1. Set absurdly ambitious goals
“When 10x is your measuring stick, you immediately see how you can bypass what everyone else is doing.” — Dan Sullivan
Goals are most likely to be accomplished when:
- They are intrinsically motivating. As Napoleon Hill explained in Think and Grow Rich, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.”
- They must be difficult, or else they won’t be motivating.
- They must be time-bound, to create a sense of urgency. Shorter timelines are one way to go 10x, since they force you to shed artificial constraints and think more creatively. As billionaire Peter Thiel is known to ask: “How can you achieve your ten-year plan in the next six months?”
As with all things in life, you get what you want. If you prefer to make excuses and justifications for a lack of progress, then just admit you prefer your current station in life. Self-acceptance can be a beautiful thing.
However, once you desire progress more than convenience, obstacles no longer stop but propel you. As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is famous for saying, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
2. Reframe subconscious patterns and get bold insights via auto-suggestion
“What is impressed in the subconscious is expressed.” — Dr. Joseph Murphy in The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
While awake, your conscious and subconscious mind are often at odds with each other. For example, you’re trying to be positive, but your subconscious patterns simply won’t let you.
Yet, while transitioning from being awake to being asleep, your brain waves move from the active Beta state into Alpha and then Theta before eventually dropping into Delta as we sleep. It is during the Theta window that your mind is most receptive to reshaping your subconscious patterns. Hence, Thomas Edison is known for having said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
As a result, just before you fall asleep, it is key to visualize and even vocally state what you are trying to accomplish. When you repeatedly state a desired goal, visualization is key because you want to have as emotional an experience as possible. You need to feel what it would be like to have what you seek.
You can absolutely trust that by planting these subconscious seeds, thoughts will pop up at you, often at random intervals. You need to record these thoughts throughout your day. The bigger the goal, the bolder will be the required action to attain it. The clearer your why, the more inspired will be your how.
If you’re serious, you’ll need to act immediately upon the impressions your subconscious is transmitting to your conscious mind. If you brush off these insights, you’ll get less and less of them. You’ll demonstrate to yourself and the source of your inspiration that you don’t really want the changes you claim to desire.
3. Learn and work in counterintuitive environments
1905 was Albert Einstein’s break-through year where he published four research articles, known as the Annus Mirabilis papers, which went on to substantially alter the foundation of modern physics and changed views on space, time, and matter.
Interestingly, when Einstein published these papers, he was not working in an academic setting, but rather at the Swiss Patent Office. His work in this counterintuitive work environment allowed him different reflective angles and questions than a typical physics lab.
As Elon Musk’s wife, Justine, has said:
“Choose one thing and become a master of it. Choose a second thing and become a master of that. When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.”
When you work in a different context from the majority of people in your field, you can make distinct and unique connections. You can integrate and cross-pollinate different ideas. You can avoid dogmatic thinking and expectations. You can learn to integrate ideas from seemingly dissimilar fields.
4. Learn from counterintuitive resources
“What does following in the footsteps of everyone else get you? It gets you to exactly the same conclusions as everyone else.” — Ryan Holiday
As Holiday explains, if you read what everyone else is reading, you’ll think like everyone else thinks. If you think like everyone else thinks, you won’t be able to come up with anything unique.
Follow your curiosity. Chase down obscure leads. Find stuff that no one else has found. In this way, your work will be truly valuable to others.
5. Focus on the process (not results) of those who are succeeding big
“Success leaves clues.” — Jim Rohn
Focusing exclusively on results is one of the primary reasons the current academic system is broken. Kids are being taught to train for the test, rather than seeking novel and unique ways of doing things. No two kids are wired the same, nor should their contribution, creativity, and talent be viewed from the same standard.
When you want to develop expertise at something, rather than focusing on the results of those at the top of your field, study and emulate their process.
What are they doing?
Once you get process-oriented, as opposed to results-oriented, you realize you too can achieve amazing results. The process, or your behavior, is completely within your control. Conversely, when you focus solely on other people’s results, you can quickly become overwhelmed and give up.
6. Ignore what almost everyone else is doing
In the book Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, Tim Grover explains that the world’s elite don’t compete with other people. Rather, they make others compete with them. They set the tone and make others react to their environment.
Most people are competing with other people. They continuously check in to see what others in their space (their “competition”) are doing. As a result, they mimic and copy what’s “working.”
Rather than worrying about what others are doing, live your values. Put first things first. Spend more time with your loved ones and away from work. While working, follow your own curiosity, not what others are doing.
7. 80/20 Analysis of highest leverage activities
“Today everyone is a generalist, a deliberate move on the part of most as a reaction to the economic times.” — Leonard Smith
When studying the process of those you seek to emulate, don’t try to do it all. Everyone has their own strategy. Even those at the top of your field have imperfect strategies.
Find the patterns. What are the key things you must master? Master those.
