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Don’t Set Goals This Year

The more New Year’s resolutions you set, the faster you’ll feel like a failure.

I used to pick five, seven, ten new goals each year. Sadly, making it from New Year’s Eve to January 1st never turned me into Superman. I was still the same old me, still hopelessly overwhelmed with trying to change too much all at once. Within a month or so, I failed and had to start over. Smaller. With lower expectations.

For a few years, I gave up on resolutions entirely. Then, instead of a barrage of targets, I tried setting one goal, and that worked a lot better. The real game-changer, however, was using a different concept altogether. That concept is a theme.

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Protect Your Routines, Not Your Rituals

When I don’t leave the house, I won’t get much done. That’s the deal my brain has struck with itself. Little of my best work has happened at home. I’ve always been most productive when I separated the two, and being self-employed while living in a studio apartment has only confirmed that trend.

It doesn’t matter when I leave the house. As long as I do and arrive at an office, a Starbucks, literally anywhere with wifi, productivity will follow. The other day, I went to WeWork at 6 PM on a Saturday to shop Christmas gifts. It worked! Even a task as trivial as booking a train ticket, I’d rather do “at work” if you gave me a choice.

Lately, my mornings look like this: I wake up at 7, drink water, and brush teeth. I do some push-ups, some sit-ups, and shower. I meditate for 10–15 minutes, get dressed, grab a banana or prep some food, and go. That’s a lot of stuff. The part that matters, however, is that I leave the house. I could skip all the rest, and sometimes, I do. I might meditate at work or shower at night. I’ll move my workout or get food on the way.

The point here is that some habits deserve protection, whereas others do not. To determine which is which, I like to separate them into two categories: Routines vs rituals.

A routine is a recurring, cornerstone behavior that enables many others. It should be flexible in how you do it, but the fact that you do it is important to who you want to be. In my example, leaving the house is a routine. It doesn’t matter when I do it, and there are a million places I could go, but I know leaving the house makes me productive — and I want to be a productive person. Therefore, it’s a routine I must protect.

Showing up for practice is a routine. Cooking your own food is a routine. So is listening to your partner. There are many ways to live up to these routines. One day, you practice the topspin by yourself. On another, you have a session with a trainer. But you’re always showing up to practice tennis. Similarly, there are a million dishes you can cook, and which one you pick will depend on your mood and what you have in your fridge — but if it’s important to you to only eat what you’ve prepared, you’ll find a way.

A ritual is a fixed, intentional expression of who you are. It’s an exact set of steps, done in a certain way. If you go out of said way, you’ve failed to perform the ritual correctly. For me, doing 50 push-ups is a ritual. I’ve never been an exercise nut, but I do pride myself on moving a little every day. I’ve done 50 push-ups for so long, doing 10 no longer feels valid. The ritual has become fixed. At the same time, a million options would suffice my “move a little” criterion. I could switch to jumping jacks, squats, or running around the block any day of the week, and that’s important to remember. My rituals are expressive, not aspirational. Therefore, I should keep adjusting them as I go.

For religious people, lighting a candle is a ritual. So is meditation. Drinking coffee can be a ritual, as can making your partner’s bed and the 7-minute ab workout. People love to argue about the rules of various rituals, but in truth there are as many rituals as there are ways to do them. Even if others disagree with you, you’ll always have a specific idea of what it means to perform a certain ritual “correctly.” In that sense, each ritual is rigid on its own, but there are countless ones you can choose from to show who you are.

Routines determine your identity, rituals merely express it.

If I wanted to be “a fit person,” I wouldn’t keep doing 50 push-ups. I’d commit to the routine of “working out,” and the rituals I’d pick as part of living up to that commitment would change drastically over time. I’d also do a whole bunch of other things, like reading fitness articles while sitting on the toilet and curating workout playlists. Many non-ritualistic behaviors would follow. The routine would encompass many rituals, but it would be a lot bigger than the concept of rituals altogether.

Naturally, there are exceptions. Some rituals are so important, almost all of us perform them. Brushing our teeth, for example. But those are far and few between. For the most part, rituals serve the sole purpose of enabling our routines. Therefore, if they get in the way, it is our duty to change them.

Writing is one of my routines. It’s important to me to do it regularly. Coffee is a ritual to help with said routine. The smell, the taste, the feeling of a warm cup in my hand — it just gets the muse talking in the morning. There is, however, a limit to this ritual: If I perform it more than once or twice a day, it stops supporting my writing and starts hindering it.

I go from alert to jittery and from focused to distracted. After my third cup, I can no longer sit still, and neither can my brain. It races from thought to thought, from browser tab to browser tab, and my word count goes downhill. If I have coffee too late in the day, it even affects my sleep and thus next day’s performance! Clearly, this ritual needs to be reined in to serve its purpose.

On a good day, I’ll only have one coffee. I’ll combat post-lunch tiredness with a break or a walk, or I’ll have tea to simulate the feeling minus the caffeine. That’s a ritual well-swapped! Whatever it takes to aid the routine. Similarly, if I insisted on all my morning rituals, on some days, I’d lose all my writing time! What does it matter how good they are individually if, collectively, they prevent me from doing the most important thing? That’s why sometimes, I shorten my mediation or workout or shower in the evening.

You can’t have many routines. They grow quickly. The more you do them, the more meaningful they’ll become, and the more space in your life they’ll take. That’s a beautiful process, and even when it gets boring, a good routine will offer enough room for a break, be it a literal one or a change of rituals and patterns. Your tolerance for routines should be high. They’ll carry you to your goals. Better yet, in time, they’ll become their own reward.

Rituals, on the other hand, should be like books in a library: As long as you only pull them out when you need them, you can’t possibly have too many. Insist on doing them all at once, all the time, however, and you’ll become a fanatic. Consider “The Power 5,” a cheat sheet from billionaire trader Paul Tudor Jones’s early days:

Five times a day on each and every trading day, I will break from the momentum of the moment and take control of all trading situations by reestablishing my vision, my game plan, and my invincible physiology. I will enter my Power Room, drink fresh water, take 3 deep abdominal breaths, and take the following 5 steps…

It only gets more ridiculous from there. “Be Mr. Tough and hold contempt for the weak trader!” “Take pain! Take pain! Take pain!” No matter how much you love them in isolation, a long list of rituals compressed into one big ceremony will often feel like a cultish rite, and if you perform said rite five times a day, when will you get anything done?

