The One Goal Strategy: Finding Your North Star

one goal strategy: guiding your north star

You’ve watched every personal development book/ video/ podcast there is. You prepare a game plan. You understand how habits work and you have your goals in place. You also understand that systems are more important than goals.

You understand the need to be patient, that you ought to think long term. You list down your top 5 goals for the year and now you are off to the races. Fast forward 6 months, you haven’t made any REAL progress on any of them.

Why?

Like you, I heard a thousand different ways of goal setting.

Warren Buffett’s 25/5 rule, Top 3 goals of the year, etc.

But then I heard about having just 1 goal, your north star… and that changed everything.

This post is about learning something that took me about 1 year to figure out. I heard it first from Noah Kagan and then from Gary Keller, bestselling author of The One Thing.

What

So what’s this one goal thingy all about?

The One Goal Strategy is the method to achieve your prime goal right now.

Your North Star is the single goal that best captures what you want to achieve above all else.

In Silicon Valley, startups have a single metric they use to judge their growth called the North Star Metric – the single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers.

For Airbnb, it was nights booked. For Facebook, it was monthly active users. For Medium, it was total reading time.

To uncover your North Start Goal (NSG), you must first find out what is that one thing you must achieve above all else for this period of time.

As Tim Ferriss, bestselling author of the Four Hour Work Week would frame it:

What if done, would make the rest irrelevant or not needed?

What if done, would make your quarter?

From there, you must quantify the goal to make it measurable.

Now you may probably be thinking – why just one, why can’t I do 3 or 5?

Well, the explanation is similar to that of the research found in the field of goal setting.

There was a famous experiment done on getting 3 groups to exercise. One group was told to exercise and nothing else. One group was told to exercise and was motivated. And one group was asked to state where, when and how they were going to achieve the goal to exercise.

Stating one’s intention is termed “implementation intentions.” And the results showed that those who had implementation intentions were 2-3x more likely to exercise compared to the other group.

But here’s the kicker –implementation intentions works if you are mastering ONE GOAL at a time.

Whenever you start building a new habit, it takes a lot of willpower and effort to make it part of your routine. The longer you do it, the higher the likelihood of the habit sticking and become part of your routine.

How long does it take to form a habit? The research shows an average habit takes about 66 days to become automatic. (But don’t take that too literally, to be safe – I suggest going at it for at least 3 months.)

Why

“A lot of people think they need more motivation, but what they really need is clarity.” – James Clear

Now, you might be thinking:

Why bother go through all this? Isn’t a daily to-do list and a bucket list to refer to on yearly basis enough?

It definitely would be enough. But if you already have done this earlier, why hasn’t it worked for you so far? It may be because:

You have your most important things to get done and you do – day-to-day. But… towards what? Is it as clear as day where your tasks are leading you towards or is it sorta getting you there?

You may be writing and publishing every day, but if your main goal is to publish a book — have you started writing the outline for the book yet?

You may be getting traffic to your blog by promoting your blog posts and guest posting as well, but if your main goal is to create a course and make a living off your blog — have you started researching what course you intend on creating or draft different versions of the outline?

Too often, our “most important tasks” appear to be working for us, they do impact the bottom line and they get us closer indeed –but always sideways and in circles.

And considering that life often throws you curveballs, going sideways intentionally will make the zig zag even worse!

No wonder it’s taking us so damn long to get anything done. We aren’t as focused as we think we are.

Your North Star Goal is the one thing that you can count on to help you make your way home. You can use it to navigate effectively every step of the way when you make your to-do list like a The North point of a compass when at sea.

How

My rule of thumb is to have one goal per quarter.

Yes, you may be thinking to accomplish a whole feat of things within these 3 months. But I urge you to treat one thing as a matter of priority.

Here’s how you can do it in 4 steps:

1. Identify your North Star

Think for a moment – what is the ONE thing that if accomplished this quarter, will make everything worthwhile?

And you have to pick ONE.

The most common areas to focus on are:

1 . Health

2. Relationships

3. Money

For me, my focus for this quarter is to get to more subscribers for my blog (Money).

Pick your focus for this quarter and decide which ONE do you want to pursue.

The point here isn’t to box you in for 3 months and then forever.

The point is to subtract your options to the barest minimum so you have less on your plate and more time to allocate for each.

Especially when building a new habit, you should do just one at a time.

2. Formulate your North Star into a Number

“What gets measured, gets managed.” – Peter Drucker

A lot of people who set goals measure their progress by how it feels.

“It feels or seems like I am improving.”

Don’t rely on feeling.

Ever catch yourself saying “A lot of people do X nowadays huh?” after noticing just 2 people doing X? We tend to exaggerate any kind of information in our heads to suit out narratives.

The beauty of formulating our North Star into a number is because numbers don’t lie. Based on my earlier goal, I will insert a number:

10,000 email subscribers.

3. State the Where, When, How You Are Going to Achieve Your North Star

Where

A lot of us miss the “where” part of the equation when it comes to setting goals. But it is equally important. Our subconscious minds associate certain areas with certain activities.

