You? You’re Just a Bunch of Actions

Ever been in the position of sorting through CVs? I have, and it’s not pretty. Typos, ugly formatting (big no-no), and lots of obvious bullshit. But one type of phrase I’d see again and again made me wince more than all the glaring mistakes combined…

“I’m an innovative, motivated, and passionate individual…” Sigh. Really? What have you innovated? What are you motivated to do? What are you passionate about?

See, I don’t doubt that a lot of these are good people. That’s what made the process painful. There’s so much good stuff inside of people, but if it stays bottled up in there then they’re no different than the rest of the world, who are equally capable of describing themselves with impressive sounding adjectives.

Here’s the problem: We all believe that our internal processes define us. Spending 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in our head is a pretty good way to get to know how awesome we are.

But what’s on the inside only matters to the extent that it affects what’s on the outside. Others judge us based on what we do, not what we think. And rightfully so: the only reason I want to hire someone who is innovative, motivated, and passionate is so that they act in an innovative, motivated, and passionate way. Writing it on your resume does nothing to prove to me that this is likely. As Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

So why don’t people do things? It’s a tough question. Part of it has to do with the education system. Society has encouraged us to use official credentials to prove our worth, rather than our work. Want to be hired as a programmer? Wouldn’t your previous projects give a better display of your abilities than a degree? Hoping to be a journalist? Wouldn’t a portfolio of your writing prove your talent more than a recommendation from your professor?

But, rather than blaming the education system, let’s get to the core problem: fear. By doing stuff, we’re forced to face reality. And that’s scary. There’s no risk in thinking about Plato and calling yourself a philosopher. But put your thoughts into a blog post and read the comments and see how your ego holds up.

This reluctance to face reality in the name of ego-protection is the most common barrier I’ve seen to people accomplishing things. Looking good has become more important than being good. But, when we put that fear aside, it’s easy to see that creating and putting things out into the world not only gives us something to show for our internal processes, but allows us to stress-test our ideas and improve. Those nasty blog comments are your guide on the path to improvement, not the path to depression.

We need to learn to embrace this pain. By daydreaming about our brilliant plans that we “just haven’t gotten around to yet” and postponing our inevitable confrontation with reality, we’re only hurting ourselves. The soil may be what allows the tree to grow, but all we really care about is the fruit. An awesome person is just a regular person who does awesome things.

There’s a million ways this fear manifests itself. “But I’m starting a business I don’t care about so I have enough money to do good for the world later” … “But I’m spending months learning about exercise without joining a gym so I can be more efficient later.” But, but, but, but, but. Fuck that. Stop it. Go do the stuff you care about. Your life is your message.

It’s All Made of Metaphors

“If you know the way broadly, you see it in everything” – Musashi

There’s an interesting talk by Alan Watts where he shows an audience two shapes. One is round and bubbly, and the other has sharp, rigid corners. He tells them: One of these shapes is called gloobgloob, and the other is called keekee. Which is which?

It’s weird how easy that is, isn’t it? What if I told you that one of the shapes was warm, and the other was cold? Or that one was nice, and the other was mean? Or that one of the shapes was coddled by his mother, while the other was an orphan?

We see the world through metaphors.

There’s a rare neurological disorder called synesthesia, in which senses become blended. Synesthetics can smell colors and taste sounds. They describe the viscerally pain or beauty that come with certain words. And, strangely, synesthetics are hugely overrepresented in creative occupations like painting, music and poetry.

Why could this be?

Well, if we step back from seeing metaphor as a literary device and remember that it’s a way to see the world, it starts to make sense. Synesthetics literally see the world in a way that the rest of us only metaphorically see it. We know that gloobgloob is warmer than keekee, but synesthetics actually feel that warmth.

And what are creative outputs but ways of sharing the metaphors we’ve discovered? The connections between these disparate areas of reality become that much easier to see for those who feel metaphors, rather than think them.

But there’s a lesson for those of us who don’t see the world this way too (and trust me, you’re going to try to convince yourself that you do, but you don’t)…

Because we experience the world through metaphor, we have the ability to see abstract concepts that can be applied in multiple settings. Sure, we can take lessons from one experience and apply them to another. But we can also take lessons from one experience, abstract them away from tangible reality, and apply them anywhere and everywhere.

Our weakness is that we cling to the grounding that our initial learning environment gave us. Golfers explain things in golf terms and authors explain things in writing terms. But, what is becoming more and more obvious to me, is that these principles are capital-T true and just floating around out there. Metaphor is a way of using one manifestation of the truth to explain another. But, like Musashi, if we can come to understand the underlying principles, we will see that their applications are everywhere.

