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Why Mental Toughness Matters
Here are some of the top athlete’s thoughts on mental toughness:
“The mental toughness and the heart are a lot stronger than some of the physical advantages you might have. I’ve always said that and I’ve always believed that.”
She is widely regarded as the best female soccer player to play the game. When asked what the most important thing for a soccer play to have, Mia said with no hesitation, “mental toughness.” She went on to say:
“It is one of the most difficult aspects of soccer and the one I struggle with every game and every practice.”
Rich Froning (from his book First)
Who is Rich? He is widely regarded as the best Crossfitter of all time in the short several years of the sport’s existence. He won back-to-back three years in a row and came in 2nd place the first time he competed, a feat no one has come close to.
Mental toughness a key to success in Crossfit because it helps you push farther. Rich has trained a lot of different people in Crossfit. He still wonders why some of them have mental toughness and other don’t.
How to Improve Mental Toughness
If he had to answer the question, he thinks it comes down to upbringing and pushing your comfort zone early on. There have been moments during the Crossfit Games where he thought, “I don’t feel like doing this. Why am I doing it?”
And that’s when his upbringing kicked in. His parents made him do a lot of chores, including meaningless tasks like pulling nails off a board, to instill in him a strong work ethic. His work ethic kicked in automatically when he wanted to give up.
As far as pushing your comfort zone early on, he means you can’t rely on your genetic gifts. He has observed many successful athletes rely on their talents to get them through high school. But when they hit college, they meet people who have the genetic skill and the mental toughness from pushing past their limits.
Therefore, always push yourself farther than you can go. Don’t just try to skate by on winning the genetic lottery.
Tim Ferriss: http://tim.blog/2016/12/14/mental-toughness/
This video explains mental toughness fairly well, though it can be applied to many situations:
Here’s the book I mentioned in the podcast, which I think is a great guide to mental toughness because of all of its special mental toughness techniques, like using classical conditioning to tie a song to your visualization trigger: The Ultimate Guide to Mental Toughness (I’ll get a small commission if you buy through my link at not extra cost to you.).
Sam Walton may have been the richest person to ever exist. It is hard to get a number for his net worth when he was alive. But the inheritance he left his four children kept them consistently at the top ten richest people in the world. And he was declared the richest man in the United States when he was alive.
I just had to read his book Made in America to discover his secrets to success and learn more about him as a person. And man, was I shocked.
Sam is the complete opposite of the stereotypical show-off, jet-setting millionaire CEO who parties with models. In fact, he was humble, frugal, and cared about the lowest level employee. He was also charismatic, hard-working (sometimes to a fault), and a family man.
Lately, I’ve been noticing this trend of an “old-fashioned, humble guy” among the billionaires I’ve studied, including Warren Buffett and Phil Knight. Perhaps, these show-off millionaires on Instagram can learn a thing or two from them.
I wanted to share with you some of my favorite Sam Walton quotes and why they’re so awesome:
“I don’t subscribe to any of these fancy investment theories and most people would be surprised to know that I haven’t done much investing in anything but Walmart. I believe the folks who have done the best with Walmart stock are those who have studied the company and understood our strengths and our management approach and who, like me, have decided to invest with us for the long run.”
-Sam Walton, from the book Made in America
Sometimes, the best investment for a CEO is to reinvest in what they already understand and what’s already working really well. Having studied a lot of investing myself, I realize investing is a different skillset than running a company. Although Warren Buffett says they’re complimentary, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be good at one if you’re good at another.
Eerily similar to Warren Buffett’s investing method, Sam argues that the investment firms and individual stockholders who have done the best with Walmart stock were not looking for technical chart patterns or short-term profits. They were not people who saw Walmart as nothing more than a ticker symbol and didn’t know much about the actual company.
They were people who studied the company until they fully understood its strengths and management approach. And they were willing to hold the stock for a long time, if not, forever. According to the book Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, the real money is to be made in the long term, not the short-term jumping in and out.
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
“I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”
“High expectations are the key to everything.”
“I had to pick myself up and get on with it, do it all over again, only even better this time.” (And he did)
“What we guard against around here is people saying, ‘Let’s think about it.’ We make a decision. Then we act on it.”
“Everything I’ve done I’ve copied from somebody else.”
Like quite a few others I’ve met, I used to think it’s unethical to copy from someone else. While in some creative arenas, like art, music, or fiction, it is, that’s not the case for business. It’s not so black and white.
As long as its legal, you’d be a fool to not copy another who has found a much better way. According to Warren Buffett, a core part of any business industry involves building a durable competitive advantage so others can’t copy you and accepting copying as natural by realizing competitors will copy your good ideas.
A few years ago, I saw a popular thread on Reddit. The creator of the thread was complaining about how his own cousin stole his business idea and sold the same product behind his back. While I did think it was a dick move that his cousin shouldn’t have done, I also realize how small-sighted his thinking was.
If it’s a good product, tons of people will copy it. If it wasn’t his cousin, a stranger would have. In fact, it wouldn’t just be one person — but many. It’s legal to copy product designs if you don’t have a patent. So instead of whining, be like Sam Walton and learn from others, while strengthening your advantage so it can’t be copied.
“Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea.”
