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For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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HENRY CHONG is our special guest speaker on this episode. Henry is Director of Fusang Capital, a fund management company that manages the assets of multi-family offices. He is also a Director at the Portcullis Group, Asia’s biggest independent group of trust companies, providing comprehensive wealth administration to high-net-worth individuals, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, trustee, and fund administration services to individuals, family offices, philanthropies, private banks, and investment managers. Henry is a graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy Politics & Economics and is a founder of the Oxford Economics Society. He also holds a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSC). He will be sharing with us from his deep insights in behavioral economics, finance, health, and psychology.
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Episode 21 Show Notes
6:56 How to trick your brain into doing things
10:10 How succeeding in your fitness goals can teach you a lot about life
15:31 The underlying reasons we avoid doing what we know we should
18:20 How to get started on starting!
22:00 How to apply these principles in dating
27:20 Why we are afraid of failing
30:43 How to overcome failures
34:33 How to make your tasks more manageable
38:40 The best way to approach complex tasks
42:45 Why you should be more decisive
47:00 The type of people who get a lot of things done in a short amount of time
52:01 Should you aim higher? Should you say yes to more responsibilities? The right response may surprise you
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
Dr. David Tian: Welcome to the DTPHD Podcast. I’m David Tian, one of your hosts. And for over the past 13 years now, I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries to attain success, happiness and fulfillment in life and love, and I’m very pleased to be joined by my good friend, Henry Chong.
Henry Chong: Hello, my name is Henry Chong. I am the CEO of the Fusang Group. It’s actually been awhile since we’ve spoken David, and since, we have metamorphosed into a fintech company and I spend most of my time on tech development and I think that’s something interesting for us to talk a bit about that later. But Fusang today is a fintech group building financial infrastructure for the digital asset economy.
Dr. David Tian: Very nice, and Henry and I have been doing these podcasts together for over a year now.
Henry Chong: More than that.
Dr. David Tian: It has been a long hiatus. That’s right, well more than a year and there’s been a hiatus for maybe 6 months at the height, at the long end. I have not been doing a lot of public speaking lately. I’ve been doing a lot more writing. I noticed I went on a live show today and I’m stumbling over my words and so on and it’s just because I’m out of practice in longform public speaking. Hopefully, this will go well. I’m getting back in the rhythm of speaking. And what have you been up to Henry? You’ve been quite busy. I’ve seen you in the news.
Henry Chong: Yes, well as you say, also been heads down trying to build things for the last few weeks and months. As I said today, we’re a fintech company servicing digital assets including things you’ve probably heard about like cryptocurrencies. We act as a custodian to help store those things and we’re also about to launch a digital asset exchange in Q3 this year. So, we’ve all been busy, heads down trying to execute. And maybe that’s a good segue into what I think we want to talk about today, which is just beginning and just doing it.
Dr. David Tian: We were brainstorming on what topics. We had so many things we wanted to talk about. But one of them was something that’s on top of mind for both of us, and it’s about: How do you get yourself to take action on things maybe that you’ve been procrastinating on or have just been putting off or been afraid to do but that you know, you’ve decided and you know in your rational mind that you ought to be doing it?
We’ve got a bunch of tips, and tricks, and strategies, and methods for you here that we’ve used quite a lot and one of the things that I’ve been accused of is being too disciplined. My friends say that, “It’s easy for you to say, David. You’re used to being disciplined” and all of this, but I don’t see myself as very disciplined.
And one of the reasons is because when you set up the system correctly, like the system of your life, and you get into these habits of action and thought, then there isn’t much effort that’s required. Because in my mind, discipline usually requires some kind of willpower. And there is willpower that is required to initiate the system of where you’re tricking your brain, so to speak.
But then once you’ve got that set up and you’re used to it, it should roll through, it should create the conditions of maximizing your effectiveness in your life. Henry, you had some examples. Why don’t we start with some examples so people know what we’re referring to?
Henry Chong: Perennial favorite of people is talking about the gym, diets for example. I just did one of my, it’s supposed to be monthly measurements, but again, I allowed it to stretch for a long time. My personal trainer discovered that I’d gotten fatter than I used to be. And I guess for me, it’s like, “Well, I know what to do. I’m going to need to go back on a low carb diet.”
But I’m also very, very confident that I can execute on that, because as Tony Robbins says, I’ve played this game before. I know the path. I know exactly what to do and I know that it won’t be about willpower. I know that I won’t have these internal monologues of how do I do it, what should I do. You don’t rethink about it. You just execute according to a plan. And I think that’s a really important point you brought up about people who have long term stable and successful habits.
It’s not about willpower. People don’t really have to force themselves to brush their teeth in the morning and take a shower. You just do it. And I think sometimes, there’s no other magic than that. Obviously, you need to have a plan and you need to know what you’re doing, but no one’s going to lift those weights for you, just like no one’s going to help you brush your teeth, you’ve just got to do it.
One thing that I started doing recently is beginning to do cold showers again. And what I found works really well for me is rather than turn the shower all the way cold in the morning and standing there having a little talk with yourself about “I don’t want to go in, it’s going to be cold”. It’s kind of silly when you think about it anyway because who are you talking to exactly when you have these internal monologues?
But instead I just get into a normal temperature shower and then I very quickly will just turn it a bit colder. Because a part of my brain will say “Just do it.” And by the time I get the negative feedback of “Oh shit, it’s cold,” it’s too late and then I just do it again quickly. And the minute I have that thought of, “I should turn it colder,” I don’t think I just execute so to speak, and I don’t allow that internal monologue to take over and need to have a little discussion with myself.
And I think this is very applicable to all kinds of things, not just personally. We can talk about this bit later. Even in our business as we’re thinking about how to execute some of these huge plans, like look, we kind of all know what we all need to do. You just got to begin. There’s no other magic to it.
Dr. David Tian: That’s a great reminder, and especially for people who are taking on big goals that it’s sort of like looking into the abyss right? Or if you’re going to try and jump off the diving board, and you start at the highest diving board, and you go very slowly across it, and then you get to the edge and you look down, and you try to work up the courage to jump, you’ll just freeze and that’s a natural human tendency.
