Posts Tagged ‘self improvement’

Think and Grow Rich

Monday, August 7th, 2017 | Books

Think and Grow Rich is a self-improvement book, written by Napoleon Hill and published in 1937.

In it, he sets out 16 “laws” (and yes, the quote marks are there on Wikipedia, too) on achieving success. The book certainly did do that: it has sold over 100 million copies and best of all, it is a super simple formula to follow: think positive and you will soon be drowning in money.

Unfortunately, Hill seems to have been unable to apply the principles to his personal life. He frequently ran out of cash and was forced to take up touring the United States lecturing again. Most of his business ventures went south.

It’s almost as if you can’t just think and grow rich.

Though I must confess, I didn’t even make it half way through the book. Maybe all of the pearls of wisdom are hidden in the second half. Or I’m too negative a person to see the ones right in front of me. But, either way, I think there are perhaps more practical books I could spend my time reading.

Humble Inquiry

Sunday, February 19th, 2017 | Books

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling is a book by Edgar Schein. It is a relatively short book and the title gives most of it away: we need to do more asking and do less telling.

Making this change is tough. We live in a culture that celebrates task accomplishment, It is a world where the boss tells and the worker does not. Often, the subordinate will be too fearful to be honest with their superior. This is even true in emergency situations. Fatal mistakes during surgery, for example, or airline crashes can often be traced back to this.

I want you to be completely honest with me. Even if it costs you your job.

As a leader, it is your job to establish an atmosphere where people can speak up. You need to understand the cultural and generation differences regarding the risk of humiliation. People will try to avoid humiliating you at all costs. This is fine most of the time, but not when you are about to give the wrong medication or make a terminal mistake in business.

The best way to achieve this is to create a personal relationship. Professionalism will not win out: it would be unprofessional to embarrass your boss. Instead, you need to build a relationship where subordinates feel they can overcome these barriers. And, as the boss, it is up to you to set how much personal disclosure is appropriate.

Ego Is the Enemy

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 | Books

Ego Is the Enemy is a book by Ryan Holiday. It made for rather uncomfortable reading for me, which means it was important. I wish I had read this book for ten years ago.

Holiday discusses the role that ego has played in important historical figures, the people around him, and in his personal life. The effect is almost always negative. Ego is a destructive force and one of the biggest factors in whether you are successful in your life is whether you can keep it under your control or not.

Even those who seem to use ego, are ultimately laid low by it. Steve Jobs, who many regard as an egomaniac, really did his best work when not driven by his ego. His ego led to him being fired by Apple the first time around. It was only when he put it aside and started working again from the ground up that he built something amazing.

He holds Howard Hughes up as the ultimate cautionary tale of ego getting the better of you. We do not see most of the people who fail because they disappear without a trace. However, Hughes inherited so much money that he could just keep going in his folly. He built the Spruce Goose, it flew once, and then he stored it in a warehouse at a cost of $1,000,000 per year. For 15 years. A period that only ended with Hughes’s death.

You can be successful and have an out-of-control ego. But this is the exception. Take Kayne West for example. He is one of the greatest rappers of all time. But, after all of that, he is in huge personal debt because he keeps trying to launch a fashion label; something he knows nothing about.

Contrast this to those who shun the limelight (as much as you can when you are successful). Angela Merkel in her third term as the Chancellor of Germany. Bill Belichick, who has taken the Patriots to the Super Bowl six times, and won four of them.

Success is built upon:

  • Staying humble
  • Getting out of your own head, and not wasting time thinking how great you are
  • Being willing to put in the work
  • Always learning, and knowing that there is more to learn

It also gave me a new favourite quote, from John Archibald Wheeler.

As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

When I look back at my own life, ego has been a destructive force. Looking back, I can see plenty of incidents, especially in my charity work, that were clearly driven by ego. More often than not, these situations played out badly for me.

It also matches up with what Dacher Keltner writes in The Power Paradox. When are are successful, the success quickly rises to our heads. We become the authors of our down downfall, because are unable to keep our ego in check.

This book is an essential read and one that I will be coming back to again and again.

Choose Yourself

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 | Books

Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream is a book by James Altucher. In it, he advocates that working in a corporate environment, or indeed working for anyone but yourself, does not work in the Choose Yourself era.

I had not read anything of his before and his style quite different to most writers. It is manic. It reads like he wrote it while on cocaine. He rants about how the system is broken, university is pointless, buying a home is a bad idea and we are all going to be replaced by robots. Some might find it engaging, though personally, I found it a little inaccessible.

Once you get around the style, the underlying content is interesting. It clicks with a lot of the things I have been reading recently. There is stuff in here about self-care, thinking positively and making changes. It seems sensible. He thinks gluten-free is a scam, for example. He talks about oxytocin too, though does not cite any sources.

He gave a talk about this at TEDx.

Here are the top takeaways from the book:

  • Brainstorm 10 ideas per day: the more you brainstorm, the more your ideas muscle will be will be built-up
  • We can choose ourselves: we do not need a book publisher to say yes to us anymore, we can self-publish (same for anything: YouTube has replaced music labels, eBay has replaced chain store buyers)
  • Honest makes you more money: eventually, Bernie Madoff got caught, and it turns out there was no money

How to be more productive

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over the holiday period, Freakonomics Radio was rebroadcasting old episodes. One of which was how to be more productive. I had already listened to the episode once, but it felt like the kind of topic you could always use a refresher on.

