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.

How to Not Waste Your Life Cover

How To Not Waste Your Life

If you’ve wasted your whole life, can you make up for it in a single moment?

This is the question at the heart of Extraction, Netflix’s latest blockbuster and, at 90 million viewers in the first month, biggest film premiere ever.

Following Chris Hemsworth as a black market mercenary trying to rescue the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord, the movie is full of car chases, gun fights, and a whopping 183 bodies dropping at the hands of Thor himself.

At the end of the day, however, it is about none of those things. It’s a movie about redemption.

After freeing his target, 15-year-old Ovi, from the hands of a rival Bangladeshi drug lord, Hemsworth’ character Tyler shows true vulnerability in a brief moment of shelter.

When Ovi asks him if he’s always been brave, Tyler claims he’s “just the opposite,” having left his wife and six-year-old son, right before the latter died of lymphoma.

Sharing the kind of wisdom only children tend to possess, Ovi replies with a Paulo Coelho quote he’s read in school:

“You drown not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it.”


You’re not an ex-special forces agent. Your life is not a movie. There will be no obvious signs. No excessive violence. No rampant drug abuse.

Just a slow, steady trickle of days, each a little more like the last, each another step away from your dreams — another day submerged in the river.

The river is pressing “Ignore” on the reminder to decline a good-but-not-great project request. The river is saying, “When I’ve done X, I’ll start writing.” The river is postponing asking your daughter about her dance hobby because today, you’re just too tired.

The river is everything that sounds like a temporary excuse today but won’t go away tomorrow.

Trust me. I’ve been there. It really, really won’t. No matter how much you’d like it to.

At first, it doesn’t feel like you’re drifting. You’re just letting go for a bit. You’re floating. The river carries you. It’s nice. Comfortable. Things happen. Time passes. It’ll keep passing.

Eventually, the river leads into a bigger river. You’re in new terrain. You’ve never seen this place before. Where can you get ashore? Where will this river lead?

Soon, you don’t know what’s ahead anymore. You can’t see what’s next. The river could become a waterfall. It might send you right off a cliff. You’ll stay submerged forever.

There won’t be a big shootout at the end. Just a regretful look out the window. A relative visiting. “Oh yeah, that. I never did it. I can’t tell you why.”

All rivers flow into the sea. If you don’t push to the surface, if you don’t start swimming, that’s where you’re going.

No one is coming to save you. You won’t get an extraction. No one will beat you into writing your book or asking her to marry you or being a good mother. No 15-year-old boy will serve you the answer in a quote from a book.

The only way to not waste your life is to do your best to not waste today.

Write a sentence. Make a hard choice. Pick up the phone.

We all fall into the river from time to time. But we can’t stay submerged in it. Don’t let small regrets pile up in silence. Take one step each day. One stroke towards the surface.

You’re not a soldier, and no single brief can save you. No standalone mission will define your legacy.

Don’t hope for a shot at redemption. Redeem yourself with your actions.

Redeem yourself every day.

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Can You Write One Good Sentence?

In the early 20th century, the most important man in the world of American literature wasn’t an author. His name was Maxwell Perkins.

Perkins was an editor at Scribner, a publishing house in New York City. In 1919, he signed a young, unknown author, making a big bet on aspiring talent against the will of his seniors at the company. The author he signed was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who would go on to write and publish The Great Gatsby in cooperation with Perkins.

One year after Gatsby, which wouldn’t sell well for the next 15 years, Perkins met and signed another author of questionable status: Ernest Hemingway. After the two books they worked on together — The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms — found commercial successes, Perkins became the most sought after editor in the country.

The 2016 movie Genius tells the story of Perkins and another prodigious discovery of his: Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe was the son Perkins, who had five daughters, always longed for. He was poetic, passionate, and notoriously incapable of cutting a single word from his flowery prose. In other words, he was a writer through and through.

As an editor, one of Perkins’ main responsibilities was to cut the inessential. He did so for all of his writers but for none more than Wolfe. His first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, went from 294,000 words to 234,000 under Perkins’ guidance — and it sold like hotcakes. Taking the feedback of “write more” a bit too literally, Wolfe turned around and produced another manuscript: The 5,000-page draft for Of Time and the River, which him and Perkins fought over for two years before it finally saw the light of day.

Then, despite the book’s success, a trauma befell Wolfe that catches every writer at some point: Wolfe got writer’s block. For months, he was unable to put pen to paper. Eventually, he took a long, solo trip all the way to California, where, among other things, he visited Fitzgerald. I doubt the scene played out as depicted in the movie, but the advice he gave Wolfe — no doubt inspired by Perkins’ dedication as an editor — is priceless nonetheless:

Thomas Wolfe: “More and more I trouble myself with that, the legacy. Will anyone care about Thomas Wolfe in 100 years? 10 years?”

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “When I was young, I asked myself that question everyday. Now, I ask myself, ‘Can I write one good sentence?’”

For any writer, there are more ifs and thens and whats and whens to obsess over than hours in the day. What if no one cares about my idea? Will the book sell once it’s out? When can I make a living from my craft? What does it all amount to? Will I leave behind a legacy? There is no quicker way to obliterate your ability to chain words together than to hop on this never-ending merry-go-round of hypotheticals.

Instead, as Perkins drilled into his authors when fighting with them over every word, as Fitzgerald finally realized after years of failure, dedicate your obsession to the micro. Forget the book, the chapter, even the page and the very next paragraph. Ask one question and one question alone. The only question that matters: Can I write one good sentence?

Even if the encounter was fictional, even if Fitzgerald never said these words, there’s a high chance he had internalized them regardless. How do I know? Well, the other grand disciple of Perkins, Hemingway, left us with the exact same advice. It’s a famous line that’s been quoted countless times: “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

What did this mean for Hemingway? He explains it to us in the paragraph the quote is from — the majority of which most quoters omit:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

As Nick Wignall notes, it is the throwing-orange-peel-into-the-fire part that is most crucial to understanding the advice. “That was his one true sentence that lead to his now famous ‘Write one true sentence’ quote,” Wignall writes. It was the only thing he knew to be true at the time: When I have writer’s block, I toss fruit into a fire. So that’s where he began.

Your next, first, final sentence being true is all nice and well, but, going back to Fitzgerald’s version of the tip, we now must ask: Is it also a good sentence?

Undoubtedly, Hemingway’s messy eating habits meet those criteria. There’s color, there’s fruit, there’s fire. Fire is dangerous. Fruit is a symbol of life. The colors change, and so does the situation. Feeding orange peel to the flames is not an everyday occurrence. See how many more metaphors we already extracted from this one line? You can imagine the scene as funny — an enraged Hemingway hurling oranges into his fireplace — or deeply thoughtful — the mindless flick of a finger causes a blue spark and loud crackle as Hemingway turns back to his desk. That is one heck of a sentence. Did Hemingway know when he wrote it? Doubtful. But he trusted the truth, and he deliberated on it long enough to stick with his decision — and that made all the difference.

Unfortunately for Wolfe, he never got to practice the advice he received from Fitzgerald. Weeks after his visit, he died of tuberculosis at just 37 years old. He did, however, leave behind a legacy — and a letter to his former editor, Maxwell Perkins:

I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that Fourth of July day three years ago, when you met me at the boat, and we went out on the cafe on the river and had a drink and later went on top of the tall building, and all the strangeness and the glory and the power of life and of the city was below.

Now that’s a good sentence. I think you should write one.

Bill Gates' Most Important Lesson Cover

The Most Important Lesson We Can Learn From Bill Gates

Bill Gates is fascinating for many reasons: his wealth, his habits, his ideas.

The new Netflix documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates covers them all. It follows his extraordinary journey, from globalizing office software to building one of the world’s most influential companies, becoming its richest man, and now, leading its largest foundation.

But the reason I’m fascinated by Gates has nothing to do with any of that. It’s not his success, or his way of thinking, or his approach to solving the world’s most critical problems with tech. To me, the most interesting thing about him is what he teaches us about what it means to be human.

Throughout the Netflix series, an interviewer asks Gates silly, get-to-know-you questions in quick succession: “What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite animal? What do you eat for breakfast?” But every now and then, he throws in some curveballs, maybe to catch Gates off guard and get him to veer from his canned responses. Or maybe the show is just edited to make it look like Gates is getting a low-stakes grilling. Whatever the reason, at one point, the interviewer asks this question: “What was the worst day of your life?”

