Niklas Göke
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Courtesy of science and an 83-year old concert pianist

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Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

It is a warm spring evening in Vienna, 1987. The Musikverein, one of the finest concert halls in the world, is packed to the last seat.

Slowly, an old man takes the stage. He’s tall, but his skin is wrinkly and his hair is thin. Still, he looks swell in his smoking.

He pauses at the grand piano in the center. He smiles, he waves, he sits down and gets back up. Each of his movements is greeted with ever more applause.

He wipes his head, he stretches his fingers, and then he starts to play. …

The brain’s two competing forces that determine your outcomes in life

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Photo by Ferdinand on Unsplash

You are not your brain, and yet your brain determines a large chunk of everything that happens in your life. Your brain is a tool you must work with. This is an important distinction to how we usually think of ourselves.

When a man walks his dog on the street, the dog may start pulling in the opposite direction. It may refuse to walk or start barking. As we pass by, we can see the man struggling. We might smirk or laugh at him. “Ha! Stubborn dog. My dog used to be like that. Good times.”

If the man was by himself — pulling on an invisible leash, talking to the ground, struggling to walk despite there being no obstacle — we’d think he was crazy. With the dog there, however, everyone can understand the man’s problems. Of course he’ll struggle — the dog is giving him a hard time. …

4 body language tips to go from boredom to genuine fascination

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Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The easiest way to look engaged is to actually be interested.

Sadly, millions of meetings happen every day which don’t interest us at all. John veers off the topic to bring up his pet project. Georgina tells her whole life story instead of giving us the quarterly figures.

That’s frustrating, and while you can and should try to re-focus a meeting whenever it happens, everyone must act in concert for the nature of meetings to change.

Until that happens, there are a few things you can do to look more engaged in meetings. Think of these as “fake it till you make it” ideas: They might feel like hacks now, but if you turn them into habits, eventually, you’ll build real interest in the people you work with. …

It’s about how you relate the present to past and future

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Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

When he was 29 years old, Eckart Tolle found peace overnight — literally.

After years of troubled living punctuated by episodes of depression, Tolle went to bed plagued by his usual, haunting late-night thoughts. This time, however, he began questioning them.

“Why does my life feel unbearable? Why do I keep having these thoughts?” The answers came to him in the form of a powerful, internal epiphany. “Resist nothing,” his inner voice said. He fell into a deep sleep, and when he awoke, he felt “no more fear,” in his own words.

He spent the next day walking around, wandering, observing, fully engaged in the present moment — a state he continued to exist in for several years. Only when people asked him more and more questions did he begin to feel a sense of duty towards sharing his new, mindful approach to life. …

It has nothing to do with money, power, or status

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Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

What is freedom?

We rarely consider this question, and yet, we all have an answer to it. We think we know what freedom is. We think it’s obvious.

“Freedom is not being oppressed!” you might say, thinking back to history class, even though until this day, you’re not quite sure what “being oppressed” even means.

“Freedom is being rich!” you might think, because hey, rich people can do what they want, can’t they?

These concepts aren’t irrelevant, but the truth is they’re very narrow, limiting definitions of freedom. You got them from a book or from other people. …

Winners win because they know when to fight

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

“All is fair in love and war.” “Love is a battlefield.” “Life is suffering.”

We have many sayings to capture the struggle factor inherent in being human, and even though many overstate and dramatize it for show and effect, there is no denying that, indeed, we all fight for something in life.

When he compiled The Art of War in 500 BC, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu did not think of businessmen, athletes, and lovers reading his book 2,500 years later to win battles fought far from the field, but because of its structure and comprehensiveness, that is what happened.

The book has persisted for more than two millennia. …

What looks like a shortcut to happiness never leads to deep fulfillment

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Photo by Simon Zhu on Unsplash

The 80/20 principle is a lie. It works, it’s effective, and, when you feel overworked, it can give you a much-needed break. What doing 20% of the work to get 80% of the results can’t do, however, is provide meaning, satisfaction, and extraordinary outcomes.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Work one day a week and be done with it. Enjoy your spare time. Idle. Go sailing. Lie on the beach. Lie is a good cue, because an 80/20 life comes with many hidden problems.

The first is that, most of the time, that one day a week ends up being absolutely miserable because it’s a job or business where every day is miserable — and that’s why you want to automate it in the first place. …

Build intelligence on autopilot with a few tweaks to your day

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Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

The fastest way to become smarter is to make learning a habit.

This may sound obvious, but it’s not about maximizing the time you spend sitting at a desk, working or studying. It’s about finding ways to integrate learning seamlessly into your day.

A quick Google search right when you bump into a word you don’t know beats your plan to read The Intelligent Investor in one sitting — because 50 searches a day add up while, most of the time, the reading never happens.

We’re all busy. We have work and to-do’s and societal obligations. If we ignore everyday life, we’ll never make a big enough commitment to learning. Instead, we must acknowledge it. Work with it. Big, deliberate study sessions are a great second step, but if we try to make them the first, we’ll likely spend our lives feeling like perpetual failures. …

But if you’re too busy planning, you won’t be able to see it

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Image via Ira Huz on Unsplash

In 1997, famous architect Rem Koolhaas won a competition to design a campus center for the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The building was meant to connect important, dispersed college functions and provide students with space to eat, relax, and take care of administrative tasks.

