Life lessons from a legend, why hard work looks easy, growth mindset, how to simplify your decisions, and investing made easy
How are you doing? As we approach the final few weeks of 2020, how would you like to remember the year? Do you want to look back on it as the crazy one where a global pandemic threw a massive spanner in the works and ground everything to a halt? Or would you rather remember it as one where you took the opportunity to shake off old habits, refocus, challenge yourself, and grow?
If your year currently resides in column A, it’s not too late to move it into column B. Just pick a goal, focus, and get busy.
I know which one I’m aiming for. Now I’ve found some rhythm with parenting, I am focused on getting organised, tackling some overdue tasks, nailing down some personal projects, and closing the year strong.
Ten Life Lessons From A Record-Breaking Legend
I am a big lover of wordplay. Especially of memorable phrases that capture timeless wisdom in a deceptively simple way that becomes increasingly profound as you reflect on them. So, it should be no surprise that I am a big fan of Lorenzo “Yogi” Berra, the New York Yankees baseball legend who is equally famous for his witticisms and his sporting achievements. That’s pretty wild, considering his MLB World Series player record is still unbroken five decades after he set it.
His famous turns of phrase include “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” and “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” After doing a deep dive on his “Yogi-isms” (as they are commonly known), I built an article around a few that I thought expressed some profound life lessons with charm. Ten Life Lessons From A Record-Breaking Legend was a lot of fun to write. If you have an appetite for wordplay or homespun philosophy, I think you will appreciate it.
Podcast Recommendation: North Star
For me, podcasts are the perfect information format. They cover all kinds of niche topics in long-form without visual distractions, making them a great resource for indulging your obscure interests and getting lost in the weeds. One of my favourites is David Perell’s North Star.
I’m not sure how to categorise or define this podcast, as the guests and subject matter vary from show to show. But I guess the common threads that tie the episodes together are cultural and intellectual curiosity. A recent standout episode with financial writer Morgan Housel contained a bunch of related ideas around past, present, and future American economic trends and their influence on work culture, education, and lifestyle. Here’s a couple of nuggets from the episode to whet your appetite:
Quality work nowadays often looks like idleness and is best done away from the office. In the past, work was physical in nature, so breaking a sweat was a sign of working hard. Today, most work is knowledge-based. It happens inside your head, which means it isn’t really visible.
Anyone can sit at a computer all day, which is what office work typically looks like. But this isn’t necessarily high-value work. What gives you an edge in a knowledge-based economy is the quality of your thinking. And high-level thinking is best done away from your desk and office distractions; maybe on a walk, while working out, or laid on the sofa with your eyes closed.
So, the most valuable work you can do may not happen in the workplace or even look like work at all. If you want to think creatively or deeply, you need to get out of the office environment, stop staring at a screen, and avoid being stationary. This doesn’t sit well with many managers, especially those from a traditional background.
To create a culture of innovation, managers and directors should encourage staff to escape from the confines of traditional working patterns so they can be at their best. If you want more freedom in your work, you should frame this argument to your boss and get them on board with it. And maybe familiarise yourself with this article on the topic, which articulates this idea in more detail.
Morgan Housel on how to demystify and simplify investing: “Spend less money than you make, invest the difference in a low-cost diversified portfolio, and be patient. That’s 90% of it. Most people believe there is a correlation between effort and reward, so they ignore this simple approach and over-complicate things. But I have not seen any evidence that more effort means better returns. It is usually the opposite. The more decisions and moves you make, the greater the chance of error.”
A quick way to improve your decision-making
Decision-making is more art than science. It requires us to weigh up several factors against one another to make our best guess, often with less information at our disposal than we would like. There doesn’t need to be many factors in play or much information lacking for a decision to become complex and potentially confusing. It also doesn’t help that our subconscious mind plays tricks on us and makes decisions that we aren’t aware of.
