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January 17th, 2013


I woke up at 5:30 this morning after a weird dream about Professor X and Wolverine.

It was one of those mind reading things. Wolverine was trying to save the day from something (whatever it was), but Professor X knew about it and wanted to stop him. Wolverine was trying to sneak out.

I think I was Wolverine, maybe. I don’t remember.

Anyway, I got asked the other day on Facebook about my habits:

Would love to see a blog (or just a reply) on your morning routine and nightly routines

I know the epic 5,000 post covers this is some details.. but I’m noticing how “good” days and “bad” days can largely be guided by how we start and finish the day.

PS Let’s see a picture of the finished ink!

Right. Here’s what I do.

My life is structured around a set number of goals to complete every day. Some of those goals are tiny, others are large. Here is an incomplete list in picture form:


As you can see, I have tiny habits, like “Smile at a stranger” (which breaks my usual pattern of looking grumpy all the time), and then I have large ones, like “Finish all to-do’s,” which is a pointer to a another HUGE list in another app.

When I finish all of my habits for the day, like the ones in the list at right, I’m done. But there’s more to it than that.

I also deliberately plan the order in which I will do these, and the reason I do this is because it helps keep me cheery and motivated to do more.

So I wake up and immediately floss and weigh myself. These are like little wins that get me started on my habit building. Then I go into “Process mail” and maybe “Take fish oil” (very good for you btw).

Then my day is started and I’ll go into my calendar and see what my day is going to look like.

I also force introspection every day through a habit of free writing, which helps me think about my own path, or my work, or whatever else I feel like putting some thought into. You cannot trust yourself to think through important stuff in your head only. Because we are so distracted, it simply does not work. So this forces it to go on paper, where I won’t quit until I hit like 750 words.

So it’s almost like my day is structured with easy win > hard win > easy win > hard win-style loops that will keep me from feeling exhausted. Some stuff is easy, others are hard. With breaks obviously. And of course I forgive myself if ever I don’t get everything done. I draw a lot from Alcoholics Anonymous style ideas so that I can think one day at a time.

The final thing I wanted to mention about this is that often, at night, it is a great idea to just do one more thing. It can be small or big, doesn’t matter, but it helps set you off on the right foot and feel like you were extra productive today. For you that could be anything, maybe doing pushups, or writing a blog post.

It’s like bitch slapping tomorrow’s to do list with a kind of “OH YEAH? I GOT IT DONE TODAY” type attitude. Not sure why, but it works.

P.S.: The tattoo he’s talking about above, by the way, is a memento mori sleeve I got done by Yann Black, a well-known tattoo artist who happens to live 5 blocks from my house. It’s early in the morning right now, so I’ll put a picture of it in another post.

* Filed by Julien at 7:13 am under systems

September 23rd, 2012

Choosing your Bible

“You have your Bibles, don’t you?”

She was right– I do. Bibles is exactly what they are. They help me live my life well, help me make decisions, and make sure I am heading in the right direction.

It’s exactly like a religious book– except I wrote it.

If you don’t have a Bible, your daily decisions are probably based on mood, or if you’re lucky and you’ve thought it through, maybe they’re based on values. But I’m deeply impulsive, so even values aren’t good enough. I need something written down, telling me what to do.

You know when you go to a store and it says cash only on the cash register? It’s like that. Something that’s written down is more powerful, somehow.

So when I go to my apps, they say “go home and do 10 minutes of cleaning,” and I listen. That’s my Bible. Without that, my whole life would be in disorder. I’d have no idea what to base my decisions on.

But there’s something else, too. A Good Book actually isn’t enough– you need more. Because behind every Bible is actually another thing, a kind of meta-belief, that keeps the whole thing under control.

Mine is deceptively simple. It says: “Don’t trust yourself with decisions. Trust me instead.”

Or in other words, emotions are good advisors but bad kings. So you should never trust how you feel in the moment.

Any holy text is basically the same. It’s telling you “decide based on what I say, not based on how you’re feeling.” There’s a lot of power in that.

I firmly believe that all people are, in a sense, addicts. Everyone is an addict of a different type, to a different degree, with different problems. We all need help; we just make different decisions about how to get it.

Long ago, I got what worked for me. I didn’t let go and let God, but I did let go and let… something.

* Filed by Julien at 2:12 pm under systems

March 22nd, 2011

How to Debug Your Thought Code

Human beings are strong pattern machines. Like any machine, we sometimes need updating and fixing.

