Thank You For Being You Cover

Thank You For Being You

You know what I miss? Unconditional gratitude.

Not even unconditional support, which, if you’re really lucky, you might get from your parents, one friend, or your partner. Just unconditional gratitude.

Everyone always wants something. Most opportunities are disguised requests. Because even the people closest to you don’t think about your needs first. That’s human nature. We think about our own and then hope that, maybe, our needs will align with those of others. And, sometimes, they do.

But, most of the time, they don’t. So we’re not really helping. If I ask you to join me at an event, is it because you’ll benefit or because I don’t want to go alone? If I want to spend more time with you, do I want to infect you with my joy or hope you’ll soften my misery? We can genuinely want to help and think we do, but might still end up projecting our own fears and ideas on another.

The majority of even the nicest things we do is, ultimately, about us. Not the recipients of our generosity. Go through a couple of incidents in your head. It’s true. And it’s shocking how deep this runs.

Since this “feature” has been hardwired into our brains in times of ancient survival, it has lasted us all the way to modern office warfare and is, thus, almost impossible to rewire. But we can choose not to use it.

We can just say “thank you” instead. No further questions. Not this time.

That’s how I want to end the year.

Thank you for being you. For all the mistakes you made and the flaws you found that you wanna change. For the times you did and the times you could not, for one day they will all add up.

Thank you for showing up. To work. To sports. To parties, dates, and family events of all sorts. To your morning run, to your friend’s emergency, to anything fun, and to all kinds of catastrophes.

Thank you for trying your best. I know it didn’t always do, but it’s really nothing but a test. A test of courage, patience, grit, faith, perseverance, and humility. A test designed for all of us each day, including you and me.

Thank you for keeping it together. At least most of the time. We all struggle in bad weather, we all want the sun to shine. Thank you for not losing hope when it was gone, for hanging in there in the night, waiting for the dawn.

Thank you for choosing yourself. For saying “me first” to save your sanity and health. Sometimes, it’s hard to listen to the voice inside, but when we look back it’s what fills us with pride. You at your best is what best serves us all, so there’s nothing to gain from your playing small.

Thank you for supporting the groups you’re a part of. The groups you’re the heart of. Humanity is one big band but on few shoulders every day we stand. Thank you for gluing together those friends, for tough conversations, inside jokes, and lending a helping hand.

Thank you for shaping the future. For growing into it one day at a time. We need your contribution. We need yours as much as mine. It’s something we build as much as we find, to do either takes a present mind.

Thank you for losing your shit. For flying off the handle when life needed a hit. It might not always spin the right direction, but when it stops spinning we’ll drift into regression. Sometimes, to keep going you have to fall apart. Sometimes, it takes shattered pieces to reassemble a broken heart.

Thank you for feeling with all you’ve got. For living your emotions and trusting your gut. For embracing sadness, happiness, frustration, and joy. For leaning in when you could’ve leaned away.

Thank you for mourning what you’ve lost. Life has different prices, but in the end, we all pay a cost. A sacrifice, a bad encounter, a careless attempt or an honest mistake. Different reasons, different times, but no one gets around being, seeing, learning too late.

Thank you for spreading your light. For celebrating, sending out sparks, and shining very bright. For motivating, for inspiring, for pushing others without tiring. Our energy is plus or minus, thanks for ditching bad and choosing kindness.

Thank you for abandoning good in search of better. For breaking rules instead of following them to the letter. For leaping high outside the bowl, aspiring to some higher goal. You mightn’t score in the first round, but jumping helps catch the rebound.

Thank you for being you. I don’t even know your name. But forever be you regardless. Because without you, the world would never quite be the same.

Thank you for being you.

Self-Awareness Is Not a Character Trait Cover

Self-Awareness Is Not a Character Trait

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” — Edward J. Stieglitz

While this quote makes it clear that time is a bad way to assess the quality of a human life, it also begs a question: how do we best measure our lives?

When you think back, do you recount how much you did? How much you made? How happy you felt on average? Me, I’m turning inward this year. The more external a measure, the lower my chances of living up to the standard I set. There’s no perfect tool, but I like this question for year-end reflection:

How much have I learned about myself?

