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Protect Your Routines, Not Your Rituals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Routines determine your identity, rituals merely express it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit Rock Bottom? Don't Waste It

Don’t Waste Your Rock Bottom

On August 1st, 1976, Formula One racing legend Niki Lauda crashed at the Nürburgring. In an instant, his car burst into flames, his helm flew off, and he was trapped in the wreckage.

Other drivers were able to pull him from the car, but because of the burns he suffered and toxic fumes he inhaled, he fell into a coma. A priest showed up to perform his last rites but, luckily, Niki survived.

When he woke up, he was in pain. He had lost half his right ear, and his face would never be the same. Just shy of a miracle, Niki recovered in six weeks — and got back into his car. He missed a mere two races of the season, and yet, to add insult to injury, he lost the title of world champion to his arch nemesis, James Hunt, by one point.

Imagine how that must have felt — to nearly die and then come back — and lose by one point. For Niki Lauda, this was it: rock bottom. He had been destroyed physically and psychologically. What did Niki do?

On the first day of the next season, he showed up for practice. He drove. He studied. Niki tweaked his car. And by the end of the 1977 season, he became world champion.

The universe works in mysterious ways. Common sense will tell you: Wow, here’s a guy who succeeded despite his setbacks. Here’s an interesting question: What if he succeeded because of them?

It’s nearly impossible to see it when you’re in the middle of it, but there’s true beauty in hitting rock bottom: It’ll break you into a thousand pieces, but then, you’ll be on solid ground — maybe for the first time.

You won’t need further dampers. There’ll be no more uncertainty. You’ve lost. In fact, you’ve lost so much, you’ve got nothing left to lose — so you might as well start building.

In 2009, after decades of hard work, late night talk show host Conan O’Brien achieved his dream: He took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. It took just nine months for the network to fire him. It was a PR disaster of epic proportions. Leno came out of retirement and grabbed the show right back. Can you feel the humiliation?

Two years later, O’Brien gave a commencement speech, in which he said:

“There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”

After his failure, O’Brien shunned the spotlight. He went on tour, made an album, and filmed a documentary. He claims he never had more fun or conviction in what he was doing. O’Brien used rock bottom to completely reinvent himself. “No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you,” he told the students.

Don’t have such a fixed idea of where your career should go. This is very common in high achievers. Accept your dreams will change. Sometimes, they might have to — and so will you. It’s great to shoot for the stars, but you can’t let your identity drift through space when you miss.

You know who else hit rock bottom? A woman who, in her 2008 Harvard commencement address, said:

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.

And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

In 1994, J. K. Rowling was broke, divorced, a single mom, living on welfare, and had just filed a restraining order against her ex-husband. She was the biggest failure she knew.

Whether it was despite or because of everything that had happened, she decided to turn rock bottom into fertile ground. She watered it, sowed some seeds, and slowly built new footing to start from. A “solid foundation,” as she called it. After all, rock bottom is made of rocks.

Rowling put all her energy into the one thing she cared about beyond her daughter: the Harry Potter books. Eventually, she didn’t just find greener pastures; she became the first billionaire author in history. All because she accepted rock bottom.

So here you are. Another weekend sacrificed at the altar of alcohol. Another afternoon wasted in front of the screen. Maybe, you’re embarrassed to tell your children you can’t afford a nicer place. Maybe, you feel ashamed you’re late on paying back a friend.

Whatever your big failure that stings right now, in the long run, it will set you free. Once you’ve given up your expectations of yourself and the ones others put on you, you’ll finally be able to genuinely try new things. No more fake attempts. Truly break with convention, and create a new self-image.

You can’t envision it right now, but the next iteration of you is the exact person you need to be to reach new heights.

No matter how harsh your rock bottom feels, don’t punch it until your fists bleed. See it for what it is: Rough terrain, sure, but one that won’t give way beneath your feet. Don’t waste your rock bottom. Let it be the foundation of something new; the start of better.

Be grateful you’ve arrived, and then start climbing.

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Hemingway’s 2 Best Writing Tricks

It might be Hemingway’s most famous piece of writing advice: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Unfortunately, people always leave out the part that matters most. Here’s the full passage:

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.

Without the throwing-orange-peel-into-the-fire part, we can’t understand Hemingway’s advice. That was his one true sentence, the sentence that led to the one we all quote today.

