My Interview with Jeremy Slate on The Create Your Own Life Show

Some topic highlights for me:

  • Recognizing and leveraging life’s Inflection Points
  • Installing decision algorithms that create a bias for action
  • Looking across disciplines to identify the habits and mental models which generalize for all top performers
  • Recreating personal conditions for success and utilize positive feedback loops to reinforce those conditions
  • The mutual reinforcement of trackable goals and iterated systems
  • Correcting for our natural biases and blind spots as an entrepreneur
  • The biggest winners don’t compete with anyone but themselves
  • Curiosity as a never-ending source of motivation
  • “Staying on the bus” — the power of a low time-preference

Audio recording below (46 m). Full transcript to follow.

Podcast Transcript

Note: Transcript slightly edited for clarity.

Jeremy Slate: This is the Create Your Own Life Show, where we interview people that are world-class performers, from Super Bowl champions to New York Times bestsellers to billionaires. We figure out what makes them tick and unpack it for you to do the same. I’m Jeremy Ryan Slate, and every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we help you to create your own life.

Jeremy Slate: Hey, what is up, everybody, and welcome back to this latest episode of the Create Your Own Life Show. Guys, I’m really excited for this interview. First of all, a shout-out to the couple of you guys that didn’t leave reviews but left us five-star ratings on iTunes. I really appreciate that, guys, because that helps more people to see what we’re doing and to see the success you guys are having. First of all, thank you for that, guys. If you are the ones that went out there and left us a five-star rating, since it’s not a review, I don’t have your name. If I had your name, I would thank you, but for the rating, thank you so much.

Jeremy Slate: This is a really, really cool interview today, guys. We have Chris Sparks with us today, and he is one of the former top poker players in the world. We’re going to talk about how he got to be that, the things he works on for decision-making, how poker applies to his business now, and where entrepreneurs’ blind areas are and how his skills at poker have actually enabled him to see that.

Jeremy Slate: What is up, everybody? Jeremy here, and, guys, I’m pretty excited for today’s episode because we’re going to talk a little bit about poker today as well as making the right decisions and multiplying effectiveness, so I’m really stoked about this. Our expert guest today is Chris Sparks, and he is a productivity multiplier for entrepreneurs designing the habits and systems which maximize personal effectiveness. He specializes in helping clients identify their critical path to project completion, to accelerate their implementation speed. He’s the author of Inflection Point: A Guide to Trajectory Transformation and was once ranked as one of the top 20 online poker players in the world. You can find out more about him over at theforcingfunction.com.

Jeremy Slate: Welcome to Create Your Own Life Show, Chris Sparks.

Chris Sparks: Ah, thanks for that wonderful intro, Jeremy. It’s awesome to be here.

Jeremy Slate: Absolutely. No, it’s really exciting to me, because I know when you and I had previously chatted, we talked quite a bit about poker and we talked about a podcast that ESPN had done about Phil Ivey and taking money in basically counting cards in poker matches. It’s just really interesting to me to get to dive quite a bit into that, so what’s your story, man?

Chris Sparks: It’s sort of difficult to summarize. Yeah. I guess I would always say that I’ve been hyper-competitive. I’ve always been really into games, trying to find the optimal strategy, what are the commonalities for getting the high score, if you will. And I happened to be going to college during what’s called the poker boom, where poker was all over ESPN, as you said, and all my friends were doing it for fun. I just took my natural competitiveness and dived forward into it as a way to both have fun and pay college tuition while I was in school. I actually had the dream of making television commercials for a living, so all of my extracurricular involvement, all my internships and the job I accepted after college with Ford was all geared towards, “how can I be transforming consumer behavior through the medium of television?”

Chris Sparks: Luckily for me, the auto industry happened to collapse the week before I was supposed to start my job in advertising at Ford. It seems like we-

Jeremy Slate: Yikes.

