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Takeaways from Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create A Powerful Purpose For Their Lives

I read Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create A Purpose For Their Lives by Isaiah Hankel off a friend’s recommendation, and I’ll admit that at first I was skeptical.

I’d become so desensitized to self-development verbiage that the book’s blurb and description made it sound generic. The author realized he wasn’t happy with his life so he changed it and here’s how you can too, blah blah blah. But as soon I started reading I could tell this was different – it’s absurdly actionable, inspiring, and gripping, even for a piece of nonfiction.There’s a reason why this book has 5 stars with over 100 reviews on Amazon – it’s fantastic.

I almost don’t want to write up notes because I’d rather you read the book, but if I can get even one person to read this who wouldn’t have read the book, then it’s worth it. I read a lot of books in the self development space, and this is the best I’ve encountered yet because it distills the teachings from so many others into one taut script for success.

So here we go – the best takeaways and insights from Black Hole Focus:

Part 1: Why You Need A Purpose

  • Japanese on Okinawa have a special word for “a reason to get up in the morning” – ikagai – which is one of the reasons why they live the longest
  • If there’s pain in your life, it’s because you’re not meeting one of the 3 prime needs: growth, connection, and autonomy
  • Ever notice how once you know it’s the last sprint you can run it faster than the penultimate one? It’s because you have clarity and energy to know what is ahead – same thing with defining your purpose
  • You can’t define your purpose using some personality test that lumps people into 16-odd categories – everyone’s purpose is different. You are the only one that can define it, nobody else can.
  • Any good screenwriter constructs the plot of a movie by starting at the end. They ask “What is the cause of this effect?” over and over until they have a compelling narrative. With your life purpose in mind, you can do the same

Part 2: How To Find your Purpose

  • Start by ruthlessly evaluating your current position: How would a complete stranger describe your life right nowwith no knowledge of your past or emotions? Measure your assets and liabilities, and your strengths and limitations.
  • Then create a wish list of actions that you want to do on a daily basis. This is your purpose – the day to day reality of your life. What do you want it to look like?
    • To determine this list, look at what you currently enjoy doing, what you lose yourself in, what you do in your free time. You’re probably already doing some things in line with your purpose
  • Write down everything you want to do, to be, and to own. Write BIG things, that make you feel alive on the inside
  • Determine your current core priorities. These are the values and traits you give importance to – things you perceive as good.
    • To do this, write down the personal strengths you are proud of, the traits you admire in others, and the traits that you want to possess. Be ruthlessly honest.
    • Realize that your current core priorities are what got you to where you are today. They will not get you to your purpose. Rewrite your priorities so that they will get you closer to your purpose. Choose words that fill you with hope and energy.
  • Attach an aggressive short term goal to each of your core priorities. Setting these goals should set your mind racing and fill you with enthusiasm, urgency, and a sense of mild panic. (1-6 months is good)
  • Program yourself to succeed with a positive story. Recognize the stories you tell yourself about your life and rewrite it to be inspiring.
    • Beware the ‘one vs many’ meme that’s popular in fiction, it does not encourage an abundance mentality
    • Princeton researchers found that when people communicate through storytelling, neural activity becomes almost synchronous – the listener’s activity mirrors that of the speaker with a one second lag. The story you tell yourself becomes reality.
  • To do this, set aside a block of time to be alone and reflect on the times in your life when you felt the most inspired.
    • When did you feel maximally empowered? What were you watching, reading, or doing? From memory, create a giant list of the things that inspire you. Don’t google anything and don’t worry about spelling.
    • What do these things have in common? Identify at least a dozen words that make you come alive on the inside.
    • Inject these words into your preexisting story in order to create an inspiring new one. Use them as the backbone of the new story
  • Ask yourself difficult questions enough times and you will eventually find a way to answer them.
    • How can I get to X? What is my purpose? What is my story? What are my core priorities? Will this matter a year from now? What is the most important thing I can do right now? What’s great about this situation right now?
  • Create a personal slogan. This is the abridged version of your personal philosophy. Isaiah’s is to ‘contribute massively, build strong relationships, and live like a lion’. Shorten it even further into a meme in order to easily repeat it to yourself in times of need – Isaiah’s meme is ‘bring’ as in ‘bring all you got’
  • Create a vision board: Find a short phrase or visual representation of your biggest goal and put that in the middle. Then fan out with representations of your long term goals, then short term goals. It should feel excruciatingly personal.
  • Amplify your belief in the decision to achieve your vision, and validate it repeatedly.
    • No one else is going to save or validate you. No one else can live your life for you. They can give you rewards and experiences, but feelings of achievement and fulfillment must come from within
    • Story of the meatpacker who got stuck in the meat train after 20 years of work. Knew there was no oxygen inside so prepared himself to die, and wrote his last goodbyes on a piece of paper before succumbing to deprivation.
    • The catch: his car had an air leak he didn’t know about – there was enough air for him to live. He killed himself through self-fulfilling beliefs.
    • If your mind is powerful enough to kill you, it’s also powerful enough to give you the life you want.
  • You must expect to succeed with irresistible intensity – you will not fail, there is no other option, this is the mountain you will die on.
  • Celebrate progress – it is how you keep perishable inspiration alive.
  • Calculate what your vision will cost – it’s often much less than you think, perhaps and extra $20 a day when thinking in daily terms.
  • Thinking in terms of daily income allows you to act right then – find that extra $20 as if your life depended on it.

