A Simple Plan to Win the Year Cover

A Simple Plan to Win the Year

There’s this pithy quote floating around the web that I really like:

In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.

The one thing I don’t like about it is that it makes it sound like you have to wait to be given the test either way. You don’t. You can decide to take your own test any day of the week and when you do, you’ll learn a lesson instantly.

At the end of 2015, I designed such a test for myself: Learn something from a new book every day, whether that’s a chapter, a full book, a summary, or tons of interviews, and then write about it. Every day for the next year. The day I made the decision I already learned the first lesson.

The New Year Starts Today

In Do The Work, Steven Pressfield writes:

“Don’t prepare. Begin. Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.

The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do. Start before you’re ready.”

As I prepared the website I thought “why not start writing also? It’ll be like a rolling start in a car race.” More like flying.

A big part of why 92% of people fail their New Year’s resolutions is that they think the switch is magical if they flip it on January 1st. But the switch is never magical and you can flip it any day. You can start a new year any day of the year. You’re not a calendar.

When you do it in December, you can fail a lot before January 1st and you won’t need pseudo-motivation to start because you can just keep going.

An Ode to December

Ever since I learned that lesson, December has become my busiest month of the year. Not with business, but with thinking. “What goals make sense for the next year? How can I make them simpler? What can I do to start today?”

Here’s what I’ve come up with this year.

1. Set a Simple, Insane Goal

Talking about cryptocurrency investing with a successful friend, I asked him: “What’s a good goal for me next year?” Without knowing how much I have, he said: “One million dollars.”

He explained: “Look, last year, around Christmas, I set a completely utopian goal. Not because I need the money. Just because. And I completely destroyed it.”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The obvious but hard to practice thinking behind this is that you can’t get a result that’s ten times bigger without a radically different approach. While everyone’s clawing for 1,000 more followers, can you sweat behind the curtain until you’re good enough to pop up on Oprah?

The path to bigger goals is always harder, less straightforward and more people will think you’re crazy. But it’s also less crowded.

Higher risk, more return. Speaking of which.

2. Completely Detach Yourself From Your Goal

The shrug emoji above is actually quite important. The reason my friend was so comfortable in setting such an insane goal is that he knew he didn’t control even half of it.

“You just do the best you can with what you’ve got, you go all in and then you let go.” Sticking with the one million dollar example, he continued: “You’d need to put in 100k and 10x that. But even if you pull off the first part, 90% of the result is out of your control. That’s fine, but that’s what it is.”

If your first thought is “I want a million dollars,” then your second thought should be “I don’t need a million dollars.” Not now, not ever.

What I like about my friend’s line of thinking is that it doesn’t artificially try to increase the part I control. More control just means more work. If I let go I can aim higher while focusing on less. I’ll probably like where I end up regardless.

3. Put All Your Energy Into 2–3 Core Strengths

Once you’ve placed your target on the moon, you can return to earth, turn your back on it and start digging. For short- to mid-term projects it makes sense to break it all down into small packages. For long-term, life-changing, way-out-there goals, that’s just depressing.

Which activities, if you do them long enough, will get you there? Which of those are you good at? Where have you already built assets you can work with?

Pick 2–3 of your core strengths and find a way to funnel those into your goal. How can you spend more time doing them? What others can you let go? If you’re already going strong, you can just keep going. For me it’s writing, saving a big share of my income and investing that as best as I can.

That’s it. Often, you need to change less of your day-to-day than you think.

4. Let Things Fall By The Wayside

Since this approach is so simple, what exactly I write, how much of my income I save, where I invest it, and so on, are all secondary. As long as I do those things, I’ll eventually get there.

As someone who thrives on plans, this is hard to wrap my head around. “Oh, I don’t need an exact portfolio allocation right now? Right, I don’t.” Even if you can follow a rigid, step-by-step plan, chances are you’ll get bored of it halfway through. But besides robbing you of the fun, tunnel vision also blindsides you to new opportunities along the way.

If a faster train to your goal passes you at the 50% marker, you first need to see it in order to jump on. But even before that, you have to buy a ticket.

5. Start Before You’re Ready

You don’t feel ready now, do you? That means it’s as good a time as ever.

What’s your goal? Can you make it bigger? Let go? Which activities will get you there? How much minutiae can you get rid of?

Don’t wait for life to give you a test. Design your own. If not now, when ever? It’s a new year, after all. And it starts today.

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”  —  Pablo Picasso

How To Achieve More Than You Think You Can Cover

How To Achieve More Than You Think You Can

Justin Timberlake should not be as successful as he is. Looking at it from the outside, little of how his career has progressed seems to make sense.

JT’s not someone you come across in headlines a whole lot, yet he sits on over 160 awards, a 200-million-dollar fortune, and one of the most respected reputations in the history of entertainment. At 36 years old, he’s had a globally successful band, four platinum solo albums, starred in smash hit movies, and is considered a fashion icon.

But that’s not what common sense tells us, is it? Though some caveats have been added to the famous 10,000 hour rule, the message remains the same: you need lots of deliberate practice and years of time to get good at one thing.

So how can someone like Timberlake switch music styles, industries, even to a completely different skill set, like acting, time and time again, yet still succeed?

What part of the picture are we missing?

Learning to Unlearn

Every lesson in life comes at the expense of unlearning another.

When you learn to be confident, you unlearn to be shy. If you react with humility, you have forgotten your ego. When you’re comfortable taking risk, you ignore other’s opinions, and so on.

In Chinese philosophy, the idea of yin and yang suggests that life consists entirely of dualities. It is only through the completeness of these dualities that we achieve unity. So no matter how contradictory two sides seem, they’re ultimately connected.

For each new piece of knowledge you acquire, you have to let go of an old one. Foggy clouds of ideas make way for facts, which make way for better facts, only to be replaced by new clouds, and so the cycle continues.

What most of us do when we try to improve is resist this cycle. We want every next answer to be the answer to everything. A different diet, a new sleep schedule, a tweak to your marketing — if only we stick to it, it may last us forever. Of course, nothing ever does.

That’s because the underlying skill of acquiring and abandoning knowledge, the unity, lies in change itself. What you’re really learning is how to unlearn.

Justin Timberlake is a master at it.

The Unimportance of Being Right

There is a famous line in a Walt Whitman poem called Song of Myself:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.”

The next time someone accuses you of being inconsistent, say this line. It’ll instantly take the wind out of their sails, because you can’t argue with someone who accepts being wrong. Especially without making an attempt to defend themselves.

Most people stumble over this idea, because one of our biggest innate desires is to be consistent. Add to that our tendency to spend more time on what we’ve already sunken energy into, and you get a high level of resistance to unlearning.

People like Justin Timberlake, however, practice something cryptocurrency expert Nick Szabo calls quantum thought:

“In law school, they teach a very different way of thinking in that you need to take both the defendants and the plaintiffs side of the issue and run down the arguments as if each one of them is true. They contradict each other, of course, or at least the conclusions, and so I compare this to Schrodinger’s cat — maybe it’s alive, maybe it’s dead. Maybe the defendant’s guilty, maybe they’re not, and you have to keep both of these in your mind at once.”

When Justin went from child actor to boyband singer, from solo artist to actor, from show host to comedian, from R&B to Soul, and from commercial star to voice actor, he was in no way convinced he’d be good at all of those things.

He just managed to hold the possibility of two different truths in his head at the same time. Thanks to this skill, Timberlake is never afraid to be wrong, since he is always free to unlearn one thing for another. He has a frictionless mind.