“For my whole career in retail, I have stuck by one guiding principle. It’s a simple one, and I have repeated it over and over and over in this book until I’m sure you’re sick to death of it. But I’m going to say it again anyway: the secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want.”
“The small stores were just destined to disappear, at least in the numbers they once existed, because the whole thing is driven by the customers, who are free to choose where to shop.”
This quote is so insightful. Sam was never one to be stuck with the old. You might think he is because he’s old and speaks in Old English. But he saw reality as it was and changed with the times. Sam knew that the penny-and-dime business model was coming to an end, so he started building discount retail stores instead. Others would have clung on to what they were comfortable and familiar with.
Another huge point is understanding that everything is driven by whatever the customers want. They are free to go wherever they want.
I’ve noticed a lot of small business owners who express feelings of outrage and injustice when their loyal customers leave them for a new competitor. First off, that implies that the loyalty they thought they had wasn’t as deep as they thought; they need to work on being better at building that. But more importantly, it means the customer will go where there is the most value.
At some point, every customer has a price. No matter how loyal a customer is to one company based on past history, some degree of higher value (in the form of cheaper price, higher quality, or something else) is able to steal that customer away. At least, that’s the theory I have come up with based on my studies.
“And this is a very important point: without the computer, Sam Walton could not have done what he’s done.”
Some context might help here. Sam said this — about himself. Also, he was the first of his competitors to adopt computer and satellite technology, which put him ten years ahead of everyone else. Don’t be confused by how traditional and non-tech Walmart seems, Sam constantly embraced change and innovation.
“I don’t think any other retail company in the world could do what I’m going to propose to you. It’s simple. It won’t cost us anything. And I believe it would just work magic, absolute magic on our customers, and our sales would escalate, and I think we’d just shoot past our Kmart friends in a year or two and probably Sears as well. I want you to take a pledge with me. I want you to promise that whenever you come within ten feet of a customer, you will look him in the eye, greet him, and ask him if you can help him. Now I know some of you are just naturally shy, and maybe don’t want to bother folks. But if you’ll go along with me on this, it would, I’m sure, help you become a leader. It would help your personality develop, you would become more outgoing, and in time you might become manager of that store, you might become a department manager, you might become a district manager, or whatever you choose to be in the company. It will do wonders for you. I guarantee it. Now, I want you to raise your right hand—and remember what we say at Wal-Mart, that a promise we make is a promise we keep—and I want you to repeat after me: From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every time a customer comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look him in the eye, and greet him. So help me Sam.”
“What’s really worried me over the years is not our stock price, but that we might someday fail to take care of our customers, or that our managers might fail to motivate and take care of our associates. I also was worried that we might lose the team concept, or fail to keep the family concept viable and realistic and meaningful to our folks as we grow. Those challenges are more real than somebody’s theory that we’re headed down the wrong path.”
“As an old-time small-town merchant, I can tell you that nobody has more love for the heyday of the smalltown retailing era than I do. That’s one of the reasons we chose to put our little Wal-Mart museum on the square in Bentonville. It’s in the old Walton’s Five and Dime building, and it tries to capture a little bit of the old dime store feel. But I can also tell you this: if we had gotten smug about our early success, and said, “Well, we’re the best merchant in town,” and just kept doing everything exactly the way we were doing it, somebody else would have come along and given our customers what they wanted, and we would be out of business today.”
“The two most important words I ever wrote were on that first Wal-Mart sign: “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” They’re still up there, and they have made all the difference.”
One of the best parts of Sam Walton is his ability to keep it so simple. How many businesses are failing at satisfying their customers every time? You don’t have to over-complicate it.
“Well, now, Sam, how big do you really want this company to be? What is your plan?” —FEROLD AREND, shortly after coming to work at Wal-Mart “Ferold, we’re going to take it as it comes, and if we can grow with our own money, we’ll maybe add a store or two.”
“Watson, Sr., was running IBM, he decided they would never have more than four layers from the chairman of the board to the lowest level in the company. That may have been one of the greatest single reasons why IBM was successful.”
“I’m asked why today, when Wal-Mart has been so successful, when we’re a $50 billion-plus company, should we stay so cheap? That’s simple: because we believe in the value of the dollar. We exist to provide value to our customers, which means that in addition to quality and service, we have to save them money. Every time Wal-Mart spends one dollar foolishly, it comes right out of our customers’ pockets. Every time we save them a dollar, that puts us one more step ahead of the competition—which is where we always plan to be.”
“Rogers had been open about a year, and everything was just piled up on tables, with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Sam asked me to kind of group the stuff by category or department, and that’s when we began our department system. The thing I remember most, though, was the way we priced goods. Merchandise would come in and we would just lay it down on the floor and get out the invoice. Sam wouldn’t let us hedge on a price at all. Say the list price was $1.98, but we had only paid 50 cents. Initially, I would say, ‘Well, it’s originally $1.98, so why don’t we sell it for $1.25?’ And he’d say, ‘No. We paid 50 cents for it. Mark it up 30 percent, and that’s it. No matter what you pay for it, if we get a great deal, pass it on to the customer.’ And of course that’s what we did.”
