13 May 2024

In today’s episode, Patrick Donley (@JPatrickDonley) sits down with Scott Young, author of Get Better at Anything-12 Maxims for Mastery, which you can apply to any domain in life. You’ll learn more about the learning challenges Scott accomplished, how to set and achieve ambitious goals, how to create a brain trust, the importance of seeking out feedback and how to effectively do it, the books that have most impacted Scott, and so much more!

Scott H. Young is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Ultralearning, a podcast host, computer programmer, and an avid reader. Since 2006, he has published weekly essays to help people learn and think better. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Pocket, and Business Insider, on the BBC, and at TEDx among other outlets. He doesn’t promise to have all the answers, just a place to start. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.



  • How Scott got fascinated with learning and who his influences were.
  • How his language learning challenge went and what worked best.
  • How to achieve ambitious goals.
  • Why Scott decided to write How to Get Better at Anything.
  • How you can clone the investing legends.
  • Why poker players make better predictions than psychiatrists.
  • How to make sure you are getting good feedback.
  • Why building a community is vital to mastery.
  • What you’ll learn in Scott’s online courses.
  • And much, much more!


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.

[00:00:02] Scott Young: I mean, I think you hit a good point, which is that the starting point for learning a skill lke investing is going to be getting to the best practices, getting to the I am at sort of wherever the best investors are in there thinking about this. I am at that level. And the truth is, that most people are not and a lot of people are, okay, I’m dabbling a little bit and you’re following, some YouTube guy who’s saying you should invest in something.

[00:00:27] Scott Young: And it’s not a particularly sound strategy. And so I think that would be my starting point. If I were to like get into investing seriously, it would be What is the best understanding? What is the best practice that I can learn from other people? don’t trial and error this.

[00:00:43] Patrick Donley: Hey guys, in today’s episode, I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Scott Young, author of Get Better at Anything-12 Maxims for Mastery, which you can apply to any domain in your life. You’ll learn more about the learning challenges Scott accomplished for himself, how to set and achieve ambitious goals, what the three factors to get better at anything are, how to create a brain trust, the importance of seeking out feedback, the books that have impacted Scott, and so much more. Scott is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Ultra Learning, a podcast host, a computer programmer, and avid reader.

[00:01:16] Patrick Donley: Since 2006, he’s published weekly essays to help people learn and think better. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Pocket, and Business Insider, on the BBC, and at TEDx, among other outlets. He doesn’t promise to have all the answers, but he is a great place to start. The ability to learn and master hard things is a superpower.

[00:01:35] Patrick Donley: And as Charlie Munger once said, “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines.” Without further delay, let’s dive into today’s episode with Scott Young.

[00:01:53] Intro: Celebrating 10 years. You are listening to Millennial Investing by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Since 2014, we interviewed successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors to millennial generation. Now for your host, Patrick Donley.

[00:02:19] Patrick Donley: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Millennial Investing podcast. I’m your host today, Patrick Donley, and joining me in the studio today is Mr. Scott Young. Scott, welcome to the show. 

[00:02:28] Scott Young: Oh yeah. It’s great to be back. 

[00:02:30] Patrick Donley: It was about four years ago. I think you were on the show last. So time. I think so. I think so.

[00:02:35] Patrick Donley: Yeah. And at that point you had written ultra learning. You’ve got a new book coming out called get better at anything, which we’re going to get into. But I wanted to go into a little bit about ultra learning and just where your fascination with learning came about. We talked earlier before the podcast started about Steve Pavlina and Benny Lewis, and I just kind of wanted to hear about where this topic became a fascination for you.

[00:02:59] Scott Young: I mean, I have, like kind of an unusual backstory cause I started writing online when I was in my last year of high school, which is, I don’t know how many years ago is that it’s like getting close to two decades ago. And when I started writing as a student. Basically, like studying advice was the only thing that I was even remotely qualified to weigh in on here, I wasn’t like, oh, this is how you should handle your marriage.

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[00:03:20] Scott Young: And then I’m like 17. okay, all right. Studying advice kind of took off a little bit for me. And I’d always been interested in learning. So these, this was sort of a natural kind of pairing. And then throughout university, I continued to write about that. It became popular enough that when I graduated from university, I was making a living kind of with little like study advice, learning advice courses.

[00:03:38] Scott Young: And at the time, I was very interested in, I think it was like, this is around 2010 2011, there was a real, I would say trend of kind of people doing rather sort of extreme challenges or sort of stunts and documenting it online. So we talked about like Steve Pavlina is sort of an obvious example because he, not only did he do he was talking about this retrospectively, but he did this computer science math double major in three semesters at a university But he was also doing these kind of like extreme personal experiments.

[00:04:09] Scott Young: So he’s doing like this, the polyphasic sleep where he was only like, sleeping in 30 minute increments and other extreme things like that. Or people like Benny Lewis who I had gotten to meet while I was still in university, he was doing these fluent in three months challenges. So he’s like going to go to Poland and learn Polish.

[00:04:26] Scott Young: And then he’s like posting videos of it. And I really liked that kind of content too. I really liked people who were just not, Okay, I’m just sitting back and offering advice like I’m doing something that’s kind of interesting and then talking about it. And so that sort of love of that kind of blogging and then also my own personal interest in, in self education and computer science and programming led me to do this project I call the MIT Challenge, which was trying to learn MIT’s four year computer science curriculum over 12 months.

[00:04:53] Scott Young: And the sort of twist of this was that MIT actually posts a lot of their material that they use for their classes online for free. So there’s like actual MIT final exams from their classes with the solution sets. And so It was possible for me as a, someone who’s not, been accepted to MIT, who’s not an MIT student to be like, I can watch the lectures and try to do the exam and then see whether I got the answers.

[00:05:16] Scott Young: and so that became the basis of that project. And I finished that one under my 12 month self set deadline. And that I think kind of moved me to a greater level of prominence because before that I was just some kid who was offering studying advice. And now I was, that guy who did that thing.

[00:05:32] Scott Young: And then after that, I did another project learning languages, sort of following in Benny Lewis’s footsteps, a friend and I, we went to four different countries, Spain, Portugal, sorry, Spain, Brazil, China, and South Korea to learn Spanish, Portuguese, And A Mandarin Chinese and Korean and the sort of crux of that project was that when we land in each country we would try to the greatest extent possible to only speak in the language we were learning and we did these little kind of semi documentary little videos about it and stuff and so that was a very fun project too.

[00:06:01] Scott Young: And so these sort of projects, a few others that I did that were a bit shorter kind of culminated in this book, Ultra Learning, which was not just talking about myself, but kind of this whole weird, environment that I kind of got started with, where there were people doing these sort of intensive learning projects and trying to extract principles from that.

[00:06:18] Scott Young: And yeah, that was, that was ultra learning. That was probably where we kind of were last time we were talking about four years ago. 

[00:06:25] Patrick Donley: I want to hear more about the language learning challenge. I’ve got a buddy actually who just got back from France and he’s using Duolingo to try to, and he fell in love, like with France wants to learn the language he’s using Duolingo.

[00:06:40] Patrick Donley: Tell me about your thoughts on that and like maybe best practices for him because I don’t know that Duolingo is the way to go. 

[00:06:47] Scott Young: I don’t know. So Duolingo is a bit of a moving target. I remember criticizing it pretty directly in ultra learning the book because I was just like, I don’t think this works.

[00:06:55] Scott Young: Now I’ve only I used it briefly at my wife and I when we went on our honeymoon, we went to Italy. And I was like, Oh, I’ll try this Duolingo. I’ll try it out because it hadn’t really been a thing when I was starting with the other languages. And I tried it out, and I was very disappointed with, it had this real, okay, here’s the sentence, and then translate it, and then it gave you, a word bank, which had, the words of the sentence, plus three other words.

[00:07:20] Scott Young: And to me, at the time, it just sort of felt like, you’re just, dragging stuff that, probably matches those words. And for Italian, I mean, you can often guess. It just didn’t feel like you were really working on the skill of speaking. And that sort of mirrored my experience where I’ve talked to people who’ve done dueling, like I’ve got 300 days on my duel and go streak.

