While there are billions of people on this planet, there are few billionaires. To satisfy his curiosity around what leads to that kind of success, author, Ted speaker and entrepreneur, Rafael Badziag, spent five years conducting face-to-face interviews with 21 self-made billionaires — which he wrote about in his book, “The Billion Dollar Secret.”
For good reason, being a billionaire is not a pursuit for most. However, there are many remarkable lessons that we can learn from them and in doing so, add a lot of value to our own lives.
Despite all of them being unique in many ways, he found that they shared six common habits.
1) They wake up early.
According to Badziag, every billionaire he interviewed woke up early. It’s important to note however that getting less sleep isn’t what made them successful. There are very few billionaires who only need between three to four hours of sleep. The majority of them felt they operated at their best after seven to eight hours of rest. To get the adequate amount of sleep, they simply go to bed earlier.
2) They prioritise their health.
All of them exercised regularly. Many incorporated their favourite sports into their workout regimen, claiming that sports taught them about winning and losing, both of which are essential skills in business and life. They also incorporated eating well, meditation and they didn’t smoke.
3) They read a lot.
Warren Buffett, is well-known for being a voracious reader. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO reads up to 500 pages per day. Charlie Munger, his right hand man and the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and also famously reads a lot. He said, “Warren and I do more reading and thinking and less doing than most people in business. We do that because we like that kind of a life. But we’ve turned that quirk into a positive outcome for ourselves. We both insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think.”
Elon Musk also reads a lot. In a Bloomberg interview, Musk described himself as a “bookwormy” kid. While growing up, he occasionally read as many as two books per day. Musk was asked how he learned how to build rockets and he gave a simple answer: “I read books.”
When Badziag asked Cho Tak Wong, chairman of Fuyao Group, about the best piece of advice he’d give, he answered, “I’d tell young people to read. Read books about how to do things right. Read books about how to be a good person.”
Billionaires tend to read across a variety of subjects. Some focus on national magazines and papers like Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Others go for biographies of iconic business leaders or books about finance, business, science, history or technology. They also learn a lot from fiction and self-help books. They are curious and continue to focus on growth and learning.
4) They contemplate.
Billionaires set aside alone time to think. Sarah Blakely famously adds driving time to her morning commute to think. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is an advocate for meditation and Bill Gates famously takes annual solo “think weeks” where he just sets aside time to read and think.
5) They commit to routines.
Routines and rituals are sets of habits that, when practiced consistently, lead to profound, long-term results. Some of the billionaires have simpler routines, some more complex, but typical elements of a billionaire morning routine include getting up early, exercising, reading and contemplating.
Tip: It doesn’t matter when you do your routine. What counts is that you commit to doing them — even when you don’t feel like it.
6) They are disciplined.
Unsurprisingly the billionaires he interviewed were some of the most disciplined people he had ever met. They set extraordinarily high standards for themselves and the people around them.
Of course billionaires are not superhuman. They have moments just like everyone else where they feel lazy, tired or scared. The difference is that they don’t allow it to deter them. They stay committed and push through their moments of self-doubt or unhelpful chatter.
Investor Michal Solowow told the author that he has to do things he doesn’t like every day. “But I still force myself to do them,” he said, adding that there’s a “lazy” voice that lives inside his head — a voice that tries to convince him that he’s “in hurry and there’s no time” or that he doesn’t “feel well today.” But Solowow thinks to himself: No way, don’t cheat yourself, bud.
Separate to the six common habits that Badziag identified, here are seven other lessons that we can learn from billionaires:
1) Dream Big
In a blog post published in 2017, Richard Branson wrote, “Dreaming is one of humanity’s greatest gifts; it champions aspiration, spurs innovation, leads to change, and propels the world forward. In a world without dreams there would be no art, no adventure, no moon landing, no female CEOs, and no civil rights. What a half-lived and tragic existence we would have. The benefits of dreaming far outweigh the perceived risks, because the value of dreaming isn’t just measured by the outcome, but the inspiration that comes from the journey of achieving the dream.”