Chris Sparks: … graduated around the same time. It was one of these blessings in disguise that the hobby that I had during school became my way of filling the days. I found myself in Detroit, a new city where I didn’t know anyone and no way to fill the time, except for to try to take this hobby that I had during school and find a way to turn it into a business. Within a few months, I was making what my annual salary would have been on a monthly basis.

Jeremy Slate: Wow.

Chris Sparks: Yeah. I met up with some of my poker friends who I only knew from their screen names. We went out to Vegas and then got a mansion together in L.A., and the year and a half that I was in L.A., I moved up the ranks to, as you alluded, being one of the top online poker players in the world — until Black Friday came around and the poker industry shut down.

So, just took that opportunity to do all the things that I would have regretted not being able to do. I spent a couple of years backpacking around the world, read hundreds of books, started a few businesses, marketing analytics. Worked in the investment and venture capital [world] for a while, but really settled in on this aspect of I wanted to accelerate the growth of the people who were trying to change the world.

Chris Sparks: That had always been the commonality for me. My primary interest has always been psychology, whether that was, what’s the psychology of people who are making a decision? So that could be a buying decision, an investment decision, whether that’s buying a stock or making a bet in a poker hand, or in this case, what are the commonalities, what’s the psychology behind being a top performer, being someone who has prolific output as an entrepreneur? I took some of the same concepts that I had learned as a top poker player about optimizing performance and just translated those to knowledge work.

That’s primarily what I do now, is working one-on-one with entrepreneurs to optimize their performance, taking things that I’ve learned either through my own experimentation over the years, reading hundreds of books across a number of fields, or translating the things that work for clients to a large audience.

Jeremy Slate: Very cool. But before I go back and touch on some other things in your story, I’m going to ask you, what is Black Friday? Because I hear that, I think of the day after Thanksgiving when we all go shopping and things like that. I imagine that’s not what you’re talking about here, so I guess, what is that?

Chris Sparks: Yeah. This would be like a Black Swan, if you’re familiar with the term from Nassim Taleb, is that overnight, online poker in the U.S. shut down. The long story short, sites had been essentially committing bank fraud in order to keep operating because [ . . . ] the government made it illegal to process gambling transactions. It was completely legal to gamble, but you couldn’t get your money on and off the site. Eventually, the sites that were operating in the U.S. in sort of a legal gray area got shut down, and everyone’s balances were seized. Overnight, the tens of thousands of professional online poker players and the millions of people who played recreationally inside the U.S. were no longer able to do so.

Chris Sparks: It was sort of the turning point [ . . . ] do you move abroad to continue to play poker as a profession, or in my case, do you use this as an opportunity to pivot to the next chapter of your life? I think that everyone reaches the inflection point, as I call it, where do I continue to double down and become a lifer in this pursuit or do I use the skills that I have learned as a platform to propel myself to something else?

As much as I love poker, and I think there are so many useful mental models that I have derived from it, it’s essentially a zero-sum way of operating in the world that every dollar that goes into my pocket comes from someone else’s. It gave me the opportunity to kind of take a hard look at what I wanted to accomplish with my life, and I decided that I wanted to try to make the pie larger rather than fighting over the same pie. Yeah, I actually had half of my net worth seized by Black Friday, the majority of which I didn’t get back for three years.

Jeremy Slate: Wow.

Chris Sparks: It was kind of like a dark-night-of-the-soul-type moment for me in that I had put all of my eggs in [the] poker basket. All of my friends were poker players. It’s what I spent all of my time and energy thinking about, dreaming about [. . . I had to decide,] what do I do next? Where do I go from here?

Jeremy Slate: Wow. I appreciate that, just so we have some understanding. I can’t imagine what’s going through your head at that point, though. When you lose half of your net worth overnight, it’s held for three years, because you have to be thinking about at that point, what am I going to do now? I think that is a really interesting inflection point when it’s forced upon you. When you were in that situation, Chris, how were you handling it? Because I imagine initially, you got to be freaking out. How do you, I guess, find the sanity to get through it?

