How to Listen to Audio Books and Actually Remember the Content

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through an audio book to then realise you’ve not taken in anything that’s been said. That’s why I now listen like this…

I’ve had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with audio books so far in my life.

Obviously, reading is something I’ve always loved. But (as with most people, I imagine) I wished I did more of it. So the idea of being able to basically have all the wisdom of a book read to me wherever I am and (pretty much) whatever I’m doing was something I was majorly excited about upon first discovering audio books.

But then, with all the excitement of a child at Christmas, I actually tried it. And I was majorly disappointed. Like a child at Christmas who’s just discovered that all he’s getting is socks this year.

Turns out, when I’m being read something like this my brain turns into some kind of sieve. And I don’t just mean an ordinary sieve with little holes. I mean a big sieve that is basically one giant hole that every piece of information going into it falls right through.

The Problem with Audio Books

To be clear, I’ve only ever been interested in using audio books for non-fiction. In other words, shit I want to learn about. Fiction, on the other hand, is something I want to keep solely reserved for ‘proper reading’.

Naturally, I started listening to all these non-fiction self-help, personal development and philosophical books in the car and while walking places. But the problem was I’d arrive at my destination to realise that my brain had been thinking about something totally different for the previous 20 minutes and I couldn’t remember a word of what that nice audio book man had been trying to tell me.

So I stopped, decided audio books just aren’t for me, cancelled my membership and just basically kept to the traditional way of reading books.

Since then, however, I’ve become much more aware of my own individual learning style and how I personally learn new skills and take in new information. And with this in mind, I very recently decided to give this whole audio books thing another go.

This time, rather than just casting off audio books as something that would never work for me, I decided to embrace them and work out a way to make them work for me. And I think I cracked it.

So in this article, I just wanted to share the little system I devised to ensure that I actually take in and remember the audio books I listen to.

Does it take a bit more time and effort than just passively listening to any audio book? Yes. But, in my opinion, I’d rather actually take in the information from one book every 10 years, than get through 20 a month and not remember anything I’m being told.

If you’re someone who can listen to an audio book and just absorb everything that’s being said, then it’s also probably important to note here that: 1) You’re a lucky bastard. And 2) I’m not saying anyone has to do this. Rather, I’m just sharing what’s worked for me when I thought audio books weren’t gonna cut it in my world.

The System in a Nutshell

First off, it’s important to note that I didn’t steal this. But it’s also by no means some kind of complicated revolutionary system, so I imagine there are plenty of other people out there doing it.

For me, there’s no better form of injecting information into my brain than by absorbing it and taking my own notes. Hence why my previous efforts of just trying to sporadically listen to audio books went so horribly wrong.

Anyway, the basics of this are as follows:

  1. Head to the page of whichever book you’re going to listen to and select the ‘Look inside’ feature that will basically give you a preview of the book.
  2. Head to the ‘Table of Contents’ page and copy over the headings and sections into an Evernote, or whatever note taking device suits you best. (I have a separate notebook on Evernote that contains only notes on books).
  3. Listen to a chapter or section at a time, dependent on how big the chapters or sections are in the book you’re listening to and how much you personally can take in at a time.
  4. Go back to your Evernote whenever you have a spare 10 minutes and make notes on the sections you’ve just listened to.
  5. Repeat with the next chapter or section.

I told you it wasn’t anything out of this world special. But there are a few things that, from my point of view, are important to note here.

Firstly, I found it monumentally easier to take in the information being read to me if I already had a clear picture in my head of the chapters or subsections before I started listening.

In other words, I ensured I had the different subsections of the chapter I was listening to copied into my Evernote before I listened to it. I already knew the different subsections about to come at me. I’m not sure why, but when I tried doing it the other way, I just didn’t take in as much.

It’s also important to note that you’re not trying to memorise the whole book here. So if you go back to make your notes and can only come up with 10% of what you could the last time then it doesn’t matter.

Sometimes I go back and make notes and barely anything comes out. Sometimes I basically rewrite the book out! Maybe do a few Google searches to jog your memory on some things, but don’t waste time and dwell on this. These are your own notes on the book, and nobody is going to send you to the headmaster’s office for not doing it right.

Bonus Point #1: Listen Actively, Not Passively

My parents are two of ‘those people’ who always have the radio on in the background in their house. And this was the same throughout my growing up years.

Aside from making it eerily quiet when going to other ‘non-radio people’s’ houses, this also confirmed to be the reality that it is possible to have sound on in the background without really taking any note of it.

This is ‘passive listening’. Where the sound is there, but you’re not really listening. And this is what I was doing with audio books. Pushing play and then just heading off and doing all number of things distracting me from what’s really being said.

So this is why I made a rule with myself that I wouldn’t attempt to listen to audio books while doing something that needs a lot of focus and attention.

At the gym, for example, I am obviously focused on making sure that quite heavy bar (for me!) doesn’t come down and destroy my rib cage. When writing or working, I’m focused on writing or working. Energising music, yes. Audio book, no.

Walking to the gym (or anywhere), however, is prime time audio book listening time. I can walk and focus while taking in what’s being read to me.

Driving is a weird one, though. Obviously, you need to be focused on keeping the car on the road and not in the ditch next to the road, but most of the time we drive on a sort of ‘autopilot’. So I’ve found driving to be ok for ‘active listening’. As soon as some focused concentration is needed though (like if I get lost or am needing to find a parking space) the audio books gets the pause button.

In essence, what I’m trying to get across with this first step is that just because the audio book is playing, it doesn’t mean you’re taking in the info. I will only play an audio book when I’m doing something that doesn’t require my full, focused attention and would distract from what’s being said.

Bonus Point #2: Use Your Pause & Rewind Buttons

I believe one of the biggest mistakes I used to make with audio books was inadvertently focusing on quantity over quality.

Without really thinking about it, I wanted to just get through the book so I could just say that I’ve read it and get into the next one. This meant I would rarely pause or rewind, even if I knew I wasn’t listening fully or I’d missed something.