“The basic discounter’s idea was to attract customers into the store by pricing these items—toothpaste, mouthwash, headache remedies, soap, shampoo—right down at cost. Those were what the early discounters called your “image” items. That’s what you pushed in your newspaper advertising—like the twenty-seven-cent Crest at Springdale—and you stacked it high in the stores to call attention to what a great deal it was. Word would get around that you had really low prices. Everything else in the store was priced low too, but it had a 30 percent margin. Health and beauty aids were priced to give away.”
“When you move like we did from town to town in these mostly rural areas, word of mouth gets your message out to customers pretty quickly without much advertising.”
“The first one is could a Wal-Mart-type story still occur in this day and age? My answer is of course it could happen again. Somewhere out there right now there’s someone—probably hundreds of thousands of someones—with good enough ideas to go all the way. It will be done again, over and over, providing that someone wants it badly enough to do what it takes to get there. It’s all a matter of attitude and the capacity to constantly study and question the management of the business.”
This is probably one of the most inspirational quotes in his whole book. The fact that Sam had enough faith to believe that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there with the right idea that can take them all the way is amazing.
It made me excited for what other amazing businesses will arise and other incredible game-changers will show up. It also ends with some useful advice:
It’s about attitude.
You have to want it badly enough to do what it takes.
It’s about constantly studying, examining, and questioning the management of your business.
“A lot of what goes on these days with high-flying companies and these overpaid CEO’s, who’re really just looting from the top and aren’t watching out for anybody but themselves, really upsets me. It’s one of the main things wrong with American business today.”
“If American business is going to prevail, and be competitive, we’re going to have to get accustomed to the idea that business conditions change, and that survivors have to adapt to those changing conditions. Business is a competitive endeavor, and job security lasts only as long as the customer is satisfied. Nobody owes anybody else a living.”
“A little later on, Phil ran what became one of the most famous item promotions in our history. We sent him down to open store number 52 in Hot Springs, Arkansas—the first store we ever opened in a town that already had a Kmart. Phil got there and decided Kmart had been getting away with some pretty high prices in the absence of any discounting competition. So he worked up a detergent promotion that turned into the world’s largest display ever of Tide, or maybe Cheer—some detergent. He worked out a deal to get about $1.00 off a case if he would buy some absolutely ridiculous amount of detergent, something like 3,500 cases of the giant-sized box. Then he ran it as an ad promotion for, say, $1.99 a box, off from the usual $3.97. Well, when all of us in the Bentonville office saw how much he’d bought, we really thought old Phil had completely gone over the dam. This was an unbelievable amount of soap. It made up a pyramid of detergent boxes that ran twelve to eighteen cases high—all the way to the ceiling, and it was 75 or 100 feet long, which took up the whole aisle across the back of the store, and then it was about 12 feet wide so you could hardly get past it. I think a lot of companies would have fired Phil for that one, but we always felt we had to try some of this crazy stuff.
PHIL GREEN: “Mr. Sam usually let me do whatever I wanted on these promotions because he figured I wasn’t going to screw it up, but on this one he came down and said, ‘Why did you buy so much? You can’t sell all of this!’ But the thing was so big it made the news, and everybody came to look at it, and it was all gone in a week. I had another one that scared them up in Bentonville too. This guy from Murray of Ohio called one day and said he had 200 Murray 8 horsepower riding mowers available at the end of the season, and he could let us have them for $175. Did we want any? And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take 200.’ And he said, ‘Two hundred!’ We’d been selling them for $447, I think. So when they came in we unpacked every one of them and lined them all up out in front of the store, twenty-five in a row, eight rows deep. Ran a chain through them and put a big sign up that said: ‘8 h.p. Murray Tractors, $199.’ Sold every one of them. I guess I was just always a promoter, and being an early Wal-Mart manager was as good a place to promote as there ever was.”
Two big points here:
First, Sam was willing to try crazy out-of-the-box initiatives. This helped him find better ways of doing things, and stand out from the competition. Other CEOs may be too conservative, which prevents them from finding more efficient and profitable strategies, like Phil Green did.
Second, it’s important to hire people fit for the job and get out of their way. Sam identified Phil as a natural-born promoter and trusted him not to screw it up. When it seemed like he might, he waited until the results took place before he did anything. As noted, other companies would have immediately fired Phil for trying something so bold.
So this is a crazy, yet short and sweet piece of advice.
Napoleon Hill spent his life studying 500+ of the richest people in the world in person thanks to his access with Andrew Carnegie. He wrote books telling us how they did it and how you can do the same.
One of the things that he said was that he and Carnegie found that if you are unable to make a quick decision even when you have enough information you need, you will not follow through on your goals or be successful.
Now, this is important for two reasons:
First, note that he says you need enough resources. This means that making decisions without enough information is foolish and it doesn’t matter how slow or fast you make them.
Second, once you have the necessary info, you have to make your decision quickly. Hill went on to say that successful people make decisions quickly and are slow to change. Unsuccessful people make their decisions slowly and are quick to change.
Examples of History
Henry Ford was so stubborn with his decision about the Model T car even when every one of his colleagues told him to give up.
Yet he eventually succeeded.
I’ve put this concept on the side for a while. I was a partial skeptic because I wanted to make sure if this is really an end-all be-all rule. What if you make too quick a decision and make the wrong decision? What if that screw up hurts you badly and you could’ve have succeeded by just taking more time to think it over?
