How to Be Real in a World of Fakes

How to be real in a world of fakes butterfly mimicryIt strikes me that modern men are a lot like insects.

You see, many insects protect themselves by mimicking the appearance of ‘badder insects’, the sort that you don’t want to mess with.

For example, flies try to look like bees or wasps.

In evolutionary biology this is called mimicry.

Wikipedia defines mimicry as “a similarity of one species to another which protects one or both.”

In practice, this means that one species has gone through the painstaking evolutionary process of developing some trait, characteristic, or appearance that gives it an evolutionary advantage, thereby boosting its survivability, while another species has merely mimicked the external features of this trait.

To develop an evolutionary advantage requires lots of time and energy, but mimicking it requires a minimum of time and energy.

One of the most well-known examples of mimicry is in butterflies.

Some butterflies have evolved to taste really bad, and this has protected them from being eaten by birds and other predators. These butterflies often have colorful patterns (made up by the dusty scales on their wings, which you surely know from when you were a kid and captured them).

Then there are other species of butterflies which have not evolved this bad taste, but look almost exactly like those who have it. These butterflies have mimicked the external appearance of the bad-tasting butterflies, and birds avoid eating them just the same.

The mimicking butterflies have achieved the same evolutionary advantage as the bad-tasting butterflies, but in a faster and more effortless way.

We humans are much like these mimicking insects. . .

. . . If we can find some easy or seemingly effortless way of achieving our–(often unstated)–motives, we unconsciously drift toward that solution.

In modern society, one of the worst examples of this that I can think of, is the phenomenon of young men who desperately try to mimic the outwards characteristics of success, without having the determination, will, or skill to actually achieve it.

These men are fakes.

You see it every day. Young aspirational ‘businessmen’ dressed up in suits, ties, fashion shoes and elegant watches; young men who pay an excessive amount of attention to their grooming and physical appearance. . .

Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking good–and no one likes a slob. But. . .

That only matters if you actually have real value to provide.

This is not the case for most young men in the marketplace.

It would be the case if they spent the same amount of time studying their industry, and learning useful skills, as they spend on their physical appearance. But that’s not the case.

Instead, they sit and watch TV, drink beer, and keep score of different soccer teams, fondling their new fashion watches. . .

. . . watches that they spent most of their income on; watches that have little or no second-hand value, and don’t generate any additional revenue.

These men look the part, but they’re not it.

They are consumers, not investors.

They are idlers, not professionals.

They are followers, not initiative-takers.

I googled the the term "young businessman" and found this image. Is this man a real success, or just a fake? At first glance, it is nearly impossible to know. Does he have distinction and competence, or does he only dress the part?

I googled the the term “young businessman” and found this image.
Is this man a real success, or just a fake?
Does he have distinction and competence, or does he only dress the part?

There are a LOT of fakes out there.

They have many shallow interests, but no deep fascination for anything in particular.

They’re well-versed in popular opinion and recent news, but they have no thorough knowledge.

They watch TV, but they don’t read books or study history.

They’re polite and agreeable, but only because they want to be liked, and to cover up their lack of having any real values.

Copying doesn’t inherently make you a bad person, or a fake. Life is not all black and white.

However, there’s a right way of copying things, and a wrong way of copying things, and. . .

Intelligent Imitation = Right; Mindless Mimicry = Wrong

Mindless mimicry makes you a fake.

Intelligent imitation makes you real. . .

Or rather, it doesn’t make you real, but it preserves your integrity while you copy some mannerism or idea, and incorporate it into your life.

Mindless Mimicry:

Putting your hand in the jacket doesn't make you Napoleon.

Putting your hand in the jacket doesn’t make you Napoleon.

Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome, spent a long time living in the shadow of his older brother’s brilliance, and imitated him a lot.

Nietzsche, when he was young and confused, also imitated Napoleon. These two were far from the only ones to do this; lots of people imitated Napoleon’s ‘hand-in-jacket’ pose to look more dignified in photos and portraits.

In the last few years, women (and perhaps feminine men) use the ‘duck face’ pose to look more attractive. But it often ends up working to their detriment.

The ‘hand-in-jacket’ pose and the ‘duck face’ pose share the same underlying dynamics: they bring seemingly big benefits (evolutionary advantages) at a small cost of effort.

Pouting your lips does not necessarily make you pretty.

Pouting your lips does not necessarily make you pretty.

Tupac Shakur was a cool guy. But he was cool despite the fact that he liked to wear bandanas on his head in a strange way. That was just a clever gimmick.

Tupac’s inverted bandana doesn’t make him cool. Rather, he is cool in spite of it.

Tupac’s inverted bandana doesn’t make him cool. Rather, he is cool in spite of it.

When I was in my teens there was a (white) guy I knew who was a BIG Tupac fan. He mindlessly mimicked Tupac’s entire style, and thought he’d be cool. But he just looked silly–I laugh when I think about it.

Mindless mimicry is when you cope with uncertainty by copying someone else’s behavior, without thinking about how it applies to you (like weighing pros versus cons, or considering why the other person does the thing to begin with).

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his Essay Self-Reliance, wrote:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

This is beautifully written. But many people, I think. . .

. . . have taken this too far.

They come to see all imitation as harmful and unoriginal.

But this only applies to mindless mimicry, not to intelligent imitation.

Intelligent Imitation:

Contrary to the ‘popular Emersonian belief’, imitation is not suicide.

In fact, you should study the greats in history and decipher their success.

However, you can’t be a dumbass–you need to do it the right way. . .

When you study the greats, you have to consider that their way of doing things–their methods–may not be possible to superimpose on your own life.

You have to account for differences in cultural context, business environment, and other relevant factors. Otherwise, you’ll be mimicking mindlessly, and you’ll become a fake.

Consider the following. . .

