Everything in Life Happens for You Cover

Everything in Life Happens for You, Not to You

When I was six years old, I learned how to ride a bike. As soon as the training wheels came off, I felt like I was flying, zipping up and down our little alley.

One day, just as I drew a circle to head back to the dead end, a white van turned into our street. Looking over my shoulder, I didn’t get the feeling it was slowing down — and got really scared. I tried to make a run for it, spinning the pedals as fast as my tiny feet allowed.

Right when I thought I’d made it to safety, I slipped. My hands lost control, my feet missed the ground, and, in seeming slow-motion, I flew straight over the handle to land face first on the asphalt. When I came back to my senses, my chin felt warm. It was bleeding. A lot.

Somehow, I got myself up and staggered to our house. 30 minutes later, I was sitting in the hospital, pressing a tissue against my chin. Instead of stitches, the doctor would sort of glue my wound shut. You can still see the scar today. But that wouldn’t happen for another two hours.

It was a busy day in the emergency room. Right after we’d arrived, the paramedics wheeled in someone on a stretcher. I couldn’t make out the person, but people were talking about an accident. A biker had hit a tree and sliced his machine in half — and himself right with it.

I learned a lot of lessons that day, but the most important one was this:

No matter how bad life gets, someone always has it worse than you.

A Little, Big Question

Day 12. I don’t remember what it feels like. To get up full of energy. To want to exercise it. To want to run and think and get things done. Funny, how fast we forget. How fast we adapt. Waking up in sweat, coughing, being in a constant daze, it’s all just part of my day now.

Yesterday, I finally saw a doctor. A virus. Probably the flu. And the only thing you can do with a virus…is to wait it out. Patience, he said, patience.

For the first five days, I was raising all hell to get better. Meds, supplements, tea, lemon, spicy food, ginger, you name it. For the next five days, I fooled myself into believing I already felt much better. Now, I’m past all that. I’m beyond trying and beyond complaining. I’m accepting. Finally.

When life bans you to the sidelines, acceptance is a wonderful state. It takes a while to reach, but it provides room for asking a short — but big — question:

What is it for?

Age Isn’t Lethal

Did you know there is no such thing as a “natural death?” We don’t really die of old age. We die when a specific part of our body fails.

And while the consequences of aging — slower cell renewal, worn out organs, a weaker immune system — increase the likelihood of such a failure, of an internal one over an external trigger, they’re not ultimately responsible. At the end of the day, the same things that bug us now, like infections, diseases, malfunctions, or chronic health issues, will also send us on our final journey.

This is as creepy as it is comforting. Don’t quote me on this, but I once heard there’s a 50% chance you’ll deal with a six-month health issue by the time you’re 40. Given that 40 is the halfway point for our life expectancy in many countries already, it’d make perfect sense to me. If you’re death and want to keep people in check, why not send a strong reminder at halftime?

Whether we like it or not, we’re all forced to take the occasional break. Health problems are just one of life’s many ways of giving us one. And since we all share this varying portion of our lives we spend immobilized, watching from the outside, the question is not what to do about it. It’s what to do with it.

What do we do with this time now before we’re banned to the bench forever?

Just Another Cheesy Quote

Everything in life happens for you. Not to you. For you. To some, this may just be another cheesy, pseudo-inspiring quote. To me, it’s one of many attitudes we can choose. And, since I get to, I’d rather choose meaning than misery.

We know meaning is an important component, maybe the most important, of human contentment, happiness, our ability to function and even survive. Ascribing meaning to his life is what allowed Viktor Frankl and others to survive the atrocities of World War II, and it’s also why Frankl dedicated his life to spreading the message that meaning is something we can choose.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

When you’re sick or down or beaten or depressed, deciding that life happens for you is not a way to force-feed yourself back to happy. It’s not even about gratitude for what you usually have or that the pain becomes easier to bear, although those are part of it. No, choosing this attitude means you’ll start looking for learnings instead of relief. You’ll start using your time.

You won’t figure out the real meaning right now. That often can’t happen until weeks, months, years later. But you’ll give your experience meaning by getting something out of it. By making it part of a bigger picture instead of seeing it only as a bump in the road.

Given the choice — and we all are given the choice — I’d rather ascribe too much meaning to life than too little.