But, as I said earlier, the important thing with these kind of books is to actually take in, learn and be able to apply the things it’s telling you. Not to simply get to the end of as many as possible. So when you’re listening, use that pause and rewind button as often as is needed.

Pause to muse over something if it needs to sink in. Rewind several times, if needed, to go over something if you missed, didn’t hear or got distracted from it.

I also made sure that I paused at the end of the chapter or section and didn’t come back to it until I’d made my notes. There’s nothing worse than opening up your notes and trying to remember something from several chapters ago (and needing to spend ages sat there making notes in one sitting).

Bonus Point #3: Revisit Your Notes

Of course, there’s no final exam in any of this. If there is then you’re probably taking this too seriously. And it’s not necessary that you memorise any of these books in a way that you can recite every chapter.

But, in my opinion, you do want it to sink in as much as possible and to be able to apply the contents of these books to the relevant areas of your life. If you read something and then a month later can’t even remember what it was about, then it’s kinda pointless.

So I also make a point to go over my notes once finishing an audio book. Just brushing through, jogging my memory and trying to get it all to sink in as much as possible. Only then will I consider moving on to a new one.

Plus, the beauty of this note taking system is that you obviously have those notes available to you for as long as you keep them. So you can keep coming back to them and reminding yourself of any particularly poignant books.

Note: if you want to see how I did this then I uploaded my notes on the book “Mastery” by Robert Greene (an absolute beast and one of my very few ‘must read’ non-fiction books. You can see the notes here.

Notes on “Mastery” by Robert Greene

Note: These notes are off the back of listening to the audio book of Mastery by Robert Greene and have been posted as an aide to my article on How to Listen to Audio Books and Actually Remember the Content.


  • Mastery is learned, not genetic
  • Many ‘geniuses’ earned this title via qualities most people would consider ‘normal’ and not through being born a genius
  • Story of Darwin
  • The human brain has great plasticity and so able to learn and adapt due to millions of years of evolution
  • Passivity is the dying of the brain
  • We need to create our world or die of inaction

Chapter One – Discover Your Calling: The Life’s Task

The Hidden Force

Leonardo da Vinci story:
  • devoted to learning
  • BECAME a master, wasn’t born one (born into adversity)
  • followed his calling and purpose when he could have made a much better living as a painter
Follow on points:
  • Real, Latin meaning of vocation – means to follow a calling
  • Falling to social pressure and taking a more lucrative or accepted role will leave you bored and, eventually, unable to continue to put real effort in
  • We are born with tendencies to be more interested in certain things
  • These are obvious to us in childhood, but we override them in adulthood in pursuit of money, etc
  • Connecting with these childlike tendencies and interests is what will make us happy and fulfilled
  • The first step is inward
  • Know yourself, know your vocation/passion/purpose
  • When you understand that inner voice and follow what is right for you, you just KNOW

Keys to Mastery | Strategies for Finding Your Life’s Task:

#1 Return to your origins – primal inclination strategy
  • Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Ingmar Bergman, Martha Graham, Daniel Everett, John Coltrane
  • Return to what you knew was right for you in childhood
  • More like sensations than words
  • What visceral reactions do you get with certain tasks, jobs or activities? Do you want to repeat it over and over? Where does your fascination lie?
#2 Occupy the perfect niche – the Darwinian strategy
  • VS Ramachandran, Yoky Matsuoka
  • Start in a general area of interest and either branch off into specific areas of interest (VS) or learn a new area and combine the two to create your own entirely (Yoky).
  • The key is to find an area of speciality or expertise that is not overcrowded.
#3 Avoid the false path – the rebellion strategy
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Learn from parents, teachers and mentors. But do not allow them to dictate your path.
  • One of the most self-destructive things we can do is fall into a path for fear of not making enough money or displeasing a loved one.
  • Do not follow the false path that promises fame, money and public approval. Follow the path that has you excited about the path itself, about the journey, about the doing of the activity.
#4 Let go of the past – the adaptation strategy
  • Freddie Roach
  • You are on your own and it is up to you and you only to find and develop your life’s task.
  • Do not hold onto the past or old ways of thinking or doing. You are always open to adapt, change and improve.
#5 Find your way back – the life or death strategy
  • Buckminster Fuller (severely near sighted/visually impaired architect)
  • Let the inner voice guide you and don’t ignore it in the name of money and fame!
  • Chasing money and security at the expense of your life’s task will leave you bored and unhappy, while needing to fill an empty hole with materialistic things, money, drugs or approval from others.
  • Listen to the message of this pain if it does occur and do not accept it. This means you have deviated from your true path and change needs to happen.
  • Delayed gratification is required and everything cannot be had in the present.
  • Temple Grandin (suffered with autism and learning disabilities)
  • Life’s task doesn’t appear to you in a grandiose vision.
  • Diligence and focus is learned and more valuable than natural talent.
  • Focus on small strengths and improving them, rather than worrying about weaknesses.
  • Takes failure and overcoming obstacles to find out life’s task.

Chapter Two – Submit to Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship

The First Transformation

Charles Darwin Story:
  • Don’t expect to be a master instantly.
  • Transformation from book learning to real world.
  • Darwin devoted a large portion of his life to learning and being an ‘apprentice’ in his field.
  • Find your way of learning.

