21 Behaviors That Will Make You Brilliant at Creativity & Relationships
When you see things from multiple perspectives, you realize you can achieve almost anything you want in far less time than you imagined.
Yet most people have fixed and limited views about themselves and what they can accomplish.
They have fixed and limited views about the resources available to them.
They have fixed and limited views about time, and how long things must take to accomplish.
In this article, I squash all of those limiting perspectives and provide concrete strategies you can use to achieve your goals. There are no fixed limits.
Here’s how it works:
1. Set absurdly ambitious goals
“When 10x is your measuring stick, you immediately see how you can bypass what everyone else is doing.” — Dan Sullivan
Goals are most likely to be accomplished when:
- They are intrinsically motivating. As Napoleon Hill explained in Think and Grow Rich, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.”
- They must be difficult, or else they won’t be motivating.
- They must be time-bound, to create a sense of urgency. Shorter timelines are one way to go 10x since they force you to shed artificial constraints and think more creatively. As billionaire Peter Thiel is known to ask: “How can you achieve your ten-year plan in the next six months?”
As with all things in life, you get what you want. If you prefer to make excuses and justifications for a lack of progress, then just admit you prefer your current station in life. Self-acceptance can be a beautiful thing.
However, once you desire progress more than convenience, obstacles no longer stop but propel you. As the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius is famous for saying, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
2. Reframe subconscious patterns and get bold insights via auto-suggestion
“What is impressed in the subconscious is expressed.” — Dr. Joseph Murphy in The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
While awake, your conscious and subconscious mind is often at odds with each other. For example, you’re trying to be positive, but your subconscious patterns simply won’t let you.
Yet, while transitioning from being awake to being asleep, your brain waves move from the active Beta state into Alpha and then Theta before eventually dropping into Delta as we sleep. It is during the Theta window that your mind is most receptive to reshaping your subconscious patterns. Hence, Thomas Edison is known for having said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
As a result, just before you fall asleep, it is key to visualize and even vocally state what you are trying to accomplish. When you repeatedly state a desired goal, visualization is key because you want to have as emotional an experience as possible. You need to feel what it would be like to have what you seek.
You can absolutely trust that by planting these subconscious seeds, thoughts will pop up at you, often at random intervals. You need to record these thoughts throughout your day. The bigger the goal, the bolder will be the required action to attain it. The clearer your why the more inspired will be your how.
If you’re serious, you’ll need to act immediately upon the impressions your subconscious is transmitting to your conscious mind. If you brush off these insights, you’ll get less and less of them. You’ll demonstrate to yourself and the source of your inspiration that you don’t really want the changes you claim to desire.
3. Learn and work in counterintuitive environments
1905 was Albert Einstein’s breakthrough year where he published four research articles, known as the Annus Mirabilis papers, which went on to substantially alter the foundation of modern physics and changed views on space, time, and matter.
Interestingly, when Einstein published these papers, he was not working in an academic setting, but rather at the Swiss Patent Office. His work in this counterintuitive work environment allowed him different reflective angles and questions than a typical physics lab.
As Elon Musk’s wife, Justine, has said:
“Choose one thing and become a master of it. Choose a second thing and become a master of that. When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.”
When you work in a different context from the majority of people in your field, you can make distinct and unique connections. You can integrate and cross-pollinate different ideas. You can avoid dogmatic thinking and expectations. You can learn to integrate ideas from seemingly dissimilar fields.
4. Learn from counterintuitive resources
“What does following in the footsteps of everyone else get you? It gets you to exactly the same conclusions as everyone else.” — Ryan Holiday
As Holiday explains, if you read what everyone else is reading, you’ll think like everyone else thinks. If you think like everyone else thinks, you won’t be able to come up with anything unique.
Follow your curiosity. Chase down obscure leads. Find stuff that no one else has found. In this way, your work will be truly valuable to others.
5. Focus on the process (not results) of those who are succeeding big
“Success leaves clues.” — Jim Rohn
Focusing exclusively on results is one of the primary reasons the current academic system is broken. Kids are being taught to train for the test, rather than seeking novel and unique ways of doing things. No two kids are wired the same, nor should their contribution, creativity, and talent be viewed from the same standard.
