Six Human Needs — Which Two Drive You?

According to  Tony Robbins, we are all driven by six human needs:

1. Certainty/Comfort  

2. Uncertainty/Variety 

3. Significance 

4. Love/Connection 

5. Growth 

6. Contribution 

Every action, every reaction, every emotion, every thought we ever have can be traced back to one or more of these human needs.

The first four are the basic, primary needs.  The last two are the secondary, higher needs.

When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.  – Eleanor Roosevelt

Which two drive you?

Six Human Needs Tony Robbins Emotional Intelligence


Are you ready to evolve?

Albert Pine Quote on Contribution

Trust: the #1 Aspect of Every Single Relationship


“Many people are blind to trust, not so much to its benefits as to its nature and the practices that make it possible.” – Robert C. Solomon

The #1 aspect of all relationships is trust.  Without trust, there is no foundation for the relationship to be built upon.  As trusted advisors, all attorneys and aspiring attorneys owe a solemn duty to inspire the trust of clients and of the public.

Unfortunately, trust can take years to build but only seconds to break.

Abraham Lincoln quote on trust

Why is forgiving so easy but re-building trust so difficult?  What is trust, anyways?

Trust involves a trusting party and a trusted party.  The result is trust, which has three essential elements:

  1. Vulnerability to the trusted;
  2. Confidence that the trusted will not exploit this vulnerability;
  3. Optimism that the trusted is competent in certain respects.

Thus, a trusted advisor makes a client feel confident that her best interests are in mind and provides valuable, relevant advice for her needs.

A. The Uncertainty of Lending Pens and Hiring Lawyers

Trust can be tangible or intangible.

When I let you borrow my pen, I trust you will return it.  When I hire you as my attorney, I trust you will competently perform legal services.  Trust means I don’t have to put a GPS device on my pen or a surveillance camera in your office.  In other words, the act of trusting occurs when the trusted party is not being watched.

I (the trusting party) am vulnerable in both of these scenarios.  I’m abandoning control.  With control abandoned and vulnerability opened, I’m uncertain.  

This is a problem because the need for certainty is the most fundamental of all human needs across all human beings — no one is exempt from the need for (at least some) certainty.

Trust fills in the gap between uncertainty and certainty.  Without trust, there is zero certainty.  With trust, there’s at least a degree of certainty.

B. Trust and Game Theory

Prisoner's Dilemma

The prisoner’s dilemma proves  trust may be “illogical”

In the prisoner’s dilemma, two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned.  Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to the other.  The police don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge.  They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge.  Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain — if he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge.  Oh, yes, there’s a catch…If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.

The possible outcomes are:

Prisoner B stays silent (cooperates) Prisoner B betrays (defects)
Prisoner A stays silent (cooperates) Each serves 1 year Prisoner A: 3 years
Prisoner B: goes free
Prisoner A betrays (defects) Prisoner A: goes free
Prisoner B: 3 years
Each serves 2 years

Interestingly, game theorists conclude that the optimal strategy is betrayal. 

If the other prisoner chooses to stay silent, then betraying them gives a better reward (no sentence instead of one year) and if the other prisoner chooses to betray then betraying them also gives a better reward (two years instead of three).  Because betrayal always rewards more than cooperation, rational self-interested prisoners would betray their counterparts, and the only possible outcome for two rational self-interested prisoners is for them to betray each other.

The “logical” game plan is to betray.  If both prisoners follow this strategy, they will each serve two years.

But they would get a better reward if they cooperated!  If both prisoners follow this strategy, they will each serve one year.

To follow the cooperate/cooperate strategy, trust is required.  So how is trust created?

C. What’s the Key to Trust Creation? 

“Trust is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage in business.”  – David Maister (author, The Trusted Advisor)

According to Maister, the creation of trust between two parties depends on a reciprocating exchange.  Party A takes a small risk to trust Party B.  A is the trustor (doing the trusting), B is the trustee (the one who is trusted).  If B agrees to the new relationship, the result is a higher level of trust.

