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.

Patriotism – Why I Love the United States in Spite of Its Flaws

I love the United States of America.

That’s become a less popular thing to say these days – you hear far more people criticizing or even hating America, laying out its flaws and failures – but I still love this country.

I love the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – flawed documents to be sure, but documents that have had a powerful impact on the structure of every new government that has come afterward. From sheer impact alone, these documents will be studied for centuries to come, alongside works like the Magna Carta or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I love the rights and freedoms those documents – the Constitution and Bill of Rights – lay out. Freedom of religion, of speech, of press, of assembly, of petition – all of which add up to freedom of thought. I love the right to bear arms (even if I don’t particularly love, or hate, guns), which I’ll call a right to self-defense. I love that several amendments set out to give the citizens of this country a fair trial, whether their accuser is another citizen or the government itself.

I love the separation of powers, and that the United States was created to explicitly not feature dictatorship, monarchy, nobility, or aristocracy. Leaders are elected, not born. There are limits on their power – frustrating when those limits are on leaders you support, and a godsend for the leaders you despise. Wealth has obvious advantages, but doesn’t come with hereditary land or titles. There are no kings, dukes, or duchesses of the United States – and that’s a feature, not a bug.

I love the Statue of Liberty – but more importantly, I love the line from “The New Colossus” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

I love that millions of people around the world, desperate to escape the tyranny, oppression, and slavery found in their homelands, have looked to the United States as a sanctuary from those evils. The shining city on a hill, to use the cliche. I love that for all of its flaws and failures, so many people yearn to come to America – and that so many movements for human rights and freedoms around the world have been inspired by the American story.

Many people criticize that the rights and freedoms America prides itself on were not extended to millions of people at the birth of this country – I love that the American story includes the fight to extend those freedoms to everyone. I love that the women and freemen of America have rights and liberties their ancestors could not have hoped to enjoy, even in a limited or flawed form.

That fight is not over. It is far from over. I doubt that fight will be over soon – but its a fight worth continuing.

I’m not saying anything new. But on this Independence Day, I’m looking for reasons to love this country. The current moment is laser-focused on the many flaws and failures of America – in government, in policing, in matters of race. The drive to improve on this country’s flaws is valid and important – but while many are declaring that the United States of America is an irredeemable nation founded on sin and blood, I refuse to do so. The United States has flaws. It has made mistakes. Its history is full of failures of morality – some stretching back to its founding. But I am a patriot. I love my country, not because it is perfect, but because much of it is great, and worth defending and improving.

I am not a nationalist – hugging flags, nostalgic to the core, convinced that my country is perfect or inherently superior, and that anything that doesn’t fit into that perfect image deserves scorn or violence (whether along lines of race, religion or culture). I am also not the opposite. I’m not sure what the word would be, but perhaps “anti-nationalist” – not someone who is against nations, but someone who believes their nation is inherently inferior or evil, its sins are irredeemable, no progress is noteworthy or praiseworthy, and that anything short of starting over from the beginning is insufficient to correct the moral calculus.

On this Independence Day, I am reflecting on America – both on what has made it great, and the work needed to make it even better. Its values – and its ongoing attempt to live up to them. The millions of people who have contributed to this country’s story – and the millions more who never had the opportunity to do so. Its accomplishments – and its failures.

I am a patriot – I don’t want to destroy my country, I want to fix its errors and make it better. And I hope you’re a patriot too, whatever country you call home.

Social Skills Are King

Are you a person?

Do you talk to other people on a regular, or even occasional basis?

If you answered yes to both of these questions, you need social skills. They probably could use some work. It’s in your best interest to improve them as much as possible.

Unless you’re a hermit who never leaves their house, you have to talk to other people – at work, at the grocery store, or even simply your neighbors. When you do, you’re going to need to understand the general rules of how to talk to people without making them want to avoid you, hate you… or worse.

The list of situations that require social skills for success is long – the list that requires none is very short.

Trying to get ahead at work? If you have poor social skills, your coworkers will probably dislike you, and your manager most likely will too, no matter how good you are at your job.

