When You Know What To Do, Don't Change Course For No Reason Cover

When You Know What To Do, Don’t Change Course For No Reason

For the past three years, I’ve been chasing the same vision: sustaining an entire human life with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection.

My life.

Work anytime, anywhere. No boss, no boundaries. All expenses and safety paranoia considered, that adds up to a $10,000/month goal. If you asked me how to accomplish such a goal, I would give you a simple, rational answer:

  1. Find a way — any way — to make $10,000 in a single month online.
  2. See if you like it.
  3. If you don’t, adjust until you do.

I knew that answer three years ago. But when I look back on my past choices, that’s not what I see.

I see a young man who’s passionate and motivated, but whose hotheaded ambition often dissipates into thin air. His heart is in the right place, but his thinking is erratic. And so after three years of hard work, he yet has to make $10,000 in a single month.

I learned a lot, but I could have reached my goal a long time ago. Why is that?

For one, I dealt with a lot of crises. Most of which were fickle, because I made them up entirely. The breakup with the girl I was never meant to be with. The artificial overwhelm I forced upon myself. The routines I used to paint myself into a corner. Collapse was always imminent, but rarely necessary.

We all do this. The old adage is old for a reason:

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

 ― Mark Twain

But beyond an opportunity to examine your own capacity for imaginary drama, there lies a lesson. A lesson about the double-edged nature of imagination itself.

Adversity is real. A loved one dies. The global economy tanks. Your thrift shop is foreclosed. Imagination is our greatest shield against it. A springboard we can use to recover from any setback.

It’s the backbone of humankind’s accomplishments. The Dark Ages made way for the Renaissance. The European Union emerged from the ashes of WWII. All because people imagined something better.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We all face different necessities at different times, and so we all imagine different solutions. It’s this collective, creative power that civilization is built upon. And it’s nothing shy of awe-inspiring.

At the same time, when we leave necessity behind, we begin to overindulge in our imagination. Soon, it bears poisonous fruit. What if our hard-earned prosperity was taken from us? How could that happen? And off we go, into the dark corners of our mind.

The path ahead may still be clear, but our vision isn’t. We get busy preserving the status quo from imaginary demons. We fight windmills while treading water. Life happens, we say. And it does. But just as often, we happen to ourselves.

We dream up a crisis for a lack of drama, not a lack of real-world problems. We get hung up on past adversity instead of focusing on future aspirations. Because we let go of the reigns. And our imagination darts way too far across the finish line. Right into the wrong direction.

Imaginary problems are a fairly obvious inhibitor of growth. It’s easy to see how they interfere with our goals. But there’s a second, more subtle way I sabotaged myself in my quest for independence. And it’s also an outgrowth of imagination.

Ideas. I love ideas. I love having them. I love chasing them. But I’ve reached a point where new ideas often do more damage than good. I think many of us have.

I was always a dreamer. I built my own Lego creations, I made my own video games and I could fill books with business ideas. And for years, dreaming was all I did. When I finally set out to take action, I thought this excess creativity would subside.

I now realize I was wrong. It got worse. I didn’t just think of solutions to problems that were not there, I would now also go out and build them. That’s how I’ve wasted a lot of time.

Saying “no” to my own, possibly good ideas is the hardest “no” I’ve ever had to practice. And I needn’t even say a word. We like to think we’re clever in our ability to spot opportunity. The excitement tricks us.

How many of your ideas are actual shortcuts to the same goal? How many are really just detours? We can never truly know, but deep down, inexplicably, we still do.

New paths are tempting. Before long, momentum fades all the same. Yet, it’s enough to abandon our efforts in forging the opportunities we need along the path we’ve chosen in favor of the ones we drew out of our own hat.

All it takes is a new idea. A spark of imagination. And off we go. Into the wrong direction, once again.

I may have lost a lot of time running from my imagination’s dark conjectures, but it pales in comparison to the fuel I’ve burned chasing its illusionary treasure.

Ideas are our fear of success’s prettiest cloak. We know what to do. What’d get us there — there being different for each of us. But we change course to follow the sun instead.

“I know every single step I have to take to get to $10,000/month.”

I said that at the kitchen table yesterday. Mostly to myself. As if that’d somehow cement it in reality.

“Now all I have to do is remember to take them.”

Looking back as clearly and honestly as I can, I see no good reason as to why I haven’t so far. Only a real one: I sabotaged myself. I chased ideas and conjured crises for no cause other than stalling my own progress.

We like to think we’re the captain of our own ship. Often, it’s imagination that is actually at the wheel, steering right towards the iceberg of self-sabotage.

But if we take control for just a second, we can at least think of a question:

How is your imagination ruining your course today?

