This week in my book club, I review Carol Dweck’s Mindset. You might have heard of this gem, its the favorite psychology book of Bill Gates.
I stumbled over this book when I was listening to a Josh Waitzkin Interview where he recommended this book.
Carol Dweck is one of the world leading researchers in the fields of personality, social psychology, and developmental psychology. She is currently a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was named Book of the Year by the World Education Fellowship.
Her Publications has been featured in the New Yorker, Time, New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe an many more. She lives currently in Palo Alto, California.
So jab, its fair to say that she is a total badass.
I sincerely hope that I will get Professor Dweck on my Podcast in the next months.
Professor Dweck explains that it’s not only our abilities and talent that bring us success, but also how we approach our goals.
She identified two different mindsets: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.
According to her, those are the most basic beliefs we carry with ourselves.
A “fixed mindset” is a belief that assumes that our talent, character, intelligence, and creativity are fixed entities that can not be changed in any meaningful way.
Therefore success is only the product of what you were given at birth.
This is a toxic belief.
People who have a “fixed mindset” shy away from challenges because they fear failure more than anything.
A person who has a “fixed mindset” who would pass an exam would link his/her success to him just being smart and talented.
There is a dangerous problem with this belief: What happens if a person with a “fixed mindset” fails?
The problem is that their entire self-identity is bound to their results.
If you have a “fixed mindset” and you are succeeding, you feel smart and gifted, if you are failing, however, you feel stupid and untalented.
The danger of the “fixed mindset” is due to you, linking your entire self-identity to your performance or to your results.
This is why a person with a “fixed mindset” will shy away from taking challenges because they fear failure more than anything.
If you believe on the contrary that hard work, perseverance, the right strategy, and resource management have much more to do with what is possible for you than Carol Dweck would say you have a “growth mindset”.
A “growth mindset” thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence that you have no talent whatsoever but as an opportunity for growth.
A big part of our educational system is built on the belief for example that intelligence is a fixed entity. This book wishes the floor with this unfounded statement. So if you are reading this, you are not a static being! You can decide who you want to be.
The Idea that people are predestined to achieve according to their IQ and their natural capabilities is outdated.
Another detriment of the fixed mindset is that it makes people who have it believe they were blessed in some areas with talent and that in those areas they are naturals and they don´t have to work on their craft anymore.
A person with a fixed mindset believed that it is futile to invest in areas of their life where they naturally are not talented.
They think that effort and hard work is for people with deficiencies. Untalented people.
This can trigger an entire domino effect of psychological catastrophes. Because if you define yourself by your talents, a loss means that you are nothing.
This reminded me a lot of what I learned in clinical psychology about people with narcissistic personality disorders. If you believe you are this great guy, and you fail, your entire self-image crumbles. This causes depression, and in some persons even suicide.
One thing that I learned from my last book review “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin was that failure, and mistakes are a necessity.
Only through failing can you identify your weaknesses and get stronger. Many high achievers celebrate failing even. I heard Dave Asprey, founder of bulletproof, in one of his interviews say that he asks his kids every day if they failed today, and if they say no, he motivates them to shoot higher the next day.
What’s even more dangerous are people, who have a fixed mindset, but who do not believe they are particularly talented. This is the worst combo in my opinion.
If you think you lost the genetic lottery, and you have a fixed mindset, you have no motivation to work hard. You think success is just not for you. That the good things in life are not available for you. I spotted this pattern a lot when I investigated people who were going through a depressive episode.
If you believe that life has only pain, suffering and a whole bunch of horsecrap in store for you why even bother and try?
Why bother putting in lots of work to turn things around, if the ultimate outcome will be that you will be failing anyway?
Better safe the energy and do nothing right? WRONG!
I was very recently approached by a smart beautiful girl, and after some chit-chat, she shared with me that it was her dream to study psychology also, but that she believes that she is too stupid for the university.
This conversation stuck with me for quite some while, because it killed me that she had such a distorted perspective of what’s possible for her.
But also I understood where she was coming from. It is only logical to assume that if you fail every time you start something that after some time you better stop trying in order to stop hurting yourself. Everything else would be self-mutilation. Carol Dweck’s book mindset showed me that I am not the sum of all my mistakes, and that change is not only possible, but it is necessary.
The idea that intelligence is a fixed construct, is just plain wrong. Intelligence, basic qualities can be strengthened and trained like muscles. I am not saying that everyone can be Lebron James or Albert Einstein, but our brain is capable of enormous feats.
And when you hear people, for example, say, I am too old to learn a new language, math is just not for me, or I am just not a this or that person, please remind them with a gentle slap in their face that they are limiting themselves.
At the beginning of Mindset, Carol Dweck kills the myth that intelligence is a static entity that can not be changed. She took a closer look at the work of Alfred Binet, the creator of the IQ test.
Alfred Binet designed the IQ test to help children who fell behind to get back on track. Let that sink in: The founder of the IQ test did not believe that intelligence was fixed.
A few modern philosophers… assert that an individual`s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism…. With practise, training, and above all, method we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to mecome more intelligent than we were before.
I have met friends where their teacher put the kids with the highest IQ score in the front row because obviously, those were the only ones that would ever amount to anything. So why bother investing in the other “untalented” ones.
In the following quote Carol Dweck writes about what she found out in her long research:
For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . .
Carol Dweck uses a beautiful example where a high school in Chicago hands out the grade “not yet” to students who did not pass an exam.
In that way, students can frame this setback into their “growth mindset”.
Many students who don’t pass their exam, internalize that they are a failure, a nothing. To stupid to pass the exam.
If you try really hard at something and fail, it is key to realize, although you did not pass yet, your work was not for nothing.
When I was studying psychology I was living in F city.
I failed exams left and right, ultimately I dropped out, and I took a 2-year break from academia where I traveled the world.
After having not succeded at my academical career, I felt that I was officially stupid now. Inferior to everybody who has a college degree. And that there was absolutely nothing that I can do about it, and that It will stay like this forever.
In those 2 years, I did not understand that I was on a learning curve, that studying was actually not for nothing, but that I was getting better, that I was growing.
The finality of a loss that is linked to your own lack of abilities is a painful process to go through.
Carol Dweck Calls this the “Tyranny of now“.
In order to investigate this phenomenon, she made an experiment, where she gave children a task, that was too hard for them to solve.
What happened to the children with the “fixed mindset” when confronted with a task too hard for them to solve?
Children with a “fixed mindset” were more likely to cheat and tried to find children who were worse then they are.
They wanted to feel good about themselves and avoid challenges and run from difficulty in order to not put their self-identity at jeopardy.
Carol Dweck showed me in Mindset that our grades, results, and achievements are not final judgments that estimate the value of a person but a photograph of a moment in that person’s life.
You can argue that the system that we are living in has a “fixed mindset” If you graduate, this means you are forever smart. If you have no degree you are stupid. Our system is built on such assumptions.
“It’s 2004. Iciss Tillis is a college basketball star, a six-foot-five forward for the Duke Universiy women`s basketball team. She has a picture of her father, James”Quick” Tillis, taped to her locker as a motivator. “But the picture is not a tribute,” says sportswriter Viv Bernstein. “It is a reminder of all Tillis hopes she will never be.”
Quick Tillis was a contender in the 1980s. In 81, he boxed for the world heavyweight title; he was in the movie The Color Purple(as a boxer), and in 86, he was the first boxer to go the distance(ten rounds) with Mike Tyson. But he never made it to the top.
Iciss Tillis, who is a senior says, “This is the year to win a national championship. I just feel like I’d be such a failure . . . I`d feel like I am regressing back and I am going to end up like my dad: a nobody.”
This is my favorite case study the book Mindset. It shows a psychological catastrophe in sports that many people view as a necessity: the somebody-nobody syndrome.
If I win, I`ll be somebody.
If I lose, I`ll be nobody.
Not only in sports is this true. But in life also. So often people have the misconception that their self-worth is determined whether or not they are successful. Constant self-validation is highly dangerous in my opinion. The classical if-then psychology. If you become successful you will finally be happy. As much as I am for aiming high, seeing yourself as a person who is at the moment not special enough is highly dangerous. People who have the “one day I’ll be somebody” disease are constantly in repairing mode. They internalized that they are broken, and that at the moment they don’t have any worth. That they are not enough.
Yes, you seem to need at least a little bit of discomfort to motivate yourself for what things, but there are other sources that get your ass into gear.
You can be driven by inspiration, contribution, and your dream without connecting your self-worth to your progress. If you are reading this right now, you are a somebody. You matter, and you are enough, and you always were.
In this book, you will constantly evaluate and question yourself, and check whether or not you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. And you will realize that we all have mixed mindsets. I think Professor Dweck could have put more psychological excercises in this book. I learn best by doing, and I would love to have a workbook from Carol Dweck with practical exercises for everyday that strengthen my growth mindset.
When Tim Ferris packed his stuff to vagabond around the world, he took two books with him. The first one was Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, the second one was Walden by Hendrik DavidThoreau.
Tim Ferris was one of the guys who inspired me to found my own psychology podcast.
The 6$ that I spend on this gem, are easily in the discussion for best investment of my life. And I believe whole heartedly that this book has the potential to enrich if not change your life.
I started to read Walden when I was flying towards Portugal and I finished it while watching the sunset in a small village near guimares.
In Walden Thoreau writes about his experiment of living in the woods near Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusets in solitude for two years. He lives there completely self-reliant, in the shack he build, as simple as possible, and supported by no one else but by himself.
The timing could have not been better for me to find this gem. At the time of my discovery of Walden, I had the biggest financial trouble of my recent memory, and I was on the summit of brokeback mountain, surrounded by a large storm of horsecrap.
The stoicism that is depicted in Hendrik David Thoreau’s Walden not only gave me a new perspective but made me realize that the things that matter to me most cannot be taken away from me, ever.
As long as I have the people I love, my orange backpack, my blog, and my dream I have everything that I need.
That I am free.
In Walden, Thoreau writes about his experiment of living in the woods near Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusets in solitude for two years. He lives there completely self-reliant, in the shack, he build himself, as simple as possible, and supported by no one else but by himself.
In total, he spent for his cabin just 28 Dollars. In order to sustain himself, Thoreau grows and sells vegetables, mostly beans. His day to day diet consists mainly of rye bread, salt pork, rice, beans, and potatoes.
Thoreau`s Idea was that in the midst of modern society and within day to day ordinary life can one lose his or her true identity.
Thoreau moving to walden is a radical experiment in order to see what remains at the core of the human soul if one eliminates variables such as possession, social connections, career and external validation.
Henry David Thoreau was motivated for this experiment by his Mentor and Role Model Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I would think that they belong to the school of transcendentalism, which assumes that there is a true self to discover.
Thoreau goes into great detail about his observations about the nature that surrounded him in the forest in Walden. The Book Walden is not only a book about self-discovery and stoicism but it is also about mindfulness, minimalism, gratitude and our spiritual connection to nature.
In Walden Thoreau shows his great love for numbers, and he goes into detail how much he spends in order to build his cabin in the woods and how much money he spent on salt from 1845 to 1847. To us, this may seem weird or trivial(2) but to Thoreau it was important. In his opinion modern society with its blind devotion to consumerism, technology and hedonism is enslaving the human soul with its dependencies and is ultimately robbing us of our most precious gift: our freedom.
According to him, we create our own prison.
He spends however not the entire time in his little cabin in the wood on working on his little farm that he build. Thoreau spent only as much time on labor and work as was necessary in order to sustain himself.
He went into the woods to think, to feel and to observe nature.
You can see that he had little to no respect for material things and possessions.
