Tag Archives: Careers

High Performance Isn’t What You Think It Is

One of the most misunderstood concepts in personal development is high performance.

What does high performance mean to you?

Take a moment to answer that question.

To me, high performance means producing great results. To produce great results, I need to be productive.

What does productivity mean to you?

Again, take a moment to answer that question.

To me, productivity means output divided by input.

The Formula of Productivity

We can derive several conclusions from that formula.

We can increase our output by increasing our input and keeping our productivity constant.

That’s what most people understand from high performance. Do you want to increase your output? Increase your input. They make the assumption that your productivity will remain the same. This type of thinking can be summarized as “work hard.”

We can increase our output by increasing our productivity and keeping our input constant.

Some people realize that you can only increase your input to a limited level without sacrificing your productivity. There are only 24 hours on a day, and you need some sleep too. To increase your output, you need to improve your productivity. The motto of this type of thinking is “work smart.”

High Performance: Work Hard and Work Smart

Obviously, high performance involves working hard and working smart at the same time.

Believe it or not, working hard is the easiest part. Self-discipline is a muscle you can develop over time. The hardest part is to work smart.

Working smart, in other words increasing your productivity, requires innovation. Innovation requires taking a step back from your work. Looking at your processes from a higher level, detecting bottlenecks, and solving those bottlenecks.

Innovation requires taking a step back from your work.

You might need to replace some processes altogether. Sometimes, you’ll come across challenges to which you won’t have immediate solutions. In other words, you’ll bump across some roadblocks that you can’t overcome with hard work.

Solving those roadblocks requires reflection. Reflection isn’t working hard. When somebody observes you reflecting, they might think that you aren’t doing anything. You might as well believe that you aren’t doing anything, and be tempted to stop reflecting and start working hard again.

In some cases, you might need to stop working altogether and to rest so that “the answers come to you.” That means giving your mind the rest it needs to function properly again. But that doesn’t mean to distract yourself with the Internet or hanging out. It means doing nothing, and actually, it’s a hard thing to do in this day and age.


High performance requires working hard and working smart. Working smart requires increasing your productivity, innovation, and reflection. You can’t reflect while working hard.

Reflection involves getting into a relaxed state of mind and letting the answers come to you instead of actively pursuing them. Sometimes, you need to stop working altogether and rest your mind to make that happen.

That doesn’t mean distracting yourself with all kinds of other intense experiences. It means doing nothing and relaxing, which is harder than working hard.

Working hard is necessary for high performance, but if you avoid the working smart part of the formula, no amount of hard work will produce the results you’re aiming for.

Integrating Seemingly Opposite Personality Traits for High Performance and Success

Last Saturday, I published a post about “being” goals. These are the personality traits that you cultivate to achieve your “doing” and “having” goals.

In the same post, I shared the big five personality traits, the 13 virtues of Benjamin Franklin, and a list of 600+ primary personality traits. Those lists should help you come up with your own list of personality traits to cultivate.

Today, I’ll discuss two approaches to personality traits, duality and integration. Our default approach is duality. Learning and using integration will significantly enhance our success with our “being” goals.

Let’s discuss both approaches and see their impacts on our personality.


Our default thinking is based on duality. In this pattern, we see the world in opposites.

  • Black and white
  • Light and dark
  • Good and bad

If we look at the big five personality traits, we would see two opposites in each category.

  • Openness: curious vs. cautious
  • Conscientiousness: organized vs. careless
  • Extroversion: introvert vs. extrovert
  • Agreeableness: friendly vs. challenging
  • Neuroticism: nervous vs. confident

Studies show us that conscientious, extrovert, and non-agreeable people are more successful in their careers.

An average career consultant would tell you to be conscientious and extrovert, and stop being so agreeable.

They’d think that you can be either organized or careless, an introvert or an extrovert, and friendly or challenging.

The world is more nuanced than that.


In the integration approach, we define qualities independent of each other. We don’t describe them as opposites of each other.

The best analogy to explain integration is music. You can define tones as bass or treble. You might think that they are the opposites of each other. In reality, they are tones with different frequencies.