[00:07:39] Scott Young: And then it’s okay, speak some Spanish. And they’re like, so I was a little disappointed that I think they’ve maybe improved a little bit. I’ve heard some reports that they’ve started to integrate more of the gen AI. So maybe they’re able to do some things that they weren’t able to do when I was working on it before.

[00:07:55] Scott Young: maybe you converse with that little parrot or something a little bit. And maybe there is, a little bit more to it. So I don’t want to be just sort of say that the entire project is bankrupt, but I do feel like a major limitation for people who are trying to learn another language is that they don’t get enough speaking practice in because they don’t get enough speaking practice.

[00:08:14] Scott Young: Those core phrases, those core things that you need to just know automatically to be able to be fluent are not that overlearned. And so when they get in real situations, it’s halting and awkward and they feel like, oh, I need to go back and study some more. And so I do really feel like I’m a big proponent of the kind of Benny Lewis strategy of speaking very early on in the process.

[00:08:36] Scott Young: Learning those phrases, practicing them, that kind of thing. Not to say that’s the entire game for language learning, but I think when you start in a communicative place. Those people, I think, tend to go further than those who are, starting with just a language themed game or something like that.

[00:08:54] Patrick Donley: I imagine Chinese and South Korean were the two hardest languages you had to pick up when you and your friend showed up in, let’s say, China. Tell me about that. Like, how do you learn the language, not speaking any English or minimal English? 

[00:09:09] Scott Young: Yeah, minimal English. I mean, Landing because we went, we decided to go to Kunming, China.

[00:09:13] Scott Young: So Kunming is sort of like north of Vietnam. It’s in Western China. It’s not, it’s it’s not Beijing or Shanghai. There’s not that many Westerners there. It’s a beautiful place. I highly recommend traveling there, but it’s definitely like a more remote part of China too. And yeah, when we landed there, it was a little bumpy when we got there.

[00:09:33] Scott Young: Cause I remember we, I think it’s changed, but at the time we couldn’t find any Airbnbs or like places that we could rent an apartment for three months from where we were outside of China. And we didn’t want to have it when we were in Brazil, we had this problem of we’ll find something when we get there.

[00:09:50] Scott Young: And then it turned out it was really difficult. And that exhausted a lot of resources the first two weeks of just like finding a place to live. So we’re like, no, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to book this ahead of time. And so we used a, like a Chinese version of Airbnb to like book our, place.

[00:10:03] Scott Young: And I’m like, got some with a little bit of help of Google Translate. I wrote the message to we’re want to book this and we confirmed it. But it was with someone in Chinese. And I remember we like got there. And we, had one night at the hotel and we have to meet the host for this first person.

[00:10:17] Scott Young: And I remember calling them and this is my Chinese is so bad. And I’m like trying to say, okay, we’re going to the place. And then she says something to me and I don’t understand. And we show up there and no one’s there. And we’re like, the security guard is there. And we’re can you call this number and tell them to come here and, this kind of thing.

[00:10:35] Scott Young: And no, it was, one of those situations that was also comic because yes, we had this, we’re trying to speak in Mandarin the whole time. But it really was a situation where, no one around us spoke any English, even if we had wanted to, we weren’t able to, get our way out of this, okay, we’ll just speak English for right now, it was like, no, we have to figure this out, and so, it was a little bumpy just landing there, but, I mean, once we got there, that was when the studying started, and things started to improve, and yeah, by the end of the trip there, I think we really, fell in love with, China and Kunming in particular.

[00:11:07] Patrick Donley: With that kind of experience where you’re absolutely forced to speak Chinese is, really beneficial because I’ve had a chance to live in Luxembourg and in Vietnam and where I was a lot of people, I remember showing up in Luxembourg and trying to speak French. I studied French in high school and I was like, Finally get a chance to speak.

[00:11:26] Patrick Donley: And I’m like, pardon me, I’m an American. and the guy was like, the guy was like, yeah, I know. It’s just killed my confidence. it’s I don’t even need, I want to speak French, but talk a little bit about that. Where you, how do you overcome those situations where everybody speaks English and it’s just easier to speak English where you’re trying to learn?

[00:11:49] Patrick Donley: How do you immerse yourself in that? 

[00:11:51] Scott Young: I mean, so I do want to say I think that there’s different ways you can go about it and I think that, we kind of picked like the most extreme approach that you could take, which I think has its own benefits. I think it’s actually underrated. I’ve, the thing is, that since I did that project, that was about 10 years ago, I’ve had lots of conversations about it.

[00:12:10] Scott Young: And like the reaction tends to be Wow, that was, that sounds really cool. I would never do that. that’s sort of how people respond when I tell them this project is like even people who are in a situation where they could plausibly do it, like they’re going to go on some extended stay in some other country.

[00:12:27] Scott Young: I’m not talking about like people who are, I’m going to go to Paris for a week. I’m talking about we’re going to live in Columbia for a year. And I’m like, Oh, you should do what we did. And then that will help you learn Spanish. And they’re like, Oh, that sounds really cool. Yeah, I’m not going to do that.

[00:12:39] Scott Young: And I think, part of that is, is just, I feel like the motivation for only speaking in the language was not just like, how can we be as extreme as possible, but it was very much recognizing that when you land in another country, it’s, you’re not just dealing with the language, you’re dealing with the social reality.

[00:12:56] Scott Young: And when you land, there’s a bit of, things are still in flux. you don’t have your friends, your environment, your routines yet, right? And if you do those all in English in the beginning, they very much, very quickly become this little bubble around you of people who interact in English and you break out of the bubble every once in a while, but maybe not to the extent or to the amount of quantity you would need to, really make rapid progress.

[00:13:18] Scott Young: And My inspiration for doing it was a stay in France where I very much did the normal thing, which is you go there and you speak in English a lot of the time and make English speaking friends and noticing other Europeans who came from non English speaking countries who their English level was maybe not like extremely good, like they were from the Czech Republic or Turkey or something and their English was only, also only so, they weren’t like, okay, I’m going to just speak in English.

[00:13:43] Scott Young: And those people were like, I’ll just speak in French and their progress was super rapid. And so I just realized that, if you could make that choice where you are pushing yourself in that direction, it would help. And I think it is harder for sure to be in an environment where like everyone speaks flawless English to like kind of insist on speaking that language.

[00:14:02] Scott Young: But a few things that I found helped was like learning in the beginning some phrases that like explained what we were doing. And I think once you kind of explain we have a project where we’re only going to speak this language for three months. I would say like the vast majority of people kind of understood and were supportive of it, like you’re talking about French people and I think I’ve had that experience where even, I’ve, learned some French and then you speak to them.

[00:14:25] Scott Young: It’s no, it’s okay. I can speak in English. Like you get that sometimes from people when you say, Oh, I’m here and I’m like learning French and I’m only doing it. Then it’s like all of a sudden the switch flips in their head is yes, that is what everyone should do. They should all do what you’re doing.

[00:14:39] Scott Young: And it’s these Americans who come here and only speak in English. Yeah. But they don’t realize that they, if I hadn’t made that little statement, they would have been like, no, your French is bad. Let’s speak in English. And I do think the place you go matters. Like when we were in Kunming, I mean, speaking in Chinese was a near necessity.

[00:14:55] Scott Young: Like virtually no one spoke English beyond hello. And there just wasn’t really that opportunity. I mean, there were people there who managed to find like the four people who speak English and those were their friends. But it’s certainly easier in that environment and similarly, like I found it was easier to immerse in Spain than in France because I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing or just a level of English thing, but I found French people would often be resistant to speaking in French if their English was okay, or Spanish people, even if their English was pretty good, they were like always more than willing to just Oh, no, okay, we’ll speak in Spanish.

[00:15:28] Scott Young: I don’t want to have to do this in English. I think there are some cultural differences that can, shift it where it’s okay. It’s easier here or harder here. 

[00:15:36] Patrick Donley: And then with the MIT challenge, I think you studied business in undergrad, right? But had an interest in computer science. You plowed through the MIT courses in a year for, I don’t know what you spent the what textbooks were like 1500 bucks or 2000 bucks or whatever.

