Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
It started as we all must: pretty poor. Just a cluster of farmer’s huts dotted across the hillside.
It’s not like anyone can just pick up a guitar and start playing it. Or read. Or walk.
Even simple things that we assume we can all do – like a star jump – don’t come naturally to the human body. We just forget how much effort we spent learning them. And often, how much help we had getting there.
There is nothing in this world worth doing that doesn’t take some practice. Nothing in this world worth having that won’t cost us some time in one way or another.
The best chance we can give ourselves is to start poorly and keep on plugging away until we fail better.
Or at least until we’re finished for the day.
Big brains must give off more electromagnetic energy or something.
Occasionally, we’ll meet a person whose brain is so chock full that it leaks out of their ears into everyone around them.
It might be new information. Sometimes it’s just a different way of looking at things. And just listening to them talk is a learning experience.
That’s why James Altucher says we should try to be the stupidest person in the room.
The best way to fill our brains is to fill our lives with wonderful, colourful, big leaky brains of all types.
And let our brains soak up all that juicy knowledge.
Isn’t it terrifying that you know you could do it if you really wanted?
Deep down, we all know that if we put in the work — just that little bit every day for a long while — then whatever it is that we dream of would actually happen.
It’ll never look exactly how we imagine, of course. But often, it’s always worth the journey.
That’s the real reason behind every act of self-sabotage in my life.
It wasn’t the fear of failure. It was the fear that it might actually work, and then I’d have to actually do the work, and real people might actually hold me accountable for it.
All of that is rubbish. Ancient fear. It takes years of practice before we’re good enough to decide if we want to carry on doing it anyway.
Just pick something and stick with it for five years. No big deal.
The worst that can happen is you get better at it than most people.
And the best?
Well, I don’t think I need to tell you.
The easiest way to make progress is to make progress as easy as possible.
Mastering a skill is about being so terrible at it we have to practice the easiest part a hundred times just to get started.
Think how long it took to learn to walk. It takes at least three years before we can do it without looking stupid.
The ‘secret to success’ is being able to put up with the boredom of being crap — and falling on our arse several hundred times.
Break down the hard parts into their easiest possible component and then do that until it’s so easy you’re bored to death.
Forget walking. Focus on figuring out how to stand without holding on to something, and you’ll be running in no time.
Let’s not forget the basics.
We can read about how to do it better.
We can watch videos of others doing it.
We can talk about why it is.
We can dream of how it could be different.
But there really ain’t nothing like living life.
A cheap way to learn something about ourselves is by using a calendar.
Once we have to commit to a specific time on a particular day, it’s suddenly very obvious when we don’t want to do something; when it isn’t a priority.
That goes for whether we ought to be doing it or not.
Calendars, agendas, and schedulers aren’t just to write down what we think we want to do.
They can tell us how much we want to do it, too.
One blustery British morning, my father and I stood on a damp, pebbled beach, talking about why people can’t swim.
“People can only imagine to the extent of their experience,” Dad said. “Kids that never see the sea rarely grow up to be Olympic swimmers.”
Another great man, Oliver W. Holmes Jr., said something similar:
“Every now and then, a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.”
Since then, we’ve discovered this also happens to women.
Just like we have to do a little rolling around on the floor and stretching to stay mobile, it’s important to stretch our minds regularly.
Books are a great way to do this because they take our minds to places we can’t go and people we’ll never meet.
Trying something new is an excellent way to stretch the mind.
Going someplace new is another fantastic option, especially if there are weird new people there.
Stretch your mind a little every day, and you’ll be able to fold it into all sorts of impressive shapes.
And that’s hot AF.
You can tell a lot about a person by how often they ask, “Why?”
Kids do it naturally; older people less so.
If you want to find out a lot about someone, ask them “Why?” a few times. You never really get to the juicy bits until you ask six or seven times.
School and work teach us that there’s only one right answer — even though that’s rubbish — and so most people stop being so curious as they grow.
Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” People found him interesting because he was interested.
There is limitless depth and complexity to our world, and it’s constantly changing. And there is no ‘knowing’ why, not really. Ask any quantum physicist.
The fun part — and the important part too — is to keep asking Why.
You never know what you might find, but you can bet it’ll be interesting.
Life’s great lessons have always been taught to music.
Sometimes these lessons are obvious. But often, they’re hidden deep in the third act or the bridge, where they leap out and smack you round the back of the head to make sure you’re still listening.
In The Music Man, it’s this:
“Pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.
Don’t delay the chance to make a little bit of progress towards your goal, however small it may seem.
It doesn’t have to be full. Just don’t leave it empty.
If you put in just a little bit today, you’ll end up with a very full tomorrow.
We get all sorts of nonsense stuck in our heads that stops us from getting what we want.
One particularly nasty one that trips people up — especially when starting something new — is thinking that they’re too bad to start.
But as my incredibly wise running coach says, “You’re never too bad to start getting better.”
