in: Career & Wealth, Podcast, Wealth

• Last updated: July 2, 2023

Podcast #184: Harnessing Behavioral Psychology for a Rich Life

You know the old song and dance.

You set a goal for yourself — lose weight, ask for a raise, ask that woman out — but something holds you back from taking action. Or if you do take action, you flame out in a week. So you do more research on your goal, hoping that you’ll find the one piece of information that will guarantee success. But you fail again.

What if instead of more thinking, achieving your goals require more feeling?

That’s what my guest today on the podcast argues.

His name is Ramit Sethi and he’s the owner of the website I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Today on the show, Ramit and I discuss what we can learn from behavioral psychology to help us achieve our goals and become the men we want to be. Lots of actionable points in this podcast. You’ll want to take notes.

Show Highlights

  • What a “rich life” is (it’s not just about money)
  • The hidden scripts we follow in life that keep us from progressing (we analyze mine)
  • What a former girlfriend said to Ramit that motivated him to start strength training (it’s harsh)
  • Why men fool themselves into thinking they’re being rational and not emotional when they make choices
  • How to use the rational part of our brain to direct our emotional part in order to superdrive our goal achievement
  • Why people are terrified to ask for raises and the script you can use to overcome that fear
  • The “big wins” you should focus on to improve your life dramatically
  • Why even traditional employees need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs
  • How to become a self-starter
  • The one trick Ramit used to make working out a habit
  • Quit trying to live like you’re 40 years old when you’re 20
  • And much more!

Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast

A poster of the peak performance made easy.

Like I say in the podcast, I’ve been following Ramit since he first started back in 2006. And there’s a reason why. He consistently puts out in-depth and highly useful content. Check out his site I Will Teach You To Be Rich and browse through all the free content he has on there. One thing I recommend checking out is his recently released Ultimate Guide to HabitsWhile you’re there, be sure to sign up for his email newsletter. It’s one of my favorites.

If you’re interested in leveraging the web for your business, browse through his new site GrowthLab. Lots of great, free content on the subject there.

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

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Brett McKay: Ramit Sethi, welcome to the show.

Ramit Sethi: Thanks for having me.

Brett McKay: We were talking about this the other day. I’ve been following you and your site I Will Teach you to be Rich when you first started in 2006 or 2007. This is when I had a personal finance blog. People don’t know that about me. My first blog was called the Frugal Law Student. I read your stuff, because I was in that sphere, but what’s interesting is to see how your business or the content you put out there on I Will Teach you to be Rich has evolved. It started off primarily a personal finance blog, but now it’s something different. It’s more all-encompassing about living a good life where you talk about entrepreneurship, social skills, fitness, psychology, productivity, etc. and they all seem connected. I’m curious what would you say is the underlying philosophy or objective of I Will Teach you to be Rich right now?

Ramit Sethi: For me it’s about showing people how to lead a rich life. I like that word because rich can be different things to different people. I’ll give you an example. When I started off in personal finance the predominant world view was that you shouldn’t do anything with your money. Cut back on lattes, cut back on everything. I just didn’t believe in that. I took a look around at my friends and my friends wanted to go out. They wanted to buy a round of drinks for their friends. We just wanted to have a good time.

I started to develop this philosophy and it started with money, although I think money is just a small part of living a rich life. I think if you ask people, even the people who are listening right now, what does a rich life mean to you, the things they’re going to tell you are not going to involve stacks of cash. They’re going to say, “I want to be able to take a trip in the middle of the week.” “I want to be able to get a really nice jacket and not worry about it.” For me the rich life when I started off was simple. It was like I want to be able to buy appetizers at a restaurant because my family, we have a pretty big family, we didn’t have a lot of money. We never ordered, we didn’t even eat out and when we did we would never even think of ordering appetizers.

I think that a rich life evolves overtime, but it also is unapologetic. If you want to buy a 2,000 dollar coat – awesome. Let me show you how to do it. I’ll show you how to negotiate your salary and get a 25,000 dollar raise. If you want to fly your parents out for their 40th anniversary and surprise them, this is something I just got back from a few days ago, and you want to put them up in a nice house with a chef and all that stuff, do it. Let me show you how to start a side business and you can earn that. For me a rich life is unapologetic. It’s different for everyone. It can be about giving back to the charity. It could be about just getting a nice pair of shoes. It could be about getting fit and changing your mind. That’s the general philosophy that goes through everything we do.

Brett McKay: Or it could be, I just talked to a guy the other day, he lives on a homestead in Vermont in a house he built.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect example. That is really off the beaten path. You wouldn’t think money directly ties in with that, but for him that’s a rich life. That’s why I say money is an important part, but it’s a small part of rich life.

Brett McKay: It seems like what you’re doing with I Will Teach you to be Rich is you’re disrupting thinking patterns that people have about what is and what is not possible because I think a lot of people, they have this idea of, “If I want to have a good life I have to go to college, I have to get this certain kind of job. I have to live in the suburbs, I have to do this etc.” but you’re saying, “No, not necessarily.” You challenge those assumptions that people have.

