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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 14 Show Notes
00:57: The importance of asking questions in gaining focus
06:01: How to decide what to focus on
08:19: Why you need a primary goal in life
11:46: Action you need to arrive at your focus question
16:28: What happens when you have new goals or you enter a new phase in life
20:49: Why you need to understand the deeper motivations and reasons for achieving your goals
22:40: The significance of visualizing your end goal
28:34: Do you need to be really good at one thing?
34:02: Is it essential to have a support group for your goals?
The Key to FOCUS: The Power of Your Primary Question
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
David Tian Ph.D.: Welcome to the DTPHD podcast, I’m David Tian Ph.D. and I’m joined here by my very special guest and very good friend, Henry Chong. Hello, Henry.
Henry Chong: Yes. Hello.
David Tian Ph.D.: Henry is joining us from Hong Kong.
Henry Chong: Yes.
David Tian Ph.D.: And I am in Singapore right now.
Henry Chong: Yep.
David Tian Ph.D.: And so, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to connect our schedules and sync up to do a podcast, and we actually had to make this one work. We’re both — Well, actually, I’m in transit right now so the humble surroundings are because of that, but it’s good to connect, Henry.
Henry Chong: Yes, absolutely. It’s been a while.
David Tian Ph.D.: Okay, so today, we’re going to be talking about focus. So, let’s get focused on what we’re going to talk about here. So focus and the primary question.
Henry Chong: Yes.
David Tian Ph.D.: So I guess we’ll just dive into it and try to keep this as short as we can now. I’ve been thinking a lot about the primary question for the past couple of years, the power of asking questions to prime the mind, to think of new solutions or new ways of reflection or thought.
And when you’re waking up in the morning, the questions that you present to yourself are often not of your own. So, they’re often– somebody asks you. “What are you doing today?” or, “So, what are you going to be doing for work today?” or something like that. So, you’re responding all the time.
And this puts you in reaction mode and you’re not actually the agent of your life fully. But if you think more deeply about what– and you ask yourself, “What is the primary question for that day, for that week, for the month, for the year, for my life?” Then you can say no to a lot of the things that won’t matter down the road a lot easier, and you’ll be able to focus on the things that matter the most to you.
And a lot of people lead reactive lives instead of proactive lives. And they lose their own agency in that way. And I think a lot of us are used to that because since we went to school, we’re just used to answering questions. So, like school is basically just a series of tests, and tests are just a series of questions that you’re supposed to answer. And you’re supposed to get the correct answer, and we take that attitude all the way through school.
Henry Chong: And school is about answering questions, but life is about asking the right questions in the first place.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah. A good school would be one that trains you to ask questions.
Henry Chong: Yeah.
David Tian Ph.D.: So yeah, so Henry. You’re going to–
Henry Chong: Yeah. Well, I mean, I came across this article I think I shared with you a while ago. This was the UK Olympic rowing team. And they hadn’t done well for a very long time. And then going in to the Sydney Olympics, this is back in the early 2000s, they had a new coach and he basically got the whole team to follow one simple principle.
And the whole team, their one primary question was, “Will this make the boat go faster?” and they basically used that as the filter for all of the decision-making. So for example, “Do we want to add X squad member?” Well the question is, “Does it make the boat go faster?”
“Should we go drinking the night before training?” It’s like, “Well, does it make the boat go faster?” And by framing every decision and every action through that filter, they ended up doing extremely well in the Sydney Olympics. I don’t know exactly if they won, but they definitely medaled. That was the most dramatic improvement just by focusing on that one question.
And it’s something that sounds really obvious. But most of us, I think, whether in our personal lives, in our businesses, in any endeavour, we’re not always very clear as to what the primary focus, what the primary question is. And whether we realize it or not, we spend a lot of time doing things that are not in service of that one goal.
So again, you would think that for a boating team, “Will this make the boat go faster?” is very obvious, but that team actually realized once they started asking that question that they were doing a lot things that had nothing to do with making the boat go faster.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah. Athletics and war are great examples, and we can, because — Especially war, you’re a lot more cognizant of the objective. And I watched this wonderful documentary sponsored by Nike, it’s called Breaking2, I believe. And it’s freely available on YouTube and Vimeo, or just Google it.
