4 habits that could make you win

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Am I special?

Yes you are. And I am special, too.

I think every human being is special, but only a few among us stand out of the crowd. Why?

Let’s simplify things a bit and say we are talking about my own little niche of human beings: tech specialists, where tech is somewhat equal to Computer Science.

Why do I usually stand out of the crowd, when it comes to my work as a tech specialist?

Here are some of the reasons people come up with, when talking about me:

  • He’s a creative genius: he just spends all the day watching Star Wars movies, then suddenly come up with a new crazy idea that actually works!
  • He’s the brain in the room. Mother nature has been very generous with him.
  • He’s sort of a clairvoyant! Always ahead of the curve.
  • He knows everything, remembers everything. I can’t do it.

Bullshit.

I’ve been training all my life. Literally, all my life. In fact, I’ve been training since I was a kid of 3.

I want to unveil the secret behind my superpowers, and I hope to make you start thinking about the power of good habits you keep on training all your life.

Be contemplative

Ok I cheated. Being contemplative at age 3 isn’t something you can just learn when you are – in fact – 3 years old.

But it’s something I know where it comes from: my mother loved me dearly. She was my rock, she never lost her nerve with me. I was free to experiment and play, and all the time I felt safe.

She quit everything while she was pregnant and over the months after I was born. Alcohol, some cosmetics, everything. I didn’t get any risky molecule before I was born, nor through her milk.

She cared for my alimentation. Lot’s of cod and healthy food in general. I had my first bag of chips around 10.

And that’s also why I remember so much about my first years.

The first time I came to know I was special happened when I was in kindergarten.

In a class full of kids of 3, you would expect a lot of noise at any given second. And noisy we were.

Our teacher, Miss Susanna, introduced us to Tom & Jerry.

Tom and Jerry

Everybody was excited while she pointed at Tom on her illustrated book, then Jerry.

Noise, laughs, kids running everywhere.

Not me. I was seated at my desk, silent, and stared at the book for a minute then lowered my head and started playing with some toy I had picked in the classroom.

Miss Susanna noticed that, decided I was the only one who wasn’t paying attention, and asked my parents to come visit and talk about my problems.

It happened during a normal day, in the classroom. Noise, laughs, and stuff. Seeing my parents there, I knew there was something strange going on. So I decided to pretend I was playing but instead pay attention at what they where saying.

“The boy is not normal, you should have him see some professional for – you know – help. I was talking about Tom & Jerry and everyone else was excited about them but little William.” – she started.

Then she continued – “See? Sweeties, do you remember Tom & Jerry? Who are they?” – she asked to the class, to demonstrate her point.

Noise, laughs, and stuff.

“No one? Come on, who’s Tom and who’s Jerry?”

Noise, laughs, and stuff.

Nobody knew who they where, because nobody was paying attention when she was talking about them.

Nobody but one.

I raised my head, joyfully said something like “Tom is the cat and Jerry is the mouse! I like Jerry: he makes me laugh when he tricks Tom!” and continued to play with whatever I was pretending to play with.

Miss Susanna almost fainted, my mother politely thanked her and just walked away with my father, and nobody else ever thought I wasn’t paying attention at anything.

Be contemplative. Always pay attention at what happens around you. Always.

Lateral thinking

Or, Eureka moments aka “Doctor Gregory House effect”.

If you’ve started being contemplative and paying attention at what happens around you, it will pay out in the long run.

Eureka moments happen when you let third-party random inputs help you in solving a problem at hand, or come up with some new great idea.

Talk about connecting the dots.

This is not some magic or superpower, you must train for it. And it actually is easier than you think.

Look at comedians. They take a seemingly normal everyday fact, let it permeate their other thoughts, then BOOM! you are laughing.

Of course professional comedians are masters in this art, but even they started with the first step, right?

Your life is full of inspiration. Train your brain at being influenced by what happens around you. Take mental or real notes of whatever you experience and it’s interesting: a flower, a word, a videogame, a story read while waiting for your turn at the barber shop, a song, really whatever entices your brain.

Someday they will start flowing back just when needed, and you won’t have to do nothing but saying out loud: “Of course! I knew it!.

Know Thyself

My wife says I know myself way more than the average Joe. And she’s right: I’ve been training all my life for that.

When I’ve being lazy, unpolite, motivated, strangely happy, I can explain exactly why, if I want.

And just like with the other three points in this post, it’s easy to start: for example, being contemplative about me I noticed that it’s better for me to speak less after a glass of beer because I tend to instantly lose my politically correct self.

The beer thing is a start, but knowing myself allows me to act like a superhero at work now that I’m starting to master the art.

A couple years ago I was given the task of designing the UX for a new product in a market space I knew nothing about. In 4 hours. For a meeting with the big wigs.

Well, s**t happens.

So I grabbed the documents we had, and spent the first hour reading them and paying attention at every detail.

Then I fired up Bejeweled on Facebook and played for the whole second hour.

A bejeweled screen

The remaining two hours I spent working at the UX in Balsamiq Mockups and then at the meeting I blew everyone’s mind.

What happened?

There was chaos all around me, I was in a hurry, and felt the pressure of an incoming meeting with the big brasses.

But I knew myself, and I knew what I needed to do in such a messy situation:

  • Get input, all of it, in the little to nothing time available.
  • Let it sink, let it settle, protect those barely forming ideas from the surrounding chaos. Hypnotize myself with a repetitive, calming, somewhat pleasurable activity (playing Bejeweled) while the input is being processed by my lateral thinking chops.
  • Ship.
  • Win.

Keep on reading

Impressed coworkers and bosses often ask me how can I know so much about almost everything.

That’s what they think, at least.

To be honest, I know a little about a vast amount of relevant topics, plus a lot about a couple ones.

The fact is, my little is still way better then their almost nothing. And these are highly skilled people who know a lot about their couple main topics.

Why is that?

Because I read. I read like a freak since I learned how to (at 6, like everyone else).

I read comics, novels, newspapers, programming books, song lyrics, blog posts, elevator signs, flyers, tweets, even videogame instruction booklets!

Well, honestly, who wouldn’t read the Discworld Noir instruction booklet?

I read when I am in the toilet, I read during breaks in a TV show or even during the TV show itself if it’s boring.

I read before getting asleep, and this is a pro-tip: what you read before getting asleep, your brain will better assimilate and it will put it aside for the exact moment you will need it.

I read. All that information is there for you to read it.

Time will come for some lateral thinking, and that Eureka Moment you were waiting for.

So, here’s the secret sauce for my superpowers

  1. Be contemplative
  2. Train lateral thinking
  3. Know Thyself
  4. Keep on reading

If you’ll start doing all this things right now, time will come when you’ll be in need for the right idea, or the right bit of information, at the right time.

And you’ll just know it.

Like I just know it. Out of magic, no less.

Lighting up a lightbulb with magic
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