I picked up the phrase thought code from a reddit post I read last week. It’s a perfect analogy for how we work. Our brains find patterns. We develop habits easily and break them with only a great deal of effort. This can leave even the stupidest habits ingrained in us far too long. If we don’t debug our internal code, we’ll never change.

Everyone has stupid pieces of code they need to get rid of, but we don’t always know how. This means a ton of wasted time and resources when we could be doing things simply.

In other words, we need to debug our own code– our own thought processes and habits.

Personally, one of my most pointless patterns is that when I save any document, I Cmd-Tab into Firefox so quickly it makes my head spin. It happens without me thinking. Next thing I know, I’m reading news, Twitter, or otherwise wasting my time instead of working.

This simple patterns causes an easy half-hour of slacking and distraction per day.

How do I debug this, or any, program? Easy– I break it. If I cause an error to occur, make the inefficiency evident and startle myself into awareness of it.

I can do this by closing all other programs (so I can’t Cmd-Tab into anything at all), or by shutting off my web connection (with Freedom). This makes me notice what I’m doing and laugh at myself a bit. After many broken patterns like this, the awareness of it becomes stronger, and the habit vanishes.

Another piece of stupid code is my avoidance of certain things on my todo list, such as emails I need to send. I break this, once again, by getting verbose with myself– in other words, literal. I ask myself, out loud, what are you afraid of? This jolts me into realizing that there’s nothing to worry about, which frees me to get it done.

The key to success and efficiency in any program, including your own, is recognizing inefficiencies and fixing them. I believe the first, and most important, step in this is awareness of your own mistakes.

The second– the easy part– is coming up with something that’s slightly better. Iterate this process, and the incremental improvement will keep you moving, progressing, and maybe even happy. But none of that happens without seeing what you are doing.

* Filed by Julien at 9:24 am under systems

January 18th, 2011

Build your own classroom with these 23 books

This post endeavours to help you learn more quickly– about any subject.

If you just want to see the list, see below, but before we start, try this thought experiment.

Let’s assume that you would be automatically successful at any project you took part in. You could make a startup into a billion-dollar company, become an Olympic athlete, or achieve enlightenment (assuming such a thing was possible). You aren’t guaranteed to be the best in the world at anything– just to do well.

Now, imagine that it wasn’t just you that could do this– some others would, too– and that you could succeed in each “category” only once. So you could only start one company, for example, or excel at one sport. You and all these other people would be a sort of Highlander-esque group that would go around, doing really great things. (Incidentally, I am writing this post in the Highlander Cafe in Singapore. Hello.) :)

I suspect a sort of competition would emerge, at a very high level, between people such as yourself, for top positions.

So here is the question. What order would you pick for your successes?

In other words, how would you choose what to be successful at first, and how would you prepare?

As it happens, I happen to have considered this for a very long time– and so have many other people– but not for the reasons you’d think.

One result of this thinking is the Hinduism’s ashramas, stages of life which every man must go through. Early stages prepare for later ones.

Another is education of the children of the very rich, where success is assumed, but needs to be optimized.

I personally considered this because I was trying to create the most awesome Dungeons and Dragons characters I could possibly make. Geeky I know– but true.

Wherever you get your reasons, thinking about life this way helps you ask certain questions, like “If physical capacities decrease– and mental abilities increase– with age, then what is the order I should do things in?”

Life is more complex than making D&D characters. People have different priorites and goals, so any system that is in place should be flexible enough to accomodate them. Also, the world itself changes, so your system should be adaptable to a changing technological and social environment.

I know this is maybe a bit convoluted. But here is my theory.

The most important things to have at the beginning of life are education, a wide network, and a bit of money. These three things facilitate all other endeavours– one provides understanding, another provides opportunity, and the third provides freedom to pursue that opportunity.

This implies that the first things life should be about is those 3 things. If you disagree, please say why in the comments, but I think they’re the fundamentals of any really successful life. But what comes next?

This is what I want to ask you.

What did you wish you knew earlier in life, and what do you think you need to know only later?

And finally, what books could teach you to obtain those things?

The result of this post could be nothing– or it could be a very comprehensive list of the best books to read on any subject (like a Personal MBA). So leave a comment with your suggestion, and I’ll add it below with a link to you.

Since I’ve read a lot, I’ll start.

The List

The best books I can think of to maximize income while minimizing work are Work the System and the 4-Hour Workweek.

For mental models of reality, I would say Poor Charlie’s Almanac and Seeking Wisdom as well as anything by Nassim Taleb (who is incidentally paleo and a student of Erwan le Corre like myself– expect to see some of that in his new book).