Would you call a song bass or treble? You wouldn’t. A decent song includes sounds from a wide range of frequencies. The volume of the sounds from each frequency range varies throughout the song. A song is a composition of a variety of volume and frequency over time.

Now, let’s use the same analogy in personality traits.


Agreeableness is a great example to explain integration.

Let’s say you’re friendly and compassionate and not challenging and detached. In this case, your approach would be like a song that includes only treble sounds and no bass sounds. Would you like to listen to such a song? I wouldn’t.

If you go to your average executive coach, they’d tell you to stop being friendly and compassionate and become challenging and detached. What kind of a song would that be? All bass sounds, but no treble? Who would like that?

The art is to add the traits of being challenging and detached to the mix as needed. If you’re a manager, you need to be detached once in a while and make the decision of firing someone. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly and compassionate when you share this decision with the related person.

Being friendly doesn’t mean not challenging someone when they’re making a mistake.


A challenging example to grasp is extroversion.

When I was in the college, I’d like to have a team of introverts and extroverts in our project team. The introverts would develop the project and the extroverts would do the necessary presentations.

The same approach is used in companies. On the one hand, you have the introverted engineers and on the other hand, the extroverted salespeople. You need both groups to succeed as a company.

If you could integrate both traits and use them whenever they’re necessary, you’d be unstoppable in your career.


Integrating neuroticism is a hard example to grasp.

  • Who would like to be nervous?
  • What kind of a value would nervousness would add?
  • Isn’t nervousness the exact opposite of confidence?

To understand this, think about your typical college class. You have a professor who isn’t a bit nervous, because they know the topic inside out and gave the same lesson a dozen times before.

How would you feel at the end of such a class? Back in the day, I’d be bored and sleepy, because there wouldn’t be a bit of tension in the class.

In contrast, think about a student giving a presentation about their term project. They’d fail or pass as a result of this presentation. How would you feel during such a performance? It would be intense, wouldn’t it?

We need nervousness at some points in our lives.

Being nervous 24/7 would be an overkill, but at critical moments like giving a presentation or a meeting, being nervous increases the amount of energy our body produces. It’s up to us to channel that energy constructively.

Nervousness isn’t the opposite of confidence. It’s a physical state when your body gets into overdrive and produces high amounts of energy. You can be confident and nervous at the same time.

You need to be confident and nervous at the same time at critical moments.

You need to believe that you can succeed at the challenge at hand and at the same time, you need all the energy that your body can produce.

The next time you feel nervous, stop trying to calm down. Instead, focus on increasing your confidence and focus the energy that your body produces on the task at hand.


We tend to see the world in opposites. This perception of reality doesn’t serve us when we cultivate our desired personality traits.

Integration is a better approach than duality. In this approach, we cultivate the desired traits without trying to suppress our existing traits.

We see our personality as the composition of a variety of traits. We use each trait whenever it is necessary without trying to suppress others.

As a result, we develop a strong personality that performs well in variety of situations and success becomes inevitable.

Supervisors, in Service of Their Subordinates or the Other Way Around?

There are two approaches when it comes to the working relationship between a supervisor and their subordinates.

The First Approach

According to the first approach, supervisors are there to facilitate the best performance of their subordinates. The supervisors aren’t expected to do the job, but they are expected to guide, lead, and evaluate the work of their subordinates.

A supervisor who is working on a job that they can delegate to their subordinates is actually wasting their time. They are not only wasting their time, but they are also getting less performance out of their subordinates who may perform better if they are guided by the supervisor.

In this approach, the subordinates won’t be able to receive much guidance from the supervisor, because the supervisor is busy with a job that they can delegate to one of the subordinates.

Sure, the supervisor might be more efficient on completing the task by themselves. However, they are not only responsible for their own output. They are responsible for the output of their entire team. By focusing on maximizing the productivity of the entire team, the supervisor can create greater output compared to just focusing on their own productivity.

