Why Challenges Work to Trigger Breakthroughs, Spark Growth and Build Habits aka How Challenges Change Lives, Part II [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 17]

Here are my thoughts on why Challenges work:

Why Challenges Work to Trigger Breakthroughs, Spark Growth and Build Habits aka How Challenges Change Lives, Part II

1.They hold space for new things in your otherwise-crowded world/life/calendar/day/mind. Life is very, very full before you try to add in a new habit or project. Formulating your aspirations into Challenges holds a new space in your mind and your calendar for the things you want to do. It also forces you to prioritize, and decide what you won’t be doing for that time frame. That allows for decathexis to happen, where you recoup the time, energy or money you were spending on something less important so you can flow that toward your new habit or project or way of being.  

Challenges also usually involve some level of tracking and accountability, and are often also (naturally or formally) social, all of which increase the probability of your actually doing the activity at hand compared with the likelihood you’d do it without the Challenge.

2. They build momentum and habits by focusing your energy on actions you can control, vs. outcomes that are outsized or out of your control. Challenges set you up to experience significant momentum and progress toward a project or change that matters to you. If you want to write a book, setting a Challenge that says you’ll write for 2 hours a day will automatically trigger some progress and mental momentum, because you know that if you just do that over and over again, for six months, chances are very good you’ll have at least a rough draft in place when you’re done.

3. They chunk big transformations down into doable daily practices. I love to make lots of big life changes at once, but the data shows that massive behavior changes just don’t stick for most people. A Challenge to cut out sugar and alcohol for 30 days is vastly more likely to create lasting change than a nebulous “Lose 50 pounds” goal. Instead of “write a book,” Challenge yourself to write something—anything—every day for 30 days, and watch what happens.

4. They create a standard and provide structure. Without the rules of a Challenge, your goals can be structureless and just hard to put a mental frame around. It’s the difference between “start doing kettlebell swings” and “do 10,000 swings in the month of June.” Having some standard to get to, whether it’s a word count you’ll write or just a number of days for which you’ll do a thing, sparks that tiniest bit of competitiveness and energy.

5. But that standard is personal. You are the boss of yourself in a Challenge. Whether you create it yourself or you take on a Challenge someone else is running, you decided to take it on. And you have infinite authority to tweak the terms of a Challenge in order to make it work for you. You can start it a week later than everyone else. You can do it for 10 days instead of 30. You can do 3 days/week instead of 7. Or you can do 7 instead of 3. A Challenge is a competition, but it’s only between you and you.

If you experience fear at the prospect of certain Challenges, I would give you two pieces of advice. One: You should do it. That fear is a sign you’re onto something. Things will get very interesting if you proceed. Two: Take the Challenge, but be gentle and easy with yourself. There’s no extra credit for perfection. You already did yourself a big mazel by taking the first step. Don’t turn the tone of this experience from growth to self-critique, harshness or perfectionism.

6. The flexibility of the standards makes Challenges fun.  From philosopher James Carse:

“There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is a game that has fixed rules and boundaries, that is played for the purpose of winning and thereby ending the game.

An infinite game has no fixed rules or boundaries. In an infinite game you play with the boundaries and the purpose is to continue the game.

Finite players are serious; infinite gamers are playful.” 

In a Challenge, you get to choose whether to be finite or infinite. (Hint: choose infinite.)

7. They are hard, fast and fun. Have you ever taken a Bikram yoga class? They’re fond of pushing people to hold hard postures with the encouragement that “you can do anything for 30 seconds!” I feel that way about Challenges. Even when they’re super hard, they are also generally fast. You can do anything for 30 days. Or 90 days. Or even 6 months.

The fact that you go into a Challenge knowing the time frame is finite often allows you to tap into those deep stores of energy and discipline that are hard to access when you’re more vaguely trying to build a new habit or practice. And the fact that you know you’ll have made significant progress by the end of the Challenge, if you go hard enough, allows you to tap into even deeper internal resources.

And you always have the option of continuing the practice, or some portion of it, after the Challenge is over. But having an upfront start and stop date just makes it easier to wrap your head around doing something hard for that time frame, versus telling yourself you have to start a new thing and do it For All The Days Of Your Life.

