Welcome back to the Stairway to Wisdom!
Today we've got the breakdown of a book that I consider to be one of the very best books out there on mastery and skill acquisition.
The book is called Learn, Improve, Master, by Nick Velasquez, and it's an essential guide to mastering anything you put your mind to.
In this issue of the newsletter, we've also got a profile on the Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot, three books that will help you network like a super-connector, wisdom from an incredible book about building a meaningful life, and more!
So let's get started!
Latest Release: Learn, Improve, Master
“Learning is the greatest power of the human mind. Everything we've built, everything we've created, everything we've become has been the result of our ability to learn. And this great power is inherent in all of us. We are made to learn."
The athletic, artistic, and intellectual achievements of the great masters have always seemed so...magical. So...unattainable. Beyond anything we could ever hope to replicate. Until now.
In Learn, Improve, Master, Nick Velasquez pulls back the curtain on skill acquisition and mastery and shows that high proficiency and expertise isn't something reserved for a chosen few, but something that's attainable for all of us.
Attainable, that is, if we follow the proven principles of practice and learning as laid out in this book. Attainable does not, of course, mean easy. In choosing to become more than "just okay" at something, we are choosing to commit to a level of discipline and focus uncommon in the eyes of many.
If you've ever seen someone excel at the highest level of athletics; if you've ever seen someone perfectly execute a spectacular dance move, put together a phenomenal meal, or spellbound an audience with a stirring speech and wanted to do that too, this book will work with you to make that a reality.
In the book, you'll learn how to:
- Use your memory like top memory champions and remember anything you want
- Optimize practice like elite musicians, chess players, and athletes
- Build training habits that stick
- Overcome obstacles, setbacks, and plateaus
- Choose mentors and coaches that will help you develop your potential
- Accelerate learning and become a master of your craft
Keep this book by your side as you attempt to learn any new skill or craft and you'll be able to progress so much further and faster than you'd ever be able to on your own. That's partly because what other people have done, you can learn to do.
You can also shorten your learning curve by reading about the mistakes others have made and what they've figured out on their own, without having to go through this painful process all by yourself.
Now, bear in mind, mastery is still going to be a painful process that you'll have to go through. Nobody gets to skip that on their way to greatness.
But by learning the foundational concepts that we're going to cover in this breakdown, and by absorbing the wisdom of people like Leonardo da Vinci, Usain Bolt, Ernest Hemingway, Michael Jordan, Garry Kasparov, Simone Biles, Stephen King, Michael Phelps, Martha Graham, Tiger Woods, Jiro Ono, Serena Williams, and many more, you're going to put yourself in a much better position to win. Simply put, you'll be stacking the probabilities of success in your favor.
The endlessly fascinating part of all this, though, is that you can never, ever know where you'll end up unless you set out on the path in the first place. As Friedrich Nietzsche said:
“There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask, go along it."
Inside the Mind: T.S. Eliot
Inside the Mind is where we take you deeper into the life and thought of a major literary figure, someone who has had an extraordinary impact on our collective knowledge and wisdom.
Today I'm featuring T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), a poet, essayist, literary critic, and more who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948 for his "outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry."
I'll say right upfront that I find his poetry and worldview much too pessimistic, while still conceding that he was one of the 20th century's most talented and influential poets and indisputably one of the leading figures in Modernist poetry.
You can blame the time period during which he was writing (he was a contemporary of Hemingway's, with all the "lost generation" baggage that entailed), and poems like The Waste Land and The Hollow Men - while extraordinary - aren't exactly light summer reading.
Eliot himself was extraordinarily well educated (Harvard, Oxford, and the Sorbonne!), which shows in the structural complexity of many of his poems, but he's well worth reading if you're looking for something a little more challenging, or simply to observe the work of one of the greatest poets who ever attempted to capture the complexity of the world on the static page.
A Few Quotes from T.S. Eliot:
“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Start with This Book: The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot
Another Good Place to Start: Four Quartets: A Poem, by T.S. Eliot
Wisdom in Action:
You'll notice that every book summary at the Stairway to Wisdom comes with Action Steps. That's because when you really want to bring about changes in your life, knowledge is not enough.
After learning and knowing, you must do.
We want every one of our readers to see and feel their lives changing for the better, immediately and over time.
So in this section, we've taken all three Action Steps from The Second Mountain, by David Brooks, a beautiful book about discovering for yourself what really amounts to a meaningful life, and put them right in front of you so that you can take action today:
#1: Travel at Least 30 Minutes Away from the Nearest Person
We need space and distance in order to think if we're ever going to push back against society's programming and figure out what it is that we actually believe. The modern world, however, rarely makes this easy.
