And yet reading more can be hard. “We hate reading. We find it difficult. We can’t afford it. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the energy. We’re overwhelmed by choice. We can’t find what excites us. We don’t retain what we read…” The list of excuses goes on.
But not this year.
This is the year you read more. This is the year you take responsibility for your future. The year you don’t settle for being too ignorant, too arrogant or too busy to master your less well-read self. This is the year you get smarter, be it with 5 books, with 50 or 100.
Let’s take the “I” from illiteracy and get hustling…
1. GIVE READING A (SECOND) CHANCE.
Our early experiences with books can haunt us the rest of our lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Outside of class, no-one forces you to read. No-one tests you. No-one makes you read aloud. No-one cares if you read slowly or mispronounce words.
Perhaps you’re dyslexic. Perhaps your parents had book gremlins. Perhaps a teacher made you feel stupid. Or maybe text-books ruined your love of language.
Whatever the reason you gave up on books – please give them a second chance. I can’t overstate the benefits even limited reading will have on your life.
Reading make you happier, smarter, and wiser. Fact. And a world of happier, smarter and wiser people is a better world for us all.
2. LOOK AFTER YOUR EYES.
If your eyes hurt, you get a headache or your brain swims when you read – get your eyes tested.
Perhaps you need glasses. Perhaps your eyes are sensitive to light. In any case, you can solve a surprising number of problems quickly and cheaply.
If you wear glasses, don’t be lazy. Book visits every one to two years (or as needed) to update your prescription.
A world of missed opportunities is avoidable in as few as 15 painless minutes in an optometrist’s office.
One of the best ways to foster new habits is with the support of others.
Read a book with family members and friends. Discuss it with them. See the content with fresh eyes. Learn something new about them.
If your family and friends are busy, get Googling and join a local book club. You’ll read more, learn more and meet heaps of new, interesting and open-minded people.
Reading is like having a fascinating and personal conversation with an author. Little makes it more rewarding than sharing that conversation with others.
13. READ ALL THE TIME.
Moments become minutes become mountains of books. That’s why the best habit you can develop is to read all the time.
Waiting for the bus? Read.
Waiting for the movie to start? Read.
In line for coffee? Read.
Trying to keep your kids busy? Read to them.
The secret to reading at all times? Keep at least one book with you, wherever you are and remember, no moment is too short.
If you spend 6 minutes waiting for buses, 220 days of the year that’s 1320 minutes of reading – or ~3.5 books!
You can definitely make this work with physical books but, once again, ebooks have a small advantage in this space. With my Kindle, I can fit hundreds of books in my pocket wherever I am. That means I always have something that feels right for the moment at hand.
14. BE PREPARED.
Avoid gaps in your reading by always having a book or two to hand.
For lovers of physical books, be a book squirrel. Stockpiles your to-reads in advance:
By your bed;
In the bathroom;
In the kitchen;
In the car;
At your partner’s house;
At your parent’s house; or
In your hand, gym and travel bags.
Wherever you spend time, make sure there are books.
For eBooks and audiobooks:
Charge your devices before you leave home;
Bring external batteries, adapters, plugs and cables with you; and
Download books ahead of your reading plan.
Don’t count on a charge point, reception or WiFi when you’re out and about.
Remember: moments become minutes become mountains.
Look after the moments and the mountains will look after themselves.
15. KEEP A LIST.
One of the most daunting questions in reading is: what should I read next?
To simplify: create a personal list. Popular solutions include:
It doesn’t much matter what you use, as long as it works for you.
For now, note the titles and authors of any books on your mind that excite you.
(If the book is a recommendation, I also like to add the name of the recommender. That way I can say thank you when I’ve read their suggestion. This tip alone will forge life-altering discussions and friendships.)
Do feel free to organise your list by excitement, genre, author, date of publication or whatever you find useful.
Don’t make organising your list a chore. When you come across a new book just add it to the top or the bottom. You can worry about placing it later.
16. FILL YOUR LIST.
When it comes to stocking your list one of two things might happen:
You’ll draw a total blank (that won’t be a problem for long); or
You’ll experience strong excitement or anxiety at the huge range of choices you face.
Both are fine. To solve the first, let others inspire you. Some good places to start include:
Flick through it, stopping at titles, quotes, figures and any bulleted lists.
Within 15 minutes you should have an excellent picture of the book’s structure and contents.
This will drastically speed up your reading and learning. It will also help you to…
20. INTERACT WITH YOUR BOOKS.
The value you get from a book will vary to the extent you interact with it.
Before you start reading, grab a pen and a piece of paper. Take 15 – 30 minutes to:
Map your knowledge – What do you know about this topic already?
Ask questions – What are you hoping to learn? How will this book fill the blanks?
Now, as you read:
Re-scan each chapter – Remind yourself of the upcoming titles, quotes, figures and lists as you start each new chapter.
Highlight liberally – Underline passages or quotes that resonate strongly with you.
Make notes – Ask: What is the main message in this chapter? How does it link to my knowledge? Or answer my questions?
Challenge – Ask: What would I say to the author if they were here? Are they right? What have they missed?
Finally, at the end of each page, each chapter and the entire book take some time to:
Recall information – Cover your notes. Now try to recall the main message and points as best you can from memory. This should feel difficult. Don’t give up quickly or use your notes. Active recall is a powerful way to boost understanding and memory.
Set next actions – Ask: What questions do I still have? What further information do I need? What points would I still struggle to explain? How can I implement what I’ve learned in my life?
Now act – Make a plan to tackle your next actions. Get started right away. A person who does not act has no advantage over a person who does not know.
These steps need effort and willpower. They won’t feel easy and you will be tempted to skip them.
Don’t. You will get far more from your reading as a result.
21. REST, THEN REVIEW.
It’s oft forgotten that a book’s most valuable lessons come after its last page, not before it.
To make the most of the time and energy you invest in a book, first set it aside. Let the dust settle in your head. Give its ideas time to percolate in your mind. A few days to a week should be perfect.
Summarise your notes – Review your notes and reflections. Try to summarise their essence in a sentence, a paragraph and a page.
Discuss it with someone who’s read it – What did you both get from the book? How are your takeaways different? What actions or criticisms do you share?
Teach it to someone who hasn’t – Try to explain the essence of the book to a friend. What ideas do you most struggle to explain clearly? You may wish to revisit them.
Codify facts for flashcards – The human mind is a sieve. Make a list of the frameworks, lists and facts you don’t want to forget. Now make a plan to remember them.
Remember, wisdom isn’t measured by the number of books you’ve read. It’s measured by your ability to get knowledge into your head and apply it.
You will often get far more from really digesting, understanding and actioning a single book than you will from skimming through 10.
22. REREAD YOUR OLD BOOKS.
Time with old books is like time with old friends.
The longer you’re together, the more you’ll discover, and the more they’ll teach you about yourself. Stranger yet is how the bits you most admire and appreciate in them will change in mysterious ways as you age.
Sometimes you may grow apart. Other times you’ll rediscover your friendship much later. And, when that happens, it will feel like you caught up just yesterday.
Even when you think you know everything about them, they’ll surprise you. And eventually, they’ll become part of the most important memories and decisions in your life.
So keep your old friends, and reread your old books.
Sure, nothing thrills like a fling with the new and exciting.
But as you grow older, it’s the books and people that have stood by you the longest that you’ll feel most glad to come home to.
23. TAKE BREAKS.
Don’t force yourself to read because you think you should. If that’s how you feel something’s probably not right.
Sometimes a change is as good as a break. If you’ve been reading non-fiction, try fiction. If you’re reading a difficult book, try something easier.
Other times you may just be running on empty. Go for a walk, listen to music, have a nap, grab a snack, meditate, chat with a friend. Take some time out to restore yourself.
If reading still feels like a chore, something deeper’s at play. Perhaps you need to recalibrate your goals and expectations. Maybe something not reading related is stressing you.
In any case, don’t be afraid to take a long break from reading entirely. Try a few days, or a week, or a month. Watch some films. Go to the theatre. Catch up with friends.
You won’t always be able to pinpoint and rationalise everything. Sometimes all life needs is space. Let it settle, unravel and reset.
24. CHALLENGE YOURSELF.
If you’re inspired and excited to get reading – it’s time to set yourself a three-step challenge:
Aim to read one book per month – At ~6h per book that’s ~12 minutes reading per day
Aim for one book per fortnight – ~30 minutes reading per day.
Aim for one book per week – ~60 minutes reading per day.
If you dedicate 3 months to stage one, 3 more to stage two and 6 months to stage three you’ll read 35 books this year. That’s awesome!
To help you, why not:
Commit to the challenge with a friend;
Stack the books you’ll read where you can see them;
Make a victory tower of the books that you’ve conquered;
Keep this year’s reading list somewhere you’ll see it every day; or
Make a public commitment on social media, Goodreads and to your friends and family.
Set yourself a challenge you’ll be proud of yourself for completing.
Now get to work putting foundations under it.
25. BUT, DON’T LET YOUR GOALS STRESS YOU OUT.
Challenges are a superb way to motivate and inspire us.
But they can also turn into hellish reminders of our failure to live up to our own expectations.
If you fall behind on your goal don’t beat yourself up, instead give yourself permission to fail and try again.
Review your plan. Adjust your expectations for what seems possible based on what you now know. Get to work. Repeat.
And remember: whilst finishing 100 books in a year “sounds” impressive, what really matters here isn’t book count, it’s the quantity and quality of time spent reading.
Switch your focus from outcome to process. That way, you can focus on really enjoying Atlas Shrugged instead of worrying about finishing it as quickly as possible.
26. HAVE FUN!
The most important thing to remember about reading is to have fun!
If you can make reading enjoyable you won’t have to make yourself do it; you’ll probably have to make yourself stop!
Don’t force yourself to grind through books that you’re hating. Don’t set yourself up for failure with outlandish and unrealistic expectations.
Read with your eyes but follow your heart. Make reading fun for yourself, and for others and its rewards and adventures will follow.
But reading expands our minds and enlarges our world. A good book makes us happier, it makes us smarter and it makes us wise. It’s a part of our lives that’s too vital to skip
So if you want to read more, read. Don’t wait for the perfect moment or method. Pick up the nearest book. Start with that. Exchange it for a better one. Improve your reading tools as you go along. Identify the excuses that are holding you back. Pick the one thing in this list that caught your eye and take action. Not tomorrow, not later, do it now.
Make this the year you get started on the reading you know you should do.
You wish there was a class on “how to live” at school.
You love finding pockets of super-concentrated wisdom.
You’re always looking out for exciting new thinkers and perspectives.
I love biting into pockets of concentrated wisdom. They burst on the brain like an overripe mango. An old favourite is Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. My new favourite might just be Brian Johnson’s Optimize.me.
Brian is a serial-entrepreneur, deep-thinker, relentless-reader and modern-day philosopher. If you like the crunches on WhyWhatHow, you will love his “Philosopher’s Notes“. But his best works (so far) are his Optimal Living 101 course and his Master Classes. They’re a synthesis of all he’s read and discovered. They’re a mishmash of principles and methods to live by.
The crunch below is of Optimal Living 101 – the class on “how to live” that every school’s missing. It’s clear that Brian’s thinking is still evolving. And at times the fixation on “ten steps” obstructs brevity and clarity. But OL101 is so good already that I thought it worth crunching. If you have time (~4 – 5 hours), the original videos are well worth any investment you make.
What’s missing below is Brian’s inspiring energy and the huge breadth of examples and sources he cites. What I’ve added is some simplicity and the odd point of my own. In any case, if you like what you read I’d strongly recommend making time to check out Brian’s work. I’m excited to watch his thinking evolve in the coming years and have no doubt his best is yet to come.
THE HIGHEST GOAL: LIVE WITH ARETÉ (ἀρετή)
Brian’s message is simple: live with areté. That is, express the best current version of yourself in every moment. Do this and, as moments become minutes become months, all else will follow, from joy to fulfilment to success.
Got it? Good.
But how? Great question.
I said it was simple, I didn’t say it was easy.
Luckily, Brian has squeezed the highlights of hundreds of thinkers into ten steps he thinks might just help. They are:
“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.” – Buddha
Expressing the best person you can be takes hope and confidence in the future. It needs optimism. Luckily optimism is a learned skill, and it starts with controlling your mind.
Controlling your mind means learning to place attention where you want, when you want for as long as you want. If you don’t control the mind, it controls you. That’s a problem for two reasons:
First, because, thanks to evolution, your mind is Teflon for positive thoughts and velcro for negative ones. The fearful and suspicious monkey in your midbrain helps keep you alive. But it’s also an irrational and jumpy companion. Control lets you keep it in check.
Second, because you often get stuck in the past or the future. This is mad as you’re unable to change either directly. Control of attention unsticks you. It lets you pick up the past and the future when useful. It also lets you put them down again when not. That means you can focus on living and acting right now.
Optimism and control of your mind are muscles. You can train them with effort and practice. Here are 10 ways to get started:
CHOOSE THE MOST EMPOWERED RESPONSE – Between stimulus and response comes a gap. Cultivate self-awareness. Notice the gap. And when you do, choose a response that empowers you. Act in your circle of influence.
HIRE BOUNCERS AND ATTORNEYS FOR YOUR MIND – Stop negative thoughts at the door. When they sneak in, cross-examine them logically and mercilessly. You’ll find most are irrational. Overwhelm your mind’s Teflon by writing ten positive points for each negative one you identify.
PRACTICE GRATITUDE AND GRATEFUL FLOW – Write 5 things each week that you’re grateful for (studies show you’ll be 25% happier). As you go through the day, consider how many thousands of people make even the simplest activities possible. Slip into this grateful flow as often as you remember.
SAVOUR THE THINGS THAT GO WELL – Track 3 big wins each day and explore why they happened. It will train you to see and rest your mind in the positive.
PLAY THE EQUANIMITY GAME – Make a game of catching yourself whenever you lose your cool. See how fast you can get back to baseline.
BE BIGGER – To a size 1 person size 3 problems are huge. To a size 9 person, they are trifles. What does the size of your problems say about you? Now, do all you can to be bigger.
LAUGH – Choose to laugh at yourself and at life. If it’s going to be funny in ten minutes or ten years, why wait? You may as well laugh at it now.
USE MANTRAS – We all use mantras whether realise it or not. Replace automatic negative thoughts with conscious positive mantras (e.g., “Thank you” → gratitude flow) until they gain automatic positive life of their own.
MEDITATE – Breathe in deep to a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 6. Repeat 5 times. You just meditated! Connecting with your breathing alters your nervous system and shapes the contents of your consciousness. Use it to turn fight-or-flight into pause-and-plan when needed. Create the gap between stimulus and response.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – Talk is cheap. Convert theory into practice with diligent, patient and persistent effort.
2. LIVE ON PURPOSE
“What human beings can be, they must be.” – Abraham Maslow
Purpose and mission, says Brian, are two different things.
Consider the 6 core virtues to which all religious and philosophical traditions return:
Wisdom – the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement;
Justice – the quality of being fair and reasonable;
Love – the quality of exhibiting deep compassion and concern for others;
Temperance – the ability to discipline and sublimate mind and body; and
Spirituality – the quality of seeing beyond material or physical forms.
Your purpose is to live by those principles – to live with areté, to express your best self in each moment.
How? Use this 3 step drill whenever you need to return to true north:
Breathe in deep to a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 6. (→ pause-and-plan)
Ask: what would the wisest, most just, most courageous, most loving, most temperate and most spiritual version of myself do in this moment?
Now, do it, whether you feel like it or not.
That is areté. That is your purpose. It’s the same for me, as it is for you, as it is for everyone else on the Earth.
And yet, each of our missions is different. Your mission is the unique contribution you’ll make and roles that you’ll play in your life. To discover it, ask yourself:
What are the unique gifts and strengths life has gifted you?
How will you pay those gifts forward in the greatest quantity and quality you are able?
How will you serve your family, community and the world?
What does that mean to you right now?
Those aren’t easy questions. But a good place to start is to…
3. DEVELOP SELF-AWARENESS
“Know thyself.” – Socrates
Self-awareness comes on two levels:
MICRO AWARENESS – Who are you in this moment? What sensations, emotions and thoughts are you experiencing? What’s working for you right now? What isn’t? and
MACRO AWARENESS – Who are you more generally? What are your values and strengths? What do you want to do with your life? What must you do?
We’ll talk about micro awareness later. For now, let’s look at the bigger picture.
