of it.
The good news is that research also shows that self awareness is an “infinitely learnable skill” according to Dr. Eurich.
So what happen when you don’t have self awareness?
- You don’t see yourself objectively.
- You don’t understand your own strengths, and much more importantly your own weaknesses.
- You aren’t aware of your own cognitive biases.
- You aren’t aware of the thought patterns and mental addictions that prevent you from achieving what you want.
- Deluding yourself.
- You reject criticism and feedback because you don’t like it
- You reject ideas because you don’t like them.
- You make blame and excuses for your failures instead of taking responsibility for them
- You don’t know your own limiting beliefs.
- You don’t recognize patterns of self sabotage that repeatedly manifest in your life.
Developing Self Awareness
You have to know your own strengths and weaknesses.
Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater, created an incredible book called Principles that teaches the philosophy of how he views the world. Self knowledge and the search for objective truth are the core ideas of his work. For some bonus points you can also view his TED Talk here.
Here’s a sample:
“Let’s imagine that your goal is to have a winning basketball team. Wouldn’t it be silly to put yourself in a position that you don’t play well?If you did, you wouldn’t get what you want. Whatever your goals are, achieving them works the same way. If you see that you are not capable of doing something, it is only sensible for you to have someone else do it. In other words, you should look down at you and all the other resources at your disposal and create a “machine” to achieve your goals, remembering that you don’t necessarily need to do anything other than to design and manage the machine to get what you want.
If you find that you can’t do something well, fire yourself and get a good replacement! You shouldn’t be upset that you found out that you are bad at that — you should be happy because you have improved your chances of getting what you want. If you are disappointed because you can’t be the best person to do everything, you are terribly naïve because nobody can do everything well. The biggest mistake most people make is to not see themselves and others objectively.” — Ray Dalio
Accepting When You Make Mistakes
We’ve heard it from a billionaire, now let’s see what a research psychologist who’s studied tens of thousands of people has to say. Here’s a paraphrased passage from one of my favorite books of all time — Mindset by Carol Dweck.
“Instead of trying to learn from and repair their failures, people with a fixed mindset simply try to repair their self esteem…by assigning blame or making excuses…You can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you deny making them.” — Carol Dweck in Mindset
That last line is extremely important. The only way to learn from your mistakes is to actually accept that you made them. To be self aware enough to say “yeah, I screwed up” and to take responsibility for it.
Without self knowledge, you are constantly ignoring feedback from reality. Carol Dweck explains this further in a recent interview.
“If you’re looking to repair your self-esteem, maybe you’re looking for people who did worse, maybe you’re looking to place the blame, maybe you’re looking to deny the failure, in any of those cases, you’re not going to be better off going forward.
Neuroscience research shows that when people are in a fixed mindset, the part of their brain that processes errors is hardly active. They are just turning away from that error as quickly as possible. As a result, they’re not correcting the error at the next opportunity as much as people in a growth mindset.
In a growth mindset, that area of the brain is on fire, it’s just super active, they’re looking at the error, they’re processing it, they’re learning from it and they’re correcting it.” — Carol Dweck
The resounding lesson taught by everyone from Navy Seals to ancient stoic philosophers is clear — take responsibility for your own mistakes — be self aware that you screwed up and own it — that’s the only way to create a learning opportunity.
Tools To Build Self Awareness
So what can you do to improve your self awareness?
Here are a few simple evidence based strategies you can use starting right now.
- Meditate. Yeah, everyone says meditation. That’s because there is a ton of science about how it really does work. One of the first things meditation teaches you is how to be aware of your own thoughts and biases. That’s a key step in the journey of self awareness and self knowledge. This podcast “The Skeptic’s Guide To Meditation” is a great place to start.
- Develop a Growth Mindset. Carol Dweck touched on this earlier — and goes much more in depth in this interview as well as in her book. Developing a growth mindset gives you permission to look at your own mistakes and shortfalls without ego or defensiveness getting in the way. A growth mindset gives you the ability to objectively judge your own abilities. This is a cornerstone of self knowledge.
- Journal. Journalling helps put thoughts on paper, clear up your thinking,develop self awareness, and lets your return later to assess your thought process.
- Read up on rationality and cognitive biases. Check out people like Charlie Munger who speak about mental models and cognitive biases so you can learn to spot them in your own thinking.
- Check out this interview with Dr. Eurich to learn more. She’s an expert in self awareness after all. Listen to that episode, check out some of her work, and learn the strategies she recommends for becoming more self awareness.
So there you go — this is the first step on the journey towards rationality and clear thinking — start developing your self awareness!
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I was recently asked “what one sentence has changed your life?”
This was my answer.
“You cannot learn from a mistake if you deny that you ever made it.” -Dr. Carol Dweck
Pretty simple — most people make excuses, blame others, and do everything they can to refuse to admit that they made a mistake — but the reality is that when you do that, you rob yourself of the ability to learn from that mistake and grow.
This is a huge reason why we have such a hard time even agreeing on what’s objectively true.
That single quote is also one of the biggest things that distinguishes people who achieve their goals and are very successful from those who plateauand can’t figure out why they are stuck.
This is based in hard psychology science from an acclaimed Stanford psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck.
Here’s what Dr. Dweck said about the robustness of the research in a recent interview:
“We’ve been doing research on the fixed and growth mindset for about 35 years. We have actually, and others have hundreds of studies with people of all ages. For example, in some of the studies, we might measure people’s mindsets about their intelligence, ask them to answer questions like this, agree or disagree. Then we look at say in students, we look at their achievement over time and we have often found that students endorsing that growth mindset, achieve more in terms of grades or test scores or going on to college or graduating from college. Achieve more over time. Recently we did a study with all the 10th graders in Chile, 168,000 students. Those who held more of a growth mindset, achieved substantially more at every level of family income.” — Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success
You See… It’s all about Your MINDSET
The above graphic (which was created originally by Nigel Holmes) summarizes the essential lessons of having a “growth mindset” (which is what Dr. Dweck calls it).