Gates is a composed man. He’s reserved, but seems at ease answering all sorts of questions. But this one is different. He squints. He looks down. He appears to be thinking, but not really. He knows what he has to say — he just doesn’t want to say it. No one would. But finally, he says it:

“The day my mother died.”

There, sitting in the library of his $127 million mansion, is a man who’s achieved everything there could possibly be to achieve, whose life — at least to us outsiders — is defined by his business success.

And yet he didn’t say, “The day Steve Jobs accused me of stealing from him.”

He didn’t say, “The day I was humiliated by getting hit in the face with a cream pie during a visit with Belgian business and government leaders.”

He didn’t say, “The day we were forced to pay $1.3 billion in antitrust fines.”

No, the worst day in the Microsoft billionaire’s life was the day his mother died.

No matter who you are or who you aspire to be, at the end of the day, life is not about money or status or power. It’s not even about legacy.

Life is about people; the people you meet, the people you miss. Even the people you hate. Most of all, life is about the people you love. Some of them will die before you do. Nothing will ever bring them back.

Every one of us has limited time. But when it comes to spending it with those we hold dearest, we might have even less. Gates reminded me of this fact. It’s his greatest lesson of all.

The 22 Best Yoda Quotes Cover

The 22 Best Yoda Quotes: How to Master the Art of the Perspective Shift

If you don’t know, Yoda is one of the strongest characters in one of the strongest stories of all time: Star Wars.

Yoda is a tiny, green creature of an unknown species, over 800 years old, and Grand Master of the Jedi Order. The best of the good guys, if you will. He has an incredible ability to wield the Force — the invisible power all Jedi rely on — and is a brilliant fighter with a lightsaber, their weapon of choice. He’s also the head teacher of all young Jedi and the first person everyone turns to when they need advice.

Despite his strength, Yoda’s true power lies in his wisdom. He speaks a little backwards and often in riddles, but every word he chooses is placed exactly where it’s meant to be. He says little, but what he says hits hard.

Yoda is not just a Jedi Master, he’s also a master of the perspective shift.

Most of the time, what he tells us completely flips the angle from which we were trying to approach a problem. Often, he shows us we’ve been focusing on the wrong problem altogether. This is incredibly valuable.

Perspective shifts elevate our thinking. They allow us to overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers, move a lot faster, and see the world more clearly. They also help us lift others by sharing what we’ve learned with them.

Since he’s a quiet character, there aren’t that many Yoda quotes to draw from, but I’ve assembled his best ones to show you how he architects perspective shifts. He frequently talks about teacher-student relationships, fighting, and what it means to be a good person. To give you enough context and get the most out of these quotes, I’ve structured them into one coherent narrative.

May they teach you to change your own mind and that of others.


When Luke Skywalker is first sent to Yoda’s planet to learn from him, he bumps right into the Master, not knowing who he is. He tells him he’s looking for someone, to which Yoda only says:

“Looking? Found someone you have, eh?”

Picasso supposedly said, “I don’t seek. I find.” In a 1923 book called The Arts, he gave an explanation of what he meant:

“I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection with modern painting. In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing. Nobody is interested in following a man who, with his eyes fixed on the ground, spends his life looking for the purse that fortune should put in his path. The one who finds something, no matter what it might be, even if his intention were not to search for it, at least arouses our curiosity, if not our admiration.”

In the same vein, Yoda trusts the Force to guide our path in life. You can call it God, the universe, karma, or whatever you like — the point is to have faith. Keep your eyes open, stay present, and look, rather than obsessing over an idea in your head.

The next thing Luke says is that he’s “looking for a great warrior.” Once again, Yoda flips the notion on its head immediately:

“Ohh. Great warrior. Wars not make one great.”

There’s a saying that is often credited to US president Herbert Hoover in various forms:

“Wars are always started by men too old to fight in them.”

It depends on the country, but many have a culture of decorating their war heroes. It serves us well to honor these men and women, but it makes it easy to forget that the most honorable thing would have been to never send them into battle in the first place.

As Grand Master of the Jedi Order, Yoda also holds a position similar to a general. Most of his power in that position is spent trying to maintain peace and avoid fighting, because he knows wars only create losers on both sides:

“No longer certain, that one ever does win a war, I am. For in fighting the battles, the bloodshed, already lost we have.”

In that same spirit, being a Jedi is much like learning Kung Fu, Yoda explains:

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

I can’t think of a more humbling thing than to learn how to fight in hopes of never having to use it. Rigorous physical training has many benefits, like discipline, fitness, and patience. But in order to attain them, you don’t ever have to raise your fist against another human being. The training is enough.

Of course, sometimes, war is inevitable. In case of the Jedi, they are usually hopelessly outnumbered by the vast armies of the Galactic Empire. But again, Yoda knows there’s more to life than physical strength:

“Smaller in number are we, but larger in mind.”

There are countless examples from history of small groups outwitting large enemies. The 300 Spartans. The Trojan Horse. Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. A great strategy can make up for a big lack in firepower.

This lesson also applies at an individual level, and it’s one of the first Yoda teaches Luke when he becomes his apprentice. He tells Luke to use the Force to telekinetically lift his spaceship from a swamp. When Luke fails, claiming it’s too big, Yoda retorts:

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.”

At first, Luke dismisses Yoda and walks away. But when he sees Yoda single-handedly lift the ship on his own and hover it to safety, he can barely trust his own eyes. He tells Yoda he can’t believe what he just did, to which Yoda says:

“That is why you fail.”

This is Yoda reiterating the very first thing he told Luke: it’s about believing before you can see. Not the other way around. This ties into what might be Yoda’s most famous quote of all:

“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda combines immense faith with a strong sense of realism, of grounding. Those two might seem like opposites, but they’re not.

If you surrender to life and are fully in sync with what the universe wants to tell you, you’ll rarely attempt anything that’s not already meant to become a reality. This is why Yoda spends so much time thinking and meditating. He needs to listen; tune in to the Force. Once he emerges, the path of action is so clear to him, it might as well be done already. This is Yoda’s job much more so than charging headfirst into every battle:

“Secret, shall I tell you? Grand Master of Jedi Order am I. Won this job in a raffle I did, think you? ‘How did you know, how did you know, Master Yoda?’ Master Yoda knows these things. His job it is.”

This job of knowing is what unites all of Yoda’s roles. Be it as a politician, general, or teacher. It would take Luke many years to finally understand this. In a conversation decades later, after Luke has become a Jedi Master himself, Yoda still needs to remind him that passing on his knowledge is his job. One of the best ways to do so is through failure:

“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.”

There’s a quote by Tom Bodett about the difference between life and school:

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

Great teachers know this, which is why they don’t lecture as much as they pose challenges to their students, then let them figure out the answers on their own. If they fail, they fail, but either way, they’ll truly learn something rather than just parrot the master’s words or follow instructions.

For example, when Yoda sends Luke into a dark cave to confront his fears, Luke asks him what he can expect in there. Yoda says:

“Only what you take with you.”

Luke is utterly confused and feels abandoned at first, but after he faces his demons, he realizes the only way for him to succeed was to rely on his own mind. Yoda couldn’t help him, just point the way. This theme ripples through every great teacher-student relationship until its very end:

“Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

Failure is not just the way great teachers teach — it’s the master’s own, ultimate goal. If their disciple surpasses them, it means they’ve raised them well. Besides the rigorous training, the number one way Master Yoda aims to accomplish this is through ethics. What he’s most concerned with, even more so than their skill level, is that his students become good people.

That’s why many of his lessons revolve around the subject of not succumbing to the dark side of the Force — the evil path some Jedi choose and thus become corrupted. These lessons always have a Buddhist flair to them:

“Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”

In order to practice his combination of faith and presence and dedicate most of his time to thinking, Yoda lives a very minimalist life. He can’t afford to be distracted or pulled around by every impulse and desire rising in his heart. Therefore, letting go is the most important skill each Jedi must master:

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

Yoda knows fear is the true enemy of all Jedi. Fear is what pulls our minds to the past or the future. It is what creates attachment, and attachment leads to the emotions that, in turn, cause us to make dark choices.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

The way we deal with our fears and return to the present is to face them and hold out as they try to penetrate our minds. We don’t fight them as much as we resist giving in to them. This is exactly what Yoda had Luke do in that cave:

“Named must your fear be, before banish it you can.”