Thoreau was proud and fascinated by how little he spend, and how little he actually needed. He spend less money on building a hose and living there than he had to spend studying in Harvard.
Thoreau was a true free spirit, he even refuses to acknowledge the days of the week or month, he was only guided by the season that changed slowly in front of him.
After two years of living in the forrest, Thoreau left Walden. Thoreau announced that his project at the pond is over on September 6, 1847. He felt that humans live many lives and that his life living at the pond was finished. He then admonishes us to meet our lives, and live fully.
A clear theme in the book Walden is the importance of Self-Reliance. A huge influence for Hendrik David Thoreaueu was the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, and in particular the essay Self-Reliance, is one of the finest pieces of literature ever written in my opinion. One could say that Hendrik David Thoreau’s experiment to live without money in the woods for 2 years was motivated by proving the ideals of Emerson that are depicted in the letter self-reliance of 1841.
“Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”
Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune
In Walden, Thoreau explains that a person needs financial independence more than the neediness that millions live by in our hedonistic societies that only aim at acquiring more material wealth.
Thoreau goes into great detail on how much money he spends in his experiment, he even mentioned that the amount of money he spent 1845-1847 on salt. To “normal” people this may be trivial, to Thoreau this meant control. Controlling his own finances and not be dependent on banks, jobs and other people is ultimately the ability to control one’s own fortune and life.
Thoreau’s experiment to live in the woods is not only an experiment to liberate himself from the strings of the capitalistic cravings that are mandatory to live in our society, but he also aims at cutting strings with his social life. He very rarely was visited by other people in his time by the woods.
And if he was visited by friends, they were most likely also poets or thinkers.
This was a deep lesson for me. Being Independent and self-reliant means to be in control. I believe psychologically three things among many others, are causing depression.
Perceived lack of control over one’s own life, financial scarcity, and our craving for external validation.
By eliminating the need for those three basic human needs, Thoreau gives us a uniquely different manual of how to deal with anxiety and depression in my opinion.
Our brain is an overreactive Son of a b*tch. Every time one of our bills is overdue, we fear social exclusion and starvation.
Thoreau goes to extreme length to become the boss of his own life, something we all should try to be. And it seems that the psychological benefit of feeling in charge is fundamental when it comes to preserving our sanity.
Walden has taught me that in order to battle my depression and anxiety I need to feel more in control. Limiting our dependencies is a liberation of the soul.
The second benefit of being more self-reliant is to stress less about things that are not in your control.
The identification and separation of matters that we can influence is key. There are many things in life that we can influence and change, and by all means am I an advocate of striving to become better and doing everything we can. But there is a lot of stuff that we can not change. From accidents to illness to losing a loved one.
By focusing on the things we can not change we dig our own graves and invest in our anxiety.
What we always can change however is the fact of how we deal with things that we can not change. Our attitude and emotion towards misfortune is in our control. Always.
Even if you are suffering you are in control of what coping mechanism you choose. Years back I interviewed 2 brothers. Their father died of severe alcoholism. One of them became an addict as well. I asked him why he thought that he was so vulnerable to addiction, and he hinted that he had no other choice because his father lived this way. And that he inherited those bad habits.
The other brother was doing fairly well in life, and I asked him why he was doing so good. He gave me the same answer. He told me he was doing so good because we wanted to be the opposite of his father and learn from his mistakes and not bring the level of pain and suffering into the world.
We all need the feeling of control. If you feel overwhelmed in life, focus on the little things that are in your power.
Often we underestimate the power of the culmination of doing tiny things on a regular basis.
In Walden Thoreau dedicated an entire chapter to the idea of simplicity. Thoreau depicts the idea that humans in our capitalistic society have a tendency to be dissatisfied with one`s possession.
Something that is true for most of us. We are all in some way in the process of creating the means of getting more.
There are two ways according to Thoreau of dealing with this dissatisfaction. We either acquire more, or we reduce our desires.
Thoreau goes to extreme lengths of reducing his desires, by living alone in the woods.
From building his own shack to having a simplistic diet. To him, the devotion of acquiring luxurious extravagancies is not only unnecessary but a real liability and empidment. It is crazy how these ideas are still relevant 150 years later.
We work our asses of to get a house that is to big for us, with money that we borrowed from the bank, drive a car that we don’t really need, work a job in order to buy stuff that we not only could easily live without but is actually hindering us of becoming happy and fulfilled.
Thoreau goes as far as discussing if humans need shelter at all because he believes our skin is enough of a tent.
This thinking deeply liberated me in times of financial struggle. That my worst case scenario is actually not that bad.
Stoics would go as far as to practice misfortune on a regular basis. By training our brain that the condition that we fear most is actually not that bad we liberate ourself from fear and anxiety.
Gary V, for example, visualizes his worst case scenario(the death of his loved ones) every morning. I know this is crazy. But he believes that this is the source of his level of gratitude.
Stoics don’t aim at devoting their life to acquiring more, but to become the best person they can become.
This is of extreme importance when it comes to how we see ourselves, and how we judge ourself and others.
What do you appreciate in yourself and in others? Who do you respect and why?
Do you respect people who are kicking ass in their career? Do you look up to people who are financially successful?
Or do you respect people who are doing good? Who is adding value? Who puts a smile daily on other peoples faces?
We live in the society where we only value performance, we worship people in power, and we do not pay attention to kindness, love, and happiness.
So I urge you to go into introspection. What do you value yourself for?
Often people have a value paradigm that ignores beautiful qualities.
If you only value people in power, people who are “successful” and you are not this person yet you are digging your own grave and create self hate and self doubt.
Do not forget to praise yourself for the things that really matter. Are you a good listener? Can you make other people smile? Are you a devoted person? Can you be happy for others? Are you patient with your parents? Are you there for your friends when they truly need you?
In my interviews with depressed people, they often speak about how much better the world would be without them, that they can not do anything, and that they have no skills.
By scaling down and praising yourself for stoic values, you not only gain happiness, but you gain clarity and truth. Because you are a beautiful person, you may have just not yet realized it because you use the wrong template to evaluate yourself correctly.
So if possession, achievement, social validation don’t matter, what does?
This very moment does. Now matters.
In my last article, take the road less traveled by, I talked about how overrated feelings are.
And that more often than not, we over-evaluate the importance of feelings. A the end of our emotions very often is nothing.
I had this insight while watching the endless panoramic view in Guimares, realizing that if everything is ephermal, there is no need to stress about the future or the past.
Depression, is often an obsession with the past. Anxiety on the other side is the fear of worrying about everything sh*tty that might happen to us in the future.
This leaves no place for the importance of the now.
A great mentor here is Marcus Aurelius. One of my favorite stoic thinkers.
Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.
While I read Walden in Portugal I felt liberated. After receiving some major bad news, I was super anxious and felt like dog sh*t.
It made me think. How many times in my life did my bitchy emotions tell me that the world was going to end, that I will not make it, that everybody will hate me, that I have no future?
How often did the world actually end?
Yup, not one time.
We fail exams and we think we just lost our one and only shot at success. We fight through a breakup and we believe no one ever will love us again. We see a dream not work out and we feel like we just lost our one and only shot at happiness.
Yet still, lifes goes on. Whether we like it or not.
The seasons in Walden, that Thoreau describes so playfully showed me that life is going to go on.
And as I realized in Portugal, we matter a lot less then we are willing to admit.
This is a good thing. Nihilism can be liberating. If nothing matters and everything is trivial, why not do what the f*ck makes you happy and stress less about things.
Whether you die, or the president of the united states, the same thing is coming for both of you. So why stress out so much.
Take it easy, live life fully and be open for the endless beauty that this world has to offer.
Thoreau believed that a human lives many lifes.
As he left the forest that he lived in for two years, we felt that the life he had to live near the pond of this forest was over.
The same goes for you and for me. What life are you living right now that is coming to an end?
What life do you choose to live next?
His writing style is contrary to his simplistic philosophy. If you are not a native English speaker, this gem is going to be really hard for you to understand.
I had my fair share of trouble with understanding Thoreau`s Walden.
His sentences are very long, and complicated in times. Besides that, I have nothing to argue about.
Josh Waitzkin chronicles in the Art Of Learning about how he became an internationally known chess master and martial arts world champion. Furthermore is Josh Waitzkin is the subject for the Hollywood movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.
In his book, The Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin walks us through his approach to learning and how he managed to become world-class in multiple disciplines.
The books start in 2004 in Tapei, Taiwan where the Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands World Championships was fought. In the video below you can see the entire fight between Josh Waitzkin and the Taiwanese champion called”buffalo”.
Before I butcher this moment completely, here are Josh Waitzkins own thoughts to describe this key moment in his life.
Forty seconds before round two, and I’m lying on my back trying to breathe.
Pain all through me. Deep breath. Let it go. I won’t be able to lift my shoulder tomorrow, it won’t heal for over a year, but now it pulses, alive, and I feel the air vibrating around me, the stadium shaking with chants, in Mandarin, not for me.
My teammates are kneeling above me, looking worried. They rub my arms, my shoulders, my legs. The bell rings. I hear my dad’s voice in the stands, ‘C’mon Josh!’ Gotta get up. I watch my opponent run to the center of the ring. He screams, pounds his chest. The fans explode. They call him Buffalo. Bigger than me, stronger, quick as a cat. But I can take him — if I make it to the middle of the ring without falling over. I have to dig deep, bring it up from somewhere right now. Our wrists touch, the bell rings, and he hits me like a Mack truck.
Who could have guessed it would come to this? Just a few years earlier I had been competing around the world in elite chess tournaments. Since I was eight years old, I had consistently been the highest rated player for my age in the United States, and my life was dominated by competitions and training regimens designed to bring me into peak form for the next national or world championship. I had spent the years between ages fifteen and eighteen in the maelstrom of American media following the release of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, which was based on my dad’s book about my early chess life. I was known as America’s great young chess player and was told that it was my destiny to follow in the footsteps of immortals like Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, to be world champion.
Josh Waitzkin The Art Of Learning
The Art of learning is not your typical how I did it books, but a deep and philosophical guide to inner optimal performance. So lets start! Who is this Josh Waitzkin…
I was particularly interested in Josh Waitzkin because he is not shying away from failures and loses and even crisis. When Josh was 6 years old he started to play against adult hustlers who were just crushing him. Through those first loses he learned where his weaknesses were and this made him better. Other young talents in various disciplines often only compete against players of their same age in order to not demotivate them. Josh had to come to terms with losing very early.
Growing up as an aspiring basketball player I can relate to this principle. From a very early age, I competed against my big brother, who was a not only a professional basketball player but also a giant( 2.06cm). So my entire upbringing I played against him and his buddies and constantly got my ass kicked. Coming to terms with losing.
There is a saying in Germany, that when you are the smartest/strongest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
And I believe that this is very true. We grow through adaption to obstacles, and stress of competing against people who push us to grow.
Even as an adult I try to live according to this principle. Most of my friends are far more successful than me and they motivate me to grow and to keep up with them.
Also constantly getting your ass kicked is a good teacher to stay humble, because while being confident you realize that you have much to learn and that you do not have to take yourself to serious.
I believe that humans have an extraordinary potential for adaptation. And furthermore that creating a social environment of people who force you to stretch is the only way to thrive.
So I encourage you to evaluate your social context. Are you the big fish in a small pott? Or do you have friends who inspire you to become better and to grow?
After all, learning and growing is fun and a necessity for happiness.
Josh Waitzkin emphasizes multiple times that a big part of his philosophy of learning is to thrive in Chaos.