Mirrors and Binoculars: Reviewing 2013 and Planning for 2014

The only thing more cliché than blogging about your New Years Resolutions is prefacing them with “I hate New Years Resolutions, but…”

For me, the problem with resolutions isn’t that they’re shallow, or that January 1st is a completely arbitrary date to start accomplishing things. It’s that, for most people, they’re created with an expectation that we’re able to change our habits by magically flipping a switch and turning on our will power. That isn’t how it works.

That being said, I think the end of one year and the beginning of the next is a convenient time for reflection and recalibration. It’s a chance to stand back, look at your map, and point your compass for the coming year in the right direction.

I’ve spent the past couple days going through a process that’s been really useful (shout out to my friends Andy Drish and Scott Britton for the inspiration). This post is going to run through that process. I’ll copy and paste in some of my own answers in quotes as we go. They probably won’t make any sense to you. I wrote them for me. If you’d like, take them as a guide.

**Note: I try to be as open and transparent as possible on here, but I’m not quite there yet. It was difficult enough to be honest with myself about the fears, motivations, and experiences that stood out as important in the past year, but it’s a big stretch to make those public. A lot of my examples are chosen – not because they’re the best – but because they’re the most shareable. Your answers should be considerably more vulnerable than these. If you aren’t cringing at least a little bit, you aren’t doing it right.

Step 1: Reflection

If you wrote down any goals for 2013, pull them out. If you didn’t, don’t worry. You’ll be ready next year. Go through everything you wrote and answer the following questions:

  • Where was I in line with this goal?
  • Where was I out of line with this goal?
  • Where have my desires changed?

Ultimate Business Vision for 2013: To have multiple, passive income streams that are diverse and provide me with new challenges every day. To be excited to tell people what I’m doing. To provide value to others in the form of growth, excitement, learning or convenience (in that order). To build a brand for myself.
In Line: Pretty damn close to this definition. I have multiple income streams. They’re diverse, interesting and challenging. I’m excited about my work. I’m providing value. Out of Line: I guess I’ve done a little bit to build a brand for myself (I didn’t even have a blog when I wrote this). But not to the extent that I could have. Also, all the positives have really just emerged in the past couple months. In September, almost none of that was true.

Changed: Why the obsession with passive? I was caught up in the whole passive income world, but I’m 10x more inclined to work consistently to create stuff than to do work I don’t care about so I can lie on a beach. I still like the scalability of “passive” style businesses and the fact that they allow multiple income streams, but it’s not a priority. I’m happier with what I’m doing than if I had Pat Flynn’s business model.

Step 2: Highs and Lows

Go through each month and write down all the good and bad memories that stand out to you. Take your time. Look for magic moments. What are you grateful for? What pains did you feel? Try to narrow it down to as specific experiences as possible.

June Highs: Smoking hash with the local body-burners in Varanasi. Seeing the Taj Mahal. Meeting Paul on the bus and figuring out how to navigate Delhi together (not sure why this sticks with me but the instant friends problem solving together is a really cool, typical traveler experience that other people don’t get to have). The 50 hour train ride across India. Late night haircuts with Mel. Doing stand up comedy (and failing miserably) in Mumbai. Experiencing the protests at El Tahrir Square while the rest of the world was watching them on TV. The first day back in Toronto: seeing my parents and all my friends. The brief excitement of sliding back in to old routines.
June Lows: The first night in Calcutta: frustration, bad weather, shitty food, no train tickets to leave, annoying owner of the hotel, bed buds, inability to sleep, the only time I’ve ever “lost it” while traveling. Annoyance at Piper business stuff not coming together. Feeling frustrated in Goa and Bangalore – “Why am I wasting my time here?” The emptiness that came with not being sure how to fill my days when I first got home.

Step 3: Extract Lessons

Read over your answers from the last section. Answer the following questions:

  • What are the trends in the highs and the lows?
  • What kinds of behavior tend to bring you happiness?
  • Which tend to bring you pain?

The highs are mostly when I was doing something meaningful, working a lot, improving myself. In other words, when I was reaching my potential. Overcoming barriers of any kind, too. Work shows up on here a lot more than play, which surprises me.
Really novel experiences get me, too. Standing on hallowed ground, doing events that are rare and substantial. This is true in an exploring sense and in a partying sense. I don’t take much pleasure in doing the same things repeatedly. On a social level, they mostly come from meeting people who I’m inspired by, find interesting or who I get into a really fresh adventure with (or, maybe, someone who I instinctively want to plan future adventures in my head with?)