Then innovate beyond those patterns when you’re ready, so your process comes to exceed the process of those you admire. Eventually, your results will exceed theirs as well.
8. Over-learn high leverage activities
Learning something new is all about memory and how you use it. At first, your prefrontal cortex — which stores your working (or short-term) memory — is really busy figuring out how the task is done.
But once you’re proficient, the prefrontal cortex gets a break. In fact, it’s freed up by as much as 90%. Once this happens, you can perform that skill automatically, leaving your conscious mind to focus on other things.
This level of performance is called automaticity, and reaching it depends on what psychologists call over-learning or over-training.
For example, if you want to quickly learn how to write viral articles, study several hundred headlines of viral articles. If you want to write a book, study just the table of contents of hundreds of books. These are your lay-ups.
Start with small sets of information, then expand from there. By over-learning a particular category of learning, you’ll be able to better understand how it relates to the whole. You’ll also quickly be able to apply what you learn. You’ll quickly see the patterns others miss. Time will slow down for you as your cognition expands.
9. Learn to apply, not to procrastinate “the work”
“The key secret to success is not excessive expertise, but the ability to use it. Knowledge is worthless unless it is applied.” — Max Lukominskyi
Learning is best done while you’re doing the activity. Public education has taught people they must first master theory, then attempt to transfer that theory into the real world. In a similar way, people’s love for information via the internet has led them to use “learning” as a form of procrastination.
A better approach is “context-based learning,” where you learn while doing.The key principles of context-based learning include:
- Learn a concept in its simplest form.
- Put your rudimentary knowledge to practice in a real-world scenario.
- Get coaching and feedback (feedback often comes in the form of “failure”).
- Apply the feedback through repetitious practice.
- Get coaching and feedback.
- Repeat until proficient (see #8 just above).
Interestingly, researchers examined the effects of role-playing on the self-concept of shy adolescents. One group of adolescents got traditional discussion-based training while another did role-play based training. The group that did role-plays experienced a significant positive change in their self-concept, which has a significant impact on their behaviors.
In our digital world, simulation training — based on role-playing real-world scenarios — is becoming increasingly popular.
Additionally, research has found that getting consistent feedback is essential to effective learning. You can use this. By making your work public, you get immediate feedback.
Getting immediate feedback has been found to be a flow trigger. It heightens performance. Especially when the feedback is real world, and there are real consequences for success and failure.
10. Focus on quantity in the beginning
“Plant a lot, harvest a few.” — Seth Godin
In the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant explains that “originals” (i.e., people who create innovative work) are not reliable. In other words, not everything they produce is extraordinary.
For example, among the 50 greatest pieces of music ever created, six belong to Mozart, five are Beethoven’s, and three Bach’s. But in order to create those, Mozart wrote over 600 compositions, Beethoven 650, and Bach over 1,000.
Similarly, Picasso created thousands of pieces of art, and few are considered to be his “great works.” Edison had 1,900 patents, and only a handful we would recognize. Albert Einstein published 248 scientific articles, only a few of which are what got him on the map for his theory of relativity.
Quantity is the most likely path to quality. The more you produce, the more ideas you will have — some of which will be innovative and original. And you never know which ones will click. You just keep creating.
11. Track only a few things (ignore everything else)
“If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any.” — Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
If you want to improve at something, you need to quantify it. If you don’t quantify it, you don’t really know what’s happening. As Thomas Monson explains, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.”
I can personally attest to this principle. When I started measuring a few metrics, such as each set in the gym, my income, and how much time I spend in “flow” while working, I dramatically improved in these areas. The reason is simple: tracking helped me become aware and objective about my weaknesses. Thus, I knew exactly where I should focus and could do it systematically.
12. Heighten expectation for what you can accomplish
“I think the ability of the average man could be doubled if it were demanded, if the situation demanded.” — William Durant
I started working out with my current workout partner about two months ago. He’s nearly 20 years older than me, and can lift substantially more weight than me.
One of the first things he told me was, “Most people never get stronger simply because they don’t put themselves under the weight.” As a result, our first several workouts involved me being heavily spotted while benching and squatting way more than I ever had before. The purpose was to feel the weight.
It hasn’t taken long at all to increase my strength while working out with my new partner. He’s raised my expectations. Yet I don’t let his expectations dictate what I can do. As will be shown in the following section on mentorships, the expectations of those around you create the context for your growth and potential.
But you don’t need to be bound by those expectations. For instance, just because many of my favorite writers publish twice per week, I decided to hold myself to a different standard when I started writing. In large measure, you get what you expect you will. According to Expectancy Theory, one of the core theories of motivation, motivation involves three components:
- the value you place on your goal
- your belief that specific behaviors will actually facilitate the outcomes you desire
- your belief in your own ability to successfully execute the behaviors requisite to achieving your goals
Learn from the best. But don’t be bound by their standards. Run at your own pace, even if that pace is faster than those you aspire to be like.