One of the examples that you brought up of the cold shower. As I understand your example, you’re not just turning it cold and then psyching yourself up to jump into this freezing cold shower, right? You’re tricking yourself into a nice warm shower and then you crank the thing. It’s a slightly easier way in to this bigger goal, or the scarier goal I should say, and that’s a really great way of thinking about it.
I like to trick my brain into a lot of things. So as you get better with controlling your thoughts, and one of the best ways that I found is meditation, you’ll notice that if you focus your mind and your thoughts on something that’s scary, it gets scarier. Whatever you focus on, you magnify in your mind. And there are many things in life that if you focus on then they would make you nervous or they would give you anxiety.
You might even get to the point where you’re frozen in terms of — you can’t think of anything or you can’t do anything very easily, but that’s because of your brain. Our human brains in the evolution of the world is a very unique thing. It’s probably the most interesting result of evolution. The size of the human brain, and one of the things that brains can do, we’ve evolved these gigantic brains, is that we can think ourselves into misery.
We can also think ourselves into pleasure, and happiness, and joy. It’s all in the brain and if you focus on those things that will lead you to greater suffering, or greater negativity, or if you just dwell on the scary thing, it won’t go away. In fact, it will magnify. So, what do you do? You’re not just going to stare at the edge of the highest diving board and stare down. That’s not going to help you and just try to work your courage. Instead, you trick yourself.
There are ways of tricking yourself into it in every scenario and you just have to exercise a little bit of ingenuity to figure out what that is. For the diving board, if it’s your first time, or it’s been maybe a long time — and for me, it’s been a very long time since I’ve dove off of a diving board. I would not want to do what I just described, like walk to the edge and just stare down.
I would want to get up there and not look down, that’s one of those things where you trick your brain. And again, if you need to focus on something else to avoid the negative thing that you’re trying to… Don’t look where you’re trying to avoid, like in the driving example. So I would just keep looking up. Maybe I’ll think about what we’ll eat for lunch the next day. I’ll distract myself. Maybe I’ll do sums or whatever, and I get up to the top of the diving board, and now I’ll look out onto the horizon, far away where I don’t know whatever.
I look forward, I will not look down and then I will relatively quickly get to the edge and move. I want to get into the habit of moving quickly not because it’s beneficial in and of itself but because this is a way of tricking my brain to short circuit the pathway to that thing that scares me.
Henry Chong: And because if you don’t move quickly I don’t think you will do it at all. In many cases right? You’ll psych yourself out of it so it’s not a question of just “Oh, I’ll take a 30 seconds to talk with myself and then I’ll do it”. It never works that way. And if anything, the struggle can be counterproductive right? So cold showers don’t work, and are certainly not fun if you’re there trying to grip through it. The whole point is to breathe and relax into it. That’s when you get the benefits.
And likewise in the gym, right? If you are tense and gripping your way through it you actually have less power. You need to just– Yeah.
Dr. David Tian: So the gym could be another great example. I know people who are just starting out and maybe the gym when they visited it had a lot of people who are quite intimidating, or something like grunting really loudly, or looking around scowling. If you’re a new gym person, you might think, “Oh, that place isn’t for me, it’s too aggro” or whatever but you know that you ought to go and you’re going to…
Let’s assume that you’ve already figured out what your workout will be, and hopefully you’ve gotten good expert advice on this because I see lots of people in the gym who have no clue what they’re doing there. They just go from one machine to the next like it’s the circuit. They just do one exercise on each machine, something stupid like that.
Hopefully, you have a good workout. Now, it’s just about getting yourself in the habit of going. It’s not so much that it’s scary, maybe it’s just intimidating or something like that. What you need to do is to ease your way in. And there are many ways of easing your way in into the gym. We’ll talk about systems and habits to help you get there quicker, but one example would just be that you look forward to a reward in the end.
You have a good workout, make sure you find a really good smoothie place, and you look forward to a delicious smoothie at the end. Or maybe now, you get to eat a more delicious protein rich meal as a result instead of the salad that you would otherwise have if you skipped the workout, or something like that. You just give yourself a little reward that’s healthy and in line with your overall goal, and you focus on that thought and you just got to get there.
Another is, and this is my favorite: Your chances of actually sticking with your workout regimen increase exponentially for every meter less that you have to travel to get to the gym. I figured this out in 2007. I had the choice of living in a cheaper apartment further away from the gym or living in a condo that was right above a subway station that had a gym on the second floor and a pool. This is while I was a grad student. So, it was a big decision to make. Can I spend my little grad student stipend on this?
And I chose to do it because I met an executive, a Canadian guy, who was living it up. He’s like, “My days are great. I swim in the morning, then my office is in the same apartment complex” so he just walks indoors, even in the dead of winter in Beijing, just walks to the next tower, Tower B from Tower A. And his whole life is contained within these four towers if he chose to have it that way. He could go down to do all of his grocery shopping in his flip flops if he wanted in the middle of January.
And I thought, “Man, this is quite intriguing.” Because I was slumming it in Beijing University on a bicycle in the middle of winter, which you shouldn’t be doing that. I was like “Woah, this is like a dream life.” And I got the chance. And up until that point in my life, I was almost 30 years old by then, I had been struggling to have effective workouts and an effective diet and sticking with a good workout program. I tried to work out around 15 years old, so for 15 years almost.
And then I finally instituted this rule that I will live as close as I can to this gym which I hope to go to everyday or four or five times a week at least, and it was magic. How hard was it for me to grab my gym stuff, go down the elevator to the second floor? Now, if you don’t live in the middle of a big city… Like, in many Asian cities, it’s so dense that it’s relatively easy to find a condo gym or a gym in your neighborhood that you could just walk a couple of blocks.
Right now, in Taiwan, I look out my window and I see this gigantic five-story world gym that we go to across the parking lot. That was one of the selling points for this condo. But if you live in America, you have to drive to the gym. It’s best if you make it as easy as possible. So, you have a system where your gym bag, you leave it in your trunk, maybe just take your shoes in to air those out, or leave your gym bag right by the door. Maybe it looks ugly, maybe get a box to put it in so it doesn’t look as ugly, but you have it there. You’re not scrambling everyday looking for all the various things you need to bring.