It can feel daunting to work out your mission, to uncover your values and strengths. But, like anything, all it takes is persistent effort and practice. Here are 3 ways to get started:
TAKE A SURVEY – Take a survey to identify your signature strengths. How could you integrate and exercise them consistently? Can you do so in service to something greater than yourself?
START WITH THE END IN MIND – Ask:
What would your 110-year-old-self say to you about the course you are on? Listen to them. They are wiser than you know.
What would your life look like in +10 and +25 years if you kept working with diligence, patience and persistence? Is that outcome what you want?
How would you want your friends, family and community to remember you at your funeral? Who would you want people to say you were? What would you want people to say you contributed?
NURTURE YOUR DREAMS – What excites you? What most inspires you? Remember Teflon and velcro? Incubate your early ideas. Give them a chance at life. Listen to the angel, not the devil on your shoulder.
To develop macro awareness, take time to plan, draft, reflect on and develop these ideas. They are the foundation of your entire existence.
The most important product of macro self-awareness is a sense of authenticity. Success in anything needs hard, diligent, patient and persistent effort. What are you passionate about? What will you put that level of dedication into?
“Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way towards a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.” – Tal Ben-Shahar
Productive people have goals. But happy people manage the gap between their goals and reality well.
Here are 10 principles to help you stay happy and effective:
SET GOALS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY – The pursuit of happiness is the only reason we do anything. Be mindful what kind of goals you set. Always do things that lead to happiness.
SET INTRINSIC GOALS – Extrinsic goals ask how can I have? Intrinsic goals ask how can I be? Set the latter and not only will you be happier but the former will take care of themselves.
BE EXCITED FOR THE FUTURE AND THE PRESENT – Happy people are excited for the future but not dependent on it. They know that everything they need to be happy is with them already in each present moment.
EMBRACE DYNAMIC TENSION – Dynamic tension creates an elastic energy between reality and ideals. Create it. Explore it. Embrace it. Tension is the engine of progress.
STRETCH BUT DON’T SNAP – Goals with 1% success rates puts us in an unhappy panic zone. Instead, set 7 incremental goals with a 50/50 chance of success – same outcome, happier process, guaranteed.
ORIENT ON OUTCOME, ACT ON PROCESS – Know where you’re heading? Great. Now focus on the daily, weekly and monthly actions that take you closer to it. Watch your feet, look up occasionally to correct your course and reaching the peak will take care of itself.
ANTICIPATE CHALLENGES – Actively surface and reflect on likely challenges when planning. You’ll be prepared for them when they appear and less likely to give up as a result. True confidence is knowing you can achieve a goal and being prepared for expected and unexpected setbacks.
GET INTO FLOW – Flow is the optimal state of human experience. It arises when our skills and a challenge are perfectly balanced. To engineer it, tinker with dynamic tension. Find the sweet spot between boredom and burden.
APPEAL TO YOUR STRENGTHS – Identify your strengths. Now make exercising them a goal. Actively appeal to your strengths and your goals will actively appeal to you.
REMEMBER ARETÉ – Your purpose is your highest goal. Use it whenever you need to come back to centre. Choose your most empowered response. Close the gap between what you are and what you are capable of being right now.
5. TAKE ACTION
“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself” – Leonardo da Vinci
To fuel this foundry, to overcome instinct, to break and make habits, you must exert willpower. You must do what is needed, when needed, whether you feel like it or not.
How? This queen of all virtues is a muscle. You can train it, you can fuel it and you can exhaust it. Here are 10 secrets to mastering it:
BREATHE – Breathe in deep to a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 6. Repeat 5 times. Now act. Sound familiar? It should. Connecting with your breath turns fight-or-flight into pause-and-plan. It’s the most robust way to boost willpower in the moment.
MEDITATE – Start with 1 minute a day, then work your way up to 10 minutes or more. Consistency is more vital than quantity. Meditation cultivates willpower through attention. It trains you to repeatedly refocus on an anchor. It puts you in control of your mind.
EAT – Notice and boost flagging energy with a healthy snack. Willpower needs glucose. Fuel it like you’d fuel a workout.
PRACTICE – Willpower generalises. Take on small, simple challenges like exercising, taking a cold shower or making your bed. Beating them will boost willpower more widely.
ADD STRUCTURE – Do the same things, at ~the same times for ~the same length of time. Put your alarm on the other side of the room. Lay your clothes out in advance. Make it easy to do what you must. These tricks reduce the need for willpower and turn actions into habits, fast.
COMMIT 100% – Create bright lines. Full commitments are easier to enforce than 99% commitments. Willpower is hard enough without thinking.
TIDY UP – Clean and order your action space. Experiments show it’s easier to exert willpower in a tidy environment than a messy one.
REMOVE TEMPTATION – Block time-sink websites. Mute notifications. Quit social media. Don’t waste willpower resisting what you can easily abolish. (This point isn’t a Brian original but it’s so important I couldn’t leave it out. I combined his original 7 and 9 to make space.)
BE NICE TO YOURSELF – You are not going to be the first perfect person on the planet. Self-loathing and criticism diminish willpower. Hold yourself to high standards but allow yourself to fail.
Willpower is the engine of consistent action. And conscious, consistent action is the essence of areté. Here are 10 ways to build your action muscles:
MAKE IT A GAME – Have fun, embrace challenge and aim for a daily high-score. Every moment lets you step forward into growth (+1) or backward into safety (-1). Pay attention to your choices from moment to moment. Total your +1s and -1s. How many points will you finish today with?
BE AN OPTIMALIST – Make perfection a guiding star to live by (optimalism), not a distant shore to aim for (perfectionism). Embrace and learn from setbacks. But embrace and appreciate success also. Embrace awesome days and positive emotions. But embrace off-days and negative emotions too. Live with areté. You can do nothing more.
FAIL MORE – In every setback lies a seed of equal or greater opportunity. An expert is just someone who has made every mistake in a narrow field of expertise. Have a shot. Apologise if you miss. Ask for another go. A mistake is just a miss-take. How many takes do you think go into making the perfect Hollywood blockbuster?
BE FUNDAMENTALLY CONSISTENT – Pianists must learn to play scales. Tennis players must learn to hold rackets. Skyscrapers must rise from firm and deep foundations. What are the foundations of your life? Of your mission? Identify them and then nail them. Your greatness is limited by your consistency on your fundamentals.
ASK POWER QUESTIONS TO REFOCUS – Recenter yourself with these power questions:
Now what needs to be done? What one thing are you doing or what one thing needs to be done right now? Forget everything else and just do it.
How could I make myself proud? You won’t always feel on but you always have the ability to create meaning in your life by taking effective action.
What would the highest version myself do? Now do it.
PERSIST – There is no greatness gene. The secret to greatness in anything is intense, diligent, consistent, persistent and compounding effort. Quitters never win and winners never quit.
FOCUS – There is no such thing as multitasking, so don’t try to do it. Instead, when you feel overwhelmed, just pick one thing. Ask: now what needs to be done?
IF IT TAKES LESS THAN 2 MINUTES, DO IT NOW – Does what it says on the tin, for more see David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
COMMIT, RECOMMIT + COMPLETE – Do everything you commit to and commit only to things you will do. Recommit firmly when you lose inspiration and make a game of honouring your commitments as quickly as possible. You’ll unlock an amazing dynamic of trust with the people around you.
IDENTIFY YOUR FOCAL POINT – What is the one thing that you can start/stop doing in your life that will have the most positive impact on your life? Whenever you feel overwhelmed or lost, come back to this question and its answer. Turn inwards and the blur that is outwards will stop.
There you have it, the secrets of willpower and action. But don’t forget, the ultimate goal is a sense of meaning, of flourishing and of wellbeing.
However hectic things get, every moment gives you an opportunity to come back to the present moment. And all you need to be happy is now.
6. GATHER ENERGY
“Exercise balances neurotransmitters – along with the rest of the neurochemicals in the brain… keeping your brain in balance can change your life.” – John Ratey, M.D.
If you have a hard time getting out of bed, you’ll have a hard time living to your potential.
Here are Brian’s tips on gathering the most energy from exercise, nutrition and rest.
To benefit, exercise for 45 minutes at moderate intensity at least 3 times per week. For extra points, build more movement into your day. Park further away, use the stairs, go for a walking meeting or shake out your body when you can.
The most important thing is to get started. After that consistency is key. Intensity is great, but the goal of each session is to show up to and finish the next one.
We already know a surprising amount about nutrition. The secret here is turning common sense into common practice. In particular:
BUY MORE WHOLE FOODS – Increase the number of single-ingredient items in your diet. That means more whole grains, greens, vegetables and one-ingredient items.
CROWD OUT THEN ELIMINATE – First, fill your house and your body with good stuff. Then eliminate the sugars, dairy, boxed and processed items from your home and your diet.
Don’t waste your willpower resisting treats. Remove them from your home and replace them with healthy snacks. Result? You’ll have nothing to wear down your discipline.
Your problem is probably not that you’re working too hard. Your problem is you’re not recovering enough.
To fell a big tree, you must stop, rest and sharpen your saw. The same is true of life, so:
SHARPEN YOUR SAW – Make time for exercise, meditation, rest and nutrition. Every minute you invest in each will give you ten times as much productivity in return.
SLEEP – Less sleep doesn’t make you hardcore, it makes you tired. Obey your circadian rhythms, sleep and rise early and aim for at least 8 hours each night.
NAP – All animals nap. And for good reason, because naps rock. Even 20 minutes will give you a huge boost that will set you up for success without impacting your sleep.
REST ACTIVELY – When you rest, rest. Breathe, feel grounded, hang out in person with friends or enjoy nature. Don’t confuse active rest with distraction.
7. WELCOME WISDOM
“As an irrigator guides water to his fields, as an archer aims an arrow, as a carpenter carves wood, the wise shape their lives.” – Buddha
Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. And philosophy is literally the love of that wisdom. It’s the preoccupation with living the best life you can. It’s the theory at the core of areté.
But welcoming wisdom in your life means more than just learning and talking. It means constantly pushing and practising. Sound difficult? Here are 10 tips from Brian to get started:
BECOME A PHILOSOPHER – The first step to welcoming wisdom is to decide to become a philosopher. If you love wisdom, you’re in the gang. Entry is as simple as that.
PURSUE HAPPINESS – Jefferson’s “Pursuit of happiness” translates today not as “Chasing” but as “Practice”. To practice philosophy, practice happiness as you would any skill. Learn, try, fail, adjust and repeat. Live with areté. There is no other way.
CARPE PUNCTUM – To seize the day, seize the moment – that’s where our power is. If you show up for enough moments, the days, weeks and months will surely follow.
BE FLEXIBLE – Find a balance between structure and spontaneity. When you feel off, check in to see where you lie. Happy people combine structure with mental and emotional flexibility.
DEVELOP ANTI-FRAGILITY – Don’t just be robust in the face of challenges, feed on them. Our ultimate potential is outside of our comfort zone. Welcome anything that puts us there as an opportunity to challenge and express yourself fully.
TAKE THE HIGHS WITH THE LOWS – Embrace the cyclic nature of life. Sometimes we’re on. Sometimes we’re off. Philosophy lets us navigate the highest path through our lows and find the most authentic version of our highs.
FILL YOUR EMOTIONAL GAS TANKS – When your car runs low on gas, you don’t take it personally. The same should be true of emotions. When you’re off, pick an activity that nourishes your soul. Hang out with friends, listen to music, workout, walk in nature. When you’re empty, fill up.
STOP THE SPIN CYCLE – When you’re spinning out of control, break the cycle of thoughts and emotions. Don’t ruminate on negative thoughts, they’ll just feed and encourage themselves. Instead, noticed acknowledge, breathe and act.
DON’T MISTAKE GUIDING STARS FOR DISTANT SHORES – You are not going to be the first perfect human. Use your ideals as a way to navigate through life but don’t expect to reach them. Don’t give yourself a hard time when you fall short.
USE THE 12 RULES OF HAPPINESS – Here are 12 scientifically proven ways to boost happiness from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s How of Happiness:
Avoid over-thinking and social comparison
Practice acts of kindness
Nurture social relationships
Develop strategies for coping
Learn to forgive
Increase flow experiences
Savour life’s joy
Commit to your goals
Take good care of your body
8. FIND COURAGE
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliot
Fear is the nemesis of action. To conquer it, try one or more of the 10 steps below:
CHOOSE COURAGE – To find courage, choose it. Courage is the heartbeat of areté. It puts theory into action. It vitalises the other virtues.
REMEMBER YOU ARE NOT ALONE – Even the best performers in the world get nervous. But their goal is not to get rid of them – nerves give them the energy and vitality to perform. Instead, accept it, know you’re not alone. Channel that energy into what needs to get done.
EMBRACE FEAR – Treat fear with respect without letting it overwhelm you. Caution helps us find Aristotle’s golden mean – the perfect balance between cowardice and recklessness.
BE WILLING TO FAIL – Develop a growth mindset. Remember there is no such thing as failure only feedback. The greatest performers are those who have learned the most. The only way to learn is through failure.
STRETCH DON’T SNAP – Keep fear in check by stringing small steps together. Remember, seven 50/50 steps have the same outcome as that 1% goal.
MOVE FORWARDS – So long as you are moving forward, toward your challenges, you have power. Fear only finds us when we look backwards or downwards.
TRUST YOURSELF – Thinking is for training. When it’s time to perform, let rip fearlessly. Stress is an incredibly powerful motivator. Eat it like it’s an energy bar. Learn to manage it rather than restraining it. Get out of your head and trust your instincts and practice.
BREATHE. In for 4 seconds. Out for 6. Repeating this exercise three times is enough to slow down your heart-rate, thoughts and energy. Connect with your breath, come back to pause-and-plan. Channel your energy in a positive direction.
EXPECT THE BEST – Fear and excitement are the same energy. The difference is expectations. To shift from one to the other, play devil’s advocate to negativity. What is the best possible outcome you could experience? At the very least you’ll come out with a good story and a valuable life lesson.
REVERSE YOUR DESIRE – We fear what lies outside of our comfort zone. But that’s also where growth exists. So don’t see fear as something to be avoided. See it as a clue that leads you in the direction of growth and experience. Get excited when you feel it. Move towards it. Because all your potential lies on the other side.
To conquer your fear in 30 seconds, try the following foolproof process:
Breathe in for 4 seconds and out for 6. As you do, say, “Bring it on!”. Reverse your desire.
Again, in for 4 seconds and out for 6. This time, ask, “What is the best imaginable outcome?”. Shift your expectations.
One last time, in for 4 and out for 6. Combine steps one and two. Bring on the best outcome imaginable.
Next time you’re afraid, experiment with this process. Practice it. Face the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.
9. EMBRACE LOVE
“Love is our highest word and the synonym for God” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost all of your happiness will be defined by the relationships that matter most to you. Without love, none of the rest of this matters.
The good news is that love is a skill like any other – you can master it with study and practice. To start, keep the 10 points below close to your heart:
LIVE THE GOLDEN RULE – Treat others as you’d like to be treated. There’s a reason a version of this rule is central to all cultures and all religions through time.
LEARN THE PLATINUM RULE – Treat yourself as you would treat other people. You cannot give what you do not have. Only from a place of love and compassion for ourselves are we able to give love and compassion to others.
AIM FOR A 5 TO 1 RATIO – Remember, we are Teflon for positive and velcro for negative. To overcome this, outweigh each negative interaction with at least five positive interactions. Doing so creates healthy and thriving relationships.
APPRECIATE OTHERS – “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” – How can you appreciate the people around you more? Doing so is the best way to nourish them.
DO GOOD DEEDS – Studies show that kind acts release serotonin in you, the person you help and anybody watching. Paying it forward, pays it forward in more ways than you could possibly imagine.
STOP COMPARING YOURSELF – Think about the things you admire and appreciate in others, not the ways in which you compare to them. It will make you a happier, healthier and more likeable person.
EAT AND SLEEP – You’re at your feistiest when we’re tired and hungry. Keep an eye on your energy levels and notice when you’re flagging. The quickest way to avoid many problems is as simple as snacking or a napping.
RECOGNISE YOUR FLAWS FIRST – You find frustrating in others what you most need to work on yourself. When something annoys you, ask “How am I that?”. Recognising your own flaws first will make you kinder, more patient and more compassionate.
GIVE WHAT YOU WANT – To get happiness, give happiness. To get appreciation, be appreciative. To make money, be charitable. Make a game of giving first whatever it is you want to get. You may be surprised at the results.
