Josh Kaufman: How to Learn a New Skill in 20 Hours | E107

Josh Kaufman: How to Learn a New Skill in 20 Hours | E107

Want to start a business but not sure where (or how) to start?!

In today’s episode, we are talking with Josh Kaufman, best-selling author, researcher, and speaker. Josh’s TEDx talk on The First 20 Hours is one of the top 25 most-viewed TED talks published to date, with over 22 million views on YouTube. His research has been featured by The New York Times, The BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Fortune, Forbes, Time, BusinessWeek, Wired, Fast Company, Financial Times,, The World Economic Forum, Inside Higher Ed, Lifehacker, MarketWatch, The Independent, Bloomberg TV, PBS Next Avenue, CCTV, and CNN’s Sanjay Gupta MD.

In this episode, we chat about Josh’s first book, Personal MBA, signs to find a viable market if you are starting a business, and the characteristics that all good products/services have. We’ll also talk more about how to test out your business idea, actionable steps to decide pricing, learning curves, the aspects of rapid skills acquisition, and more. This is a jam packed episode that we made it into two parts – so make sure to catch both!

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Check out our website to meet the team, view show notes and transcripts:


03:29 – Perfecting Skills in 20 Hours

10:04 – Emotions Behind Starting Something New

13:46 – What a Learning Curve Looks Like

21:31 – 4 Steps of Rapid Skill Acquisition

29:40 – How Josh’s TED Talk Changed His Life

34:39 – Premise of Josh’s New Book, How to Fight a Hydra

39:58 – Josh’s Secret to Profiting in Life

Mentioned in the Episode:

Josh’s Website:

Josh’s First Book, Personal MBA:

Josh’s Second Book, The First 20 Hours:

Josh’s New Book, How to Fight a Hydra:


#107: How to Learn a New Skill in 20 Hours with Josh Kaufman

[00:00:00] Hala Taha: [00:00:00] You're listening to YAP young and profiting podcast, a place where you can listen, learn, and profit. Welcome to the show. I'm your host Hala Taha. And on young and profiting podcast, we investigate a new topic each week and interview some of the brightest minds in the world. My goal is to turn their wisdom into actionable advice.

That you can use in your everyday life, no matter your age, profession, or industry. There's no fluff on this podcast and that's on purpose. I'm here to uncover value from my guests by doing the proper research and asking the right questions. If you're new to the show, we've chatted with the likes of ex FBI agents, real estate moguls,

self-made billionaires, CEOs, and best-selling authors. Our subject matter ranges from enhancing productivity, how to gain influence, the art of entrepreneurship, and more. If you're smart and like to continually improve yourself, hit the subscribe button because you'll love it here at young [00:01:00] and profiting podcast. This week on YAP,

we're chatting with Josh Kaufman, a bestselling author, researcher, and speaker who's proven shortcuts have helped millions of individuals and businesses find a way to educate themselves and reach their goals faster than ever thought possible. Josh's Ted talk. The first 20 hours has been viewed over 22 million times making it one of the top 25

most viewed Ted talks, published to date. His research has been featured by the New York Times, the BBC and the Wall Street Journal among many others. And he's published three best-selling books along the way. The First 20 Hours, How to Fight a Hydra and The Personal MBA, which is now in its 10th anniversary edition.

Josh was so smart and so interesting that I ended up chatting with him for almost two hours. And as a result, I've split this episode into two parts. You were listening to part two right now in part one or episode number 106, be concentrate on Josh's breakout book, The Personal MBA, which is literally taught an MBA courses [00:02:00] around the world because

is that good. For one is all about launching a new business or side hustle. And we covered things like how to test an idea, how to find a good market, how to price your offering, selling tips, and much more. Part two of this episode are number 107, which is what you're currently listening to. We switched gears and we talk about something

equally as interesting. How to learn a new skill in just 20 hours. We uncover the emotional obstacles we need to get over when learning a new skill, the myths involved with learning a new skill and the four steps of rapid skill acquisition. We also dig into the Josh's experience on TEDx with him having one of the most viral sessions to date and how it changed his life.

