The one, most important thing

“What is the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This is one of the most powerful focusing questions you can ask yourself.  You won’t always find a magic bullet that renders everything else unnecessary, but there is an emotionally stabilizing effect of just deciding to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else.

There are infinite ways to direct your energy.  There is no power like that of consciously directing yours where it’s most beneficial.

How to improve your luck

No matter your work ethic or intelligence, luck is a major variable in any successful outcome.  I learned a phrase that’s worth sharing:  “increase the surface area of luck.”

It’s almost impossible to connect dots forward, but easy in hindsight.  Who knew that offering helpful advice would turn a stranger into an investor?  How could you have foreseen that selflessly promoting someone’s work would lead to a lifelong relationship with one of that person’s close friends?

Increasing the surface area means expanding your influence, assistance, wealth and knowledge with others.  This catapults the probability that so-called serendipities, unexplainable circumstances, and unpredictable luck will seem to land in your lap.

Not all advice from smart people is smart

Wise people seek advice from others who may know more. But we need to evaluate any advice in light of our current needs. There is no universally perfect guidance for some dilemmas, especially when it comes to money and career advice.

Quit your day job to “follow your dreams” is not sensible advice for most people.

Even intelligent, well-intended people may make the mistake of advising you through the lens of their own experience, and they won’t have to live with the outcomes. There is plenty of great advice – just make sure whatever you act on is useful and relevant for you, right now.

Ethical hack

Sometimes the voice of our ancient, inner primate lures us towards decisions that we know will be harmful.  In other words, we know it’s “wrong” but we still want to do it. This can produce an agonizing internal ethical debate.

One hack to allow your higher-self to gain control is to consider how you’ll feel afterward. Let the feeling (often guilt) sink in.  Ruminating in the awful hangover rather than the short-term taste of the drink can diminish the thrill of drinking.

Drinking of course is a metaphor for any decision that you know doesn’t serve you.

Here is what’s most important when comforting others

There is no shortage of examples showing how stereotypical male and female conversations break down due to differences in communication style. Getting past the stereotypes though, a person’s emotional state, as well as their intentions for communicating, are important but not always obvious.

It’s critical to realize that there are multiple states of distress, so being helpful depends less on their identities and attributes (men/women, young/old, communication style) and more on their present state.

They may feel bad and NOT want to feel better (just how quickly do you want to feel “good” about the death of a loved one?) At times it’s best to validate and allow people to express their grief.  On the other hand, they may be feeling horrible and ready to feel better, in which case advice will be more welcomed.

Click here for the video version:

How helping others helps you

A study measured the time it took for children to quickly sift through hundreds of rubber balls to collect the one with their names on them.  The second time around, they were instructed to help one another find the balls with their names on them.  As you’d guess, they achieved the same outcome in less than half the time by helping others reach their goals.

You don’t see many books with titles like ‘The top 10 ways to help others achieve success.”  Perhaps it’s not intuitive, but assisting others in getting what they want is the fastest route to finding the metaphorical rubber ball with your name on it.

Who are you helping today?

When to trust your intuition

Human intuition fails us in areas like statistics, probability theory, and comprehending exponential growth.  Multiple studies – including Nobel-prize winning studies – confirm how poor our intuition is in these areas.  But our intuition serves us very well when it comes to detecting danger.

This makes sense, considering it wasn’t always practical or predictive of success to grasp complex math so we could invest and compound the interest over many years.  But it has always been essential for life to recognize danger, even in ways we don’t consciously understand (microexpressions, eye gaze, body language, etc.).

The moral, and the invitation to improve critical thinking skills, is to drop your ego and your story about how you might be viewed, and obey visceral signals of danger.  When it comes to predicting possible futures, rely on data and not your “rational” intuitions.

What retirement really is

Many cultures value working hard for many years so we can enjoy the payoff when we’re done working.  But there are alternative ways to define work and retirement.

For me, “work” is an investment of energy that comes in multiple forms.  Investing time on income-generating activities or even leisure, serving others, creative endeavors, or human connection. I don’t intend to abandon working on these things the moment I stop trading my time for money.

I view retiring as what happens when you cease sacrificing today for an imaginary, possible future. We don’t know how long we have, but that’s not an excuse to empty your bank account. It’s an inspiration to “retire” a bit each day.

Not for everyone

There are very few category leaders like Google and Amazon. Some of the best business ideas focus on serving far fewer people MUCH better, instead of serving more people in a crowded market – or worse: “everyone”.

As Zig Ziglar put it, better to be a meaningful specific than a wandering generality.  There may only be 20,000 people in the world passionate about some bizarre niche, but a business that targets them is more likely to serve all 20,000.

This applies outside of a business context as well.  We can be truly genuine, and seek to serve humanity in our unique way.  Our authentic selves, however, will always end up being “not for everyone”.  And that’s okay. Embrace it.

Assessing what’s next

Sometimes we assess our future based on where we currently are in life.  After all, right now we are all the sum of all of our choices, energy, life experiences, and beliefs about what they all mean.

But assessing future opportunities based on our past is like driving while looking behind you.  Not so smart unless you’re moving backward, which isn’t the direction we want to go in life.

All of the influences and variables of the past have made us who we are today.  Where you are today is just where you are today.  Don’t forget that history does not equal destiny.