I can bet that you are focused and productive at your work desk compared to your bed. Your “where” can be your dining room table or the desk in your room.

When

The “when” comes in two parts – by when you want to achieve the goal (for me, it’s in 3 months) and which time of day/ week do you intend to devote your time.

Adora Cheung of Pathjoy once mentioned at a Stanford lecture by Y Combinator that she found working full days at a time on the weekends to be a lot more beneficial to her startup than working 2 hours a day during weekdays.

Due to my personal choices, I usually put in an hour on weekdays and half days on weekends for my blog.

Remember, these are guidelines, not rules. Try them out and double down on the ones that bring you the most results.

How

So how do you intend on achieving your goal?

It’s important to have a plan or ritual you can checklist off every day or week.

Here’s how mine looks:

( ) Wake up and scribble on my notebook

( ) Ideas I have for the blog

( ) Create an outline for the post of the day

( ) Draft for 60 minutes / up to 2000 words and rest

( ) Revisit the next day and edit

( ) Publish 2-3 times a week

( ) Submit to 5-7 publications a week and have an email list ready for subscribers

Overall, my North Star goal for this quarter is:

10,000 email subscribers in 3 months.

Where? At my dining room table.

When? At 5 am on weekdays, and at 8 am on weekends.

How? By drafting 2000 words and editing it the next day, publish 2-3 articles a week and submitting to 5-7 publications a week.

4. Keep your North Star in Sight

It is very easy to forget the goal you set 2 weeks in. Have reminders, cues and even alarms to gently nudge to take action everyday. You can –

( ) Set your desktop wallpaper.

( ) Stick a piece of paper on your wall.

( ) Set your new tab on your browser to remind you of it.

( ) Set your smartphone wallpaper to have that goal, you can install widgets too if you’d like.

( ) Set your clock app to vibrate at the times you should be working on your North Star.

The point of reminder is to set up an environment whereby you can’t fail.

Sustaining momentum from day 1 is very important.

Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, said that if he could give startups just one piece of advice – it would be to make sure that they (the startup) keep their winning streak, no matter how small.

So, if you aim to write every day – make sure you do – even 1 page of writing a day counts. Little wins make a huge difference over time.

Common objections:

1. Isn’t having one goal boring?

Not really. By having one overarching goal, you only have one thing in mind to consider. It’s the primary goal and that sets the order for the rest. Easier to juggle one than to juggle two.

2. Would it make me a one trick pony?

For a quarter, yes. But not your life. You are free to change direction if you realize it’s not what you wanted after completing it.

In case, you think focusing on one thing boxes you in too much for 3 months… it’s actually the opposite.

Being able to excel in one thing, is a huge benefit.
In psychology, there is an effect called the Halo effect whereby a person who is known to be good in one field (say, SEO) is also perceived to be good in other things (say, writing)

Lewis Howes, the founder of the School of Greatness, started first as a guy who was good at teaching people how to use LinkedIn, but then he moved on to teaching online business and people kept listening.

Derek Halpern, the founder of Social Triggers, started out in CRO (conversion rate optimization), he then branched out to teach online business.

As the record shows, it pays to be really good at one thing first and then branching out to other fields as people would perceive you to have a winning streak.

As said earlier, your North Star will change depending on the goal you set out to achieve for that period of time. The reason I suggest a quarter over a year is because there is no sense of urgency in the period of a year. Act as if it has to be done in 3 months and most of the time, it will be done.

3. But I’m certain I can manage 3-5 goals a year. Surely, I’m different and I can find a way.

Give it a shot. But it would be suboptimal based on my experience.

As mentioned earlier, my first encounter with this idea was when Noah Kagan was speaking to Ramit Sethi.

And he said during their early days in Facebook, a lot of people were unclear about what they should optimize for.

And Zuckerberg eventually decided on the north star: Does it help us grow?
(more specifically, the metric – MAU – monthly active users).

So immediately off the bat, a lot of ideas were thrown out like selling tickets on the events pages, etc.

If Zuckerberg believed in having just ONE north star metric and grew Facebook to a $28 BILLION dollar a year revenue business, then I would give it a shot too.

The point of it all:

You will soon understand that your North Star isn’t just a quarterly goal but a guiding compass to decide how you should spend your time. That level of focus on just one thing and making other goals secondary is how you get the results you want.

The next time you have an idea or your friends want you to go somewhere with them, think: “Will this get me closer to my 10,000 subs?”

And if you have to go, ask: “How can I make this closer to my 10,000 subs?”

Again, be smart about it – don’t eat ramen all the day and get your 10,000 subs.

Take care of the essentials and keep your eyes on the prize.

Looking to up your game?

Every month, I send a free high-quality newsletter on productivity, career and self improvement. It’s well curated and easy going.

Join here for exclusive access.

Why failure doesn’t exist

I recently came across my friend’s bio on Quora when he said “I live life like an experiment.”

And I can’t help but admire such a mindset.

With this mindset, failure isn’t something to dread, but something to be expected.

Every action is a hypothesis waiting to be proven.

