Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Barking Up the Wrong Tree Book Cover


“As far back as the 1800s, scientists like Philippe Tissié and August Bier noted that an unsound mind can help an athlete ignore pain and push his or her body beyond its naturally conservative limits.” Example: Jure Robič won the Race Across America (RAAM) five times. In a piece for the New York Times, Dan Coyle revealed that Robič’s insanity rendered him the greatest rider ever in the RAAM.

High School Valedictorians

“But how many of these number-one high school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world? The answer seems to be clear: zero.”

“Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries . . . they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

  1. First, schools reward students who consistently do what they are told.

“Essentially, we are rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system.” Many of the valedictorians admitted to not being the smartest kid in class, just the hardest worker.”

2. The second reason is that schools reward being a generalist.

“If you want to do well in school and you’re passionate about math, you need to stop working on it to make sure you get an A in history too. This generalist approach doesn’t lead to expertise.”

“We spend too much time trying to be “good” when good is often merely average. To be great we must be different. And that doesn’t come from trying to follow society’s vision of what is best, because society doesn’t always know what it needs. More often being the best means just being the best version of you.”


Know Thyself

“First, know thyself. This phrase has been uttered many times throughout history. It’s carved into stone at the Oracle at Delphi. The Gospel of Thomas says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

“This leads to Mukunda’s second piece of advice: pick the right pond.”

“When you choose your pond wisely, you can best leverage your type, your signature strengths, and your context to create tremendous value. ”

Do nice guys really finish last?

“The Harvard Business Review reports that men low in the personality trait “agreeableness” make as much as ten thousand dollars a year more than men high in agreeableness. Rude people also have better credit scores.”

“The managers who moved up the ladder quickest—and were best at their jobs—weren’t the people who tried to be team players or who focused on accomplishing tasks. They were the ones most focused on gaining power.”

“Why do jerks succeed? Sure, some of it is duplicity and evil, but there’s something we can learn from them in good conscience: they’re assertive about what they want, and they’re not afraid to let others know about what they’ve achieved.”


“Not being nice may look promising at first, but in the long run it can destroy the very environment it needs for its own success.”


Rule 1: Pick the right pond

“When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with—because the odds are you’re going to become like them; they are not going to become like you. You can’t change them. If it doesn’t fit who you are, it’s not going to work.”

Do Quitters Never Win and Winners Never Quit?

“In your head, you say between three hundred and a thousand words every minute to yourself. Those words can be positive (I can do it) or negative (Oh god, I can’t take this anymore). It turns out that when these words are positive, they have a huge effect on your mental toughness, your ability to keep going. Subsequent studies of military personnel back this up.”

“Optimists lie to themselves. But if we all stop believing anything can change, nothing ever will. We need a bit of fantasy to keep us going.”

“Pessimists tell themselves that bad events will last a long time, or forever (I’ll never get this done); are universal (I can’t trust any of these people); and are their own fault (I’m terrible at this).

Optimists tell themselves that bad events are temporary (That happens occasionally, but it’s not a big deal );

have a specific cause and aren’t universal (When the weather is better that won’t be a problem); and

are not their fault (I’m good at this, but today wasn’t my lucky day).”

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.” – Viktor Frankl

“Psychologist Shelley Taylor says that “a healthy mind tells itself flattering lies.” The pessimists were more accurate and realistic, and they ended up depressed. The truth can hurt.”

So how do you find your story?

There’s a really simple way to do it: just think about your death.”

“The Scrooge Effect” shows that when you take a little time to think about death, you become more kind and generous to others.”

“What do you do with this edited story once you have it? Play the part. A lot of psychological research shows that instead of behavior following our beliefs, often our beliefs come from our behaviors. ” (“If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.”)

“Games are merely a framework superimposed over a set of activities. With that structure, things that sound utterly boring on the surface can become incredibly fun and rewarding—even addictive.”

“David Foster Wallace once said, “If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.” ”

“Peter Drucker thought that time was the most precious resource. And the first line of defense he recommended to people wasn’t better scheduling; it was getting rid of everything that wasn’t moving the needle when it came to achieving their goals.”

“Know your number-one priority. Then start quitting stuff that isn’t as important and see what happens. You’ll learn really fast if something really is more essential than you thought.”

“You can do anything once you stop trying to do everything.”

“Studying over a thousand subjects, Wiseman found that lucky people maximize opportunities. The study showed they are more open to new experiences, more extroverted, and less neurotic. They listen to their hunches. Most of all, Wiseman says, lucky people just try stuff.”

“When there’s no clear path to success, no relevant model for what you’re trying to achieve, trying crazy things may be the only way to solve the issue.”

Fail Fast and Fail Cheap

“ If you don’t know what to be gritty at yet, you need to try lots of things—knowing you’ll quit most of them—to find the answer. Once you discover your focus, devote 5 to 10 percent of your time to little experiments to make sure you keep learning and growing.”

“As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” In other words: Fail fast, fail cheap.”

“Job hopping, especially early on in your career, can be a path to more money, your true calling, and a coveted CEO title.”

“Spending 5 percent of your time trying new things, knowing you will quit most of them, can lead to great opportunities. (And not all of them need to involve concussions.)”

THE SECRET could be wrong: “When you dream, that grey matter feels you already have what you want and so it doesn’t marshal the resources you need to motivate yourself and achieve.”

