Posted by Sebastian Marshall on May 13, 2013 0 Comments
Algis Tamosaitis is the author of "Rock Your Travel" and has graciously joined up for a GiveGetWin deal -- where you'll get a copy of his book, time to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts, and then he'll show you the ropes during an intimate session of helping you and a small group plan travel itineraries, make sure you're earning mileage, and answer all your questions so you're traveling in style.
"Why And How I Started Travel Hacking (And Why You Should, Too)" by Algis Tamosaitis, as told to Sebastian Marshall
I was exploring and experiencing the world from the very beginning.
My parents were into travel, they were from Lithuania, married in Australia, and lived in California. So they didn't want to be "we live in Los Angeles and don't go anywhere. We had relatives in Australia, so I was going there as a little kid.
My mother became a travel agent eventually, and my dad was a private pilot. I was lucky.
It's hard to describe the first travel experiences. You read about a place, and it never matches up to what you read. Some crazy tiny thing is what connects with you. My Mom and I were going to a farmer's market in Paris, and the food looks very imperfect to me. In Los Angeles, they pick and sell strawberries that have been colored and altered to be big and bright.
The French strawberries looked funky to me. I said, "I don't want that!" But my Mom made me try it… and it was the most amazing fresh fruit I ever had.
I had a good start, but I slowed down from traveling. What woke me up to it and caused me to dive in so deeply was that both of my parents got cancer in a short period of time.
They didn't get to do a ton of stuff they intended to do. That was my wakeup call to get back into traveling, and do what I want to do with my life.
I was my parents' primary caregiver for seven years. After they passed away, it was one of those things where I was like, "What am I waiting for?" I was reading about people traveling, especially traveling long-term.
It was exciting to me. I booked a trip to go almost around the world through different countries that were very disparate, and it was one of the best things for my thinking and my attitude. I think it's the case for most people -- travel is the fastest way to make you feel alive and reassess where you are currently in life.
That might be because travel makes you realize how stoked you are to be alive, or maybe you want to rethink things and get new influences. At home, you've got your normal breakfast and your routines. On the road, you get new decisions to make all the time, all sorts of choices about even something like breakfast.
I really like one the posts Sebastian wrote, I liked the one where he was watching the people going by the station. Thinking about their lives and the set path they lived, and how his was different. Unless you're there, it's very hard to actually imagine that.
I didn't realize how much travel was changing me at first… I was upset both of my parents passed away… but right away it started to change how I felt. I started seeing hardship in other countries, and realizing certain things are going to happen in life. I began to feel like I should choose my own direction and life, and not just choose what's programmed into me by society. Choosing my own path.
I started being more selective about who I spent time with when I got back, and about what I did with my time… I didn't go on a trip and come back to my exact same life, I was changed afterwards.
I think everyone would benefit from pursuing this, but most people don't. The two main objections I hear is that they don't have the time or the money.
The goal behind my book was to help at least with the money option, to show how cheap it can be. If you want it bad enough, you could book a ticket for $1000 to $1200 from the US to Asia. That's actually not an unreasonable amount of money, and people don't think twice about buying more house than they need, or more car than they need, but there's this weird view that travel is an expensive luxury.
I want to show people how this isn't a luxury -- it's a necessity. It's worth it.
There's also ways to get flights for cheaper, or even for free, especially if you're an American.
Almost everyone in the U.S. has a credit card, and that card should do things for you beside just make money for the bank. That could be earning you miles. Small business owners in particular could be getting a ton of miles.
The airlines make it just barely difficult enough that you have to spend a little bit of time learning how to earn miles, and the people perceive that as being too difficult. But once they've done it once, they're hooked.
I wrote my book is to get people into the game. Once you read it, you're not clueless any more. And then it's just how far and how deep they want to dive into it. The payoff vs. the time invested is totally worth it if you want to travel. And then you realize, there's easily earned miles everywhere.
The thing that'll move the needle the most is getting an airline-branded credit card, which gets you a free ticket the quickest.
Any of the following three cards is a really good choice to get, I recommend these three the most: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Starwood Preferred Gold AMEX, and the American Express Gold Card.
To get one of these cards, you need to get a decent credit score. Then literally, you Google any of these cards or go to the chase.com website or the americanexpress.com website, and they'll have all the cards with those benefits.
When you search, put "maximum signup bonus" -- the credit card company will give you a lot of miles for signing up. Often, you can get 40,000 or 50,000 miles for getting a card for the first time. A roundtrip ticket to Asia costs around 50,000 miles, so getting just one great card can get you a free ticket. And then, every time you put spending on that credit card, you get airline miles.
One card signup can practically get you to another country.
The next thing people need to know is about airline alliances. You can use American Airlines Miles to fly on Japan Airways or British Airways, for instance. People don't know about that. Basically, you do the best if you earn the most miles in one program, and then you can spend it on their partner airlines.
You can also earn miles when flying another program. Meaning, you could earn American Airlines miles while flying Qantas, British Airways, or Japan Airways. It's a little confusing, but the rule for the person who doesn't travel so much is -- get as many miles in a single program.
The reason I suggested the three above credit cards is because all of them earn points that can be exchanged for many different types of airline miles, so you can then transfer to your ideal program to get the flights you want. That Starwood card gives you a miles bonus and lets you choose between 30 different airlines.
Another thing I always recommend is opting into a dining program. It's free, and it means many restaurants you'll get 3x or 5x as many miles as normal. You're going to get extra miles at the end of the month for eating out.
I recommend you join dining programs with your credit card right away. Every major U.S. airline has mileage dining programs. It's free to join, you just need to be a member of their frequent flyer program which is also free. And you can link the dining program to as many credit or debit card as you want.
I recommend any credit or debit card you'd use at restaurants, you register with the airline you fly on. Tons of restaurants and bars are enrolled in dining programs. You don't even need to think about it after enrolling -- it just means you get free frequent flyer miles. You never have to think about it again after that, and it means you get free miles. It basically is a "set it and forget" kind of thing, it's a free bonus with no cost.
And where should you go for your first trip internationally? My personal favorite place to go is Tokyo, but I think the most important thing is to think about the thing you've always wanted to do since you were a kid. Did you see a movie you connected with, or read books on a topic? Or were your watching Animal Planet and looking at safaris?
The most important thing is not getting caught up in anyone else's recommendations, and instead following your own dreams. For some people, it's a gradual process. If you've never left the United States, maybe a non-English country is scary, and that would limit the options. But that's fine, and pushing the comfort zone even a bit lets you experience something new.
This entire thing is a gradual process. Travel, every single time I'll learn new things. It could be a miles thing, or something about myself, or something about a food I never tasted before, or how the mangoes are in Singapore, or something we don't have in the U.S.
When you travel, all of your senses are going to be engaged. Sometimes I land in a certain country, and Russell Peters does a joke about this when he lands off the plane and it smells totally different. I know a couple times I've landed in Bangkok and humanity is out there. It's not just the people out there, but all the different foods being cooked, the motorbikes, everything -- it's different.
It's exciting. Every new place is exciting. And the other thing I love is that when I go back to a place I really like, it's like visiting an old friend. You can see what spots are changed, you can see if your favorite hole in the wall spots are there. Maybe last time you went by yourself, and now you're going with a significant other and can share your favorite experiences with your SO and bond together. You bond together a lot faster when you're traveling than back home.
You can find Algis at rockyourtravel.com -- you can his book on Amazon. And of course, you can get a copy of Rock Your Travel plus work hands-on with Algis during an intimate group session through GiveGetWin, with all the proceeds to charity.
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on April 14, 2013 0 Comments
Mars Dorian's motto in life is, "When you’re not trying to fit in, you’re free to stand out."
Mars is an illustrator, designer, blogger, and consultant focused on helping you and your business stand out. He's edgy and embraces authenticity even to the point where his work can be quite controversial -- but he's also got brilliant insights and excellent artisanship.
To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal where you can get a copy of his illustrated guide to branding and standing out, Mars sat down with Sebastian Marshall and opened up about reaching the highest levels of creative potential, owning where you're at, and becoming truly exceptional at your craft. Enjoy --
"How To Break Through With Your Work" by Mars Dorian, as told to Sebastian Marshall
I start my day with 2-3 hours of learning. After breakfast and before I do any work, I start learning and dissecting something related to my craft.
When I see a drawing that's exciting, I know it's not magically exciting. It's not coincidentally exciting. There are rules of contrast and composition; there are strategies, laws, and mechanics that make a great composition.
Great artists know these. The best are so good they do it unconsciously. Because I want to be improving every day, I do it consciously. I dissect pictures and try to say why they're great. Learn the rules.
Most people don't put in the effort. The just draw or design.
Everyone talks about being in flow. But to get to the next level, you need to break flow and go beyond your comfort zone. You can't just work automatically in a trance -- you have to be conscious of your progress.
Wake up, start and say 'how can i do this more? how can I use this color?' It breaks away me away from flow, but it improves the picture.
The way to start improving is to pick a mental model in your area of someone very good. Learn from the master. Pick a few masters of the field.
Understand their process. Get their process. Read their biography, check out websites about them, learn everything they can about how they do their work. Then ask someone else more knowledgeable than you about your field. "Why did that take that action? How do they start work on a new piece or project?" Keep asking those questions. Ask more experienced people, and dissect and analyze with them, to learn the mechanics, and apply them for yourself.
That's how I do it with designing, writing, and illustrating. I have some mentors that are like twice my age. I send them the pictures I really like, but sometimes I don't know why I like the picture, why it's really awesome. So I ask, "How come I like this one so much? Why can't I get it off my head?" Then I can use similar effects once I hear the answer.
Some people say "just trust your intuition." But I'm a huge fan of creating systems and breaking things down. There's a formula for everything, and once you know the formulas and know them in your sleep, you can do everything.
If you know the formula and how it's supposed to work, then you can create something that stands out. Once you know all the rules of storytelling, how to create tension, how to create compelling characters, how to create a style, how to make a page-turner… it's like being in the Matrix and being able to see the code. Then you can manipulate the code to make it work in your favor. You can then make something that applies some of the rules so it doesn't scare people off, but is also innovative.
I want to know what most people do in illustrating, and I can start there. I can see, "Everyone tends to use this kind of picture and this kind of color to get this mood." So I can use something near that color to get that effect, but because I know the rule I can also do it somewhat differently so I can stand out."
In the past, I was the complete opposite. I believed everything should come magically almost. Wishful thinking -- if you believe in it, it should happen. Law of attraction y'know? I wasn't very successful, nothing was happening for me. I used to think, shit, why isn't this working? But once I started learning about systems, my life did a complete 180-degree U-turn.
There's four levels of competency -- you start clueless and don't even know you're clueless. If you want to drive a car, level 1 is not even knowing what you don't know. Level 2 is having a clue about what you don't know. Level 3 is having a clue, you can drive, but you have to concentrate intensely to drive. Level 4 is knowing it perfectly, it just flows effortlessly from their consciousness.
Most people are stuck in the first level. They kind of suck in a way, and don't even know it. Take illustrators. They don't have a great idea of composition, color, and anatomy, but they don't even know why. So I always tell them, "maybe you should ramp up your skills."
Before I was clueless, but I didn't know I was clueless. Then I saw people half my age doing better work than me, work that blew me away. That moved me from level 1 to level 2, I started working harder to be more realistic and learn.
Doing the mastery thing is hard, it takes time and can be scary to do. But it is simple. You do it, apply it, and you get the results.
In Germany, Western countries, the USA, maybe everywhere…. when you want to do a creative career, you ask your friends and family about your work and they say, "Oh, it's great!" They don't say, "Oh, it's shit!" So you get a bubble where you get stuck. You think everyone likes your work and you're doing fine. But really you're not. You think you're good, but you don't realize your skill on a global level is weak. There's thousands of people half your age who are working day and night, and who have skill that blows yours away.
For me, I ran into a kid who was 12 or 13 while I was in my 20's who had knowledge and skills who could blow me away. When I saw his work, I went home and cried my eyes out. He smoked me out of the water. I realized I didn't have the skill. Everyone told me I was good, but I realized I wasn't -- and that's when I started creating those systems.
When I say systems, I mean knowing how something works to get an effect over and over again. You could call it systems, formulas, or "a program"…
Here's the the formula I use to learn: find the best images and artwork in the world, dissect it, run all the rules of design through it, and have the best people dissect it and understand it with you, get feedback… and rinse and repeat over and over again.
Right now, when I look pictures, I know why the color and shapes and composition create a particular effect. If something doesn't work, I know why -- they go against the unwritten laws of good composition.
It's not about talent -- it's about human beings creating structures to make sense of the world. Mathematicians can calculate range and traction to know when a meteor will hit, they can almost know the future because of creating structures.
I think this is how people are actually successful in the creative realm. Whether by nature or by experience, they learn all the rules and then break them at the right parts. Tarantino watched old movies over and over again, learned the scripts and storytelling, and learned all the rules before breaking them deliberately to give you that special Tarantino effect.
Nothing he created is entirely new -- Tarantino stole from everywhere and mashed it all together from different sources. Kill Bill is based on 'Lady Vengeance' which is a South Korean movie, and he has Uma Thurman dress like Bruce Lee, and similar inspirations… he knows all the rules, puts them all together, then breaks just a few, and BAM, you have Tarantino.
When a rule gets used so often it becomes a cliche and people talk about it, that's a good time to think about breaking that rule.
Visual example -- in a movie, near the end you know "here comes the twist" because Hollywood uses the 3-act structure. You can wow the audience by doing something completely different. They anticipate the cliche, then if you do something completely different to wow people, they can't anticipate what's coming next.
