“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.”
William Shakespeare (Poet and Playwright; Hamlet)
“When you’re rich, ‘crazy’ is just ‘eccentric’.”
Ziad K. Abdelnour (President & CEO; Blackhawk Partners, Inc.)
“Being crazy isn’t enough.”
Dr. Seuss (Poet and Cartoonist; Cat in the Hat)
Madness, if it makes you successful, is not madness. It’s only madness if it holds you back.
Whenever something weird happened to me in graduate school I’d tell my friends I was going to write a book about it and they’d look at me like I was crazy. Then I got out of graduate school and started writing a book. The idea of writing it seemed fun and cool at first but then things got hard. I had to isolated myself on and off for weeks and even months to get it done.
Some days I’d wake up really excited and get a flash of brilliant ideas that would send me into a hyperactive tailspin of research and writing. I’d feel alive and present and like everything was going to work out and be amazing. A few hours later I’d feel like jumping off a cliff. I’d start feeling like I was wasting my time and not making any progress, which would make me sad and depressed. So, I’d reach out to people for support. Then, I’d push them away so I could get more work done. When things got really bad I’d do little rituals like smile in front of a mirror or yell out positive affirmations or watch funny YouTube clips all alone and laugh hysterically like a maniac.
I remember this one Friday night in college when I went to the gym wearing three sweatshirts on top of each other because I was still 2.7 pounds overweight for tomorrow morning’s wrestling match. The funny thing was that when I walked into the gym another wrestler was already there sprinting on the treadmill. He had three sweatshirts on too. His face of bright red and he was gasping for air. I watched him click the big red stop button on the treadmill, step off, and then collapse onto the floor. He writhed back and forth in pain for about 30 seconds before standing up to leave. I remember thinking, as I walked over to the treadmill to do the same thing, why would anyone torture themselves like this?
Profound …And Insane
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was a sculptor, painter, and architect widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time. Michelangelo’s work, such as his Pietà and David sculptures and his Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings, carried with them a level of intensity and psychological insight that no one at the time had ever seen before. As a result, he received commissions from some of the most wealthy and powerful people of his time. But, Michelangelo was also a recluse. He hated interacting with other people and would often walk away from people mid-conversation. And when his brother died, he skipped the funeral. Michelangelo was also dirty. He rarely bathed or changed his clothes and would even sleep in full dress attire, regal shoes included. Sometimes he would wear his shoes for so long without taking them off that his skin would start to peel away. Gross.
Recent studies suggest that Michelangelo may have had Asperger’s disorder, or high-functioning autism. This makes some sense given his reported single-minded work routine, unusual lifestyle, limited interests, and poor social skills. But all of this is just speculation. Maybe he didn’t have a disorder at all. Maybe he just liked paint more than he liked people. Maybe he was just following some kind of naturalist health craze. I know a lot of bloggers and paleo diet fanatics that are way crazier than Michelangelo.
15 Crazy Things Successful People Do
A lot of very successful people are completely crazy. But most of them just seem crazy from a distance. If you get close enough to them, you can see that there’s clearly a method to their madness. Of course, some people, successful or not, have very real psychological problems that require treatment. That’s not what this article is about. This article is about the seemingly psychotic, yet controllable quirks and eccentricities that a lot of successful people have. In many cases, it’s these people’s insane-like behavior that helps them stay successful. But your goal should not be to mimic crazy behavior. Your goal should be to start seeing your own idiosyncrasies as strengths. Here are 15 clinically insane things successful people do to get ahead:
1. Have delusions of grandeur.
People calling you arrogant or nuts is usually a sign that you’re headed in the right direction.
In psychology, a delusion of grandeur is the fixed, false belief that one possesses superior qualities such as genius, fame, omnipotence, or wealth. It is most often a symptom of schizophrenia, but can also be a symptom of bipolar disorders or certain forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s.
People with a delusion of grandeur often have the conviction of having some great but unrecognized talent or insight. They may also believe they’ve made some important discovery that others don’t understand or appreciate. Think Claire Danes in Homeland or Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.
