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7 Lessons for Success, Including a Few You Haven't Heard

3. Being afraid to make mistakes will always hold you back.

Ray Dalio is a very smart guy with a gift for making money. He founded the investment firm Bridgewater Associates and in 2012 was named to the TIME 100. In a 123-page personal value statement titled Principles, he attempts to share what insights and strategies that he believes will help us get what we want out of life. As he writes in one of many footnotes (which are often more interesting and personally revealing than the main text):

“I wish I could read and compare the principles of all the people I’m interested in—Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, people running for political office, people I share my life with, etc. I’d love to know what they value most and what principles they use to get what they want. Imagine how great that would be—e.g. imagine how much valuable fundamental thinking could be harnessed.”

I agree with Dalio that understanding how really outstanding people think and operate is a great way to learn how to become better. So I decided to read his manifesto from cover to cover. Here are 7 lessons for life success that I distilled from it. Some are delightfully provocative and unconventional, while others are easy-to-digest common-sense advice:

1. Stress test your opinions by having smart people challenge them.

“I never cared much about others’ conclusions—only for the reasoning that led to these conclusions. That reasoning had to make sense to me. Through this process, I improved my chances of being right, and I learned a lot from a lot of great people.”

“I also believe that one of the best ways of getting at truth is reflecting with others who have opposing views and who share your interest in finding the truth—rather than being proven right.”

2. Don’t be one way on the inside and another way on the outside—it means you lack integrity.

“I believe that people who are one way on the inside and believe that they need to be another way outside to please others become conflicted and often lose touch with what they really think and feel. It’s difficult for them to be happy, and almost impossible for them to be at their best....I learned that one of the greatest sources of problems in our society arises from people having loads of wrong theories in their heads—often theories that are critical of others—that they won’t test by speaking to the relevant people about them. Instead, they talk behind people’s backs, which leads to pervasive misinformation…So I learned to love real integrity…Most people would be insulted if you told them that they don’t have integrity—but how many people do you know who tell people what they really think?”

3. Being afraid of making mistakes is why so many students who succeed in school fail in life.

3. Being afraid of making mistakes is why so many students who succeed in school fail in life.

“I believe that our society’s ‘mistakephobia’ is crippling, a problem that begins in most elementary schools, where we learn to learn what we are taught rather than to form our own goals and to figure out how to achieve them. We are fed with facts and tested, and those who make the fewest mistakes are considered to be the smart ones, so we learn that it is embarrassing to not know and to make mistakes. Our education system spends virtually no time on how to learn from mistakes, yet this is critical to real learning. As a result, school typically doesn’t prepare people for real life—unless their lives are spent following instructions and pleasing others. In my opinion, that’s why so many students who succeed in school fail in life.”

“Everyone makes mistakes and has of the most important things that differentiates people is their approach to handling them.”

4. Be a “hyperrealist”: It's the best way to choose and achieve your dreams.

“I have become someone who believes that we need to deeply understand, accept, and work with reality in order to get what we want out of life…understanding reality gives us the power to get what we want out of life, or at least to dramatically improve our odds of success. In other words, I have become a “hyperrealist.” When I say I’m a hyperrealist, people sometimes think I don’t believe in making dreams happen. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I believe that without pursuing dreams, life is mundane. I am just saying that I believe hyperrealism is the best way to choose and achieve one’s dreams. The people who really change the world are the ones who see what’s possible and figure out how to make that happen. I believe that dreamers who simply imagine things that would be nice but are not possible don’t sufficiently appreciate the laws of the universe to understand the true implications of their desires, much less how to achieve them.”

5. Learn to objectively reflect on yourself and others—most importantly, on your weaknesses.

“The most important quality that differentiates successful people is [the] capacity to learn and adapt…people who can objectively reflect on themselves and others—most importantly, on what their weaknesses are—can figure out how to get around those weaknesses, can evolve fastest, and come closer to realizing their potentials than those who can’t…However, typically defensive, emotional reactions—i.e., ego barriers—stand in the way of this progress.”

“Having others help find one’s weaknesses is essential because it’s very difficult to identify one’s own. Most people don’t like helping others explore their weaknesses, even though they are willing to talk about them behind their backs. For these reasons most people don’t do a good job of understanding themselves and adapting in order to get what they want most out of life. In my opinion, that is the biggest single problem of mankind, because it, more than anything else, impedes people’s abilities to address all other problems and it is probably the greatest source of pain for most people.”

“Remember that intelligent people who are open to recognizing and learning from their weaknesses substantially outperform people with the same abilities who aren’t similarly open.”

6. Life will give you what you deserve and it doesn’t care what you like.

“Treat your life like a game or [a] martial art. Your mission is to figure out how to get around your challenges to get to your goals. In the process of playing the game or practicing this martial art, you will become more skilled. As you get better, you will progress to ever-higher levels of the game that will require—and teach you—greater skills.”

“This particular game—i.e., your life—will challenge you in ways that will be uncomfortable at times. But if you work through this discomfort and reflect on it in order to learn, you will significantly improve your chances of getting what you want....By and large, life will give you what you deserve and it doesn’t give a damn what you ‘like.’ So it is up to you to take full responsibility to connect what you want with what you need to do to get it, and then to do those things—which often are difficult but produce good results—so that you’ll then deserve to get what you want.”

7. In life, you have to decide what you want, what is true, and what to do about it.

“I want you to think for yourself—to decide: 1) what you want; 2) what is true; and 3) what to do about it. I want you to do that in a clear-headed, thoughtful way, so that you get what you want....I am going to ask only two things of you—One, that you be open-minded, and two, that you honestly answer some questions about what you want, what is true, and what you want to do about it....If you can’t do these things, you should reflect on why that is, because you probably have discovered one of your greatest impediments to getting what you want out of life.”

© 2014 by Jonathan Wai

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