In chess, Josh favored chaos on the board. Normal Chess players favored, clean, memorized patterns. Josh uses confusion and playing in the unorganized game to his advantage because he loved to play when the conditions are not perfect. This allowed him to dictate the tone of the battle and thrive in an atmosphere where other players where uncomfortable.
I think this is true for life also. We don’t just want to thrive when all of our favored conditions are met. When we feel good, when we have all of our preferred resources around us, when we are in the right flow it is really easy to function.
Josh teaches to thrive also when conditions are not ideal, but the contrary; chaotic.
A perfect example is meditation. People who learn meditation in perfect conditions, nobody is around, its quiet and it is the perfect time of the day.
Ultimately, however, we don’t want to be relaxed and calm when everything is right, but we want to be in our zen when the shit hits the fan when we are in a storm. This is when we need it the most.
We do not want to be able to only meditate in a flower garden, but also in situations that are not ideal, that are even stressful.
“One thing I have learned as a competitor is that there is a clear distinction between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great and what it takes to be among the best…”
A beautiful example that Josh Waitzkin uses is parenting and bad weather.
We are conditioned to teach our kids, that when it is raining it is bad weather, and we don’t get out. Josh made it a habit with his sun to celebrate every storm. Every time there is a snow or rain storm he goes out with his son and dances. In order to teach his son, that success is not dependent on perfect outside conditions.
This to me has a deep application for life also. Everybody can be happy when our needs are being met when everybody is healthy when we have enough money, and peace around us. Being happy in spite of things happening around us is a completely different challenge. And you can see that Josh Waitzkin is not only a master of learning but a master of living a life of harmony and mindfulness.
In the Art of Learning Josh speaks a lot about Flow, which he calls the “Soft Zone”.
“Flow with whatever happens, integrating every ripple of life into a creative moment”
In the book, Josh describes the most intense chess game he ever played. During a national title match of his, an earthquake shook the event halls.(3) Each competitor was lost and broke down by this external stress of fear and uncertainty.
Josh, who loved chaos thrived in this situation, and it helped him to reach a higher level of consciousness. A mental state in which he is capable of seeing things differently, and integrating the subconscious into the conscious. A phenomenon that basketball player describes as the zone.
The zone or the flow is almost a mystical concept of when your brain operates on a different level, you see things different, things slow down for you. Josh Waitzkin who coached many world-class performers says that we can create a gateway to this states of mind by conditioning.
This starts with any habit, by finding a trigger. This trigger should be a key activity in your life that gives you inner focus and tranquility.
Although flow is not something that you can provoke 10 out of 10 times, you can manipulate the odds, and condition yourself to be more likely to slide into the zone.
Creating flow generating rituals is a necessity. For me, for example, writing to while listening to a song on repeat raises my chances of coming into the flow.
The key is to recognize your own patterns. What did you eat before? What music did you listen to? Who was around? What location? Did you perform a particular routine that day?
If you can identify your the before going behavior, and you can simulate that, in my opinion, you raise the probability to slip into flow.
Easier, however, in my opinion, is that you start by isolating variables that are in way of you getting into flow.
Things that distract you, behaviors and people, circumstances that are the enemy to your mindfulness and inner harmony.
For me, for example, this would be being hungover, having toxic people around, social media notifications, or eating heavy junk food, for example, are all enemies to my mindfulness.
Mitigating toxic influences is a topic for itself. But I think that life by itself can be distracting enough, so isolating the common enemies to our flow state is key in order to live a harmonious life.
In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin explains the difference between entity and incremental learners.
A concept that Carol Dweck explains perfectly in the book Mindset. Click here to view it on Amazon.
Learners who have an entity approach, or as Carol Dweck call it, have a fixed mindset. They think their skills, intelligence is fixed like an entity.
Incremental learners on the other learners believe that with hard work, the right strategy and optimal resource management one can learn almost anything.
Incremental learners praise themselves not only for their outcome but for their effort and strategy. While an entity learner lives and dies with his result. If he fails a text, it is because he is too stupid, not because he learned not enough, or because he used the wrong strategy. This, of course, has terrible consequences of the self-esteem. If they fail to often, they say things like ” math is just not for me” for example, or “I am just not good at languages”. While in reality, their brain is perfectly capable of learning those disciplines. With this belief in mind, step by step, incrementally, a total beginner can eventually become the master. This principle is not only important for learning but also for happiness. Failure is unavoidable in my opinion. And if you determine your entire self-worth over your production, then you are going to have a hard time. If you are like me, and you fail often, this mental pattern can cause unhappiness, and sometimes even depression. If you praise yourself however on being a hard worker, a person who never gives up, somebody who does not know everything but knows that there are people who know the answer are much better off in my opinion.
The problem is, what happens if you praise a child for example on beeing particular smart at math, and that kid fails the exam? The only logical consequence for that kid is that it is stupid.
They may fail, but they don’t completely fail as a person.
For much of the book, the Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin described his vision of the road to mastery. The idea is that you start with the fundamentals, get a solid foundation in the understanding of the principles and that you then expand and refine the repertoire. U fuse then these principles with your own style, or how he calls it your own funk. This by itself is a pathway that takes very long in my opinion and is contrary to my idea that there are shortcuts to mastery.
His approach to learning seems to take a lot of time and is not aimed to be mediocre, but to really excel. In my opinion however often it is enough to become good at a skill and then move on to the next one. I think you don’t have to become a poet in order to master the English language for example. There is so much to learn on this incredible planet, and if you focus too much on mastery you may lose out on a platter of skills that you can achieve within short, or mediocre time.
I believe the speed of how much information our brain can take in, is highly underrated. Although I like his almost philosophical approach to learning something towards mastery this is the only point I don’t like.
Besides that, there is nothing to cut away from this gem. A special book, by a very special man. And Josh Waitzkin does a great job at portraying his journey of mastering both the chess world and the martial arts scene.
If you want to check out other great books, click here to see my book club.
The 4-Hour Chef is not your typical cookbook. In this book, you learn how to pimp up your measly cooking skills in record time, and at the same time, you learn how to learn anything!
As you might have checked by now, this is not a cooking blog but a psychology blog about my journey of getting better.
After studying years behavior and clinical psychology I became more and more interested in the memory and learning disciplines of psychology. For me learning is a power, so looking for hacks to learn faster means to develop a superpower.
The 4-Hour Chef is a book about accelerated learning / meta-learning a disguised as a cooking book.
So it is a meta-learning book first and foremost, that uses cooking as an example to show you how you get world class in record time in any subject you desire.
The 4-Hour Chef is a 5-step journey through the art and science of learning how to cook like a pro.
In this part of the 4-Hour Chef explains his accelerated learning models that promise to become world-class in about six months or less. He uses amazing examples from memory champions, athletes who succeeded despite their poor talent, to chess prodigies like Josh Waitzskin who became world class in different disciplines.
Here you will learn by the 80/20 rule the principles needed to cook thousands of dishes. Here he explains how to use basic gear( pots, pans, etc.) Here you learn the building blocks of cooking. these are the ABCs of cooking.
Wild is where you step out of the kitchen and learn new techniques and connect firsthand with the ingredients.
Ranging from how to cook over fire, to how to cook a squirrel. In here you learn to reconnect with the ingredient and teaches you to hunt, forage and survive. (1)
In the Scientist, Tim Ferris explains 14 chemical reactions he thinks to provide a better understanding of food and taste.
Examples include dehydration to how to make crunchy bloody marys.
Based on the first 4 chapters you learn how the best in the world came to be how you can get your cooking game to the next level and make complex dishes.
Tim Ferris is an American best selling author, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed”human guinea pig”. He is most famous for his self-help books. You might have heard of his book “The 4- Hour Workweek. But what he is most famous for is his Podcast the Tim Ferris show which has over 80 million downloads. In his Podcast, Tim Ferris interviews world experts and masters of any field imaginable. Guests like Peter Diamandis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Fox, Dave Asprey and other incredible high achievers.
The older I get the more time I spend – as a percentage of each day on crafting better questions. In my experience, going from 1 x to 10 x, from 10 x to 100x and from 100x to 1000x returns in various areas has been a product of better questions.
It is Tim Ferris mission to decode human greatness. He interviews high achievers of any kind in order to find emulatable commonalities among the top 1%ers of the world. Coming from a psychological background listening to his podcast was a true game changer for me. For me, interesting people are case studies. And up to this point, I only knew about case studies that were in the unsuccessful/unhappy part of the spectrum. Tim Ferris gave me 280 amazing human brains to dissect. He was called “Oprah of Audio”, which to me is by far the weirdest praise I ever heard. If you haven’t checked him out, stop reading this article right now and check out his blog. Click here to see his blog. I also wrote an article about him where I deconstructed how he asks questions. Click here to read it.
This is my favorite piece of work form the 4-Hour Chef and from Tim Ferris in general. This model is an acronym for learning any skill in record time.
What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks that I should start with?
In here Tim Ferris explains four primary tools that allow you to throw a lot on the wall and see what sticks. This part of Tim Ferris meta-learning approaches deal with the question ;
Each letter of the DISSS acronym stands for a technique.
Deconstruction in the 4-hour chef stands for.
Like Tim Ferris, I had the great Idea of learning Japanese. For people who never tried to learn Japanese, that is 1,945 characters. Fuck me. Where do I start?
Reducing means that you start with learning the absolute essentials. So with Japanese instead of starting with all 1,945 characters, you start with the building blocks: Hiragana. You can learn the basic alphabet in a week in my opinion. A great way to learn it is dr mookus hiragana. Click here to check it out. I also wrote a technique on how to learn anything fast using the memory palace technique, click here to check it out. The most complex letters in Japanese have about 15 strokes. For comparison, the most complicated letters in English are E and W, every four strokes. So reducing is a necessity if you don’t want to lose your mind and your motivation.
A great way of getting started is to look for the world leading experts and ask them how they did it. Tim Ferris suggests that one should start by interviewing people who are currently not in the limelight. This was a great aha moment that leads me to the decision that I should start a podcast and start to interview amazing people.
Whatever problem you have today, there is a human out there who faced the same problem, and who is totally crushing it right now. Click here to check out my podcast. Also had to spam you, but I wrote an article about how to get a mentor, and in there is an example of how you can approach high achievers and ask them for advice, click here to read that.
One of Tim Ferris best questions is: What if I did the opposite?
In his book, he gives an example that fires that are built opposite to the common believe burn much better.
I think this is true in life also. When I tried to deconstruct mental illness, and depression, in particular, I asked myself often what the opposite side of behavior would like, and if the cure is hidden there.
And this has to lead me ultimately to a very intensive phase of studying happy and successful people.
In here Tim Ferris uses a technique that allows you to understand the grammar of any language in 1 or 2 hours. WTF!
He studied Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, born 1774. The charming Italian could speak as much as 72 languages! He is the most hyperpolyglot.
Instead of learning languages with normal grammar books he had native speakers recite the Lord’s prayers. this passage gave him an overview of nearly all important grammatical structures( direct object, indirect object, noun, cases, possessives)(1)
Tim Ferris has a 12 sentence exercise that he calls the “Deconstruction Dozen”,
Here are the lines. Translate this and you are good to go!
The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.
Is the apple red?
The apples are red.
I must give it to him.
I want to give it to her.
I`m going to know tomorrow.
(I have eaten the apple.)
I can`t eat the apple.
The common approach to learning a language is to learn for example every vocabulary of food.
Tim Ferris suggest in the 4-Hour Chef that you start with the words that are most frequently used.
The Oxford English Dictionary contains roughly around 171,476 words. Good luck learning all of them. However, learning the 100 most used words give you 50% of the practical use of 171,476 words!
