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You may have them. You may not.
You may have had them (at one point). You may have given them away.
Hey, you may even have had them surgically removed. That’s cool. I’m down with that.
Gentle sir/madam, I am here today to present to you an eternal truth. It is unquestionable and unalienable, unassailable, unbendable, and above all, unkickable.
If you have balls, my friend… you’re going to have a good life.
Balls are everything. They affect every part of your life from birth onward. If you got a pair early during a dice game, lucky you. But that isn’t most of us. Most of us get our balls later in life, if at all, and when we get them, it’s after scrapes, bruises and lots of scars.
How do I know this? Well, I’ll tell you. For a very long time, I did not have balls. Like most people, I wasn’t born with them. I was a big fucking wuss, actually, and I got emotionally beat down again and again by the world. This happened for many years.
But I’m not bitter. Quite the contrary, in fact. I feel good about it. Why?
It made me earn and appreciate it. It was hard, yes. I was fucked up by it for a while, sure. But I’m over it now, and when I woke up from my self-imposed miserable state, there they were.
Whether your balls are real or metaphorical doesn’t matter. Hell, real balls don’t always demonstrate themselves and metaphorical balls are often much more evident.
Women often have more balls then men, because they learn to fight for them. Men feel entitled, and so stay children their whole lives.
Whatever your gender, it’s never too late to get them. You can have balls at any point in your life. If you want them, you can get them. You can start today. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you–
FACT 1. Balls are like medals. They are one thing, and one thing only: earned. When you have them, they are inalienable. When you don’t, getting them seems impossible. But it can be done.
You cannot be born with balls. They are not transferred from one generation to another. You cannot inherit them. You cannot buy them. And only people with the gift can bless others with it.
Therefore, you have to understand that you cannot grow balls until you act as if you already have balls! This is really important. Write it down in your handy reminder app.
FACT 2. All of your life needs more balls. Your fashion choices, your words, and your decisions– everything. Everyone is waiting for you to step up to the plate, but only balls will get you out of the dugout, time and again, so you can actually make a difference in the world.
“Balls” sounds like a noun, but its actually a verb– and so you can practice it. Every day, when you see something you want to do, act immediately as if you already had balls. That moment of resistance is actually easy to overcome, and beyond it is a bunch of actions you know you need to take.
Example! Months ago my sometimes co-author and friend Chris Brogan introduced me to Paulo Coelho, a master of the pen and sword, and yet I cannot for the love of God answer the fucking email!!! Ok, I’m going to go do it right now.
There, I feel better. Now your turn.
FACT 3. Ok, this is an important one, so listen carefully. There is fundamentally VERY LITTLE difference between people who do amazingly well and people who are normal. There are many almost Martin Luther Kings, and even more almost Vivienne Westwoods and almost Malcolm McLarens. But there is only one of each of those, and there can always only be one! Here is a Queen video to remind you of that.
The reason that I tell you this is to remind you, in absolutely every circumstance, what the consequences of having no balls actually is– a silent consequence because it is just an absence of results. But don’t let this persuade you that nothing is what was fated to happen. In fact, the opposite is true. Something is always possible– but rarely does it actually happen, because no one is willing to put in the fucking work!!!
FACT 4. Every day, people hand over their balls to others. They are never taken away– this actually cannot happen. Instead, they are willingly removed and handed to another person or institution. And if you are observant you can actually watch this happen!
Many people would think that the life is taken out of a person as they age. They become weighed down, Atlas-like, by the many burdens of the modern world– children, mortgage, family, worries.
What is not talked about is that two things actually happen when someone has a great weight on their shoulders. One is that they are slowly (or quickly) crushed. But the other is that they get stronger.
DO NOT LET THE FORMER HAPPEN TO YOU. Use the weights of the world as pressure to strengthen your resolve. As Marcus Aurelius once said:
Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces – to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it – and makes it burn still higher.
READ IT AGAIN. YES THAT QUOTE IS JUST AS AWESOME AS YOU THINK IT IS. God, I’m resorting to capital letters. I must be angrier than I thought.
FACT 5. The greatest and final fact!!! This one is the best… check this out: YOU’RE GOING TO BE DEAD SOON ANYWAY SO WHO CARES WHAT HAPPENS!!!??? This part is the most amazing of all. Seriously how easy is this.
You could die in a bed sitting by yourself having nothing to show for your life. Or you could be these guys. Your call.
Yay, it’s Friday! Time to head home and relax after a week of hard work.
1. Enter the front door of your home. Toss off your shoes. Notice, lying beneath, a pair of boots you have worn only once. Shrug.
2. Turn on the television and sit on your Ikea couch. Attempt to relax. Awaken 20 minutes later, realizing that you’ve been passively flipping through channels. Turn off the TV, remove the batteries from your remote. Toss them in your Blendtec blender. Stop yourself moments away from doing something drastic.
3. Briefly fondle the iPhone in your pocket. Stop yourself, realizing you were about to do the exact same thing with Reddit as you just did with TV. Call and cancel your data plan in the nick of time.
4. Begin to wonder what people did before television and internet access. Observe the room around you, looking over the unread books and unwatched DVDs lining your dusty shelves. Consider shopping, then picture the unworn clothes occupying your cavernous walk-in closet.
5. Realize your imagination has turned all black and grey.
6. Suddenly recognize that you haven’t used your “spare” room… ever. Do the math and realize said room is costing you five or six hours of work per month. Take out a piece of paper and compare it to that trip to Japan you’ve been meaning to take. Stare at the math in disbelief. Stuff the paper in your mouth and begin to chew.
7. Realize that the brief emotional rush that accompanied the purchase of each item in your home is now gone, leaving only the object itself in its most basic, uninteresting form. The gorgeous, pastel designer couch has become simply a chair. A beautiful glass buffet is transformed into a mere table. A set of immaculate handmade dishes has aged into nothing but a bunch of plates. Your goose down duvet is actually just a blanket. Wince.
8. Glance down at your groceries and realize that the Doritos, Lay’s, and Ruffles you purchased are all just coloured corn and potatoes.
9. Open your credit card bill. Wide-eyed, discover how often you’ve confused shopping with actual extra-curricular activities. Consider joining a monastery.
10. Remember that time you went over to a party in a friend’s pseudo-abandoned loft. Recall the roommates, the self-made art and photos on the walls, the obscenely cheap rent, and the embraced simplicity.
11. Begin to make a quick list of the top 10 things you own in terms of how much they cost. With horror, make a second list of the top 10 things that make you happy. Sense the creeping dread as you realize there is no overlap between the two at all. Shudder in terror.
12. Decide to have a packing party like your friend suggested one time. Take the old sheets you never used from Crate & Barrel. Cover all your stuff with them. Endeavour not to uncover it unless you decide you need to use it. Realize suddenly that you would never use anything at all because you are never actually home.
13. Remember a time in childhood when you were more excited by ideas, love, travel, and people than by anything else. Realize that you have, somehow, bought into a new religion, and that malls, from the inside, look exactly like cathedrals.
14. Consider starting a fire.
15. Consider that, perhaps, you are more than just your stuff. Begin to take a long walk. Breathe.
16. Begin to relax. Give yourself the freedom to begin to dream again.
Everybody talks about it. Nobody does it.
If I’ve learned anything about the world by my age, it’s that most of the world, myself included, is composed of talkers, not doers.
There are very few exceptions to this rule. The good news is, you can be one if you want.
The ability to act is not something you’re born with. Change is a skill you can learn– as long as you have the guts to actually do it.
I’ve changed a lot in my life, but it’s not because I’m special. I just created special circumstances. Whatever you want is usually easier to get than you think, as long as you are willing to adapt and do what is necessary.
Now, most posts of this nature will give you little tips, maybe even 100 tips, in the hope that you’ll be impressed by how large the list is and just tweet the hell out of it. They do this because it works (my last one is currently getting 40,000 visits a day from Stumbleupon actually), but writing of that type also usually appeals to those who want simple answers, and that’s not what I’m interested in right now.
So I’ve decided to make this post ridiculously long instead. It weighs in at almost 5,000 words. You may want to go make some coffee.
By the way, I’m also going to say that I’m not going to be writing about this stuff for much longer. I’m starting to get referred to as a “self-help” guru, and honestly, I don’t like it at all. I also began to realize that once you start to talk about success, instead of be successful, you become a talker, and not a doer, which is counter to what I’m trying to do in life.
I’m starting to figure out that the way your time should be spent is largely like a pyramid, with a wide base of learning, with a smaller level of acting on top of it, which is directed by the learning, and then on top of that, an even smaller level of writing about it. If you begin to live your life differently than the pyramid should be built, it becomes unbalanced and topples over. But that’s another subject entirely.