And if it fails, back to the drawing board and try again.

There is no failure, only lessons.

Why I’ve decided to save for travel (and not vacations)

I want to travel the world! – every young person ever.

If you asked any person you know right now, what’s the first thing they will do once they “make it” or make huge sums of money, they will inevitably say “I will travel the world!”

Well, I’m here to say – you don’t have to wait till you reach the imaginary finish line, because there isn’t one.

Most people don’t travel because they think that travelling costs a tonne and that they need to get all their ducks in a row in order to do it. But that is just not the case.

Like most dreams, it’s not as easy as people think it is and it’s not as difficult as people think it is either.

 

It’s really a matter of priority and a matter of planning.

For the longest time, I thought about travelling and never made plans to do any of it.

But now, times have changed and mark my words – I will be in a foreign country for a least a week during Q3 of 2018.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy to travel.

You have to get your affairs and finances in order to pull it off well.

Some may have money problems and some may have commitments.

But I don’t blame them.

But if it’s something you always wanted to do, find a way to make it happen at least once.

I decided to move my ass after reading a simple story:

 

Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding, reflected once on the story of his grandpa who worked all his life to retire to travel but his wife had cancer and he had to look after her till his last days.

What this taught him was that you can’t wait till the time is right —you have to make time for the things you want to do in life.

And this goes for anything (especially those things you wish to do after you “make it”) e.g. writing a book, teaching, charity, painting, skydive.

Believe it or not – most of these things cost more time than money. Anybody with enough time and mindset can get the above done (okay, maybe not skydive) in their 20’s if they wanted to (and many have!)

 

And there was another thing that baffled Rolf:

If you watched the movie Wall Street, there was a scene where Charlie Sheen says after he makes his millions, he will go ride around China on a motorbike.

Rolf was like:

… Dude, you can work as an office clerk, save up 5 figures in a year, and you can ride till the rental breaks down.

 

Don’t let these arbitrary societal wait-till-the-end fantasies to stop you from doing what you want to do now.

 

Here’s a great question posed by Tim Ferriss, author of the game changing book The Four Hour Work Week.

What would you do if you couldn’t retire?

Seriously though, take some time to really think about this question.

I’m guessing you wouldn’t delay your “made-it” goals and you would try to experience it now as a lifestyle instead of one-off event.

 

Now some of you may think why I distinguish travelling and vacations.

The way I see it –

Travelling is a way of life, like how I enjoy reading and writing.

A vacation is an end, like publishing a book or finishing a painting.

I see travelling as something I would be doing long term and part of my lifestyle instead of some reward at the end of the tunnel.

Subtle, but different.

15 Lessons I Learned About Success, Happiness, Reading, Love and Life from Naval Ravikant

Naval is a special character in my life.

I’ve heard him talk for at least 10 hours but he has never heard me speak.

He is the co-founder and CEO of Angelist, a platform for early stage startups and angle investors to meet. He also runs ProductHunt, a platform for startups to launch their products.

He has invested in well over a hundred companies and has spent a lot of time reading and thinking about huge matters near and dear to me (and I’m sure all of you as well).

Here are my 15 biggest game changing takeaways:

1. Success is attained on a long time scale

His advice to be successful:

i) Move to the hub of the action — Broadway (NY), Startups (SF)
ii) Get up early
iii) put in the work
iv) get wiser each day (make each work better than your last)
v) and on a long enough time scale, you will get what you deserve.

To that point, Naval elaborates:

The best founders I’ve found are the ones who are very long-term thinkers.
Even decisions that maybe they shouldn’t care that much about early on, they fix it because they are not building a house, they’re putting bricks in the foundation of the skyscraper, at least in their minds.

Charlie Munger, the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says the same thing — “go to to bed a little smarter than when you woke up.”

Why the need to be long term and “on a long enough time scale”?

It’s because…

2. Luck and timing play a huge role in success

Nassim Nicholas Taleb would characterize this as randomness.

Like it or not, your success in life is influenced by luck and timing. The same way external forces dictate what becomes popular or not.

Musicians would often say that it was their “throwaway songs” — the ones that they record on a whim on the road without much thought — that end up becoming smash hits.

With all this randomness and externalities, how is one supposed to have faith in their efforts?

Naval offers a piece of advice:

“ Most entrepreneurial efforts fail, but great entrepreneurs don’t.”

He says most of the people he met in his 20’s that impressed him with their drive and action — almost without exception — found incredible success later on in their 30’s and 40’s.

You just have to play the game long enough and randomness would have a higher chance to be in your favor.

3. Happiness is a skill

He believes everything we do is a skill — brushing our teeth, deciding which place to eat, and even being happy is a skill.

An example I personally use to find happiness is by creating my ideal day.

Sit down and think about this — if a magic genie would to give you on a silver platter your ideal repeatable day, what would it look like?

Notice the word “repeatable” — so if you say “travelling” or some ultra expensive activity, your spending is capped and energy is limited, so it forces to look at the things you can do now and often which will optimize for your everyday happiness the most.

