Black Hole Focus: Summary and Key Takeaways

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Black Hole Focus is another fantastic book about purpose, written by Isaiah Hankel, PhD.

The book goes into a number of topics that are covered elsewhere, it is a great summary of the big ideas from other books and research, but is in itself a great book on its own.

There are many schools of thought when it comes to finding your purpose, from logotherapy to Ikigai to the overlapping Venn diagram of skill, passion, and service.

Many of those are encapsulated in this book, making it a great summary book for those who want to skip ahead and find the one book that encapsulates most of what you need.

Plus the author has a PhD and is a celebrated coach, so he understands what he is talking about.

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About Isaiah Hankel

Isaiah has a doctorate in anatomy and cell biology, giving him his scientific background.

But over time, he shifted to focus more on helping individuals, teams, and organizations develop a more entrepreneurial mindset for their business. He found that by doing so, this helps them increase their odds of success.

Combined with a scientific background, he was able to form a viable methodology to help people find purpose, focus, and other important values needed to succeed in life and business.

He is now a celebrated international speaker, coach, and author.

Why Black Holes?

When you first saw the title of this book, I’m guessing you thought it had something to do with astrophysics. This is especially likely when you think of the author’s : scientific background.

But this is not a book about astronomy.

As the author states, “Imagine if your purpose in life was as powerful as a black hole. With a force this strong, absolutely everything in your life would be pulled towards it. Nothing would escape. Every thought, every action—your entire identity—would be sucked into it. And, as a result, who you are, what you have, and how you live would be completely transformed.”

That is the central concept of this book, finding a purpose that consumes you so thoroughly that you can’t escape it (but in a good way).

Most people find themselves guided by life, and not guiding their life. Finding purpose is not an easy thing, and following it is even harder. That is why most people don’t choose to pursue one. Those that do find a meaning to their life that takes over everything. There is a reason that people with purpose tend to live longer. Their purpose overcomes even old age.

In the author’s words, “Black Hole Focus will show you how to avoid this hollow fate, how to decide your purpose, and how to align your life around your chosen path.”

Are You a Sheep or a Strategist?

The first key takeaway that I want to highlight here is the idea of sheep versus strategists.

Isaiah compares the vast majority of human beings to sheep, sheep that are motivated by one of two things:

The stick, which is banged behind them, and

The carrot, which is dangled in front of them

People, like sheep, are motivated by the same two things. We either want to avoid pain, or we seek after pleasure. This is not an uncommon thought. In fact, Sigmund Freud called it the Pain/Pleasure Principle. It’s what most of us do. It’s what guides almost everything we do in life.

So what is the alternative?

The author presents the idea of the strategist, someone who steps outside the monotony of carrots and sticks and actually thinks about what they want. Once they know what they want, they can map out the journey and reverse engineer what needs to be done to achieve that purpose.

So how can we achieve that level of a plan, that level of strategy? Fortunately, that is what the rest of this book is all about.

The Ikigai

I’ve already covered a book on Ikigai, but Isaiah mentions it in this book as well. Ikigai is a Japanese word signifying “the reason why you get up in the morning”. It is a central concept at the heart of the people of Okinawa, who are among some of the longest-lived people on earth.

In fact, Okinawa is part of the “blue zones” that have been featured prominently in many other books, but originated in the book The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. While there are, of course, many factors that contribute to longevity, there is no doubt that having a purpose, an Ikigai, is among them.

Not only do the people in Okinawa live longer than the average human, but they also have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and various types of cancer. So having a reason for living is not just good for longevity, but it improves your health and daily quality of life.

So what is your reason for getting up in the morning?

This is a big question that you will need to answer in order to find your purpose.

Your reason for getting up in the morning might be simple, it doesn’t need to be earth shattering. It doesn’t need to be connected to your job, though that is helpful. But it should run deep, something that you can’t not do.

As Isaiah puts it: “The more purpose you inject into your life, the brighter your internal spark will burn, the longer you will live, and the more productive you will be while you’re alive.”

Rats with Hope Swim Longer

I know many people reading this probably don’t know what their purpose is, and maybe even feel hopeless in their pursuit of it. That is something that we need to change.

In this book, the author cites a study from the 1950s by Curt Richter, who did a series of experiments that tested how long rats would swim in a bucket of water that they could not get out of before they would drown.

The researchers found that a rat would swim, on average, for 15 minutes before giving up and sinking.

But then the researchers did something different, they rescued some of the rats just before they drowned, dried them off and let them rest. Then they put them back in the water to see how long they would swim.

How long do you think they would swim before drowning? If before they only swam for 15 minutes, maybe you would think they would swim for the same amount or maybe a little longer. But I’ll bet you wouldn’t guess that those rats swam for 60 hours before giving up. That’s right, they swim for 240 times longer than if they hadn’t been saved.

