The Great Bifurcation
We're explosively separating into the Thriving 10% vs. the Suffering 90%, and its possible to be part of the 10% just by copying them
The Great Bifurcation
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
I’m hoping this model isn’t too simple, but I’m willing to take the risk.
The world is largely split into those who are doing the daily behaviors that bring them success, and those who aren’t doing those behaviors.
I call this The Great Bifurcation because technology magnifies the differences between those doing them and those who aren’t.
We have more access to business knowledge than ever before
We have more access to health information than ever before
We can now see exactly what successful people do day-to-day
We now have AI that can augment our knowledge and capabilities
But none of those matters if you’re not using them. The people at the top of the Bifurcation graphic are using them. Those on the bottom are not. Let’s make up a range and call that the top 10% of people in the US.
That means they are:
Disciplined enough to set strict, productive boundaries and goals and routines for themselves that they follow.
Reading high-quality books on a regular basis.
Controlling their calorie intake and working out regularly.
Got an education or put in the work to self-teach to an equivalent level.
Spending their free time reading and studying rather than playing video games or watching popular media.
Fixated on their output and contributions as their top metric behind family
10% might be generous there, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a small percentage.
Behavior > Identity
What’s most important about this whole model, and the only reason it interests me, is that it has little to do with the person’s past. Their race. Their gender. Their parents’ socio-economic status. Their traumas. The bad things that have happened to them in the past.
This model is an escape hatch from all of that. Or a trapdoor if you take the wrong path.
The best way to predict your future is to create it.
And to be clear, it’s 100% possible that many of those aspects of a person’s identity and experience could combine to make it harder for a person to see this fact, simply because they’re not exposed to this model and this way of seeing the world.
I’m one of those people, until relativity recently. I grew up in a 800sq/ft house. Didn’t go to college out of high school. Neither of my parents went to college. And while I was spoiled/blessed with a loving family, I was not guided to adopt any of these behaviors growing up in the way commonly seen with wealthy families.
The lie we’re told
I grew up thinking wealth and success were things you somehow magically had, or didn’t. I mean nobody told me that explicitly, but it’s kind of taught as a universal lesson where I grew up.
“The rich and successful got lucky somehow, or their parents were rich or successful.”, they say.
This is obviously true sometimes, and maybe even a lot of the time. But after a few decades of being a curious person I started noticing something super weird.
My thin friends didn’t eat that much
My smart friends read books
My rich friends were careful with money
I wasn’t too quick to catch on, honestly. I was like, hmm….could there be a link here? How is it that everyone I know who’s buffed goes to the gym all the time?
So like 15 years ago I started reading voraciously. And I started paying close attention to what successful people were doing.
How did they live their lives?
What did they eat?
When do they wake up?
How do they spend their free time?
What do they always do?
What do they never do?
And that’s when it hit me.
It’s just behaviors
That’s when I figured out the ultimately freeing truth: successful people just spend their time differently than unsuccessful people.
If that sounds like victim-shaming then your sensors are not calibrated in a positive way. I’m not saying some people don’t get completely screwed by the system. They do. Everyone knows that.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
I’m talking about you. I’m talking about me. Regular people. People who aren’t blessed, who aren’t screwed, but they’re a little blessed and a little screwed. Regular folk.
We’re the ones who have a choice. Most of us have a choice between doing the things at the top of this chart vs. doing the things at the bottom.
Reading books to better yourself
Controlling your calories, eating the right foods, and exercising
Getting an education, even if it’s on your own
Spending your time bettering yourself, not playing games or watching useless media
Spending your time creating instead of consuming
That’s it. That’s what successful people do. And what unsuccessful people don’t. They do the opposite. Of course we could tweak the list, but that’s a pretty decent model.
Ok, but so what?
The “so what” here is that this is not only happening, but it’s accelerating becasue of AI and other technology. The way this manifests is:
Reading is a superpower, but only the top 10% are readers
AI is a superpower, but only the top 10% use it to enhance their lives
Exercise is a superpower, but only the top 10% use it to enhance their lives
And all these help make someone more capable in the workforce, which means better jobs, more money, access to better mating opportunities, and it just becomes a giant snowball of success. And the exact opposite happens to those who don’t do those things.
