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Book Summaries (103 by GetAbstract)

Summaries from
1. How to take smart Notes-------------------------------5
2. Atomic Habits -----------------------------------------10
3. How to read books /Adler ------------------------------13
Power up your brain -------------------------------------22
Overcoming Addicition -----------------------------------28
5Sec Rule -----------------------------------------------34
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Artists --------------------37
Steal like an artist ---------------------------------------39
The Death of the Artist -----------------------------------44
Mindful Self-Discipline -----------------------------------48
GTD ----------------------------------------------------55
No Excuses /Bryan Tracy ---------------------------------58
Deep Work ----------------------------------------------64
The Procrastination Cure ---------------------------------71
The Motivation Myth ------------------------------------77
Bullet Journal -------------------------------------------83
ADHD at Work -------------------------------------------86
The Cognition Crisis --------------------------------------88
Manage Your Day-to-Day --------------------------------90
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People --------------------95
The 48 Laws of Power ------------------------------------102
Peak ---------------------------------------------------107
This Idea Is Brilliant -------------------------------------113
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers ------------------------------119
The Power of Full Engagement ----------------------------125
The Secrets You Don’t Know About Negotiation -------------134
Unlabel /Marc Ecko --------------------------------------138
Soundtracks --------------------------------------------143
Thinking, Fast and Slow ----------------------------------149
The Simplicity Principle ----------------------------------155
Barking Up the Wrong Tree -------------------------------160
7 Things Resilient People Do Differently--------------------166
Talent Is Overrated --------------------------------------172
Rich dad poor dad ---------------------------------------179
Eat the frog ---------------------------------------------182
Kiss That Frog! ------------------------------------------187
Manage Your Mind --------------------------------------193
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck-------------------------198
Finish --------------------------------------------------203
The Obstacle is the way ----------------------------------209
Time Power /Bryan Tracy ---------------------------------216
I don’t agree --------------------------------------------222
Say less - get more --------------------------------------228
Ego is the Enemy ----------------------------------------234
Ego check ----------------------------------------------241
Courage is calling ---------------------------------------246
Make it stick --------------------------------------------252
The burnout
x ------------------------------------------257
Hyper-Learning -----------------------------------------263
So good they can’t ignore you / Cal Newport ---------------269
Flow /Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi ----------------------------275
Unlimited memory ---------------------------------------279
5% More ------------------------------------------------285
Embrace the chaos --------------------------------------291
Aware --------------------------------------------------298
Mind hacking -------------------------------------------301
Simple Habits for Complex Times --------------------------307
Lifescale -----------------------------------------------313
5am club -----------------------------------------------317
You are awesome ---------------------------------------322
the 10x rule --------------------------------------------328
How to Talk to Anyone -----------------------------------334
Nudge --------------------------------------------------338
managing your own mind --------------------------------343
The art of thinking clearly --------------------------------358
the power of habit --------------------------------------363
willpower ----------------------------------------------366
The mental toughness -----------------------------------372
art of saying no -----------------------------------------376
get it done ----------------------------------------------380
the 4 disciplines of execution ----------------------------389
the one thing -------------------------------------------394
The habit of courage -------------------------------------400
becoming bulletproof ------------------------------------405
perfectly con dent -------------------------------------409
tness habit --------------------------------------------414
Subtract ------------------------------------------------419
Thrive --------------------------------------------------422
the creative thinking ------------------------------------426
the big strecth ------------------------------------------430
my morning routine -------------------------------------434
how to learn anything.. fast ------------------------------439
start with why ------------------------------------------441
nd your why -------------------------------------------446
the purpose effect --------------------------------------450
mindset ------------------------------------------------455
open to think -------------------------------------------460
multipliers ---------------------------------------------463
essentialism --------------------------------------------468
15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management 471
the little book of stoicism --------------------------------477
the bravest you -----------------------------------------485
pause breathe choose -----------------------------------489
think like a monk ----------------------------------------495
stillness is the key --------------------------------------498
creativity code -----------------------------------------504
win at all costs ------------------------------------------512
Courage to be disliked -----------------------------------517
sapiens ------------------------------------------------522
hyperfocus ---------------------------------------------528
man's search for a meaning ------------------------------534
how to begin --------------------------------------------546
the laws of human nature --------------------------------558
achievement habit --------------------------------------383
1. How to take smart Notes
Researcher and author Dr. Sönke Ahrens explores the meaning of writing
and discusses how to write effectively using the “slip-box system.” He
explains how to follow the lead of Niklas Luhmann, a prolific author and
sociologist who produced 58 books in 30 years. Luhmann’s slip-box, notetaking system allowed him to connect notes he’d made from his readings
with other information from a variety of contexts. Whether you follow this
manual’s process or create a digital version, the concept remains the same.
It starts with writing notes about what you read and tracking how they
intersect, which makes this illuminating for students, academics,
researchers, businesspeople and other writers.
Your willpower has limits; your ability to think does not.
Niklas Luhmann, who created the “slip-box system,” wrote 58 books
in 30 years.
Follow the steps of the slip-box system to prepare and write nonfiction material.
The slip-box system increases your freedom to explore ideas.
To master the slip-box system, always read “with a pen in hand.”
Your willpower has limits; your ability to think does not.
Many self-help books on writing focus on what to do when you confront a
blank page. They overlook the potential of creating an informationgathering process that ensures your page isn’t blank when you begin. Most
writing manuals omit an important part of academic, research, business or
non-fiction writing: taking notes.
Bad note-taking has no immediate repercussions. The problems appear
later, when you attempt to write a cogent work based on flawed notes. At
that point, many people will reach for a how-to book so they can get on
track. But by then, it’s too late.
You write daily. For many people, writing is akin to breathing. If you hit a
snag when you begin to write, it may be because you’re trying to retrieve
arguments and points of information from your head. Combining smaller
points and referring to the material you have already written might make
writing significantly easier.
The key to successful writing lies in the preparation.”
To have these smaller pieces ready to use, you need a system that allows you
to concentrate on ideas and arguments instead of trying to remember
minutiae, which most people can’t retain anyway. Having a powerful
information retrieval system helps you write without significant energy
or willpower. It allows you to enter a state of “flow,” wherein the work
itself pulls you forward.
This process isn’t about planning, which limits your flexibility and saps your
energy. Instead, become an “expert” by structuring your information supply
to enable you to concentrate on creating a new understanding of your topic.
The slip-box system provides a simple way to deal with the complexity
of academic, research, business and non-fiction writing. It links your notes
in an external manual or digital system, allowing you to connect disparate
pieces of information and leaving your brain free to concentrate on
ideas. Using a slip-box doesn’t mean redoing everything you’ve done; it
means modifying your workflow moving forward. As with any change in
how you work, you may find it initially awkward, but it will soon become
Niklas Luhmann, who created the slip-box system, wrote
58 books in 30 years.
German sociologist and author Niklas Luhmann developed this system to
support his learning and writing. Luhmann was the son a German brewer.
After getting a law degree, he worked in a government office while spending
his free time reading about “philosophy, organizational theory and
sociology.” He wrote notes as he read, but realized he couldn’t access them
easily. He started annotating his notes with a number and putting them in a
box. This led him to realize that subject categories weren’t linear. An idea
from one subject often proved relevant in another context, so he changed
his annotation method to record new ideas and indicate connections among
the notes. His slip-box became a “dialogue partner…and productivity
In the late 1960s, Luhmann wrote up his research findings and gave the
information to a distinguished German sociologist, Helmut Schelsky, who
encouraged Luhmann to take a position as a professor of sociology.
Luhmann demurred, since he had neither a doctorate nor the additional
thesis required. But within a year, he had both. He achieved this remarkable
feat by using his slip-box system. In 1968, Luhmann became a sociology
professor at the University of Bielefeld.
Luhmann’s life-long project, studying the “theory of society,” explored “law,
politics, economy, communication, art, education, epistemology,” among
other subjects. His was groundbreaking work. Unlike many academics who
wring as many works as possible from one idea, Luhmann never ran out of
new concepts. When he died, he left numerous nearly completed
manuscripts on other subjects. Unlike many academics today, who often
collaborate on published works, Luhmann was the sole author of his books
and papers.
How was Luhmann able to be so prolific and consequential? By making his
writing effortless. “I only do what is easy,” he said. “If I falter for a moment,
I put the matter aside and do something else.” This attitude reflects the
findings of various studies of highly accomplished people. They apply a
martial-arts mentality to avert “resistance” instead of pushing through it.
Luhmann developed simple way to work that added value to every step,
especially when connecting complex ideas.
“Writing notes accompanies the main work and, done right,
it helps with it.”
He used his main box for individual ideas based on what he read. He kept
another box for bibliographical information. He wrote each note in
complete sentences and limited any note to one page. Instead of organizing
his slip-box topically, he gave his notes numbers and letters. When he
included a note, he linked it to other notes in the box.
Writing notes in your own words allows you to make sure you understand a
concept fully. The act of externalizing what you know by writing notes
deepens your comprehension. Writing notes isn’t the goal; notes are a
consequence of your reading, thinking and learning. Collating your notes in
a slip-box provides a structure for working with them outside your brain.
Follow the steps of the slip-box system to prepare and write
non- ction material.
Follow these simplified steps to use the slip-box method to create any nonfiction work. Everything starts with learning to take smart notes.
1. Write any ideas that come to you as “fleeting notes” – Jot
them down in a notebook or on a scrap of paper. They serve to remind
you of an idea. “Process” them later.
2. When you read, create “literature notes” about the
content – These notes should include elements you might use in
your work. Write concisely to convey the meaning of what you read.
Keep these notes with bibliographic information from the book.
3. Daily review your fleeting notes and literature notes – Reflect
on how they connect with your work. How does the new information
affect your current ideas? For each idea, write one “permanent note”
that you will put in your slip-box system. Write these in full sentences
with sources and references indicated. Throw away your fleeting notes
and file the literature notes along with relevant bibliographic
4. File and link your notes – Luhmann created his slip-box
manually, but free computer programs, such as Daniel Lüdecke’s
Zettelkasten, smooth the process of creating and referring to your
notes. The software enables you to file and link permanent notes
behind numerous other notes. If you’re saving a new line of thought,
file it behind the last note in the system. Link it to your index.
5. Develop your projects from the “bottom up” – Even when
you’re starting out, you will have ideas for projects to add to your
box. Use your slip-box system, whether manual or digital, to modify
your initial idea whenever you uncover information that leads in
another direction. Because you are reading and creating notes that
add up, the information and the links in it lead to new, better
questions to investigate.
6. Write based on the information in your system – When you
have researched and noted enough information to decide on a writing
direction or subject, your writing is now grounded in information you
have on hand versus an unfounded supposition. Look through the
links in the system and collect the information by copying it to the
Zettelkasten or similar desktop – if using a computer. Due to your
method of connection, much of the information is already organized.
Check what information might be missing, and do more research if
7. Using the notes, create an initial draft – This document should
contain your argument as constructed from your notes. When you
find problems with your assertion, add information, do more research
or change your assertion.
8. The last stage is to edit your manuscript and start on the
next one – These steps outline a linear process, but in most cases,
you won’t be working on only one idea. The slip-box method allows
you to work on numerous projects at one time. You will move between
ideas without losing your place or momentum.
Your process requires only four tools. Your first tool is the ideas you write
down – fleeting notes. You can use a phone, computer or tablet instead of
pen and paper, but gather the notes in one place.
Your second tool is a reference management tool such as Zotero, which is
free and available for multiple platforms. Using this tool, add notes and link
them to your reference material.
“Good tools…help to reduce distractions from the main work,
which here is thinking.”
The third tool is your slip-box. If you prefer to do the work manually, use an
actual box. Otherwise, Zettelkasten is free and easy to use and follows
Luhmann’s process.While software makes adding links and formatting
easier, a greater boon is that it’s more portable.
The last tool is an editing program. Programs such as Microsoft Word,
OpenOffice and others are compatible with the Zotero program. Writing
with software that can access your reference system makes annotations
The slip-box system increases your freedom to explore
As you add notes to your slip-box and link them, your system becomes
exponentially more valuable. It becomes a repository for ideas you may
have forgotten that you can easily access.
“The slip-box is designed to present you with ideas you have
already forgotten, allowing your brain to focus on thinking.”
By contrast, if you organize information based on topics, you make your
brain responsible for remembering what information you put where.
Working with Luhmann’s system leaves your brain free to think along the
lines of the linked notes in your system.
To master the slip-box system, always read “with a pen in
People who write successfully follow certain guidelines. The first is to
understand how the brain works. Multitasking, which includes
interruptions from emails or texts, cuts your productivity by 40%. Shortterm memory has its limits, also. To retain information, transcribe what you
read in your own words and put its ideas into context.
When you transcribe information into the slip-box process, this frees your
mind to stop thinking about it. This counters the “Zeigarnik effect” – when
your short-term memory tracks tasks you haven’t completed. When you
write a note and add it to the slip-box, your brain believes you’ve completed
the open issue.
When you move ideas out of your brain and into the slip-box, you “forget
them,” which, strangely, improves your “long-term learning.” Psychologists
once found a man who remembered conversations verbatim. However,
because he was unable to forget anything, he couldn’t zero in on the
relevant information or context from a conversation or book. For him,
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was not about tragic love, but concerned
only two feuding families. The ability to forget information helps you let go
of data that isn’t relevant to a given situation. Transcribing what you read in
your own words means you understand what you’ve read; this proves
beneficial to your work.
“While writing down an idea feels like a detour…not writing
it down is the real waste of time.”
When you turn to your slip-box to generate ideas, don’t use it as an
“archive.” It should be a place to explore your thoughts and change your
understanding of a topic as you learn more. Use it to create a “latticework”
of ideas instead of simply facts. Connect your notes, and build your theories
based on the information you record to nourish your learning cycle.
Stories of scientific breakthroughs often describe a moment of inspiration
that resulted in a discovery. But any insight is the culmination of time spent
researching and thinking about an issue. The slip-box allows ideas to
interact in ways that helps generate new insights.
Perhaps the most important factor in creating a slip-box is to embrace the
process. Instead of internally mandating new routines for researching and
reading, incrementally create new habits to replace the old. When you sit
down to read, pick up a pen and paper. Then, you’ll more readily write
down ideas, put them in the slip-box and link them to other notes.
About the Author
Education and social science researcher Dr. Sönke Ahrens also wrote the
award-winning Experiment and Exploration: Forms of World-Disclosure.
2. Atomic Habits
Best-selling advice guru James Clear offers a workable
manual for ending bad habits and creating healthy habits.
Given the booming market in advice relating to business and
individual habits, it’s hard to name one advice guru who stands atop
the heap – but James Clear is a worthy candidate. With more than a
million copies sold of this New York Times, USA Today and Wall
Street Journal bestseller – one of Fast Company’s Seven Best
Business Books of the Year – a website with millions of monthly views,
a for-pay newsletter and his business consultancy – The Habits
Academy – Clear is a one-man advice industry.
His advice is simple and clear. This is a manual – a practical guide. He
embraces a methodical system designed to overcome how today’s
media-rich world has shortened the human attention span and left you
prey to your own most spurious impulses. You may find a Zen calm by
following Clear’s counsel. He advises living in a more conscious way by
replacing your less than helpful habits with those that nourish your
Glamour.com wrote, “Clear will show you how to overcome a lack of
motivation, change your environment to encourage success, and make
time for new (and better) habits.” And Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is
the Enemy, called it, “A special book that will change how you
approach your day and live your life.”
Small Steps
Clear points out that frequent repetition automates behaviors,
turning them into habits. The author argues that most people try to
change their habits by listing “what” they want. His alternative to this
practice centers on “who” a person wants to become through creating
“identity-based habits.”
Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is
a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
For example, people who take pride in their athletic skills will vest in
habits that maintain their physical ability and identity as athletes.
Changing a Habit
Clear maintains that daily routines represent an individual’s identity.
He reminds you that the quest to change revolves around who you
wish to be; making small changes helps you achieve that identity.
Building Habits
When you encounter a situation, your brain determines how to
react. Clear says that when it decides to enact the same
behavior repeatedly, the behavior becomes the standard solution in
that situation – a habit. Habitual, automated performance decreases
your stress and “cognitive load.”
Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine
your areas of opportunity.
Habits, Clear reveals, follow a four-step process: “Cue, craving,
response and reward.” Cues are the activators; cravings are the
motivators. Responses are the answers that yield a reward.
Clear structures his advice around “The Four Laws of Behavior
“Make It Obvious”
Clear describes how the brain operates by absorbing information,
analyzing it and acknowledging repetitive experiences. Thus, he
teaches, repeated experiences culminate in a habit, because the brain
identifies a recurring situation and reacts in a standardized way.
To eliminate a bad habit, Clear instructs, remove the cues that trigger
it. He explains, “It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it.”
“Make It Attractive”
Clear details how, when you experience pleasure, your brain’s reward
system releases dopamine. This makes you likely to repeat a rewarding
Desire is the engine that drives behavior.
But, Clear reveals, when you merely plan to repeat a pleasant action,
you get a dopamine hit then, even before you start. Thus, the
expectation itself becomes rewarding. That’s why, the author asserts,
it’s easier to form a habit when it’s attractive.
“Make It Easy”
Clear defines a habit as a repetitive behavior you perform so often it
becomes automatic. And, he notes, frequency is key. Because the brain
seeks to conserve energy, he recounts, it selects options that
require the least effort. Choose the path of least resistance. Start small,
the author recommends, by engaging in the relevant activity for two
minutes. To break a bad habit, make it more difficult to perform.
“Make It Satisfying”
Behavioral change works through repeating behavior that is
“immediately rewarded” and by avoiding behavior that is “immediately
punished.” Clear explains that the brain craves quick success, even in
small increments. Habits change, he says, when people find the
alternatives “attractive, easy and obvious.”
Good Habits
Every behavior requires mastery exercised in small, continuous steps
until the activity turns into a good habit. This is bedrock Clear: over
time, good habits become mindless, everyday practices.
Two Minutes
While not offering much innovation, Clear delivers an inspiring pep
talk. His enthusiasm makes you want to start right away and put his
recipes into practice. Although Clear refers to the science underlying
the nature of habits, he focuses on practical guidance and presents
useful examples to illustrate its key concepts. He links to further
resources on his website, which offers templates and bonus chapters.
One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is
maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.
Anyone who has the intention to change something in his or her life –
but has struggled to get started – will appreciate Clear’s counsel. It’s
encouraging to hear that an investment of as little as two minutes can
be the starting point for achieving remarkable change in the long run.
And even if you knew this already, it’s reassuring to learn that the
little, “atomic” things in life count.
Though the advice world is a crowded field, stand-out ancillary reads
include Frank Rivers The Way of the Owl and Don Miguel Ruiz’s The
Four Agreements. A popular book with a different take on developing
organizational habits is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by
Marie Kondo.
3. How to read books /Adler
According to the late professors Mortimer J. Adler and
Charles Van Doren, schools don’t teach the higher-level
reading skills you need to engage with and enjoy both
informational and enlightening literature. You also need such
skills to tackle books you might at first think are beyond your
understanding or energy. Those very books, the authors say,
ultimately provide the most profound, lasting insights. This
manual outlines a systematic approach to help you build and
sustain new reading abilities. These skills will help you
connect with the most difficult, complex or multi-level works.
First published in 1940, this revised edition radiates an
enjoyable, rare tweedy-professor ambiance. In keeping with
the biases of an earlier era, every pronoun is “he” and the
prime reading list from the European and American canon has
only two women (Jane Austen and George Eliot).
Anachronisms duly noted, this clear manual still will serve any
reader pursuing personal growth and excellence. Executives,
managers and entrepreneurs will especially benefit from
increasing their reading comprehension and retention.
Reading well is better than reading widely.
Generally, US schools do not teach reading skills beyond
elementary school. Most people can read at a ninth-grade
level, but you can achieve higher levels.
To read actively, write down your thoughts and questions
about a book’s contents.
To see if a book is worth reading, “inspect” it with
“systematic skimming” or “pre-reading,” to scope out its
plan and design.
Read the great books analytically, seeking enlightenment,
not information.
To read a book analytically, ask four crucial questions:
What is it about? What does it say? Is it true? Does it
To see what a book really says, seek its ideas, assertions
and arguments. What “terms, propositions and
arguments” does it use.
You truly understand a book’s point when you can
paraphrase it in your own words.
At the highest reading level, you can synthesize several
books’ arguments.
To do so, treat each one with the “syntopical” process:
find the good parts, define the terms, develop
propositions, consider the issues and analyze your
Skillful Reading
When you’re curled up with a good book, reading can feel
relaxing and effortless. For many people, however, a book is
just a first-class ticket to slumberland. But a wondrous
alternative awaits – even for reluctant readers. You can learn
to embrace reading at a more skillful level that offers much
greater rewards, including knowledge, self-awareness
and inspiration.
“In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it
through without ever stopping to look up or ponder
the things you do not understand right away.”
When you read skillfully, you read “actively.” You’re awake
and focused. Instead of passively absorbing information, you
collaborate with the author. The writer provides the material,
but you analyze it, argue with it and question it. Instead of
merely adding to your store of information, you increase your
comprehension of yourself and your world.
“Elementary Reading”
Unfortunately, most readers never learn how to gain this level
of joy and wisdom from reading. Reading education in the US
focuses on the skills needed at a beginner’s elementary
reading level – the ability to recognize words, comprehend
sentences and derive the meaning of new words from context.
Once you can read at that level, you’re pretty much on your
own. Most high schools and colleges in the US offer no
instruction in higher levels of reading. The idea is that the
basics are sufficient if you are reading for amusement or
information. But, to increase your understanding, you must
attain higher levels of reading skill.
“Inspectional Reading”
Imagine you are at a bookstore contemplating whether to buy
a certain book. How can you determine, in a short time, if
you’ll find the book worth reading? The answer is to “inspect”
the book by using “systematic skimming” – or “pre-reading.”
Sometimes you’ll be able to get everything you need from a
book by skimming it. Other times you’ll decide to bring the
book home for a more careful perusal.
“We must become a nation of truly competent
Pre-reading is highly active; you approach the book like a
detective sniffing out evidence. Start by examining the title
page and preface for clues to the book’s subject and its
perspective. Read the table of contents and index. Both can
reveal the breadth of the territory the book covers. Read the
publisher’s blurb. Although the blurb is mostly a marketing
tool, it reveals what’s inside the book and explains why it
might be worth your time. At this point, you can probably
deduce which chapters will matter most to you. Quickly read
through these chapters’ introductory and concluding
paragraphs. Then flip through the book, sampling sentences
or paragraphs. Read the final few pages with care since that’s
where many authors sum up their argument.
“Good books are over your head; they would not be
good for you if they were not.”
Even when you plan to read a book carefully, give it a prereading. The insights you’ll gain into the book’s plan and
design will provide a useful map for your journey deeper into
the book.
The other skill associated with the inspectional level is
“superficial reading.” When you are reading a difficult book,
you might stop when you encounter an unfamiliar term so you
can look it up. Or you may want to take time to ponder a
complex concept. These habits break your reading momentum
and your connection with the book. By pausing and shifting
your attention, you lose the flow of the work. Trying to
eliminate each obstacle as you encounter it can be so
frustrating that you might just toss the book aside. Instead,
give the work a first, superficial reading, plowing straight
through what you understand and what you don’t. Then give
the book a more careful read. Once armed with a superficial
understanding of the whole, you’ll be in a better position to
untangle the more intriguing aspects or mysterious knots
during a deeper, second read.
“Analytical Reading”
At this stage, you thoroughly dissect a book, discovering its
structure and outlining – and judging – the author’s
arguments. At this level, you read for enlightenment. That
requires an active effort to wrest every drop of understanding
from the book, regardless of how long it takes. When you read
a book analytically, ask four crucial questions that cover the
analytical basics.
1. “What Is the Book About as a Whole?”
Start analyzing a book by answering the first essential
question. Identify the author’s main point and how he or she
develops that theme.
“The sentences important for you are those that
require an effort of interpretation because, at first
sight, they are not perfectly intelligible.”
Begin by inspecting the book. Look for clues to what kind of
book it is by checking the title, the preface and the table of
contents. Determine whether it is fiction or an expository
book. If it is expository, is it history, science, biography or
another genre? Is it theoretical or practical? A theoretical book
aims to convey knowledge for its own sake. A practical book
shows you how to turn knowledge into action.
“Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition
to knowing what an author says, you know what he
means and why he says it.”
Next, look at the book with “X-ray eyes” to discern its theme:
the underlying structure that holds the entire work together.
You should be able to summarize this main point in your own
words in a few paragraphs or less. List the parts of the book.
Outline how they relate to each other and how each division
and its subdivisions support the overall structure.
“Ask questions while you read – questions that you
yourself must try to answer in the course of
The final component of this analytical stage is divining the
author’s intentions. See if you can summarize the questions
the author attempts to answer or the problem he or she has set
out to solve. Decide whether these are theoretical questions
such as “Why does X exist?” or practical questions like “What
is the best course to take?”
2. “What Is Being Said in Detail, and How?”
The second element in analyzing a book requires asking what
it really says, down to the smallest elements, and uncovering
its ideas, assertions and arguments by examining these
rhetorical building blocks:
“Terms” – Find the most important words in a book.
Determine how the writer uses them and what he or she
means by them. Deal with language the author uses and
also consider the “thought behind the language.” A word
that has one meaning in everyday conversation may take
on a different meaning in a book. In Darwin’s Origin of
Species, for instance, the important words include
“variety,” “selection” and “adaptation.” Your task is to
figure out the technical meaning that Darwin assigns to
these everyday words. A good author will try to alert you
to any special intent, but an analytical reader should
apply rational thought and imagination to ferret out the
author’s meaning.
“Propositions” – Next, scope out the book’s most
crucial sentences. These will likely contain the author’s
propositions – the ideas he or she finds most meaningful.
Earlier, you tried to determine what questions the author
hoped to answer. Think of propositions as the answers to
those questions. The writer should back up these
propositions with evidence and examples. To find a
book’s critical sentences, look for those that are not
completely comprehensible. It’s likely you will have the
most trouble grasping concepts and ideas the author
regards as most important. Another tip-off is that a
proposition is likely to contain the pivotal terms you
identified earlier. You can feel satisfied that you
understand a proposition when you can paraphrase it in
your own words and come up with your own examples to
illustrate it.
“Arguments” – An argument consists of a series of
propositions that leads toward a conclusion. The author
may state the argument in a single, complex sentence or
stretch it over several paragraphs. If the argument
appears scattered across various places around the book,
track them down and synthesize them into a coherent
whole. Make a note in the margin when you come across
a proposition that builds the argument. Review each
proposition. You should understand the entire argument
well enough to restate it in a nutshell.
3. “Is the Book True, in Whole or Part?”
Once you’ve performed your rhetorical analysis, identify
which problems you think the author solved and which ones
remain mysteries. In the last stages, talk back to the book,
offering your criticism and judgment of what you read.
Address the third essential question, “Is it true?”
4. “What of It?”
How does the book matter or what is most significant about its
contentions? When you feel confident you understand the
book, respond to questions three and four by taking one of
these “critical positions”:
You agree with the author – If you agree with the
book’s argument, you have finished the analytical
You don’t agree – In this case, hold an argument with
the author’s conclusions. To do so fruitfully, avoid
contentiousness. Acknowledge your emotions about the
issue so you can stick to reason, rather than feelings, in
your assertions. Acknowledge and reveal your
assumptions – unless you recognize that, given your
prejudices, you can’t give the author’s conclusions a fair
hearing. Finally, aim for impartiality by sincerely
attempting to understand the author’s point of view.
You suspend judgment – Abstaining also can be an
act of criticism. Abstention says the book didn’t offer
enough for you to judge its soundness.
“Syntopical Reading”
At this highest level, you will be able to read a range of books
on a subject and synthesize their arguments into something
new. Start with a problem you want to solve or a question you
want to answer. Draw up a list of books that might address
that problem. Most likely, you’ll come up with an unwieldy
bibliography to winnow down. Draw upon your inspectional
reading skills to determine which books merit a closer
“What is true of ordinary conversation is even more
true of the rather special situation in which a book
has talked to a reader and the reader talks back.”
When you’ve compiled a catalog of the books that seem most
relevant to your inquiry, subject them to the five-step
syntopical process:
1. Find the good parts – The goal of syntopical reading is
not to understand the whole book. The goal is to use the
book to solve the problem you set or to answer your
question. Use inspectional reading to identify passages
most pertinent to your investigation.
2. Define your terms – The authors in your bibliography
may use different words for similar concepts. Synthesize
a “neutral terminology” that is not specific to any author
but that can incorporate concepts from any of them.
3. Develop propositions – Do the same when you
identify a list of propositions. Devise neutral propositions
that may not come from any single author but to which
each author may contribute answers.
4. Consider the issues – You can delineate an issue
whenever you discover a question that different authors
answer different ways. Map out and compare the
5. Analyze – Organize the issues, and outline how they
relate to each other.
Why Bother?
The higher levels of reading require mental effort. This
intellectually rigorous process is worthwhile because learning
the skills of inspectional, analytical and syntopical reading
opens a path for you to follow into the great books: the books
that will teach, inspire and satisfy you simply because they are
over your head.
“The reader must do more than make judgments of
agreement or disagreement. He must give reasons
for them.”
Like the body, the mind grows stronger with exercise. Unlike
the body, the mind’s expansion has no limits. Books can
provide the mind-stretching exercise that ensures your
growth, and a great book can offer an unending source of such
Reading a great, rich book once is usually not enough. Every
time you return to such a book, you’ll discover something
more – new ideas, concepts and deeper truths that are – again
– just beyond your current knowledge.
About the Authors
Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001) was a philosopher and a
professor at Columbia University and the University of
Chicago. Charles Van Doren (1926-2019) taught at
Columbia University and the University of Connecticut and
was assistant director of the Institute of Philosophical
Power up your brain
In Power Up Your Mind, Bill Lucas attempts to teach readers how to
learn. To accomplish this goal, he sets out to provide a blueprint to the
workings of the human brain through easy-to-grasp descriptions and
illustrations designed to explain how the brain ingests and processes
information. What’s lacking is a comprehensive review of the basic
theories of learning that experts have deduced from the biological
structures and mental functions that Lukas describes. Nevertheless,
getAbstract recommends this book for its theoretical insights and
practical advice about learning and memory.
Human brains like to explore and understand the world, make
connections, create patterns and imitate. They don’t perform well
under excessive stress.
People have three brains: the reptilian brain, which handles basic
functioning, the limbic brain, seat of the emotions, and the
cortex, the center of higher learning.
The left side of the brain primarily handles logic and rational
processing; the right brain primarily handles creative and
associative processing.
Learning starts with unconscious incompetence - in which you
don’t know what you don’t know - and evolves through several
steps to unconscious competence.
To improve your learning, work with your brain’s natural
processes, like its propensity to create and identify patterns.
There are several techniques that you can use to prepare your
mind for learning.
Starting with the big picture makes learning easier by providing
Five factors contribute to effective learning: resourcefulness,
remembering, resilience, reflectiveness and responsiveness.
The three basic mindsets for learning are: ready, go and steady.
To memorize, fix the information in your mind, review it and
develop memory pegs.
Understanding Your Mind
Most people know more about how their cars work than how their
minds work. To improve your ability to learn, you must first
understand how your mind works.
The common notion of intelligence has been warped by the widespread
acceptance of Alfred Binet and William’s Stern’s IQ or intellectual
quotient. IQ as a measure of intelligence places too much importance
on the use of language and figures at the expense of other types of
intelligence like creativity, common sense and control of emotions.
“Learning to learn is learnable.”
Psychologists have identified at least eight types of intelligence, and
scholars like Daniel Goleman are paying more attention to new
concepts like emotional intelligence.
Paul Maclean has proposed that every person actually has three brains,
rather than one:
1. The primitive or reptilian brain, which sits at the bottom of your
brain and governs your most basic survival instincts, such as the
fight-or-flight response, blood circulation, breathing and
2. The limbic brain, which sits like a collar on top of the reptilian
brain, processes emotions, sensory input and long-term
memories. Human beings share this brain with most mammals.
3. The cortex, which is the outer brain wrapped around the limbic
brain, is responsible for advanced learning and higher-order
thinking and functioning.
“Now that ideas have become the currency of success, it is
even more important that we copy and learn from other
people’s. Whereas the theft of a thing leaves an obvious
debt, the imitation of an idea simply breeds more ideas
and leaves the original intact.”
Your brain is also divided into two parts that each handles different
functions. Your left brain mainly handles sequential, mathematical
and logical processing, while your right brain is more creative and
associative in its workings.
Your left brain is more logical and rational, makes judgments and
houses your intellectual functioning. Your right side is the source of
your intuition and imagination. Your right side is also characterized by
playfulness and its ability to create new patterns and solutions.
“When your brain is under severe stress, it can only think
of survival.”
According to one popular theory developed by Ned Hermann, who
worked at General Electric and applied ideas about brain functioning
to the workplace, your brain can be divided into four quarters. People
can be similarly divided into four groups, based upon which quarter of
their brains are dominant.
“To ensure that your brain is powered up, you need to
give it as many new experiences as possible.”
Hermann proposes the following groups:
1. Logical, analytical and mathematical – You are a factfocused problem solver.
2. Imaginative, synthesizer and artistic – You are drawn to
big picture and theoretical thinking. You are full of ideas and
drawn to fantasy.
3. Controlled, conservative and a planner – You are a
process-focused organizer and administrator.
4. Interpersonal, emotional, musical and spiritual – You
are a good communicator, emotionally aware and focused on
your feelings.
Common Patterns
In evaluating theories of learning, it’s important to know how these
biological and functional structures translate into behavioral
characteristics. Human brains share characteristics not only in the
processes through which they work, but also in resultant thinking
“Pattern making is at the heart of your brain’s filing
system, its ability to make sense of what it has learned.”
These basic characteristics are the critical foundations to any effective
learning theory:
1. The brain likes to explore and understand the world, so give your
brain as many new experiences as possible, along with the time
to make sense of them.
2. Your brain likes to make connections, so it will often fill in the
gaps, even when it is lacking information.
3. Your brain likes to create patterns and make sense of what you
have learned.
4. Your brain likes to imitate what it perceives.
5. Your brain doesn’t operate under excessive stress. The optimal
environment for effective learning is a balance between a high
challenge and low threat.
Getting Ready to Learn
To learn effectively, you must be internally and externally ready. In
other words, the things going on in your mind and the things going on
around you must all be conducive to learning. Internally, you need to
be motivated and curious.
“Brain + Personality = Mind.”
You must also be largely free of fear and stress. Some amount of stress
- in the form of a challenge - often can motivate learning, but it’s clear
that any excessive amount of stress inhibits learning. Low self-esteem
can also pose a barrier to learning. As a result, some people will need
to overcome their esteem problems through methods like cognitive
behavioral therapy or neurolinguistic programming before they are
able to improve their ability to learn.
“A model of how we learn - Ready, Go, Steady - can help
you transform the way you perform.”
Improving your ability to learn requires the acquisition of some basic
skills, including:
• Resourcefulness.
• Remembering.
• Resilience.
• Reflectiveness.
• Responsiveness.
These skills are combined and exploited in a process that includes
three phases, each of which correspond to a particular mindset:
1. Ready – You must be in the right emotional state so you can
start learning. You must be in an environment conducive to
learning and, most importantly, you must actively switch on your
2. Go – Once you’re ready, you’ll need to be able to employ a wide
range of techniques and understand how you learn and express
your own creativity. You also need staying power and the ability
to deal with success and failure.
3. Steady – After you learn something, you must reflect on it and
apply it to your own life.
“Spiritual intelligence is about the capacity to make
meaning. It is linked to the capacity to see lives in wholes,
not fragments, and to regenerate ourselves.”
Being optimistic contributes to learning, whereas being pessimistic
will impede it. Exercising your brain improves its performance, just
like any other muscle. Some scholars like Danah Zohar and Ian
Marshall now contend that a sense of meaning - or spiritual
intelligence - can improve your ability to learn. As psychologist Carl
Rogers concludes, learning combines "the logical and intuitive, the
intellect and the feelings, the concept and the experience, the idea and
the meaning."
Switch On Your Mind
Once you understand how your mind works and have achieved a state
of internal and external readiness, it’s time to switch on your mind. In
other words, you must actively engage your mind and prepare to act.
“In too many businesses, learning to learn is not
rewarded. Yet, if learning is the single most potent form
of competitive advance in the Knowledge Age, it is surely
what should be measured and monitored.”
To do this, follow these steps:
Understand what motivates you among the fundamental human
drives, which include curiosity, family, distress avoidance,
independence, order, power, prestige, social acceptance, social
contact and spirituality.
Reward your own learning with extrinsic and internal rewards.
Use the RVPI+M formula to increase your motivation. This refers
to your R (Readiness to learn), V (anticipated Value of the
learning), P (Probability of the learning being effective), I (likely
Impact of the learning on your life) and M (your Motivation to a
particular learning opportunity).
Get the big picture first, so you understand why you are learning.
Balance challenge and threat to create a high-challenge, lowthreat environment.
Find places to learn that are conducive to learning, like home,
work, or a library.
Determine how you learn best: alone or with others; through
research or from a teacher.
Overcome any barriers to learning, including responsibilities that
“Learning to learn involves learning to develop the full
range of your intelligence in your work and in your
personal life.”
There are many everyday considerations that affect how well you learn.
For example, getting enough water - about eight glasses every day and a balanced diet helps the brain function properly. Laughter, music
and adequate sleep also serve to feed the mind.
Going For It
Think of learning as an active process that starts from an actual
experience, followed by a learning cycle as proposed by the Swedish
knowledge expert Klas Mellander. This continual cycle has at its base
As a result of your motivation, you acquire information, process it and
eventually experience a conclusion or "aha" moment, in which you
convert experience and insight into knowledge.
The cycle continues as you convert knowledge into skills and attitude,
and finally gain feedback through which you reflect and refine what
you learned, producing the motivation to learn again.
The process of learning progresses through four steps:
1. Unconscious incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t
2. Conscious incompetence – You realize what you don’t know.
3. Conscious competence – You pay attention to what you are
learning and practice to gain mastery.
4. Unconscious competence – You have achieved an
unconscious mastery.
Your learning style is influenced by three main factors: where you
prefer to learn, how you take in information most easily and how you
handle the information you have taken in. For example, some people
are visual learners, while others rely more on sound.
People can be divided into four categories based on the way that they
process information:
1. Activists – Tend to act first and think later.
2. Reflectors – Like to absorb and think about data before making
a decision.
3. Theorists – Like to think about things in a sequence or fit
things into patterns.
4. Pragmatists – Like to try out new ideas and experiment.
Improving Your Learning Ability
The first step in learning anything new is to pay careful attention and
fix the information in your memory. This isn’t as obvious as it sounds,
because the brain works according to its own set processes.
For example, the brain tends to remember the first and last things that
it observes. Working with that process, it makes sense to break down
large volumes of information - like the content of a long meeting - into
a series of manageable, bite-sized chunks. This will provide more
beginnings and endings for the brain to latch onto. It will also provide
you with the opportunity to identify and create patterns between the
information bites - capitalizing on another natural propensity of the
brain. Finally, use memory pegs like acronyms to help you recall a
sequence of items.
Buttress this process with the qualities of persistence, creativity and
flexibility. Maintain your persistence by adopting a spirit of adventure
- keep yourself interested and focused by trying new things. By keeping
yourself open to new ideas and concepts, you can bring your own
creativity to bear. A sense of adventure and creativity will help to keep
your brain flexible - ready to change, adapt and learn.
About the Author
Bill Lucas is the founding CEO of the Campaign for Learning. He is a
well-known speaker, facilitator, strategist and consultant in the
learning field, and he has advised many organizations, including
Lloyds TSB, Accenture, Centrica, BT, and the Department of Trade and
Industry and Education in Great Britain. He is co-author of more than
20 books, including The Future of Corporate Learning.
Overcoming Addicition
Addictions to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, gambling and sex destroy millions
of lives every year. In clear language, counseling psychologist Michael
Hardiman explains the physical and psychological components of addiction
and details why some people are particularly vulnerable. He is not
concerned with offering broad solutions to this monumental social
problem. Instead, he wants to help individual addicts and their loved ones
untangle themselves from the web of addiction. If you think you or someone
close may be addicted to substances or behaviors, getAbstract strongly
recommends this primer on the nature of addiction.
The desire to seek pleasure or relieve pain fuels addiction.
Addicts use denial and rationalization to avoid acknowledging their
Drug addicts try to duplicate the pleasurable feelings they initially
experienced but cannot.
Television and the Internet can be addictive.
All addictions alter the brain’s chemistry.
Addictive relationships are potentially life threatening.
Few addicts can recover without the support of others.
Boredom is a significant problem for most addicts.
Legal drugs damage society much more than illegal ones.
You can’t force addicts to change. They must make the decision
The Slippery Slope
Science has not determined exactly why some individuals become addicted
to a substance or activity and others do not. Nor is it clear why the intensity
of an addiction differs from person to person. But without a doubt,
dependence creates negative behaviors that harm addicts and those around
“In general, becoming addicted is a gradual process,
measured by the intensity of the compulsion, the depth of the
dependence and the degree of destructiveness.”
These are the four primary elements of addiction:
1. “Compulsion” – Addicts feel they must engage in their addictions.
Although they are making a conscious decision, the drive is
2. “Dependence” – Addicts believe they’ll experience negative
consequences if they don’t act on their addictions.
3. “Regularity” – Addictive behavior is a constant in the addict’s life.
However, frequency can range from three times a year to every day.
4. “Destructiveness” – Addicts’ quality of life inevitably deteriorates,
although the deterioration can be either rapid or gradual.
Factors in Addiction
Professionals look at addiction differently depending on their orientation.
Some medical doctors believe that addiction has a genetic component.
Psychologists point to emotional and societal issues. Religious leaders cite
moral shortcomings.
“Some people seem to be more prone to chemical addiction
than others.”
Pinpointing one cause for addiction is impossible, but three factors always
figure into the equation:
1. The characteristics of the abused substance – Chemicals that
quickly leave the body, such as nicotine, and substances that deliver
short, intense highs, such as crack cocaine, are highly addictive.
2. The addict’s motivation – People seek excitement or euphoria,
they want relief from emotional or physical pain, need self-assurance,
a sense of control or a way to fill a spiritual void.
3. The addict’s susceptibility to dependence – Due to their brains’
chemistry, some people are particularly vulnerable to certain
chemicals or activities, such as gambling.
How Dependence Takes Hold
Addicts often have fond memories of their first drink or pill. The “high”
transported them to a new and wonderful place where they could forget
their troubles, and they are constantly trying to recreate those feelings.
“A very common cause of addiction is the use of chemicals or
addictive behavior to relieve emotional pain.”
Certain kinds of personality changes are typical of addiction:
“Denial” – Addicts often resist facing their pain or admitting they
have a serious problem. They refuse to face reality, even when others
clearly recognize personality and behavioral changes or deteriorating
physical health and appearance.
“Rationalization” – Individuals in the early stages of addiction
frequently try to justify their behavior. The businessman who has a
double scotch every day after work says it relaxes him. The food
addict says eating helps her cope with the demands of her young
children. Addiction can cause ethical human beings to rationalize
stealing from their parents or robbing convenience stores.
“Minimization” – Addicts claim that their addictions are minor
issues. Potheads don’t make the connection between regular smoking
and their lack of motivation or even employment. They insist that
tobacco is far more dangerous than marijuana.
“Projection” – Addicts take out their frustrations on others or
blame the world for their problems. They refuse to take responsibility
for their own behavior or misdeeds.
“Addiction usually brings an increase in the use of denial by
the addict as a defense mechanism to protect himself from the
negative consequences of addiction.”
Physical symptoms of addiction usually are quite noticeable, although you
should never be quick to judge. Wild mood swings, red eyes, runny noses,
sleeping late, constant fatigue, loss of appetite, compulsive lying and
sudden weight loss are typical of drug addictions. The signs may be less
noticeable in people whose addictions are to activities such as gambling or
sex. In these cases, typical life changes include severe financial problems or
long absences from work.
Chemical Abuse
Mood-altering substances affect brain chemistry differently and change
emotions, thinking and functioning to varying degrees.
“The negative impact on society and on human life from the
use of illegal drugs is minuscule in comparison to the damage
from those that are legal.”
Some of the most commonly abused chemicals include:
Alcohol – Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks, is a
potent depressant that affects brain and body functions. Small
amounts of alcohol lower inhibitions and brighten moods. Larger
amounts lead to an increasing loss of control, including slurred
speech, aggressive behavior and poor judgment. In many cases,
alcoholism is progressive. Alcoholics risk losing their jobs, families or
even their lives.
Nicotine – This is the active ingredient in tobacco. It is a highly
addictive stimulant that travels almost directly to the brain through
smoking. Despite documented health risks, millions of people
continue to smoke and incur massive medical bills. Nicotine is
particularly dangerous as it creates both psychological and physical
Tranquilizers – People often abuse benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety
prescription medications such as Xanax and Valium. Addicts develop
a tolerance for tranquilizers and must ingest greater and greater
quantities to attain the initial effect. Tranquilizers also cause
withdrawal symptoms. Sleeping pills such Halcion and Royhypnol fall
into the tranquilizer category.
Amphetamines – Originally manufactured to treat asthma and later
used as diet pills, these powerful stimulants can be extremely
dangerous. They produce an exhilarating high while boosting mental
and physical prowess. However, they also cause anxiety and paranoia.
The severe withdrawal symptoms often lead users to turn to
tranquilizers for relief, leading to “cross addiction.”
Antidepressants – Though these commonly prescribed drugs do
not produce a high, they are addictive because of their effect on the
level of serotonin, the brain chemical that influences mood, according
to some experts. Some individuals who quit taking antidepressants
suffer wild emotional swings and physical discomfort.
Opiates – Heroin is the most widely abused of the drugs that imitate
the natural endorphin high that pleasurable activities, such as sex or
physical exercise, produce in the brain. Users build up a tolerance and
can suffer excruciating withdrawal symptoms.
Hallucinogens – Drugs such as LSD and psychedelic mushrooms
alter the user’s perception of reality and can be dangerous, even
though they are not physically addictive. Marijuana, used
recreationally by millions all over the world, is “mildly hallucinogenic”
and can cause psychological dependence.
Psychostimulants – Addiction to cocaine, which produces a
heightened sense of well-being, can be rapid and devastating. Ecstasy,
a powerful amphetamine and hallucinogen combination, can cause
serious physical problems.
Addiction to Behaviors
Although the outward signs are far less noticeable, psychological addiction
can wreak great havoc. The compulsion to engage in destructive behavior
can be just as strong as the urge to drink alcohol or snort cocaine.
“Children whose intellect and brain functions are still being
formed are particularly vulnerable to computer game
Like chemical abusers, individuals with psychological addictions are
treating their emotional anguish.
The most problematic psychological addictions include:
Gambling – Winning and losing is secondary for the compulsive
gambler, who is addicted to the “action.” These individuals are so
entrenched that not even the prospect of losing their families and
material possessions can stop them.
Eating disorders – Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are insidious
body-image disorders that can be extremely difficult to treat longterm. Anorexics compulsively starve themselves while bulimics binge
and purge, setting in motion a potentially life-threatening cycle.
Shopping – Shopping and buying provides pleasure and distracts
individuals from their problems. Whether they actually need the
items is secondary to the experience.
The small screen – Some individuals need the constant stimulation
of a television or computer. They find quiet unnerving.
Sex – Some people use sexual hookups, pornography and fantasy in a
vain attempt to compensate for lack of intimacy. They lose sight of
normal sexuality, and their behavior can be damaging to their
relationships and mental health.
Work – Workaholics sacrifice their health and family relationships
chasing financial security and fulfillment at the office, even if they
realize that work will never bring complete satisfaction.
Relationships – People in dysfunctional relationships may be
suffering from low self-esteem or have a high pain threshold. They
sometimes remain in relationships despite physical and emotional
The Road to Recovery
Addicts can only begin the journey to health under two conditions: They
must admit they have a problem and they must be willing to change. Most
addicts find the motivation to quit when their habits jeopardize their health,
families or livelihoods. A small percentage of those severely addicted to
alcohol, heroin, cocaine or pills require hospitalization to clear their bodies
of toxic substances. In addition to the primary effects of their addictions,
poor diet and erratic sleep habits can contribute to toxic buildup. Healthy
individuals are less prone to the negative physical and emotional effects
that can stall recovery or even trigger relapses.
“Very few people can make significant changes in their lives
without the support or influence of others.”
Recovering addicts must change their surroundings and the people with
whom they socialize. Almost every American soldier who regularly used
heroin in Vietnam stopped within a year of returning to the different social
setting of the U.S. Thus, alcoholics trying to quit drinking often avoid bars,
nightclubs and restaurants, where familiar sights, smells, sounds or tastes,
or an encounter with a former drinking buddy, can spark a relapse. Even a
whiff of tobacco can entice a former smoker to pick up a cigarette in a weak
moment. Addicts who decide to change often benefit from the support and
guidance of peer self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and
Narcotics Anonymous. People who have been through recovery can help
others. They understand the importance of creating a recovery plan that
includes a structured daily routine with limited distractions. Ultimately,
however, addicts must be self-motivated and view their recovery as a longterm project that will continue to unfold.
Keeping Your Distance
Few experiences in life are as sad as watching a loved one destroy his or her
life through addiction. Friends and family members often expend a great
deal of emotional energy before realizing that they are powerless to halt the
addiction’s onslaught.
“People in addictive relationships do not have a secure sense
of their own identity.”
If someone close to you is an addict, maintain your own mental and
emotional health by following these guidelines:
Do not pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.
Learn all you can about the addiction and enlist the aid of a specialist
Do not engage in “enabling” behavior by giving the addict money or in
any way facilitating his or her substance abuse.
Join Al Anon, Nar Anon or similar support groups that address the
problems and issues of individuals who have close relationships with
Calmly explain to the addict that you believe he or she has a problem
and needs help. Nagging is not effective. In fact, it’s
Do not allow the situation to continue indefinitely. Addicts living in
denial will make your life miserable. Insist that they leave your house.
Do not allow the addict to threaten or abuse you. Contact the police.
Be aware that you can’t convince, cajole or force the addict to change.
You can control your behavior but not that of others.
About the Author
Michael Hardiman is a counseling psychologist who practices in Ireland.
He is the author of Healing Life’s Hurts.
5Sec Rule
by David Meyer
Mel Robbins’s mega bestseller details how you can gain courage,
overcome procrastination and improve your health just by
saying five little words.
Readers have bought more than two million copies of acclaimed
motivational speaker Mel Robbins’s self-help classic, The 5 Second Rule. It
has been translated into more than 30 languages, and received, across a
variety of formats, more than 100,000 five-star reviews. Clearly, Robbins’s
ideas created a niche. A big niche.
Millions of people credit the author’s simple countdown technique with
solving their anxiety and procrastination issues, while boosting their selfconfidence. Robbins details how she herself overcame financial and
psychological challenges by thwarting her brain’s negative orientation and
finding the courage to honor her instincts and pursue her dreams. She
urges you to do the same.
Robbins recounts how her life fell apart in 2009 as her husband’s pizza
restaurant business lost money and she was an unemployed attorney. The
bank had placed a lien on her home, she drank at night to cope with
depression and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Her marriage was
suffering. Things appeared hopeless.
Then, one night, Robbins saw a TV commercial depicting a rocket launch.
The announcer counted down to blastoff: 5-4-3-2-1! Robbins told herself
she would blast out of bed like a rocket the next morning.
Robbins explains that a potent psychological connection exists between
instinctive action and goal-setting.
Your goal-related impulses, urges and instincts are there to
guide you. You need to learn to bet on them.
The next morning, Robbins counted backward from five. Then she got out
of bed. That marked the launch of the “5 Second Rule.”
Robbins explains that this simple act can profoundly affect your mentality
and behavior. Counting backward disrupts your thought patterns, moving
you away from your excuses. She describes the 5 Second Rule as a “starting
ritual” that stimulates your brain’s prefrontal cortex – the seat of cognitive
You have only five seconds between your impulse to take action and your
brain shutting that impulse down with excuses. By counting down, Robbins
contends, you focus your brainpower on the change in behavior you’re
about to instigate. She maintains, and her readers’ reviews fully agree, that
your productivity and confidence will grow exponentially.
The author first mentioned the 5 Second Rule in 2011 during her TEDx
Talk, “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over.” Her speech triggered a viral
online response. Robbins’s consequent research into the science of this rule
showed that people hesitate when facing a challenging or unsettling
scenario. Anxiety and insecurity can flood your system, causing self-doubt
to short-circuit good intentions.
Nothing but Feelings
Feelings prevent people from taking the initiative, Robbins reveals, even
when they know how to fix their problems. She notes that people typically
base their decisions on feelings, not intuition, logic or common sense. She
cites neuroscientist António Damásio, who regards humans as “feeling
machines that think,” not “thinking machines that feel.”
Change your behavior first because when you do, you change
how you perceive yourself.
Robbins asserts that the 5 Second Rule enables you to push past moments
when your feelings scream at you to avoid action. She exhorts you to
implement the 5 Second Rule tomorrow morning by setting your alarm for
half an hour earlier than normal. As soon as it rings, do your countdown
and get out of bed. Integrating this rule into your daily routine will increase
your productivity, and, the author insists, help you overcome interruptions
and distractions. Robbins admits that it won’t be easy; you just have to do
Procrastinating, Robbins explains, doesn’t mean you’re lazy or a poor
planner. It’s a mechanism for dealing with stress. However, when work you
avoid starts piling up, it elevates your stress level, and thus makes you
procrastinate more.
If you want to improve your life, you’ll need to get off your
rear end and kick your own butt.
Robbins urges procrastinators to let go of guilt. Picture yourself in the
future after you finish the task you can’t seem to finish, she says, and vest in
the 5 Second Rule as your starting ritual to get going.
Negative thoughts arrive unannounced, often repeatedly, when your mind
is occupied elsewhere. Robbins acknowledges that you may have to evoke
the 5 Second Rule multiple times a day to combat anxiety.
When your mind takes you somewhere sad, dark, doubtful or
negative, you don’t have to go with it.
When you replace your gloomy thoughts with grateful ones, you can focus
on the positive aspects of your life. Grateful feelings alter your brain
chemistry and trigger the release of dopamine – a feel-good hormone. And
that, Robbins says, makes you want to be even more positive, healthy and
In decades gone by, the most crucial career survival skill for a non-fiction
writer was the ability to stretch a magazine article into a full-length book.
Malcolm Gladwell is the avatar of this skill, and his continued success
speaks to his mastery of it. But today, with attention spans shortening every
second, that crucial skill has mutated. Today’s writers must be able to
stretch a TEDx Talk into a full-length book. And at this contemporary skill,
Robbins is a genius. Her brilliance manifests, for example, in her
remarkable understanding of how to build her brand and her empire of 5
Second Rule books and games.
If you can change your morning routine, you can change
Robbins could easily detail her thematic idea in a 20-minute talk. And she
seems to recognize this, given how much secondary psychological and
philosophical padding she wraps around her revolutionary, easy
and effective method of changing your life. In this, she evokes Brené Brown,
whose many tangents often prove equally fascinating and who offers, as
does Robbins, an array of esoteric experts to cite in furtherance of each
book’s thesis.
Robbins, like Brown, is a lively, charming writer who offers continual
compassion to her readers and encourages them to extend compassion to
themselves. This makes her prose all the more intimate-seeming, and her
sound advice easier to follow.
Mel Robbins’s spinoff universe offers Stop Saying You’re Fine, The High 5
Habit, The 5 Second Journal, various editions of The 5 Second Rule
Game and multiple Audible 5 Second products.
The 7 Habits of Highly
E ective Artists
While it’s unclear whether the seeds of creative talent are innate or
acquired, Blender Guru founder Andrew Price believes that artists can grow
and improve by changing their behaviors to work more effectively. Though
his advice treads well-worn ground, Price provides some useful reminders
that may inspire doubting artists to stay the course. getAbstract
recommends his advice to artists, writers and anyone striving to turn a
creative hobby into a career.
Making art requires daily discipline. Churn out a large portfolio of
work to maximize your learning rather than wasting time honing each
Effective artists borrow techniques and ideas from other creators
whom they admire. The more artists you imitate, the more original
your work will seem.
Mindlessly practicing your craft for hours on end won’t improve your
skills. You must make a conscious effort to learn new techniques to
get to the next level.
Take a break from rough drafts of your work so you can review them
with fresh eyes. Solicit critique from experts, and absorb their advice.
“Create what you love.” To produce your best work, let your “personal
intrinsic motivation” guide you.
Becoming an effective artist requires developing good behaviors and
working hard. Adopt the following seven habits to keep moving forward on
your creative path:
1. “Daily work” – Find time to work on your art every day rather than,
say, setting aside a large chunk of time at the weekend, a plan that
rarely unfolds as you intended. You may feel tired after a long day at
the office, but simply laying out the tools you need to engage in your
creative project will motivate you to work for an hour or two.
2. “Volume, not perfection” – Artists’ pursuit of perfection often
undercuts their progress. To reach the next level of mastery, you must
churn out a large portfolio of work, as Pablo Picasso did. Many artists
spend the majority of their time honing their works’ finer details. Yet
learning and growth occur mainly at the beginning of a creation. The
more work you produce, the better your chances of constructing a
3. “Steal” – No good idea is truly original. Effective artists borrow
techniques and ideas from other creators whom they admire. Save
examples of works you respect, and refer to those compositions when
you need to draw fresh inspiration. The more artists you imitate, the
more original your work will seem.
4. “Conscious learning” – Practice alone doesn’t make perfect. For
instance, no matter how much time you dedicate to mindless
doodling, you won’t improve your drawing. Unless you challenge
yourself to develop new approaches and techniques, your skills will
plateau. Engage in conscious learning to progress.
5. “Rest” – Detach yourself from rough drafts of your work for a spell
so you can review it later with a fresh perspective. Once Stephen King
has written the first draft of a novel, he sets it aside for six weeks. That
distance allows him to return to it with a critical eye.
6. “Get feedback” – Great artists solicit and heed feedback. They
recognize that first drafts are merely launching points for excellent
work. Kanye West collaborated with 38 artists and producers in the
creation of his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, which
many consider the best hip-hop record of the past 20 years.
7. “Create what you love” – Director Christopher Nolan is fascinated
with the workings of the human mind, and his movies explore this
theme. Entrepreneur Elon Musk is fervent about advancing
humanity, and his firms pursue this passion. These creators would
produce mediocre work if “personal intrinsic motivation” didn’t guide
About the Speaker
Artist Andrew Price created Blender Guru, an instructional website that
educates artists in Blender, a 3D computer graphics software product.
Steal like an artist
Artist and poet Austin Kleon writes in an accessible, breezy, conversational
shorthand. Few of his sentences run longer than eight words, and his message is
simple: Learn all you can, develop a library of influences and never stop believing
in your own creativity. His best advice to artists – get out of and stay out of your
own way – recurs throughout the book in various forms, and Kleon offers simple,
effective methods to do just that, organized as 10 creative spurs. His little
sketches and profound, often humorous quotes from great thinkers and artists
from across the centuries feature throughout this pocket-sized guide to
unleashing your inner Picasso. While Kleon’s unchanging tone can feel a bit
precious, getAbstract still recommends carrying his guidebook around for boosts
of creative confidence and doses of friendly, workable commonsense advice.
To nurture your creativity, follow these 10 tips: First, understand that all
artists steal from material that inspires them.
“Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.” Self-knowledge
comes from creative action.
“Write the book you want to read.” If you’re stumped creatively, work on
whatever is the most fun.
“Use your hands” to get the physicality back into your creativity.
Your work and your interests can meld to create something totally new, so
“side projects and hobbies are important.”
When you “do good work…share it with people” online. Find inspiration on
the web.
“Leave home.” To be creative, you may have to hit the road.
“Be nice,” because the world is so small now that, more than ever, manners
“Be boring.” A routine and a paying job can fuel your creative work.
“Creativity is subtraction.” Cull what’s unnecessary, and leave what’s
Creative License
Artists and creators throughout history have known that, as Pablo Picasso said,
“Art is theft.” Every innovator has built on the work of others, using ideas,
formats or things in fresh and exciting ways. Originality doesn’t exist. Everything
is a confluence of influences, thefts, mutations and interpretations. Even the Bible
says, “There’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Whether you’re an
artist or you’re simply looking to add some creativity to your life, consider these
10 ideas:
1. “Steal Like an Artist”
First, start by looking around for something worth appropriating. If copying,
altering or borrowing it has no value, look for another inspiration. Regarding the
world through the prism of “Is it worth stealing?” will keep you from wasting time
wondering if something has intrinsic or aesthetic value. What matters is whether
it serves you. And it needn’t even help you today. Remember what you reject; you
might want to pinch it “tomorrow or a month or a year from now.”
“Every artist gets asked the question, ‘Where do you get your
ideas?’ The honest artist answers, ‘I steal them’.”
Once you acknowledge that what you create will never be unique, any fear of
owning and accepting your influences will vanish. You are the sum of your family
genetics and of your “genealogy of ideas.” You choose the experts you listen to,
the music that moves you, the books that stimulate you, the art that speaks to
your soul, and the movies you must see again and again. These influences, along
with a variety of others, shape your artistic identity – your creative roots.
“You are...a mash-up of what you choose to let into your life.”
Don’t try to learn the entire scope and legacy of the art you hope to make; you’ll
drive yourself crazy with overload. Pick “one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role
model” – who profoundly affects you. Learn all you can about that person and his
or her influences. Study those influences and learn who influenced them. “Climb
up the tree as far as you can go.” Once you’ve climbed high enough, create your
“own branch.”
“Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you
collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”
When you’ve established your set of creative ancestors, honor them. Regard
yourself as the continuation of their work. Put photos of the artists you love
around your workspace. Select what you want these artists to teach you and
ignore everything else. Read as much as you can. The books you start out with
may not help you immediately, but they will definitely take you to the ones that
will help you the most.
“The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t
refuse you as an apprentice. You can learn whatever you want
from them.”
Always carry a pen and paper to write down whatever occurs to you wherever you
have an idea. Never be self-conscious about it – you are making yourself smarter
and more observant. Note the conversations people are having as they pass by.
“Copy your favorite passages out of books.” Photograph what catches your eye.
Maintain a “swipe file” – a notebook or tape recorder or cellphone in which you
store the ideas you steal from other artists and from the world around you.
2. “Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started”
You may not fully know yourself, and if you expend all your energy navel-gazing,
you never will. Self-knowledge derives from action – creative action. Nobody can
tell you where “the good stuff” springs; it comes from being present and doing
your work. Think later – work now.
“You are only as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.”
Behaving like a writer or a musician or an artist will get you to your own style, so
“fake it ’til you make it.” Practice makes perfect. Emulate those who inspire you,
but don’t slavishly copy their work; because people aren’t able to imitate anything
perfectly, the results you get will be uniquely yours. Try to understand your idols’
motivations and worldviews. If you can see the world through their eyes, you’re
on your way to getting to the heart of creativity.
3. “Write the Book You Want to Read”
When writers wonder what to work on, other writers or teachers often tell them,
“Write what you know.” That is the worst possible advice. Never mind what you
know – write what you’d like to read. Write what makes you smile when you read
it. Write what makes you want to read more and write more. If you’re stumped
creatively, pick whatever is the most entertaining to you – not the hardest or the
most profound, but the most fun.
“Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.”
For example, indulge in “fan fiction”: Come up with the sequel to a popular movie
or book. Compose your favorite band’s next album. Study your inspirational
gurus’ work and figure out where you’d make improvements or additions. “Do the
work you want to see done.”
4. “Use Your Hands”
Work produced on a computer is too abstract. To experience all the joy and
knowledge that comes from creating, you must use your hands. “You need to find
a way to bring your body into your work.” Your brain learns from your body just
as your body learns from your brain. Pick up your drumsticks or your paintbrush
or your welding torch or just your pen and paper – get the physicality back into
your creativity.
“Your morgue file is where you keep the dead things that you’ll
later reanimate in your work.”
Author Austin Kleon’s first book was a collection of poetry he made by blacking
out lines from newspaper stories with a marker. That gave him full tactile
engagement with his materials – cutting newspapers, wielding the marker,
combining two different lines to make a third – thus following the crucial creative
formula, “1 + 1 = 3.”
“If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I
started ‘being creative,’ well, I’d be sitting around trying to figure
myself out instead of making things.”
Try making a workspace with two sides, one “analog” and one “digital.” Your
computer and electronics live on the digital side. All the work you do with your
hands – which can include writing drafts in longhand or drawing cartoons –
happens on the analog side. Keeping these worlds separate nourishes your
creative impulses.
5. “Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important”
The things you do when you’re avoiding activities you think you’re supposed to be
doing will invariably turn out to be your most important work. That’s why you
should never restrict yourself to one project at a time. The activity you pick up to
distract yourself from your main work may be what your heart most desires.
When you have several projects going on at once, you can “practice productive
procrastination” on one by working hard on another. And “if you’re out of ideas,
wash the dishes.”
“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the
womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by
pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”
Don’t ignore something you’re passionate about to focus on something else. Your
work and your interests can meld to create something totally new. Don’t discard
what moves you, including hobbies. A hobby is creative work that won’t bring you
money or fame, but “it makes you happy.” If you like to play the guitar, for
example, go jam with your friends on weekends. All these aspects – your hobbies,
passions and procrastinations – are manifestations of your creative self. “Don’t
worry about unity – what unifies your work is the fact that you made it.”
6. “The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It with People”
When you toil in obscurity, you get to make all your mistakes in private. Plus, you
can do whatever you want. Work hard at your art every day. You will get better.
And when you do, share it. At one time, you had to find a gallery to show your art
or a club that would let your band play or a magazine that would print your
articles. Now it’s simpler: “Put your stuff on the Internet.”
“Your hands are the original digital devices. Use them.”
Sharing your work online requires two steps: 1) “Wonder at something” and 2)
“Invite others to wonder with you.” Think about things and ideas that move you
or are on your mind. If nothing’s on your mind, don’t worry: You will find ideas to
discuss simply by putting yourself out onto the web. The Internet is a potent
“incubator” for work you may not even know you’re about to start. Some people
fear that going online will drain their creativity, but it’s more likely that the
Internet will inspire you.
“A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.”
Absorb and learn all the necessary technical web skills. Create your own website;
learn about social media and blogging. Spend only as much online as makes you
comfortable. If you don’t want to share your full concepts, instead offer some tips
or links to help others. Don’t worry about people poaching your ideas: “You can
share your dots without connecting them.”
7. “Geography Is No Longer Our Master”
Location means little today. The world is your world, and the world you make is
the world people come to visit. No matter where you live or how alienated you
might feel from your surroundings, a community of like-minded souls is only a
click away. If the physical world discourages you, create your own realm. Fill your
area with art, movies, music and books that make you feel whole. “All you need is
space and time – a place to work, and some time to do it.”
“You don’t put yourself online only because you have something
to say – you can put yourself online to find something to say.”
And whether you’re ready or not, you eventually have to “leave home.” You must
shed your normal routine and most-loved places to go spend time around people
who don’t think like you. Going to new places makes you new and makes your
“brains work harder.” As for where to go, “bad weather leads to better art,” so
consider someplace where the summers are hot and steamy or the winters are
dark and cold. Find a place where artists, writers and filmmakers congregate. It
helps if the local cuisine rocks. “You have to find a place that feeds you –
creatively, socially, spiritually and literally.” And, wherever you go, your online
community will still be there.
8. “Be Nice”
The world is so small now that, more than ever, manners matter. If you speak
poorly of someone online, they will know it all too soon. To crush your online
enemies, pretend they don’t exist. To gain new buddies online, say something
kind about them. If somebody makes you mad, don’t respond; head for your
workspace and let your anger fuel your work. Find people online who are
“smarter and better than you,” and, when you find them, listen to what they’re
talking about. If, over time, you come to realize that you are the smartest person
who’s doing the best work, find somewhere else to hang out.
“Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art.”
You will go through long stretches during which no one will care about anything
you do, say, build or post. To get through those lonely days, create a “praise file.”
Keep emails or tweets or notes that say nice things about your work. Delete
anything unkind immediately. Save your praise file for a day when you’re feeling
down or discouraged. Then read through all that wonderful encouragement – and
believe every single word.
9. “Be Boring”
The biggest problem with pursuing the myth of the self-destructive artist is that,
sooner or later, you will self-destruct. Your energy is precious. Apply it to your
art, not to burning yourself out.
“In this age of information abundance and overload, those who
get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out.”
Taking care of yourself also means taking care of your finances. “Do yourself a
favor: learn about money.” Track your expenditures. Keep away from credit cards,
expensive coffee and fancy electronics. If you can’t make a living from your art,
employment will keep you sane and properly disciplined: “A day job gives you
money, a connection to the world and a routine.” If you cover your expenses, you
never have to compromise on your art for money. You can create what you want
until your work is so good you can live off the proceeds of selling it.
But how do you find time for your creative pursuits if you have a job?
Surprisingly, a routine helps you be more productive, because a schedule lets you
identify the finite amount of time you have to devote to your passions. Diligently
work that period of time every single day, even on holidays or when you’re ill.
Soon enough, you won’t even notice you’re working.
10. “Creativity Is Subtraction”
Paradoxically, restrictions – even conceptual ones – can focus your creativity.
Author Dr. Seuss took on his editor’s dare to write a children’s book using just 50
different words; Green Eggs and Ham is now a classic. Cull what’s unnecessary
from your work, but leave what’s brilliant. Use what you have now to create. Cut
back on your most ambitious ideas. Less is more.
About the Author
Work by artist and writer Austin Kleon has appeared in The Wall Street
Journal and on PBS NewsHour and NPR’s Morning Edition. He is also the
author of Newspaper Blackout.
The Death of the Artist
by David Meyer
Essayist and critic William Deresiewicz offers a
depressingly realistic assessment of the agonies of
earning a living as an artist.
Award-winning essayist, critic and bestseller William Deresiewicz
warns that big tech only wants to pirate art, so that it can
make more money. As a result, artists can’t make a living. The
author sees today’s artist as a paid producer. But, he insists, artists
must regard themselves as workers and organize to undermine big
tech’s cultural monopoly.
Deresiewicz’s analysis pre-dates the pandemic, which
further decimated the arts economy, but his overview
remains relevant for artists, nonprofit leaders and everyone who
cares about art. His promise: Pay artists to make art they love, and
they’ll make art you love.
Deresiewicz’s book drew admiring reviews from a fascinating mix
of readers – art critics, authors, musicians, choreographers –
those who learned the hard way about making a living as an artist.
Art Is Work
Artists should get paid. They invest in their own work, and with
the money they earn from the “culture industry” – publishers,
record companies, art galleries and television – they finance their
lives and their next projects.
If art is work, then artists are workers. No one likes to
hear this.
Almost no artists are middle-class. They’re either poor or wildly
successful. Funding for the arts in the United States across all
levels of government totals only $1.38 billion – 0.0066 of
the GDP. Artists must be entrepreneurs. If they don’t work, they
don’t earn.
Where Artists Live
The cost of living has been rising everywhere, but nowhere as
quickly as in the cultural hubs of Los Angeles and New York. Rent
is a major problem, since artists need living and studio space. The
expectation is that artists must dwell near their patrons,
publishers and galleries. But galleries and publishers are also
suffering as increasing amounts of international money “parks” in
big population centers, driving up rents for residents. One result is
that more than 20% of music venues in New York have closed
since the early 2000s. In San Francisco, a 2015 survey found that
70% of artists had experienced being evicted from their homes or
The solution for artists is to leave urban centers and start new
communities in less-frequented locations with affordable rents.
Artists have found Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Denver, Austin,
Oakland, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Anchorage, Alaska appealing.
These places will not stay affordable for long. Hipsters and
yuppies prefer the authenticity of artist enclaves. When they
discover these little Bohemias, the places lose their Bohemian
status. Cool cafés and nightclubs appear, displacing artists, as
developers convert creative industrial workspaces into residential
lofts. To make matters worse, poor but educated white artists then
“colonize” neighborhoods that belong to people of color. This
pattern repeats and repeats in affordable cities all over America.
The Web
The internet’s devastating economic impact is destroying the
music industry. With streaming services owned by the “Big Three”
– Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora – artists get paid only a few
cents per stream. The most lucrative contracts are for “synchs” –
licensing music to video games, commercials and movies.
Amazon decimated publishing by underpricing on a mass scale.
Publishers have fewer resources to cultivate new writers,
especially literary ones. Writers must write for corporations or
The industrial economy laid claim to our bodies. The
knowledge economy laid claim to our minds. Now the
creative economy is laying claim to our souls.
The exception is television. TV’s demand for content seems
endless. Between Netflix and Amazon, viewers will spend
almost $25 billion on content by 2022. Writers have to write spec
scripts and network constantly, but with new technology, anyone
can put a pilot or web series online. Netflix and Amazon are
devouring the market, which, in the future, may mean far fewer
edgy, niche projects.
The number of college degrees earned in the visual and
performing arts increased by an incredible 97% from 1991
to 2006. What was once a knowledge economy is now a “creative”
economy. Art school graduates bring creative skills to every field,
because creativity is the new “yeast that makes the dough rise.”
One of the presiding commonplaces of our age, to deny
which is to commit a kind of thought crime, is that
everyone’s an artist.
Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees confer legitimacy on artists,
giving them a network and providing teaching jobs, though many
of those jobs are precarious and pay poorly. Teachers show
themselves to be increasingly unqualified to help art students
learn to make money. Students need other skills, such as critical
thinking, speaking and writing, especially grant writing.
Pirating is rife, and it is lucrative for pirate websites, payment
processors, ad sellers and Google. Too many people think they
deserve free material, a bias that big tech encourages. Piracy is
theft. Art is not a gift, and information “doesn’t want to be free.”
If your business model depends on not paying people,
it isn’t a business model; it’s a criminal conspiracy.
Creating the illusion that everything on the internet should be free
profoundly damages the arts and artists’ careers.
Deresiewicz states the obvious when he says organizing artists
isn’t easy because they value individual autonomy. Artists seldom
support one another, even if they personally benefit.
Musicians work for love, writers will write for free,
amateurs make better art: All of this is baby talk,
To help artists, law enforcement must hold big tech accountable.
Governments must rein in Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.
It should also roll back destructive policies, tax the wealth,
reinvest in the arts and raise the minimum wage. If you pay artists
for their work, they will make more art.
Straightforward message
Deresiewicz’s bleak assessment of the art world’s prospects for
creative careerists is as depressingly accurate as his proffered
solutions are pie in the sky; governments aren’t going to tax the
rich, raise the minimum wage or increase arts funding. Artists are,
as ever, on their own. To the author’s credit, he attempts no
cheerleading and, to say the least, he’s no Pollyanna.
His message is straightforward: Artists must learn to negotiate the
contemporary economic landscape because the world will not
offer them a helping hand. Deresiewicz’s opus would be
considerably more depressing if he wasn’t such an able, witty, farseeing writer with a such clear, powerful sense of compassion for
artists and outrage at their dilemma.
William Deresiewicz also wrote the bestsellers Excellent
Sheep and A Jane Austen Education. Other readings regarding
artists in America include How To Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz,
Art/Work by Heather Darcy Bhandari, and You Are an Artist by
Sarah Urist Green.
Mindful Self-Discipline
Some people mistakenly believe self-discipline encourages selfshaming or imposes unwelcome restrictions on their lives. Meditation
teacher and coach Giovanni Dienstmann aims to counter these
misconceptions by extolling the virtues of mindful self-discipline.
Cultivating self-discipline, he argues, improves your focus and wellbeing and gives you the personal power you need to achieve your goals.
Dienstmann’s comprehensive three-pillar approach helps you uncover
your true aspirations, gain self-awareness to overcome obstacles and
start your journey.
Use the power of self-discipline to journey toward your goals
without fear, doubt or distraction.
Cultivate your aspirations by discovering your purpose – the
“why” behind your goals.
Once you realize your true aspirations, establish the “how” of
achieving your goals by building self-awareness.
Advance your aspirations with decisive action.
Implement self-discipline in your daily life by integrating your
activity with your aspirations and values.
Use the power of self-discipline to journey toward your
goals without fear, doubt or distraction.
Self-discipline embodies more than just good habits, organizational
prowess or time management proficiency; it is an essential life skill.
Self-disciplined people possess the ability to find happiness and live a
fully engaged life. When you learn the art of self-discipline, you
acquire the capacity to navigate the distractions and busyness of
life today and to achieve your future goals.
“Self-discipline is the art of living in harmony with your
goals and values.”
To cultivate self-discipline, align your actions with your aspirations
and acquire the power you need to achieve them. With self-discipline,
you integrate the many virtues that enrich your life, such as growth,
self-control, determination and optimism. You stay focused on your
future, finish what you start, resist temptation and use your time well.
“Without self-discipline, the loftiest goal is just wishful
thinking. With self-discipline, even a mediocre goal will
take you somewhere.”
Think of self-discipline as the one life skill that gives you the power
and ability to work toward your true aspirations. It helps you resist the
diversion of temporary, fleeting enjoyment today at the expense of
your future success and happiness. When you balance your ambitions
with your expectations, you find a greater sense of self-acceptance and
Consider the benefits you gain with self-discipline:
The ability to work through distractions and focus on activities
that align with your goals.
• The ability to break your bad habits and develop good ones.
• Improved relationships with family and friends.
The three pillars of mindful self-discipline focus on the “why” (y0ur
purpose), the “how” (your awareness) and the “what” (your actions):
Discover your “why” by probing your true aspirations.
Establish your “how” by building self-awareness.
Plan your “what” and call yourself to action.
Cultivate your aspirations by discovering your purpose –
the “why” behind your goals.
When you start a journey, you usually have a goal. For example, you
begin a boat trip with a specific destination in mind, or you set
personal goals to lose weight or to improve your work productivity.
Your aspiration’s “deeper why” underlies that goal. For example, you
want to lose weight to feel healthy and energized; or you want to
improve your work output to highlight your skills and challenge
yourself. While your journey’s destination represents your goal, your
underlying purpose is why you want to get there.
“We all have a deep aspiration inside of us, waiting to be
discovered, owned and realized.”
Start with your goals in mind, then take these seven steps to clarify
your true aspiration:
1. “Find your purpose” – Examine your core values and what
you truly care about. Think about what inspires you the most,
consider experiences where you felt your best or how you choose
to spend your free time and money. Analyze a current goal and
examine why you want to achieve it.
2. “Magnify your purpose” – Measure the effects of both
fulfilling or disregarding your aspirations in various areas of your
life. Consider your family, your wealth, your career and your
3. “Specify your purpose” – Further evaluate your aspirations
with both quantitative and qualitative measures and create
effective goals based on those measures. The SMART goal
concept, for example, encourages you to design goals that are
specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. You
generate more motivation when you set clear and attainable
4. “Prioritize your purpose” – Measure your goals against the
resources you can commit – your time, money and energy. To
truly follow through with your aspirations, you must give your
goals the attention and time they need.
5. “Resolve self-sabotage” – Recognize and resolve conflicting
feelings you project toward your aspirations. For example, while
you sincerely want to speak out more at work, part of you may
fear judgment. Likewise, you may want to curtail your time spent
on social media, but you fear missing out.
6. “Cultivate your mind-set” – Take full ownership of your
purpose and truly believe in your abilities to achieve. Trusting in
yourself instills motivation and gives you the energy you need to
7. “Make your offering” – Decide what aspects of your
personality hold you back and cause you to disconnect with your
aspirations. For example, to increase your productivity, you need
to stop sleeping late in the morning. To become fit, stop having
that chocolate bar every day. Recognize and break the habits that
will hinder your ability to achieve your goals.
Once you realize your true aspirations, establish the
“how” of achieving your goals by building selfawareness.
Building self-awareness helps you establish how to move forward on
your desired journey. Being self-aware provides you with the ability to
choose. For example, if you want a healthy lifestyle, but recognize you
love junk food, your awareness gives you the willpower to choose
aspiration over temptation.
“[Awareness] gives you the freedom to choose how to
respond to life as it happens, thus helping you live in
alignment with your goals and values.”
Awareness also means you refrain from shaming yourself if you falter,
since that invites a cycle of emotional stress and negativity. Choose
instead to forgive yourself and recommit to your goal.
Practice three methods daily to help yourself build self-awareness and
stay on track with your aspirations:
1. Meditate at the start of your day to spark your awareness and
clearly see what you need to do.
2. Reflect – by journaling or tracking – at the end of each day to
bring perspective and focus on how you aligned your emotions
and your choices with your goals.
3. Integrate your aspirations throughout the day with activity.
The PAW method – Pause, Awareness, Willpower – is an essential
practice to help you fight impulses and distractions. It encourages you
to stop and reflect before taking action:
When you pause, you slow down and consciously think before
acting on impulses – for example, when you encounter a conflict
with your aspirations, such as eating junk food or smoking.
Pausing provides you with the time and space to become aware of
your choices. Do the available actions take you nearer to or
further from your goals? For example, you hit the snooze button
(further), eat a healthy lunch (nearer) and stop at the gym after
work (nearer). Tally your score at the end of the day to see how
well your choices reflect your intentions.
• Finally, use willpower, if needed, to intentionally shift your
Apply the PAW method to overcome daily life’s obstacles, such as
idleness, diversions and rationalizations. Pause and gain perspective
by looking at your long-term goals. Connect emotionally to the version
of yourself who follows through – who accepts temporary discomfort
today in exchange for long-term success.
Advance your aspirations with decisive action.
Action requires effort and planning. Without a plan, you will be
unlikely to move forward. Planning also uncovers how much effort it
requires to advance your aspirations.
Take these four steps to plan your journey:
1. Select one aspiration and one of its SMART goals.
2. Establish separate tasks or milestones.
3. Set start and end dates.
4. Repeat for each goal.
Once you establish your milestones, design habits to strengthen your
commitment. Your milestones may require action habits, such as
writing in a journal or committing to daily meditation, or replacement
habits that require you to introduce a new habit to replace a harmful
Effective habits are both specific and enjoyable:
Specific habits describe the what, when and where of your
activity. For example, if you set a goal to write a book, establish a
habit not just to write every day, but to write a certain number of
pages after dinner in your office.
• If you don’t enjoy the habits you set, you likely will abandon your
commitment. Find a process you enjoy or can learn to enjoy.
To form habits, create effective cues that will prompt you to action.
You likely already unconsciously respond to cues today. When your
phone dings, for example, you pick it up. The smell of coffee prompts
you to crave a cup. Cues also encourage negative habits. When you
wake up feeling tired, you may snooze the alarm or when you see a pile
of papers on your desk, procrastination likely kicks in. Creating
purposeful habits requires that you set deliberate cues which inspire
positive action.
Create a template with your cues and use your environment to prompt
action: “When X happens, I will do Y.” For example, when you see your
running shoes by the door, you will go for a run; when you see your
journal on your bed, you will write in it before retiring; or when you
get paid, you will plan your monthly budget. Until the desired action
becomes automatic, give yourself a cue.
Just as cues are important for spurring action, so are
rewards which will drive you to maintain those actions. Types of
rewards include the following:
Intrinsic rewards, which include enjoying the activity itself or the
pleasure you get knowing it moves you closer to your goal.
Extrinsic rewards, which include adding a pleasurable activity
after your action, such as watching a movie after completing your
Painful consequences, such as losing something if you fail to do
your activity.
Implement mindful self-discipline in your daily life that
integrates your activity with your aspirations and values.
Consider effective ways to harmonize mindful self-discipline and your
aspirations, such as time management, routines and meditation.
Managing your time wisely ensures your daily activities align with your
aspirations. Successful time management, which mirrors the pillars of
self-discipline, includes time prioritization and time awareness. Key
elements include the following:
Planning, which allows you to determine priorities and ensures
you carry out your intentions.
• Setting boundaries by establishing what you will and will not do.
• Engaging time awareness to protect your schedule from getting
off track.
• Focusing on your priorities and rebuffing distractions.
When you set and follow routines, you are more likely to adopt the
fundamentals of mindful self-discipline. Begin with the morning and
evening routines where you have more control. The morning routine
prepares you for the day, while the evening routine offers a time to
review and wind down. Both routines share common principles of a
fixed start time and length, a structured set of habits, effective focus
and an achievable set of activities.
“Self-discipline is a form of personal power. It’s the power
to accomplish the goals you set for yourself and get things
done… Use it wisely. ”
Meditation offers a superior method of awareness training and serves
as a solid foundation upon which to build mindful self-discipline.
Meditation also benefits your overall health and well-being. Several
types of meditation exist, but all involve relaxation, focus and
awareness. If you find one style of meditation decreases your passion
and drive, try another method. You should focus on certain key
areas when you incorporate meditation into your life:
Habit – To reap the benefits of meditation, practice it every day.
Technique – Choose the approach that best fits you and your
lifestyle from among the many styles of meditation available.
• Transformation – Extend your meditation practice into your
day by incorporating the ability to pause, reflect and manage
your emotions.
Through mindful self-discipline, you enhance your virtues, or personal
strengths – such as patience, courage, confidence and resilience –
which you can then use to navigate everyday challenges. These virtues
also boost your well-being. Make sure you balance your strengths to
prevent them from becoming liabilities:
Balance accountability with letting go to prevent being too hard
on yourself.
• Balance self-belief with humility to prevent arrogance or
• Balance perseverance with acceptance to avoid staying with
something long after it loses its usefulness.
When you develop mindful self-discipline, you give yourself the power
to understand your true aspirations and set yourself on a journey
to accomplish anything you want to achieve.
About the Author
Giovanni Dienstmann is a best-selling author and speaker who
advocates for improving your life through self-discipline and
meditation. He coaches and teaches meditation at schools, hospitals
and spiritual centers.
David Allan advocates allocating your limited time by managing
your resources, workplace and actions. To begin, identify what
you need to do well in advance of when you need to do it.
Many people today take on more projects than they can handle, David Allen
argues, thereby increasing their stress. Continual change and fuzzy
boundaries hamper many projects, he explains, so you may not be sure
when you’ve even finished a job. This lack of borders creates added work
and spurs unnecessary, frequent memos and discussions. “If it’s on your
mind,” the author writes, “your mind isn’t clear.”
Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be
captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I
call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to
regularly and sort through.
An author, lecturer and founder of his own management consulting,
coaching, and training company, Allen has another bestseller to his
credit, Ready for Anything. He is a popular speaker on personal and
organizational effectiveness. He explains that to accomplish your projects
effectively and efficiently, you need to reach two goals. First, capture
everything you need to do, now or in the future, in a logical, organized,
reliable system that records everything outside your memory, so you don’t
have to think about these issues until you are ready. Second, discipline
yourself to make advance decisions about how much information and
instruction you need to facilitate planning what you’re doing and to change
plans as necessary.
You probably have a complete calendar, Allen recognizes, but he warns that
it’s not a sufficient organizing tool – it shows only a small portion of what
you have to organize. Instead, he advocates a thorough, all-encompassing
organizational system that combines everyday details with “big-picture
Appropriate Ripples
To put yourself in the right mental state to get things done, Allen offers an
attractive metaphor: imagine that you have a mind like a body of calm
water. If you throw a pebble into it, the water reacts appropriately. The
ripples created on the surface, he reminds you, are in proportion to the
pebble’s mass and impact, and once the water has absorbed the impact, it
returns to a calm, tranquil state.
How does the water respond? The answer is, totally
appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it
returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or under react.
Allen urges you to approach tasks with this level of awareness, so you give
each task appropriate attention and effort. Efficiency, he underscores,
means managing your commitments appropriately, so don’t make too many
promises that add to your stress. If something is unfinished, release it from
your mind. Put it in a trusted collection system so you can sort the
information when you’re ready. Once you decide what actions to take, set
up a system of reminders and check it regularly. To test this approach, Allen
suggests with signature practicality, pick the project or situation that
concerns you most at the moment. Write a list of everything you need to do
to move it along. This should give you a sense of control, relaxation and
focus. Then tuck the list away to get it out of your mind literally and
metaphorically until you’re ready to deal with it.
Managing Your Actions
Clarify each project’s action steps before you start, rather than proceeding
and having to spend more time dealing with problems as they develop.
The key ingredients of relaxed control are clearly defined
outcomes (projects) and the next actions required to move
them toward closure, and reminders placed in a trusted
system that is reviewed regularly.
Allen finds that most people are so involved in day-to-day commitments
that they lack the time and breathing room to focus on the big picture. The
cure: get yourself up-to-date and in control of issues that concern you now,
and then broaden your view. Plan and manage your commitments, projects
and actions with horizontal or vertical controls. Horizontal controls
coordinate your actions across your activities. Vertical controls guide your
thinking through individual topics and projects, such as a sequence of tasks.
With these controls, Allen insists you can get things off your mind and do
them in sequence to gain control of your work and your life.
Mastering Your Work ow
Allen outlines five steps for managing the horizontal aspect of your life by
putting everything into an organized system. The first step is collecting. In
one of his more powerful and practical metaphors, he tells you to get
everything out of your head and into a “collection” system. Pick your tools –
from a physical in-tray to an electronic system – and sort things into as few
buckets as possible. To empty these buckets regularly, take step two and
process their contents. With each item, ask yourself “What is it?” and decide
whether to deal with it now, defer it or discard it. If you are going to act
now, decide whether to do it yourself or delegate it.
Then, you’re ready for step three, organizing. This might be Allen’s most
basic recommendation, but it abounds in common sense and clarity: Set up
an organizing system, such as putting non-actionable items in categories
called “trash,” “incubation tools” or “reference storage.” Categorize your
action items, perhaps with a list of projects, plans and materials, a calendar
and a reminder check-list. Contain each category physically or
electronically. Then, review your identified actions and options weekly
and update your lists, so you feel clear, current and complete. The
culminating step is to decide what you are actually going to do. Check four
criteria: your context (location and tools), time, energy (physical and
mental), and priorities. With those factors aligned, Allen assures you, you
can decide which action matters most to do now.
Natural Project Planning
Allen then walks you through the vertical component of productivity. He
lays out five more steps (he’s a list guy) that, he believes, reflect how people
unconsciously think and plan relatively easy tasks. He understands that not
many people follow these steps when consciously planning a project. Thus,
Allen concludes, informal, “natural planning” often garners better results. It
reflects the real thought process people use to address daily tasks, like
getting dressed.
The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what
to do at any point in time. The real issue is how we manage
Begin by “defining your purpose and principles.” Determine what methods
work for you, align your resources and motivate yourself to act. Then focus
so you can generate ideas and set goals. Brainstorm with tools that help you
visualize and grapple with your options, such as mind mapping or listing
ideas to analyze later. Don’t judge or criticize; emphasize quantity not
quality. His next two steps are entirely logical. Organize the pieces you need
for each project and sort them into their components, processes or
priorities. Finally, note your follow-up actions and jobs you’re waiting for
others to complete.
Stress-Free Productivity
Allen encourages you to put his basic principles into practice by carving out
the time, space and tools you need. Create a block of time and prepare a
workstation with the necessary space, furniture and gear. Allen treats his
readers a bit like schoolchildren as he details the necessary tools and
supplies. Gather and organize your stuff and tidy your cubbies. Keep a
running list of projects to start, projects underway, commitments, budgets,
pending communications, seminars to attend, and so forth. Put loose items
in your inbox, and work through it until it’s empty. Discard anything you
don’t need, complete quick actions, delegate, add ticklers to your system
and consolidate larger projects. Allen reiterates his thesis: now that you’re
organized, you have the clarity to know what to do next.
Sound Ideas, Somewhat Obscured
David Allen can get in his own way, and this can obscure his worthy,
practical advice. His observations about stress, productivity and how the
mind works complicate his useful time- and task-management techniques.
The popularity of this manual and it’s 2015 update probably owes a lot to
people’s stress levels. However, his method has genuine, wide-ranging
value. He argues for using common sense and dealing with physical and
mental clutter through a series of do-able deeds. As Allen recognizes, the
discipline of adhering to his methods can add greatly to your efficiency –
and your peace of mind.
No Excuses /Bryan Tracy
In this ambitious work, Brian Tracy presents a formula for overcoming
life’s major challenges. It boils down to applying self-discipline to
achieve overall success and happiness. Tracy’s topics range from acting
with integrity to making sales to strengthening your marriage. With
such a broad span, his advice is necessarily general and elementary.
However, if you avoid looking for specific solutions, and focus on the
overall theme of the book, you will find it quite helpful. Tracy espouses
that you need to accept responsibility for your own contentment and
career. His “No Excuses” approach eliminates handy scapegoats and
teaches that you must take charge of your own destiny. getAbstract
recognizes that much of the book’s counsel appears in various forms in
this prolific author’s previous work. However, that’s no excuse for not
giving it a thorough read.
To be happy and successful, stop making excuses and
concentrate on making progress.
Employ 21 self-discipline methods to succeed in every aspect of
your life.
To best utilize those methods, clearly define your goals.
Accept responsibility for your own happiness; don’t blame others
for your problems.
Master your craft and develop your skills to increase your
earnings potential.
Focus only on those activities that will help you achieve your
desired results.
Succeeding in business requires self-discipline and a thorough
understanding of sound business principles.
Manage your time efficiently by prioritizing your tasks and then
completing them in order of importance.
