Routines vs Rituals Cover

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.

If You Can’t Beat the Fear, Just Do It Scared Cover

If You Can’t Beat the Fear, Just Do It Scared

Glennon Doyle knows what fear is. The fear of eating, fear of drinking, and fear of speaking. The fear of saying what she wants, changing her mind, and admitting her marriage isn’t working.

Doyle struggled with bulimia, alcoholism, and other addictions. Her ex-husband was unfaithful. How should she raise their three daughters? How could she explain she now loved a woman?

More so than most people, Doyle needed her own advice: “If you can’t beat the fear, just do it scared.”

I hope your fear won’t come with as much trauma as Doyle had to go through, but I do know this: Today, fear rarely tell us what’s dangerous — it tells us what matters. If you follow the fear, you’ll find the growth. In fact, it’s one of few things reliably pointing in the right direction.

The scariest thing for a blogger is to write a novel. The scariest thing for a developer is to quit her job in hopes of better. A month-long solo trip for a busy stay-at-home dad? Blasphemy! And yet, they’re all steps towards our true north.

When you feel the fear, can you lean forward? At least don’t run away. It’s the better of our usual two options — to escape or wait until the dread fades. While you’re waiting, consider the fear won’t dissolve. Why won’t it subside? Well, how could it? It’s here to show you the way.

Whenever you’re ready, fear will lend you a hand. Oh, it’s coming. You bet. Ain’t no solo seats on this ride. Once you accept that part, you can let fear do its job. Make it your guide instead of your game over.

Welcome the skepticism. Cherish it. Use doubt to keep your head on straight. And always keep growing towards the scary bright light.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hemingway Writing Tricks Cover

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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How to End an Email: Which Sign-Off Most Likely Leads to a Response?

For all the energy you put into your mails, you’re neglecting the one element that’s most crucial in determining whether you’ll receive a reply: the ending.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’ve spent hours deliberating over your email subject line and its content. Will this word get them to open my message? Am I rambling? How can I get my request across in the most concise and considerate way?

You’ve worried about the first sentence, the second, and you’ve re-written both of them a dozen times. And then? Then you hit ‘Send’ without spending one thought on which words your recipient will read right before they decide if they’ll respond or not.

It’s easy to understand why your email’s subject line is all-important: If it doesn’t get the receiver to open your message, all hope is lost. Similarly, it’s clear that if you waste the first few seconds of someone’s attention, they won’t give you any more of it. What’s less obvious but also true is that if your email leaves a bad taste in someone’s mouth at the end, that person won’t reply.

Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found evidence across several studies for something he dubbed “the peak-end rule.” The peak-end rule suggests we judge and remember experiences mostly based on how they feel at their most intense moments and right before they end.

If you’ve ever gone to a great party only to have the night ruined by someone spilling their drink over you just before you left, you know this is true. Chances are, you still remember it as “a bad night,” even if everything leading up to the last-minute mishap was perfect. The peak-end rule affects all of us, all the time, and so a good rule for closing your emails is this: Don’t spill your drink on people’s shoes before you leave.

This isn’t to say you’re actively killing people’s vibe in your sign-offs. You likely don’t end your emails with, “So long, sucker!” (if you do, please stop.) But are you doing your best to not just not ruin people’s day but make it better and increase your chances of getting a response in the process? Probably not. You might even have a generic signature that attaches “Best,” or “Regards” without you even choosing a particular sign-off phrase for any given email — and it torpedoes your response probability for every email you send.

In 2017, the company behind the Boomerang plugin for Gmail analyzed 350,000 email closings. They found the following three phrases most increased the likelihood of a response, somewhere from 22% to 38% when compared to the baseline:

  1. “Thanks in advance” (65.7% absolute response rate)
  2. “Thanks” (63% absolute response rate)
  3. “Thank you” (57.9% absolute response rate)

Gratitude. Who would’ve thought? Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and psychology professor at Wharton, concluded in a 2010 study: “Gratitude expressions increase prosocial behavior by enabling individuals to feel socially valued,” which is a fancy way of saying what the title of the study suggests: a little thanks goes a long way.

In the experiment, college students received an email asking them for help with a cover letter, some of which ended on “Thank you so much!” while others didn’t. More than twice as many people offered support when gratitude was expressed in advance. This may seem like common sense, but, apparently, we’re often lacking it when closing our emails.

In Boomerang’s study, phrases that didn’t perform so well in eliciting a response were “Cheers,” “Kind regards,” “Regards,” “Best regards,” and — ironically worst of all — “Best.” While you may not want to lean on “Thanks in advance” too much — it’s a bit presumptuous and can feel passive-aggressive, a simple “Thanks” will get most people to respond to your emails.