If you start by going through all words, it will take you 25 years plus to remember all of them. And you will quit 10 times before you mastered this language. Learning the most frequently used words will make you conversational in up to 2 months. Click here to read to 100 most common words of the English language.
Here in the 4-Hour Chef, Tim Ferris emphasizes the importance of sequencing. An easy example is that you first need to learn the alphabet before you are able to read a book.
Here it is important to look for teachers who can show you what you can ignore. Not learning something is as important as learning something.
A classic example here would be that you want to create the habit of working out. You tried it over and over at home, but you always stop. What you want to have is a system that raises your personal accountability. If you train with a partner, not going to the gym is much harder because you ditch your training partner and he will be mad.
Let’s say you want to lose some weight. You can in order to raise the stakes give them 100$ and you only get it back if you lose 5 pounds in 1 month.
A funny way to raise stakes that Tim Ferris suggest is the site stick or economics Lab. There you are forced to donate money to an anti-charity if you don’t meet your goal.
“I am sorry for the lenght of my letter, but I had not the time to write a short one.”
The second meta-learning is the CaFE Model.
We live in the information age, meaning that we are bombarded with huge amounts of information. Simplifying skills is a necessity.
In learning, everything is allowed. Tim Ferris suggests creating a compressed Cheat Sheet.
Here you try to fit the entire skill into one page. The idea is to make a big skill, that is intimidating small. In the one-pager, you should focus on the basic rules, and principles and some real-world examples.
Here he emphasizes the importance of frequency. One of the biggest reasons why people fail at learning languages, for example, is in my opinion because they do a bad job at deciding what daily dose of learning they need in order to become fluent in the targeted skill.
Here ask yourself; how much minutes do I need to invest every day in order to become fluent in my desired time?
A number of polygons say that 22 minutes is enough to get fluent in a language in 6 months.
What people often do is that they learn extremely hard for a couple of days, then burn out and lose their motivation.
Also, people do a horrible job at defining their goals. Learning Spanish, for example, is a horrible goal. It has no timeline, no achievable milestone and it does practicing on your personal biological limits.
If you want to get in shape, for example, the habit of working out daily is much more important than the workout.
Here you learn how to make information stick. Our brain is actually really bad when it comes to remembering abstract symbols like numbers and letters. Where our brain excels at though is remembering pictures and locations. I explain this principle in my memory palace article. Click here to read it. Watch the video below to get an idea of how your brain learns best. In the video, you learn the Japanese alphabet hiragana in 60 seconds!
The 4-Hour Chef is full of examples of how to remember a deck of cards in 60 seconds, how to learn incredible long numbers fast and much more examples.
I loved this book from start to end. What repelled me at the beginning: it is really long! 670 pages is quite the book. And if you are not a weirdo like me who loves to spend days putting your nose into geeky learning books than this might be too big to tackle. Otherwise, I have nothing to complain. Great book. And for 30 bucks, as always with books a bargain in my opinion.
When I learned about habits under Professor BJ Fogg from Stanford University I realized that in order to become better at behavior psychology and in particular in habit formation I need to read every piece of relevant literature that I can get my hands on.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig was the one I started with. When you want to learn about habits, this book is a good starting point.
The books simplicity and its case studies are really perfect to learn about behavior. No psychology background needed.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
We are what we repeatedly do. This quote really hits the nail on the head. When you want to achieve any dream in your life or want to change yourself or design for a life according to your true values you start with you. With your habits.
A couple of years ago I made a decision to change my life for the better. But where do you start? When you are getting the same undesired result over and over what do you change?
I believe you start with your habits.
But first let’s dig in: What are habits?
What was the first thing you did this morning after you got up? Did you check your phone? Did you hop in the shower, checked your mail, did you grab a banana or a doughnut from your kitchen table? Before you left your house to go to your work or University did you brush your teeth before you took a shower or after? What was the route you took to your destination? When you arrived at your desk, did you first chat with your coworker? Did you check your phone again? Are you eating a kebab for lunch or a salad? When you get home where did you put your jacket? What did you do with your shoes? Did you hit the light switch with your left or your right hand? Did you walk straight to your fridge or to your couch? Where did you put your keys? Back into your pockets or on a shelf?
When you took a dump did you have to think a lot about what to do next? No right? You automatically reach to the toilet paper. And after you go to the sink you do not have to think about washing your hands, it is automatic. Ingrained in you, or as I prefer to say; you act out of habit.
All behavior above is done without a lot of thought. They are habits. According to a study in 2006 researchers of Duke University have found out that more than 40 Percent of the behavior we perform each day is not actually a result of us deciding consciously but of habit. (1)
This means that almost half of our life is lived on autopilot. Crazy right!
It seems that habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Think of your brain as a lazy bastard. It wants to save as much effort as possible so we have more energy for the important tasks.
„Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they often consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily express our character.“
Habits are the routines and behaviors that we do automatically. We actually need habits in order to carry out basic activities such as brushing your teeth, washing your hands after peeing, getting dressed for university or follow the same route to work every day without having to think about it.
This amazing feature allows us to focus on more complex and important tasks; such as deciding consciously where your next vacation is going to be!
Your brain has only limited ram. So it has to save memory as much as it can. Pretty much like your phone.
I believe that we humans are basically habit machines.
Think of your brain as a smartphone. Habits are the apps on your phone. Think of the possibilities of a smartphone for a second.
Person A uses his smartphone to play candy crush, flappy bird and Facebook or binge on Netflix or youtube.
Person B uses downloaded Evernote, Duolingo, Trello, and Telegram and uses his smartphone to thrive.
Both phones are capable of the same feats, but the first person installed bad software on their brains and Person B has chosen its brain programmes a bit wiser. Their results, however, are like day and night.
I believe that mastering the essential mechanisms of behavioral psychology and habit formation allows you to download brain software and delete bad habit apps from your brain.
I believe that is only 2 kinds of habits. Positive Habits, and negative habits. A negative habit for me is a reoccurring behavior that is not aligning with your true values and is keeping you from living according to your desired life design. A typical example would be smoking.
Therefore it is essential to learn how to form positive habits and to learn how to break bad habits and replace them with positive habits.
Mastering habit formation is really a superpower in my opinion. And it gives you the freedom to decide who you really want to be.
Charles Duhigg is a reporter for the New York Times and for the magazine. Charles Duhigg is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale University. Before becoming a journalist, Charles Duhigg worked in private equity.
Charles Duhigg is the author of the Power of Habit which is about habit formation in individuals, companies and societies, and Smarter Faster Better, about the science of Productivity.
He won a Pulitzer prize and, contributed to other award-winning series, Golden Opportunities, The Reckoning and Toxic Waters.
Among many other Jim Collins and various big magazines.
“Few [books] become essential manuals for business and living. The Power of Habit is an exception. Charles Duhigg not only explains how habits are formed but how to kick bad ones and hang on to the good.”
In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg examines why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. This book depicts Charles Duhiggs exploratory journey of discovering habit formation in individuals, companies, and societies.
He visits laboratories where neuroscientist how to explore how habits work and where in our brain they reside. He writes about the right habits that were crucial for Michael Phelps to become the best swimmer in history.
The book has three chapters.
In the first Chapter, he explains with numerous awesome case studies how habits work in individuals, and how we can form new habits and break undesired behaviors.
In the second part, he dissects the habits of successful organizations. This part is highly interesting if you are into big business. He deconstructs what habits big managers implant in companies such as Us Steel or Ford that separated them from their competitors.
In the third part of the book, he talks about how habits can change entire societies and cultures and discusses if free will exists at all if we all are controlled by the automated habits that we do each day.
Charles Duhigs created a formula for how behavior works that is actually pretty simple and easy to understand.
Any behavior, habit or routine can be analyzed in three parts according to Duhigg: Reminder, the Routine, and Reward.
The Reminder is also often known as the cue or trigger. The Cue acts as the signal, it triggers the automated Routine which leads to a Reward. So the process of forming new habits is a three-step loop :
Example: You check your social media feed while you are studying.
Story from me: I used to procrastinate a lot while studying.
Let’s say I had a seminar about statistics something which to this day bores the heck out of me. As soon as I saw my professor I yawned. The Statistic Professor was my Cue. As soon as he would turn around I would get out my phone and start checking my Facebook or Instagram. This was the Routine/ Behavior. The Reward was that I got distracted and that I had some little spikes of dopamine in my brain from hearing a funny stupid joke from my friends. Also for me, statistics was pain. Getting a temporary stop from pain is the same as getting a reward.
I was satisfying my short-term gratification. This, of course, did not help me in the long term at all. Because Statistic gets infinitive more boring and more painful if you suck at it. So this small habit of procrastinating contributed to me falling more and more behind.
So although a habit has a reward that protects you temporarily, it often hurt you in the long term. This is how you can detect bad habits often. A recurring behavior that is good for you in the short term but has tremendous negative consequences for you in the long term.
Again for me, a bad habit is a habit that temporary gives you something, but is hurting you in a crazy way long term. Smoking gives you stress reduction, but also cancer. So that’s a bad habit cost equation.
Now that you know how habits are formed, how can you change them?!
We all have failed at changing or forming new habits. Maybe you made some new years resolutions about changing your weight, or that you want to stop smoking, or learn a new language finally.
But where do you start?
The good news is that habit formation is a skill. And Charles Duhigg and many others have found great ways to break this down for us normal people.
In the Power of Habit Charles Duhigg presents a very simple model that aims at habit substitution.
The core of the idea of habit substitution or habit swapping is that you look for different ways to get the same emotional reward. For example, you are triggered to have a smoke because you crave the reward of stress reduction. Now instead of putting a cancer stick in your mouth you do a breathing exercise or meditate in order to reduce your stress.
The idea is that you become creative, and find better ways to satisfy your needs.
Our behavior is motivated by emotional rewards. When you look at the habit loop, it is powered by the reward. All we do in life is to either avoid pain and to seek pleasure.
In order to change your habits, it is key that you understand the return of a behavior. Each behavior is motivated by the return, reward, positive emotion at the end of the habit loop.
We can use this knowledge to form new habits and get rid of old ones. If you want to make a new habit stick, lets a say a workout routine in the morning you must pair it with a positive emotion. Loving what you do enables you to trick your brain into craving that behavior.
Habits are really formed through positive reinforcement. Where humans excel in my opinion is that we all are constantly learning whether we like this or not. Everything that is rewarded is repeated. We are hard-wired to repeat everything that gives us pleasure and avoid anything that gives us discomfort and pain. Everything we do is really to get a certain emotion.
I believe that everything we desire, actions, things, other humans, trips, acknowledgments, goals have in common that we really don’t seek the subject itself but the emotion behind it. We don’t want to get rich, we believe that we feel amazing when we will be rich, we don’t crave money, but the promised emotion behind money.
Taking control of this process will put you in charge. if you want to form a new behavior you link massive pleasure to that behavior or subject. People who are successful in forming the right kind of habits are very aware of this process.
If you immediately reinforce a behavior you are more likely to repeat it because your brain will want to re-experience that pleasureful emotion.
The same goes for the opposite emotion: pain.
If we link strong discomfort, and pain to a behavior we are hard-wired to not repeat that behavior.
If you love sushi for years but you eat bad sushi once and you get severe food poisoning you can may very well never have fun with sushi again.
Ever had such a bad hangover from an alcoholic beverage that just the smell of it gives you the shivers? For me it is tequila, it gives me the shivers to just write about. I accidentally conditioned myself that when I drink tequila, bad stuff happens.
