30 Mini Essays on Self-Improvement and Happiness in The Modern World

An exploration of productivity, technology, and personal thriving


View these essays as notes to self.

I don't perfectly implement any of these ideas. They are aspirations; my advice to me.

Hopefully you find them useful!

Over the course of the month, I changed my views on a few topics, so please excuse any blatant contradictions in the essays.

The Reverse Wish List - February 10th, 2021

I'm assuming you know what a wish list is.

Either in our heads or in a notebook, most of us have a loosely organized idea of the stuff we want to have but don't immediately need or can't afford. 

Over time, some stuff moves off the list. Amazon runs a special and you full send the AirPod Pros. Your old coffee setup 'breaks' and you justify the upgrade. 

New stuff comes out, new stuff goes on the list. 

This isn't necessarily a problem. While I'm drawn to minimalist ideals, I don't want to close the door to potential life-improving purchases. So what do I do?

Enter the reverse wish list. 

The reverse wish list is as simple as the wish list. In your head or on paper, list the stuff you absolutely had to have that you now actually have. 

This exercise has two benefits. The obvious first is gratitude. The reverse wish list will provide humbling perspective and remind you to appreciate the nice things you already have.

Second, it creates an opportunity to learn from your own consumption patterns. A running list of the desires that actually were gratified leads to interesting insights.  

Using patterns from my own reverse wish list, I derived a questionnaire to help me understand what purchases were most rewarding long after the initial purchase. 

Questionnaire -- ("yes" answers indicate a good purchase)

  • Will this solve a well-defined pain point? 
  • Will this save me time from how I used to do things on an ongoing basis?
  • How often will I use this, at least 1x a week?
  • Will this facilitate learning a new skill?
  • Can this be seen as a business investment? 
  • Will this improve my health and energy levels? 

Countless proverbs tell the same story: human desire is infinite. 

In the face of that idea, the reverse wish list creates a decent filter for tempering an inevitable craving for more stuff.

Try the reverse wish list yourself! Let me know what insights you make.

Fully Minimizing Regret - February 9th, 2021

In 10 years, Tal Gur completed 100 insane life goals. 

The impressive list includes running an Ironman triathlon, achieving financial independence, experiencing long-term romance, learning English, becoming a proficient surfer, and traversing the outback. 

Tal did it all. His book, The Art of Fully Living tells the story in full detail. 

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to interview Tal and discuss the biggest lessons from this wild journey. In our chat, Tal recommended an especially useful thought experiment worth sharing.

His tip? Regret minimization thinking across multiple timelines. 

We've all been told to think back from our hypothetical deathbed and ask what we will regret having not done in our short time on Earth. While this is useful, Tal argues it is an incomplete thought exercise. 

Instead of just popping the question from a (hopefully) remote and distant deathbed, Tal suggests working through the question across multiple intervals.

Five years from now, what would you regret not having tried? What about ten years from now? What about just three months from now?

What opportunities are completely unique to your current situation? 

Each variant of the question will prompt different ideas. Each tweak brings your attention to a new area to find ways to live more fully. 

While I sincerely hope that our generation is the one that manages to cheat death through technology, I can't count on it. 

I'm still playing the game as if life is finite, so I want to live it fully. 

If you found value in this idea, you'll really enjoy the full chat with Tal! Search for The Louis and Kyle Show on Apple or Spotify to listen now. 

Watch Your Own Podcast - February 8th, 2021

Last fall, I asked 30 podcasters why they started their shows. 

A common answer went something like this, "I was having awesome conversations and thought to myself damn I should be recording this." 

I started my show for the exact same reason. The people I was talking to were blowing my mind, and I desperately wanted the ability to pause, rewind, and replay the very best moments. 

11 months and 53 episodes later, I asked the questions, "How many times have I actually done that? How often do I watch my own show?"

Outside of audio editing, not often. I'm now realizing that's a mistake.

If the goal of starting was to learn from conversations, repeat listening is an essential part of the equation. In hindsight, this is obvious. We respect repetition in the gym, but ignore it for self-education. 

The truth is muscles, skills, and knowledge all atrophy if neglected.

While we may be able to grasp an idea the first time, very rarely can we retain it after only one exposure. Relistening to your own content will surprise you with how often you repeat your 'aha moments'.

Beyond learning, the best reason to listen to your own show is to be able to improve it. 

This is a big mistake a lot of beginner creators make. When your show is new and your audience is small, you lack a critical ingredient for improvement: feedback. 

Until your audience grows, it's on you to find room for improvement. It's on you to notice and correct annoying speech patterns. It's on you to listen to your own voice and realize what you could do better. 

If you are making content, remember why you started. Take some time to consume your own content. Relearn the lessons. Make it better.

A War Against Being Tired - February 7th, 2021

Being tired sucks. 

When I'm tired, everything is harder. Everything that should be easy becomes an act of willpower. Getting out of bed at the first alarm is unlikely. Cooking breakfast is a chore. Brushing my teeth for 2-minutes becomes as challenging as a 2 minute plank. 

An hour into the day, 90% of my willpower is sapped. 

How then am I'm supposed to sit down, study and do work? 

It's not going to happen. Deadlines pile up. Progress isn't made. It's a disaster. 

Living that way sucks. 