One of the key items here is to understand that when you’re in a “Fixed Mindset” you care about appearances — you care about demonstrating how great you are, showing everyone how smart you are — but you’re secretly terrified to ask a dumb question or look dumb.
OK — but what does that mean — the fixed mindset and the growth mindset?
Dr. Dweck’s recent interview goes much deeper on explaining this topic, but here are a few key lessons and highlights that may help explain the core idea behind Dr. Dweck’s work.
What Exactly Is a Mindset?
“Well, when I say mindset in the sense that it’s used in my book, I mean people’s beliefs about their most basic abilities and talents. When people are in a fixed mindset, they believe their basic abilities, talents, personal attributes, personalities. That these are fixed traits, you have a certain amount, you have a certain type and that’s it.
But, when people are in more of a growth mindset, they believe that, people differ but everyone can develop their talents, abilities and personal qualities.Again, it doesn’t mean everyone’s the same or everyone will go to the same place ultimately.” -Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success
What Does It Feel Like To Be In A Fixed Mindset?
Being in a fixed mindset sucks. I should know, I was incredibly fixed mindset before I read Dr. Dweck’s book.
If you are worried about looking dumb or think that being eager and asking basic questions will somehow hurt you, instead of helping you, you’re probably in a fixed mindset.
Dr. Dweck goes on in this interview to explain the pain of having a fixed mindset in your daily life:
“When you’re in a fixed mindset, you think, for example. My intelligence is just fixed, I have a certain amount, I can’t do anything about it, I really value being intelligent. The goal of my life becomes to look smart at all cost and all situations and never look dumb.
When you’re in that fixed mindset, a voice in your head says, maybe you shouldn’t do this, maybe you’ll mess up here. Hey, do this, people will think you’re really brilliant. When someone else is looking really smart, you feel threatened by that, when you’re working on something hard and maybe struggling a little, you get really anxious, you think, maybe I’m not as good at this as I hoped I was, as I want to be.
When you hit a setback, that’s a calamity, that’s a real condemnation of your natural talent. If you are so talented, would you have had that failure? Would you have plunged into this mistake like that? Will everyone know it? Will you be unmasked, will you be found out finally? The fixed mindset system is kind of this fear based system, kind of fear alternating with arrogance because if you’re going around thinking it’s fixed and you have this arrogance you feel, I’m better than other people who have less of it but if you’re struggling or having setbacks, then you’re feeling really kind of insecure.
But, what we found in our research whether you’re in the arrogant phase or the un arrogant phase, you’re not primarily a learner. You’re not looking always to grow your skills to create teams that will help you develop and so forth. You’re primarily about showing you’re smart.” — Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success
What Does It Feel Like To Live In a Growth Mindset?
Having a positive outlook and a growth mindset can massively transform the way you live your life, think about yourself, deal with setbacks, handle criticism, and much more. Dr. Dweck continues:
“The growth mindset as I mentioned is a place where you believe your abilities can be developed. Again, it doesn’t mean you saying you’re Michael Jordan or Mia Ham or Yoyo Ma but you understand that abilities can be developed through hard work, learning good strategies, pushing out of your comfort zone as often as possible.
Just keep pushing that limit and getting lots of great input and mentoring from others. It’s a place where if you’re not pushing out of your comfort zone, something’s wrong. If you’re just feeling smart but not feeling you’re getting smarter, something’s wrong.
When you get feedback rather than being threatened, you try to learn from it. If you see someone who is really better than you at something you pride yourself on, instead of thinking, maybe they’re the ones with the talent, you think, I wonder how they got there? I wonder what they can teach me? I wonder how I can get as far as they got or maybe even further.
The focus is, not on looking and feeling smart all the time or being perfector beating out the competition for smartness all the time. But, it’s about becoming smarter, growing, learning. Again, pushing out of your comfort zone, using mistakes and setbacks as opportunities to learn. It was a long time before I could really get in to the idea that setbacks were welcomed, setbacks were inevitable because it’s so different from a fixed mindset place.” — Dr. Carol Dweck on The Science of Success.
Want To Learn More About Mindset?
There is a tremendous amount of research, information, and actionable insight from Carol Dweck’s work, and going much deeper is beyond the scope of this article. To that effect, I wanted to provide you with some additional resources to follow up, check out, and absorb if building a growth mindset is something that interests you.
If you want to learn more about developing a growth mindset and implementing the things Dr. Dweck mentions above, you may enjoy checking out the following books, interviews, and podcasts:
- The book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck
- This interview with Dr. Carol Dweck on Mindset
- Dr. Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”
Moving into a growth mindset is a critical piece of putting on your rationality oxygen mask. It helps you move ego out of the way and accept things as they are, so that you can move forward and grow.
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What does science say about the best way for you to deal with difficult or negative emotions?
Dealing with negative emotions was a very personal challenge for me and so I set out and tried to find as many experts as I could to interview on that subject.
In fact, negative emotions are a topic I cover a ton on The Science of Success and something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and working on personally.
These are the core lessons I learned from talking to them.
What Do Negative Emotions Mean?
Let’s start with two core ideas about emotions and what they mean.
(1) Emotions are unavoidable.