8. Challenges leave successful transformation in their wake, regardless of whether you have a technically “perfect score” . The first time I did a writing Challenge, I wrote for maybe 12 of the 30 days. And honestly, I was happy I did that much, and saw it as 12 days more than I’d written the month before. During that 12 days, I also made a ton of progress in getting clear on a book project I wanted to work on, and some big business decisions I needed to make.

Two months later, I came back around and wrote every day for 6 months. And I still have a near-religious daily writing practice, plus the confidence to tap into the creative flow I know I have access to anytime I have a major book project or writing project I want to bust out.

To my mind, that initial writing Challenge was an extremely successful Challenge, even though I did less than half of what I’d signed on to do.

When you do what you committed to do during a Challenge, you’ll leave the Challenge feeling tired, and stretched but also expanded, because you’ve proven to yourself that you can do things harder or more consistently than you ever have before. But even when you don’t have a “perfect” Challenge, you’ll often find success in the form of personal breakthroughs, a-ha moments, momentum, new habits, mindset shifts, emotional healing or even just lots of words on the Page you didn’t have on the Page before.

More from James Carse: “You can do what you do seriously, because you must do it, because you must survive to the end, and you are afraid of dying or failing or other consequences. Or, you can do everything you do playfully, always knowing you have a choice, having no need to survive the way you are, allowing every element of the play to transform you, taking pleasure in every surprise you meet. Those are the differences between finite and infinite players.” Challenges position your personal growth, habits and your life, really, as infinite play; they position you as the infinite player, and real healing and progress as the prize. Game on.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. But I wrote this post on Day 17 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

10 Books That Taught Me How to Create Products and Marketing People Care About [Reading List]


10 Books That Taught Me How to Create Products and Marketing People Care About [Reading List]

I speak a lot about the epidemic of disengagement, and try to share some of what I know about how to create products and content people care about

But there’s never enough time. I always have to leave a lot out. THIS IS UNFORTUNATE. I’ve got a lot to say.

What often gets left out are the references to books that have been so formative to my approach (now the TCI approach) to research and strategy. These books have been foundational to the we go about helping our clients ENGAGE customers, drive loyalty, capture hearts and minds. They were my early textbooks and more recent inspiration for creating high-value content and products that transforms people’s lives. They will help you engage in lifelong love affairs with your customers, too.

So, here they are. I suspect you’ll learn as much from them as I have.



#1: Lovemarks: A future beyond brands

Author: Kevin Roberts

Why You Should Read It:  Blew my mind when I first read it, as a young marketer – a vision for brand love that, while very emotional and not so quantifiable, laid a foundational belief system for how we could and should be trying to connect with our customers.

#2: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Change

Author: Simon Sinek

Why You Should Read It:  Straight-up inspiration on how to create change in your company and in your customers’ lives, largely through content. Big thought shifts. My favorite bit: “Dr. King gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech.

See also: Sinek’s TED Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Change

#3: Coaching: Evoking Excellence In Others

Author: James Flaherty

Why You Should Read It:  Beautiful methodology and systems for using narrative to help surface new possibilities to people and create behavior change, something all great transformational content does.

#4: A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

Author: Warren Berger

Why You Should Read It:  Most ineffective customer research, design and even marketing strategies fail in that they start with the wrong question, asked at the wrong level. Berger is a master at showcasing just how unlimiting asking the right question can be. Can be a power tweak to almost any part of your business or work: vision, product design, strategy, customer research, marketing, etc.

#5: If the Buddha Got Stuck

Author: Charlotte Kasl

Why You Should Read It:  Modules of wisdom on how to get unstuck, including compassionate healing from past stuckness, traumas – can use in your content or to shift your own stuck programs, thinking, teams

#6: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

Authors: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Why You Should Read It: Too often, we build products and content to solve a customer problem with logic. News flash: humans aren’t always logical. This book is a perfect primer on behavioral economics: the biases and decision shortcuts common amoung we perfectly illogical humans, and how different institutions can help people make better decisions.

#7: Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do

Author: BJ Fogg

Why You Should Read It: Fogg’s models for how computers can drive behavior change apply (IMO) to all products and marketing. He also originated the most elegant, useful model of behavior change for businesses/products that I’ve ever come across. This cuts through decades and decades of research and distills human behavior change down into models we use literally daily at TCI, and most effective behavior changing products I’ve ever seen use, as well.