Okay. So if you guys are interested in learning more about how to start a business, getting this condensed version of an MBA in a book, I would highly recommend going to check out the Personal MBA it's in its 10th edition. So encourage all of you guys to go check out that book. And now I want to switch gears to the first 20 hours.

So this [00:03:00] is your new book, and it's also a Ted talk that you had back in 2013. So in this Ted talk, you talked about, it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. And that's what we've all been conditioned to believe. So this was like a myth that we all heard it, it had some scientific basis behind it, but it was a game of telephone gone wrong.

So explain that to us. Talk to us about this 10,000 hours missed to acquire new skill and what you discovered when you looked at.

Josh Kaufman: [00:03:28] Yeah. So this really came from a couple of different intersecting interests of mine. Part of it is just, I like learning things. I like experimenting, I like being able to do things I've never been able to do before that.

I find that intrinsically rewarding. And so I'm really curious, like when you have never done something before, but you want to, what's the best way to go about doing that? Like how do you go from not knowing anything and not being good at all to being pretty good in, [00:04:00] in a short period of time?

And at the time and even still, I was going through the transition of being a parent for the first time. And a lot of the time and energy that I was using to learn new things was now being invested in my kids and my family. And so when you don't have a lot of upfront time, free energy to invest efficiency becomes a much bigger concern than it ever had been.

And so there's that personal interest. But then also this was the ascendancy of the 10,000 hours rule which is has been around in various incarnations for a while. It started with the work of K. Anders Ericsson, who is a professor at the University of Florida who recently passed just a giant of psychological research.

And he did a lot of research around skill acquisition, and in a series of studies. The most famous one being of violinists, okay. Trying to predict who are [00:05:00] going to be the top violinists from a particular school. And they did studies of how much did those violinists practice under the idea that won't, probably the folks who practiced more are probably better playing the violin.

And some of those studies basically said, they and that's true in the rough order of magnitude to get the BA the best of the best was around 10,000 hours plus or minus. There has been some additional research that indicates the variation of that is extreme. Think of it as, error bars above or below 10,000 hours.

It like the aerobars are like three or $4,000 or three or 4,000 hours a piece like just the range of mastery is extreme. So there was. It's an interesting question, right? If you want to become the best in the world of something, or in the top 0.0 0 1% of a particular skill, what does it take to get there?

[00:06:00] Interesting question. Like you want to be a professional athlete. How much are you going to need to practice? Like in going to our conversation earlier about status? That feels like really interesting and cool to think about, right? Like how much of my life would I have to invest in, in some, the thing to be like an Olympic gold medalist or, things like that.

And so most of the research and most of the conversation around skill was all about that question. What does it take to get to mastery? How do you become the best in the world? And I realized at a certain point That's not the question. That's not the question for most of us. The question is if we want to learn how to do something that we're not able to do right now, we're not talking about mastery at all.

We're talking about competence, we're talking about going from nothing to like doing something we're not competing against the world. We're competing against ourselves and our previous lack of ability. And so [00:07:00] I wanted to answer the question of, what does it take to go from nothing to being pretty good?

And that is really, it's a valuable topic to consider and think about and care about because particularly for adults, when we begin learning something we've never done before those early hours of practice are hell. It's just, it's frustrating. Like you think it feels like you should be able to do this thing and you just can't get yourself to do it for whatever reason.

And what I found with adult learners is that people give up way too quickly. So there's an enormous amount of psychological research that says the most efficient hours of practice that we will ever spend are the early hours. Like we improve, think of it like per hour of effort invested. The biggest rate of improvement is right at the beginning.

It's just, the beginning is really difficult. And so most people never make it. [00:08:00] And what I found both through research and then replicating it in my own experiments is the first 20 ish hours of practice are very frustrating, very difficult, but very effective. And the level of skill or the level of competence that you're able to achieve after a very small amount of practice in the grand scheme of things is pretty significant.

And so if you have a way of making those early hours of practice more effective and more efficient than the otherwise could be, or would be without having a plan. You can become way better at a huge variety of things, whatever personal or professional things that you care about. A very narrow, strategic investment of time and energy can produce some very extreme rewards and you just need to go about doing it in a smart way.

