You've probably may have heard the success formula "fake it until you make it." The idea is to act as if you've already achieved a goal; your brain finds ways to bring your external situation into sync and people sense your (at first fake) self-confidence and treat you accordingly.

For example, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you start by believing that you're already an entrepreneur, even if you've never started a company. You find role models to teach you how an entrepreneur thinks and acts and you start thinking and acting that way. People notice... and might want to invest in your idea.

The most effective way to "fake it until you make it" is to find a role model and incorporate the mental processes of that role model into your own catalog of thoughts and beliefs. Using the example above, you can do that by finding a mentor or by reading books (and columns!) that are by and/or about entrepreneurs.

While ​many and probably most people would like to be billionaires, few (so far as I can tell) delve very deeply into the peculiar ways that billionaires think about things. Lack of that perspective makes "fake it until you make it" difficult if not impossible. Fortunately, there have recently been some groundbreaking studies about how the ultra-wealthy think and behave.

In addition, many billionaires have become much more public about themselves and their interests, thereby allowing us mere mortals to construct a mental model of how they think which (according to the theory) should position anyone who adopts that model to become a potential billionaire.

With that in mind, here are five beliefs that most billionaires appear to hold in common:

1. "I am better than you."

Self-made billionaires tend to believe that life is a meritocracy and that they've become rich because they're superior to everyone else. Billionaires who've inherited their wealth possess this the same sense of superiority, in the apparent belief that they've inherited better genes than everyone else.

The classic statement of this belief comes from the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are."

Now, all of that sounds very horrible and non-egalitarian, but if you're truly serious about becoming a billionaire, and you're not planning on winning a huge lottery, you are automatically assuming that you're better than other people. So while you should definitely keep this belief to yourself, you might as well be honest with yourself.

2. "I can accomplish anything."

Regardless of how they got their money, billionaires tend to be exceedingly self-confident about what they can accomplish as individuals. The undeniable fact that they can buy just about anything they want becomes conflated into the belief that they can accomplish anything they want.

A perfect example of this are the billionaires (Kochs, Soros, etc.) who use their money to alter the entire course of a country without ever wondering (apparently) whether their ideas have merit. Same thing is true of billionaires who run for high office even if they're obviously completely unqualified for the job.

While this kind of hubris can be destructive to society at large, it's also true that successful people in general and entrepreneurs specifically are almost always overconfident in what they can accomplish. Without a certain amount of overconfidence, would-be entrepreneurs couldn't be able to muster the gumption to start their own business in the first place!

3. "The rules don't apply to me."

A series of studies conducted at the University of Michigan concluded that the wealthy tend to behave more unethically than those who lack wealth. They were more likely to

  1. Break the law while driving.
  2. Exhibit unethical decision-making.
  3. Take valued goods from others (steal).
  4. Cheat to increase the chance of winning a prize.
  5. Endorse unethical behavior at work.

The tendency towards unethical behavior is apparently proportional to the amount of wealth and even if the wealthy person came from an impoverished background. 

Of course, the main reason billionaires think they can get away with anything is because they have the money to hire the best attorneys, pay off people they've harmed, and so forth.

Needles to say, if you don't have that kind of money, you'd best limit yourself to believing that you can break the rules in an "out of the box thinking" way. I'd maintain that nearly every successful entrepreneur has a secret belief that a little rule breaking is essential to success.

4. "I really don't care."

People were shocked when Melania Trump wore a jacket emblazoned with "I really don't care. Do U?" While the message was unpolitic, it neatly summarized the attitude that some billionaires (and evidently some of their wives) have towards people who are less fortunate than they are.

While some billionaires, like Bill Gates, actively use their wealth to make wide-scale improvements to the world, the sad fact is that most billionaires give sparsely and often donate to only to causes that offer them publicity or social status. Many start family foundations that appear to be mostly a way to dodge taxes.

While I find it personally appalling that some billionaires are so heartless, there's a level of "I really don't care" that's healthy. Look, if you're going to be successful, at some point, you'll need to break free from basing your happiness upon what other people--especially people you don't know--think of you. 

In any case, if you want to think like a billionaire and still want to give to charitable organizations, you've got to scrap the idea of "don't let your left hand know what your left hand is doing." If you give money, give it very publicly and make sure you get all the credit you deserve. I know that sounds gross, but that's what "fake it until you make it" demands.

5. "I love my hobbies."

If you choked on the previous belief, hopefully you'll find this one a bit more palatable. It seems today like everyone is talking about their side hustles. Fun stuff to discuss, but billionaires never have side hustles. Instead, they enjoy hobbies that have no financial value. Some famous examples:

  • Elon Musk collects James Bond memorabilia.
  • Warren Buffett collects ukuleles.
  • Bill Gates collects books and manuscripts.
  • Mark Zuckerberg kills and eats his own food.
  • Jeff Bezos collects old rocket parts.

Now, you could argue that billionaires pursue those hobbies because their money gives them the time to pursue them but, in fact, many billionaires are workaholics but still manage to find time for their hobbies. Elon Musk works insane hours... but still finds time to putter around with his collection. 

Hobbies are powerful because they send your brain the message that you are more than just your job. While you can twist them into a productivity tool ("it's a way to relax"), billionaires don't seem to think about them that way. They see hobbies, in and of themselves, as a source of meaning in their lives.

I think that's healthy. I'm not saying you shouldn't work hard or that you should feel bad for having a side hustle if you need that to get by or prepare for your next career move. But you could, and probably should, find time to do something active and interesting that's not connected to your finances.

Published on: Mar 7, 2019
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