How to Be Extraordinary: The 7 Childishly Simple Rules

Why Be Ordinary When You Can Be Extraordinary?


Nobody wants to be ordinary.

Nobody wants to be the type of person whose name everyone forgets, who comes back from a two-week holiday and nobody realizes you were gone, and whose loved-ones struggle to come up with anything interesting to say about in a wedding speech or eulogy.

Everybody wants to be extraordinary. And I believe everyone can.

It’s not too hard, never too late, and not even that complicated. As we’ll see in this post on how to be extraordinary, it’s child’s play.

How to Be Extraordinary at Anything

  • The Game
  • The Rules
    1. Play our own game.
    2. Know what you’re really looking for.
    3. Look in different directions.
    4. Move in the most likely direction.
    5. Listen for feedback.
    6. Don’t worry about mistakes.
    7. Keep moving.

The Game


Life’s extraordinary game happens to have the same rules as a childish game my mom played with me when I was a little kid. It’s called TherMOMmeter.

Here’s how the game went:

  • I’d leave some toy lying around, forget where, do a crappy job looking for it, get upset, and plead to my mom to help me find it. (Somehow, she always knew.)
  • Rather than tell me where it was, she’d help me find it by saying, “getting warmer,” or, “getting colder,” when I moved closer or farther from where it was hiding.
  • When I got really close, she’d say, “really hot” and “burning” until I found it.

Pretty simple.

And pretty boring. No wonder my mom and I don’t play it anymore.

I’m playing a grown-up version of Thermometer now. It’s way more difficult and way more fun. But the rules are the same and they tell us how to be extraordinary.

Don’t worry about what others want or have. Play your own game.

Rule 1:
Play Your Own Game

“It didn’t take guts to follow the crowd, that courage and intelligence lay in being willing to be different.”

Jackie Robinson

Being extraordinary starts with thinking independently, not worrying about what others are doing, and playing your own game.

Fight your natural instinct to follow others. If you don’t, you’ll go in the wrong directions because you’ll be playing someone else’s Thermometer game, not your own.

Example

Back in the day, it was all the rage to eat small meals throughout the day. Everyone said it kept your energy levels constantly high, so I followed along.

It didn’t work. All it did was make me hungry all the time. And energy my non-stop snacking gave me was wasted thinking about how and what I was going to eat next.

Finally, about five years ago I got fed up with this “conventional wisdom” and went looking for a way to eat that worked for me.

Think about what you want before going after it
Think about what you really want before you go after it.

Rule 2:
Know What You’re Really Looking For

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

Whatever it is you’re looking for is rarely as obvious or tangible as a hidden toy. This makes it easy to fall into the trap of looking for the wrong things like having a nicer lawn than your neighbor or a designer purse that costs more than its contents. Those things won’t make you extraordinary.

To find what you’re really looking for, try another childish tactic: Ask “Why?” over and over again. Within a few honest answers to “Why?” you’ll get to what you’re truly looking for. Then you can judge your next move by whether or not it gets you closer.

Example:

I was eating four or five times a day, plus snacks.

Why?

Because I wanted to quench my incessant hunger.

Why?

Because when I feel hungry I’m not focused and I want to be focused.

Why?

Because I want to focus on things that matter to me, not food, with the little time I have in this grown-up Warmer/Colder game.

So there it is. Whatever new eating habit I chose, I knew I’d be getting warmer if maximizes my energy while taking minimal time.

Rule 3:
Look in Different Directions

“The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.”

Dean Simonton

Once you know what you’re looking for, you have to find all the possible directions you can move in to find it. This involves doing research, brainstorming, keeping an open mind, and/or figuring it out through trial and error.

How long you spend looking around depends on how important the move is and how easy it is to reverse course in case you go the wrong way and start getting colder instead of warmer.

Example

I read some books, listened to some podcasts, and talked to knowledgable friends to get a general understanding of how the human metabolism works.

The more I learned, the more I realized there was little to back up the claims that we should eat throughout the day. If anything, the opposite seemed more likely. Instead of eating more than three meals a day, I found a different direction I hadn’t considered before: eating twice or once—and sometimes not at all!

Confidently choosing a direction
When you make a choice, make it with confidence. Don’t dilly-dally.

Rule 4:
Move Confidently in the Most Likely Direction

Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.

Peter Drucker

Once you know what you’re looking for (Rule 2) and what your options are (Rule 3), the next rule falls into place: Pick the most likely best option and move in that direction.

Often, it’s an unconventional move, which can be scary or risky. That can be a sign you’re on the right track. Keep Rule 6 in mind and do it.

Hesitating doesn’t help. The only way to know if you made the right move or not is from feedback. And the only way to get feedback is to move, so you might as well move with confidence.