Because of how deeply I can't stand days that follow that trajectory, I've invested a lot of time and effort into preventing that from happening. I've tweaked every area of my life searching for an answer. More sleep. Better diet. Different habits. More exercise.

While these all helped marginally, I still felt tired far too often. What the heck was going on?

It was during a study abroad that I finally cracked the code. 

This might be hard to believe, but I found a 100% correlation between lower energy levels and alcohol consumption. After finally making this (extremely obvious) connection, I decided to see how not drinking would impact my energy.

I tested it for a year. From November 2019 to December 2020, I didn't drink, and it worked wonders for my energy. For most of the year, I woke up and flew through my morning routine. I was energized by it. I enjoyed cleaning my teeth. I tasted my food. I treated making coffee liking making art. Things were clearly better. 

When the year of sobriety concluded, I decided to "go have fun again" and let alcohol back into the picture. Within a few weeks, I'm right back where I started. 

Sunday morning. No energy. Everything is unnecessarily hard again. 

The only difference this time, however, is that I know the cause. I haven't successfully found a way to drink that doesn't terrorize my energy and alertness. Even practicing moderation, I end up having a bad day every day that follows a day of drinking. 

After a year, I had taken high energy for granted. I got used to feeling alert throughout the day and forgot what it took to achieve that. It's okay to relearn lessons.

I had to revisit the low to remember the high. Now it's time to climb back up.

Finding a Mentor In 5 Steps - February 5th, 2021

In Episode 30 of Danny Miranda's Podcast, Nicolas Cole explained the process of finding a mentor in a dead simple formula.

How to find a mentor in five steps:

  1. Find someone further along than you are in what you are learning.
  2. Ask them a specific question about how to improve and progress.
  3. Follow their recommendation. Do the work.
  4. Report back with your results. Ask them another specific question. 
  5. Repeat steps 2-4.

Eventually, a mentor-mentee relationship will form organically. 

Don't overcomplicate this process.

Don't send DMs asking for ongoing mentorship. 

Don't go looking for mentors for its own sake.

Ask for specific advice, follow it, repeat. 

Summarized Echo Chambers - February 4th, 2021

Like it or not, we exist in personalized digital echo chambers. 

Internet companies are too good at knowing what we want, so we are constantly bombarded with the same types of information. 

Based on my past browsing decisions, my personal echo chamber is dominated by success content. 

Every suggested book on Amazon, search on Google, video on YouTube, or account on Twitter is about success. 

Even on brand new platforms, my patterns re-emerge. Within 3 days of using Clubhouse, I'm right back where I started: success content. But my digital world is the not same as everyone else's. 

My idea of a household name is not the same as my real world community's. The biggest names in the success space, Grant Cardone, for example, are complete unknowns to my parents or roommates.

Despite this new disconnect about who is and isn't a celebrity, there are some benefits to being confined to a narrow echo-chamber. The strongest of which is constant repetition. Because of this, observing and internalizing patterns and principles is an inevitability.

So for those of you existing in different digital realities, Here's a broad summary of the constantly repeated lessons and advice I've observed from being trapped in the eye of the internet-success hurricane.

  • Write your goals down daily. It's not a goal unless you write it down. 
  • Solve the problem in front of you. Focus on winning the day. 
  • Find a mentor and hire coaches. Learn from the best in the world.
  • You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.  
  • Follow proven recipes. Don't reinvent unnecessarily.  
  • Develop a passion for the process. Don't fixate on outcomes.
  • Build good habits. Break bad habits.
  • Be consistent. 

What echo-chamber are you in? What have you learned from it?

Ship30for30 ish? - February 3rd, 2021

Today marks the final day of January's Ship30for30 challenge. For the unfamiliar, the goal of the challenge is to publish 30 of these "screenshot" sized essays in 30 days. 

As expected for the final day, celebratory 'Ten Lessons from Ship30' threads dominated my Twitter feed this morning. Rightfully so, challenge finishers spent the day sharing their achievements across the internet. 

So where's my victory post? Why isn't this essay about that? Where's my hard-earned reflection?

It's coming, but it won't be here for another week or two. Why?

I failed Ship30 on day 10. I had a cross country flight. I needed to buy groceries. I was tired. I was hungry enough to eat an encyclopedia but too drained to write a 200-word essay.

100$ spent. 10 days later. 9 essays shipped. Game over, right?

Not at all. I took some time to refuel and rest, but got back to work within a few days. Sure, I might miss the deadline, but I'm still going to finish Ship30. 

With the ubiquity of the internet challenge, I've come to an important realization. Too often, we start to care more about completing an arbitrary challenge than we do about achieving the result that motivated us to take on the challenge in the first place. We fix our egos on badges and completely lose sight of the bigger picture. 

Why did I start the challenge? Why did I treat a well-intentioned internet stranger to his next 10 chipotle visits? Because I wanted to grow as a writer. 

I wanted a motivating reason to be 30 essays further ahead in my writing career than where I started on January first. 

Two weeks late or not, that's still the goal. I'd rather cross the line eventually than never cross it. Don't get hung up in the details. Do the work.

It's not all or nothing. It hardly ever is. Keep going. 

The Mindset Fountain - February 2nd, 2021

Certain problems are easy to solve.

If you are thirsty, you take a drink. If you are hungry, you grab some peanut-butter (or least I do). 

By now, most of us have learned how to handle these common biological signals. But what about some more complicated ones.