Trying to make friends? If you have poor social skills, you will accidentally offend many people, and many others will avoid you simply because they don’t want your poor social skills to affect their life. You will make friends… but infrequently, and often only with people who are the most tolerant of your lack of social graces.

Trying to find romance? Social skills are a requirement to even get in the door. For many men and women, “poor social skills” is a deal breaker, even if they find you good looking. And even if it isn’t a deal breaker, poor social skills will likely leave you unable to start or maintain a relationship.

Even in a scientific institution or university, places which (we’re told) are dedicated to scholarship and the pursuit of truth, social skills reign supreme. In a group of the nerdiest scientists, the one with the highest social skills will most likely get ahead and lead the rest (look around your scientific institution if you don’t believe me). And at universities… let’s just say office politics don’t just happen at office jobs.

Don’t think you’re above it. Don’t think you can get ahead without social skills. Treat them as learnable, improvable skills and improve them as quickly as you can. Your happiness in life, success in life, and (in the worst case scenario) your life itself might depend on it.

Learn the basics of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Learn to negotiate, and to Never Split the Difference. Learn the foundations of Influence. And if you want to protect yourself from the psychopaths and narcissists of the world, memorize the 48 Laws of Power.

Good luck.

1000 Minutes Per Day

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

This is one of those quotes from Fight Club that sticks with you long after reading or watching. It sticks with you for a simple reason: it’s a punch to the gut, like the rest of the story.

Take a look around you right now. Look at your surroundings, at the state of your home or where you’ve chosen to read this. Look at all of your stuff. Think about what you’re doing right now. Think about what you’ve done today. Think about your plans for the rest of the day, and the rest of the week.

This is your life, in all of it’s glory or all of it’s absurdity. It’s all you have, and it’s ending one minute at a time.

You have less minutes than you think.

Assume a person sleeps for 8 hours. They’re awake for 16 more hours. 16 hours times 60 minutes equals 960 minutes. Round that up a little bit…

Your average day is only 1000 minutes long.

A minute doesn’t seem like a lot of time, and neither does 10 minutes – but when you look at it in context of your whole day, and 10 minutes is 1% of your entire day.

10 minutes browsing Instagram is 1% of your day gone.

10 minutes watching dumb shows on Netflix is 1% of your day gone.

10 minutes looking at your ex’s social media is 1% of your day gone.

10 minutes reading more articles about the same news story is 1% of your day gone.

Don’t waste time. Not even a single minute, and certainly not 10 minutes. Your days aren’t that long, and you don’t have as many days as you think you do.

What will you do with the next 1% of your day?

Forget The Word Count

When writing, the temptation is always there to meet a certain word count. It’s tempting to believe that length is equivalent to importance or value, and only when the thing you’re writing is long enough, it will be worth reading.

Forget it.

Forget the word count.

The word count is the least important part of writing. Some of the most profound ideas ever communicated are as long as a tweet. Some of the least important or most damaging philosophies are found in books hundreds or thousands of pages long.

Your goal is not to meet a word count. Your goal is to communicate important ideas to the world.

The right word count, or page length, is whatever is necessary to communicate your idea clearly. If that takes 10 words or less, great. Brevity is the soul of wit. If it genuinely requires more than 1000 pages, fine. Some ideas and philosophies are genuinely complex, and require hundreds of pages to fully explain.

Maybe you’re a journalist who has a daily word count they have to meet, or an author with a specific contract – even then, you should consider writing first, and THEN meeting the word count. If the thing you write is too short, you can add to it later. If the thing you write is too long, you can remove and revise later.

Forget the word count.

“No matter what happens, I will be okay.”

There is a lot going on in the world right now.

A pandemic. Protests. Mass unemployment. Riots. Everywhere you look, there is something to worry about or be anxious about – and thanks to the 24/7 news cycle and social media, even smaller events that aren’t part of a larger story get turned into a bigger issue than they actually are.

But for the most part, there’s a lot of stuff to legitimately worry about right now.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to feel like the world is a chaotic mess, that you are powerless, and that you are a victim at the whims of random chance.

I don’t want to feel or think this way. I don’t think it’s useful, or healthy. Instead, I’m trying to adopt a belief I’ve heard in a few places:

“No matter what happens, I will be okay.”