A professional fighter may have some cool quirk that is unique to his style and natural talents, but cannot be used in the same way by others:

  • If you try to rope-a-dope and “sting like a butterfly and float like a bee”, like Muhammad Ali, you’ll be picked apart like a flea, unless you also have his footwork.
  • If you try to keep your guard down and feign attacks towards your opponent, like Lyoto Machida, you better be fast enough to evade the counter strikes.
  • If you try to use Mike Tyson’s pendulum swing-like movements, you also need his unmatched speed and brutal knockout power.

It just won’t do otherwise.

You have to consider things in their proper context.

So. . .

Intelligent imitation means:

  1. Asking “is this necessary?”  and–if it really is, ask —“why is that?”  before copying something;
  2. When you’ve established that, then you weigh pros versus cons. Is it worth it?  If so, then,
  3. Adapt the thing to your own unique situation (given your strengths/weaknesses).

However, even if you can copy someone else, or their strategy, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to do it. It’s like David Letterman said about the comedian Johnny Carson:

Everyone else, myself included, were all kind of doing–secretly–Johnny’s Tonight Show. And the reason we’re all doing Johnny’s Tonight Show is because you think: “Well, if I do Johnny’s Tonight Show, maybe I’ll be a little like Johnny–and people will like me more.” But it sadly doesn’t work that way. [audience laughter]. If you’re not Johnny, you’re wasting your time.

Finally, intelligent imitation requires that you do your own thinking:

The essence of originality is not that it be new: [Samuel] Johnson believed altogether in the old; he found the old opinions credible for him, fit for him; and in a right heroic manner lived under them. He is well worth study in regard to that.

–Thomas Carlyle, The Hero as Man of Letters.

You are original because you draw your own conclusions and have your own beliefs and opinions, based on your own thinking.

‘Stealing’, ‘copying’, or ‘borrowing’ ideas, characteristics, or strategies from successful people you admire, does not make you unoriginal–as long as you consider how it meshes with your own life and adapt it appropriately.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said that:

It is the most foolish of all errors for young people of good intelligence to imagine that they will forfeit their originality if they acknowledge truth already acknowledged by others.

I call this phenomenon. . .

The Fallacy of Originality

–And, the fallacy of originality, is that people try to be ‘original’ without even knowing what it means!

You see it most in people aged 16-25, who are desperately trying to find their own way in the world.

Their worst fear is to be exposed as a ‘fraud’, as someone who is not ‘original’ (whatever that means to them–perhaps buying the ‘wrong’ type of clothes or listening to the ‘wrong’ type of music?).

But. . .

Does it make you a fake if you copy someone else? Yes, but only if you do it through mindless mimicry. Not if you do it through intelligent imitation.

Still though, doesn’t it make you unoriginal?

No, I don’t think so.

Philosopher Michele de Montaigne liked to quote Greeks and Romans. He said that “I quote others only to better express myself”.

Was Montaigne 'unoriginal'?

Was Montaigne ‘unoriginal’?

Andrew Carnegie came up with the Master Mind principle (and told Napoleon Hill about it, who made it mainstream). But Carnegie ‘stole’ it right from the Bible, in the New Testament; the story about Christ and his 12 disciples. Was Carnegie ‘unoriginal’?

Walmart founder Sam Walton said that “almost everything I’ve done I copied from someone else”. Was Sam Walton ‘unoriginal’?

Lee Kuan Yew copied the drug policy of the U.S military for Singapore. Was he ‘unoriginal’?

It comes down to pragmatism.

What’s more important to you; reinventing the wheel, or being a little ‘unoriginal’, and inventing the automobile?

Why not stand on the shoulder of giants?

Results matter more than trying to look cool.

Besides, only fakes worry about being seen as unoriginal by others.

Real people are original without even having to try.

Why People Become Fake (and the 4 things every serious student of success must know to avoid becoming a fake)

Human, like all other animals, try to get by using the least amount of energy they can get away with. This is why we’re inclined to copying, instead of learning from scratch.

The least mentally demanding form of copying is mindless mimicry, which, over time, turns you into a fake. Mindless mimicry eventually turns you into an artificial abomination, with layer upon layer of copied characteristics that, when tangled together, don’t make any sense, and end up causing you more harm than good–like a bulky and overly muscular martial artist who gets penalized by moving more slowly.

Yet, copying is the best way to learn. But only when you become good at intelligent imitation, and adapt the thing you’re studying into your own life.

Consider Competence, Causation, And Alternative History

We have established that the best people don’t give a shit about copying others, nor do they care about ‘preserving originality’.

The best people copy like crazy, only that they’re intelligent imitators rather than mindless mimics.

The best way to learn stuff is truly by studying successful people.

But, how do you select a successful person to study?

And, who, exactly, is worthy of imitation?

Those are the questions to ask. . .

It seems to me that a lot of people–young people in particular–SUCK at this.

They’re bad at:

  1. Judging character and understanding that competence is relative;
  2. Bad at considering cause and effect (causation);
  3. Bad at understanding the role of luck (alternative history),
  4. And usually fail to consider multiple causes of success.

When you don’t understand these four things, you’re likely to end up as a fake or a failure (usually both).

1) Judge character and relative competence

Competence is relative, never absolute.

Just because a person is an expert on something, or has fame and status (like a celebrity), does not mean that they’re all-knowing, or good at everything. Nor does it mean that they should give advice on everything.

Yet, many people unconsciously believe this.

This is an example of attribution error.

When you ascribe the wrong cause for some action, effect, or behavior, you are making an attribution error. And, when your assumption is incorrect, you will inevitably end up with the wrong conclusion.

Let me tell you: ‘Internet fame’, or whatever you want to call it, is a strange thing. I get emails about weird things. . .

. . . like relationship advice.