GIVE YOUR GREATEST GIFTS IN GREATEST SERVICE TO THE WORLD – Approach work as love made visible. Ask yourself what your greatest strengths and passions are. Commit yourself to giving it to your family, community and world in the greatest quantity and quality you are able.
10. SEEK EN*THEOS
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world need is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
In Greek: En = Within, Theos = God, used loosely here as a higher force; a sense of something greater. EN*THEOS is at the circumference and the centre of all the ideas above. It means living in integrity with the 6 core virtues. It releases a radiant enthusiasm within you. It connects you to something more.
Likewise, the 10 points below are a synthesis and a summary of the most important aspects of Brian’s Optimal Living 101. They are the heart and the soul of areté:
MAKE LIFE A GAME – When you play a game, do challenges depress you or excite you? The same is true of life. Make it a game and you will have more joy, more enthusiasm and more success than you can imagine. Challenge yourself each moment to step forward into growth. Set a high-score of +1s for the day.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH – Connect with your breath as often as you can. It alters your physiology, it shapes your thoughts, it builds courage, willpower and creates a gap between stimulus and response. Breathe deep. Find the gap. Choose your most empowering response. Do it again, and again and live in integrity with areté.
EXERCISE – Make movement a critical fundamental in your life. Investments in exercise will return to you 10 fold in greater energy and creativity. As a pillar of your existence, it is too fundamental to ignore.
TRAIN YOUR ATTENTION – To seize each moment, practice meditation and optimism every day. Learn to put your mind where you want, when you want for how long you want. Every challenge, every headwind is an opportunity to get stronger. Every gap is a chance to step between stimulus and response.
BE GRATEFUL – Be grateful as often as you can remember. It took millions of people to just get you into the world. It takes millions more to deliver even the humblest of conveniences. When you live from a place of gratitude, it’s impossible to be depressed.
START FROM THE INSIDE-OUT – Fight the tendency of society to focus on and celebrate the shallows. Instead, focus on personal growth, deep relationships and the contributions you can make to your family, community and the world. If fame, wealth and fortune are on the cards, they will come as a natural result.
MOVE FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE – Show, don’t tell. Theory is the easy part of philosophy. The advanced work is in the long and steady application of its principles.
FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS – What are your fundamentals? What are the foundations on which everything is built? Focus on them. Get them right. Greatness is about consistency on the basics.
PICK YOUR NUMBER ONES – What one thing would make the biggest positive improvement to your life if you started or stopped doing it now? Make a 100% commitment to it. Focus on it. Act on it. Persist until it becomes a reality.
REMEMBER YOUR PURPOSE – Live with areté. Express the best current version of yourself in every moment. That is your compass. That is your surest path to flourishing.
There you have it, Optimal Living 101– the class on “how to live” that every school’s missing. If you’re not as excited about Brian as I am, that’s my fault, because you should be.
But now you’ve had a glimpse of his way, it’s time to come up with your way. It’s time to write your own book, to be the author of your own existence, to choose to live an authentic, integrated and virtuous life.
But most importantly, it’s time to take action. You can’t change everything, but you can always start with something. Pick just one of the points you read here today. Make a plan to make it part of your life.
Take action now. Live with areté. Express the best version of yourself you can in every moment. Do this and, as moments become minutes become months, all else will follow, from joy to fulfilment to success.
What one point above resonated most with you today?
For now, let’s dig into the principles at the source of Hill’s how-to goodness. Let’s look at mastering the conscious and subconscious minds.
MASTERING THE MIND
The subconscious mind is the seat of creativity and a tireless servant of the body. Normally, the subconscious is busy keeping us alive and fulfilling ‘basic’ needs. But it is possible to consciously tap into the subconscious mind – to direct it and use it to achieve any aim. This principle, its application and its rewards are at the heart of Think and Grow Rich.
The main bottleneck between the conscious and subconscious is communication. Conscious-subconscious communication is constant. But success lies in developing this dialogue actively in both directions. First, the conscious must use autosuggestion to engage the subconscious and direct it in a language it understands. Then, the conscious must learn to step back, listen and support the subconscious as it works.
ENGAGING THE SUBCONSCIOUS
To engage our subconscious, we must learn to use strong emotional states to soften and make it suggestible. To master those states we must first learn to create them or hijack them.
One way to create strong emotional states (i.e., passion) is to consciously trigger strong emotions (e.g., happiness, faith, fear). It doesn’t matter if the trigger is external (e.g., events, images, objects, music) or internal (e.g., memories, affirmation, prayer, visualisation). You just need to know what they are and how to find them. For example, to foster happiness, you might talk with a person you like. To foster faith, you might repeat affirmations (“I can do it, I can do it, I can do it”) until conviction (“I can do it”) becomes emotion (i.e., belief).
We can also create emotional states without emotional triggers. We do this by altering our physical state and letting the emotional state follow. Common physical triggers include meditation, fasting, fatigue, stress, alcohol and drugs. The catch? Such triggers can be harmful and their states rarely stay neutral for long. Without mastery, loss of control is common and can come at a catastrophic cost that is not always ours alone to pay.
HIJACKING EMOTIONAL STATES
How can we master strong emotional states once they’ve arisen? The answer is in learning to hijack them through substitution and sublimation.
The first way to hijack existing emotional states is substitution. In substitution, we maintain an emotional state’s brightness while we alter its colour at will. How? By focussing intently on triggers that elicit a different, desired response. For example, we can parry passionate anger with a focus on objects of love. Substitution is most effective when a new emotion subverts the source of an old one (e.g., by smothering a cycle of hatred). It can otherwise verge on suppression, which is a draining and unsustainable coping strategy.
The second way to hijack existing emotional states is sublimation. In sublimation we maintain brightness and colour but alter the focus of action. With practice, we can learn to channel any emotion – from sex and desire to anger – into any action – from work and athletics to art. Like substitution, sublimation requires mastery of focus. First, we must override an emotion’s tendency to preserve and to focus on itself. Next, we must direct that energy externally. Finally, we must learn to refresh that energy by shifting repeatedly between trigger and target.
Substitution and sublimation are especially effective together.An emotion’s nature subtly yet fundamentally alters the nature of perception and action. That’s why negative emotions, though powerful, tend to have negative effects on ourselves and the world around us. The most effective short-term approach to negative emotions is to substitutethensublimate. Doing so lets us consistently channel positive emotions into constructive outcomes.
Mastering creation, substitution and sublimation is the essence of emotional mastery. And emotional mastery is critical because it allows us to soften the subconscious and make it suggestible at will.
Why is that important? Because with the subconscious softened and suggestible, it’s time to deliver a message.
DIRECTING THE SUBCONSCIOUS
We use visualisation to talk to the subconscious in a language it understands – sensation. Visualisation means imagining events and outcomes so realistically that we can feel them. Think hallucinations, mirages and lucid dreaming. That’s the realism we’re aiming for.
Though visualisation is a common technique in meditation and performance psychology, most of us are surprisingly bad at it. The good news is we can all improve, quickly, with practice, practice, practice.
AN EXERCISE IN VISUALISATION
Go somewhere quiet, close your eyes, set a timer for one minute. Imagine a place you know well that is filled with fond memories. Don’t push yourself too hard, let the space materialise and expand in your mind. As it does, explore it, walk around it, notice the objects in their places, look at the area from different places and angles.
Was the exercise easy or difficult? Did you force the visualisation or let it unfold on its own? What did you see? What did you feel?
Perhaps that was tough. Perhaps all you got was a rough sensation. Perhaps one minute felt like a long time to stay focused. But practise this every day I promise you your visualisation will become clearer, richer and deeper. You’ll begin filling in details, seeing colours and patterns, remembering textures and sensations. As your focus improves you’ll be able to maintain that visualisation for longer and longer.
VISUALISING ABSTRACT CONCEPTS
The keys to visualisation are clarity, detail, and repetition. But that’s harder for abstract or imagined concepts like goals and objectives. One way to overcome this is to fix a clear description of those outcomes in writing. This process is not about the words. It’s about the images and sensations those words create. It’s about making those sensations repeatable.
When a talented author writes, the words disappear. You see places and characters, you hear them, you sense them, you feel them. That’s the outcome you want when you write down and visualise a goal, you want specificity, clarity and consistency. When you read the words aloud, you want to see their outcome, to touch it, to feel it. Feel your desire for that goal heighten your emotional state. Repeat the process again and again until you brand the image in your subconscious.
When you read Hill’s central six-step processes yourself, you’ll see he hits all of these points. He asks us to write a clear vision of exactly what wealth we want to acquire. He asks us to see and feel ourselves in possession of the money, to run the bills over our fingers, to smell the notes in our hands. He asks us to create a strong emotional state by building an intense and burning desire. THAT is visualisation, that is the route to our subconscious.
ENGAGEMENT + DIRECTION = AUTOSUGGESTION
Combining visualisation with emotional states primes us. It puts the subconscious to work. It directs a subconscious that sees and acts with a subtlety our conscious mind can’t emulate. A subconscious that thinks in a way that’s non-linear and creative. A subconscious that works on our problems 24/7, even as we sleep. This combination of emotional mastery and visualisation is the essence of autosuggestion.
But substitute our subconscious mind with the subconscious minds of other people and it’s also the essence of persuasion. Substitute our subconscious mind with an organisation and our conscious mind with its leader and it’s also the essence of leadership.
Think about it. Why are some advertisers, organisations and leaders so effective? Because they know how to manipulate, substitute and sublimate emotions. Because they know how to plant ideas in our minds that get us working on tasks of their choosing.
This half-humbling, half-liberating insight is at the heart of Think and Grow Rich‘s power.
SETTING THE SUBCONSCIOUS UP FOR SUCCESS
So with the subconscious engaged and directed, what’s next? The answer, explains Hill is to get out of its way and support it.
There are seven ways the conscious mind can set the subconscious up for success:
STEPPING BACK – Stepping back from the pointless chatter of the mind lets us work on our problems rather than in them. It gives the subconscious time and space to work. It lets us intervene judiciously, without being sucked into the chaos. It’s also essential for…
LISTENING – The subconscious tells the conscious what it needs and thinks with emotion and inspiration. To understand what it’s saying we must listen.
To listen to emotion, listen to your body. What is that tension, heaviness or lightness telling you? Now address it, don’t suppress it. If your thoughts and emotions are in conflict, your emotions are usually right.
To listen to inspiration, be quiet and be patient. Respect and record “Aha!” moments. Recreate the conditions that create them. They are gifts from your subconscious and an important ingredient in…
PROBLEM-SOLVING – The conscious mind is excellent at organising and re-organising information in sequences and stories. It’s especially well suited to working with timing and relationships in activities like planning. One of the most important problems we use the conscious mind to solve is…
LEARNING – The conscious and subconscious both use and are bounded by knowledge. The subconscious learns effectively from sensation and emotion. The conscious gathers information coded in language and stored in stories and facts. This second type of knowledge is essential. It lets us learn vicariously, transcending the boundaries of personal experience.
TRAINING – “We are what we repeatedly do” and the subconscious repeatedly does what is habit. The conscious breaks habits by repeatedly intervening in the gap between stimulus and response until a new pattern is trained. This intervention takes self-awareness, imagination and will-power. For more, try these crunches on The Power of Habit or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
REASSURING – Of all the negative emotions, none rules our subconscious like fear. According to Hill, we mainly fear poverty, criticism, ill-health, loss of love, old age and death. The conscious mind reassures the subconscious, conquering fear through acceptance, belief and action: “‘Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
PROTECTING – Our conscious constantly competes for emotional and subconscious control. Some external influencers are positive, others negative. To protect the subconscious, the conscious mind must understand when and how the subconscious becomes vulnerable. To protect its control, it must then counter negative influences and eliminate their sources from the environment.
By far the most important point in this list is the first. Supporting our subconscious starts with listening. Listening to our subconscious starts with stepping back. You may find that difficult. You may not even know what that feels like. Don’t worry. Learning when and how to step back is a lifetime of work in itself. For more, I’d strongly recommend starting with Headspace or The Power of Now.
For everything else, there is more than enough to get started with in Hill’s multitude of step-by-step guides, checklists and inventories…
Think and Grow Rich is the best selling non-fiction book of all time because, “people buy titles, and not the contents of books”. In Hill’s own words: “The major reason why I wrote this book on how to get money is the fact that the world has but lately passed through an experience that left millions of men and women paralysed with the fear of poverty.”
Fortunately, Think and Grow Rich delivers on both title and contents. Its methods are clear, simple and directed at financial gain. And yet, with a grasp of the principles underneath they can be easily applied to any outcome we choose.
Hill’s full approach to financial success can be summarised in 10 steps:
Decide on a definite purpose. Write down exactly how much money you want, by when. Make it clear, specific and tangible.
Embed it in your subconscious. Visualise this goal twice daily as if it were already a reality. Fan the flames of a burning desire to acquire it.
Have faith. Develop self-confidence, eliminate fear and trust in your ability to get what you want by applying the principles above.
Make a plan. Write a plan of action, get started right away (whether you feel ready or not) and develop your plan over time.
Learn what you need. Identify the specific knowledge you need to make your plan a success. Learn it yourself or surround yourself with people who have it.
Gather support. Put together a Master Mind group of like-minded people to sympathise, cooperate and share knowledge with.
Get help from others. Meet with your Master Mind group often and maintain perfect harmony within it.
Set your subconscious up for success. Step back, listen, support and guard your subconscious as it works.
Work on your character. Develop self-control, focus and a character and habits that align naturally with your desired outcome.
Never give up. There is no such thing as failure. Look for the opportunity in every setback and remember: “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
The book is detailed and directive on each of these points. I wouldn’t have much to add or remove beyond copying and pasting Hill’s own writing here.
Instead of that, I’d suggest checking out Hill’s original text over at PsiTek as linked to in the relevant sections below. The how-to and introspection resources and the 8 Causes of Persistence are particularly worthwhile reviewing.
You’ve tried positive thinking, but without positive results.
The idea of a life filled with meaning and service excites you.
Selling millions of copies since 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is among the most influential personal development books of all time. And though it would be easy to mistake for just-another-collection of life-hacks – it’s not. The 7 Habits is a perennial masterpiece on leading a happy, productive and purposeful existence. It’s a full-featured manual for life.
The good news? As full-featured manuals go, it’s astoundingly easy to read. Stephen Covey was a preacher, professor, doctor of religious education, Harvard MBA, entrepreneur and leadership coach – collecting scores of clients across countless seminars and engagements. These diverse experiences are essential to his ability to teach with coherence and clarity.
That said, The 7 Habits is not an ‘easy-read’. The book is densely seamed with concepts and frameworks. Its chapters brim with mind-opening, perspective-tilting principles. And there’s no avoiding the chest-clenching, ground-shifting challenges Covey constantly issues to search within, reflect deeply and make basic changes to your life.
Fortunately, those challenges are peppered with practical pointers. And Covey brings warmth and wit to his wisdom with rich profiles from his personal and professional pasts. As well as the roles above, Stephen and Anne Covey raised 9 children; one of whom one penned the book’s rhapsodic preface and thanks to whom he once earned a national award for fatherhood. The result is a handbook that never fails to connect or to charm as it carries its contents to term.
The short story is thus: Covey’s 7 Habits is among the most impactful and practical books I’ve yet read. If you haven’t read it, read it. If you have read it, consider reading it again. Whether you’ve figured it all out already or you know you have changes to make, this book is an unmissable stop for any pilgrim of personal improvement.
MATURITY AND THE CHARACTER ETHIC
Covey developed his 7 Habits in response to the progressively popular cult of ‘Personality Ethic’: a philosophy, he proclaims, that promises fool’s-change from the outside in; a false-messiah of faking it, without making it; a siren’s call to those who would have without being or doing.
The alternative? A philosophy of ‘Character Ethic’: a philosophy that champions change from the inside out; an approach that starts with identifying universal principles; a method of choosing values that align with those principles; and a way to put those values and a definite purpose at the heart of our habits, actions and reactions.
A central theme in Covey’s philosophy is one of maturation.At any time, we are somewhere between dependence (relying on others), independence (relying on ourselves) and interdependence (collaborating with others to achieve more than we can alone). What’s more, this maturity takes placein five areas: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and financial (a helpful extension of the physical).