For meeting people, I am going to say something controversial and say Rules of the Game (there’s a story behind this), as well as Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.

I could be wrong, but along the lines of “only book you’ll ever need” on marketing could be Purple Cow and the only career book might be Linchpin.

The only book on diet you ever need could be (maybe) Why We Get Fat.

The best book on relationships might be 5 Love Languages.

Joshua and Ricardo say the best book on people and relationships is How to Win Friends and Influence People.

A good lesson in humour is Breakfast of Champions, suggested by Jackson.

Ryan thinks the best book on influence is Influence (it is pretty great).

Mike and Ryan recommend The War of Art.

Monica suggests Amusing Ourselves to Death.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty was recommended by Daan. I’ve read it, and it’s pretty great.

Patti and I both recommend Man’s Search For Meaning. This is one of my favourite books of all time, actually.

How to Think Strategically was recommended by Roland.

Please Understand Me was suggested by Jeremy.

Rick suggested Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.

My friend Chris Guillebeau‘s book The Art of Non-Conformity was suggested by Peter.

Now, add yours below. I’ll update with your suggestion and a link to your blog.

* Filed by Julien at 11:17 am under book a week, strategy, systems

December 21st, 2010

Future Kings and Paupers: Why Making $1,000,000 is Only the Beginning

This post will probably be ignored. It isn’t about Twitter and it doesn’t include an infographic. It’s complex, not easy, which is why it’s kind of a mess. Skip it if you think you can’t handle it, no problem.

But first, a question.

Do you think you’re a good judge of character?

Most people do. But how would you know if you really were?

Being able to judge someone’s character is a sign of success. But it isn’t all it takes. Properly assessing someone you meet requires more: It requires being a good judge of someone’s potential. It helps you know what kind of relationship you want to have.

But how can you tell if someone can be a leader, or if they’ll be successful? How can you tell if they have initiative, or if you can trust them?

I propose that judging someone’s potential– even someone you’ve just met– is easy. It’s based on one fundamental character trait that you can develop with practice and, with it, change your life. I’ll explain below.

It’s clear to many of us here on the web that there is a new class emerging. Robb Wolf, a research biochemist, blogger, and New York Times bestselling author is a part of it. So are Everett Bogue, Tim Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, and many more. You may be, too, and if you are, you already know it.

If you don’t, then it’s possible you have no idea what I’m talking about, so here it is.

Almost two years ago, Chris Brogan and I started writing a book called Trust Agents, about a set of people who were taking advantage of digital technology to grow their influence. The book would become pretty popular here on the web, and continues to sell well, which is great. I realize now, though, that the phenomenon is about more than that.

One main aspect of this new generation (who can be young or old, btw) is their understanding of systems and games and how to find workarounds (“gatejumping” or “lifehacking”). It’s clear that they don’t need a million dollars to be happy– so they figure out what they really need and find easy ways to get it.

In other words, these people have built systems around them that faciliates financial and career success. Generally, they aren’t chasing the dream of massive wealth– they know it has very little to do with happiness– so they work on new, more fulfilling goals instead.

Ev Bogue recently decided to become a yoga teacher. Tim Ferriss hacked his own muscle mass and wrote the 4-Hour Body. Guillebeau is exploiting the loopholes in air travel to visit every country in the world. I could name many more of these people, each doing it in their own way.

Whatever you decide to call it, it’s big, and it’s because of access to information and the ability to see others doing it in real time. Still, some people want this and get it– and others do not. Why? Because of this specific character trait.

This brings us back to our first point.

How do you judge someone’s character instantly, find out what kind of person they are and how likely they are to succeed? Easy.

Challenge them.

Ask them to do something unusual (like a bet). Or, question the way they’re doing things and see how they react to a totally different method of thinking.

Their reaction is based in their ability to deal with change and experimentation, and the ability to experiment is directly related to their real-life success.

The basic difference is whether you are willing to test your environment and lead an experimental life. And it is a trait that is taught to us by our environment– by games, by seeing other people doing it, and by seeing inefficient models of reality (such as school=success) that we can choose to avoid.

Here is the simple reality of the situation.

Accept what your parents, your teachers, and your peers say, and you’ll be a slave to what they’ve said. You’ll base your decisions on what they’ve decided, instead of what you have. Your learning will slow down and much of what you want will not come true (unless you shrink your expectations).

Test everything for yourself– assume nothing– and the opposite will happen. Your results will be based in what is real. You’ll become a king. You will accelerate as you learn and your momentum will carry you past obstacles you never thought you could conquer before.