Ramit Sethi: Completely true. If I had followed my typical default life path I would be … I’m about 5’11” and a half. I would be 127 pounds. I’d be working at Cisco as a network engineer. I’d have an oversized white polo shirt that I wear with khakis. That would be it. That’s my default life path. When I took a look I just said, “That’s not where I want to be.” That means everything from stepping outside the typical job situation, turning down a job offer at Google, starting my own company. It means stepping outside of the typical entrepreneur mindset, especially online entrepreneurs who say, “I don’t want to have a team because that’s a lot of responsibility.” Guess what, I want to have an impact. If that means I have to have a team then I’m going to learn how to have an amazing team.

Then it also means learning how to get fit and change the way I look and dress and I think that’s important too. The world wants you to be vanilla. It wants you to follow these typical paths because it’s comfortable and the entire world is built around that. When you try to step outside of that you get people who will give you varying degrees of pushback. That’s always going to happen. In fact the more and more you do it the more and more you’re going to get, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.

Brett McKay: Talk about getting fit. It’s been fun to watch your transformation, because I remember way back, you were doing little classes at Stamford about personal finance.

Ramit Sethi: That was so cool.

Brett McKay: You had the big polo shirt, you had that rocking I believe. You were skinny. What made you decide, “I need to get bigger and stronger?” We have a lot of guys on the podcast. I’m about to talk to a power lifter who can deadlift 800 pounds. What made you decide that’s an important part of my life that I need to focus on that?

Ramit Sethi: There’s two parts and both of them are not what you’d think. It’s not that I sat down one day and I examined the health benefits of muscle gain. No. I sat down one day with a girl that I was dating and she’s a real sweet girl. One day she made an offhand comment about how she was … Basically she said I want you to gain more weight. I’m like, “This is really weird for this girl to say this because she’s never had a mean thing to say about anybody.” She said, “I want you to gain more weight because it would make me feel like more of a girl.” I thought wow, that is the kind of comment you never hear. That’s like a life changer game changer.

The next day I went to work and there was a guy who used to work with Brian. I asked him, can you help me learn how to work out. I was 127 pounds at the time. I had the body of a supermodel, a female supermodel. I asked Brian, “Can you show me how to work out?” He takes me to the gym, starts showing me some machines and stuff and he goes, “All right, you want to gain weight. Do you like Thai food? Do you like milk? Do you like this? Do you like that?” “Yes, no, yes, no.” He thinks about it for a second, he goes, “All right, you need to eat all those things.”

That was one. Then the second thing was when I moved to New York I took a look around me and it was very obvious that people in New York look great. They look great, they have great fashion. Just everybody’s playing at another level. I was like, “This is a great opportunity to step my game up,” but I have to tell you that I was pretty nervous. I wanted to get a personal trainer. I could afford a personal trainer. It still took me four months to get the courage to walk across a street and go get a personal trainer. When I did I basically put myself in his hands and I said, “I’ll do whatever it takes,” and he said, “All right, we’re going to start.”

I happened to walk in and luckily find an amazing trainer who I’ve worked with for years now, but you’ll notice that none of these things … It wasn’t like I was debating the difference between a three day or a four day split with your chests or powerlifting versus Olympic. None of that. It was all emotional and psychological. That’s something that I think a lot of people overlook. They’ll spend years and years looking at different splits and different workouts, but not realize most of it is psychological. Once you master that then the actual workout you do is pretty straightforward.

Brett McKay: There’s a lot of things we unpacked right there. One thing I noticed about I Will Teach you to be Rich and the content you’ve been putting out in recent years is a lot about behavioral psychology and tapping into that in order to motivate yourself, to improve yourself and motivate customers or motivate employees. You just mentioned, a lot of people when they approach fitness, they get very analytical about it. Then they think that’s the answer. I’ve got to be very rational and reasonable about this, but you’re saying that no, that’s not the best way to approach it. You need to approach, whether it’s personal fitness or your finances, thinking about emotions first because that seems to be the big driver. What got you going wasn’t, like you said, it’s not about, “This will help me be stronger and this will extend my life.” It was a girl told you, “You make me not feel like a girl.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’m so glad to be talking about this here because I think for men in particular, not only are we hyper rational or we believe that that’s the way to be successful, but we actually shit on emotions. I actually am guilty about this as well. If you go back and listen to my early videos, I joke about being an emotional robot, hahaha. Growing up as an Indian guy, you’re not really taught about the emotional side. It’s a very stoic way to grow up. In a way that taught me a lot of stuff. I rarely get bothered by little day to day things etc. I’m pretty steady.

But when you approach the world with logic only as your foundation then you start to … It’s a real problem because you are approaching the world as a robotic automaton. Then the world does not work that way. I’ll just give you a perfect example. I walk outside, a few blocks away there’s a hospital. There’s always a bunch of nurses and doctors huddling outside smoking. How does the robotic person rationalize that? These nurses and doctors know every single fact there is about how bad smoking is for them and yet they still do it. If your world view is only operating rationally, only, then it makes no sense. What you’re missing is the psychological, the emotional, in this case the biological dependence.