Rituals are the gears in your routine machine — interchangeable parts of a much larger whole. Rituals are the means, the routine is the end. Treat your rituals like a general treats his soldiers: Value them, respect them, but dismiss them when their service is done. Let them rest once they’ve done their fair share, and if the situation requires it, swap one out and put in another. Some, you might not replace at all.

Protect your routines, not your rituals. Use one as the tool it is to maintain the other — nothing more, nothing less. Stay flexible, replace good with better, and throw out what doesn’t work as soon as it stops working — and yes, that does include our new ideal of working from home.

What Makes You Attracted to Someone?

What Makes You Attracted to Someone?

Why do you keep dating douchebags? How come you can’t you get over your ex? Why do some relationship feel effortless, while others force us to try very hard? The answer to all of these questions lies in understanding attraction.

I’m not talking about sexual attraction, although what I’ll share will, to some extent, explain that too. I mean attraction as in: “Oh, I like that guy!” The kind of attraction that’s natural, effortless, and that you might feel towards a great deal of people, even if you don’t have any agenda involving them whatsoever.

It’s a good thing, this attraction. It allows humans to get along, which, in a world this crowded, becomes more important by the day. When you easily hit it off with others, you can seamlessly navigate thousands of relationships, no matter how microscopic their role in your life may be. Which do you prefer? A queue at the bakery in which everyone gives each other the death stare, or one with light banter and the occasional, “No way, I always go for the chocolate-frosted ones too!”?

As we shall discover, this last bit of “me too” is a key element of attraction: Likeness breeds liking. I mean, it’s in the word, isn’t it? “Josh likes Trina” indicates that, in one way or another, Josh and Trina are alike. This phenomenon is so universal, it lets Seth Godin explain marketing in a single sentence: “People like us do things like this.” For now, let’s remember that since likeness is easy to find, so is attraction — and that turns our superficial chemistry into a double-edged sword.

If you quickly relate to others, beyond forging genuine friendships, you’ll also connect with many people that, ultimately, don’t belong into your life. Sometimes, that connection extends far beyond a brief encounter at the bakery, and that’s when things get complicated: A shared love for jello shots becomes a six-month stint of endless arguments. A brutal assignment survived together makes you cannon-fodder for your coworker’s quest to get promoted. That’s attraction leading us astray, and the consequences hurt.

While it won’t prevent you from ever falling for the wrong person again, understanding why attraction forms is the first step towards getting better at knowing when to trust your attraction and when to double-check your gut.

“Knowing” is the key word here. That’s where the answer to the seemingly simple yet surprisingly complex question of “Why are we attracted to people like us?” begins. Given humans have been trying to understand each other since the dawn of time, it might come as a little less of a surprise that that answer can be found in a 2,000-year-old book.

The Grandest Sport of All

“All human beings by nature desire knowledge.” Thus goes the opening line of Metaphysics, the 14-volume magnum opus on philosophy by none other than Aristotle, one of the fathers of philosophy itself. With the hindsight of history, we might call Aristotle a genius, and, looking at his dozen other “father of…” titles, it seems that we have. If you had asked him back then, I’m sure he would have said some variation of what Einstein echoed 1900 years later: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

The premise of natural curiosity will be integral to our theory, so let’s state it clearly and then probe it for truth: You are curious. All of us are.

We may forget it from time to time, but if we think back to our childhood, it’s easy to realize curiosity drove virtually every step of our growing up. As a baby, you grabbed everything, licked everything, and constantly looked around in awe. Once you were able to crawl, you crawled wherever you could go, and you only went further once you were on your feet.

This is Aristotle’s first piece of evidence that to be human is to be curios: We love using our senses. We enjoy garnering data about the world, be it through our noses, mouths, ears, eyes, or hands. Do you ever stop and smell the roses? Your coffee? Your lunch? What about vibing to a new song? How about watching the sunset? Clearly, our senses can be the source of great pleasure.

When it comes to using our senses ferociously, we’re no different from any other animal. Many smart creatures, like dogs, crows, dolphins, elephants, and others, can even form habits from experience. That, too, is something we learn early on. “If I touch the stove, I’ll get hurt, so I’ll touch the stove no more.” Simple if-then-loops, however, are where our similarities end.

Once we hit preschool, our human uniqueness fully blooms: Unlike any animal, we can understand why the world works the way it does. We can see why certain actions in certain situations are the right or wrong ones to take, and we can do so even before we take them, before we’re forced to learn from experience.

If you’ve ever solved a crossword, fixed a home appliance, or figured out the right technique for your favorite sport, you know how satisfying it is to successfully employ your capacity for logic and reason. In fact, it is so satisfying, Aristotle claims, that most of human culture and civilization is based on our singular, omniscient desire for knowledge.

That’s his second piece of evidence: If we weren’t relentlessly curious, would we ever have ventured this far beyond mere survival? Why study nature? Why make art? What about science, religion, and philosophy? What about Formula 1, Microsoft, and the Taj Mahal? A simpler animal would have been content to eat, sleep, breed, repeat — but not us. Therefore, we must be curious.

We have turned knowledge into the grandest sport of all, and every human loves to play.

A 21st Century Psychologist — in 345 BC

The English language contains 171,476 words, of which we use about 3,000 to handle our everyday reading and interactions. Some might call this efficient. I call it a shame, because for many a word we don’t know, we use five more to describe what we mean. That’s everything but efficient.

While the precision of language always depends on the eloquence of its wielder, at anywhere from 1.6 to 6 million words, Greek suffers no lack of specificity — and the deeper you dig, the more vocabulary you’ll find that you wish you had at hand. One such word is tekhnê (pronounced “tech-knee”), a word Aristotle used to establish a hierarchy of competitors in the game of knowledge.