See also: BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model

#8: Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence

Author: Rick Hanson

Why You Should Read It: All about the evolution of the brain and self-directed neuroplasticity. This provides the basis for content that helps customers feel better, more grounded, less distressed and more able to make change.

#9: Mental Models
Author: Indi Young

Why You Should Read It: My number 1 rule of customer research is this: DO IT. This is the actual primer on building research-based customer journey models from a design thinking perspective. (Side note: At TCI, we take a pretty different approach to the initial question, the integration of quantitative data, who we define as “customer” in customer research, etc. from what you’ll see in this book. But I’ve never seen a better resource for actual model-building.)

#10: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Author: Eric Ries

Why You Should Read It: Most product and R+D folks have probably already read this. Because of the challenges marketers face in getting budgets for content programs, I urge every single marketer to learn Lean Methodology and apply it to content programs. Launch an MVP, get feedback, optimize and iterate from there.

One of the best motivation science books of the last decade was Carol Dweck’s Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. In the book she divides people into having either growth or fixed mindsets.

In this episode of Business Class BiblioTherapy, author, speaker and transformation consultant Tara-Nicholle Nelson helps leaders and managers learn why it’s critical to cultivate a growth mindset in the people you manage. Tara gives 3 pieces of actionable, transformational management advice for how to foster a growth mindset in your employees.

1. Foster the belief that skills and abilities are buildable.
2. Praise effort, not just results.
3. Avoid labeling people or projects.

The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity (Spiegel & Grau, 2012)

Title: The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity
Authors: Phil Shultz and Barry Michels
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 2012

The ToolsPsychology has become more of a pop cultural phenomenon than any other field of scientific inquiry. People throw around diagnostic terms like any other adjective, deeming their mother-in-law a narcissist, labeling their organized sister obsessive-compulsive, and claiming, albeit jokingly, that “adult ADD” is at the root of their own career ennui.

It’s not at all bizarre to watch reality shows film the once-confidential confessionals of therapy sessions, and Woody Allen has repeatedly immortalized on film the decades-long therapeutic relationships that are common in certain schools of therapy.

People “shrink” themselves and each other, and frequently explain why they have their quirks and personality problems by looking back at their childhoods and the role their parents or early life experiences had on forming their current issues.

Schools of therapy vary in terms of how past or present-oriented they are; from Freudian analysis to rubber-band-wielding cognitive behavioral modification therapies. But 25 years ago, psychotherapist Phil Stutz committed himself to addressing his patients’ immediate crises and pain with solutions they could use to get immediate relief.

Stutz formulated what he calls “the tools” — specific visualization and mindset exercises that you can use at specific times to deal with specific issues — then taught them to his mentee, attorney-turned-therapist Barry Michels.

Stutz and Michels soon became the go-to therapists for high-powered individuals and Hollywood creatives who wanted to break blocks, express themselves with confidence, and eliminate the negative effects of trauma and anxiety in their lives without spending a decade delving into childhood traumas and dramas.

I can testify firsthand that this book and these tools are immediate and powerful in effect, once you decide to use them. I consider myself to be an uber-productive individual by default, yet just working with the first tool, found myself racing excitedly to get to the difficult conversations and dreaded tasks that had fallen to the bottom of my priorities list.

While the tools themselves are life-changing and procrastination-destroying, there is a lot of latent power in their logical, yet spiritual, foundations — simple, profound statements that bust myths many of us hold onto for a lifetime without realizing how destructive and disempowering they can be. Here are a few of the myths about life that Stutz and Michels shatter in “The Tools,” to great effect.

Myth 1: Life can or should be painless. Stutz and Michels believe that the reason we often get stuck, procrastinate or engage in self-sabotage is because we are trying to avoid pain. These avoidance techniques — our preference to live in our comfort zones and protect ourselves from uncertainty, rejection, anxiety and other painful emotions — provide some immediate relief, but also place severe limitations on what we can achieve and experience in life.

Pain avoidance is based in the childish, irrational, often subconscious belief that life is, can be or should be painless. The fact is, almost any endeavor worth aspiring to, whether it’s getting fit or launching a business, involves some amount of discomfort — even the daily discomfort of going for a run instead of staying in bed, or the little pains involved in staying organized. Stutz and Michels provide a tool for helping readers learn to reverse their avoidance of pain, and even lean into inevitable discomfort, as a means of tapping into a realm of endless possibilities for their lives.

