The Secret to Success Lies In Resisting Traditional Urges

“Would you be as successful if you followed all the rules and always behaved and never took chances? No, you’d be just like everyone else, scared about failing and worried about being liked.” -Tim GroverRelentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable

People aren’t complicated.

We want the same things. We want to be liked. We want security. We don’t like discomfort. We like feeling good. We always stare at the person pulled over by the cop on the freeway.

We want acceptance, love, admiration, and nice things. We want lots of money (at least, we think we do). We desperately want to be successful.

The problem is, very few people ever become truly successful.

This is for a simple, fundamental reason:

Most people follow what everyone else is doing.

In other words, they follow traditional urges.

And since most people don’t really know what they’re doing, neither do their imitators.

In the words of Derek Sivers, “Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own.”

The secret to success lies in resisting traditional urges.

When everybody else is panicking, you keep your cool. When everyone else is frothing with excitement, you remain skeptical.

Only through resisting the urge to do what “everyone else is doing” can you ever reach the peaks of true success.

If You Want Success, Don’t Listen to the Crowd

“If you live according to opinion, you will never be rich.” -Epicurus

Right before the Great Depression shocked the world in 1929, Irving Kahn was a beginner investor. Now 108 years old and incredibly wealthy, he recalls a memory about his initial investing:

One of my clearest memories is of my first trade, a short sale in a mining company, Magma Copper,” he remembered. “I borrowed money from an in-law who was certain I would lose it but was still kind enough to lend it. He said only a fool would bet against the bull market.”

But by the time the Wall Street crash took hold in the autumn, Mr. Kahn had nearly doubled his money. He didn’t listen to the crowd.

I would recommend that private investors tune out the prevailing views they hear on the radio, television and the internet. They are not helpful.” Kahn explained. “You must have the discipline and temperament to resist your impulses.

Kahn recognized that people have traditional impulses and urges that ultimately lead to the same result if followed — mediocrity.

Most individuals will eagerly trade money, dreams, wealth, goals, and their plans for security during turbulent times.

As Warren Buffett has correctly said, “A good investor has the opposite temperament to that prevailing in the market.”

But the wealthiest and most successful investors are the ones with the poise and equanimity to remain calm when they see their stocks crashing; this is because they are playing a long-term game. They know their stocks will rise again.

The same principles applies to you or me in our daily lives.

When I declared my college major to be English, I received raised eyebrows and feigned support from almost everyone. “English majors don’t make any money,” they might finally voice to me. “How about Engineering instead?

But this is short-term thinking. “How can I get the most money, as fast as I can?

Most of the world see things through a solely short-term lens.

It’s like they’re driving 70mph in traffic and only plan to stop when they see brake lights. They’re not looking ahead. By then it’ll be too late.

If you want true success, don’t listen to the crowd.

Photo by Tim Bogdanov on Unsplash

Spend Your Time on Important, Non-Urgent Things

In the words of Benjamin P. Hardy:

“Stephen Covey says that most people spend their time on urgent but unimportant things. We wake up and immediately check our email. Thus, we put our lives on reactive, rather than proactive mode. After all, email is simply a database of other people’s agendas.

Instead, happy people always put the important stuff first. Not only important, but important and non-urgent.

The important stuff includes exercise, reading good books, setting goals, writing in your journal, and spending time with those you love. None of these things are urgent. We could easily put these things off until tomorrow — which is ultimately never.

The most happy and successful people in the world spend most of their time on the important.”

In his groundbreaking book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains how most people spend most of their time on “urgent” tasks like email, the news, or work projects.

These tasks demand our attention now, but they usually have little effect on our long-term future. In light of the big picture, they are not that important.

Instead, we should focus our efforts on important, non-urgent tasks. These are the behaviors that will define who we will ultimately become.

For me, this includes my health, my writing, my personal business, and my relationships with loved ones.

I don’t have to spend as much quality time with my wife as I currently do. I could easily just put it off until “tomorrow.” Same goes for waking up at the crack of dawn to write, playing basketball, and fasting intermittently from things like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.

But by focusing on these important, non-urgent tasks, you set yourself apart from the crowd in a critical way.

By spending more time on your long-term and future goals, you are ultimately setting yourself up for massive long-term success through compound interest. (Even if you improve yourself 1% every day, that’s a 3700% increase in a year through compound growth).

How do you spend most of your time?

If you had to make a list of your activities for the past 30 days, what would that look like?


Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, recounted a story how he missed the birth of his child.

He was extremely busy at work, and he decided to show up for “an important meeting” instead of going to the hospital with his wife. He thought his dedication and commitment would receive praise and admiration from his colleagues.

