There’s an Italian concept called “sprezzatura,” which means “a certain nonchalance, so as to … make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort.”
It’s basically making everything look effortless.
Think about the people in college who would walk into an exam saying, “Ugh! I barely studied for this!” then get a 94%. That’s the idea.
- Super fit person: “Oh, I just try to watch what I eat and take a walk every day”
- Person with amazing skin: “I just drink lots of water!”
- Person with well-behaved kids: “I just try to spend time with them”
Growing up, I would see these successful people and wonder how they did it. But if you asked them, they would give you these frustratingly vague responses. It seemed like they were just naturally lucky.
In reality, I learned that’s not true.
Every successful person has a repertoire of secret habits they’ve honed over years of practice. They’ll rarely tell you what the habits are, though. (What’s most incredible is that lots of times, they don’t even realize their own habits!)
My dream was to understand these secret habits.
And my first challenge was cracking the code of sprezzatura — the idea that being the best is just an accident.
In Italy, they applied sprezzatura to fashion. Look at the photos here and notice the “studied carelessness” of the unbuttoned collar, the crooked tie bar, the flipped sleeve (more on men’s sprezzatura style).
In America, we apply this concept everywhere because we want success to seem effortless, nonchalant, casual. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate this. But I also believe this concept of effortless success is destructive. If you look at someone and they give you an offhand answer (“I just watch what I eat!”), it makes success seem like it’s just due to genetics or pure luck.
The reality is that Top Performers practice a carefully coordinated set of secret habits that they rarely talk about.
I’ll show you three examples here.
Celebrities who go on talk shows know exactly what they’re going to say
THE MYTH: Celebrities are naturally charming and come up with amazing stories for late-night talk shows.
THE REALITY: Comedian Martin Short is widely regarded as one of the best talk show guests ever. Here’s what he does before he goes on a talk show.
“What I do for a typical talk-show appearance, and I’m not exaggerating, is I’ll send in something like 18 pages ahead of time,” Short said, adding that he then spends at least ninety minutes speaking with a show’s producer, cutting down his proposed material and shaping it into a conversation he’ll have with the host. What looks almost like an organic chat on TV is really a tightly choreographed two-man bit, with Short doing, as he puts it, “an impersonation of myself being relaxed.”
How “clueless” Facebook mastered optics
THE MYTH: Facebook is a company of nerds who only know about computers.
THE REALITY: They are a massive corporation that knows how PR and optics work.
The truth behind celebrity fitness
THE MYTH: Celebrities are just “naturally” fit.
THE REALITY: They follow incredibly rigorous programs for fitness, nutrition, sleep, and skin care. But the way they talk about it, you would never know.
Read any fitness article and you’ll find mouthwatering photos of eggs and fruit and comments like “I never deprive myself.” The amount of mental machinations in obscuring the effort that celebrities put into fitness (especially women’s fitness) is unreal. And it’s actually completely rational — because if they actually talked about what it truly takes to look like that, people would hate them.
Here’s an example called “The surprisingly normal diet Gal Gadot ate to become Wonder Woman.”
Surprisingly normal! Hmm…
The first photo is a beautiful photo of eggs and fruit. Looks delicious! I could do that!
Then salmon and kale! Yum!
Avocado toast is up next! I love it!
And of course, water. Lots of water.
But wait. What’s this buried way, way down the article?
“Before filming, Gal Gadot spent six hours a day in the gym.”
Luckily, there’s a way for the average American to look like Gal. The article says, “InStyle recommends ‘do[ing] 30 seconds of push-ups followed by a 30-second plank hold’ four times every day in order to get Gadot’s guns.”
Right. 30-sec planks and you’ll get her arms.
You know it’s not true. I know it’s not true. But after collectively hearing more and more celebrities lie about their fitness routines, we all start to share a collective wink and move on with our day. After a while, the wink goes away and transforms to the belief that “they” can somehow magically do it … but we can’t.
In reality, if you see a Top Performer — someone with an incredible body, someone who has a profitable business, someone who oozes charm — they have a set of secret habits and skills they’ve honed over time (here’s an example of a model’s Sunday routine).
Most of us didn’t have the benefit of growing up surrounded by Olympic athletes, people with six-figure jobs, or world travelers. So we miss out on learning about these things until it’s too late.
And even when we do learn about these secret habits, we don’t want to do them. (Do you REALLY want to count your macros? Or spend months doing customer research?)
At the core, this is what my team and I try to do every day: uncover the subtle, not-so-obvious habits and actions that make someone a Top Performer and share them with you. And along the way, introduce you to the other weird people, like you, who want to do the same thing.
That’s why we write about invisible scripts, how to talk to anyone, how to build habits that stick, and even social skills — we want to help you close the gap with all of the Martin Shorts and Gal Gadots of the world who have decades of experience and an army of helpers.
If you’re curious, I wrote more on the secret habits of Top Performers here.
I’m glad you’re along for the ride.