Tekhnê combines what we today call “skill” or “technique” with “art” or “craft.” It describes both the task itself as well as the understanding and craftsmanship one might attain from (or in order to) perform said task well. Cooking is a tekhnê. Studying recipes builds tekhnê. And a master chef likely has lots of tekhnê.

The core element of tekhnê is understanding. Can the task be explained in an intelligible way? Does it have its own rationale? What about the actor? Does she know why she’s doing what she’s doing? Or is she guided purely by instinct? Without understanding, there can be no tekhnê — not that that necessarily hurts the result. Even if the painter works in trance, the painting can still be beautiful.

In German, there’s a word called “Technik,” and it gets close to tekhnê. You might watch a documentary about “die Technik des Stoffewebens,” the craft of weaving fabrics, which explains the general process of weaving by hand or via loom. At the same time, you might commend your friend’s “Technik beim Tennis,” his technique in swinging his racket while hitting yellow balls.

Today all roads might lead to Rome, but in Aristotle’s world, all tekhnê leads to pleasure. After all, understanding satisfies our curiosity, and employing said understanding to make something engages our senses on top.

Here’s an example: While spending two years on the island of Lesbos around 345 BC, Aristotle extensively thought, researched, and wrote about animals. Among the many creatures he observed was the paper nautilus, a species related to the octopus. Aristotle noted that one of the male nautilus’ tentacles looked different than the others and, seeing how he inserted it into the female during courtship, concluded it must be the animal’s reproductive organ.

Aristotle had no way of verifying his theory as correct (it was, but we only confirmed that in the 19th century), but exercising his mind and senses provided him with a rewarding feeling. That, too, is tekhnê. If somebody had drawn an accurate representation of the nautilus for Aristotle, the artist would have enjoyed the drawing as much as Aristotle enjoyed analyzing the subject — at least he suggests as much in Parts of Animals. Finally, if a skilled art critic would have looked at said drawing, they, too, would have found joy in judging the artist’s skills.

The lesson here is that expertise is fun — both building it and using it once you have it. This is astonishingly congruent with 21st century psychology. It’s in line with Daniel Pink’s Drive, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and dozens of studies on passion, grit, and deliberate practice, all of which come to the same conclusion: The better you become at something, the more fun you’ll have doing it. Obvious? Today, maybe. Yet, given we still so often fail to act on this knowledge, I think someone discovering this on a small island some 2,300 years ago is pretty impressive.

Well, okay, so much for the experts — the biologist, the painter, and the art critic — but what about the average Joe? Where are our rungs on the ladder of knowledge? Fret not, for there is another way to quench our curiosity, and it does not require tekhnê of any kind. In fact, it is accessible to all. The only demands it makes are the right vocabulary and, in the case of looking at Aristotle’s imagined octopus drawing, the realization that, “Yes! This is an octopus!”

The Second Time You Saw a Tree

If it takes an expert to appreciate the craft, how come even an amateur can enjoy watching one in action? What does the casual football fan get out of observing a great pass, and why can a child in the backseat gaze at passing cars for hours, content in silent wonder?

The answer, according to Aristotle, is mimêsis — another one of many Greek words worth adding to your roster. In Poetics, the book that shall answer our questions about dating and relationships, translator Malcolm Heath considers mimêsis a broadly defined version of the word “imitation.”

Unlike the imitation we know, mimêsis need not be literal. While it always indicates likeness, “an imitation need not be a straightforward copy of the object imitated.” A heavy metal song in which the singer screams can easily be linked to being angry, even if the lyrics never directly discuss the emotion. Furthermore, mimêsis is not limited to reality. To Aristotle, a play about a vengeful god starting a heavy metal band could be just as good as one about a vindictive carpenter doing the same. Finally, he saw mimêsis as an elemental human activity, one that pervades all the arts and many other, seemingly non-artistic activities, like making animal sounds or children playing house.

Aristotle’s contention, then, is that human beings are by nature prone to engage in the creation of likenesses, and to respond to likenesses with pleasure, and he explains this instinct by reference to their innate desire for knowledge. A likeness is (by definition) a likeness of something; to take part in the activity of making and responding to likenesses we must recognize the relationship between the likeness and its object. This engages and satisfies the desire to exercise our distinctively human power of understanding, and is therefore pleasurable. This exercise of our capacity for understanding is, to be sure, a rudimentary one. But Aristotle’s purpose here is to explain how poetry and painting are rooted in basic instincts shared by even the least intellectually sophisticated people.

The first time you saw a tree, you may have wondered what it was. The first time you saw a tree after your mom had pointed one out to you in a picture book, your eyes lit up. “A tree! It’s a tree! Mom, it’s a tree!” The key element here is recognition. You recognize the tree because you’ve seen one before. You understand there is a connection between the two, and understanding is what you were born to do — it’s what makes you human and uniquely so.

As a side note, this also explains taste and how it can be so subjective: Since everyone has different experiences, we don’t all recognize and connect the same things. If you’ve never seen a zeppelin nor know how rare they are, you might not care when one pops up in the sky — or even think it’ll usher in the apocalypse. Meanwhile, if you had lots of posters of red cars around the house while growing up, you’ll probably want your car to be red. The endless variety of mimêsis in our individual lives ensures: Not everyone likes what you like, but everyone likes something.

Returning to our little tree enthusiast, I’ll grant that the thrill of point-and-name soon wears off, but if you bring a little patience to the park, you can still summon that same spirit of awe and excitement decades later. Just sit on a bench and watch the willow for a while. You enjoy looking at it, don’t you? After all, you recognize it. The willow is familiar. At the same time, there are a million things you don’t know about it, and those are equally intriguing.

It’s fascinating how quickly fascination forms — and nowhere is this interplay of recognition and inquisitiveness stronger than in human relationships.

How Curiosity-Fueled Attraction Can Lead Us Astray

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far:

  1. Humans have an undying, irrefutable desire for knowledge.
  2. One way of consistently fueling said desire is to become an expert in something and then rigorously exercise your expertise.
  3. Another, more rudimentary approach is to engage in imitation, and the most basic version of that is to simply recognize how two things are alike.