Hala Taha: [00:08:54] Yeah. So you're talking about you, you were saying before that the first 20 hours are very [00:09:00] frustrating. You also said, in your Ted talk and I'm sure in your book that just getting started is a barrier because emotionally it's really hard for us to even just get started. So it's really funny that we brought up this camera example because in real life I have a YouTube camera that I got for Christmas, a very expensive one.

And it's been sitting in my box since Christmas and I haven't even opened it up. Now, I'm very tech savvy. I run automations and do I can do everything when it comes to technology. But for some reason I have not opened my box. I am scared of learning how to use this new camera. So talk to us about the emotions behind starting something new.

Josh Kaufman: [00:09:42] Yeah. There's something interesting that happens. And this was particularly highlighted after my kids were born. Of you never see a toddler, right when they're at the stage of standing on their own two feet and starting to take a step, a toddler will never take a step fall, [00:10:00] sit down. And say to himself or herself.

Wow. I'm just really bad at walking. I need to not do this anymore. This is terrible and quit. So you see them want to do a thing. They tried to do the thing, they fail, but they learn and they adjust and they keep at it and then eventually they're able to do the thing. And so I think that

children have this reputation of just learning so quickly, absorbing the world around them, like a sponge. That's not exactly true. Like when you actually look at a child learning, they're just failing over and over and over again. The secret is that they don't care as much. It doesn't keep them from trying again in the same way that, that it doesn't adult.

And so adults I've found we place a lot of unnecessary pressure or should on ourself. A good classic example is which has some research literature backing it, is that most [00:11:00] kids love to draw. We'll draw all the time just for fun. And then there's a point in late middle school to early junior high, where kids stopped drawing and it's that point where they can see what they want to draw in their minds.

And the thing that they put on paper is not representative of that. And that becomes very frustrating. And so there's this, there's the self-consciousness that happens when you're learning as an adult. Like I should be able to do better than I'm doing. I should be able to figure out this damn camera. I should be able to do this thing that I want to be able to do.

And I just, I can't do it yet. And it's the emotional experience. That's the barrier. It's not your intelligence. It's not your capacity for improvement. It's not your capability to learn or improve. It is 100% an emotional barrier. And so I think knowing that in advance of learning is a tremendous gift, right?

Like [00:12:00] you don't have to worry so much about the intrinsic ability part is just no, this is the experience everyone has. It's something were talking earlier about like the sales objections that you know are coming. So you could prepare for them in advance. This is that, but improving ourselves, we know the frustration is coming.

We know that it's normal and we know that it doesn't take an enormous amount of persistence to get to the point of seeing very real, very tangible improvement. And so having a strategy to get through those frustrating early hours. Makes it both much more likely that you're going to pick up the skill to begin with, but it makes it much more likely that you're going to persist long enough to see an actual improvement.

Hala Taha: [00:12:44] Even just like you said, knowing that there's an emotional barrier to starting something new. Even when I was watching your Ted talk, I was like, oh my gosh, that's why I haven't opened my YouTube camera. Like I need to just do it, so even just knowing, so I hope everybody out there [00:13:00] listening, if there's something that you're scared to do, I hope you take the actions to do it.

And let's talk about what a learning curve looks like. Cause I think that's important before we go into the steps of actually, acquiring a new skill and going through some of your four steps. So first describe to us what a learning curve looks.

Josh Kaufman: [00:13:14] Yeah. So this is something that's bandied about a lot, and people will talk about steep learning curves as if that's a bad thing.

No, it's actually a really good thing. So think of it like you're graphing your improvement per time spent or per minute or per hour spent in a skills. If let's say, you take a skill that you would only improve, 1% per year, the learning curve is just like this slow ramp up and that's really bad.

That's really frustrating. Those are the things that drive you nuts. The steep learning curves are, you want to see dramatic improvement at the beginning, and then you reach some sort of plateau. And so the plateau you can think of it, going back to the business concepts, the plateaus, the point of [00:14:00] diminishing returns, like that's the point where there's still the opportunity for improvement, but it's going to take a lot of time and energy to get to that next level.

