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4.System Reset

BEING UNREASONABLE AND UNAMBIGUOUS

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where …” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

—LEWIS CARROLL, Alice in Wonderland

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Maxims for Revolutionists

SPRING 2005 / PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY

I had to bribe them. What other choice did I have?

They formed a circle around me, and, while the names differed, the question was one and the same: “What’s the challenge?” All eyes were on me.

My lecture at Princeton University had just ended with excitement and enthusiasm. At the same time, I knew that most students would go out and promptly do the opposite of what I preached. Most of them would be putting in 80-hour weeks as high-paid coffee fetchers unless I showed that the principles from class could actually be applied.

Hence the challenge.

I was offering a round-trip ticket anywhere in the world to anyone who could complete an undefined “challenge” in the most impressive fashion possible. Results plus style. I told them to meet me after class if interested, and here they were, nearly 20 out of 60 students.

The task was designed to test their comfort zones while forcing them to use some of the tactics I teach. It was simplicity itself: Contact three seemingly impossible-to-reach people—J.Lo, Bill Clinton, J. D. Salinger, I don’t care—and get at least one to reply to three questions.

Of 20 students, all frothing at the mouth to win a free spin across the globe, how many completed the challenge?

Exactly … none. Not a one.

There were many excuses: “It’s not that easy to get someone to …” “I have a big paper due, and …” “I would love to, but there’s no way I can….” There was but one real reason, however, repeated over and over again in different words: It was a difficult challenge, perhaps impossible, and the other students would outdo them. Since all of them overestimated the competition, no one even showed up.

According to the rules I had set, if someone had sent me no more than an illegible one-paragraph response, I would have been obligated to give them the prize. This result both fascinated and depressed me.

The following year, the outcome was quite different.

I told the above cautionary tale and 6 out of 17 finished the challenge in less than 48 hours. Was the second class better? No. In fact, there were more capable students in the first class, but they did nothing. Firepower up the wazoo and no trigger finger.

The second group just embraced what I told them before they started, which was …

Doing the Unrealistic Is Easier Than Doing the Realistic

From contacting billionaires to rubbing elbows with celebrities—the second group of students did both—it’s as easy as believing it can be done.

It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time-and energy-consuming. It is easier to raise $1,000,000 than it is $100,000. It is easier to pick up the one perfect 10 in the bar than the five 8s.

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.

Unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve for yet another reason.

Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel. If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort. I’ll run through walls to get a catamaran trip through the Greek islands, but I might not change my brand of cereal for a weekend trip through Columbus, Ohio. If I choose the latter because it is “realistic,” I won’t have the enthusiasm to jump even the smallest hurdle to accomplish it. With beautiful, crystal-clear Greek waters and delicious wine on the brain, I’m prepared to do battle for a dream that is worth dreaming. Even though their difficulty of achievement on a scale of 1–10 appears to be a 10 and a 2 respectively, Columbus is more likely to fall through.

The fishing is best where the fewest go, and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone else is aiming for base hits. There is just less competition for bigger goals.

Doing big things begins with asking for them properly.

What Do You Want? A Better Question, First of All

Most people will never know what they want. I don’t know what I want. If you ask me what I want to do in the next five months for language learning, on the other hand, I do know. It’s a matter of specificity. “What do you want?” is too imprecise to produce a meaningful and actionable answer. Forget about it.

“What are your goals?” is similarly fated for confusion and guesswork. To rephrase the question, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Let’s assume we have 10 goals and we achieve them—what is the desired outcome that makes all the effort worthwhile? The most common response is what I also would have suggested five years ago: happiness. I no longer believe this is a good answer. Happiness can be bought with a bottle of wine and has become ambiguous through overuse. There is a more precise alternative that reflects what I believe the actual objective is.

Bear with me. What is the opposite of happiness? Sadness? No. Just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin, so are happiness and sadness. Crying out of happiness is a perfect illustration of this. The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is—here’s the clincher—boredom.

Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.