Myth 2: Other people will or should treat us fairly. Our moms told us life isn’t fair. But the fact is that many of us have held on to the belief that we will or should be treated fairly. As a result, when we feel wronged or disrespected, even by someone we love, we get trapped in what Stutz and Michels call “The Maze,” a reactive, life-wasting cycle of anger, rumination and revenge fantasies.

When we learn to accept everything and everyone as they are, instead of as we think they should be, we are able to transcend the angry spinning of the Maze, stop wasting our time fixated on how other people are treating us, and assert ourselves and our rights without being so strongly affected by the actions of others.

Myth 3: Energy is finite. Stutz and Michels repeatedly address what must be the most common objection they hear to using the “tools,” which is that they take time and energy, seemingly scarce resources in people who are stressed and anxious.

While acknowledging that the tools take time and effort to practice and use, the authors point out that they each only take a few seconds to implement once you have learned them. More importantly, they point out that the tools actually give you back the measureless time and energy that we all lose to being anxious, stressing about how other people treat or perceive us, and avoiding the things we really need to do to live the lives we want.

In the final analysis, using the tools may actually generate and recoup much, much more time and energy than they require — an assertion that was certainly validated by my personal experience and experiments using the tools.


This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike. 1st Edition Hardcover (St. Martin’s Press, 2012)

imagerepositoryAugusten Burroughs is a literary powerhouse. He’s managed to eke six more or less autobiographical novels out of less than 50 years of living, several of which have hit the top of the New York Times best-seller list and decided to stay for a while — you might have even seen the film version of one, “Running with Scissors,” starring Annette Bening.

It would seem that Burroughs has his tumultuous childhood (“Running with Scissors” chronicled the results of his mother’s decision to send him to live with her psychiatrist and his, mmmm, unusual family) and the residual effects thereof on his adult life and self to thank for the source material — and for the inspiration to write about it. Now, having worked through and overcome many serious emotional issues, from suicidal depression to decades of alcoholism, Burroughs passes on what he’s learned in what I suspect may go down as his most impactful book of all: This is How.

Don’t let the simple title of the book fool you; its purposes are vastly grander than it would suggest, and are perhaps better described by its subtitle: “Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More for Young & Old Alike.”

In fact, given his earlier work in darkly comedic memoirs and novels and the grandiosity of the title, on first glance, I assumed that “This is How” was another such book. Fortunately, it is not. “This is How” is a collection of dozens of essays reflecting Burroughs’ brutally honest, soul-revealing, sometimes foul-mouthed, brilliantly incisive insights on how to overcome all of the issues named in the subtitle — and many more.

If you have struggled with anything from the desire to be more confident to the desire to be more thin, to depression or severely traumatic life events, Burroughs has something to say to you, and his style of what he calls “help for the self” is unsympathetic, yet intensely humanistic and loving at the same time.

Essays on “How to Remain Unhealed” and “How to Get Over Your Addiction to the Past” hint at his style, while the one on “How to End Your Life” made me want to buy one copy for every suicide hot line operator in America; I am so certain that if each caller could simply hear this chapter, lives would undoubtedly be saved.

Throughout the book, Burroughs alludes to various emotions, which, if left unchecked and unmanaged, have the power to utterly undo us. Here are a few of those, with just a taste of Burroughs’ advice for how to overcome them:

1. Shame. In Burroughs’ world, the challenges with confidence that we deem a lack of self-esteem are often rooted in shame. And shame, in turn, generally arises from disapproval that adults wield to chastise and change children’s behavior — although it is “more coyly deployed by adults in the attempt to modify the thinking and behavior of other adults.”

From these roots of shame, it then can grow, invasively and insidiously, in our own heads, in the form of negative self-talk and the stories that stop us from believing we can move forward on realizing our dreams.

Burroughs’ advice is to pay extra attention to what your inner voice says and, if it’s negative or critical or mean, to understand that someone else is the original author of those thoughts. Once you find a thought someone else put in your head, Burroughs says, your duty is to offload it, though it might take some practice to get good at getting rid of things you’ve heard your whole life. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, because, in Burroughs’ words, “you shouldn’t step onto the plane with baggage that you didn’t personally pack.”