The catch? There’s no skipping from dependence to interdependence. Dependence means working with others because we need them. Interdependence means working with others because we choose to. We may be financially and physically independent, but if our emotional wellbeing still hangs on factors and people beyond our control we will always work with one eye on ourselves. That is what holds us back from the full power of creative collaboration. That is why independence comes first.
Covey’s ultimate goal in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to help us mature in each of these areas. Only then, he argues, can we supplant basic needs with self-actualisation. Only then can we supersede self-actualisation with self-transcendence. Only then can we reach our potential as fully functional members of an interdependent society.
THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE
In line with this aim, the book’s 7 habits are structured in 3 parts:
The rewards of Habits 1 – 3 are the tools of independence. From self-knowledge comes awareness and proactivity. From principles come wisdom and conscience. From faith in our values and our purpose, we draw clarity, confidence and power. Through effectiveness and efficiency, we lay the foundations to stand on our own.
HABIT 1: BE PROACTIVE
“There is a gap between stimulus and response and the key to both our growth and happiness is how we use that space.”
If Habits 1 – 3 are about achieving independence and private victory, Habit 1 is about taking full ownership of that victory. It says you are the architect of your life.
At its core are the following principles:
After each stimulus (a sensation, emotion or thought) comes a response (more sensation, emotion or thought – including intentions to act).
By default, our response is determined by instinct, memory and habit; but
Before each response comes a gap in which the conscious mind can intervene.
What we do with this gap determines the ownership that we take of our lives and the ownership we take of our lives ultimately dictates our growth and happiness.
Why? The answer lies in our choice to live in our Circles of Influence or our Circles of Concern.
CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE VS. CIRCLES OF CONCERN
“God grant us the serenity to accept things we cannot change, the courage to change things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Alcoholics Anonymous
Our Circle of Influence contains everything in life we can change. Our Circle of Concern contains everything in life we cannot.
Things in our Circle of Influence include:
Our directactions and reactions to the world around us; and
Our indirectactions through influencing others.
Things in our Circle of Concern include:
Immediate consequence; and
The actions of most other people.
Our Circle of Concern is important to be aware of but miserable to live in. It’s where time, energy and striving dash themselves on things we can’t change. It uses language like “I can’t”, “I have to” and “if only”.
Our Circle of Influence is a realm of proactive and productive will. It’s smaller than our Circle of Concern but it’s where we focus on what we can do, now and how – no matter how limited or trivial those things seem. It’s a world that uses language like “I can”, “I will” and “I prefer”.
We spend time in and grow our Circle of Influence in two ways:
Subjectively – by always refocussing on the things we control; and
Objectively – by improving our ability to directly (Habits 1 – 3) and indirectly (Habits 4 – 6) control the world around us.
Covey’s advice on our Circle of Concern is clear: if something results from an error you’ve made – acknowledge it, correct it, learn from it and move on. Otherwise develop the habit of eliminating, ignoring or accepting what you cannot control. Refocus your attention on the things that you can.
THE FOUR BASIC HUMAN ENDOWMENTS
But how? If taking ownership and being proactive is so easy, why can moving forward feel so hard?
The bad news? Intervening in the gap between stimulus and response is hard. It calls heavily on our four basic human endowments:
Self-awareness – the ability to see the gap; to perceive and evaluate our own behaviour.
Imagination – the ability to fill the gap; to envision futures that differ from the one dictated by habit.
Conscience – the ability to weigh the vision; to sense what is right from what is wrong.
Independent-will – the ability to choose our response; to make principles work for us or against us.
The good news? Ownership is a habit that anyone can develop. And there’s no better way to begin than to…
HABIT 2: START WITH THE END IN MIND
“If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”
Where Habit 1 tells us we are the architects of our lives, Habit 2 tells us What to build with that ownership and Why.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
At the heart of personal productivity are efficiency and effectiveness:
Efficiency is doing things right (we’ll come to it in Habit 3); meanwhile
Effectiveness is doing the right thing (the focus of this habit, Habit 2).
Being effectiveis hard because it demands maturity from four different factors:
Guidance – clarity of direction and purpose; the ability to choose a definite desired outcome.
Wisdom – perspective, understanding and judgement; the ability to chart the best course toward that outcome.
Power – the capacity to act and energy to take the first step on the course we have set.
Security – the stability and anchorage of self-worth to keep onward in the face of upheaval and change.
What use are guidance, wisdom and power if we lack the internal-security to act when a course undermines our self-worth?
What use are wisdom, strength and security if the ladder we are climbing (guidance) leans against the wrong wall entirely?
We’ll cover Power in Habit 7 (self-renewal). For now, let’s take a closer look at Guidance, Wisdom and Strength.
WHEN FOCUSSED ≠ CENTRED
Take a look at the following list of common life-centres: family, money, work, possessions, sex, status, pleasure, friends, enemies, community, self.
Which absorb most of your energy and time? Which guide your priorities and actions? Where do you get most of your self-worth?
Focussing on any of these centres, argues Covey, undermines our effectiveness in three ways:
Myopia – neglect of some centres through fixation on others;
Misalignment – trade-offs at odds with our principles and values; and
Instability – security and self-worth based on factors outside our Circle of Influence.
The solution? The path to effectiveness starts with a focus on principles.
THE RULES OF LIFE
Principles, explains Covey, are like gravity; they are natural laws that ultimately govern the outcomes of actions. For example:
Unfairness, dishonesty and selfishness always cause disunity and distrust;
Apathy and laziness always cause stagnation and decay; and
Arrogance always causes dislike and error
Sure, you may get away with unfairness, arrogance or apathy for a while. But in the long run, the outcomes above are inevitable. That is what makes these statements principles. That is why the bad guys always lose.
Rather than focus on some centres, argues Covey, we should focus on the principles that underlie all of them. Doing so dramatically increases our effectiveness. It puts us squarely in our Circle of Influence and sets up stable bases for guidance, wisdom, power and security.
It makes doing the right thing easy.
SEVEN STEPS TO A PRINCIPLE CENTRED LIFE
Covey’s approach to principle centred living can be summed up in seven steps:
Though we are good at internalising principles we are not perfect. Now that you have a label for them, what fundamental principles govern your own life? Write them down. Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Perhaps what you thought was a general principle is nothing of the sort. How would it change your perspective or your life if that were true?
A superb way to augment our store of principles is to stockpile them. Write down the principles you identify in your life. Collect thoughts, anecdotes, notes and quotes that resonate with you in a ‘Commonplace Book‘. Review your collection often. Challenge and improve upon them. Reflect on the implications of those principles on your actions today.
2 – Define values.
Unlike principles, our values are personal and subjective; they are the personal precepts we set on our behaviour.
We all have values, whether we define them or not. But values are most effective when we take ownership of them and align them with principles that foster positive outcomes. For example, you may agree that dishonesty always leads to disunity and distrust. So, if disunity and distrust are outcomes you would like to avoid, you may include ‘honesty’ as one of your values.
To get started, reflect on the principles you’ve discovered so far. Which resonate with you most strongly? If you were to die tomorrow, what sort of person would you like your friends, family, colleagues and community to say that you were? Write a long-list. Now narrow it down to seven values that embody this vision. Reflect on the implications that living those values would have on your life today.
Though we may aspire to embody many values, it is much more effective to limit our focus to seven or less at one time. Any more and it becomes hard to evaluate and improve our behaviour. Consider that embodying even 2 or 3 values (e.g., love, industry and integrity) is still a life-time of work. Coming close to just one might already change your life beyond recognition.
3 – Identify roles.
What roles would you like to play over the course of your life? What roles it is that life may ask of you? Will you be a parent, a partner, a family-member, a community member, a manager, an entrepreneur, a friend, an athlete, an artist, a care-giver or a teacher? There are no right or wrong answers. Write a long-list that seems sensible to you (you can always change them later).
Now, condense your overall list to seven roles or less to avoid losing focus. If you died tomorrow, what major items on your list would you want to be remembered for doing well? Consider grouping similar roles (e.g., sibling, parent, child) into single buckets (e.g., family-member) if it helps.
4 – Set goals.
Take yourself back to your funeral. For each of the roles you’ve identified, what long-term contributions and achievements would you want to hear highlighted in your eulogy?
Write them down. Remember, this is really big picture stuff. Refine your response to a few concrete sentences for each.
5 – Craft a mission statement.
Blend all the components from steps 2 – 4 into a mission statement – a single statement of definite purpose and direction for your life. Don’t worry about format or length. Don’t worry about order or accuracy or eloquence. Write what feels right to you, right now. The goal here is to put a first peg in the ground.
Your mission statement is the focal point for your life. It’s a definition of success that creates top-down flow. It subordinates your cravings, habits and actions to a higher purpose. What’s more, the process above roots your purpose in principles. It grounds your foundation in natural laws that, in the long-run, will always deliver the outcomes to which they are tied.
6 – Rehearse and commit to your mission statement daily.
Read your mission statement twice per day, each day for the rest of your life – on waking, and just before bed.
When you can, read your mission statement somewhere quiet. If possible, read it aloud. As you read, visualise the outcomes of the statement as vividly as possible. Feel your statement: make it personal, positive, present and emotional. This isn’t just an exercise in dictation. This is a daily commitment to the outcome of your existence.
When you anticipate important or troublesome situations, take out your mission statement and reflect on it. How would the person described in it act? Close your eyes. Watch the events unfold in your mind. Rehearse your decisions as vividly as possible. Identify triggers that may divert your course. Visualise your ideal outcome. Do this until you are clear and resolute in your purpose.
7 – Review and develop your mission statement often.
Your mission statement is a living document. Make a habit of reviewing and adjusting it as often as possible. Make changes to account for new principles, roles or goals that emerge throughout life. Change the wording or structure so it resonates more strongly. Tinker with the contents until it elevates and inspires you.
One important and universal principle is that mental creation always precedes physical creation.
If every action begins with a thought then your mission statement is the thought that precedes your life.
CREATING JOINT MISSION STATEMENTS
Once you’ve tasted the power of a clear mission you may want to extend it to other parts of your life. One of the best ways to do so is to create joint mission statements within families, communities and organisations.
Follow the steps above exactly but with one important caveat: you must co-create and agree the mission statement with everyone involved: no involvement means no commitment with no exceptions. This may feel like a large upfront cost – especially at an organisational level – but the long-term impact of a fully aligned mission statement will more than return on investment.
Once created, put the mission statement prominently in view. Make reviewing it essential in all decision making. “Out of sight is out of mind” doesn’t just apply to the things that we’d like to forget.
Finally, review the mission statement jointly and together on a regular basis. This not only refreshes its relevance but also strengthens buy-in from all those involved.
HABIT 3: PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST
“There is no such thing as a lack of time, only a lack of priorities.” – Tim Ferriss
Where Habit 2 deals with personal effectiveness (the what and why), Habit 3 deals with personal efficiency (the how).
To get things done you need a productivity system that is:
Coherent – aligned from top to bottom; from mission statement to next action;
Balanced – ensuring we don’t let important parts of life stagnate and decay;
Effective – making time for important things and improving effectiveness over time;
People Orientated – built to improve relationships, not strain them;
Flexible – because “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”; and
Portable – if you can’t keep it with you and keep it updated, you won’t trust it and you won’t use it.
If you’ve no idea where to start – don’t worry. We’ll tackle each ingredient below.
For now, let’s start as we mean to go on and put first things first…
TWO PRINCIPLES OF PRODUCTIVITY
To maximise productivity, Covey argues, it is important to master two principles:
The [P][PC] Paradigm – Performance vs. Performance Capability; and
The [Q2] Paradigm –Urgency vs. Importance.
Let’s explore each in turn.
1 – The [P][PC] Paradigm: Performance vs. Performance Capability
The [P][PC] Paradigm is simple:
Performance [P] means delivering successful outcomes (laying golden eggs).
Performance Capability [PC] means the ability to produce successful outcomes (developing the golden goose).
Like financial freedom, the surest route to productivity is pragmatism in [P] and regular investment in [PC].
And yet we so often get the balance of that equation wrong. We prioritise [P] over [PC]. We undermine our long-term ability to produce.
The solution? Like money, time is finite. We can’t magically create more of it. The only way to maximise [PC] is to cut back on [P].
And the only way to cut back on [P] is to prioritise.
2 – The [Q2] Paradigm: Urgency vs. Importance.
The [Q2] Paradigm is the power tool of prioritisation and gets its name from the 2 by 2 matrix below:
Quadrant 1 [Q1] is the home of fire-fighting Production [P]. It’s also a world of stress, anxiety and burnout; too much [Q1] spells disaster for long-term productivity.
Quadrant 2 [Q2] is the home of thoughtful Production [P] and Production Capability [PC]. It’s where we should (but don’t often) focus most of our energy.
Quadrants 3 [Q3] and 4 [Q4] keep us busy but contribute little to our mission, our values or our high priority goals.
THE POWER OF NOW
Applying the [Q2] Paradigm means doing everything we can to spend more time in [Q2] – on important but not urgent activities. It applies to every action, goal and role in our lives.
For now, look at today’s to-do list (if you don’t have one, write one now with whatever you have to hand).
Next, beside each item on the list, note whether it is (a) urgent and (b) important where:
Urgent means this item must be done today; and
Important means completing this item (or not) will have significant impact (positive or negative) on your life.
Use the example activities in the matrix above to help. If you can’t decide if something is important, refer to your mission statement and values. They will put things in perspective.
MAKE ROOM TO BREATHE
The next steps to becoming a productivity ninja may feel hard. Take your prioritised list, be brave and:
Ruthlessly cross off anything which is not important ([Q3] and [Q4] items).
Block out the rest of your day to work on [Q2] items (not urgent but important).
Whenever anything unplanned crops up in your day, develop the habit of:
Writing it down on your to-do list before you do it. Creating a gap between stimulus and response.
Deciding which quadrant the new activity fits into.
Eliminating it immediately if it falls into [Q3] or [Q4].
Knowing what’s important to you and saying “No” to everything else should cut down your “work” load significantly.
Do not fill that space with more items.
Instead, let’s use some of the time you’ve just created to take a step back and look at the bigger picture…
SET YOUR WEEK UP FOR SUCCESS
One of the best investments you can make in [Q2] is in planning – specifically: weekly planning.
To make it easy, Covey suggests the following five-step process:
Reflect on your mission statement (your values, roles and long-term goals).
Identify up to six roles that you will need to play in the next 7 days (make your 7th role “Sharpen the Saw”, see Habit 7).
Set 2 important ([Q1] or [Q2]) goals to complete in each role you’ve identified.
For each goal decide whether you need to do it or can delegate it.
Block time in your calendar to put your plans into action in the week ahead.
N.B., It’s fine for your weekly roles to differ from your life roles (see Habit 2). For now, just focus on the week ahead. Perhaps you’ll be parenting, managing a team, serving a community organisation, playing a sport or doing maintenance around your home. Make a split that feels right for you.
Though you can definitely use digital note-taking, productivity and calendar apps, this weekly planner template from Covey does everything above on just one piece of paper.
Why not combine it with an erasable pen or a 4-colour BIC? There is a kind of magic that takes place between hand and page, as well as less chance of distraction.
Voila: a simple yet powerful productivity system that’s coherent, balanced, effective, people-oriented, flexible and portable.
ADOPTING A [PC] MINDSET
As you work through your week it’s essential to develop the habit of adopting a [PC] mindset.
First, learn to see every Production [P] problem as a Production Capability [PC] opportunity. Top performers are those that deliver results in good times and bad. Make time each day to reflect on what went well, what you learned and what you could have done better. Every crisis you survive and learn from makes you stronger, smarter and more resilient.
Next, make a habit of prioritising long-term efficiency. Do nothing [P] before deciding how to invest extra effort now to make your job easier, faster and better next time [PC]. Make time for proper planning. Learn and practice shortcuts. Design templates, systems and processes to automate tasks. Train new capabilities to make that possible or reduce future workload.
This isn’t working hard, it’s working smart. The more you invest in [PC] the less you’ll find yourself fighting fires in [Q1] (urgent and important). That means less stress and less burnout. That means more time to work on the things that really matter [Q2]. The result? A virtuous circle of efficiency and effectiveness that supercharges long-term output.
THE ART OF EFFECTIVE DELEGATION.
Effective delegation is integral to productivity. And with people it’s crucial to keep sight of three things:
Efficiency is for tools;
Effectiveness is for people; and
People are not tools to be dispensed with efficiently.
