An Investment in Reading

Warning: This is another post about reading. It is inspired by the book, The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler.

Look at these figures below:

Blogs: Three minutes gets you three days.

Articles: Twenty minutes gets you four months.

Books: Five hours gets you fifteen years.

Chapter 9: The ROI on Reading

What does this mean? According to the author, the average reader reads at a speed of 250 words per minute. The average blog post of 800 words takes about three days to write. To read a blog post would take about three and a half minutes. A five-thousand-word article takes the author about four months to create. For the reader, it takes about twenty minutes to read. And for books, the numbers go even higher. The author’s book, The Rise of Superman, took fifteen years to write. At 75,000 words, the average reader would be able to complete it in about five hours. Hence, five hours gets you fifteen years.

By reading, you are getting a fast-track version of what it took someone to learn, think, and write about.

To use myself as an example, so far this year I have read:

If the average time to write a book is fifteen years, then in five months I have consumed 165 years of other people’s wisdom and knowledge. Even if I only retain 10% of what I have read, that still puts me at sixteen and a half years in five months.

My quest in life is to acquire wisdom. I understand this is not everyone else’s quest, but everyone can benefit from more knowledge, more understanding, and of course, more wisdom.

Jim Rohn said, “Miss a meal, but don’t miss your reading.” Are you getting in your recommended daily allowance? Imagine what would happen if you read only ten minutes a day. That book that only takes five hours to read would be complete in one month. That is twelve books a year at ten minutes a day. For 180 years of knowledge in a year’s time, you are only giving .7% of your day. Is there any other investment you could make that has that high of a return?

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter) who didn’t read all the time -none. Zero.

Charlie Munger

Wisdom is calling us. She freely gives her fruit to those who would seek it. Heed the call and go pick up a book.

Moreover, books pay performance dividends. Studies find that they improve long-term concentration, reduce stress, and stave off cognitive decline. Reading has also been shown to improve empathy, sleep, and intelligence. If you combine these benefits with the information density books provide, we start to see why everyone from tech titans like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk to cultural icons like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffet credit their success to their incredible passion for books.

Chapter 9: The ROI on Reading

Feature photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Daily Gifts

Emperor’s Log #40: Daily Gifts

I wake up and begin my morning routine which starts in the study. I sit in my chair and look at the journal sitting open next to me. It is early, but now I must think. Item number one should be the easiest, but it is not.

Gratitude. What is one thing that I am grateful for? Just one thing, and it cannot be the same thing every day. I must dig a little deeper. I can’t always put “to be awake” or “still married to the woman I love.” And though I am always thankful for food, shelter, and the opportunity to be a part of Alec’s life, that is not digging deep enough. What is one thing that I am grateful for?

I have a friend that does a little dance every morning when he wakes up for the sole reason that he is still alive. He is veteran with first-hand knowledge of what it is like to get blown up, which has happened to him at least fourteen times. His dance in the morning when everything on him hurts is a dance of gratitude. When I think of him, I put him in my journal. I am grateful to call him a friend, grateful for his service, and grateful for the example he demonstrates every morning.

I usually write my one gratitude entry in the morning and call it quits. But I think this is a mistake. Maybe I should write this down throughout the day or at least at night. There is so much to be grateful for every day. How many quality conversations do I have each day? What did I learn? What did I notice? So many experiences, always coming in. And so often I move on to the next not even taking a moment to offer a silent prayer of gratitude. It is one thing to be grateful for being alive, it is quite another to be grateful for the little moments that make up this life.

Did you know that gratitude improves your health and increase your productivity? Check out these two passages from Steven Kotler’s book, The Art of Impossible:

A daily gratitude practice alters the brain’s negativity bias. It changes the amygdala’s filter, essentially training it to take in more positive information. This works so well because the positive stuff you’re grateful for is stuff that has already happened.

Finally, there also appears to be a strong link between gratitude and flow…It appears that the optimism and confidence produced by gratitude lower anxiety, which makes us less fearful of stretching to the edge of our abilities and more able to target the challenge-skills sweet spot, flow’s most important trigger.

Each day provides its own gifts. -Marcus Aurelius

These daily gifts are there whether we realize them or not. To maximize these daily gifts, we must identify them, understand what it means (where is the value), and then show a little gratitude. Gifts are freely given with no expectation of payment in exchange. We should not waste these gifts as this is a slight against the Benefactor who gives them.


Feature photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

A Formula for the Impossible

Examining Epictetus #30: A Formula for the Impossible

In The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performer’s Primer, Steven Kotler suggests there is a formula for achieving the impossible. And as preposterous as achieving the impossible sounds, consider how many impossibilities were overcome just in the last few years. Apparently, impossible is really “not possible yet.”

Start with the end in mind.

To achieve the impossible, we must start with the end in mind. The end is what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. This is your massively, transformative purpose (MTP). MTPs include curing cancer, solving world hunger, and other types of world-changing goals. In other words, the things that seem impossible now but can be conquered in the future.

To find your MTP, start by creating a list of 20-25 items you are interested in. These are items that you might be interested in learning about over a free weekend. Review your list and find out how they intersect with another. Spend time in those intersections and see how they relate. Learn the history and jargon on the subjects you are interested. As you work through your list, a purpose might come to you. Maybe this purpose is massive and transformative.

Segment your MTP

Next, you must create milestones. These are the high, hard goals (HHG). An example would be writing a book in your newly found niche. Your HHGs may take years to complete. That is okay. The HHGs are the milestones along the road to your purpose in life.