What do you do when you are bored? Unmotivated? Burning out? How well do you handle these emotions and triggers.

Just like keeping NyQuil on hand in-case you catch a cold, I propose proactively setting aside helpful resources for the major negative emotional states that inevitably crop-up.

I call this system the mindset fountain. Like a fast-food soda machine, you can pull whatever tap you want based on your mood. 

Here's what mine looks like. 

  • When I'm falling back into unproductive rhythms, I reread Cal Newport's books and listen to his podcast.
  • When my calisthenics progress flatlines, I rewatch Matthew Smith's Journey from Zero to Holding One-Arm Handstands.
  • When my general motivation fades, I listen to the JRE with David Goggins. By the end, I am ready to run through a brick wall.
  • When my social life dries up, I watch YES Theory to get inspired.
  • When I'm over-cluttered, I watch Matt D'Avella to make space. 
  • When I lack enthusiasm for my projects, I turn to Jack Butcher's feed.

Rather than being thrown off by these states, I know ahead of time where I should turn and what content to consume.

Proactively stock your pantry like it's the start of the pandemic all over again. Make sure the taps of your mindset fountain are full.

The internet is here to help you. Use it! 

Study Routine - February 1st, 2021

I face an avalanche of resistance anytime I try to sit and study.

Interesting material or not, I'm just not eager to glue myself to a chair and work through textbooks, notes, or lecture slides.

I'd much rather cook, clean, stretch, and pleasure-read. Despite these deep inclinations toward anything other than hitting the books, studying must happen if I want to pass my classes.

In an attempt to make it less painful to start and less tempting to quit once I actually get the ball rolling, I devised an unnecessarily complicated routine to reduce the friction to getting started. The major steps are outlined below.  

Take care of your biology. Being too hungry is too distracting. Being really thirsty is a distraction. Needing to use the restroom is distracting. Get this taken care of before starting.

Mise en place. Set everything up. Take care of the space around you. Reduce clutter physically and digitally. Close unrelated browser tabs. Clear your study surface.

Control your ears. Find silence or your preferred work playlists. Trust the state change will change your mood. 

Kill the possibility of distraction. Phone off completely. Use free software to block distracting websites. This should be irreversible for a fixed interval until your things are done.

Last, handwrite an in-order list of what you are going to work on. Set a focus timer. Commit to how long you are going to concentrate and then how long of a break you will take. 

That's it. Use the power of routine in your favor. 

Go! Do The Work!

Permissionless Experience - January 31st, 2021

For many students, COVID has made it more difficult to find internships.

Many worry that this is going to trap them in the Catch-22 of hiring: to get hired somewhere, you need to have relevant experience, and to get relevant experience, you need to get hired somewhere... or do you?

As difficult as this situation may seem, it could be a blessing for a student with the right mindset. 

Why? The needs of a given business don't always correspond to projects with the greatest degree of learning. On the other hand, self-designed projects can be custom-tailored to teach exactly what you hope to learn. 

Inspired by Jack Butcher's idea of the Permissionless Apprentice, I encourage students to consider what I call Permissionless Experience.
Gate-keepers be damned. If you can't find an internship it is not game over. It's game on. The only permission you need to learn and grow is your own.

Ask yourself the following questions. What skills were you hoping to learn from an internship? What relationships were you hoping to make?

Is an internship necessary to achieve those same goals? Not quite.

The internet has made it easier than ever to build compelling self-designed learning projects and to connect with anyone via Zoom and DMs.

Consider trying any of the following Permissionless Experiences 👇👇👇

  • Design your own 'internship' by learning a skill and completing projects.
  • Create and publish content about your passions, hobbies, or industry.
  • Volunteer your time somewhere and build your 'life-resume.'
  • Take free online courses (and take them seriously).
  • Pitch yourself as an intern to relevant companies. 
  • Consider opportunities outside of your major.

Don't give up hope if you don't get hired. Take ownership of your education.

If you found this helpful, I seriously recommend these two books: Ultralearning by Scott Young and The Third Door by Alex Banayan.

Low-Cost Experiments - January 30th, 2021

We severely undervalue the low-cost experiment. 

To our detriment, we assume things are permanent.

Binary. Yes or no. Black and white. Never or forever. 

That's not always helpful. 

I was a painfully annoying vegetarian for 6-years. Now, 80% of my calories come from steak and eggs. I still have the same friends. My family didn't abandon me. I made a U-Turn. I'm okay. 

You don't have to decide your entire life all at once. Tasting. Test drives. These are the antidotes.

Gates and Zuckerberg never "dropped out of college." 

They each took a leave of absence to run with projects with traction. Because they saw success, they never needed to re-enroll, but that wasn't decided upfront.

How should you test? What makes a good experiment? 

Low cost doesn't mean zero cost. Set clear boundaries at the beginning.  

Trying a new sport? 1 day at Jiu-Jitsu isn't a fair chance. 

Give it a month, minimum. 

World travel? You don't need to commit to 14-months as a Nomad. 

Start smaller and then decide if you want to keep going. 

Set a minimum goal, achieve it, and then re-evaluate. 

Set clear success criteria. Give yourself permission to change course.

Democratizing Manifestation - January 29th, 2021

The internet has democratized manifestation. 

It has NEVER been easier (literally, never) to take an idea from your head and bring it into the real world. 

