“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck” by Mark Manson

untitledThis book moved me because it addresses many of the issues we all face today, namely distraction and inundation by the “exceptional” things around us. On social media we only post the best parts of our lives, or the parts that we want to highlight. That’s not reality, it’s just what we want others to see. The same thing goes for the media. The headlining stories are not that you woke up, had breakfast, and went to work. They must search for the exceptional in order to grab our attention. The honest truth is that most of us are average and that’s okay. We have a choice about what we care about but the resources we devote to those things are finite.

  1. Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing.
  2. Conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you.
  3. This fixation on the positive—on what’s better, what’s superior—only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be. After all, no truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is.
  4. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more—buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time.
  5. The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.
  6. The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.
  7. If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive. The pain you pursue in the gym results in better all-around health and energy. The failures in business are what lead to a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful. Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.
  8. Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.
  9. Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.
  10. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.
  11. The old saying goes that no matter where you go, there you are. Well, the same is true for adversity and failure. No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.
  12. To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
  13. Today we’re facing a psychological epidemic, one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes.
  14. I see practical enlightenment as becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable—that no matter what you do, life is comprised of failures, loss, regrets, and even death. Because once you become comfortable with all the shit that life throws at you (and it will throw a lot of shit, trust me), you become invincible in a sort of low-level spiritual way. After all, the only way to overcome pain is to first learn how to bear it.
  15. There is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose.
  16. That life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.
  17. Pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them.
  18. We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive.
  19. Pain is what teaches us what to pay attention to when we’re young or careless. It helps show us what’s good for us versus what’s bad for us. It helps us understand and adhere to our own limitations. It teaches us to not fuck around near hot stoves or stick metal objects into electrical sockets. Therefore, it’s not always beneficial to avoid pain and seek pleasure, since pain can, at times, be life-or-death important to our well-being.
  20. “The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.”
  21. “Don’t hope for a life without problems,” the panda said. “There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”
  22. Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress—the solutions to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.
  23. “Hedonic treadmill”: the idea that we’re always working hard to change our life situation, but we actually never feel very different.
  24. Happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.
  25. Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.
  26. The truth is that there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future. Likely people you know too. That doesn’t minimize the problem or mean that it shouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you aren’t legitimately a victim in some circumstances. It just means that you’re not special.
  27. The deluge of exceptional information drives us to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough.
  28. While there is something to be said for “staying on the sunny side of life,” the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.
  29. When we have poor values—that is, poor standards we set for ourselves and others—we are essentially giving fucks about the things that don’t matter, things that in fact make our life worse. But when we choose better values, we are able to divert our fucks to something better—toward things that matter, things that improve the state of our well-being and that generate happiness, pleasure, and success as side effects.
  30. When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
  31. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.
  32. Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making,
  33. Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experiences.
  34. You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else. It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.
  35. Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing is for certain until it has already happened—and even then, it’s still debatable.
  36. There is little that is unique or special about your problems.
  37. Don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator.
  38. Here are some questions that will help you breed a little more uncertainty in your life.
    1. Question #1: What if I’m wrong?
    2. Question #2: What would it mean if I were wrong?
    3. Question #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
  39. As a general rule, we’re all the world’s worst observers of ourselves.
  40. For any change to happen in your life, you must be wrong about something.
  41. Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
  42. Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something.
  43. Dabrowski argued that fear and anxiety and sadness are not necessarily always undesirable or unhelpful states of mind; rather, they are often representative of the necessary pain of psychological growth. And to deny that pain is to deny our own potential. Just as one must suffer physical pain to build stronger bone and muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, a stronger sense of self, increased compassion, and a generally happier life.
  44. From the outside, the answer is simple: just shut up and do it.
  45. Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it.
  46. Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy. Even when you’re farting fairy dust. Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever be afraid of that.
  47. Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.
  48. The thing about motivation is that it’s not only a three-part chain, but an endless loop: Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Etc.
  49. If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.
  50. To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives. The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values.
  51. The difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship comes down to two things: 1) how well each person in the relationship accepts responsibility, and 2) the willingness of each person to both reject and be rejected by their partner.
  52. By “boundaries” I mean the delineation between two people’s responsibilities for their own problems.
  53. People can’t solve your problems for you. And they shouldn’t try, because that won’t make you happy. You can’t solve other people’s problems for them either, because that likewise won’t make them happy. The mark of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each other.