Chris Sparks: Yeah. I think we get better every time we are put into these types of situations. I would love to say that I bounced right away and overnight I just transformed myself, but in actuality, it was quite a bit of wandering and a longer process of self-discovering and trying to come to terms with what my new values would be, given the new reality.

Yeah, a lot of what I teach now are these algorithms, where algorithms [are] a set of rules that we follow so that when these events come up that are unexpected, how can we [react] quickly. So, limit the damage that we would take on from things not going as expected and how do we pivot quickly and take the new reality into account and move forward in the best way possible?

Chris Sparks: The advice that I would have given to my younger self would have been to create these experiments — where rather than trying to come up with the perfect answer of knowing exactly what I wanted to do next, just come up with what my best guess was and try that for a bit. I think that we find out a lot of explanation following action. Once we are able to start moving forward, the next steps become very clear, but that if we are trying to create the perfect plan, we can find ourselves in a bit of analysis paralysis. I think that’s what happened to me.

Chris Sparks: Now, what I try to do with clients is help them to discover the conditions that correlate with action. What are these conditions that they can discover? And that’s this kind of a mutual discovery process where I’m holding up a mirror to what they already know, and how can they recreate these conditions where they are their best self? I find that these experiences, it’s like paying tuition, and the goal is not to pay tuition twice, that every failure is a lesson, and so I’ve been fortunate to have a few of these large failures that have taught me very large lessons as far as how can I take these hits and rather than flinch, lean into them, keep moving forward. My way of paying it forward is just to try to distill down some of these lessons that I learned so that others, hopefully, when they’re faced with similar situations can react in the most optimal manner.

Jeremy Slate: Well, the first thing actually mentioned there, Chris, when I asked you actually what your story is, you mentioned that you’d always been somebody that was hyper-competitive. I guess my question would be, where does that come from for you and was that something that was there, maybe a family member or somebody you were watching that taught you to be that way? Or where do you feel like that competitiveness comes from for you?

Chris Sparks: If I could psychoanalyze myself, I would say that I derive a lot of value from being important, that this being recognized for someone who is delivering a lot of value is something that really allows me to move forward into the world. This has become a recent understanding, that having knowledge that is not widely distributed but extremely useful, is something that I derive a lot of pride from having accumulated.

I think this competitive drive is my way of kind of reaffirming my value, in that because there is a discrete winner, there is no, say, wiggle room as far as who has performed well. So, it became really critical for me in a number of pursuits, whether that was getting the right grades or performing well in team sports or at the poker table where everyone else at the table was getting in the way of being the best. That was a really big driver for me to kind of reaffirm my own value.

Chris Sparks: This idea of pursuits that have very discrete ends, where it’s very clear whether we are doing well or not, I like to say that all improvement comes from tightened feedback loops. In poker, thousands of times a day I’m finding out whether my assumptions are correct and there’s a lot of satisfaction in progress, and clear objective progress, in that more often over time my assumptions are correct, that I am ending up on the better end of the deal. I’ve tried to leverage this competitive drive in every pursuit, in that if I have someone to target, someone who I can set my sights on, that’s a big motivating factor for me.

Chris Sparks: Yeah, I think even if someone isn’t competitive, I think taking time to come to terms with these strengths that also can be inverted weaknesses, so competitiveness can be a huge motivational strength, but it also can cause us to pursue things that aren’t important, just to compete. I think it’s this self-understanding of what causes our best selves to show up and how can we most leverage this understanding I think is a really key drive. I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, the biggest constraint we face is having a great reason to get out of bed in the morning. What’s going to be the thing that propels us forward to be our best selves. For me, for a long time, that was being the best I could be so that I could be better than the other guy.

Jeremy Slate: Well, I want to bring this back to I guess some more poker [ . . . ] we’re then going to take that and transition it to how we can accelerate what we’re doing in our business. For you, Chris, if you had to look at it, how do you train for poker? How do you get better at it? Because I know if I want to get better in the gym, I just go and I work out more. For you, was it playing more poker? Was it learning a certain skill set, because I feel like a lot of that is applicable to what you’re doing now?