Another -- when you have that moment in the beginning of a movie when there's a special stare between a man and a woman in a movie where they hate each other early, eventually they come together later. That's a cliche -- they hate each other, then fall in love. What if you break that entirely, start it that way but have the girl not really want the guy later? Maybe she wants to kill him? That's a way different ending.
I do this with my work. For some book covers I make, I ask "How do futuristic covers look?" Usually they're black and dark, because people often think the future is going to be bleak and dark and whatever. But I try to do futuristic design, but also very colorful. Other people use mechanical design and a futuristic city with a few lights and a gloomy look… I might make it look futuristic, but colorful like a Disney candy store on acid.
If everyone uses a Big Ass Title on their book, I'll go no title on the cover -- just a thumbnail. And with a thumbnail online, you can do that because the title will always be displayed next to it always, so you don't need to have a title.
I still follow harmony, tension, and the various rules of graphic design. But the way people use them, they use them in a predictable way. If you think about how the "chick lit" genre is illustrated, usually they have a woman drawn with a sparkly shine, like a fashion illustration. When you look at fiction, you often have a boring shot of an empty road, a willow, some natural landscape, with some slant on top of it. That's what people expect in the genre -- but if you do it, people think that's more of the same. But you can do it in a way that is completely different way, follow the core rules, and get the same and more emotion than normal.
People are afraid of being different. Of being obscure and avoided.
Everyone has creative kick-ass ideas for anything. The only reason they don't act on them is fear. I'd call it fear of death, I think everything comes from a deep fear of death.
If you ask often enough, it trickles down to that one question. You ask people, "Why didn't you do it the kick ass idea you thought up, that would have stood out?" The reply goes -- What if things go worse? What if I make less sales? What if I waste too much time and it wasn't creative? Then I don't have money?
It comes back to not surviving… that fear of death, of not surviving.
In the Western world, if you do a blog post that flubs… people are afraid to do that, they think it leads them to being neglected by other people. In the past, if you pissed people off you'd be rejected and kicked out of the tribe, and you died. Seth Godin talks about this. You can't survive in a ferocious jungle with animals by yourself. You've still got those feelings, the fight or flight responses.
If you do a blog post, you're not going to DIE if you create a post that no one likes. But you're still wired to feel like this.
To do kick-ass work, you need to get past this. And I wish I came up with this line, but Seth Godin came up with it before -- "Listen to your fear. Whenever you're really scared, do it."
The thing that shows you you're scared, you should do that. Whenever you feel satisfied with something you made and you're launching, whenever you feel safe with something you put out, then you're probably not doing something remarkable.
The safe zone, you don't want to be there.
Whenever I create a design and think to myself "that's awesome, it's perfect," then I know it's too safe. But if I don't put a title on the cover, then would people ignore me? Almost no-one does that. The fear tells me I should do it.
I want to feel some fear when I'm doing creative work.
And there's no guarantee. Maybe it does fail. Maybe it's crazy, and it does fail, and people ignore it. But I think it's the only way to create something remarkable and lasting in the future. You have to be willing to fail, to take risks, to get derided or made fun of, but I think that's the only way you can find that unique line that only you can walk upon.
Use the fear as a compass. We humans are unique that we can go against our natural instincts. You can go against your urges. You can force yourself not to act on your instincts -- just like you don't have to jump on everyone you want to have sex with and you don't go to the bathroom the moment you want to.
So you can feel fear, you can shiver -- these are instincts, but you can force yourself to do it because it's the right thing to do.
I always try to do cool things that are a bit different, but I fail at this very often. I stifle myself often, feel fear, and don't do something cool that I could do. Scarily, more often than I act on my creative ideas. You expect to get used to it, but you never fully do. It's always a struggle to do things different.
But if you work online, what's the worst thing that can happen? Someone will kill you? No. Maybe someone will dislike you, but so what? What's the worst that can happen? Yet the fear looms in that reptile brain.
I don't try to dissipate the fear. I do it in spite of the fear.
Acknowledge it. It's a Zenlike feeling. You pretend it's just your body, and you're viewing your body, and the fear is just a sensation in your body. You don't deny it, and you don't try to replace it. You know it's a feeling, a hormone, and you accept doing it anyway. It's not about forcing yourself. You accept it, accept it's part of you, and do it anyways.
Karl Lagerfeld, the famous fashion designer of Chanel in France, he always says that his body is a puppet and his soul is the puppeteer controlling his body. When someone makes fun of him, or he gets into a fight, he knows that his body is just a meat puppet and his soul is safe and far away. I find that very interesting.
That guy really changed things -- Chanel was almost bankrupt when he started. Everyone knows him in that area. Now he owns castles and owns his 10 libraries, has hundreds of millions of euros, and has a unique way of talking you can learn a lot from.
When you see him talk in an interview, you know immediately the way he talks and behaves that there's something different about this guy. Weird about this guy. He makes unique statements. People ask him, "Why do you wear gloves all the time?" He says back, "Because I hate touching human meat all the time" and he smiles and it's coming natural to him.
When asked, "How do you come up with those crazy ideas all the time?" He's got these unique philosophies. He's not afraid to fail. The meat puppet feels afraid. There's like a thick layer of fog between him and the outer world. He's so funny the way he talks. I'm not really into fashion, but I love following him and the way he thinks and acts.
If you want to do better work, the first thing is doing a reality check. Check your meta-skills against the best competitors in the space. Ask, "Compared to them, are you REALLY good? REALLY? Or do you suck?"
If you think you suck, CONGRATULATIONS. That's the dark night of the soul. Now you can start consciously creating a way to learn as much as you can, to create as many rules as you can, to learn all the rules and systems your competitors use to be great, and then to go past them and beat them.
And obviously become obsessed with your work -- in order to grow it, to become remarkably good at it, you have to be hungry. Never give yourself a pat on the shoulder. Always ask how you can make better work all the time. In a few years, you'll blow yourself away -- and others, hopefully, too.
How's that quote go? "Life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself." I believe in that quote fully. Finding implies there's something there already is, and you just have to find it. Creating means you're always changing, building yourself up like a masterpiece that's always in progress.
You can find Mars Dorian's blog, views, insights, and consulting (note: it can be quite controversial) at marsdorian.com
Mars has graciously donated 100 copies of his "Outstander" branding guide to GiveGetWin, where we're able to offer them at only 1/3rd of their regular price, with all the proceeds going to charity. This guide is bright, detailed, actionable, illustrated, and entertaining, and this is a rare and great opportunity to explore some great work. You can find out Mars' branding guide being offered through GGW deal by clicking here.
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on April 08, 2013 0 Comments
Leo Babauta has inspired millions through his writing on Zen Habits, where he's shared his experiences in building up great habits, cutting clutter and junkfood from his life, learning about great parenting and building a wonderful family, eliminating debt, increasing his income and productivity, and living a life that's more happy through and through.
Leo is now graciously participating in GiveGetWin with a practical class on "action-oriented contentment, and he sat down with Sebastian Marshall to share his thoughts on what motivates him, around what contentment is, on trusting yourself, on being compassionate and compassion as an impetus for action, on self-compassion and treating yourself well, and happiness in general. Enjoy:
"Practical, Action-Oriented Contentment and Compassion" by Leo Babauta, as told to Sebastian Marshall
What drives me really boils down to trying to help other people, especially when I see them with some kind of suffering… it doesn't have to be starvation; even just the anxiety of work, debt, or having too much going on around them.
Seeing people suffer makes me kind of wake up. I think, "What do I have that can best help other people?" There's obviously lots of needs I can't fulfill, but I look for the ones I can meet.
I got here as an evolution, it's hard to define one point. My blog definitely changed everything for me. I went from trying to change myself and help myself overcome these problems, to looking to help others do the same. The blog connected me with them. It's been a magical process -- through some simple words on a webpage and people being able to respond, all of a sudden we're connected, and I'm now more connected to what's become my life purpose -- seeing the same problems I have, and trying to help others with those same problems.
The blog kind of woke me up to that. Over time, as people asked me questions and gave me feedback on what's helped them, I've been evolving what it is that I do, and clarifying that is important to me.
I used to have all kinds of goals.
Now it's boiled down to something much more narrow.
It even applies to my personal life -- I see a friend, and think how I can help them. I think how I can help my kids and my wife, read to my children… it's fun to have a really simple purpose that can be applied throughout your life.
It's a little more complicated than that, in that people aren't always either ready for the help that you can give them, or they don't want it, which presents a problem because I still see them suffering and want to help them. And I think there's things I can share that might help, but sometimes they don't want to hear it. My challenge then is to either let it go and let them find it on their own, or do I remain stubborn and try to find a way to reach them even if they don't want to be reached?
It happens because a lot of times people don't want to believe there is a problem, they don't want to believe there is anything wrong with what they do. And they don't see the pain they cause in themselves and others -- which may be minor, but it's still pain. They think, "oh, it's not a problem" but really, they're hurting their relationships and they're hurting themselves.
But people don't like to hear bad things about themselves.
I'm not different. I like hearing the good things too.
But when I look back on the times I look back on when I made a positive change, it was only because I was able to admit to myself and hear what others were telling. Admit to myself that there was something that was causing suffering.
When I was smoking, I used to think it was not a problem, it was a stress relief, it was enjoyment, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying myself. We have these ways of rationalizing what we want to do. But when I really took an honest look at it, I was really making myself sick. At the same time, I was enabling my wife who was also a smoker, and so I was also making her sick through my implicitness. And worse, I was setting a really bad example of my kids, and the kids of smokers often grow to be smokers with a high correlation. So I'd be making them sick in the future. Once I admitted that to myself, I was able to take some action.
Changing is tough because there's some pain in changing. When you have a problem, there is the pain it causes in your life, but there's also a pain of trying to change it. When the pay off of trying to change is outweighed by the pay off of continuing the old way, people stick with what they're comfortable with.
Change is very uncomfortable for most people, it's overwhelming, it's difficult, you have to stick with something for a long time, and when people see all of that, sometimes they'd rather stay with what they know even if they know it's a problem. So my task is to convince them that change is not as hard as they think.
It's almost a mantra on my site, "Start small, start with one thing at a time, design to make the change easier" -- you want to make changing the path of least resistance, because change usually isn't for most people.
A lot of people might think I'm giving easy to digest articles; it's actually meant to be easy to digest and easy to overcome. Change is supposed to be easy to digest, at least through my approach. I think that's a revolution for some people -- they actually don't need all the steps, once they realize change is not that hard. It's eye opening to see change as not that hard.
The idea of it not being that hard to change is important to take the first step. Once you take that first step, you have a bit of forward moment.
My personal change process isn't always as clear as I make it sound on the site. I've found certain things that work, but how I apply them is a really highly varying mixture. Let's say I feel like I've been eating way too much sweets, there's a number of things I can do. One of my favorite ways to change is to set a challenge between myself and someone else, for instance, my wife. The two of us stick to the challenge for a while. The challenge itself isn't as important… it's more an impetus for an experiment. I see all my personal changes as a little experiment, my life is a laboratory… a change lab.
One experiment is, "Is this actually a change I want to make?" I set out on the challenge, and stick with it for a while, and then I see if it's actually good or if it's not as good in reality as I had hoped.
Then I look at the effects on the rest of my life -- because any change doesn't have one effect, it has a whole variety of effects. How does not eating sweets change how I eat with my family? Does it mean I can't get ice cream with them? But also, they'll ask me why I'm doing it, so that gives me an opportunity to educate and talk with my kids about eating.
The challenge with a buddy gives me accountability. Starting small is important for me; some people like to do drastic, all-at-once changes, but for me that's not so good. I'll meditate for 5 minutes a day, if I want to do yoga I'll decide to do just two yoga poses. After you do two yoga poses for a week or two, then doing 4-5 yoga poses becomes as easy as doing 2 yoga poses. You gradually adjust to what your new normal is.
I've found this through every change that I made; how changes become your "new normal" over time is really an amazing process. I'm sure you've experienced it too. If you make a drastic change, it feels really hard and really different, and not something you can stick to for very long. But if you can…
Here's an example. I used to drink lots of sugar in my coffee. I used to think there was nothing wrong with that, but eventually I realized I was making an excuse for putting crap in my body.
I started by putting half a teaspoon less in my coffee. At first, it was slightly less good. But after a few days, it tasted exactly like normal, like what I was used to. And then I took out another half a teaspoon, and it was slightly less good for a while, and then after a while it was exactly what I was used to. Our minds tend to adjust. It's kind of like those ideas of a lottery winner becoming ecstatic at first, and then going back to normal.
Our minds adjust over time. That's my change process -- I gradually adjust whats normal to me. Eventually I didn't need any sugar in my coffee, and it was just as good for me, I didn't have all that crap, and I enjoyed it the same.
You can do this with anything -- exercise, meditation, procrastination. Gradually adjust what feels like normal to you.
Take procrastination -- say, breaking off from working to check email or Facebook or Hacker News. What we're doing is moving away from the thing that's really uncomfortable, like some really hard work that we know we want to do. So what you want to do is take the hard, uncomfortable work in small doses.
We throw ourselves at these huge projects, and wonder why we can't stick with it. It's like going from lots of sugar to no sugar. So instead, see if you can stick with it for 1 minute. If you know you're only going to do it for 1 minute, it's easy to wrap your mind around it. It's hard to wrap your mind around something that's hard that will take several days, but you can do 1 minute. Eventually it becomes easy and you can expand from there.
Sometimes I say, "All I've got to do is start!" To me, just starting is really important. Get a little forward momentum. Once you feel like quitting, you can quit. Later, you can do something similar to what I learned in meditation -- quit on the second or third time you feel a desire to quit. So the first time you feel it, you just watch the urge to quit, and let it pass. The second time you want to quit, then you quit. Over time, you can push yourself to quit even later, when it's your new normal.
