Think of a successful investor and Warren Buffett immediately comes to mind. Buffet’s success is no accident. Nor did he achieve such stunning returns because of some innate, genetically derived investing abilities. As he will tell you himself, his success comes directly from his mental approach and habits. You too can ascend higher and more quickly simply by using these same mental skills.
If you stop ten people on the street and ask them to name the most successful investor they can think of, virtually all of them will name Warren Buffett. There are, of course, many other outlandishly successful investors. But Buffett stands above the pack. And for good reason.
His investing prowess didn’t just appear on its own. It is the direct result of Buffett having a specific investing system and then adopting certain habits of mind that will lead to outsized success in any field. The details of Buffett’s investing methods have been extensively covered, but his mental approach less so. Buffet’s winning investment strategies would not work as they do if his winning focusing strategies were not driving the ship.
Here are five of Buffett’s focusing and life strategies (with five more to follow in the next article), in his own words, that you can use to maximize your potential:
1. “In the world of business, those who are most successful are doing what they love.”
Buffett’s statements relate almost entirely to investing and business because that is his world. But many of his statements about business are universally applicable. Buffett clearly loves investing. And if you look at star performers in any field, you’ll find that the most successful also are doing what they love. It’s hard to be a star performer at something if you’re miserable doing it.
Steve Jobs loved what he did. The Beatles loved what they did. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who is truly great at something who doesn’t love it. Loving what you do does not guarantee that you will excel. However, it is a prerequisite, without which mediocrity is almost inevitable. If you love what you do, you will put all of your focus, heart and soul into it. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t.
2. “Not doing what we love in the name of greed is very poor management of our time.”
Yes, I know. You have to make a living somehow. But if what you’re doing isn’t what you really want to do, don’t you owe it to yourself to look for a way to spend your life doing what you love? You can start by doing it on the side, and then find a way to expand it.
I would not necessarily classify our need to support our families by doing something less than ideal as greed. In most cases, it’s simply practical. However, Buffett’s point that this is “very poor management of our time” holds true. You only have one life to live. If you are busy spending that life doing something you don’t love, it’s hard to justify that as a great use of your time.
Yes, you need to be practical. You need to pay the bills. But if what you’re doing right now isn’t what you love, then you would be well served by starting to spend even a little time on what you do love. It’s worthwhile even if you start by spending just one hour a week brainstorming how you might ultimately do what you love, and what small steps you could take now to start the process.
3. “Tell me who your heroes are and I’ll tell you who you’ll turn out to be.”
Any number of self-help “gurus” have espoused this principle. But the truth is that it works. You’re more likely to resemble the people you aspire to be. Who your heroes are demonstrates what you value – what character traits, what approaches to life, what approach to building skills.
It’s worth spending a few moments to name your heroes, past or present. Write down who they are, and just as important, why they are your heroes. What do you need to do to become more like them?
4. “It's better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you'll drift in that direction."
Beyond having heroes, it’s good to surround yourself with live role models in your daily life. Think of any successful person. Now try to imagine them spending a lot of time with people who are lazy, not interested in succeeding, hoping to get rich by playing the lottery, etc.
Yes, it’s hard to imagine. Because that’s not who successful people hang out with. If you surround yourself with people who display character traits, skills and abilities you would like to have, then you’re more likely to rise to the occasion and work on those qualities yourself. If you hang out with people who drag you down, then you won’t. Simply put, it’s easier to focus on success if you are surrounded by success.
5. “The most important investment you can make is in yourself"
Buffett is known to read voraciously, sometimes hundreds of pages a day. He is always working on improving himself, gaining more knowledge, skills and expertise – which he then applies to his investments.
It’s obvious that you cannot bring more to your work and your life than what you have to give. The more you invest in yourself, the more you have to give to your goals and to the people in your life.
Reading or other forms of gaining knowledge is but one way of investing in yourself. Working on your powers of attention, increasing your abilities in specific areas relevant to you and taking care of your physical health are all ways of investing in yourself that will pay off with much greater returns.
Next week: five more of Warren Buffett’s statements that show how he became successful by not following the crowd, taking control of his time and building critical skills.