  54. People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can’t determine how other people feel. People with strong boundaries understand that a healthy relationship is not about controlling one another’s emotions, but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems.
  55. It’s not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it’s about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives.
  56. Men stereotypically lie in this situation to make their girlfriends/wives happy. But I don’t. Why? Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love. Fortunately, I’m married to a woman who agrees and is willing to hear my uncensored thoughts. She calls me out on my bullshit too, of course, which is one of the most important traits she offers me as a partner. Sure, my ego gets bruised sometimes, and I bitch and complain and try to argue, but a few hours later I come sulking back and admit that she was right. And holy crap she makes me a better person, even though I hate hearing it at the time.
  57. But more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true. We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists refer to as the paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.
  58. But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime.
  59. Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.
  60. Breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That’s true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle—in everything.
  61. I came to the startling realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason to not do anything; that in the face of the inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fear or embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway; and that by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.
  62. The Denial of Death essentially makes two points: 1.    Humans are unique in that we’re the only animals that can conceptualize and think about ourselves abstractly.
  63. As humans, we’re blessed with the ability to imagine ourselves in hypothetical situations, to contemplate both the past and the future, to imagine other realities or situations where things might be different. And it’s because of this unique mental ability, Becker says, that we all, at some point, become aware of the inevitability of our own death. Because we’re able to conceptualize alternate versions of reality, we are also the only animal capable of imagining a reality without ourselves in it. This realization causes what Becker calls “death terror,” a deep existential anxiety that underlies everything we think or do. Becker’s second point starts with the premise that we essentially have two “selves.” The first self is the physical self—the one that eats, sleeps, snores, and poops. The second self is our conceptual self—our identity, or how we see ourselves.
  64. Becker’s argument is this: We are all aware on some level that our physical self will eventually die, that this death is inevitable, and that its inevitability—on some unconscious level—scares the shit out of us. Therefore, in order to compensate for our fear of the inevitable loss of our physical self, we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. This is why people try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books. It’s why we feel compelled to spend so much time giving ourselves to others, especially to children, in the hopes that our influence—our conceptual self—will last way beyond our physical self. That we will be remembered and revered and idolized long after our physical self ceases to exist. Becker called such efforts our “immortality projects,” projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. All of human civilization, he says, is basically a result of immortality projects: the cities and governments and structures and authorities in place today were all immortality projects of men and women who came before us. They are the remnants of conceptual selves that ceased to die. Names like Jesus, Muhammad, Napoleon, and Shakespeare are just as powerful today as when those men lived, if not more so. And that’s the whole point. Whether it be through mastering an art form, conquering a new land, gaining great riches, or simply having a large and loving family that will live on for generations, all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.
  65. Religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation are the result of people’s immortality projects. Becker argues that wars and revolutions and mass murder occur when one group of people’s immortality projects rub up against another group’s. Centuries of oppression and the bloodshed of millions have been justified as the defense of one group’s immortality project against another’s. But, when our immortality projects fail, when the meaning is lost, when the prospect of our conceptual self outliving our physical self no longer seems possible or likely, death terror—that horrible, depressing anxiety—creeps back into our mind.
  66. Becker later came to a startling realization on his deathbed: that people’s immortality projects were actually the problem, not the solution; that rather than attempting to implement, often through lethal force, their conceptual self across the world, people should question their conceptual self and become more comfortable with the reality of their own death. Becker called this “the bitter antidote,” and struggled with reconciling it himself as he stared down his own demise. While death is bad, it is inevitable. Therefore, we should not avoid this realization, but rather come to terms with it as best we can. Because once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death—the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions—we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.
  67. The Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome implored people to keep death in mind at all times, in order to appreciate life more and remain humble in the face of its adversities. In various forms of Buddhism, the practice of meditation is often taught as a means of preparing oneself for death while still remaining alive. Dissolving one’s ego into an expansive nothingness—achieving the enlightened state of nirvana—is seen as a trial run of letting oneself cross to the other side. Even Mark Twain, that hairy goofball who came in and left on Halley’s Comet, said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
  68. Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy?