Once you put together curiosity, understanding, and likeness, you have everything you need to explain the magnetic pull of human relationships: Recognizing likeness feeds understanding, and understanding satisfies curiosity. That’s why attraction often feels effortless: Every time you discover another likeness-nugget, you get a little hit of dopamine. The more you realize you and your coffee date are alike, the happier you’ll be in their presence. Your understanding barometer goes through the roof, and since nothing feels better than “getting it,” you’ll soon be on cloud nine.

You’re using your senses to scan for likeness. Is her hair the same color as your celebrity crush’s? Does he have freckles like you? Your similarities-monitor is on. “Oh, I know that keychain!” “That sounds like the time I was in a band.” Your imagination is blossoming. “Where does her ambition come from?” “Was he cheated on as well?”

Now that’s great when you’re sitting across the love of your life, and it can make waiting at the DMV less boring, but, unfortunately, this process does not only work well when it’s supposed to. Your brain is so desperate for mental check marks, it’ll sometimes construe the flimsiest relation as a profound, shared connection — and that’s where the trouble begins.

“Oh, he loves Italy. I love Italy!” This implies a shared understanding of what “Italy” means to each of you — which, actually, may or may not be there. If your date associates “Italy” solely with translating Italian poetry from the 15th century into English because that’s what he spent half a year doing somewhere in rural Canada, that’s very different from you thinking about the pizza, ice cream, and beautiful palazzos you indulged in on your last vacation.

Your brain, however, rarely bothers verifying. Relying on its memory of other, equally shaky connections, it concludes there’s a decent chance your ideas of “Italy” overlap enough to warrant being excited — and up the dopamine hatches go. Even if your brain didn’t constantly jump to conclusions, you could still get away on a single, shared opinion about Italy. “The Italian language is beautiful” might be enough to get both of you to date number two. That’s how strong the pull of understanding others is. It’s the curiosity game on steroids — and that snowball will gladly roll downhill if we let it.

This also explains why, especially in unfamiliar settings, people tend to huddle together in ethnic groups. When I studied abroad, it took all of one day for all nine Germans to find each other and spend the evening in the same room. For better or for worse, likeness feels good and safe, so why not go where you know some likeness will be guaranteed? This is a trap, of course. In my case, it led to a lack of new ideas and perspectives — you know, the thing a college exchange is for. In others, it could lead to racism, bullying, and worse.

Unless…

The Slow-Burn Movie of Real Understanding

Going back to the dating game, our likeness addiction makes it easy to jump from similarity to similarity — and thus fall in love head over heels. But the question is not how many corresponding easter eggs you can find — it is whether you’re compatible in a few key aspects that matter.

If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, the three big Ws are a good place to start: What, where, and who? What do you want your daily routines to look like? How does work fit into living together? Where will you do said shared living, and who will you want close by? More than one divorce has been filed over living down the street from one’s in-laws.

The truth is if you can deflect the big bullets, your differences are a matter of management, not elimination. That’s what rooms in houses are for. You do your thing, I do mine, and we’ll reconvene at dinner. Discovering how we are different can be just as satisfying as finding out we’re alike. Unlike the latter, however, the former is not a fast, dopamine-fueled carousel. It’s more like a slow-burn movie, the fruits of which we can only reap in time.

My girlfriend loves refunds. If there’s a damaged item to return, a hotel room sub-par, or a voucher that’s not being honored, she is your gal. I’m more timid. “Diplomatic,” I call it. On a bad day, I might perceive this difference as friction. “Why can’t she just let it go?” On a good day, however, I see this difference as strength. I can count on her playing bad cop at the front desk, and I’ll play good cop to go along. Together, we’ll deliver a convincing performance that gets us what we’re owed — and we have. Situations like these have happened, and they’ll keep happening in the future. So why not combine our talents?

The kind of understanding this cooperation requires does not come with a jolt of energy that feels like caffeine hitting the veins. Instead, it triggers a slow, long “aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, that’s why she is like that.” My girlfriend grew up in a country where consumer rights don’t exist. Imagine living in a place where, in every economic transaction, you can expect to be ripped off, and the only question is how much. If you moved to a country where your purchases are protected by the law, wouldn’t you invoke the 30-day-guarantee? I would.

It’s a bit like mimêsis vs. tekhnê: Anyone can giggle over realizing they went to the same school, but the joy of being an expert on why your partner is who they are is a prize few can claim.

The Good Life — A Life of Good Relationships

If we want to build great relationships, we must understand why, when, and how we connect with others. Attraction is the spark that forges these connections, and it includes everything from a smirk at the cash register to a full-blown addiction to the devil in disguise.

While some baseline of attraction allows us to glide through society’s waters, too much of it too quickly can cause us great pain and misery. Once we know how the process of attraction unfolds, however, we are better able to pause, speed up, slow down, or even reverse it.

Let’s summarize the tenets of attraction we’ve discovered:

  1. One of our strongest, most fundamental desires as humans is to learn, know, and understand.
  2. Any activity that engages our mental faculties with the goal of understanding is, therefore, pleasurable.
  3. When it comes with a continuous cycle of learning new lessons and applying them in creative endeavors, being (or becoming) an expert can steadily feed our need for intellectual stimulation.
  4. One of the plainest, easiest, and quickest ways to repeatedly exercise our understanding muscle, however, is to simply recognize that two things are alike. That includes realizing we are like others, and others are like us.
  5. When we detect many similarities with another person in quick succession, our knowledge-guzzling brain sends us into a dopamine-induced stupor of attraction — even if those similarities are built on the shakiest of foundations.
  6. To not get carried away and into the wrong relationships, we must fact-check our gut checks, using logic and reason to discern which correlations matter, and which ones don’t.
  7. Once we look past superficial tit-for-tat comparisons, we’ll not only see ourselves more clearly reflected in others, we’ll even start appreciating the beauty in our differences — and see them for the complementing strengths that they are.

One of Aristotle’s main concerns was what it means to live a good life. While the concept of virtue, which we may summarize under the maxim of “be good, do good, feel good,” remained front and center in his answer, he was acutely aware of the role our relationships play in achieving the good life ideal — his idea of true friendship being only one of his most prominent examples.

