4 Psychological Skills I Stole From Super-Smart People

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Two people can be locked up in the same prison.

One of them can be insanely happy, and the other — is a trainwreck.

This is because while people believe they live in the external world, they don’t. Life is an inside game. You live within. This is why understanding how your own and other people’s minds work and developing a toolkit to navigate the world psychologically is one of the most essential endeavors for a great life.

Here are4 psychological skills I learned from truly smart people:

1: Adam Grant: How to elicit feedback

Eliciting honest feedback from people who’re close to you can be hard. This is because people don’t want to deal with the discomfort of potentially hurting you. Adam Grant has found a great way to deal with this.

He says, that while eliciting feedback, instead of asking, “How is it? Do you have any suggestions?” Ask the person to rate it from 0–10. It’s very likely that no one would give a score of 10. Even if they like you, they might give a score of say, 8 or 9.

And then, you simply ask them, “What can I do to move closer to 10?”

This is great for a couple of reasons:

  • First — often, most people (even you) don’t really want feedback. They just want to share their creation, and when they ask for feedback — they are really looking for words of praise. However, when you take this approach, you force yourself to actually seek feedback. This is great because while praise strokes your ego, feedback helps you improve — and that matters more.
  • Second — most people aren’t comfortable sharing their honest feedback due to fear of hurting you. But when you use this approach, you unconsciously convey, “I won’t be hurt. Tell me how to improve!” This makes it easier for the person to share honest feedback.

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2: Derek Sivers — Skip the action

In his book How to Live, Derek Sivers shares a lot of wisdom.

In one of the chapters, he says that all actions are a pursuit of certain emotions. We think we want to take an action or own a thing. But what we really want is the emotion that that particular action or thing will bring.

For example, someone might buy expensive clothes not for the clothes themselves — but to feel rich. Or they might visit the beach to feel tranquil.

This means that all actions are a means to an end. And since the end emotion is our need — Derek Sivers suggests his readers learn to skip the action and go for the emotion directly. He says that we must practice feeling emotions intentionally without needing actions to precede them.

This would mean:

  • You can practice feeling rich, and then, you won’t have to spend money on expensive clothes.
  • Or, you can practice feeling calm. This would enable you not to be dependent on driving up to a beach every time you feel restless and want to feel tranquility.

Of course, you cannot skip all the actions in this world. However, you can learn to skip most of them. Such minimalism will help you take only the most essential action while being in greater control of your emotions at the same time.

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3: Niklas Göke: Making peace with the infinity

I read every one of Niklas’s newsletters without fail. You should too.

One of his emails titled, “You v/s Infinity” talks about how there’s so much to do in this life. There are more books to read than you ever can. There are more movies to watch than time allows.

This is exactly why we’re never able to reach the bottom of our lists. The minute we tick one item off the list — we add four more in place of it. And hence, these lists instead of helping us live a better life — start to overwhelm us.

Of course, they do. Because that’s the game. As Niklas says, we’re all finite players in an infinite game. That’s why — while it’s healthy to try to maximize your life by trying to absorb as much as you can, it’s futile to try to win against infinity.

That’s why, sooner or later, you must learn to make peace with infinity. After all, it’s a battle you cannot win. Wave the white flag, and go with the flow. Make lists — but use them only when you really need to. You’ll save your sanity.

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4: Marcus Aurelius: Revising the alphabet when you’re angry

Your mind responds to situations with thoughts. The first thoughts that come to you are super fast, and then, slower thoughts follow.

The thing you need to understand is that superfast thoughts are less rational. Here’s why. Whenever speed is a requirement, shortcuts are essential. And hence, to deliver fast thoughts, your mind, too, takes shortcuts.

It considers only very few pieces of information to send out the first thought. And hence, the first few thoughts have got to be less rational unless your fast thinking is trained. Most people act on these thoughts — and that’s why they get into trouble.

However, if you don’t act on these thoughts, slower thoughts will follow. These thoughts take their time to come in — but they come in after your mind has had a chance to consider more factors. This makes slow thoughts more rational.

That’s why, when you’re angry — your initial ideas and thoughts are misconceived. 

When these thoughts lead to actions, trouble is inevitable. That is why Marcus Aurelius trained himself to revise the alphabet before taking any action whenever he got angry. This creates a gap. This gap allows slower and more rational thoughts to flow in — the ones that can and should be converted to action.

Recap: 4 psychological skills I stole from super-smart people

  • Elicit feedback back by asking people to rate your stuff between 0–10. When they say any number other than 10, ask them how you can get closer to 10.
  • Skip the actions you take to chase certain emotions. Practice intentionally feeling the emotions directly.
  • There’s so much to do in this life — it’s you v/s infinity. It’s a war you cannot win. Make peace with it.
  • Count the alphabet before speaking anything whenever you get angry.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.