  69. Without acknowledging the ever-present gaze of death, the superficial will appear important, and the important will appear superficial. Death is the only thing we can know with any certainty. And as such, it must be the compass by which we orient all of our other values and decisions. It is the correct answer to all of the questions we should ask but never do. The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself; to choose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you. This is the basic root of all happiness.
  70. Whether you’re listening to Aristotle or the psychologists at Harvard or Jesus Christ or the goddamn Beatles, they all say that happiness comes from the same thing: caring about something greater than yourself, believing that you are a contributing component in some much larger entity, that your life is but a mere side process of some great unintelligible production. This feeling is what people go to church for; it’s what they fight in wars for; it’s what they raise families and save pensions and build bridges and invent cell phones for: this fleeting sense of being part of something greater and more unknowable than themselves.
  71. We are so materially well off, yet so psychologically tormented in so many low-level and shallow ways. People relinquish all responsibility, demanding that society cater to their feelings and sensibilities. People hold on to arbitrary certainties and try to enforce them on others, often violently, in the name of some made-up righteous cause. People, high on a sense of false superiority, fall into inaction and lethargy for fear of trying something worthwhile and failing at it.
  72. The pampering of the modern mind has resulted in a population that feels deserving of something without earning that something, a population that feels they have a right to something without sacrificing for it.
  73. Our culture today confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing. But they are not. You are great. Already. Whether you realize it or not. Whether anybody else realizes it or not. And it’s not because you launched an iPhone app, or finished school a year early, or bought yourself a sweet-ass boat. These things do not define greatness. You are already great because in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to.
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“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown: Part Two

Please check out Part One of my excerpts here. This is a powerful book. After completing this book I’ve re-evaluated not just my past decisions but I now view my future decisions in a different light. Anytime I expend resources such as time, money, effort, etc., the decision has to pass the question of whether this is what I want to be doing with my resources at this time. If the answer is “no”, pass. If it’s “yes” continue. In order to do that, you yourself has to decide what those priorities are, distill them down to their essence, and then always have them in mind. At least a short list is easy to remember. If you’re having trouble remembering, you should check out “Make it Stick” or better yet, “Moonwalking with Einstein”, both excellent books about memory.

  1. The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning.
  2. “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” ~Albert Einstein
  3. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. One of the most common ways people—especially ambitious, successful people—damage this asset is through a lack of sleep.
  4. While we sleep our brains are hard at work encoding and restructuring information. Therefore, when we wake up, our brains may have made new neural connections, thereby opening up a broader range of solutions to problems, literally overnight.
  5. The 90 Percent Rule: As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting stuck with the 60s or 70s. Think about how you’d feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life.
  6. Jim Collin’s Good to Great, in which he contends if there’s one thing you are passionate about—and that you can be best at—you should do just that one thing.
  7. You can train leaders on communication and teamwork and conduct 360 degree feedback reports until you are blue in the face, but if a team does not have clarity of goals and roles, problems will fester and multiply.
  8. “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  9. A good film editor makes it hard not to see what’s important because she eliminates everything but the elements that absolutely need to be there.
  10. What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.
    1. “What is getting in the way of achieving what is essential?”
  11. “Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.” ~Doug Firebaugh
  12. Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Why? Because a small, concrete win creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success.
  13. The best place to look is for small changes we could make in the things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition.
  14. A Token System for Raising Children: The children were given ten tokens at the beginning of the week. These could each be traded in for either thirty minutes screen time or fifty cents at the end of the week, adding up to $5 or five hours of screen time a week. If a child read a book for thirty minutes, he or she would earn an additional token, which could also be traded in for screen time or for money. The results were incredible: overnight, screen time went down my 90 percent, reading went up by the same amount, and the overall effort we had to put into policing the system went way, way down.
  15. “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” ~W.H. Auden
  16. Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Without routine, the pull of nonessential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials, we will begin to execute them on autopilot.
  17. It’s natural and human to obsess over past mistakes or feel stress about what may be ahead of us. Yet every second spent worrying about a past or future moment distracts us from what is important in the here and now. The ancient Greeks had two words for time. The first was chronos. The second was kairos. The Greek god Chronos was imagined as an elderly, gray-haired man, and his name connotates the literal ticking clock, the chronological time, the kind we measure (and race about trying to use efficiently). Kairos is different. While it is difficult to translate precisely, it refers to time that is opportune, right, different. Chronos is quantitative; kairos is qualitative. The latter is experienced only when we are fully in the moment—when we exist in the
  18. Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.