You’ll quickly learn you don’t need a job.

You’ll free up your time.

You’ll find out how boring it is to do nothing. :)

You’ll seek out other things that fascinate you.

You’ll become an expert in them, faster.

Finally, with no one to tell you what to do, you’ll be happier.

Some will say: “That’s not really my style though, I like to take it easy.” Well, I’d argue that you’re thinking too small, and that you’ve chosen that small is ok for you.

This brings me to my final point: if you want to be someone like this, you can be. All that it takes is to transform how you deal with challenges.

Do you see life as a game to experiment with, or do you see it as a series of corridors? This will change what you’re capable of.

For years, we’ve been here on the internet, blogging and talking about “lifehacking,” then returning to our dreary real jobs under the guise of “being more productive.”

I have an idea. Why don’t we apply this to our actual lives?

Some of us do, and the results have been extraordinary. You can too.

Do you live this way, or want to? Let’s talk. Leave a comment. Enter your email in the box below and press enter, we’ll figure out how together.

Oh, one more thing: I think how to do this, and the phenomena that have made up why it’s happening, could make a very interesting book. Do you?

* Filed by Julien at 10:00 am under culture, direction, experiments, systems

November 23rd, 2010

We Are Seekers

Somewhere out there, there is a perfect system.

It can turn a hobo into a millionaire, if he wants it. It can turn a leper into a movie star, or a sinner into a saint. These things exist; they are out there, and if we will listen to them, sometimes, they will help us become better.

Currently it’s about Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen, but before that it was Edward de Bono’s Tactics. Last year it might have been Shunryu Suzuki, or before that, Krishnamurti. The master may change but the interest does not. I imagine that’s the same for you, too. You’re very clear about what you want, but not how to get it.

We are deeply interested in methods, in strategies, that transform us into better versions of ourselves. If we knew of the one perfect system, we would take it. But we never can. In a way, that makes us seekers.

Michel Foucault first wrote about these in the eighties. He called them Technologies of the Self– methods that help us transform ourselves, polishing the self and turning it into something greater and more capable– as the early Christians would say, something worthy of God and most capable of doing His will. But the sentiment is universal, not religious– and that’s only one way it manifests itself.

We are all looking for our ideal selves. We don’t know how to reach it, or even who he is, but we know that he’s out there somewhere and that other people have become theirs, so we should be able to find ours, too.

Does any of us really know that it’s out there, though? Is it just a feeling? How do we know it’s real?

* Filed by Julien at 2:44 pm under systems

November 9th, 2010

Take It All In

There is no piece of knowledge, anywhere, that is useless.

Everytime you read a book, a blog post, or have an insightful conversation, you learn more than. Each piece of knowledge is applicable in certain circumstances, but also leads towards a broader understanding of the world, showing patterns in human behaviour, systems or more if you look for them.

Everything in the world works at patterns. We are pattern machines (in fact, all of life is) so for good or ill, we see them everywhere. If I learn about retail businesses, then biology, and then stereo equipment, I will learn things in each that apply to the others.

Most of the highly valuable information falls into two structures: people and systems.

An understanding of human beings means understanding emotions such as fear and greed and others, how people view themselves and those around them, as well as how they behave and for what reasons.

A knowledge of systems means that you know the math of how things work, how to use leverage and how to invest, how to debug and find solutions to technical problems.

Often, the two overlap. They’re also masculine and feminine, yin and yang, etc. You can view them through any lens and apply archetypes to them if you like– the trickster, the magician, the king… whatever. It’s all the same stuff with a different shell, so the more you absorb from the largest variety of sources, the better off you are.

That is when you can find the patterns in human behaviour, and in systems– which means the patterns in everything.

I guess that’s kind of like being psychic… sorta.

* Filed by Julien at 12:55 pm under strategy, systems

October 18th, 2010

Expand, Contract, Experiment, Iterate

Xeni Jardin put up a great slide in a presentation I saw at MIMA, seen at right.

Those four words represent a lot about life, growth, business and strength. Put those four words together and you have a continuous, cyclical process for how to try new things and what to do once you have.

Chris and I have been thinking a lot about this pattern recently for the new stuff we’re writing, so I have my own version of this loop, as follows. I think of it as what happens when a child is learning to walk– after all, that’s the definition of experimentation, balance, and resisting pressures (gravity, etc.). The metaphor is fundamental and can be understood by all.

