Align Your Goals with Mentors & Accelerate Your Progress

Align Your Goals with Mentors & Accelerate Your Progress

I’ve tried every goal setting system under the sun.

  • Setting rigid 1, 2, 5 and 10 year goals.
  • Envisioning my exact life in 20 years.
  • Writing down a concrete list of things I want to get done with a time-to-achieve-by date.
  • Writing down my goals every morning in a journal.
  • Creating a vision board to hang on my wall.
  • Etc.

Unfortunately, these things just didn’t work for me. Still, I realize that it’s paramount of have goals and some idea of how you’d like your life to turn out. So I experimented for a few years and at the ripe age of 25 I’ve finally found something that works for me…

Align Your Goals With Mentors

Whereas most goal setting advice tells you to create goals by saying things like I’d like to do this or have that by this date, I do things differently. Here are a few real examples from my life.

  • I’m going to have an online business like Wade Alters.
  • I’m going to develop the discipline of Jocko Willink.
  • I’m going to get game like Distant Light (A wild character who left his mark on NYC nightlife and had his choice of models).
  • I’m going to speak German like my friend Michael from Berlin.
  • I’m going to dream big like Elon Musk.
  • I’m going to write like Ayn Rand, in the sense that I blend philosophy with fictional narrative.
  • Etc.

I’ve found that using mentors as a benchmark for goals is the most effective (and inspiring) system I’ve ever worked with. For one thing, it gives you hope. What one man (or woman) can do another one can. Also, aligning goals with people makes the advice they share personal. If Wade Alters says that I did ABC to start this portion of my online business, it’s as though he’s speaking directly to me, helping me to get exactly what I want.

Don’t Wait, Give it a Try

Disclaimer: this post assumes you have an idea of what you’d like in life and now you’re looking for the most effective way to get there. If that’s the case, don’t wait, give this a try! However, if you’re still uncertain of what your ideal future looks like, I recommend signing up for The Syndicate and running through The Man OS (this is not an affiliate link, Wade Alters gives me nothing for promoting this. I’m sharing it because of the tremendous value I’ve gotten from it).

Once you have a clearer vision of what you’d like your future to look like, you can begin to associate those goals with people who already embody them.

  • I’d like to be as wealthy as Ray Dalio.
  • I’d like to snowboard like Shaun White.
  • I’d like to be as wise as Josh Waitzkin.
  • Etc.

These goals are inspiring and easy to remember. The more you learn about that person, the more you’re reminded of your goal. It’s a positive spiral of success that can really take your life to the next level. So give it a try, see what you think and let me know how well it works out for you!


How to Make Friends with Cool Guys

How to Make Friends with Cool Guys

I have a lot of experience meeting and making new friends. From the stoners to frat kids to Ivy League graduates with ambition, I’ve spent time hanging out with a huge cross-section of guys. I’ve learned a lot about friendship, with some common lessons coming up again and again. Things like,

  • 99% of friendships are based on a commonality/common activity that you both enjoy.
  • To hang out with cooler guys you typically need to be cool yourself/offer some kind of value.
  • Friendships tend to occur when you’re least concerned with making new friends.

Before addressing these points, let’s take a second to look at a word that gets used a lot throughout this article: cool. This word is 100% subjective. Your idea of a cool guy is different than mine. That’s OK though, this article is based on human nature. The lessons apply whether you’re trying to make friends with the local surfer or a postdoc.

Commonalities Rule the Day

The most durable friendships are built on at least one commonality, preferably an activity. If you and the other person enjoy doing something together you have an excuse to hang out. When you’re not doing that activity you often end up talking about doing that activity.

It’s difficult to make friends when you don’t have a shared interest because your time together has less meaning. In my life, I’ve found 90% of my friends through,

  • Learning and practicing a language.
  • Talking to girls. Typically you call these guys “wingmen”.
  • Working together. I suppose this is how most people make their friends.
  • Drinking/doing drugs. This has consistently been the easiest way to make the worst friends, in my experience.