10 Cognitive Biases and How To Fight Them Cover

10 Cognitive Biases and How To Fight Them

Irrationality rules the world. Quite literally, these days.

Global leaders behaving like little boys, threatening each other with their oversized toys. Fake news spreading like wildfire. Needless technology receiving millions in funding.

It’s a great time to be alive, but sometimes I wish Plato were still around to remind us of one of his big ideas: Think more.

Frustrated by the tendency of his fellow Greeks to act mostly on impulse, he always prompted them to examine their own lives. The goal was to think for yourself and be less trapped by doxa — the Greek word for common sense or popular opinion.

This is why we love Elon Musk so much. We see someone, who can objectively look at the world, build their reasoning from the ground up and then make decisions grounded in reality — and we think they’re a genius.

Actually, he’s just doing what we were supposed to all along: think for ourselves. It’s that we do so little of it. As Tim Urban notes on Wait But Why:

“We spent this whole time trying to figure out the mysterious workings of the mind of a madman genius only to realize that Musk’s secret sauce is that he’s the only one being normal. And in isolation, Musk would be a pretty boring subject — it’s the backdrop of us that makes him interesting.”

So how do we get back to rational? How can we think more and more clearly?

It is here that Musk and Plato agree, though one learned from physics, the other from philosophy: we must start with a clean slate. Plato’s old friend and mentor puts it in a nutshell.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”  —  Socrates

It’s a process of getting back to square one so you can start fresh, this time from your own perspective. The way we begin this process is by ridding ourselves of our modern-day version of doxa: cognitive biases.

They fall into different categories and are shortcuts our brain uses to deal with too much information, figure out what to remember, fill in gaps in meaning and act fast when we need to. At the same time, these cognitive design flaws silently ruin our lives, one decision at a time.

There are many of them and some are worse than others. Here are the ten we must try to fight the hardest — and one way to do the fighting.

Belief: The Backfire Effect

You’ve probably heard of confirmation bias, which is our tendency to seek information that confirms our opinions, rather than form those opinions from the best information available. While troublesome, I’m much more worried about its bigger brother: the backfire effect.

Also referred to as belief perseverance or the continued influence effect, it says we react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening our previous, wrong beliefs.

For example, if you’ve agreed with me in the intro that Elon Musk is awesome, you’ll likely have felt a tad of cognitive dissonance at Tim’s statement that in isolation, Musk would be a boring subject.

This is why corrections in the news world don’t work. They never get as many views and only enhance the previous idea. The facts are gone, the feeling remains.

As you go through the following biases and catch yourself thinking: “that’s definitely not me,” you know what’s going on.

Probability

Great poker players are less affected by mental biases because they’re probability machines. Not only can they estimate the likelihood of events with more accuracy, but the habit of constantly trying to estimate alone comes with a lot of benefits.

Out of all the biases around probability, the following two continue to drive a huge wedge between us and our personal success.

Ambiguity Effect

The ambiguity effect is our impulse to avoid options for which we don’t have enough information to make a good probability guess. It stops us from chasing our big goals, because we’re not considering what’s realistically possible.

We’d rather spend $100 on lottery tickets than on stocks or cryptocurrencies, because the information required to gauge the probability of making a profit is easier to obtain.

If we did our homework, we’d often see our probabilities are better than we think and we control them more than we know.

Survivorship Bias

When we don’t know our chances, we default to following those we can see. Tim has a successful blog. Tim writes this way. I want a successful blog, so I’ll write like Tim.

This logical fallacy is called survivorship bias — the trend to focus on the elements and people that remain at the end, thus neglecting probability.

There may have been hundreds, thousands or millions of people who started blogs and wrote like Tim, but didn’t make it. Therefore, using Tim as a proxy is in no way playing it safe. It’s just playing copycat.

Risk

Risk is often lumped together with probability. However, while the chance of a bad event occurring is important to consider, risk has another component, which is just as easy to misjudge: its magnitude.

But don’t worry, we suck at estimating both.

Zero-Risk Bias

This bias indicates we prefer to eliminate whatever little risk is left completely, rather than opting for an overall greater reduction with some remaining. It’s the reason we get a heart attack when the phone rings and the caller ID says it’s our boss’s boss. Our brain blows the magnitude of the worst-case scenario way out of proportion.

“All anxiety is is experiencing failure in advance.”  —  Seth Godin

The zero-risk bias explains why insurance companies can charge a premium for full coverage and why we’d rather give up cereal completely than eat more vegetables — the latter might reduce our risk for diabetes more, but the former feels safer.

Neglect of Probability

In our aspirations we might fail at probability estimation, but when it comes to risk, we often abandon the effort altogether. Neglect of probability leads us to respond only to the magnitude of an event, not its likelihood.