Why would I be an expert on that? I don’t even talk about it on SGM.

Jerry Seinfeld is the world’s richest and most famous actor and comedian. But you wouldn’t ask him for advice on how to get in shape, would you?

I hope not.

You must. . .

2) Consider correlation between cause and effect:

There is a weak (if any) correlation between fame and worldly wisdom.

What I mean is this: it takes a completely different set of skills and personality traits to attract attention and become famous compared to, for example, becoming an expert at robotics or AI technology.

Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, and Kanye West are extremely good at manipulating the media to get attention. But that does not mean that they should give business advice or tell people how to be happy. Still, I bet you, most people would probably take their advice on just about anything.

But most people are stupid.

Here are two other common examples of mistaking cause for effect. . .

  • Example 1: Entrepreneurs and college drop-outs:

A substantial amount of successful entrepreneurs are college drop-outs. Does this mean you should also drop out of college to become an entrepreneur?

Probably not. Those people didn’t become successful because they dropped out; they dropped out because they already had something going for them.

Bill Gates may have dropped out of university. But he was no deadbeat.

Bill Gates may have dropped out of Harvard, but he had already done well for himself.

  • Example 2: Expensive universities:

Many high status universities around the world can showcase an impressive list of alumni–people who went on to be (financially) successful later in life, after graduating from that specific university. Does this mean that the university is better than other universities, and that its courses are superior?

Not necessarily.

It could just be–and probably is–that the university is more selective in recruiting brighter and more ambitious students, people who would go on to be successful anyway. Ever consider that?

3) Understand alternative history and the role of luck:

Does fortune favor the bold? Yes, and no.

‘No’, in the sense that there are a lot of people who get wiped out, or fail at life, due to bad luck. But you rarely hear about them, unless it’s extreme–and the media thinks it’ll be a good story. This is called media bias.

‘Yes’, in the sense that you’ll typically (via the media) only hear about the ‘lucky ones’ that succeeded. This is called survivorship bias.

In ancient times, this was basically only true about generals and rulers. In the modern world–where perception, to a large degree, is dictated by the media–this is true about almost all highly successful people.

When markets are booming, the best results often go to those who take the most risk. Were they smart to anticipate good times and bulk up on beta, or just congenitally aggressive types who were bailed out by events? Most simply put, how often in our business are people right for the wrong reason?

–Howard Marks, The Most Important Thing

It can be hard to tell a ‘lucky fool’ from a ‘genius’. . .

. . . and not just in finance, but in nearly all areas of life.

A good question is: Is it even possible to tell them apart?

Sometimes, no; usually, yes.

The easiest way to make sense of someone’s success is to study their process. If you can’t do that, there is little point in studying them, because that means there’s no guarantee that you’ll learn anything useful.

A decision is right or wrong; good or bad, intelligent or unintelligent, based on the information available to the decision-maker, the amount of time he has to think it over, and given his individual background.

That’s the luck part. . .

And what about understanding alternative history?

Glad you asked.

This means training yourself to habitually raise the question: “What if the bold move by [insert successful person] had NOT paid off?

And here’s what you’ll realize. . .

It is HARD to say that someone made the right decision in hindsight.

Because our brains are biased to look at what–actually–happened as obvious, whereas all the other possibilities–the alternative history –goes undetected.

There is an alternative history where Napoleon did not lose to Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo, but went on to conquer all of Europe. There is also an alternative history where Napoleon died from the stabbing wounds in his first battle as a commander, where his bold moves did not pay off.

See what I mean?

To clarify #1: Napoleon was definitely lucky many times, but overall, he was a genius–and probably the best commander who ever lived.

To clarify #2: Luck is luck, but to consistently capitalize on luck is a skill.

Sometimes it can be hard to separate the two. Most people think the world is divided into extremes, and few people can handle the cognitive dissonance that comes from staying in the grey zone (which requires mental toughness).

real in world of fakes cognitive dissonance

What I mean by extreme. . .

. . .is that most people either think every successful person was ‘destined’ to become successful, or they think it’s ‘just a matter of luck’, completely outside of their own control.

Here’s how this ties in with learning from successful people through intelligent imitation. . .

Just because someone is rich, famous, or has had success, doesn’t mean that:

a) they’ll be able to communicate it to you intelligently (they could be warped by survivorship bias);

b) you have anything useful to learn from them (but usually, you do),

c) that their ideas, methods, or strategies are transferable to what you’re trying to do.

Basically, ‘just’ because they were successful doesn’t mean that what worked for them will work for you; whether or not you can replicate what they’ve done depends on factors such as:

Remember, when it comes to success, process matters more than outcome.

The real question is. . .

Can you learn from, use, or replicate someone else’s process?

If the answer is ‘no’, then don’t even bother.

Study someone else instead.

When you practice this stuff for a while, it’ll become automatic, and you’ll become one of the select few capable of imitating intelligently.

Finally, you must also. . .

4) Understand That Success Stems from Multiple Factors

Fakes, who are much too lazy to figure anything out for themselves, are attracted to the extremes.

They don’t like complexity. Everything has to be simple: “do this and you’ll be strong/smart/successful.”

I had a long Skype conversation with Kyle recently on this topic.

One thing we talked about was the importance of living within the grey zone, and coping with the psychological uncertainty–the cognitive dissonance–that comes with it.

Things are not always as they seem. Step into the grey zone and delay judgment.

Things are not always as they seem.  Muster up the mental fortitude to remain in the grey zone longer, and delay immediate judgment.

It’s not comfortable, but it hardens you. Especially when you’re young.

Another thing we talked about is that most people suck at synthesis; they’re not good at mixing and matching different ideas.

Most people–for various reasons–want answers right away, even if those answers are incorrect nonsense, or even lies.