  19. It is easy to get caught up in the “paradox of success.” We have clarity of purpose, which leads us to success. But with out success we get new options and opportunities. This sounds like a good thing, but remember, these options unintentionally distract us, tempt us, lure us away. Our clarity becomes clouded, and soon we find ourselves spread too thin. Now, instead of being utilized at our highest level of contribution, we make only a millimeter of progress in a million directions. Ultimately, our success becomes a catalyst for our failure.
  20. When we look back on our careers and our lives, would we rather see a long laundry list of “accomplishments” that don’t really matter or just a few major accomplishments that have real meaning and significance?
  21. The Greeks have a word, metanoia, that refers to a transformation of the heart. We tend to think of transformations as happening only in the mind. But as the proverb goes, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
  22. When other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no. When other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking. When other people are speaking, you will find yourself listening. When other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine.
  23. The first is the exquisitely important role of my family in my life. At the very, very end, everything else will fade into insignificance by comparison. The second is the pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. For me this is not a depressing thought but a thrilling one. It removes fear of choosing the wrong thing. It infuses courage into my bones. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious—and precious is perhaps too insipid of a word—time.
  24. Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown: Part One

This book really made an impact on me. Distilling the minutiae out of our lives and focusing on the few things that are really important can have a tremendous effect on our well-being. We all get caught up in trying to do to much and in doing so, fail to dedicate ourselves to just a few worthy causes, either professionally or personally. I’m personally guilty of that on a daily basis. After reading this book I’ve already noticed daily opportunities to adjust how and where I spend my resources. This has led me to re-evaluate my goals and start to remove the obstacles and distractions impeding me achieving those objectives. Enjoy. If you want something more like this, take a look at “The Signal and the Noise” and how we are inundated by a very noisy world and how it is a struggle to identify the signal amongst that noise.

  1. “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
  2. Instead of spinning his wheels trying to get everything done, he could get the right things done. His newfound commitment to doing only the things that were truly important—and eliminating everything else- restored the quality of his work.
  3. Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
  4. It is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.
  5. If you don’t prioritize you life, someone else will.
  6. The Core Mindset of an Essentialist:
    1. Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our energy and time. Without choice, there is no point in talking about trade-offs.
    2. The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable. This is the justification for taking time to figure out what is most important. Because some things are so much more important, the effort in finding those things is worth it.
    3. The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all. If we could, there would be no reason to evaluate or eliminate options. Once we accept the reality of trade-offs we stop asking, “How can I make it all work?” and start asking the more honest question, “Which problem do I want to solve?”
  7. What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?
  8. There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.”
  9. To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
  10. The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.
  11. When people believe that their efforts at work don’t matter, they tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they check out and stop trying, like the mathematically challenged child. The other response is less obvious at first. They do the opposite. They become hyperactive. They accept every opportunity presented. They throw themselves into every assignment. They tackle every challenge with gusto. They try to do it all. This behavior does not necessarily look like learned helplessness at first glance. After all, isn’t working hard evidence of one’s belief in one’s importance and value? Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don’t believe they have a choice in what opportunity, assignment, or challenge to take on. They believe they “have to do it all.”
  12. “Most of what exists in the universe—our actions, and all other forces, resources, and ideas—has little value and yields little result; on the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.” ~Richard Koch
  13. Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more? Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes? (Yes there is, evidenced by the Laffler curve, explained in great detail in “How Not to Be Wrong”)
  14. The “Pareto Principle”: introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.
  15. “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” ~John Maxwell
  16. A Nonessentialist approaches every trade-off by asking, “How can I do both?” Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating questions, “Which problem do I want?” An Essentialist makes trade-offs deliberately. She acts for herself rather than waiting to be acted upon. As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.”
  17. Imagine a four-burner stove. One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work. In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.
  18. To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.
  19. But by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.
  20. In every set of fact, something essential is hidden. And a good journalist knows that finding it involves exploring those pieces of information and figuring out the relationships between them.