You cannot avoid experiencing negative emotions — and by trying to or by pushing them down, ignoring them, and distracting yourself — you are actually causing these emotions to intensify and become greater. Trying to avoid experiencing negative emotions, paradoxically, makes you experience them more frequently and with more intensity.
Tal Ben Shahar — who taught the most popular class in Harvard’s history which was on Happiness — famously says that only two types of people never experience negative emotions — psychopaths and dead people. He has also shared a number of paradoxical strategies to embrace and accept negative emotions and improve your happiness.
Emotional perfectionism — or the idea that you should always be in positive emotional states — can cause some serious problems — and worsen the experience of going through negative emotions. Cultivating self compassion and a more realistic perspective that negative emotions are inevitable and natural helps tremendously (more on Emotional Perfectionism and Self Compassion in minute).
Your emotions are messengers trying to send you information. The sooner you accept that and listen to what they are saying, the better off you will be.
(2) Emotions are data, not direction.
Negative emotions provide you with meaningful and relevant information that you can use to make decisions, prioritize, and understand that something is going on in your life. Listen to that message. But also know that emotions aren’t necessary correct or right — they don’t mean you have to go in that particular direction, but they are providing you with incredibly useful information that you should listen to and incorporate into your behavior.
In fact, when you look at high stakes performers like stock traders and professional poker players — they don’t try to remove emotion from the equation — they leverage their emotions to improve their decision-making process.
Two Reasons To Handle Your Emotions
It seems to me that there are two obvious reasons you want to better handle your emotions:
- Peace of Mind
Here are the key strategies for doing each of those (and there is a lot of overlap between these strategies as well).
Mastering Your Emotions For Peak Performance
I would suggest studying someone like Josh Waitzkin — a multi-time national chess champion who then became a multi-time world champion martial artist. This guy knows what it takes to master both mind and body at the highest levels of global competition, and he wrote an amazing book about it called The Art of Learning.
Here’s an awesome quote from The Art of Learning that gets at the core of how you can work to master your mind and emotions:
“My whole life I have worked on this issue. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it.” -Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
You can practice the ability to embrace discomfort in, as Josh puts it later on in that passage, “the little moments of our lives.” It’s all about expanding your sphere of discomfort day by day and getting past what makes you uncomfortable.
Mastering Your Emotions For Peace Of Mind
Now — lets look at the two primary tools for mastering your emotions to create peace of mind.
The first is meditation. Meditation is proven again and again in the science to be one of the most effective paths of dealing with anxiety, stress, and negative emotions.
In a recent interview I did with Dr. Rick Hanson, author of the book Buddha’s Brain, which is about the neuroscience behind meditation, he shares a number of insights into how meditation helps deal with stress and anxiety.
The second strategy for mastering your emotions is self compassion. This helps combat emotional perfectionism and build an understanding that it’s OK to experience negative emotions.
The Importance of Self Compassion
Self compassion is at the root of taking better care of yourself both mentally and emotionally. We often reserve the most brutal and severe self talk for ourselves — we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a close friend facing the same challenge, and we expect things of ourselves that we would never expect of anyone else.
Self-compassion is not woo-woo or soft — its very much grounded in psychology research. For example, Dr. Susan David, a Harvard Medical School psychologist and author, discusses self compassion at length in this interviewincluding the below statement:
“The idea of being self-compassionate can seem very woo-woo and very soft.People might think, for example, that being self-compassionate is about being lazy or it’s about being weak or it’s about going easy on yourself. In fact, the research shows the opposite. The research shows that when people create a self-forgiving and safe psychological space within themselves, that those individuals tend to be more experimental, more able to take risks and to take chances, because they recognize that if they fail, that they still save their self-face. That individuals who are self-compassionate tend to be less weak, less lazy and, in fact, more honest with themselves and are able to get through setbacksand transitions more effectively.” Dr. Susan David
Dr. Susan David goes on in that interview to discuss specific strategies for implementing self compassion in your life, beyond just the intellectual acknowledgement that it’s important, including the following passage:
“Recognize how you might speak to yourself, because, of course, we all speak to ourselves. We all have inner dialogue. Some studies show that we have something like 16,000 spoken thoughts every single day and many, many, many, thousands more course through our minds. So many of these thoughts are about ourselves. We will have a dialogue with ourselves where we will say, “You’re such an idiot,” or, “You’re being a fraud,” or, “You are not cut out for this.” A lot of our language is lacking in self-compassion, where we would not use that language with people who we truly love and yet we use it with ourselves. A first aspect of cultivating self-compassion is simply become aware. Simply start noticing the language that you use to actually attack yourself, and that’s really critical.
A second part of creating this felt experience of self-compassion, there are many different ways, but one of the ways that’s frequently very powerful is when you’re going through a setback or a difficulty and you’re starting to be really hard on yourself, is to imagine yourself as a very young child running to yourself as, you, the adult and saying, “Oh my goodness! This happened to me today,” and imagine in yourself how you would treat that very young child, that three or four year old who’s failed at something, who’s done wrong at something and to imagine the kind of love that that child actually needs and the experience that that child actually needs of someone reaching out and giving a hug. That can be really powerful.” — Dr. Susan David
One of the biggest things working against self compassion is emotional perfectionism. This is the mistaken belief that you need to be in a positive emotional state all the time and can actually worsen your subjective experience resulting in behavior like “getting anxious about being anxious” or “being angry about being angry” etc.
One of the most profound and personally impactful conversations I’ve ever had about smashing emotional perfectionism was this discussion with Megan Bruneau. We discuss how perfectionism creates an illusion of control and distorts your reality, how to become aware of the critical inner voice at the root of your pain and unhealthy habits, the incredible power of self compassion, and much more.