The reason that commonalities matter is twofold. First, they give you an excuse to start hanging out and second, it’s a reason to see the person over and over. So having established what the root of most friendships is, let’s look at what it takes to develop friendships with cooler people.

You Attract What You Are, not What You Want

Most of the time you attract the friends you “deserve” not the friends who you’d like to have. This is the most important idea of this entire post. If you want to have cooler friends, you need to be a guy who other people want to hang out with. While there are ways to circumnavigate this rule, which I’ll talk about in the next section, personal growth is the way to permanently become a desirable friend.

Personal growth is the reason that this website exists. You can do so much more with your life if you’re willing to accept responsibility for your flaws and make an effort to fix them. For example,

  • Improving your eye contact and posture.
  • Getting into shape.
  • Learning how to listen properly.
  • Being bold in how you express yourself.
  • Having the confidence to dream big.
  • Learning how to properly handle your money.
  • Taking up an interesting hobby.
  • Etc.

As you focus on improving yourself you’ll begin to effortlessly attract cooler friends. At a some point you end up being so content with your life that you feel ambivalent about needing new friends. People sense the lack of neediness and they’re drawn to it, just as people are repelled by desperation. Once your life reaches the point where it’s awesome being you, you’ll look at the people you’re hanging out with and think holy shit, these guys are amazing! But it won’t seem so unusual, because you’re equally amazing.

Why do you need to change yourself to hang out with cooler friends? If you dissect the idea of “attracting what you are, not what you want” you’ll find that again it comes down to commonalities. For example, here’s what makes a guy cool to me (my subjective values, yours will be different),

  • They like to travel.
  • They’re good with girls.
  • They’re open minded.
  • They’re comfortable in social situations.
  • They’re ambitious.
  • They prefer reading to watching television.
  • They have a positive attitude.
  • They’re not obsessed with work to the detriment of everything else.
  • They prefer experience and wisdom over money.
  • Etc.

After years of changing my personality, these are qualities that I embody. I’m not asking my friends to be like me, I’m being me and trusting that I’ll befriend people with a similar mindset. Once you reach the point where you embody your ideal values, you’ll find that guys with similar values are drawn to you. That’s a beautiful thing, because when it happens the friendship has a good chance of being successful.

However, growth and change take time. In the meantime, there are a couple of friendship hacks that you can use to bring cool guys into your life right now.

Bring Something to the Table

Offering something in exchange for friendship sounds creepy right? After all, a friendship should grow of its own accord, it shouldn’t rely on one person “bribing” the other. That’s generally true, but when one person has more value than the other, the dynamic changes. In many cases it may be something closer to a mentor/mentee relationship. While the following blurbs are concerned with finding a mentor, the same advice can be used to foster a friendship with someone higher in the “social hierarchy”.

  • Raghav Haran makes the point that finding a mentor is,

    predicated on how much value you can provide before you try to get something from them.

    Exactly! Most cool guys have a bunch of other people who would like to hang out with him. What are you going to do to distinguish yourself from everyone else?

  • Ryan Holiday, bestselling author and protege of Tucker Max, advises,

    Bring something to the table. Anything. Quid pro quo. Even if it’s just energy. Even if it’s just thanks.

    Value doesn’t have to come in a gift wrapped box. Sometimes being enthusiastic and having a positive attitude is enough. Whenever I hear someone extremely successful talk about the people they hang out with, the common denominator isn’t that the other person is as successful as they are. It’s that the other person is fun, positive and easy to get a long with.

  • Michael Ellsberg, author of The Education of Millionaires, has this advice for connecting with powerful people,

    The key here is to offer in areas where you have some relative strengths, and where the person you want to connect with might need some help. Each one of you has an area where it’s very likely that you can offer a lot of help to people around you, including powerful and influential people.

    Ellsberg believes that you can help another person in any of the following four areas: money, relationships, health and spiritual development. Although a person may be wildly successful in one, or several, of those areas, they’re definitely lacking in another area where you’re stronger. How can you put your knowledge to use for their benefit?