Let’s be clear: This is a belief. This is a mindset. This is a narrative. This is not a statement of certainty about the future, this a statement about how to interpret the things that happen to you – and a statement to help choose how to react to the world around you.

Think of the small things people dread on a daily basis. Asking someone out, and getting laughed at. Asking for a raise, and having it rejected. Speaking your mind, and having people disagree with you. Then think of the larger fears: Disease, war, natural disasters.

You might get rejected. You might be in the middle of a natural disaster. These things might happen to you. Just remember:

“No matter what happens, I will be okay.” It’s not a statement of being immune to disaster, it’s a statement that whatever happens:

  1. The things you fear won’t be as bad as you think they are
  2. You are capable of getting through whatever life throws at you
  3. If worst comes to worst, problems can be solved, and you’ll be okay in the end

It’s a statement of confidence. You believe in yourself. You have a mindset dedicated to empowering you in the face of life, rather than being anxious. And you have a narrative that turns the disasters and challenges of life into solved problems.

It’s very difficult to solve a problem or face a challenge if you don’t fundamentally believe in yourself.

“No matter what happens, I will be okay” isn’t about arrogance, narcissism, or false confidence in the face of life. Bad things can happen to you just like everyone, and chances are you won’t enjoy them. But in the end, you’ll still have yourself, and have learned something for when you face tomorrow. This too will pass, and you might even emerge from your trials stronger.

It’s going to be very hard to believe this if you’ve lacked confidence for your entire life – but now is the time to start trying. Start being a little more honest – or at least lie less. Do something that scares you every day, even if it just means trying a new food. Talk to someone you’ve never talked to before – especially that cute girl/boy/person that makes you nervous. Start thinking about how to get through disasters and challenges, and not just how much you don’t like them. Act like you’ll be okay, until you believe it.

We live in interesting times, times that grow more interesting by the day. But whatever happens, whatever comes up, whatever challenge gets thrown your way, just remember:

“No matter what happens, I will be okay.”

Memento Mori: You Will Die Someday

You are going to die someday.

You can try to forget about it. You can ignore it. You can try to deny it. You can even pin your hopes on the Singularity, cryonics, or medical nanobots that go inside your body and fix all of your health problems – personally, I’m not going to bet on them, no matter what Ray Kurzweil says. Chances are, like every other human being who has ever lived, you are going to die someday.

You’re not going to live forever.

If you live in a developed country, have access to healthcare, and don’t get hit by a bus, your average life expectancy is somewhere around 80 years old – plus or minus a few years. If you’re female, add a few years. If you’re lucky, you’ll live into your 90s, and if you’re very lucky, past 100.

That’s less time than you think. Take 80 years, and subtract your current age – that’s probably how long you have left, and the years probably passed by quicker than you thought they would.

If I could give everyone in the world a message, I’m not sure what I would pick – but one candidate would be “Memento Mori.”

Memento Mori is latin for “remember that you must die.” You can find the idea throughout art and philosophy, but it is especially popular with the Stoics.

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” Seneca

“Memento Mori” a reminder that you are mortal, and you have one chance to live your life well.

Live your life as fully and excellently as you can right now – because the current moment is all you’re going to have. Stop wasting time on things you don’t want to do, or things you know that you shouldn’t do. Stop doing things you know you’re going to regret at age 80. Stop putting off the things you’ve been dreaming of for years, waiting for the perfect moment.

There is no perfect moment. There is only your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.

Do the work! – whatever that means to you. Make something you’re proud of – especially if you’re looking back on your life so far, and don’t have much to be proud of right now. Start thinking about your legacy, and what kind of impact you want to have on the world when the final chapter of your life is written.

You don’t know when that final chapter is going to be written. You might be in the final pages.

Memento Mori, reader.

Dear Perfectionists: Lower Your Standards

I am a recovering perfectionist.

Throughout my life, I’ve always tried to do things perfectly, from my daily work to my daily habits – the end result being that I rarely get started with anything, let alone finish anything.