  21. Look for the lead in your day, your week, you life. Small, incremental changes are hard to see in the moment but over time can have a huge cumulative effect.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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“10% Happier” by Dan Harris: Part Three

  1. When you lurch from one thing to the next, constantly scheming, or reacting to incoming fire, the mind gets exhausted. You get sloppy and make bad decisions. I could see how the counterintuitive act of stopping, even for a few seconds, could be a source of strength, not weakness. This was a practical complement to Joseph’s “is this useful?” mantra. It was the opposite of zoning out, it was zoning in.
  2. Studies showed that the best way to engineer an epiphany was to work hard, focus, research, and think about a problem—and then let it go. Do something else. That didn’t necessarily mean meditate, but do something that relaxes and distracts you; let your conscious mind go to work, making connections from disparate parts of the brain. (Lots more on this idea in “Incognito”, “How We Learn”, “Blink” and see it all put together in “Einstein: His Life and Dreams”)
  3. The marines were initially interested in mindfulness because they thought it might help them deal with an epidemic of PTSD, but there was also hope that meditation could produce more effective warriors. The theory was that the practice would make troops less reactive, and therefore less vulnerable to the classic insurgent tactic of provoking the types of disproportionate responses that alienate the civilian population.
  4. The difference with meditation was that if it actually took hold, the impact would go far beyond improving muscle tone or fighting tooth decay. Mindfulness, I had come to believe, could, in fact, change the world.
  5. Practice for development of concern for well-being of others, that actually is immense benefit to oneself.
  6. Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish.
  7. The fact that my days now included long strings of positive interactions made me feel good (not to mention popular). Acknowledging other people’s basic humanity is a remarkably effective way of shooing away the swarm of self-referential thoughts that buzz like gnats around our heads.
  8. The Buddha captured it well when he said that anger, which can be so seductive at first, has “a honeyed tip” but a “poisoned root.”
  9. When you’re mindful, you actually feel irritation more keenly. However, once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you, it’s easier to stop getting carried away.
  10. I had to swallow hard and admit that perhaps the concept of karma did, in fact, have some validity. Not the stuff about how the decisions we make now play out in future lifetime. In my emerging understanding, there was nothing mechanistic or metaphysical about karma. Robbing a bank or cheating at Scrabble would not automatically earn you jail time or rebirth as a Gila monster. Rather, it was simply that actions have immediate consequences in your mind—which cannot be fooled. Behave poorly, and whether you’re fully conscious of it or not, you mind contracts. The great blessing—and, frankly, the great inconvenience—of becoming more mindful and compassionate was that I was infinitely more sensitive to the mental ramifications of even the smallest transgressions, from killing a bug to dropping trash on the street.
  11. “When faced with something like this,” she said, “often it’s not the unknown that scares us, it’s that we think we know what’s going to happen—and that it’s going to be bad. But the truth is, we really don’t know.” The smart play, she said, was to turn the situation to my internal advantage. “Fear of annihilation,” she said, “can lead to great insight, because it reminds us of impermanence and the fact that we are not in control.”
  12. The Sufi Muslims say, “Praise Allah, but also tie your camel to the post.” In other words, it’s good to take a transcendent view of the world, but don’t be a chump.
  13. Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control, if you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can.
  14. The Way of the Worrier:
    1. Don’t be a jerk.
    2. (And/But…) When necessary, Hide the Zen.
    3. Meditate
    4. The Price of Security is Insecurity—Until It’s Not Useful
    5. Equanimity Is Not the Enemy of Creativity
    6. Don’t Force It
    7. Humility Prevents Humiliation
    8. Go Easy with the Internal Cattle Prod
    9. Nonattachment to Results
    10. What Matters Most?
  15. Meditation is the superpower that makes all the other precepts possible. The practice has countless benefits—from better health to increased focus to a deeper sense of calm—but the biggie is the ability to respond instead of react to your impulses and urges. We live our life propelled by desire and aversion. In meditation, instead of succumbing to these deeply rooted habits of mind, you are simply watching what comes up in your head nonjudgmentally.
  16. From a Buddhist monk: “There’s no point in being unhappy about things you can’t change, and no point being unhappy about things you can.
  17. All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.
  18. There are a lot of bad reasons not to meditate. Here are my top three:
    1. “It’s bullshit.” I get it. As you may remember, I used to feel this way, too. But there’s a reason why businesspeople, lawyers, and marines have embraced meditation. There’s no magic or mysticism required—it’s just exercise. If you do the right amount of reps, certain things will happen, reliably and predictably.