Work daily on your HHG

You have your MTP. You have your first HHG. What’s next? Now is the time to break down your HHG into clear goals. These are the small daily tasks that need to be completed each day. If you are writing a book, this would be to complete a certain number of words daily.

Clear goals need to be in line with your HHG. If you honestly believe in your MPT, then the clear goals are the most important tasks you can do in a day. Therefore, it is best to go after them first and get them done.

What about tasks that are not a part of your clear goals? They must be eliminated or pushed back as much as possible. If they are not a part of your MTP, how important are they? And if it can’t be avoided, then you will need to schedule your clear goals around it. The objective is to complete the clear goals.

Epictetus said, “Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and then proceed to greater.” I doubt Epictetus was speaking about your goals and massively transformative purpose, but the principle still holds true. Every day practice the little things (your clear goals) and create a series of daily wins. Stack up enough clear goals, and you will find yourself moving closer to your major milestones (HHGs). Keep stacking and in time, you might find yourself achieving the impossible.

Getting Acquainted with a Stranger

Last week I had the chance to catch the March 17, 2020 Ed Mylett Show: Revolutionize Your Life w/Steven Kotler. This podcast episode really got the gears in my head turning. It was a wide-ranging interview that went from achieving “flow state” to the future which is much closer than we think. The interview was so good that after listening to it, I bought Steven Kotler’s latest book.

Twenty pages into this unbelievable page-turner, I came across the following paragraphs:

It’s not easy for any of us. Studies done with fMRI show that when we project ourselves into the future something peculiar happens: The medial prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is a part of the brain that activates when we think about ourselves. When we think about other people, the inverse happens: It deactivates. And when we think about absolute strangers, it deactivates even more.

You’d expect that thinking about our future selves would excite the medial prefrontal cortex. Yet the opposite happens. It starts to shut down, meaning the brain treats the person we’re going to become as a stranger. And the farther you project into the future, the more of a stranger you become. If, a few paragraphs back, you took the time to think about how the transportation revolution would impact future you, the you that you were thinking of was literally not you. – The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler

Visualize your future self and part of your brain shuts down. You’ve got to be kidding me! How much time have I spent with part of my brain turned off? But the more I think about it, the more it starts to make sense. Thinking about my future self is fuzzy. Of course I have an idea of the path I want to travel, but who will I be when I get there?

In Ed Mylett’s May 19th episode: Visualize Your Victory w/ Phil Mickelson, I had the opportunity to hear one of the all-time great golfers discuss his visualization techniques. Here is a man who knew what he wanted to do since the age of eight. Before his tournaments and individual rounds, he visualizes what he is going to do. Then he goes out, and more often than not, does it. How do you visualize victory and who is in the vision? Is it you or the stranger also known as the future you?

Once again, the wheels started turning, but this time I was thinking of a colleague I met in Munich. Sergei is on his way to becoming a big boss for a major luxury car company. When he was eighteen he signed a fifty year contract with the company. Fifty years! Growing up in the U.S., I never heard of such a thing. I’ve known people who worked for the same organization their whole lives, but never did I hear of them signing a contract to do it. Could you imagine professional athletes doing that today?

Sergei had the plan from a young age that he was going to go to the top. Much like Phil Mickelson, he had the plan and then he took the steps in the right direction. It is a stark contrast compared to many of the people I have worked with in the past.

For many, their current career is only a temporary point along their projected path. They work their day jobs hoping for something better to come along. There is nothing wrong with that, unless the temporary becomes permanent and the growth becomes stagnant. These workers never envisioned spending their whole lives working for the same company, because they’ve always dreamed of being somewhere else. But what could they have achieved if they put all their efforts into their current situation? What opportunities could have abounded if instead of looking to the unforeseeable future, they put their focus on the tasks needed to make today a success? How many organizations would benefit from wholly invested employees rather than the wayfarers only on a temporary stop?

I would not give a fig for the young man in business who does not already see himself a partner, or the head of a firm. –Andrew Carnegie

Oh the possibilities if we could only realize the vision! If only we didn’t have a prefrontal media cortex shut down every time we imagined our future selves! How do we become acquainted with this stranger we have yet to meet?

I’m still trying to work that one out. I think I see my future. At least, I think I have a vision of the direction I want to go. Who will I be when I get there? No idea. That part comes down to hope. I hope that through personal growth and a constant effort towards living a virtuous life, my future self is a juggernaut of wisdom. Here’s to hope!

I might not know who I will be when I get there, but I have an idea of how I am going to get there. I am going to allow my mind’s eye to see both near and far. Like Phil Mickelson, I am going to visualize the short-term victories. I already do this to some extent picturing my workouts before they happen. Twenty minutes before I come into the factory, I sit in the parking lot setting my intention for the day. And like Sergei, I am going to look far into the future and set my sights towards that path. That means creating the milestones and then doing everything in my power to hit them. It means adapting, overcoming, and being relentless in the pursuit.

To pay the rent on this post, I leave you once again with the words of Seneca from his 39th Letter to Lucilius:

No man of exalted gifts is pleased with that which is low and mean; the vision of great achievement summons him and uplifts him. –On Noble Aspirations

Alexander, my prayer and hope is that you will achieve what you see within your mind’s eye. Create the vision, heed its calling, and let your dreams become a reality leading you to the heights of your own personal greatness.