2) Be willing to make big bets
When Facebook launched the News Feed feature in 2006, protesters demanded that the social networking site return to its earlier state. Zuckerberg is proud of his team for not caving to popular opinion.
In response he wrote, “One of the things I’m most proud of about Facebook is that we believe things can always be better, and we’re willing to make big bets if we think it will help our community over the long term. News Feed has been one of the big bets we’ve made in the past 10 years that has shaped our community and the whole internet the most.”
3) Focus is key
As an explanation for why Steve Jobs was the person that influenced him most, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc, said, “He had a focus that was unlike any other.” What allowed the legendary former CEO of Apple to focus so intently was his ability to prioritise, says Cook: “His thinking was so pure. He wasn’t trying to maximise his wealth, or anything else.”
4) Commit to a goal
Tim Draper, a venture capitalist and billionaire, was asked what advice he had for people who would like to be as successful as he is, he answered: “Choose a goal and go after it.”
4) Accept failure as a part of success
Jack Cowin, who founded Competitive Foods Australia (which owns Burger King’s Australian franchise as Hungry Jack’s) believes, “If you haven’t had a few failures, you haven’t tried enough. You’ve been lazy.”
Move through self-doubt and start (or continue) working on whatever is meaningful to you. Avoid looking back at your actions in a critical way. As Oprah said, “failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” Focus on what you can do now to improve the future. Think progress over perfection. Jay-Z famously said, “The genius thing that we did was that we didn’t give up.”
Self-made billionaire businessman and investor Kenneth Langone, who helped create Home Depot, had humble beginnings but enjoyed unconditional love, which later helped him get over his failures and not let them bring him down.
“When you’re in the risk-taking business at the level that I am, not everything you’re going to do is going to work,” he said. “Where you really lose is when it doesn’t work, and you start being abusive to yourself in terms of your qualities and your abilities.”
Again, billionaires aren’t superhuman and they can also be hard on themselves like everyone else. The important thing is learning from your mistakes and looking at “failures” as a stepping stone to success.
5) It’s never too late
Amancio Ortega was 40 when he founded Zara. So, if you think dreams of being hugely successful were only reserved to twenty-somethings, Ortega shows us otherwise. And he’s not the only one.
At 50 years old, Ray Kroc was still wandering and had not yet have arrived at his destination. Ray Kroc, the man who grew McDonalds to the global brand that it is, sold paper cups and milkshake mixers until he was 52 years old, before finally franchising the McDonald’s concept.
6) Give back
Truly successful people understand the importance of giving back, especially to those in need. While the pursuit of success according to your own unique definition of success is key to living a fulfilling life, it’s important to remember to give back.
And giving back doesn’t have to be in the form of money. It can be as simple as offering to help a friend in need, an overworked colleague or an elderly person with their grocery bags. If you’re too busy to give back, then you’ll miss out on opportunities to help others, lift them up and bring more joy and fulfilment into your own life.
7) Get a coach
When asked what the best advice he ever got was, Eric Schmidt, former CEO and Chairman of Google and Alphabet Inc., answered “get a coach.”
He explained, “The advice that sticks out I got from John Doerr, who in 2001 said, “My advice to you is to have a coach.” The coach he said I should have is Bill Campbell. I initially resented the advice, because after all, I was a CEO. I was pretty experienced. Why would I need a coach? Am I doing something wrong? My argument was, How could a coach advise me if I’m the best person in the world at this? But that’s not what a coach does. The coach doesn’t have to play the sport as well as you do. They have to watch you and get you to be your best. In the business context a coach is not a repetitious coach. A coach is somebody who looks at something with another set of eyes, describes it to you in [his] words, and discusses how to approach the problem.
Once I realized I could trust him and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea. When there is [a] business conflict you tend to get rat-holed into it. [Bill’s] general advice has been to rise one step higher, above the person on the other side of the table, and to take the long view. He’ll say, “You’re letting it bother you. Don’t.”
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