By Eric Barker
July 3, 2017
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

What habits, tactics and routines do the most successful people use to achieve their earth-shaking accomplishments?

One guy wanted to know. So he talked to over 200 world-class achievers to learn from them.

Now I happen to enjoy interviewing experts to get insights — but if somebody wants to do all the heavy lifting for me, well, I’m not gonna say no. So I figured I should give that guy a call…

Tim Ferriss is the bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek. His new book is Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.

So where to start? How about the activity that almost all of these A-players do first thing every single day?

1) Have A Mindful Morning Ritual

You wake up most mornings and the world is already screaming at you. Emails are coming in asking for everything under the sun, the kids are yelling, and there’s stuff you didn’t get done yesterday that’s still plaguing your mind. And you’re still in your jammies.

So you start the day reacting. You’re not following a plan and getting your goals accomplished, you’re desperately responding to all the things the world is throwing at you. But that’s not how you get Big Things accomplished in life.

The vast majority of the people Tim talked to have a morning ritual that involved some type of mindfulness. Getting your head straight and your priorities in line so you could face the day doing what matters to you. Here’s Tim:

Don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be hard to add to your schedule. In fact, at first it definitely should not be. Here’s Tim:

(To learn how to meditate, click here.)

That’s not too difficult. But you might have a bigger problem. You might feel like you don’t have it in you to be a huge success. Maybe you have flaws. Weaknesses. Stuff that holds you back that you’ve tried to overcome and couldn’t. Guess what?

The second most common thing Tim heard addressed exactly that…

2) Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths

Nearly everyone Tim spoke to mentioned how they had taken something that was a weakness and — rather than trying to fix it — they leveraged it into a superpower that pushed them forward. Here’s Tim:

What many of them realized was that their flaws were not scientifically and objectively “bad.” They were qualities that went against the grain or were merely unpopular.

Sound like a vague, inspirational platitude? It’s not. Dan Carlin has one of the most popular and respected podcasts out there: Hardcore History. (I’m a huge fan, myself.) But when Dan started out in radio everyone said his manner of speaking was terrible.

Dan didn’t fix it. In fact, he deliberately called attention to it and made it his signature style. Here’s Tim:

Dan didn’t become one of the best in his field by doing what everyone else did. As he told Tim:

(To learn the morning ritual that will keep you happy all day, click here.)

So you’re meditating in the morning and taking a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer approach to your “flaws.” But some people might say that “mindfulness” and “turning weaknesses intro strengths” are both clichés. And you know what? They’re right. But that’s not a problem…

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

3) Don’t Ignore The Clichés

Shay Carl co-founded Maker Studios which sold to Disney for nearly a billion dollars.

When he wanted to lose weight and get in shape, he didn’t focus on the latest diet book, or look for cutting-edge secrets. He realized all he needed to do was stop ignoring the clichés and actually listen to them.

“Eat less and exercise more” is about as trite as they come. It also works. Here’s Tim:

(To learn how 5 post-it notes can make you happy, confident and successful, click here.)

So an oldie can be a goodie, always look on the bright side, and all’s well that ends well. But sayings are one thing and skills are another. What fundamental abilities do we need to develop that will promote success in any arena?

4) Be Able To Think, To Endure, And To Wait

A lot of people ask super-successful folks what their favorite books are. But Tim asked them which books they give as gifts the most often. This got him less idiosyncratic, taste-based answers and more muscular recommendations.

A few books were mentioned over and over like Sapiens, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Man’s Search for Meaning, and Influence.

But one of the most frequently gifted books stood out because it contained lessons that we all need to learn. That book was Siddartha.

The key lessons from Siddartha are that to accomplish anything, we need to be skilled at thinking, at enduring, and being patient. Here’s Tim:

(To learn how to develop grit — from a Navy SEAL, click here.)

Thinking, enduring and waiting are critical. They’re also hard. What’s a tip that’s easy? Really easy. In fact, as easy as sleeping…

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

5) Have An “Overnight Task”

Reid Hoffman is the billionaire founder of LinkedIn and one of the co-founders of PayPal. When he has a tough problem to crack he doesn’t think straining your brain is the only way to go.

He writes the problem down before he goes to bed, lets his subconscious take a stab at it and writes about it some more the next morning. Often, this simple process helps him get the answer he needs. Here’s Tim:

Sound too easy? I thought the same thing. But another of the “titans” — Josh Waitzkin (the chess prodigy that the film Searching for Bobby Fischer is about) said the same thing. He writes his problem down after dinner and reviews it the next morning.

Oh, and another successful guy was a big believer in this, too. His name was Thomas Edison. He once said: “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”

(To learn the four rituals neuroscience says will make your brain happy, click here.)

So far everything we’ve talked about is very you-you-you focused. And a lot of the people giving advice are self-employed. What tips do they have when you’ve got a boss who has an awful big say in your success?

How do you please El Jefe, become an expert in your field and gain the help of powerful mentors — all at the same time?

6) Clear The Path

Ryan Holiday, bestselling author of The Daily Stoic, draws a lesson from ancient history that is still very effective today. For thousands of years, the concept of “apprenticeship” was the cornerstone of becoming one of the greats.

But these days we tend to just think about what is and is not in our job description. “These are my duties. I do these things. That’s it.”

How people pleased their bosses back then, learned the ropes and got ahead wasn’t by checking boxes. They “cleared the path” for their superiors. They anticipated problems, did stuff they weren’t required to do, and proactively made things easier for those more experienced than them.