Offering value is paramount. When you’re hanging out with friends it would be weird to frame the relationship in terms of value giving since you’re in the same place. However, when befriending guys at a higher level, it pays to think about how you can improve their life.

How to Find Good Friends

On a beach in Koh Samui, we like to travel, talk to girls and speak German

Instead of asking how to find good friends, ask, what do I want to do with cool friends? The answer will tell you where to start looking. For instance, I prefer to do a majority of things alone, like web design and writing. So it’s really only in a select set of activities that I’ll look for friends.

  • Talking to girls, AKA having wingmen.
  • Shooting YouTube videos or podcasting.
  • Studying/speaking German.
  • Traveling, preferably somewhere with a beach.

80% of the time if I’m hanging out with someone, I’m doing one of those things. What about you, what are you interested in doing with a friend?

  • Watching the game?
  • Creating a business?
  • Doing club sports?
  • Traveling to Thailand?
  • Racing motorcycles?

Once you pick an activity, instead of searching for friends, start practicing the skill. As you work on it you’ll be exposed to new people. The better your skill, the cooler the people you’ll end up hanging out with (if we make the assumption that being good at something generally makes someone cooler).

To close this article I’ll state this: I’ve found that when you least expect/need a friendship, that’s when it develops. The harder you search for friends, the more needy you become, the less likely a good friendship is to form. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment below.

You’re Talented! What are You Going to Do With It?

You're Talented! What are You Going to Do With It?

It’s easy to appreciate your talents when you can throw a football into a garbage can at 40 yards or do long division without a calculator. However, more often than not our unique talents are not so visible. Just because they’re not easily recognized does not mean we don’t have them though! The sooner you can identify your own, the sooner you can maximize them.

The key to figuring out your unique talents is looking for all of those things that you enjoy doing that other people can’t stand. A common fallacy is that everyone else thinks like us or prefers the same things. This is not true. We all have different preferences and everyone has a set of niche skills. Here are three questions to find and develop those skills.

  1. When am I the happiest and what am I doing?
  2. What activities bring the most fulfillment into my life?
  3. What do I find effortless / what activity quickly gets me into a flow state?

I asked myself these questions and used the answers to identify a couple of my own talents.

  • I’m observant. I appreciate small details and I’m more aware of my surroundings than most people.
  • I’m a good listener and people feel heard when they’re around me.
  • I’m good at reading comprehension and writing. Since grade school I’ve had a natural ability with words.
  • Etc.

In recognizing my talents I can focus on developing them. For instance, I’ll never be able to tell a joke like Bill Burr or be as outgoing as Jamie Foxx. However, I could be a world-class interviewer like Larry King or Cal Fussman.

Where Most People Screw Up

Figuring out what you’re good at is important because it determines what you do with your life. If you know your strengths and weaknesses you’ll know what kind of job your suited for. For instance, being an entrepreneur is fucking difficult. You face massive pressure and from what I gather, your company is often on the edge of failure. If you hate uncertainty, trying to be the next Elon Musk is a recipe for disaster. Just as the guy who gets high on risk will be miserable working back office at an accounting firm.

How many people would enjoy their lives more if they made money doing things that suited them? While you can blame some unhappiness on unfulfilling work, in plenty of cases people find end up doing things that contradict their nature. The worst job I ever had was teaching English in Russia. I had to speak for six hours a day and keep control of rowdy children. It played on all my weaknesses and I dreaded opening up the door to my classroom. But the work is not to blame! Most of the other teachers enjoyed teaching and planned to renew their contracts.

If you’re like every other human being on this planet, you’ve also done a few things that you hated. It can be helpful to meditate on what you found so disagreeable about the situation and base future decisions on avoiding similar situations. Taking a job that doesn’t fit your personality is an easy way to make yourself miserable, regardless of how much money they throw at you. That’s why it pays to figure out your talents and plan your career (or lack of career) accordingly.

Finally, if you wish that you were born with different skills, the best thing is to accept yourself and move on. You nature is as easily changed as your height. The funny thing is there are people out there who wish they were talented in all the ways that you are. Nobody can be great at everything but we can all excel at something. Are you ready to take ownership of your talents?