The paradox is that many of the world’s most successful people also have this symptom. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the list goes on and on. The first thing that you have to do in order to be successful is believe that you are successful. You have to see yourself as great and meant for greatness even though it seems crazy given your current situation.
Never let other people destroy your delusions of grandeur. Stay delusion. You were meant for greatness. It’s only a delusion until you become great.
2. Have breaks with reality.
Maladaptive daydreaming is a condition that was first described by a guy named Eli Somer. The disorder is characterized by compulsive fantasizing that replaces human interaction.
I’m pretty sure I have this disorder. Sometimes I’ll just sit in a room and stare at the wall while my brain lives out some fantasy or paints a picture of something I really want. Is that maladaptive? I’m not sure.
Successful people are constantly escaping from their current reality. They do this by creating a vision for where they want to go, what they want to do, or who they want to be. And then they visit their vision over and over again until it becomes a reality. Of course, they take a lot of action too.
Breaks with reality are necessary for anyone trying to get ahead. Don’t stop creating new visions for your life. Fantasies are your greatest assets. Hold on to them. Make them real.
3. Experience mania.
Mania is something that all successful people have experienced at one time or another. The odd thing is that they usually experience it while working towards a particular goal, rather than after achieving it.
A manic episode is usually described as an overly joyful or overexcited state and is most often associated with bipolar disorder. Studies show that the symptoms of mania can be the consequence of increased activity in central dopaminergic pathways.
In other words, manic episodes are the result of a kind of dopamine storm in your head. But these storms, if controlled, can be extremely useful. If you’re flying high and feel on top of the world – great – use it to your advantage. Write down all the ideas you have while you’re in that emotional state and do as much creative work as possible.
Just don’t expect that high to last forever. There’s a rhythm to everything and you have to acknowledge the lows just like the highs.
4. Get depressed.
Depression can be useful. Letting yourself sink into a temporarily sad state has value. The pain of it can be motivating and the release of it can be refreshing. The key is to make sure that you don’t sit in your sad state but that you find a release.
Some of my best, most creative workdays have been followed by intensely depressing nights. There’s something about my mental energy being depleted that makes me start feeling sorry for myself. I’ll start feeling like none of my work is paying off. Then, I’ll start feeling guilty for thinking this way.
I used to try to work through this low sate. But now I don’t. Instead, I accept it. I leverage it. I use the pain as motivation for the next day. And instead of trying to work through it or force myself to be happy, I’ll entertain it by reading something mellow or by watching something melodramatic.
Low points provide momentum. They keep the pendulum swinging so that another high point can be reached. Don’t try to avoid the low points, accept them when they come and use them to your advantage.
5. Get co-dependent.
Successful people experience intense bouts of loneliness. This is usually brought on by the fact that most other people will never understand them or their dreams. To make up for this, successful people often develop co-dependent relationships with their clients, employees, and other successful people.
In broad terms, codependency involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. This can be a very bad thing if the person whose needs you’re putting above yours has a drug addiction or a real psychological illness. But, what if the person whose needs you are putting above your own is your client, employee, or collaborator.
Successful people know the value of giving before getting. They’ll allow themselves to enter into a kind of co-dependent relationship with other people by putting their needs last. The difference is that these successful people remain self-reliant. They are able to serve without being walked all over.
6. Withdraw socially.
Robert James “Bobby” Fischer is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. Starting at age 14, Fischer played in eight United States Championships, winning each one by at least a one-point margin. At age 15 he became the youngest grandmaster ever and at age 20 he won the 1963–64 U.S. Championship with the only perfect score in the history of the tournament. In the 1970’s he dominated everyone including Boris Spassky of the USSR to win the World Chess Championship. Then, in 1975, he became a recluse and disappeared for almost 20 years.
Many of the world’s most successful people have experienced social anxiety at one time or another. As a result, some withdraw permanently at the height of their success, like Bill Watterson, the writer of Calvin and Hobbes, Dave Chappelle of Chapelle’s Show, Emily Bronte, the author of Wuthering Heights, and J.D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher and the Rye. Others, like Quentin Tarantino, Eminem, and Ernest Hemingway, withdraw temporarily to do creative work and then reappear when the work is ready to be promoted.