The key to trust creation is reciprocity.  The trustor takes a risk, and if the trustee reciprocates, trust is created.  If not, trust isn’t created.

Lao Tzu Trust Enough Quote Trusted

The absence of trust can be caused by:

  • too little trustworthiness on the part of the trustee, or 
  • too much risk aversion on the part of the trustor.

If you want to be trusted, you have two strategies you can pursue:

  • increase your level of perceived trustworthiness, or 
  • kick-start the reciprocity relationship by first playing the role of trustor.

The second strategy capitalizes on the idea that “the best way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”  To make yourself more trusted, according to Maister, you might demonstrate vulnerability by offering to trust first.

The natural human reciprocal response is to return the gesture — tit for tat.

Reciprocity is deeply embedded in our psyches

Reciprocity is deeply embedded in our psyches

So, if you want your client to trust you, find some ways to trust them.

Trusting + Trusted = Trust.

Osho Quote on Trust Powerful

D. The Four Principles that Govern Trustworthy Behavior

According to the Trusted Advisor Associates, four principles govern trustworthy behavior:

  1. A focus on the other for the other’s sake (not just as a means to your own ends);    
  2. A collaborative approach to relationships;
  3. A medium to long-term relationship perspective (not a short-term focus);
  4. A habit of being transparent.

I think lying underneath all of these principles is the art of actively listening.  As Steven Covey puts it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”  In other words, take out your shovel and dig below the surface.  Why is the client asking you to do certain things or to work in a certain way?  What’s motivating them to do that?  What are their underlying interests?

Listening is the Way to Building Trust

Listen your way to their trust.

Also underneath all of these principles is the fact that trust is an emotion.  Emotions narrow our perception to certain “fields of evidence” that support the emotion.  When we’re in the grip of an emotion, we focus on facts that affirm its existence and are resistant to facts that negate it.  This explains the fact that trust is tough to build but easy to break.  Specifically:

  1. Humans are negatively biased (perception and memory are very limited; as a survival mechanism, we focus much more on the negative than the positive); 
  2. The most fundamental human need is certainty (feeling of security);
  3. The emotional brain is much older than the logical brain (words and promises are irrelevant; only actions mean anything)

In other words, history — for our purposes — is a select collection of predominately negative memories.  Add in the fact that most humans anticipate the worst case scenario and rely on the idea that “history repeats itself.”  We find: trust is tough to build but easy to break.

For survival purposes, our brain focuses on the negative at about a 5:1 ratio over the positive.  This helps explain why trust is so hard to build but so easy to break.

For survival purposes, our brain focuses on the negative at a 5:1 ratio over the positive.  This helps explain why trust is so hard to build but so easy to break.

So use the above principals wisely.  Build trust carefully.  And keep building.  Do not adhere to the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Keep fixing.  Keep trusting.

Nietzsche Quote on Trust Lied to Me



  • Trust, which starts when no one is watching, is the #1 aspect of every relationship 
  • It’s difficult to gain and easy to lose (negativity bias)
  • Trust fills in the gap between certainty (basic human need) and uncertainty (caused by delegating task to trusted party)
  • Reciprocation, which is deeply embedded in our psyche, is a great way to build trust (kick-start the trust-building process by trusting first)
  • Other trust-building components are transparency and actively listening (“seek first to understand”)

A Letter to Law Students Studying for Finals (and anyone else stressed out)

Law School Finals Stress Cramming Antidote

Dear Friend,

To do extremely well on your finals, you might want to consider the inside — not just the outside.

The outside: cases, case notes, class notes.

The inside: your state of mind; your ability to focus, to persevere, to guide your thoughts, to remain calm and collected in the face of a challenging question.

Could you invest just 5 minutes today to meditate?  (such a practice, I argue, is better than 5 hours of studying).

Cramming and stressing out will severely inhibit your ability to THINK when faced with a challenging, open-ended question on the final.

Antidote: meditating and laughing.

Birds regurgitate; lawyers think.  To think, clear your mind.  To clear you mind, meditate; follow your breath, observe your thoughts (let them fly by like clouds).


