Who said that?

Hearing voices in your head isn’t crazy. It’s just human.

I hope.

Various clever people have tried to give each of them names.

You’ve probably heard about the one called the “ego.”

There’s one that I call Eeyore.

There’s one that doesn’t speak. It only shouts.

There’s one that doesn’t speak and only acts. None of the others like that one.

There are probably a few more in there that I’m missing, friends and family and lovers and enemies and memories.

They make a babbling mess that rarely quiets.

All sorts of things will bubble up from the cacophony of consciousness; some of them almost certainly come from outside.

A lot of them surprise. Some of them worry.

When one gets particularly loud or suggests something particularly nasty, there’s a little trick to shut them up.

We can ask, “Who said that?”

That usually quietens the party for a moment; reminds them of who gets to choose what gets heard.

You — the listener.

Easier Later

Recently, I experienced some nerve damage that threatened my livelihood.

A trifling thing like a tingly pinky finger may not seem much of a threat; to a writer, it was existential.

Bad typing habits and slouching over a desk for ten hours a day for seven years had taken their toll.

The left hand was colder; the left side of it numb. Every time my pinky rapped against the keys, jangling pins and needles would fizzle up to my elbow.

It was clear that unless something changed, this problem was only going to get worse.

Not writing wasn’t an option. That would mean Death.

The only thing to do was to learn how to write. Again.

The first week of writing with a new keyboard layout was painfully slow. The second was pretty rough too.

Going from typing as fast as you can think to 15 words a minute is like running backward on one leg.

But it got easier, as all trials do.

And that suffering now will make it easier later too — hopefully, until all my bones grind to a halt.

Dead Calm

Even longer ago than you realize, a death squad boarded a helicopter fleet under cover of darkness.

The team of 79 commandos (and a very good boy) had a simple task: assassinate the leader of a covert Pakistan Army unit. You probably knew him as Osama bin-Laden.

The flight would take over an hour and a half, and there was little the soldiers could be certain of except that death was waiting for them at the end, likely in the form of a hail of rusty nails.

Yet, many of these battle-hardened marines did what any good soldier does when given a moment to sit; they fell asleep.

For those of us who struggle to sleep on a transatlantic flight, catching forty-winks in a tank hurtling 2,000 ft over the desert towards certain death sounds impossible.

But the US Marines have a secret weapon that allows them to relax in the middle of a suicide mission.

It’s called Yoga Nidra.

And every marine learns it right after they learn how to meditate because control of our mind and body is the single greatest weapon we can arm ourselves with.

Try it

The first time they suggested it to me, I nearly threw up in my mouth.

Surely, people don’t do that? Are they crazy? Is it even safe?

But then my curiosity got the better of me.

Can’t knock it till you tried it, I always say.

So the very next morning, I set about my experiment.

It was easier than I expected.

The egg whites slipped out of their jumbo-sized carton with a satisfyingly gross glug.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 egg whites.

It only took a handful of seconds to blend in the hydrolyzed vegetable powder, and there before me was a pale mint-green milkshake, crowned with a forest of happy little bubbles.

I shit you not — it tasted like a milkshake.

Trying things we think we won’t like is a great way to discover something we love.

NPC

We live in an endless arcade.

You can tell when you’re in a game because it has rules.

The game of being a citizen or the game of being an employee or the game of driving.

Most of the games we play overlap but the rules are different depending on who is playing.

The prizes vary wildly — anything we can think of — as do the forfeits for losing.

The rules of some games involve breaking the rules of others. Often there aren’t any rules but those we decide with the people we’re playing with.

There are so many exciting and engrossing games to play that it takes no effort to get lost in one for weeks or even years. Long enough to forget that it isn’t our game.

It’s worth stopping to ask every so often,
“Whose game am I playing?”

If we’re playing someone else’s game, it’s not a game we can win.

Nobody in this life is an NPC.

It’s your game, so play it any way you like.

Bad Plan

The best plan of action is rarely the most attractive.

Change rarely looks the way we think it will when we start looking for it.

It might even look exactly the opposite of what we want to do. Mostly, change just looks very different from what we expect.

When the plan we get doesn’t look how we want or expect it to, that’s probably a sign it will work — and bring the change we seek.

For best results, execute the plan you least want to.

Marginal Error

It has never been easier to become a billionaire.

You don’t even need a profitable company these days.

If you’re really charismatic, you don’t even need a working product. Just a cool video and a blaze of content marketing.

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of publicly traded companies that have never turned a profit. Never. They are losing billions and nobody seems to mind.

No doubt, companies like Uber are building the next generation of infrastructure and paying for the privilege. Networks are one of our superpowers and worth investing in.

But most of these spiffy startups are not doing anything new. The direct-to-consumer model existed long before the internet. 

They are solving the same old problems we have always had but in new ways, and a new story behind it. 

And that is all you have to do too.

Eat a Toad

Mark Twain was a smart chap and a great storyteller, but he didn’t say this:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you all day.”

The idea is sound.

Completing the most challenging or least enjoyable tasks first greases the wheels of the day. Everything goes a little smoother afterwards.

It’s such a sound idea that OG business coach Brian Tracey wrote a whole book about it.

It’s why Admiral McCraven tells us to make our beds in the morning and why drinking a glass of water first thing can change our lives.

Writing this note to you is often the hardest part of my day.

But here’s my favourite part about this expression.

When M. de Lassey said it, he said it about Napoleon and his cronies, and it originally went something along the lines of:

“If you have to spend the day in court, eat a toad first so that nothing more disgusting happens to you all day.”

Uncovered

There are some secrets to happiness that stand the test of time.

The most important one is not to go looking for happiness.

We can never be satisfied with anything that must be pursued because even if we catch it, we will always need to chase down more of it, given time.