Chris Sparks: Sure. I think it’s the same as learning any skill, in that it’s a combination of getting reps in, as you alluded to, in the gym and having very deliberate practice, in that you are constantly looking out for your own blind spots and trying to cast light upon them. In poker, there’s no substitute for playing lots of hands. In my career, I’ve played millions of hands because I was normally playing multiple games at a time-

Jeremy Slate: Wow.

Chris Sparks: … up to thirty at my peak, where I could get in way more hands than my competition, and so I thrive on driving these patterns, in that everything that I see, I have seen before in some form, and so I can react quicker and, thus, if I know the standard responses in these standard situations, I can be very comfortable maneuvering my opponents into situations that they might be less comfortable. This idea of centrality, that there are situations that I am more comfortable than my opponent is, and so basically getting a very wide repertoire within my field of choice allows me to be comfortable in a number of situations.

There’s really no substitute for experience, but what I would do is I would systematically study these situations that were relatively uncommon but that there were big opportunities for kind of taking ownership there and becoming an expert in that area. Then I can manipulate the field of play so that those situations come up even more often than would be expected.

Chris Sparks: How I would apply this to learning anything is that there are core skills that you need the fundamentals to, where it’s like you have a tree, you need the trunk in order to build upon it. So, if you’re learning drums, having a good sense of rhythm is critical. If you want to be a writer, having that writing habit, having a large vocabulary, et cetera. But there are other skills that can become differentiators that you hone and you lean into, and so having a good idea of what I could do better than everyone else and escalating the importance of those subskills within the pursuit, finding the differentiator.

Chris Sparks: I’d say with poker, I had this extreme pattern recognition, in that I could tell you about hands that I played a decade ago and what the implications were, and just this ability to sense the other person on the screen. It’s very counterintuitive, but even if I can’t see someone, I can sense their emotions. I can sense their mental state based on very limited information like the speed of a click or betting one number over another, and so once I have those advantages in place, I can lean into them and elevate them so that they become even bigger advantages.

Jeremy Slate: I guess where would you say that’s translated best for you now into a business career? Would it be in negotiation, or where does that translate best for you?

Chris Sparks: Yeah. What I do day to day is trying to create a universal set of habits and systems that allow someone to become prolific, so the same idea of deep pattern recognition, looking across a number of fields. I work with entrepreneurs who work in a number of industries who wear so many different hats, but what are the commonalities that I see between them? What is the pattern of, they do these things and they have the types of results they’re looking for, being able to distill down that pattern into a form that can be taught to others, and also helping them to recognize what are their unique strengths and how can they spend a greater percentage of their resources, whether it be their time, their attention, or their energy dedicated towards what they do best.

Chris Sparks: I think that a fault that we all make is trying to be great at everything rather than trying to do more of what we are already great at. I like to say to disregard ideas and leverage assets so we’re already in a great position to do a few things in particular — how can we derive maximum value from those few things?

Jeremy Slate: I guess my question would be, then … You talked about the idea of figuring out what the assets are. I really, really love that. Do you, I guess when you’re looking at it, take stock of the assets first and see how you can strengthen those and get rid of the weaknesses or what does that look like? That’s a really interesting concept.

Chris Sparks: I think we just let some small bad things happen. This is usually kind of delegating, outsourcing, eliminating. I think of time in terms of arbitrage, in that everything I am doing I can put a dollar value on how much is that activity worth. So, in any given day, any entrepreneur is doing thousand-dollar-an-hour type activities, things that only they can do or things that move the business forward, high-level strategics, could be getting investment, hiring, et cetera. But they’re also doing lots of ten-dollar-an-hour activities.