There is a wonderful quote from copywriter Rory Sutherland that perfectly sums up how easily we fool ourselves into believing we have a better grasp of our decision-making process than we actually do:
“The conscious, rational brain is not the Oval Office; it isn’t there making executive decisions in our minds. It is more like the Press Office, issuing explanations for decisions we have already taken.”Rory Sutherland
Mull that over for a second because it’s an important thing to be aware of. With this idea in mind, here are two simple questions you can ask yourself to pull back the curtain on the decisions you make. Ask them about each individual factor you are considering in your decision to quickly get some clarity and make things more straightforward:
- What evidence do I have for this? (a useful sub-question to this is “can there be an alternative explanation for it?”)
- How important is it?
It is amazing how quickly these two questions allow you to disregard many of the factors you are examining, either because they lack evidence (which usually means they are an assumption you are making rather than an objective fact), or because they are not important. They are a really efficient way to get straight to the essence of an issue, overcome your personal biases, simplify your decision-making, and make better choices.
Book of the Month: Mindset
Dr. Carol Dweck’s Mindset is something of a personal development classic. She contrasts two different mindsets — fixed and growth — and shows how the former holds you back while the latter is necessary to achieve your potential. In simple terms, a fixed mindset believes that a person’s traits are pre-determined and cannot be changed. Either you are good at something, or you are not, so why bother trying. A growth mindset believes that people can develop their abilities through study, reflection, hard work, and practice.
While the concept of fixed and growth mindsets is simple enough, the ways they manifest can be quite subtle. For starters, the two mindsets are not binary or all-encompassing. We do not simply have one or the other. Instead, all of us have fixed mindsets in some situations and growth mindsets in others. The trick is to learn to recognise which mindset we are in, then when we find ourselves in a fixed mindset, be able to re-frame things in terms of a growth mindset.
When we have a fixed mindset, we will see failure as something that counts against us and should be avoided. With a growth mindset, we see failure as an opportunity to learn, not a condemnation. This has enormous implications for how we approach situations. Do we keep things easy so that we don’t fail, or do we challenge ourselves to learn from failure and improve more quickly?
Dr. Dweck explores how our education, parents, and natural abilities contribute to the type of mindset we develop. School exams condition us into a fixed mindset by assessing us based on a snapshot in time with no capacity to measure our growth potential. They also frame failure as a negative. Counter-intuitively, being naturally talented at something may be a disadvantage in the long run. If we feel we don’t need to try hard, we can develop a fixed mindset, which limits our ability to improve and prevents us from reaching our potential.
There are some incredible stories about how teachers have completely transformed children’s lives and achieved feats such as getting classes of four-year-old inner-city kids to read Shakespeare by using a growth mindset approach in the classroom.
As someone who writes a personal development newsletter, mindset is fascinating to me. I unsurprisingly see myself as someone with a growth mindset, but this book helped me recognise areas of my life where my mindset is more fixed than I realised. And it taught me useful strategies for re-framing them through a lens of growth.
If I were to distill Dweck’s insight down to a simple takeaway, it would be don’t judge yourself or others for being how they are. View them in terms of their potential, then support them to develop and improve.
Mindset is a valuable book for anyone looking to improve their mindset, resilience, and effectiveness. More importantly, it is essential reading for teachers, coaches, parents, or anyone responsible for developing other people.
I started this newsletter talking about short, memorable, bite-sized pieces of wisdom. To bring it full-circle, I have recently been thinking about the power of memes. They are a hugely undervalued form of communication that should be taken more seriously. Being instantly understandable and easy to share, they catch on easily and spread rapidly.
Just like “Yogi-isms”, memes are seemingly throwaway fun statements that resonate with people from all over the planet. They quickly become deeply embedded cultural ideas that can capture the current mood more perfectly than any other form of communication I can think of. They are like aphorisms for the 21st century.
A little while ago, I read that a new breed of business start-ups are using memes to communicate with venture capitalists and attract funding from them. The idea that successful business pitches can now be done in meme format and that investors will bet on strangers because of memes they have been sent is wild to me. Perhaps it is time to take memes more seriously.
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”Dr. Wayne Dyer
Until next time,