In his TED talk, Stephen Duneier explains that what defines him are not titles, but an approach to decision making that transformed him from someone who struggled with simple tasks to a guy who is continuously achieving even his most ambitious dreams.

For thirty years, he has applied cognitive science to investing, business and life. The result has been the turnaround of numerous institutional businesses, career best returns for managers who have adopted his methods, the development of a $1.25 billion dollar hedge fund and a rapidly shrinking bucket list.

“Every one of my report cards basically said the same thing: Steven is a very bright young boy, if only he would just settle down and focus.”

“What they didn’t realize was I wanted that even more than they wanted it for me, I just couldn’t. And so, from kindergarten straight through the 2nd year of college, I was a really consistent C, C- student. But then going into my junior year, I’d had enough. I thought I want to make a change. I’m going to make a marginal adjustment, and I’m going to stop being a spectator of my decision-making and start becoming an active participant.”

“And so, that year, instead of pretending, again, that I would suddenly be able to settle down and focus on things for more than five or ten minutes at a time, I decided to assume I wouldn’t. And so, if I wanted to achieve the type of outcome that I desire – doing well in school – I was going to actually have to change my approach. And so I made a marginal adjustment. If I would get an assignment, let’s say, read five chapters in a book, I wouldn’t think of it as five chapters, I wouldn’t even think of it as one chapter. I would break it down into these tasks that I could achieve, that would require me to focus for just five or ten minutes at a time. So, maybe three or four paragraphs. That’s it.”

“I would do that and when I was done with those five or ten minutes, I would get up. I’d go shoot some hoops, do a little drawing, maybe play video games for a few minutes, and then I come back. Not necessarily to the same assignment, not even necessarily to the same subject, but just to another task that required just five to ten minutes of my attention. From that point forward, all the way through to graduation, I was a straight-A student, Dean’s List, President’s Honor Roll, every semester.”

“I then went on to one of the top graduate programs in the world for finance and economics. Same approach, same results. So then, I graduate. I start my career and I’m thinking, this worked really well for me. You know, you take these big concepts, these complex ideas, these big assignments, you break them down too much more manageable tasks, and then along the way, you make a marginal improvement to the process that ups the odds of success in your favor. I’m going to try and do this in my career. So I did. I started out as an exotic derivatives trader for credit Swiss. It then led me to be global head of currency option trading for Bank of America”

Mr. Duneier teaches graduate courses on Decision Analysis in UCSB’s College of Engineering. His book, AlphaBrain is due for release in early 2017 from Wiley & Sons. Through Bija Advisors, he helps business leaders improve performance by applying proven, proprietary decision-making methods to their own processes. His artwork has been featured around the world and is represented by the Sullivan Goss Gallery. As Commissioner of the League of Professional Educators, Duneier is using cognitive science to alter the landscape of American education. He is the former Head of Currency Option Trading at Bank of America and Emerging Markets at AIG International.

For more on achieving goals, check out 6 Reasons we Give Up on Goals and Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life.

This video is about a strategy for focussing your life’s energy and resources into fewer but more strategic projects. (I tell a story that I have never told in class).

How do you ensure that you are dedicating your efforts to what is really important in life, and not diluting your efforts, resources amongst hundreds of small projects?

If you liked this post, you might like The Complete Guide to Personal Habits for Success and The Star Wars Guide to Saying “No” (from Obi Wan Kenobe).

“If someone followed your life and took 24 hours of film of everything you do for a day and they edited that into a one-hour documentary… the editor could decide to make you look like the worst villain ever or the greatest hero ever… it depends on which parts of your day he puts into the documentary” my friend Raul Aguirre over dinner in Buenos Aires

This video is about a Paradox that we must come to terms with in order to live a full human life. I’ve made it in Montevideo, Uruguay on a trip here to teach Leadership Communications at the IEEM Business School (part of the University of Montevideo).

We need to find a balance in our lives between the forces of external and internal success, between intentional, goal-directed living and a sense of peace within. The paradox – is that these are two forces that clash. How do you find the right balance?

I’d welcome your help on Balance between Ambition and Peace

I need your help- how do you find this balance? Do you have this balance? Do you ever lose control to one side or the other… and how do you recognise this and regain the balance in your life? Thanks… trying to regain this balance in my own life…

If you liked this, you might also like to see my recent video on Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life (an Exercise).

Last week’s blog post (Do you have inspiring goals?) triggered a wonderful response in emails and comments. I had many questions. A common question was about how to begin to find a purpose and define a vision for your life.

This video shares a tool I found 8 years ago that had a major impact on my life over the 2 months after I first did the exercise:

If you are reading this via email, check out the video on the blog here: How to find your Purpose

Did you do the exercise?  How did that work for you?  Let me know how this goes…

Download a quick template for this Purpose tool…

Continue with this line of ideas by reading Meaningful Contribution or Start with the End in Mind or What do you want? 

Here’s a simple idea:

Plan a life you would like to have.

If you love your life now, stick to what is working. If you don’t love your life right now, change something.

Use your Imagination first

Are you aiming at the right thing (or at any thing)?

Start by describing in detail the life you would like to have. How is your health? How is your social life? How are your relationships with family, friends, mentors, colleagues? How are you contributing to the universe? How much are you earning? How are you finding meaning for your life?

I’m not everything I could be and I know it. There is a better way that I could be and act in this world.  I can imagine a better way.  It is best to be inspired by living in your imagination for a while before you decide to give the next 20 to 30 years of your life to pursuing the goals.

Nobody reaches the top of Everest by surprise

Nobody who climbs Everest reaches the summit by accident. It has been a plan in their life for years. They have worked on their fitness, their skills, their finances for years to reach this moment on the summit of the mountain.

It takes disciplined effort to succeed in life. It is hard to find the motivation to maintain disciplined effort (especially when I have netflix, facebook, twitter, newspapers etc to compete for my attention).

Where can I find the motivation to maintain this disciplined effort?

Write your goals down.

That is it.

If you are not excited by these written goals, then they are not your goals. You have written them down in the hope that someone else might be impressed by your goals. There are not your goals and you are a moron to try to live your life in the hope that someone else pays attention and is impressed by what you say you would like to achieve. You will fail.

If you are happy to show your goals to everyone on the internet, they are not your goals. They are written to impress.

If you are embarrassed about your goals, but deeply excited by the tiniest idea that you could actually achieve them – now we are moving towards goals that come from inside of you.

How to begin Writing down your Goals

Who is it that I want to be in 3 years? If you can define this and you really want to be this person, then you are going to find quite a bit of the motivation to maintain disciplined effort.

If you keep your objectives all vague and foggy you can guarantee not to fail in a specific way. A lot of people do not write down specific future goals in a clear way because they are scared of having to actually do the work or face the possibility of clearly failing.

If a game is not fun, do you keep playing?  Are your goals and the process by which you pursue these goals fun?  If yes, keep playing.  If no, change the goals or change the process…  but write down the aims and the rules by which you decide to play.

Start with the Small Things

Start with little things that you can fix.

If your desk isn’t tidy and it is slightly irritating, tidy your desk.  If your computer is dirty and the screen is covered in guck, clean it.  If the room that you are in is a mess, throw out the rubbish.  These little things constitute 50% of your life.  The objects and rooms you interact with every day are important.  Get the rubbish out of the way.

Tell your head: “I’m going to make this place better for 5 minutes”.  Go.

Continue with this line of ideas with Meaningful Contribution or Start with the End in Mind or What do you want? 

PS Thanks for sticking with my rant today…  it was a reflection for myself after spending a day spinning my wheels and avoiding difficult tasks 😉