    2. “It’s too hard for me.” I call this the “fallacy of uniqueness” argument. Welcome to the human condition. Everybody’s mind is out of control. Even experienced meditators struggle with distraction. Moreover, the idea that meditation requires you to “clear your mind” is a myth.
    3. “I don’t have time.” Everybody has five minutes.
  19. Basic Mindfulness Meditation:
    1. Sit comfortably: You don’t have to twist yourself into a cross-legged position—unless you want to, of course. You can just sit in a chair. Whatever your position, you should keep your spine straight, but don’t strain.
    2. Feel your breath. Pick a spot: nose, belly, or chest. Really try to feel the in-breath and then the out-breath.
    3. This one is the key: Every time you get lost in thought—which you will, thousands of times—gently return to the breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game. “Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.”
  20. Another trick for staying focused is to count your breaths. Start at one, and every time you get lost, start over. When you reach ten—if you ever reach ten—start back at one.
  21. When someone cuts you off in traffic or on line at Starbucks, you automatically think, I’m pissed. Instantaneously, you actually become Mindfulness allows you to slow that process down. Sometimes, of course, you’re right to be pissed. The question is whether you are going to react mindlessly to that anger or respond thoughtfully. Mindfulness provides space between impulse and action, so you’re not a slave to whatever neurotic obsession pops into your head.
  22. Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.
  23. Just because your wife or your kids are driving you nuts does not mean you are a “bad person.” You can’t control what comes up, only how you respond.
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Recap of Words of Advice for New Parents

Thank you to all of the parents, friends, and mentors that shared these words of advice with us before the birth of our first child. I managed to make it through the first year without knowing these sage words existed (I missed the baby shower) but it’s never too late to keep making improvements.

  • “This too will pass… nothing lasts forever… especially all nite ‘ups.’”
  • “Don’t worry about how you raise your children because 10 years from now, it will all be wrong.”
  • “Unconditional love… and understanding.”
  • “Always take time to appreciate the little moments; sometimes they’re the most important.”
  • “You’ll be great. Don’t try to be perfect parents; psych research says you only have to be ‘good enough.’”
  • “Help baby/child build and decorate a tree house. Travel often.”
  • “Be happy! Don’t worry! Life works out!”
  • “Read books with wonderful stories to your child.”
  • “Be good listeners and just love him dearly.”
  • “Be patient. Don’t sweat the small stuff. They grow up quick.”
  • “Always let him eat some of your raw chocolate chip cookie dough… salmonella be damned!”
  • “Learn to pick your battles; let the small stuff slide.”
  • “Good sense, love, and patience always work well. If you don’t know how to handle a situation, talk to your mother!”
  • “Always follow your own gut; no one will know your kids better than you!”
  • “For disputes between your kids: Never decide who is right or wrong. Always send them to a room and they will settle it, or assume they are both wrong.”
  • “After the middle of the night nursing, the father is in charge of the baby.”
  • “When people ask if your child sleeps through the night, just lie and say yes. It saves you all the extra sleep advice.”
  • “Make sure you enjoy him while he is little. He will grow up too fast.”
  • “Enjoy every minute of the baby’s childhood because they grow up too fast. When they’re little, they think you’re the center of the universe. As they grow older you’re always wrong.”
  • “The hardest job you’ll ever love! And it’s true. You’ll feel like your life will never be your own again… and it won’t, but it will be a new and rewarding life.”
  • “When your child is too quiet, double-check they are still in their room.”
  • “Never wake a sleeping baby.”
  • “Make sure you still make time for yourself and for your spouse after the baby arrives.”
  • “It doesn’t matter if your house is a mess and the dishes aren’t done, just have fun.”
  • “Sometimes you need to save your sanity; if the child will not stop crying, sometimes you need to put them in the crib and walk away.”
  • “Grab ‘quiet moments’ whenever and wherever you can.”
  • “Keep a bottle of wine or vodka on the chill. A relaxed parent is always a happy parent. ‘No’ is a good word to use frequently.”
  • “Cultivate an early love for reading; make books part of your everyday routine. Read chapter books aloud in addition to children’s books. Make weekly trips to the library as a fun, family affair.”