The ingredients of happiness are good health, meaningful work
and relationships, financial independence and living up to your
Invest in your spiritual health to attain inner peace.
“Losers Make Excuses; Winners Make Progress”
You can always come up with dozens of reasons why you haven’t
achieved your goals. Perhaps you had an overbearing mother, or the
economy is tough or your boss doesn’t appreciate you. The list of
excuses is endless. However, if you want to be successful, redirect the
energy you put into making excuses into making progress. You will
surprise yourself. Life is difficult for everybody, but successful people
achieve their goals in spite of life’s obstacles. They eat “dinner before
dessert.” They forfeit immediate pleasure for long-term satisfaction.
They set goals, work hard and apply themselves. They develop and
repeat good career practices until they become second nature. This
requires self-discipline. By applying the following 21 methods of selfdiscipline to every aspect of your life, you will improve in the three
major arenas: “Personal Success; Business, Sales and Finances; and
Personal Life.” By practicing “self-mastery” and “self-control,” you will
like yourself more. You’ll feel a sense of pride and accomplishment,
and enjoy an enhanced self-image. Ultimately, you’ll feel empowered,
in charge and positive about the future.
Method One: “Success”
Imagine your perfect life. When you define what success means to you
in work, family, health and finances, you’ll immediately see what you
need to do to attain your ideal life. Now that you know what you want,
you can discipline yourself to get it. The “Pareto Principle” defines the
80/20 relationship; for example, the top 20% of society enjoys 80% of
its riches. To become a 20% member, identify the skills you need and
the actions you must take. Study techniques, read books and attend
workshops of the people who have succeeded before you. If you are
willing to apply yourself and work hard, you can achieve your goals.
Method Two: “Character”
The defining trait of character is integrity. Acting with integrity
requires the self-discipline to resist succumbing to temptation and to
do what you know is right. Your true character becomes apparent
during a crisis or when you are under pressure. Study the values
exhibited by those whom you most respect and admire. You can
develop character through “instruction, study and practice.” The
“psychology of character” consists of “your self-ideal, your self-image
and your self-esteem.” Your self-ideal represents the good person you
want to be. Your self-image is how you see yourself, and your selfesteem reflects how you regard yourself emotionally. Practice the value
you want to adopt until it becomes an ingrained habit. When your
actions align with your values, you experience high self-esteem.
Method Three: “Responsibility”
Author Brian Tracy worked in construction when he was 21. He lived
from paycheck to paycheck, barely earning enough to get by with no
opportunity for advancement. One night, sitting alone in his bleak
apartment, he experienced an epiphany. Tracy realized that only he
could change his life. In his first step toward manifesting his goals, he
bought a self-improvement book and studied it diligently. Negative
emotions stem from anger and depend on your propensity to blame
others for your circumstances. That is the easy way out. Accepting
responsibility for your own success and happiness requires effort and
self-discipline. That acceptance leads to control over your life and your
Method Four: “Goals”
Follow this method to set goals and achieve your ideal life: Determine
what you wish to achieve, “write it down” and establish a deadline.
Create a list of all the actions required, arranged by time and
importance. Start to carry out these steps right away. And then “do
something every day that moves you in the direction of your major
Method Five: “Personal Excellence”
Your most valuable asset is yourself. By investing in your craft and
developing your skills, you increase your worth and earnings potential.
However, you need to commit to making this a priority throughout
your life and career. Begin your day a little earlier. You’ll be surprised
by how much you can achieve in your first hour. If you read for only an
hour a day, you’ll read over 50 books per year. Listen to educational
audio programs whilst in your car. Soon, you’ll be an expert in your
field of study. Write at least 10 daily tasks down. Don’t multitask; work
on each undertaking single-mindedly from start to finish. After every
business meeting, ask yourself, “What did I do right?” and “What can I
do better?”
Method Six: “Courage”
Everyone is afraid of something, and most people particularly fear
“failure, poverty and loss of money.” Self-discipline helps you develop
the necessary courage to face your terrors. Practice confronting what
you dread by identifying a person or situation you’ve been avoiding
and resolving to deal with it straightforwardly. Sometimes fear takes
the form of worry or anxiety. Isolate exactly what is bothering you.
Next, imagine the worst-case scenario and realize that you can deal
with its consequences and survive.
Method Seven: “Persistence”
Nothing great in life is achieved without persistence. The ability to
persevere will get you through setbacks, frustrations, impediments and
even crises; it will make you feel happier and more in control. To
increase your perseverance, repeat: “I am unstoppable!” and “I never
give up.” Don’t make excuses, indulge in self-pity or act like a victim.
Method Eight: “Work”
People spend too much time on unproductive tasks. Once again, the
Pareto Principle comes into play: 20% of your professional activities
produce 80% of your desired results. The “Law of Three” states that
three tasks in your job are responsible for around 90% of your value as
an employee. Identify your most productive activities and focus on
them, don’t be distracted from working your hardest. When surveyed,
a group of executives said that the two qualities they look for in an
employee are “the ability to set priorities and work on high-value
tasks,” and “the discipline to get the job done quickly and well.”
Method Nine: “Leadership”
Inspiring, effective leaders are masters of self-discipline. They have
clarity of purpose and demand a stellar standard of excellence. Great
leaders put the success of the organization over their personal goals.
However, they are realists and see where their company needs to
improve. They’re open to new ideas and are committed lifelong
learners. Winning leaders are trustworthy, steadfast and consistent in
their thinking and their actions.
Method Ten: “Business”
Your product or service must be something that consumers desire, use
willingly and pay a competitive price for. Work harder, longer and
better than your competitors do. Know your target audience and your
“unique selling proposition.” Focus on providing a high level of
customer service, and always measure your performance. You will
know you are doing well when your customers promote your business
to their friends and family.
Method Eleven: “Sales”
A sales role can be challenging but has a huge earning potential. Ask
yourself frequently, “Is what I’m doing right now leading to a sale?”
Fearing rejection is a big obstacle; salespeople often avoid cold calling
and stray off task. To succeed, know that “rejection is not personal.”
Play the numbers game: Cultivate more prospects and you’ll close
more sales.
Method Twelve: “Money”
Most people get into money trouble because they don’t exercise selfcontrol. They want immediate gratification; they equate happiness
with acquisition. Change your thinking so that saving cash becomes a
source of satisfaction. As your savings grow, you’ll be much more
secure and contented. Alleviating worry about money leads to personal
Method Thirteen: “Time Management”
The “ability to choose the sequence of events ” defines the art of time
management. If you prioritize tasks and then complete them in order,
you can manage your time efficiently. Think of every activity as an
investment and consider whether you are getting the maximum return.
Use the “A B C D E Method” to manage your day: Make a list of
everything you need to do. Then assign a letter from A to E to each
task, weighing its relative importance. Go through your A tasks first,
and continue down the list. Never work on something that isn’t the
best use of your time, focus and energy.
Method Fourteen: “Problem Solving”
Most successful people respond to challenges. Many use the following
approach to problem solving: First, clearly define the dilemma. Ask
yourself, “Is this really a problem?” Is it something you can resolve, or
is it beyond your control? Consider the roots of the problem so you can
make sure such a thing never happens again. Brainstorm all possible
solutions and then pick the one that makes the most sense at the time.
Decide how to implement the answer of your choice and who will be
responsible. Then, as always, measure the results.
Method Fifteen: “Happiness”
Humans are social beings who depend on others for happiness.
However, everyone experiences increased happiness when they feel in
control of their emotions as well as their circumstances. So, take the
first step toward a happier life; assume power and put yourself in
charge. When you fulfil your potential, you feel better about yourself in
every way. When you exercise self-discipline in physical fitness, good
relationships, purposeful work, monetary security and “selfactualization,” you increase your odds of finding contentment.
Method Sixteen: “Personal Health”
Get solid information on how to reach and maintain good health. By
following some basic rules, you will live longer and healthier. Eat
regular meals, avoid snacking and don’t overeat. Replace white flour
with whole wheat, and don’t overdo the sugar and salt.
Method Seventeen: “Physical Fitness”
Exercise for around 30 minutes as an essential part of your daily
routine. You don’t need to train for the Olympics, but you do need to
work out regularly. Always wear your seatbelt, don’t smoke or drink to
excess. You can only feel truly happy when you are physically fit.
Method Eighteen: “Marriage”
A long-term, committed relationship is essential to your well-being.
The keys to a happy marriage are “compatibility” and “temperament.”
Your basic characteristics, especially your values, should mesh with
and support those of your spouse. Maintaining a strong relationship
takes effort and good listening skills. To become an effective listener,
focus on what they’re saying, without interrupting. Take a brief
moment to consider your response before speaking. If you don’t
understand something – and never assume that you do – ask
questions. Lastly, confirm what they said in your own words.
Method Nineteen: “Children”
The best you can do for your children is to let them know that you love
them unconditionally. There are no shortcuts to or substitutes for
spending time with your children as they grow up. Your responsibility
is to create a safe environment in which they can explore and
experiment. Through your daily actions, your children learn values,
and they will emulate your behavior. If you show self-control, when
dealing with problems, they will do the same.
Method Twenty: “Friendship”
The key to being a good friend is to give others what you want for
yourself. Show them that you like and respect them, and that you value
their friendship. Accept them for who they are without judgments. Let
them know that you appreciate what they have to offer. Say “thank
you.” Make sure you are someone people want to spend time with; be
pleasant and affable. Be aware that when you criticize or complain, it
can be destructive to someone else’s self-esteem. Practice the three
“C’s”: “courtesy, concern and consideration.”
Method Twenty One: “Peace of Mind”
Invest in your spiritual health to attain inner peace. Discipline yourself
to separate your emotions from material things. Let go of the “need to
be right.” Stop blaming others for getting in the way of your wellbeing. Practice forgiveness to achieve tranquility. “The discipline of
forgiveness is the key to the spiritual kingdom.”
About the Author
Brian Tracy has written 13 books, including the bestsellers Eat That
Frog and The 21 Success Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires. He is a
much-sought-after corporate adviser and trainer.
Deep Work
Professor Cal Newport presents a multipart argument for deep,
concentrated work. He explains that work that demands your full focus
is intrinsically valuable and rewarding. You need to be able to handle
“deep work” to succeed in an information economy. Yet people face
increasing distractions or social pressure that drive them toward
shallow work. Newport develops his ideas with a blend of formal
research, stories and personal accounts about the challenges and
rewards of deep work. He provides tips for arranging your life to
support deep work, which he sees as valuable, productive and rare. He
makes his case persuasively and even poetically. getAbstract
recommends his guidance to knowledge workers and anyone else who
is seeking flow, creativity or focus.
“Deep work” is professional work that requires intense focus and
Deep work is essential for and central to knowledge work.
It is necessary for mastering complex topics more quickly.
How much elite work you produce equals the time you spend on
your task multiplied by how intensely you focus.
Obstacles and conflicting demands are increasing every day and
they hinder deep work.
Deep work promotes a sense of flow, meaning and sacredness.
Evaluate your habits and actions with the goal of structuring your
time to protect the attention you need for deep work.
Some people integrate deep work into their lives in daily units.
Others, like Bill Gates, withdraw from the world periodically for
periods of complete focus.
To promote deep work, “embrace boredom,” “quit social media”
and “drain the shallows” of your life.
“Deep Work” and Why It Matters
Deep work is professional work that requires complete focus and full
concentration. Deep work pushes your creative and analytical abilities
to their limits. For real achievement in art, science, business or other
fields, you must work deeply. To understand deep work, compare it to
ordinary, “shallow work.” Shallow work is work you can do while
you’re distracted. It doesn’t ask much of your mind, and contributes
little that’s new or valuable.
“Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state
of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive
capacities to their limit.”
Current trends push you – and the rest of the world – toward shallow
work. This push to network, tweet, respond quickly and multitask can
fill your days with shallow work. But, that’s dangerous. Often, people
automate shallow work or skip it. Putting shallow work at the center of
your professional activity puts your career at risk. Shallow work has
limited value; deep work offers profound value. Being able to do deep
work is becoming increasingly important.
“Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value
out of your current intellectual capacity.”
Technology places new demands on workers, and many struggle to
keep up. Among other challenges, technology is splintering and
restructuring the economy. This eliminates some jobs, but rewards
others. Firms need “high-skilled workers” who can master
complex technology.
In the past, companies hired from their local labor pool or paid people
to relocate. In that environment, local experts reaped rewards. Now
companies might ask specialists to telecommute. This displaces local
workers while validating superstars. It pushes job markets toward a
“winner-take-all” model. In fact, information technology lets the
“superstars” in a field multiply their influence and rewards. To earn a
place in one of the employment groups that the information economy
rewards most highly, you need to master “hard things” and to learn
complex material quickly. That requires deep work. And you must
“produce at an elite level.” For that, deep work is essential; it focuses
your attention and ability like a lens.
“Deliberate Practice”
Deep work involves periods of deliberate practice. At such times, you
focus on the specific skill you’re trying to develop and you don’t switch
among tasks. Deliberate practice calls for “uninterrupted
concentration.” It forces specific neural circuits to fire repeatedly,
fixing these skills in place. Deep work helps you reach better results.
How much elite work you produce equals the time you spend on your
task multiplied by how intensely you focus. If you switch tasks often,
you suffer “attention residue” – part of your attention clings to a
previous task, lowering your performance level. Get feedback to
correct your practice and make it more productive.
“Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logisticalstyle tasks, often performed while distracted.”
Deep work is uncommon, and many aspects of the modern business
environment work against it. People tend to do what is easiest at any
given time. In today’s corporate world, that increasingly means staying
connected and focusing on how fast you can respond to messages,
rather than evaluating the quality response or the best use of your
time. People now tend to spend less time prioritizing tasks and making
sure they’re doing what’s most important. They just plunge in, using
“busyness as a proxy for productivity.” This is understandable: You can
measure speed and task completion, but you can’t measure depth.
Measuring knowledge work can be ambiguous. Those seeking metrics
might seize on factors, like speed, that their bosses can measure
“Cult of the Internet”
People act as if using the Internet and making the most of its
connectivity equates to doing revolutionary work. Today, firms whose
service or products have nothing to do with the web invite people to
like them on Facebook. Companies push knowledge workers to use
Twitter and other social media channels. This scatters their attention
instead of letting them put in the concentrated focus that is crucial to
their real contribution. Using Twitter pulls them away. This is
unfortunate, because deep work matters more than shallow work to
society and to those doing it.
What You “Pay Attention To”
Studies of consciousness argue for the merits of deep work. Winifred
Gallagher, a science writer, spent years studying how attention shapes
the quality of life. She found that the way you manage your attention is
incredibly important for leading a good life – more important than
your circumstances. Your brain creates your experience according to
what you pay attention to; where you focus and how you approach
experiences shape your emotions and results, “down to the
neurological level.” Accenting the positive aspects of your reality trains
your “prefrontal cortex” to keep your amygdala from firing as strongly
in response to “negative stimuli.” In deep work, you focus on topics
that matter. That reshapes your reality positively. The challenges of
deep work and its structured nature generate the psychological state
known as “flow,” making deep work its own reward.
“Without structure, it’s easy to allow your time to devolve
into the shallow – email, social media, web surfing.”
In their 2011 book All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean
Dorrance Kelly make a philosophical argument for deep work. They
examine how meaning and sacredness have changed over time. The
sacred seems further away than it once did. They trace this
diminishing access back to the Enlightenment – to René Descartes,
specifically – and to the demand that individuals must determine what
is meaningful for themselves. Dreyfus and Kelly propose
craftsmanship as one solution.
“To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain
to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.”
Focus lets artists shift from having to create meaning to finding
meaning in the objects they craft. Deep work allows knowledge
workers to return to the sacred.
Following four rules will help you embrace deep work:
1. “Work Deeply”
Make deep work a regular part of your life. Remove distractions and
increase your level of focus. Many distractions come from within. Basic
desires like food and sex can distract you. Other distractions are social
and technological, like the desire to check your email or watch
television. Developing a deep work routine helps you maintain your
focus. Some people follow a “monastic philosophy,” shutting
themselves completely off from the world. They disengage from email
for blocks of time – perhaps permanently – and focus entirely on
intellectual work.
“Instead of scheduling the occasional break from
distraction so you can focus, you should instead schedule
the occasional break from focus to give in to distraction.”
Others find that this doesn’t work for them due to their professional
obligations. They follow a “bimodal philosophy” and alternate
extended periods of deep work with periods in which they focus
elsewhere. Some academics, for example, cluster their classes and
focus on teaching for one semester and then turn their attention to
research during the rest of the year.
“Those who use their minds to create valuable things [are]
rarely haphazard in their work habits.”
Other people find that a “rhythmic philosophy” works best: They
schedule deep work at the same time daily. They apply a “chain
method” in which they add a new link of deep work each day. People
who lack control over their daily schedules or who easily “switch into a
deep work mode,” find the “journalistic philosophy” useful. These
thinkers take advantage of any breaks or gaps in their schedules to
work deeply on their core projects.
“When you’re done scheduling your day, every minute
should be part of a block. You have, in effect, given every
minute of your workday a job.”
Once you find an approach that works for you, ritualize your choice to
build habits that support focus. Think about where you will do your
deep work and how long you’ll focus. Plan how “you’ll support your
work.” Do you need to eat first? Take a walk? How will you maintain
focus while working, and how will you measure your results? Will you
outlaw the Internet until you’re done or track how many words you
write? Making “grand gestures” helps solidify focus. J.K. Rowling
checked into a hotel to finish writing the last Harry Potter book. Bill
Gates took “Think Weeks” when he’d leave Microsoft and go to a cabin
to read and focus.
2. “Embrace Boredom”
People in today’s world suffer an addiction to distraction. The focus
that deep work requires means that you must escape that addiction.
Without distraction, however, you will suffer boredom. When trying to
concentrate intensely, you will yearn for something to break the
tedium. But if you stop fighting that boredom and recognize it as proof
of your focus, you can make focused concentration a “habit,”
something you do regularly because it is good for you.
3. “Quit Social Media”
Social media are entertaining, and keep you in touch with people.
These benefits are minor compared to what social media cost you.
When considering the use of any social media tool, identify which
factors create “success and happiness in your professional and
personal life.” Use that tool only if it offers more benefits than
“Figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your
evenings and weekends before they begin.”
Think of this as “the law of the vital few,” or “the 80/20 rule” or
“Pareto’s principle.” Identify your top two or three goals in the
personal and professional arenas. Name the top two to three activities
that contribute to reaching these goals. Review the network tools you
use now. Evaluate their impact on your pursuit of your goals. Use the
Internet for a substantive purpose, not entertainment.
4. “Drain the Shallows”
Shallow work crowds out more valuable deep work. Deep work is
exhausting because it pushes you to your limits. Most people have a
maximum capacity of four hours of deep work a day. They have to
build up to that level. Starting with an hour isn’t uncommon.
“In a business setting without clear feedback on the
impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will
tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.”
Many people overestimate how much they work and underestimate
how much television they watch. Schedule literally “every minute” of
your workday. Group batches of related activities together. As you use
this schedule, you’ll see that your time estimates probably are off;
you’re likely to underestimate how much time new activities take.
You’ll experience interruptions. When these things happen, make a
new schedule. Over time, you’ll get better at estimating your time use.
Schedule “overflow conditional blocks” of time after an activity. If the
first activity runs over, continue focusing on it. If you finished by the
original deadline, have a second activity planned. Leave time for
spontaneous inspiration. Rigidly adhering to a schedule isn’t the goal.
Your objective is to use your time intentionally.
Deep Work Tools
“Quantify the depth of every activity.” Estimate how many months it
would take you to train a smart new employee to complete this work.
When you know how much effort a job requires, place your work on a
depth spectrum. Push yourself to move toward the deeper end of the
spectrum. Construct a “shallow work budget.” Determine how much of
your time you spend “on shallow work.” Most people need to spend
30% to 50% of their time on shallow work: attending meetings,
answering emails, filling out paperwork, and the like. If shallow work
makes up all or almost all of your job, plan your transition to deeper
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming
increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming
increasingly valuable in our economy.”
Apply the principle of “fixed-schedule productivity” to enhance your
work. If you work in a traditional office job, this means finishing all of
your work by 5:30 p.m. This serves as an antidote to the belief that you
must work extra long hours and on the weekend to succeed. Be more
selective about what tasks you tackle and what meetings you attend.
Select work that shapes your “professional fate.”
Protect Your Time
Becoming harder to get in touch with can protect your deep work time
and drain your shallows. Because sending emails is easy, people do it
casually. Many recipients feel a compulsion to answer. Don’t. Respond
selectively. Make the people who contact you “do more work.” For
example, rather than offering a general email address, use a “sender
filter”: a brief preface asking correspondents to contact you with
specific opportunities related to particular activities.
“Identify the core factors that determine success and
happiness in your personal and professional life. Adopt a
tool only if its positive impacts on these factors
substantially outweighs its negative impacts.”
Do more work when you answer emails. Don’t answer quickly to
express general interest or agreement. Push forward with specifics. If
someone asks to meet with you, agree, list specific times you’re
available and ask the person to agree to one of them. If you’ve received
a request to help with a project, give that help and define the next step,
so you’re not sending emails back and forth. Don’t answer ambiguous,
open-ended emails, notes that don’t interest you, or emails that offer
no benefit if you answer and no penalty if you don’t.
About the Author
Cal Newport teaches in Georgetown University’s computer science
department. He also wrote So Good They Can’t Ignore You: How to
Win at College.
The Procrastination Cure
Would you love to stop procrastinating, become more productive and have
less stress? Productivity expert Damon Zahariades, once a world-class
procrastinator himself, can help you accomplish these goals. He explores
the nature of procrastination in this comprehensive productivity guidebook,
which is light on theory and heavy on best-practice tips. Along with 21
tactics filled with advice you can act on, Zahariades details what
constitutes procrastination; why people – you specifically – procrastinate;
the blatant and hidden costs of delaying what you know must do; and how
to avoid procrastination in the first place.
Everyone has to deal with procrastination.
Procrastination is a manifestation of inferior decision making.
The jobs and tasks that people delay and anticipate with dread often
seem harder than they turn out to be.
Perpetual procrastinators share some common traits.
Negative self-talk feeds procrastination.
You can put 21 tactics to work to defeat procrastination.
If you procrastinate, forgive yourself. Then try not to do it again.
“Active procrastination” means substituting another vital task for
what you originally planned to do.
Conquer procrastination by making a commitment to yourself.
Everyone has to deal with procrastination.
“Everyone procrastinates” – including productivity gurus, efficiency experts
and time-management consultants. Procrastination is part of human
nature. People routinely put things off until later. Procrastination is the
most natural – and self-defeating – human activity. Don’t torture yourself
about it.
“Procrastination is a difficult habit to break. As with any
habit, the longer you allow it to persist, the more deeply
rooted it becomes.”
Think of procrastination as “the act of deferring action on something when
taking earlier action would arguably have been a better decision.” Everyone
understands procrastination. The challenge is how to stop.
Procrastination is a manifestation of inferior decision
At its core, procrastination stems from bad decision making. Knowing some
background information and some practical productivity tips may enable
you make better decisions in the future and stop putting off until forever
what you can do right now.
“Sometimes procrastination is helpful, and it makes sense
to embrace it rather than try to curb it.”
People who successfully teach themselves not to procrastinate uncover their
common “procrastination triggers” and then determine how to avoid them.
The jobs and tasks that people anticipate with dread and
delay doing often seem harder than they turn out to be.
Once you start to do a task, the worry, nervousness and discomfort that
accompanies the anticipation generally wanes. The important step is to take
some – any – initial action. You’ll find that events will move ahead
productively from even a small start. Procrastination can cost
you personally and professionally. On the personal side, failure to address
concerns in your relationships usually guarantees that those issues will
become more protracted and difficult to resolve. If you don’t pay your bills,
your creditors will tack on late fees. If you feel sick, but you put off seeing a
doctor, whatever ails you may get worse – endangering your health
and even your life. And, in general, putting things off builds stress that
generates harmful physical, emotional, mental and behavioral effects.
“Break projects down to their smallest parts. Then, treat each
part as a separate task. Focus on each one’s completion, at
which point you can cross it off your to-do list.”
On the professional side, failure to follow up on job leads means you’ll miss
out on promising career opportunities. If you’re in sales and don’t stay on
top of your prospects, your competitors will close them first. If you’re in
management and don’t give your boss the reports he or she requests, your
annual reviews will suffer, and you may find it difficult to keep your job. For
businesspeople, professional productivity – a universal performance
criteria – depends on being proactive and not letting things go by. There is
no such thing as productive procrastinator.
Perpetual procrastinators share some common traits.
Are you a perpetual procrastinator? If most of these traits seem familiar,
you have a procrastination problem. And you are not alone. Do you: Rush to
finish work on time? Seldom estimate accurately how long tasks will
take? Routinely put off today’s jobs until tomorrow? Always substitute easy
jobs for tough jobs? Sit on long-term deadline jobs until right before
they’re due? Pay too much heed to social media, emails and other
distractions? Seldom show up on time? Keep your workspace messy? Let
emails and voicemails pile up? Live by the motto, “I’ll do it tomorrow”? If
that describes you, you can take some productive steps to stop
Negative self-talk feeds procrastination.
People’s reasons for procrastination generally include perfectionism,
laziness, boredom, negative self-talk, inability to deal maturely with difficult
events, worrying about failure or about success, feeling overwhelmed by
pending work, not knowing where to begin, not knowing which decisions to
make, wanting to do something different that provides instantaneous
gratification, and not facing the immediate consequences of failing to
act. Common questions about procrastination include:
1. “I’m a lifelong procrastinator. Can I really overcome this
bad habit?” – Definitely, yes. Others have and so can you, but not
overnight. It may take months, but you can make your life
immeasurably better.
2. “I’m constantly distracted by social media and end up
procrastinating on important work.” – Shut down your phone
notifications, limit your social media time and deal with people faceto-face.
3. “I procrastinate because I feel overwhelmed. How do I fix
this problem?” – Make a list of what you must do. Do each job one
by one, the easiest tasks first. This will give you a sense of
accomplishment that fuels more accomplishment.
You can put 21 tactics to work to defeat procrastination.
Tap into this “treasure trove of tactics” to beat procrastination for good:
1. “Eat the frog first” – Mark Twain called the worst jobs “frogs” and
advised doing them first. Once those unattractive frogs are out of the
way, the remaining jobs are easy.
2. “Do the first 10 minutes” – You may become intimidated when
you think of all the work a job will entail. Do the first 10 minutes of it.
Once you start, the task will be easier to complete.
3. “Reward yourself” – To make jobs you don’t like more enjoyable,
combine them with a reward. For example, lie down and read a book
for 45 minutes after working for a few hours on a job you don’t like.
4. “Fill your calendar” – If you have free time, you’ll waste some of it
and end up procrastinating. Protect yourself by staying busy; block
out your workdays by allocating chunks of time to important tasks.
5. “Prioritize tasks and projects” – Assign priorities to upcoming
jobs. Todoist, a free online app, can help you by assigning red, orange
and yellow flags to various chores to indicate urgency. Color-code
your most urgent tasks, and do each job according to its priority.
6. “Shorten your daily to-do list” – Most people put way too many
jobs, projects and tasks on their to-do lists. They never finish all their
tasks on the scheduled day, so they move unfinished tasks to the next
day – and then to the next, and so on. This leads to additional
procrastination, even paralysis. Set clear priorities, and take on fewer
7. “Apply Parkinson’s law” – The more time you allot to finish a job,
the more time you will waste. Parkinson’s law says, “Work expands…
to fill the time available for its completion.” Limit the time you set for
every task. With less time available, you’ll focus more intently.
8. “Ask others to set your deadlines” – People often fail to meet
deadlines they set for themselves. Research indicates that people do
much better when others set their deadlines. Ask your boss or your
spouse to establish appropriate deadlines for specific tasks.
9. “Leverage your peak-energy times of day” – People
perform better at different times of the day and are reluctant to
procrastinate during their peak-energy times. Monitor your energy
levels for two weeks to identify your peak times.
10. “Be accountable to someone” – When you promise someone you
will do something, you’re more likely to do it. When you have a task
you can’t afford to put off, find an “accountability partner” and
promise that person that you will finish the job at a specific time.
11. “Take small steps”– Break a big job down into a series of small
jobs. Do each separate little job. You’re less likely to procrastinate on
many little jobs than on one big job.
12. “Avoid boring work (whenever possible)” – Procrastinating on
boring jobs is easy, so, if possible, farm out tedious work.
13. “Get rid of environmental distractions” – If a distraction, such
as a television, is sitting right in front of you, it’s easy to focus on that
and not on your work. Move the distraction, or move your work
14. “Get rid of digital distractions” – According to Stanford lecturer
Nir Eyal, Facebook and other social media channels want you to turn
to them whenever your day is dull or you have even an instant of free
time. Rid your office of these digital distractions.
15. “Use the time-chunking method” – Segment your jobs according
to work type. Specify the amount of time you’ll need for each job.
Break the job into chunks, and then schedule the chunks. Building in
breaks between pairs of chunks will make it easier to avoid
16. “Eliminate as many unnecessary tasks as possible” – If you
have trivial tasks on your daily to-do lists, you might pay attention to
those pressing petty jobs and ignore significant ones. Leave minor
tasks off your to-do lists.
17. “Focus on one task at a time” – Multitasking doesn’t work.
It corrodes your focus, makes you distractible, increases mistakes
and reduces productivity. And, it promotes procrastination. Many
multitaskers tend to do easy tasks but neglect major jobs.
18. “Purge negative self-talk” – If you regularly engage in self-critical
internal dialogue, you can see yourself as a failure. This undermines
your motivation to stay with your work. Negative self-talk fuels
19. “Limit your options to one”– Working on your primary project
should always be your first choice. It shouldn’t be looking at email,
listening to voice messages, going to a meeting or talking with
20. “Figure out why you’re procrastinating” – What are the
“personal triggers” that push you to procrastinate? Discover them.
Once you identify them, you can learn to avoid them.
21. “Perform a weekly audit of your goals” – Regularly monitor
your progress on your short-, medium- and long-term goals.
If you procrastinate, forgive yourself. Then try not to do it
These three strategies can help you channel your energy more productively:
1. “Use temptation bundling”– Tie a work activity directly to a fun
activity. Wharton professor Katherine Milkman originated this
concept for herself. She was having a hard time maintaining an
exercise routine. To gain motivation, she made a self-bargain: Each
time she worked out in the gym, she earned the right to relax with a
good novel.
2. “Use commitment devices” – This strategy constricts potential
negative behavior. For example, you need to lose weight. You don’t
want to overeat when you join a friend for dinner at a restaurant. So
you promise to give your friend $100 if you have
dessert. Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
call this kind of bargain a “commitment device.”
3. “Forgive yourself” – Procrastination is a habit, so it won’t be easy
to change. Don’t beat yourself up when you do it. Self-forgiveness can
help limit procrastination.
“Active procrastination” means substituting another vital
task for what you originally planned to do.
Procrastination isn’t always bad. With the magic of active
procrastination, you can actually increase your productivity. For example,
let’s say you have plenty of housecleaning to do, but you actively
procrastinate by not doing the housework and, instead, you pay some bills,
go grocery shopping and prepare dinner. Those tasks are no less important
and may be even more urgent than housework.
“Our energy levels affect our tendency to procrastinate. So
it’s worth identifying when your energy levels are at their
peak and making maximum use of those times of day.”
Once those tasks are done and you’re ready, you will do your housework.
This is because you are an active, not a standard, procrastinator. As such,
you don’t waste time when you procrastinate. You don’t take a nap, watch
TV, or sit on the sofa and stare into space. You stay productive, but you
work on something other than the tasks your originally intended to tackle.
Conquer procrastination by making a commitment to
If you’re a lifelong procrastinator, don’t feel bad. Many people are. As a
lifelong procrastinator, you should feel good about getting this far in trying
to figure out how to stop procrastinating. This is an important initial step,
so give yourself credit. But remember that learning how to avoid
procrastination isn’t enough. You must commit to conquering
procrastination by moving from the theoretical stage of reading some
applicable strategies to the all-important “application stage.”
Tell yourself you can make this big jump. You’re in charge of your life. What
happens is totally up to you, including whether you continue to
procrastinate. You have learned why it’s important to stop procrastinating,
as well as how to make the necessary changes. Now promise to yourself to
put these tactics to work – now.
About the Author
Damon Zahariades operates the Art of Productivity website and blog and
is the author of Morning Makeover: How to Boost Your Productivity,
Explode Your Energy and Create an Extraordinary Life – One Morning
at a Time!
The Motivation Myth
Jeff Haden, an Inc. magazine contributing editor, asked successful
musicians, race car drivers, corporate leaders and athletes how they
sustain their motivation. They cited working hard, following a daily
process and not relying on inspiration. Whatever your objective,
Haden advises, define tasks to do every day without fail, and watch
those small wins accumulate as you progress toward your goals.
Motivation does not come from moments of inspiration.
Reaching your goal requires focusing on small steps.
You choose your goal, but the goal defines the process.
Having multiple talents is ideal.
An “Extreme Productivity Day” (EPD) can reset how you work.
“Work your number,” whatever it may be.
Observe a “superstar in action.”
Create free time by streamlining your work.
Motivation does not come from moments of inspiration.
Day-after-day motivation derives from completing the daily work your
goal requires, not from flashes of inspiration. Daily work is enduring
and inspiring, while a spark of inspiration is momentary and
fleeting. Your confidence and motivation will grow as you create a list
of the tasks you must do each day and work steadily to complete them.
This positive combination is the road to reaching your goal; once it is
part of your routine, it will appear in other parts of your life as well
“Motivation is a result, not a precondition.”
Find a process that supports your goal, and stick to it. You may think
sharing your goal with friends will keep you on track, but research
finds the opposite is true. When you talk to friends about hiking the
2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, for example, it gives you a false sense
that you’ve done it. This undermines your determination to actually
hike the trail.
You may believe that others have greater innate willpower than you.
But willpower is something you learn – no one is born with it.
Successful people don’t need instant gratification, and don’t succumb
to fear. They work consistently on their priorities. As you work on your
daily tasks and improve your skills, you will see yourself gaining a
higher level of accomplishment in your field thanks to the routine you
set up months before. How you execute incremental jobs daily is now
integral to who you are. At some point, willpower will no longer play a
Reaching your goal requires focusing on small steps.
The delta between where you are now and your goal can be huge. It’s
daunting if you want to lose 40 pounds but in the first week you lose
only one. The winning path is to have a process that helps you achieve
your goal step by step. Whether you want to save $1 million or lose
weight, concentrate on daily actions that help you succeed, not the
overarching goal.
“Set a goal, use it as a target that helps you create a
plan…and then…forget all about that goal.”
If you want to run a marathon, your first daily task is to run a mile.
When you achieve that, you’ll feel good. That positivity will spur you to
do it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. In two
weeks, you may run five miles daily. Because you’ve run a mile each
day, your improved ability will provide motivational boost. Defining a
process and adhering to it improves your skill or ability, and that leads
to success.
You choose your goal, but the goal de nes the process.
You can choose your goal, but you can’t choose how you achieve it. To
reach your goal, you have to do what it takes. If you want to run a
marathon, search for a training plan online. You don’t know what is
optimal, so on the basis of your fitness, select one of the plans that are
among your top search results. Make sure your plan has clear daily
targets. If not, define the tasks so you know the specific distance, or
time and pace, you should master each day. Be clear about when you
will start and complete your daily task.
To make time for a daily activity focused on working toward your goal,
change your daily schedule. That could mean cutting down TV time or
changing when you wake up. Transcribe your training plan on a
calendar. Define your daily tasks, and integrate them into your new
daily schedule to make sure your plan is feasible. Instead of
maintaining a huge to-do list, turn your agenda into a “wish list” and
select a few items to complete. When you finish them, select the nextpriority tasks.
If you find that your initial daily schedule isn’t working, change it.
Maybe you have to get up earlier or stay up later. Solve any scheduling
issues, but don’t stop doing your daily tasks. Don’t modify your daily
process until you have sufficient data. If, while you’re on your first run,
you have to walk part of it, don’t worry. Don’t compare yourself to
others. All you need to do is complete the task, whatever that takes.
When you do, celebrate. If your body needs less recovery time, then
don’t use all three days of recommended rest. You can’t know this
initially. It will become apparent only after time and effort. Exercising
in the morning can improve your mood, increase your energy and
provide motivation for the day.
“Changing your behavior…is really hard.”
Creating such a habit means not skipping a workout. Language can
help you keep your resolve. Instead of saying you “can’t” have dessert,
say you “don’t” have dessert. Researchers found that 80% of
participants with a health goal who told themselves, “I don’t miss my
workouts,” didn’t. Only one in 10 of the “can’t” group achieved their
goals. Saying you can’t do something implies you would have been able
to do it if something else hadn’t happened. Using “don’t” defines you.
Having multiple talents is ideal.
Venus Williams is a world-class tennis player. She has been numberone in the world several times, and she has won Olympic gold four
times. She’s also an entrepreneur, and she’s earning her master’s
degree in interior architecture.
A common myth of success says you must concentrate on only one
thing. When someone asks what you do, do you list your main job
title or do you add other skills? People often believe – wrongly – that if
you do more than one thing, it means you aren’t good at any of them.
For example, Williams is active in all aspects of her company, EleVen.
She even packs some orders. Like most successful people, Williams is a
“serial achiever.” Figure out what you want. If need be, do it on the
side, but it doesn’t need to be separate from your current job.
“None of us should be just one thing.”
To search out your next challenge, create a list of what you’d like to
do. If you don’t accomplish the items on your list, which ones would
affect you most if you’re unable to undertake or complete them? While
they probably do not relate to your career, achieving these targets will
create new relationships and improve how you feel about
yourself. Individuals define success differently. The core factor,
however, is whether you are happy. If you earn a lot of money, but
aren’t happy, then redefine what success means to you.
Before committing to a goal, ask whether you are financially able to eat
well, pay your bills and provide for your family. If not, then your first
goal is to acknowledge how money matters to you and to create
more. The second question is whether you are “fit and healthy.” That
can carry many definitions, but ask if you are “comfortable with your
body.” Prioritize self-care over self-actualization.
If your goal is to build a great network, don’t concentrate on the goal,
but rather think about people you’d like to cultivate. Reach out to
those who excel in areas that align to your business. Establish
connections so people enjoy being in contact with you. The last
element is to create a marker that tells you when you've achieved your
goal. Make it specific. Define the amount of weight you want to lose or
the amount of money you want to make.
An “Extreme Productivity Day” (EPD) can reset how you
If you have a 12-hour project to complete, use an Extreme Productivity
Day (EPD) to accomplish it. First inform your family, co-workers and
significant clients that you’ll be unavailable for the day. To increase
positive pressure on yourself, tell them what you plan to do. Determine
how many hours you intend to work. Commit to making the deadlines
you set.
Break from your normal routine by starting early or working through
the night. If you usually work with music, use it to motivate you later
in the day. Don’t wait until you’re hungry or thirsty to eat or drink.
Similarly, make sure you move around before getting stiff. Your goal is
to keep working. If you stop before you finish the day’s project, you’re
reinforcing the habit of quitting. When you stretch yourself, you
change the limit of what you think you can do.
Apply the EPD philosophy to your week by outlining tasks on Sunday.
Define time in your schedule to work on important jobs such as
writing a proposal. Realistically define your work list and the time it
will take to complete the tasks. If you know something requires 30
minutes, scheduling only that amount of time will improve your focus.
Don’t multitask, because that divides your focus. Lunch is the only
time when multitasking benefits you, if you can network with others
while you eat.
Pay attention to how you use your time. Document it. Be aware of any
nonproductive patterns. Use “edge time,” such as
commuting or airport waiting time, to make calls or read articles.
When you are with your family, commit to spending that time only
with them. Check emails or make calls later. If you want to drink more
water, line up bottles of water on your desk. Remove the choices of
what to wear or eat in the morning by laying out your clothes and
prepping breakfast the night before.
Don’t make excuses for doing less than your best. Determine your own
standards, and don’t let comments or criticism sway you. If you’re
fearful of something, move through it. That will help you gain the
confidence you need. Optimize the way you think as you optimize your
work. If you want to generate ideas, then work at that daily. Ask for
help when you need it. Don’t ever stop. Keep working and
striving. When you tie your work to accomplishing your goal, your
willpower will grow stronger.
“If you want to succeed, you can’t make excuses.”
Determine your highest-priority task the night before, and start the
next day with that job. Keep your goals visible. If you’re working to pay
down a bank loan, tape a statement on your computer. If you worry
you might skip your run in the morning, place your exercise clothes
near your bed. The most important question you can ask when
deciding to do something is whether it helps you achieve your goal. If it
doesn’t, the answer is always “no.”
“Work your number,” whatever it may be.
If you know your ratio of calls to sales is 10:1, and you need, for
example, five new clients a month, then call 50 potential clients. Use
those calls to improve your sales pitch and increase the number of
conversions you have with prospective clients. Whatever the result,
your goal is clear. Achieve it. Working your number means repeating
the hard work daily to accomplish your goals. Deconstruct your goal
into workable daily activities. Adhering to the smaller daily goal
assures you’ll reach the big one. You will improve, reducing time and
effort needed as you work each day to hit your number.
“Successful people…approach learning in a consistent,
systematic, results-focused way.”
Whatever your goal is, push yourself daily, and make the work matter
to you. Have a reason for what you’re doing. For example, to improve
your public speaking, seek out small, informal opportunities to speak.
Make sure you get immediate feedback. If you’re preparing for an
exam, answer a section of questions in a study guide, then check your
answers. If your process becomes repetitive, change your pace, focus
on a small portion of it or redefine how you analyze it.
Observe a “superstar in action.”
To succeed at your goal, emulate someone who’s already achieved
it. Avoid self-defined restrictions. You may stop when you’re tired
instead of continuing, or quit when you feel that you’ve reached your
skill limit and aren’t improving quickly anymore. Don’t do either. To
expand your limits, watch a superstar in action. Whether the person is
a musician, speaker or business leader, open yourself to learning from
a master’s incredible talents.
Create free time by streamlining your work.
Beware of new situations that don’t fit your goals. Your time may be
stretched, but re-evaluating your current work can enable you to create
more free time. Your actions condition those around you. If you let
people interrupt your phone calls, they’ll keep doing it. For example,
one businessman created an “emergency” email account to funnel
issues that need immediate action. He checks his normal account only
twice a day. His staff knows and respects this.
“Almost every decision you currently make can be taken
over by people you trust.”
If you have a customer who demands a lot of time without providing
an equivalent income stream, adjust the service you provide, increase
the cost or remove that customer. Instead of keeping a huge to-do list,
turn it into a “wish list” and select a few items off it to complete. When
those are done, select tasks that fit the next level of priority tasks. If
you have to sign off on various steps of a project or file reports, see
if you could you allow someone else to do it, especially someone more
primary to the process.
To delegate decision-making, teach those you designate and give them
guidance. Sharing authority will enhance their connection to their
work and free your time. Even when things go wrong, maintain your
focus and confidence. Remember, good leaders remain good leaders,
even when they have bad days.
About the Author
Jeff Haden, a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, is a keynote
speaker and ghostwriter of numerous books.
Bullet Journal
by David Meyer
Renowned product designer Ryder Carroll offers a practical and
meditative approach to organizing your life via an ancient artform:
Digital product designer Ryder Carroll suffers from attention deficit disorder.
Frustrated by his disorganization, Carroll developed the “Bullet Journal” – or
“BuJo” – method to keep track of all the moving parts in his life. His method can
help you sort your goals, remember books you read or want to read, track your
progress on achieving your resolutions, plan your vacation, and separate your
crucial and mundane tasks.
In addition to explaining how his method works, Carroll – in this New York
Times bestseller – includes reasons to turn the confusion in your head into
orderly entries in your notebook. He offers his method to anyone ready to scrap
productivity apps for the meditative peace of pen and paper.
Meaning can reveal itself in the most unremarkable,
unpredictable and quiet of moments. If we’re not listening to the
world around us, as well as the one within, we may miss it: the
music in the mundane.
Concepcíon de Léon, writing in The New York Times, notes that the brain cannot
recall or maintain more than a few thoughts at once. She admires that Carroll’s
method has “more than three million related posts on Instagram alone and a
dedicated following inspired to create blogs and innovations to the original
system.” While being seduced by the beauty of Carroll’s method, de Léon
admits to what might be a common – if seldom confessed – user problem: She
“couldn’t keep up the momentum.”
Organized Notebook
BuJo is an organized notebook – an analog antidote to being overwhelmed. Your
notebook, Carroll explains, gives you a quiet place to stop, reflect and focus with
the goal of increasing your productivity. He offers his method as a tool to ground
you in mindfulness about where you are now and how that relates to where you
want to go. The author suggests starting with the daily habit of looking inward to
discover what matters to you.
Bujo isn’t only for keeping lists. While smartphones erode your attention
span, the Bullet Journal forces you to go offline and think. A notebook is as
flexible as you need it to be, unlike a productivity app designed by someone
else. Writing by hand helps your brain learn and remember far more effectively
than any app ever could.
As soon as you put pen to paper, you establish a direct link to
your mind and often your heart. This experience has yet to be
properly replicated in the digital space.
The Bullet Journal system is modular. It combines a journal, a planner, to-do
lists, a sketchbook and favorite quotes in one notebook. Embrace the modules you
find useful and ditch the rest. Carroll breaks down his journal into the Daily Log–
in which you capture your thoughts, responsibilities and experiences; the
Monthly Log – a calendar on one page and your tasks on the facing page; the
Future Log –tasks upcoming after the current month; and the Index – a list on
the first few pages listing what the rest of your pages hold.
Seasons of Life
Carroll prioritizes starting a new journal at the beginning of each year. As you
start your new journal, read through the index of your existing journal – if you
have one – to see where you spent your time. Migrating tasks at the end of the
month and the year to a new month and year makes you consider them
anew. And if something isn’t worth the time it takes to rewrite, it’s not a priority.
The power of the Bullet Journal is that it becomes whatever you
need it to be, no matter what season of life you’re in.
Gain insight by reflecting on what you’ve written. Look beyond what you are
doing to understand why you do it. Reflection lets you recognize shifting
priorities, new meanings and dead weight. This is the emotional – rather than
functional – core of this system, and it aligns with Carroll’s endorsement of daily
mindfulness. Consistently checking in to reflect for five minutes daily helps you
break out of autopilot and deepen your understanding and self-knowledge.
Thousands of Thoughts
Each day, you have thousands of thoughts, which your mind constantly tries to
prioritize. To avoid decision fatigue, reduce your daily decision-making load by
writing down your choices. This helps you clarify your tasks and goals, declutter
your mind and focus on what’s meaningful.
To make future improvements, analyze what isn’t working for you now. Balance
self-criticism with gratitude. Examine irksome situations during your Daily
Reflections. Analyze events and whatever has happened to you and formulate
your response instead of merely reacting. Frame the tasks within your control.
Make them less about outcome and more about process.
Take a hard look at your journal, because there you’ll see your
story unfolding, written in your own hand.
Carroll asks you to consider whether a goal is still worth pursuing despite how
long it will take to accomplish? If not, he says, scratch it off.
He also provides a basic budget structure: columns for activities, the amount to
save monthly to pay for them, total costs, and a tracking column to check and
adjust what you’ve set aside month to month. Use longer entries to sort your
priorities and unearth new tasks.
Working with your Bullet Journal system, Carroll cautions, is an art form. He
suggests using it for two or three months before customizing it to your best
advantage. Then you can augment its format and value any way you like, but first
become familiar with the system.
A Mindful System
Carroll acknowledges that the hardest part about writing lists is finding
justification for the time it requires. Still, his method for slowing down and
reverting to an analogue life-organization system may speak most loudly to two
widely separated demographics: those who grew up with pen and paper as the
default communication mode and those who have been digital since kindergarten.
It may prove harder for those in the middle generations – who long since
surrendered every task to digital modes – to adapt.
If you look forward to coming back to your journal and feel that
it’s your ally, then you’re doing it right.
The beauty of Carroll’s system is that you don’t have to embrace every aspect of it
to benefit. It functions well as a philosophy – slow down, fight digital dominance
of your life, and be mindful of your choices and how you spend your day – as well
as it does an organizational system. Carroll’s approach – as with any Zen master’s
method – shows breathtaking simplicity. The time he spent perfecting it and his
attention to detail means you can start utilizing his method well before you finish
reading his remarkably practical, insightful and accessible guide.
Related works on organizing your life include Getting Things Done: The Art of
Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen; Martha Stewart’s Organizing: The
Manual for Bringing Order to Your Life, Home & Routine by Martha Stewart;
and, for adults who, like Carroll, have ADHD, Order from Chaos: The Everyday
Grind of Staying Organized with Adult ADHD by Jaclyn Paul.
ADHD at Work
It’s hard to stay focused in a world of distractions. Resisting constant
interruptions, however, is even harder for people suffering from
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Yet the condition
doesn’t necessarily prevent those affected from succeeding at the
workplace. Medical writer Royce Flippin provides hands-on advice for
how people with ADHD can effectively manage their behavioral
symptoms and make the most of their strengths. Indeed, the strategies
he outlines can help anybody – with or without a diagnosed
condition – to navigate the modern workplace more productively.
People with ADHD have a lot to contribute to the workplace yet
often struggle to stay on top of their responsibilities.
ADHD sufferers can implement a number of strategies to
maximize their potential and minimize workplace difficulties.
If you have ADHD, you are under no obligation to disclose your
condition, but letting your employer know may help you get the
support you need.
People with ADHD have a lot to contribute to the
workplace yet often struggle to stay on top of their
People with ADHD find it hard to stay focused, are easily sidetracked
by external and internal interruptions, and often come across as
disorganized or careless. Low activity in the frontal area of the brain,
which is responsible for prioritizing information and self-monitoring,
is the likely cause of their symptoms.
“Adults with ADHD frequently excel in the workplace,
once they adapt to their disability and develop coping
Many adults with ADHD, however, have gone on to lead successful
careers – be it in entertainment, politics or business. People with
ADHD often stand out for their people skills and creativity. The key for
people with ADHD is to come up with individual coping skills to
manage their condition.
ADHD sufferers can implement a number of strategies to
maximize their potential and minimize workplace
dif culties.
People with ADHD can manage their condition with a combination of
medication and behavioral strategies. For one, ADHD drugs can help
sufferers focus better and control their impulses. Yet, patients will
need to time them properly to make sure the drugs don’t wear off
while they are still at work. People with ADHD must develop
appropriate workplace strategies – possibly with the help of an ADHD
coach – to keep themselves on task. Some may find that working early
in the morning, moving to a quiet workspace or letting phone calls go
to voicemail helps minimize external distractions. Other strategies can
help deal with internal interruptions: keeping a notepad handy to jot
down random ideas for later, using a detailed planning system to have
peace of mind that nothing important gets missed and making sure to
stay engaged with work to minimize the temptation to daydream.
Furthermore, setting a timer can help hyperfocused ADHD sufferers
who easily lose track of their time. Taking advantage of every
appropriate opportunity to move around in the course of the workday
helps to manage hyperactivity. Finally, some may find it helpful to
enlist a manager or co-worker to help them prioritize their work tasks
and structure their day.
If you have ADHD, you are under no obligation to disclose
your condition, but letting your employer know may help
you get the support you need.
The traits that come with ADHD are often mistaken for character flaws
– such as laziness or carelessness. Sufferers of ADHD may find more
acceptance and understanding among co-workers who are aware of the
“Ideally, by telling your boss, you’ll gain an ally in
helping you to set up an optimal work environment.” ”
In the United States, employees with ADHD also benefit from a
number of legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities
Act, which covers the condition. US law doesn't require you to disclose
your condition to your employer, but if you do, you can ask for a
number of workplace accommodations that will help make your work
life easier and more productive.
About the Author
Royce Flippin is a freelance health and medical journalist in New
York City.
The Cognition Crisis
You inherited an insatiable thirst for information. It’s a trait that’s kept humans
alive for millennia, but the advent of information technology turned the trickle of
information your brain evolved to devour into an overwhelming flood. The bad
news is that the flood is drowning your prefrontal cortex. Adam Gazzaley – a
professor of neurology and psychiatric physiology – calls the correlated rises in
depression, anxiety and dementia a “cognition crisis.” Could the technology that
produced the problem also provide the solution? getAbstract recommends
Gazzaley’s timely article to the parents, doctors and technologists who might save
the population from serious cognitive decline.
Digital technology has increased the amount of information humans take in
every day, and the human brain hasn’t evolved fast enough to handle the
Cognitive impairments like dementia, depression and ADHD are on the
rise. Education and medicine are well-situated to help, but both suffer from
five systemic flaws.
The five flaws to overcome are “inadequate assessments, poor targeting,
lack of personalization, siloed practices and open-loop systems.”
Existing technology like biological sensors can improve assessments and
provide real-time feedback. Digital technologies could allow for
inexpensive but personalized intervention programs.
Companies and laboratories are already developing “digital education and
digital medicine” that might use personalized video games to train,
maintain and enhance the brain.
Rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and
dementia are rising and present a hazard to humanity. The rise in dementia is
expected; it reflects the growing numbers of the elderly. More worrisome is the
epidemic of attention and emotional disorders in the young. The education
and medical professions are well-placed to address this crisis, but before they do,
they must address five institutional incompetencies:
Inadequate assessments – Making no assessment or using outdated or
imprecise test instruments for diagnosis.
Poor targeting – Prescribing generic treatment plans that don’t remedy
specific problematic behavior.
Lack of personalization – Issuing standardized doses of medication
based on large clinical trials rather than on individual need.
Siloed practices – Thus making complementary interdisciplinary
treatment unavailable.
Open-loop systems – Failing to get the necessary feedback to enable
continual adjustments in treatment for optimal benefit.
“Even if an individual’s cognition problems do not result in a
medical diagnosis, subclinical deficits in attention, emotional
regulation and memory have been found to confer a real risk.”
Many labs and businesses are already pursuing digital medicine and digital
education, which could use “noninvasive, affordable, safe and accessible”
technology to address these inadequacies. Imagine a video game that uses
accelerometers, voice recognition, heart-rate monitors, eye-motion trackers and
brain imaging to sense human movement, brain activity, performance and
emotions. The program would provide a personalized diagnosis and targeted
interventions, which may include long-known cognitive enhancers such
as exercise, time in nature, meditation, good sleep hygiene and
increased socialization. The program may also include more time with the video
game, which adjusts its difficulty level and rewards with real-time feedback,
essentially using the brain’s natural neural plasticity to maintain and enhance
cognitive abilities throughout a person’s lifetime. Eventually, artificial intelligence
and virtual reality could play a role. Technology has already enhanced physical
health, and it could enhance mental health, too.
About the Author
Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, is a professor of neurology and psychiatry
physiology at UCSF. He founded and directs Neuroscape and cofounded Akili
Interactive, JAZZ VP and Sensync.
Manage Your Day-to-Day
Editor Jocelyn K. Glei offers a selection of practices that leaders use to encourage
inspiration and to avoid multitasking. To help your ideas bloom, she says,
structure time for your own creativity. Her fascinating compilation, part of the
99U Book Series, draws on the insights of various creative thinkers, including
coach Mark McGuinness, Behance founder Scott Belsky and behavioral
economist Dan Ariely. Glei offers sound advice to help you work in tumultuous
situations, connect with yourself instead of constantly communicating with
everyone else, avoid the distractions of email and social media, and develop a
productive routine. She also provides links to the websites of the thinkers whose
insights she features. getAbstract advocates this best-selling compilation to those
seeking to increase their focus, productivity and creativity.
Stop making excuses. Accept your strengths and the reality of your
organizational limitations.
At the start of each day, do vital tasks first. Establish a solid routine.
Structure your time so you can work without interruption.
Pay more attention to your intuition and gut feelings than to technology.
Periodically turn off all media connections to give your mind a rest and
open the door for a fresh take.
Decide which issues to ignore in your email and social media. You’ll always
find more topics demanding your attention than you can tend to effectively.
Differentiate between what you do consciously and what you do as a result
of an addiction.
Accept your constraints as advantages, not obstacles. Your ability to
overcome limitations can spark your creativity.
Seek solitude to enhance your serenity.
Don’t rest on your laurels. Continually strive to take on the next task.
“Building a Rock-Solid Routine”
Scott Belsky, the founder of Behance, asked creative people about their work and
their lives. On the basis of their responses, he advocates going beyond merely
coming up with great ideas and taking the next step: putting your ideas into
“To create something worthwhile with your life…draw a line
between the world’s demands and your own ambitions.”
As a frequent public speaker, Belsky often asks people if they have ideas. His
audience members always say they do, but then they explain why they can’t act on
their ideas. Belsky urges you to recognize that the time has come to stop making
excuses. Accept what you can do – and do it.
Live with the reality that few organizations achieve perfection. Take the initiative
to promote your ideas with the understanding that how you act defines your
ability to do things well. How you seize the opportunity to improve your work
habits will determine whether you can make things happen. Start by creating a
rock-solid routine. 99U director Jocelyn Glei offers these tips:
Put doing “great work before everything else” – When you start
work, do whatever you consider most vital. Leave activities like responding
to email until after you complete the day’s crucial tasks.
“Jump-start your creativity” – Set up cues like playing the same music
consistently or structuring your work area in a productive way to help you
prepare for work.
“Feel the frequency” – Commit to working on long-range assignments
regularly to build your forward momentum.
“Pulse and pause” – Alternate systematically between expending energy
and recharging. Focus on your work during 90-minute sessions, and then
take a break.
“Get lonely” – To enhance your serenity, focus and energy, establish a
practice of seeking some time in solitude every day.
“Don’t wait for moods” – Work no matter how you feel. Being
productive will put you in the mood to be productive.
“Honing Your Creative Practice”
Seth Godin, best-selling author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us and The Dip:
A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick) and many
other titles, believes creative people must embrace their own “idiosyncrasies” to
figure out the work habits that fit them best. He embraces the idea of a “practice”
built on repeatable, productive, disciplined work habits.
“When we focus on fulfilling our core needs and helping others do
the same, we feel more satisfied and, consequently, are more
Godin urges creative workers to be especially ambitious and dedicated even when
they don’t feel like working. What distinguishes between your work and “your
hobby,” Godin says, is that your emotions don’t dictate when you work and when
you don’t.
Fear is often the main reason people may find themselves able to take on shortterm projects, but unable to build a successful creative career over the long term.
A person who makes a wonderful short film but proves unable to raise the funds
to make a full-length feature, for example, may suffer from “self-sabotage.”
“Block off a substantial chunk of time, most days of the week, for
applying sustained focus to your most important creative tasks.”
Perhaps you “feel like a fraud” when you present yourself to the world as a person
capable of doing a superb job on a difficult project. This is scary, because people
may criticize you. You’re making yourself visible to people who know and
understand the world in which you want to succeed. You might fear that they’ll
see through you.
“We are losing the distinction between urgent and important…
It’s easier to do the trivial things that are ‘urgent’ than it is to do
the important things.”
Learn to tune out such messages; they’re just “noise in your head” urging you to
believe you can’t succeed. Beware of perfectionism: It can be an unconscious
tactic to paralyze yourself.
“Finding Focus in a Distracted World”
In 1971, social science expert Herbert Simon pointed out that information
devours the concentration of those who receive it. A plentiful supply of
information “creates a poverty of attention.” Since the time Simon summarized
this dilemma, the demands on your attention have exploded due to the popularity
of social media and the ubiquity of smartphones.
“Curate “who you follow on social media. You’re letting those
people into your brain and they’re going to influence your
In a world that makes so many demands, your focused attention is the source of
your competitive edge. To protect it, consider these ideas:
“Defend your creative time” – Structure your time so you can work
without interruption. Your unbroken, focused blocks of time are as
important as any business commitment.
“Focus when you’re fresh” – Work on important tasks that require
concentration at the beginning of your workday. Your ability to concentrate
declines later in the day. Save that time for emails and for mundane tasks
and chores.
“Kill the background noise” – Turn off your phone and online social
media. Log off from any other distractions when you work.
“Give your brain a break” – During your uninterrupted work time,
switch between difficult and easy tasks to give your brain an opportunity to
“Tap into transitional movements” – To open yourself to new
opportunities to work and think, don’t check your smartphone when you
unexpectedly have a break.
“Taming Your Tools”
Kevin Kelly, who co-founded WIRED magazine, notes that new technologies can
have downsides. The more apparent a new technology’s benefits are, the greater
the potential it offers for misuse. Most working people maintain an ambiguous
relationship with technology. The demands technology makes might overwhelm
you. You may suffer a constant temptation to post everything you think your
friends would like. This is a common and toxic disruption of focus and work
“Being friendly while standing in line for coffee at a conference
might lead to a conversation, a business card exchange and the
first investment in your company a few months later.”
To manage your relationship with technology:
“Keep the long view in view” – Post your most difficult, long-term
goals on your computer to keep them uppermost in your mind as you
decide what you need to do next.
“Be conscious of your bandwidth” – Ignore certain topics in your
email and on social media. You will always find more things to pay
attention to than you can heed or respond to productively.
“Check yourself or wreck yourself” – Differentiate between what you
do consciously and what you do as a result of an addiction. Does the brief,
positive hit of dopamine you receive from a “Like” rule your day, and
distract you from important tasks? If so, that behavior, however benign it
might appear, is addictive.
“Hit the rest button” – Periodically disconnect from all media – online,
on-air, on your phone – to give your mind a rest and create a chance for a
fresh take.
“Don’t hold your breath” – Cultivate an appreciation of your body. Pay
attention to your breath to make yourself calmer and allow yourself to
think more clearly. To help you learn to breathe, perform yoga, meditate or
try contemplative stretching.
“In imagination we trust” – Your emotions are more perceptive than
you may believe. Pay more attention to your intuition and gut feelings than
to technology.
“Sharpening Your Creative Mind”
Executing important tasks can require a lot of hard work every day. Remember
that you can’t resolve every issue by sheer willpower. Provide yourself with ample
time for recreation, rest and non-goal-related activities.
“The most successful creative minds consistently lay the
groundwork for ideas to germinate and evolve.”
Though this seems counterintuitive, time away from work fuels your energy and
focus. Getting away from your tasks and from applying willpower can provide the
inspiration to develop your thoughts and to start new initiatives.
Get out of your rut of habits, explore unrelated activities, stop criticizing yourself
and restrain yourself from seeking perfection. Most people use their creativity
only to earn their living.
“Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal
with their own demons to get their work done.”
However, work tasks should constitute just a small portion of your true
capabilities. To achieve outstanding results, strive to serve your most important
audience: yourself.
To that end, consider these strategies:
“Practice unnecessary creation” – Whether your own creative projects
bring you income or not, work on them to use your talents and explore new
“Wonder lonely as a cloud” – Give yourself time to daydream when
you face an obstacle you can’t resolve. Backing off from difficult subjects
allows you to tap into your subconscious to find solutions you didn’t know
“Define ‘finished from the start’” – Decide when you begin a project
what your finished result will look like. That will prevent you from making
impossible demands on yourself that can block you from ever finishing.
“Search for the source” – When you feel insufficient inspiration, don’t
criticize your lack of capability. You could be facing other problems that
cloud your perception. Try to identify the issues that could be worrying and
distracting you. Take what steps you can to resolve them and be
determined that they won’t thwart you.
“Love your limitations” – Accept your constraints as an advantage
rather than an obstacle. Your ability to identify and overcome limitations
can unleash your creativity, energy and inspiration.
Setting Out on the Journey
When you’re young, you may have only a few skills to draw on when you begin an
endeavor. You might get scared, and that anxiety might make you stumble.
“Screen apnea is the temporary cessation of breath or shallow
breathing while sitting in front of a screen, whether a computer,
a mobile device or a television.”
As you grow into being a professional who works through various moods and
ignores anxiety, you’ll become stronger and more productive. Yet no one gains
expertise overnight.
Develop a working rhythm. In the beginning, that could mean sitting and working
for an unbroken hour. A lot of people can’t manage even that. You may find that
an hour of pure focus makes you restless and distracted. If so, work up to an hour
in smaller increments.
“With one eye on our gadgets, we’re unable to give our full
attention to who and what is in front of us…we miss out on the
details of our lives, ironically, while responding to our fear of
missing out.”
Make sure that you focus only on work for whatever time increments function
best for you. After you are able to work with focus for one-hour periods during a
day, try to maintain that steady rhythm of focus and productivity for several days.
If doubt clouds your focus and you wonder if you could ever complete a project
that could interest another person – like a piece of writing or art – stop for a
moment of learning and consideration. The process of mastering your craft also
helps you learn how to control your feelings rather than being controlled by them,
helps you prevent yourself from stumbling and helps you focus on the virtues of
“An optimist [can] keep 50, a hundred or even a thousand emails hovering in their inbox in the hopes that, someday soon,
they’ll get a chance to give each opportunity the precious time
that it deserves.”
When you complete a project, you might feel inner reluctance about taking up the
next challenge. That’s natural, and you might need a brief rest.
However, if you indulge it, this resistance can prevent you from achieving your
potential and acting in a masterful manner. After an interval of positive
reflection, during which you accept praise from yourself and others, tackle the
next task, no matter how daunting it seems.
“We are constantly forced to juggle tasks and battle unwanted
As you become a professional, continue to persevere at your vocation no matter
how you feel on any given day or what happens around you. Professionals grow
only more youthful and more innocent as they become more skilled. You might
find that transformation puzzling, but without a sense of wonder about your
work, continually pressing ahead becomes more difficult.
“We must learn to be creative amidst chaos.”
If you manage your work systematically, your emotions surrounding your own
excellence will grow less complicated over time. Paradoxically, you will become
more professional when you give up control and let your craft command you. This
is not an easy path, but it is the most certain path to success and selfactualization.
About the Authors
Jocelyn K. Glei is editor-in-chief and director of 99U – which teaches how to
make ideas happen. She’s the former global managing editor of the online media
company Flavorpill.
The 7 Habits of Highly
E ective People
In this updated edition of the late Stephen R. Covey's bestseller, Sean Covey
draws on ancient wisdom, modern psychology and 20th century science
and wraps the mix in a distinctively American can-do program of easylooking steps calling mostly for self-discipline. This classic – now in a new
30th anniversary edition with a foreword by Jim Collins – is a popular,
trusted manual for self-improvement, although you still may find some
prescriptions easier to agree with than to act upon.
You are what you habitually do, so adopt productive habits. You have
the ability to improve your habits and your life.
Focus on developing character, not personality.
Choose sound principles – integrity, dignity, quality, service, patience,
perseverance, caring, courage – and endeavor to live by them by
adopting seven habits.
Habit 1: “Be Proactive.” You are free because you can determine how
you respond to circumstances.
Habit 2: “Begin with the End in Mind.” Write a personal mission
statement to clarify your principles and set your goals.
Habit 3: “Put First Things First.” Balance the attention you give to
each of your roles, responsibilities and relationships.
Habit 4: “Think Win/Win.” Multiply your allies.
Habit 5: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”
Communication and trust are two-way streets.
Habit 6: “Synergize.” The cooperative whole is greater than the sum of
the individual parts.
Habit 7: “Sharpen the Saw.” Take the time to sharpen your tools: your
body, soul, mind and heart.
You are what you habitually do, so adopt productive habits.
You have the ability to improve your habits and your life.
The seven habits of highly effective people are:
They take initiative. “Be proactive.”
They focus on goals. “Begin with the end in mind.”
They set priorities. “Put first things first.”
They only win when others win. “Think win/win.”
They communicate. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
They cooperate. “Synergize.”
They reflect on and repair their deficiencies. “Sharpen the saw.”
Focus on developing character, not personality.
Much of the business success literature of recent decades focused on
developing a good personality. This emphasis is misplaced. Developing a
sound character is more important and more productive. Your personality
can emerge naturally when your character is rooted in and formed by
positive principles. Forcing yourself to display a personality that is
inconsistent with your character is like wearing a mask. It is deceptive,
manipulative and ultimately destructive.
“In fact, until we take how we see ourselves (and how we see
others) into account, we will be unable to understand how
others see and feel about themselves and their world.”
To develop a sound character, you need a sound paradigm, a solid new way
of seeing things. Before the theory of germs established a new paradigm, for
example, surgeons didn’t wash their hands. When patients died of
infections, no one understood why. Sterile operating rooms came about as
the result of a new paradigm, a new way of seeing how disease worked.
Choose sound principles – integrity, dignity, quality, service,
patience, perseverance, caring, excellence, courage – and
endeavor to live by them by adopting seven habits.
Today, many people have a deterministic paradigm. They believe that their
genetic makeup determines how they will act, or that their parents’ failures
permanently weakened their own chances and formed them irremediably,
or that their environment or experience have curtailed their freedom to
change. In fact, determinism is a paradigm. To forge a strong character,
abandon determinism and accept a paradigm of freedom. This new
paradigm allows you to see that you can change, that character is a habit
and that a habit is what you do consistently. If you act consistently in a new
way, you will form and become a new, improved character.
“In choosing our response to circumstance, we powerfully
affect our circumstance.”
Certain basic principles and values make people more effective. They are
fairness, equity, integrity, honesty, human dignity and worth, excellence, a
spirit of service, patience, perseverance, nurturing, caring, courage,
encouragement, and the can-do attitude that recognizes boundless
potential. The person whose character grows from these classic principles is
a leader who, having mastered him or her self, can inspire and help others.
Character is habit. Excellence is a habit, not an aptitude. As Aristotle said,
we are what we habitually do. To develop the habit of acting on these
principles you must:
• Know – Understand what you want to do and why you want to do it.
• Develop skills – Become able to do it.
• Desire – You must want and will yourself to do it.
The most important work is the inner work. When you master your interior
self, you will master what is outside of you. Many people mistakenly
concentrate on production, on making a measurable, visible difference in
the world outside. They neglect production capability, the source of power
that makes production possible. They are like the fellow who runs several
hours a day and boasts of the extra years he’ll live but neglects to notice that
he is spending all of his extra time running. He may gain extra years, but he
won’t be able to do anything more with them, and the time he spends
running might better be spent developing deeper relationships with his
spouse, family and friends.
Habit 1: Be Proactive. You are free because you can
determine how you respond to circumstances.
Highly effective people take the initiative. They are proactive. They don’t
impose limits on themselves that prevent them from acting. They recognize
that they have the freedom to determine the kind of character they will have
because they can decide how they will act. They may not be able to control
their circumstances, but they can decide whether to use those
circumstances or be abused by them. They live by the “principles of
personal vision.”
“The most effective way I know to begin with the end in mind
is to develop a personal mission statement or philosophy or
Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. His entire
family, except for one sister, was murdered in the camps. As horrific as his
circumstances were, Frankl recognized that he was free, because he could
decide how he would think and act in the midst of the horror. Even when he
was a starving prisoner, he visualized himself lecturing in a classroom,
telling students about the horror and what he learned from it.
His mental discipline made him stronger than the camp guards. He
inspired fellow prisoners and even some of the guards themselves. Frankl
was proactive. He took the initiative and accepted responsibility for his fate.
He recognized that his fate was his to decide. He didn’t have the power to
walk away from the camp, but he had the power to master it.
“By centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles,
we create a fundamental paradigm of effective living.”
Begin to be proactive by speaking the language of initiative and
Not, I can’t do anything – but, let’s think about some possibilities.
Not, that’s just me – but, I can change the way I am.
Not, he drives me up the wall – but, I can choose how I’ll let him
affect me.
• Not, I can’t or I have to – but, I will decide and I will choose.
Proactive people operate in the realm of the possible. They see what they
can do and do it. By taking responsibility and acting, they expand the realm
of the possible. They get stronger as time passes. They become able to do
more and more. They begin by committing to change something interior
and may eventually change the world around them.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. Write a personal mission
statement to clarify your principles and set your goals.
Think carefully about your goals. Many people spend a lifetime pursuing a
goal that proves meaningless, unsatisfying or destructive. You see them on
the covers of tabloid magazines, rich, famous, busted for drugs or watching
their marriages fall apart. Power, money and fame were the goals that they
wanted and achieved, but at what price? Effectiveness is not just a matter of
reaching a goal but rather of achieving the right goal. Imagine yourself
sitting in the back of the room at your funeral. Imagine what people could
honestly say about you based on the way you are now. Do you like what you
hear? Is that how you want to be remembered? If not, change it. Take hold
of your life. Implement “personal leadership.”
“Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven
to have enduring, permanent value.”
Begin by drafting a personal mission statement that outlines your goals and
describes the kind of person you want to be. Think carefully about this
mission statement. Examine yourself. See yourself as you really are. Are you
self-centered? A workaholic? Money-grubbing? Decide what you need to
change and what you want to become. Write the statement. Make a
commitment to yourself. Keep that commitment.
Habit 3: Put First Things First. Balance the attention you give
to each of your roles.
You have the power to change who you are, but that means changing how
you act. Never let your most important priorities fall victim to the least
important. Many people spend their time reacting to urgent circumstances
and emergencies, and never invest the necessary effort to develop the ability
to prevent emergencies, to exercise “personal management.” They confuse
the important with the urgent. The urgent is easy to see. The important is
harder to discern.
“Effective management is putting first things first.”
Emphasize planning, avoiding pitfalls, developing relationships, cultivating
opportunities and getting adequate recreation. Don’t think about cramming
a lot of business into your schedule but rather about making sure that you
spend the necessary time on important things. Think of your various roles
as a spouse, a parent, a manager, or a community volunteer. Give each role
an appropriate allotment of time on your schedule. Don’t rob Peter to pay
Paul; make sure each role gets its due.
Habit 4: Think Win/Win. Multiply your allies.
In marriage, business or other relationships, exercise “interpersonal
leadership” to make both parties winners. Two wins makes everyone better
off; two losses places everyone in a worse situation. A win/lose relationship
creates a victor and leaves someone injured. Highly effective people strive
for win/win transactions, which make it profitable for everyone to
cooperate because all the parties are better off in the end. Any other kind of
transaction is destructive, because it produces losers and, therefore,
enemies and bad feelings, such as animosity, defeat and hostility. Highly
effective people become highly effective by multiplying their allies, not their
enemies. A good alliance is win/win.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
Communication and trust are two-way streets.
To develop win/win relationships, find out what the other parties want, and
what winning means to them. Don’t assume you know. Listen. Always try to
understand what the other people want and need before you begin to
outline your own objectives. Do not object, argue or oppose what you hear.
Listen carefully, and think about it. Try to put yourself in the other party’s
“Think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.”
Good lawyers make it a practice to write the strongest possible case they can
from their opponent’s point of view. Only when they understand the best
possible arguments for the opposition do they begin to draft the case from
their client’s point of view. This tactic is equally valuable in personal
relationships or business arrangements. Always understand what the other
party needs and wants, and why. Then, when you outline your own
objectives, put them in terms that respond directly to the other party’s
goals. That is acting upon the “principles of empathetic communication.”
Habit 6: "Synergize." The cooperative whole is greater than
the sum of the individual parts.
Cooperation multiplies the power of one. In fact, “creative cooperation”
may yield a force greater than the sum of the parts, just as an arch can
support a greater weight than two pillars can hold. The arch multiples the
power of both pillars. The buzzword to describe this kind of relationship is
“synergy,” which means bringing together a whole that is greater than the
sum of the parts.
“Real self-respect comes from dominion over self.”
Effective synergy depends on communication. Many people make synergy
impossible by reacting from scripts. They don’t listen, reflect and respond
but instead hear and react reflexively. Their reactions may be defensive,
authoritarian or passive. They may oppose or they may go along – but they
don’t actively cooperate. Cooperation and communication are the two legs
of a synergistic relationship. Listen, reflect, respond and actively cooperate.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw. Take the time to sharpen your
tools: your body, soul, mind and heart.
In an old yarn, a man is sawing a log. The work is going slowly and the man
is exhausted. The more he saws, the less he cuts. A passerby watches for a
while and suggests that the man should take a break to sharpen the saw.
But the man says he can’t stop to sharpen the saw because he is too busy
sawing! A dull saw makes the work tiresome, tedious and unproductive.
Highly effective people take the time they need to sharpen their tools, which
are, in fact, their bodies, souls, mind and hearts. It’s time for “self-renewal.”
Effective people take care of their bodies with a program of exercise that
combines endurance, flexibility and strength. It’s easy to plan such a
program, and you don’t have to join a gym to implement it. Effective people
care for their souls with prayer and meditation, if they are inclined to a
religiously-grounded spirituality, or perhaps by reading great literature or
listening to great music. Never neglect this spiritual dimension; it provides
the energy for the rest of your life.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they
listen with the intent to reply.”
Mental repair may mean changing your habits, such as the habit of
watching television. Television watching encourages passive absorption of
values, attitudes and dispositions that dull the mind. Read, work puzzles, do
math or engage in some challenging activity to keep your mind alert, active
and engaged.
The heart refers to emotions, which depend greatly on others. Work to
develop your heart, your emotional connections and your engagement with
other people. Communicate, listen and be undemanding. In everything you
do, try to make others better off and put them first. By doing so, you’ll
transform yourself into a highly effective person.
About the Authors
Sean Covey is Executive Vice President of Global Solutions and
Partnerships for FranklinCovey and a New York Times bestselling author.
His books include The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make, The 7
Habits of Happy Kids, The 4 Disciplines of Execution and The 7 Habits of
Highly Effective Teens. The late Stephen R. Covey was vice-chairman of
FranklinCovey and founder of the Covey Leadership Center. His bestsellers
include The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The 48 Laws of Power
This book is amoral, hauntingly true and indispensable. It should be on the
bookshelf of anyone who aspires to any level of success in any organization or
profession. It should not gather dust but should be read regularly, according to a
plan - one law a day, for example, absorbed slowly and contemplated deeply.
Author Robert Greene draws on a rich variety of sources including books so
threatening that they were banned by the ancient Chinese. He cites the memoirs
of Machiavelli, various con men and many others who swept aside what ought to
be in order to focus on what is. It might seem that anyone who follows all of these
laws in their rich, narrative detail will turn out to be a very unpleasant person.
That’s probably not true. getAbstract suspects, in contrast, that the person who
masters the laws of power will be extremely pleasant, with winning ways and a
knack for likeability, yet awe-inspiring and in control - though not always
obviously so. Doesn’t that sound tempting?
Always look good, always be stylish.
Never trust anyone - enemies are more reliable than friends.
Make everything seem easy.
Draw attention to yourself.
Use the weaknesses and pain points of others to control them.
Plan thoroughly and never overreach your plan.
Do not force people to do your will; seduce and induce them.
Speak as little as possible because speaking too much is dangerous.
Keep yourself at some distance to inspire respect.
Play dumb, because if people think they are smarter than you they will
make blunders.
The Ways of Power
The need for power is so fundamental, so essentially human, that when you feel
you have no power over people or events, you are likely to be depressed.
People who pretend to have no aspirations to power are either deceiving
themselves or attempting to deceive others. Everyone wants power. The more
they get, the more they want.
“The moment of victory is often the moment of greatest peril.”
Power is like a drug, but it does not weaken you. On the contrary, it makes you
Yet, it is considered somewhat impolite and vulgar, almost an outrage, to seek
power forthrightly. Those who want power must seem to have no interest in it.
Indeed, they must pretend to care only about others.
The person who best projects an image of not caring for power will become the
most powerful. It is paradoxical and, perhaps, unhealthy but you cannot honestly
and straightforwardly pursue power. You must disguise your means and ends.
This does not mean lying. Indeed, it is wrong to lie, not because lying is immoral,
although according to moral codes it is, but rather because the risk of being
exposed is too great. Power depends on trust. The known liar loses trust and,
therefore, loses power.
“What happens first always appears better and more original
than what comes after.”
Duplicity is another matter. These laws may seem scandalously frank, but you can
apply them without violating any of the strictures of public morality.
In fact, that's the way to get the best results.
The Laws
Never eclipse your superiors – Always reinforce their comfortable
sense of superiority. They are probably acutely aware of their defects and
incompetence, and alert to any threat from below. If you make them look
bad, they will crush you, stymie you and make you miserable. Prove your
usefulness. Never outshine them.
Do not trust allies, but understand the utility of enemies – Friends
will betray you out of envy. They have a regrettable tendency to expect too
much of you because of your friendship and to become demanding
nuisances. Don't hire or appoint friends. Hire enemies. The enemy whom
you forgive will always feel that he has to prove his loyalty. If you have no
enemies, get to work making a few good ones.
Don't tip your hand – If people don't know what goal you are seeking,
they cannot defend against you. Keep your intentions secret. Move behind a
Spare your words – The powerful seldom speak. The more you talk, the
more you expose yourself, and then, the more familiar you become. The
more familiar you become, the less awesome you seem. Speak sparingly.
Protect your reputation – Reputation can defend you in any attack, but
it is useless once damaged. Never tolerate or ignore any threat of a blemish
to your reputation.
Make yourself the center of attention – People judge on the basis of
what they see. They do not know what they don't see. Forget toiling in
obscurity. The only reward for that will be more toil and more obscurity.
Make a spectacle of yourself.
Take credit for others' work – Admittedly, it's not nice to take all the
credit for other people's work, but it is very effective and you would be a
fool to do otherwise. You will seem like a miracle of speed and competence,
and no one will remember those who made your success possible, so they
can't threaten you.
Lure people – When you make other people move first, you are in
control. Power means being in control. Never act first; never go to the other
person's turf. Make adversaries come to you. Bait them, entice them,
seduce them, but draw them to you.
9. Win by deeds not by debate — Instead of arguing (which creates losers
who bear grudges), win by acting. Instead, demonstrate that you are right
by your deeds.
10. Shun losers; unhappiness and bad luck are contagious — The
drowning man drags his rescuers under. Avoid losers. Hang with winners.
Shun the poor, the unlucky, the unloved and the unhappy.
11. Make people need you – It is good to have people depend on you. Keep
them dependent. Then, you are in control. Never teach them so much they
can get by without you or compete with you. Keep a secret or two that
maintains your power.
12. Tell part of the truth and be tactically generous – When you are
honest and generous, people relax and begin to trust you. Then they are
vulnerable and effectively in your power. Seem generous and honest. Give
people gifts. Remember the story of the Trojan Horse: it worked admirably
13. When you ask for help, let people know what's in it for them – Do
not expect altruism. When people are altruistic (rare), you are in their debt.
Usually, people will not want to help you for your sake. To get their
support, appeal to their self-interest. If something will benefit them,
exaggerate shamelessly; they will hasten to your aid.
14. Seem to be a friend to gather intelligence – Draw people out. Ask
oblique questions. Get them to reveal themselves. Disarm rivals by seeming
to be a friend.
15. Destroy your enemy – When you fight, do not leave your enemy alive to
fight another day. Annihilate your enemies. Destroy them utterly. Even a
small spark can start a forest fire. Drown every smoldering ember.
16. Absent yourself to inspire awe – When people see you too much, they
do not respect you. Stay out of sight to inspire awe and perhaps fear. Scarce
things are valuable.
17. Be unpredictable to inspire fear – If you are unpredictable, people will
exhaust themselves trying to figure you out. In extreme cases, volatile
changes of mood, temper or plan can empower you as a tyrant, allowing
you to terrorize underlings.
18. Do not withdraw totally because isolation has its perils – It is one
thing to make yourself scarce, another to hide behind the castle walls. You
cannot trust anyone to bring you accurate information, so you cannot stay
completely out of sight. Be out and about enough to know what is up.
19. Know with whom you deal; give no offense to the powerful – Be
able to read people. Know what power and what friends your antagonists
command. Make no assumptions. People often pretend to be what they are
not, and may nourish a slight for years until they have a chance to repay it.
20. Make no promises – You are your only commitment. Avoid inseparable
allies. As Washington advised, avoid entangling alliances.
21. Play dumb – There's no point looking smarter than people. It puts them
on their guard. Disarm your victims by making them feel smartest. They
like it, and it makes them shed all suspicion and fear, so you can
manipulate them as you please.
22. Surrender to gain power – If you are weaker than your opponent,
forget staging a good fight for glory. Surrender on terms that let you keep
as much power as possible. Wait for your opponent to make a false step,
and strike from the dark, unsuspected.
23. Focus your strength – Pick one point and bring all your forces to bear
on it. Do not disperse your energy or power. Cultivate one powerful mentor
or patron assiduously.
24. Be courtly – The courtier is adept at intrigue, manipulation, image,
flattery, flirtation and conversation. The perfect courtier looks good and
manages to assemble power without seeming to grasp. To control even the
king, be the perfect courtier.
25. Re-invent yourself – Don't be what other people try to compel you to be.
Carve out your own attention-getting identity. Be interesting, never dull. Be
dramatic; have signature gestures, deeds, even costumes, so people always
know who you are.
26. Don't get your hands dirty – Use someone else to do any dirty work.
Then, find someone else to take the blame. Scapegoats and cats'-paws have
their uses.
27. Exploit people's needs to build your cult – People want to believe. It
hardly matters what or whom they believe. Offer them something to trust,
someone to follow. Speak inspiringly and imply great promises, but spare
the specifics so no one can charge you with not performing. Have your
disciples sacrifice for you. They will empower you.
28. Act boldly – Never be timid. Take bold, decisive action. Any doubt on
your part will impede you and increase the probability of failure. Never fail
in public. The missteps of the bold are forgiven; the stumbles of the timid
are not.
29. Plan everything – Leave nothing to chance. Plan every step, including
the last step, and the one after that. Many have lost the fruit of their
scheming by neglecting to plan the conclusion. As a result, the credit,
money or power went to someone else.
30. Look as if everything you do is easy – Never show effort. Never break
a sweat. Magicians conceal their stage apparatus and so should you. Amaze
others with the ease of your accomplishment. Especially when you have run
as far as you possibly can and are about to faint, seem to be full of energy
and ready for another course.
31. You have to deal the cards to control the game – You must seem to
allow others some freedom of choice, but always invisibly control the
boundaries of their choices. Give them choices that make you better off no
matter which alternative they pick.
32. Seem to offer what people have dreamed of and longed for –
Never make people face the ugly truth. Give them the dreams they want
and they will give you power.
33. Learn what hurts and use it – Everyone has a weakness, vulnerability,
insecurity, need or sensitivity. Learn it and exploit it. Inflict or relieve pain
as serves your purpose.
34. Play the king and people will treat you royally – Carry yourself like a
king. Respect and value yourself. Other people will regard you as you
regard yourself.
35. Timing is everything – The right act at the wrong time is the wrong act.
The wrong act at the right time is the right act. Timing is everything. Part of
appearing confident is the virtue of patience. Never seem hurried, harried
or at loose ends. Behave as if everything is going your way and will work
out in your favor.
36. Despise what is beyond your reach – Like Aesop's fox and the sour
grapes, if you cannot reach a coveted prize, despise it. If you acknowledge a
problem or a problem person, you empower the problem or the
troublemaker. If you seem to ignore and disdain what others covet or fear,
you will seem superior, and they will be in awe.
37. Be spectacular – Do not hide your light. Use symbols, grand gestures,
dramatic words and staging to highlight yourself and draw attention.
38. Think what you please, but act like the crowd – There is no
advantage in playing the eccentric or the fool. If you seem to run too much
against the current of the times and against the customary practice, people
will distrust and despise you. Show your inventiveness and originality only
to those with whom you are intimate.
39. Make a splash and you'll fill your net with fish – Never get angry.
Never give vent to strong emotions. Make your enemies do that. When they
strike in anger, they will strike inaccurately, opening themselves to your
patient, well-planned counter attack.
40. Don't look for a free lunch; disdain it – Anything that seems free is
not. Something worth having is worth the price. Pay your own way; carry
your own weight. Owe nothing. Do not rely on the generosity of others;
make others rely on yours.
41. Don't try to fill the shoes of the great – If the shoes don't fit you,
you'll stumble and look like a presumptuous fool. If the one who preceded
you in a post was great, you will work in a shadow. Strike out on your own;
show movement in a new direction.
42. Strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep – If the group is restive or
truculent, look for the troublemaker. Often, a single malcontent can poison
a whole community. Strike that one person and you will destroy an entire
43. Win hearts and minds – Do not force people to do your will. They
resent force and nurture dreams of revenge. Win them by guile, flattery and
craft. Let them think they are following their own will and hearts. Then
they will serve you out of love, and hope only to serve you more.
44. Enrage people by mirroring them – Do what your enemies do. Force
them to face themselves. They will see themselves and they will not see you.
You will enrage them, disarm them and defeat them.
45. Talk about reform but make changes slowly – People love to talk
about change, but they hate to change. If you come to power, do not make
big changes quickly. Talk up reform, inspire dreams of change, but make
only small changes and work patiently.
46. Never look perfect – If you look too good, people will try to destroy you
out of envy. Claim some fault so slight it is almost a virtue, but
acknowledge it as a fault.
47. When you reach your goal, stop – Many have lost the prize by being
too greedy or arrogant. Don't overreach. When you achieve your victory,
you have reached the end of your plan. Stop. Do not go farther until you
have made a new plan.
48. Be protean – If you have no shape, people cannot find your center and
cannot attack you. Be fluid. Adjust to every circumstance. Like water, adapt
to every vessel.
About the Author
Robert Greene has a degree in classical studies and has been an editor at
Esquire and other magazines.
What appears to be genius is not so uncommon. Mozart’s sister, Maria
Anna, was also a child prodigy. The difference for top performers isn’t
practice – it’s “deliberate practice,” a focused method of systematic
improvement that psychologist Anders Ericsson spent a lifetime studying.
He and co-author Robert Pool explain the science that supports deliberate
practice and illustrate their manual with historical examples of top
Practice and the time they devote to the practice differentiates top and
average performers.
Focused practice that challenges homeostasis changes the brain.
Top performers improve their skills by improving their “mental
Nobody develops extraordinary abilities without putting in
tremendous amounts of practice.
To improve, you need to practice the right way.
Maintaining practice over time is the key to steady improvement.
The development of expert performance typically progresses through
a series of recognizable stages: “starting out,” “becoming serious,”
“commitment,” and, in rare cases, “pathbreaker.”
Under the surface of what appears to be natural talent lurks lots of
time dedicated to practice.
In every discipline studied, deliberate practice has been shown to
produce improvement.
Practice and the time they devote to the practice
differentiates top and average performers.
“Purposeful practice” aims at specific, well-defined targets.
“Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way,
with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals and a way
to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to
maintain your motivation.”
Instead of practicing your golf game, think specifically about what you need
to do to reduce your handicap five strokes. Focus, perhaps, on adjusting
your swing. Effective practice helps change your brain to increase your
playing ability.
Focused practice that challenges homeostasis changes the
Your brain size may not change, but the brain is highly adaptable, or plastic.
When you undertake a physical fitness program, muscle cells contract and
use available oxygen and energy. But now the bloodstream needs more, so
you breathe deeper and tap other sources of energy. If you maintain a
program of physical exercise that challenges the body, your cells respond by
changing, activating different genes to handle the change. The muscles
involved eventually create a “new comfort zone.” By setting up a program
that offers continual challenge, “just outside your comfort zone,” you keep
The brain responds similarly to challenges by rewiring neuronal
connections rather than generating new cells. London’s streets are
labyrinthine, defying logic and confounding GPS systems. London’s cabbies
develop an ironclad memory of streets, addresses and efficient routes. The
posterior hippocampus is a brain structure that is important for our ability
to navigate through space. Studies reveal these cabbies have larger posterior
hippocampi than people of the same age who don’t drive cabs.
“The brain’s structure and function are not fixed. They
change in response to use. It is possible to shape the brain –
your brain, my brain, anybody’s brain – in the ways that we
desire through conscious, deliberate training.”
Musical training over time changes the brain. Musicians have a larger
cerebellum, a brain structure crucial to controlling movements, than people
who aren’t musicians do.
Changes that occur in training require maintenance: Use it or lose it.
Retired cabbies had fewer of the brain changes than active cabbies.
Top performers improve their skills by improving their
“mental representations.”
Divers and chess masters develop their expertise using different mental
maps. These mental representations develop from working on a specific
“A mental representation is a mental structure that
corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information,
or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is
thinking about.”
As experts develop more sophisticated representations, they make quicker
decisions. With deliberate practice, neural circuitry changes to create the
mental representations they need.
Chess masters manipulate their mental representations of the patterns they
discern on the board. Doctors manipulate their mental representations of
how illnesses present to hone in on the right diagnosis. Salespeople do
something similar, and the larger their repertoire of “if…then” scenarios
that make up their mental representations, the better their success on the
job. When surgery doesn’t go according to a surgeon’s mental
representation, the surgeon knows to take a moment, re-evaluate and come
up with another plan.
Nobody develops extraordinary abilities without putting in
tremendous amounts of practice.
Generally, fields with long traditions have a regimented structure for
practice and for measuring progress. These disciplines share these
An agreement about what constitutes a good performance.
Competitive top performers.
Fields that evolve over long periods of time.
Top performers who become teachers and improve training
techniques, advancing their fields.
In a study that separated three tiers – good, better and best – of topperforming violinists, researchers found all groups agreed that practice led
to improvement, was difficult, and not fun. Yet all recognized that practice
was the path to improved performance. One difference existed between
these groups: The best students spent more time, and the top two groups
spent a lot more time in solo practice than the “good” group – although
even the least accomplished practiced thousands of hours.