Rapid-prototyping. Arduino. 3D Printers. Python. YouTube. Google. 

This is just the beginning. 

  • Any knowledge is accessible.
  • Any collaborator is accessible.
  • Any customer is accessible.

Instantly. Anything you could possibly need. Literally right now. 

How we don't appreciate this on a daily basis blows my mind.

About 2 weeks in to running my podcast, I was watching college Jeopardy with my parents. I marveled as Nibir Sarma demolished everybody. I thought, "damn it would be cool to talk to him."

A few DMs and Zooms later, we published an episode with Nibir.

My idea became reality within a week. 

This might be a trivia example but the implications aren't trivial. 

Now, more than ever, anything is possible.

Mainstream society celebrates consumption. 

That will get you nowhere. 

Opportunities come to creators. To producers. Builders of stuff! 

Stop waiting. You have the tools. Bring your ideas to life. 

Measuring Discomfort - January 28th, 2021

"Successful people get good at doing hard things." 

I first encountered this idea on Cal Newport's podcast, and it stuck with me. 

Whether it's waking up early, taking cold showers, or writing for a few extra hours, a great deal of success comes down to winning inflection points: moments where you either execute the plans you've made for yourself or give in to resistance and snooze your plans for an indefinite 'later'.

From having tried to build all of these habits, I'm no stranger to battling with the resistance. Because of that, I'm always in the hunt for helpful tactics to win these battles. Recently, an unexpected strategy came to me from cold-showers. 

Bringing my stopwatch into the shower like an absolute lunatic, I'd smash the start button after dialing the water down from cozy to cold. After a sufficient session of panicked deep breaths, my body would adjust to the water.

Settled in, I would then check my stopwatch to see how much time had elapsed & how much remains. Day 1, 1 minute & 10 seconds. Day 2, 1 minute & 10 seconds. Day 3, 1 minute & 10 seconds. Day 4, 1 minute & 10 seconds. 

Everyday, it took precisely 70 seconds to calm down and settle in. This was an empowering realization. All of a sudden, a 5-minute cold shower was reduced to only 70 seconds of discomfort followed by 4 minutes of normal showering. 

After noticing the pattern in the shower, I started looking for it everywhere.

Anytime I wake up to an alarm, I slide out of bed angry and grumpy. How long does that last? To find out, l measured my morning moods for a week. Like the showers, my state improved after a remarkably predictable interval: 12 minutes. 

Now, my first priority in the morning is to make those 12 minutes pass as easily as possible. Make coffee, put away dishes, brush my teeth. I just bumble around for 12-minutes confident that alertness is just around the corner. 

From observing the boundaries of discomfort, I reduced the difficulty of building good habits. What I learned by accident, I'm now purposely applying in new areas. 

How long does it take to find flow when writing? What about ignoring a craving? At what mile-marker does my heart-rate settle down?  

By measuring discomfort, I've made doing hard things easier. Resistance becomes predictable and manageable. Pay close attention when you are doing hard things. 

Often, starting might just be the hardest part. 

Productivity and Fun - January 26th, 2021

The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. 

Most productivity advice is wildly ignorant of this natural phenomenon. 

You are bombarded with tactics and widgets: pomodoro timers, complex planning systems, nootropics, to-do lists, and focus music. 

While these are useful, and I actually recommend most of them, they are trivial in the big picture. They are the 80% of causes that earn only 20% of the results.

The truly impactful variables come from the context of your life outside of work. Circumstance exhibits a much greater impact on your productivity than whatever systems and tools you try to incorporate.

You hopefully know the importance of sleep, diet, and exercise, so I won't bore you with repeating those. Loving what you do also makes a huge difference, but what really matters is excitement. 

Are there things outside of work that excite you? How often? Are there things that excite you outside of work on a daily basis? 

As a countermeasure to letting work bleed into the evening, I've tried imposing a hard stop to my workday. I set the intention of finishing everything by 5pm but pretty much always end up working past 5pm.

Why? I didn't have anything compelling planned for after 5. I'd cook dinner, call a friend on the phone, and maybe read a book? I 'like' all of that, but it's not nearly a strong enough pull to work harder all day. 

To stop working at 5, you need to really look forward to what you are going to do after 5. Otherwise, why be productive? Why finish early?

Being quarantined and locked-down has stripped a lot of excitement from daily life. Concerts, social venues, group fitness, and travel are either closed completely or are lacking the vibe they used to create.

It's up to you to find new forms of fun and new ways to interject excitement into daily life. Your productivity depends on it. 

Context Versus Effort - January 24th, 2021

My Sunday was off to a fantastic start. I slept 10 blissful hours. I brewed my  generic Target brand three-region coffee. The sun was shining through the window illuminating the pages of one of my favorite books. I was at peace. 

Sipping my expertly-prepared generic coffee, I flipped through the pages of Gary Keller and Jay Papasan's masterpiece, The ONE Thing, for my second pass. 

Then this quote slapped me in the face. 

"Most people struggle to realize how many things don't need to be done, if they would just start with the right thing" — The ONE Thing

My serene morning came to an abrupt stop. Implications and illustrations of the quote rushed to my awareness. 

Where am I making life unnecessarily difficult by not applying this idea?

Where can changing context overpower changing effort? I thought about ice. 