Never Powerless

On the day I had my accident, I wasn’t worried about the van or my bike or the motorcyclist. All I wanted was for my wound to heal. And just like that took time, so did the bigger lessons that transpired.

But every time it came up since, that biker was part of the story. Until I started wondering if he was the story. If I was a guest in his, rather than he in mine.

And now, to this day, whenever I have an accident, no matter how minor, it’s a little easier to remember that people are rolled into hospitals every day. In way worse conditions. And some never make it out. But I did. And that’s a lesson — a story — worth keeping.

I hope you’ll rarely feel defenseless. I really do. But I know you’ll never have to feel powerless. Because there’s always something you can do: make meaning. Just create it, and it’s there. It might take you a while to find the acceptance you need to seek it but, once you do, there’s real comfort in learning. In taking lessons where others take offense.

Before you know it, you’ll be back out there. Riding your bike, doing big things, flying through the streets. Until then, it pays to listen to the doctor:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

 — Viktor Frankl

How To Be The Calm Person People Wonder About Cover

How To Be The Calm Person People Wonder About

People often tell me I’m calm and laid-back. That I always seem like I’m cruising along, like nothing really fazes me. That’s nonsense, of course.

I lose my shit all the time. I worry about whether a girl will like me, I freak out about which path to take at work, and I panic when deadlines close in around me. The only difference is I do it in private. Because I can. Because they’re my problems to fix and I will take care of them.

There are two kinds of calm: the emotionally cultivated kind and the calm that comes from having real aces up your sleeve. Tangible assets you can fall back on in tough times. Both are important and both exist in more superficial and deeper forms.

But it’s the second kind that supports much of the first, and that’s the calm people are really getting at when they ask me how I can be so relaxed. A true sense of equanimity that lies underneath, allowing me to not fly off the handle in the face of most everyday problems.

Today, I’d like to show you where that equanimity comes from. What tangible actions you can take to develop real serenity, which then makes it easier to keep your composure on the surface.

Here we go.

Read More
How To Unlock Your Confident Self Cover

How To Unlock Your Confident Self

On July 16, 1926, Donald Mellett was shot in front of his home. The editor of Ohio’s Canton Daily News had picked a fight with the wrong people.

Over the past 18 months, he had exposed multiple issues of corruption among the Canton police, eventually forcing the mayor to suspend the police chief. But the underworld’s ties ran deep. So deep, that three local gangsters and a detective conspired to get rid of him. Of course, the first official investigation turned up nothing. Eventually, an outside, private investigator cleared the case and all culprits were sentenced to life in prison.

And while it barely registers as a sideshow next to one of America’s most publicized crimes in the 1920s, it’s another life that was at stake which is of interest to us today.

Shortly before his death, Mellett had struck a deal with a visiting lecturer. He’d been so impressed with the man’s ideas that they’d decided to publish them come January, when Mellett was to resign from his editor’s duties.

The morning after Mellett’s assassination, the man received an anonymous phone call, telling him he would leave Canton. He could leave on his own within the hour or wait longer and do so in a pine box — but leave he would.

Terrified, the man got into his car and drove for eight hours straight, not resting until he reached his relatives in the remote mountains of West Virginia. There, he went into hiding. Nobody would see him for months.

The name of that man was Napoleon Hill.

Seven Minutes

Joanna is in her early 30s. She’s tall, blonde, and hyper-competitive. She was a national rower, worked for the FBI, and trained Middle Eastern police forces. At the time she grabs dinner with her friend Kamal in late 2013, she’s already sold two companies, with her third about to go public. He tells the story:

She’s sitting against the wall and I’m facing her. We talk about our lives, things that have really formed us, who we are. Out of the blue, she tells me that, when she was 24, she had a heart attack and she died for seven minutes.

I was like okayyy and so I leaned forward: “I gotta ask: What happened?”

She goes: “I don’t remember.”

She was in a coma afterwards. They brought her out of it and [then] she was in this bubble. She was the Bubble Boy for, like, a month. And Joanna being Joanna she was just working away in the bubble.

But she said what changed there was after that, everything she wanted in her life — like anything — whether it’s love, how she met her husband, her career, whatever she wants to do, it just happens. It comes to her.

So I’m like: “Alright, you know, I don’t wanna have to, uh, die to get that. How do you do it?”

She leans forward and she goes: “You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but…”

“What if this is heaven?”

