When I think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why? (2020)

“On hearing of the interesting events which have happened in the course of a man’s experience, many people will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too, completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they possess when he describes them; to a man of genius they were interesting adventures”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

This question was originally pulled from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans and I thought it would be fun to answer it for myself. However, instead of just naming one person and analyzing that answer I wrote a list down. Partially because Tim Ferriss was the first name that came up, and I’m pretty sure it priming has something to do with that. Partially because I like reflecting on people that I admire.

When I think of the word successful when it comes to people many different kinds of people come to mind. Honestly, I could go on all day writing people’s names down. I originally was just doing to write 1, then I said I’ll just do 5, but I’ve managed to stop myself at 15.

Successful to me at least

They are all kind of random, but I think the aspects that I admire of each of these people’s lives are an indication of what success looks like for me.

From what I can tell, I believe each of these people are successful because of a few reasons:

They’re known as people who have made a positive influence in the world.

That positive influence was brought out in a way that can out live them and will exist long after they die.

They’re all financially well off.

They all took the attention people gave them and created something incredible out of it.

They all have a certain kind of freedom that I don’t quite have the words to explain. (It’s now my job to figure that out.)

They all have embraced the miracle that life is and live in a way that does it justice.

I could go A LOT deeper with these ideas and perhaps someday I ought to, but I’ll leave that here for now. I didn’t have as much time to write this week, and I spent most of my allocated writing time to research for a behemoth of a blog post I’m working on.

In the future, I think it would be fun to make a list of people who are considered conventionally successful, but for one reason or another I personally don’t consider them successful. Comparing what this second group has in common will give me a clearer picture of what unsuccessful will look like for me.

Defining success for ourselves is crucial for our mental health. The higher the level of articulation, the less we find ourselves needlessly suffering on a hedonic treadmill or chasing phantom pleasures. We can level up our articulation through analyzing our personalities and inclinations as well. Discovering what we are and what we like helps us recognize success if we are fortunate enough to meet her.

The Power of Failure

“There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”

Robert Greene (1959 – )

Failing is one of my favorite things to do. My students always think I’m crazy for believing this. I haven’t always had a great relationship with failure and still to this day there are times when I wish she was never around, but failure is our most honest teacher and a natural part of learning.

Somewhere along the way, humans decided that failing is bad and wrong. We teach our youth to avoid failure at all costs, that failure is the antithesis of success, or failure makes you feel terrible and that is why we should avoid it!

All of that is hot garbage.

Failure is honest. Failure is accurate. Failure teaches us lessons that we are less likely to forget. Failure is power.

When my students attempt active recall questions, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena – when they miss things they are less likely to miss a similar type of question later. I’ve even found this true for myself too. When I was studying for the MCAT, I would do practice questions with multiple parts. I had an easier time remembering the parts I got wrong and the parts I initially got right, I ended up getting wrong later! It’s almost like I needed to fail to remember.

I’ve read somewhere (I’ve spent days trying to find the source but alas, I failed) that people are 7 times more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive stimuli. Which makes sense because we tend to remember our critiques more than our praises. But that had me thinking-

Why are we more sensitive to negativity than positivity?

I believe it’s an evolutionary process. We are walking through unknown territory and we experience something negative, we learn quickly to adapt and survive. Whereas, if we experience something positive, the stakes aren’t as high so we don’t learn as fast.

Failure feelings like a threat. Like a real threat. To our brains, failing our self administered tasks is like having our hand touch a hot stove. We learn quickly not to do that thing anymore.

“Failure had better be an option, because whether or not you consider it an option, it’s going to happen! If you go through life with the philosophy that “failure is not an option,” then you’ll never have any good opportunities to learn.”

Jeff Olson (1958 – )

When we fail at something, the probability that we will fail in the same way is pretty small. So in a sense, everytime we fail we get better. We learn what not to do, which is a lot more useful than we like to acknowledge.