Keys to Mastery

The Apprenticeship Phase – The Three Steps
#1 Deep Observation – the passive mode
  • Spending time just observing.
  • Understanding and gaining deep knowledge of the task or field.
#2 Skills Acquisition – the practice mode
  • Beginning the process of doing.
  • Under the guidance still of mentors or teachers.
#3 Experimentation – the active mode
  • Beginning the creative phase.
  • Taking what you’ve learned and carving out new directions or ideas with it.
  • You will know when this phase occurs.
Strategies for Completing the Ideal Apprenticeship
#1 Value learning over money
  • Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Martha Graham, Freddie Roach
  • Taking time to learn and not chase after money.
  • Choose the path of greatest learning in desired field, not the most instantly gratifying or lucrative one.
#2 Keep expanding your horizons
  • Zora Neale Hurston (African American novelist)
  • Continually look for and take new opportunities.
  • Aim to learn from many different situations and experiences.
#3 Revert to a feeling of inferiority
  • Daniel Everett (Amazon tribe)
  • Think like a child.
  • Do not presume what you already know is definitely true or right.
#4 Trust the process
  • Cesar Rodriguez (Air Force pilot)
  • Trust that your learning and devotion to apprenticing will pay off.
#5 Move towards resistance and pain
  • Bill Bradley (basketball), John Keats
  • Embrace the hard things and identify your weaknesses.
  • Work on your weaknesses.
  • Do not presume that if you are not very good or struggle that you cannot become a master.
#6 Apprentice yourself in failure
  • Henry Ford
  • Look at failure as learning curves.
  • Failure is an opportunity to detect what went wrong and to self-correct
#7 Combine the ‘how’ and the ‘what’
  • Santiago Calatrava (artist, architect, engineer)
  • Know the inner workings of how, what and why things work the way they do.
  • Take a holistic or 360 degree view of learning about your field.
#8 Advance through trial and error
  • Paul Graham (computer programmer)
  • Learn, try, correct, repeat.
  • Some people point to Mozart & Einstein as examples of people overcoming the apprentice phase.
  • But there is no reversal possible here, you cannot skip the apprentice phase.
  • Mozart & Einstein still had apprentice phase, but started it much sooner than most other people.

Chapter Three – Absorb the Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic

The Alchemy of Knowledge

Michael Faraday story:
  • Scientist who started out as book binder
  • Read ‘Improving the Mind’
  • Actively sought out his perfect mentor and worked towards being accepted to work under him as an assistant

Keys to Mastery | Strategies for Deepening the Mentor Relationship

#1 Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Jung, VS Ramachandran, Yoky Matsuoka.
  • Find the mentor who matches your tastes, style and personality.
  • Falling into any mentor can be dangerous and counter productive.
  • Refrain from having a mentor who just emulates the qualities your parents have.
#2 Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror
  • Hakuin Zenji (Zen Buddhism).
  • Get your mentor to really challenge you to the point it becomes uncomfortable.
  • Do not settle for a mentor who just praises or validates your current thoughts and beliefs.
#3 Transfigure their ideas
  • Glenn Gold (Classical pianist).
  • Take in the teachings of your mentor.
  • But bring them to life in your own way.
  • Give the mentor’s ideas your own brand and own them yourself.
#4 Create a back and forth dynamic
  • Freddie Roach (with Manny Pacquiao).
  • Allow mentor and mentee relationship to bounce off one another.
  • Do not allow it t be a one way stream, especially in its advanced stages.
  • Thomas Edison
  • Edison had no opportunity for a real life mentor.
  • If needs be, use books and historical figures.
  • But allow the mentor to assume some form of life force, as opposed to just being reading from a book.
  • Think “what would this mentor do?” in different situations.

Chapter Four – See People As They Are: Social Intelligence

Thinking Inside

Benjamin Franklin story:
  • Benjamin Franklin was a smart, witty and intelligent person and writer growing up, but came upon a problem when dealing with other people.
  • Pissed off his brother, misjudged the governor who sent him to London and created tension with his co-workers when not paying ‘beer money fee’.
  • He learned that if he wanted to get ahead, he needed to understand people better.
  • Decided that he would begin taking a step back and truly analysing people in certain situations in order to truly begin understanding their intentions towards him.
  • Got a job with his old boss when back in America and applied this tactic to great success when he discovered his boss was being extra nice to him due to harbouring a plan to exploit him after holding a grudge from their previous time together.
  • Franklin became one of the most socially intelligent people in history after learning this, with the ability to read, understand and empathise with people and groups around him.
  • Mainly, he was patient and took time to understand the nuances and intricacies of a culture or person on a deep level, so he could imitate and embrace this.
  • The Naive Perspective – humans depending on parents, etc for a relatively long period of time in their youth and so picking up social traits from this, as opposed to basing decisions about themselves, people and the world on pure logic.

Keys to Mastery | Specific Knowledge: Reading People

  • Specific knowledge on social intelligence refers to reading individuals on a person-by-person basis.
  • Pay attention to the actions and demeanour of others around you and attempt to decipher what their intentions are.
  • Non verbal communication is important to pay attention to. How is someone acting around you? What cues are they giving off?
  • Attempt to decipher common emotional experiences you both may have had, or at least to understand what the person may have gone through in order to empathise and establish some common ground.
  • It’s also important to not take first impressions at face value as these often include ‘masks’ that people put on to prevent the real them coming out (both in a good and bad way).
  • Learn to read people over a period of months in order to gauge the reality of their intentions.

Keys to Mastery | General Knowledge: The Seven Deadly Realities

  • There are also certain ‘general traits’ to be aware of in others:
  • Envy – be careful not to gloat. Self-deprecating humour and showing vulnerability can go a long way.
  • Conformism – do not show your rebellious streak too obviously (especially during apprentice phase) as this creates tension. Be ‘quietly rebellious’ until your success dictates a time you can be more open about this. Essentially, be rebellious with a track record of success with it or others will think you’re a wannabe douche!
  • Rigidity – do not openly challenge anyone’s rigidity and unwillingness to embrace change.
  • Self-obsessiveness – understand how everyone has a need to want something for themselves. Consider this when asking for favours or wanting others to do anything for you. What’s in it for them?
  • Laziness – be aware of people’s desire to take credit for your work or not put in effort before considering any kind of joint venture or task. Look at the tehr person’s track record.
  • Flightiness – rely upon yourself to get things done where possible and not others as people are alyways liable to say they want to collaborate or help and then not follow through.
  • Passive aggression – we all have this to a degree, but high level passive aggressive people can be spotted by their actions and how other people in their life act around them. Either avoid them or respond with something similar to show them not to mess with you!
Social Intelligence & Creativity
  • Ability to ‘think inside’ objects and phenomena is an integral part of scientific creativity.
  • Becoming too focused on detail and rigidity can help get you far in a field, but will stifle the creativity and outward expression needed to move towards mastery.