Ten Days of Dishes

Steven Pressfield published his first successful novel when he was 52 years old. For many decades before, he wasn’t just not writing, but actively avoiding it. In The War of Art, he tells the story of the moment everything changed:

I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making twenty bucks a night driving a cab and running away full-time from doing my work.

One night, alone in my $110-a-month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn’t rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of.

For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shitcan. That was enough. I put the machine away.

I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat ten days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack.

To my amazement I realized I was whistling.

The Other Self

In the fall of 1927, over one year after his disappearance, Napoleon Hill finally left his relatives’ house. On a clear night, he walked up to the local public school, which sat on a hill overlooking the town. For hours, he paced around the building. There had to be a way out!

After all, he’d long done the hard work of compiling his ‘philosophy of personal achievement,’ a task for which he had interviewed hundreds of people over the past 20 years. Suddenly, he remembered something the man who sent him on this quest — none other than Andrew Carnegie himself — had told him during one of their earliest conversations in 1908:

“Along toward the end of your labor, if you carry it through successfully, you will make a discovery which may be a great surprise to you. You will discover that the cause of success is not something separate and apart from the man; that it is a force so intangible in nature that the majority of men never recognize it; a force which might be properly called the ‘other self.’ Noteworthy is the fact that this ‘other self’ seldom exerts its influence or makes itself known excepting at times of unusual emergency, when men are forced, through adversity and temporary defeat, to change their habits and to think their way out of difficulty.”

Hill’s heart leapt into his throat. This was it. His testing time. His turn to prove that his own ideas worked. He would either see it through or burn the manuscripts. This breakthrough came with a weird, but empowering gesture:

When this thought came to me, I stopped still, drew my feet closely together, saluted (I did not know what or whom), and stood rigidly at attention for several minutes. This seemed, at first, like a foolish thing to do, but while I was standing there another thought came through in the form of an “order” that was as brief and snappy as any ever given by a military commander to a subordinate. The order said, “Tomorrow get into your automobile and drive to Philadelphia, where you will receive aid in publishing your philosophy of achievement.”

For the first time in his life, Napoleon Hill had experienced his ‘other self.’

Choosing Sides

Joanna is at least 70% sure Kamal will recommend she see a therapist. But she says it anyway:

“What if this is heaven?”

Kamal’s reaction, however, is just as surprising as her question:

And then she leans back and it was like — you ever see in the movies when
the camera just spans back and things get really slow? And I was like “oh my god!” and I swear there was a homeless man behind her in the window and he kinda like winks at me and “oh my god!” And, for a few moments, I got it.

She’s like: “I died. How can I prove I’m not on the other side? So, because this is heaven, given what heaven is about, I can have, be, and do anything I want.”

And she’s living that.

On another day, in another time, Napoleon Hill would’ve said Joanna is in sync with her other self.

A Harajuku Moment

What Steven Pressfield learned from his lovely evening writing crap and washing dishes is that even if his work would remain a miserable experience for a long time, he’d turn out okay. That his becoming a writer was inevitable.

This moment, this singular incident of first unlocking your other, confident, determined, relentlessly driven if patient self, is called a Harajuku Moment.

In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss’s friend Chad Fowler, who coined the term, tells the story of having his own while fashion shopping in Tokyo. Sitting on a wall in the July heat waiting for friends to return, he complained to a buddy:

“For me, it doesn’t even matter what I wear; I’m not going to look good anyway.” I think he agreed with me. I can’t remember, but that’s not the point. The point was that, as I said those words, they hung in the air like when you say something super-embarrassing in a loud room but happen to catch the one random slice of silence that happens all night long. Everyone looks at you like you’re an idiot. But this time, it was me looking at myself critically. I heard myself say those words and I recognized them not for their content, but for their tone of helplessness.

For the first time in his life, Chad realized he was an incomplete person. A man who always saw himself as “someone with bad health.” And that one moment of piercing clarity was enough to spark a drastic change. Harajuku Moments aren’t just for our bodies, but for all walks of life, according to Tim:

It’s an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have. There is no point in getting started until it happens. No matter how many bullet points and recipes I provide, you will need a Harajuku Moment to fuel the change itself.

In the year following his flash of insight, Fowler lost 70+ pounds. He maintains a good health regimen to this day.

Orders From a Strange Source

For the next two days after his Harajuku Moment, Hill continued to receive “orders” from his “other self,” which he followed to the letter.