Something like anger is a little different, in that it has variable triggers. You never know when it's going to happen - when you're going to be interrupted in the middle of something important, and then you're angry. You're so close to the impulse, when the impulse and reaction are simultaneous it doesn't give you time to think about how you should act. With anger, one important thing is to get a little bit of distance. In the beginning, all you have to do is watch when you become angry. Watch for the inner anger, become more aware of the triggers. If you lash out, that's fine. At first. Eventually, once you become more aware of the triggers, give yourself a little space to walk away. Take some deep breaths. Calm down and consider your actions before you do anything. Once you develop that space, you give yourself that room to adjust what's normal.
As a side note, do you know what's amazing about anger? When we become angry, it's almost always because of selfishness. Sometimes, rarely, it's if you see someone being bullied and it makes you angry. But almost always in our daily lives, anger happens because someone has interrupted me when I wanted to do something, and they wanted something that I thought was less important than I wanted to do.
Or let's say your girlfriend or boyfriend won't have a sex with you. You might think, "Why won't they have sex with me?" You might think, "Why can't they behave the way I want them to behave?" Or similarly, "Why can't the world give me what I want? It's not giving me the job I want, the life I want." But once we pause and take a wider view and see more people's perspectives, we realize our little selfish view of life is causing the anger. It's unnecessary and limiting. I'm as much a victim of this as anyone else, but when I'm getting angry I pause and ask what's going on here -- it's usually some selfish thing, "I want what I want" and someone's not giving it to me. It's a childish reaction (but all adults do it!).
A really useful exercise to widen the envelope of your perspective is to see what you're getting mad at. Even if you think someone else is being a complete jerk, if you can see it from their perspective, you might realize they're having a hard day, or maybe even a hard life. That doesn't excuse whatever they're doing, but you can have some more empathy and compassion for them. If you can have an envelope of compassion for yourself and others, it helps with anger, frustration, and disappointment.
Now, that's a hard thing to do on a regular basis. As you widen your envelope of awareness, it's like reducing the sugar in the coffee. Gradually.
But I don't like to talk about compassion much, because it makes me feel like I'm full of myself.
When I talk about me trying to live a life of compassion, it feels like I'm putting myself up in the space with the Dalai Lama, Buddha, and Gandhi. You know what I mean? While that's a great space to be in, I don't feel like I've reached that. I don't even necessarily even want to be there. I want to be down here, figuring stuff out with everyone else. So I can easily talk about changing habits, because that's not Gandhi-like. He didn't talk about the seven steps to changing habits. But I don't like to put myself up as a guru, as this person who has reached enlightenment. However, that said, learning compassion is one of the most important things in my life. I just don't write about it much because of it.
There's already an ideal people have of me. Ask my wife and kids who I am -- I'm goofy, I'll skip on the street with them, I'll tell jokes. But when I put myself out there as a person who is looking to live ideals, people get a high idea of me and putting me up on this kind of fantasy of who I am. And then, what happens is, first -- it's completely not real. I'm just a regular person. Maybe I've figured a couple things out, but there's still so much I haven't figured out.
And I'm trying to reach people. When you're up there in an ideal fantasy area, you're unreachable. You're not an example for people, you become an almost godlike creature with amazing powers and can do anything. So people are like, "of yeah, YOU can do that, but I can't" -- but the truth is, I'm like anyone else. I struggle and mess up all the time, doubt myself, and so the point is the steps that I take are not in some rarified air. They're on the same ground everyone else walks on, and everyone else can take those exact same steps. I don't want to be idealized. I don't want people to think they can't do what I do. That's a major problem, they idealize me sometimes. I don't do enough to dispel that. Actually, it's really important to be that I not be idealized.
I think we tend to do that, though. With people who we read or watch. They become not real. And better than us, almost? We see the flaws in ourselves, but only see the good in people who have done some cool things. Even the Gandhi and the Dalai Lama were real people, are real people. We only see this aura that's been created around them, maybe they created that or maybe we created it for them. It's really important to me that I don't create that. I'm careful to try to write with a little humility and humanity so I not create this idealized image people get of me. I try and be careful with that. It can really stand in the way of what I'm trying to do.
As for compassion, it becomes a pre-loaded word. A lot of people talk about it, but don't actually do it. When you start talking about it, people might start to turn off. Not because they don't like the idea, but because they don't like to be preached to. But I do think it's one of the most important things to work on (even while trying to figure out what it all means).
The simple definition of compassion is feeling and understanding the pain of others, and then wanting to reduce that suffering.
In practice, it's a lot harder. How do you understand the pain of others? If I see something about you, it's based on very limited information, only what you've shown me -- and often, based on very limited interactions. So I have to project a story that I make up about you, and the truth is, it's probably wrong. But sometimes that's all we have to work with, and then gain more information once we've started to apply it. Or you can start out by saying, "I don't know that much, I'm going to learn more" and try to dive in, but even that can be very difficult. For example, let's say I want to apply compassion to my readership. Well, that's hundreds of thousands of people. How do I find empathy with all of them? It's almost impossible. Even if I pick out one individual reader, I can ask specific questions, but we're still separated by thousands of miles and I can't replicate that with everyone. So you see that applied compassion can become a complex thing. Much more easily applied on an individual basis.
Even then, let's say there's me and my wife. I try to have compassion for who she's feeling. If she's feeling a little sick, or a little overwhelmed, I can try to help her with that. That means a constant trying to understand what she's going through. At the same time, I'm trying to understand what I'm going through and what my kids are going through. So once you have more than one person, it becomes almost impossible to understand what they're going through. So you have to work through a limited model of each person.
So what you tend to do is, build up a certain trigger reaction way of working with that. So if I see you look confused, my way of dealing with that is see if I can ease that confusion. Even if I don't know you're confused, that simple trigger of seeing that look on your face, you develop a whole range of that. Over time, you have to build up certain patterns you can work with on a day-to-day basis. And again, it becomes more complex when talking about how to ease others' suffering.
Let's say you want to ease someone's suffering, how do you do that? That's not something you can just do. People want to have control over their own lives, they're not just objects you can act on. Sometimes you want people to let you solve their problems. Yet, a better way might be to show them and give them the tools that you've used, and let them know you'll help them if they want help using those tools.
To practice compassionate actions, you start with yourself. A lot of people see suffering in the world and feel bad about it, but they don't know how to take action. The only way to take action is to take action with yourself. The only person you can control with any degree of success is yourself. So there is actually immense suffering in ourselves, and we can start to ease that, and when we do, we then now have a model for applying that to others. To one other person, to a thousand, or to the world.
It's really interesting when you start to work with self-compassion. You then become a model for everybody else. If I can be compassionate with myself, then I know how I did it. Here's the amazing results. And here's how you can also do it. Then you have a model that can be replicated, and they can apply that to themselves, and then you have compassion being made on a large scale, just by starting with yourself.
Will my way work for everyone on Planet Earth? No. But it'll work for some people, who can replicate it and then they can show their way to others, try each other's methods, and create new methods to try with others. Kind of an open source compassion network.
I think that's the only way to do it. For instance, on my blog, I constantly try to help people change habits, get out of debt, or realize that there's awesomeness within themselves. I'm constantly doing that, but I start with me and show how I did it. Then show how they can replicate it within their own lives. I can also act in ways that I believe are compassionate to the people right in front of me, and you might think, "Isn't that compassion for others?" But really, it's compassion for myself in another form. It's another self-compassion method. You talk about the pain you feel when you see someone else suffering, that's just as much suffering as you see others suffering. Yet, most people don't actually ease that suffering. So, how do you ease that suffering in yourself when you see someone else suffering? That's a daily occurrence, and I think the only way to reach out, empathize, make a connection, and look for a way to both suffer less. If the other person opens up, that's great. If not, that helps too because you've reached out and let them know that you too suffer when you see them suffer. That's a powerful thing.
It's a selfish sort of compassion ;) but I think it's the only way to do it.
I think self-compassion makes you happier. Self-compassion, and just compassion in general makes you happier. However, more important for happiness is contentment.
Contentment, for me, is really about being happy with who you are. Which I think most people are not. Most people are driven by the need or desire to improve themselves, to fix certain things about themselves that they don't like. While that can definitely be a place for driving some changes, it's not a good place to start from with those kinds of changes.
What happens is that, if you feel there's something wrong with you that needs to be improved, you're going to be driven to improve yourself. Now, you may or may not succeed. Let's say you fail in your habit change. Then you start to feel worse about yourself, and you're then on a downward spiral where every time you try to improve, you fail, and so you feel worse about yourself, and then you're on the downward spiral. You start to self-sabotage your changes, because you really don't believe that you can do them. Based on past evidence, you don't trust yourself that you can do it. And that makes you feel worse.
That's if you fail.
But let's say you happen to succeed, and you're really good at succeeding.
So you succeed -- maybe you lost weight, maybe you don't feel as bad about your body now. But what happens is, if you start in this place of fixing what's wrong with you, you keep looking for what else is wrong with you, what else you need to improve. So maybe now feel like you don't have enough muscles, or six pack abs, or you think your calves don't look good, or if it's not about your body, you'll find something else.
So it's this never-ending cycle for your entire life. You never reach it. If you start with a place of wanting to improve yourself and feeling stuck, even if you're constantly successful and improving, you're always looking for happiness from external sources. You don't find the happiness from within, so you look to other things.
Say productivity is your thing -- you make great changes, you're productive, but then for whatever reason, the thing you've been successful at stops. It could be a job loss, it could be you got ill, maybe you had to travel, or there's some kind of disruption in your routine. It could be other people getting sick, or a life crisis. When the external thing that makes you happy and fulfilled is no longer there, you feel like crap, and that'll always be true if you look for happiness is externally.
But really, if productivity drives you and you're driven to productivity because it makes you happy, you want more of it. So people seek happiness in productivity wind up working way too much, and it has detrimental effects on their relationships and health.
If you're externally looking for happiness, it's easy to get too into food, or shopping, or partying to try to be happy.
If instead, you can find contentment within and not need external sources of happiness, then (1) you'll never have those unreliable things, and (2) you'll never have to rely on things like junk food, partying, alcohol, or drugs to be happy. I find that to be a much better place to be than relying on external sources of happiness.
I think the question a lot of people have is, "If you find contentment, won't you just lay around on the beach, not improving the world, not doing anything?" But I think that's a misunderstanding of what contentment is.
You can be content and lay around, but you can also be content and want to help others. You can be content and also compassionate to others, and want to help them. You can be happy with who you are, but at the same time want to help other people and ease their suffering. And that way, you can offer yourself to the world and do great works in the world, but not necessarily need that to be happy.
Even if for some reason, your work was taken away from you, you'd still have that inner contentment.
The question is how to get there. How to go from being unhappy with yourself to being content?
The first problem is if you don't trust yourself. That's an important area to work with.
Your relationship with yourself is like your relationship with anyone else. If you have a friend who is constantly late and breaking his word, not showing up when he says he will, eventually you'll stop trusting that friend. It's like that with yourself, too. It's hard to like someone you don't trust, and it's hard to like yourself if you don't trust yourself.
The only way to fix it is small steps. If you the unreliable friend wants to rebuild trust with you, the right way is not for him to say, "Now, trust me with your life" -- instead, it's to start building trust in small steps. Do little things, and see if the trust is held up. Over time, you open yourself up more and more.
What I usually do to build trust is to start with small things that I'm totally certain I can do -- drinking a glass of water every day is an easy example. I want to drink more water, so I set a bunch of reminders to drink a glass of water when I want to wake up. If you can keep that up for a week or two, it helps you trust yourself.
Most people try to change hard stuff, fail, and then the trust is gone. So start with the small stuff.
Once you've built up trust in yourself, the other problem for finding contentment is that we're constantly feeling bad about ourselves, because the reality of ourselves does not meet some ideal we hold. That ideal could come from mass media, looking at magazines and movie stars. Or it could just come from some idea about how perfect we should be. When it comes to productivity or how our bodies should look.
The truth is, the reality of ourselves is not bad, it's only in bad in relation to the ideal that we have about ourselves. When we let go of the ideal, we're left with the reality that can be judged as perfectly great. It's a unique human being who is beautiful in its own way.
The problem is, then, how do we not compare ourselves to these ideals? Well, ideals can be useful as a starting point. If I want to work 10 hours per day on a world changing project, but wind up working 6 hours per day on the project, it's still a huge contribution to the world, but a failure in relation to that ideal.
So ask if you're failing bad about who you are and how you did. If so, it's because of the ideal. To recognize that takes awareness first, and then you let go of the ideal. The only way to let go of the ideal is to see the pain that it's causing in yourself and realize you want to end that pain, and letting go of an ideal that's hurting you is self-compassion.
You can find Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, where he shares his lessons and thoughts on good habits, minimalism, living well, parenting, getting out of debt, expressing yourself creatively, health and fitness, motivation, and much more geared towards living an enjoyable and happy life.
Leo has graciously agreed to participate at GiveGetWin, and he's offering a class for up to 10 people to learn from him and each other about some practicalities of contentment, action-oriented compassion, trusting yourself, and meditation. Please find more about that by clicking here, and thanks for your support.
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on March 18, 2013 0 Comments
Abe Sorock is changing the world -- he's the resident and runs the Moishe House Beijing, and he's bringing together very talented and amazing people from the worlds of international business, government, and philanthropy. Professionally, he's the founder and director of Atlas China, which providers staffing and consulting in HR throughout China.