Keys to Mastery | Strategies for Acquiring Social Intelligence

#1 Speak through your work
  • Ignanz Semmelweis, William Harvey
  • Semmelweis had amazing discovery about saving women from infection during childbirth, yet was so stubborn he antagonised his peers and mentors. Harvey made groundbreaking discoveries in human circulatory system, yet built up evidence of his theory and was welcoming and hospitable to others when they criticised him.
  • Expect challenges to your work, speak your truth and empathise deeply with challengers.
#2 Craft the appropriate persona
  • Terresita Fernandez (Cuban-American metal sculpture artist)
  • Know ways of behaving ‘in public’ that will serve you, your work and your success well.
#3 See yourself as others see you
  • Temple Grandin (autistic behaviour and ‘overly logical’ thought process antagonising other people)
  • We tend to get too wrapped up in emotions when ir comes to criticism or confrontation and don’t actuallt take it on board. A lot of the time choosing to ignore and ‘fight back’.
  • Learn to analyse your previous confrontations and arguements so you can see how YOUR OWN behaviour may have been the cause. Think rationally about how you could behave or react differently the next time. See yourself as a third person.
#4 Suffer fools gladly
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (staying quiet when talking with people in his new upper class world), Josef von Sternberg, David Everett (linguist challenging some work of Noam Chomsky).
  • Fools focus on short term and desire to be right, ego driven, fame, money. Always want to criticise without a fully rational hat on or any thought for the long term good that can come.
  • Don’t try to change them. They will always be around. Focus on your goals.
  • Exploit their foolishness. Use their criticisms as fuel and to learn from and make your arguments and performance better.
  • Paul Graham
  • Decided he didn’t want to master social intelligence to a high degree and so placed other, better suited people in the situations that required doing this in his businesses and ventures.
  • Still had to understand, be aware of and use it to some degree.
  • An understanding of its necessity was needed in order for Graham to get others to focus on it. Otherwise, he would have just ignored it and tried to move on regardless.

Chapter Five – Awaken the Dimensional Mind: The Creative Active

The Second Transfromation

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart story:
  • ‘Boy genius’ who was paraded around by his father to make money fr the family.
  • Mozart was forced to play and compose ‘boring’ pieces of music to please the masses.
  • He made money and then got a semi-lucrative job in Salzburg, but was forced to continue to create and play this ‘people pleasing’ music by his father and employers.
  • One day, with all the incredible skills, experience and practice he had accumulated throughout his ‘apprenticeship years’, he exploded with creativity.
  • He created what he really wanted to and, finally free of everyone holding him back, created masterpiece after masterpiece. He changed how people thought about symphonies, orchestral music and operas.

Keys to Mastery | Steps

  • Original mind -> Conventional mind -> Dimensional mind
Step One: The Creative Task
  • Altering your concept of creativity.
  • Searching for Ahab’s whale.
  • You’ve started to end the aprentice phase know how ‘everthing works’ in your field. Now you’r looking for something to rebel against and create your own version of.
Step Two: Creative Strategies
A. Cultivate negative capability
  • Pursuing a vision or idea, despite it leading to doubt, confusion or uncertainty.
  • Learn to ‘love the pain’.
B. Allow for serendipity
  • Keep an open mind and embrace serendipitous moments.
  • Edison and discovering how to record sound – be opportunistic.
C. Alternate the mind through ‘the current’
D. Alter your perspective
Typical thinking patterns to alter:
  • Looking at ‘the what’ and not ‘the how’
  • Rushing to generalities and ignoring details
  • Confirming paradigms and ignoring anomalies
  • Fixating on what is present, ignoring what is absent
E. Revert to primal forms of intelligence
Step Three: The Creative Breakthrough – Tension & Insight
  • Letting go and allowing it to happen
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity
  • Richard Wagner completing his opera in a dream
  • Blocks that precede enlightenment
  • Evariste Galois solving genius mathematical problems the night before his duel.
Emotional Pitfalls
  • Complacency
  • Conservatism
  • Dependency
  • Impatience
  • Grandiosity
  • Inflexibility

Keys to Mastery | Strategies for the Creative-Active Phase

#1 The Authentic Voice
#2 The Fact of Great Yield
  • VS Ramachandran
#3 Mechanical Intelligence
  • The Wright brothers
#4 Natural Powers
  • Santiago Calatrava
#5 The Open Field
  • Martha Graham
#6 The High End
  • Yoky Matsuoka
#7 The Evolutionary Hijack
  • Paul Graham
#8 Dimensional Thinking
  • Jean-Francois Champollion
  • Think and look at life, activities and problems from a variety of angles, not just the obvious one that may come naturally to you.
#9 Alchemical Creativity & the Unconscious
  • Terresita Fernandez
  • John Coltrane, August Strindberg
  • Can be popular to think that drugs, alcohol, etc can bring about some artistic, creative genius zone to be in.
  • But the truth is that true creativity comes from discipline and focus as well as dedication to one’s craft.
  • It’s not always army drill sergeant type of discipline. But it takes this repetitiveness and dedication to one’s task to ensure mastery is achieved.

Chapter Six – Fuse the Intuitive with the Rational: Mastery

The Third Transformation

Marcel Proust Story:
  • Proust went through many years of trying to discover his talents and produce the great work he knew he was capable of.
  • He continual failed to make the impact he knew he could make.
  • After years of physical and mental hardship, finally discovered what his ‘great novel’ could be about: the story of a writer’s search to find something to write about.
  • This basically became his own story as well as a social commentary.
  • Keys to remember are that we all have access to this higher form of intelligence, which will allow us to be, do, experience and contribute more.
  • This can be accessed by a deep dedication to a particular field and the desire to study, grow and follow the path of our inclinations, regardless of how strange or ‘wrong’ this may seem to others.