Anyway, the point is, I can’t just snap my fingers and change you– nor would I want to if I could. But what I can do is give you guys a real primer on how change is done. This would be the learning part, as said above, but then you’ll need to go ahead and act in order for any change to occur. So I added in homework assignments. As long as you know this, and you’re willing to actually do them, then we can go forward.
Take the following as one guy’s experience, along with the proverbial grain of salt.
The entire human brain is a complex pattern-recognition system that, at one point, was largely there to help you survive and reproduce. Patterns were recognized to help you react properly to a new stimulus, which kept you alive long enough to have as many kids as possible (after which, you could basically die as far as your genes were concerned).
The problem is, that’s no longer our biggest priority, at least as far as the conscious mind is concerned. Now we want to write books, and we want six-pack abs with only 4 hours of gym time, blah blah. We want to know ten languages and have a gorgeous, smart and successful significant other, etc. etc. Oh yeah, and we want to be happy.
The problem is that our whole brain is still largely designed to keep you alive until puberty, and then, when that moment happens you’re like “I’m a man” or whatever, your brain’s job is to get you to reproduce as often as possible, doing your part in the long-standing, subconscious war to stay in the gene pool.
In other words, your conscious brain is trying to do one thing, while the rest of your brain is trying to do another. Our brain is now maladapted to our goals, and its patterns are hard to break because, 100,000 years ago, learning about the world meant just surviving, which was fairly easy, and once that was under control, you could stop learning entirely because the forest you lived in wasn’t going to be changing anytime soon.
Now, our world is changing all the time, and in order to change ourselves, we need to ease into and embrace the coming chaos. Those that are most comfortable with change for change’s sake will adapt better to the future, and you can only get good at change by trying to do it, in small ways, on purpose.
In other words, you have to try and break your patterns and build new habits around them, constantly, because that’s how the world now works. You also have to gather infrastructure around you that helps you do this, because your brain is simply not built for it.
This, by the way, is central to my thinking about challenge, and how your reactions to any bet or dare will shape your future. You need to get good at challenges– in other words, at reacting to unexpected stimulus– if you are going to be capable of change.
Now, I know that some people would say that people’s problem with change is fear– I know that some people would argue that it’s the number one thing stopping most people– but I don’t actually think that’s true, on a conscious level. I think most people’s primary problems is that they literally forget to keep doing the thing they wanted to do. “Dammit,” they think, “I wanted to write today. I forgot. Oh well, tomorrow’s another day.” And then they forget tomorrow and they day after, and it’s all shot to hell until next New Year’s. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.
So while fear is a problem, building a habit of doing things that need to be done, whether you like them or not, is often a good first step. Let’s start by listing some ways to do that.
Find the moment where you have the most energy. For me this is usually early in the morning. I have a dog, so I may walk him, or my girlfriend may, but I keep all the lights turned off, launch Freedom on my computer (as it is on right now) and then write for one hour. I have no goal but to sit down and do it. This takes the pressure off. I know that if I don’t do it before I do anything else, it just doesn’t happen. I learned this the hard way.
Do the hardest things first. The way life works is that easy things will get done anyway. You look at your list of stuff and think, “what is going to be the most difficult thing to do?” If you work on this one first, you’ll discover that your day will get easier, and the rewards will get better as time goes on. So the first thing is hard, but next is easier, and then easier still, and so on until you have the most fun doing the easiest things on your task list.
Have a list of 5 things you want to do, maximum. Don’t start with 5 world-changing acts, though. Begin with one and do it for as little time as you can so it gets done. I know that Zenhabits recommends you start with 5 minutes a day, but I’ll often start with 15 or 30 minute chunks. It’s how I started drawing again, 10 years after dropping out of art school.
The goal is not to succeed. It is just to sit and do it. As I’ve said before, ugly is just a step on the way to beautiful. If you sit down and expect anything, you will freeze up. So just sit down with no expectations. Like the gym– the goal is just to go and do your best, not to deadlift 500 pounds, but to lift just a little more than last time. And even if you failed at that, it’s fine, because you’ll be doing it again next week. No rush. Just sit down and begin.
Homework assignment 1. I know you guys like homework, so here’s something for you to do right now. List the 5 most important things you can do to improve your day. Then, place them in order of difficulty, starting with the hardest. Next, set your alarm right now at one hour earlier than you’re used to waking up, and begin tomorrow morning with the hardest task you have.
DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.
While you are building habits, it is 100% certain that you will be failing, not just a few times, but often. This is because you’re doing new things, and new things are by definition hard to do.
But the point is never to look back at past failures, and even not to sulk in current ones, but to say “I’m going to start again right now.” In other words, it’s not about this current attempt and its success and failure. It’s about the process of doing it again no matter how horrible the previous attempt was.
I’m sure you know from experience that one of the most difficult things to deal with when making new habits is the realization that you have screwed up. A few days ago I was going out for a friend’s birthday and I was thinking “Ok, well I only have one more thing to do. I still have time though, I’ll do it later.” God, it’s amazing how often I still believe my own bullshit.
I know that, from reading this blog, some people seem to think that I am some paragon of industriousness. This is so far from the truth that it’s laughable. I’m actually one of the laziest people I know. I have the most excuses, among the most horrible habits of anyone I know, and I am sure that, in an alternate universe somewhere, I am either homeless, a janitor, or dead. I am not exaggerating. That I’ve gotten through all this is somewhat of a miracle.
I say this because I want you to know that I am not unlike you, and that you are not alone in your horribleness. We’re pretty much the same, I just happen to be observant enough to have learned a few lessons. One of the big ones is that I am no longer as concerned with failure.
The only real difference between you, the one that does nothing, and you the super successful multi-millionaire, is that the other guy gets up over and over again, like a boxer in the ring that needs to win the fight.
In life, you can just get knocked down and stay down forever with no real impending deadline. In sports, you can’t. There is a timer, and you can hear it as you are failing, and the only option is to get back up again. Since life does not work this way, I have taken an alternate stance, which is that no one is watching or even gives a damn. My failure is inconsequential and silent, so I can fail over and over again in my little cave while no one is watching, and then as I get better, I can get more public about my efforts and do better.
Produce horrible material on purpose. Whatever your work is, perfectionism is a killer. You just sit there thinking “I’m horrible at this,” totally paralyzed, unable to continue. *****
Give yourself several chances in a day. I read the book 18 Minutes earlier this year and it gave me a great tip to help me get up over and over again. I set up a timer now using the RE.minder app for iPhone that pings me once an hour to ask “Are you being productive?”
Realize that there are no consequences. Almost everything that sucks stays in the draft stage anyway, and the stuff that doesn’t (and is public) has almost no social consequences at all. I have a friend who’s one of those dating coaches, and he always says that the perceived social consequences of talking to strangers is always WAY worse than actually doing it. Whatever errors we make are diluted into the fabric of society, so the larger the fabric is, the smaller the error seems.
Homework assignment 2. Carry around a smartphone, or alarm, that reminds you every hour (9 to 5) to get your ass back to work. Sit down first thing in the morning and write, draw, go to the gym, or create something, no matter how bad the result is. Do it for a given time period, begin before you stress out about it, and continue until the anxiety has subsided.
DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS. SERIOUSLY.
Ok, we’ve gotten past the basic stuff.
You’ll notice so far that what we’ve been talking about is largely an issue of philosophy. The first assumption is something along the lines of: “You are naturally weak. If you want to become strong, use society’s infrastructures and your own willpower to strengthen the structure around you.”
The second conclusion you come to is: “If you fall, the environment you fall into is safer than it has ever been. If life was at one point nasty, brutish, and short, it is now long, diplomatic, and peaceful. Failing is therefore easier. So is getting back up.”
If you follow these, the next conclusion must therefore become “I have a structure around me to make things easier than they’ve ever been. And even when they are hard and I fail, nothing much happens. So there is really no reason for me to be afraid at all.”
I’ve actually written a whole free book about this (that you should download!) so I won’t elaborate, but one reason that many people can’t change is because they simply can’t handle the flinch– a reflexive almost physiological response to exiting the safe zone. This may happen even though they know, consciously, that their safe zone is huge. In this case, it’s not the conscious mind that matters. It’s the emotional one.
So you have to start convincing your emotional brain that beating the flinch is no big deal, and you can only really do this by having visited the other side. In other words, the intellectual part of the equation will only get you so far.
You can’t just think it. You need to feel it.