It acknowledges outcomes as side effects and zones in on the parts you control about your character, identity, and behavior. Living in sync with your natural tendencies while adjusting to your life’s context is a good way to be happy and content, at least most of the time. You don’t stress about externals. You know you’ll get there by getting better. And syncing is how you’ll do it.

But when I tried to answer this question, I realized I was about to give not just a bad, but a completely wrong answer. Does that make it a bad question?

I think it’s something else. I think we have the wrong idea of self-awareness.

Woke Is Always the Wrong Word

I don’t like the word ‘woke.’ Used to create or point out a lack of awareness around societal and racial issues, it does much for the marketing of an important movement, but little to actually build the understanding this movement seeks to create. Because what it does is split the world in two.

You’re either awake or you’re asleep. It’s a binary state and so, for the people using words like ‘woke’ to identify with or isolate from others, it’s very easy to fall into a worldview that’s binary too. In reality, all of life happens on spectra.

I might be well-aware of some racial issues and completely oblivious to others. What’s more, I only have a chance of recognizing each one in its own context. Unless my mind is in the right place at the right time, I can mistake the cashier’s being unfriendly for being racist or vice versa. I’m not big on politics, but it’s easy to see this how this debate could get very ugly, very fast.

But it needn’t be. Maybe, we just have to reconsider our chosen language. What if we used words like ‘responsive’ or ‘sensitive?’ Words that live on spectra already. It’d make our efforts so much more productive.

When it comes to self-awareness, we have the exact same problem.

There Are Two Kinds of Dictionaries…

I’m not an etymologist, but I don’t think it’s foolish to assume the words ‘aware’ and ‘awake’ being in close relation. The German ‘gewahr’ means roughly as much as the former, ‘wahren’ equals ‘to protect,’ to keep in its current state, and ‘wachen’ literally means to stay awake and potentially guard something.

Clearly, some connection to our state of consciousness exists. But that’s not what we think of when we talk about self-awareness, is it? We see it as a character trait. A quality. And a rather permanent one at that.

Just like an aggressive social revolutionary, we want our world to be binary. To split neatly into two categories. We talk about “self-aware people” as if that call was as easy to make as “he talks loudly” or “her hair is curly.” It’s not.

And yet, even most dictionaries focus on self-knowledge as a feature:

The quality or state of being aware; knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists.

But if you find a good one, like Wiktionary, they’ll include another definition:

The state or level of consciousness where sense data can be confirmed by an observer.

It might seem like I’m nitpicking, but when you try to better understand how you live and move in this world, the distinction between these two definitions makes all the difference. One describes self-knowledge as static, the other as a state of observation. Mere presence is enough. You’re self-aware long before you draw conclusions and file them away. Just observe and you’re there.

Self-awareness is not a characteristic. It’s a cognitive state.

Closing the Archive

When I try to judge my year by how much I’ve learned about myself, I’m making two false assumptions in one go:

  1. There is a fixed set of equally fixed elements to discover.
  2. Knowledge about those elements will serve me permanently.

The truth is that, besides my physical features and abilities, there’s very little about myself that won’t change. That I can’t change. I have no interest in learning to play the guitar, but if I did it anyway, maybe I’d enjoy it after a certain amount of practice. Accepting the status quo is only useful if I’m not looking to change it.

Instead of considering self-awareness to be this internal archive of facts about who we are, we should dedicate ourselves to mastering the cognitive state. To build the thought habit of being conscious of our actions and feelings.

Being self-aware is like being alert or attentive or quick-witted. Sometimes you are, sometimes you’re not. But the degree to which is measurable. We can design tests to measure how quickly you respond to stimuli or count how many puns you drop in an hour. In theory, self-awareness is the same.

Except there’s no device for this yet. Imagine you had a written list of all your thoughts for one day. You could scan it for observations about your actions and emotions, then calculate how much of the time you were self-aware. How much would it be? 1%? 3%? 0.1%?

In any case, it changes the nature of the big, year-end question.