Same thing for working out. Do you think overweight people don’t know they’re overweight? They know. Do you think they don’t know it’s bad? They know. You think people who don’t have enough money, they haven’t ever seen a compound interest chart? They’ve seen it a million times. It gets me angry because in the personal finance world where I started off, 99% of the experts there, they go under this world view that let’s just educate these people. Let’s teach them how important it is to invest at age 25 and that’ll get them. You know what normal people are thinking? I don’t even know how much I spent last week. Can I afford to buy this drink for my friend or am I going to look cheap and try to slink out the back?

Once I understood this and I learned this at Stamford, I learned this in an applied way with my readers then it started to really connect. The big thing I’ll just say is you don’t need more facts. The fact are out there, you can get them with one Google search. If you wanted to lose 30 pounds and you were a robotic automaton you could do it and yet you haven’t. What is it? Is it that you don’t have the right facts? No. There’s something else going on and that’s really the crux. The difference between what we say is important and what we actually do. That’s really the crux of what I Will Teach you to be Rich is about.

Brett McKay: I think it’s interesting, they’ve done research where they say that we make decisions first on an emotional level and then we come up with the reason, why we did this. I think men are really guilty. They think like, “I’m making a logical decision.” No, actually you are coming up with a expo facto reason why your guy said you need to go with this thing and they’ll talk about, “I’m buying this car because it has these features, it’s fuel efficient.” No, you thought it was a cool car.

Ramit Sethi: My favorite studies in psychology are the ones where the experimenters vary just one variable. They can experimentally show that it’s because of this one factor. It’s not logic, it’s not the facts. It’s because they changed the color of the car and that’s what got 27% of people to buy it more. They go and they actually tell the subjects, “Hey, this is why you bought the car,” and the people will be like, “No way, that’s impossible, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” They’re like, “No, we have the data, this is experimentally shown.” “No, that’s not why, I chose it because it has a four wheel drive.”

One of the greatest books on this by the way is a book called mindless eating. It’s by a Cornell professor of food psychology. He basically shows how we think we’re super rational and logical when it comes to eating. Actually we’re anything but. We eat not just because we’re hungry. We eat because the colors are brighter, because the plate is bigger or even because the bowl is closer to us. If you move the bowl two feet away our consumption will go down over 10%. It’s a great reminder that we are not robotic. We’re not rational. We are emotional and psychological creatures. The minute you can get that is the minute you don’t look down on emotion and psychology, but you actually start trying to understand this entire invisible world that exists around us.

Brett McKay: We understand this. How can an individual, they understand, “Okay, I’m an emotional being. I’m making decisions based on emotion. I’m motivated based on emotions. How do you harness that?” Basically what we’re trying to do I guess, there’s an analogy that we’re an elephant and an elephant rider. The elephant is our emotions and the rider’s the rational part. How do we get our rational part to direct our emotions so we can leverage that to improve our life? Does that make sense?

Ramit Sethi: Yes. Let’s get into specifics. One of the things as you start to get into this theoretical world that gets really up in the clouds, we can talk about how it applies to finding a dream job, how it applies to starting a business or getting fit, whatever you want to talk about, you tell me, but let’s get to the street level.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about getting your dream job.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect. Just think about all the invisible scripts, this is a phrase, invisible scripts which are beliefs that are so deeply held to us that they are invisible. These invisible scripts guide our lives. One invisible script you probably have is education is great. More education is better. That’s an invisible script for basically Indian person. I actually think it’s a pretty good invisible script, but it’s an invisible script. My invisible script when I was in college is I’m 127 pound Indian guy. I’m just a skinny Indian guy. I can’t get as big as those white guys. That was an invisible script for me. Do you have an invisible script in your own life that you can share?

Brett McKay: I’m trying to think of one.

Ramit Sethi: Invisible, so it’s hard to think about.

Brett McKay: It’s hard to think about. I have a hard time asking for things.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect. I’m not the kind of person who asks for things. If you dig deeper you might even find out that you don’t believe that you should get help based on someone else. You should do it yourself.

Brett McKay: Very self-reliant. Pull yourself by your bootstraps.

Ramit Sethi: It really goes deep. it’s so deep that it’s manifested in these really weirds ways. You might have someone who you meet at a cocktail party and they’re like, “Hey Brett, I really want to hook you up with this job or this opportunity,” and you’re like, “Okay,” and then you just don’t follow up. Later someone’s like, “Hey, this guy wanted to put you on the Today show, why didn’t you follow up?” and you’re like, “Oh,” and it goes down into that invisible script.

Let’s apply that to jobs. There are these invisible scripts floating around us that are so pervasive you almost can’t escape them. This mindset is the economy is bad. I should just be lucky to have a job. If I get an interview I’m going to go in there and try to impress them and hopefully I’ll get the job. All that sounds reasonable, but if you take that approach you are doomed because you are now doing what every single other person does. That is adopting the frame that the economy is bad. Who says the economy is bad? For top performers the economy’s never been better. I’m recruiting over ten people right now. I cannot find them for the life of me. I will also tell you that top performers are routinely getting 20-25,000 dollar jobs.

That’s balloon puncture number one. Number two, I should just be lucky to have a job. Is that true? If top performers can leave their job on Friday and have a new job offer by Monday maybe you actually have a lot of leverage. Then three if you walk into an interview and you hope to impress them it’s like going on a date. Yeah, of course you want to impress them, but you also want to be seeing if they impress you. In other words you are the prize. Not to be arrogant. You actually have to be good at what you do or you have to be attractive and engaging, but if you walk in from a position of subservience you already lost.