As a result, he not only found a publisher for his books but also landed a big, local contract with General Motors to train 15 employees in sales. The money was more than enough to pay for all his expenses, including the expensive hotel his gut had told him to book upon arrival.

Past that point, Hill describes his life in words Joanna might have used too:

From that time right up to this very minute everything I have needed has come to me. Sometimes the arrival of the material things I needed has been a little late, but I can truthfully say that my “other self” has always met me at the crossroads when I have come to them and indicated which path I should follow. The “other self” follows no precedents, recognizes no limitations, and always finds a way to accomplish desired ends! It may meet with temporary defeat, but not with permanent failure. I am as sure of the soundness of this statement as I am of the fact of being engaged in writing these lines.

Lucky for us, Hill didn’t leave it at that.

Not a Miracle Drug

As great as it sounds, so far, all this ‘other self’ talk feels a little esoteric. Magical. Almost too good to be true. While he repeatedly admits he doesn’t quite understand it in its entirety, Hill makes an effort to capture what he knows. In Outwitting The Devil, he describes the “orders” he received:

The instructions were given through the medium of thoughts which presented themselves in my mind with such force that they were readily distinguishable from my ordinary self-created thoughts.

That’s simple. I get that. It’s a powerful gut. A feeling that one course of action is decidedly better, paired with a strong sense of faith that it will work.

We’ve all experienced this. Scientists call it flow. It may have been in sports, a video game, or a great day at work, but, somehow, we strung together a series of gut decisions that just worked and executed them with perfect confidence.

While flow isn’t something we can maintain all the time, Hill suggests our other self is a version of ourselves that can capitalize on it much longer:

You are entitled to know that two entities occupy your body, as in fact two similar entities occupy the body of each living person on earth. One of these entities is motivated by and responds to the impulse of fear. The other is motivated by and responds to the impulse of faith.

Whether you call them ‘entities’ or not, this, too, makes sense. Fear has always been our number one motivator because, for millennia, it had to be. The fear of death is what kept us alive. Nowadays, however, that doesn’t make so much sense. Most of us live in an environment where survival is, mostly, ensured.

But, since so few people do it, acting out of faith and going for what you want often works easier and faster than we’d expect it to. This doesn’t make it a miracle drug or state of enlightenment — just a much better way of doing things, according to Hill:

  • You should know that the faith entity performs no miracles, nor does it work in opposition to any of nature’s laws.
  • Your ‘other self’ will not do your work for you; it will only guide you intelligently in achieving for yourself the objects of your desires.
  • Physically you are the same as you have always been; therefore, no one will recognize that any change has taken place in you.
  • Your ‘other self’ will remain in charge and continue to direct you as long as you rely upon it. Keep doubt and fear and worry, and all thoughts of limitation, entirely out of your mind.

Again, this all sounds wonderful, but, like Kamal asked Joanna: how do you do it? How do you change a fundamental aspect of how the human brain naturally works? You don’t.

You let your mind do it for you.

The High Agency Person

The very nature of epiphanies is that they’re not controllable. This is, in part, why we have so many different stories for people who’ve gone through the same change. Joanna, Hill, Pressfield, Fowler, they’ve all made a similar shift in mindset. But because it was such an emotional experience, something so hard to label with language, they’ve all used different labels.

And while there’s no way for me to influence when and where you’ll have yours, Harajuku Moment, that is, stories like theirs are our best shot. Because they prime your subconscious to look for the same in your own life.

In our case, when looking for our confident, faith-based self, the stories we seek are those of what George Mack calls ‘high agency:’

High Agency is a sense that the story given to you by other people about what you can/cannot do is just that — a story. And that you have control over the story.

A High Agency person looks to bend reality to their will. They either find a way, or they make a way.

Mack picked up the concept from Eric Weinstein on Tim Ferriss’s podcast:

When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something?

Weinstein says that most of us pride ourselves in the fact that we’re “grounded in reality,” when, actually, that’s just a different way of saying we’ve settled for average, boring, and conventional.

Most of us who wind up using these sort of strange high agency hacks to negotiate the world have some kind of traumatic birth. We may flatter ourselves that we’re in touch with reality, but in fact, reality is a second-best strategy. If you’re lucky, your family works pretty well and you never leave social reality. It’s only when something goes wrong that you discover: “Okay, the world doesn’t work in any way the way I was told. Here’s the underlying structure.” And what you then have to realize is if you want this at scale, you’ve got to stop relying on these traumatic births. It’s like you’re waiting to get bit by a spider to become Spiderman.

