James Altucher | Minimal Expectations (Episode 540)

James Altucher | Minimal Expectations (Episode 540)

James Altucher | Minimal Expectations (Episode 540)

James Altucher (@jaltucher) is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, podcaster, and author of several books, including Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream. He joins us to talk about — among many things — the benefits of minimizing expectations for maximum happiness.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Need to jump start happiness? Lower your expectations.
  • People seem to react better to advice by autobiography than advice by slogan.
  • If a giant stack of money is your be-all, end-all measure of success, you might want to redefine success (or prepare for a heaping helping of disappointment).
  • How does someone live well without renting or owning?
  • The checklist James uses to make sure he’s operating as his best self (which also keeps him from disappointing others).
  • And so much more…


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Most of the people we interview here at The Art of Charm are eager to share the secrets to their success — that is, what they did right to get where they are today.

Author, podcaster, entrepreneur, speaker, and chess gadabout James Altucher returns to The Art of Charm to give us a different perspective: what he did wrong along the way, and how keeping expectations to a minimum has maximized his happiness.

More About This Show

James Altucher isn’t afraid to talk about his mistakes, missteps, and failures. After all, it’s the misadventures that make for better storytelling — and James is, first and foremost, a storyteller. If sharing the regrettable parts of his life spins a better tale than reporting only his success stories, so be it. If by reading one of his books or blog posts — or listening to him speak in a podcast or on a stage — benefits others with lessons learned from his miscalculations, then all the better.

“I’m not trying to write personal improvement,” says James. “I actually want to be a writer and artistic about it. And I think to connect with people, you want to write about an experience you have that they also might have had. And I think most people experience that — and then maybe they succeed and maybe they don’t. I’m just writing about my experiences and what I’ve done to come through. I’m not interested in the personal improvement industry. I’m not interested in slogans.”

James doesn’t believe people easily take advice. If they’re doing something wrong, they’re going to keep doing it wrong until they learn from their own mistakes. So he dispenses advice as autobiography. “I tell my autobiography, and people can decide what they want to do with it,” he says.

Inversely, this helps James get a handle on his own perspectives.

“I just say I’m probably experiencing something related to what you’ve experienced, I hope,” he continues, “because it’s been pretty much a disaster for me, so maybe it’s been a disaster for some other people so I don’t have to feel so bad all the time about it!”

On the subject of slogans, James says they’re mostly useless from a practical perspective. They may make us feel good — and even motivate us into action from time to time — but they’re not a magical set of keys that will unlock success without hard work. “The world of slogans is like…1% of how business works,” says James, “and then there’s real business.”

But what is success? For the majority of people, having more money than they know what to do with sounds like a pretty good measure of success. But to someone like James, who’s lived as a prince as well as a pauper, simplicity is a much kinder — and accurate — way to acquire and maintain it.

“If I’m happy with low expectations, I’m going to be pretty happy in general,” he says.

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about where James’ New York chess buddies play when it’s cold outside, how he gets by without owning or renting a place to live, why — given the means — he’d rather couch surf than buy and maintain David Bowie’s old house, why happiness equals reality over expectations, how negative criticism that bothered you as an insecure teenager will probably bother you now (but also how you can deal with it without rolling up into a shivering ball of tears under your desk), the checklist James uses to make sure he’s operating as his best self (which also keeps him from disappointing others), what meditation really is, what happens when we step too far out of our comfort zones, how James mitigates risk by assuming the worst, how experience with failure can be a valuable skillset, why being in debt is better than simply being broke, and lots more.


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