Since we’re so bad at estimating that magnitude, however, we end up ignoring small risks, like falling down the stairs, altogether, while assuming certainty for great ones — if any plane were to crash, it must be ours.

The combination of these two biases explains most of our misplaced fear.

“We’re more afraid of public speaking than texting on the highway, more afraid of approaching an attractive stranger in a bar than marrying the wrong person, more afraid of not being able to afford the same lifestyle as our friends than spending 50 years in meaningless career — all because embarrassment, rejection, and not fitting in really sucked for hunters and gatherers.”  — Tim Urban, Wait But Why

When we look at the people we consider bold risk-takers, the great entrepreneurs, investors and artists of our time, most of them just turn out to have an accurate understanding of risk and probability.

It’s what allows Warren Buffett to buy when everyone’s panicking and sell when others fall for the hype.

“We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.”  —  Warren Buffett

Social: The Bandwagon Effect

In the Iraq War, a U.S. army major managed to prevent riots by keeping food vendors away from large squares and social gatherings. This way, there was no fuel for peoples’ undirected anger and they turned home, rather than into a mob.

The forces at play here are herd behavior and group think, where a large group takes action without explicitly agreeing on a direction and everyone joining in to not conflict with the group. The bandwagon effect is a specific, everyday life version of it. It’s why we believe and do things solely for the reason that many others also do.

A classic example is when you have to choose between two restaurants and go with the one that’s more crowded, because hey, it must be good, right? But if everyone before you went by the same logic, inevitably the first guests chose at random between two empty restaurants. Similarly, you’re more inclined to like a tweet that already has 1,000 likes. On the internet, it’s extra hard to think for yourself.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”  —  Mark Twain

Memory: The Spotlight Effect

The spotlight effect is a social bias that manifests itself in our memory. It’s the belief we hold that everyone is watching our every move, all the time.

The reason is simple: we are the center of our universe. We live in our own heads, 24/7. Therefore, it’s natural we overestimate our role in everyone else’s life too. But you’re not the only one who can’t imagine the world without you — everyone else is just as focused on themselves, which means they don’t really have the time to, well, watch you.

This imagined spotlight that puts us center stage is turned on in high school, when all we care about is who did what with whom at what time. Inevitably, it spills over into adulthood and leaves us too cautious to publish that honest blog post, say what we think or try something unusual.


We’ve learned about seven cognitive biases so far. Imagine not just one, but all of them are influencing your thinking right now — because that’s exactly what’s happening. That’s the environment we’re supposed to make decisions in.

So what do most of us default to? Right. More of the same.

Decision-Making: Irrational Escalation

Success often hinges on doing things differently — you know, in our own way. It doesn’t guarantee we’ll land a hit, but it improves the odds. Sadly, that’s exactly what our mental biases hold us back from.

They lead to what behavioral scientists call escalation of commitment. We continue down the same path, even if it’s an irrational one. To stay safe, we do more of the same. What’s always been done.

This irrational escalation happens in several ways and it destroys our growth.

Loss Aversion

When nobel prize winner Daniel Kahnemanl handed people mugs and told them they were worth $5, he found out in spite of knowing the value, nobody was willing to sell the good at the same price. This is known as the endowment effect. We value goods more, simply because we own them.

This leads to loss aversion. As soon as we have something, we have something to lose — and losing hurts up to twice more than winning makes us happy.

So we spend most of our days preserving what we have instead of going for what else we want.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

Funny enough, while we’re trying hard to avoid losses, when we’re losing, the sunk cost fallacy makes sure we lose big. When a path of action becomes irrational, we continue on it solely to be consistent with our previous actions.

How many times have you left the theatre when the movie was bad? Do you go to events you paid for, even if you don’t feel like going the day of? When you’ve invested time or money into something that doesn’t work out, it’s hard to face that failure, man up and move on.

But wasting more time and money, just to avoid that realization, is much costlier in the long run. If we thought of buying ourselves options, not obligations, we would remain free to make the best decision — no matter the sunk cost.

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality

You might be familiar with Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Coined by the same Parkinson is the Law of Triviality, sometimes also referred to as bike-shedding: In an effort to avoid the cognitive discomfort that stems from dealing with all the above and solving complex problems, we spend disproportionate amounts of time on trivial issues.

When you start a blog, designing the logo, choosing the colors, optimizing your menu and link structure all seem really important. It’s easy to get lost in those details for weeks when really, all you had to do was write.

There’s Something on Your Windshield

It’d be nice if we had to deal with just one cognitive bias at a time. We’d open our cognitive bias playbook, flip to page 19 and take the specific steps needed to handle the culprit. But that’s not how it works.

