The way we think about ourselves and the world around us makes a big difference.
These mental models can either enable us, or they can be the reason why we fail.
In this article, I have compiled the 13 mindset hacks that made all the difference in my life. I hope they will do so for you too.
Learn why it all starts with radical self-responsibility, how we must choose two out of three, and what the extrapolation question is.
- 1. Take Radical Self-Responsibility
- 2. There Are No Accidents
- 3. You Always Have Options
- 4. Think Long-Term
- 5. Everything Takes Much Longer Than You Think
- 6. Prioritize Sleep
- 7. Accept People for Who They Are
- 8. Swallow Your Pride
- 9. Your Goals Are About 5–10 Years Away
- 10. Do One Thing
- 11. Choose Two Out of Three
- 12. Manage Your Internal Resources
- 13. Ask Yourself the Extrapolation Question
1. Take Radical Self-Responsibility
We are all prone to painting ourselves as the victim.
This was a huge problem of mine as a teenager (and still sometimes is).
I thought everybody was out to get me. That teacher not seeing my genius. All the pretty girls ignoring me. Those bullies beating me up after school.
My victim mindset carried over into my mid-twenties until my first major relationship imploded.
Only then did I realize how I had reaped what I had sown. By blatantly ignoring my partner’s needs, I had turned her hostile toward me. Consequently, she had left.
Once this sank in, I started to re-evaluate events.
That teacher not giving me an A on my genius paper? There were some good ideas in there, but my writing was not succinct enough.
The pretty girls ignoring me? I was arrogant, never reached out, and dressed terribly.
These bullies beating me up? I was giving off massive nerd vibes and hadn’t bothered to learn how to defend myself.
Even if the other person is partially to blame, there is no point in doing so. You can only control what you are doing wrong — and that is plenty to work with.
Focus on that, and you will soon see fantastic improvements in your life.
2. There Are No Accidents
We often assume that things just happen to us by chance. But luck has little to do with it. On the contrary, our lives play out highly consequential.
If you are broke, it is because you didn’t take the time to develop a sought-after skill set. You spent your 20s doing what was fun.
If you suffer from bad health, it is almost always your lifestyle that is to blame, i.e., your accumulated health decisions.
In the same vein, “bad people” don’t just keep happening to you. If someone cheated you for money, it means you were ill-informed. You never did your research.
Neither are you haunted by “toxic relationships.” You attract abusers because you never grew past your daddy issues; you end up with gold diggers because you can’t look past the curves.
Understand — there are no accidents. Whatever situation you currently find yourself in is due to your past decisions. You just don’t understand what these decisions were yet.
With that realization comes freedom. If there are no accidents, it means that we are in control. We just have to grow up and start making better decisions.
3. You Always Have Options
The trick to good decision-making is to know your options. Specifically, you must learn to differentiate between direct and indirect alternatives (a concept I picked up from Harry Browne).
Indirect alternatives are when you go through other people to get what you want.
For example, if you are unhappy that you cannot legally consume drugs in your country, you might try to change the legislation. You could find other people who think like you, start a movement, organize protest marches, etc.
With direct alternatives, you skip systemic change. Instead, you go with options that solely depend on you.
In our example, the direct alternative would be to move to British Columbia or Portugal, where even hard drugs have been decriminalized.
Or you could order your drugs online, using an anonymous payment method like Bitcoin, which makes it unlikely you will get prosecuted, even should you get caught.
Either way — problem solved.
Direct alternatives are vastly superior to indirect alternatives.
First, indirect alternatives rarely succeed. Second, even if they do, they take ages to implement. Third, the results never look like what you imagined.
With direct alternatives, you have none of these problems. Success only depends on you. You immediately start seeing results. And only you shape the final outcome.
Understand — there are always direct alternatives available to you, in any given situation. By seeking them out, you will be able to get anything you want in life. It is one of the most powerful mindset hacks I know.
4. Think Long-Term
Whenever I experienced success in my life, it was when I chose long-term rewards over immediate pleasure.
To get my Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, I would go to class every night, while my college friends were out drinking.
To take my business to the next level, I would work seven days a week, while my competitors only worked five days.
To date more attractive, more interesting people, I would talk to hundreds of strangers while everybody else was already hooking up.
I am not telling this to boast. I have given in to immediate pleasure more times than I can recount. But whenever I did, success eluded me.
Vice versa, delaying gratification always gets rewarded, as proven by the famous Standford marshmallow experiment. Kids that are able to think long-term will end up making more money as adults.
Fortunately, you can train yourself to become a long-term thinker.
The first step is to create awareness. Look at your failures and understand how they were due to you being impatient. Then look at your successes and notice how consistency played out in your favor.