What I’m saying is that we humans can learn extremely fast.
I love the simplicity of Charles Duhiggs The Power of Habit. The thing that I internalized the most was that there is a rewarding emotion behind every habit.
And bad habits, in particular, are a treasure trove of information about our true needs. I looked at some of my bad habits and evaluated very honestly why this behavior was important for me, and why I had trouble just stopping that habit.
For years, I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I eventually just thought
that I am not a morning person. But then I started to deconstruct this habit.
What was this habit giving me? It turned out that I was not happy during that time, and I linked pain to the job that I had during that time. So having a delay of 20 minutes was my emotional reward.
In order to hack this, I substituted the habit of snoozing with meditation. It also gave me a buffer of 20 minutes but it made me more happy at the same time. It shifted the focus to me and made me realize that the shitty job that I had at that time was giving me the money to go after my dream and travel to South America.
This helped me to link less pain to get up, and snoozing was less attractive to me.
So if you have bad habits in your life, like smoking, drinking, distracting yourself, procrastinating ask yourself if there is a less harmful way to give you the reward.
Understanding why we do things gives us the means to alter the course of our behavior.
And I believe that changing our behavior will put us in a place of power. The power to decide what person we want to be and with it the power to decide what life we want to have.
This to me is the Power of Habit.
In the Power of Habit Charles Duhigg does a poor job of emphasizing that it is emotion that powers the habit loop, not rewards. Rewards make it sound like the bonus at the end of a working year is motivating behavior. Again, it is immediate reinforcement that makes us learn new behavior.
I had the privilege to study habits under Professor BJ Fogg from Stanford University, who is the world leading expert in habit formation, and this was one of the biggest differences between their two psychological philosophies.
But I think The Power of Habit does a great job at explaining behavior psychology for people who are not familiar with the topic.
And the best model, in my opinion, is the model that people understand.
I First heard about Viktor Frankl when I was listening to an Interview with Tony Robbins and Tim Ferris. Tony Robbins was asked about the 2 Books that had the most impact on his life.
One of them was Man’s search for Meaning. At the Time I was studying successful people.
And Tony Robbins definitely qualifies. For those of you who don’t know him; Tony Robbins is an American success coach, entrepreneur, philanthropist and best selling author who has a net worth of over 500 million dollars.
I believe that when we emulate the habits of high achievers we will eventually get similar results. And in my investigation of the successful one habit popped up over and over: They read a lot!
You might say, no shit sherlock, everybody knows that?!
Well, I did not.
So I started a little self-experiment: How would my life change if I would start to read a 1000books recommended by people who are kicking ass globally.
So I made it my mission to find out what these books were and read as much of them as possible. Thus the 1000 Book challenge was born. In my book club, you find my latest favorite books that helped me to upgrade my life. Click here to check it out.
Viktor Frankl’s Man`s Search for Meaning is to this day the psychology book that I have recommended most often.
I don’t say this about many books, but this one has truly changed my life.
Being a lifelong student of human behavior I was particularly interested in Viktor Frankl’s Man`s Search for Meaning because I was looking for an answer to the question :
What is the difference between people who overcome hardship, suffering, problems and those who are not?
Viktor Frankl’s Man`s Search for Meaning gives you the answer to this question. So let’s dig into this! But first, let’s see who is the author of Man`s Search for Meaning.
…Who is Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl lived from 1905 to 1997, and he was a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.
He is the founder of Logo-therapy and wrote multiple best sellers. His mother, father, and sister all perished in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps. His book Man `s search for meaning“ is one of the most important and famous pieces of literacy ever written.
Viktor Frankl received his MD and Ph.D. degree from the University of Vienna where he studied psychiatry and neurology, on the areas of suicide and depression.
After treating thousands of people Frankl became the head of the neurological department at the Rothschild Hospital.
In 1942 during the Nazi Regime Frankl and his parents and his entire family were arrested and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
His father died there within six months. Over the course of three years, Frankl and the rest of his family were moved to Auschwitz. His brother died there and his mother was murdered.
In the camps, Frankl studied how humans behave in the face of extreme hardships and he helped other inmates who faced severe depression by encouraging them to reflect on positive memories, scenes and thoughts of their loved ones or something that gave them a compelling vision of their future. Frankl thought that during extreme hardships people can use meaning and spirituality to survive even inhuman circumstances.
The book starts with Frankl sitting inside a train to Auschwitz. A death train.
Passengers, all of Jewish origin, forcefully being deported to their imminent and unavoidable death. The deported are fully aware that they won’t come back from this trip. Just imagine the absurdity of it! Having a gun held to your head and being fully conscious that your next stop is going to be a place where you are either murdered in a gas chamber or worked to death as a slave.
How does a man cope with such odds? How does a man put sense into this amount of misery and horror?
Frankl was in a unique position, as a psychiatrist, he was a student of human behavior. And as gruesome as this situation was for him, he created a meaning for his suffering. His meaning was to observe the behavior of other concentration camp inmates.
He wanted to research which humans were going to fall into despair and which humans found ways to survive under such horrible conditions.
Which humans were committing suicide and which were not?
Frankl wanted to know what inmates were surviving the longest. And he wanted to write a book about it. That was his why. To share his finding with the entire world.
Frank’l argues that it is impossible to avoid suffering. But we can choose how to cope with it.
Frankl believed that even in the midst of the most horrific, atrocious, dehumanizing conditions life had meaning and that suffering can have a purpose.
He observed that those concentration camp inmates who had a meaning, a purpose were less likely to fall into despair and depression. Less likely to commit suicide.
An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior
He believes that it is up us to put meaning into our suffering. He thinks that it is possible and necessary for us to put a sense into our misery.
And that it is necessary to form a new purpose out of it.
His Theory is called logotherapy; which comes from the Greek word „Logos“ which means, meaning.
Frankl believed that the sense of life is that we discover what is personally meaningful to us. So take a sec of my article and really dwell into what gives you meaning, why are you here, what brings you joy, what is important to you?
The why can be your family waiting in America, or your fiancé for example. For example, Victors Why was the love for his wife. The thought of being united again with his beloved helped him to endure the hardships in the camp, even if they were unrealistic and unfounded. Because after all his chances of surviving were slim to none. He also had the dream of writing his book. He visualized himself with his published book in New York. Giving lectures to hundreds of students. He had a dream. He linked a why to his pain and suffering. And it made the hardships bearable for him.
He also noticed that prisoners who had a why were able to endure atrocities and hardships that most of us cannot even imagine. Inmates had to work for 20 hours a day, mining and laying railroads and doing heavy labor. Most only had one small piece of bread to eat the entire day. The moment you looked weak, they were killing you because they did not saw any use for you anymore. If people with a why can thrive under these conditions, imagine how you could blossom when you have nothing holding you back, but yourself. And no matter what your hardships have been, just the fact that you can read this article right now means that you belong to the most privileged 5% people on this planet.
This was one of the most inspirational takeaways for me. Our Body is way, way tougher than we think.
Frankl reports about the absurd conditions in the camps. How he and other inmates were stripped naked shaved completely. Had all their passports and belongings burned. For Frankl his lifes work ( the papers of his logotherapy books) were burned as well.
Jews ahd heir names were taken from them in the camps. They were given numbers and the numbers were tattooed on their skin. Treated like animals. If you looked weak, fragile whatsoever you were sent straight to the gas chamber where they would murder you.
The medical men among us learned first of all: “Textbooks tell lies!” Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. Quite wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I just could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live with that or the other. The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by every nine men“
Viktor Frankl’s answers one of the questions that I had for a long time in his book Man`s Search for Meaning: How come that with rising resources people seem to live more and more in psychological detrimental states?
The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century. This is understandable; it may be due to a twofold loss which man has had to undergo since he became a truly human being. At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal’s behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people tell him to do (totalitarianism).”
Viktor Frankl – Man’s search for meaning
Frankl believes that due to modern civilization we have been neglecting some of our most basic, primal needs and live in insecurity and purposelessness in consequence. Many years after Viktor Frankls death this still seems to be the case.
One of the main causes of depression and psychological pain, in my opinion, is the disconnection of humans from their true needs. We seem to be living in a world that is unfit to satisfy our true desires.
In history, it was never so normal for humans to live a life in isolated from our tribe, from nature, from meaningful work.
The consequence is that we have millions and millions of people suffering from loneliness, anxiety, and depression. It reminds me of what happens to wild animals after you put them in little cages; they die.
A tiger who can not hunt anymore, reproduce and wander through the jungle and eat the food he is supposed to eat will eventually pine away.
I call this the Panda Problem. Taking pandas and other animals out of their natural habit, and away from their other specimen equals the burglary of their very purpose and meaning. This is one of the reasons why they do horrible in captivity and why they don’t reproduce in zoos good.
It’s a classical depression. In order to hack this social phenomenon, we must reconnect to nature, to our tribe and radically redesign the way we live.
Working 9-5 in small office boxes doing a job that we hate, detached from our natural environment will result in a cultural depression.
This book has encouraged me more and more to live as a digital nomad. Connecting modern technology with my nomadic nature and travel the world and find and search for the lifestyle that I feel most happy.
“Considers man as beeing whose main concern of fulfilling a meaning and in actualizin values, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts.”
Viktor Frankl – Man’s search for meaning
Like everybody, I asked myself often: What is the purpose of life?
I was particularly interested in this question because for myself for a long time when I was not happy. Nothing had meaning. Meaningless is a sure ingredient of depression and psychological suffering in my opinion.
If nothing makes sense, why even try right?
So what drives humans?
One of my favorite psychologist and perverts Siggi Freud believed that humans are driven by the pursuit of pleasure. Another Psychologist during that era, Alfred Adler believed that we are being driven by our hunger for power.
Frankl thought a litterbit different about this.
According to Frankl, the primal motivational factor in humans is the pursuit of meaning.
Only when people fail to pursue meaning they fall for the darker drivers of behavior like pleasure and power.
Logotherapy is based on different assumptions about the psychology of a human being. 2
According to Viktor Frankl, there are three different ways to experience meaning.
Viktor Frankl in his psychotherapeutic counseling often asked his patients “What stops you from committing suicide?
Dissecting the meaning of the patient.
I personally love this approach. Because often people think they have nothing to live for.
We all have things to accomplish, books to write, journeys to undertake and families to love or to build. Sometimes it seems that our meaning and purpose in life is just not present in our perception of our reality anymore.
One of the main tasks of my blog is to change the perception of a reader, showing them a different perspective, in order to allow them to see things they should have seen a long time ago.
Auschwitz Case Study
“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive without you?:” “Oh,” he said, “for her, this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.:178–179 (2)
Showing people in extreme horrific situations that there are still things to look forward to, that there are still things they can control is one of the most powerful lessons I ever learned from a psychological book.
Frankl argues in Mans search for Meaning that there is a gap between trigger and response. Meaning that you are in charge of your behavior and with it, we decide how we react, even in face of most dire circumstances.
This is interesting to me, because for a long time I thought our behavior is a direct product of our environment, and that we can do little about it.
Frankl believes in free will and in our ability to implant meaning in even the most horrific, unbearable situations.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Frankl empowers personal decision and repairs peoples lost self-efficacy with this belief.
Even with most undesirable addictive behaviors there still is a necessity for the person to act. Meaning we are not powerless.
And although society may let it appear that people just get fat magically, I never saw a person eat a big mac by accident. So we still have to take some responsibility for our behaviors.
This is one of the most interesting concepts of Viktor Frankl is the gaping abyss in my opinion.
Viktor Frankl believes that depression occurs at the 3 levels.