The principles of deliberate practice apply no matter what area you want to
improve in. Identify top performers and the feats that make them the best.
Adopt their training methods. To identify top performers, use objective
performance measures or consider peer assessments.
“In many fields it is the quality of mental representations
that sets apart the best from the rest, and mental
representations are, by their nature, not directly observable.”
A word of caution about Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that 10,000 hours is the
magic number of hours to gain expertise in anything. That particular
number is wrong. Also it has yet to be shown whether just anyone can
achieve expertise in any field through practicing. However, the message
Gladwell’s statement delivers is right: Improving is about continuing to
practice. If it’s deliberate practice, that is. And so far, people have found no
limit to the improvements that additional practice can bring.
To improve, you need to practice the right way.
Know that improvement is possible. Genetics do not limit your possible
improvement. Mere repetition or trying harder will not lead to
improvement. Focus on improving.
“If you are not improving, it’s not because you lack innate
talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way. Once
you understand this, improvement becomes a matter of
figuring out what the ‘right way’ is.”
Most businesspeople don’t have time for deliberate practice. They must
turn job scenarios into opportunities to practice skills. If you want to
improve your presentation skills, for example, focus on telling more
entertaining stories to engage your audience. To improve team skills,
listeners can take notes and give the presenter feedback. This creates a
virtuous process by which presenters steadily improve.
What matters most isn’t what you know, but what you can do. Researchers
found that physicians’ performances generally got worse over the years,
despite their experience. Interactive techniques such as case solving, acting
out roles and hands-on training improve skills. Passively listening to
lectures or attending seminars do not.
Maintaining practice over time is the key to steady
You can start out learning in a group class or following someone on
YouTube, but at some point you need a coach or teacher. Not all competent
practitioners make good teachers. Some people are better at teaching kids,
for example. Look for someone who teaches the specific skill you wish to
improve. Since most of your practice is solo, you want a teacher to guide
you to get better at these solitary sessions. Teachers correct misperceptions
you may have in your mental representations. Change teachers as you grow
and improve. Set clear goals to focus on in short training sessions.
“Keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the
skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and
analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure
out ways to address them.”
You will inevitably hit a plateau. Typists improve their speed by typing
faster and noting where they make mistakes. If they realize they err when
they type words with “ol,” they design a specific practice using lots of those
words, and practice typing more quickly. To maintain motivation, establish
a habit.
Set aside a fixed time to practice. Musicians who got up in the morning and
began practicing right away built a sense of duty around the habit. They
slept better and were better time planners. Minimize distractions. Turn off
your smartphone. Move your exercise class to the afternoon if you lack
motivation in the morning. Maintain motivation by remembering your end
goal. Eventually, mastery itself becomes part of your motivation.
The development of expert performance typically progresses
through a series of recognizable stages: “starting out,”
“becoming serious,” “commitment,” and, in rare cases,
Stage one, “starting out,” typically begins in childhood. When the first
female chess grandmaster, Susan Polgár, began as a small child, she saw
chess pieces as toys, and playing as fun. Later she came to enjoy the
challenge. This is typical for top performers. Parents introduce them to
their area of interest as play. Attention and parental praise give children
motivation. Parents teach self-discipline, hard work and constructive use of
time. In the next stage comes deliberate practice, in which practice becomes
work, and students get coaches or teachers.
Eventually, the student makes a commitment to becoming a top performer,
pushes continuously to improve beyond his or her personal best and in
competition with others, sometimes worldwide. At this point, the student
supplies the motivation. Parents play a part in financial commitment and
emotional support.
For baseball and ballet, starting in childhood makes a difference to training
arms and legs for a full range of motion. Older participants can adapt, but
not as much as children.
“In fact, people can train effectively well into their eighties.
Much of the age-related deterioration in various skills
happens because people decrease or stop their training; older
people who continue to train regularly see their performance
decrease much less.”
Adult brains learn differently from children’s brains. The earlier someone
learns a second language, for example, the better their brain’s can adapt.
In the fourth stage, top performers move beyond the performance
standards in their fields and make innovative contributions. These
“pathfinders” lay the ground for others to follow, even if they never share
their receipe for success; “simply knowing that something is possible drives
others to figure it out.”
Under the surface of what appears to be natural talent lurks
lots of time dedicated to practice.
Nicolò Paganini was a great violinist. According to legend, Paganini was
such a genius that when a string broke during a performance, he kept
playing. Another string broke, and “the audience was stricken,” but still the
genius kept playing. When the third string broke, Paganini continued
playing on one string to the delight and amazement of the crowd. To his
listeners, it was miraculous. But the truth behind the legend is his
performance wasn’t talent – it was practice plus showmanship.
Improvement is a long process without shortcuts.
Individuals with “Savant syndrome” demonstrate specific, extraordinary
abilities in parallel with mental challenges. Some people can hear a piece of
music once, then play it. While this may look like innate talent, studies
suggest it requires practice – as with the acquisition of any other ability.
Mozart, despite being labelled as “prodigy,” developed his abilities through
years of concentrated practice.
IQ doesn’t make much difference. Researchers found no correlation
between chess expertise and IQ. Those players with lower IQ practiced
more. When a skill is difficult to master and progress is slow, teachers may
assume kids don’t have the talent to succeed and discourage them from
trying, turning their belief into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In every discipline studied, deliberate practice has been
shown to produce improvement.
When teachers taught freshman physics students using principles of
deliberate practice, students learned twice the information than those in
more traditional programs. Students talked in small groups, and instructors
used their answers to questions as feedback for their program.
“Deliberate practice is all about the skills. You pick up the
necessary knowledge in order to develop the skills;
knowledge should never be an end in itself.”
Instead of teaching students separate facts to memorize into long-term
memory, connect them together as part of a mental representation. Thus,
information has context. Information with meaning is easier to use. When
you fail, revise your approach and try again. Knowledge comes as a
byproduct of learning skills.
The regular cycle of try, fail, get feedback, try again, and so on is how the
students will build their mental representations.”
When children develop their own mental representations through
deliberate practice, they can improve their skills and innovate through trial
and error. They understand that the path to success in other fields follows
this pattern. A generation of students with this mind-set will create a world
of more expertise in all areas.
About the Authors
Conradi eminent scholar Anders Ericsson, PhD, teaches psychology at
Florida State University. Robert Pool has a PhD in mathematics and is a
science journalist.
This Idea Is Brilliant
Editor John Brockman’s anthology of science’s most under-appreciated ideas is
packed with 205 scientific ideas curated by cutting-edge thinkers and scientists.
By necessity, the descriptions are short, but each one will spark your imagination
and make you think. This is a treat for science buffs and science fiction
aficionados alike.
Some questions have definitive answers. Scientists seek these definitive
answers – the truth – by using the scientific method.
The idea that people feel they know the world better than they do is “the
illusion of explanatory depth” (“IOED”).
The “longevity factor” measures a civilization’s ability to survive long term.
Some scientists want to name the current epoch the Anthropocene to
acknowledge that human impact has changed the planet.
The second law of thermodynamics states that systems tend toward
Negative events, feelings and ideas influence people more than positive
The “Schnitt” is the explanatory gap between quantum and classical
physics, the brain and the mind, what is living and what is not.
The “Big Bang” theory bogs down in quantum mechanical considerations,
so some scientists now posit that instead of a bang, the universe began with
a “bounce.”
Waves, consciousness and computations have distinct characteristics
separate from their “physical substrate.”
Some questions have de nitive answers. Scientists seek these
de nitive answers – the truth – by using the scienti c method.
Cambridge professor William Whewell coined the term “scientist” in 1833. Before
the modern era, “natural philosophers” pursued science to glean the “mind of the
Creator” in the world. Formalizing scientific study took it out of the realm of
thought and into the arena of experimentation.
The foundation of science is the “scientific method:” first comes a hypothesis,
then an experiment, and then a result that confirms or contradicts the hypothesis.
Humans are imperfect and have biases, sometimes unconscious. Sometimes
money warps a science organization’s goal; the Tobacco Industry Research
Committee actively worked for 40 years to stifle the truth about the harmful effect
of tobacco use.
Scientists evolved double-blind experiments – now considered a “gold-standard”
of the scientific method – to avoid bias. In single-blind experiments participants
don’t know whether they’re receiving a test drug or a placebo. In double-blind
experiments, neither do those executing the study. The results are free from
expectation. For scientists to accept conclusions as valid, different people in
different organizations must repeat the experiment and get the same results.
Perhaps the best-appreciated thing about science is the utility of little-known
formulae such as the Navier-Stokes equation. It describes the second law of
motion as it relates to fluids, and it has wide practical application in many fields
such as vehicular design, the study of blood flow, weather and climate change
predictions, the way animation represents water, and the “metamaterials”
developed by scientists that are transforming industries.
The idea that people feel they know the world better than they
actually do is “the illusion of explanatory depth” (“IOED”).
Humans have unprecedented access to knowledge, but that knowledge is often
shallow. Social media algorithms keep feeding you information which is like the
information you already know, and that adds to the problem.
Scientists Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil demonstrated IOED by asking
subjects to rate their understanding of common artifacts like a sewing machine or
crossbow. They then asked people to write down how each of these artifacts work,
and asked them to again rate their understanding. Faced with their own inability
to write down the details, people lowered their ratings in the second round.
An average of six Americans out of ten read only news headlines and not
content. Cognitive scientist Philip Fernbach showed that IOED applies to political
and policy issues as well, such as single-payer health care or a flat tax. He asked
participants to rate their “attitude extremity” as well as their knowledge
confidence level. Both ratings fell after people tried to describe an issue fully. This
method has proven useful for “cooling off heated political disagreements.”
“In any domain of knowledge, often the most ignorant are the
most overconfident in their understanding of that domain.”
Expertise in a subject tends to breed humility because the subject’s complexities
are more obvious to an informed person. Perhaps understanding this
phenomenon is a first step to deepening knowledge while “bridging the divides.”
The “longevity factor” measures a civilization’s ability to survive
long term.
“The Drake Equation” is a complex number scientists use to estimate the chances
of other Milky Way civilization. One of the considerations in the equation is the
longevity factor, or “the average life span of a technological civilization.
As physicist Stephen Hawking pointed out, the chances of disaster wiping out
Earth are slim, but that chance compounds over the years to become a near
certainty sometime in the next 10,000 years. So as humans move into space,
thinking on a galactic scale is important. While Mars is a nearby candidate for
colonization, scientists need to think longer-term for the safety of the human
species, because the same galactic event that might wipe out Earth could
conceivably wipe out its neighbor Mars. A good target is Proxima b, which orbits
a relatively near star. Humans will have to figure out how to move fast enough
through space for colonization of it to be possible.
In the meantime, von Neumann robots can conceivably replicate themselves and,
using local materials wherever they land, colonize the galaxy. That would take
only 10 or so million years. Even so, a “death bubble” moving at close to the speed
of light might envelop new outposts of civilization. The likelihood is small, but it
increases to inevitable over a long enough period of time.
Galaxies are moving apart from each other at an accelerating rate; some will
eventually be so far apart that light from one won’t reach the other. But if that’s
the case, then they most likely won’t fall prey to the same “death bubble.”
“By splitting into daughter civilizations and putting as much
distance between them as possible, a civilization could ‘ride’ the
expansion of the universe to relative safety.”
Anticipating these problems and troubleshooting for them in accordance with the
known laws of physics is the responsibility of today’s humans to protect
tomorrow’s. The intelligent ability to do that is “the longevity factor.”
Some scientists want to name the current epoch the
Anthropocene to acknowledge that human impacts changed the
To put major modern events like the sixth mass extinction into geological context
requires naming the current epoch the Anthropocene, acknowledging that
humans are a “global geologic force.”
The Holocene started 11,700 years ago with a warming Earth that made farming
possible. But the Holocene doesn’t explain things like the dangerous overabundance of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use now in Earth’s atmosphere, or
radioactive particles that persist in the stratosphere from nuclear explosions.
Scientists have not reached a consensus about what year should mark this epoch’s
beginning; many favor the mid-20th century with the dawn of nuclear
technologies. Others argue that social scientists should weigh in on when the era
started. Traditional geologists note that epochs begin well before their effects are
manifest. Most people agree, with or without formal declaration, that humans
have significantly altered the earth. In just one example, Oklahoma had 907
earthquakes in 2015, most the result of extracting oil and gas by breaking up
layers of rock.
The second law of thermodynamics states that isolated systems
tend toward disorder.
The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated
system can never decrease over time, and is constant if and only if all processes
are reversible. Isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic
equilibrium, the state with maximum entropy.
Isolated systems that emit no new energy become less organized over time until
they settle into a “gray, tepid, homogenous monotony.” People use sayings like
“ashes to ashes,” and “sh*t happens” in daily life to convey the self-evident nature
of this law, suggesting that “misfortune may be no one’s fault.”
“The second law defines the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and
human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back
the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.”
This overturned the previous pervading thought in science that everything has a
purpose. When bad things happened, according to previous theories, it was on
purpose, and therefore authorities must find a demon, witch or scapegoat to
punish. Today, no one is in a position to understand and modify the
encroachment and impact of algorithms.
Perhaps the writer Jorge Luis Borges was thinking of the second law when he
wrote “Lottery in Babylon.” In this short story, a game that begins as a voluntary
contest where some people win prizes, becomes compulsory over time and
punishes losers. Babylonians see the Company that runs the lottery as allpowerful. The phrase “Babylonian lottery” also describes algorithms and “the
slow encroachment of programmatic chance.” An additional feature of the lottery
is that while it’s well-understood by all at the beginning, over time fewer people
know how it works. In the story, Babylonians willfully ignored the growing power
of the lottery in their lives.
“Because an ‘intensification of chance’ conflicts with our
mythologies of self-made meritocracy, we too ignore the impact
of algorithms for as long as possible.”
In the story, the game exiles the narrator who either won or lost, the reader is not
sure which. Another way to escape Babylon is by telling the story of its lottery,
turning it from science and numbers into description. Stories help guide people to
make decisions while algorithms are directives that determine outcomes. Telling
the story interrupts the mindless iteration of lotteries and allows for new
Negative events, feelings and ideas in uence people more than
positive ones.
In a crowd, an angry face is easier to see than a happy face. Literature offers many
analyses of war, but almost none about peace. Scientists blame evolutionary
necessity for human pessimism. In the evolutionary past, overreaction generally
kept you safer than under-reaction. Conversely, scientists look to “positive
illusions” to explain how people stay in love with their spouses.
“The neural roots of tolerance, mercy and pardon may live deep
in the human psyche.”
Brain scans reveal that those who report that they’re still in love with their
spouses after 20 years have less activity in the areas of the brain that respond to
negative events. In other words, they tend to gloss over what’s negative to focus
on what’s positive in their relationship. They maintain “positive illusions.”
Emotions themselves are catching. They’re contagious. That’s why people mimic
those they’re speaking and interacting with, and mirror their emotions and their
mannerisms. Charles Darwin posited that this tendency was essential to human
survival due to its role in communicating important information. Emotion
contagion facilitates empathy and the maintenance of interpersonal relationships.
“Like waves, emotions cascade across time and geographical
space. Yet their ability to cascade across minds is unique and
deserves wider recognition.”
Emotion contagion happens over social media without the need to see or hear
another person. Kindness as well as violence can spread like a contagion.
Scientists are studying the characteristics of positive versus negative emotional
contagions to understand better how joy and compassion connect people socially,
while emotions such as pride may be socially isolating.
The “Schnitt” is the explanatory gap that remains between
quantum and classical physics, the brain and the mind, what is
living and what is not.
Many say that the “Schnitt” represents current limits of knowledge, but others
believe those gaps are “unclosable.” Howard Pattee, a theoretical biologist, calls
the Schnitt the “epistemic cut.” He says the way to reconcile gaps begins with
accepting “complementarity,” that quanta have two complementary properties
but only one is observable at any particular time. Quantum complementarity
forced classical theories to consider quantum theories. Pattee says that
complementarity forces scientists to see life as layered and to understand that
each layer is intelligible only via its unique vocabulary. For instance, when you
look at the Schnitt between mind and brain, on one side, neurons are firing, and
on the other side, there are symbols and representations of reality which also
have physical reality.
“Only one side of the Schnitt can be evaluated at a time, although
both are real and physical and tangible.”
The mind emerges from neurons because consciousness is neither just
“information processing or neural dynamics.” Pattee’s approach shows how to
hold two descriptions of the same system together at the same time by seeing
them as complementary properties.
The “Big Bang” theory bogs down in quantum mechanical
considerations, so some scientists now posit that instead of a
bang, the universe began with a “bounce.”
In 1949, Sir Fred Hoyle conceived of the beginning of the universe as a “big
bang,” but that’s a misleading phrase. It evokes the picture of a giant explosion of
matter and energy, fixed in time and expanding into empty space all at once.
Scientists observe that far-off galaxies are receding from this galaxy “at a speed
roughly proportional to their distance.” By dividing distance by speed, scientists
estimate the age of the universe to be 14 billion years. Even though it seems that
the solar system is the center of the universe, in fact, if you position yourself in
any other galaxy, it too would appear to be at the center of the universe. So there
is no objective center from which an explosion erupted. Neither is there an edge
to the universe. If the observable universe was once the size of a golf ball, that ball
was just a small part of an infinite universe expanding within itself.
“The actual universe appears to be infinite now, and if so it has
probably always been infinite.”
Scientists are pretty sure that conditions at the universe’s beginning were similar
to the conditions created in the Large Hadron Collider, with subatomic particles.
But there are still many questions. What if even the astronomical view of the
universe is too small to encompass the true nature of the cosmos? In fact, this
universe may be just one inside a multiverse.
Scientists have no idea how many galaxies exist within or without any given
horizon line. If space is large enough, eventually all possible combinations of
reality would repeat and thus it’s possible for you to have an “avatar” in another
galaxy. Perhaps there’s another world where another you is making better
The universe emerging from nothing in a “sudden quantum event” doesn’t
explain the observable uniformity of matter and energy. So scientists posit that a
period of “inflation” followed right after the initial bang. After a long period of
inflation, the universe smoothed out for the most part. What if instead of a Big
Bang there was a “Big Bounce?” The “Big Bounce” theory suggests that inflation
comes at the end of a period of contraction. This theory satisfies many of the
thornier problems of the Big Bang theory with answers consistent with classical
Waves, consciousness and computations have their own
characteristics separate from their “physical substrate.”
Waves have frequency and speed. They obey laws embedded in the equations
used to measure them, and it doesn’t matter in what substance they’re generated.
Computations, as Alan Turing proved, are also “substrate independent.” A
conscious character in a computer game of the future would have no way to know
whether its game was running on a desktop or a phone because the game is
“substrate independent.” This ability to change out hardware without having to
change software is the essence of the upgrade, consistently driving down the costs
of computers.
“It’s precisely this substrate independence of computation that
implies that artificial intelligence is possible: Intelligence doesn’t
require flesh, blood or carbon atoms.”
Waves for intelligence require a substrate of some sort. But waves, for example,
can traverse a lake even though its molecules of water don’t; those molecules just
move more or less in place. And a surfer only cares about the properties of the
wave, not the water. Waves have their own life.
While scientists are improving AI to replicate human abilities like classifying
images or recognizing speech or driving, that’s not the same as consciousness.
When you drive a car you’re conscious of images, sounds and movement all
around you. That’s your experience as you drive, the way it feels to you. What
does it feel like to be an autonomous vehicle? Consciousness, as David Chalmers
famously points out, is a “hard problem” because it’s different from asking how
the brain works. Physicist Max Tegmark defines consciousness as how
“information feels when being processed in certain complex ways.” If this is true,
then consciousness itself is “substrate-independent.” It’s patterns, not particles
that make the difference.
About the Author
Editor John Brockman is the publisher of Edge.org, an online science website,
and CEO of Brockman Inc., a New York City literary agency.
Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
Your body is a sophisticated machine. If it were an automobile, it would be a topof-the-line, luxury-class vehicle with all of the latest options. There’s just one
problem: Your body was designed for the savannas of Africa, not the streets and
sidewalks of some urban metropolis. This is a major issue due to one of your
body’s great fail-safe systems: the stress-response mechanism, also called the
“fight-or-flight syndrome.” This mechanism provides your body with its best
chance to get away safely from sudden peril, such as when a lion attacks you. It
immediately floods your muscles with robust energy. Thus strengthened, you are
far more able to evade the hungry predator. Unfortunately, this same stressresponse also kicks in during psychological stress. In much of modern city life
(even without stalking lions), such stress is often chronic, making your stressresponse mechanism work dangerously overtime, and putting your body at risk of
numerous stress-related disorders and diseases. Robert M. Sapolsky, a leading
neuroendocrinologist, explains it all in this lively and entertaining, yet highly
informative book. He writes with delightful, ironic verve and dry, irrepressible
wit. He details how chronic stress can undermine your health, and explains what
you can do about it, even in the urban jungle. getAbstract feels calmer just
suggesting that anyone experiencing stress could benefit from reading this book.
The stress-response mechanism sends energy to the muscles during a
short-term physical crisis. This “fight or flight” response helps you escape
from sudden danger.
Chronic stress can trigger this mechanism and keep it activated for long
Such sustained stress-response activity can be horribly damaging to your
Even if you exercise, eat well, maintain a proper weight and get plenty of
rest, you still may become seriously, even fatally, ill.
However, science has not established a link between stress and cancer.
Preventative stress relief can stave off or reverse many disorders.
Regular exercise can substantially relieve stress.
Other stress relief tactics include meditating, getting psychotherapy,
releasing frustration, gaining control over your life or socializing more.
Most experts say you should not live in denial, but if a major catastrophe
rocks your life, denial can be a particularly effective coping strategy.
Positive thinking can mitigate stress and its damaging effects.
Lions and Tigers and Zebras, Oh My!
A zebra on an African savanna lives a less complicated life than the average
urban-dwelling human – but it is in far more danger. A zebra, indeed, all savanna
animals, must routinely contend with severe, acutely physical crises. While
grazing, resting or just ambling along, a zebra must be ready to race away in a
split second if a large predator, such as a lion or tiger, suddenly appears.
Similarly, a lion must be instantly ready to stalk and pursue the zebra. Otherwise,
the predator can’t eat. Physically challenging activities like racing away from
predators or attacking prey are hugely stressful.
“There has been a revolution in medicine...It involves recognizing
the interactions between the body and the mind.”
Today, most people do not have to deal with lions. Instead, they face daily
psychological or social disruptions: worrying about taxes, getting along with
relatives, feeling inadequate, being overlooked for promotion, fretting about
feeling ill and a million other things. Such worries represent severe, sustained
psychological stress.
“Stress-related disease emerges [because] we so often activate a
physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute
physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end.”
Return briefly to that sweltering savanna, home of the alert zebra and the hungry
lion. Both animals possess “physiological response mechanisms” that are
perfectly adapted to deal with their immediate physical emergencies: for the
zebra, racing away from the lion, and for the lion, capturing the zebra. Such
stress-response mechanisms enable animals to deal with short-term, highly
stressful physical crises.
“Sustained or repeated stress can disrupt our bodies in seemingly
endless ways.”
Once the chase is over, however, the animals’ stress-response mechanisms relax
(if the zebra survives). The stress-responses have done their jobs, and everything
goes back to normal. The animals’ bodies return to homeostasis, a default
condition where physiological traits such as oxygen level, temperature and acidity
quickly stabilize. For the zebra, the lion and the other creatures, once a physical
crisis passes, all bodily systems quickly return to default homeostatic “settings.”
The stress-response did its job, the crisis is over and things can quickly revert to
the way they were.
“What goes on in your head can affect how well your immune
system functions.”
All animals, including humans, possess this stress-response mechanism. Most
people no longer need to outrun lions, but this same stress-response mechanism
unfortunately kicks in when people feel psychologically stressed and it can remain
active indefinitely in people who feel chronically stressed. This can cause
immense physical damage, and can lead to major stress-related medical problems
and diseases.
How Your Body Adapts to Psychological Stressors
Simple worry can trigger an instant stress response. The primary purpose of this
mechanism, also known as the “fight or flight syndrome,” is to deliver vast
amounts of energy to the muscles for fighting or running. (Interestingly, a
different response mechanism can trigger a separate “tend and befriend”
response in women.) When the stress response kicks in, glucose, simple proteins
and fats pour out of the liver and fat cells, and also come from certain muscles, to
supply quick energy to the specific muscles that will keep you alive, for example,
leg muscles to run from danger. At the same time, your breathing rate, heart rate
and blood pressure increase to send oxygen and nutrients at an accelerated rate
throughout your body. Digestion is not necessary in a physical emergency, so it
immediately shuts down, as do growth and reproductive functions. Thus, when
the stress-response mechanism kicks in chronically, men find it difficult to
maintain erections, women ovulate less frequently, immunity is inhibited and the
“perception of pain is blunted.”
“Our current patterns of disease would be unrecognizable to our
great-grandparents...We are now living well enough and long
enough to slowly fall apart.”
The stress-response mechanism does a superb job of helping an animal in a
short-term physical crisis. But the story is much different for humans. The radical
physiological changes provoked by the stress-response mechanism over a
sustained period of chronic psychological stress can be incredibly damaging. For
example, mobilizing vast reserves of energy during a nonphysical crisis depletes
needed vigor, resulting in chronic fatigue. Elevated blood pressure is great when
you’re fleeing a hungry tiger, but having your blood pressure soar every time you
look at your kid’s messy bedroom or sit in traffic fretting about being late to a
meeting is worse than useless.
“Many of the damaging disease of slow accumulation can be
either caused or made far worse by stress.”
Chronic stress is a likely path to eventual cardiovascular disease. Chronically
stressed children can experience suppressed growth. Women’s menstrual cycles
can swing wildly out of whack. Hormones secreted during stress can harm the
brain. Constant stress increases your chances of becoming ill, including with
infectious diseases, since the stress-response inhibits immunity. It is at the root of
many “stress”-related diseases.
Hormones and Their Relationship to Stress-Response
The autonomic nervous system is directly involved with stress-response. It
includes the sympathetic nervous system, which originates in the brain and
travels through the spinal column to every part of the body. It mediates the “four
F’s of behavior – flight, fight, fright and sex.” Stress makes this system release
hormones, including adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and norepinephrine.
Stress also releases glucocorticoids (steroid hormones) and glucagons, a hormone
from the pancreas. These “chemical messengers” activate your organs during
stress. The autonomic nervous system also includes the parasympathetic nervous
system, which mediates calmness, “everything but the four F’s.”
“Zebras and lions may see trouble coming in the next minute and
mobilize a stress-response...but they can’t get stressed about
events far in the future.”
The brain is the “master gland” that mobilizes all activities during stress. When
the brain experiences a stressor (worrying about taxes, getting yelled at), it
quickly activates the stress-response mechanism, flooding the body with
hormones, the “workhorses” of your stress-response mechanism, and raising your
body’s glucose levels. The stress-response also inhibits other hormones, such as
testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
“If you’re running 26 miles in a day, you’re either very intent on
eating someone or someone’s very intent on eating you.”
The immediate release of stress-fighting hormones to react to sudden danger can
save your life, but the routine release of such powerful hormones over an
extended period is incredibly harmful. Long-term stress-response is uniformly
destructive. It wrecks your metabolism, bursts blood cells, and elevates blood
pressure and heart rate. It can cause atherosclerosis, diabetes, metabolic
syndrome and hypertension. It increases the risk of gastrointestinal disorders and
ulcers, which, by the way, are not a danger to zebras because their stress is
periodic, not chronic. The lion comes: big stress; the lion goes: no stress. In
human beings, chronic stress can affect memory and damage the brain, ruin your
sleep and accelerate aging. It is often a factor in depression. The list goes on and
on. (However, scientists have not yet established a firm link between cancer and
Treating Stress
Stress affects different people different ways, and so do stress relief methods.
Experts offer many possible stress reduction solutions, and recommend
maintaining your “cognitive flexibility” and perhaps trying various approaches to
see if you are better served by changing the stressor or by adjusting how you
perceive it.
“Everything bad in human health now is not caused by stress,
nor is it in our power to cure ourselves of all our worst medical
nightmares merely by reducing stress and thinking healthy
thoughts...Would that it were so. And shame on those who would
profit from selling this view.”
Should you concentrate on gaining control of your emotions or consider joining a
club to gain social support? Your choices depend on your personality and
circumstances, as well as the type of stressors you experience. You could adopt
one coping strategy today and another one tomorrow. Just trying something new
is often the best strategy. Change can be energizing and often extremely healthful.
Different tactics you can test to try to ease the harmful effects of chronic
psychological stress, include:
Exercise – Improving your physical conditioning often significantly
reduces stress. Exercise elevates mood, lowers resting heart rate and blood
pressure, and increases lung capacity. Regular exercise lowers the risk of
cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, or makes it less likely that stress
will exacerbate them.
Socialization – People who socialize often are less stressed than loners.
But choose your pals wisely. Even a little time with cantankerous people
can be very stressful.
Control – When nursing-home residents exercise more control over their
own affairs, they become happier and more content. Hospital patients who
are able to self-administer their painkillers also experience less stress.
Whenever possible, gain control of as many aspects of your life as possible,
but don’t waste your time with recriminations about past events or with
efforts to control what may transpire in the uncontrollable future.
Predictability – Though the future is unknowable, you will feel calmer if
you do know how and when something will occur than if you don’t. Thus, it
often is helpful to establish predictability when possible. On the other
hand, sometimes knowing too much about coming events can also become
Meditation – Glucocorticoid levels and blood pressure drop during
meditation, but it isn’t clear whether these salutary effects remain after the
meditative experience.
The “80/20 rule” – The initial 20% of your efforts will reduce 80% of
your stress. As any mental health professional will tell you, getting a person
to do something about emotional problems – even just scheduling an
appointment to discuss things with a therapist – often makes all the
difference. Thus it is productive to take action of some kind to reduce
stress. Instituting an immediate change is the best way to relieve stress
quickly. Do something to change your life. Take action now.
Denial – When life deals you a truly catastrophic hand, something that is
far beyond prevention, control and healing, denial often proves to be the
best coping strategy. In the face of utter disaster, never give up hope that
things can improve. This may sound utterly naive and optimistic, but such
a positive attitude will help you minimize stress.
Find an “outlet for your frustrations” – Maybe it’s swimming. Maybe
it’s smashing up ratty furniture in the backyard with a sledgehammer.
Maybe it’s singing a song at the top of your lungs. Whatever it is, do it
regularly if it helps.
Repetition of stressful events – Ironically, the more often you do
something stressful, the less stressful it can become. Studies of Norwegian
soldiers show that their epinephrine and glucocorticoid levels are extremely
high for hours before and after their first few parachute jumps. But after a
large number of jumps, their hormone secretion patterns return to normal
– except when they actually leap out of the plane.
Psychotherapy – Professional help can change your behavior and the
way you handle stress, as well as altering your cholesterol profile and other
health indicators.
In the Absence of Magic Cures, Try for Serenity
Unfortunately, a magic pill for stress management does not exist. You may gain
maximum control and predictability, become a social leader, and engage in
numerous stress-fighting activities, and yet continue to suffer stress. Stress affects
everyone differently, and how it hits you may have as much to do with your
prenatal biology and other noncontrollable factors as with the positive steps you
“Hope for the best and let that dominate most of your emotions,
but at the same time let one small piece of you prepare for the
Many believe that spirituality and religion greatly alleviate stress and improve
health. While extensive literature exists on this subject, the jury is still out
regarding the salutary effects of religion and spirituality on stress. Strive to
maintain a default position of “energized calm” when stressors occur. While such
a mental state may be hard to achieve during psychological stress, this idealized
goal offers real benefits.
“When something good happens, you want to believe that this
outcome arose from your efforts, and has broad, long-lasting
implications for you.”
How can you achieve such admirable serenity? Christian theologian Reinhold
Niebuhr suggests one path with this immortal prayer: “God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and
the wisdom to know the difference.” The Quakers offer a profound, old-time
saying: “In the face of strong winds, let me be a blade of grass. In the face of
strong walls, let me be a gale of wind.” With psychological stress, sometimes your
task may be to blow down a wall. Other times, it may be to bend in a strong wind
without breaking. Wisdom means knowing when to be the gale and when to be
the blade of grass.
“When the outcome is bad, you want to believe that it was due to
something out of your control, and is just a transient event with
very local, limited implications.”
Here’s something far more prosaic: Did your grandparents tell you to stop
worrying so much? Or did your Mom? Such advice may sound banal and trivial,
but scientists have reduced the chances that lab rats will get sick by making them
perceive their reality in a positive way. Indeed, experts who study stress believe
that your body’s “physiology is often no more decisive than [its] psychology.”
Maintaining a positive, optimistic attitude in the face of trouble and stress can
make all the difference. Think of the zebra; the lion will come when and if it
comes and, until then, you might as well graze.
About the Author
Robert M. Sapolsky is a professor of biological sciences, neurology and
neurological sciences at Stanford University. He conducts research on stress and
neuron degeneration. In 1987, he received a MacArthur Fellowship “genius”
The Power of Full
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz offer a lot of solid, common sense advice. The
authors recommend going to bed and getting up at a consistent time - not
exactly Ben Franklin’s "early to bed, early to rise," but close. They
recommend regular exercise. They say it’s good to work and to rest, and
each has its place. They say to examine yourself and try to see yourself as
others see you. In other words, they recommend many time-honored
techniques of physical, mental and spiritual growth, combined with
prioritizing how you use your energy and how you recharge your batteries.
This attitude makes the book unique. The principles may be ancient, but
getAbstract finds the vehicle distinctly contemporary, a combo of New Age
jargon and workout-style performance charting, with (at last) a key to time
management that makes sense and captures all areas of one’s life. Some
readers will find that thrilling, others will groan.
Your most valuable resource is energy - not time.
Energy management makes full engagement possible.
Energy has four dimensions: body, emotions, mind and spirit. Each
one is necessary, but no single one is sufficient.
In mental training, as in physical training, exercise and then rest.
Regain physical and spiritual energy by building recovery rituals into
your routine. Positive habits create energy; negative habits waste
Emotional energy is generated by self-confidence, self-discipline,
sociability and empathy.
Pleasure builds job performance; negative emotions undermine
Stress and rest are both necessary, in a rhythmic cycle.
Too much work can be a fatal addiction.
Becoming fully engaged is a change that requires defining a goal,
examining where you are and taking action.
Energy Excelsior
Time is not your most precious resource. Energy is. People can manage
time well and still find themselves exhausted, stressed, unable to
concentrate and unable to give other people the attention they merit. People
use calendars, clocks, Palm Pilots and other impedimenta of time
management - but how many do anything about energy management?
“Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but
related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and
The path to power, productivity, success and satisfaction is energy
management, the strategy of "full engagement." With full engagement,
you’ll spring out of bed in the morning, champing at the bit to get to work,
upbeat and positive. When you leave the office in the evening, you’ll look
forward to going home and spending the evening with the important people
in your life, or, what the heck, maybe hanging out and having fun alone.
You’ll be creative, contented, challenged and fun. If you are a manager, your
employees will be delighted to follow you, because you’ll show them the
road to full engagement, and help them to align their individual goals and
aspirations with those of your organization.
“To maintain a powerful pulse in our lives, we must learn
how to rhythmically spend and renew energy.”
Full engagement ought to be a bottom line priority. Companies incur
trillions of dollars of unnecessary costs merely because 70% of Americans
are less than fully engaged at work. And the longer people stay in a job, the
less engaged they are!
When top athletes were coached in full engagement, they learned to
perform at the top of their games. This training didn’t show athletes how to
hold a racket or skate. It taught them to manage their energy and get
“Because we have overridden the natural rhythms that once
defined our lives, the challenge is to consciously and
deliberately create new boundaries.”
Today, the same principles work for "corporate athletes," who benefit from
the same four basic energy management principles:
Energy has four dimensions: body, emotion, mind and spirit. Draw
energy from each. Every one is necessary, but no single one is
2. Rhythmically balance stress and rest.
3. Push beyond your limits systematically. Building "mental, emotional
and spiritual strength" is very much like building physical strength.
No pain, no gain.
4. Use energy rituals.
“In short, money may not buy happiness, but happiness may
help you get rich.”
Change comes in three steps: defining the goal, examining where you are
and taking action. First, define what you want to become - your purpose.
Look at how you spend your energy now. Then act, build a plan and
establish rituals to help you use energy positively.
Flavius Philostratus trained athletes in ancient Greece. He was the first to
discover, or at least to write down, the benefits of a rhythmic workout
pattern - exertion followed by rest. The idea is simple: the body uses
biochemical resources when it works, and must rest to replenish them.
When athletes have trouble, it is usually because they trained too much or
not enough.
“Making changes that endure is a three-step process that we
call Purpose-Truth-Action.”
The same principle applies to daily life. Too much energy spent, with
insufficient rest and recovery, leads to trouble. Too much rest, with not
enough energy spent, also leads to trouble. Full engagement depends on
balancing, or oscillating between, rest and recovery, recovery and rest. No
wonder. The whole universe is rhythmic and oscillating: sunrise, sunset;
high tide, low tide; full moon, new moon. The heartbeat is rhythmic. Even
sleep is rhythmic.
“Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend
and recover energy.”
Top competitors in tennis have routines, habits that allow them to recover
between points in a match. Their heart rates may drop as much as 20 beats
per minute between points. They regain energy in these recovery rituals.
Top business professionals do the same thing. Wink Communications
president Maggie Wilderotter goes on "lion hunts," prowling around her
office asking people what they’re doing. This lets her relax while connecting
with her employees. Herman Miller executive vice president Bill Norman
doesn’t use voice mail or a cell phone. He is an amateur nature
photographer who says his time off helps him develop his intuition.
Another executive takes a bag lunch so she can eat in a park near her office
and have a restorative interlude with nature to break up the business day.
“We are oscillatory beings in an oscillatory universe.
Rhymicity is our inheritance.”
Although rest and relaxation are necessary, our contemporary world by and
large condemns it, and exalts the destructive 24/7 instead. Our bodies
aren’t machines, but we treat them as such. E-mail is particularly insidious.
An America Online survey conducted in 2000 revealed that 47% of its
customers brought laptops on vacation, and more than a quarter logged on
daily to see their e-mail. We need a "Sabbath." Too much work may be an
addiction. The adrenaline high is alluring. But it can also be fatal. The
Japanese word "karoshi" means "death from overwork." The first reported
case surfaced in 1969; now, Japan reports around 10,000 a year. Five
factors crop up again and again in "karoshi" cases: long hours without
regular rest, nocturnal work, skipped holidays and breaks, unremitting
pressure, and both physical and mental job stress. Such stress isn’t all bad,
of course. To make a muscle grow, you have to stress it beyond its usual
activities. The rhythmic oscillation of stress and rest is healthy.
Physical Energy
It begins in the body. Even if you are desk bound, you need physical energy,
which depends fundamentally on breathing and eating. Both need to be
balanced. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - it gets blood
sugar levels up and kick-starts the body’s metabolic functions. Then, there’s
water. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Dehydration
saps strength and energy. Drink at least two quarts of water a day.
Australian research discovered that people who drank just 40 ounces of
water a day were less apt to die of heart disease than those who drank 24
ounces or less.
“We grow at all levels by expending energy beyond our
normal limits, and then recovering.”
You also need plenty of sleep, and it is better to sleep at night. Nocturnal
work is hard on the body and hard on the task. The worst industrial
disasters of recent times happened at night. Night workers have more heart
trouble than day workers. Sleep researchers find that workers who take
frequent naps can keep alert and productive even without long,
uninterrupted sleep.
“The longer, more continuously, and later at night you work,
the less efficient and more mistake prone you become.”
Our bodies operate on rhythms that cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. Most of
us have an energy ebb tide in the late afternoon (hence the traditional
siesta). NASA found that a 40-minute nap improved performance 34% and
boosted alertness 100%. Add exercise to this bodily rhythm, since exercise
affects energy. Interval training, short exercise periods alternated with
short rest periods, is the most effective. Even quick aerobic spurts of a
minute or less followed by rest can boost your energy levels considerably,
along with improving fitness, heart rates and mood. Don’t use only
cardiovascular exercise; also work to build strength.
Emotional energy expresses itself in self-confidence, self-discipline,
sociability and empathy. Negative emotions such as frustration, anger,
sorrow or fear are literally toxic. It’s possible to build positive emotions, just
as it’s possible to build muscles. Too few people treat their pleasures as if
they were really important - but pleasure is crucial. Nothing should be
allowed to interfere with it. Positive emotional energy comes from doing
things you enjoy. But the quality and depth of pleasure matters greatly.
Watching television may seem relaxing, but it’s like eating potato chips not filling or lasting.
“Emotions that arise out of threat or deficit - fear,
frustration, anger, sadness - have a decidedly toxic feel to
them and are associated with the release of specific stress
hormones, most notably cortisol.”
Relationships build emotional energy. Friendship is critical, and even
affects job performance. Those with one good friend at work perform better.
Time taken for relationship building, friendship and love isn’t time stolen
from life’s necessities. It is one of life’s necessities. Practice listening to
people and empathizing.
“A single negative thought is what gets you hit in the face.” Ray ”Boom Boom” Mancini”
Be aware that:
Pleasure builds performance, but negative emotions take a toll on
Self-confidence, self-discipline, sociability and empathy generate
emotional energy.
Effective leaders can bring up positive emotions at times of stress.
Balance exercise and recovery in emotional as in physical training.
Find something you enjoy and do it.
Push past your limits, rest, then push again.
Physical energy and emotional energy help mental functioning. Mental,
physical and emotional energy interact. Studies have demonstrated the
correlation between productivity and positive thinking, which generates
mental energy. The most successful salespeople have what one
psychological researcher calls an "optimistic explanatory style." Of course,
thinking takes time. Most jobs don’t build in time for rest, workout breaks
and thinking. They should. People get their best ideas when they are on
breaks, resting, jogging, gardening or just daydreaming.
“’The greatest geniuses,’ da Vinci told his patron, ’sometimes
accomplish more when they work less.’”
The five stages of creativity - insight, saturation, incubation, illumination
and verification - take time. Build downtime into your day, and allow your
employees to do the same. Good leaders husband the energy resources of
their people and their organization.
Remember these points about mental energy:
Organization and attention depend on mental ability.
Optimistic realism is the best mental attitude.
Prepare, visualize, encourage yourself, manage time and create.
Change from one activity to another to exercise different parts of your
Physical exercise is important to mental capacity.
In mental training, as in physical training, exercise and then rest.
Mental challenges slow age-related mental deterioration.
Spiritual energy depends on taking care of yourself and others. The most
important spiritual "muscle" is character: doing what your values tell you is
right, even when it costs you. Spiritual energy heals. Actor Christopher
Reeve said it saved his life after a riding accident paralyzed him. He thought
of suicide, but decided to live to be with his family and to help others
suffering from neurological damage. Examples abound of people who
transcended their ordinary limits because they wanted to help others.
The critical facts of spiritual life are:
Spiritual energy makes everything else possible, it’s the source of
passion, fortitude and commitment.
Spiritual energy requires selflessness.
Spiritual energy stewardship depends on exercise and rest.
Spiritual work can both expend and renew energy simultaneously.
Spiritual development requires going past the limits.
The spirit can be stronger than the body.
Training for full engagement involves purpose, self-examination and
established rituals.
First, define what your life is about, your purpose. Be positive and
• Second, examine yourself. Create a baseline by identifying how you
now use your energy.
Face facts squarely. Rituals are actions you take by plan or schedule that
build good habits and break bad ones. Be precise, specific and positive. Be
moderate. Chart the course and examine yourself each day, so you see how
well you are doing.
About the Authors
Senior partners and principals at a performance consultancy, Jim Loehr
and Tony Schwartz co-developed training packages that draw on their
"Full Engagement" model. Loehr is a performance psychologist and the
author of 12 books including Stress for Success. Schwartz co-authored
Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal and also wrote What Really Matters:
Searching for Wisdom in America.
There’s a Name for the Blah
You’re Feeling: It’s Called
In a culture that recognizes physical hindrances to health while ignoring
obstacles to mental health, take a moment to acknowledge the validity of
your current mental state. Are you flourishing; do you have a purpose and
are you connected with other people? Are you depressed, lacking energy
and feeling despair? Or are you neither of the above, but feeling
stagnant, empty and joyless nonetheless? If so, you may be “languishing.”
In this timely New York Times article, organizational psychologist Adam
Grant describes the postpandemic “blah” and offers a simple prescription
that may help cure it.
“Languishing” is a common response to late-stage pandemic.
Getting into a state of flow helps combat languishing, but it’s hard to
achieve when you can’t concentrate.
To attain a flow state, ditch multitasking and focus on one thing for a
scheduled block of time.
Set yourself up for little wins on “just-manageable” tasks.
“Languishing” is a common response to late-stage
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of the virus and its surrounding
uncertainty left many people in a perpetual state of stress. As the pandemic
dragged on, they found strategies for dealing with their fears. For many,
fight-or-flight gave way to something else entirely. Not depression exactly,
but not flourishing either. So what label should you affix to your current,
late-stage pandemic mental state? “Languishing” – a term that sociologist
Corey Keyes coined to describe the feeling when you’re not quite depressed,
but are still experiencing a lack of inspiration, focus and joie de vivre.
“Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health.
It’s the void between depression and flourishing – the
absence of well-being.”
Research suggests that people who are languishing now are far more likely
to experience depression or anxiety at some point in the next
decade. Pandemic-specific research indicates that health care workers
who experienced languishing early in the pandemic are three times more
likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder now. Given these
studies, it seems worthwhile to find a way to nip languishing in the bud.
Managing your emotions requires being able to name them. The term
languishing allows you to label your late-stage pandemic malaise. The next
step is to figure out how to combat it.
Getting into a state of ow helps combat languishing, but it’s
hard to achieve when you can’t concentrate.
Flow is that magical state when you’re so engaged in a task that you don’t
notice time passing. When in a state of flow, you may not be aware of your
surroundings, and self-conscious thoughts flee your mind. The time you
spend in flow is a decent predictor of well-being, perhaps more so than
mindfulness or optimism. Creating a flow state may be your best remedy for
“People who became more immersed in their projects
managed to avoid languishing and maintained their
prepandemic happiness.”
You might find flow while playing a game, or even while watching a
television show. Becoming absorbed in a work project also fits the bill.
States of languishing and flow seem to be in direct opposition to each other,
however. Absorption is hard when you can’t focus.
To attain a ow state, ditch multitasking and focus on one
thing for a scheduled block of time.
Even before the pandemic, many people tended to multitask, moving to a
new chore every 10 minutes, and checking email obsessively. During the
pandemic, disruptions multiplied, with kids at home and remote colleagues
being able to reach you through always-on devices.
“Fragmented attention is an enemy of engagement and
Enable a flow state by scheduling interruption-free blocks of time. Populate
that time with a project that interests you, strive to make progress on a
worthwhile goal, or simply make time for a heart-to-heart talk, so you can
feel a meaningful bond with another person. Schedule time for these things,
then guard that time with your life. Your well-being may depend on it.
Set yourself up for little wins on “just-manageable” tasks.
Flow is most likely to emerge when you’re engaged in a task that’s “justmanageable”: a near-achievable goal that offers a stimulating challenge
without overtaxing you.
“Search for bliss in a bleak day, connection in a lonely
week or purpose in a perpetual pandemic.”
Your first step to flow doesn’t have to be momentous; in fact, it might pay to
set up a small win, like solving a difficult word game, or cracking the answer
to a whodunit.
If you’re not languishing, try to recognize the symptoms in family, coworkers or friends. Understanding this shared postpandemic phenomenon
offers an opportunity to help others.
About the Author
Adam Grant is the host of the TED WorkLife podcast, the author of Think
Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know and an
organizational psychologist at Wharton.
The Secrets You Don’t Know
About Negotiation
Archaic advice purports that negotiation is a zero-sum game, and
participants must play mind games with their counterparts to gain
the upper hand. But negotiations ought to be
“incredibly empathetic mutual conversations” whereby all parties
reach a satisfactory agreement. Nevertheless, negotiating can be
excruciatingly uncomfortable for some, and, like every skill,
requires practice. In this episode of the Jordan Harbinger Show
podcast, entrepreneur Alex Kouts shares fascinating insights into
negotiation. Follow his advice to become more comfortable with
rejection and, ultimately, with asking.
In negotiation, as in any skill, hard work matters more than
Humans are hardwired to be agreeable, which is why
negotiating is uncomfortable.
The negotiator who prepares most thoroughly is more likely
to triumph.
In a negotiation, you never want a fast “yes.” Your goal is to
get to a solid “no” first.
In negotiation, as in any skill, hard work matters more
than talent.
In the movie Rudy, a diminutive college student realizes his
dream to play on the Notre Dame football team, through grueling
hard work. Though Rudy doesn’t boast the physique typical of a
football player, his efforts pay off. His coach selects him. Rudy
makes a successful tackle, and the stadium erupts into cheers.
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work
hard, every single time.”
The Rudy pyramid astutely illustrates the intersection of talent
and hard work. At the base of the pyramid are the people with no
natural talent who refuse to work hard. These individuals will
always be subpar at a given skill. People who have inherent talent
but don’t work hard occupy the second level. They perform
slightly better than those at the bottom of the pyramid, but not by
much. The third level of the pyramid is home to people who, like
Rudy, lack natural talent but who are willing to work incredibly
hard. People on the third level of the pyramid surpass those on the
second in terms of skill. Finally, those with innate talent but who
are eager to work hard reside at the apex of the pyramid. You may
have no talent for negotiation, but if you’re willing to push
through the painful initial learning period, and buckle down,
you’ll outperform most of the competition. This is true for any
new skill.
Humans are hardwired to be agreeable, which is why
negotiating is uncomfortable.
Negotiation can feel painful because it prompts you to be
disagreeable to get what you want. Pay attention when your
negotiation partner tries to discourage you from haggling. For
example, your boss might say, “It’s been a really rough quarter” to
deter you from requesting a raise. A car salesman will try to build
a rapport with you to make you feel as though he is offering you a
special deal because he likes you, which might make you feel
uncomfortable negotiating the price. Similarly, morticians know
that haggling over the price of a funeral is distasteful, so some
exploit their customers’ grief.
“So many times people walk into a job and they get an
offer and they take it even though that offer is below
what they think they’re worth.”
To overcome your fear of negotiation, channel someone you
admire. Picture how the singer Beyoncé might negotiate a
contract, for example. Or imagine that the initial offer is an insult
to embolden you to ask for more. Understand what’s at stake.
When negotiating salary, for example, consider the foregone
earnings of failing to negotiate. Picture three college graduates –
Andrew, Betsy and Charlie. Each receives an identical job offer of
$50,000 a year. Betsy and Charlie negotiate the starting salary
and get a 12% increase. So they start at $56,000. All three work
for 40+ years and receive a 3% cost of living adjustment each year.
Based on that one early successful negotiation, Betsy and Charlie
will have earned $500,000 more by the end of their careers than
Andrew, who didn’t negotiate at all. Now imagine that Betsy
negotiates every time she switches jobs. If she changes jobs seven
times, by the end of her career, Betsy will have earned $1.985
million more than Andrew. Negotiation can be painful, but if you
work hard at it, you can make it worth your while.
The negotiator who prepares most thoroughly is
more likely to triumph.
Even master negotiators will lose if their opponents wield more
information, so do your research. First, go over the basics: What
are you negotiating? Do you have a deadline? Make an effort to
know everything you can about your negotiation partners. Find
out their best-case and worst-case outcomes. Know their best
alternative to a negotiated agreement; that is, if they don’t choose
you, whom will they work with? Armed with this knowledge, you
can present yourself favorably vis-à-vis the competition.
“Great negotiators are intensely empathetic. They not
only understand the other side, but they understand
how they’re evaluated, what their wins and what their
losses look like, what their goals, their hopes and
dreams, their worst nightmares look like.”
Conduct business negotiations face-to-face so you can establish a
relationship. But when negotiating salary, do so via email, which
presents any offers in writing. Before responding, consider your
ideal salary and the offer that would leave you disgruntled.
Undercompensated employees can become toxic employees.
Smart hiring managers don’t want to hire you at your resistance
point, because it can lead to trouble later. Moreover, consider any
nonmonetary perks you’d like to negotiate. When an HR manager
refused one job candidate’s salary request, the new hire instead
asked to have lunch with the CEO twice a year. His wish came
true; he found that knowing the CEO led to important career
In a negotiation, you never want a fast “yes.” Your
goal is to get a solid “no” rst.
Never make the first offer in a salary negotiation. If you name a
number, and the hiring manager immediately agrees, you know
you’ve forfeited potential earnings. When making a job offer,
many HR representatives will ask about your salary expectations.
Dodge this question. Explain that you’re comparing remuneration
packages for several job opportunities, and you’d like them to
outline their offering. Then wait for them to suggest a number. If
they refuse to make the initial offer, don’t be afraid to walk away.
The person who’s willing to walk away from a negotiation
generally has the most power. The only time it’s appropriate to
name your price first is if you know the other party will submit a
low offer – for example, if you’re selling a couch on the
internet and you suspect people will offer to haul it away for free.
“In a situation where you have imperfect information,
let the other side make the offer.”
A negotiation should be a collaboration, not a zero-sum game with
a clear winner and loser. You want your partner to be happy to
work with you in the future. Employ tactical empathy: Arrive with
an understanding of the other person’s needs, and use that
understanding strategically, to help you reach an agreement that
you both can accept.
About the Podcast
Alex Kouts, the founder and CEO of Indigov, teaches a
negotiation course on General Assembly, a career development,
education and networking platform. Host Jordan
Harbinger started his podcast in 2018. He is a professional
networking coach and former lawyer.
Unlabel /Marc Ecko
Marc Eckō shares an unfiltered narrative of his successes and failures as he built a
multimillion-dollar, worldwide brand. He dreamed big, achieved a lot, fell hard,
learned well and wears his battle scars proudly. Eckō also details his brand
development process, “The Authenticity Formula.” With appreciation for this
book’s creative, thoughtful design and illustrations, getAbstract recommends
Eckō’s business saga as much for its autobiographical elements as for its practical
The “Authenticity Formula” springs from the personal business experience
of Marc Eckō, the creative force behind the Eckō Unlimited brand.
To succeed, be creative, honor your unique voice, be proud to sell what
you’ve made and stay true to yourself.
In any endeavor, what you know is always less than what you don’t know.
“Talk is cheap. An authentic, unique voice is a doer.”
An authentic brand is your compass, providing clear direction when
economic downturns, creative differences, public criticism or management
conflicts strike.
“Emotional impact” carries more weight than advertising and promotion.
A great brand always does what it says it will do.
Even great ideas wither and fade unless you back them up with action.
According to Eckō, “Great brands are nothing more than streams of
connected promises that always deliver.”
Dream big, but never lose touch with immediate practical realities.
“The Authenticity Formula”
Authentic brands are organic, evolving entities, whether you’re discussing your
personal brand or multiproduct corporate brands. No matter what you sell, an
authentic brand serves as your compass, providing clear direction amid the
economic downturns, creative differences, public criticism or conflicting
management styles that can blow you off course.
“This book is the story of how I unlabeled myself, defying
classification so I could grow both creatively and commercially.”
Marc Eckō’s brand began in the 1980s in his parents’ garage in Lakewood, New
Jersey, where he airbrushed T-shirts to sell to his schoolmates. Over the next 15
years, Eckō built his brand into a retail business worth millions. Eckō reveals his
process for brand development, the “Authenticity Formula,” through his personal
story. He discovered that, “Authenticity is equal to your unique voice, multiplied
by truthfulness, plus your capacity for change, multiplied by range of emotional
impact, raised to the power of imagination.” His advice for budding
entrepreneurs: “Challenge yourself to shake free of the herd, find your...unique
voice and create your personal authentic brand.”
Marc Milecofsky was a chubby geek who loved computer games, comic books and
drawing. He wasn’t cool or popular. He listened to Motown and sharpened his
drawing skills by tracing pictures from his dad’s comic books. When he was 12, he
discovered graffiti, street artists like Dondi White and underground comic artists
like Vaughn Bode.
“The success or failures in my story, my company’s story and all
of our stories boil down to authenticity.”
Milecofsky sampled hip-hop music and graffiti to form his artistic style. He
adopted the tag name Echo (later Eckō), because when he and his twin, Marci,
were in the womb, the doctors described his heartbeat as only an echo of his
sister’s. He discovered the power of art when running for seventh-grade class
president. He covered his school’s hallways with posters featuring his original
artwork. Winning by a landslide gave him confidence in his instincts and imagery.
“I couldn’t rap, I couldn’t MC, I was too fat to break-dance, but I could draw my
ass off.” That was the beginning of Marc Eckō.
“Authenticity is equal to your unique voice, multiplied by
truthfulness, plus your capacity for change, multiplied by range
of emotional impact, raised to the power of imagination.”
After Eckō saw a picture of rapper L.L. Cool J wearing a spray-painted shirt made
by the Shirt Kings in Queens, New York, he bought an airbrush and compressor.
After a year of practice, he wore one of his creations to school. Commissions
poured in; Echo Airbrushing was born. Selling his graffiti-style artwork helped
Eckō overcome his fear of social ridicule. But hesitant about the future, he chose
to attend pharmacy school at Rutgers University in New Jersey rather than
pursue his art.
Eckō didn’t fit in at Rutgers. Both black and white kids were suspicious of this
suburban white kid who spoke street slang. Eckō continued to paint clothing on
weekends, earning around $500 per week. His friend Cale Brock, an aspiring
R&B singer, shared Eckō’s artistic dreams. Brock spent as much time recording
music as Eckō did working on his art.
“Creation can’t be bound by some esoteric code of ethics that ends
up limiting your vision or putting constraints on how far you can
stretch or grow.”
The two pushed each other; Brock sent tapes to producers, and Eckō mailed
“swag bombs,” customized airbrushed clothing, to movie producer Spike Lee, hiphop’s DJ Red Alert and other celebrities. Marc’s sister Shari attended a Bel Biv
Devoe concert and presented Michael Bivins, a member of the band, with one of
Eckō’s custom-painted denim jackets with Brock’s tapes in its pocket. After the
concert, Bivins met Brock and later signed him to his label. Brock and Eckō saw
that even great ideas wither and fade without action. “Talk is cheap. An authentic,
unique voice is a doer.” Eckō needed capital to build his business, but was naive
about creating a business plan. He pitched Bivins and Spike Lee to no avail. He
joined forces with a local entrepreneur, a young Orthodox Jew named Seth
To get started, Gerszberg gave Eckō $5,000 in cash. Eckō created six designs to
mass-produce on T-shirts and used the cash to learn the art of screen-printing,
painstakingly cutting screens and hoping to achieve a high-resolution print. The
shirts looked good, but Eckō never achieved the quality he wanted. The best
process for making the color separations proved too expensive.
“Vision for the Future is about having the courage to dream big,
[and] having the discipline and the focus to look at what’s in
front of your face.”
The partners placed targeted ads in magazines, and the shirt business, which they
ran out of Eckō’s apartment, grew. They hired Marc’s twin sister, Marci, to
oversee administration and customer service. Seeking to promote their work at
trade fairs, Marc and Seth attended a hip-hop convention in Atlanta called Jack
the Rapper. Eckō regarded the trip as an adventure, a time to smoke pot and hang
with Tupac and Snoop. When Eckō showed up stoned, Gerszberg told him that he
had to handle their business, and himself, with professionalism and respect.
Gerszberg said, “You need to dig deep, into your flesh and bones, to discover this
core sense of self, and then you must own this self from your guts to your skin.”
“You have only so many minutes in every day – so many ticks on
the clock – and every action you perform means, by definition,
you’re not performing some other action.”
Eckō and Gerszberg attended the Action Sports Retailer show in San Diego,
cobbling together a booth made of discarded forklift pallets. The orders raced in,
but print quality remained an issue. At the next trade show, Eckō met a “stoner”
named Drew who was selling beautiful, high-quality, marijuana-themed shirts.
Eckō asked Drew for the secret to his printing and bartered with him to learn
“What You Say”
With sales increasing, the company opened its first headquarters. Eckō created a
logo to serve as a “flag of the brand”; it featured a rhino, which Eckō felt
expressed his values. The company threw huge trade show parties and featured
hip-hop artists Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip in their ads. Sportswear International
magazine named Eckō a “Top 10 Brand to Watch.” The company had $8 million
in sales, but spending outpaced revenue. Eckō and Gerszberg struggled to pay the
bills and to fill orders on time. Eckō learned that “Great brands are nothing more
than streams of connected promises that always deliver.”
“If I had just focused on being truthful in the promise of my
business – not just the promise of my brand – then we wouldn’t
have pushed it to the bleeding edge.”
The team needed to find a “Garmento,” someone knowledgeable about the
garment industry who could handle production and merchandising. Eckō met
Wu, a Taiwanese clothing manufacturer who produced a beautiful line of
snowboarding jackets. They struck a deal for Wu to act as the company’s
“Respect history – learn from it, leverage it – but if you get too
comfortable, this same history can blind you and trap you.”
Two events threatened the growing start-up. First, the company received a ceaseand-desist letter from Echo Designs for copyright infringement, so the partners
changed the company name to Eckō. Second, Marc legally changed his last name
from Milecofsky to Eckō as well, which caused some confusion and generated
additional expense. Eckō and Gerszberg discovered that Wu cheated them by
marking up goods and reneging on production and delivery. This led to a lawsuit
and an accrual of $6 million in debt.
“I believe in not only disclosing that failure but also robustly
diagnosing it and learning from it. This is the textbook I wish I
had in college.”
Ralph Lauren and Nautica wanted to buy Eckō. Instead of selling, Gerszberg
brought in Alan Finkelman, a Texas-based clothing wholesaler. He covered $1.5
million in immediate debt and gave Eckō and Gerszberg three years to repay him.
They needed only 18 months.
“What You Do”
When they repaid Finkelman, Eckō proved that a brand is strong only when
“what you say” matches what you do. Finkelman put Gerszberg in charge of sales
and Eckō in charge of design and marketing. Marci trained in operations. This
management team proved a sturdy and necessary triangle of “Governance,
(Marci), Brute Force (Seth) and Swagger (Marc).”
“Building a brand is like creating your own personal religion.
You need to be willing to fight for it, defend it, die for it.”
Eckō masterminded the “Where’s Eckō?” campaign for the Magic trade show in
Las Vegas; he flooded the streets with stickers and sold products out of a hotel
room. The campaign became the talk of the show and went viral. Eckō realized
that the “emotional impact” he could make carried more weight than flashy
advertising and promotion. Spike Lee produced a video for an Eckō fashion show.
“Whatever your product or service, you are essentially selling
The brand licensed with Sketchers for shoes and Timex for watches. Early
licensing efforts failed but extended the reach and emotional impact of the brand.
Eckō sought to develop a fashion magazine spotlighting street culture, fashion,
gaming, rap and hip-hop. He brought in Alan Ket, a friend with publishing
experience, to oversee his creation, Complex.
“Capacity for Change”
By 2000, Eckō’s revenue passed $100 million. Eckō let the success go to his head,
designing a new line, Rhetorical Distortion, which abandoned many of the
brand’s core aesthetics. He turned down partnering with the National Football
League (NFL), deciding he would create his own label called Phys.Sci instead.
When Rhetorical Distortion and Phys.Sci tanked, their failures brought Eckō back
to reality.
“It’s ideas, not dollars. Artfulness, not computer graphics. Not
models. Not celebrities. Believable, defendable ideas.”
The company launched “subbrands” and new projects, including Eckō Red, a
woman’s clothing line, and Getting Up, a video game published with Atari. The
more the company earned, the more it could borrow for further expansion.
Gerszberg wanted to open a chain of retail outlets with a flagship store in Times
Square. The company moved into new corporate headquarters on 23rd Street,
taking on 300,000 square feet of space.
“One of the worst lies ever told is that perception is reality. I hate
that phrase. Reality is reality.”
These projects required cash, which the firm could generate with a sale to a big
corporation, so it entered the high-finance world of mergers and acquisitions.
Eckō said that he and Gerszberg didn’t realize that “what you know,” was much
less than “what you do not know.” “It was one thing to have knowledge, but do
you have the ability to grasp that knowledge, to internalize it, to learn from it?”
They negotiated with Tommy Hilfiger and Li & Fung in Hong Kong. Both deals
fell through. Eckō and Gerszberg were determined to build the company, but
Marci decided to leave. Eckō and Gerszberg leveraged every asset and signed
personal guarantees for financing.
“Emotional Impact”
Gerszberg launched Marc Eckō as a celebrity to become the face of the brand.
Eckō engaged Sean “Puffy” Combs to collaborate on the sound track for Getting
Up. He also enlisted Puffy as a mentor. Eckō was personally determined to learn
how Puffy cultivated his personal brand and created such a widespread emotional
impact. He learned, “More important than what you make – whether it’s a
product or a service, physical or digital – is how that stuff makes people feel.”
Eckō engineered several stunts that grabbed media attention. He traveled with an
entourage and attended hot parties with other celebrities. This phase culminated
in Eckō spending more than $750,000 to buy the baseball that Barry Bonds hit to
break Hank Aaron’s home run record. The bigger Eckō’s name became, the worse
Marc Eckō felt. The sense of impending doom affected his emotional state and his
artwork. “I had confused my personal brand with my company’s brand and it was
time to set that straight.”
“Loyalty to Nostalgia”
In 2008, Eckō was severely overextended, the market crashed, consumer demand
weakened and credit dried up. The Times Square store never opened. Creditors
were avid, and banks recommended bankruptcy. Eckō and Gerszberg began to
fight, employees left the company and the future looked dismal.
Eckō realized that a “loyalty to nostalgia” and the desire to retain 100% control
would ruin the company. He and Gerszberg “reconfigure[d] the firm without
disfiguring it.” They sold 51% to Iconix, a fashion brand conglomerate. Eckō
focused on Complex.
“Vision for the Future”
At the end of Marc’s journey from a small garage in Lakewood, NJ to corporate
headquarters on 23rd Street in Manhattan, he gained clarity about what lies
ahead. He teaches that a vision for the future is the “courage to dream big, but it’s
also...the discipline and...focus to look at what’s in front of your face.” Eckō’s
prescription for visualizing your future includes setting these priorities:
“Be a creator” – Tap into the artist within you, even if you can’t draw or
“Sell without selling out” – “Never feel bad about successfully selling
your creations. Never feel bad about creating art you can’t sell. Just create.”
“Create wealth that matters” – Don’t measure success in dollars or
“Be an Unlabel” – Find your own “unique voice.”
“Authenticity is a pursuit, not a destination” – Finding your true
voice is a constant and evolving process.
About the Author
Marc Eckō is the creator and founder of Eckō Unlimited, as well as the founder
and chairman of Complex Media. He is an American fashion designer, artist,
speaker and mentor.
Everyone has a pocket jury they need to silence – the whispers in your brain
that judge you, give you pause and say you’re not good enough. Best-selling
author and speaker Jon Acuff dispels the myth that you cannot control
these thoughts, that you cannot flip the narrative. With humor and clarity,
Acuff shares his secrets on how to stop overthinking and use positive
affirmations to build your confidence and creativity. When you quell the
negative noise in your head and convert your overthinking into positive
energy, he argues, you turn problems into opportunities and idleness into
Your thoughts either move you forward or hold you back.
Influence your ideas with action.
You cannot turn off your thoughts; turn them down instead.
Replace your “broken soundtracks” with the songs you want to hear.
Use the power of opposites to change the direction of your thoughts.
Recite motivational soundtracks aloud for 30 days and notice how
that changes your outlook.
Gather your true, helpful and kind soundtracks to create a chorus that
sings during times you might overthink.
Renounce your pocket jury – the internal judge who tries to
thwart your progress – by gathering evidence.
Translate your new soundtracks into a symbol that helps you embrace
Your thoughts either move you forward or hold you back.
Overthinking leads to inaction. When your thoughts overwhelm you, they
hold you back from realizing your dreams. Overthinking wastes your time,
impedes your creativity and makes you less productive. You may believe
you cannot control your thoughts, yet by listening to them too much, you
allow them to influence your career, your personal relationships and your
When you overthink, thoughts repeat or spin in your brain – longer than
you expect, longer than you want. These thoughts often exaggerate things
you said or did that you’d rather forget. These negative thoughts – “broken
soundtracks” – play uninvited in your head and generate doubt and
insecurity that leads to lost opportunities.
“Even if we are very deliberate in other areas of our lives, we
tend to treat our thought life as something we have no
control over.”
Over time, your brain repeats these broken soundtracks, and they reset your
memories. You believe what your brain tells you and find evidence to
support those beliefs.
You can learn to control your brain and to ignore your broken soundtracks.
Combat overthinking by replacing your broken soundtracks with new ones
and repeat your new ones until they play automatically in your head.
In uence your ideas with action.
Negative words adversely affect your actions, your health and your
happiness. Likewise, when you prep yourself with uplifting words, they
boost your well-being. Positive thoughts guide your actions, which, in turn,
guide your thoughts. To break the negative cycle of broken soundtracks,
choose new, positive ones. Use the power of your thoughts to instill hope
and create opportunities.
“What you think influences what you do, which influences the
results you get.”
When reflecting on your current thought patterns, ask whether they reflect
these qualities:
True – Many people come to believe the story their thoughts tell
without testing for credibility. A familiar refrain – that others perform
a task better than you do, for example – hinders your ability to move
forward with your career or interests. Broken soundtracks harm the
culture and spirit of an organization if people fail to question the
veracity of those messages.
• Helpful – A broken soundtrack might be true – that you did have a
certain unpleasant conversation, for example. When analyzing your
thoughts about this conversation, however, consider: Do they fuel
your progress or cause indecision?
• Kind – Kind thoughts do not judge you. Google, for example, found
that when team members treated their peers without judgment, these
teams had higher levels of performance and innovation.
When something does not go well for you, or you make a mistake, instead of
berating yourself, try saying a non-judgmental “oh well,” and simply move
You cannot turn off your thoughts; turn them down instead.
Treating your thoughts as on or off – you either think or you don’t – sets
you up for failure. Instead, aim to turn down the volume on your broken
soundtracks. Consider these techniques to successfully reset your
Exercise, which releases endorphins that boost your mood.
Make lists to sort out your tasks and help you prioritize.
Complete a task or two, however minor, to give yourself a sense of
• Distract yourself with a hobby, such as doing a jigsaw puzzle, knitting,
reading a book or listening to a podcast.
• Take a walk in the woods.
• Breathe.
Talking with friends can help break any unhealthy thought cycles and turn
down the volume on negativity. Friends help you see the truth and provide a
healthier viewpoint. They likely have a few broken soundtracks they cycle
through themselves, so in return, they will welcome your positive insights.
Replace your “broken soundtracks” with the songs you want
to hear.
You will always hear the thoughts that cycle through your mind. Remember
that you choose the playlist. If you don’t have new soundtracks ready to
play, look around you. Borrow from others. Grab a pen and paper and listen
for a phrase that strikes an encouraging chord with you. Write it down.
When you hear simple words, such as “Nothing good is ever easy,” record
them; they may inspire you when you lose faith in yourself during your next
difficult situation or work project. When trying something new, instead of
automatically downplaying your abilities, recall the time someone said, “No
one is good at things they’ve never done before.” Borrow uplifting phrases,
so when you retire your broken soundtracks, you have replacements at the
“You don’t think your way out of overthinking. You act your
way out. You retire broken soundtracks. You replace them
with new ones. You repeat those, so often they become as
automatic as the old ones. Those are all actions.”
As you collect your new soundtracks, see where they fit using the “win >
soundtrack > action” template:
Identify ways you want to succeed – the wins you want in your life –
such as having more confidence in sales meetings or taking a run
outside, even in the cold.
• Retire your broken soundtracks and ask yourself what new
soundtracks resonate with you, and will give you the impetus to
succeed. For your sales meeting, for example, remind yourself that,
like other members in the group, you have valid contributions to offer.
For your run, focus on how good you always feel afterward.
• Take action. Conduct preliminary research for the sales meeting to
solidify your understanding and your position. For your run, perhaps
allow yourself to run inside on the treadmill.
Keep a notebook and write down your new soundtracks. Owning a
collection of new soundtracks to replace your broken ones gives you the lift
you need to take action.
Use the power of opposites to change the direction of your
Certain words in your thought patterns signify a broken soundtrack:
“everything, nothing, forever.” You think, for example, that “nothing you
can do will help,” when facing a challenging situation, or “none of your
skills transfer” in today’s dynamic economy. Similarly, you might first react
to change with criticism rather than with an open mind. Organizations, too,
fall prey to these negative narratives.
When you hear broken soundtracks that deal in these absolutes, turn them
upside down. Change goes hand-in-hand with life today, and flipping the
narrative offers you a route to take action. Choose alternatives:
Curiosity over criticism.
“What if I succeed?” over “What if I fail?”
“I wonder how that could work here” over “That will never work
Tiffany from South Carolina, for example, learned to flip the broken
soundtrack that had haunted her since high school: that she would never do
well with math. Taking a job in payroll taught her an important lesson that
allowed her to succeed: She learned she actually enjoyed – and excelled at –
everyday math, just not algebra or geometry. Find your broken soundtrack’s
opposite and flip it to create a soundtrack that encourages you.
Recite motivational soundtracks aloud for 30 days and notice
how that changes your outlook.
Overthinkers repeatedly play broken soundtracks in their heads, whether
those soundtracks prove true or not. Most find it easier to think negative
thoughts, as they have done for years, rather than implant new, positive
ones. To override broken soundtracks, replace them with new ones and
repeat them, so your new soundtracks play automatically.
Zig Ziglar, the renowned motivational speaker, suggests you start with a
simple method: For 30 days, morning and night, repeat positive
affirmations in front of a mirror, and reflect on the effect this repetition has
on you. You might find traffic no longer has the power to ruin your
morning,or you no longer let a simple mistake linger in your head for days.
At first, these affirmations may feel contrived; yet repeating them for a
month will improve your outlook and sprinkle optimism into your
automatic reactions to daily occurrences.
“Good days start with good thoughts.”
When Tom Ziglar – Zig’s 16-year-old son – applied for a job, he used
positive affirmations to counter his lack of experience and landed the gig.
Tom learned from his father to focus on responding, not reacting, to his
For example, periodic airport delays pose challenges, and you may react
with frustration. But they also create opportunities. When, for instance, you
respond to the delay by catching up on work priorities, you create a win.
Choosing optimism as your day begins prevents your thoughts from
spiraling in reaction to problems and allows you to focus on finding
Gather your true, helpful and kind soundtracks to create a
chorus that sings during times you might overthink.
In a research study designed to test Ziglar’s 30-day positive affirmation
proposal, 10,000 people agreed to read a series of 10 positive affirmations
aloud in front of a mirror, morning and night. The participants repeated
these phrases in the morning to launch them with optimism into their day,
and in the evening to quiet errant thoughts and consider their day a success.
The declarations addressed areas in which overthinking tends to hinder
people’s ability to act. For example:
“Momentum is messy,” addresses perfectionism.
“I’ve got a gift worth giving,” focuses on personal identity.
“I am the CEO of me, and I am the best boss,” centers on
The study found that when people repeated these positive affirmations, they
decreased their overthinking, boosted their productivity and overall
satisfaction, and increased their likelihood of achieving their
goals. Companies, too, benefit when they implement new soundtracks in
the workplace culture that increase creativity, productivity and
Renounce your pocket jury – the internal judge who tries to
thwart your progress – by gathering evidence.
When you repeat broken soundtracks, you see situations around you that
support them. Your pocket jury further amplifies negative thoughts by
raising doubts about any new soundtracks you introduce. But when you
repeat your new positive affirmations, they follow the same pattern. You
find evidence in your daily activities to support them, and positivity begins
to dominate your thoughts.
For example, when you make a mistake, your pocket jury likens it to all the
other mistakes you made in the past in hopes of bringing you down.
However, if your new soundtrack emphasizes how things tend to work out
for you, you see not the mistake but the opportunity that may arise from it.
A canceled meeting, for example, turns into a chance to catch up on missed
work. A delayed schedule on your weekend provides time to enjoy with your
family. Not everything that occurs has a positive side, but, in most cases,
when you look for evidence, you can find reasons to support your optimism.
“You have to gather some evidence of what you want to be
true in your life. This is not a passive experience. Proof won’t
find you; you have to find it.”
Quell the negative noise by taking action against your pocket jury. Ask if the
evidence around you supports its claims and emphasize the truth. If you
have listened to a broken soundtrack for years without proof, strike it down
and, with conscious effort, replace it.
Translate your new soundtracks into a symbol that helps you
embrace positivity.
A library director from Nebraska, for example, keeps a rock on her desk to
remind herself of the time she went on a harder hike than she thought she
could handle. A pair of writers from Utah post bright encouragement
stickers on their rejection letters to keep their focus on their future success.
These participants understand that, like Nike’s swoosh or Livestrong’s neon
yellow bracelet, symbols carry strong messages.
“Overthinking steals time, creativity, and productivity by
making you listen to broken soundtracks. Do you know what
happens when you listen to new ones? You give your dreams
more time, creativity, and productivity. ”
To find your symbol, chose something personal, such as a favorite photo or
an upbeat note from a friend. Remember that what works for others may
not work for you. Keep your symbol visible to serve as a daily reminder –
more like a tattoo you see every day than a shirt hanging in your closet.
Consider other options when searching for your symbol, such as a favorite
mug that reminds you of a memorable trip, a compass to remind you
to keep moving forward or a race bib that gives you the inspiration to do
About the Author
Best-selling author and INC Magazine Top 100 Leadership speaker Jon
Acuff has influenced companies around the world including FedEx,
Nissan, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Chick-fil-A, Nokia and Comedy
Thinking, Fast and Slow
The topics that Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman addresses are both complex
and integral to the human mind: He asks you to think about thinking by
considering how your mind habitually contradicts itself, distorts data and
misleads you. His prose is lucid, his reasoning rigorous and his honesty
refreshing – more than once Kahneman illustrates conflicted thinking with
examples from his own life. The result is a fairly slow read, but an ultimately
rewarding experience.
To understand how thinking works, consider this model, which says people
use two cognitive systems.
“System 1” works easily and automatically and doesn't take much effort; it
makes quick judgments based on familiar patterns.
“System 2” takes more effort; it requires intense focus and operates
These two systems interact continually, but not always smoothly.
People like to make simple stories out of complex reality. They seek causes
in random events, consider rare incidents likely and overweight the import
of their experiences.
“Hindsight bias” causes you to distort reality by realigning your memories
of events to jibe with new information.
“Loss aversion” and the “endowment effect” impact how you estimate
value and risk.
Your “two selves” appraise your life experiences differently.
Your “experiencing self” lives your life; your “remembering self” evaluates
your experiences, draws lessons from them and decides your future.
These two contrasting systems and selves disprove economic theories that
say that people act rationally.
Your “Two Systems” and What They Mean
When you have to make sense of something, you think about it. To understand
this process, consider a model that says people apply two cognitive systems.
The first is “System 1,” or the mental processing that reads emotions and handles
your automatic skills, like driving your car or adding two plus two. System 1 takes
over your thinking when you comprehend simple statements (such as “complete
the phrase ‘bread and . . .’”), instinctively turn to see where a noise is coming from
or grimace when you see a gruesome image. System 1 supplies associated
meanings (including stereotypes) rapidly and involuntarily.
“Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the
automatic System 1 is the hero of the book.”
By contrast, you use “System 2” when you’re focusing on specific details, like
counting or figuring out how to complete your income tax forms. System 2 applies
effort consciously, such as when you do complicated math, try new physical
activities or search for a specific person in a crowd. System 2 thinking is slower,
but you need it for methodical thinking processes such as formal logic.
“The main function of System 1 is to maintain and update a
model of your personal world, which represents what is normal
in it.”
Human beings tend to value the measured System 2 while dismissing the
mechanical System 1, but reality is much more complicated. These mental
processes engage in a “division of labor” when it comes to thinking, and they
constantly interact. You usually live in System 1’s world, where its fast processing
is extremely efficient. In fact, you can be reasoning about a task in System 2, get
tired or distracted, and find that you’ve shifted over to System 1 without realizing
it. If you’ve ever puzzled over an optical illusion, you’ve experienced what
happens when these two systems work at cross-purposes.
Duality and Collaboration
Which system you use and how you think depends a lot on the effort you are
expending. If you are doing something easy, like strolling on a known path, you’re
using System 1 and have a lot of cognitive capacity left for thinking. If you push
the pace to a speed walk, System 2 switches on to maintain your effort. Now try to
solve an arithmetic problem, and you’re likely to stop walking altogether; your
brain can’t handle the additional burden. Recent lab studies show that intense
System 2 concentration lowers the body’s glucose levels. If your System 2 is busy,
you’re more likely to stereotype, give in to temptation or consider issues only
“People who are ‘cognitively busy’ are...more likely to make
selfish choices, use sexist language and make superficial
judgments in social situations.”
System 1 likes to jump on the straightforward answer, so if a seemingly correct
solution quickly appears when you face a challenge, System 1 will default to that
answer and cling to it, even if later information proves it wrong. System 1
performs rapid “associative activation.” Pair two words, or a word and an image,
and your mind will link them, weaving a story from those scraps of information.
In the phenomenon of “priming,” if you see the word “banana” followed by the
word “vomit,” your mind creates an instantaneous connection that causes a
physical reaction. Similarly, if exposed to the word “eat,” you will more likely
complete the sequence S-O-_-P as “soup” rather than “soap.”
“A compelling narrative fosters an illusion of inevitability.”
If you want to persuade people, appeal to their System 1 preference for simple,
memorable information: Use a bold font in your reports, try rhyming slogans in
your advertising and make your company’s name easy to say. These tendencies
are markers of System 1’s larger function, which is to assemble and maintain your
view of the world. System 1 likes consistency: Seeing a car in flames stands out in
your mind. If you see a second car on fire at roughly the same spot later on,
System 1 will label it “the place where cars catch fire.”
Making Meaning, Making Mistakes
System 1 prefers the world to be linked and meaningful, so if you are dealing with
two discrete facts, it will assume that they are connected. It seeks to promote
cause-and-effect explanations. Similarly, when you observe a bit of data, your
System 1 presumes that you’ve got the whole story. The “what you see is all there
is” or “WYSIATI” tendency is powerful in coloring your judgments. For example,
if all you have to go on is someone’s appearance, your System 1 will fill in what
you don’t know – that’s the “halo effect.” For example, if an athlete is good
looking, you’ll assume he or she is also skilled.
“When an unpredicted event occurs, we immediately adjust our
view of the world to accommodate the surprise.”
System 1 is also responsible for “anchoring,” in which you unconsciously tie your
thinking on a topic to information you’ve recently encountered, even if the two
have nothing to do with one another. For example, mentioning the number 10
and then asking how many African countries belong to the United Nations will
produce lower estimates than if you mentioned 65 and asked the same question.
System 2 can magnify your mistakes, though, by finding reasons for you to
continue believing in the answers and solutions you generate. System 2 doesn’t
dispute what System 1 presents; rather, it is the “endorser” of how System 1 seeks
to categorize your world.
“Facts that challenge...basic assumptions – and thereby threaten
people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed.”
The natural tendency to focus on a message’s content rather than its relevance
affects your ability to judge. People seize on vivid examples to shape their fears
and plans for the future. For example, media coverage of dramatic but infrequent
events like accidents and disasters – as opposed to dull but common threats like
strokes and asthma – sets those events up as anchors that people use to make
wildly inaccurate assessments about where the risks to their health lie.
“The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every
day by the ease with which the past is explained.”
People also reason incorrectly when they don’t recognize the “regression to the
mean.” Over time, everything tends to return to the average, but people create
and apply “causal interpretations” to what are, in effect, random events. For
example, if a baseball player who has a strong first year subsequently falters in his
sophomore slump, sports fans will ascribe the decline to any number of rationales
– but, in reality, the player was probably just more fortunate in his initial outings
than in later ones.
Distorted Reality and Optimism
Simplification is at work in the “narrative fallacy,” or the mind’s inclination
toward the plain, tangible and cohesive instead of the theoretical, contradictory
and vague. People derive meaning from stories that emphasize individual
characteristics like virtue and skill, but discount the role of luck and statistical
factors. You will tend to “focus on a few striking events that happened rather than
on the countless events that failed to happen.” Due to “hindsight bias,” you will
distort reality by realigning your memories of events to jibe with new
information. And when telling stories about events you’re involved in, you tend to
be overly optimistic and predisposed to overvaluing your talents relative to those
of others. You also will give your knowledge greater weight than it should have.
“We are confident when the story we tell ourselves comes easily
to mind, with no contradiction and no competing scenario. But
ease and coherence do not guarantee that a belief held with
confidence is true.”
This intense, pervasive optimism is useful for the economy in many ways because
entrepreneurs and inventors tend to start new businesses all the time,
notwithstanding the overwhelming odds against them. Despite knowing that
roughly only a third of enterprises make it to their fifth anniversary, more than
80% of American entrepreneurs rate their ability to beat that statistic as high;
fully a third “said their chance of failing was zero.”
Experts and Risk
System 1 influences how candidly people assess their own “intuition and validity,”
which means that not all experts always provide great counsel. Expertise relies on
an individual’s skill, “feedback and practice.” For example, firefighters’ repeated
practice in weighing the risks posed by specific types of fires and their experience
in extinguishing those fires give them an impressive ability to read a situation
intuitively and identify crucial patterns. Similarly, an anesthesiologist relies on
regular, immediate medical feedback to keep a patient safe during surgery.
“Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our
own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the
goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be.”
However, don’t put too much trust in the judgment of experts in fields where
challenges vary greatly, where luck determines success, and where too great a gap
exists between action and feedback. Those who predict stock values and political
contests, for instance, are prone to fall into this category. Because System 1 lulls
experts with “quick answers to difficult questions,” their intuition may be flawed,
but your System 2 is unable to detect those inconsistencies.
“Organizations that take the word of overconfident experts can
expect costly consequences.”
You’re especially prone to unclear thinking when making decisions about risk and
value. Most people are “loss averse”: You hate to lose $100 more than you like
winning $150. But financial traders tend to demonstrate less of an emotional,
System 1-type reaction to losses. Individuals also suffer from the “endowment
effect”: When something belongs to you, even if only for a brief period of time,
you tend to overestimate its value relative to the value of things you don’t own.
Homeowners exemplify the endowment effect, often overvaluing their properties.
“Confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling
cognitive illusion.”
When you combine all this with the fact that people misjudge how likely rare
events are or, alternatively, give rare events too much weight when making
decisions, you have the foundations of the modern insurance industry. How you
frame risk shapes your evaluation of it. For example, if you hear a life-saving
vaccine has “a 0.001% risk of permanent disability,” your reaction is much
different than it would be to the same treatment that leaves one of 100,000
individuals forever incapacitated. Yet the two are identical. When you take all
these tendencies into account, it is hard to believe any economic theory based on
the idea that people are rational actors. But making good decisions depends on
paying attention to where your information comes from, understanding how it is
framed, assessing your own confidence about it and gauging the validity of your
data sources.
“Two Selves,” One Mind
Just as two systems interact in your mind, two selves clash over the quality of
your experiences. The “experiencing self” is the part of you that lives your life; the
“remembering self” is the part that evaluates the experiences you have, draws
lessons from them and “makes decisions” about the future. For the remembering
self, happiness is not cumulative, and the final stages of any event play a critical
role in your recollection of its quality. For example, when researchers asked
subjects to evaluate the life of someone who lived happily to the age of 65, relative
to someone else who lived happily through 65 but was only moderately content
for another five years, the subjects rated the first life as more desirable.
“The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering
self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and
governs what we learn from experience, and it is the one that
makes decisions.”
Your remembering self’s evaluation of your life story is one part of how you judge
whether you are happy. You rate your life by standards or goals you set. The
moment-to-moment assessments of your experiencing self provide the other side
of your happiness. These conclusions may conflict because they account for
different aspects of reality. Work benefits and status that affect “general job
satisfaction” do not shape people’s everyday moods at work. Instead, job context
contributes more to happiness, including such factors as chatting with co-workers
and being free from “time pressure.”
“The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in
principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive
minefield, slow down and ask for reinforcement from System 2.”
The things you pay attention to have major implications for your mood. “Active
forms of leisure,” like physical activity or spending time with good friends, satisfy
you a lot more than the “passive leisure” of, for example, watching television. You
can’t necessarily change your job or your disposition, but you can change what
you focus on and how you spend your time. Focus shapes your self-assessments:
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.”
Your two selves are intertwined with your two mental systems: System 2
constructed your remembering self, but your tendency to weigh experiences by
their final moments and to favor “long pleasures and short pains” comes from
System 1. The relationship between your selves holds implications for
philosophers and policy makers. You would make different decisions about which
social, health and economic issues to address, and how to address them,
depending on whether you see the perspective of the remembering self or of the
experiencing self as primary.
In general, recognizing how these different mental systems work can help you
realize that the purely rational beings favored by economic theory are fictional,
and that real people need help making better judgments in their financial and life
choices. Understanding how your mind works can help you advocate for policies
that take those issues into account. The converse is also true: Because your mind
doesn’t function optimally in all instances, rules should protect people from those
who would “deliberately exploit their weaknesses.” Because individuals find it
difficult to catch glitches originating in their own System 1 processing, an
organization can operate with more methodical rationality than can the separate
individuals within it.
About the Author
Daniel Kahneman, a professor emeritus at Princeton and a Nobel laureate in
economics, has written extensively on the psychology of judgment and decision
The Simplicity Principle
If you’re thinking, “Stop the world and let me off,” you’re the ideal
candidate for Julia Hobsbawm’s guide to untangling life’s complexities. The
British author and intellectual uses nature and neuroscience as a
framework for dealing sensibly with life’s demands. Hobsbawm warns
against the poisonous effects of stress and explains why multitasking goes
against nature. Hobsbawm offers a unique perspective on quieting the noise
around you and embracing clarity amid confusion.
The Simplicity Principle derives from two core concepts: “Keep it
simple” and “Learn from nature.”
“Hexagon Action” provides simpler solutions to problems.
Use the six sides of simplicity to organize stress-free living:
1. “Clarity” – Clear the way for well-informed decisions.
2. “Individuality” – Being distinctive is a natural gift worth
3. “Reset” – Pull the plug, and take a deep breath.
4. “Knowledge” – Beware of what information you consume. Ask how
much of it is worth your attention.
5. “Networks” – Reach out, and stay in touch.
6. “Time” – Use what you have wisely.
The Simplicity Principle derives from two core concepts:
“Keep it simple” and “Learn from nature.”
Life is complex and demanding, but doesn’t have to feel overwhelming or
out of control. The Simplicity Principle shows you how to prioritize and
effectively utilize your energy and intellect based on two foundational
1. Keep it simple – Learn to apply simpler solutions to make
your life manageable.
2. “Learn from nature” – The bee’s honeycomb is made up of sixsided hexagons, a simple, sturdy and highly functional shape. Use a
six-part framework to organize your life more simply.
Stress takes a sizable toll on performance and psychological well-being.
Stress costs the United States some $300 billion in business annually.
“The challenge is to recognize complexity when we see it and
find a way to personally side-step and cope when it is not
working in our favor.”
Technology should simplify life, but it often has the opposite effect. Drivers
using mobile phones cause 25% of automobile accidents worldwide –
mostly due to the misguided practice of multitasking. People can process
only four to seven things at a time. Multitasking – an unnatural act –
creates anxiety, depression and frustration.
“Hexagon Action” provides simpler solutions to problems.
The concept of Hexagon Action derives from using a six-sided shape
to break problems down into identifiable components. Six is a practical
number you can apply in organizing your work and your life. Six occupies a
prominent place in nature and culture: insects have six
legs; Judaism’s Passover Seder plate holds six symbolic foods; the Bible
says man was created on the sixth day; volleyball teams have six players;
cricket has six balls in an “over”; and a braille cell has six dots.
“Six is a mysteriously alluring number which it turns out a
great many of us are transfixed by without really knowing
Humans, like bees, are productive social creatures who perform specialized
tasks within a disciplined communal framework. Both species evolve and
survive “by constantly adapting to (their) surroundings.” No matter the size
of a bee colony, the bees carry out their tasks with organized cohesion.
Use the six sides of simplicity to organize stress-free living.
Use Hexagon Action to limit yourself to doing no more than six things at a
time. Your productivity increases when you clear away the clutter and zero
in on what is most important. Ask yourself how you can do less, not
more. Use the six sides of simplicity to organize yourself without stress:
1. “Clarity” – Clear the way for well-informed decisions.
The absence of clarity confuses and weakens people. The human
brain processes roughly 35,000 decisions every day, but many people
remain uncomfortable making decisions. Deciding moves you from
uncertainty to clarity and creates a clear path toward other actions. Having
too many choices impedes progress. For instance, former president Barack
Obama simplified his wardrobe options to focus on more important
decisions. Habits simplify your life by limiting your options and decisions.
They benefit you mentally and physically.
Worrying about the repercussions of a decision is common, but waiting to
act allows more problems to pile up. Make a decision, and then take action
“The ability to decide is the difference between being stuck
and moving to a new place. Making decisions is an act of
clarity, clearing the way for other things to happen.”