You will do great and you already know too much,


Meditating During Law School Finals

P.S. – try this 2 minute guided meditation with Rumi poetry for beginners (I love this entire YouTube series — “The Meditator” by Deepak Chopra).  If you go to you can get the mp3 file and put it on your iPod!

11 Keys to Effective Human Communication (and the #1 secret to getting anyone to like you)

The Art of Listening for Law Students is the Key to Success in Life

What’s the #1 secret to getting anyone to like you?

One of the fiercest political rivalries of the 19th century was between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.  Both were vying to become the next Prime Minister — at that time in England, the winner would practically control half the world.

A young woman dined with the men on consecutive nights.

A reporter asked her about her impression of the rival statesmen.

“When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England.”

“But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

Listening is the Greatest Gift you can Give to Anyone

Without further adieu, here are the 11 keys to effective human communication:

1. Look into their eyes (or imagine doing so if you’re not speaking face-to-face).

2. Actually listen (instead of ignoring them, anxiously waiting your turn, or talking over them).

3. Continue listening (what are they REALLY trying to say?)

4. Find comfort in the silent spaces (words and silence are like life and death — there’s no one without the other)

5. Smile (it’s contagious)

6. Nod as you continue actively, actually listening (nodding also happens to be one of the most effective persuasion methods) 

7. Listen to what they aren’t saying (how often do they pause?  are they comfortable with silence?)

8. Listen to how they say what they say (vocal inflections, tone, speed)

9. Be on the lookout for non-verbal clues (e.g. you can tell they’re very happy/excited about what they’re saying if their eyes smile at you as they speak)

10. Give them feedback to show how much you really care about what they’re saying (“Let me  make sure I understand what you’re saying, I think you said [summarize their main points].”)

11. Ask them open-ended questions (be like Sherlock Holmes on the look-out for clues; inquire if necessary)

Covey Listen to Understand

It doesn’t matter whether you speak or stay silent the whole time (so steps 10 and 11 are optional).

Words are a tiny portion of communication — in fact, they often get in the way of communication.

Most people just really, really want someone to Listen.

The Word Listen Contains the Same Letters as the Word Silent Quote How to Listen

P.S. – Benjamin Disraeli won the popular election.

P.P.S – The author wrote this blog post for self-guidance.  Learning to listen is a life-long journey; many people die having never experienced the wonderful feeling of truly listening.

What Are You Waiting For? (happiness is always here and now)

Happiness in Intelligent People is the Rarest Thing I Know Ernest HemingwayBy now you know emotions and logic aren’t best friends

So why are you waiting for a reason to be happy?

Abraham Lincoln on Happiness

Here’s the secret to being happy: choose to be happy now.

(luckily, it’s always now)

Gaze into the world with eyes of wonder and a heart overflowing with gratitude.

Laugh at yourself.

Smile at others.

Accept everything as it is.

Let go of trying to control that which you can’t control

(like your thoughts, your feelings, other people, and 99.9% of the things you worry about — including the past and the future).

Epictus Happiness One Way Stop Worrying Quote

If you insist on basing your happiness on a reason, here’s one: you’re alive!

(the other 300,000,000 sperms who lost the race would gladly trade places with you).

Albert Camus Never Be Happy If You SEARCHStruggling for happiness is one of the best ways to NOT be happy.

Happiness is beyond reason, beyond logic.

Happiness is what’s left when you let go of searching and struggling.

Happiness is Always Here and Now

Shred your illusion that happiness is around the corner.

Happiness = Here + Now.

Lao Tzu The Whole World Belongs to You Quote

P.S.  if you want to be really, really happy, make it your life mission to make others really, really happy.

No One Is Stopping You But You, So Stop Stopping You

Who is Going to Stop Me Ayn Rand

You can do anything you want, be anyone you want.

The only one stopping you is you.

So stop stopping you.

Seth Godin Stop Sabotaging Your Own Work

No one else gets to decide for you!

Follow your heart, not the mob.

Dare to Be Different Progess

Fear may hold others back, but it doesn’t hold you back.

When you fail — and you will fail many times if you’re doing something worthwhile – keep trying until you succeed.