It makes sense, right? Some decisions become very clear which one is better if you are given a lot more time to do the research. Common examples are mathematical, logical games like chess or poker.
Perhaps what Napoleon means is that life is not like chess. There are too many unknowns, and you’re playing with incomplete data.
Perhaps Napoleon means that most of us fail because we spend way too much time delaying action by analysis paralysis. We could spend months or even years delaying a decision and gaining marginal or no benefit from doing so.
Maybe that’s what we should truly avoid.
What I do know is that recently I watched a speech by billionaire Kevin Plank of Under Armour. His speech, similar to billionaire John Paul DeJoria’s who came from homelessness, really pushed out any type of excuses or limiting beliefs I had about my situation, education, geographic location, or anything else.
“Get off the fence. Commit. Pick your poison. If you’re in it, get in it. If you’re at Company A, don’t spend all your time thinking about whether or not you should be here or not. Pour everything you have into it. If you make a different decision, make it full speed and move on. And never look back.”
His message is simple. Commit and put 150% into it.
He’s a guy who is very quick to commit and go full speed at something.
With this additional evidence, I think it’s clear for me that the best move for me or you at this moment is to just go full force 3000% at something. Decide quickly and move. If you make a mistake, at least you learn something and can pivot.
You can’t sit in a cave or isolate yourself with books and expect to be able to prepare everything perfectly in life ahead of time. Just go for it.
Kevin says that he meets a lot of young people who can’t decide between 2 companies. He tells them to quickly make a decision and put your heart and soul into it. He’s definitely not one to spend hours a day living in regret at the wrong decision he made or mulling over if he made a mistake.
Perhaps you shouldn’t either.
Maybe there is some benefit from talking to others in a field beforehand. You can definitely get valuable information from other people, alumni, friends, LinkedIn, or your network over coffee meetings or interviews. And that can save you a few weeks or few months of heartache from finding out a job or industry is not what you imagined it to be.
But there is a threshold of marginal returns from overanalyzing and overthinking.
Morale of the story:
Commit. Decide what you want to do. Get specific. Do it.
If you decide you want to get a job in fitness, for example, commit. Get a job in that field immediately. Try it out. Put your heart into it.
I was watching a speech by the billionaire David Rubenstein, the founder of the largest private equity firm in the world. He said something really profound and useful that I would like to share.
He said that you cannot succeed in business by just copying other people because you will just be an echo or reflection. You have to stand out by doing something completely differently. Now, I’m not saying that you should never copy. Other successful people, like the founder of Costco, Sam Walton, and Steve Jobs, have emphasized the importance of copying when it’s a no-brainer better way of doing things. I am saying that there is a lot of value to coming up with new ideas on how to do what’s been done before in a different, better way.
That’s why I want to talk about how to be more creative and imaginative. I have compiled some of the best advice out there from titans of creativity. And I want to share what I learned with you right now. Enjoy.
Respect Ideas That Aren’t Groundbreaking
Successful creativity does not require you to come up with something incredibly ground-breaking or unconventional.
An example would be the billionaires Fred Smith of FedEx or Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Warren Buffett said in a CNBC interview that they didn’t do anything crazy like discover a new molecule or come up with a great invention. Instead, they took ordinary things and combined them in imaginative ways.
Fred Smith took the airplane, delivery truck, and postal service and just put it together around a central hub and came up with a whole new industry. He made delivery a lot more efficient and with greater reach.
In the same sense, Jeff Bezos did the same thing with Amazon by combining big distribution centers and new technology with products (like books) that we already bought before the Internet was around.
The list goes on. Dominoes Pizza was built around a simple idea: selling a food we already love to buy (pizza) and promising efficient widespread delivery in 30 minutes or your money back.
I wanted to share with you my summary of a book written by the President of one of the most creative companies in the world, Ed Catmull of Pixar.
Have An Environment that Encourages Creativity
According to the book Creativity Inc., Pixar’s campus was designed by Steve Jobs so that employees were forced to walk around and meet new people to go to the bathroom. He did so that people would mingle from different departments and for cool new ideas to be formed.
Google has a campus that allows people to live there. They provide gourmet food, coffee, gyms, massage parlors, trains, and everything else. This allows employees to mingle, stay later, sleep overnight, and spur creative ideas.
I wanted to make this article about more than just a book summary of Creativity Inc. so here are 2 great videos on how to be more creative as a person:
Alone Time Is Useful
Although Pixar and Google seem to love to have campuses that encourage collaboration, sometimes this may not always be the best thing. Alone time is useful as well according to Seth Godin’s book Free Prize Inside!
He brings up a psychologist who has worked over 12+ years in creativity. He found that 4 people came up with twice the output of ideas when working alone rather than brainstorming together.
Embrace Restrictions and Deadlines
I have found that a lot of really creative people have used limited options to breed more creativity. There’s a successful Youtube channel with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. What he does is he films his son imagining these incredible scenes and playing in them. He then adds in visual effects to make it look real.
The point is that in an interview, he said that he purposefully limits the amount of exposure to media and entertainment (TV, Youtube, etc.) that his son gets because it makes him much more creative. The overexposure isn’t always a good thing.
I recently saw another Youtube channel express the same thoughts. The channel is called Brother Green Eats. They are semi-professional chefs and have a large budget to buy whatever they want. However, when they did a challenge of living off $3 a day recipes, they said that they created the most amazing, creative dishes they ever have because of the limited ingredients.