Keys to Mastery

The Roots of Masterly Intuition
  • True mastery comes from up to 20,000 hours of practice and dedication.
  • At this point, we begin to gain intuition and awareness of seemingly super human levels.
  • We just ‘know’.
  • Intuition and our primitive ancestors – how we evolved using our intuition.
The Return of Reality
  • All life is interconnected.
  • The altered master’s brain.
  • Returning to the whole.

Keys to Mastery | Strategies for Attaining Mastery

#1 Connect to your environment – Primal Powers
  • The Caroline Islanders
  • Can navigate around their island’s waters by connecting to and reading their environment.
#2 Play to your strengths – Extreme Focus
  • A. Albert Einstein, B. Temple Grandin
  • Don’t fall into the ‘usual way’ of doing things.
  • Know your strengths and play to them.
#3 Transform yourself through practice – The Fingertip Feel
  • Cesar Rodriguez – moved above the ‘golden boys’ by continuous practice.
  • Dedicate yourself to your craft and you can be a master.
#4 Internalise the details – The Life Force
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Pay attention, observation of true details of life.
#5 Widen your vision – The Global Perspective
  • Freddie Roach
  • Step back and allow yourself to think from different angles.
#6 Submit to the other – The Inside-Out Perspective
  • Daniel Everett
  • Get rid of your preconceptions, allow yourself to truly learn without being stuck in your ways or not allowing yourself to rationalise.
#7 Synthesise all forms of knowledge – The Universal Man/Woman
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – writer, scientist, politician
  • Allow your intelligence to go where you desire/it is needed.
  • Do not think you are stuck in one area.
  • You can gain mastery and apply your talents to a variety of areas.
  • To deny mastery is to deny your most meaningful contribution.
  • Many will say there’s no point or it’s too much work.
  • You owe it to yourself and to the world to attain mastery.

Why ‘Being Wrong’ Can Be the Greatest Thing You Allow Yourself to Do

Being ‘right’ can feel good a lot of the time. But opening ourselves up to the idea of being ‘wrong’ is where real personal growth and progression comes from.

I like being right about things. It feels good.

In fact, if I’m honest, there’s a part of me that just seeks to be continually right about everything all the time. A part that gets a kick out of the times where I’m able to hold my head high and maybe even think a little “I told you so”.

But there’s also another part of me that’s recently come to understand how powerful and growth assisting being wrong’ about something can be. Or not even being wrong, just simply being willing to be wrong.

I’ve always been someone who’s loved the idea of collecting knowledge. Continually looking to learn and know more about anything and everything I can.

Yet in this pursuit of deepening knowledge, there was always a resistance to the idea that something I’d already learned might, in fact, be wrong. A kind of subconscious stubbornness, if you will.

And this is also how I managed to keep myself stuck hitting brick walls in my life and limiting myself for many years. Stuck in this ‘linear thinking’ of striving to know more about this world without being willing to accept the possibility that what I already believe to be true might not necessarily be ‘the truth’.

What is ‘the Truth’?

You may think that’s a bit of a weird question. The truth is… the truth, right? It’s unarguable and obvious to everyone.

But part of this wonderful and unique human experience that we share is our ability to consciously think and draw opinions on what we see around us.

The problem that can arise here for many of us, however, is when we start to intertwine these two concepts. When we form opinions, stories or theories about life that are so insidious and deep rooted we just see them as truths.

In other words, we take an opinion and form a belief out of it.

Of course, I’m not saying this is necessarily a ‘bad thing’. It’s a wonderful part of being human that we’re able to look at the world and draw meaning and form beliefs about what is true based on what we’ve seen, heard and experienced in our past.

But seeing our beliefs for what they are – beliefs, not strict truths – can be monumentally powerful if we want to continually grow and push beyond our self-imposed limits.

Escaping the Echo Chamber

Think of beliefs like a pair of lenses we look at the world through that slightly ‘skew’ our own personal view based upon everything that we’ve experienced up to the present moment.

If we put on an actual pair of glasses and everything became blurry, most people would conclude that they’re simply wearing the wrong lenses. Not that everything has actually become blurry.

Yet when it comes to our ‘belief lenses’ we tend to not even acknowledge or be aware that they’re even there. We just accept it and take what we see as complete truth. It’s being able to recognise the existence of the lenses and that they can be changed that allows us to grow and push past our limits.

A huge part of how I did this was becoming aware of a variety of ‘echo chambers’ in my life. Places that I would unintentionally be pulled towards that would echo back to me what I think and say, continually validating my current beliefs and drilling them in further and further each time.

We all have social media channels, favourite news outlets, social circles, religious gatherings and a variety of other places we go and events we experience. The problem is that we just naturally (and blamelessly) gravitate towards the ones that agree with what we already think. Our brain wants us to be ‘right’ and so we actively, and usually subconsciously, seek out the places where we will be told that.

Effectively, we gravitate towards anything that will have our current beliefs replayed back to us and justify that we carry on believing them.

But… Why?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not by any means saying that having a particular belief is necessarily ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. Just that having the willingness to look at and, if necessary, challenge any of them can be hugely enlightening for ourselves and humanity as a whole.

Look at our history, for example. There was a time where it was generally believed that witches lived among us. And it was necessary to identify and burn at the stake certain members of society who were deemed to be practising witchcraft.

Most people would look back at this now and shake their heads at how we could believe such a thing on such a wide scale. But at the time it was just accepted by most people as ‘how things are’.

So my point is – what are the ‘witchcraft accusations’ of today’s world? What will future generations look back at us in disbelief at? And what are the things we personally believe on an individual level that hold us back from living life how we want?