  • “The baby will arrive little, naked, and without instructions. Don’t worry though because you will be given lots of advice from family and friends. Just thank them, remember the helpful bits, and let the rest go. Enjoy your little gift from God and don’t worry too much about how you raise your baby. In ten years it will all be wrong.”
  • “Be there. Above and beyond everything else! Love and enjoy your most wonderful, interesting, and fascinating child.”
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“Do Less, Get More” by Shaa Wasmund

  1. When we take a closer look we begin to see and understand the true consequences of our constant ‘busyness’. Are we genuinely enjoying our lives, doing what we love and being with the people who matter? Or are we rushing from one task to the next, trying to be all things to all people, and not feeling like we have the time or energy to give anything or anyone the attention they deserve?
  2. Most people seem to believe they need to do more, when they just need to do what matters.
  3. Our happiest times are when our lives are simplest, and the pressures of expectation from work and family commitments are at their lowest. That leaves forty years in between—the period when we are considered to be in our mental and physical prime, but during which too many of us settle for being ‘crazy busy’ and just moderately happy.
  4. Don’t dismiss ideas because they seem to simple; that’s exactly why they will work.
  5. I used to think that ‘mindfulness’ was something people used as an excuse to be lazy until I realized that appearing productive—filling every moment of the day with tasks and activities—is not the same as being ‘Presenteeism’ isn’t the same as being present and fully focused.
  6. What can you say no to more often, so that you have more time to say yes to the things that matter?
  7. The truth is that we can’t ever be 100 percent ready. The perfect conditions don’t exist and we can’t control the outcome: we can only control our intentions and our efforts.
  8. “The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” ~Socrates
  9. If you really want to do something, don’t give yourself any alternative. If life depends on it, Plan A has to work. You might need to tweak or pivot, but stay in the game.
  10. The key to making decisions is not to hold on too tightly once they’ve been made.
  11. You can’t be in control of everything, but you can choose what’s important to you.
  12. “Three Rules of Work: out of clutter find simplicity; from discord find harmony; in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” ~Albert Einstein
  13. If you want to use your time better—to be more fulfilled, more productive, connected—then you need to work out the value of your time and how you are spending it.
  14. Learning how to schedule your life around the people and things that have true value is one of the most important changes you can make.
  15. Too many meetings are a waste of time. We sit through an hour of people justifying why things haven’t got done, or talking about things that aren’t really relevant to you. We convince ourselves they are an invaluable way for everyone to catch up, and yet we already know most things on the agenda from talking to colleagues across our desks or over a cup of coffee.
  16. How to make a tough call:
    1. What do your instincts tell you?
    2. Are you still motivated?
    3. Are you happy?
    4. Are you moving forward or treading water?
    5. Is your effort getting you anywhere?
    6. Why are you doing it?
    7. Is it useful?
    8. Are you adding value?
    9. Could there be an easier way?
    10. Could you enlist the help of others?
    11. If you weren’t dong this, what would you be doing?
  17. Nothing in life is black and white, completely right or wrong; once you have a plan, don’t hold on to it too tightly.
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“Train Your Brain to Get Rich” by Teresa Aubele

  1. You can’t know what form of wealth you want until you know what you want.
  2. Your brain is a whiz at certain things: recognizing simple patterns or generating emotional responses in nanoseconds but lags behind on other tasks: recognizing and evaluating long-term financial or business trends, recognizing when patterns are truly random, or focusing on many things at one time.
  3. Psychologists and researchers have consistently proven that being positively energized (happy) leads to better performance, increased creativity, self-confidence, energy, and brainpower.
  4. When your brain is feeling optimistic and energized, it will function far more effectively than when you are feeling negative or depressed.
  5. Three of the more well-known neuromodulators are dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Dopamine and serotonin, in particular, are known to be key neurotransmitters in the regulation of pleasure, happiness, rewarding situations, and mood. Acetylcholine in the brain has been shown to be important in shifting from sleep to wakefulness and helps in sustaining attention and forming memories, especially in the hippocampus.
  6. What you think, do, and say matters—and that it affects who you become on the outside, on the inside, and in your brain.
  7. If you routinely dwell on your past financial failures, unsuccessful ventures, lack of self-confidence, feelings of insecurity, and other negative patterns, the neurons involved in that particular mental activity will fire busily at the same time and automatically start wiring together as well. This process will add one more bit of neural structure to feeling uninspired, lazy, or inadequate.