Cultivating Self Compassion & Mindfulness
Dr. Ronald Siegel, another psychologist with Harvard Medical School, he discusses proven strategies for cultivating mindfulness and self compassion (one of the cornerstones of which is meditation). He share this insight:
“When we are hurting, when we notice that we’ve had a disappointment, we’ve had a failure, something hasn’t turned out well, which [it] inevitably will. Inevitably, we’ll have these moment of defeat, that we can just be nice to ourselves and give ourselves a hug, feel the feeling of vulnerability, feel the feeling of failure, and trust that that’s okay too, that it’s just part of the cycle and we don’t have to identify with that or believe in it. Because as it turns out, none of us are so great and none of us are so terrible.” Dr. Ronald Siegel
Meditation, along with loving kindness practices, can be powerful tools for cultivating and building self compassion. So if you want to take better care of yourself mentally and emotionally, start with the simple act of being more loving and compassionate to yourself.
One More Tool… Emotional Intelligence
One last tool is building the skill of Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is at the cornerstone of managing both your own emotions and understanding what’s going, emotionally, with others. Dr. Daniel Goleman is credited with popularizing and sharing the concept. In this interview titled “How To Master Emotional Intelligence & Why Your IQ Won’t Make You Successful” Dr. Goleman discusses a number of critical ideas including the four pillars of emotional intelligence, how to development emotional intelligence and how to cultivate emotional self control.
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Objective truth is under attack.
College students are protesting objective facts as a tool of the patriarchy. Politicians are labeling anything they disagree with as fake news. The government just banned the Center for Disease Control from using the word “evidence-based.” Huge chunks of the population don’t believe in statistics anymore.
We can no longer determine, or even agree on, what basic facts are. This war on truth, this lack of an objective reality is a threat to the very fabric of our society.
And the crisis our society faces is rooted in a crisis we each face individually. We are profoundly unaware. We live in a bubble where algorithms confirm everything we want to believe, without any regard for what’s actually real.
This deafening lack of self-awareness is at the heart of the crisis our society faces. It’s the biggest threat we face in 2018.
Why This Matters For You
If you want our society to survive this crisis, if you want to grow and thrive, you must start with putting on your rationality oxygen mask first.
You have to wake up and help yourself before you can help others.
But modern personal development is in the midst of the same crisis. It has failed to deliver on its promise. The self-help world is filled with charlatans and half truths.
You don’t even know if there’s oxygen flowing to the mask. Or which mask to wear.
As the voice behind the popular podcast The Science of Success, I’ve been surprised by the overwhelming conclusion every guest I’ve interviewed makes.
At the heart of this danger is a pervasive lack of self-knowledge. We are deluding ourselves. Specifically:
• Not seeing yourself objectively
• Rejecting criticism you don’t like
• Rejecting ideas you don’t like (worse!)
• Blaming and externally rationalizing failures
• Unawareness of your cognitive biases
• Not understanding your strengths
• Failing to perceive your weaknesses
We need these vital skills to save our society and ourselves.
There’s still true, real and valuable information out there. But we have confusion en masse and a huge signal vs noise problem.
Where can smart, rational people who crave the genuine insights and improvement necessary for themselves and our society turn?
That is where Evidence Based Growth comes in.
The Quest For Objective Truth
Between the sociopolitical battle over truth’s very nature and the natural biological biases and limits of the human mind — it’s becoming harder and harder to figure out what’s true. We’re slowly slipping into an Idiocracy.
There are people who unwittingly inundate themselves with inane unproven ideas that are toxic and insidiously sabotaging.
There’s a cynically motivated war on truth itself that victimizes those caught in the crossfire of misinformation.
Then there’s also the ambitious intellectual elite who fail to spot, understand and admit to the flaws in their own thinking, in the most destructive way possible.
Objective truth solves all this. We need more truth seekers. We need rational optimists. We need to collectively push forward and rub the dirt from our eyes.
I’m asking you to join this movement.
To join a group of truth seekers dedicated to blowing apart bias and self delusion. To become one of the people who believes that truth is NOT relative and WILL set us free.
We believe humans must quest for truth and answer these questions before it’s too late:
- What’s true about our society?
- What’s true about human nature?
- What’s true about how the world works?
- What’s true about ourselves?
- What’s true about making the world better for all us?
Evidence Based Growth
The Evidence Based Growth movement is organized around the deep belief that objective truth can be found, that there are real answers out there, and evidence and science can improve the lives of us as individuals and WE as a civilization.
We are champions of rationality and clear thinking. We’re ruthlessly investigating our own biases and mental addictions. Our mission is to build a better world out of truth, facts and clear thinking.
We’re harnessing the wisdom of the smartest people on our planet to transform ourselves and to rise to the challenges of our time.
That’s what the Evidence Based Growth movement is all about. We’ve been waiting for you.
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Mental toughness is one of the most common traits of top performers. So how do you become mentally strong?
Let’s look at the strategy used by a world champion
One of the absolute best strategies to become mentally strong is to embrace discomfort.
Josh Waitzkin is a multi-time national chess champion who transitioned into becoming a world champion martial artist. To put it simply, this guy knows what is takes to perform under serious pressure at the absolute highest levels.
He wrote an amazing book about his journey and what it takes to be a top performer called The Art of Learning. You can also get a great summary of some of the key ideas from The Art of Learning in this incredible interview Josh did with Tim Ferriss a few years ago.