Ironically, the situation it describes is quite the opposite of how Hemingway’s brilliant quip makes him look: Ernest Hemingway suffered from writer’s block. Thank God.

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.

Without realizing it, long before any scientist had ever researched the topic, Ernest Hemingway had made a great discovery: If you want your habits to stick, make them ridiculously small.


“We do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems,” James Clear writes in his million-copy bestseller, Atomic Habits.

In the 21st century, we know a lot about habits. We know they’re automatic behaviors that help our brains conserve energy. We know they follow set patterns and that, if we adjust those patterns, we can make them work for us rather than against us.

“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write,” Steven Pressfield says.

Let me guess: 90% of your procrastination happens when you’re supposed to start writing or when you’re supposed to finish.

That’s why Hemingway’s advice is so brilliant: It allows us to start without pressure.

If Ernest freakin’ Hemingway gave himself permission to start with one measly sentence, why don’t we?

Do we think we’re better than Ernest Hemingway? That we should have higher expectations? If one sentence will do for the master, it should definitely do for us.

Just imagine that, for 30 days in a row, you would write down the truest sentence that you know. The result would be impressive. Sure, you’d take a while each day to think about your sentence, but you’d end up with good quotes, starting points for new articles, and a bunch of solid ideas.

You would also — most likely — have more than just 30 sentences. That’s the power of starting small — and a law that goes back to Isaac Newton: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

James Clear has wrapped this idea into a simple concept he dubbed the 2-Minute Rule:

“To overcome procrastination, find a way to start your task in less than two minutes.”

If your daily goal is small to the point of being ridiculous, your ego will guilt-trip you into achieving it. “Write one tweet? Write 100 words? Write one true sentence? A monkey can do that! Let me get right to it.”

Ahh, the beauty of tricking yourself on purpose.


When a fellow author asked him for advice about leaving a legacy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, simply replied: “When I was young, I asked myself that question everyday. Now, I ask myself, ‘Can I write one good sentence?’”

Focusing on one sentence a day is the ultimate antidote to overwhelm. There’s no time to worry about the height of the mountain when you’re looking at the ground to take your next step.

Fun fact: Hemingway and Fitzgerald had the same editor. Coincidence? I think not.

What’s also not a coincidence is that Hemingway used another, similar trick to both write better endings and have even more inspiration to sit down and write each day. In his own words, he always “left something in the well:”

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. I always worked until I had something done, and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

To end a writing session, stop when you know what comes next.

It doesn’t have to be a half sentence. It can be a half paragraph, an unfinished dialog, or a new character’s first action after they enter the scene.

Whatever you do, leave something in the well. Don’t burn yourself out completely each day.

Have the courage to walk away while you’re winning so you can get back to winning the next day.

Hemingway’s well will train you to remember your best ideas. You’ll also come up with new ones. Who knows how you might finish that line the next day?

Most importantly, it’ll teach you to trust yourself.

Creativity is not a bookshelf. You don’t take off all your ideas, and then you run out. You can tap into your subconscious whenever, wherever. The shelf is never empty. Behind the scenes, the gears are always working.

Creativity is like a river. You can walk to any part of it, at any point in time, and fetch a cup of water.

When push comes to shove, when you stare at the blank page and don’t know what to do, remember Hemingway’s advice: All you have to do is write one true sentence. And you don’t even have to finish it.

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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.

Creativity & Breathing Cover

To Stay Creative, Remember to Breathe

“I sometimes disappear for weeks or even months at a time. When I do this, I’m not abandoning my work or being lazy. I’m just trying to breathe.”

So writes Matthew Inman, creator of the web comic The Oatmeal, in a post titled Creativity is like breathing. To explain the analogy, Inman writes: “When you make stuff, you’re exhaling. But you can’t exhale forever. Eventually, you have to breathe in. Or you’ll be dead.”

That’s why Inman spends lots of time reading books, being outdoors, and jumping from project to project, he says. They’re all forms of breathing, and they don’t just make him better at his job, they’re also reasons why he loves his job. It’s the beauty of being a creative: Everything you do is fuel for your work.

When your job is to make things, your whole life is your canvas. You can have a brilliant idea over a bowl of cereal, write about what happened on vacation, even the bad stuff, like going through a breakup, you can work into your creative output. In fact, you’ll both have to and want to.

