10 Things I Learned from James Altucher about Minimalism, Failure, and Not Giving Advice

James Altucher is an extraordinary man with extraordinary perspectives on everything from smart business to living a satisfying life — and how they intertwine. Here are 10 things he taught us on episode 540 of The Art of Charm.

James Altucher’s appearance on episode 540 of The Art of Charm was so chock full of wisdom that I felt compelled to share the top 10 things I took away from it. Still, this is really just the tip of the iceberg; I encourage anyone who benefits from this list to give the entire episode a listen here:

Here are the 10 things I learned from James Altucher about minimalism, failure, and not giving advice in this wisdom-packed interview.

1. Someone who isn’t already hustling isn’t going to start just because you told them to.

Think about it: if your best friend is with a guy or girl who’s bad for them, and it’s excruciatingly obvious, and you tell them this, are they really going to split up with them? Are they really going to say, “Oh my god, you’re totally right, and I’m totally wrong! Thanks so much!”

No. They’re not. And we all know it.

That’s why slogans like “hustle hard” or “no days off” are utter nonsense — because nobody is listening. And the people who maybe would be receptive to this don’t need it because they’re already hustling.

That’s why James prefers to tell his story rather than giving advice.

2. Most of us still define success by how much money we make.

We like to think we don’t — we often pretend we don’t — but deep down we still define success by how much money we make. It’s kind of like that quote from Zig Ziglar: “Money won’t make you happy…but everybody wants to find out for themselves.”

3. Slogans aren’t how real business works.

As James says: “The world of slogans is one percent of how business works — and then there’s real business.”

Most businesses don’t start with venture capitalists investing millions of dollars before the company has even turned a profit. Most businesses start by getting customers to part with their hard-earned, after-tax cash for whatever product or service that business is selling.

That’s why it’s so hard.

4. Motivational slogans and quotes and Instagram pictures aren’t making people happy.

Because they paint pictures that just don’t align with reality, motivational slogans, inspirational quotes, and Instagram pictures aren’t making people happy. For example, you might get pumped up reading the words “Hustle your way to success” that you’ve stuck next to your desk, but what if you’re hustling for the wrong thing? Then it doesn’t matter how hard you hustle — it will always end in failure. And apparently failure makes people unhappy.

That’s why James likes to “deflate” these slogans and quotes. It’s also why he has low expectations — or, in some cases, no expectations. If you have low expectations, then it’s easier to be happy. If you have no expectations, then it’s even easier.

And, like James says, “I can change reality slowly, but I can change my expectations right now.”

5. Minimalism isn’t just about possessions.

Minimalism isn’t just about possessions — it’s about you and your expectations. As we learned above, if you have low expectations or no expectations, then it’s so easy for them to be exceeded and, therefore, for you to be happy.

It’s not just about possessions. As James says, minimalism is “the key to more contentment in life.”

6. You can’t possibly adopt every positive habit that exists.

Because there are hundreds — maybe even thousands — of them, it’s impossible to adopt every positive habit that exists. It’s kind of ironic that all this information that’s out there about productivity and habits and success and whatever else is maybe making people unhappier than before — because it’s just overwhelming. You don’t know where to start, and so you just don’t start.

Maybe just let yourself off the hook, pick one, and see how it goes. Wouldn’t that be a relief?

7. It’s not about “them.”

It’s about you. Always.

For example: you might not be living the life you really want to live because you don’t want to disappoint your parents. But it’s not really about disappointing your parents — it’s about you not being confident or secure enough in who you are to live your own life. The life you know, very deep down, you can live.

It’s not about them. It’s about you.

8. “You can’t compartmentalize — every part of your life affects every other part.”

Every part of your life intertwines with every other part. Take health, for example. It affects literally every single other part of your life. If you’re not healthy, you can’t do your best work, or maybe even work at all. If you’re sick, it’s much harder be present with the people you love. You can’t look after anyone else if you’re not looking after yourself. Well, you probably can. But for how long? Could you live like that forever?

This reminds me of the old saying: “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

9. Be aware of your ego.

When things are going well, James says, you have to assume you are not a genius. You have to stay humble. You have to be aware that your ego desperately wants you to believe in how amazing you are.

When things are not going well, you have to assume it’s your fault. You have to take responsibility. You have to be aware that your ego desperately wants to blame other people or other things.

10. “My mistake was focusing on a future that didn’t exist.”

You do this. I do this. We all do this.

We focus on what might happen, on what could happen, on every possible “what if” scenario — for what? How many of the things we worry about actually come true?

We’re all scared, and we’re all trying to be okay. So it’s understandable why we do this. But it doesn’t help us. Because, like James says, we’re focusing on a future that doesn’t exist, and probably never will.

What would happen if we stopped focusing on the future and started focusing on the present? On what is happening right now? On our reality as it is, rather than what it could (or “should”) be?

If these 10 nuggets of James Altucher wisdom aren’t enough for you, here’s what else you’ll hear on episode 540 of The Art of Charm Podcast:

  • Why we make the same mistakes again and again and what we can do about it.
  • The lesson James still can’t seem to learn.
  • What meditation really is.

Listen here, learn, and enjoy!

Matt Hearnden - author of 7 posts on The Art of Charm

Matt Hearnden is a writer in the UK, and he publishes a new post every day over at matthearnden.com. He took voluntary redundancy from the corporate world a few months ago and is now pursuing his dream of writing full-time. More important, he has lots of tattoos and plays basketball.


in Art of Business, Art of Personal Development, Entrepreneurship, Productivity, Self Mastery