What are the real, actionable shortcuts for success?
The estimated reading time for this post is 10 minutes
If you were born in the 90s, there is a high chance you’ve played Mario Kart. Oh, I loved that game as a kid. The excitement of going through the little boxes to see what the next power up would be, and then finding shortcuts to jump in front of my opponents. Shortcuts and power ups feel good, right?
Nobody really taught me how to take a camera and take a great shot. It has always been self initiated little personal projects sparked by curiosity, repetitions and persistence. There is no real shortcut to perfecting a skill, only reps. Success, therefore, is part of the journey.
However, one can find assistance on the learning process of a skill or area. The tangible aspects of learning are not on the end result, but in where and how a certain knowledge is acquired. Let’s say you want to drive the Kart with Bowser, the heavy turtle guy. Your friend who invited you to play with him will not tell you when to press the buttons, instead he will tell you the mechanics of the game. The rest is on you. To win the race, you will have to learn how to run with Bowser first. Dominate the basics first.
Similarly to the mechanics of the game and your friend, who played the role of a mentor, is to learn the mechanics of your skill and the business of your industry. That might mean watching others do the thing. Or even drop shadow some of the people you admire. As a result, you won’t be required to figure it all out yourself, learn faster and end up making quality questions.
The quality of your questions matter
If you are going on a rollercoaster expecting to stop on top, you better tighten your belt… There isn’t really an effective way to “win”. The questions you ask people you are trying to learn from matters the most. If you are asking the step-by-step guide to go from A to B, instead of trying to understand a technique or a system, or what you need to know about a subject to get started, you are making the wrong kinds of questions. You should be focusing on the entry level, instead of trying to play with the end result.
Let’s take as an example someone who is learning how to draw. Where would you start from with learning? By asking how to draw a complex 3 point perspective urban scene? C’mon. Do you know how to draw a line at all? Most people will ask me what pencil I use. Answer: it doesn’t matter right in the beginning, work with what you have. In this scenario, a better question would be: How do you apply strokes? How do you “see” your subject? How do you draw basic shapes? How to shade? How do you check your proportion? All experts in their fields dominate the basics, well before exploring more complex grounds. People who are starting out tend to want skip the basics and call themselves masters of a craft.
Avoid asking questions that lead to a simple yes or no answer. Most likely the answer you get will be just that one word, and you won’t get much out of the learning process, which is at least frustrating. Successful people ask clear, specific questions to trying to reverse engineer an issue or something they want to know in depth. For example, questions that start with “What” and “How” will provide great answers, as long as you stick to the above mindset, you will be headed to the right direction. When I was younger, I’d get to ride horses I wasn’t acquainted with. I would ask their owners: “What do I need to know of its habits? Does it get distracted? Does it look too much? Does it like kicking when other horses are nearby or when it’s too excited? What spooks it?” We unconsciously forget (if that makes sense) basic things that come up only when prompted externally by a person or by a not foreseen event. Even though those seem like general questions, it provided me an opening to figuring out what to ask next and what I was working with. Open-ended questions tend to generate the best answers, meaning that neither I sought for options nor a variation of an answer, much less a simple yes or no answer.
“At the end of the day, the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people that we will become.” ― Leo Babauta
Observing and learning from other successful people
If you really want to cut corners, your best bet would be by learning how your role models did it, their habits and their failures.
And if you really put a thought into it, there are centuries of knowledge out there. Even for free (GUTENBERG PROJECT). You just gotta turn the TV off and read less of the wrong kinds of books.
I have placed myself in a position in which I can closely observe people that I have admired since I was a kid. True, some of the glamour faded away. However, I have learned a great deal out of it. It paid off in personal growth and business leverage.
There are great people in this world that write. The reason I advocate writing: there is always someone wanting to learn from you. That includes yourself. There are thousands, millions of people you can help out but writing down, as well as there is a lot you can find out from blogs, podcasts, and books alone, without ever getting in direct touch with a specific person, even though I would advise you to.
Who have they learned from? Gold nuggets are always hidden in unusual places, otherwise they wouldn’t be so valuable. And learning where and whom the people you admire have gotten their knowledge from can help you reverse engineer your own path. There are conditions you cannot mimic, personality traits that do not match yours, but still, a lesson can be taken and eventually you find your own formula.