To promote his GiveGetWin deal which is a 1-on-1 session about developing leadership and throwing world-class events, he sat down with me to share his exceptional and brilliant thinking and the methods he uses to bring people together -- and perhaps more crucially, how to become the kind of person who takes charge and sees yourself as a leader co-creating the experience of yourself and everyone in your world.
"The Paradigm Shift: Changing The Fabric Of Your World" by Abe Sorock, as told to Sebastian Marshall
The first step in leading people and putting together great groups is to have a paradigm shift in who you are.
The shift happened for me when I was a student at the Hopkins Nanjing Center. I realized -- if I saw myself as a student paying transactional fee and getting a diploma, I'd behave differently than if I saw myself as part of the fabric of an organization who will be looked on by future classes.
It's a blast to think this way, because there's a lot more going than you thought
And it's free. It's all completely free. It's a slightly tweak to how you approach the resources in front of you, but you can multiply exponentially what you're able to accomplish.
I attended Hopkins Nanjing right after the financial crisis. Things were a little low, and there was a slight disconnect. A lot of people were feeling like they weren't getting a great experience. It wasn't the Center's fault -- it was just the global economy.
But the effect on the next class was tough, because first year students learned from returning second year students. Their impressions were based on the previous class, and what happened with job outcomes.
Getting there, and understanding that dynamic at play, it became something impossible to ignore. The experience that we were on track for wasn't the experience we hoped to get out of our time and felt we deserved. If you sat back and just took what was given to you, you weren't getting the best experience because of the timing.
I realized I could sit back and not have a great experience, or I could tinker with the fabric of the experience. So I asked, how can we do things that next year's incoming students will have a great experience? How can I become an active co-producer of my experience?
I worked to become a more active member of the community. I ran for and was elected to the student committee. We didn't do everything right, but we got everything off to a great start and it's been an unparalleled experience in my life.
Wherever you are (and I just happened to be on campus), the environment is not static.
Someone that wants to take initiative can really get outside the current setup of the environment. You can ask, "Why is it like this? What is the narrative being told about what this group is, what this project is, what's happening around us?" And if you don't like the narrative, you can tweak it and make different things happen.
I tried to apply it when I moved here. What bothered me when I came out to Beijing is that there wasn't really a strong community of expats for out here based on anything beyond drinking or going to clubs or bars.
You can understand why things converged towards that, a lowest common denominator, but I didn't find a great platform for people to improve themselves, have a great experience, meet people doing interesting things, and improve their experience here… that didn't exist.
It's worth remembering this -- you're always changing the fabric of the environment you're in; you're doing it whether you think you are or not.
Thinking you have no impact on the environment is a decision, too. It might be the default one, but it's still doing something. How you fit in with the group around you, what you're doing or not doing, has an impact on that. You're not just absorbing the environment, you're a co-producer of the environment.
The shift for me was when I started seeing myself as an active co-producer. Not passive.
That switch got flipped for me back on campus, and I've been trying to do things that are intentional and be valuable for the affinity group and community that the we bring together.
If you want to shift to active co-producer from a passive role, you start by figuring out what you care about, what's bothering you, and what you wish was a different way. After that, it becomes simply a technical question of, "What can I do about it?"
Once you've made the mental leap of daring to ask that question, it's really not much of a barrier to get into the technical side.
After you get started, it becomes easier to do larger projects, and doing projects makes resources come to you.
"What's bothering me?" is definitely the first question to ask, and then, "What's bothering me, and also others?" And then, "What's bothering me, and also others, and others would back me if I took action on it?"
A lot of times, it's all around. It's the collective action problem. You can be sitting on something that's of interest to a lot of people, but if nobody take the first step forwards, then nothing gets done. Putting yourself out there can be scary, it puts your credibility out there, and you pledge your time and make an implicit promise that you're going to do things… that's scary, so often no one steps forwards.
So, the key: figure out what problem that it's not just you that has, and then figure out what the group that has that problem look like.
I think about "Affinity Networks" a lot. What's the theme? It could be an alumni organization from a university. Or it could be 'far from home' for an expat group. Or it could be something as technical and detailed as "Junior HR Professionals from Illinois." Increasingly with the internet and the resources we have at our disposal, it's easy to find topics that are interesting to people and it's easy to bring those people together.
Frankly, as society and individuals, we haven't started to tap into the power of all the new communication and Internet that's available to craft our social groups. 10 years ago, it wasn't possible. But that doesn't mean that now that it is possible, we're doing it. You need to do that initial thinking about it, and then start experimenting.
Step 1 is also, in a way, give yourself credit for being the kind of person that can identify a problem and say "I'm on it." A lot of times, that's what never gets done. If you simply do that -- settle on a problem and commit to solving it -- I really believe the rest will take care of itself.
Once you think of yourself as the kind of person that solves collective problems, you'll start acting like that kind of person. And what that person does is just a series of technical questions.
The beauty of it is it's simple.
This kind of thinking is essential, you can't skip this step. See yourself as the kind of person that solves collective problems, think through what problems you're having, then think through what other people have overlapping problems and would support you if you did something about it. You can think this, or even do this exercise on paper by yourself or with a friend.
If you start trying to do stuff without the grounding, without knowing what you're doing, then you get into things like, 'What am I doing? Why am I doing it?" If you start with operations before thinking about why you're doing it and knowing you're the kind of person who co-produces, you can get into existential questions. But if you know the why to start, the actions become a lot easier to figure out.
The 'what' is a lot easier than the 'why'. When you start with the theme, you've already solved the biggest problem.
When you know why you're doing what you're doing, the rest is just implementation details. It becomes a series of operational details and technical questions. It's more tactics than grand strategy, which is easier. When you need to do strategy at every step, it gets exhausting. And it won't resonate with people if it's piecemeal thing you're doing, that doesn't have solid grounding. You can still do a lot of great stuff that way, and run awesome events, and build a community, but to take it to the next level and carry it to the next level, and get other people as involved as you are, that requires an overarching principal and theme that people like and can buy into.
There's no such thing as a new idea. It's just new executions or a new spin on it. I thought I was doing my own thing at Hopkins Nanjing, but I knew that other people laid the groundwork for me. The important thing I want to communicate, it's never about the individual as the organizer or the leader. The best thing you can do, the real success, is getting much smarter people than you engaged with the issues you're tackling. Give other people a way to develop their skills, build relationships, and have fun building a platform together. This creates a rich ecosystem of activities -- it's not about you. The people with you, before you, and after you come together as a tapestry that everyone benefits from and draws from.
When it becomes about individuals, it becomes stagnant and risks not surviving. Individuals leave, move on, get busy, get married and start a family, go into a different field, whatever. If you're leaning too much on any one person to do anything, your organization is not going to survive. So you as an organizer, you want to keep this in mind. It doesn't do a lot good to be the best person to do this sort of thing for six months, but no one else has bought into it, and you get busy and it dies out.
And that happens all the time.
One thing I do when I get somewhere is look into the history of parallel stories. In Nanjing every few years, you'd have a different group of students at the center. Different personalities, different vision, what wants to happen. And they'd do things, but nothing would really survive after they departed a couple years later.
Same in Beijing. There'd be events and organizations put together that did well, but only as long as a couple charismatic leaders who kept things alive by themselves weren't sustainable and died out.
There's nothing unique to those environments -- the same kind of things happen anywhere that people are getting new activities together.
The coolest part is when others buy-in. Another part of my approach from Hopkins Nanjing, I was fresh out of the University of Wisconsin, and this was my first time being around graduate students or people that worked before, who have done really cool stuff. I wanted to spend more time with them, engage with them, learn from them beyond just seeing them in the halls on the way to class.
It was not about 'What can I do with what I know?' It was more, 'How can I get what these guys know?' If more people think about what they could do in the community, they're going to come up with much better ideas than I could have. If you get a lot of perspectives, everyone can do what they do well. And that's fun for everyone as individuals for bringing their best skills and doing the things they're good at, and good for the community to see really excellent things. It's surprising and very cool when you build a platform up, and then you see the community develop amazing ideas that surprise you.
"What are the first implementation steps?"
Once you've figured out that this is something that you want to do, in terms of getting people together, taking on an active role in whatever role you find yourself, then it becomes a question of, "How do I start?"
It's really important to start small.
It's best if you have a few trusted friends around you, or people you can turn into a few trusted friends. Some of the strongest friendships I have are with people I've worked together on passion projects and volunteering with. By going shoulder to shoulder with someone, you put yourself out there and they put themselves out there, and you catch each other if you start to fall. You test each other's mettle, and you become really good friends. Finding people who are interested in the same stuff as you are, and figuring out how a couple people can start pulling stuff together.
Then it's time to expand a bit, and start serving or pulling together the group that you've identified that's got the problem you want to solve.
This is a great excuse to reach out to anybody. You've got this same problem, you want to talk about how this would look to do it. If you accurately analyzed that this person has the same problem or interest you have, they should be open to talking with you and working with you. It's almost cooler if you don't know the people you'll work with to start, because you'll make great new friends.
If you're not outgoing or if you're a little shy, remember: this is why people let themselves be visibly found.
It couldn't be easier. LinkedIn, send a message. Or if you have their email address or public website. Message them. Reach out to them. The possibilities are endless, there's a million ways to reach out around a problem you've identified.
LinkedIn and Gmail is all you need. If you have mutual friends, ask for an introduction. Find someone who will see your outreach as a boon rather than a burden.
Maybe not everyone will be receptive at first, but if you throw out a few fishing lines, you'll see who is interested. Then you go and sit down and start talking.
Once you've found them and sat down together, you bounce around ideas around of what you want to do together. I like to find people who are broadly part of your affinity group, but at a different level of their career. I like bringing together groups of people who are late 20's, early 30's, and to learn from people much more established in international Chinese business and the international Chinese policy.
It works in all industries -- if you're in real estate, or a veterinarian, there will always be people further along who want to come in.
Vendors are a great choice, if they sell in the space they like meeting young people coming up in a space. Anyone who would have an affinity might want to come in and meet.
Remember that none of this stuff is technically difficult. If you have developed your cause, and some of your peers have expressed they're interested, they will express who they'd like to come in and speak.
Then you go to the speaker and humbly request, and let them know you have a group of people who are interested in hearing from them. They'll either be flattered and say yes, or be flattered and say no. Afterwards, they're likely to suggest more people you should look out to.
The logistics are easy. You get a little venue space. You need to think about how easy it is to get to. This is work, but it's not rocket science. The technical details aren't hard. You just do them.
It's like doing anything. Running events is like anything else. You start out unsophisticated, you just 'do okay.' As you get better, you get more sophisticated. You can add more bells and whistles. Things become easier, the kind of ground level stuff becomes much more a matter of course. The details can be daunting at first, but rapidly become very easy.
If you have the right problem and are solving it for people who care about it, they tend to be rather patient with you. At the end of the day, you're helping them and adding value to them. So you don't have to be a great public speaker or organizer to start with. Especially when you start small, you can develop your skills as an organizer and you'll be comforted and supported by people if you set the groundwork up.
Frankly, too much complicating information is detrimental. It's too much. It's overload. What people need to hear is, GO DO IT. Once you decide to do it, the rest is easy. It's not about the Step 1, Step 2, Step 3. You can find that with a google search. The first principle is thinking of yourself as active co-producer of your environment.
I could go on about certain best practices, but all those come with time anyways. You don't want to be doing hyper-sophisticated stuff at the first event. Don't use the details as an excuse to not get started.
People are going to have good ideas to help with technical details. People are going to come up with a better way to do check-in's, RSVP's, followups, introductions than you could by yourself.
If you want to get a good turnout to your events, there's many ways, but a big way is to get people actively involved. One of the coolest things that we've done here in Beijing is through events featuring alumni clubs and a speaker series. Over the last year, we've basically invited different clubs to run the events. We give them the venue, half the crowd, and the template we normally use, but we let them run it. They have a different perspective on running a great event. And it's going to have a good turnout because they're invested in bringing their people. This makes things novel, current, and less dependent on you personally.
The goal of business is to run like a franchise; the goal of event organizers should be to platform.
There's a few essentials of a platform. A cause, problem, or theme. A certain set of infrastructure, like a good venue. Some best practices, resources, and 'rules' -- but not really rules -- that determine how things preserve themselves. It's a set of rules and practices for its own perpetuation around a theme, a challenge, or a problem. Then you plug other people in, and it's not about the person any more. You keep addressing the problem and it evolves, and it outlives whoever started it.
Your 'manual' only needs to be about two pages. It doesn't need to be hyper-technical. People will put their own spin on it, and they should. 20 days ahead, you do this. 10 days ahead, you do this. 3 days ahead, you do this. The day of the event, you do this.
That infrastructure, the brand, and the contacts are the tangible elements of the platform.
If you have those three, you have a platform and can do a whole lot of cool things with them.
Is it really that simple? Well, why not? You need human beings to incarnate it and execute, who actually believe in it. It's easiest when you're the person who founded it, but it's not required.
People bring their life and energy to animating the infrastructure, brand, and contacts into something that gets people involved.
If you want to get started -- Just do it. Don't wait. Get started. Have fun, it's a lot of fun. It should be personally very enjoyable and illuminating. It gets more interesting than you'd even imagine it could be. It makes you think through so many things. You later get into thinking about the branding, how you do the affinity group, what kind of events you want to hold, what other kind of things you want to do with the platform, it gets to be a lot of decisions and a real responsibility, but it's fun, enriching, and it'll help you grow.
But don't let the details stop you from starting. Do the thinking, don't wait, get started, and have fun.