The answers to all these can begin to come from the simple act of each of us embracing the idea of ‘being wrong’ and becoming aware of the lenses we see our world through. Because if we can commit to this on an individual level, then it liberates our mind to continually push the boundaries of what we’re personally capable of as well contributing to an overall evolution of human consciousness.

Death of the Ego

As with many things, however, the phrase ‘easier said than done’ comes to mind with all of this.

It’s easy for me to sit here and write this article suggesting that we all just become willing to question our beliefs when necessary, live amazing lives and evolve human consciousness. Within a few years we all should be existing in a Utopian paradise where abundance is everywhere, discrimination is extinct, war is over and everyone has a pet unicorn, right?

In reality, there’s much more to it. Because there’s one thing we all possess that will have us continually resist this whole idea – the ego.

It’s this concept of ego that contains all our beliefs and perceptions about ourselves, our self-image and the world. And it’s the ego that, among other things, drives that incessant need to be right. The need for us to stay attached to all the current self-ideas and prove ourselves to the world by showing we’re the best.

Of course, there are benefits to this. But beginning to let go of the ego, being aware of its existence and allowing ourselves to step outside of the identity it has created can open us up to a whole new way of living. A way of living where rather than pandering to the ego and the string of emotional baggage it can bring, we simply embrace the idea of its falsehood.

And it’s this willingness to be wrong about what we currently believe that can help us truly step into our greatness on both an individual and collective level. After all, is the aim in all this to be ‘right’, or is it to be happy?

How to Achieve Without Setting Goals

Goal setting is something that’s deeply ingrained in our culture to a point where it’s seen as downright stupid to not do it. But is it possible to achieve without having strict goals?

Goals are like weird uncles. Everyone has one, but they piss you off regularly.

Open any ‘success’ book and it’s almost a given that ‘goal setting’ just assumed its position in chapter one. As if there’s no other way of doing things.

And for a large part of my life, I bought into this. The idea that it was pointless trying to achieve something without having set specific, short, medium and long term goals.

Everything I did was littered with goals. I had university goals, career goals, business goals, fitness goals, relationship goals, life goals. When I was a personal trainer I even had to be obsessed with other people’s goals!

Yet, if I’m honest, this whole concept of goals used to just frustrate the living shit out of me. I had to force myself along with it for so long because I was being told it was the most efficient way to achieving my dreams.

But, in truth, it was the most efficient way to being a miserable bastard.

The Problem with Goals

With all that said, many people may wonder why the hell that is. Setting goals seems so damn logical, doesn’t it? If you don’t have a clear picture or destination of where you want to go, then you’ll never get there. Or at least that’s how the story goes.

If you stop and think about it, though, this isn’t necessarily true. If you step outside and walk around randomly for 10 minutes, you’ll get somewhere. It’s just that you didn’t initially know or plan where that somewhere would be.

For me, goal setting was restrictive. When I had my personal training business, I’d do everything ‘by the book’ and set myself monthly, 90 day and annual goals. These might include goals for revenue, number of clients or certain milestones I wanted to hit.

Sometimes I’d get there, sometimes I wouldn’t. It didn’t really matter anyway because I’d still wind up feeling pretty much the same way… underwhelmed, unhappy, bored. So I’d set another, different goal hoping that this one would somehow fill that gaping hole inside.

I got so focused on this future goal that I forgot about how vital it is to appreciate and enjoy the journey. And it was only when I finally let go of this idea of desperately having to have complete knowledge on an exact path forward that I started to do this.

An Unknown Path

Many people reading this will know that I quit that personal training business back in 2015. What maybe you don’t know is that I quit without having any kind of idea about what my next steps would be.

For the first time since I was a child, I was living without a goal in my head. And it felt scary, strange and amazing all at the same time.

I travelled to Ireland on a whim and ended up spending the summer there after meeting the love of my life. I spent three months in Asia despite not knowing where I’d be beyond the first few days. I met amazing people. Swam in waterfalls. Climbed mountains. Read inspiring books. Started writing about stuff I was passionate about.

At no point did I sit down and list out 90 day goals to achieve any of this.

And it was this that led me to realise that setting such stringent, focused goals simply keeps our attention on the future and almost always shuts us off from experiencing the fruits of other opportunities that may arise.

Goals are merely a fantasy of how we hope things to change in the future. Let go of the fantasy and just enjoy the fucking journey.

Achieving Without Goals

This all sounds very idealistic here, doesn’t it? “Stop chasing the goal and let the goal come to you.”

But is this just the lazy bastard’s guide to goal setting? I.e. don’t do it, sit on your arse all day and hope for the best.

Of course not. Just because you haven’t set any goals doesn’t mean you can’t still have a dream. And it certainly doesn’t mean you stop taking action and doing stuff.

In fact, and maybe quite paradoxically, it liberates you in a way that pushes you into not being able to stop doing stuff. Stuff that you actually fucking like doing, as opposed to stuff you have to do in order to achieve ‘that goal’.

You get to write a book or travel or blog or create something you’re passionate about or spend time with your spouse or play with your kids or whatever.

Will this be everyone’s cup of tea? No. There are people who may read this and just not get it. And that’s cool.

But maybe one way of framing it is that it’s not actually giving up goals entirely. Living a ‘goalless life’ could, after all, be seen as a goal in itself.

Rather, it’s more like focusing on setting mini goals. Goals that can be achieved right now and are set for no other reason than doing it sounds like a pretty damn cool thing to do. It doesn’t have to be all about some long, arduous task filled with struggle and overcoming resistance to finally, one day reap your reward.

The Bullshit of Motivation

The counter here, of course, would be how painfully ‘unproductive’ this philosophy sounds. I can hear some people now throwing out their ‘SMART goal’ this and ‘aim high’ that. Surely, the most efficient way of achieving something is aiming at the target and going for it.

But here’s the honest truth that was relayed back to me so poetically when discussing the imperativeness of SMART goal setting with a former personal training client… “Well, you’ve just made my next 90 days on this earth boring as fuck.”