How do you do this? Each person’s methods will differ. I can tell you that having epileptic seizures, getting tattooed, pierced, and branded over and over again from the age of 18 until now (32), helped a lot. I can tell you that learning to talk to strangers helped a lot, as does (badly planned) travel, which helps me deal with unexpected circumstances as they arise. The more you leap into the unknown, the more you discover that the unexpected is rarely something you need to actually worry about. You ease into surprises and learn to deal with them as they come instead of reflexively avoiding them.
As you discover this, you’ll see that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a virtuous circle that builds confidence upon confidence in layers, like armour or calluses.
But each type of armour is actually quite specific. You don’t lose your fear of getting jumped unless you prepare for getting jumped beforehand, and you don’t lose social anxiety unless someone teaches you what to do, and what not to do.
So losing the flinch isn’t just about jumping into the unknown; it’s also about learning what technique works in the new environment you’re leaping into. Swimming helps you deal with being in the water, but nowhere else, while fighting helps you learn to deal with fights, etc.
Write down the worst case scenario. I picked this one up from Tim Ferriss. While you’re in a safe place (i.e. not under pressure), look at what’s going to happen and ask yourself what the worst possible conclusion is. You ask someone out, they say no, or worse, maybe they laugh. You’re embarrassed, and in a few days you’re over it and laughing with your buddies. Or, you ask for a raise and your boss says no.
Recognize that pain evaporates quickly. The brain is wired to associate pain with death. Most pain, however, is insignificant and doesn’t last– either it vanishes quickly or, in the off chance where it’s longer-lasting, it’s dull and can easily be ignored. Realize that pain is a temporary, vestigial reaction created by evolution in an environment where a single scrape could mean death by infection. Then recognize that we have antibiotics and move forward anyway.
Deal with discomfort as it comes; don’t predict it. As I write this I have turned my internet connection off with an app called Freedom. I do this because it makes me more productive, but I also notice that being disconnected from the web feels awkward, and it makes me way more nervous than I should. I keep thinking “when is my hour up,” or “I’ll just check my phone,” etc., because this process of writing for one hour (minimum) per day leaves me struggling to find things to talk about. But it also means that I’m getting better at discomfort, every day, the same way you adjust to a cold shower after a few seconds of being in the water. And as the hour finishes, I can feel myself internally saying “thank God it’s over.” Now think about this: if I can’t deal with that tiny discomfort, how will I deal with anything else that happens out in the real world?
Homework assignment 3. Find several daily practice that makes you uncomfortable. Go to the gym and put yourself (safely) under as much weight as possible. Meditate every day for as long as you can stand it– no email, no phone, no clock– until your alarm says you can get up. Start with ten minutes and do it right after your biggest task of the day (as discussed above).
YEP… DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.
I’m going to guess that, in your social circle, you don’t have that many people you hang out with that make you feel like utter, worthless garbage. I don’t mean a psychotic ex or something, I mean someone that is working harder than you, has more money than you, is happier and better with people than you, all that stuff.
A lot of change has to do with watching your blind spots. Returning to old habits is easy when you have no one watching you, calling you on your bullshit when you fall back into your old ways of thinking. You need someone, or many people, who’ll call you on it, who will tell you the truth when you need to hear it. If this is someone you hire, that’s fine, and if it’s someone close to you, like your spouse or friend, that’s fine too. But they have to be able to both tell you the truth, help you raise the bar, and be in your corner at the same time. This is not an easy person to find.
About a month ago my friend Mitch and I got together for sushi. He told me that it’s rare, for people at his level (and mine) to have someone call him out, to tell him he’s wrong. I feel the same way. People around you don’t want to rock the boat, but if you’re like me, you’re surrounded by supporters and no one is telling you you’re not good enough– which is actually what you want to hear. This, by the way, is why I love that I’m going to TED this month. Simply put, I know that five days of feeling like garbage about my accomplishments will do wonders for me.
Anyway, the point of this was that, the next day after I called him on his BS, as he had asked, he produced a 15,000-word book proposal. It was almost instantly sold to Hachette by our agent and became this book.
So the question is, what would it take for you to produce that much amazing material, that fast?
Stay in over your head at all times. If you’ve ever wondered why my blog has the name that it does, you now have your answer. “In over your head” should be the state you are always reaching towards– not knowing entirely what you’re doing, having taken on too much, being too ambitious because you’ve made ridiculous promises, etc. All these things are good because they will make you extremely resourceful. You need to find ways to over-promise so that you begin to freak out, at least a little.
Have regular meetings with people way above your level. I just got introduced to Paulo Coelho via my co-author Chris Brogan. I love his work, as many do, but unfortunately doesn’t make me feel like garbage because he is so above my level that I can’t even relate to his experience and success. So while I’m extremely pleased to be speaking to him (stay tuned for that), in terms of raising the bar, it doesn’t quite cut it.
What you need are people that are close enough to your level, in age, intelligence, and resources, but who have done much more with them. When I remember that Gary Vaynerchuk is only 35, for example, now that makes me feel like garbage. When Mitch gets more speaking engagements than I do, same thing. When Greg is flying to New York (again) to meet high-up VCs to get his company sold, and I suddenly remember that he’s fucking 23 years old, that makes me feel like garbage. So find people like this. Buy them lunch if you have to, whatever it takes.
Incidentally, I’d like to mention that accomplishments alone can’t carry you. After a while, I have a feeling you’ll get burned out on them– that the bar will get raised so high, and you’ll have done so much, that you simply don’t care anymore and just want to produce good work. That is a good thing, of course, and you shouldn’t just be driven by accomplishments, but it genuinely does help me, so that’s why I’m telling you that.
Expose yourself to ideas you don’t understand. People often write or produce ideas and then don’t draw them to their logical conclusion. You can often see people trying to emulate the Seth Godin style of post, for example, because they think that style works since he’s the most popular marketing blogger, etc. But the reality is that these people are having simple ideas, writing them down and going “wow! I’m done,” when they’ve in fact just begun.
Ryan Holiday wrote a post a while ago which is relevant here (see How to digest books above your level). This is important because pushing things past their usual end point is the only way you will ever come across conclusions that others haven’t yet had. Last week I spoke to Gad Saad, who basically invented evolutionary psychology as it relates to consumer behaviour, by combining ideas that had been discussed elsewhere but had simply not been put together before. His work is considered a breakthrough in the understanding of how human beings make buying decisions.
Homework assignment 4. Start reading more. Read biographies of people you have heard of and respect– not necessarily Nobel laureates or geniuses, but people who are like you that you respect. If you’re from Iowa, pick someone else from Iowa. If you’re a web entrepreneur, find people at your level but that have done more with it.
DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.
We’ve come almost full circle at this point. You’ll notice that once your bars get raised, and you can build habits that help construct new skill sets to help you reach them, you will continue to expand your horizons exponentially compared to where they were used to.
I wrote this post, by the way, by using the exact set of things I wrote about here. I could not have written 5,000 words about this without having a daily writing habit. I could not have finished it without being ok with seeing this post fall flat (which it might). I’m ok with it falling flat because I have seen posts I have worked hard on fall flat before, and besides a little disappointment, I did not die… I was fine.
But you can definitely see the process, now, of how normal people become extraordinary through changing their behaviour alone. Then, after behaviour changes, the mind usually changes with it, leading to more confidence, which expands your reach even further, etc, all in a giant cycle.
The sad part about all this is that some people simply are not willing to put themselves inside the system to make it happen. Most people feel as if they are doing it, but they often are not. What they really need to be doing is stop listening to themselves as if they knew what was best for them. The reality is, they don’t. Only when you recognize this can you make change happen.
Ok, this is all fine and good, but the final question is, what should you really be changing towards? Maybe you’re not happy with where you are, and you want to go somewhere else, but why do you even want to go there? What’s the goal, and will you be happier when you get there? You don’t know, so you may not want to change.
I suspect that the real answer to this is that it simply does not matter where you go. Remember, you’re not looking to be perfect. You’re only looking for a small improvement over your current state, and as long as you’re ok with fumbling on your way there, you should just start moving immediately and deal with the decisions as they come.
With that in mind I should say that I really don’t know how to finish this post. It’s by far the largest post I’ve ever written, practically like a mini-book, and I’d just like to finish it so I can go ahead with my drawing, cleaning out my inbox, and everything else I need to do today before I can go out and see my friend Justin without any guilt on my mind.
So thank you very much for reading all the way through. I hope this helps. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer all of them. Oh, and please subscribe using the form below. Thanks. :)
Hey, you. Yes, you.
Do yourself a favour. This year, for once, I have a suggestion, and I’d like you to take it.
This year, this once, it’s time you used your New Year’s resolution properly for a change.