What excellent feat has occurred without failure? When we watch professionals play sports or politicians give speeches, we don’t see the hours of failure that have happened in the background. Just because we see the shiny finished product, doesn’t mean that they were always that way. In fact, if you ask them, I’m sure every single successful person will tell you that they have failed more times than they succeeded.

The Unveiling

“Mistakes and failures are precisely your means of education. They tell you about your own inadequacies. It is hard to find out such things from people, as they are often political with their praise and criticisms. Your failures also permit you to see the flaws of your ideas, which are only revealed in the execution of them.”

Robert Greene (1959 – )

I believe desirable progress is based off two things:

  1. Identifying what needs to improve.
  2. Acquiring the skills or knowledge required to improve.

Failing reveals to us exactly what needs to get better. The rest is education and deliberate practice. Failing is half the battle. Whenever we’re learning something new, we fail in all sorts of ways, but how we fail is an insight into how we succeed. It’s like trying to complete a maze; it’s not very likely that we are going to get to the exit without hitting a dead end. Once we hit the dead end, we try a different route, and if we hit another dead end we try another route until we reach the exit. We cannot discover what to do without discovering what not to do.

“Would you like me to give you the formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.… You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure—or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success. On the other side of failure.”

Thomas Watson (1874 – 1956)

In order to accept failure gracefully and learn as much as we can, we must detach our identities from our successes or failures. When we fail, we are not failures, we simply did not take the actions necessary for the desired outcome to manifest. By the same token, when we succeed, we are not successes, we simply took the actions necessary for the desired outcomes to come into being. Failure and success is simply the difference between executing necessary actions and not executing necessary actions.

Our failures are stepping stones to mastery and temporary defeats.

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

Napoleon Hill (1883 – 1970)

Defeat is not realized until we stop getting up. We decide when we are defeated, no one else does. Whenever I’ve failed in the past, I can always find an exact moment when I admitted defeat. There is always a singular moment in time when I decide that I had enough of whatever challenge is in front of me. When I admit defeat, I stop learning because I stop finding my inadequacies. Failure is what shines the light on what needs to be improved.

Circumambulation

“I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self. Uniform development exists, at most, at the beginning; later, everything points toward the centre. This insight gave me stability, and gradually my inner peace returned.”

Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)

Circumambulation – the act of moving around an idol – in this case the idol is our maximally developed selves, also known as the Jungian conception of the self. The Self is different for each person, which makes sense to me because no one has the same genetic make up. It’s almost like The Self is a metaphysical representation of our biological dispositions.

I find the idea of circumambulation to be pivotal in understanding the power of failure. Circumambulation of the self is the idea that all of the smaller skills we develop ourselves in is actually apart of a bigger, centrifugal development. Each of these skills is obtained by traveling, so to speak, to all of the far corners of our minds. The Self is our maximally developed selves potentialized in the future and circumambulation is our journey of manifesting this self into actuality.

It’s kind of like this – we develop a bunch of smaller skills, and at first this feels like a linear progression, but as we go through life we start to see the skills pointing towards an ideal.

Circumambulation of The Self – Christopher S. Mukiibi (2019)

Learning about circumambulation freed me up in so many different ways because I was worried that I had too many different interests and developing myself in too many different things will prevent me from manifesting my Jungian Self. The best example of this was when I was repressing my love for music because I felt like it didn’t fit with the skills I needed for medicine. Now that I see it is the culmination of all of these skills that will bring about my best self, I feel free to pursue all of my interests wholeheartedly.

Jordan Peterson beautifully outlines the circumambulation of the self and how it relates to failure in the video below.

Jordan Peterson always says the fool is the precursor to the hero and I believe that makes a lot of sense because the one who is willing to make mistakes ends up learning the most, and learning is what’s necessary to save everyone from the malevolent forces of chaos. We see it all the time in movies. The main character is usually seriously flawed but grows over time and that’s where the richness of the story lies. Ash is the worst Pokemon training of all time, but that’s what gives the story room to breathe. The same case is true with us – we are flawed beings, but our admission of our flaws and the strive to improve these imperfections is what embodies our life with meaning.