If we chase happiness — hedonistic or wholesome — it won’t be long before we’re itching for more.

Happiness isn’t caught.

Happiness sidles up to you at a party and pinches your bum.

Happiness slips into bed for a quick early morning cuddle.

And happiness puts wings on your ankles halfway through an evening jog.

Happiness smells like coffee and feels like sunshine, and sounds like a beach, and if you can imagine any of that right now, you already know how to uncover that “happiness” within you anytime you want.

There’s no need to go searching for happiness because it can be found anywhere we look.

Sunken Costs

There are two ways sunken costs can trick us.

The first is believing that because we’ve already bought something — invested time or money into it — that we must use it to get our money’s worth.

That’s not to say we should be wasteful, but it does mean that we have to drink the rest of the bottle.

The second way they get us is when we think that we’ve put in enough.

We think that we’ve invested enough to be sure that another minute won’t achieve anything.

Often, that’s the moment when a little extra push would bring success.

Sunken costs hurt us both ways. There’s no way to tell the difference.

The best we can do for ourselves is ignore them altogether.

Because as much as we like to draw lines between the past and present, the only connection they have to the future is the one we choose to make right now.

Hot Air

If you are ever uncertain of your ability to change the world, know this:

Some people believe they can survive from sunlight and air alone.

A Flat Earth is one thing, but Breatharianism is another thing entirely.

You would think the evidence is pretty sound on the whole sustenance thing. You know, from millennia of struggling to survive.

Nevertheless, some people believe that they can get by on sunlight and atmospheric absorption, or some such guff.

At least, that’s what they tell people.

That means every time they eat or drink — and they do — they are then able to convince themselves that it didn’t happen.

Some people’s ability to delude themselves was so strong it killed them.

That is why arguing with people on the internet is a waste of time.

People don’t believe facts. They believe stories. That leaves pretty much everything up for debate — a debate that nobody ever wins.

Even if we’re going to argue about what we eat, you would think we could all agree that eating some food is necessary.

I guess that’s humans for you.

Limitlessly, psychotically creative

Day One

Day One is full of excitement and anticipation.

The vision is strong.

The path for the day is short and straight, or at least it appears to be from where we’re standing.

Bursting with energy and promise, we stride out into the unknown: we invent; we create; we conquer.

As we get older and learn how to tread our path, we often start to coast, to relax. We take our eyes off the road.

We let ourselves get bored.

The risk then is that we just fade away.

The best way to tackle day 303 or day 3,003 on our adventure is to approach it as if it were Day One.

Accelerating into our future selves — naive and eager and ambitious — starting all the way to the end.

Look Alive

Most people don’t realize how easily they can change reality.

It’s not that it changes the world materially. It just chooses different materials to make the world.

Our brains are wired to look for things we want to see, whether we’re consciously looking or not.

If bananas are keeping you alive, it pays to be able to spot as many of them as possible, even when you’re not paying attention. The same goes for tigers.

That’s why you always notice more of the car model you’re driving, and ants always all appear at the same time.

If we believe the world is dangerous, then it will become more dangerous.

If we are looking for reasons to be happy, we will find many more of them.

There are too many good reasons to be alive once you start looking.

Sometimes we have to go away and look somewhere else to see what was there all along.

Lie in

Everybody likes a lie-in until it ruins the day.

Dragging ourselves out of bed five minutes before work is an easy way to mess up any plan.

Once the emails start pinging, and our colleagues start singing, there are often very few moments left to do anything for ourselves.

Those precious moments of slumber before we lose the day to the world are some of the most deceptive.

That’s why they call it a lie-in.

Spread snoring across the linen might feel like winning.

But everybody knows that when you snooze, you lose.

Right Here

You’ve got it all right here.

Everything you need.

Anything you ever wanted.

Even things you can’t imagine right now are yours, should you choose to take them.

It all lies within you. 

All you have to do is decide what you want.

And take a little bit of it every day.

Shoot

We saw it a lot last month, those golden moments of failure.

Athletes who tried their best and didn’t perform as they or we expected.

We saw many Olympians who spent the last four years or more preparing for that moment and found themselves wanting on the day, for whatever reason. That’s the way it goes.

On my bad days or weeks, it’s often a struggle to get out of bed, let alone perform on the world stage. But on their bad days, they still show up.

They shoot their shot anyway, knowing it will fall short. Accepting that this time, it’s just one more leg in their journey to the top of the podium.

And then they get up tomorrow and do it again.

If Only

If only things were different,

I wouldn’t have to be the same.

I could be tall or short or fat,

Or get paid for playing a game.

If only things had been different,

If I’d done that instead of this,

I’d probably be sat on a beach right now,

Immersed in perpetual bliss.

If only things had been different,

If I had been there or then,

I could’ve been stupidly rich and cool,

But then I wouldn’t get to be Ben.

Personal Insult

Not many people want to hear this:

If you’re insulted by something, it’s your fault.

This is my favourite of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements because it’s so hard to agree with, and to put into practice fully.

How can it be our fault if we get insulted by someone who is screaming at us or calling us names?

The idea is that we always have a choice; we are the ones who allow words to carry weight, whether we’re conscious of it or not. And of course, often what people are angry about has very little to do with us or what just happened.

It’s one thing to know that it’s not our fault when someone is angry at us. But it’s far harder to remember that when we’re mad at someone else, that’s on us.

Much easier said than done!

Start poorly

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.

Lift the Lid

Back in the rectum of history, some boys in white coats stuffed a few hundred fleas into a mason jar.

I don’t know where they got the fleas and how they got them into the jar, but it’s probably safe to say there was a lot of cursing and itching.

Once the fleas were in the jar, they kept trying to jump out and hitting their heads against the lid. Eventually, they gave up.

When the researchers took the lid off, the fleas still didn’t try to jump out because they thought it was still there.