Instead, his colleagues were shocked, and actually perceived his actions as character flaws.

What “important meetings” are you constantly going to that you don’t reallyneed to go to?

What should you be spending your time on instead?

Unsuccessful People Choose Entertainment. Successful People Choose Education.

“It’s absurd that we would prioritize the hottest new device, the cool car, or trendy toy over owning that which makes us feel the most engaged and most alive.” -Neil PatelHustle

My wife and I recently visited Japan. It was my first time. It was amazing.

My wife knows a lot about fashion, and she would point out extremely expensive clothes or shoes while we were walking through Tokyo.

Most of the time I was shocked. We kept seeing these special white sneakers that looked like they had spent the last 6 months in a dumpster, but my wife told me they were supposed to look that way and cost over $300 dollars.

It’s absurd to me how people can prioritize things like that over their own success and future.

Of course, many of these dirty-sneaker-wearers might be very successful. But if someone claims they want to be truly successful, I expect that individual to pay 10x as much on their learning as they do on their outfit.

The traditional urge is to seek out entertainment. It’s far easier to plop on the sofa and turn on Netflix than it is to read a personal development book. 5 separate nights of going out to drinks with friends sounds way more fun than a $499 conference fee.

Most people don’t choose learning over entertainment. And that’s OK. Not everyone prioritizes self-discovery, intense growth, and developing transformational behaviors.

But if you claim you want to be successful, you better be spending more time, money, and energy on learning than seeking entertainment.

I grew up in a family that went bankrupt and lost our house. I had a terrible stammering problem when I was a kid. I watched my parents’ messy divorce. I knew what it was to be addicted to pornography to distract me from my turbulent life.

That’s why I wake up at 6am to read personal finance books written before my parents were even born.

That’s why I offer webinars because it forces me to be a slow, smooth speaker.

That’s why I’ve spent thousands of dollars on counseling so I can become a better husband and (one day) father.

I’m not perfect. But I prioritize learning over entertainment as much as possible.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

“Good” is the Enemy of “Great”

“Good is the enemy of great. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” -Jim CollinsGood to Great

Most people have, at best, a “good” life.

They might have some or all of the stereotypical, traditional characteristics of “success:” a nice car, a big house, a happy (looking) family, and great credit.

But a “good” life and a “great” life are astronomically different things.

“‘Success’ isn’t just having lots of money,” writes Benjamin P. Hardy. “Many people with lots of money have horribly unhappy and radically imbalanced lives.

The harsh truth about the “good life” is that it’s not really that good.

Seth Godin once quipped, “Is there a difference between ‘average’ and ‘mediocre?’ Not so much.” If you find yourself living in the majority and doing most of the things everyone else is, odds are you probably aren’t that happy, fulfilled, or satisfied.

A startling fact is that 40%-50% of marriages end in divorceThe national mean for credit card debt is $16,000 per household (that rises up to $132,000 once you add in the mortgage). A vast majority of the workforce is not engaged with their job.

…This is not a good place to be.

But this is how the majority lives. They got there by following traditional urges without questioning them.

Most people don’t take the time and effort they should while preparing for a marriage. Most people see a credit card offer and say “sure!” without thinking about the dangers of debt. They run to and fro different entertainments, all the while digging themselves into a bigger hole.

But doing the work is hard. The cost to become extraordinary is giving up a “normal” life.

This cost is extremely high. Most people don’t want to pay it.

But I’d imagine their reward — a special place amongst the larger crowd — actually isn’t that rewarding.

Good is the enemy of great. Opt to wait for the great opportunities, and decline the merely “good” opportunities that continue to capture your attention.

In Conclusion

Most people follow the crowd.

They rely on the opinions of the majority to inform them how to live. The crowd is a conduit for following traditional urges, because that’s what everyone else does.

Ironically, it is those rare individuals who decide to leave the crowd and act contrary to what “everyone else” who typically achieve true success, wealth, and fulfillment.

This is because living an extraordinary life and reaching goals that most people never reach can’t be done while following the advice and decisions of the majority — that large group of people who will never become truly successful.

If you want to become extraordinary, you have to leave the ordinary.

If you want to become truly successful, you can’t listen to those who don’t know how to get there.

“Why trust the knowledge of a brickmaker about jewels? Would you go to the breadmaker to inquire about the stars?

No, by my tunic, you would go to the astronomer, if you had power to think. And next time if you would have advice about jewels, go to the jewel merchant. If you would know the truth about sheep, go to the herdsman.

Advice is one thing that is freely given away, but watch that you take only what is worth having. He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions.”

The Richest Man in Babylon

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