One of the drivers of depressions seems to be the discrepancy gap of undertaking tasks beyond our abilities.
If there is to much tension between what a person actually is, in relation to what he in his opinion should be can result in depression.
If we set goals for ourselves that are unreachable we live in a constant state of failure, and this will result in a lowered believe in our own abilities in my opinion.
This contradicts the public opinion that one should shoot constantly for the stars. I think we must segment our goals and dreams and moonshot projects into achievable pieces.
Instead of having a dream where the reward is all the way on the other side of the rainbow we must celebrate each and every little step on our way to our vision.
Because of that, I ask myself segmenting questions.
After visualizing a dream or a goal I ask myself ” “hat 3 things can I do today in order to make this dream come true TODAY, THIS WEEK, THIS MONTH, THIS YEAR.
And I am happy over the tiniest steps forwards towards my dream, because growing is a sure antidote to despair and unhappiness.
We need to have atleast the feeling of being control, or the feeling that are moving towards something.
Otherwise we are lost.
In an interview, Frankl was asked what he witnessed in the concentration camps. And one of the questions was if he spotted any patterns in inmates that were prone to not survive.
Frankl argues that people who have no meaning in their suffering are prone to fall into despair and even suicide.
In the concentration camps, the inmates faced unspeakable circumstances. And many inmates became depressed and killed themselves.
In war, this is a common, logical phenomenon. Suicide is a self-protective mechanism where one has lost all faith that things will get better in the future. In Germany when the Russians were invading Germany, after Nazi Germany committed thousands of war crimes against Russia, entire villages committed suicide.
Frankl was in a unique situation as a therapist in a concentration camp, and his observations are of incredible value and give extreme deep insight into human psychology.
One thing he witnessed was that inmates who survived had the ability to see meaning in their suffering. Frankl even took his predicament and turned it into a personal triumph, a resource even.
In Auschwitz, Frankl counseled countless inmates who fell into despair in order to save their lives. Because if you are observable weak in a concentration camp you are of no use to the Nazis anymore, and you get gassed.
So in order to survive, they needed to shave daily, and pretend that they are strong and capable of doing hard work.
If one person was limping this was enough of a reason sometimes to gas them.
Frankl observed many people who gave up. The concentration inmates used to trade with cigarettes. If a person would start to smoke all their cigarettes themselves and not use them as a currency anymore for food or something else you could predict that that person has given up already.
When you face a dire situation, a problem, or a hardship ask yourself; What is great about this problem? What can I learn from this situation? How can I become stronger through this hardship? Will I be able one day to help somebody else who is going through this right now with my experience?
I took this principle into the extreme. Do you know the statement that everybody who studies psychology has some problems himself?
Well, for me this was quite true. And being the crazy fucker that I am, I failed more often than others and I experienced a whole lot of not awesome.
Struggling with depression was for a long time a predicament. I mean being in pain and unhappy does not quite seem like a blessing from the sky. But when you study psychology you basically are living with a case studies 24/7. Yourself. So for me learning about behavioural psychology and clinical psychology became an intrinsic endeavor.
I realized that being unhappy as an aspiring psychologist is not a detriment but a resource. I thought that in order to cure others, I first needed to learn how to cure myself. Suddenly my mental predicament was not solely about me anymore. It became also about helping others. I thought that it was a selfish thing for me to stay depressed, because of all the people I was missing out on that I could help.
I created a why. A why that was bigger than myself. My suffering became meaningful to me. Even more. When I saw people in my inner circle in pain, I spotted patterns quicker and quicker and I was able to help more and more. This resulted in me always being in learning mode and also always giving me a reason to frame suffering in my family as a learning and an opportunity to get better at my craft. Becoming a pain in the ass full-time extreme psychologist.
I believe that by transforming myself from a total fuck up into an epic version of myself, I will be able to duplicate this transformation in others. By showing them a blueprint that change is possible. If I can do it, so can you.
Viktor Frankl believes that suffering is inevitable. And it is, but it is your decision whether you want to perish due to your trauma or if you want to put meaning into it and thrive because of it.
If you are in pain anyway, one might as well use it. Once you defined your why you are prepared to face anyhow.
So go all out and kick ass.
Thanks for reading.
The book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a self-development book by Stephan R. Covey. In his book, Covey Identified 7 Habits that world-class performers have that in his opinion are responsible for their effectiveness. It was sold more than 25 million times and is one of the most influential books in Us history. To this day this book helps millions of readers to become more effective in their personal and professional lives.
This Book was recommended by presidents, CEOs, educators and has helped people all over the world to improve their business.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012) was a world-renowned authority on leadership and family relations. He held a Bachelor of Science from the University of Utah, an MBA from Harvard, and a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University. Dr. Covey served as Vice Chairman of FranklinCovey Co. and was an in-demand speaker, teacher, and organizational consultant. Throughout his career, Dr. Covey brought new insight and understanding to millions of readers and students. 1
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a self-development book. It is written by Covey’s Idea that we there are universal patterns and commonalities among highly successful people which we can mimic.
A habit is a routine or a ritual, a pattern of action or thinking, a behavior that do over and over again. By observing highly effective people Stephan R Covey identified habits that are responsible for their effectiveness.
In my opinion, it is also a book about effectiveness and it could easily be labeled the 7 habits of highly ineffective people. Because while reading this book you will catch yourself totally doing the opposite and you will deconstruct in many areas why you are not as effective as you want to be.
The focus point of my interest right now is to find habits that lead to happiness and success and habits that one should stay away from.
One thing that in my opinion is a major contributor to unhappiness is to be ineffective. Progress and growth equal happiness in my opinion. Conquering the dreams and visions is mandatory to create a compelling future and gives us a sense of movement and control. People who are highly effective are in charge of their lives and they possess something that is necessary to be happy and successful: self-efficacy.
On the contrary, in my investigation of unhappiness, I tried to deconstruct the habits and mental pattern of unhappy people and people with mood disorders in psychiatric facilities. Also, I had huge academic problems because I was constantly not getting the results that I wanted.
One thing that unhappy people and people with depression have in common is that they all seem to have very low self- efficacy. They don’t believe that they have the means themselves to change their situation and because of that, they lose faith in their future. If you lose the ability to change and to grow than if you experience pain, this pain feels like it will last forever and you will lose all hope and you become lethargic.
People who are successful and happy on the other side seem to get the things done that are necessary for them to become the person that they want to be. They maximize their resources and they have high confidence in themselves and in their ability to find the answer to whatever problem will face up.
Yes, this book is called the 7 Habits of Highly effective People but if you think one step further it is also a guide on how to „not“ do things. And how to be unsuccessful and ineffective.
I am interested right now in comparing extreme spectrums of human behavior with each other. I believe that often people who are outliers when it comes to happiness or unhappiness do almost the opposite.
For example, people with depression seem to avoid things while happy people more often face their fears and act in spite of fear. While successful people have a system that does the thinking for them unsuccessful people seem to be really disorganized.
I believe that nature is fair if we mimic the habits and mental patterns of highly effective people we will eventually get similar or at least better results. This was one of the reasons that I created this blog. I wanted to have an excuse to become a full-time student of human behavior and deconstruct the habits of people who are kicking ass in life and mimic my behavior after them.
The Book starts with an explanation of how many people who are successful still struggle with an inner need for developing personal effectiveness and creating a balanced life where they have happy relationships with other people.
He believes that the way we view the world is based on the perception of ourselves. In order to change how we see the world, we must change.
It is not about finding shortcuts to success and finding short-term solutions, it’s about changing our values and becoming the person that we need to be in order to constantly create the results that we want to have and be in the mindset of our choice.
Covey calls this a paradigm shift. We not only change our behaviors on the surface but we must change ourself fundamentally.
The first habit of the 7 habits of highly effective people is being Proactive. This means that highly effective people have in common that they don’t just sit and wait for problems to happen. They are in control, and if they want something they don’t just wait till the universe magically gives it to them. They make it happen. This habit for me means taking ownership of your life. When I worked in a psychiatric facility I analyzed the language of people with depression in order to find patterns to stay away from. One of the commonalities that I have found (in other patients and myself when I was depressed) was the lack of ownership of your own life and destiny.
From unsuccessful people, I often heard sentences like
„There is nothing I can do“, „That’s just the way things are“.
They feel like they are not in charge of their life. Their self-efficiency is super low. They are not proactive. Humans need a sense of control in order to feel happy. If you live in a mindset where you believe that life is happening to you and not for you, you think there is nothing that you can do. You don’t think solution orientated, every problem that you have seems to be final. I think humans need the illusion of being in control over their future and that things are going to get better because of the effort that we put in. Losing this hope for the better results in my opinion that we give up universally. Because we are subconsciously resigning from the fight because we lost so many times that at this point all we can do is to lay down in defeat and wait for another catastrophe happening to us. Of course, this is no place to stay in. I am not saying that horrible things happen to people but I have found that people who are happy and successful focus less on the problem and more on what they can do about it. Even if something horrible has happened to you in the past, you still have the options of how you deal with that traumatic event. Will you let it burden you or will you free yourself from it and maybe even transform it into a resource?
Now let’s look at the other extreme.
„Any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”
Jocko is a retired United States Navy SEAL who received the Silver and the Bronze Star. He is a podcaster, author, and martial artist. And he lives his life on his own terms; which is my definition of being successful. He wrote the book extreme ownership. And he is an example that people who are successful are proactive and take ownership of their life. He does not wait for other people to hand him everything. He wants to develop a plan and he has trust in himself that he is able to solve whatever obstacles the world is putting in his path.
Envision what you want to have and who you want to be in your future and plan towards it. Now ask yourself daily, how can I make this future a reality? What can I do today to become the person that I want to be?
Critically analyze what you do. We are often so trapped in the matrix of staying busy that we don’t realize that we move in a direction, and become a person we don’t want to be.
Once you created a vision, a dream, a compelling future for you want to make it a reality. I think one of the most important ingredients for happiness is the Idea that things are going to get better in the future. When I was investigating unhappiness and I was interviewing people with major depression one sentence often popped up: „Things are never going to get better“.
From personal experience, I can tell you that it is really dangerous and unhealthy to play with those kinds of thoughts. When you are in a bad place and you feel like the pain is leaking out everywhere one thing that determines in my opinion whether your symptoms are going to get better or worse is the anticipated quality of your future.
I think that if you have a why that is big and compelling enough you endure almost any how. No matter how shitty your day is, or how tough the circumstances are if you have a why you say to yourself „yes this is a bad day, but my life is not bad, things are going to get better“.
On the other hand, the most extreme form of internalizing that things are never going to get better is to commit suicide. One of the driving forces in my opinion of ending your own life is the perception that things are never going get better. If you are always in pain than ending your life is a logical self-protecting mechanism. A mental fallacy that in my opinion is only in the rarest cases true.
So get yourself a dream. It can literally save your life.
Once you have a dream you want to adjust your life according to making this dream, this version of you a reality. You want to activly design your life. How do you do that?
What really helped me to implement his habit of Beginning with the End in Mind was to journal. I believe that questions are the best tool to guide or focus. And what we focus on we become.
I use a personalized variation of the five-minute journal, in which I start each day with a question:
This habit will change your life. Because you consciously understand that you are the engineer of your life. One of the biggest enemies of happiness is the realization that your life is not yours. That you are trapped and your life is not going anywhere. To go to a job you don’t like, so you can buy shit that you don’t need in order to portray a person that you are not really are.
Covey states that it is also important to identify our center. Our center is the source of our perceived security. Another antidote to feeling unhappy is to feel safe. The more insecure we feel the more anxious we are. Covey differentieates different sources of security.