There are many other examples of this trainable aspect of nature, in humans too.

But the magic we humans have is the power to think again and un-break ourselves. We can always try another way. We can keep jumping now and then to be sure the lid is still there.

We can resist any training, but we often fail to recognize the psychological bonds we have wrapped around ourselves.

A kaizen mindset means that we always assume the way we’re doing things wrong in some way.

When we learn to challenge our beliefs regularly, we can even distort time.

In Your Stride

We’re not all in the same race.

Some of us aren’t even running in the same direction.

So, there’s no point judging our pace by looking at other people.

When a wall or a river crosses the path, we all tackle them in our own way. Some people are better swimmers, while others can race up a wall like a gecko. Others are swimming upstream.

When an obstacle crops up, the best we can do is tackle it on our own terms, at our own pace. Trying to match pace with someone in a different race or different strides will only tire us out.

We can give help and get help, but taking it in our own stride also means realizing that other people aren’t obliged to help us either.

It’s your race when you take everything in your stride.

And running your own race is the only way to win.

Do it

Do it because you’re happy.

Do it because you’re sad.

Do it just because it feels good.

Or do it because it feels bad.

Do it because it’s easy.

Do it because it’s tough.

Do it because it fills up your cup.

And don’t stop till you’ve had enough.

Do it every morning.

Do it whenever you feel.

Do it just because you only live once.

Do it till it’s lost all appeal.

That’s Not Me

The most dangerous ideas we have are the ones we use to limit ourselves.

Interestingly, we base many of those on our ideas about other people.

It could be things like “boys like cars” or “girls like dolls” or “salespeople are extroverts” or “running is hard” or “they’re better than me.”

Our identity is as much defined by the things we think we aren’t as by what we think we are. To misquote Seth Godin, “people like me can’t do things like that.”

Fortunately, there are millions of people out there that are just itching to prove us wrong. People who are doing things we think we can’t do but who look suspiciously like us.

There are few things better than having a conversation with someone you admire and respect deeply and realizing that you’re not so different.

Because that’s when “that’s not me” turns into “that could be me.”

And another door opens.

Eye Believe

The human eye is a remarkably poor tool for observing the world.

We can look but often do not see. And seeing certainly doesn’t result in believing.

We can focus with great skill but at the risk of blinkering ourselves.

Best of all, we can hold such a strong belief in our brains that it determines what we see and what we focus on — what’s real.

It’s funny how easy it is to ignore what’s right in front of us — and terrifying how we can focus on what isn’t there at all.

Seeing is rarely believing.

But when we really believe in something, that’s all we can see.

Irritant

Some people just love to crawl under your skin.

It’s one thing when they do it by accident. But some people definitely seek to irritate.

Getting under someone’s skin is a great way to get their attention – it’s not the sort of thing you can ignore.

One way not to be irked, not to fall into their twisted embrace, is to stop and ask: why does that irritate me?

The list might be longer than we think.

But the interesting part is that it rarely contains much about them.

 

Hormonal Sapiens

We place so much attention on our sapient side that we often overlook the real driving force: hormones.

It’s nice to feel like we’re in control of our thoughts and actions until we wake up one morning with our hormones out of whack and nothing really matters anymore.

The truth is that on some days, the quest for improvement, kaizen, career, dreams or self-actualization — whatever we call it — is mostly just a fight to control our hormones.

Figuring out what we can do to rebalance them when they get messed up. Uncovering what messes them up in the first place.

Learning how to talk down that ancient, anxious Ape inside. How to hype them up. Cheer them up. Give them a reason not to fling shit at the wall.

And that usually means getting out for some exercise, eating something healthy, and going to bed a little bit earlier. And laying off the fermented fruit for a bit.

But some days, Chimp just doesn’t want to be good. 

 

Second at Best

Sometimes all it takes is a word and we feel out of place.

It casts such a long shadow of doubt over our plans that we decide to rearrange them completely.

We abandon our race.

But there’s a difference between listening to a coach’s advice and running someone else’s race. And the best coaches will tell you to always run your own race no matter what.

Even Usain Bolt can’t tell you how to run your race.

So what if someone thinks you’re going too slow or even in the wrong direction.

The best we’ll ever do when we run someone else’s race is silver.

We might not always win when we run our own race.

But we always have a chance.

 

Damp Days

Perhaps it’s 15 years of school summer holidays drilled into my biological clock.

Maybe it’s 25 years living on a wet, windswept island off the coast of Europe. Or the ice-walled winter that keeps Canada locked inside for six months of the year.

Whatever the reason, it’s tough to work when the sun is shining.

After a weekend soaked in sunshine, this damp and grey Monday makes it possible to sit down at a desk for six hours and tap tap tap out a living, without too much anguish.

So, I am grateful that today is cooler and damper and grey.

Another perfectly sunny day would have been too much.

 

Bad Idea

One life-changing moment was when I realized I would never have another good idea.

It was Seth Godin’s fault.

He was telling some overly enthusiastic podcaster that most of his writing was below average, and he had no idea which of his ideas were any good — even after they were published.

“I can just tell which ones are most popular,” he said, that mischievous little smile tweaking the corners of his lips. “They could still be terrible ideas.”

Many creatives, particularly writers, get caught up thinking they must have something to say.

It’s an ego thing. Just ask Dostoyevsky.

There are plenty of terrible, meaningless, and badly-made ideas that are considered extremely valuable and worthwhile by many people.

The secret to being a successful creative or entrepreneur isn’t having one big idea or one breakthrough piece or one work of critical acclaim that blows everybody’s socks off. 

The secret is getting used to getting a ‘D’ and still keep on plugging away at it, churning out bad ideas.

You never know which one might stick.

 

Second Best

Scrapping the participation medal is a great idea. Losing is a prize.