J.K. Rowlings Quote on Failure

Keep moving.


No blaming.

No complaints.

No excuses.

I Don't have Time

Death is fear.

Life is courage.

Life Courage Vincent Van Gogh

Set Yourself Free: Forgive Yourself, Forgive Them.


I read a true story recently.

A middle-school boy is in a broken home, no father-figure, no one cares for him.  He joins a gang.  His initiation: kill someone.  The boy picks another boy he barely knows from school.

The next day, after school, the new gang-member walks up to the innocent boy and shoots and kills him.

The police catch the murderer.  The mother of the dead, innocent boy is outraged.

At the murderer’s trial, right after he is sentenced to spend a few years in juvenile prison, the mother stands up, points to the convicted murder and shouts “I will kill you!”

The mother, her heart filled with hatred and unanswered questions, occasionally visits the murderer in juvenile prison.

Years later, the murderer is freed.

The mother asks him “do you have food to eat?”


“Do you have a job?”


“Do you have a place to stay?”


The mother tells the boy: “I will cook for you, get a job for you, and I have a spare bedroom you can sleep in.”

The freed murderer accepts.

Years later, the mother sits in the living room and asks the boy to come in.

“Do you remember, at your trial, I told you ‘I will kill you’?”

“Yes ma’am, I’ve thought about it every single day.”

“Me too,” replies the mother, “and I have already killed you.  You are not the boy you once were.”

“I want to adopt you,” the mother says, “I want you to be my son.”

The boy accepts.

[The above story is from Jack Kornfield’s audiobook Awakening is Real.  Minor details may have been changed because I wrote this from memory] 

Gandhi Forgiveness

There are three kinds of forgiveness (all of which you can do):

1. Of yourself from others (your thoughts or feelings you have that you think caused or should cause others to hold on to bitterness/hatred against you)
2. Of yourself (your own bitterness/hatred against yourself)
3. Of others from yourself (your feelings or thoughts of bitterness/hatred against others)


How to Forgive

Try the following meditation from Jack Kornfield:

To practice forgiveness meditation, let yourself sit comfortably, allowing your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into the area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions that you have carried because you have not forgiven – not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Then, breathing softly, begin asking and extending forgiveness, reciting the following words, letting the images and feelings that come up grow deeper as you repeat them.

FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS: There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, cause them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger and confusion. Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See and feel the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each memory that still burdens your heart. And then to each person in your mind repeat: I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.

FORGIVENESS FOR YOURSELF: There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly. Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.

FORGIVENESS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HURT OR HARMED YOU: There are many ways that I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed. Let yourself picture and remember these many ways. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that you can release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness when your heart is ready. Now say to yourself: I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.

Let yourself gently repeat these three directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart. For some great pains you may not feel a release but only the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.


Here’s a guided, audio version of the meditation.

And here’s another version.


You will discover that forgiveness is a choice that you make.

And it’s self-soothing.

No Longer Defined By The Pain But The Future PossibilitiesForgiveness is not condoning the past.  You don’t even have to make amends with the actual person (if it’s someone other than you).

Forgiveness starts with you, on the inside.

It’s freeing yourself from your own prison of bitterness, hatred, and other negative thoughts and emotions.

(since you built the prison and put yourself in a cell, you can walk out anytime you want — you’re the prisoner and the warden)


If you’re having a tough time forgiving or you want to learn more about the psychology of forgiveness, start with the REACH model for forgiving.

Forgiveness = Freedom.

Happy forgiving!  

Who Do You Think You Are? (the most important exercise)

The answer to this question is the answer to all of your problems

The answer to this question is the answer to all of your problems

When you say “I,” who are you referring to?

Are you your name?  Your body?  Your occupation?  Your life history?  Your religion?  Your beliefs?  Your thoughts?  Your emotions?

Who are you, really?

This is an immensely important question.

If you think you’re the brain or you’re running the show from the brain, let me tell you about the sea squirt.

