Want to think like Elon Musk? Master these 10 mental tricks

Ever wondered how Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and SpaceX, comes up with his innovative ideas?

How does he think differently from the rest of us?

If you’re curious, you’re in the right place. We’re about to explore the top 10 ways Elon Musk thinks, and how you can adopt these methods too.

We’ve taken Musk’s approach and broken it down into 10 simple steps. There’s no fancy words or complicated ideas here—just clear and easy steps to help you think more like Elon Musk.

1. First-Principle Thinking

This is one of Elon Musk’s most famous mental tricks. Instead of following what’s been done before, Musk breaks problems down to their basic elements and then rebuilds them from the ground up. It’s like seeing something for the first time, without any preconceived ideas.

To master this, whenever you’re faced with a problem, ask yourself: “What are the fundamental truths or elements here?” Strip away assumptions and build your solution from scratch. This method encourages innovative thinking and can lead to breakthrough solutions that wouldn’t be visible with traditional problem-solving methods.

2. Embrace Failure

This might sound strange, but for Elon Musk, failure isn’t a setback; it’s an opportunity to learn and improve.

He once said, “If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” Instead of fearing failure, Musk sees it as a necessary step towards success.

Next time you face a challenge or make a mistake, don’t let it discourage you. Look at it as a learning opportunity. Analyze what went wrong and use that knowledge to improve your future attempts.

This mindset will help you push boundaries and achieve more than you thought possible.

3. Think in Probabilities

Elon Musk often stresses the importance of thinking in probabilities – a method that involves considering all possible outcomes and their chances of happening. Here’s how I applied this in my own life:

A couple of years ago, I wanted to start my own business. However, I was aware of the high failure rate for startups. Instead of being scared off by this, I decided to think like Musk – I started considering probabilities.

I asked myself, “What are the chances of success if I do thorough market research?” or “What if I seek advice from seasoned entrepreneurs?” By considering all the possible outcomes and their probabilities, I was able to make informed decisions, which significantly reduced the risk associated with starting a new venture.

It’s not about eliminating risks or ensuring success; it’s about making calculated decisions based on all available information and potential outcomes.

4. Constant Learning

Elon Musk is a lifelong learner. He firmly believes that knowledge across various fields increases your ability to innovate.

An interesting fact is that Musk himself didn’t have formal training in rocket science before starting SpaceX. Instead, he devoured books and spoke with industry experts to gain knowledge.

To incorporate this into your own life, cultivate a habit of continuous learning. Venture beyond your field of expertise. Read books, take online courses, or even chat with people from different industries. The more diverse your knowledge, the more connections you can make, leading to innovative solutions and ideas.

5. Work Ethic

There’s no denying that Elon Musk has an extraordinary work ethic. He’s known for working up to 100 hours a week because he believes in what he’s doing. His mission to create a sustainable future for humanity drives him to put in the hours and make sacrifices.

This isn’t just about working long hours, though. It’s about finding something you’re passionate about, something that lights a fire within you, and then giving it your all. When you care deeply about what you’re doing, work becomes more than just a job—it becomes a purpose. It’s this heartfelt dedication and determination that often leads to extraordinary results.

So find your passion, believe in your cause, and don’t be afraid to put in the work—because great things never come from comfort zones.

6. Thinking Ahead

Elon Musk is always thinking about the future. He’s not just planning for next week, next month, or even next year; he’s envisioning decades into the future. This long-term thinking is what drives his ambitious projects like colonizing Mars.

Here’s how I’ve applied this principle in my life:

When I started my journey as a writer, I didn’t just think about the article I was writing at the time. I thought about where I wanted to be in five, ten, even twenty years down the line. This kind of long-term thinking influenced the decisions I made early in my career, like investing time in learning new skills and building meaningful relationships in the industry. It was tough and often required patience, but it gave me a clear direction and has been instrumental in my growth as a writer.

7. Risk-Taking

Elon Musk is a risk-taker. Not just small, calculated risks, but big, potentially life-altering ones. Think about it – starting a private space company? Who even does that? But Musk did, knowing it could either change the world or leave him bankrupt.

You don’t have to start a space company, but you do need to embrace risks if you want to think like Musk. It’s scary, I know. Stepping out of your comfort zone always is. But the truth is, nothing groundbreaking ever came from playing it safe.

It’s all about taking that leap of faith—whether it’s starting a new project, learning a new skill, or even changing your career entirely. Yes, you might fail, and yes, it might hurt. But remember, as Musk said himself, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” So take that risk—it just might lead you to something extraordinary.

8. Feedback Loop

Elon Musk strongly believes in the power of constructive criticism. He once said, “It’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

An interesting fact is that at SpaceX, Musk encourages an open-door policy where anyone in the company, regardless of their position, can give him feedback or suggestions. This approach has played a significant role in SpaceX’s innovative success.

You too can incorporate this into your life. Don’t shy away from feedback. Instead, actively seek it out. Ask your peers, mentors, or even family members about how you can improve. Though it might be hard to hear, constructive criticism helps identify blind spots and areas for improvement – ultimately making you better at what you do.

9. Be Fearlessly Authentic

Musk is unapologetically himself. He’s known to be outspoken, even controversial at times. But that’s just him being real and not conforming to what others expect of him.

Let’s be brutally honest here – too many of us hide behind a facade, trying to fit into molds that society, family, or peers have set for us. But playing it safe and suppressing our true selves only stifles our creativity and potential.

Like Musk, we need to embrace our individuality. But it’s your quirks, your passions, and even your flaws that make you unique. Don’t be afraid to show the world who you truly are. It might ruffle some feathers, sure. But in the end, authenticity resonates with people more than a carefully crafted persona ever will.

10. Have a Vision

Musk isn’t just a businessman; he’s a visionary. From electric cars to space travel, his ideas are about shaping a better future for humanity.

Here’s the raw truth – many of us get so caught up in the daily grind that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We focus on short-term goals and immediate gratification, often neglecting our long-term vision.

But to think like Musk, we need to look beyond the here and now. What lasting impact do you want to make? What legacy do you want to leave behind? These are not easy questions, but they’re essential ones. Having a grand vision gives your life direction and purpose. It propels you forward, keeps you motivated during tough times, and leads you towards meaningful success.

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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