This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”

Adult-Onset ADD: Adventure Deficit Disorder

Somewhere between college graduation and your second job, a chorus enters your internal dialogue: Be realistic and stop pretending. Life isn’t like the movies.

If you’re five years old and say you want to be an astronaut, your parents tell you that you can be anything you want to be. It’s harmless, like telling a child that Santa Claus exists. If you’re 25 and announce you want to start a new circus, the response is different: Be realistic; become a lawyer or an accountant or a doctor, have babies, and raise them to repeat the cycle.

If you do manage to ignore the doubters and start your own business, for example, ADD doesn’t disappear. It just takes a different form.

When I started BrainQUICKEN LLC in 2001, it was with a clear goal in mind: Make $1,000 per day whether I was banging my head on a laptop or cutting my toenails on the beach. It was to be an automated source of cash flow. If you look at my chronology, it is obvious that this didn’t happen until a meltdown forced it, despite the requisite income. Why? The goal wasn’t specific enough. I hadn’t defined alternate activities that would replace the initial workload. Therefore, I just continued working, even though there was no financial need. I needed to feel productive and had no other vehicles.

This is how most people work until death: “I’ll just work until I have X dollars and then do what I want.” If you don’t define the “what I want” alternate activities, the X figure will increase indefinitely to avoid the fear-inducing uncertainty of this void.

This is when both employees and entrepreneurs become fat men in red BMWs.

The Fat Man in the Red BMW Convertible

There have been several points in my life—among them, just before I was fired from TrueSAN and just before I escaped the U.S. to avoid taking an Uzi into McDonald’s—at which I saw my future as another fat man in a midlife-crisis BMW. I simply looked at those who were 15–20 years ahead of me on the same track, whether a director of sales or an entrepreneur in the same industry, and it scared the hell out of me.

It was such an acute phobia, and such a perfect metaphor for the sum of all fears, that it became a pattern interrupt between myself and fellow lifestyle designer and entrepreneur Douglas Price. Doug and I traveled parallel paths for nearly five years, facing the same challenges and self-doubt and thus keeping a close psychological eye on each other. Our down periods seem to alternate, making us a good team.

Whenever one of us began to set our sights lower, lose faith, or “accept reality,” the other would chime in via phone or e-mail like an A A sponsor: “Dude, are you turning into the bald fat man in the red BMW convertible?” The prospect was terrifying enough that we always got our asses and priorities back on track immediately. The worst that could happen wasn’t crashing and burning, it was accepting terminal boredom as a tolerable status quo.

Remember—boredom is the enemy, not some abstract “failure.”

Correcting Course: Get Unrealistic

There is a process that I have used, and still use, to reignite life or correct course when the Fat Man in the BMW rears his ugly head. In some form or another, it is the same process used by the most impressive NR I have met around the world: dreamlining. Dreamlining is so named because it applies timelines to what most would consider dreams.

It is much like goal-setting but differs in several fundamental respects:

The goals shift from ambiguous wants to defined steps.

The goals have to be unrealistic to be effective.

It focuses on activities that will fill the vacuum created when work is removed. Living like a millionaire requires doing interesting things and not just owning enviable things.

Now it’s your turn to think big.

How to Get George Bush Sr. or the

CEO of Google on the Phone

The article below, titled “Fail Better” and written by Adam Gottesfeld, explores how I teach Princeton students to connect with luminary-level business mentors and celebrities of various types. I’ve edited it for length in a few places.

People are fond of using the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” adage as an excuse for inaction, as if all successful people are born with powerful friends.

Nonsense.

Here’s how normal people build supernormal networks.