When I’m seeing people I know, I appreciate it much more after a long absence, especially if we meet up in a foreign place and get to experience the adventure together.

I appreciate family time even more than friend time, maybe because it’s also been rare in the same way.

The lows almost all come from feeling aimless and working on things I don’t care about. They’re all chronic, “worried about life” lows, whereas most of the highs are either acute, fun highs or come from the feeling of accomplishment. They also come, even more strongly, when I don’t reach my potential, when I have an aim that’s completely within my control and don’t hit it.

A handful of the lows came from things that are mostly outside my control, but straddle the border so that I can take responsibility. Not having big gains from my month at Tiger and a bad scuba diving experience stand out. I feel like I should have been able to do something, but it’s not like I really could have done anything differently.

Step 4: Set Your Priorities

Did you learn anything about what actually matters to you? For example, I saw repeated low points of feeling crappy when I was eating badly. I didn’t see one mention of eating McDonald’s as a high point. That’s something to learn from.

Now use this information to set your priorities. Personally, I use four categories:

  1. Work
  2. Relationships
  3. Health
  4. Learning

Go through each of these categories and answer…

  • What’s your vision for where you’d like to be at this time next year?
  • What are the tangible goals that will let you know if you got there?
  • What is the purpose of you working hard in this area of your life?

It’s not always possible but, where it is, try to focus on process goals rather than outcome goals. Process goals are in your control. There aren’t any excuses. They’re what lead to getting things done. Outcome goals can be sexier. They’re easier to tell your friends about. But people with outcome-based goals give up. “Go to the gym 3x per week” is much better than “Get a six pack.”

Vision (Work): I’m going into the year just starting working on projects that have the potential to be massive. I don’t know where it could take me. My big-picture vision is to (1) be working on things that keep me excited to work every day, (2) be working with amazing people that I love, can learn from, and would go to war with on every project, (3) earn substantial money for my contributions instead of doing them at the expense of the salary I could be making, (4) have multiple income streams, so that I’m antifragile as a mothafucka.
Goals (Learning): I will (1) keep improving at Spanish up to conversational fluency, (2) keep reading and learning history – over 50 books again his year, (3) start a consistent MMA practice, (4) practice my public speaking and start doing improv, (5) learn to code Ruby, (6) write more and more consistently, (7) study psychology, marketing, and copywriting. Secondary, if I feel inclined, dive more deeply into (1) poker, (2) chess, (3) music, (4) shooting, (5) surfing. Purpose (Work): To gain confidence in my abilities by translating abstract thought into meaningful action. To reach my potential, which is only possible if I’m excited to work every day. To learn everything I can from people I admire. To be rewarded for my work. To feel important. To feel justified in my career decisions. To be antifragile and safe against black swans. To be varied in my influences.

Step 5: Summarize

Write a couple pages answering the following questions…

  • What would make 2014 the best one yet?
  • What would you want to accomplish?
  • Who do you want to become?
  • What do you want to experience?
  • How do you want to contribute?
  • How do you want to be?
  • Who do you want to spend time with?
  • What do you want to leave behind?
  • What do you want to grow into?
  • What do you want the theme of 2014 to be?

This is the most fun part to look back on, because you really get a window into how you were thinking. I can’t believe how little I have in common with myself 12 months ago.

Step 6: Share Your Thoughts

Respond in the comments and tell me what you want your theme of 2014 to be and how you plan on getting there (studies say we’re more likely to stick with things when we make ourselves publicly accountable).

Stoicism as Yoga, Sex as Rubbing and Philosophy as Action: An Interview with Ryan Holiday

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Ryan Holiday to talk about the practical applications of Stoicism outside of the classroom. Part of the interview was published by Stoicism Today during their annual Stoic Week. Here’s the full transcript:

ZO: What jumps out to me about Stoicism is that while it’s become popular in a sense, it seems like the mainstream only sees the same couple of thoughts continuously reemerging, as if these were the core principles of the philosophy. When I first read straight from the source though, it struck me that Stoicism is more like a collection of almost entirely disconnected practices and exercises than a traditional philosophy. Do you see a central tenant that it all revolves around or would it be better described as disparate exercises?