It is interesting to see what center you fit in. I believe that the most dangerous, unhealthy source of security is when you gain security and happiness from external validation. When you are money-centered and possession centered you are going to feel strong ups and downs. There are always people who have more, people who are better. Over the years and through my basketball upbringing I was being taught that being the weakest person in the room was a good thing to be because then you learn the most. My big brother who was a basketball professional always used to tell me that if I am the best player on my team, I am on the wrong team.
Covey here states that there is a difference between what is important and what is urgent. Think of important as something that is bringing you closer to your long-term goal. Urgent is, for example, something that is is important for you in the short term and may not be important for you in the long term at all!
Covey says that you should first focus on :
Here you focus on managing a big crisis, problems, and issues that if you don’t treat them right now they just gonna snowball into something bigger. Not handling your pressing problems is a psychological catastrophe because you at a certain point problem create other problems and in no time you catch yourself playing whack a mole when you attack one problem another one pops up. Killing problems in their early stages when they are still manageable is key here. It is similar to treating depression for example. If you don’t take a look at the causes and unsatisfied needs of a person you find yourself only treating the symptoms and the person is not going to get better.
If you focus on Quadrant 2 you are at the center of personal management. Here you focus on dealing with building connections, planning, exercising, preparation the things we know we should be dong but very rarely actually do. We don’t give as much time to these things because they are not urgent. You do not have to spend quality time with your family, your friends, your teammates, your spouse but if you neglect those things for too long you will be unhappy. Life is not all about work guys. We are humans and we need our tribe and connections are just as important as business and thriving.
In this sector, you focus on things that are neither urgent nor important. This is the area that is the enemy of productivity and happiness. We live in a world now where we want to constantly react to everything, our emails, our Facebook feed, Instagram… the list is long. We can spend literally our entire life on Facebook, for example, the feed will never stop. Always ask yourself when you get distracted by meaningless things if there are more beautiful and important matters that you could direct your focus on. Otherwise, you might never be able to achieve anything because you are constantly out of flow and sabotage your own endeavors.
If you are living you need to get your shit together. In here you focus on time wasting activities. Netflix binging, endless youtube marathons, mindless scrolling through facebook are all wrong to focus points that you can find in this quadrant. At work, you focus on trivial business work that won’t help you win in the big picture. Also, you focus on sensations seeking because your life because of your terrible priorities is not enough for you. Focusing on neither urgent nor important matters is a safe formula for feeling unfulfilled but being busy enough so that you won’t be able to take care of the important relationships and connections in your life. If you focus too much on this quadrant you are wasting your life, in fact even worse. You do a disservice to humanity because you don’t capitalize on the incredible potential that was giving to you. If you catch yourself fall. into this behavioral pattern get up and live the extraordinary life that you were born to live.
This habit has helped me to not get caught in the busy trap. Humans are wired to react to matters that are urgent, even though often urgent matters are not important. The problem is that there are often so many urgent things that you never get to the matters that are really important to you. Remember the second habit? Begin with the end in mind?
This habit is about deciding what you focus on. Often I ask myself in my journal was I busy today, or productive? This quadrant system has helped me to understand what I should focus on.
One of the biggest problems with today’s world is that there are endless possibilities to get distracted and waste your time. We all can spend an entire day only checking emails.
For example, I am writing a book at the moment. When I am in flow and my phone is ringing technically I could afford the time to take the call, however, what I can not afford is the distraction.
If it is some random call that is just interrupting my flow I am not taking it.
Again it is all about focus.
The key is not to priotize what`s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.“
Good deals and agreements in relationships should be of value for both parties. For me, this habit is more of a way to go through life. If one party loses while making a deal, that person will feel ill towards you. So you may have gained something in the short run but have lost a human in the long game for me. In order to be happy, we must create long-lasting interdependent relationships that are win-win orientated.
Most people go through life with a scarce mindset. They think that life is a game and that when somebody wants to win somebody else has to lose. If you get it, its gone, therefore I can no longer have it.
Having a win-win mindset will not only allow you to be successful because you crush your goals, but you help others to success aswell and on the way you form powerful and fruitful connections.
If you are making business with someone and you make an unfair deal with that person yes you technically win, but you lose a future partner, customer, friend maybe even spouse. I suggest that you focus on business that you emphasize that you are in the building connections business.
Having the win-win mindset will help you to overcome every obstacle because your network is constantly growing and getting stronger. So even if you don’t know the answer to a problem, people around you might. And if treated them with respect they will surely help you out.
So having a win-lose mindset is only good for the short term. But eventually, your way of going through life is going to catch up with you.
Imagine you are a Ceo of a big company, you have everything in life from the outside, money, status a high position and you conquered your dreams.
However, your entire career is based on doing win-lose deals. You are not well respected and liked by your employees because you climbed the ladder of success at the cost of many other people. Eventually, you will be not only unhappy because you will experience loneliness but you will also be fired out at some point because you represent the wrong values for the company. We are humans and not machines. Creating nourishing connections with people who work with you and creating an environment where you grow together is a necessity for happiness and progress.
Be empathic. Listen. There is much more value in what other persons have to say. The best way to really understand the person in front of you is to listen to them. If you only talk about yourself, for example, the other person will think you do not care about them. Also, highly successful people do not have the need to constantly talk about themselves. People who only talk about themselves have often a problem with their self-worth. They talk so much because they want to impress the other person and hide the fact that they think of themselves as not enough. Succesful people don’t talk endlessly, they listen more, and talk less. Also, you know what is inside your head, but by listening really. You constantly get new input and you can’t help but grow.
Before we tackle obstacles, we must first have a deep understanding of the situation. Before we give advice or suggestions, solutions we first must listen. Listening is part of the solution in my opinion. Also, empathy is such an underrated skill.
As a guy who studies behavior for a living this part was really difficult for me to understand. I am very quick when it comes to seeing pathological patterns in people. When friends of mine are unhappy you are always tempted to just vomit psychological suggestions on them and give them a formula on how to do things. But this very rarely helps as the first reaction. Often it is quite the opposite and people feel judged and they won’t open up again in front of you. If your strategy aims for validating yourself as the smartest person in the room this might be a good approach but if you want to deepen the relationship towards another human being listening is essential. First, understand then be understood.
Also, there seems to be something really healing and productive about the idea of a person telling you a problem and you listen to them without you rejecting them, judging them, or seeing the other person with different eyes. Were all afraid of rejection, and if you give a human the impression that their problem is stupid they will feel exposed because they are a person who cants handle such a stupid problem. And the next time this person has a problem they won’t seek your guidance because they are afraid of being perceived as weak or stupid. This is a sure way to implement very bad habits in companies and in relationships.
So Listen first, be emphatic, take people seriously and then speak.
Most people don’t listen at all, they wait till they can speak again.
The true power of humans lies in their ability to team up. Team up with positive people so you can achieve bigger results faster. If you like Covey suggest become a proactive emphatic listener you have the opportunity to create synergy. If you start to work with amazing people and implement other habits and you, for example, want to start a business 2+2 becomes 5 suddenly. We humans are not made to create alone, our true power lies in our ability to cooperate with other humans in order to hunt great things.
Having a win-win mindset will encourage you to seek the psychology behind disagreements with other persons. What was the motivation behind the last confrontation? How can we as partners together overcome this obstacle? How can we learn from a situation and what can we learn about ourselves from this?
If you have any aspirations of conquering your dreams and making your vision come true you need people around you that help you and you need to help them. The quality of connections that we have in our life equals our happiness and our progress in my opinion.
Create a lifestyle for yourself in which you improve yourself constantly. Work out, read books, go to seminars once a month, visit conferences twice a year. Try to get better physically, mentally and spiritually. Highly effective people sharpen their Saw. And their Saw is their Mind. Almost every successful person I met had the habit of sharpening their saw. There are studies which say that when you invest 90 minutes daily in your aspired field, that you will belong to the top 5% experts in the world.
If I had six hours to chop down a tree, i’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe
This was one of the reasons why I created this blog. I asked myself what would happen if you spend your entire time learning? What if your job would be to learn? To get better, stronger, smarter constantly? Would you not be happier and be able to give more back?
The habit of sharpening the saw means that you understood that graduation never happens and that the more you learn the more you are able to contribute. And for now, this way of designing my way towards growth and working on my craft full time gives me a level of fulfillment beyond imagination.
I think humans have a deep need for security, and the habit of sharpening the saw gives you hope. Hope that even though your day today was total dog shit your life won’t be always like this. You start to believe more and more in yourself because you are growing. You start to process your traumas, and failures because you learned from your mistakes and you are laying the foundation that those things won’t happen to you again.
Lastly the habit of sharpening the saw will enable you to give more back. More money, more love, more happiness.
A metaphor captures the essence of this habit very well. When you are on an airplane, and the oxygen masks drop what do they tell you?
That is right, to put them on yourself first. Only then you are able to help the other passengers.
The idea is to get strong first, then have a bigger reach and then give back and contribute.
This is in my opinion where true fulfillment lies, in the realization that you are giving your all and that you are doing what you want and that your existence is good for others. That your life is amazing and that makes other peoples lives also better.
Richard Branson – Losing My VirginityWhen do you think of the word successful what Person comes first to mind?
For me, success means that you live an extraordinarily adventurous life. A life on your terms. That you have successfully monetized your passion and that you add massive value to others while doing so. You work with fun and amazing people and solve together big problems for the world. To me, nobody else personifies these ideas more than Sir Richard Branson.
The last book I reviewed was vagabonding, by rolf potts. A guide that shows you that traveling is affordable for everybody if you are willing to make some lifestyle sacrifices and rely on minimalism. The book motivated me to write the article “my broke a*s Road Trip” an experiment where I traveled through Germany with almost no money.
After returning from my adventure, it turned out however that although minimalism is liberating, the world I live in currently is pretty expensive. So I thought I need to start to hack my finances and attack my financial issues head-on. As I write this article I currently make zero $ with my blog. So I thought I need to start to learn how people think who actually make money with what they love.
I learn best through case studies. Real life examples. So Why not learn from somebody who conquered the problems I am having right now. This is why I decided to investigate the brain of Sir Richard Branson and steal some mental habits from him. Since to this point he has not agreed to talk to me in person, I decided to investigate the very best next thing: his first autobiography.
Richard Branson is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world today. He is the founder of the Virgin Group and with he has a net worth of over 5 billion dollars! Damn, that is a lot of money right?! Normally I am reluctant when It comes to equating networth with success. I Think of bankers who are only in their office their entire life. Words like boring or clockwork come to mind.
Boring is a word you would never associate with Richard Branson. And he is not your typical billionaire(if there is anything as such).
Richard Branson was born in 1950 and he had a very happy childhood. In his book, he describes how his parents always challenged him. Giving him tasks out of his comfort zone, teaching him early that failing is a sign of strength. His mother pushed him out in a field at a very early age, telling him to find the way home by himself. Richard Branson jokingly said that the things her mother did to prepare him for the world would be illegal today.
Richard Branson Parents were in the upper middle class, so he was not born super rich.
In school, Richard Branson was everything else than outstanding. He was dyslexic and failed hopelessly in math and other sciences. However even there seemed to be an aura around him. People naturally gathered around him. And from a very early age, he had his own mind.
When Richard Branson graduated the school’s headmaster said to him: “You will either go to prison or become a millionaire.” Little did he know that he was right with both.
Branson’s first entrepreneurial endeavor was to create a student magazine that included interviewing Mick Jagger and John Lemmon among many others. One of the things that fascinated me with this magazine was that the goal was not primarily to make money but to have fun. A mantra that Richard Branson took with him into his next business endeavors.
