Warren Buffet’s Miracle 25–5 Method: The Popular Goal-Setting Tool He Didn’t Create

This long-attributed goal setting tool didn’t come from the man we give credit

Warren Buffet’s 25–5 Method of Goal Setting

Over the past few years all the hard-charging, self-improvement bloggers have passed around this simple life-goal strategy from Warren Buffet, arguably one of the most-successful people in history. The 25–5 method got so popular, if you’re in the self-improvement circle there’s a good chance you know about this.

When Warren speaks, people listen.

The method goes something like this:

Warren was flying on his private jet, talking to his pilot named ‘Steve.’ Steve wanted to make something more of himself beyond just a lowly pilot for a super-rich dude.

Warren told ‘Steve’ to write down the top 25 things he wanted to do/accomplish in his life. From that list of 25, Steve was to pick the top five and write them on a different list.

As the fable goes, Steve asked what he should do with the other 20 goals. Warren replies he should throw them in the trash and never focus on them again, because the other 20 were distractions, preventing us from reaching the top five.

This is a fantastic idea. I don’t dispute that. You could do much worse than follow this method. The problem with this super-simple, yet powerful method is:

Warren Buffet never said this.

In the book The Third Door, author Alex Banayan, got the opportunity to ask Buffet about this method during one of the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder’s meeting. This meeting is more of an rock star-like even than a stuffy stock meeting. People line up for hours to get inside.

Alex asked his question. Buffet said “wasn’t me.” End of story.

I tried to dig back through the daisy-chain of references on this. One of the earlier versions of the story states “let’s say his name is Steve” for the pilot’s name. Later versions of this tale assume the pilot’s name is actually Steve.

I’ll admit I was a little crestfallen when I discovered this. I really like this technique, but it was extra special due to the folklore around Buffet developing it.

The same thing happened when I discovered that Think and Grow Rich was mostly made-up by Napoleon Hill, that there’s no record he spoke with Andrew Carnegie, and the one historical picture we see of Hill and Henry Ford, was a publicity stunt by Hill, where he gave Ford a fake award just to get a photo with the auto magnate.

The people we worship are just like us.

We want these celebrities to be much different than us. These people give us something to strive for. We WANT them to have secret formulas they’ll hand-down to us, like potions hand-carried, down the magic mountain.

Truth-is, it doesn’t matter who invented the 25–5 method. It could be called the 100–3 method — same idea. If we want something bigger for ourselves we must shrink our focus.

We can’t have everything.

Hell, we can’t have most things. But we can have a few things and if we do the work necessary we can have the things we want. The best method I know is the power of cumulative effort. Here’s a post I wrote:

I would argue it’s better not to make a list at all — that we’re looking at goal-setting all wrong. There’s so much out of our control. We can come up with the best 25–5 list and spend hours honing and condensing, but the odds are our futures will look much different.

But I like this method, regardless.

As a multi-passionate person, I can’t imagine focusing on one goal my entire life. I have multiple interests and I work hard to keep myself from getting too distracted. I understand the damage that too many interests can have on your overall success.

Five goals is a good number — well-rounded, yet manageable. But instead of goals I believe it’s better to focus on daily themes instead.

Why it’s better to focus on overall themes.

Think about the day you’d like to have and the work that matters most to you. When you focus on themes, you practice daily habits, one task you repeat every day. Instead of the goal of being a famous writer, my theme would be to write every day.

Maybe Warren was embarrassed during the shareholder’s meeting. Maybe a blogger invented the method and tacked Buffet’s name to the top, so the technique would feel more valuable. I felt it.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. This is your life. Take the tools you gather from all over and make them yours. Share the tools that work and dump the ones that don’t. However, it’s best to own the methods you create instead of assigning false authorship to increase your click-through.

Pick a method and stick with it

The method isn’t important compared to the daily habits you practice. If your daily plan includes exercise it doesn’t matter if you put it on your list of five, shoot the plan from a cannon, or write it in your journal.

The action is important, not the tool.

We can plan all we want, but if you don’t do the work, all these methods are nothing more than dinner party conversation.

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August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.

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