RH: So, what I like about Stoicism is that, historically, it was the philosophy for men (and, I’m saying men because it was only men then) of action. Leaders, generals, politicians, you know? For most of the later Stoics, it wasn’t some explanation of the universe, so much as it was a set of ethics or operating principles. And so, I see Stoicism as being adapted for people who do stuff in the world. Not college professors, but people who are leading soldiers into battle, running a government, representing the people, that sort of thing. So I think that, when you look at the exercises, you see all sorts of things that are supposed to be reminders or solutions to the problems that a person like that faces.

So whether it’s Marcus Aurelius or Seneca, their writings are reminders of the problems that you tend to bump into. So, you know, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself not to be stained by the robes that he wear, which is a way of saying, “Don’t let it go to your head.” Or, he’s talking about never being overhead complaining in court. He’s saying, “This is your duty. This is your job. Complain at home, but do your job when you’re doing your job.” Or Seneca, who writes this letter where he goes through this exercise where he says “I’m going on a trip. This is what I plan to do, but I’m also ready for things to go terribly wrong, and this is how I’m going to handle the plans going awry.”

So, look, I think all the exercises at the end of the day, they have a lot of implication for how to make you a better, more honest, virtuous person. But they also have the side effect of making you a more effective, efficient, dutiful, reasonable, rational leader or person of action. And so that’s where I tend to focus on my reading and understanding of Stoicism.

ZO: I really like that. So, do you see that as possibly the reason why Stoicism hasn’t had such a big influence on academia historically? Because, they’re really addressing individual possible situations one at a time. You couldn’t summarize Stoicism in a couple of sentences whereas, with most major philosophies, you could. Maybe their specificity in dealing with problems is a reason why academics have shied away from them?

RH: Totally. I think the real difference is that Stoicism has a totally different definition of philosopher than all the other schools of philosophy. Again, it is not a comprehensive explanation of the universe, it’s a set of exercises that help people with the problems that they face in their daily lives. And, so, it’s almost like Yoga, in the sense that it’s a physical act, rather than a book that you read. Stoicism is a process of reminding yourself, thinking certain things, and checking your sometimes unhealthy natural instincts against a set of easy to remember assumptions and facts about the world.

But Stoicism still survives within normal, everyday people, whether you’re a soldier or a schoolteacher or someone who’s going through grief, and I think the reason is that Stoicism is accessible and designed for people. It’s not designed for college professors. That’s probably the real reason for it’s longevity.

I mean, I’m not the emperor of the world, and so I don’t totally relate to what Marcus Aurelius is saying. But I am trying to run my business, and there is an overlap there, and these spiritual exercises do work.

ZO: Okay, so let’s get a little bit more tactical then. Are there a handful of specific exercises that stand out to you and that you actually put into practice? I know you’re writing a book focused on one in particular.

RH: Yeah, sure. So the book is called The Obstacle is the Way. [Note from Zach: You can get a first look at the book by signing up here] And it’s basically a whole book about this one exercise. It boils down to the idea that, for a Stoic, there’s no such thing as adversity, because adversity is actually a chance to prove yourself, to try various virtues, to be creative. It’s the world testing you. Stoics say there’s no such thing as good or bad, there’s only perception. But this exercise, it goes even further, and it says everything bad that happens to you is actually “a good”, as it’s an opportunity to try something that perhaps otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to try.

Another favourite exercise is the idea of contemptuous expression, which you see a lot in Marcus Aurelius. So, you take something, like “You’re sitting at a luxurious, sumptuous feast” and you explain to yourself what you’re actually seeing. So “Wine is fermented grapes, and there’s a roast which is just a dead pig that’s been burned, and there’s cheeses, which are just milk that’s been allowed to curdle.” So you’re reminding yourself of the reality of what’s in front of you. I mean, he describes sex as rubbing and then an explosion. Its just the idea of reminding yourself honestly what these things are. Not to get disgusted with them necessarily, but to remove that narrative power that we tend to put on things. And, look, when you’re the emperor of the world, you’ve got to be constantly combating the esteem and the power and the false meaning that everyone is projecting on things, because they’re trying to make you a god while you’re still alive. And our celebrity-driven, wealth-driven, narcissistic culture does that too. So I really like that exercise of really paring things down to their essence.

And then, of course, there’s the Stoic theme of the Art of Acquiescence, which is just getting better and more comfortable with accepting what happens to you. This is not fatalism, but kind of the opposite: love everything that happens to you, because you know you can handle it and you know that there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s that Serenity Prayer kind of mindset.

Those are three of my favorites, if that answers your question.