The Real Reason Motivation Sucks and Discipline Matters

I’ll start with a quote from Jocko Willink, the master of discipline. The following is taken from this candid podcast he did on the Tim Ferriss show.

Accomplishing your goals is not about motivation, it’s about discipline. – Motivation is fickle, motivation comes and goes. – Motivation is unreliable and when you’re counting on motivation to get your goals accomplished, you’re likely going to fall short. Don’t count on motivation, count on discipline! You know what you have to do, go make yourself do it.

Jocko has valid reasons for not trusting motivation. He points out that trivial factors, like hunger or fatigue, can affect it. If you depend on motivation to accomplish your goals, you won’t get very far. I experienced this when I decided that I’d like to get better at talking to girls. Nothing breeds talent like action, so I committed myself to consistently going out and talking to as many women as possible. 90% of the time I was a nervous wreck on the way to the club. I was scared of getting rejected and the social pressure. If all I had was motivation I would have failed. Thankfully, I was tapped into discipline, which got me to the club whether I felt like it or not. Now the prospect is magnitudes less scary and I can go out and talk to 20 or 30 girls in a night without thinking.

I’m sure you have a similar story. The desire to master a skill, look cool, become a better person, get laid more, make more money, whatever. Typically it’s motivation that gets us started but that motivation tends to disappear. When it’s 20 degrees and snowing, it’s not motivation that gets you to the gym, it’s discipline. Some more Jocko.

Everybody wants some kind of magic pill or some life hack, or something that eliminates the need to do the work. Well I will tell you what.. You need to do the work. – You have to make it happen yourself. It’s not going to happen on its own. Find the discipline, be the discipline and accomplish the goals.

We are the masters of our own fate. I’m reminded of another book that has shaped my life, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. This remarkably well-reviewed book can be summarized in a sentence, success is the result of daily practice and incremental growth compounded over time. Success comes when you,

  1. Do something every day,
  2. Get incrementally better (in very small, 0.001% increments)
  3. Never quit

Becoming world-class might take ten or twenty years. Between the start and finish there’s going to be hundreds of days when you don’t feel like practicing. When motivation fails, you can use discipline to get in the hours.

Discipline and Life

I don’t think that discipline only relates to the accomplishment of goals, it pervades all aspects of life. For instance, you can apply discipline to spend less money or treat every person with respect. Disciplining yourself to do the right thing and be the bigger man is powerful. It’s the stuff that good leaders are made of. I’ll end this article by mentioning one of Jocko’s favorite quotes,

Discipline, now in mug form

Discipline equals freedom.

I interpret the quote in the following way. When you discipline yourself to do the hardest thing, whether’s that’s pushing your comfort zone or practicing every day, you enjoy the freedom to perform at the highest level.

What are your goals, what are you motivated to do? Are you depending on motivation? Have you anticipated all of the times that motivation will fail you, when you’ll need discipline instead?

These are good questions to ask. They’re universal too. It doesn’t matter if you’d like to surf twenty foot monsters or write a novel, sometimes there will be motivation, sometimes there will be none. The only thing you can really count on is discipline.

Interested in Jocko? Learn more here or by checking out his podcast.

Get More Done With this Simple Morning Routine

Get More Done With this Simple Morning Routine

When you get after it first thing you set an precedent for the whole day. My simple routine took me a while to develop but I’m really happy with it. It’s a simple ritual that I look forward to doing and by sticking to it I’m noticeably more productive.