A Simple Behavior Instead of an Elusive Quality

Having external goals can be useful. They’ll spur you on in a certain direction and, to some extent, reaching them can make you happy. But if they’re all you measure your years by, you’ll likely have a bad time.

Measuring your inner progress and drawing satisfaction from how much you did for what you actually control feels relieving and adds balance. Problems arise when we impose the same standards of false permanence of external goals on our development as humans.

The difference between self-awareness as a steady set of ideas about yourself and a cognitive state you can practice is the same as the difference between knowledge and intelligence: one leads to a never-ending struggle for more, the other provides a daily standard that’s possible to live up to.

It’s not how much self-knowledge we’ve accumulated, but whether we assessed our thoughts and feelings at the right times that matters. Don’t ask how much more you know about yourself now than you did a year ago. Ask:

How much time have I spent observing myself?

Of course, this is only one aspect of the grand puzzle, but self-perception as your default cognitive state — or at least for a large chunk of the time you spend awake — seems, to me, a battle worth fighting.

It’s not bent on perfection or pinning down what can’t be fixed in place. Instead, it allows adaptation and encourages deliberate change. It’s a simple if hard to attain behavior, not an elusive quality. And it can start small.

Oh, and I have this feeling that, at the end of next year, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself when you look back.

Everything I Know Is True Cover

Everything I Know Is True – My Entire Life in 55 Lessons

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said:

“Death is being alive and not knowing it.”

I guess until 2012, I was dead. It’s not like I wasn’t living. I was trying my best and, most of the time, I was happy. But I didn’t realize it and so I was unable to appreciate the vastness of this incredible experience called life.

I didn’t know who I was. How much I could change. That I could shape life as much as it could shape me. So when I read something that hinted at these things for the first time, I began a lifelong journey: the quest to know myself.

Seneca said it takes a lifetime to learn how to live, just like it takes a lifetime to learn how to die. But with each new piece of the ever-changing puzzle you find, you get a little closer to your true self. To being alive and knowing it.

More importantly, you’ll develop the confidence to express that self. To not be trapped by dogma and societal doctrine. I’ve only just begun, and there’s infinitely more to discover, but here’s everything I know to be true right now.

  1. The most important part of figuring out how to live is asking the question.
  2. “I don’t know” is not an admission of defeat, it’s the start of empowerment.
  3. Most of the solutions to life’s challenges lie in sitting with yourself.
  4. The only person you’ll spend the rest of your life with is you.
  5. Imagination is our most powerful ability. It is also the most dangerous.
  6. If you run out of kind words for yourself, stop talking.
  7. Empathy is learning to look in the mirror and not hate what you see.
  8. The truth about ourselves is what we choose to believe.
  9. Freedom is always internal. Whether ‘to’ or ‘from,’ it starts in the mind.
  10. Having a choice matters more than whatever choice you make.
  11. Love is not a noun, it’s a verb. And it starts with loving yourself.
  12. We should believe more in what we create, less in what we emulate.
  13. We can’t choose what we’re raised to value, but we can choose to change.
  14. What we learn alone is what we carry into our interactions with others.
  15. All relationships in life have mutual effects. Everything is connected.
  16. Comparison is not just the death of joy, it is also the birth of misery.
  17. It’s better to be curious than judgmental and impossible to be both at once.
  18. Study the failures of those around you, not the wins of those far away.
  19. Our fixed point of view is an individual limit, but a collective strength.
  20. Changing your perspective is hard, but let it always be your first try.
  21. How much we learn is limited by how open-minded we are, not time.
  22. Aging won’t free you from stupidity. Only learning will.
  23. A mistake is only as valuable as the time you spend thinking about it.
  24. Minimalism is not about physical space, it’s about making room to think.
  25. Every lesson in life comes at the expense of unlearning another.
  26. Seeing clearly is holding different truths in your head at the same time.
  27. The more you listen, the smarter you get. Listening leads to learning.
  28. The smarter you get, the more you listen. Learning leads to humility.
  29. The best tools always put you in control, even when you’re not using them.
  30. Books are infinite. If you treat them right, they’ll keep on giving forever.
  31. We can’t delegate our responsible use of technology to technology itself.
  32. When we make technology our ideology, we let our tools form our identity.
  33. You don’t need an identity to have a life.
  34. The only way to stay true to who you are is to change every day.
  35. There is no right set of habits. Just the ability to adapt at the right time.
  36. Know how to build and break habits and you’ll always flow with change.
  37. Reality consists of subjects and verbs. We supply all the adjectives.
  38. The only place where we can truly live is the present. It all happens here.
  39. Peace of mind relies on having faith in present-you.
  40. Often, the easiest way is the hard way. More effort, but less competition.
  41. Few things that are risky are actually dangerous.
  42. Social acceptance is a bad metric for making choices and tracking success.
  43. When the outside world is loud, be quiet inside.
  44. Your work should reflect who you are, not what you want your life to be.
  45. Detachment bears authenticity, expectations cloud your thinking.
  46. The easiest way to attract what you desire is to deserve what you want.
  47. Wanting what makes you happy requires wanting the right things.
  48. Half of happiness is learning to love everything you don’t have.
  49. If you travel because you’re unhappy, you’ll never reach your destination.
  50. Happiness is a spontaneous byproduct, not a permanent state.
  51. Death will be an interruption.
  52. Your legacy will be determined by the perception of others. Not you.
  53. Everything that’s part of the grand circle is destined to die. Including us.
  54. What you do in your one life will be everything you ever do.
  55. If we act accordingly, life is long enough for most of us.
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How to *Really* Develop Self-Awareness

