The Kind of Life Worth Pursuing

I want to live a life of freedom. Unrestricted, unlimited, infinitely liberating freedom.

When I imagine my perfect life, I have a vision of a small house on top of a hill, that overlooks a vast sea of green. Meadows as far as the eye can see. Something like this:

Or this:

What this house, this independent little fortress of wonder, resembles, is freedom.

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How To Be A Successful Student: The 80/20 Of Student Productivity

It’s the second week of classes of the Spring term here at Technical University of Munich. The weather’s picking up, materials are slow to emerge and exams are a long way away.

However, judging by the first week alone, I can tell there will be a lot of faces filled with regret at the end of this semester. Exams will be postponed, grades will be worse than expected and credits will be missing.

I realize not everyone wants to make an all-encompassing commitment to work like me. But even if you just want to be a normal, full-time student, get decent grades and secure a solid job, there are certain things you can do. So this week, I decided to go super practical and ask myself:

If I could recommend only three good habits to students, what would they be?

Here are the three rules I’ve come up with.

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How To Make Money by Doing Nothing Cover

How To Make Money by Doing Nothing

Imagine a job where you’re being paid a sum that’s adequate to the standard cost of living wherever you are. Let’s say it’s $2,000. There is only one rule for the job:

You cannot do anything.

All you get to choose is whether you sit or stand and you can transition between those two modes as you please.

  • You can’t call friends.
  • You can’t browse Facebook.
  • You can’t write or read.

…and so on. But doing nothing is hard, so obviously, this is a full-time job. 40 hours per week.

Would you take that job?

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Best Year Header

13 Ways to Get Your Grip on Life Back

With each passing year, I find more truth in this:

“The days are long, but the years are short.”  — Gretchen Rubin

It’s that time of the year again. Tax day’s got you throwing your hands up in frustration, your New Year’s resolutions have long vaporized into thin air and you feel like your hold on 2017 is getting weaker and weaker.

I’m here to tell you: You still have time.

The year’s not even halfway over, and you’re already giving up? No. Not this time. You will make 2017 the best year of your life. Period.

The way you do that is by getting your grip back on some of the things we all need to succeed. For some, it takes longer than for others. That’s okay.

Because you will start today.

1. Get A Grip On Your Sleep

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

—  Dr. Seuss

It all starts an ends here. This is the alpha and the omega.

Sleep should neither be an annoying necessity, nor a desperate desertion of reality. It’s not a matter of how many hours you sleep, it’s about what you do in those you’re awake.

So figure out how much you need and then build a life you don’t want to escape from.

2. Get A Grip On Your Body

“Be careful about reading health books. Some fine day you’ll die of a misprint.”

—  Markus Herz

We’re obsessed with looking fit and tanned and having all the latest gadgets, yet on most days, we sit more than we sleep. Don’t overcomplicate health.

An ancient Chinese saying goes: “Walk 100 steps after every meal and you’ll live to 99 years old.” Why not start there? It doesn’t always have to be 10,000 steps. Ten more than yesterday will do.

It’s okay to be a slow walker, as long as you don’t walk back.

3. Get A Grip On Your Mind

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

 — Mahatma Gandhi

Only a healthy body can carry a healthy mind. Walking a lot outside keeps you from pacing back and forth between worry and frustration on the inside. Most of the time, we’re the ones clouding our own thinking, by jumping from feelings to conclusions.

Step outside your stream of thought for once. Watch it pass by. Label your thoughts. Call out your emotions. Make two boxes: “useful” and “not useful.” Put them inside.

Organize your thoughts to clear away your inner clouds.

4. Get A Grip On Your Words

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

 — Rudyard Kipling

Better thoughts lead to better words. What you say shapes who you are. In fact, how you experience the world is in large part defined by how you describe that experience.

Out of 3,000 words to label emotions in the English language, 66% are negative. In Awaken The Giant Within, Tony Robbins suggests playing down bad emotions and reinforcing good ones with unusual words.

Don’t just feel “fine.” Feel content, or blissful, or delighted, or serene, or amazed.

5. Get A Grip On Your Food

“Let thy food be thy medicine.”

— Hippocrates

What comes out of your mouth can only be as good as what you put in. We are what we eat, so let’s eat less of what we don’t want to be.