There are dozens of cognitive glitches, working against us every second of every day. Me, while I’m writing this. You, while you’re reading this. Almost 200 of them are listed on Wikipedia. And those are just the ones we’ve identified so far.

While they’re so omnipresent they’re just a part of life, you can think of them like raindrops on your windshield. A few speckles here and there won’t completely cloud your vision, but if they fill every inch, you might as well drive in the dark.

Since there are way too many to fight each one explicitly, we need one tool to deal with at least a decent bunch of them. A bias against biases, if you will. To our best knowledge, that bias is awareness.

It’s not the perfect wiper, but at least you’ll see if you drive on the right road.

The Solution: Your Stress Response

Most of our mental biases date back to a time when quick decisions determined our survival. The tool we can use to fight them is just as old.

Even today our initial reaction to most stressors is to treat them like potential death threats. You know, just to be safe. The reaction that plays out is called fight-or-flight response. Our body releases a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol, which increases our heart rate, dilates our pupils and triggers tunnel vision. But hidden in this physical power stance lies our golden arrow.

In his book, What Every Body Is Saying, ex-FBI agent and body language expert Joe Navarro observes a third component of our stress response: the freeze reaction. Neither fight nor flight are viable options in school or at the office, so we default to first freezing in place, like our ancestors did when a T-Rex walked by.

“One purpose of the freeze response is to avoid detection by dangerous predators or in dangerous situations. A second purpose is to give the threatened individual the opportunity to assess the situation and determine the best course of action to take.

This second purpose is our holy grail. Our chance to ask: “What’s really going on? Is my brain tricking me here?”

Thanks to our ancestors, the basics of the freeze response still remain intact, but it takes a more conscious effort make it our go-to reaction. Due to all our biases, an internal conflict arises with each external threat. Our goal must be to use the break we catch with the freeze response to shift our attention to what’s going on inside.

In her book, The Willpower Instinct, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal has dubbed this better version of our stress reaction the pause-and-plan response.

“The pause-and-plan response puts your body into a calmer state, but not too sedate. The goal is not to paralyze you in the face of internal conflict, but to give you freedom. By keeping you from immediately following your impulses, the pause-and-plan response gives you the time for more flexible, thoughtful action.”

The moment you acknowledge a mental bias it loses its power. Thankfully, McGonigal also shares what that moment looks like.

“The pause-and-plan response drives you in the opposite direction of the fight-or-flight response. Instead of speeding up, your heart slows down, and your blood pressure stays normal. Instead of hyperventilating like a madman, you take a deep breath. Instead of tensing muscles to prime them for action, your body relaxes a little.”

Breathing. You’re doing it right now. But taking a deep breath? Please, do it right now. It’s amazing how shallow our most important survival mechanism becomes without us even noticing. Breaking that pattern is our escape from the grasp of doxa. Our fresh start with a clean slate.

Every decision is better after a single, deep breath.

More breathing, more thinking. Deeper breathing, deeper thinking.

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”  —  Plato

Plato was referring to politics with this quote, but it extends to all of life, really. The first place we must rule then, is our own mind. The goal isn’t to think perfectly. It’s to not let others do the thinking for you.

Among the long list of mental biases, there even is one describing our tendency to think of ourselves as less biased than we actually are. It’s called our bias blind spot.

If nothing else, I hope it’s now a smaller raindrop on your windshield.


Sources

[1] Philosophy — Plato

[2] Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet

[3] Seth Godin’s Exclusive Linchpin Keynote

[3] The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

[4] 14 Warnings From Trust Me, I’m Lying

[5] Why You’ll Soon Be Playing Mega Trillions

[6] The Power of Habit Summary

[7] The Spotlight Effect: Why No One Cares About That Thing You Did

[8] What Every Body Is Saying Summary

[9] The Willpower Instinct Summary

How To Improve Your Writing With 6 Questions Cover

How To Improve Your Writing With 6 Questions

A writer’s job is to bring order to chaos. It’s our duty to descend into the cluttered world of ideas and then structure whatever insight we manage to wring from its hands.

Therefore, writing is by definition a messy process. The goal of this post is not so much to get you to adopt my version of it — although I will give you the tools if you wish to do so — but to get you to examine your own.

When I recently did, I found I constantly ask myself six questions about writing. Before, after and during. All the time. They’re definitely not a checklist. More of a blurry circle my mind spins in.

I want to show you those questions. Show you you’re not alone. Seeing my lose structure should help accept your own. Then, you can set out to find the little that’s there. So you can build on it. That’s the plan.

Let’s go.