Or you have your gym membership card in your wallet wherever you go. Things like this make it just a lot easier so you can ease your way into this habit that you’re trying to institute for yourself. That’s just an example of how you can do it for the gym. You can do it for the diving board. You can do it for lots of other things. That’s easing your way in, and then also instituting these habits and routines that make it a lot easier. So, you don’t have to think about it; you don’t have to exercise willpower to and or decision making.
Henry Chong: And just create structure. I mean, what I do for the gym is, I have a trainer now. I’ve given up trying to motivate myself to get there. I have a trainer twice a week. I have never missed a session just because I understand myself and how I operate. I think it’s worth talking a bit about why these things work. When we say trick the brain, I don’t want to trivialize it. I actually think that these are deep and fundamental psychological principles. Maybe not a subject for today. We all have different components of our brain, entire different systems, your limbic system for example, that doesn’t necessarily want what your prefrontal cortex wants.
The reason why I think it’s so powerful to just do it, as we’re saying, is that your brain will always be able to come up with excuses why you don’t want to do something that’s hard. We wouldn’t be here talking about things that are not hard, right? So, going to the gym is intrinsically difficult for most people, and that’s why people need to talk themselves into it or psych themselves into it. Even though at some deep level, you kind of know that you want to go. And I think you can short circuit that whole self-monologue by the minute you have that thought of, “I should go to the gym” you just start walking right? Just get going. Instead of you leaving it up for discussion, so to speak, in whatever it is in life.
If you say “Okay, well, 6:00, I got to get to the gym,” I’m usually in such a rush to get there, I don’t even think about, “Do I want to be here? Do I not want to be here?” And then by the time I’m there, I’m getting to warm-up. And before you know it, I’m working out very, very hard. But at no point did I sit down and think about, “Am I really ready to do squats today?”. And I think that this is true of even very, very difficult tasks in life.
The diving board example I think is great, because it’s not just about things like diving off a board. A lot of endeavors that we want to undertake in life are big, and complex, and require a very long time to achieve. And more importantly, they require sustained effort over time; that effect of compounding every single day. Eating clean and being on a good diet, once you figure it out, it’s not that difficult. But the point is, you got to sustain it over long periods of time. And if you allow your brain to contemplate the entirety of the effort required, it’s just overwhelming. Versus if you focus again on what is right in front of you and just focus on actually executing step by step, something becomes a lot more manageable.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, it’s a great example. And I think of it as small chunking, so that’s another way of easing your way in. So the diving board example, it could be just focus on… If it really freaks you out, it would be just progressive desensitization for people who have some kind of phobia. You break it down into various levels of difficulty. A better example would be maybe a snake. If you’re deathly afraid of snakes, first, you just look at them on a screen, then you see them on a video, then you progressively make your way to going to a zoo kind of experience where they’re behind the glass. And then eventually, you want to work up to the point where you can touch a snake or have a snake around your neck without totally freaking out.
And these are all little small chunk things, instead of going from somebody who is completely phobic towards snakes, and then you just throw a snake around their neck. That’s just not going to happen. You’re going to further traumatize this guy, and it’s going to be even worse. So, you have progressive desensitization. So, the principle of progressive desensitization, you can also use that to tackle any goal, especially ones that scare you; small chunk it.
A book for instance is written best when you think about it… Well, you do have to plan it. One thing is an outline. You’ve got to plan out the outline, just focus on the outline. Okay, you got the outline now. That’s all. We’re not going to commit you to writing a whole book, just the outline. “Oh, okay. We got the outline.” All right, well, write the first chapter or one of the chapters that’s easiest for you to write. Just write that one. And if it doesn’t work out, you could just put it out as an article. Just write that one, and then you just focus on writing the one. Oh, well, now, you have a chapter. Focus on the next one and then you just work your way through. The next thing you know, you have half a book. Oh, isn’t that interesting?
But you didn’t think “Oh, I’m writing a book. It’s supposed to be 500 pages.” And then you’re going to be frozen the whole time because it’s too big. This is actually the Karate Kid method as well, and I use this in my bigger courses especially in Freedom U, which if you were to go through every hour or every minute of the course in the recordings, just the recordings alone, not even the live components, you’re going to be looking at over 50 hours, almost 60 hours, maybe more than 60 by now.
And I do not recommend that anybody going through the course go through all 60 hours in 8 weeks. It’s going to be way too much overload. What I recommend instead is, the way that we teach it — and there are different levels that you can go through it, so actually, three courses in one, and it’s the Karate Kid method. If you hopefully know this reference, I’m old enough to have seen the first one with Daniel Miyagi, probably you have heard of the one with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith.
The idea is this thing, karate, he’s got to learn it in a very short amount of time. I don’t know, six weeks. And he has to fight this other kid, who has been learning karate, studying karate for years, or kung fu in the Jackie Chan case. The way around it is by breaking down the movements into manageable bite-sized chunks of repetitive action that he can already do, and then it’s just a matter of once he masters those repetitive movements that he can already do, then just linking them together.
You don’t say, “Hey, look, you’re going to master kung fu in six weeks.” And it’s just this big thing, like, “How am I going to fight this guy who has been doing it for years?” No, it’s this small chunking. And we’ll focus on these discrete units, you get good at that, then you get good at the other discrete unit. And eventually, we’ll just link them up. It’s also the same way you play piano. I studied piano for almost 10 years. Really sad that I can’t play very well now, but the way that we learned it, in the standard way, is that you learn one hand at a time.
You don’t just get thrown into, “Okay, here’s Mozart. Play both hands at the same time.” Because the brain is generally not that coordinated with just reading the music and then going this… So, you just do one hand, and you do one section, maybe five bars or whatever makes sense for the music, and then you master that on the left hand; then you master that same set on the right hand; then you put them together.