On the episode, Dubner interviews Charles Duhigg (great surname, right?), author of The Power of Habit. In the book, Duhigg tries to boil down what are the universal aspects of people who are successful in achieving their goals.

Interesting, he starts by dismissing an idea many of us may consider important: having one goal and solely focusing on that. Duhigg explains that he only wanted things that everyone agreed on. A single goal was not one of them. Many people would say “you have to focus on one goal: it’s essential.” But others would say “you have to be flexible, you cannot commit yourself to one goal.”

So what does make the list?

  1. Self-motivation: making a decision to do something helps trigger this
  2. Focus: training yourself to focus on the right things and ignore everything else
  3. Goal-setting: you need a big stretch goal which is your ultimate objective, and then a short-term goal that you can action tomorrow morning
  4. Decision-making: think probabilistically, considering the outcomes and weighing how likely they are to occur
  5. Innotvation: take cliches and mix them together in new ways; being interdisaplinary can help with this
  6. Absorbing data:
  7. Managing others: give the problem to the person closest to it
  8. Teams: who is on a team matters more than what the team does

Those are the eight characteristics Duhigg finds consistent across successful people.

As for how many projects you should be working on, the answer seems to be enough to make things interesting, but not so many that you cannot devote enough time to each. The people who are most productive work on 4-5 projects. Critically, these should all be different so that it teaches you new skills.

How to have more grit

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 | Success & Productivity

woman-running

One of the most common things people would like to improve about themselves is having more self-control. Sticking power. Or, as Stephen Dubner puts it, “grit”. In a recent episode of his radio show, he interviewed a number of experts to find what the common factors were for people who had good sticking power.

Interest

It sounds obvious, but you really have to have a passion for what you are doing. You can force your child to take piano lessons, but they are only ever going to be a great pianist if they fall in love with the piano. Interest does not have to be immediate, but it does need to develop over time.

Deliberate practice

To learn a skill you need to do plenty of deliberate practice. See my recent post about what makes good practice. The secret: you don’t have to love it, but you do have to love the field. I often feel like piano is pointless because I dislike practising. However, I do enjoy playing piano overall, I just don’t like the hard stuff. That’s okay apparently, even experts don’t love the hard stuff that much.

Have a purpose

This is more than just a goal: it is a reason for doing what you are doing. Ideally, this should be outside of yourself. For example, running would seem like a selfish thing to do. However, if you put a goal on it that involves other people, and wider society, you are more likely to stick at it. After all, there is benefit for others. A healthier, longer-lived you is a good thing for the people who love you, and it may be beneficial to remind yourself of that.

Replace nuance for novelty

I love this phrase. It is easy to get bored of something and move on to the next thing. The experts in a field are often the ones who manage to replicate that sense of novelty in the nuance of what they are doing. If you can find new fun in refining and exploring small sections of your craft, you will go far.

Thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Read this first

Thursday, December 31st, 2015 | Success & Productivity

marathon

At this time of year, people often make New Year’s resolutions. Really, by definition, it is the only time you can do it.

I have never been very good at them. Not because I never stick to them, but because one of my few talents seems to be having some resolve. So when I decide to do something over the Christmas holidays, be it learning guitar or changing my diet, I just get on and do it without waiting for New Year to actually arrive.

Many other people fall into a different group. The one that devices to work on a weakness or eliminate a vice, and typically fail to stick to it. A study by Richard Wiseman suggested that 88% of people fail to keep them. If this is you, you could try again this year. However, as the old phrase goes, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.’

However, in The Happiness Hypothesis, a book I will be writing about in early January, Jonathan Haidt makes another suggestion. Work on your strengths. This probably should not be a novel suggestion, but thanks to society’s focus on self-improvement and being a well-rounded person, we tend to focus on our weaknesses so much that our strengths get overlooked.

This is something I have pondered for a while with Toastmasters. I am not very good at Table Topics. But, modesty aside, I am good at prepared speaking. I’ve already been to the UK & Ireland finals once. I could spend my time improving my Table Topics, and become an okay Table Topics speaker. However, do I need to be good at Table Topics? Spending time on my prepared speeches with the aim of going to the world finals seems a much more exciting prospect.

My own petty concerns aside, should Wayne Rooney work on his tennis, or John Grisham focus on advanced maths? Probably not. You don’t actually have to be good at everything; having one awesome skill may well be far more useful.

Utility aside though, there is a far more important reason that you should work on your strengths. That is that you are more likely to stick to it. Achieving your goals actually gives you very little reward or happiness. Yes it’s good, but probably not as good as you think it will be, and probably wears off quite quickly. To lead a truly fulfilling life, you have to enjoy the journey.

A weakness is probably a weakness because you do not enjoy it. Whether it is stopping drinking, starting exercises, or tackling your fear of public speaking, you are probably going to find that journey quite unpleasant. I am not saying do not tackle it, but do not be surprised if you soon find yourself giving up on it.

In contrast, if you make a resolution to do something you already love doing, taking it to the next level, you are far more likely to stick at it. This is important if you attach any esteem to following through on your New Year’s resolutions. So if you are planning to make them, do yourself a favour this year and pick a strength to work on.