2. Self-pity. Burroughs says self-pity is “infantile” and “dangerous because it signals a lack of accountability for one’s mental state and, worse, the outcome of one’s life.” In childhood, on the playground and in preschool, adults make sure we get apologies when we are treated unfairly, and endeavor to correct the wrongs that are done to us. Unfortunately, some people begin expecting this and never stop. And this causes a victim mentality and gets people stuck in life, waiting for apologies and corrections that aren’t ever coming.

Burroughs implores readers to “[a]void self-pity by taking responsibility for everything that happens to you, even if it is someone else’s fault.” He clarifies that “I don’t mean play doormat. I mean repair yourself. Move forward. Move on.” Because, if you don’t, “while you wait for someone to come along and set things right, [you’ll find that] life has moved forward without you.”

In this fashion, Burroughs unapologetically attacks all manner of human emotional foibles, addictions and life challenges, giving readers ample room for thought, healing and action along the way.

The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives That Make You Feel Alive (Free Press, 2012)

The Charge Book CoverWe’ve all fallen into ruts. And after the recession, many have found their ennui and generalized dissatisfaction to be worse than normal. Maybe you worked and worked to get a job, then you get one, and still … blech.

Maybe you fought and fought to keep your home, and you got that elusive loan mod, only to find yourself feeling much less than victorious; or you didn’t get it, and have been dealing with feelings of failure.

Or perhaps you had personal dreams around relationships, children, whatever — and whether or not you realized them, you just lack the excitement about life you thought you would have at this stage of the game.

Enter Brendon Burchard, a writer and achievement coach, and his new book, “The Charge: Activating the 10 Drives That Make You Feel Alive.” Burchard’s premise is that the root cause of this widespread dissatisfaction is that our brains and human needs have evolved at light speed, so that in 2012 we all have a much more intense need for self-actualization and fulfillment, relative to basics like food and such, than previous generations did.

Proposing that any universal ideal of what life should look out is already uber-obsolete, Burchard sketches out what the new ideal should be and deems it “The Charged Life,” a life that is engaged and energized, versus a life that is comfortable, but stale, or one that follows social normals but feels limited.

After exploring these various, more or less conscious ways of living, Burchard presents a set of characteristics, including self-reliance, creativity and connection, that position certain people — so-called “chargers” — to live a “charged life.”

The rest of “The Charge” is devoted to exploring Burchard’s own take on respectfully revising Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, offering readers his list of “10 Human Drives” that reflect what most of us really want to activate in our lives. Here are a few:

1. The Drive for Control. Burchard posits that the first five of his 10 drives are akin to next-gen food and shelter; they are the “baseline drives” that allow us to feel secure and connected enough to move toward real fulfillment, which are the second set of drives, his “forward drives.” He defines the drive for control as “the desire to regulate and influence our overall life experience.”

Burchard goes on to help readers learn to distinguish between the things they can and cannot control, and to provide super-specific action steps for activating the sense of control in our lives with respect to things we can both control and that flick neuropsychological happiness switches: novelty, challenge and workflow.

2. The Drive for Connection. The clashing of simultaneous human drives for interdependence (via interpersonal relationships, close and casual) AND independence is the root of all human conflict and much human upset, according to Burchard.

Counting the ability to share your “charge” with others in relationships as a critical element of a “charged life,” Burchard walks readers through the process of optimizing those relationships to minimize disconnects and dissension, through intentionally defining and designing what ideal relationships would look like, practicing what he calls “positive projection” and cultivating “growth friends,” or people with whom you can grow and energize your life.

3. The Drive for Challenge. Challenge is one of Burchard’s future-facing, fulfillment-creating “forward drives,” and it’s the one he calls out as being “the most powerful drive for advancing our lives.”

Challenge also dominates the drives because it unifies them, according to Burchard, “in that it introduces a change in our lives that we must now control, build new competence around, and, often, socially manage (activating caring and connection).”

Burchard provides three actionable steps — and a number of mindset shifts — for activating our excitement and engagement in the realm of challenge, including choosing the right challenge, focusing on the right things and avoiding a focus on the wrong things that come up during your challenge quest, and breaking off bite-sized, 30-day, personal, social or giving challenges every single month.

This book is a great engine-revver for those who feel like they are in a rut, or for those who feel like their calling is out there and they are struggling to find the structure or juice to take off in hot pursuit. I strongly recommend this book.