On a hot day in Vegas, ice sells without effort. In Alaska, our same ice salesman fails. In response, maybe he'd start reading sales books to 'understand' what he's doing wrong. He might even hire a sales-team and bring in consultants. 

  • When you are selling what people want, marketing is just positioning and communication. It's only when there's a mismatch that any tactics and persuasion are needed. 
  • When you start with the right thing, you just need to show up. 
  • When you start with the wrong thing, you have to bring in consultants. 

If you hate your work, you'll constantly have to drag yourself to do it. You'll  clock-stare and caffeinate to make it bearable. Inner war becomes the norm.

If your work aligns with your interests and strengths, you'll be like a child at play and look forward to each day. 

Think clearly about your goals and what changes would change everything.

Ask "What is The ONE Thing I can do today such that by doing it, everything else would become easier or unnecessary?"

Do what matters most. ONE Thing at a time. 

Zombies Are Everywhere - January 23rd, 2021

When you are out and about, keep your head up. Look around.

Try it everywhere you go. You'll notice the same thing. 

Everyone else is a zombie. 

Their faces are smothered by screens. Their ears are plugged, covered, or closed. The sounds of nature are overpowered by numbing entertainment of their choosing. 

They are held hostage by their custom virtual universes.

They are all zombies. All of them. 

All of them, except you. Keep your head up. Look around. Choose to see the world. Remember how to experience it. Allow thoughts to wander. 

Observe as the zombies passively go about their days. Watch the measures they'll take to avoid even a glimpse of solitude. 

Solitude is a superpower: sustained concentration, bouncing creative insights, and time for the thinking brain to recharge. 

When you are out and about, keep your head up. Look around. You'll find friends. A group of others that have warded off the pandemic of the mind. A secret fraternity of people aware of awareness. 

Others that look up. Others that plug into the world not the machine.

They are at peace with themselves, at peace with their thoughts, and at peace with the moment. 

They've cured themselves of the pandemic of the mind.

The cure requires a mild dose of boredom and a mild dose of solitude. 

A small price to pay to not be a zombie. 

Quit Daily News - January 22nd, 2021

The daily "news" is outrage porn. 

It's engineered to scare you, piss you off, and induce panic.

People consume the daily news for noble reasons. To stay informed. To be the first to know new information. To understand what's going on in the world. 

The daily news is the worst way to achieve these goals.

Even without intentional bias, the daily news gets a lot wrong. Reporting on stories as they happen is nearly guaranteed to have errors. There isn't enough time to verify details. There isn't enough time to let the dust settle.

I propose checking on a fixed interval: once per week—at most. 

Why? Time is the ultimate filter for relevancy.

Most stories won't make it to the end of the week. If it's irrelevant within a few days, it's not worth knowing at all. 

For the new stories that do last a full week, the end-of-week summary will be orders of magnitude more accurate than what is first reported. 

Whether you consume daily, weekly, or monthly, the same stuff happened. The facts are unchanged by how often you are glued to your screen. 

Anytime I can achieve the same result will less time, effort, and emotional investment, I take the opportunity with enthusiasm.

I'm always tuned for making small changes that lead to outsized results. Quitting the daily news is one of them.

Delete Digital Illusions - January 21st, 2021

"We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles but by a clearer path to a lesser goal" - Robert Brault

Tinder and Duolingo have a lot in common: they suck and should be deleted immediately. We tried these apps for good reasons. We wanted to learn languages. We wanted to improve our dating lives. 

We've been deceived. 

As cleverly as these apps are marketed, they are awful for realizing our goals. Reality has an inconceivable amount of detail, and swiping, texting, and multiple choice quizzes are shallow and incomplete models of the real world. 

These bright and colorful apps have mastered a very dark art. After months we feel like we've made progress, but we've barely passed start. 

Badges, matches, awards, and levels make it feel like we are going somewhere, but it's all an illusion. It's an extremely clear path that leads nowhere. 

We overcomplicate our goals to avoid discomfort. Dating and language learning are simple goals with simple answers. The highest leverage actions are obvious. Socialize with a lot of people. Fumble through conversations with native speakers. 

There are no substitutes for these approaches. The shortcut is to stop taking shortcuts. Unappealing or scary, our opinion of the facts doesn't change them. 

Don't put more value in the illusion of progress than actual progress.

The best way to do something is to do it. Increase your bench press by bench pressing. Not by reading about it. Not by playing mobile games. 

Only by lifting the weight.

Ditch the apps. Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to people. Do the work. 

Managing Infinity - January 20th, 2021

Things used to be finite.

Cigarettes burned out.

Piles of mail only grew so high.

TV shows aired one episode at a time.

It used to be dramatically harder to satisfy your cravings for more.

Smoking inside was frowned upon. You had to wait for more.

The mail only arrived once a day. You had to wait for more.

TV shows only came on at a set time. You had to wait for more.

But things aren't like that anymore. There's no limit to how often you can hit a vape, refresh email, or binge watch an entire TV show.      

We consume far beyond what's recommended or healthy.

There were benefits to the simplicity of finite things. But things aren't so simple.

Vaping is probably better than smoking, email has advantages over snail mail, and Netflix is fun. As all do, these innovations came with good and bad.

The problem lies in the unrestrained nature of these new inventions.

Effortless abundance. Low friction access to infinity.

Endless potential... for things to go wrong.

To retain sanity, balance, and health in an age of easy excess, the habit of self-imposing arbitrary constraints is an absolute must.