And it’s about breaking the two-hour barrier in the marathon. And it’s a brilliant documentary, and it’s also a brilliant piece of marketing for Nike. After watching that, so I’m like now into long-distance running. I never was my whole life. I was always a horrible long-distance runner. I did well only by dint of willpower. But it’s not a natural thing for me.
But after watching that documentary, and my wife started straining for a marathon. I got so excited about it, I went out and bought a pair of expensive Nike running shoes that were similar to the prototype they used in the movie, in the documentary.
And in that documentary, it was all about, “How can we make these three runners go faster?” Everything else was secondary, it was basically, “How can we deliver the faster result and nothing else?” So they looked at all of the different factors, but it was amazing when you’re just homing in on one objective, “Breaking the two-hour marathon.”
And just like with the Olympic rowing, I — So, let me just share from my personal perspective. I’m very inspired by all of these things. And in war time, which the closest I have really ever gotten to real war is on TV or watching movies, it seems like there’s an obvious objective: stay alive, beat the bad guy, or whatever it is. A seriously pretty obvious objective.
But in life, especially in peace time, in a technologically advanced place, it’s not as obvious what your primary objectives are. And how do you go about dealing with this, Henry? Like, what do you with your focus? How do you decide what to focus on and how do you focus on it? Well, let’s start with the first one: How to decide what to focus on?
Henry Chong: Yeah. Well, I guess this leads me into another story I heard recently about Warren Buffet and his private jet pilot. As an aside, Warren Buffet thinks that corporate jets are a sign that the company is going down the drain, and yet he owns one. And he calls it The Indefensible for exactly that reason. He said there’s no good reason to have a private jet, but I have one and it’s great.
But to the point, he had a pilot of his private jet for I think five years. And then one day he went up to the pilot and said, “Why are you still working for me? After five years, you haven’t made any progress. You’re still doing the same job you were five years ago.” And he said, “Alright, I’m going to sit with you and we’re going to come up with a plan for you to get whatever you want next.”
And so, he said, “Alright, write down in a piece of paper the top 15 goals you want more than anything.” So, the pilot takes quite a long time but then he comes up a list of 15 things he thinks are really important to him. And then Warren Buffet says, “Okay. I want you to sit and think about which are the top five absolute top priorities. What are the primary goals that you must achieve?” And then the guy, it’s very hard but he goes through and he says okay, and he circles five.
And then Warren Buffet says, “Alright. Now, what are you going to do with the other goals on your list? I mean, your secondary goals, how are you going to deal with those things?” And the pilot says, “Look obviously, I’m going to spend most of my time and energy focusing on the primary goals. But whenever I can, I’m going to also make sure I keep track of those secondary goals and try and make progress on them.”
And Warren Buffet says, “No, no. You don’t understand. Those other things on your list that are not your absolute top primary goals, you now need to make that your avoid at all costs list. You are now for the rest of the year not allowed to do anything at all related to those goals.”
Because the truth of the matter is, it’s not only like important to have a primary goal and to know what you’re focusing on. I would say that it is the only way to achieve goals. In the sense that doing hard things is hard. Winning at the Olympics is very hard. And so, if you spend any time at all focused on things other than the goal of, let’s say, “Will this make the boat go faster?” You’re already out. You really don’t have a chance.
So as it is, you need that level of complete focus on your goals. And the truth is, in life, you can never really have that many. I, for example, have six goals. And I try my best, I don’t always succeed, but I try my best to spend almost all of my time on one of those six goals and try every day to wake up and ask myself, “All the things I’m going to do today, are they bringing me closer to one of these things?”
And for all of them, obviously, you need specific questions. “Is whatever I’m about to do today in service of one of these six things specifically? And if it’s anything else, why am I doing it?” Because it’s very easy, I think, to be dragged into the trap of, “Well, this is good to do.” or “It has utility.” or “I should read this popular business book that everyone’s telling me about because people say it’s great.”
But again, is this the most important thing you can be doing for whatever goal you have? Probably not. And I find that extremely focusing. I guess to answer your question about how do I come up with those goals: What I think is very important is to find the highest leverage point.
So, for whatever goal you have, let’s say it’s going to the Olympics, there are probably a whole list of things that you need to achieve, a lot of intermediate steps. So for example if I were coaching a team, I could recruit a bunch of people for the boat, I got to find a boat and I got to — There’s lots and lots of steps.