That’s why I call this The Great Bifurcation. We’re talking about the explosive stratification of society into the Thriving and the Struggling. But based on behavior. Behavior that’s taught within sub-cultures. It’s passed down from parents, absorbed through peer groups, and otherwise picked up and adopted.
But you—and anyone else—can reject the bottom path at any point, as long as you know about it. You can simply switch to the top path by doing the things that they do. Which is the entire point of writing this.
This model of “we know what works; it’s just a matter of doing it” is incredibly empowering to me. It removes the power of the past, and the power of my faults, and flaws, and weaknesses. It gives the power back to me.
These things aren’t easy to do (see self-discipline) but they produce results if you do them. We know this because they’re the few things that successful people have in common. Read a million biographies and podcasts and you’ll triangulate on a very similar list.
In short, I have a choice.
I can either take the bottom, easy path of not following a routine, not reading, being unhealthy, not bettering myself, wasting my time on shallow fun, and thinking about all the ways I got screwed in life…
Or I can follow a routine, read 50 books a year, dial in my diet and exercise, educate myself, avoid excessive TV/video games, and focus on my output.
Completely up to me. My choice. That’s power. That’s agency. That’s freedom to make my own future.
And please understand—I am not the Instagram-perfect example of this model. I don’t do everything on this list easily. I still slack on things sometimes. And when I do I feel like shit.
I personally know this works because I’ve been/done both versions.
The magic is that I’ve stopped wondering why.
When I wonder why I’m not feeling good and getting the outcomes I want, I just just do a check-in. And within 30 seconds I find the problem.
That shitty feeling didn’t happen to me. I did it to myself. And I know the precise solution.
Get. Back. On. Track.
Behaviors > Background.
“Ok, sure”, I hear some of you saying—but you have questions.
What about being a good person?
Good question. This discussion of Thriving vs. Suffering is not about your value as a person. It’s about being more capable in what you care about.
My primary metric for human value is kindness. I don’t ultimately value somebody on whether they are successful in traditional terms. What I care about is how people treat others and the value they create for the world.
It’s hard to help others when you yourself are struggling.
But I do notice when people are struggling and suffering in life, and I’d argue that our mental health is in an all-time unhealthy state. The point of this piece is to simply call out that most people I know and observe—who are in this suffering state—are largely not doing these behaviors. And most people who I know who are thriving, are doing them.
So the goal here is to get people out of the Suffering state and into the Thriving state—so that they can go on with the more important work of being a good person and providing value for others.
What about people facing considerable challenges?
I am also 1000% aware that it’s difficult for some people to even hear about the list, let alone be able to pursue it. For example:
People in a peer group who don’t value these things
People whose parents didn’t pass on this knowledge
People in toxic/harmful relationships
People struggling to juggle kids, multiple jobs, and/or disabilities
I know this is true because I have been one of those people for much of my life. I am not one of the chosen people who’s always done these things, who's now trying to preach to you.
I’m the opposite. I’m one of the people who wasn’t doing any of these things because I was never taught that I should. This is why I wrote this—to give this knowledge to people like me who didn’t receive it some other way.
These behaviors are an absolute cheat code for life that anyone can use.
Also, the magic of this list is that most things on it are within the grasp of almost anyone—at least in the US and similar countries. Many of them involve not doing something rather than doing it, such as eating less, watching less TV, and playing fewer video games. And things like reading, exercise, and access to books are also available through libraries and your own body weight. So it’s not like you need special tools or equipment.
The problem isn’t usually being able to do these things. The problem is doing them—which is why there are so many people with extraordinary luck and means who are also on the bottom path in the chart.
To me, the power of these behaviors is that it’s a cheat code that can launch you from Suffering to Thriving—no matter where you are today or where you have been in the past.
Society is separating—more explosively than ever—into the Thriving and Suffering
There’s a lot of luck involved in that, but a surprising percentage of the time it comes down to behaviors
Successful people tend to have very similar habits for what they do every day, every week, every month, etc.—and it reflects in their results
Most people don’t know this. They think “those people” have something they don’t, but it’s not true
The truth is that you can largely copy their results simply by copying their behaviors
Find the people you want to emulate, and change your habits and behaviors to match theirs.
Another major component of this is your peer group. Ask yourself first where you are on this chart. But then ask where your top five friends and associates are. Behavior is contagious, so start thinking about how you can either elevate everyone or how you can add people who are also on the Thriving path.