Embrace failure – it’s part of the process. Rejection only helps you if you can measure your work if it’s true and improve. Ask yourself if it’s true. Did you get the same feedback from multiple people. So that when you know it’s good, you keep going despite rejections. (When the illusionist was rejected by everybody, he had no doubt it was a hit and kept going)
Let your Subconscious Mind Work on the Problem
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. -Earnest Hemingway
Leave a little bit for your subconscious to work on it overnight. Let me show you how.
How the Subconscious Works and Why You Are Not As Creative As You Think
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he cites a study that unearths how your subconscious works:
They had people try and figure out three ways to get ropes to connect that were hung a distance apart. The first two were obvious. The third required creativity. You had to swing one of the ropes to get it to touch another.
They found that people only discovered the solution when the experimenter would come by and “accidentally” brush a rope and get it to gently swing. But here’s where it gets interesting…
When they asked people how they came up with the third solution, the vast majority said they had come up with it themselves. They had all sorts of random reasons on how they were inspired. But that didn’t make sense because it was clearly the experimenter who inspired them.
Were they being egotistical? Were they trying to claim credit? Were they lying? Well, it turns out that they were so focused on solving the problem that they did not consciously notice the experimenter brush the rope. It was the subconscious, which is always on the lookout for ways of solving the problem, that picked up on it.
Since it wasn’t conscious, they really did not know what inspired them and backwards rationalized how they figured it out with their own reasons. The next time an artist tells you who or what inspired them, you might be reminded of this study because they could be wrong.
It also just goes to show you what a waste of potential it is when you do not set a problem for the subconscious mind to solve (which is what most average do). By having a definitive goal, you can set your subconscious on autopilot.
There are plenty of successful people other than Ernest Hemingway and Napoleon Hill who have stumbled on the power of the subconscious. Here is a video of Brian Koppelman, filmmaker to big movies like Ocean’s Eleven, talking about it.
Use Sensory Stimulation
In Robert Greene’s book Mastery, he highlights many masters of different fields from physics to music who used sensory stimulation to increase creativity.
In fact, some relied on it.
This included sniffing fresh apples, stroking a cat, and seeing nature.
A spouse or partner who gets you can help you find sensory stimulation that works for you. It was the wife of the master who realized he was most creative with fresh apples nearby and laid it out for him daily.
Usually, the stimulation is from a sense that’s different than the one you are trying to get creative in. Try using a different sense when you are trying to get creative in another.
For example, try to inspire your sense of smell, taste, or touch when you are trying to improve your auditory sense of music.
In Greene’s book, he mentioned a mathematics expert who was challenged to a duel. This spelled sure death for him if he lost the duel.
The night before the duel, he wrote down all the mathematics theories he never was able to solve. That night, he was the most creative he had ever been and came up with things that were way ahead of his time.
The next day, he did lose the duel and die.
But his writings for that night revolutionized mathematics for years to come and people still wonder how he was able to come up with some of his ideas he wrote down.
Ben Franklin did something similar. He announced his ideas to the public and press before they had come to fruition or even gotten started.
This put some pressure for him to get going to start creating things.
Embrace restrictions – it helps you focus.
Meditation creates an equanimity that opens up the creative area of your mind. It opens up that area and helps separate the practical from the emotional area.
Watch this video of Ray Dalio explaining the science of meditation and how it helps your creativity:
Napoleon Hill’s Advice on Creativity
Napoleon Hill spend his entire life studying the world’s richest people thanks to his connections with billionaire Andrew Carnegie. Here’s what he had to say about improving creativity and imagination.
There are only two ways to be come up with a new idea.
The first way is through synthesis. This is when you combine old ideas and concepts in new ways.
The second way is through actually coming up with new ideas and concepts never thought of before. This is harder, but possible.
There are a few key techniques to stimulate creativity. Here they are:
Hang out and talk to other creative people to get ideas.
Travel. You will be inspired by new landscapes, people, and culture.
Take notes. Write down any events or things that inspire awe or emotion.
Read as much as you can. New stories and ideas will be revealed.
Expand your interests. Many people discover new interests that they work into ideas that make them money.
Use Your Subconscious
Great writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, have emphasized the importance of the subconscious mind. This is not some woo-woo spiritual, unprovable stuff. It can be as simple as taking a break for a few days from a problem and coming back to it. In that time, you are giving your subconscious, which is similar to a computer’s background programming, time to work on the problem in the background. Hemingway did this often with his writing.
Napoleon Hill emphasizes this often and has many stories in his books about wealthy people successfully using this.
Creativity Is About Patience, Writing Things Down, Walking Away, and Coming Back
Will Smith said in an interview for the Nearly Everything Storytelling convention that a major aspect of creativity is endurance. One of his most successful movies, I Am Legend, took ten years to create. Another one of his films is also projected to be ten years in the making and he’s in year seven. Similarly, I’ve noticed other film successes, like Avatar and Inception have taken ten years to make.
You have one thing you’re working. Keep yourself inspired at all costs. Writing something down is a valuable part of the creative process. Walking away from it for a period is part of the process too. Do something else, like going to see a play. At some point, you have to come back to it though to work on it.