Abe Sorock is offering a 1-on-1 session with him designed to teach you the ins and outs of throwing world class events, bringing people together, recruiting world-class speakers, and developing your leadership in the process -- while having tons of fun. Due to the charitable nature of the project, the cost is only $40 and there are five spots available -- you can get yours at GiveGetWin.
You can find Abe's consultancy and staffing services at Atlas-China.com and if you're in Beijing, you should definitely look up the Beijing Moishe House to have some life-enhancing experiences with great people.
If you're interested in offering your product or service through GiveGetWin or volunteering, send a message to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on March 14, 2013 0 Comments
Noah Gibbs is an author, speaker, lead developer at OnLive, paid Rails expert for Carnegie Mellon, and author of lots of Ruby on Rails software. To promote his GiveGetWin deal, Noah sat down with me to share some incredible insights about working with deep knowledge, how empathy and understanding the user/customer is the path to success in business, and covering many other important insights. If you're a programmer, you'll love Noah's perspective and insights. If you're not a programmer, this might be one of the more insightful interviews you read about why people do programming, and about thriving in a technical skill and business in general.
Building Ruby Castles In The Clouds by Noah Gibbs, as told to Sebastian Marshall
I grew up in the middle of nowhere in East Texas, with nothing there but a state penitentiary. So I had a lot of time with a computer. No internet. Just my Apple II computer, and long stretches of time. They say you need long stretches of uninterrupted time to program.
I had that.
I program because… programming is building castles in the cloud. Concepts on top of concepts. Except that the computer is there to check you -- it's all mental and conceptual, until you find out whether it works or not.
It's almost an escape for me. If I grew up in the middle of nowhere and I'd built furniture, or painted, it's like that. It's a powerful mental exercise. It's competing against myself, and it always has been.
Programming has always been that self-competition. And these days, it's that, plus it's my own little personal space to be myself. I've got a family and an incredibly busy schedule, so I don't have much time or energy to do selfish things with my time. This is a way to self-express with my time, and I really deeply enjoy it.
If I play a computer game, for instance, it's something I do contemplatively. I usually play a game like Starcraft, and I play like most people would play Solitaire. I play the same levels over and over. There's only about five things you do differently every game, but beyond that you're in the flow and it's a meditative experience, where your hands make the decisions without you thinking about it.
Programming is like that. When I know what the loops and functions look like, it just flows and my hands go automatically. While my hands and the lowest levels of my mind are busy with that, I'm surfing on top of that and my mind is busy planning it out.
I'll solve the same problem different ways, and it's like playing the same Starcraft level over and over again. Sometimes they turn out exactly the same, when I don't mean them to, but by trying to solve it different ways it comes to the same end place. I've got a couple things on my Github profile where they look exactly the same, and that wasn't what I was going for.
I think going forwards everyone will learn some programming. Take spreadsheets: spreadsheets are programming, especially once you learn more of it. Spreadsheets aren't "like" programming. Spreadsheets are programming.
That quote, "Software is eating the world…" -- it's true, and so learning program lets you eat the world. Everything is going to be software soon. You should know a little bit about programming for the same reason that you should know a little bit about how an engine works when surrounded by cars.
Knowing how the spreadsheet works can give you ten times more power in a world that's programmable. You can write little things to work with an RSS feed or email. That doesn't sound exciting, but the first 10% you learn, you get immense practical benefits. With just a little effort into it, with something into it, you can do incredibly a lot.
It doesn't have to look like how I do programming. IFTTT -- If This Than That -- it's a great chunk of "a little bit of programming" that can get you way up on the game. Spreadsheets too. Programming doesn't have to look like what I do. What I do is for people with a lot of spare time.
Or who want a career, but it looks pretty similarly to what I'm doing… but if you're only "putting 40 hours per week in" and thinking of it as work, you won't get really get good at it.
There's a great fella named Michael O. Church, if you're a computer programming trying to figure out office politics. He says for every level of becoming a good programmer, there's work you need to do to get to the next level. But workplaces assign work assignments politically. To get to the next level, you need to work on very specific things with a lot of work. And you only get that work through political connection, but there aren't many good programmers who are good at sucking up to the boss. Some, but not many. So if you don't love it, you probably don't progress to the next level by obsessing and loving it in your spare time outside of work hours.
If it's not your consuming passion, you don't spend 40 hours in the workplace and then another 20 or 30 hours outside of the workplace.
If you're doing it on your own instead of for a job, you have a lot of room to define your own projects and get good in less time than if you're working. Open Source Software gives programmers the ability to work on the kind of projects that get people good. But then you don't get paid for it. Your boss doesn't have to approve it, though. That's the tradeoff.
To become a competent programmer, you can do it with almost any work. But to be what Michael O. Church calls a "multiplier," you have to coordinate other people's work and make them better. That's the nice thing about Open Source Projects, they know how to be solid multipliers and they'll teach you and tell you where you're screwing up. Where you're doing the multiplier thing wrong. And that gets you the rest of the way there.
When you want to learn good taste in most fields, you should study the 'Old Masters' -- not because there aren't people who are alive today who are excellent, but because we aren't sure who they are yet. But in programming, there are no Old Masters yet because it's too young of a discipline.
That's why I write books around a framework. Frameworks make everyone else more effective, but it's hard to write a framework. Mostly it's hard. The next generation of guys come from there. You learn, "Here's something that's genuinely good. Let's look at the structure. Let's look at what's good about it. This is classical good design, let's look at it."
I chose to write about Ruby on Rails by taking the most beautiful code that's near me, the most tasteful and functional code near me, and I wrote a book taking it apart to really understand it.
I hope guys in other spaces do it -- I hope enterprise guys do it. I hope we see more books like it, taking apart the most beautiful frameworks people enjoy using, and understanding why they're good.
I don't think so many programmers do this, take apart codebases to really understand them, and I don't know why.
You have to learn from somebody, and the people that are good at it almost never have time to teach you. But the code is just sitting there, and you can spend as much time as you want with it. And it's a beautiful, meditative experience. It's like painting for me. I truly appreciate a good piece of code.
I look at code like a painting. Someone put a lot of effort into a coding. And they put it down in a form where you truly can tell exactly what it is, in a way that you can't with most things. I'm glad other people share their code and you can learn from it.
On a practical level, I'm not fast enough at coding to make as many mistakes as I want to make.
The way I learned knot tying, because I'm not naturally good at that sort of thing and the instructions are usually terrible, well… I started with tying a basic square knot, and I found you'd wind up with a Granny Knot if you tied it backwards one way, and a Thief's Knot if you run the rope through it incorrectly this other way. My experience with a Square Knot is through intentionally screwing it up eight different ways, and that way you know exactly how to do it, and know exactly what you did wrong if it starts to look differently.
I'd love to write code 50 different ways, and see what it looks like. Looking at other people's code… that helps get past the slow part. I don't have time to try something 50 different ways, but I can see how other people did it with their code.
I'm a firm believer of "Follow where the code leads and see what lies there" but to get where I want to get, I have to steal other people's failures. I can't make all my own failures.
This process -- wandering through code and seeing where it leads -- is mostly not how I build practical software. This approach doesn't necessarily lead to building software that's good for real people to use.
After I tried a few times, seriously, to build things that were worth money… I changed my approach. I know I'm good at coding, so it seems like I should be able to turn that into money ways besides getting a job.
I took Amy Hoy's 30x500 Class -- which is very good -- and it's about how to do programming to make money. To build products people want. She turned the process upside down. She had you not build the software if it doesn't help people. You need to mix talking with people and solving their problems. Sometimes writing a paragraph on a piece of paper, printing it, and making copies of that is more useful for people than a piece of programming.
So I admitted, 'I don't know what my users want' -- which was humbling. I just just know, and don't just have the right answer.
When you talk to product managers and customers, it's a bucket of water thrown on your head about what they give a damn about. Very little of it requires being a genius.
You talk to the people will use your software over and over again until you've got a sinking pit in your stomach of 'I'd love to work on this artistic coding project and it'd be beautiful and a work of art, but if I did this simple thing that takes one day, the users would like it more than if I did this beautiful genius thing that takes three months."
And then users like you better and the people that work with you like you better.
When you start with no assumptions that you've got the answer and talk to your customers regularly, and then build and build and build from that, eventually you get a pretty good answer. Over time, a really great answer. But you never start out with the right answer.
To build great things, always look at it from the user's point of view as much as you can. That's a "weightlifting skill" -- almost everyone starts bad at it, flatfooted, and there's no shame in that. You have to do it, and do it, and do it again. Do your reps. That's what you have to do to get good at it.
Seeing things this way, from the user's point of view, requires immense practice. It takes a lot of time, and you'll have a long way to go once you start.
But one you can see it from the user's point of view, you stop having to say "even if it's not software." You stop having to say, "even if it's not what I want." Those statements go away. You just think, "I'm the user, what do I want?" Sometimes it's software, sometimes it's sitting down and talking with someone, sometimes it's a piece of writing or a book. But you must stop thinking about the solutions you have in mind. That part should become purely unspoken, and should just be natural.
Most people don't do that, partly because most people are terrible at delayed gratification. Like the Marshmellow test -- you make it clear with a toddler that if they can hold on to a mashmellow without eating it for five minutes, you get a second marshmallow. That's a pretty good deal. But most people can't stop themselves from eating it right away.
But the people who can wait until getting another marshmallow do incredibly well. Willpower is hard; discipline is hard.
Empathy is hard too. It doesn't come especially natural to me, which probably helps me. I don't expect it to come easy to me. But sitting and empathizing with people is hard work.
And it doesn't always pay off immediately. You often don't get much out of it instantly. If you're looking to make money out of it, it takes months and years. Empathizing with people takes hard work, but most people don't even realize it's hard work. So you don't even get to feel good about it! If you dig a ditch, you can say, "Hey, I dug a deep ditch. Nice." But you don't naturally get that sense of accomplish from empathizing with people.
Delayed gratification is hard. When I wrote the book, I had a lot of moments of "I'm spending months on this, and I don't know if anything will come out of it."
The studies show that most people can do it. Studies have shown that women are better than men at empathy. But if you pay people and find the right bribe, men turn out to be as good as women. Once there's something that's worth it, people can do the hard work of empathizing. If it's worth it to you.
To master something, my experience is that you need a layer of the deep thinking to know your own capabilities. Pick something, and get good enough at it to know you're good at it. Pick a hard subject, and get competent at it. Once you can do that, the hard part of the subject can never steer your ship. You know you can go where you want to go.
After that, knowing other people, empathizing with other people, and helping other people with their problems gets you there faster.
Deep knowledge for its own sake is like anything else for its own sake. I do lots of it for its own sake, for myself.
But to really get what you want, you then need to layer on that empathy, to understand other people, and use that deep knowledge to help others get what they want.
That's not necessarily software. The deep knowledge is a means to an end. Treat it that way. Unless you're doing it purely for yourself because you're in love with doing it, but don't be confused or blur it. If it's a means to an end, you treat it that way.
Think: "Here's what I want. Here's how others can help me. Here's what I need to do for them so they'll help me. And here's the method that will let me do that." Deep Knowledge is around the fourth step, not the first.
If you're doing it right, the first step is being driven by what you want. Step 1 is figuring out what you want, and most people skip that step. And everything goes to hell if you skip that step.
My little four steps are what you get when you extrapolate from, "Here's what I want, how do I get it?"
Get the Deep Knowledge. Master the hard problems. That's absolutely on the list of things you want. It's like money -- it can be a great way to accomplish a goal. But just like you want to lead money instead of following it, make sure you're leading your Deep Knowledge instead of following it. And that starts with figuring out what you want.
You can get a copy of Noah's book, "Rebuilding Rails: Understand Rails by Building a Ruby Web Framework," for only $15 -- whereas the regular price is $40 -- through GiveGetWin by clicking here. The book is for intermediate Ruby programmers to gain a greater grasp of the programming language. You can find Noah Gibbs' contact details, portfolio, and a link to his blog here. There's only 15 copies of Rebuilding Rails available at Noah's generous price for charity; if you missed it at this rate, you can still grab a copy of the book at rebuilding-rails.com to take your Ruby understanding to a deeper level.
Finally, if you're interested in offering your product or service through GiveGetWin or volunteering, send a message to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on March 11, 2013 0 Comments
I'm thrilled that Tynan is coming to you with two things -- first, he's offering a breakthrough session through GiveGetWin. It's geared around doing more of the kind of excellent work you want to do, becoming more internally focused with your emotions, having a more enjoyable life, building great habits, and producing a lot of value in the process. There's five spots, so check it out now.
Second, we have this wonderful tour-de-force interview: it starts by covering how Tynan made the shift from unfocused to focused, how to derive internal enjoyment from things, useful actionable exercises you can do right now, Tynan's method and mindset for producing creative work consistently, how to set up great habits and an excellent mental and physical work environment, and how to make blogging work and similar endeavors work for you.
Total Focus; Total Enjoyment by Tynan, as told to Sebastian Marshall
When I turned 30 and I had a minor freak out… I thought, "I'll be 40 in not long, and then 50… there's things I want to do in my life, and they're not happening at this pace."
Before that, I had a general idea of things I wanted to do and have in my life, but I went about in an unstructured way. It was good in a lot of ways. It made be a broad process, but not much depth.
But now I needed to focus and find some good rules for myself.
Every other age I'd hit meant nothing to me. When I was 16, I could drive. That was cool. But I didn't smoke, so 18 didn't matter, and didn't drink, so 21 didn't matter.
But 30 hit me. When I turned 30, I realized that I'd done a lot I wanted to do on a selfish personal level, but I wanted to make more of an impact. I'd done exploring and learning. Now, I wanted to put my head down and focus on my goals.