Step one is to experiment– trying something new. I’ve called this touching the burner because it is a fundamental risky act, but in all aspects of life, the small, easy experiment is what leads to the potential success. Walking eventually becomes a rote activity, but it began as a purposeful attempt at something that was previously impossible.

Practice is what happens after that. This is a combination of our old stuff and new stuff. If we learn to play the piano we are integrating new movements into old movements so they happen without us thinking about them. We increase our range of motion to include the new thing until it becomes an entirely banal part of our behaviour instead of a risky new thing.

Next we go for balance (contraction). When we do this it is an attempt at the new thing becoming a new normal that is more capable than the last. Contraction is a process where we take the new behaviour and take advantage of it, and where we bring ourselves back to a stable state.

Then, finally, it’s about starting again (iterate), trying it again to expand more. This is how we learn to move, or interact with people, or build castles or empires. It’s a fundamental act, and you need to know where you are in the cycle in order to behave properly. Once you do, though, you know which direction to take.

* Filed by Julien at 6:00 am under experiments, systems, taking action

October 1st, 2010

There Are Two Stages

Early on, all your failures will be forgotten. Your wins will not.

In the beginning, small errors will always trump no errors. Since mistakes vanish quickly from everyone’s mind, but breakout successes stay, it seems sound that experiments should always be tried out. When we fail, no biggie, but when we win, it’s remembered. Easy decision.

If I were to engineer an environment in which to have a career, then, it would include anonymity in case of failure, but the ability to out oneself as the creator should an idea take off. This would be a kind of 4chan with the ability to associate yourself with a Facebook/Twitter account afterwards should I want to. This would be the best kind of web, and I hope that’s what it becomes.

Anyway, the best people play in two fields: small underground places where they have shelter from humiliation, and bright places where they can shine when necessary– but that’s not always how things happen.

A band that’s “sold out” due to its popularity (or connection to the zeitgeist) loses the very thing that made them work in the first place– their ability to fail small instead of fail huge. The amplification of that failure throughout all of culture (made worse by social networks, actually) helps push them back down towards obscurity, making them a sort of temporary has-been, before they can rise from their own ashes.

This rise and fall is then cyclical. It is the nature of “packaged media” (TV or blog post) vs linear/continuous media (the news). You aren’t actually as good as your last album. You’re as good as your last remembered album. The difference is significant.

If you are a part of this landscape, either your successes are dragged back down to obscurity, or your failures are put in the spotlight. There is no other option.

Or maybe there is?

* Filed by Julien at 8:30 am under systems

August 25th, 2010

The Myth of Behind

There is no such thing as past failure. There is only now.

As I write this I am on vacation in Paris, eating like crap, writing no blog posts, not working out– generally doing nothing productive at all. Sometimes, it feels awesome to be this way. Other times, it sucks.

As you read this you may not have exercised in weeks. You may have been sitting there with your RSS reader for hours eating donuts just because they’re there. You may be sitting there in a pile of your own garbage for all I know. Either way, the only thing that matters is what happens today.

I am currently behind on my book list by one week, so over the past two days I’ve read 200+ pages. I am behind on blog posts so I’m going to write two instead of just one, and the same tomorrow. You can do the same thing at this very moment instead of focusing on the time you wasted. It would be easy.

Even though I used the word in the last paragraph, there is actually no such thing as “behind.” The past does not exist. It has molded you, but it does not create you. Everything you do now is your choice, and in this moment, you can become someone new, that does something new if you want it.

Since I’m on a trip, I’d like to mention that a trip is one of the best places to do this (it isn’t the only way, but it does work). In a new environment you don’t feel that anyone will judge you, so you can step outside of convention very easily. Once you return from your trip, people will think it’s natural that you’ve changed, since you’ve been away. Take advantage of it.

The problem with thinking that you are behind is that it drags you down to a place where you’re disappointed and don’t want to do anything, pulling you lower and lower until you basically have no choice but to fall asleep or eat a giant cake to feel better.

But you can do better than this. You can act as if you received the project today, as if you were beginning right this instant, and do one easy task related to completing it. This does the opposite to your emotional state (the exact point of this post) and gets you started in a direction where you feel better and are doing more. Getting a pep talk doesn’t really work the same way– nothing does, except making progress.

The mind is like a cage, and the past is a depreciating stock, whose value doesn’t exist anymore, and does nothing but waste whatever opportunity you have today.

The past is gone, so pretend. Act as if it has just reached your desk. That’ll make it happen.

* Filed by Julien at 6:52 am under clear thinking, random, systems