Sure, you could wait for your life to back you up against the wall. Or, you could expose yourself to lots of high agency stories until one kicks in.

You could learn about Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

…Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strange career path from weightlifter to movie star to governor — all in a country whose language he’s terrible at — or Peter Thiel’s unorthodox approaches to investing and business:

How can you achieve your 10-year-goal in 6 months? What great company is nobody starting? What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Ultimately, there’s only so much you can do to unlock your confident self. To find your Harajuku Moment. But, once you’ve had it, you can never go back.

Bigger Than You Think

In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University. He shares a lot of wise aphorisms, but none quite like this one:

You will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart. Because life doesn’t happen to you. It happens for you.

This distinction between life happening for us and to us is the same thing Kamal has noticed in Joanna and all the folks that most inspire him:

For all of them, I’ve noticed one pattern — including her — that whatever happens, it’s never like this is happening to me. They all look at life as if it’s happening for them. They fall down, they lick their wounds, they get up, but it always makes them be better.

And then Kamal says something remarkable: It’s an attitude you can choose.

They’ve internalized this attitude and it is an attitude. All of us who try to live this, none of us are unique in that sense. We’re all humans, right? The same minds walking around with the same dramas and same fears. But that attitude that life happens for them I’ve noticed consistently in all the best people I’ve ever met in my life.

We may not be able to unlock our best parts, like confidence, faith, and flow at will, but we can choose to live with an attitude that attracts them, rather than shut ourselves off from the possibility. Of course, this is one of the first things Carnegie taught Hill too:

Let me call your attention to a great power which is under your control, said Mr. Carnegie. A power greater than poverty, greater than the lack of education, greater than all of your fears and superstitions combined. It is the power to take possession of your own mind and direct it to whatever ends you may desire.

Carnegie was a well-read man. When he was a young boy, a local colonel opened his personal library of some 400 volumes every Saturday night — an opportunity Carnegie always took. It’s not hard to imagine he read a few Stoic texts, which, over 2,000 years ago, already harnessed the same idea: the one thing we control, the only thing, really, is our mind and its perceptions.

I’m no expert on the ‘other self’ and I’ve only ever caught glimpses of it myself. But, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. And so I wish nothing more for you than to find your Harajuku Moment. To see this distinction between faith and fear. To learn to live your life with courage, confidence, and the relentless spirit it takes to get whatever you want. Until then, I wish you the attitude that will help you find all of these things. You’re a lot bigger than you think.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

— Marcus Aurelius

If You Want to Be Happy, Make the World Small Cover

If You Want to Be Happy, Make the World Small

One of my favorite scenes in Man of Steel is when young Clark first discovers his powers at elementary school. His senses are hypersensitive and, by activating all at once, trigger a seizure.

Suddenly, he can see not just people’s appearance, but their insides, bones, organs. He can hear not just loud noise, but every noise, even tiny ones far away. Overwhelmed with all the impressions, he runs away and hides.

The whole class gathers outside the closet he’s locked himself in, but, ultimately, his mom must come to his rescue. At first, he won’t let her in.

“The world’s too big, Mom.”

But then, Martha Kent shares a piece of advice that could only ever make sense coming from a loving, compassionate mother:

“Then make it small.”

The Good Thing About Fame

A few days ago, I was looking for gameplay clips from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey because, you know, procrastination. I found theRadBrad. After watching a few videos, I realized he has 9.8 million subscribers. That’s more than the entire population of Austria, Honduras, or Hungary.

I’m a gamer at heart. I’ve used Youtube for as long as it exists. And yet, I had never heard of theRadBrad, one of the biggest channels in this sector.

I guess it’s true. The world has become a big place. Or, maybe it always was.

Christianity has remained the world’s largest religion for the past 200 years. But it still covers just a third of our planet’s population. That means one of, maybe the most famous person in history — Jesus Christ — is someone most people have never heard of.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s soothing. The problem is I keep forgetting it.

All It Takes Is Pancakes

In an early How I Met Your Mother episode, Barney shares one of his most memorable quotes:

“You know what Marshall needs to do? He needs to stop being sad. When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story.”

