Olympic Medalist Dick Fosbury and the Surprising Power of Being Unconventional

Dick Fosbury took a moment to meditate as 80,000 people looked down at him from their seats in Mexico City’s Olympic stadium. The fans at the 1968 Olympic Games didn’t know it at the time, but they were about to witness not only the setting of an Olympic record, but the complete revolution of a sport.

Just three or four years earlier, nobody in the world of athletics had even heard the name Dick Fosbury. As a long and lean teenager from Oregon, Fosbury was just another kid interested in track and field. He wanted to compete in the high jump, but he had failed to clear the height required to participate in a high school track meet during his sophomore year. Shortly after, Fosbury had a stroke of genius.
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Habit Creep: The Proven, Reasonable and Totally Unsexy Way to Become More Successful

There is a common phenomenon in the world of personal finance called “lifestyle creep.” It describes our tendency to buy bigger, better, and nicer things as our income rises.

For example, say that you receive a promotion at work and suddenly you have $10,000 more of income each year. Rather than save the extra money and continue living as normal, you’re more likely to upgrade to a bigger TV or stay at better hotels or buy designer clothes. Your normal lifestyle will creep up slowly and goods that were once seen as a luxury will gradually become a necessity. What was once out of reach will become your new normal. 1

Changing human behavior is often considered to be one of the hardest things to do in business and in life. Yet, lifestyle creep describes a very reliable way that human behavior changes over the long-term.

What if we adapted this concept to the rest of our lives?
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Footnotes
  1. We could have an entirely separate discussion about whether lifestyle creep is a good thing or not. Typically, the concept is viewed in a negative light because it indicates unnecessary consumerism and the purchasing of items that you don’t really need. Furthermore, lifestyle creeps seems to increase the risk of loss aversion. For example, once you own designer clothes and an expensive car, it can be difficult to go back to rocking Levis and driving a Toyota Camry. That said, I’m not entirely against buying nice things for yourself (provided they are useful or that they bring you happiness), but this discussion is outside the scope of this article. I bring up lifestyle creep here simply to provide an example of how human behavior changes over the long-term in a reliable and long-lasting way. It’s an example of how you can make changes that actually stick and, as is always the case with humans, those changes can be positive or negative.

Warren Buffett’s “20 Slot” Rule: How to Simplify Your Life and Maximize Your Results

Charlie Munger settled into his seat in front of the crowd at the University of Southern California.

It was 1994 and Munger had spent the last 20 years working alongside Warren Buffett as the two men grew Berkshire Hathaway into a billion-dollar corporation.

Today, Munger was delivering a talk to the USC Business School entitled, “A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom.” 1

About halfway through his presentation, hidden among many fantastic lessons, Munger discussed a strategy that Warren Buffett had used with great success throughout his career.

Here it is:

When Warren lectures at business schools, he says, “I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches—representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”

He says, “Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”

Again, this is a concept that seems perfectly obvious to me. And to Warren it seems perfectly obvious. But this is one of the very few business classes in the U.S. where anybody will be saying so. It just isn’t the conventional wisdom.

To me, it’s obvious that the winner has to bet very selectively. It’s been obvious to me since very early in life. I don’t know why it’s not obvious to very many other people.

The Underrated Importance of Selective Focus

Warren Buffett’s “20-Slot” Rule isn’t just useful for financial investments, it’s a sound approach for time investments as well. In particular, what struck me about Buffett’s strategy was his idea of “forcing yourself to load up” and go all in on an investment.

The key point is this:

Your odds of success improve when you are forced to direct all of your energy and attention to fewer tasks.

If you want to master a skill—truly master it—you have to be selective with your time. You have to ruthlessly trim away good ideas to make room for great ones. You have to focus on a few essential tasks and ignore the distractions. You have to commit to working through 10 years of silence.

Going All In

If you take a look around, you’ll notice very few people actually go “all in” on a single skill or goal for an extended period of time.

Rather than researching carefully and pouring themselves into a goal for a year or two, most people “dip their toes in the water” and chase a new diet, a new college major, a new exercise routine, a new side business idea, or a new career path for a few weeks or months before jumping onto the next new thing.

In my experience, so few people display the persistence to practice one thing for an extended period of time that you can actually become very good in many areas—maybe even world-class—with just one year of focused work. If you view your life as a 20-slot punchcard and each slot is a period of focused work for a year or two, then you can see how you can enjoy significant returns on your invested time simply by going all in on a few things.

My point here is that everyone is holding a “life punchcard” and, if we are considering how many things we can master in a lifetime, there aren’t many slots on that card. You only get so many punches during your time on this little planet. Unlike financial investments, your 20 “life slots” are going to get punched whether you like it or not. The time will pass either way.