They prefer the comfort of convenient lies over the discomfort of harsh realities, and the pain of not knowing.

For whatever reason, they don’t have the mental fortitude to remain in the ‘grey zone’ of life, work things out for themselves, and achieve some sort of synthesis answer. And, as a result, they drift toward the extremes–the ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’.

Over time, these people become handicapped in their ability to, as Bruce Lee put it, “absorb what is useful and disregard what is useless“.

A good example of this is when people buy into ENTIRE systems. They’ll say:

  • “I am a Buddhist” instead of “I like values from Eastern Philosophy.
  • “I am a Paleo person” instead of “My diet is paleo-oriented”.
  • “I am a good Christian” instead of “I practice the Golden Rule “.

Real recognize real, and these people are fake.

If you’re real, you’re comfortable with being in the grey zone. . .

. . . even if others don’t get it.

If you want success, be real.

Fakes rarely become successful, because they don’t understand that. . .

. . .Success stems from multiple factors:

To paraphrase best-selling historian Jared Diamond: if someone tells you there is a single factor to why they became successful, you know right away that they’re an IDIOT.

Actually, I think there’s an alternative explanation: that they’re smart–but they think you are an idiot–and they’re trying to sell you something.

Hehe, anyway. . .

Success, in any area of life, comes from doing MANY things right.

I could tell you that the one 80/20 thing to do for getting ripped would be to “do compound exercises and lift heavy weights”, but there’s obviously more to it than that (13 things, to be specific).

It’s like Miyamoto Musashi, the Japanese swordsman and strategist, said:

It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet.

How to Be Real in a World of Fakes

So, to be real in a world of fakes, you have to realize that. . .

It’s HARDER to be real than it is to be fake. It’s easier to be a copy without substance than it is to be original and solid; anyone can build up an impressive exterior, but not everyone can establish a sturdy interior.

real in world of fakes

To be real in a world of fakes: Use intelligent imitation and never copy something, or someone else, without considering how the thing ties into your own life situation (your strengths, weaknesses, etc.,).

To be fake: Get by with mindless mimicry and become a Barney Stinson wannabe, who posts nonchalant ‘duck face’ selfies on Facebook. . .

To be real in a world of fakes: Always ask yourself three safeguard questions; is this necessary?”, “why?”, and “is it worth it?”  before doing something new to preserve your integrity.

To be fake: Take on layer upon layer of unconscious behavior and beliefs, until you end up as an artificial abomination.

To be real in a world of fakes: Do your own thinking. Consider causation and understand alternative history. Acknowledge that things are rarely as they seem, and work hard (intellectually) to avoid lazy thinking.

To be fake: Don’t do your own thinking. Rely on lazy observationalism and look only at the thin exterior of things without examining their essence.

Finally, to intelligently imitate the best people in history, there are. . .

4 Things that every serious student of success must know:

  1. That competence is relative, and not absolute (avoid attribution error).
  2. That cause and effect can be tricky to distinguish between (correlation).
  3. That luck is easy to misunderstand (consider alternative histories).
  4. And that success stems from multiple factors.


Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


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  1. The insects which mimic others do seem quite different to the fakers mentioned on the post. Even though mimicking insects tend to go about it “half-assed” they have at least used it to their advantage and in some cases increased their survival rate.

    What makes “mindless mimicry” so mindless is the fact that it hasn’t been thought about. Most people have no goals, no boundaries on their time, no plans, no competence and what’s most shameful of all is that they think EVERYONE is the same as them.

    If most people thought about what they wanted in life and why they wanted it, it would increase the probability of them using imitation to their advantage as the imitation would at least have some context.

    Not to mention it is almost impossible to come up with something completely original anyway.

    I’ve always defined the human race as “everyone is the same, but in their own unique way”

    I have my own interpretation on how luck plays its part in success:

    1) Luck is a very generalized word. I see luck as broken into two factors.

    a) chance and b) probability.

    A person who is poor at throwing darts throwing a dart at a dartboard, while the dartboard is spinning clockwise and where all the targets are the same size while blindfolded is a game of CHANCE.

    Whereas, a person who is skilled at throwing darts throwing a dart at a stationary dartboard, where the targets vary in size while seeing clearly is a game of PROBABILITY.

    Competence, skill and creating opportunities is simply increasing the probability of things going your way.

    Though we encounter chance often, successful people tend to use probability to their advantage.

    I also don’t think many people truly understand success and life fulfillment.

    I don’t believe creating wealth, living a healthy lifestyle and becoming famous should be considered “successful”.

    I think true success is seeing the “bigger picture” and making a lasting contribution to the increased development of the human-race which includes (especially) those who are from much disadvantaged environments.

    • “What makes “mindless mimicry” so mindless is the fact that it hasn’t been thought about”

      –You’re right.

      But I think the analogy holds true (although I didn’t write this in the article) from a survival perspective, because lots of ‘young businessmen’ get laid (just like many white trash bums also get laid). They just don’t become successful (which is what they secretly want).

      Your dartboard analogy is interesting, easy to picture.


      “successful people tend to use probability to their advantage.”

      –I agree.

      As for the concept of ‘success’, I think it is 100 % individual. But obviously there are some popular stereotypes.

  2. What an interesting discourse! I advocate using a “model” in writing and teaching about self-confidence. Your article applies very well to this context. True enough, when you “copy” someone to push your confidence, it is not just about doing as the model does. It is about understanding the reasons behind the behavior, the words spoken and how the person connects with other people. All the best to you Ludvig ;)

  3. I feel like the current beard craze is a perfect example of mindless mimicry.

    I’ve lived my entire life in the grey zone. I have never been able to wholly identify or jump in the worldviews, labels, religions, methodologies. As a result, for most of my life I felt incredibly lonely.