Also, do this with the people around you — your family, your friends. Analyze their failures and their successes and recognize the same dynamic playing out again.
This will cement your new mindset — thinking long-term is the key to success.
Next, stack the odds in your favor:
- Surround yourself with people who also think long-term.
- Find an accountability coach to increase your odds of sticking it out.
- Strategically inject some motivation, e.g., by listening to inspiring podcasts.
- Track your progress to see how far you have come.
5. Everything Takes Much Longer Than You Think
We all suffer from an illusion — during any given time period, we think we can do many more things than we actually can. There is even a psychological term for this behavior; it’s called the planning fallacy.
For example, we assume it will take us 10 minutes to write an email when it’s really a half-an-hour email. Or we think it will take us 20 minutes to get ready when it really takes us 40 minutes.
As a result of this fallacy, we are constantly pressed for time and do none of our projects justice.
Wrap your head around it — everything takes much longer than you think.
The best way to remedy this is to always plan for a 50 percent buffer. If you think grading that paper will take one hour, plan for one and a half. If you guess that researching your new laptop should take you two hours, make it three.
This sounds like a trivial thing to do, but it is one of the most potent mindset hacks on this list. By decompressing your day, you will regain control over your life.
At the same time, it will force you to choose. Instead of cramming more stuff into your day, you start to focus on the essentials. The result is more progress with your most important projects.
6. Prioritize Sleep
American culture glorifies those who skip sleep. “You can sleep when you’re dead,” that kind of thing.
This is a case of bravado mixed with wishful thinking.
The bravado part is how it makes you feel. You see yourself as this go-getter, someone who wants it more than everyone else. “Grindset!”
The wishful-thinking part is that by being awake for more hours, you will also get more done.
Realize these for the self-deceptions they are.
You need sleep to function well. Hyping yourself up won’t change the biological facts. It’s like claiming you can drive a car on an empty tank.
Also, it’s less about the number of hours than it is about the quality of your output. And that quality depends on how well-rested you feel.
You must prioritize sleep. The goal is to have a never-ending chain of days when you are bursting with energy. If you manage that, your results will skyrocket.
7. Accept People for Who They Are
You can waste your life away trying to change people.
A wife trying to mold her husband into something he is not. Parents pressuring a child to become a doctor. Your friend harping on about how you should start exercising.
Understand — people won’t change unless they are ready to change.
That might happen ten years from now, or it might never happen. And even if it does, it won’t look the way you imagined it.
Don’t engage in battles you can’t win. Accept the other person for who they are, flaws and all.
That doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to your fate. If you are not getting what you need from one person, get it from another person.
For example, you might enjoy going fishing with your rustic friend Alex, but you can’t stand taking him to exhibitions. So, take your artsy friend Chris.
Likewise, your husband might be great at making you laugh, but he can never make you come. So, get a lover.
Ultimately, you have no claim to anybody. They only belong to themselves. Don’t try to “improve” them when they don’t want to be improved.
Enjoy them for whatever they excel at. For whatever they fail at, find somebody else.
8. Swallow Your Pride
You must learn to enjoy looking the fool.
In my late twenties, I had become disillusioned with monogamy. I could not believe that everybody wanted to be in a relationship where they held each other hostage. There had to be at least a few other people who felt like me.
So, I made a plan to find them.
The problem was, I was an introvert if there ever was one. I was terrible at talking to people.
But if I was serious about finding these few relationship outliers, I had to swallow my pride.
The first few months were hard. My nervousness showed. I constantly ran out of things to say. Women would just turn away from me. Some laughed straight at my face.
But I persisted. And ever so slowly, it started to get better. The nervousness subsided. I got quicker on my feet.
To my great delight, I eventually found a few lovers who shared my convictions. When I did, it was like coming home. Some of my happiest memories in life resulted from it.
You need to swallow your pride. If you want to look cool and competent all the time, you will stagnate. But if you’re willing to be ridiculed by others, you will eventually surpass them.
Be a fool.
9. Your Goals Are About 5–10 Years Away
That passion business you always dreamed of? You can have it.
You looking ripped like a professional swimmer? You got it.
Being fluent in three languages? Mastering the guitar? Traveling the world? All yours.
With consistency, you can have whatever you want. Almost any given goal is only 5 to 10 years away from where you’re currently at.
It’s the famous 10,000-hour rule. Put in 3 to 5 hours of practice each day, and you will eventually excel at anything.
This is an important mindset hack, as most people have the wrong idea about success. They think it’s something volatile, out of your control.
It’s ironic because we willingly take long odds in most areas of our lives — the people we marry, the housing market, and the god we believe in.