Robert Greene also references circumambulation in his book, Mastery, but not explicitly. Robert talks about all children having inclinations. These inclinations are strong unexplainable interests that a child develops early on in life. As they get older, they tend to ignore these inclinations and pretend like they aren’t important. Greene suggests adults to do deep reflection to revivify that lost child within them and lean into their inclinations for that is where people will find the skills necessary to be their best. I believe the skills we need to manifest the Jungian Self are found in developing our inclinations.

When we try something new, we are usually very bad at it, but over time we get better. At first it may seem like these things are disconnected by as long as we are developing our inclinations (as defined by Greene) then we will see that all of our development aims towards a central ideal.

Course Correction

“Knock me down nine times but I get up ten, bitch.”

Cardi B (1992 – )

As mentioned earlier, we are only defeated once we stay down but sometimes our failures may throw us off course. Sometimes when we’re knocked down, it takes some time to reorient ourselves again. When we fail, we have to take stock of where we are in relation to our goals. We can’t simply get back up and start moving again. We want to get back up, get back on the right path, then start moving again. We have to consider course correction when we fail. We did not succeed for a reason and it’s important to figure out why and how we move forward without experiencing that specific failure again.

The power of course correction is really laid out in the Apollo mission to the moon-

“On its way to landing astronauts safely on the surface of the moon, the miracle of modern engineering that was an Apollo rocket was actually on course only 2 to 3 percent of the time. Which means that for at least 97 percent of the time it took to get from the Earth to the moon, it was off course. In a journey of nearly a quarter of a million miles, the vehicle was actually on track for only 7,500 miles. Or to put it another way, for every half-hour the ship was in flight, it was on course for less than one minute. And it reached the moon—safely—and returned to tell the tale.”

Jeff Olson (1958 – )

Most of the time the rocket was off course, but that didn’t matter because they still made it to their destination with continuous course correction. It doesn’t matter how often we fail, as long as we are constantly trying to get back on track. The astronauts on the Apollo rocket didn’t think “Oh no we’re off course now! It’s too late! It’s all screwed up! I can’t believe we let this get off course! Let’s just quit!” They simply acknowledged the failure and readjusted their actions accordingly and by doing that enough, they ended up on the moon!

We can see the same thing happen with sports too! Kobe Bryant had a terrible first season of basketball. When he first started, Kobe was horrendous but after he failed he took a step back and figured out exactly what he needed to work on to get his game better. He course corrected and developed The Mamba Mentality, which I think is one of the most powerful perspectives to take on.

Failure doesn’t have to be something that we desperately try to avoid. It teaches us what we need to improve and offers us opportunity to grow. Coupled with ideas like the Circumambulation of the Self and Course Correction, failure can be seen as an exciting phenomena of life. Many of my students think I’m insane for loving failure, but am I really?

What are my morning rituals? What do the first 60 minutes of my day look like?

“Who is going to make sure your life plays out just as you plan it?”

Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)

This question was originally pulled from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans and I thought it would be fun to answer it for myself.

For a long time after college, I had trouble setting up a morning routine that made me feel like I could own the day (as cheesy as that sounds). I completely rejected the idea that I needed a morning routine to work at a high level. I foolishly thought that “if I just maximized my time during the day,” then I could still produce the results I wanted. But I was still stuck with the same questions:

When I performed well, what was I doing that allowed me to be a high performer?

What can I do to accomplish what I want?

How can do I get excited about life?

After reflecting on the most accomplished times in my life, I noticed one thing these times had in common: I had a routine, or rituals, that focused on my aims. I performed the best when I had both morning and night routines, but sometimes I just had morning routines or just had night routines. I’m able to perform well and achieve what I want with excitement through implementing a routine that allowed me to rack up easy wins early in the day so I can bring that momentum into the rest of my life.