So think this is something where, you know, when you get to the master level, if you are at chess, Grandmaster, or an Olympic sprinter or whatever, you will work for years, in the sprinter example, For a 0.01 second improvement on your 100 meter time like that. That's where the mastery, like putting an enormous amount of energy in to just like tiny, marginal improvement to where you see that.

But at the beginning of the process, the steep learning curve is no you're just spending a few hours and you're going from like terrible to pretty decent, to really good, to competent in a very compressed period of time. So the research literature suggests that and this is called the power law of practice has been replicated many times by psychological researchers who will give, like a either a cognitive or a [00:15:00] physical movement, it's called a motor task and they'll just graph and, give them something that you can observe in time and assess competence.

And you'll see very quickly, like those first few hours of practice are super effective. Like you go from being really bad, to pretty decent in a short period of time and then you level off. And so my question is okay, for all of the things that would be useful to learn either for work, some professional skill, whether it's a physical movement or, a cognitive skill, something you think about, or just all the things that we do for fun.

What is the order of magnitude that we can expect the learning curve to take for a wide variety of both cognitive and motor skills. And so what I found through my own research and my own experimentation, because this is not a theoretical exercise for me. Like I do this stuff all the time is what order of magnitude are we talking about here?

And I always found that ours zero [00:16:00] to four or five, Are the frustration barrier. That's the worst part of the whole process. You're just frustrated you can't do it. You can't do it. Something starts to change between hours four and six, where you start to see yourself being able to perform in a way that you've never been able to perform before.

And that's where things start to get really interesting. And then by, and th there's some variation here but between hours 10 to 20, for me two things happen, one is that, you're a lot more competent now than you were when you'd like the improvement is night and day clear. And that's also where I find the frustration really to it to a great extent goes away.

So continuing to practice after that point is way easier than it was at the beginning. Like you've reached a basic level of competence. You know what you're doing? You're no longer, so confused. You're in a place where you're still making mistakes, but you [00:17:00] also know enough about what you're doing that you can notice when you make a mistake and then correct it.

And it's that part of the process, like having a certain level of skill, having a lack of frustration and being able to self-correct as you practice. That's what gets you from pretty good to really good over a longer period of time, but it's that early critical period that really makes or breaks the skill to begin with.

Hala Taha: [00:17:24] And what are some of the skills that you personally have learned using this method?

Josh Kaufman: [00:17:29] Yeah for the book I did six and it was a combination of both cognitive mental skills and physical motor skills. On the professional side, we were talking earlier about my background. I came out of college, thinking that programming was the most boring thing on the face of the earth.

And why would people spend their time tracking down weird? Semi-colons in the midst of like crazy code. And it wasn't until I had actual business problems that I could solve by writing a computer [00:18:00] program to do the thing that I wanted to do that I really became interested in. Yeah. I want to figure out how to do this.

I have written now for web applications that are being used in a day-to-day business context with profit and loss responsibility. And like I'm running my business on code that I wrote. And I learned how to write that code in the process of researching the first 20 hours. So it's something that even, so I think the first 20 hours came out in 2013.

And so eight years later, I'm still doing it. I'm still getting better at it. And I can do things now that I wasn't capable of eight years ago, because I started the process in a really fundamentally useful way. There are, I learned how to play the ukulele just for fun, which is still fantastic. I don't practice anywhere near as, as much as I would like to.

But all of the things that I learned how to [00:19:00] do in the process of researching the first 20 hours, I am better than that level of capability, even with intermittent practice over a very long period of time. So I think that's the thing about this particular project that I really enjoyed it's universally applicable doesn't matter what you want to learn or what level of skill you're aiming for. It is a useful process that we'll start you out on the right foot. You can apply it to anything. And then being able to do that this is what life has made of like being able to figure out how to do the things that are important and valuable and interesting to you.

It's great. So it's I'm very happy that the framework has helped a lot of people learn things that are important and useful for them and that. They're able to start the process in a way that's likely to get really good results and help them achieve whatever it is. That's important. And that's, I just find [00:20:00] that.


Hala Taha: [00:20:01] And this is just so fascinating. And to your point, like skills are the foundation of everything skills are how can demand a high salary, skills are how you can start a business and create a product or a service and have the expertise to de-select skills are everything. Especially for young people like learning, is everything getting new skills.