By comparison, your personal success is a safe bet. If you put in the hours, it becomes virtually impossible to fail. Do the work, and 5 to 10 years from now, you will have what you want.
10. Do One Thing
You can have whatever you want. However, you cannot have everything at the same time.
I have a friend who is the perfect example of this.
He makes six figures, but he would like to make seven figures.
He is fitter than most people, but he would like to be exceptionally fit, like a bodybuilder.
He dates attractive women, but he would like to date a model.
The problem is, he cannot make up his mind about which of those he wants the most. He doesn’t want to make any trade-offs. So, he goes on pursuing everything at once, and not succeeding with anything.
If you aspire to extraordinary results, the kind that makes people say, “How the hell did you do that?” you must have radical focus.
You must pick one thing. And picking one thing means missing out on many other things.
It’s easy to say, “I am committed to becoming fit.” What is not easy is to stop going out on the weekends, stop dating around, and make less money, so you have more time to train.
Everybody wants the results, but nobody wants to give something up. But it’s the giving-up part where the magic happens. By redirecting all your resources to your one thing, you make sure you succeed.
11. Choose Two Out of Three
There is another great mental model I keep coming back to. I call it the “two out of three” model.
It states that of the following three options, you can only have two:
- Passion for your work
- Good money
- Free time
These are the combinations you end up with:
- Passion + money
- Free time + passion
- Money + free time
Model 1: Passion + Money
Let’s say you are extremely passionate about blogging. Blogging is not a high ROI activity. So, to make decent money from it, you’ll have to work nonstop — create content, build backlinks, build an email list, create products, etc. It will be all-consuming.
The upside is that you are doing what you love. Most people dread their work. Not you. When you wake up in the morning, you can’t wait to get started.
Most writers, vloggers, and other content creators fall into the “passion + money” category. Artists —visual artists, musicians — certainly belong here. So do professional athletes.
Model 2: Free Time + Passion
Here, you choose work that you are passionate about but refuse to give up your life for it. As a result, you will be scraping by.
If you can do without financial security, this can be a great way to live. You are constantly optimizing for experiences, both in your work and in your free time. That creates happiness.
However, people in this category sometimes suffer from entitlement issues. They think the world exists to please them. Obviously, that is not how it works.
Many digital nomads opt for the “free time + passion” model, especially life coaches of all kinds. Most personal coaches, martial arts instructors, and yoga teachers do as well. Self-published authors usually belong to this group as well.
Model Three: Money + Free Time
Here, you opt for financial stability while still having time to spend with your family and friends or pursue your hobbies.
The downside is that these jobs tend to be boring — think accounting, project management, or software development. Many people in these professions experience their work as meaningless and even hate their job.
This model is the most widespread option. Every corporate slave leaving the house in the morning is part of it. Their job is something they put up with, but their life happens outside of work.
None of these models is perfect. Whatever you opt for, there will be a price to pay. So, choose the option most in sync with your personality.
Most importantly, never believe anyone you don’t have to choose. It’s a lie. They are either bragging or they are trying to sell you something.
12. Manage Your Internal Resources
You only have a limited amount of energy each day. Once this reservoir is used up, it’s gone.
Most people do not want to admit this to themselves. They act like personal energy is a matter of willpower. “Mind over body!”
But no amount of wishful thinking will change that. Just like you can’t will your smartphone’s battery to last longer, you can’t will yourself to be productive past a certain point.
Successful people are acutely aware of this. That’s why they budget their energy:
- They will do their most important work first thing in the morning when their battery is still full. This is to make sure they keep moving the needle.
- They will reserve another block of time for deep work right after lunch when their blood sugar levels are high.
- They will stay away from energy black holes like the news and social media. These platforms are optimized for upsetting and distracting you.
- They don’t engage in mindless socializing. Some socializing is healthy, but there comes a point when you are just killing time.
- They refrain from junk food and alcohol. To function well, you must only put the best fuel in your tank.
- They “download” their brains into an external system like GTD. Their mental RAM doesn’t get used for anything but creative work.
- They recharge themselves in the most effective way. They spend time in nature, away from all screens. They walk a lot. They exercise. They get plenty of sleep.
These achievers have become experts at managing their internal resources. You must learn to do the same.
13. Ask Yourself the Extrapolation Question
One of the best mindset hacks is to ask yourself this question multiple times a day:
“If I extrapolate what I did today, what will be my results 10 years from now?”
This question forces you to connect the dots. What you do today — and tomorrow, and the day after that — determines what you will get out of life.
“I’ll start dieting tomorrow.” No, you won’t. Tomorrow, you will say the same thing to yourself again.
You always just have now. And what you do now decides what the rest of your life looks like. The extrapolation question will sensitize you to that.