Example

Making the move to eating fewer meals a day wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t like the idea of “starving myself” and none of my friends had experimented with eating only once or twice a day. They’d think I was crazy.

But everything indicated it was the right direction. It would certainly save me time and my research told me it could improve my energy and focus.

So I gave it a go.

Rule #5:
Listen Carefully

There is no motion in a straight line. A straight line infinitely projected becomes a circle.

Swami Vivekananda

No matter how well your previous move turns out for you, if you keep going that way you’ll eventually go too far and start going the wrong direction.

To know when to turn, listen carefully for signs telling you you’re “getting colder” and be open-minded enough to accept it. The sooner you get the message, the sooner you can adjust and get back on course in an extraordinary direction.

Example

As time progressed it got easier and easier to restrict myself to only two meals a day. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it. It became my routine.

I felt so good I started looking into whether I could push it further. If cutting down to two meals a day worked so well, would only one meal be even better?

Not finding what you hoped for is part of the game.
Not always succeeding is part of the game. It’d be too easy otherwise.

Rule #6:
Don’t Worry About “Getting Colder”

“When something goes wrong in your life just yell ‘PLOT TWIST’, and move on”

Molly Weiss

Imagine how boring life would be if you continuously moved in the “getting warmer” direction. It’d be like playing darts while standing within arm’s reach from the dartboard.

That’s why you shouldn’t ever worry about “getting colder.” Uncertainty is what makes the game exciting. Sure, it feels crappy to make a mistake, but you’ll rarely regret it in the long run and have the best stories to tell.

Luck plays a big role, anyway.

Example

Eating one meal a day didn’t work out as planned.

Even though it did save me time and I still didn’t feel hungry, it had unexpected negative side effects. When I ate a giant meal in the evening, my body would work so hard at digesting it that it messed with my sleep. And if I ate my giant meal earlier I couldn’t eat with Kim and the rest of the world who ate later.

So I gave up on that approach. It works for some people but not for me, at least for now.

Keep moving and keep searching
Don’t stop moving and searching.

Rule #7:
Keep Moving

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

Albert Einstein

This rule’ pretty simple.

Whatever it is you’re looking for in your pursuit of extraordinariness, it isn’t going to find you. You have to keep searching for it.

And in grown-up Thermometer, the game doesn’t stop if you find what you’re looking for. Life doesn’t stand still and neither do the extraordinary things you’re looking for. Keep following rules one through six to find them. The more you play the game, the more extraordinary you’ll be.

Example

These days I mostly eat twice a day, but I’m open to changing my routine.

A couple years into my new eating habits, I took the challenge of fasting for three days. It turned out to be such an extraordinary experience that I’ve made multi-day fasts a regular thing. I’ve gone as far as five days and will probably go even longer at some point.

Or maybe at some point my metabolism will change or some new science will emerge that will compel me to do something new. The game of how to be extraordinary never stops.

Finding what you're looking for.
Eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Extraordinary Results

Let’s recap the seven rules for how to be extraordinary:

  1. Play our own game.
  2. Know what you’re really looking for.
  3. Look in different directions.
  4. Move in the most likely direction.
  5. Listen for feedback.
  6. Don’t worry about mistakes.
  7. Keep moving.

The more we apply these seven rules in everything we do, the more extraordinary our lives will be. We’ll enjoy healthier eating habits, better travel experiences, more fulfilling careers, stronger relationships, and look back at life knowing we’ve done as best we could in the grown-up Thermometer game.

Happy to have found what you're looking for
The only way to win is to play the game.

Extraordinary Inspiration

Here are a few sources of inspiration to keep you playing your extraordinary game:

  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. Tales from the extraordinary life of the bongo drum-playing, lock-picking, strip club-supporting, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman.
  • The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce. Tim Urban is maybe my favorite blogger and this post inspired a lot of my own extraordinary thinking. Be warned that this post is so long it’s almost more like a book. Jump straight to the section titled “The Cook and the Chef” if you don’t have all day.
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Donald Miller’s memoir about how he learned to live a better story inspired me to make my life story-worthy as well.
  • The Unconventional Monthly. A proud plug for our newsletter, where we explore extraordinary ideas on a new topic every month.
The more you search, the more you find, and the more extraordinary your life will be
Keep playing the game for extraordinary results.

Start Playing!

Please let us know your questions or comments about these rules for how to be extraordinary.

And for inspiration on new directions to take on your searches, check out some of the extraordinary ideas on our blog and subscribe to The Unconventional Monthly.

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Chris and Kim

Kim and Chris started The Unconventional Route in 2018 to share their experiences exploring extraordinary places, things, and ideas. Now, over 150,000 people a month read their questionable advice. Every week, they share a new complacency-challenging and curiosity-tickling idea in their newsletter, Consider This.