Fail Better

BY ADAM GOTTESFELD

MOST PRINCETON students love to procrastinate in writing their dean’s date [term] papers. Ryan Marrinan ’07, from Los Angeles, was no exception. But while the majority of undergraduates fill their time by updating their Facebook profiles or watching videos on YouTube, Marrinan was discussing Soto Zen Buddhism via e-mail with Randy Komisar, a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, and asking Google CEO Eric Schmidt via e-mail when he had been happiest in his life. (Schmidt’s answer: “Tomorrow.”) Prior to his e-mail, Marrinan had never contacted Komisar. He had met Schmidt, a Princeton University trustee, only briefly at an academic affairs meeting of the trustees in November. A self-described “naturally shy kid,” Marrinan said he would never have dared to randomly e-mail two of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley if it weren’t for Tim Ferriss, who offered a guest lecture in Professor Ed Zschau’s “High-Tech Entrepreneurship” class. Ferriss challenged Marrinan and his fellow seniors to contact high-profile celebrities and CEOs and get their answers to questions they have always wanted to ask.

For extra incentive, Ferriss promised the student who could contact the most hard-to-reach name and ask the most intriguing question a round-trip plane ticket anywhere in the world.

“I believe that success can be measured in the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have. I felt that if I could help students overcome the fear of rejection with cold-calling and cold e-mail, it would serve them forever,” Ferriss said. “It’s easy to sell yourself short, but when you see classmates getting responses from people like [former president] George Bush, the CEOs of Disney, Comcast, Google, and HP, and dozens of other impossible-to-reach people, it forces you to reconsider your self-set limitations.” … Ferriss lectures to the students of “High-Tech Entrepreneurship” each semester about creating a startup and designing the ideal lifestyle.

“I participate in this contest every day,” said Ferriss. “I do what I always do: find a personal e-mail if possible, often through their little-known personal blogs, send a two- to three-paragraph e-mail which explains that I am familiar with their work, and ask one simple-to-answer but thought-provoking question in that e-mail related to their work or life philosophies. The goal is to start a dialogue so they take the time to answer future e-mails—not to ask for help. That can only come after at least three or four genuine e-mail exchanges.” With “textbook execution of the Tim Ferriss Technique,” as he put it, Marrinan was able to strike up a bond with Komisar. In his initial e-mail, he talked about reading one of Komisar’s Harvard Business Review articles and feeling inspired to ask him, “When were you happiest in your life?” After Komisar replied with references to Tibetan Buddhism, Marrinan responded, “Just as words are inadequate to explain true happiness, so too are words inadequate to express my thanks.” His e-mail included his personal translation of a French poem by Taisen Deshimaru, the former European head of Soto Zen. An e-mail relationship was formed, and Komisar even e-mailed Marrinan a few days later with a link to a New York Times article on happiness.

Contacting Schmidt proved more challenging. For Marrinan, the toughest part was getting Schmidt’s personal e-mail address. He e-mailed a Princeton dean asking for it. No response. Two weeks later, he e-mailed the same dean again, defending his request by reminding her that he had previously met Schmidt. The dean said no, but Marrinan refused to give up. He e-mailed her a third time. “Have you ever made an exception?” he asked. The dean finally gave in, he said, and provided him with Schmidt’s e-mail.

“I know some of my classmates pursued the alternative scattershot technique with some success, but that’s not my bag,” Marrinan said, explaining his perseverance. “I deal with rejection by persisting, not by taking my business elsewhere. My maxim comes from Samuel Beckett, a personal hero of mine: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ You won’t believe what you can accomplish by attempting the impossible with the courage to repeatedly fail better.” Nathan Kaplan, another participant in the contest, was most proud of the way that he was able to contact former Newark mayor Sharpe James. Because James had made a campaign contribution to Al Sharpton, the website www.fundrace.org listed James’s home address. Kaplan then input James’s address into an online serach-by-address phone directory, through which he received the former mayor’s phone number. Kaplan left a message for James, and a few days later finally got to ask him about childhood education.

Ferriss is proud of the effort students have put into his contest. “Most people can do absolutely awe-inspiring things,” he said. “Sometimes they just need a little nudge.” Q&A: QUESTIONS AND ACTIONS

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.

—VIKTOR FRANKL, Auschwitz survivor and founder of Logotherapy, Man’s Search for Meaning

Life is too short to be small.