The Math

Let’s do the math. Suppose that a supervisor has five subordinates. The supervisor can produce 100 units of value per time unit. A subordinate can produce 50 units of value per time unit without the guidance of the supervisor. The same subordinate can produce 80 units of value per time unit with the guidance of the supervisor.

If the supervisor allocates all of their time on guiding their subordinates, they will produce no value by themselves, but their team will produce 5 x 80 = 400 units of value per time unit.

If the supervisor allocates no time on guiding the subordinates, they will produce 100 units of value by themselves and their subordinates 5 x 50 = 250 units of value. In total, this amounts to 350 units of value per time unit for the team.

In this example, it was more productive for the supervisor to not do the job themselves but to allocate all of their time to guiding their subordinates.

The Reality

Of course the number of subordinates a supervisor has, their productivity, and the guided and unguided productivity of the subordinates are not always the same in each situation.

In some teams and situations, that calculation will favor the supervisor not guiding their team at all. In other situations, it will favor the supervisor spending their whole time on guiding their team. Yet in other situations, the optimal solution might be somewhere between these two extremes.

I’m convinced that the supervisor not guiding their team at all is not the optimum solution, but again this depends on the team and situation. There might be exceptional cases, where this might be optimal.

To which extend should the supervisor commit their time to guiding their subordinates?

100% might be impossible, because the supervisor has other duties as well. But should it be closer to 100% or closer 0%? Or somewhere in between? My hunch used to be closer to 100%.

I was happy to learn that Gary Vaynerchuk, a successful American entrepreneur, also thought in the same direction as me, as far as I could understand from his book, #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness.

Then I read the article Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? By William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass in the book HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself. This article advocated an approach that is closer to 0% of the supervisor’s time allocated to guiding their subordinates.

It was a good article and I started to apply the ideas in this book in my working days to the extent possible. I must say that this article made a difference in how I approach my working relationships with my colleagues.

Empirical Results

After experiencing both approaches, I must say that both approaches have their merits. Intuitively, the first approach seems to be the better one to me. It makes more sense. However, I must admit that every team and every situation is different.

What works on one team wouldn’t work in another team and the other way around. Supervisors and teams need to find their own balance. They need to find which approach works best for them.

If a supervisor can extract more productivity from their team by sacrificing their own productivity and guiding their subordinates, they should do that. If that guidance doesn’t result in extra productivity to the extent that it justifies the productivity sacrificed by the supervisor, they shouldn’t do it.

Bottom Line

The bottom line of this post is not to argue that one approach is better than the other. The bottom line of this post is to point out that the percentage of time that a supervisor allocates to guiding their subordinates is a variable that a supervisor can optimize in order to maximize the overall productivity of their team.

In order to do that, the supervisor needs to let go of their preconceived notions of what is the right thing to do and approach this problem as a variable that can be optimized. Flexibility and open-mindedness is the key qualities here.

Your Turn

What’s your take on this subject? Which approach works best for you? Are you ready to experiment with the opposite approach or would you rather stick with your current approach?

College Education, Irrelevant in the 21st Century?

Why should you not listen to your favorite social media guru when it comes to college education?

There are a lot of posts about skipping the college circulating in social media. I don’t see many counterarguments. In order to give a balanced view to the people who are about to make this decision, I wrote a post about why you should reconsider skipping the college.

My post about college education received some counterarguments on Medium. I can imagine that those counterarguments are shared by others as well. For that reason, I’m going to discuss those arguments in this post.

Some of the arguments against the college education have some merit to some extent, but they still don’t justify skipping the college 100%. I’ll discuss the arguments and counterarguments in this post and I hope that they help you in making your decision. If you have further arguments or counterarguments, please let me know in the comments and who knows maybe we will have a second follow-up.

No Advantage in the Job Market

One of the arguments against the college education is that the diploma of some majors don’t provide any advantage in the job market at all. As a result, the graduates of those majors end up having lost four years of their lives and student debts to pay.

I can’t disagree with the argument above. I wrote the initial post with computer science in mind. However, there are some majors that don’t provide any added value in the job market at all. So, before committing to a college degree, make sure that the major you are studying provides some added value in the job market.