When you want to develop expertise at something, rather than focusing on the results of those at the top of your field, study and emulate their process.
What are they doing?
Once you get process-oriented, as opposed to results-oriented, you realize you too can achieve amazing results. The process, or your behavior, is completely within your control. Conversely, when you focus solely on other people’s results, you can quickly become overwhelmed and give up.
6. Ignore what almost everyone else is doing
In the book Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, Tim Grover explains that the world’s elite doesn’t compete with other people. Rather, they make others compete with them. They set the tone and make others react to their environment.
Most people are competing with other people. They continuously check-in to see what others in their space (their “competition”) are doing. As a result, they mimic and copy what’s “working.”
Rather than worrying about what others are doing, live your values. Put first things first. Spend more time with your loved ones and away from work. While working, follow your own curiosity, not what others are doing.
7. 80/20 Analysis of highest leverage activities
“Today everyone is a generalist, a deliberate move on the part of most as a reaction to the economic times.” — Leonard Smith
When studying the process of those you seek to emulate, don’t try to do it all. Everyone has their own strategy. Even those at the top of your field have imperfect strategies.
Find the patterns. What are the key things you must master? Master those.
Then innovate beyond those patterns when you’re ready, so your process comes to exceed the process of those you admire. Eventually, your results will exceed theirs as well.
8. Over-learn high leverage activities
Learning something new is all about memory and how you use it. At first, your prefrontal cortex — which stores your working (or short-term) memory — is really busy figuring out how the task is done.
But once you’re proficient, the prefrontal cortex gets a break. In fact, it’s freed up by as much as 90%. Once this happens, you can perform that skill automatically, leaving your conscious mind to focus on other things.
This level of performance is called automaticity, and reaching it depends on what psychologists call over-learning or over-training.
For example, if you want to quickly learn how to write viral articles, study several hundred headlines of viral articles. If you want to write a book, study just the table of contents of hundreds of books. These are your lay-ups.
Start with small sets of information, then expand from there. By over-learning a particular category of learning, you’ll be able to better understand how it relates to the whole. You’ll also quickly be able to apply what you learn. You’ll quickly see the patterns others miss. Time will slow down for you as your cognition expands.
9. Learn to apply, not to procrastinate “the work”
“The key secret to success is not excessive expertise, but the ability to use it. Knowledge is worthless unless it is applied.” — Max Lukominskyi
Learning is best done while you’re doing the activity. Public education has taught people they must first master theory, then attempt to transfer that theory into the real world. In a similar way, people’s love for information via the internet has led them to use “learning” as a form of procrastination.
A better approach is “context-based learning,” where you learn while doing. The key principles of context-based learning include:
- Learn a concept in its simplest form.
- Put your rudimentary knowledge to practice in a real-world scenario.
- Get coaching and feedback (feedback often comes in the form of “failure”).
- Apply the feedback through repetitious practice.
- Get coaching and feedback.
- Repeat until proficient (see #8 just above).
Interestingly, researchers examined the effects of role-playing on the self-concept of shy adolescents. One group of adolescents got traditional discussion-based training while another did role-play based training. The group that did role-plays experienced a significant positive change in their self-concept, which has a significant impact on their behaviors.
In our digital world, simulation training — based on role-playing real-world scenarios — is becoming increasingly popular.
Additionally, research has found that getting consistent feedback is essential to effective learning. You can use this. By making your work public, you get immediate feedback.
Getting immediate feedback has been found to be a flow trigger. It heightens performance. Especially when the feedback is the real world, and there are real consequences for success and failure.
10. Focus on quantity in the beginning
“Plant a lot, harvest a few.” — Seth Godin
In the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant explains that “originals” (i.e., people who create innovative work) are not reliable. In other words, not everything they produce is extraordinary.
For example, among the 50 greatest pieces of music ever created, six belong to Mozart, five are Beethoven’s, and three Bach’s. But in order to create those, Mozart wrote over 600 compositions, Beethoven 650, and Bach over 1,000.
Similarly, Picasso created thousands of pieces of art, and few are considered to be his “great works.” Edison had 1,900 patents, and only a handful we would recognize. Albert Einstein published 248 scientific articles, only a few of which are what got him on the map for his theory of relativity.
Quantity is the most likely path to quality. The more you produce, the more ideas you will have — some of which will be innovative and original. And you never know which ones will click. You just keep creating.
11. Track only a few things (ignore everything else)
“If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any.” — Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
If you want to improve at something, you need to quantify it. If you don’t quantify it, you don’t really know what’s happening. As Thomas Monson explains, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.”
I can personally attest to this principle. When I started measuring a few metrics, such as each set in the gym, my income, and how much time I spend in “flow” while working, I dramatically improved in these areas. The reason is simple: tracking helped me become aware and objective about my weaknesses. Thus, I knew exactly where I should focus and could do it systematically.
12. Heighten expectation for what you can accomplish
“I think the ability of the average man could be doubled if it were demanded, if the situation demanded.” — William Durant
I started working out with my current workout partner about two months ago. He’s nearly 20 years older than me and can lift substantially more weight than me.
One of the first things he told me was, “Most people never get stronger simply because they don’t put themselves under the weight.” As a result, our first several workouts involved me being heavily spotted while benching and squatting way more than I ever had before. The purpose was to feel the weight.
It hasn’t taken long at all to increase my strength while working out with my new partner. He’s raised my expectations. Yet I don’t let his expectations dictate what I can do. As will be shown in the following section on mentorships, the expectations of those around you create the context for your growth and potential.
But you don’t need to be bound by those expectations. For instance, just because many of my favorite writers publish twice per week, I decided to hold myself to a different standard when I started writing. In large measure, you get what you expect you will. According to Expectancy Theory, one of the core theories of motivation, motivation involves three components:
- the value you place on your goal
- your belief that specific behaviors will actually facilitate the outcomes you desire
- your belief in your own ability to successfully execute the behaviors requisite to achieving your goals
Learn from the best. But don’t be bound by their standards. Run at your own pace, even if that pace is faster than those you aspire to be like.
13. Surround yourself with people with higher expectations than you have
According to what psychologists call “The Pygmalion Effect,” other people’s expectations of you heavily influence how well you do.
When you’re a child, the expectations of your parents “set the bar.” Interestingly, these expectations form an invisible barrier from which it becomes very difficult to exceed.
For instance, scientific experiments have been done on fleas, wherein they’ve been put in a glass jar. Without the lid on the jar, the fleas can easily jump out. However, the fleas can be trained to stay in the jar by putting a lid on it. After only three days, the lid can be removed and the fleas will be constrained by an invisible mental barrier.
Not surprisingly, the “next generation” of fleas is also constrained by this new and invisible barrier. The Pygmalion effect explains why: the next generation develops the same expectations for themselves as their parents have for them.
If, however, you were to take one of those fleas out of that jar and place them in a bigger jar, surrounded by fleas jumping much higher, mirror neurons would fire and that flea would soon be able to jump higher. Mental barriers would shatter, soon to be replaced by the mental barriers of those in the new jar.
When seeking mentorships, it’s important to realize that the expectations of your mentor reflect the flea’s jar, and invisible barrier, as opposed to your inherent ability. There is no fixed ability. Nothing and nobody has an “absolute” value. Everything is contextual.
Even still, by jumping into a much bigger jar, you’ll quickly grow. Actually, you may learn to jump much higher than you ever imaged with the help of a caring mentor. Thus, it is extremely important for you to surround yourself with those who have high expectations for you. It may be difficult, frustrating, and humbling to develop and grow. But if you stick to it, you’ll eventually reach a new invisible cap.
14. Expect to expand and adapt
Human beings are highly adaptive. For instance, Viktor Frankl reflected on his experience as a Nazi concentration camp victim and sleeping comfortably next to nine other people on small beds. Said Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Yes a person can get used to anything, just don’t ask us how.” Indeed, this was one of the most surprising aspects of living in a concentration camp, the rapidity at which the shock and horror became apathy and “normal.”