[00:15:51] Patrick Donley: But I remember listening, it was either your Ted Talk or the world domination summit talk. And you had a quote, I’ll read it. Outcomes are beside the point. If you could do this, what else could you do that you didn’t think was possible and who could you become? It was a great way. I think it’s how you ended your speech.

[00:16:08] Patrick Donley: And I noticed that you actually end several speeches with questions like that, that I really find interesting, but can you go into that a little bit about how outcomes are beside the point that in, like in your case, you, learned, you got an MIT, basically computer science degree. You learned four languages.

[00:16:26] Patrick Donley: Talk about just like the process as the important thing. 

[00:16:29] Scott Young: So the MIT challenge is a kind of a funny one to talk about because it’s the one that has, I think, maybe the most extreme reaction from people when I tell them that I did this is just Oh, okay. All right. But the thing was, is that I actually really enjoyed that project as a whole.

[00:16:44] Scott Young: I mean, in the beginning, when I was really working on a tight pace, it was fairly exhausting to do all the studying. But I have like fond memories thinking back to that year, I don’t have the feeling that it was just this like brutal grind that I was putting myself through. It was definitely work, but I enjoyed the classes.

[00:17:01] Scott Young: I enjoyed learning them and it didn’t feel like it was just this brutal project. But I think part of what was also exciting about it was, seeing these people like Benny Lewis or Steve Pavlina, like embark on these kind of grand challenges, these sort of grand adventures. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It very much felt Oh, this was mine.

[00:17:18] Scott Young: This was my chance to do that. And so I think taking on sort of big ambitious challenges is an underrated thing in life. This is where being a little bit too philosophical about it now, maybe perhaps, but I think We live in a very conformist kind of, society, where you’re, it’s okay to work hard, but in very narrow, specific kind of challenges, it’s okay to work hard when you’re studying for your MCAT, or, you’re going to be a lawyer, doing really specific, socially approved things, it’s okay to work really hard, but outside of that, to get really obsessed, to get really interested in something, to really push yourself, you There’s a flavor of weirdness of why would you do that?

[00:18:00] Scott Young: Why wouldn’t you just sit around and watch Netflix or do something easier instead? And I think, I think it’s really underrated because I feel like the sense of confidence that you get from setting a project, seeing it through to finishing, doing something that was like challenging and difficult.

[00:18:16] Scott Young: I mean, I think it changes how you see yourself. It changes the things that you think you’re capable of. And I think that is maybe, as I said, like in the quote, that’s maybe more important than whatever outcome of the project was, Like I could have done a project that was like, I don’t know, learning to paint or something like that.

[00:18:32] Scott Young: And then I’m not going to become an artist and this was kind of like a waste of time, so to speak. But going through something where you’re like, Oh, I have the ability to focus and work on something and see it to completion and do that is very important. And it doesn’t have to be a learning project either.

[00:18:47] Scott Young: I think of the same thing of like people who, start companies or they launch things or do something where it’s no one’s telling them that they have to do this. They just decide they want to do it. And I have a lot of. Respect for those people because I think there’s a certain self efficacy that you build up when you, go through that process that is just really important, especially when you’re young and you’re still sort of forming your identity and like who you are.

[00:19:08] Scott Young: I mean, those early projects, for whatever their flaws, really shaped how I see myself and how I go forward with projects now as an adult. 

[00:19:18] Patrick Donley: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. The importance of doing hard things when you’re young, whether physically, intellectually, whatever it is, and proving yourself that you can do it is super important that you can then carry on, as you get older in life, you did the MIT challenge.

[00:19:32] Patrick Donley: You did the language challenge. There’s a lot of people who are like, I could never do that, I’m not smart enough, or they just have limiting beliefs around what’s possible for them. What do you say to someone like that’s just I could never do that? 

[00:19:44] Scott Young: I do think you need to pick things that are something you think you could do, so I don’t want to make this, claim that, anyone could do the MIT, probably not.

[00:19:54] Scott Young: I mean, I think there were a lot of circumstances that made it possible for me to do. So on the one hand, I feel like I had the right background knowledge. Like I didn’t know the stuff that was in the courses, but I had done some programming in university and in high school. I had learned the prerequisite math.

[00:20:11] Scott Young: And so sometimes people will come up to me, I want to do this challenge, but I didn’t pass algebra two in high school. And it’s a little bit like, you’re not ready to do MIT’s intro calculus class. I’m sorry. Like you need to do some other stuff first. And so I think the right way to approach things is not to have this kind of if you can think it, you can achieve it kind of attitude, but to be very methodical about what are you actually capable of doing if you really put your mind to something?

[00:20:37] Scott Young: So before the MIT challenge started, I did a test class where, so like one of the 33 classes I did over this like week long time period to be is this pace realistic? Can I actually do this? it was tight, but I thought that I could and so I went forward with it, but I mean, if I had done it and it was like, that was a disaster, I would have reformulated the project.

[00:20:57] Scott Young: So I do think when you’re planning things, the idea is not just just pick something that’s like absurdly hard and idealistic and then just whatever, it’ll work out. I think it’s more like that’s part of the skill is like, how do you pick it? How do you design it so that you can stick to it? I mean, when it came to the language learning, Benny Lewis obviously was a big inspiration because he had these three month projects, but his projects were, I think they were a little bit more audacious in that, like he was making kind of specific claims about what language level he would reach.

[00:21:25] Scott Young: So he uses the word fluency in a particular way, which maybe doesn’t line up with everyone’s version of fluency, but it is still a level which, you’re having conversations and stuff. And, when we were going into it, we had no idea whether we were going to be able to, speak any of these languages by the end of it.

[00:21:41] Scott Young: And when we designed the project, it was very much around this constraint of, this is going to be the method that we’re using for that year, we’re going to try to only speak in this language. And if at the end of three months, we’re not that good, then that’s just it. That’s just it.

[00:21:54] Scott Young: That’s just what it is. I think sometimes constraining your projects based on process rather than outcome can be a bit better just because Outcomes can be difficult to predict. So I think the MIT challenge in some ways is like not the example you should lead with of like what people should do, but doing something where Oh, I want to learn MIT’s computer science curriculum and you have some sort of committed period of time where you’re doing it, but you’re not like, okay, I have to finish it in 12 months.

[00:22:23] Scott Young: That’s probably going to be like also ethicist and less stressful. And I know people who have done it. I know people who have done similar kinds of like their own version of the MIT challenge after it. And the big thing is just like setting aside the time, setting aside the commitment to do it. And, so I think most people could attempt something like that, even if it’s not the exact same project.

[00:22:43] Patrick Donley: Given the desire to do it, obviously you had a blog post. I think that I really like it was about simple rules for achieving ambitious goals. I think it was an interview you did with James Clear. Can you talk a little bit about it was right around when Atomic Habits came out and he was talking about the process of achieving ambitious goals and some of the things that he did.

[00:23:06] Scott Young: This was Brian Kaplan. He had this 10x rule, which was basically for ambitious goals, things that most people who want to succeed at them do not succeed. People who try it fail is do whatever you think works and just do 10 times as much as what you think. So it’s I want to be a successful writer.

[00:23:22] Scott Young: I’m writing 500 words a day. And it’s great. Write 5, 000 words a day. Or, and I think about ultra learning had that kind of flavor that like, I’m Tristan de Montebello, who became, he was a finalist for the world championship of public speaking after seven months of practice. It’s I want to be a good public speaker.

[00:23:37] Scott Young: I’m speaking like once a week is yeah, great. He was speaking twice a day. So it’s just like you’re just doing so much more than what you would sort of comfortably want to do. And that makes a big difference. And so my sort of anecdote was, it wasn’t an interview. It was just a conversation I had with James Clear.

[00:23:54] Scott Young: It was before ultra learning and come out. So I was sort of getting ready to do my promotion and marketing. And Atomic Habits had come out and had been out for maybe a little less than a year and it was clearly a successful book. I didn’t realize it was going to be like the most successful self help book of all time kind of book, but, we were having this conversation and I was just saying what did you do for marketing?

[00:24:15] Scott Young: And he was saying, podcasts were pretty important. And I was like, oh, okay. And in my head, I’m thinking, when you’re, how many interviews do you do? like maybe 10, like you do 10 interviews. And he’s oh, I did 80 interviews that came out launch week. And then in the first six months, I did 200 to 300 interviews.