Whatever grows naturally where you are, usually comes cheap. Eating locally is the ultimate form of being all there wherever you go.

Drink water, wait minutes before you have seconds, delay the dessert and when you’re 80% full, tune in. Do you really need more?

6. Get A Grip On Your Finances

“If you want to change the fruits, you will first have to change the roots.”

 — T. Harv Eker

Imagine all your dollar bills as passengers on a bus. As it drives along, some get off at the rent stop, some at the grocery stop, some at the dry cleaners.

Did you just feel like watching from the back? Because the truth is you’re in the driver’s seat. You have been all along.

Especially if you don’t earn a lot of money, it’s really important to know how to use what you have. No matter how much you make, you can always take 10% of it to save or invest.

7. Get A Grip On Your Job

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

 — Seth Godin

In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth shares the story of the three bricklayers:

When asked, “What are you doing?” the first bricklayer replied: “I’m laying bricks.” The second bricklayer answered: “I’m putting up a wall.” The third bricklayer responded, with pride in his voice: “I’m building a cathedral.”

The biggest barriers between a job, a career and a calling are made of perspective. No matter what you do, how you choose to do it is up to you.

Choose to be generous, kind and courageous.

8. Get A Grip On Your Attention

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

—  Oscar Wilde

Part of doing a great job is giving whatever task at hand your undivided attention. A study by Microsoft found our average attention span to be just 8 seconds in 2013. A goldfish has 9. Technology is an enhancement to human performance, not a replacement.

Detached workers serve detached customers, which become detached parents to detached children.

So look up from your phone, shut down that display, take in your surroundings, make the most of today.

9. Get A Grip On Your Possessions

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

—  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Technology isn’t the only thing tugging at your attention. Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you? When we’re possessed by our possessions, our brains are filled before we even begin our day.

Every item you own not only takes up physical, but also mental space. Pick up something you haven’t used in a year. Look at it. Be honest. Will you ever need it?

If the answer is no, deal it, donate it or ditch it.

10. Get A Grip On Your Time

“Half our time is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”

 — Will Rogers

A smaller garden requires less tending to. Things you don’t own don’t have to be maintained. Tasks you can delegate need no doing.

Spend your time doing things that will make other things easier. Use time to make time for what matters. It’s the only resource you get to spend just once, and we all have 24 hours each day.

If it won’t matter a week, a month or a year from now, is it really worth doing?

11. Get A Grip On Your Relationships

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” 

 — Eleanor Roosevelt

The best thing you can do for the world and to anger your enemies is to be nothing like them. There might indeed be toxic people in your life, but they don’t come with an obligation to engage with them.

5 friends, 4 friends, 3 friends, 2 friends, they come and go. When you’re your own best friend, it doesn’t matter how much wind is beneath your wings.

Even when you’re all alone, you can still fly.

12. Get A Grip On Your Happiness

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

 — Ralph Waldo Emerson

In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt determines where happiness comes from: making progress towards a goal, finding love, a lifestyle and location you like, spending time in flow and collecting memories, not things.

We confuse pleasure and happiness when in reality, it’s not about glass half full vs. glass half empty, but about what you choose to see when you look at the glass.

13. Get A Grip On Your Life

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow.”

—  Dalai Lama

All of these are different variations of saying: one small step taken today is better than a large step left to be taken tomorrow.

The world truly is small. We all live in the same place and it’s called the present. All you have is today. The question that remains is:

Will you choose to make it matter?

Come To Grips

I hope this makes you get to grips with how much of your grip you can get back. You have a lot more control than you think.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

— Marcus Aurelius

The 3 Best Study Hacks for College

While getting my Bachelor’s degree, I’ve tried every mode of study you can imagine. Go to all the classes, go to some classes, go to no classes. Self-study, group study, teaching, being taught, you name it, I’ve tried it.

All I ever got was Bs.

(Our grade scale goes from 1–4, 1.0 being the best)

So when I decided to go back to school, I thought why stress myself. I’ve been hacking college since the day I got here.

1. Hacking classes.

In Germany, most classes aren’t mandatory. Since all we have is one final exam for most subjects, you can stay home all year, study for yourself and then ace the class.

Here in Munich, most classes are even recorded to watch at your own leisure, yet most of my fellow students still go for one reason: they’re lazy and they feel bad if they don’t.