It’s a mental model he likely acquired at The Mickey Mouse Club.

A Child With a Grown Man’s Work Ethic

Even someone as talented as Justin Timberlake isn’t always right. He bought a golf course for $16 million, only to sell it for $500,000 seven years later, and some of his films were really bad. He works incredibly hard too, which we can’t neglect.

However, all that pales compared to the genius of a child that resides in him, which we often lack. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains:

“There’s a spelling bee and you have to spell the word ‘CAT.’ One student spells it ‘C-A-T.’ The person got it right. The next person spells it ‘K-A-T.’ That’s wrong.

The third person spells it ‘X-Q-W.’ You realize that is marked equally as wrong as the ‘K-A-T,’ when you could argue that ‘K-A-T’ is a better spelling for ‘CAT’ than ‘C-A-T.’ Dictionaries know this, because that’s how they spell it phonetically!

And so we’ve built a system for ourselves where there is an answer and everything else is not the answer, even when some answers are better than others. So our brains are absent the wiring capable of coming up with an original thought.”

As adults, we spend all of our time in this system, so it’s almost impossible not to fall prey to the same thinking. But when we do, when we resist the process of constantly updating our view of the world, we block our own path.

Children aren’t burdened with this problem yet, because they’re still unfamiliar with the idea that “this is how we do things around here.” As Sir Ken Robinson recalls about the time his son was in the nativity play:

“The three boys came in, four-year-olds with tea towels on their heads, and they put these boxes down, and the first boy said, “I bring you gold.” And the second boy said, “I bring you myrrh.” And the third boy said, “Frank sent this.”

What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.”

What we really see when we look at someone of Justin Timberlake’s caliber, is a child with a grown man’s work ethic. Having traversed the long road of unlearning, he reaps the rewards of unencumbered thought: Originality, adaptability, and the courage to exercise both at a second’s notice.

If nobody told you what you can and can’t achieve in a 20-year career, how much would you dare to try?

Chances are you’d act with an open mind and, like Justin Timberlake, embrace the next line in Whitman’s poem:

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”

3 Simple Words Will Set You Free Cover

3 Simple Words Will Set You Free

When Robin Williams died in 2014, the world lost a legend. No scene better encapsulates his brilliance than what must be one of the greatest monologues in entertainment history: the park scene in Good Will Hunting.

After being horribly verbally assaulted by his patient and boy genius, Will, therapist Sean makes one last attempt at getting through:

“So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that.

If I asked you about women you’d probably give me a syllabus of your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy.

You’re a tough kid. I ask you about war, and you’d probably — uh — throw Shakespeare at me, right? “Once more into the breach, dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap and watched him gasp his last breath, looking to you for help.”

What Williams’s character is doing, though it may not seem like it at first, is giving Will a chance. A chance to say “I don’t know.” An opportunity to admit that he’s scared and talk about his feelings.

We can see that it’s working, because Will, for an on-screen eternity of four minutes, does not say a word. He just sits there, petrified. Here is a scene in which the main character doesn’t do a thing, yet it is pivotal, not just in the movie, but also for our lives.

Whether you show this scene to someone born ten years before the movie came out, or ten years after, they can relate. We, too, have been given plenty of chances to say “I don’t know” in our lives so far.

But, like Will, we keep missing them. This makes us miserable deep inside.

Why?

The Shattered Self

Maybe it happened after you graduated college. Or entered. Maybe when you started your first job, or even after high school. But at some point, you had a terrifying epiphany:

“I don’t know anything about life. I have no clue what to do and I can’t see how the hell I’m going to figure all of this out.”

It’s one of those moments where you can feel the metaphorical glass shattering, because your view of the world forever changes. The shattered self is something all humans go through, but, according to Simon Sinek, there is a group that experiences this traumatizing, but important event very early in their lives: millennials.

The reason my generation stands out is not because of our age, but because of how we react to this event.

We choke.

A Different House of Cards

As Sean continues his speech, Will’s expression hardens more and more.

“I look at you; I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid.”

Terrified Will Hunting

He gulps. He can’t even look at Sean now. In an instant, the house of cards that was his sense of confidence collapsed. For many of us, entering the real world feels exactly the same.

Once we’re burdened with the full weight of responsibility for our own lives, we quickly realize we have no confidence. I see two reasons:

  1. We haven’t accomplished much worth being confident about.
  2. All of our lives, we’ve been told the exact opposite by our parents.

The first cause is normal. A history of achievements needs history as much as it needs achievements. But the second one isn’t. More and more, helicopter parents keep sheltering their children and it turns them into incomplete adults.

I’m not saying those were your parents, or my parents. The point is there are parents who do these things to their children and, worse, they think they’re making the right choice.

Having not had enough time to build it, and with no foundation for our confidence to rest on, it only takes a brief, lonely moment of clarity as we grow up for it to crumble. Faced with reality, we’re forced to unlearn what’s not true and feel like an impostor, mortified at the idea of being found out.

Unfortunately, unlike Will, we don’t all have a therapist to catch us as we fall.

ICQ

What compounds this suffering of low self-esteem is that we suffer it in silence. Not only did we not learn confidence, we also chose the wrong coping mechanism to deal with the fact that we have none.

Going through adolescence, we untie our self-worth from our parents and attach it more to our peers. This is an important change that helps us integrate in the real world: we learn to rely on our friends.

Enter technology.

When I was 13, everyone in my class started using a service called ICQ. It was the first standalone instant messenger and instantly, we messaged. Outside of school, I spent more time on ICQ than anywhere else. Most of us did.

We chatted more than we called, more than we hung out in person, more than we went outside. Teenagers enjoy chatting less, but because of its dopamine-inducing nature, they get addicted anyway. So no, we did not learn to rely on our friends. We learned to rely on technology.

You can replace ICQ with many other things — Facebook, Snapchat, Netflix, WhatsApp — the year changes, the outcome remains the same. Instead of learning to control our mood with serotonin, or what it feels like to be loved with oxytocin, we go on a dopamine-only diet. Gambling, alcohol, sex, most addicts find their drugs as teens. So did we, it just didn’t have the label on it.

Thus, when our self is shattered, we have no one to turn to. We’re alone with our devices. We look at our peers through 4″, 12″ and 50″ screens and all we see is everyone’s highlight reel.

“They’re doing so well and I don’t. I can’t talk about that.”

So we gulp. We swallow. And we remain silent, staring at the letters. ICQ.

You know what it stands for? “I seek you.”

What Kind of Choice?

Seeing Will crack, Sean must twist the knife:

“And if I asked you about love y’probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone could level you with her eyes. Feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you, who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel and to have that love for her to be there forever.

Through anything. Through cancer. You wouldn’t know about sleeping sittin’ up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see in your eyes that the term ‘visiting hours’ doesn’t apply to you.

You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.”

The result of all this, the lack of confidence, the false images, the weak technological replacement for true friendship, true love, is that we keep spinning in circles.

As we reach the end of our 20s, and 30s, then 40s, we begin to live in a world in which everyone is too scared to admit that they’re scared and so we all remain lonely and clueless about feeling lonely and clueless.

When we constantly grab our phones, we don’t do it to procrastinate. We do it because we’re terrified of being alone. Every day, every second. We’re not even chatting just to chat, we’re chatting to feel less discomfort.

We fundamentally lack the ability to express our feelings in the company of other people.