I always talk about this. I'm always talking about skill stacking, getting experienced, learning new things. So I think this is really relevant to my audience. Can you go into the four steps of rapid skill acquisition?

Josh Kaufman: [00:20:35] The best way of thinking about it. And I'm a big fan of checklists or, reminding yourself to do certain things and I since expanded it.

So there was a second edition to to the first 20 hours that makes it five steps or adds a step zero, which is probably the more accurate way to put it. The first thing is just to, to decide what you want to be able to do. And that sounds so common sense. And yet. In the years since I've published the [00:21:00] first edition of the the first 20 hours, that's the step where most people get stuck.

And so there's a lot of, when you're thinking about learning something that you want to be able to do, there's a lot of very general, very abstract thinking that goes on. And I usually frame it in the context of languages. So I want to be able to speak Italian. That's a really broad goal that doesn't really give you very much to hold onto at the beginning.

So the bigger, the more abstract, the less specific and concrete, the thing that you want to be able to do is the harder it is to get started because the whole thing feels big and overwhelming. And so the first thing to do is just decide specifically what do you want to be able to do? What does that look like?

How do you know? It is. Can you define for yourself, like knowing when you've gotten there or when you're getting to that level of skill that you desire and the more specific and concrete you are in that, the better. From there, you can take [00:22:00] that and break it down into much smaller parts. So this is the step of deconstructing the scale, taking this really big thing and making it a series of small things.

The classic example is that many skills are actually bundles of smaller subskills that you're doing together. And so think of a a classic mastery ish sort of game like golf, right? Golf is not one thing. Golf is a collection of lots of different things that you happen to do in some order during the context of a game.

But driving off the tee and putting on the green two very different movements. Skills, abilities, being able to perform in those situations. And so for a lot of the things that we want to do, just thinking through am I doing one specific thing over and over again? Or are there sub parts to this that I could just focus on?

Just maybe a smaller piece of the puzzle for a little bit, get good at that. And then the way that you can [00:23:00] use that. Is some of those sub-skills are used way more often than others. And so the most efficient, effective thing to do is you practice the sub skills that you're going to be using the most first, because that's going to give you the best improvement for the global skill.

So it just takes a little bit of research and that's step three. And you don't want to do too much research. Too much research is a subtle form of procrastination. And I this is a struggle for me. I do research. It's easy to get stuck here, but really just a handful of hours with a book, with a video, with a coach with some sorts of information that can help you identify what are those important things and focus on those first.

That's how you make you the early hours of practice as effective and efficient as you possibly can.

Hala Taha: [00:23:52] Yeah.

And I think in your Ted talk, you gave an example of how, you learn the ukulele and there was four or five main chords for every single song. And that's the [00:24:00] kind of stuff that you need to discover before you dive in.

So you're not learning, every single possible thing you're focusing on the things that are going to give you the most reward and gonna level you up as quickly as possible. So just wanted to call that out.

Josh Kaufman: [00:24:12] Yeah, no, and there's, there are related ideas here, so it was like a lot of people talk about the 80 20 principle or

the critical few. In anything that there's a small bundle of things that are going to be most important or use the most focus on those first languages, a brilliant example of this. There's a pattern called zip slaw, zip F if you want to look it up on Wikipedia, basically he says that, the vast majority of usage of a language is concentrated in about 100 words.

And so if you're learning a new language, like it would make sense, learn those words. First, you're going to be using them the most, an understanding, and being able to pick those up is going to be very useful very quickly. And so all skills exhibited that to a greater or lesser extent. So just a little bit of [00:25:00] research can help you get there. In the same way,

removing barriers to practice. This is step four. Is really important because we live in a very distracting world with, lots of things going on. If you're running a business and you're trying to learn a business skill, how do you fit that in the context of meetings and email and projects and deadlines and all of these things, if you're learning something for fun, you have family and social commitments and your work and all of these things that are taking time away.

And so the more you can set aside some dedicated time, put away your phone, block the internet. If you have to just make it as easy as possible to practice the thing you've decided that's important and as difficult as possible to do anything aside from practicing, what you've decided is important, that's going to help.