1. What Do I Care Enough to Say?

When I’m staring at a blank page, which is often, this marks my starting point. I think about the last few days and weeks.

  • What was important?
  • What did I think a lot about?
  • Did anything life-changing happen?
  • What have I learned?
  • What’s an issue worth addressing?
  • What made me angry?

This keeps me from talking about topics only because they’re popular. I find I end up there often enough, even if I don’t do it on purpose. This time, I noticed myself in front of the same writing questions over and over again.

I’m rarely alone with my problems. The people who have the same ones usually show up once I start talking.

Plus, if I care, it’s easier to get others to.

2. Is It Real?

I don’t always ask this second, but I should. The sooner I can catch myself structuring a fake idea, the better. What do I mean by fake?

If it’s not an idea I have truly lived, experienced, or researched deeply enough to publish my own account of it, then I won’t share it. Period. The process I’m sharing with you today is what I actually go through.

Why self-publish if you’re not gonna be yourself? It’d defeat the whole point of giving us your unique perspective.

People can smell fake stories from the headline, because they already stink when you write them. How honest you are correlates to how easy it is to write.

This is a one-strike policy. If only I always caught myself before it’s too late.

3. Is It Useful?

Ironically, a piece of advice from a billionaire helped me obsess less about becoming one. In an interview, Elon Musk said (emphasis mine):

Well, first of all, I think if somebody is doing something that is useful to the rest of society, I think that’s a good thing. Like, it doesn’t have to change the world.

Then, talking about his own story, he proceeds:

You can get a doctorate on many things that ultimately do not have practical bearing on the world. And I really was just trying to be useful. That’s the optimization. It’s like, “What can I do that would actually be useful?”

And, to help estimate the usefulness of your aspirations:

Whatever this thing is that you’re trying to create, what would be the utility delta compared to the current state of the art times how many people it would affect?

That’s why I think having something that makes a big difference, but affects a small to moderate number of people is great, as is something that makes even a small difference, but affects a vast number of people.

If you want to serve the greater good, usefulness is the optimization. But that doesn’t mean you have to serve a single, great good.

Think about how microscopically deep the change you cause can run. Yesterday someone emailed me about restarting a practice from one of my posts he’d picked up a year ago.

  • Is what you’re sharing practical, even at a subconscious level?
  • Can you coach people through the process in an empathic way?
  • Even if it’s a small change they might not immediately realize, how much could that amount to?
  • Can you be okay with never finding out?

The questions I ask about writing could be useful in shaping yours. Hence, this post was worth a shot. Even if I can never measure its full impact.

One more benefit of being useful? It’s the ultimate antidote to being fake — because it’s really hard to give practical advice when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

4. Will This Inspire the Reader?

People think rationally, but act on emotions. If you can take a useful idea, attach it to an arrow of inspiration and send it right into the reader’s heart, change is more likely.

I could have just talked about the usefulness of being useful, but I told the Elon Musk story instead. Usefulness determines how far people read, inspiration what they do after they stop.

You can tilt the balance to one side, but having both increases the probability of your seeds falling on fertile soil.

5. Has This Been Said Before?

Everything’s been said before. The question is how and how often.

I see many step-by-step-writing posts on Medium, but few that talk about the mayhem of their process and even fewer that dig deeper into it.

Being different doesn’t guarantee being original, but there can be no originality without difference. So I’ll take my chances.

Similar to inspiration, being original makes it more likely to be noticed. Again, writing is a game of probability.

6. Will This Entertain the Reader?

Now would be a good time for a joke. Luckily, making people laugh isn’t the only way to entertain. Entertainment is really just another word for engagement.

Can what you write hold the reader’s attention? Or, in Seth Godin’s words:

In a world with infinite choice, where there’s always something better and more urgent a click away, it’s tempting to go for shorter.

In fact, if you seek to make a difference (as opposed to gather a temporary crowd), shorter isn’t what’s important: Dense is.

Density can be of many kinds. Of emotion. Of insight. Of mystery. Seth puts it in a nutshell:

Long isn’t the problem. Boring is.

If you found the string of insights I presented so far useful enough to read until here, then I guess you’ve been entertained.

How Can You Remember This Model?

I didn’t number the questions because I never answer them in sequence. But lists are so much easier to remember! How can I structure this fuzzy model just enough so you won’t forget?

Six questions, six corners. That’s a hexagon. So much for the visual. My favorite mnemonic device is the acronym. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the letters form a normal word. This time, I wasn’t.

Thus, meet your new favorite Youtuber: iCuber. His or her videos are inspiring, full of Care, Useful, never seen Before, Entertaining and Real. Here’s their logo:

Imagine the kind of videos you’d like to see from iCuber. By the time you know what he or she looks like, you’ve already remembered the symbol. Now you can walk along the edges and pick up the questions when you want to.