I think of my restaurateur client who frequently finds herself in the kitchen washing dishes, just because we try to be good at everything. I think it’s identifying these very few key activities which we uniquely are best at, which we only can do, and trying to create a system so that we can derive the most value from these activities. The weaknesses, as we refer to them, sort of go away because people are deriving so much value from our strengths that the small bad things that are happening from our weaknesses — either others are doing them on our behalf or we just neglect those areas — are more than compensated.

Jeremy Slate: I guess, then, translating that into what you do now is you really help … We’ve kind of been talking about this all along, but when we’re trying to accelerate, I guess, growth in what we’re doing, what should we be looking at? Because I know it’s a lot of what you help people with, and I imagine there’s just these blind spots, these things you aren’t seeing that you’ve talked about a little bit. When we’re trying to accelerate our growth, where should we be focusing?

Chris Sparks: I think if you want to improve anything, it starts with measurement. The common quote is, “We improve what we measure.” I reframe that as a measure to improve. Having key metrics in your business that are led to success. So, if sales is a big thing you’re going after, what are the inputs that lead to sales? It could be the number of potential clients who are emailed, number of sales calls, number of direct outreach set, having some metric that is a lead measure for success. Then I think of, what is the daily habit that makes sure this moves forward? Keeping with the sales example, setting time aside for sales and creating an environment where the sales activity is most likely to occur. Then the system, how can we create a system where we are regularly reflecting upon what is working and doing more of that and building upon our success? This is the tightening feedback loops idea.

Chris Sparks: In a nutshell, I’m trying to distill down what could be a very complicated business into a couple of actions that really matter, the things that move the business forward, and how can we create a protective shell around these activities so that they reliably happen every day and the things that would normally happen instead, which we would reframe as distractions because of opportunity cost, they come at the expense of doing the most important thing. How can we make those less likely to occur? How can we add friction towards those activities?

So, it’s strengthening the things we do well and adding friction to the things that aren’t as important or that we don’t do as well. That’s where I come into everything is a habit. How can we build habits? How can we make our habits extra strong? How can we derive the most value from them? And how can we create systems around those so that we can continue to improve those over time? How can we extract more value from them?

Jeremy Slate: When you talk about the things that really produce the most results, and you say you look at that each client you work with, so I’m kind of interested to find at which commonalities that you see between … It probably doesn’t happen with all of them, but there’s probably a good deal of them that have some common trait that it’s each thing that the person should be focusing on. What are the commonalities across that with all the people you’ve worked with?

Chris Sparks: One commonality that I have found is that we tend to overrate what we’re naturally good at. If someone is really good at marketing, they’re going to spend a lot of their time thinking about improving their marketing, which it could create the blind spot of the things that they aren’t naturally good at is the most important. I think that there are activities which fall to the entrepreneur and to the entrepreneur alone which tend to be growth and product. On the growth side, knowing who the audience is, doing customer discovery, finding new ways of reaching them, finding new ways of delivering value to them, whether that’s improved products or increased product lines. I think anything involved with investment, talking to investors falls under the entrepreneur’s shoulders, and then hiring, bringing in the best possible people so that we can spend more of our time doing what we do best. How can we find the best people who can be a complement to our strengths?

Chris Sparks: I think those are always the commonalities across every business. What I am trying to look at when I bring on a new client is they have the history of when they feel like things are going well and trying to identify what is the pattern, what correlates with their feeling, like things are moving forward. I think a lot of progress is derivative of mood, if we feel like things are going well, we will be more inclined to approach them in the future. A positive feedback loop is created. We generate momentum that self-sustains. If I can identify the commonalities between when things are going well, we can start to find those correlations and recreate those conditions so that happens more often.

Jeremy Slate: That’s really interesting that you mention there this idea of finding the thing that you’re good at and focusing on it again and again and again and sometimes that can create a blind spot. I think it’s interesting because that was something I got sucked in for a little bit with thinking that I was the best at each task that had to be done in my business, and it took quite a while to get over, but there’s this amazing, I feel like jump of growth once you realize, okay, I can find this person. I can actually train them up to do it better than me, and each time I’ve found a person to do a task, it kind of 10x’s a lot of what we’re doing. I think that’s an interesting, I guess, thing to notice there that when you do handle that, it really can change the game for you.