Too much distraction prevents you from paying attention – a
phenomenon the digital era intensifies. You need around 23 minutes to get
back on track after your distractions take you away from a task. Distractions
can over-stimulate you and generate anxiety. Try pulling the plug on all of
your electronics on Friday night to experience life offline.
Moving toward clarity means establishing boundaries and realizing you
can’t do everything. Organizing your life brings clarity and
simplicity. Whether you’re working at home or in the office, reducing
clutter and putting things in place will boost your productivity and clear
your mind. Randomly scattered papers and documents create chaos and
can make you frantic when you need to find something.
2. “Individuality” – Being distinctive is a natural gift worth
Your individuality makes you different and separates humans from
machines. Individuality requires only acknowledging who you really
are. Personalities are fluid and evolve with society. People change jobs and
location more frequently these days. The boundaries separating personal
and professional life have become less clear as people can and do work
anywhere. Retirement can mean leaving one job and taking on several
smaller ones.
The internet complicates life. People frequently toggle between real time
and online time; many have multiple social media accounts. People check
their devices as frequently as 80 times a day and average six hours a day on
the internet. Social media can exhaust you. Shut down your computer and
take a break.
“The more we embrace complexity, the more we turn away
from simple solutions and simplicity itself, the worse things
Practicing integrity according to the Simplicity Principle means taking the
moral high road, trusting your instincts, paying attention to the facts and
speaking up when something isn’t right. People in the workplace avoid
speaking the truth because toxic cultures promote fear and mistrust. You
cannot vest in reality without honesty.
People who practice their individuality, even when others disagree, deserve
respect and empathy. Compassion is good for you. Helping other
people protects you from stress. To nurture your own individuality, think
creatively. Creativity is the core of individuality.
3. “Reset” – Pull the plug, and take a deep breath.
Find the on/off switches on your electronic device. Powering down your life
is challenging in a culture that values constant motion, material
acquisitions and endless to-do lists. Digital dependency is a fact of life,
particularly as the freelance workforce rapidly expands. Society’s
escalating use of alcohol and other mind-altering substances reflects a
desire to escape the exhausting complexities of modern life. Admitting you
need a break from anxiety and stress enables you to be proactive before
desperation and bad habits set in.
“We have to work extra-hard in a digital age to know where
the human stops and the machine starts.”
Instead of practicing meditation or mindfulness, consider “mindlessness.”
Achieve this state of relaxation by applying your favorite disconnection
technique, like changing into your pajamas or listening to classical music.
Quiet your mind, and achieve self-awareness. A nice run or spin class can
put you in a different space and enable you to return to your busy life with
renewed focus and energy. Breathing is the easiest way to unplug.
Numerous books, apps and websites offer information on effective
breathing techniques.
Active rest can mean going for a walk and observing what’s around
you. Strolling through a forest is an excellent stress-buster that lowers your
heart rate. Paying attention to insects and animals lends a sense of
perspective you won’t find in the office.
Napping is the ultimate reset device for people whose sleep is compromised
by stress, increased screen time and intrusive smartphones. Naps don’t
require equipment or fancy preparation – only a place to lay down. A 20minute nap is ideal for recharging your batteries.
4. “Knowledge” – Beware of what information you consume.
Ask how much of it is worth your attention.
Consuming too much information leads to “infobesity.” Loading up on
informational junk without confirming its validity is harmful. The internet
makes it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Do your own
research instead of blindly going along with the crowd. Reputable media
sources have more sophisticated fact-checking systems than random
tweeters or bloggers.
Knowledge encompasses more than cramming facts into your head and
spitting them out. Soft skills – getting along with others, being reliable and
adaptable, showing empathy – have become increasingly important in the
workplace. They separate humans from machines. Some soft skills come
naturally; you can learn and practice others.
Knowledge puts a strain on your memory, particularly when you have lots
of programs, user names and passwords to recall. Overloading the brain
leads to forgetfulness and makes it stressful to try to remember something.
Instead, trust that your memory will come through when necessary.
5. “Networks” – Reach out, and stay in touch.
The popularity of social networking reflects the basic human need to
connect. People send around 60 billion messages every day on Facebook
Messenger and WhatsApp. While social media provides connection, it
isolates those attacked by online trolls or bullies. Social media increases
anxiety in four out of five young adults. Typical social media users spend
more than two hours a day on various platforms. However, nothing
substitutes for face-to-face interaction. Social media helps people stay in
touch, but relationships deteriorate without in-person connection.
“The best way to think about networking is to adopt a
relational not transactional mind-set.”
In-person networking can be intimidating, especially if you are an introvert.
Establish connections instead of wondering how every transaction can
benefit you. Your time is valuable, so avoid events that are mostly
transactional. Settings that “prioritize people and content” will open the
networks you’re seeking.
You may have hundreds of contacts in your networks, but can you identify
the handful of people – your “Social Six” – you trust implicitly? Who
matters most to you? Who can you count on when you need help,
information or advice? Pinpointing your Social Six provides clarity, a true
sense of your life and the pivotal figures in it. List your Social Six for work,
family, friends and your children’s school.
6. “Time” – Use what you have wisely.
Considering the complexity of modern-day life and the finite number of
hours in a week, time management is mandatory. You need deadlines to get
things done, but people respond differently to time pressure. Taking on a
task or project with an unrealistic deadline will create anguish, not
efficiency. Use your best judgment before committing to something that
isn’t possible or requires you to cut corners.
“When we are overloaded, we make mistakes. We get
stressed. Depressed. Angry. Disappointed. We struggle.”
Controlling your time makes life more manageable, though not everyone
has the luxury of a flexible schedule. Working more than “a tiny bit of
overtime” significantly increases the risk of heart attack or coronary
disease. Time management is even more critical in the gig economy. Up to
50% of American employees are expected to be freelance workers by 2030.
In the face of all these various stressors and their unhealthy effects, learn to
respond by opting for simplicity and finding time for yourself.
About the Author
British author and intellectual Julia Hobsbawm also wrote Fully
Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload and Where the
Truth Lies.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree
This wide-ranging self-help style guide to a better life and career covers an
enormous amount of territory. From whether to play it nice and straight,
manipulate like Machiavelli, or “fake it until you make it,” lifestyle expert Eric
Barker reels you in with all sorts of research-based evidence on one side, only to
yank the carpet out from under your feet with at least as much evidence for the
other alternative. His back-and-forth style continues through more than 250
pages of studies and stories, cases and examples, including how to get off the
unhealthy wheel of competition, create your own definition of success and plan
your life accordingly. As Barker points out, for every expert and every study, there
are equal and opposite experts and studies, so read with a bit of skepticism and
trust your judgment as you decide what applies to you. getAbstract recommends
this guide about making productive career choices and finds that it would be
especially useful to anyone just starting a career.
Often, your disadvantages in one arena mean you have advantages in
Learn about your strengths; then find a career and an organization that
encourages and appreciates what you contribute.
Play nice, but not too nice. Extend trust, but retaliate if anyone tries to step
on you.
Don’t measure your success against other people. Define success for
Quit extraneous activities so you can devote more time and “grit” to what
Turning your work into a game can help you build perseverance.
Get out in public, make connections, build relationships and create the
network you need for success and happiness.
Practice self-compassion, which combines the best of confidence and
If you aim for prominence, prepare to devote your life to work.
If you want a good career and a worthy life, find balance in the “four
metrics that matter most”: “happiness, achievement, significance” and
Yin and Yang – Opposite Life Choices
High school valedictorians do well in college and in life; most of them earn
graduate degrees and almost half get top jobs. But they rarely change the
world. Kids who conform excel in class and keep conforming throughout their
careers, yet rule breakers are the ones who shake things up. A study of 700
American millionaires reveals they had a mean grade point average of 2.9.
“When you align your values with the employment of your
signature skills in a context that reinforces these same strengths,
you create a powerful and emotionally engaging force for
achievement, significance, happiness and legacy.”
Outliers have different approaches and different genes. Their unique mix of
personality traits gives society its greatest geniuses, musicians and leaders. Yet
they frequently suffer depression, violent tendencies and alcoholism. But some
factors that seem to be disadvantages sometimes become a competitive edge.
Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps looks out of proportion on land,
where he’s not much of an athlete. But his long arms, short legs, and big hands
and feet make him weirdly aquatic and perfectly built to win gold medals in the
pool. People who survive tragedies, like losing their parents at a young age – for
example, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Gandhi and Michelangelo – often go on
to incredible accomplishments.
“Success is not the result of any single quality; it’s about
alignment between who you are and where you choose to be.”
Good fortune often accompanies bad. When you pursue one life path, you give up
another. When you make a decision, you incur opportunity costs. Discover what
you do well, and err on the side of playing to your strengths rather than fighting
your weaknesses. Once you know your strengths, interests and values, find a
company that values your strengths and the type of person you are.
“Nice Guys”
In the short run at least, people who are nasty, lazy and disagreeable often do
better than nice, hard workers, so long as they flatter their bosses or otherwise
make a good impression. Nice guys get paid less and passed over for promotions.
“Research shows that what makes students likely to be
impressive in the classroom is the same thing that makes them
less likely to be home-run hitters outside the classroom.”
Over time though, jerks who get away with laziness or cheating rub off on others.
If they’re unchecked, eventually almost everyone around them will grow selfish
and distrustful. Ultimately, the group will collapse. Even one bad apple can
diminish group performance by more than a third. And, if you get ahead with
antisocial behavior, you may kill the conditions that allowed you to succeed.
You’ll also have created a bunch of people you can’t stand working with. So be
“College grades aren’t any more predictive of subsequent life
success than rolling dice.”
Niceness can help some individuals. Wharton professor Adam Grant discovered
that the good people he calls “givers” do either quite well or quite poorly. The
difference lies in whether givers retain a healthy dose of skepticism. If you are
trusting and helpful while remaining wary, you end up on the top. Don’t think in
“zero sum” terms, where everyone else’s wins are your losses.
“You do need to be visible. Your boss does need to like you. This is
not proof of a heartless world; it’s just human nature.”
If you don’t get reciprocation when you play nice, retaliate. Cooperate, and
everyone wins. Cheat, and everyone loses. Help others think about the long term
by building relationships. Join firms and teams you respect. Toot your own horn
gently but loud enough for the boss to know your work. You’ll find it easier to give
when you like those you work with. However, don’t give endlessly or you’ll get
taken advantage of, and you won’t have time to get your work done. About two
hours per week helping others should suffice. Balanced givers live longer, happier
To build perseverance, turn your struggles into a game. Challenge yourself to
accomplish small pieces of a bigger goal. Make a game out of it and you make it
fun, so you keep coming back for more. Create your games using these WGNF
Make them “Winnable” – Even though people lose at well-designed
games 80% of the time, they persevere in the knowledge that they can win.
Lots of people do win, and they know they will if they keep trying.
Build in “Novelty” – Great games introduce new challenges at the right
time and offer levels with increasing difficulty. Never make the game
impossible to win.
Attach “Goals” – Identify objectives for the challenges that you set. Think
of video games that captivate people with clear goals, constant feedback, as
well as achievable but hard levels.
Give “Feedback” – Like video games, your Fitbit and collecting air miles,
games capture your attention because they provide a stream of
feedback. You need feedback from your challenges and goals. Set a goal for
your daily progress against larger objectives.
Have “Grit,” but Know When to Quit
Perseverance often leads to success and happiness. That doesn’t mean that you
should never quit or give up. You have only so much time and energy. Choosing to
do one thing means rejecting another. Life is a series of trade-offs. “Strategic
quitting” means deliberately doing less of one thing so you can do more of
“Hard work doesn’t pay off if your boss doesn’t know whom to
reward for it.” ”
You may not know what to focus on, so try lots of things. Fail fast, learn and move
on. Knowing when to quit and what to stick with doesn’t come easily. When you
date, you wonder if you should marry. Is this person the right one?
Mathematicians calculate that your odds of finding your soulmate are one in
10,000 lifetimes. In the short term, love matches work better, but their successes
fade after 10 years. In the long term, arranged marriages succeed at a far higher
So how do you make a choice? The answer lies in the WOOP process: “wish,
outcome, obstacle, plan.” Dream about what you want, specify the outcome you
want, identify the obstacles in your way, and then craft a plan to overcome them.
This process works only when your goals are achievable – that is, if you have the
qualifications for the job or a path to getting them. WOOP can act as a wake-up
call. If you don’t know what to focus on – where to get gritty – run your projects
through WOOP.
Extrovert or Introvert?
In most cases, for most careers, you should act socially like an extrovert –
whether or not it comes naturally. Build as big a social network of associates and
both close and distant friends as possible. Extroverts and those with bigger
networks achieve more success; make more money; and lead happier, more
productive lives, even if they just pretend at extraversion. People who get out,
make friends and remain active socially enjoy longer, healthier lives.
“Having ‘friends’ stacked like books in a digital library on a
network is not the same as actually talking to people…That’s not
a relationship; that’s virtual stamp collecting.”
Take, for example, Isaac Newton, perhaps the “smartest person who ever lived,”
who accomplished all he did “entirely on his own.” Introverts tend to do better
academically and in reaching expert levels in their fields, whether science,
investment banking, programming, sports or music. Introverts commit fewer
crimes and less adultery, lose less money, and get in fewer accidents. Most people
land somewhere between introversion and extraversion. Either way, unless you’re
Isaac Newton, you must build networks and collaborate.
Listen, Don’t Talk
Make friends, and build your network by helping other people, by listening rather
than talking, by asking their opinions and advice, and by asking them for help.
Allocate time to build your network. Connect or reconnect on social networks, but
meet people in person or, at least, on the phone. Join interest groups, book clubs
or professional groups with members who resemble the person you aspire to be.
If you want to improve your health, for example, join a group of fit, active, healthy
people. Don’t avoid people at work; those with the biggest social groups learn
about opportunities sooner and earn promotions faster.
Be Con dent with Caution
Successful people have more confidence. The more success you achieve, the more
confidence you gain. The more confidence you have, the more you earn. Even if
you have no basis for your confidence, having it helps. Even faking confidence
pays dividends. Leaders especially should put on an air of confidence even if they
don’t feel it. Smile to make yourself happy, stay optimistic to increase your
chances of success and strike power poses to gain confidence. But know that the
benefits of “faking it” don’t last long. You are deceiving yourself as well as others.
Overconfidence can get you hurt. Narcissistic CEOs regularly wreck companies.
Powerful leaders often lose people’s empathy, commit more infidelities and tell
more lies.
“Don’t be afraid to do some experiments and quit the ones that
don’t work…you need to try stuff knowing you might quit some of
it to open yourself up to the luck and opportunities that can make
you successful.” ”
A little uncertainty and self-doubt helps you listen more, share credit, avoid
acting belligerently, and remain open and curious. Humility helps people avoid
mistakes, even if you force it on them by requiring them to follow rules or
procedures. You need confidence, but with caution. Optimism helps, but some
pessimism keeps you from doing silly things. Seek a balance. Instead of trying to
show confidence or doubt, you may do better by improving your ability to forgive
yourself. Self-compassion makes you feel good about yourself without arrogance.
The benefits of confidence and humility include becoming stronger, more
positive, healthier, happier and even wiser.
Should You Work Insanely Hard or Settle for “Good Enough”?
If you’ve decided you want to lead your field, prepare for monstrous dedication
and work. You’ll need the 10,000 hours it takes to achieve expertise and a
multiple of that number to achieve eminence. Super smarts won’t help you; only
hours and hours of hard work will cut it. This means learning and improving on
your own time. Happily, hours of focused work don’t feel as taxing when you’ve
chosen a field that deeply interests you and leverages your strengths. That
passion and the importance of having “meaningful work” make your choice of
career and organization supremely important, especially if you live to work.
“YouTube started out as a dating site…eBay was originally
focused on selling PEZ dispensers. Google began as a project to
organize library book searches.”
If you choose wisely and make the commitment, you might become the best at
what you do. But high achievement comes at a high cost. A strong passion for a
career often leads to strained and broken relationships with friends, spouses and
children. Achievers must make these choices; few can have it both ways. When
highly productive scientists and artists of all sorts marry, their output and
contributions plummet. Expect this, even if you love your work. If you hate your
job, overwork may lead to burnout.
“Good enough is almost always good enough.” (Swarthmore
College professor Barry Schwartz) ”
Unless you aspire to greatness on the scale of Einstein or Mozart, reasonable
work hours will make you happier; you may get more done and have more ideas.
Get your sleep. Otherwise, you’ll walk around like a drunk, functioning at a level
far below most well rested people, even those who aren’t as naturally smart as you
“Gratitude is the tactical nuke of happiness and the cornerstone
of long-lasting relationships.”
Find a career that suits you, and don’t obsess about it. Overcome the rat race by
setting your own goals and defining what you see as personal success. If you
compare yourself to others, you set yourself up for stress and disappointment.
The “Big Four”
To lead a balanced life, devote your time and energy to “four metrics that matter
“Happiness” – Strive to find “pleasure and contentment” in your life.
“Achievement” – Work toward reaching challenging meaningful goals.
“Significance” – Ensure that your actions have a “positive impact.”
“Legacy” – Live your life in ways that benefit others.
Take Control
To have a sense of control over your life, manage your time. Track where you
waste time, and work to use your time more productively by devoting it to your
big four. Free up time for things other than work by talking to your boss about
your priorities.
“Success does not lead to happiness as often as happiness leads to
Instead of making a to-do list, schedule your day to get things done. Build in
“protected time” to focus on “deep work,” as opposed to the “shallow work” of
emails, phone calls and meetings. Find a quiet place for concentrated work. Plan
when you want to leave the office for the day, and make sure you do it. Close the
day by reviewing what you want to get done tomorrow.
About the Author
Eric Barker is the creator of the blog “Barking Up The Wrong Tree” which has
more than 325,000 subscribers and is syndicated by Time magazine as well as
other media outlets.
7 Things Resilient People Do
Di erently
Peak performance coach Akash Karia discusses the seven major habits of
“emotionally resilient” people and explains how to integrate these behaviors
into your life. Experts claim that the most successful people aren’t
necessarily the most intelligent or best educated; they’re the most
emotionally resilient. They don’t let negative emotions cloud their
judgment. Instead, they acknowledge such feelings as being inevitable and
take responsibility for their actions. They can step back from a situation and
not allow their emotions to take over. Karia provides tips for handling
negativity, including adopting power poses, changing focus, using questions
to develop greater self-awareness, and more. His easy-to-read manual
contains valuable advice backed up by research. getAbstract recommends
Karia’s useful method to anyone dealing with sadness, anger, frustration or
other negative emotions.
Everyone has to deal with negative emotions or experiences.
You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you
Taking control of negative emotions isn’t the same as suppressing
“Emotionally resilient” people accept their emotions and take
ownership of their actions. They use questions to develop better selfawareness.
They adopt “power postures” or poses to help strengthen them and
defuse negativity.
Instead of reacting to a stimulus, they change their focus to shift the
meaning of the stimulus to indicate a better outcome.
Emotionally resilient people change or mold their beliefs to control
their emotions.
They ask challenging questions to improve themselves.
They learn to modify their “self-talk and inner movies” by adjusting
the controls.
They rewire bad habits by modifying the “antecedent, behavior” and
“consequence” (ABC) loop of events in their lives.
Processing Negative Emotions
Say something negative happens in your life. It could be a fight with your
spouse, a divorce, losing a promotion at work, a co-worker gossiping about
you or failing a class at school. You might feel so hurt, angry or afraid that
these negative emotions take over your life. Everybody responds to stress
and negativity differently. Some may isolate themselves from friends and
eat too much ice cream. Others may lash out by screaming. But successful
people are “emotionally resilient,” and they can confront their negative
emotions without being overwhelmed.
“Many experts believe that emotional resilience is the #1 key
to success – not education and not conventional intelligence.”
Taking control of your negative emotions isn’t the same thing as
suppressing them. Suppression is harmful because negative emotions are
part of life. Instead of stifling your emotions, develop awareness of them.
Learn to “mind the gap” between a stimulus – what just happened – and
how you respond to it. People who are emotionally resilient take control of
that gap.
“Much of your ability to control your emotions depends on
your ability to be aware of all of the complex things going on
inside your head.”
Emotionally resilient people have seven basic habits that help give them
control over their feelings. To master your emotions, understand and
implement these habits:
Habit 1: Respect Your Emotions
Resilient people “acknowledge their emotions, accept responsibility for
them and learn to interpret the positive intentions of their emotions.”
Wherever you are and whatever you’re feeling, take time out to honor this
moment in time. Apply that sensibility to a real-life example. If someone
says something mean to you, you might feel hurt or angry. How you
respond to those words will depend on factors such as what the person said,
your past experiences, your personality, and more. You may get angry and
yell instead of acknowledging that you’re hurting.
“Suppressing thoughts and feelings can actually backfire.”
In 2007, the British journal Behaviour Research and Therapy published a
study written by Richard Bryant and Fiona Taylor reporting on the effects
of “thought suppression” on sleeping dream states. They asked 100
participants to think of an unwanted thought, memory or image from the
past. They asked 50 of the participant group to try to suppress that negative
thought for five minutes before going to sleep. After examining the
participants’ dream journals, the researchers discovered that those who
suppressed their thoughts were more likely to dream about the negative
experience they were trying to hold back.
“People who are emotionally resilient…use this to their
advantage by looking for the positive intention behind the
negative emotion they’re feeling.”
You are responsible for your emotions. You can blame other factors, like the
heavy traffic during your Monday morning commute, but you alone are
responsible for feeling rushed and angry. How you respond to something
potentially upsetting is up to you. Recognizing that you’re angry or sad is
the first step. Once you’re aware of your negative emotion, look for the
“positive intention” that accompanies it. For example, you might become
aggressive to protect yourself. Emotionally resilient people find the positive
intentions behind their negative emotions.
“While it is possible to use [the power of our beliefs] to our
benefit, not all of our beliefs are productive. In fact, we each
have certain beliefs that are quite disempowering.”
One of the most powerful examples of emotional resilience comes from
Viktor Frankl (1905–1997). In September 1942, Germans took Frankl to a
concentration camp. He and millions of other Jewish people suffered cruel
treatment at the hands of Nazis. Frankl survived because he knew he
couldn’t control or change his circumstances, only his response to them. As
he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl realized that his pain and
suffering could be teachers. After gaining his freedom, he gave back to
others and became a psychiatrist and neurologist.
Habit 2: Adopt “Power Postures”
Your body language reflects what you’re feeling inside. If you’re sad, your
posture will be slumped and droopy; you might frown with your lips curved
down or cry. If you’re happy or proud, your shoulders are square and held
high as you laugh or smile with your lips curved up.
“Beliefs…which put conditions on your desired emotional
states (happiness, excitement, fulfillment, joy)…limit the
amount of time you are able to experience that emotion.”
Power postures or poses occur when you take up a lot of space physically,
stand or sit up straight with your shoulders back and your feet shoulderwidth apart, and breathe deeply for two minutes. Within two minutes of
adopting power postures, your testosterone levels increase by 20% and your
cortisol levels decrease by 25%. Testosterone is a hormone found in both
genders that increases confidence. Cortisol is the hormone that causes
“We actually can choose how we feel, but we can’t do that
until we stop letting others control us and accept
responsibility for our own emotions.”
Use this physical technique to change your mental outlook. It’s hard to feel
sad when you’re smiling. Even if you’re not happy, the small physical
change of smiling produces positive effects. Practicing breathing can help
you become calmer. Changing your physiology is a lifelong habit that will
help you process negative emotions and become more resilient.
Habit 3: Build Your Ability to Focus
You react the way you do because your brain finds meaning in each
stimulus response. If you change the meanings you find, you can change
your responses – which will produce a different and possibly more positive
emotion. Say two people both get fired. One proclaims that his life is over
and he can’t possibly find another job as great. The other processes her pain
differently. She sees it as a “blessing in disguise” and gives herself
permission to try something new, such as switching careers or going back to
“Experiment with [your internal] movie controls –
brightness, color, focus, association, space and size – and see
what reduces and what increases the emotional intensity of
the experience.”
What you pay attention to becomes your focus. To assign positive meaning
to external events, adjust your focus. Control what you focus on. What you
pay the most attention to represents whatever will come into your life. By
this logic, if you focus on how great things are, you’ll think life is swell and
you’ll notice more positive developments. The reverse is also true. Your
focus is “a kind of lens through which you view your life.”
Habit 4: Change Your Beliefs
Resilient people can change or mold their beliefs and they respond to
external stimuli in different ways. Your beliefs are so powerful that they
affect you physically. For example, take the well-known placebo effect.
Patients who take a placebo – a fake or ineffective pill or treatment – often
feel better simply because they expect the pill or treatment to make them
feel better. Your beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you’re
fearful or anxious, you may feel physically sick. If you’re content or happy,
you will feel better.
“Less educated, less intelligent people who have mastered the
ability to use their emotions rather than being used by them
often achieve far more.”
Replace a limiting belief with an empowering one. For example, “I am just a
shy person” becomes “I have been confident in the past, which means I’m
capable of being confident. I can do so at will as long as I learn how.”
Repeat the new belief when the old belief tries to show up. Keep reinforcing
your new belief until it becomes automatic. Once you’ve mastered those
steps, you will be better equipped to control your emotions.
Habit 5: Use the “Hidden Power of Questions”
Emotionally resilient people understand how to use questions to improve
themselves. Be aware that loaded questions set you up for a negative
response. These include such questions as, “Why does my boss never
respect me? What did I do to deserve this?” and “Why is life so unfair?”
Even if these assumptions aren’t true, your brain will seek a response that
fits. If you find yourself asking a question with a negative presupposition,
make the conscious decision to challenge it.
“When it comes to emotions, your body language tends to
reflect the way you’re feeling on the inside.”
Alternative questions include “What can I learn from this?” and “How can I
use those lessons to be successful at my new goals?” These alternatives
encourage positive thinking and forward momentum rather than self-pity
and depression. Developing greater self-awareness leads to greater mastery
of your emotions.
Habit 6: Develop Positive “Self-Talk and Inner Movies”
Think back to childhood. Perhaps some pleasant memories come to mind,
such as remembering home-cooked meals and good times with friends.
Others may be more painful. Some memories may be vivid because you
remember them through all five senses: seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing
and touching. Emotionally resilient people don’t try to suppress or erase
their memories.
“Your emotional response – anger, hurt, fear – holds more
control over you than you would like.”
Emotionally, your brain recreates memories through three senses: visual,
auditory and kinesthetic. For example, if you’re angry, your brain will see
an image in your head associated with that feeling. Your brain also will hear
irate phrases that you may internally repeat to yourself. You may possibly
sense anger in other people through a feeling, almost like physical touch.
Try practicing what your brain sees, hears and touches. If you experiment
with your “movie controls,” you can diminish the impact of negative events.
“Allow yourself to acknowledge rather than suppress the
emotions that come your way so that you can identify them
accurately, learn more about them and eventually even learn
to manage them.”
Think of something negative – but not too negative, since this is your first
practice exercise. Is your picture in black-and-white or color? Try switching
to the opposite format to see if that dampens your emotions. Try adjusting
the brightness up or down. Look at the space around the memory. Is it
happening near you or far away? Can you push it farther away if it’s too
close? What happens if you make the size larger or smaller? Try to
manipulate your association with the memory. Pretend it’s on a movie
theater screen to gain some distance. Manipulate the focus by making it
clearer or blurrier. See how that affects your memory.
“Climb back into the driver’s seat, and put some of these
strategies and habits to the test.”
In addition to manipulating images visually, you can learn to manipulate
auditory cues. Think about the words you’re hearing. Instead of thinking to
yourself, “I’m such an idiot for failing,” use more positive words such as,
“I’m glad I made that mistake, because now I’ll never make it again.” You
can substitute silly phrases or ideas that make you smile to take the steam
out of negative phrases. Try to change the tone of what you hear. Accepting
negative messages is harder if they’re spoken in a rude or condescending
tone of voice. Practice changing the volume of the negativity. Pretend
there’s a mute button, and hit it.
Physical and emotional memories have a kinesthetic aspect. As in the
strategies above, you can adjust your kinesthetic memories by changing the
“intensity, pressure” and “location” of any sensation. If your memories are
intense, think of an imaginary dial you can turn to lower the intensity of
negative recollections or to strengthen your view of positive memories. If
you feel the pressure or weight of a situation, imagine having a balloon that
could relieve the pressure. Examine the location of your memories. Can you
move them to a different location either inside of or outside of your body?
Habit 7: Controlling the “ABC Loop”
Resilient people are better able to control their ABC loop. The A stands for
antecedent or stimulus; B stands for behavior and C stands for
consequence. To see the ABC loop in action, consider author Akash Karia’s
experience. As a teenager, he had problems managing his anger and would
end up in physical fights at least once a week. The fight would start with
some other boy making fun of the size of his nose or saying something that
embarrassed him, which made him angry. That was the antecedent. His
behavior was to hit the other boy. The consequence was that his teachers
would punish him after his anger dissipated. Karia credits pediatric
neurosurgeon and US cabinet member Ben Carson’s book Gifted Hands
with helping him overcome his anger.
Can you change anger’s antecedent? For example, if you’re dieting,
removing chocolate from your house makes sense. If anger management is
a problem, instead of clenching your fists, strike an alternative pose or relax
your hands and breathe slowly to release tension. If you change the
antecedent (stimulus) or actions, you can change and control the emotional
“Future pacing” is a technique for controlling emotional reactions that
involves “stepping into the future and visualizing a new ABC pattern.” The
strategy lets your brain create different neural pathways that will help you
handle the “offending antecedent” more effectively if and when it arises
again. Many athletes mentally visualize themselves succeeding before they
perform physical tasks. For example, boxing legend Muhammad Ali would
see himself as victorious before he even stepped into the ring.
Angie LeVan, a resilience coach who worked with the US Army, researched
the brain patterns of weight lifters. She discovered that “mental practices”
can have the same uplifting power as physical activities and that the two
combined are more effective than either on its own.
About the Author
Akash Karia is a speaker and peak performance coach who specializes in
resilience training. He has trained more than 80,000 people around the
Talent Is Overrated
Author Geoff Colvin rejects the popular notion that the genius of a
Tiger Woods, a Mozart or a Warren Buffett is inborn uniquely to only a
few individuals. He cites research that refutes the value of precocious,
innate ability and he provides numerous examples of the intensely
hard work that high achievement demands. Best performers’ intense,
“deliberate practice” is based on clear objectives, thorough analysis,
sharp feedback, and layered, systematic work. getAbstract finds that
Colvin makes his case clearly and convincingly. He shows readers how
to use hard work and deliberate practice to improve their creative
achievements, their work and their companies. The author’s argument
about the true nature of genius is very engaging, but, in the end, he
makes it clear that the requirements of extraordinary achievement
remain so stringent that society, after all, turns out to have very few
geniuses. Colvin admits that the severe demands of true, deliberate
practice are so painful that only a few people master it, but he also
argues that you can benefit from understanding the nature of great
performance. Perhaps, he says, the real gift of genius is the capacity for
determined practice. You can improve your ability to create and
innovate once you accept that even talent isn’t a free ticket to great
performance. It takes work.
Recent research undermines the notion of genius as innate talent
or ability.
Talent is a factor in your career arc, but it is a poor indicator of
your future achievements.
In terms of excellent performance, sharp focus, hard work and a
strong memory seem to matter more than a high IQ. “Deliberate
practice” matters most.
Deliberate practice involves defining a clear goal, analyzing the
elements of success and designing a program for becoming
excellent in each element.
You can raise your level of innovation and attainment with
deliberate practice.
The amount of time you practice is the best indicator of your
probable success.
Deliberate practice enables you to perceive, know and remember
more about your field.
Age matters to great performance. Adults can accumulate
expertise and resources, but their responsibilities may prohibit
long hours of deliberate practice.
The highest achievers seek copious feedback to help them do
better work.
Great performance is based on deliberate practice energized by
intrinsic passion.
Where Are the Wellsprings of Great Performance?
As you listen to Mozart’s music, you may wonder about the nature of
his genius. As you watch Tiger Woods accumulate triumphs beyond
anything golf has seen before, maybe you also ponder the images of
him as a toddler wielding golf clubs with shocking skill. Are geniuses
on this level born with a talent that makes amazing results easy for
them? If you ask regular folks to explain how the great figures of art,
business, athletics and science acquired their gifts, they are bound to
say that God or nature gave these stars an almost unnatural level of
talent and skill. However, recent studies have shown that great
performance is less reliant on talent than you might assume.
Researchers find that extreme high achievers fill their lives with
focused, intelligent, well-chosen hard work and practice, not just in
spurts, but repeatedly, over and over. These great talents strive to
improve their performance throughout their lives.
“Great performance comes from deliberate practice, but
deliberate practice is...so hard that no one can do it
without the benefit of passion, a truly extraordinary
Mozart and Tiger Woods were prodigies, but they both worked
prodigiously hard as children. Directed, focused childhood work and
practice also feature strongly in Warren Buffett’s biography. He was
close to his stockbroker father and went to work in his office at age 11.
He focused on money and investments as a young boy and later sought
the best professional education available.
“Successful people do seem to be highly intelligent.
But...the link between intelligence and high achievement
isn’t nearly as powerful as we commonly suppose.”
This combination of evidence suggests reconsidering the idea of
inborn talent and accepting a more complex equation that includes
other factors of varying importance. A 1992 study sorted 257 music
students by instrument, age, sex and income. Researchers asked them
about their musical precociousness, how much they practiced and
which of the nine standard levels of musical performance they
achieved at school. The researchers found no profound or conclusive
measurement of early musical ability that correlated with top musical
performance. However, they did find that the top students practiced
two hours a day versus 15 minutes a day for the lowest performing
IQ and Talent versus Hard Work and Practice
An examination of the IQs of people who excel shows that while some
are brilliant, others are merely bright and some are even below average
in the general intelligence that IQ measures. These people are
obviously exceptional in their fields’ critical skills, but IQ-type tests
may not measure those factors very well. Most top performers also
have exceptional memories. Spending years memorizing material
develops their ability to remember. Also, their experienced perceptions
help them recall items in relevant groupings and patterns that fit their
tasks. Think of the patterns a chess champion can see and predict that
average players can’t perceive. Can normal people groom such
abilities? Yes they can. Anything other than the raw physical limits
relevant to a task is up for grabs. For example, with training you can
expand the range of your singing voice, though you cannot wholly
transform it. So, you can’t grow an extra foot or two taller to play
professional basketball, but you can build more kinds of skills and add
more capabilities than you probably believe – although that requires a
very special kind of hard work.
“The difference between expert performers and normal
adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to
improve performance in a specific domain.”
Consider Jerry Rice: He took up football quite late in high school. No
big-time college football program recruited him. However, he not only
became an outstanding NFL receiver, he ruled the game much longer
than most men even play in the NFL. So, what made Jerry Rice such a
great wide receiver? The answer resides not just in how hard he
worked and practiced, but how and what he practiced. He identified
specific abilities he needed to improve and found ways, including great
coaching, to build those abilities, layer by layer. He pushed himself to
run and he did exhausting exercise. Rice persevered in working on his
own even when it was painful and tedious, and he continued to
dominate the NFL.
“The best and better violinists practiced by themselves
about 24 hours a week on average. The third group, the
good violinists, practiced by themselves only nine hours a
By age 18, top violin students have accumulated thousands of hours of
practice. The best have more than 7,000 practice hours, average
players have around 5,000 and third-level musicians have only about
3,400 hours. The top students’ practice hours actually increase once
they become professional musicians, since they strive to improve
throughout their lives. While decrepitude eventually catches up with
everyone, great performers rarely reach their peak achievements as
youths. They experiment, learn, strive and grow in mastery;
“deliberate practice” sets them apart.
Most People Don’t Use Deliberate Practice
Think about how you practice a skill-based activity you care about,
such as your golf game. Do you just swing your driver as hard as you
can? Or do you run through every club and give them each a few
swings? That isn’t what Tiger does. He carefully analyzes the elements
of his swing and designs deliberate drills to improve those elements.
He practices different skills away from his clubs to build the strength,
flexibility and stamina he needs to play golf at his transcendent level.
“Deliberate practice requires that one identify certain
sharply defined elements of performance that need to be
improved and then work intently on them.”
Great performers pay a lot of attention to details and constantly repeat
small skills, even the ones they use only occasionally. They know that
greatness requires having every skill ready when the game is on the
line. They seek feedback from teachers, coaches, onlookers and
customers, and don’t rely solely on their own perceptions. Great
performers put forth physical and mental exertion even when they
don’t want to and don’t find it much fun, because they know complete
preparation is vital to top execution. Whether their capacity for work is
a gift or a byproduct of some other drive, they develop painstaking
mastery so they can rely on their preparation, and free their minds to
conquer the details and demands of the contest at hand.
“Today’s best young employees...are demanding that
employers help make them better performers.”
Deliberate practice develops your skills and abilities in several ways:
“Perceive more” – Rather than just seeing the problem, you’ll
see it in context with all its subtleties. This lets you anticipate
your actions and make the best choices.
“Know more” – Deliberate practice builds your skills in each
layer and element of great performance, so you are more
experienced and more expert than your competition because you
have worked harder to learn.
“Remember more” – Experience lets you see internal
structures and retain more information about your work. High
performance and strong memory go together because you can
use past events and details to inform your present decisions.
“Working on people’s development early is a big change
at most companies, where development programs were
long reserved for an elite group several years into their
Brain research indicates that the pathways your neurons use to
communicate with each other change and adapt based on your
activities, including extensive practice. Just as athletes alter their
muscles, deliberate practice will enlarge the mental capacities that
relate to your activities.
Living Deliberate Practice
How can you improve your performance in areas that matter? Try
these measures:
“Know where you want to go” – Have a distinct, settled
destination in mind. Once you know where you want to go,
figuring out how to get there becomes a clearer target.
“Practicing directly” – Several models can help you frame
your deliberate practice: The music model uses the idea of
repetitively performing a composed piece. The chess model says
to study your current position, analyze the outcomes of various
moves and choose the best one. The sports model emphasizes
building strength, capacity and specific skills.
“Practicing in the work” – Think of your work in three vital
phases: preparing, performing and seeking feedback. Evaluate
your work so you can adjust and develop.
“Deepening your knowledge” – Dig deeper into subject
mastery. Sharpen the mental model you use to frame your
knowledge about your area of performance. Clarify which data
really matters and what you can safely drop. Use information to
anticipate events.
Applying Deliberate Practice at Work
Rather than focusing on preventing errors, energize your organization
with these concepts:
Ensure that each job helps the employee stretch and grow.
Use jobs to develop leaders by teaching them, providing feedback
and allowing them to exercise leadership.
Build leader development into your organizational culture.
Notice your top performers early in their careers and invest in
their development.
Inspire people rather than commanding them.
Using Deliberate Practice to Unleash Creativity
Since people evaluate great performance relative to other existing
performance, you can’t just manufacture it. You have to work at it.
Achieving great performance is hard enough; sustaining that
performance is supremely difficult, particularly since the bar
measuring great performance rises when the general quality of
performance improves.
“We constantly see managers redirect people’s careers
based on slender evidence of what they’ve ‘got’.”
Contrary to myth, creative people do not wait for inspiration to fall
from heaven. They work, experiment, succeed or fail, and try again.
When a finished creative masterpiece dazzles you, try to see the long
period of work that preceded it. Think of your creative efforts as an
orchard of fruit trees. You have to plant and cultivate each one.
Likewise, creativity begins small and follows a recognizable trajectory
to superior performance. Creative people can become blind to difficult
problems and overcome them, or fall into ruts that stifle their creative
flow. They have ways of setting work aside and coming back to it with
fresh eyes. Or they can jar their perspectives, recast challenges and see
them in a new light. Deliberate practice lets you come to know your
field of performance so deeply that you can work through each part of
the process.
Does Age Matter?
Why do prodigies exist in music and math, but not in literature or
particle physics? Since becoming expert in a field takes thousands of
hours of work, children can become prodigies only in fields involving
work they can do. Their expressions of innovation and creativity evolve
as they age. When children develop in environments that support the
creative endeavors they want to pursue, this happy circumstance
enables their efforts to flourish. Real expertise, however, requires
adulthood and life experience. Experts need time to develop creative
ideas. Writers need to hone their craft to be compelling. Scientists
need access to millions of dollars worth of equipment. On the other
hand, adults also may develop responsibilities that distract them from
creative work. Maturity can bring obligations that interfere with
dedicated practice.
“Most insidiously...we will try something new and,
finding that it isn’t easy for us, conclude that we have no
talent for it, and so we never pursue it.”
Just as parents sacrifice and invest in their children, your organization
must do the same for its employees. Hoping to reap where you did not
sow is not a long-term plan for great performance.
Deliberate Practice and Passion
How do great performers work so hard, and in such a focused,
deliberate way? You can find the answer in the emotional fire often
referred to as passion. And, what ignites strong, long-lived passion? In
some cases, passionate people act in response to outside or “extrinsic”
drives, like kids whose moms and dads force them to go into the family
business or even just to practice playing the piano or the violin.
Extrinsic fuel is external to the performer.
“The price of top-level achievement is extraordinarily
high. Perhaps...not many people will choose to pay it.
But...by understanding how a few become great, anyone
can become better.”
Of course, having an inner fire creates a stronger drive. The “intrinsic”
drive is uniquely conducive to creativity and long-term great
performance. If a child is to accumulate the small advantages of
dedicated practice and high performance, the drive has to come from
within. The fact is that great performers pay a high, painful price. The
world has so few truly great performers not because there is so little
talent, but because so few people have the drive to pay the necessary
price. You can learn from them. Success is not predestined by the luck
of the DNA raffle, or limited to just a few. If you really desire it, and
you’re willing to sweat for it, higher performance awaits you.
About the Author
American journalist Geoff Colvin is a senior editor at large for
Fortune magazine. He is a frequent public speaker, and TV and radio
guest. He appears on the CBS Radio Network daily and co-anchored
Wall Street Week on PBS for three years.
Rich dad poor dad
by David Meyer
Best-selling author Robert T. Kiyosaki offers dueling dads
and valuable financial planning advice.
Bestseller Robert T. Kiyosaki built an empire of Rich Dad, Poor Dad books
– a dozen of his 16 titles feature the words “Rich Dad.” Kiyosaki had two
dads, one rich and one poor. Both provided life lessons as reflected by his
account of each man’s character and experience. One was a fearful loser and
died owing money. The other was a bold winner and died leaving money to
charities and his family. Their diametrically opposite attitudes – loser/
winner; small timer/major leaguer; scaredy-cat/big bad wolf – provides the
narrative horse that Kiyosaki rides. And rides. And rides.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a windy fable. Kiyosaki describes himself at different
ages and presents what he claims are word-for-word versions of the at-first
baffling – then later, profound – teaching moments both fathers provided.
The rich dad talked in riddles. The young Kiyosaki found this perplexing
until – after he made financial mistakes that led him to his true course in
life – a blinding flash of revelation revealed his rich father’s purpose. This
narrative method conveys each lesson, but it gets old really fast.
Money often makes obvious our tragic human flaws, putting
a spotlight on what we don’t know.
Kiyosaki, writing here with CPA Sharon L. Lechter, fills pages with perfect
fluff. For instance, he recounts the story of his early misunderstanding of
the phrase “making money.” The story neither rings true nor justifies the
space Kiyosaki spends on it. But that’s the author’s gift: He’s a hokey but
likable storyteller, and he pads his advice like a mattress. However,
Kiyosaki is not a repeat bestseller for nothing. His prose rips along, all short
simple sentences and rhythmic punch lines. He writes page-turners.
Worthwhile Advice
Once he finally sets aside his pervasive, somewhat grating two dads device,
Kiyosaki delivers straightforward, worthwhile financial and life advice. He
doesn’t write for investment bankers or at-home high-speed traders. He
writes for low-income or middle-class workers trying to understand the
complexity of their finances and of potential investments.
In these instances, Kiyosaki does not speak in parables. He details what you
should do with your money and why. He proselytizes you to embrace a new,
empowered mind-set. He wants you to regard your money as a tool,
whether you have a lot or a little. Kiyosaki does not despise the $100
investor. His book and his career exist to convince you that no matter how
little or how much money you have, you have enough to make it work for
Many financial problems are caused by trying to keep up
with the Joneses. Occasionally, we all need to look in the
mirror and be true to our inner wisdom rather than our
Kiyosaki maintains that money isn’t magical or disposable or the stuff you
use to buy beer. Money is a fulcrum, a device that lets you lever the
circumstances of your life into financial security – if you understand and
apply a few basic principles. Kiyosaki’s practical advice is so practical – and
he states it so clearly – that you will wonder why he bothers lugging around
the two-dad stories.
One reason is that two dads is Kiyosaki’s brand, the lure that brings readers
to his advice. Another is that the two dads render Kiyosaki’s abundant
common sense accessible and easy to accept. Perhaps the most important
reason is that without the dad stories, Kiyosaki’s book would be about 50
pages long. Even as it is, those 50 are more than worth the price of the other
Necessary Principles
In those 50 pages, Kiyosaki capably teaches basic, necessary principles. For
example, he urges you to buy assets, whatever they are, however small. If
can purchase an asset that might grow in value, get it. Don’t buy a new TV
or a car, and don’t buy a new suit or expensive dinner, he insists. Take that
money, find something that you know will gain in value and acquire it
before you spend your hard-earned coin on something that will not
With each dollar that enters your hand, you and only you,
have the power to determine your destiny.
Kiyosaki maintains that nothing else matters: Buy assets and hold them
until it’s clearly time to sell. Or, hold them until you find an even more
valuable asset in which to invest.
Few authors, bestsellers or otherwise, tell you that they’re going to clarify
complex ideas and then actually do it. Kiyosaki is one of them. He offers
admirably simple, revealing, easy-to-understand diagrams of your likely
cash flow. These useful illustrations demonstrate the author’s genius for
simplifying complex economic questions. It also demonstrates why you
might refer to his book often.
He outlines the relationship between income and expenses, and between
rising income and rising taxes. Every apparent discursion proves to be
another riddle – another story you must read to its end to understand how
to apply its lessons to your finances. The difference between his two dad
riddles/fables and his real-world riddles/fables is that the latter prove
consistently compelling. And Kiyosaki’s payoffs reveal worthwhile
conclusions you might not have reached on your own.
Aside from the infinite number of Kiyosaki’s other Rich Dad books, you can
find sound, basic financial advice – often with fewer parables – in a
bookshelf full of competing manuals, including Complete Guide to Money
by Dave Ramsey; How to Make Your Money Last by Jane Bryant Quinn;
Suze Orman’s Financial Guidebook (and her other titles); and two
evergreen classics, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The
Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.
Eat the frog
We all have our frogs - important tasks that we’ve put off for whatever
reason. The key to success is to eat your frogs quickly, completely and with
focused determination. So says Brian Tracy, the master of hard-nosed time
management. You’ll find no touchy-feely personal development pabulum
here. The message of this book: Action leads to accomplishment. With that
simple rule in mind, Tracy rolls out tools and techniques that will get you
off your backside and into motion. getAbstract.com, while uneager to take
up noshing on amphibians (well, maybe just the legs, in plenty of garlic
butter), strongly recommends this book to anyone caught in the swamp of
If you want to gain control of your life, change the way you work.
Action is the key to accomplishment.
People who do better do things differently. They do the right things
Eating the frog means identifying your most important task and
tackling it with single-minded focus until it is completed.
Launch directly into your most important tasks.
Your ability to focus on your most important task will determine your
People fail because they aren’t absolutely clear about their goals.
The best rule for success is to think on paper. Write down your goals.
Every night, make a list of what you want to accomplish the next day.
Have a master list, a monthly list, a weekly list and a daily list.
Identify the one skill that, if you developed it, would have the biggest
impact on your career.
Amphibian on Toast
If you eat a live frog each morning you will know that you have already
experienced the worst thing that will happen to you that day. You probably
have frogs hidden on your desk and on your to-do lists. Your frogs are the
tasks that you know are priorities, but that you’ve put on the back burner
for whatever reason. It’s time to learn how to snack on those difficult
problems. The good news is — it’s a high-protein diet.
“An average person who develops the habit of setting clear
priorities and getting important tasks completed quickly will
run circles around a genius who talks a lot and makes
wonderful plans but gets very little done.”
OK, you don’t need to eat real frogs to be a success in business. But you do
need to tackle critical projects and problems creatively and effectively.
Here’s a plain and simple truth: The ability to focus in a single-minded
fashion to accomplish the most important task before you is the prime
determinant of your success. It’s that clear. The complication comes in,
however, when you lack clarity about your true goals and objectives.
“The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most
important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the
key to great success.”
Lack of clarity can be a killer, because it impairs action, and action is the
secret to success. Like everyone, you probably feel overwhelmed at times
with too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. Select the most
important challenge — that big, old frog slobbering in your in-basket — and
address it effectively. Successful people launch directly without hesitation
into the major task that confronts them at any point in the day. How do you
develop this clarity? Well, it’s impossible without developing good work
habits. Indeed, about 95% of your success in life will depend on the habits
you cultivate. Good habits will be your best friends and bad ones will be
your worst enemies.
Winning is a Habit
You require three qualities to develop successful habits. You will need to
make choices. You will need discipline and you will need determination. For
example, one essential habit is learning to think on paper. Would you be
surprised to learn that only about 3% of adults have bothered to put their
goals on paper? Here’s how you can get what you want out of life:
Decide precisely what you want.
Write this goal down.
Set a deadline by which you plan to achieve it.
List what you will need to do to achieve your goal.
Turn the list into a plan. Organize it by priority and sequence.
Take action immediately. Do anything, but don’t hesitate.
Promise yourself to make some small step toward your goal each and
every day.
“Simply put, some people are doing better than others
because they do certain things differently and they do the
right things right.”
After that, it’s mostly a matter of continuing to push forward until you
attain your goal. While acting is better than procrastinating, action without
planning leads to failure and disappointment, so learn to plan daily. Always
work from a list. Draft your list the night before work so your subconscious
mind will work on it all night long while you sleep. Create different lists for
different purposes. Have a master list. Create a list for the coming month at
the end of each month, make a weekly list in advance for the coming week
and, of course, you need a daily list. Remember the 10/90 rule: investing
10% of your time in planning before beginning a project will help you use
the other 90% of the time more effectively.
Time-Management, Pareto Style
In 1895, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto realized that 20% of people made
80% of the money, while 80% of the people had little money. He soon
discovered that this ratio applied to all economic activity. The top 20% of
your activities will generate 80% of your profits. Twenty percent of your
customers will account for 80% of your sales. This pervasive fact is now
known as Pareto’s Rule. The rule means that if you have a to-do list of 10
items, two of those items will generate 80% of the return you get from your
entire list. Now, when you look at your list, you will be tempted, of course,
to clear up a few small things first so you can check them off and have a
sense of accomplishment. However, those items may not be significant to
your economic activity. And that’s a problem.
“The key to success is action.”
What to do? Well, remember that the hardest part of any task is getting
started. Time management is really just taking control of the sequence of
events that affect your life. Effective people discipline themselves to address
the most important task first, always. That is, they discipline themselves to
eat that frog. Ummmmmmmm, good!
Long-Term Thinking
To succeed, think for the long term. Before you begin a project, ask yourself,
“What is the consequence of not doing this task?” Be willing to delay shortterm gratification in order to achieve better long-term results. Of course,
reconsider if taking on a task causes you more trouble in the long run. As
motivational speaker Dennis Waitley puts it, “Failures do what is tensionrelieving while winners do what is goal-achieving.” Keep in mind, the root
word for motivation is motive. To succeed, you must give yourself a motive
for the choices you make.
The ABCs of Success
Is success really as simple as ABC? Well, no. You have to add a “D” and “E”
as well. Use the ABCDE method as a powerful tool for establishing your
daily priorities. Here’s how it works:
Make your list.
Place an A, B, C, D or E before each item on that list.
Complete the tasks in alphabetical order.
“You can get control of your time and your life only by
changing the way you think, work and deal with the neverending river of responsibilities that flows over you each day.”
An “A” task is one that you must do as soon as possible or face serious
consequences. “B” items are tasks you should do, but ones that carry mild
consequences. A “C” task would be nice to do, but carries absolutely no
consequences at all. A “D” task is something you can delegate to someone
else, so your goal is to delegate all of them to free your time for things only
you can do. An “E” task is one you can eliminate altogether. It may have
seemed important once, but it isn’t any more. Yes, you may have more than
one “A” task. That’s fine. Simply number them sequentially...A-1, A-2, A-3
and so forth. Practice the ABCDE method daily, and you will be surprised
by its positive impact on your work life.
Key Result Areas
To become more effective, ask yourself why you’re on the payroll. Most
people aren’t sure. Obviously, you have been hired to get results. Most jobs
have key results, specific things that must be done. To improve your
performance, identify your job’s key result areas. Here, for example, are the
key result areas for a salesperson at a typical organization:
Making presentations.
Closing business.
Sales service for existing accounts.
Administrative duties and paperwork.
“Clarity is the most important concept in personal
Identify your key result areas and make sure you allocate the appropriate
resources to handle them. Then, grade yourself in each key result area. Your
weakest performing key result area defines the ceiling of your performance
of your other skills (a manager who cannot delegate will find that impairs
his or her ability to move forward in other skills). Your weakest key result
area is an anchor that keeps you from sailing on with your other skills and
“Clearly written goals have a wonderful effect on your
thinking. They motivate you and galvanize you into action.”
However, if you improve your weakest key result area, you will improve
your overall performance. Everyone has weaknesses. Identify yours and
strengthen them. Ask yourself, “What is the one skill area I could improve
that would have the greatest impact on my career?” Becoming more
computer savvy? Learning a new language? All business skills are learnable,
simply target the area in which you need improvement and move forward.
The Law of Forced Ef ciency
You probably don’t like the idea of forcing things. The Law of Forced
Efficiency relates to the idea that any job will expand to fill the time you
allow for it. If you have two days, it will take you two days (or perhaps
more). However, the flip side is also true: If you have only one day to
complete a two-day job, somehow you find the time to do it. One corollary
to the Law of Forced Efficiency is the realization that you will simply never
have enough time to do everything you want to do. To cope with this sad
circumstance, continually ask yourself:
What is my highest value activity?
What is it that only I can do that, if done well, will have a significant
What is the highest and best use of my time, right now?
“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on
it in the first place.”
The answers to these questions will help you to manage your time. As
Goethe said, “The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the
things that matter least.”
Identify Your Key Constraints
You have goals and you haven’t achieved them yet. So what is holding you
back? Answering that question can be a critical building block for a more
successful tomorrow. In fact, you must determine the answer. Constraints
always affect the completion of a job. Identify these limiting factors, your
key constraints, and the rest of your work will go much more smoothly. If
you can resolve your choke point, you can make every other process flow
more naturally. The 80-20 rule applies: 80% of your problems will stem
from 20% of the obstacles you face. So which ones should you concentrate
on? Ask, “What within me is holding me back?” Don’t blame someone else.
Take responsibility and determine what you need to do to improve.
Becoming Your Own Cheerleader
Change is always a challenge; to meet the challenge of becoming more
effective, you need support from the world’s greatest cheerleader — you! So
grab your pom-poms and remember:
Become an eternal optimist — When you really rely on yourself,
you no longer have the luxury of moping, feeling sorry for yourself or
copping an attitude. Respond positively to other people’s behaviors,
words and actions. Steer a steady course, unaffected by the countless,
maddening, trivial setbacks of daily life.
Always talk to yourself positively — Say things like, “I like
myself” over and over, creating positive affirmations that become selffulfilling prophecies.
Resolve to remain cheerful and upbeat — Optimists look for the
good in any situation, search for the lesson and believe difficulties
come not to obstruct, but to instruct.
Visualize your goals —Imagine yourself sitting in that corner
“Time management is really life management.”
Eating the frog means having the positive attitude and the will to do the
most difficult task first. Because you can’t do everything, indulge in creative
procrastination — put off the things that do not carry a consequence. Break
large tasks down into a series of simple ones. Work with a sense of urgency.
And remember that all you have to do to succeed in business and in life is
learn to eat that frog every day
About the Author
Brian Tracy talks to about 250,000 people each year about personal and
professional development. His careers ranged from sales and marketing to
investments and real estate development prior to founding his own firm,
Brian Tracy International. He is the author of Get Paid More and Promoted
Faster, Maximum Achievement and other books, as well as numerous bestselling audiocassette programs, including How to Start and Succeed in
Your Own Business.
Kiss That Frog!
Once upon a time, a princess kissed a frog. It turned into the prince of her
dreams, and they lived happily ever after. The father-daughter team of
motivational author and speaker Brian Tracy and psychotherapist Christina Tracy
Stein expand on that fairy tale (which was also the title hook of his earlier book,
Eat That Frog) to teach you to recognize and learn from your frogs – fears,
uncertainties and wounds that prevent you from achieving joy and fulfillment.
Their prescriptive approach can help you banish negativity and replace selflimiting behaviors with positive expectation. Short chapters include exercises and
techniques that the authors promise will have near-immediate effects on your
perspective. While some suggestions are reminiscent of other self-help books,
getAbstract recommends their 12 doable steps to leading a positive life to any
princesses or princes who are still sitting by the pond waiting for life to change.
Frogs are “negative people, situations, past experiences, current problems,
and your doubts and self-limiting beliefs.”
Follow these 12 ways to banish them from your life:
One: Believe in your value and destiny. Two: Imagine achieving your
Three: Gain power over your frog before dealing with it. Kissing a frog can
mean seeing it as an ally, telling it goodbye or forgiving the injuries it
Four: Get rid of the frogs in your “mental pond” to make room for positive
thoughts. Five: Drain the swamp of negative feelings that cloud your
Six: Use affirmations, visualizations and mental preparations to ask for
what you want.
Seven: Accept what you can’t change. Eight: Define new positive goals.
Nine: Drop the guilt and self-criticism. Ten: Expect good things for yourself
and others.
Eleven: Forgive those who have wronged you; apologize to those you have
Twelve: Turn to positive “self-talk, visualization, people, mental food,
training and development, health habits,” and “expectations.”
“The Frog and the Princess” Curriculum
Once upon a time, a witch turned a prince into a frog, decreeing that he would
remain a frog until a princess kissed him. The frog took up residence at a nearby
lake. One day, a beautiful princess came along, sat by the water’s edge and
dreamed about her perfect prince. The frog hopped over and said that if she
kissed him, he would turn into a prince, marry her and love her eternally. She
kissed the frog squarely on the lips and watched him change into a handsome
prince. She married him, and they lived happily ever after.
“The greatest motivation in life is the desire for gain. The second
major motivation is the fear of loss.”
The moral is that most people have frogs – “negative people, situations, past
experiences, current problems, and...doubts and self-limiting beliefs” – that
prevent them from achieving happiness and satisfaction.
You can address your frogs with simple but powerful techniques that can help you
experience joy, love, achievement and fulfillment. Happiness can be yours – if
you use these 12 ways to “kiss that frog”:
1. “Seven Truths About You”
You already possess everything you need to live the life of your dreams.
Acknowledge the “seven essential truths” that characterize the full potential
existing within all individuals:
You have “tremendous value” – Doubting your inherent worth leads
to discontent.
“You are important” – Feeling unworthy produces hurtful behaviors.
“You have unlimited potential” – Believe you can have the life you
“You create your world” – Your beliefs become your reality.
You are “free to choose” your thoughts – Decide to cultivate flowers,
not weeds.
You possess a “great destiny” – Believe that “you are designed for
success and engineered for greatness.”
You have “no limits” – Only your doubts and fears can stop you.
2. “Imagine Your Handsome Prince”
The princess imagined the prince exactly as she wished him to be. Like her, you
need a specific vision of the person you want to become and the life you want to
have. Use these exercises to design your visionary dreams – don’t be afraid to
dream big:
“The magic wand” – Wave a wand to reveal your ideal career,
relationships, health and financial status.
“Your perfect future” – Fast-forward five years from now. Write
descriptions of your ideal job, your relationships and lifestyle, your health
and fitness, and your net worth.
“Your perfect day” – What if you could do anything you wanted for 24
3. “Look Your Frog in the Face”
When the “wet, slimy, cold, ugly frog” asked the princess to kiss him, she could
have either ignored it or taken a chance that the frog spoke the truth.
“If you change your thinking about yourself, you change your life
– almost immediately.”
Everyone has frogs that need kissing. They might be negative emotions about past
experiences, limiting beliefs in the present or fears about the future. Kissing one
of your frogs might mean welcoming it as an ally, telling it goodbye or forgiving
past injuries it caused. Gain power over your frog by looking it in the eye before
kissing it on the lips. Try these techniques:
“Be realistic” – You can’t change other people.
“Deal with reality” – Stress fades when you accept the truth of your
“Separate facts from problems” – You can’t change facts, but you can
fix problems.
Don’t hold on to the past – What’s done is done. Dump your baggage
and move on.
Be a “worry buster” – Eliminate anxiety by imagining the worst possible
result, deciding to accept it if it happens and taking action to avoid it.
4. “Clear the Pond of Ugly Frogs”
The biggest impediments to finding joy are negative emotions – the ugly frogs
living in the “mental pond” of your mind – that produce frustration and misery.
Evicting negative emotions leaves room for positive feelings that make you happy,
loving and peaceful. Use these methods to banish ugly frogs from your pond:
Turn negatives into positives – Find the silver lining that borders
every dark cloud.
Regain control of your mind – Happy people are in command of their
thoughts and, thus, their circumstances. Unhappy people abdicate control
to external forces.
Program optimism – “Thought precedes feeling, [which again] precedes
decision and action.”
Think before responding – Consider possible consequences before you
speak or before you act.
Use the “law of substitution” – You can hold only one thought in your
mind at a time. Immediately replace every negative thought with a positive
5. “Drain the Swamp”
Like most people, you may let fear, worry and doubt rule your thinking, mood
and actions. These five key behaviors lead to negative emotions:
1. “Justification” – Allows you to feel angry and indulge negative emotions.
2. “Identification” – Causes you to take things personally even if they
weren’t meant that way.
3. “Hypersensitivity” – Bolsters feelings of inferiority.
4. “Judgmentalism” – Leads you to hold others guilty to assuage your own
5. “Rationalization” – Makes an “otherwise socially unacceptable act”
“Allow others to live their own lives in the same way you want to
be allowed to live your own life.”
Oust these ugly frogs and the anger and blame they produce by taking
responsibility for how you see any situation that evokes negative emotions. It’s as
easy as stating three simple words: “I am responsible.” Stop feeding the fire of
negativity and start regaining control of your emotions.
6. “Change the Water in Your Pond”
Infuse your mind with “fresh, healthy, positive ideas and messages” so you don’t
sustain negativity and stagnation. Own a different future by changing your
thoughts. Seek what you want. Try these techniques:
Positive affirmations – Create a powerful “mental immune system” by
making your goals personal, using the present tense and describing your
aims in positive terms.
2. Visualization – Create vivid mental images of what you desire. The
longer and more frequently you focus on an image, the quicker it becomes
3. Mental preparation – Prime yourself for an important event by
affirming a positive scenario, visualizing it happening and feeling joy when
it turns out successfully.
7. “Look for the Beauty in Frogs”
How you interpret circumstances controls your outlook. Increase your level of
happiness by acknowledging that pain always accompanies the lessons you are
meant to learn in life, whether that pain is emotional, physical or financial.
“From this moment on, refuse to interpret situations in a
negative way. Instead, look for the good and seek the valuable
lesson in every setback and difficulty.”
Handle painful frogs by facing the truth and looking for deeper meaning. Change
the terms you use to describe what troubles you. Replacing the word “problem”
with the more neutral “situation” can help, but turning it into a “challenge” or an
“opportunity” is even better. Practice “zero-based thinking”: Admit you made a
mistake so you can move on with fewer regrets. Accept the things you cannot
change. Eliminate the words “if only” from your vocabulary. Pledge to make
better choices in the future.
8. “Leap Forward Con dently”
Negativity stems from parental mistakes that cause children to suffer from
“destructive criticism” and “lack of love.” Either or both of these “pollutants in the
pond” create most of the misery and dysfunction that adults endure. Destructive
criticism “kills the soul.” Withholding love breeds self-doubt, loss of motivation,
perfectionism, low self-esteem and more. Two particular frogs plague troubled
adults: the “fear of failure” – that is, the fear of losing money, health or love – and
the “fear of rejection” – that is, the fear of criticism, embarrassment or
disapproval. Explore both fears by asking how financial independence would
affect your behavior and choices today and “What one great thing would you dare
to dream if you knew you could not fail?” Psychologist Carl Rogers believes that
“fully functioning” people have high levels of contentment and confidence; they’re
“completely nondefensive” about their life choices; and they’re comfortable with
their “thoughts, feelings, values and ideals.” Make this state of mind your goal.
9. “Kiss Your Ugly Frogs Goodbye”
Children are born without guilt. Parents, siblings, friends, teachers and even
churches use guilt to manipulate and control your thoughts, behaviors and
actions. This leads to self-criticism and feelings of unworthiness, incompetence
and, ultimately, victimhood. Guilt-ridden victims often complain, make excuses
and deny responsibility. Take four steps to expel guilt from your life:
1. Modify your self-talk – Refuse to criticize or denigrate yourself.
2. Stop criticizing other people – Find positive things to say about them
3. Never use guilt on other people – Show unconditional love and
4. Don’t let other people make you feel guilty – Call them out and stand
up for yourself.
10. “Expect the Best of Your Frog”
As a child, you relied on predictability about how life works within the “rational,
logical and orderly universe” of your upbringing. As you matured, you learned
that some things do not work out as expected or hoped, and that the
contingencies of life can thwart your best efforts. People who get stymied and
fearful develop the two worst negative emotions – envy and resentment – which
“feed on and reinforce each other.” If you are envious, that negative energy can
drive away joy and success. If you admire others’ success, you will attract success
to yourself as well. To overcome envy and resentment, “always want for others
what you want for yourself.”
11. “Let Go of Those Painful Frogs”
One reason people stay stuck in malaise is their refusal to forgive those who have
wronged them. You must sincerely release and forget injustices so you can get on
with your life. Absolving someone else doesn’t mean approving of what happened.
Wrongdoers don’t even need to know you’ve forgiven them; you’re the only one
who needs to know. To let go of bitterness, replace anger with thoughts of
clemency. Pardon “four sets of people”: your parents, intimate friends from the
past, everyone who matters to you today and yourself.
“You have a wonderful mind. You can use it to make yourself
happy, or you can use it to make yourself angry.”
Apologize to people you have wronged. Just call them on the phone, say you’re
sorry and ask for their forgiveness. Most people will react well and suggest getting
together again. Forgiveness and apology carve the path to personal freedom.
12. “Seven Keys to a Positive Personality”
A “physical diet” of high-quality food will improve your health and well-being.
Your “mental diet” governs your character, personality and outlook on life. Use
these seven keys to transform yourself into “a completely positive person”:
“Positive self-talk” – Converse with yourself in only the most
encouraging ways.
“Positive visualization” – Make something happen by seeing it clearly
in your mind.
“Positive people” – Spend time with happy, successful people. Avoid the
“Positive mental food” – Read and listen to educational and
inspirational materials.
“Positive training and development” – Engage in lifelong learning.
“Positive health habits” – Do what it takes to be dancing on your
hundredth birthday.
“Positive expectations” – Expect success.
“Fortunately, as many as 99% of the things that you worry about
never happen.”
Go ahead – kiss that frog!
About the Authors
Brian Tracy is a best-selling writer and frequent motivational speaker. His
daughter, Christina Tracy Stein, is a practicing psychotherapist and personal
performance coach.
Manage Your Mind
What you put into your body has an impact on your physical health. You are
in big trouble if you live on candy, chips and root beer. Similarly, what you
dwell on in your mind affects your mental health. If your thoughts are selfcritical, obsessive and anxious, you will not be happy. In fact, you will
probably be miserable and neurotic. Fortunately, just as you can improve
your physical health with diet and exercise, you can also take specific steps
to improve your mental health. Cognitive therapy experts Gillian Butler and
Tony Hope show you these steps and teach you how to use them to develop
a healthier, happier mind. They offer sensible techniques you can use to feel
more self-confident, and less anxious, stressed and fearful. This self-help
guide outlines techniques for achieving your mental health goals, including
chapters on beating bad habits and building decision-making and memory
skills. getAbstract suggests this exemplary book to anyone who wants to be
more positive, upbeat and serene.
To be happy, you must truly value yourself and treat yourself well.
Work hard to achieve sound mental health. The mental fitness tools
available to you include cognitive therapy and related techniques.
Control your thoughts to gain control over how you feel about life.
When your relationships don’t work, don’t try to change others.
Change yourself.
You need seven primary skills to attain positive mental health.
They are managing time, being realistic, solving problems,
befriending yourself, developing perspective, building self-esteem and
learning to relax.
You can recover from trauma, bereavement, past disasters and recent
Depression is a common problem. Fight against it by re-engaging with
How you feed and treat your body affects how you feel emotionally.
It will not be easy, but you can break bad habits, step-by-step.
An Effective Regimen for Mental Health
Solid mental health requires effort, but the payoffs are better relationships,
a more positive mood, less obsession, fewer worries, increased physical
health and more restful sleep. A “psychological fitness” regimen can help
you achieve such goals. Put the following program’s techniques and
principles to work. Your mind will thank you for it.
Basic Principles for Staying Mentally Fit
Mental health requires two things. First, you must feel good about yourself,
and deeply value and approve of yourself. Indeed, you should feel the same
deep love for yourself that parents feel toward their infants. This is a prime
foundation for mental health. Without that vital sense of self-approval, your
ideas and actions can undermine your mental health. Second, you must
believe that you can change; in fact, your body and mind are changing
constantly. You can harness that flexibility so that it works for you, not
against you. Don’t think that you are stuck in a mental rut. To embark on a
fruitful transition, assess where you are now. Accept the present as the
canvas you will paint your future upon; forget the past, since you can’t alter
it. Move beyond recrimination. Even though the future is uncertain, look
ahead hopefully. Boldly set out toward a new, better you.
Seven Essential Skills for Good Mental Health
A great pitcher must develop accuracy, a strong fastball and a good curve.
Professional athletes need such basic skills to be competent at their jobs.
Similarly, you need seven primary skills to attain positive mental health:
1. Manage your time – Use your time to do things that advance your
goals. Most people waste their time because they lack clear
aspirations. Here’s a useful thought experiment: Imagine how you
would like people to remember you and your accomplishments at
your funeral. What do you want them to say? Focus on the
achievements you want them to mention. These are your priorities
and goals. Write a “personal statement” outlining these objectives.
Now, organize your time efficiently to achieve them. Don’t waste time
on unnecessary activities.
2. Face reality – Whatever your problems are, face up to them
squarely. Failure to be realistic will only make matters worse and lead
to new problems. Acknowledge your dilemmas. When you confront
them, you may see that they are not as bad as you feared.
3. Solve your problems – Once you identify your problems, develop
multiple solutions for them. Use the “STEP” approach: “Select” the
best solution. “Try it.” “Evaluate” the results. “Persist” until things are
4. Become your own best friend – Few people go out of their way to
give themselves rewards and treats, so be generous with yourself.
5. Develop perspective – Do you see things clearly? Or, is your
thinking distorted? How you view the facts – a process that also
involves deciding which facts to view – determines your mood. Try to
develop a positive outlook. Don’t give in to catastrophic “crooked
thinking,” which involves engaging in “fortune telling,” taking
everything personally and substituting emotion for logic. Avoid
absolutist thoughts that involve these words: “should,” “must,” “have
to” and “ought.”
6. Work on your self-esteem – Like a weightlifter who works to
build muscle mass, you can build your self-confidence. Try new things
to gain assurance. If you act confidently, you will lead other people to
see you as confident. You may even fool yourself. Hush your internal
critic. Speak positively to yourself about yourself. Do not be harsh. No
one is perfect, not even you.
7. Teach yourself how to relax – Relaxing is a skill you can learn
and develop, just like riding a bicycle. You must practice to become
good at it. The process is simple and straightforward: Tense your
muscles and then relax them. Work on one muscle group, then
another. Free your mind at the same time. Imagine being somewhere
that deeply soothes you. Breathe deeply. Eventually, you will relax.
Once you have perfected this procedure, make it your daily relaxation
People are social. They need each other. But relationships can be difficult.
You will do better in your relationships when you strive to improve yourself,
not others. Many people try to alter those around them, instead of
themselves. Of course, changing yourself isn’t easy. You have spent decades
becoming who you are. But improvement is possible with effort. Don’t
expect the people close to you to applaud your attempts to grow, at least,
not at first. They are used to the old you. The new you may make them
nervous. They’ll get used to it, however. Meanwhile, accept other people for
who they are. If change is hard for you, think how difficult it must be for
someone else, particularly someone who doesn’t feel any need to change.
“It is time for the techniques of psychology and of
management to be integrated so that we can develop our
own strategies for personal growth.”
Having good relationships requires being assertive, that is, being prepared
to stand up for yourself if necessary. You can’t be assertive if you lack selfconfidence, so work on that first. Determine just what you want from your
relationships. Then, stake your claim. Some other relationship tips: Say no
firmly when you must. Pay attention to the people around you. Respect
them and their thinking. Accept joint ownership with them of the
relationship you share. Negotiate points of contention. Don’t criticize
people’s individual identities, even if you must criticize what they do. To
avoid feeling angry and upset, assertively protect your interests. Don’t let
destructive parental or authoritarian “tapes” play in your head and interfere
with your relationships. Heed thoughts and ideas that can help you better
manage your relationships and your life.
Anxiety and Stress
Many people worry unnecessarily; much of what they fret about is trivial.
Ask yourself how important today’s worry will be in five years, two years or
even one year. If you can develop a sense of perspective, you will worry less.
Are you a “what-if” thinker who spends time worrying about events that are
unlikely to occur? Don’t ask “What if that happens?” Be more realistic. Ask
yourself “What if that doesn’t happen?” Then realize that it probably won’t.
Worrying about something that may or may not occur, now or later, doesn’t
help you. To eliminate lots of worry, commit to stop agonizing over “the
unimportant, the unlikely and the unresolved.”
“It is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that the
process of adjustment, or readjustment, starts almost
immediately after a loss.”
Stress occurs for numerous reasons. You change your job. You get divorced.
You move. Someone dies. Stress can interfere with your thinking, tire you
and make you feel like the whole world is on your shoulders. When you feel
stressed, ease up a bit. Don’t push your activities. Put the “three Rs” to
work: “rest, recreation and relationships.” Take time off. Have fun. Seek
comfort with your friends.
Depression afflicts many people. Psychologist Martin Seligman calls it the
“common cold” of psychiatry. If you are depressed, you may feel miserable,
hopeless and sad. Depression robs you of energy and focuses your thoughts
only on bad things. When you are depressed, you may have thoughts of
suicide. You may retreat, avoid stressful but necessary actions, and fail to
deal squarely with your problems. Have confidence: You can turn things
around. Start by doing simple things that you may be avoiding – see your
friends, communicate with others via letters and e-mails, and get out of the
house. As best as you can, re-engage with life. Try to turn off your negative
thinking. Use common activities like cleaning or shopping to distract you
from depressed thoughts. Watching TV or going to a movie may lift your
spirits. Rely on your family and friends to help you. They are your “support
system.” Get enough rest and exercise. Eat well. Engage in pleasurable
activities. In short, find some enjoyable ways to try to get outside of
Emotional Trauma
Experiencing trauma of any kind is painful, from losing a loved one to
suffering from some catastrophe or reliving exceedingly troubling past
events that will just not fade. Fortunately, recovery from such trauma is
possible. You can do it, even if you face these problems:
Bereavement – The death of a spouse, a child or a close friend can
be immensely painful. Often, feelings of guilt, fear, rage and
helplessness accompany such losses. If you are grieving the death of
someone close to you, be sure to attend to your own needs. Eat
properly. Get rest. Take time to recover before you make important
Ghosts from the past – Negative past experiences can color the
present and taint the future. Try to free yourself from these grim
“ghosts.” Look at former painful experiences and events objectively.
See them for what they are. Move beyond them by working to change
your behavior, beliefs and feelings. Of course, this kind of change
never comes easily. Give yourself the necessary time to overcome old
habits and counterproductive ways of thinking about life. Take things
one step at a time.
Recent catastrophes – Life can physically or mentally injure you in
a million different ways. If you find that you are continually reliving a
horrible, traumatic experience, you can resist it. First, understand
that, in most cases, your feelings about the event will lessen over time.
You may wish to engage in “debriefing,” a process of deeply discussing
the traumatic episode with someone else, like a therapist or a support
group. This may help, but you have to know yourself. Some people
find that discussing a trauma is counterproductive. What will help is
getting back into a good routine. Seek others’ support. Accept the fact
that painful memories almost always accompany traumatic events.
When you are ready, find the strength to face the situation that caused
the trauma. That is the only way to move past it. Don’t hide
indefinitely from life.
The Mind-Body Connection
You must tend to your physical health to achieve good mental health. Eat
the right foods; get plenty of exercise and sleep. Work to overcome bad
habits and addictions. What you do to your body affects your mind, and
how you use your mind affects your body – hence, the mind-body
connection. Use these tips to eat and sleep better, to improve your memory,
and to cut bad habits:
Diet – Most dieters don’t do well losing weight. Typically, they gain
back any lost weight when they stop dieting. Further, diets stress and
fatigue the body. Instead of dieting, eat nutritionally, in light portions
at set times. Other than those times, stay away from food. Leaving
tempting food around the house is an invitation to snack.
Sleep issues – To eliminate a sleep problem, make sure you have a
comfortable bed. In the evening, stay away from alcohol, coffee, hot
chocolate, tea, tobacco and diuretics. Set firm patterns for night and
morning activities. Once the lights are out, stop thinking. Rest. Count
sheep instead.
Bad habits – Your habits are how you deal with the world – and
yourself. Deeply ingrained bad habits are not easy to break, but you
can do it. First, make a firm commitment to yourself to eliminate the
habit. Carefully examine it so you understand everything about it.
Strategize on how to get rid of it. Substitute something positive for the
habit. Each day that you don’t do the bad habit reinforces your
decision to eliminate it. If you fail, try again. Keep at it until the bad
habit is gone.
Memory – To remember things better, make them stand out in your
mind. If you just met Jack Dorfrey at a social event and want to
remember his name, develop a memorable visual: a jack holding up a
car that has a big sign on its front door reading: “FREE!” – jack-doorfree. To learn a foreign language or retain information about a new
subject, confine your study to a period of no more than 35 minutes
daily. Research shows that most people can concentrate fully for this
period of time without difficulty. Trying to concentrate for a longer
period is not efficient. Use the 35-minute period by spending 20
minutes absorbing new information. Take a very brief break. Then
spend a few minutes going over new material you learned during
yesterday’s 20-minute period, a few minutes on new learning from a
week ago, and a few minutes on what you learned a month ago. In the
final 5 minutes, review what you learned at the beginning of your
current session.
About the Authors
Gillian Butler, Ph.D., is a psychologist and clinician. She helped found the
Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Psychiatrist Tony Hope, M.D., teaches
medical ethics at the University of Oxford.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a
Putting It Bluntly
by David Meyer
Mark Manson wants the generations whom social media and
consumer culture affect most to question what they see and
believe, to grow up, and to prioritize their values. He
promises the process will be painful and challenging, but
This book hit the New York Times bestseller list in October 2016 and
has remained there since. By May 2020, it had been a bestseller for
astonishing 179 weeks. Mark Manson obviously found the voice his
audience seeks and trusts.
That voice is blunt, straightforward and surprisingly intelligent. It
strives to convince you that Manson is a fount of commonsense
knowledge that you understood in your gut, but needed someone to
explain to you because so many other voices – the idiot wind of everpresent self-help books, blogs, TED talks and TV shows – drown out
your own. And Manson proves convincing.
I heard one artist say that when a person has no
problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent
Don’t Avoid Pain
Manson moves quickly to identify sources of your likely angst. He
states from the beginning that you must accept that modern life is
hard. He notes that your newsfeed tells you everyone else is happy.
Manson – accurately – savages how the average self-help book points
out how you could improve. He rebels at these books’ core thesis: that
happiness is a worthy goal.
Manson stresses that negative feelings are normal. Excessive positivity
masks the problems you need to solve to be happy. Setting a difficult
goal and achieving it, Manson insists, makes you feel powerful.
Habitually complaining, blaming others and feeling offended feels
great, but won’t solve your problems.
Manson offers a crucial, brief truth: True self-esteem doesn’t mean you
feel good about yourself all the time.
He offers a classic checklist for becoming fearless that springs from the
Stoics of Ancient Greece and their best-known philosopher, Epictetus:
Rule number one, don’t get upset about every little thing. Number two,
indifference isn’t the answer, either. Three, quit pursuing comfort.
Four, stop trying to dodge all sources of pain. And five, most
importantly: Decide what is truly worth caring about, and pursue it.
Solve Problems
Manson evokes the Stoics when he writes that emotions are unreliable.
Don’t base decisions on feelings alone, because what makes you happy
varies day to day, and humans always want more. Manson reminds
you that you always face a trade-off between the pleasure you want and
the price you need to pay.
Manson offers science suggesting that suffering provides an
evolutionary advantage. It ensures people develop creative solutions
and prevail as a species. Physical and emotional pain, the author
insists, are alerts you need to change your behavior to survive.
Pretending you have no problems makes you neurotic. Pinning your
problems on someone or something else makes you feel powerless.
Manson again returns to the Stoics when he simply states his theme:
solving problems makes you happy.
The anger is merely the messenger for my fist in your
face. Don’t blame the messenger. Blame my fist (or your
Entitlement can result from traumatic life experiences that make your
problems feel insurmountable. Your unconscious, Manson explains,
interprets powerlessness as a sign that you are either uniquely blessed
and great, or uniquely cursed and inferior. Either way, you decide you
deserve special treatment. But, Manson asserts, you don’t. And neither
does anybody else.
Doubt Yourself
Manson maintains that self-awareness consists of:
1. Identifying your emotions and expressing them in healthy ways.
2. Exploring what belief caused the emotion.
3. Knowing your values.
Manson details how worthy values are realistic, good for society and
actionable – such as being honest, vulnerable and charitable.
Unworthy values derive from superstition, are antisocial and out of
your control – such as feeling pleasure, having wealth, being right and
maintaining positivity.
Manson urges you to take responsibility. Choose how you characterize
a problem and what you can do about it. He repeats that life’s not fair.
Manson avoids riding a high horse as he offers this advice. He presents
himself as someone who worked through painful emotional and
psychological experiences. He offers his blunt style as the short-cut he
was never able to find.
Don’t trust your conception of positive/negative
experiences. All that we know for certain is what hurts in
the moment and what doesn’t. And that’s not worth much.
Bad Brain
If you wait for the truth before acting, Manson warns that you will
waste your life. He leaves the Stoics and enters the realm of Zen when
he calls on you to resist the urge to be certain of anything about
yourself, good or bad. Certainty stops you from trying,
experiencing and growing. Question your perceptions, emotions and
assumptions. Accepting uncertainty relieves insecurity, and opens
your mind about yourself and others.
Manson offers modern neuroscience to detail how your brain deceives
you. It misremembers, misunderstands and incorrectly attributes
meaning to your experiences. Everything you believe is in some way
wrong. Challenge what your brain tells you, Manson repeats, because
it’s an unreliable narrator.
Manson suggests action as a panacea. If you wait for inspiration to
motivate you to act, he says, you get stuck waiting forever. Action
stimulates inspiration and motivation. Do something – the outcome
doesn’t matter.
Your inevitable death, Manson avows, makes life meaningful. Death
makes you want to contribute to something bigger than your small,
fleeting life. You know you’re going to die, so there’s nothing to fear.
At times, Manson’s authorial voice is too chummy, too frat-house
living room on a Sunday afternoon. He addresses readers as “amigo”
or revels in curse-words or dad-slang. This may soothe his – clearly
young male – readers into heeding to his advice, but grows tiresome.
Women readers will feel distinctly excluded by Manson’s tone and
attitude. Despite this, Manson offers centuries-old wisdom for facing
pain and problems and learning courage and maturity therefrom.
Blogger and master of personal development advice “that doesn’t suck,”
Mark Manson, explains why you shouldn’t care what others think or hide
from adversity. His writing style is irreverent and unapologetically profane.
If 127 occurrences of the word “fuck” seems excessive, this is not the article
for you. For those who can get past his linguistic choices, he offers genuine
insights into the habits that cause people to care too much about the wrong
things. His playful style encourages self-reflection without angst.
getAbstract recommends Manson’s perspective to readers with an interest
in personal growth and a sense of humor.
“Not giving a fuck” is something we admire in others, but most of us
have an ingrained habit of caring about what people think.
People who are frequently annoyed usually have unrealistic
expectations of life.
Not giving a fuck is not the same as “indifference.” It’s about having
the courage to be forthright in the face of adversity.
You will only succeed at not caring about adversity if you have
something bigger to care about that makes adversity worthwhile.
With maturity, we realize that others don’t care what we do as much
as we thought. This frees us not to care either.
Charismatic people generally don’t “give a fuck” about what others think.
They are fearless about speaking their minds and leaving situations they
don’t enjoy. Most people know someone who has succeeded by behaving
boldly. While it’s theoretically easy not to care about unimportant things,
most people find themselves taking offense or worrying about what others
think of them at some point each day.
“Most of us, most of the time, get sucked in by life’s mean
trivialities, steamrollered by its unimportant dramas.”
People who dwell on every little thing that bothers them expect the world to
cater to their wants and needs. This sense of entitlement sets them up for
disappointment, as life inevitably serves up a certain amount of failure,
rejection and chores no one wants to do. Life actually gets less fraught when
people expect and accept uncomfortable realities. It requires a conscious
effort over time, but pays off in a more mature, resilient outlook.
“Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means
being comfortable with being different.”
To the surprise of many, “indifference” is not the answer: It’s just an
attempt to hide from the pain of caring too much by living without any real
passion or direction. Not giving a fuck means refusing to let the fear of
adversity, failure or embarrassment get in the way of standing up for
important beliefs. It involves accepting some minor emotional discomfort
in exchange for the freedom to be different. Far from not caring about
anything, not giving a fuck means being willing and eager to pursue things
that really matter.
“If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about
trivial shit that bothers you…,chances are you don’t have
much going on in your life...And that’s your real problem.”
The simplest way not to mind adversity is to have something bigger to care
about. People who consistently stew over small annoyances generally
haven’t got anything better to do. The human mind simply needs something
to focus on; anything will do. It’s important to choose a priority worth
caring about so your mind won’t fritter its time away on stupid stuff.
As people mature, they gain perspective and realize many of the things they
once cared about don’t matter. They see that no one notices much of what
anyone else does, which frees everyone to focus on themselves and what
matters to them individually. With age, people’s energy and desire to
change the world diminish. People accept themselves and life more as they
are and enjoy not having to give so many fucks about everything. This leads
to an unexpected sense of peace and contentment.
About the Author
Mark Manson is an author, blogger and entrepreneur. He writes personal
development advice “that doesn’t suck
Setting new goals is easy, but finishing them is hard. In this blockbuster
bestseller, blogger and popular speaker Jon Acuff shares his plans to help
you actually achieve your goals. Acuff explains that perfectionism, the main
blockade to reaching your objectives, delivers a negative message: the lie
that something isn’t worth doing unless it’s perfect. People also fail to reach
their goals because they set targets that are too ambitious. Acuff advises
cutting your goal in half, breaking it down into smaller, more achievable
chunks. He also advocates doubling your timeline, choosing how you will
fail and making your goals enjoyable. You’re more likely to finish tasks that
are fun, exciting and easy. Acuff goes off on long tangents, but his stories
remain funny and relatable. getAbstract recommends his guidance as a
helping hand for everyone who ever sought to complete a goal and just fell
In general, people respond to two types of motivation: reward and
Perfectionism keeps people from finishing their goals.
Most people quit as soon as life interferes or things get too tough.
Starting toward your goal on Day 1 isn’t the most important step. It’s
getting past Day 2, “the day after perfect.”
To improve your chances of finishing, cut your goal in half or double
your timeline for completion.
Choose where to fail. Failing at lesser things frees you to succeed at
what’s important.
“Make it fun if you want it done.”
Don’t let “noble obstacles” hinder your goals.
When people try to avoid an undesirable outcome rather than
working toward a desirable one, they’re responding to “avoidance
Use objective data to track your progress and ultimately achieve your
Perfectionism Kills
Getting started is hard, but it’s easier than finishing. You may have a bunch
of half-finished projects and other half-done stuff. Many people make New
Year’s resolutions, but research says that 92% of these intentions falter and
“More than likely, you’ve spent most of your life choosing to
do more than is possible and beating yourself up for not
being able to keep up.”
Best-selling author Jon Acuff believed that he hadn’t been trying hard
enough to finish what he started. He thought he was too lazy, or lacked
hustle or “grit.” He even created an online video course called “30 Days of
Hustle” to challenge people and help them to achieve their goals.
Then University of Memphis researcher Mike Peasley asked to use Acuff’s
course to analyze goal setting. Peasley surveyed more than 850 participants
and found that those who finished the course were 27% more likely to
achieve their goals compared to their attempts prior to finishing the course.
Peasley also discovered that “the less that people aimed for perfect, the
more productive they became.” Perfectionism kills momentum and keeps
people from completing their goals.
“The Day After Perfect”
After Acuff read Timothy Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Body, he decided to
try a new diet. He vowed to “get serious” about exercising. Ferriss
recommends eating eggs, spinach, black beans, salsa and cumin, so Acuff
went to Costco because it sells black beans by the pallet. He bought in bulk
because he intended to eat black beans for breakfast for the next 12 days. By
Day 13, he quit because he got busy, didn’t want to follow through or just
forgot about it. But once Acuff broke the daily black-bean routine, he found
himself uninterested in starting again. Since his record wasn’t perfect, he
stopped completely. “This is a surprisingly common reaction.”
“Perfectionism will do its best to knock you down when you
work on a goal.”
People often use language that echoes this sentiment to explain why they’ve
quit chasing a goal: “I fell behind and couldn’t get back on track,” or “Life
got in the way and my plans got derailed.” These excuses are camouflage for
perfectionism. You weren’t perfect, so you threw in the towel. You’re not
alone. Everyone wants to get straight As. Nobody aims for Bs and Cs. But
getting straight As is challenging and intimidating. That’s why many people
don’t even bother trying. They think that if they can’t achieve perfection,
why should they make the effort? To finish your goals, simply start and
keep going. Even if you make mistakes, keep going. Starting toward your
goal on Day 1 isn’t the most crucial step. That’s putting in Day 2, the day
after perfect.
Fifty-Percent Complete
If you want to achieve your goal, aim for 50% completion. That is, cut your
goal in half. In the “30 Days of Hustle” online challenge, participants
increased their performance by more than 63% compared to previous
attempts at finishing their goals. Fully 90% of them believed the strategy of
cutting down to a reasonable goal “encouraged them to keep going.”
Bloggers who set the goal of writing daily posts of 300-plus words can
experiment by downgrading to 100-plus words a day for 30 days. One
blogger who tried that strategy ended up writing more than 300 words a
day for 28 days out of 30. Another person wanted to lose 10 pounds in 30
days, but lost only six. Yet, recognizing that he achieved half the goal gave
him enough motivation to continue.
“The exercises that caused people to increase their progress
dramatically were those that took the pressure off [and] did
away with the crippling perfectionism that caused people to
quit their goals.”
Cutting a target in half doesn’t work for every goal. Cutting your credit card
debt from $50,000 to $25,000 is a notable goal, but you’d still have too
much debt. In such cases, instead of cutting your goal in half, double your
timeline. In this example, you would pay more in interest by taking longer
to pay off your debt, but you would ultimately pay it off. Paying it off is the
goal – not avoiding paying it and potentially declaring bankruptcy. You can
apply these two tactics – cutting the goal in half or doubling the timeline –
to many goals. Slicing your goals in half or extending your timeline may feel
like “cheating,” but either step will make you much more likely to reach
your targets. Starting small may feel unnatural at first, but you will achieve
big results.
Workplace Goals
Research says that setting realistic goals leads to much better performance
than setting overly aggressive targets, but what happens in the workplace
where you don’t control the timeline? You may want to have a conversation
with your boss about the utility of setting achievable goals. One company
took 20 years to make $5 million in revenue on a product. When the CEO
suggested a goal of $5 million in the next five years on a new, untested
product, employees were not happy. After a year of frustration, the
company altered the goal several times and ultimately discarded it. Make
sure your workplace goals are the right size from the beginning.
Choosing Your Failures
Time is your most valuable resource. To achieve your goals, pour that
resource into your efforts. That means prioritizing where and how you
spend your time. When you grant some of your time to one goal, of
necessity you take that time from another goal. You can’t have it all no
matter what you try to do. Yes, you can squeeze in a few extra things if you
structure your days differently. Even so, you’re going to miss out on
something. Instead of biting off more than you can chew and failing, choose
what you’re going to fail at and succeed at something that counts.
“Perfectionism has no sense of gray, things are only black or
white. You do it perfectly or you don’t do it at all.”
If you’re like most people, you spend your life aiming too high. You don’t
have to lower your standards, just stay realistic about your time frames and
what you can accomplish. “Say no to shame.” Executive TV producer
Shonda Rhimes told Fast Company magazine that she was okay with letting
certain things slide. Because she’s busy running popular shows such as
Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, she doesn’t worry as much about actual
running. She’s not ashamed about not having enough time to exercise
because she accepts how she must prioritize her time.