Stop screwing around with your I’m-going-to-lose-10-pounds, buy-a-treadmill bullshit. Stop with the 7-Minute-Abs, the “I’m going to blog every day” thing that everyone is doing right now. And your “I’m going to quit smoking for real this time” is not convincing anyone.
It is time for you to recognize that what you’re doing is not working.
“Great,” you may be thinking. “I agree.” Now, perhaps you will go and find people in your life who can give you a gentle talking to, such as your spouse or friends. They’ll set you straight. They can say, “come on man, you can do it,” and that’s helpful and good.
But there’s a problem. None of these people can really tell you the truth. They can’t call you on your bullshit right to your face, because that would be rude, and you might get angry at them. There are social consequences, shockingly.
But here’s the magic. On the internet, I can do whatever the hell I want. I can tell you the truth, because you don’t know me, and you probably never will. That, my friends, is freedom. I’m going to use it.
It’s time you snapped the fuck out of it. I’m here to help.
Enough screwing around. Let’s start with a few questions.
Have you ever noticed how no one ever thinks they are wrong about anything, ever? “But I might be wrong about that” may just be the most rarely uttered sentence, ever– and when it is, it’s never about things that matter. Yet at any given moment, you can examine your opinions and ask yourself “which one of these am I wrong about?”
Of course, most people will answer “none.” Most people never think they’re wrong about anything.
Now ask yourself, is it truly possible that I am totally right about everything I think, right now?
Or is it more likely, and stick with me on this one, that you are totally wrong about a lot of things all of the time, but that you never examine your blind spots so you have no fucking clue what you’re doing right or wrong at all?!
Somewhere out there, there is a man or woman just like you, just as smart as you are, just as clever and good-looking, who has the exact opposite political views, or who thinks that Ayn Rand is the greatest philosopher of our time, or something.
Yet, these people are not idiots. In fact, it is highly possible that, quite counter-intuitively, the idiot is you. So the first step in all of this is to consider that it’s possible that you are wrong– not a little, but a lot– in fact, that you’re fucking everything up and that you need a wakeup call. You need to get bitch-slapped, regularly, and put your arrogant ass in its place.
I include myself in that group, of course.
I know! I’ve got this new habit I want to implement and I’m going to try it the exact same way that I tried it last year, except harder! Super good idea brah, let’s do it.
If you’re the average dude, with an average system and average efforts, how do you think your results will be? You got it: average. Should this surprise you? No.
Here’s the thing: average is bullshit. You think it’s fine because you’re also surrounded by average dudes, so any small difference makes you feel good about yourself. But you need to stop fucking around. It’s still average, you know it, and you’re better than that.
Get yourself a goddamn system. Read 18 Minutes, or Making Ideas Happen, or Getting Things Done, or Bit Literacy (free!), or anything else for that matter. Get a fucking clue. Get out of your usual habits and do something different or you will get nowhere.
This is a call-out to all of my friends on Twitter who are doing the same thing they were doing three years ago. You know who you are.
Here’s a question. When was the last time your body and your mind were totally screaming because you didn’t want to do something? When was the last time you felt that you had to do something, because you knew it was important, but it was too much work, too much emotional labour, and further, even if you did do it, you don’t even know how?
Then, how did it feel when you did it anyway? Yes, exactly.
This, my friends, is the ideal state. I call it the ring, because it’s the place where the fight actually happens. Those that enter are fighters, challengers, and champions– people who push their boundaries and make things happen. You cannot remain in the ring forever, because it is immensely difficult, but if you never go there, you will never have breakthroughs. Otherwise, your life will be a comfortable carriage ride all the way to the grave.
Q4. When was the last time you questioned your direction?
I just recently tested my genetic code on 23andMe. The results came back, and one thing that popped out is that I have higher possible chance of living to the age of 100 than most people. In other words, I have a long life to lead. I eat really well, exercise, fast 16 hours a day, and generally inform myself about health, so I have a feeling I’ll be doing alright and have a lot of time.
I do not believe, however, that this potential long lifespan (or anything else) allows me to feel like I have the right to fuck around and waste my life. You can choose to ready, fire, aim if you want, but remember to adjust afterwards because you may be going in the totally wrong direction.
My father, a career counsellor, used to tell me that people had on average 7 careers in your lifetime. In other words, there’s plenty of time to change and you should consider it! For example, after 15 years or so off and dropping out of art school, I am spending more time drawing, sculpting, etc, than I have in a decade. It’s challenging but it feels good, and good accidents can happen. Haruki Murakami, one of the most respected living writers in the world, started off writing while he owned a bar. He was just trying it out.
This should also be a sign to those of you who are choosing careers based on their potential future earnings. Stop being such a tool. Go do something you actually care about– trust me, I’ve had enough conversations with successful yet miserable people. Success and money are ruts that are just as hard to get out of as being in a miserable job for 5 years.
Q5. How are you going to be changing the world?
Here’s my final point– for now, at least. I’ve spent a lot of time around authors over the past little while and I’ve started to figure out that almost all of them have one primary thing to say, a single idea that they are really about. Seth Godin could be “be remarkable,” applied to multiple different formats. Tim Ferriss: “most effort is wasted– do what matters.” Pema Chodron: “Drop the storyline.” I could do this all day.
Here’s the thing: authors have to write down their ideas and express them differently. It’s their job and they have to work at it, so they get many ideas in their head and stick with those that matter to them (or sometimes those that sell– sigh). Point being, even non-authors need to figure this one thing out. But most never think about it. They plod along without much direction or grand goal at all– and if it is, it’s often rather selfish.
Again, I include myself in this.
Here is my suggestion: If you had a TED talk, or some other grand idea, how would you present it? Think about it. This is your one chance. How would you use it?
Or, optionally, if you had to leave something behind, if you were going to die and be entirely forgotten but could change one thing, what one thing would that be? Would you be like Bill W and start something to help alcoholics all over the world? Would you solve a technical problem or a social one? Think about it. Or write about it, it’ll help you figure it out.
Ok, now that you have the answer, or at least you’re thinking about it, here’s the real focus.
Q6. Why would you work on anything else but what actually matters?
I leave you with that.
I will admit, I am not known for being sensitive.
Yet, at the same time, I feel I’m one of the most optimistic people I know.
I have faith in everyone. I don’t believe anyone is a loser. I don’t believe anyone is incapable. It’s born into me. I can’t help it.
Homeless people. Drug addicts. Ex-girlfriends. I believe in every person’s potential, forever. I think people can turn themselves around, even after the hardest falls. I always have. It’s in my nature.
This post is an experiment. It is an attempt to put together a coherent guide, helping us figure out why people are sucking, without any cliches or condescension.
Finding out why you suck is difficult. You might recognize it but don’t know how to fix it. You might not know it and make mistakes unconsciously. But you want to know when you’re sucking because often, no one will actually tell you. They won’t have the balls or know the right words to use. They’ll want to help but they won’t know how.
Even if you don’t need this guide today, you will at one point. So bookmark it. In time, it will become extremely useful.
It’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong when no one else will.
I start with this one because I fall into this category and I’m trying to figure it out. Here’s what I’ve got so far.
First, everyone has thoughts they shouldn’t express. So being an asshole has nothing to do with what you’re thinking. Unless you’re a total sociopath, what you’re thinking is fine. The problem is execution.
Assholes such as yourself often have a filter that’s broken. They say things that come back to haunt them later on because they don’t realize what they’re saying. They have no social graces. They miss social signals that other people catch, have a weak impression of the rules of the game, or ignore the rules entirely.
Or, another way to be an asshole is simply to be crass with his body language, gestures, and manners. If you never open the door for anyone or offer help in the kitchen, then being an asshole simply coincides with being selfish or not thinking much about what other people are feeling (high self-orientation on the trust equation).
Whatever the case for your assholishness, the solution appears to be to get someone else to call you out on it. Being a bit of an asshole is good, and can be funny– but being a lot is just not good. And there is a strong argument for having manners, too, even if you’re a deep left-leaning anarchist type such as myself. Check out this quote from Glenn O’Brien’s book How To Be a Man:
I believe that the true anarchist, the exponent of freedom and enemy of intrusive government, must see good manners are the inevitable substitute for laws. A healthy society doesn’t need many laws because offensive behaviour “just isn’t done.”
In other words, the freer you’d like to be, the more you need to be a gentleman. Honestly this is a kind of breakthrough for me. Hope it is for you too.
Fact. Boring people do not exist. What some perceive as boring is in fact one of two things:
Option 1: Boring = Good conversation in wrong context.
