The One Obsession of Every Self-Made Billionaire

UPDATED: May 23, 2017
PUBLISHED: February 26, 2017

Every self-made billionaire obsesses about one thing above all others, and it might surprise you. It’s not money or awards, accolades or competition. It’s not even how fast their businesses grow, although they do focus on that.

Related: The 10 Principles of Self-Made Billionaires

My career has afforded me the opportunity to work with and consult to some of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, including a number of self-made billionaires. Being in such close proximity to these individuals, I’ve found that their behavior is both highly scrutinized and highly misunderstood, which is why they can often appear guarded or standoffish.

But I’ve also found that most of their behavior and public perception can be attributed to the one obsession every self-made billionaire shares: lowering pressure and noise.

This fact became very clear to me because I was one of those kids who always felt different, awkward and had trouble belonging. I isolated myself a lot, and I studied successful people because I thought there was a riddle to success that could be discovered. And here’s what I found: When you study the lives of a few self-made billionaires, their stories appear unique, as though they each followed distinct paths to success. But when you study hundreds of them, like I did, you begin to see patterns and commonalities.

One central theme in the lives of every self-made billionaire I’ve ever met or studied is the intense desire to lower pressure and noise. The kinds of pressure and noise each self-made billionaire deals with on a daily basis are unique to that individual, and they’re very personal. For that reason, the methods used to eliminate them are also personal and unique.

Controlling What You Consume

I’ve had the honor of working directly with Dave Liniger, CEO, chairman of the board and co-founder of RE/MAX. I partnered with him to help address the U.S. foreclosure crisis. He’s not only a self-made billionaire, but also a true transformational leader who’s able to command any room and get the most out of the people around him.

On one visit to the RE/MAX corporate headquarters in Denver, Colorado, I waited outside of the impressive building for Dave to arrive. When he finally pulled up in an SUV and opened the door, I heard a familiar, deep voice emanating from the car’s speaker system.

“Is that Earl Nightingale?” I asked Dave.

“Yes,” he responded. “He’s talking about Acres of Diamonds. It’s great.”

For those who don’t know, Acres of Diamonds was a speech given many times by Russell Conwell in the early 20th century, expressing the importance of understanding the value of what you have right in your backyard rather than searching the vast countryside for your “diamonds.” The recording Dave was listening to was released in the ’70s.

As I spoke to him about this, I learned that listening to people like Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn and others was a regular practice for Dave, to constantly learn, improve his mindset and surround himself with positive messages. This lowers the pressure and noise he deals with every day, and makes them more manageable. Dave even encourages his leadership team and global network of RE/MAX agents to avoid listening to the news in their cars, because it’s too negative and distracting.

This obsession over controlling what you consume can also be seen in other examples, such as Bill Gates’ focus on the environment and clean water, and Mark Zuckerberg deciding to only eat what he’s killed.


Maybe because self-made billionaires are perceived to be antisocial or secretive, the decision to isolate themselves has drawn enormous attention and criticism. We connect with self-pitying stories of billionaires like Minecraft’s Markus Persson sharing how his newfound wealth has isolated him from the rest of the world.

But this isolation can also be a deliberate step toward lowering the pressure and noise self-made billionaires experience in their lives. Some famous examples include Mark Zuckerberg buying the neighboring properties around his house to increase his feelings of security, and Richard Branson purchasing Necker Island not only to create a luxury resort destination, but also to allow himself the opportunity to escape an increasingly complex world.

Many times, it’s even simpler: Warren Buffett shared that he spends upwards of 80 percent of his time reading in his office, not holding meetings or constructing investment strategies. Although he views this as a necessity to gather the information and facts he needs to make decisions, his practice of isolating to read and collect information is deliberate. Buffett could certainly have people gather this information and send it to him, but his isolation lowers the pressure and noise around him so he’s able to absorb the facts and take action.

Related: 7 Things the 1% Do That the 99% Don’t 

Simplifying Decision-Making and Distractions

Self-made billionaires often deal with enormous amounts of stress, especially as they are relied upon to make decisions that affect businesses, trends, markets, industries and even global economies. So it’s no wonder they try to limit and simplify the decisions they make on a daily basis.

It’s well known that Steve Jobs famously wore an iconic black shirt and jeans every day, and Mark Zuckerberg similarly wears a gray T-shirt and hoodie. But this isn’t just for the self-made billionaire. Highly successful people from Albert Einstein to Barack Obama to fashion editor Carrie Donovan wore the same or similarly styled clothing every day, because figuring out what to wear created unnecessary noise in their lives. It became one more decision to make each day. This can lead to what others have labeled “decision fatigue,” which self-made billionaires can’t afford to experience.

The decision over what clothes to wear can also become a distraction, taking away from the vision self-made billionaires have set for what they want to accomplish for their days. But these distractions aren’t limited to clothing. Warren Buffett won’t even keep a computer on his desk or use a smartphone, opting instead for an old flip phone.

Working with and consulting to some of the most successful people in the world, I’ve found that the obsession over lowering pressure and noise is not just a habit of self-made billionaires, but a key identifier of most all highly successful people.

I recently had the great opportunity to meet Marcus Lemonis, also known as CNBC’s The Profit. Lemonis takes a unique approach to lowering pressure and noise, which aligns with his passion for business and relationships.

Lemonis is obsessed with transparency and understanding people’s stories. When meeting people with whom he intends to do business, Lemonis immediately shares his own personal story, including that he was adopted and sexually abused as a child, and that his greatest fear is dying alone.

Most people would be terrified to share this kind of detail with family and friends, let alone strangers. But Lemonis tells his business partners this because he wants them to know who he is and establish transparency with them up front, so they’ll be transparent with him down the road. This practice lowers pressure and noise for him, because it eliminates his concern over establishing a transparent relationship, or the possibility that in the future his business partners might have issues with him and his past.

Entrepreneurs Are What They Tolerate

In light of these examples, it’s important to note a difference in mindset between self-made billionaires and the average entrepreneur who might be struggling. Self-made billionaires are relentless about eliminating pressure and noise from their lives, while entrepreneurs seem determined to tolerate as much as they can.

I coach many entrepreneurs and see this every single day. They try to do everything themselves and function on their own. By doing so, they’re in stark contrast to the self-made billionaire who does comparatively little, specializes and has an absolute reliance on other people. In fact, when studying these highly successful individuals, a pattern emerges that too many of us overlook:

The more an entrepreneur can lower pressure and noise, and create a system of protection and support around them, the faster they can become successful.

Although their individual paths to success might have been different, all self-made billionaires throughout history have followed this strategy to achieve real and lasting success for themselves and those around them. The footprints are there for us to follow… if we only will.

Related: 10 Attributes of Self-Made Billionaires

Alex Charfen

Alex Charfen is the co-founder and CEO of CHARFEN. He has spent his life seeking to understand how to make business grow, which evolved into the question, “How do you help people grow?” Through his research and years as a top consultant to billionaires, the Fortune 500 and Global 100, this question led Alex to discover the long-misunderstood Entrepreneurial Personality Type (EPT). Best-selling author Robin Sharma recently described Alex as “the most progressive entrepreneurial mind on the planet.” A highly sought-after speaker on entrepreneurial awareness, Alex has spoken around the world for tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and top global businesses to help them identify and live in their strengths.