[00:24:33] Scott Young: And I was like, what? What? And so again, and not to say that was like the only way you can do things, but it shifted my perspective that it was like, no, if I want ultra learning to be a success. I can’t have this attitude of I’m going to do five podcasts, like I have to be doing this 10 X what I’m thinking I need to do.

[00:24:51] Scott Young: And actually, because we, I reached out to you because I went through all my previous podcast appearances for ultra learning. And these are the people that I wanted to reach out to for, get better at anything. They already know who I am. I don’t have to like make introductions. And so I went through that list, and I counted how many podcast appearances I did, and so I did not hit James Clear’s, 306 months, but over the, four and a bit years that I was doing after UltraLearning came out and concentrated in the beginning.

[00:25:20] Scott Young: I did about like 213 appearances. So I did follow up with that rule. And I mean, I don’t, my book is not Atomic Habits, but I do think it made a difference in getting out there. And if I had stuck with this, like tens enough, and then the book doesn’t sell very well, or like people, nobody’s heard of it. And you’re kind of like.

[00:25:36] Scott Young: Oh, book publishing so hard. I mean, it’s, it’s, not to say that every goal you can easily 10 X, but it is to say that is a strategic option when you’re facing this sort of high difficulty is okay, you just have to find some way to marshal together these extreme resources or sort of admit that, maybe this goal isn’t that important to you and you don’t actually want to pursue it.

[00:25:57] Scott Young: Because I think there’s lots of things, when you are considering this 10 X rule, You’re necessarily making tradeoffs. So I’m going to do this and not this other thing. And, and I think that’s also sort of something people have a hard time with. Like they want to do eight different things and you can’t 10 X eight different things.

[00:26:13] Scott Young: You can only 10 X. Maybe one thing and still, actually succeed with it. 

[00:26:19] Patrick Donley: Ultra learning came out four or five years ago. You now have out get better at anything, which I’ve got right here. Thanks for the advanced copy, by the way. Really great. 12 maxims for mastery. How’s it different than ultra learning?

[00:26:31] Patrick Donley: And then what kind of audience did you have in mind when you were writing it? 

[00:26:35] Scott Young: In sort of a very broad view that books cover kind of similar concepts, because they’re both talking about learning the process of improvement, skill development. But ultra learning was interesting because I kind of used my personal experiences as this sort of starting point of doing these sort of intense projects and trying to extrapolate from that.

[00:26:52] Scott Young: The story that really kind of didn’t fit the ultra learning sort of paradigm that I worked through for that book, but I thought was so interesting that was like, okay, when I write another book, I’m going to have to use this story. was one I heard from the YouTuber John Green about Tetris. And it was basically a story of how like Tetris was this phenomenon, it still is, but it was this phenomenon in the early 90s.

[00:27:14] Scott Young: People are obsessed with the game. But if you look at the best scores of the best players, people who, by the way, are playing this like 80, 90 hours a week, like extreme fanatics for playing this game. The scores are not that good. The one of the milestones was getting a maximum possible score. So there’s six digits in the thing.

[00:27:31] Scott Young: So that would be 999999. And it took 20 years before someone could document themselves doing this. And now you have 12, 13 year old kids. There was like The New York Times covered a tournament for Tetris recently. And it was something like 14 different people hit this max out and there was like over 40 max outs at this particular event.

[00:27:51] Scott Young: So over the span of an afternoon or something, you have dozens of people reaching this score, which took 20 years for the first people who were obsessed with the game. And so there’s this real stark contrast in like how good people are at this game that’s quite old. And what’s the difference?

[00:28:06] Scott Young: And so the explanation that John Green gave, which I agree with, is that, the difference is that in the old days, it was very hard to learn techniques and skills and strategies from other people. Like maybe your brother’s friend or something like that knew a Tetris technique and you could learn it from them.

[00:28:23] Scott Young: But I mean, otherwise you have all these players, but they’re essentially disconnected. And so you have people that are, even though they’re obsessed with the game, they’re not using the best techniques that even were known at the time that were even like things that people knew. Some people knew in the 90s, just not everyone knew them.

[00:28:38] Scott Young: And, now, if you’re 12 or 13, you go online, you watch the best players, they show you this is how you play the game, this is what you do, this is a strategy, this is how you practice, and so the quality of play for the same amount of effort has gone up dramatically. And so this story to me wasn’t really a story about any particular player, it wasn’t about this guy is the ultra learner for Tetris, rather it was, here is the same skill, the same fundamental subject matter, this is how you play the game, this is what you do, this is how you practice, and so the quality of play for the same amount of effort has gone up dramatically.

[00:29:00] Scott Young: And so this story to me wasn’t really a story about any particular player, it was about like, this guy is the ultra learner for Tetris, rather it was, here is the same skill, the same fundamental subject matter, this But the environment changes and the ability to learn from other people changes and all of a sudden you’re getting not just improvement in an individual skill, but like the field as a whole.

[00:29:13] Scott Young: And so that kind of started this real thinking about what are the fundamental ingredients for learning? So not just do a few extreme people do under extreme circumstances, but really what does everyone have to do if they want to learn? What is the basic building blocks? for getting better at things.

[00:29:28] Scott Young: And so this book was trying to be an exploration of that. And we were talking about like the bibliography and stuff. I ended up doing a lot of reading for this book. So I’m hoping that people can get an appreciation for how I’ve tried to cover and synthesize a really vast field, a really vast literature of research on learning to try to extract some very important concepts that I think.

[00:29:51] Scott Young: I wish I had these concepts when I was starting my projects because, you would, I would have avoided making some mistakes early on. 

[00:29:58] Patrick Donley: Yeah, like you said, the, the footnotes are dense. There’s a ton of research that’s gone into it. There’s 12 maxims, right? And you break it down into three segments of it’s see, do, and then feedback.

[00:30:10] Patrick Donley: I was kind of curious just in, in like your own life, where if you want to go into the maxims a little bit, but which one do you find most difficult for people or for you individually? 

[00:30:20] Scott Young: I mean, the maxims are kind of like a pointer to a sort of fundamental idea. One of them that I talk about, creativity begins with copying, is sort of an attack in my mind on like a dominant perception that originality and imitation are the same Are two different things like you can either be a copyist or you can be an original and everyone wants to be an original and so you shouldn’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing.

[00:30:45] Scott Young: And this denies how most people actually acquire creative skills, which is through extensive study of other examples and what’s possible and what works and what doesn’t work. And then once they’ve built that foundation, their originality is usually like changing some small part. Whether or not they’re hard or difficult.

[00:31:02] Scott Young: I mean, I think it depends on the skill. There’s certain things that like, I have a thing where I’m talking about, fear and, the kind of that anxiety that you have approaching skills. I mean, that’s probably one of the most emotionally difficult things that we face in learning is that if you have some internal trepidation about practicing a skill, I mean, it can be, overwhelming.

[00:31:21] Scott Young: It can be like paralyzing. You’re talking about speaking another language, like speaking a language. You don’t speak very well to a stranger who may judge you for it can be very worrisome. But so I think that’s why, when we’re faced with that problem, it’s important to understand the principle that I talk about this exposure principle, which is that your own feelings of fear are very much this kind of unconscious hardwiring that’s based on these expectations of things.

[00:31:47] Scott Young: Yeah. And if you get exposure to the environment and nothing really bad happens, the fear will go away. It will go away over time. And so that’s something that, you need to plan for when you’re going through with these sorts of experiments. And so to me, the, it’s not even so much that the maxims are easy or difficult or hard to forget, but they’re just like, they’re key to unlocking sort of this problem.

[00:32:07] Scott Young: So whether it’s fear or whether it’s creativity or something else. 

[00:32:11] Patrick Donley: You’re talking about copying masters. We, there’s a investor that we really like it. At TIP, Mohnish Pabrai is his name and he really stresses the importance of what he calls cloning. And he cloned Warren Buffett. So when he got into investing, he read everything he could about Buffett and literally copied, how his partnership agreement was set up and how he invested and, everything like that.