Don’t waste your next slot. Think carefully, make a decision, and go all in. Don’t just kind of go for it. Go all in. Your final results are merely a reflection of your prior commitment. 2


Footnotes
  1. You can read Munger’s full talk here: “A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom.” Munger does the title of his talk justice and provides an incredibly useful foundation for building worldly wisdom.

  2. For further reading on the importance of commitment, see “If You Commit to Nothing, You’ll Be Distracted By Everything.”

Be More Productive: The 15-Minute Routine Anthony Trollope Used to Write 40+ Books

Beginning with his first novel in 1847, Anthony Trollope wrote at an incredible pace. Over the next 38 years, he published 47 novels, 18 works of non-fiction, 12 short stories, 2 plays, and an assortment of articles and letters.

Trollope achieved his incredible productivity by writing in 15-minute intervals for three hours per day.

His strategy is explained in Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals (audiobook): [click to continue reading]

2015 Procrastination Seminar: Focus on What Matters & Shave 10 Hours Off Your Workweek

The biggest hurdle to finishing most tasks is starting them.

That’s true for everyday habits like cleaning the house, finishing homework, processing email, and exercising consistently. It’s true for big life projects like writing a book, launching a business, or changing careers. Procrastinating seems like a small pain on a daily basis, but tiny days build into months and years that end up making the difference between success and failure.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “You may delay, but time will not.”

That’s why I’m excited to announce a new online seminar that I will be hosting on July 15, 2015:

The 2015 Procrastination Seminar

If you have a project, big or small, that you’re ready to make progress on, then the 2015 Procrastination Seminar will help you take action and get started. (Now is the best time to grab a spot. The Early Bird discount ends on July 12, 2015 at 11:59PM Eastern time.)
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The Power of Placebo: This Is What Happens When You Believe You’re Taking Steroids

Fifteen athletes were scattered around the room. Everyone was looking at Gideon Ariel.

“We’re going to give you steroids,” he lied.

It was 1972 and Ariel was conducting a study on athletic performance with his research partner William Saville. On this particular day, the two men were offering the athletes an interesting proposition.

Ariel explained that the study would last for 11 weeks. The athletes would lift weights for the first 7 weeks and those who made the most improvement during that period would be rewarded with Dianabol, an anabolic steroid, for the final 4 weeks of training.

What the athletes didn’t know was that the researchers were lying to them. After the initial 7-week training period, the scientists randomly selected six athletes as the winners. However, despite being told they were getting real steroids, the athletes actually received placebo pills.

What happened next surprised everyone.
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Two Harvard Professors Reveal One Reason Our Brains Love to Procrastinate

Sometime around 2006, two Harvard professors began to study why we procrastinate. Why do we avoid doing the things we know we should do, even when it’s clear that they are good for us?

To answer this question, the two professors — Todd Rogers and Max Bazerman — conducted a study where participants were asked whether they would agree to enroll in a savings plan that automatically placed two percent of their paycheck in a savings account.

Nearly every participant agreed that saving money was a good idea, but their behavior said otherwise:

  • One version of the question asked participants to enroll in the savings plan as soon as possible. In this scenario, only 30 percent of people said they would agree to enroll in the plan.
  • In another version of the question, participants were asked to enroll in a savings plan in the distant future (like a year from today). In this scenario, 77 percent of people said they would agree to enroll in the plan.

Why did the timeline alter their responses so much?

As it turns out, this little experiment can tell us a lot about why we procrastinate on behaviors that we know we should do.
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How to Stop Procrastinating and Boost Your Willpower by Using “Temptation Bundling”

Like many people, Katy Milkman knew she should be exercising more.

But each day she left her job as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania feeling exhausted and drained. By the time she made it home, all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch and read a book or turn on her favorite TV show. On this particular day, she wanted to read The Hunger Games.

That’s when she had an idea.

What if she created a rule for herself? What if she was only allowed to read The Hunger Games when she went to the gym?
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Lessons From a Vexillonaire: Creativity, Simplicity, and the Carefully Constrained Life

The flag of Chicago is widely regarded as one of the best city flags in the United States, perhaps in the world. It is certainly one of the most popular. You’ll find the flag of Chicago printed on t-shirts and mugs, tattooed on local musicians, and flying along streets, over rivers, and above doors throughout the city.

The flag has three white bars and two blue stripes. The white areas represent the three main sides of the city: North, West, and South. The blue stripes stand for the north and south branches of the Chicago River flowing into Lake Michigan. In the center of the flag, there are four red stars symbolizing historical events in the city like the Great Chicago Fire.
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