Category Archives: Essays

The Internet is Built to Distract You

The internet is the greatest distraction engine the world has ever made.

Endless videos on Youtube. A constant stream of pictures from Instagram. Just one more episode on Netflix. Memes and political rants from people you went to high school with on Facebook. Fake stories on Reddit. Blue checks being sarcastic on Twitter. Video games played with thousands or even millions of people through Steam.

And let’s not get started on the adult side of the internet.

All of this endless content is combined with algorithm upon algorithm, designed to keep you scrolling longer and make you addicted to their services.

Yes, addicted. The modern internet is designed to make you an addict. Constant entertainment. Constant novelty. Constant distraction. If you let it, the internet will make it basically impossible to do productive work, or anything else that requires focused attention. We’re amusing ourselves to death, with all of the consequences that implies.

Use the internet for a few purposes: educating yourself, making money, connecting with others, and self-improvement. Avoid the endless cycle of addictive entertainment as much as possible. Do other things besides stare at a screen for 12 hours a day. Go outside. Talk to your family. Play with your pet. Read a book. Make money.

You were not born to browse the internet. You were born to live, and thrive.

Alright, back to Reddit!

If It’s Important, Do It Everyday

One of the most important ideas I’ve ever heard is a quote – it might be based on something Tim Ferriss said, but I can’t find the original.

If you don’t have time, you don’t have priorities.

How do you “find time” to eat? Or sleep? Or shower? Or go to work? You “find time” (or really “make time”) for these things because they are important. They’re priorities, and you’re going to do them everyday (or nearly everyday).

Too many people have things they want to do or know they need to do… but either never do it, or do it so infrequently they might as well never do it.

You want to build a business? Prove it. Make time for it, and put in the hours everyday.

You want to read 50 books this year? Prove it. Make time for it, and read everyday.

You want to learn a second language? Prove it. Make time for it, and practice everyday.

You want to get fit? Prove it. Make time for it, and workout everyday (or maybe every other day, depending on your fitness plan).

You want to be a writer? Prove it. Make time for it, and write everyday.

You want to get into an amazing relationship? Prove it. Make time for it, and do something to improve your dating life everyday.

You want to be a meditator? Prove it. Make time for it, and meditate everyday.

There’s lots of things you could do in a day, and a few really important things you should be doing.

Make the important things a priority. If it’s important, do it everyday.

Seek to Change Your Mind

Do you believe everything you believed 10 years ago?

I certainly don’t. I’ve changed my mind on a lot of things over the years. Politics. Economics. Philosophy. Religion. What humans are like. How the world works. What kind of person is a good person, and what you need to do to live the good life.

If you had told my high school self the sheer number of topics I would end up changing my mind on, let alone the actual changed beliefs, I wouldn’t have believed you.

That’s not surprising or unusual. Even if you know, on a rational level, that it’s possible you’re going to change your mind in the future, you don’t think it’s likely. “I’m a smart person, and my beliefs are great, why would I change them?”

Because you don’t know everything. Because you don’t know about every belief, idea, position, or philosophy out there. And because even when you do know about other beliefs, you might be so emotionally invested in your current beliefs that changing over to something better is extremely difficult.

With all of that in mind, I think people should seek to speed up how often their beliefs change. You’ve probably changed your mind about at least one thing in the past 10 years. Chances are, you didn’t expect it or want it – but the belief changed anyway. And if you couldn’t predict which belief would change 10 years ago, how could you possibly predict which of your beliefs will be different 10 years from now?

Read books you disagree with – you might not disagree with them as much as you think. Listen to all kinds of opinions, including opinions you think are wrong, offensive, or ridiculous – they might not be so wrong, offensive, or ridiculous. Seek out new ideas, new life, and new civilizations and different perspectives – they might become your own in 10 years. If you get exposed to other ideas, seriously think about them, and don’t change your mind, you’ll have strengthened your ability to think. If you seriously consider other ideas, and change your mind, you’ve (hopefully) replaced one belief with a better belief.

Seek to change your mind.

Be Consistent. Be Consistent. Be Consistent.

Success requires consistency.

In order to get good at anything, or build anything meaningful, you need to be consistent. You need to practice skills, put in the hours, and stay focused on one idea or activity for long lengths of time.

If you’re trying to get good at a skill, but you never or rarely practice, you’re not going to get good at it. If you’re trying to build a business, but you never put in the hours, it’s never going to get off the ground. If you want to have a successful blog, but you never sit down to write, you won’t have a blog to show people.

