Don’t Follow Your Passion, Do Less to Achieve More and The Magic of the Failed-Simulation Effect

For the few readers who don’t already know, one of my favorite bloggers is Cal Newport. Cal just published a new book which tackles the question of what does it take to be remarkably successful and still have a remarkably enjoyable life.

I recently had a spoke with Cal talking about ideas such as:

  • Why following your passions can be a trap
  • The power of the “failed-simulation effect” in allowing remarkable accomplishments without agonizing effort.
  • How doing less in an unusual way will actually achieve more

I recorded the conversation and you can listen to it here. It’s a bit over thirty minutes, but if you’ve enjoyed my latest articles about the pursuit of the ideal life and some of the unconventional strategies to reach it, I think it’s well worth the listening time.

Click here to download or listen to the full conversation.

Notes on the Conversation

Here are my notes from the conversation which you can also use as a guide when listening:

0:00 – I introduce Cal and his new book
3:05 – Cal and I discuss the “superstar” effect and how it impacts your life
5:20 – What counter signaling is, and why putting club president on your resume might make you look worse
7:15 – Why the rules of success change when your goal is to be world class
11:00 – We explain what the failed-simulation effect is, why it works (and why it’s underused)
19:00 – Cal attacks the dominant ideology that you need to “find your passion”
21:30 – Don’t follow your passion—build one in a field where you can win
23:30 – Take advantage of poorly defined competitive structures
25:10 – What the research actually says on how people find passions
28:00 – How to achieve more while doing way less work
31:20 – Being best in the class versus being best in the world
33:40 – Cal’s advice on being incredibly impressive (hint: it’s not by suffering now to win later)

How to Become a High-School Superstar

I highly recommend getting Cal’s book, where he goes into way more detail on his research into what makes people stand out and achieve more. You can pick up a copy here, and definitely check out Cal’s blog StudyHacks.

  • David Button

    G’day Scott!

    I’ll be sure to check out this useful resource over the next coming days.

    Whilst reading your guide, “How to achieve more while doing way less work” grabs my attention as it’s something I’d like to learn about. I’ve encountered the truth behind the statement.

    As an example, meditation sessions can be more productive by doing less – that is, by running a less-structured session. This way, the brain is more relaxed and flexible, allowing for mental resources to be distributed in more creative ways whilst the body’s relaxation deepens.

    When you relax, “magic” happens.

  • John W. Komdat

    Cal’s new book is terrific. I’m working on getting into a graduate program in philosophy, and instead of just grinding myself thin for the sake of grades and a high GRE score, I’m actively pursuing opportunities for creating the Failed-Simulation Effect.

  • Nick

    This talk helped me flesh out a lot of ideas that you and Cal have written about. Thank you.

    I do have one suggestion. There was a lot of static feedback, especially when you were talking. This made it a bit difficult to hear you and at times Cal. Is there a way to re-master the audio? An idea for your next audio post.

  • Scott Young


    Yes the audio problems came down to a last-minute technical issue. I did my best to clean it up, but with my skills the only real alternative would be to reschedule and re-record.

    Hopefully it doesn’t distract too much.


  • Educated Exchange

    Awesome conversation!

    I had never really, formally, thought about the failed-simulation effect, but it makes so much sense, especially how trying to imagine one example of it is a catch-22 because of its nature.

    The idea of moving from high school to the world also really stuck out to me. I agree that making use of free time to explore and engage in new and interesting areas is necessary to find what works for you.


  • Kim

    Great interview. It’s refreshing to hear that taking risks is a better decision than to just simply follow a structure and try to wade through the competition. I thought it was impressive how that one guy started a software enterprise for the government when he was only 15! It just goes to show what kind of rewards you could reap when you find your own niche.