And that is the key. Nobody wants to live a life that is boring as fuck, even if it is promising a reward at some point in the future.

When I was a personal trainer, I’d get so many questions about how to stay motivated to achieve a goal. And I still get questions now on this subject regarding achieving things in all areas of life.

But I’m sorry to say that motivation is bullshit. Effectively, motivation is just something we crave in order to make us do that boring ass shit we don’t really want to do so that we can achieve this future goal.

Of course, there are times in life where we do have to do some things we don’t really want to do. But to do this stuff for an extended period? Or even your whole life? Not for me.

For me, the best form of motivation is to just start doing shit that you actually want to do.

And again, this isn’t going to be for everybody. Some people like weird shit and setting SMART goals may just be part of that. If it works for you, fine.

But a little line that has stuck strongly with me since I first heard it a couple years ago is very applicable here: You’ll never live a life you love by doing stuff you loathe.

Why I’m Giving Up Being An Entrepreneur

It sounds stupid. But I spent a large part of my life suppressing my creative urges through the tag of ‘entrepreneur’. Now, I’m finally shrugging that off… and it feels so liberating.

For almost five years now, I’ve considered myself to be an ‘entrepreneur’.

Actually, that’s a big steaming pile of bullshit. I’ve pretty much been aware of an entrepreneurial flair inside me since my teenage years when I would sell illegally downloaded albums to my friends (oops) and bought and sold DVDs on eBay.

But it wasn’t until five years ago that I actually decided to take the plunge and move into ‘full time self-employment’ with my own personal training business. Since then, I’ve made a living (just about) from a variety of ‘entrepreneurial endeavours’. And I loved the tag of ‘entrepreneur’ and being able to proudly say “I own my own business”.

I spent my youth fascinated with the Richard Bransons and Steve Jobs of this world, dreaming that I too could one day do even 0.1% of what they’ve done. Now, though, I’m just about ready to pack all this entrepreneurial bollocks in.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “giving up because I can’t do it” sort of thing. I’m not disappearing off with my tail between my legs because everything got too hard and giving up on my dream. On the contrary, dear Watson!

The truth is that I fucking hate being an entrepreneur. The truth is that the last five years of my life have, professionally speaking, been a complete drain. The truth is that I got my dream wrong.

Getting My Dream Wrong

That may sound like a very weird thing to say. It’s probably more true that I misinterpreted my dream, as opposed to got it wrong.

But the crux of the matter is that I spent the last five years of my life pretending. Pretending to be an entrepreneur, a businessman and a ‘self-employed person’ who was chasing some business dream. And I pretended so well that I fooled myself.

When I really look at what it is I want to achieve and my life to be about, though, it’s not ‘business success’. I didn’t look up to Branson and Jobs growing up because of the companies they built. I looked up to them because they were living a life that meant something.

They didn’t necessarily follow the market and where the money was, per se. They followed their excitement and creativity and built some amazing businesses in the process.

I’m ashamed to say that many things I started over the past five years were because I believed they were a way I could make money, not because I was particularly excited about them. But no longer.

Shifting My Self Identity

I’ve wondered over the past five years why each business venture always seemed to somewhere along the line leave me with a melancholic deflation, regardless of its financial success or non-success.

Now, I know. It’s because I just plain don’t want to have any ‘business ventures’.

At heart, I just love creating things! Things that I want to create, not that I feel I should create. And things that aren’t judged by those three insufferable letters… R.O.I.

Yes, I’ve discovered that I’m not an entrepreneur. Nor do I care to be one. What kind of entrepreneur would find ROI insufferable? ROI is orgasm land for most entrepreneurs, at least in its traditional meaning.

No, I’m no entrepreneur. I’m an artist.

And your point is…?

I know… an artist? I think my pretentious douchebag-ometer just blew a gasket!

Don’t worry though, I’ve not quite taken to going to spoken word clubs wearing a purple beret and sipping on Latvian goat’s milk espresso macchiatos. I’m still willing to drink a Foster’s out the can.

But what this realisation of self-identity means (for me, at least) is that I get to just focus on creating and sharing whatever the fuck I want. I get to write, talk about, build and learn stuff based on what I’m excited about. I get to enjoy myself again!

It may sound strange, but letting go of the entrepreneur tag is liberating!

Back when I clung onto the idea of being an entrepreneur, not making money meant I was failing. Now, not expressing what I wanted to means I’m failing. Making money while suppressing my creative happiness means I’m failing.

Of course, making money isn’t a bad thing. We all need money to live and, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of it.

It’s just now I don’t care how I make it. If it comes from a job or a business or whatever, it doesn’t matter. My entire identity, self-concept and sense of self-worth is no longer threatened by the idea of not being self-employed.

Yes, I’d like to make a living from sharing my creativity. And one day I will.

But being able to pay the bills while still having the time to express myself is much more appealing than being a miserable entrepreneur. At least, that’s what I think anyway.

The Power of Saying Balls to ‘Finding Your Purpose’

I spent so much time losing my mind asking myself “what’s my purpose?” My inability to find an answer left me lost and pissed off. Then I realised what a shitty ass non-question it is.

This article was originally published on Tiny Buddha. You can view it here.

I sat staring at myself in the mirror.

All I saw was failure.

And for the first time in a long while, I cried.

All I could think about was having to get up the next morning and force myself through another day. Force myself to put on a smile and pretend to be happy. Force myself to act like everything was moving in the right direction.

I’d been putting on this façade for months by this point.

My fitness business was finally growing at a good rate after years of struggle, finances were the best they’d been in a while, and I felt like I was helping a lot of people.

Yet I felt stuck, broken on the inside, and like I was massively holding something back in terms of what I had to offer the world.

And in that tear-filled moment with the mirror, I knew I had to let go of the business and life I had worked so hard to gain momentum with.

