Extraordinary people have extraordinary habits. Here are few I've noticed.
Dilbert creator Scott Adams doesn't use goals. He uses systems instead
Adams writes in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything:
A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it's a system. If you're waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it's a goal.
The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavors. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.
When Charlie Munger was a lawyer, he saved the most productive hour of the day for himself
I would sell the best hour of the day to myself. And only after improving my mind — only after I'd used my best hour improving myself — would I sell my time to my professional clients. I did that for a number of years.
Nikola Tesla designed complicated inventions in his head before tinkering
I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance. There is no difference whatever, the results are the same. In this way I am able to rapidly develop and perfect a conception without touching anything.
President Obama wears the same style suits to reduce low-level decision-making
He explained in 2012:
You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia.
When he was CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates took a week off every year to sit in the woods and think without any distractions
The Wall Street Journal explained:
The week typically starts with Mr. Gates, 49 years old, taking a helicopter or seaplane to the two-story clapboard cottage on a quiet waterfront. It's a tidy, relatively modest place with a small bedroom for Mr. Gates. During the week he bars all outside visitors -- including family and Microsoft staff -- except for a caretaker who slips him two simple meals a day.
Gates was also obsessed with keeping a massive amount of cash in the bank when Microsoft was a start-up, a practice that stayed with the company
He explained in the late 1990s:
I came up with this incredibly conservative approach that I wanted to have enough money in the bank to pay a year's worth of payroll even if we didn't get any payments coming in. I've been almost true to that the whole time.
Several great thinkers, from Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein to Adam Smith, were prolific wanderers and daydreamers
Adam Smith once became so caught up in thought that he wandered in his nightgown 15 miles from home and got lost. As a child, Einstein was so lost in his thoughts that teachers assumed he was mentally challenged. He says he began the theory of relativity while daydreaming about what it would be like to ride on a ray of light.
Warren Buffett has created investment ideas from start to finish while in the bathtub. Paul McCartney says many of the Beatles' best work came in dreams. What looks like laziness is often the most productive work that exists.
Thomas Edison slept in small bursts to maximize productivity
Edison practiced polyphasic sleep, napping several times throughout the day rather than in one session at night. This allegedly let him stay awake for more hours over the course of a day. Leonardo Di Vinci and Nikola Tesla did the same.
Winston Churchill stayed in bed until lunchtime, working with minimal distraction
The Churchill Center writes:
He awoke about 7:30 a.m. and remained in bed for a substantial breakfast and reading of mail and all the national newspapers. For the next couple of hours, still in bed, he worked, dictating to his secretaries.
At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.
Warren Buffett reads more than anyone you know
Someone once asked Buffett the key to success. He pointed to a stack of books and explained:
Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.
Nassim Taleb only consumes ancient food and drinks that have stood the test of time
He explained in his book Antifragile:
I avoid any fruit that does not have an ancient Greek or Hebrew name, such as mangoes, papayas, even oranges. Oranges seem to be the postmedieval equivalent of candy; they did not exist in the ancient Mediterranean ... Even the apples we see in the stores are to be regarded with some suspicion: original apples were devoid of sweet taste and fruit corporations bred them for maximal sweetness— the mountain apples of my childhood were acid, bitter, crunchy, and much smaller than the shiny variety in U.S. stores said to keep the doctor away.
As to liquid, my rule is drink no liquid that is not at least a thousand years old— so its fitness has been tested. I drink just wine, water, and coffee.
To think outside the box, inventor Steven Sample solved engineering problems by imagining them in the most absurd way possible
He explains in his book The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership:
My favorite way to stimulate this kind of thinking free is to force myself to contemplate absolutely outrageous and impossible ways to address a particular problem. For example, in 1967 I was struggling to invent a new way to control a dishwasher, in order to replace the ubiquitous (and troublesome) clock-motor timer. At one point I lay on the floor and forced myself to imagine hay bales, elephants, planets, ladybugs, sofas, microbes, newspapers, hydroelectric dams, French horns, electrons and trees, each in turn and in various combinations controlling a dishwasher.
This exercise was, to say the least, extremely difficult and disconcerting, so much so that I could only do it for 10 minutes at a time. But after a few such sessions I suddenly saw in my mind's eye an almost complete circuit diagram for a digital electronic control system for a home appliance. This system was unlike anything I or others had ever contemplated before.
Charles Darwin tried his whole life to prove his own theories wrong
Charlie Munger once explained Darwin's philosophy:
One of the great things to learn from Darwin is the value of the extreme objectivity. He tried to disconfirm his ideas as soon as he got 'em. He quickly put down in his notebook anything that disconfirmed a much-loved idea. He especially sought out such things. Well, if you keep doing that over time, you get to be a perfectly marvelous thinker instead of one more klutz repeatedly demonstrating first-conclusion bias.
Give a few of them a shot.
Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics.
Contact Morgan Housel at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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