But, unless you can seamlessly switch from one irrational, emotional state to another, like Barney, that’s not so easy, is it? It sure wasn’t for Marshall. For 67 days after his breakup, he was a miserable, weeping puddle of his former self.

Every day, some new trigger would launch him into another nightmare about his ex. Where’s Lily? What is she doing? And with whom? Why that? Why now? Why there? Of course, none of his obsessive behavior gave any answers.

Eventually, after over two months, his roommates woke up to the smell of fresh pancakes. Marshall was over the hump. Why now? What changed?

The world was too big. And, finally, Marshall had made it small.

Pretend It’s an Island

I think most of my sadness is overwhelm in disguise. The world’s too big. I postpone all kinds of decisions until I do something stupid or extreme. As a result, I lose even more time, which only reinforces the cycle.

But it all starts with the fact that there’s too much of everything. Too many projects to tackle. Too many notifications to answer. Too many people to meet. Too many places to go. Too many shows to watch. Too many books to read.

I know I’ll never get to it all. So there’s always someone to disappoint. Even if it’s just myself. But it never fails to sting.

The only way I can ever move past this is by doing what Martha told Clark:

“Just focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island, out in the ocean. Can you see it?”

“I see it.”

“Then swim towards it, honey.”

When the world’s too big, I have to forget it for a while. I have to start swimming.

The Only Thing We Can Do

On Nov 27th, 2006, Brad Colburn created a Youtube account. It had zero subscribers. Now, every time he launches another playthrough, he says:

“So guys it’s, uh, it’s kind of hard to start off these big games. ‘Cause I know that this series is gonna have a lot of people watching.”

No single human is meant to have an entire country follow them around. We’re tribal creatures. Not global citizens. No matter how much we wish we were. The sheer mental presence of more than a few dozen people is enough to cause serious anxiety. It’s a huge responsibility to shoulder.

So the best thing, the only thing, really, that RadBrad can do is to make another video. Just one. Pretend it’s an island. Start swimming. I don’t know Brad personally. But I can tell you, every time he forgets this, he feels sad and overwhelmed.

And when he remembers? He finds his way back to happy.

We’re All Clark Kent

The internet has made all of us hypersensitive. We’re all Clark Kent. We can see not just people’s appearance, but their insides, thoughts, emotions. We can hear not just loud noise, but every noise, even tiny ones far away.

And sometimes, it makes us want to run away and hide. When Marshall sifted through his ex-lover’s credit card transactions, his world was too big. Too many terrible fantasies. Too many alternatives to imagine. Only when he said “stop,” when he refused to engage with the noise, could he focus on what was right in front of him: two hungry friends.

If Superman existed, how long would it take until the whole world knows him? A month? A year? In any case, he better master his senses. Unlike him, however, we can turn off the noise. Disconnect. Get quiet.

What’s more, we’ll never carry quite as much responsibility. If we’re really lucky, how many people will follow us? A couple thousand? A few million? Still, most of the world will never know who we are. We’ll always stay small.

Remembering this smallness is where happiness lies. Forget the vastness that’s out there. It does nothing for you. Just focus on one voice. One friend. Make one video. And then do it again.

The world’s too big. Even for the best of us. Let’s carve out our own space. Make it small. Find your island. And then swim towards it.

Why Your Problems Seem To Follow You Cover

Why Your Problems Seem To Follow You

Do you feel like you’re never quite out of the woods? Not exactly drowning, but certainly not cruising either. Like there’s always a bunch of problems, lurking just around the corner, waiting to be addressed.

If you’ve ever looked forward to a vacation for weeks only to realize the peace you’d hoped to find isn’t there, you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you’ve raised all hell to finish a big project, to push a huge boulder out of the way, and yet still woke up in a cold sweat the next day.

Well, despite how it feels, you’re not alone. You’re not the victim of a grand, cosmic conspiracy and other people don’t have fewer troubles than you do.

Thinking our problems follow us around is a feature that came in the box; a trait we all share. And it’s especially pronounced in smart, self-aware people.