Temporary isolation is an important ingredient to success. Finding time away from other people and their opinions will give you a chance to develop your own original work. Creativity flourishes in privacy. But then it needs to be released. Don’t feel bad for withdrawing from time to time. Just make sure that you come back and are always there for the people closest to you.
7. Talk to themselves.
Talking to yourself can be a symptom of schizophrenia but it isn’t the only symptom and it’s definitely not the main symptom.
Studies by Gary Lupyan and Daniel Swignley published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology show that talking to yourself, or using “self-directed speech”, triggers mental pictures that can help you function better. In one experiment, they showed two groups of people different objects and asked them to find just one — a banana. One group was instructed to repeat out loud what they were looking for and the other group was instructed to be silent. The group who talked to themselves found the banana faster than those who didn’t.
Another study from Carnegie Mellon University published in PLOS ONE showed that positive self-directed talk, or “self-affirmations”, can protect against the damaging effects of stress on problem-solving performance.
8. Hear voices.
Everyone hears voices. The difference is that successful people control the voices that they hear.
Most people allow negative voices to play in their heads over and over again. They hear things like, “You idiot, what were you thinking?” or “You’ll never be able to do that!” Successful people, on the other hand, program their minds with positive voices. They mentally record things like “You got this!” and “Stay focused on XYZ!”
These kinds of internal voices, or mental recordings, are usually referred to as self-talk. There are two kinds of self-talk. The first kind is instructional self-talk which is most useful for tasks requiring technical skills, like wrestlers repeating “heavy hands” or swimmers repeating “elbows up” to themselves. The second kind is motivational self-talk, like repeating “crush it” or “get some” to yourself, is most useful for tasks requiring strength or endurance.
The key is to actively choose the voices in your head. Prepare scripts in advance and practice using them under varying conditions, not just when everything is going your way.
9. Act obsessively (and compulsively).
Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla was born in July of 1856, in what is now Croatia. He came to the United States in 1884, and briefly worked with Thomas Edison before the two parted ways. Tesla went on to play a major role in the discovery and use of radio waves, A/C electricity, computers, robotics, radar, ballistics, and nuclear physics. Tesla made so many discoveries that some historians refer to him as: the man who invented the 20th century.
But, Tesla also suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He was a severe germaphobe and refused to touch anything bearing the slightest hint of dirt. He also refused to touch anything round, which certainly made his engineering work much harder.
Tesla was obsessed with the number three. Before entering a building, he would walk three times around the block. When staying in hotels, he insisted on a room number divisible by three. At each meal, he would use 18 napkins and have them placed in three stacks of six.
Obsessive-Compulsiveness can be crippling and many people with the Disorder absolutely need medication to function. But, some people, are just mildly obsessive and compulsive. And many of these people are able to use their OCD tendencies to be more productive and successful.
The key is to obsess on the right things, like having a positive impact on yourself and people, not on washing your hands over and over again and avoiding round objects.
10. Throw it all away.
At the height of his fame, MC Hammer’s net worth was valued at around $33 million. The only problem was he was spending $500,000 a month on his 200-person staff that included family and friends and people from Oakland that he was trying to get off the street.
Other costly expenses included the mortgage on his $10 million mansion, the maintenance and upkeep on 17 luxury cars, and the acquisition and care of 21 racehorses. When Hammer eventually filed Chapter 11 in 1996, he claimed only $1 million in assets and $10 million in debt.
After his superstar status faded, Hammer became an entrepreneur. He created a handful of record labels, has dabbled in tech start-ups and is currently the CEO of Alchemist Management, a Los Angeles-based athlete management and marketing firm specializing in mixed-martial-arts fighters. He has more than three million followers on Twitter and routinely lectures about social media and marketing at top business schools like Stanford University and Harvard University.
Many of the most successful people in business are a little bit suicidal, but not in the physical sense. They’re suicidal in the sense that they’re willing to go big and risk everything in order to keep moving forward. This suicidal tendency – this willingness to throw it all away — gives them with a lot of leverage. Of course, you shouldn’t spend recklessly like Hammer, but you should never let fear of losing what you have keep you from talking new ground.
