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I wouldn't say that my younger cousin and I are competitive, but let's just say that when she got good at crossword puzzles, I felt that I had little choice but to also get good at crossword puzzles. So for the past few months I've averaged probably 2-4 crossword puzzles per day.
Crossword puzzles, to me, are the ideal diversion. They're fun enough to kill time in line or on an airplane, but difficult enough that you're not going to spend all day doing them. They obviously aren't useful like doing actual work, but I like how they make me think about words.
New York Times crossword puzzles are the gold standard of puzzles. Mondays are so easy that just about anyone can do them, while Saturdays are very difficult. Sundays are mixed difficulty and are always very big.
For a while I could do Tuesdays and Wednesdays consistently but could never do Thursdays. Thursdays have much more abstract and tricky questions than Wednesdays. For example, "Hebrew leader?" is "ALEPH", as that's the first letter in Hebrew. It took me a while to get a handle on those.
I have to admit that I never thought that I'd write a blog post on how to relate to others. For most of my life I realized that I wasn't particularly empathetic but didn't prioritize changing that.
Then I met a very empathetic friend (she wrote The Charisma Myth) and she just point blank told me that I should work on being empathetic. So I did.
I'm sure I still have plenty of work to do, but even though I'm not an expert, I have a lot of ideas to share on how to relate to people, maybe because it's something I had to consciously work on.
Maybe the biggest change I made is in how I judge other people. I can be pretty judgmental by nature, but that's changed a lot for a few reasons. I now have a process I go through to try to be more positive and understanding towards people.
Once in a while I do something that threatens my status as a minimalist. It was pretty clear cut when I traveled the world with nothing but a backpack and had nothing back home, but now it's not so clear. I wear the same shirt every day, but I have real estate in a few different places with my friends.
Identities are comfortable because they give us a way to describe ourselves to the world. We can say a lot about ourselves in just a few words, and we also have some assurance that even if our identity is an unusual one, it will be accepted.
This is true even of negative identities. There are people whose main identity is "likable unlucky guy" and those people will actually feel more comfortable when things don't work out for them than when things do.
The fundamental problem with identities is that they are constraining. Because it's uncomfortable to do things that don't fall within the sphere of your stereotype, you'll be less likely to branch out, even if it's best for you.
My recent car purchase has been something of a disaster. That's why I haven't written about it yet (or, rather, posted the rather excited blog post I've already written). The car is currently back with the seller, who owns a shop that repairs these sorts of cars, and he's trying to figure out why it won't go over around 20mph and to fix it.
One of my friends asked if I was upset about it or if I regretted buying it. Not at all!
I did a lot of research before I bought the car. I knew that despite it being one of the most reliable cars the manufacturer has ever built, it was an older complicated car, and that things might go wrong with it. I didn't think they'd go wrong on day one, but it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility.
I checked out the car in person and got to know the seller. He was obviously someone with a lot of integrity and we got along well, so I was confident that if something did happen right off the bat, he'd take care of it.
Yesterday, in a fit of inspiration, moved the furniture out of my bedroom and tore up half of the carpets. A few months ago I did the floors for the rest of my house, but I ran out of time and my bedroom threshhold was a natural stopping point. And then... there was no natural restarting point.
So for six months I've had a pile of flooring, two rolls of rubber underlayment, and an air compressor sitting on my floor.
My neighbors go to sleep early, so I didn't make much progress the first night. I just removed the carpet, scraped the floor of old glue, pulled off the baseboards and molding, and pulled extra staples.
The next day I got a late start because I had some other work to do, and when I was done with it, I just didn't feel like working. I moved at a snail's pace and before I knew it, my power tool curfew was past and I couldn't get anything more done. I really only got an hour of work done in three hours.
I went to a Roger Waters concert earlier tonight. I got a free ticket and I make it a habit to see anything or anyone who's supposed to be one of the best, even though I don't like rock music.
One of my first memories of music is listening to Another Brick in the Wall in my dad's car as a kid. I loved the song, not because of any musical aspect or because I really understood the song, but because of one line: "we don't need no education." Even then my enjoyment of the lyric wasn't very nuanced. I just didn't like doing homework, and leaving the kids alone sounded like a good idea to me.
The last song I saw tonight before I left at intermission was that one. Waters brought a bunch of kids on the stage who danced and sang the chorus. When they bowed at the end they were all a bit too enthusiastic about their contributions, just as I would have been at that age. That made me think about the first time I heard that song, probably when I was around their age.
My life always feels like it's short until I stop and think about all of the things that have happened in it. I thought back to the kid who didn't want to do homework and thought about how he'd never believe my life is as it is.
External events often have to be left to chance. You submit your book proposal, and maybe it gets accepted and maybe not. You go talk to the cute stranger, and maybe you're compatible and maybe you're not. You plan a camping trip a month ahead, and maybe it rains or maybe it doesn't.
Often, though, people leave things to chance which don't have to be. Will you finish your book? Will you learn how to code? Will you have a good group of friends? These are all things that are entirely within your own power, and yet you may not be sure if they'll happen.
The value of ten half-finished projects is roughly zero. Not exactly zero, because hopefully you learned something, but close enough. The value of five fully finished projects is, well, a whole lot higher. Making plans is worth a little, working towards goals is worth a little, completing goals is worth a lot.
For that reason, I highly prioritize finishing.
A few random thoughts on growth, prompted by some observations of myself, friends, and coaching clients.
Boredom is good. It means that you've reached a new level. Staying bored is really bad, because it means that you aren't moving on to the next thing. So enjoy it for a moment, and then make sure you don't feel it for a while.
People generally grow in one area at once. If you're trying to make too much progress in too many areas, you're risking none of them succeeding. If you focus on one thing, track it, and course-correct, it will probably work eventually . You can maintain or slowly improve others.
Results don't always come at the same time as process. So sometimes you work on all the right things, see metrics improving, but the results still aren't there. That's okay, it's still growth. Sometimes the opposite happens and results all come at once, thanks to work you've put in in the past.
On a recent podcast I was on, I was asked why I took so many risks. I stuttered for a second before answering the question because I was trying to think of an example of a big risk I took. I couldn't think of any, so I had to answer the question in a different way.
At the same time, I understand why people have the perception that I take a lot of risks. I think the difference is in how we perceive risks, and I'd argue that my method of doing so is more accurate.
When I calculate risk, I look at the statistics and before blindly applying them, I ask how relevant they are to me as an individual.
In some cases, they're fairly universal. My risk of dying in an airplane crash is the same, per mile, as anyone else's. The financial risk I accept by investing in a particular stock is the same as well.
This feels like a slightly ironic title, as today I spent sixteen hours showing my cousin and her boyfriend around one of my favorite cities in the world, Budapest. No work, except for writing this post before I go to sleep.
On the other hand, the only reason I can take a full day off and not wish that I was working is because I'm in the habit of getting massive amounts of work done in short periods of time.
We all get work done. It's easy to find time to send an email, do a couple errands, and make some progress on a project. But how do you do the big things like write a book, start a new site, or find and purchase a property?
You're going to be disappointed when I tell you the answer because it's obvious and it's not a hack.