Watch an interview with a celebrity chef sometime. The interviewer will almost always ask, “What’s your big secret?”
You get the impression that they want to hear about a secret seasoning, a twist of the wrist when chopping, or a golden-ratio cook time calculated down to the decimal. Some magical kitchen jiu-jitsu that produces the amazing cuisine that people line-up or book tables months in advance just to savor.
Usually, these celebrity chefs respond, half-embarrassed, with the most basic answer imaginable.
“I use the best ingredients.”
That’s it? That can’t be it. Are you telling me I can open a world-class restaurant if I just start shopping at Whole Foods instead of Target?
It’s one of those answers that is deceptively simple. Yes, 90 percent of a chef’s job is done if they can obtain the best ingredients, but how does he or she go about obtaining the best ingredients?
To find their secret ingredients, chefs must first master the craft of identifying what the best ingredients are. They need to prowl farmer’s markets and fisherman’s wharfs, scout butcher shops and spice mongers, all in search of the best flavors. Some actually forage for unique ingredients from the nearby wild flora. Many of them even go so far as to establish their own gardens so that they can control the process from the ground up. Then they invest in the best seeds and the best soil.
These chefs are expressing a truism that applies far beyond the culinary world: Your outcomes depend on your inputs.
Think back to Isaac Newton and fourth-grade science class; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So think of your life as a banquet. What kind of ingredients are you cooking with?
Garbage In, Garbage Out
This principle isn’t limited to fine dining. People who write computer code have an expression: garbage in, garbage out. In other words, if you write bad code, you’ll get bad results.
So what are your inputs? What do you take in on a regular basis? Does it reflect the outputs and results that manifest in your business and your life?
Let’s start at the gut level, literally. What do you put in your mouth? Fast food, soda, cigarettes, and alcohol? Or do you turn toward whole foods and water? I’m not talking about a cheat meal or a night out—I mean consistently, on a regular basis. What outputs do you see—sluggishness and gastric distress, or meal prep and clean running?
What inputs do you subject your body to? An entire day sitting in chairs or lying on sofas, or do your days involve some quantity of standing, walking, and exercise? What outcomes do you observe? A body that’s falling apart, or a well-oiled and attractive productivity machine?
We live in an attention economy with millions of stimuli fighting for our attention. Which ones get in—Netflix shows and TikTok feeds, or books, lectures, courses, and meditation? What outputs do you observe—a gradual dulling of your motivation and a compulsive need for stimulation, or mental agility, the ability to solve problems, and the ability to find peace in silence?
What inputs go into your professional life? Is your day peppered with distractions and interruptions—emails, phone calls, DMs, impromptu meetings, and chatty colleagues—the urgent always crowding out the important? Is your time consumed by low-level tasks, or do you delegate and ruthlessly eliminate the unimportant—applying the 80/20 rule and blocking yourself off from distractions so that you can focus and do deep work? What outputs emerge? A whole week spent spinning your wheels, or leaps forward in productivity and income?
You’ve heard the cliche: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So who do you spend the most time with? Legacy friends and family members who don’t have the outcomes you want? People who settle for “good enough” and complain about how the world is against them? Or do you associate with a crew of dynamic, successful go-getters who encourage you to take risks and excel? What outcomes do you observe—a safe social circle stuck in neutral, or a rising tide that lifts all boats?
If you aren’t seeing the outcomes you want in any of these areas, try this: Change your inputs along at least one of the vectors. It doesn’t even have to be the same vector. If your business or work life is on the skids, you may think you need to do something different in your professional life. Maybe. But who’s to say you will make the right call, especially if you’re struggling and acting on fear?
Instead, change an input around a different vector. Replace Coca-Cola with water. Commit to reading a chapter of a new book every day in place of an hour of Netflix viewing. Take inventory of your friends and quietly cut out someone toxic. No need to pick a fight, just cancel any plans and unfollow them on social media so they don’t even pop-up on your radar.
You may find that changing one input creates a cascade effect across all of your outputs. It may take time. It may take discipline. But as you start to see the results, it will make you hungry for more positive outcomes and encourage you to replace more toxic inputs with positive ones.
Some people think successful people are just lucky. They were in the right place at the right time. They inherited money from their parents. They were born more attractive, more intelligent, and more physically gifted. While sometimes this may be the case, more often that not, these theories do not stand up to scrutiny. The success hall of fame is lined with dropouts, repeat failures and people who started from nothing. Meanwhile, plenty of people with every advantage flame out and fail to launch.
So what creates the different outcomes? Different inputs. If you want different outcomes for yourself, follow this advice and change your way of doing things.