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Think how cool the Navy Seals had to be to chopper into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden. The good among the great I’ve encountered are also cool, calm and collected. They have highly objective, even detached personalities. When you first meet them, they can come across as a little bit cool or aloof. But they are also deeply connected to the rest of humanity, especially those they love. It’s simply a paradox.

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Hollywood has produced a crop of hit movies about mind control.  Bob Mondello’s excellent April 15th piece on NPR’s All Things Considered, Movies That Mess with Your Mind, is a great review of four recent hits about struggling to control one’s mind and life:  Inception, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless and Source Code.

The gist of each plot is that contemporary men and women are losing control of their very selves; and further, that there are insidious and pervasive others who control us. In our highly connected, media-soaked lives, it’s easy to think that this is a new phenomenon. It’s not.

The late great psychologist, Abraham Maslow, wrote that the vast majority of people “do not make up their own minds… They are pawns to be moved by others rather than self-moving, self-determining individuals. Therefore, they are apt to feel helpless, weak, and totally determined. They are prey for predators, flabby whiners rather than self-determining, responsible persons.”

Ouch! It’s bad enough that we’re “pawns to be moved by others,” but Maslow has to throw in that we’re “flabby whiners” too. (No wonder the hottest consumer product these days is the new girdle, Spanx.) Setting aside America’s weight problem, how is it that most of us are pawns, to be moved about by others?
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“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
E.E. Cummings

The first chapter in my new book The Good Among the Great discusses how to become autonomous. Autonomy means looking within, accepting and acting on your deepest, truest desires, and forging a life that reflects you—and then relaxing about it.

The first step is to believe deep down in your guts that it’s not selfish to follow your wants. Becoming “who you really are” is about freedom for yourself and usefulness to others. These are lofty goals, not self-serving ones. You owe it to yourself and to the world to be yourself. The trick, of course, is how.
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19 Personality Traits of The Good Among The Great

Trait #8: RealisticA Clearer, More Efficient Perception of Reality

This is the big one when it comes to earthly success. I’ve found that the single biggest advantage that moguls and power brokers have over the rest of us is that they ‘get it’ faster and with less effort than the rest of us.

Some of the best observers of human nature also found that recognizing reality, warts and all, was necessary to succeed. The late 20th Century psychologist, Abraham Maslow wrote that the top one percent in terms of psychological health has a “greater freshness, penetration, and efficiency of perception.” The late, great psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is an ongoing process or dedication to reality at all costs.”

Know thisif you’re navigating life with a clearer mental windshield, then all of your thinking, judgment and choices improve. If you develop a fresher, more penetrating perception of what people around you want and how situations actually arose, it will be as if you have a kind of x-ray vision into others’ motivations as well as circumstances… and even the future. You will spot frauds faster, you will trust your own impressions more, and you will get much better at predicting outcomes.

This is Chapter 8 of 20 within my forthcoming book, The Good Among the Great. This books aims to prove theaories of Abraham Maslow’s regarding the best individuals he could find. Maslow believed that only one percent of mankind, maybe less, were truly healthy, autonomous adults. Maslow died before he could pursue data-rich research; so much of this is his theory or a very educated set of observations about the exceptionally strong temperamentally. However, after interviewing hundreds of the world’s top business and political leaders, I found that Maslow’s 19 traits to be spot on when it comes to a subset of ultra achievers–the good among the great. Conversely, I found another subset, actually maybe the majority, among the high and mighty–the hyper-aggressive, to be profoundly lacking in many of these traits.

Back to reality and how the good guys among great achievers are wedded to it: Great individuals are realistic about everything, including themselves. Most of us don’t critically examine our “selves”–our strengths and weaknesses, faults and foibles, fears and longings. We don’t test our assumptions, nor do we look stoically at the repercussions of our actions. We certainly don’t recognize our blind spots. And we all have blind spots.

Indeed, whole societies have blind spots. Remember how a majority of Americans believed that the Iraqi’s had weapons of mass destruction, even after it was proved that they did not.

One of my favorite quotes is also a favorite of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman, Charlie Munger“Recognize reality even when you don’t like itespecially when you don’t like it.”

OK, but how? First of all, shut-up. Second, listen.

Coming up: Part 2, “How Intel’s Andy Grove Absorbs Reality”

Cheers from Sonoma,

Donald