That’s a total different view of finding a job. I can go into specifics about how to do it and how to stand out. Most people take the completely wrong approach. They just submit their resume online and wait. The problem is ten million other people do that too, but I’m just saying that you have to change the mindset and study what top performers are doing. Top performers know that companies are desperate to find great talent, they’re desperate to find people who come in with ideas and actually execute them and if they do that they will pay. They will pay a huge amount. This is the difference between what most people do and how to take behavioral psychology and change what you do.

Brett McKay: Here’s something, we don’t have to get specifically into jobs. Maybe you already have a job and you like your job. You’ve written a lot about this. Asking for a raise. That is one of the, I think it frightens a lot of people. I think there’s that invisible script. They’re like, “I shouldn’t ask for this. I should be just lucky that I have a job.” How can we use behavioral psychology, understanding this whole … we’re emotionally driven. Other people are also emotionally driven. How can we use to overcome that fear and ask for a raise?

Ramit Sethi: The invisible script here is great because in our culture, especially in America, not only do you not negotiate, it’s actually looked down upon. If you think about the examples from popular culture who do we have? We have used car salesmen. If you think about a used car salesman, it’s like you crinkle your nose. You’re like, “It’s so disgusting.” I actually think that negotiating can be really good, but it’s a different approach. You don’t walk in there and bang the table. The way that you can negotiate a salary increase, it’s different. I’ll give you a couple of examples and there’s a bunch of free stuff I’m going to point you to.

One, you have to first know what it takes to be a top performer at your job. This is how you do it. It’s not a one day process. You don’t walk into your boss’ office and say, “Give me 10,000 dollars.” He’s going to tell you to get the fuck out of here. You walk in and say, let’s say your boss’ name is John. “John, I’d love to set up a meeting with you to discuss what would it take to become a real top performer here. I’d like to outperform what I did last year and I’d love your help in coming up with a few KPIs, key performance indicators.” Every boss is salivating over getting that email. John’s like, “Come in tomorrow, let’s talk.”

You walk in and you’re prepared. You walk in and you say, “Based on what I’ve seen here this is what I’m seeing are the key priorities of the business. Here’s what I’m working on. If it were up to me these are my three KPIs. Improve sales 13%, improve retention 10%, blah, blah, blah. What do you think, are these the right goals for me to be working on?” Then you guys have a nice discussion. Maybe you come back in a couple of days with some more data and you say, “John, I get these three numbers. I’m going to work on these and I’m going to update you every three weeks. Assuming that I hit these goals I’d love to discuss a compensation adjustment or we could discuss that a few months from now, but do we both agree that these are the numbers that I should be pursuing.” “Yes.”

Now you’ve sent an email record, you’ve got it all written down, do you see that we haven’t even talked about money really? This is completely different than what people think about a negotiation. Now you go back and you have to actually do the work. I say that because so many people think that there’s some magical phrase that’s just going to get you 10,000 dollars. Now, you need to actually do the work. You do the work. The key here is you update them every few weeks. “Hi John, I just want to let you know, we improved the optimization process, we’re on our track, blah, blah, blah.”

By the time it comes time for your compensation discussion not only have you exceeded your goals, but you’ve let him know the entire way so there are no surprises. Now when you walk in the room you are armed to the teeth and it’s a friendly discussion. One, you’ve already have the numbers, you’ve crushed your goals. Number two, you’ve looked at the comps around you and three, you have the right words on how to discuss this. I’ll just tell you one more little secret that a lot of people don’t know and then I’m going to tell you where you can find all this stuff for free.

The secret is bosses get basically a certain amount of money to distribute to their team. Let’s just pretend that it’s 100 dollars. Joe over there is not really good at his job, so we’re going to give him cost of living increase, 3%. The other guy, whatever his name is, Mike, he’s pretty good. We’re going to give him 10 bucks, 10%, but there’s this one person who’s absolutely amazing and I’m going to save all my chips, all my money and give it to him because I want him here and I want to promote him. Your boss will tell you, “Sorry, can’t do it, this is the economy, it’s times are tough, blah, blah, blah.” It’s BS. If you are a top performer you will get the lion’s share or you can leave and get it from another company, but you have to approach it in the right way. If you guys want to find out how to do this, the words and all that stuff, I put up a bunch of free videos. You can just Google Ramit ultimate guide to getting a raise. Most people can use that stuff and get a five to 10,000 dollar raise right off the bat and it’s free. Check it out, I think it will be helpful.

Brett McKay: There’s two things there we can unpack. That’s a big win. That’s a mantra that you have on I will … go for big wins. Easy big wins.

Ramit Sethi: You want to talk about that?

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about that. This is another invisible script I think people have. It’s like we’re going to go for just small incremental … which is fine. I’m a big believer in improving 1%, but there’s always opportunities to make big change, big improvements.