And then the last part is where the title, the first 20 hours comes from. And it's the most [00:26:00] important psychological part, which is pre committing to 20 hours of focused practice. And the pre-commitment is the thing that does the work. So you can say, okay, if I'm going to start this at all, if this is important to me, I'm going to put at least 20 hours of practice into this.

If I'm terrible, I'm going to be terrible for 20 hours. If I hate it, I'm going to hate it for 20 hours. And if I get to the 20 hour mark. And I'm not good and I'm not enjoying myself. And I would rather do something else. I have full permission to do something, nothing else after I get to that point, but I'm not going to quit until I get to that point.

And so this is helpful for two reasons. I think the first is it's a good reality check because if you're not willing to invest at least this amount of time and energy into it, you're probably not going to make a lot of progress regardless. So it's like a qualification as a filter have a [00:27:00] minimum amount of seriousness to this before you get started.

But then the other part is this is how you overcome the frustration barrier. It's yep. I know it's going to be hard and I'm committing to the hard part and it's going to be fine. And I am going to defer my judgment on my own skill level until later. So for now, I'm just going to focus on the practice when I get to the 20 hour mark.

That's when I'll decide whether or not I want to continue this.

Hala Taha: [00:27:27] This is something that I know I'm going to go and reference back over and over again. There's always like moments in my podcasts that I just remember. And in other interviews, and even when I'm getting interviewed myself, I'll just remember them.

I know that this is this framework in terms of how to acquire skill is going to be something that I remember forever. So thank you so much for sharing. And if you're listening, I would rewind and go listen back to that because it's amazing. And go check out his Ted talk. So speaking of your Ted talk. It had almost, I think 25 million views.

It was like one of the most popular Ted talks ever. Let me ask you a [00:28:00] personal question. Like how did that change your life like that? Must've been such a big deal on Ted talks for back in. I think he did it in 2013. That was a huge deal back then, even more than it is now. So how did that change your life?

Josh Kaufman: [00:28:12] Yeah. No, it's been really interesting in all of my projects. I tried to learn something new. And for The Personal MBA was all about like, how can I take this massive subject and try to teach someone who may have never done it before or thought about it before? Can I condense something big into something manageable?

And so for the first 20 hours, it's not as big of a subject as, varied as businesses, but it's important and it's valuable. And so that was the first 20 hours is my project of, can I take an important idea and spread it and can I get an important message out to the maximum number of people that, that I can reach with it and who knows what the result of that is going to be, but I'm pretty sure, like this is an important part of life.

And so it's going to help people if I [00:29:00] can just get the word out. And so the TedTalk, I had no idea what to expect and.  There were 500 people in the audience at the time that I gave the talk and I had prearranged things. So the no spoilers for people who haven't seen it yet, but I arranged to have the end of a particular skill that I was practicing, be on stage at that moment.

So people could see what it looked like, and it was terrifying. And I didn't know how it was going to turn out. That was very much a doing a trapeze act without a net below you sort of thing. And I'm both very happy that it turned out the way that it did. And then yeah. Is it's Ted at the time was just starting to become a popular cultural force.

And I'm really happy that when something takes off like that, it's it's because there's something intrinsically valuable to it. So that was my [00:30:00] contribution. But then, both Ted being willing to spread the word to a large group of people. And then also to the people who watched it, used it, talk to other people about it said, Hey, I saw this video about this cool thing.

You should see it too. I can't take credit for any of that. And I think in general, like of all of the things to, to contribute to people in the world, like helping them become better at things that are valuable and important to them. I feel really good about that as a contribution to the world of ideas.

Hala Taha: [00:30:38] So I'm, I landed my first Ted talk for June and gearing up for that. Thank you. I haven't even started my outline or anything. Do you have any advice for me in terms of repairing? You're the most successful Ted talk speaker that I've ever had on this show? I think.

Josh Kaufman: [00:30:55] Yeah. No, it's, I think there's a fine line between preparation and to over preparation [00:31:00] and I think Hala being Hala onstage is more valuable than a memorized talk that's over-prepared to the point of deadness.

