THE DISCIPLINE OF FINISHING


Who would you bet on? Who would you bet on? Imagine you had the 200 people you know best in the world sat in this room and I gave you this deal: you come, today, come up here to me, you give me 1,000 euros and you give me a name, and for the rest of that person’s life I will pay you 10% of everything they make, every month, month after month, month after month. 10%. Who would you choose?

Imagine that; here in the room, if you look around the faces you see in this room — some good faces to bet on in this room — but if you put the 200 people you know best from school, from university, through family connections, who of all the people you know, would be the one person that you would put on that paper and bring to me? Who would you bet on?

And I was asked this question 7 years ago. The man in the picture is Warren Buffett. Warren Buffett at time is the richest man in the world. Warren Buffett doesn’t invent things; Warren Buffett doesn’t sell things; Warren Buffett doesn’t manage a company. Warren Buffet takes one decision every day: Would I bet on this person? And the results would seem that he does this quite well.

Now, Warren Buffett takes this decision every day, and Warren Buffett has 3 criteria. But before I get into the 3 criteria of Warren Buffett, I want to move to the world of psychology — I studied psychology — and to this day, from the beginning of psychology, there is one test that above any other tests in life predicts future success on every measure: wealth, quality of relationships, grades in school, length of relationships, happiness measured on every scale whether qualitative or quantitative. And the test is called the Marshmallow Test.

This here is a marshmallow. The marshmallow test can be conducted on children 3-4 years old. The psychologist brings the child into the room and says, “This is yours. This is yours to eat. I need to leave the room for a couple of minutes. When I come back, if it’s still there, you get two.” And the psychologist leaves the room. And the kid looks at the marshmallow. It’s his marshmallow! You can do anything you want to it. You can use it in any way you want.

The second criteria of Warren Buffett: Energy. Energy is health and a bias to action. Healthy people, people who don’t get ill often, people who, when they get a cold, they’re back to work tomorrow because they recover quick, they sleep well. Bias to action: people who have a tendency to take action over thinking about action. Energy is about vitality and a bias to action.

The third criteria of Warren Buffett: Intelligence. But not chess intelligence, not business school intelligence, not sitting in a room for 4 years designing a strategy intelligence. He’s talking about adaptive intelligence. When you’re running down the street and a lamppost is coming towards you, adaptive intelligence is the intelligence to see the pattern, see the lamppost coming and change your course just enough that instead of taking it in the forehead you take the blow in the shoulder and you keep moving.

Number one is Integrity. But integrity is that you say “no” to most things. Integrity is really about an alignment between what your calendar says you do and what you say you do. And if you say yes to most requests, if you can’t think of a time you’ve said no in the last day, in the last week, your life has been divided into thousands of little pieces and spread amongst the priorities of other people. So, to live an integral life, to live a life true to your own values means that you say no very often.

Intelligence: write stuff down. If you write down ideas you’ve had today, if you write down people you’ve met, describe things that are going on, 6 months from now you won’t be the intelligence of one moment, you’ll be the accumulated intelligence of 6 months of ideas, 6 months of things written down, 6 months of people’s quotes.

When I was 14 years old my biology teacher made us write down 5 minutes everyday, whatever we wanted. I remember day one, pen touched paper: “This is stupid. What are we doing?” Day two, again: “This is stupid. What are we doing?” Day three: “He’s still doing this!” Day four: “Strange thing happened to me on the way to school today…” Day five: “My brother said something to me this morning…” I’ve written everyday of my life since I was 14 years old. I know where I was every day of my life since I was 14. I know what I was thinking, I know what it felt like, I know who I was with. Start writing down your life. It’s the most valuable resource you have — your own life. But so few people take the time to document it. Write your life down, describe the marshmallow.