Google is Your Best Friend Professor

Everything they teach you in the college can be found on Google.

Yes, everything that is taught in the college and more can be found on Google. The problem is most people use Google to find answers to practical problems. In our case, a programmer would only turn to Google when they come across a practical roadblock and search Google only for that practical roadblock.

In other words, we turn to Google to learn what we know that we don’t know. What I expect from a good academic education, from a good book, even from a good blog post, podcast, or YouTube video is to teach me what I don’t know that I don’t know.

I can’t Google what I don’t know I don’t know, because I’m not even aware of the existence of that knowledge in the first place. As a consequence, I don’t know which keywords to search for on Google.

College Courses Are Available Online

You don’t need to pay a college $60K a year and spend four years studying. College courses are available online.

College courses are available online, but I don’t see many dropouts dive into those courses and study them. People who want to skip the college usually have other motives than just college tuition. They think that all of that theory is a waste of time, it will be outdated soon anyway, and they are better off starting with hands-on experience right away.

In either case, let’s assume we have an ideal student who decides to study at home. They google the curricula and syllabi of the Ivy League colleges, come up with a self-study program, and study those courses by themselves.

It’s really rare that a college dropout would take the path of a proper self-study program, but for this example, let say they do. There are still disadvantages to such a path.

Lack of Assessment and Evaluation in Self-Study

Assessment and evaluation is an essential part of college education. You turn in your homework, term projects, and exam papers, and you see them shredded to pieces by the teaching staff. And that’s good for you. That feedback contributes to your education.

Then there is all kinds of interactions with the academic staff and your peers. That includes working in teams to implement term projects. That’s a great way to prepare for your career, where you have to work in teams most of the time.

You learn a lot as a result of interactions with your peers and professors. People learn from each other by discussing ideas. None of us is perfect and we all have our irrationalities.

By discussing our ideas, we open our ideas to criticism. In an academic environment, you can receive a lot of valuable feedback about your ideas. I know that this type of brainstorming is not popular with IT people, but it’s a great way to make progress fast.

People who skip the college lose the opportunity to discuss their ideas with their peers and professors. They lose the opportunity to be corrected if they misunderstood a subject. Unfortunately, that misunderstanding will stay with them until they bump into a real world problem, which will turn out to be costlier.

How Much Is Your Career Worth?

A lot of people complain about the high tuition fees. Who am I to object that? But think about it from another angle. How much is your career worth?

Let’s assume that an average computer programmer makes $80K USD a year and works for 40 years. That would make a whopping $3.2 million USD in their whole career. If we assume that a college degree would cost $60K a year and takes four years to complete, that would make $240K USD in total.

$240K USD and four years don’t seem to be a bad investment for a $3.2 million USD and 40 years career.

But Technology Changes Fast

The technology changes so fast, by the time you graduate, there’ll be new technologies used in the industry.

You don’t go to college to learn the latest technology. That would be a huge waste of time and money. You go to college to learn the fundamentals, the theoretical foundations that enable that technology.

In computer science, courses such as discrete mathematics, data structures, principles of programming languages, introduction to algorithms, operating systems, even networks, artificial intelligence, and neural networks are essential courses.

Some of the fundamentals won’t ever change and they will remain as the basis of upcoming technology, such as discrete mathematics, data structures, and complexity of algorithms. Some of these will slightly change over a long period of time, but still building on the existing foundations, such as the arrival of object oriented programming on top of procedural programming.


So far, the arguments I received in favor of skipping the college didn’t convince me when it comes to a field such as computer science that has decent employment prospects. In either case, I’m open for new counterarguments.

Quit College, Not So Fast

College education is frown upon nowadays by the so called social media influencers who have to say something other than your mom and dad in order to attract attention and advertisement dollars.

Having a PhD in informatics and a decade long experience in industrial software development, I can testify that theoretical computer science and the scientific method made my career.

There might be college degrees that might not be worth what you pay for them, but computer science is not one of them.

The “skip the college degree” logic is based on creating a quick revenue stream with your startup using the quick and dirty approach and then selling it to a big company or investors. One of two things will follow that acquisition.