But what I would do is try and list down as best as I can all the things that I think I need to do in order to get to the Olympics. And then ask myself, “What is the single next thing I can do that has the absolute highest leverage and makes everything else on that list easier?”
So, for example, let’s say I wasn’t the coach but I was the manager of this team. To me that might be, find the best coach I can. Because then he could help me recruit the people and the boat, and he will help me with the training plan, and he will help me with X, Y, Z. There’s no real point in me worrying about who I’m going to stick the boat until I’ve got a coach. Or at least it’s a lot easier to do everything else in the list if I can find that one domino, that when you push it over it makes everything else easier.
David Tian Ph.D.: Right. Well, one of the genius parts of that primary question of the Olympic rowing team was that there were actually many questions they could’ve asked. It could have been, “How do we get a better — ” I don’t know all of the different roles in the boat, a coxswain? Is that one? And then whatever other roles.
So let’s take basketball: How can we get a better center? How can we get a better point guard? How can we get better shooting guard? Or how can we get land that big star that would basically blow our whole budget? And instead of asking these other questions, they’re focused on that one primary question which was, “How do we make the boat go faster?”
And that simplifies all of the other decision making processes. And there’s an excellent rubric called Pick 3. Actually, this was presented at one of of mastermind summits. And it was presented to us as Pick 3. I’ve seen it in other variations. So the idea is, I’ll give an example of six. So there’s out of the six domains of life, you can only pick three to do well in.
And in fact, if you want to be the best at one of those six, you pretty much have to only do one. You have to pick one. But if you want to have a balanced life and still do top 5% or top 1%, you can pick three.
And so, here are the six quadrants. I guess not quadrants anymore, but six components. So one is sleep, and another one is friends, another one is family and loved ones, another one is working career, another one is one health and fitness, and the last one is leisure. So out of those six, you can only do well in three.
And it’s just a pretty simple way of approaching the focus question, give you a first pass through it, and it will help you eliminate at least three areas of your life. Because if you try to do all of those, meeting your friends, all of the stuff, you shouldn’t be surprised when you don’t succeed in any one of them. And so, just in terms of what it takes to be good at any one of those things.
So for me personally, for the past few years, I’ve sacrificed, as far as my Pick 3 I’ll tell you which three I didn’t pick, the three I didn’t pick was sleep. With the result of — as a result of meditation twice a day and starting with bulletproof coffee. I’ve since weaned off that because the butter was too high in calories, but I found other substitutes like pu’er tea and things like this.
I’m able to cut two hours out of my sleep time. I’ve sacrificed friends. So, in my pickup days that was a big no-no because you need to work your social circle. But when you have other goals and that you’re not be able to — the friends part of it isn’t directly contributing to these other goals. So again, there’s synchronicity or there’s like — some of them can support each other.
But in my case, the friends aspect doesn’t generally support the other three goals that I chose. So I have to sacrifice just hang out and have beers and catch up time with my friends, and that’s tough. Like just this week in Singapore, whenever I’m in Singapore I have a lot of demands on my time because I have so many friends here and I’m lucky that way. But I have a lot of friends who want to meet up and I’m just so busy because I’m focused on the three goals that I picked, or the three areas of my life that I picked to focus on for this phase of my life.
And I just have to say no. Now, I batch meet them. So, I try to invite as many of my friends that I want to see at one time. Which might kind of be annoying for them, because they wanted to have one on one private time, but I just don’t have that ability to make that a priority right now, unless it also contributes to one of the three goals that I have picked.
So friends I’ve sacrificed, sleep I’ve sacrificed, and leisure. Which, maybe if you watched the vlog that we’re putting out on a weekly basis, you may think I have plenty of leisure time. But in fact, almost all of our leisure is also work. So if we’re in Bali, in a gorgeous villa, we’re also shooting some video there and that’s our main reason for being there.
These are some examples of how, generally speaking, I’ve cut out a lot of leisure time. But I’ve maintained the health and fitness, in fact I enjoy that so much. It gives me so much more energy throughout the day that it supports the other two goals, the other two areas in my life that I’ve also chosen, working career and loved ones.
But that’s me personally. Now, the question I was starting off with, and that we were looking at “How do we determine your primary?” question, which is a really deep question in itself is a way to get out the focus. So, if you give a soldier a task and the soldier is relatively simple-minded, the soldier can focus on that one task.