The greatest thing about playing sports is winning, and the same goes for any competition. After all, that’s the point.

And the next best thing to winning?

Losing.

Losing is the next best thing to winning because it means you were in the race.

People who have been forced to the sidelines are often delighted to lose because they finally got a chance to win.

And if you have been in with a chance for a while, losing usually means you’re a step closer to winning. 

Another lesson learned. Another hurdle crossed.

Losing sucks. But it’s a lot more fun than spectating.

 

 

Get over it

Things have taken a turn for the worse.

We made the wrong call.

Wasted our time.

The plan is ruined.

We listened to bad advice.

Made unwise investments.

Trusted the wrong people.

They never loved us.

The world changed overnight.

Nobody saw it coming.

Everything is fucked.

Get over it.

That’s Life.

 

It will get better

Recently, a paralyzed man was able to write using his thoughts.

Ten years after the man they called “T5” was utterly paralyzed, researchers planted a robot in the part of his brain that controls movement. That long after losing the use of his body, they weren’t sure his brain would remember how to move at all.

But it did. When the man imagined handwriting the alphabet, his brain started to light up, and the robot living in there began to learn.

Over many months they grew closer, until the robot knew him well enough to read his thoughts.

Eventually, they hooked him up to a screen and told him to copy some words, until he could do that to their satisfaction. Then they asked him what advice he would give to his younger self.

“Be patient. It will get better,” he wrote.

Even when things get unimaginably difficult, when we are trapped and scared and defeated, we can at least take comfort in knowing that things will always change.

And often a lot sooner than we think.

 

Out the window

Have you ever seen a bridezilla? Or the TV show ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen?’

These people implode into a raging boil of disappointment when they should be having a great time because they don’t know how to let go of a good plan, amongst other things.

A good plan is essential, but so is knowing when to abandon one.

ESPECIALLY if you want a good party.

In R.L. Wing’s translation of Sun Tzu, The Art of Strategy, we read, “Those who are victorious plan effectively and change decisively. They are like a great river that maintains its course but adjusts its flow.”

There’s no point obsessing about a plan because most plans go out the window as soon as they’re finished. As James Clear says, “Getting started changes everything.”

We need to decide where we want to go, but we don’t need to know precisely how to get there.

The important part is to get going and be ready to take a detour when we inevitably have to. Often, it turns out that’s the path we were supposed to be on all along.

 

 

Pain to Gain

If you’ve never heard of David Goggins, whip out your dictionary and look up the word “indomitable,” and you’ll find a picture of him.

David is the guy that gets back up.

He completed the infamous SEAL “Hell Week” training twice. Then he completed Ranger and Air Force training, too, literally for the hell of it.

He’s run over 60 ultra-marathons and triathlons and broke a world record with 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours.

My record is eight pull-ups in 3 minutes.

He once finished a 150-mile relay race designed for four BY HIMSELF on a broken ankle.

What keeps David going beyond limits and then much, much further?

David runs on pain.

The story of his childhood is heartbreaking. But he crushed that hurt into a fuel cell that drove him to greatness.

In his words, “When we transcend what we once thought possible, your light enables people to see the contours of their own prison; their self-limitations.”

David runs 100 miles because he can.

But he can run 100-miles because he turned his pain to gain.

 

 

 

 

Stubbed toes

It’s easy to forget that nothing is real until we attach words to it, even feelings.

A coffee table is a coffee table. And a stubbed toe is just something that happens when you have toes. This much is obvious to anyone with a coffee table or a toe.

However, in the heat of the moment, that stubbed toe becomes domestic terrorism and that coffee table a vicious assailant in your home.

And we curse that ungrateful, dumb hunk of wood most righteously.

But it would be weird if, after stubbing our toe, we took an axe to that loathsome lumber, ground it to sawdust, and then went to the neighbour’s house to continue the table-cide.

Emotions are there to guide us, to warn us, and to heal us, but if we took them at face value, we’d live in a pretty barren and boring world.

We can stub a toe on pretty much anything, but only you get to decide how long it hurts.

 

 

 

 

 

Do yourself a favour

It was a long time before I understood what “Do yourself a favour” meant.

There’s a Past Ben and a Future Ben and Me.

For a long time, I didn’t give Future Ben much thought.

I knew about Past Ben, who I didn’t like very much because he was perpetually screwing Me over.

But Future Ben was smart and young enough to handle the consequences of whatever bullshit I wanted to do at the time; to pay this or that debt or worry or pay the price of whatever I wanted to do at the time.

One night a few years back, I had a dream about Future Ben and he was in a very sorry state indeed. And all he said was, “Why? Why did you do this to me?”

After that, I started to do little things to look out for Future Ben — doing him a little favour now and then — because he wasn’t getting any younger.

And sure enough, Past Ben started cleaning up his act, and I didn’t have such a mess to worry about.

And that just made it easier to do myself a favour more often.

 

 

Fat people try harder

Exercising will teach you a lot about life and even more about yourself as a person.

When a close friend first dragged my lazy ass to the gym, I was incredibly unfit and doughy and unconfident. And to top it all, I was embarrassed about all those things.

I was scared that people would point at me and laugh as I chafed myself into a puddle, plodding along on the treadmill at a snail’s pace. Or worse — they would pity me lifting these tiny little weights.

The way that I did them.

I would watch that obese guy walking on the treadmill and think, “Give up fatso — you’re not even trying.”

But he was trying a lot harder than me. And deep down, I knew it. 

The problem was me — it was how I looked at people. They were making an effort to improve themselves and I was standing there being a snide little prick because of my insecurities.

I wasn’t mocking them. I was mocking me.

Exercise taught me that the people doing the most criticism are almost always the people who are doing the least to change.