The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of “Enough” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2012)

The-Prosperous-HeartI read a lot of books — over 200 just in the last three years. I bring up that number by way of pointing out the scope and significance of this statement: one of my top 10 favorite books of my entire lifetime is “The Artist’s Way.”

It might sound artsy-you-know-whatsy, but since its 1992 publication this masterwork has served over 3 million artists and others who need to be — or simply want to be — creative, with its powerful tools and insights for getting and staying unblocked.

While it has served that role in my own life in my work as a writer and creator of digital content, “The Artist’s Way” has been at least equally as impactful in my entrepreneurial, personal, financial, and career endeavors. The ability to think flexibly and innovatively in crafting original solutions to problems has been of great, great value (and has probably saved my bacon more than a few times).

But I have long thought of my personal non-artistic uses of the book as rogue, or off-label, specifically when it comes to matters of finance and business. “The Artist’s Way” was intended for artists, after all — it’s not called the “Businesswoman’s Way” or the “Money Maven’s Way.”

So imagine my delight and surprise to learn that the creator of “The Artists’ Way,” Julia Cameron, was releasing a title on that topic nearest and dearest to my heart: prosperity. In her new book, “The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of ‘Enough’ ” (Tarcher Penguin, 2011),Cameron and co-author Emma Lively aim to first reset readers’ understanding of prosperity as a spiritual matter, not a monetary one.

They carve out a new definition of prosperity as having faith, satisfaction and “enough” — “having a life beyond need and worry.” Financial healing, they make sure to point out, is included, but is only one element of true prosperity.

After dealing with definitions, Cameron and Lively provide a set of five tools to help readers generate this expanded sense of prosperity. The first two, dubbed “Morning Pages” (three pages written longhand, stream of consciousness, first thing every morning) and “Walking” (literally, taking a 20-minute walk two or more times a week) are tools used in “The Artist’s Way” to unleash creative flow.

In “The Prosperous Heart,” Cameron slightly repositions them as tools for cultivating emotional and financial clarity, especially when it comes to understanding where your values and your actions are not in alignment, and healing that disconnect.

The next two tools are much more financial in nature, but are still uber-simple: “Counting” (tracking every dollar and cent that flows in or out of your hands and accounts) and “Abstinence” (refraining from creating new debt, with exceptions for car and home loans that are affordable vis-a-vis your monthly income).

The last tool, “Time-Outs,” are like micro-meditations —  5-minute a.m. and p.m. quiet times that we can use as check-ins with ourselves, our feelings and our choices (about finances or otherwise) or to pray, meditate, or otherwise get “in touch with a deeper, kinder, wiser part of ourselves.”

Beyond their utility for their intended purposes, all the tools can also be used to help detect where the bulk of your own personal challenges in the prosperity realm may lie. The more resistance you feel to the idea of practicing any given tool, the authors say, the more valuable that tool will be in creating the prosperity you seek.

(This mirrors precisely the lesson I learned long ago from an old yogi from India, who brusquely overruled my protests that I’d been too tired to come to class one evening by declaring that the times when I most feel like staying at home are the times I stand to gain the most by coming to class and practicing, anyway. How true that has proven to be in the years since. When I’m too tired to worry about whether I’ll be able to balance on one foot, I’ve found that it is much easier to do so.)

After introducing readers to these tools and making the case for incorporating them into our daily routines, Cameron and Lively provide a 12-week course in prosperity, touching on everything from:

  • inventorying and examining your spending habits, money fears, relationships and past losses;
  • trusting in a higher power and in yourself to provide for your wants and needs; and
  • practicing kindness, forgiveness and velocity: the authors’ term for not too little and not too much action.

If spiritual matters or references, of even a nonspecific, nondenominational nature, tend to frustrate or offend you, “The Prosperous Heart” might not be for you. One of its core premises is that a higher power exists that wants to and will provide for you.

While the authors carve out an extremely broad realm of how individual readers might conceive of that spiritual force, some might find that to be a turnoff.

If, on the other hand, you do believe that some sort of higher power does exist in the universe, and you have been plagued by money problems or worries, have experienced hard times, or simply crave to feel at ease and abundant in the financial realm of your life, it would be a serious strategic error to omit “The Prosperous Heart” from your library.

It should sit side by side on your bookshelf or in your e-book reader with other authoritative titles about organizing, saving and investing your money.