“You have only two options right now. 1. Attempt more than
is humanly possible and fail. 2. Choose what to bomb and
succeed at a goal that matters.”
Acuff chose to fail at keeping up with Snapchat – he never understood the
appeal of adding doggie ears to somebody’s selfie – and at following his
email, mowing his lawn and staying up-to-date on the latest TV shows. He
decided not to binge-watch Breaking Bad or other popular shows. Although
some people gain satisfaction from mowing their lawn, Acuff ditched
mowing his as soon as he could afford to pay someone else to do it. And he
checks his email only a few times a week, since he finds that most emails are
not emergencies requiring an immediate response. Email is probably the
trickiest thing to abandon because it’s a significant form of daily
communication. However, you can identify constructive, less timeconsuming ways to use it.
Have Fun and Get It Done
Many people fail to achieve their goals because they think goals must be
difficult. One huge lie perfectionism tells you is that goals don’t count if
they’re fun. Scientists and others who study goal setting look at various
factors, including satisfaction and performance success, measurements that
capture “how you felt about the process” and “what you actually got done.”
For example, losing weight is a worthy goal, but it’s hard. Motivating
yourself to run on a treadmill every day is hard. The trick is to make it fun.
Figure out how to add joy to your efforts. Fun is personal. One gym offered
a “Hell Week” that required attendance five days in a row at 5:00 a.m. But
each day, participants got a big orange star next to their names, and a free
T-shirt at the end. Many adults clamored for stars like it was their first day
of kindergarten. One of Acuff’s readers, Stephen Nazarian, shared his
strategy for tackling a never-ending list of 15 to 20-minute tasks. After
work, he starts one more job. When it’s almost done, he turns on his
Jacuzzi. He finishes the task knowing a hot tub awaits. The lesson: “Make it
fun if you want it done.”
Reward and Fear
Be careful how you package your fun. People respond, in general, to two
types of motivation: reward and fear. Some people live for the reward.
When they know what they want, their instinct drives them to achieve. For
example, paying off their debt gives them the freedom to go shopping
without stress, or wanting to fit into their old jeans motivates them to work
out. Fear also motivates people: They fear the consequences of not acting. A
couple may lie awake at night knowing they can’t afford to send their kids to
college. So maybe one or both will take on a second job. When people try to
avoid an undesirable outcome rather than working toward a desirable one,
they’re responding to “avoidance motivation.” Alternatively, perfectionism
sneaks in and makes you think that finishing your goals will have negative
results or corrupt you in the process. For example, wannabe entrepreneurs
don’t start businesses because they fear becoming workaholics.
“Hiding Places” and “Noble Obstacles”
Sometimes your hiding places – where you go to avoid work – are easy to
find, such as watching your favorite show on Netflix when it’s time to clean
the house. Some hiding places are sneaky; you think you’re being
productive by emptying your inbox, but you’re actually avoiding writing
your blog. Identify your hiding places by asking if you engage in “obvious
time wasters.” Ask your friends if you spend too much time, effort or money
on tasks or hobbies that don’t help you reach your goals.
“Some goals are difficult to cut in half. For those, don’t cut
them in half; give yourself more time.”
Noble obstacles are chores you must finish before you can attack your real
goals. For Bill, for example, the noble obstacle is a garage sale. Rather than
just cleaning out his garage, Bill tells his wife he wants to have a garage sale
before tackling the job of cleaning out the garage. What could have been
simple is now a 16-step process starting with picking a date, reviewing HOA
rules, making signs to advertise the garage sale, hanging up the signs, and
so forth. Noble obstacles often rely on the word “until” – as in, “I can’t do
my taxes until I know what kind of business I’m really trying to build” or
“Karen won’t start her blog until she’s checked in with a copyright lawyer
first.” Using “until” as an excuse seems respectable. It seems as if you’re
getting all your ducks in a row before taking action, but in reality, it’s just
another form of perfectionism. It can lead you to throw your hands up and
say meeting your goal is too hard, so you won’t try.
“To use a term coined by author Josh Davis, "'Strategic
incompetence' is the act of deciding ahead of time that you
don’t care about your yard.” ”
An alternative to saying “until” is saying “if…then.” It sets up a different
form of procrastination. You procrastinate or don’t start working because
you’ve set an imaginary clock or pre-goal for yourself and waiting for that to
happen, you come to feel as if it’s too late to start toward your goal. It’s
never too late to try. You always have time to begin.
Using Data
Unlike emotions, data don’t lie. Use data to measure your progress. Data
clarify where you are, but you may find them hard to use. Ignorance is bliss.
It’s so much easier to avoid checking your bank account, stepping on a
scale, making doctor appointments, and so forth. Data will tell you, for
example, that you spend too much at coffee shops. If you buy into the lie of
perfectionism, you may avoid the objectivity of data.
“This goes against every sappy motivational statement…but
if you dream too big at the start, you curse your finish.”
“When you ignore data, you embrace denial.” Having hard information can
help you make informed decisions. Take Steve Butler, 48, who used data to
examine his career track. Butler lost his job, so he took a “good enough”
full-time position to meet his family commitments. It didn’t cover the bills,
so he added a part-time job cleaning a dental office on weekends. Butler
considered changing his career to work with computers, but he didn’t want
to “waste his college degree.” When he studied the data, he saw that he
hadn’t wasted it at all. He’d paid about $50,000 for a degree and had
worked in that industry for 26 years, so his education cost only the bargain
price of about $5.20 per day.
“‘Cut your goal in half’ is not the kind of thing you’d see
painted on the wall of a gym. It felt like a cheat, but it
Butler wanted to take computer classes online, but couldn’t find any that fit
his schedule. By examining data, he learned he could squeeze in classes
during his lunch break. Although he wanted to take a $20,000 intensive
six-week program, that wasn’t feasible. Instead, he studied in small
increments every day, day by day, until he achieved his goal.
“Time and again, when I researched what really helped
people finally finish, it was a friend who did the trick.”
Information helps you measure any number of things related to your goals:
time, products sold, pounds lost, miles run, how much money you saved,
and the like. Pick one to three aspects of your life to measure. You may be
tempted to measure more, but start small and win big. See how simple it is
to track your progress. When you’re successful, you can add in measuring
more factors. If you’re not happy with your progress, adjust your goal,
timeline or actions.
About the Author
Jon Acuff, a New York Times best-selling author, and a public speaker
and blogger, also wrote Start, Quitter and Do Over.
The Obstacle is the way
Through the ages, people have relied on the philosophy of Stoicism to
conquer their difficulties. In addition to ancient Greeks and Romans,
proponents included Frederick the Great, Michel de Montaigne,
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Adam Smith and Theodore
Roosevelt. Every year, former US president Bill Clinton studies the
writing of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, a well-known Stoic
philosopher. Former Chinese leader Wen Jiabao has read Marcus’s
immortal Meditations “more than 100 times.” Media strategist Ryan
Holiday explains how contemporary people can utilize some venerable
Stoic principles to turn obstacles into advantages. His lively, clear
prose brings these ancient ideas to modern life. getAbstract
recommends his helpful guide to the Stoic path to leaders,
entrepreneurs, and anyone facing significant challenges.
Stoicism – an operating manual for life – is a pragmatic
philosophy that helps people overcome their difficulties.
This venerable philosophy inspired George Washington, Thomas
Jefferson, Adam Smith and Frederick the Great, as well as many
contemporary leaders.
Stoicism rests on three primary disciplines: “perception, action
and the will.”
Perception is the way you see the world. Viewing it realistically or
with a bias can help or hinder you.
The right action is always directed, deliberate, bold and
The world can break your body, but thanks to willpower, it can
never break your spirit and mind. You – not some external entity
– control your will.
Obstacles that stand in the way of progress can actually promote
People improve by facing and meeting challenges head-on.
The obstacles you overcome provide benefits you could not
otherwise realize.
How you think about and react to obstacles while maintaining
your composure defines you.
The Stoic Way
In 170 AD, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Our actions may
be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or
dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind
adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.” He
concluded, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in
the way becomes the way.” Marcus was a Stoic. His thoughts
encapsulate the words of other illustrious Stoics: “Chrysippus, Zeno,
Cleanthes, Ariston, Apollonius, Junius Rusticus, Epictetus, Seneca”
and “Musonius Rufus.”
“All great victories, be they in politics, business, art or
seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with…
creativity, focus and daring.”
An ancient Zen parable features an almost identical line of thinking,
stating: “The obstacle in the path becomes the path…Within every
obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
Marcus knew about obstacles. Frequent wars were prominent
throughout his 19 years as emperor, during which his realm suffered a
horrible plague. He faced a meager treasury, an attempted coup, a
hoggish brother-in-law, as well as toilsome travel throughout the
Roman Empire – from Asia Minor to Syria, Egypt, Greece and Austria.
However, he never lost his patience, grace or courage. People of his era
admired Marcus as a great man and a good emperor.
“Nothing we’ll experience is likely without potential
Stoicism and Marcus Aurelius’s wisdom motivated men and women
throughout history, helping to spark the Renaissance, the
Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the US civil rights
movement and Silicon Valley’s amazing high-technology advances.
Stoicism addresses real-life issues that confront everyone: “Are you
worthy?” “Can you get past the things that inevitably fall in your way?”
“Will you stand up and show…what you’re made of?”
“Focus on what is in front of you, right now. Ignore what
it ‘represents’ or it ‘means’ or ‘why it happened to you’.”
Obstacles can provide benefits. First, you must move beyond typical
responses to trouble, including “fear, frustration, confusion,
helplessness, depression” and “anger.” Marcus Aurelius’s courage and
self-knowledge enabled him to transform trouble and tragedy into
triumph. Achieve similar results by adopting the vital Stoic lesson:
“The obstacle is the way.”
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his
existence will be, what he will become the next moment.”
(Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl)
Marcus defined the methods to overcome obstacles: “Objective
judgment, now at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very
moment. Willing acceptance – now at this very moment – of all
external events. That’s all you need.”
“Contingent Disciplines”
To act wisely, develop these perspectives:
1. The Discipline of “Perception”
How you see the world provides meaning to the events of your life.
Don’t assign “good or bad” labels to events. Put aside your fears and
prejudices. See things for what they are. See the truth, not a biased
interpretation of it.
“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies
survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
(former Intel CEO Andy Grove)
Here are some tenets and examples of the power of perception:
“Alter your perspective” – The American industrialist John D.
Rockefeller once worked for just 50 cents a day as a bookkeeper
in Cleveland, Ohio. As an investor, he rode out major national
financial crises in 1857, 1873, 1907 and 1920. Where others saw
catastrophe and chaos, the objective, unemotional Rockefeller
saw valuable lessons and opportunities. So much so, that by 1877,
his perception and his nerve helped him corner “90% of the oil
“Recognize your power” – During the 1960s, Rubin “Hurricane”
Carter was a leading middleweight title contender. Carter was
unjustly convicted in a triple-homicide case. In jail, he never
ceded power to the warden or guards. He maintained his
independence and his identity. Carter – and not the authorities –
held control over his mind and spirit. He spent his time in prison
working on his legal case. After 19 years, Carter got his verdict
overturned. Once released from prison, he never looked back.
“Steady your nerves” – During the US Civil War, General Ulysses
S. Grant always seemed completely nerveless. Once, a shell
exploded near him, and killed a horse right next to him. Unfazed,
Grant calmly surveyed the battlefield through his field glasses.
He saw that his troops were removing supplies from a steamship
when it exploded. Everyone ducked for cover except Grant, who
ran toward the shattered steamboat to help the survivors.
“Control your emotions” – NASA trained America’s first
astronauts to remain cool under pressure and to avoid panic. The
agency had the astronauts practice every aspect of their space
flight “hundreds of times,” until the routines became
commonplace. Comprehensive training eliminated the
unfamiliarity of spaceflight.
“Is it up to you?” – Tommy John pitched in Major League
Baseball for an astonishing 26 seasons. John always asked
himself: “Is there a chance?” “Do I have a shot?” “Is there
something I can do?” When he was 45 years old, the Yankees cut
John. Unfazed, he appeared as a walk-on at the team’s next
spring training. He worked hard, made the team and pitched the
season opener, a win over Minnesota.
Lessons learned – Stay objective. When necessary, change the
way you interpret what you see. Don’t agonize over the past or
worry about the future. Focus your thoughts and actions on the
present. Find the good in the bad. Stay bold.
2. The Discipline of “Action”
When you are deliberate, bold and persistent, you are better prepared
to take “right and effective” actions. Use the “creative application” of
action to dismantle obstacles, as in these examples:
“The voice of Athens” – When Demosthenes was young, his
prospects were not favorable. He was frail and sick and suffered a
major speech impediment. His guardians stole his inheritance.
But nothing knocked Demosthenes off his path “to become the
greatest orator of Athens.” He constantly practiced oratory, often
with his mouth full of pebbles. Demosthenes practiced his
speaking skills in private. When he was ready, he filed suit
against his guardians to retrieve his stolen money. He prevailed
in his legal battle, thanks to his stirring oratory. Demosthenes
became the voice of Athens, promoting the philosophy, “Action,
action, action!”
“Get moving” – Amelia Earhart’s goal was to become an
accomplished pilot. In her time, the 1920s, women were
supposed to be dainty, even feeble. Someone proposed that
Earhart participate in “the first female transatlantic flight.” She
wouldn’t fly the plane; a man would. She accepted this
embarrassing offer, but a few years later, she became the first
woman to “fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.”
“Practice persistence” – Thomas Edison tried 6,000 different
filaments before he created the first incandescent light. Nikola
Tesla “once sneered” at Edison’s perseverance, saying that if the
inventor had to find a needle in a haystack, he would examine
every straw. Edison understood that some situations demand
such persistence.
“Follow the process” – Nick Saban, head coach of the University
of Alabama’s powerhouse football team, follows what he calls
“the process.” He tells his players, “Don’t think about winning the
SEC Championship. Don’t think about the national
championship. Think about what you need to do in this drill, on
this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about
what we can do today, the task at hand.” Pay attention to your
process. Take things “one step at a time.”
“Use obstacles against themselves” – Gandhi’s fight for India’s
independence was not a fight at all. The British did “all of the
fighting” and “all of the losing.” Through peaceful civil
disobedience, Gandhi demonstrated that action doesn’t always
mean performing like an army. It can mean taking a stand and
holding on to what is right.
Lessons learned – Set out to develop the “Minimum Viable
Product,” as identified by Silicon Valley’s iterative MVP
philosophy. Remember the engineering touchstone: “Failure is a
feature.” Learn from every failure. Treat your job like the most
important work in the world. Stay aware that sometimes a flank
attack will work better than a head-on charge. Like great athletes,
try to operate “in the zone” by deliberately focusing. Even so, you
may not always win. If you don’t, move boldly ahead to the next
3. The Discipline of “Will”
The world can knock you down and break your heart. But if you
harness your willpower, no knockdown blow can deter you. Your will –
not anyone else’s – puts you firmly in charge of your life and
accomplishments. Proper willpower is steady, not blustery. You
connect to your internal power without braggadocio; the best strength
of will springs from “humility, resilience and flexibility.” Examples of
the power of the will include:
Master your will – Abraham Lincoln exemplified willpower. He
grew up poor. He was for many years a failed politician, facing
multiple ballot-box defeats. He suffered all his life from crippling
depression, yet Lincoln had to lead the North through the bloody
years of the American Civil War. Because of his incredible
willpower, he never let these problems derail him or cause him to
lose hope. No matter what the challenge, Lincoln endured,
becoming the ideal president to head the US during its most
calamitous, destructive period.
“Build your inner citadel” – As a young boy, Theodore Roosevelt
had severe asthma. Nightly asthma attacks nearly killed him. To
build stamina, he worked out daily at a personal gym that his
wealthy father built in their home. His hard work paid off: By
“his early 20s,” Roosevelt had fortified his body and won his lifeand-death battle against asthma. He called his gutsy fight “the
Strenuous Life.” Roosevelt said, “We must all either wear out or
rust out: everyone of us. My choice is to wear out.”
“Love everything that happens” – When he was 67, fire destroyed
Thomas Edison’s “research and production” facilities. His
“priceless records, prototypes and research” went up in smoke.
Demonstrating amazing sangfroid, Edison’s reaction was, “It’s all
right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.” Any other response –
crying, shouting, smashing things – would have accomplished
nothing. Edison accepted his setback with grace, with a sense of
lightheartedness. When the fire struck, Edison told his son, “Get
your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this
“Meditate on your mortality” – In 1569, French nobleman Michel
de Montaigne nearly died after being thrown from a horse. In a
mystical moment, he felt his life slipping away – on the “tip of his
lips.” This near-death experience energized Montaigne. He
became one of Europe’s most famous writers, a noted dignitary
and a “confidante of the king.” He turned into an avid student of
death, researching how people thought of it and what it meant in
other cultures. Eventually, death betrays everyone. Use this
knowledge to embrace your own mortality. In the meantime, like
Montaigne, make the best use of the time you have.
“Prepare to start again” – As a Haitian saying holds, “Behind
mountains are more mountains.” You may overcome numerous
major obstacles, but that doesn’t get you off the hook. More
obstacles may emerge to block your path. Accept this reality. It’s
Lessons learned – Postmortems are useful; so are pre-mortems –
thinking in advance about “what could go wrong.” Sometimes
you must simply acquiesce when things don’t go your way. Adopt
the attitude, “C’est la vie. It’s all fine.” You are a part of the
universe. Try to make your little corner of it as fulfilling as
Stoicism: The Operating Manual
Across the centuries, academics in their ivory towers tried to assume
ownership of philosophies such as Stoicism and tried to guard it as
part of their exclusive domain. As developed by Seneca, Zeno and
others, the philosophy of Stoicism was never intended to be isolated as
remote, sterile intellectualization. Those sages first promulgated
Stoicism as “an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of
life,” and that is how it should remain.
“Don’t let the force of an impression… knock you off your
feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you
are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.”
The immortal Epictetus, who overcame bitter slavery to become a
renowned Stoic philosopher, gave the title Enchiridion to his famous
manual of Stoic ethical advice. Translated from the Greek, the title
means “close at hand.” Epictetus and the other ancient Stoics regarded
Stoicism as something “to be in your hands, to be an extension of you.”
Marcus Aurelius put this concept another way: Stoicism makes people
“boxers instead of fencers,” battling boldly and bravely against life’s
difficulties, challenges and obstacles.
About the Author
Media strategist Ryan Holiday is the former marketing director at
American Apparel. His ad campaigns garnered coverage in
Advertising Age, The New York Times and Fast Company.
Time Power /Bryan Tracy
From your morning commute to your late-afternoon coffee break, your
daily travel through time may be filled with costly detours and
countless obstacles. Are your days typically disrupted by
disorganization and delays? Do you spin your wheels on the dirt paths
of life? Fortunately, Brian Tracy offers a concise map around the daily
roadblocks. His text provides a toolbox of effective time management
techniques, including New Age-style visualizations (”mental
rehearsals”) to concrete 15-minute planning blocks.
A carefully choreographed schedule will yield two extra hours
daily or 1,000 additional hours over a 24-month period.
Reprogram your inner clock with affirmations, visualizations and
mental rehearsals.
Clarity is the essence of time management. Outline your top goals
for every area of your life. Create an action plan.
Carefully set priorities for commitments, goals and deadlines.
Don’t be seduced by false urgencies. Be faithful to your top
priorities and goals.
Determine which mental or emotional obstacles sabotage your
deadline performance.
Establish firm deadlines for minor and major milestones at home
and at work.
Every minute contains a lifetime. Don’t waste any of them. For
example, use airplane flights and car rides to advance your
Make a conscious effort to be neat. Maintain a tidy workspace
and desktop.
Avoid the blame game. Don’t make excuses. Don’t rationalize.
Accept full responsibility for your life.
The Waltz of Time
Don’t squander time. Your productivity and happiness at home and
work depend on a carefully choreographed dance with time. The
failure to synchronize your inner clock with real-time deadlines will
derail your career, deplete your income and endlessly delay your
personal satisfaction. Pick up the beat by reprogramming your mind
for success. Positive self-talk ("I will be on time; I will be on time") and
nightly mental rehearsals are effective training tools. Pick an area of
your life and immediately - here and now - resolve to improve your
time management skills in that realm.
Setting Your Life’s Agenda
Outline your key goals with clarity. Write down your 10 most
important objectives for the next year. Incorporate your professional
and personal aspirations. Study the list and select your chief
aspiration. Create a firm deadline for realizing it.
“People who value themselves highly use their time well.”
Next, write an action plan filled with intermediate steps toward that
goal. List potential obstacles and possible solutions. Start now and
make a commitment to take one action, however small, to move you
closer to the goal line. Don’t surrender the stage. This is your life, not a
Your interior engine for success will drive with greater efficiency when
your goals are consistent with your deepest values. Know yourself and
get acquainted with your most crucial aspirations and heart-felt
values. What makes you happy? What are your beliefs? What matters
most? Honest answers to those questions will provide a roadmap for
your success. Set your priorities based on the answers.
Making the "To Do" List Work
Begin each day with a list of things to accomplish, ideally written the
night before. The list should reflect your important projects and goals.
Using letters A to E, prioritize your list. The "A list" is a directory of top
priorities. Fine tune the A list by ranking tasks on a number scale.
Chores with an "A-1" ranking are the highest priority. Act on those
“Time management is life management. Time
management requires self-control, self-mastery and selfdiscipline.”
Use the time proven 80/20 theory for planning every aspect of your
personal and professional goals. This concept maintains that 80% of
your pleasure or financial reward or success is typically derived from
20% of your activities or customers or products. Do the math and
apply the 80/20 rule to your life.
“Each minute spent in planning saves ten minutes in
Schedule your day with realistic deadlines and use those deadlines as a
motivating force to drive your efforts. Realistic deadlines
accommodate a steady, but unhurried pace of work that avoids errorproducing rushes and costly delays. Work through lunch; minimize
idle chatter and reward yourself (with treats or vacations) after
successfully completing major projects
Methods, Tools and Habits
Stay focused by writing your objectives and goals and heeding the list.
Create a detailed action plan of individual steps and top priorities.
Don’t get sidetracked. Avoid detours. Boost your mind power with
constant shots of positive images of success and peak performances.
“To get the very most out of your family and
relationships, you must create large periods of unhurried
Create clusters of time and activity. For instance, when you are
planning your day look for similar tasks - phone calls or errands in the
same geographic region - that can be performed in succession. Also
carve out large blocks of time, at least one hour long, for completing
A-1 priorities. Important goals require large segments of uninterrupted
“Stop regularly and look up at the summit, your eventual
goal, and then adjust your footsteps to ensure that every
step is still taking you in that direction.”
Maintain a steady diet of self-talk ("I am efficient. I am efficient.").
Constantly review and fine-tune your written plan. Use a date book
and a calendar to bolster your efficiency.
Taking Time Management to the Of ce
Good work habits are essential to success. Rising at 5 a.m. - after a full
night of sleep - will increase your productivity by giving you three to
four hours of uninterrupted work time before the office opens. Arrive
at the office early to bypass rush-hour traffic and eliminate phone and
drop-in interruptions from colleagues and customers.
“One of the best time management techniques is to do it
right the first time, even if it takes a little more effort and
Maintain a clean desk and workspace. Gather the necessary materials
for each task, but only focus on one task at a time. Concentrate on each
chore until you’ve completed the task. File materials related to other
projects. Don’t let clutter proliferate. File, delegate, throw out or take
action on paperwork immediately.
“When you set clear goals, make detailed plans of action,
establish clear priorities and then focus single-mindedly
on your most valuable tasks, you dramatically increase
the likelihood or probability that you will be successful.”
Get the most out of meetings and even phone calls by setting an
agenda and establishing talking points. Don’t let the phone be a tyrant.
Screen your calls or don’t answer the phone during your peak work
hours. Establish call back times.
Track Your Use of Time
The statistics are stunning. Estimates say that you will spend seven
years of your life in the bathroom, six years eating, three years sitting
in meetings and five years waiting in store or bank lines. Likewise,
other time busters - hunting for lost items, opening junk mail and
gossiping - will consume large chunks of your time. To minimize time
theft, develop your priorities, use a daily action plan and always keep
your list of targeted long-term goals in mind.
Procrastination steals time and undermines success. Delegate chores
and create self-contained policies for staff members who may be faced
with standard problems. Guard against time theft by thinking on
paper. Segregate the relevant from the irrelevant. Discriminate against
urgent, but unimportant signals such as ringing telephones and
beckoning e-mails. Other anti-theft devices include:
Step-by-step action plans - Write them down in increments.
Benefits analysis - Review the positives of completing a job.
Five-minute tasks - Pick chores that can be completed in five
minutes. • 15-minute time block planning - Choreograph small
steps of time.
“The tendency to procrastinate is the primary reason that
many people lead lives of quiet desperation and retire
Avoid the temptation of making excuses or rationalizing. Don’t give
yourself easy outs. The champions on the path to success take
complete responsibility for their time and tasks.
Value Your Knowledge
An ongoing learning program will put your career on the fast-track.
Continually look for new avenues of self improvement. Books, industry
seminars, trade journals and audiotapes offer invaluable information
for advancing your mind and improving your earning potential.
“Learning to overcome procrastination is a vital step
upward on the ladder of success.”
Make a commitment to read at least 60 minutes daily in your craft or
profession. That one-hour daily commitment translates into one book
weekly and about 50 books in a year. Consider history: Leaders are
shaped from the ranks of readers. Reading is an investment in your
career that exercises your mind. Investing in your career through
education will increase your income by 25% to 50%.
Making Use of Your Travel Time
Always travel with reading material. Rip out articles, carry paperbacks
or listen to books on tape. Absorb snippets of text or short articles to
make the most of unexpected delays and small blocks of time.
Maximize your time by learning to speed read, subscribing to book
summary programs and keeping a quick-summary file for future
“There is no such thing as being fashionably late. It is
really just being inconsiderate and disorganized.”
Effective use of air travel will add hours to your travel days and
increase your productivity. These steps will heighten your in-flight
Seat selection - Pre-book a window seat that is not in the
bulkhead. This selection provides a pull-down front tray and
ample space for your briefcase. What’s more, you won’t be
disturbed by seatmates heading for the washroom. Avoid seats
near restrooms and the plane kitchen.
Organize your briefcase - Arrange your work materials based
on their subject. Pack all necessary materials such as envelopes,
stamps and work files. With preparation, your briefcase can
double as an aerial office.
Arrive early - Check in at least two hours before departure
time. This schedule allows you to relax, get settled and get to
work as soon as possible.
Resist distractions - Tune out newspapers, airline magazines
and the in-flight movie. Wear earphones to discourage gabby
The Joys of Delegation
You are not omnipotent and it’s impossible to be everywhere at once.
Guard the value of your time - a limited resource - by delegating tasks
to others. Effective delegation depends on clear instructions. Make
sure that everyone involved completely understands each project’s
deadlines and performance measures. Fine tune communications
channels by asking for feedback and questions.
“Think before acting.”
If you are a sales executive, your revenue will increase if you double
the time you spend with potential clients and existing customers. Take
the time to establish yearly, monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly
sales goals. Remember: a visible target improves your aim and a better
aim improves your success.
“The Law of Correspondence says that your outer life
tends to be a mirror image of your inner life...”
Organize your sales route by geography. Use research, preparation and
rehearsal to thoroughly map out your sales calls. Pay attention to each
client and the details of each transaction. Stay focused on sales
development strategies that will maximize your selling time. Don’t
squander the day with aimless lunches or coffee breaks with peers.
Develop a Long-Term View
Successful individuals in any field are those who have established a
long-term agenda. Emulate that behavior. Plan your life based on longterm goals and use long-distance objectives to formulate your shortterm plans. Every trail - no matter how short - should feed into your
long-term path. Long-term planning requires delayed gratification and
self-discipline. But hard work and a long view of time will yield
positive benefits in every area of your life including career, wealth,
health and relationships.
The long view also taps into the short-term horizon. Pay attention to
your use of time, money and career opportunities. Ask yourself key
questions: Are you in the right job? Are you in the right marriage or
relationship? Failure to make the right connections - either personal or
private - could lead to a wasted life.
Time is your most valuable asset. Safeguard that asset by declining
commitments, assignments and tasks that do not reflect your deepest
values, goals and desires. Ask yourself: "What would I do with my life
if I had only six months to live? Six weeks? Six days or six hours?"
Once you have answered those questions, manage your time - at home
and at the office - with a discipline and passion that is consistent with
your long-term and short-term goals.
About the Author
Brian Tracy is a business speaker and development consultant. A
best selling author, he has written, among other books, Focal Point,
TurboStrategy, Victory! and the 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of
Business Success.
I don’t agree
From childhood conflicts to boardroom brawls, it seems humanity is
hardwired for heated conflict. But does people’s propensity to disagree spell
doom to collaboration and cooperation? Not at all, argues digital marketing
expert Michael Brown. In this highly readable book, Brown delves into the
science and sociology of interpersonal conflict. Using examples he draws
from a rich array of experts as well and his own personal experiences,
Brown offers practical steps for understanding and solving key obstacles to
Cooperation is possible if you consider your motivations, embrace
clarity and acknowledge “attribution bias.”
Seek team members whose diverse values complement one another.
Admit your weaknesses and use an ego-checking ritual to
promote collaborative behavior.
Develop authentic, rather than hubristic, pride.
Embrace behaviors that “tend-and-befriend.”
Understand cultural differences in body language.
Adopt a collectivist approach to your interactions with others.
Recognize your biases and their relationship to “tension creep.”
Learn from high-stakes negotiators.
Follow the five moves of multiple-stakeholder negotiating.
Cooperation is possible if you consider your motivations,
embrace clarity and acknowledge “attribution bias.”
Most people have nearly 90,000 disagreements with others before the age
of 10. Disagreement is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. How you manage a
conflict will determine whether the outcome is positive, however.
One 2006 study of childhood squabbles between siblings showed that when
parents or study directors helped siblings engage in “collaborative problemsolving,” 42% of disagreements ended in compromise. This shows that it’s
possible to learn to disagree in ways that don’t result in simmering tension
or one party ending up “the loser.”
The root causes of altercations remain the same after you reach adulthood.
One cause is that you employ “attribution bias” to identify others, rather
than yourself, as the source of any given conflict.
“Negotiators typically attribute any deadlock to the other
person and give more credit to themselves for reaching an
agreement – [a] phenomenon…known as attribution bias.”
Another cause of disagreements is that you can’t see an opponent’s
perspective as valid. When aiming to fight well, make sure you understand
your opponent’s position clearly, and that he or she understands yours.
A 1998 study about negotiation showed that people often overestimate the
clarity of their arguments. As a result, each person assumes the other is
acting out of spite or self-interest, and therefore is more to blame for
keeping the disagreement going. If you take a moment to try to understand
your opponent’s point of view, promise to try to express your own thoughts
and motivations as precisely as possible, and acknowledge attribution bias,
you will increase the likelihood of reaching consensus.
Seek team members whose diverse values complement one
In his studies of family dynamics, research scholar Frank J. Sulloway draws
on Charles Darwin’s “principle of divergence” to help explain how younger
children adapt in order to set themselves apart from older siblings and gain
parental attention. This process parallels something Darwin observed on
the Galápagos Islands: Various species of finch evolved so that each type of
finch eats a different kind of food. Rather than fighting for the exact same
resources as their big brothers or sisters, younger siblings go after different
resources – an important lesson for your working life.
“Try and distill everything that you believe to be true, or
would like to be true about yourself, into a handful of
identifiable and easily communicable qualities.”
If everyone on your team seeks the same reward – a certain job title, for
example – collaboration becomes next to impossible. If, however, you build
a team in which each individual pursues a unique personal goal, but whose
work, collectively, accomplishes an overarching goal, you can undercut
head-to-head competition.
Build teams of people who have differing yet complementary strengths. Ask
job applicants to take each item on their résumés and link it to one of four
or five personal values of their choosing. This exercise will help make it
clear if a person is living out his or her claimed values, and if that person is
the right “finch” for the work culture you are building.
Admit your weaknesses and use an ego-checking ritual to
promote collaborative behavior.
Collaboration is a favorite corporate buzzword, but successful collaboration
in the workplace is rare. One six-year study revealed two primary obstacles
to effective collaboration. First, an incorrect assessment of the value of a
given collaborative effort, which resulted in a poor return on investment.
And second, “turf wars” that keep individuals focusing on their own glory,
rather than what’s best for the team. Some 73% of companies reported
collaboration partners refused to share vital information with one another.
Collaboration also suffers when one or more members of the team must
focus on individual duties, leaving the burden of the collaborative work on
the rest of the team.
“When faced with a potential collaboration project, who can
blame my dear colleague for posing the question, What’s in it
for me?”
Better collaboration begins with you. Start by making a list of all the
weaknesses that could endanger a collaborative effort. Just as a surgical
checklist helps doctors and nurses avoid accidentally skipping important
details before or during an operation, your list can prompt the kind of
conduct you wish to display when working with others, and can guard
against any bad behaviors. Focus on your top two or three faults, and
actively think about them before you engage with others.
An ego-checking ritual can also help. Before any meeting, author Michael
Brown imagines himself removing an overcoat, which represents his
competitive impulses. Then, he takes off an imaginary undervest, which
represents his self-focus. This process helps put him in a more cooperative
state of mind.
Develop authentic, rather than hubristic, pride.
While pride can serve as a source of conflict, scientists believe humans
developed pride as a cooperative rather than a competitive trait. Pride may
encourage people to strive for things – or exhibit behaviors that benefit the
group, and then advertise those achievements to gain respect. When others
respect you, you wield greater influence.
Two distinct roads to getting respect exist: might (using violence or the
threat of violence to cow others) and prestige (using your skills and abilities
to help the group, and thus gain favor). The first route inevitably produces
conflict. For example, Apple founder Steve Jobs had a brilliant mind, but he
was also fickle and tyrannical.
“Dominance is intrinsically linked to what is known as
hubristic pride, whereas prestige tends to be associated with
a variation known as authentic.”
Prestige-based pride stems from the belief that your actions yield results,
and that what you do matters to others. An average student who studies
hard and achieves high marks as a result of his or her dedication will gain
authentic pride. By contrast, bright students who believe that their
achievements merely reflect their innate superiority to others will develop
boastful, or hubristic, pride.
Those hoping to rise through the ranks should embrace the first kind of
pride and shun the second. Make a note whenever pride makes you respond
badly to others. Ask yourself whether the other person hurt your authentic
or hubristic pride, how you reacted, and how you might act better in the
Embrace behaviors that “tend-and-befriend.”
Men have a genetic predisposition to respond to stress with aggression. The
gene in question, SRY, only shows up in the Y chromosome. Women, who
have two X chromosomes, don’t lack fight-or-flight instincts. But research
suggests they often respond to threats by attempting to defuse tensions –
the tend-and-befriend process. In Darwinist terms, women increase their
own and their children’s chances of survival by collaborating and building
relationships. In the business world, this tend-and-befriend impulse results
in greater profits when women are in charge. Women still drive hard
bargains, but they temper the aggressiveness of their actions with tend-andbefriend behaviors.
“Is it possible that these so-called ‘male’ business qualities
might be smoothed by the fine-grained sandpaper of tendand-befriend?”
To nurture tend-and-befriend in the workplace, start with changing
meetings. Men often talk over women and steal the spotlight from their
female colleagues. To combat these problems, make sure meetings have an
equal mixture of men and women, establish clear and egalitarian speaking
guidelines, and call out those who violate the rules. Become aware of and
work to combat unconscious gender biases. Exercises that allow staff and
management to role-play situations that show how biases can come into
play, interventions to correct problems, and retraining programs can help.
An annual “equality audit” can also help you determine how well your
company is doing in providing equal treatment, opportunity for
advancement and support to all employees.
Understand cultural differences in body language.
Reading body language and presenting appropriate nonverbal cues of your
own are important when you’re trying to find common ground with others.
Differences in culture or personal background can cause inadvertent
misunderstandings. How you intend others to take your body language may
differ from how they receive it. People express even universal emotions like
sadness or anger in subtly different ways around the globe.
“The trouble with interpreting body language to aid conflict
resolution is that we have so many words to describe the
various shades and intensities of emotion. And many subtly
different nonverbal ways to express them.”
In one 1972 study, scientists showed upsetting films to American and
Japanese audiences. Both nationalities expressed similar emotions to the
films, until a top-level scientist stepped into the room with the test subjects.
When that occurred, the Japanese audience began to hide their emotional
responses. Japanese culture values social hierarchy more than American
culture does. Thus, Japanese audiences adapted their reactions to fit with
what they deemed was appropriate in the presence of the high-status
To help ensure that others clearly understand your body language, begin
interactions displaying neutral emotion. Then, gradually adjust your
“emotional tone” until it feels correct for the audience and circumstances.
Use deep-breathing exercises to lower your stress levels, and make sure any
inner unrest does not come out in your body language.
Adopt a collectivist approach to your interactions with others.
Human cultures tend to fall into one of two camps: collectivism or
individualism. Collectivist cultures, to which 70% of the world belongs,
prioritize the goals, norms and obligations of the group above those of the
individual. Individualist cultures value personal aspirations and rights
above those of the group, and evaluate relationships in terms of whether
they benefit the individual. Individualist cultures are predominantly
“Human rights, as we folks from the 30% understand them,
can be anathema to those in the 70%.”
The West believes that its values and political systems are universal. This is,
of course, not the case. The Arab Spring protesters, for example, were not
looking for “freedom” or “human rights” as the United States defines these
terms, but for their own version of freedom.
As diversity increases, and non-Western states grow more powerful, it
makes sense to gain a better understanding of collectivist ideals. Arguably,
the West can also benefit from a more Eastern approach to conflict
resolution and social harmony. In practical terms, adopting a more
collectivist approach means valuing strong, long-term relationships with
business partners. It calls for you to keep your emotions out of the process
of making deals, and consider the common good when you’re negotiating.
Recognize your biases and their relationship to “tension
People have a natural tendency to like those most similar to themselves.
This preference helps explain racial prejudice. It also applies in the realm of
ideas, and underscores why it’s so hard to recognize biases. In seeking out
support for a position, you reinforce your previously held beliefs and
become less likely to see opposing ideas as valid. Issues like political
polarization develop when unconscious preferences meet “tension creep,”
which occurs when, over time, small disagreements become big ones as a
result of biases.
“Dissimilarity is a high predictor for avoidance of others,
whereas similarity tends toward friendship formation.”
Undo the problems that preferences and tension creep cause by
acknowledging that people who don’t agree with you may still make valid
points. UCLA professor Corinne Bendersky calls this act “status
affirmation.” Affirming that opponents are equal and worthy, and that their
arguments are sound, helps diffuse conflict in some ways – while still
allowing you to make your own claims.
Learn from high-stakes negotiators.
High-stakes negotiators can offer a lot of wisdom about conflict resolution.
Lt. Jack Cambria, the longest-running head of the New York Police
Department’s Hostage Negotiation Team, suggests building rapport. Get
the other person to communicate his or her problems to you, and listen
closely and in an unprejudiced manner to what those problems are.
Engaging in such active listening shows the other person you understand
them, and allows you to find common ground.
“Personal attitudes can open or close paths to discussion or
openness to arguments.”
British Army officer and senior special adviser to the Afghan Ministry of
Interior Ash Alexander-Cooper stresses that, when negotiating, you must
not rush or ignore cultural nuances. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former
permanent UK representative to the United Nations and chairman of the
Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee, argues in favor of
cultivating a culture of collaborative problem-solving. Former UK
ambassador Jules Chappell advises understanding all sides of a conflict
before attempting mediation.
Follow the ve moves of multiple-stakeholder negotiating.
Getting numerous parties, each with their own interests, to support and
help you execute an idea is difficult. These five moves can help:
1. Establish who might say no to your proposal.
2. Use “self-distancing” techniques to see the endeavor from the
naysayers’ point of view.
3. Identify and rank the likelihood of all the risks that associate with
your proposal, and work to reduce the probability and severity of
those risks.
4. Find an influential third party to champion your cause.
5. Close the deal by making the other people feel like valued partners,
with an equal stake in the operation. Offer thoughtful countermeasures for any concerns.
About the Author
Michael Brown is a founder and long-term managing director of creative
industries businesses. He guided his last venture, MKTG, to become an
international marketing organization with 32 offices in 20 countries.
Say less - get more
Skillful negotiation can enhance all aspects of your life, but fear can keep
you from asking for what you want. Negotiation and communication expert
Fotini Iconomopoulos aims to help you overcome anxieties surrounding
negotiation by grounding her negotiation strategies in the latest research.
She offers a specific set of negotiation tactics that you can apply easily.
Whether you want to petition your family for more alone time or ask for a
salary increase, Iconomopoulos shares applicable strategies to become a
more effective negotiator.
Seize everyday negotiation opportunities to improve the quality of
your life.
The negotiation spectrum spans from competitive “my way”
to collaborative “our way” styles.
If you appear powerless, you won’t have leverage in negotiations.
Build strong relationships, increase your likability and recognize
Seek alignment between your interests and the interests of others.
In competitive negotiations, target the other party’s resistance point.
Aim to create value for everyone involved during collaborative
Use verbal and nonverbal cues to get what you want.
Seize everyday negotiation opportunities to improve the quality
of your life.
Strong negotiation skills can improve the quality of your daily life. Many
people fear negotiating, women in particular. Researchers found that only
7% of women negotiated their salaries at their first jobs after university, and
just under 60% of men failed to negotiate as well. Those who did
negotiate received offers that were 7.4% higher on average.
“If the thought of negotiating makes you anxious, youre not
alone. Luckily, negotiation skills can be learned and
The thought of negotiating can trigger anxiety symptoms, such as sweaty
palms and rapid heart rate. Lessen these effects and become a better
negotiator by teaching yourself to pause: Breathe deeply, and give yourself
time to react and overcome your fear. If you view negotiation as a
negative activity, shift your perspective. A negotiation is a process involving
two or more people trying to find an agreeable solution. It doesn’t need to
be combative.
The negotiation spectrum spans from competitive “my way”
to collaborative “our way” styles.
Two broad negotiation categories exist: Competitive negotiations usually
center around money. Participants seldom engage in relationship building.
They embrace a more zero-sum mentality, with clear-cut winners and
losers. Collaborative negotiations tend to be more holistic, with participants
working cooperatively toward longer-term objectives. For example, a
marriage gives people ample opportunity for collaborative negotiations. By
contrast, when you buy something at auction, you engage in a competitive
negotiation, as the selling party cares only about earning as much money as
“Part of being an effective negotiator is recognizing where
the best possible outcome lies; if the other party is not
capable of moving along the spectrum with you, you
maximize the opportunity on the darker side of it.”
Most negotiations occur on a spectrum between competitive (my way) and
collaborative (our way) tactics, with activities such as concession trading
falling in the middle. Figure out which end of the spectrum you’re
negotiating in by reflecting on context – do you sufficiently trust the person
you’re negotiating with to cooperate with him or her? Will this be a onetime interaction, or are you building a relationship that requires a more
collaborative approach? Gauge other parties’ willingness to collaborate. If
they negotiate in a more aggressive, competitive manner, understand that
doing the same may be your best option.
If you appear powerless, you won’t have leverage in
People whom others view as powerless can engage only in more
collaborative approaches. But if people think you’re powerful, use your
leverage to negotiate more competitively. If you don’t have power,
convince people you do to seize negotiation opportunities. Alternatively,
you could have power, but fail to negotiate for your interests if the other
party doesn’t perceive you as powerful.
“When you have no power, you have no options. You have to
give the other party whatever they demand. On the other
hand, if you can increase your power, you increase your
Make yourself appear more powerful by:
Overcoming anxiety and fear – When your mind embraces an
opportunity mind-set, you experience positive emotions such as
excitement, and perform better than when you’re in a threat mind-set.
For example, you will create weaker offers if you experience anxiety.
Find your own method of dealing with your negative emotions, such
as deep-breathing exercises.
Radiating confidence – Projecting confidence helps intimidate
other parties, making them less likely to view you as someone they
can easily manipulate.
Considering alternate options – People have more power when
they have more options, so be sure to have a BATNA, which is an
acronym Harvard professors William Ury and Roger Fisher coined to
reference your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.
Understanding time pressure – People sometimes create
deadlines to increase pressure on you. When negotiators feel
pressure to make a decision, they concede more. Recognize when
others use time scarcity as a tactic. Pause to gather your thoughts
before you agree to anything. Only use time pressure as a tactic when
you’re negotiating on the more competitive end of the spectrum.
Acquiring knowledge – Gain information that increases your
negotiating power by doing your research and asking questions. Try
being silent for a moment, to see if others feel compelled to talk and
share information. Alternately, share something about yourself to
create trust, and prompt others to share, too.
Build strong relationships, increase your likability and
recognize biases.
Strong negotiators understand people. Invest in relationship building
to bolster your power and influence. You have more negotiating power
when people find you likable because people will want to cooperate with
you. Persuasion and influence expert Robert Cialdini says you can leverage
likability to increase your powers of persuasion. People like people who give
them compliments that feel genuine, who demonstrate cooperativeness and
who share commonalities about themselves. Enhance your likability by
pointing out something you have in common. Make your tone of voice more
cooperative, and embrace authenticity.
“Bias is such a big part of human nature that its impact on
negotiation is impossible to ignore. Pausing to consider the
biases of the other party is a huge opportunity to gain
Biases can influence negotiation outcomes. Bias takes many forms,
including prejudice and endowment bias (the tendency to overvalue your
possessions). Identify your biases – organizations such as the nonprofit
Project Implicit offer self-tests – and learn to recognize biases in others.
Use your awareness of other people’s biases to your advantage. For
example, if you realize the other parties underestimate you due to their own
implicit assumptions, you have a strategic advantage because you can
surprise them.
Cultivate self-awareness of your tendencies, and maintain awareness of
factors such as your emotional triggers and differences between your
worldview and that of others. People tend to have more difficulty
controlling their emotions when they vest in the outcome of a negotiation,
so practice pausing to calm and focus your mind.
Seek alignment between your interests and the interests of
Identify your interest or objective during negotiations before making any
proposals. Reflect on your inner motivations: Don’t simply ask yourself
what you want. Examine why you want it. Identify the objectives of other
parties, and assess whether their interests align with yours. When you’re
negotiating more collaboratively, make proposals that create value for both
the other party and for yourself.
“Negotiations are easier, with better outcomes all around,
when you can find common ground.”
Assess the interests of those you’re negotiating with by asking yourself:
What’s their objective? – What do they need?
What are the stakes? – What happens if they don’t succeed?
Whom does this affect? – Whose interests do they represent? Who
are the stakeholders?
What leverage do they have? – How much negotiating power
does the other party have?
How do other parties perceive you? – Do they regard you as
powerful or powerless? Do they think you vest strongly in the
outcome? Craft your strategy accordingly.
In competitive negotiations, target the other party’s resistance
Apply these tactics to the competitive, noncollaborative end of the
Consider power and issues – Identify each side’s issues, items to
trade and any potential sources of leverage.
Identify both parties’ resistance points – Decide on your
reservation price, or the deal you’re least willing to accept before
walking away. Keep this resistance point to yourself. Try to gauge the
other party’s reservation price.
Plot your moves – Make an extreme opening proposal, well outside
the other party’s comfort zone. Then, make offers of decreasing value,
without compromising on your resistance point.
Anticipate their first move – In a competitive negotiation, the
other party’s best-case outcome is your worst-case outcome, so
prepare counter-moves to ensure you don’t settle for less.
Go first – Make your proposal first, so you can anchor the
negotiation. This ensures the final outcome won’t stray too far from
your initial proposal.
Target the other party’s resistance point – After gauging the
other party’s reservation price, make it your primary focus.
Pause – Don’t rush into anything. Take time to mindfully consider all
your options.
Aim to create value for everyone involved during collaborative
Do the following to create valuable outcomes during more collaborative
Focus on value – Remember that money isn’t your main objective.
You seek to create mutual value.
Suss out interests – Take time to figure out what the other party
wants. Imagine different ways you could collaborate to serve both of
your interests.
Listen to the other party – People find satisfaction in others
hearing them. Understand that acknowledging others’ points of view
is not the same as agreeing with them.
Decide what to share – Decide which information to keep secret
and which you will share ahead of time.
Identify possible value sources – Consider which variables you
could trade to create qualitative and/or quantitative value for
everyone. Potential variables range from advertising to exclusivity
Assess your variables – What are you willing to give away, what do
you hope to get, and with what can you never part? Identify possible
areas of conflict as you prepare your proposals.
Don’t settle for a bad deal – Never give away more valuable
variables than the other party gives you.
Create conditions – When making proposals, make it clear that
you will give other parties something of value to them only if they
meet your conditions.
Consider using MESOs – Make “multiple equivalent simultaneous
offers” by combining several conditional proposals. For example: If
you give me X, I’ll give you Y. Use MESOs at the beginning of the
Consider motivations – Reflect on other parties’ primary
motivations and objectives. When introducing your proposals, frame
the options you present by reminding them of your desire to create
needed value for them.
Pause – Avoid rushing to ensure you don’t make agreements you
Use verbal and nonverbal cues to get what you want.
Use all three communication modalities: tone of voice, body language and
words. Psychologist and communication researcher Albert Mehrabian
discovered that the words people say account for only 7% of the messages
they send. Body language accounts for 55%, and tone of voice for 38%.
Choose your words carefully and strategically. For example, in more
competitive negotiations, use fewer words to make yourself seem more
confident and likely to win. Avoid using words that make others view you as
uncertain or full of self-doubt. For example, avoid saying “I think” before
you express your opinion. Eliminate any tone habits that harm your
credibility. Perhaps you raise your voice at the end of a sentence that’s not a
question, which makes you sound unsure. Poor body language undermines
your credibility. For example, people will be less likely to view someone
with stooped posture as a leader.
“We can communicate so much without uttering a word. In
negotiations, body language can be extremely valuable and
immediately effective.”
It’s easy to panic and lose your composure during negotiations, so
remember to take mindful pauses and stay authentic. Prepare your proposal
beforehand to convey self-assuredness. Arm yourself with scripts that make
the other party more receptive to your proposals. For example,
a straightforward question – such as, “How close can you get to my figure?”
– helps you anchor your negotiations to a number range that suits you. Use
open-ended questions to gain information. People are more likely to take
offense if you ask them why they did something, so phrase questions
using how and what instead.
About the Author
Fontini Iconomopoulos is a Schulich School of Business professor of
MBA Negotiations. She works to empower Fortune 500 executive teams to
achieve their goals.
Ego is the Enemy
Best-selling author Ryan Holiday recommends that people stop jabbering,
forget their narratives, restrain their passions, learn from everything they
do, accept failure and never stop working. He offers anecdotes about
professional athletes, politicians and business leaders who learned hard
lessons about the dangers of ego as well as tales of quiet workers who made
enormous differences and remained unknown. Holiday’s conversational
style reads like getting advice from a good friend. His chapters are short and
easy to understand, though some entries cover similar topics. The partial
bibliography directs readers to an extensive reading list on Holiday’s
website. getAbstract recommends his alternative approach to people with
an interest in self-improvement, not self-aggrandizement. He believes that
the best way to move ahead is keep learning and to tame your ego – and he
shows you how.
Ego seems necessary for success, but vesting in self-importance
impedes your career.
Being great is different from doing great things.
Engaging in building a “personal brand” confuses accomplishing
something with talking about it.
Cultivate restraint to manage your feelings of pride or anger.
“Clear the path” for others, and you’ll help determine the path they
Ego undermines the connection and engagement with others that
both allow success to grow.
Goal visualization helps at the beginning of a project, but it can
produce a misleading impression of progress.
Maintain “a student mind-set” to keep your ego in check by
acknowledging that you always have more to learn.
Ego is “the disease of me”; this world is far greater than you.
Abandon ego’s attachment to success and commit to a path of
constant improvement.
What Is Ego?
Anyone with ambition has ego. People who marshal their skills to meet
their goals have ego. Artists, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs achieve
their objectives by harnessing the focus and desire to create and discover.
But, too often, ego drives these activities. Ego is necessary for getting ahead.
But “an unhealthy belief” in how important you are has the opposite impact
and blocks your progress.
“What makes us so promising as thinkers, doers, creatives
and entrepreneurs, what drives us to the top of those fields,
makes us vulnerable to this darker side of the psyche.”
Ego encourages lazy, self-congratulatory fantasizing. Defined as “selfcentered ambition,” ego undermines the connection with others and the
engagement that both allow success to grow. To assess your strengths
accurately, embrace a blend of confidence and humility. Recognize that ego
offers the comfort of self-satisfaction, but it’s self-absorbed and can blind
you to opportunity.
Aspiring to Greatness
Greatness is often a quiet act. The late US Air Force fighter pilot and
strategist John Boyd helped revolutionize modern warfare across the US
armed forces, but the general public doesn’t know of him. To emphasize the
difference between working for recognition and working to get something
accomplished, he asked the soldiers he commanded if they wanted “to be or
to do.” Just being somebody is much easier than actually getting things
“Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have:
Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working
well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of
longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success.”
Though popular wisdom encourages people “to find their passion,” that can
be the wrong advice. Passion leads to enthusiasm at the expense of
thoughtful deliberation. Passion’s energy and excitement can hide
weaknesses that will eventually appear. Instead of impatient passion, seek
purpose with reasons and goals.
“We start out knowing what is important to us, but once
we’ve achieved it, we lose sight of our priorities.”
Practice restraint. Anger, resentment and pride cloud your thinking. You’re
not special just because you went to a good school, work hard, or came from
a rich or influential family. You may dislike it when your boss is rude or
your colleagues are frustrating, but being reactive and claiming that you
deserve better will get you nowhere. Such behaviors stem from ego. Being
restrained lets you focus on the work at hand and value the lessons that
emerge along the way.
“The Canvas Strategy”
The canvas strategy builds on the notion of restraint, of being “a canvas for
other people to paint on.” Shift away from the short-term satisfaction of
resentment and move toward embracing the long-term enrichment of selfdevelopment. To follow the canvas strategy, keep these ideas in mind when
first starting out in the world of work:
You will probably need to improve and cultivate a better attitude.
You “aren’t as good” as you may believe, nor as important.
You don’t know everything, and you need to learn more than your
education taught you.
“Once you win, everyone is gunning for you. It’s during your
moment at the top that you can afford ego the least – because
the stakes are so much higher, the margins for error so much
Your success often will come alongside the success of others. Work to make
other people’s jobs easier. While an initial sense of subservience might
confound your ego, starting at the bottom gives you an opportunity to learn
how something really works. Overcome your ego by finding ideas to share
with your boss. Introduce people who might collaborate. Do the small tasks
others avoid. When you “clear the path” for other people, you help
determine the course they’ll take.
Problems with Narratives
Be someone who does things rather than someone who talks a lot. Social
media encourage talk instead of productivity. Posting updates on Facebook
and Twitter misleads you into focusing on speech over action. Filling boxes
with text promotes the false presentation of confidence, ability and
accomplishment. Don’t believe your own self-promotion. That’s your ego
inflating itself.
“The more difficult the task, the more uncertain the outcome,
the more costly talk will be and the farther from actual
Gawker blogger Emily Gould described the challenge she faced in
completing her novel. She had a “six-figure book deal,” but her writing
bogged down because she was always posting on Tumblr or Twitter or
scrolling through websites. These were distractions from the real work she
had to do, but she convinced herself that it was work: she was building her
personal brand. In the relentless pursuit of building, curating or refining a
personal brand, people lose sight of the difference between actual
accomplishments and fictional advertisements of themselves. All that
posting and all that talk use up the energy you need for your real work.
Some people like to mutter the thoughts that are leading them through
solving a problem, but some studies suggest that talking aloud slows the
process of discovery. Likewise, goal visualization helps at the beginning of a
project, but after a while it produces the misleading impression of progress.
When a project is hard, talk does not help.
“It takes a special kind of humility to grasp that you know
less, even as you know and grasp more and more.”
Stories of success make success seem inevitable. Looking back at your own
story is dangerous because you can reject all the pieces that don’t fit the
narrative you want to tell. Such a narrative can offer false clarity and
distract you from remembering the work that enabled you to attain your
goals. Narratives of success mislead by suggesting they are conclusive, that
the story ends after success. But in life, the story continues. After you
succeed, everyone wants to beat you. More than ever, you must work hard
to maintain the success you strived to achieve.
Learning Focus
Pride is dangerous. It inhibits learning. Instead, maintain “a student mindset” to keep your ego in check by acknowledging that you always have more
to learn. Success doesn’t make you a master. Frank Shamrock, a mixed
martial arts world champion, teaches that everyone needs “a plus, a minus
and an equal.” Learn from someone who has more skill than you, someone
who acts as a teacher. Gain from teaching someone who knows less than
you, because being a professional requires understanding your task well
enough to describe it to others. Working with someone at your level helps
you cultivate finesse and dexterity.
“Ego needs honors to be validated. Confidence…is able to
wait and focus on the task at hand regardless of external
Maintaining a student mind-set is easier in the beginning of your career.
Success brings the temptation to overestimate your knowledge. John
Wheeler, a physicist who helped develop the hydrogen bomb, said, “As our
island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.” The more
you know, the more you realize you need to learn.
“The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far
past any reasonable utility – that’s ego.”
Jazz great Wynton Marsalis once told an aspiring musician to be humble,
explaining that humility is evident in those who don’t believe they already
know everything. As you learn, discover the processes that enable you to
learn most effectively. Repeat those procedures to ensure your continuous
“A smart man or woman must regularly remind themselves
of the limits of their power and reach.”
The “theory of disruption” proposes that every industry will eventually
encounter a change that no one predicted. When that happens, established
business models – already too comfortable with their familiar approach –
won’t respond effectively because they’ve stopped learning and growing.
Newcomers are more agile; since they’re still in a learning mind-set, they
see an opportunity to fill a market need and take advantage of it. They study
their competitors to learn which changes would help them grow.
“Standard of Performance”
Professional football coach Bill Walsh established a Standard of
Performance as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. Over the
course of three years, he took a team that earned ratings as one of the worst
in the league and made it a Super Bowl champion. People told the story of
this climb by saying Walsh had a vision of the team’s Super Bowl win and
executed it. He refused to buy into that narrative. Instead, Walsh described
how he focused on what the team members needed to do, when they needed
to do it and how they should do it.
“Impressing people is utterly different from being truly
Walsh instilled a sense of excellence by insisting on small behavioral rules:
Players must stand while on the practice field; coaches must appear in
tucked-in shirts and ties; the locker room must be clean. Bill Walsh
expected the team to perform well on the field and off. After winning the
Super Bowl, the team had two terrible years because the players became
overconfident and self-satisfied. The team had to accept that the Standard
of Performance was their route to victory before they started to win again
and became recurring champions.
Accept Failure
Mistakes are inevitable. Being an entrepreneur or creative person requires
taking risks, and risks don’t always work out. The problem isn’t failing. The
problem is identifying with failure. Ego believes that the only options are
success or failure. That is ego confusion. Failure isn’t indicative of who you
are, only of what you did. Ego tries to prove that failure is, or will become,
“Unless we use this moment as an opportunity to understand
ourselves and our own mind better, ego will seek out failure
like true north.”
When Dov Charney was the CEO of American Apparel, his practices cost the
company some $300 million and the reputational damage of multiple
scandals. When the board asked Charney to step aside, he refused. He then
wasted a fortune on a useless lawsuit to vindicate himself. He lost, and
faced public humiliation when the media published details that the case
revealed about his behavior.
“At every step and every juncture in life, there is the
opportunity to learn – and even if the lesson is purely
remedial, we must not let ego block us from hearing it
Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he founded, because of his
huge ego. Jobs was angry and fought the company’s decision, but he didn’t
let it ruin him. He sold all but one share of Apple and decided to try again.
Learning from his management failures, he funded the animation company
Pixar and slowly rebuilt his reputation. He eventually returned to Apple,
and made it an even better company than he could have built before
learning such hard life lessons.
“You can’t learn if you think you already know.”
As with Jobs, failure is an opportunity to learn. When success begins to
wane, don’t attach yourself even more tightly to your job, project or goal.
Recognize that something went wrong; try to identify how your behavior
contributed to that error and begin to change.
Check Yourself
When people first succeed, they may indulge in wild behavior. Success can
transform that confusion and erratic conduct into self-assurance and
bravery. If your success came from a surprising guess, recognize that you
didn’t know what would lead to success. When others applaud your
greatness, stay sober.
Consider Germany’s Angela Merkel, one of the most powerful women in the
world. When Russian president Vladimir Putin tried to intimidate her by
allowing his hunting dog to interrupt a meeting, she didn’t take it
personally or react badly even though her dislike of dogs is common
knowledge. In the midst of adversity, she remained “firm, clear and
patient.” As Merkel once said, “You can’t solve…tasks with charisma.”
Success has the adverse effect of making people feel larger than life. Stress
reinforces their sense of importance. Similarly, rebukes or failures hurt
people’s inflated egos. Tame your ego by observing the vastness of the
universe; “meditate on immensity.” Observe nature. Find something that
allows you to connect. Let go of ego’s desire for retaliation or its efforts to
reinforce its value. See how grand the world is. Ego is “the disease of me,”
but the world offers much more than you.
Do things for the purpose of doing them. Let the effort be enough. When a
project becomes focused on success alone, your ego is in control. Your work
might incur ridicule or sabotage. Recognition may never arrive in the forms
you seek: public praise, financial success or approval from the one person
whose respect you want. Focus on your expectations, not someone else’s.
Ego drives the desire to succeed. Let the effort you put into your work be
success enough. If it’s not, then maybe this isn’t the work you should be
Learn What Matters to You
Ego makes everything about the self. Genuine self-awareness diminishes
ego by allowing the self to grow and change. Ask, “What’s important to
you?” so that you focus on self-evaluation and not on external measures.
Learn what matters to you so you can be true to yourself. Recognize that the
world has much to continue teaching you. Abandon ego’s attachment to
success. Commit, instead, to a path of constant improvement.
About the Author
Ryan Holiday is the former director of marketing at American Apparel
and a best-selling author. He wrote The Obstacle Is The Way, Growth
Hacker Marketing, and Trust Me, I’m Lying and co-wrote The Daily Stoic
with Stephen Hanselman.
Ego check
Mathew Hayward’s unusual book draws upon mythology to establish a major
business premise and then proves it statistically. The premise is that hubris (CEO
arrogance) is usually the source of illogical corporate mistakes, such as
overpayment for acquisitions. The author draws heavily upon his research and
other studies about “behavioral decision theory” to back up the concept that great
pride often brings on a great fall. This profundity is basic to the philosophy of
Greek tragedy, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. The author used this concept to
analyze more than 100 corporate mergers. He found that CEOs were usually the
decision makers behind substantial overpayments for acquisitions. He concludes
that egomania and narcissism, but not courage and conviction, must be “checked
at the door.” getAbstract recommends this interesting, thoughtful book.
Many mergers and acquisitions reflect executives’ excess pride.
This “hubris” is often the chief culprit in business decisions that fail,
particularly overpriced acquisitions.
It leads to “false confidence” manifested by mistakes, solo decision making,
“ungrounded” judgments and failure to see consequences.
Leaders must observe the fine line between boldness and bravado.
“Behavioral decision theory” explains overconfidence and its results.
To see hubris at work, examine corporations that were harmed when excess
confidence ruled, including Apple, Vivendi, Segway and Dell.
Overconfidence badly distorts decision making.
Avoid “kidding yourself.”
Don’t let ego keep you from consulting others and heeding cautionary
Prepare for the consequences of false confidence by studying its results,
such as Merck’s Vioxx fiasco.
The Fall of Icarus
The sin of “hubris,” or excess pride, carries a heavy price. Extreme ego or
misplaced self-confidence often destroy the culprit, and his or her company and
associates. A CEO’s arrogance can harm a company’s employees, stockholders
and creditors.
Excess confidence is widely evident in literary classics, such as the Hellenic myth
of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who escaped from prison by using artificial wings
that Daedalus invented. The son was so thrilled with flying that he arrogantly
ignored his father’s advice, flew too close to the sun, melted the wax in his wings
and plummeted to his death.
“Business has seen more than its fair share of overweening
Business schools now teach students about “the Icarus Paradox,” which says that
originality and confidence can lead to enormous success, but arrogance and pride
generate disaster. This ancient wisdom applies to modern culture, especially to
the actions of large corporations. Consider CEO Ken Lay at Enron.
The Danger of Excess Con dence
Overconfidence manifests itself in four intermingled, dangerous qualities: acting
based on excessive pride, failing to get the right help, failing to evaluate the reality
of a business problem or opportunity, and failing to face the consequences of a
mistaken policy or action. These conditions present pitfalls for any CEO. Just one
capitulation to any of these four deficiencies can produce “false confidence” and
the potential for corporate tragedy on a mass scale.
“The key is to check our decisions and actions, ahead of time, to
determine whether they reflect authentic or false confidence.”
Generally, an ego-powered chief executive drives most of the decisions that go
wrong in corporate America, because most large companies operate under the
rule of a CEO rather than following the instructions of a board of directors.
Boards often rubberstamp a CEO’s actions rather than taking on the complexities
of corporate decision making.
“Leaders [must] embrace the consequences, positive and
negative, of important organizational decisions.”
Brilliant inventor Dean Kamen had several significant successes before he
launched the Segway personal transporter, an upright scooter. While the Segway
has had some success in airports, theme parks and other venues, it has not yet
revolutionized transportation as Kamen predicted. His company lost a fortune on
its launch and early manufacturing because the market reality defeated his
expectations. Apparently he had trouble building a senior management team
because he micromanages. He also underestimated the impact of regulatory
issues; for instance, San Francisco banned the Segway from its sidewalks.
Reality Check: Don’t “Kid Yourself”
In many ways, excess self-confidence is bred into the United States’ economic and
social system. Myriad Americans are full of optimism and willing to take on
tremendous challenges. Stock market investors, from simple amateurs to
professional traders, often engage in hubristic actions. Most of them know the
stock market is a “zero sum game” (an almost equal split between winners and
losers). Nevertheless, millions of traders acting with arrogant pride bet heavily
that they can “beat the market.”
“Telling executives like (Herb) Kelleher and (Lou) Gerstner to
check their egos at the door is like telling a kangaroo to walk
backwards – the kangaroo will not listen and...the advice cannot
This overconfidence extends to individual attitudes toward personal health.
Surveys show that many Americans believe they enjoy better-than-average
health. They think they have a lower risk of cancer than everybody else. Were it
not for overconfidence, many more people would give up cigarettes, alcohol and
fattening foods. The implication is very serious. When people underestimate their
chances of becoming ill, they avoid checkups.
“Successful leaders can also be proud, charismatic and
Businesspeople regularly exhibit a lack of balance between the confidence they
need to succeed and the danger of an overbearing ego, manifested as “getting too
full” of yourself. Steve Jobs built Apple Computer, which has a long, oscillating
history of success and failure. Having made initial, prideful mistakes by shutting
out cooperation with Microsoft on the MacIntosh and NeXT computers, and by
emphasizing product design over functionality, Jobs learned his lesson.
“Obviously, not all autocratic managers become victims of the
false confidence that induces hubris.”
The iPod debuted with both hot looks and high performance – and it ran on a
Windows platform from the very beginning, despite Jobs’ aversion to all things
Gates-related. Apple also created an entirely new alliance with the music industry
by building piracy protections into iTunes, which has sold more than one billion
songs as Apple has sold more than 50 million iPods.
“There are few more disastrous components of decision making
than a failure to get – and act upon – feedback.”
Despite Jobs’ reputation for “exaggerated pride” at times, this achievement is
“grounded” in proof, market feedback and actual accomplishment. Decisions
based on false confidence are often based on “selective,” “speculative” or
“hapless” judgment, instead of being rooted in evidence.
Failure to Anticipate Consequences
Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, one of the 20th century’s most successful CEOs, lived
a genuine rags-to-riches story. Born just before the crash in 1929, he was the son
of a New York City candy store owner. He served as an Army Ranger in
Normandy on D-Day and helped liberate Dachau. He won a Bronze Star as a
captain in the Korean War. He went to work for AIG and became its CEO within
seven years. He took over in 1967 when the stock was valued at $300 million.
Under his leadership, it climbed to $150 billion some 40 years later. Greenberg
owned about $2 billion in AIG shares, but arrogance brought him down.
“[Merck management’s] false confidence may have lapsed into a
culture of executive hubris.”
In 2005, the SEC charged Greenberg with irregularities and fraudulent practices,
including manipulating the value of AIG stock. The company agreed that it had
overstated profits by nearly $4 billion and paid a settlement of about $2 million.
Greenberg’s behavior had all the earmarks of a man who believed he was
“invincible or untouchable,” a key symptom of hubris. He retired and his sons left
the company they had been trained to run.
Mergers: The Extent of Hubris
A merger or acquisition can be as nerve-wracking as warfare, particularly when
ego rules. Take the merger of America Online (AOL) and Time Warner, which
took effect on January 10, 2001. The union between CEOs Steve Case of AOL and
Gerald Levin of Time began and ended in a remarkable display of hubris.
“While there is nothing wrong with celebrity per se, it becomes
an issue because, as [Michael] Dell puts it, ‘It’s easy to fall in love
with how far you’ve come and how much you’ve done’.”
Levin led the acquiring team in concluding the $350-million deal, which cost
Time’s stockholders tens of millions of dollars in share value. AOL also saw its
shares collapse rather than soar. Levin naively or arrogantly paid a high 70%
premium in this fiasco of clashing corporate missions and cultures. He later told
the press that he deliberately did not take protective insurance on behalf of his
company because “I wanted to make a statement I believe in.”
“Hubris may be humanity’s cardinal sin.”
Megastar, an M&A research firm, recorded an average of more than 5,000
mergers and acquisitions globally each year from l970 through 2005. The low
level was about 2,000 each in l987 and l992. In contrast, 11,000 mergers or
acquisitions took place in 2000 and 2005. Megastar estimated the value of U.S.
mergers in 2005 as more than $1.2 trillion.
“We can stop hubris in its tracks by recognizing and managing
the false sources of confidence ahead of time.”
An analysis of 100 mergers in 2005 showed that “companies led by more
hubristic CEOs – those with more recent media praise, successful performance”
and superior salaries, “paid higher premiums.” That probably expresses personal
biases rather than logical data analysis. An inflated premium can indicate the
presence of a CEO with a swollen ego and an abnormal level of self-confidence.
How can companies ride herd on CEO hubris? First, decide where decisionmaking powers reside. For example, General Electric “makes better deals by
removing (its CEO) from acquisition pricing.”
The Nightmare Results of Hubris
Warren Buffett, a veteran of all types of investing, likened managers who make
oversize payments for acquisitions to the mythical prince trapped in a frog’s body
and brought back to human form by the mere kiss of a gorgeous princess. Buffett
said the overpaying CEOs “are certain their managerial kiss will do wonders for
the profitability” of the target company they are buying. Sometimes it does; more
often it does not, for reasons that occur over and over:
Reason 1: Failure to seek support and advice
Marketing whiz Carly Fiorina was featured on the cover of Fortune magazine as a
landmark female executive. A year later, she was enthroned as CEO of HewlettPackard.
“Understanding how hubris can wreck careers, companies and
even lives may motivate us to manage those sources ahead of
deciding and acting.”
The transition was not easy. As she grew more autocratic and mistrusting, she
absorbed many of her subordinates’ jobs and reduced the number of people
reporting directly to her from 15 to six. She gloried in the job, enjoying such perks
as a private jet.
She pursued and landed an acquisition that was a dubious fit: the purchase of
Compaq. The buyout was structured to eject hundreds of experienced Compaq
executives and also led to the early departure of Compaq’s CEO. In her power
play, Fiorina “effectively became the firm’s chairwoman, CEO, president and
COO...but her failure to empower people to make key decisions was eroding her
circle of influence.”
“We must become more aware of heedfully managing our
HP’s financial results weakened. Fortune magazine came back to reveal Fiorina’s
shortcomings. After six years on the job, she was dubbed “Fortune’s Fool.” A
week later, she was canned.
Reason 2: Delusion and denial
Merck spent $2.5 billion to develop Vioxx , a COX-2 inhibitor “wonder drug” used
primarily to treat stomach problems. The medication was discovered in l994,
exactly when Ray Gilmartin became Merck’s chairman. Several of the firm’s
medicines were soon going off patent and the stock price already was dropping in
anticipation of poor financial results, so Merck rushed Vioxx through testing.
In the middle of its development, internal and external scientists informed the
organization repeatedly that the new drug could increase heart attacks “and may
kill.” But the company launched it for trial use in January 1999, and the FDA
approved it for marketing six months later. Two years later, in response to science
articles and “Vioxx deaths,” the FDA required Merck to include a phrase on its
label saying that Vioxx posed a “possible” risk of heart attack.
On September 30, 2004, Merck pulled “its $2.5 billion Vioxx medicine from the
market after 20 million Americans (had) taken it.” Merck shares lost $20 billion
in stockholder value. Merck gave Gilmartin a $35 million golden handshake and
replaced him with a longtime insider. A few months later, on August 19, 2005, a
jury in Texas awarded $250 million in damages done to one Vioxx user. That
year, an FDA scientist writing in a major medical journal estimated that Vioxx
“may have caused up to 140,000 excess cases of serious coronary disease in the
Maintaining Perspective
You and your company can reduce excessive conceit. The strongest antidote is to
take pride only in achievements with widespread benefits.
To circumvent exaggerated self-importance, take these steps:
Consider the consequences of every decision before you move ahead.
Make sure your decisions are good for the business and yourself.
Be consistent in your behavior and choices.
Get the job done rather than positioning yourself to impress management.
Discount plaudits from those who may have ulterior motives for praising
Share the praise with others who helped complete a successful deal.
“Avoid treating compensation as the sole objective.” Keep your
compensation separate from your sense of pride.
Don’t embellish; refrain from being self-serving or exaggerating your
Don’t assume you can transfer your proven abilities in one area to another
Be sure your pride in an accomplishment is “grounded,” that is, realitybased.
About the Author
Mathew Hayward served in the Wall Street battlefield as a venture capitalist
and investment banker. He turned to academe in 1992 to earn a Ph.D. at
Columbia. He is now an assistant professor at the University of Colorado business
school, a management consultant and a leading researcher on “hubris.”
Courage is calling
Everyone feels the call to display courage at key points in their lives.
Wise people listen to that calling and take action, writes best-selling
author and podcast host Ryan Holiday. Courage is an essential
component of living a virtuous life, he explains, yet it’s rarer than it
should be because far too many people choose to live in fear. Drawing
from sources such as Stoic philosophy and comparative mythology,
Holiday exhorts readers toward courageous self-actualization with
calm, clear advice. Fear-based decisions may help you feel safe, but
raise the biggest risk of all, he says: wasting your short time on earth
“playing small.”
Four virtues – courage, temperance, justice and wisdom –
comprise the good life.
Courageous action is a rarity because many people live in fear.
Believe in your own agency to live an authentic selfactualized life.
One courageous person can inspire a social movement. Don’t
hesitate to do the right thing.
Accept criticism and overcome your fear of people labeling you as
Nobody can force you to betray your morals or surrender your
Heroes selflessly risk their lives to benefit the collective good.
People or events may break a hero, but she or he will heal and
grow – not surrender.
Four virtues – courage, temperance, justice and wisdom –
comprise the good life.
The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius regarded the four virtues of
courage, temperance, justice and wisdom as “touchstones of
goodness.” These “cardinal virtues” appear in texts from the ancient
world from Christianity to Hinduism. The Greek philosopher Aristotle,
for example, stressed that, as a harpist learns by playing the
instrument, you become virtuous by practicing virtuous actions. You
have multiple opportunities to choose virtue every day. The Greek root
of the word “virtue” is arete, which translates roughly as “excellence.”
Choosing virtue means choosing mental, physical and moral
“There is nothing we prize more than courage, yet
nothing is in shorter supply.”
Courage can be physical – for example, saving someone from a
burning building – or moral – for example, acting as a whistleblower.
Both kinds are valuable and involve risk, sacrifice and determination
that many people fail to display. Instead of doing the right thing,
people often opt to do what feels safe.
Courage is a rarity because many people live in fear.
Brave people muster the ability to overcome fear. Comparative
mythologist Joseph Campbell codifies the “Hero’s Journey”: a nearuniversal story arc in which mythical heroic characters progress
through different stages before embracing their true destiny. When
these potential heroes first receive “the call to adventure,” most don’t
respond heroically. Their fear leads them to the next stage, which
Campbell calls “the refusal of the call”: They choose something they
perceive as safe to avoid the risks that embracing their life’s purpose
raise. Like mythic heroes, anyone who ends up in the annals of history
discovers that triumphing over fear is the “defining battle” of their
existence. This crucial moment – when you accept the call to change
the world, to defy others’ expectations or to rise above your current
position of power to be of greater service to others – requires courage.
“It’s good that it’s hard. It deters the cowards, and it
intrigues the courageous.”
Logic helps you transcend fear. Investigate your anxious, fearful
thoughts and consider the facts of the situation from a more objective
perspective. Tell yourself that the worst-case-scenario version of
events is unlikely to occur. Even if the worst does happen, remind
yourself that you have the capacity to manage the situation. Practice
empathy to discover how other people cope with their fears. Stop
viewing your obstacles as negative forces blocking your path to
success. Embrace them as valuable opportunities to challenge
yourself. Don’t judge others for showing cowardice. Nobody can
understand another person’s journey or the inner struggles he or she
might face.
Choose to believe in your own agency, and live an authentic
self-actualized life.
Nothing and nobody will give you agency. You must seize your agency
and believe you have the power to change your circumstances. Your
perception of your agency determines the power you have to change
your life. You may be a billionaire, but if you feel you are a victim of
circumstances rather than their creator, you will regard yourself as
powerless, and indeed, you will be. Embracing your belief in yourself
requires overcoming cynicism and nihilism, and understanding that
there are things in life worth risking everything – and perhaps even
dying for. Seek inspiration in heroes of the past who survived against
all odds and stood up for what they believed. Embrace this tradition
rather than the fear-based traditions of followers.
“We choose what voice we will listen to. We choose
whether we’ll play it safe, think small, be afraid, confirm,
hide or be cynical.”
Any meaningful growth requires a leap of faith and the courage to
create the life you truly desire. You may feel that avoiding decisions
helps you avoid consequences, but that’s a fallacy. Not making a choice
to take courageous action supports the status quo by
surrendering your agency. There is no such thing as certainty. Life is
fundamentally uncertain, given that everyone must die. Being
complicit in systems you don’t support and failing to harness the
power of your unique gifts poses the greatest dangers you will
encounter. Rise to the challenge by authentically showing up as
yourself, rather than the version of you others want you to be.Fear is
not the enemy. Fear can be a potent source of information that directs
you toward your biggest growth opportunities as you work toward selfactualization.
One courageous person can inspire a social movement.
Don’t hesitate to do the right thing.
Sometimes, you must take courageous action alone. Yet, if you
persevere, you will inevitably find a collective of people who share your
commitment to a higher cause and support you. When Germany seized
France in 1940, for example, one man’s courageous stance helped
save his nation.
Charles de Gaulle, an undersecretary of defense and brigadier general
in the French army, urged the French people to continue to fight in a
BBC broadcast, exclaiming “France is not alone! She is not alone!” In
reality, France had lost, with many French soldiers – whom the British
rescued – giving up to live in Nazi-occupied France. Courage is
contagious, and de Gaulle’s public stance became symbolic of the
united French resistance it ignited.
One person can make a tremendous difference and create a majority. If
you feel the call, don’t wait for someone else to inspire you. Don’t
believe you need to know how to solve every subsequent problem.
Others will find your momentum contagious and help you finish what
you start.
“The belief that an individual can make a difference is the
first step. The next is understanding that you can be that
The Stoic philosopher Seneca famously described his pity for people
who never face misfortune: “You have passed through life without an
opponent,” he said. “No one can ever know what you are capable of,
not even you.” When you face challenges, ask yourself if you have the
courage to do what’s right, even if it’s difficult. Will you stand firm, or
will you run away?
Accept criticism and overcome your fear of being labeled
“dif cult.”
The greater good of society benefits from people who speak their
truths, even when they conflict with the interests of the status quo.
These people have different roles – whistleblowers, artists or
comedians, for example – but share a willingness to publicly critique
the things with which they disagree. To be brave, overcome your fear
of public criticism, knowing that people will, at some point, say you’re
crazy or treat you like you’re difficult. It is not brave to please everyone
all the time – even if you could – and you’re unlikely to make history
doing so.
“They’re going to call you crazy – because courage is
Overcome your fear of making mistakes, because inaction in moments
that demand courageous action guarantees failure. Sometimes, you
only have a few seconds to act courageously. Don’t let your fear
of failure or possible embarrassment impede you. When the instant to
take courageous action arises, focus on the present moment rather
than entertaining a barrage of anxious thoughts about problems you
might face in the future. Move out of your comfort zone each day to
build a habit of overcoming fear. Perhaps this entails admitting when
you don’t know the answer in a conversation, for example, or simply
turning the water cold in the shower.
Nobody can force you to betray your morals or surrender
your power.
Ease the path of courageous action by acknowledging that you are
sovereign. Nobody has the right to abuse you or commit injustices
against you. When people misuse their power, you don’t solve anything
by reacting with submission. Seneca said that if you feel someone can
force you to commit wrongdoing, you have “forgotten how to die.”
Even if you feel you’re fighting a losing battle, relentlessly pursue your
version of the good to protect yourself, others and your self-respect.
Moments may arise that demand physical courage or violence to
protect the moral good. For example, if someone threatens a loved
one, you may need to react protectively with physical aggression. That
said, never recklessly take action and create unnecessary risks in a
moment of egomania. Always temper courage with the wisdom of
moderation. Sometimes, courage requires retreating from a situation
you can no longer endure, while embracing the risk and uncertainty of
the unknown.
“They can hurt you. They can yell at you. They can do
horrible things. But you are not powerless. In fact, you
have more power than you know.”
Being courageous means overcoming the desire to avoid challenging
situations – to give up or procrastinate instead of embracing your
duty. Avoidance doesn’t work because when you fail to do the job you
agreed to do, you only force someone else to do it, or you create future
impediments for yourself. Courage often entails mustering the belief
that while the odds may be against you, you can beat them. People, like
doctors and soldiers, whose roles require them to courageously
perform their duties in high-risk situations, bravely take action even
when failure seems possible or imminent. Reflect on whether you use
your difficult circumstances as a chance to seize opportunities, or as a
justification to fail to take action, thus allowing yourself to descend
into despair. Paralysis never contributes to a solution.
Heroes sel essly risk their lives to bene t the collective
Stoic philosophers referred to heroism as “greatness of soul,”
or Megalopsuchia. Courage is rare, but the courage that makes you
truly heroic is even more so. Heroes surpass the demands of duty
by risking their lives for others, sometimes even dying, so others can
live – humbling all who benefit from their sacrifice. Heroism occurs
when people display a selfless love for others that defies reason and
embodies human greatness. External validation or reward don’t
motivate true heroes. Their motivation lies in the desire to make a
meaningful difference that benefits others, now and in the future.
“If courage by itself is unreasonable, then love in this
higher form – the truly selfless kind – is insane. It is
baffling in its majesty.”
Heroes must often suffer grim consequences for their actions. Many
visionary, principle-driven individuals find their communities
ostracize them. Others suffer physical harm, as, for example, prisoners
of war do when undergoing torture for their refusal to share
information about their nation.
After Galileo disrupted the heliocentric paradigm of the
universe by boldly asserting his truth – that the earth revolved around
the sun and not the other way around – religious authorities
placed him under house arrest for the rest of his days. Reflect on what
you love above all else. Perhaps it’s a cause, such as Galileo’s scientific
truth, your nation or your comrades. Let that love power you to stand
up for what you believe in, even when you risk losing everything.
People or events may break a hero, but she or he will heal
and grow – not surrender.
Being a hero means accepting that, while life may break your spirit,
your only choice is to focus on healing to grow stronger and keep being
of service. Heroes don’t abandon their cause or surrender. Nobody can
defeat a hero if he or she doesn’t give up or abandon courage.
A hero gets back up. They heal. They grow. For themselves and
Heroes understand that, sometimes, as Martin Luther King Jr. said,
silence constitutes betrayal – and they choose to keep fighting, even
when afraid or when they risk losing everything. Their belief in the
collective benefit of their mission trumps self-interest.They keep hope
alive, rather than succumbing to despair. Heroes know they can’t build
a better future without believing in it.
About the Author
Host of The Daily Stoic podcast Ryan Holiday also wrote Trust Me,
I’m Lying, Ego Is the Enemy, Conspiracy and The Obstacle Is the
Make it stick
Professors Peter Brown, Mark McDaniel and Henry Roediger share insights
from decades of learning research. Their work suggests that the majority of
learners and teachers still practice outdated methods. These include the obvious:
Don’t cram for exams – space out learning instead. But other techniques – such
as mixing up the concepts and steps of a complex skill or knowledge set instead
of mastering one element before moving on to the next – are less intuitive.
Nevertheless, the authors’ research proves the nontraditional techniques are
more effective than earlier approaches. The structure of the book reflects the
professors’ advice, repeating ideas frequently and mixing concepts. This makes
reading it harder – but it may make the ideas stick.
You can use different strategies to learn something. But there is no learning
without memory.
Spaced out, repeated practice is more effective than cramming.
“Interleaved and varied practice” counteracts forgetting.
“Practice like you play.”
“Effortful retrieval” from memory reinforces the underlying neuronal
Employ mnemonics techniques to remember multiple items.
Heed what you don’t know, and beware your biases.
Reject the myth of matching instructional design with a learner’s best
learning style.
Adopt a can-do attitude.
You can use different strategies to learn something. But there is no
learning without memory.
For decades or longer, experts regarded intelligence as innate and immutable. But
recent research in behavioral science, psychology and neuroscience refutes this,
along with much accepted wisdom about how people learn.
“For the most part, we are going about learning in the wrong
ways, and we are giving poor advice to those who are coming up
behind us.”
Memories are formed through learning. But learning can occur in many ways and
there are several strategies you can employ. Teachers and instructors often fail to
consult peer-reviewed, controlled research findings and/or adjust their methods.
Many instructors remain stuck on the outmoded notions that rereading,
repeating specific elements of a wider skill or knowledge base, and cramming
produce the best results.
Spaced out, repeated practice is more effective than cramming.
Instructors often pin a course’s grade on one or two exams per course or
semester. As a consequence, cramming and rereading before an exam are popular
practices among students. However, a series of shorter quizzes throughout a
semester, each accounting for a small part of the overall grade, is more effective
in the long term.
“Rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge
are by far the preferred study strategies of learners of all stripes,
but they’re also the least productive.”
At Columbia Middle School in Illinois, for example, teachers use frequent quizzes,
flash cards, writing exercises and student presentations. Teachers space
repetition, present it in different formats, and encourage students to attach the
learning to prior knowledge while reproducing it in their own words. Teachers
use quizzes and tests so they and students can gauge progress and identify areas
for greater focus.
At Washington University in St. Louis, Professor Andrew Sobel uses similar
methods. For years, he graded students only on a midterm and final exam, but
found students attended few of his lectures. He switched to surprise quizzes.
Students hated them, and many dropped out of his course. Sobel then introduced
a series of scheduled quizzes. Students knew these tests were coming and that the
tests counted, which gave them the incentive to prepare. Attendance soared, and
dropouts decreased. Students loved the new approach because it offered fast
feedback and opportunities for targeted studying, and because one poor quiz
performance didn’t jeopardize a course grade.
Frequent small tests and quizzes give students the spaced practice that improves
memory retention and retrieval. Repetition reinforces the neuronal connections
that are formed through learning.
“Interleaved and varied practice” counteracts forgetting.
More challenging learning can potentially yield greater benefits. One example is
“interleaving” topics by studying all parts of a skill at once instead of in sequence.
You rapidly forget about 70% of what you read or hear. Spacing out retrieval
practice – through quizzes or tests – interrupts the “forgetting curve.” Trying to
answer questions or solve problems before you receive instruction (“generative
learning”) appears to spark curiosity, priming your brain’s receptors to encode
and embed learning.
“The more effort you have to expend to retrieve knowledge or
skill, the more the practice of retrieval will entrench it.”
For decades, teachers and coaches believed in the massed practice approach. You
isolate a movement, such as a mid-court forehand in tennis, or long, decimal
division in math. This repetition yields fast but fleeting results. These
results might translate into desired outcomes if tennis matches and math exams
unfolded according to script. When baseball batters, for example, focus their
practice only on curve balls or sliders – concentrating in later sessions on
fastballs – they don’t hit nearly as well in games as players who practice hitting all
pitches in the same session.
“Making mistakes and correcting them builds the bridges to
advanced learning.”
Your performance improves over time if you introduce variety and simulate reallife situations. In experiments, students who break problems down to practice the
parts discretely score significantly lower on exams than those who mix up
problems in practice. Intuitively, it makes sense to teach people one part or stage
of a job at a time, waiting until they master the easier parts before moving on. But
you’ll gain better results by interleaving practice – moving between and
within steps and levels. Your trainees will make more mistakes and perhaps
believe they’re failing. But they will retain more.
Providing feedback to learners and encouraging trial and error emphasize more
difficult, active learning over easier, passive learning. Varied practice might build
better skills because it engages distributed networks of the brain.
“Practice like you play.”
A coach for the Los Angeles Kings hockey team drilled his players as most coaches
did, by repeating the same plays over and over from the same place on the ice.
When he moved to the Chicago Blackhawks, the coach drilled different types of
passes from different parts of the ice, under circumstances that more closely
resembled true game conditions. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Blackhawks
went on to become world champions. This learning practice works whether
identifying bird types, studying art history or mastering legal jurisprudence.
“It’s not just what you know, but how you practice what you
know that determines how well the learning serves you later.”
A math textbook might address problem types in sequence, chapter by chapter.
But on an exam, students see all types of problems, and usually not in any
particular order. Studying should reflect this reality. You can introduce contrast
by, say, tackling different types of math problems or studying different styles of
paintings in the same session. That approach enables you to perceive differences
that help you discern nuances and discriminate between types. Practice like you
play, whether you fly jets or perform surgeries.
Practicing like you play is especially effective when your work might cost or save
lives. It means on-the-job, experiential learning and/or simulations. Don’t rely on
variety alone. Repeat experiential practice around specific skills. Train each skill
separately so you don’t repeat one thing mindlessly. You must think and
remember. When you master something, don’t set it aside. Revisit it occasionally
to maintain memory.
“Effortful retrieval” from memory reinforces the underlying neuronal
After memories have been encoded by your brain they may be consolidated to
form a long-term memory. During memory retrieval, you recall what you have
learned earlier. At this point, making an effort can be beneficial in many ways.
For example, as one form of effortful retrieval, spaced out practice reinforces the
neuronal routes. As memories are reconsolidated, learning can be deepened.
Effortful practice over thousands of hours can also allow you to combine several
related aspects of a subject or skill into a mental model. Mental models then
enable you to respond fast and expertly to a trigger.
“The more we learn, the more possible connections we create for
further learning.”
It’s therefore beneficial to design learning to make it reasonably difficult and
Employ mnemonics techniques to remember multiple items.
Attach difficult-to-remember things to memorable phrases or images, such as the
mnemonic “I Value Xylophones Like Cows Dig Milk” for remembering ascending
categories of Roman numbers from one to 1,000. “Memory palaces” involve
associating new concepts with familiar places, such as your bedroom. For
example, your desk may become the first step in solving an equation, your chair
the next, and your bed the third. This helps you remember as you visualize your
room from desk to chair to bed.
Heed what you don’t know, and beware your biases.
In most cases and for most daily decisions, automatism kicks in: This is
what Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow calls “System 1”
subconscious thinking. System 1 thinking gets you through the day by not taxing
your limited cognitive reserves to perform smaller, routine and repetitive tasks or
mental chores. Sometimes, however, you can’t leave decisions to intuition. Pilots
can suffer illusions under certain conditions, for example. In these cases they
must deliberately fight System 1, which may tell them they’re climbing when
they’re actually descending.
“By wading into the unknown first and puzzling through it, you
are far more likely to learn and remember the solution than if
somebody first sat you down to teach it to you.”
Your memories can change and suffer biases, particularly from the neat
narratives you and others forge to describe the past and to make sense of life, or
even from the power of suggestion. A wide range of biases can affect your
thinking and memory, especially System 1 thought. To solve problems and make
unfamiliar decisions, engage “System 2” – deliberate, conscious and slow
thinking. This enables you to create increasingly complex mental models that
gradually – through repeated use of System 2 – turn even complex routines into
habits System 1 can manage.
This degree of mastery, however, may cause you to underestimate how long it will
take others to learn things you know cold. Again, slow down and let learners build
their mental models using System 2.
Learners who read about and believe they deeply understand a challenging
concept tend to delude themselves. Until they have rewritten concepts in their
own words, applied them to past knowledge and/or used them in practical
application, they haven’t mastered anything. Help learners assess their
performance and knowledge. For example, show them their test results in
comparison with those of people with true mastery of the topic, and ask your
learners to assess their gaps. This helps learners overcome biases and
other obstacles. Pair learners with peers who have more experience, as airlines do
with pilots or as interns pair with physicians.