Whether at home or at work, effective delegation starts with making five key things clear:
Results – focus on what and when, not how;
Guidelines – establish the principles and policies that limit the solution space;
Resources – identify and unlock the resources (human, financial, technical and organisational) needed to complete the task;
Accountability – agree measurable standards of performance and timings for reviews; and
Consequences – specify what will happen (good and bad) as a result of those reviews.
N.B., When it comes to consequences, there are four main ways to motivate people. These are:
Financial – rewards and penalties;
Psychic – recognition and approval (especially public);
Opportunity – training, development and perks; and
Responsibility – scope and authority.
It is far easier, Covey explains, to issue directive orders for what and how. But it is far more rewarding to invest in effective delegation.
Be patient. Visualise success. Have the other person visualise success and describe it in their own words. Minimise and keep guidelines to potential points of failure. Trust people. Train and develop them so they can rise to the challenges you set.
A small effort upfront strengthens long-term capabilities, ensures motivation, builds loyalty and unlocks creativity in the minds of those around us.
PART II: PUBLIC VICTORY (INTERDEPENDENCE)
Habits 1 – 3 (Private Victory) are the base on which Habits 4 – 6 (Public Victory) are built. From interpersonal leadership, we win the trust and cooperation of others. Through empathic listening, we find understanding and wisdom to help them. Through synergy, we learn to embrace differences not as obstacles but as opportunities.
HABIT 4: THINK WIN-WIN
“I can see that we’re approaching this situation differently. Why don’t we agree to communicate until we can find a solution we both feel good about.”
If Habits 4 – 6 are about achieving interdependence and public victory, Habit 4 is about interpersonal leadership; inducing others to serve us through our willingness to serve them.
THE FOUR OUTCOMES OF NEGOTIATION
There are four possible outcomes to any agreement:
Win-Win – mutually beneficial and satisfying solutions.
Win-Lose – zero-sum (i.e., “only one winner”) solutions.
Lose-Win – giving in and permissiveness.
Lose-Lose – mutually destructive vengeance.
Any non-Win-Win outcome is a loss. Sure, you may get or give up what you want, but at what cost? At best, your relationship is tarnished – even if capitulation seems willing. At worst, you face broken promises or ‘malicious obedience’ (following an agreement to the letter, but no more). In any case, no alternative is more productive than a mutually beneficial Win-Win.
But committing to Win-Win solutions is hard work, and takes five main ingredients to get right:
Character – a balance of courage and consideration, underpinned by the strength to walk away;
Relationships – enough trust and goodwill to feel confident both parties are working together;
Agreements – carefully structured to make outcomes and expectations clear;
Systems – to support collaboration, not competition, between parties;
Processes – to develop Win-Win solutions no matter the problem you face.
Let’s review each ingredient below.
1 – CHARACTER: ABUNDANCE VS. SCARCITY MENTALITY
Every Win-Win agreement begins with Abundance Mentality – the belief that all parties have value to add and that there is outcome aplenty for everyone.
The opposite of Abundance Mentality is Scarcity Mentality – the belief that agreements must be zero-sum; that there can only be one true winner.
Sometimes, Scarcity Mentality is accurate – e.g., in sports, in closed market competition or in relative grading systems. But our powerful, early experiences with Scarcity Mentality (especially at school and in sport) can blind us to the fact that most success is not zero-sum. The first step toward Win-Win solutions is just recognising that the sum is often far greater than the parts.
Of course, there’s more to it. Win-Win solutions are grounded in character, in maturity and integrity, and specifically in a blend of:
Wisdom – the courage to express feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.
Persistence – the desire to find a Win-Win solution that benefits everyone; even when quicker or easier solutions exist.
Strength – knowing the value we place on ourselves and what a win means to us; sticking by our feelings, our values and our commitments.
With right character and right-mindset, we unlock better outcomes with others than are possible alone. But having the persistence to keep courage and consideration in balance is hard. Knowing what counts as a win, disagreeing with someone agreeably and walking away without prejudice takes perspective and power. That is why Habits 1 – 3 are so important to the success of Habits 4 – 6.
2 – RELATIONSHIPS: THE EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT
The next ingredient in Win-Wins is relationships. Specifically, trust and a shared vision of results – qualities that develop most easily when we run surpluses in each other’s Emotional Bank Accounts (our balances of trust and goodwill).
Every interaction is positive or negative. When positive, we make a deposit in our Emotional Bank Account. When negative, we make a withdrawal. Sometimes those changes are conscious. But often our transactions are unconscious. They’re the small courtesies and discourtesies or the affirmations and criticisms delivered (but not forgotten) in the subtlest of gestures and moments.
Take a moment now to reflect on the important relationships in your life. Assess the levels of trust and goodwill in each of those relationships. Are your Emotional Bank Accounts running surpluses? Are they overdrawn? Have trust and goodwill been compromised entirely?
Covey suggests six ways to build capital in our relationships with others:
Understand the individual – make what is important to the other person as important as the other person is to you (see Habit 5).
Attend to the little things – perform little courtesies and kindnesses; beware of small discourtesies and unkindnesses.
Keep commitments – never make promises you can’t keep; make commitments sparingly and carefully.
Clarify expectations – make roles and goals explicit; be wary of the implicit ones (this takes time, energy and courage – but is well worth it).
Show personal integrity – keep promises and fulfil expectations; be loyal to those who are not present; treat everyone by the same principles, all of the time.
Apologise sincerely – admit fault quickly and emphatically; bow and bow low.
Take another look at the important relationships in your life. What deposits could you make now or start making from the list above? How? When? Commit to those actions sincerely and immediately. Don’t wait until you’re negotiating to make changes.
A surplus in our Emotional Bank Accounts, allows trust and goodwill to flourish. And when a good outcome for everyone is the shared outcome of all the chance of a Win-Win runs high.
3 – AGREEMENTS
Even the best intentions can be undermined by a poorly structured agreement. Clarifying outcomes and expectations up front is crucial in avoiding frustration and confusion down the line.
Fortunately, effective agreements share the same principles as effective delegation. Click here to refresh your memory on results, guidelines, resources, accountability and consequences.
4 – SYSTEMS
Competition is good in environments where cooperation is not needed. In these cases, publicly comparing and rewarding relative performance are effective ways to challenge and motivate others.
To encourage cooperation, create systems that:
Direct competition externally or at the group’s past performance; and
Create meaningful rewards based on shared standards and goals.
The same applies personally: if you measure yourself against others, their wins become your losses. Goals that need cooperation with others won’t hold you back, they will make you happier, more collaborative and more effective.
Are the systems you work in cooperative or competitive? Are your goals individual or shared? Make time to identify, evaluate and adjust habits and systems that creep into your personal and professional life.
Remember: Competitive systems don’t foster or support Win-Win solutions, they destroy them. And good people in bad systems create bad results.
5 – PROCESSES
In this final section on interpersonal leadership, Covey lays out a clear five-step process for generating Win-Win solutions:
Take the time to really see the problem from the other party’s point of view.
Give expression to the needs and concerns of others better than they can themselves.
Identify the key issues and concerns (not positions) involved.
Determine the results of a fully acceptable solution.
Identify new options to achieve those results.
Not only is this solid life advice; it’s also a comprehensive crash course in the skills fundamental to success in any sales related profession.
But what’s most clear from this process is not the importance of the five Win-Win steps we’ve just covered. It’s the one thing we’re still missing.
It’s the earnest and obsessive desire to run marathons in the footwear of others.
HABIT 5: SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD
“Let me listen to you first until I deeply and thoroughly understand your perspective. When I can explain your point of view as well as mine, then I can communicate mine to you.”
A doctor cannot heal with good intentions alone. To prescribe they must first diagnose. And to diagnose they must first understand.
If our sincerest desire is to help others the same principle applies. To deliver both wins in Win-Win we need a deep understanding of the other side’s needs.
WHY ACTIVE LISTENING ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH
Understanding begins with listening; and there are five types of listening tendency:
Ignoring – clearly not listening;
Pretending – giving the impression of listening;
Selective – listening intermittently, alert for selective cues;
Attentive – listening actively, with the intent to reply; and
Empathic – listening actively, with the intent to understand.
Listening lies in our Circle of Influence. And you’d think we’d devote as much energy and time to empathic listening as possible. But we don’t. At best, we largely listen attentively – an exercise that’s more focused on our needs than the needs of those around us.
To be clear, attentive listening is active listening; but it’s tarnished by four autobiographical response tendencies:
Evaluating – agreeing or disagreeing with what is being said;
Probing – asking questions from own frame of reference;
Advising – giving counsel based on our own experience; and
Interpreting – analysing the motives and behaviours of others based on our own.
These tendencies make attentive listening shallow and self-centred. In every case, we subvert our ability to understand by prematurely judging, steering and prescribing.
HOW TO LISTEN EMPATHICALLY
Empathic listening is active listening with the intent to understand. It’s not about method or sympathy. It’s about a sincere desire to help others by immersing ourselves in their hearts and their minds. It’s 10% words, 30% sounds and 60% body language.
To get started, try practising the following four steps in your next conversations:
Listen – listen with the intent to understand; sense, intuit and feel.
Reflect – show that you hear their emotions – “You’re happy…” “You’re frustrated…”, “You’re sad…”.
Rephrase – show that you understand content and cause – “because…”
Restrain – get comfortable with silence; give the other person room to clarify, think and unfold.
Don’t counsel until counsel issought and even then only when responses are rational. If responses become emotional, resume empathic listening. Allow silence and resist probing; it’s too invasive, controlling and logical to let others become vulnerable. If things get too painful let them drop. Sometimes all that’s needed is space and time. Continue if and when the other person feels ready.
Sometimes, people do need an additional perspective and input. But more often, no outside counsel is required at all. People unravel their own problems. Solutions present themselves. The key is to genuinely seek the welfare of the other person, not to try and manipulate them. Let them work through the problem and seek help or find a solution in their own pace and time.
WHY WE DON’T LISTEN ENOUGH
If empathic listening is so effective and so valuable, why don’t we do it more often? The answer, explains Covey, is that empathic listening is hard and it is risky:
It is hardto focus our attention exclusively on somebody else;
It is hard to be patient and resist the urge to prescribe without thinking; and
It is risky because to influence others, we must first allow ourselves to be influenced.
To listen empathically we must be able to take our eyes off ourselves without fearing loss of our principles, values and perspectives. This is why Habits 1 – 3 are so foundational – a strong, stable inner-core is a prerequisite to managing our own vulnerability with patience, peace and strength of purpose.
HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF UNDERSTOOD
In over 2,000 years, few have improved on Aristotle’s Rhetoric – “the most important single work on persuasion ever written”.
Covey agrees and briefly introduces Aristotle’s first three criteria for effective persuasion (I’ve appended Kairos, the fourth). These are:
Ethos – personal credibility, integrity, competence, trust;
If you can bring efficiency and effectiveness to bear on a base of guidance, wisdom, power and security (Habits 1 – 3);
If you can think Win-Win, build trusting relationships and create agreements and systems that support cooperation (Habit 4);
If you can give expression to the needs and concerns of the others better than they can themselves (Habit 5);
If you can present your ideas credibly, clearly, visually, at the right time and in the right place…
Then “yours is the world, and everything that’s in it”. You have all you need to persuade on any topic you turn your mind to.
HABIT 6: SYNERGISE
“Let’s work together to produce alternative solutions to our differences that we both recognise are better than the ones either you or I proposed initially.”
Habit 6 is about synergy, which when properly understood is “the highest activity in all life – the true test and manifestation of all other habits put together”.
Synergy is the creative collaboration we unlock by focusing the four human endowments, a Win-Win mindset and empathic communication on life’s toughest challenges. Synergy is a commitment to principle centred partnership that catalyses, unifies and unleashes the full potential of ourselves and of others.
But if synergy is the outcome of all other habits combined, then what is the missing ingredient? Why does synergy get a habit of its own?
THE PARADOX OF PARADIGMS
Ready for an experiment? Take a quick look at one (and only one) of the two picture links here: Pictue AorPicture B.
Done? Ok, now take a look at the picture link here: Picture C.
What do you see? Look carefully.
If you’ve not done this before, there’s a high chance in you saw only one of: (A) a hook-nosed old lady; or (B) a beautiful young woman. In fact, the illusion contains both. Try seeing the alternative for yourself. Use the other of Pictue A or Picture B if you need help.
Even if you know this illusion or could see both versions easily, it’s worth considering (i) that Covey’s business school classes developed heated disagreements in response to this experiment and (ii) that the real world is just as misleading and even more complex.
The problem, Covey argues, is we assume different perspectives must compete. We don’t see them for the equally valid and accurate alternatives they so often are.
STRENGTH IN DIFFERENCES
Observing this paradox is mind-opening. It shows us that our paradigms are subjective; born more out of priming than objective wisdom. It grants us humility and reverence to accept that we are limited and flawed. It helps us realise that “left to our own experiences, we constantly suffer from a shortage of data”.
Differences, it turns out, aren’t inconveniences at all. They’re a prerequisite to full understanding and wise decision making.
This realisation is the spark at the heart of synergy. Whether within us or between us, we suddenly learn to respect different views on the same subjects. We seek out alternative perspectives. We build on strengths and compensate for weaknesses. We realise that sameness is not oneness. We see that uniformity is not unity.
WHEN 1 + 1 = 100
What does synergy feel like? It’s an aura of high trust and cooperation ignited by acts of courage, love and authenticity. It’s transcendent energy, excitement, synchrony, intuition, collective paradigm shifts and a sense of reforming and closure. Does that feeling sound familiar? In your home? From your work? Playing sports?
Most of us can find at least one memory of synergy, either as individuals or as groups. Sometimes those events create wonders. Sometimes they “hang on the edge of chaos and for some reason descend into it”. In both cases, the importance of Independence is clear. Creative collaboration is raw and unpredictable. It demands security, openness and a spirit for adventure. It belongs to those who have the strength to try and try again, even if they sometimes get burned.
As we mature from independence to interdependence our role in synergy changes. We shift from contribution to creation. We realise that though we can’t control other’s paradigms, we can control our own in a way that encourages others to be open. In doing so we begin to fuel synergy in people and situations where otherwise it might not exist.
When we can respect both sides of our natures (the analytical and creative); when we can genuinely affirm and not disagree with those who see the world differently; when we can let go of ourselves and know we’ll always find our way home: that’s when we find Habit 6. That’s when we reach our full power and potential.
PART III: RENEWAL
HABIT 7: SHARPEN THE SAW
Where Habits 1 – 6 are tools of Performance [P], Habit 7 is the ultimate manifestation of Performance Capability [PC]. It says “If you’re going to fell a mighty tree [P], it’s important [Q2] to keep your saw sharp as possible [PC], even if that means taking a break from the cutting every once in a while.”
Staying sharp, argues Covey, means attending to 4 different areas across 2 domains:
Daily Private Victory Aim for one hour per day, every day, for the rest of your life.
Physical Sharpness – exercise, nutrition, rest and relaxation
We all know that the benefit of investing in these areas outweighs its cost. For those who are too busy to find the time to exercise, read or make space for thinking and meditation, the kicker is thus: if you do not act on these [Q2] activities, they will eventually act on you.
Why is “Sharpening the Saw” always the 7th role on our weekly planner? Because avoiding poor outcomes takes constant renewal. It is much harder to recover from chronic illness or re-skill in a world that’s outrun us than it is to stay on top in the first place.
Don’t become someone that people refer to as “once having had so much potential.” Do be the person that makes changes in their Circle of Influence that they know they should or need to.
Covey’s prescriptive suggestions in each area are minimal but solid. Building even the limited activities below into your life will leave you happier, more at peace and more effective. For more detail you’ll find thousands of resources on Amazon and Google.
Exercise for 3 – 6 hours per week. Start slowly. The goal of every session is to make it through the next one.
Endurance – aim for 60% of your max. heart rate [~220 beats per minute less your age] for at least 30 minutes. N.B., training effect is ~72 – 87% of maximal.
Flexibility – stretching before exercise, to warm up, and after it, to release lactic acid.
Strength – callisthenics (body weight exercises) are all you need e.g., pushups, pull ups, sit ups; weights are a good addition when available; N.B., almost all the benefit comes at the very end, just before failure.
Commit to continuous learning:
Read – aim for a book per month, then per fortnight, then per week.
Write – keep a journal of thoughts, experiences, insights and learning.
Visualise/plan – exercise the first 3 habits; especially weekly planning.
Guidance – commit and recommit to your mission statement on a regular basis.