Depending on the piece, depending on the teacher, you might just do one hand each through the whole piece and then come back, put the whole thing together, or you might break it down into discrete sections, eight-bar sections and you break it left, right, and then you put them together, then the next one left, right, put it together, or whatever it is. But no matter what, no good teacher is just going to throw a student in there and say, “Here, play it.” And you just fumble your way through unless the kid’s a genius or something, in which case, he can just probably learn it by ear.
So, small chunking it, and thinking about almost anything you want to do in life; getting a job, small chunking it. And let’s move back, actually just draw the application to guys who are starting with dating because I have a sizable audience from that niche. Everything we’re saying applies to that. The easing your way into it — that sounds really sexual but we don’t mean it that way — easing your way into it when you see a beautiful woman that you want to meet…
And with women, it’s less of an issue. There’s less anxiety associated with just meeting with the hot guy. But with dudes, there’s a lot of anxiety because of evolutionary stuff that you’ll make a fool of yourself, there are repercussions from our evolutionary brain hundreds of thousands of years ago, and bad things could happen if you push a woman the wrong way. We just understand that that’s natural, so you can just forgive yourself for having those anxieties and then take action.
One of the actions is: small chunk it. The first thing is, just get your feet moving. Just focus on moving that way. You don’t have to talk to her yet. Just move over there, and then put your hand out, or just get her attention. It’s probably better than just tapping her. Get her attention. Get her eye contact. Make sure that you that she sees you in her peripheral vision. Okay, so you got that. And then actually just that, just moving into her presence, so you’re next to her or near her, and getting into her peripheral vision is a big win for a lot of guys who have approach anxiety.
And in fact, if you’re smooth, that’s all you really need to do. So now, you’re there in peripheral vision, and you can just look over and give her a look if you know how to flirt with your eyes, or smile if you know how to do that. Or you can now suss out the situation. And if it calls for it, you can get her attention, maybe tap her on the elbow or whatever, and now you’re in. Now, you haven’t even thought what you’re going to say yet. That’s okay.
In fact, some of the best ways to go is just throw yourself in the situation and then improvise, and it’s the most natural. She will feel it. She’ll feel like, “Oh wow, this guy is courageous. He’s confident. And this is genuine and sincere. It’s not some hackneyed line that he says to every girl.” And she feels it because it’s actually real.
And this is an example of how, if you are afraid to approach a woman and you’re overthinking it, you’re planning out what you’re going to say, then the next thing, the next thing, how you’re going to ask her on a date, all the stuff, you’re overthinking the first — you have a whole 20 minutes script, let’s say, and this is in your mind, and you’re running the script before you even walk up to her. Guys like that, they will never take action.
They just watch girls go by, and they will do nothing, frozen. That’s an easy example of easing your way in, just focus on the next step. And the way to figure out, “What’s the next step?” Well, just small chunk it backwards from the goal, and then just calculate it back, and then just focus on the next step.
Henry Chong: I write this newsletter, and people seem to quite enjoy reading it. And I can tell you, every single month, when I sit down to write it, and it’s often hours before I would send it out, first Sunday of every month. And some things never change. I always leave things to the absolute last minute, but I’ve made a public commitment to send it out at that time, and I’ve never missed a deadline.
And every single time, I find it intimidating. You’re staring at that blank page and I’m like, “What on Earth am I going to write about? How am I going to get this done in time?” etc. And I do what Hemingway said. He said, “You just sit down and you write one true sentence.” You write the truest thing you know and you go from there. And that’s it, that’s exactly what I do. I type something and then you just, you know, you keep typing. And before you know it, a few hours later, you’ve got this thing, and it always actually perpetually amazes me how that process even works and how it can just come out.
What you were saying reminds me of — You and I have gone to a lot of Tony Robbins conferences together. We’re about to go to one in a couple of weeks, and here’s this thing where he’ll ask someone a question and they’ll say, “I don’t know.” And he’ll say, “Okay, I know you don’t know. But if you did know, what would you say?” Without fail, every single time, someone has something. Right? And I think that’s just a great point and a great life lesson.
In almost every case, you kind of know what you should be doing. You just come up with reasons and this internal monologue and excuses. At some point, you just got to do it, like in the gym, like walking up to meet someone. Those weights aren’t going to lift yourself. No amount of staring at that squat bar is going to help. At some point, you’ve just got to make the decision to lift it, and that will never change; it will never get easier, you just have to take action every single time.
But I guess you can learn the habits around that and you can learn to not stand in front of the squat rack, chatting to yourself, and you can say, “Alright”, and you just go.
Dr. David Tian: I’ve done a Man Up episode recently. If you haven’t seen Man Up, go and check it out. And there’s a recent episode on overcoming the fear of failure. And in my therapy training, a lot of the therapy training I’ve done was for myself. I was doing it for myself, and then whatever I learned, I can pass on to others.
But I came, first and foremost, doing therapy for myself and then going through all of these various trainings. And then I started to realize that there are a lot of people who are not like me. And one of the ways that they’re not like me in my cohort, my peer group, is that there are a lot of people who are not achievers. In fact, that’s the majority of the world by definition.
And the majority of the world who are not achievers still have the fear of failure, but they’re from different roots. Achievers have the fear of failure because of things like perfectionism, being worried that they won’t do it well, that they’re not going to succeed; there’s so much pressure on them. And then the majority of the world has a fear of failure because of the opposite reason.
They have no pressure because they haven’t done well at anything yet, and it just reminds them whatever they get started, and they feel this challenge that, “Oh, this is what it was like when I was in Grade 4, and I fucked up that, and I got an F, and the teacher scolded me in front of the whole class.” Or whatever it was. It’s a record of failure and they’ve just given up.
In therapy, actually, when the average person comes with the fear of failure, you’re supposed to lead them, basically be their life coach. This is where life coaches excel over therapists. A life coach would help you figure out, “What have you actually succeeded for, succeeded in, in the past?” So you can be at least grateful for those, and appreciative of those, and to magnify those.
“Oh, I have been able to at least move out of my parents’ house,” or whatever, or get a job, or graduate, or something like that. “Even if I didn’t graduate with good grades, I graduated. So, I finished.” And reinforcing yourself from the past.
