Adam Grant Got Me ReThinking Life

Read time: 4 minutes

Welcome to The Ascend Archives Friday Edition where I share insights from the brightest minds in business and life and how I'm applying them to my life.

Last month, I went down an Adam Grant rabbit hole.

My sister recommended one of his podcast episodes and it reminded me how great of a thinker he is. 3 more podcasts and several hours later, Adam had me rethinking many parts of my life.

Adam is a professor at Wharton and best selling author of multiple books. My first intro to Adam was 2.5 years ago when I listened to his book Think Again. It was one of the first books that got me interested in decision making and human psychology beyond my AP Psych class in high school.

Adam stresses this concept of rethinking, which comes down to asking yourself better questions to help you better understand your own beliefs.

Today, I’m going to share 3 of the areas where Adam helped me rethink.

1. Procrastination

Adam describes procrastination not as just being lazy or avoiding hard work.

He believes that procrastination stems from avoiding negative emotions. We procrastinate on a set of hard tasks because doing those tasks makes us scared, anxious, or frustrated. So instead of trying to figure out the productivity hack to get more stuff done, he encourages us to think differently.

Here is an exercise I tried out:

  1. Make a list of tasks I’m procrastinating.

  2. What are the negative emotions am I avoiding?

  3. How do I change this or make it more interesting/fun?

Here are my answers:

  1. I’ve been procrastinating starting to write my book.

  2. I’m avoiding the feeling of incompetence. When I have the decision to start writing my book vs write a newsletter or do work for a client or go for a run, I choose the latter. Those are things I’ve become good at. I’ve never written a book before. What makes me think I have what it takes or I have enough good ideas?

  3. I thought of when I started writing this newsletter. I had never done this before January. But 5 months later, I’m coming up with fresh ideas and people are reading them. Maybe instead of thinking about writing an entire book, let me chunk it down. I’ll start with an outline. Then write one chapter. Then the next. I’m certainly capable of doing that.

2. Playing the right game

Am I playing MY game or am I just playing games in general?

Adam posed this question on one of the podcasts I listened to and I was surprised where my mind went.

It made me rethink, why am I pursuing entrepreneurship? Why did I decide to play the game of business? Is it status or prestige? Is it money to buy cool shit? Is it freedom?

What if I changed the game? What if I just tried to be a great writer and not optimize for building a business? What would that game look like?

My days would be spent reading, thinking, walking, and writing. It would be peaceful and I would have total control over my time. At the same time, it would be hard to make a living. I enjoy taking cool trips, eating good food, going to a nice gym, and my hobbies are pretty expensive. So would I want to sacrifice all that stuff to play the game of writing?

Playing the game of business will build wealth to afford all those things. I also enjoy working with other people and could make a positive impact on the world. But building a business comes with client meetings, sales calls, managing teams, etc. which would cut into my freedom.

Maybe I can do both? Maybe right now I’m in the season of playing the business game which will allow me to play the writing game later. Or maybe there’s a way to turn the writing game into a business. I don’t have the answer but it’s interesting to think about.

3. Enough

What’s good enough? What score am I aiming for here?

Adam encourages us to be imperfectionists. This helps us identify when we have or are enough. Perfectionists struggle with this.

Perfectionists are great at school because they can prepare for the test and know that they will do well. But these folks struggle in the real world because there are no standardized tests. The world is ambiguous and there isn’t always a right answer. So they don’t take any risks or experiment. They stay in their lane where they feel comfortable and can’t fail.

This is a big mindset shift I’ve had to make, especially since leaving the corporate world. The real world is about experimentation and figuring out what to optimize for. Not everyone is taking the same test at the end of the semester. We’re all working towards different goals.

When I write a newsletter, what is good enough? Do I need to proofread it 12 times and have every sentence be as concise as possible? Nah, I want these to be more casual and a flow of my thinking.

But when I publish a book, my answer may be different. If the purpose of my first book is to showcase my writing skills for potential ghostwriting clients, I will do multiple rounds of editing to make it as great as possible.

This question can be asked at a granular level for each project/task we work on but it’s also a powerful question to ask regarding life in general. It ties in with understanding the game I am playing and what the winning score is for me. My daily actions will look very different if I’m trying to become a 9-figure entrepreneur with dozens of employees and a private jet or a 7-figure entrepreneur with freedom and a balanced lifestyle.

These three areas barely scratch the surface of all of Adam’s research and wisdom. So if you are into this kind of stuff I recommend checking him out. I’ll link to a few of the podcasts and his books below.

Thank you for reading! As always please reply and let me know what resonated, what didn’t, or what you question. I love chatting about this stuff!