At one stage in this tadpole-like sea creature’s life, it swims over and buries itself into a rock.  Can you guess what’s the first thing the sea squirt does inside the rock?  That’s right, it digests its own brain and nervous system!  Then it continues to live, motionless, inside the rock.

(the sea squirt is also an excellent example of what happens when you continue doing the same thing every day or you never challenge yourself)

So maybe your true Self isn’t the brain or tucked away inside the brain.

If You are not hiding inside the head, then who are you?

If You are not hiding inside the head, then Who Are You?

Who are you, then?

Let’s try a liberating exercise.

Take out five pieces of paper (you can break up one sheet into five pieces) and write down five separate answers to the question “Who Am I?”

(you can write anything you want; “law student,” “Christian,” “Mike Jones,” “Joe and Jill’s daughter,” “a human being,” etc.)

Then order your five pieces of paper with #1 being the furthest from the “core” of who you think you are and #5 being the closest to the core of who you think you are.

Place the stack on your desk.  Pick up #1.  Look at what you wrote down.  Read it to yourself.  Feel it.  Say “this is who I am.”

Then prepare to say good-bye to your first illusion.

Crumple up the piece of paper (literally).

Place the crumpled up piece of paper in front of you.

Pick up #2.  Look at what you wrote down.  Read it.  Feel it.  Say “this is who I am.”

Then say good-bye to your second illusion.

Crumple it up.

Crumpled Up Balls

Continue this process until you get to the last piece of paper.

You might feel anxious, uncertain, or scared as you read and feel your most central idea of who you are.

But it too must be crumpled and tossed.

Now you have five balled-up pieces of paper.

(if you don’t have at last five crumpled up pieces of paper in front of you, stop reading and start doing this important exercise).

What remains is who you truly are.

It may feel weird at first.  But it’s actually the most wonderful realization you can possibly have.

No Self, No Problems.  


Illusions of Self are the root of all of your problems.  Throw them away.

Repeat this exercise as many times with as many illusions as you want.  If your ego is especially stubborn, do it every single morning.  Even if you realize who you truly are, you may want to continue this process to let it truly sink in.

Keep tossing away illusions

Keep tossing away illusions!

Your true Self, you will discover, is beyond labels, words, ideas, thoughts, emotions.

Once you crumple up and throw away all of the illusions, You will be free.

Man standing with hand out, looking up, paper balls in mid-air around him

Goodbye, Illusions.

The world needs You, not the illusion of you.

(food for thought: why do many people who commit suicide fire the bullet into their head?) 

Rumi Ocean

This exercise may seem weird.  You may resist doing it.  You may resist continuing with it until the realization really sinks in.

Resistance is a sign that you must do it; it’s vitally important.

So if you haven’t actually taken out the pieces of paper and done the exercise, do it.

And if you’ve only done this exercise once or twice and there’s no change, then keep doing it.  No excuses.

The person is a concept Only Being is Real

Interesting Fact: the word “person” actually comes from the Latin word “persona,” meaning mask or facade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual; an assumed identity or character (like in a play).

When you realize who you really are, you will be ready to become who you were meant to be.

You will be ready to give this world the gift that has been inside of you all along.

You will be able to treat everyone and everything compassionately.  You will be able to overcome every single one of your petty problems.

You will be free from unhealthy obsessions that plague society — like greed, consumerism, selfishness.


I read a book on happiness recently.  It said the #1 most important exercise to becoming happy is to Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself.

That’s a great practice.  It’s highly recommended.

Eckhart Tolle

But the practice we’re doing right now is even better.

(instead of “Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself,” it’s “Stop Yourself”…or… “Stop Feeling Illusions Of Yourself”).

You will feel unimaginable levels of the most profound bliss when you reach this state.

Happiness will now be a purely internal state, unaffected by anything external.

No Other Greater Ecstacy

You will be free from basing your happiness on the weather or anything or anyone else.


(a pretend disease that pretend people pretend to have)

Happiness will no longer be a Pursuit.  Or a goal.  Or something that hopefully will happen sometime in the future.

Happiness will not be circumstantial.

And depression won’t exist.

Who will be there to be depressed?

Anger won’t exist.

Who is angry?