  8. Our anticipation circuitry forces us to pay attention to the possibility of incoming rewards, but also leads us to expect that our future will feel better than it actually does when it finally occurs, which creates an emotional vacuum and explains why money does not really buy happiness.
  9. Your brain interprets the world through three basic patterns of thinking: automatic thoughts, assumptions, and core beliefs.
  10. Mindfulness—focusing on what is happening in the present rather than what happened or might happen—is a useful tool for replacing negative automatic thoughts with more positive ones.
  11. Core beliefs wire your brain to respond to new experiences in the same old way—and often it happens so quickly that you don’t question it—unless and until something goes terribly wrong in your life, or you have an experience that calls your core beliefs into question.
  12. Optimists attribute good events to themselves in terms of permanence, citing their traits and abilities as the cause, and bad events as transient (using terms such as “sometime” or “lately” to describe negative events.)
  13. Identifying problems, taking actions to correct them, and identifying the rewards that comes from the actions turns negatives into positives and engage your left prefrontal cortex (PFC), quieting the parts of your brain that heighten fear and negativity.
  14. Loosen up on being judgmental—of yourself and others.
  15. Success usually results from digging deep within yourself to identify what matters most to you, what you want to do with this precious life you have been given, and how much time and energy you are willing to invest to make your dreams come true.
  16. Having a clear, well-defined intention adds tremendous heft to purpose, meaning, and motivation.
  17. Emotions and motivation lead to intention and intention precedes action. Nothing happens without intention. All things are first created in the mind and then created in the environment.
  18. The wealthiest people are those who know themselves and their values very well and who feel fulfilled in their work.
  19. Bad news makes you hypersensitive to anything that even reminds you of risk, even if the risk is nonsensical or remote.
  20. What you focus on becomes what your brain focuses on. You can train your brain to think creatively, expand, and grow, or you can train it to be focused on fear and avoiding risk, which is likely to lead to lost opportunities and stagnation.
  21. To make smart financial decisions, you want to use your reflective brain to counteract emotional rushes to judgment incited by oversimplified instinctual responses.
  22. Use these questions to engage your reflective brain:
    1. Do I understand this type of business and its particular challenges and opportunities?
    2. Would I want to own this type of business?
    3. How does it measure up to other companies in its field?
    4. How strong are its competitors?
    5. What are its strengths… and its weaknesses?
    6. Does it have opportunities for growth and expansion?
    7. Are there negative business trends likely to affect this company?
    8. Have I read and understood the financial statements, including what isn’t directly stated?
    9. Are its goals and values in alignment with mine?
    10. How much do I know about the CEO or financial manager?
  23. The truth is that your brain simply cannot focus on more than one task at a time. When you ask it to do so, it doesn’t. it switches off between tasks.
  24. Urgency Effect: paying a lot of attention to the most recent information, and discounting what came earlier. Your brain leans to overvaluing immediacy and quantity of thought more than quality of thought.
  25. Learning to harness the idea of mindfulness—that is, living in the present moment—will help you filter out streams of thought in your brain that have nothing to do with the situation at hand and dedicate your brain space to the “here and now.”
  26. Allow thoughts to come and go, without allowing your mind to latch onto one or the other and lapse into your usual obsessive or reactive tendencies.
  27. Instead of experiencing events with an open mind, people tend to react to them in a habitual way of perceiving and responding, especially if a new event is similar to an event previously experienced. In other words, how you felt about the original event affects how you think about, experience, and react to similar events—or events that feel similar.
  28. Surrender judgment. The goal in mindfulness meditation is to refrain from labeling thoughts, feelings, or sensations as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, but only to take note of the reality of what is. A nonjudgmental attitude helps you objectively observe your though processes and emotions.
  29. Surrender striving. Striving involves being focused on the need to get or be anywhere other than where you are. Mindfulness is all about being very much in the present. Right here, right now.
  30. Living mindfully involves paying attention to everything that happens within your body and around you in the present moment—without judgment.
  31. The point of meditation is not to stop you from having an emotional response to what’s happening in your life, but to avoid responding purely out of habit.
  32. Know which activities energize and motivate your brain—and which activities put your brain to sleep or, even worse damage it.
  33. Avoid toxic environments, whether it’s the people you hang out with or your workplace.
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