This was originally published in my free weekly newsletter, How It Actually Works.
This is complicated & I wouldn’t remotely claim to solve it in a single email.
That said, I try to see problems as much as possible from the point of view of “what can I actually do about it?” You can’t, for example, influence how rich your parents are or who their friends are.
But there are huge default barriers you can influence after the fact.
First, it’s easier to do something when you’ve seen someone else do it.
People thought the human body couldn’t run a mile in less than four minutes until Roger Bannister did it in 1954. Once he had shown it was possible, two months later two other runners did it in the same race.
It’s the same with being raised by parents who got rich. You saw what they did, you know it can be done.
On the other hand, if you don’t know anyone who’s gone to college you might not know how that process works or even consider trying.
20 years ago I wouldn’t have much advice here. But today you can look up whoever you want and just straight up ask them “how can I do what you do?”
(Pro tip: don’t talk to famous people, talk to the people one wrung below. Or talk to people who used to be famous but are now out of the limelight. They’ll be easier easier to get in touch with.)
Second, I think everyone has what I call an “internal productivity quota” (IPQ). Your IPQ is the amount of stuff you need to accomplish so you feel happy & productive instead of lazy & depressed.
IPQ levels are different in everyone. They help explain (part of) the reason why people who don’t need money continue to work so hard: they’d feel unproductive if they didn’t.
Like other human behavior I think IPQ’s are a function of nature and nurture.
Humans tend to fall and rise to the average behavior of the people around them. If we spend our time with others who don’t do well in school, don’t have jobs, and watch a lot of TV, our IPQ will adjust down.
We won’t be as productive, but over time that will feel okay because it’s what everyone else is doing.
On the flip side if we’re around friends who wake up at 6 to hit the gym and work a disciplined 12 hour day, our IPQ will slowly adjust up. We’ll feel the difference.
A few years ago I had a call with Noah Kagan (AppSumo, Mint, Facebook) where he told me to “email him in 2 days and tell me you made money”.
I’d started an online business teaching programmers how to do their taxes. But I was kinda stalling and hadn’t actually tried to sell anything to anyone yet. I was just making whatever content, unable to deal with reality.
So Noah’s like “dude, make $1 dollar in the next 48 hours or you just gotta call bullshit on yourself.”
After mentally recovering I told him okay fine. Game on.
Wanting to avoid embarrassing myself in front of someone I respected was like mainlining a shot of Adderall. My was IPQ went up 10x.
I was so focused on one single thing that everything else around me was superfluous.
I ended up sending an email to my email list offering a paid, live webinar and got 5 people to pay me. It wasn’t spectacular, but I made more progress in 48 hours post-Noah Kagan phone call than I had for a long while before.
The point is this: interacting with 1 person motivated me more than all the other people around me, all the blog posts I’d read, the videos I’d watched, everything. Because he was the right person.
Being around the right people will increase your IPQ more than anything else I can think of. Find them, and earn your right to interact with them.
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