—BENJAMIN DISRAELI

Dreamlining will be fun, and it will be hard. The harder it is, the more you need it. To save time, I recommend using the automatic calculators and forms at www.fourhourblog.com. Refer to the model worksheet as you complete the following steps: 1. What would you do if there were no way you could fail? If you were 10 times smarter than the rest of the world?

Create two timelines—6 months and 12 months—and list up to five things you dream of having (including, but not limited to, material wants: house, car, clothing, etc.), being (be a great cook, be fluent in Chinese, etc.), and doing (visiting Thailand, tracing your roots overseas, racing ostriches, etc.) in that order. If you have difficulty identifying what you want in some categories, as most will, consider what you hate or fear in each and write down the opposite. Do not limit yourself, and do not concern yourself with how these things will be accomplished. For now, it’s unimportant. This is an exercise in reversing repression.

Be sure not to judge or fool yourself. If you really want a Ferrari, don’t put down solving world hunger out of guilt. For some, the dream will be fame, for others fortune or prestige. All people have their vices and insecurities. If something will improve your feeling of self-worth, put it down. I have a racing motorcycle, and quite apart from the fact that I love speed, it just makes me feel like a cool dude. There is nothing wrong with that. Put it all down.

  1. Drawing a blank?

For all their bitching about what’s holding them back, most people have a lot of trouble coming up with the defined dreams they’re being held from. This is particularly true with the “doing” category. In that case, consider these questions: What would you do, day to day, if you had $100 million in the bank?

What would make you most excited to wake up in the morning to another day?

Don’t rush—think about it for a few minutes. If still blocked, fill in the five “doing” spots with the following:

one place to visit

one thing to do before you die (a memory of a lifetime)

one thing to do daily

one thing to do weekly

one thing you’ve always wanted to learn

  1. What does “being” entail doing?

Convert each “being” into a “doing” to make it actionable. Identify an action that would characterize this state of being or a task that would mean you had achieved it. People find it easier to brainstorm “being” first, but this column is just a temporary holding spot for “doing” actions. Here are a few examples: Great cook make Christmas dinner without help

Fluent in Chinese have a five-minute conversation

with a Chinese co-worker

  1. What are the four dreams that would change it all?

Using the 6-month timeline, star or otherwise highlight the four most exciting and/or important dreams from all columns. Repeat the process with the 12-month timeline if desired.

  1. Determine the cost of these dreams and calculate your Target Monthly Income (TMI) for both timelines.

If financeable, what is the cost per month for each of the four dreams (rent, mortgage, payment plan installments, etc.)? Start thinking of income and expense in terms of monthly cash flow—dollars in and dollars out—instead of grand totals. Things often cost much, much less than expected. For example, a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, fresh off the showroom floor at $260,000, can be had for $2,897.80 per month. I found my personal favorite, an Aston Martin DB9 with 1,000 miles on it, through eBay for $136,000—$2,003.10 per month. How about a Round-the-World trip (Los Angeles Tokyo Singapore Bangkok Delhi or Bombay London Frankfurt Los Angeles) for $1,399?

For some of these costs, the Tools and Tricks at the end of Chapter 14 will help.

Last, calculate your Target Monthly Income (TMI) for realizing these dreamlines. This is how to do it: First, total each of the columns A, B, and C, counting only the four selected dreams. Some of these column totals could be zero, which is fine. Next, add your total monthly expenses x 1.3 (the 1.3 represents your expenses plus a 30% buffer for safety or savings). This grand total is your TMI and the target to keep in mind for the rest of the book. I like to further divide this TMI by 30 to get my TDI—Target Daily Income. I find it easier to work with a daily goal. Online calculators on our companion site do all the work for you and make this step a cinch.

Chances are that the figure is lower than expected, and it often decreases over time as you trade more and more “having” for once-in-a-lifetime “doing.” Mobility encourages this trend. Even if the total is intimidating, don’t fret in the least. I have helped students get to more than $10,000 per month in extra income within three months.

Sample Dreamline

Dreamline

(Go to www.fourhourblog.com for larger printable worksheets and online calculators.)