Like, “Drill a hole through that door.” and if it takes him whole day, he’ll just focus on that. It’s pretty obvious what to do. And anyone with half a brain can do that. But if it’s a question of, “What should I do? What is the one thing I should focus on?” Then the primary question-question is what will help you determine what to focus on. So, there’s actually a genius to the primary question. And so, I’ve narrowed my time down to these three areas, Henry’s picked his six goals.
Henry Chong: Yeah.
David Tian Ph.D.: Okay, so we have these, but there are times in your life when you have new goals or new phases of your life. Are there ways of figuring out what to do in re-evaluating your questions, your primary questions, or what to focus on? How do you determine? For some people, they’re looking for like, “What’s the meaning of my life? Should I focus more on getting my career together or should I focus more on my health?” Like, juggling all of these different areas of their life. Are there any questions that you use, Henry, to come at, “What is it that I will focus on? What goals are important to me?”
Henry Chong: Well, I think it’s good to talk very specifically about — So for example to me, there’s a difference between an end state, like a goal in the sense of an outcome you want and a primary question. I personally use these primary questions as focusing mechanisms to help me in the path to achieving my goals.
So, I think the first step is to realize that, A, you need to get very clear as to what your eventual outcome or your end state looks like. Most people are not quite clear what that even looks like. They’re focused on the next step without knowing where they’re going. I think you first need to know what it looks like, sort of at the end, not least of which because there are often many different paths to reaching that outcome.
I personally, I guess, subdivide my life into three broad areas of health, wealth and happiness, to follow the old saying. And the six sort of goals I have are all related, too, so two each on those three areas. So I suppose in a sense I don’t ever expect that to change. When I see those, I sort of — the three areas in my life, that all need to be in balance for everything to work. But then, there are always different aspects of those three areas I want to focus on. And they’re always slightly different goals I may have at any one —
David Tian Ph.D.: Yes, yeah.
Henry Chong: So what I’m saying is that I have these three areas in my life, and to me, they always need to be in balance, but you have different goals at any one time. How you come up those goals is, I think, a much bigger topic. I think self-awareness is very important. But once I have the sort of outcomes that I want, then what I do is I sit down and I ask myself, “What is the single best next or focusing step I can take that will have the highest leverage towards achieving my outcome?”
Because usually, outcomes are not things you can do. They’re an end state that you want to achieve. I eventually want the end state to be X. So for example, making the boat go faster is not in and of itself the goal. The goal is, I want to win an Olympic medal. But the primary question of, “Will this make the boat go faster?” is the single best way to focus you in, to get you to achieve that end state goal of winning an Olympic medal. Did I make sense?
So I think primary, when picking these primary questions, it’s just about sitting down and saying, “What question can I ask?” or “What thing can I focus on, that in so focusing on will likely lead me to my outcome?” So for example I would say that, if your goal is you want to lose three kilos of fat, for example, then one very simple goal that you could focus on is, “Am I eating less carbs?” for example.
I mean, that’s a broad oversimplification but that works for many people. Losing three kilos of fat is not in and of itself something you can just do. That’s an outcome you want. So, you need to come up with a primary question as a way of focusing yourself and saying, “I will focus entirely on this one thing first because I think it has the most leverage in achieving this goal.”
But that primary question may change over time. There may be at different times, different primary questions that you should be asking yourself to achieve your goal. There may be different areas of focus that are the point of highest leverage, and I think it’s very helpful to very regularly sit down and make sure that you know what those are.
Well, Tony Robbins also has this very good methodology that he calls RPM, for Rapid Planning Method. But also, I guess he says, the three things when I think about are: R, what is your result? P, why do you want it? What is your purpose behind that result? And then M, what is your massive action plan for achieving that result?
And again, to me, these are all absolutely essential steps that are pretty obvious but people forget to do. So if my goal is I want to win an Olympic medal. Very specifically, I want to win an Olympic medal at the next Olympics in rowing, for example, and then the question is, “Why do I want it?” Again, most people ask the first bit but they forget to ask the why.
And people like Simon Sinek talk a lot about the power of why, about how most people can tell you what they do. If they’re good, they can tell you how they do it, but most people can’t tell you why they do it. And that’s important because that’s the drive, that’s the juice. If you’re working on towards a goal and you’re no really quite sure why, that’s a problem.