When Koolhaas first came to the site, all he found was a big patch of grass used as a parking lot. Between deciding where to put relevant offices and how to design the exterior, a debate about how to connect it all ensued: Where do we pave the walkways?

Koolhaas could have gone for straight connections between each destination. He could have built them around the grass. He could have cut diagonal paths across the parking lot. Koolhaas did none of those things. Instead, he said: “We won’t build any walkways. We’ll wait and see where people walk.” …

Don’t tolerate smart-shaming and embrace who you are

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Photo by Åaker on Unsplash

In seventh grade, my history teacher asked if anyone knew what the huge, fancy, painting-like carpets covering the walls of the Palace of Versailles were called. His question was met with silence and puzzled faces.

Eventually, I raised my hand and said: “Gobelin.” My teacher was thrilled. So was my neighbor. “Ooooh, go-be-liiiiin, Mr. I-know-everything.” The class erupted in laughter.

There’s something to be said here about shaming intellectuals and about a system in which being fun is cooler than being smart, but at 13 I was oblivious to both of those things — so I too erupted in laughter. …

Trust the people you hire

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Image via HNA

Steve Jobs was brutally honest, hard to please, and not always fun to be around, but one thing we can never take away from him: He had an incredible ability to change his mind when he was wrong.

In 1992, Apple released OpenDoc, an open source framework for office tasks, hoping developers would build tools for users to better collaborate across systems, say Apple Pages and Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, it was clunky, slow to load, and the files were too big. This was in direct opposition to Apple’s philosophy of a smooth user experience — and so Steve scrapped it.

In 2007, when Steve first announced the iPhone, no third-party apps were allowed in the app store — Apple would build them all themselves. …

Don’t fool yourself

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Photo by Varun Gaba on Unsplash

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Two days ago, Ray Bradbury would have been 100 years old. If he could comment on his observation from 1993, he’d probably conclude we’re succeeding.

In 1953, Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian vision of the world in which books are illegal and so-called “firemen” burn any that remain.

40 years later, he understood we didn’t need law and fire to destroy the written word: We just had to make sure we’re too busy to look at it.

In 1993, it was tabloids and TV. Today, it’s the internet and video games. None of these things are inherently bad. They’re just too seductive — and we’re too weak to prioritize what’s important. …

Stay #2 long enough and you’ll become #1

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Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash

Since day one of its humble beginnings in 1946, the Avis rental car company has had a singular mission: To catch market leader Hertz.

Despite their nemesis’ 30-year head start, Avis managed to gain a 29% market share in its first 15 years of operation — but Hertz still had twice as much.

Then, in 1962, they came up with a slogan that would shrink that gap significantly, and all it took was three honest words: “We try harder.”

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Image via Frictionless Commerce

If you think this ad feels refreshing in 2020 (it does), imagine living in 1962. …

Absorb, ignore, observe

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Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

Neil Gaiman once captured all you’ll ever need to know about criticism:

“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Thankfully, most negative commenters on our art self-identify by telling us not just why our work sucks and what we should have done instead, but also that, by the way, we’re an idiot for taking the path we have chosen. In theory, it should be easy to ignore them.

In practice, however, the amateur gives far too much weight to any kind of feedback, especially the negative, mostly because thank god, finally, there is something to give weight to at all. After months of laboring in the dark, finally, someone descended from their throne of busyness to comment on our work. It must have been important to them — but it’s definitely important to us. This is a mistake, because 99% of criticism isn’t helpful at all. …

3 uncommon ways to appear (and become) more intelligent

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Photo by howling red on Unsplash

The easiest way to sound smart is to say nothing at all.

Silence creates an aura of mystery, which people will usually interpret in your favor. They’ll use the time to imagine what you might think and know, to wonder why you remain silent, and, sometimes, to second-guess themselves rather than questioning your abilities.

Silence is powerful because few people dare to employ it. …

500 interviews in, Jaime Masters is about to beat Napoleon Hill

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Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

“Your only limitation is the one which you set up in your own mind.”

That was one of Napoleon Hill’s 13 conclusions in Think and Grow Rich, a book he wrote after interviewing over 500 wealthy individuals over the course of 25 years.

Hill was sent on this journey by none other than business magnate Andrew Carnegie himself, who, after selling his near-monopoly steel company, the U.S. Steel Corporation, became the richest man in modern history.

Carnegie used his money — the equivalent of $374 billion today — to build no less than 2,500 Carnegie libraries around the world, and when Hill interviewed him in 1908, he pushed him to support his cause of education rather than pursue a law degree. …

If your article doesn’t fit the audience, don’t submit

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Photo by Brandon Lopez on Unsplash

Picking a Medium publication is like chess: People think there are near-infinite options, but usually, there’s only one right move to make.

