Success isn’t complicated.
All you need is a formula to follow. I collect formulas as part of my growing collection of mental models. I’m not that smart though. This trick came from studying high performers to see what cheat codes they use to produce extraordinary results. Here are two.
Youtube is child’s play
Success online has replaced the typical childhood dream of going to space. Kids nowadays just want to shoot videos with their parent’s phones and put them on Youtube or TikTok.
Ali Abdaal is a medical doctor who had that dream. Now he has more than 400+ published videos and 2.2 million Youtube subscribers. Not bad. This is his advice.
I knew the formula for YouTube success involved making decent videos and making them constantly (i.e. 1 video/week for 2+ years).” — Ali Abdaal
When you think of a life goal in simple terms that are based on patience, it’s easy to know what to do. The strategy for success is nothing more than:
- What will you create?
- How many times a week,
- For how many years?
My own content creator journey is similar. My current formula is 8 articles a week for the next 10 years. Formulas make the future crystal clear. The only unknown is how big your success will be when you follow the formula.
The Waitzkin paradox
Writer George Mack studied Josh Waitzkin. Josh’s life became the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. As a child Josh stunned the chess world when he won the US championships for chess.
A few years later Josh quit chess altogether.
When people ask me why I stopped playing chess … I tend to say that I lost the love. And I guess if I were to be a little bit more true, I would say that I became separated from my love; I became alienated from chess somewhat …
The need that I felt to win, to win, to win all the time, as opposed to the freedom to explore the art more and more deeply, and I think that started to move me away from the game and also chess for me was so intimate.
It was something that I loved so deeply that when I started to become alienated from it, I couldn’t do it in an impure way. — Josh Waitzkin
That exit from the chess world seemed tragic at the time. Actually, it helped Josh discover a new life that created his own formula.
In 43 years of life Josh has mastered multiple passions — from chess, to writing books, to Tai Chi, to the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, to his success with his non-profit The Art of Learning Project. If that doesn’t sound like enough, he’s recently added foiling and paddle surfing to his skill stack.
Most of us would need 20 lifetimes to achieve mastery in all these areas. What’s Josh’s formula?
5-10 years dedicated to each skill. When Josh decides to master a skill he chooses depth over width.
Deep work with a singular focus has paid off enormously for Josh. It’s hard to be an amateur at one obsession if you do it for 5 years. You’re bound to develop the skills, network, and strategies to succeed because time is working for you. Unlike the short-term dopamine trap many of us fall into, where we want results NOW.
Time in the game beats shortcuts
I tried to be like Josh and Ali my whole life. First I tried to be a master at playing the drums. I got good and beat all the other kids at my school. Instead of only taking school drum classes, I also got private lessons.
The other kids did one lesson per week, and I did two. So my skills grew two times faster than theirs. My choice for a private teacher was a proven master who had traveled the world playing in popular rock bands. The other kids learned from a mediocre school teacher who had yet to have any success.
After a while I grew impatient. I switched from drums to Djing. I bought a pair of turntables, two cd players and a mixer. Anywhere that needed music, I volunteered to play. Eventually I got gigs in nightclubs.
One gig was at one of the most popular nightclubs in Australia. I thought I’d made it. Then I didn’t get a second gig. I went months without a gig so I quit. I’d been studying how to be an electronic music producer on the side. That became my main gig.
One night I saw an ad for an electronic dance music competition. All I had to do was create a dance floor anthem. Somehow, I did. Two record labels signed me. My music started appearing all over the internet. Then I hit a plateau.
All of this happened while I ran multiple businesses. They all failed because I gave up on each idea too soon. Mental illness sealed my fate. I quit entrepreneurship and never made another hit song again.
In the process of recovering from mental illness I started to write online. I got hooked and kept doing it year after year. After seven years I reached my goal. People still think I got lucky. They don’t understand.
The clever formula for success is simple:
1 <thing> per week for 5–10 years
A singular focus you have for 5–10 years will allow you to achieve mastery. Mastery makes you look talented and lucky. Really, it’s just deep work working in your favor.