Chris Sparks: Absolutely. I’m constantly thinking in terms of leverage. In terms of productivity, we have three levers at our disposal. Lever one is how can we make the most of our time? Hiring is a big one there. If we can spend our time training someone else to do something that’s recurring, that’s a very good use of time. Or how can we get most out of the time as far as working more efficiently? The other one is, are we doing the right things? I think this is the one that is most neglected, is generally … I said correcting for the thing that we’re most good at is what most scares us. I think that courage is the most underrated trait of any entrepreneur and generally the thing that we want to do but we don’t move forward because we’re scared of what could be the result is usually the thing that we need to be doing the most.

Chris Sparks: I think that this lever of are we doing the right things is the most important one we have. That’s where I spend a lot of our time in conversations is looking at this portfolio of where the entrepreneur’s time is going and seeing how well that portfolio aligns with their priorities for the business. Regularly, all we do is just go back and rebalance this portfolio so that it’s more in line, knowing that this is going to oscillate back and forth over time, but that the closer that our priorities are in line with our portfolio, the more things will move forward.

Jeremy Slate: I imagine for an entrepreneur or CEO or something like that, when they first see that and you’re like, “Hey, man, look at what you’re spending your time on,” they must be like, “Ooh, I can’t really look at that.” It’s got to be a little bit scary at first to see where some of this time’s getting wasted.

Chris Sparks: Sure. The easiest person to fool is ourselves, and I think that the biggest role that I can play is just this third-party objective observer that points out the obvious. I think that the number of good ideas I have are pretty limited, but I’m pretty good at elevating the good ideas that they have already had in the past. Really, it’s just maintaining coherence in a type of question such as, “Well, you said this was important the last call, but you didn’t spend any time on it. Do you still think it’s important?” Either yes or no can be problematic. If it wasn’t important, why are you switching focus so rapidly? The top focus shouldn’t change that often. If it still is important but you’re not actually spending time on it, where is your time going instead? How can that time be redirected towards this thing of higher importance? That’s really all it is, is just bringing things back into focus. The metaphor of meditation that our attention wanders and we just bring it back.

Chris Sparks: I keep coming back to in this conversation this idea of the feedback loop is that improvement comes from tightening it. We reflect on what’s going well, what’s not going well, how can we correct for that. From that reflection, we create a plan, what would we like to do, what’s the optimal result, how will we know when we’re done, and then we set a period that we’re going to execute on it. We run the experiment and say for the next thirty or ninety days, I’m going to ride head first down this path and see what happens. At the end of that execution period, when the experiment has been run, we decide what did we learn, what went well, what didn’t go well.

Through running through these loops, we just continually establish a slightly higher floor, and over time, we look back and say, “What the heck was I doing a year ago?” That’s how you know progress is being made, is that period that we look back and say, “Wow, I had no idea what I was doing,” becomes shorter and shorter and shorter.

Jeremy Slate: Well, Chris, I want to kind of bring it back around just as we’re kind of running low on time. What’s something that you believed at twenty-one that you don’t believe now?

Chris Sparks: Well, at twenty-one, I still had the dream that I wanted to be a marketer on the cover of Forbes. I think the advice that I would give that twenty-one-year-old self is that the only score that matters is the score that you set for yourself. What I mean by that is I think that because I hadn’t done the hard work of thinking about what I want … Part of it is at twenty-one, this whole idea that you know what you’re going to do when you go to college is sort of a fallacy, but still, I based all of my goals based on what culture was telling me was success. I wanted fame, I wanted recognition. I wanted to work my way up the corporate ladder. I wanted to be the person responsible for selling more widgets that other people didn’t need, these kinds of candy mountains that I was trying to climb up. And as I said, it was interesting that we started with Black Friday because it was at that moment where it finally hit me that I could literally do anything I wanted, that I first had to decide, well, what do I want? More importantly, what do I want to want?