I started by limiting what I'd do, and finding a way to enjoy it just as much. I was always interested in doing productive things, learning, and writing. But distractions and screwing around pulled on me. I'd go to any party I got invited to, any trip I was invited to, and I'd just go mess around a lot.
I made a list of ten things I wanted to do, and I'd do only those.
This opened up my day, so there were eight hour stretches where I would only do what was on the list.
It shifted what I enjoyed. When the most enjoyable thing you do is your work, you recalibrate the need for stimulation and sense of enjoyment. What makes the day enjoyable to you changes.
Before I might count how enjoyable my day by things like, "Did I ride my motorcycle?" and "Did I hang out with my friends?" But after recalibrating, I started enjoying my work more.
It's like when you eat sugar and crap food, broccoli doesn't taste good. When you cut the crap, broccoli starts to taste good.
My life is equally enjoyable now as it was before, but in a different way. The pure hit of excitement for going to meet a girl or riding a motorcycle is one kind of enjoyment. Another kind of enjoyment is realizing you pushed your project really far ahead. When I push a great feature on SETT, I know it affects me, my readers, and the bloggers on SETT and all their readers.
That's not the same huge hit of excitement, but it gives a really deep sense of enjoyment.
I still go on trips and do fun things, and I enjoy and appreciate those more now too.
It's like this: if you watch a movie, that's fun. But what does it leave you with afterwards? You're back when you started. Same with eating ice cream. 'Oooh, we're eating ice cream, this is fun' -- but afterwards you're back down to normal.
When you push on work, the peak of excitement doesn't go as high as eating ice cream or watching movies, but you get a really deep sense of satisfaction during and afterwards. You become a better person in the process.
I don't do things because they're fun, I do things because I think they're what I should do. But I make it fun, I make games out of it.Can I get this task done faster than last time? Can I implement this feature in lower lines of code?
Draw as much enjoyment out of dry things as possible. It's a skill you build up. Working out is like that -- it's maybe unenjoyable to start, but after you get into it, you can see your lifts go up, your form improve, and you keep getting better.
You generate more deep enjoyment, as a byproduct of cutting out things that are pure excitement -- going to nightclubs, taking drugs, eating sugar… I think they makes you lose the ability to enjoy more nuanced things.
Combine that with an attitude of, "If I can learn to generate my own enjoyment for my whole life, that's going to help me" whereas if you always need to be a stimulating environment, life is much harder.
It's better to generate happiness internally if you can, because it's always under your control and the outside world isn't. It's similar to relationships in that way -- people who always look for their self-esteem and happiness from their relationships have more ups and downs, and more neurosis, than someone who is happy internally and doesn't rely on their partner for their emotions.
You can make a habit of this, internally generating happiness.
Keep in mind, 'I'm going to try to enjoy this, and try to make it fun. If you're washing dishes, look to reflect on what will make you happy from it. 'Ah, this warm water is nice.' Or, 'how fast can I clean this dish?' You can shift your mindset, and consciously try to enjoy things and make games out of things.
If you start doing this, you can enjoy things that most people find boring.
Ask, 'Why am I doing things?' regularly. Sometimes you'll have an answer like, 'because it's my good friend, and I enjoy our time together.' But other times, you'll realize 'it's because I'm bored and just craving easy stimulation.'
Higher awareness helps a lot, then you cut out doing things for reasons you don't want to do them.
If you want to get good at skills, get intensely curious about how things work. When you're driven by curiosity instead of just wanting the results, getting results becomes easier.
Take the violin. I'm a terrible violinist and I don't particularly want to be a good violinist, but I'm fascinated with it. There's no frets on a violin, it's all hand movement that make the sounds… it's really interesting. So I get obsessed with it, without wanting any result, and it's easy to play around.
Or take SETT. The process of building communities online, making tweaks, and seeing how it all relates… getting obsessed with the skill beyond wanting the outcome.
If you've got that obsession and internal curiosity, then you know, 'I could figure this out if I read a lot about it and try it out a lot'… even if it's beyond your current skill.
I think people have a natural inclination towards doing it this way when they're born. Kids do this a lot more than adults do. As adults, we have this filter -- an adult thinks, 'I might be interested in painting…' but then the kicks in, and we think say, 'Ahhh, I'll never be a real artist, I couldn't get good at it' and so we don't start.
But if you just buy paint and start painting, you can explore it a little bit, see if you enjoy it, and just get started. You might then get good.
If you look at what society expects from you, it's narrow. Get good grades, get a good job, have some kids, and enjoy passive entertainment. If you're not really conscious of it, you never set your own expectations outside of that narrow path.
Society doesn't expect you to be creative, you have to give yourself permission to do it.
You stop over-thinking and do it. If you give yourself enough time before you start, you can talk yourself out of absolutely anything. But if you say, 'I'm just going to see what happens, and who cares what the results are?" you can get going and start getting momentum.
I saw a violin for $50 online, and I thought maybe I'd teach myself a song. And if I didn't like it, I'd resell the violin for $25, and lose nothing.
I do projects in my RV, like making a metal ceiling for an RV, and so I buy tiles and see if I can do it. It gives you the confidence to tackle the next thing.
If you're thinking of painting, go buy some cheap paints and just get started before you over-think it.
As for "getting things done," there's both a mental side and a physical side to it. Mentally, I spend a lot of time compared to the average person developing habits that translate into other things. Discipline by itself isn't very useful, but if I focus on discipline it makes me better at everything for my life.
I like to learn about learning. Learning random languages that I'll rarely speak, or how to memorize a deck of cards. I'll learn things even if it's not useful, because being a better learner is valuable.
Focusing your time on very universal skills, you get a framework of how to do things.
On the physical side, a lot of it comes down to minimalism for me. I used to have a huge house with lots of crap. But I found, when I took distractions out of my environment, it helped me get things done.
My RV has basically two areas -- that are 2 foot by 2 foot wide. I don't have anything here besides working things, resting things, and reading things.
I don't play games on my phone, ever, so I don't get tempted to do so. Forceful removal of any sort of distraction. I blocked Reddit and other websites I like that are addictive.
Big house, cars, that sort of stuff… you need to maintain them, clean them, and it takes time. When you live in a smaller space and can move quickly, it really makes life very simple and very easy to focus on one thing at a time.
I don't get bored. Boredom is tied a lot to not being able to generate your own emotions -- happiness, satisfaction, and so on. If you're curious, you can always do interesting things.
When I'm making SETT, I look at many aspects of it -- designing interfaces, if I get bored of that, I can write copy. If I get bored of that, I can talk to people on the platform. And I have other hobbies… so seeing it as multiple projects, and self-generating the emotion means there's always something.
If you want to self-generate emotion more, there's an excellent 30-day challenge that's done amazing things for everyone I know that's done it. For 30 days, find one positive thing from everything that happens to you.
Before you can control your thought patterns, you have to be aware of them. Most people aren't, they're quite reactive to what's happening around them. So for 30 days, reflect on anything that happens and come up with one positive aspect of it.
When you can internally find something positive in everything that happens, it makes you happier. And happiness is the big emotion we want to generate. There's others you might want -- ambition, drive, etc -- but if you can solve happiness, you're 80% of the way there.
A similar exercise: at the end of the day, every day, write 2 or 3 things you're grateful for. It creates a loop in yourself, where you can appreciate all the amazing things in your life. The amount of experiences you can have on even an average day are amazing.
If you can cultivate that positive awareness, it gives you a big well to draw on.
Say I'm on the train and there's nothing to do. I'll look around the train, and think, "How amazing is it that people figure out how to make this handle? People pull on it, it doesn't break, it's functional… amazing engineering…" You only have to capture a very small amount of what's interesting in the world to have a very interesting life. You only have to capture a very small amount of the happiness in the world to be a very happy person.
Traveling helps, too. Different places and core places. I can't even articulate how that made me a happier person, but doing a train trip through Cambodia made me realize that everyone is happy. Some of them have hard lives, but they're happy. So I thought, "If these people can be happy, there's no excuse for me not to be happy all that time."
The mindset shift from traveling was subtle, I didn't even notice it happened. After a long nine-month trip, I was able to appreciate life much more.
It's possible to be very happy. I'm in a range of being happy close to 100% of the time. There's days when I'm a little less motivated and I'm slogging through a little, but I can't remember the last time I wasn't happy. And I think these days, pretty much 100% of my emotions come internally. For 20 hours a day, I'm behind a computer working on coding and writing. If things were external, I'd be going crazy.
I think this is attainable for most people. It's like anything. These big shifts that are valuable for the rest of your life. It's maybe not something you can get in a day or a week or a single month, but I've seen friends and readers of my site gradually get to the point where you're always happy. Start with the happiness challenge. I think anyone can do it. It's easier for some than others, but everyone can do it.
I approach writing similarly: my rules are consistency, and 'keep posting.'
My general rule is write every day. I don't set a word limit. I don't set a quality limit. I just write one blog "unit" per day. Today, my writing came out pretty bad. 400 words that weren't very good. Somedays it's great, and it gets 800 words of great quality. Takes about 35 minutes to do a piece of writing.
This is new for me. Before, I posted only once a week, usually on Mondays. If it was Sunday and I knew I had to post the next morning, I had less room to experiment if I needed to get something workable.
Now, I write every day and post the best two pieces per week. I experiment more. I wrote one, 'A Letter to My Unborn Kid', and some pieces that I'm experimenting with that'll never get to the blog, it helps me develop as a writer.
It feels good. I've now got at least 100 blog posts I could post. 'I'm blog post rich!' The pressure is gone, so I flow a little more.
Having that buffer of pre-written work takes the pressure off, and I write about whatever I want to write. I know I don't have to post something, but now I never have to censor myself. I can take risks. I have a lot of blog posts stored up, so I know I can take risks and write something different, and sometimes it comes out great. Ever since I built up a buffer, the comments on the quality of my work has gone up. And I don't think it's because I'm a better writer, it's because I'm drawing from my full range.
If you new to it, you should know that consistency is the #1 most important thing in blogging. Once you're established, it doesn't matter as much. But when you're new, people look at how much you write. If you posted once last year, once last month, and once last week, I'm less likely to subscribe. If someone is posting regularly, I'm more likely to subscribe.
When you begin blogging it's hard, you're not getting the feedback that makes it more fun (externally) and makes it a dynamic experience. It can be a slog, but if you do the slog it's great.
A good way to jump in is guest posting on other people's sites is great. That's one thing I really wanted to make easy on SETT: for any SETT blogger, you can post in the Community Section of their site, and constantly be working on your writing and showing it to others.
Consistency will get you good. Pick how many days you're going to write per week, pick how many days you're going to post, and consider making the writing days higher than you posting days to build that buffer.
If you write every day and post 2 per week, and do that consistently, you're not leaving it to chance. You're going to be successful and build up the blog.
Building up the buffer is important, but it's a side importance of that habit of regular writing, regular posting.
Regular writing, regular posting… most people when they start blogging, they emulate someone else. They want to blog like Sebastian or Tynan or Derek. But they're not going to out-Sebastian Sebastian. But if you write about your real thoughts an authentic way, you're going to click with it. You have a monopoly on being yourself. Most people who start try to hard to be someone else.
To get out of that, I think you have to write about what you're actually doing and actually thinking. It's a process of examining yourself, finding the thoughts that are going through your head, rather than 'people really like to hear about X, so let me write about that' -- that'll be more inauthentic. Higher awareness and authenticity helps you be what you're about.
My friend started a blog, MiSol.com. He started a business, and it blew up in his face. He wrote about what went wrong, how his business didn't work and he wound up in debt, and isn't sure why it didn't work. But it's incredibly compelling, because you know it's honest and really what he's thinking.
What people value most is authenticity, especially in this society where this isn't much authenticity going around. I often fall into that trap. When I'm writing, sometimes I find myself writing to make myself look smarter than I am, or more of an expert than I am… and getting away from that.
Look at Tucker Max. I don't like the subject matter at all, getting drunk and partying and being a jerk to people sometimes, but its authentic so it can be incredibly compelling.
One thing that helps: do private writing that you know no one will ever read besides you. More of a journal entry than a blog post. It's easier to be authentic there. Even if you never post that, it gives you a reference. "This is me being totally honest and raw, how close can I get to that with my public writing?" You can then easily see the difference.
Writing every day solves a lot of problems, too. When you write every single day, it's hard to be phony. Moments of authenticity will strike out, and you'll see what it could be.
I'm a big believer in two-way communication. One of the reasons I made SETT was because my blog had grown over the years, and I had something like 12,000 subscribers with a ton of common interests, but there was no great way for us to communicate with each other.
Before SETT, my blog was basically a one-way channel. Comments on blogging doesn't work well -- I'd even say it's broken -- so I'd get not many comments and especially not many engaged interesting comments.
I experimented with forums, having a forum linked on the sidebar of my site. It didn't really work, most people never visited the forum.
Around when I hit 30, I knew I wanted to do a project that could have a huge impact on people. I thought I could build a better blogging platform. An actual way for people to have communities that are something more than a one way dialog.
People can interact with each other, and they can benefit from each other's interests and knowledge without me having to inject myself into every aspect of every conversation.
I always felt having a blog was great for my life, but I felt there was a lot more on the table that couldn't be accessed in terms of two-way mutual dialog.
I have a really good friend named Todd, we've done a lot of projects together, and he wanted to be on a big project at the same time.
So we spent maybe one day getting the rough idea down. Initial idea was make it a Blog + Forum integrated perfectly. Then we started making it.
The first version was terrible, it looked terrible, it didn't even work.
But then we could see it, see the weaknesses and strengths. Gradually we took weak parts out, and added better parts in. We found out how it was by getting started, making the user interface, experimenting, diving in.