Take it from me: this is not a recipe for success. This is a recipe for a lifetime of wasted potential, unfinished dreams, and constant disappointment.

So I have a message for perfectionists:

Lower your standards.

That doesn’t necessarily mean being lazy and doing a terrible job (you already know how to do that). It means lower your standards for your habits, and for the work you’re willing to put out into the world.

From now on, the goal is no longer to do things perfectly or create masterpieces – the goal is the produce, create, and finish.

Your goal is to get things done, not get things perfect.

This doesn’t just apply to obvious things like writing a book or essay, it applies to everything.

Don’t set out with the goal of exercising for an hour – you’re probably not going to do it. Set out with the goal of exercising for 10 minutes, or 5 minutes, or even just 1 minute. Set the easiest possible exercise goal, and build up from there.

Don’t set the goal of meditating for an hour – at least at first. Meditate for 5 minutes, or even 1 minute. Start small, and build from there.

Read 1 page a day, and build from there.

Floss 1 tooth a day, and build from there.

Write 1 terrible page a day, and build from there.

Hell, write a single word, and build from there.

Building a product, or service? Create the crappiest possible version of it, and then build from there.

Start small. Start easy. Get the first and worst version of whatever you’re thinking about out of your head and into the world as quickly as possible.

Motivation is fleeting, and inspiration is like lightning – never hitting the same place twice. If you keep waiting for the perfect moment or perfect idea, you’ll be waiting forever. Habits and discipline are better in the long term, and you need to build those up over time. Start small. Very small. Extremely small. Start with the smallest and easiest version.

Make it as easy as possible to start – and build from there.

The people who get the most done are the people willing to produce the most work – even work they aren’t very happy with and will cringe at later.

You did a terrible job? Fine. At least you did something at all, when most people can’t even say that much. It’s not your best work? No one cares, and no one will remember it – whether you’re building a business or painting a portrait, we only remember the best 10-20 things any creator did. You could have done that habit better? Excellent! You have room to improve.

Stop waiting for the heavens to open and the gods of creativity or the gods of productivity to take over your body. Get started. Stop aiming for perfect. Make something. Build something. Produce the worst version of the work or habit you want, and improve later. Make it as easy as possible, and get it out of your head. You can revise it later, fix it later, and make it better later. The first step is to actually have something in front of you that you can improve.

Lower your standards. Get started.

Why We Read

I believe reading is a priority – it’s not just a hobby, or a nice thing to do.

I believe everyone, you and me included, should read as much as possible.

Here is why.

We read to improve ourselves.

You are not perfect, and it is very unlikely you’re anywhere close to fulfilling your potential. You, like every other person, have a collection of flaws and deficiencies that you can fix or work around. Reading is the path to improvement – learning skills, becoming more creative, becoming better at writing and speaking, improving character, gaining focus – the path to becoming more than you are.

We read to learn about the world, and learn what is possible.

The world is a big place, and it’s a daunting task to learn what’s already out there. There are billions of people, millions of places, thousands of philosophies, and hundreds of branches on the tree of knowledge that you know nothing about – it’s impossible to see, meet, or know all of these things. Half of your time learning could easily be spent learning what exists, even before you dig into the details. Even once you get over learning what currently exists, you have the even more daunting task of figuring out what could exist. When you read fiction, especially science fiction, expands your beliefs about what is possible. When you read history, it shows you what has already happened, and could happen again. As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

We read to improve our empathy.

By empathy, I don’t mean tribalism, where you only identify with people close by or similar to you. By empathy, I mean your ability to understand your fellow human beings, to see things from their perspective, and understand their motivations. When you meet someone, it’s dangerous to assume you already understand their beliefs, their experiences, and what kind of relationship is possible between the two of you. Reading about the people of the past, and reading hundreds of stories with hundreds of characters, will give you the tools necessary to understand the people you meet.

We read to learn from past mistakes.

Thankfully, they don’t have to be your own past mistakes. While average people end up learning from their mistakes, above-average people learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. Below-average people never learn from anyone’s mistakes, theirs or other people’s. The study of history, and even reading fiction, helps with this a lot.

We read to gain perspective, reduce stress, and get away from the pettiness of life.