For me it includes:

  • Deep work on 3–4 tasks
  • Write 1000–1200 words
  • Sleep 7–8 hours
  • Read 1–2 hours
  • Speaking to at least 2 loved ones in my life

What is Naval’s definition of happiness?

Happiness is the sense that nothing is missing.

Like that time when you are drawn into a book or movie, or observing the sun set, or cuddling with your wife or husband — moments like that are blissful because your mind isn’t wandering off looking for voids to fill. You are content and you feel whole.

4. Be a learning machine

Always Be Reading.

Naval often cites reading as one of the main reasons for all the material success he’s had.

He says:

“The reality is very few people actually read and actually finish books … I think that alone accounts for any material success that I’ve had in my life and any intelligence that I might have.”

If you are contemplating the costs of books on your budget, he says:

“A really good book costs $10 or $20 and can change your life in a meaningful way. It’s not something I believe in saving money on. This was even back when I was broke and I had no money.

“I always spent money on books. I never viewed that as an expense. That’s an investment to me.”

Best way to start reading, according to Naval is

  • pick up a lot of books and start reading
  • put down any book that doesn’t interest you
  • keep continuing until you find something that interests you

How to find time to read?

Here’s what I do —

i) Bring a book with you wherever you go
ii) Read during your commute, use Pocket to save any good articles you found online
iii) When you take a shit
iv) Get the audiobook and listen when walking

There are so many choices out there. Don’t settle for pretty good books, go for great ones.

Here’s a quote from illacertus, he mentioned in his highly recommended podcast with Farnam Street:

“I don’t want to read everything. I just want to read the 100 great books over and over again.”

Great books come in all shapes and sizes. Naval is a huge proponent of reading sourcebooks — books that are the fundamental building blocks of a particular topic.

For example, if you read any book on evolution, it is probably good to start with The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin since whatever books on evolution is based on that.

For economics, it would be The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

He believes in mastering the basics — a common trait amongst top performers like Jeff Bezos:

“I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over.”

He believes the best way to make better decisions is to learn principles and mental models of the basics in all fields (more on this later).

So, how does he go about reading?

5. Treat books like blogs

Imagine a well curated blog like Farnam Street and all the 1000’s of posts they have.

You would search for what it is you want to learn and read only those few pages worth and call it a day.

You skip around once you lose interest.

The same applies to books — there is no obligation to read one from start to finish. Who said so?

In fact, the smartest readers decide what they want out of a book, go after it and put it back on the shelf.

There is an art to how to read books.

The truth is, a lot of books are 10% solid substance and the rest is filler to justify the printing of a dead-tree book and selling it retail for $20.

Sieve and filter the sections you want — it is super liberating and you save a lot of time as a result.

SIDE NOTE: I watched a talk once where book prize panelists were asked how many pages do they give a book before they move on to the next one.
The most shocking answer — the first page. Crazy right?

Can you imagine the novelists who write 1000-page books only to know that their first page made or break them?

While I admire their ruthlessness, I’d like to give my books more leeway.

If you really want to give the book you are reading a chance, use this rule by Ryan Holiday:
100 pages minus your age, e.g. 100–24 = 76 pages before you move to the next one.

6. Run your brain in debugging mode

Most top performers are known to have a mindfulness practice of some sort. For Naval, it’s meditation.

One of the other ways he stays mindful is to run his brain in debugging mode ( a computer term to inspect every line of code).

He would play a third person observing every thought he has and asks “Why am I having this thought?”

He would catch himself wandering off and pull him back into the present.

There was one time he caught himself fantasy future planning about his upcoming podcast appearance while brushing his teeth.

He would ask himself — “Why are you fantasy future planning? Why can’t you just be here and enjoy brushing your teeth?”

And the brush tasted sweeter…

7. The only moment that exists is the present — savor it while you can

You can’t change the past and no one has been ever to predict the future in any way that matters.

This ties into one of the philosophies I deeply believe which is “Enjoy it.”

I asked my dad once what he would do differently if he were young and he said, it would be to enjoy the moment.

Most people go through life either worrying about the future or stuck in the past, never appreciating the present moment. And by the time you are 50 something, you realized that you worried all your way to your 50’s when everything turned out OK.

Enjoy it.

Even it sucks — enjoy it.

SIDE NOTE: “Enjoy it” is also the best answer Tim Ferriss ever got to the question: “What should I do with my life?”

8. What people say is love, is not love. It’s a transaction.

This hit me hard.

What Naval meant by this is — love is a one way street.

Love is when you love someone even if the other doesn’t love you back.

If you only love someone because they love you back, it’s not love — it’s a transaction.

Are you in love, or in a transaction?

9. Habits are everything

I’ll quote Naval:

I think human beings are entirely creatures of habit… they habituate themselves to things and they learn patterns and they get conditioned and they use that to get through everyday life.

Habits are good. Habits can allow you to background process certain things so that your neocortex, your frontal lobe, stays available to solve brand new problems.