Of course, this isn’t a one-time event. We must face many fears in our lifetimes and no one is immune to them. Not even Yoda. He, too, admits being afraid:

“Yes, afraid. Hmm, surprised are you? A challenge lifelong it is, not to bend fear into anger.”

In his famous inauguration speech, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

This principle is a maxim of Yoda’s teachings, as he personally witnessed the terrible consequences of allowing fear to fill a Jedi’s heart.

Once upon a time, a young boy named Anakin was brought before the Jedi Council. He had great potential, but Yoda sensed much fear in him, and so he didn’t want the boy to be trained in the Jedi arts. Yet one of the other Council members said he would train the boy anyway, and Yoda let it pass. Over time, the boy’s fear of losing those he loved only grew. In Yoda’s words:

“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.”

Eventually, Anakin’s fear had such a strong grip on him that the only path he saw was that of the dark side of the Force. In the same way Anakin was pulled over one day at a time, so do our fear-induced choices cause a vicious cycle. We take a shortcut to get out of one jam which only leads us into a bigger one, which, of course, requires an even more extreme, even less ethical shortcut. Sooner or later, the person we once strived to be feels like our own worst enemy. Anakin literally became this enemy, and it is with great sorrow and anguish that Yoda reveals to Anakin’s former teacher:

“The boy you trained, gone he is. Consumed by Darth Vader.”

Of course, we’re not the only ones facing this danger. Others are affected by it too. And sometimes, we still chase after them. Still hoping, wishing we could get them back. But the person we once felt connected to is long gone.

This brings us back to the war the Jedi were about to lose. They didn’t see that one of the politicians among their own ranks had gone through a similar transformation, and when they relied on his help, they found out he double-crossed them. After retreating and meditating, Yoda once again emerges with a perspective shift that has the power to turn a hopeless situation around:

“Yet, open to us a path remains. That unknown to the Sith is. Through this path, victory we may yet find. Not victory in the Clone Wars, but victory for all time.”

By simply changing the timeline from “how can we win this war?” to “how can we achieve lasting peace for everyone?” Yoda has elevated everyone’s thinking. A more generally applicable version of this idea is this:

“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.”

Focusing on a different aspect of the bigger picture is another very common move in both war and politics. A group on the defense might try to go around the enemy and attack their flank, and an old adage in strategic thinking is:

“When everybody’s playing checkers, play chess.”

But this extends to many more aspects of our lives than the conflict-driven ones. When you fail to get promoted time and again, maybe it’s time to look for a new job. When discussing a problem with your spouse doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to talk about how you talk to each other. And if writing two posts per week won’t cut it, you could try publishing daily or not at all for a while.

The point is — and this is the biggest lesson we can learn from Yoda’s way of thinking — there’s always something different you can do. Something else you haven’t tried. Learning how to shift your perspective is one thing, but, like Yoda’s reliance on the Force, it first requires having faith in new perspectives in the first place. That’s why I can’t think of a better line to end on, a quote that more encapsulates Yoda’s spirit than this:

“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.”

Anchoring Bias & Subconscious Mind Explained Cover

Anchoring Bias Explained: How Powerful Is Your Subconscious Mind?

At a football game celebrating their latest pickpocket haul, con man Nicky and his apprentice Jess get into a series of escalating bets with a Chinese businessman.

$1,000, $5,000, $10,000 — $100,000 — they keep increasing the stakes — and Nicky keeps losing. Finally, Nicky can’t take it anymore and goes into overdrive. He bets 1.1 million dollars.

“Double or nothin’, high card takes it all.”

Nicky has now bet not just all of his, but his entire gang’s money — on a single card draw. When he turns over the deck, he almost faints. Three of hearts. His opponent drew the five of spades. Nicky lost. Again.

Suddenly, his throat feels dry. He’s shaking. Nicky can barely see straight. Having watched the disaster from two feet away, Jess is furious. She yells at him. Pounds on his chest.

“Let’s go!”

But then, just as they’re about walk out, Nicky stops. He can’t quit now. Not like this. He needs one more. One final play. He turns around.

“Double it. I’m good for it.”

The Chinese businessman can barely believe it.

“Dude, what are you doing? You’re crazy.”

At this point, that sure seems like a fair assessment. Especially considering the bet Nicky offers next:

“Pick any player on or off the field. And I will guess the number.”

When you include backups and swap-ins waiting on the sidelines, a football team easily racks up 50 players. That’s about 100–1 odds. In other words:

“That’s f*cking crazy.”

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Nicky then says he’ll let Jess guess the number. Not one to pass on free money, the businessman agrees. Jess keeps begging Nicky to call it off as they watch him survey the field, but Nicky won’t budge.

Once he has made his choice, the businessman hands Jess the binoculars. She’s terrified. Obviously. There are over $2 million at stake — and she’s pretty sure Nicky doesn’t have the money.

“I don’t…I don’t know.”

At the last second, their opponent offers to let them off the hook. But Nicky is beyond hope.

“Just. Pick. A number.”

Desperately, Jess scans the field, looking for any sign of indication, of what player, what number to pick. And then, right before she’s about to give up and just guess, she spots…Farhad.

Farhad is a fellow gang member and Nicky’s best friend. He’s overweight, obnoxious, and his head is full of some curly mess you can barely call hair. But he’s also standing there, right in the middle of the field, casually sporting the number 55.

“Oh my god,” Jess thinks. As it dawns on her that the whole thing may have been a setup from the beginning, Jess says the number. Slowly.

“Fifty…five. Number fifty-five.”

The Chinese gambler shakes his head. Not in smug victory, but in loser’s disbelief.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no!”

Then, it’s his turn to lose his mind. But this time, in a good way.

“Holy sh*t! How did you do that? That’s right!”

He still can’t believe it. But he’s so in awe that he’s not even mad. He’s excited. He jumps up and down. He hands Nicky the money. Gladly. He even asks them to go to Vegas together. But, finally, Nicky declines.

When he and Jess leave the stadium, Nicky has turned 1.1 million dollars into more than four. And he did it thanks to the power of the subconscious mind.


In the back of the getaway car, Jess still can’t believe what just happened.

“How did you know who he was gonna pick?”

Nicky is pleased with himself.

“We told him. We’ve been telling him all day. From the moment he left his hotel room, we’ve been priming him. Programming his subconscious.”

And then, Nicky goes on to explain what scientists call anchoring.

“He’s been seeing the number 55 all day long. On the elevator. In the lobby. Even the stick pin on the doorman. Not only that, we loaded his route from the hotel to the stadium. He looks out the window, primers are everywhere.”

The road signs, billboards, a mob demonstrating for a group called “Local 55,” people wearing jerseys with the number — the Chinese businessman’s path is littered with the number 55.

“Now, he doesn’t see it, but he does. There’s no getting around it. He even sees Farhad. Suggestions are everywhere.”

What’s more, Nicky arranged for the song “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones to play in the victim’s hotel room all night. Why? The Mandarin word for ‘five’ is ‘woo.’ Therefore, “woo-woo” adds up to 55 — and there are 124 “woo-woos” in that song.

It sounds simple, primal, even stupid, but that’s how it works. Thousands of micro-suggestions that affect the human mind. And the result?

“Now, he’s not registering it, but it’s all there. So when he picks up those binoculars, looks out on the field, sees a familiar face with the number 55 on his jersey, some little voice in the back of his mind says: “That’s it.” And he thinks it’s intuition. And he picks.”


This scene from the movie Focus might sound like an exaggerated example, but if you watch shows running similar, real-world experiments, like Brain Games or Deception with Keith Barry, you’ll see: That’s the power of anchoring — and it happens to you and me every day, whether we like it or not.

Anchoring is when we rely too much on an initial piece of information to make further judgments and decisions.

Some of the first scientists to investigate this cognitive bias were Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and it’s particularly evident with numbers.

In their initial study, they asked people to calculate a complex multiplication within five seconds and found that people’s estimates varied a lot depending on which numbers they first saw in the sequence.