Whatever happens in your life impacts your emotions, your thoughts, and, as a result, what the outcome looks like when you put those thoughts and emotions on paper — or any other medium. Why do you think I just used “a bowl of cereal” as an example? It’s because, for the past two days, I’ve been staring at a comic called The Oatmeal. That’s how the human mind works.

While there’s nothing you can do about your intelligence running under the influence of many biases, you likely won’t mind once you realize there’s an active benefit on top of this more passive dynamic when creating: You consciously get to work through the events in your life. Writing about a positive experience makes it better. Sharing your business failure on a podcast mellows the pain.

Soon, you’ll process your whole life in real-time through the lens of creativity — and it’s one of the most powerful forms of self-healing there is. You’ll constantly learn, evolve, and challenge yourself to accept your past by creating something others can use in the future. As wonderful as it is to find this kind of outlet, there’s a downside: Your work can become addicting.

When everything is input, it’s natural to consistently want to form output. You’ll feel like you should shape and release all your experiences and ideas, which, of course, is impossible. What’s more, not all input is created equal. Some stories will have more value to your audience than others. This is another, less appealing part of the artist’s job: You have to curate your work and select what’s most worth sharing. This is where it helps “to breathe.”

As Zat Rana put it in The Philosophical Argument for Working Less, part of respecting your work is accepting that it’s “just one part of life, not the whole thing:”

Even if you love your work more than you love anything else, you are likely to find it more complete and fulfilling if you step away from it, time to time.

Eventually, you have to breathe in — or you’ll be dead. If you’ve ever hit creator’s block after a long stretch of releasing a lot of work, you may have realized: It’s not that you can’t publish daily, it’s that your posts start to feel stale. You’re panting. Short, choppy breaths, out, out, out. You need time to breathe in — literally, and then figuratively. Beyond our own desire to insta-journal about our lives, there’s also a component of societal pressure, Zat says:

There seems to be a certain guilt in our current culture associated with just taking time to do nothing, to relax, to leisure, to waste time, and to simply have no plans. But the truth is that, without these things, you are not going to get the most out of your work anyway.

When you feel tired, sleep. When you lack good analogies, watch a movie. Don’t feel bad about taking a vacation from time to time. Leisure creates its own form of productivity. If you allow your experiences to ripen, more of them will mix. Your subconscious will add its own kind of seasoning, and, soon, it’ll send a powerful insight back to the surface.

Once that great idea strikes like lightning, you won’t be able to not act on it. A breath of truly fresh air is so empowering, you’ll have to direct it somewhere. Well-rested and fired up, you’ll rush back to your chair, ready to put out the next comic. Who knows what brilliant metaphor you’ll write about. Maybe something like, “Creativity is like breathing.”

Choose Hard Problems Cover

Choose Hard Problems

The restroom has been closed for months. There are others, of course. One downstairs. One upstairs. Which one do you go to?

Upstairs is nicer. Downstairs is closer. And, well, you walk down, not up. At least initially.

Most people go down, and it shows. The towels are empty. The room smells. In times of global sanitary crisis, it’s not where you want to be.

You decide to go up. Just once. Just to try it. You’re surprised. No one’s here. The sink is clean. There’s a window. It’s open. What a breath of fresh air.

If that’s the prize for going up instead of down, what else might be out there? You wonder — and then you venture. Endless hallways stretch in front of you. Here’s another nice restroom. And another. And another.

One day, you turn a corner and find a completely renovated part of the building. Whoa! Shiny white tiles, 15-foot-ceilings, fragrance sticks, what lavatory luxury is this? And all it took was another five minutes of walking.

“The long way is the shortcut,” Seth Godin says. We shy away from the extra mile because we think it’s long — but it’s just another mile. Plus, there are no traffic jams on it, according to hall of fame quarterback Roger Staubach.

Four years ago, I went to a library every day. The lockers were public, you chose at random, but I could always rely on mine being empty — it was at the bottom. The rewards for solving harder-than-average problems are often extraordinary, making them well worth the additional effort.

Another reason to go a little further, work a little harder, stay a little longer, is that it brings its own form of motivation.