No matter how far-reaching and discontinuous the jump from one environment to the next, a person can and will adapt, whether that means going from zero kids to three (trust me), or from completely inactive to exercising with professional bodybuilders.
Take, for example, Collin Clark, a 20-year-old who lost 64 pounds and 30 percent body fat in six months. The process was simple; he went to the gym and began to emulate the bodybuilders who were there. Eventually, one particular bodybuilder took an interest in Collin and became his mentor. By working out daily with a bodybuilder, Collin transformed. The example of Collin Clark is particularly notable, as he has down syndrome.
When you first enter a new and larger jar, you’ll feel excited and perhaps even intimidated by all the jumping room. However, like gas which spreads to fill the space, it’s been given, you too will adapt. Thus, you won’t want to overstay your welcome. Remember, the jar is a reflection of other people’s expectations.
Hence, the next point:
15. Don’t get stuck with one mentor
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.” — Lao Tzu
High-quality friendships should last forever. High-quality mentorships, on the other hand, should not last forever.
One mentor can only take you so far; they can only give you one “jar.” If you want to evolve beyond that jar, you’ll need a new mentor. And this is exactly what any true mentor would want for you as well. It’s not about “them.” They are investing in you. It is through your best work that they can live on forever.
16. The mentor sets the expectations, but the mentee sets the tone
Although the mentor’s expectations and abilities reflect the size of the jar, it is the mentee that sets the tone for the relationship and how well it will go.
I’ve been in mentoring relationships where I’ve been a good mentee and a bad mentee. In each case, it was not the mentor, but me, who determined how well the relationship went. No one cares more about your success than you do. It is up to you how far you go in life.
Darren Hardy, the author of The Compound Effect, has said, “Never take advice from someone you wouldn’t trade places with.” Thus, you should be highly selective about the mentors you seek. If you aren’t intrinsically motivated to “set the tone” with your mentor, ask yourself: Do I really want to be like this person? If the answer is no, then they are the wrong mentor.
When you have the right mentor, you’ll know, because you’ll feel extremely lucky to have even a few moments of their time. You’ll do all you can to deepen the relationship, provide value, and learn. You’ll be willing to bend over backward to help them. You’ll take on greater responsibility. You’ll make their life easier. You’ll make them look good.
17. Give credit where credit is due
Although you are responsible for your own success, you are not the sole cause of that success. Far from it. You are not independent of all the help you’ve received. More accurately, you are the product of all the help you’ve received.
You are standing on the shoulders of giants. Acknowledge them for that. And never forget where you came from. Also, never speak poorly about your mentors or those who have helped you along your journey. This does nothing for you. I’ve made this mistake and destroyed important relationships with people I deeply admire — people who invested lots of time and energy into me.
As Ryan Holiday explains in his book, Ego is the Enemy, always be a student. Remain humble. Don’t let ego take over, or it will lead to your inevitable demise.
In this final section, I will detail the beliefs required for rapid growth.
18. Think astronomically
“You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” — Robin Williams
There is some brilliant new research on the concept of Awe, which has been defined as a feeling that arises when you encounter something so strikingly vast (in time, scope, complexity, ability, or power) it provokes a need to update your mental schemas.
Awe, or having a peak experience, can happen during an optimal sports performance or even a deep spiritual experience. When you become mindful, you can experience awe even during mundane moments.
Research has found that experiencing awe can expand your perception of time, alter your decision-making abilities, and enhance your well-being.
I can personally attest to these findings. I’ve experienced awe several times. I strive to experience it as often as possible, which for me provides a much richer and deeper perspective of life.
Awe alters your experience with time because it helps you see things more astronomically. From the perspective of light, for example, time stands still. Thus, this moment, from the perspective of light, is both an instant and an eternity. Time fades into the background of infinite possibility. Nothing becomes impossible. No distance too far.
Awe alters your ability to make decisions because you no longer fear trivial things such as other people’s perceptions, failure, or even death.
Lastly, awe alters your well-being because the mind and body are one. When you improve one aspect of your life, all others organically improve as well. Thus, when you experience a deeper connection with yourself and the universe, you live differently. You see yourself differently, and that perception has the power to alter your biology. Your emotional state also matures and becomes more healthy as well.
19. Think laterally
“Lateral thinking doesn’t replace hard work; it eliminates unnecessary cycles.” — Shane Snow in Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success
Most of the United States presidents spent less time in politics than the average congressman. Moreover, the best, and most popular presidents, generally spent the least amount of time in politics. Rather than spending decades climbing the tedious ladder with glass ceilings, they simply jumped laterally from a different, non-political ladder.
Ronald Reagan was an actor. Dwight Eisenhower laterally shifted from the military. Woodrow Wilson bounced over from academia. These men spent considerably little time in politics and became fabulous presidents. They reached the top by skipping the unnecessary “dues-paying” steps. Insanely productive people think the same way. Rather than climbing up ladders the traditional ways, they think of alternative routes. They skip unnecessary steps by pivoting and shifting.
Shane Snow himself used this tactic to get published on some of the biggest media outlets in the world within six months of blogging. How did he do it? He started by pitching articles to low-level blogs with basically no bar of entry. After getting a few articles published on those, he leveraged his new position and pitched to slightly higher level blogs.
He did this by sending editors of the slightly “better” blogs an email reading something like Hello, I’ve written at these blogs which reach similar audiences as your blog. Here’s an article I think would be a great fit for your audience.
Because the editors of those blogs knew about the blogs Snow had been published on, he was able to be published on theirs as well. He followed this pattern over and over until, within six months, his work was published at Fast Company, WIRED, and others.
20. Think more flexibly about “limits” on resources
One of the faultiest and most crippling mindsets people have is over-categorizing things, and then being bound by those categories. Psychologists call this having a “pre-mature cognitive commitment.”
When you see things from only a singular perspective, you’ll assume there is a limited supply of that thing.
Money, from most people’s perspective, is a limited resource. However, research has found that after basic needs are met, what people really want is a state of mind. Yet, that state of mind doesn’t have to be tightly bound within the cognitive category of money.
Consequently, from a mindful perspective, you can look at certain things, like money or even yourself, from multiple viewpoints. You don’t have to get stuck with fixed and rigid definitions. In nearly any case, you come to realize that what you want is always available to you, if you’ll simply alter your viewpoint. As Ellen Langer, Harvard psychologist has said, “If we examine what is behind our desires, we can usually get what we want without compromising.”
The most detrimental thing we can view from a limited standpoint is ourselves. Don’t let your own assumptions and categories determine what you are. You have no clue who you are or what you can become. Different angles and more flexible definitions allow for limitless possibilities.
21. Think more flexibly about “limits” on time
“It is utterly beyond our power to measure the changes of things by time.” — Ernst Mach in The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of Its Development
Time is an abstraction, which we conceive by the change of other things. For example, the changing of the seasons, or the aging of a child.
Many people have rigid notions, for example, about how long certain things must take.
You can’t finish high school until you’re 18 years old.
You can’t be successful until after you’ve paid your dues.
If you break your leg, it must take a few months to heal.
These fixed notions about time are constraining and limiting. Change can occur at different magnitudes and qualities depending on the context. For example, there is a concept called, “Spontaneous Remission,” wherein an illness or disease surprisingly and immediately changes.
When I started my writing career, I was told it would take me at least three to five years to get the amount of subscribers needed to get a literary agent and subsequent book contract. I was told this by a highly credible source, actually a literary agent herself. However, that was based on her assumptions of time and resources, which resources also included my abilities and motivations.
She had no clue of my context, desires, and abilities. Thus, her assumptions about how long it would take me were absurd. Yet, she was just going off what she had seen, which caused her to be mindless about the situation. Within months of the conversation with that literary agent, I was in the position she said would take several years.
Takeaway: Let go of your beliefs about fixed limits of time. Time is a unique concept, which few of us understand. It need not be linear nor lead to entropy. Again, many scholars are seeing that these are nothing more than assumptions, or fixed mindsets about how things work.
Achieving your goals is very doable. It need not take as long as you may have previously assumed.
There is no fixed limit on how much you can learn and grow. There is no fixed amount of time it must take.
What are you going to do?