Imagine that you’re talking about physics at a dinner party full of Glamor Magazine fans. The problem isn’t that what you’re talking about isn’t interesting– it’s probably very interesting, but not targeted to the people you’re in talking to.
The problem is actually that you’re just not able to relate to their situation. You’re not empathetic enough. It doesn’t actually occur to you that what you’re talking about is out of their context. Talk about writing with writers or food with foodies, and you’ll find it much easier than going against the grain. Ask them questions if they know more. You’ll learn something.
Sub-fact. In most contexts, no one wants to hear about you. In fact, I’ll go even further– how much you talk about you defines not only how you’re perceived, but your actual personality and sometimes your own health. The more you talk about yourself, the less healthy you tend to be. Fact. So start asking about other people.
Option 2: Boring = No idea what to talk about.
This relates to the above, but is also a different problem. You could simply have run out of things to say, or have no stories to tell, or whatever.
Contrary to popular belief, the problem here is not that you are boring, or have a boring life. Boring people aren’t boring because of what they’ve done or not done, they’re boring because they don’t know how to be interesting.
Even the most boring subjects, narrated properly, are super interesting because the people themselves know how to make the subject interesting. They relate it to the people they’re talking to by asking questions or relating them to universal subjects. For example, absolutely any subject can be related to a good 80’s movie. So if you’re having trouble relating to people, bring up 80’s movies. True story.
There are actually a number of ways to find things to talk about. Do you hate small talk? Then you’re probably doing it wrong. It’ll lead to interesting subjects if you ask the right questions. Or, optionally, you could just learn to read more. I’m now reading 60 books per year and, trust me, it helps.
Some people say depression is caused by the brain, other by environment, blah blah. I’m not going to get into that.
For our purposes, being depressed (lower-case, not capital, D) happens when you think what happened in the past is better than what will happen in the future. You think your best years are behind you, so obviously there isn’t much good stuff to look forward to. You become moribund and lifeless. You don’t feel like doing much and don’t see the point to it. Etc.
Positivity is a virtuous/vicious circle. If you’re happy and do cool things, you get happier, but if you’re sad, you get sadder through doing nothing. It’s circular and builds on itself. This is how a blog ends up abandoned and how you end up gaining 10 pounds before you end up doing something about it. Then, you’re further behind than when you started. It sucks.
I can’t pretend to solve your depression problems but I can say that what has helped me the most is the idea of small successes, some of which I picked up from this book, and I guess in a way could also come from What About Bob?
Pick one small thing to do, so small and inconsequential that you will inevitably succeed and that will also make you feel at least 5% better. Do it right when you get up, as your first thing of the day. Then, tomorrow, add something to it. Make it a chain, and it will begin to happen automagically.
My girlfriend pointed something out to me yesterday. All these people who are being educated by the system, who are buying into it with school, work, etc, and hope to be ok for retirement (and there are tens of millions of them btw)– what happens when this system decides that your purpose is to answer phones for a living? What happens then?
I mean, this is the system that educated everyone and that everyone believes in, whose mythologies are the cults of personality of Kanye West, Oprah, etc. What happens when this thing looks at your hopes and dreams and says “no, for you it’s going to be a convenience store clerk.”
Fun fact: about 7 years of my life were spent in call centres before I ended up podcasting for a living in 2005. I just kept pushing my way up the ladder, slowly. It never really worked out for me, though. I never felt like I belonged. I imagine you feel the same.
For me, things changed when I quit my last job. I felt like it was suddenly up to me. I was dead broke for a while, but at least I was in control.
I have a blog post I’ve been meaning to write up for a while about something called acts of control; maybe writing about that here will help. An act of control is something performed by someone in order to feel as if they are in control of their own life. A hunger strike is an act of control, and so is skipping work. These things are done to spite those in power. Often they involve a sacrifice, but unfortunately, the acts people choose often serve no purpose.
But I would like you to think about what kinds of acts you can perform, in small ways, to feel like you’re in control of your own life. Refuse extra work or overtime. Show up on time but never early. Don’t do extra if the system does not reward extra. Spend your energy where it matters.
In the long term, the good news is: unemployment allows you time to reinvent yourself. Dead-end jobs do not. So you must inevitably transition out of your job and into something better. This is when the minimalist guys will help you. They will help you focus on what matters. I wish I had their advice when I was living off less than 1000$ a month.
As I’ve mentioned before, loner can sometimes be ok, socially acceptable even, if it’s tagged along with something else (smart, ambitious, or what have you). And if you’re happy being a loner, there’s no problem. But if you’re having trouble finding people to hang out with, if you want to spend time with people but don’t know how, you’re going to have a long, tough life.
Here’s my proposal for you, as someone who often feels like they’re distanced from people in real life due to travel, not having a 9-5, etc.: set up weekly meetings with people you like.
Currently, I have less than 5 of these meetings with people I didn’t see often enough. So I set up weekly meetings that happen automatically without needing to be discussed. Result? I end up seeing Mitch, Greg, Justin and others far more often than I would otherwise. For your social life, it’s honestly the best idea I’ve had in a while.
Who are the people you respect and that challenge you? Who are the people that make you laugh? Offer to cook them dinner once a week. If you don’t have anyone, connect via your interests– I don’t care if it’s World of Warcraft, but find some– and set up a get together. Finally, work on follow-ups. Text people from a long time ago that you have been meaning to talk to and say “we’re due for a hangout!” Especially if you miss them!
There are a million ways your life could suck. I can’t list all of them, but hopefully I’ve lumped a bunch of them together in ways that have helped a little.
Feel free to write your own post about it if you want and send it over, I’ll be glad to link to it. And please subscribe and tweet this out. Thanks. :)
Ok, just kidding about Squarepants. The rest is real though.
Not any more. I have evolved. I now get my advice exclusively from imaginary criminal psychopaths.
It’s time you did the same. Here’s why.
Let’s say a guy wants to rob a bank. He’s a normal guy like you or me. He doesn’t want to do a horrible job for 40 years, but he’s not qualified for anything either. He doesn’t think he has any choices in life, and society isn’t giving him of the upside he sees on television or anywhere else. He’s like “screw it, I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Now, let’s just say that this guy is like most people. He has reservations about killing people. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Thankfully, a bank isn’t people. If the bank gets robbed, nobody feels bad for it. After all, banks rob us every day; they just gradually introduce it so that they slowly get your consent. Besides, all the money is insured.
So our guy figures he’ll end up in a tropical country somewhere with a beautiful half-Latina half-Asian girlfriend or something. Who loses? Nobody. Exactly. Why would a bank losing a million dollars be a bad thing? Seriously, everybody would be happy. I’m not even kidding. Banks fuck over everyone.
So here’s the thing: if nobody feels bad for a bank, and all the money is insured and nobody gets hurt (in theory), why does nobody do it?
Well, simple. Too many things could go wrong, and the consequences for anything going wrong are massive and dangerous. In other words, it’s too high risk.
They deal in social deviance, doing things that most people aren’t willing to do in order to get ahead. This, by itself, is actually fine. There are lots of methods of social deviance that aren’t illegal.
So the problem isn’t social deviance at all. It’s that criminals do it in an old-school way, for which there are laws, and because of that, there’s collateral damage, death, destruction of private or public property, etc. In other words, the problem isn’t that they break the law, or that they’re criminals. It’s that, in doing so, they might harm you or your loved ones.
Criminals do what they do because they see it as a high-risk, quick, low-effort way of making a bunch of money. They go to the edge of what’s acceptable (and over) in order to get what they want. Some of them are horrible people, and others are doing the equivalent of cheating on their taxes– in other words, not much.
So not all criminals do things that are damaging to society. Some do things that average people consider totally fine, but that just happen to be illegal for larger, sometimes antiquated reasons.
So here’s our first distinction. Violent criminals go to the edges of acceptability. They do high-risk things in order to obtain large rewards quickly. They do this because they are impatient and fail the marshmallow test. This is why they end up in jail.
But hold on, there’s more.
I was watching a movie the other week about Jacques Mesrine, the public enemy number one in France and Quebec in the 60’s and 70’s. He’s a sociopath if I’ve ever heard of one, but also an epic success in his own way. They literally had to ambush this guy in the middle of the Paris and blast him with automatic weapons in order to kill him. He was like a modern-day Rasputin. Epic.
It was while watching this movie that it really started to click for me.
Here’s a guy that flaunts the rules in a way that nobody else can. Seriously, this dude escaped from jail and then proceeded to return to jail with automatic weapons in order to help his friends escape.
As homicidal as this dude was, I have no words to describe how much guts he had.