Either the startup will implode, because the quick and dirty approach isn’t sustainable. Or you will invest that money to people with degrees that will rewrite the whole thing, but this time properly.

You might like the idea of selling your startup to a big company or investor, but be careful. This approach is not for everybody. It involves a lot of trial and error until you find and execute an idea to the point of market traction.

Startups are more like lottery tickets.

The chances of winning are slim. Losing is almost guaranteed. The price of the ticket is paid by hard work and your own hard earned cash. And there are occasional winners to keep the clueless public entering the game.

If that sounds like a good idea to you, go ahead and quit your computer science degree. If your college degree is in origami and you’re taking half a million in student loans to pay that, quitting that is probably a good idea too.

Well, seriously, there are some college degrees that don’t have any real world value to cover the time and tuition you invest in them, but computer science is not one of them.

This Is How You Annoy People without Even Realizing It

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw

I remember my first job more than a decade ago. We were a bunch of tech enthusiasts researching algorithms. Those were the days when Google came up with new products frequently. There were products such as Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Google Docs.

I was a Google fanboy. Whatever came from them must be the pinnacle of innovation and I had to use it. I also had to shove it down the throat of my colleagues. It was fun to work on a single Wave with multiple people and see how everybody was typing their ideas at the same time.

Sure, Google Wave was a huge synchronization challenge solved well, but was it adding any value to our process? Maybe marginally. Same with Google Buzz and Google Docs. Whenever, I sent a document to a supervisor, they would print it and give it back to me as a hard copy with handwritten notes on it anyway.

It took me a little more time to realize that my need to make an impact on my environment wasn’t serving me or my colleagues well.

Soon, Google retired Wave and Buzz, but it took me a little more time to realize that my need to make an impact on my environment wasn’t serving me or my colleagues well. Once I realized that, I started to do my due diligence before introducing a new technology to my colleagues.

  • Have I tested this software thoroughly?
  • Which value does this software add?
  • Does the added value justify its cost in money, computing resources, and learning efforts?
  • Most important. Can my colleagues effectively use this piece of software? Can they get the same value out of it as I do?
  • Does it have significant added value over existing systems such as a standard email client?

The questions above are not only relevant to the software, but also to other products and lifestyle choices. Unlike other cryptocurrency enthusiasts, I don’t promote Bitcoin to everybody that I come across. I know that 99% of the population can’t figure out the security basics of Bitcoin and can’t deal with the ups and downs of the price.

This need has some leadership qualities and can contribute to the environment if acted upon consciously.

I realized through experience that my need to make an impact on my environment wasn’t serving me or my environment well all the time. Sure, this need has some leadership qualities and can contribute to the environment if acted upon consciously. However, it also has its flip side.

As humans, we tend to jump on conclusions without sufficient data. That is a part of our DNA. However, if our conclusions don’t match reality and if we impose those conclusions on others, then we are causing more harm than good.

The Theory

Even though I curbed my need to make an impact on my environment, my real awakening came from the audiobook Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You by Prof. Peter M. Vishton (available from audible.com).

Prof. Vishton explained the need to make an impact on one’s environment brilliantly. He also explained that this need was inherent in all of us, even in babies. The lesson here is to become aware of this need in ourselves and use it in a conscious way. That way we can use this need to do more good and cause less harm.

The need to make an impact on one’s environment and jumping on conclusions are two of the many unconscious biases, needs, and heuristics that we carry in our DNA. Learning them and becoming conscious of them have their benefits. The book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a good starting point if you are interested in this subject.

Like all the biases, needs, and heuristics that we carry in our DNA, the need to impact one’s environment must have an evolutionary advantage that I can’t see at the moment. If you have any idea about it, let me know in the comments.

  • Do you have the need to impact your environment?
  • How does that manifest in your life?
  • How does it serve or disserve you and/or the people around you?
  • Which evolutionary benefit would the need to impact one’s environment have?