Fence in your vices. Set rules. Fix limits. Follow them.

Avoid Competing Goals - January 19th, 2021

Some goals don't work together very well.

Consider trying to bulk-up while training for a marathon.

Bulking plans prescribe lifting heavy weight a few times per week and eating a significant daily caloric surplus.

Most marathon plans recommend 30+ miles of running per week.

Running will reduce your rest between sets, and lifting will make you faster. Of course there are some overlapping benefits between these goals, but you aren't going to gain weight and run 30 miles per week.

Pursuing both goals leads to worse results than chasing just one.

Some would stop here. They'd conclude to focus on one goal at a time. They would be wrong. 

Some goals overlap well and can be mutually reinforcing.

The goals of reading more books and producing more writing align extremely well. Reading fills writing with ideas and stories. Writing inspires reading to fill knowledge gaps only revealed by writing. 

Pursuing both goals leads to better results than chasing just one. 

Put high-level consideration into your goals and what is involved in achieving them. Are they compatible? Do they support each other? 

If the answer is no, drop one goal. Pick and stick. Work sequentially.

For compulsive high achievers, it is a greater achievement to forgo the pursuit of some goals to make it possible to achieve others.

Standing Out Is Easy - January 18th, 2021

Standing out in 2021 is surprisingly easy.

Terrible habits are the rule & healthy habits are the exception.

People are out of shape, constantly tired, addicted to distraction (cheap dopamine from social media, texts, emails), and stressed.

I'm not celebrating this bleak depiction of society, but I don't feel any guilt capitalizing on the opportunity it presents for individuals.

Neither should you. 

How do you stand out? Adopt four habits in service of two goals. Improve your energy levels. Improve your ability to concentrate. 

Energy is a force multiplier for everything that you do. Everything is easier when you have high energy. It feels good to feel good. 

Concentration is the key ingredient to success in knowledge work. Knowledge work has two parts: learning complicated information and producing valuable assets. Both require concentration.  

These four habits improve your energy and concentration capacity.

  1. Sleep with your phone off in another room. Buy an alarm clock.
  2. Exercise at a moderate difficulty outside every day.
  3. Only eat one ingredient foods. Beans. Eggs. Broccoli. 
  4. Batch Distractions. Check email once per day then close it until the next day. Do the same on social media.

Try all four habits for a week.

Don't celebrate mediocrity.

Don't laugh about your bad habits. Break them. 

Tools, Toys, and The 2007 Test - January 15th, 2021

The only way to "make more time" is to use your time more effectively. A prime candidate for achieving this is reducing the time spent with your screens, more specifically, your phone.

To do this, I recommend judging all of your apps and use cases for your phone through what I call the "2007 test."

"Is this something I could have performed on the original iPhone?"

Steve Jobs' vision for the iPhone at MacWorld 2007 was a digital Swiss Army knife: a revolutionary user interface that combined audio entertainment, web-browsers, calls/texts, and useful utilities like notes, calculator, and a camera.

The original iPhone was a tool, not a toy. 

14 years later, everyone is addicted to their digital multi-tools.

The iPhone was not intended to take over our lives. It wasn't supposed to be consulted at the slightest hint of boredom. It wasn't supposed to be on the dinner table face up. It wasn't supposed to be checked every few minutes. It wasn't supposed to be used 4+ hours of the day.

Go through your apps. Ask "is this a tool or a toy?" Ask "could I have done this in 2007?" Delete apps accordingly. Be ruthless.

There are a few obvious exceptions. The 2007 iPhone did not have a front camera, but I would generally consider FaceTime to be a good use of your device. The first iPhone didn't have a proper GPS, but I would definitely advise navigation if you are lost. 

The 2007 test is not perfect, but it's a starting point for critical thinking.

Delete useless apps. Delete distracting apps. Live your life.

Should You Build in Public? - January 14th, 2021

(Update: March 5th, 2021, I have returned to Twitter since writing this essay)

A few months ago, I heard the term "build in public" for the first time.

If you are working on cool stuff, talk about it online. Let people try your early versions. Publish what mistakes you are making so others can learn from them proactively. Share glimpses of success to inspire other builders. 

There are great benefits to this approach. 

  • Acquire and learn from real users
  • Potential to "go viral" with the right retweet or share
  • Increase your odds for serendipitous, positive events to occur

I tried buying into this strategy in 2020, but ran into a big problem: I got too caught up in the documenting. Using Twitter to share what I was building lead to more time on Twitter and less time building.

I started building in public prematurely. My "builder" habits were not nearly developed enough to overcome the addictive draw of Twitter.   

On the times that I saw benefits from building in public, like high engagement with a tweet, things only got worse. I started to crave the attention and validation (quick & cheap dopamine). I started to care more about making good tweets than making good work.

So I quit Twitter.

I'm now taking the extra time to learn skills and produce work. I'm betting more of my chips on quality instead of hoping for retweets and hoping for likes.

If building in public is getting in the way of your building, take a step back and remind yourself why you are building in the first place.

Don't let building in public get in the way of building.

No Room for Social Media - January 11th, 2021

Last week, I deleted all of my social media accounts.

My decision came from a three step framework I learned from studying minimalism and intentional living.