If you have a mix of interests like me, I think it's important to realize that "diving in" and "sustained effort" are not the same thing.
When I first started on SETT, it was an hour here and there. Seeing the rough outline of what it could be. But I had to be honest with myself: 'at this rate, this will never be a product people can use, this will never be a serious thing.'
You don't always have to focus after you dabble in things. I got to the point where I could play one crappy song not he violin, and I was done.
But with SETT, I saw it was promising and I enjoyed it, and that's when I decided to go 100% and cut everything else.
Going 100% is hard, because it requires cutting other things out that you'd like to do. For the longest time, I didn't want to cut out other things to focus.
You absolutely have to cut if you want to give 100% to something.
My day's full of stuff, your day is full of stuff, everybody's day is full of stuff. You have to cut something out if you want to do more on a project you love-- whether that's sleep, social time, entertainment, other projects… you can choose what it is, but you have to cut something.
I was fed up with myself. I'd done a bunch of projects that I was 85% done, 90% done, but I never got over the top. Now, I just read books, write, have a few friends I hang out with, and work on SETT. And it's great.
To put more in, you have to take some things out of your day. And that's scary.
If you have a halfway decent life, it's scary to mess up the equilibrium. You think, 'What if I do this, and my life is worse?' But if you never mess up the equilibrium, how will it ever get better?
Some people just want a pretty decent life. I met a guy in Shanghai, and he said: 'I just want a girlfriend and want to watch some movies.' That's fine. But if you want to change the world and really get amazing at some things, you have to say, 'I'm going to mess up that equilibrium, and take a shot, and it might be awesome.'
When I first nailed down to doing only 10 things -- SETT, violin, reading, gym, writing, etc -- it felt like a punishment. But I found it actually gave me a lot more freedom. It let me put a lot more force behind everything I did.
It's like the difference between a fountain lightly spraying water in all directions, a firehouse spraying water intensely in one direction.
You optimize as you go, and your daily routine serves you better and better. It's been liberating.
I eat the same food every day now. We have very little focused, high-quality decision making. I don't want to waste any of that on lunch right now. If I give myself the opportunity to think of what I want for lunch, I can think of ten good options. And then I waste time thinking about it. But I don't want to think about it, I want to think about SETT almost exclusively, to make it amazing.
Then there's no temptation to eat a burger or chocolate cake. I buy the five ingredients I eat, and I eat tunafish.
I found personally, I do really poorly with grey areas. If I say 'I'm going to eat very healthy' maybe I do well, or maybe I don't. But if I say, 'I'm going to eat the same thing every day' or 'I'm going to stop eating white flour', it's very easy to know if I'm following it or not.
People think I have a lot of discipline, but it's really just because I only make decisions once and then stick with it. If I had to make these decisions every single day, I probably wouldn't be that great at it.
If you want to start on that path, I think the key to something like that is to start off really really easy. Do something that's not even hard or unenjoyable. 'I'm going to drink tea every day when I wake up', or 'Every night before I sleep, I'll put my clothes in the laundry.' Something so simple, a monkey could do it.
Or something like, 'I'm going to brush my teeth immediately after closing my computer each night.'
You do that enough, and your brain starts respecting that once you make a decision, it's going to happen. For my next trip to Japan, I wanted to learn 1000 new characters before I went. So I figured out how many flashcards I'd need to do each day before the trip to learn them, and just got into it. And something that's hard for a lot of people, wasn't hard for me. When you have the general structure, it's easy to add new things on.
Most people can say 'I'm going to do something every day' and they stick with it a while. But once they mess it up, they give up forever. 'I ate one French fry, now it's done.' This is probably the most important thing in life: as soon as you screw up once, don't screw up again the next day.
It's terrible if you give up after one thing going poorly. Your brain learns, 'Ah, if he breaks the habit once, if I sabotage him once, then I don't have to do this any more.'
Don't let that happen. I even add in extra punishment to teach my brain 'Don't sabotage me.'
I see my thinking self and my brain as somewhat separate. A lot of the brain's priorities are subconscious survival things: eat food, reproduce, take the easy route and conserve energy. Some of those are good, but I want to take the more modern conscious part of the brain and focus it towards the big goals.
Sometimes you have to fight the older parts of your brain. So you take on a punishment, to build that feedback loop. But I should add, I don't beat myself up or feel bad. I mean, I feel okay and double down on the goal, so my brain learns that more of the thing I chickened out on, or work I didn't do, I have to do.
In the beginning, I applied that same system to doing the programming and other parts of building SETT. But I don't need to any more. Now SETT is what my day is. By default, 100% of my hours go to SETT. Anything else I do is cut out of that time. That's a different shift -- I don't even need to punish myself any more. Right now, I have to write help documents, do customer support, do features, fix bugs.
SETT I'm doing because I love it. You start pushing yourself, and over time it pulls you.
It's especially true if you care about something passionately.If you just say 'I want to make money' and do something you don't like, and are never really going to like, and you're not adding much value to the world, you're going to need to constantly discipline yourself.
If you still have to punish and discipline yourself a few months in to something, maybe you should be doing something else.
Finding something you're passionate about is an iterative process. Nobody is good at watercolor painting the first time. When I think about what a passion is, I ask, 'What are the common traits the make it easy to get into flow state?'
For me, it's doing new things that most people haven't done, and then try to bring it in a way that helps a lot of people. I'm trying to build something brand new, and the process of looking at the past and seeing what's most effective and gets you most engaged…Then I ask, 'How can I make money with these skills I like?' instead of asking, 'Here's a way to make money, how can I do that?'
The way it feels -- when I was in school, which I hated, when there was homework I wouldn't do well with it. I'd skip it, or do half of it and do something else.
But with SETT, I force myself to go to bed at midnight every night, and I find myself racing to get it done before midnight when I go to bed, and I can't wait the next morning to get back into it again, and it makes me happy and I'm building something people love and find useful.
Do things for both the experience and the result, not just the result.
Tynan's GiveGetWin deal is an intimate "breakthrough session" geared around helping you have immediately actionable major breakthroughs -- learn how to do more of what you love, produce more effectively, set great habits, break bad habits that aren't serving you, and enjoy the process.
Tynan blogs at tynan.com and has built the SETT blogging platform which is one of the finest offerings for building an engaged blogging dialog.
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on February 20, 2013 0 Comments
Jason Shen has achieved tremendous success in athletics, technology entrepreneurship, writing, and living an outstanding life. To promote his recent GiveGetWin deal on The Science of Willpower, he sat down to tell us how he started learning about willpower, the state of what's known scientifically about how willpower and the brain work, and how you can start improving your life right away by implementing a tiny habit, thinking and systems, and using some powerful thinking tools. Enjoy:
Developing Willpower by Jason Shen, as told to Sebastian Marshall
Willpower has been an undercurrent in my entire life. In gymnastics, you have to use your willpower to overcome your fear of an activity and go for the skill you want, to get over the fear, to push yourself to finish your conditioning and strength training a part of you doesn't want to…
It didn't come automatically to me. When I was a student, I wasn't automatically self-disciplined. There were actions I knew were useful, like doing my homework in one session without getting distracted, or not throwing clothing on my apartment floor. But I wouldn't always do them, and I didn't know why.
I started to learn those answers during a student initiative course at Stanford called The Psychology of Personal Change. That's when I first started reading academic papers on the topic. In academia, willpower and self-discipline is often called "self-regulation," and in 2009 I started to get really serious about it from an academic perspective -- and saw gains from it in my personal life.
We're all sort of amateur psychologists. Since we all have a brain and a mind, most people tend to have our own theories about how it works.
Normally, a person wouldn't assume they know nuclear physics better than someone who has studied as a nuclear physicist, but most people think they know lots about their mind because they've been living in it our whole lives. People tend to think they know how their brain works, but they never spent time to understand it, to learn from studies, and to try to understand the most common biases that people share.
It takes a lot to face up to reality and recognize the way you think contains biases and differs from how you predict your behavior is going to be differs from reality. When we fail to do something we want to do, we tend to rationalize it away instead of examining it and learning, the way we'd examine scientific evidence.
Studying willpower makes you face up to the fact that you're not as good as you'd like to be yet, and most people are comfortable with that fact and would rather choose to avoid that topic… even though they can get huge gains from learning.
But there's significant gains to be had: it's clear from sports and looking at successful artists and people in other fields, the people who are the most successful often aren't the most naturally talented or well-connected, the 'obvious best bets' to win aren't always the winners. They don't always invest the time and energy to hone their craft and to become the best.
Winning comes from orienting your behavior towards the most productive activities, and there's two parts of that:figure out what the best activities are, and get yourself to do them. Passion and love of what you're doing can help, but even the most passionate people rarely want to do what's best for their training all the time. Once you get really serious about anything, it's often not fun to consistently put in the time to be great at it.
When you want to do productive activities more, it's not about having more willpower -- it's about intelligently using the willpower you've got. Figure out your own psychology, understand the general principles, and direct yourself to do the activities even when you don't feel like it.
Willpower is only half of the equation for general behavior change. Habits are the other half.
A short discussion about the brain is in order. Willpower takes active use of the prefrontal cortex, which is the most recently evolved part of the brain. This new part of the brain is also in charge of things like setting goals, analyzing information, making predictions, and a whole range of activities you've call 'higher level of thinking.
A variety of studies have shown that our ability to take on activities and tasks that requires the use of the prefrontal cortex diminishes over short-term use. As you tax this ability over time, it performs worse and worse if you don't allow adequate recovery.
That's a big deal: it means doing anything that takes your willpower and advanced difficult thinking makes you have less performance, less thinking ability, and less willpower in the short term until you rest again.
A lot of studies have shown this… for instance, coping with stress often makes people relapse from quitting smoking. People don't like being in bad moods, so you need to use willpower when in a bad mood to stop from snapping at a coworker or spouse. And that's the same willpower you're using to not smoke cigarettes… so hitting stress makes you more likely to relapse into smoking, drinking, a drug you're trying to quit, or going off your diet.
That makes intuitive sense to most people, but they don't think about if they're trying to do too much at once and it all falls apart. They might see that pattern if they reflect on their behavior, but it doesn't factor into their plans for the future.
So willpower can only be half of the equation of behavior change: it's too limited on a day to day, moment by moment level to do everything you want. You don't want to tax your willpower too much on a given day or at a given time. You want to offload these actions and turn them into habits, which are the second part the equation.
Habits are great when you set them correctly: it's behavior you repeat subconsciously or without thinking whenever the habit is cued or triggered. You're not doing habits with a particular goal in mind, and they don't require that prefrontal cortex thinking. It becomes "just sort of something you do now."
Brushing your teeth is an obvious example of something that doesn't take much willpower or self-discipline. You just do it.
On the other hand, if you've got a bookmark for Hacker News, Reddit, or Facebook that you frequently click on. In that case, you don't stop and think, 'I'm frustrated on this problem, so I'm going to go get sucked into HN and read.' It gives an instant payoff, but you're not thinking it. You just do it.
Habits seem to be a form of memory. The current thinking is that it resides in the limbic system, which is an older system that exists in most mammals. You seem less planning and executive thinking in other mammals, but you do see limbic behavior.
You see mice run the maze, get the cheese, run the maze, get the cheese… after they've been doing it, they'll start running the maze even if there's no cheese at the end.
You want to do that for yourself -- give yourself habits, and then you don't need to use willpower constantly. It's like hard drive vs. RAM -- you have a lot more hard drive space than RAM.
How many changes you can make at the same time depends on a couple things.
In a weird way, the more stable your life is, the more changes you can make to some extent. A fixed routine and a fixed schedule makes it easier to establish changes, especially habit changes. If you're flying around, and sometimes your job has a crazy schedule with staying late, traveling, etc… or if you have a lot of drama going on with your girlfriend and boyfriend, it's going to block your schedule and make it harder for you to form new habits.
The other thing is how gradually are you taking on these habits. In the class I taught, I had everyone take on a habit they could do in under five minutes, the minimal thing they'd need to take on towards their desired new behavior. If you start like that, you could take on 3 or 4 little habits, and then gradually ease into expanding them. But if you wanted to quit smoking cold turkey, that might take 120% of your focus at first.
The metaphor most people use for willpower is that it's like a muscle… it's not like you're running to full capacity, you get to zero, and you've got nothing. It's like, as you get tired, your performance gets worse. It appears you can strengthen your willpower over time. Willpower varies over time in people, but everyone can increase their willpower over time.
There was a study on strengthening willpower: students were assigned to one of three different self-control drills. One involved posture, and they had to think of their posture all the time. The other was regulating mood, and the third was keeping a diary of what they ate. They did this for two weeks. Then they did a test of their willpower, which involved squeezing a handgrip as hard as they could, which has been shown to map to willpower.
Interestingly, the handgrip has nothing to do with these 3 things, there was no working out, and there's no reason they'd be physically stronger -- but they showed an ability to get stronger to squeeze the handgrip compared to people who didn't do anything after training their willpower.
Other studies have shown the act of developing a habit that taxes your willpower doesn't just improve your peer ability to exert your willpower in a singular, one-dimensional way, it can also spill over into other areas of your life.
There was one where study participants did eight weeks of exercise. First, once a week. Then twice a week. Then three to four times per week. Exercise made them improve at all kinds of other habits -- eating healthier, eating less junk food, watching less TV and studying more, missing less appointments, leaving dirty dishes in the sink lesson often… almost every habit researchers asked them to measure improved. They were doing right things more often in all these areas. Doing bench press doesn't just make you stronger, it also lets you have more strength for everything. Same with habit change.