Born 5,000 years ago, Warren Buffett would’ve been some animal’s lunch.

“I can’t run very fast, can’t climb trees. I mean I could tell that animal that is chasing me: ‘Wait till you see how I can allocate assets!’ [But] it wouldn’t have made any difference. So here I am. I’m born now. Just very, very lucky.”

When Buffett says ‘lucky,’ he means having a mother who was great with numbers and very ambitious; a father who was a stockbroker, loved people, and valued integrity. Most of all, he means being a natural reader with an interest in money, born into the world’s largest capitalist society right after a major crisis. Born to think. Born…to become the richest man on earth.

Buffett’s scenario played out as an extreme but, one way or another, all successful people get paid to think. They amplify their decisions with leverage, such as labor, capital, and technology. And the more society values the outcomes of these decisions, the more leverage accumulates around these thinkers. In Buffett’s case, people are dying to give him more money to invest.

That must be fun because at 88 years old, he’s still working. Still thinking. 80% of his workday, five or six hours, is spent reading newspapers, financial reports, and then pondering the business world and the opportunities in it.

But it’s not this kind of thinking that set him on his path.

One of Buffett’s most popular ideas is the circle of competence:

“I stay within that circle and I don’t worry about things that are outside that circle. Defining what your game is, where you’re going to have an edge, is enormously important.”

When it comes to stocks, this translates to only investing in industries he understands, businesses he can evaluate, and people he can judge accurately. Looking back on his stellar track record, it’s clear Buffett nailed this process of defining his circle of competence. How did he do it? Why was he able to?

Well, for one thing, he’s been working on it for as long as he’s alive.

The Math of Knowing Who You Are

Warren started studying math when he was less than seven years old.

“I like numbers. It started before I could remember. It just felt good, working with numbers. I was always playing around with numbers in one way or another. And it was fun to have a bunch of guys over and have them betting on which marble would reach the drain first.”

Math is a thankful subject to start getting to know yourself around because it neatly separates your hypotheses into right and wrong. With the right inputs, you can come up with reasonable guesses for who will win the marble race. Just like you can double-check your compound interest calculations.

Outside feedback on your decisions and behaviors is the first level on which you can develop self-awareness. That’s all your circle of competence is — an understanding of the larger context you live, move, and act in; where your limits are and what reactions certain choices will cause.

The good thing about developing it through trial and error is that the lessons are immediate and the data is guaranteed. Your environment and those around you will inevitably provide you with feedback. Sadly, this also means the “error” part isn’t avoidable. When failure is necessary, learning hurts. It also requires keeping an open mind and that’s something we’re really bad at.

If you make a habit of this state, however, it comes with great upside. Suddenly, each setback becomes an invaluable point of data. A brick in the wall that is the border of your circle.