Peace – make time often to immerse yourself in prayer, meditation, art or nature; find time to find the “still small voice of calm”.
Our social/emotional sharpness doesn’t require explicit time every day, but it does require practice.
Emotional wellbeing is primarily manifested in our relationships with others, so make commitments continually and consciously to make deposits in your Emotional Bank Accounts.
PUTTING THE 7 HABITS IN MOTION
That’s it! How are you feeling? Excited? Energised? Relieved to have made it through an almost book sized book crunch?
The7 Habits of Highly Effective People is among the most impactful and practical books I’ve yet read. If you’re anything like me, at least one thing you read here today blew your mind.
But “To learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.” Getting more from The 7 Habits than a fuzzy warm feeling means putting principles into practice.
How? Here are four concrete actions you can take right away:
Buy the book and/or bookmark this crunch. Read and re-visit either one at least once a quarter until the principles inside are locked in.
Block 30 minutes in your calendar to visit www.7HabitsPEQ.com This free 65-stop questionnaire tells you where you stand in each habit.
“The most important work you will ever do is always ahead of you. It is never behind you. You should always be expanding and deepening your commitment to that work. Retirement is a false concept. You may retire from a job, but you never retire from meaningful projects and contributions.”
You can find great books in the strangest of places. Maybe stuffed in an airplane seat pocket or abandoned at the doorstep of a side-street café. Maybe nosing around the shelves at your friend’s homes and occasionally at a WeWork event on Digital Marketing in Tel Aviv that takes you 45 minutes on a busy rush-hour bus to get to only to discover that it’s being held totally in Hebrew (and not in English, as advertised).
Though I briefly considered stealing this one from said WeWork (as retribution for my sweaty and futile pilgrimage), I decided to graciously shelve my blood-feud with the profusely apologetic receptionist, buy my own hardcopy (no digital versions to be found, legitimate or otherwise) and spend the last month burrowing deeply through its glorious pages.
A peek at the pages of Phaidon’s 10,000 Years of Art
Of course it’s not perfect: it focusses almost exclusively on painting and sculpture (plus a handful of textiles and prints); almost half the works come from the last 500 years; over 70% are held in the collections of only 10 countries; and only 3 works in the whole book are by female artists.
But I’m splitting hairs, because the quality of images and commentaries for each work are marvellous; the long-tail catalogue is phenomenal, including 13 works held in private collections and the rest by some 60 countries (and many more museums); and, what’s more, it’s available on Amazon in a beautifully presented format that could easily fit into a handbag or large jacket pocket – all for less than a cup of coffee.
P.s., If you love the idea of this book then you might also like Phaidon’s “30,000 Years of Art” (same-same but with 1,000 works and more commentary) or their much larger “The Art Museum” – a stunning coffee-table collection of over 3,000 works that is high up on my list of things to memorize in the future.
The primary driving force in us all is a search for meaning. With meaning, we flourish; without it, we struggle at every step. Why? Because motivation requires motive. And the absence of motivation is a direct route to boredom, darkness and depression.
For thousands of years, thinkers have agonised over an ultimate ‘why’: Why do we exist? Why are we here? What does it all mean? Though seductive, it’s a path of mental gymnastics with two inexorable outcomes: that (a) ‘life is ultimately meaningless’ or that (b) ‘the meaning of life lies beyond our (human) comprehension’.
The good news for us practical folk is that neither outcome matters. In fact, a deep sense of personal meaning doesn’t require the existence of some grand prime-directive at all.
The Best Answers are the Simple Ones
How so? Because it turns out that our minds and bodies are happily energised by any combination of sufficiently convincing ‘whys’ – from the simplest (eating, drinking, going to the bathroom) to the most complex (defending freedom, raising a family, taking humanity to Mars).
Of course, not all ‘whys’ are equal. Some ‘whys’ have greater staying power – if our sole ‘why’ was to empty our bladders, we’d have a lot of existential vacuums to cope with between bathroom breaks. And whilst some ‘whys’ sit largely within our control, other ‘whys’ are more prone to the outside winds of fate and fortune.
But if we’re so easy to please – and motives are so plentiful – why does it sometimes feel so hard to get out of bed in the morning? How is it that we lose track of ‘why’? What is it that holds us back from seizing the day, every day?
The Trouble With Motives
In an ideal world, we would enjoy a strong and steady supply of endless motivation. A clear and compelling cognizance of why things are the way they are, of what is best to do and why to do it. And sometimes life does feel that way. We glide unstoppably through a few hours, days, weeks or years. Powerful, purposeful and resplendent in the mastery of our own destinies.
But then disaster strikes. Perhaps it’s a life-altering accident, a failed relationship or a mid-life crisis. Perhaps it’s empty-nest syndrome, a failed investment or even getting everything we’ve always wanted. All too suddenly we find ourselves eclipsed by an unexpected black-out. We step into a motivational void – perhaps moments, perhaps decades-long – that empties us of meaning and robs us of drive and momentum.
The problem with motive, it transpires, is not availability. It’s consistency.
Four Complementary Paths to Meaning
So what’s the answer? To tackle this problem, I’ve spent the last decade or so distilling a unified approach from the thoughts and writings of many great thinkers. I call it the REAP model – and it consists of four complementary paths to meaning:
Reactive Meaning: Meaning through values;
External Meaning: Meaning through people;
Active Meaning: Meaning through purpose; and
Passive Meaning: Meaning through understanding.
The secret? Though each path can provide an ample and sufficient source of personal meaning at any one time, it is the conscious combination of all four paths together that creates a fail-safe of consistent meaning and motivation over time.
I’ll be expanding on the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of each path in a series of upcoming articles. For now, here are some brief definitions:
1. Reactive Meaning: Meaning through values
From love, kindness and patience, to industry, excellence and integrity – our values, and the order we prioritise them, are the fundamental principles that pilot our behaviour.
Their great strength? Our values, once defined, lie totally within our control. They are the ‘whys’ that steer our actions when our choices are too many and the ‘whys’ that guide our reactions when our choices are too few.
2. External Meaning: Meaning through people
External meaning is the ‘why’ we get from dedicating ourselves to the happiness and wellbeing of others. It is the ‘why’ that powers parents, the ‘why’ that upholds sacrifice and the ‘why’ that spurs on service to a need beyond our own.
At its heart, external meaning is a manifestation of love. We can always choose love; its work is never done and its light is a constant companion to our thoughts and words and deeds.
3. Active Meaning: Meaning through purpose
Our current purpose is whatever goal we are focussing on right now. When working well, it provides us with a sturdy sense of immediate meaning.
But purpose’s variables are often beyond our control, it must constantly be redefined and kept moving to stay alive and it can frequently tangle itself in unsolvable knots. As we all soon discover, mastering its capricious complexity is a lifetime of work.
Our current purpose can be big (like curing cancer) or it can be small (like finding our next meal) or it can be a small thing that’s part of something bigger (like eating so we can get on with curing cancer). At some point, it can even lead us back to the other three paths of REAP.
In any case, purpose is the ‘why’ that answers the question – ‘I’m doing this now because I want to do or have…’.
4. Passive Meaning: Meaning through understanding
Passive meaning is a vicarious ‘why’. A ‘why’ that comes not from understanding our actions on the world, but of their consequences and beyond.
Why does it rain? What are they saying? Why did Harry meet Sally? What caused them to fall in love?
Sometimes we earn these ‘whys’ through learning. We combine data from our own and reported experiences, steadily building ever more complex models of the world around us, trying to distil order and rules in its chaos.
Sometimes we find it in worlds beyond our own, immersing ourselves in understanding the motives and narratives of others, losing ourselves in the pre-digested causality of story-telling.
Whatever the source, passive meaning is the ‘why’ that comes from connecting the dots, from watching A lead to B lead to C, from looking at the world and saying ‘I get it’.
Four Paths, Three Choices
But how do we choose and live by our values? Or love our enemies as we love our friends? How do we define and move towards our goals? Or begin to decode the complex world around us?
For each path, we face three choices:
Don’t think about it;
Get someone else to think about it; or
Roll up our sleeves and work it out for ourselves.
I’ll expand on the implications for each path in their own separate articles. But let’s briefly consider our choices below:
1. Don’t think about it.
This is absolutely a viable option. All of us have implicit versions of these paths already worked out. Many of us lead mostly happy and meaningful lives without ever considering them explicitly. But there are three reasons you may want to reconsider:
The first is if you currently feel bored or depressed. In this case, a dose of meaning is exactly what you need. Not convinced? Ask yourself what you have to lose. At the very least you’ll have something interesting to think about for a few hours.
The second is as an insurance policy. Life is full of instances where once solid pillars of meaning crumble abruptly beneath us. Some thinking now, while the going’s good, may just keep you afloat – especially if you or your loved ones begin to stumble.
And the third? Better decision making. Conflicts between our values, emotions, purposes and perception can fast become major sources of friction and strife. A clear perspective on each path now can help us foresee and avoid decisions that might otherwise take years of discomfort to detect and diffuse.
2. Get someone else to think about it.
This is also a perfectly viable option. In fact, religion and philosophy have flourished for millennia by offering precisely this service. Over thousands of years, some of humanity’s greatest minds have sought to explain the universe or define and refine their own ‘just-add-belief’ templates of values and purpose. Their thinking has not only laid the foundations of modern civilisation, it has also brought purpose, meaning and community into the lives of billions.
Of course, they’re not always perfect – particularly where institutions and egos get involved. But for those of us short on time and happy to overlook some anachronistic quirks there are worse options to consider. At the very least, there’s a huge amount to learn should we decide to plump for option…
3. Roll up our sleeves and work it out for ourselves.
Working it out for ourselves isn’t about trying to reinvent thousands of years of human thought. Working it out for ourselves is a compelling path that starts with a single: ‘Why?’ And ends on the shoulders of giants, straining for a view of what makes us tick.
It can be as simple as jotting down a few values and resolutions at the start of each year; or as complex as a life-long journey of questioning, learning, building, testing and tinkering. In any case, a small amount of conscious and occasional thought around each of REAP‘s four paths can quickly deliver surprising rewards.
Not sure where to start? Not to worry; I’ll be covering some of the best tips and tools I’ve gathered from hundreds of hours of reading in the series of articles ahead.
A New Kind of Universal Meaning
In reality, the best solutions will likely be combinations of the choices above. You might adopt the values of a religion or philosophy but decide to define your own unique purpose and goals; or dedicate your life to the goals of your community, company or country but do so with a moral code defined on your own terms.
As a good friend once told me, ‘being human is complicated’. But the REAP model reminds us that a life of meaning and purpose is something accessible to us all. You don’t need to be a poet, priest or philosopher; you don’t need to be a saint, celebrity or CEO. Instead, finding deep fulfillment can be as simple as staying true to your principles and being there for the people around you.
Even so, there will always be times when our values are questioned, or when we lose someone we love; there will always be times when our goals are frustrated, or when we just can’t make sense of the world around us. The REAP model reminds us, even in the roughest of seas, that the best course does not always lead directly through the storm. It reminds us, even when everything seems lost, that there are always more sources of strength at our disposal. And it reminds us, even when life gets complicated, that there is always an answer to the question ‘Why?’
True, most of us start from behind. In fact, most of us start with nothing. And few of us get even a basic financial education.
But the good news, he counters, is that everything is in your power to change.
Wealth building isn’t rocket science. Anyone can learn it.
You’re in an accident. You wake up disoriented, tired, bleeding. Your car is upside down. Worse, you’ve landed on train tracks and, in the distance, a freight train is coming. And it’s coming fast.
Do you waste time on how unfair the situation is? Do you wait for the train to stop? Do you wait for someone else to save you? Or do you struggle with every ounce of mangled muscle and spirit to break free?
The answer is obvious. And yet we so frequently fail this test in life. “Our lives are a reflection of our habits”, says Kiyosaki. And he’s right.
Don’t settle for entitlement, fear, arrogance, cynicism, selfishness, or laziness. Instead:
Be bold: Poor people are defeated by failure. Rich people are inspired by it.
Be humble: Poor people think they know everything. Rich people understand “you cannot learn what you think you already know.” –Epictetus
Be positive: Poor people say “I can’t do it”. Rich people ask “How can I do it?”.
Be charitable: Poor people say “let me receive and I shall give”. Rich people know “when it comes to money, love, happiness, sales, and contacts, all one needs to remember is to give first.” (For an amazing book on giving at work see Adam Grant’s Give and Take.)
Be industrious: Poor people say “I’m too busy to worry about money”. Rich people know “there is no such thing as lack of time, only lack of priorities.” — Tim Ferriss
And take action: Poor people say “The rest of the world should change”. Rich people know “The only person I can change is myself”.
So next time you find yourself on life’s tracks just remember:
Broke is a state of bank balance. But poor? Poor is a state of mind.
If you can learn to drive a car, you can learn to manage money.
Sure, there’s lots to take in at first. True, you’ll make mistakes along the way – even as an expert. Yep, some trips under certain conditions may be riskier than others. And no, you can’t control everything all the time.
But it’s not mysterious and it’s not impossible. You don’t need to be perfect right away. And if you learn the rules, practice enough, and keep a realistic eye on your abilities, nobody needs to get hurt.
You can manage the risk. And the risk is worth the reward.
So what are the basic skills of managing money? Here’s the breakdown:
Sales: Negotiate like a ninja. Become immune to rejection.
Deal-making: Don’t just find opportunities. Create them.
Management: Empower yourself with good systems and people.
Excited? Overwhelmed? However you feel, don’t panic. You’ll be surprised how much you know already and “the man who moves a mountain,” Confucius reminds us, “begins by carrying away small stones.”
“The single most powerful asset we all have is our mind,” says Kiyosaki, “[and] education is more valuable than money, in the long run.”
Why? “I continue to learn and develop because I know there are changes coming,” Kiyosaki explains, “[and] I’d rather welcome change than cling to the past.”
To outrun change we must outlearn it. And to outlearn change we must:
Commit to life-long learning: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” (Einstein); and
Remain open-minded and humble: “You cannot learn what you think you already know.” (Epictetus)
Kiyosaki’s advice on learning deep vs. broad is clear: “Know a little about a lot. The more specialised you become, the more you are trapped and dependent on that specialty.”
But how? When you have time, check out WWH’s article on how to learn any skill. For now pick one or two options from the list below and take action:
Surround yourself with good people – Andrew Carnegie was one of the greatest businessmen of the 20th Century. Do you know what he wrote on his tombstone? “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself”. Learn from Carnegie. Shop hard for experts, advisors, mentors, teachers, friends, or even a best friend’s dad to inspire and inform you.
Play games – Games are valuable tools because they speed learning with instant feedback. Like what you read here? Try Kiyosaki’s CASHFLOW; it’s free, online, and excellent. Investing in stocks? Try The Stock Market Game or any of the other free simulations and games you’ll find on Google.
Find a job that will teach you – “Seek work for what you will learn, more than what you will earn”, advises Kiyosaki. It’s good advice. Shocking at sales? Take a second job in a Multi-Level Marketing company. Atrocious at accounting? Pick up part-time work as a bookkeeper. Lacking in leadership? Find a local club or organisation where you can get to work.
Teach – Teaching forces you to tear a subject down, get to know every brick, and then show someone else how to put them back together again. There is no better to learn. “The more I teach those who want to learn, the more I learn,” claims Kiyosaki. After spending ~30h crunching his book into ~4,000 words – I can only agree.
Keep learning, keep moving, keep hustling – “Master a formula. Then learn a new one.” And remember: “Invest first in education [because] the only real asset you have is your mind.”
Personal productivity is a combination of two things:
“There is no such thing as lack of time, only lack of priorities.” – says Tim Ferriss. Kiyosaki agrees: beware, he says, of “the most common form of laziness: laziness by staying busy.”
Don’t be the financial equivalent of the guy that never has time to look after his health. Don’t bury your head in your job and pretend you’re doing the best you can.
If financial freedom is something you want: make time for it.
“People’s lives are forever controlled by two emotions: fear and greed.”, says Kiyosaki. But the trick, he explains, is not to fight them. Instead, it’s to “learn to use your emotions to think, not think with your emotions.”
To begin, start by being “truthful about your emotions.” Next, learn to “be an observer, not a reactor.” Finally, accept that “your emotions are your emotions, but you have got to learn to do your own thinking.”
Good advice. Because “when it comes to money, high emotions tend to lower financial intelligence” and “money has a way of making every decision emotional.”