In a company, you see that a lot, where people are working towards a goal that’s been thrust upon them, and they’re not quite sure why that goal is important. So, I think it’s very important to say, “Okay. This is like, a very specific goal, this is why the goal is important, and then here are the action steps that we’re going to take towards achieving that goal.”
And you have a whole long list of action steps, and well, how do you determine which is that next action step that you should take? Which is most important? Well, you follow the primary question. You say, for example, “Does this make the boat go faster?”
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah.
Henry Chong: And to me that’s a very — Again, it’s a very almost obvious way of planning. Everyone looks at those steps and goes, “Yeah, well, of course.” But very few people do it.
David Tian Ph.D.: So I have a course called Life Purpose that as you were saying these things I just remembered that — it just jogged in my memory that this is what the course is about, actually: It’s to help you discover your life purpose. So, you have a vision of the end goal, as you were saying. And for me, without the vision of the end goal, I end up just spinning my wheels.
Because there are a lot of things that I could do to get some big goal. Like if a big goal is make 50 million dollars, if that’s your big goal in your life, there are a ton of things that you think, “Maybe that would take me there.”
And then you try a little bit of everything, and you don’t get anywhere with it because you’re actually not focused. That’s too big of a question, and it’s too vague, it’s too ambiguous. So, a big part of figuring out how to focus and what to do with your time to get you there, is to figure out where ‘there’ is that you’re trying to go.
And for whenever I’m in that period of getting into a new phase of my life, so every three to five years I found just looking back at my life, I move into a new phase. And looking back in my life, it looks like evolution, but you know. So, another way to look at it is peeling off layers of an onion, so to speak, and trying to get to the core.
So, every time I get to a new layer or I’m peeling off the current layer, I’m trying to figure out what the next layer is. There’s that period in which you could just do more of what you’re already doing, and that was serving you well in the past, but it’s not actually as enjoyable as it used to be. So for me, I take a step back because I’ll otherwise burn out.
I’ve done that before. I’ve burnt out by just working hard in that direction when it’s onto a new phase. And one of the things that I really enjoy doing and have — basically, I can’t move on without it — is figuring out what that vision is. What’s the vision at the 5 year mark, 10 year, 20 year, towards the end of your life? What does that look like?
Like, literally, like your stepping into a movie, being able to see what that looks like. So, just recently in the past few weeks, I’ve had opportunities that have come up to do some — Well, big opportunities in the business world which would necessitate a totally different lifestyle, and a lot more — actually, a lot more flying, a lot more being away from my loved ones, a lot more sacrificing of health and all these other things that are not in the Pick 3 areas of my life. But that would take me, ostensibly, to this big goal that I have of some financial, monetary goal.
And it was very tempting, and I get these opportunities more often than I would like because — why I say more often what I like, because every time I get them, I take a lot of time to think about whether it’s worth it. And I spent a good month, almost part-time, of during that time, like three or four hours a day, working out various scenarios on these business opportunities.
And it really came down to being true to the vision, and I had forgotten then vision because my life at that point had been set on that vision. It was going on that path, so I wasn’t reminding myself as often as I should have. But the vision was that, for me personally, this is a very personal thing, you have to decide for yourself.
And in my Life Purpose course, I don’t tell you what your life purpose is. Also, your life purpose will change as you evolve and mature. But I help you figure it out through these guided meditations, through asking you important questions, and giving you the time to think, and prompting you with various other things, and giving you a framework, and so on.
But anyway, my personal vision at this point in my life is to be surrounded by my loved ones, to do things that are meaningful but not just going after, let’s say, a monetary goal. So, for me, the money is secondary and the love and lifestyle is primary. That I want to lead a certain type of life and not to have a certain amount of money in the bank, or to have an exit of such and such and to sacrifice everything for that exit.
And I needed to be reminded of that. It took these sorts of opportunities to remind myself that, “If I will pursue them, they have to be in accordance with this vision. Otherwise, I’m not going to be happy.” And I noticed a lot of achievers have too many opportunities. So, achievers are good at a lot of things, and they’re good at focusing.
That’s actually a problem. So, I remember when you start university as an achiever, you have a lot of majors that you could kick ass in. In fact, disciplinary divisions are quite arbitrary in universities, anyways. So if you’re good at history, you’re probably be good at anthropologies, sociology and whatever, so in philosophy maybe.