How to Create an Identity for Success

Writing and publishing this post was painful, but I had to do it. This is what kept me and countless others from success despite all the effort and success. It was painful to face this fact, but at the same time, gave a new hope. Warning: reading this might hurt you, but I hope it will inspire you and change the way you look at life and success.

In the past, I’d spend an insane amount of effort to write a book, just to stop a few days before hitting the publish button. I know people who are great researchers. They worked in their fields for decades, but they don’t dare to go after the PhD degree they deserve. Have you ever spent an insane amount of effort on a goal without any results at all? What’s going on in here?

My answer to that question is identity.

If your identity doesn’t match the identity of the person who would get the results you’re aiming for, you won’t get those results, no matter how hard, how long, or how smart you work.

Now, take a moment to let that sink in.

I didn’t dare to complete the last chapter of my book. I didn’t dare to promote my already published online course, even though it provided massive value to me and to my close friends. What was holding me back?

In my mind, I wasn’t a personal development author. It didn’t match my identity. On the one hand, I believed I wasn’t good enough to be an author. On the other hand, I believed I was overqualified to be an author. As a result, I didn’t dare to pull the trigger on multiple occasions.

This time, I decided to try something else. Instead of writing a book and feeding it to Amazon, I decided to build my identity first. If I couldn’t succeed at building my identity first, writing and publishing a book wouldn’t mean anything at all. If I didn’t have that identity, no one would read that book. It would be one of those 300 books published every day and forgotten as soon as they were published.

Creating an Identity for Success

Your identity is as important as your environment for success. Your identity influences the way you look at things, the way you perceive and approach life, the way you react to your environment, the way you act and behave. All of which have a huge impact on creating your reality.

By changing your identity, you are changing your life at a root level.

Take the military training as an example. Military training not only involves physical activity and gunmanship. It also involves having a clean haircut, shaving daily, waking up early, having a clean uniform, having your bed made, even your locker well-organized. Why is that? That’s all a part of building an identity of discipline and precision. These are the two qualities that lives depend on in a military mission.

What do you see when you look at the mirror the first thing in the morning?

I know people who get depressed by what they see in the mirror the first thing in the morning. Is this how you want to start your day? Or do you want to look at the mirror and see a warrior with a clean haircut and well-trained muscles? How would you feel the rest of the day if you saw that image in the mirror, the first thing in the morning?

I’m not a big fan of consumerism, but to some extent the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the phone you use all contribute to your identity, which in turn contribute to your results. Even what you eat and drink contributes to your identity. I drink organic, fair-trade coffee. With only two cups a day, the price doesn’t make that much of a difference, but my choice reinforces my identity of a person who takes care of themselves and is compassionate towards less fortunate people.

You can’t change your identity overnight, unless a huge, dramatic event occurs in your life, but you can definitely change your identity over time. The first step is to become aware of the parts of your identity that are holding you back.

Which Parts of Your Identity are Holding You Back?

Look at your results and ask yourself which parts of your identity are holding you back from achieving the results you want. By asking this question, you will figure out the obvious factors and you can fix them.

Learn What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

Consuming personal development content is a great way to learn what you don’t know you don’t know. There are lots of great books, videos, podcasts, articles, and blogs out there.

It wasn’t obvious to me that I was hesitating between several options all the time until I read a paragraph in Michael Neill’s book Supercoach. After reading that paragraph, I started to make conscious effort to cultivate decisiveness. I have even written a few blog posts about the topic to share what worked for me.

Ask for Feedback and Make Use of It When You Receive It

Ask for feedback from your colleagues, friends, and family. In some cases, they will give feedback to you without even asking it. Sometimes, they will give you clues. It’s important to take that feedback and make the best of it.

I have received the feedback that I wasn’t an independent worker. As soon as I came against something that I had no clue about, I used to ask it to my colleagues or friends. Some people find that annoying, especially in the IT sector. IT people expect you to exhaust all of your options before you ask something to them. I learned that lesson years ago and made it a part of my identity to do my research and experimentation before asking something to someone.