So, in that sense, this is a guy we can learn a lot from. Not murder, not mayhem, rape, or anything else of that sort, but definitely what a few friends of mine and myself have now dubbed “skipping the line.”
Ok, imagine you’re going to a bar and the line is long. You stand at the back of the line like a good customer, and the hostess says your wait is going to be like 15 minutes. That time goes by but you still don’t get a table. You’re still waiting. You’re starting to get impatient.
Then, some guy walks in, goes right up to the hostess, whispers something in her ear and she nods and shows him to a table. How do you feel? Pretty annoyed, I’m guessing. WTF, right?
Now, another scenario. Imagine you’re at the airport. There’s a long line for security, as there was for my flight today, but this guy goes to another line, one that you hadn’t noticed, and just whizzes through everything. You watch him show people his iPhone, and he speeds past a giant line. Everything’s the same, except in this case, the system for skipping the line isn’t covert or hidden. He used a 3D barcode or something to get into a special category.
Now, here’s a trick question. Out of all the preceding examples, which one do you consider the most wrong? The bar, the airport, or the bank robbery?
All of these, done right, are victimless social deviance. They’re just deviance with different levels of risk, correct?
Let’s ask another question: If no one got hurt in either of those circumstances, from a one to a ten, how wrong are each of them?
What you need to do is not “play it safe”– which is downright idiotic– but to find is something as high-risk and high-reward as a bank robbery, but without the massive downside.
Let me give you another example. I end up in France fairly often, and since I mostly deal with Americans for work, one of my easiest conversation points revolves around a guy called Loic Le Meur.
Some of you may know Loic, but you’re probably not French, so you don’t know his reputation in France– a country where the majority view government work as being amongst the highest forms of service and status. Where Loic comes from, he’s considered socially deviant as well. So is my French friend Erwan Le Corre (Movnat is doing a workshop in Montreal, btw, which you should check out).
Guys like this, and they differ by country, have labels that their homelands consider fringe or weird. They aren’t easily accepted. They trot the edge in their own way, and are willing to take risks that others aren’t. They’re skipping the line as well– defining themselves differently and placing themselves at the top of their categories.
Normal people are not willing to do this. We don’t have models if we want to be out on the edge. For most people, they have no one that can relate to their need to be that far out.
Entrepreneurs won’t do. They are too acceptable. Politicians won’t do. They are too criminal and unethical (no, seriously, they are). We need someone else– a group we can look to and emulate, the same way people think “What would Jesus do?”
Society is far too boring. There is no one we can look to, so we have no choice. Magneto, Moriarty, and Mr Freeze– that is who it has to be.
Let me ask you a question: according to Rotten Tomatoes, 94 out of every 100 critics thumbed up the Dark Knight. Why do you think that is?
Is it because of Batman? Guess again.
It’s the Joker.
The Joker is the personification of risk, something the average person finds thrilling. He does things that others would never dare to do, but everyone sees inside themselves. Why is that?
Modern society is stifling. The options for how to behave are limited and unfulfilling. Max Weber called it the Iron Cage because it eventually stifles and crushes anything polarizing. We have no choice but to submit in the majority of our lives.
What we start realizing if we spend enough time in cities is that this society breeds sheep. This isn’t even necessarily bad– it’s largely responsible for the stability of the age we live in. And these people can’t even be held responsible for it– the pressure of our society is so crushing that you have no choice but to submit, even at the cost of your long-term happiness.
The thing is, society also seems to have taken a wrong turn. When you combine it with the technological advancements we’ve had in the past several years, what we have turned ourselves into is a giant garbage production factory that is throwing itself off a cliff. There’s a fucking giant continent of plastic in the Pacific ocean for Christ’s sake, all made possible by the modern division between our actions and their consequences (Marx would have had a field day with this).
Clearly, social deviance is necessary at this point.
So who’s here to save us? Who’s here to make us feel alive once again, like a normal human being whose soul longs to be free and able to live without the crushing consequences of a drone-filled modern environment, where you can’t seem to make a difference and often don’t even know how to muster up the energy to care?
The only people who are capable of doing this are those who have lived outside society, those who have no place inside of it, and who ignore society’s rules.
The Joker is the personification of anarchy and freedom, and those feelings, when expressed to us in theatre or film, are deeply moving. It awakens a part of us that yearns to be free, but doesn’t quite know how.
But no modern hero exists for those that want to figure this out.
Now, here’s the thing: We don’t have to deface property, kill people, or rob banks in order to find edges. There are lots of modern edges to explore. They are valuable because they’re risky, and only through learning from criminals can we truly know what the edge is.
Imagine a map of the world, but flat like it was thought to be a long time ago. At the edges, you fall off and die. But what about right before that, the places before these giant imaginary waterfalls? What’s there?
These are places nobody knows about because no one returns from them, or because no one even goes. If you go there, it changes you. You come back different.
But there’s a problem. The map doesn’t exist for these places. You don’t know how to get there. You need a guide.
Here is my suggestion. If you are looking for an edge and you can’t find one, ask yourself what you would do if you were a criminal, or a sociopath, or had delusions of grandeur, didn’t think you could fail, or that there would be no negative consequences. Ask yourself how you would act if you thought no one had the balls or brains to stop you.
The trick is to take on a personality. Play a character– one with no fear whatsoever, no conscience and no understanding of society’s rules.
Play a total sociopath. Find things with high reward, and act towards them as if there were no negative consequences.
Hard decisions will suddenly seem easy.
Fears that have no consequences will reveal themselves for the mirages that they are. Barriers will vanish.
My guess for what happens next? Your hurdles will have to be set a whole lot higher.
Ok, I have a confession to make.
I have spent almost my whole life– 31 years– caring far too much about offending people, worrying if I’m cool enough for them, or asking myself if they are judging me.
I can’t take it anymore. It’s stupid, and it’s not good for my well being. It has made me a punching bag– a flighty, nervous wuss. But worse than that, it has made me someone who doesn’t take a stand for anything. It has made me someone who stood in the middle, far too often, and not where I cared to stand, for fear of alienating others. No more. Not today.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, is different.
We’re going to talk about the cure. We’re going to talk about what’s necessary. We’re going to talk about the truth.
Do you wonder if someone is talking shit about you? Whether your friends will approve? Have you become conflict-avoidant? Spineless?
Well, it’s time you started not giving a fuck.
FACT NUMBER 1. People are judging you right now.
Yes, it’s really happening right at this moment. Some people don’t like you, and guess what? There’s nothing you can do about it. No amount of coercion, toadying, or pandering to their interests will help. In fact, the opposite is often true; the more you stand for something, the more they respect you, whether it’s grudgingly or not.
What people truly respect is when you draw the line and say “you will go no further.” They may not like this behaviour, but so what? These are people don’t like you anyway, why should you attempt to please people who don’t care for you in the first place?
Right. Then, there’s Internet trolls. That’s a whole other thing.
Regular people are fine– you don’t actually hear it when they’re talking behind your back. But on the web, you do see it, which changes the dynamic drastically. They have an impact because they know you have your vanity searches, etc. But the real problem with Internet haters is that they confirm your paranoid delusion that everyone out there secretly hates you.
Thankfully, that’s not actually true. So the first noble truth is that most people don’t even care that you’re alive. Embrace this, my friends, for it is true freedom. The world is vast and you are small, and therefore you may do as you wish and cast your thoughts of those who dislike it to the side.
FACT NUMBER 2. You don’t need everyone to like you.
This stuff is crazy, I know, but it’s cool, you’ll get used to it. Here’s the next thing: not only do most people not know that you exist, and some are judging you, but it totally does not matter even if they are.
How liberating this is may not even hit you yet, but it will. Check this out: when people don’t like you, nothing actually happens. The world does not end. You don’t feel them breathing down your neck. In fact, the more you ignore them and just go about your business, the better off you are.
You know when they say “the best revenge is a life well lived”? Well, this is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. A life well lived is great, yes, but it cannot happen while you are sweating about who your detractors are and what they think. What you have to do, what you have no choice but to do, is accept it and move on.
So not giving a fuck is actually a necessary precedent to create a good life for yourself. It can’t happen without it. That’s why you have to begin today.
FACT NUMBER 3. It’s your people that matter.
Ok, so you’ve adjusted to the fact that most people in the world are barely aware of your existence, and you’re also conscious of the fact that those who don’t like you are in the obscenely small minority and don’t actually matter. Awesome. Next you need to realize that the people who do care about you, and no one else, are those you need to focus on.
Relationships are weird. Once we’re in one (with family, a spouse, whatever), we promptly begin to take the other person for granted and move on to impressing strangers instead– say, our boss. Then, once we’ve impressed our boss, we start taking him for granted too, and so on, in an endless cycle of apathy. It’s like we always prefer to impress and charm the new than to work on what we already have.