And if you’re good at literature, you’re probably going to be good at philosophy, and so on. So how do you choose which one to major in? Because once you choose a major, you have to fulfil the requirements and all that stuff. And achievers always have a hard time choosing a major.
And my dad, when I was very young, looking for a major, said to me, “Look. You just have to ask yourself what you want to be doing 20 years from now and then plan backwards.” And it was such a simple piece of advice, but it’s something I’ve been carrying forward through my whole life so far.
And whenever I deviate from that, people say I should do this, so I’ll do it, or I read in some magazine, or some Thought Catalog article or whatever, that now, the thing to do is this, then I’ll do it. Those are almost always a bad idea. And getting clear on your purpose, your vision, and then working backwards from that to the present time, to dictate to you what are your primary goals, and then to take the Buffet advice of then pairing everything off beyond that, and to get —
If you have not yet gotten really, really good at one thing — There’s an insight I want to provide after that. But if you have never gotten really, really good at one thing — It could be, like, for me, it was like one of the first things that I got really, really good at was playing the saxophone, believe it or not, in high school. I got to provincial, like in our province in Canada, like champion-level or whatever, and then representing the nation, all that.
That was pretty good to me. I devoted three times more practice time than — and I was in a performing arts high school — than any other instrumentalist in my year. And I still wasn’t the best musician by far, but I was the best saxophonist in that region. And that taught me what it would — sort of like — when I look at the people who weren’t very good, and who wanted to be good, and were jealous — because they don’t watch me practice at home or anything. So, they think I’m just good or something and they’re jealous.
And the amount of — How much more hard work you’ll have to put in versus the next guy, then that taught me what sacrifice needs to be made to be at that level. And you can’t sacrifice a lot more to be at that level at a lot of things, because there’s just not enough time or energy and mental space and so forth.
So you know how much effort it takes to get there, how much you need to sacrifice. So, you have to choose those things wisely. But if you’ve never gotten really good at anything yet, you don’t really know what that is. So anything that you enjoy, you’re probably getting to be decent at it, and just lean into it and try to get really good at that that one thing first. And then from there, you can figure it out these bigger questions, I think, rather than just looking at, “Oh. My vision of my life — ”
Because if you’re like 20 years old, the vision of your life is like Entourage. Man, I used to love that TV show. Vinny Chase and Jeremy Piven and all that shit. Now I look back ten years later, or seven or eight years later, and I’m just so kind of like — it’s a part of my past, so I totally understand it and I learn from it, but when I think about it now, I’m just sort of disgusted by that part of like, “Man, man, I was so immature like, looking at this — ”
When you’re a 20 years old, you think, here’s my vision. I’m going to be surrounded by bitches. I’ll be living at a mansion. I’ll be flying in private jets. All the stuff that doesn’t actually matter for meaning in your life over the long run. So, you start doing lots of stupid shit. But I think if you’ve never gotten good at one thing, like Vinny Chase was still trying to get really good at acting, then just do that and see how far you can go with it. I think that’s a really good life lesson.
Henry Chong: No, I completely agree. Do first things first and second things not at all. And I mean, out of those six goals that I have, I mean, three of them are things that are maintenance goals, in a sense. So, things that I already do and just want to remind myself to keep doing. And really, out of them, two are the things that I really want to focus in on, spend most of my time on.
David Tian Ph.D.: Nice. Yeah, I was going to say if you have six goals, you have five too many. Just kidding.
Henry Chong: Yeah, no, I mean, which I think it’s very fair. Like, as you point out, you need to make sure you — At the end of the day, you can only ever do one thing at a time despite what people may believe. In any given moment, you’re focusing on one particular thing. And now, I think it’s —
David Tian Ph.D.: In my life, I’ve never actually, beyond the very basic level of excellence, like in high school, I’ve never actually become the best at any one clearly defined discipline. I never made it to the Olympics or anything like that. I’m not a billionaire, or I’m not a hundred-millionaire or whatever it is.
What I’ve discovered a lot of success from is being pretty good at two or three things and combining them. So then, I’m sort of like, owning the category of those two or three things that overlap. In fact, my Ph.D. is an interdisciplinary Ph.D., in the Asian Languages and Cultures department and in Philosophy. So I was at the intersection of Chinese studies, philosophy, religious studies, and history.
