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Stop wasting time on things that don’t matter

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Here’s a classic email I recently got:

My response:
The result?

It would be easy to make fun of Scott, but I actually love that he had a hypothesis of what mattered (his beard), tested it (by emailing me), corrected himself, and then dominated.

It’s hilariously perplexing how many of us devise crackpot theories of what really matters, only to never test them. Invisible scripts guide our lives. We waste years of our lives pursuing the wrong strategies because we never sent one email to find out if our assumptions are true or not. For example…

  • MONEY ASSUMPTION #434: “I need to cut back on lattes.” Have they ever actually tracked how effective this is? Do they understand that negotiating their salary or automating their finances would be 1000x more effective? No. They’ve bought the assumption without ever questioning it.
  • LIFESTYLE ASSUMPTION #287: “I need to buy a house.” I cover why buying a house is often a poor financial decision in exhaustive detail.
  • INTERNET WEIRDO ASSUMPTION #998: “I need a high PageRank.” A guy came to one of my talks and raised his hand to ask about my SEO strategy. I responded that I have no idea and there are a lot smarter SEO people out there than I am. This answer evidently didn’t satisfy him (as anyone could see by his manic eye movements and oddly cocked neck) so I asked, “Why? What are you trying to do?” He told the room how he “needs” to improve his PageRank to make more money off his site. Again, I asked, “Why?” He stopped, realizing he had never examined his assumptions that PR is important. When I told him my PageRank sucks and I make more than most of my competitors combined, he did not know how to respond. His only response: “But…but…PageRank….” STOP ASSUMING

Question for you today:

Today, let’s pause and check some of our assumptions.

Tell me, what assumptions have you challenged in the last 1 year? (Example: “I’m not the kind of guy that can lose 40lbs” or “I could never make $75,000” or “I didn’t think I could take a 3-month vacation to Asia/Europe, but I did XYZ and I was able to…”).

Share yours in the comments below.

If you haven’t tested any, pick one and share how you’re going to test it.

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  1. I tested my assumption that successful people are too busy to give me career advice, but I emailed several people using Ramit’s natural networking scripts and 80% of them were glad to give me advice.

  2. Assumption: I need to focus on significantly increasing my primary source of income, rather than looking for ways to supplement it with side income.

  3. In the coming year I am going to challenge my assumption that the only place I can find a high-paying job is in New York or a similarly large, expensive city.

    • Rachel,

      This is a great idea. Here’s a little story to keep you motivated (yes, story, not carefully controlled and tested experiment). A family member of mine is a doctor and makes between 200-250/yr. They lived in NY, and now in VA. A friend of theirs lives in New Orleans (on the edge), but works in a nothing town about 45minutes outside of N.O. and makes over 300k (around 320 I believe). They have the same profession – and I believe similar specialties, meaning they’re the same “kind” of doctor. Point is, because the friend works in a not major city (where there are far fewer highly trained medical professionals), they make almost 100k/yr more. I suppose that the friend *IS* the supply, they just went out and found the demand.

      All the best,

  4. I’ve been needing to lose weight for a very long time, but always resisted keeping track of my calorie intake and calories burned by exercise. I was convinced that it was too much bother and shouldn’t be necessary. But I never lost any weight.
    A few weeks ago I decided to test my assumption and started keeping track of everything. And now I’m finally and actually losing weight.

  5. Assumption: I could never do a triathlon even if its a sprint distance.

    A friend of mine has been triathlons for a couple of years now and had been pushing me to do it. I had been running, but that was about it. I really didn’t think I could do it. Nor did I have the time that it would take to train. That was last year. This spring I jumped in head first.

    Result: I completed 2 triathlons this summer. One June 3 and the second on August 5. The second I took 5 and half minutes off of my time and it was more difficult course. The training didn’t take more than an hour/day on average.

    I’m taking a couple of months off to fix my running form and then back to training. First build up a stronger foundation and then build up speed.

  6. I did something risky and challenged my assumptions that my digestive issues required a constant high dosage of medicine to control. My doctor always told me not to “rock the boat,” and if a handful of pills kept my issues at bay, I should stick with it. So I tried lowering the dose on my own and experimenting with my diet to see if I could cure myself naturally. Guess what? I’ve never felt healthier.

    Is going against your doctor’s orders slightly dangerous? Maybe. But it’s worth challenging your (and his) assumptions.

  7. Assumption: I would need an expensive professional certification to get my ideal job, since all the online listings I saw listed it as a requirement.

    I tested this by passing my resume to a friend in a great company that didn’t even have openings for my ideal position. Two months later, I am working there, in my ideal position, and they’ve already paid for my certification course.

  8. I never had the balls to ask for more money in an interview, but I just had one last week. I liked the people I met, and I almost felt guilty asking for a higher salary than they were offering. All in all though, I deserve it, and this blog totally popped into my head,

    Jury’s still out, but I feel good about my decision.
    Thanks Ramit!

  9. Probably the biggest assumption I challenge over and over is that I have to work harder or more hours to make more income.

    I’m revising my processes and outsourcing non-essential tasks in order to make more money (or the same amount) by working less. This feels like “cheating,” but I love it!

  10. The most important one for me was that I would never find an intelligent, beautiful woman to marry.

    16 years with Lily have proven that one totally wrong.