But then assuming that you don’t have that much in the past to be proud of, now, it’s a matter of finding what you can do. And that’s the small chunking thing. “Can you at least get up out of bed? Can you at least wake up every day at 8:00? Can you just do that? Alright, great. Can you do that for five days? Cool, you’ve done that.”
And let that sink in. And you just start small, getting these small wins, and eventually you have big ones. You just add up into this track record of competence and so on. But for achievers, we have this track record of competence, and yet we still have this debilitating fear of failure. And maybe I jumped the gun, because part of the reason why I think people have trouble taking action is because they are afraid that that first attempt is going to suck.
Actually, it’s pretty deep psychology, it would be better for achievers to not even try because then they can say, “Well, I didn’t even try.” Of course, I didn’t win the medal. I didn’t even try.” It’s like when you’re racing somebody, you don’t put your full effort in it, you can always get to hold back like, “I could have beaten you if I tried,” that kind of thing.
Achievers do that kind of thing all the time, even though they don’t even want to admit it. It’s unconscious. They don’t put their best effort in there because if they did then that would prove to them that they’re not as good as they front or they’re not as good as they hoped they are.
And this is something that I had to learn. I had to learn to drop the facade of… Because what happens is when you get past wins, other people expect you to win now with this new thing. They expect you to keep winning, and you expect yourself to keep winning, and you’re afraid that you won’t; then, it gets harder and harder over time. This is often why you don’t see child prodigies do well.
They do amazingly well and then they have these expectations foisted on them that they can’t live up to, and so, they just cave or they can’t deal with the pressure. And unless they get some good therapist, they’re not going to be able to sustain that. Instead, and lots and lots of research has been done on this to prove this, that people, especially children, do better by getting reinforcement not on results but on effort.
Like, “You did your best.” That’s the most important thing, versus, “Hey, you won. Congratulations. That’s why I love you, son, because you won.” That’s not going to actually help him in the long run; it’s going to really hurt him. And one of the things that I had to learn to do well at this in life, starting new things and beating challenges, is to be comfortable — in fact, not just comfortable but take joy in, take pleasure in failure or imperfection. Especially when it’s at the beginning, when you’re just learning.
Because you’re going to make a lot of mistakes when you’re just learning. You’re going to need to do those practice sets, get those out of the way, get your warm-up sets out of the way, especially when you’re learning, when you’re white belt. You’re supposed to be messing everything up, otherwise, you should just skip to black belt exam.
And what this does for, hopefully now as an achiever, you can say to yourself, “Awesome, because this is where my growth lies. This is one area that if I choose to, I can find happiness and joy in because happiness comes from growth. It comes from progress.”
And if you’re just an achiever and you’re protecting your heritage, or your legacy, I should say, you’re protecting your past wins, you’re actually not happy, guaranteed. Or you’re just actually insecure about everything, and you’re hoping no one finds out. And that’s imposter syndrome. Instead, if you just embrace the fact that you will fail and even take pride in it because it means you’re growing…
And it also means when you show off your early failures, or if you’re a white belt beginner at anything and all your screw-ups, that actually is very attractive. Because the subconscious message or the sub-communicated message is, that you’re incredibly confident with yourself. Which means to people, the upper 50% of people who are savvy with this, emotionally intelligent, it communicates to them that you have past wins, that you’re an achiever.
“Yeah, of course. He knows if he persists with it, he will do well in it.” And for all the men out there who are trying to become more attractive to women, it’s very attractive to women, the self-deprecating humor for instance, and just showing them your fumbles when you’re learning something new.
If you’re learning dance for the first time, get a video of all the fumbles you make. If you’re learning BJJ, get somebody to videotape you doing your best, trying your best but getting tapped out or whatever. It’s great because it shows that you’re human, you’re vulnerable, and you’re comfortable, which also then demonstrates that you’re confident. You’re comfortable with the failures knowing that there will have to be these learning sets, these practice and warm up sets.
I’ll just end this long monologue here with one example recently, relatively recently. It feels recent to me but it’s been months already. I’ve been on a habit of writing every day. In the past, for years and years, I have batched my writing, often not from choice. At the end of the school term, suddenly, you do all the papers. And it’s so sad because you were assigned these papers at the beginning of the term, but most students don’t get started on them until the couple weeks before they’re due.
Or like in my case, or in many of my friends’ cases, not until the week before or whatever. And you go all the way to the last minute. Maybe you’re good at getting extensions, or I don’t know. Last minute, right? So, I was used to that and that’s how I wrote my dissertation. Some 300 pages, I wrote it, the bulk of it, I wrote about 90% of it in a month, a month-and-a-half of every night till 2:00 a.m.
And I was in my office doing that, the air conditioning in Singapore, at National University of Singapore cut out at a certain time, like 9:00 p.m. or something, so I’m in the heat, just writing away, just getting it done because I got an extension. I’m very good at this. After getting three masters degrees and a PhD, you learn how to hack school. I got an extension. After I got my job, I still had one semester to get the final thing in. Got it in, done.
But then I realized when I wanted to get into a habit of writing, more than just blog posts but actual bigger pieces, that I would need to have some kind of discipline around it. I tried to batch it. It works for some people. Apparently, it works for Tim Ferris, like I’ll take one day a week, and that’s all I do. Unfortunately, I’m also managing a business, so there isn’t… I can’t just shut down for a whole day and only do one thing and not get on Slack and manage stuff.
So, I kept struggling with it until I decided it’ll be like working out. So, it’s just like the human body can’t just work out all on just one day. It’s very difficult to get gains that way. Though, some people argue with me on that, but I think it’s much easier for you if instead of doing two hours twice a week, to instead split that two hours up into half hour chunks and do it 6 days a week instead, like a little 20 minutes, 6 days a week. You’ll get better gains.
And more importantly, it’ll be easier to follow through on that habit, because it’s every day. You don’t have to think about it. Just, “Oh, yeah. This is just part of your daily routine.” Like brushing your teeth. Make it like brushing your teeth. So, for me, it was, I had to small chunk it so much to make this manageable. I started off with the length of a tweet. I commit to writing tweet-length essays every day, and then eventually, I was able to expand that, expand that.