My favorite quote from The Art of Learning perfectly answers the question of how to build mental toughness:
“My whole life I have worked on this issue. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it.When injured, which happens frequently in the life of a martial artist, I try to avoid painkillers and to change the sensation of pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them. This type of internal work can take place in the little moments of our lives. I mentioned how my style over the board was to create chessic mayhem and then to sort my way through the chaos more effectively than my opponents. This was a muscle I built up by training myself to be at peace with the unclear and tumultuous — and most of the training was in everyday life.” — Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
Josh provides some incredible wisdom in that quote. Embracing discomfort and becoming at peace with it is the best way to cultivate mental toughness and resilience — and this is key — that work takes place in your everyday life.
The little moments where you can push yourself beyond your comfort zone and get uncomfortable build tolerance and slowly expand your ability to get tougher and tougher.
The Sphere of Discomfort
I call this the “sphere of discomfort” and it reminds me of this quote:
Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. — George Addair
When you do something for the first time it’s scary. When you do it for the 10th time, you’re staring to get the hang of it. When you do it for the 1000th time, you’re practically getting bored.
When you play on the edges of your comfort zone, those edges slowly expand, and expand, and expand — and you start to be able to do more things, to push more boundaries, to achieve goals you never thought possible.
The strength and courage to break out of your comfort zone happens, as Josh said, in those little moments of your life. Take the opportunity to make yourself uncomfortable. Take a cold shower. Talk to a stranger. Ask the coffee shop for a free cup of coffee, just because. That’s how you start to get more and more comfortable with discomfort. Rejection therapy is another great tool to start really getting out of your comfort zone.
In the podcast episode below, I even tell a story of how this very Medium post would never exist without me, personally, progressively embracing discomfort!
How To Get Uncomfortable
For a few resources on how to go deeper on this I would recommend checking out the following:
- In this Google Talk — Josh Waitzkin explains many of his ideas and concepts around performance.
- In this podcast episode I break down a number of strategies for embracing discomfort in your daily life (and go deeper on Josh’s story).
- In this interview Jia Jiang discusses “rejection therapy” which can be a great way to familiarize yourself with discomfort (especially if you struggle with social situations).
- In this interview Dr. Andy Molinsky, a professor of psychology, explains a number of strategies for getting outside your comfort zone.
All of those resources, along with the book The Art of Learning, would be a great starting point toward becoming mentally tougher.
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I’ve studied many of the most successful people in the history of our planet from titans of industry like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie to modern day financial wizards like Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, and Ray Dalio.
What I’ve discovered from studying such a wide array of incredibly successful individuals is there are some striking similarities between what enabled a 19th century oil baron to succeed and what makes modern day billionaires like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk thrive.
In fact — there is a core principle that holds the secret to what these uber-achievers unlocked — and it’s something I call “high leverage thinking.”
But before we dig into the core ideas of high leverage thinking — and how you can harness them for yourself, starting right now, it’s important to understand the relationship between time and value creation.
The Secret of Leverage
There is a non-linear relationship between time and value creation. The amount of time you spend on something does not have a direct relationship to the amount of value you create.
This doesn’t just have to do with financial success — but it is extremely easy to demonstrate this principle using money.
For someone making $50,000 a year, if they work twice as a hard, maybe they can double their income to $100,000 a year. Once you start moving up the ladder, this logic really starts to break down. It wouldn’t be possible for the same person to work 10x as hard to make 10x as much ($500k a year), because that would require working 400 hours per week, and the week only has 168 hours!
The numbers get crazy when you look at billionaires and titans of industry. According to Wealth-X data from 2013, Warren Buffett made $12.7bn that year which breaks down to $37mm per day and $1.54mm per hour. Now that’s a serious hourly rate.
Is Warren Buffet working 254,000 times harder than someone making $50k a year?
In fact, Warren Buffett says himself that he spends 80% of his day reading! But we will come back to the tactics and strategies these ultra achievers use to be so productive in a minute.
So what gives? How is this possible? What’s the missing ingredient?
The missing piece of the puzzle is LEVERAGE. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and all of these titans of industry are masters of leverage. Achieving more by doing less and focusing on what’s important. Warren Buffet is making 254,000x more per hour because he is more high leverage.
The math behind this phenomenon is the 80/20 principle, which pervades huge amounts of our lives describing everything from the distribution of craters on the moon, to the size of files on your hard drive, to rabbit populations, pea pods, and the distribution of wealth of both nations and individuals.
Simply put, the 80/20 principle (which is a “Mental Model,” more on that in a minute) states that a few of your inputs create most of your outputs. A few high leverage activities create the vast majority of the results in your life, and this powerful economic principle, applied many times over, is the math that drives the mammoth differential between Warren Buffets return on time and yours or mine.
The Art of Decision-Making
So now we know that these titans of industry are vastly more high leverage than people who are making millions per year. But what are they doing?
After studying them deeply, interviewing the experts, reading dozens biographies, combing through speeches and articles, and picking apart activities and daily routines — I’ve uncovered the two core strategies these uber-achievers use to become as high leverage as possible.
The first strategy of high leverage thinking is improving your decision-making ability — this is what I call “The Art of Decision-Making.”
Here are five core components of The Art of Decision-Making:
- Use contemplative routines to determine what’s most important to focus on
- Harness the power of compounding by building on your knowledge and getting 1% smarter every day
- Focus on and study things that don’t change or change very slowly over time — master the principles and you can invent the tactics
- Follow the path of worldly wisdom and focus on acquiring multidisciplinary knowledge across academic disciplines like psychology, mathematics, and biology
- Build a toolkit of mental models so that you can better understand reality and achieve their goals.
Lets borrow some wisdom from Charles Duhigg the author of Smarter, Faster, Better and The Power of Habit.
In a recent podcast interview, Charles discussed how research shows that the most common rituals that highly successful people share are what he calls “contemplative routines.”