Step 1: Identify your most important values

Step 2: Identify the most important activities that support your most important values

Step 3: Prioritize those activities above less important activities. Don't let what matters least take away from what matters most. 

With my last semester of college coming up, I went through the exercise to make sure my activities matched my values. Here's my thinking...

Values: my work (learning), relationships (real world), and my health and happiness (fitness, energy levels, and emotions). 

Prioritized Activities: studying, exercising, sleeping well, and having an in-person social-life.

With this established, I asked if there was room for social media in the picture. Would it be supportive or detrimental?

Social media is harmful to overall concentration and time management.

It doesn't make me fit or happy. Constant comparison is not helpful.

It doesn't amplify my real world social interactions. 

Seems like a simple decision to me.

Find what matters most. Make sure your actions support it.

(since writing this, I rejoined Twitter :/ -- It is extremely useful for finding podcast guests)

Think With A Different Box - January 9th, 2021

Being told to "think outside the box" is unhelpful. 

Once you "leave the box," where do you go? How do ideas interact? What do you hold on to?

The expression approaches creative thinking all-wrong. You still need frameworks (boxes) to make sense of the world. The goal isn't to discard structured-thought all-together. The goal is to challenge your base assumptions and think through situations with different frameworks.

The solution? Think with a different box. 

Mental models are general thinking concepts that usefully model real-world situations. Many systems and situations follow predictable patterns. The more mental models you are familiar with, the more likely you'll think with an appropriate and helpful box to model your situation.

Your library of mental models can be expanded in a few ways. 

  • Studying contrarian thinkers. 
  • Studying disciplines such as: math, economics, computer science, natural sciences, anthropology, and game-theory.
  • Directly reading about mental models.

If you approach problems with the same boxes as everyone else, you won't stand out. Your ideas will be predictable and uninspiring.

Instead, if you want to build a reputation for developing unique ideas, finding missed patterns, considering alternate explanations, and an ability to change people's perspectives, study mental models. 

What gets measured gets improved. Focused effort to enhance your thinking can lead to thinking better.

Want to dig deeper? Start here: https://fs.blog/mental-models/

You Need a Sleep Checklist - January 8th, 2021

I hate lying awake in bed. 

If I don't fall asleep within 10-15 minutes, the feedback loop from hell kicks in. Stress about not being able to fall asleep. Stress about not getting enough sleep. Not sleeping because of the stress from not sleeping. 

More than being endlessly frustrated in the moment, the quality of my sleep determines my happiness, self-confidence, long term optimism, and demeanor on a day-to-day basis. 

Knowing these critical factors are at the mercy of my sleep, I studied my patterns to learn how to avoid sleepless evenings.

I observed three rules that form the basis of my "sleep checklist."

  1. Did I drink caffeine too late in the day? (within 8 hours of bed)
  2. Did I nap for too long or too late in the day? 
  3. Did I exercise (moderate intensity) for at least 30 minutes?

With all three correct, I sleep like a child. If not, I run the risk of another frustrating evening and an entire day off-balance.

Now, I take every precaution to avoid breaking a rule. I'd prefer to "waste" two hours in the afternoon binging YouTube to not throw off my sleep schedule with a nap. It's worth forgoing two productive hours to save an entire day.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying that "fatigue is the best pillow.” My checklist lead me to the same conclusion: the most important factor for falling asleep is being tired. 

Everyone needs a sleep checklist. Look for patterns. Document what works. Tweak, experiment, and optimize the right variables. 

Don’t Snooze, Win The Day - January 7th, 2021

With James Clear’s personal email list crossing 1-million subscribers, there’s no denying that the discussion of habits has gone mainstream.

After the fundamental habits are dialed in (smoking, drinking, healthy eating, and exercise), the snooze button should be the next target for habit-change.

Successful people focus on winning the day. Skills are acquired by stacking days of practice, books are written by stacking days of writing, and bodies are sculpted by stacking days of training.

If you snooze, you don’t win the day.

Yiddish culture has a proverb for this: Lose an hour in the morning, chase after it all day. Just as the height of a pyramid is governed by its base, the effectiveness of your day is governed by your morning.

Start your day with a mini-victory. Wake up at the first alarm.

How to break the snoozing habit?

  • Change beliefs — Deeply believe that snoozing is losing
  • Add consequences — Venmo a friend $50 every-time you snooze
  • Plan your first 20 minutes—Brush your teeth, drink coffee, go for a walk. Know exactly how you want to spend the first 20-minutes
  • Celebrate victory—Put "no snooze" on a ToDo list and cross it off 

Yiddish culture has one more proverb that might persuade you: If you want your dreams to come true, don’t oversleep. 

Get up and get after it.

Happiness is really simple - January 6th, 2021

Don't try to guess what will make you happy this year.

Don't set new resolutions. Conduct a detailed 2020 review instead. This 10-minute exercise changed my outlook for the coming year. 

Get a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle to make two columns, name one positive, the other negative.

Flip your calendar to January 2020 and relive the year, week by week. As you do, jot down the good and bad in the appropriate columns. If you journal, flip through that as well.

After completing this exercise, I was dumbfounded by how a few simple variables constituted 90% of my well-being.

My best days: outdoor cardio, proper sleep, frequent reading and writing, frequent playtime (racketball, frisbee, deep conversations), cold showers, and active in-person socialization (family, friends and dating life).

With all of those variables in place, I felt happy, motivated, and grateful to be alive.