Use frequent, spaced testing and retrieval to allow learners and instructors to
gauge progress, calibrate feedback and learning, and to build lasting competence.
Consider “dynamic testing” – using results from tests to tailor subsequent lessons
or other learning exercises on the basis of the learner’s knowledge gaps. Avoid
catering to individual styles, but help learners discover their idiosyncratic
strengths and intelligences, and apply those to help students learn.
Reject the myth of matching instructional design with a learner’s
best learning style.
People may have learning preferences, but scientists have recently questioned the
usefulness of the popular practice of matching teaching styles to those
preferences. As a teacher, consider your instructions in terms of how it best
enables learning. Widen your approach as much as you can to engage learner’s
“multiple forms of intelligence.”
Some learners utilize more successful habits than others. Those who recognize
key elements of the learning and who build mental models create advantageous
learning structures or frameworks.
“Everyone has learning preferences, but we are not persuaded
that you learn better when the manner of instruction fits those
These learners build on concepts and can apply learning from one area more
readily to another than those who memorize what they learn.
Adopt a can-do attitude.
Learning success largely comes down to believing you can do it. When kids adopt
the attitude that they can learn anything, the chances that they will do so are
“Our brains are capable of much greater feats than scientists
would have thought possible even a few decades ago.”
Teachers and parents help kids more by praising their efforts than by telling them
they’re smart. A person who believes he or she has natural talent may resist
putting in the necessary thousands of hours of deliberate practice.
About the Authors
Washington University in St. Louis psychology professors Henry L. Roediger
and Mark A. McDaniel study the psychology of learning. Peter C. Brown
lives and writes in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The burnout x
Burnout is a pervasive social problem in the United States. It leaves workers
feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. In some cases, it can even cause death.
Psychologist and Stanford University graduate Jacinta M. Jiménez believes
today’s organizations need to do more than just treat the symptoms of
burnout – they need to learn to prevent it altogether. In this practical
text, Jiménez offers tools to stop burnout before it begins. The key, she
argues, is to foster resilience on both an individual and an organizational
level. With her science-backed “PULSE” practices, you can learn to lead a
more purpose-driven life and support your team members’ well-being.
Success in the modern workplace takes more than grit – it
requires resilience.
Develop five capabilities to avoid burnout.
Cultivate a healthy performance pace.
Reduce distracting thoughts and work toward mental clarity.
Prioritize leisure time.
Strengthen your social wellness.
Manage your energy carefully and live a purpose-driven life.
Lead healthy teams by embracing agency, benevolence and
Success in the modern workplace takes more than grit – it
requires resilience.
In today’s global, hyperconnected world, people often believe that career
success requires them to take on unsustainable volumes of work and be
constantly available to tackle work-related tasks. Yet when you exert
an unsustainable level of effort for too long, burnout often results. A
Deloitte survey revealed that more than three-quarters of workers had
experienced burnout in their jobs. High levels of workplace stress lead to an
estimated 120,000 deaths per year.
“It doesn’t matter if you work harder or smarter; if you
neglect to also nurture a steady personal pulse, your success
will be short-lived.”
Organizations often focus on how to help employees recover from
workplace burnout, but what they really need to do is teach their people
how to avoid it altogether. That goal calls for learning ways to cultivate
personal and professional resilience.
Develop ve capabilities to avoid burnout.
To keep yourself from suffering from burnout, you should engage in
“personal PULSE practices” – strategies for nurturing inner resilience. You
must Pace yourself, Undo unhelpful thought patterns, engage in Leisure
activities, build a Support system and Evaluate how you spend your time. If
you follow the PULSE practices, you’ll improve your capabilities in five key
areas of your life:
1. Behavioral – Boost your professional and personal growth by
developing a healthy performance pace.
2. Cognitive – Rid yourself of unhealthy thought patterns.
3. Physical – Embrace the power of leisure as a strategy to protect and
restore your reserves of energy.
4. Social – Build a diverse network of social support to make yourself
more adaptable and improve your thinking.
5. Emotional – Don’t let others control your priorities or time.
Evaluate the effort you exert, and take control yourself.
Cultivate a healthy performance pace.
People tend to romanticize successful people, framing them
as fundamentally different from ordinary individuals. But while it’s
tempting to assume that J.K. Rowling, for example, had overnight success
with her Harry Potter series, she actually worked on the first book for seven
years, and faced rejections from a dozen publishers. Most successful people
achieve their dreams via “deliberate practice”: They tackle their goals by
breaking them into smaller concrete steps to help avoid cognitive and
emotional exhaustion.
“We love the idea of a ‘natural-born talent’ who defies normal
human capabilities. But does our love affair with mavericks
make sense?”
Create a framework to ensure you sustainably work toward your goals via
the “three P’s”:
1. Plan – Assess your skills and knowledge levels. Then, progressively
push yourself slightly outside your comfort zone as you progress
toward bigger goals. Keep goals realistic, feasible and specific.
2. Practice – Commit to continuous learning, treating your discovery
process as a series of experiments. Get feedback and approach your
experiments with deep focus. Don’t fear failure, as you can learn from
it. Keep a log, consistently tracking your progress and learning.
3. Ponder – Once you’ve learned via experimentation and gathered
feedback, leverage this knowledge to help you achieve your broader
goal, and improve your approaches to strategy and experimentation.
Ask yourself what did and didn’t work for you in the past, and how
you could improve results in the future. Don’t forget to celebrate your
small achievements as you approach success.
Reduce distracting thoughts and work toward mental clarity.
Rid yourself of stress-inducing cognitive distractions by embracing the
“three C’s” of mental clarity:
1. Curiosity – Be curious about your thought patterns. Identify
recurring thoughts. Then ask yourself if they’re grounded in reality
and if you can find evidence to support your assumptions. Noticing
cognitive errors helps you cultivate greater self-awareness.
2. Compassion – Overcome negative self-talk by practicing selfcompassion. Rather than fixating on the flaws you see in yourself,
talk to yourself with kindness, the way you might talk to a close
3. Calibration – Once you are more aware of the quality of your
thoughts and have cultivated a broader, more realistic perspective on
a given situation, ask yourself how you’d like to respond. For example,
perhaps you’d like to act with compassion. Or you simply realize that
you need more information.
Cultivate more mental clarity and awareness by:
Stacking habits – If you’d like to embrace healthier habits, try
bundling those new habits with ones you already engage in regularly,
such as brushing your teeth.
Scheduling reminders – Program your phone to remind you to
check in with yourself three times a day, creating space to reflect on
your thoughts.
Breathing – Take long, deep inhalations and exhalations before
Writing down your thoughts – When engaging in the three C’s,
write one or two sentences about each step.
Learning about cognitive mistakes – People make several types
of common errors. For example, are you engaging in binary thinking?
Are you making assumptions about what others are thinking?
Sticking with self-compassion – Being kind to yourself might feel
awkward initially, but research confirms its positive benefits:
increased levels of resilience, motivation and positive emotions, as
well as a decreased tendency to get overwhelmed.
Being consistent – If you practice the three C’s regularly, you can
powerfully transform your neural pathways and boost your vitality.
Prioritize leisure time.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey may have a never-ending to-do list, but she
makes a point of unplugging from work and spending time in nature –
going for walks with her dogs and working in her vegetable garden. The
ability to enjoy stress-free leisure time is essential for Oprah, as it allows
her to keep calm and centered, which, in turn, helps her handle the
challenges life and work throw her way.
If you want to protect yourself against burnout and improve your leadership
skills, you too should find ways to prioritize leisure. Overcome the harmful
myth that constantly working longer, faster and harder is the key to success.
We mistake busyness for productivity. We value volume of output over the
value of output. We no longer judge others by the quality of their
responses – rather, we focus on how fast they respond.”
Create more space for stress-busting leisure activities by prioritizing the
“three S’s” in your everyday life:
1. Silence – Take control over the way you use your technological
devices, reducing the mental fatigue you might experience from an
unnecessary onslaught of information and alerts. You can do this in
small ways (such as not checking your phone when standing in a line)
and in bigger ways (such as going on a meditation retreat).
2. Sanctuary – Most Americans spend 93% of their time inside. This is
unfortunate, since time you spend in nature decreases the stresshormone cortisol and improves your mood, creativity, immunity and
vitality. Schedule at least 20 to 30 minutes in nature per week, and try
to leave your devices at home.
3. Solitude – Choose to spend time alone. Doing so activates your
brain’s default mode network, improving your cognitive abilities by
slowing down sensory input. Solitude can lead to greater levels of selfawareness, creativity and mental clarity.
Strengthen your social wellness.
Social wellness – when you feel you belong and can securely access support
from your community – is an important contributor to good health. When
you feel socially excluded, you activate the same regions in your brain that
respond to physical pain — the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.
Research shows that workers who feel socially ostracized are less satisfied
and committed to their work, and experience higher levels of physiological
distress symptoms like headaches, muscle tension and back pain. By
contrast, workers who feel a high sense of social belonging perform
56% better, take 75% fewer sick days and are 50% more likely to stay at
their current jobs.
“Loneliness doesn’t target a specific personality group such
as introverts or extroverts — it can affect anyone. No one is
immune to loneliness.”
Decrease your risk of burnout and overcome feelings of social exclusion by
embracing the “three B’s” of secure support:
1. Belonging – Strengthen your sense of belonging by actively working
to be more compassionate. Display it cognitively by understanding
others’ perspectives. Express it emotionally by empathizing with
others, and show motivated compassion by strengthening your desire
to take action to help others. Research shows that if you consistently
practice loving kindness meditation (LKM) – mentally repeating
phrases or sentiments expressing goodwill and care toward others –
you’ll strengthen your sense of social well-being.
2. Breadth – Create a visual map of your “circles of support” by
drawing four concentric circles: Place the names of those to whom
you feel closest in the innermost circle, those who support you
consistently during tough times in the second circle, and those with
whom you engage regularly, but don’t view as confidants, in the third
circle. Acquaintances go in your outermost circle. Notice the circles
where support seems lacking, and try to address those gaps by
expanding your network. You may want to join new hobby-centered
communities or change your daily patterns of social interaction, such
as choosing to leave your neighborhood for lunch.
3. Boundaries – Reflect on your personal values, which illustrate your
priorities. Choose the five that are most important to you. Consider
what you need to do to cultivate more of these values in your life.
Think about actions that would detract from these values. Using this
information, write down your “boundary rules.” If, for example, you
prioritize your family, you might refuse to take calls at home during
certain hours. Make an effort to respect others’ boundaries, just as
you’d expect people to respect yours.
Manage your energy carefully and live a purpose-driven life.
Overcome the myth that expending more effort is always better, and
effectively manage your energy by embracing the “three E’s”:
1. Enduring principles – Identify a set of principles that can guide
you in your current life stage. First, list the values and the skills you
currently view as most relevant to your goals. Next, define the
meaning behind the things you wish to pursue. Combine these
elements to craft a mission statement to guide your actions. Use the
following template: “Because I value X, I want to use my skills of Y to
accomplish Z.” Finally, develop three principles, such as “practice
gratitude” or “practice nonattachment,” to which you can commit as
you work toward embodying your mission statement.
2. Energy expenditure – Take a week to assess how you spend your
energy by tracking your activities, the people with whom you spend
time and the environments you’re navigating. Determine how they
make you feel. Rate these feelings on a scale of one to 10. If you realize
certain situations, activities or people make you feel depleted,
schedule more activities and encounters that energize you. Healthy
relationships tend to restore your energy, and engender positive
feelings such as mutual trust, respect and support.
3. Emotional acuity – Resist the tendency to ignore your emotions
and embrace false positivity. Let yourself experience your full range of
emotions, which will help you feel increased empathy for others and
become a better problem solver. Strengthen your emotional
intelligence by learning to better identify the emotions you feel. Start,
perhaps, by learning a new word to describe an emotion every week.
Treat your emotions as valuable information, and consider what they
might be telling you.
Lead healthy teams by embracing agency, benevolence and
Lead resilient teams by cultivating a workplace culture that prioritizes the
needs of people, and by employing the “ABC’s of Steady Pulse Teams And
1. A is for agency – Give team members a sense of agency by clarifying
your expectations (explicit and implicit) for each individual’s role,
keeping the workloads and demands you make reasonable and
feasible, and providing employees with opportunities to engage in
professional and personal development.
2. B is for benevolence – Commit to doing no harm.
Employ practices that rest on openness, trust, respect and equity in
the workplace. Recognize employees for their accomplishments, and
don’t tolerate dishonesty or unfairness.
3. C is for community – People find motivation at work through their
desire to create positive social connections. Embrace practices that
improve team members’ feelings of belonging, social inclusion and
psychological safety.
“How can my organization improve our employee experience
to uncover and implement a fixed set of practices that bolster
individual, team and organizational resilience?”
Leaders who aim to put people first must commit to implementing practices
that will increase resilience throughout all levels of their organizations. Use
design thinking to continually improve the experience of people on your
teams. Identify areas in need of improvement, develop solutions to bolster
resilience levels, and deploy your solutions in the form of carefully
monitored wellness initiatives.
About the Author
Dr. Jacinta M. Jiménez is a Stanford University and PGSP-Stanford
PsyD Consortium graduate, a board-certified leadership coach and
Quickening disruption is inevitable as AI and machines invade work that
people once routinely performed, writes business professor Edward D.
Hess. To help workers deal with this development, Hess prescribes lifelong
learning, unlearning and relearning focused on creativity, collaboration and
critical thinking – which people still do better than machines. His approach
to learning is holistic, marrying mind, body and spirit – and it’s based on
hundreds of journal articles, books and 17 years of teaching experience.
Hess also offers numerous thought experiments, assessments and
journaling exercises.
Hyper-learning demands continual learning, unlearning and
Humans evolved to connect, cooperate and learn throughout their
Learning requires a quiet ego and safe environment.
Inner peace facilitates optimal learning.
A learning mind-set frees you from the fear of making mistakes.
Make learning stick through behavioral change.
Hyper-learning demands different ways of working.
Promote trust, collaboration and communication within your team.
Hyper-learning demands continual learning, unlearning and
To remain essential, workers must focus on the skills and abilities
that machines perform poorly. These include soft skills such as critical
thinking, improvisation, creativity, problem-solving, empathy and
collaboration. As machines grow increasingly more capable, workers must
stay a step ahead through continuous, focused learning and unlearning:
“The opportunity exists for all of us to continually rewire our
brains, update our mental models and improve our
At present, humans outperform technologies in tasks requiring creativity,
imagination, critical thinking and decision-making in conditions of
ambiguity. Building these skills requires a mind and body approach
combining physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological and social health.
Humans evolved to connect, cooperate and learn throughout
their lives.
You must change and reinvent yourself at an unprecedented pace today,
and do so many times in your lifetime. Dispense with the notion that you
learn for the first one-third of your life and can forget about learning
thereafter. Beware complacency. Continually question what you think you
know, and connect with others to gain different perspectives, thoughts and
“All learning occurs in conversations with yourself (deep
reflection) or with others.” (psychology professor Lyle
Bourne, Jr.)
Open-mindedness, curiosity, focused listening and challenging your beliefs
don’t come easily. Your brain naturally seeks to conserve energy and to
protect your ego. Cognitive laziness and many blind spots caused by biases
create barriers to hyper-learning. This renders you – like everyone else – a
“sub-optimal learner.” To optimize, you need other people to help you
recognize and address your biases and overcome your cognitive resistance.
Learning requires a quiet ego and safe environment.
When listening, don’t think about how to reply or judge what you hear. Seek
only to learn and understand. Pay deep attention. Hyper-learning needs a
relaxed ego and a curious mind that remains open to new ideas. Set aside
competition and self-promotion to engage in collaboration and
“Collective flow reflects a team becoming one – an
emotionally integrated group of people devoid of fear and
self-centeredness, totally engrossed in the common task.”
Hyper-learning demands a psychologically safe and positive workplace that
invites ideas from all. Everyone should feel safe to bring their authentic,
whole selves to work, and caring teams must rally around a shared purpose
and values. Command-and-control hierarchies – which impede or even
forbid crucial openness, creativity and innovation – must give way to
purpose, trust and strong relationships. These conditions often lead to
“collective flow”: When team members think and collaborate almost as one
person, losing their fears as barriers evaporate, their thinking crosses
borders and performance soars.
Inner peace facilitates optimal learning.
Get your mind and body to a positive place that inspires meaningful
conversations and learning. Inner peace comes from a quiet mind, body,
ego and a positive emotional state; this peace forms the core of hyperlearning. Inner peace allows you to hear opposing ideas, build trust and see
opportunity. With effort and practice, you can gain mastery over your mind
and body. Prevent your mind from wandering by taking deep breaths and
by monitoring your ego and emotions.
“Inner peace comprises four key elements: a quiet ego, a
quiet mind, a quiet body and a positive emotional state.”
Don’t conflate your ideas or beliefs with your identity. Forge your identity
around how well you listen, think, collaborate and learn. This helps you
avoid reacting to triggers; you won’t worry about who likes you, care
about sounding smart or become defensive when others disagree with you.
Your mind and body aren’t separate; they influence each other. Quiet your
mind and ego by practicing mindfulness meditation and appreciating and
extending positive thoughts to others. Slow down, smile more, be kind,
stay humble and don’t approach life or conversations as competitions.
Listen to your body to recognize whether you feel tight or relaxed, anxious
or open. Remain conscious of your body language as it sends positive or
negative signals during conversations. Subconsciously and imperfectly,
your brain works constantly by recognizing – or inventing – patterns and
making predictions to keep you safe. You can change your brain throughout
your life.
“Mindfulness meditation is actually inner peace superfood.”
To make new neural connections – to learn, in other words – you must
prevent your mind from wandering and from making assumptions or
coming to conclusions based on fast, subconscious thinking. In addition to
mindfulness meditation, go for a walk in nature, read or listen to a calming
podcast to aid this process. These activities can take your brain off
automatic mode, so it can focus, and you can think critically about new
ideas or evaluate emotions your brain may conjure that can impede
new learning and the creation of new neural pathways. Keep a journal to
record your state of mind and body and to learn what activities, places,
tasks and communities put you in a quiet, positive place.
A learning mind-set frees you from the fear of making mistakes.
No one can force you to learn. You need to want to adopt a hyper-learning
mind-set, love it and pursue learning out of passion. Make learning
personally meaningful by adopting a growth mind-set that opens you to
learning and frees you from fear of mistakes, being wrong or feeling stupid.
Shed those fears to create, consider opposing ideas, acknowledge what you
don’t know, imagine and think critically – the very abilities you need to
learn and remain essential in the workplace. These are also the very skills
that no machine can develop.
“We underestimate the magnitude of our ignorance, and we
have been educated to avoid making mistakes, which means
we tend not to take risks in exploring what is new or
Consider the teachings of some of history’s wisest people, such as Aristotle,
Plato and Einstein. Plato believed you should be careful not to be swept up
in constant stream of thoughts that dominate your day. He, and other
towering philosophers, discussed the importance of mindfulness, curiosity,
imagination and kindness. They advocated living the Golden Rule,
adaptability, constant reading and continuous learning as the foundations
of a successful life.
What resonates most with you? To forge a hyper-learning mind-set, list 10
to 15 ideas, perceptions or thoughts in your journal that you discovered
during your learning. Look for themes and compare the ideas you
highlighted with the strengths you have and those you seek to develop.
Make learning stick through behavioral change.
Put hyper-learning into practice through your behaviors. Think about how
you learn. For example, do you learn by asking questions, remaining open,
staying humble or keeping focused? Do you prefer quieting the ego,
exploring, collaborating, testing assumptions or examining data and
In your journal, list seven behaviors you find critical to your own learning.
Then ponder the sub-behaviors that drive each of your seven behaviors. For
example, if you chose “collaboration,” you might write “active listening”
beneath. If “courage” appears on your list, add “challenging the status quo,”
and/or “having difficult conversations.”
“Behavior change requires the utmost self-discipline and
daily effort and vigilance.”
List the behaviors required to listen actively or others that impair active
listening. This exercise results in a list of metrics against which to measure
your progress. Reflect on your list and consider how it all comes together to
encourage hyper-learning.
Take Hess’s Hyper-Learning Mini-Diagnostic at: https://www.edhess.org/
blog/hyper-learning-mini-diagnostic. Analyze your results per the site
instructions to gain further insight into your mind-set and areas in which
you might improve. Re-create your story around your identity and what you
must do to become a hyper-learner. Consider your fears and concerns and
build your own business case for investing the time change demands.
Choose one of your seven key behaviors – with its sub-behaviors – and
begin working on it. Enlist a friend to keep you on track, measure your
progress and ask experts for advice.
Hyper-learning demands different ways of working.
Even if you and the people on your team adopt the inner peace mind-set
and behaviors necessary for hyper-learning, you all will not achieve
optimal learning unless your work environment nurtures it. Unfortunately,
most organizations still maintain outdated management practices based on
fear and hierarchies. Leaders pretend to know it all, control and
micromanage. Such environments stifle hyper-learning. Firms must instead
emphasize collaboration, psychological safety, shared authority, autonomy,
diversity, caring, trust, emotional intelligence and purpose.
“Overbearing, all-knowing, elitist leaders will be severely
challenged under the New Way of Working.”
Seek to create a work environment that is a humanistic, “idea meritocracy”
to which people bring their whole selves, engage with others warmly and
have confidence in their leaders’ emotional intelligence. Employees must
believe in their leaders’ commitment to enable, engage, support and serve
them. Design people’s work in accordance with their
strengths. Develop learning plans for everyone and create a safe
environment for even the most junior people to share ideas, concerns and
recommendations. Leverage the pillars of human motivation: autonomy,
relatedness and mastery. Know your people’s strengths, weaknesses and
aspirations. Don’t fear uncertainty and complexity; by example, encourage
your team to embrace them.
Promote trust, collaboration and communication within your
People need connections at work to find meaning and thrive. Make work
about joy, not dread. People can’t learn alone, and their best thinking
occurs with others. Small, close and diverse teams of people who care about
each other and who share a common purpose, values and goals gain from
each other’s candor, openness, mutual respect and unique perspectives.
They increase their abilities through trust and a collegial environment.
Positivity boosts people physically and mentally through the release
of oxytocin, which engenders feelings of warmth and deeper connections –
which in turn generate a virtuous cycle by triggering the release of more
oxytocin. This cycle causes feelings of competitiveness to morph into
feelings of safety, caring and the pursuit of mutual success.
In meetings, smile, say positive things and ask questions about people’s
weekends, kids, travels and activities. Consider what makes you care about
other people and what they do that makes you feel they care for you.
Leverage diversity and ensure your team is at least 50% female, because
women prove more proficient at collaboration and collegiality than men.
“High-performance teams have a specific purpose that every
team member believes in and is committed to achieving.”
As the digital age accelerates, teams must coalesce, trust and collaborate.
Many teams cannot, which impairs their effectiveness. Consider the best
teams you’ve been a part of. What made them great? How did people
behave and how did you feel? How can you replicate those activities and
feelings within your teams?
Conversations drive connections and connections bring meaning. Help
people build the necessary skills for meaningful conversations. Respect
each team member’s uniqueness and perspective. Discourage telling;
encourage asking. Meaningful and productive conversations happen in
teams whose members ask: What’s missing? What alternatives exist? What
data do we need? Which experiments should we run? Who else should we
consult? What do you think? How do you feel?
About the Author
Edward D. Hess is Professor Emeritus of Business Administration,
Darden School of Business, University of Virginia. He is the author of 13
books, including Humility Is the New Smart, Learn or Die and Smart
So good they can’t ignore
you / Cal Newport
Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science and frequent
author, discredits the popular myth that following your passion will lead
automatically to a successful, fulfilling career. He suggests that developing
valuable skills and becoming “so good they can’t ignore you” is far more
effective. He says pursuing your heart’s desire can lead to disappointment,
including a lack of jobs in your chosen field and an underdeveloped skill set.
He draws on the success of such notables as Steve Jobs, who perfected his
skills as part of his relentless efforts to refine his craft. Newport frequently
revisits the theme that nothing replaces hard work and persistence. He
believes that if you become great at what you do, passion will follow. Using
case studies, he highlights ways to focus your professional efforts and to
create a meaningful career by working toward a mission. getAbstract
recommends his advice to anyone intent on developing the right skills for
career advancement.
Workers may pursue their passions in hopes of success. Alas, failure
often ensues.
You do not need passion to find happiness at work; you do need an
opportunity to gain the crucial “career capital” of “rare and valuable”
The longer you do your job, the more likely you are to excel at it and
to develop good relationships with your colleagues, both factors that
contribute to job satisfaction.
Follow four rules in the quest for work you will love:
First, “don’t follow your passion.” Instead, take a job with growth
opportunity where you can develop unique skills that are valuable in
the market.
Second, become “so good they can’t ignore you.” Don’t settle for being
good enough; constantly push yourself to learn new skills and to
Third, consider a nontraditional route, such as refusing a promotion
to gain lateral experience or taking an internship.
Fourth, “think small, act big.” Take incremental steps to achieve your
You will become more engaged at work if you gain more control.
Before engaging in a new venture, figure out what the market will pay
for it.
Be So Good
To become “so good” at your job that no one can ignore you, follow a simple
program based on common sense and hard work. The program involves
adhering to only four rules, but hewing to them with energy and focus.
“Rule 1: Don’t Follow Your Passion”
At some point in life, many people seriously consider quitting their jobs and
pursuing careers that fulfill their passions. Scholars and writers have
influenced generations of workers by encouraging them to pursue their
passions and promising that success will automatically result.
“Most jobs don’t offer their employees great creativity,
impact or control over what they do and how they do it.”
Alas, this illusion underestimates the value of hard work and neglects the
importance of developing a valuable skill set. The reality of following your
dreams rarely aligns with the fantasy. It can lead to “chronic job-hopping”
and self-doubt.
Common wisdom for several generations – beginning with the baby
boomers – taught members of the workforce that pursuing your passion
equates to success because you will be doing what you love to do. “Passioncentric” generations sought their dream jobs without understanding how to
turn their visions into reality. However, Steve Jobs, for one, turned that
truism on its head. Jobs identified his skill set and made a prosperous
career out of his abilities rather than his passions.
“Working right trumps finding the right work.”
Workplace longevity is directly related to happiness: The longer you do your
job, the more likely you are to become excellent at it, which greatly
influences whether you enjoy what you do. Holding a job for a long time
offers a greater likelihood that you’ll develop relationships with your coworkers, another contributing factor to loving your work. Having control
and feeling competent, both of which come with time, also help determine
job satisfaction. This discredits the theory that happiness at work results
from following a pre-existing passion. Gaining expertise through practice
while developing relevant skills fuels passion for your work.
“How can we follow our passions if we don’t have any
relevant passions to follow?”
Many authors – such as Richard Bolles of What Color Is Your Parachute?
fame – encouraged generations of young people to identify their passions
and seek related employment. This caused countless individuals to doubt
their choices, frequently switch jobs and spend years unhappy in their
professional lives.
“Become good at something rare and valuable, and then
invest the career capital this generates into the type of traits
that make a job great.”
Many individuals might think of their ideal job but lack the capital and
skills to turn such prophecies into fulfilling careers. Myriad entrepreneurs
attempt to open their own restaurants or exercise studios, for example, and
fail because they lack the skills to run a business. This rule does have
exceptions. Athletes and musicians who have always loved their sport or
instrument can turn their pre-existing passions into successful careers. But
this is not the norm. Even those with rare talent invest years of disciplined
hard work into developing skills.
Rule 2: “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You”
People who want to follow their dreams often crave independence and
creativity, but gaining that level of autonomy takes hard work and sacrifice.
Employees rarely receive license to do what they want, especially when
starting out. Job freedom often comes only at the highest levels and then to
those who have developed their skills and proven that they can lead. To
achieve such autonomy, you must first become so adept at your work that
those who promote employees and foster their growth cannot ignore your
achievements or hamper your well-deserved advancement.
“When deciding whether to follow an appealing pursuit that
will introduce more control into your work life, seek evidence
of whether people are willing to pay for it.”
Individuals generally think about work in one of two ways: the “passion
mind-set” and the “craftsman mind-set.” The passion mind-set focuses not
on what the world offers you, but on what you offer the world. This attitude
is counter-productive because it leads you to think of your job only in terms
of what you don’t like about it. This is particularly hard if you are still in an
entry-level position, which, by definition, isn’t “filled with challenging
projects and autonomy.” Identifying what you truly love can be difficult.
Workers who adopt this mind-set make themselves vulnerable to being
unhappy with their careers over the long-term.
“If you want to identify a mission for your working life...you
must first get to the cutting edge – the only place where these
missions become visible.”
The craftsman mind-set focuses on “what you can offer the world” and
assumes that hard work leads to success. Artisans are realistic about
competition. They know that they must concentrate on output and quality.
They understand that even if their job doesn’t link directly to a pre-existing
passion, becoming good at it lays the foundation for captivating work.
When you undertake the craftsman mind-set, you operate with the
understanding that if you become great at your work, people will notice. If
you produce work of excellent quality – which builds “career capital,”
meaning “rare and valuable” skills – you will position yourself to evolve
“Once you have the capital required to identify a mission, you
must still figure out how to put the mission into practice.”
Craftspeople seek feedback and take suggestions constructively. Acquiring
career capital isn’t always glamorous. It might mean furthering your
education and networking ceaselessly. For example, if you are interested in
opening your own organic farm or winery, you may have to harvest your
own crops or pursue an advanced degree in horticulture. Unique, valuable
skills are the most precious career capital. As a craftsperson, you should be
highly motivated and persistent about achieving your goals through
practice. Focus on output and improvement using “deliberate practice.”
Recognize that hard work is the essential ingredient. Become more effective
by documenting how you spend your time and by setting workday goals. If
you must spend your days dealing with meetings, conference calls and work
assignments, consider allocating only one hour a day to answering emails,
so you can complete your other tasks more efficiently.
Time for a Change
Even if you are following your passion, never stay at a job you find
miserable. To determine if you should seek a new career, answer three
telltale questions: Do you lack opportunity to develop your skill set? Do you
find your work useless or even harmful? Do you hate what you’re doing? If
you answered yes to one or more of these questions, the time for a change
has arrived.
“The more rare and valuable skills you have to offer, the
more interesting opportunities will become available.”
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell examines the habits of successful
people in his book, Outliers. He asserts that success does not rely on natural
talent alone, but depends more on combining work and talent with being in
the right place at the right time to gain the most practice. Some theorists
assert that becoming a “grand master” at your work requires practicing and
developing your skills for at least 10 years. Many successful actors, for
example, started working on their craft as young children. Top scholars
rarely achieve success based solely on talent or intelligence. Musicians,
doctors and even writers must practice a long time to succeed.
“Giving people more control over what they do and how they
do it increases their happiness, engagement and sense of
People often hit a wall or a “performance plateau” in their professional lives
because they do not improve their skill sets. Avoid this problem by
identifying the skills that you need to refine. Learning never stops. Don’t
settle for being good enough; constantly push yourself to improve.
Acknowledge that becoming great takes deliberate practice, time and effort.
“People who feel like their careers truly matter are more
satisfied with their working lives.”
The type of market you work in also can greatly influence your career. In a
“winner-take-all market” you may be competing with many other people for
the same career capital. For example, television writers work in a winnertake-all market by competing to have their scripts considered. An “auction
market” offers more options. Bloggers work in an auction market; they have
a limitless platform and endless subject areas to pursue.
Rule 3: “Turn Down a Promotion”
You will become more engaged at work if you gain more control over your
job. But your company won’t give you any independence if you lack valuable
skills. Acquiring the relevant skills is the road to professional freedom. Once
you gain expertise in your field, you will be able to take risks because you
will be more valuable to your employer. When you have sufficient career
capital, you’ll have more flexibility about deciding how to invest your time.
Don’t expect to earn professional freedom until you have so much
experience that your employer deems you too valuable to lose. Your
employers will support your efforts – particularly along less-traditional
paths – if they perceive you as a valuable asset. So prove your skill and
dedication before asking your boss if you can work part-time while you
pursue an advanced degree, for example.
“A lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice...again and
again ends up explaining excellence.”
If you make nontraditional career decisions, expect skepticism and wellmeant advice from your friends, family and colleagues, especially if, say,
you reject a promotion to go back to school, take a lower position to build
career capital or turn down a paying position for an internship that provides
great experience. You will encounter resistance if your methods are
unorthodox. Others may think that you are moving backward, but you will
know that building career capital sets you up for long-term success. Avoid
the trap of investing your time in the wrong pursuit. Choose a career that
gives you opportunities to practice your current skills and to learn and
grow. Consider “what people are willing to pay for.” Just because you see a
career option as valuable doesn’t mean that others do. Consider the bottom
line before you embark on any professional venture.
Rule 4: “Think Small, Act Big”
Having a calling makes even hard work meaningful, rewarding and
worthwhile. Know the value of your mission. Pursuing it can be the engine
of building a career you love, but first you must ensure that you have the
right skills and capital. The challenge lies in creating a viable job that
matches your ambition. Study the most current research as a guideline to
what is possible in your desired field. Approach your work methodically.
Determine how to carry out your mission. Rule out trying to discover the
next big thing. Focus instead on the “adjacent possible,” the next step
beyond what you’ve already achieved.
“If you’re not in control of your career, it can chew you up
and spit you out.”
Beginning with a big idea is a common mistake. Scientists working on
finding a vaccine don’t start from scratch; they build on the most up-to-date
research. Work on smaller ideas and let your mission or big idea take shape.
Make “little bets” – that is, explore your area of interest without committing
to a big idea that may fail. Small chances lead to small successes and
failures, which lead you to your bigger mission. Tackle several minor
projects, rather than one large project. Make sure other people will see your
work as valuable. To determine if your project is worthwhile, ask the crucial
question: Will others pay for the resulting goods or services?
“Think about skill acquisition like a freight train: Getting it
started requires a huge application of effort, but changing its
track once it’s moving is easy.”
Your mission must capture a cause that others care about. Choose an
undertaking that interests people and garners attention. Aim to make your
product or project remarkable. Find an appropriate setting to launch your
endeavor to give it maximum exposure.
The Real World
In most cases, people’s careers do not align with their passions. Don’t take a
job because you are passionate about it. Take a job with growth opportunity
where you can develop unique skills that are valuable in today’s market.
You do not need a calling to find happiness at work, but you do need an
opportunity to gain career capital. Working hard in your pursuit of this
career capital is the one reliable constant. Push yourself to become better so
you don’t stagnate on your career path. Set concrete goals, allocate your
time to tasks that matter and keep records of your accomplishments. Refine
your skill set and explore new experiences. Take on projects that let you
enhance your performance. Always ask yourself how you can work better.
Seek feedback about how you can improve and follow the advice.
Putting a mission at the epicenter of your work lets you cultivate a career
you love, once you ensure that you have the skills and “financial viability” to
pursue it. Do your research, and let the next step “beyond the cutting edge”
be your guide. Lasting happiness in your career depends on how you
approach your work. Acknowledge that hard work has no substitute and
that the market may not offer a job that matches your pre-existing passion.
Don’t be afraid to use others’ experiences as stepping-stones on your
journey. Practice your craft, refine your skills and become so good that you
are impossible to ignore.
About the Author
Cal Newport is an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown
University in Washington, DC. He also wrote How to Become a Straight-A
Student, How to Be a High School Superstar and How to Win at College.
His blog, Study Hacks, discusses his efforts to “decode patterns of success.”
Flow /Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi
Vest in Life
by David Meyer
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s now 30-year-old essay on
achieving flow and awareness remains timeless and
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, gained fame and an
international reputation from the central concept in this
book. In this seminal, influential, perennially bestselling treatise, Csikszentmihalyi captures one of the deepest
personal needs of contemporary people: making progress in
their quest for harmony or, in his crystal-clear term, achieving
Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s research-based essay on the
nature of human consciousness and the obstacles people put
in its path, first appeared, incredibly, in 1990 – but his
presentation reads as if it were written tomorrow.
Csikszentmihalyi, the Davidson Professor of Psychology and
Management at Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker
School of Management and director of its Quality of Life
Research Center, cites current trends in self-obsession, selfhealing and the search for transcendence. Attitude is
everything, according to his insightful depiction of the path to
Three decades ago, he recognized that folks want to feel better
about themselves and always have. The most daunting
obstacle, the author reveals, is what goes on in your head.
We do not understand what happiness is any better
than Aristotle did, and as for learning how to attain
that blessed condition, one could argue that we have
made no progress at all.
Newsweek wrote that Csikszentmihalyi “rethinks what
motivates people.” You might be amused to read The New
York Review of Books 30-year-old summary: “Flow is
important….The way to happiness lies not in mindless
hedonism, but in mindful challenge.” This notion has become
such a part of common wisdom that today few would bother
stating it aloud.
Csikszentmihalyi assures you that your internal balance,
strength and adaptability can enable you to cope with
most struggles, including distracted or self-destructive inner
voices and their outer manifestations. As he stresses in his
introduction, Flow isn’t a guide to achieving happiness. It’s a
description of how people attain flow, itself – deep,
concentrated and pleasurable immersion in an activity – and
the mental, emotional and physical methods they employed.
Integrity of the Self
Eventually, Csikszentmihalyi says flat out, no matter your
wealth, health, fame or satisfaction, life won’t play out the way
you want. Disappointment, frustration and tragedy are
universal. Your integrity derives from your ability to turn
harmful chance into a positive way forward. You can’t
transform negative events through denial, regression, drugs or
alcohol, though you may try – and try again. Csikszentmihalyi
insists that, instead, you need courage, resilience,
perseverance and self-aware coping.
How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from
living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind
filters and interprets everyday experiences.
Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony,
not on the controls we are able to exert over the
great forces of the universe.
The author believes that if you grow up with familial love and
a strong community, your coping skills will flourish. If not,
they may wither. If you can cope, you may still feel crushing
sadness, but, he discloses, it shouldn’t warp your fundamental
view of the world or your identity.
Unselfconscious Self-assurance
Csikszentmihalyi cites unselfconscious self-assurance as a tool
for turning desperate moments into a positive flow activity. He
discusses studies revealing that people who successfully coped
with unimaginable stress – for example, those marooned in
the Arctic or imprisoned in a concentration camp – never
doubted that they controlled their own destinies.
Surprisingly, given his academic credentials and bottomless
research, Csikszentmihalyi’s anonymous case studies, while
evocative, turn out to be less compelling than his personal
If you constantly look inward and value inner experience over
engaging the world, Csikszentmihalyi teaches, your ego will
leech away your precious psychic energy. Simply put, he
believes the less you think about yourself, the greater your
resilience. The author argues that if you examine and process
your feelings when under threat or experiencing trauma, you
will cope poorly. Life doesn’t stop, Csikszentmihalyi asserts, so
you must engage.
An individual can experience only so much.
Therefore, the information we allow into
consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in
fact, what determines the content and quality of life.
The author emphasizes that every situation, no matter how
tragic, offers growth potential, and he encourages you to open
yourself to unexpected opportunities. He suggests exercises
you can use to expand your outlook and your ability to
synthesize discord into harmony. For instance, he
recommends setting goals to gain control over your life,
vesting in whatever you do – even washing dishes –
by concentrating on every task and savoring each moment of
your life.
Csikszentmihalyi’s other works, all profound yet readable
studies of psychological conditions relating to
creativity, include Beyond Boredom and
Anxiety; Creativity and – as co-author – The Creative
Vision; The Meaning of Things; and Being Adolescent. Other
enriching works on achieving transcendental states of
performance include Steven Kotler’s The Art of
Impossible and James Clear’s Atomic Habits.
Csikszentmihalyi seems to have – 30 years ago –
unintentionally launched the industrialization and mass
marketing of many contemporary self-reflective industries:
martial arts, meditation, anger management, fulfillment
classes, mindfulness, and so on. He lyrically, soberly dissects
ideal states of psychological and spiritual harmony with an
academic’s eye for detail and a poet’s understanding of human
Unlimited memory
Competitive memory champions can perform such feats of recollection
as reciting the first 10,000 digits of pi. That might not seem useful for
everyday life, but the competitors’ techniques prove applicable to any
information: stock prices, people’s names, statistics, and more. Kevin
Horsley, an International Grandmaster of Memory, shows how to
remember vast amounts of information through simple techniques,
such as turning abstract concepts into images and stories. In this
quick, easy read, Horsley outlines memory techniques and provides
motivation for readers with little confidence in their power of recall.
Whether you’re in business, education, politics, science or the arts, you
can benefit from Horsley’s advice.
A good memory benefits every aspect of your life.
To remember, learn to concentrate.
A strong memory depends on creativity and connection.
Use objects and places as memory aids.
Link your images in a narrative.
Create mental “pegs” for what you want to remember.
If you struggle to remember names, the culprit might not be your
To remember numbers, make the abstract concrete.
Regular reviews keep memories strong.
A good memory bene ts every aspect of your life.
Imagine being able to remember the name of everyone you meet – or
to make business presentations without cumbersome notes by
instantly remembering facts and statistics.
Improving your memory skills pays dividends: With instant access to
more information, you make better decisions. You will discover useful
connections among people, events and facts. And you will
improve your learning skills, because learning builds on the
foundation of your previous knowledge.
“When you improve your memory, you improve
Improving your memory requires learning new ways of thinking about
information and practicing these techniques until they become second
nature. People utilize these methods to pull off such feats as, for
example, memorizing the complete Oxford English Dictionary. These
techniques have the power to help you access whatever you need to
remember in your daily life.
To remember, learn to concentrate.
To improve your memory, you need to focus and direct your attention.
But like many people today, you may not have much opportunity to
practice the art of concentration. Modern life is full of distractions –
phone messages, emails, to-do lists – all vying for a fraction of your
attention. You may feel your awareness flipping as if through channels
on a television. You rarely stop to focus on any one option.
As a result, most people’s minds remain in an almost constant state of
agitation. To concentrate, you need a calm mind, one that can bring its
full attention to one thing at a time.
“We live in an activity illusion and think that busyness’ is
equal to good business, but it’s often just procrastination
in disguise.”
Fortunately, you can improve your concentration with practice.
Sharpen your focus with the following steps:
Examine your self-talk – Many people expend considerable
energy chastising themselves for things they do wrong. This
negative “inner voice” stirs conflict in the mind and negates the
calm you need for concentration. Instead of upbraiding yourself
for failing to notice where you parked your
car, acknowledge situations in which you did pay attention.
Don’t multitask – True multitasking is impossible: Your mind
can only focus on one thing at a time. When you attempt to
multitask, you rapidly shift your focus through a sequence of
tasks, giving minimal attention to each. You can’t produce your
best work this way. Multitasking undermines your productivity,
creativity and decision-making. Learn to focus your attention on
one activity at a time, and you will work more efficiently.
Actively engage with information – Boost your
concentration and increase your retention by keeping in mind
why you are examining each bit of information, and what exactly
you want to gain from it. You will remember information that
interests you. Find ways to connect even the blandest material
with your interests and goals.
A strong memory depends on creativity and connection.
To improve your memory, enlist your imagination. Trying to retain a
list of cities or foreign vocabulary words through rote memorization –
to jam them into your brain – proves inefficient because it involves
only one sense (sound). To help information stick in your
mind, connect it with images and stories, because that is what the
human mind finds most engaging.
To remember an item, turn it into an image and embed that image in a
brief story. For example, if you want to recall that the Italian word for
chicken is pollo, turn pollo into an image: It sounds something like
“polo,” so picture a polo match. To associate it with chicken, imagine a
polo match in which the players use a chicken instead of a ball.
“People that learn quickly or have a so-called
photographic memory apply creativity to everything they
To create “sticky” imagery, use the following principles, which you can
remember with the mnemonic “SEE”:
1. Senses – You use all your senses, and hence more areas of your
brain, when you construct an image. Imagine how the image
looks and how it might smell, what sounds it might make, how it
feels to the touch, etc.
2. Exaggeration – Absurd and funny images stick more readily in
your mind. Your image doesn’t need to make logical sense. It
needs to be memorable.
3. Energize – Bring the image to life by including action,
especially illogical or silly action. To remember that Canberra is
the capital of Australia, for example, picture a kangaroo –
symbolizing Australia – enjoying a “can” of “berries.”
“Which is easier to remember: a strawberry that is
normal size, or one the size of a house?”
Images prove particularly useful for memorizing scientific terms and
other abstract words. Break the word into parts and use similarsounding words that conjure up images. For example, remember
“hydrogen” by turning its parts into the more concrete words
“hydrant” and “gin.” Then imagine a fire hydrant sipping a glass of gin.
Use objects and places as memory aids.
Turn your car, your body or your home into an imaginary repository
for terms or concepts you want to remember. This method requires
practice, but once you master it, it’s easy and effective. Embrace these
approaches to creating repositories:
Turn your car into a memory storehouse – This method
works because you connect new information with an object that
is already in your memory. For example, use your car to
remember the seven principles from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People. Pick out seven features of your car, such
as the front bumper, hood, windshield or rear tire. Create an
image for each of the seven habits and place one image on each of
the features you chose. For example, for Habit 1, “be proactive,”
picture a “bee” who is a “pro” golfer, standing on the front
bumper, about to take a shot. Choose a mental route around your
car – front to back, or clockwise – so you encounter the objects in
order. Use this method with buses or airplanes, or even your own
Take a journey you’ll remember – Store information as you
mentally make your way through a building that you know well,
such as your home. For example, use your kitchen to store the
first three of the 12 success principles in John C. Maxwell’s
Today Matters. Pick out three objects in the kitchen, such as the
dishwasher, refrigerator and stove. Store the first principle,
“attitude,” in the dishwasher. Imagine someone with a poor
attitude getting in the machine and emerging with a bright new
outlook. Next, picture the principle “priorities” as a to-do list on
your refrigerator. Store the principle of “health” on your stove:
Use apples as a symbol of health, and imagine a buff person
cooking applesauce on the stove.
“Review[ing] the list backward…makes the images even
clearer for your memory.”
Use this method with any building or route you know well. This gives
you an almost unlimited supply of memory storage space.
Link your images in a narrative.
To memorize an ordered list, come up with memorable images for
each item, and link them in a story. The story provides a framework for
recalling the order of your images. It provides an extra memory boost
because using your imagination like this sparks your interest in the
“A whole syllabus or textbook can be condensed into a
ridiculous story.”
Here’s an image story that helps you remember the first three US
presidents: Imagine you are “washing” a “tin” (Washington), when it
begins to grow an “Adam’s apple” (Adams), which a “chef” and “her
son” (Jefferson) grab hold of. You can extend this ludicrous story to
memorize all the presidents.
Create mental “pegs” for what you want to remember.
In a memory-peg system, associate the item you want to remember
with something already in your long-term memory. This technique
eases transferring the new item from your short-term to your longterm memory. In the 17th century, Henry Herdson devised a simple
but potent version, “rhyming pegs.” To use his method, pick a word
that rhymes with each of the single digits from zero to nine, such as
one-bun, two-shoe, three-tree, and so on.
“You can use any list that is already in your long-term
memory to create all kinds of new peg lists.”
To memorize author Tony Robbins’s “10 emotions of power,” for
example, create an image for each item that connects it to your
rhyming peg. First on Robbins’s list is “love and warmth.” Assign the
rhyming peg “bun” to the number one, then create an image for love
and warmth that links to bun. For example, you could imagine a warm
bun baked in the shape of a heart – to symbolize love.
If you struggle to remember names, the culprit might not
be your memory.
Many people complain they have a poor memory for names, but they
are wrong. Their memories are fine – they simply lack a good strategy
to recall them. Follow these steps:
Concentrate – Listen carefully when a person says his or her
name. If you aren’t sure you heard it right, ask him or her to
repeat it. Try to avoid getting caught up in thoughts about
yourself in social situations – worrying about the impression you
make or what you should say next. Shift your focus to cultivate an
interest in the person in front of you. When you take an interest
in something, you have an easier time remembering it.
Invent an image – Most people have much better memories for
visual stimuli than for sounds. That’s why you more readily
remember faces than names. Use the sounds of a name to create
a memorable image, as you did when memorizing a list of terms.
Make a connection – Mentally compare the new person to
someone you know or to someone famous with the same name.
Or link the name to a distinct feature of the person. For instance,
if you meet someone named Janice who has notable blue eyes,
turn the name Janice into “chain ice,” and imagine a chain of ice
shooting from her eyes. Or, connect a person’s name with the
place where you met. If you meet a woman named Rose at a
buffet, create a mental image of a buffet table with a large rose on
Use the name – Repetition will reinforce all the other
strategies, so say the person’s name frequently in conversation.
You might talk about his or her name – if the person has a
foreign name, for example, ask what it means.
To remember numbers, make the abstract concrete.
A knack for remembering numbers is highly useful. Imagine the
benefits of always having sports statistics, stock prices and dates at
Memory champions memorize long strings of random numbers
because they use strategies that imbue an abstract sequence with
meaning. In the 17th century, Stanislaus Mink von Wennshein
invented a system, still popular with memory competitors today, that
turns numbers into letters you can use to construct words. This system
takes practice to master, but is extremely powerful.
In this system, associate each of the digits zero through nine with
Zero equals the S or Z sounds. Remember this by visualizing the
zero as a wheel that makes a “hissing” sound as it turns.
• One equals the T or D sounds. The numeral looks somewhat
similar to a T.
• Two equals the N sound. Visualize the N as a sideways two.
• Three equals the M sound, because the M looks like a sideways
And so on.
In this system, the vowels and the letters W, H and Y have no numeric
value. Use them as fillers in the words you create.
“There is no magic when it comes to memory
improvement; there is only management.”
To remember, for example, the number 1,310: The letter equivalents
for this number sequence are T, M, T and S. Turn TMTS into a word by
adding the filler letters O, A and E. The result: TOMATOES. You
remember words more easily than you remember a
number. Strengthen this memory’s stickiness with a mental image
linking 1,310 and TOMATOES.
Regular reviews keep memories strong.
When you memorize new information, repeat it 10 minutes later,
forward and backward. Repeat the exercise in an hour, then a day
later, and then at increasingly longer intervals. At each interval, ensure
that your images remain distinct. Perform a practice recitation. When
you remember information after a three-month interval, you will
probably never forget it.
About the Author
Professional speaker Kevin Horsley is a World Memory
Championship medalist who has won the title of International
Grandmaster of Memory.
5% More
Most people want to be wealthier, smarter, stronger, faster, healthier and
happier. To that end, marketer and entrepreneur Michael Alden discusses
how putting forth only 5% more effort in every area can create lasting
change toward achieving your goals. He warns that, often, people either
don’t act, or they try to grow by leaps and bounds instead of taking smaller,
incremental steps. But, Alden assures you, putting in a little more effort can
lead to big results. He constantly refers to himself and his associates as
examples of how to succeed in various areas, so the self-promotion can
become a little tiresome, but getAbstract believes it shouldn’t detract from
his overall, helpful and optimistic message: putting in a little effort can lead
to big results.
To succeed, put just 5% more effort into any aspect of your life you
want to change.
Many people fail to achieve their goals because they’re dreamers
instead of doers.
Instead of attempting to make huge strides, embrace small,
incremental steps toward change.
Students who give 5% more effort at school can improve their college
entry test scores.
Wealthy people make their money work for them instead of working
for money.
Become “stronger and faster” by increasing your physical fitness
routine by 5%.
Be happier by enjoying the little things and trying to see life through a
child’s eyes.
Give 5% more to others, including your boss, co-workers, spouse and
Break bad habits or addictions by decreasing your consumption by 5%
a day.
To get 5% more results, hold yourself accountable.
Becoming 5% More Motivated
Many people want a better life, but they fail to improve their lot due to a
variety of reasons, such as unrealistic expectations or lack of action. They
dream, but they don’t act. Successful people are doers. Perhaps you are a
200-pound man who wants to lose 5% of your overall body weight. If your
usual workout routine is 30 minutes a day, three times a week, just add 5%
more minutes to your workout and increase your intensity by 5%. If you’re
in a spinning class, “go 5% harder for 5% more of the time.” You might not
actually lose 5% of your body weight, but you’ll be actively working toward
your goal. Reduce your caloric intake by 5%, and you will lose weight.
“Almost everybody wants more. More happiness, better
health, more financial stability, more discipline and just a
better life.”
To get 5% more results, hold yourself accountable. Start with your daily
activities. Be honest with yourself about what you want to accomplish.
Write down your daily and weekly goals. If you lead a team, write down
daily and weekly goals for your team. Show your team members the
numbers so they understand their accomplishments and can make
incremental adjustments. Be realistic. Some managers set lofty goals and
get upset when employees don’t achieve them. Ideally, individuals should
set their own sales goals.
Making 5% More Money
When author Michael Alden sold cars before he went to law school, he
worked with Brian, who was a great salesman. Brian loved selling cars.
Brian sold five cars during the course of one summer day, yet he greeted a
late customer enthusiastically. Alden reminded Brian he’d already sold five
cars. Brian replied that he always told himself he just wanted to sell one car.
And when he sold that one, he wanted to sell one more.
“You have to start somewhere. There is value in momentum
and consistency.”
That customer came back and bought a car from Brian the next day. Brian
pushed Alden to succeed. Alden sold 15 cars in a month, but Brian was
ahead of him at 17. Brian kept asking Alden if he could work a little harder.
Alden greeted more customers, which netted more sales. He sold 22 cars
that month, his best ever (top salespeople usually sell at least 20 cars a
month). From that point on, Alden put forth a little more effort and became
a top salesman.
“No matter how big…a task you have in front of you, the best
way to approach it is one small step at a time.”
Alden’s mother made about $19,000 a year at a full-time job while raising
him and his brother. To make ends meet, she delivered newspapers on the
weekends, starting early in the morning. It was hard, but that extra work
increased her income by 30%.
In 2014, the US Census Bureau determined that a family of four making
$24,091 is living in poverty. The US Department of Agriculture reports that
such a family’s weekly food costs would run from $150 to $298, so food
alone would take half their weekly income before taxes. What if that same
family could make 5% more? How much help would another
$1,200 represent? What if they could save that extra money to position
themselves better for the future?
“We have small wins and small losses every day. Recognize
them for what they are – micro moments for the macro
moments of your life.”
In the United Sates, statistically, poor people are likely to stay poor. Few
poor people know how to lift themselves out of poverty. Saving in small
increments would allow them to meet modest goals, and earning even 5%
more could eventually put them on a more secure path.
Being 5% Smarter
College graduates make more money over their lifetimes than high school
graduates. A small difference in a high school student’s GPA or SAT scores
often makes a big difference in his or her life. A higher score can lead to
college admission and possible scholarships to pay for tuition.
“You can increase your productivity in virtually every aspect
of your life by just 5%, and it will have long-term and lifechanging benefits.”
For example, a student with a 1240 SAT score (verbal and math) and a
3.85 GPA hits the basic requirements to qualify for a Presidential
Scholarship at the University of Oregon. If a student with a pre-SAT score of
1200 and a GPA of 3.7 could increase his or her scores by 5%, that would
result in a 1260 SAT score and 3.89 GPA – enough to qualify for the
scholarship. These increases can occur only over time – not in the last
semester of the student’s senior year.
“Many times, you will fall short of your goals. You will
suffer…temporary defeats. These are, essentially, lost battles
during the war, but you never lose the war unless you
In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough discusses what makes children
successful beyond academics. He reports that “small gains and small
advances” help children make progress. Teaching a child about character
traits such as “integrity, grit, discipline and empathy” spurs the child’s
development. You can improve your child’s life by putting 5% more time
into parenting.
“Stronger, Faster, Healthier and Happier”
Expend a little more effort on your physical fitness routine to become
stronger and faster. Five percent can mean the difference between good and
great results, even for Olympic athletes. Usain Bolt is the world record
holder in the 100-meter dash. His time in 2009 was 9.58, but if you
compare this time with his worst time of 10.03 in 2007, the difference is
just under 5%.
“Changing your habits can be extremely challenging,
especially if they are deep-rooted, longstanding habits. But
start by making small changes.”
Asking Bolt, a gifted athlete, to get faster and to decrease his time by 10%
sets an impossible goal. Changing his time by 5% proved doable, and may
become the record he strives to beat. Olympians and other elite athletes
train all day; their sport is their “job.” But even though average people can’t
spend all day at the gym, they can still become 5% stronger or faster.
“By doing a little more than what is expected…you are
making your company more money, and then, ultimately,
you will be pocketing more money yourself.”
Mike, a member of Alden’s gym, is about five-foot-seven. He weighed about
230 pounds until he lost a dramatic amount of weight. Alden asked for his
secret. Mike said he stopped drinking soda and eating ice cream, and he cut
back on bread. These small changes in his routine eventually led to a 50pound weight loss.
Relieve Your Stress by 5%
You can use stress relief tactics, such as massage or meditation, to improve
your health and wellness. Meditation lowers the body’s level of cortisol, the
stress hormone. Spending 20 minutes of your day meditating or staying
quiet reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, stress, addiction, and more.
“Close your e-mail while working at your desk, and check it
once an hour. This may not work for all office environments,
but for most it should…you will actually become more
efficient, less stressed and definitely happier.”
A 2010 study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that using
a mindfulness technique for 20 minutes a day reaped positive results after
only four days of practice. In this study, 49 volunteers split into two groups
to take tests on their cognitive functions. One group meditated while the
other group listened to someone read aloud. In one test, the meditation
group outperformed the group that didn’t meditate by a factor of 10.
“The guys on the team who got the most attention were the
ones who, at the end of the day, worked harder.”
Many people think they’d be happier if they had more money or
possessions, but they don’t know when to quit pushing. Some use drugs or
alcohol to cope with their unhappiness. But your “brain actually doesn’t
separate or care where the pleasure comes from.” You can gain a sense of
gladness from simple things like completing a project at work or cleaning
the house. Appreciate daily smaller joys in life, the “5% moments.”
“Appreciate everything you have just a little bit more, from
your family all the way down to the ground you walk on.”
The vice president of a large software company had to choose between two
staff software engineers who applied for the same management position.
They had similar qualifications. Both graduated from prestigious colleges,
held master’s degrees and had a strong work ethic. They both often arrived
early and stayed late at work. But only one took advantage of the company’s
free management training course, which ran two hours a night for six
weeks. The engineer who put in that extra 5% got the job.
Give 5% More to Your Kids
Give 5% more to your children by encouraging them to stay curious and
excited and by reading to them. A child’s brain is most malleable up until
age five. Reading aloud to your kids helps them develop strong neural
pathways quickly. It’s one of the best things you can do with your children.
Start early and read to them often.
“He said to me, ‘Every artist is a dreamer.’ I said all of them
are broke. The successful ones have vision. They don’t dream.
They have a vision and set goals and objectives.”
In 1989, Brian Gallagher and Dr. Jean Ciborowski Fahey founded Reach
Out and Read, which distributes thousands of books and encourages
pediatricians to stress the importance of reading. Educators often suggest
having children read 20 minutes daily. That’s barely 1.5% of the total
minutes in a day. Give that advantage to your kids by reading to them. It
will help them in “reading comprehension, testing, social skills,
communication skills and, ultimately, life skills.”
“A dream without a plan is just a dream.”
Parents who are illiterate or who don’t have time to read aloud can still help
their children by talking to them, spending time with them and encouraging
them to ask questions. The more words children hear, the more words they
Try to notice children’s attitudes. When children see snow, they think about
sledding and building snowmen. When adults see snow, they’re more
concerned about shoveling it or having to drive in it. Kids think about how
great watermelon tastes while parents worry about how much it costs.
Children stay positive and quickly move past stress. To boost your
happiness, try sometimes to look at the world through a child’s eyes.
Give 5% More to Your Business
Alden used to frequent a coffee shop and diner where he’d buy gourmet
coffee and breakfast sandwiches. He was surprised to learn that the owner
worked a second job and would soon have to close the shop. He suggested
she raise her prices 5% and told her that customers who loved her coffee
wouldn’t mind paying a little more.
Ultimately, she didn’t take his advice, and she closed her place. Several
months later, he learned that she’d relocated to a more prosperous area.
She’d added more options to the menu, and her prices were about 20%
higher. She was happy in her new, bigger shop and was making more
money. Promote your wares without emphasizing price. If people like you
and what you sell, they will happily pay a little more.
A successful business must keep its loyal customers. Just putting in 5%
more effort toward making your customers happy will earn increased
loyalty. In the same way, you can increase your efficiency with small steps
that save time, such as checking your email only a few times a day – and not
leaving it open all the time.
Alden’s company cut costs by decreasing its sales commission by 5% on its
larger package and increasing the commission on its smaller package by 5%.
The sales agents weren’t happy because they thought they were losing
money. The large package was worth $300; with this change, they got
$15 less commission on each one. The smaller package was worth $150;
they’d made $7.50 on each smaller one. The unhappy salespeople “didn’t
account for volume”: The $150 package sold faster and more easily.
Customers returned fewer of the smaller packages, which often better
served their needs.
Compound 5%
The 5% strategy applies to making more money, which means changing
your mind-set. Think like wealthy people and make your money work for
you instead of working for your money. Many people bite off more than
they can chew instead of working gradually toward a goal. You can burn out
if you take on too much too soon. Growing by 5% increments makes a
The 5% approach can also help you break bad habits. You can use it to fight
addiction. Imagine if you could break an unhealthy habit such as smoking,
drinking or doing drugs by reducing your consumption gradually, by 5%
each day. Say that you smoke 20 cigarettes daily – a full pack. If you
reduced your cigarette consumption by 5% each day, one less cigarette each
day, within a month you will have quit. You save money by quitting
smoking. If yours is a lifelong habit, quitting smoking will increase your net
worth by close to $2 million.
Research supports the 5% less strategy for those addicted to the “highly
addictive” drug benzodiazepine. The British Journal of Psychiatry
published the results of a three-month randomized study of 180 patients
with benzodiazepine addictions. They accepted doses of 25% less weekly
with the choice of spreading out the last two weeks to a 12.5% reduction
each week. Those who tapered off were more successful: 62% quit
compared to 21% of the control group.
About the Author
Michael Alden is the founder and CEO of Blue Vase® Marketing, a
direct-response firm that helps companies with marketing.
Embrace the chaos
Bob Miglani provides a simple philosophy to fight the stress and
uncertainty of corporate life: Accept it and move along. He illustrates
relinquishing control and giving up over analysis with examples from
his experiences in India, where he lives. The book excels in explaining
how to avoid exhausting yourself on a fruitless quest for control, but it
falls short when it suggests that most Indians believe the same things.
India is a nation of many beliefs, cultures and contradictions. While
the book reflects some aspects of Hindu culture, it is not a guide to
understanding India as a whole. getAbstract recommends Miglani’s
advice to managers and students who seek a more relaxed perspective
on management and life.
You have less control than you think, and that may make you
Abandon your desire for control. If you want to see how, watch
daily life in India.
Letting go of control exposes you to experiences you would not
otherwise have.
Learn to accept, to not “overthink” and to take action instead of
waiting for certainty.
Regardless of how uncertain, imperfect and complicated things
are, accept them.
Driving on Indian roads teaches you that safety and security is an
Even with constant contact through instant messaging, texting
and videoconferencing, a lack of “face-to-face” interactions may
make you feel unfulfilled.
Stop “overanalyzing,” overplanning or trying to predict what will
happen tomorrow.
Life often calls for walking through a web of “chance” and
What you seek is not somewhere out there – in India, for
instance – but within you.
Out of Control
You have less control than you think, and that makes you anxious. You
“overthink,” overanalyze and hope that your future will unfold as you
envision. But life is not predictable. You “can never really conquer the
chaos,” you “can only embrace it.” Accepting that life is uncertain
exposes you to experiences you would never otherwise have and helps
you discover abilities you never knew you had. Recognize that the only
aspects of life you can control are your actions and perspectives, so “let
go” of the rest.
“Taking action is your only certainty. Get working on
what you can do, right here and right now.”
The everyday lives of Indians in a land of more than a billion people
exemplify how to cope with and relish life by determining realistically
what you can control and what you can’t. Indians manage to find joy
and contentment despite the odds. They exemplify three principles to
follow in your effort to let go:
1. “Accept” – Life is unpredictable, uncertain, imperfect and
complicated: Accept that. Stop thinking about obstacles and
abandon negativity. For instance, an Indian taxi driver knows he
cannot trust anything but his own abilities and the collective
abilities of other drivers to keep out of harm’s way. He focuses on
doing what he must and doesn’t worry about what other people
do – a better approach than letting chaos overwhelm you.
2. “Don’t overthink” – When you “overthink,” you can lose sight
of what you really want. Overthinking causes you to hesitate,
which may do more damage than undertaking something you
think is risky. People and conditions you can’t control cause a lot
of the situations you’ll encounter, so “why create stress...by
worrying about something that might or might not happen?”
3. “Move forward” – India’s roads prove that safety and security
is an illusion. They often lack street signs and traffic lights, and
the drivers follow no rules. Indian drivers move forward in the
direction they chose, “whatever may come.” They learn ways
around barriers, rather than focusing on them.
“Searching for God at Five Thousand Feet”
Your plans may not work out. That could bewilder you. You might seek
a scapegoat, whether someone else or yourself. You may blame
circumstances and wonder why fate is victimizing you. You could feel
paralyzed and invent reasons why you should not attempt anything
else at all. If so, think about the eight million Indians who visit the
Himalayan shrine Vaishno Devi every year. Pilgrims ascend more than
5,300 feet as they walk more than seven miles from Katra, a city in the
state of Jammu and Kashmir. This arduous hike can take eight hours.
“At the heart of so much of our stress and anxiety...lies a
feeling that we have no control.”
The trek can go spectacularly wrong. Visitors must not carry any items
made out of animal skins. They must leave their leather purses behind.
If you are prudent, and tuck some money elsewhere, you’ll be fine.
Imagine you visited the shrine, left your purse behind and find
yourself stranded in a little town with no idea how to return to Delhi.
Agonizing about your predicament and the unfairness of it all will not
“So often...we feel as though we’re about to move
forward, but something holds us back. It is our own
If your return flight is delayed before you can reorganize yourself, you
could be in serious trouble. “They’ll never tell you a flight is canceled.
They’ll say that it’s not operating today – I guess because ‘canceled’ is
very definitive and nothing in India is ever definitive.” Your only hope
is to jump in and make friends with local people and the staff at the
airline. More often than not, people are willing to help.
Lonely in a Virtual Crowd
You live in a “hyper-connected” society, in constant contact with
others via instant messaging, texting and videoconferencing. Yet you
might yearn for “face-to-face” interactions. To feel connected and
satisfied with other people in the real world, begin “accepting people
as they are.” Try not to “fix,” “control” or “judge” your fellow human
beings. “Accept the person” you find, not the one you hope to find.
“We finally stop asking why and turn our attention to the
Retreating into yourself is difficult in India, a compulsively social
country. You are expected to attend celebrations like marriages,
naming ceremonies for children, birthdays and funerals. Such
togetherness, while not perfect, helps you cope with an increasingly
unpredictable world and replaces more ritualized religion. Indians are
comfortable with open displays of affection – men often hold hands
with their male friends.
“We are held back...out of fear of taking a chance.”
Most Indians are not afraid to tell their friends and family their
innermost hopes and dreams. Such sharing builds strong human
connections that give people resilience and persistence in the face of
the most trying circumstances. You learn that “it’s OK to be pushed
outside of your comfort zone.”
Don’t Overthink
Stop “overanalyzing,” overplanning or trying to predict what will
happen tomorrow. Not even a genius can foretell the future. Even
making good guesses is hard, because the world changes so quickly
and is so interconnected. Your search for more data can actually do
more harm than good, leading to decision paralysis. Refusing to act
until you find an optimum solution can bring you to a standstill.
Instead weigh one option against another. Constantly trying to plan
your next move reduces your consciousness of the present. That may
lead you to miss out on the best parts of life.
“We don’t control what we encounter on the road. We
only control how we steer our way forward.”
Don’t excessively ruminate about other people. Apply that energy to
what you can control – your own actions. Trusting your instincts and
judgment will lead you to make better choices. As you rely on your
instincts, they will fine-tune themselves and lead you to your goals
more easily.
Indians learn to “adapt and improvise” because they live in
unpredictable circumstances with few resources. Most Indians have
arranged marriages. Relatives and friends select a suitable bride or
groom. In the past, the two did not even meet until their wedding day.
Arranged marriages work because younger Indians grow up with the
knowledge that life is difficult. They believe they can sort out their
differences with other people and they don’t expect a perfect solution.
Simple Celebrations
Society teaches you to believe that you must work hard to provide your
family with comforts without which they cannot be happy. This notion
is false. What you work so hard to provide may not guarantee
happiness. Instead, you could be blind to far simpler things – a shared
moment of hilarity, a carefree dance or a simple treat that you and
your family enjoy together.
Indian Weddings
Indian weddings are chaotic. No one ever holds a dress rehearsal, yet
everything falls into place. You must accept minor imperfections like a
missing horse, tardy caterers and relatives who decide to stop to enjoy
a drink though everything is woefully behind schedule. The bride and
groom get married and everyone has fun in the meanwhile. If you
focus on things going wrong, you’ll miss out on the magic and
unexpected pleasures.
Every morning, most Indians spend a few minutes in prayer. They
recognize the essential uncertainty of life and believe in a greater
power. Many Indians visit a temple during the course of the day.
Indians encounter as much anarchy and complexity in temples as they
do elsewhere; India has many gods, and people worship them in
different ways. When you visit a temple, you must purify yourself and
participate in a number of rituals. Numerous other worshippers are
there with you. In India, praying is individual rather than collective.
Indian meditation and prayer almost force you to cease conscious
thought and get on with doing things.
“Navigate the Chaos”
To work your way through confusion, you must act. Taking charge of
your intentions – how you think and react to situations – provides
greater certainty than trying to control everything around you. To be
more confident, stop thinking excessively and start doing.
“With distractions and challenges around every corner,
it’s easy to feel as if we’re running around a hamster
wheel and getting nowhere.”
Take Tushar, an Indian pharmaceutical representative in Mumbai who
faces a competitive market where products may not vary widely –
except on price. No amount of traditional sales analysis can change his
market or his harsh working conditions. When Tushar attempted all
the prescribed sales methods, he ended up more frustrated. He has to
manage a situation in which he has little control. The only way he
could cope was to stop worrying about things he could do little about.
As he says, “Rather, it is better to fix yourself and your mind than to
try to understand other people. You can get lost in trying to think
about what others say, think or do.” He learned from his “guru” that
being too concerned about what other people said or did was pointless.
Rather, the guru suggested, he must focus his energies on trying to
become a better person.
Most people have a problem with timing and want it to be precise. Yet,
they wait for the right partner, right job or the right home. Recognize
there is no perfect anything. One way to learn that is to visit Delhi and
try to board a local bus. The Delhi Transport Corporation runs
hundreds of buses. They are always heavily overloaded with,
apparently, no space for new passengers. Their drivers never come to a
complete stop. When a bus approaches, you have to start running
alongside and jump on. This is scary, but once you’re safely on board,
the sense of achievement is immensely uplifting. “There is real joy and
freedom in seeing something coming and, no matter how imperfect it
seems, reaching out to take action, and in having some assurance” that
when you begin to run and “grab on tight, helping hands will often
help those who help themselves.”
A Higher Force
You may face problems so overwhelming that you want to give up.
Deep within you is something that can help you through: your ability
to help someone else. External disturbances may sometimes drown out
this understanding.
“Each day a billion Indians, from poor farmers to
Bombay billionaires...awaken to complicated, chaotic
lives. Before they leave their homes...they undertake a
ritual that has been practiced for generations...They fold
their hands in prayer, yielding their lives to the universe.”
Dr. Thakor Patel retired from the US Navy. While in the Navy, he
worked on ships that provided disaster relief. He created a program to
provide basic health care to villages in India. The program trained
health care workers, like Prakash, to conduct simple medical tests and
to spread awareness about hygiene. Prakash does not make much
money – the program pays him about $100 a month – and he has little
security, because the program’s funding depends on the generosity of
donors in the US. Prakash placed the needs of others over himself and
that drives him to continue working.
God’s Way
Many people visit Indian gurus for answers to questions that plague
them. One such guru lives two hours outside the Indian city of Pune.
He will ask you if God answers you when you worry about a question
that perplexes you. If you say God does not answer, he will tell you that
is God’s way of giving you the time and silence to look within yourself.
What you seek is not somewhere out there – in India, for instance –
but within you.
No Straightforward Path
You cannot follow some smooth, straightforward path to your goals
and happiness. Life more closely resembles walking through a great
web of “chance” and “coincidence.” Don’t obstruct the flow that got
you where you are today. Given life’s “sheer luck, randomness and
chance,” you didn’t reach the present “in a straight line” and the path
forward won’t be straight, either.
The Butter y Effect
No one has mastery over life. When circumstances force you to a
standstill and you give up wanting control, things will change. If you
see yourself “as more than human and feebly attempt to make
predictions, to cast aspersions, to scheme and overplan,” you will “get
stuck, because chaos spares no one.” You can reach your “fullest
potential for a fulfilling and happy life” by relinquishing your
egotistical efforts and “accepting the unpredictable nature of life.”
About the Author
Bob Miglani, whose family moved to the US from India when he was
nine, is an executive at a Fortune 500 firm and the author of several
Best-selling clinical psychiatry professor Dr. Daniel J. Siegel
offers a workable manual for understanding and practicing
healthy mindfulness.
Your Consciousness
In this New York Times bestseller, UCLA School of Medicine clinical
psychiatry professor Dr. Daniel J. Siegel explains that you can expand your
consciousness by practicing “attention, awareness and intention.”
This wider view of who we are is sometimes challenging to
communicate – but it can be a matter of life and death.
The positive physical effects of these practices, Siegel claims, include
strengthening the immune function, improving gene regulation,
strengthening the cardiovascular system, and helping the body to repair
itself and remain young.
Siegel’s peers were generous in their praise. Bestseller Deepak Chopra, MD,
wrote, “Read this book if you want true freedom and spontaneous
creativity.” CEO of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, called this,
“A life-changing journey into the deep nature of our consciousness.” And
Jack Kornfield, author of The Wise Heart, called it, “… a visionary blend of
neuroscience, physics and cutting-edge psychology combined with creative
approaches to mindfulness and compassion.”
Wheel of Awareness
One of Siegel’s themes is that shifting your attention allows you to become
less reactive and more receptive. He offers a primary principle of
neuroscience: Doing things repeatedly changes the neural structure as it
strengthens specific clusters of neurons, so they fire together.
When we learn to cultivate our capacity for being aware, the
quality of our life and the strength of our mind are enhanced.
Siegel says people need a practice, like his “Wheel of Awareness,” to help
them experience a new way to be and to act. The Wheel is Siegel’s visual
metaphor for how minds can function. He asks you to picture a wheel with a
hub, a rim and a single spoke connecting the two. The hub represents
“being aware” or “knowing.” The rim contains known information,
including the traditional “five senses,” plus “bodily sensations,” “mental
activities” and “interconnection.” The spoke represents the focus of your
Siegel wants you to move the spoke of attention along the rim with your
imagination, shifting focus from the senses that gather information about
the external world to becoming aware of what’s going on in your body,
mind or relationships.
The Wheel of Awareness is a tool for helping us to
differentiate and link energy and information in our lives.
Siegel advises drawing a map of the Wheel to help you move from senses to
bodily sensations to your mind to interconnection. The Wheel, he says,
helps you connect information and energy, and increases your awareness of
your body, your inner self, your relationships, how you connect with others
and how they differentiate from you.
The author explains that your mind has distinct attributes, including
consciousness, subjective awareness, information processing and selforganization. Siegel urges you to train your mind by focusing your attention
Dr. Siegel encourages you to sense your breath, the movement of
your chest and your abdomen, and let sensation move through your body.
He refers to this as the use of “mindsight”: how you see your own and
others’ minds and how you respect your distinct identity as you connect
with others.
Dr. Siegel details three related practices you can use to train your mind:
Focus your attention, open your awareness and practice “kind intention.”
When we practice integrating our consciousness, when we
harness the hub and access the plane of possibility, we
become more deeply aware of our interconnected identities.
Siegel designates people who live in isolation and think of themselves as
solitary as unhealthy. Relating to others, he insists, lets you exchange
information and energy. In his analysis, your individual consciousness
profoundly relates to your social context. He regards reading others’
intentions and practicing empathy as the roots of individual consciousness.
Siegel explains that people rarely experience reality or their own
consciousness directly. They impose filters. He finds that those who
suffer trauma, anxiety or depression benefit from releasing their filters and
shifting their consciousness. He urges you to let information and energy
emerge in a fresh, unfiltered way to nourish a more innocent and open
mind. People share cultural filters, he divulges, but they use individual
filters to shape their reality.
Being Present
Siegel returns to his fundamental tropes regarding meditation and other
mindful disciplines: Training your mind, he assures you, will let you be fully
present in your life.
When we learn to cultivate our capacity for being aware, the
quality of our life and the strength of our mind are enhanced.
Siegel concedes that many people practice spiritual or mental disciplines
incompletely, leaving self-limiting past traumas and patterns intact. Mind
training, he explains, can reduce pain and hasten healing. He notes that
anything that increases awareness and integration has value, including yoga
or walking in the woods.
Siegel often falls into an academic voice that seems dry for his transcendent
subject matter. He presents his most significant metaphor, the Wheel of
Awareness, clumsily, and you may need several readings to gain a clear
sense of how to apply this concept to mindfulness. Like many academics, he
tends to repeat certain ideas and to hammer on his main themes.
Energy is the movement from a potential to that potential
being realized.
That said, his advice seems practical and aligns with most writing on the
subject of increasing awareness and mindfulness. Dr. Siegel offers neither a
mindfulness guide nor an academic discussion of awareness techniques –
his work lies somewhere in between. However, even a superficial read
provides a workable starting point for those who are less familiar with
mindfulness and awareness practices. Those readers should skip any
models or concepts that seem complex, and embrace Siegel’s exercises that
call for spiritual awareness and discipline.
Dr. Siegel also wrote Mindsight, Brainstorm, The Developing Mind and
Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. With Tina Payne Bryson, he
co-authored The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline. And he
and Mary Hartzell co-wrote Parenting from the Inside Out.
David Meyer
David N Meyer is a content editor at getAbstract and author of The 100 Best Films To Rent You've Never Heard Of, Twenty
Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music, The Bee Gees: The Biography, and other books.
You can nd his essays on lm and music at davidnmeyer.com
Mind hacking
Prankish entrepreneur Sir John Hargrave believes the mind revolution is
underway. Once befuddled by drugs and alcohol, he drew on his coding
background to hack his addiction and transform his life. He shares his system of
objective mind training, offering ways to identify negative mental loops, generate
fresh “positive loops” and embed them in your mind. Hargrave provides
numerous “mind games” to build healthy patterns of concentration and “meta
thinking.” This humorous, candid, practical guide offers a 21-day challenge of
playful personal mind transformation. Freethinkers, innovators and those
struggling with obsessive thinking will find intriguing solutions.
Just as honorable, exploratory hacking of computers led to the digital
world, “mind hacking” revolutionizes and systematizes the world of
Change your thinking by analyzing, imagining and reprogramming your
Use self-analysis to access an objective meta overview of your mind and to
break free from constantly running, but inaccurate, “mind movies.”
Your mind runs in compelling – but retrainable – “mental loops” based on
your “Emotion-Thought-Action” patterns.
Inserting new “positive loops” into your mind helps you change your
external reality to match your internal reality.
To reprogram your mind, you need a “blueprint.” Write down your positive
loops with regular reminders.
Imagination games clarify your desire to “feel, do, have, give and be.”
Small, doable, replicable subgoals create momentum toward big
Just as honorable, exploratory hacking of computers gave birth
to the digital world, “mind hacking” revolutionizes and
systematizes the world of thought.
Playing a prank, author John Hargrave tried to get a credit card in Barack
Obama’s name. One consequence was a visit from the US Secret Service the day
after Obama became the official 2008 presidential nominee. And another result
was that Hargrave’s wife threatened to leave him if he didn’t get sober.
Abandoning drink and drugs was the “mind hack” that led him to change his
mental habits. He leveraged his lifelong love of programming t0 develop a routine
for resetting his mind, poring over research to create active, measurable formulas
and games he could use to address his faulty thinking. He shares the formula that
worked for him to help you unlock your mind’s amazing potential to enrich your
While working at Hewlett Packard in the mid-1970s, Steve Wozniak and Steve
Jobs came up with a new idea: Sell a prebuilt computer. Their Apple I
machine give birth to the digital society. At the time, the term “hacking” implied
honorable technological exploration. The new 21st-century frontier of the mind
now summons “mind hackers” to revolutionize the world of thought. Mind
hacking is freely available for you to use in a spirit of experimentation as an
attempt to master your mental processes.
Change your thinking by analyzing, imagining and
reprogramming your mind.
Like open source software, the nascent science of mind hacking belongs to
everyone. Mind hacking requires you to become the subject of your own
mental experiment. The reward is the satisfaction of understanding your own
“To master your mind is to master your life. There is no more
worthwhile pursuit.”
The process of gaining mastery requires analyzing how your mind works, being
willing to imagine new potential and reprogramming your thinking to reach that
potential. Writing down your results as you routinely go through a set of mind
exercise or games helps you measure your progress and activate the changes you
want to institute during an initial 21-day burst of activity.
Use self-analysis to access an objective meta overview of your
mind and to break free from constantly running, but inaccurate,
“mind movies.”
Your senses constantly collect data, and your brain processes what you learn.
Your mind grabs your full attention like an immersive movie, making you forget
your position as its observer, but you want to try to achieve a separate objective
overview of your mind. To gain mastery, you need “superuser” access with full
programming privileges to your mind’s root system – that is, conscious control,
not just “user” access. The mind game, “What Was My Mind Just
Thinking?” involves stopping and thinking about your last thought, stepping back
from your usual fast-moving, internal “mind movie.”
“Could I reprogram my mind? Could I hack into the source code
and change the way my mind worked?…I began to look for ‘mind
hacks’ – techniques to identify and reprogram my problem
thinking.” ”
“Meta thinking” refers to thinking about thinking; it’s also known as
metacognition. Like a chess grandmaster, you can learn to take a higher
level meta view of your mind in order to work on it, not merely in it. The idea is to
seek conscious awareness of your mind. Too often, your mind bounds around like
an uncontrollable dog, chasing fleeting thoughts like a puppy chases squirrels. If
you try to still your mind, you’ll quickly notice its tendency to misbehave – as if it
relishes turmoil. Imagine a parallel world where attention, not money, is
currency. You live in that “attention economy.” You pay “attention taxes” all the
time – watching TV, fiddling with your smartphone or viewing ads.
Most people believe in multitasking, so they try to do different things at the same
time – usually on their screens – and they don’t pay attention to other people who
may be present. Yet multitasking is inefficient. This and other undisciplined
habits – such as constantly checking social media or messages – drain your
attention. Conditioned to disruption, the weakened mind struggles to find “the
Learning to concentrate represents a kind of Star Wars Jedi training. With
“voluntary” attention, you can direct your focus. When you pay “reflexive”
attention, things catch your attention unwilled. To gain concentration, calmness
and a competitive edge, “reclaim” and then “retrain” your attention. Focus it
deliberately. Limit unnecessary distractions like instant messaging and app alerts.
Regularly invest an hour in canceling and clearing out these distractions.
Don’t respond instantly to every notice you receive.
Retraining your mind begins with “concentration training,” which some view
as meditation. Sit quietly on the floor with your legs crossed and eyes closed.
Relax and pay attention to the breath at your nostrils for 20 minutes. You get a
point for each time you direct your mind away from its movie. Note your score.
Fit this training into your life by getting up a little earlier. Give yourself visual
cues to meditate. Reward yourself appropriately. Find a consistent time, place,
cue and reward for meditating. Choose a different variation that helps you focus,
such as shooting at stray thoughts as if they were game aliens. Simply pause to
observe your thoughts as they flow. Stray thoughts will arise. Notice them, set
them gently aside and breathe.
Your mind runs in compelling – but retrainable – “mental loops”
based on your “Emotion-Thought-Action” patterns.
In computers, various loops – “mental loops, counting loops, conditional loops”
and “infinite loops” – perform functions as diverse as playing pranks and
improving coding efficiency. Minds also run on loops. Through repetition, a
human baby goes from being helpless to being a complex, walking, talking entity
in only three years. Powerful repetitive loops during a child’s upbringing affect his
or her self-image lifelong. The content of the loops can become self-fulfilling.
Negative effects like addictions arise from faulty mental loops.
“There are mathematical simulations, financial simulations and
weather simulations. But most important, there are mental
simulations.” ”
Like a coder fixing bugs in a beta software release, you can “debug” your
frustrating mental loops. Use the "Five Whys" technique to reveal the roots of a
bad loop by asking “why,” over and over up to five times, drilling down if
necessary to get a real answer. Every time you think you’ve found an answer, ask
why again. Use “Third-Person Perspective” to imagine what you would say to
someone else who faced your current problems. The acrostic “METAL” – “My
Emotion Thought Action Loop” – reminds you that your fears, thoughts and
problems arise in the looping Emotion-Thought-Action sequence. To debug these
loops, identify them and write them down.
Inserting new “positive loops” into your mind helps you change
your external reality to match your internal reality.
Discover the reality of imagination. By inserting a fresh “positive loop” – a clear
picture of what you want – at the end of habitual Emotion-Thought-Action
sequences, you can reprogram your mental matrix and your reality.
“Your loops create your thoughts. Your thoughts create your
actions. Your actions create your life. Therefore, the quality of
our loops determines the quality of our lives. Fix your loops; fix
your life.”
Psychologist Laura King found that people who – every day – write down
the vision of their best possible future self become happier, more upbeat and
healthier. Close your eyes and imagine that self for five minutes. Imagining your
ideas clearly – as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos did with his unprecedented 1-Click
Ordering concept – makes them realizable.
To reprogram your mind, you need a “blueprint.” Write down your
positive loops with regular reminders.
Develop “positive thought loops” to overwrite negative ones. Positive
reinforcement works, but yelling “No!” at your mind won’t shift it or calm it. Flesh
out your loops with depth, detail and possibility. Find things you appreciate,
because gratitude transforms thinking. Take empathetic care in selecting your
mental loops. Put a self-confident “I” pronoun in your loops; ask yourself what
you want in a positive way so you add value to the world.
“Finding the you behind ‘you’ is the ultimate mystery. ‘Star Trek’
was wrong: space is not the final frontier. This is the final
frontier, this exploration beyond the mind.”
Keep a methodical written overview “of” your mind to avoid getting stuck working
“in” it. “Short, simple, flexible” plans are best; record them “Write Now” by
listing your activities. The act of writing everything down gives you an overview of
your progress and reshapes bad cognitive habits. Create a written “blueprint” of
five main goals as a reminder, an opportunity to reflect and a basis for
improvement. Harness the power of repetition by practicing concentration
and writing positive loops. Repetition establishes new grooves in your thinking.
Imagination games clarify your desire to “feel, do, have, give and
Use “imagination games” to train yourself to avoid positive or negative “magical
thinking.” Choose a mood – like calm or empowered – that you’d like to
feel. Imagine one thing you’d do if you inherited $50 million. What worldchanging contribution would you make? These games include:
“Five Words” – What five adjectives would you want someone at your
funeral to use to describe you? Use these words down to express your
desired sequence of feel, do, have, give and be. Write down the positive
loops that correspond to the five words you chose.
• “$10 Million Check” – This is based on the true story that comedy star
Jim Carrey wrote himself a personal check for $10 million when he was a
broke aspiring actor. This is a way to flip negative thoughts to positive.
Write and then read an aspirational reminder every day.
• “Smiling in the Shower”– Use your mental downtime to bring positive
loops to mind. Forcing a smile actually makes you feel happier.
• “Reminding Your Mind” – Create and set up a system to remind you to
be positive.
• “Shall We Play a Game?” – Think through the steps required to reach
your goal, not just the end result.
• “Block and Tackle” – Mentally simulate the difficulties of each step you
need to take toward your objective.
• “Self-Simulation” – Take a third-person view of yourself, as if watching
yourself give a speech. This can propel you to take real-world actions.
• “Share the Dream” – Tell a trusted person about one of your positive
To make your goals real, work with others. Nupedia, an early version of
Wikipedia, failed because it lacked the mass collaboration central to Wikipedia’s
“When you think of [your] five goals…what is the thought loop
that will get you there? Choose your thought loops carefully, for
they will determine the future direction of your life.”
As recovering alcoholics well know, assisting others helps you, too. As you teach,
you build knowledge, personal accountability and self-understanding. This
reciprocity feeds positive change.
Small, doable, replicable subgoals create momentum toward big
To avoid being overwhelmed, plan your small actions that add up to reaching
your goal. Use the mind-focusing acronym “LASER” – “Limited, Achievable,
Specific, Evaluated, Repeatable” – to guide your micro-actions. See them as part
of a “video game” in which you attain higher levels as you progress. Within
LASER, do routine daily mind games, focusing on a relevant subgoal. Mirroring
the dynamics of pushing a child’s swing, well-timed nudges from your microactions will create a repeating resonance that increases your upswing toward a big
goal and sets up favorable habits.
“These “powerful techniques…can help you accomplish anything
you can imagine, whether that’s losing weight, changing habits,
starting a business, finding love or building wealth.”
This challenges your intuition and opens a “final frontier” for exploration. Follow
the mind-hacking system with dedication and a sense of fun. On your “Practice
Sheet,” set up a 21-day schedule of mind games, recording the results,
reprogramming your thinking and rewarding your progress:
Day 1: “Accepting the quest” – Set a daily time to work on hacking your
Day 2: “What was my mind just thinking?” – Track how often you
“check in” with yourself daily.
Day 3: “Squirrel” – Be aware of what tugs at your attention or breaks
your flow. Are you as distractible as a squirrel?
Day 4: “The one-hour investment” – Take an hour to turn off
unneeded digital alerts. Count how many distractions you ditched.
Days 5 and 6: “Concentration” – Begin meditating 20 minutes daily.
Record your progress. Follow the meditation routine until it’s embedded.
Days 7 through 10: Add “Name That Loop” to the concentration
exercises – Use the Five Whys to examine any negative mind loops,
worst-case scenarios or third-person perspectives. Do a mind game
daily that helps you activate your Feel, Do, Have, Give and Be cycle. Keep
practicing and rewarding yourself.
Days 11 through 14: Continue the “Concentration Game” – Add
your Write Now exercises to the mix.
Day 15: “Reminding Your Mind” – Continue to concentrate and write
down your progress. Carry out additional mind games that remind you of
your positive loops.
Days 16 through 18: “The Simulator” – While still doing
concentration and writing exercises, add one-minute mental simulations of
positive loops. Reward yourself consistently
Day 19: “Share the Dream” – Do all the previous days’ activities and
tell a friend about a positive loop. “Sharing your goals…makes you more
likely to achieve them.”
Days 20 and 21: The LASER – Write a single subgoal. Use the LASER
to develop a small step toward it, and take that step. On day 21, check it off
as done, or set a simpler or different subgoal – and do it, too.
About the Author
Sir John Hargrave leveraged his entrepreneurship into the content firm Media
Shower. He also wrote Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual and Prank
the Monkey.
Simple Habits for Complex
Consultants Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston present a
challenging series of recommendations that will make you think until it
hurts. They emphasize that survival and success in a VUCA world – one
with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – means you have to
do what is difficult and often counterintuitive. Read and digest each
chapter, reflect on it, discuss it and then move on to the next. In
implementing the authors’ ideas, follow their advice: Gather varied
perspectives, listen, experiment, learn, adjust and repeat. They show you
how to work your way toward an agile, alert and ever-adapting
Leaders have grappled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and
ambiguity (VUCA) for millennia, but circumstances differ today.
Get used to asking new and genuine questions.
Complexity abounds. Address it, but don’t add to it. Sort your
challenges into one of two categories: probable or possible.
Strive to see complex systems as a whole. Ask how the components
combine to lean toward certain outcomes.
Though you may know little of what the future holds, set a clear and
unambiguous direction.
People think rationally and emotionally. The mix of many people’s
logic and feelings adds up to the best decisions.
Help people develop greater capacity to accept and engage with
Eons of natural selection coded you to act first and think later. You
must adapt to a new world that demands the opposite.
Leaders have grappled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity
and ambiguity (VUCA) for millennia, but circumstances differ
Today, unlimited information and data confront leaders, much of it flowing
in real time and changing by the minute. Leaders must consider more
factors than they can predict by relying on the past. Consider what is
possible in an unknown future.
“This rise in complexity, ambiguity, volatility and
uncertainty is not just lingering around the edges of our
workdays; it’s everywhere.”
Evolution made people pretty good at making decisions according to what
worked in the past. But in many circumstances, previously reliable
understandings no longer apply. Now you must consider a range of possible
scenarios, but knowing when and how to do that kind of thinking doesn’t
come naturally to many people. Mastering this necessary new skill means
forming new habits of mind.
Get used to asking new and genuine questions.
Avoid asking questions whose answers you think you know or questions
whose answers you’ll ignore. Ask considered questions you truly want
answered to open a broader range of possibilities and paths. People want
to find a problem’s cause and make changes to fix it. This might work for a
simple problem, but often fails in complex systems. Many problems defy
simple solutions.