We need to create that space for quiet reflection, and one of the best ways to do that is to physically move locations and move somewhere that will afford us the peace we need in order to think and plan.
So find a place where you won't be interrupted, and leave all your distractions behind. Leave your phone in the car, turn off everything, and just sit and think. Some of my best ideas were born of silence.
#2: Make It Hurt
Think back to the story of the man sitting on the nail, who said that it didn't hurt enough to move. In order to make any sort of chance, we have to be properly motivated, and that motivation usually comes as a result of either moving away from pain or towards pleasure.
That being the case, remind yourself of how empty and lifeless it is on the first mountain, and how desolate your soul is when you've given yourself up entirely to "making it" out there in the world, at the expense of everything else that makes life worth living.
It's even better if you can project forward to the end of your life, and think back to the one chance you had here and now to live a committed, fully human life, complete with rich social networks and more friends than you can count. Now think about how painful it would be never to experience such a life, and pledge to start climbing the second mountain.
#3: Make One Small Decision and Follow It Through to the End
Making commitments is not easy, especially not after the initial enthusiasm fades. Many people run from making any sort of decision, but what they fail to realize is that choosing not to choose is still a choice.
So start exercising your decision muscle, and make at least one commitment that you'll stick to no matter what. It can be anything from promising to help your brother with his homework after school or offering to serve on the council of your local food bank, but once you've committed to this decision, follow through on it no matter what.
Read the Full Breakdown: The Second Mountain, by David Brooks
From the World of Reading:
NEW BOOK ALERT: Elon Musk, by Walter Isaacson
There’s another epic biography of Elon Musk coming out on September 12th! This time from the incredible Walter Isaacson!
I’ve already read a biography of Musk that was quite good but…but…but Walter Isaacson!
Here’s what Amazon has to say about it:
From the author of Steve Jobs and other bestselling biographies, this is the astonishingly intimate story of the most fascinating and controversial innovator of our era—a rule-breaking visionary who helped to lead the world into the era of electric vehicles, private space exploration, and artificial intelligence. Oh, and took over Twitter.
When Elon Musk was a kid in South Africa, he was regularly beaten by bullies. One day a group pushed him down some concrete steps and kicked him until his face was a swollen ball of flesh. He was in the hospital for a week. But the physical scars were minor compared to the emotional ones inflicted by his father, an engineer, rogue, and charismatic fantasist.
His father’s impact on his psyche would linger. He developed into a tough yet vulnerable man-child, prone to abrupt Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings, with an exceedingly high tolerance for risk, a craving for drama, an epic sense of mission, and a maniacal intensity that was callous and at times destructive.
At the beginning of 2022—after a year marked by SpaceX launching thirty-one rockets into orbit, Tesla selling a million cars, and him becoming the richest man on earth—Musk spoke ruefully about his compulsion to stir up dramas. “I need to shift my mindset away from being in crisis mode, which it has been for about fourteen years now, or arguably most of my life,” he said.
It was a wistful comment, not a New Year’s resolution. Even as he said it, he was secretly buying up shares of Twitter, the world’s ultimate playground. Over the years, whenever he was in a dark place, his mind went back to being bullied on the playground. Now he had the chance to own the playground.
For two years, Isaacson shadowed Musk, attended his meetings, walked his factories with him, and spent hours interviewing him, his family, friends, coworkers, and adversaries. The result is the revealing inside story, filled with amazing tales of triumphs and turmoil, that addresses the question: are the demons that drive Musk also what it takes to drive innovation and progress?
Further Reading: Elon Musk, by Walter Isaacson
Learn This Concept: The Law of Truly Large Numbers
The law of truly large numbers states that with a large enough number of independent samples, any highly implausible (i.e. unlikely in any single sample, but with constant probability strictly greater than 0 in any sample) result is likely to be observed.
In plain English?
In a city the size of New York, with a population of nearly 9,000,000 people, even 1-in-a-million events happen at least nine times, every single day.
Is something extremely unlikely? Well, given enough chances to occur, it probably will. It reminds me of the Drake equation, actually, which is used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy.
The reasoning goes: even though it's extremely unlikely that an alien civilization exists in this solar system, there are potential of trillions of solar systems existing in the universe, and so mathematically, it makes sense that at least some of them are harboring alien life.
Something similar shows up in probability theory, where the law of large numbers describes the likely result of performing the same experiment a large number of times. But compared to aliens, the rest of probability theory is actually pretty boring!
Further Reading: Wikipedia
Three Books: How to Network Like a Super-Connector
There is a book for every problem you could ever face. Whatever it is that you're dealing with, someone else has also gone through something similar, come out stronger on the other side, and written about it in a book.