  1. Wake up and meditate. This is the first thing I do upon achieving a vertical position, before I check my phone. Technically I prefer to meditate at night but life is too crazy to do that consistently.
  2. Read, ideally for 45 minutes or an hour. I like to get this done early because it’s easier to forget about it later in the day. However, everyone is different and Jocko Willink states that he never reads in the morning. This is his most productive time and he prefers to get work done instead.
  3. Make my bed. This 1 minute activity gives me an immediate sense of accomplishment. New York Times bestselling author Lewis Howes has this to say,

    After that [an appreciation routine] I make my bed. This helps me clear my sleeping space and declutters my mind. It also gets me taking action and building positive momentum towards getting results for my day

  4. Pick the easiest thing on my to-do list and crush it. Getting something done builds momentum to start on harder tasks. I use the brilliant (and free) computer program Todoist to keep track of my daily to-do lists.
  5. Kick ass. Hopefully by this point I’m in a good mood and ready to start working on more difficult tasks. If I’m having a particularly bad day and I can’t whip myself into productivity, I strive to read instead of watching movies or strolling trough Twitter.

Tim Ferriss is another guy who’s interested in morning routines. In this podcast he breaks down the morning routines of elite performers like Jocko Willink and Jamie Foxx. In this short article he details his personal routine, in which we have several things in common. What about you, does your morning routine have anything in common with mine or Tim’s?

Appreciation and its Impact on Happiness

Recently I was reading a New Yorker article about an Iraqi SWAT team attempting to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. I liked the whole piece but one part really grabbed my attention. Rayyan, a SWAT team commander, is describing his life.

In 2005, his older brother Safwan had been gunned down by terrorists, and two of his fiancée’s brothers had been murdered. His father’s house had been blown up. He’d been shot in the leg and the chest and the hip. At his engagement party, gunmen had tried to shoot him a fourth time, and wounded his sister instead. More recently, ISIS suicide bombers had killed his brother Neshwan, a police officer, and abducted his brother Salwan, who had remained in Mosul.

While wishing the absolute best for Rayyan, I also found his story to be a vivid reminder to remain grateful. Every day I wake up in a warm bed, close to a well-stocked kitchen. I have disposable income and the thought of one of my family members being abducted or killed is outside my reality. Unfortunately, these things are a reality for millions of people. It’s easy to forget that though and I think a good deal of blame falls on mainstream society. It loves to reinforce the belief that you never have enough.  

Society is Not Your Friend

It takes an active effort to be appreciative, few people will remind you of how good you have it. Commercials, coworkers, family and friends. Consciously or not, these entities often push you to focus on what you don’t have. We’re rarely greeted with a message that says be happy! You already have an amazing life! 

You can afford to eat until you’re content.

You can practice any religion without fear of retribution.

You can freely criticize your government without getting locked up.

These are not universal rights enjoyed the world over, they are ideas that our grandparents died for. They’re easy to take for granted but I believe this is a mistake. It’s only by a fluke of nature that we ended up here. We could have easily been born in Mosul, where life would be much, much more difficult.

The Benefit of Appreciation

By appreciating what you have you become happier. This is crucial because it applies whether you have $20 or $20,000,000. In either case, there will always be someone with more than you. If you can’t appreciate what you have you won’t be able to enjoy it. If you can find a way to appreciate the smallest details, you’ll get so much more out of life.

I remind myself to stay appreciative with a simple morning routine. After meditating I take out my journal and write down three things that I’m grateful for. While this works in the moment, I’ve found that the real benefits come when the exercise transitions to daily life. You start to appreciate the short line at the grocery store, the way the internet works perfectly, how cool your boss is. Once you learn to appreciate these things you become happier and more present to the moment. It’s a beautiful way to live and something that I feel is lacking in our culture.

Everyone is Good at Something, What are You Best at?

What are you best at?

Many people focus on character weaknesses and ignore strengths. It’s easier to criticize than it is to congratulate. This is especially prevalent among those who have less-obvious abilities. I’ll use myself as an example, as it took me years to appreciate my own talents.

  • Grit and the ability to stay with a task. I don’t feel discouraged or give up easily.
  • I’m a critical thinker. I’m careful about what facts I use as a basis for my way of viewing the world.
  • I react well under pressure, I stay calm and gravitate towards a rational reaction.

These are good, but they’re not as obvious as the abilities of Jamie Foxx.

  • An excellent story teller and master communicator.
  • Great at networking and a massive collection of friends and associates.
  • Outgoing and people naturally gravitate towards him.