Branson gang of friends was obsessed with music and they decided to sell records via mail. This project later became Virgin music business.
The first singer Virgin signed was a young musician called Mike Oldfield. This was an odd choice because the Virgin music was a rock music label, and Mike Oldfield had no vocals in his album Tubular Bells.
This song was one of the biggest- selling albums of the 1970s. Later they collaborated with big bands like the Sex Pistols, Phil Collins, Human League and many other stars. They became big and were floating in cash.
What surprised me was that he went form the music business into founding an airline. He was always a big-time investor and eventually through some weird circumstances, he received a proposal to establish a new airline that would compete with British Airways. He was upset with the way British airways were exploiting their monopoly. They were raising prices, and passenger comfort was going down. And he frankly believed that he could do better.
So Richard Branson negotiated to rent a boing 747 for a year. This to me was crazy that he would try something this big on a whim without being afraid just to see if it works. This stuck with me. To just rent a freaking airplane and see where it goes. This motivated me to 10x all my dreams and start to think big.
Being a millionaire with 22? Flying over the Atlantic in a balloon? Being knighted by the Queen? Buying your own Island? Trying to make free wifi a thing for the entire world? Writing a bestseller when you are dyslexic? Founding “Virgin Interplanetary” in order to make space travel possible for everyone? Those are all crosses on his Richard Branson’s bucket list. There are many big things in life. Nothing as big as the cajones of this mfer.
For me doing a book review about losing my virginity was a must. He personifies the perfect case study for success in my opinion. The sheer amount of impact that he had on the world, the brave business endeavors that he started, the adventurous expeditions that he undertook are just mindboggling.
It is crazy what is possible inside of one life on this planet. I hope that one day I get a personal interview with this guy.
As humans we have a beautiful ability that is unique to our species: We can read a story and relive the adventures and experiences in our head like we are the protagonist.
I think to soak in Richard Branson life journey is a must for every hungry men or woman. It was super fascinating to see how different he thinks towards business, traveling and trying new things.
One of the cornerstones of my philosophy is that when you start to think like people with extreme results it will eventually rub of on you and you yourself will get better. Or in my case, I was hoping to suck a little less.
Emulating the thinking patterns, habits, tools, and life hacks from highly successful people is one of the focal points of my work right now. So what did I learn from studying Sir Richard Branson?
In his autobiography, you can see that Richard Branson thinks in a unique way. For him, problems are gold nuggets. He searches for markets that need a shakeup. Is there a way to do it better or cooler or more customer orientated?
This was the Idea behind virgin Airways. He did not like the way British Airways were exploiting their monopoly position. The prizes were going up for the customers and the quality and comfort was going down. Richard Branson saw this problem as a business opportunity. I believe we all should think this way. Instead of just scratching our own niche we should ask ourselves :
What does the world need? Where does a shakeup need to happen? In which market do people deserve better? Where is my expertise needed the most? What is a problem that I can attack better than everybody else?
Ask yourself bevor starting a business if this endeavor is only serving yourself, or if you are actually are adding value and creating something new for other people. I am blessed to be surrounded in my inner circle by great people, and a lot of founders. Some more successful than others. The startups that survived were the ones that were actually solving problems. They were making people lives better, even a little bit. All the marketing in the world is not enough if your product just plain su*ks. How you make your money is just as important as that you make money.
Fusing a problem with your own talents will bring out the best in you because you are driven by more than your personal needs. You think that the thing that you are building has to exist. And that people deserve better and that if you don’t do it nobody else will, so you almost have no choice but to create this startup, company or product or write your book.
As cheesy as this sounds, one of my major takeaways was that you need an exciting vision for your future. A dream. Do you have that one topic that you never get tired of talking about? Go all balls to the wall on that.
In order to become successful, you need to excel in your field of expertise. Be so good that they ignore you. I really internalized this principle of the last years. I talk very openly about my latest financial struggles recently. But I am all in of becoming world class in my niche. I believe that there is no other way around it. Make yourself so valuable that you are starting to become an asset for others.
And prepare yourself for a rough sailing. A sentence that I never heard from a successful founder was ” this was easy”.
If your dream is as big you gotta eat it, sleep it, breathe it become obsessed with it. Be that guy who can never shut up about your dream. If you are not at least annoying your friends a little bit with your vision, you are doing it wrong.
I believe having a dream is a necessity. A dream motivates us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. To hold ourselves accountable. Something that most people don’t realize is that there is always competing behavior. Meaning there is a duality of things. When you decide on something, you at the same time decide against something else. Getting Shi*t faced on Friday at the same time is a decision against a productive and happy Saturday. Your dream is your happy place. And you want to get there as fast as possible. And procrastination, lethargy, alcoholism, and distraction will become less and less attractive for you.
One of the goals of my blog is to start to deconstruct unhappiness as well. Depression in particular. And in my investigation of people in a psychiatric facility, it was a pattern that people did not have a great vision for their future. People who have depression, in particular, don’t see a future for themselves at all. I believe that humans need a dream as much as we need food or water or sex. To have an internal confidence and trust, that eventually the puzzle pieces will fall into place for you. That although you are going through a rough stretch, things will not stay bad always.
All the people I worked with who later were severely suicidal had a pattern in common that they internalized that things are never going to get better. That life is never going to turn around. In that case, it is almost logical to put an end to it, because you are protecting yourself from a lot of incoming pain.
Case studies like Richard Branson were fascinating to me because their mental patterns are really like day and night. And I learned that there are thought patterns to stay away from, and mental habits to emulate.
So find I urge you to find you why, a task or a dream that you will only be able to conquer at your absolute best. In my case, this very much saved my life.
Some advice from a behavior psychology geek: Loving what you do is a necessity. Without going all nerd nation on you guys, psychologist knows for quite some time now that we repeat what we reward.
We learn things by pairing neutral stuff with positive emotions. Emotions create habits guys. If you link joy and fun to a behavior, your brain will start to crave the very thing you are doing. If you link pain to something, your brain will do everything in its power to avoid this behavior.
If you associate sacrifice and stress and discomfort to your work you won’t be able to put in the extra hours. Richard Branson is a working machine. I wondered for some time how successful entrepreneurs were able to sacrifice their 20s and thirties. How they mentally made peace with working so much. The only plausible answer that I can come up with is that they love it. It does not work for them.
This is important guys. Pain and pleasure are the two parts of your driving wheel that put you in a place to decide what person you want to become.
If you love what you do then why should you stop after 8 hours? This enables you to work longer and harder than someone who does it because he has to do it. Falling in love with your hussle will enable you to crush it in the long game. Otherwise, no chance guys.
Everything that sounds cliche has some truth to it. One of my personal takeaways from Richards Branson’s Book and from other high achievers I interviewed personally was that they share one habit in particular: The habit of Perseverance.
They all seem fcking batshiit crazy when it comes to giving up. In order to go through hardships in business or Life, you need to be a little bit insane and delusional even.
To me, it seems that high achievers seem to live in their own world sometimes. And that they have the ability to march forward even if they are laughed at or ridiculed. They don’t give up, and they don’t give an f and this enables them to inspire others to march with them. I believe that the combination of kindness and sheer strength is resonating with people.
Branson personifies both traits. I don’t think it is a coincidence that amazing people gather around guys like him.
Richard Branson seems to have the ability to stress out less than others even in the face of extreme pressure or uncertainty. This seems to be a pattern with successful leaders. To stay chill, even in the face of crisis. In my podcast with Tian Yao, she told me that the antidote for stress is more stress. I think I know understand where she is coming from.
To keep your cool even in the face of extreme situations is really a skill for itself. Richard Branson, however, is a different kind of animal. On his many adventures, his life was at jeopardy multiple times. One example is that while trying to fly his balloon around the world he was threatened by multiple nations because he accidentally flew over war zones.
It must take a lot of guts, to leave something as successful as the record business and tackle other ridiculous projects like creating free wifi for the world or trying to make space travel affordable just shows a huge willingness to operate outside of this comfort zone.
Sometimes in life, you just need to throw things against the wall and see what sticks. I think one of the best ways to live a boring unhappy life is to stay always in your comfort zone. If you are reading this right ask yourself, what is the most outrageous thing that you could do today that could end up changing your life?
What is a job that you in your wildest dreams would never apply to? Is there a girl or a boy who you wanted to ask out for a long time but didn’t have the guts to do so? Maybe you write a mail to your role model and ask for a mentorship?
This book encouraged me to fail more, and fail harder. Otherwise, we never will know what we are truly capable of. So get yourself into uncomfortable situations, in situations where you have to figure it out, where you have to adapt, where you have to learn.
Some time ago, I took this challenge. I thought that if I wanted to become a world-class psychologist someday myself, I first needed to find the world expert in my niche, and learn from him. I applied for an unpaid apprenticeship for Standford psychologist named Bj Fogg. To this day the most ballsy academical move I ever made. For me, this is pretty much the equivalent of asking tiger woods for golf lessons. What happens everytime you make such actions is that you crush your old standard and create a new one for yourself.
So I urge you to fail. To fail daily. After all, if we are not growing, we are slowly dying inside.
On every adventure I have been on — whether setting up a business, flying around the world in a balloon or racing across the ocean in a boat — there have been moments when the easy thing to do would be to give up,”
My biggest Take away from the book was that I needed to think bigger. Like a lot bigger. Most of my dreams were centered around me. Things I wanted to have. Milestones I wanted to achieve.
Richard Branson thinks of Problems in the world as potential business opportunities. That we should choose a market that is fun and brings you joy and that is compatible with your skills. He believes that you get rich by solving peoples problems. And the more problems you solve the richer you get.
So I asked myself :
My expertise lies in clinical psychology and behavioral psychology. I help people to form new habits and get rid of undesired behaviors. The classical business model of a psychologist is to work with one person at a time. So being inspired by Richard Branson habit of thinking big I thought of ways how to help more persons. How to solve more problems.
So did two things after reading this book:
1) I multiplied the number of people that I wanted to help by 100. I asked myself how can I help 100 persons at a time instead of only 1? So thought about scaleable ways to create behavior-changing products. How can I add value to guys on scale level? For me, I decided to create products that aim at changing peoples behavior for the better, ebooks, masterclasses. Something that I need to double down on. I urge you that you do the same.
What is your moonshot? How can you multiply the number of problems that you are solving? What is the one thing that you might become better at than everybody else on this planet?
I believe that there is no happiness to be found in life by playing it small. So although I am at the start of my journey, I promise my self to go all out. Even if this means to freak fail at the lot and get mocked by others.
2) After realizing that problems are actually a good thing I asked myself :
What is a problem that I have that I can solve better than others? For me, it was my personal experience with depression and mental health.
So my moonshot problem is that I want to contribute on attacking big problems such as depression and raise awareness for mental health. Furthermore, I realized that I needed to become an expert in those fields first. A world expert.
Otherwise, I would not be adding value. Since I still see myself in the role of the learner, I, for now, will put my efforts on 2 things
The Idea of traveling the world and interviewing outstanding scientists, spiritual leaders, biohackers, successful entrepreneurs in order to find habits, patterns, behaviors, tools, and hacks that make other people better became a necessity for me. I need to learn, and I need to learn fast. I do not want to be the guy who is success blogger who is living in his mom’s basement. Since now thousands of people read my stuff I don’t short sell you guys by creating shitty art. So will continue to do reviews, until I finish the 1000 book challenge. After all, the more we learn, the more value we are able to give.
If people aren’t calling you crazy, you arent thinking big enough