A friend of mine founded a company with another guy. When they started out, their lives and ambitions were very similar, even if the principles bubbling below the surface weren't. One thing they both had in spades was hustle. They did what it took-- no matter what-- to keep their business going forward.
Over time, their motivations diverged. My friend stayed on his grind and pushed the company forward because he liked producing excellence. His cofounder, on the other hand, became enamored with the money the company made. Not enamored enough to keep it, though-- he spent liberally and foolishly. I once saw him use company money to pick up the tab for thirty people at an expensive restaurant.
Nothing is entirely black and white. Although it was obvious that the spending was excessive, he was also contributing to the company at the same time. I don't really know enough of the specifics to know whether he was taking more than he was putting in, or vice versa. What was clear, though, was that it wasn't a great situation for my friend. He was the heart and soul of the business and the fire in its engine.
I asked him once why he didn't quit. Early on, he could have very easily quit and started his own company. He was the brand. Later on it would have been more complicated, but still doable.
"Well, if I can't trust myself to make it work with him, can I really trust myself to make it work with someone else?"
I thought that was a very profound idea. He could have talked about fear, or practicality, or even loyalty. Instead he turned it back upon himself and talked about principles.
This particular principle is incredibly important. It's the junction of self-control, discipline, and confidence. If not this one, then which one?
Usually I like writing, but sometimes I just don't feel like it. I've been hustling on SETT all day to knock out a few bugs before heading to Peru, and that little voice in the back of my head started to tell me that today I don't need to write a post. This is an exception, it says. I'll admit that I almost listened, too. But it's ten thirty at night and I'm on a plane, ignoring the captain's all-electronics-must-be-off speech. If I don't write this post, how can I trust myself to write the next one?
This is part of why I'm so dedicated to SETT, too. I wrote about how I wouldn't quit a while back, and while most people understood, a couple people offered the reasonable alternative that I should market test and give up if the tests didn't go well. But I can't do that, because if I give up on SETT, what options do I have left? I will have demonstrated that I can't trust myself to follow through and push through adversity. Instead, I think-- if not this idea, then which one? If people didn't like SETT, I would have just worked at it until it was something they did like.
No habit is too small to go unchecked. About a week ago I had finished reading, turned off the light, and was drifting to sleep. Right as I was losing consciousness, I remembered that I had forgotten to floss. Now, flossing as a habit matters a good deal, but flossing on one particular night is pretty much irrelevant. That's what I told myself, too. But see, it's not about flossing-- it's about self trust. If I don't floss today, what will happen if I forget tomorrow? And if I can't trust myself to floss, can I trust myself to keep a todo list every day? And if I can't trust myself to keep a todo list, can I trust myself to get key things done every single day?
It takes large volumes of action to build trust in yourself, and very little to break it. I'm constantly aware of that. Whenever I feel the urge to take the easy route on anything, I ask myself if I'll be damaging my self trust. Often the answer is yes, so I don't do it. Even if the answer is "probably not", I don't chance it. It's that important.
Since you're here, chances are you read my stuff and, even if you don't like or agree with all of it, you probably get something out of most of it. In this one, I've given you something very concrete that you can work on-- examine your habits and your impulses to take the easy road, and take the action that will build your self trust. Will you try it? Will you follow through? If you don't... do you really think you'll put the next one into action, or the one after that? Because I've got a theory...
Photo is me walking across the Inca drawbridge at Machu Picchu. Not exactly allowed...
This post was written a few weeks ago before I went to Peru. Right now I'm in Tulum, Mexico. Heading back to SF for a couple weeks and then off to China. Glad to be traveling, but have already written a blog post about how it's sort of dumb for me to be traveling so much right now. Then again, I didn't leave the country this year until this month.
Funny, I just wrote a similar post about the method I use to counter similar challenges: I ask myself: Would I do it tomorrow? If the answer is yes, then I do it. It get me to see past any current laziness, fears, or urges.
"Since you're here, chances are you read my stuff"
Wrong. I am here by a great chance, actually. About an hour ago I was on Google and moping about how my birthday is in exactly 24 hours. I will be 21. Am I excited to be 21? You better believe it. Am I excited for my special day where I was born into the world 21 years ago? No way. But not for the same reasons that you stated in your post 7 years ago, which is what brought me here in the first place. That is another story altogether, though. Once I realized that that post was written 7 years ago, I didn't believe that anyone in their right mind would be able to keep a blog up and running for over 7 years. Heck, I can't keep a blog going for 2 weeks! I soon found out that I was wrong. Not only am I impressed by your self-motivation, but I am also impressed by some of the things that you write about, along with being incredibly jealous that you're living my life of traveling around and writing. Honestly, I never post on other people's blogs. There is one reason, and one reason only as to why I am posting now, and that is because of your picture. Machu Picchu. You've got to be kidding me. Not only did you relate to me on many different levels through your writings, but you are also at Machu Picchu, the very place I was exactly 9 months ago. The very country that changed my life for the three months that I was there. Ultimately, what I have to say is thank you. Thank you for sharing and keep on keepin on.