And I think there's, there was certain amount of, because I was doing something that felt risky onstage in the moment I had to be there and I couldn't over-prepare and check out because I just wouldn't be able to do what I needed to do for the talk. And so I think there's a outline and not memorization rehearse, but not too much, going through a few rounds of giving the talk to a live group of people in the context that you're going to be giving the talk.

That was those, the most valuable thing in the preparation that was leading up to the event, we actually gave the talk to I, it was essentially the organizers and a group of other speakers. But we did that a couple of times. I think it was two or three times before the actual event. [00:32:00] And that really helped a lot, like you were able to figure out, okay, spending too much time on this, not enough time on this, let's change things up.

But yeah, I think the most important thing, as hard as it is to relax and be yourself and have fun and not get too worried about the process or the result.

Hala Taha: [00:32:22] Thank you. Thanks for giving me that advice and thanks for all listeners for bearing with my personal question. Okay. So we talked about your first two books.

We talked about The Personal MBA, huge hit guys. Everybody has read this book before people read it in their actual MBA programs as well. We talked about the first 20 hours. You guys can watch the Ted talk or get his book. Now let's get into your third book. Just give us a high-level overview because we don't have too much time, but what is How  to Fight   a Hydra about.

Josh Kaufman: [00:32:51] How to fight a Hydra. It was a weird fun project that came out of a random idea. I had one day and I've always been [00:33:00] interested in the idea of uncertainty and variability and you can see it. It's a through line through the personal MBA and the first 20 hours, like, how do you deal with. The process of signing up for a project, trying to learn a new skill and not being sure that you would be able to do it or starting a new business and being uncertain, whether or not it's going to succeed.

There's this way that human beings approach the uncertainty, the fundamentally uncertain nature of the world and how we both respond to it and how we deal with it that I just find very fascinating and the emotional undercurrent. Of a lot of those things is fear of the unknown, fear that we're not going to be good enough, fear that we're going to get stuck, or we're going to make a bad decision, or we're going to have costs to the things that we decide to do.

And so I started writing this book about uncertainty and fear [00:34:00] of the unknown, and there's a lot of research. There's a lot of re really interesting people doing work in the space. The problem is it's such a heavy topic. It's not really fun to think about. It's not fun to internalize some of these lessons.

We live in a universe where many things are completely outside of your control and bad things can happen. And there's nothing you can do about it. This is not a fun place to live, but there is a lot of very good research about how we can deal with those sorts of situations in a skillful way.

So we can't control everything. We can't determine the outcomes, but we can control how we think, how we act, how we make our decisions, the best way we can. And so How to Fight a Hydra came out of two things. One is that, I don't know if you've ever had a project where once you get into it just feels way more complex and like things are happening,

issues are popping up out of nowhere, you'll [00:35:00] fight a fire in one area only to have three more fires pop up in different. So I was reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which is an amazing book. And I really liked, so he was talking about this idea of resistance, right?

Like knowing what you need to do. And just having a really hard time getting to the point of actually doing it. And so he personified the problem. He calls it resistance with a capital R and he talks about resistance as if it's a thing. And it's a really interesting way of framing the problem that  leads to some really interesting insights.

And so I started was playing around with that idea. And the image I've been a fan of of science fiction and fantasy stories for a very long time. It's like these problems are hydras. It's the monster that has, six or seven different heads. And when you lop one off, two more grow back, like you can do the same thing.

You can give an analogy to this [00:36:00] very common problem. And then with all of the research around how to deal with these problems of uncertainty. You can show someone responding skillfully to a difficult situation. You don't necessarily have to tell them about the psychological studies. You can convey that information in a different way.

So How to Fight a Hydra was my first fiction book that did not start as a fiction book. It evolved into this story over time. And it's a quick read. You can read it in less than an hour. And so it's this really short, interesting story of a person who decides to go hunting.

One of these big, scary monsters knows it's going to be hard from the beginning. Doesn't have social support in doing it. Doesn't have the skills required to get to the end. Has no idea how they're going to accomplish it. They just know that they have to, for some reason, and then you get to see the protagonist of the [00:37:00] story.