I spent the next year trying to work out what the hell was going on. I suppose you could say I was trying to find myself, but the cliché-ridden nature of those words makes me cringe even now. So I prefer to say “working s**t out.”

I stepped back, travelled, sought connection, read, listened to podcasts, and dug deep into my soul for answers to questions I had previously written off as too time wasting for a busy business owner to deal with.

But a key question that kept coming up for me was “what is my purpose?”

I would muse on this for days, weeks, and months at a time, desperately trying to figure out the answer and looking for some Eureka moment.

Almost every book I read, every podcast that I listened to, and every video I watched all seemed to keep coming back to this question in some roundabout way. Each moment of consumption giving me more information on systems, steps, and questions to find out what my purpose is on this earth and what I am “here to do.”

I became obsessed.

And in that obsession I created confusion.

Who was I? What did I want to start? What did I want to talk about? How could I help and serve others without draining my own life force?

After travelling to various parts of Europe and South East Asia, connecting with others and trying to figure my own stuff out, I still felt completely lost. Like I was just wandering the globe, going from place to place without any reason, and simply shuffling through life with a black hole continually expanding inside of me.

I would dive into things headfirst and keep them going for a few weeks before deciding I was on the wrong path. Some idea would catch my eye and I’d take steps forward before getting bored and slacking off.

Until one day I had what I lovingly like to call a “f**k it” moment.

I just couldn’t take any more listening to other people tell me how to find this purpose thing that was supposed to be so great.

I’d gone from never thinking about my purpose, to being obsessed with finding it, to just getting fed up with it all. In fact, I was pissed off that all these other people seemed to be living “in line with their purpose” while I was left stuck and still asking questions.

It was like when you’re a kid and your weird uncle does that crappy magic trick, and you just want him to tell you how he did it so you can stop trying to figure it out and get on with your life.

Then almost as soon as I gave up trying so hard, things became a lot clearer.

And I started to realise what a poor, vague, nothing kind of question it is to ask “what is my purpose?”

Because, when it really comes down to it, we as human beings all have just one, universal purpose.

To create.

Think about it. We create thoughts and knowledge and content and books and podcasts and TV programs and websites and furniture and iPhones and apps to go on those iPhones and other phones to rival those iPhones and slightly bigger iPhones we call iPads and all sorts of other inventions and relationships and businesses and lives for ourselves….

We even create other human beings!

But we also create fear and negativity and judgment and perfectionism and evil and other bad stuff.

So “What is my purpose?” is actually a pretty poor question when it comes to the kind of answer most of us are really looking for. The answer to that is simply to create.

This brought a huge perspective shift for me. All of a sudden, I stopped asking myself the same question over and over again and expecting a different answer every time.

Now I had a new question: What did I want to create?

Screw purpose! Screw this elusive, intangible, nothing of a question. What did I want to create? And I mean really want to create?

No longer did I feel like I had to find this one thing that I was put on this earth to do. No longer was I searching for this magic moment that would give me a sign that I should definitively label myself as this or that.

All I had to start doing was creating something, anything, several things that would make me feel purposeful.

But this then posed another problem.

What did I want to create?

It’s all well and good saying to go create something, but if you don’t know what or how then it’s still meaningless. Surely, if we truly want to feel purposeful, we must know ourselves first.

So I took a deep internal dive again. Only this time, with this new angle to my questioning at the helm.

I wanted to look deep into the depths of my heart and soul in order to find out what was really in there. To peel back all the pretending, all the bravado, and all the BS so I could just know what was really going on in there.

I asked myself about my beliefs, my fears, what I love, what makes me feel passionate, what doesn’t, my strengths, my weaknesses, and what I would say to the world if I had everyone’s attention for just fifteen minutes.

I wrote everything down, even if it was uncomfortable. And I didn’t settle for superficial, meaningless answers.

But the biggest thing of all, the thing that opened my eyes the most, was getting clear on my values.

Our values are the very essence of who we are as individuals. They are what guide us when it comes to making decisions so that we don’t end up feeling like a tangled mess inside. And they act as our inner compass when it comes to what we should create and put into this world.

So the act of creating something that made me feel purposeful became rather straightforward.

What knowledge or skills or expertise do I have in my head and heart? What do I love? And how can I bring all this together to create something that helps and serves others?

Suddenly, discovering “my purpose” became inconsequential.

Why do we need this one, single purpose? The real answer we want to that question, the feeling we want to garner, comes from creating purposeful and meaningful things. Things that make us feel like we are adding to the world and like we are helping in some way.

But we can only know what we class as “meaningful” and “purposeful” if we take the time to discover ourselves and know who we are.

So, if you’re like me and have struggled, or are struggling, with this whole purpose thing, I invite you to just give up looking. Instead, try going deep with yourself on two questions:

1. Who am I?

2. What do I want to create?

Maybe shifting your perspective like this can help get you unstuck, as it did with me.

And it may enable you to go and create something truly meaningful, whichever way you define that yourself.

Now, I know there may be some people out there to whom this all seems a bit over the top, or maybe even irrelevant.

We all have jobs or businesses to focus on, bills to pay, families to feed, and general life stuff going on. Thinking about all the bother of creating this big, elaborate, purposeful thing may be pretty close to bottom of the to-do list for a lot of people.

But that’s the thing—it doesn’t need to be a big, elaborate thing. You could choose to create happiness, or connection, or laughter, for example.

Sure, you could create a billion-dollar company, an international movement, or a charity helping millions of people. Or you could create joy by volunteering at a children’s hospital, or by making it your personal mission to lift other people’s spirits when they’re feeling down.

We don’t need to go into this with an attitude of having to create something huge and entrepreneurial if we don’t want to.

We can garner that feeling in smaller, yet equally as significant, ways.

Simply bringing ourselves to the present moment and asking “What can I create right now that would make me feel purposeful and meaningful?” can be pretty powerful.

Start small. And maybe you’ll get hooked from there.

Because, after all, we are all worthy of feeling purposeful. We just need to decide what this looks like to us.