How to become the best version of yourself: 12 elementary tricks

The unobvious secrets of success from Rohit Bhargava, author of Always Eat Left Handed.

How to take control of your destiny

Lead, not follow someone else

Controlling your destiny, sitting in the backseat, will not be easy. There are times when you are assigned a specific role and there is no way around it. But in many cases you still have some choice to make.

My career in Australia started with just being called in to work on a program for three weeks. But I soon saw the real reason I was hired: the project wasn’t meeting deadlines because of poor management.

In fact, they needed a new project manager. So I took over his job without waiting to be asked. A week later I officially got the job.

Sometimes the chance to become a leader is not given to us by someone from above, but goes to the one who took the initiative.

Don’t be ashamed of your strange habits

We are taught in school that distractions and fidgeting are bad. Many children are given special medication to help them behave more calmly and fidget less at school. However, outside of the classroom, strange compulsive movements can actually serve an important purpose.

Stop being self-conscious about your habits. Maybe fiddling with a pen or twitching your leg (or annoying everyone else around you with some other incessant gesture) is somehow helping you to focus.

So get yourself a little toy like an anti-stress cube, or start drawing pictures during phone conferences, or find some other way to support the habit instead of trying to force it down with willpower or medication. It’s your creative energy that gives it away, and knowing how to channel it bodes well for you.

Go away

A few years ago, the BBC produced a documentary about the inhumane working conditions in China’s many factories where iPhones and iPads are assembled for Apple. The program described the excessively long working hours of the workers, their uncomfortable living conditions, and their demanding bosses.

But what struck me most was when one worker talked about the overwhelming sense of hopelessness that comes from working on an assembly line for 14 hours a day, six days a week, in the same sort of automatic mode. His lack of free will destroyed his will to live and even led him to consider suicide.

Most of us, fortunately, have never found ourselves in such circumstances. But sometimes we too get the feeling that our professional and personal life is an endless race in a circle. If this feeling lingers, remember that you have an opportunity that most desperate Chinese workers don’t have. You can quit and do something else.

How to acquire new knowledge

Ask more questions.

One of the greatest joys of fatherhood for me is hearing a lot of questions from my children on topics ranging from why they speak Portuguese in Brazil to why there are no seat belts on motorcycles. Unfortunately, I get far fewer questions from my students at university.

As we get older, we are less and less curious, and there are many reasons for that.

Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll look stupid. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that when the right time comes, the information will appear on its own (or at least be found on Google). And sometimes we don’t realize we don’t know something ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step in acquiring knowledge is to consciously ask questions about topics you don’t know. And the inseparable second step is to listen to the answers.

Buy unfamiliar magazines.

A few years ago, while traveling in South Africa, I picked up a magazine called Farmer’s Weekly aimed at farmers to read. One of the articles in it dealt with what the author called “the Amish paradox,” namely, their practice of crop rotation and rejection of chemical fertilizers designed to make commercial farm vegetables and fruits grow larger in less time.

The Amish, on the other hand, grow smaller produce over a longer period of time and purposely rotate crops so as not to deplete the soil. As a result, their land stays fertile longer.

Although I have nothing to do with agriculture myself, I took one more general idea from this article: sometimes you have to give up quick gains to achieve a farther goal…and the source of this reasoning came from a magazine that most readers would find useless to anyone who doesn’t work the land.

Sit on the couch more.

Self-development books will never advise you to spend more time on the couch. But these days, you can really access a huge archive of knowledge from the comfort of your couch: great documentaries, podcasts, TED presentations, and all sorts of videos on any topic (how to clean a pomegranate!) on YouTube are available to you.

So sit on the couch for your own pleasure and feel free to stretch those moments out… But only as long as they are good for your brain.

And if it ends up in a binge watching long-running seasons of soap operas, you should stop sitting on the couch. Forget that advice, get up and do something else. Right now.

How to be more honest

Reveal the unexpected truth.

There is a truth we expect to hear. You can’t lie about the education you received or where the product you sell was manufactured. But we don’t usually expect people to start telling us the truth on their own initiative. Especially if they offer us something for money.

For example, we don’t expect the mechanic to tell us how much of the money he’s actually putting in his pocket from the money he took from us. But what if he did? Such frankness would make him stand out and serve as a perfect example of how helpful it is to tell the truth before you are forced to do so.

If you have the courage to share what your competitors or colleagues prefer to hide, you can memorize people with your casual candor.

Do what you promised

When we talk to other people, we all promise them something. We say that we will introduce them to someone. We assure them that we will certainly get back to the matter with which they have asked for our help. We guarantee that we will meet one deadline or another. Honesty requires that we keep our promises. And that goes for even the tiniest of promises.

When I offer to introduce someone to someone, I always do. When I promise to remember for someone the title of a great book that came up in conversation, I make sure to send that person a message soon after with its title and a link to an online store where they can buy it.

The point is that the habit of bringing the conversation to a point makes you take responsibility for your words on any other occasions as well. And to hone this skill to full automatism under everyone’s power.

Sign your name

When I give my students the task of writing an essay, I, unlike many other teachers, never assign a minimum length. I simply ask them to prepare a well-thought-out and well-formulated text on a given topic, and they are free to determine its length. If they are able to make a compelling and interesting point about the topic of the week in a single sentence, I am only too happy.

However, I have another requirement: I insist that each student sign his or her essay and post it on our course blog. This implies complete transparency: that way all other students can read it, and I will publicly award it a grade of 1 to 5 in the comments to the post.

I do this in order to turn to my advantage one of the main rules of the Internet: everything you put online affects your reputation. By signing an essay with their name, students take full responsibility for the quality of the published work. And it tends to make them put more effort into its creation.

I still hope that some of them will be able to present a perfectly calibrated judgment in a single sentence. But so far, no one has succeeded.

How to get your own point of view

Learn to separate opinions from the facts

All of us have always found it difficult to separate what we think from what we can objectively prove. The media we use can be biased. The public’s trust in them can lead to the wrong conclusions and allow anyone to prove any claim they want, simply by twisting the “facts” so that they speak in their favor. And if we add to this the epidemic of fake news on the Web, we get “a perfect storm behind which it is difficult to see the truth.

But this information environment, where news is replicated 24 hours, seven days a week, has its perks. You can always get your hands on verified facts if you set out to form your own opinion based on a critical comparison of different sources.

Don’t be a moron.

If liberal arts colleges guarantee anything to their students, it’s that they teach them how to think. You don’t have to have a college degree to learn how to think, though (although the self-discipline required to earn a degree can already be a valuable skill in and of itself). It requires having enough confidence to form one’s own point of view and asking as many questions as possible to make it justifiable.

To be a moron is to persist in one’s belief despite a lack of facts and evidence and an inability to argue one’s position.

If I were to speak ill of the taste of cauliflower and claim to hate it, but never once tasted it…I would be that chump. Ignoring objective information and insisting on something simply because you feel like it, with no evidence or personal experience, is stupid. You can and should be smarter than that.

Take an unpopular position.

One of the characteristics of the sycophant is to blindly agree with everything the boss says. However, psychologists studying human behavior have found that it is natural for all of us to agree with the opinion of a large group of people. Psychologists call this the “spiral of silence,” in which group members, for fear of being isolated, begin to lean toward the opinion of the active majority.

The best way to overcome this effect is to deliberately take an unpopular position from time to time to create conditions for yourself in which you will have to defend it desperately.

This little trick, which can make your environment terribly angry, does wonders for developing a strong point of view, because it forces you to think about other people’s opinions and see the world through the eyes of someone whose beliefs differ from yours.