Ask Yourself, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice If?”
Garry Kasparov is widely regarded as the best chess player of all time. Chess requires a good deal of creativity because there are more possible moves in a game than atoms in the universe or seconds since the Big Bang.
In his book How Life Imitatest Chess, Garry says that you sometimes should ask yourself, “Wouldn’t be nice if this were possible?”
One time, Garry playing an important match. His standard responses to his opponent’s pressure on his Queen would have revolved around making the queen escape. But then, he wondered if he could achieve the same result without moving his queen? He ended up moving the weakest piece on the board, the King, forward instead. It turned out to be a move that completely threw his opponent off guard and put him into a stronger position that won him the game.
“Every time I didn’t trust my gut, I made the wrong decision.”
I personally heard this phrase a lot when I watch interviews of successful people, so my ears perked up. I took note. But I was skeptical. Is this actually a smart thing to do? Where’s the logic behind it?
Why You Shouldn’t Always Trust Your Gut
Blindly trusting your gut in all situations can lead to bad decisions. You can mistake your gut instinct for other things, like personal pleasure, laziness, or greed. Drug addicts can “trust their gut” (which is really just chase the pleasure of drugs) and and take lots of drugs, which can cause death, poor health, and debt. What if your friends tell you to drink alcohol, party all night, and not work hard? Your gut is probably telling you to listen because you don’t want to work. And as you know, that probably won’t end up well.
A blanket statement for trusting your gut can’t be right. But I believe there is some truth, and massive value in knowing when to trust your gut.
Why You Should Trust Your Gut
So we learned that we shouldn’t trust our gut in all situations. But is there any pay off for trusting your gut in the right situations? Well, Garry Kasparov believes so. Garry is considered by most of the chess community to be the best chess player of all time. He was ranked #1 for over 20 years.
In a speech he did called “How to Achieve Your Potential”, Garry says that trusting your gut is the most important thing in chess because there are more possible move combinations than seconds since the Big Bang happened. With such an infinite amount of possible moves to calculate, you have to rely on your subconscious to do some of the work.
In a Google talk, Garry went farther and said intuition is the most valuable quality of a human being. In his book How Life Imitates Chess, Garry says that top chess players are so tapped into their intuition in games that they often make more mistakes afterwards when they have all the time and technology they want to analyze their games.
Garry’s not the only one who believes something along these lines. Here’s a quote from the legendary founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, at a Stanford commencement speech:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
“I only do what my gut tells me to. I think it’s smart to listen to other people’s advice, but at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can tell you what’s right for you.”
Dr. Dre, rapper, founder of Beats by Dre, and the man who found Eminem said this in a Time interview:
“Everything that I do is for sound goals. It comes from my gut. When I’m sitting in the studio, a mix isn’t done till I feel it in my gut. It’s been the same way from the beginning, even when I was DJ’ing, if I heard a song that I wanted to play that I thought would be great in the club that night, I’d have to feel it in my gut.”
And Taylor Swift, who needs no introduction, said this in Rolling Stone:
“I base a lot of decisions on my gut, and going with an independent label was a good one.”
And here’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who Forbes pegged the highest earning actor of 2016, said in an Esquire interview:
“I’ve never gone wrong trusting my gut. It was really the only thing that I had going into acting.”
Henry Winkler, the actor behind the iconic character the Fonz, said:
“You got to listen to your heart. Nobody ever dose. Your heart is what you should follow” Source: Video at 5:25
When Should You Trust Your Gut Then?
So when do you know it’s right to trust your gut (and when it isn’t)? After a lot of thinking and researching, I came to this conclusion:
Trust your gut only on skills where you have years of experience. The more years of success you have had, the more you can trust your gut feelings. For example, Warren Buffett has over 60 years of business experience. He made a lot of mistakes, learned a lot of hard lessons, and managed to make billions of dollars.
When he has a gut feeling, it’s not just a feeling. It’s a lightning-fast subconscious response that references decades worth of experience better than his conscious mind can.
In fact, Warren himself has mentioned in many interviews that he stays in his “circle of competence.” Outside of what he is really good at (investing), he doesn’t try his luck or skill at (and definitely not his gut feeling). This makes perfect sense because his gut feeling in chess, which he sucks at, would likely be wrong.
And it turns out that this is exactly what Warren Buffett does. In many interviews, he has admitted that he can decide whether or not to invest in a company in a matter of minutes. He has a dozen filters he consciously runs the company through, and then, he leaves it up to his decades of experience. When people call him to try to sell a company, he makes sure to cut the person off gently within minutes so no time gets wasted.
Garry Kasparov said in his book How Life Imitates Chess that a beginner chess player’s “gut instinct” is just luck. He says your intuition only kicks in when you have years of reference experience.
Jumping back to the quote by Dr. Dre, it seems like he supports this. He also said this in the Time interview:
“It’s a little bit hard to explain … It’s just a way that it makes you feel, and we’ve had that experience because of being in the studio for so long.”
Dr. Dre had many years of experience to work his gut instinct with.