Part 3: How to Fulfill Your Purpose

  • When reading nonfiction, focus on the principles, not the processes. There’s hundreds of different ways to state the same basic thing.
  • The only way to get better at something is to do it, not things related to it. Action is the only source of mastery.
  • To be a master at something, it’s acknowledged that you need to spend 10,000 hours in deliberate practice doing that thing. You can only spend about five hours a day in deliberate practice, tops. (There, I just saved you having to read Gladwell’s Outliers or Colvin’s Talent is Overrated)
  • So mastery will take forever, right? No – acknowledge the 10k hour rule but don’t follow it. Increase the quality of your hours through:
    • Association – spend time with masters who know more than you do
    • Convergence – overlap your pursuits to increase the leverage of your hours (i.e. If pursuing writing/speaking, a blog video script counts for both)
    • Metamorphosis – Mimic the greats and so become them. (Like writing students who reconstruct author’s messages)
    • Ritualization – Create habits for your life outside of the mastery hours, so you have more willpower to expend within them
    • Automation – automate any tasks that do not require your engagement, again for more willpower. However, you cannot automate your interactions with other people.
    • Adjustment – structure your environment in order to minimize un-needed use of willpower (i.e. Don’t stock fridge with candy)
  • Recognize that there’s no such thing as a life hack – true mastery takes grinding
  • Willpower is your ability to make good decisions, and it’s limited to your blood glucose levels. Ration it wisely.
  • Peter Silkman’s Marshmallow challenge – build a structure with uncooked spaghetti and place a marshmallow on top. MBAs do the worst, kindergartners the best. Why? They spend more time doing and less time planning. Patience is a vice when it comes to your purpose. Seize action now.
  • Trust that you are self reliant. You can count on yourself, who you are right now, to fulfill your purpose.
  • Manipulate reality by focusing your perspective.
    • Perspective is built of your references and belief system. A wide reaching knowledge base and flexible belief system gives you more opportunities.
    • Make sure your knowledge base is useful, however. Don’t fill your mind with useless references. Read and watch things that bring you closer to your purpose.
    • Better yet, take related actions. Actions create experiences, experiences create references.
    • Believe that anything is possible while recognizing that not everything should be realized.
    • Balance yourself between a limited perspective without hope and a broad perspective without focus.
  • The most important person in your network is the person whose attention you have right now.
  • One minute of connecting is 55 seconds of listening and 5 seconds of talking. Have your 5 seconds of personal differentiation down pat – here’s who you are, what you do, how you can help.
    • One way to do this in 5 seconds is with the X for Y template, like Alien was Jaws in space. Connect existing references.
  • Information age is over – we are totally saturated with information. Now it’s the Idea Age – which are created from quality info. But ideas are commodities.
    • What adds value to an idea is the ability to communicate it effectively, the ability to turn it into reality, and the ability to choose the right idea to execute. 
    • These are the only 3 skills that matter – anything that doesn’t require this in the next decade will be replaced by a mobile app.
    • To be good at these 3 skills, practice oral communication,  physical action, and mental choice.
  • Large estate used to have pacing rooms where the lord would dictate his ideas – studies show you think optimally alongside physical activity.
  • Conclusion – the end point of your purpose is not a title or salary. It’s the wish list of action you want to wake up and do on a daily basis.

Please, please, please get the full book and read it if any part of this summary spoke to you. Isaiah goes into further detail on everything, and you’d be missing out if you stopped here.

I’d love to compare notes on respective purposes if you do – which reminds me, I have to go finish refining my priority list and vision board.