There. A little less mess.

The Real Takeaway: Question #7

That’s the beauty of chaos: no rules. Each writer can come up with their own. Has to. The goal of sharing my process isn’t for you to adopt it. It’s to start observing your own.

The real idea is to begin asking this question:

What goes on in your mind about your writing?

Descend into the chaos. Grab an idea. Structure it. Bring order.

You’re a writer, after all. That’s your job.

The Most Important Rules to Break Are Your Own Cover

The Most Important Rules to Break Are Your Own

When I first began learning how to live a better life, I decided to watch a video every day. After 67 days, I branched into more specific habits. With every individual habit, I took the same approach: do it every day.

  • When I stopped drinking, I didn’t drink for two years.
  • When I started writing down my priorities, I did it every day for a year.
  • When I quit coffee, I didn’t have any for 100 days.

Once I started coaching people and helping them with their habits, I found a tool called The Habit Tendency Quiz. I’m an Upholder. The creator of the quiz, Gretchen Rubin, says Upholders are great at picking up and letting go of habits for one reason: they play really well by the rules.

Whether I set them for myself or am handed a guidebook, once I know what the expectations are, I’ll work my ass off to live up to them. But this is also the dark side, Gretchen says:

“Upholders are too driven by getting the Goldstar. They look for the rules beyond the rules. It’s too important for them to know what the rules are. They’re almost boxed in by the rules. They don’t know what to do when there aren’t any.”


In 2014, I decided to take online business seriously. In 2015, I decided writing would be my way to win. So I lived by the rule I knew to have worked, the only rule I knew: write every day.

For over two years, I have lived by this rule.

In 2015, I wrote 250,000 words. In 2016, I published a book summary each day. 500,000 words. In 2017, I kickstarted my journey on Quora the same way.

For a while now I’ve known it’s time to let go of this rule. I wanted to finish my year of daily answers and then quit. But once you’ve chosen a new path, there’s no use in delaying it. That’s a new rule I’d like to try.

The most important rules to break are your own.

Replace them with better rules. When you find a better rule, it’s your responsibility to implement it immediately. So today, I’m moving into new territory: The land of no rules.

When a post takes me three days, it takes me three days. If I feel like writing three answers in one day, that’s what I’ll do. And if I don’t feel good about any piece for a week, I won’t publish.


Knowing the rules is important. It allows you to pinpoint which ones you better follow and which ones must be broken to win. But on top of the rules of the game, you’re playing by your own.

These rules are invisible. They’re hard to see. You may never have consciously set them. Some serve you for a while. Others keep you from moving forward.

You can’t find these rules in a guidebook. They’re part of who you are. Which makes them hard to let go. Much harder to reject than others’ rules.

When you discover your own rules, do you have the courage to break them?

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

― Robert A. Heinlein

If You Secretly Dream About Being A Billionaire, This Is For You Cover

If You Secretly Dream About Being a Billionaire, This Is For You

I was raised with a lot of privilege. I’m not trying to deny it. But you know what the massive side dish is that comes with privilege? Delusion. You always expect more food to magically appear on your plate, without so much as leaving the table.

One of the most common, yet most dangerous illusions my generation secretly indulges in is the idea of becoming a billionaire.

Go ahead. Feel it. Deep down. It’s there.

“I’ll become a billionaire.”

As if it was just a matter of when. If you just felt a slight tingle, I have a few questions for you. Questions for future billionaires.

1. What’s your GOOD reason for wanting to make a billion?

I like David Blaine’s idea that success is giving as much as you get.

He says what makes Bill Gates so great is that he’s figured out how to give the money he’s amassed to worthy causes better than most institutions can. Polio’s almost eradicated. Next, he’s going after Guinea worm disease.

If the only place you want to direct the money is into your own pocket, you’ll never think broad enough to reach a billion.

“To make a billion dollars, help a billion people.”  —  Peter Diamandis

2. What’s your REAL reason for wanting to make a billion?

Now that we’ve got the noble cause out of the way, why do you really need the money? What happiness can a billion buy you that 100 million can’t?

That 10 million can’t? That one million can’t?

It’s just another arbitrary number. What’s not arbitrary is the psychological hole you’re hoping it’ll fill. Where’s the hole?

Are you insecure? Lonely? Do you lack self-worth? Self-love? Who do you want to prove wrong? Yourself? The world?

It’s okay. Just like the idea of becoming a billionaire itself, when you dig deep enough, you’ll realize it’s there. We all have it. But know it’s there.

