"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
As it goes with the study of exceptional humans that get outstanding results, a constant among them all is the willingness to challenge the status quo and outthink differently.
This is the greatest lesson we can glean from successful individuals. It is the most obvious, yet still, the most under-appreciated and under-utilized.
We are not born to think differently. Just the opposite, in fact, we are born to think like other people around us. This is our natural human biology.
But thinking like other people is a sure-fire way to mediocrities. After all, if you think average, you become average.
So how do you cultivate thinking differently?
This is no easy feat, but it is a skill you can learn.
There are a few things I've noticed over the years that may help.
First, challenge everything that is "common knowledge."
Common knowledge is usually wrong. In some cases, it's ass backward.
The heuristic you should use is this: the more people that believe something, the more likely it is to be wrong, or at least, lacking.
Take anything that society holds true and you'll find cracks.
That's part one of thinking differently.
The second part is challenging everything through rigorous questioning.
Take any idea, principle, theory, even ones most would agree are "truths," and ask lots of questions. Not the theoretical types of questions, but actual questions-seeking-an-answer questions.
You want to get answers. And if those answers seem obvious, if you keep going, you'll eventually hit a point in which they are not so obvious anymore.
This is how you uncover the false dogmas that people hold yet have never questioned their entire lives.
"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."
All nature is in motion.
Humans are no different.
Humans are designed to move often. Today, we sit and lounge and stare at screens for hours on end. This is not natural. It's not productive. It's no wonder we have a 50% obesity rate and millions dying each year from totally preventable modern lifestyle diseases.
The same is true for your goals. If you want to reach your goals, you have to keep moving. Sometimes you'll move sideways or backward, and sometimes you'll zig and zag, but if you keep moving, you'll eventually get somewhere.
The key is to learn as you move rather than just blindly moving for the sake of moving.
No captain puts his ship in the water without a direction and destination. The same is true for your life. Movement is integral to getting to where you want to go. This should be obvious, yet it isn't to most people.
Many people in society today think that simply wanting something will magically manifest it. So all they do is wish, hope, and dream and don't actually do anything.
Unfortunately, those souls will never reach the life they could have. If you don't move, you can't get where you want to go.
And if you move without constant course correction based on where you're trying to go, you'll end up somewhere else.
I know this might seem elementary, even childlike, but what are you doing on the day to day to work towards your goals?
There is research that continually shows most people spend less than 20% of their time on the things that actually matter for the goals they are trying to achieve.
1/5 of your time, probably less, is spent on things that matter. Maybe you think your 8-hour workday is getting you there. In most cases, it isn't. If you're lucky, a small bucket of hours each day is moving you forward.
For most people, it's not even that.
Some strategies for this include goal setting and reverse engineering your goals down to what you'll do each month, week, and day. Less than 1% of people have ever done anything like this. Instead, they wake up and go about their day to day, responding to whatever comes up and have an actual direction in place.
"A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."
There is a saying about science. It goes something like this: scientific progress happens when the current order of scientists die off (leaving room for new scientists with new ideas).
You see, even the scientist, one whom we hold up in our culture as the epitome of truth-seeking, is still a slave to his or her own beliefs.
Scientist or not, it is extremely hard to override our humanness.
To seek breakthroughs in knowledge, you have to do your best to avoid seeing the things you want to see. To be truly objective, to truly detach from your bias, is a superpower, and one most people will never tap into, not even a little bit.
This is why I write so often about self-awareness. It's an integral tool for leveling up every other aspect of life, and I don't believe you can live a truly productive life without a healthy dose of self-aware realism.
The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
Einstein's breakthroughs came after years of curious observation and intense questioning.
His primary breakthroughs came by questioning things considered "truths" at the time by other physicists.
The two assumptions in physics of the time were:
By challenging these to ideas, Einstein was able to think about physics by focusing on time itself. This is how the idea of time being relative that led to his breakthrough in physics.