My morning rituals are a large part of how I am able to accomplish what I want. When I’m in my routine, my body feels like it’s getting a signal to prepare for war, so to speak. When I successfully complete my morning routine, I feel:

Morning Rituals

Use the bathroom

Needing to go to the toilet is usually what wakes me up in the morning, usually around 6 am to 7 am (TMI? idc). After I use the toilet, I proceed to wash my hands, brush my teeth, and judge myself harshly when I walk by the mirror.

Greet my dog

I love greeting my dog, Aries Targaryen, he’s always so excited to see me and he’s a beautiful reminder that it is genuinely exciting that we’re both here for another day. If you have a dog, I highly recommend spending a few minutes with them in the morning trying to empathize with their excitement. I like to think that Aries is thinking: “I’m alive! You’re alive! This is great!”

Make my bed

This is when I finally start my wins for the day. Making my bed helps me start my day off accomplishing something. A small win is still a win. It also cleans up my room a little bit, which helps keep my life in order. My favorite part though, is coming back home to a well made bed ready to crash in after a long day of work.

Take my supplements

This is a ritual that gets intentionally left out every once in a while. I don’t want my body to develop negative feedback loops from the supplements I take, so I break at least once a month for 4-5 days. In the morning, I take Vitamin D for my Vitamin D deficiency, Cod Liver Oil for omega-3 fatty acids, L-glutamine to prevent muscle soreness, and Iron because I’m anemic.

Turn on Music

I like to make playlists for different moods and in the morning I like to put on my EDM or my intense hip-hop playlist to get me pumped for the day. Sometimes I like to play some instrumentals that I produced if I’m in the middle of a musical project. It makes working out so much easier. Especially now that I don’t listen to music as much as I used to, working out is a fantastic excuse to enjoy some good music.

Stretch

Nothing too crazy here, I just want to give my muscles a break from being immobile for the last 7-8 hours. I just get on my yoga mat (which is already laid out) and stretch the muscles I feel like I need to. When I first started this, I started with simple at-home yoga videos to get an idea of which stretches would work best for specific muscle groups. Nowadays, I just stretch wherever feels tight.

Two leg bridge progression

This is the first “work-out” that I do in the morning. For me, it’s a great way to ease myself into the rest of my routine. Right now, I’m doing about 20 of these to wake me up a little bit. I like to spend this time (and all other exercise time too) aligning my breathing with the movements. I find it an excellent practice in meditation and it helps get me through the tough portions of the workouts.

Flying dogs, 1 set on each side

These are a little more intense than the two legged glute activation. For me, it’s a little more intense than the glute activation but less intense than the crunches or the kettlebell swings. I usually feel my muscles waking up at this point.

Myotonic crunches

These are the best ab workouts, according to Tim Ferriss, and I would have to agree with him. By the time I hit 20 of these, I feel my pseudo-abs busting through my gut. I usually my exercise ball right next to my matt so there’s little to no friction between steps.

Kettlebell swings

This is great not only because I get a good work out in, but I do this while looking at whiteboard which has my daily goals and monthly themes. I love this because while I prime my body for the day, I am also priming my mind. I get aligned with what I want to accomplish. Compounding effectiveness. 😍I’m always trying to get as much as I can out of every little thing I do.

My girlfriend says I could accidentally link stress with my goals, but I think it’s the opposite. The workout forces me to be present, and while I’m present – I’m able to clearly see what I want to accomplish today. My goals are usually written the night before, so I know that my goals are coming from the part of me that wants to tomorrow to be better.

Make and eat breakfast

3 eggs and black tea while looking at my calendar. I like to keep my breakfasts light and protein heavy so I’m light on my feet for the first part of the day. I’m usually most energized between the hours of 10 am -1 pm. So I want to make sure I’m not held back by my mortal enemy – the food coma. My light keto-ish friendly breakfast ensures our paths don’t cross.