    That said, I have always found it incredibly difficult to mindlessly mimic others – I just can’t keep up the pretence. Sooner or later my true self comes out, and I offend someone. ;)

    • “I’ve lived my entire life in the grey zone. I have never been able to wholly identify or jump in the worldviews, labels, religions, methodologies. As a result, for most of my life I felt incredibly lonely.”

      Isn’t a strange how most lonely people have the same characteristics?

      I think a lot of loneliness comes from an inability to accept others, taking
      worldviews, labels, religions, methodologies too seriously and only trying to connect with people on a “logical” level (for example all the things you mentioned above).

      In other words lonely people are most often too serious and “stuck-up”, unconsciously I think we ALL want to be away from that at times (some more and longer than others).

      It is impossible to know and be right about everything, so why not go about things MAINLY for enjoyment?

      I don’t think it’s important to think all the time…and sometimes you should just feel.

      • There’s a lot of truth to what you say – I have certainly been guilty in the past of thinking too much, and have little tolerance for people who I think are a waste of my time.

      • I was the same way myself (and still am to a certain extent).

        There is a lot of intelligence in the average person IMO, it’s just that they don’t take the time to read and think for themselves regularly (most people do actually think, just not enough…I think).

        For example MANY people would agree with this article, but most will forget about it within a day or two…and even more won’t ever get the chance to read it…because it doesn’t cross their minds to go to sites like these.

        Even though it is important to know why you do things and be conscious of your influences, I still think EVERY human being has a longing to be loved and respected by many people.

        I’ve found socially most people live boring lives…breaking out of social conditioning also requires communicating with people “below” surface topics (i.e. on an instinctual, primal level). I’m better at this with women but you can (and should IMO) do this with everyone.

        Many people respect me (and I respect others) even though we don’t necessary share the same views. But we RARELY (if ever) talk about it because that’s not why we are friends.

      • “I think a lot of loneliness comes from an inability to accept others…”

        To a point, maybe. I think a lot of it stems, at bottom, from the fact that people are unique, or at least they think they are. If you spend any time talking to someone, no matter how ordinary and banal they are, you will discover that they feel themselves to be some sort of outsider. Even if their distinction is of a sort that would seem trivial to almost everyone else, they still feel themselves somehow isolated from “them” – the imagined mass of “normal” people. /Everyone/ looks to other people – or to media portrayals – for referents of “normality”, and most people accept the surface of others at face value even though their own surface is a conscious façade.

        When a person accepts, perhaps subconsciously (and this is a natural human trait) that the perceived norms of the majority are valid, it is inevitable that they will feel alienated, because /no one/ conforms to those norms. They only believe that others do. Ironically, they will defend those norms all the more vehemently in order to conceal from others (and perhaps from themselves) that they are non-conforming; thus each individual helps to perpetuate the illusion of a mass normality to which NO ONE belongs.

      • @Abgrund: I don’t think we necessarily have to change our behaviour upon knowing all that. But I think it’s important to know so that we can have a better sense of empathy, and also to prevent us from being too full of ourselves. Thanks for sharing that, I’ve never thought about it that way.

    • Haha, what beard craze? Is it a .U.S phenomenon or global? I live in a bubble.

      • It’s certainly a craze where I live in Southampton, England. But it seems to be happening in a lot of places in the U.S. too. Identikit parades of men who aren’t lumberjacks in flannel shirts, with finely groomed beards.

  4. Wonderful post Ludvig!!! I love your long posts since even though the short posts can convey the message, the longer posts with more examples just stamps the message into my brain permanently :) As they say ‘Repetition is the mother of all skills’. It applies to grasping the message.

    I am very much able to relate to this post since I am also guilty of being fake. Till 2 years ago I was idling, trying to copy someone cool to look cool. But it always left me frustrated and at last by some luck I started on the self-development. I am now much more in peace with myself.

    And another thing which makes me to relate to this post is, internalizing the methods/behavior of great people after introspecting it. When I tried to copy them wholesale it didn’t worked for me. Something always stopped me from going full throttle. When I thought about it, I believe that there is some inherent behavior within myself and I need add/copy other great people’s qualities around it.

    A timely post to remind me who I was and the journey I am on now. Thanks Ludvig!!!

    • “the longer posts with more examples just stamps the message into my brain permanently :) As they say ‘Repetition is the mother of all skills’.”

      –Yes. This is exactly why I choose to write these longer (slightly repetitive) articles. If I write (many) shorter articles on different topics, and focus on SEO, I can get more views to the site and so on. But it’s mostly just entertaining, not deep personality transformation–which takes much more time and intellectual engagement (as opposed to reading 10 list post articles).

      My article writing mirrors my study habits

  5. “I dislike it when I see people dismiss luck as if they are some sort of God who commanded success.”
    >> ME TOO. There are all sorts of philosophical ways to interpret luck. But it sure as heck exists.

  6. Interesting article once again Ludvig,

    I am glad to see that you acknowledge the existence of luck.

    As someone who has experienced both god and bad luck, and sometimes one disguised as the other which is only recognizable in time, I dislike it when I see people dismiss luck as if they are some sort of God who commanded success.

    It’s good to stay humble and acknowledge factors outside of your control.

    • Thanks G,

      I agree. I’ve also had a lot of bad luck (that has turned out to be good luck). It’s hard to call something a complete ‘mistake’ because you don’t know what it might lead to over the longer course. Hence, why I believe in working hard (and making mistakes) when you’re young, and you can still recover from the blow.

  7. Just be yourself…be your better self. I haven’t exactly had it made yet but I know I have my original values. They make me unique in the face of ridicule, yet I still stand by them.

    This applies to the blogging industry as well. Stop ripping off people and come up with your own material. I think we all have our own story to tell. If not, try again blogging is not for everyone.