Chris Sparks: I think that’s a common theme in my work [ . . . ] we can get ourselves to do anything, and so how can we decide what we want to want, what we want to go after? I think that’s the biggest change that I’ve had in the last decades since I was twenty-one is now what I go after comes from me and me alone, rather than looking at others as this example [ . . . ] I don’t compete anymore. It’s my core belief now that the biggest winner doesn’t compete. Rather than looking externally to what is everyone else doing and how can I do that better, it derives internally. What would I like to do and how can I do that so I am more satisfied with the results?

Jeremy Slate: You know what’s really interesting, Chris, is that I feel like a lot of high performers tell me that is they don’t care about the competition because … And it’s interesting because let’s say Elon Musk is trying to continually be his best, but if you compare his best to somebody else, it’s in a totally different ballpark. I think if we’re continually competing in our own game and bettering our own game, that’s how you become the best at something, you’re continually bettering that. Am I right there? Or what do you think?

Chris Sparks: Absolutely. All returns compound, so if things are internally driven, everything we do will build upon itself. I look at it as I’m just only getting started because everything I do is setting myself up for everything I want to do. And it’s very easy, especially in today’s age where we know exactly what everyone else is doing and our inability is completely exposed in that we’re always aware of people who are doing things better than we are. That becomes all the more important to derive our self-worth from what we are doing internally rather than in comparison to others, because it’s so easy to get distracted by what everyone else is doing at the expense of making progress on what we want.

Chris Sparks: There’s a really cool metaphor that I like for this. You ever heard the Helsinki Bus Story?

Jeremy Slate: I’ve not heard the Helsinki Bus Story.

Chris Sparks: I’m probably botching the name.

Jeremy Slate: I imagine it was probably originally told in Finnish.

Chris Sparks: Perhaps. Yeah. In Helsinki, you have a central bus station and all of the buses leave from this central bus station. The first four stops leading out from downtown are the same. Whether you’re on Bus 52 or Bus 15 or Bus 83, the first four stops will be the same. When we’re looking outward to others as the example of what we should be doing, we’re sitting on that bus saying, “Wow, we’re going to the same stops as everyone else, but we’re not doing it quite as well.” We’ll pick up a new pursuit and we’ll go through stops one, two, three, four and everyone will point out, “Well, have you seen what so-and-so is doing? It looks exactly what you’re doing, only better.” And we’ll get discouraged and we’ll walk back to the central bus station and hop back on the bus, only to find time and time again that when we start off, what we are doing compares to other people who are doing it even better.

Chris Sparks: Well, what happens after this fourth stop, once we get past a certain point in our pursuit, we start to naturally branch off and differentiate ourselves. This is why I’m hammering … It’s my home of knowing what makes us unique, and really leaning on that is that it only comes after we’ve continued down the same path for a certain amount of time that we can discover what makes what we’re doing different, what makes what we’re offering to the world unique in some way.

The conclusion of the Helsinki Bus Station is stay on the bus. Have faith in the process that eventually what makes us different from everything else will come apparent with time, but if we keep looking to others, if we keep saying, “Oh, we’re on the same stop as everyone else,” we’ll never last long enough to get to that point.

Jeremy Slate: Wow. I really love that. Well, Chris, I want to bring it back around to taking a look at skill set. If you had to decide what your biggest skill is, what is that and how do you fully develop that?

Chris Sparks: I think my ninja skill is curiosity. I think a lot of what people mistake as intelligence is really just a deep curiosity about the world and how things work. I’ve just always loved learning. Again, I think because every strength is an inverted weakness, I think sometimes that can be to my detriment, in that I learn more things than I can potentially apply. But it’s an amazing strength if I can find a field such as consulting or poker to really lean on that strength — because there’s everything out there that I would want to do has been done by someone else before me. There’s nothing new under the sun, and this curiosity and ability to learn means that it is possible to do anything.