“It’s totally possible that this task of leading in times as
complex and volatile as today is a bigger stretch for us
humans than anything else we’ve ever had to do.”
Think through your organization’s system and consider how
changing something in one part might affect other parts. Don’t expect
to solve complex, systems-based challenges alone. To get into the right
mind-set, ask different questions, and force yourself to consider other
people’s perspectives, especially those that differ from yours. Resist
classifying people into allies and enemies. Realize that people believe in the
truth and efficacy of their own position. Stay curious.
Complexity abounds. Address it, but don’t add to it. Sort your
challenges into one of two categories: probable or possible.
Adding more processes, rules, forms and procedures often make so-called
solutions worse than the problem itself. If you have a simple problem, don’t
seek complexity. You might, for example, believe that your firm suffers from
a weak leadership pipeline. A new, complicated HR system to address it
could cost a lot of money and frustrate the situation even more by requiring
managers to create extra paperwork, track more metrics, hold more
discussions and so on, taking even more time away from identifying and
mentoring potential leaders.
In many cases, the past provides sound guidance. But just because tulips
bloomed in mid-April last year doesn’t mean they will bloom this April, and
a volcano that erupted 100 years ago and has a record of erupting only every
1,000 years or so could still blow tomorrow. Some problems fall into
the category of probabilities, and that makes them simpler.
Others depend on many variables within complex systems. Those reside in
the more complex world of possibilities.
“In every complex system, feedbacks are the lifeblood, the
way that evolution and change begin and spread.”
Before looking for solutions, consider where the problem falls: probability,
or possibility? Even complicated systems respond predictably to
adjustments and refinements across many components. Recognize these
systems, and apply solutions that you base on past knowledge.
Problems within complex systems don’t yield to discrete cause-and-effectbased solutions. Multiple variables cascade, combine and change. This level
of complexity requires continual research, data models, investigations
and experiments. You must detect even weak signals. Instead of seeking
cause and effect, look for subtle, emerging patterns so you can intervene
before they become steamrollers. Traditional planning matters – but in
complex systems considering multiple perspectives, gathering diverse ideas
and experimenting can replace the search for solutions to specific problems.
Strive to see complex systems as a whole. Ask how the
components combine to lean toward certain outcomes.
Complex systems incline toward some things and resist others. A system of
child protective services, for example, inclines toward the collective,
prevailing habits and behaviors of many organizations, people, processes,
rules, culture and practices. When it fails, it results in a spike in foster child
abuse. Unless you find something specific, like an employee who
deliberately ignored child protection rules, no single solution or silver bullet
will fix it. Most problems in such a system are systemic problems.
To address systemic problems, seek multiple perspectives on the issues and
try to see the big picture before you start testing solutions. Nurture an
environment of feedback, experimentation and openmindedness.
Emphasize learning, and reward people for testing, failing, adjusting, trying
again and iterating their way to improvements. These problems require a
series of experiments that you follow up with learning, adjusting and
additional experiments that will nudge you closer to understanding possible
“Clarity is a core communication goal, and you can be clear
about your direction even if you can’t be clear about your
Agile organizations must master giving and receiving feedback up, down
and throughout the organization. Difficult conversations don’t come
naturally. They take practice. Fight the notion that you know everything,
though leaders resist this attitude change. Don’t view the people to whom
you give feedback as problems you have to solve. Approach all
conversations as learning opportunities. Ask, “What do I have to learn
here?” This mind-set shift – whether in a performance review, casual
conversation or meeting – changes how you perceive others and the
questions you ask.
Enter every interaction with the attitude that you will learn something.
Remember that what you know, no matter how right it feels, is always only
part of the truth. Ask other people for facts and evidence first, without
judgment. Get them to say how they feel about an issue, and ask them to
describe its impact. You may have good information, but you still have to
learn from it by truly listening, which can be as difficult as providing sound
feedback. The secret to good listening is to shift from thinking about what
people’s words mean to you and considering what their words mean to
them. Learning to listen deeply – not while planning what you’ll say next –
takes conscious effort and time.
Though you may know little of what the future holds, set a
clear and unambiguous direction.
The people you lead crave clear direction and priorities, especially in
volatile, changing times. But in complex systems, leaders can’t know
enough to articulate a clear vision, define a precise course of action or set
the priorities that their people need to go forth and execute. Given many
perspectives and ideas, leaders must set a clear direction – a path on which
people can experiment and learn constantly, within boundaries their leader
Start with a shared vision, not a snapshot of the future or a set of targets,
but establishing a direction that moves your organization toward the story
you want to tell. Connect your vision to purpose and values. Listen to
people, collect their viewpoints and ideas, and be aware of their signals,
even weaker signals. Consider what your organization and system
lean toward doing – the inclinations – and how they may need to change.
Move inclinations through change gradually, with nudging and
“You need to understand that the future you’re moving
toward is so ambiguous that you couldn’t possibly know
what will happen, yet you have to be clear enough about
what it is that you can get people off the course to which they
have become accustomed.”
Consider the boundaries within your organization. These boundaries –
explicit and implicit – define people’s behaviors and your culture. Get
people’s perspectives on the boundaries, and then define and
document these parameters. Decide which to keep and which to discard.
Make sure everyone knows the boundaries within which to conduct “safeto-fail” experiments. To inspire trust, communicate a clear direction, admit
what you don’t know and explain how you feel about it.
Describe what you mean by a safe-to-fail experiment using examples from
the past – celebrate what leaders and employees did that worked, and
explain what they did that failed. Emphasize learning, and align people
around the boundaries so that their efforts move in the broad direction you
For example, Facebook rolls out changes continuously to small percentages
of its users to gauge the impact of its experiments. These safe-to-fail
experiments protect current attractors – their user interface, for example –
and test new ones, such as a possible Facebook cryptocurrency.
Run small experiments in parallel, and choose some that turn out
contrary to your expectations. Repeat them at different times and in
different contexts. Make them fast and cheap, invite as many diverse
perspectives as possible, and design them to produce clear, measurable
Motivate people by describing the journey as one of stages rather than one
with a structure of due dates or specific financial objectives. For example, if
you aim to cut costs by 10%, instead of announcing that goal, talk about
experimenting in a direction of greater efficiencies. Acknowledge the
fundamental role that emotions and feelings, as well as rationality and
irrationality, play at work.
People think both rationally and emotionally. The mix of
many people’s logic and feelings adds up to the best
You may think you can divorce your feelings and subjective notions from
your decisions, but you can’t and you don’t, so acknowledge the role
of emotion and utilize it. Even your so-called rational brain falls prey to
many biases. Among the most prevalent, confirmation bias makes you
unconsciously seek only information that supports your position. Recency
bias puts undue importance on the latest thing you’ve seen or read.
“The human brain has an enormous capacity not only to not
see the whole picture but also to not notice that it hasn’t seen
the whole picture.”
A bias toward the visceral makes you worry more about low-risk dangers –
like a shark attacking your child – than about dangers that occur much
more often, such as drowning. When you are leading, fundamental
attribution errors can cause you to ascribe good or bad events and outcomes
to people while you underestimate the influence of circumstances. You can’t
detect these and other biases. Remain aware of them, and seek other
perspectives and viewpoints to counter them.
Help people develop greater capacity to accept and engage
with VUCA.
People evolve through stages of development. Some leaders and
employees will continue to rage against uncertainty while others mature,
accept it and know the firm must adapt. A few will welcome and celebrate
VUCA. These people have leadership potential because they tend to adopt
the most creative solutions after synthesizing many people’s perspectives.
Don’t hire only the smartest people. Look for those who have demonstrably
learned from failure. Encourage people to mature and grow in the way they
deal with uncertainty by supporting their interests as well as the
organization’s goals. Hold people accountable for their results, but not to
the degree that you limit experimentation and risk taking, or leave no time
for learning and development. Encourage healthy competition among your
workforce, but not at the expense of collaboration or of stifling people’s
willingness to listen and consider other perspectives.
“A core desire people have from their leaders is direction and
a sense of safety that someone knows where they’re all going.
This is especially true in times of change.” ”
Learning and work are not separate. Weave learning into personal work and
teamwork, all the time. Assign work that stretches people and teams.
Encourage genuine questions in meetings. Ask people to share at least one
thing they’ve learned.
Eons of natural selection coded you to act rst and think
later. You must adapt to a new world that demands the
Create a curious, learning-first, “feedback-rich organization.” Make it safe
to share positive and negative feedback – good and bad news – up, down
and across the firm. Share a constant flow of information with all
employees. Communicate with logic and emotions, facts, feelings and
honesty. Listen deeply.
About the Authors
Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston run a global leadership
consultancy from New Zealand. They emphasize organizational readiness
for success in a VUCA world.
Your time and attention have never been more valuable. Tech companies vie for your attention
and trade it as a commodity. They lure you into increasing your time on their platforms, and
exploit neuroscientific discoveries to manipulate your online behavior. You succumb to the
barrage of distractions, losing focus and creativity. “Digital anthropologist” Brian Solis noticed
the demise of his own creativity and developed the Lifescale method in response. He provides a
framework for recapturing your focus, rekindling your creative spark, and igniting a deep sense
of purpose and well-being.
Digital distractions gobble your focus and attention.
In the “attention economy,” technology companies ruthlessly manipulate people’s
behavior to monetize their attention.
“Rapid toggling” – multitasking among activities – has many harmful effects.
Creativity isn’t a special talent bestowed only on a lucky few.
People often misperceive pleasure-seeking as happiness.
Practicing mindfulness enables you to focus on the present. You become more aware of
your environment and alert to your feelings.
Purpose drives you beyond mediocrity into greatness.
Positive thinking is a powerful tool for achieving your goals and aspirations.
Increasing the ability to focus your productive energy enables deep dives into creative
Digital distractions gobble your focus and attention.
People suffering addiction to digital devices often drop out of real life to sleepwalk, zombie-like,
through a virtual existence. They lose the ability to focus, meet goals and fulfill responsibilities.
The detrimental effects of never disconnecting from the digital world include decreasing
attention spans, loss of empathy, and less energy for creative activities or critical thinking.
Productivity drops as workers spend an average of two hours a day on their smartphones. The
time you spend on apps, networks, social media and texts does not make you happier. It erodes
your sense of well-being, increases stress and anxiety, and engenders feelings of loneliness and
“There’s a direct path to happiness and it’s through creativity; the benefits
of that relationship are incredible.”
Happiness correlates directly to creativity. Digital distraction inhibits creative flow. If you want
to reclaim happiness and become more creative through learning how to resist the magnetic pull
of distraction, consider “Lifescaling.” The Lifescale journey begins with developing awareness of
why you succumb to distraction and relearning how to focus. You’ll define your values, and
identify what brings you happiness and fulfillment. You’ll construct new routines and adopt
creative habits for being a centered, present participant in your own life.
In the “attention economy,” technology companies ruthlessly manipulate
people’s behavior to monetize their attention.
Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat monetize your attention. It’s a profitable
commodity. Developers use “manipulation techniques” to influence user behavior, enticing you
to spend time with games, social networks and apps. These techniques grow increasingly
sophisticated as companies apply neuroscience to exploit human cognitive weaknesses. The ill
effects are measurable. For example, teen suicide rates are rising. The frequent use of social
media by the members of this age group increases their risk for depression.
“We haven’t lost our ability to focus at all. We just need to reclaim it.”
Distraction provides an escape, especially if you’re unhappy with your job or
relationships. Digital distractions offer a welcome detour from responsibility, problems or
difficult tasks. But now you can reclaim ownership of your mind.
“Rapid toggling” – multitasking among activities – has many harmful
The human brain cannot multitask. What you’re doing is “task-switching” between one activity
and another, and that depletes neural energy. The quality of your output suffers, your mistakes
increase, and you lose comprehension and experience higher levels of stress. Multitasking
negatively affects memory and inhibits creativity.
In the first step of the Lifescale journey, incorporate techniques into your daily routine to realign
your energy and attention. Understand that you procrastinate to avoid negative emotions – often
originating in a task – such as worry, self-doubt or boredom. To reframe the task as a vehicle for
engendering feelings of accomplishment, visualize the benefits of completing something you’ve
put off. Reorder your morning routine. Tackle your most important projects first thing, and do
less-demanding tasks later in the day.
Abstain from multitasking. “Single-task” instead. Reduce distractions by turning off
notifications, closing apps and windows, and silencing your smartphone. Work for an
uninterrupted period, such as 25 minutes, and take short, five-minute breaks to re-energize.
Refrain from checking email or surfing the internet during your breaks. Stretch or move around.
Slowly increase the time of your work periods.
Creativity isn’t a special talent bestowed only on a lucky few.
Everyone has creative capabilities. Society and education systems suppress creative expression
by putting less value on the arts than on subjects that supposedly prepare you to succeed.
Everyone has the creative power to find solutions and discover new possibilities. Expressing
creativity is essential to well-being. It engages the mind, promotes critical thinking and boosts
innovation. When you’re immersed in creative activities, you’re resistant to distractions and you
feel less anxiety. You gain self-confidence and awareness, take risks and accept failure as part of
the process.
“Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not because
the thing that they were good at in school wasn’t valued or was actually
Indulge your curiosity, ask questions and investigate possibilities. Start an ideas list, adding
three new ideas every day.
People often misperceive pleasure seeking as happiness.
People believe that things, other people or activities make them happy, and that happiness is
fleeting. They pursue the next delicious meal, exciting vacation, new romance or work
promotion. You may seek attention and validation from outside sources and measure your worth
by “likes” from strangers on social media. This brings less happiness, not more. To experience
sustained happiness and well-being, engage in pursuits that provide you with meaning and
purpose. Understand that what makes you happy springs from your values.
Values are the underlying belief system that is the fabric of your character and directs your life.
These exercises will help you identify your core values:
List times in your life when you felt the happiest.
Note the times in your life when you felt the worst.
Extrapolate the values from your best and worst times, and place them in a “matrix-style
Record every value you find important, such as hard work, generosity, fun, self-reliance,
loyalty or tolerance.
Group your key values together by themes. For example, values such as “learning, growth
and development” fall under one theme.
Pick one value from each group that represents the theme.
Create subsets to include every value you find worthwhile.
Consider actions you can take to fulfill and live by your top five to 10 values.
Commit to living by these values by posting the list where you’ll see it every day.
Practicing mindfulness enables you to focus on the present. You’re more
aware of your environment and alert to your feelings.
Most people live in a “me-centered” universe, according to “happiness guru” Dr. Srikumar Rao.
They think about themselves constantly, falling into the trap of “accidental narcissism.” But,
living in alignment with your core values requires shedding me-centered thinking and devoting
yourself to the greater good. Develop self-awareness, which differs from thinking about yourself.
Instead of questioning why things happen, ask, “What?” For example, “What do I find most
important?” and “What is my life’s purpose in this moment?” Practicing mindfulness transports
you from “why” to “what,” begetting a rich and fulfilling life experience.
Digital distraction diverts your attention and prevents you from fully experiencing every
moment. “Mental chatter,” the constant stream of thoughts, judgments and worries running
through your brain, is the other big distraction. A mindfulness practice allows you to concentrate
on the present, becoming cognizant of your environment and alert to your feelings. Mindfulness
promotes creativity. When distractions don’t drain you, you’re free to focus on creativity.
“Being in the moment is not just a slogan; it’s incredibly powerful. Not
only for you, but for those you’re spending time and sharing life with.”
Focus on your breath. Breathe in deeply, then hold your breath for five seconds and exhale in a
big puff. Take a deep breath in, and hold it for a second before exhaling. As you repeat this
breathing exercise, notice how it calms your mind. Promote mindfulness through the art of
acceptance. Let go of those things you cannot control. Appreciate what you’re doing in the
moment, such as eating a meal or sipping a cup of tea. A meditation practice is self-calming; it
helps you let go and opens your mind.
Purpose drives you beyond mediocrity into greatness.
Purpose provides energy and focus, motivating you to perform as your best self. Clarity of
purpose counters the mental chaos bred by spiritual aimlessness. It offsets me-thinking.
“A more mindful, empathetic, loving and present life is the foundation of
success as a process of living rather than as a plateau of achievement.”
Participating in four kinds of life experiences can promote a clear sense of purpose:
“Physical and mental well-being” – Participate in activities that promote good
2. “Belonging and recognition” – Give and receive validation mutually from people
who matter to you.
3. “Personally treasured activities” – Make time daily to do the things you love.
4. “Spiritual closeness and connectedness” – Seek a sense of connection to
something bigger than yourself and the feeling of being a part of the collective human
Compose a personal purpose statement. This concise, one- or two-sentence statement sets
forth your life passion and values, and a direction you can travel to achieve them. For example,
Oprah Winfrey’s purpose statement reads: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my
students to be more than they thought they could be.”
Positive thinking is a powerful tool for achieving your goals and
Incorporating purposeful behavior into your daily life is an ongoing process. Cultivating a
positive outlook fuels motivation. The human brain has an innate, negative bias. But you can
retrain your mind to have a positive bent. This doesn’t mean you are naive or thoughtlessly
happy. It calls for controlling your reaction to input, thoughts and emotions. Simple methods for
establishing new, positive thought patterns include practicing appreciation and gratefulness,
finding inspiration from quotes and affirmations, and incorporating positivity into your
mindfulness practice. Send positivity into the world to attract positive reactions.
“You cannot control your mood, and you cannot always control the
thoughts that pop into your head, but you can choose how you handle
them.” ”
Turn positive thinking into action through “visioning.” Generate mental images of what you’d
like to achieve. Let your vision motivate and inspire you to perform at your highest level. Write a
description of your goal or objective. Describe the desired outcome. Be realistic and choose an
attainable goal. Create a vision board – a collection of images, words and pictures that form a
visual representation of what you wish to achieve. Prominently display the board where you can
see it daily. Create an action plan that describes the specific steps to take to achieve your goal.
Seek input from people you respect and trust. Their support, feedback and practical advice can
keep you on the right path.
Increasing the ability to focus your productive energy enables deep dives
into creative endeavors.
Harness your productive energy and take a deep dive into creativity. Professor Cal Newport of
Georgetown University defines deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a
cognitively demanding task.” To switch between deep and shallow efforts, remove yourself from
distraction to pursue uninterrupted work in a quiet place. Use blocks of time for concentrated
work, and alternate between periods of deep and shallow work. Or dive deeply into work
whenever your schedule allows, even if only for a short time.
“Building your ability to focus creatively is like holding your breath. The
more you practice it, the more you increase your ability to hold longer and
deeper breaths.”
Become ruthlessly protective of your deep-dive time, and stick to your schedule. Learn where
you do your best work. Plan ahead to minimize interruptions. For example, have coffee and
drinks on hand, keep highlighters and pens in stock, and construct an inspiring playlist.
Investigate sharing a creative workspace to glean inspiration, feedback and support from others.
Over time, you’ll experience periods of creative flow during deep work. As you immerse yourself
in a task, you’ll see that time flies by, your creative juices flow, outside distractions recede, and
you’re filled with a sense of personal truth and well-being.
About the Author
Brian Solis, principal analyst at the Altimeter Group, also wrote X: The Experience When
Business Meets Design and What’s the Future of Business.
5am club
In consultant Robin Sharma’s self-help parable, an entrepreneur and an artist,
both frustrated by failure, meet and travel with a mysterious billionaire, Stone
Riley. The two travelers have front-row seats to inspirational speeches that Riley
peppers with the mantra: “Own your morning. Elevate your life.” Riley
emphasizes that success springs from starting your day at 5 a.m. He promises
that will enable you to surpass your dreams, make history and free your inner
genius. Sharma’s advice, though valid, is familiar from his other books.
Recommended for his fans and those who love fables.
Rising at 5 a.m. will help you let go of mediocrity and become
The old “you” must die to make space for the new “you.”
To be a “History-Maker,” work hard, avoid distractions, practice mastery
and improve 1% every day.
Your four “Interior Empires” are: “Mind-set, Heartset, Healthset and
Good habits – waking early, working hard and being consistent – help you
become a “Self-Discipline Spartan.”
The “20/20/20 Formula” is “move, reflect and grow.”
The “10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius” include focusing, setting targets,
delegating and learning.
“You enter the magic by using joy as your GPS.”
Rising early will help you be forgiving and leave a lasting legacy.
Rising at 5 a.m. will help you let go of mediocrity and become
An entrepreneur is unhappy, and wonders if life is worth living. She attends a
motivational speech by the “Spellbinder.” He is old and seems unwell, but he’s
inspiring about overcoming adversity so you can live your best life. Also present is
an artist who is unsatisfied with his life and seeks a new path.
The Spellbinder collapses. An apparently homeless stranger appears. He
expresses admiration for the Spellbinder and shares a secret: The stranger says he
is fabulously wealthy. The artist and entrepreneur are not convinced.
The man invites them to enter a “secret reality” known only to geniuses and
masters. He tells the entrepreneur that she is struggling with her employees
because they can’t keep up with her vision. He advises the artist to take breaks
from his technology.
“You truly can get up early. And doing so is a necessity in your
awesome pursuit toward legendary.
While doing one-armed push-ups, the man chants: “Own your morning. Elevate
your life.” The artist and the entrepreneur agree that they would like to learn his
secrets. He tells them they must break with their weak selves to find their strong
The old “you” must die to make space for the new “you.”
The stranger is Stone Riley, who is, indeed, a billionaire. The artist and
entrepreneur go to his compound. There they see the Spellbinder, miraculously
revived. The entrepreneur tells the Spellbinder of her struggles with her
shareholders. He reminds her she has chosen to change, to leave behind her old
self and embrace her new self like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. He warns
that nothing will happen if she hesitates.
The billionaire tells the artist and entrepreneur that the Spellbinder taught him
about owning his morning to elevate his life. The world is full of distractions, he
says, but at 5 a.m. you have quiet. The entrepreneur gets a message from her
partners threatening her with death if she doesn’t quit as CEO. Riley assures her
his people are on the case.
At 5 a.m. the next day, Riley shares his “3-Step Success Formula”:
1. “Learning and growing” for better awareness.
2. “Implementation and execution” for better choices.
3. “Income and impact” for better results.
Dedication to detail sets the most successful 5% of people apart. Riley promises
that with self-love and self-respect the artist and entrepreneur can become
extraordinary instead of timid. The world is full of “superficial” people who are
vague about what they want, so they produce vague results. The world has space
for exceptional people because very few people try to reach beyond the norm.
To be a “History-Maker,” work hard, avoid distractions, practice
mastery and improve 1% every day.
Riley reminds the artist and the entrepreneur never to take any day for granted.
He says that thinking about dying makes you focus on what matters and feel
grateful for the moment.
“Your influence in the world mirrors the glory, nobility, vitality
and luminosity you’ve accessed in yourself.”
Riley then shares the “4 Focuses of History-Makers”:
“Capitalization IQ” – Innate talent isn’t as important as maximizing
your talent with dedication and hard work. People don’t optimize their
gifts, because they don’t believe they’ve got what it takes.
2. “Freedom from distraction” – Technology impedes the deeper
connections that bring meaning to your life. Staying distracted indicates
you are afraid to the best you can be. Focus on one high-quality activity at a
3. “Personal mastery practice” – Dedicate at least 10,000 hours to your
practice to become a master. Part-time commitment provides part-time
4. “Day stacking” – Even a 1% improvement over the previous day elevates
your life by 30% in 30 days. What you do every day is more important than
what you do once in a while.
The entrepreneur gets another death threat from her foes at her company. She is
less fearful now, strengthened from embracing the philosophy of waking up early.
Your four “Interior Empires” are: “Mind-set, Heartset, Healthset
and Soulset.”
Riley discusses the importance of fulfilling the four Interior Empires, which are
essential to happiness. People talk about elevating their mind-sets, but that is
only one of four “sets”:
Mind-set – Important to developing personal mastery, the mind-set needs
help from other empires. You can change the way you think, but you must
change in other ways as well.
2. Heartset – Your emotional empire can “purify” your mind-set. Let go of
sadness, resentment and fear.
3. Healthset – Do all you can to live as long as possible, including focusing
intently on being healthy.
4. Soulset – All people have an “unstained spirit and spotless soulfulness”
that informs their being.
Riley reminded his guests that these “sets” are best activated in the early
Good habits – waking early, working hard and being consistent –
will help you become a “Self-Discipline Spartan.”
Success demands building good habits. By applying “grit,” even people who lack
innate talent can achieve greatness. Riley shares the three elements of the “5-3-1
Creed of the Willpower Warrior”:
The five best ways to nurture good habits – Cultivate willpower,
be disciplined, rest and recover when your willpower ebbs, make good
habits into a routine and build self-control.
2. The three standards you need to build great habits – These values
are: Be consistent, follow through and practice publicly what you do
3. The “General Theory of Self-Discipline Spartans” – Take on
difficult tasks that matter even if they make you uncomfortable.
Riley tells the entrepreneur and the artist that your brain’s neuroplasticity
enables you to grow, but routine is critical because creating a new habit takes 66
days. He says he pushed himself through the rigors of destroying his old habits
and the chaos of change to emerge a titan. He practiced the 66-day habit change
routine to build his ability to do 1,000 push-ups a day.
While visiting the Taj Mahal and listening to Riley further discuss waking up early
to discover your hidden potential, the entrepreneur realizes how happy she is. She
is in love with the artist, and she forgives the enemies at her company who
threatened to kill her. Those who hurt others secretly hate themselves. By joining
the 5 a.m. Club, she feels she will earn her right to greatness.
The group goes to Rome where the artist and the entrepreneur announce their
engagement. The billionaire presents them with an “Amazing Day” template to
help them organize their work days for optimal performance. It suggests family
time from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., focus on being a top performer from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.,
and renewal from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The Spellbinder warns them that not getting enough sleep leads to an early death.
He says a nightly ritual is vitally important. The brain produces 75% of its human
growth hormone (HGH) during sleep. HGH is essential to creativity and vitality.
The optimal amount of sleep is 7.5 hours a night. The Spellbinder suggests a
routine for the three hours before going to bed.
7 to 8 p.m. – Eat the last meal of the day. Turn off your devices. Isolate
yourself from overstimulation.
8 to 9 p.m. – Have conversations with loved ones. Meditate. Read. Take a
9 to 10 p.m. – Prepare for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool, dark and
tech-free. Lay out your gear for your 5 a.m. workout. Practice gratitude.
The “20/20/20 Formula” is “move, re ect and grow.”
Riley explained the three sections of the 20/20/20 Formula that unlocks the 5
a.m. “Victory Hour”:
5 a.m. to 5:20 a.m.: Move – Get out of bed the moment your alarm
clock rings. Exercise intensely for 20 minutes to cleanse your system and
orient your focus.
5:20 a.m. to 5:40 a.m.: Reflect – Write in a journal or plan your day.
Visit your gratitude.
5:40 a.m. to 6 a.m.: Grow – Read books, review your goals or study
online. Deepen your knowledge to earn more and master your field.
The “10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius” include focus, setting
targets, delegating and learning.
The entrepreneur’s enemies attack the SUV in which she, the artist and Riley are
driving in Sao Paulo. The billionaire’s private security force whisks him away, but
leaves the entrepreneur to find the artist, who has been kidnapped. Because she
has been following the 5 a.m. Club morning routine, she is strong enough to fight
her attackers and get away. She discovers her fiance in an alley with a gun to his
head. She uses her wisdom from Riley’s teachings to convince the gunman to run
“My business will be untouchable and I, personally, will become
unbeatable as I execute on all these ideas.”
The next day, Riley congratulates the couple, who credit his teaching with their
recovery from the trauma of the attack. He tells the entrepreneur that he has
“taken care” of her enemies, who will never bother her again. Then, he shares his
10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius:
Build a “metaphorical moat” around your mental focus, physical energy,
personal willpower, original talent and daily time.
2. For 90 days, use the first 90 minutes of the day to focus on the single most
important work you can do to facilitate greatness.
3. Spend 60 minutes working at your highest level, then take a 10-minute
break to walk, read or meditate.
4. During the second part of your 5 a.m. hour, set five “tiny targets” to
accomplish that day.
5. Fast for 16 hours a day and eat during only eight hours. Schedule a second
workout at the end of the day. Go for a nature walk.
6. Schedule two deep-tissue massages per week to reduce your cortisol (stress
hormone), and to increase your melatonin and serotonin.
7. Use the time you spend in your car to grow professionally by listening to
audiobooks or podcasts. Even one idea they inspire could earn you a great
8. Delegate tasks that don’t enhance your goals to employees dedicated to
your success.
9. Take 30 minutes on Sunday mornings to create a plan for having a great
10. Take an hour to learn, every day, so you can fulfill your “mighty purpose.”
“You enter the magic by using joy as your GPS.”
The artist and the entrepreneur have a beautiful wedding, with Riley present.
While sustainability is key to long-term success, he told them, you must work
hard to stand out. He suggested alternating peak activity with recharging breaks
by taking two days a week off from technology. Once they are more successful, he
says, they should take summers off.
“Tomorrow is a bonus, not a right.”
To enjoy life, Riley says, everyone needs the right relationships, places and
activities to fuel the engine that drives their GPS of joy. Riley gives the newlyweds
several charms. They include a mirror that helps cultivate comfort with solitude,
and a flower charm to remind them that miraculous experiences are more
valuable than material things. The other charms are a door, which symbolizes
moving on from failure; an eye amulet to ward off evil; a paintbrush to show the
power of creativity and the power to make dreams real; and a money charm to
remind them to give money freely, because the more you give, the more you
receive. The last charm, a coffin, reminds them not to delay being happy to some
future date when they think they will have more time.
Rising early in the morning will help you be forgiving and leave a
lasting legacy.
Riley hosts the newlyweds on a visit to Nelson Mandela’s jail cell on Robben
Island near Cape Town, South Africa. During his incarceration, Mandela got up at
5 a.m. every day to work out. Like Mandela, many great men and women suffered
but held onto their core character traits: Courage, mercy, humbleness, honor,
compassion, authenticity and courtesy. Strive for these qualities to realize
your greatness and make the world a better place. To establish a legacy, construct
your life around doing good.
“Every one of us must rise each morning – yes, at 5 a.m. – and
do everything we can possibly do to unfold our genius, develop
our talents, deepen our character and escalate our spirits.”
Flash forward five years: The entrepreneur is wealthy. She volunteers to help
homeless people and runs marathons. She doesn’t care about being rich, famous
and powerful, though she is all three. The artist has become a vegan and a
habitual exerciser. He’s famous and prosperous. They both work to bring others
into the 5 a.m. Club.
About the Author
Leadership consultant Robin Sharma also wrote The Monk Who Sold His
Ferrari, The Greatness Guide and The Leader Who Had No Title. His books have
sold 10 million copies.
You are awesome
Best-selling author Neil Pasricha may seem to build a simple case for how
“awesome” you are, basing his reporting on numerous research studies and
expert opinions. He upends the current culture of perfection by stressing
the importance of failure. He also tells you to find time to unplug from
today’s constant connectivity. In his exuberant, sometimes simplistic way,
he challenges you to do the work and take responsibility for your next step
in life. You may think you know what lies ahead, but studies show you
don’t. This book will give a boost to employees, managers and executives
who want to become more resilient and to make sure they’re on the path
that works for them.
An ellipsis opens up possibilities.
People aren’t focused on you, really.
You can’t see the future, but continue moving forward.
Changing your perspective changes the stories you tell yourself.
Learn from your losses, and celebrate your growth.
Create a way to externalize your concerns.
Don’t fight with the pack, find your own way.
Productivity can impede obtaining your goals.
Believe in your choices and move forward.
An ellipsis opens up possibilities.
The ellipsis was first used in a 1588 English translation of a Roman
play. Adding those dots of punctuation to show a gap in a sentence can
mark the transition from an absolute finality into a future option. An
ellipsis also means an additional new challenge, which you may want to end
with a period. Letting your process of transition continue, however, allows
you to keep “fighting, working, trying.”
A daughter of East Asian parents in Kenya used this as a mantra. She
studied every day, scored the highest on a National Exam and won a
scholarship to a posh boarding school before her father called asking her to
come home before he died. In just a short time, she found hereself in
London, then married off to a man she’d met once and, ultimately, living in
a Toronto suburb. She held to the idea that she didn’t know her new
culture“…yet.” Because she viewed changes as beginnings instead of
endings, she could remain stronger internally.
“There is magic in doing things simply. In doing things
An MIT study found that even the hint of having an opportunity or door
close makes that opportunity more attractive. Without being aware of it,
you desire to have as many open options as possible for as long as you can.
To do this takes effort to strive. See your plans as using an ellipsis instead of
a period. You limit yourself by stating absolutes in your every day life.
Usually the comments are negative. You may mourn not having a
relationship, saying you “can’t” meet anyone. Open up doors and realize you
haven’t met anyone…“yet.” This three-letter word yields tremendous power.
People aren’t focused on you, really.
In 2000 two psychologists created the term “spotlight effect” to describe
how people feel others are paying attention—and judging—them more than
is real. Subsequently, professors from three universities studied this by
asking participants to guess how observers would rate their physical
appearance, athleticism and video-gaming skills.
The study found that the group consistently amplified how much detail the
observers noticed.The researchers concluded that this self-created “fear of
judgment” plays a part in anxiety. While you think you are the focus of
others, you’re not. In 2016, a Psychological Bulletin study reported that the
ideal of perfectionism is gaining traction in current younger
generations. The goal of perfection combined with the idea that everyone is
observing your failure is a dangerously powerful combination.
“We take tiny strings of trouble and extrapolate them into
huge problems with our entire identities always on the line.”
The reality is that people are really too self-involved to notice you. In
addition, getting fired doesn’t lead to being homeless. The first failure you
have, whether a job or relationship is hard, but you become more resilient
with more experience. If reality shows there isn’t a spotlight focused on you
for all the world to see, how can you change your perception? First realize
how instinctive and self-centered it is to blame yourself. You need to
separate yourself from the failure. While it may be next to you, it doesn’t
define you.When you can move the focus away from yourself, you can
continue to learn and grow.
You can’t see the future, but continue moving forward.
If your marriage ends in divorce, add a “dot-dot-dot” and realize that you’re
not the center of everyone’s world. See your “failure” as one step on your
life-path. A future path that you can’t know…yet. You can look behind you
at experiences, like a staircase of steps and actions, but not your next ones.
People find that hard to believe according to a 2013 study of 19,000 adults
published in Science. Researchers asked participants how much they
thought they had changed in the past 10 years and how much they thought
they would change in the next 10. Across the board, participants believed
they had changed more in the past than they would in the future. They were
wrong. The reason, which researchers termed the “end of history illusion,”
is because people base the future on their present circumstances.
If you’re doing well, this might be positive reinforcement. If, however,
you’ve just lost a job or gone through a divorce, the future may seem bleak.
In short, people believe in the worst-case scenario, that if life is bad now, it
will continue to be. But, if you see the setback as a step on the “invisible
staircase” of your future, you can realize that although you can’t see how
you will change, you will. You have to trust enough to take the next step up
the stairs.
“Real growth, real evolution…comes from taking what came
before and integrating it into a greater whole.”
One divorced man, alone in a 500-square-foot apartment, started the blog,
“1000 Awesome Things.” His initially snarky commentary moved to
reflections on gratitude for green traffic lights when late. It helped him
make the transition to a life that includes a wife and son.
Changing your perspective changes the stories you tell
Sometimes you hit rock bottom and although you try to climb out, you slip
back down. You might feel shame. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it “the
swamplands of the soul,” encompassing the multitude of feelings connected
to shame. While dictionary definitions involve others shaming you, research
reveals that shame involves how you view yourself. If you have a strong
sense of self, your focus isn’t on how others see you to begin with.
When interviewed, author Seth Godin relayed how The Book of est made
him realize he was in charge of stories he told himself about the world. He
learned to change them to be happier. If failing a test leaves you devastated,
listen to the stories you attach to it. Instead of going to the worst-case
scenario, “tilt the lens a bit.” It’s not easy to do this, but you can learn.
When refining your focus, consider if you will care about the issue when
you’re dying, if you can change your circumstances or if the problem is
merely a narrative you are reciting to yourself.
“We take what’s invisible to others and shine spotlights on it
inside our own minds.”
An article on deathbed regrets doesn’t mention any failed tests. These
regrets usually concern larger, lifetime issues. If you carry shame from a
childhood event, explore it with a therapist or talk to your parents directly.
Some issues you cannot change. What you can do is change the story that
repeats in your head about the issue. Determining what your stories are
requires digging through layers of tales to find the seed of truth. From
there, you can view the tales you’ve connected to it. You may not be aware
of how you’ve germinated the seed with your stories. Failing a science test is
the fact; failing your parents is the story. Only you can change the stories
you tell yourself.
Learn from your losses, and celebrate your growth.
Losing can hurt, but it means you’re moving forward. If your “ambitions
exceed abilities” that’s a good sign. You may fail, but on the way you’ll be
learning and creating stronger resilience muscles. After 12 years and seven
attempts, an author finally created a successful website. It won numerous
awards, more than 50 million readers and led to a career as a writer and a
lecturer on intentional living.
Baseball’s Cy Young and Nolan Ryan, respectively had the most wins and
strikeouts. They also had the most losses and walks. Their records reflect
the significant amount of time they played.
Commencement speeches extoll you to “do what you love.” The added
phrase should be only if you love it enough to deal with the frustrations and
work involved. If you want another job, then be ready to deal with the
rejection of not getting most of them. To strengthen your resilience, expose
yourself to new experiences where you might not feel comfortable. Go to an
unknown author’s reading or accept a party invitation from someone you
barely know. You may feel you’ve wasted your time, but you may meet new
people who ignite your passions.
“Moving through failures is the real success.”
Create a “failure budget” of $20 to try oysters or $5,000 to finance a new
podcast. Your motto should be, “you win some, you learn some.” It’s also
important to give yourself credit for your failures. Instead of hiding them,
realize what they taught you. Write down your successes and losses, but be
kind to yourself. Failure humanizes people. You will trust someone more if
you know his failures. If he is unaware of his failures or pretends he doesn’t
have any, watch out.
Create a way to externalize your concerns.
Previously religious confession offered a “healing for the soul” when
thoughts or problems weighed you down. The fastest growing religion now
is “no religion” according to National Geographic. Without the structural
confession of most religions, there is no place for “mental release.” People
also experience less of a sense of community since 40% of Americans live
alone. People now turn to others online. Frank Warren, creator
of PostSecret, began asking people in 2005 to send in their secrets on a
postcard. People worldwide have anonymously sent him more than a
million postcards.
Therapy can help you address problems, but you can also spend twominutes every morning writing down your specific responses to three
prompts: what you will let go of, what you are grateful for and what you will
focus on today. It may seem ridiculous, but it is healing and can dissipate
your anxieties.
“In our loud and chaotic world we need a place to let our
thoughts clarify, congeal and then fall right out of us.”
A research study, “The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness
Lead to Success,” found that beginning your day with positivity provides
significant increases in productivity, sales and creativity. Another study
showed that writing down five specific things you’re grateful for each
week makes you happier and healthier within 10 weeks. The last prompt
focuses on your plan for what you will accomplish that day. This cuts down
on “decision fatigue” due to energy used by the complex, decisionmaking part of the brain.
Don’t ght with the pack, nd your own way.
Instead of following the pack to compete for a limited number of jobs, find
another way. While successful companies recruit heavily at Harvard
Business School, a former dean told a student seeking opportunity to look
at “bankrupt companies” who didn’t wine and dine the students. When the
graduate began working at Walmart, he found that his confidence increased
because the company valued him.
“Regardless of age, socioeconomic background, nationality,
or cultural upbringing, when you’re in a small pond, your
opinion of yourself…goes up.”
A series of studies found that your self-regard increases when you’re in a
smaller pond. The positive self-worth you feel will continue for 10 years
after you leave that pond. This can come with risks of abusing your power if
you’re not self-aware. The goal is to give yourself a chance to grow in a more
nurturing environment.
Productivity can impede obtaining your goals.
A 2015 McKinsey & Company white paper reported that today’s employee
produces “2.4 times” more than in 1964. Everyone loves to be productive. It
feels good. The downside, according to New Yorker writer Alexandra
Schwartz, is that productivity is “improving ourselves to death.”
Thus, says author Barry Schwartz, Americans now have more freedom of
choice, but they don’t benefit from it psychologically. Author Ti Wu adds
that if the reason for technology is to allow people to pursue their personal
goals, it’s causing the opposite effect. You may do more work in a day than
your ancestors did in a month, but you also have a harder time relaxing and
having fun. You may not spend the time to make sure you’re taking the path
you want to take.
In The Happiness Equation, Pasricha splits a 168-hour week into three
buckets. One 56-hour bucket is for work, one for sleep and one for fun. The
first two enable the third. If your “hobby” of writing is in the third bucket,
but you also want to spend time with your family, something has to
change. Two questions can help you make this decision. First, ask if you’d
regret not making the change. In this case the options were climbing a
corporate ladder or being an author and speaker. The second question is
what you will do if you fail. Returning the corporate climb was the author’s
Ironically, he wrote less during his first year of his new career than he had
before. Instead of idyllic tranquil writing time, he found his days
interrupted by phone calls, messages, meetings and interviews. His solution
was to carve out a day per week that was “untouchable.” Although that day
can move within a work-week, he never canceled it. During these
uninterrupted days, he produces 5,000 words, 10 times more than in a
normal day. The sanctity of the time allows him to concentrate more deeply
on his work.
Many people object to cutting their technical tether. Initially, the author’s
wife had concerns that she wouldn’t be able to reach him in an emergency.
He agreed to check his phone at lunch and found a barrage of buzzing alerts
from dozens of texts, emails and feeds. There were no emergencies. Now he
just tells her where he is working if she needs him.
“We have to learn to turn down the noise and find little ponds
of tranquility…to help us reflect and make sure we’re going
the right way.”
If you’re an ER doctor or a CEO’s assistant, someone may need to reach
you. You may not be able to take an entire day tech-free, but you could do
an “untouchable lunch.” Take the time to walk alone without your
phone instead of eating with everyone in the cafeteria.
A third resistance is that even if you can take the time to unplug, people on
your team have difficulty doing it. A study conducted by the author in
Harvard Business Review detailed the results of “mandatory vacations.”
Employees lost vacation days if they contacted the office during their time
off. However you achieve it, it is possible and important.
Believe in your choices and move forward.
The core ingredient to resilience is always continuing to move forward. Try
to keep decisions simple. Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert finds that when
you’re making decisions if you think you don’t have a choice, you believe
you’ve made a “better decision.” When you do have a choice, a tremendous
amount of “second-guessing” occurs. If you’re stuck between two good
options, just chose one. You can say that you had no choice. Also realize
that conversations aren’t win-lose situations. If someone doesn’t
understand what you’re saying, change how you’re explaining it. It’s your
responsibility to have them understand you, not the other way around. That
is the crux of empathy.
About the Author
Award-winning author Neil Pasricha has written six books on intentional
living, two of which sold more than a million copies and spent 200 weeks
on the New York Times bestselling list. He hosts the podcast 3 Books.
the 10x rule
If you want to succeed, says sales training expert Grant Cardone in this bestselling motivational manual, set goals 10 times higher than you’d like to reach,
and put in 10 times the effort that you anticipate is necessary. Cardone says you
must value success highly enough to strive toward it resolutely. He tells you how
to set a high bar for yourself so you can leverage the power of working
intelligently and extremely hard. While he writes provocatively, his basic premise
– multiply by 10 – is pretty simple. getAbstract suggests his advice to anyone
seeking a quick, quirky motivational boost.
To succeed, set targets, work systematically, network and use your time
Follow the “10X rule” to success: Set goals 10 times higher than you want to
attain, and perform 10 times the effort you think necessary to achieve your
Without success, societies – like Ancient Rome – grow stagnant and wither.
“Normal” employees, executives and organizations “blend in more than
they stand out.”
Even doing nothing takes effort.
If you’re retreating, recognize the energy that backward movement
demands. Dig in your heels and apply your efforts toward success instead.
“Massive action” doesn’t mean counting the hours you work. It means
ignoring them.
Make your business invulnerable to competition; make competitors keep
up with you.
The world accepts that you should set limited goals because they are
When the global economy goes through a contraction, most people strive
for safety, not success. In hard times, strive to expand.
Setting “10X” Targets
To succeed you need to set targets, work systematically and doggedly, use time
effectively and network. When you consider your life, you may see that you
succeeded in the past when you put in 10 times more effort than most other
people. Those who’ve achieved enormous success in the arts, philanthropy,
politics, athletics or entertainment all followed the 10X rule.
“The 10X Rule is the one thing that will guarantee that you will
get what you want in amounts greater than you ever thought
Develop the capacity to foresee how much work you and your colleagues must
sustain to achieve your targets. Then, set goals 10 times higher than that and
undertake 10 times the effort that initially seems necessary. That’s what it takes to
follow the 10X rule.
Four Mistakes
People tend to make four types of mistakes when they begin applying the 10X
“Mistargeting” – They set limited goals whose targets don’t galvanize
2. “Severely underestimating” – They don’t realistically assess what it
will take in effort, capital and gumption to achieve their objectives.
3. “Spending too much time competing” – They let their competitors
dictate their pace of work and their goals.
4. “Underestimating the amount of adversity” – They don’t correctly
envision the challenges they face.
Meaning of Success
Each person conceives of success differently. No matter how you define it, you
must value success highly and strive to attain it. Success shapes the welfare of
individuals, families and groups. Without it, societies can’t prosper and survive.
“You must think in terms of being everywhere at all times. This is
the kind of 10X mind-set necessary to dominate your sector.”
Success means growth. History provides lessons of the consequences of an end of
growth. Ancient Rome and Communist Russia, for example, both crumbled when
they stalled. Success and the pursuit of success ensure societal survival.
Embrace Your Potential
Most people don’t consider success all that important, or they think that only
other people can achieve it. Or they want only a little success, believing that
would tide them over. These attitudes explain why most people don’t get
anywhere. How much of your potential do you use? You might feel uncomfortable
with the answer. If you don’t think success is imperative, you won’t live up to your
potential. People may spend their lives explaining why they didn’t succeed. This
could happen to you if you regard success as just another option rather than as
something you must attain.
Take Responsibility
To decide your direction in life, accept responsibility. People who shirk
responsibility don’t reach their highest potential level of achievement. High
achievers accept responsibility for their success or failure. They don’t blame other
people. They take charge of what happens. Those who think of themselves as
victims tend to hand control of their lives over to someone else. They never
understand their own capacities.
“Four Degrees of Action”
Individuals often fail because they don’t act appropriately. In most circumstances,
you have four choices, but most people use only the first three:
1. “Do nothing” – Passivity brings failure.
2. “Retreat” – Giving up gets you nowhere.
3. “Take normal levels of action” – Doing just enough allows people to
plod along.
4. “Take massive action” – Only a few outstanding people take massive
action. Among other things, taking massive action means to stop
measuring how much time you work.
“Success provides confidence, security, a sense of comfort, the
ability to contribute at a greater level, and hope and leadership
for others in terms of what is possible.”
Any individual might take one of these actions at some time or another.
Everybody has the capacity for each step. You might apply a normal degree of
action to a healthy lifestyle and yet embrace massive action on “destructive
habits” that undermine it. People may succumb to passivity and never understand
that even doing nothing takes effort. Those who succumb to ennui, selfsatisfaction or “lack of purpose” waste a lot of energy and precious time justifying
their behavior – especially to themselves.
People who retreat often fear success. Perhaps a retreater tried hard and failed,
and so fears trying that hard again. Retreaters waste time making excuses for
their fears. Yet they seldom fear the failure they suffered; rather, they are afraid of
what they see as the meaning of that failure and how badly they felt about
themselves afterward. Like doing nothing, retreating takes effort. It’s exhausting
to urge yourself not to try, to fight against the innate desire to achieve. Wasting
time hiding out, dodging opportunities and effort takes more energy than
actual work.
“The most successful follow up every action with an obsession to
see it through to a reward.”
If you claim that you can go no further in your arena – business, self-growth,
healthy behavior, intimacy, creativity, political involvement, whatever it is – you
are retreating. If you choose to remain a server in a restaurant and give up acting,
that’s a retreat. If you decide that no one in your field will hire you and you stop
looking for work, that’s a retreat.
“Customer service is the wrong target; increasing customers is
the right target.”
Usually, no one can talk a retreater out of retreating. They take all the willpower
they applied to going forward and apply it to moving backward instead. If you’re
retreating, recognize the energy that demands. Dig in your heels and apply your
efforts toward beginning to move ahead again.
Most people are normals. They do just enough work and live with just enough
verve to have fundamental, if plodding, lives. One mark of normal employees,
supervisors, bosses or organizations is that they “blend in more than they stand
“Criticism is not something that you want to avoid; rather, it’s
what you must expect to come your way once you start hitting it
As long as times are good, normals thrive, in their limited way. But the moment
an economic downturn or financial crisis hits, normals suddenly realize that their
cherished, easy way of life is under threat. In such times, a normal lifestyle may
be irrevocably damaged. But most people accept being unexceptional and do just
enough to survive. A penchant for the average means you giving up on your
“Regardless of how superior your product, service, or
proposition is, I assure you that there will be something you don’t
anticipate or correctly plan.”
Instead, reach for your dreams. Instead of being average, use the 10X rule and
break out of the routine. Being average is being “less than extraordinary.” You
can’t expect to lead an extraordinary life or live in extraordinary circumstances if
your efforts are only average or slightly above average. If you have above-average
capabilities, but you behave or perform in an average way, you are being passive
or retreating If you have more vigor and originality than you apply to your daily
life, use it. Don’t insist on remaining average? No one wants to buy an average
product. No advertiser ever promotes anything as being average. To make your
life extraordinary, you must embrace the massive action.
Massive Action
Spending time at a children’s playground should convince you that massive action
is a person’s natural state. Kids never stop moving. If you go into the ocean, you
will see nonstop massive action. Even the Earth itself, just below its surface, is in
constant action, constant turmoil.
“People who refuse to take responsibility generally don’t do well
at taking much action and subsequently don’t do well in the game
of success.”
Some people waste their massive efforts in thrill seeking behavior, drugs, alcohol
and other self-destructive pursuits. That usually results in boredom, and it can
lead to paralysis or retreat. When you embrace positive massive action, don’t
expect everything to go smoothly. The more action you generate, the more
problems you may create. And the more you must solve. Massive action doesn’t
mean counting the hours you work; it means ignoring them. When people
comment on your energy, commitment and determination, you know you’re
taking massive action.
“It’s pointless for people to worry about time management and
balance. The question they should be asking is, ‘How can I have it
all in abundance’?”
Treat every single day as if you will ruin “your future and your life” if you don’t
take massive action. If people call you “a workaholic, obsessed” or “driven,” you
know they’re not operating on a level of massive action. If they were, you would
recognize them as kindred spirits, and they would similarly recognize you. When
you finally succeed, rest assured that the passives, retreaters and normals will
vilify you. That’s simply the fruit of massive action.
Most workers in the United States read about one book a year and work fewer
than 40 hours a week. They make about 300% less than senior executives who
read more than 60 books a year. People often criticize the salaries of highly paid
executives, but such critics discount how hard a well-paid CEO must work.
“We are encouraged to conserve and protect ourselves from
losses rather than to go for the big payoff.”
In 2008, the US economy came under enormous stress. Howard Schultz, the
founder of Starbucks, did what most other executives did – he cut costs. He also
did something most other executives did not: He traveled around the United
States to meet his company’s customers. Schultz set out to discover how
Starbucks could do a better job of satisfying its customers. His actions exemplify
extraordinary massive action. Starbucks sells something customers want but
don’t need, especially in tough times. But because it satisfies its clientele,
Starbucks thrives.
Customers gain from competition. In fact, competing makes some people work
harder. Most people believe in the benefits of competition. They don’t stop to
question who stands to gain. Many businesses look to their competitors to
provide a model of effort and expenditure. If these businesses manage to equal
their competitors, they feel as if they’ve succeeded. However, to be a 10X
businessperson, you must command, not compete. You must put in the effort to
reach a controlling position in your field. You must make your business
invulnerable to any competition and make your competitors strive to keep up
with you.
“Disciplined, consistent, and persistent actions are more of a
determining factor in the creation of success than any other
combination of things.”
Apple, for example, sets the agenda in several fields. Apple sets its own business
pace. It never lets rivals affect its tempo. You, too, can create a business that
others want to emulate. Examine the practices of other businesses in your arena.
Adopt the best ideas and figure out how to surpass them. Work until you
decimate all the rival businesses in your market.
The Trap of the Middle Class
People who belong to the middle class often settle for getting just enough. They
want a comfortable life, a good job and some money in the bank. In 2009, The
Economist magazine said that almost half of the world belongs to the middle class
due to growth in “emerging countries.” It suggested that the members of the
middle class have the flexibility to spend a third of their incomes on discretionary
things they want after they pay for basic needs.
“Fear is actually a sign that you are doing what’s needed to move
in the right direction.”
But, in fact, the middle class is getting squeezed. Rising prices and the failure of
salaries to match inflation account for some of that squeeze. Pundits, educational
establishments, politicians and the media urge most people to compromise rather
than to work for abundance. That advice makes no sense. The richest 5% of
people in the world control $80 trillion of its wealth. If you have the capacity and
the gumption, shouldn’t you join them?
Hard Times
When the economy goes through a contraction, most people work to protect their
assets and stay out of trouble. This approach ensures that they’ll never achieve
their goals. Instead, emulate the people and businesses that take advantage of
hard times by seizing opportunities and expanding.
“Treating success as an option is one of the major reasons why
more people don’t create it for themselves.”
Striving to stay safe violates a fundamental of the 10X rule. The rule demands
that you work and produce copiously, no matter what’s happening around you. At
times, you might contract, but only for periods of retrenchment before advancing
again. Some companies fail because they expand too fast, but many more suffer
because they don’t prepare for expansion. The strategy of consistent expansion
requires courage, but it will help you forge ahead in any situation.
About the Author
Sales training expert Grant Cardone has written best-selling books and appears
on CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News and Fox Business, and contributes to Huffington
How to Talk to Anyone
"Language most shews a man: Speak, that I may see thee." The great English dramatist and poet
Ben Jonson wrote these words in the seventeenth century. They are as true today as they were
then. People evaluate you by the words you use and the way you use them. Of course, people also
make judgments based on your body language, dress style, attitude, facial expressions and
similar criteria that immediately register at a subconscious level. This outstanding book will put
you well on your way to becoming a more attractive personality as it reveals the secrets that
drama and speech coaches, sales trainers, communication consultants, psychologists and other
behavioral experts employ to help their clients become more charismatic, dynamic and
appealing. The famous journalist and social critic H.L. Mencken once wrote, "Before a man
speaks, it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to
assume it." This cynical maxim may be true for many – but certainly not for those who study this
book. It is chock-full of wonderful insights and proven techniques – a whopping 92 in all – that
you can use to become the type of person that others admire. getAbstract recommends putting
its valuable lessons to use.
Successful people are not always the smartest, most attractive or best educated.
Often, they succeed because they know how to get along well with others.
People respond to each other on a subconscious level. Research indicates that "as many
as 10,000 units of information flow per second" between individuals.
Numerous proven techniques can increase your attractiveness and dynamism.
People learn everything they need to know about you within the first few seconds of
meeting you. Meanwhile, you are also forming powerful first impressions.
You send out clear signals about how you feel without saying a word.
"Fine-tune your smile."
To make people feel great about you, focus your conversation on them.
Many people are as frightened to make small talk as they are to appear on the stage.
You will come across as a far more intelligent speaker if you simply find substitutes for a
few "overworked words" such as "smart, nice, pretty or good."
"Clever Hans, the Counting Horse"
In Europe during the halcyon years before World War I, "Clever Hans, the counting horse," was,
without a doubt, the most talked-about sensation on the continent. A brilliant entertainer with a
unique act, Hans could somehow supply accurate answers to math questions that audience
members posed to him. He did so by quickly tapping out the correct answers to any problem –
addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – with a hoof. The horse's owner, Herr von
Osten, was always by his side while Hans performed these seemingly miraculous feats – but he
never spoke to the horse or signaled to him in any way.
“There are two kinds of people in this life: Those who walk into a room
and say, 'Well, here I am!' And those who walk in and say, 'Ahh, there you
No one had ever seen such an amazing animal! Expanding beyond math, Hans "learned the
alphabet." By tapping his hoof a certain number of times for each letter, he would answer
questions from audience members concerning the latest news, or subjects such as geography and
history. Hans always answered every question correctly. Eventually scientists and other leaders
organized a special commission to investigate the "human horse." They asked von Osten to leave
the hall for their test. Then, they had Hans perform his usual math and language wizardry in
front of a crowd. But the horse still did not miss an answer, tapping out correct responses to
numerous questions from the leader of the commission. No one could stump the brainy Hans.
“No man would listen to you talk if he didn't know it was his turn next.”
The public insisted that investigators form another commission. Members organized a second
test in which the questioner whispered questions in Hans's ear so no one else could hear. This
time, Hans could not answer even a single question correctly. Instead of being brilliant, the
horse was revealed as a dummkopf! Can you guess how the commission's members proved that
Hans was a fraud? Von Osten had taught the horse to read the audience members' "bodylanguage signals." As Hans tapped his hoof, people in the audience would exhibit clear signs of
tension – straining forward, holding their breath – until the horse reached the correct number.
Then they would all relax, at which point von Osten had taught Hans to stop tapping
immediately. Hans was "clever" – but not because he was a math genius or geography expert. He
simply knew how to take cues for his actions from the subtle responses of the people around
him. "Know your audience" is one of the primary rules of effective communications. Hans the
horse was able to learn this important lesson. Can you?
Teach Yourself to Become Charming and Attractive
The most accomplished public speakers, actors, politicians and salespeople were not born
charismatic. They worked hard to learn how to speak effectively, to be appealing, and to charm
and persuade others. How did they achieve their goals? The answer is simple: They each applied
certain remarkably helpful rules of personal communication and, thus, developed themselves
into winning and attractive personalities. Yes, such rules exist. Furthermore, they are easy to
learn and employ. You can use these secrets and tricks to re-create yourself almost magically
into a person of great charm and poise, someone everyone will admire and want to be near.
"How to Intrigue Everyone Without Saying a Word"
First impressions are the most lasting. "The way you look and the way you move" provide 80% of
the information people use to form their initial impressions of you. To make sure people get an
overwhelmingly positive impression when they first meet you, use the following tips:
Smile slowly – Don't smile as soon as you meet someone. People will assume that you
do this with everyone. Instead, wait a second or two, look long and deep at the person
you are meeting, then smile big. This brief delay signals that you are not smiling because
it is socially desirable, but because you see something special in this particular person
that you really like.
"Sticky eyes" – Show people that you truly can't take your eyes off of them. Maintain
perfect eye contact while you speak with them.
"The big baby pivot" – When you meet someone, pivot directly toward him or her with
a "total-body turn," flash a genuine smile, and show the undivided and very special
attention you would give to a young child who has just crawled up into your lap.
"How to Know What to Say After You Say, 'Hi'"
Many people, including senior executives, motivational speakers and great performers, hate to
make small talk. But it is an art that you easily can muster if you follow these tactics:
The "mood match" – Don't speak with someone else until you first sample his or her
mood. Once you have, make sure that your opening words "match that mood." This is
particularly important for salespeople.
"Wear a 'whatzit'" – Starting a conversation with a stranger is not easy. One way to get
the ball rolling is to wear something distinctive that he or she is sure to comment upon –
a novel tie-tack, a piece of antique jewelry, or a special lapel pin or button.
The "swiveling spotlight" – People love to speak about themselves. Imagine a giant
spotlight that rotates to light up your counterpart. Keep the spotlight – and focus – on
that person and not yourself. He or she will think you are great for doing so.
"How to Talk Like a VIP"
You can always recognize important people by the commanding, intelligent way they speak. They
have confidence, choose the proper words and don't use clichés. Follow their lead:
"Kill the quick 'me too!'" – To really impress, avoid immediately matching someone
else's account of a personal experience or preference – say, a love of sailing – with your
own story. Let your shared interest come out gracefully during the conversation.
"Comm-YOU-nication" – Slip the word "you" into your discourse as often as you can.
This focuses the content on the other person, and gains his or her attention and approval.
Avoid euphemisms – Always speak directly and to the point. The use of "nicey-nice"
words makes you appear equivocal and weak.
"How to Be an Insider in Any Crowd"
To be able to converse well with others, cure yourself of "Silent Outsider Syndrome." Use the
special words and phrases that are common parlance to the people or group that you want to
"Learn a little 'jobbledygook'" – People will be impressed with you if you speak in
terms they routinely use. Pick up the lingo by listening to others to find out what their
special words and phrases mean so you can use them appropriately.
Hit their "hot buttons" – Each professional group has its own provocative issues – for
example, doctors get feisty about their relationships with hospitals. Find out what these
issues are, then mention them to spice up your exchanges.
"Read their rags" – The best way to gain inside knowledge about a specific field is to
read the trade journals that report on it. An hour or two in the library can work wonders
to improve your conversational prowess.
"How to Sound Like You're Peas in a Pod"
In general people are more comfortable with those who have similar values or interests. Your job
is to provoke "sensations of similarity" in the thoughts of those you want to get to know:
"Join the movement" – Does your conversational partner make herky-jerky
movements, or languid and graceful ones? Subtly match that person's movements to
make him or her feel more comfortable with you on a subliminal basis. But don't go
overboard or you are almost sure to offend.
"Echoing" – What special words and phrases does your conversational partner use to
describe something? "Echo" your partner and use those words yourself.
"The premature 'we'" – When you pepper your sentences with the word "we," you
establish a subconscious bond with other people involved.
"How to Differentiate the Power of Praise from the Folly of Flattery"
Back in the 1930s, Dale Carnegie extolled the virtues of praise in his classic bestseller How to
Win Friends and Influence People. The power of praise is just as strong today, but praise that
does not appear genuine is certain to backfire, so proceed carefully using these helpers:
"Grapevine glory" – To praise someone without seeming to be an apple-polisher,
speak highly of that person, but not directly to him or her. Instead voice your compliment
to that person's closest friend or associate. Rest assured that the message will get
"Accidental adulation" – Sneak praise into an otherwise mundane sentence: "Because
you are so knowledgeable concerning..., I'm sure you can set the agenda."
"Killer compliments" – Use them whenever you can. For example, you can say
something like, "You are the most honest person I know."
"How to Direct-Dial Their Hearts"
You may look great, stand tall, dress in style and feel confident – but how do you project these
qualities when you speak over the phone? Ensure that you:
"Pump up the volume" – When you speak over the phone, "turn your smiles into
sound." Be animated and project a positive image through your tone of voice.
"Name shower" – Repeat the other person's name over and over. A person's name is
their favorite word.
"Oh wow, it's you" – Always answer your calls in a professional way, then switch to a
very sunny, happy demeanor as soon as the caller identifies themselves.
"How to Work a Party Like a Politician Works a Room"
Always put the "politician's six-point party checklist" to work when you attend a function:
"Who will be there?" – After all, that's why you're going, right?
"When should I arrive?" – The best advice is to get there early.
"What should I take with me?" – At a minimum, you'll need your business cards.
"Why is the party being given?" –Be sure and get the true reason.
"Where is the collective mind?" – Will it be a party of financiers or
"How am I going to follow up?" – Follow up to confirm the contacts you have made.
"How to Break the Most Treacherous Glass Ceiling of All"
Gaffes, intemperate or insensitive comments can kill any chance you have to get ahead. To avoid
doing damage, keep these strategies in mind:
"See no bloopers" – Never comment on the "slips, fumbles and faux pas" of others.
"Savor the favor" – If someone offers to do a good deed on your behalf, wait a little
before you try to collect it.
"Chance encounters are for chitchat" – You have been trying for weeks to schedule
an appointment to speak to the boss about increasing your salary. But don't bring it up
when you run into them in a checkout line. If you do, you'll never get the raise.
Planned Communication – and Presentation – Makes All the Difference
You cannot get ahead unless you know how to speak to people so they will want to listen.
Fortunately, learning this skill is within anyone's grasp. Study how successful people accomplish
this important goal – and then do what they do. It's really as simple as that.
About the Author
Leil Lowndes writes and lectures extensively on communication, and acts as a personal
communications coach for Fortune 500 company executives and employees.
In this lovely, useful book, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein examine choices, biases
and the limits of human reasoning from a variety of perspectives. They often amuse by
disclosing how they have fallen victim to the limitations of thought that they are
describing. The fact that these educated, articulate professionals can fool themselves so
often demonstrates how tough it is to think clearly, a point the authors emphasize and
even repeat. Humans fall prey to systematic errors of judgment, but you can harness this
problematic tendency productively several ways, including helping others make better
decisions. Some of the authors’ suggestions may not be practical, but many are – and all
are interesting. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone who wants to know how to
shape responsible decisions.
People don’t choose freely, even when they think they do.
The context in which you make a decision always shapes your choices.
People often make mistakes, especially in complex or emotional situations.
Because people make mistakes, organizations need flexible, forgiving systems.
Set up choices in a way that takes advantage of how humans make decisions. You
can nudge people in beneficial directions.
To help people make better decisions, give them clear, frequent feedback.
To facilitate better decisions, design a default option that benefits people unless
they explicitly choose otherwise.
Help people understand the implications of their choices by offering examples.
Use the RECAP approach to make decisions: “Record” how a chosen plan of
action works, “Evaluate” it and “Compare Alternative Prices.”
To improve voters’ decisions, make public policies as transparent as possible.
People and Choices
People make choices all the time. They choose what to wear, what to eat, how to invest
their money and what candidates to support. However, while they often choose without
coercion, they do not choose without influence. The context in which people make
decisions influences them noticeably, and often deliberately.
“A nudge...is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s
behavior in a predictable way without forbidding options or
significantly changing their economic incentives.”
Those who organize choices and present them are “choice architects,” and their choice
architecture can affect public and private decisions so markedly that they deserve
heightened attention.
The things that influence people are not always rational, and people are not always
aware of what is influencing them. Consider the black flies painted in the urinals in
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Men using urinals often don’t aim well and make a mess.
However, if you give them a target, even a painted fly, spillage plummets (in this case, by
“Small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts
on people’s behavior.”
Every choice presentation is weighted, because the way you offer a choice shapes it. This
means that your choice is not between framing choices or not framing them, but
between framing them consciously and ethically, or framing them.
To get people to act better, you can make a law and punish them for not following it. Or
you can design their choices to “nudge” them toward better decisions. They’re still free
to do as they want, even to act self-destructively, but you’ve increased the odds that they
will act sensibly instead. This “libertarian paternalistic” approach tries to care for people
by guiding them, rather than regulating them. Being nudged can help, because under
some circumstances, even when you know better, you don’t always act rationally.
“Choice architects can make major improvements to the lives of
others by designing user-friendly environments.”
This idea contradicts a popular stance expressed as “just maximize choices,” meaning
the more options, the better. Sounds good, but it just isn’t true. People have trouble with
decisions because the brain has two distinct systems.
The “automatic system” provides immediate emotional responses. Answers come
quickly, easily and often intuitively. You use this system when you know something
really well, such as when you speak your native language, or when you act out of habit.
On the other hand, the “reflective system” requires conscious thought, for instance, the
extra effort you might expend to learn and speak a foreign language. You can train your
reflective system, but it moves more slowly and, at first, using it seems laborious.
Thumbs Up
To reason about things more easily, people apply “rules of thumb” to common
situations. Unfortunately, that brings a cluster of biases into play. One is “anchoring,” in
which a familiar fact influences your later reasoning. People also make decisions based
on “availability.” They judge risk based on how easily they can obtain related
information. If you’ve been through an earthquake, you’re more likely to buy earthquake
insurance, even if you live in a place where earthquakes are highly unlikely. If you
present choices to people who are reasoning based on vivid but nonrepresentative
experiences, help them reason better by offering examples in which things worked out
well. A third heuristic that leads people astray is “representativeness.” People judge a
situation based on how similar it seems to past situations. People who are guided by
representativeness see patterns that aren’t there (like gamblers who feel they are on a
hot streak).
“A well-designed system expects its users to err and is as forgiving as
Human beings also tend to be overly optimistic. For instance, 90% of all drivers believe
they have above-average skills. People also value gains and losses disproportionately.
Once something is yours, you want to keep it. You don’t want to sustain a loss. The
related “status quo bias” occurs because people like things to stay the same. To help
them make productive choices that feel comfortable, do something as simple as setting
their current situation as their default option (for example, when it is time to renew
insurance plans), rather than asking them to evaluate all their alternatives anew each
time. The downside of this bias is “mindless behavior” based on inertia. For example, if
you start eating and get distracted, say by a TV show, you’ll probably keep eating on
autopilot. To fight such tendencies, set up incentives that involve you emotionally, like a
weight loss bet with a friend. Finally, people see things differently based on how an issue
is framed. You are more likely to agree to an operation if you’re told that 90 out of 100
people who had it are still alive five years later than if you’re told that 10 out of 100
people die from it.
“Humans are easily nudged by other humans. Why? One reason is
that we like to conform.”
“Social influences” also have a strong impact. You’re more likely to do something if you
see it done often or if your peers do it. The desire to go along with the social climate is so
strong that it can change your perception of reality; you might really see an object
differently if your peers insist it looks a certain way. This means that you can guide
people to better behavior just by telling them what others are doing. You can also make
an action more likely by “priming” it, that is, asking people how likely they are to do
something, such as vote, makes them more likely to do it. People learn to make good
decisions when they get many chances to try, when they receive clear feedback and when
they can control their impulses.
Dueling Decisions
People need help to make decisions if the stakes are high (health-care choices), if the
situation is complex and rare (buying a house), or if human nature would lead them
astray (saving money versus gambling). If the benefit is immediate (ice cream tastes
good), but the risks or costs are delayed (your arteries will clog and you’ll get fat), getting
advice about healthful choices can help. Some think the best choices come from having
totally free options in a free market, but that’s not the case. People make bad decisions if
they believe bad data, lack key facts or are misled by someone with selfish financial
“If choice architects want to shift behavior and to do so with a nudge,
they might simply inform people about what other people are doing.”
Use choice architecture to design a “path of least resistance” that benefits people. The
simplest way is to establish a default that is easy to use, automatic and uncomplicated.
Assume that people will make mistakes, and design your system accordingly. Make it
easy for people to correct their errors or change their minds. Ideally, the system should
work even if people make minor but common mistakes. For example, ATM machine
designers use this sort of choice architecture by requiring you to take back your credit
card before the machine will spout cash. Design your system so people get feedback.
Make it easy to understand. “RECAP” (“Record, Evaluate and Compare Alternative
Prices”) is a helpful tactic you can use to guide people who are making hard-to-compute
decisions, like choosing among cell phone plans. Such a program would document cell
phone use, for example, and provide clear data on exactly what different choices cost,
like a call to another country. Divide a complex decision into distinct elements or stages,
and compare them by attributes (price to price, speed to speed). Finally, offer incentives,
such as rewards or savings, but be sure decision makers can link the reward to the
Nudging People about Money
Most people know they should save money, but many don’t save enough and may not
even be sure what amount is enough. Most savings advice goes against human nature
and asks people to make complex calculations. To help people save, nudge them. When
it is time for employees to enroll in your firm’s retirement plan, make signing up the
default. People can choose not to sign up or can quit any time, but inertia and the status
quo conspire to keep them from doing what’s good for them. Try a “Save More
Tomorrow” program that “invites participants to commit themselves in advance to a
series of [savings account] contribution increases” as their wages rise. This approach
recognizes that people fear loss, and may perceive savings as a loss of disposable income,
so it links increases in their savings rate to parallel increases in their salaries. When
people earn more, the company automatically deducts more in savings. They don’t have
to decide to save.
“Good choice architecture doesn’t need to originate with a wonkish
professor and a powerful computer algorithm. It can be the
brainchild of a local school official or two.”
Even when people invest, human nature often leads them to invest in the wrong places
at the wrong time. Because people follow each other, a market surge in a sector will
bring in new investors long after those stocks have become overvalued. People tend to
overinvest in their companies’ stocks and to diversify poorly. Help investors in your
organization by providing a default option or a limited number of options (say three
choices, based on their risk tolerance). Expect people to err, and give them chances to
rebalance and diversify their accounts over time. Provide information on how investing
translates into results. Simplify other financial decisions by applying the RECAP
process. For instance, send an annual statement spelling out what fees your organization
charged and for what; clarify the sources of debt and the implications of borrowing.
People dealing with governmental programs particularly need such services. For
instance, if you’re designing a retirement investing plan, you could require everyone to
use one plan, removing all options. Or you could offer guided choices, say by
establishing well-designed default selections, including letting people invest on their
Nudging People about Health
In the U.S., problematic changes in Medicare Part D demonstrated the role of choice
architecture. This voluntary program was meant to help seniors pay for prescriptions.
But the program tried to maximize choices and caused patients a lot of trouble.
“Even the most sophisticated investors can sometimes find the
decision about how to invest their money daunting, and they resort to
simple rules of thumb.”
For example, plans differed from state to state, so some patients faced being randomly
enrolled, with complex local criteria for when coverage started and stopped. The plan
was so complex that bewildered patients swamped their pharmacies, many seniors were
left out and many ended up in the wrong program. The choice architecture went awry.
To fix the situation, planners could use RECAP to educate people about the program.
“Although rules of thumb can be very helpful, their use can also lead
to systematic biases.”
Organ donations save lives; However, the U.S. has a shortage of donors and many
people die before they get the organs they need. How could choice architecture make
organ donation more likely? The government could institute “routine removal,” where
states assume the right to harvest organs, but this violates common practice and many
religions. At present, many states use “explicit consent”: people have to actively sign up
to be organ donors. Switch that to “presumed consent” by changing the default, and
you’d get more donations while maintaining self-determination. One milder variation
might be “mandated choice,” requiring people to choose one way or another when they
get their drivers’ licenses.
“When markets get more complicated, unsophisticated and
uneducated shoppers will be especially disadvantaged by the
Environmental dangers pose sweeping challenges, yet they are hard to correct because
people don’t see the relationship between their actions and the unwanted results. To
nudge people to make better environmental decisions, clarify these links. Putting
informative labels on food is a great start. When the Environmental Protection Agency
compiled data on toxic chemicals stored across the U.S. and required companies to
disclose whether they produced such chemicals, many firms voluntarily improved their
practices to stave off being put on an “environmental blacklist,” even though it carried
no formal sanctions.
Nudging People about Social Issues
One way to resolve the social controversy over same-sex marriage and to nudge people
toward more thoughtful marital decisions is to take government out of the marriage
business. Governments would formalize civil unions between any two people to settle
next-of-kin issues and certify legal partners. Individual organizations could take care of
marriages and define them freely. If a church wanted to limit marriages to a man and a
woman, it could. Any group could sanction marriage as it chose, creating a free market
for marriage, rather than the existing government monopoly. Government could and
should establish defaults to provide for children’s welfare, no matter who is in the civil
union. Today’s one-size-fits-all model of marriage nudges couples to take things for
granted, and not to discuss what model really would work best for them. People need a
nudge toward discussing things before making commitments.
“If incentives and nudges replace requirements and bans,
government will be both smaller and more modest. So, to be clear:
We are not for bigger government, just for better governance.”
School quality is another area that needs better choice architecture. School choice
should be broadly available. To make it work better, school systems should publish clear,
accessible information about school quality (test scores, nature of the facilities). Schools
also should nudge students to go to college. Such a nudge can be as simple as requiring
high school seniors to apply to at least one college before they can graduate or teaching
them the pragmatic benefits of attending college, such as higher income.
“Libertarian paternalists care about freedom; they are skeptical
about approaches that prevent people from going their own way.”
Government action should be as transparent as possible. Government should provide
background on how it makes decisions, who votes and what their votes imply for the
average citizen. This would help the less powerful members of society without markedly
inconveniencing more sophisticated citizens.
About the Authors
Richard H. Thaler teaches at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business
and is author of Quasi Rational Economics. Cass R. Sunstein teaches at the
University of Chicago Law School and is the author of Infotopia.
managing your own mind
Edward Burger, president of Southwestern University, developed
a 100-page course that aims to slow down your thinking and
help you think through ideas. He lays out 25 challenging puzzles
and guides you through solving them without revealing the
answers. You may find Burger’s puzzles and hints either
challenging or vexing, but he will inspire you to get up, walk
around, ponder and puzzle. Those with the patience to practice
and reflect will appreciate Burger’s unique work.
Don’t let gaining a credential and landing a job distract you
from the true purpose of a formal education.
The useful lifespan of skills decreases constantly. Continually
strive to develop your ability to think effectively.
Practice by applying the “five elements of effective thinking”:
First, aim to “understand deeply.” Admitting that you don’t
understand things puts you in a mind-set to learn.
Second, “fail effectively.” Try things and falter, but learn a
little each time you don’t succeed.
Third, “create questions.” Think slowly through each of the
many specifics that present you with an issue or challenge.
Fourth, “go with the flow of ideas.” Connect your thinking.
Think through a topic to connect it with other disciplines,
ideas and subjects.
Fifth, “be open to change.” Keep an open mind; be willing to
see things differently.
Take charge of your learning; don’t wait for others to educate
Slow down, unplug your devices and ease your daily flurry of
brain activity. Think, reflect, connect and let your mind
renew and recharge.
Intentional Learning
“Effective learning” requires the experience of doing, practicing,
making mistakes and thinking through ideas. This leads to you
generating your own thoughts and “making up your own mind.”
Learning shouldn’t be a race toward earning a
credential, certificate or degree and turning that credential into
a job. Regard learning instead as a journey of self-discovery.
“Effective thinking includes the objective analysis that
is typically associated with critical thinking but also
includes broader modes of creativity, originality,
engagement and empathy.”
Approach learning as an interconnected, multidisciplinary
exploration of what interests you. Don’t merely learn a subject.
Learn past it and beyond it into other subjects as you connect it to
a greater understanding and reinforcement of learning.
Connecting learning in one area to other disciplines brings the
thrill of illumination and the profound enjoyment of gaining
knowledge. Adopt what the ancient Greeks referred to as a
paideia approach to learning, as used at Southwestern
University: seek “intentional connections” between the things you
learn in each discipline or subject area.
“The ultimate goal is not to solve the riddle at hand,
but rather to apply multiple practices of effective
thinking to see that puzzle in as many different ways
as possible even after a solution is discovered.”
You face many puzzles in your life. Whether you cast them as
problems or opportunities, they require thought to resolve. The
more divergent your thinking, the better. You can and should
practice working through problems. Don’t focus only on solving
them and moving on; think about the many ways you can
approach each challenge and consider it differently.
Effective Thinking and Critical Thinking
Effective thinking differs from critical thinking. Thinking
effectively requires combining analysis with your emotions and
your creativity. To achieve that goal, apply the “five elements of
effective thinking”:
1. “Understand deeply” – You never simply understand a
thing or don’t understand it. Understanding exists on a
continuum; you always possess a degree of understanding.
You can always learn more to understand better. Having this
mind-set helps when you don’t understand most of a
complicated issue. It opens your mind and gives you
confidence that you can improve your understanding.
Reduce the problem down to what you do grasp. Gradually
build from there to understand a little more of the issue at a
time. Look for underlying patterns that might help explain
the whole thing. Use a variety of adjectives to describe the
issue, problem or opportunity in as many ways as you
can. Think deeply about each of your descriptors.
2. “Fail effectively” – Zero in on discrete aspects of the
issue or puzzle. Try possible solutions even knowing you’ll
fail. Learn from each failure so you increase your
understanding. Every misstep will reveal something that
advances your thinking. Cycle through your failures quickly.
Don’t procrastinate. For example, if you want to write a
short article, start writing. Even a “miserable first
draft” provides a better start than a blank page. Expect to
keep failing. Examine and learn from each failure. By
planning to fail, you enable yourself to see the
puzzle differently each time.
3. “Create questions” – Think about questions; ask “what
if…?” Even if you don’t ask all your questions, formulating
them helps you consider alternatives.
Asking questions ensures that you address the right
issues and see the “big picture.” Play devil’s advocate, too, by
taking an opposite position on the issues or puzzles as you
think through them.
4. “Go with the flow of ideas” – Follow through on your
new thoughts and ideas, and connect them with your
previous thinking. Consider what flows from your ideas by
asking “what comes next?” Explore every idea through to
the end, and consider multiple perspectives. Follow your
doubts; don’t ignore them. Stay open-minded to alternatives.
5. “Be open to change” – All people are “truly capable of
change.” Part of learning involves understanding that
changing turns you into a “better version” of
yourself. Change incrementally but constantly.
The Puzzles
Consider each of the following puzzles, for example. Think them
through methodically from as many angles as possible using each
of the five thinking processes. Take your time before reading
onward after the puzzles to the suggested approaches and
hints provided below them.
“Commit to being open to new templates of thinking
and modes of analysis.”
Turn off your devices. Find a quiet place. Prepare yourself by
remembering to take your time. Resist the seemingly easy answers
so you can think through each puzzle even if you’ve seen it before
and know the solution. Solving the puzzles almost doesn’t matter.
Your thinking process matters much more.
1. “Who’s who” – Two college students, a math major and a
philosophy major, are having a conversation. The
one with black hair introduces himself as a math major. The
one with red hair introduces herself as an philosophy
major. “At least one of these students is lying.” What color
hair does the one claiming to be a math major have?
2. “Three switches, two rooms and one bulb” – You
enter a room with three light switches, all in the off position.
One of the switches controls a lamp in a room you can’t
see down a twisted hallway. How many trips must you make
down the hall and back to know which switch controls the
lamp? Determine the fewest trips possible.
3. “Five elements, but only four hats” – Four students
line up in a row. An opaque, nonreflective screen
separates students A and B, who face it on opposite sides.
Student A wears a black hat. Student B wears a gold hat.
Student C, wearing a black hat, stands behind student B.
Student D, wearing a gold hat, stands behind student C. The
students know that each one of them is wearing a hat that’s
either black or gold. They know that there are exactly two
black and two gold hats, but they don’t know the color of
their own hats. Students A and B, facing the screen, also
don’t know the color of anyone else’s hat. Student C, standing
behind B, knows B’s hat color. Student D, behind B
and C, knows both of their hat colors. The students can’t
speak or touch. They will win $100 each if one correctly
states the color of his or her own hat within 10 minutes. After
a minute, one student knows for sure the color of his or her
hat and shouts it out. Which student speaks up, and what
color hat is the student wearing?
4. “Puzzling” politicians” – One hundred politicians are in a
meeting. You know that at least one is honest and that within
any given pair, at least one is crooked. How many politicians
are crooked?
5. “Penny for your thoughts” – Some pennies sit on a table.
Blindfolded, you count them. A researcher tells you how
many lie heads up; otherwise, you have no way of knowing.
You can move the pennies around and turn them over. The
researcher asks you to divide them into two groups, each
with an equal number heads-up. Can you do it? If so, how?
6. “A cross farmer needs to cross a river” – Farmer
Francis stands on the bank of a river with a rabbit, a fox and
a bunch of carrots. He must get them all across, but his raft is
only big enough for himself and one passenger or item. If he
leaves the fox and the rabbit together, the fox will kill the
rabbit. If he leaves the rabbit with the carrots, the rabbit will
eat them. The fox and the rabbit won’t run away if Francis
leaves them alone together. How can Francis get himself, the
fox, the rabbit and the carrots across safely?
7. “The crazy and exceptionally obnoxious CEO” – You
love your job, but you have a terrible boss. The boss decides
to downsize. He brings everyone to a meeting. He says that
the next morning, you and your teammates will line up one
behind the other. He will place either a red or a green hat on
each of your heads. You will only see the color of the hat on
the heads of the people in front of you – not on your own
head nor on the people behind you. You will be given a
buzzer with a red button and a green button. The boss will
ask the last person in line the color of his or her hat. That
person will use his or her buzzer to say whether it’s red or
green. After pressing the button, a loudspeaker will state
“red” or “green” according to the button the employee
pushed. The boss will immediately and loudly fire you if
you’re wrong, but he’ll send you back to work if you’re
right. He will move on to the next employee in line and ask
the same question. You can’t speak during the process
or share information other than pressing the buttons. That
evening, you and your teammates get together to discuss a
strategy that will result in the fewest firings the next
morning. What is it?
Suggested Approaches
Don’t compartmentalize your thinking by moving from discrete
topic to discrete topic. Think through each topic, borrow ideas
from one discipline to gain insight, connections and even
epiphanies. A vivid perspective on each puzzle lies within each of
the descriptions above. It’s there if you think patiently and
effectively. Try these tactics:
1. Who’s who – Examine each word carefully, even when they
seem unimportant. Think through each option. What does it
mean that, “at least one of these students is lying?” Go
through the five effective thinking mind-sets. The puzzle
says, “one [is] a math major; the other, a philosophy
major.” These facts, plus the fact that one lies, means neither
tells the truth.
2. Three switches, two rooms and one bulb – Start by
throwing ideas out – any idea, no matter how absurd. Could
you solve this puzzle blindfolded? Think about that to
consider alternatives to discerning whether a lamp turns on.
Slow down. What else can a light bulb do besides produce
3. Five elements, but only four hats – Put yourself in the
position of each student, one by one. Try to see what they
see and tap into what they think. What information does
each student have? What information will each gain during
the challenge? Consider that A and B don’t see any hats,
so they start with no information. C knows that B wears
a gold hat, but the solution lies in C taking the perspective of
D. C knows D can see the color of her hat and of B’s
and C’s hats. By thinking the thoughts of D as the game
begins, C can determine with certainty the color of C’s own
hat. C thinks about what D would say or not say depending
on what D sees. If D stays silent for a whole minute, C has
her answer and speaks up.
Puzzling politicians – You have four certainties. Think
through each to gain a more complete picture. For
the statements to hold, at least one politician is honest. But
in any given pair, at least one is crooked. Consider that the
honest politician can pair with any of the others.
Penny for your thoughts – Consider a smaller number of
pennies being on the table. What if you had only two or
three? Try to find a rule that works no matter the number
of pennies.
A cross farmer needs to cross a river – Think
counterintuitively. Don’t consider only the order of the things
that Francis will take across the river. Think about the
opposite journey. He can bring an animal or item that he
took one way back agains the other way. Neither the fox nor
the rabbit nor the carrots have to travel in only one direction.
The crazy and exceptionally obnoxious CEO –
Consider the information you have now and will gain as the
process begins. You will know the color of the hat on
everyone in line in front of you. As the CEO announces
whether a person has been fired, you learn the color of the
hats behind you, one by one. By your turn, you will know the
color of every hat behind you and every hat in front of you,
but you won’t know the color of your own. Think about what
data you may be able to share with your teammates in front
of you, knowing the information you have at the precise time
the boss asks you to choose. It helps to think small at
first. For example, what if you only had a few other
teammates with you in line? Put yourself in the shoes of the
person in the very back. Think about what he or she sees and
how many ways you can describe it. Make a list of those
things, and think about what the person in the back can
convey with such limited communications options.
Effective Thinking
Slow down to think deeply, to think through challenges, to seek
many perspectives, and to resist jumping to a quick or obvious
solution. Learning to do this takes patience and practice. The
payoff in developing this level of mindfulness extends to your
personal relationships outside work. Turn off your devices,
and turn off your busy mind. Give your brain what it needs to
regenerate, to make new connections and to see things differently.
To learn effectively, you have to take action and responsibility for
your own learning. Look for challenges, think through them, and
talk to people about their challenges and how they addressed
them. Ask a lot of questions. Practice all these elements to become
an even better version of you.
“The mind needs an opportunity to settle and recharge
in order to operate as effectively, wisely, creatively
and joyfully as possible.”
About the Author
Southwestern University president Edward B. Burger designed
a course around these thinking practices through entertaining
puzzles, which he teaches as a mathematics professor at
Edward Burger, president of Southwestern University, developed
a 100-page course that aims to slow down your thinking and
help you think through ideas. He lays out 25 challenging puzzles
and guides you through solving them without revealing the
answers. You may find Burger’s puzzles and hints either
challenging or vexing, but he will inspire you to get up, walk
around, ponder and puzzle. Those with the patience to practice
and reflect will appreciate Burger’s unique work.
Don’t let gaining a credential and landing a job distract you
from the true purpose of a formal education.
The useful lifespan of skills decreases constantly. Continually
strive to develop your ability to think effectively.
Practice by applying the “five elements of effective thinking”:
First, aim to “understand deeply.” Admitting that you don’t
understand things puts you in a mind-set to learn.
Second, “fail effectively.” Try things and falter, but learn a
little each time you don’t succeed.
Third, “create questions.” Think slowly through each of the
many specifics that present you with an issue or challenge.
Fourth, “go with the flow of ideas.” Connect your thinking.
Think through a topic to connect it with other disciplines,
ideas and subjects.
Fifth, “be open to change.” Keep an open mind; be willing to
see things differently.
Take charge of your learning; don’t wait for others to educate
Slow down, unplug your devices and ease your daily flurry of
brain activity. Think, reflect, connect and let your mind
renew and recharge.
Intentional Learning
“Effective learning” requires the experience of doing, practicing,
making mistakes and thinking through ideas. This leads to you
generating your own thoughts and “making up your own mind.”
Learning shouldn’t be a race toward earning a
credential, certificate or degree and turning that credential into
a job. Regard learning instead as a journey of self-discovery.
“Effective thinking includes the objective analysis that
is typically associated with critical thinking but also
includes broader modes of creativity, originality,
engagement and empathy.”
Approach learning as an interconnected, multidisciplinary
exploration of what interests you. Don’t merely learn a subject.
Learn past it and beyond it into other subjects as you connect it to
a greater understanding and reinforcement of learning.
Connecting learning in one area to other disciplines brings the
thrill of illumination and the profound enjoyment of gaining
knowledge. Adopt what the ancient Greeks referred to as a
paideia approach to learning, as used at Southwestern
University: seek “intentional connections” between the things you
learn in each discipline or subject area.
“The ultimate goal is not to solve the riddle at hand,
but rather to apply multiple practices of effective
thinking to see that puzzle in as many different ways
as possible even after a solution is discovered.”
You face many puzzles in your life. Whether you cast them as
problems or opportunities, they require thought to resolve. The
more divergent your thinking, the better. You can and should
practice working through problems. Don’t focus only on solving
them and moving on; think about the many ways you can
approach each challenge and consider it differently.
Effective Thinking and Critical Thinking
Effective thinking differs from critical thinking. Thinking
effectively requires combining analysis with your emotions and
your creativity. To achieve that goal, apply the “five elements of
effective thinking”:
1. “Understand deeply” – You never simply understand a
thing or don’t understand it. Understanding exists on a
continuum; you always possess a degree of understanding.
You can always learn more to understand better. Having this
mind-set helps when you don’t understand most of a
complicated issue. It opens your mind and gives you
confidence that you can improve your understanding.
Reduce the problem down to what you do grasp. Gradually
build from there to understand a little more of the issue at a
time. Look for underlying patterns that might help explain
the whole thing. Use a variety of adjectives to describe the
issue, problem or opportunity in as many ways as you
can. Think deeply about each of your descriptors.
2. “Fail effectively” – Zero in on discrete aspects of the
issue or puzzle. Try possible solutions even knowing you’ll
fail. Learn from each failure so you increase your
understanding. Every misstep will reveal something that
advances your thinking. Cycle through your failures quickly.
Don’t procrastinate. For example, if you want to write a
short article, start writing. Even a “miserable first
draft” provides a better start than a blank page. Expect to
keep failing. Examine and learn from each failure. By
planning to fail, you enable yourself to see the
puzzle differently each time.
3. “Create questions” – Think about questions; ask “what
if…?” Even if you don’t ask all your questions, formulating
them helps you consider alternatives.
Asking questions ensures that you address the right
issues and see the “big picture.” Play devil’s advocate, too, by
taking an opposite position on the issues or puzzles as you
think through them.
4. “Go with the flow of ideas” – Follow through on your
new thoughts and ideas, and connect them with your
previous thinking. Consider what flows from your ideas by
asking “what comes next?” Explore every idea through to
the end, and consider multiple perspectives. Follow your
doubts; don’t ignore them. Stay open-minded to alternatives.
5. “Be open to change” – All people are “truly capable of
change.” Part of learning involves understanding that
changing turns you into a “better version” of
yourself. Change incrementally but constantly.
The Puzzles
Consider each of the following puzzles, for example. Think them
through methodically from as many angles as possible using each
of the five thinking processes. Take your time before reading
onward after the puzzles to the suggested approaches and
hints provided below them.
“Commit to being open to new templates of thinking
and modes of analysis.”
Turn off your devices. Find a quiet place. Prepare yourself by
remembering to take your time. Resist the seemingly easy answers
so you can think through each puzzle even if you’ve seen it before
and know the solution. Solving the puzzles almost doesn’t matter.
Your thinking process matters much more.
1. “Who’s who” – Two college students, a math major and a
philosophy major, are having a conversation. The
one with black hair introduces himself as a math major. The
one with red hair introduces herself as an philosophy
major. “At least one of these students is lying.” What color
hair does the one claiming to be a math major have?
2. “Three switches, two rooms and one bulb” – You
enter a room with three light switches, all in the off position.
One of the switches controls a lamp in a room you can’t
see down a twisted hallway. How many trips must you make
down the hall and back to know which switch controls the
lamp? Determine the fewest trips possible.