If I show you 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8, you’ll start multiplying those first numbers, and when time runs out, you’ll probably guess that the end result is somewhere around 500. But if I show you 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 and you take the exact same approach, you’ll land at a much higher final estimate — likely around 2,000 — just because the first numbers were the larger ones.

The correct answer is 40,320, by the way. I know, crazy high, right? But it gets crazier: The anchor can be completely random, but will still work.

In that same study, Kahneman and Tversky showed participants a wheel of fortune that was set to always land on either 10 or 65. Afterwards, they asked them: “What is the percentage of African countries in the United Nations?” If people had seen the wheel stop on 10, they guessed 25% on average. If they had seen the number 65, their average guess was 45%. People knew the game they saw was based on chance. Yet, the result still biased their judgment. The correct answer is 28%.

But the anchoring bias goes further. As in the Chinese gambler’s case, it can literally make us choose differently.

Another researcher, Dan Ariely, asked students in his MBA class to write down the last two digits of their social security number (SSN). Then, he showed them some items, like wine or chocolate, and asked if they’d pay that amount for them. That was an easy yes-or-no question, but when he later asked them to bid on these goods, the initial number had become an anchor. Those with higher ending digits were willing to pay 60% to 120% more — for the same items! Just because their SSN had dictated a higher baseline.

But wait, there still is more. Beyond being random, powerful, and affecting both our judgment and our decisions, anchoring is also nearly impossible to avoid. For example, even if you know an anchor can’t possibly be on the spectrum of correct answers, it’ll still influence you.

One study asked students whether Mahatma Gandhi died “before or after age 9” or “before or after age 140.” Everyone knew both anchors were nonsense, but they still adjusted their guesses somewhat in that direction. The first group estimated he died at age 50, the second at age 67, on average. Gandhi lived to 78, by the way.

Other studies tried telling people about the anchoring bias before asking them to make guesses and paying them money to avoid anchoring — all to no avail.

There are several theories why anchoring happens, a favored one being selective accessibility. It suggests that, in an effort to make our lives easier, our brain wants an anchor to be the right answer, and starts testing for that assumption. But in trying to validate this hypothesis, it looks for ways in which new guesses are similar to the anchor — and thus sticks closely to it regardless.

There are also multiple factors that affect how prone we are to the anchoring bias, many of which are contextual, like our mood, personality, experience, and cognitive ability. The studies show conflicting evidence but, supposedly, being sad as opposed to happy or in a neutral mood makes you more susceptible. So does being agreeable, conscientious, and open to new experiences. Having knowledge and experience in the field related to the anchor helps combat the effect, while general intelligence may or may not do anything.

Like most cognitive biases, anchoring isn’t something we can ever completely get rid of, but we also don’t need to. As long as we fight it when its consequences are most damaging, we can live our lives just fine. That’s not a skill you pick up in a day, but one that requires repeated practice and, above all, awareness.

Having the information is important, but having a story to tie it to will help you remember. Maybe, it’ll be the story of how Nicky hustled a guy out of two million dollars. Maybe, that’ll be your anchor.

But, regardless of which story you choose, one thing’s for sure about this one: it’s a great example of the power of your subconscious mind.

All These Flaws You See In Yourself Aren't Real Cover

All These Flaws You See In Yourself Aren’t Real

Right in the first Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling introduces one of the most fascinating items in the entire wizarding world: The Mirror of Erised.

Erised is just ‘desire’ spelled backwards, which hints at what the mirror does: it shows you what you most desperately wish for in life. An Olympian might see themselves taking the gold, a steel mill worker might see a lavish lifestyle, and an orphan, like Harry, might see his parents.

We all have a mirror like that. A mirror in our head, teasing us with our desires. There’s nothing wrong with a little daydreaming, but when Dumbledore sees Harry gazing at the object, again and again, he tells him:

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Besides this oasis of wishful thinking, however, there’s a second mirror, tucked away in the depths of our mind. A mirror that’s much less kind, downright dangerous. It shows us everything that’s wrong with us.

I guess we could call it The Mirror of Swalf.

A 19th-Century Meme

Do you know where the word “okay” comes from? What may be the most universal, neutral affirmation in not just the English language, but cultures all around the world, actually started as a joke. A 19th-century meme, if you will.

Intellectuals in the 1830s intentionally misspelled two-word phrases, then abbreviated them to speak in code with other insiders. “KY” stood for “know yuse,” while “OW” was “oll wright.” The trend eventually faded, but one little quip unexpectedly made it from fad to phrase: “OK” or “oll korrect.”

US president Martin van Buren branded himself as “OK” — Old Kinderhook — during his 1840 campaign, hoping the phrase would rub off on his age and birthplace. OK clubs formed all over the country and if you were in, you were not just supporting van Buren, suddenly, you were OK. The telegraph later spread “OK” far and wide, using it to quickly confirm the receipt of messages, while the Old Kinderhook lost the election. But the phrase was a clear winner.

Because for some reason, we’re trying to get into the club to this day.

The World’s Most Sophisticated Pacifier

James Blunt isn’t just a great singer, he’s also a master of the Twitter troll:

“If you thought 2016 was bad — I’m releasing an album in 2017.”

He joins a long line of people believing 2016 was the worst year ever. There’s no evidence to this claim but it shows that perception at large has shifted.

Templates for fulfilling your desires have never been in short supply online, but while these stories make our goals sound attainable, we’re usually content with reading rather than living them. It’s soothing to learn “How I Got 2.3 Million App Downloads And Made $72,000.” It weirdly makes the goal feel less necessary. It shows us we’re okay. Even if we’re not a brilliant developer.

But, nowadays, our desire for comfort is a lot less subtle. Instead of hiding it behind lofty goals, we demand it outright. Screw my dreams, just tell me the world will keep turning. Tell me I’ll be OK. The tone on the web is a lot darker. We’re less driven by what we want, but by what we think needs fixing.

We need constant reminders that it’s okay to start small, it’s okay to be alone, it’s okay to not struggle. We ask why the internet makes us miserable, why our friends want to kill themselves and why our work isn’t good enough. We need someone to tell us it’s okay to quit Google, it’s okay to not want a promotion, it’s okay to not be an entrepreneur and, oh, by the way, laziness doesn’t exist.

All of these have merit. They’re understandable cravings and legit questions. But when the “it’s OK” lullaby so strongly dominates our global conversation, that says a lot about the state of humanity at large: it’s not OK. We’re turning the internet into a highly sophisticated pacifier for adults. Something for us to suck on to compensate for all the skills we never learned, but should have.

Skills like self-compassion, confidence, empathy, optimism, non-judgment, kindness, detachment, and resilience. Reasons are manifold, ranging from bad parenting to modern education to internet culture to omnipresent technology, but regardless of the causes, we must now deal with their effects.

We turn to our inner mirror and all we see are flaws. We see a version of ourselves that’s bloodied, battered, and close to being beaten. A version full of wounds, cuts, and scars. A human that’s incomplete. The mirror has poisoned our self-image and the cracks it shows us are destroying our sense of self.

James Blunt’s most popular song of 2017 wasn’t one from his new album. It was a standalone feature called “OK.” The music video shows him opting to delete his memories in a futuristic world. “It’s gonna be okay,” he sings.

I guess that 19th-century joke is now on us.

Scratching Until It Bleeds

In one of his many bestsellers, Linchpin, Seth Godin says there are two ways of dealing with anxiety. The first is to seek reassurance.

“This approach says that if you’re worried about something, indulge the worry by asking people to prove that everything is going to be okay. Check in constantly, measure and repeat. “Is everything okay?” Reward the anxiety with reassurance and positive feedback. Of course, this just leads to more anxiety, because everyone likes reassurance and positive feedback.”

This is exactly what we’re doing when we turn to the internet to comfort us as we face our many flaws. But this behavior only creates a never-ending cycle.

“Reassure me about one issue and you can bet I’ll find something else to worry about. Reassurance doesn’t address the issue of anxiety; in fact, it exacerbates it. You have an itch and you scratch it. The itch is a bother, the scratch feels good, and so you repeat it forever, until you are bleeding.”

In contrast to fear, which targets a real and specific threat, Seth says, anxiety is always about something vague that lies in the future. Anxiety has no purpose. It’s a “fear about fear” and, thus, a fear that means nothing.