Hatred won’t exist.

Fear won’t exist.

All bad things, bad feelings, bad thoughts require a subject.

What happens when there is no subject?

(the feelings and emotions may still pop up, but they will float away like a balloon — no one is there to hold onto these negative states and negative beliefs)

“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.  As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’  Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.  This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals.  Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin…The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.'” – Alan Watts

Surrender to your true Self.

There is a voice that doesn't use words.  Listen.

Toss away all Illusions.


 And do not be afraid when you realize who you really are.


Do not let the ego know the truth.

Simply become the truth.

God Rumi

It’s Your Fault (and Stop Complaining)

It's Your Fault

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Most of us are really good at playing


Right now, jump out of your chair and shout “GAME OVER!”

It’s time to stop pointing the finger at anyone or anything other than yourself.  It’s time to develop a ritual of taking too much responsibility.

(how about getting a Complaint Free Bracelet and challenging yourself to go 21 days without complaining?)

“The power behind taking responsibility for your actions lies in putting an end to negative thought patterns. You no longer dwell on what went wrong or focus on whom you are going to blame. You don’t waste time building roadblocks to your success. Instead, you are set free and can now focus on succeeding.” – Lorii Myers

I promise, taking responsibility for anything you have control over will bring you tranquility, self-esteem, self-empowerment, and a winning attitude.

(it takes a lot of energy, focus, and stress to decide who or what to blame)

Just try it out: 21 days without blaming anyone or anything else.

“Liberty means responsibility.  That is why most men dread it.” – George Bernard Shaw

Will you join me in the journey toward self-responsibility and becoming complaint free?

complaint free world photo




Grades Don’t Matter. Just Do Your Best


“Just do your best.” – Buddha’s last lesson 

Grades don’t matter.

“Get A’s” should never be your goal.

Instead, your goal should be: “do my best.”

The 1L Curve is mean — only a handful of the hundreds of bright, talented students in your section will get an A in any given class.  Past your 1L year, many professors are stingy with handing out A’s (this isn’t high school).

The Stoics (such as Marcus Aurelius) advised to set internal rather than external goals.

Thus, your goal in law school should not be to be #1 in the class or get a 4.0 (something external, over which you only have partial control).

Instead, your goal should be to study and perform to the best of your ability in every class (something internal, over which you have complete control).


By choosing the internal goal you will spare yourself the frustration or disappointment should you not achieve your external goal: Since it’s not your goal to be the best, you will not suffer the emotional turmoil as long as you do your best.

If you put in 50% effort and get an A-, you should feel ashamed.

If you put in 100% effort and get a C, you should feel proud.


Note: doing your best and being the best are actually causally connected; you’ll probably get higher grades if you’re only competing with yourself.

The wise Stoics realized that our internal goals affect our external performance, but they also realized that the goals we consciously set for ourselves can have a dramatic impact on our subsequent emotional state.

In particular, if we consciously set out to be #1 in the class as our goal, we arguably don’t increase our chances of being #1.  In fact, we might even hurt our chances: If it starts looking, early on, as though we are going to get lower grades than we hoped, we might become frustrated or burned out, and this might put us out of the race.

Further, by having our goal linked to an external event that may or may not happen (e.g. get all A’s!), we dramatically increase our chances of being upset on grade distribution day.

But if we set our goal as doing our best, we arguably don’t lessen our chances of getting excellent grades, but we do lessen our chances of being upset on grade distribution day.

Thus, internalizing our goal as doing our best has an upside — reduces emotional anguish in the future — with no downside.

You have complete control over the amount of effort you put into your studies, your essays, your finals.

You have little to no control over the grades you get.

(in fact, it’s well established that professors use the stair toss method to grade exams — luck might not be on your side that day).



  • Your Goal: Do My Best! (you’ll be happier and you’ll perform better)
  • Not Your Goal: Top 10%! (you’ll go crazy and you’ll open yourself up to burnout)

P.S. – Joe Biden, the guy with the most chill job in the world, graduated in the bottom 10% of his law school class.

Joe Biden Sleeping


You can always be VP.