The third most common cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 is suicide. One in ten adolescents is depressed. 64% of millennials feel overwhelmed at work every day.

The best way we can express how we feel is a two-word cry for help: “I’m fine.” Our careers, our love lives, our friendships, it’s all fine, and then we die.

What kind of a choice is that?

Like a Freakin’ Rainbow

Social media, digital communication, online entertainment, these things aren’t bad, it’s just our usage that’s off. We depend on devices, not people. It’s not solely our fault either. Technology found us way too young and we could never let go.

What we can let go of is our fear of opening our mouth and speaking our truth. Yes, we still don’t know jack shit about life. That fact will never change. Not at 20 and not at 85. But all the irrational fears surrounding that fact? Those are imaginary.

It’s okay to say how we feel. Anywhere. Any time.

Even right here, right now. Try it. Say it. “I don’t know.” See? You’re free to express who you are. You don’t need anyone’s permission. The rest of us is just waiting for it too.

This does not make our challenges any easier, just easier to bear. We must remember why we use technology to communicate.

  • What’s this app for? Who do you talk to with that? Why?
  • Does this platform build your confidence? Or destroy it?
  • Is what you see real? Or are you just assuming it is?
  • If you can’t say it in person, is it worth saying at all?

We also need to put boundaries on digital communication.

  • When you sit at a table with other people, even ones you don’t know, who deserves your attention more? The Facebook friend you don’t really know far away or whoever is right there?
  • If you go out with your friends, why do you need a phone? Take one phone. Or no phone. You’ll be fine for a few hours.
  • Yes, that video you sent your friend was funny, but how much more fun would it have been if you’d waited until you could watch it together?

None of these will be easy, but through all of those trials, you can show us your true colors. We’ll adore you for it like a freakin’ rainbow.

Why Are We Here?

Every time you swallow important feelings, you rob the world of the chance to learn something from you. But that’s the main reason we’re here. We’re all waiting for it.

Even though everything Sean has thrown into Will’s face is true, he’s still willing, still curious, to learn from his fellow human:

“I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some fuckin’ book. Unless you wanna talk about you, who you are. And I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t wanna do that, do you, sport? You’re terrified of what you might say.”

Usually, it’s not a therapist sitting next to us on the bench. Just some random dude. Or a young mom with her child. But isn’t that enough? What if, unlike Will, we didn’t let them walk away?

Go back all the way to that moment. Back to that shattered self. How did it feel? What if you hadn’t swallowed it? What if, in that minute, you’d had the guts to reach out and say: “I have no clue. Can we talk about that?”

While that first one may have defined much of who we are today, the truth is that, in life, we all have many of these moments. Again and again, we realize we’re scared, lonely and we don’t have the answers.

Neither do our phones. Or Twitter. Or our coworkers. So in reality, we’re free to admit it any time. We know this is good for us. One of the most popular quotes in the world is a 2,000 year-old line from one of the wisest men ever:

“I know that I know nothing.” — Socrates

Imagine how liberating that must’ve felt. Every single thing you’ve ever been dying to say, but never dared to — every feeling, every thought, every question, every idea — it all starts from here.

You don’t need to look so tough. You can tell us how you feel. Because we don’t know anything either. We have no opinions. We, too, don’t want to be judged.

When you want to be curious, let yourself be curious. Say “nice shoes” or “what’s that mean?” or “how’d you do your hair like that?” If you feel like laughing in the middle of a crowded place, laugh. And when you don’t know what to do, let us know.

The man who taught us this lesson, Robin Williams, lived it both in character and in life. He played jokes on live TV in front of millions and talked openly about his problems with alcohol and depression.

Like Will, he leaves us with three words that carry all the hope in the world:

“Your move, chief.”

Why Life's Biggest Limitation Will Make You Happier Cover

Why Life’s Biggest Limitation Will Make You Happier

One of Gandhi’s most popular quotes is this:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Once we’ve gotten some much needed distance to whatever our education system forced us to remember, most of us rediscover the joy of voluntary learning at some point. Whether you like to research stocks, tend to your garden, or read books, self-improvement has many benefits.

Beyond satisfying our curiosity by regularly spending time in flow, we can use it to become better people, get what we want and solve problems. It seems so universal a tool that its usefulness feels limitless.

But that’s not the whole story. No matter how much we’d like it to, self-improvement isn’t a magic wand we can wave to cause whatever change we want to see. That’s because no amount of reading, learning, or even discipline can ever change that life still consists entirely of tradeoffs.

It’s like that line: “You can have anything you want, but not everything.” Choosing one thing always means not choosing another, so even if you’re the most dedicated person in the world, you still have to decide what to dedicate yourself to.

No idea highlights this problem better than The Four Burners Theory.

Two Out of Four

Imagine a stove with four burners on it, which represent the big aspects of your life:

  1. Family.
  2. Friends.
  3. Work.
  4. Health.

Now, the theory says that in order to be successful, you can only turn on three burners at a time. If you want to be exceptional, it’s just two.

The second you hear this theory, you know it’s true. Take a moment to think. Which burners have you cut off? For me it’s friends and health. If I had to put percentages on it, I’d say work is at 80%, family at 15%, and friends get a crippling 5%. Almost out of oxygen. Ouch.

This theory explains why we’re frustrated, no matter how much we improve. Sooner or later, we find out self-improvement isn’t the universal remedy it is often claimed to be, and we want answers. Why can’t I have everything? Why?

Of course we never could, we’ve just fooled ourselves into believing we can over time.

The Four Burners Theory was originally just mentioned in passing in a New Yorker article, but James Clear popularized it. He also offered different views on what you can do about this problem.

  • Be imbalanced. Sacrifice your health, or friends, or work and say “screw it, that’s just what it is.”
  • Be mediocre. Do turn up all burners, but just enough to get by. As a result, you’ll go long in life, just never far.
  • Outsource stuff. If you make more money, you can hire a chef, or a trainer, or pay a nanny to take care of your kids. All of these have limitations of their own, of course.
  • Set constraints. “I’ll work 70 hours a week on becoming a millionaire, but not a single one more.” “Monday night is date night.” And so on.

All of these feel like weak attempts at bypassing the problem. If you’re a dedicated self-improvement nerd like me, you want a solution. Luckily, it seems there is one.

A Life for All Seasons

James says our default in which burners we turn up is to imitate the inspiring figures in our lives. If your boss is a workaholic, you’ll likely turn into one too and if your fellow students mostly hang out with one another, so will you.

That’s nice if those burners happen to match the ones you would’ve chosen, but if not, you have a problem. Life forces you to choose either way, but if you’re not the one picking, you’ll end up with a lot of regrets.

Besides starting to make the choice, Nathan Barry suggests living your life in seasons. Yes, it sucks to compromise, but no one said you have to stick with one compromise for the rest of your life.

In high school, my friends and family burners were turned up all the way. In college, that shifted to friends and work, then work and health and now, I’m on work and family. Next year? Who knows.

It’s a little tweak to that line from earlier, but it makes all the difference: “You can have anything you want, maybe even everything, just not all at once.”

Right now, I’m laying the foundation of the rest of my working life and spending what little time I have with the people I care about the most. In exchange, I can’t see my friends every day and I might not be in perfect shape.

I can be okay with that. And that’s the whole point.

Half of Happiness

When you work hard in your career, on your body, for your relationships, you can achieve a lot. You should. But if all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Don’t expect your dedication to becoming better to absolve you of all problems. Self-improvement, like all tools, is imperfect. Embracing the Four Burners Theory can make you happier, because it allows you to not fret over what you’re temporarily missing out on.