There’s a saying out there, that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It’s most often said in the context of challenging traditions or promoting innovation – but taken another way, success requires being a little insane. You have to believe that consistency works – that if you practice and put in the hours, you’ll reach some level of success.

Obviously, success is not guaranteed to anyone – life isn’t fair, and you’ll occasionally run into people who live to stand in the way of others. Since life is unfair, failure will remain an option. If you are never consistent on top of that, failure is guaranteed.

To be honest, I mostly understand all of this from the experience of not following this principle. For most of my life I’ve been resistant to practicing anything, bouncing between different focuses and losing interest in most things quickly. As a result… I haven’t been nearly as successful at anything as I could have been. I don’t like saying it, but it would be worse to not admit it.

Don’t make my mistake. Put in the hours. Practice. Be a little bit insane. Be consistent, and get the results you’re after.

Write Lessons for Your Younger Self

Chances are that right now, you are at the wisest you have ever been.

Whatever beliefs you might have had when you were younger, you’ve had time to reflect on them and change them to beliefs that are better.

You’ve had experiences your younger self didn’t expect, and you’ve hopefully learned from those experiences.

You’ve read books your younger self wouldn’t have enjoyed, agreed with, or known about.

You’ve gone through education, both formal and informal, and that has changed you.

All of these things have (hopefully) left you wiser than your younger self. The question is: what do you do with this wisdom?

Write it down. Write down the lessons you’ve learned that you wish you could give to your younger self. Figure out what lessons would have given your younger self an edge, or allowed them to avoid critical mistakes. Turns these lessons into concrete principles that you could teach your younger self.

Obviously you can’t actually go back in time and give these lessons to a previous version of you – but you can teach them to others. Whether it’s “students” learning something you have experience with, friends and family about to make a mistake similar to ones you’ve made, your children, or simply random readers of your blog, figure out the lessons you’ve learned and teach them to others. Get feedback. Make your ideas better. Reflect on your principles. Make them even better. And even if no one listens to you, you can at least try to make yourself a little wiser by having concrete lessons and principles to look at – and improve as time goes on.

You can’t change the past, or give the lessons you’ve learned to your previous self. But you can reflect on what you’ve learned, and make the world a tiny bit wiser.

Get Some F*cking Sleep

You feel tired all the time. Sluggish. Slow. Unmotivated. You wonder if you’re depressed. You feel like you need a vacation, even if you’re on vacation.

Maybe you are depressed or need a vacation, but there’s another very simple explanation for your malaise you need to consider: you need a good night’s rest.

People aren’t getting enough sleep. And when they do get sleep, it’s low quality sleep. Sleep researcher Matthew Walker went and wrote an entire book to sound the alarm about the sleep epidemic, and to convince people to get more sleep. There’s a lot of reasons you might be getting terrible sleep – you drink a lot of coffee, you eat late, you have an office job, you don’t exercise, you stay up late staring at a bright screen – but whatever the reason, not sleeping enough or sleeping well has consequences.

Sleep repairs your body after daily wear and tear, and is essential for the formation of memories in your brain. As far as anyone can tell though, every part of your body benefits from sleep, and every part of your body gets worse for a lack of it. The reason that sleep deprivation is one of the most common torture methods isn’t just because people like sleep, it’s because sleep is essential to maintaining your health and sanity.

Go to bed early tonight. Avoid eating for several hours. Turn off the screens. Put your phone in another room. Get your bedroom as cold as possible. Cover as many sources of light in the room as possible (especially the window), and wear a sleep mask if you have one. If the thought of being well-rested isn’t appealing enough for you, start reading about lucid dreaming, and sleep more to try and master the art.

But above all: get some rest. You probably need it.

The “Best” Productivity System

There’s a lot of advice about what the best productivity system is.

Getting Things Done. Bullet Journal Method. Kanban. Honey-do lists and sticky notes. Paying a woman from Craiglist to slap you whenever you visit Facebook. Everyone has an opinion about what’s best, what works, and what you should use.

Here’s the actual best productivity system:

The best productivity system is the one you consistently use.

You can pick the “perfect” productivity system, or create the “perfect” system yourself, but if you don’t use it, it’s worthless.

Try different systems or tools for a discrete period of time. A quarter. A month. Long enough that you can tell if you’re getting results. If your productivity system isn’t working, if it isn’t one that’s easy and attractive for you to use consistently, drop it.