What actually seems to correlate with success is that the people who are most productive and most successful, they tend to have what researchers refer to as contemplative routines, as habits in their life that push them to think more deeply.
Journaling is a great example of this, because the act of journaling often times forces us to sit down and to try and make sense of how we spent our time recently.
What our goals actually ought to be as opposed to what we happen to just get obsessed with or fixated on right now, and how we should arrange our life so that those priorities, so that our energy and our activity is actually focused on our priorities rather than instantly responding to life’s many sort of busy work request. The basic insight here is that, particularly now, being busy and being productive are not synonymous.” — Charles Duhigg
The Power of Compounding
Improving your ability to think, understand reality, and make better decisions is one of the core principles of high leverage thinking. The more time and energy you invest in your decision-making ability, the more it continues to build and build on itself by harnessing the power of compounding(compounding is another example of a Mental Model, by the way).
Becoming a master at the Art of Decision-making cascades through everything you do. It’s not incremental growth in your knowledge, it’s exponential growth. Einstein described the power of compounding as the “eight wonder of the world” — and if you’ve ever crunched some numbers on a compound interest calculator you know how powerful compounding can be over time.
If you get 1% better at thinking — at understanding how the world works, how human behavior works, how economic systems function, and understanding your own brain — that 1% improvement impacts everything you do. You’re not just going to benefit at work, but when you deal with your spouse, or negotiate the purchase of a new car, or decide where to invest your savings. You’re entire life is essentially a long chain of decisions. Wouldn’t it make sense to invest in the ability to make better decisions and continuously improve that skillset?
These small incremental improvements in decision-making aren’t noticeable at first, but they eventually result in a huge transformation in how you think, act, and understand the world.
Here’s a quote from our dear friend Warren Buffett, when asked what the key to success was he pointed to a stack of books and said:
“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
Study Things That Never Change Over Time
A key piece of building a compounding machine of knowledge — that over time will let you vault over almost everyone on the planet in terms of sheer brain power — is focusing on knowledge that doesn’t change or changes very slowly over time.
Many people focus their time and energy on learning rapidly changing tactics, the minutiae, highly specific actions and pieces of advice without a broader context. As Sun Tzu once said “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” and Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
I’m here to teach you how to be one of the people who masters the principles that govern reality — so that you can wield them to achieve whatever goals you want to achieve.
People gobble up the latest article “10 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Email Opt-In Rate” but the problem with studying knowledge like that is that it changes — it doesn’t give you something to build up and build upon over time — in 18 months all of the advice in that article will be useless. If you spent a year in 2004 reading every book on high performance banner ads — none of that knowledge would be relevant today.
But if you flip that, if you study the strategy — spend your time mastering the core principles that underpin psychology and human behavior, reading things like the book Influence by Robert Cialdini — you can invent marketing tactics on the fly — because you understand the bigger picture. And that knowledge changes very slowly over time — it’s a core foundation that you can build upon and grow from.
This also means that the best kind of knowledge to focus on and spend your time investing in is not ephemeral junk like facebook, twitter, and buzzfeed, but the core pillars of human knowledge and the major academic disciplines, which brings us to the principle of Worldly Wisdom.
The next key component of The Art of Decision-making is cultivating what Charlie Munger (the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett) calledWorldy Wisdom.
Here’s a great description of the concept of worldly wisdom from Robert Griffin’s book “Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor:”
Munger has adopted an approach to business and life that he refers to as worldly wisdom. Munger believes that by using a range of different models from many different disciplines — psychology, history, mathematics, physics, philosophy, biology, and so on — a person can use thecombined output of the synthesis to produce something that has more value than the sum of its parts. Robert Hagstrom wrote a wonderful book on worldly wisdom entitled Investing: The Last Liberal Art, in which he states that “each discipline entwines with, and in the process strengthens, every other. From each discipline the thoughtful person draws significant mental models, the key ideas that combine to produce a cohesive understanding. Those who cultivate this broad view are well on their way to achieving worldly wisdom.”
Being multidisciplinary means collecting knowledge from lots of different disciplines and areas of life and building an approach to understanding the world that integrates all that knowledge into a cohesive framework.
In order to get what you want you have to understand how to get there, and in order to do that, you have to understand how things work — things like human behavior, economic systems, money, biology, and mathematics. Josh Kaufman explains this beautifully in The Personal MBA:
“Every business fundamentally relies on two factors People and Systems…To understand how businesses work, you must have a firm understanding of how people tend to think and behave — how humans make decisions, act on those decisions, and communicate with others. Recent advances in psychology are revealing why people do the things they do, as well as how to improve our own behavior and work more effectively with others.
Systems, on the other hand, are the invisible structures that hold every business together. At the core, every business is a collection of processes that can be reliably repeated to produce a particular result. By understanding the essentials of how complex systems work, it’s possible to find ways to improve existing systems, whether you’re dealing with a marketing campaign or an automotive assembly line.”
The problem is that too many people have a very narrow focus — they master one piece of the puzzle, say marketing or finance, and think that has all the answers. But reality is messy and complex and interwoven. Most big events in our lives aren’t caused by one simple explanation; they are the result of an interplay of factors.
A multidisciplinary approach intertwines and strengthens itself by enabling you to pull from different disciplines of knowledge and bring the exact tools necessary to understand and solve tough challenges and to achieve complicated and difficult goals. As Peter Bevelin writes in Seeking Wisdom:
“Since no single discipline has all the answers we need to understand and use the big ideas from all the important disciplines: Mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, psychology, and rank and use them in order of reliability.”