That’s the solution, I think. We don’t need to look for a bypass. We can just accept the problem and that’ll do.

Half of happiness is being okay with what you don’t get.

Sometimes, it helps to remember that, in spite of what Gandhi said, tomorrow will be another day.

6 Unwritten Social Rules Everyone Should Know Cover

6 Unwritten Social Rules Everyone Should Know

When you drive into Area 51, past the sign that says “Restricted Area,” you know what rules you’re violating. You’re trespassing on secret government property, you can be searched, photos are forbidden and boy, you better not launch any drones.

But there’s also a set of unwritten rules of Area 51. Nobody knows exactly what they are, but they’re what leads to all the rumors and myths surrounding the place.

  • Will you never come back?
  • Will you come back, but not be the same?
  • Can you ever talk about what happened?

Every place on this earth is like Area 51. There are rules, written and unwritten, and they depend on the time, the people, the country, the culture, the politics, and a whole lot of other values.

Following these rules as best as you can is less a sign of being a blind follower than it is a gesture of respect for others. Adapting can be a way of being kind. That said, sometimes you can also lead by making your own social rules and hoping others will follow.

  • When you enter a quiet room, be quiet. When you enter a lively room, be lively. Read the room.
  • When your opposite is talking to you, don’t use your phone. Don’t even touch it. When your opposite is on their phone, don’t be on your phone also. Maybe you can bring them back.
  • When people pass you in the street, acknowledge them. Look, nod, be part of the world. Don’t stare at the ground. Don’t be an antibody.
  • When you love someone, don’t tell them all the time. Just show them. Look at them, be attentive, listen. They’ll understand, even without words.
  • When you disagree with someone, ask: “Does it really matter that I disagree with them?” Is it worth starting a fight? Most of the time, it’s not.
  • When you can help people without really going out of your way, do it. Including, but not limited to, holding doors, standing up and giving exact change.

These are some of the ones I try to follow. So far, I haven’t ended up in Area 51.

Self-Improvement Has Made Me Worse Cover

Self-Improvement Has Made Me Worse

When Batman meets Superman for the first time in Dawn of Justice, you instantly know who’s in charge and who’s in trouble.

Source

After crashing the Batmobile and interrupting Bruce Wayne on his rogue mission, Superman tells him to ‘bury the bat’ and let it go, putting mercy before justice. Of course Batman doesn’t, swearing revenge.

Lately, I feel a lot like Superman in this scene. With a stern look on my face, I swoop in to try and fix other people’s mess, but don’t get much credit for it. This is a cause for concern, but not about those other people, about me.

A lot of us strive to become superhuman, but this pursuit has a shadow. It looms ever closer and if we don’t watch out, it’ll swallow us whole.

Despite our best intentions, self-improvement can make us worse.

When Mindfulness Isn’t Optional

Over the past three years, I’ve gotten really good at noticing things. Not just about myself, but others too. In fact, I now can’t not notice things.

I notice when 10 out of 10 people on the subway are on their phone, when the dude in front of me is switching only between his sports betting account and Tinder and when the guy four seats over wastes all his time instead of working. I notice people who are always late, always behind and always broke and I can pinpoint exactly what needs fixing.

Now, I finally noticed that all this noticing is driving me nuts. I’d love to say “I don’t mind” and mean it, but it’s never true. I do mind. I mind everything.

Mindfulness is a gift when it’s directed inward, but outward? Not so much. It’s a good thing to realize you’re biting your nails, but constantly observing other people’s behavior? That’s a curse.

Why?

Comparison Is the Road to Madness

Mark Twain remarked that “comparison is the death of joy.” But, and this is worse, it’s also the birth of misery.

Comparing ourselves is an instinct as fundamental as survival itself. If Gronk can outrun the bear, pick the right berries and get the pretty neanderthal lady, maybe you should be more like Gronk. In a modern society built mainly on and for individual freedom, however, this is useless.

And yet, every notice is a new chance to compare. He eats well, I should eat better. She wastes time, I’m more productive. Even if we rationally estimate our own abilities, comparing still hurts us, an Oxford study suggests:

“The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.”

Interesting, right? Confidence and clinical depression can have the same source: comparing yourself to others. Most of the time, the results of your comparisons don’t even matter.

You’ll land in a bad place anyway.

Judgement Is Never Just

Most people make poor choices. They don’t want to worry about money, or getting up early, or if what they do matters. They, however, would never consider these choices poor. That label is pure judgement on my part.

The problem is that with so much mindfulness, millions of mini comparisons, judgement itself becomes a habit. This is a common side effect of self-improvement. Since it’s all about getting better, you’re left with only two opinions of other people:

  1. They’re better than you.
  2. You’re better than them.

Whichever one you settle on, you lose. This is self-improvement’s dark secret.

The Price of Self-Improvement

When you constantly compare yourself and decide you’re worse, you spiral into depression. But what happens when you think you’re better?

Imagine you’re Superman. You don’t need to compare, you have actual proof: you can’t die, you know everything and you’re physically stronger than anyone. You’re the ultimate success in self-improvement.

Unlike most of us, Superman didn’t choose his superiority, but he paid the same price: loneliness.

Sebastian Marshall perfectly described it in an essay 6 years ago:

You know what I think it is? You won’t be understood once you step off into the abyss. The more you do it, the more people won’t understand.

The second guy I mentioned, the effort guy? He’s got coworkers right now he can commiserate with who understand him. The business idea I mentioned to him doesn’t exist right now and there’s a demand for it. His income is such that even with a low price point he could still make 2x-3x what he’s making now and fulfill a market need.

But then what? Then he’s the only guy doing this thing. No commiseration. People won’t understand him as much. And the more you do that, the more people don’t understand. If you keep taking all those edges that no one else will, pretty soon your neighbors don’t understand you, can’t understand you.

It’s just you.

The higher you climb on the mountain, the thinner the air gets. More success, fewer fellow climbers, until you’re left with only one truth:

You’re the best, but you’re alone.

The internet is full of posts telling people how they can become the best. Be more creative, more productive, more aware. But once you achieve that, once you’re better, faster, stronger, how do you blend back in?

Even if you become superhuman, you’ll still spend your life among mortals. How do you deal with that? I see no posts about this issue.

We’re so worried about acquiring power — over our minds, our bodies, our time — that we forget learning how to use it responsibly to serve the world we live in.

And so, often, by the time we get it, we’re victims of our own success.

Running From Mediocrity, But Where To?

It all happens slowly, of course. One day you opt out of binge drinking, the next you tell your friends to get their shit together and two years later, you run your own dev shop while they extended yet another semester.

You notice, you compare and through the years, you silently collect millions of judgements until you conclude you’re alone. You might succeed in self-improvement, but fail in being human.

This is the dangerous path many of us are on. I know I am. I must find a way to turn off my comparison machine, because it’s been running too long already. That’s the big, wicked twist of the story.

In that scene from the beginning, I’m not Superman. I’m Batman.

A lot of us are. The frustration from the loneliness of our path makes us bitter, impatient, and angry. So we abandon our true mission, one comparison at a time, until we can retreat only into our lonely cave of judgment. Not despite, but because we come out on top.

You may feel you’re ready to pay the toll of self-improvement, but you still might not like who you turn into. We think we’re improving ourselves, when actually, we’re becoming the villain of our own story.

If you run away from mediocrity, but right into malice, what good does it do?