Use some of these very skillful, psychological ways of orienting yourself in dealing with things that happen in the world all the way to the end, which I won't spoil. And then the afterword is essentially explaining here are the origins of a lot of the things that the protagonist does.

Here's where this comes from. Here's the research that's supporting it. So it was an interesting project that developed in a way that I did not expect, but I enjoyed writing How to Fight a Hydra immensely. And I was, it was a really fun project to do.

Hala Taha: [00:37:35] It sounds super interesting and, judging by your first two books, I'm sure that one's also very provides a lot of value for people who are reading it.

So the last question I ask all my guests is what is your secret to profiting in life?

Josh Kaufman: [00:37:50] My secret to profiting in life, I think is spending a lot of time, very being very clear about what I [00:38:00] want and what I don't want. And that sounds simpler than it is in practice. But I think that there, we all have a limited amount of time and energy and capacity, and there are certain things that kind of sound good in the moment, but end up being distractions.

And there are other things that sound really difficult or really frustrating that end up being the core of what it is  for us to live a fulfilling life, whatever that definition is for you. And so I think spending a little bit more time in that head space what do I want right now? And why do I want those things?

What am I doing to get those things? And what am I ignoring? Because it's just not important enough for me. The more you have a very clear image of that in your mind. And the more that you update that over time, because we change as people, like our situation changes, our values, change, our [00:39:00] priorities change, like keeping really up on what you're doing and why in this moment, right now, in your context, the more you do that, the better decisions you'll make and the more effective you'll be.

At doing the things that are necessary to move you in the direction you want to go.

Hala Taha: [00:39:17] I love that advice. I think that's great advice. And where can our listeners go to learn more about you and everything that you do?

Josh Kaufman: [00:39:23] Yeah, so the best central place to find me is at You can find links to all of my books and my most recent research and writing there.

Hala Taha: [00:39:33] Amazing. Thank you so much, Josh. Thank you for staying well over. I'm going to make this into a two-part episode, so thank you so much. It was so valuable.

Josh Kaufman: [00:39:41] Absolutely. It's so fun to talk and I am looking forward to to seeing the results of your new YouTube camera. I'll follow up in a couple of weeks to see how it goes.

Hala Taha: [00:39:50] Thank you. And you're going to help me because now I'm not as scared. So thank you so much. Thanks Josh.

Josh Kaufman: [00:39:56] Thank you.

Hala Taha: [00:39:57] Thanks for listening to young and profiting [00:40:00] podcast. Wow! What an amazing two hour conversation that we just got to spend with Josh and his brilliant mind. For me, the biggest gem of this episode was learning about the emotional fear we have when it comes to learning something new, just knowing that it's human nature and totally normal to feel that

fear and to want to procrastinate, when you have to learn something new, that's going to make it so much easier now to push through when you feel that fear and to just go for it and try the next time that fear creeps up. So I hope you remember that and I hope you learned something new as well. As always, I'm going to shout out a recent apple podcast review.

And if you're a longtime listener, you know that my favorite thing is an apple podcast review because it helps our rankings and it improves our social proof. This review shout out this week is by fly by media. Here she says delivers every time Hala is a master interviewer. And carries amazing content from some of the best minds on the planet.

It's no wonder this podcast continues to surge on all the [00:41:00] charts. Give it a listen, if you haven't. Thank you so much for your kind review and it's true. We are dominating the charitable charts, thanks to our popularity on apps like Castbox and if you're listening on Castbox, I would love to hear from you.

We have almost 70,000 followers on Castbox and I want to hear from you guys. I want to know what you like about the podcast, what you dislike about the podcast. Shoot me a DM and give me your feedback on Instagram or LinkedIn. And for all of you guys listening out there, no matter where you're listening, please write us a review or comment on your favorite platform and maybe I'll be shouting out you next

week. And I love to see you guys on social media. You guys can tag me on Instagram at Yap with Hala or LinkedIn, just search for my name. It's Hala Taha I know I'm on clubhouse. You can follow the young and profiting club and find me at Hala Taha. I'm hosting live events on that app almost every single day as always big.

Thanks to my amazing YAP team. This is Hala signing off.


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