The billionaire Richard Branson has a quote that also supports this idea of experience before intuition:
“Engage your emotions at work. Your instincts and emotions are there to help you. They are there to make things easier. For me, business is a ‘gut feeling,’ and if it ever ceased to be so, I think I would give it up tomorrow. By “gut feeling,” I mean that I believe I’ve developed a natural aptitude, tempered by huge amounts of experience, that tends to point me in the right direction rather than the wrong one. As a result, it also gives me the confidence to make better decisions.” -Richard Branson in Business Stripped Bare
Chip Heath’s book Decisive recommends weighing your gut decision against all the evidence and logic. Don’t just follow your gut. Use it as part of the decision process.
If you’ve extensive research and all or most of the evidence says Yes… AND it’s a skill you have over 10 years of experience in AND your gut says Yes, then that probably means go for it.
It’s easy to say Yes or No when everything aligns. But what about when it doesn’t?
In this case, I suggest the rule of favoring a false positive over a false negative or vice versa. You want to avoid the one that has a much more destructive result.
For example, let’s say you’re a business exec with 25 years of experience. You’re interviewing a seemingly perfect candidate for a very important job. On paper, his resume shows him to be perfect for the job. He has all these references and data to prove it. You make sure there is no bias caused by nepotism or race. There isn’t. He’s white.
But your gut is telling you that there’s something off about him and that you’ve been burned in the past…
This would be a case of passing on him. A false positive would cause a lot of wasted time and money. The wrong candidate could destroy the organization.
There’s this element of trusting your gut that I find very intriguing and useful.
I have come across a few successful individuals who have said that each time they trusted their gut it worked out and each time they didn’t it screwed them over.
That got me thinking. When should you trust your gut and when shouldn’t you?
These are reputable actors but it’s not enough data points to fully trust this advice. What if your gut is telling you to do more hard drugs? That’s probably going kill you, and would be the wrong decision.
I think the answer is that you trust your gut in the things that you are good at. Let’s say you spent 20+ years becoming a chess grandmaster, master businessman like Warren Buffett, or basketball pro. You can probably trust your gut in that skill because you are so experienced in it.
At that level, it’s more than just a gut feeling. It’s an extension of all your business knowledge, experiences, and lessons learned culminating in one instinctual feeling. Chess grandmasters do this naturally. The youngest grandmaster in history Magnus Carlson is the newest prodigy in chess.
The youngest grandmaster in history Magnus Carlson is the newest prodigy in chess. I recently saw an interview from him where he admits that he instinctually knows the right move immediately in his gut.
Our ancestors often had to evaluate situations quickly and didn’t have time to assess things. This is why certain gut feelings and biases were valuable to them.
There are some areas where maybe you shouldn’t go with your gut because you lack experience and skill in that area.
Usually, it’s an area where there is not a lot of objective, measurable progress and success in your skills and achievements.
The next time you’re faced with a tough decision and a gut feeling, ask yourself, “Is this actually a gut feeling or just lust, pride, racism, sexism, or a motivation for short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term success? If so, don’t give into that feeling.
What If You Are Young and Have No Experience At All? Unique Situations To Trust Your Gut You Should Be Aware Of
So what do you do if you are young and have little experience in any skills? One thing you can do is borrow the gut of another. Get advicefrom a successful person in the area who has a lot of experience. It doesn’t have to be in person; it can be through interviews or books.
It turns out that for some areas of decision-making, you have millions of years of experience… in the form of evolution and genetics.
According to the book Mate by Tucker Max, women have a lot of pre-programmed, complex behaviors to find the best mate. Without them even thinking, they unconsciously look for subtle behavioral signs of status, intelligence, willpower, and mental health. They also scan for rape and danger. What does this mean for you? It means that the competition for survival of millions of years of your ancestors has granted you some genetic pre-programmed behaviors that you mistake for gut instinct.
When it comes to dating or safety, your gut is usually pretty accurate. It’s very deep, complicated, and unconscious. They’re not oftentimes consciously aware of what they’re doing. They often just naturally feel attracted or put off. Having said that, it’s far from perfect. This is one of the reasons why women still end up in poor relationships that end in divorce, cheating, debt, or toxic fights.
Having said that, this does not mean that all your genetics are suitable for the modern era. Just because they have been shaped for millions of years doesn’t mean they’re caught up with modern times. Fast food is a prime example. Most people eat way too much junk food and get obese because their genes are programmed for an age when salt, sugar, and fat were rare. They haven’t caught up to the recent agricultural developments. Evolution is slow.
You may want to trust your gut to a certain extent, but use your critical thinking as well. That is why it is there.
People bunch a lot of related terms together: “trusting your gut”, “trusting your intuition”, “following your heart”, “following your emotions”, and “going with your heart.” Those are just a few.
Remember that you shouldn’t take it too far! There is a line you cross where it is no longer a street-savvy gut choice. It can become a stupid emotionally or psychologically influenced decision that ends badly.
This happens even without the influence of drugs. You can make a lot of bad decisions because emotions and dozens of psychological biases serve you poorly so that you make a bad decision. Here’s an example: you are incredibly angered and choose to avoid paying taxes out of spite because your spouse should have paid. Guess what? You end up with a much bigger debt to pay off that you regret.
That could be misinterpreted as “trusting your gut” when it was just emotion-driven stupidity.
