These experts are not only pushing boundaries in their fields but also often extending them to the cutting edge of what is possible. They are game changers who are rewriting the rules, stretching the limits, and helping to change the world for the rest of us. It has been a rare honor to talk directly with so many of these originators and learn about their ideas and discoveries. As you can imagine, it's incredibly satisfying to get to spend an hour learning about a game changer's life's work. But the real treasure lies at the end of each interview, when I ask them how they have managed to reach the high levels of performance that allowed them to achieve so much. The question is not what they achieved, not how they achieved it, but what were the most important things that powered their achievement.
I posed the same question to each guest: If someone came to you tomorrow wanting to perform better as a human being, what are the three most important pieces of advice you'd offer, based on your own life experience? I was intentional about the phrasing of the question, asking about human performance instead of just "performance" because we are all human, and we all have different goals and definitions of success. You can perform better as a parent, as an artist, as a teacher, as a meditator, as a lover, as a scientist, as a friend, or as an entrepreneur. And I wanted to know what these experts thought mattered most based on their actual life experience, not just their areas of study. I had no idea what to expect.
To say that their answers have been illuminating would be a tremendous understatement. Yes, some were shocking. Others were predictable. But the real value came after I had accumulated a large-enough sample size (over 450 interviews) to conduct a statistical analysis. After all, it's easy to ask one successful person what he or she does and to copy it. But the odds of that one person's favorite tool or trick working for you aren't very good, because you aren't that person. You have different DNA. You grew up in a different family. Your struggles aren't the same. Your strengths aren't the same. After asking hundreds of game changers what mattered most to their success, however, there was an incredible amount of data, and I noticed certain patterns emerging. When examined statistically, these patterns reveal a path that offers you a much better chance of getting you what you want.
My analysis revealed that most of the advice fell into one of three categories: things that make you smarter, things that make you faster, and things that make you happier. These innovators were able to grow their success because they also prioritized growing their abilities.
But the things that these top performers didn't say were just as revealing as the things they did. Their answers were unanimously far more focused on the things that have allowed them to contribute meaningfully to the world than what may have helped them attain any typical definition of success. My guests include lauded businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and CEOs, but not 'one' person mentioned money, power, or physical attractiveness as being key to their success. Yet these three things are what most of us spend our entire lives striving to obtain. So what gives?
If you read my book Head Strong, you know that our neurons are made up of energy-producing organelles called mitochondria. Mitochondria are unique because, unlike other organelles, they come from ancient bacteria and they number in the billions. Our mitochondria are primitive. Their goal is simple: to keep you alive so you can propagate the species. They therefore hijack your nervous system to keep you unconsciously focused on three behaviors common to all life-forms, intelligent or not. Call them "the three F's": fear (run away, hide from, or fight scary things in case they are threats to your survival), feed (eat everything in sight so you don't starve to death and can quickly serve the first F), and...the third F-word, which propagates the species.
After all, a tiger can kill you right away. A lack of food can kill you in a month or two. And not reproducing will kill a species in a generation. Our mitochondria are at the helm of our neurological control panel—they're the ones pushing the buttons when you back down from a challenge, overeat, or spend too much time trying to get attention and admiration from others. We're wired to heed these urges automatically before we can stop to consider what really brings us success or happiness, and they will relentlessly take you off your path if you don't manage them.