[00:32:36] Patrick Donley: Let’s get into that a little bit about like your thoughts on how you could apply some of the maxims and the principles of, learning and mastery to investing. What would you say to somebody like who’s young, wants to get really good at investing? What are some of your thoughts on like how they could approach that and structure a learning program to do that?

[00:32:58] Scott Young: I mean, I think you hit a good point, which is that the starting point for learning a skill like investing is going to be getting to the best practices, getting to the I am at sort of wherever the best investors are in their thinking about this, I am at that level. And the truth is, that most people are not.

[00:33:16] Scott Young: And a lot of people are, okay, I’m dabbling a little bit and you’re following, some YouTube guy who’s saying you should invest in something. And it’s not a particularly sound strategy. And so I think that would be my starting point. If I were to like get into investing seriously, it would be What is the best understanding?

[00:33:33] Scott Young: What is the best practice that I can learn from other people like don’t trial and error this and that’s especially true for something like investing. I have a whole chapter talking about how people are bad at learning in environments of uncertainty, especially something like investing where the rules governing it are quite complicated.

[00:33:51] Scott Young: And I can’t tell you how many people like pat themselves on the back for Oh, I’m such a great investor because they made something that happened to win out. But I mean, if you analyze it a little bit, you’d be like, yeah, but I mean, you took a huge risk and that’s yeah, that maybe wasn’t a great investment.

[00:34:07] Scott Young: It’s oh, I bought all this Apple stock. And so I’m like, I’m such a great investor because Apple happened to go up or something. And so I think that’s one of the things that you would want to do is really start from this kind of best practice theoretical kind of approach because the learning from just learning by doing through iterations is going to be a lot harder and investing.

[00:34:27] Scott Young: Yeah. Then it would be in like skiing or archery or something where you are getting quite accurate, consistent feedback in a consistent environment. So I think for investing, I would definitely lean heavily on that. Seeing from other people, learning, kind of understanding the concepts, understanding the theory, understanding like what are the mental models I need to think about this, especially because unless you’re running like thousands of simulations of possible portfolios.

[00:34:54] Scott Young: you’re going to make decisions, sometimes they’re going to be lucky and sometimes they’re not going to be lucky and you have to be able to disentangle that from, was that actually a good decision or was I just, lucky in this case, right? 

[00:35:05] Patrick Donley: Points that you made, I think it was in feedback is how difficult it can be to actually learn from experts because they have a, they’re at the point of what are they, what do they call it?

[00:35:14] Patrick Donley: It’s like unconscious competence, right? So they’re at the point where maybe just take for granted what they’re able to do. Talk a little bit about the feedback of, seeking out experts that are way down further down the road than you. What are your, some of your thoughts on getting feedback and learning from experts?

[00:35:32] Scott Young: I mean, if we’re talking about investing, one of the things that investing has going for it is at least a somewhat bookish discipline, like it is a field where people have articulated their thoughts and strategies and ideas. Like a credible amount of them. Now, of course, there’s like opaque hedge funds where they’re using proprietary strategies and this kind of thing.

[00:35:50] Scott Young: So I don’t want to say that it’s, it’s all you just go to the shelf of the bookstore. But I mean, it is a skill where you could learn a lot about the fundamentals of doing it just by going to the bookstore and being like, what’s value investing or, what’s the difference between a stock and a bond?

[00:36:04] Scott Young: these are all things that you can easily learn. And the idea of learning from experts and from teaching is that once you have mastered a skill, a very common tendency in skills is for parts of those skills to get automated. This can be because you’re sort of skipping over mental steps, so you just go from the starting point to the answer.

[00:36:23] Scott Young: In other cases, it can be because you do know why you’re doing something, but it’s obvious to you. So when you are explaining it to someone else, you don’t go through the process of, breaking it down. And so I think that could also be something, especially for if you do, I’ll go back to this investing example.

[00:36:41] Scott Young: But if you invest in a particular market or something like there’s probably a lot of things that you know, which a novice investor would find difficult. Which you maybe wouldn’t even think to tell them like you’re focused on like strategies and getting alpha and this kind of thing, but like even things like how do you set up a brokerage account or like how do you execute a trade or what is the bid ask spread like these kind of things you’d be like, duh, like that’s obviously means this, but because that’s because you do it so much, you wouldn’t even consider to say it to someone.

[00:37:08] Scott Young: So I think as a beginner in a field, as someone who is starting out, Being able to talk to experts being able to walk through okay, what would you do exactly and get them to go step by step and pause and be like, why did you do that? Or why did you do this is often very helpful to elucidate those kind of obvious steps or the things that they’re skipping over in their understanding of things.

[00:37:31] Patrick Donley: I, there was one question in here that I wanted to ask you about your talk about professional poker players, and there was a young woman that you wrote about talk a little bit about why poker players make better predictions than psychiatrists. You kind of went, I thought that my wife is a therapist.

[00:37:46] Patrick Donley: I found this interesting. 

[00:37:48] Scott Young: Yeah, this isn’t just me trying to like crap on a psychiatrist, it’s based on the fact that poker players operate in an environment of uncertainty. So you make bets and a really good poker player is maybe winning 55 percent of the time versus 45 percent of the time.

[00:38:04] Scott Young: So it’s, even the best poker players, they lose a lot of hands. And so you have to learn from this environment where it’s complicated, it’s difficult to say, and it’s difficult to say from just like the outcomes you experience whether or not you’re making good decisions. Now, that’s something similar to making judgments in a lot of professional fields.

[00:38:20] Scott Young: So one of the areas that’s been studied quite a bit is, this issue of clinical judgment. So there was a psychologist, Paul Neal, he’s passed away now, but he decades ago, he published this book comparing what he called clinical and statistical or actuarial predictions. And so the idea is that okay, so say you’re a psychiatrist, and you’re sitting on a parole board, and you have some criminal who wants to get parole, and you’re deciding whether or not they’re going to re offend and you’re going to release them out to the public.

[00:38:50] Scott Young: Now, I think the understanding by many psychiatrists at the time is that you have an incredible keen insight into the minds of these people, and so you would be able to do better than, a real stupid method to try to figure out whether or not this person is going to re offend. And what they found is that in this particular instance, Just doing a simple tally of like pros and cons for this person, did they commit a violent crime or their age or these kind of things, like whether or not those things go for or against the person and you do this tally method, that tally method made better predictions than the psychiatrist, like the psychiatrist, despite their years of experience and theories and whatnot.

[00:39:27] Scott Young: We’re not that good at making judgments. And so Neil kind of posed, this is like a puzzle, what are the situations where clinical judgment, this sort of intuitive expertise built out from years of hands on experience, when would those people make better decisions under uncertainty than an algorithm or like a spreadsheet or a simple model?

[00:39:45] Scott Young: And what he found was that there aren’t actually that many situations that like, the models, simple models tend to outperform the clinical judgment and when they’re the same, A model can be done by a spreadsheet. It can be done by someone with just a little bit of data entry training.

[00:40:00] Scott Young: It doesn’t require a PhD holding expert to make this decision. And so the sort of conclusion from this and meals data is just I think one example in a wider literature of so called failures of expertise. I mean, Daniel Kahneman, he was very skeptical of the supposed expertise of a lot of experts because he’s if you just measure their performance, they don’t do that well.

[00:40:22] Scott Young: And I mean, definitely if you’re in investing, You must be humbled by that because you know that like most actively managed funds do not outperform indexes and there’s a lot of people who are in investing that, have a lot of confidence. There’s a lot of egos. I’ve met hedge fund managers.

[00:40:39] Scott Young: There’s a lot of people who think they’re the smartest person who’s ever lived. And it’s just not all of you can be because if you just measure it out and the average is you guys aren’t doing so good. So what this sort of conclusion was like, why, is it the case that poker players until very recently were so good that you know that you couldn’t even write computer programs that could reliably be poker players now, of course, you can with supercomputers and machine learning and stuff, but it wasn’t until it definitely wasn’t the case that I could just do something in Excel and beat, sophisticated poker players, whereas psychiatrists weren’t, we’re not doing this, they’re not that successful at it.