I know what you’re thinking – but the hard part is actually over.
Because, next to life-habits, financial skills are child’s play. In fact, I bet you’ll be surprised how much you know already…
Like cooking, accounting is easier if we prepare the ingredients in advance. Here’s our list:
Your salary is earned income (you working for money).
An asset is anything that reliably puts cash into your pocket (money working for you).
Cash created by assets is passive income.
A liability is anything that reliably takes cash out of your pocket (i.e., debt and taxes)
Cash spent on anything (including liabilities) is an expense.
You are financially free when passive income exceeds expenses (at this point you no longer have to work, ever again).
A recipe for financial freedom.
The recipe for financial freedom is simple: buy assets to increase passive income; and reduce liabilities to minimise expenses.
And the secret ingredient? Make converting your earned income into assets your top priority. Or in other words, alwayspay yourself first.
Defer bills and expenses to the last possible moment. Let the pressure inspire your financial creativity. But always pay yourself first.
One good approach is to automatically debit and invest a fixed sum from your account at the start of each month. Running short 30 days later? Remember, don’t say “I can’t pay”, instead ask “How can I pay?”. Financial intelligence is half method, half creativity.
Accounting basics done – it’s really that simple.
But if it’s so simple, where do we go wrong? The problem, Kiyosaki says, is that we often buy things we think are assetsthat are actuallyliabilities.
Take your car, your television, or your other personal effects. How about your home? Do they regularly take cash out or put cash into your pocket? That’s right. They are all liabilities.
Remember our simple idea? Wealth is not net worth. Sure, you mighteventually make a profit on your home, but in Kiyosaki’s world – cashflow is king. If it doesn’t generate cash – it’s not a real asset.
So what is a real asset?
A real asset is anything that reliably puts cash into your pocket. Real assets are:
Royalties from intellectual property like music, scripts, and patents;
Businesses that do not need your presence (“If I have to work there, it’s not a business. It becomes my job.”); or
Anything else that has value, produces income or appreciates, and has a ready market.
To illustrate, Kiyosaki gives concrete examples from his own preferred asset-classes: real-estate and small-cap stocks. His point is not that everyone should follow the same strategy, it’s to “inspire people to learn more” and “show that it’s not rocket science”.
In fact, Kiyosaki limits his investment advice to six general points:
Buy what you love – “I collect real estate simply because I love buildings and land,” says Kiyosaki. But if you love music – buy royalties. If you love businesses – start with stocks. Buy what you love because it will excite you and inspire you. But most of all because “If you don’t love it, you won’t take care of it.”
Learn what you buy – Risk is relative: “What is risky for one person is less risky to someone else,” writes Kiyosaki, “It is not gambling if you know what you’re doing. It is gambling if you’re just throwing money into a deal and praying.” If you take a sports car on to the freeway after one driving lesson, the risks are unacceptably high. How do you reduce them? With learning, practice, experience, and a constant dose of humility.
Play with money you can afford to lose – When it comes to investing, you won’t win every time, or even most of the time: “On an average 10 investments, I hit home runs on two or three, five or six do nothing, and I lose on two or three.” explains Kiyosaki. Keep those odds in mind. If your home runs are the last of ten (or a hundred) investments you make, don’t lose your coat before you get there.
Concentrate – “If you have little money and you want to be rich, you must first be focused, not balanced.” explains Kiyosaki. If you hate losing, play it safe. If you’re over 25 and terrified of risk, play it safe. But “if you have any desire to be rich… do not do what poor and middle-class people do: put their few eggs in many baskets. Put a lot of your eggs in a few baskets and FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Successful.”
Focus on returns – The reason your home is a poor investment is simple – even if its value increases, you probably won’t ever feel that cash in your pocket. That’s a lot of missed investment and learning opportunities. Remember, cash is king and “the sophisticated investor’s first question is: ‘How fast do I get my money back?'”. (N.b., Return on Investment (ROI) is an accounting term worth looking up)
Get something for nothing – “On every one of my investments”, explains Kiyosaki, “there must be an upside, something for free – like a condominium, a mini-storage, a piece of free land, a house, stock shares or an office building. And there must be limited risk, or a low-risk idea”. Ray Kroc’s didn’t sell hamburger franchises, he bought real-estate. Go beyond returns and find the extra upside. “That”, says Kiyosaki, “is financial intelligence.”
One more thing. The best investment opportunities are often available first or exclusively to sophisticated investors. In other words, to get the best pieces of meat, you need to fight your way to the top of the food chain.
That’s why “I constantly encourage people to invest more in their financial education than in stocks, real estate or other markets.” Knowledge won’t just make you a better player. It changes the game entirely.
So find your niche. Learn it. Master it. Stay humble. Keep playing. Get smart → Grow rich.
Imagine you pay $1,000 to part-invest in a business with a manic-depressive called Mr. Market. Now imagine that every day Mr. Market calls you and offers to either sell you his share in the business or to buy you out. Mr. Market’s prices are constantly changing and often ludicrous; sometimes sky-high, sometimes rock-bottom. Do you think that Mr. Market’s daily moods have any impact on the intrinsic value of the business? Of course not. And the same goes for markets all over the world.
Buffet himself provides a neat moral to the story: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”
That’s easier said than done; the pull of the crowd is strong. But it’s also the most valuable advice on understanding markets that you will ever hear.
There are two ways to greatly reduce your expenses:
Buy less stuff (an article for another time); and
Get to know the law.
Why is the law so important? Because aside from interest and personal expenses, your biggest expense by far is tax. And when it comes to tax, the law is your only defence.
At a minimum, you must find and use any tax shields your government makes available to you: 401(k)s in the U.S.; pension schemes and ISAs in the U.K.; whatever they are, wherever you are. If you’re not using them you’re losing them.
Now for the good part…
The power of corporations:
“A corporation wrapped around the technical skills of accounting, investing and markets can contribute to explosive growth.”, says Kiyosaki.
The simple reason? Individuals get taxed before other expenses. Corporations get taxed after them. Let’s use an easy example:
Assume my income is $1,000, my expenses are $500 and the tax rate for both individuals and companies is 20%.
As an individual: My residual income is my starting income [$1,000] less my tax [$1,000 x 20% = $200] less my expenses [$500]. So, $1,000 – $200 – $500 = $300.
In a corporation: My residual income is my starting income [$1,000] less my expenses [$500], less my tax [($1,000 – $500) x 20% = $100]. So, $1,000 – $500 – $100 = $400.
In other words, I walk away with 33% more income in a corporation than as an individual.
The real picture, of course, is more complex; but hopefully, you should feel motivated enough to go and fill in the blanks.
“A person who understand the tax advantages and protections provided by a corporation”, explains Kiyosaki, “can get rich so much faster than someone who is an employee or a small-business sole proprietor.”
“It’s like the difference between someone walking and someone flying. [It’s] profound when it comes to long-term wealth.”
Sales, deal-making, and management are among the most rewarding and exciting skills you will ever add to life’s toolbox.
And the good news? They are nowhere near as hard as you think.
Let’s begin. Starting with…
Yes, selling is scary. Yes, it’s demoralising. And yes, that is exactly why you should do it.
“The better you are at communicating, negotiating, and handling your fear of rejection,” explains Kiyosaki, “the easier life is.”
I was terrified of selling. So I spent the first two years of my career cold-calling executives to sell financial products. After months of rejection, I somehow convinced the CEOs of Turkey’s 5 top steel mills to meet with me. When I arrived in Istanbul, age 21, cheap polyester suit, all gelled hair and Labrador energy, did they welcome me? They barely contained their laughter. It still makes me wince.
Do I regret it? I can’t point to a single other professional experience that had so great a positive impact on my life and work.
Kiyosaki’s advice? Spend at least a couple of years working in sales. Ideally as a network marketer in a multi-level marketing company. Look careuflly for one with a good sales training program: “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you learn.”
And remember:“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations they are willing to have.” — Tim Ferriss.
“There are two kinds of investors”, writes Kiyosaki:
“The type who buys packaged investments”; and
“The type who creates investments.”
“It is important to learn how to put the pieces together because that is where the huge wins reside.” So how do we access those huge wins? To become the second type of investor, you must learn to:
Raise money; and
Organise smart people.
Sound like hard work? It is. “There is a lot to learn,” Kiyosaki reminds us, “but the rewards can be astronomical.”
The first step to finding opportunities is to look for them. And looking gets easier if you learn and surround yourself with smart people.
But even the best ideas are cheap; “Action always beats inaction,” and rich people don’t just find opportunities, they make them:
“Shop for bargains in all markets.” Stay open-minded. And remember Warren Buffet’s advice: “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”
“Look for someone who wants to buy first, then look for someone who wants to sell.” Investors call this arbitrage. Use your learning to close gaps between buyers and sellers. Though rare, there’s no better way to make good, quick, risk-free money.
“Make lots of offers” In fact, always make offers, even if they’re stupidly low. And make them with escape clauses – “subject-to” contingencies, even if only subject to the agreement of an imaginary business partner. You’ll be surprised how often even an insultingly low offer might be accepted.
“Think big.” Big investments come with big opportunities (volume discounts, less competition, more upside). Look for them. If you can’t fit one in your mouth, gather some co-investors to share the load. Remember, never say “I can’t afford it”, always ask “How can I afford it?”
“There is gold everywhere.” Kiyosaki reminds us time and again, it’s just “most people are not trained to see it.”
“You need to know how to raise capital,” advises Kiyosaki, “and there are many ways that don’t require a bank.”
If you want to find answers – go and look for them. I’d start with Google. Still stuck for ideas? Go back to the learning section of this article and don’t come back empty-handed.
Organise smart people:
Remember Andrew Carnegie? “The real skill is to manage and reward the people who are smarter than you in some technical area,” confirms Kiyosaki.
Finding good people is one of life’s toughest challenges. The secret? To find people who’ll shop hard for you, you must shop hard for them.
What should you look for? “Three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy,” explains Warren Buffet, “And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
Kiyosaki has an extra test: “When I interview any paid professional, I first find out how much property or stocks they personally own and what percentage they pay in taxes… I used to have an accountant [who] had no real estate. I switched because we did not love the same business.”
And when you find good people? “Pay [them] well… be fair, and most of them will be fair to you. If all you can think about is cutting their commissions, why should they want to help you? It’s just simple logic.”
One final tip from Nike founder, Phil Knight: “don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” If you’ve truly surrounded yourself with people more intelligent than yourself, the surprise will nearly always be pleasant.
Learn to find, lead, and organise good people. This one tip alone won’t just make you rich. It will change your life completely.
“If most of you can cook a better hamburger, how come McDonalds makes more money than you?” asks Kiyosaki.
“The answer”, he explains, “is obvious: McDonalds is excellent at business systems. The reason so many talented people are poor is because they focus on building a better hamburger and know little to nothing about business systems.”
So how do we get better at managing systems? Kiyosaki restates the importance of “work to learn” over “work to earn”. Jump at chances to work in different parts of your organisation, even if it means deferring a promotion. The long-term benefit of understanding the many working parts of a business will far exceed any short-term loss of earnings.
You plan on writing anything, to anyone, ever again.
You’re a messiah at turning 5 points and 2 quotes into 5,000 words.
Watching a masterful, championship-winning play sends a tingle down your spine.
“On Writing Well” is a book so brimming with wisdom that reading it feels like you’re clutching a living brain.
This is writing, about writing, for writers, by a captain of the craft. Which – whether your medium is books, articles, reports, emails, messages, or status updates – makes “On Writing Well” a book for us all.
But it isn’t William Zinsser‘s 70 years of journalism, writing, editing, criticism and teaching that makes this book so special. It’s not the plethora of practical pointers, nor the abundance of anecdotes, quotes, examples, and references that colour them along the way. It isn’t even the mini-guides on writing about people, travel, memoir, science, business, sports, arts, and humour.
What makes this book special is Zinsser‘s humanity and warmth. This is writing at its best, and when you learn that Zinsser passed away just recently, aged 92, it feels oddly like losing the contact details of someone you were just getting to know.
I found it difficult to crunch “On Writing Well” and even harder to write a worthy introduction. I’ve tried to capture the major points below. In doing so I’ve omitted some of Zinsser‘s more granular tips, much of the specific guidance from the mini-guides, and all of his warmth, charm, and charisma.
“On Writing Well” is a book that should be experienced first hand. But don’t read it because you’re a writer. Read it for the thrill of meeting a master at his craft. Read it because “quality is a reward of its own.”
WRITING WELL IS A CRAFT; ANYONE CAN LEARN IT.
Like learning any skill, writing well needs the right: Mindset, Motivation, Practice (Quantity and Quality), and Opportunity.
Mindset: Anyone can learn to write well. But it will take time and effort and you will make mistakes. Persevere and remember: “Your only contest is with yourself”.
Motivation: Write well for the reader but write about things you find interesting. You will find it easier to persevere with and enjoy and your energy will come across in your writing.
Practice (Quantity): “You learn to write by writing”, so “establish a daily schedule and stick to it” and remember: “the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.”
Practice (Quality): First strip your writing down, then build it back up. Practice purposefully to master the basics. Work at each component, form, and style. Work on your weaknesses and become obsessive over detail: “No writing decision is too small to be worth a large expenditure of time.”
Opportunity: Attend courses and read about learning to write. Seek other writers, teachers and editors. Study, note, and imitate the masters: “Find the best writers in the fields that interest you and read their work aloud” and “never hesitate to imitate another writer. Imitation is part of the creative process for anyone learning an art or a craft.”
GOOD WRITING IS CLEAR, SIMPLE, CONCISE, AND HUMAN.
“Give the reader a narrative flow he can follow with no trouble from beginning to end.”
The reader should find it easy to follow.
The writing should be structured, linear, flowing, emphatic, and familiar.
The writer should set a single intention, research extensively, think clearly, structure carefully and use analogies.
“A simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker.”
The reader should find it easy to read.
The writing should contain short and simple paragraphs, sentences, and words.
The writer should test by reading aloud. Always remember the reader and shorten words where possible.
“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”
The reader should find each point quick to understand.
The writing should use words that are surprising, strong, and precise in their meaning.
The writer should eliminate clutter (“Good writing is lean and emphatic.”), avoid cliché and jargon, and commit (“Don’t hedge with little timidities.”)
“Writing is an intimate transaction between two people… and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity.”
The reader should be able to relate to both content and author.
The writing should feel personal, energetic, specific, and concrete.
The writer should write like a person, tell a story, use quotes, use detail to illustrate the general, and have fun.
GOOD WRITING GROWS FROM GOOD PROCESS.
“Decide what single point you want to leave in the reader’s mind”.
Decide how you plan to put it there.
“Readers should always feel that you know more about a subject than you put in writing.”
Go after your research; if it interests you then “get on the plane”: travel to the next town, county, or county to find it.
“Always collect more material than you will use.”
“Look for your material everywhere”, not just in the obvious places.
And follow surprises. “Surprise is the most refreshing element in non-fiction writing. If something surprises you it will also surprise – and delight – the people you are writing for.”
“Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.”
Select: Use less than you have.
Reduce: Explain big by thinking small. Tell a story.
Organise: Clear writing <==> Clear thinking.
“Your subconscious mind does more writing than you think” so, “never go to sleep without a request to [it].” — Thomas Edison
Go easy on yourself (“The first draft of anything is shit.” — Earnest Hemmingway)
Put yourself into the writing by always writing the first draft in the first person (then go back and remove the ‘I’s if you must).
Trust and adapt to your material: “Don’t become the prisoner of a preconceived plan”.
When you get stuck ask yourself “What is this piece really about?”
Read aloud; remove anything you wouldn’t actually say.
Edit on paper; process the full composition with a pen, then apply edits.
Continuously strengthen, tighten and make the language more precise.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat: “Rewriting is the essence of writing well; it’s where the game is won or lost.”
A good editor brings an “objective eye” and “can’t be thanked fervently enough”.
But defend against direct edits to (a) style and (b) content: “If you allow your distinctiveness to be edited out, you will lose one of your major virtues.”
THE ANATOMY OF WRITING WELL.
“Writing that endures consists of words that are short and strong.”
Use short words over long words.
Use verbs over nouns.
Verbs: Use active verbs over passive verbs.
“The ground was covered in leaves.” → “Leaves covered the ground”
Nouns: Make people act, not concepts.
“The first reaction is often laughter.” → “People often laugh.”
“The professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it… writing is a craft, not an art, and… the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke… if your job is to write every day, you learn to do it like any other job.”