Starting a tiny habit is one of the best ways to get started with developing your willpower. That means pick something really small, like flossing. It's not particularly fun, or particularly hard. And then get into the habit of flossing every day. If you can't get yourself to floss every day, how are you going to build a thriving a business? How are you going to lose 50 pounds? How are you going to deliver a large project on-time under project with all the spec fleshed out? Flossing takes one minute. And it doesn't have to be flossing -- it could be anything simple, like drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning.
When it's small, all the noise and excuses fall away. If you failed with a tiny easy habit, ask why. Start to analyze. Did you forget? Make reminders. Maybe you need to put a post-it note up. Try to run a tiny habit for 10 days in a row. Then analyze if you miss a day. Did you feel tired? Then ask yourself if you can go to bed one minute later. Maybe you need to set an alarm as a reminder.
If something is not going the way you want, the answer is rarely if ever to try harder. The general response is often, 'I'm going to try harder.' If you understand willpower is sort of limited on a moment to moment basis and can be strengthened over time, but if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing… then look at your system. Look at fixing it as a system instead of trying harder.
This is why starting a tiny habit can work really well: it gives you an opportunity to analyze your system of behavior without making excuses, paying attention to the wrong thing, or feeling bad. If you forget to floss, the answer isn't to try harder. If you forgot, you need reminders. If you don't have floss in the house, you need to buy some.
As an entrepreneur, there's sometimes drudge work that you don't want to do but needs to get done for the business. Sometimes you can use willpower as a short-term one-time thing, but if it's a repeated thing, you've got to say, 'I'm not going to be able to try harder forever. Can I pay someone else to do this? Can I batch this and do it less often? Can I reduce 70% of the work on this? How do I eliminate the need for me to try harder on this? You want to look to make it so you don't have try harder.
Any sort of prefrontal cortex thinking seems to tax the willpower muscle. If you're thinking really really hard, that's going to drain your willpower. A good example: they had students who had to memorize either a two-digit or a seven-digit number. They were told it's for a music study, they're listening to music while trying to remember this number. At the end, they thanked the student and offered them a snack -- either fruit salad or chocolate cake. Quickly decide which. 70% of 2-digit numbers took the fruit, 30% got the cake. If they had to remember the harder seven-digit number, it's harder and more work. Those people, 50% chose the cake. That's a significant increase in people choosing cake, just because they were trying to remember a seven-digit instead of two digit number.
Depression is really bad for willpower. You're hovering in a low zone, but you need to be in a pretty good mood to do the stuff to get the gains. I hesitate to make recommendations since I'm not that familiar with depression, but -- exercise. Aerobic exercise has been shown to equally or more effective than Zoloft. They did this for four months, and 88% who did exercise had recovered and not relapsed six months later. Only 55% who hadn't exercised and taken Zoloft fully recovered.
If you want to exercise, that can be a great thing to make a tiny habit out of. Like running, put running shorts, sneakers, and shirt on, go outside and run for 1 minute and go home. And then five minutes. And then run down the block and come back. Some advocates say keep the tiny habit as is, and you'll feel inclined to go and run more, but you still 'win' if you keep doing the tiny habit and never change it.
That's one way to do it. Start tiny and build. Another way would to get external accountability: a personal trainer or a highly motivated and supporting friend who already works out all the time like clockwork. External accountability will make people feel a little pressure from the social perspective, so they'll go and do the thing.
A third approach: Because decisions take energy and sap energy, OFFLOAD THE DECISION. Don't try to start exercising and decide on the whole program yourself. Do Starting Strength or the Insanity Program for 10 weeks, and just follow the instructions and get it going for you. Remember that thinking taxes willpower. "Should I use dumbbells or the machine?" That's no good for willpower and habit-forming, so just find a good plan and follow the plan to start.
Of course, If it's a core piece of your being, it makes sense to design your own program. If you're a pro athlete, design your own program. If it's a supplementary part of your life, pick something proven that works.
In the Vanity Fair piece called 'Obama's Way' by Michael Lewis, they talked about how President Obama is aware of and works against decision fatigue. He only has navy and grey suits. So all he has to decide is 'navy or grey', no other decisions from a fashion perspective. He doesn't decide the meals he eats. The offloads decisions and preserves decisionmaking for the most important stuff (and his March Madness basketball picks).
Of all the habits and behavior change you could do, fitness is the #1 biggest win possible. There's so many benefits to exercise.
If you're not regularly exercising, it should be the HIGHEST AREA OF PRIORITY. An Associate Professor at Harvard Public Health said, 'The closest thing to a magic bullet is exercise.' That's the number one thing. It affects mood. Anti-depression. Improves learning. After kids did intense sprinting exercise, it increased bloodflow to the hippocampos which relates to memory and helped learning vocabulary. If you're not exercising, you're not maximizing your ability.
This is another example where in thinking in a systems way comes into play: there are people out there who says, 'I tried exercising, it doesn't work for me. It doesn't fit into my schedule. I go for a couple weeks, and then I stopped.' If you tried something and it didn't work, that doesn't meant he whole thing is busted. If your roof leaked, and you tried to patch it and the first patch didn't work, you wouldn't say, 'Well, my roof is busted so it's going to leak into the house.' Try different materials, try a different contractor, try something else.
Don't like going to the gym? It's not the only way to exercise. Running. Dancing. Spinning class. At-home video. Integrate more walking, walk everywhere… that's still better than nothing. Join a sport you like. Do 10 pushups every time before you go to the bathroom.
There's a million and one ways to get physical activity into your life. You only need to find one.
People give up because they like to keep a positive self-conception of themselves. People think they're in the right, and want to keep thinking they're in the right, so they find an excuse. We don't want to have a negative conception of ourselves.
If an attempt to start exercising doesn't work, most people (falsely) see the choice as between being a bad person or saying 'exercise doesn't work for me.' But you don't need to make it personal: you can approach it just like a roof that's leaking or a car that breaks down, and analyze the system. Build a better system for exercising.
You can think of this like training a dragon. The thinking part of you -- the prefrontal cortex -- is a guy riding a dragon. The prefrontal cortex thinks it's smart, but it's riding this giant beast that's primitive and shoots flames. It responds best to rewards and cues, and if the dragon gets mad, you're in big trouble. That can depersonalize things to some extent. If you're trying to change your dragon and it doesn't like what you're doing, try to think of something else to make it work.
That gets back to the systems thinking. Ask, "What can I change and try again, and see if I can run it?"
If you're interested in finishing and completing more things, there's an interesting phase: instead of saying, "How can I ever finish?" replace it with "How can I start?" If you keep starting again and again, you'll get it done. Focus on the starting, not on the finishing.
Then, give yourself a big reward. Especially if it's late or overdue, we tend to beat ourselves up and feel bad about things. And that's detrimental -- negative feelings are detrimental, they hurt our willpower, and make us avoid whatever we feel negative about.
If something is late, START BY FORGIVING YOURSELF for whatever is going on. And then give yourself a big reward if you get it done. Try it out, most people don't want to reward themselves for doing something they suck at. But try it out, it might get yourself across the finish line.
Giving yourself rewards can be hard to do, because it feels arbitrary. This is where all this stuff with badges and gamification, it's designed to externalize the rewards.
I'm learning how to code and using something called Treehouse. I'm learning Ruby and I get a badge about Arrays or Hashes as I learn something and pass a quiz. Every couple exercises you'll get a short little funny/interesting video, you get to watch a little episode randomly when you complete a module. It totally motivates me to keep doing this. I've been trying to make REWARDS FEEL MORE EXTERNAL AND LESS LIKE I'M ARBITRARILY DOING SOMETHING.
The other part of it is a natural reward, a reward in the outside world… people get praised, get an external reward. If you can set this sort of reward up, where you know you're going to feel good after completing something, you'll get more done.
When I was a gymnast, our coach would get upset when we'd over think our training. It was at Stanford, so we all thought we were pretty smart kids. We'd be overanalyzing. The coach would say, 'Trust the training.' We think more when we're anxious, and less when we're relaxed… so how to get more relaxed? Trust what you're doing, and you'll relax.
An exercise I read recently in The Charisma Myth. It feels quite hokey, but it's tested with some very successful senior executives and it's gotten great results: Take a deep breath, close your eyes, imagine a large force -- the Universe, God, Fate, whatever you want to call it -- and imagine all your worries get sucked by the thing and everything is going to work our as well as it's supposed to, it's going to work out perfectly for you.
If you don't naturally have this thought, you can work on, this can help you get moving.
When you're paralyzed and not moving, you're spending part of your time thinking, 'Is what I'm doing the right thing? Should I be doing something else entirely?' But you often wind up doing nothing, which is the worst thing possible…this exercise lets you get into motion. Once you get to a certain threshold of very basic understanding, it's better to take action.
It's like General Patton said, "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."
Jason's blog is The Art of Ass-Kicking. You can find his GiveGetWin deal, a class he's teaching on "The Science of Willpower" which will be fantastic.
Posted by Daniel Ternes on December 13, 2012 0 Comments
I recently talked to GGW Team member Vasily Andreev who just finished his first novel earlier this year.
Writing a novel is something that is really appealing to me, but I can't imagine myself doing it. It seems to be an incredible amount of work, endless complexity, just overwhelming. I don't even know where to start. And I'm pretty sure that I won't like the final outcome and will go through considerable lengths to hide it from the public.
I think a lot of people feel like that. Writing a novel - even if it is just one, even it is bad - is something a lot of us have on our bucket lists.
Vasily and I talked about these things and he explained to me how he overcame these blocks.
A few days later he followed up with the following email.
Writing any form of novel seemed like an impossible task when I was younger. For some novels, it still is. I can’t fathom how to create something as interwoven and brilliant as The Count of Monte Cristo. But I believe there’s an easy approach towards understanding how to write a novel.
If you’re really, really new to writing, never written a short-story in your spare time of any length, then I’d suggest looking up various creative writing exercises. A good list of these is found at the end of The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, which is a great book to introduce you to various elements of writing. I’ll spare you the trip and give you a few examples.
Try and write ~500 words on each of these:
Describe a building from the perspective of a recently married girl or boy without mentioning the marriage.
Describe a building from the perspective of an elderly woman who just lost her husband. Don’t mention the death.
Describe an environment from the perspective of a bird, without saying you’re a bird.
As you do these, I bet you’ll start to develop some kind of story. A story, on really simple terms, can just be described as plot tension. A character wants something, but can’t get it because of xyz. That’s plot tension. Maybe the character is yourself, an aspiring writer who can’t seem to understand how the words come to being on the page. Write about it, by all means. At this stage, it’s most important to write. Nobody’s expecting your short story to be a masterpiece. If you write the most horrid things in the English language, that’s okay. Nobody has to see it and you’ve hopefully gotten better. It’s a process.
Once you can easily do the above exercises (or others you found) take your favorite one and turn it into a story. No more than 1000 words. If you like your Elderly Woman story, add the part about her husband dying and her struggling to accept it. Hell, she doesn’t even have to say anything. If you just say “The funeral had ended, and Joanne walked home alone. Her spirit waned as the pain in her thighs and calves grew, until it felt that each step came close to ripping a muscle. She sat down on a park bench and looked at...” Then your description. That’s plot tension. You’ve told a story! Pat yourself on the back.
Now, do the same thing but make it 1500 words. You might struggle with this, that’s okay. If you get stuck, have your character walk or drive somewhere. That’ll give you a chance to describe their thoughts, surroundings, and hopefully, add to the tension. In high level writing, you don’t quite want to make something happen that is a result of your lack of words. But, you’re learning about plot tension, so that doesn’t concern you yet.
Keep ramping up the word count. I promise you you’ll reach a point where you begin to understand how stories are structured. An epiphany will strike you and you’ll realize: “Wait, a novel is just a really long story. I can do that!”
And hopefully you will.
It changed my whole perception of writing fiction and I hope it will change yours.
Also, if you're into writing, go to the main page and check out Vasily's writing workshop.
The next deal will go up soon and will focus more on entrepreneurial skills again.
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on November 28, 2012 0 Comments
We had a big reception to deal#2, which was really cool and humbling. That was me personally, so I was really honored and flattered to see it sell out quickly. I was also surprised and equally more honored to see an entrepreneur based out of South America offer the training's normal $40 rate + an additional $200 donation for me to open up an extra one hour slot.
Feedback we've consistently gotten is that we're pricing way below what people would normally expect for such services, and I think that's true but I like that we do it that way. It lets people who come here with their hard-earned cash get really exceptional value, which is crucial. We don't want just "good deals" to be available here, we want it to be really outstanding for people that come, visit, and tell their friends.
I finished my last session yesterday (it took a little while to coordinate schedules with a successful Michigan-based entrepreneur who was one of the first to sign up, but we had a nice time yesterday), and I'm really thrilled and grateful for everyone that signed on. Great people to connect with.
Lots has been happening behind the scenes as well -- building up a persistent real-time chatroom for GGW volunteers and providers, onboarding volunteers, building infrastructure, improving our tech and communication, and otherwise just getting really organized while getting more great people involved. Thanks to everyone for all the support and love -- you're all great and we're happy and grateful you're involved!
Posted by Sebastian Marshall on November 07, 2012 0 Comments
Thank you to everyone in our wonderful community!
I had no idea what reception we'd get, but GGW's first deal -- the design class by Stepan Parunashvili -- sold out!
Because we're all about creating long-term value, the approach we're taking is about having very favorable pricing. In this case, we had four spots available at $20 each -- which means we raised out first $80 for charity! Hurrah!
Let's keep the good times rollin', I'm stepping in myself for GGW#2. And once again -- a great big thank you! to everyone for all the encouragement, to all the new volunteers and providers who are joining up, to everyone in our great community, and everyone spreading the world.