Ramit Sethi: Yes, big wins. There’s a thing in psychology called the principle of being a cognitive miser. A cognitive miser means we have limited cognition and limited willpower. It’s like you can’t walk around all day making a ton of decisions. It’s like doing a bicep curl with a 45. You’re just going to get tired after a while. It’s ironic that we spend our valuable cognition, willpower and attention on decisions like, “Should I buy this three dollar latte?” Who gives a shit? Three dollars doesn’t add up to anything in the grand scheme. I’d rather negotiate my salary, get a 10 to 20,000 dollar raise and lock that in for years to come.

The I Will Teach principle of big wins says get the five or ten big wins in your life right and you never have to worry about the rest of these questions. For example, here are some potential big wins. Getting a dream job, automating your finances, getting fit, having great relationships, maybe some people want to put food up, having great food. Fine. It’s up to you, it’s your big wins, but there are some classic big wins that most people cluster around. If you do that you never have to worry about, “Can I afford to take this taxi instead of the subway?” or “Can I order this dessert? I don’t know.” Those questions are irrelevant once you have a great job, maybe you started a side business, your money is automated and to me that’s much more relieving. I actually love going outside and not having to look at the price tag when I’m at the grocery store. It’s cognitive relief for me. To me that’s freedom and that’s a rich life.

Brett McKay: I guess another big one you talk about is negotiating your rent down is another one, because that frees up so much more money where you don’t have to be a cognitive miser about your resources.

Ramit Sethi: There’s this concept we have called the tripod of stability. As you can tell I love names.

Brett McKay: I love it, it’s great, it makes it easier to remember.

Ramit Sethi: The tripod of stability says, “Get these three critical things right in life and most of the rest of the it you can afford to be more risky.” Let me give you an example. I’m conservative on where I live which means I pick a great place and I stay there for a long time. When I used to have a car I picked a good car and I kept that car for a long time. A few things, relationships, etc. If you are conservative in those areas and you make a great choice and you stick with it then you can afford to be really aggressive and risk seeking in others. Like my business. We can afford to try these crazy experiments in our business and I know that I have this tripod of stability that I can lean back on. Absolutely that’s true for your job, for negotiating your salary and for many other things in your life.

Brett McKay: This sounds very much like Nassim Taleb’s barbell strategy? You have a lot of conservative money, so you can take more risk in other speculative areas.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly.

Brett McKay: The other thing I thought was interesting in your negotiating example is that it seemed like the employee has to become an entrepreneur. It sounded like the employee was treating his boss like a client. You were like a freelancer giving a pitch to the client. I think a lot of people have this mentality that while I’m an employee, just tell me what to do and I will do it, but it seems like in order to get a raise you have to be a little more of a self-starter, more of an entrepreneur, even in a 9:00 to 5:00 job.

Ramit Sethi: That’s one of the deepest invisible scripts there is. That is that mommy and daddy should tell me what to do and I’ll be a good boy or girl and do what they say. That script plays out almost every day of our lives. In fact if you’re listening to this I’ll challenge right now to think of an example where that mommy daddy invisible script played out. Was it at your job where you waited for your boss to tell you what to do? Was it in your personal relationship where your partner told you what do to and you actually felt good when they did it?

I’m actually not saying there’s anything bad about that. Those can be great invisible scripts, but when it comes to a job, if you want the extraordinary results then you have to do something different than what most people are doing. The frank truth is most people are going in, they’re doing what they’re told and they get a nice cost of living increase, 3%. That’s the way the world works. If you’re comfortable with that awesome. For a lot of people they just want to end at 5:00 pm and they want to go do their own thing. Awesome, but if you want that 25,000 dollar raise …

I just posted on Instagram yesterday, this guy used four of my courses. He paid about 4,000 bucks over two or three years, he made 72,000 dollars. That guy is atypical, he’s awesome. If you want results like that you don’t just go to work and do what the boss tells you. You have to actually exactly as you said, treat them like your client, be proactive, understand the business and make some pitches. You pitch them, you make the business case and suddenly your boss, every time you walk in they’re like, “Mike is here to tell me what he’s going to help me with,” instead of, “Mike is a burden that I have to feed and tell what to do.” You become not a liability, but you become an asset.

Brett McKay: I think that’s hard to do because I think … that invisible script of just waiting for people tell you what to do and not being a self-starter, that’s hard to overcome. Is there anything from behavioral psychology or any quick … I hate quick life hacks or whatever, but is there something, a philosophy to help you jumpstart your self-starting mentality?

Ramit Sethi: First is to know that when you start trying to become a self-starter at work it’s going to be hard and you’re going to make mistakes. That’s really important. You’re not going to be perfect at this. For example you might pitch these ideas to your boss which gets shut down because they’re crazy and you don’t understand the pitch you’re making. That’s going to happen. Expect it, acknowledge it, plan for it. We call it failure expectation. When I was applying for college I already planned on not getting in and I had a backup. I was going to write them an essay, send them my new clippings, because I already expected to fail. You should be the same thing.

Don’t try to be a perfectionist. Your first few times of trying to be a self-starter are going to suck. That’s okay. The second thing is to study what other people are doing. There are a lot of self-starters at your company. By the way, it could be outside of your company. Go talk to the people who have sailed past everyone else. They became a VP in three years. How did they do it? Sit down with them and say, “I really admire what you do. I’d love to take you out to coffee. You seem to have sailed past everyone else. You have an intuition. You have a knack for knowing what needs to get done. How do you think about this?”

