How to Solve Big Problems: Lessons Learned From Cancer Scientists

In late November of 1991, a three-year-old girl was diagnosed with leukemia. There was a 30 percent chance she would die.

In the coming months, she would receive a long list of chemotherapy drugs: 6MP, asparaginase, methotrexate, prednisone, and vincrinstine. The miracle was not only that these drugs could potentially cure her, but that they existed at all.

In his fantastic book, The Emperor of All Maladies, author and physician Sid Mukherjee explains the history of cancer and how brilliant physicians and scientists finally began to discover cures for the disease.

You see, for many years, doctors and scientists dreamed of finding a single cure for all cancers. They searched for a radical surgery or a miracle drug that could cure everything from breast cancer to leukemia to prostate cancer. According to Mukherjee, however, breakthroughs finally came when scientists stopped trying to tackle this large scale problem and made the problem smaller.

The first breakthrough came when Sidney Farber, now known as the Father of Modern Chemotheraphy, decided to focus exclusively on treating leukemia. He was one of the first physicians to dedicate his efforts solely to a single type of cancer and by narrowing his focus Farber was able to make significant progress against this single condition.

Eventually, the drugs and treatments Farber uncovered for leukemia led to new solutions for other cancers. By focusing on one tiny vertical, Farber uncovered answers that could be used to treat the larger problem. As Mukherjee put it, “[By] focusing microscopically on a single disease, one could extrapolate into the entire universe of diseases.” [1]

This central idea, that solving large complex problems is often accomplished by first attacking smaller micro-problems, is useful not just for cancer treatments, but for life in general.
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How to Build Expertise, Talent, and Skill: Lessons From Peyton Manning

It was the first game of the season and Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League, already had a chance to set another NFL record.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the ball on his own 22-yard-line, Manning stepped up to the line of scrimmage and surveyed the defense. Just before snapping the ball, he noticed something.

The Baltimore Ravens defenders were moving around in front of Manning, preparing for the play, but something didn’t feel right. After the game, Manning would simply say that he “saw something.” [1, 2]

Baltimore was going to blitz and Manning knew it. He took a step forward, spread his arms to signal a new play call, and yelled out the play, “Alley! Alley! … Alley! Alley! Alley!”

The Broncos snapped the ball. The Ravens, as expected, blitzed. Manning threw a perfectly planned pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who ran 78 yards for a touchdown. The Baltimore defenders never laid a hand on him.

It was Manning’s seventh touchdown pass of the game, tying the NFL record. And perhaps more impressive, it took Manning just four seconds to step up to the line of scrimmage, analyze the location of all eleven defenders, compare their coverage to the play he had called, recognize that they were preparing to blitz, and then call a new play. All that, in just four seconds.

Let’s talk about how Peyton Manning can do that, and how you can develop expertise in the areas that matter to you.

Here’s the deal…
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How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide

According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day. [1]

Understanding how to build new habits (and how your current ones work) is essential for making progress in your health, your happiness, and your life in general.

But there can be a lot of information out there and most of it isn’t very simple to digest. To solve this problem and break things down in a very simple manner, I have created this strategy guide for building new habits that actually stick.

Even more detailed information is available in my free guide, Transform Your Habits, but the basic principles mentioned in this article will be more than enough to get you going.
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The Photographer Nobody Knew: Lessons on Sharing Your Gifts With the World

It was 2007 and John Maloof was working on a book about Chicago’s northwest neighborhoods. On this particular day, he was hoping to find a few pictures from the 1960s that he could use in the book.

What he ended up finding was far more interesting.

After purchasing boxes full of negatives from a local auction house, Maloof began developing some of the images. When they finished processing, he was stunned. They were incredible. And there were tons of them. More than 30,000 in these boxes alone. Whoever had taken these pictures was surely one of the most prolific and talented American photographers of the last hundred years.

And yet, when Maloof looked up the photographer’s name, he couldn’t find her work anywhere else. In fact, after further searching, Maloof was fairly certain that nobody had ever heard of this woman. Her obituary never even mentioned that she was a photographer. She was a mystery, an unknown artist with world-class talent.
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How to Read More: The Simple System I’m Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year

Warren Buffett, the man commonly referred to as the greatest investor of the 20th century, was standing in front of 165 wide-eyed students from Columbia University.

One of the students raised his hand and asked Buffett for his thoughts on the best way to prepare for an investing career. After thinking for a moment, Buffett pulled out a stack of papers and trade reports he had brought with him and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” [1]

Buffett estimates that 80 percent of his working hours are spent reading or thinking. It’s enough to make you ask, “Am I reading enough books?”

When I asked myself that question recently, I realized that there were some simple reasons I wasn’t reading as much as I would like to, and I developed a reasonable system that is helping me read more than 30 books per year.

Let me explain…
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How to Get Better Sleep: The Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Sleep Deprivation

On February 13, 1972, Michel Siffre climbed into a cave in southwest Texas. It would be six months before he saw daylight again.

Siffre was a French scientist and a pioneer in chronobiology, which is the study of biological rhythms. The most well-known of these biological rhythms is the circadian rhythm, which controls the human sleep-wake cycle, and Siffre was on a mission to learn how, exactly, it worked.

Siffre’s life in the cave was spartan at best. He lived in a tent that sat on a small wooden platform with a bed, a table, a chair, and a phone that he could use to call his research team above ground. His underground home was equipped with a single lightbulb, which provided a soft glow to the piles of frozen food and 800 gallons of water nearby. There were no clocks or calendars, no way for him to discover what time it was or whether it was day or night. And this was how he lived, alone, for six months.

Within a few days, Siffre’s biological clock began to take over. He would later recall his experiments by writing, “My sleep was perfect! My body chose by itself when to sleep and when to eat. That’s very important. We showed that my sleep-wake cycle was not twenty-four hours, like people have on the surface of the earth, but slightly longer—about twenty-four hours and thirty minutes.” [1] On several occasions, Siffre’s body transitioned to a 48-hour sleep-wake cycle where he would stay awake naturally for 36 hours and then sleep for 12 hours. [2]

Siffre’s work, along with the experiments of a handful of other researchers, helped kickstart a scientific interest in sleep that has resulted in sleep performance centers at major universities like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Given that we spend almost 1/3 of our lives sleeping, it’s hard to believe the topic has only gained a large scientific following in recent years. In this article, I’ll share the science of what sleep is, discuss why many people are sleep deprived, and offer practical tips for mastering your sleep and having more energy.

Let’s get started.
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This Famous Artist Has Mastered the Art of Getting Motivated Each Day

Twyla Tharp was born in Indiana and was named after the local “Pig Princess” at the Annual Muncie Fair, who went by Twila.

It wasn’t the prettiest of starts, but Tharp turned it into something beautiful.

She is widely regarded as one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the modern era. She has toured across the globe performing her original work. She is credited with choreographing the first crossover ballet and she has choreographed dances for the Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, and many others. Her work has appeared on Broadway, on television, and in films. In 1992, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, often called the “Genius Grant”, for her creative work.

To put it simply: Twyla Tharp is prolific. The question is, how does she do it?
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One Month Sabbatical: I’m Taking June Off From Writing

As regular readers know, I believe that creative genius reveals itself when you show up consistently, put in enough repetitions, and focus on the system rather than the goal.

And that is why I have published a new article nearly every Monday and Thursday since November 12, 2012.

But I also believe in balance, rejuvenation, and the importance of play and having fun. And for that reason, I’m choosing to take a sabbatical from writing during the month of June.
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