The more time you spend on your application after everyone has sent theirs, the more used you’ll get to having — and satisfying — higher expectations — both your own and those of others. It’s a positive, self-reinforcing loop. Shoot higher, do more, want to shoot higher, want to do more. Meanwhile, the exponential rewards keep accumulating.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss said: “99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming.”

There’s a third reason to tackle hard problems, and it might be the most compelling: The easy ones are already solved.

We have AirBnB. And Uber. And Netflix. There are enough electric scooter startups. We don’t need another one. We don’t need another bubble tea store, another listicle, another dieting hack. We need someone committed to doing the work. We need you to show up — and not just when it suits you.

Once your ass starts to hurt, how long can you stay in the chair? How crazy are you willing to look before we realize you’re right? “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life,” Jerzy Gregorek says.

The hardest part of solving a hard problem is rarely the problem itself. It’s deciding to go where no one else will. Because how’s that gonna look? How’s that gonna feel?

You might be lonely. You might be ridiculed. But you might also find the comfiest restroom in the building. You might feel more empowered than ever. And you might change the world for all of us.

Choose hard problems. Venture off the beaten path. You never know what you’ll find, but it’s the only way that can lead to true growth.

Why We'll Never Know the Origins of Success Cover

Why We’ll Never Know the Origins of Success

You can do anything. I know because I have no idea what you can’t do. You might, but in my book, anything is possible for you.

The funny thing is most people think that way about other people — it’s just us who do the self-limiting. We choose to focus on our shortcomings. But the truth is, as long as you keep doing things, anything could happen.

Take Andreas Illiger, for example. In 2011, he released a game on the iTunes App Store. It was called Tiny Wings. Helping a chirpy bird fly through an endless landscape with upbeat music was fun — so much fun that it generated millions of downloads and dominated the charts for weeks. At 28, Illiger became an overnight millionaire.

You can do anything.

Mark Cuban shared a 3-bedroom apartment with five friends when he was 25. All of his clothes were in one big pile on the floor. He was working as a bartender and living off beer and happy hour food. Then, he started selling software for PCs. He was fired after less than a year. But he stuck with selling software. He started his own company. He sold it a few years later for $6 million. He used the money to fund a company that broadcasted college basketball, which he loved. That company grew. He stuck with it. Eventually, that company sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion right before the dot-com crash.

You can do anything.

In 2016, I started a website called Four Minute Books. I further condensed 365 existing book summaries in a year. It was a stupid, harebrained idea. I made about $5/hr doing it. After that first year, I spent less time on it, but it kept growing. Now, I have someone helping me, and it makes a full-time income with about one hour of my work each week.

Do you see a pattern emerge here? No? Well, neither do I. And that’s why you can do anything. Life is random. All you can do is to keep trying your best. Some things will work out. Others won’t. It is only in hindsight that you’ll get to attach the label “success.”

We define success by outcomes. We see those outcomes — a fancy house, a cool car, a big company — and they feel like a specific result, created with fixed inputs over a fixed period of time. But they’re not. They’re the result of an entire person’s life, meshed with luck, timing, and other people’s lives.

Outcomes may happen suddenly, like for Andreas, or gradually, like for me, or first one and then the other, like for Mark Cuban. But there’s no such thing as fixed inputs or fixed periods of time.

All there is is your life and everything that’s in it.

Everything matters. And because it does, you can do anything.

Andreas made everything in his game himself. The graphics. The music. The mechanisms. The code. He’d been a developer and designer for ten years, dabbling in all these different fields beyond app development. It just so happened that, in this one game, at a time when everyone was looking for fun little distractions, it all came together.

Mark took a series of steps, constantly choosing to follow one path and abandon another. Was it his knack for trends? His gut? Coincidence? Whatever it was, he stuck with the right path at the right time several times and, in a historic moment of technology breakthrough, ended up winning big. He rode a huge wave all the way to the top, and then he picked up his board and went home right before it crashed. What all went into it? Who knows. Mark just kept doing things.

So did Harrison Ford, by the way. You know, the carpenter we all know as Han Solo. And Elton John. Henry Ford. Rihanna. Jackie Chan. J. K. Rowling. There is no straight line to success.

You can do anything.

Tolkien published Lord of the Rings at age 63. Ray Kroc franchised McDonald’s in his 50s. Judi Dench first showed up in a Bond movie in her 60s.

Success can only be measured and felt after it’s done, but it can never be judged in its entirety, because we never have a complete picture of any single human’s life.

Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, one day, someone will say something, and you’ll realize: “Oh. Yeah, I guess that did work out for me.”

You won’t know how you got there or why you got there or why you hadn’t seen it before. All you’ll know is that you kept doing things and that, yes, this is success.

You had never imagined it, but now you know it’s true:

You can do anything.

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How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything

There are only two ways to look at the world: One is that nothing matters, the other is that everything does. Both are true.

On the one hand, you’ll quickly be forgotten after you’re gone. On the other, it’s impossible to know how your actions will add up. In the end, they might make a huge difference for the world.

Which of these world views you choose to focus on is up to you, but only one affords you with a real chance to find meaning and happiness. I’d choose optimism any time.

But there’s a catch: If everything matters, you can never weasel out of responsibility. Ever.

Consequences have consequences. Everything you do is a domino, kicking off a long chain of infinitely perpetuating events — and so how you do even the smallest of things will determine how that sequence unfolds. In other words:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

There’s a new study room at my school. One of the doors is heavy. It takes a proper grip to shut. I’ve watched dozens of people enter and leave that room — and I’ve yet to see a single one after which it won’t swing wide open.

It’s as if an entire generation was never taught how to manually close a door with care. With care. That’s the point. How you do anything is how you do everything.

The only way to write a book is to start with one page, one paragraph, one sentence. The only way to make a million is to make a dollar. And the only way to be loved is to start to be loving.

Life is big, but it consists of many small moments. The only way to do great things is to chain together those moments into one, brilliant, shiny sequence. Keep tipping the dominos.

It makes no sense to do the small things wrong just because they’re small. Especially if the opposite leads to greatness. How you do anything is how you do everything.

So close the door. Do it right. And remember that everything matters.

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Your Gut Knows What You Need

“The man is obviously crazy. Are we just here to watch him die?”

That’s what his friends asked themselves. The man is Philippe Petit.

On August 7th, 1974, he and his crew raised a steel cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and then…he walked on it. For 45 minutes, 1,300 feet in the air. It was extremely dangerous and highly illegal.

But today, he is a legend. An idol. An inspiration to millions.

Uncertainty sucks. Big time. We hate it. Hate it. But we also know it’s what stands between us and the things that make life worth living. That’s why we celebrate those who conquer it. Who persist in the face of uncertainty.

Philippe withstood an incomprehensible amount of uncertainty, compressed into 45 minutes of life or death. That’s why he’s a hero. But most of us aren’t meant for such crazy dares — and it’s a good thing we aren’t. Yet, the same principle applies.

What about his friends, for example? What about their uncertainty? For months, they helped him plan the coup, not knowing if he’d survive. That’s terrifying too, and equally worth commending.

The longer uncertainty is drawn out, the harder each next day becomes.

Maybe you’ve been waiting for important test results for months. Approaching the birth of a child, not knowing if it’ll go okay. Working towards an important deadline, unsure whether the judges will like the result.

When the mountain is high, every day is a new chance to let it get to you. You look up, see the peak and think, “My god, how am I supposed to move this?” Of course, our only job is to carry away small stones. But it’s easy to forget.

To focus on the smallness of the true task — the first date, the first case, the first page — it helps to trust your gut. But you have to take time to listen to it.

Let the clock run. Allow other matters to fly by. Direct your attention to what’s in front of you. And let your gut figure out the rest. If you feel tired, sleep. If a coffee sounds refreshing, go get one. And if you crave air, take a walk outside.

Sometimes, it takes a while to know what’s what. To tell what’s necessary from what’s ego and desire. So tune in to your gut. Don’t rush. Listen. Separate duty and surrender. Hack away the inessential. And keep doing it every day.

For each impulse, ask: “Will this help me return to the mountain? Is it the next step to carry away another stone? Or just a distraction? Am I shielding my eyes because I glanced at the peak?”

It is better to sit with these questions than to choose a path in haste. Wait. Let the answers trickle in. Don’t act before you feel strong enough to lift the weight. All of this is training. Learning to remain calm despite instability.

You won’t always nail this balancing act. Some days, you’ll fall. But you can get better. And before you know it, the mountain shrinks. A glacier turns into a peak. A pike becomes a hill. A hill turns into a plateau and, eventually, you’ll be walking through a valley, surrounded by creeks and meadows.