Mastery (Viking Adult, 2014)

MasteryThe topic of mastery, which Merriam-Webster.com defines as “a highly developed skill in or knowledge of something,” has been a hot one since Malcolm Gladwell declared in his 2008 book “Outliers” that the recipe to mastering a subject was to practice it, with dedication, for 10,000 hours.

Of course, that same declaration also rendered the development of mastery a daunting personal pursuit for some.

Others see it as an endeavor to be opened up wide, explored, hacked, gamed, shortcut and fast-tracked by any means necessary, to shorten up that time frame (which many estimate as taking 10 years for the average person to get a devoted 10,000 hours of practice in) and get on with mastering stuff.

Enter, onto the mastery-mastering scene, Robert Greene, the prolific author of deep-diving, meticulously researched, story-and-strategy-laden titles like “The 48 Laws of Power,” “The Art of Seduction” and “The 33 Laws of War” with his latest book titled, simply: “Mastery.”

Greene aptly calls out that mastery is “the ultimate form of power,” and profiles historical masters who have wielded it to influence history and change the world as we know it. “Mastery” is devoted to cracking open and distilling the elements of a single, clear path and process to first mastering a subject, then deploying that mastery into power.

Unlike the scads of writers and bloggers who have focused on short-circuiting the mastery process Gladwell first laid out, Greene’s “Mastery” seeks to expose a deeper flavor of mastery. Greene’s “Mastery” starts with illuminating how masters like Benjamin Franklin, Frank Lloyd Wright and Carl Jung obtained the subject matter knowledge and expertise that was the endgame of Gladwell’s mastery, through devotion, apprenticeship and, eventually, surpassing their mentors.

Then, he surfaces insights into how each of nine modern day masters took that expertise and married it with social intelligence, expertise in related subjects and, ultimately, intuition, deploying what Greene estimates to be more like 20,000 hours of devotion to change their entire fields and the course of history.

“Mastery” is broken into six sections, each of which corresponds with one transformational stage of the path to becoming a true master as demonstrated by the historical story of one of many diverse masters Greene references (showing that mastery transcends all demographics), from African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston to Buckminster Fuller.

Each section introduces the transformation and bio that demonstrates it, provides Greene’s Keys to Mastery at that stage and a set of strategic action points for that point on the timeline of developing mastery. Each section closes out with what Greene calls a “reversal” — a super-short story and set of actions for those who lack the resources or minimums most of us start out with in the stage being discussed, showing and proving Greene’s deep belief that mastery truly is — or can be — for everyone.

The six sections are all both sprawling and deep, engrossing more than entertaining, latent as they are with the promise of inspiring and instructing every reader to become a master, too. Here are the six overarching developmental phases of becoming an uber-master, in Greene’s “Mastery”:

1. Discover your calling. Greene launches the book by attempting (successfully, it would seem) to ignite the passion that he says we all have within. The objective? Cultivating clarity about what we’ve each been placed on this planet to do, the subject we should aim to master. Greene powerfully proclaims that “it’s never too late” to course correct to and master our individual, cosmically proper career paths.

2. Submit to reality. Greene writes, “Before it is too late you must learn the lessons and follow the path established by the greatest masters, past and present, a kind of ideal apprenticeship that transcends all fields. In the process you will master the necessary skills, discipline your mind, and transform yourself into an independent thinking, prepared for the creative challenges on the way to mastery.”

3. Absorb the master’s power. “Choose the mentor who best fits your needs and connects to your life’s task. Once you have internalized their knowledge, you must move on and never remain in their shadow. Your goal is always to surpass your mentors in mastery and brilliance,” instructs Greene.

4. See people as they are. “Often the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us … Social intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly through the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true mastery, and will not last.”

5. Awaken the dimensional mind. Once you’ve reached a certain level of success at mastering your field, Greene explains, “Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit.” Greene then declares, without hesitation: “Such originality will bring you to the heights of power.”

6. Fuse the intuitive with the rational. Greene believes that the logic and intuition are not only not mutually exclusive, but that they work together in the minds of true masters. He explains that “all of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance … This power is what our brains were designed to attain, and we will be naturally led to this type of intelligence if we follow our inclinations to their ultimate ends.”