[00:41:13] Scott Young: And Daniel Kahneman, one of these people I mentioned, he did this, sort of collaborative paper with another psychologist, Gary Klein, who is sort of on the opposite spectrum. He’s very pro intuitive expertise, and he studied people who, like firefighters and, chess players and stuff, who do seem to make really good snap intuitive judgments.

[00:41:33] Scott Young: And their sort of mutual conclusion reviewing the research was that, Experts do tend to develop genuine expertise when they are in an environment where there are like valid cues to learn from the environment and there’s good feedback on that. And so the problem is that psychiatrists, hiring managers, a lot of these people who have to make these judgments, the issue is that there’s hundreds of pieces of data, they’re only weekly predictive, like each piece of data doesn’t tell you that much.

[00:42:00] Scott Young: And it’s hard for people to aggregate all those things together. And that’s what models do really well. So I think if you are in a field where that’s the situation, you want to rely on models. First of all, you want to have you don’t want to just go based on your gut, whether you want to buy a stock, you want to have some kind of analysis of the fundamentals.

[00:42:18] Scott Young: You want to have some kind of like benchmark of this is how to make good investing decisions, irrespective of my intuition. So you want to use the models. And then second, you want to be enhancing the feedback you get, like how many hiring managers pat themselves on the back for that great candidate they found.

[00:42:33] Scott Young: But they are completely ignorant of all the people they turned down who turned out to be great at some other job. And I think that in some cases, a complete lack of curiosity as to how we’re performing in these fields contributes to the lack of genuine expertise because if you have lots and lots of interviews with people, you do lots of therapy sessions, you get a lot of confidence, you get a lot of fluency in those skills.

[00:42:55] Scott Young: But because you’re not getting a lot of well calibrated feedback, you’re just becoming more confident. You’re not necessarily becoming more competent. And so I think that’s something definitely to think about when you’re trying to master skills in uncertain domains of and certainly investing is one of them.

[00:43:10] Patrick Donley: I want to get into a little bit more about feedback. You’ve got this point that improvement is not a straight line. You don’t go from as you start learning your it’s a it’s not a straight line up into the right. As you’re getting feedback on whatever domain you’re, mastering, let’s say you’re trying to learn golf and you’re getting feedback and how do you overcome and deal with negative feedback with a teacher?

[00:43:31] Patrick Donley: There can be, I remember learning piano as a kid and I had a, this is brutally harsh piano teacher that just gave me feedback and it was like completely demotivating. How do you deal with some of that? 

[00:43:45] Scott Young: And negative feedback is hard. And I think that’s something that like, it’s very like one answer that I could give is just you guys got to be stoic about it and not worry about negative feedback.

[00:43:54] Scott Young: And that certainly I think is a factor. I mean, You think about stand up comedians and any really successful stand up comedian will talk about like how thick their skin is of going on the stage and getting booed off and you’re like, yeah, sometimes you have a bad set, and I think in life, we don’t always get to choose our environment.

[00:44:10] Scott Young: So having that grit and persistence is good. But since this is, not just us talking about, this is just the way things are, but how can we make them better? I think negative feedback definitely has risks because of these motivational consequences you talk about. I mean, I had another conversation with someone who was talking about He was getting feedback in like a creative field, like writing, and how this person will send out their essay or whatever to friends and family and be like, do you have any feedback?

[00:44:40] Scott Young: And of course, everyone just says nice things about it because no one wants to be that one friend that’s ah, And so she was sort of asking, like, how do I get good feedback? And the two things I said is, first of all, are you sure you want good feedback? Because a lot of times when we say I want feedback, it’s because we’re too timid to say I want encouragement.

[00:44:59] Scott Young: And it’s totally fine to say, you know what, I’m not going to take people’s advice. I just want someone to say you did a good job. I mean, that’s a little bit, that’s a little bit pathetic sometimes to just ask for that. I mean, it’s important to realize that’s what we’re doing unconsciously and that’s how everyone who hears what we’re saying interprets what we’re doing.

[00:45:17] Scott Young: And so there’s this like tacit communication of I’m not going to give negative feedback. And so sometimes because I talk about feedback a lot, Like readers will write to me and say Oh, do you have like feedback on what I’m doing? And I just kind of feel like, is that what you really want is for me to be like, no, this isn’t good.

[00:45:33] Scott Young: no, of course not. You don’t know me. That’s going to be very hurtful. And you’re going to, you just sort of like nurse this resentment of Oh, Scott told me 10 years ago that I’m not very good. And now I’m like, I’ll show him. And it’s why did you ask for feedback then?

[00:45:46] Scott Young: So I think the right way to do it is you want to try to shift the conversation so that you’re not having these value judgments at all. So I, as I told this person, like the right way to get good feedback on your work is not to ask, what do you think? Or can I have feedback? Is to say, if you were working on this, what would you improve?

[00:46:07] Scott Young: Or how would you improve it? And then all of a sudden, them giving you what are actually like, this isn’t very good or this could be better is helpful. It changes the tone. And so I do think when you’re working with students, you want to try to be as constructive as possible and try as much as possible to avoid direct criticism.

[00:46:25] Scott Young: I think the only place that I would be really like, okay, this is where criticism might be maybe a successful is someone who has a lot of motivation. But it’s maybe way too overconfident and needs to be humbled a little bit. Vast majority of people, that’s not their problem. Vast majority of people, they don’t have enough motivation.

[00:46:43] Scott Young: They’re, they have some uncertainty, this kind of thing. They don’t need to be like, Oh yeah, you’re no good. You should just drop out. Or maybe, yeah, again, in some, the Simon Cowell’s of the world where they’re just like, You don’t, you shouldn’t be practicing this skill at all. And so I need to be harsh at you to just discourage you out of it.

[00:47:00] Scott Young: But I mean, for most people, that’s what I would suggest is that when you’re looking for feedback, when you’re trying to get people to give you advice, give you this kind of thing is to shift the conversation away from evaluative judgments shifted away from what do you think about what I’m doing? Give me a score, give me a letter grade to.

[00:47:18] Scott Young: A what would you improve? And then that way, even if you are the best in the world, there’s something you could improve. And even if you are like nowhere near the like minimum standard, you need to reach for this to be publishable or successful or whatever, that person can still say something. And so I think it takes some of the bite out of, out of negative feedback.

[00:47:36] Patrick Donley: How important is the role of community? And you call it like a brain trust. And you’re learning and developing mastery in a subject, I guess it, maybe it depends on the topic, but like some things like writing is very solitary yet, working in a group, I just want to hear your thoughts on building community and having a brain trust, whatever the domain is to increase your mastery.

[00:48:01] Scott Young: Oh, it’s huge. It’s huge. And I feel like that was a repeated motif in my writing and learning is that truly, isolated independent learning is only possible in like fairly narrow circumstances. Now, this isn’t to say, oh, every single studying session has to be some, kinda group powwow kinda thing.

[00:48:21] Scott Young: It’s not like that. It’s just that when you are learning and you’re completely isolated from other people, you could be the smartest person in the world and it’s very hard to figure out everything on your own. And it’s very hard to assemble all the ideas, all the things that are important. And so for especially for a skill like investing, I think about poker players are kind of like this, that because it’s hard to learn from direct feedback, because it’s hard to learn just by the brute reality of interacting with the investing market, because of this uncertainty, the complexity of it, the fact that you can make a lot of money and just be lucky and like all these kinds of factors.

[00:48:58] Scott Young: It’s so important to have a group of people around you that are smart, that are, have different strategies, different ways of looking at things, because that helps you aggregate information, that helps you aggregate ideas and perspectives. And one of the things that came up in this, this research of people learning under uncertainty is that often, groups are much smarter than individuals.

[00:49:18] Scott Young: Because again, if the problem of the skill is that there are a hundred possible cues and each of them only makes a little difference in what you should be predicting, people are bad at that. So if you can get a group of people where they’re naturally going to have, differing overlap of which cues they’re paying attention to, you’re going to average in on something that’s a little closer to a machine learning model would get to than you would if you’re just, you’re looking at it yourself and you hyper fixate on that one thing that, worked in the past and you ignore all the 99 other things and that’s going to lead you to make, overconfident and underperforming judgments.