Sooner or later, the deadline comes, the test is returned, the man walks on the wire — and balance is restored. The uncertainty fades away.

Philippe Petit had an incredibly strong gut. Deep down, he always knew he had to walk up there. There was no alternative. So he learned to deal with the unease. Until it faded away.

Your gut may not point you to such lofty feats, but it still knows what you need. Whatever mountain you’ve set out to climb, it can help you reach the highest heights. But only if you take the time to let it speak.

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You Don’t Need Authority – You Just Have to Care

Remember when you first learned how to draw? Oh, the artworks that you made! You didn’t even need a model or a scene — you made it all up from scratch, using nothing but your imagination.

A dragon looked how you thought a dragon should look. A house was a house in your image. What’s more, nothing had to be perfect, because you could always explain your picture to the audience.

“That’s you, mom!”

“Ah, of course, I see it now!”

The best thing about the pictures we paint as children, however, is that because they’re so self-evidently not about us, we’re happy to give them away. Every one is about something, but also for someone.

As a result, and I’m sure you remember this as well, we would regularly toddle over to our parents and say, “Look! I made this for you.”

“Aww, that’s so cute honey, this’ll go right on the fridge!”

The fridge?! Are you serious?! Ohmygodthankyousomuch!

We may not have shown it, but seeing our work “up there” felt special, didn’t it? Yeah, I definitely remember now. Good times.

What happened to this feeling? Actually, what happened to us?


Last week, I spoke to my friend Luke. When I told him about my daily mini-newsletter, he said he wanted to make one too. We even brainstormed a name: Better Parent. Sounds cool, right?

But then, somewhere between the excitement of starting something new and the joy of a self-paced, autotelic endeavor, Luke said something like this:

“Who am I to talk about parenting?”

I don’t know if my answer was any good, but it was meant to sound like this:

“Well, you’re a parent and you care. So why wouldn’t you?”

At some point between age 4 and 40, we get lost. We forget what our inner artist knew the day we were born — that creativity is an end in itself. There is no prerequisite for it, no list of required credentials, no “ you must be this tall to ride.”

All we have to do is care enough to make. Make something. Anything, really. A fortress out of mud, a picture done in chalk, a statue formed with clay. But instead, we turn to authority.

We ask, “Who will give me permission to make? Who do I have to please? What credentials can I go and collect? Please, tell me! I’m willing to go!”

That’s not how it works. That’s not how it ever worked.

Life will always be about the pictures on the fridge.


My friends don’t read my articles. At least most of them, most of the time. But every once in a while, someone will confide in me, usually after a few drinks, that they really connected with one of them.

One person phrased it in a way that struck me: “It feels nice to be seen.”

Ultimately, that’s what your most important work will always be about — and it’s the exact same message we send when we present some of our early scribblings to our parents.

“I see you. So I made this. Hope you like it.”

Your work is never just work, of course. Seeing isn’t a skill. It’s a decision. An attitude. A way of life. If you carry it, no matter where you go, you’ll show up with a picture — and hope it goes on the fridge.

When you talk to a stranger at the bar, if they feel seen, they’ll connect with you. When you send an email to a parent, if they feel seen, they’ll open the next one. When you explain the code to a colleague, if they feel seen, they’ll remember your name.

Waiting for authority is tempting. But it’s a cop-out. An excuse we like to hide behind. Because in our capacity as humans — not managers, painters, singles — humans, we waste little thought on demanding credentials. We’re not looking for authority. We don’t care where the pictures come from.

We want to feel seen. You made this for me? Wow! Let me put it on the fridge.

We want to feel humbled and cared for and trusted. We all need you to take the first step. Isn’t that our secret wish? That someone would reach out to us?

Now, you might ask, who really likes their children’s paintings? Weren’t they just doodles? Wasn’t the email kinda clumsy? Wasn’t the guy a nerd? Of course — but that’s not the part that matters.

The part that matters is that you cared. You cared enough to make, to show up, and to take responsibility without asking. You showed up and saw me and then you dared.

You dared to be vulnerable. To go out on a limb and make something for me. A joke, perhaps, or a painting, or even just a tiny moment of connection. But that was enough. And I can’t wait to put it on the fridge.

No, you don’t need authority. You need to keep drawing. And to do that, all you have to do is care.