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Big Ideas

7 Things “Star Wars” Taught Me About Productivity

When life gets tough, James Altucher asks himself "What would a Jedi do?"

A few weeks ago Cheryl Richardson, author of the book “The Art of Extreme Self-Care,” asked what movie had impacted me the most. I jumped right up and said “Star Wars,” because I believe in The Force. And I’m not the only one. In 2001, “Jedi” became the fourth most popular religion in the United Kingdom

I saw the original Star Wars when I was seven years old and it changed my life. We all have faith in something; usually a mixture of some personal beliefs with modern science. I am like that also. Mostly, I just believe in what works. Which, for me, is The Force. I admit it.

Here’s some of the life lessons that I’ve learned from the Star Wars movies:

1) Rest when you have nothing to do. 

When Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn is fighting Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, a transparent door closes, dividing them (see in video above). Darth Maul paces back and forth ready to continue their battle while Qui-Gon simply sits and rests, seemingly doing nothing.

In modern society we all feel like we have to be like Darth Maul. Pacing, finding a “purpose,” being anxious, stressed, waiting for doors to open. But it is great to just rest and be happy and not move when you don’t have to. I will tell you those doors will open, and it’s great. 

2) Rid yourself of everything you don’t need.

Obi-Wan lives a simple life in exile for 40 years when he’s on Tatooine. Yoda, Jedi Master, lives in a simple swamp hut after he loses his battle with the Emperor. They were still capable of laughing, of living, of staying healthy, and were able to train the next generation. They didn’t need anything to keep them entertained. It’s a story. But this is the way I would like to live: with my friend and my health intact, and not a material care in the world.

3) Practice being “good.”

Being a good, compassionate person is a quality we develop over years and thousands of hours of practice. Most people are not good people. In business, in art, in almost every “world” I’ve been in, most people I meet are pretty gray to black. It takes practice to be the person who is a source of compassion and honesty. 

Supposedly it takes 10,000 hours to master something. Unfortunately, most people spend 10,000 hours trying to be a jerk to others. If all you do is put in your 10,000 with small kindnesses, then the universe will return that many times over.

4) Prioritize your health. 

In all of the movies I never saw an out of shape Jedi. Although there seems to be a deep spiritual component to being a Jedi, but clearly there is a physical aspect as well. They are jumping out of spaceships, fighting with light sabers, and they can probably run a four-minute mile. Heck, even Yoda at the age of 800 is jumping all over the place. 

Health is not important. But sickness is. If you are sick, then your thoughts will be stapled to that sickness. You can’t get rid of it. You’re in pain and pain takes up the mind and precludes you from doing the things you’d like to do. This is why yoga is not about looking good in a yoga studio. It’s about staying physically and emotionally healthy so you can focus on your spiritual life.

5) Be around other Jedis.

Once Anakin Skywalker starts hanging out with Darth Sidious he becomes a bad guy (see above). Here are some things that are hard in life: being honest, being kind, and trying to add value to others. These things take time and energy. When you are around people who steal your energy then those things become even harder. As a wise man once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

6) Be open-minded. 

This is a difference between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the original Star Wars. Luke is willing to believe. There’s a lot of issues people get “stapled to” almost as if they were sicknesses. When you find yourself thinking, “This side is DEFINITELY right,” be willing to open your mind and look at why the other side thinks the way they do. It’s never for the reasons you think. Issues are just ways for the mind to practice being open-minded. 

7) Trust that life is cyclical. 

Luke has to watch Obi-Wan die. Han has to be captured by bounty hunters. Anakin has to be recruited as a little kid. Qui-Gon has to die. Yoda has to go into exile. Bad things happen. But if you follow steps one through six, bad things happen in cycles. Good things also. Trusting that the kindness you are putting out there is compounding in a secret bank account for you means waiting for that bank account to deliver its returns. It will.

How about you?

What movie has helped you be more productive?

More Posts by James Altucher

Comments (91)
  • karu

    What is the 8th thing?

  • Kaky Rodríguez

    I love you and your point of view. Excelente post! 😀

  • J Metz

    Okay, I post this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, so bear with me.

    1) Qui-Gon died. Not only that, but he died almost immediately after ‘resting.’ (I have the Dead Parrot sketch going through my head now…”). It could be argued that he died because he was not prepared, not taking the threat seriously to remain on his guard.