But these people– your champions– they understand your quest or your cause. They make you feel good when you’re around them, make you laugh or make you feel like you can just be yourself. They make you feel relaxed or at ease. You’ve shared things with them. They’re important. Focus on them instead.
FACT NUMBER 4. Those who don’t give a fuck change the world. The rest do not.
So I’m reading this horrible book right now by Stephen King called the Long Walk. It’s a contest where people walk without sleeping or resting, and if they do stop, they are killed. (That’s actually every Stephen King book– “there’s a clown, but it kills!” “There’s a car, but it kills!” etc.)
I suspect this book is a metaphor for war, but it also captures perseverance very well. What it takes to move past anything is to simply realize that your obstacle is unimportant, and that it can be dismissed. This is true whether you’re running a marathon or trying to get to Mars.
If you dismiss the things that do not matter; if you remove those things from your mind and focus on what must be done; if you understand that your time is limited and decide to work now; only then will you be able to get to the finish line. Otherwise, you will be dissuaded into living a life you aren’t interested in.
Side note: You need to handle failure and obscurity better. You may be in a tough place right now where you feel lonely or like a loser. No worries, we’ve all been there. But it’s time for you to realize how common these things are, and that they’re experienced by even the most successful and happiest people in the world. Those people get past them, and you will too.
You want to know something? This actually has nothing to do with anyone else. It has everything to do with you.
I had a discussion with Jonathan Fields the other week that was about the use of swearing (and “true voice”) on blogs. I watched him on a Skype video as we did this, and I could actually pinpoint the moment where he was about to say “fuck” but almost stopped himself. It was amazing. So I called him out on it. “You felt it just now, didn’t you?”
Everyone has an internetal eye. It always watching. It has been slowly constructed by society at large and by your friends and family, and it checks you for unacceptable behaviour. If you have had it around for long enough, you actually start to believe that the eye is you, and that you’re “being reasonable” or some other rationalization.
But the eye isn’t you at all. It is a prison, and you have justified its existence by obeying it. It’s strong because you let it be strong.
But the secret, the part that’s amazing, is that it can’t do anything to stop you, even if it wanted to. It’s an eye. It can only watch. The rest of you is free to act as you wish.
STEP 1. Do things that you consider embarrassing.
My girlfriend and I have been breaking in Vibram Fivefingers in preparation for the massive walk we are doing. Have you ever seen these shoes? They’re amazing for you knees and give you no blisters, but they are the ugliest thing imaginable. Yesterday, I wore them with a sweet bowtie I put on for Easter. I looked like a crazy person.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I am deeply aware and can become quite upset by people’s judgment– I think a lot of people are, but don’t admit it. But as I walked by people in my techno-clown outfit, not a single person looked at me. Nobody cared, and it slowly dawned on me that even if people did look at me weird, they just walked by. Later, they would forget about me entirely.
You must try this. Find your internal filters and break them, one at a time. Notice how society, like an ocean, smoothes over the waves you make, until what you do gets eliminated, or becomes the status quo. Work with this.
STEP 2. Accept, or deal with, awkwardness.
It’s widely known that interviewers get their best material by being quiet and allowing silence to force words out of a politician or celebrity.
You may be uncomfortable with silence. I know I still am. But I have been working on it and have to say that it is a much more serene state to be in than trying to cover it up with random babbling just to fill up the air. This is one type of awkwardness, a kind that you should feel comfortable about and learn to live with.
Another kind of social awkwardness is this in-between space where you might have done something wrong or been wronged, but don’t say anything. I’ve been given a few harsh lessons in my time and come away realizing that the freedom that comes from talking about an uncomfortable truth is better than the comfort of avoiding that talk altogether.
Someone told me recently that the Clintons’ method for earning respect in politics is this: if someone pushes you, push back twice as hard. This is much better than awkwardness. It’s clear, it’s not passive aggressive, and you know where you stand. Start doing this immediately.
STEP 3. Refuse boundaries.
The video above was taken in 1970, right when the Front de Libération du Québec had killed Premier Pierre Laporte and put his body in the trunk of a car. Trudeau’s “Just watch me” is one of the most famous phrases in Canadian political history. The journalists are trying to trap him into choosing on-camera between a safety/police-state and civil liberties/freedom but Trudeau refuses their boxes.
The Liberal Party of Canada no longer has any balls, but for us, there’s still hope. Walk where you want to walk. Don’t accept false choices. Don’t let people dictate how you should live your life. Definitely don’t listen to the eye.
STEP 4. Tell the truth.
You don’t need to be an asshole, but the world does not need another conflict-avoidant, evasive person. No one wants another individual who steps in line with everyone else. The status quo is doing fine without you, so it’s up to you to call bullshit if you see it.
STEP 5. Begin your new life.
This step can’t happen without the others, but once you’ve gotten here, you can safely begin to explore a whole new world– one where anything you do is fine as long as it isn’t seriously hurting anyone else. Wanna explore old abandoned buildings? No problem, as long as you’re ready to live with the consequences. Feel like hanging from hooks or get whipped by a dominatrix? Go ahead, but be safe about it.
Once you begin on this path, you start to discover that practically everyone is capable of understanding the weird things that you do. In fact, it makes you interesting and worth paying attention to, further feeding into your plans of world domination, should you have any.
But none of this fun can happen without you recognizing, and walking past, the eye. Doing this is a powerful act of control which builds momentum and makes you strong.
Take back your self respect. Do it today– try it right now. Wear something ugly. Do something stupid. Tell someone the truth.
It doesn’t fucking matter.
Out of all the small frames to adopt that can cause massive change, the strongest one may be learning how to say no.
We live in a cultural environment where everything we take part in can be co-opted by others in some way, so learning to say no enables us to liberate ourselves, our time, and also regain a sense of control over our world.
Here, then, is a primer of the lost art of actually owning your time.
Saying no is critical to the success of your business and personal life because it allows you to reclaim an incredible amount of lost time– time that you didn’t even want to give away in the first place, and that you don’t even really know is yours. We feel the need to agree to a bunch of requests all the time because we have an obsession with pleasing people that we learned long ago from parents or society in general.
Because it’s so pervasive, it can only be changed slowly, loosening the reigns that others have over you with several slow steps. Each of these are beneficial on their own, but put together, they’ll teach you a lot.
So take these steps, one at a time, until you get to the end. Do them as often as possible until they become second nature. If one of the steps already is, then move ahead, but try each one of them at least once to see if you encounter any resistance while doing it.
You probably do this already, but we wanted to mention it as a first step in the changing of your frame because you already clearly understand what unwanted mail is– spam. When you see credit card applications, you realize its someone trying to get you to behave in a manner you don’t want to, by buying something or subscribing to some magazine. Nothing good can come of this. Shred and recycle unwanted mail and forget it even existed.
This is only a small stretch from what we’ve described above, so no big deal. Advertisements in magazines are distractions that are intended to dissatisfy you by making you feel that you want something you don’t have, but once you have the object in question, they don’t talk about how fleeting that sense of satisfaction is.
This step might seem like it’s only tangentially related to the art of saying no, but it’s actually pretty important. Once you recognize that incoming messages (from either media or people) are largely irrelevant to you and almost never urgent even if they are relevant, you start to see how much more control you already have– and can get back.
Is your house on fire? We’re going to guess it isn’t. That said, practically everyone we know picks up the phone whenever it rings, wherever they are and whomever they’re with, relegating whatever they were actually doing at that moment to the backburner until the caller is done with them.
You don’t need to behave this way. Your mobile phone is just one more incoming source of distraction you don’t need to pay homage to. It’s an outsider asking for your attention– it’s a request, not an order. If the caller has important information, they’ll leave a message, text you, or call back. When I was in Japan after Trust Agents was written, I effectively left my life for a whole month. No emergencies occurred, no horrible thing happened. Everything went just fine.
You can definitely do the same for a day. Try carrying your phone around with you all day, but watching all calls hit voicemail. Take note of who calls, and call them back the next day if you feel the need to. But avoid it for 24 hours. Later on, assess whether you lost or gained from the experiment– make the decision yourself whether each call was important.
You can probably tell by now that each one of these steps is a slow process of putting control of several parts of your life back into your hands. The next step is email, but it could have just as easily been before the phone, so do this one first if its easier.
Email is the easiest way for someone to reach a million people at zero cost so, for this very same reason, it’s among the most taken advantage of. People abuse web communication most of all because it’s difficult for people to see that you also have 500 other emails in your inbox with the same level of urgency as theirs. Thankfully, email is also distant enough from real people that it’s good training wheels for saying no. On the electronic level, we start here, because it’s easy and effective.