What Seth is really saying is that these two mirrors in our heads are one and the same. Looking into it is always about reassurance. Reassurance that our dreams can come true and reassurance that we’ll be okay if they don’t. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a mirror. What you see in it isn’t real. Whether it’s the goals we haven’t achieved or the shortcomings we’re scared will hurt us, none of them even exist. Like the anxiety we feel from looking at it, the image we hold of ourselves in our heads isn’t there. It’s just a reflection.

So even though our focus might have shifted, the root problem has always been the same. The cracks are in the mirror. Not us. That’s why Dumbledore issued another grave warning to young Harry seeking so much reassurance:

“This mirror gives us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away in front of it, even gone mad.”

Hey Seth. Whatever your other way of dealing with anxiety, it better work.

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Bad Fathers Don’t Exist

In one of his last interviews before he died by suicide, late Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington gave us a heartfelt account of what it’s like inside the mind of someone who’s struggled with lifelong depression:

“I don’t say nice things to myself. There’s another Chester in there that wants to take me down. If I’m not actively getting out of myself, being with other people, being a dad, being a husband, being a bandmate, being a friend, helping someone out, like, if I’m out of myself, I’m great. If I’m inside all the time, I’m horrible. But it’s the moment where it’s, like, realizing I drive myself nuts, actually thinking that all these are real problems. All the stuff that’s going on in here is actually…just…I’m doing this to myself. Regardless of whatever that thing is.”

If you’re worried about being a bad father, that doesn’t make you a bad father, it just makes you worried. Bad fathers don’t exist. Only people who worry too much, who can’t deal with some experiences, experiences they forever live in their head and who, one day, might hit, yell at, or abandon their child as a result. That’s not a character flaw. It’s a chain of actions gone horribly wrong.

Reality consists of subjects and verbs. We’re the ones who supply all the adjectives. All of them. And we only do it to make reality feel more permanent. If you had a bad parenting experience, you might now point to the “bad father” memory whenever you make a detrimental decision. Drank too much? Bad father. Got fired? Bad father. Screwed up a relationship? Bad father.

The truth is, as much as that experience sucked and I don’t wish it to anyone, it’s not reality any longer. It’s in the past. When you drag it with you to the present, you’re twisting reality. You look in the mirror and see another wound that’s not there. Sadly, for some people, like Chester, these experiences compound to the point where they can no longer tell reality from reflection.

I can only imagine how hard it must be to even realize when that happens, but when it does and you do, please, go and ask for help. As much as you can get.

Meanwhile, Chester has left us with an incredible gift.

The Truth

Among Dumbledore’s many wise aphorisms, one of his most popular seems to contradict everything we’ve said:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

This must be one of the most misunderstood quotes of all time, because Dumbledore isn’t suggesting that everything you imagine is real. Instead, he’s trying to tell Harry what both Chester and Seth have also alluded to:

The truth about ourselves is what we choose to believe.

Dumbledore shared this advice with Harry at a time when the latter could literally choose between life and death. Sometimes, the consequences of the words we choose when talking to ourselves in our heads are just as severe. That’s why this statement is as powerful as it is dangerous. We all get confused at times. We all blur the line. And we all spend too much time staring at that goddamn mirror. The ways we deal with this, however, are different.

For Chester, it meant happiness lay outside himself. If you run out of kind words for yourself, try to stop talking. Seek not to the stars, but to the ground beneath your feet. Look to reality. Look around. There’s no club to get into and there never was. You were always OK. Humanity is one big community and you’ve been a member from day one. Sometimes, focusing on that is all you need to change the conversation in your head.

For Seth, it means sitting with anxiety. Don’t run. Say hi. Welcome to reality.

“The more you sit, the worse it gets. Without water, the fire rages. Then, an interesting thing happens. It burns itself out. The anxiety can’t sustain itself forever, especially when morning comes and your house hasn’t been invaded, when the speech is over and you haven’t been laughed at, when the review is complete and you haven’t been fired. Reality is the best reassurance of all.”

Which one of these works for you at what time depends, but they both require our presence in the real world. Whenever the reality inside your head starts to look scary, it’s usually the one outside that can provide the answers. Maybe, you have to sit with it. Maybe, you have to forget it for a while. Until you can look in the mirror again and see yourself as you actually are: a human being.

Not flawed. Not incomplete. Human. With the ability to choose whatever belief you need. Even the best article can only help you so much in doing that.

Then again, I remember an OK wizard who once said:

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”

 — Albus Dumbledore

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Why We Need Breaks From Tech To Use It Best

One of the funniest moments in the Iron Man films happens when Tony Stark finally answers a question that’s crossed every viewer’s mind at least once:

“How do you go to the bathroom in that suit?”

With a first slightly contorted, then visibly relieved face, he tells us at his 40th birthday party: “Just like that.”

While it’s great that Mark IV’s filtration system can turn pee into drinking water, it doesn’t bode too well for a public icon to showcase lack of control over his own bodily functions. Not that his mental faculties were any more capable, because he is utterly, completely drunk. Wasted beyond repair.

Tony Stark might be wearing the suit, but, in that scene, he is not Iron Man. Just a dazed, desperate man, stuck in a million-dollar piece of technology.

Even the biggest talent with the best set of tools can achieve nothing if their mind isn’t in the right place. Of course we aren’t genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropists, but there’s still a lesson here that pertains to us:

We, too, over-identify with our devices.

A Bubble Made of Algorithms

After revealing his secret identity to the public, Stark had to defend his unique, metallic property in front of the US Senate. A few days prior to his birthday bash gone off limits, he refused to hand it over to the state, claiming he’d “successfully privatized world peace.” Just imagine that pressure.

Actor Robert Downey Jr. commented on his character at the time:

“I think there’s probably a bit of an imposter complex and no sooner has he said, ‘I am Iron Man –’ that he’s now really wondering what that means. If you have all this cushion like he does and the public is on your side and you have immense wealth and power, I think he’s way too insulated to be okay.”

We might not fly halfway around the world in seconds to fight for what we believe in, but then again, we kinda do. Thanks to our smartphones, we now carry the whole world in our pocket. As with Tony’s suit, it is precisely the power they bestow on us that insulates us.

Tony’s resources are near-unlimited; so are our options to do, to be, to create with a few taps. He’s a fast learner; we can now teach ourselves anything. Tony’s got JARVIS to manage everyday needs, we’ve got Siri. The list goes on.

And yet, no matter where he goes, Stark is seen not as the man inside the suit, but the superhero it represents. Similarly, we, in many school yards, lecture halls, and offices around the globe, are often judged by the brands, the products, the tools we choose — and our phones top the list.

The comparison might be exaggerated, but, while we’re not quite as closed off from reality as Stark, we’re still isolated enough to be often busy celebrating our power instead of using it, let alone use it well.

In Amusing Ourselves To Death, written in 1984, author Neil Postman made one of the rarer, more accurate predictions about computers:

“Years from now, it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.”

While it’s hard to argue with the former point, the latter is a little more complex. We can now work anywhere, create anything, and access all the world’s knowledge. At the same time, we rarely tap into these possibilities, often spending our days chasing mindless distractions. The balance always changes, but we all know what it feels like when it’s off.

But where does this disconnect come from when it does? Why is there such a big gap between the power of our tools and our efficiency in using them?

I think it’s because of how we value them. Not too little, but too much.

The Huxleyan Warning

Postman’s timing in publishing the book was no coincidence. After discussing the issue at the Frankfurt Book Fair that same year, he dedicated most of its pages to answering a single question:

“Which dystopian novel most resembles our world today?”

Taking sides with Apple, he eventually concluded that 1984 wasn’t like 1984, but more accurately reflected the ideas in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. 
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. 
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. 
Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. 
Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.

In 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. 
In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. 
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

There are lots of arguments to be made for both sides, and which one comes closest depends heavily on the circumstances of your life. But while no book will ever describe our exact reality, if we at least consider Postman’s Huxleyan warning, we can ask another interesting question:

“What would the things we love ruining us look like?”

And today, we, the human species, love one thing above all else: technology.

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The Most Powerful Ideology of All

Commenting on Apple’s ad masterpiece, Youtuber Nostalgia Critic remarks:

“Yes, Apple will save us from the terrifying 1984-style future. For as we can clearly see today, no longer are people lined up like cattle for hours and hours on end! No longer will people dress alike in cold, colorless environments! No longer will any cultish-style groups gather to honor a grand, controversial leader! And, most importantly, no longer will we be brain-dead, lifeless zombies who plug ourselves into the machine of life we can also call ‘The System.’”

Whether you imagine an iPhone release queue, the architectural style of Apple Stores, their Genius staff uniforms, a furious debate about Steve Jobs, or people with AirPods, staring at their screens, the irony of history is clear.

It might not be quite as bad as an actual surveillance state, but 30 years later, the former leader of the empowerment revolution has managed to become the world’s first trillion-dollar business only on the back of evolving into the exact thing it used to despise. And regardless of where you stand on the issue, the comparison alone proves a point Postman also makes in his book:

Technology is ideology.

Historically, the most successful ideologies have been those with the best stories. Religion, politics, science, the narratives surrounding these world views have always, for better or for worse, dictated not just what we do, but how we communicate, even see ourselves.

So what ideology could possibly be more powerful than one embedded in our modes of action, of communication, and of self-perception themselves? Enter, the smartphone. The chief representative of tech. One tool to rule them all, enabling us to do, talk, and self-reflect, both in a literal and figurative sense.

How could we not have adopted it wholesale? The story is just too good.

Besides the smartphone, no other icon symbolizes this triumph of technology more conclusively than Iron Man. The fictional character is the smartest man on the planet, his weapon the pinnacle of tech. The real guy in front of the camera is one of the highest-paid actors, making some $200+ million from his work with Marvel, the most successful movie franchise of all time.

Back on earth, though not for long, Stark’s real-world counterpart Elon Musk is worshipped as the god of our tech startup movement, meant to usher in our civilization’s next age. But, as another famous comic book figure claimed:

“If God is all-powerful, he cannot be all-good. 
And if he is all-good, then he cannot be all-powerful.”

When tech becomes ideology, tools become identity.

This is the exact problem that befalls Stark in the movie. Once he can no longer separate the iron from the man, he is completely incapacitated, reduced to blowing up watermelons in mid-air with a suit that could save millions. That’s not what he built it for.

Just like we didn’t invent the smartphone to stop thinking. What good is a device that connects you to four billion brains around the planet if the best you can think of doing with it is playing Candy Crush, taking selfies, and ordering more toilet paper?

Tony Stark built the first Iron Man armor from scrap metal in an Afghan cave. Much less a suit than a pile of alloy plates, it was barely capable of protecting him long enough to face the crossfire, defend himself, and catapult him out of reach for his enemies. But it was an extension of his mind that saved his life.

With each future iteration, however, it became less of something he used and more of something he was. Until, one day, JARVIS couldn’t help but note:

“Unfortunately, the device that’s keeping you alive is also killing you.”

Unlike Tony, however, who has actual reason to fear for the arc reactor in his chest, we don’t depend on the functionality of our devices for survival. Not in the slightest. But you’d think we do. Because we’ve never been educated about technology’s ideological nature and the incapacity it produces when fused so irrevocably with our identity.

This education, may it come early from our schools or late from within the medium itself, is also the solution Postman proposes:

“For no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are. It is not important that those who ask the questions arrive at my answers. The asking of the questions is sufficient. To ask is to break the spell.”

The most obvious of those dangers, one that could lead a society to be at the whim of its own tools, is its reliance on their ubiquity. And we? Well…

A tendency to overexpose ourselves to the available is in our very nature.

The Right We Must Claim Back

There is one big difference between Orwell’s Big Brother and Apple’s twisted fate: the pain modern consumers put themselves through is entirely self-inflicted, even voluntary. Talk to the first person in line for the new iPhone; you’ll find they couldn’t be happier.

It’s almost as if the promises of technology — the feelings about this great future bound to come — are more important than whether they come true. That’s why Postman turned to Huxley. Because unless we start questioning, smartphones are no better than soma, the legal drug we freely buy that keeps everyone satisfied, ignorant in bliss.

But despite having no apparent side effects, soma is still toxic. Anything is, if you’re immersed in it 24/7. This goes for any substance, matter, and physical item, but also for any thought, any feeling, any idea and state of mind. It goes for the use of your smartphone, your laptop, and your TV, as much as it goes for criticism, a new company policy, and even happiness.

At the end of Brave New World, one character sees behind the facade of controlled, poison-induced euphoria. As a result, he claims back his right to unhappiness. To danger, struggle, and pain. But with that, he also claims back his right to freedom. To goodness, art, poetry, religion, and change.

What we have to demand back is the right to be separate from our technology. To not be identified with our tools. The human self has always been a complex structure, made of millions of facets. It’s an armor alright — and, yes, it gets shattered — but it’s one we can always reassemble, as long as we pick up the pieces. If we neglect this fact, we lose our sense of distance between who we are and the tools we use to project that self onto the world.

Without this distance, life is one big blur, and then we die. Ask any struggling artist, any aspiring entrepreneur, any coping single mom and any ambitious manager. To get past, disengage. You are not your devices. You are not your tech-powered job. You are not a future citizen of a technology-fueled utopia.

You are a human being, alive today. Right here, right now.

That’s all you ever need to be. For the rest of your life.

How’s that for distance?

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Better Than Utopia

In the end, Stark had to lose almost everything, his health, house, reputation, even one of his suits, to rediscover who he was. A tinkerer at heart. All he was missing was distance. One hard look from afar and even his life-threatening problem was solved. That’s the beauty of clarity. It works instantly.

In Huxley’s book, two other characters are punished for their questions with exile. One laments the thought, while the other welcomes his new destiny. The villain himself, however, has always known distance to be a reward. For the same reason, our tech icons limit access to their products for their kids.

For us, the now-slightly-more-educated, the solution is as simple in theory as it is hard in practice. For it’s a solution we must not just plug in, but live every day. That’s what’s changed. Slowly, but steadily. Especially since 1984.

Being disconnected must now be a conscious choice.

It used to be our default state, because our devices wouldn’t permit our availability at every hour and location. Now they do, which means it’s on us to turn them off and be unreachable in the moments for which we should be.

Creating distance takes practice. But with patience and time, we can unwind what’s entangled. Separate, once again, man from machine. Let them coexist.

Only then can we build something better than utopia: a life true to ourselves.

Our Greatest Asset

I don’t know you, but I know technology has profoundly affected your life. May it continue to do so in the best of ways. But if you ever feel trapped, and we all sometimes do, look for the disconnect that comes from being too close.

The world has always been a forward-thinking place, but if we only believe in technology, we hand it the reigns to take on a life of its own. Sometimes, the life it takes is ours. And we might not even notice.

The truth we’ve forgotten is that it’s never too late for us to take it back. We exist not because, but in spite of everything. Always have. This is our greatest asset. The only reason we need.

Iron Man carries his name not for the metal plates surrounding his body, but for the mind of the man who builds iron things. Between the two must always be distance. Only when it vanishes does the entire construct collapse.

As users of modern technology, we hold a similar responsibility: We need a healthy separation from our tools to build authentic selves. In the fight against the odds that is our life, we must first turn off our phones, so that we may then use them to build meaningful things. What both these aspirations require is distance. The physical, as well as the mental kind.

A real bathroom break should not be where it ends, but it sure is a start.

A Letter to Rational People Cover

A Letter to Rational People

Hercule Poirot stands on the balcony, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Atop the clock tower in Jaffa, Israel, the greatest detective in the world stares into the distance. It is 1934.

Still baffled by how the Belgian gentleman with the big mustache solved the case of the missing relic, the captain of the police can’t help himself but stare.

“It’s just…how did you know it was him, sir? From just a tiny crack on the wall.”

“I have the advantage…I can only see the world as it should be. And when it is not, the imperfection stands out like the nose in the middle of a face. It…it makes most of life unbearable. But it is useful in the detection of crime.”

There are a lot of Hercule Poirots here on the web. Wonderful, rational people. It’s one of the reasons why I love this place. We may not all be detectives by profession, but we’re just as curious, just as righteous, just as skeptical of everything that, in a balanced world, shouldn’t be.

It’s why we read and write about justice, about equality, about fairness. About getting along, living better, and being kind. But sometimes we come up short.

This is a letter to everyone facing those times. A letter to rational people.

Nothing In-Between

The captain isn’t quite satisfied. Yes, Poirot can see the world plainly, but there is something more. Something beyond facts. “But it’s as though you see into their hearts and divine their true natures,” he says. To which Poirot replies:

“And whatever people say, there is right, there is wrong. There is nothing in-between.”

At first I was confused at Poirot’s statement. Doesn’t he know the truth is subjective? Isn’t that what makes him a great detective? Then I realized, it is knowing that this dichotomy exists despite the truth being subjective that does. We all have our own version of reality, but in each one, the distinction between right and wrong persists. Always. And, in a surprisingly large number of situations, a surprisingly large number of people agree.

As we become more rational, whether that’s through training, brute force, or education, the choice between wrong and right hovers more and more clearly over our head. And every day, we fight to do our best. But it’s hard. We don’t always choose what’s right, we’re only human after all. But the more we know what’s right, the more it weighs on us. That burden can be a lot to carry.

Breakpoint

The train pulls into the small town of Brod, Bosnia. Only days have passed, but they feel like years. The case he’s solved on board brought him to the edge of both his morals and abilities. Before he disembarks, Poirot writes a letter of his own. A letter to an old friend, that he only sends in his mind.

“My dear Colonel Armstrong,

finally I can answer your letter. At least with the thoughts in my head and the feeling in my heart that somewhere, you can hear me.

I have now discovered the truth of the case and it is profoundly disturbing. I have seen the fracture of the human soul. So many broken lives, so much pain and anger, giving way to the poison of deep grief, until one crime became many.”

When we grow past the mercy of our emotions, beyond holding ourselves accountable, we suddenly see the injustice all around us. Life’s not fair. Children die. Criminals succeed.

It’s not just depressing. It’s tempting. We’ve all made the wrong choice at the right time and gotten off easy. But there is a breakpoint to how much we can tolerate. It may not break you, but at least once in life, it is everyone’s turn.

I don’t know if it’s your turn yet, but I want you to know you’re not alone.

Even the greatest detective in the world has his struggles.

What Rationality Is Built Upon

As Poirot grapples with the abyss he’s staring into, he feels trapped in the middle. A prison halfway between wrong and right. This time, however, the key lies not within the depths of the human mind.

“I have always wanted to believe that man is rational and civilized. My very existence depends upon this hope, upon order and method and the little grey cells. But now, perhaps, I am asked to listen, instead, to my heart.”

What unites us in our fight for rationality is not our ability to see the world clearly. It is neither intelligence nor discipline; not even a shared lack of understanding for those, who act on impulse. We all set out on this journey together because we built our lives around this same, undying hope. That underneath it all, in spite of everything, man is still good. And sometimes, that hope must be enough.

If you’ve recently failed to do the right thing, whether you’ve known it before or found out after: rest easy. When others have failed to do right by you, rest easy. And give them space to rest easy too. Even the man who dedicated his whole life to finding the truth comes to see that sometimes, peace lies in that paralyzing fog between our choices. Or worse, on the wrong side. But from time to time, finding it may be more important than being right.

“I have understood in this case that the scales of justice cannot always be evenly weighed. And I must learn, for once, to live with the imbalance.”

You won’t always get what you deserve. You won’t always live a happy life. In fact, it will often be unbearable. But in spite of the imbalance, you will always find the strength to go on.

And to me, no matter where life sends us, going on is always the truth.

What Is an Identity? Cover

You Don’t Need an Identity to Have a Life

Dressed in a brown, too large sweater, a man is standing in an archway, elbows crossed. It’s snowing. Having waited for hours in the cold, the bank across the street finally opens. He walks in.

Inside the Zurich Community Bank, he writes down a 13-digit number on a piece of paper, which the clerk hands to a more senior employee, who guides the man to an elevator. Down in the vault, a security guard silently gestures him towards the fingerprint identification system. He passes.

As he sits down in a dimly lit cabin, another clerk retrieves a metal lock box, roughly the size of two shoe cartons, from the bank’s walk-in safe. He places it in front of the man, unlocks it, nods, and walks away. After the man’s made sure the cabin curtain is closed, he opens the box.

There’s nothing unusual inside. A bunch of markers, a flashlight, contact lenses, a watch, a credit card, his vaccination record, a USB stick. His eyes quickly scan the contents, resting on one item almost instantly: his passport. He opens it and sits down in the small cabin chair.

After what feels like a lifetime, he nods, but his face is full of doubt. As if to make himself believe, he utters:

“My name is Jason Bourne.”


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The Role of His Life

In 1942, Howard Hughes Jr. set out to build the biggest plane in the history of mankind. At a wingspan of 320 ft (97 m), the length of half a Football field, and towering eight stories high, to this day it remains the largest aircraft ever flown. The name of the colossus reveals as much about the man behind it as does the endeavor itself: the Hughes H-4 Hercules would be her father’s ticket into the annals of history.

“I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it’s a failure, I’ll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.” 

Even considering the already high stakes, Hughes still understated how invested he was into the project. Beyond his reputation, he had put something even more fragile on the line: his identity.

Born to Howard Sr. and Allene Stone Gano in 1905, the young man proved early to be nothing short of gifted. At eleven he built a radio transmitter, at twelve he constructed a motorcycle, and by his twenties, he played a handicap of three in golf. He would also turn out a brilliant pilot. However, none of that could prepare him for the adversity no child should have to face: losing both parents by age 19.

With almost prophetic vision, he used his inheritance to acquire the majority stock share of the business his father had founded, Hughes Tool Company. Thanks to the intellectual property it contained, this asset would make Hughes Jr. one of the world’s wealthiest men for the rest of his life. His father, while not as mechanically adept, helped pioneer and patent a drill bit for oil exploration. It used two cones, rotating against one another, which sped up drilling by a factor of up to ten.

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In as tragic a story as only life can write, this one move both gave his son all the freedom in the world and forever bound him to the shackles of a restless self. Hughes Jr. quickly left his father’s business in more capable hands and went on a long string of ultimately unsuccessful careers as a filmmaker, stock trader, pilot, real estate investor, aircraft manufacturer, and defense contractor.

The Hughes H-4 Hercules was the pinnacle of his failures. Nicknamed the ‘Spruce Goose’ by critics for its wooden materials, it racked up a staggering $23 million bill, almost $300 million in today’s dollars. After five years of development, it only took a single test flight, during which Hughes jeopardized the entire operation, by spontaneously accelerating and forcing a takeoff. The plane did lift, but only for a mile and a mere 70 feet above the water. After that, it was locked away in hangars and later museums, accruing millions of dollars a year in maintenance costs.

And so it goes that Hughes’s Wikipedia page reads he was “known during his lifetime as one of the most financially successful individuals in the world.” Readers of Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is The Enemy, however, know better:

“Howard Hughes, like so many wealthy people, died in an asylum of his own making. He felt little joy. He enjoyed almost nothing of what he had. Most importantly, he wasted. He wasted so much talent, so much bravery, and so much energy.”

Howard Hughes Jr. withered away an entire lifetime pretending he was a genius inventor’s son, when that role was never really his to play. And we all do that. Playing characters we weren’t cast for.

For what it’s worth, Hughes was onto something with the title of his first of many failed movies: Everybody’s Acting.

Mirror, Mirror…

Bourne runs his fingers along the edges of the iron case. His gut tells him there’s more. With a clicking noise, the inlay comes loose. What’s revealed underneath is beyond anything his passport could tell him. Horrified, he stares at a gun, another dozen or so passports, and what looks to be at least $100,000 cash, spread across a variety of currencies. Clearly, Jason Bourne is not an average citizen. But, having lost his memory, he has no idea why.

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What’s most fascinating about the entire bank scene is that it manages to fill an eternity of five minutes of on-screen time with a mere nine lines of dialogue. It’s a thread that continues throughout the movie. The script is less than 7,500 words, whereas the average screenplay clocks in at almost twice that.

That’s because the story of Jason Bourne is the fictional equivalent of looking into a mirror for the first time in months: you don’t need words, you need context. Who’s that person? Why are they the way they are? Life is like that. We’re busy running around, checking items off lists, working towards some distant goal, and before we know it, we’ve changed beyond recognition.