    2) Obi-Wan and Yoda exiled themselves because they had given up, not because they had desired to eschew all material goods. They needed to be off the Empire’s radar (so to speak), and when asked to be pressed back into service neither one of them were jumping at the chance to get back into the fray. The cause and effect are backwards here.

    3) While it’s a good idea to practice being good, I’m not really sure where the link to Star Wars is here.

    4) I think you may have missed the point of Yoda’s antics. He could not jump all over the place because he was ‘fit.’ (in fact, this was one of the most laughably incongruous moment in all of the films for me). He was able to do so because he was using the Force to move his feeble, cane-required body around in the “seemingly deep spiritual component.”

    5) The argument here is circular: we only know Anakin chose poorly because we know Sidious was bad to begin with. If we didn’t know this, Anakin’s choice would have been, well, exactly what it was – someone who was seduced. The statement assumes that he wanted to be around other Jedi because we already know that Jedi’s are good. Anakin did *not* know this, and he didn’t want this. He always bristled at the constraints and rules, and felt that the “average of the five people you spend the most time with” were trying to repress who he actually was.

    6) Not sure what the comparison is between Luke and Han here. You state that you should be open-minded, but which one of them is open-minded? Luke seems the one completely hell-bent on one course of action with no room for doubt, Han is the one who actually changes his priorities along the way and considers other possibilities than what he originally set out to do. Or were you dismissing Luke in favor of Han? I’m confused.

    7) You’ve got four examples here, including “Anakin has to be recruited as a little kid.” Here I agree with you that that was a bad thing. 🙂

    Thanks for the great morning read!

  • berlihingen

    I tried to watch “Star Wars” 3 times but has not moved beyond 10 minutes, so this movie taught me: never waste time on such a bullshit.

    • Darth Shite

      If you think that, it’s because you’re a complete asshole. The six movies are a marvellous story, and young and proud teenagers like you lack the patience and taste to understand the messages, story and importance of the movies. We are glad you don’t like Star Wars. We don’t accept you in the group because you’re an ignorant.

    • Sasha

      Which movie did you try? Some are definitely better than others.

  • Frank Degenaar

    Darth Vader: “You may dispense with the pleasantries, commander. I am here to put you back on schedule.”

    Even the dark side has a schedule to stick to. Striking back is very demanding indeed. Darth Vader shows us single-minded resolve and determination.

  • Claudia Yoga

    Did he really die? Check out what Yoda says about him later in the third movie!

    • Renato Nouman

      Hey Claudia! I think the point is if he meant to pass on to another form of existence (that ghostly state) at that time. If he didn’t, did he really attained his objetive and was productive (so to speak)? Well, but I don’t think we could go that far into discussing Qui-Gon true motives. The scene is so short! But thanks for the advice, I’ll watch the third movie again!

  • Justin Easthall

    Qui-Gon Jin did not die he went into that weird ghostly state, as Obi-wan did.

    • Claudia Yoga

      Correct. In fact, he taught Yoda and Obi-Wan how to do it AFTER he “died”.

  • Renato Nouman

    Hey Aurélien, thanks a lot for your reply. As I said in the beggining of my comment, I do believe in the power of resting and breathing and having the self-control to calm down and managing an stressful situation, as you said could happen in the ER (I hope you’re doing fine, btw). I don’t think you should be complaining or moving around unnecessarely in those cases. We should rest and adopt a contemplative stance, specially when we can’t fight something. My point is I got a little bit confused with this first part about resting, and I think that there’s much more about resting and recharging than just doing nothing (in normal day life, not in such cases as going to the ER and enduring pain). I don’t disagree with what the author stated, but I think he may not have said it in the best way. =)

    • Aurélien MONTIGNY

      We concur then 🙂

  • Picpoket c/s™

    I appreciate your perspective on this film and what it taught you on being productive. I find films, TV shows, visual art, people interactions to carry similar opportunities that allow me to excel. Your take on Star Wars gave me a different look at a film series that has had a positive impact on my life and I thank you. It was also great to read all the other comments. Whether I agree with the comments or not, that too gave me several different perspectives to reflect on.

  • Bod

    I love your take on Star Wars and how you’ve thought about the lessons in it. I’ve always enjoyed the movies but never thought about the lessons within it in isolation. You’re absolutely right though, I guess that’s what makes them great!

  • franky

    A point worth mentioning is the over tinkering that has ruined the original trilogy with additional CG effects. Over working something can really be the death of it, losing the spontaneity of creativity.

    • WA Bishop

      Han shot first. Sometimes life presents you with unpleasant options.