Maybe it’s because they haven’t found their light, their way to improve the world and themselves, and they deeply wish they had. Or maybe because it hurts to watch someone winning when you’re losing or lost and don’t know how to turn it around.

Exercise taught me that it’s a lot easier to mock someone else for trying than making an effort yourself.

Exercise taught me that change is hard, but it’s almost impossible when you hate yourself and believe the world is against you. 

And exercise taught me that I’d rather be the fat fucker plodding away with everyone laughing than the skinny fucker sitting around doing nothing but criticizing.

Now whenever I catch the eye of an obese person trying to turn their life around, trudging along on a treadmill, scared and self-consciously sweating buckets, I give them a nod and a smile so they know I’m rooting for them.

Because now I know how hard it is to climb that mountain.

And how brave they are for trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change the world

Oh, didn’t we all dream to change the world.

I wanted to be king of the galaxy. You may laugh, but there’s still time.

One of the most frustrating things about becoming an adult was realizing how little power I had over the world.

I didn’t like the world the way it was. And the world didn’t give a fuck about what I wanted, which only made it worse.

It took me another decade or so to realize that Life is more subtle than that.

Anyone can change the world.

We can change the world one little bubble at a time.

Sometimes that bubble is small and sometimes it gets really big.

But often we’re so busy looking at other people that we forget how many people are looking at us — looking up to us — for guidance in this mad world.

At least three people are copying you because they think you’re cool. Really.

We change the world one brick at a time.

One little action. One little word. One little smile.

It doesn’t just add up — it compounds.

Keep at it.

 

 

Making bad good

Some blokes smell powerful.

It’s like they have so much mass that it leaks into the air around them.

Jocko Willink is one of those blokes.

He was a Navy SEAL officer for many years in the Middle East, and he told me this trick to flip the switch on adversity.

And when Jocko tells you something, you listen.

Anytime something bad happened, he would just say, “Good.”

Sand in your gun? Good. Now you can practice cleaning it.

Shot in the leg? Good. Now you can get some time off.

Lost your job? Good. Now you can find something better.

Didn’t get a date? Good. Now you can go out with your mates.

Gym closed? Good. It’s about time you got into running.

Stuck at home? Good. Maybe it’s time to write that book.

Didn’t get funded? Didn’t get a raise? Sprained your ankle? Got rejected? Got locked-in? Got locked-out? 

Got beat?

Good.

Because when things go badly, some good will always come of it.

Something Special

There’s something special that we all take for granted a little too often.

It seems trite, but the best ideas are always obvious.

There will never be a single person like you. 

Nobody in history has seen, heard, or felt the things you have.

Nobody in the next hundred billion years will get to experience what you have over the last few years; unless they’re playing a video game of your life.

And even then, they wouldn’t be able to recreate the smell of your dorm room at University perfectly. 

We take our uniqueness for granted but the life you’ve lived and will live are thoroughly special.

You’re something special. Your story is worth telling.

And don’t you forget it. 

Just wait a bit

Time is a great nurse but an even better comedian.

As we know, the real reason ‘they who laughs last, laughs loudest’ is that they didn’t get the joke. But all they need is time.

It might only be a little time: on the drive back it clicks, and they’re howling all the way home.

Or maybe years later they’ll watch an old film and finally get the reference.

And almost always, many years after that, their future self will look back with a chuckle and say, “Oh boy, was dumb.”

And they’ll get another laugh out of it then too.

If you’re not getting the joke right now, that’s ok.

Just laugh it off and wait a while.

 

What have you done?

You might think you’re powerless but that’s the easy excuse.

Nobody is powerless.

Even just setting an example by the way you live could have a bigger impact than you realize.

It’s so easy to point at other people and complain, “They should be doing such and such a thing.”

Or whine, “Why aren’t they doing this other thing?”

But are you doing it?

What have you done to make the world a better place? Maybe those people think the same about you.

Before pointing fingers, throwing stones, or smearing shit, start by asking, “What am I doing to make the world better?”

Every time I ask myself this question, the answer is, “Not enough.”

And every time I ask myself, “Am I setting the right example in the way I live?”

I find that I could be doing that a lot better too.

Everybody is beautiful

One winter evening my sister and I were smoking weed out her bedroom window when she said something that still rings in my ears.

She was even a little embarrassed to say it.

“I think everyone’s beautiful, in their own way. At first, maybe they’re not beautiful, and then you look a bit closer and find that even the weirdest features have their own weird beauty.”

Every day is like that; every plant, every animal, every relationship. Even the grim and horrifying parts of life have their own, twisted, fascinating beauty.

Life is beautiful.

It’s not that everyone’s beautiful to somebody.

Everybody’s beautiful when we take the time to look.

Sometimes it’s just really hard to find.

 

 

Who really cares?

Part of being human is worrying about what other people think.

We’re all born like that, and there’s a special word we use for someone who doesn’t care about what people think.

It’s not the same as not caring how you make other people feel: that’s a sociopath.

And not caring about other people at all? Psychopath.

But when we see someone dancing in public or talking to strangers or just being their full selves because they don’t care if other people think it’s weird? That’s confidence.

The next time you start worrying about what other people think, get specific. 

Look around you. Look out the window at the hundreds of people out there milling around the daily business.

And ask yourself, Who cares? “

As soon as you try to get specific about what other people think, you’ll find that you have no idea. And you probably don’t care about that person’s opinion at all.

They’re definitely not thinking about you.

Pick someone else. The same thing happens.

And that’s when you realize that we’re not worrying about what other people think.

We’re worried about what we think other people think.

And they’re probably just thinking the same.

Stop for a second

No matter how busy we think we are, there’s always time for this little lifehack. It’s super easy too.

Just stop and look around at where you are and all the incredible things you can see right now.

That shouldn’t be too hard unless you’re driving.