Chris Sparks: I think that’s kind of what drives a lot of what I do [ . . . ] I just derive so much satisfaction in figuring things out and learning the best way of going about things. I would say if I had to pick a common thread between everything that I’ve done is just like, what ties people together? What makes us human? How do we make decisions? How do we find happiness and satisfaction in the world? What separates the people who go out and achieve their goals from those who are still dreaming the same dreams decades later? It’s this curiosity that there are objective truths to these deep questions, and that’s what drives me forward and makes it so I’m excited to get out of bed every day. Yeah, curiosity.

Jeremy Slate: You know what’s funny is just in this interview here, chatting here, I can totally see that being curiosity. I have to agree with you there. Then, if we’re far in the future, Chris, and we can take a look at your legacy and everything you created and sum it up with a quote on your tombstone, what does that look like, man?

Chris Sparks: A quote that I said that would go on the tombstone?

Jeremy Slate: Well, it can be somebody else’s. That’s fine. Doesn’t have to be yours. But it’s just something to describe your legacy.

Chris Sparks: Well, I’d love for it to be my quote, because if it’s my quote, I probably did something good. I would say my quote would be, “The biggest weapon that you have is a low time preference.” A low time preference meaning that this idea from the psychology of hyperbolic discounting that if we get the reward years down the line, we’re not very motivated to do the work now. But if we can be attracted to doing hard things now that won’t be paid off for a long time in the future, that means the scale and ambition with which we can try things becomes exponentially larger, that it doesn’t matter to me whether I succeed now or decades in the future if I have a low time preference and that allows me to try anything. And because I think with enough knowledge I am capable of anything, that low time preference becomes the ultimate puppet, because in a long enough time scale, we can achieve anything we set our minds to.

Chris Sparks: Yeah, I’m always trying to think about ways to systematize [an] empathy between this future self, which is old and giving a lecture to the young kids on, “Back in my day, I used to da-da-da,” how can I make his success and lessons … How can I translate to what I’m doing now and make it so I minimize the number of regrets that I have in the future, that even if I didn’t succeed, I tried everything that I wanted to try, and no matter what, no one can take that away from me. So, yeah, that would be the quote, “The greatest weapon we have is a low time preference.”

Jeremy Slate: Very cool. Chris, this has been awesome today. For those people out there listening, if they want to connect with you, if they want to learn more, where is the best place to go, man?

Chris Sparks: Thank you so much, Jeremy. I thrive on conversations like these where we go deep. It’s just an honor going on your show, and I love what you’re doing as far as deconstructing what top performers are doing. I think it’s very valuable work.

Chris Sparks: I’d love to continue the conversation. If anything I said today connected with you, as Jeremy said before, my website is theforcingfunction.com. You can find more about the consulting that I do with entrepreneurs on there. You can read excerpts from my new book that might be out by the time this show comes early next year called Inflection Point, where I share what I’ve learned in my years of studying top performers as far as what makes them tick. You can also find me on all the usual social media channels. My name is @SparksRemarks.

Jeremy Slate: Very cool. Chris Sparks, thank you so much for hanging out with me today on the Create Your Own Life Show.

Chris Sparks: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

Jeremy Slate: Hey, guys. Thanks for hanging out with me and Chris today. You can check him out over at theforcingfunction.com or you guys can get the show notes and everything else mentioned in this interview, including your free audiobook from Audible over at jeremyryanslate.com/487. Also, guys, don’t forget to subscribe on whatever platform you listen to us on, be it Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, whatever it is. And while you’re over there, guys, leave us a five-star rating and a review and I’ll read it on the air. All right, guys, rock on and I’ll catch you on Wednesday.


I’m Chris Sparks, founder of The Forcing Function, helping entrepreneurs multiply their productivity by designing the habits and systems which maximize personal effectiveness.

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