Change clothes

This is when I finally “get ready” for the day. If I stay in the same clothes that I slept in, I’m a lot less productive. Comfort is the enemy of my productivity. Being in my “day clothes” puts me in a different mode than my sleepwear.

This process looks a lot longer in writing than it actually is. The entire ritual takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, if I’m taking my sweet time (which I prefer). If I’m in a little bit of a rush, because life happens, then I could cut this down to 20-30 minutes.

Completing this routine in its entirety can almost guarantee that I end up completing what I want for the day. At the very least, it ensures emotional stability and self regulation. I find it so much easier to stay on track when I’ve completed my ritual. To be honest, I usually complete this routine about 40% of the time, but I always hit 1 every day. It’s nice starting the day out with a win but it’s even better to start the day off with a streak of wins. I noticed that completing one ritual makes me want to complete another and once the morning routine is over, I’m excited and driven to take on my goals for the day.

I used to think morning rituals and routines were total bullshit, but they’re a cheap free and powerful tool that can give you an extra boost to make meaningful moves and drastically improve the quality of your life. I highly recommend taking the time to design a morning routine that works best for you. The benefits are too worth it. Architecting a morning routine is a creative process and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone to design a little bit of their lives.

One big take away I learn from morning routines, is that it doesn’t necessarily matter what you choose to do in the morning. All that matters is training your mind and mastering yourself. A morning routine helps create momentum to make achieving easier but the ultimate goal is total mastery of the mind.

Reality-Possibility Exchange

“You can be anything you want, just not everything you want.”

David Allen (1945 – )

When we are young, a great part of our excitement comes from the idea that we can be anything we want. Our lives are huge amounts of potential just waiting to manifest into something real. Children get a rush from the idea of becoming astronauts, doctors, firemen, teachers, mermaids, and superheroes when they grow up but as we get older we realize that we may not get to be all of these things. At some point, we have to trade out our ability to be anything for something finite. I believe this is one of the biggest markers between children and adults. Adults inherently have less potential to manifest than children and it drains them of their energy. This is why kids seems so full of life and adults are a little more dreary. We are in love with the idea of potential and possibility. It is the lifeblood of our souls. But at some point we have to make the Reality-Possibility Exchange.

The Reality-Possibility Exchange is not something that comes across us one day. It is something that we have to actively bring about in order to make anything of serious significance. We must decide to trade our possibility with reality and this tends to be a painful process.

We are in love with what could be and the realities of what is usually fails in comparison to the potential we see in things.

Making this exchange is not something we like to do but it is something that must be done in order to create. Initially the project will be way under satisfactory standards, but over time with great care, the project can turn into something that far exceeds the imagination.

It is okay to do something badly at first and improve it later. This took me years of making literally insane mistakes to learn. I would get so upset that pure genius wasn’t flowing from my fingertips at every moment. How arrogant.

Making this exchange is different than being unsatisfied with our work. It is more of a practice of humility and a way to take pride in the things that end up becoming reality.

The Dangers of Not Exchanging

If we refuse to make this exchange we will find ourselves in a few different situations:

  • We will be surrounded by a million ideas that we started but never came to fruition
  • We will be immensely unsatisfied with our ideas that have manifested into the world
  • We will find ourselves paralyzed from our delusions of believing that whatever we produce must be perfect, resulting in nothing at all
  • We will easily be stopped in the pursuit of our goals or during a hiccup in the creative process

“You can have your cake and eat it too. Just not at the same time.”

Jordan Peterson explains the idea pretty well with his analysis of Peter Pan. Peter Pan is confronted with the opportunity to make the exchange and could be a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t.

Not wanting to trade our possibility for reality can really stop us from accomplishing so many things.

It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we are only holding on to our possibility by not dedicating ourselves to something but in actuality we are trading our potential for failure.

We must make the trade, its way better to decide what we are trading rather than be a drifter and take whatever life gives us.