Of course, maybe the problem isn’t your productivity system sucking – maybe it’s you that sucks. Maybe you drink too much, or sleep too little, or don’t meditate enough, or all of the above. Account for that. That said, if your productivity system only works when you’re at your best, it probably doesn’t work as well as it could.

Find the productivity system that you can consistently use.

Disagreement is Strength Training for the Mind

The way we gain physical strength is through resistance.

You need to regularly lift weights that are at the edge of your ability – and then, once those weights become easy, increase the weight. If you only lift weights you already can lift, you won’t get stronger. And if you don’t lift any weights at all, you’ll grow weaker.

I think the same holds true for mental strength.

You need to regularly interact with ideas and opinions you don’t agree with – and then, once you understand those ideas completely, try to understand ideas that are even more different. If you only consider ideas and opinions similar to your own, you won’t get smarter. And if you only ever consider ideas exactly like your own, you’ll get dumber.

The great thing about freedom of speech is that people you disagree with can speak their mind. Most people don’t realize this, but having people you disagree with speak openly ends up making you stronger – you have the option of listening to them, considering their idea, and then reacting to it. If you disagree with their opinion, your mind has become better trained, more capable of thinking about ideas in the future, and perhaps coming up with better reasons for why you believe what you currently believe.

If you accept their idea (which you’ll hopefully do sometimes), your beliefs will be better than they were before.

Be open-minded – just don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out. There are plenty of ideas and opinions out there that are crazy, outdated, incoherent, or offensive. When you listen to ideas you disagree with, you have no obligation to agree, or respect the idea. But you should absolutely do your best to respect the person, their humanity, and respect their right to their own opinion – as they should respect you, your humanity, and your right to your opinions.

Talk to people you disagree with. Listen to people with different opinions than you. Consider ideas that are the opposite of your own. It is by listening to people with ideas different than ours, and seriously considering those ideas, that we become mentally strong.

And I want you to become strong.

Fix Your Weaknesses First

When pursuing self-improvement, it can be hard to know where to start.

You want to be the most effective version of yourself, capable of doing anything you put your mind to. You have skills you could improve, skills you could master, or skills that you could start learning.

I’ve come to believe that when you’re trying to increase your effectiveness, you need to start with the weaknesses that make you least effective or ineffective.

If you have a weakness or weaknesses that are consistently getting in the way of your goals, those are the things you need to fix. Immediately. Figure out which skills in your life are consistently your weakest, and have caused your biggest setbacks – then work on mastering your best skills, or learning a new skill.

Think back to the 4 or 5 biggest setbacks you’ve faced – ones where by your own lack of skill, you didn’t get the result you wanted. Chances are, you have a few skills that didn’t just fail you in the moment, but leave you in the bottom 25% of that skill compared to others. While your best skills and virtues are something to be proud of, those skills in the bottom 25% are going to hold you back as long as you don’t work on them.

Maybe you have an amazing and fashionable wardrobe, but also have the worst stage fright in the world – work on mastering your emotions before becoming a fashion icon.

Maybe you’re an amazing chef, but can’t keep track of your bills – master running your household before running a kitchen.

Maybe math is the easiest thing in the world for you, but you barely passed your English classes – start a small reading habit to improve your reading (even Paul Erdős needed to read!) before trying to win the Fields Medal.

Your medals are great – but if you don’t plug a few of your gaps, it’ll be harder to earn more.

This isn’t advice to become a jack of all trades, master of none. You don’t have to master your weaknesses, just make these areas good enough that they don’t interfere with your goals.

Fix your weaknesses first.

Stop Telling People About Your Goals

It’s normal to tell people about your goals.

Why wouldn’t you? “These are my goals. These are the things I’m working on. If you want to know who I am and what I’m about, this will allow you to understand me.”

But telling people about your goals comes with a cost: the illusion of progress.

Telling people about your goals feels good. Really good. Too good. In my experience, your brain can’t tell the difference between telling people about your goals, and actually making progress on them. You tell people what you want to do, you feel satisfied… and then you watch Netflix for 4 hours.

Stop telling people about your goals. Only let yourself be satisfied when you’ve made progress or achieved your goal – it doesn’t matter whether other people like or approve of your goal. Don’t seek approval or admiration, seek results. Your monkey brain will lie to you about how much progress you’ve made – but numbers don’t lie.

If asked about what you do, talk about something you’ve already done or did today, not about what you want to do later. Don’t seek approval. Seek progress. Seek results. Measure where you are and where you want to go.

Stop telling people about your goals.