  8. Hi I agree with your article but I have some questions. I want to start a blog soon, as I can write quality articles, I listen to audiobooks and read so I have information to write about. So what your suggesting is I decifer the information from those sources but use it in my own view right? like write from my heart basically?

    Cool article by the way, I’m a nice subscriber.

    • Hey Roman,

      Yes, that’s not specifically what the article as about–(blogging advice)–but actually, that IS good (blogging) advice. Best of luck with the site. Feel free to send me the link when you start, if you’d like.

  9. “If you’re real, you’re comfortable with being in the grey zone. . .even if others don’t get it.”


    Killer post my friend, always a pleasure reading your stuff. Deeply insightful and you’ve got a knack for breaking down complicated topics.

    Funny how you mentioned the 2pac clones, I know some (white) people exactly like that too which I find funny – but in a non-judgemental way because I’ve probably been guilty of acting like a white 2pac wannabe in the past too.

    Always been a big fan of his music and his message, he’s as real and raw as artists come whether you actually like rap or not. I’ve actually been working on an article about the lessons we can learn from him.

    • Thank you Julien, I appreciate that.

      I just read your recent article and see you’re doing a good job with the online stuff. Nicely done. I just sent you an email.

      Also, I’d love to read your upcoming article on Tupac. Please send me the link when it is out. I have an article draft like that myself, but probably will never publish.

  10. A good book about this subject is Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon. It’s short but very insighful

    • What is some of the advice or key takeaways you got out of it?

      • Here’s some of mine.

        In a nutshell, as an artist, copy like crazy the ideas that you love from others. Copy from as many as people as possible, but do not copy anything wholesale. Make sure it’s an idea you genuinely like, and not because it’s cool since so-and-so does it (as mentioned in the article).

        Here’s an interesting quote in the book by cartoonist Gary Panter: “If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original.”

        Most importantly, we copy not just to look like our heroes (the people that we admire and copy), but so that we can get a glimpse into their minds. “To internalize their way of looking at the world.” I think that’s the most valuable thing we should be getting from all the ‘stealing’. I understand this very well as a pianist myself.

        The interesting part is that we’ll never make perfect copies, and it is from this realisation somewhere along the way that we evolve and discover our ‘originality’. Just like with David Letterman’s quote in the article.

        As a creative artist, you DO actually start off being a fake. You don’t need to think or reason so much, you simply ‘steal’ whatever ideas you like. At least in the beginning (and for quite some time probably). So I would think that David Letterman going through that phase of imitating Johnny might have been pivotal for his creative development. We need a starting point.

        This is the ‘stealing’ chapter. The rest of the 9 chapters are more about how creative artists function. Do note that Austin has stated explicitly that “all advice is autobiographical”.

        Hope this helps.

      • Seems like a good book, I’m not YET a big reader, but Ill check it out soon!

    • Thanks, Filip. I got it on my list for 2015 already. This makes me want to put it higher up in the hierarchy.

      And thanks for the summary, Jeremy–featuring it.

  11. Real: Leonardo Da Vinci
    Real: Muhammad Ali
    Real: Ayn Rand

    This has given me a lot to think of today. Maybe I should send a link to my female collegue when she takes her two standard daily pictures: One duck face selfie before lunch and one meal image on her food.

    I have been learning a lot about how to incorporate self-development into my future career from your site, and also from Mikael’s so thx for sharing via G+.

  12. Damn good article, Ludvig. I can relate very well. In a nutshell, I would say 99% of the people on Earth are just plain dumb as ____, and they would do well to understand cognitive biases and causation. I learnt a lot about the former from Rolf Dobelli’s Art of Thinking Clearly.

    “and few people can handle the cognitive dissonance that comes from staying in the grey zone (which requires mental toughness).”
    >> Indeed! And they are few because it requires us to be CRITICAL thinkers. And most people are too lazy to think. So what happens? They get some pieces of information, a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, and then they paint the rest of it with whatever they FEEL should be there. Shit, I’ve met so many dumbass people like that recently. Oh, and it requires a lot of mental toughness as you say, because along the way, you’re going to keep on finding new information and evidence that may have good chance of you being wrong. And that puts you in a very uncomfortable state. You have to rethink everything at times. But the more you think intelligently, the tougher you’re becoming as a person. Again, because of ego, a lot of people wouldn’t even want to consider that they might be wrong.

    There is one particular post I came across recently on Facebook: “When you fail as many times as a world class player, you will eventually be playing on the same field with him.”
    >> Really? I understand all these personal development people are very positive about life, but that does not warrant them to motivate people by giving false information. It sure is comforting to hear that we all stand an equal chance of succeeding (failing the same number of times as say chess champion Garry Kasparov), but that is far from the truth.

    And guess what are some of the responses I got for rocking his boat?? Things like ‘if you fail once and give up, you will definitely not make it’, or ‘even chess players have to fail first before they succeed’. What the shit, all irrelevant!! Ugh. Thanks for allowing me to rant on your comment section, haha.

    “It’s not comfortable, but it hardens you. Especially when you’re young.”
    >> I totally second that!! Important.

    Question for you: What are your thoughts on capitalizing on the fact that people come to you for relationship advice when you don’t think you’re an expert in that area (or perhaps you do?)?

    • Yeah, I hear you on that.

      Also, I think there CAN be a dilemma between accurate thinking and being delusionally positive, but not everyone can draw the distinction. Positivity for positivity’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing, but then again, neither is over-thinking. When this happens I ask:
      –Can I know the ‘right’ answer at the moment? Or do I need more experience first, before making up my mind?
      Often, overthinking can be a form of subconscious sabotage to get you to focus on the negatives, and keep you from taking action–out of laziness or fear.

      –As for SGM, I intend to transform it into Super Great Marriages. Starting next week I will be giving relationship advice. I hope you stick around anyway.

