The other day, I came across an old note that I had written to myself a few years ago. I was attending the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meetings when Warren Buffett and his partner, Charlie Munger, answer questions throughout the span of 6 to 7 hours and offer their advice on everything from investing to happiness. My note reminded me of a billion dollar habit I picked up from Warren Buffett.

Here’s how it came up: Warren and Charlie were answering a question from an analyst when Charlie inched on saying something negative about a particular individual. The analyst followed up to gain some clarity and, again, Charlie’s short quip was no doubt negative.

Without pausing for a moment, Mr. Buffett followed up and said, “Don’t condemn it too much. You and I are practicing similar habits in other areas of our lives.”

I was FLOORED. I remember I completely tuned out for the next few minutes as I thought of the impact of what was just said.

Here’s a multi-billionaire talking to another multi-billionaire about financial habits and he’s saying they have similar negative habits. He’s not suggesting that they might have negative habits, he’s saying they do.

And, if you stick with me here, this is the part that really resonated with me:

He cut the negative criticism immediately, and shifted his lens internally.

He took a brief moment to acknowledge it was negative, and then immediately honed it in on himself.

That is a VERY tiring way to think. It is much easier to condemn and leave it at that.

The common response for anyone in Warren’s shoes would have been, “Oh yea, that jerk. Did you hear he also did XYZ?” Luckily, Warren possesses an uncommon mind that demonstrated a constructive way to behave in that moment.

How I’ve Applied this Billion Dollar Habit in my Life

When I see someone acting in way that is destructive or counter to something I want to achieve, I take a moment to acknowledge what led them to make that decision.

If I’m part of the conversation I’ll even ask them, “Hey, I’m lost here, what led you to make that decision?” and — here’s the key to gaining perspective — LISTEN EMPATHICALLY to their response.

I want to know.

I’ll try to rephrase their belief to see if I understand. Typically the conversations continues, but the next chance I get, I pause for a moment of reflection.

Here’s where it all comes together; I ask myself, “Where is my similar belief that is leading me down a different path? One that is counter to where I want to go?”

Similar to Buffett’s response to Charlie, I know I have poor habits in areas of my life that I am blind to.

This process has also led me to identify and define what it is that I truly value. It also easier to recognize mistakes made by others than to spot your own. We often have blind spots that need to be pointed out to us, and even then, we might not be willing to accept them.

Within the personal finance blogging world, I find that the greatest resource we have is the ability for everyone to share their story. The high level of transparency on what works and what doesn’t work offers everyone a chance to learn.

This is why so many posts will mention the negative ramifications to ill timed financial decisions. Or, people will share their turbulent experiences in the hopes that others can apply an internal lens to improve their own situation, ultimately saving themselves a lot of grief.

Is this habit part of your mental arsenal? Do you engage in similar thought exercises? Know any other billion dollar habits?

Master Distiller

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