And then the tricky thing was, I travel a lot. I’ve been trying to cut down on that because of the productivity. But unfortunately, I travel quite a bit. It’s like a week a month now, and that’s pretty low for me, but just that one week where, during that week, I’m doing therapy training, I’m getting trained in therapy or whatever, and I can’t keep up with the writing because it’s like 9:00 to 6:00 or whatever for the training, and then I have those other meetings.
And so, I stopped doing it for a week. Then I come back, oh my god, it is so hard to get started again. It’s just like that first day. You kind of just like get acclimated again to the office, and then the second day, you get your gym routine back, you get the diet and okay. And then you got to like, “Okay, I have to get back on the writing.” And then you… One of the bad things was I thought I would have to try to make up for it. So, I would try to make up for all the times I missed. Oh, horrible.
And I realized it’s like P90X for me. Wherever you stop, just start it up again. Don’t try to make up for it. There’s some people who are very perfectionist, and I have a lot of students like that who are achievers, and they miss a week. And to punish themselves, as a kind of self-punishment schema, they redo the previous week. And now, they’re two weeks behind.
So, don’t punish yourself. Just keep going forward. Just forgive yourself for the slip up and move forward. And it’s just taught me the power of habit. When I’m rolling in this habit, it is super powerful. I don’t have to think about it. It’s on autopilot. But once I break the habit, starting it up again takes like three times more energy, four times more energy.
And I have to content myself with those first essays sucking, where like I sit down and restarting. It’s just the workouts when you first start up again after taking weeks off or whatever. It’s going to be painful, and you’re going to suck, and you’re going to have to — you’d be like, “I’m so weak and I have no cardio.” Yeah, that’s right, but you got to do it anyway. And you just have to.
And one of the things is, if you content yourself with it, you expect it. This is a necessary part of getting back up there, of getting back on that habit. Then it’s a good thing. Then you can just embrace the suck. Yes, this means that I’m getting back as progress. I’m getting back on it.
So, I’m becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, being comfortable with failing, being comfortable with practice, or warmup sets, or getting back into the routine and sucking at the beginning, are all crucial parts of getting out of that perfectionism loop and just getting it done.
Henry Chong: Yep, absolutely. Speaking of, my laptop is actually running out of battery faster than I expected. But I wanted to say that I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Especially in today’s world where things are moving so quickly, I actually think that rather than sitting around trying to plan everything upfront, when it comes to more complex projects, certainly in business, it’s actually often quicker and more efficient to…
When you come to a fork in the road and you’re not sure whether to go left or go right, you just go left and then you’ll very quickly figure out if that’s the wrong way and then you can go right, and you’ll still be quicker than the guy who’s standing there trying to plan at the fork in the road.
The Chinese have the same where they talk about crossing the river by feeling the stones. And they say, “Look, especially when you’re trying to undertake big, complex tasks that you have never done before that maybe no one has ever done before, like some of our projects, you just kind of got to start, and you will begin, and you’ll take it step by step, small chunk as you say, and you figure it out as you go along.” In those cases, it’s impossible, almost, to plan.
Plenty of famous generals who said about, “There’s no point… You still need to plan but you need to expect that your battle plan will not survive contact with the enemy.” And so, you need to be adaptable, and resilient, and you just begin, and you take things step by step, and you adjust as you go along. And one thing I’ve been trying to do more myself recently is just what I call riding easy in the saddle. As you say, you miss a week, oh well, you get back on it. There’s no secret to that, either. You fall off the path, well, at some point, you just get back on. There’s nothing else that you can really say.
Dr. David Tian: How much battery do you have left on that?
Henry Chong: Like, four percent or so.
Dr. David Tian: Oh damn, okay. Well, we can wrap up here. There’s a couple other points I wanted to make.
Henry Chong: Talk for the next time. Part two.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, we will make those at the next podcast. Let’s just recap what we’ve covered here. I call it the trick in the brain, but there’s probably a more weighty way of thinking about it or putting it. Another one is easing your way into these scarier goals or these bigger habits that you want to adapt into your life.
And then creating habits, and routines, and a system, and a structure. And then the point about small chunking it, breaking it down into manageable bite-sized smaller goals, that if you just focus on those, it’ll make everything easier and it’ll add up. And then finally, being comfortable with failing or just sucking, embracing the suck at the beginning.
Henry Chong: Exactly. And I think comfortable failure is almost the wrong word, because that has a negative connotation. To say, “Look, anytime you undertake some big, audacious, complex plan, you’re not going to get it right the first time.” So, it’s almost silly to call it failing.
It’s like, “Well, of course it’s not going to work magically. You’ve got to try a bunch of different things, start trying. Don’t sit around talking and waiting for the perfect moment because it will never come. You already have all the information you need in many cases. You already know what you need to do. Just begin. Just start. Don’t wait. Life is far too short.”
Dr. David Tian: Yes. There’s also scientific evidence from the satisficer over the maximizer. Those who just get it done will generally be happier with the outcome and will be able to be more effective than those who try to maximize every decision, and they hold off on it until they have the maximum amount of information.
They are less happy with the outcome, whatever decision they do end up making, and the decision is only marginally optimal in most cases; and sometimes, it’s even worse. So, get in the habit of being decisive. It is going to make you more effective and happier. So, what else could you ask for?
Henry Chong: Exactly. Speaking of decisive, we should wrap this up before my laptop dies.
Dr. David Tian: Very good, alright. Welcome back to the DTPHD Podcast. We have done our first one of this year, and we’ll be doing many more to come. Henry, how do they get a hold of you?
Henry Chong: You can find me on my personal website at HenryChong.com, and I’m sure David will link to that in the show notes somewhere. As I mentioned, I write a monthly newsletter which people seem to enjoy, even though I write it always last minute. So, maybe our techniques that we’re talking about work. You can sign up for that on my website as well.
Dr. David Tian: Excellent, and you can learn about me at DavidTianPHD.com. You can see all the show notes at the link below, wherever you’re finding this podcast, and thanks so much for following. We’ll see you next time. David Tian and Henry Chong, out.