With that in mind, here are three books that can help you grow your standing and influence like a powerful super-connector and lead your industry:
“I treat everybody I meet as if I will run into them again. As much as I can, I want to make a lasting impression and whenever possible, leave everything better than before I showed up. The most positive impacts I’ve made haven’t been overly calculated strategic decisions. They have grown organically out of this simple philosophy.
The bottom line: Spread as much positivity and love as you can wherever you go, not to avoid some imagined future punishment, but because you don’t know the magnitude of the impact that possibility will have on others and the world. Usually, our humble efforts have an effect reaching farther than we think."
This Book Breakdown contains 7 Key Ideas, 3 Action Steps, and 34 Book Notes. Read It Here.
“People are busy, so you need to give them a reason to pay attention to what you say. Social proof – your demonstrated credibility – is a quick way to do that.”
This Book Breakdown contains 12 key ideas, 5 action steps, and 15 curated insights. Read it here.
“Connecting is a philosophy of life, a worldview. Its guiding principle is that people, all people, every person you meet, is an opportunity to help and be helped.”
This Book Breakdown contains 10 Key Ideas, 5 Action Steps, and 17 Book Notes. Read It Here.
Upgrade Your Reading:
You're never going to remember anything if you can't summon the discipline to focus on it in the first place. That's where Chris Bailey's book, Hyperfocus, can really help you.
Hyperfocus is one of the better books out there (and certainly one of the most comprehensive) on focus, attention, and productivity. It’s his follow-up to The Productivity Project, which I also enjoyed, and he explains in simple, helpful terms how to use this amazing, though limited gift of time and energy we receive each day.
As he says, what you pay attention to becomes your life, and so you have to be extremely selective about what you allow into your attentional space. You need to ruthlessly curate your own reality, or else it’ll end up filled with other people’s priorities, other people’s agendas, or, perhaps even worse, nothing meaningful at all.
The biggest takeaway, though, is that what you pay attention to matters. It needs to be intentional, and conscious, if your life is going to mean anything at all.
So yes, you can use this book to be a better student, learn professional skills for your career, and all of that. Watch this video if this book sounds interesting to you. And I highly recommend reading it for yourself if you get the chance! It'll not only take your study skills to the next level but will also teach you quite a bit about life itself.
Further Reading: Hyperfocus, by Chris Bailey
Study Notes: Think Again, by Adam Grant
One thing I’ve learned from reading more than 1,170 books is that life and the world are really, REALLY complicated.
Reality resists simple conclusions, easy answers, sound bites, and bullet points, and that’s why books like Think Again are sooo important.
It’s an argument for appreciating complexity, nuance, and the fact that getting to the right answer isn’t something that just “happens.”
It takes INTENTION, a willingness to look stupid sometimes, and the ability to hold two conflicting answers in your mind at the same time without retreating to the comfort of either one of them.
What’s more, being wrong feels exactly the same in the MIND as being right!
Have you ever noticed this?
Anyway, Think Again is SUCH a refreshing book in so many ways, and probably one of the most important books to come out in 2021, or, really, in ANY year:
He starts with a discussion of WHY rethinking is so hard, moves on to TACTICS for having productive discussions and debates with people we can learn from, and then the last section of the book is about cultures (work or otherwise) where the best and worst rethinking takes place, and what we can learn from them.
Underlying all of it is the suggestion that we live the questions, sit with them, until we someday live and question and revise our way into the answers.
“The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.”
“Confidence is a measure of how much you believe in yourself. Evidence shows that’s distinct from how much you believe in your methods. You can be confident in your ability to achieve a goal in the future while maintaining the humility to question whether you have the right tools in the present. That’s the sweet spot of confidence.”
“There’s no benefit to me for being wrong for longer. It’s much better if I change my beliefs sooner, and it’s a good feeling to have that sense of a discovery, that surprise – I would think people would enjoy that.”
“Changing your mind doesn’t make you a flip-flopper or a hypocrite. It means you were open to learning.”
“We won’t have much luck changing other people’s minds if we refuse to change ours. We can demonstrate openness by acknowledging where we agree with our critics and even what we’ve learned from them.”
“Bold, persistent experimentation may be our best tool for rethinking.”
Further Reading: Matt Karamazov's Notes from 1,150+ Books
That's it for this week! Next week, I'll be back with more book breakdowns, inspiring thinkers, novel concepts, big ideas, reading tips, and more.
In the next issue, I will also be releasing the breakdown of The Pathless Path, by Paul Millerd, a deep thinker who's totally reimagining the future of work and what it means for our lives.
Also, if you have any bookish friends that you think would love the Stairway to Wisdom, you can click the button below and share it with them. I mean, what are friends for?
We covered a lot today, and again, thank you very much for joining the Stairway to Wisdom. The whole team is behind you! We all want you to win!
Until next time...and happy reading!