Good relationships, like anything good, take time. We can’t rush into them over fleeting experiences or same-logo sweatshirts. Until the right person appears and reveals the right level of synchronicity at the right time, be patient. Enjoy the ease of light connections, but don’t let your dopamine glands fool you. When it comes to people’s behavior, consider all reasons, yet never take the seemingly obvious ones at face value.

After all, Lowell Bennion’s 1959 imitation of Aristotle was only slightly like the latter’s original phrasing: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Why You Should Watch Great Movies Twice Cover

Why You Should Watch Great Movies Twice

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who love rewatching movies, and those who think it’s a colossal waste of our limited time.

If you’re the former, I have nothing to offer except validation. If you happen to be the latter, however, I’d like to present a piece of evidence that just might change your mind.

Five years ago, I watched Marvel’s Dr. Strange for the first time. In the scene that most stood out to me, Strange and his mentor, the “Ancient One,” are looking at a thunderstorm in slow motion. Knowing these are her last moments before she dies, she leaves Strange with a final lesson for the big fight that is to come — a fight he must now face alone. When Strange claims he’s not ready, the Ancient One replies:

“No one ever is. We don’t get to choose our time. Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered. Your time is short.”

“Death is what gives life meaning.” That hit me right in the gut. It hit me so hard that, a year later, I could still remember the scene and write an article about it.

Now, fast forward about 1,800 days, a long time by any standard. I’ve just recovered from Covid, which I got despite being vaccinated. I’m in a foreign country. My productivity had just gained momentum again after a slump, and now, I was back at zero, forced to start over.

The last night before flying home and rebuilding my routine, I need inspiration. I need a hero humbled by life, willing to begin again. For some reason, I remember Dr. Strange and press play.

Before becoming a hero, Strange was a neurosurgeon. Good-looking, successful, and arrogant to the nines. After an entirely self-caused car accident, his hands barely work, and they definitely don’t stay still long enough to be a surgeon. Thankfully, he finds a new gig protecting the universe.

As the movie reaches my favorite scene, I get excited, prepared to relearn a great lesson. Instead, I get an entirely different one. Seconds before her comment about death, the Ancient One reminds Strange he still has a long way to go:

“Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.”

“Which is?”

“It’s not about you.”

Finally, the Ancient One explains the story of the man that led Strange to her in the first place, a man paralyzed from the waist down. She taught him magic, and he used it to walk.

Strange realizes he, too, could have his old life back. The Ancient One affirms that he could — “and the world would be all the lesser for it.” It is only here, long after he’s gone down the path of the hero, that finally, finally, Strange understands life is not about money and accolades. It’s about dedicating yourself to a bigger cause — and that, once again, hits me right in the gut.

“I have been self-absorbed lately,” I think. “I run laps around myself, pointing a spotlight at my own face.” Remembering I’m not so important is exactly what I need to kickstart my routine. “Let’s do some work, and do it as best as I can. Not for me. For others.”

In that spirit, I jump on the plane the next morning. It won’t last forever, of course, but it’s been a productive few days since.


At one point in How I Met Your Mother, Ted is engaged to a girl named Stella. When he tells his best friend Marshall she’s never seen Star Wars, the latter says a preliminary viewing is a must: “Star Wars is your all-time favorite movie, and whether or not Stella likes it is actually important. It’s a test of how compatible you guys are.”

After watching the movie twice in a row (again), Ted, too, is convinced of the idea. Some failed attempts at spying on Stella as she watches later, the two wait anxiously in Ted’s room to find out Stella’s verdict. “I loved it,” she claims, and Ted rushes to get the champagne. But Marshall can see right through her, and Stella admits she neither understood nor enjoyed the movie.

At this point, Marshall gives Stella the following speech, reminding her of the small responsibilities attached to the big commitment of marriage:

That is Ted’s favorite movie of all time. He watches it when he’s home sick with the flu. He watches it on rainy Sunday afternoons in the fall. He watches it on Christmas Eve. Ted watches Star Wars in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. Do you really think that you can pretend to like a movie that you actually hate for the rest of your life?

Stella says she does, to which Marshall responds that Ted is a lucky guy. While their engagement will eventually fall apart, the latter remains true — and not just because his best friend always has his back.

Ted is lucky because he can find comfort in the familiarity of Star Wars whenever he needs it. We all go back to the things and people we love when we’re down, and there’s no reason movies can’t be part of that list.

Most of all, however, Ted is lucky because every time he watches Star Wars, he learns something new — because with every rerun, there’s an entirely new Ted watching. That’s why you should watch your favorite movies twice. Or three times. Or four. Or eight.

You are just as likely, if not more, to extract yet another valuable lesson from something you already love than from something you may or may not like.

Books, movies, songs — these things don’t change. We, however, do all the time. We barely recognize ourselves year to year, let alone decade to decade. Even if you watched the same movie 365 days in a row, I bet you’d still notice different elements each time (although I’m not sure I’d recommend that experiment). But if ample time has passed, say, five years, then even rewatching a straightforward superhero movie can deliver profound new insight. After all, just like the hero, you’ve evolved a great deal since!

The first time I watched Dr. Strange, I needed a reminder that time is precious. The second time, I had to get out of my own head. On both occasions, the movie delivered, and I got a free, third lesson on top: None of that precious time is wasted if you spend it rewatching movies you love.

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How Modern Non-Fiction Books Waste Your Time (and Why You Should Read Them Anyway)

When I first discovered non-fiction books, I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. Whatever problem you could possibly have, there’s a book out there to help you solve it. I had a lot of challenges at the time, and so I started devouring lots of books.

I read books about money, productivity, and choosing a career. Then, I read books about marketing, creativity, and entrepreneurship. I read and read and read, and, eventually, I realized I had forgotten to implement any of the advice! The only habit I had built was reading, and as wonderful as it was, it left me only with information overwhelm.

After that phase, I flipped to the other, equally extreme end of the spectrum: I read almost no books, got all my insights from summaries, and only tried to learn what I needed to improve a given situation at any time.