Successful people know that things like their health, relationships, and experiences are the only things that should be protected. Everything else can be thrown away.
11. Excessively flirt.
The American Psychiatric Association defines histrionic personality disorder (HPD) as a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking that includes inappropriately seductive behavior and an excessive need for approval. People affected by HPD are lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious.
Wait, what’s the problem here? I’m failing to see how being more lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, or even flirtatious is a bad thing. Yes, I realize that being overly dramatic is annoying and possibly harmful but I’d rather someone error on the side of being too lively and vivacious than on the side of being too deathly and sullen.
Successful people are master attention-seekers. They have to be. We are in the middle of the attention (or, connection) economy. The world is being de-industrialized. Massive medical device manufacturers like Beckman Coulter who create products that literally save people’s lives are being sold for 6.8 billion while mobile text-messaging Apps like WhatsApp are being sold for 19 billion.
If you don’t know how to get attention, without being annoying, you and your business won’t survive.
12. Have fits of rage.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is a behavioral disorder characterized by extreme expressions of anger, often to the point of uncontrollable rage, that are disproportionate to the situation at hand. I know about 10 people off the top of my head who might have this disorder. They probably don’t really have IED though. They probably just repress their anger day in and day out until it explodes all over the place.
Successful people don’t repress their anger. They let it out in small, productive doses. This does two things: it prevents their anger from building up and releasing itself uncontrollably, and it improves their personal and professional health. For example, studies show that releasing anger can help you live longer, prevent age-related health declines, make you happier at home, and get you promoted at work.
13. Have imaginary friends.
Napoleon Hill, the very successful author of Think And Growth Rich, believed that when two of more people with similar interests and mindsets met together that a sort of “third brain” or “Master Mind” was formed. This third brain allowed each member of the group to tap into a “sixth sense,” which Hill described as “that portion of the subconscious mind which has been referred to as the Creative Imagination.”
But what if the members of your Master Mind group live far away? What if you can only meet with them a few times a year? Hill has the solution:
Long before I had ever written a line for publication, or endeavored to deliver a speech in public, I followed the habit of reshaping my own character, by trying to imitate the nine men whose lives and life-works had been most impressive to me. These nine men were, Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford, and Carnegie. Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my “Invisible Counselors.”
The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman.
This sounds pretty wild but I’ve created my own imaginary council and can tell you that meeting with them (in my imagination only of course) has an astounding effect on my perspective.
Creating a council of fake people is totally nuts but you should try it.
14. Torture themselves.
Consider this: the results of Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin’s famous longevity study, which tracked 1500 people for almost 100 years, found that sacrificing work-life balance to things like a torturous work project or an extremely difficult personal goal helped individuals live longer. People who lived part of their life way out of balance to achieve something important lived longer than people who lived well-balanced lives. In fact, there wasn’t a single exception to this rule in the study.
Stress — the right kind of stress — is like a miracle drug. Don’t shy away from it.
15. Laugh hysterically.
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 was an outbreak of mass hysteria, believed to have occurred in or near the village of Kashasha on the western coast of Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania near the border of Kenya.
The laughter started with three girls and spread haphazardly throughout the school, affecting 95 of the 159 pupils, aged 12–18. Symptoms lasted from a few hours to 16 days in those affected and the school was forced to close down on March 18, 1962.
Schools in the surrounding villages were also affected. For example, 217 people from the neighboring village of Nshamba had similar laughing attacks. The phenomenon is reported to have lasted for six to eighteen months.
There are only a few cases of hysterical laughter taking over small populations of people. But there are millions of cases of hysterical laughter being used to release stress and enhance both creativity and productivity. In fact one scientific study showed that hearty, hysterical-like laughter can relieve physical tension and stress for up to 45 minutes.
Successful people create their own hysteria. They laugh both when they work and when they play because laughter makes everything better.
What’s one seemingly insane thing that you do? Does it help you get ahead or does it hold you back?
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