      • Super Great Marriages? You’re kidding. LOL.

      • Dear Ann Landström: I met this nice girl on a street corner who’s really into me. She also has an artistic side, she collects portraits of Benjamin Franklin in monochrome green! The only problem is, she’s not into oral-oral contact. Should I try to live with her hangup, or should I talk to that chick with the hairy arms that wants to show me the “wild side” ?

    • “…because of ego, a lot of people wouldn’t even want to consider that they might be wrong…”

      The people that can’t face the shame of admitting error are the ones that everyone laughs at for their idiocy. If I’m caught out, I suck it up and admit it right away. That way people forget it quicker, and it won’t burn me in the future.

    • “When you fail as many times as a world class player, you will eventually be playing on the same field with him.”

      Thanks for tearing this bullshit up. “If you’re dumb enough to believe this kind of pseudo-inspirational defiance of reality, you are playing on the same field with about seven billion chumps and you WILL ALL LOSE.”

  13. Great article, as always ( I will have to read it again tomorrow, more focusedly), and one that I already am thinking to translate into portuguese.

    • Thanks Daniel, I’m glad to hear that.
      By the way, is Portuguese similar to English in some ways? I ask because I think there were quite a few English-related phrases that I assume could go lost in translation.

      • Well, to translate expressions that are, say, idiosyncratic to a language is sometimes very hard, and often it’s unavoidable that some of them wil be lost. In these cases I usually put a note explaining what the original expression meant to avoid both lame translations or loss of important content.


      • I see. Thanks. Let me know when you get around to it.

  14. “The mimicking butterflies have achieved the same evolutionary advantage as the bad-tasting butterflies, but in a faster and more effortless way.”

    The way you phrase about mimicry in evolution makes it sound as though it’s an active process on the bug’s part. It isn’t. Mimicry in evolution is driven by the environment and is passive on the individual bug / species’ part. If the bird decides not to eat bugs that look like bad-tasting other-bugs, the mimicry bugs will be more likely to to share its genes that make it taste bad. The mimicking butterflies did not achieve anything. The environment forced the changes. That’s classic evolution theory. There’s certainly other theories how evolution works.

  15. I think this is a very good description of the way in which some people “have it”.

    It’s often the case that certain folks always seem to end up in favourable situations (find attractive partners, socially adept, VERY good at a particular thing).

    In school, I used to think these people were either lucky, or had some sort of natural “quirk”.

    Later, though, I realized that it was much more “real” than that. Those people basically “married” the thing they wanted to do. EG a social person would ALWAYS spend a lot of time with other people; a great artist would ALWAYS be working / studying.

    This article summed up how this works (systemically) for me.

    In short, if you want to get anywhere (yes, you have to first imagine where you want to end up), you have to “do” the thing you’re dreaming about.

    When you “do” the thing you want, you get better at it.

    Getting better does something profound – it leads you to do it *your* way. You develop your quirks, rewards & rituals.

    It’s this which people see on the outside, and mistake for the “trick” you used to get what you desired. So whilst they copy the external trivia, the real work goes on late at night, early in the morning & all hours in between.

    Life is simple – you get back what you put out (golden rule). If you want to do something (the embryo of *all* ambition), do it. Start small, and keep thinking about it. Everything flows from the decision to become the person you’ve always wanted.

    Being “real” is about first making this commitment for YOUR REASONS. Once you’ve made that decision internally, you’ll be on the path to ascension (the bastion of all great minds), and will actually attract what you most desire anyway. This, to me, is what “being real” is all about.

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right about how competence acquired through experience and invested time can seem like natural talent especially to younger people. I remember my family being poor and getting our first computer much later than other kids. These other kids were much faster at typing than myself. I was astonished. I remembered thinking “How are you able to find these keys so fast without even looking?”. Little did I know amazing the human brain is. Without trying in a year I was just as fast. Like everyone else, my brain just subconsciously learnt to type much faster. It taught me an important lesson. Never be too quick to underestimate yourself and overestimate others (or vice versa).

    • Hazardous Harry says

      Very very good stuff on your take of how it first takes hard work, and then others mistake it for the magic pill or trick to success, couldn’t agree more.

    • Well said Richard.

    • “Getting better… leads you to do it *your* way. You develop your quirks, rewards & rituals… It’s this which people… mistake for the “trick” you used…”

      Good observation. Sometimes even the successful person is fooled into thinking that his accidental habits were causative factors. As I’m sure you know, this falls within the psychological definition of “superstition”.

  16. Great post. I have a few questions:

    Do you read any technical books? For instance Munger recommends studying statistics and physics. For someone relatively new to the idea of multidisciplinary study, how do you recommend going about it? I realise to a large degree it will vary individual to individual based on their goals, but I’m curious about the process you follow.

    And also when is your book coming out? Can’t wait to read it.

    • Maybe commonplacing? I feel it has made me more creative since I started 2 months ago, but I still have ways to go until I have a way for doing it that fits me best.

      • Yeah I already do that. I was asking with respect to planning my multi-disciplinary reading instead of just reading what interests me.

        Actually Ludvig, I have an addendum to my question. Which books would you say are the 80-20 (metaphorically) for psychology, biology, physics and mathematics, which you think most apply to decision making?

      • How do you go about commonplacing?? If you don’t mind me asking, i understand if you think it is a private matter or if you want to keep it secret.

      • I would suggest start out by putting EVERYTHING on one page as just random notes. At the end of the day organize the page. Once there’s too much on one page, then split the content into several pages. Once that gets too big, split that into sections and then notebooks.
        The important thing is to keep it interesting. Make it look as neat and “cool” as possible. Over time it will just develop into your own thing.

