Sam Holstein

4 Things You Cannot Be Successful Without Doing

1. Exercise

If you’re trying to be a peak performer in any area of your life and you’re not exercising regularly, you’re not getting the results you could be.

What makes exercise important isn’t that it makes you ripped. People who are ripped and people who are so obese they can’t run and people who are paraplegics can all be successful. What makes exercise important for our purposes is the benefits it has on your mind. Exercise…

I can attest to the power of exercise in my own life. During the weeks when I go to the gym regularly, my body is full of energy and my mind is sharp. During weeks I haven’t been going to the gym, my body is heavy and my mind feels like I’ve lost 15 IQ points.

No matter what your physical abilities you are, whether you can run ten miles or you can barely walk across the house, regular exercise will move you toward your goals (ha ha ha). Move your body until you are spent as often as you can.

2. Reading

In case you haven’t heard, billionaires are big readers. Mark Cuban reads three hours a day and attributes his early career success to reading. Bill Gates reads upwards of fifty books a year, about one book a week, and shares all his book reviews on his website GatesNotes. Warren Buffet reads six hours a day. Buffet thinks reading is so important he includes book recommendations in his investor updates. When billionaires have “fuck off” money, they don’t sit back and finally play all those video games they wanted to; they just keep reading.

Of all the things on this list, this is the one which I do the most regularly. I also think it is the most powerful. I read 82 books last year and 61 so far this year, and it’s transformed my life. It’s been so transformative, in fact, that it’s difficult to do it justice. Reading has given me a wealth of skills relevant for my career: Pinker’s The Sense of Style, Zinssler’s On Writing Well, Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Adler & Doren’s How To Read A Book catapulted my writing to a new level. Books have given me life skills: Matthew’s Thinner, Leaner, Stronger gave me a strong foundation in fitness and Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth taught me about what healthy determination looks like. Books have changed my worldview: Watts’s Become What You AreThe Wisdom of Insecurity, and This Is It challenged everything I thought I knew about existence.

Reading is backed up by science. In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr discusses how long-form reading improves our analytical abilities and reasoning skills. To those who read many articles but not many books, the studies that showed serious benefits from book-reading showed reading shorter articles, especially articles on the internet, do not have the same benefits. My experience supports this research, for reading a book’s worth of articles does not improve my mind the way reading one whole book does.

Most importantly, reading so many books has made me a new person. My mind is so much more advanced than the way I did before. When I remember what my mind was like before I was an avid reader, I remember a mind which is fumbling around like a drunk. It didn’t feel like that at the time, of course. To think I have experienced this change with only two years is boggling. I simply cannot recommend reading enough.

3. Calming Your Mind

If reading is something at which I excel, a daily calming ritual is not. But the experts — and my limited success with a daily calming ritual — agree: you should be doing something to give your mind a rest every day.

Right now, a very popular way to do this is through meditation. Over the last five years, a veritable torrent of studies has been released linking meditation to reduced anxiety, reduced depression, reduced illness, better relationships, a longer lifespan, and pretty much every other positive outcome you could hope for. What’s more, the link between meditation and these positive outcomes is strong, putting it right up there with daily exercise and a healthy diet as “the absolute best thing you can do for your health.”

That being said, many people struggle with meditation. Myself included. It’s taken me the better part of a year just to get comfortable enough with meditation to meditate for five minutes a day. If meditation is too challenging for you, there are a couple of ways you could relax your mind that aren’t so intense, like:

Notice this list doesn’t include anything escapist, like reading a fiction book, watching Netflix or playing video games. This is because the point of this relaxation is to calm your mind, and these activities do the opposite. They immerse your mind in a high-stimulation simulation, a firehose of sensation. It may help you forget about your life, but it doesn’t help your poor mind relax.

4. Daily Practice

Look, here’s the deal: The only way to get better at something is practice. The more you practice, the better you get. LeBron James is the best at basketball not because he was born with the blessings of the basketball gods, but because he practiced his ass off. He practices his skill more by noon than most people do all day. If you want to be as good as LeBron James at what you do, you need to practice as LeBron James does. Which means practicing more by noon than most people do all day.

What separates skilled performance from beginner performance in any discipline is the acquisition of second nature. Tiger Woods isn’t excellent because he knows the most things there are to know about golf, but because he’s trained his body to perform excellently. This is true for intellectual and creative work as well: the most excellent writers don’t just know a lot about how to write, but have consumed so many books and have practiced writing so much that whenever they put their pencil down, good writing comes out as second nature. The way the beginner becomes the pro is by showing up every day and doing the work until the work becomes second nature.

What Was Conspicuously Missing From This List: Marketing

Possibly the most common trap entrepreneurs fall into is that of promoting their startup when they should be working. What makes this trap so common is how seductive the reasoning is: You need market validation. There’s no point working on a product no one wants, right? You need to prove someone wants it before working on it more.

Problem is, people don’t buy products that aren’t excellent. If it isn’t a vast improvement on whatever it is they’re using now, they won’t bother to switch. And invariably, entrepreneurs who fall into this trap have products that don’t rise to this level. Their product just isn’t good enough.

Writers, who are an underrecognized type of entrepreneur, often fall into a similar trap. Churning out articles every day to crickets is demoralizing. To someone who’s in that position, the intuitive thing to do is promote the articles you’re writing so someone, anyone, god please, anyone will read them. When their promotion has barely any effect, they become even more demoralized.

Nothing makes a bad product fail faster than a great advertising campaign.
William Bernbach

The counterintuitive thing new writers should do when faced with unsuccessful articles is write more. The more you write, the higher the chance is that someone will find something you read. The more you write, the higher the chance is that something you write will go viral. And, the more you write, the better you get at writing, which makes people want to read your writing all the more.

Marketing has its place, which is why on most of my articles you’ll see a Call to Action at the bottom inviting readers to join my newsletter. In every industry, there are “marketing basics” you must do in order for people to be able to find you in the first place. But once you’ve fulfilled these basics, what makes the difference between hanging around in mediocrity and gangbuster success is not the scale of your marketing campaign, but the quality of your product. Your reaction to flagging sales should always be to assess the quality of your product first, and assess the competency of your marketing campaign only after you cannot improve your product anymore.

I can’t promise you’ll be successful once you start doing these four things. Becoming Bill Gates takes a lot more than an exercise routine and a reading habit. But I can promise that if you’re having trouble finding success and you’re not doing these things, your performance will go up once you start.