Traffic lights and trees are equally marvellous subjects of wonderment; whatever you’re reading this on is a bloody miracle.

Then take another second or two to look inside your head at how far you’ve come and all the astonishing things you’ve done in your life so far. I bet you’ve got some crazy cool memories stashed away somewhere.

At this point I usually say to myself something like, “Damn, I’m a lucky boy.”

That’s it.

There’s always a moment spare to stop and take it all in.

And when you do, you’ll realize just how long you’ve been winning.

 

 

Today is important

One evening a few years back, an old Super-Bowl winner told me about a prayer his college coach made him repeat every morning.

It struck a chord so I began to repeat my own little version of it.

It’s quite long so I won’t repeat it all now. But the message that would often send a shiver down my spine is short:

Whatever you do today is important because you are about to exchange a whole day of your life for it.

Make sure you don’t regret the price you pay.

And that usually got me out of bed pretty quick.

 

 

The dead guitarist

You might not know Wilko Johnson is but he was a pretty cool dude back in the 70s.

His band — Dr. Feelgood — was so cool that it inspired some people you probably have heard of: Paul Weller, The Who, The Jam. The list goes on.

Back in 2013 he was diagnosed with cancer and the Doc gave him a double-fistful of months at most. 

He said, “It was like my life was complete. The idea that death is imminent makes you realize what a wonderful thing it is to be alive. By the time I’d walked home, I was almost euphoric.”

Wilko then did what any self-respecting punk guitarist would do. He turned down chemotherapy and went on tour. 

“If it’s going to kill me, I don’t want it to bore me,” he said.

Wilko is still touring today — more than seven years after his date with death. That raging punk rocker just wouldn’t put down his guitar and die. 

We are vividly alive.

Take a moment today to enjoy it.

How to be right a lot

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.

Simple, eh?

Beware comforting stories

When people talk about identity what they’re saying is: “This is my story.”

Whether that’s where we came from, what we believe, the food we like or who we have sex with, it’s all part of our story.

For many years I told myself stories like, “I’m not a morning person,” or “I’m an introvert,” or “I can’t write every day,” or “rich people are bad,” or “stopping smoking is hard.”

Worst of all, I told myself I didn’t have anything to add to the world.

But no matter how many times I told myself those silly tales, deep inside I knew they weren’t true. And I was slowly killing myself trying to drown that little voice every time it spoke up to remind me so.

Because the stories we tell ourselves are the fluffy cushions that make our comfort zone so comforting. But they’re also the locks that keep us there.

Luckily, we hold the keys. And it’s never too late to change the story.

Choose miracles

The travesty of many religions is their claim that miracles are rare and supernatural. That’s an absurdity designed to make you join their club.

Miracles are everywhere. We’re just not looking for them. A wise bloke once said something about this:

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

People get worked up about whether Einstein said this (I doubt it) or what he meant by a miracle, but they’re missing the point.

The odds of you being alive are basically zero (1 in 10 x 2,685,000).

So it’s a goddamn miracle that you’re even reading this at all.

 

Don’t mind the gap

If you’ve ever ridden the Tube, you’ll have heard a robotic voice reminding you to ‘mind the gap’ as you leave the train. 

Ignoring these words could delay the train, one of the worst crimes you can commit in the capital.

But there’s another kind of gap that we shouldn’t mind at all because it makes us unhappy.

Most people make the mistake of measuring how far they’ve come by how close they are to achieving their vision. We measure the gap between where we are and where we want to be, which is usually not as close as we’d like.

It’s far less depressing if we take the time to measure how far we’ve come from where we started; we measure our gains.

If we’re too busy fretting about the gap between where we could be and where we are, we’re missing out on enjoying all the gains that got us here now.

Don’t mind the gap, except on the Tube.

It’s just a thought

It’s easy to get caught up in our thoughts, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay in them. 

Thoughts are just random brain cells talking to each other.

There’s rarely meaning there; it’s just a biochemical process that happens automatically to stop us from getting bored.

And we get to choose what we think about, just like we can choose what channel to watch or book to read.

If we’re not paying attention, our thoughts will whisk us away to some fantasy realm where we said something different, or how we imagine something later will be.

But we don’t have to listen to that crap if we don’t want to.

Thoughts might happen in our heads, but they don’t define us.

You are not your thoughts.

The next time you catch yourself thinking something nasty or frustrating or just plain unhelpful, remind yourself, “It’s just a thought.”

Mind follows body

People think that to change your behaviour or reach your dreams, you have to change your mind. But that’s backwards.

Mindset plays an important part, but the truth is, when we change our actions first, our minds will follow. 

That’s why even a tiny behavioural change — like drinking a glass of water in the morning — can make us healthier. 

That one small action opens the door to dozens of other small but positive actions over the day. And over time, these all add up and move us closer to where we want to be, and who we want to be. 

We can’t talk ourselves into change, but if we act as if it’s already happened, our minds will quickly catch up.

Doing the bare minimum

Doing the bare minimum is often a negative thing.

But some days, it’s the best we can do.

On those days when all we want to do is crawl back into bed, turning up is often enough to make progress.

Putting in the minimal effort every day isn’t how to get what we want from life.

But if ‘doing the bare minimum’ means showing up on the worst days and doing a shit job, that’s still better than doing nothing at all.

Everything is change

It’s human nature to look for meaning in the world; to attach labels and think up laws to make sense of the chaos.

But there is only one True Constant in the Universe: everything changes.

All empires eventually falter. Our things break and need replacing. Fashions cycle, meanings shift, and one way or another, every relationship comes to an end.

We cause ourselves a great deal of pain by ignoring this simple fact.

Change isn’t just something that happens; it is Life itself.

Everything in existence is just matter changing from one form to another at different speeds. We can influence it, and often we can direct it in our favour, but we can never prevent it.