A Framework of Mental Models
Now its time to go deeper into Mental Models, which we briefly touched on earlier. A mental model is simply a concept, an idea, a tidbit of wisdom that in some way explains how the world works. Mental models are one of the cornerstones of high leverage thinking. In fact, Charlie Munger puts it pretty bluntly:
“Developing the habit of mastering the multiple models which underlie reality is the best thing you can do.”
When a billionaire tells me something is “the best thing I can do” — I listen.And I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time studying billionaires, people like Charlie Munger, and mental models so that you don’t have to.
A few examples of mental models would be concepts like the 80/20 principle and compounding, both of which we discussed earlier, as well as concepts like expected value and base rates from mathematics, notions such as confirmation bias, anchoring, and social proof from psychology, the prisoner’s dilemma from game theory, or the concept of natural selection from biology.
While this may seem a bit overwhelming, the good news is that you don’t have to become an expert in physics and chemistry just to become a high leverage thinker. The whole idea is to master the big ideas . Take the major principles from a 101 textbook and combine them into a framework of mental models that offers a rich and deep tool kit to look at, understand, and manipulate reality to your ends.
The Key Ideas
Remember the core ideas behind the Art of Decision-making:
(1) Use contemplative routines to determine what's most important to focus on
(2) Harness the power of compounding by building on your knowledge and getting 1% smarter every day
(3) Focus on and study things that don’t change or change very slowly over time — master the principles and you can invent the tactics
(4) Follow the path of worldly wisdom and focus on acquiring multidisciplinary knowledge across academic disciplines like psychology, mathematics, and biology
(5) Build a toolkit of mental models so that you can better understand reality and achieve your goals.
When you combine all of these factors, you are putting your brain on a high leverage rocket ship — and with the power of compounding you will start leaving other people in the dust.
But making great decisions is only half the battle. What can the titans of industry teach us about the other key element of being high leverage?
Here’s What Rockefeller & Carnegie Do
We just went deep on The Art of Decision-making — now let’s look at the other big strategy used by high leverage thinkers like Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie — hiring people to replace yourself.
Hiring people and constantly replacing yourself is one of the single greatest ways to continuously gain higher and higher leverage on your time. Too often entrepreneurs get caught up in the trap of having to (or feeling like they have to) do it all themselves. This is a dangerous road to walk — and while it can be useful in the early days — it quickly becomes a detriment and ends up bottlenecking your growth.
You often see the most high leverage people doing things that an average person would think is “wasting money” — like hiring someone to do their grocery shopping, paying for lawn care services, having a maid, hiring a handyman to do the work around your house, or paying for a virtual assistant.But it is exactly because a high leverage persons time has become so valuable — that they cannot possibly fathom investing it in an activity that they could outsource for 1/10th or less of their own hourly rate.
This applies in your business too. Anything that anyone else can do 80% as good as you can — in order to leverage your time as effectively as possible you have an obligation to replace yourself as quickly as you can.
I want to share two of my favorite quotes on this topic from some serious titans of industry.
The first is from the book Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw:
“When A.B. Farquhar, a Pennsylvania businessman, boasted that he was in his office every morning ‘by seven in the morning’ and was the last one to leave in the evening, Carnegie laughed at him. ‘You must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work. . . . What I do . . . is to get good men, and I never give them orders. My directions seldom go beyond suggestions. Here in the morning I get reports from them. Within an hour I have disposed of everything, sent out all of my suggestions, the day’s work is done, and I am ready to go out and enjoy myself.’”
The playbook for success has been out there for a long time — over a hundred years ago some of the most successful individuals in history where sharing their exact strategies for how to leverage your time as effectively as possible. But, Andrew Carnegie was only the second wealthiest person in modern history. Let’s hear from the wealthiest.
The next quote is from John D. Rockefeller (from the book Titan by Ron Chernow) when he was speaking to a young recruit at the Standard Oil offices:
“Has anyone given you the law of these offices? No? It is this: nobody does anything if he can get anybody else to do it . . . As soon as you can, get someone whom you can rely on, train them in the work, sit down, cock up your heels,and think out some way for the Standard Oil to make some money.”
That is high leverage thinking in a nutshell. As soon as you can — find someone you can train, replace yourself, and spend your time thinking, reading, learning, and focusing on the big picture — as Michael Gerber would call it — working on your business not in your business — that is the essence of being becoming high leverage.
As Carnegie notes above — you want to hire good people to replace yourself, and that’s not always easy. Going deep on the hiring practices and strategies is well beyond the scope of this post, but I did want to offer a great resources for that journey. The book “Who: The A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street is a great starting point for learning how to both source and evaluate talent when hiring people.
Let Go (Of The Need To Do Everything)
One of the first big steps to replacing yourself is letting go of the need to do everything. Needing to do everything is the same thing as knowingly becoming a bottleneck to your own success. It’s rooted in perfectionism and does nothing but hold you back.
Sadly, this is actually more of a curse for people who are very talented — because they know they can do a great job at every piece of the puzzle — they often can’t tolerate when someone doesn’t do it just as they would have liked. The end result, however, is that these people end up frazzled, trying to do 3 people’s jobs at once, and mired in busy work and minutia that they have to do “just right” — missing the bigger picture and destroying their ability to achieve leverage on their time and output.
The sooner you can let go of the need to be in the middle of everything, andrealize that it’s OK if someone else does it a bit differently — the faster you can start leveraging your time. As Tim Ferriss notes “what you do is infinitely more important than how you do it.”