To some extent, our attitude in life, our mood, our happiness levels, depression levels, these are also habits. Do we judge people? How often do we eat? What kind of food do we eat? Do we walk or do we sit? Do we move? Do we exercise? Do we read? These are habits as well.

You absolutely need habits to function. You cannot solve every problem in life as if it is the first time it’s thrown at you. What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that… It’s really important to be able to uncondition yourself, to be able to take your habits apart and say, “Oh, okay, that’s a habit that I probably picked up from when I was a toddler and I was trying to get my parents attention. Now I’ve just reinforced it and reinforced it and reinforced it and I call it a part of my identity.

Is it serving me anymore? Is it making me happier? Is it making me
healthier? Is it making me accomplish whatever I want to set out to
accomplish right now?

10. Know your priority (just one) a.ka. your north star

You can have anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything.

His learning — you can have one thing.

If you want to be rich, you can spend your entire life trying to be rich and you are likely to get it.
If you want to be happy, you can spend your entire life trying to be happy and you are likely to get it.

The problem is when we have a basket of fuzzy desires and never finding a north star of what it is that you want MOST out of life.

Pick one fervent desire above all else and find a way to not make it feel like work so you can outcompete everybody else.

Optimize for one thing in life — it helps determines the orderof the rest of the things that are nice-to-have and to avoid entirely.

11. Life is a single player game

All of us think life is a multiplayer game. Success, money, mates, status are all easily measurable in a multiplayer game.

But internal happiness is not.

Have you ever been lost in a moment with someone and forgot about all the comparisons you always did?

Have you ever run the “if you were the last human on earth” test and find out how much stuff you would actually not give a fuck about?

Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player competitive game.

When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game.

We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore.

We compete purely on multi-player games. The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.

12. Learn principles and mental models to make better decisions

This was a game changer for me.

If you ever wondered what separates those we are able to make good decisions at very high levels, learning principles and mental models is one of them (if not, the main one).

… (T)he brain is a memory prediction machine. It has a memory of things that worked in the past and what it’s read and it’s trying to predict the future.
A lousy way to do memory prediction is X happened in the past, therefore X
will happen in the future. It’s too based on specific circumstances. What you
want is you want principles. You want mental models.

The best mental models that I have found have come through evolution, game
theory, and Charlie Munger

Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s partner. Very good investor. He has tons and tons of great mental models. Nassim Taleb has great mental models. Benjamin Franklin had great mental models.

I basically load my head full of mental models. Different ones apply to every
situation…

13. Genius is explaining complex things in simple ways

Beware of charlatans who make simple things complex.

I think the smartest people can explain things to a child. If you can’t explain it to a child, then you don’t know it.

I think it’s the mark of a charlatan to try and explain simple things in
complicated ways. It’s the mark of a genius to explain complicated things in
simple ways. Really they should be able to do it very, very, very simply.

The really smart thinkers are clear thinkers and they understand the basics at a very, very fundamental level.

Another Navalism: If someone is selling you get-rich-quick scheme, they are trying to get-rich-quick-off-of-you.

14. Guard your time — it’s all you have

If you don’t believe in an afterlife, this is especially true.

What is his view after we die?

Our consciousness just disappears.

Remember how it was like before you are born? Just like that.
Zero recollection and experience after we are gone.

Life is short — we are a firefly blinking in the night.

Guard your time — it’s the only thing you have.

15. The advice he would give his 20 year old self

  • Chill out, don’t stress so much, everything will be fine
  • Be more yourself, don’t try to live up to other people’s expectations
  • Self-actualize
  • Say no to more things
  • Your time is very precious — on your dying days, you will trade EVERYTHING for another day
  • Live in the moment

References:

  1. https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2017/02/naval-ravikant-reading-decision-making/
  2. https://tim.blog/2015/08/18/the-evolutionary-angel-naval-ravikant/
  3. https://tim.blog/2016/01/30/naval-ravikant-on-happiness-hacks/
  4. https://www.spartan.com/en/media/podcast/episodes?article=47415

Call to Action

If you liked this article, you will enjoy my weekly newsletter.

Like you, I’m not so interested in quick tips as much as deep strategy and fundamentals. Stuff that improves the way I see the world and my own well-being.

So if you want to be more effective at work and at home, think more clearly and make better decisions, check out my newsletter.

Click here to sign up now!

This 3 Minute Speech Will Change Your Life

“Sal is love. Sal is life.”

That is just one of the comments you will find on this commencement speech on YouTube.

It was at MIT in 2012 when Sal Khan of Khan Academy made one of the best speeches I ever heard.

I have time skipped it to the best part. Enjoy.

Imagine it’s 50 years from now. You are near the end of your career.

Imagine you are on your couch. Just finished watching the news. It’s 2067.

You turn off the channel and start reflecting on your life.

You start to think about the successes you had – career successes, family successes, the great memories that you had.

But then you start to think about the things you wished you did a little bit different.

Your regrets.

You wish you spent more time with your children.

You wish you spent more time telling your spouse how much you love them more frequently.

You wish you spent more time telling your parents how much you appreciate them before they passed away.

And just while that is happening, a genie appears.