  • Tom Head, Ph.D.

    One minor nitpick: Obi-Wan was in exile for 20 years, not 40. (Remember: Luke was born at the beginning of Episode 3, when Obi-Wan went into exile, and only 20 years old at the end of Episode 4; if it had been 40 years, he’d be 40.) This means is that the Alec Guinness version of Obi-Wan was still in his fifties, which makes no sense whatsoever to me, but that’s the timeline the prequel trilogy gave us.

    They could have avoided this problem if they’d made Obi-Wan fortysomething/fiftysomething in the prequel trilogy, casting the originally-rumored Kenneth Branagh in the role, but nobody asked me. (And Ewan MacGregor *did* make a good young Obi-Wan, so I can’t complain.)

  • Ed

    Yoda was my inspiration to finish night school and get my degree. TRY NOT. DO OR DO NOT. THERE IS NO TRY. Words to live by. Anything worth doing is Worth doing to the best of your ability.

  • Eric

    The title says 7 things but the URL says 8 things. So, what’s the secret 8th thing that Star Wars taught you?

  • Adrien

    Thanks James! I find that all of the ideas are useful, and help to soften the hard edges of life. The one that I find most challenging to implement, is ridding myself of everything I don’t need.

  • Susie - The Busy Woman

    This was one of the BEST articles I’ve read in a very long time James! Now if I could find other Jedi’s to hang out with, life would be better. 😉 Thank you!

    • James Altucher

      You will find them. THey are there. The first step is eliminating the Sith Lords in your life.

  • Mike Gardner - The Time Doctor

    Great article James particularly like the “rest and be happy and not move when you don’t have to”

    • James Altucher

      Yes, me too! It’s saved me a LOT of wasted time.

  • Trib21

    Very useful – I love what you said…”Being a good, compassionate person is a quality we develop over years and thousands of hours of practice. Most people are not good people.” I really needed to hear that today. Glad I found your article…

    • James Altucher

      Thank you Trib. And yes, every aspect of being a good person takes practice. For instance, listening. Or thinking of other people before you do something. So many people give up on these practices when they are young.

  • Denise Gabbard

    “Do or do not– there is no try”– Master Yoda This is my favorite 🙂

    • James Altucher

      Yes, me too. The word “Try” almost has an excuse embedded in it.

  • tomas__86

    “I will tell you those doors will open, and it’s great”. – well it wasn’t so great for good ol’ Qi Gon or whatever his name was – SINCE HE GOT OFFED!!!

    • James Altucher

      Not quite, check out part III where Yoda says what he has been learning from Qui Gon.

      • tomas__86

        Qui Gon became television static and is now trying to date the horror-girl from the Ring, give me your Buddhist views on that scenario

      • tomas__86

        I can’t believe you actually replied to my nonsense, I’ve since started following your blog and your podcast, when I wrote this I still didn’t know who you were. Your thing on sales was great advice which I tried with my own brand (from that podcast with the guy who had brewed and developed his own beer brand). Your podcast is really great

    • MissMaryMc

      If it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. What if he would have died quicker, and then Obi-Wan would have died also, if he hadn’t calmed himself while he had the opportunity? Death is not necessarily “not great”. Depends on the perspective.

  • Daniel Furze

    This is ace! Thanks “Unfortunately, most people spend 10,000 hours trying to be a jerk to others.” made me laugh out loud at work! 🙂

    • James Altucher

      Heck, it made me laugh when I wrote it. Thanks!

  • Guest

    Okay Sith’s gone! Now what? LOL

    • tomas__86

      They must have porn even in that far away galaxy

  • Annie Obasih

    I really think we can learn something from most movies, but the most important thing here is based on choices and being in action, if one is still and doing nothing, whether it be business or hobbies nothing around us will move. I believe the force is with us. Like my mom use to say “if you make on step, God will make two”, so to make things happen on have to be in action, and be clear in the action your are taking are the right ones to move one closer to your goals “Plan your actin and work your Plan.” So, if bad things happen, keep in action, the good things will come your way. Obi-Wan and Yoda exiled themselves not because they had given up they was restructuring and creating new possibilities. ” The fight is not over”

    • tomas__86

      What are the good things that will come? This object over that, this environment over the other.. how will the universe know what objects you consider to be good? What if bad things come your way?

  • dallas

    Terrible analogies…..Wow must not have really watched the movies.

  • DNA Vertical, Inc.

    This was entertaining.

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