Go After New Experiences

Go after experiences that are outside of your comfort zone. This can be participating in a personal development workshop, going for a road trip, or building a side business. Sometimes, life will give you unexpected experiences that are outside of your comfort zone, such as getting lost in the woods.

Getting lost in the woods was a lesson to cultivate faith in my abilities and aggressiveness towards my goals.

Build Habits to Build Your Identity

A part of my identity that wasn’t serving me well was taking things easy and not being disciplined enough. I realized that working out in the gym regularly would help me cultivate discipline and strength, not only physically, but also psychologically. Make no mistake, I like working out, but if enjoying it was my only motivator, I would work out once a week and do only the pleasant exercises, instead of four times a week starting with an abs routine.

Role Models

If you want to achieve a goal, think about a role model that has already achieved that goal and try to assume their identity and create their environment to the extent possible. What are the habits and character traits that helped them succeed? What are their thinking patterns? How do their working and living environments look like?

You can even visualize yourself as the person that has already achieved the goal that you have set. How do you feel? What is your mindset? What are your thinking patterns? What are your habits? How does a day in your life look like? What is in your working and living environment?


If your identity doesn’t match your goals, you’ll keep failing at them no matter how hard you work. Sometimes, the only way to gap the bridge between where you are and where you want to be is to cultivate the identity of person that would achieve your goals.

Call to Action

  • Come up with three action items to find out and cultivate an identity that will make you succeed.
  • Reread this post if necessary to complete exercise above.
  • Execute at least one of the action items that you have determined within 24 hours.
  • Let me know in the comments how it worked for you.

How to Create an Environment for Success

Most of the success literature is about how to work harder, longer, and smarter. There is no doubt that working harder, longer, and smarter will improve your results. Nevertheless, that’s only one side of the coin. The other side is to create an environment and identity for success. The effort you invest in your environment and identity pays its dividends in success over time. This post will be about creating an environment for success. I’ll write another post about creating an identity for success.

It’s much easier to create an environment and identity for success than willing yourself to work harder, longer, and smarter.

Work from Wherever You Want, or Not?

You might have come across advertisements that promise you to be your own boss and work from wherever you want. Some of these advertisements use the image of a woman in a bikini, working on her laptop on the beach. These marketers try to take advantage of our associations of work and beach. People associate the beach with relaxing and having fun. People associate work with hardship.

Is it really possible to work on a beach in your swimwear with a laptop on your lap? If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s the answer. First, you won’t be able to see anything on that screen because of the sun glare. Second, the laptop will soon get so hot that your legs will burn. Third, working is the last thing you will want to do when you’re on a beach.

Let’s Dive in Deeper

Do you do your best work in an office, wearing business attire, and working between certain business hours or when you’re at home, wearing your pajamas, and working whenever you feel like it? Most people would admit that the first setting would produce better results for them, even though they would prefer to work in the second setting.

Working in an office, wearing business attire, and working between certain business hours trigger your brain to get into the working mood. Your office and working hours contribute to your environment. Your business attire contribute to your identity. Both, your environment and identity, trigger the working mood.

On the other hand, being at home and wearing pajamas is associated with resting and relaxing. Unless you condition your mind to perform at home as good as in your office, your mind will still associate the home environment with resting and relaxing.

Is working from home a utopia then? Not necessarily. Working from home can be a better alternative to working in an office. You can avoid wasting time in daily commute. You can work flexible hours. You can work from the comfort of your home, in a relaxed way. There are also other advantages to it. But it doesn’t mean lying on your bed, in your pj’s, with the day time TV in the background. It’s your responsibility to create your an environment to maximize your performance.

Creating an Environment for Success

If our environment and identity have such a great impact on our results, why not take advantage of them by designing them for high performance?

Take a look at your working environment. How can you improve your working environment to increase your performance? Maybe you can get rid of the clutter on your desk and bookshelves. Maybe you need to get a better desk and office chair to improve your performance.

Look around and determine everything that distracts you. Maybe you should switch on the “do not disturb” mode on your phone, so that all notifications are switched off except most important calls. Maybe you can clean up your computer desktop. Maybe you can select a desktop wallpaper that helps you to focus, instead of distracting you.

