Use your own definition

If Sir Richard Branson’s vision of success was to build wealth while maintaining anonymity, he failed.

Defining our own version of success helps prioritize our time and attention. Success to you may mean financial independence, fame, freedom to travel, or full control of your calendar.  Right and wrong don’t exist here as this is personal.

In the end, you’re either consciously pursuing your own priorities and vision of success, or being unconsciously guided by everyone else’s.

The subtraction principle

Bruce Lee coined the phrase: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless.”  When asked how he created the masterpiece sculpture David, Michelangelo said he chipped away at everything that wasn’t David.  The world’s most successful investors agree that protecting the downside (risk) is the most critical investment principle.

We commonly think to add habits and routines to improve, when often the most valuable strategy is to identify and stop doing the most consequential, stupid, harmful things that derail our lives.  Hack away at the unessential, or things that hurt you.  No coaches, therapy sessions, or slick software required.

The path and the destination

No business plan survives first contact with real customers.  No financial plan, relationship plan, or other life plan endures in its original form. That’s not an excuse not to plan.  Just remember that the short road to disappointment is attachment to and insistence on specific outcomes.

No matter where you end up, one thing is certain: the attempt…the trying…is where you’ll spend most of your time.  So be mindful of how you’re living while you’re on the journey.

The way you walk the path is as important as where it leads.


People often site lack of resources (money, connections, environment, support, their biology, the economy) to rationalize their lack of progress.  Successful people know that they will always lack resources.  Their super power is being resourceful.

Being resourceful means leveraging existing connections, absorbing wisdom from mentors and books, and an attitude that you will do all you can with what you have from where you are.  Consider the difference between “here are all the reasons I can’t do this”, and “what resources will help me do this?”

You can hide behind the list of things you don’t have, or you can actively seek ways to architect your life.


Perspectives for gratitude

Unless you’re extremely unlucky, it’s easy to see that life could be worse.  This recognition doesn’t make problems go away of course.

But imagine trading places with those who have no one to count on, are on their deathbeds, or are living in cultures where staying alive is an hourly concern.

Imagining this and returning to the present may help us appreciate that if we have any number of friends, any semblance of health, and are not plagued with constant safety concerns, that we are the very definition of lucky.

For most people reading this, there are several hundred million people who would trade places with you without hesitation.


Mental training

We all know that physical exercise is healthy, easier to maintain than regain, and that despite diverse innate abilities we can all dramatically improve from our baseline.

Seeking a trained psychologist only in severe distress is like considering gym memberships and nutrition programs only after becoming a dangerously obese diabetic. Or like taking up meditation only when neurosis derails your life.  But like physical attributes, mental well-being can be monitored, maintained, and enhanced.

Mental states we crave (joy, focus, calm) are available to us.  Ground-breaking science (e.g., epigenetics) is confirming what many wise contemplatives throughout history noticed: the powerful insight that these positive states are not unchangeable, factory  human settings.


When bad things happen

I find it valuable to do this post-game analysis after unpleasant events:

Ask myself if (a) I was part of the cause, or (b) something actually happened “to” me.
– If (a) I decide what I’ll do or stop doing so I don’t repeat mistakes.
– If (b) I recognize some things as out of my control, and move on.

Easier said than done.  But so are most things that enhance our mental lives.