3. “Five elements, but only four hats” – Four students
line up in a row. An opaque, nonreflective screen
separates students A and B, who face it on opposite sides.
Student A wears a black hat. Student B wears a gold hat.
Student C, wearing a black hat, stands behind student B.
Student D, wearing a gold hat, stands behind student C. The
students know that each one of them is wearing a hat that’s
either black or gold. They know that there are exactly two
black and two gold hats, but they don’t know the color of
their own hats. Students A and B, facing the screen, also
don’t know the color of anyone else’s hat. Student C, standing
behind B, knows B’s hat color. Student D, behind B
and C, knows both of their hat colors. The students can’t
speak or touch. They will win $100 each if one correctly
states the color of his or her own hat within 10 minutes. After
a minute, one student knows for sure the color of his or her
hat and shouts it out. Which student speaks up, and what
color hat is the student wearing?
4. “Puzzling” politicians” – One hundred politicians are in a
meeting. You know that at least one is honest and that within
any given pair, at least one is crooked. How many politicians
are crooked?
5. “Penny for your thoughts” – Some pennies sit on a table.
Blindfolded, you count them. A researcher tells you how
many lie heads up; otherwise, you have no way of knowing.
You can move the pennies around and turn them over. The
researcher asks you to divide them into two groups, each
with an equal number heads-up. Can you do it? If so, how?
6. “A cross farmer needs to cross a river” – Farmer
Francis stands on the bank of a river with a rabbit, a fox and
a bunch of carrots. He must get them all across, but his raft is
only big enough for himself and one passenger or item. If he
leaves the fox and the rabbit together, the fox will kill the
rabbit. If he leaves the rabbit with the carrots, the rabbit will
eat them. The fox and the rabbit won’t run away if Francis
leaves them alone together. How can Francis get himself, the
fox, the rabbit and the carrots across safely?
7. “The crazy and exceptionally obnoxious CEO” – You
love your job, but you have a terrible boss. The boss decides
to downsize. He brings everyone to a meeting. He says that
the next morning, you and your teammates will line up one
behind the other. He will place either a red or a green hat on
each of your heads. You will only see the color of the hat on
the heads of the people in front of you – not on your own
head nor on the people behind you. You will be given a
buzzer with a red button and a green button. The boss will
ask the last person in line the color of his or her hat. That
person will use his or her buzzer to say whether it’s red or
green. After pressing the button, a loudspeaker will state
“red” or “green” according to the button the employee
pushed. The boss will immediately and loudly fire you if
you’re wrong, but he’ll send you back to work if you’re
right. He will move on to the next employee in line and ask
the same question. You can’t speak during the process
or share information other than pressing the buttons. That
evening, you and your teammates get together to discuss a
strategy that will result in the fewest firings the next
morning. What is it?
Suggested Approaches
Don’t compartmentalize your thinking by moving from discrete
topic to discrete topic. Think through each topic, borrow ideas
from one discipline to gain insight, connections and even
epiphanies. A vivid perspective on each puzzle lies within each of
the descriptions above. It’s there if you think patiently and
effectively. Try these tactics:
1. Who’s who – Examine each word carefully, even when they
seem unimportant. Think through each option. What does it
mean that, “at least one of these students is lying?” Go
through the five effective thinking mind-sets. The puzzle
says, “one [is] a math major; the other, a philosophy
major.” These facts, plus the fact that one lies, means neither
tells the truth.
Three switches, two rooms and one bulb – Start by
throwing ideas out – any idea, no matter how absurd. Could
you solve this puzzle blindfolded? Think about that to
consider alternatives to discerning whether a lamp turns on.
Slow down. What else can a light bulb do besides produce
Five elements, but only four hats – Put yourself in the
position of each student, one by one. Try to see what they
see and tap into what they think. What information does
each student have? What information will each gain during
the challenge? Consider that A and B don’t see any hats,
so they start with no information. C knows that B wears
a gold hat, but the solution lies in C taking the perspective of
D. C knows D can see the color of her hat and of B’s
and C’s hats. By thinking the thoughts of D as the game
begins, C can determine with certainty the color of C’s own
hat. C thinks about what D would say or not say depending
on what D sees. If D stays silent for a whole minute, C has
her answer and speaks up.
Puzzling politicians – You have four certainties. Think
through each to gain a more complete picture. For
the statements to hold, at least one politician is honest. But
in any given pair, at least one is crooked. Consider that the
honest politician can pair with any of the others.
Penny for your thoughts – Consider a smaller number of
pennies being on the table. What if you had only two or
three? Try to find a rule that works no matter the number
of pennies.
A cross farmer needs to cross a river – Think
counterintuitively. Don’t consider only the order of the things
that Francis will take across the river. Think about the
opposite journey. He can bring an animal or item that he
took one way back agains the other way. Neither the fox nor
the rabbit nor the carrots have to travel in only one direction.
The crazy and exceptionally obnoxious CEO –
Consider the information you have now and will gain as the
process begins. You will know the color of the hat on
everyone in line in front of you. As the CEO announces
whether a person has been fired, you learn the color of the
hats behind you, one by one. By your turn, you will know the
color of every hat behind you and every hat in front of you,
but you won’t know the color of your own. Think about what
data you may be able to share with your teammates in front
of you, knowing the information you have at the precise time
the boss asks you to choose. It helps to think small at
first. For example, what if you only had a few other
teammates with you in line? Put yourself in the shoes of the
person in the very back. Think about what he or she sees and
how many ways you can describe it. Make a list of those
things, and think about what the person in the back can
convey with such limited communications options.
Effective Thinking
Slow down to think deeply, to think through challenges, to seek
many perspectives, and to resist jumping to a quick or obvious
solution. Learning to do this takes patience and practice. The
payoff in developing this level of mindfulness extends to your
personal relationships outside work. Turn off your devices,
and turn off your busy mind. Give your brain what it needs to
regenerate, to make new connections and to see things differently.
To learn effectively, you have to take action and responsibility for
your own learning. Look for challenges, think through them, and
talk to people about their challenges and how they addressed
them. Ask a lot of questions. Practice all these elements to become
an even better version of you.
“The mind needs an opportunity to settle and recharge
in order to operate as effectively, wisely, creatively
and joyfully as possible.”
About the Author
Southwestern University president Edward B. Burger designed
a course around these thinking practices through entertaining
puzzles, which he teaches as a mathematics professor at
The art of thinking clearly
You are an irrational being, but don’t worry; that’s part of being human.
Nobody is immune to cognitive errors, unconscious thinking habits that
lead to false conclusions or poor decisions. Mere mortals are prone to an
array of common thinking errors and will consistently overestimate their
chances of success, prefer stories to facts, confuse the message with the
messenger, become overwhelmed by choices and ignore alternative options.
For more, see getAbstract co-founder Rolf Dobelli’s set of 99 short
chapters, each detailing a cognitive flaw. Knowing these errors won’t help
you avoid them completely, but it will help you make better decisions – or
at least teach you where you slipped. Dobelli’s underlying humor and his
choice selection of anecdotes make this eye-opening compendium of
cognitive science theories warmly accessible.
Human beings are subject to irrational cognitive errors. Identifying
the effect of these flaws in your thinking patterns will help you make
better decisions.
The “survivorship bias” leads people to overestimate their chances of
In the grips of the “sunk cost fallacy,” folks tend to stick with a project
– even a bad one – once they’ve invested a certain amount of “time,
money, energy or love” in it.
The “confirmation bias” impels people to emphasize data that confirm
their beliefs and to discard information that conflicts with their
Life seems easier to understand when stories explain it, but “story
bias” distorts reality.
Due to the “overconfidence effect,” experts generally overestimate
how much they know.
Humans find comfort believing they can control the world around
them, even when they can’t. That’s the “illusion of control bias.”
“Outcome bias,” or “historian error,” is the tendency to evaluate
decisions based on results rather than process.
The sadness of loss is stronger than the joy of a comparable gain;
that’s “loss aversion.”
“Cognitive dissonance” is at work when people recast negative events
in a better light.
To Err Is Human
Human beings are prone to cognitive errors, or barriers to clear, logical
thinking. Everyone experiences flawed patterns in the process of reasoning.
In fact, many of these common mistakes have a history that goes back
centuries. Even experts fall prey to such glitches, which might explain why
supposedly savvy financiers hold investments for too long. Identifying
“systematic cognitive errors” will help you avoid them. You can’t sidestep
these irrationalities completely, because that would require a level of
control and willpower beyond human capability. However, becoming
familiar with these pitfalls will improve your ability to make astute
decisions. Heed this selection of cognitive errors to avoid their
“Survivorship Bias”
Tales of garage bands making it big, authors self-publishing bestsellers or
college athletes signing with the major leagues for millions are so inspiring
that people tend to overestimate their own chances of duplicating such
career trajectories. This bias makes most folks focus on the few stars who
soar, not the millions of ordinary humans who falter. This tendency is quite
pernicious among investors and entrepreneurs. The likelihood of a tech
start-up becoming the next Google is almost nil, yet funders and techies risk
money chasing that elusive opportunity. Dose yourself in reality and avoid
this pitfall “by frequently visiting the graves of once-promising projects,
investments and careers.”
“Swimmer’s Body Illusion”
You want to get in shape. You admire the slim physique of a professional
swimmer, so you head for the local pool, hoping that you, too, can attain
such a sleek body. You’ve fallen prey to the swimmer’s body illusion that
causes you to confuse “selection factors” with results. Does Michael Phelps
have a perfect swimmer’s body because he trains extensively, or is he the
world’s top competitive swimmer because he was born with a lean,
muscular build? Do cosmetics make women beautiful, or do already
beautiful models display cosmetics to their best advantage? Does Harvard
mold the world’s best and brightest, or do the smartest kids choose
Harvard? These chicken-and-egg conundrums cloud the waters between
selection criteria and results.
“Sunk Cost Fallacy”
The old saying about ‘throwing good money after bad’ expresses the heart of
this fallacy: the tendency to persevere with a project once you’ve invested
“time, money, energy or love” in it, even after the thrill or profit potential is
gone. This is why marketers stick with campaigns that fail to show results,
why couples stay together long after the spark dies, why investors hold
stocks that keep losing value, and why Britain and France sunk billions into
the Concorde aircraft when it was clearly a dud. When deciding how long
you want to continue a project, exclude incurred costs from your evaluation
and keep the good money.
“Con rmation Bias”
People tend to discount information that conflicts with their beliefs.
Executives emphasize evidence that their strategies work and rationalize
away contrary indicators. Yet exceptions aren’t just outliers; they often
disprove fixed ideas. If you’re an optimist, you’ll corroborate your positive
viewpoint at every turn; if you’re a pessimist, you’ll find many reasons to
see a situation negatively. People focus on feedback that fits their
worldview. Business experts and self-help gurus concoct theories by using
substantiating data and ignoring contradictory evidence. Their theories fail
when information they ignored crops up anyway. Protect yourself from this
bias by emulating Charles Darwin, who researched every item that
contradicted his previous findings.
“Nature doesn’t seem to mind if our decisions are perfect or
not, as long as we can maneuver ourselves through life – and
as long as we are ready to be rational when it comes to the
The material you follow on the Internet may reinforce your confirmation
bias because it creates silos of like-minded people. When you visit a political
site that reflects your opinions, it justifies your outlook. However, search
engines personalize results to your online search history and your interests,
thus filtering out data that diverges from your views. Fight confirmation
bias by seeking opposing views and dissenting voices and by venturing into
the other side’s intellectual territory. People also fall for the “falseconsensus effect.” They assume that most other folks share their worldview.
If you believe in global warming, you expect that most people agree with
you. Yet those who deny its existence also believe they hold the mainstream
opinion. Moreover, people assume that those who disagree with them are
idiots or poorly informed.
“Story Bias”
People find information easier to understand in story form. Facts are dry
and difficult to remember; tales are engaging. People more easily find
meaning in historical events, economic policy and scientific breakthroughs
through stories. Relying on narratives to explain the world leads to story
bias, which, unfortunately, distorts reality. Say that a car was driving across
a bridge when the structure collapsed. A journalist covers the story by
finding out about the driver, detailing his backstory and interviewing him
about the experience. This puts a face on the incident, something readers
want and need. But it ignores other pertinent questions: What caused the
bridge to fall? Are other bridges at risk? Have authorities looked into the
bridge’s compliance with engineering regulations? To dispel the false sense
of knowledge that news stories bestow, learn to read between the lines and
ask the unspoken questions. The “fundamental attribution error” is a
related misconception. People tend to give credit or blame to a person
rather than a set of circumstances. Thus, CEOs receive undue credit for a
firm’s profits, crowds cheer coaches when teams win and conductors get the
ovation when orchestras perform well.
“Overcon dence Effect”
Most folks believe that they are intelligent and can make accurate
predictions based on their knowledge. In most cases, they can’t. People,
especially specialists and experts, overestimate how much they know.
Economists are notoriously bad at predicting long-term stock market
performance, for example. In spite of statistics to the contrary,
restaurateurs believe their eateries will outperform the average, though
most dining establishments close within three years. Compounding the
overconfidence effect is the tendency to underestimate the time and costs of
projects, such as Boston’s Big Dig and the Sydney Opera House. Counter
this cognitive error by becoming a pessimist, at least in terms of plans that
require your time or your hard-earned cash.
“Chauffeur Knowledge”
Nobel physicist Max Planck gave his presentation speech so often that his
chauffeur could recite it. In fact, that’s what the driver did one day, while
Planck, wearing a chauffeur’s hat, watched from the audience. When
someone asked a question the driver couldn’t answer, he pointed at Planck
and quipped, “Such a simple question! My chauffeur will answer it!” People
operating under this thinking fallacy confuse the credibility of the message
with the messenger. Viewers respect news anchors as serious journalists,
but many are simply well coiffed readers. CEOs receive undue credit for
showmanship not business acumen. Warren Buffett counters this bias by
investing only within what he calls his “circle of competence” – his
awareness of what he knows and does not know. Real scholars see their
limits, while pundits spin smoke-and-mirror theories.
“Illusion of Control”
A man wearing a red hat arrives at the city center every day at 9:00 a.m.
and wildly waves his hat for five minutes. One day, a police officer asks
what he’s doing. “I’m keeping the giraffes away,” he replies. “There aren’t
any giraffes here,” the officer states. “Then I must be doing a good job,”
responds the man. Like the red-hat guy, people take credit for influencing
situations where they have little control. They pick lottery numbers because
they believe they have a better chance of winning that way than with
numbers the machine randomly assigns. The illusion of control makes
humans feel better. This is why “placebo buttons” work. People push a
button at an intersection and wait patiently for a “walk” sign, even if the
button is not connected to the signal. Ditch your red hat by differentiating
between the things you can control and those you cannot.
“Outcome Bias”
Outcome bias, or “historian error,” describes the tendency to evaluate
decisions based on results, not processes. For example, in retrospect, it’s
clear that the US military should have evacuated Pearl Harbor before the
Japanese attacked. The decision to stay seems deplorable in light of today’s
knowledge. Yet military higher-ups at the time had to decide amid
contradictory signals. A bad result does not necessarily mean the decision
was poor. Luck, timing and other external factors come into play. Avoid this
bias by focusing on the process and data available at the time rather than
concentrating solely on results.
“Loss Aversion”
Finding $100 would make you happy, but that happiness wouldn’t equal the
distress you’d feel if you lost $100. The negative emotional hit from a loss is
stronger than the positive joy of a comparable gain; loss aversion explains
why investors ignore paper losses and hold falling stocks. Marketers exploit
loss aversion to sell products and concepts. For example, persuading folks
to buy home insulation by describing how much money they’ll lose without
it is easier than getting them to buy it by showing the savings they’ll gain.
“Fear of regret” is the cousin of loss aversion. A poor decision evokes
unpleasant feelings. If you pass up a bargain today, you may be sorry
tomorrow. This fear causes people to stay in their comfort zones with
investments, personal risks and purchases.
“Cognitive Dissonance”
Aesop’s fable about the fox that muttered “sour grapes” when he couldn’t
reach fruit hanging high over his head illustrates a frequent reasoning error.
Humans reinterpret events when the results don’t pan out as they want.
Cognitive dissonance is in play when, in the face of rejection – from a
school, job or team, for example – you decide you didn’t want to be there
anyway. It’s also a factor when people review their investments and find
reasons to keep believing that they made smart choices in spite of evidence
to the contrary.
“Essentially, if you think too much, you cut off your mind
from the wisdom of your feelings.”
“Effort justification” is a form of cognitive dissonance that causes people to
rationalize their behavior. In this case, folks come to believe that the
amount of effort they put into a task or project translates into higher value.
IKEA exploits this tendency to its advantage by understanding that when
people assemble a piece of furniture, they feel more attached to it. Similarly,
difficult school entrance exams or club initiations make acceptance seem
more valuable. Don’t let effort justification influence your objectivity at
work. The more time and effort people put into a project, the less able they
are to judge it clearly.
“Alternative Blindness”
Humans don’t think about all their alternatives when they contemplate an
offer. Say that a city planning commission proposes building a sports arena
on an empty lot. Supporters make the case that the arena would create jobs
and generate revenue. They ask voters to decide between a vacant lot and
an arena, but they don’t mention other options, like building a school.
Making informed decisions means letting go of either-or choices. Ironically,
modern people suffer from too many options. That’s the “paradox of
choice.” At your market, you must select from many brands of yogurt and
dozens of bottles of wine. Although having options is nice, too many choices
cause people to freeze up, use limited criteria or continuously question their
choices. Think how much easier finding a mate was when the selection was
limited to two dozen singles in your village rather than thousands of people
on web matchmaking sites.
“Déformation Professionnelle”
Mark Twain famously quipped, “If your only tool is a hammer, all your
problems will be nails.” This statement beautifully encapsulates this false
reasoning habit. People want to solve problems with the skills they have. A
surgeon will recommend surgery not acupuncture. Generals opt for military
engagement not diplomacy. The downside is that people sometimes use the
wrong tools to try to solve problems. Check your toolbox for the right gear
and the right cognitive framework.
About the Author
Rolf Dobelli is a co-founder of getAbstract and the founder of
Zurich.Minds, a community of leaders in science, the arts and business. His
earlier books – novels and aphorisms – were published in German.
the power of habit
You Can Change
by David Meyer
Charles Duhigg analyzes how your brain forms habits, how
companies also form habits, and how people and organizations
can choose new, more healthful behaviors.
Ever wonder why some people adopt a healthier lifestyle or realize
professional achievement, while others flail and fail? Author Charles
Duhigg attributes this to habit and explains that successful people learn to
control and change their habits.
First, he says, they understand how the three steps of the “habit loop” –
“cue, routine and reward” – determine what people do without thinking. He
contends that if you analyze how undesirable habits such as overeating,
excess drinking or smoking operate in that loop by satiating cravings, you
will be better equipped to control habits that seem to control you. Duhigg’s
fun, educational book will help anyone seeking self-improvement.
This New York Times bestseller garnered inclusion in The Wall Street
Journal and Financial Times’ lists of Best Books of the Year. The New York
Times Book Review called it, “Entertaining…enjoyable…fascinating…a
serious look at the science of habit formation and change.” The
Economist said Duhigg, “provides just the right balance of intellectual
seriousness with practical advice on how to break our bad habits.”
A Matter of Habit
Duhigg describes a habit as an activity you deliberately decide to perform
once and continue doing without focus, often frequently. Habits develop, he
explains, because the brain is wired to seek ways to conserve energy. The
author describes a three-stage habit loop. First, the brain seeks a cue that
will let it operate on automatic pilot and indicate what it should tell the
body to do. Second, that habit becomes a routine. Its reward teaches the
brain whether it should remember the loop. When the cue and reward
connect, the brain develops expectations, leading to craving and the birth of
a habit or behavior loop.
Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill
started spilling over into other parts of their lives, until they
started believing they could change.
Unfortunately, Duhigg relates, the brain does not judge whether the new
habit is beneficial or detrimental. His theme is that you can change your
destructive habits and adopt positive ones by understanding and managing
the cue-routine-reward cycle. Duhigg advises focusing on cues and rewards,
and altering your routine to thwart cravings and bad habits.
The brain looks forward to the reward of a habitual routine. Duhigg stresses
that this process is not inevitable. You can, he insists, analyze your cravings
to learn which one impels the habit. Or, he suggests, you can manipulate
cravings to better ends; for example, if you value the endorphin rush of
exercise, taking a morning run can become an automatic habit loop.
Given determination and belief, Duhigg teaches, people can change their
habits if they examine and analyze them to unravel the understandable
cues, routines and rewards.
You Can Change
Duhigg asserts changing that your habits means embracing the belief that
you can change. This sense of belief, he notes, turns out to be more effective
if it occurs in a group – such as an AA meeting.
The lessons AA provides demonstrate how almost any habit –
even the most obstinate – can be changed.
The author argues that you can learn willpower as effectively as you can
learn to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language. When you
master willpower, he cautions, you must keep it exercised and in shape, just
as you would work to keep your muscles toned.
Organizational Habits
Organizations develop habits, Duhigg reveals, that help them do business or
accomplish their goals. Starbucks’s rules for employees, for example,
inculcate the concept of willpower. Starbucks’ workers, Duhigg learned,
improve their lives and careers after they learn to harness their willpower to
be cheerful no matter what their workdays hold.
Dughigg offers the example of Starbucks teaching employees willpower by
focusing on situations that may weaken their self-discipline, like dealing
with dissatisfied patrons. Employees practice routines for handling
discontented customers until they perform them habitually.
If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you
can cause widespread shifts.
Organizational habits, Duhigg underscores, keep firms functioning; without
them, companies would descend into squabbling factions. He discloses that
companies can also foretell and direct their patrons’ habits. He cites the way
Target analyzed data from its consumers to enable its marketers to predict
their behavior. Target learned, according to Duhigg, that patrons’ shopping
habits changed most dramatically when they underwent a milestone in their
lives, such as getting married, moving to a new residence or starting a
A Comforting Message
As a journalist, Duhigg demonstrates excellent habits. He writes clearly
with an emphasis on readability. He offers entertaining, illustrative
examples without bogging the reader down in too much detail. He provides
research and credible sources to back up his assertions. And he draws
helpful conclusions that take the reader through his analysis of habits and
how to change them.
Duhigg offers the inspiring hope that no one needs to be a prisoner of bad
habits. He describes cognitive and non-cognitive processes that suggest you
are not entirely to blame for your habits, good or bad. That is a comforting
message. Duhigg provides a guide to changing your habits, a compelling
read about the processes of the brain, and a collection of insider stories of
how businesses changed their habits and, thus, shaped their consumers’
Charles Duhigg also wrote Smarter, Faster, Better. Other helpful books on
the science of habits include James Clear’s Atomic Habits; Daniel
Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow; and Richard Koch’s The 80/20
People with the best intentions often fall short of their self-improvement
goals. Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister collaborating with New York
Times writer John Tierney explain why, and give you some tools to work
with as they share the results of years of study of human self-control. Their
presentation is too academic for a self-help guide to correcting bad habits,
since it cites study after study, but it is a very interesting backgrounder.
getAbstract recommends this information-heavy look at why just saying no
doesn’t work – and what you can do instead.
A child’s level of self-control predicts his or her future behavior.
When you deplete your willpower, you feel other emotions more
This creates a “double whammy.” For example, you might overeat
when you are upset or become upset when you overeat.
Willpower, like a muscle, becomes stronger with exercise. All
willpower – regardless of the temptation – flows from the same
reservoir of inner strength.
The human body uses up glucose as it exercises self-control. Low
glucose levels result in a craving for sweets.
Setting goals and monitoring your progress are the first steps in
developing self-control.
Organize a to-do list to gain calmness and clarity.
Make a plan for short- and long-term activities to hush your inner
New technologies, such as smartphone apps, make tracking and
sharing your progress a lot easier.
Make small changes, monitor behavior and set realistic targets to
achieve your goals.
The Sirens’ Song
Temptations and distractions lurk at every turn. Researchers who studied
more than 200 people in Germany found that participants spent at least
four hours daily resisting their desires. The urges to eat, nap, take a break,
have sex, surf the net or watch television are constant lures. Participants
succumbed to about one out of every six cravings, particularly those for
food or media interaction.
“Self-control is ultimately about much more than self-help.
It’s essential for savoring your time on Earth and sharing joy
with the people you love.”
The concept of willpower as an inner strength that humans use to protect
against moral decrepitude became popular in the Victorian age. People
debated whether morality would influence behavior in the absence of
religion, a reaction to society’s waning faith in dogma. Oscar Wilde’s
exclamation, “I can resist everything except temptation,” was a rejoinder to
this public worrying. The notion of willpower weakened in the 1960s as the
“me generation” expounded the virtue of “if it feels good, do it.” By the
1970s, “self-esteem” became popular as studies showed that people with
self-confidence were happier and more successful than those without.
Behavioral scientists didn’t revisit the idea of “self-regulation” until the
“Research into willpower and self-control is psychology’s
best hope for contributing to human welfare.”
In the 1960s, Walter Mischel studied four-year-old children to determine
their ability to resist immediate gratification. A researcher left children
alone in a room with a marshmallow and said they could eat the
marshmallow right away, but if they waited until the researcher returned,
they could have two marshmallows. Some kids ate the marshmallow and
some waited. The ones who resisted temptation distracted themselves with
other activities. Years later, Mischel’s daughter followed up on the
experiment, tracking down hundreds of participants. She found that those
who resisted the enticing treat went on to achieve higher grades and better
test scores. They were more popular, earned more money, and were less
likely to use drugs or gain excessive weight.
“Self-control turned out to be most effective when people used
it to establish good habits and break bad ones.”
Researchers were astonished that the marshmallow test proved to be such a
statistically accurate forecaster of adult behavior. The trait of self-control is
more effective than IQ tests or SAT scores at predicting college
performance. A study in New Zealand tracked 1,000 people from birth to
age 32 and found that those with strong self-control were healthier, happier
and more successful.
“The Double Whammy”
Social psychologist Roy Baumeister concluded that willpower, much like a
muscle, grows weary with extended use. He used the term “ego depletion”
to describe overtaxed people’s reduced capacity to control their thoughts,
feelings and behavior. Individuals with depleted willpower feel other
emotions more strongly. This leads to a double whammy: “Your willpower
is diminished, and your cravings feel stronger than ever.” No wonder losing
weight or breaking an addiction is so hard: “You have a finite amount of
willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.”
“When people have to make a big change in their lives, their
efforts are undermined if they are trying to make other
changes as well.”
The willpower that resists one temptation comes from the same inner
source as the self-control you exercise resisting another. For instance,
staying patient with a cranky toddler depletes your reservoir of self-control,
making it harder not to have some ice cream. Focus on one task or selfimprovement goal at a time. Trying to attain several objectives at once
leaves you with less energy because you use “the same stock of willpower for
all manner of tasks.”
“You can’t control or even predict the stresses that come into
your life, but you can use the calm periods, or at least the
peaceful moments, to plan an offense.”
Stress depletes willpower. During exams, college students’ self-control
wanes in almost every area, including diet, personal hygiene and behavior.
Temptations they successfully resisted earlier in the semester – smoking,
drinking or staying up late – became much harder to withstand. People can
conserve willpower so that they have it in reserve when needed to make a
final push.
The Accidental Discovery
Psychologists in Baumeister’s lab decided to test the Mardi Gras theory: the
idea that people who succumb to every temptation before Lent are better
able to withstand the weeks of denial that follow. Experimenters gave half
their study subjects a delicious milkshake and gave the other half a tasteless
concoction. Surprisingly, both groups showed greater self-control after
consuming the drink. This experiment led to the accidental discovery of a
link between glucose and willpower. The human body depletes glucose as it
exercises self-control. You crave sugar to renew your energy. Rather than
indulge in sugar, use the following strategies to replenish your willpower:
“Feed the beast” – Eat breakfast; don’t take on demanding tasks
when you are hungry and don’t skimp on calories when you are trying
to lose weight.
“When you eat, go for the slow burn” – Avoid foods with a high
glycemic index, such as white bread, white rice, snacks or fast foods.
Eat foods with a low glycemic index, such as vegetables, nuts, raw
fruits, olive oil, fish and lean meats.
“When you’re tired, sleep” – Resting reduces your body’s glucose
requirements and improves its ability to use glucose in the
To Do or Not to Do
Goal setting is the first step in self-control. Most people have too many
targets and prepare to-do lists of dozens of items. Some ambitions conflict
with others. For example, work goals demand a time investment that may
conflict with family-focused objectives, such as attending all of your child’s
soccer games. People whose goals conflict become anxious and
unproductive. The best goal setting combines an action plan for “proximal”
or short-term targets while keeping an eye on the long-term achievement of
“distal” targets.
“A personal goal can seem more real once you speak it out
loud, particularly if you know the audience will be
monitoring you.”
David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system can quiet your inner nag –
that is, the voice that reminds you to do things. The GTD system suggests
using “to-do lists, folders, labels and in-boxes” to help clear away mental
clutter and attain the calm clarity of a “mind like water.” This is the
opposite of the “monkey mind,” which jumps from one thought to another,
inhibiting your ability to concentrate. Allen devised a process for
categorizing everything into “four Ds: done, delegated, dropped or
deferred.” Organizing this way isolates each project and prioritizes it.
Making a plan for every item puts your mind at rest. The Zeigarnik effect,
which proves this principle, emerged from a series of experiments that
demonstrated that making a plan calms people’s subconscious, allowing
them to act productively.
“With the exception of organized religion, Alcoholics
Anonymous probably represents the largest program ever
conducted to improve self-control.”
Psychologists reviewed more than 1,000 parole board decisions in the
Israeli detention system. They found a consistent pattern in the judges’
decision making: Prisoners who faced the board early in the morning had a
70% chance of attaining parole, while those who appeared just before lunch
or late in the afternoon had only a 20% chance. As the judges made one
difficult decision after another, they depleted their glucose levels, which
made parole officers more reluctant to make difficult choices and grant
parole. The correlation between decision making and willpower is
reciprocal. “Decision making depletes your willpower, and once your
willpower is depleted, you’re less able to make decisions.”
The Behavior Track
The first steps in regulating self-control are setting goals and tracking your
progress. Technology makes self-monitoring easy. Websites such as Mint
help you track your spending and financing. Most people using the site
temper their spending because it shows clearly where their money is going.
Smartphone apps allow you to track food and beverage consumption, sleep
patterns, exercise timetables and mood swings. These programs are
effective because users can share this information with others. For example,
Nikeplus posts the length and time of your runs. Dieters can share their
weight loss with other dieters. Experiments in Baumeister’s lab explain why
sharing information keeps people on track toward achieving their goals.
“Public information has more impact than private information. People care
more about what other people know about them than about what they know
about themselves.”
“Willpower lets us change ourselves and our society in small
and large ways.”
Willpower wears out like a muscle and revives like a muscle: It responds to
strengthening exercises. Researchers found that changing one habitual
behavior – such as using your left hand instead of your right or focusing on
sitting up straight instead of slouching – will increase your willpower over
time. Strengthening your willpower in one area leads to benefits in others,
but over the long haul, it requires more than a few simple exercises.
“Yes, temptations are getting more sophisticated, but so are
the tools for resisting them.”
For example, take explorer Henry Morton Stanley, known for saying, “Dr.
Livingstone, I presume,” when he finally found explorer David Livingstone
in Africa in 1871. Stanley endured sustained misery and fear while trekking
through the jungle. He practiced self-discipline from a young age, but he
needed new strategies to survive. He learned to store willpower for the
times when he needed it most, and he picked up new mental tricks to boost
his ability, such as “precommitment,” a technique for avoiding giving in to
temptation by locking “yourself into a virtuous path.” For instance, Stanley
wrote out his vow to continue his journey or die trying. He wrote that he
would never “give up my search until I find Livingstone alive or find his
dead body...no living man or living men shall stop me, only death can
prevent me...I shall not die.”
“Aiming for huge and quick transformations will backfire if
they seem impossible.”
Stanley began each day by shaving, even when he was sick and starving.
Studies show that good hygiene and an orderly environment promote selfdiscipline. A well-made bed or a tidy desk influences your behavior. Once
you establish healthy behavior patterns, they become automatic, and boost
your self-control and productivity. The strongest source of willpower is the
belief that you are serving a purpose greater than yourself. That belief kept
Stanley going against all odds.
A Higher (Will) Power?
Guitarist Eric Clapton battled drug and alcohol addiction until he
surrendered to a “higher power.” This empowered him to change and
provided him with the self-control he needed to stay sober. Social scientists
accept that faith and religion can fuel self-control. Religions contain
mechanisms for boosting willpower and self-discipline. Followers believe
that a supreme being – as well as members of their congregation or
community – monitors their behavior. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) proves
a similar, viable model. Its methods parallel self-control exercises.
Participants set goals and monitor their progress. They receive rewards for
remaining sober and rely on support from their sponsors and other AA
members. They share their personal stories in a public forum, so peergroup pressure plays a significant role. The people with whom you associate
influence your behavior. For example, people drink more when their friends
are excessive drinkers. People eat more when their peer group is
Teach Your Children
Many of today’s young adults grew up in the self-esteem generation. Early
studies in the 1960s touted the benefits of high self-esteem, so parenting
evolved to promote it. But high self-esteem does not necessarily lead to
increased productivity, less-addictive behavior or better grades. The two
benefits of high self-esteem are an increase in confidence and a better
feeling about oneself. Inflated self-perception can come at a cost to others,
especially when it turns into narcissism.
“For most of us, though, the problem is not a lack of goals but
rather too many of them.”
Studies show that Asian-American children exhibit higher levels of selfcontrol than the rest of their American peers. Asian-American parents
emphasize self-control and hard work, set high goals, and enforce tough
standards. They believe that children must earn praise through
accomplishment. Children need and want structure and discipline.
Enforcing rules with appropriate consequences, speed and consistency
helps turn kids into self-reliant adults.
The Dieting Dilemma
Most people equate being overweight with poor willpower. One of the
world’s most famous dieters, Oprah Winfrey, disproves this prejudice.
Winfrey exhibits exceptional self-control and determination, both traits that
propelled the talk show host to the top of her profession. Yet even with a
cadre of professionals helping her exercise and diet, she has struggled with
her weight. The “Oprah Paradox” states that even people with excellent selfcontrol can grapple with controlling their weight. You should never go on a
diet or promise to relinquish “chocolate or any other food.” Instead, set
realistic goals first and then make gradual changes. Try the “postponedpleasure ploy”: Promise yourself a treat later. In the meantime, eat
something healthy. Usually, your craving for the treat will pass. Use
precommitment techniques such as keeping high-calorie foods out of the
house or signing a weight-loss agreement. Some people plan their food
intake and note everything they eat. Such monitoring will help you consume
fewer calories. And “whether you’re judging yourself or judging others,
never equate being overweight with having weak willpower.”
About the Authors
Roy F. Baumeister is a professor of psychology at Florida State
University. John Tierney writes the science column Findings and has
worked for The New York Times since 1990.
The mental toughness
Damon Zahariades says the secret of enduring success is mental toughness: a mind-set that
helps you navigate the unexpected challenges life presents. Zahariades endeavors to teach
readers, including CEOs as well as professional athletes, the ongoing process of cognitively
restructuring your mind by questioning your thoughts, attitudes and emotions. Transform your
life, he urges, and inspire others in the process.
Success requires mental toughness – but many people don’t bother cultivating it.
Overcome threats to mental toughness by increasing your awareness of them.
Control your emotions and thoughts – even when facing adversity.
Cultivate stronger impulse control and build better habits.
Build your confidence and overcome your inner critic.
Welcome boredom and conquer the desire to quit when working toward goals.
Take purposeful action by building willpower, motivation and self-discipline.
Navigate challenges and build mental toughness using Navy SEALs tactics.
Success requires mental toughness – but many people don’t bother
cultivating it.
Those who achieve enduring success possess mental toughness. Mental toughness is a mind-set
which enables you to avoid catastrophic thinking and embrace positivity when facing challenges.
It teaches you to use setbacks to your advantage. If you struggle to reach your goals and
maintain your desired level of success, or perhaps feel discouraged, depressed or angry, know
that you have the power to improve your circumstances and shift your mind-set. Many people
don’t cultivate mental toughness, however, because it requires patience and work.
“No matter where you are in your life, no matter what struggles you’re
currently experiencing, you can improve your circumstances.”
Mental toughness has numerous benefits:
Improved emotional and stress-management skills.
A clarified sense of purpose.
Higher confidence and performance levels.
The capacity to overcome your fears.
A healthier attitude toward failure and the ability to learn from mistakes.
Greater impulse control.
The ability to stop fixating on regrets and painful experiences while fostering a growth
Overcome threats to mental toughness by increasing your awareness of
Mentally tough people focus their energy on what they can influence, as opposed to wasting time
fixating on the things they can’t change. They’re flexible and adaptable when facing unexpected
outcomes. These individuals are self-aware and can identify their emotions and understand what
triggers their negative feelings. They accept uncertainty and don’t wallow in disappointments.
Tough-minded people have high emotional intelligence and they can regulate their
emotions. They are positive, yet pragmatic. Nobody possesses all of these traits innately –
everyone must work to develop them.
“No one is born mentally strong. It’s something each of us develops. That’s
terrific news because it means that you control it.”
Threats to mental toughness include self-pity, self-doubt, negative self-talk, fear,
laziness, perfectionism, self-limiting beliefs and the inability to control emotions.
Control your emotions and thoughts – even when facing adversity.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to comprehend and manage your emotions, so you can
perform at your best. Resist the temptation to repress your feelings; learn to identify them
instead. The first step of mastering your emotions is increasing your self-awareness, so you’re
better able to identify your feelings. Once you identify an emotion, evaluate it. Ask if your
emotional reactions and any accompanying negative views of yourself are reasonable, or are
holding you back. Reflect on whether you can influence the circumstances triggering your
emotions. Take action if you see ways to improve your situation. Release yourself from your
frustrations over situations you can’t control.
This exercise helps you control unwanted emotions: List the negative emotions you regularly
experience when facing adversity, jotting down how each impacts your behavior. Next, write a
plan detailing how you’ll respond to these emotions when they arise in the future. You might, for
example, engage in mindful breathing.
“Managing our emotions – that is, exerting emotional control – gives us
an opportunity to acknowledge them, confront them, scrutinize them, and
decide whether what we’re feeling is levelheaded given our
Embracing mental toughness requires being open to failure and perceiving it as feedback that
can guide you in taking purposeful action.
To cultivate mental toughness, write down five of your most recent failures and how you
responded to each one. Next, write down more positive ways you could have dealt with each
failure. For example, if you missed an important deadline, you could have spent time reviewing
your workload and re-evaluating how you manage your time. Overcoming your fear of failure
doesn’t mean mustering false bravado or ignoring your weaknesses. Instead, take purposeful
action toward your desired outcome after recognizing the reality of your situation and
considering your options. Assess how you face the unexpected by writing down your typical
responses. For example, perhaps you avoid making tough decisions.
Cultivate stronger impulse-control and build better habits.
Mentally tough people resist the temptation to indulge in something they desire in the present,
and, instead, focus on attaining something they want more in the future. Practicing self-restraint
builds your tolerance for discomfort and improves your cognitive resilience. Checking your urge
for instant gratification bolsters your ability to tune out distractions.
Change your expectations, so you don’t associate low-effort activities with high rewards.
Identify compulsive desires and find reward-stimulating alternatives that are more
productive. Give yourself small rewards, such as reading for pleasure, when you resist
temptations. Define your guiding values and compelling reasons to pursue your goals, while
reminding yourself of their importance. This exercise can help you understand that delaying
gratification feels good: Describe two incidents, one in which you resisted temptation to
complete a goal-oriented task, and another in which you succumbed to temptation and failed to
work toward your goals. Then, describe how each decision made you feel.
“Our habits signify what is important to us. They reflect our values and
To improve mental strength, take the following steps:
Rethink the past – Don’t let past events define you. Instead, view them as valuable
training to help you overcome future adversity.
Investigate negative emotions immediately – To avoid letting negative emotions
overwhelm you, evaluate them as soon as they surface.
Build self-confidence – You can’t overcome your fear of the unknown and persevere
when facing obstacles without trusting yourself and your abilities.
Practice daily gratitude – Rather than complain about challenges, remind yourself of
things you’re thankful for.
Develop change tolerance – Leave your comfort zone and seek out the unknown.
Build your con dence and overcome your inner critic.
When you possess confidence, you trust you’re prepared to face uncomfortable, difficult
situations. You know you’re adaptable and capable of pivoting when necessary. Check in with
yourself, reflecting honestly on whether you’re over- or under-confident, and align your
confidence levels with the reality of your abilities.
Build appropriate confidence by abandoning any need you might have to feel you’re in total
control of your circumstances. Be open to emotional pain, so you’re not paralyzed by fear.
Take inventory of your growth and skills development. Cultivate a positive outlook, and forgo the
need to seek external validation. List everything that contributes to your feelings of insecurity
and jot down ideas about how you can lessen their negative effects. This might entail replacing
recurring negative self-talk with a positive affirmation.
“Your inner critic is a shrewd adversary. It knows that it doesn’t have to
yell to get your attention. It doesn’t have to scream to pummel your
psyche, wear down your self-confidence, and encourage you to adopt a
negative attitude.”
To overcome negative self-talk or your inner critic, take these steps:
Don’t ignore it – Examine the negative claims your inner critic makes about you,
recognizing them as emotionally and mentally destructive.
Check its facts – Ask if there’s any evidence supporting the negative stories you tell
yourself. Remind yourself that failure can be a growth opportunity.
Respond rationally to overgeneralization – When you catch yourself using words
like “always,” and “everyone,” replace the baseless claims of your negative inner voice
with reasonable statements.
Avoid negative people – Don’t let cynical, demoralized or pessimistic people
monopolize your time – emotion is contagious.
Talk to yourself like you would to a friend – Give yourself the advice you’d give a
good friend, and resist the temptation to insult yourself.
Welcome boredom and conquer the desire to quit when working toward
Contrary to popular belief, boredom can be a gift; it provides you with an opportunity to selfreflect. You’re unlikely to increase your mental toughness if you avoid boredom. You don’t
master a skill without experiencing boredom, as mastery requires repetitive practice work.
Without mastery, you’ll feel a lack of control and confidence.
To stop feeling discomfort when bored, identify and accept that you’re bored, reminding yourself
of the broader goals your boredom serves. Meditation can help you connect to the present
moment and prevent you from chasing distractions. Rethink boredom’s role in your life by
listing the emotions you tend to associate with feeling bored. Identify what triggers those
emotions, and reframe your boredom triggers more positively.
“We don’t like to think of ourselves as quitters. But most of us have, at
some point in our lives, abandoned goals due to the obstacles we faced at
the time.”
To avoid quitting when you’re trying to accomplish an important goal, consider the main reasons
people give up: They get distracted; don’t overcome their impulses and bad habits; don’t take
their commitments seriously; don’t clarify the rewards they’re working toward; and/or are overly
optimistic and fail to anticipate potential setbacks.
If you find yourself lacking the resolve to work toward your goals, question your motives for
quitting. For example, has your outlook actually changed or do you have weak resolve? Reflect
on whether your goals and purpose are worth abandoning. Make yourself more mentally tough
by developing a more positive attitude. Build positivity by cultivating gratitude for the resources
you have, and resisting the temptation to wallow in self-pity.
Take purposeful action by building willpower, motivation and selfdiscipline.
Willpower means controlling your impulses and resisting temptations and distractions when
trying to accomplish something. Motivation refers to the impulse to take action toward
change. If you can’t muster motivation and willpower, your habits can give you the structure to
take action toward your goals.
Turning purposeful action into a habitual behavior makes engaging in goal-driven activities
more automatic. One practical method for building self-control is to take five minutes to
meditate whenever you feel tempted to indulge in an activity that’s not goal directed.
Build motivation by writing down five activities that inspire you to take purposeful action, and
five that detract from your motivation. Identifying the environmental factors influencing your
motivation levels guides you in making adjustments that serve your goals.
“Willpower is like that friend who’s occasionally there for you but mostly
not. He – or she – cannot be relied upon. Self-discipline is like that friend
who’s always there for you, regardless of the circumstances.”
Five secrets of self-discipline help you cultivate self-control:
Eliminate temptations – Remove environmental temptations to avoid triggering
impulse-driven behaviors.
You won’t become self-disciplined overnight – Recognize that you’re in control of
your mind by taking small steps toward increased self-discipline, daily.
Make a strategy – Create a feasible action plan to enable your consistent progress by
scheduling goal-driven activities.
Get comfortable with discomfort – Tolerate feelings such as malaise rather than
indulging your impulses.
Focus on tasks – When engaged in a task, give it your full attention.
Navigate challenges and build mental toughness using Navy SEALs tactics.
Navy SEALs use these strategies when dealing with adversity:
They embrace positive self-talk – Navy SEALs can’t afford to panic.
They keep training after mastering skills – Navy SEALs understand that training
is continuous, and continue practicing skills essential to their long-term success.
They focus on micro goals – Practicing “segmentation” – breaking dauntingly large
goals into smaller ones – helps Navy SEALs stay present and endure difficulties.
They visualize – Psychologists believe your brain doesn’t differentiate between lived
and imagined experiences, so visualizing yourself successfully tackling difficult tasks
prepares you to do so in real life.
They anticipate problems – They prepare for every possible adversity and rehearse
their responses for each.
About the Author
Damon Zahariades created the blog ArtofProductivity.com.
art of saying no
Are you a professional doormat? Do people constantly push you around to get you to help them? If so,
author Damon Zahariades' best-selling instruction manual gives you useful techniques for saying no.
Zahariades explains why you should speak honestly and directly about what you want to do and don’t
want to do. This includes saying no when appropriate. He promises that the more often you say no now,
the less often you’ll need to say it in the future.
In trying to be “nice” or helpful, some people become doormats who say yes to every request.
Always saying yes to others means you’ll have little time for yourself.
When you constantly say yes to everyone else, you are constantly saying no to yourself.
Always saying yes is habitual “learned behavior.”
Being able to say no is an essential life skill.
You can learn how to say no and how to be more assertive – which is not the same as being
“People pleasers” can’t stand rejection; the idea of saying no fills them with dread.
Successful people know how to say no.
You aren’t responsible for other people’s negative feelings when you turn them down.
The more often you say no now, the less often you’ll have to say it the future.
Are You a “Go-To Person”?
Here’s a common dilemma: A friend asks you for help, and you comply. The 10 to 15 minutes of your time
that your friend requested turns out to be closer to an hour. You feel good about helping, but you also feel
bad: You could have used that time on important work that needed completing. Now, you’re further
behind. And you might feel like a chump.
“Saying no to people is one of the most important skills you can develop. It frees
you to pursue your own interests, both personal and professional.”
Soon afterward, another friend makes a similar request and, being “nice,” you lose another hour
away from your work. Now, you’re even further behind. Unfortunately, this often becomes a pattern. In an
effort to be kind, you assume the put-upon role of go-to person who always does favors for others. As a
result, you may end up resenting the people who ask you for a hand. And you may be angry at yourself for
giving up time you needed for yourself. Here’s a simple truth: Every time you say yes to someone else, you
say no to yourself. Fortunately, there’s a productive way to get out of this predicament: Learn how to say
no with poise, grace and tact – and without guilt.
Protect Your Time
If you don’t guard your time and your priorities, no one else will. Take care of your own business before
you take care of anyone else’s. Failure to do so is self-defeating. If you spend most of your time helping
others and not attending to your own needs, you will become tired, cranky and dejected. Then you won’t
be able to help anyone, including yourself. The basic rule of self-preservation is to take care of yourself
first. Once you do, then you can help others within reason and never to your detriment, at least not
without thinking it through.
Taking care of yourself first requires assertiveness, which demands developing self-confidence and selfesteem. You must be able to express what you want from life and then go get it. You must speak up for
yourself when necessary and do as you think best. When you are assertive, you feel free to live as you wish
without needing other people’s endorsement.
“Saying yes is an ingrained habit for many of us. Its something we learn to do
over a long period of time. The longer we do it, the more entrenched the habit
becomes until its instinctive.”
Assertiveness calls for forthright communication. As you learn to say no, you become more assertive. “No”
will become a magic word that can change your life for the good. Assertive people aren’t aggressive. Being
assertive means speaking your mind, not unpleasantly, but without fear of consequences. Being aggressive
means you are belligerent, hostile, opinionated and threatening. Assertive people are respectful and never
talk over others. Aggressive people feel as if they must dominate meetings from start to finish. They act as
if they’re the only people in the room with good ideas. In group settings, they try to outtalk everyone
else. Assertive people are considerate, but they don’t allow themselves to be pushed around.
The Power of No
“No” is a little word that carries tremendous power. This is one reason many people hate to say – or are
afraid to say – no. When they do summon the courage to turn someone down, they often offer apologies
and excuses. They practically beg forgiveness.
“Its unsurprising that we often say yes when we know we should say no. Its an
instinctive response born of our longing for other peoples approval.”
Most children learn to be nice to others as the basis of their value systems. They want others to see them
as helpful and caring; they demonstrate goodness by being nice. Saying yes becomes an important
quality in this approach to life. When these kids become adults, many of them become virtual
yes machines – saying yes to everyone about everything.
“The best way to help people over the long run is to ensure your needs are met
Some individuals become inveterate people pleasers. You’re a people pleaser if you’re afraid to speak
up, feel you must always put on a happy face, act chipper when you’re down, avoid conflict, see yourself as
selfish when you do anything for yourself, have weak “personal boundaries” and believe that only other
people’s happiness matters. People pleasers can’t take rejection; the idea of saying no fills
them with dread.
“Learned Behavior”
The tendency to say yes often becomes second nature or a strong habit, making it a learned
behavior. When someone asks you for a favor, you don’t even think about the request, but instead
automatically and instantaneously agree. You can unlearn this learned behavior. Start small. Instead of
immediately acquiescing to a request, purposely pause for a few seconds and consider what the other
person is asking you to do. This pause lets you short-circuit your knee-jerk habit of saying yes. Next, think
about what prompts you to want to say yes to a particular request: validation? Approval? Low selfesteem? Realize that saying yes all the time is a habit you must work hard to break.
Why You Can’t Say No
People have trouble saying no for numerous reasons:
To “avoid offending people” – Often people give in to avoid upsetting someone. Don’t fear
saying no, but always say it with respect toward the other person. When you treat a person who
is asking you for a favor with respect, you’ve done everything you can or should do. This
knowledge can liberate you from feeling guilty.
To “avoid disappointing people” – When you feel you’ve let someone down by saying
no, remorse can soon follow. Remember that feeling remorseful for standing up for yourself isn’t
appropriate. It’s not your job to protect others from disappointment when you decline their
To “avoid seeming selfish” – Often, people adopt a constant yes attitude because they don’t
want others to think of them as selfish. If you consistently place the needs of others ahead of your
own, your life will suffer.
To “help others” – People like to feel good about themselves. One of the best ways is to assist
others, but that’s short-sighted. Your time, money and attention are limited. Be selective in how
you give away your assets.
To build up “low self-esteem” – People who lack self-esteem often mistakenly believe their
time has less value than that of other people. When you say no, your self-esteem can actually
To get “others to like us” – You think that when you say no to others, they’ll like you less. In
fact, they’ll like you more and will respect you more, too.
To “appear valuable” – Everyone wants to feel appreciated. But don’t succumb to the rush of
helping others to the point that you undermine your own needs. You are valuable to others when
you help them, but don’t put your life on hold to assist others.
To avoid “missing out on opportunities” – Do you fear saying no to important people, like
your boss? Do you worry that if you don’t do what the boss wants, he or she won’t think of you
when other opportunities appear? Are you in danger of wasting your time doing something
inconsequential for your manager to get a future chance to do something consequential for
yourself. Instead, do consequential things to get on the path to being offered even more
consequential things.
To avoid “emotional bullying” – Bullies won’t let up until you agree to do what they want.
Their heavy-handed tactics – yelling, threatening, swearing – are all forms of manipulation. See
them for what they are and say no firmly and clearly to short-circuit a bully’s power.
To prevent “conflict” – Sometimes conflict is impossible to avoid and harmony
seems impossible to achieve. Be brave enough to embrace conflict to protect yourself. When you
say yes to duck a confrontation, you only confirm the notion that your feelings matter least.
“Saying No Without Feeling Like a Jerk”
Reflect on how always saying yes might affect you negatively. Use these strategies to break your yes habit:
“Be direct” – When people ask you for favors that you don’t want to do, come right out and say
no without excuses or equivocation. Be straightforward and honest.
“Don’t stall for time” – Stalling merely strings out the requester and makes you seem
indecisive. Stalling is disrespectful. Saying no right away is a more respectful than delaying.
“Replace ‘no’ with another word” – You can communicate the idea of no without using the
actual word. Soften the blow with different phrasing, for example, “I’d like to help you, but I’m
swamped with this project right now.”
“Resist the urge to offer excuses” – Invented excuses seldom fool anyone – for example, “I
can’t help you move tomorrow because I threw out my back.” Making up excuses diminishes you
and fuels your fear of conflict. Instead, simply say no. Honesty is the best policy.
“Take ownership of your decision” – When someone asks you to do something and you say
“I can’t,” almost always, truth be told, you could. Saying “I can’t” is a cop-out. Take charge of your
life and your decisions. If you prefer, when you say no, you can add a reason – a true one.
“Ask the requester to follow up later” – It’s not a stall when you ask the person making the
request to check back when you’ve had time to consider it. This is a perfectly reasonable response
and places the pressure where it should be – on the requester.
“Avoid lying about your availability” – Are you in charge of your life, or is the requester in
charge of your life? You call the shots in your life. At least, you should. This means you don’t have
to lie if you don’t want to do something. And you don’t have to feel responsible for other people’s
negative reactions. Their reactions characterize them and have nothing to do with you.
“Offer an alternative strategy” – If possible, never leave a requester hanging. If you can’t or
won’t do what he or she wants, suggest a different option – perhaps by recommending someone
“Describe your lack of bandwidth” – A great way to say no is to detail the activities in your
busy schedule to demonstrate that you really don’t have time to help out.
“Be resolute” – Pushy requesters hate to take no for an answer, but don’t waver under their
pressure. If you do, an aggressive requester will bore in and won’t give you peace until you relent.
Give the situation back to the requester by saying, for example, “Sharon, I know you dislike
hearing no and are inclined to persist. But I’m not going to change my mind.”
“Be courteous” – Never be rude to a requester, even a rude one. Incivility on your part can
come back to bite you later. You can be both courteous and assertive.
“Say no by category” – You may have additional expertise outside of your immediate job
description. Create a blanket rule – and make sure everyone knows about it – that you can’t help
anyone in that extra area. That way you don’t have to turn down any specific personal requests.
Say No Less Often
When you always consent to put others’ needs ahead of your own – five minutes here, an hour there, two
hours somewhere else – you throw away your most limited commodity: your precious time. Once you give
away your time, you’ll never get it back. Those five minutes often turn into 45 minutes, and those two
hours often turn into most of the day. If you’re the kind of person who will help out one or two people by
donating your time, you probably also lend a hand to numerous other people on a regular basis. You may
end up spending a good deal of your productive hours helping other people meet their goals and never
meeting your own.
“Self-care isnt selfish. Its necessary. The problem is [that] if youre constantly
saying yes to other people, putting their priorities ahead of your own, you wont
have the time or energy to care for yourself.”
This is a recipe for personal disaster. You need a different way to operate “to turn down requests,
invitations, favors…without feeling guilty.” Knowing how to say no gracefully and actually doing it are two
different things. The first few times you stand up for yourself won’t easy. But over time and with regular
practice, saying no with confidence and without excuses will get much easier.
“If you dont prioritize your life, someone else will.” (essentialism advocate Greg
To become an expert at saying no, start out with little refusals and work your way up to big ones. For
example, tell the server at a restaurant, “No, I don’t want dessert, thanks.” Once you’re comfortable with
the little noes, move to medium-size noes and eventually to big noes. As you do, you’ll notice a new
dynamic when you’re interacting with your friends and associates: They’ll stop bothering you with their
constant requests for your time. As you become better at saying no, you’ll have to say it much less often.
About the Author
Lifestyle management expert Damon Zahariades has written several time-management and
productivity books and produces the Art of Productivity blog.
get it done
In this engaging guidebook, creative entrepreneur and motivational guru Michael Mackintosh
offers proven, practical techniques that you can apply to end self-destructive procrastination,
turbocharge your productivity and finally get things done. Mackintosh’s productivity system,
the “Unstoppable 21-Day Challenge” can help you expand your life and embark on a hero’s
journey. His inspirational approach will awaken those who just need to get started. Even if you
have no productivity issues, his good-humored advice will help you get out of your own way, and
work smarter, faster and more efficiently.
Most people never do the important things they want to do.
Tap into 11 special “mind-sets and insights” to help you understand productivity in new
Use a step-by-step, 21-day system to enhance your productivity and meet your goals.
The first stage of this system is preparation, or “Winning Before You Start.”
In the second stage, undertake major focused action for 21 days. Each day is valuable.
In the third stage, take time to celebrate your 21-day accomplishment and recharge your
Refine the basic 21-day challenge format so it meets your needs.
To achieve a satisfying life, think about three pertinent questions: “Who are you?” “Why
are you here?” and “How can you enjoy every moment of your life to the fullest?”
Most people never do the important things they want to do.
Bringing your dreams to life is tough. Many people work around the clock. They’re tired, stressed
and busy, so they don’t get around to accomplishing what they most want to do. You may
understand that you could be much further along toward reaching your goals. The problem is
that you just can’t seem to get things done.
“Today is the beginning of your life becoming the life you were meant to
So why not? You might need a reliable system to transform big ideas into an actionable, concrete
agenda that will lead you to realize your dreams. The “Unstoppable 21-Day Challenge” might be
the system you need, but you need to have the proper mind-set to make it work.
Tap into 11 special “mind-sets and insights” to help you understand
productivity in new ways:
Consider these 11 ways to think about handling pain, making decisions, prioritizing your
activities and dealing with fear and self-doubt:
“The prolonged pain or the short-lived pain” – Pain is an unavoidable aspect of
life. Long-term pain comes from always taking the easy way out and avoiding discomfort
at all times. To make pain as brief as possible, face up to life’s problems when they occur.
This means accepting change, no matter how uncomfortable, and moving along. People
who face pain get done what they want to get done.
“The defining choice” – Do you want to live a successful life? Then
prepare to transform from the old version of yourself into a new version. Drop
the old ineffectual elements of your approach, and become a person of action who gets
things done. For this change to occur, you must will it to be so – and then act on your
“The 80/20 rule” – About 80% of your work generates only 20% of your results, and
the reverse is also true: 20% of your work creates 80% of your results. This rule applies to
all aspects of life, including your daily activities. The trick is to identify which 20% of
your actions are the most productive, and then to prioritize those activities.
4. “Good is good enough” – Trying to be perfect is a vain pursuit, and it’s not necessary.
Almost always, hitting the 90% mark in whatever you do is fine. The added value of the
last 10% isn’t worth the extra effort. Your goal should be effectiveness, not perfection.
5. “The delusion of time management” – No one can manage time. Instead, think
only about the present moment, “the Now.” Now is what you can manage, so that’s where
you should focus your efforts. When you focus on the now, you automatically pay
attention to self-management, not time management. Self-management involves what
you think, what you feel, what you say and what you do. That’s what you can control –
nothing else, certainly not time.
6. “Resistance” – When you try something new, your ego immediately jumps into action
and tries to take over. Your ego takes the form of the Resistance. Its goal is “to decapitate
you.” Resistance hates and fears change. It will do anything to protect and preserve the
comfortable status quo. So when you attempt something novel, brave, different, special
or hard, Resistance will use all its tricks to thwart you and your efforts. It is the “inner
teenager” in your mind. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are the tools for beating it
back. Conquer the Resistance by understanding what’s going on inside you.
7. “Fears and hallucinations” – Some fears are quite real. You’d never stand in the
middle of a busy highway blindfolded, because you fear you’ll be hit by a car or truck.
That’s a legitimate fear. However, most of what people fear isn’t real. Most of the horrible
things you worry about will never happen. You must find the moral courage to move
beyond your fears – real or not. As American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson advised,
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
8. “Focus” – Without focus, it’s extremely difficult to accomplish your big goals and
dreams, especially if many projects compete for your limited attention. Many big
dreamers have no trouble coming up with great new ideas, but they have a hard time
turning them into practical realities – especially when they try to keep too many balls in
the air at the same time. Think of the word “FOCUS” as an acronym for “follow one
course until successful.”
9. “How to overcome self-doubt” – Some people worry about themselves all the time.
Their natural orientation is primarily interior. They may experience severe self-doubt,
either occasionally or all the time. To eliminate self-doubt, they must transform their
orientation from interior to exterior, from themselves to other people. To do so,
demonstrate compassion and find ways to help others. Willing recipients are all around
you. Step outside yourself, and help someone else.
10. “Do it now” – The most basic truth of life is that time flies. One day you’re here; the
next day you’re gone. You may want to do something big – write a novel, invent
something great, maybe go into business for yourself. But you put off your dream, always
planning to work on it tomorrow. One day – no one knows when – you will run out of
tomorrows. If you want to do something special, do it now.
11. “Do less work to get more done” – People aren’t machines. They periodically need
to take a little time off, but you may find this hard. You might unconsciously believe that
if you don’t stay busy and if you’re not productive all the time, you’ll have no worth.
Instead, take a two-hour break each day; schedule a day off each week; and,
when you complete a big project, take a couple of days off to recharge your batteries.
Use a step-by-step, 21-days system to enhance your productivity and meet
your goals.
This step-by-step system will enable you to complete your projects faster. Use it to bring your
wonderful idea to life in 21 days. It will enable you to get done what you want to get done.
“If you don’t have an idea of what you want or where you want to end up,
you’ll invariably end up at the whims of other people’s desires, floating
around like driftwood in the ocean.”
The Unstoppable 21-Day Challenge moves you from “passive to active” in three
stages. Combined, these three phases enable you to win your war against the Resistance, over
and over again.
The rst stage of this system is preparation, or “Winning Before You Start.”
The “prechallenge success setup” is your opportunity to learn everything about – and to wipe
out – your enemy, internal Resistance. If you don’t understand what you are up
against internally, you can’t conquer it. In this phase, you can move beyond delay, sloth and
“Bringing our ideas to life isn’t easy and too often we find ourselves
stalling, procrastinating or holding back.”
For Stage 1, select one important goal – only one – that you reasonably can attain in 21
days. Write down a firm deadline. Use the acronym WHACK to remember these steps:
“What do you want to manifest?” – Be clear about your goal, the what, why, when
and where of the end result you want to achieve after 21 days. To fuel your motivation,
create or find a visual image that depicts your goal achievement. Put this image where
you see it while you work.
“How will you make it happen?” – Develop a plan of action to achieve your goal
quickly with the least amount of trouble. Ask yourself if you can make your planned
activities four times quicker and simpler to execute.
“Absolute accountability” – Arrange to work with an outside person who influences
you and will hold you accountable. Commit publicly to an “accountability contract.”
Make sure your influencer can monitor what you do and achieve. Set up negative costs
you will incur if you don’t focus and do your work.
“Conditions and structures” – Make your work environment as perfect as possible.
You want everything to support you, not distract or sabotage you. As you organize
yourself, be aware of whatever you need on hand to do your best work.
“Kick-start” – Develop a daily and a weekly action plan to get your important work
done. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind.
In the second stage, undertake major focused action for 21 days. Each day
is valuable.
Engage in significant, effective action for 21 days. You will achieve your objective by day 21 if you
work hard and stay focused. Use these three proven tools and strategies to make each
day productive:
Create a daily "impact" agenda – List one to three priority tasks for each day. These
are your primary action steps.
Avoid all distractions – Stay away from TV, social media, internet surfing and your
smartphone with its distracting notifications.
“The magic timer” – Set up an automatic timer for the span of time you allot to each of
your one, two or three essential tasks.
In the third stage, celebrate your 21-day accomplishment and recharge your
Congratulations, you’re done! Now, renew yourself and reflect on what you’ve gotten
done. Remember to plan – before you start the 21-day challenge – how you will have fun and
reward yourself after this challenge. Honoring your accomplishment recognizes that you aren’t a
machine. You need to have fun as well as work. Celebration adds meaning to your achievement.
Re ne the basic 21-day challenge format so it meets your needs.
Otherwise, you will never own it. And if you don’t own it, it won’t work for you. As you adapt this
challenge, make sure you meet these criteria:
Try to have a good impact on everyone – Make win-win your positive intention in
everything you do, so it’s good for all of those involved and it makes the world a better
Strive for clarity – The quality of your results depends on being clear about your
objectives and the purpose of your work.
Proceed with a sense of gladness and strong motivation – Look for the joy in
your activities and your achievements.
Take care – Take actions that demonstrate your love and appreciation for yourself and
Exercise good ethics and follow the law – Never break moral or
governmental rules.
“You truly are the hero of your own life.”
Procrastination isn’t always a bad thing. Just be aware that it is precisely when you are intently
focused, busy, working and making good progress that Resistance will summon its subversive
powers to try to sabotage you and your efforts.
For example, that insidious voice inside your head will tell you that you can put the hard stuff
aside and turn on the TV. That’s clearly not a good idea, but it is possible to take a break from
your hard work – that is, procrastinate – without wasting time. Set aside your main goal only if
you have other important work to accomplish so you stay fully productive. Refresh yourself by
temporarily turning away from your main project so you can return to it with a clear mind, a
fresh perspective and renewed purpose.
To achieve a satisfying life, think about three pertinent questions: “Who are
you?” “Why are you here?” and “How can you enjoy every moment of your
life to the fullest?”
It takes time to find your answers to those questions. Consider what you need to do to reach your
goals. It won’t be easy and it could exact a heavy price, but living on too small a scale also has a
daily toll. Apply two basic strategies to achieve a successful life and attain your goals:
Each day, follow a list of rituals that make you feel cared for – Set up a routine
of daily thoughts and actions that help you feel energized, fresh, glad and free. Such
rituals will enable you to stay on track to accomplish your dreams and goals. Select
rituals, however idiosyncratic, that are just right for you. Maybe they will involve regular
meditation, a morning run or watching the sun come up. Try to achieve a healthy balance
in your life.
Make something meaningful daily – Leverage your greatest skills to focus 100% on
your most important tasks. Spend a minimum of two hours every day on your most
essential – that is, life-altering – work. Over time, increase the time to four to five hours
a day and then even more. This is the best way to increase your productivity and to feel
most alive.
“Life isn’t about forcing ourselves into rigid systems. Systems are here to
help us have a better life.”
To achieve meaning, motivation and joy, apply these two core principles daily. That will enable
you to fall sleep at night at peace with your efforts and achievements and wake up energized. It
will give you the best opportunities to attain your most ambitious goals.
About the Author
Author, spiritual mentor and entrepreneur Michael Mackintosh co-founded Awakened
Academy, Superhero Training and Ombar Chocolate, among other successful companies.
achievement habit
This book is a pleasure. It offers helpful advice and engaging, illustrative
anecdotes. Bernard Roth calls upon his design perspective – and lessons he
learned as academic director at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford
University – to offer workable suggestions for building an active, successful
approach to work and life. He provides ways to achieve goals you might not
otherwise reach and shares the motivational secrets he’s been teaching his
graduate design students for years. Most of his ideas are easy to implement – like
to stop making excuses – and can make a big difference in your life. Roth also
suggests deep breathing, meditative exercises and visualization to assist readers
in overcoming a negative self-image. Overall, Roth provides worthy assistance for
setting and achieving your goals. getAbstract recommends his insights to anyone
seeking to free themselves from destructive habits and become more productive.
Anyone can learn how to improve his or her life.
Be open to new perspectives. Your view of people and the world may not be
Ignore your first reactions. Review situations before taking action.
Excuses keep you from moving forward and accomplishing goals.
When faced with two equal options, choose the one that offers more
Take responsibility for your choices. Don’t blame others for your lack of
The real problem isn’t always the obvious problem.
Effort is more rewarding than results.
Failure can be an amazing teacher if you are open to learning the lessons.
Every challenge offers new possibilities.
“Nothing Is What You Think It Is”
Mike’s professor saw him as “a slacker” because he failed to complete a project.
Years after college, Mike created an amazingly innovative exhibit at the annual
Burning Man festival. The professor who considered Mike a talentless failure and
totally dismissed him made a mistake. You, too, may perceive things in ways that
might not be accurate. Be open to changing your mind and to seeing people and
events in a new way. The professor clearly was wrong about Mike.
“When something is a priority in your life, you have to be willing
to walk away from anything that’s standing in its way.”
To escape your current perceptions, take these steps: Breathe deeply several
times. Shut your eyes and sit quietly for two or three minutes. Open your eyes and
scan the room slowly. Look around and say, out loud, that each thing you see “has
no meaning.” For example, “The chair has no meaning,” and so on. Consider the
people in your life and remove their meanings, one by one. After you are done,
see how you feel. You can now relate to everything and to yourself in a fresh, new
way. State that you have no meaning, and be open to discovering a new you. Don’t
think of yourself as a loser because you failed at something. Your goal is to
develop the skills to deal with life’s challenges. Make achievement into a habit.
People tend to engage in “functional fixedness,” a cognitive bias that causes them
to view things in only the most obvious ways. Consider a container of cereal. It
holds food, and it also offers a source of “cardboard and wax paper” that you can
use. Be open to new possibilities.
“Who Controls Your Brain?”
The amygdala part of the brain generates your initial reactions. Following your
first reactions isn’t always the smartest course. Consider a speeding driver who
cuts you off. The amygdala sends a message to stay with that car and fight, even
when the safer decision is to take flight and run away. Your second thought is
often more logical and fuels a better outcome. Take these four steps to move from
a gut reaction to a thoughtful response: 1) Stand still and don’t do what your body
pushes you to do. 2) Breathe deeply. 3) Observe how your body feels. 4) Access a
pleasant memory to feel upbeat and content. Now that you’re calmer, consider
healthier options.
“Your Turn”
To focus more intently on the “meaning of your life,” ask yourself the following
questions, and say or write your answers. Ask each question over and over for at
least five to ten minutes. Do this alone or with a partner. Ask: “Who am I?” “What
do I want?” and “What is my purpose?” Be open to new ideas about yourself.
“Right and Wrong”
When you interact with others, forget about who’s right or who’s wrong. You are
the one who infuses your life with meaning. When you worry about who is
correct, you waste time and energy. You have the ability to alter how you think
about every issue. If you hate cleaning the dishes, focus on the parts of washing
that are pleasurable – the feel of your hands in water, how clean the dishes
become and how much you enjoy having a tidy kitchen. Focus on the positive to
feel the joy in any activity.
“Reasons Are Simply Excuses”
In reality, most reasons are simply excuses you offer because you didn’t rank a
task high enough on your to-do list. Release yourself. You don’t have to “justify
your behavior.” Steering clear of excuses frees you to discover fresh methods and
ideas. You don’t have to share your reasons for what you do. “Trust yourself and
People tend to see themselves in others. When you assign a particular emotion to
someone else, you may feel that way about yourself. A “genuinely naïve, truthful
person” assumes that everyone he or she meets speaks honestly. If you are
deceitful, you often mistrust others. Consider the behaviors that push your
buttons. For example, do you hate it when people are tardy? Perhaps you struggle
with lateness. Write down co-workers’ behaviors that bother you, and consider
how these issues manifest in your own actions.
“Decision and Indecision”
If you have difficulty making decisions, consider the “Buridan’s ass paradox,” a
14th-century story attributed to philosopher Jean Buridan (c. 1295-1363). A
donkey can’t choose between two mangers – one offers hay, the other water.
Paralyzed by options, the mule dies of both hunger and thirst. When multiple
choices are all worthwhile, choose the one with fewer downsides. List the
positives and negatives. Then use the “gun test.” Transform your hand into a toy
gun and point it at your head. Give yourself “15 seconds to decide or…pull the
“Achievement can be learned. It is a muscle and once you learn to
flex it, there’s no end to what you can accomplish in life.”
Try the “life’s journey method” of decision making. Describe one of your options
and consider its effect on your current reality. For example, you are considering
whether to get an advanced degree. Ask, “Then what happens?” You complete
your coursework and begin to teach. “Then what happens?” You might meet the
love of your life, marry and start a family. “Then what happens?” and on and on,
until you “get old and die.” This exercise shows that you can’t predict where a
choice will take you. Few decisions are matters of living or dying, so relax.
“Who’s Really Stopping You?”
Don’t play the blame game. Your loved ones, boss or other people don’t prevent
you from achieving. Only you are in charge of your decisions. Some people say
they don’t have adequate time. That’s just an excuse. Your days are as long as
those of the people who achieve great things. If something is important to you,
you will find the time. Jot down the activities you do for a week and note the
amount of time you spend on each. Consider whether your time is well spent.
“Getting Unstuck”
If you feel stuck, make sure you’re asking the correct question and solving the
appropriate problem. For example, if you are stuck on how to find a spouse, write
your concern as a “what would it do for me?” question, such as, “What would it do
for me if I found a spouse?” Generate new questions from the answers you reach
about what solving your original problem would do for you. So if you are stuck on
how to “find a spouse,” you would replace that question with, “How might I get
companionship?” or “How might I get my parents to stop nagging me?” Even if
getting married could answer these problems, it might not be the best resolution.
When you search for better questions and better responses, you start solving your
real problems.
“If you stop labeling the world, your job and your life, you may
find that an amazing trajectory is there for the taking.”
To move forward, “reframe” or “change your point of view.” A group of students
went to Nepal to help hospitals deal with baby incubators that kept breaking
down. Initially, they focused on ways to fix the incubators. Then, they changed
their focus to ways mothers could keep their babies warm. That led them to
discover better options. Try other ways of generating solutions. You could
brainstorm, make lists, create “idea logs” (like Leonardo da Vinci’s journals), joke
around until fresh thoughts come to mind, speak to others, wonder “what if?” or
“work backward” by pretending you fixed a problem and then working in reverse
from that point. Search for coaches or mentors who can help you achieve your
goals. Use other people’s ideas as a springboard.
“Many reasons are simply excuses to hide the fact that we are not
willing to give something a high enough priority in our lives.”
Make a “mind map” by jotting a word or two in the center of a page and then
writing an idea the word brings to mind. “Connect the two words with a line.”
Return to the original word, think of another related idea and add it to the sheet.
Place a line between that word and the first word. Add words and lines until you
can’t think of anything else. Review how you connect words and ideas. What does
your map tell you about your problem? How can you make better, more
appropriate associations?
“Doing Is Everything”
Attempting something and accomplishing it aren’t the same. When you are
determined to get something done, nothing can stop you. Too often people
believe the negative thoughts they have about themselves and dismiss positive
thoughts. Focus your self-affirming comments on the work you do, not on your
accomplishments. Praise how hard you try, not your outcomes.
“It’s Like Riding a Bike”
A 30-year-old woman wanted to “learn to ride a bike.” She had never learned
because she had difficulty with balance. What issue did she think she could solve
by learning to ride a bike? Was she focused on the real issue? When asked, she
said her child recently mastered bike riding, and she worried she couldn’t share
that experience. She could run next to her daughter, but when her daughter rode
more proficiently, the mother felt she would be unable to jog along. Her real
dilemma was to find a way to “keep up with her daughter.” To ride, she first had
to solve her balance issue. How? Take a special exercise class? Take medication?
Or, even better, maybe buy an adult-sized tricycle? That common-sense choice
enabled her to ride with her daughter.
“Your Turn”
Don’t let the odds shake your confidence. If your likelihood of success is low, you
can still be one of the few to succeed. Getting fired isn’t the end of your career.
Oprah Winfrey’s boss asked her to leave her first broadcasting position. When
circus clowns mess up their routines, they break into big smiles, stick their arms
in the air and yell, “Ta-da!” They embrace, rather than hide, their mistakes. How
would you approach projects if you no longer worried about your mistakes?
“Watch Your Language”
Choose your words carefully. Convey your stories clearly. What you say affects
how you feel and what you do. Try to say yes when you would normally say no.
Transform actions you must do into those you wish to perform. Replace the term
“I need” with “I want”; instead of saying “I’m afraid to,” say, “I’d like to.” When
you interact with others, share your emotions and experiences. Try not to
interrupt them; they may say something of value. If someone shares a personal
story, don’t tell a personal tale of your own in response. That may come across as
you “playing…one-upmanship” or trying to diminish the value of the other
person’s story.
“Our hatred of others is really the hatred of our own unwanted
or feared capabilities, projected onto them.”
To improve your conversations, use first-person language. Say, “I feel,” not
“Everyone feels.” Don’t judge others or offer unsolicited guidance. Let people
know that you paid attention to them, and ask questions if you don’t understand
what someone says. Don’t shy away from tough interactions. Dodging a sensitive
subject only creates more issues.
“Self-Image by Design”
How you see yourself affects what you can accomplish. If you believe you are a
“risk taker and a doer,” you will probably take chances. Giving into fear or excess
care undermines your potential choices. Many perceptions start in childhood.
Your self-image develops as you interact with others, receive feedback from
friends and family, and respond to life events.
“The problem with reasons is that they’re just excuses prettied
Describe yourself as you are today using five adjectives. Invite five pals or
relatives to list five adjectives about you. How does your list differ from theirs?
Don’t confuse who you are with what you own or with what you do or have done.
You can alter your self-image. Consider what steps you would take if you only had
“ten minutes to live.” How about if you had that many days, months or years? As
you respond, use the personal details that come to mind to consider how you
might change the way you view yourself. “Start designing and changing!” You are
the author of your personal story. You assign meaning to yourself and to everyone
else in your saga.
“The Big Picture”
Know your main objectives, and don’t be inflexible about the road you take to
achieve them. Don’t shut out other people or ideas. You don’t have to take or
succeed at every opportunity. Accept that you may fail. Next time you tackle a
problem, jump in with both feet. Don’t spend excess time reflecting. Act.
About the Author
Engineering professor Bernard Roth is a co-founder and the academic director
of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (also known as
the d.school).
the 4 disciplines of execution
Strategy without an effective method of execution is worthless, no matter how
good it looks on PowerPoint. Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling – all
FranklinCovey consultants – provide managers with a process for realizing
“wildly important goals.” They offer a simple yet effective four-step formula for
execution, from goal setting to application and accountability. Although the
concepts are basic, the clear instructions for implementation make this book a
standout. Unfortunately, some of the content verges on being too promotional of
FranklinCovey’s training, services and products. Setting this foible aside and
focusing on the good stuff, getAbstract recommends this clear strategy manual to
all business leaders.
Implementing strategy amid the “whirlwind” of daily work is difficult.
Identify your firm’s goals by detecting which changes would exert the
greatest impact.
The “4 Disciplines of Execution” (4DX) is a strategic process for achieving
“wildly important goals” (WIGs).
Discipline 1 teaches you to set a target. To achieve a WIG, define a
measurable, specific time frame based on getting from one place to another
by a set deadline.
Discipline 2 identifies activities that provide the greatest leverage for
achieving the WIG.
“Lead measures” are actions that affect the outcome, while “lag measures”
report the success of past activities.
Discipline 3 calls for visible scoreboards that show how team members are
Discipline 4 instills accountability through weekly meetings called “WIG
The roll-out process includes extensive training for leaders and employee
The 4DX principles also work well in helping you achieve personal goals.
Strategy Blockers
Executives implement some strategies easily with a single order. They initiate
such changes as designating investments, revising compensation or hiring
additional staff simply by asking the appropriate managers to make it happen.
However, more ambitious strategies require people to change their behavior,
which is seldom easy. For example, if you ask your sales team to use new software
when they already like what they’re using, you’ll hit resistance even if the new
program is compatible. As Jim Stuart, an originator of the “4 Disciplines of
Execution” (4DX), stated, “To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you
must start doing things you have never done before.” Resistance to change is a
major hurdle in implementing a new strategy.
“When you execute a strategy that requires a lasting change in
the behavior of other people, you are facing one of the greatest
leadership challenges you will ever meet.”
What else causes poor execution? Employees fail to implement strategy, first,
because they often do not understand their organization’s goals. In one survey,
most frontline people could not reiterate what their firm’s executives identified as
its top three goals. In addition, employees said they rarely felt committed to a
goal even when they knew what it was. Or, if they knew about the goal, they didn’t
know how to contribute toward its fruition. And in most cases, managers didn’t
hold workers accountable for making progress toward company objectives.
Discipline 1: “Focus on the Wildly Important”
Another obstacle to implementing strategy is the “whirlwind” – that is, “the
massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a
day-to-day basis.” Simply keeping up with daily demands takes most people’s
time and energy. Achieving big goals in addition to staying on top of business is
difficult. The four disciplines of execution will enable you and the teams in your
company to execute important goals even as the work world swirls around you.
Select one or two exceptionally crucial goals. Examine the abundance of good
ideas. Then take on the challenge of saying no to some so you can concentrate
your company’s time and energy on one or two “Wildly Important Goals” (WIGs)
that really matter. This enables your staff to focus on the firm’s top priorities
without the whirlwind blowing them off course.
“The greatest challenge is not in developing the plan: It’s in
changing the behavior of the frontline teams that must execute it
while managing the never-ceasing demands of the whirlwind.”
To identify your WIG, ask: “If every other area of our operation remained at its
current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the
greatest impact?” Some corporate WIGs emerge from the whirlwind, such as an
existing activity that is underperforming or broken, like poor customer service or
escalating costs. WIGs that derive from outside the whirlwind are strategic
matters, like new product launches, competitive threats or fresh opportunities.
Many WIGs originate from “finance, operations or customer satisfaction.” Once
you’ve chosen your firm’s WIG, the challenge is to implement it throughout your
organization so that each team pursues one or two WIGs that support the
company’s WIG. Follow four rules:
“No team focuses on more than two WIGs at the same time” –
Achieving a WIG requires a keen, undivided focus. Do not let other
demands dilute your attention.
2. “The battles you choose must win the war” – All activities must work
toward accomplishing the WIG.
3. “Senior leaders can veto, but not dictate” – Middle managers must
determine how their teams will support the WIG. If they set up a top-down
process, their teams won’t feel high levels of commitment to the WIG.
4. “All WIGs must have a finish line” – State the finish line by using the
WIG formula “from X to Y by when.” This declares that the organization
will progress from this point to that point by a set time. WIGs must have a
clearly defined, measurable and targeted achievement completed in a
specific time frame. For example, “Increase...annual revenue from new
products from 15% to 21% by December 31st.”
“When a team moves from having a dozen we-really-hope goals
to one or two no-matter-what goals, the effect on morale is
To implement Discipline 1, determine the best WIG for your business. Seek input
at every level of your organization. Encourage ideas from each team by asking
which facet of its work needs most to be improved and what the team’s “greatest
strengths” are in terms of putting them to use in attaining the WIG. Rank the
resulting suggestions by importance. Test the top-ranking concepts by asking if
each proposed goal is measurable, achievable and specific to its team. Make sure
it supports the companywide WIG. Choose ideas that test well and meet every
condition. Then put them into the WIG formula (from X to Y by when) in the
simplest terms beginning with a verb, such as, “Raise annual inventory turn rate
from eight to ten by fiscal year end.”
Discipline 2: “Act on the Lead Measures”
This discipline identifies the actions that will give your firm the most leverage
toward achieving its WIG. In this step, each team delineates specific activities
with measurable targets that will move it forward in reaching its WIG as part of
reaching the firm’s WIG.
“The principle of focusing on the vital few goals is common sense;
it’s just not common practice.”
Apply two kinds of measures to gauge your progress: “Lag measures” report
whether you’ve completed a goal by computing your success after you act, for
example, consumer satisfaction reports and revenue calculations. Unfortunately,
by the time you receive the results of lag measurements, you have already
completed the activities they cover. “Lead measures” are more within your
control. While a lag measure might report your car’s repair record, a lead
measure might note how much routine maintenance you’ve done to prevent
repairs. Thus, lead measures can be predictive and can influence lag measures.
“Like a compass, the WIG provides clear, consistent direction
toward a result that’s wildly important.”
Younger Brothers Construction identified reducing accidents and injuries as its
WIG. Management ascertained that enforcing strict compliance to safety
standards in six areas would provide the best lead measures for reducing
accidents. Managers required shift supervisors to check their crews’ adherence to
specific standards daily, in spite of constant whirlwind distractions like shipping
delays, vendor issues or foul weather. Within months of focusing on lead
measures, the firm’s safety record, according to its lag measurements, improved
“What you ultimately want is for each member of your team to
take personal ownership of the commitments they make.”
To implement Discipline 2, determine which lead measures have the highest
impact on the WIG. Consider what new actions you can take, how to leverage
your team’s strengths and where you can improve its weaknesses. Rank ideas by
importance and ask these questions about each one:
“Is it predictive” and “influenceable?” – Both these traits are
“Is it an ongoing process” or a one-time event? – Work toward a
continuing effort with a goal.
“Is it a leader’s game or a team game?” – Give the game to the team.
Is it measurable and “worth measuring?” – Measurements create
“People will work hard to avoid disappointing their boss, but
they will do almost anything to avoid disappointing their
Once you determine the top activities, commit the list to paper in specific,
measurable terms. Make each person accountable for taking a planned action by a
set time.
Discipline 3: “Keep a Compelling Scoreboard”
Telling staffers exactly how they are performing creates engagement and
dedication. Scoreboards drive action, promote problem solving, and boost energy
and intensity. When you show progress visually, people feel excited. Seeing that
they are winning is very motivational. An effective scoreboard meets these
“It has to be simple” – The scoreboard must indicate clearly where the
team is and where it needs to be.
“It has to be visible to the team” – Computer data may help managers
but lots of information alone won’t motivate the team. Put the scoreboard
where everyone sees it.
“It has to show lead and lag measures” – Viewers must be able to see
quickly the result they want to reach (lag measure) and what they can do to
attain it (lead measure).
“It has to tell you immediately if you are winning or losing” – The
scoreboard must communicate at a glance how participants are
“The whirlwind is urgent, and it acts on you and everyone
working for you every minute of every day.”
To put Discipline 3 into action, work with your team members to design a large,
visible players’ scoreboard. Participants will be more invested if they participate
in creating the scoreboard. First, choose what type of graph you want to display,
whether it’s a bar chart, a pie chart or an X/Y axis diagram. Keep it simple, clear
and easy to read, so you can display lead and lag measures. Update the
scoreboard weekly. You will see that “people play differently when they are
keeping score.”
Discipline 4: “Create a Cadence of Accountability”
The discipline of accountability keeps WIGs from blowing away in the whirlwind.
Create a sense of personal responsibility through weekly WIG meetings that
follow a set agenda and that concentrate only on the status of the execution of the
big goal.
“Basically, the more you try to do, the less you actually
WIG meetings have three components: First, participants report on the status of
their commitments. Next, they “review the scoreboard” and discuss what is
working and what they should adjust. Then they define what they need to achieve
by the next session. These meetings are great motivators because, in addition to
being accountable to their boss, employees are accountable to each other, which
is more inspiring. “WIG sessions” promote creativity and innovation because
teams collaborate to overcome obstacles. As they work on advancing the lead
measure, they share experiences and ideas and bring out the best in each other.
In action, “the WIG session is like an ongoing science experiment.”
“The challenge is executing your most important goals in the
midst of the urgent!”
For the purposes of implementation, these sessions should not cover anything but
the status of your WIG. The meetings work best when you hold them at the same
time and place, on the same day of each week. Keep them to a half hour. Leaders
should set an example by reporting on their WIG commitments each time.
Together, teams commemorate successes, share what they’ve learned and help
each other overcome obstacles. Keep the whirlwind out of your WIG sessions.
4DX Installation
To ensure that 4DX is successful within your organization, you should put it into
operation as an ongoing process, not a one-time occurrence. Involve all of your
firm’s leaders and their teams, rather than working with just a few leaders at a
time. Train your managers to head this effort. To roll out 4DX in your company,
follow this tested, results-oriented six-step process:
“Clarify the overall WIG” – Follow the 4DX procedure for identifying
your company’s wildly important goal.
2. “Design the team WIGs and lead measures” – Commit two days to
training leaders in the concepts of 4DX. Once leaders have absorbed these
ideas, they can work with their teams to identify WIGs that support the
organization’s WIG. These managers should define the lead measurements
they’ll need to put in place.
3. Run a “leader certification” workshop – Teach leaders how to create
a scoreboard, manage a WIG session and prepare for launching 4DX within
their teams.
4. Conduct a “team launch” – Kick-off 4DX in two-hour team meetings.
The agenda is to teach the 4DX principles, review the organization’s WIG
and describe the lead measures. Conclude the meeting with a practice WIG
5. Execute “with coaching” – Once you’ve launched 4DX, stay on track
and work through problems with the help of a coach who has expertise in
the four disciplines.
6. Organize “quarterly summits” – Leaders report to upper management
in quarterly meetings. This gives them the opportunity to practice
accountability and receive recognition for their successes.
4DX in Your Life
The four disciplines are not only an effective tool for accomplishing goals in the
workplace. You can apply the same principles in your personal life. One man used
4DX to lose weight. His WIG was to lose 80 pounds by his son’s high school
graduation six months away. He identified his lead measures as walking several
miles daily, limiting calories and not eating in the evenings. He kept a tracking
chart on the kitchen wall, and he reached his goal in time for his son’s graduation.
About the Authors
Chris McChesney, a developer of the 4DX program, and Jim Huling, who has
more than 30 years of experience in corporate leadership, are both consultants
with FranklinCovey, where Sean Covey is an executive vice president and runs
global operations.
the one thing
Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams Realty and a best-selling author,
overcame his own issues about focus, which makes his claims about
cultivating better habits even more compelling. Multitasking isn’t fruitful,
he says, since success requires long periods of laser-like concentration, not
scattershot swats. If you find your “ONE Thing,” Keller says, everything else
will fall into place. Keller, writing with co-author Jay Papasan, breaks his
approach down into manageable steps based on research and experience.
With an engaging writing style and plenty of bullet points, this reads much
faster than its 200-plus pages.
Multitasking and following long to-do lists might pose the biggest
obstacles to achieving your goals.
Superior success comes from extraordinary focus on your “ONE
Developing a singular focus on what’s necessary puts many larger
forces in motion.
Aligning your purpose with your one thing brings you clarity and
Your aligned purpose directs your single priority and tells you how to
spend your time.
Trade your to-do list for a short success list, and use that to chart your
From that list, block out time for what’s truly important for achieving
Learn to say no and accept the chaos that accompanies any pursuit of
Take care of your health and energy with good food, exercise, stress
relief, family time and sleep.
Create an environment that supports your goals.
The Importance of Focus
In the early 1990s, a grumpy old cowboy named Curly, played by Jack
Palance, revealed a great truth in a popular movie, City Slickers. “One
thing. Just one thing. You stick to that,” he told a city slicker named Mitch,
played by Billy Crystal, offering a formula for success in a few words.
“You want your achievements to add up, but that actually
takes subtraction, not addition. You need to be doing fewer
things for more effect instead of doing more things with side
One-shot prioritizing – or “going small” with a focus on a singular purpose
or achievement – enables some people to get more done in a day. Desks
groaning with to-do lists and calendars packed with dozens of projects
divide your concentration into tiny pieces, while excelling at a few things is
the way to succeed. Adding more projects without cutting others dooms
your results, your family relationships, friendships, diet, sleep patterns and
health. Chopped up, your life gets small, but developing a singular focus on
one necessary target puts many larger forces into motion. When you
prioritize your primary task, everything else falls into line, like dominoes.
“The most productive people start with purpose and use it
like a compass. They allow purpose to be the guiding force in
determining the priority that drives their actions.”
This functions in science, as Lorne Whitehead noted in the American
Journal of Physics in 1983. He found that one domino can topple another
that is 50% larger. Starting with a two-inch domino, “geometric
progression” means the 23rd domino would be taller than the Eiffel Tower
and the 57th would nearly reach the moon. So shoot for the moon by
creating a domino effect to get there. Success builds on itself; it is
“sequential, not simultaneous.” Very successful brands reached the top by
focusing on “ONE Thing.” Consider Coors beer, KFC chicken, Starbucks
coffee and Google search. Your challenge is to find your one focal point.
Until you find it, seeking it will be your one thing.
“Applying the ‘ONE thing’ to your work – and in your life – is
the simplest and smartest thing you can do to propel yourself
toward the success you want.”
Passion and skill often align with a person’s one thing. Singular focus leads
to spending a large amount of time developing a skill that improves your
results and adds to your enjoyment. Bill Gates developed his high school
passion for computers into a singular skill for programming. He built that
knowledge into success as co-founder of Microsoft.
Forget the Lies
Working and living according to the one-thing philosophy is simple. The
hard part is moving beyond all the mistaken conventional wisdom you’ve
absorbed. Various clichés, myths and untruths about productivity sound
valid, but they aren’t. Problems arise when you fall back on them to shape
important decisions.
“Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my
concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my
focus had too.”
To succeed, eliminate these lies from your thinking:
“Everything matters equally” – When life gets busy, your natural
tendency is to make decisions quickly and haphazardly. Instead,
winnow your lengthy to-do list – not to a few things you should do,
but to the one thing that matters most. Use this as your guiding
principle. Learn to say no or “later&rdquo