(posted publicly at Tynan's request, because private emails are SO 2011)
I appreciate your ideas on habits, Tynan. But it still seems like you're contradicting your earlier ideas about reaching 80-90%. Many habits simply aren't that important. Besides, how do you forget to do something that's genuinely important?I build up self-trust by doing what's important. If it's busy work or doesn't serve a goal function, I usually end up procrastinating it. That's why I barely play video games anymore, and why I only go on dates with girls I actually like (for awhile I'd go out with ANY woman who'd show me the time of day). I also clean on a less-frequent basis (but still enough to avoid being disgusting or hazardous) and defer a lot of other little things.If not this one, then a better one will be along shortly. If SETT completely fails, it's not the end of the world. You can already live off of what you've produced thus far, and you've already contributed to the world. Some experiments don't work -- and it's still a success, in the same way Edison discovered numerous ways that a light bulb won't work.If not this one, the next one. Don't tell me you're becoming afraid to fail.
Hey, thanks for reposting here.
I think that what you're talking about is something different-- deciding what's important and what's not. If you decide, for example, to clean every other day, I think that's fine. But it's important to stick to that schedule and actually do it other day. There's a big difference between that and deciding to do it every day but only actually doing it every day. The alignment between intention and execution is what's important.
And of course, if SETT fails, I'll be back at it with something else. But if I give SETT 100%, then I'm a lot more likely to give that next thing 100%, too. But if I slack on SETT and it fails... can I really expect that I'll crush the next project?
My immediate reaction was to disagree with your friend when he mentioned that he distrusted himself, to say that it was not a valid reason to stick with his current endeavor and I was disappointed when you took that as a profound lesson. But then I reminded myself: "Who is wise? One who learns from every man" (Mishnah - Avot 4:1). I've learned a lot from the people with whom I most disagreed. And you do make a good point with this post. Thanks for hammering that home.
Great post Tynan.
From neuroscience we now know that humans don't have free will. Everything we do and think is a product of genes, environment and previous events. This tells me that self-awareness and building healthy habits is the only opportunity we have to feed into life's feedback loop, and create a brighter future for ourselves.
Tynan, I'd love to hear how you feel the illusion of free will relates to your principles and way of living?
I agree with the commenter who said "if not this one then a better one". Too often people settle for mediocrity, because of their lack of faith that there is something better, or because they don't want to make the effort and take the risk to go and find it. I've heard it said that each and every one of us comes across something like half a dozen people who are our soul mates, over our lifetime. However, finding Mr or Ms Right beats a mediocre marriage any day.
I very occasionally forget to brush my teeth at night, but I've never had a problem going back to the habit of it the next day. The feeling of hairy teeth is enough to send me back to the bathroom.
If you ever fail at SETT it won't really be a failure but a setback on your road to making something better still :)
Honestly, I think the reason Tynan mentions certain things (ie flossing or working on a difficult project) specifically is that they don't necessarily align with his self-image. A lot of people don't like to floss for whatever reason, and working on a project is HARD. So it's easy to say, "Eh, not today." But the next thing you know, it's been several months since you did anything relevant to the project and it's stalled out. I think he's talking about non-habitual, non-aligned activities that require willpower to do. True, willpower to floss sounds strange to me, but Tynan is his own person. I don't work out every day... but my muscles have actually grown and my waistline shrunken since I disarmed the "every day mandate." Tynan has very little external structure in his life -- he consciously makes EVERY part of his schedule, and that must require a ton of discipline.
Truth be known, I think if he fails at SETT (which is unlikely, since it already works reasonably well), it'll teach him lessons and give him ideas that all but create the next thing. What is a failure for a person who's constantly striving for the true awesome?
BTW, you're purty. :)
Thanks Moo, I do agree that working on a project like a blog is HARD WORK. And I hope I didn't sound like I was dismissing SETT or Tynan. The point I was trying to make is that I don't believe people fail through lack of discipline but more through fear. Laziness, lack of discipline are just there to cover up the fear, because if you haven't tried yet, then you haven't failed yet. Anything really worth having -- anything we deeply want-- requires confronting those fears. All the more credit to Tynan for running SETT. And kudos to you for standing up for him :)
Eh, it's cool. To put some balance into my earlier statements, Tynan's far from perfect. I think he occasionally comes off as a cocky, , short-sighted, impulsive elitist with a few self-contradictory opinions (like if you can find the posts where he dismisses people who are more interested in "good pics" than good experiences... but then he focuses on the same thing). I know that everything online is marketing, and marketing involves lying (to oneself and others), but he's doing a lot more than I am.
This is pretty much the same principle that I applied to get myself to exercise consistently. I used to always quit exercising, so I decided that I couldn't trust myself. On March 4, 2012, I committed to exercising every single day, and I have kept up with it since then (almost 8 months so far). I simply refuse to give myself a choice about whether to exercise or not. Every single time we give ourselves a choice about whether or not to do something, we give ourselves the opportunity to decide *not* to do it. Eliminating that opportunity can be very powerful.
If your trust is so easily broken, you have a fragile philosophy.
I also floss a lot more with reach access flossers. It's makes flossing like brushing teeth and you don't have to put your hands in your mouth.
I don't think so. I can say that I trust myself 100%, but that doesn't change my actual track record. If I have a really solid history of executing what I plan, then that allows me to plan bigger things in the future and reasonably expect to execute well. On the other hand, if I give up or am inconsistent, I'll factor that in when planning.
About a week ago I woke up and got out of the RV, which I've had parked on the same street for the better part of the last five months. To my surprise there was ANOTHER RV in front of mine. It was a lot older, but about the same size.
I went to lunch, and as I returned I saw a man getting into the RV.
"Hi! Welcome to the neighborhood," I said jokingly.
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.