On Sweeping

For Clark Kent, the option to compare went out the window when he was a child. The moment he pushed the first school bus out of the river, any doubts were gone: if he goes rogue, we all die. Lucky for us all, before putting on his cape, Superman turned his powers inward.

That’s what we must do and it’s much more important than how much power we have. The problem is neither other people’s indifference to, nor our obsession with self-improvement. It’s the comparison that stinks.

Be better for the sake of being a better you, not better than everyone else.

There’s not much to gain from Pomodoro timers and dollar cost averaging for the people who enjoy their lives precisely for the lack of those things. It just so happens that because I care about self-improvement, I care about you-improvement too. Because then we could nerd out together. But we can’t and so I feel lonely.

It is my duty to deal with that loneliness and make sure it doesn’t drag me down. There is no ‘other people’s mess’. Just my mess. Nothing to swoop in for. The dirt is in front of my own doorstep, waiting for me to sweep.

You have a dirty doorstep too. Only if we all sweep will our streets be clean.

Superman Is Dead

When the world asked him to, Superman turned himself in. When the world asked him to, Superman appeared in court. Knowing full well the rules did not apply, he abided by them anyway, for the sake of the greater good.

Source

In a sick twist of fate, meeting the renegade bat led to his doomsday. As the ultimate of human evolution, Superman paid the ultimate price. It’s what makes it so hard to get out of the trap: You can be a saint and still lose.

That’s why the movie is beloved by hardcore fans, but commercially, far from the success it should have been. We don’t want to see the hero do everything right and then die. We know life’s not fair, but we hate to be reminded of this reality.

And so, as he tries to build a new team of heroes in a post-Superman world, Batman is too late when he realizes it was never his turn to judge:

Alfred: “You’ve got a team here!”

Bruce Wayne: “Superman could bring this team together better than I ever could. His strength…”

Alfred: “Doesn’t matter how strong you are or what abilities you
might have…”

Bruce Wayne: “He was more human than I am.”

— Silence —

Bruce Wayne: “He lived in this world. Fell in love, got a job. Despite all that power. The world needs Superman.”

Finally, Batman learns a true hero is not defined by the superiority of his power, but by the times he chooses to wield it. This moment is called a Harajuku Moment. Coined by Chad Fowler, Tim Ferriss defined it in The 4-Hour Body:

“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.”

We all need such a moment in our quest for self-improvement. You have to acknowledge you’re not a hero to start acting like one. I had mine when I read this quote in The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday:

“When philosophy is wielded with arrogance and stubbornly, it is the cause for the ruin of many. Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the faults of others.” — Seneca

Superman is dead. We must become our own heroes, or his sacrifice was in vain. I don’t know where you’ll find your Harajuku Moment, but you need one. Until then, until we learn to use our powers, the best we can do is ask:

What would Superman do?

Most of the time, he would probably just keep sweeping.

How to Find Passion for Work Cover

How to Develop Passion for Your Work

It was almost dark. The white Chevy was rattling along the road. I don’t remember who was driving. In the dusk, two road signs emerged. One said ‘Cancun,’ pointing straight ahead, the other ‘Aeropuerto,’ directing to the right. For some reason, we took the right when, actually, we needed to just drive on.

“Sh*t, we have to turn around. And our gas is low.”

In Mexico, there are few exits off the highway. Hence, they have something called a ‘Retorno.’ It’s a U-Turn, right on the highway. But they only show up every few miles.

Not sure whether we’d make it, we kept driving until we found one. We turned around, and, after a 25-mile detour, barely made it to the next gas station.

What’s the lesson here? We occasionally miss the forest for the trees and get lost. That’s okay. But it also means that sometimes, we have to turn around 180 degrees to get to our destination.

Today is about making such a turn, but one that’s much more important than the one I made five years ago in Mexico. It’s a turn that, once you make it, will fix the relationship you have with your passion and your work.

Stuck in Passion…

From 2010 to 2014 I was extremely passionate about entrepreneurship. I also made zero dollars as an entrepreneur. I generated hundreds of business ideas.

There was the lunchbox that heats up your lunch, the site that matches self-made lyrics with self-made beats from different people and the bakery that’s open nights. The vitamin popsicles for babies, the How I Met Your Mother sightseeing tours and of course the restaurant that runs on iPads.

Sometimes, I even took the next step. Like when I asked Milka if they let me resell the broken chocolate that never makes it out of the factory.

They didn’t.

We could have been so great together.

What was the problem? Besides passion, I had not much to act from. Always enthusiastic, never productive. I made the same mistake — the only mistake — all people driven solely by passion make:

I stopped. Over and over, I stopped.

Seth Godin calls this “thrashing” in Linchpin:

“Thrashing is the apparently productive brainstorming and tweaking we do for a project as it develops. Thrashing might mean changing the user interface or rewriting an introductory paragraph. Sometimes thrashing is merely a tweak; other times it involves major surgery. Thrashing is essential. The question is: when to thrash?”

When it comes to projects, any project, really, thrashing early is a good thing. You argue until every detail is set. Then you work until the deadline comes and ship. Thrash too late and you’ll never ship on time, sometimes not at all.

“The habit that successful artists have developed is simple: they thrash a lot at the start, because starting means that they are going to finish. Not maybe, not probably, but going to.”

There’s only one problem: You can’t thrash your way to your passion.

It’s just an idea we’ve been sold on so much that we never dared questioning it. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport calls it “the passion hypothesis:”

“The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.”

This is a great problem to spend your time on, because you can do it forever. Unlike the user interface design for your food scanning app, it’s unsolvable. There’s no passion meter in our brains that tells us “yup, I’m 7 degrees more passionate about this abstract idea than this one.”

That’s why so many of us spend years, in my case four, being stuck in passion, and it slowly drives us insane. Ryan Holiday calls it “the passion paradox” in Ego Is the Enemy:

“If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then passion is a form of mental retardation — deliberately blunting our most critical cognitive functions. The waste is often appalling in retrospect; the best years of our life burned out like a pair of spinning tires against the asphalt.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we’re stuck at work too.

…Stuck at Work

Throughout my four years of passion thrashing I didn’t just not make progress, I also paid another, more subtle, but even more severe price: I was constantly unhappy with what I was doing at the time — studying for college.

“This isn’t what I want to do. I need to find my passion or I’ll be stuck in this career path forever,” I would tell myself. Of course it’s exactly this self-induced pressure that kept me stuck.

That’s what makes the passion hypothesis so dangerous, Cal says:

“The passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.”

The result is Resistance, as Steven Pressfield labeled the invisible force that keeps us from getting things done in The War of Art. Constant Resistance against our current stop in life, against the people we work with and against the jobs we’re tasked with right now.

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we’ve long found our passion, but are so busy thrashing that we can’t see it. We don’t hear our calling and so no work gets done. Take George R. R. Martin, for example. Brilliant guy, but, talking to Stephen King, he can’t help but admit his capitulation to Resistance:

“How the f*ck do you write so many books so fast? I think, ‘Oh I’ve had a really good six months. I’ve written three chapters.’ And you’ve finished three books in that time.”

This particular manifestation of Resistance is one of its meanest tricks. It tells us we’re the victim. Steve notes in the book:

“A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants.”

That way, we can continue complaining about the misery of our current line of work, without really having to do anything about it. “Yeah, work sucks, but…gotta pay the bills, right? I hope I soon find my passion.”