“There’s always a good reason and there’s always a real reason.”  —  James Altucher

3. How are you going to make your billion?

Seriously. Do the math. The real, serious math. We’re not talking about revenue here. We’re talking about profit. Profit you can pocket.

What does a billionaires bank account even look like? Is there ever a billion on there? I have no idea. And neither do you.

Only 3% of billionaires made their money from running private companies. Can you take a company from zero to IPO? How big is your total market? Is there even a billion in there?

“If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” — Warren Buffett

4. Who’s going to make your billion for you?

That’s right. Not with you. For you. You have to be aware that in the end, that’s what’s happening. Everyone you hire along your journey will partly be responsible for making your billion. And you will hire people. You have to.

These people will work with you. But they’ll make money for you. Tell me: Why should they? Tell them. You better have a compelling reason. A good offer.

What are you going to give back? What are you going to do for them?

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big.”  —  Jack Ma

5. When do you expect your billion?

If the answer is anything less than 20 years from now, you can stop right here. Warren Buffett became a millionaire just before turning 30. He first was a billionaire at 56. That’s 26 years, starting from millionaire status.

Are you a millionaire yet? No? Whoops. That’s just the first part. But even that’s ridiculously hard.

And don’t you dare tell me about Mark Zuckerberg. You’re not Mark Zuckerberg. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t reading this. Neither would you be, if you were already seriously working on your billion.

“I’m here to build something for the long-term. Anything else is a distraction.”  —  Mark Zuckerberg

6. What are you willing to give up for your billion?

If being a billionaire is your number one goal, think about number two. You will not get number two. Or three. Or four. The bigger the goal, the bigger the sacrifice.

0.0000272% of all humans are billionaires. They gave up not one, but all the things that make the other 99.99% of people what they are — the other 99.99% of the people.

Whatever you think you can also have, next to being a billionaire, you most likely can’t. We’re not talking about giving up watching football here.

Are you willing to be a bad father for your billion? An absent mother? Are you willing to lose your girlfriend? Or all your friends? Would you give up family? Sleep? Food for a week?

Most importantly: Are you willing to give up being understood by every single person you know?

“I was set free, because my greatest fear had already 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 the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  —  J.K. Rowling


Privilege is a sweet syrup. There’s lots to gain from savoring it. Delusion is the bitter taste it leaves in your mouth when you get used to it.

So here’s one last piece of bark to chew on. As of 2017, there are 2,043 billionaires in the world.

How many of them do you think started with dreaming about being a billionaire?


Sources

[1] Fear{less} with Tim Ferriss

[2] 2015 Gates Annual Letter

[3] American Billionaires And Their Private Company Fortunes

[4] The Age When 17 Self-Made Billionaires Earned Their First Million

How To Be Mentally Strong: The Magic of David Blaine Cover

How To Be Mentally Strong: The Magic of David Blaine

David Blaine might be the mentally toughest person on earth.

Here’s a short excerpt of the death-defying feats he’s pulled off over the years:

  • Holding his breath for 17 minutes and 4 seconds.
  • Consuming nothing but water for 44 days.
  • Catching a .22 caliber bullet with a small metal cup in his mouth.

…and, my personal favorite, Blaine standing atop a 100-foot high column for 35 hours with no sleep.

On multiple occasions, David was closer to dying than surviving. His strength to endure these situations is unfathomable.

More so, he has the courage to seek them out repeatedly, all because they fuel his ultimate goal: bring magic to the people.

Here’s what you and I can learn from him:

1. Be curious about enduring things.

When his mother fought cancer without complaint, David saw there’s more to hardship than suffering.

You can learn from it. But you have to wonder what’s on the other side to do that.

2. Hold on to creativity for dear life.

David went to Central Booking, the Manhattan municipal jail, for jumping a turnstile once. To avoid getting his ass kicked by the four buffest guys in the cell, he used the only thing he had left: his creativity.

Eventually, he won the whole block over with his magic and got out.

Hold on to your creativity as if your life depended on it. Some day it might.

3. Have nothing to lose.

David’s mother died in his arms. It almost broke him, but it left him with nothing to lose and everything to gain. We all have things we’re afraid will be taken away some day.

The only way to not let that stop you is to let go before you lose them.

4. Fast.

One of David’s favorite books is Siddartha by Hermann Hesse. When Siddartha practices living in poverty, a merchant asks him what he can give if he has no possessions. To that, Siddartha says:

“I can think, I can wait, I can fast. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do.”

Hunger is the most elementary test of human existence. Take it.

5. Train remaining calm in extreme situations.

Navy SEALs are made comfortable with blacking out under water by having to walk across the bottom of a pool while strapped to 45 pound plates. David held his breath while hanging around sharks so he would know what it feels like to perform under stress.