Okay, so the last episode cut off early because Henry’s laptop was running out of battery. And instead of doing an entire separate episode to end off the last couple points we wanted to make, I figured I would just tack on this addendum and get it done this way. So, just adding on the last couple of points. They are pretty important, so I didn’t want to just forget them. I wanted to make these points because it’s all part of the same thing, and it would make most sense to mention these here.
In addition to what we had discussed already about tricking the brain or that was my term, coming up with systems, habits, and structures to trick the brain, to ease your way into the thing that you’re trying to accomplish, and the second point we made was becoming comfortable with messing up, and practice sets and warm up sets, and then small chunking it Karate Kid-style.
In addition to those three points, I also wanted to mention the idea of juggling a lot of plates. So, one of the tricks that I discovered that achievers do a lot, and it’s great for achieving goals that maybe scare you, is if you just have this one goal or if you only have maybe one or two things on your plate, then that one thing may get shoved under the rug and procrastinated on. But if you say yes to a lot of things, if you almost overcommit, then you probably won’t get all of the things that you’ve committed to complete, but you’ll get a good portion of them.
So, if you’re used to, in your mind, because of the pressure from perfectionism, or overachievement, or whatever that is, those unrelenting standards, you might end up only accomplishing 60% to 70% of what you set out to accomplish. So, what you should do is to set out to accomplish more, so that at the end of the period, at the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished more than if you had aimed lower. So, I’ll give an example.
In high school, I went to performing arts high school, and one of the things that we were forced to do when we first started there in the 9th Grade was to keep a practice log. We had to had a practice log every week or every month to our head music teacher, and each week or whatever the interval was, we had to get signed off by a parent. So, the idea was that you logged your practice time at home and your parent or guardian would just sign their initials next to each column or whatever it was.
And somewhere around the 11th or 12th grade, our head music teacher brought that up again. “We’re going to do practice logs.” And everyone’s like, ugh. So, we did them for a few months or a couple of months. She was surprised at what we found, and I was equally surprised.
So, what she found was those of us students who were the busiest, that is, we had the most extracurricular commitments, we had the heaviest course load, we had taken on the most advanced musical pieces and so forth, were the ones who were actually putting in the most practice time. At that time, when they were doing that practice log, I think I was averaging around 90 minutes private practice a day in addition to all of the other band, and choir, and all of that stuff after school and before school.
And the average practice time in our class, and again, this is a performing arts high school. So, everyone in the classroom was a music major. The average practice time was 30 minutes. So, I was also one of those people who had said yes to a lot of other committees, and organizing yearbook, and all those other things, Christian fellowships, and all kinds of other stuff, and an extra heavy course load.
So, the teacher was surprised. “If you want to get something done,” she said, “give it to the busiest person.” Which is ironic. I’d learned that lesson in high school, but it paid out. I see it everywhere in life. The busiest people get the most things done, not just because they’re busy, but partly because of the fact that they’ve committed to so much.
There’re always going to be things that fall under the radar or that slip or slide, fallen between the cracks. So, knowing that, you should say yes to a lot more things so that you’ll get a lot more done even though maybe you’re still working at 80% capacity.
Now, that 80% that you do get done is a lot more than somebody who said no to a lot of things and were still working at 80% capacity. So, anybody who’s tried to write a book, and has maybe blocked out like a month or whatever it is to write that book, and that’s all that they’re going to do has already probably experienced this problem where you still are only going to get 80%, or whatever you’re used to getting.
Let’s say it’s 80%, which is already pretty good. Getting 80% of the result from that one thing, right? So, if you had just said yes to a lot more things, you will probably… So, a great example of this is Elon Musk. Actually, there’s so many examples to pull from this, Jeff Bezos, and I read these biographies all the time about these successful people.
And one of the patterns that I’ve discovered, and what I’ve discovered in myself in all of my friends who have become very successful, much more than I, in fact, has been the fact that they said yes to a lot of commitments. And of course, the more you do well, the more commitments come into you, the more offers and opportunities. So, you’re going to end up having to say no to a lot.
So, if you start saying yes to a lot and you do… Maybe you’re still operating at 70-80%, but now you’ve increased your net, so you’re saying yes to 10 things instead of 3, but now you’re getting 70-80% of those 10 things done, that means that you’re doing — versus 70-80% of 3 things, now you’re doing 6 or 7 things more than you would have, otherwise. Because your standard is still there. Your standard is still going to be applied to the things you’ve said yes to. But now, you’ve done all this.
Now, you’ve accomplished all these other things that you wouldn’t have otherwise accomplished by taking on more responsibilities. Guess what’s going to happen? The world, your boss, your company, whatever, is going to give you more opportunities. And now, you’re going to have to really prioritize no, saying no, but still realizing that you’re operating at max efficiency.
And one of the things that you can do is, if there’s some big goal that you’re trying to accomplish, take on an even bigger goal and not do that. So, it’s this way that successful people trick the brain. So, one is, “We’re going to land on Mars” or “We’re going to create a colony on Mars.”
That’s pretty far-fetched. That’s a gigantic, hairy audacious goal, right? A big, hairy, audacious goal as Collins says. And maybe he won’t get that, but he will get to the point where he’s going to create this rocket, and get closer to that. Than if his goal was just, “We’re going to make it to the moon” or “We’re just going to leave Earth’s orbit” or whatever it is, or get out of the atmosphere, or get some commercial space travel, or whatever it is. Now, the goal is bigger.
So, he may not accomplish that goal, the biggest goal, but he’ll accomplish the number two or three goal. He’ll have a better chance of accomplishing the number two or three goal as a result of setting his standards higher, of aiming higher, of also saying yes to more things that are perhaps even more stressful because of that.
Now, in the back of your mind, you know that you probably won’t get that big goal, but you’re going to strive for it. And then to get that big goal, you’ve got to do this other thing. And this other thing that would’ve otherwise been this gigantic goal for you with all this weight now becomes, “Eh, I just got to get this thing done because this is one of the lower goals now.”