Jamie Foxx is insanely talented but if everyone was like him society wouldn’t function

It’s easy to see Foxx’s strengths and feel that you’ve been less blessed. This is not the case. If everyone was like Foxx modern society would not exist. Nobody would have invented the camera, figured out wireless transmission or written the screenplays for the movies Foxx stars in. Everyone would have been to busy telling stories, hanging out and being social!

Society requires all types with different areas of expertise. While your strengths may be less obvious, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any. You just need to go further to find them. Here are a few ways to do that.

  1. What do you enjoy doing that others can’t stand? For instance, reading tedious economic reports, making public presentations or talking to people on the phone. Look at the skills involved and ask, am I better than most?
  2. When have you succeeded while others have failed? What skills were involved that allowed you to get the job done?
  3. Figure out your Enneagram personality type. These personality descriptions are surprisingly accurate. To dig deeper, read the book: Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery

I was listening to Jocko podcast #52 yesterday and Echo Charles reiterated point #1 (edited slightly for clarity).

Usually, when you want to find what you want to do, it doesn’t have to do directly [with a skill I.e. surfing], it’s like, what are the things that stimulate you or motivate you to like surfing?

In becoming aware of your abilities you can increase your self-esteem and efficiency, as you’ll stop trying to be something you’re not. Everyone is naturally gifted in certain areas, identifying yours and building them is a the basis for a fulfilling life. Take a moment to think about your strengths, can you name three? Leave a comment below, I’m interested to know what they are.

How to Learn a Second Language in Your Bedroom

Learn a Second Language in Your Bedroom

Learning Russian taught me how to effectively learn a second language. I’m now using this method to learn German in my bedroom. I’ve been studying for 15 months and I’m about 6 months from being fluent. While this method doesn’t bring fluency as fast as living in country and chatting with native speakers every day,  it works no matter where you live and it’s inexpensive.

Key Points

  • Study every single day. Failing that, a bare minimum of five days a week. The benefits of studying 30 minutes a day heavily outweigh that of 10 hours just one day a week.
  • In larger cities Couch Surfing and MeetUp offer events where you can connect with native speakers. I’m currently not attending these events for German, however, I attended them regularly when I was learning Russian.
  • Learning a language can take years. Embrace the process, celebrate small victories and know that you’ll get there eventually.
  • There are some really cool language learning channels on YouTube

    There are some fascinating characters in the language learning community. Luca has a great YouTube channel, as does Benny. Tim Ferriss has also released an excellent guide.

My Learning Process

  1. Find an online translation dictionary that has high quality pronunciations in your target language. For German I use Linguee. They have other languages as well, I’m not sure about pronunciation quality. If you can’t tell which is best, ask a native speaker.
  2. Learn as many pronouns as possible. I start by memorizing I, she, he, they, you, your, his, her, their, it, etc. This can be harder than it sounds because you have no ear for the language. You’ll be surprised how many times you can forget a simple sound.
  3. Begin listening to the language every day. I’ve found that Spotify has awesome playlists for German. YouTube is also good, as are live stream radio shows from that country. These are easiest to find by typing in the capital city + radio. For example, “Berlin talk radio“.
  4. Find a Skype tutor. The website Preply is the best choice, I’ve used it to find my Russian and German tutors, both of whom are excellent. For German I pay $14 a lesson, twice a week, which adds up to about $120 a month (my Russian tutor only cost $6 a lesson). That’s a steal compared to a paying for a college class. Also, it’s more effective. With a Skype tutor it’s 1 on 1 and the lessons are catered to your needs.
  5. Keep notes during the lesson. While me and my teacher are speaking I write down each new word. Over the next couple of days I’ll review these words in the following manner. I type them into the German dictionary and listen to the pronunciation multiple times, mimicking it. Then I’ll write down the word in my notebook along with examples of the word used in context. I often spend as much as 5 minutes working with a single word.
    *In my notebook I write solely in German, I don’t write an English translation next to the word. Instead, when I review the words 90% of the time I can figure out the meaning based on the context sentences I wrote. I find that that writing only in the target language creates a more immersive experience. 
  6. Input all new words into Anki. This is a flashcard App that I use to review the words. After I’ve written down all my words into my notebook, I input them into Anki.
  7. Write a sentence or two for each new words. This is the third time I’m looking at my list of new words in the space of a couple of days. It can be somewhat repetitive but that’s the point! The more you review your words, the more you remember them. I take all my new words and write sentences with them in Google Docs. At the start of each lesson my tutor reviews these sentences and corrects any mistakes I’ve made.
  8. Repeat this process. This is my entire strategy for learning a language. It can be done anywhere in the world, so long as you have a good internet connection. Of course hanging out in country and chatting with native speakers it the fastest way to learn. However, if that’s not possible then this is a viable alternative.