So, that made it very unique. It made it unique such that it made it easier for me to stand out in the job market. It made it easier for me to apply to lots of different types of jobs, and so on. I remember, I think a Quora.com article by, or an essay by Justine Musk. She advised that if you want to be a billionaire is to become really good at one thing, then become really, really good at another thing, and then combine them in a way that no one’s done that before, and you’d have a brand new thing.
It seems pretty simplistic, but that’s a great way to go as well, rather than trying to be the gold medallist in one thing. Luckily, we’re not all stuck in old-fashioned categories anymore and you can fashion your own category. I found that to be a good way to go.
Henry Chong: And the other way of doing it is to get this thing called a team. So, you don’t necessarily need to be the fastest rower; you need to be in the fastest boat. And I think that’s very important to remember. And something that I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time on in my own company, is that this whole planning of focus and methodology I suppose applies even more so, I would argue, for teams.
Again, I see a lot of companies where if you ask, you just pull someone out and you say, “What are you working on?” They can probably tell you what task they’ve been assigned, but if you ask them what outcome, like, why are you doing this, what is the eventual outcome that this is task is supposed to lead to? Maybe they’ll know, and you’ll know the company is well-run.
But how many of them can tell you like what the real purpose behind it is, why that outcome is important? And so, I think that part of running teams in scale is to make sure — Sorry, yeah.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah, my delegation is — my team’s quite small, but even then, like my — one of the ways I get around that is, if I’m pressed for time and I don’t know whether I’ve given enough of the vision for that task, is I’ll see is when the project comes back and I get the finished product, and it’s bad, it’s off, I check to see if they understood what the greater picture is, like, why are we using this particular thing.
And almost always, they don’t understand it. That’s why the product sucks, and that’s on me because I didn’t explain the vision correctly. Luckily, I check in so that you have these checks, like, not at the very end of the thing but the first draft of it.
But like, there’s also this tension between team and individual. So every individual has their own goals, and if those goals aren’t in alignment with the team’s goals, then you’re fucked, it’s just a matter of time. And that’s another question of priorities of the primary question of, “Your goals, are they in sync?”
Because every individual you add to a team is that much more at a level of complexity that you’ll have to deal with. So, it’s obviously so much more difficult to navigate that when there are multiple individuals involved.
Henry Chong: Yup. Now there’s this great quote I heard once that said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
David Tian Ph.D.: Oh, nice.
Henry Chong: And I’ve always thought of that as very powerful. And, yeah. I mean, that’s the thing I’m trying to do. Instead of assigning people tasks, I just make sure they’re clear on what result that you want them to achieve. Because that’s why you have a team. Otherwise, you just do everything yourself. So you need to make sure people know with crystal clarity what the outcome is. And then more importantly, I try and make sure I take the time to explain why I want that outcome.
I mean, there are a lot of things where I’ll tell someone, “Oh, I know, this is what we need to get towards this done.” And I would try and stop myself and just add in that extra, “And this is why I think it’s important.” Even though it might seem a bit silly at first, they’ll always be adding in that second layer. But I think most people would be surprised at how little people in their teams understand about the purpose of why you’re trying to achieve what you achieve.
David Tian Ph.D.: And I feel like even in the individual level, at the personal level, it really helps to think of the people that you associate with, that you surround yourself with as being part of your team. So, like Team David or Team Henry. You have your fitness trainers. You have your friends who help you relax and help you have a good time.
You have someone that you love that you can love back and gives you that deeper meaning in life. And then of course, you have all of the more utilitarian functions. You have your accountant. You have your lawyer. You have all these other things. And within fitness, you might have a martial arts trainer, you might have a movement coach, whatever.
They’re all these different parts of your life. And when people don’t think of supporting human beings around them, they feel very alone. And like, they’re doing it by themselves. And I’ve discovered small business owners who are like this. It boggles my mind because this is actually a business, and when you think about business, you want to scale. But I know a lot of people who are afraid of hiring. They’re afraid of letting go. They don’t know how to delegate or they’re afraid to delegate, and you just can’t grow that way.
And I don’t know how many people listening to this actually have businesses, but even at a personal level, it’s important to think about your supporting cast. And it’s not so much that like — So, my fitness trainer, I might see him as supporting me, but also, I’m supporting him — well, partly with payment. But also like, I’m a particular type of client for him or her.
