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Despite it's cliche title, this book is solid. It's liberating and inspiring in a get-up-and-do-things now kind of way, but also provides helpful lifelong frameworks for designing your life and viewing the world. Main premise: you have more control than you think you do in determining who you are and who you will be, and things we may consider set in stone (our past, our desires) don't stand up to scrutiny. My favourite learning points: you can get yourself to want anything, so you might as well be intentional about it (people enjoy triathalons fgs); it is your responsibility to set your future self up for as much opportunity, success and joy as possible; and the distinction between primary and secondary emotions for rationalising away your negative feelings.

Actionable takeaways:

  • Every time we remember something we are altering our memory, so to some extent it is impossible to have an accurate or objective (mental) view of the past - this can be a helpful reminder to get over negative memories, or at least to assign to them less importance

  • It's much more valuable to base your identity on the future than the past - in this way, you are likely to actually get where you want to be (with a pinch of salt here in avoiding not enjoying the path there and focusing on goals only) but I think employing this quite generally - putting yourself in situations where you could train/gain skills you know you could need is helpful - your decisions are either intentional or unintentional, but they are decisions - make them wisely

  • The only reason personality is 'set' in your 30s is because this is when most people settle down (no more major changes in friends, university, jobs, family etc) people who don't settle down, continue to change - so you can actually be endlessly more flexible by designing your environment

  • It’s your responsibility to set your future self up for as much opportunity, success, and joy as possible.

  • You more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action - so just start doing things you eventually want to want to do.

  • If we accept that we are very likely to change with what happens to us - there is little place for 'authenticity' and staying true to 'who we are', it's much more helpful to stay true to who you want to be, or someone along the way to there.

  • You can get yourself to want anything (run a triathalon or binge watch tv while eating crisps), so you might as well be intentional in what you get yourself to enjoy.

  • You shouldn't take your primary emotion seriously, and should be mindful of your secondary one. A primary emotion is the 'primal, normal' emotion you feel when something happens - you fail an exam so you feel sad - this is normal, just let it be and move on. A secondary emotion is an emotion you feel because you feel a certain way. You feel angry that you're so sad about doing badly in the exam when you knew you would fail. This is pointless - you shouldn't allow yourself to feel this - you can safely brush away these emotions. So it is a good rule of thumb to classify your emotions (especially negative ones) into primary and secondary and rationalise them - you can become better at doing this and therefore minimise the amount of time you spend in pain/sad and just have a happier life :)

How the successful view life

  • The most successful people in the world base their identity and internal narrative on their future, not their past. For example, Elon Musk often speaks of wanting to live out the end of his life on Mars.

  • Actress Lily Tomlin explained, looking back over her life and career, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realise I should have been more specific.”

  • Over the ten years following, she continuously pursued bigger and more challenging goals, which led to experiences altering her identity, perspective, and purpose. Through her experiences, her expectations were often shattered, causing her to rethink her former views. As she put it, “Often, those who you’d expect the most from give the least and those you expect the least from give the most.”

  • But if you asked those who actually did it, they’d say they are actually quite ordinary, and that the life they created was a matter of choice.

As a human being, it is your responsibility to create yourself through the decisions you make and the environments you choose. And as you’ll find, you have been creating yourself all along, even if unintentionally.

Why the past is unreliable

  • We reinterpret or reconstruct our memory in light of what our mental set is in the present. In this sense, it is more accurate to say the present causes the meaning of the past, than it is to say that the past causes the meaning of the present. . . . Our memories are not “stored” and “objective” entities but living parts of ourselves in the present. This is the reason our present moods and future goals so affect our memories.

  • Just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean the event or experience is “objective.” This can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially for people who insist on the past or specific events being understood a particular way. (When you find out your colleague got a 15% raise you're sadder for your 10% even though nothing changed in that event)

  • If you’re still angry with your parents for your childhood, for example, this speaks more to who you currently are than what actually happened in your childhood.

Looking towards the future

  • The only thing “special” about those who transform themselves and their lives is their view of their own future. They refuse to be defined by the past. They see something different and more meaningful and they never stop fueling that vision.

  • "What’s past is prologue.” That’s a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, uttered by the character Antonio, a power-hungry, manipulative character.