Dealing with Deficiencies 

I was able to learn Russian in 13 months because I lived in Country. However, that’s not necessary

The major pitfall of this approach is that your speaking ability tends to be weaker. You’ll be spending a majority of your time writing, reading and listening to the language, not speaking it. To compensate for this it’s essential to try and speak as much as possible during your Skype lessons and to practice the language whenever you can.

Planning a trip to the country is always smart, especially if you can live there for a few months. In most places this can be done for a surprisingly small amount of money, which is a topic I cover in my article: How Much Money do you Need to Travel Abroad?

Josh Waitzkin’s Unique Approach To Learning

Josh Waitzkin

Before turning 30 Josh Waitzkin was a world champion twice over. Labeled as a chess prodigy, he won multiple world championships. After retiring from chess at an age when most people are starting their careers, Josh started practicing Tai Chi. What started as a meditative exercise quickly grew. A few years later Josh would become a world champion push hands competitor, beating Taiwanese fighters who had been training since childhood. Josh is clearly operating in a different arena than most, and this is the story of his unique approach to learning and mastery.

Lessons Learned on the Chess Board

A chess champion is a combination of skill and thousands of hours of practice

Josh Waitzkin was born to play chess. Players with a decade of experience began losing to Josh after he had been practicing just several months. There’s something to be said about innate talent, and when it came to chess Josh had the goods. However, talent does not deliver success without hard work. When you learn Josh’s story you’re struck by how hard he worked to master the game.

  1. Josh deliberately studied in adverse conditions. He played loud music in his bedroom or went to smokey bars, conditioning himself to perform in all environments. For every skill you can simulate difficult conditions to make performing under pressure easier.
  2. Under the guidance of his first coach Josh studied positions of reduced complexity. For example, three pieces on the chess board instead of the full entourage of thirty-two. Every art form has base principles that must be internalized. These are more important than flashy tricks or techniques, learning them first makes it easier to master complex principles later.
  3. Chess tournaments are grueling, games can last for hours. While other parents and coaches attempted to teach lessons after each match, Josh’s dad took him outside to play catch. He understood that recovery was more important than squeezing in another lesson. If you’re struggling with a difficult task, take a fifteen minute break, forget everything, relax. You won’t lose your edge, you’ll come back ready to act.

Beating Lifelong Practitioners at their Own Game

Josh practicing Tai Chi, the exercise that push hands is based on

On his path towards becoming a world champion at Push Hands, Josh won matches against opponents who had thousands more hours of practice than him. What allowed him to do so? Let’s look at a few answers to that question. Most of these insights come from Josh’s book: The Art of Learning.

1. Drawing Smaller Circles

The process by which a skill is internalized in small steps. Josh uses the example of a boxer learning a straight job. At first he requires a certain number of inches (say ten) to deliver all the power of the punch. However, with time and practice (years’ worth), he’s able to refine the punch. Eventually he can deliver a potent blow with half an inch of space.

This is the art of refining a process and it’s applicable to nearly everything. As you look at a skill that you’ve learned to a high level you’ll be able to see how you’ve “drawn smaller circles” over time, making a complex task simple.

2. Learning from Novel Experiences

In the beginning you can learn from almost any experience. However, to continue growing you must continually seek novel experiences. For example, if a basketball player does nothing but practice free throws he may get very good at it. But to gain a high level of competency at the game he’ll also need to work on three pointers, dribbling, defense and situational awareness.