This eventuality is something to be grateful for when we’re ill, depressed, stressed, waiting on hold, and even if a narcissistic, racist orange with tiny hands runs your country.

Nothing lasts forever.

And I find that oddly comforting.

Is this helping me?

A few years ago, James Altucher taught me something that helps calm dark and anxious thoughts.

Life wasn’t easy at the time. A cruel twist of fate had me walking past my new ex-girlfriend’s road almost every day after work. Grim visions of mistakes and arguments would envelop me as I passed, blackening my mood for the rest of the evening.

To stop this, James told me that every time I caught myself thinking negative thoughts, stop and ask, “Is this helping you right now?”

Almost always, the answer is ‘No.’

It takes some effort to remember to do this when we’re swept up in a storm of thoughts, but it becomes easier with time. To create a bigger gap from the tempest, we can follow up with, “What is useful to think about right now?”

Every time we do this, we save ourselves from a little unnecessary suffering and we train our brain to be more positive in future.

Do it enough, and eventually you’ll barely need to do it at all.

6 Elements of a Kaizen Mindset

We’ve talked before about what a kaizen mindset means and how to apply kaizen in your life. Nurturing the following six elements will help you cultivate a kaizen mindset.

1. Seeking knowledge

Even if we’re looking, it isn’t easy to see how and where we can improve; we need other people to show us. A core element of a kaizen mindset is always seeking to expand our knowledge and experience, and challenging our beliefs every day.

2. Self-awareness and critique

The second crucial element of a kaizen mindset is self-awareness. If we are to reach our goals, we need to learn to look honestly at ourselves and our behaviour and ask if they align with our plans.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the pursuit of a goal — like making more money — and we end up making changes to our life that make us unhappy in the long-term.

Kaizen isn’t about seeing the worst in things, so don’t beat yourself up — it’s natural to have flaws. Understanding and accepting our weaknesses is just a step on the road to reaching our goals.

3. Starting with scarcity

There’s a crucial difference between this third element of a kaizen mindset and a ‘scarcity mindset.’ 

A scarcity mindset is a negative and unproductive view of the world that will make you unhappy.

Starting with scarcity means not looking for external fixes to your problems. New running shoes may help us run faster, but simply buying them isn’t going to turn us into a runner.

Equipment and gadgets are helpful, but they’re not enough to help us reach our goals. Plus, it’s hard to see the need for improvement when you have everything you need.

Instead, look at how you can improve your use of what you have already, or perhaps even eliminate, to help you towards your goal.

4. Breaking down goals into small steps

Kaizen is, of course, about focusing on the small steps we can take to reach our goals.

The steps must be clear and definite actions we can take every day, but they don’t have to be outcomes in themselves — they only have to contribute towards one.

For example, if you want to become a good guitar player, you have to set aside a certain amount of time each day to practice; 15 minutes is enough. But if you want to get better, you can’t just spend that time messing around.

You need to set definite, measurable outcomes to help you learn, such as a song or a scale. Then you spend those 15 minutes practicing that song or scale until you’re comfortable with it.

A year of doing that, and you’ll have a lot of songs under your belt. But more importantly, you’ll be a much better guitarist.

5. Committing to practice

Committing to daily practice is crucial.

It isn’t just a way to get what we want; it is what we want. Our daily practice and its results are one and the same thing; you cannot have one without the other. Winning the fight is impossible without putting in the training every day.

Small habits are incredibly powerful ways to change our lives. They take effort to form but become part of you over time. Daily practice is one way to tap into the power of small habits.

6. Embracing obstacles and mistakes

Mistakes and obstacles are life. If they didn’t exist, we’d go out looking for them.

A kaizen mindset is about seeking out those mistakes and obstacles — choosing our suffering — to improve our lives. Obstacles are just what happens when we go after something we want. They are how we get there. 

Yes, we will often fail in our daily practice, but the important thing is continuing after we stumble. Keep at it long enough, and the number of days we did it will outnumber those we didn’t, and that’s enough for progress.

Failing and mistakes are often an opportunity to progress rapidly. If we don’t overcome an obstacle or we struggle to maintain our daily practice, there’s probably something holding us back — a previously hidden obstacle. Overcoming that will help us progress much faster in the long run.

Cultivating a Kaizen Mindset

A kaizen mindset is a growth mindset. It starts with the assumption that the way we are doing things now is the worst possible way to do it. 

To have a kaizen mindset, you must:

  1. Always be learning
  2. Have self-awareness
  3. Start with scarcity
  4. Break down goals into small steps
  5. Commit to daily practice
  6. Embrace obstacles and mistakes

There are countless ways of applying the kaizen philosophy, including figuring out what the fuck to do with your life. These elements play a crucial part at every stage, whatever the goal.

 

 

Photo by kylie De Guia on Unsplash

It’s not your fault

This last year was a mad one, it’s true.

At times, things seemed closer to breaking than when we nearly nuked ourselves into oblivion, and the next few years will be a real mess too.

But it’s not your fault the world is like this. It’s not really anybody’s fault.

Our world has such astounding diversity that it has no choice but to veer from change to change. That’s just what it does. We’re swept up by vast currents of change that ebb and flow and gust for reasons far beyond our understanding.

All we can do is keep paddling in the direction we want to go, knowing that the winds always change with time and hoping that one day, they change in our favour.

Pick your destination, haul your sail, and cling on tight.

It’s going to be a wild one.

Trees are great

Trees have a sturdy grace that makes good company. 

And they can probably teach us a thing or two about living on this planet, after 400 million years of it.

They don’t worry about how fast they’re growing or what their neighbours are up to. When the sun is shining, they lean into it; when it thunders, they cling on tight, dancing with nature’s punches. And they rarely cause a fuss.

Social life as a tree isn’t as boring as you might think either — they’ve got their own internet of fungi they use to trade with each other.