Another example is a bad decision based on psychological biases. Certain biases have served us well in our primitive past as humans that don’t work as well in modern times. There are many biases. One is contrast bias. Car salesman use this often. They throw out really big numbers and then get you to agree to a smaller purchase because of that. You have now just bought a $500 car accessory you wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the $500,000 car he kept talking about.
Here’s an interesting video on a man who trusted his gut and it lead to his success in many areas. He kind of rambles but there might be some good points you can pick up from it:
See 10:00 time stamp and 18:00 time stamp in the video below:
Your Gut Is Not Just A Gut. It’s Deeply Scientific.
After reading the top books on evolutionary science for dating (The Red Queen, Why Women Have Sex and Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters), I realized we are not just humans. Instead, we are often walking robots with millions of years of programming wired to act in a certain way.
When a girl decides who she wants to date or marry, up to 90% of it is an unconscious, super complex process. Her genetics are assessing his pheromones (smell) for offspring compatibility, body movement for fitness, humor for mental health, and up to hundreds of other things. None of it is conscious on her part.
My theory is that your gut decision-making theory may work in the same way. Trust your gut whenever you are facing a decision that many of your ancestors have made because your genetics are made up of thousands of years of survival. The losers who made the wrong decision did not pass down their genes. Examples of situations this may apply is when you are talking to someone while traveling and you think he may mug you or when a girl meets a stranger for a date and something seems off.
A Hidden Resource of Experience
If you think you have no experience at anything yet, think again. You can sometimes underestimate how much experience you have. One area is social interactions.
Have you been tricked in the same way by someone multiple times? Your intuition often kicks in when it happens again so you are less likely to trust.
Look for other specific social interactions where you are experienced. It could be something like what you say first to a customer that walks in the door. Maybe those years of working at a fast food restaurant gave you experience on which greetings work.
Having said that, beware overreactions. One moderately traumatic event in your past could force you to over-calibrate in the other way. And in these situations, your gut is still wrong. Think of the woman who was cheated on by her first boyfriend and goes on to believe that all men are tricksters.
Trust Your Heart … Rate?
You’ve heard the saying “trust your heart.” Turns out it is partially true:
The results were varied. Some people figured out it quickly while others struggled and never figured it out. They all tried to use their intuition and yet some failed completely. Their gut always made the wrong choice.
What they did find was that those who were more attune and aware of their changes in heart rate had a higher chance of getting it right.
What does this mean? There may be some use in being very aware of your heart rate at all times. One great way to get better at this is meditation.
The Best Time To Trust Your Gut
Other than in situations when you have decades of experience, what’s the other absolute best time to trust your gut? Easy. It’s when logically, everything is telling you this is the right decision, but your gut is screaming at you to run the other way. Sometimes, it could be this exact situation, but not a scream — just a strong nudge.
Now, why is this the best time to listen? Because this is a clear red flag that something you did not consciously could screw up the whole decision. And your subconscious is aware of it. You may just not have picked up on what it is yet. Maybe, for instance, you are about to acquire a company that seems to be a great investment at a great price with great sales and economics, but you forgot to factor in the impeding foreign competition that will wipe you out.
Still, I would recommend you use this in situations where you have a lot of experience and skill. In the book Decisive, a case study was shown regarding a hiring decision for a large company. The hiring manager initially disliked an interviewee even though his resume showed he was perfect for the job. His gut told him to pass him up, but he resisted and hired him. He turned out to be the best employee he ever had. The book goes on to show statistics that prove that interviewing is the statistically worst predictor of job performance, behind personality tests and everything else.
When All Else Fails And You’re Unsure, Just Go With Your Gut
Obviously, we also have to acknowledge luck. Sometimes, some people are just gifted with the right genetics. Their sense of intuition for the skill (or even towards navigating life and people) are on point, far better than the average person. That’s another possible reason why some people get ahead with the gut concept.
But you may find yourself in a situation where none of the above advice fits you perfectly. Specifically, I’m talking about a situation where:
You feel like you have average genetics and your intuition may be wrong.
You don’t have decades of experience, let alone even a couple years of experience, with the skill in question.
You know it’s not greed, laziness, pleasure from drugs, sexual pleasure, or gluttony that you’re confusing with your gut feeling.
It’s a situation that does not affect reliable skills shaped by tens of thousands of years of survival and reproduction, like rape or dealing with strangers.
What do you do?
I can’t say I have a definitive answer backed with tons of evidence. It could be a toss-up. It could be a 50% vs. 50% shot either way. If that’s the case, I believe the answer is obvious. Go with what your gut says. If it’s 50-50, you actually have a lot more support for going with your gut because of all the successful people I have mentioned who have said how they have never gone wrong going with their gut (and vice versa)
Here’s the Too Long Didn’t Read summary for you all:
Tons of successful people emphasize how they’ve never gone wrong going with their gut and have screwed up by avoiding their gut.
You may be misinterpreting gluttony, pleasure, greed, or laziness for “gut feeling.” They’re different. Avoid going with your “gut” on the former.
There are some deeply programmed behaviors in our genetics from thousands of years of survival and reproduction where you should trust your gut, like when dealing with strangers or potential rapists.
Most importantly, you should be more confident trusting your gut in skills where you have honed years, if not decades, of experience in because it’s more than a gut feeling, it’s a subconscious reference of your years of experience.
If you’re interested in more discussion and thought on the topic, check out my video below: