The Habit That Made Einstein Great; And How It Can Help You Personally And Professionally


Einstein must have had a lot of great habits. But, I want to highlight one–which we all can borrow to become much more successful personally and professionally.

Building this habit will take a lot of effort.

But, it will be worth it.

Einstein was able to come up with the theory of special relativity due to his approach of: ‘Resolving contradictions’.

I borrow the following paragraph from Gary Klein’s book (Seeing What Others Don’t: The remarkable ways we gain INSIGHTS ):

Einstein wondered what would happen if he traveled at the speed of light alongside a light beam. What would he see? Logically, the light beam should appear frozen, traveling at the same speed as he, like two automobiles in neighboring lanes driving at the speed limit.

But not long before, in 1899, James Clerk Maxwell had published a set of equations to model electric and magnetic fields. These equations predicted that electromagnetic waves would propagate through a vacuum at the speed of light.

Therefore, if Einstein rode a beam of light, then a second light beam traveling alongside him would still travel away from him at the speed of light. If he turned on a flashlight, the light would travel away from him at the speed of light.

So there was a paradox, a contradiction, because nothing can go faster than light.

Einstein resolved the paradox by changing the constant: Previously space and time were thought to be constant. Einstein’s thought experiments started him thinking that the speed of light should be the constant.

But, what can be learn from the above example of Physics, on a broader level?

Well, we can learn to think in a non-contradictory manner! 

Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. A contradiction cannot exist. No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality. [–Ayn Rand]



To excel in personal and professional domain, all one needs to do is to remain in the realm of reality.



Now, the human mind deals with reality by forming mental models about reality.

Each person’s mental models are shaped by his experiences and thoughts.

A person who has the habit of resolving contradictions in his mental models, grows in life. But, a person who remains wedded to his mental models, gets stuck in life–often in the company of people who are similar to him and hence reassuring to him.

Below are a few examples of how we fail to resolve contradictions in our mental models:

Example 1:

One resident in my housing society was very ill-mannered. He owned the top-floor flat and kept the door to the terrace locked. He was like a goon.

Only during karvachauth (an Indian festival) did he open the door to the terrace…

The mental-model is clear here. But there is a contradiction too. Why would an ill-mannered good open the door on karvachauth? The model does not give an answer. A contradiction is left unresolved.

Perhaps, the guy is both a goon as well as a tactful guy. He knows that karvachauth is too sacred for Indian ladies, and that he should not cross this limit.

Or perhaps, he has some genuine reasons for locking the door. May be he was made to pay extra for the terrace rights. May be some bad incident happened in the past on the terrace. So, he decided to control his risk by just opening the door when it was really required.

Example 2:

I will not let my son play with that elder kid. That kid was over-powering my son in the game of cricket. He was getting my son out quickly by bowling fast, and then making my son bowl all the time…

In this mental model, another data point is either not seen or ignored: that the elder kid often takes the younger kid to play with his friends, and also takes special care of him–just like an elder brother.

If this data point is also incorporated, the mental model is likely to change significantly!

One probable mental model that can explain the above could be: The elder guy is both responsible as well as a bit selfish (Kids often are like that–and they mature only with time!). So, his selfish impulse makes him want to bat more and more. And his responsible attitude makes him want to protect the younger kid.

Example 3:

That girl must be characterless–because she smokes and roams around freely with boys!

In this mental model a data point is ignored: That the girl tops the class and is liked by a lot of non-smoking colleagues as well as most of the teachers.

The mental model that will incorporate both the above data points could be: She is from Kolkata. There, they have a culture of smoking and being open.

Note: I have given some examples based on my own observations. There are hundreds of such instances you will be able to spot in your day-to-day lives. As you spot such instances, you will begin to spot the contradictions too.

This will put a lot of load on your mind!

You will have to put in serious effort to tweak your mental models, so that the contradictions can be resolved.

But it will become fine in a few years.

As you learnt to drive a car, soon this will become your habit too…

You will become much more effective personally and professionally, if not  1 step closer to becoming a genius like Einstein!

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