Then they’re going to give you these vague platitudes and you bring it down to earth. You say, “Here’s where I am at my job. I go in, I do these Excel reports, it’s fine, I get a 3% cost of living. I want to get promoted, I want people to listen to me in the room and on and on and on. What would you do if you were in my seat?” That’s number two. You’re asking other top performers how they do it. Trust me, there’s a lot to learn. Those top performers have been top performers since they were six years old. You’re building a whole new muscle you’ve never used.

The third thing is talk to your boss. Exactly what I said earlier about going in and asking your boss what it takes. Do you know how many people on my team, they will come and be proactive, but they’re proactive about the wrong thing. Then they go and talk to their manager or they talk to me and they say, “What would it take to be a top performer?” The manager knows, “I need you to hit these numbers and if you hit those numbers you become a top performer.” Don’t just try random things. Get help from other top performers and from your boss.

Brett McKay: Here’s another big picture approach that I think applies to a lot of domains. Not just your job, not just money, not just fitness. I get a lot of letters. I just got a letter from a guy yesterday saying that he’ll get really motivated. Those emotions are working and he’s like, “I’m going to change my life and I’m going to quit smoking. I’m going to start exercising. I’m going to go in and ask for that raise.” They start taking action and then it just putters out. The emotions go, they’re gone. Emotions are fleeting.

They’re stuck where they start and they get really despondent. It seems like there’s something from what we’ve been talking about right now, there’s something in behavioral psychology that we can leverage to help offload some of the … I think what is going on, there’s an overload of cognition going on. You’re trying do a whole bunch of things. You have to have a system in place so that when that emotion and motivation is gone, that you have something carrying you forward with you goal.

Ramit Sethi: I’m curious from your perspective, you’ve been at this a long time. It would have been easy to get bored or lazy or not be motivated one day. What has pushed you through, especially in the unmotivated times?

Brett McKay: It sounds dumb, but I treat it like a job. It’s like if I had a job at a 9:00 to 5:00, I would still have to do it. I have a system. Okay, from this time to this time this is what I do. Even if I don’t feel like it, I’ve got to do it. Here’s the interesting, once I start doing it I actually get into it. Once I start doing it.

Ramit Sethi: Love it. I’m so glad you said that. By the way for everyone listening, notice that the question of motivation, if you talk to people who are really good at what they do, they’re not talking about motivation. They’re not. If you talk to people who are really fit and you’re like, “Breakthrough, how do you get motivated to go the …” they look at you like you’re cray. What do you mean motivated? That has nothing to do with it. They completely sidestep that. It’s about discipline and it’s about systems.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples from my own life. I love that you said you treat it like a job. I also love that you said once you get good then you get motivated. There’s a great book by a friend of mine, Cal Newport, it’s called Getting so Good they can’t Ignore You or Be so Good they can’t Ignore You. He and I both agree, a lot of people think, “What am I passionate about and then I’m going to go get good at it.” We believe get good at it and then you become passionate.

Get good at it. What does that mean? Start by crawling, then walking, then running. You can also use … Brett, like you, I hate life hacks, very reductionist, but I used to try to get motivated to go to the gym. What I did was instead of feeling guilty and judging myself I started to try to look at my own behavior with the mind of an experimenter. Very non-judgmental, but just saying what’s working and what’s not. That’s hard because you look at yourself and you’re like, “Oh my god, I’ve been talking about starting a business for five years. I don’t do it. I suck, I’m worthless.” You’ve got to put those aside.

I created a basic Excel sheet and I was like, “I’m going to test a few things.” I tested writing it down, I tested listening to cool music. All this tupid stuff. Then the thing that actually worked for me was putting my gym clothes next to my bed, folded and ready to go. I would roll out of bed and put them on and get up and go. You know what’s crazy? When I actually figured it out I realized why I hadn’t been going. This is the craziest part of all. My closet at the time was in a different room. I’d wake up in the morning, it was freezing cold. I didn’t want to have to go just in my boxers to the other room shivering to put on my clothes. It was that simple.

You would think, “That’s so easy, don’t be stupid, don’t be lazy,” but again, if you’re not adopting that robotic mindset, if you realize that we are emotional creatures you realize that sometimes even the most minor of barriers can stop us. Just basically don’t be so hard on yourself, but take an experimenter’s view and test different approaches to see what works.

Brett McKay: I guess you do have to have … I think a lot of guys have this idea of the man they want to be. They want to be confident. They want to be able to provide for their family. They want to be … all those things that we think of like the ideal man. Do you have that? Do you have that picture in your mind the entire time and then you just get to work or is it … I’m trying to figure out. How do you go from big picture to little picture? Should you have a big picture goal, an ideal you’re shooting for, or should you just stick to the minutia and just focus on the process?

Ramit Sethi: I don’t know. I think this is different. I’ll tell you my perspective. Honestly, I didn’t start my business out with this grand vision in mind. That’s just not how I think.

Brett McKay: I didn’t either.