ZO: All of those are really insightful. It’s funny, coming back to the Obstacle is the Way, that even before I came in contact with Stoicism I made a conscious effort to train impulse control. So I really thought about every challenge as an opportunity to develop that skill. When I came across the idea as a more generalized Stoic principle, it made a lot of sense to me. I mean, if you’re consciously trying to improve yourself, clearly all those challenges are positives.

To dig a little deeper, do you have any advice in terms of how to actually apply these exercises? I think a lot of people read this stuff and it resonates with them and then they don’t take the next step to really bring it into their lives. What do you suggest?

RH: I don’t think this can really be brought down to one paragraph or sentence, but Turning the Obstacle Upside Down [another name for The Obstacle is the Way] requires three distinct phases or acts, that are all themed in Stoicism:

The first would be controlling your perception. So, it’s the idea that, the way that things appear, especially the first impressions, are notoriously unreliable. And that if you can maintain a cool head and a cool emotional state, at the very least you don’t make things worse. And at the very best you’re able to spot chinks in the armor, or a different way of doing things. There is no advantage to be gained from an instantaneous irrational emotional reaction. So that’s the first step, controlling your perception.

The second step is your actions, and your actions adhere to this code of duty and obligation and energy and creativity. So, second is how you orient yourself to act.

Then, third, there’s this idea of the will. Which is, first, your will power, but also, your understanding of your place in the universe. And the idea that, “Look, you don’t control everything that happens to you, you only control your reaction. And you’re going to die. Soon, perhaps.” And, so, that third phase is what puts it all into perspective.

So those are the three phases as I see them and, in the book, I sort of walk people through those phases.

ZO: I think that’s hugely important. Stoicism takes things a whole level of practicality past most philosophies, but it doesn’t quite take it to the tangible, actionable, what-do-I-do-when-I-wake-up-tomorrow-morning level. So I think a lot of people read it and resonate with the ideas, and then don’t actually act on them, even while saying, “It’s so awesome because you can act on it!”

RH: Yeah, you know what? I think part of the problem, too, is when you get into some of these Stoicism communities, you get the people who are attracted to the philosophy for it’s anti-materialism and anti-ambition. These things are very important – about not being upset and chasing and whatever – and I totally respect it. But when someone who is in a position of influence, or success, or achievement, comes to these people and asks for advice, they never give you practical advice. And it’s like, “This is my life’s work, I’m not just going to throw it out the window.” So I think you’re better off taking the idea of how can Stoicism help, rather than how can Stoicism tell you to not be a human being.

ZO: So, the last thing I want to touch on is the book. What’s your plan for it? Where can people get it? Is it going to be available in paperback?

RH: Yeah, so it’s a full book. It’s published by Portfolio-Penguin, the same publisher as my first book. They’ve done everyone from Seth Godin to Steven Pressfield, so it’s a legitimate, prestigious publisher. They really like the book. The reality is that most people do not wake up in morning and say “I need philosophy.” For better or for worse, that’s not what people think. So I’ve tried to write a book that’s about helping them with their actual problems, that happens to rely on philosophy. The book is inspired and rooted in Stoicism, but it does not beat anyone over the head with it. Because, I think that the way you bring people into this way of thinking is by showing it’s practical benefits for them right now, with what they’re struggling with. I’m really writing a book about Stoicism for people who don’t think they care or want to know about Stoicism, so I’m kind of trying that Trojan Horse strategy.

So that’s the book, and it comes out in May 2014.

ZO: Absolutely. If you can get to the point where non-philosophers are recommending it as something that’s actually impacted them and changed their day-to-day lives, that has the potential to be really huge and make a big impact on the kind of people who would never discover this stuff otherwise.

Thanks so much for insights, Ryan. Looking forward to reading it.

It’s All An Experiment

I’ve noticed something strange in myself, and after talking with a few friends, it seems I’m not the only one. When I take up something as an experiment, I’m open to failure. I’m like a scientist – focused only on learning and finding the truth. But when in living my usual, day-to-day life, it isn’t so easy. I try to be open. But failure hurts, ya know?

I’m experimenting with fasting right now. I won’t get into the reasons here (I’ll be writing about it for my newsletter subscribers on Sunday), but I haven’t eaten in over 50 hours. It’s surprisingly easy and there’s some interesting science behind it.

But, over the past hour or two, I’ve started to feel lazy and lethargic. And you know what? It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s interesting. I’m learning about how my mind reacts to lack of nutrition. I wonder curiously (but unemotionally) if the feeling will last, or if it’ll dissipate.

There’s something magical about an experiment. We disassociate from the results. We don’t identify our feelings and successes and failures as our own.

