A.J. Jacobs is an author, journalist, lecturer, and human guinea pig. He has written four New York Times bestsellers that combine memoir, science, humor, and a dash of self-help. Among his books are The Year of Living Biblically, Thanks a Thousand, and most recently, The Year of Living Constitutionally. He is a contributor to NPR, The New York Times, and Esquire, among others. He has given several TED talks that have amassed over 10 million views.

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The Learning Leader Show

  • John Quincy Adams once said, “Gratitude… when it takes possession of the bosom, fills the soul to overflowing and scarce leaves room for any other sentiment or thought.”
  • Ask yourself the question, “What good shall I do today?” When you’re upset that your social media post didn’t get as many likes as you thought it would stop and think, ‘What good shall I do today?” It can reframe how you approach others and be more servant-based (which is a mark of a great leader)
  • The fox mindset versus the hedgehog mindset. A hedgehog has a single lens. It’s more rigid thinking. A fox sees the world through many different lenses. It’s more flexible and adaptive. That is a theme of this conversation. Be open, be less judgemental, and be more curious about the way others view the world. “The older I get, the less certain I get of my opinions.”
  • “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.” AJ shared that when he was dedicated to the thank you project even on a bad day when he was focused on saying thank you, his mind eventually caught up to his body.
  • Change Your Mind – the founding fathers did this a lot. Daniel Kahneman said, “No one enjoys being wrong, but I do enjoy having been wrong because it means I am now less wrong than I was before.”
  • Be Humble In Your Opinions – Ben Franklin told a short parable. He said, there was a “French lady, who, in a dispute with her sister said, I don’t know how it happens, sister, but I meet nobody but myself that is always in the right. The point is that we are all that French lady. We all believe we have a monopoly on the truth. (Remind yourself that you’re wrong sometimes)
    • Flexibility of mind: Many of the Founding Fathers were open to the idea that they might be wrong, and more willing to change their minds than leaders are today. At the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin summed up this open-mindedness: “The older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment.”
  • Think Slow – There are parts of modern life that would benefit from an enforced speed limit. We need fewer hot takes and more cold takes. We need more slow thinking. Writing in depth letters by hand forced ideas to be more nuanced. Thumb-texting acronyms have the opposite effect. Slow down consumption. Forced self to read the news just once a day.
    • The value of slow thinking: For the year, AJ wrote a letter with a quill instead of using social media or texts. It was a revelation. It led to a less impulsive, slower style of thinking – a waiting period for his thoughts.
  • Embrace Virtue – In the founding era, virtue was a cherished ideal (now it’s often used in the phrase virtue signaling which is not a compliment). “A virtuous person puts the interests of others before their one. They focus on those two key words in the Constitution’s Preamble, “General Welfare.”
  • We Control the Sun – The sun carved on the back of George Washington’s wooden chair at the Constitutional Convention. The sun was cut in half by the horizon. Was it rising or setting? At the end of the convention, Ben Franklin said he was convinced it was rising. America had a bright future (the world is built by optimists) Whether the sun sets or rises on democracy, that’s up to us, we the people.
  • In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin tells a story about his father criticizing his writing.“About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator,” Franklin wrote, “I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.”
  • AJ’s goal was to try to understand the Constitution by adopting the mindset and lifestyle of the Founders for a full year. He committed to living as the original originalist as a new way of searching for answers to one of the most pressing questions of our time: How should we interpret America’s foundational document today?
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Time Stamps

More Learning:

Episode 078: Kat Cole – From Hooters Waitress To President of Cinnabon

Episode 216: Jim Collins — How To Go From Good To Great

Episode #300: AJ & Keith Hawk – How To Instill Work Ethic & Curiosity In Your Children

Episode #303General Stanley McChrystal – The New Definition Of Leadership