“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.”
“Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination” – U.S., Government
“Tell them that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows.” – Franklin Roosevelt
“Leaders who bob and weave like ageing boxers don’t inspire confidence – or deserve it. The same thing is true of writers. Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.”
“Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what was written by earlier masters. Writing is learned by imitation… I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
“Such considerations of sound and rhythm should go into everything you write. If all your sentences move at the same plodding gait… read them aloud. (I write entirely by ear and read everything aloud before letting it go out into the world.) You’ll begin to hear where the trouble lies.”
“Every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five – just one. So decide what single point you want to leave in the reader’s mind.”
“The longer I work at the craft of writing, the more I realize that there’s nothing more interesting than the truth… The assumption is that fact and color are two separate ingredients. They’re not; color is organic to the fact. Your job is to present the colorful fact.”
“Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually, a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts.”
“Don’t alter your voice to fit your subject. Develop one voice that readers will recognize when they hear it on the page, a voice that’s enjoyable not only in its musical line but in its avoidance of sounds that would cheapen its tone: breeziness and condescension and clichés.”
“My favourite definition of a careful writer comes from Joe DiMaggio, though he didn’t know that’s what he was defining… A reporter once asked him how he managed to play so well so consistently, and he said ‘I always thought that there was at least one person in the stands who had never seen me play, and I didn’t want to let him down.'”
You have something to say but you’re struggling to be heard.
You’re an entrepreneur or freelancer hunting for links, exposure, and customers.
You’re curious what it takes to get published by some of the biggest blogs in the world.
Maybe it’s happened to you.
You invested deeply in a piece of writing, carefully crafting each paragraph, sentence, and phrase. Your precious words, you knew they had to be right to attract the right audience – to have the right impact.
You finally hit ‘publish’, and what happened? Nothing. Nada. Nobody read them. Not even your friends and family. No links, no likes, no comments; people said they liked your work, and yet you still didn’t get the right results.
So now you’re wondering: Do you just need to be patient and wait for your traffic to snowball?
Or could it be that your writing really does suck and your wellwishers are just protecting your delicate artistic sensibilities?
The Surprisingly Simple Truth
The solution is simple. To get results and make an impact you must:
Write about things that people actually want to read.
Learn to write about them well (and to rewrite them even better).
Get your writing published where people will see it.
“Smart bloggers know where they want to go, and how to find the right strategies to get there. If you don’t have the right approach, it won’t happen.” – Jon is both an exceptional copywriter and an inspirational teacher. But don’t take my word for it: visit his website, read his story, judge him for yourself.
Though much of his content is free, I was recently inspired by another writer, Benjamin Hardy, to try one of his excellent paid courses. I wasn’t disappointed. Whether you’re a writer, blogger, or entrepreneur I’d strongly recommend taking a look. (N.b., This is not an affiliate link. I’m not incentivised or paid in any way to promote Jon – I just think his work is awesome.)
For now, here’s an insight into the mind of a guest blogging pro and 25 steps to get started on right away…
1. Understand “Why?”
“A blog without a clear goal is like a killer resume without a dream job to apply for.” – Jon Morrow
Ask yourself: Why am I guest blogging? To attract freelance clients? To increase my readership? To develop my writing?
Write your goal down and make it SMART (simple, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound): e.g., I sign up 10 new Freelance clients by XXX
2. Know who you’re talking to.
Ask yourself: What single deep desire unites my target audience? If I could grant them one wish, what would they ask for?
Your track record is far less important than you think.
5. Use the 3Cs to eliminate dead ends.
Go through your list and eliminate any blogs that fails one of the following tests.
If you finish with fewer than 5 blogs, return to Step 4 to find more targets.
i. Crowd: Is the audience engaged?
Use comments and social shares to test levels of audience engagement.
Look for a minimum of ~5 comments per post. 10 – 30 is preferable. 30+ is dynamite.
If comments are low or disabled entirely, look for a minimum of ~50 shares per post. 100 – 500 is preferable. 500+ is dynamite.
Check each target manually or use a tool like Buzzsumo to get an overview.
ii. Contributors: Does the blog accept guest posts?
Either explicitly: Look for a “Write for us” link or equivalent in header and footer menus.
Or implicitly: Check posts for multiple authors. Review the author bio boxes for clues. Search the site for keywords like, “guest post”.
To do this type: “site:http://whywhathow.xyz guest post” into Google, replacing WhyWhatHow with your target blog’s domain.
Avoid blogs which accept guest posts either by invitation only or rarely at all; focus on easier targets.
iii. Credit: Does the blog credit guest authors in the right way?
Proper credit is critical. Without it, your guest post won’t move you towards your guest blogging goal.
Check the author bio boxes at the end of each post. Look for a bio on the same page as your article that allows you to link freely.
Avoid blogs that direct users to another page for author information. Be wary of blogs that only allow links in fixed ways e.g. “Website”.
6. Draft a well-connected hit-list.
For each target on your short-list, ask yourself: How well does this blog connect with my target audience’s deepest desire (see Step 2)?
Read each blog’s title, tagline, about page, and ten most popular posts. Now rate its chance of connecting with your audience: High, Medium, or Low.
(Look for an on-site ‘Most Popular’ list or use a tool like Buzzsumo to find any blog’s most popular recent posts.)
Narrow your focus to the three most promising targets. This is your hit-list.
7. Work out what keeps your readers up until 2 A.M.
Start with the most promising target on your hit-list.
Read each of its top ten posts; as you read, write down three answers to each of the following questions:
What desires do these posts promise to fulfil?
What goals do they help the reader achieve, or use to lure them in?
What fears do they amplify or offer to cure?
What frustrations do they empathise with and present solutions for?
Write in the first person (“I want…”, “I’m afraid…”, “I find it frustrating…”).
Read them aloud. If they don’t sound right: try, try and try again.
8. Make your topic irresistible.
Pick the three answers that really stand out to you from Step 7.
Ask yourself: what three outcomes would make this person’s day?
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What completed outcomes would genuinely fulfil this desire, move them towards this goal, reassure this fear or relieve this frustration?
These outcomes will be at the core of your guest post. Write each one down and say it aloud. If you can’t imagine someone saying it to a friend, or it’s not a result that would make their day, try again.
9. Grab their attention.
If your irresistible results are your business plan, your headline is your two-second elevator pitch.
An effective headline grabs readers’ attention because it:
Contains power words that evoke emotion – e.g., 13 Negative Thoughts That Cause Low Self-Esteem >> 13 Toxic Thoughts That Crush Your Confidence
Is specific – e.g., How to Get More Followers on Twitter >> How to Get 1,000 New Twitter Followers in Just 24 Hours
Is concrete (i.e., detectable by the senses) – How to Increase Customer Satisfaction >> How to Make Customers So Happy They’ll Call to Thank You
Avoid headlines that are:
Too clever e.g., How to Get Attention Without Receiving a Detention
Arthur is a learning freak, traveller, and writer who loves to help curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his free Ultimate Language Learning Guide to save thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.
21. Don’t stumble at the last hurdle.
It’s finally time to submit!
Follow the submission and formatting instructions from Step 13 carefully. If you submit by email, send your guest post as an attachment.
Now, be patient. Go back to Step 7 to build a pipeline of articles across multiple blogs as you wait for a response.
If you don’t hear anything back, follow up politely every couple of weeks (see Step 13).
If your post is rejected: Ask for and apply feedback quickly and carefully. Now resubmit.
If your post is accepted: Congratulations! Give yourself a high five and move on to the next step.
22. Help others to help you.
It’s totally normal for it to take several weeks for a post to go live after it’s been accepted.
When the day comes, be sure to promote your guest post as you would any post on your own blog:
Post it to social media.
Send it to influencers in your niche.
Write a summary for your email list.
Not only will this increase the post’s momentum, it will also build valuable goodwill with the publisher.
If the deadline passes and you can’t see your post, check in gently and politely to see if you can help things along.
23. Your job isn’t over quite yet.
One of the most important steps in guest posting is the follow-up.
Reply to at least 25 – 50% of the comments people leave. This will:
Build a dialogue with the people who care about your writing.
Usually be expected by the publisher of your guest post.
Promote your work by increasing the total number of comments.
Always take time to thank the people who helped make your post successful. These include:
The target blogger or editor who took time to edit and publish your post.
Anyone who greased the wheels through introductions or coaching.
The supporters who took time to read and promote your work.
Anyone who links to your post. Why not leave a comment on their blog?
24. Don’t forget: What gets measured gets done.
What simple, single metric could you use to measure success? Pick something that relates to your blogging goal from Step 1.
Don’t know how to use Google Analytics? Learn, or use basic ‘before and after’ numbers within a 48h time frame as a rough proxy.
Be results oriented. Adjust your guest blogging strategy based on these results. Double down on publisher and topic combinations that drive your metric of success.
25. And remember: A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Congratulations! Having your first guest post published is a huge high. Take a moment to enjoy it. Quickly catch your breath. Now return to Step 7.
Momentum is your friend. Do everything you can to maintain it. Make guest posting a habit. Build pitching and writing into your weekly routine.
Chip diligently away at your guest blogging goal with each guest post. Your success is guaranteed.
The Feeling You’ll Never Forget
Maybe it’s happened to you.
You invested deeply in a piece of writing, carefully crafting each paragraph, sentence, and phrase.
But this time, when you hit ‘publish’ your voice was heard. The shares, emails and comments came streaming in. You landed thousands of new subscribers or customers. You feel fearless, happy and fulfilled.
Not only did people read and care about your message, you actually made their day, you filled them with hope, and you may even have changed their lives.
What’s more, you realised something eye-opening in the process. With sufficient grit and curiosity, given just the right approach, you can conquer just about anything you put your mind to. There’s no secret to getting published and changing lives, it’s just a question of attitude and approach.
So tell me, friend: What’s your guest blogging goal? And what are you going to do about it?
Writing good concise English is important to your success.
You can’t spot the simple, common and ‘obvious’ mistake in this sentence.
The idea of someone crunching such a sacred work fills you with rage.
“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Dorothy Parker
Reading Strunk’s Elements of Style is like eating your grandmother’s Brussels sprouts. Though you know it’ll make you big and strong when you grow up, you still occasionally feel like stabbing whoever suggested it with a fork.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some absolute gold inside: omit needless words, write actively and positively, structure your paragraphs and sentences effectively.
And yet, Strunk’s choice to open with ‘the correct use of possessive apostrophes’ is so bizarre, his writing, at times, so concise and so technical, that the book often feels much harder going than it needs to be.
That said, if writing good concise English is important to your success then The Elements of Style is a classic. Its rules are powerful and practical. Its relevance is timeless and enduring. Its ~70 pages have sold over 10 million copies since its first edition in 1918.
In the crunch below I’ve reworked Strunk’s main points into something more digestible. If you’re serious about writing, and enjoy the gist, then do read the original; not only is it something of a rite of passage, you’ll also find more detail and examples than I give below.
WRITE CONCISELY, ACTIVELY AND POSITIVELY.
Good writing is concise, forcible, and emphatic. To improve yours, remember to:
Write your first draft freely. Now remove needless paragraphs, sentences and words. Don’t aim for a word count; instead make every word count.
Unless for specific emphasis, always write in the active voice.
Passive: He was taken by the police. Active: The police took him.
Passive: She was deeply touched by the gift. Active: The gift touched her deeply.
Remember: Rewrite passive phrases actively.
Don’t use ‘not’ to soften your writing. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
✘ He was not honest. ✓ He was dishonest.
✘ She did not remember. ✓ She forgot.
Remember: Rewrite negatives in their positive form.
STRUCTURE YOUR WRITING FOR EASY READING.
Build a framework that is easy for your reader to climb; ask them to keep as little in their working memory as possible.
STRUCTURE YOUR PARAGRAPHS.
Think of paragraphs as bullet points. Each bullet makes a single important point. Each sub-bullet is a table leg that supports its parent.
For each paragraph: the first sentence should state your main point; the middle sentences should elaborate on and support it; the final sentence should re-emphasise the first.
Use words like ‘again’, ‘therefore’, and ‘for the same reason’ to relate paragraphs back to the larger composition. If you need more than one linking phrase, consider setting them apart in their own paragraph.
STRUCTURE YOUR SENTENCES.
Place emphasis at the end of a sentence to help the reader flow from one to the next.
This steel is used for making swords, because it ishard. (emphasises hardness)
Because of its hardness, this steel is used for makingswords. (emphasises swords)
Express similar ideas in the same way to make it easy for the reader to compare them.
✘ In spring, summer, or in winter. ✓ In spring, summer, or winter.
Keep related words together to maintain flow and help the reader identify relationships between them.
✘All the members were not present. ✓Not all the members were present.
BUILD ROCK SOLID SENTENCES.
Separate standalone sentences with semicolons or periods.
✓ It’s nearly half past five; we can’t reach town before dark. ✓ It’s nearly half past five. We can’t reach town before dark.
Or join them with a comma and a conjunction (e.g., and, but, if).
✘ It’s nearly half past five, we can’t reach town before dark. ✓ It’s nearly half past five, and we can’t reach town before dark.
N.B., this kind of joint creates a ‘loose sentence’. Avoid using too many. Instead try tighter constructions.
✓ The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape. ✓✓ Although the situation is perilous, there is still one chance of escape. ✓✓✓ In this perilous situation, there is still one chance of escape.
Enclose extra information in commas or parenthesis, not periods.
✘ The best way to see a country is to travel on foot. Unless you are pressed for time. ✓ The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot. ✓ The best way to see a country (unless you are pressed for time) is to travel on foot.
But remember, information you can’t remove without changing a sentence’s meaning is not ‘extra information’.
✘ The candidate, who best meets these requirements, will obtain the place. ✘ The candidate (who best meets these requirements) will obtain the place. ✓ The candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place.
And finally, keep the subject of an opening phrase the same as the subject of the main phrase.
✘Young and inexperienced, the task seemed easy to me. ✓Young and inexperienced, I thought the task easy.
✘Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap. ✓Being in a dilapidated condition, the house was very cheap to buy.
GET YOUR GRAMMAR ON.
With lists of three or more terms connect each term with commas except the last.
✓ red, white, and blue ✓ honest, energetic, but headstrong
The only exceptions are:
Business names, e.g., Brown, Shipley and Company; and
Etc., which is always preceded by a comma even after one term: bread, etc.,
N.b., Abbreviations like ‘etc.’ and ‘jr.’ are also always followed by commas except at the end of a sentence.
Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s.
✓ Charles’s … ✓ Burns’s … ✓ witch’s …
Possessives of ancient proper names in -es and -is
The possessive Jesus’
Forms such as for conscience’ sake and for righteousness’ sake
Divide words at line-ends in accordance with their formation and pronunciation.
There are no hard and fast rules, the following guidelines are most frequently applied:
Divide the word according to its formation.
✓ know-ledge ✘ knowl-edge
Divide “on the vowel”.
✓ edi-ble ✘ ed-ible
Divide between double letters, unless at the end of the simple form of the word.
✓ refer-ring ✘ referr-ing
POLISH YOUR STYLE.
Leave a blank line, or equivalent, after the title or heading of a composition.
Do not spell out serial numbers (including dates), write them in figures.
Punctuate a sentence with parentheses as if the parentheses were absent.
I went to his house (my third attempt to see him), but he had left town.
The final punctuation mark in parenthesis is omitted unless it is a question mark, an exclamation point or the expression is wholly detached.
He declares (and why should we doubt him?) that he is now certain of success.
(This is an example of a wholly detached expression in parenthesis.)
Formal quotations are introduced by a colon and enclosed in quotation marks:
The provision is: “No tax or duty…”
In-line quotes, or those that are the direct object of verbs, are preceded by a comma and enclosed in quotation marks.
Aristotle says, “Art is an imitation of nature.”
Entire lines of verse are begun on a fresh line and centred but without quotation marks:
Bliss it was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!
Proverbial expressions, colloquialisms, slang and indirect quotes are not enclosed in quotation marks:
Keats declares that beauty is truth, truth beauty.
He lives far from the maddening crowd.
Abbreviate references and give them in parenthesis or footnotes, not in the body of the sentence.
Give the titles of literary works in italics with capitalised letters.
Omit the initial ‘A’ or ‘The’ when placing the possessive before them.
✓ Strunk’s The Elements of Style. ✘ Strunk’s Elements of Style.
That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post, why not:
“Omit Needless Words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”