No matter how bad we think we are at something. No matter how unfit or unhappy or unskilled or unmotivated we feel.
We’re never too bad to start getting better.
And starting is half the battle.
Circles are proof we don’t know anything.
We live such vibrant and data-filled lives that it’s easy to think everything has already been invented or danced or sung or written or painted.
Nothing is original and everything has been found. And there’s nothing left for you to discover or create for the world.
Fortunately, that’s just not true.
The truth is that we make a lot of noise about what we think we know, but ask any math professor what (π) is they’ll only be able to give you an approximation.
It’s a very accurate and useful approximation but it’s still an approximation.
A computer hasn’t figured it out yet after three months of trying.
That doesn’t mean it’s worthless — it’s accurate enough that we can send rockets to the moon and make incredibly well-rounded balls and engines that fit together oh-so-beautifully.
But that trillionth of a trillionth place is still unknown. (π) is still represents an anomaly. It’s just a letter we use to describe something we don’t understand or haven’t met yet. Something we don’t understand.
Don’t let anyone tell you there’s nothing left to do or find or make.
We haven’t even started.
When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper, Dad would often pop his head into whatever bubble I was in at the time and spin a battered and yellowing paperback onto my lap.
“Here, read that. You’ll like it,” he would say.
Then he’d wander off to build a homeless shelter or a school or a choir or whatever else he was crafting for the world at the time.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realize that he was crafting me too.
Those books prepared me for things I would encounter later in life that there are no lessons for; love, drugs, adventure, luck, betrayal, and death.
Those ageing and comically-fronted tomes of pulp fiction changed the way I thought about the world.
They opened my eyes to the possibilities and the madness and the complex, crushing beauty of it all.
And I wouldn’t be me without them.
People who are right a lot all do the same thing.
First, people who are right a lot listen a lot. They often read but they all know how to really listen.
They also change their mind a lot.
Most people spend a lot of time trying to back-up their beliefs.
But people who are right a lot change their minds a lot because they’re always looking to prove themselves wrong.
In other words: people who are right a lot work very hard not to be.
It’s impossible to ignore the rise of robots.
They’ve gone from ‘awkward factory joke’ to ‘overlords-in-training’ in a handful of years. And it turns out the breakthrough was teaching them how to make mistakes.
Our brains learn through trial and error. For many years, when a robot produced an error it would simply stop, shake, make weird noises, give up, and perhaps leak a little fluid — like many people.
Teaching robots how to accept and learn from errors instead of grinding to a halt completely changed the game. It even makes them more likable.
And robots are happy to make 1,000 mistakes an hour because they don’t have egos (yet), so you can bet they’re learning fast. Really fast. Here they are, practicing a dance to celebrate their global takeover.
It would be deeply ironic if we wiped ourselves out by teaching robots to do the very thing we haven’t yet mastered: learning from our mistakes.
Words are incredibly powerful.
These little sounds and symbols are programming for humans. Without them, our world falls apart.
Some words are so powerful they stick in our brains — ringing in our ears — and changing us forever. It becomes true.
The words we use to talk about ourselves are the most powerful because we listen to them all the time; they work a rut in our brain that’s hard to escape.
We never know when something we say will strike a chord and change behaviour — including our own.
That’s why we have to be so careful with what we think and say. And if we want to do something, we write it down.
Listen to the words ringing in your ears and ask if they’re in harmony with your goals.
If not, start to change their tune.
There’s lots of advice out there these days, so it’s tough to hear the wisdom in the noise. But sometimes, you hear something that rings so loudly with Truth that it’s hard to ignore.
Whether they’re his or not doesn’t matter, because when the compelling Chris Voss uttered his ‘three truths of life’ they hit home:
Be curious because you’ll learn more.
Be nicer because you’ll get wounded less.
Be grateful because you’ll recover faster.
Any one of these alone will put you in a mindset where you’ll achieve more than you ever thought possible.
It’s hard to argue with that!
When we were children, we learnt to play the tin whistle.
It’s a shrill little instrument that probably blew out the eardrums of anyone who heard us practicing.
Years later, whenever I left to go travelling or university or to move country, my mother would thrust this cold little tube into my hand and say, “Take it with you — you never know when it might come in handy.”
I never took the whistle, but I took the idea to heart. Knowing that whatever happened, I’d be able to earn myself a meal by practicing in public.
It took me a while to work up the courage, though!
You never know when something silly might become useful later, when it merges with something else and that opens up the world.
You won’t remember being a loud and smelly and unbearably cute baby.
It’s hard even to imagine that once, all those years ago, you were tiny and helpless and literally couldn’t even wipe your own ass.
But look at everything you’ve mastered since then!
Every single skill you have today was once unknown to you.
And now you’re so good at most things that you don’t even have to think about it.
That’s not a fluke or an accident.
Your brain is a learning machine, and you’re doing a damn good job of using it.
Just keep on feeding it something new every day.