And the genie says “I’ve been listening in on your regrets, you seem like a good person. I am willing to give you a second chance if you are open to it.”

And so you say “Sure…”

And the genie snaps its fingers and you blink your eyes.

When you open your eyes, you find yourself right there where you are right now – 12 Sept 2017, reading this post.

And you say “Oh my god, I’m in my 20 something fit, pain-free body again!”

“I am around my friends again, my parents, my girlfriend/boyfriend.”

“This genie was serious – I do have a second chance!”

“I can have all the successes, the adventures I had the first time around. But now I can optimize things.”

“I have my parents. I can finally spend more time with them and tell them how much I appreciate them.”

“I have my other half and when I hug them, I can hug them little harder.”

“When I laugh, I can laugh louder.”

“I can sing more, I can dance more, I can laugh more.”

“I can be a greater source of positivity and empowerment for those around me.”

I often do exercises like these a lot to make me appreciate what I have going for me – my youth and my loved ones around me.

After that thought experiment, how do you plan to live your life starting today? 🙂

Credit or Influence? The Mistake We All Make

To be someone or to do something?

One day you will come to a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.

If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises, you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club, you will be promoted, and you will get good assignments.

If you go the other way, you can do something. Something for your country, and for your airfare, and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments. And you will certainly not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and yourself. And your work might make a difference.

To be somebody, or to do something.

In life, there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.

To be or to do, which way will you go?

– Colonel John Boyd

The question at hand is whether are you after recognition or are you after the work itself.

 

Has this ever happened to you?

You work day and night on a project only for the credit to be due to someone else?

Or that you made the most significant contribution to the team only to have the leader get the spotlight due to your subordinate and less convincing standing?

 

The frustration

It is very easy to get carried away at the start of our careers. We want every effort we make to be recognized and praised. Every correct decision we make to be remembered by our peers. After all, we deserve it right?

But it doesn’t always go that way, especially if you are novice or a beginner. Some wouldn’t even take you seriously because you are in an entry level position and you have yet to prove yourself over the long run

Sometimes, even if we stay in a position long enough, we still do not get the credit we so desire.

 

The goals

When we finish college and come out to the “real world”, we are starving with ambition and racing against the clock to be somebody.

We want to be that person who is married to a very desirable mate by 27.

We want to be that rising star that climbs up the corporate ladder and become the Vice President by 28.

We want to be that person who is a millionaire by 30.

Are we working for credit? Is the need to be recognized by others for our achievements the driving force of our lives? Is the need to be somebody so important? We often hear our friends say that they want to “be somebody.” The titles, the glamour, the respect and the adoration of the public.

 

Mr Goh

I was reading the late Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs, From Third World to First and came across a man named Goh Keng Swee. He was the Finance Minister and Interior and Defense Minister in the early years.

The highest rank he ever gotten to was Deputy Prime Minister in his lifetime. Although he was second to Mr Lee on paper, Mr Lee praised him highly for being the man who contributed the most to the building of Singapore.

If it was utter recognition & credit Mr Goh was after, being the center of attention and be adored by international media, he would have been sour about not getting as much press for his achievements compared to Mr Lee himself.

But he wasn’t that type, doing the work is enough. Getting the glamour and adoration of the public was secondary to actually contributing to the public.

 

The practical view

There is another practical view as to why influence is far healthier option to go after than credit.

Influence (the work itself) is within our control. We can manage expectations in the course of our own work. We can choose to take it as a challenge or just enjoy ourselves.

Credit (recognition) requires someone else to validate your actions.

In other words, you are placing your self-worth into the hands of other people. Letting them become the authors of your life story and self esteem. Like being on a leash to the whims and fancies of others, being steered in whatever direction they want to go.

For a young person such as yourself, placing high regard into something highly volatile such as this spells disaster to your self worth in the long run.

 

Remember:

I learnt an important idea early on in my life and it goes like this:

“Accept applause, but don’t expect it.”

 

The One Question To Determine If You Have Found Your Passion

pexels-photo-345135

All our lives we are told to find our passion. Don’t settle, they said. But how?

Is it some type of inner compass that we ought to follow but don’t?

Do you wake up one day and get inspired?

Do you try everything and find it only then?

Like you, I wasn’t satisfied with a lot of these answers.

All the questions above play a role in finding your life’s task.

But I find that there is an acid test that you can use today on anything you are pursuing right now that will more or less determine your passion, which is:

What would you do everyday even if you were failing?

I actually asked my Instagram audience this very question and there was one common answer.

“Football”

Given the fact that most of my audience were young guys, they said they wouldn’t mind practicing football over and over again even if they kept losing to the opposing team.

Now what is something that you found yourself doing again and again regardless of outcome?

Something that you enjoy doing because the work is enough to keep you satisfied, not the result.

You may be closer to your passion than you think.

It’s not easy to find something that doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm even if you fail again and again.

As Winston Churchill once said,

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.

Think:

Much like a soldier is asked what would he or she die for, you are asked what are you willing to fail for?

