Rules for Success

What are your top five rules for success?

1. Become self-reliant.
2. Be aggressive, attack, and operate on the offensive.
3. Cultivate grit and perseverance.
4. Develop into a person of value.
5. Never stop being a student.

In my opinion, the most important indicator of success in life is self-reliance. I’m with Robert Greene on this one. In life, the only constant is change. Depending on others, a job, a lifestyle, or anything for that matter, is just not reliable. As sad as it may be, you can only depend on yourself. So, I urge you to strive for bad-ass confidence. The next important value that I believe leads to success is aggression. No, I don’t mean being aggressive or belligerent to others. What I mean is it’s not enough to stand idly by waiting for the things you want. You need to attack and go get them. It’s better to let it all hang out than to be timid. What do you have to lose? In other words, don’t let things happen to you; instead, make them happen. Thank you, Dan Gable! Angela Duckworth’s noteworthy research revealed that grit and perseverance, in the long run, beat out talent. As a programmer and technologist, I personally take great comfort in this research. In general, however, you will constantly be challenged in life. Accept this fact and don’t give up easily. Simply put one foot in front of the other, take action, and grind. One of my favorite programmers, Sandi Metz, gave a great presentation on this. Albert Einstein said it best. “Try not to become a person of success but rather a person of value.” Strive to be useful at work and in your day-to-day life. Provide value, and the rewards will be aplenty. Finally, never stop learning. In order to be successful, you must have a basic understanding of what seems to be a limitless amount of topics. Continue to learn about your profession, but also learn about other important facets of daily life. For example, how a car works, how to prepare and file taxes, how to invest, and how to maintain your home. The list goes on.

Exam Stress

You want to know how to deal with the anxiety and stress of exams.

Acknowledge that being stressed is normal. It’s how you respond to stress that makes all the difference. Alter your thinking from “being afraid” to “being excited.” For example, swap “I’m afraid of not passing” with “I’m excited to do my best.”

Turn to deep breathing to calm yourself if you get stressed during an exam. It’s a good idea to give your brain a rest the day before an exam. Simply give the material a quick and final review. Be sure to double check your answers when taking an exam. Glance away, shift your attention, and then recheck.

Exam-Taking Technique

You want to know how to approach difficult and simple exam problems.

When given an exam, take a quick glance at the entire thing to determine what’s involved. Start with the hardest problem. If you get stuck on it for more than two minutes, switch to an easier problem. Continue to solve what you can and then come back to the difficult one.

This strategy can be employed to practice exercises as well. When you begin with a hard problem, your brain loads your focused mode. When you switch attention away from it, your diffused mode kicks in. Turning to an easier problem allows different parts of your brain to work simultaneously on different thoughts.

Test-Taking Checklist

You want a list of items to help you prepare for an upcoming exam.

• Did you make an honest effort to understand the material?
• Did you go through a study guide if you had one?
• Did you try to outline the solutions to every exercise?
• Did you understand the solutions to every problem? If not, did you seek them out?
• Did you work with other people on the exercises? Did you check each others’ solutions?
• Did you ask your instructor for assistance when you needed help?
• Do you intend to sleep well the night before the exam?

Learning Best Practices

You’re interested in a number of best practices that can help you learn and study.

• Step back and re-check your understanding of the material.
• Work with other like-minded people who are willing to critique your work.
• Don’t blindly believe in your intellectual abilities.

Working with colleagues and mentors can have a profound effect on your learning. This is because other people are more likely to spot your errors, explaining yourself to others helps you understand more, and studying with a team helps you identify items you may have missed.

Hacking Productivity

You’re interested in a simple and effective approach to be more productive each day.

Follow this 7-step process every day to maximize your productivity:

1. Wake up at least 90 minutes before screen time is required.
2. Make a cup of your favorite coffee or tea.
3. Take 10-25 minutes and complete some sort of mindfulness exercise.
4. Perform a short exercise routine, such as the 7 Minute Workout.
5. Create a list of 3-5 things that are making you anxious or uncomfortable.
6. Evaluate which one of them, if completed, would make you feel most accomplished.
7. Schedule 2-3 hours during the day to focus on that ONE thing.

Being productive means accomplishing the most important tasks, not necessarily the most tasks. If your mind wanders or you get distracted during that focused 2-3 hours, quickly become aware of it, and return to the task.

Learning Anti-Patterns

You’re interested in what not to do when learning.

-Spend too much time highlighting or creating concept maps.
-Repeat concepts you know very well.
-Blindly tackle exercises without first consuming the material.

Spending too much time marking text is often ineffective without recalling. Repeating what’s easy can give us an illusion of competence. Perform deliberate practice at the edge of your abilities to create a deeper understanding.


You want to create connections between the chunks of information you’re consuming.

Mix up practice exercises from different sections of the material.

The process of interleaving material may make learning more difficult, but it promotes deep learning. It’s the point where you transition from practice and repetition to independent thinking.