And then they have their supporting team, team trainer or whatever they are. So, they might have a secretary. They might have somebody who’s running their Excel spreadsheets for them to keep track of everybody. They might have their nutritionist, and all of this other stuff.
And I think it’s really important, like — A good example of this is people who actually have a shit ton of money to spend on themselves and they actually publicize who they — Or because, in a way, now with social media, you want to give exposure to the people on your team who are supporting you.
So, The Rock has this huge social media following. And I discovered his fashion stylist was also the fashion stylist of Bradley Cooper, of Tom Hiddleston, of so many other people — Hugh Jackman — so many big Hollywood stars, and they think that she’s on their team, and she rightly is, she’s their stylist. But they’re on her team as well. So, there’s this great synergy.
And I feel like the future’s moving in that direction where there are going to be a far fewer big corporations where people are going to be in servitude towards, and then a lot more smaller freelance contractors or smaller companies where you have that sort of supporting role, that you have someone in your supporting — that someone who plays a supporting role for you, and you play a supporting role for them in their lives. It’s just win-win all around.
And of course, it helps everyone to think about that at the personal level. Who is your meditation coach? Who is your fitness coach? Who do you turn to for nutrition advice? Or there could be multiple people. Who do you turn to for accounting advice? For tax advice? For law? For whatever?
You should start slotting people in because that’s how you’ll actually elevate all of these other areas of your life. Especially, any area where you’re actually consciously neglecting, like, “I’m not going to spend time on that.” If it’s an important area, you still need to care of it. Like, for me, for many years, the albatross for me was accounting.
I absolutely hated bookkeeping, which was ironic because my mom and my sister are both professional accountants. My sister has her own firm, but I just hated that. But I had to do it. And eventually, I found a way to outsource it. I hired a guy who’s awesome, and he’s on my roster, I’m on his roster. And it gets taken care of with minimal headache on my side. It’s just one of those things where I’m constantly hiring coaches to help me excel in all of these other areas, and I see them as a part of Team David for this period of time.
And I’m sure that they see me as part of their team, fulfilling whatever role that they need to have filled at that point in their lives as well. So, it feels really good. Synergy, win-win, and it’s a great way to scale up and level up your life.
Henry Chong: Yup. No, absolutely.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah, focus.
Henry Chong: Focus. Which is what The Rock says whenever he’s lifting weights.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah, yeah. Well, if you’re not following the Rock on Instagram, it’s full of inspiration and fun laughs, and–
Henry Chong: Yeah. Well, I guess maybe only one last line, that again, Tony Robbins talks about a lot is, “Where focus goes, energy flows.” And you need to focus on where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. Because whatever you focus on is, perceptually, what you feel; what you think, what you feel, what you see, what you move towards is exactly what you focus on. So, make sure you know what you want to focus on. And make sure you spend all the time focusing on it.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yeah, man. Yeah, great. And even at the biological level, when you do mindfulness meditation, you notice that there are hundreds of things around you that you could notice. And it would’ve just overloaded our brains to notice everything. So, even just as we go about in life, you’re already focusing on just a small, very small percentage of all of the potential things around us physically that we could focus on.
And it’s just about like, where your eye goes, and what your prefrontal cortex and the other parts of your brain can focus on and deal with. So, your body is already evolved to focus and you should do that more self-consciously. Alright, man.
Henry Chong: Absolutely.
David Tian Ph.D.: Well, let’s wrap it up. Thanks so much for listening. We are back, Henry and I. We’re going to be doing more podcasts, so stay tuned.
Henry Chong: Yup.
David Tian Ph.D.: And I’ll see you in the next podcast. Thanks a lot, Henry. Oh wait, before we go, how can people find out more about you, Henry?
Henry Chong: Thank you. You can go to my website at HenryChong.com. I write a weekly sended newsletter. You can sign up for that there, and of course, sign up for this podcast and listen to all of them.
David Tian Ph.D.: Yes, excellent. There’s going to be a little blur right after this, but you can find more about me at DavidTianPHD.com and you can find all of the podcasts and the podcast show notes at DavidTianPHD.com/dtphdpodcast. Alright. Thanks so much. Looking forward to talk to you again.
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