For Warren, a profitable business could still be a lousy one, a young manager still one with experience, his strange breakfast still one that makes him happy.

And while he struck out with few investments, he learned from those too.

The Value of Character Snapshots

Today, Warren Buffett is known for investing in high-integrity teams and companies. But that’s not what he learned from his professor and mentor:

“I’ve been taught by Ben Graham to buy things on a quantitative basis. So I went around looking for what I call ‘cigar butts’ of stocks. The cigar-butt approach to buying stocks is that you walk down the street and you’re looking around for cigar butts. And you find this terrible-looking, soggy, ugly-looking cigar. One puff left in it. But you pick it up and you get your one puff. Disgusting. You throw it away. But it’s free. And then you look around for another soggy, one-puff cigarette. Well, that’s what I did for years. It’s a mistake.”

The pinnacle of this approach was buying Berkshire Hathaway in 1965, the company Buffett still runs today. He bought the stock hoping for a tender offer, but when that came in $0.125 short, he angrily grabbed a majority share and kicked out the management team. He later flipped his approach:

“Now, I would rather buy a wonderful business at a fair price, than a fair business at a wonderful price.”

Such change happens at the second level of self-awareness: your beliefs and attitudes. It’s about knowing which traits and patterns define your character and how you can map your behavior and decisions accordingly. Outside feedback might support these transitions but won’t originate them.

The best way to enable them, I believe, is to track your character over time. Whether you take these snapshots daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, only you can decide. But a journaling practice helps. Reflected writing based on prompts makes your inner workings explicit.

Buffett does this with his annual shareholder letters. Each year, he must justify his decisions. He has to keep track of his reasoning, the thinking that came up with it, and make sure that thinking rests on values he feels comfortable living each day. If the values change, so will everything else.

Turning an Inch Into a Mile

When he was a teenager, Buffett ran away from home. After just a few miles, the police returned him and his two friends to their respective families.

“My dad never really gave me hell about doing this, but he finally said, ‘You know,’ he said, ‘you can do better than this.’ And, just saying that, I mean, I…I felt like I was letting him down, basically.”

Sometimes, a single incident shapes us forever. His father being his biggest hero, hearing the disappointment in his voice must’ve felt awful for young Warren. But instead of pushing those feelings aside, he tuned into them. The shift he initiated back then would go on to affect how he built his firm:

“We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you. So it’s that third quality, but everything about that quality is your choice.”

Choices like that take place on the innermost level of self-awareness: observing your thoughts and feelings in real-time. It’s the most powerful because it’s the earliest in the chain of elements that determine how your life unfolds. Adjusting here will ripple indefinitely into the future; the values and beliefs you form over time and the actions you choose as a result of those.

It’s also the most taxing, the hardest to cultivate. But if you learn to seamlessly tap in and out of your endless stream of thoughts and feelings, you can pull out any one of them, hold on to it, face it, and cause massive, long-term change. Not because you’ll act big, but because you’ll act immediately.

There is no one way to achieve this mental presence, but the underlying habit is making time to observe. Hence, many approaches rest on paying attention to physical sensations for minutes at a time. You can start with your breath, skin, posture, or body language, then expand this to other activities, like walking, reading, or sports. Eventually, you’ll layer emotional perception on top of everything you do, making it your default mode of consciousness.

Buffett discovered all this early, but, just like his financial decisions, it needed time. That’s his big secret. Not compound interest. Compound self-awareness.

A Single-Thread Revolution

When we ask how to live a good, happy life, economic success is only one part of a much larger answer. It always requires luck and timing, but our modern society of networks disproportionately rewards thinkers armed with leverage.

To get there, we first have to figure out how, when, and where we think best. Why we think. And what shapes that why. That’s a job for self-awareness.

We’re all given lots of chances to develop this capacity in the form of real-world feedback. When reality and our expectations clash, we find out if we’re right or wrong, but learning requires lots of wrongs — and being willing to.

Deeper change happens when we monitor the fundamental aspects of our character over time. Regularly assessing our beliefs and attitudes reveals which ones we’ve merely adopted as opposed to those which serve us best.