[00:49:56] Patrick Donley: I spoke to my dad and I told him that we were going to have this interview and he’s a golfer and you gave some examples about golfers, Tiger Woods for one, and then several others that changed their swings in the process of trying to develop mastery. In some cases, it works out. In other cases, it ruins their career.

[00:50:15] Patrick Donley: Go into that a little bit. I want to hear your thoughts on.. 

[00:50:19] Scott Young: Yeah, so you write these stories and you, and I think sometimes when you do the research for a story it doesn’t like doesn’t very neatly support the point that you thought you were going to make in the beginning, but sometimes you almost like it more because of that.

[00:50:34] Scott Young: So this Tiger Woods story, I’m not like a, I’m very amateur golfer. I’m not good at all. I know a bit about golf, but I like, I’m not, I don’t, I’m not, a golf fan or golf spectator or this kind of thing. And so obviously I knew about Tiger Woods and this story about him being very deliberate about changing his swing came up and I just thought this was this sort of perfect example of this more general concept which comes up a lot in learning where you have to kind of climb down the mountain to reach a new peak like where you have to sort of make a decision which is going to make things worse or harder for you for a period of time, but will open up new opportunities.

[00:51:12] Scott Young: And What was very interesting to me is that like Tiger had, he’s done this a couple of times where he’s changed his swing, but in particular, there was one time where he’s working with his coach and he, this was sort of his coach that he had a coach when he was a teenager, sort of in university.

[00:51:26] Scott Young: And then when he became professional, he switched to a different way of doing his swing and it did proceed like a quite successful period in his career. And so it was very interesting to read like the kind of sports journalist commentary on this decision. And how, this is not a decision without controversy, like a lot of, a lot of commenters are like, Tiger Woods was an idiot for doing this, like this, he shouldn’t have done this.

[00:51:50] Scott Young: So I tried to kind of highlight that tension because this was not a riskless decision for him to make. It wasn’t just if I want to be the best, I have to do this. Because there were so many people that thought the same thing and then they like screwed up their golf game and they’re just like had to retire.

[00:52:04] Scott Young: So I think, but I ended up liking the story more because I think it highlighted the correct sort of mindset, which is that yes, especially for motor skills. Changing how you do things is not easy and it’s not it’s not a surefire win, especially at that level, but then also recognizing this kind of like, when you learn things, you get kind of locked into ways of doing things and in order to, science is like that too, if you get really locked into doing things before quantum mechanics and then a new generation, they, are the ones who make all the discoveries because there’s a new way of doing physics that takes hold.

[00:52:40] Scott Young: yeah. I think, this tension in our lives of sticking with what worked versus sort of doing that work of rebuilding and learning a new skill, that risk involved, I think, it underpins many of our decisions that we’re making about our lives and our careers. 

[00:52:55] Patrick Donley: At the end of the book, you’ve got this conclusion about three questions to ask to improve at any pursuit.

[00:53:01] Patrick Donley: One of them, you talked about the importance of what is, comparable to a pianist practicing scales? What do you do every day? Whatever the domain is, it’s similar or comparable to a pianist practicing their skills, which is boring and repetitive. 

[00:53:17] Scott Young: Yeah, this was the economist, Tyler Cowen, and he, made this kind of point off hand and it really stuck with me because for a lot of domains, practice is fairly well understood and performance is fairly well understood.

[00:53:29] Scott Young: A chess player who’s like a grandmaster doing intensive chess study of past games and preparing their opening and this kind of stuff is something that, we expect of the field. An athlete who is working on some minute aspect of their performance repetitively, something understood. A musician, this kind of thing.

[00:53:47] Scott Young: But once we get outside of these fairly well understood skills, You don’t see that as much, you don’t see as much like the doctor who is doing this kind of practice or the author who’s writing books this way. And so I think there’s a real opportunity for a lot of us in our professional lives, in the skills that don’t always get this attention, to rethink about it, to think about it in a new way, to think about What is the process of growth?

[00:54:13] Scott Young: What is the process of improvement? And how should I be tweaking what I’m doing to get better at the things that I care about? And I mean, the entire book is kind of a summary of some of these opportunities and obstacles, just understand what the process is of getting better. Why does it work sometimes?

[00:54:29] Scott Young: Why does it not work? But I think the, the starting point is obviously just having that motivation to get better and the kind of curiosity to figure out how that would work. 

[00:54:38] Patrick Donley: I want to switch gears a little bit. You’re good friends and collaborators with Cal Newport, and you’ve done some online classes that I found interesting as I was researching, you for the, for this interview.

[00:54:51] Patrick Donley: There’s one called a life of focus. I believe in one that’s called top performer. I’m very interested in what, for my own self to learn more about them. So can you tell me a little bit about those courses? 

[00:55:02] Scott Young: Top performer was the first course that I did with Cal. This one is, it’s actually been out for we started on like the very first iterations of this course about 10 years ago.

[00:55:11] Scott Young: So it’s a bit of an older course that we worked on, but the idea of the course stemmed from Cal Newport’s book, so good. They can’t ignore you. Which so good, they kind of made this argument that what matters to have a career you love is not following your passion, but building rare and valuable skills, which led to a very natural follow up question of how do you build rare and valuable skills?

[00:55:30] Scott Young: And we were both drawn to the work of Anders Ericsson. The late psychologist of expertise. I talk about him a lot in my own writing. I got a chance to, chat with him on the phone once. It was, he’s a very smart guy and he’s contributed a lot to our understanding of world class performance. And the idea here is, how do you figure out which skills are important for your career?

[00:55:52] Scott Young: And then how do you actually go about doing again, this kind of practice that is so rare in professional fields? To get good at them to reach a level of performance where you want to succeed. And so we’ve had lots of people, if whether they’re in academia or they’re programmers or they’re entrepreneurs or authors or what have you go through that process of Okay, what is the skill I need to get good at?

[00:56:14] Scott Young: And then how do I get good at it? And so that, that was that course. And we’ve had, I don’t know, we’ve had several thousand students go through it by now. And the other course life of focus is built on some of Cal’s more recent work. also a little bit of my work with ultra learning, which was this idea that, we live in a world with constant distractions.

[00:56:33] Scott Young: you are at the office and it’s an open office environment. The cubicle is gone. You have people talking to you, interrupting you all the time. You have constant emails arriving at your inbox. There’s social media, there’s your phone, it has become a lot harder to concentrate for long periods of time.

[00:56:48] Scott Young: And Cal I think argues persuasively that the ability to concentrate for long periods of time and the opportunity to concentrate for long periods of time is pretty central to many types of work. So Clearly, you can see this in the example of a programmer. I mean, the programmer’s value is writing code.

[00:57:04] Scott Young: It’s not so much in keeping up with emails. if you can ship code and working features of the product, you are a good programmer. If you spend all day, getting back and forth with the emails, maybe you’re not making actually that much project, progress doing your job. If you’re an academic, Writing papers, publishing things, important scientific results, that’s important.

[00:57:26] Scott Young: Having back and forth emails with the administration at the university, eh, maybe that’s not going to be what actually lands you a good career. And so Life of Focus builds on this idea of how do you cultivate focus? How do you cultivate a space to have that opportunity to network in your personal life and in your professional life?

[00:57:46] Scott Young: And we’ve had a lot of students go through it. It’s a very popular course. It’s definitely our most popular course now. Just because, we really realized running this course with so many people that there’s a huge demand for this. That, we’ve kind of almost accidentally poisoned our environment and made it very hard for this kind of skill to develop.

[00:58:05] Scott Young: And so you really need to now be deliberate and painstaking in kind of crafting that environment. It’s not going to just happen automatically. 

[00:58:12] Patrick Donley: Do you have some thoughts on just productivity hacks? I mean, I, truly think that the ability to focus as a superpower and I see it like in, I don’t mean to rail, I’ve got stepchildren that are younger, like they just don’t have the ability to concentrate.

[00:58:25] Patrick Donley: And I worry about that. 

[00:58:29] Scott Young: It’s interesting to think about concentration as a skill, my, my kind of and this is a little bit pedantic, but the way I think about it is that the problems of focus are, actually kind of motivational problems that the issue is that it’s a little bit like if you have a gambling addiction in some ways, like a gambling addiction is not it’s not not being a gambling addict is like a skill.