Don’t waste your effort building beautiful digital paper planes by skimping on the last few characters before they reach the finish line. Think about how you end your emails. Last words matter, even here — and, often, a simple “Thanks” will do.

One Good Sentence Cover

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.

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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.”

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5 Good Things That Will Follow From This Pandemic

The best way to stay calm amidst the coronavirus madness is to focus on the present moment. Accept reality as is, realize you’re okay, and then handle the challenge at hand with direction and resolve.

The second best way is to time travel to the future. What will happen after all this is over? Can you imagine a more peaceful tomorrow? What good will come from this? There will come some good from this. It’s hard to see it now, but making the effort will give you something to aspire to in these dark times.

Of course no one can predict the future, but when I think about what positive, long-term consequences we could see from this pandemic, I spot a lot of potential. Here are 5 predictions to provide some comfort while we’re all stuck at home.

1. Cashless payments everywhere

In Germany, half of all payments are still made in cash. Half. Can you imagine? Who wants to carry around clunky, dirty coins and bills, which you constantly have to re-stock from an ATM in an inconvenient location?

Apparently a lot of people — but even those don’t want to pay in cash right now. No matter how advanced your country is in terms of paying cashless, chances are, the share of those payments — and the options required to enable them — will only go up from here. Humans are creatures of habit. Even the most die-hard cash fan might be swayed by the ease of swiping a card if they have to do it for several months.

It’ll be good for our hygiene, tracking our spending, and saving time.

2. Remote work for everyone

On paper, 40% of German companies allow employees to work remotely. The reality looks different, and it’s likely one of the factors why Germans are particularly unhappy at work. But now, even my dad works from home.

Especially small and medium-sized businesses usually only condone remote work in emergency situations. Even if it’s officially allowed, shifting towards more work from home will often get you weird looks and canteen whispers.

Your country might already be more open to remote work, but now, with everyone being forced to make it work (pun intended), I think we’ll likely see much higher acceptance rates for working from home after the virus passes.

Given most of us only need laptops and internet access anyway, I think more autonomy is a good thing. It’ll make us happier, and save everyone time and money. My dad definitely agrees.

3. (Even) better on-demand services and delivery.

In Munich, quarantined life isn’t so bad. We have Amazon PrimeNow, which delivers everyday goods within the same day. Some of our large grocery store chains also offer home delivery.

But if you’re stuck in a small town like my parents, you still can’t get any food without getting into your car. That’s bad, and it especially affects the large concentrations of older people in more secluded areas. For an 80-year-old woman, driving is dangerous enough as it is. Now, buying groceries might be a matter of life and death.

With millennials and younger generations already being used to the online ordering life, the trend here has always been clear. Coronavirus, however, might accelerate widespread availability of on-demand services and delivery around the globe.

Your doctor, optician, hairdresser — soon, they might all come to you. After this crisis, at least your groceries most definitely will.

4. Less spending on needless consumer goods

Call me crazy, but I think right now, people will remember what’s really important. Suffering, be it our own or that of others, prompts us to think.

Who feels like buying fancy clothes now? Who cares about VIP tickets? When you’re forced to reduce your expectations and stop living large, you gain space to reflect. A common conclusion is, “Oh, I never needed this to begin with.”

Suddenly, it’s enough to watch your children play. To read a book or talk to a friend on the phone. If you can’t fill your spare time with distractions, the only alternative is to spend it on what’s meaningful.

Granted, all this reduced spending might not be prolonged, and it might look bad on paper for the world economy — but I think in the end, it’ll turn us into better humans. We might even use more our resources to the benefit of others once we resume business-as-usual.

5. Improved global crisis management

While this will likely go down in history as the number one crisis in terms of how fast information was generated and spread with relative efficiency, many analyses and reports show there’s also lots of room for improvement in preparation and prevention.

Italy is one of the most advanced nations on the planet, and its healthcare system collapsed in the span of two weeks. Restaurant chain Vapiano filed for insolvency just two days after being forced to close most locations. 200 scientists had to write an open letter to the UK government to finally get them to take action.

If this were to happen all over again, I assure you everyone involved would do one or two things differently. At the very least, we should see larger stocks and emergency reserves of basic hygienic goods, medication, and medical equipment. But I think we’ll see much more. Just like 9/11 changed airport security forever, after coronavirus, healthcare will never be the same.

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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.