This doesn’t just “fulfill the dictates of your job description” it builds trust, loyalty and turns a boss into a mentor. In Tools of Titans, Ryan says this:

Does this work today? Yup. Tim spoke to billionaire Chris Sacca. When Sacca was starting out at Google he invited himself to high-level meetings and volunteered to take notes for the senior executives. Here’s Tim:

(To learn more tips from Ryan Holiday on how ancient wisdom can improve your life, click here.)

Helping people isn’t always that hard. Now dealing with people, that can be a real challenge at times. What’s the right perspective to take so it doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out?

7) They’re Not Evil. They’re Exhausted.

Alain De Botton is the highly respected author of How Proust Can Change Your Life. He’s well-known for having a profound but accessible insight into human affairs that changes the way people think.

De Botton says we’re far too inclined to assume people are being difficult because they’re mean. No, they’re usually tired or anxious or frustrated themselves. Tim summarizes:

Sometimes we’re better off if we see people just as big kids who cry when they are hungry or tired. As De Botton explains in Tools of Titans:

(To learn an FBI behavior expert’s tips on how to get people to like you, click here.)

So people can be children. But it’s important to understand how those people affect you. And that’s why we need to talk about chimpanzees…

8) Remember The 5 Chimps Theory

Naval Ravikant is the CEO and co-founder of AngelList. He’s been an early investor in a number of startups you just might have heard of — like Twitter and Uber.

But he’s not just another Silicon Valley tycoon heavy on the smarts — this guy is wise. He knows that we’re not as independent as we might like to think. Those around us influence us, whether we realize it or not. And if you’re not taking action based on that truth, you’ll never be as successful or as happy as you’d like. Naval explains in Tools of Titans:

Others in the book echoed similar sentiments. Tim sums it up:

Look at the people around you. Are they who you want to be? Because that’s probably what you’ll become. And by the same token, if you have kids or employees, think about the influence you’re having on them. Not your words, but your actions. As mega-bestselling author Paulo Coelho says in the book:

(To learn more about the science of how others influence you and how it can lead to an awesome life, click here.)

Okay, we’ve talked about a lot of tricks and tips. But what about deep stuff like values and morals? Would you hate me if I said that there is a time — however brief — to completely set them aside?

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

9) Know When To Use Your Moral Compass

Stephen J. Dubner is co-author of the bestseller Freakonomics. Dubner says there’s a time to ignore your moral compass.

Just for a minute, mind you. (And don’t go stabbing people or encouraging others to stab me in that minute.)

This isn’t Machiavellian or evil. It’s all about judging before we’ve done any listening. Values and morals are the things we rarely change, and that’s good. But if you always lead with them and don’t hear the other side out, guess what? You can’t change your mind. In fact, you can’t even properly hear what they’re saying. They’re already “evil” and you didn’t even hear them out.

Blaming, pointing fingers and demonizing at the beginning of a conversation or negotiation never helped anyone achieve anything. People so often reply to you with, “You’re right. I am evil. You’ve convinced me.” No. No, they don’t.

So listen before you judge if you want to achieve anything and especially if you want allies. Here’s Tim:

(To learn what a clinical psychologist recommends for making difficult conversations easy, click here.)

So what if you do all this stuff and you become a success? We’ve all heard stories of people who burn out or are otherwise still unhappy after big achievements. So what’s it take to be a happy successful person?

10) Get A “Jar Of Awesome”

Research shows that savoring the good times is an incredibly powerful happiness-boosting technique. Studies show that celebrating those hard-earned achievements is critical to future smiling.

Tim has a personal story about this insight — one that resonated strongly with many of the super-achievers he interviewed.

A while back, a woman Tim was dating noticed something about him. He was really good at achieving things but really bad about appreciating them. Once he had finished slaying one dragon he was already eyeing his next fire-breathing target before taking any time to really enjoy his accomplishment.

And so when things didn’t go his way, he’d sometimes feel despondent (despite the enormous pile of dragon bones around him.) So she made him a “Jar of Awesome.” Here’s Tim:

Mason jars and glitter are the key to happiness. Tim sums it up:

(To learn how gratitude can make you happier, click here.)

Alright, we’ve learned a lot. Let’s round it all up and find out the most surprising thing Tim learned from his 200+ interviews…

Sum Up

Here’s some of what Tim learned from talking to a bunch of the most successful people:

  • Have a mindful morning ritual: Don’t start the day reacting. Get focused.
  • Turn weaknesses into strengths: Channel your inner Rudolph.
  • Don’t ignore the clichés: Many are spoken so often because they work.
  • Be able to think, to endure and to wait: Far more valuable skills than being good with Microsoft Excel.
  • Have an “overnight task”: Sleep on it. Your muse works while you rest.
  • Clear the path: Do more than you’re required to do and you’ll get to do what you want.
  • They’re not evil. They’re exhausted: We can all be big kids. They don’t hate you. They need a nap.
  • Remember the 5 chimps theory: You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.
  • Know when to use your moral compass: If you start out judging, you won’t be listening.
  • Get a “Jar of Awesome”: Don’t just achieve. Appreciate.

What was the most surprising thing Tim learned from the “titans” that mere mortals like you and I need to know?

That they’re mere mortals too. Here’s Tim:

You too can be titanic. (Not the Titanic. I don’t recommend you go head-butt an iceberg and drown.)

Stop denying your inner weirdness. Cultivate it. Accept that you’re not perfect. Neither are the people on the magazine covers. You don’t need to be superhuman to be super-successful. Now go work hard…

And get a glittery mason jar so you enjoy what you achieve.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Buy Barker’s book Barking Up The Wrong Tree here

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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