The confidence formula

Whether you’re selling, dating, or trying to get into college, confidence helps. And it works best when you combine two beliefs.

1. I’d really like for this to work out between us.
2. If you decide I’m not for you, no hard feelings. There are others I may be a better match for.

No pressure. No arrogance. No desperation. Just a genuine interest in finding the best path forward for both parties and the recognition that one no today is just that—one no today.

Sleep as an investment, not a cost

Patricia D. Horoho is a retired United States Army lieutenant general who also served as the 43rd U.S. Army Surgeon General and the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command. And this interview shares some of her strong beliefs about the importance of sleep in achieving peak performance. In particular, I loved this phrase: “We’ve got to view each hour of sleep as the ammunition our brains need.”

Think of sleep not as a cost to your performance today, but as an investment in your performance tomorrow.

“Show, don’t tell…”

Fans of ABC’s Shark Tank, where investment-seeking entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to the cast of multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons (the sharks), have seen this scenario play out on the show. The sharks are interested, but on the fence, questioning if there’s enough potential in this business to earn their time, money, and attention. Sensing that he or she is at risk of losing their potential deal, the entrepreneur tries to tell the sharks what sets them apart.

“I’m relentless. I will not give up.”

“You won’t find someone who works harder than I do.”

“I am passionate about this!”

I’ve seen almost every episode of Shark Tank, but I’ve never seen any of these statements alone lure a shark to make an offer.

Persistence, hard work, and passion are prerequisites for entrepreneurial success. And just because you do those things doesn’t necessarily mean you have a viable business.

Would an NFL coach be swayed just because you claimed to practice hard?

Would a potential romantic partner be swayed just because you claimed to be a nice person?

Would a recruiter at Google or Apple be swayed just because you claimed to be passionate about technology?

In each of these cases—and on Shark Tank—showing works a lot better than telling does.

If you want to see how showing versus telling is done, scroll to 3:50 of this Shark Tank clip and watch entrepreneur Nathan Holzapfel. In just 20 seconds, he gets the sharks interested, not by telling them that he works hard and he cares and he keeps going, but by actually showing them. 20 seconds is all it takes for him to get billionaire investor Mark Cuban to belt out, “I love you—I LOVE you!”

When you’re writing your college essays, don’t just tell colleges that you’re resilient or hard-working or passionate. Show them.

And if you’re working your way through high school, remember that the best way to be successful and to get into college is to put your natural strengths to the best use so you have something to show for them.

Mistakes can be persuasive

Just a month ago, I posted about how sharing weaknesses can accentuate a strength. Here’s another example, this one from Warren Buffet, the 86-year-old CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s most successful investors.

The financial and business stakes are high when Buffett pens his annual letter to shareholders. Yet as Bob Cialdini, a psychology professor who studies and writes on the science of influence and persuasion, points out in this recent CNBC piece, Buffet almost always describes—within the first page or two—an error or mistake that he and his company made in the previous year.

Here’s how Cialdini describes the effect of those admissions:

“It is so disarming. . . I say to myself every time, ‘Oh! This guy is being straight with us. What is he going to say next? I need to pay attention to everything he says next!. . . He’s established himself as a trustworthy credible source of information before he describes the things that are most favorable, that he wants me to process and recall. Brilliant.”

Mistakes really can be persuasive, a tip worth remembering for students who will soon be trying to persuade with their applications and essays.

Not working is work

Brad Stulberg is the author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. Here’s a snippet from his recent NYMAG piece, “Sometimes Not Working Is Work, Too“:

“The world’s best musicians, athletes, artists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs tend to consider rest an essential part of their jobs. They think about rest not as being something that is passive (i.e., nothing is happening, you’re wasting time) but rather as being something that is active (i.e., your brain — or if you’re an athlete, your body — is growing and getting better), and thus, they’re far more liable to respect it. This draws upon something that behavioral economists call the commission bias: an innate human tendency toward action over inaction… This isn’t to say that you should regularly slouch off. But it does mean that even if you’re in the throes of work you love, you should still prioritize eight hours of sleep, some form of regular exercise, and a few short breaks every day. Trust that not working is integral to doing good, sustainable work. Not working is the work.”

Students, while you’re working and learning and applying to college this summer, make sure you also rest, recharge, and have some fun with your friends. It’s not just important for your health and happiness. It’s also part of doing great work.

Take a risk

From pediatric psychologist Dr. Kate E. Eshleman’s “Taking a Risk: What Would You Do If You Knew You Couldn’t Fail?”:

“There is always the chance that taking a risk will end in failure, but failure, in some form, is inevitable. If you operate too much within your comfort zone, you will develop an expectation that you must be good at everything, which can lead to significant feelings of pressure and stress. It’s better to learn how to recover from failure and cope with those feelings of frustration and disappointment. Throughout life, you will experience situations in school, work or relationships that do not go as planned. Each experience that falls short of success is your opportunity to develop healthy coping skills. This is a skill that does not come naturally; you must develop and practice it.”

I’ve never met an admissions officer, even from the most selective of colleges, who would disagree.

What you say vs. what you do

One of the best ways to keep yourself honest about whether or not you’re actually prioritizing what’s important to you is to regularly take stock of two things.

1. What are your goals, aspirations, passions, interests, etc.? These are your words, the things you say are important to you.

2. How are you actually spending your most valuable asset—time? These are your actions, the things that you’re actually making important to you.

Now see how often you can legitimately connect items in #1 with those in #2.

The more connections you have, the better your words are aligned with your actions.

Not many connections? Change what you’re doing to support what you’re saying. Or maybe even more effectively, change what you’re saying to reflect what you’re already doing.

Productive laziness?

Here’s yet another piece, this one from BBC, with some compelling arguments and evidence that taking regular breaks (in between short bursts of focused work) is actually the key to productivity. “Why You Should Manage your Energy, Not your Time” also includes this snippet from study skills and productivity author Cal Newport:

“In order to make the most of our focus and energy, we also need to embrace downtime, or as Newport suggests, ‘be lazy.’ ‘Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body… [idleness] is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done,’ he argues.”

The story is directed towards working professionals, but the argument sticks for students, too. Workaholics actually get less done. Put another way, laziness done right is actually the key to productivity.

Mental list vs. physical list

Crossing an item off a to-do list feels great. You get to physically delete it and enjoy the mental freedom of knowing it’s done. But in today’s world of incoming media, distractions, and constant multi-tasking, adding an item to your to-do list—and getting it out of your head—can bring almost as much relief as crossing it off will.

Adding something to a physical to-do list frees up the energy of maintaining a mental one. You can exert more effort actually doing those things when you’re not exerting effort to remember them.

For more on this, here’s a past post with some advice from Ari Weinzweig, co-owner and founding partner of the Zingerman’s deli empire.