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How To Rearrange Your Brain for Success

How To Rearrange Your Brain for Success

BRAD JACOBS, CEO and serial entrepreneur—United Rentals and XPO Logistics—has made and kept a few billion dollars and aims to show us how to do the same in How to Make a Few Billion Dollars.

The most valuable part of the book for me was the first chapter on transforming how you use your mind. Here are ten ideas for rearranging your brain to achieve “big goals in turbulent environments where conventional thinking often fails.”


He begins with love. Why? Love “has a lot to do with getting your brain in the right place to make good decisions. Fast-paced business environments swing between ups and downs, with many stressful interactions. Love is in an expansive emotional state that allows you to neutralize conflict and get everyone to a better place.”

How do you get there? Through one-on-one gratitude conversations. Think about why other people deserve your gratitude and then sit down with them and let them know in a direct, personal manner.

Expect Positive Outcomes

Negative thoughts come to us quite naturally. The trick is not to let them control your thinking. Negative thoughts are often our knee-jerk reaction to a given situation. We need to acknowledge them and then reframe them in a positive light. Jacobs provides an instructive example from his family life:

When we put our kids to bed at night, we’d ask them the same question many parents do: How was your day? Sometimes, we’d hear the good, sometimes the bad, and sometimes the ugly. Then we met Martin Seligman, and he suggested asking children a slightly different question: What was the happiest moment of your day? We tried it. The change was dramatic—no bad, no ugly, just the good. And maybe because our kids knew the question was coming, they kept their antennas up all day with the expectation that the happiest moment could happen at any time. What an easy create an optimistic frame of mind!

What was the best part of your day?

Give Yourself a Break

Stop expecting unrealistic perfection from yourself and others. We sabotage ourselves all the time.

Our thought processes are full of all sorts of cognitive distortions, from catastrophizing (thinking of small problems as enormous impediments) to perfectionism, where anything less than perfect execution causes intense frustration. Another cognitive distortion is dichotomous thinking (having rigid or “all-or-nothing” views). By learning to recognize these thought patterns and course-correcting accordingly, I’ve spared myself a lot of trouble. I learned, for example, to turn my internal chatter to my advantage by reframing negative thoughts as useful data rather than objective reality.

I don’t take it for granted that I’m going to be successful. Unexpected stuff can happen at any time. A healthy fear of failure has kept me sharp.

If we understand that mistakes are inevitable, it will be a lot easier to “maintain your mental equilibrium as you pursue your big goals.”

Expand the Possible

Meditation, daydreaming, or thought experiments (the German term gedankenexperiments) can change how we relate to the world. During this time of mental calm, we can often find the best solutions, rejuvenate and become creative.

Daydreaming exercises remind me that positive emotions matter, especially in chaotic business environments. When my energy is low, my favorite technique to rejuvenate and unleash creativity is to close my eyes and allow my attention to gently float in my brain.

Embrace the Problem

Jacobs’ mentor told him early on in his twenties as he unloaded on him with his problems, “Look, Brad, if you want to make money in the business world, You need to get used to problems, because that’s what business is. It’s actually about finding problems, embracing and even enjoying them because each problem is an opportunity to remove an obstacle and get closer to success.”

Problems are an asset. The bigger your ambition, the bigger your problems. “If your initial reaction to a major setback is overwhelming frustration, that’s understandable, but it’s also counterproductive. Once you’re over that moment, pivot toward success: ‘Great! This is an opportunity for me to create a lot of value. If I can just figure out how to solve this problem, I’ll be much closer to my goal.’”

Acknowledge You’re Not Perfect

There are three impediments to effective leadership:

  • The belief that you’re right, no matter what.
  • The belief that other people must hold the same opinions you do.
  • The belief that every inch of a potential course of action must be analyzed before you act.

Accept your imperfections and learn from them. Cut your losses, adapt, and improve. “If you resist embracing an imperfect situation today, you might lose the opportunity to capitalize on it tomorrow.”

Practical Radical Acceptance

If you accept your own imperfections, you must also accept the world as it is, not as you wish it to be. Win or lose, focus on the best thing to do right now. “Radical acceptance quiets the noise created by yesterday’s decisions and today’s wishful thinking. It allows you to make a logical, forward-looking decision based on what’s likely to happen next—that and risk management are the big, relevant considerations.”

Leave Judgment at the Door

“The path to radical acceptance begins with non-judgmental concentration.” It allows you to focus on the issue at hand. “Non-judgmental concentration trains your brain to realize that the people and things in your life don’t exist relative to you; they simply exist. If you can take yourself out of the equation, you’ll have a much clearer view. Uncluttered by judgmentalism, you can work more efficiently; because you won’t be as distracted, and you can think more objectively, too.

Think Huge

To win huge, you have to think huge. “Your goals should be bigger than what you currently think you accomplish, because that can actually help you achieve those goals.” Visualize and be specific about what and when.

Stay Humble

Arrogance keeps you from growing—advancing. “Thinking you know it all is a trap, because you don’t—at least I don’t. If you stay humble, you’ll keep advancing.”

That’s how you rearrange your brain for success. In subsequent chapters, Jacobs how to spot major trends, mergers and acquisitions (of which he has led about 500), building a team, competition, and more.

I wrote this book for people who want to work their tails off, outsmart the competition, put their customers on a pedestal, and make a lot of money for their families. These goals require creativity and an enthusiasm for change—qualities at the heart of entrepreneurship. You can foster this in any size organization, whether you’re the owner of a family business or the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company to create its next billion dollars.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:16 AM
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