Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?
The late and great Steve Jobs was famous for many things, and was arguably one of the most influential contributors to how advanced personal use technology developed over the last few decades. But another thing that he was quite well known for, which definitely contributed a huge amount to how much he achieved, was his reality distortion field (RDF).
Rather than the mystical powers the name (and my silly photo) suggests, this is simply charm, persistence, boldness and, most importantly, a refusal to give up, which leads to great things being achieved that the average person won't, since they simply don't try hard enough.
It's “distorting” reality, very simply because one “reality” is what people think about you failing, and another is what you think and do, to make sure you succeed. You have to ignore the naysayers, even if some of what they say may be true (i.e. a “reality”), but actually totally irrelevant to you and your situation (e.g. maybe some unhelpful studies show that kids are better learners, but others show that adults are), and focus only on what will bring you in the right direction.
I don't actually think Steve Jobs was unique in having one. It's something that could be argued (depending on how you define it) that everyone applies in one way or another. The difference is that some people have configured their RDF to work for them (or to help other people), while the majority of us have ours set to self-sabotage mode. Those who have achieved great things despite setbacks have had a way of living and a mentality that made these things much more likely.
In my mind a RDF is synonymous with a lifestyle and mentality that hacks luck, filters for success, ignores any “signs” from the universe that you should stop, is filled with passion, and helps you to surround yourself with people who will help you achieve that goal.
This is not about the law of attraction; a cheesily marketed and questionably explained technique to “think” yourself to greatness. The point is that a positive mentality combined with a LOT of hard work is what's really required here. No bogus explanations about quantum psychic energy are required to understand why the following suggestions, with video illustrations, simply work:
1. Don't let anybody tell you what you can't do
Will Smith explains it best here. [And I like the fact that there are Taiwanese flags in the background 🙂 ]
I don't care if you have 9 university diplomas, or have an IQ of 200; if you are telling me that I can't do something, then you are wasting my time, and I will ignore you. Some people take “being realistic” too far, and are obsessed with protecting people from getting disappointed. A life without trying is way more disappointing if you have a dream you never even truly pushed yourself to achieve.
2. Shoot for the moon
Before a big fight, Muhammad Ali would intimidate his opponents with powerful (and ridiculous) words like “I've handcuffed lightening, and thrown thunder in jail! Only last week, I murdered a rock!”
Way too many people aim very very low in life. Modest objectives and modest promises will yield modest results. I don't just aim for fluency in 3 months, I start my day M.Ali style and tell myself “Today I'll out-talk an auction host, say the word that's on the tip of everyone's tongue before they know it themselves, and give a discourse so great they'll elect me president before lunch!”
When you start the day with that up-beat attitude and work hard to go in that direction, then doing something like ordering food you've never had before in a language you just started to learn, seems way more achievable.
Today, I started my day with that silly mantra above to myself, and this upbeat attitude made me put my doubts and second-guessing aside. I ordered a breakfast that I never had before, in somewhere new and in a language I've been learning for only 3 weeks. And and for the first time, it felt natural – no pausing, no struggling, no misunderstanding. The language was just flowing – both the words I was saying and my understanding of everything being said to me. It isn't the same as having a deep conversation with someone, but aiming high has got me this far already, so I have no intentions of watering down my objectives.
A “realistic” mindset where you are constantly reminding yourself of your limitations, instead of your potential, can never bring you this far. Be unrealistic.
3. When the going gets tough, remember the struggles of those before you
While this short video is quite cheesy (in a clever, very well synched way), all of these movies (some of them based on true stories, and some of them just Hollywood silliness) remind me that if I bitch and whine about a little thing like a language being too hard, then that's nothing.
Others before me have had to fight wars, racism, starvation, poverty, and the most resilient among them have, against all odds, and sometimes for many years, somehow managed come out on top. How can you give up when those with obstacles way more immense than yours have charged forward?
Almost every problem you face can be overcome if you keep things in perspective like this. Giving up on something small and manageable is pure insanity!
4. When you fall, get back up again
Yes, the more you try, the more you will fail.
Failing isn't what matters; it's how you finish. Keep trying again and again: the last time will be the one that counts the most, since you will either give up, or you'll succeed. Finish strong.
5. Be a round peg in a square hole
Challenge the status quo and see things differently. Yes, perhaps most people would fail if they attempt what you want to achieve. But you aren't most people. Limiting yourself by the status quo is for sheep. Be different.
Effective people are not problem minded, they are opportunity minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. Ineffective people do the opposite.
6. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
While it's likely many of you would have seen this speech over the last months, this short part at the end is my favourite bit, since it encapsulates the essence of an efficient RDF to me. Keep trying, keep enjoying, take risks, aim high, and never give up. One “reality” is that you could fail, but do absolutely everything in your power to make sure that the alternative happens.
In attempting to learn to speak fluent Mandarin in just 3 months, I'm taking lots of risks, getting discouragement from dozens of people (online, never in person) every day, feeling lonely since I don't know anyone within thousands of miles yet since I'm intentionally avoiding those I can communicate with easiest, working so hard to stay outside of my comfort zone that it feels like my brain is going to melt most of the day, putting my ego aside while I feel like a complete idiot every time I open my mouth…
And I'm hungry for more.
What will determine my success is not the materials I use, the teacher I have, the ratio of input vs output or other technical details. It's entirely determined by how much I am devoted to the reality of me succeeding, and in making that happen. My RDF is very well configured, and is likely to lead to success because of this. Failure is always an option, but I don't care about that because trying hard is always an option too.
When someone tells me again that what I'm aiming for is impossible, I don't think twice about ignoring them. The people who gave or who inspired the speeches in these videos didn't concern themselves with what was “impossible”, and if it's not breaking any laws of physics then neither do I. If someone gives me some useful advice, I take it to heart. If I have a minor victory then I enjoy the moment and make sure another one happens very soon. If I have a failure, I learn from it and try again.
And I can feel the goal creeping closer. Every step forward is like a mountain in itself that I struggle to climb due to the immensity of what I'm trying to do, but I'm not giving up any time soon.
The advice in these videos are more important to language learners than anything else I can think of.
Yes, I'll give technical updates of what I'm using and tricks relevant to what's unique to Chinese, but a glass is half full mindset, and an absolute certainty that it is far from the hardest language in the world – these mentalities so quickly dismissed by cynics as barely relevant, are what will truly decide if I succeed in this or not.
So, is your RDF properly configured? Let me know in the comments!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.