My favorite is noise canceling headphones. I wear them to isolate myself from the environment and to focus entirely on the task at hand. I listen to steady Baroque music to maximize my concentration. I figured that neither no music nor upbeat pop music produce as much concentration as Baroque. The same is true with the amount and timing I consume caffeine. Neither no caffeine, nor lots of caffeine produce the same results as two cups per day, in the morning.

It’s up to you to figure out the sweet spots and to stick to them. You might think that these are small details, but if you can optimize hundred small details that would make a 1% difference, you will end up with 100% difference in your reality. That’s enough reason to pay attention to them. Which 1% improvements can you make in your environment to 38X your results in a year?

Look Around Carefully

When you look around carefully, you will notice thousands of things that you can change to improve your performance. Look at all the tools you use. Do you use the best computer, smartphone, and software that you can afford? Which apps are on the home screen of your smartphone? Do they lead you to better performance or do they distract you?

How close is your home to your work? In what kind of a neighborhood do you live? I know these are the decisions you cannot make overnight, but they are worth thinking about. Some of these changes might sound like a lot of time, money, and effort to implement at the beginning, but think about the dividends they’ll pay over time. If you can save an hour every day, wouldn’t that make a big difference over your entire career?

Design Your Home for Success

High performance doesn’t depend only on your working environment. Your home is as important as your working environment. Does a big TV dominate your living environment and is it switched on all the time? Is your home, clean, neat, and tidy? Do you have a quality bed to rest properly? I even pay attention to the temperature and humidity of my bedroom. I realized this plays a huge role in how good I rest at night and how good I perform the next day. I experimented with different temperatures to find my sweet spot, not too hot, but not too cold either.

This may sound funny but even the beverages you drink contribute to your environment and identity. I drink two cups of of fair trade, organic, medium strength, desert coffee a day, in the morning. That feeds my identity by telling me that I pay attention to the people who are less fortunate than me, and that I pay attention to my health and consume only good quality foods. Also limiting my consumption to two cups a day helps me resting better at night and keeping my performance high throughout the week. I also experimented with not drinking any coffee at all, but I didn’t experience a performance improvement that would justify the lack.

Never Underestimate Inspiration

Make sure to include something that would inspire you to perform well in your working environment. Some people put a picture of their families on their desk. When I was a college student, I used to put my mobile phone on its charging dock on my desk at home. Back then mobile phones weren’t as common as today and it was something that successful people used. But of course, within a few years everybody owned one. Nowadays, I have a piece of paper that summarizes my life goals and how I plan to achieve them. I call this practice creating your Matrix for success.

If you’re a student or a freelancer working from home and you have a difficult time concentrating at home, try working in a library or in a cafe. Or try designating a certain part of your home as your working environment, with a decent office chair and desk. Try working in decent clothes, between certain office hours, even if you’re working from home.

Observe Your Work and Living Environment

Both, your environment and identity, are difficult to become aware of. You’re immersed in both of them. It’s like water to the fish. It takes conscious effort to realize the parts of your environment and identity that are hurting your results and fixing them. There are several methods to become aware of the parts of your environment and identity that are holding you back and to fix them. I suggest you apply all of them, step by step, one step at a time.

Look at your results and ask yourself which part of your environment and identity is holding you back from achieving the results you want. By asking this question, you will figure out the obvious factors and you can fix them. For example, not having a TV at home greatly increases my performance. It’s a no-brainer for me. I never had a TV since I left my parents’ home. Having a simple, minimalist decoration is also a decision I made consciously to improve my performance. I donated all the stuff that I didn’t use regularly to a charity.


Your environment and identity has at least as much impact on your results as your actions, if not more. It is not obvious to us which parts of our environment and identity are holding us back. However, once you become aware of that, you can find ways changing your environment and identity. You have read some methods to become aware of your environment and identity in this post. I recommend saving this post and applying the ideas to change your environment and identity to improve your results. Let me know in the comments or via a private message, whether these methods work for you and if you have other methods to change your environment and identity to improve your results.