So, do self-help books work? As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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Lincoln's Unsent Angry Letter Cover

Lincoln’s Unsent Angry Letter: Modern Technology Edition

In 2014, Maria Konnikova lamented the lost art of “the unsent angry letter” in the New York Times. The idea is that if you’re upset at something or someone, you write a detailed, liberal response — and then stick it in your drawer until you’ve cooled off.

US president Abraham Lincoln may be the most prominent proponent of “hot letters,” as he called them, but the stashed vent has a long tradition among statesmen and public figures. Harry Truman, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill — the list of admired characters to prove the tactic’s efficacy is long enough.

It serves as both an emotional and strategic catharsis, Konnikova noted. You can “let it all out” without fearing retaliation while, simultaneously, seeing what proper arguments you have on offer — and what’s just nasty, unhinged thought.

In theory, the tool is as intact as ever: When you’re angry, write a letter. Then, let it sit. By the time you revisit, you’ll be able to learn rather than suffer from it. In practice, however, 200 years of technological progress have undoubtedly left their mark on what used to be a pen-and-paper exercise. Konnikova writes:

Now we need only click a reply button to rattle off our displeasures. And in the heat of the moment, we find the line between an appropriate response and one that needs a cooling-off period blurring. We toss our reflexive anger out there, but we do it publicly, without the private buffer that once would have let us separate what needed to be said from what needed only to be felt.

Lincoln had neither a keyboard nor a Twitter account. 30 presidents later, we have witnessed the consequences of unfiltered, globally disseminated angry letters firsthand: Donald Trump sent so many of them, his carrier pigeon of choice decided to no longer be of service, and I’m sure he wished to un-hit “Send” more than once.

This is the first cognitive trap of social media: The ease of transmission lures us into venting more in public than we should.

The second is the accidental send, where a second of key-fumbling leads to an uncomfortable conversation you never planned to have.

The third, according to Konnikova, is that even if we do it anonymously, if venting is easy and fast, it’s not as restorative and purifying as its offline equivalent. The act of writing a letter takes time, and all that time becomes part of your healing. A tweet is sent in a jiffy, and so in a jiffy, you’ll be back to tweet more.

The fourth and final trap of digital hot-lettering is that places like r/UnsentLetters/, the letter section on Thought Catalog, and other semi-anonymous platforms lead to semi-public shaming with plausible deniability.

You yell at your friend for abusing your couch, and it’s specific enough for them to know if they read it, yet too generic for you to have to assume any liability. A blog post called To My Ex: A Letter That I’ll Never Send,” can’t provide a sacred dome of quiet reflection because, girl, you kinda did send it — except not to your ex, and so there’s no risk or closure but perhaps too much of the hope that made you type it in the first place. You can’t use not-really-unsent letters to coerce the people you feel have slighted you into magically changing and showing up on your doorstep once more.

What you can and should do is the only thing that works: Retain the unsent angry letter in its pristine format, even if the ink shall now be sparkled across your screen.

Let the email address field remain empty, take your new drafts offline, or fill your notes app to your heart’s content. If you still crave the satisfaction of hitting send, consider that many a chat now offers the great chance to talk to yourself. WhatsApp, email, iMessage, Slack — there’s nothing like your digital shadow parroting your own rants right back at you.

Personally, I enjoy typing long, case-like arguments in a direct message to myself on Slack. It gives me the surge of passion I’d show in an attempt to convince the grand jury that is the #general-channel without the need to have my evidence debunked with embarrassing ease. Instead, I get to do that later, on my own, when I re-read my message and realize: It was full of emotion but devoid of rationale.

If anything, it becomes clear how much reason lies behind my feeling of being treated unfairly, if any at all. Should there remain a case to be made, I am now free to assemble it properly, point by point, and remove the emotion that had no role to play in it in the first place. I can reconsider who I might send it to if there is a recipient to be found for it, and I can reassure myself that, yes, now’s not yet the time to post it in public, and that time will likely never come.

Releasing your emotions is freedom, but so is choosing what you say to whom. Neither should be done carelessly, and it is only when we cultivate appropriate space to do either that we get to experience the utmost relief they can bring.

Go ahead. Write that hot letter. Send yourself a rant on Slack. As long as the format allows you to cool down to cucumber levels, the unsent angry letter will provide for you what it has for the 16th US president, Maria Konnikova, and many men and women since: “A deeper consideration of what exactly we should say and why, precisely, we should say it.”

You’ll Never Love Your Past as Much as You Love Your Future Cover

You’ll Never Love Your Past as Much as You Love Your Future

A 15-year-old’s greatest wish is to be 18, and yet, most 21-year-olds will say their 18-year-old selves were kind of dumb — even though both are just three years away from that age.

No matter how you change the numbers, this phenomenon will apply almost universally in one form or another.

When I was 8, I desperately wanted to be 10, like my neighbor who seemed so much stronger and smarter than I was at the time. When I was 10, I didn’t feel any different — maybe because I had no 8-year-old neighbor to compare myself to.

When I was 20, I thought by 30, I’d have life figured out. It was only at 23 that I looked around and wondered: “Why is nothing happening?” Nothing was happening because I wasn’t doing. I started right then, and, seven years later, I’m still going. I will turn 30 in two months, and now my 20-year-old self looks like an idiot.

I’m sure in my 30s, I’ll think my 40s will be much better, only to realize I’m still nearly as clueless about life at 45, yet not without that same patronizing smile back at my 30-year-old self that I now hold whenever I think of my early 20s.

Why is that? Why do we enjoy looking forward so much yet can only laugh and shake our heads when we look back? Well, in a nutshell: You’ll never love your past as much as you love your future. No one ever does.

In your future, the perfect version of you always exists. Everything is wide open. You feel as if you can achieve anything and everything, probably all at the same time. Your plans are intact. Your goals are in reach. Time is still flexible.

In your past, everything has already happened. There are no more pieces to be moved around. They’re all in place, and no matter whether you like the puzzle you’ve pieced together or not, you’ll always spot many places where you could have done better.

The perfect version of you never materialized. Most plans went to hell. Many goals fell out of reach. And time is just gone altogether. That can be demoralizing, but it’s just part of life.