[00:58:50] Scott Young: It’s more just that when you have played a lot of slots and you get this sort of visceral reward from pulling that, that one armed bandit every once in a while, it hardwires this behavioral tendency to seek that out. when you go to the casino, you can’t help yourself, but you lose a lot of money.

[00:59:06] Scott Young: And so similarly, I think we’ve kind of hardwired ourselves in a certain way to be like checking our phones all the time to be on social media because every once in a while, there’s something that’s good, even though most of the time, maybe there isn’t every once in a while. There’s something like, Oh, I’m really glad I saw that.

[00:59:20] Scott Young: Or that’s really good. We’ve hardwired ourselves to have our email inboxes Open and we’re just checking email continuously throughout the day. Because every once in a while there is, either a reward of Okay, I’m glad I responded to that right away. That was an emergency. Or there’s a punishment of Oh, I missed this because it came two hours ago and I’m getting a tsk from my boss about it.

[00:59:42] Scott Young: And so I think this environment reinforces this kind of highly distracted behavior. So it is hard to sit down and read a book for 45 minutes straight. Because in the back of your head, your brain’s always going, I could be on TikTok, I could be on TikTok, I could be on TikTok. And so I think, the right way to think about it is maybe to not to overwork the metaphor too much, I think the word addiction maybe gets bandied around too casually, but to understand that it’s a similar principle that, if you were trying to wean yourself off of, yeah, like gambling or, alcohol or cigarettes or something, You’d have to go through a similar approach where you are changing your environment, changing the rules of your environment, your relationship to the environment, so that at the beginning it’s hard and it requires a little bit of effort and white knuckling, but eventually you don’t check your phone because, account input talks about this phone foyer method where You leave your phone in like at the entrance of your house when you come in and you can use it when you want to, but you have to go over there to use it.

[01:00:43] Scott Young: You can’t just have it with you. I mean, that changes the cost benefit of should I check my phone? Because if it’s with me, I’ll check it. But if I have to walk two meters, maybe I won’t, right? And so similarly, if you have these deep work hours that you set up in your working life, you communicate that with other people, you get their buy in, because that’s very important that people often miss.

[01:01:05] Scott Young: And it’s okay, but like 10 till 12 is my deep work hours. And unless it’s a, unless the building’s on fire, don’t interrupt me. I mean that if you can consistently do that, if you can track it, if you can be more deliberate about it, You’ll get more two hour uninterrupted sessions, which is super important if you’re trying to work on a difficult problem, if you’re trying to write an essay, if you’re trying to do something that requires extended concentration.

[01:01:29] Scott Young: And so I think it’s not even so much about productivity hacks, because I think sometimes the mistake is viewing a tool or viewing a like trick or a technique like, oh, the key is using this kind of to do list software. And as I said, it’s a little bit like. I don’t know. You could tell someone who’s like trying to give up cigarettes like, Oh, the trick is like a nicotine patch or something, but you have to think about it more in the context of you’ve established this behavioral rhythm that you’re going to, smoke all the time.

[01:01:56] Scott Young: And then like, how do you, change your environment? How do you change this sort of behavioral patterns that you’ve set up around it? So that’s, not an overwhelming urge and overwhelming impulse. And so life of focus, we have that over three month period of time working with students to try to change that.

[01:02:11] Scott Young: And I think that’s very important because Again, like I could give you a list of tips, but unless you integrate it into your life over an extended period of time and troubleshoot these little difficulties, I mean, it’s probably not going to make that much different. You’re going to still be on your phone all the time.

[01:02:24] Scott Young: You’re still going to be, checking email every five minutes. 

[01:02:27] Patrick Donley: I’m a total book nerd, so I wanted to just hear about a few, maybe a few books you’re reading right now that have been impactful, things that, you might recommend to our listeners. 

[01:02:37] Scott Young: For me, I always find it challenging to list books because, first of all, my, the books I like to read, that I really like to read are often books that, most people don’t like to read.

[01:02:46] Scott Young: I have this ongoing joke with one of my friends that, I really like this, book. I think it was called an entangled life, but it’s a book about fungus and he also makes fun of me. Like you read a book about fungus. It was actually a really good popular science book. So I recommend it. I think it’s called entangled life or something like that.

[01:03:01] Scott Young: It was an interesting book. I got to say, but I mean, I really like oddball books like that. And I also like a lot of academic books. I mean, when I was doing the research for get better or anything, probably one of the, my favorite books I read was, this book by the Stanley Rockman called fear and courage.

[01:03:20] Scott Young: And he is a, one of the expert psychologists on fear. And he talks about the research that we’ve uncovered on anxiety, but also in the context with the backdrop of like people who have faced like genuinely just terrifying things and people who have had the courage to overcome it. So I really liked that book very recently.

[01:03:39] Scott Young: I mean, my friend Cal Newport published the book, slow productivity. I thought that was a very good meditation on, again, kind of, It’s sort of a bomb compared to the like frenetic, fast paced, feeling like you have to do everything all the time kind of culture that we live in. I don’t know.

[01:03:56] Scott Young: I’m sure I could list a couple dozen. I have some lists actually on my website if people are interested, like I published pretty recently a list of 10 books on just on learning that I, like. So you can check, there’s quite a few reading lists on my website that have sort of brief reviews of some of these books.

[01:04:12] Patrick Donley: Scott, this has been a lot of fun. This book is I’ve really enjoyed it. I mean, it can be applied to anything. I really think, anybody can gain value from it. Was there anything that we didn’t touch on that you wanted to discuss before we wrap up? 

[01:04:25] Scott Young: Oh man, no, I think we covered quite a bit.

[01:04:28] Scott Young: And I mean, there’s a lot of other stuff that we didn’t talk about in the book. I mean, there’s, I think we touched on one or two of the 12 max. And so there’s a lot of things that, we could be talking for days here if we wanted to, but I highly recommend anyone who’s interested in it.

[01:04:41] Scott Young: You can, they can check it out. Amazon audible, wherever you get your books, the book is get better at anything. And also check out my website, scotthm. com. I have a free newsletter. There’s lots of free essays and content surrounding these ideas of learning, mastery, productivity, self improvement. And, then also because we talked about it, yeah, the course life of focus.

[01:05:03] Scott Young: You can find it through my website and you can join the waiting list for when we have new sessions if you’re interested in going on a three month journey with us to, refocus your life. 

[01:05:13] Patrick Donley: I may be interested. I need it. So many distractions. And the book comes out, what, May 7th? So this is? 

[01:05:20] Scott Young: May 7th. Yeah. So I’m hoping, that maybe if this is coming out after May 7th, the book is already out. We don’t have to worry about it. But we are actually recording this slightly before it’s out. 

[01:05:30] Patrick Donley: Yeah. So I think it comes out May 12th. yeah. 

[01:05:34] Scott Young: Okay. Perfect. Yeah. 

[01:05:35] Patrick Donley: And then you are, you active on social media at all?

[01:05:38] Patrick Donley: Like Twitter and that kind of stuff. Can people reach out to you there? 

[01:05:42] Scott Young: I have accounts so people can follow me there. I used to use social media more, but now I’m mostly use them just as a conduit for the content that I’m creating. So if you, like following Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, if those are your preferred channels, by all means, follow me and you’ll get updates when I have like new essays, new content, that kind of thing.

[01:06:02] Scott Young: But, yeah, I’ve definitely made the personal decision in my life to be more focused on, reading these dense academic books so I can compile them into something useful to you rather than just staying on top of current tweets. So that’s, been a decision I made in my intellectual life and hopefully it’ll be for the benefit of the readers who read these books.

[01:06:20] Patrick Donley: I love it. I’d like to emulate it. The book is called Get Better at Anything. I wish you the best of luck with it. I hope it does really well. And, yeah, just thanks for your time today. We really appreciate it. This has been fun. 

[01:06:30] Scott Young: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It was great chatting. 

[01:06:34] Patrick Donley: Okay, folks. That’s all I had for today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed the show and I’ll see you back here real soon. 

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