They’ve probably survived this long because they look out for each other, give back a little more than they take, and leave the world a bit better than it was the day before.

That’s probably why they make such good company too.

Thanks for everything, trees. Life wouldn’t be the same without you.

You are enough

It’s easy — and very common — to think that you’re not enough. Lots of people worry about it.

We think we’re not smart enough to be funny, or rich enough to be happy, or attractive enough to be loved. But that’s all rubbish that someone else made up.

The world is full of other people telling us we need to buy such and such a thing to feel like we’re enough. And it never does the trick.

Because they don’t know shit.

You ARE enough.

You already HAVE enough to be happy.

Trying your best every day is just being more you.

That little step forward every day just takes you closer to yourself.

And you are enough to change the world.

 

Walking through walls

Walking through a wall is very very very very unlikely, but science tells us it’s not impossible.

It’s called ‘quantum tunnelling’ and it’s why the sun explodes, and how your DNA replicates, and how light passes through a solid object.

A very clever teenager explained this to me this morning in under three minutes and closed with these (almost) impossibly wise words:

“Maybe the quantum world is telling us that when faced with an obstacle, there’s a small chance we can defy expectations and breach barriers.”

She absolutely nailed it.

I’m not saying take a running jump at the closest wall. But the next time you’re faced with something that seems ‘impossible,’ remember you always have a chance.

That’s just how the universe works.

Perfection is a dirty lie

‘Perfect’ might just be the most useless, mean, and stupid word in the English language.

It trips us up and it holds us back and it turns our heads.

First, let’s get this one thing clear: perfection doesn’t exist.

It’s an illusion of the mind.

Everyone from Plato to Taylor Swift has said this.

If you’re waiting for the ‘perfect time’ or the ‘perfect job’ or the ‘perfect idea’ you’re going to be waiting an awfully long time.

The irony is that the word ‘perfect’ comes from the Latin word for ‘completed’ or ‘accomplished.’

Instead of aiming to create something ‘perfect,’ we should aim just to complete it.

Accomplishing something badly is far closer to perfection than never starting it at all.

Fuck perfection.

I’m happy with getting it done.

Your best is the score

I didn’t try very hard at school.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to. I was smart enough to come home with a pretty decent report card. 

But the results didn’t make me happy. I’d put nothing into them, and so I got nothing out of them.

I’ve since failed many times, at things I wanted to do and things I was sure would succeed at.

Every time I failed but tried my best, I was far happier than when I didn’t try and found success easily.

In the end, the success didn’t matter — the result wasn’t the important part.

It was trying my best — knowing that I put everything I had at the time into it — that determined if I was happy or not.

When you take your next step today, don’t worry about the outcome, or where it’s supposed to be taking you, or even if you’re doing the “right” thing.

Just give it your best shot.

Don’t let life happen

Don’t let life happen to you; to toss and throw you in its fickle fingers.

You’re the one in charge.

You’re the reason it’s all happening.

Life doesn’t happen to you: You happen to life.

So strike out.

And life won’t know what hit it.

Don’t break these promises

Everything in life is an agreement.

Whether that means we’re agreeing that it’s bad to kill people, agreeing on the price of a coffe or agreeing to drive on the same side of the road — it’s all an agreement.

And the stories we all agree on are what we collectively call ‘reality.’

The most powerful kind of agreement you can make is to yourself.

Unfortunately, it’s these promises that we break more than any other.

Every time we say we’re going to do something and we don’t, we lose trust in ourselves. 

Even if nobody else hears the promise, we feel it when we break it. It hurts our brains and we get weaker. It fractures our identity.

Just like every time we back up our word with action, we get a little stronger. We become a more consistent person.

Back yourself up today.

 

Better late than never

About 2,047 years ago, a Roman historian wrote the eternal words, “potius seo quam numquam.

Or in our words, “rather late than never.

But nobody told my high school teacher, Ms. Kattan, that.

She made it so awful to be late that I would rather skip school than face her wrath. I often chose ‘never.’

As children, life throws all sorts of deadlines at us: you’re an adult at 18, have kids by 35, retire at 65, die at 85…

But, time doesn’t really exist.

It’s just an agreement that we make with ourselves so that we can meet people for lunch or catch the train.

The danger is when we start to believe that it’s real.

We miss our goals or deadlines, and we start to believe those dreadful words: “It’s too late.”

It’s never too late.

If it was too late, you couldn’t switch from journalism to midwifery at 32.

And you couldn’t give up engineering and move to Florence to design shoes at 55.

And you definitely couldn’t be 74 years old and follow your dream of being a stand-up comedian — like Julie Kertesz did.

But you can do any of those things.

These stories prove that late is better than never.

So, screw you, Ms. Kattan.

I might be late, but at least I turned up.

If this isn’t nice…

Some of the most powerful lessons are learnt through fiction and literature, and great authors like Kurt Vonnegut.

Once, he said that it’s all too easy to notice when things are going badly, but often we don’t notice when things are going well.

And I’m not talking about the obvious times like getting a raise or getting laid or getting a compliment.

I’m talking about the little things — the tiny things that make us happy; like that warm glow of sunshine across your face on a crisp, bright, blue winter’s day.

Or that tingly chill of a fresh margarita on a summer afternoon.

Or that deep tang of your first coffee of the day.

Or the waft of freshly baked bread tickling your nostrils.

Kurt said that when that ‘nice’ thing happens, call it out.

Say out loud, “Well, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

And pretty soon, you’ll notice that life is full of these beautiful, plain, every day, fantastically nice moments.

Nice.

You got this

Whatever you do today, whatever challenges life throws at you, please remember:

You. Got. This.

It’s what you were born to do. 

And even if it doesn’t always seem like it, you’re doing it great.

Keep slaying those days!