Scientists call it negativity bias. It’s our tendency to assign disproportionately large value, attention, and meaning to everything negative in our lives. UPenn researchers Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman broke this bias into four parts:

  1. Negative potency. If you had to rate your happiness after finding $50, you’d likely rate it lower than your unhappiness after losing $50. This has to do with loss aversion, a concept discovered by Daniel Kahneman. It’s not as simple as saying one is twice as powerful as the other, but it’s there.
  2. Steeper negative gradients. When you have to pay a $1,000 bill in a month’s time, you fret more and more about it the closer the deadline gets. In comparison, your excitement rises less when you expect to get $1,000.
  3. Negativity dominance. If that $50 loss and find happen on the same day, you’ll likely go to bed thinking about the loss. In a mix of equally positive and negative events, our perception of the whole skews towards the bad.
  4. Negativity differentiation. Adversity often requires more thinking and is, thus, conceptualized in more detail. Psychology has increasingly focused on negative emotions and most languages have more words for them too.

Negativity bias is why we taste a tiny bit of sour in a sea of sweet, why it takes couples five positive interactions to neutralize one spat, and why we stress over one bad review in 50 great ones. It may drive us nuts today, but, for thousands of years, it’s how we survived. By spotting the bad before it kills us.

Over the last few centuries, however, particularly the last 200 years or so, our environment has evolved much faster than our brains ever could have. As a result, we’re now stuck with an outdated version of human perception. Our challenges haven’t disappeared, but their nature has changed faster than ours.

The logical response, then, is to tone down our negativity bias. If fewer events threaten our survival, there’s less reason to view them as potentially such.

For example, a lot of people might think their being perpetually broke is a big problem. But when more than half of all Americans are, that’s actually just the norm. Clearly, you can live with little savings for years and, in most cases, nothing drastic will happen. This isn’t to advertise being broke or to say you have to like it but to show you: it’s not really something worth stressing about. Especially not all the time and especially not if you’re working on it to change.

The habit we need to live this new, calmer version of reality, this less slanted version of the truth, is controlling our perceptions. This is an ability most people don’t even know we have. But we do. We can hit the pause button before negativity bias takes hold. We can ask: “What do I want to believe?

It’s the old Stoic adage: You can’t control all that happens, but you can control how you think about what happens. This isn’t just a great filter to process life’s challenges through. In fact, it’s the only real solution.

Outside events hold no power over us in and of themselves. Maybe, they affect our bodies. Or our possessions. Or our time. But never our minds. Whatever impact they have on our well-being is impact we have afforded them.

Life is. Reality is. It’s all subjects and verbs. We’re the ones with the adjectives.

That’s what ‘problem’ should be. An adjective. Not a noun.

Life is only made of situations and how we look at them. Nothing else. Our brains may have evolved to favor the stuff that scares us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change. That’s what neuroplasticity is for. It just takes practice.

Your problems will only truly disappear once you stop viewing them as such.

If you really want them to go away, you must learn to see straight. To control your perceptions. Because in any situation, you can. And only those, really.

Limiting your negativity bias won’t make your life all sunshine and rainbows. But those problems following you around? Most of them will just fade away.

Zen Stories for a Calm, Clear & Open Mind Cover

Zen Stories for a Calm, Clear & Open Mind

My theme for 2019 is ‘focus.’ Focus on the work and projects that matter, the people I really care about, and, most of all, focus of the mind. If you’re anything like me — an overthinking introvert with a mind that’s always on — that last one is especially difficult.

Part of it’s just human nature. Our brains are wired to look for problems. To obsess over an issue we can fix. Until we create a solution, which gives us a short burst of relief. Then, it’s on to the next thing.

But for introverts, it’s particularly easy to get stuck on the obsession part. Our default response to almost anything is to think up a maze in our mind, then zip through it until we’ve explored every corner. Like a mouse looking for cheese, even if there’s none to be found.

One of the few things that’s helped me stop spinning in circles in my own head is Zen stories. I’m not sure why. Maybe, I can relate to the imagery associated with Buddhist monks. Maybe, I’m a sucker for allegories. In any case, while some people might think they’re cheesy, they work for me.

When my mind is cloudy, a Zen story can clear it up. When I’m frantic, it calms me down. And when I’m too close to the trees to see the forest, it helps me see.

You may not be an introvert or compulsive thinker, but I hope you’ll still benefit from the following seven stories. I know they’ve done wonders for me.

Read More
You Don't Need Motivation — You Need Rational Habits Cover

You Don’t Need Motivation — You Need Rational Habits

I know, I know. It’s a new year. The last one sucked, but screw that, 2019’s here! With all the bells and whistles. Oh, you’re gonna do so much.