Dreamline Math—Another Good Option

There could be a different way of handling monthly and one-time goals. I’ll use your example of an Aston Martin’s monthly payment, a personal assistant’s monthly payment, and a trip to the Croatian coast. While the first two should certainly be totaled and included in your target monthly income, the trip is something that should be divided by the number of months between now and the dreamline’s total time.

Thus if you had a six-month dreamline:

Aston Martin = 2,003 per month

Personal assistant = 400 per month

Croatian trip = 934 total, and thus 934/6 per month

Right now in the book and in the spreadsheet we have (2003 + 400 + 934) x 1.3 monthly expenses = Target Monthly Income (or TMI).

But I think it should be (2003 + 400 + 934/6 x 1.3 monthly expenses = TMI.

Or, more generally: [Monthly Goals + (One-Time Goals / Total Months)] x 1.3 monthly expenses = TMI.

—JARED, president, SET Consulting

  1. Determine three steps for each of the four dreams in just the 6-month timeline and take the first step now.

I’m not a big believer in long-term planning and far-off goals. In fact, I generally set 3-month and 6-month dreamlines. The variables change too much and in-the-future distance becomes an excuse for postponing action. The objective of this exercise isn’t, therefore, to outline every step from start to finish, but to define the end goal, the required vehicle to achieve them (TMI, TDI), and build momentum with critical first steps. From that point, it’s a matter of freeing time and generating the TMI, which the following chapters cover.

First, let’s focus on those critical first steps. Define three steps for each dream that will get you closer to its actualization. Set actions—simple, well-defined actions—for now, tomorrow (complete before 11 A.M.) and the day after (again completed before 11 A.M.).

Once you have three steps for each of the four goals, complete the three actions in the “now” column. Do it now. Each should be simple enough to do in five minutes or less. If not, rachet it down. If it’s the middle of the night and you can’t call someone, do something else now, such as send an e-mail, and set the call for first thing tomorrow.

If the next stage is some form of research, get in touch with someone who knows the answer instead of spending too much time in books or online, which can turn into paralysis by analysis. The best first step, the one I recommend, is finding someone who’s done it and ask for advice on how to do the same. It’s not hard.

Other options include setting a meeting or phone call with a trainer, mentor, or salesperson to build momentum. Can you schedule a private class or a commitment that you’ll feel bad about canceling? Use guilt to your advantage.

Tomorrow becomes never. No matter how small the task, take the first step now!

COMFORT CHALLENGE

The most important actions are never comfortable.

Fortunately, it is possible to condition yourself to discomfort and overcome it. I’ve trained myself to propose solutions instead of ask for them, to elicit desired responses instead of react, and to be assertive without burning bridges. To have an uncommon lifestyle, you need to develop the uncommon habit of making decisions, both for yourself and for others.

From this chapter forward, I’ll take you through progressively more uncomfortable exercises, simple and small. Some of the exercises will appear deceptively easy and even irrelevant (such as the next) until you try them. Look at it as a game and expect some butterflies and sweat—that’s the whole point. For most of these exercises, the duration is two days. Mark the exercise of the day on your calendar so you don’t forget, and don’t attempt more than one Comfort Challenge at a time.

Remember: There is a direct correlation between an increased sphere of comfort and getting what you want.

Here we go.

Learn to Eye Gaze (2 days)

My friend Michael Ellsberg invented a singles event called Eye Gazing. It is similar to speed dating but different in one fundamental respect—no speaking is permitted. It involves gazing into the eyes of each partner for three minutes at a time. If you go to such an event, it becomes clear how uncomfortable most people are doing this. For the next two days, practice gazing into the eyes of others—whether people you pass on the street or conversational partners—until they break contact. Hints: Focus on one eye and be sure to blink occasionally so you don’t look like a psychopath or get your ass kicked.

In conversation, maintain eye contact when you are speaking. It’s easy to do while listening.

Practice with people bigger or more confident than yourself. If a passerby asks you what the hell you’re staring at, just smile and respond, “Sorry about that. I thought you were an old friend of mine.”

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