Damn. That’s one giant quagmire we’ve maneuvered ourselves into here. How the hell do we get out of that?

What If You Did the Opposite?

Maybe, like me and my friends, driving on that lone road in Mexico, all we have to do is turn around. Take the retorno. Drive in the opposite direction.

What if, instead of thrashing through different passions, you just picked one and treated it like a profession? What if, instead of moaning at work, you just pretended it’s your dream career?

What if you made a U-turn from passion to profession and vice versa? A P-Turn, if you will.

The great minds we learned from so far think it’s a great idea. And so do I.

Treat Your Passion Like Your Profession…

As we’re thrashing through our passions, we inevitably reach a point of confusion with each one. Welcome to The Dip. At this point, we’ve done all the brainstorming, the convincing and maybe even some planning or other busywork.

But then, we look at what lies ahead…and we poop our pants.

Let’s…not do that.

That’s why most of us are serial quitters. It’s like constantly switching lines in the supermarket: with each switch, you lose time and start over, ultimately taking longer than whoever just stuck with their queue. Seth says this isn’t limited to grocery shopping:

“There are queues everywhere. Do you know an entrepreneur-wannabe who is on his sixth or twelfth new project? He jumps from one to another, and every time he hits an obstacle, he switches to a new, easier, better oppor­tunity. And while he’s a seeker, he’s never going to get anywhere.

He never gets anywhere because he’s always switching lines, never able to really run for it. While starting up is thrilling, it’s not until you get through the Dip that your ef­forts payoff.

Countless entrepreneurs have perfected the starting part, but give up long before they finish paying their dues. The sad news is that when you start over, you get very little credit for how long you stood in line with your last great venture.”

But what’s the opposite of serial quitting? Turning Pro, if you ask Steve Pressfield.

“When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. This changes our days completely. It changes what time we get up and it changes what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do. It changes the activities we engage in and with what attitude we engage in them.”

The distinction is so clear that even the choice itself turns into a vivid memory, Steven says:

“I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.”

What’s more, we’re all pros already. Where? At the very same jobs we now hold and despise so much. How so? Steve made a list:

1. We show up every day. 
2. We show up no matter what.
3. We stay on the job all day.
4. We are committed over the long haul.
5. The stakes for us are high and real.
6. We accept remuneration for our labor.
7. We do not overidentify with our jobs
8. We master the technique of our jobs.
9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
10.We receive praise or blame in the real world.

Imagine what might happen if you just picked one of your many ideas, just one thing you like, and treated it like your paycheck depended on it. How much more likely would you be to finally make it through the dip — any dip — that brings you closer to your goals? A lot.

You might even start to like your job.

…and Your Profession Like It’s Your Passion

The attitude of a detached professional is in stark contrast that of the passionate amateur. Cal Newport calls it “the craftsman mindset”:

“I’ve presented two different ways people think about their working life. The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you. The craftsman mindset offers clarity, while the passion mindset offers a swamp of ambiguous and unanswerable questions.”

This mindset is exactly what you teach yourself when you work on your passion like a pro. And with it comes motivation. Lots of it. Daniel Pink knows why. In his TED talk, he explains why the carrots and sticks approach to motivation is dead:

“Our business operating system — think of the set of assumptions and protocols beneath our businesses, how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources — it’s built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks. That’s actually fine for many kinds of 20th century tasks. But for 21st century tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach doesn’t work, often doesn’t work, and often does harm.”

It’s true. We don’t like our jobs if all they do is pay the bills and that’s why we chase passion in the first place. We. Want. More. But what more? Dan knows that too. He proposes a new model, which he calls “Motivation 3.0,” in his book Drive:

“That new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.”

Easy as A-M-P.

What makes these three elements so powerful? Well…

Autonomy

Besides annual hack-a-thons and Google’s 20% time, companies embracing a ROWE — Results Only Work Environment — really take autonomy to the next level, Dan says:

“In a ROWE workplace, people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time or any time, for that matter. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, and where they do it is up to them.”

What happens? According to Dan:

“Almost across the board, productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down.”

Mastery

If you’ve ever played a mind-numbingly simple video game, you’ve experienced the power of mastery firsthand within minutes. Take Tiny Wings, for example:

Tap…aaaand hooked.

The only thing you have to do is tap and hold the screen. And yet, the first time you lose, you must get better. To the pro, attempting to achieve mastery feels as natural as breathing, Steve notes:

“The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them. The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.”

Purpose

The reason purpose overpowers passion is that passion pertains to what you want, while purpose emphasizes what you’re willing to give up for it. Ryan makes the distinction clear:

“Passion is about. I am so passionate about ______. Purpose is to and for. I must do ______. I was put here to accomplish ______. I am willing to endure ______ for the sake of this. Actually, purpose deemphasizes the I. Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself.”

Since purpose knocks out our ego, it allows us to approach our work with a sense of realism, some distance and a healthy dose of intimidation from what we’re trying to do. In a nutshell:

“Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function.”

Which One’s the Unlock?

This is it. The foundation of the work ethic we all want so badly. Autonomy, mastery and purpose are what help us push through the dip — and part of the reason why we’ve fallen for the passion hypothesis in the first place. It dangles autonomy and purpose right in front of us, but it hides the most controllable aspect: mastery.

Mastery is a gateway to autonomy and purpose.

The assistant who masters scheduling may soon join business meetings. If she keeps doing well, she’ll get promoted. Suddenly, she has a team to care for. A task bigger than herself. Autonomy and purpose have naturally followed from mastery.

Wait a Second…

Did you catch it?

While this new model of Motivation 3.0 is built-in when you chase your passion like a pro, there is something else about it worth noting: None of these things indicate the type of work you choose. It doesn’t matter what you work on.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose are all about how you work, not what you do.

In Cal’s words:

“Working right trumps finding the right work.”

Or, in Seth’s:

“Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.”

Since no job will magically shower you with passion and motivation can be found entirely in how you work, not what you do, you can find autonomy, master and purpose not just in your favorite job, but in any job. Even the one you have right now. And you can use mastery to unlock those you don’t already have.

As it turns out, turning pro works. Everywhere and always. Chances are, you don’t need a new job. You just have to do the one you have like you really mean it.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

I don’t remember the day, but I remember the decision. “I’m going to write at least 250 words each day.” I did that for six months. Then I wrote 1,000 words every day for a year. And then some more.

It was only when my passion for entrepreneurship degenerated into a daily writing habit that I finally started making progress. What’s more, it allowed me to stop complaining about college and take responsibility. Not just for studying, but for whatever my task is. No matter how menial.

When you’re a craftsman, all work serves a purpose.

Passion, profession, it all blurs together, because you always see work for what it truly is: an opportunity to get better. That’s the real power of making the P-turn. Unlike me in Mexico, you can turn around whenever you want to.

So why not make it right now?

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This Framework Will Make You Better at Changing Your Habits

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


We always tell each other to just “be ourselves.” Have a presentation or talk to give? Just be yourself. A job interview? Just be yourself, you’ll do fine. A party or date to go to? Just be who you are.

Just. I hate that word. Nothing easy ever follows it.

The reason we constantly have to reassure one another that it’s okay to be ourselves is that it’s the hardest thing in the world. It’s based on two lofty assumptions:

  1. You know who you are.
  2. You’re comfortable expressing it in any setting.

Most of us can say neither for ourselves. At least not to the degree we’d like to. I hope what follows alleviates some of that pain.