Good habits are hard to form, bad habits are hard to break.
We’ve heard it once or twice.
What will work for you? I don’t know. The key is to explore all kinds of possibilities when it comes to your happiness, wealth, health and relationships. Luckily, people like Tim Ferriss have collected some really interesting data on the behavior of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Godin, Tony Robbins, Peter Thiel, James Altucher and other great names, which you can have access on the book called “Tools of Titans” and in his podcast. Other than that specific book, biographies are a great way to learn how amazing people that have walked on this planet think and what their habits were.
I’d advise you to try one good habit at a time, or breaking a bad one, and moving on to the next when the previous has become unconscious to you.
The key is to explore. Use the lives of the people that have done great things in this world and act accordingly to your own mindset, dreams and goals.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
Once you find one great person, you will end up with a branch of other great people to study and learn from.
And who do they hang out with
Who do you hang out with? We are the average of the 5 people around us. So if you hang out with 5 average people, you will be an average person. BAM. I might have just called you average, I am so sorry.
Successful people hang out with successful people. How did they get to hang out with successful people? They either went where the successful people they wanted to mimic went or were already at. Then most likely they asked to be mentored by them. Like, literally, go to a coffee shop, a restaurant, a neighborhood. Start taking yourself physically to the place you want to be. Eventually, your reality will align with your mindset.
For instance, connecting, gaining trust and learning from someone who is ahead of you will allow you to shift the rule of the average 5, as long as you aren’t a leech and you are genuine about it. Finding one mentor opens a door to other mentors or people, that is leverage.
Seek people out. Sometimes who we admire are busy, so I wouldn’t advise approaching them directly. Not everyone is Gary Vaynerchuk. The best option you’d have would be to contact the person directly underneath them, like a secretary. That way you gain the entrance respect, and who knows, you might be shadowing someone you admire just because you had the guts and humbleness to politely ask for it.
“What a wise person teaches is the smallest part of what they give. The totality of their life, of the way they go about it in the smallest details, is what gets transmitted.” ― David Brooks, The Road to Character
Uncovering the unknown unknowns
One of my financial mentors is called Tony Robbins. If you haven’t learned from him, you are living under a rock. He has mentored Hugh Jackman, Bill Clinton, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana… Oprah Winfrey calls him superhuman.
One of my most loved nuggets from him is:
“We live in an uncertain world and face not only the risks of the known unknowns but also the unknown unknowns—the ones that we don’t know we don’t know. Despite these risks, if we are to have any chance for meeting our long-term financial goals, invest we must.” – Tony Robbins for Time Magazine
Investing your time, money, attention with intention is the best way to uncover the aspects of life, business or skill mastering we don’t know we don’t know. We mostly don’t know anything.
Another way to grow and learn…
…Is to teach.
Learning can take so many forms. I have learned a great deal of English with video games and music, simply because of the interest on the stories and the urge to understand what was being said and sung.
Since I’ve known how to hold a pencil between my fingers, writing has been a major breakthrough to understanding myself, my craft, the world around me, where I want to be in 5, 10, 40 years. Writing allows a level of detachment in a situation and an unemotional approach to problem solving, goal setting and learning. The first step to making something is to writing it down, the very first spur of growing an idea.
“You can make anything by writing.” ― C.S. Lewis
There is value in writing any form of text. Whether you are just spurting out messy thoughts or you are writing a valuable article to teaching someone everything you know, or a text message, or trying to figure something out in your life.
You will surprise yourself on the level of knowledge you have in your head, once you commit to writing what you know about your craft. The return you will obtain for people trying to obtain that very information is at least rewarding.
All of these aspects of acting and learning must be done consciously and simultaneously.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Patience and work
I have this urge of learning 666 things at once. It’s really not about how much you learn but how well you execute what you’ve learned. Being curious is a good thing, but it can lead to learning without never acting on the knowledge, which is the exact opposite you want to be doing.
It does not suffice to just learn, or to just act without ever reinventing or looking with another perspective; one of the hidden benefits of learning is to be able to acquire some knowledge without necessarily agreeing with it, so that your view of the world, and thus, possibilities, expands.
There is, in fact, no shortcut that leads to success. There are practices, habits, and people that we can lead and be led by. Therefore, expecting the easy solution or the lottery win will not bring you a great, lasting return.