Josh learned the power of the novel experience when he broke his arm during a push hands competition. He was forced to practice with only one hand. While difficult it gave him that novel experience required to grow. In time, he learned how to control opponents with one arm, a large advantage. When learning a skill we can ask: how can I get new, novel experiences?

3. Investing in Loss

Investing in loss requires working with more skilled opponents

Learning a skill means failing. Whether you’re studying a language or becoming a world champion push hands competitor, you’ll have to invest in loss. In Josh’s case that meant purposefully skirmishing with opponents who were better than him. He spent months getting tossed to the mat, manhandled by more experienced practitioners.

This was painful but it allowed Josh to cut down on the learning curve. By training with superior opponents he was able to cram decades of practice into years. To improve faster we should seek out situations where a loss is likely. It might hurt the ego but the lessons will be more effective.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice 

Whether it was chess or push hands, Josh would study several hours a day. This is the foundation upon which his success is built. Without practice there cannot be improvement. In our society we lionize the results but rarely look at the effort behind them. As Ray Kroc (the founder of McDonald’s) says:

I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.

5. The Mental Game Determines the Outcome

Speaking about chess, Josh comments on the importance of having a proper mental state.

Everyone at a high level has a huge amount of chess understanding, and much of what separates the great from the very good is deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which allows the unconscious to flow unhindered.

This can apply to any discipline. Most top competitors have a comparable technical understanding of the game, the result is often determined by their mental state. Who can stay cool under pressure, recover from a mistake, and find the energy to fight when the body is depleted. To become world class one must focus just as much on their mental state as their practical knowledge.

Why You Should Invest in Becoming an Effective Autodidact

Learning “how to learn” may be one of the most efficient uses of your time. If you can learn a skill 25% faster than your neighbor, that can save you thousands of hours compiled over a lifetime. Invest in loss, seek out novel experiences, and practice every day. Josh Waitzkin is a world class performer of the highest order and his advice is invaluable. The best resource to discover more about Josh is his book: The Art of Learning. It tells the story of Josh’s rise to prominence, how it affected him and the lessons he learned from mastering two unique skills. In addition, Josh has done several interviews on the Tim Ferriss Show.

Meditation: the Habit of Millionaires


Tim Ferriss is an unflinching advocate of meditation. In his book, Tools of Titansa collection of practical advice from highly successful people, Tim mentions that:

More than 80% of the world-class performers I’ve interviewed meditate in the mornings in some fashion.

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is” – Steve Jobs

That collection of world-class performers includes billionaires, New York Times best sellers, A-list movie stars, professional athletes and other high achievers. It’s rare to find one thing that so many people have in common, but there it is; meditation. Sitting quietly for 20 minutes and observing your thoughts. Transcendental meditation is popular and involves repeating a mantra. There are also Apps, like Headspace, which promise to introduce you to meditation in an easy-to-digest fashion.

I’m sure these practices are excellent, however, when I meditate I keep it simple. I cross my legs and focus on my breathing. I don’t have a set time, I go for as long as I feel like it. New York Times bestselling author and renowned marketer Seth Godin practices a similar routine, which he describes in an interview.

It’s sloppy, it works. It’s nothing worth writing home about. I’ll just sit, and I’ll close my eyes, and I’ll breathe. And when I’ve had enough of that, I’ll go back to what I was doing.

Easy, simple, beneficial. After meditating for a while it’s difficult to imagine life without it. Meditation helps to quiet your brain and lets you think more efficiently. This becomes critical as you take on larger roles and have to make more consequential decisions. If you feel like you don’t have time to meditate, consider this zen proverb.

You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.

Still not convinced? Head over to Fortune to find out Why Tim Ferriss Believes Meditation is the Key to Success. Better yet, start meditating today. Do five minutes a day for the first month, ten minutes a day for the second, then the third month do twenty minutes a day. By the end of ninety days you’ll understand why so many influential people accredit their success to a daily meditation practice.