A good rule of thumb here is that if someone can perform as task 80% as well as you can, go ahead and give it to them and move it off your plate. Peter Drucker makes this point abundantly clear in The Effective Executive:
“[The effective executive’s] first look at the time record makes it abundantly clear that there just is not time enough to do the things the executive himself considers important, himself wants to do, and is himself committed to doing. The only way he can get to the important things is by pushing on others anything that can be done by them at all.”
Design A System — And Let Your Team Execute It
It always amazes me to see the same themes and ideas echoed across centuries. Ray Dalio is describing the same strategy that John D. Rockefeller espouses — designing and managing a machine that lets you get what you want. A key part of that strategy is constantly replacing yourself in any area where you are weak.
Ray Dalio is a billionaire who was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and named one of the 100 wealthiest by Forbes. Ray is known for his unrelenting pursuit of truth — and provides great insight, in his book Principles, into why you should constantly focus on understanding your own strengths and weaknesses and replace yourself with someone as quickly as possible:
“Let’s imagine that your goal is to have a winning basketball team. Wouldn’t it be silly to put yourself in a position that you don’t play well? If you did, you wouldn’t get what you want. Whatever your goals are, achieving them works the same way.
If you see that you are not capable of doing something, it is only sensible for you to have someone else do it. In other words, you should look down at you and all the other resources at your disposal and create a “machine” to achieve your goals, remembering that you don’t necessarily need to do anything other than to design and manage the machine to get what you want. If you find that you can’t do something well, fire yourself and get a good replacement!
You shouldn’t be upset that you found out that you are bad at that — you should be happy because you have improved your chances of getting what you want. If you are disappointed because you can’t be the best person to do everything, you are terribly naïve because nobody can do everything well. The biggest mistake most people make is to not see themselves and others objectively.”
You don’t have to be the person working any given part of the machine — but you must be the one designing it and managing it — guiding it towards the goals that you ultimately want to achieve.
Once you have a system and a trusted team — delegate and give them a large dose of responsibility. In the book The Outsiders by William Thorndike the author examines eight companies that outperformed the SP500 by an average factor of 20x — and uncovers the strategies their management team used in order to achieve such incredible results. One of the core strategies used by these unconventional CEOs was described as “delegation to the point of anarchy.”
Constantly Replace Yourself
I consider myself a pretty lazy person — and that’s why I’ve always loved the Bill Gates quote:
“I always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it.”
In fact — I’ve been able to wield my laziness as a weapon to constantly and relentlessly replace myself in anything I am doing that is not my absolute zone of strength. Whenever a task lands on my desk from one source or another — the first thing I ask myself is how can I delegate this, and if I can’t — the next question I answer is how can I build a system so that it’s possible to delegate this in the future.
It is only by continuously asking “it is really necessary that I do this” that you can start to free yourself from the self imposed constraints of perfectionism and move forward with building a system and a team to execute it — freeing your time to focus on bigger and more important issues.
Focus On Your Strengths
By building a team and replacing yourself — you can focus on your true areas of strength, and spend the most possible amount of time living and working in your strengths. By doing this you achieve a double compounding effect — more if your time is spent in your strengths and you are getting better at those strengths (by investing that time in the Art of Decision-making). Once you truly start to move down this path, you begin to achieve more and more leverage.
It’s been said many times, but I think Peter Drucker sums it up wonderfully in the Effective Executive when he says:
“Making strengths productive is therefore much more than an essential of effectiveness. It is a moral imperative, a responsibility of authority and position. To focus on weakness is not only foolish; it is irresponsible. A superior owes it to his organization to make the strength of every one of his subordinates as productive as it can be.
But even more does he owe it to the human beings over whom he exercises authority to help them get the most out of whatever strength they may have. Organization must serve the individual to achieve through his strengths and regardless of his limitations and weaknesses.”
Focusing on your strengths not only lets you be more high leverage — its literally a moral imperative to only do what you’re good at, and surround yourself with other people who’s strengths fill in your weaknesses.
Becoming A High Leverage Thinker
So there you have it — the essence of becoming incredibly high leverage. These are the major tools and strategies used by history’s most successful individuals. The common themes between a 19th century oil barron and a modern day hedge fund master of the universe are no accident — these principles are the timeless strategies that top performers use to become exponentially more effective than an average person.
Just like compound interest, these changes accrue very slowly, almost imperceptibly, at first, but before you know it — you will look back and be shocked at the incredible leaps and bounds you’ve made and find it hard to pinpoint the exact moment of departure, when you become a High Leverage Thinker too.
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Dr. Jude Miller Burke explains how you can turn your childhood hardship into career and life success!
In her latest new book, The Adversity Advantage, Dr. Jude Miller Burke, discusses how childhood trauma and adversity, in all forms ranging from abuse and neglect to poverty and violence, does not have to deter you from attaining personal happiness and career success. Survival skills learned during childhood can be used to enhance career success. Drawing from her background of counseling hundreds of men and women for over 25 years, as well as her most recent phase of research into childhood adversity and work success, Dr. Burke continues to study factors that lead to and interfere with career success and paints a clear picture on how to ensure childhood problems are not compromising your career and how to use hard-won survival skills to your advantage at work.
In her latest book, The Adversity Advantage, Jude Dives Into...
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Learning how to make better decisions is a lifelong endeavor. Just as important as learning how to learn is learning WHAT to learn.
In our interview with Shane Parrish from the Farnam Street Blog we discuss the importance of learning things that do not change over time, keeping a decision journal, and how to get started building a mental model toolbox to face any situation. All this and more with Shane Parrish in our full interview below.
Shane is the founder and author of the Farnam Street Blog. His work has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and more! He writes on and teaches topics such as decision making, learning, and mental models.
Farnam Street Blog: https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/
Follow Shane on Twitter: @farnamstreet