  • Your intended future self should direct your current identity and personality far more than your former self does. Hopefully, your future self will be far wiser and have a far wider range of experiences than your current self. Your future self will have greater opportunities, deeper relationships, and a better view Of themselves and the world.

It’s your responsibility to set your future self up for as much opportunity, success, and joy as possible.

On personality and labels

  • Personality is not stable but changes regardless of whether you’re purposeful about that change or not.

  • Labels can serve goals, but goals should never serve labels. When a goal serves a label, you’ve made the label your ultimate reality, and you’ve created a life to prove or support that label.

  • Psychological flexibility is the skill of being fluid and adaptive, holding your emotions loosely, and moving toward chosen goals or values

  • William James believed that a person’s personality basically became fully formed and fixed by age thirty, because thereafter a person’s life often becomes highly routine and predictable.

On getting things done

Inspiration follows action, not the other way around.
  • In the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport argues that rather than trying to find your passion, you should instead develop rare and valuable skills. Find a need and begin filling it. Once you’ve developed skills and begin seeing success, passion comes as an organic by-product, or an indirect effect. As he writes, “Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”

“You more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”
  • As Newport states, “If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (‘what can the world offer me?’) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (‘what can I offer the world?’).”

  • Waiting for a passionate opportunity to align with your innate personality is equivalent to saying, “There are millions of opportunities for growth out there. But I’m going to wait for the one in a million that exactly fits the narrow experience and perspective I currently have.”

The issue with authenticity

  • It’s instructive that “authenticity” is a highly prized value in modern society. People believe they have an “authentic” self—their “truth”—which is who they should be true to. This self is seen as innate, the “real” them. This line of thinking leads people to saying things like, “I need to be true to myself. I shouldn’t have to deny myself of how I’m feeling. I shouldn’t have to lie to myself. I should be able to do what feels right to me.” Although well-meaning, this thinking reflects a fixed mindset, and often a reaction to trauma or a lack of healthy connection to parents.

I wasn’t being true to myself, I was being true to the self I wanted to become
  • Dr. Stephen Covey once said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.

Life design for success

  • Those who become successful constantly expose themselves to new things. They travel, read books, meet new people. They prize education and learning. They seek to be surprised. They happily shatter their current paradigms for new and better ones—knowing that with better information, they can make more informed decisions. They can set better goals and aims for the themselves. They can have better reasons.

  • Knowledge is key to setting goals. You can’t pursue something you don’t know exists. Exposure is the first source of goals. Whatever you’re pursuing right now is based on what you’ve been exposed to.

You can get yourself to want anything. You might as well be intentional about what you train yourself to want.
Your future self is an acquired taste.
  • Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. —Albert Einstein

  • To decide on your mission, simply look over all of your goals and then ask yourself: Which one of these goals would enable me to become the person I need to be to achieve everything else I want in my life. The answer to that question is your mission. —Hal Elrod

  • Commitment is a statement of what ‘is’. You can know what you’re committed to by your results, not by what you say your commitments are. We are all committed. We are all producing results. The result is proof of a commitment. —Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp

  • As Pearson’s Law states, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates

  • Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it. —Richard Whately

As the British philosopher Alain de Botton said, “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed by who they were twelve months ago isn’t learning enough.”
  • Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer explains, “If there are meaningful choices, there is uncertainty. If there is no choice, there is no uncertainty.”

On trauma

  • Research has shown that individuals suffering from PTSD often score zero on imagination. Imagination is all about mental flexibility—seeing and believing different angles and possibilities.

  • The author Robert Brault said, “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”

  • Dr. Peter Levine, a renowned trauma researcher, said, “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.”

  • The avoidance of that pain can create a lifetime of addiction in attempts to numb oneself to both the pain of the past and the pain of pursuing their desired future self.

  • Dr. Henry Eyring, “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble and you will be right more than half the time.”

A way to rationalise your emotions

  • A secondary emotion is when you feel something about the feeling itself. For example, you may feel anger about being hurt or shame about your anxiety. Secondary emotions increase the intensity of your reactions and can push you into destructive behaviours. Hence, part of becoming psychologically flexible is not to take your primary emotion seriously, and to be mindful of your secondary one.


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