Don’t just practice hard, practice under the hardest conditions.

6. Expose yourself to your worst fears.

Extreme doesn’t always mean dangerous. Blaine was afraid of cockroaches. Yes, bugs. One night, he slept in a little tent in Botswana, which was circled by one and a half ton hippos. Suddenly, the bugs became his friends.

When your brain gets close to the breaking point, it’ll throw your worst fears at you. You have to know they’re not real when the time comes.

7. Learn to override your brain.

Not succumbing to your brain’s irrational illusions is just one half of winning the battle. Once you do, you’ll still have to get it to follow you in the right direction.

David likes to trick his mind with numbers. On his 44-day fast, he created a superstition that once he’d get to 22 days, he’d be fine. After getting half, he focused on the next 11 days, and so on.

Pretend arbitrary milestones mean everything and maybe, one day, you’ll master your brain.

8. When you know you’re going to fail, go on.

At the halfway mark during his second world record breath holding attempt, David said he was “100% certain that I was not gonna be able to make this.”

But he figured since Oprah had dedicated an hour to the live TV special, he’d be better off fighting until he blacks out.

After 10 minutes, the blood started rushing away from his extremities to protect his vital organs.

At 12 minutes, his left arm went numb, and he started panicking about having a heart attack.

At 15 minutes, he went into heart ischemia, with his pulse jumping from 150 to 40 and back.

16 minutes in, David is just waiting to have a heart attack. He floats to the top of the bubble, waiting. Seconds float by, feeling like years.

When the doctors pull him out of the water at 17 minutes and 4 seconds, David Blaine has held his breath longer than any human in history.

All because when he had already failed, he kept going anyway.


Most of us don’t have to risk dying to push our mission forward. But it’s the kind of magic worth emulating.

Take these lessons. Carry them with you. Within yourself. Turn them into a system. Whatever it takes to close the gap between your present state and your true potential.

Hopefully, one day, you can live at the edge.

We are all capable of infinitely more than we believe.”

— David Blaine


Sources

[1] David Blaine’s Personal Website

[2] Tim Ferriss interviewing David Blaine on fear{less}

[3] David Blaine’s TED Talk

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Jerry Weintraub: How to Be Persistent in the Face of Failure

Jerry Weintraub was one of the most influential talent agents and film producers in the history of Hollywood.

You can thank him for any concert you’ve attended in a large arena, a concept he came up with in the 70s. He managed tours for Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond.

But what can the late producer of the original Karate Kid and Ocean’s 11 teach you? What if you’re not in the show biz?

Well, no matter if you’re a writer, manager or art merchant, we all need one thing. Something without which, we’ll never reach our goals:

Persistence.

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On The Art of Being Timeless

I’ve kept this line in my mind for a long time:

“Things of quality have no fear of time.” ~Unknown


Yesterday, I had a late dinner with one of my best friends, Matt. Matt is an architect and Munich is full of history, so when we met at Königsplatz at 9:30 PM, as usual, he had plenty stories to tell.

“King’s Square,” as you would translate it, is a huge, open space, housing several museums, one of which is the Glyptothek.

Timeless Glyptothek

Commissioned by the Bavarian King Ludwig I to house his collection of Roman and Greek sculptures, this building is a piece of art in and of itself. Like so many others in Munich, it casually rests in its place, timeless. For 200 years, many have stood awestruck before it, long before Matt and me and long after we’re gone, many a soul will.

Matt and my conversations are always very philosophical in nature and as the evening continued, so did its theme: what makes something timeless?

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On June 1st, Jason Fried shook up the entire Medium community:

“Hard work is picking lettuce 8 hours a day in 90 degree heat. […] Rule of thumb: If it’s hard you’ll have trouble finding people who want to do it. There’s no shortage of people who want to be programmers, designers, strategists, social media consultants, entrepreneurs, investors, etc… But try finding people to work the farm. Hard work is doing the work other people don’t want to do.”

My first thought: “Do I claim to be doing hard work?” Read More

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How To Learn Faster In 4 Simple, But Not Easy Steps

I’m 100% done with my economics class for this semester, even though only 1o out of 24 lecture recordings have been uploaded so far. Each month, over a million people view my answers on Quora, though I started writing daily on there only on January 1st, 2017. I’m building an app with two friends on the side, yet I don’t know how to write code in Swift.

The list goes on. I’m always dabbling in at least 3–5 projects, all with varying degrees of experience and success. The one thing I refuse to let myself be guilty of is not learning fast enough so each of them won’t at least have a shot at working out.

This week, I thought about my learning process and asked myself what I could share with you about how to learn faster. I found four steps. Read More