And you’ll notice that people do this naturally when they do well in fitness, or we go back to the fitness example because it’s one of the most relatable ones. The idea that if you say, “I’m going to do an Iron Man” and maybe you haven’t even done a marathon yet, that’s going to be pretty crazy, right? Because you’ve got now more than triple the workload in preparation.
But if you actually aim for the Iron Man and that’s on your mind, then you’ll be like, “Okay, well I got to do this running. That’s like just no, duh, that’s just one of those things. And then I got to do the swimming, no, duh.” You just break that down, right? Versus if you had lowered your sights and then you procrastinated on the marathon… Now, you can procrastinate on the Iron Man. Am I right? And then do the marathon, in procrastination to the Iron Man, just put off the Iron Man.
But if you had aimed for the marathon, you could procrastinate the marathon, and now you’re just doing a 5k. And obviously, you want to small chunk everything, but you’ll notice that if… There’s two sub-principles here. One is to aim higher, aim bigger, aim more ambitious or audacious than the goal that you are currently struggling with. So, you’re aiming higher, aiming beyond.
And another is saying yes to more. And among those more responsibilities that you take on are things that have higher priority. And what’ll happen is, you’re going to feel worse about putting those things off. And this thing that you’ve got, that you could just get out of the way, just get it done, because you’ve been actually — it’s not as much of a priority, you would get that done.
So, we tend to procrastinate on those things that are the most pressure and stress-filled, whether that’s the final exam paper, or the thesis. Those big things, we procrastinate on those. But if we know we have a dissertation, this gigantic thesis, at the end of three years, “Oh, we’ll get this term paper of 20 pages out the door but that’s nothing compared to the 300-page, 500-page tome we have to produce at the end. But we’re saying yes to a bunch of these things, and that’s…
Along the way, I also discovered this in almost every area of life. One of them is grad school. If you say yes to a lot of conferences, that forces you to write conference papers because you got to show up now, and you bought your tickets, and all of that, and now you got to fly out to the conference. And you’re supposed to present, and all you gave them was like one paragraph abstract and a title. And now, you got to present the paper.
And so, you got to write it, and now it’s a matter of, “Okay, I got to write this thing.” And you can actually cobble together a bunch of these conference papers and you’ll have a good chunk of your dissertation, for instance. But if you had just said, “Oh, this one conference this year. I’m only going to do this one.” Then that one conference becomes this big thing that you’ll put off, perhaps, and maybe just write in with some excuse or something.
But now that you have all these other responsibilities, this isn’t such a big deal and you just get that done. And overcommitting in that sense is something that I’ve discovered as a common pattern among very successful people and achievers. So, I just wanted to point that out as the final point. Oh, and then Henry tacked on his subpoint on this one, overcommitting, will call it that is that: Once you are super busy, you become a lot more direct with people. That might mean that…
One of the great things about just doing it, just getting things done, is that if you’re so busy, you’ll just say to people. You’ll just cut to the chase. You’ll just cut out that small talk that doesn’t get you anywhere. And this applies to dating as much as it applies to networking, and your professional, at work, and so on, and even with your family and so on, because you’re busy. You just cut to the chase.
There’s no game playing and all this shit. “This is what I’m about” or whatever it is, whatever the context is. “This is what I need” or “This is what’s going to happen.” Or whatever, or “This is what I’m looking for.” And you just cut to the chase because you’re so busy. Overcommitting does that. Whereas those who don’t overcommit, who under-commit, who just focus on one or two things, those one or two things become magnified so that they become these big, heavy, pressure-filled things, and those are easier to put off.
It’s easier to watch Netflix than to go to those. Because those now are just gigantic. You’ve just magnified the weight of them. But if you just say yes to a lot of them, then you’ll discover, “Oh, I can actually get this done. I just got to get this done because there’s another thing waiting for me that I have to do.” The people who are busy often are the ones who get things done.
So, become busier, counterintuitive hack there. It’ll also make you a lot more direct with people, which is not just efficient and effective, but is also incredibly attractive, but it’s sub-communicating that you got a lot going on, and that you’ve got a purpose, and a passion for whatever it is you’re doing, and you’re driven. These are all great traits from an evolutionary perspective, so it makes sense that they’d be attractive, especially women, female-to-male attraction, that women will find this attractive in men.
Okay, so, to wrap this up, another recap. We’ve done a couple of recaps already, but another one. Tricking the brain through easing your way into this big goal. One way to do that is through instituting systems, habits, routines, and structure that will ensure that you make your way in towards that goal. Second is being comfortable with messing up and embracing the fact that there will be practice and warm up sets along the way, so just get those out of the way as soon as you can. And then the third point was small-chunking it.
And I did the example of Karate Kid and just breaking things down into bite-sized, manageable pieces, and then just prioritizing those, and then just doing them one at a time, and getting through the whole thing, breaking it down so it’s not so scary.
And then finally, the one I’ve just added here as the addendum, overcommitting: the idea of taking on a lot more responsibilities because you are actually going to continue to operate at your usual efficiency even if you have a lot more responsibility, and that will actually help you downplay the stress that’s associated with the procrastination on those bigger or those other goals that used to be big, but now you’ve got even more ambitious, audacious goals. And this then has the beautiful side effect of being more direct with people, in your interactions with them, in cutting to the chase, getting to the point, which is actually going to be attractive as well as effective and efficient. Okay, so wrapping things up.
Thanks so much for listening, and we’re going to be trying to, and again, we’re going to just say yes to a lot more stuff, be trying to put out this podcast once a week. So, appreciate your support. Let us know what you think of it. Join the private Facebook group. You’ll find the link for that in the show notes. Checkout the show notes, by the way, which are on the David Tian PHD site. So, I’ll be giving you all the instructions for that right after this at the end. Alright, thanks so much for listening. David Tian, signing out.
Hey, it’s David again. Before you go, a couple last things. First, all the show notes and links to resources can be found at DavidTianPHD.com/DTPHDPodcast. Or you can just go to DavidTianPHD.com, and find it through the top navigation menu. Second, if you’d like to interact with me and other like-minded fans of this podcast personally, then join our private DTPHD Podcast Facebook group.
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