First, you’ll get your workouts back. Then, you’ll improve how you work. You’ll see more, live more, get more done. And, of course, you’ll finally start writing.

Except you’re not doing 2020-you a favor with any of this. Let alone 2030-you. God knows about 2050. But this? Forget it. It’s a charade. We did the same one last year, remember? The reason we keep doing it is that we spend all of December convincing ourselves that this year, this time, it will be different.

It won’t. The year you’re waiting for — the year you manage to somehow magically extend your January-motivation through the entire 12 months that follow — will never come. You don’t need motivation. You never did.

What you need are rational habits. Patterns that make sense.

When it comes to your health, brushing your teeth is a rational habit. That one’s obvious enough, so we do it. Sleeping 7–8 hours a night? A much tougher sell already. But it’s just as rational. So are getting fresh air, not overeating, and a light workout routine. The problem is, often, we only end up with these by accident. If ever. But what if you were intentional about them?

If you want to be an artist, waking up early is a rational habit. Write before work, and you’ll be under pressure. You’ll also be satisfied all day. Write after work, and the urgency is gone. The couch looks tempting. You’re tired. And drained from fretting about that hour all day. So you’re more likely to fail.

For every goal you can think of, rational habits exist. They either support it directly or make it more likely you’ll follow through on the actions that do.

Painters must paint. Entrepreneurs must open shop. Most of us function better in the mornings. Most of us feel tired after work. That’s not to say there can’t be the usual exception to the rule, but, in most cases, the same rational habits will make sense for the people chasing the same goals.

Rational habits sidestep motivation because they don’t depend on your mood. They minimize the impact of external circumstances on your ability to follow through. And their fallback versions are still more satisfying than even the best failed attempt. Rational habits bank on how your brain works.

Override your autopilot? That won’t last. Good luck changing 200,000 years of human nature. Just point it in the right direction. Ask if it’s an autopilot you can trust. That’s a control function, not a new system you build from scratch.

Our minds are pattern-seeking machines. Always have been, always will. Where there’s a loop, they’ll latch onto it, hold it tight, and try to never let go. Your job is to hang out around the right loops. Let your brain do the latching.

They say you’re the average of the five people around you. That’s character. But your behavior, that’s the average of your five strongest habits. Your most enduring patterns? Like it or not, they dictate your actions and, thus, results.

Science suggests 40% of our daily activities are habitual. Maybe it’s more. As long as the actions moving you towards your goals are included, you’re set. But there’s a high chance they’re not — and ‘occasionally’ won’t do the job.

Usually, what we want isn’t unreasonable. We know we can do it. It just takes longer than we think. We need grit, patience, and flexibility along the way. But, for some reason, the bigger, bolder, and more unlikely our goals become, the more we believe we’ll achieve them with a massive, one-time push.

I think the opposite is true. The more irrational your goal, the more rational habits you need to accomplish it. Only sane compounding patterns can sustain you long enough. Because you’ll need even more grit, patience, and flexibility.

You need rational habits for an irrationally great life. It’s not intuitive, I know.

But if you want to write a bestselling novel, starting with a daily tweet makes sense. Announcing your commitment, betting on it, and creating a vision board, however, do not. They might help you write the tweet and that’s fine. But none of it will get you there. One is the reality of being a published writer — it takes years of practicing the craft — the other just a story that covers it.

So you might as well start with tweets. But start writing. Forget ‘big goal, big motivation.’ Go for ‘big goal, small action.’ Hang out with the right habits. Take it slow. Experiment. Make it tiny. Make sure you succeed. Stay rational.

Where is motivation in all this? You’re right, it’s not there. And that’s why it’s hard. Because where’s the excuse? After all, now you can’t blame an elusive concept when you fail. It’s your fault. Because you broke the commitment. Because you skipped the small action. That sucks to suck up. But it’s true.

Motivation isn’t something we can properly maintain. Rational habits are. They’re rooted in action, not inspiration. And there’s always an action you can take. No matter how small. No matter how long it takes for the habit to form.

If this all sounds sad at first, give it some time. I think it’s empowering. Lose a dependence, gain actual agency. Better to face hard truths early in the year than a big, mystic failure at the end. That’s a rational habit too.

I hope my brain will latch on. But if not, I’ll just do it again until it sticks.