As much as I love self-improvement and sharing it with others, I always pepper my insights with caveats. Nothing is straightforward. Every important truth is a paradox.
If you want to be successful, you need to be comfortable with holding contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time.
Most people can’t do this. They crave binary, black and white, either-or thinking. Either you’re on their team or not, agree with them or you’re stupid and evil, toe the line or get ostracized.
Well, you don’t need me to tell you how dumb this is because you already know. Even the people who do it, even if you do it, deep down, you know.
Deep down, you know the paradoxical truths that lead to living a successful life, but how do you bring yourself to act on the information?
I use the same process over and over to level up my mindset:
- Brainwash yourself to undo your binary societal programming. This means reading, studying alternative media sources, watching videos, whatever you gotta do
- Implement. Unless you test the theories you learn in self-improvement, none of the lessons will have an impact on you. Agree or disagree with a piece of advice? Go and see for yourself.
- Constantly question your thoughts and results; iterate. You should never be quite sure you’re 100 percent right. It makes no sense to guarantee anything in a world with so many variables. Attempt to be less wrong, not right.
Using this process, especially when it comes to the paradoxes of life I’m going to share with you, can and likely will lead to a better life.
Let’s dive in.
Use These Extreme and Opposite Personality Traits
“[On what makes people successful] The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done isn’t good enough. The third is impulse control.” — Sam Ovens.
You need a delusional level of optimism to counteract all of the negativity, limiting beliefs, and social programming that permeates society.
The masses aren’t at fault. Honestly, the inevitable outcome of decades of brainwashing, political psyops and institutional mass conditioning based on perverse incentives is the vast majority of people living well below their potential and infecting you with that energy on accident.
Said better: don’t be mad at society, don’t look at other inherently worthy people as sheep, just understand what’s going on and prepare your mental defences against it.
If mediocrity is the norm, you have to think of yourself as exceptional.
You have to be audacious and borderline arrogant to believe that, somehow, little old you is going to be the one to break out of the system and live life on your own terms. You need balls, courage, moxie, a chip on your shoulder, whatever you need to navigate that minefield of achieving your purpose.
Then, at the same time, you should think of yourself as a worm loser nobody that has a ton of work to do in order to get better. See, most people do get the first part right… kind of.
We all have fantasies about being our super self-actualized self. We are arrogant. Even if we never do anything with our daydreams, we have them all the time and fancy ourselves better than the average person.
But, to be successful, you must escape “Potentialville.”
When you try to develop a skill, you’ll be confronted with feedback about how much you suck at it. It takes humility to admit you don’t know all that much and need to get better. It takes real courage to take genuine criticism and use it to improve.
There is a healthy form of self-doubt. This form pushes you to get better for the sake of getting better instead of egotistical reasons.
Your Purpose Means Everything and Nothing At the Same Time
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” — Alan Watts
On one hand, in the eyes of the universe, you’re already dead. Nothingmatters.
You shouldn’t care about success at all because success is just a figment of your imagination that mostly serves your ego and causes pain when you don’t get what you want.
All of these statements are…half true.
On the other hand, your life should matter to you — a ton. You only get one. As vast as the universe is, you look at yourself as the centre of it, and you will feel the triumph or regret of the path you choose before you die.
So what’s the answer? Detachment.
You can work extremely hard on developing skills, a career, a business, relationships, the perfect body, whatever it is that you want, without taking yourself all that seriously in the process.
Most people make the mistake of taking their life seriously and living below their potential — what a tragic combo.
I live life like a game that I’m trying to win, but I remember that it’s just a game. Because nothing matters, I treat life like everything matters.
The Counterintuitive Reason You’re Not Successful
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” — Viktor Frankl
If you want a cat to come by you, don’t try to pet it right away. Ignore it and it will come to you.
If you want someone to like you, don’t immediately smother them with attention and show all your cards. Be coy and flirty. Show a little bit of interest, but not a ton upfront.
If you want to be successful, don’t focus so much on being successful, but rather work on yourself and your craft until you attract success.
A company in France just reached out to me. They want to transcribe my articles, record them on audio, and pay me for however many people listen to the articles.
I replied “Sure, as long as I literally don’t have to do anything. I’m in.” Publications I used to die to write for now ask me to republish my work — again without any additional effort. I only do freelance gigs if someone reaches out to me.
People reach out to me all the time asking if they can pay me to be their coach. What used to be an amazing rate for my time is now a rate I wouldn’t dare consider. I turn money down in a landscape where most aspiring creators are clawing and itching to make pennies.
Why? I focused first and foremost on becoming a better writer. I saw the cat in the corner of my eye — audience, fans, opportunities — and I knew it would come to me if I just focused on myself and my craft.
In your desperation for results, you don’t spend enough time working.
I see all of these writers who desperately want success, but they don’t write all that much. They’re needy. Neediness repels success, people, it repels freakin’ everything.
I promise if you just kind of keep your head down and work on projects that matter, you’ll get what you want.
How to Get Wealthy
“When you are young, work to learn, not to earn.” — Robert Kiyosaki
Middle-class people, the group who most often claims they “don’t care about money,” care about money the absolute most. They think of everything in linear terms — work x hours and make y dollars.
People who want wealth will forgo immediate gratification in the form of money to make a killing down the road.
Perfect example: I remember once listening to a presentation in college from someone who owned a financial planning franchise. In the beginning, he made less than minimum wage for his time — scratching and clawing to learn the business and get clients. Now? He makes a killing for the same level of effort as he used to put in at the start.
If you want to be wealthy, stop thinking linearly and start thinking exponentially. To get a bunch of money, stop caring about money.
Get profitable skills.
In years four to five of my writing career, I’ve made more money than years one to four combined and multiplied by five. Had I focused on the money initially, I would’ve quit because the ROI on my labour was extremely low. But I knew that once I could spin these words just right, the money would come.
This is a corollary of the point above. Middle-class people are thirsty, desperate, and needy for money. They have these traits because they’ve crafted a lifestyle predicated on constantly needing income — student loan debt, credit cards, car note, over-leveraged on their home. These people who “don’t care about money” are leveraged to the gills. Not good.
Play wealth games. Learn profitable skills, earn money, and learn how to turn money into even more money. Why? Because money buys freedom. You want the freedom itself, not the shekels.
Why You Should Do Things the Hard Way
“Short cuts make long delays.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
Cutting corners creates all of these negative subconscious mental maps that make it even harder to succeed:
- Each time you try to cut a corner, you add another point to the “I don’t trust myself” column
- When you inevitably make costly mistakes, you have to spend time cleaning up those mistakes, which takes more time in totality than if you would’ve just done things right the first time
- You increase your level of competition. Most people are in a race to the middle or bottom. Why run the race that 99% of people are running? It’s counterintuitively much easier to try and be super successful because almost no one tries.
If you do things “the hard way” and avoid taking shortcuts, the overall journey takes less time and it’s smoother.
Keep searching for the secret to success if you want, but there is no secret. Every minute you waste on a get rich quick scheme is a minute you could’ve spent developing the skills to actually become rich. There is no better substitute for doing the work.
People ask me how I learned to write at such a prolific pace.
I tell them the same thing — I wrote every day for five years straight. People don’t want to hear that, but I’m not in the business of telling people what they want to hear.
I’m in the business of telling you what you need to know.
The “need to know” truths hurt short term, but they’re the key to long-term success.
Ayodeji is the author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement.