7 Lessons From My First Week of Meditating an Hour a Day

7 Lessons From My First Week of Meditating an Hour a Day

I started working on my habits in 2012. That story is now seven years in the making. One of its side effects is awareness. Self-awareness, mostly, but also awareness about many other things.

For a few years now, I’ve considered myself a mindful person. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I spend most of my day in a self-aware mode of operating. If I’m biting my nails, I’ll know. Sometimes, I’m so mindful I can’t not notice things, especially the flaws and perfections of other people.

Because I was so aware and mindful already, I thought, “I don’t need meditation.” Until I heard Naval Ravikant speak about it:

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

Naval said many people abuse meditation for virtue-signaling. They pretend to care about mindfulness to look like a moral person without doing any of the actual, hard work of properly meditating. That’s why we have thousands of meditation apps, head bands, cushions, and other gimmicks when meditation is literally “the art of doing nothing,” as Naval calls it.

No matter whether you’re a fake meditator or a skeptic who thinks they don’t need it, like I did, chances are, you’ve never done an actual meditation session in your life. The reason you haven’t, if you ask Naval, is that it’s scary, because once you start, you’ll inevitably have to deal with all your unresolved issues:

“It’s like your email inbox. It’s just piling up. Email after email after email that’s not answered, going back 10, 20, 30, 40 years. And then, when you sit down to meditate, those emails start coming back at you.

‘Hey, what about this issue? What about that issue? Have you solved this? Do you think about that? You have regrets there? You have issues there?’ and that gets scary. People don’t want to do that, so they’re like, ‘It’s not working, I can’t clear my mind, I better get up and not do this.’ But really, it’s self therapy. Instead of paying a therapist to sit there and listen to you, you’re listening to yourself. And you just have to sit there as those emails go through one by one.

You work through each of them until you get to the magical inbox zero. There comes a day when you sit down, you realize the only things you’re thinking about are the things that happened yesterday. Because you’ve processed everything else. Not necessarily even resolved it but at least listened to yourself. That’s when meditation starts.”

When I heard Naval say these things, I realized:

Noticing is not the same as processing.

The word ‘mindfulness’ is very misleading in that regard because being aware of what’s going on in your life and dealing with it are not the same thing, even if both require being mindful. In my literal email inbox, I get a notification for every email that comes in. But until I’ve opened it and looked at it, I haven’t really processed it, have I?

So actually, there are two kinds of noticing: the kind that nets you new inputs and more information which are then sent down to your subconscious, and the kind that processes those stimuli once they make their way back into your consciousness. One is downloading your emails, the other reading them.

Think of it this way: The most enlightened meditation guru will notice everything twice, once on the way down and again on the way up. There may be a delay in between, but, at the end of the day, everything is taken care of.

Often, that second kind of noticing is enough to deal with a problem because most of our problems don’t need to be dealt with in actions at all. They’re like notification emails. We just have to acknowledge them so they can leave our minds and not cause us stress. However, if you don’t make time to deliberately do this second kind of noticing, it never happens.

That’s why I decided to finally give real meditation a go. Today, I want to share with you what I’ve learned.

So, how *do* you meditate properly?

It’s not an excuse, but one of the reasons why I avoided meditation is that all these prescriptive practices I’d heard about sounded fake. Naval finally gave me a practice that sounded simple enough to actually feel like the real deal:

“It is literally the art of doing nothing. 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.”

Naval also explained that all concentration exercises, whether it’s focusing on your breath or something else, ultimately aim at letting go of whatever you’re concentrating on. Therefore, you might as well skip to the letting go.

“The problem with what I’m talking about, which is not focusing on your breath, is you will have to listen to your mind for a long time. It’s not gonna work unless you do at least an hour a day and preferably at least 60 days before you work through a lot of issues. So it’ll be hell for a while, but when you come out the other side, it’s great.”

Right now, I’m trying to get to the other side. Every morning after waking up, I set a timer for an hour on my phone. I sit cross-legged, lean against the wall, fold my hands in my lap, and close my eyes. Ideally, I remain in this position. If I feel my limbs falling asleep, I change how I sit but keep my eyes closed. Whatever pops up in front of my inner eye pops up. Sometimes I get dragged into it for a while, sometimes I don’t. That’s it. When the hour’s up, I’m done.

I set the goal to do an hour each day knowing full well I wouldn’t make it on some days. I’m on day eleven now, and, for the first seven in a row, I meditated one hour each day. Since then, I’ve also had days where I did 15 minutes, 25 minutes, etc. But whenever I can, which is about 80% of the time, I do the full hour.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far.

1. Your brain is fuller than you’ve ever imagined

When you die, supposedly, your whole life flashes before your eyes. In movies, this is usually portrayed in some form of montage, like a slide show or quick sequence of scenes. My first two sessions felt like that. Think the ending of American Beauty or the blackout phases in Limitless.

Except I didn’t black out. I just got scene after scene after scene. I jumped from a conversation eight years ago to a moment in kindergarten to recess in third grade to something that happened a week ago. It was like swiping through memories on Tinder, but I didn’t control the swiping. That was my first lesson:

Your brain is full. Fuller than you have ever imagined.

You won’t believe what you find once you start meditating. Actually, ‘find’ isn’t the right word. Things will just come to you. Your subconscious is like a fountain, always bubbling. But in your day-to-day, you’re too busy to see what comes to the surface. Meditating is taking time to sit and watch the fountain. Sooner or later, everything shows up again, if only for a few seconds.

2. Meditation is cleaning your brain in real-time

Especially in sessions where lots of memories pop up, I can sometimes feel my brain “pulsating.” Once in a while, it’s as if a wave of cold water runs down my head. I might get goosebumps, but it feels good. Like a weight is lifted. I can sense my brain getting “lighter.” The best description I can come up with is “cleaning your mind in real time,” but it’s enough to let me know it works.

3. You will get glimpses of nothingness

I can only assume these to be previews of what’s to come, but, occasionally, I found myself in a somewhat empty space. With so many thoughts racing through your mind, passing you by, eventually, you’ll wait for the next one, and it won’t come. There’s just…emptiness.

It’s like you’re pulling on a series of strings and are used to one following another. At some point, you automatically reach for it, and when all you grasp is air, that’s surprising. But it’s a nice surprise. It feels refreshing. A brief moment of silence in a sea of noise. It’s hard to describe, but I think, ultimately, meditation leads to regular visits in this palace of calm.

4. Every impulse has a thought attached to it

When you’re sitting there, literally doing nothing, your body will need some time to adapt. It’s physically uncomfortable, and you’ll receive physical signals that it is. A pang of hunger. The urge to shift around. An itch in your ear.

One thing I’ve realized is that every one of those impulses comes with a thought. And only if you jump on that thought do you reinforce that impulse. If you let go of the initial thought, the impulse quickly subsides. Take being hungry. You feel emptiness rise in your stomach. Maybe it even growls. And there it is: the thought. “I’m hungry.” This is where the rubber hits the road.

If you don’t engage with the thought, it won’t stick. But if you immerse yourself in it, it’s as if you’re grabbing an outside rail on a speeding train. In an instant, you’re swept away. Then, all you can do is hold on for dear life. The impulse is the train and being hungry will now dominate all your subsequent thoughts and decisions — until you let go or satisfy the urge. Of course, letting go gets harder each second you’re wrapped up in the idea. That’s why ditching the first thought is so powerful, and meditation helps with that.

5. You’ll let go of your urges more naturally

Science says meditation builds discipline and boosts willpower, and I won’t argue with that. So far for me, however, it has felt more like meditation makes it less necessary to summon these things in the first place. Letting go of the thoughts attached to my impulses feels like an act of compassion, not control.

This isn’t to say I don’t make any bad decisions anymore, just that when I manage not to, it comes more naturally. Before, I may have been self-aware, but would negotiate with myself and eventually give in to the desire anyway. Now, it’s utterly clear that going to bed if I’m tired is the right choice. I still don’t always make it, but it does get easier.

6. Good decisions become larger, bad ones smaller

Besides increasing your ability to make good decisions, meditation also seems to amplify them while dampening your bad ones.

This may be a placebo effect or wishful thinking on my part, but, over the past week, whenever I indulged in something, the indulgence was smaller. Instead of grabbing the whole bag of chips, I poured some in a bowl and ate just those. Instead of watching a movie because it was late, I slowly started on an important task but then did a solid two hours of work on it.

I’m assuming this is a side effect of the other benefits, but it still feels real.

7. You’ll have more energy

Whether meditation can replace sleep is under debate, but it can definitely support it. Since I meditate in the mornings, I might sometimes still be tired, but at the end of each session, I feel a surge of energy. For one, I’ve processed so many thoughts, I can’t wait to act on some of them or put new insights into action. I also frequently have ideas for my writing. But I’ve also just rested physically for an hour, so it makes sense that I now want to go, go, go.

Unlike energy from caffeine, however, which might be unleashed all at once (coffee) or gradually (green tea), I can control how I want to roll out this energy over the course of my day. Most days, I choose the green tea route and try to increase my pace gradually, but, sometimes, I also plunge right into a long, deep-work task, like writing an article.

In any case, more energy with more flexibility in how you spend it is a good thing.

Conclusion

At the end of my first week of meditating, I had a busy weekend. It was full of fun and events and meeting people, but on the drive home, I noticed I was getting anxious about all the work that was waiting for me. When I arrived, I meditated for 25 minutes. After that, it was easy to relax.

Processing my anxiety showed me that I needed some time to decompress by myself. So, instead of frantically trying to cram in two extra hours of work on a Sunday night, I decided to chill. This morning, I woke up rested. I meditated, worked out, showered, ate, and now, I’m happily writing this article. Then, it’s on to the next thing.

Meditation won’t solve all your problems, but it’ll solve the fact that you’re not dealing with your problems.

Don’t fool yourself. Your most important issues constantly get buried under a mountain of noise, emotions, and inner chatter. Meditation cleans out those things like a snow plow to make room for finding these issues and dealing with them. It’s a way of filtering your life and processing it at the same time. Learning how to do this filtering is easy. That part only takes two minutes. It’s the continued commitment to making time for this practice that’s hard.

Meditation isn’t about spirituality or wisdom or finding some elusive nirvana state. It’s about making peace in the here and now. Not finding peace. Making. Because that’s what we do with ourselves and others.

I hope you’ll give it an honest try.

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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.

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Choose to See Projects, Not Problems

She was in her 50s, I think. A lady with red hair, seated across the aisle. For a brief moment in time, about 45 minutes, we shared the same destination — and thus the same train.

Except for her fiery mane, nothing hinted at her remarkable energy. She was plain and rather sturdy. But as soon as she talked, you knew she was fierce.

Unfortunately, she dedicated all of that ferocity to raising complaints, none of which her friend was in any capacity to solve. They might have been nurses; granted, a tough work environment by any measure. But the way she spoke of her workplace, it felt like a place wholly without solutions. Just problems.

“He promised he’d give us more people, but then he broke his word last-minute.”

“They can’t change the rules like that, that reporting policy is ridiculous.”

In many countries, mine included, being a nurse is a tough, underpaid job. There’s much to improve, no doubt. But in blowing off steam for the entire train ride, the redheaded caretaker fundamentally neglected her job: She merely exhausted both herself and her friend.

Often, venting is our habit of last resort. We feel helpless. As if we’ve tried everything. Like there’s nothing else left we can do. Of course, that’s never quite the case. There’s always something else we can do.

But, sometimes, we’re too close to the to-do list to see it. Sometimes, we have to take a step back — a step up, even — and find a new perspective.


Heidi Hetzer was a German entrepreneur, rally driver, and a symbol of empowerment. Long after her company was sold, her career done and dusted, she set off on a trip around the world — at age 77, in a car older than herself.

Source

For nearly three years, she ventured around the globe. She blew through not just two co-drivers, but countless breakdowns, customs issues, and language barriers. She also survived an accident in which she lost two fingers, her cancer diagnosis, and several robberies and threats.

As a result, she saw dozens of countries, connected with hundreds of people, and inspired thousands more. She had the time of her life. And at 81, she did it all again. After her passing on Easter Sunday, her final Instagram post reads: “I live no longer, but I have lived.”

The gap between Heidi Hetzer and the lady on the train is not a physical one. It’s not genetic and it does not depend on their financial background.

Heidi Hetzer had a growth mindset. The nurse’s point of view was fixed.

Whatever situation in life you look at, this distinction makes all the difference.


From 1980 to 1984, John McEnroe was the #1 tennis player in the world. He was also arrogant, entitled, and angry. His outbreaks on the court made half the show. He’d often yell at organizers over minuscule details, only for them to make the changes and then apologize to him.

“This is what it was like to be number one,” he says in his autobiography. In Mindset, researcher Carol Dweck examines his case further:

He goes on to tell us about how he once threw up all over a dignified Japanese lady who was hosting him. The next day she bowed, apologized to him, and presented him with a gift.

“This,” McEnroe proclaims, “is also what it was like to be number one.”

“Everything was about you… ‘Did you get everything you need? Is everything okay? We’ll pay you this, we’ll do that, we’ll kiss your behind.’ You only have to do what you want; your reaction to anything else is, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ For a long time I didn’t mind it a bit. Would you?”

As the saying goes, “better late than never,” but McEnroe’s insight sure would’ve been more useful back in 1980. Contrast that with Michael Jordan, an athlete known for his die-hard work ethic, and the the first billionaire basketball player in history. Dweck again:

“When Jordan was cut from the varsity team, he was devastated. His mother says, “I told him to go back and discipline himself.” Boy, did he listen. He used to leave the house at six in the morning to go practice before school. At the University of North Carolina, he constantly worked on his weaknesses — his defensive game and his ball handling and shooting. The coach was taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Once, after the team lost the last game of the season, Jordan went and practiced his shots for hours. He was preparing for the next year.”

The difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is like the difference between success and failure, between winning and losing, between creation and waste: first and foremost, it’s a matter of perspective.

A fixed mindset will hold talent over everything. Whatever goes wrong, it’s genetic, it’s external, it’s permanent, everyone else’s fault, and can’t be changed. With such a worldview, anyone would try to look smart, avoid difficult situations, and seek approval rather than attempt to win big.

A growth mindset, however, is hell-bent on internalizing your locus of control. It insists that life happens for you, not to you. Therefore, even the bad stuff serves a purpose — and it is yours to turn into a stepping stone to some bigger thing. In this mindset, what goes wrong is just a detour, a distraction, a temporary setback you can handle. The only question is what you’ll try next.

If you have a fixed mindset, it may not feel like it, but, by definition, which of these two lenses you select is a choice. However, that choice is made one day, one habit, one small action at a time.

The best of those actions I found comes from a little farm in France.


After graduating college, Hannah and her boyfriend worked for a farmer in Europe. His name was Emmanuel. One day, this happened:

He took us to the greenhouse and showed us spots of brown mold that had begun creeping over the leaves on the tomato plants. “Ze tomatoes get sick sometimes,” he said. “It’s a big…how do you say…a big pr…”

“A problem?” I suggested in my mind, assuming that was the word he was looking for.

But then Emmanuel smiled and said, “Ah, project. It’s a big project.”

This slight change of language can lead to a profound shift in your trajectory. It might be just two words, but one leads to a fixed mindset, the other looks for growth and opportunity.

A project is a challenge. Something you can choose to tackle or not. A problem is a nuisance. Something you need to “make go away.” It’s not optional.

A project offers multiple angles from the start. A problem is a thorn in your thigh: before you can do anything, you have to talk yourself into even trying to pull it out.

A project is a game. It has levels. You’ll immediately look for milestones and ways to leverage what you already know. A problem is game over. You’ve already lost. You feel like you’re at square one, and so that’s where you start. You’re not considering your assets.

A project has stakeholders. There are several parties involved and if you get it right, everyone wins. A problem is yours and yours alone. “Oh no, why me?” It brings out your ego and makes you self-centered.

Completing a project allows you to advance. Resolving a problem only gets you back to zero.

Every time you want to say ‘problem,’ say ‘project’ instead.

Replacing this one word could change your whole life.


My unintentional travel companion came from a hospital full of problems. Heidi Hetzer lived a life made of projects. Two women, two perspectives.

No one loves to lose money on a business idea or enjoys the woes of chronic back pain. But it takes an open mind to deal with such setbacks.

Who would you rather be on the court? A furious McEnroe, who’s angry at an environment he can’t change, or a determined Jordan, who’ll settle for his best effort, nothing more, nothing less?

The best people I know aren’t those with the most success, they’re those with the most meaningful journeys. Not all of this meaning can be found inside ourselves, but what’s on the outside largely depends on your point of view.

If you look at the world like a game of Tetris, you can spot projects everywhere, choose the ones you care about, and then make the pieces fit. If you insist it’s a labyrinth someone else designed, you’ll constantly feel lost.

You can’t always pick who you sit next to on the train, but you can decide if that person’s a friend or a stranger. You can’t win every match, but you can decide what the loss means. You can choose to see problems or you can choose to see projects.

It’s up to you to make up your mind, but until you do, let the train be the one to blow off some steam.

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Happiness Is Loving the Boring Days

Out of all the great TED talks that exist, Barry Schwartz’s is easily the best. He talks about what he calls The Paradox of Choice. I’ve gone back to it countless times for countless reasons, but my favorite part is when he shows this comic:

Ask anyone how they feel about their life from ten years ago, and they’ll likely tell you that “those were simpler times.” Less to worry about, more to enjoy. Somehow, everything was easier. Today, it’s all complicated. Always.

“Everything was better back when everything was worse.”

It’s more than a good chuckle. So simple, yet so instinctively true. But why does our gut want to agree so badly when we hear this? Barry explains:

“The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse, it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise.

Nowadays, the world we live in — we affluent, industrialized citizens, with perfection the expectation — the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be.

You will never be pleasantly surprised, because your expectations, my expectations, have gone through the roof.

The secret to happiness — this is what you all came for — the secret to happiness is:

Low expectations.


I turned 28 a few days ago. I thought about what lessons I’ve learned so far in life. Barry’s is one that’s stuck with me throughout the years. What’s changed since I first heard it, however, is how I’m trying to live it. There’s a twist to it.

“Low expectations” sounds daunting. Shouldn’t we hope for good things? Optimism being a self-fulfilling prophecy and all.

Sure, it helps to dampen your excitement before any event whose outcome you don’t control, like a presentation, job interview, or publishing an article, but if you demand so little of life that you don’t even attempt any of these, you’ll soon walk around with a perma-long face. Most of us aren’t saints, so wanting literally nothing isn’t a practical everyday solution.

Avoiding misery, however, is. That’s what I’ve made my happiness about.

Long-term, everyday happiness lies in not being miserable.

Each day when I’m not sick, not stressed, there’s no drama, and I don’t have to do a lot of things I don’t like, is a good day. We think we need to accomplish our biggest goals to find happiness, but the truth is having a life with enough room to obsess about and chase them is more than enough. And yet, when we use this freedom to obsess, we often forget taking care of the basics.

Am I healthy? Is something psychological causing problems with the physical? Do I have a fit mind and a fit body? Or is one breaking the other?

Am I living below my means? Or slowly veering off track? Is paying the bills becoming a hassle? Or does it work out okay if I don’t splurge too much?

Do I enjoy my work? Am I spending my workday with good people? Or do I dread getting out of the house? Am I commuting 2 hours into a toxic place?

As long as you’re healthy, like your work, have a few friends, and money kind of works out, there’s quite little you really should be worried about. If one of these implodes, however, you should raise all hell to get back to your baseline.

It’s the same idea, just flipped on its head. Sure, low expectations are great when you’re buying a pair of jeans but, when it comes to the big stuff in life, you’re better off cultivating a high aversion to misery.

Once you’ve achieved your own little standard, you can settle into your base camp of being healthy, calm, and not having to do stuff you don’t like. From there, you can explore, try, learn, fail — all in hopes of higher things.

I think that’s how you really win. By remembering you’re a finalist long before the end game has begun. Wanting to do more, better, greater is honorable, and achieving big goals always gets you a burst of endorphins. But they’re not everyday occurrences. And so they can’t serve your day-to-day happiness.

If you live to 82, that’s 30,000 days. 27,000 will be boring. Life is about learning to love those days. Happiness is enjoying the little things.

Finding Yourself Won't Make You Happy Cover

Finding Yourself Won’t Make You Happy

I have spent the last seven years finding myself.

It all started with my semester abroad, which created two breaks. One voluntary, from my emotional connections, the other necessary, from my material possessions. My usual environment of friends, school, and family turned into a small room, space to think, and a blank social canvas.

Thus began my journey of self-discovery. First I weeded out some bad behaviors, then I explored new ideas. I dove headfirst into blogs, books, travel, and events. I learned random skills like Persian, SQL, and the Gangnam Style dance. Like on a scatter plot, each dot shaped the line.

The line was my life, and the more I tried, the clearer its trajectory became.

At a fairly young age of 21, this turned out to be one of the most productive things I’ve ever done. Having a purpose is important, and finding it is one of the biggest challenges most of us face in life. But I also became obsessed with it. I used to think the line was all that mattered. That, as long as I knew who I was, I could care less about the rest of the world. Now, I’m not so sure.

Finding myself has helped me in countless ways and I wish I could’ve embarked on this adventure even sooner. But, ultimately, it’s not what contributes most to my happiness.

That requires something else.

An Intuitive Promise

Years ago, Kamal Ravikant was down in the dumps. He’d built a track record as a successful entrepreneur, but then his last company failed. Too depressed to leave the house, he spent weeks in the dark, bed-ridden and barely moving.

Eventually, however, he got sick of himself. His chosen helplessness and resignation. He decided he’d get out of the hole or die climbing. On the day he did, he wrote down a vow: the promise to love himself. Without an idea of what it meant or how it felt, he built a practice around this vow.

Kamal’s life improved. First slowly, then surely, but at an ever-accelerating pace. His mind cleared. He took care of his body. He engaged with the world again. Over time, Kamal’s good thoughts, decisions, and habits compounded.

Good things started happening, some of which he couldn’t possibly have controlled or anticipated. I can only judge from afar, but today, he seems calm and happy. A thriving author and investor, but one with few wants and needs.

When now asked why he thinks his simple idea worked so well, he says he intuitively built it around the best piece of advice he ever received:

“Life is from the inside out.”

Miraculously, both science and philosophy agree.

Unraveling the Existentialist Brain

One of my favorite German words is “Trampelpfad.” It describes a path in the woods that’s not quite a paved road, but well-trodden enough to make it the obvious choice. I like this word because it resembles neuroplasticity — your brain’s ability to physically change throughout your entire life. Donald Hebb summarized how you can use this to your advantage with a simple rhyme:

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

For every action you perform, your brain takes a picture with vast amounts of information. Which neurons fired, what was the context, how did you think of yourself at the time? Keep choosing the same actions in similar situations and your brain will start remembering it took a similar picture before — and make another one just like it. Actions become reactions, efforts become habits.

Neuroplasticity — the trampelpfads in your brain turning into highways — is what makes habits hard to get rid of. But it’s also what allows us to change them in the first place. All you need is to create new snapshots. You might not believe the line “I’m not a smoker” the first 100 times you use it to decline a cigarette but, over time, your mind will make it so. Until your brain is rewired.

That’s exactly what Kamal did. By insisting on loving himself long enough, he literally altered his mind, updating it with a new belief. Life is from the inside out. Beyond making biological sense, this idea is right up an existentialist philosopher’s alley.

For over 5,000 years, going all the way back to Plato, essentialism dominated our view of philosophy. It suggests we’re born with an inherent purpose, an ‘essence’ we must align with. But in the 20th century, a few bold individuals, like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and others, challenged this notion, asserting that:

“Existence precedes essence.”

Existentialism rejects the inherence of meaning. It says that first and foremost, you are. You exist. Discovering your essence, figuring out a purpose, all that comes second. In fact, doing so is not just your job, it’s the whole point of life.

So while both philosophies agree that “life is from the inside out,” only one leaves you with a say as to what that inside is. One is bent on finding yourself, the other allows you to invent yourself.

An essentialist Kamal would likely have concluded that, after a big failure, being an entrepreneur wasn’t who he was. And only an existentialist Kamal could have chosen to love himself in spite of not believing it at the time.

In a way, existentialism, like neuroplasticity, is the ultimate move towards gaining agency. If you believe you can create meaning from nothing, meaning is always just one thought away. That’s all fine and wonderful, but how does it contribute to your happiness? You’re right. It won’t. At least not on its own.

Life may be from the inside out. But happiness is from the outside in.

The Final, But Never-Ending Destination

Today, most people know Kamal as a founder and venture capitalist, but his first self-paced endeavor was to publish a book. A memoir of what he learned traveling the world after laying his father’s ashes to rest. Of course, no one wanted to read an unknown, unpublished author, so he kept rewriting it ten times over the course of a decade, collecting rejection letters along the way.

After his last, colossal failure as an entrepreneur, however, a friend urged him to self-publish a short account of how he’d recollected himself. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It became an instant bestseller. Funny enough, he now had the credibility to tell his other story. Rebirth was published in 2017.

Kamal has a third book, published in between the other two. It’s called Live Your Truth. The title perfectly encapsulates not just the story of his life, but also its biggest lesson: Finding yourself is the starting point, but continuing to share your discoveries is the final if never-ending destination of a happy life.

Life is from the inside out. Before he could enjoy the externals, the accolades, relationships, financial freedom, Kamal had to rework his inner wirings. But only when he shared his self-created essence did his bet on neuroplasticity really pay off. There’s finding your truth and there’s living it. Two sides of the one coin that is your life. “Live Your Truth” is pulling from both directions.

Managing your mind, loving yourself, confidence, keeping your promises to yourself, minimizing regrets, all of these are important. But once we have them, once we find self-love, self-belief, self-compassion, we must share them with others. Turn back outside. Return to the world. Live your truth.

And you can’t do that in a vacuum.

Don’t Forget the Second Half

At some point in our lives, self-improvement catches most of us. I get it now. It’s attractive. Immediate. Change one thing, one habit, one pattern, and you might change your whole life.

But learning to live from the inside, to reassemble the infrastructure in our mind, is just the first step. Rewiring our brain is a waypoint on our larger path.

As the existentialist worldview takes over, we slowly learn to deal with the vastness of freedom we’ve been afforded. To be less trapped by religious dogma or political doctrines. But as empowering as it is to infuse your life with self-created meaning, it’s still one step shy of happiness.

Because unlike life, happiness is from the outside in.

Whatever we find inside ourselves that brings us joy, only sharing it can get that joy to multiply. Seeing our truth is not enough. We must live it. That’s a job that lasts a lifetime, but one with infinite space for new discoveries.

Change your habits, but let them serve something larger. Find a purpose, but fit it to something larger. Live your truth, but live as part of something larger.

Dive into yourself. May life flow from the inside. But do it with an open heart. Allow happiness to visit. Don’t forget the second half. Don’t forget…

…to engage with all of us.

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How To Make Better Decisions

In 1970, economist George Akerlof published a paper called The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism, in which he described an idea that would keep researchers busy for decades: adverse selection.

The concept describes a type of market inefficiency. When buyers and sellers have different information about the goods or services being sold, whichever party knows more can dictate the outcome of the transaction.

For example, sellers of used cars know whether their vehicle is of good quality or breaks down every ten miles, (a so-called ‘lemon’) but potential buyers don’t. As a result, sellers overcharge. Akerlof dubbed this phenomenon ‘asymmetric information’ and predicted a market death spiral in which, theoretically, no one would want to buy a car.

Of course the real used car market is very much alive, however inefficient. While measures to mitigate information asymmetry have been introduced, such as extended guarantees, inspections, and certifications, people still get ripped off every day.

But why? Akerlof received the Nobel prize in economics for his discovery and today, almost 50 years later, every US state has its own variant of the ‘Lemon law’ to protect consumers. Yet, we still make bad decisions, not just in purchasing goods, but everywhere.

And we really have no excuse to.

Avoidance Is Expensive

There are two types of capitalism: the kind that solves real problems and the kind that peddles placebos. The latter thrives on information asymmetry. In fact, it’s the only reason it works.

While con artists and scammers have been around for millennia, they’ve had to be a lot more creative since the rise of the internet. The wide dissemination of information at no cost has shrunk the gap a lot. Or rather, it’s increased how much we can shrink it ourselves. What used to be mostly a game of luck has now become a game of effort, but we avoid it just the same.

Take this picture of a turtle, for example.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? While it’s a fantastic way to elicit emotions and get you to daydream about your next vacation, you don’t know where I took it from. But you could find out, thanks to Google Image Search.

With some more effort, you could even determine what kind of camera was used, where it was taken, who the photographer was, and ask them for more details. The question is, if I used this picture to try and sell you an all-inclusive trip to the Bahamas, would you?

Most of us don’t. We’re happy to comply when others prompt us to make decisions with as little context as possible. We form opinions based on headlines, pass judgements after reading tweets, and glance at pictures without demanding the frame they came in.

That’s what information asymmetry is at its core. A lack of context. It’s baffling how often we choose to decide under its influence, despite having all the tools we need to fight it.

Here are three that help you define, set, and leverage context to improve every single one of your decisions.

1. Knowing What You Know

One of Warren Buffett’s most popular mental models is the circle of competence. In a 2017 documentary, he describes it as follows:

“I can look at a thousand different companies and I don’t have to be right on every one of them, or even 50 of them. So I can pick the ball I want to hit. The trick in investing is just to sit there and watch pitch after pitch go by and wait for the one right in your sweet spot. And the people who are yelling ‘swing, you bum,’ ignore them.”

Knowing what you know increases the probability of your assumptions being right and thus helps you decide with confidence. Whatever lies outside of that circle is nothing but smoke and mirrors, but you can afford to ignore it, because you’re not going to take shots in the dark.

What’s remarkable is how small a circle we can get away with, yet still be successful. You could specialize in producing, selling, or investing only in tetracycline antibiotics, and that’d be more than enough to keep you busy for a lifetime.

To find the border of that circle early, we must walk to the edge, peer over, and maybe run a few low-risk experiments. But once we’ve set the perimeter, we can build a huge web of context inside it, while ignoring all the noise on the outside.

2. Knowing What You Don’t Know

In video games, it’s very common for the map of the terrain to be unknown when you start playing. Only as you move around do you uncover patches of the area, which then slowly begin to form a complete picture.

No matter how many black spots are left, keeping track of where they are allows you to shine your proverbial flashlight on them later, but not go there before you’re ready. There’s lots of smoke outside your circle, but that too is finite, at least for any particular decision. Knowing that boundary has value.

The more you optimize your life, the less you’ll have to step outside your circle of competence, but sometimes, life forces you to. It’s impossible to pick the perfect job when completely switching career fields, but being aware of how little you know, you can consult with experts, steer clear of big responsibilities at first, and prioritize what you’ll learn.

Even saying “I don’t know” out loud provides relief, makes it easier for others to empathize, and is more often seen as a sign of professionalism, rather than weakness.

3. Knowing How Much You Need To Know

Once you’ve determined where your wisdom ends and how much there is to attain for your specific decision altogether, another question presents itself, and it makes all the difference: how big is the gap between the two?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell placed the ideal amount of information needed to make an educated decision between 40% and 70% of the total that’s available. Ideally, he says, you’d always keep waiting for more context at less than 40%, but never procrastinate after you’ve got 70% of the data.

No two situations are alike and this isn’t a hard rule, but thinking about whether you can push the edges of your circle of competence, and how far you’d have to drive them to avoid complete failure, is worth your while.

For example, if a stranger passes you in the street and doesn’t return your smile, your gut might tell you “this person’s arrogant.” However, armed with nothing but their appearance, you clearly have less information than you need to make that call.

Similarly, spending two whole afternoons to decide which out of three $50 backpacks you buy might be overdoing it, especially if you make $50/hr or more.

These are oversimplified, but the principle stands. Don’t let perceived urgency pressure you into sub-par decisions. Ask, search, and wait for what you need to pick not just an option that will do, but the option that’ll do best in your circumstances.

The Diet of the Wise

When Warren Buffett first took an interest in financial markets, there was no internet, yet he chose to fight information asymmetry regardless. It surely must have been an uphill battle, reading all those books, complicated financial reports, and whatever else he could get his hands on.

Yet here we are, history’s entire knowledge at our fingertips, often failing to google, go beyond the headline, or read the blurb of a book, let alone the whole thing. We’re too lazy to read and too busy to think, when that’s the diet of the wise. Better yet, it’s close to free.

In a fully connected world, information is only as asymmetric as you allow it to be. You have all the tools you need. Use them to build context. Avoid environments that force your hand. Know what you don’t know. Resist the temptation to move too quickly.

If your good decisions compound, maybe we’ll read about you someday.

How to Find Passion for Work Cover

How to Develop Passion for Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuck in Passion…

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

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

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

They didn’t.

We could have been so great together.

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

I stopped. Over and over, I stopped.

Seth Godin calls this “thrashing” in Linchpin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Stuck at Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What If You Did the Opposite?

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

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

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

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

Treat Your Passion Like Your Profession…

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

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

Let’s…not do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might even start to like your job.

…and Your Profession Like It’s Your Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy as A-M-P.

What makes these three elements so powerful? Well…

Autonomy

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

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

What happens? According to Dan:

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

Mastery

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

Tap…aaaand hooked.

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

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

Purpose

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

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

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

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

Which One’s the Unlock?

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

Mastery is a gateway to autonomy and purpose.

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

Wait a Second…

Did you catch it?

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

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

In Cal’s words:

“Working right trumps finding the right work.”

Or, in Seth’s:

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

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

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

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

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

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

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

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

So why not make it right now?

How To Fight Anxiety Cover

How To Fight Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Goals Makes You Sad…

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

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

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

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

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

Subtract X on both sides and you get:

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

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

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

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

…While Being Sad Makes You Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Is Better When You Care a Little Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Detachment Is Not

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

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

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

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

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

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