Isaac Newton

“As James Gleick writes in his biography Isaac Newton, “He was born into a world of darkness, obscurity, and magic; led a strangely pure and obsessive life, lacking parents, lovers, and friends; quarreled bitterly with great men who crossed his path; veered at least once to the brink of madness; cloaked his work in secrecy; and yet discovered more of the essential core of human knowledge than anyone before or after.”

“Pascal once said, “All the unhappiness of man stems from one thing only: That he is incapable of staying quietly in his room.”


“Neuroscientist Diana Tamir found that your brain gets more pleasure from you talking about yourself than it does from food or money. This is why you should stop doing it and let others do it as much as possible around you. ”

“The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg referenced a 1994 Harvard study of people who had dramatically changed their lives. Often their secret wasn’t momentous upheaval. It was just joining a group that consisted of the type of people they wanted to become.”

“The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.”


  1. Know who you are
  2. It is all about friendships
  3. The most successful are getting and giving
  4. Your network (who you hang out with) affects you (Surround yourself with people you want to be)

“In a positive way, successful people are “delusional.” They tend to see their previous history as a validation of who they are and what they have done. This positive interpretation of the past leads to increased optimism towards the future and increases the likelihood of future success.”


“People who believe they can succeed see opportunities, where others see threats. They are not afraid of uncertainty or ambiguity, they embrace it. They take more risks and achieve greater returns. Given the choice, they bet on themselves. Successful people have a high “internal locus of control.” In other words, they do not feel like victims of fate. They see their success as a function of their own motivation and ability—not luck, random chance, or fate. They carry this belief even when luck does play a crucial role in success.”

Faking it can be a bad strategy

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” Faking it can be a very bad strategy, because when you fool others you can end up fooling yourself.”

What can we learn about confidence?

  • Believing in yourself is nice. Forgiving yourself is better. Self-compassion beats self-esteem.
  • Adjust for your natural level of self-esteem. Are you normally pretty confident? Then enjoy the benefits but keep an eye out for delusion and stay empathetic. Seek situations that challenge you to keep yourself humble. Do you lack confidence? No problem. You’ll naturally learn faster than those know-it-alls and you’ll make more friends. Become great at what you do and confidence will increase.
  • Confidence is a result of success, not a cause. Focus on small wins. Studies show “get-better goals” increase motivation, make tasks more intereting, and replenish energy.
  • Don’t be a faker. The short-term benefits of impressing others aren’t worth being labeled untrustworthy.

“People who wish to do so must organize their whole lives around a single enterprise. They must be monomaniacs, even megalomaniacs, about their pursuits. They must start early, labor continuously, and never give up the cause. Success is not for the lazy, procrastinating, or mercurial.”


“Can you be productive at something without spending a ton of time at it? To a degree, of course, but assuming equal talent and efficiency, the person who spends more time wins. And the issue of hours seems to be the real distinguishing factor between the pretty good and the truly great. Yeah, being smart helps, but the “threshold hypothesis” shows that smarts ain’t everything, especially when it comes to big breakthroughs. When you look at eminent people, the majority are smarter than average. Without an IQ of 120, very few people end up producing anything that will be groundbreaking and remembered in the history books. But the twist is that as long as you’re past the 120 mark, many studies show more IQ points have little effect. ”

“Those who stayed very involved in meaningful careers and worked the hardest, lived the longest.” Meaningful work means doing something that’s (a) important to you and (b) something you’re good at. Plenty of research shows that if you do those things you’re uniquely good at (psychologists call them “signature strengths”), they’re some of the biggest happiness-boosting activities of all.”

70-hour work weeks

“Productivity declines so steeply after fifty-five hours that “someone who puts in seventy hours produces nothing more with those extra fifteen hours.” All they are creating is stress.”

“Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about forty minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.”

“The New York Times reported on the work of University of Pennsylvania sleep researcher David Dinges: After 2 weeks of 4 hours of sleep a night, test subjects said they were tired but okay. Then the researchers gave them a battery of tests and it turned out their brains were Jell-O. Dinges also found that after 2 weeks of 6 hours a night they were effectively drunk. How much sleep does the average American get per night? Gallup says it’s 6.8 hours. (So you’re probably pretty wasted as you read this.)”

Four metrics of success:

  1. Happiness – enjoying
  2. Achievement – winning
  3. Significance – counting to others; having a positive impact on people you care about
  4. Legacy – extending

“Research shows that two and a half to four hours after waking is when your brain is the sharpest.”

“One of the big lessons from social science in the last forty years is that environment matters. If you go to a buffet and the buffet is organized in one way, you will eat one thing. If it’s organized in a different way, you’ll eat different things. We think that we make decisions on our own, but the environment influences us to a great degree. Because of that we need to think about how to change our environment.”

“Research shows that the most productive computer programmers have one thing in common. It’s not experience, salary, or hours spent on a project. They had employers who gave them an environment free from distraction.”

“There are three categories of people—the person who goes into the office, puts his feet up on his desk, and dreams for twelve hours; the person who arrives at five A.M. and works sixteen hours, never once stopping to dream; and the person who puts his feet up, dreams for one hour, then does something about those dreams.”

“After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

“Success is not the result of any single quality; it’s about alignment between who you are and where you choose to be. The right skill in the right role. A good person surrounded by other good people. A story that connects you with the world in a way that keeps you going. A network that helps you, and a job that leverages your natural introversion or extroversion. A level of confidence that keeps you going while learning and forgiving yourself for the inevitable failures. A balance between the big four that creates a well-rounded life with no regrets.”