My worst days: stress & overwhelm, unnecessary busyness, poor sleep, canola oil, obsessive number checking (stocks, bitcoin, website traffic, podcast downloads), and unrestricted social media use.

Those weeks sucked.

From this basic exercise, I know what to prioritize this year and what to avoid. Use the past year's worth of data to derive your own personal happiness equation!

Don't try to guess what makes you happy. All the info you need is right in front of you.

Don't Confuse Viable with Mandatory - January 5th, 2021

I'm graduating college four months from now.

This "deadline" to figure out my life is inducing a lot of stress, and I finally identified why. 

After binging a few dozen entrepreneurship books my sophomore year, I've taken deliberate steps to convince myself that "entrepreneurship is viable immediately after graduating." 

What were those deliberate actions?

Input Immersion: Obsessively consuming content that promoted this belief — books, podcasts, even personal conversations.

Affirmations: Literally repeating the statement "entrepreneurship is viable immediately after graduating" on a near daily basis

Actions: Learning and developing "entrepreneurial skills" & starting side projects

The problem? That formula worked way too well. I fully convinced myself of my intended belief, but did not anticipate the wave of unintended side-beliefs that would come with it.

By convincing myself that entrepreneurship is viable immediately, I accidentally convinced myself that it was mandatory. Anything else was failure. Taking a job, no matter how good the opportunity, the pay, or how much I would enjoy the work constituted losing in my distorted & self-imposed game.

The reward for expanding your sense of possibility should be confidence--not stress. Finishing your first marathon does not mean you HAVE to graduate into Iron-Mans just because you now think they are possible.

Don't confuse what's now possible as being mandatory.

Write everyday for 30 days? Leverage and Understanding - January 4th, 2021

When I rejoined Twitter in February, David Perell's account popped up in my feed. Over and over, he repeated variants of the following idea: writing online is a super power.

When I started listening to podcasts, Naval Ravikant's "How to Get Rich without Getting Lucky" popped up in my feed. Over and over, he repeated variants of the following idea: accumulate permission-less leverage.

Learn to build, learn to sell. Permission-less leverage comes from media and engineering. Learn to code, learn to write. I'm already taking care of the coding with my bachelors degree, so I figured my spare time should go to the writing.

Insert Dickie Bush. Dickie's an up-and-coming writer who created a 30-day-challenge to help maximize the leverage of writing efforts. Ship a screenshot sized "atomic-essay" everyday for 30 days. This has a few key benefits.

Public accountability. Announcing that you are publishing daily for month means there are consequences for failing: looking bad and not upholding your word with however many people you told about the challenge.

Iteration. Quantity drives Quality. It takes 50 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. You'll learn something each essay that improves your writing.

Develop a workflow. Build positive habits. Publishing daily becomes doable only through rituals and routines. This improves efficiency as a writer.

Low-cost feedback from low-cost experiments. Some essays will pop-off while others will flop. I'd prefer to know which after 300 words rather than 3000.

Thinking has two parts: processing input and outputs. The learning comes from the transformation of one into the other.

Input: hear an idea in the classroom, read an idea in a book, observe something in the world. Chew on it. Output: make it communicable to others, write about it, make a presentation, make an infographic.

Explanation is the only objective test of understanding. Reading 25 books is far less impactful than understanding and summarizing 10.

Over the past few years, I've encountered so many life changing ideas that I wish to better communicate. This challenge forces me to crystallize my thinking on at least 30 of those topics.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter to see what comes next!

Don't Move Your Goal Posts - January 3rd, 2021

My first goal in 2021 was to re-introduce a bad habit. Why?

In November 2019 I committed to quit alcohol for at least one year.

I was 'studying' in Bangkok as a part of an insane two months of fun, parlaying 10 days at Burning Man straight into a knuckle-head tour of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia in a few short weeks. I had countless amazing experiences and instagram moments but felt a nagging sense of stagnation. 

My long term goals in entrepreneurship and fitness were no closer in November than they were in August, and I couldn't shake the negative feeling of standing still.

Journaling on the problem, I identified drinking as the key habit interfering with my growth in the gym, day-to-day energy, and barrier to productive use of downtime.

For something to change, something had to change. Drinking had to go. 

For 13 months, I didn't drink a sip of alcohol, and it was amazing. 2020 was an unreasonably productive year. I ran my first marathon, learned how to hold 45 second handstands and do the splits, started a podcast and recorded over 70 interviews, completed two college semesters, and did the 75HARD.

When 2020 wrapped up, I looked to my journal yet again. Where will my next area of growth come from? Will it come from another year of sobriety and hyper-focused productivity? Of setting another 12 months worth of goals and systematically achieving them?

That's what I've been doing, so I might as well keep it up... right?

Not quite. I needed to get back in touch with my why. Why was I sober? What did I hope to achieve by taking a year off of drinking?

In that reflection process, I realized that I achieved my reasons for testing sobriety. I spent a year focused on discipline, entrepreneurial projects, and personal growth. 

I learned what I set out to learn.

Ironically, what I need now is to learn how to have fun again... to let loose and be spontaneous.

New Years came around, which meant it had been well over 1 year without alcohol.

I made it across my finish line, and I gave myself the freedom to celebrate.

Don't move your goal posts.

Published on Mar 05, 2021

You Might Also Enjoy