Our strongest reinventions, however, begin at the primal level of thoughts and feelings. Those who learn to dive into their own psyche during transformative experiences will form the power to change every single thread of the self. These slight tweaks compound into revolutions of character down the line.

All of these begin as habits of action, but what we’re ultimately looking to improve — the habits we want to compound — are our habits of thought.

“It’s the habits that you generate now on those qualities. Or those negative qualities. In the end, those are habit patterns. And the time to form the right habits is when you’re [young]. Someone once said: ‘The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too heavy to be broken.’ I see people with habit patterns that are self-destructive when they’re 50 or 60 and they really can’t change it. They’re imprisoned by that. But you’re not imprisoned by anything.”

This may be the one aspect on which he and I disagree. I’d stick with that last point: You’re not imprisoned by anything. It might not get you wealth or fame or beauty, but compounding your thought patterns will make you a better person. In a world where animals don’t eat humans, that’s always worth it.

It’s never too late to stop being your own brain’s lunch.

What Are the Habits of Successful People?

What Are the Habits of Successful People?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the best-selling books of all time. The advice is solid, but there’s one huge problem with it: the title.

Having sold some 25 million copies and still spreading at over 100,000 searches per month, it forever continues to etch four ideas into our minds:

  1. There is an ideal combination of habits that causes success.
  2. That combination is finite.
  3. That combination is timeless.
  4. That combination is the same for everyone.

Sadly, none of these ideas are true. Let’s address them one by one.

What We Look For in Habit Bundles

In late 2016, 13-year-old Danielle Bregoli went on Dr. Phil with her mother. One sassy line later, she was a media sensation. The internet abounds with viral case studies like the “Cash Me Outside” girl, which is the first thing that should give us pause when relating success to habits.

Was it really her continued, bad behavior that led her to 15 million Instagram followers and a record deal? Or the fact that said behavior was on national TV at the right time? Maybe, it’s not so much the combination of our habits, but of our circumstances, that turns our efforts into hits and misses.

And yet, our habits do influence these circumstances. What’s curious is that we insist on bundling them when determining how much.

Imagine a writer’s perfect routine was to wake up, brush her teeth, then write. If it’s the overall blend that’s ideal, each deviation would lead to work that’s worse. But it’s easy to imagine that if she skipped brushing her teeth, nothing would change. It’s the writing that counts. At the same time, she might one day add a habit, like an afternoon run, that does improve her performance.

Most of the time, what we look for in habit bundles is support for the one constant that matters. But in doing so, we add complexity that soon clouds the importance of the very thing that works. One day you wake up earlier to write more, the next you do a 7-step morning routine, but forget the writing.

The more variables you consider together, the less likely it becomes that your hypothesis is right. Be happy if you find one habit that works. That allows you to push for better and better circumstances. To change the odds in your favor.

Because even if you do it forever, it’ll still take luck to make it on Dr. Phil.

Thinking Is an Infinite Habit

Being paid by the hour sucks. Besides making me feel like a machine, it also assumes I am one. That everyone doing that task delivers the same, uniform output of equal quality. Worse, it neglects that knowledge compounds.

If it takes me an hour to write an article, was that an hour or an hour plus four years of writing? Actually, it was all of that plus 27 years of life experience.

“In the same way that we form habits of action relating to our environment, we also form habits of thought when it comes to how we think about the world.”

What Zat Rana hints at is not just that thinking is habitual too, but that our patterns of thought cascade, informing everything we do, as well as how we process each experience. And while we sometimes get stuck in these mental loops, the brain is in a constant state of change. Thinking is an infinite habit.

We want to believe that, if only we did the same three, five, ten things each day, we’d inevitably find success. But that was never an option in the first place. Because even if we did, the way we think about these things, and, thus, do them, would change. The only mind that doesn’t evolve is one that’s dead.

The question is if yours is getting better.

Habits Are Both Causes and Effects

When I first learned about habits, I thought I would run some experiments, then, eventually, settle on one of the many finite, ideal sets we now know don’t exist. But while each habit mattered for a time, I’d always find myself in need of another one. Or had to let one go. Because it didn’t serve me anymore.