Ramit Sethi: I just find the more and more people I talk to, especially once you have a couple of drinks and you get to know somebody, they’re all like, “I had no clue this thing was going to work.” I just started it out because I felt like I had something to say. Over time I learned how to be more strategic and think about vision and all this stuff, but honestly I started my blog in 2004. I was a college kid. I was cocky. I was like, “These people need to hear what I have to say,” and it was as simple as that. The only difference was that I stuck with it for years. Each time I tried to improve. I knew my stuff was all right, but it could be better. I think a lot of it is just longevity. If you stay and you keep working at something you’re going to get good at it, if you are studying the best. To your question about an ideal man, I think that’s so interesting.

Brett McKay:      Because there’s a lot of emotion in there. There’s a lot of emotion involved in that.

Ramit Sethi: A lot. We take our cues from the media too. If you look at what is your ideal man. Is it a guy who has a ton of women, is it a guy who has a ton of money? Is it a guy who has a ton of style? What is it? I think that we are more influenced by the people around us than we would let on and I also think you can tell a lot about someone by their heroes. I’ll give you an example. If you think about Silicon Valley, one of the biggest heroes there is Mark Zuckerberg. He started a startup for nothing, he maintained control as he raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital. He wears a hoodie and he built a product without much marketing. It was viral.

Those four components are really critical because Silicon Valley lionizes those things. This is why you see a bunch of young tech entrepreneurs who think marketing is stupid, fashion is stupid and I should build a product that’s viral and I’m going to maintain control at all costs. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I’m just saying that’s the hero archetype in Silicon Valley for a lot of young entrepreneurs. Move over to New York and take a look at the Goldman Sachs CEO who has this massive empire, maintains a fleet of black cars and has ultimate control etc. That has produced an entirely different type of hero and a different type of follower.

Just think to yourself, who are your heroes and what does that say about you? In the internet marketing space which I want to take a huge shit on because people … give me a break. All they want to do is make a million dollars. They don’t want to put the work in.

Brett McKay: Not do anything. They want to go to a beach.

Ramit Sethi: Oh my god. I’m so glad you said that. I went to this conference which I should not have gone to. I brought one of my staff members with me. We all went around the table introducing ourselves and I told them. I said, “Listen, watch when everybody introduces themselves because they’re going to say two things. They’re going to say how much money they make and how little they work.” He’s like, “No fucking way,” I was like, “Watch.” Lo and behold, 20 seconds later the first guy goes, he goes, “My name is Blah. I make 20,000 dollars a week and I work three days a week. It’s a good life on the beach.” I just look at my friend and he looks at me and I’m like, “Told you.”

I hate that. If that is your hero then all you’re going to care about is how much money you make and how little you work. That’s going to influence everything you do. Just be very mindful of the heroes you have. You may realize that the people you were admiring, you may want to think a little bit bigger. That’s something that has been critical to me as our business has grown.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about starting a business because I think that’s a dream of a lot of guys, the whole idea of being self-reliant, owning a company, it’s the American dream. I know it’s not for everyone. One of the things I hate about the internet business world is they put out, this is the only way to live a good life.

Ramit Sethi: If you don’t start a business you’re failure. Everyone should.

Brett McKay: If you live in the suburbs in the middle of America then you suck. I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the suburbs and I like my life a lot. What is the thing, and I think a lot of guys, they want to start a business and online is where you have to do, even if you have a brick and mortar business or you have a service you provide you have to be online marketing yourself. What do you think are the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to start a business. I have my things that I’ve seen when people started a business. I’m curious what you saw.

Ramit Sethi: I can’t wait to hear yours too. The things that I’ve learned, we have over a million readers a month, a lot of them are interested in starting businesses. We are very particular about telling them what it actually takes. This is the critical mistakes that I’ve seen, which happen over and over again. Number one, everybody wants to play business. They want to get the fancy beautiful website, they want to get the business cards, they want to start hiring some SEO expert. It’s all bullshit. For a lot of people they don’t even need website to tell you the truth. We have students of our who earn over 100,000 dollars a year from their business, they don’t even have a website. Playing business, doing all the accoutrements of having a business, except for the one thing that matters. Having paying customers. It’s this idea in life that so many of us do which is let me do everything except the hard thing that matters. Another great book by Horowitz is The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

Brett McKay: That’s a good one. I read that.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, it’s amazing. That’s number one. Two is the idea of just dreaming, trying to be 40 before they’re 40. When I was just out of college I was going to buy a car. I was trying to think which car I should buy. I had some money saved up. I was like, “Should I buy a Mercedes? A sporty Mercedes,” and I was like, “What the fuck and I doing? What 22-23 year old buys a Mercedes and where do you go from there?” You can’t go down to a Kia. I reminded myself, “Don’t try to be 40 before you’re 40.”

We see a lot of people doing this in the online world or starting a business. They tell me, “Ramit, I need to get a sophisticated marketing automation platform.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? How many people do you have on your list?” “3,000, but we’re growing rapidly. 10% month over month.” I’m like, “Stop talking. You don’t need to be getting a marketing automation platform. You need a simple email provider where you can send emails. that’s it.  You don’t need all those crazy stuff.” People don’t like to hear that you want to crawl before you walk before you run. They want to start running.

Brett McKay: I think that’s a problem with a lot of millennials. In their 20s. They’re 20 years old, but they want to have the lifestyle of a 40 year old. That takes 20 years to build up.