Last semester, many of them went to all the lectures, did not pay attention, watched the replays, did not pay attention again, and then tried to study the slides.

What I did was to go to every class once, see if the professor does nothing more than read off the slides (most of them did), and then summarized the slides myself instead.

For every single slide, I wrote down what it meant in one sentence. This way, I’d end up with 6–12 dense pages of notes for each class. All I had to do then, was study them.

Study Hacks Summarizing
Yeah, yeah, my handwriting sucks, we’ve been over this.

The goal of summarizing is to reduce the amount of information your brain has to hold.

You’ll do a lot better by knowing 80% of the material in detail, rather than having an idea of 100% of it, but not really knowing what you’re talking about.

When I was all done with my summary, I would try to create a tree structure of the material on one or two pages, so I could have the entire class on one piece of paper.

Study Hacks Memorization
(doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it works for you)

Bonus tip:

Minimize the number of classes you take by going for those with the highest credits on average.

In my program, 6 credits per class is solid. 3 aren’t worth your time, 5 fall one credit short when adding up to modules (you need 12, 18, 24, etc.), and 8 are usually a ridiculous amount of extra work.

2. Hacking exams.

Everyone I know struggles with studying for several exams in parallel. So whenever you have three in a week, shit hits the fan. You spend way too much time studying for the first and are only left with the time between exam 1 and 2 to study for the latter, and so on.

So the first thing I did was to pick classes based on exam dates, which were spread far apart.

Only two of my exams fell in one week, and those classes were mandatory. The earlier in the semester an exam, the better. Classes started in October, my first exam was in December. This not only meant it was far away from all the others, but also that there was less material to study.

My first exam.

The second thing I did was to improve my exam schedule as I went along. That December exam I only found out about in November, so I adjusted.

Same thing with a required law class. It was scheduled right between the two mandatory exams, but then the professor opened another slot for it three weeks earlier.

Was it a hassle to study the material in one week rather than three? Sure, but this way, I probably spent more time focused on law than I would have, if I’d had to study in parallel.

(that is one big ass law book)

The best thing you can achieve when structuring your exams is peace of mind as you move towards them.

Every minute you spend in a hasty state of worry is a minute of studying lost, so optimize your schedule as best as you can.

3. Hacking assignments.

In one statistics class, we were eligible to get an additional 20% of the exams points as a bonus for completing a report. Had I known this would turn into a 50-page paper about energy drink consumption, I probably wouldn’t have done it, but oh well.

(You can download the paper here, if you’re interested)

We started from scratch and went all the way from designing our own questionnaire, to surveying a sample of people to analyzing the data with SPSS.

However, nowhere does it say you have to do assignments like this the hardest way possible.

  • Instead of designing our survey in Word, we used Google Forms, to make collecting data easier.
  • Instead of annoying 10 of our fellow students to complete the thing, I sent it to my email list and we collected 100 answers in 24 hours. You could also use a service like Pollfish and just pay for people to fill out your survey.
  • Instead of formatting the 2,000 data points in Excel to let us import them to SPSS, I hired someone to do it for $20 on

You might think outsourcing work as a student is ridiculous, but consider this:

Would you pay $10 or $20 for 3–4 hours of focused study time?

Not including the stress from fretting about the tasks and delays you encounter. Sometimes, your time really is worth more than the return of a menial task. Even, if you’re a student.

Of course, there is one big disclaimer to all the above: none of these hacks work if you don’t.

Ultimately, I put in just as much, if not more time into studying than I did during my Bachelor’s. But thanks to these hacks, it was a lot more fun to do so, because I could focus on the parts that mattered.

And I did it all while writing articles like this one, every single day. If I can find the time, why not you?

Why Life’s Not Fair, and How To Thrive in Spite of It

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In chemistry, there is something called entropy.

It’s the tendency of any system to increase its own amount of disorder whenever it gets a chance. Take a set of gas molecules, contained in a box. As soon as you open the box, the gas molecules will spread as far as they can.

In the same vein, the only thing holding the molecules of your coffee mug together is the energy that’s been embedded into it in the form of applied heat.

Drop it on the floor and it’ll be happy to increase its entropy in the form of a whole bunch of shards.

However, your broken mug would never spontaneously reassemble itself. You have to force a decrease in entropy, an increase always happens naturally.

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