What You Should Know About Yourself

Soul-searching is a great hobby. You’re never done. The question is: where does self-exploration stop being useful? For me, the following framework marked a clear milestone.

When I first started coaching on coach.me, Tony Stubblebine graciously sent us a book that influenced my coaching a lot. It’s also helped me understand my own behavior a lot better. The name of that book was Better Than Before.

Gretchen Rubin, a former lawyer turned researcher, author and human behavior aficionado, wrote it in 2015, to much acclaim and success. One of the key ideas, if not the centerpiece of the book, was a personality framework called “The Four Tendencies,” which she later expanded upon in its own book of the same title.

Using this framework will help you understand how you deal with your internal and external expectations. This’ll allow you to better manage your life and work. What’s more, you can try to spot other peoples’ tendencies, which’ll help improve your relationships.

Here’s what it looks like:

Where Does This Idea Come From? Well…

When we’re babies, no one expects us to do anything. Our parents celebrate it when we eat, clap when we poop and let out a huge sigh of relief when we finally fall asleep.

As we grow up, this changes. Fast. It starts with “clean your room,” soon turns to “you need to contribute to the household” and ends with “you have to take care of yourself now.”

Most of us aren’t ready for all the expectations the world piles onto us, let alone the internal ones we have of ourselves that add to the pressure.

And yet, somehow, we deal with them. We learn, we struggle and over time, hopefully we get better. All of this, our approach to dealing with our internal and life’s external expectations, is formed subconsciously.

The Four Tendencies framework helps you identify this approach and trust me, there’s a lot to discover. Each tendency is linked to a specific strategy for dealing with the two kinds of expectations we face: resisting or meeting them.

Here’s a little cheat sheet you can use to identify yourself, remember what’s distinctive for each type and how to deal with them better:

1. Upholders

Upholders meet inner and outer expectations. They love rules, having a clear plan and are self-motivated and disciplined. Clearly tell them what needs to be done and they’ll lead the way.

2. Questioners

Questioners meet their own expectations, but resist outer ones. They need to see purpose and reason in anything they do. Make it clear why what you want from them is important.

3. Obligers

Obligers meet other peoples’ expectations easily, but struggle with their own. The must be held accountable by a friend, coach or boss to get things done. They thrive when they have a sense of duty and can work in a team.

4. Rebels

Rebels defy both outer and inner expectations. Above all, they want to be free to choose and express their own individuality. Give them the facts, present the task as a challenge and let them decide without pressure.

It’s pretty easy to recognize yourself based on those descriptions alone, but if you’re not sure, you can take a quiz Gretchen designed specifically to help you find out.

How Can This Help You Change Your Habits?

Expectations are a huge determinant of what we do. You juggle all the hopes people have for you, mixed with those you have for yourself. Based on that mix and your tendency, you determine the right middle ground.

Meet…or resist?

Is this still okay? What’s a no-go? Who must I live up to? Who do I disappoint? How much? How often?

Constantly faced with this stressful tradeoff, we default to what our tendency dictates. Meet inner, resist outer. Resist inner, meet outer. And so on.

Knowing what your default is makes it a lot easier to adjust your environment in a way that makes the default lead to the outcome you want.

For example, as an Obliger, forcing yourself to meet a friend at the gym will make it easier to actually go there. A rebel needs the freedom to choose to work out without pressure, and a Questioner might want to keep a list of health benefits ready.

Know your tendency, know your goal, adjust expectations. That’s the idea.

A Word of Advice

It’s easy to get carried away with this stuff. That’s dangerous. When you chisel your tendency in stone, you might know one thing more about yourself and you might even accept it, but you’ll also turn it into an excuse and stop believing that you can change. That’s not the point of this exercise.

Instead of putting yourself in a box, use this concept to get to know yourself better. Identify your strengths, weaknesses, and improve your relationships with others. Be mindful of their tendencies, not just your own. And remember that human behavior is fluid. No personality test can pigeonhole you. Unless you let it.

After all, no matter how much we learn from them, life isn’t lived in frameworks and books, but in the real world, among people. People like you and me, figuring out who they are. Searching, so they can start being themselves.

If you treat them right, maybe they’ll let you do just that.

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4 Quick Tweaks That Will Make You More Productive

In 2008, Simon & Schuster wrote a $200,000 check for Emily Gould to finish a book she’d already started. For the next two years, not much happened. Her husband knew why:

“You’ll sell your book for a million dollars,” he said, over and over again. But there was one thing he wouldn’t tolerate, and that was all the time I spent clicking and scrolling. He didn’t buy the line about it being a form of creativity. He called it an addiction.

Procrastination is the creative’s curse and today, all jobs require creativity. One of the most common ways we procrastinate is by looking for ways to procrastinate less. Over the past three years, I have too.

I even tried lots of stuff. Only to arrive at the disillusioning, yet oddly satisfying realization that just four productivity hacks have stuck — because they’re all I need.

Here’s the 80/20 of productivity hacks that will make you focused. Not all of the time, but enough of the time. So you may do your work and do it well.

1. Choose one, non-negotiable task that must get done each day.

Until 1900 the word ‘priority’ was rarely used in the English language. That’s because it stems from the Latin ‘prior,’ which means ‘first’— and there can only ever be one ‘first’ of anything. Multiple priorities are a paradox.

Hence, James Clear suggests picking an anchor task:

“One of the major improvements I’ve made recently is to assign one (and only one) priority to each work day. Although I plan to complete other tasks during the day, my priority task is the one non-negotiable thing that must get done.”

Your anchor task is your life’s mission, if only for a day. Unless your office burns down or your laptop spontaneously disintegrates, you MUST finish it.

Choosing your anchor task should hurt. If it doesn’t, it’s not important enough. For example, my anchor task today is to send out a newsletter. If I fail to finish this post, that would really suck, but the newsletter is the most important thing.

The easiest way to consistently pick an anchor task is to use the Momentum extension. When you first open your browser, it automatically prompts you:

2. Make checking your email a conscious choice that’s only possible at certain times.

An email is a to-do sent by another person. It’s not a phone call, so it’s never urgent. Checking our inbox is part of the dopamine chase Gould’s husband described. We’re not doing it to work. We’re doing it to get our fix.

We talk about “cleaning our inbox.” That’s literally what it is. Digging through the dirt, sorting, organizing. As with your home, if you sweep once a day it’s a soothing, transformative experience. Sweep all the time and you’re OCD. A neat freak.

The calmness I feel from ignoring my email for 23 out of 24 hours each day is unprecedented. The tool I use to do it is Inbox Pause. It adds a little button to your Gmail that says ‘Pause.’ Press it and no new emails will show up in your inbox until you say so. Now, sweeping is a conscious choice.

I have two rules for un-pausing:

  1. Never do it before 11 AM.
  2. Only do it once a day.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s made my life a lot better.

Note: With the paid version, you can even set a schedule by which your email is moved to your inbox automatically.

3. Make sure your phone is actually silent when you set it to be and hide it from view.

Apple’s official name for the toggle switch on the side of your iPhone is Ring/Silent. Then why isn’t my iPhone silent when I press it?

The only difference between a ringing phone and a vibrating one is that the latter is less annoying for the people around you. For you, they’re equally distracting. It only takes one adjustment in ‘Settings’ to fix that.

Go to ‘Sounds’ and uncheck ‘Vibrate on Silent.’ Done.

You can now eliminate your phone’s audible attacks on your senses at the switch of a button. If you also remove your phone as a visible distraction itself, you’ll be golden. How?

