There's no doubt that Albert Einstein was a pretty smart cookie -- he changed the world forever with his theory of relativity. But Einstein didn't just figure things out for his own benefit. He was a teacher who honestly believed wisdom and knowledge shouldn't be hoarded. As you try to get the most out of your life and business, count yourself as Einstein's student and heed these solid pieces of wisdom.

1. Pursue what you love, and find the silver lining in the rest.

In a letter to his son, Einstein wrote, "Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don't notice that the time passes."

These days, we tend to accept the fact that work is "work". We assume that what we do at the office is going to be difficult or take the energy and life right out of us. In fact, we're so accustomed to work being a source of anxiety that we write entire books on how to relax, and major groups have to warn us about the physical and emotional consequences of stress. But Einstein didn't buy it. He believed that we do better and learn more if we like what we do, and science (unsurprisingly) backs him. A study by the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy found that happy computer developers write better code than unhappy workers, for instance, linking positive mood to better problem solving outcomes. Studies also connect happiness to academic outcomes in students. Frank Thissen, a Multimedia Didactics and Intercultural Communication professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart, Germany, notes that cognition comes second to emotion, and that positive emotions help people remember more complex things.

2. Clarify what you stand for, and aim to connect with purpose to other people.

When Life editor William Miller asked Einstein for some advice about his son, Einstein replied, "Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value." Values--what you believe or view as important--define what goals you set and the behaviors you have with others. If those goals and behaviors are clear and consistent, you and everyone else can make concrete plans, and others learn they can trust you. That's a big reason why companies put so much emphasis on carving out vision statements that outline what they stand for. Secondly, psychology says that progressing on your goals can make you happier and more satisfied and, wonderfully, actually help you stay on task. Once your values are in place, success typically follows.

Notwithstanding the above, Einstein might not have been speaking here of ideals, but rather of the relationship people have with each other. A person is valuable, in Einstein's concept, when he is giving back to others. In his essay, "The World as I See It", he stated, "But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people -- first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving." With this understanding, the concept of being a role model, teacher and compassionate neighbor is itself a personal value you can frame your behaviors and policies around.

3.Get rid of what's complicated, and study until you can explain the ideas in layman's terms.

When talking with French physicist Louis de Broglie, Einstein said that people should be able to describe all physical theories simply enough "that even a child could understand them". Many people have summarized and rephrased this as "If you can't explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself," frequently (but incorrectly) attributing the quote to American physicist Richard Feynman, who made similar statements.

Think of Einstein's words here as a more polite rephrasing of the old acronym K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid!). When you give lots of information in a complex way, you force your listener's brain to work really hard. It has to use up a lot of energy context switching and processing all those different pieces of data coming in. Your brain works hard, too, because it has to recall and piece everything together. Approaching explanations as though you're talking to a kid (or a non-expert adult) forces you to simplify and do away with unnecessary info, because kids and non-experts still don't have a lot of the information you do to reference. You have to summarize and prioritize what's most important, which you can't do unless you identify the heart of the concept. The brain thus says thank you, processes faster and remembers better. You can apply this idea not just when you want to train or teach someone, but also when you're reviewing for yourself. If you can't pare it down to bullet points and cut the jargon out, you probably haven't really internalized the data yet and need to do some more study in a fresh way.

Einstein was a master of physics and mathematics. But he also was incredibly astute about how to maximize learning and achieve more. What we've learned over the past several decades about the brain and psychology demonstrates his advice was right on the money, so don't be afraid. Dive in, learn and do more, starting today.

Published on: Dec 21, 2016
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