Ramit Sethi: Completely. God, I love this. Go to your parents’ house, wherever they are, and you just open up where they keep their spoons and knives, look at how many spatulas they have. They have four, six spatulas? You know how many decades it took them to get six spatulas? We’ve got a bunch of 22 year olds telling me, “I want to be VP?” What are you talking about? It’s not sexy to put in the work and become truly, with a craftsmanship mind, to become truly masterful at your job, but if you do that, if you follow the process, if you build the systems to do that, you blink your eyes and one day you are masterful of what you do. Suddenly everyone else is looking at you like, “Wow, that’s so cool, what a life.” They will never realize all the work that you put it, but that’s when it becomes intrinsically rewarding.

Brett McKay: For me, the thing … I get a lot of people who’ll approach me and be like, “Hey Brett, can I have lunch with you or coffee and talk to you. I’m trying to think about starting a business.” I used to do more frequently, but I don’t do it anymore because I would tell them what I’ve done and like, “How long have you been planning this?” and they’re like, “It’s been about a year.” Then I’m like, I tell them, “Just get started, just start. Start right now.” I’ll follow up with them three months later, “Hey, how’s it going,” because I’m curious to see if my advice helped at all, “Have you gotten like …” and they haven’t even started. Because they’re still busy … They’re playing business, but they don’t even have a business to play with. That’s an imaginary business. They always ask these questions about which microphone do you use for your podcast, what platform do you use and I’m like, “Man, I have a microphone that I plug into my computer and I start talking. That’s it.” I feel like they’re always disappointed when they’re-

Ramit Sethi: You don’t have a secret microphone that makes you build a multimillion dollar somebody.

Brett McKay: I think it’s just not getting started. They just get stuck in planning mode or dreaming mode.

Ramit Sethi: I have the same experience. I feel like we might be the same person because I have … I got frustrated when people would want to go out to coffee and I would do it. I would also follow up, notice that they would not follow up.

Brett McKay: Right, I would have to follow up.

Ramit Sethi: It doesn’t make any sense. I’ll tell you something, I do this thing, I get a lot of emails. I get about 2,000 emails a day. I read every single one.

Brett McKay: You are crazy. That is nuts.

Ramit Sethi: I’ll tell you, first of all I love it because people will tell you everything in email. It’s very intimate platform and they trust me. They’re telling me the kind of stories that I would never get even publically one on one.

Brett McKay: It’s stuff they tell their therapist.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly. I’m like, “This is so juicy, this is amazing.” Then also I’ve seen a lot of it, so I can sight read an email really quickly. Most emails are pretty much the same thing, but every once in a while I run across these emails that are just absolutely amazing and I respond to hundreds every day. I get these emails from people saying, “Ramit, your courses are so expensive and this is ridiculous, blah, blah, blah. I would do anything, but I don’t have the money.” I said, “Okay. Listen, I understand my courses are expensive, they’re not the cheapest. Our goal is not to be the cheapest. Our goal is to be the best. I’ll tell you what, how serious are you about starting a business?” They write back, “Oh, I’d do anything. Oh my god. This is crazy.

I go, “Okay, I’ll tell you what. I have 11 years of free material on my site and on my YouTube channel. You could go through it and in 30 days you can earn 1,000 to 5,000 dollars completely free. I will show you how to earn more. I’ll show you how to save more. The chapters from my book are free. I want you to read everything there is and I want you to write me back Tuesday night by 11:55 pm and tell me what you’ve accomplished.” Right now about 50% of them disappear. I never hear from them again, but 50% say, “Sounds good, I’m on it.” They slam the table. I say great. I set a reminded for myself. I check in with them Wednesday. Why Wednesday? Because they never wrote me back on Tuesday.

I say, “Hey, how is it going?” This is again, I have the numbers to show it, because I’ve done this so many times. About 70% never respond and the other, 29%, they go, “Yeah, really busy. Definitely going to get to work on this. Thanks so much, exclamation point, smiley face.” Maybe 1% can show something that they’ve done. I think that you should become impatient with yourself. Life is short. I give them a deadline of 48 to 72 hours because you can actually change your life in 72 hours. You could completely change your finances in 72 hours. You could completely change the way you think about fitness in 72 hours. You could hire a trainer or a nutritionist. You could plan your next trip to Thailand with your wife or your husband or whoever it may be. 72 hours, you could change your life and we have people who are saying, “I should wait two years, five years until I know more to start a business.” Get impatient with yourself.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome, I love that. Ramit, this has been an awesome conversation. We’ve hit on a lot of high level topics as well as the nitty, gritty. We could talk a lot more. There are some other things we could talk about. I’d love to have you back on sometime in the future.

Ramit Sethi: I would love it.

Brett McKay: Before we go where can people learn more about you and your work?

Ramit Sethi: If you’re interested in online business we have an entirely new site we’ve launched called, We’re talking there about conversion, optimization, copywriting, building online products, sales and psychology. I think people will love it. Of course, the site that I’ve been writing for 11 years,

Brett McKay: Awesome, Ramit Sethi, thanks so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Ramit Sethi: Thanks so much.

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