It is easier than ever to get caught up in pointless things – social media drama, office politics, national news that won’t matter next week or even tomorrow – the list goes on. It’s easy to stress and obsess over these things. Pay attention to these things the absolute bare minimum (or even not at all) and then turn your attention to what matters. Philosophy, ethics, history, science, the highest ideals and ideas. When you think about the highest ideals, and consider the scope and scale of the universe, the small dramas and daily stresses simply don’t matter as much.

We read to access the collective wisdom and knowledge of humanity.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” says Ecclesiastes 1:9. For every problem that exists, chances are someone has solved it or solved a problem like it. For every thing that happens, someone else has experienced something similar. For every challenge or obstacle, someone has insight for how to overcome it. 99% of problems are not unique, and more often than not the solution simply needs to be found.

We read to improve our thinking.

Your mind is filled with all kinds of instincts, biases, fallacies, and cognitive distortions – all of which make you not just irrational, but predictably irrational. These errors in thinking lead to false beliefs, leading to unwise actions. If we can overcome errors in thinking, it becomes easier to update our beliefs, and easier to take better actions. Plus, as we get older our memories get worse, and our ability to think starts to decline – reading regularly, and challenging your brain with new ideas and new information, will slow this decline well into old age.

We read to be more like the people we admire.

Think of your heroes, and the people you idolize. Think of them, and realize it’s possible to become more like them through reading. Read about their life. Read about their ideas. If possible, find a list of books they’ve read and loved. Don’t just admire this person from afar, immerse yourself in their life and way of thinking. There’s a common saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – make sure those five people are heroes.

We read because we’re (probably) not going to live forever.

There are hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of good books out there. Think of all the stories you haven’t read, ideas you haven’t considered, and histories you’ve never heard of. You could spend your finite life reading the best books written in all of human history – or you could spend it watching TV, playing video games, and browsing social media. Time can be well spent, or it can be wasted, but it can never be gained back once it’s gone.

What will you read today?

The Dead Simple Way of Rating Books

If you’re like me, you read a lot of books.

If you’re even more like me, you make things more complicated than they need to be.

Late last year, I got the idea that I needed a more detailed and more objective way of rating books. I had read a lot of books (or at least, I had read more books in two years than the previous decade combined), and was getting to the point where I had rated many books 10/10, 9/10, and so on. I wondered whether I was rating them correctly, whether I was being too critical with some books or too lenient with others.

So I made a more detailed book rating system based on five qualities I think are important for books:

  • Writing Quality
  • Accuracy/Believability/Content
  • Rereading Value
  • Gifting or Recommending Value
  • Longevity

Or… WARGL. A perfect book could earn a max score of 50 points, which then easily translated into a score out of 10 or a 5 star rating.

This was unnecessary – and counterproductive. Even when I quickly rated the book on each quality, I would overthink my own ratings, trying to figure out whether the book was really 7/10 on rereading value, or the slightly higher 8/10. Worse yet, sometimes the resulting final score out of 50 wouldn’t “look right,” and I would start making minor changes to each quality until I was happy with the final score.

I’ve retired this system, and I’m probably not going to make another like it. While you’ll sometimes see professional book reviewers breaking down a book like this, I’m not a professional book reviewer. For most people, a 10 point system or 5 star system works just fine. When you’re done with a book, just think about everything in the book, everything you liked or disliked, and figure out what you think of the book overall. A 10/10 book is one of the greatest books you’ve ever read, and a 1/10 book is one of the worst books you’ve ever read. Every other rating is on a sliding scale between those two points.

You don’t need to make it complicated. You don’t even need to make it objective. This is one of the areas where it’s not only hard to be objective, but the value is mixed at best. Even when you do figure out an “objective” rating for a book, that’s not going to change your feelings about it. You’ll either love it and want to reread it, or you won’t. You’ll either recommend it to your friends and family, or you won’t. Even if a book is “objectively” good according to your rating system, you’ll still feel like you’ve wasted your time if your high expectations weren’t met. Focus less on how you rate books, and more on finding the great books that will change your life.

The moral of the story? K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Now, get back to reading!