The difference? Hope.

The rats that swam longer had experienced someone taking them out of the water and letting them rest. That experience gave them hope that it would happen again. And it was that hope that inspired them to swim for 240 times longer than those that had never been taken out of the water.

While perhaps a controversial study today, this gives us invaluable insight on the power of hope. When we believe that our future can be better than our present, we can hang on for dear life for a long time.

Hope gives us energy, and we can use that energy to build towards a better future.

So in order to pursue our purpose, we have to have a vision of hope for the future. Once we have that, we are 240 times less likely to fail.

I’ll take those odds.

The 2-Step Process for Greatness

In order to have hope for the future, we have to believe that we can achieve greatness in one or more areas of our life.

As the author puts it: “You can achieve greatness. No matter where you are in life right now, there is something you can be uniquely incredible at. But before you can be incredible, you must believe that you can do anything. That’s the first step. The next step is a little harder; you must decide what you want to be incredible at.”

Isaiah breaks this concept down into two steps:

  • Step one: know you can achieve greatness
  • Step two: decide what you want to be great at

In my own personal life I have found this to be true. And while I did not grow up as an overachiever, I do credit my parents for instilling in me a knowledge that I could be anything I wanted to be if I truly wanted it. And as a child learning piano, I think I got a glimpse of what this looks like when I started to actually win first place prizes in some of the competitions I entered. I realized that hard work actually creates results. Who knew?

But you’d be surprised how many people have no hope for the future, how many don’t believe that they can achieve greatness in anything. They believe in innate talent, that the people that succeed are just lucky. They don’t believe that they could ever achieve the same.

I don’t know about you, but some of the messages that have resonated most with me have come from people that lived a life similar to mine. By hearing their story and realizing that we had some things in common, I discovered that maybe I could do what they did. It was that hope, that knowledge that I could achieve greatness, that became incredibly motivating to me.

Then step two is to decide what you want to be great at. This is a little harder, but chances are you already have a good idea. We are naturally drawn to the things that we like, which leads to the buildup of skill.

A lot of us may feel we have too many things that we could be great at or that we want to do. But in this case, it’s important to pick one thing and go with it. Because you can become great at anything, remember?

The Physics of Purpose

This is when we get into the concept of the black hole. Isaiah states: “In physics, a singularity is a point of infinite density and infinitesimal volume. Singularities exist at the center of black holes, which are regions of space that have a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. Likewise, the pull of your purpose combined with your core priorities is so intense, so massive, that nothing you do can escape its influence. Every thought you have, every decision you make, and every action you take is pulled by this force.”

Imagine if you had that same level of intent with everything you do. Imagine the power of a black hole. What if you could apply that same relentless energy to your own purpose so that everything you did contributed to its fulfillment?

This is what the author means by the “physics of purpose”. It has to act like a black hole. You have to organize your life around your Ikigai, your reason for existing.

So how can you make a change today so that you are spending more time with your purpose?

Make Your Vision a Reality

Before we can achieve that all-consuming level of purpose, we have to make the decision to do it.

This may seem overly simplistic, but many people lack this crucial decision to actually take action on their plan. The decision becomes “the link between wanting something to happen and making something happen”.

Without decision to drive you forward, your vision will remain just that, a dream. But we are interested in results, in making things happen.

By making this decision, you are actually making a lot of future decisions. You are deciding what to include in your life, as well as what to shut out of your life because it doesn’t contribute to your purpose.

As a simple example, if your purpose is to become the healthiest version of yourself, then deciding to pursue that purpose is simultaneously deciding to eat healthier, to exercise, to get better sleep, etc. Then, when you are presented with temptations, you are better able to ignore them and stick to the decision you have already made.

So what is your vision? Have you decided to pursue it?

Do it. Do it today, and you will be surprised at the momentum it gives you.

Quotes from Black Hole Focus

“If your story is not inspiring you, it’s time to change it.”

“A decision is only as strong as the belief standing behind it”

“The only way to get to where you want to go is to ruthlessly evaluate your where you are now. The key here is that your biggest obstacle in life is always yourself—not external factors.”

“You are in control of your priorities – you can erase old priorities and define new priorities at will.”

“Research on the human brain has shown it is predisposed to think in the terms of a story. This predisposition is continuously reinforced and strengthened throughout the life of your brain. Imaging studies have shown only a small, quarter-sized region of your brain lights up when someone tells you a series of facts. However, when someone tells you a story laced with those facts, or those facts in action, your entire brain lights up. Not only can you program your mind with a story — you can program someone else’s mind.”