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4 Methods To Find A Superstar Mentor – How To Talk to Nobelprize Winners, Presidents and CEOs

4 Methods To Find A Superstar Mentor – How To Talk to Nobelprize Winners, Presidents and CEOs

How do you talk to a Nobelprize winners like Daniel Kahneman, write emails with presidents, share a pizza with Martin Seligman or interview Paul Ekman and discuss coaching techniques with Europe’s best-paid coach? In this article I show you my favorite techniques to get in touch, hangout and learn from the superstars in your field.

Early on in life I learned that if you want to become really good at something, you have to learn from the best. But “the best” are often hard to reach, super expensive and super busy. So you need to develop some methods to get in touch with them and eventually learn from them. Here are my four favorite and extensively field-tested approaches:

1. The Quick-and-Dirty

At least twice a week I reach out to ueber-successful entrepreneurs, famous psychologists and other possible superstar mentors. Nowadays you can find almost everybody’s email address somewhere in the web. So sending your role-model a short email is an easy way to start an interaction.

Most of the time I use exactly the same email structure for all approaches and simply adapt it to the specific person. The mail should be as short as possible, concise and straight-to-the point.

This my typical 4 sentences email:

Dear Prof. Kaslow,

My name is Till and I’m a 22-year old psychology student (entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, author, blogger – whatever fits the occasion). I got asked to give a talk at the European Congress of Psychology, where I will give a talk on the topic of self-education (the reason why I am writing).

Since you are one of the most accomplished psychologists in the world right now, president of the APA, editor of journals, board member and have numerous other responsibilities (I show that I know who she is and what she is doing; and I flatter her), I have one quick question for you.

How important is it to have a good mentor? (a small, easy to answer question)

Respectfully yours,
Till

75% of the people actually answer. Though their answer is often a one-liner like “A mentor is important, but not essential”. The magic lies in keeping the conversation going and creating a stimulating interaction, which is not an easy task.

Using this structure I reached out and got answers from Nobel-Prize Winners, successful CEOs, MIT-professors, star psychologists and presidents of organizations. It is easy, quick and you have a huge success rate, but the hard part is to build a relationship from there.

2. Creativity & Courage

The best thing you can do is to make a possible mentor actually interested in you. Obviously this is not an easy task but it can be a lot of fun and the benefits are definitely worth the struggle. Also, the only limits you have are your own creativity and courage.

Simply being creative and courageous is sometimes enough to catch the attention of a possible mentor. Your creative act can be completely unrelated to your mentor’s profession or your field of interest. A great example is Jerome Jarre. I met the vine guy at a TEDx event two years ago. One of his strategies to connect with business leaders, was to walk up to, for example, the CFO of Facebook and ask him to play rock, paper, scissors with him. If he wins he gets a meeting with him. This is completely unrelated to their profession but it is definitely creative.

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Another method is to display your skill in a creative way. I did this when I tried to contact Roman Braun, the best-paid coach in Europe. I knew he worked with clinical hypnosis. So after a couple of failed attempts to get his attention I wrote him a letter that was actually a hypnotic trance induction. The letter read like this:

“…and while your eyes glide over the lines, you can notice how your breath goes in and out completely unconsciously and pleasantly relaxing and becoming aware of what will only put you in the nice and sound state of enjoyable comfort….”

This continued over the next 6-pages. After ignoring my prior mails he actually answered to this letter and I got a 3,500 € scholarship for his next seminar.

So summon all your creative spirits and just go out there and try it.

 

3. For the Long Haul aka Hustle

Let’s face it, some of the people I contacted charge up to 1,500$  per hour and are continuously surrounded by some of the smartest and most creative minds of our planet. So I could be as creative as I want and it still took me nowhere and I failed to make an impression on the person. But there is one-method that is almost fool-proof. When I started reaching out to people I focused extensively on this method and it worked almost every time. I recently found out that Charlie Hoehn actually mastered this technique to incredible high degree.

What I would do is, I would approach famous therapists or coaches and tell them I wanted to attend their workshops but I don’t have the money, still I am incredibly motivated and willing to work off the costs. So basically I offered them free work (as Charlie Hoehn would call it).

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Almost every single time the person agreed and they let me work for them. So I did stuff like selling their books, doing marketing, promoting their workshops, working in their office and other small tasks. In return I would get a spot in their workshops.

But here is the important thing: Not just do the job but actually dazzle them with your effort. One time a well-known German therapist was kind of skeptical and told me I should prove how motivated I am. To prove it I should sell some of his books over the next month. Within the next 24 hours I sold almost all of them. He was so intrigued by my effort that he invited me over, let me attend his seminar and even gave me a real job. Half-a-year later he took it a step further and I was travelling through whole Germany giving talks in his name in front of hundreds of people at the age of 19.

Everybody loves good work and if it is for free they love it even more. Offer them a clear idea of what you can do for them and then exceed their expectations. Free work is your foot in the door and then you can easily work your way up.

 

4. Leveraging existing structures

All of the prior methods rely on your ability to contact stars of a field and enchant them one way or the other. It also means that you need to work your way up all by yourself. This can take time and a lot of effort, but it creates a stronger bond and a solid mentor-mentee relationship. By using existing structures you can meet the luminary of your field with less effort. However, when you do this it is very important to create a situation where you are not just a fan but rather a colleague or somebody else with a certain status or position.

My two favorite ways to easily meet and talk to an important person at almost equal footing is by volunteering at conferences or interviewing them.

When you volunteer at a conference always try to be responsible for the speakers. This way you get a lot of opportunities to interact with your hero on a more personal basis.

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The other method is to ask a big magazine if they are interested in an interview with a certain person. Nowadays everybody is looking for quality content so they are very likely to say yes. Then just reach out to the person and interview him. This is a great way to have a chat and even build some sort of connection. (Tim Ferriss actually gave me this idea to approach stars like this)

Two recent examples of how I did it:

Two weeks ago I was in Berlin at the International Positive Psychology Congress where I worked as a translator for the German speakers. How did I get this chance? I just wrote the organizer an email and hustled for a spot in the team. I never did translation work before. Being part of the team I got the chance to go to lunch with guys like Martin Seligman and Robert Biswas-Diener or chat casually with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who are the stars at the positive psychology sky

The chance to talk to Paul Ekman came up by interviewing him for lifehack. So I used the prestige and structure of the lifehack magazine to talk to one of the greatest psychologists of our time and ask him a bunch of questions.

I continuously hone my skills in finding mentors and getting in touch with important persons, because I noticed how it contributed to my own development. I think there is hardly anything more valuable than directly learning from the greatest minds of our time. So go out and reach for the stars. Literally.

Featured photo credit: seeveeaar via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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