Jim Kwik Knows How You Think.
He knows that, as an entrepreneur, you’re trying to shove as much information into your brain as you can, and to do it as fast as possible. He knows that is frustrating, especially in our current moment of great change, because you can never move as fast as the things that come at you: Emails pile up, reports go unread, people are waiting for you, your industry is evolving, your world is shifting, and all the while you’re bombarded with noise and distractions and Slack pings and it’s why you’re waking up early and grabbing your phone and responding to everyone right away, as if that’ll actually stem the tide, which it will not.
He’s seen this play out infinitely. As the world’s top brain-performance coach, and the author of the best-selling book Limitless, he’s worked with teams at Google, Nike, SpaceX, Virgin, Facebook, and Zappos. He’s seen what overload looks like at the highest levels. He knows that you’ve felt on the verge of burning out, particularly during the past year, when everything you knew had to be thrown in the garbage, and he knows it’s a complicated feeling. “A lot of times,” he says, “entrepreneurs are burnt out not because they’re doing too much but because they’re doing too little of the things they really value.”
He knows you’re hungry for methods—because who doesn’t love methods? Concrete steps, as straightforward as a cake recipe, to do better. It’s why he makes online videos full of brain-boosting tactics, and why they’ve drawn more than 100 million views. But he also knows that methods by themselves are pointless— like giving someone that cake recipe but locking them out of the kitchen—because before you can use methods, you need tools that enable you to make use of methods.
And if you think that sounds confusing, Kwik knows that, too.
“Entrepreneurs have to constantly study,” he says. “They want to be an expert in their field, but if they feel overwhelmed, sometimes it’s because they’re trying to connect something they don’t know to something they don’t know.” Our brains don’t work like that. Why did you just read that interesting article about black holes in another galaxy, and then not retain a single damn piece of it afterward? Because you never studied the foundational information about astronomy, which means you have no knowledge base to connect this new information to. “All of learning is connecting something you don’t know to something you do know,” he says. We have to start somewhere.
Which is why, when Kwik meets with entrepreneurs, he likes starting with metaphors and stories. Here’s a quick metaphor he often tells his clients. Then a quick story.
The metaphor: A little boy watches a caterpillar build its cocoon. He waits and waits for it to emerge transformed, but eventually he gets impatient and cuts the cocoon open himself to see the butterfly. Instead, he’s horrified to find a swollen, mangled bug. He runs to his mother, who explains, “What happens in the cocoon isn’t pretty, but it is also necessary, and it cannot be interrupted.”
Now the story: Back in 2015, Kwik’s friend Sylvester Stallone called him to ask, “Want to join me and Arnold Schwarzenegger to watch Floyd Mayweather, Jr., fight Manny Pacquiao?” Of course Kwik wanted to do this. He went. When the (overhyped!) match was over, Kwik asked these two legends, “What does it take to be a champion?” Schwarzenegger replied, “The difference between an amateur and a champion is that a champion is willing to push past the pain.”
What do we learn from these tales?
The past year in particular has been a strain unlike any other, and now that the pandemic is coming to a close, it’s replacing one kind of uncertainty with another. What will the world be like now? What will people need, and what do they no longer want, and how can entrepreneurs stay atop it all? There is a massive amount of information to ingest and decide on, and it can be overwhelming. Entrepreneurs want strategies to help with this—but strategies alone will not help, as we now know, because our brains first need something more fundamental. What is the fundamental thing, then? What’s the foundation to build upon—the thing to know first, which more knowledge can be built upon, and that we need now more than ever as we emerge from a pandemic and into… whatever comes next?
“The number one skill set,” Kwik says, “is to learn how to learn.”
He had to teach this to himself. Because at first, Kwik didn’t know how to learn. He was just, as one of his grade-school teachers called him, “the boy with the broken brain.”
Jim Kwik suffered his first head injury at the age of 5. He had two more by the age of 12. As a result, basic cognitive functions became difficult. He struggled to focus, to read, to remember. His school grades were terrible. His self-esteem was shattered. He pushed himself and was accepted into a local state university, but the work was so difficult, and Kwik felt so overwhelmed, that he considered dropping out his freshman year. That’s when a friend intervened. “Before you tell your parents you’re going to quit school,” the friend said, “I’m going to see my family. Why don’t you come with me and just get some space?”
Kwik said yes. The trip would change his life.
Before dinner one night, the friend’s father invited Kwik for a walk around their property. “How’s school?” the father asked, and Kwik broke down crying. Then the father asked, “Jim, why are you in school? What do you want to be?”
Kwik didn’t know how to answer; nobody had asked him that before. The father grabbed a journal, tore out a few sheets of paper, and asked Kwik to write down his goals and dreams. Kwik did, and then started to fold up the paper and put it in his pocket—but the father grabbed the paper and started reading. “I’m freaking out,” Kwik recalls, “because I’ve never shared this with anyone.” The list contained the normal dreams of an 18-year-old: finding success, making his parents proud. Then the father held up two index fingers, about a foot apart, and said, “You’re this close to achieving everything on that list.”
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