Energy: high-performance athletes. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 5 years interviewing the high-performance athletes of Spain: Josef Ajram, Kilian Jornet, Miquel Suner. Josef Ajram: 10 times he’s competed in the Marathon des Sables. Two marathons a day, 6 days across the Sahara. And Josef tells me, he finishes because he never thinks about more than 15 minutes ahead. He runs for 15 minutes, he stops, has a drink, another 15 minutes, another 15 minutes; his mind never goes beyond 15 minutes. He says, “Anybody can run for 15 minutes.” He’s run the Marathon des Sables because he’s never, ever, let his mind see more than the next 15 minutes.

Miquel Suner swims open water, without a wetsuit, across the English Channel. No wetsuit! 42,000 strokes to leave the English coast over to France. 14-15 degree water; the cold seeping in with every stroke. How does he do it? Because his mind is never further than stroke, stroke, breath; stroke, stroke, breath. Hour after hour, swimming, but he’s never allowing his mind to go anywhere beyond “stroke, stroke, breath”. With the marshmallow: deal with one marshmallow at a time, one marshmallow at a time. What’s the next step? Do not let your mind jump forward and see the biggest thing.

 

Alpine climbers see the next inch. Ranulph Fiennes — oldest man from Europe to climb Everest, failed 3 times. On his last attempt his wife said to him: “Ranulph, climb it like the horses.”

He looked at her: “What do you mean like the horses?”

She’s an animal trainer: “Because a horse has no concept of the finish, a horse runs until it collapses. Climb Everest one step at a time. Ask yourself one question: “Can I take one more step?” “Yes!” – take it. “No!” – pause. “Yes!” – take it, “Yes!” – take it.” And on one of those steps he stood on the summit.

Energy: deal with the next unit, one marshmallow at a time, one marshmallow at a time.

Integrity. Do you know how a child spells “love”? How does a child spell “love”? T-I-M-E. This world is full of good intention, but the way you see if an executive really is behind an initiative, you open their diary and you count the hours. If you say your parents are important to you, open the diary and show me the hours. The coherence between a diary and your values is where integrity begins. And it’s kind of horrific when you start to count, when you start to look and start to become aware of where your time goes. So little of my time really goes to the things that I know and I mean to do. So often I slip off into Facebook and what was supposed to be a minute, is an hour, and then lunch comes.

But those minutes — once you’ve started to get the minutes dedicate to the things that matter — And the truly important thing to remember about the marshmallow test is that there’re hundreds, and thousands, and millions of marshmallows in your life: hundreds of little decisions, minute after minute, day after day that all sum up. And success in life is not one massive good decision, not one marshmallow not eaten; and failure is not one marshmallow eaten, or one poor decision. Failure is repeated bad decisions; success is repeated, consistent, good habits. We so underestimate what we can achieve in a year and so overestimate what we can achieve in a day. A page a day and you have a book in a year. You’ll never write a book in one day.

 

But this time, once you’ve started to dedicate the time right, I had the privilege of spending a day with Kilian Jornet, probably, Spain’s top athlete, ultraman. When I’d met him he’d just finished running the Lake Tahoe Rim Run: 288 kilometers, and he ran it in 36 hours. What the hell goes through a man’s mind as he runs for 36 hours? But when he runs, do you know what the other competitors say about Killian? “He looks like he’s enjoying it.” The other runners are suffering and they’re looking down — Killian is running touching the leaves as he runs past, smelling the smell of the forest, feeling the feel of the track beneath his feet. He runs for 36 hours because he’s absolutely there, his mind is nowhere else but in the run, on the path, in the forests, feeling completely alive.

So the lesson, rule one for success — and I brought a few for all of you to see if you can achieve it — the rule for success: when you have a marshmallow, don’t stare at it. The diet doesn’t fail because of weakness of will, the diet fails because the chocolate is there. If you want to stop watching television, take the batteries out of the remote. If you want to do more exercise, put your running shoes next to the door. It’s small, small changes.

And 20 years from now, I want you to have written stuff down; I want you to have dealt with one step at a time; I want you to have made sure your diary aligns completely, you say no to the things don’t fit with what’s important to you. And 25 years, when I come back here, I will look out on the most successful group of people, because they’ve lived their lives fully.

 

Who would you bet on?

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