How Marketing Made Me a Better Performer, Lover and Friend

Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Learning marketing since graduation has been a game changer in my professional and personal life.

But I was never always open to it…

Growing up, I always considered sales and marketing to be reserved for the ones who can’t get a decent job.

But boy was I wrong.

 

Since learning about marketing and working as a marketer, I started to notice a change in the way I see things and interact with others.

I think it’s safe to say that marketing changed my life in ways I never expected.

Here are just some of the benefits.

 

1. Learning to get attention made me more romantic

When you scroll down your Facebook feed, do you click because it interest you or because it was so boring that you had to click it?

Marketers are in the business of getting attention. And to get attention, the idea has to be interesting.

But you can’t be interesting overnight.

You don’t take a”World’s Most Interesting Man” pill and wake up super cool. (If there is, please let me know)

You would have to follow trends or at least find creative angles to tell your story.

Turning something boring into something interesting is the name of the game.

This doesn’t just apply to repackaging or re-positioning.

It applies to our romantic relationships as well.

As G.K Chesterton puts it,

We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.

Meaning we are not looking for new things per se, but that we looking for new ways to look at things.

I was listening to relationship expert Esther Perel on the Tim Ferriss Show and she said something that I remembered:

“If people only use 10% of their creativity for cheating and put to their current love lives, they will surprised how far they can take it.”

Think about, if you woke up without a memory of your relationship, you would find your partner attractive and interesting as you did in the beginning.

Ever heard old husbands who say they look at their wives as though it was their first time? Sounds familiar eh?

Learning marketing also helped me get excited about the littlest things.

It helps me reframe any situation or thing to make it all the more interesting and exciting.

 

2. Learning to psycho people made me more sociable

 

I was a serial introvert.

If I were an OS, my socializing muscle will be under “Least Used Apps”.

But since getting into marketing, I started to overcome my shyness and nervousness of making new friends.

It all starts with what marketing is.

Marketing is persuasion at scale.

To persuade, you need to understand the basics of psychology.

Like what are your customers like and how to sell to them.

It goes deeper than that though.

Being a marketer demands that you adopt different worldviews to appeal to different people.

In result, creating a growth oriented, open minded person.

A person who is open to different cultures, values and experiences.

You stop thinking that your view of the world is the only one that is correct.

You start listening to what others say more intently.

You take criticism more easily and you don’t let your ego get in the way of your judgement.

 

By being welcoming of other people’s views, you are bound to have more things in common with them.

And the more you have more things in common with people, the easier it is to become friends.

You make more friends and your professional and personal network starts to grow.

 

3. Learn that perception is reality

Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Everything you know to be true is only true because you believe it to be.

All the things you were told growing up were made up by people who were just as clueless as you.

As you learn marketing, you start to realize an ugly truth: that all social norms were created out of thin air and most of our beliefs are shaped by the media we are exposed to.

Stories are the currency of our lives.

The diamond engagement was only popular since the 1920s because it was marketed as a thing that only real men do. (oh, and the two-month salary rule, wasn’t created by buyers, it was created by sellers.)

Smoking cigarettes became mainstream because tobacco companies had huge marketing budgets to have celebrities smoke. It became cool. Now, with all the health hazards, the tobacco companies are marketing the act of smoking as a matter of “freedom of choice.”

And one quick question, which you think is more dangerous – using an airplane or using a car?

Most people would think airplane, but statistically driving a car is far more dangerous.
The odds? 11,000,000:1 for airplanes. 5,000:1 for cars.

We think airplane because of availability heuristic. Because the news talks about a plane crash for weeks, we think its more dangerous to use an airplane, but lookup your newspaper and you will see that car crashes happen everyday.

I found out about this learning behavioral psychology and the mental shortcuts we use when making decisions.

Being aware of all this – the stories we are told and the biases we have helps me tremendously when I make important decisions.

It helps me find out my weaknesses.

For example, I haven’t been exercising for months.

But since I learnt about the psychology of nudges, I decided to place my gym clothes on my desk.

It’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning.

The result? Just placing my clothes very openly where I can see them made me exercise more.

 

***

As you can see, marketing has had a profound effect on how I see things in the world.

I have become more sociable, romantic, self-aware and effective.

I have since also had a hunger for wisdom. For knowledge that can make my life and those around me more enjoyable.

 

What recently changed your life for the better? 🙂

 

The paradox of modern day pursuits

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.” – Seneca

There is one great paradox and irony that most of us face everyday. Some of us don’t even think it’s a problem.

In life, two things take up most of our time – our work and everything else.

I say that because we often get carried away with our prioritization over work at times when we should not.

***

I came this realization after two instances.

The first was when my manager asked me why I was working so unusually late. I said “to increase my chances of success.”
And that’s when she replied: “Work will never end. You can complete it today but there will always be more tomorrow.”

The second time was after meeting a friend of mine and finding his spending habits bizarre — he would spend frugally on himself and spend lavishly on those he holds dear. I eventually came to realize that his form of happiness is in making other people happy, the same way I derive pleasure from having my work recognized.