Retirees don’t get as much satisfaction out of their past careers as college graduates expect from their future ones. Twenty-somethings don’t feel as autonomous as their teenage selves would have hoped to feel. Stressed moms don’t have it together as much as they believed they would before they gave birth.

This is a frustrating game you can play all your life — or you can realize that “all this looking back is messing with your neck.” At the end of the day, it matters not how well your past stacks up against your once imagined future. It only matters that you were content with the present as you lived through it.

At what age are we the happiest? That’s an impossible question, highlighted by the fact that you can find a theory for each major age bracket to back it as the answer.

There’s “the U-bend of life,” a theory that suggests happiness is high when we’re young, declines towards middle age, bottoms at 46 on average, then goes back up and reaches new heights in our 70s and 80s.

The idea is that family stress, worries about work, and anxiety about how our peers perceive us peak when we’re in the thick of life. As we get older, we care less about opinions and find contentment in what we have rather than what we hope to achieve.

When Lydia Sohn asked 90-somethings what they regretted most, however, she found the opposite: People were happiest when they were busy being the glue of their own social microcosmos — usually in their 40s.

Every single one of these 90-something-year-olds, all of whom are widowed, recalled a time when their spouses were still alive and their children were younger and living at home. As a busy young mom and working professional who fantasizes about the faraway, imagined pleasures of retirement, I responded, “But weren’t those the most stressful times of your lives?” Yes of course, they all agreed. But there was no doubt that those days were also the happiest.

At what age are we the happiest? It’s not only an impossible question, it’s an unnecessary one to ask. The answer will be different for every person to ever live, and our best guess is that it’ll be a stretch of days on which you felt fairly satisfied with life rather than a singular event or short period of exuberant bliss.

What we do know is that your best shot at stringing together a series of such “everything is good enough” days is neither to get lost in future castles in the sky nor to constantly commiserate how unlike those castles your past has become. You’ll have to abandon both the future and the past in favor of the present.

Imagine you have two choices: You can either be happy every day of your life but not remember a single one, or you can have an average, even unsatisfying life but die wholeheartedly believing you’re the happiest person in the world.

It matters not which one you choose because in both scenarios, you’ll die on a good day. One sacrifices the past, the other the future, but the present is what counts.

You’ll never love your past as much as you love your future, but that’s okay because life is neither about tomorrow nor about yesterday. It’s about today — and if you make today a good day with your thoughts, actions, and decisions, the idea of age will soon fade altogether.

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44 Funny Shower Thoughts That Will Snap Your Mind in Half

On any given day, your brain is either growing or deteriorating. There is no such thing as “maintaining” your mind.

When you don’t challenge your brain, that day, your mind will shrink a little. When you solve a problem or entertain a new idea, your mental ability will grow.

If you do the crossword every day, at first, it’ll make your brain sweat. Eventually, you’ll have memorized all the coded prompts, and it’ll only be a rote memory exercise. So how can you keep stretching your mind?

The answer is not to read a book a day or work crazy hours. Your brain would soon overload and demand a long break. Neither complete stagnation nor excessive learning is the answer.

What you can and should find time for, however, is five minutes a day to engage with new ideas. That’s enough to get new combinations of neurons to fire together, and that’s what mental growth is all about.

Ryan Lombard can help you do just that. Ryan has a series he calls “Thoughts That Will Snap Your Mind in Half.” So far, he’s made 20 parts. Here are the first eight, totaling 44 funny shower thoughts, ideas, and mind-bending questions.

Some made me think deeply, some just made me laugh, and some I didn’t understand at all (yet). I’m sure a few of them will send your mind in new directions.

Here are Ryan Lombard’s 44 “Thoughts That Will Snap Your Mind in Half.”


  1. If you weigh 99 lbs and eat a pound of nachos, are you 1% nacho?
  2. If you drop soap on the floor, is the floor clean, or is the soap dirty?
  3. Which orange came first — the color, or the fruit?
  4. If two vegans are arguing, is it still considered beef?
  5. When you’re born deaf, what language do you think in?
  6. If you get out of the shower clean, how does your towel get dirty?
  7. If Apple made a car, would it still have windows?
  8. When we yawn, do deaf people think we’re screaming?
  9. If you’re waiting for the waiter, aren’t you the waiter?
  10. How do you throw away a garbage can?
  11. If you buy a bigger bed, you’re left with more bed room but less bedroom.
  12. Why aren’t iPhone chargers just called “Apple Juice”?
  13. If you work as security at a Samsung store, does that make you a Guardian of the Galaxy?
  14. When you feel bugs on you even though there are no bugs on you, are they just the ghosts of the bugs you’ve killed?
  15. When you clean a vacuum cleaner, aren’t you the vacuum cleaner?
  16. Nothing is ever really on fire, but rather fire is on things.
  17. If life is unfair to everyone, does that mean life is actually fair?
  18. What happens if you get scared half to death twice?
  19. Why is it called taking a dump when you’re leaving it?
  20. Being down for something and being up for something mean the same thing.
  21. If you’re in the living room, and you pass away, did you die, or are you just knocked out?
  22. Why is the pizza box a square if the pizza is a circle and the slice is a triangle?
  23. Why is it called a building when it’s already built?
  24. How does a sponge hold water when it’s full of holes?
  25. The blinks of your eyes get removed from your memory.
  26. What would happen if Pinocchio said, “My nose will grow now?”
  27. Actors pretend to work.
  28. People who need glasses just got bad graphics.
  29. Why is bacon called bacon and cookies called cookies, when you cook bacon and bake cookies?
  30. Do clothes in China just say, “Made down the road?”
  31. If your shirt isn’t tucked into your pants, are your pants tucked into your shirt?
  32. If you’re invisible, and you close your eyes, can you see through your eyelids?
  33. A fire truck is actually a water truck.
  34. Why are deliveries on a ship called cargo, but in a car, it’s called a shipment?
  35. If one teacher can’t teach all subjects, why is one child expected to study all subjects?
  36. Are oranges named oranges because oranges are orange, or is orange named orange because oranges are orange?
  37. What happens to the car if you press the brake and the accelerator at the same time? Does it take a screenshot?
  38. The youngest picture of you is also the oldest picture of you.
  39. If we have watermelon, shouldn’t we also have firemelon, earthmelon, and airmelon? The elemelons!
  40. Why do we drive in parkways but park in driveways?
  41. Your burps are just your puke’s farts.
  42. If it rains on a Sunday, does that mean it’s now Rainday?
  43. Clapping is just hitting yourself repeatedly because you like something.
  44. Your alarm sound is technically your theme song, since it plays at the start of every episode.