    • Yes Shaun, I would also say it’s highly individual. Here’s one thing I focus on:

      –I try to identify what I am most interested in. The way my brain works–and I think this goes for most people–is that it subconsciously tries to solve 1-3 ‘big questions’ at a time, over time periods.
      So, your pattern recognition is always honed in on information that will help you make sense of these ‘big questions’, until you have taken in so much information that you suddenly have an answer that satisfies you.

      The better you get at identifying which ‘big questions’ that are subconsciously driving you, the more engaged your brain gets, and the more motivated to learn you become. That is how it is for me, anyway.
      So due to this I will often read several books in a row on the same, or similar, themes–to answer that underlying question.

      When I don’t know exactly what I’m interested in, I follow my reading schedule.

      As for statistics, I have read some of Taleb’s stuff, but not much else yet. I haven’t yet read much physics.

      BOOH is nearing completion.

    • Best for psychology:
      –Seeking wisdom

      It’s a broad field. But perhaps;
      –The Selfish Gene
      –The Story of the Human Body

      Math & physics:
      –I don’t know.

    • For psychology: if you don’t have a background, start out with any basic, freshman-level textbook in general psychology. Don’t believe anything it says, but at least you’ll know what the field is about.

      For biology: if you don’t have a background, start out with any basic, freshman-level textbook in general biology, and you can believe what it says with some confidence. Biology is a science.

      For physics: if you know calculus, start out with any basic, sophomore-level textbook in /calculus-based/ physics. Otherwise, learn calculus.

      For mathematics: Read textbooks at whatever level you can handle. You *must* at least understand the concepts of calculus to get a handle on physics, even if you can’t resolve integrals on paper. And read at least an introductory level text on statistics.

      The recurring theme here is “textbook”. Books for the popular (i.e., ignorant) audience are good for little more than entertainment.

      • Thanks guys. I’m quite high up on Maths and Physics, biology and psychology I’ll have to read up a fair but. I’ve read some here and there, but I was thinking more with respect to Charlie Munger’s multiple models based decision making technique. There’s a lot of books to read but I want to focus on those that most help with decision making. For instance in Psychology books on cognitive biases would be good for this, and probability theory and stochastic modelling in Mathematics. With respect to Physics I’m a bit unsure (with respect to decision making). I’m thinking of reading Feyman’s lectures on Physics and books by Resnick and Halliday. Especially since I most definitely will be in the science and technology field. But regardless, different ways of solving problems will help no matter what books I read.

        Abgrund, what motivates you in your choice of books? You obviously have read a great deal in many fields, especially since you know a fair bit of calculus. Are you driven purely by your interest in these topics? Or are you also selective with respect to some long-term goal of yours? In Ludvig’s case I know.

      • * I’m quite high up on Maths and Physics, but biology and psychology I’ll have to read up a fair bit.

    • Shaun, I don’t have any method or strategy for picking books. I only read things that interest me, but that doesn’t really narrow the field. A lot of what I’ve read in the past has been simply a matter of availability – if I encountered a used chemistry textbook at a garage sale for a dollar, I read about chemistry, otherwise not. Some things I’ve studied from necessity, such as for a class. These days I do occasionally seek a book out for its alleged specific merits, but I can’t say there’s any pattern.

  17. “Most people suck at synthesis”

    But you clearly don’t ;)
    Have you any special practices related to that?
    When you mention your friend/acquaintance who mindlessly mimicked 2-Pac do you mean he had on the bandana in the backwards way too or was there anything else more funny??

    • KrogenZ,

      I do have some things I do to practice synthesis (similar to creativity). I may write an article on it eventually. In BOOH, there’ll also be several practical tips for improving pattern recogntion.

      On the Tupac guy:
      –Yup. He wore it inverted too. He did a lot of funny things, but nothing else that comes to mind right now.

  18. Your article is so relevant today as I see people all around me just mimic everyone else. They drive the same cars, dress the same and the like.

    To be different requires the person to think for themselves and stick out in a world of copycats.
    Great post my friend!

  19. I never read much about causation/case and effect before. But it makes a lot of sense and Bill Gates would be a good example, I saw a biography about him recently and how him and Paul Allen started working on Microsoft.

    Another cool thing is that he dropped out of college because he wasn’t #1 in math.

    He looks like a nerd, but that has only been to his advantage because people have underestimated him all his life.

    • Jay, just to add a correction, he didn’t drop out of college because he wasn’t #1 at math, it was because he & Allen started with Ed Roberts at MITS in New Mexico.

      Further, although many upstarts are underestimated, the main reason for Microsoft’s commercial success was that the Rockefeller-esque domination of an industry Gates employed to gain leverage & market share. Gates was ruthless in the early days.

      Also, Microsoft was in at the beginning, and basically piggy-backed MOST of their big time hits off the back of paradigm shifts (look up Lotus 123 and CP/M for the two big time examples) (Windows 3.0 is another example were Apple sued them for breach of copyright,_Inc._v._Microsoft_Corp.). The IBM deal made Gates a billionaire (in time) by putting MS-DOS software on everyone’s screens.

      Because MSFT were in such a commanding position to make the most of the shifts, their products ended up becoming the defacto, especially with their programming language products – a legacy still alive in Visual Studio.

      A great reference for this part of his life is “Pirates of Silicon Valley” a 90’s film about Jobs / Gates rise before it was cool to be a web programmer (a la the “Zuckerberg” era).

      • Bill Gates’ reputation and success are good examples of attribution error and of creative use of other people’s work. A lot of people, even today, think that Gates was some kind of “computer whiz”. In fact he never wrote a commercially viable program or made any contribution to computer science; his only talent was in marketing the work of other people.

    • Gates was ruthless from day one. Total winner.

  20. Didn’t know about the idea of attribution. Would you say that the halo effect is an example of that?

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