Most writers get confused by the many variables each publication offers. Which one has the most followers? Do they email new articles to their audience? Will they tack a CTA onto my post? Do they edit my work? Will I get any feedback? Which one has the highest chances of curation?

The truth is none of these things matter. The only thing that matters is if your article is the kind of post that publication’s audience wants to read. …

The graph I’d like to show the world

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Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

If a magical genie granted you three wishes, what would you ask for?

Before asking for riches and eternal life, I’d gladly “waste” a wish on showing the entire world the following graph:

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This graph is from The Happiness Hypothesis, a book by Jonathan Haidt, one of the world’s leading psychologists, and it makes but one simple statement:

Friendship — not passion — is the basis of true, lasting love.

In any romantic relationship, two kinds of love co-exist: There’s passionate love, and there’s companionate love.

Passionate love is the emotional rollercoaster. It’s the drug. The adrenaline. The butterflies in your stomach. …

Lessons from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

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Photo by Nicolas Häns on Unsplash

“Your ‘I can’ is more important than your ‘IQ.’”

That’s one of the lessons Julian Mantle learned from the Himalayan sages he sought out after selling his Ferrari and quitting his seven-figure career as a lawyer post stress-induced heart attack.

Mantle isn’t real — but Robin Sharma is. …

“Solve money first” is a legit happiness strategy

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Photo by N. on Unsplash

When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg went to his 15th Harvard Business School reunion, he was floored by the number of miserable classmates he saw.

Some had been sued, tricked, or pushed out of great jobs. Others lamented missed opportunities and expensive divorces. Sure, some were content, but in this elite environment, Duhigg had expected above-average happiness. What he found was above-average misery.

The pinnacle was a friend who worked for a pension fund. His job was to invest $5 million a day — so that others could retire in peace. Sadly, his company didn’t feel very connected to that mission. Rather, it was a toxic work environment. Duhigg’s friend said there was a lot of pressure to place all the money, a lot of non-friendly competition with his co-workers, and that he hated going to the office — despite earning a whopping $1.2 …

Bracket unnecessary words

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Image via Pixabay

In my first 3 years of writing, I wrote over 1,000,000 words — thank god that was all of them. Who knows how much more redundant verbiage might have flown from my fingers if it weren’t for William Zinsser’s three-word lifesaver:

Bracket unnecessary words.

This is the single greatest piece of writing advice I’ve ever received. Here’s how Zinsser explains it in On Writing Well:

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the authors voice.

My reason for bracketing the students’ superfluous words, instead of crossing them out, was to avoid violating their sacred prose. I wanted to leave the sentence intact for them to analyze. I was saying, “I may be wrong, but I think this can be deleted and the meaning won’t be affected. …

Finding balance thanks to Bruce Lee’s analogy

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Photo by Mohamed Nashah on Unsplash

Water is balance. That’s why Bruce Lee’s “be water” analogy is popular to this day. His metaphor captures the balance we all need in our lives.

Water doesn’t look left or right. It just makes its way however it can. It adapts, but it always perseveres. Even at rest, water still slowly eats away at its surroundings. In Striking Thoughts, Lee expanded on the short recorded clip:

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. …

How an innocent image spawned massive outrage

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Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

Imagine this: You’re on a family trip to the mountains. As you drive up the winding slopes in your wagon, you reach a nice viewpoint and resting place.

Everyone gets out of the car, and you all munch on some snacks as you walk around the parking lot and enjoy some fresh air. As you turn around, you spot your four-year-old daughter, casually leaning on the grill, sporting her cool shades, and eating a banana. You smile and decide to snap a picture.

That picture could look something like this:

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Image via Audi

Pretty cool, right? What a nice memory!

Unfortunately, Audi’s PR people won’t have any nice memories from posting this exact picture on their Twitter account. In fact, they’ve probably had nightmares ever since. …

If Medium told you what’s wrong, you’d never really improve

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Photo by Jason Strull on Unsplash

It’s the number one question on any Medium writer’s mind: “Why was my article not curated?”

Most likely, your article wasn’t curated because it just wasn’t that good. It wasn’t original. It wasn’t well-structured. Even though you didn’t intend to, you said the same thing a thousand others have said a thousand times.

Maybe, your headline was too clickbaity, your title-sub combo lacked context, or your piece was riddled with grammatical errors. Maybe, your piece was too verbose. Maybe, it wasn’t detailed enough.

Whatever the reason, instead of complaining about Medium’s lack of feedback on each individual piece, you should move on and write the next story. …

Let’s analyze — and fix — a real example line by line

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Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash

If the first page of your novel is bad, you won’t need the 300 that follow.

It’s a sad truth of writing in the 21st century: Catch our attention early, or we’ll move on right away. There are too many things to pay attention to. We’re overwhelmed already, and so we’ll only stick with the best.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” That’s a great opening line, but you’ll still need great paragraphs to follow. The first page will make or break your novel. It is hard to overestimate how crucial it is.

It is, however, easy to screw it up. Let’s look at a random example. Laura is a photographer. She also writes poetry and short stories. Below is the first page of a story inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray. …

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