What I learned was that habits are both causes and effects. Deliberately adopting a habit will alter the outcomes of your life, but some of these altered outcomes will also change which habits you’ll want or have to adopt. Just like the right combination only exists at fixed points in time, so do the ideal moments of when to adjust it. If our writer is about to catch a cold, even the most inspiring afternoon run will negatively impact her output the next day.

Trends change how business works. History changes how the world works. Time changes how we work. And all of it requires changing our habits. So rather than trying to extract timeless practices, we should focus on being malleable. On not resisting our brain’s desire to upgrade itself.

Take a snapshot of any successful person’s current habits and ask: how many times must that set have changed to get them where they are? By the time you answer, it’ll have changed again.

Our total amount of data now doubles each year. In such a world, learning isn’t optional. It’s necessary. Day by day, adaptation replaces information. And as intelligence overtakes knowledge, old behaviors must make way for new ones. They’ll either stop working for you or the world you live in, but they will.

The person who’s unfazed by that is the person who can shape habits at will.

Why Polar Opposites Work

Richard Branson had no intention of starting Virgin Atlantic. As a ruse to impress his future wife, he claimed wanting to buy Necker Island, which they were promptly thrown off of when the owner found out they lacked the money. Their return flight was canceled, so he chartered a plane, sold out the seats, and the rest is history. Jack Ma, however, had every intention of reaching every single Chinese citizen when starting Alibaba.

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett are avid readers. Gary Vaynerchuk, Steve Jobs, and Kanye? Not so much. Edison trashed 1,000 experiments, James Altucher 18 businesses, and Marylin Monroe both her pin-up and her modeling career. J.K. Rowling went to over ten publishers, Bocelli played at bars till age 33, and Tolkien released Lord of the Rings when he was over 60.

To quit or not to quit? To read or not to read? To set goals or to have fun? The reason all of these work despite being polar opposites is the truth we’ve been building towards with this article:

There is no such thing as the one, ideal, timeless set of habits of successful people.

Take Arianna Huffington’s habit of sleeping eight hours per night. We can observe that habit only because it’s pronounced. Noticeable. The same goes for all distinct behaviors and character traits we see when we look at our idols.

If an attribute endures, it’s because at some point that person decided it was either a strength of theirs they should double down on or a weakness they shouldn’t bother trying to resolve. We can’t know which is which, but we can point to one trait and corresponding behavior that facilitates such insights.

That habit — the one all logic and data point to — is practicing self-awareness.

A Task Designed Uniquely For You

Ideas being wrong has never stopped our culture from growing around them.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is just one of many books, people, and trends that the $10 billion self-help industry is built upon, but it’s an epitome of the world we now live in: The demand for common behavior patterns leading to worldly success is sky high, and educators are happy to supply.

And while the 200 million search results for “habits of successful people” are, for all intents and purposes, 200 million different ones, maybe they should be. At least this mess forces us into independent inquiry. If we summarize our four refutations of those initial ideas, it seems that’s exactly what we need:

  1. You’ll still need luck before and after, but if you find one or two behaviors that move you into the right direction, those are usually enough.
  2. You can’t possibly maintain the same habits forever based solely on the fact that your thinking keeps changing. Focus on trying to make it better.
  3. Your habits are cause-and-effect relationships between you and your environment. Keep analyzing both to know when to change and how.
  4. Separating your habits into useful and not useful is a task bestowed uniquely on you and only doing it will reveal the right consistencies.

Even in humans, self-awareness is a rare trait. Children develop the basis of this ability, self-perception, only at 15–18 months old. In cultures less focused on the individual it happens much later still, sometimes not till age six.

Our Western concept of success is far from perfect, but it comes with a lot of freedom and room for self-expression. If that’s what you want, self-awareness is one of few catalysts that has a meaningful chance of helping you get there.

Practicing to observe your own existence and its interaction with the world can take many forms, such as walking, reading, and meditating. You could keep a journal, engage in thought experiments, or track your behavior.

The underlying task, however, is regularly setting aside time to think. As long as you do that, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, too, will be a great read.

Just do yourself a favor and ignore the title.