Some of these questions don’t make sense, others have fairly obvious answers. Some are just jokes, while others seem like they can’t be answered at all.

The more of these “shower thoughts” you consider, the more patterns of creative thinking you’ll spot.

There’s the “flipped logic,” as in the cookie vs. bacon example, the “circular reasoning” of being a vacuum cleaner, and the paradox of life being fair by being unfair. There’s the “incomplete set” of the elemelons, the “chicken vs. egg” problem of the orange, and the “all roads lead to Rome” behind your youngest picture also being your oldest.

Once you recognize such patterns, you can think about where else they apply and come up with your own examples. The latter is the ultimate creative exercise, and it proves: It only takes five minutes a day to grow your mind instead of shrinking it.

Don’t waste this opportunity. Just like we must share joy in order to grow it, we must snap our minds in half to double them in size.

If You Drove Half as Fast, You'd Still Get There on Time Cover

If You Drove Half as Fast, You’d Still Get There on Time

When he lived in Santa Monica, Derek Sivers found the perfect bike path: A 15-mile round trip along the ocean with almost zero traffic. In his afternoons, he’d get on his bike and race full speed ahead. On average, the trip took him 43 minutes to complete.

After several months of arriving with a red face, a sweaty head, and feeling completely exhausted, Derek decided to take it easy for once. He looked at the scenery. He saw some dolphins. He casually pedaled along. It took him 45 minutes.

At first, Derek couldn’t believe it, but he double-checked his numbers, and, sure enough, he achieved 96% of the result with 50% of the effort. Reflecting on the experience, he writes:

When I notice that I’m all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50%. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort.

A few years ago, my Dad and I used to do something similar: We raced home in our cars. It’s about five miles from the city to the suburbs, and we too used to speed, catch yellow traffic lights, and overtake anyone in our way.

One day, we did the math: If you go 50% over the limit on such a short trip, you’ll save about one minute. We’ve been cruising ever since.

Life is like that a lot. You go all out to be 50% faster, better, stronger, only to arrive one day early at the finish line.

It’s easy to get caught up the everyday hustle. “Let me queue in the other line.” “I can cut a corner here.” “Maybe, I can get them to approve my application faster.” Switching lanes often feels efficient in the moment but won’t make a big difference in the end.

This applies to our daily to-do lists as much as it applies to our biggest goals. If you get the report one day sooner, the company can go public one day earlier — but all that means is that its shares will trade one day extra. On a 10-year-timeline, who cares about that day? No one.

You can stay up till 2 AM and post one extra article. But in your five-year-plan of becoming a writer, does it really matter? Sometimes, it will. Most of the time, however, it won’t. But if you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t see through your five-year-plan. That part always matters.

You can race to your friend’s BBQ and honk and yell at every other driver along the way. Or, you can drive half as fast and still get there on time.

You’d arrive relaxed, happy, and in a positive state of mind. You wouldn’t be exhausted from all the stress that took so much from your mind but added so little to your outcome. This is what Derek learned from his frantic bike rides:

Half of my effort wasn’t effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best.

Sometimes, doing your best means having nothing left to give. Usually, it doesn’t. More often than not, feeling completely spent is a sign that you wasted most of your energy.

Energy is precious. Conserve it. Direct it efficiently. Take pride in doing your best in a way that lets you do your best again tomorrow. Life is short. Enjoy it. Don’t burn through it too quickly. Be content with the 96%.

After all, what good are two extra minutes if you can’t use them to gaze at the sea?

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Learn How to Meditate Properly in 2 Minutes

“Meditation is literally the art of doing nothing,” Naval Ravikant says.

You don’t need an app to meditate. You don’t need peaceful sounds or guided instructions. And you definitely don’t need a $299 headband.

All of these are distractions. By turning it into a billion-dollar industry, we’ve done to meditation what humans always do: We overcomplicate it.

“All you need to do for meditation is to sit down, close your eyes, comfortable position, whatever happens happens. If you think, you think. If you don’t think, you don’t think. Don’t put it effort into it, don’t put effort against it.”

The purpose of meditation is to “just witness,” Naval says. Concentration only helps insofar as it quiets our minds to the point where we can drop whatever we concentrate on, so you might as well go straight for the end game.

When asked if he focuses on his breath or uses a specific technique, Naval goes: “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.” That’s how much we’ve baked virtue signaling into mindfulness: If you don’t have any techniques to share or 1,000 minutes to display on your app, we’ll doubt how legit you are. We’re looking for gimmicks while you’re doing the real thing.

“It’s one of those things that everybody says they do, but nobody actually does.”

It’s true. We turn meditation into a sport because the real practice is scary. Who wants to sit in solitude, alone with their mind? Who wants to face the void? No one. And yet, if we actually did it, we’d benefit immensely.

Noticing and processing are not the same thing. Being self-aware, I thought I didn’t need meditation. I was wrong. For nine months now, I’ve meditated every day, often just 5–10 minutes. Finally, on top of knowing what goes on in my life, I also make time to acknowledge it, if only a few seconds. Like Naval, I just sit. I close my eyes, and whatever happens happens. That’s how to meditate properly.

Meditation won’t solve all your problems, but it’ll solve the problem of not dealing with your problems. It’s not about being spiritual or smart or chasing some fleeting state of bliss, and it’s definitely not about being better at it than your neighbor.

Meditation is about making peace with yourself today. If you have the courage to look inside, that really is an option. To not just find peace but to create it.

Tune out the noise, and give it an honest try. It just might change your life.