This book reflects Greene’s own mastery of this unique hybrid genre, something you might call historical biographical personal development. As the holidays and New Year’s approach, with all the opportunities for reflection and repositioning they entail, “Mastery” is a wonderful investment of time for those who want to end next year at a different level than this one.


The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life (New Harvest, 2012)

The 4-Hour ChefI’ve never been a big action movie fan. But I’ve had to make an exception for the latest slew of superhero films. And apparently, I’m not the only one: Christian Bale’s “Batman,” the “Iron Man” franchise, Marvel Comics’ “The Avengers” — this generation of superheroes is fundamentally different than those of years past, and those differences have captivated the world.

I think it boils down to the fact that these 21st-century superheroes are really just humans, humans with intense equipment (Tony Stark), special training (Batman and Natasha Romanov from “The Avengers”), or seriously great manners, morals and stay-put hair (Captain America), but humans, nonetheless.

These heroes are all very flawed and very emotional — that makes us relate to them much more than the superheroes of yesteryear. And their relatability, in turn, causes us to wonder, as we watch them, deep in the backs of our minds: What if we could push the boundaries of our abilities, the boundaries of our possibilities? What could we do? Who could we save? What could we solve?

How could our own lives be different?

Enter Tim Ferriss, with a pretty compelling spectrum of answers to these questions. This is the same Tim Ferriss who condensed a crushing workload into a four-hour workweek with some smart organization and a few offshore personal assistants, so he could travel the world, break some world records and chronicle his adventures for us in his first book.

Yes, the same Tim Ferriss who implanted a glucose meter in his body, then hacked and tracked nearly everything about his health to bring us the time-efficient weight and wellness management programs of his last book, “The 4-Hour Body.”

Ferriss is back, with a new book, “The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life.” And this time, Ferriss aims to show us all, yes, how to cook like we’ve been to culinary school with minimal time and resources. More importantly, though, “The 4-Hour Chef” is Ferriss’ 700-page primer on how to learn to do anything you want to do at a world class level, without the time, money or genes you might think it takes to truly excel at something.

“The 4-Hour Chef” is Ferriss’ magnum opus. True to form, he tracks his own culinary evolution, from his lifelong apathy to cooking anything to hobnobbing with the likes of Alice Waters and replicating Michelin-starred entrees in his hotel bathroom, and shares what he gained along the way: values for whole, fresh and beautifully prepared foods and the hacks that make them feasible for us all.

Google “Tim Ferriss” and “peel eggs” to find the YouTube video that just about summed up his pre-enlightenment cooking skills. He also paints a Technicolor picture of the turn his “digitally depressed” life took after he got cooking, promising readers that “the awareness we build in the kitchen and in related adventures will affect everything. Life itself becomes high-definition.”

But before he even gets to all the food stuff (pun fully intended), Ferriss devotes an exciting, meaty chunk of “The 4-Hour Chef” to the best recipe in the book, the details of the system he’s honed for learning any skill in record time: the system he calls “meta-learning.”

Ferriss surfaces a series of stunning stories of regular, relatable people — himself included — who have quickly skyrocketed from novice to world-class levels of skill at a variety of fields, from shooting three-pointers in a weekend to foreign languages in three months, applying the same speedy meta-learning basics. He tells us about the Japanese YouTube phenom who has achieved near-Phelpsian times despite lacking a swimmer’s build, having a day job and not having learned how to swim until he was almost 40 years old.

Here are the four components of Ferriss’ meta-learning system, which he refers to by the acronym DiSSS:

Deconstruction: “What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?”

Selection: “Which 20 percent of the blocks should I focus on for 80 percent or more of the outcome I want?”

Sequencing: “In what order should I learn the blocks?”

Stakes: “How do I set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee I follow the program?”

Thus starts the 200-page odyssey into meta-learning that Ferriss presents at the outset of the book. Overall, the book is divided into five parts, thoughtfully organized and modularized so that you can smartly choose your own path through the book. It is also designed — as is the meta-learning DiSSS system — to obliterate the most common “failure points,” the things that derail the novice who is trying to become great at learning facts or skills like cooking, fast.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to have learning, skill-building and life-transforming superpowers, “The 4-Hour Chef” is your personal superhero handbook — even if you have zero interest in cooking.

Want more? Tim and I sat down to chat about the book and things like possibility, becoming world-class and “decision fatigue” in more depth. Watch the three-part video interview series on my Facebook page or at RETHINK7.com.