Place your phone somewhere hidden from view. It could be in your desk drawer, backpack, behind your laptop or in your jacket. As long as you can’t see it, you won’t grab it.

Welcome to iPhone heaven.

4. Set up places to store your distracting thoughts.

This last tweak to your environment will address the most powerful distractor of all: your mind. In the torrential storm of up to 50,000 thoughts that passes through our brain each day, it’s normal for a lot of them to be unrelated to your current task. The problem is letting them pass through.

The Zeigarnik Effect is what keeps sending distracting thoughts to the top of your mind. The way to beat it is to externalize these thoughts. Just like Dumbledore stores some of his memories in his pensieve.

All you need to pull this off is a go-to place where you can store these thoughts as they occur. David Allen calls these places collection buckets in Getting Things Done. While his system captures everything that’s incomplete, it seems daunting to set it up.

So here’s the trick: Set up just one collection bucket. It can be a note on your phone, a physical storing tray, a notebook or a collection of post-its. Now, whenever you remember you need to buy milk, or a movie you want to watch, or to call Tom for his birthday, you can drop it in there and the thought will stop pestering you.

Over time, you’ll automatically add more buckets as needed. For example, I started with a single note in my phone for administrative to do’s, like taxes and paper work, which slowly developed into a bigger system to manage my income, expenses, college classes, writing and projects.

The Path to Perfection

As she told her publicist to, the Amazon description of her book calls Emily “the voice of her generation.” With 8,000 copies sold after three years, that’s hardly the case. Even a master chef’s stew tastes stale when it boils too long.

Right this second, people are tweeting about working on their novel, which means they’re not working on their novel. I get it. Them, Emily, me, you. We want it to be perfect.

But sometimes, the only path to perfection leads right through ‘good enough.’

Now go do some work.

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How To Fight Anxiety

We spend all of our waking hours chasing goals. More money, more leisure, more everything. In doing so myself, I recently stumbled upon an insight that stopped me in my tracks.

In 1951, Alan Watts wrote in The Wisdom of Insecurity:

“I have always been fascinated by the law of reversed effort. Sometimes I call it the ‘backwards law.’ When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float. When you hold your breath, you lose it — which immediately calls to mind an ancient and much neglected saying, ‘Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it.’”

But isn’t that all we do? Struggle to stay afloat? We set goals we think will make us happy, then we dive in. And so we sink. A lot. Back then, Watts said about the book:

“It is written in the conviction that no theme could be more appropriate in a time when human life seems to be so peculiarly insecure and uncertain. It maintains that this insecurity is the result of trying to be secure, and that, contrariwise, salvation and sanity consist in the most radical recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.”

If Watts thought 1951 was uncertain, I wonder what he’d say in 2017. The book’s subtitle, ‘A Message for an Age of Anxiety,’ may be even more appropriate today than it was when it came out.

Watts’s message sounds gloomy, but reveals valuable lessons, if we dare to look closer.

Setting Goals Makes You Sad…

All is well, you go to work, live your life and nothing too crazy happens. That’s baseline happiness, according to NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. In The Happiness Hypothesis, he explains that no matter how far we deviate from this baseline level, we always regress back to the mean:

“We are bad at “affective forecasting,” that is, predicting how we’ll feel in the future. We grossly overestimate the intensity and the duration of our emotional reactions. Within a year, lottery winners and paraplegics have both (on average) returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness.”

Imagine you’re at this base level. Now, you set a bold, new goal. You want a Ferrari. Or more confidence. Or a girlfriend. Looking at your happiness mathematically, the following happens:

You, at baseline happiness = 0.
You, after reaching your new goal = 0 + X.

To close the gap between now and the future, you have to solve this equation: 0 = 0 + X

Subtract X on both sides and you get:

You, currently in lack of your new goal = 0 – X.
You, after you attain X and fill the hole = 0.

All you’ve done is made yourself worse off than before. A lottery win is a sudden amplification of your happiness. A big goal is an expectation of the future that reduces your contentment with the present.

In order to desire, you first have to acknowledge something’s missing. It’s this intent focus on what we’re lacking that makes us miserable. We’re placing ourselves in front of artificial trenches that separate us from mostly made up needs.

Since we price the expectation of reaching our goals into our present state, the best we can hope for is to end up back at zero, but not before feeling bad for lacking what we ‘should already have’ for a long time.

…While Being Sad Makes You Happy

However, there’s also a good side to the law of reversed effort. Per Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:

“What’s interesting about the backwards law is that it’s called “backwards” for a reason: not giving a fuck works in reverse. If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive.

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires.”

Instead of desperately wanting more and then feeling bad for staring into the abysses of our own shortcomings, what if we just accepted them? What if we let our lacks, our mistakes, our flaws just wash over us and be done with it?

Louis C. K. thinks that’s a great idea:

“I started to get that sad feeling and I was reaching for the phone and I said: “You know what? Don’t. Just…be sad. Stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck. And I let it come and I pulled over and I just cried. So much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments. I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true, profound happiness.”

Louis was lonely, his goal was connection. To avoid the sadness, he could’ve messaged 50 people until someone wrote back. He would’ve succeeded in connecting but remained miserable deep inside. Instead, he faced his sorrow and had a meaningful experience.

That’s the ironic twist Watts referred to. To avoid real life adversity, we subject ourselves to imaginary pain by chasing false gods. Yet, it is right behind said adversity where true happiness awaits.

If there’s so little to gain from our aspirations and so much from facing our fears, then what’s the way to seek out one over the other?

Everything Is Better When You Care a Little Less

My grandpa ran a little clothes shop in his village for 50 years. While I would’ve freaked out every single day no customer came in, he didn’t try to explain each tiny problem away. Not because there were fewer potential reasons back then, but because finding them rarely solves anything. Sometimes, the best you can do is shrug and clean the counter, because people don’t always need new clothes.

Imagine this: Some days, our grandparents’ only communication with the rest of the world was to walk to the mailbox and pull out nothing but bad news. A relative missing in the war. A whole village being moved.

What did they do? They moved on and went about their day. That’s called detachment. Part of life is that life sometimes sucks. To accept that and not be swayed by it is a skill.

Detachment is great, because no matter where you stand, whether that’s far away from your goals, on top of the highest mountain, or down in the deepest trench while it’s raining, it allows you to do one thing: go on.

But today we don’t go on. We go on Facebook. And Instagram. And Twitter. In search of answers we don’t need, hoping to get a quick fix. Because we care too much. Yet, all we see on highlight media is everyone having ‘the time of their lives.’

And we’re right back to staring at our ditch.

What Detachment Is Not

Detachment can be summed up in three words: I am enough. At least for now. You might have a crooked nose, been single forever or not enough money to buy your dad a cruise, but you know what? That’s okay. It’ll do for today.

I don’t believe detachment will absolve us from chasing goals. That’d be naive. It’s human nature. But don’t put detachment on the other side of the next ditch. “If only I could be more detached, then I’d be happy.” No.

Detachment is not a recipe for happiness. It’s a way to go on living while you wait for happiness to come back.

Detachment is taking care of your shit while your partner figures out their own. It’s not letting your boss’s feedback tear a hole in your self-image. Not adding more suffering in imagination to what you endure in reality.

It is not “I don’t need this.” It’s “I’ll be fine if I don’t get it.” Not right away, anyway. Because every path is longer than we think, with more obstacles than we’d like.

The journey may be the best part, but only if you’re okay with arriving at the wrong end.