Saying no to email is different than using priority inbox. Priority inbox is not seeing any incoming messages in the first place, but this method helps you look at incoming requests and actively delete or refuse them, denying them control over your time. The distinction is important.
So say no by email to a few requests, whether parties you don’t want to go to, or favours you don’t want to do. But here’s the key: tell the truth. Do not, under any circumstances, make excuses– they are another form of avoidance as pervasive as saying yes. Don’t avoid answering the email either; just quickly press reply and explain that, no, you can’t participate in this or that thing. If you want to, explain why– but that’s optional. Why? Because it’s your right to decide not to do anything, and you don’t need a reason for it.
This step was recommended by Rufus and desperately needs to be added. Yeah, I know, you’re reading this on a blog. Amazing right? Still, when you subscribe to blogs, you’re basically offering up future time of yours, and as a result, devaluing your own future. Ask yourself why you’re doing this.
The concept of a “backlog” is flawed unless it is one of your own choosing. By definition, this permission marketing stuff basically says, “you can have my future attention as long as you use it wisely,” but often, people who push information through their channels don’t.
I’m sitting here at the TED conference and just watched Al-Jazeera director general Wadah Khanfar spoke about what was happening in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. I thought about how this channel is respectful of their audience, vs CNN, for example, whose mockery of news has started including things like Lindsay Lohan upskirt pictures.
For this reason, you should stop reading blog posts for a week via your RSS reader. During that week, what sites do you go to? Those are the ones you actually care about. Start with those– fresh. The rest should be flushed.
If you’ve taken all the steps we’ve mentioned so far, you’re probably feeling at least a little bit more powerful than you do on the average day. You might also be enjoying your time more since it isn’t interrupted as often, like when you get up very early and no one is up. You might also recognize this feeling as one similar to the kind of freedom you feel on long plane rides, except that now, you can get it whenever you like.
This sense of power is important for you to have before you proceed to the next steps. But there are a lot more steps than these. What follows is more intimidating, and harder to get the nerve to do when the moment arises.
To be continued. See you then.
We all know him. We’ve all seen him.
He roams malls and beaches. He is on our televisions and movie screens.
He’s everywhere, and he is multiplying.
This primer, dear reader, is here to help you understand why douchebags (aka assholes, yuppies, self-promoters, or pretty much anything else you don’t like) always get the girl, the job, the money, the book deal, and why you, dear reader, do not.
That’s right. There is a potential you, another version if you will, that gets all this cool shit. He or she is better known than you, has a better job, and in pretty much every respect his life is better than yours.
Except one– everyone hates him.
Why do we hate the douche? Because he is a loud asshole? I am going to hazard a guess that NO, that is not why.
If he were just a loud asshole, there would not be a problem.
The problem with the douche is it that he is high up, when we are low. He gets girls and we do not, while on the cover of some magazine (or something), when we sit here working hard for no appreciation. That, dear reader, is the problem.
That is why we need to deconstruct the douche.
Is it the spray-tan? Because he is a suck-up? Could it be because he randomly starts fights in bars or his love of Scarface? Goddammit, it could be anything. This is going to be hard.
But stay with me, because I am convinced that there is a place, a lovely middle path, where you can take on a few qualities of the douchebag, while still retaining some of the vestiges of your precious old world morality.
As a result, you get what you want, like the douche, but without the need for Ed Hardy or any of his other markers of lack of taste that go with it.
How does that sound? Good? Cool, let’s move on.
But wait! Old world morality? Yes. They are based on a Pride and Prejudice-like ideal that respects being demure and modest as positives when there are no rewards for doing so.
Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters are only given that respect, you’ll notice, because they are being written about in a novel in the first place. Otherwise, no one would care about them. They would vanish, like many demure and modest men and women before them, because they thought people would be able to read their mind and see how awesome they are.
In other words, because they are idiots.
This is called checkout-aisle syndrome, and it’s an important misunderstanding of how the world works. This includes things like waiting your turn, as well as believing that you are special and should be treated differently, but doing nothing about it.
This is the kind of attitude that leads to you being the last wolf in the pack to be allowed to eat.
Yes, the douchebag is basically eating your lunch. I know, I think it’s sad too. But this will keep happening unless we figure out why the douche is getting all this stuff we want. We need to figure this shit out right now.
Well, that’s easy. He walks up to them. Go to a bar and watch this happen. They hype each other up and say she wants you bro, or get drunk enough that they just go up and talk to them. So they go to bat more often than you, that’s why.
This one is obvious. He doesn’t give a fuck what other people think. He likes something, and even though his taste may be bad, he doesn’t care what other people think. So he stands out, right?
He does stupid shit for attention. In other words, because the TV people know he exist, so he has a seat at the table. Not all of them get this high, but many more do than we think. Or, they start becoming douches because they have TV shows, that happens a lot too.
… and they are all signals for the same thing. Confidence.
Girls like guys who are confident. If you are confident, you get dates. You also tell the boss you’re worthy of being promoted. People hear about your project more because you’re excited and sure of it (and yourself). All good things happen with faith in yourself. You get all of the good things in life.
Do douchebags do it too much? Sometimes, but not necessarily. Why?
It’s possible that some people you consider douchebags are actually just confident, and that you hate them because they have the balls that you don’t. It’s possible that you’re jealous. And it’s possible that it’s a matter of perspective, and that if you had balls, they wouldn’t bother you.
Do I think it’s a problem that douchebags get attention? NO. I think it’s natural.
The problem is that good people like yourself do not.
Put on some spray tan. The same muscles look better when tanned, so give your stuff a shine instead of just hoping that it’ll market itself.
Turn up the hype. Not all the way, but a little.
Do crazier shit. It’s possible that your shit is just straight up boring. Give it an edge.
Love yourself a little instead of being fucking embarrassed all the time.
But for God’s sake if you keep hoping that you’ll get more attention than douchebags, you are doing the whole world a disfavour and the good stuff you do will drown.
Assholes will always win if they can drown you out.
Maybe it’s time that changed.
Maybe you should put your big girl panties on.
Maybe you should fucking ask someone to the dance already.
Yesterday, you said tomorrow. This means now. Get off your ass and deserve the attention. I am confident you can do it without being an asshole.
And as a fellow bro, please do your duty and tweet the shit out of this. Thanks.
Every decision you make is one you should be comfortable betting on. If you’re not, you should be making different decisions.
When I was young, my mother would always be asking me if I wanted to make bets. She’s pull out her hand and motion for me to shake it with this air of confidence, and I would inevitably back out of everything, every time.
Something about a bet makes us back away, like we don’t have the confidence we previously had about a subject. This is true even though a bet doesn’t really change anything– it just makes us consider a potential loss.
Something has happened since then. I don’t back away from bets anymore. In fact, I’ve been making them a lot, kind of as a form of training. And I’d also now argue that the best way to view life is as a series of bets, or seen another way, as a bunch of opportunities to win.
This past New Year, you probably had an opportunity to make a bet with yourself. You may see it as a resolution, but that’s not actually what it is. It is a bet, and if you lose, you will actually be worse off than you were before. The opportunity will be gone, and you will have less hope about being able to change. You will have lost the bet, and you should treat it that way.
Actually, you are making bets with yourself every day. Most people just don’t realize it. We bet our reputation on what we write, or we bet money in the form of opportunities we take, or those we avoid.
People don’t realize the risk inherent in the decisions they make because these decisions are quiet and aren’t made by the light of reality television cameras or with Carmina Burana as background music. (Incidentally, that’s how I’m writing this post. You should try it.)
Most things are done quietly and without much fanfare, and because media convinces us that important things happen with a lot of excitement, we are missing out on the great victories, or losses, of our own lives.
So this is a wakeup call.
Your decisions are costing you, silently, every day, and you are putting things off because it is in our nature not to fear things which are far in the future.
But viewing it as a bet puts the loss front and center, like it should be.
You are betting your life on the resolutions you made this New Year. You should want to succeed at them very badly, and should work hard to do so– get organized and learn more about it, not just hope (which is what most resolutions really are).
Bets are won by those that are confident and those that have more information.
So win your bets by becoming that kind of person.
People associate themselves very strongly with the decisions they make (even something as simple as enjoying coffee or going to bed late), but they don’t realize that they would be just as happy being the opposite kind of person, and be just a much “themselves.”
But no, there is no risk in changing. The real risk in staying the same.
I plan to be unrecognizable in 5 years. I plan to surprise everyone.
You should too.
Now, tell me how.