The truth is, we spend our waking hours in pursuit of wealth or to be productive. We feel the need to make sure our time is of utility – if not for financial rewards, then for personal convenience in the future.

We know that the work will never end. Or put it this way – we know the work will always be available if we so choose to pick it up again.

But can the same be said of our family and friends?

We can always “resume” work, the same way we can always collect more property and be the bearer of more titles.

But we can’t say the same for our loved ones as they may not always be around.

To put bluntly, they all have an expiration date — and the pursuit of property and productivity does not.

***

Too often we hear of the old man who regrets not spending more time with his children when they were younger because he was busy working.

Or that all too familiar feeling of living alone in a house stuffed with toys, but feeling empty inside and lonely.

I agree that it is far too simplistic to have a conclusion such as “money can’t buy happiness”.
It can buy comfort in the beginning, and happiness up to a point (according to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, the optimal number is $75,000 a year) and satisfaction from then on.

We need money for survival and we should work for it.
But don’t lose sight of the reason why you are doing it in the first place.

***

Spend time with your loved ones and show them you love them. It doesn’t have to take hours, it just has to take thought.

Like a soldier heading off to battle, get your affairs in order at home so you can be at peace when you leave to carry out your duties.

 

On minimalism and books

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

What is Minimalism

There are many definitions of minimalism out there. Some more extreme (see Fumio Sasaki) than others, some more relaxed than others.

The Minimalists tried to distill minimalism into a single question:
How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?

By and large, minimalism first requires you to confront your relationship with your material possessions. And later with the other areas in your life like your career, family and friends.

Some of the example questions you can start asking today are:
Do you really need that many clothes? How many of them do you actually use regularly?
Do you really need that many shoes? Would it be worth the hassle if you bring all them if you were to travel?
Do you really need to buy that new book from your favourite author? Are you willing to buy it again after you lost it?

I see minimalism on a macro level as examining your material needs.

For example, why do you feel the need to hold onto your old school club t-shirts if you haven’t worn them in years?What is it about it that you truly miss if you were to lose it?
Would you go out of your way to find another one somewhere if you lost it?

By the way, the best test I have found when it comes to paring down your possessions is:

“Would you go out of your way to buy it again if you lost it?”

If it doesn’t pass the test, it means it’s not a true need.

 

Minimalism and Books

To best illustrate my journey with minimalism, I would have to draw on my personal experience with books.

I got onto the personal growth train mid last year and have spent close to RM1500 on books. Far more than the average person but of course, much lower than the ideal voracious reader I wanted to become.

I kept feeling the need to buy the books I was supposed to have. The classics like the Art of War and Think and Grow Rich. The bestsellers that regularly get reviewed by YouTubers like the 48 Laws of Power and Rich Dad Poor Dad.

I kept buying and reading. It was enriching, don’t get me wrong. But the physical books kept pilling up and for some odd reason, whenever I viewed my bookshelf, I viewed it as something I ought to do rather than something I want to do.

I realized most of my beliefs about collecting books came from two ideas I got early on in my personal development journey:
1) The difference between rich people and poor people is that the rich have a library while the poor have a TV.
2) Most success literature talks about successful people and CEOs reading an average of 50 books a year (1 a week).

The idea of having a physical library was hammered even further when I discovered that my two main influences for writing and thinking (Ryan Holiday and Farnam Street Blog) wrote extensively on their views of having a personal library and even an anti-library.

Ryan’s personal library.

As I’m writing this, I have about 50 books in my collection, most of them popular non-fiction titles.

But when I decided to run the titles through my “minimalist framework” which was –

What books would I buy again if I lost them and what books would I gladly bring around with me if I were to travel the world with a single carry-on backpack?

The answer I came to surprised me — almost none of them.

The same way there is a distinction between the best movies you seen and your personal favourite movies, there were a lot of the “best” books I’ve read on my shelf but only a handful of favourites. Not to mention that I would not buy them again if I lost them in a fire or something. In other words, I wouldn’t miss them.

My personal library

I have since parred down my collection to 12 books. And I intend to pare them down even more to pass the “single carry-on backpack” test.

 

The Real Reason Why You Are Holding On To Your Stuff

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” – François de La Rochefoucauld

I have to admit that in relation to my books. One of the reasons I felt the need to hold onto them was to signal to other people that I was a learned person. That I was studious and curious. That I was smart.

Fumio Sasaki, the extreme minimalist I mentioned earlier, had a similar notion with his possessions, particularly DVDs and his photography gear.

When he was younger, he would take up “someday hobbies” – hobbies he would have time for someday. At one point he was super interested in photography that he converted one of his rooms into a darkroom.

But he stopped doing it a while and yet he didn’t take the set-up down.

The same went to his DVD collection and his home theater system, which he also rarely uses anymore.

He realized that the reason he didn’t want to get rid of it was because he trying to maintain his identity as the cool guy. The movie guy. The photography guy.

I was trying to be the book guy, when what I really should be aiming for is the well-read guy.

The point wasn’t to look smart but to be smart.

***

Is there something in your life that you are holding onto to impress other people?