Trying to make sense of ourselves, to shape a coherent picture, we each speak some 16,000 words a day, and oh, how we long for them to be definitive: “I’m bad at math,” “she’s pretty,” “he’s always been this way.” We’re tying up a parcel to then carry it around, like Bourne’s lock box. Or, as Naval Ravikant puts it:

“What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that. I’m Shane. This is the way I am. I’m Naval. This is the way I am.”

It’s almost as if identity is antifragile. The heftier you shock the system, the harder the world pokes at the labels we so proudly sow on our souls, the more our identity crystallizes, refusing to change. The biases that cause this behavior are part of the human condition. Science confirms:

We are all Jason Bourne. We’ve played so many parts in so many movies that we’ve forgotten a whole bunch of them. And yet, they’re still there. Pieces of an incoherent puzzle. Every day, we build more towards assembling a self, chiseling an identity out of the marble, only to ultimately find we might not like what we’ve created.

Eventually, our roles will catch up to us. Especially if we let someone else write the script.

The Maze Inside Your Mind

Over the span of 14 years and five films, the Bourne movie series has been one of astronomic success, grossing over $1.6 billion. But if you draw a timeline of the full chronology and look at it closely, you’ll see the story ended after the first film. By the time the curtains close, Bourne knows who he is. Who he was. He then spends all subsequent movies trying to right yet another wrong someone else has dug up from his past. Always alive, but never truly living.

Bourne is stuck in what Ernest Becker would call an immortality project. An immortality trap, really. As Sam Keen writes in the foreword to Becker’s The Denial of Death:

“Society provides the second line of defense against our natural impotence by creating a hero system that allows us to believe that we transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. We achieve ersatz immortality by sacrificing ourselves to conquer an empire, to build a temple, to write a book, to establish a family, to accumulate a fortune, to further progress and prosperity, to create an information-society and global free market.”

We construct this conceptual self next to our physical self to infuse meaning into our lives, whether there actually is some or not. The reason this unconscious play always works is that it defers the result to when no one can hold us accountable to it: the time after we die. Becker’s big takeaway is that all of civilization is in a giant rat race for legacy, a race no one can really win.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

According to Bronnie Ware, palliative nurse and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, this race for pleasing society, not living true to one’s self, but for what others expect, tops the list:

“Of all of the regrets and lessons shared with me as I sat beside their beds, the regret of not having lived a life true to themselves was the most common one of all. It was also the one that caused the most frustration, as the client’s realization came too late. “It’s not like I wanted to live a grand life,” Grace explained in one of many conversations from her bed. […] “But I wanted to do things for me too and I just didn’t have the courage.””

Whether you’re trying to build the world’s biggest plane or vindicate your former self, a life in service of such heavy legacy is a gamble. Whatever conceptual self you manage to assemble, it may not last, nor be perceived in any way as what you set out to make it. We’re always told our potential is limited by some piece missing from the identity puzzle. Supposedly, we lack discipline, or courage, or integrity, or all of them. I don’t think that’s our biggest hindrance.

Our biggest limiter of potential is that we don’t use the power to reinvent ourselves in any given minute.

Like Actors on a Stage

In 1979, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer gathered a group of men over 70 and arranged a five-day retreat for them in an old New Hampshire monastery. The only catch? They had to live, speak, and act as if it was 1959. More than an elaborate play, this study was supposed to resemble actual time travel. Each participant wrote a short biography of their 1959-self, the house was designed in contemporary style, magazines, newspapers, and books of the time were collected, and no talk of anything post-1959 was allowed.

When the men returned, they were not the same. In her account of the event, Counterclockwise, Langer writes:

“We retested all participants and found that indeed, the mind has enormous control over the body. […] On many of the measures, the participants got “younger.” The experimental group showed greater improvement on joint flexibility, finger length (their arthritis diminished and they were able to straighten their fingers more), and manual dexterity. On intelligence tests, 63 percent of the experimental group improved their scores. There were also improvements in height, weight, gait, and posture. Finally, we asked people unaware of the study’s purpose to compare photos taken of the participants at the end of the week to those submitted at the beginning of the study. These objective observers judged that all of the experimental participants looked noticeably younger at the end of the study.”

When they changed their identity, basically at will, their biology followed. Isn’t that against anything common sense would have us believe? But it’s not only science that shows how powerful flipping the script can be. Real actors sometimes do it too. Like Jim Carrey.

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When he was younger, he would visualize himself as a person of success in order to subconsciously steer his actions toward grand achievements. He once told Oprah about how he wrote himself a check for $10,000,000 and post-dated it five years, only to find out he would receive roughly this sum for his part in Dumb and Dumber, just before the deadline.

In recent years, however, he’s changed. Avoiding the spotlight, he’s picked up painting, directing, and often talks in riddles. When he does appear, he seems very present, but always enigmatic. What happened to him? In a 2017 interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, he helped us understand:

“I believe that I had to become a famous idea and get all the stuff that people dream about and accomplish a bunch of things that look like success in order to give up my attachment to those things.”

He then continues to explain that identity, like fame, money, or power, is nothing but a game:

“They’re all characters that I played. Including Jim Carrey, including Joel Barish, including any of those things. They’re all characters. Jim Carrey was a less intentional character, because I thought I was just building something that people would like, but it was a character. I played the guy that was free from concerns, so that people who watched me would be free from concern.

People talk about depression all the time. […] Depression is your body saying ‘fuck you, I don’t want to be this character anymore. I don’t want to hold up this this avatar that you’ve created in the world. It’s too much for me.’ A friend of mine who’s a spiritual teacher has a really good take on this. His name is Jeff Foster and he says that you should think of the word depressed as ‘deep rest.’ Deep. Rest. Your body needs to be depressed. It needs deep rest from the character that you’ve been trying to play.”

Right now, Jim Carrey is done playing the identity game. He knows he can pick it up whenever he wants and become whoever he wants. Like the men in the study, he’s not bound to the reality he lives in. He creates his own. But to do that, he doesn’t need to play a character:

“I have sadness and joy and elation and satisfaction and gratitude beyond belief, but all of it is weather. And it just spins around the planet.”

Nothing has happened to Jim Carrey. He has always taken himself apart and reassembled in new ways. The fact that we haven’t is what makes us feel weird about it.

Jim Carrey has, once again, happened to us. And now the ball is in our court.

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The Most Dangerous Drug in the World

“You move, you die.”

As Bourne confronts his persecutor at gunpoint, he finally gets to ask the question he’s been dying to get answers to:

“Who am I?”

His former supervisor isn’t too happy about Bourne’s loss of memory.

“You’re U.S. government property! You’re a malfunctioning $30 million weapon! You’re a total goddamn catastrophe!”

What Bourne suspected all along, his worst fears, they all seem to come true. He’s an assassin. And not just any assassin.

“I don’t send you to kill. I send you to be invisible. I send you because you don’t exist.”

Suddenly, a flashback hits Bourne. He remembers. The location. The target. The reason for his failure. His ex-boss can tell. And then, something fascinating happens.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

The second Bourne gets closure on his past identity, he abandons it, choosing his own side. Viewers jump in their seats. For the past two hours, they’ve watched Bourne at his best: being a chameleon with a fluid self, a man who can adapt to any circumstance. Through four languages, multiple break-ins, close quarters combat, wide range shooting, and a car chase, he’s proven situational awareness is his strength. And in that, you can’t afford to have a rusty identity.

Beggar or bellboy, detective or assassin, he must switch between these characters from one minute to the next. For him, it’s a matter of life and death. For us it may not be, but that’s what real antifragility looks like. In order for the system to grow from disorder, parts must be allowed to break, fast and often.

Out of all human ideas, identity might be the most overrated and, in fact, the most dangerous. It’s as addictive as other figurative drugs, like money, status, power, but you don’t have to get a hold of it first. It’s ever-present, already in your grasp, always on top of your mind.

And yet, every time you enter a room full of strangers, you get to reinvent yourself. You can choose to be fluid. Limitless. So much more than your passport. Use that power.

Like the man in an overly large shirt, who walks into a tiny scooter store in Greece, and, when asked if he has ID, only shrugs and says:

“Not really.”