But how nonsensical is that? There isn’t a difference. It’s all an experiment.

Identifying with the results of our actions holds us back from taking risks. It stops us from learning new things. We’d be embarrassed if they failed. What if we look stupid!?

I’m trying to break down that divide between experimentation and normal life. Framing things as experiments helps, but it’s cheating. Life is an experiment. And we shouldn’t be embarrassed to mess around a little bit.

Live Like a Stoic

I’m participating in a week-long experiment being run by the University of Exeter. The challenge, which is being followed by hundreds of people, is to live like a Stoic for one week. Stoicism is an incredibly practical philosophy that’s really focused on living a better life. Here’s an excerpt from the Stoic Handbook that I particularly liked.

Nowadays, we understand ‘mindfulness’ to be about paying attention to one’s present moment experience with kindness and non-judgementally. The Stoics also had a technique, called prosoche, which involved paying attention to the present moment.

‘Stoic mindfulness’, however, is not just about paying attention to the moment. Neither is it about focussing on your breath, or things you are doing at the level of sensation, as it is in Buddhist mindfulness. That is not to say that such Buddhist mindfulness techniques would not complement a Stoic’s actions. Indeed, they would: focussing on the moment, and doing what you do with care, is a key Stoic quality. But ‘Stoic mindfulness’ is also a gentle yet consistent monitoring of yourself throughout the day, which asks: ‘am I concerned here with something which is in my control or not in my control?’

Epictetus gives us the example of a singer with stage-fright. This person has ‘placed himself’ in something he cannot control, which is what the crowd thinks of him, such that his happiness depends on that. Epictetus says:

‘When I see man in anxiety, I say to myself, “what can it be that this fellow wants? For if he did not want something that was outside of his control, how could he still remain in anxiety? That is why when singing on his own he shows no anxiety, but does so what he enters the theatre, even though he has a beautiful voice. For he does not wish merely to sing well, but also to win applause, and that is no longer under his control….Why is this? Why, he simply does not know what a crowd is, or the applause of a crowd…hence he must needs tremble and turn pale.’

This is because the singer did not ask himself: ‘Where, in this situation, should I ‘place myself’?’ Had he asked this, he would have decided to focus purely on the performance of his art. Of course, the Stoic singer will be glad if the crowd applauds, but applause was never the point of his singing. The irony, of course, is that the one who focusses on the performance of his art, on being ‘in the zone’, is more likely to do his or her task well, and to win the applause of the crowd anyway. In any event, the key practice is to ask yourself: ‘where I am placing myself here?’ and if, as Epictetus told his students, you find your thoughts are concerned with things you cannot control, remember to say to yourself: ‘that is nothing to do with me!’

If you find this stuff interesting or you’d like to join the experiment, check out the official Stoic week blog. Tons of great stuff. If you want to hear about some of the crazier Stoic experiments that I’m adding to the week but not sharing publicly, join my email list.

Connect with Your Dream Mentors with Tim Kenny

The following is a guest post by Tim Kenny. He creates awesome Accelerated Learning courses for Entrepreneurs. This weeks, his Find Your First Mentor program is being featured on GiveGetWin at over 70% off. Take it away, Tim…

Most people have never had a real mentor in their entire lives. And it makes sense; you never take a class in school about how to find a mentor. A mentor is not just someone who gives you advice (that’s an advisor), a mentor is someone who cares about you and wants to see you succeed.

In our culture we have this idealized picture of what a mentor should be: someone who can give you sage advice on any problem you face in any area of your life. But the truth is these types of mentors are the hardest to find and you can waste years of your life searching for that one magical person instead of deciding to pick different mentors for each area of your life. By having multiple mentors you avoid the mistake of overwhelming one mentor with all your needs and problems.

The Advantage of Younger Mentors

Another myth is that a mentor has to be someone who is much older than you and much more successful. I thought this too for the longest time, until I interviewed Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip (graduated college at 18, 10M + company) about his experience with mentors. He told me that he looks for mentors that are 6-12 months ahead of him in the development of their company. Often these entrepreneurs are only a few years older than him. Why?

Because a younger mentor who has done what you want to do so recently has more recent and up to date advice than a guy who is the CEO of a company and only works on high level strategic planning, hiring and management. Avoid the mistake of trying to get a “celebrity” mentor. Once you realize the value of having a younger, less sought after mentor, you will see that these kinds of mentors are both easier to find and easier to convince to be your mentor.

You have to realize going in that unless someone is very famous on the internet, or are extremely busy or over-contacted for some other reason, they probably don’t have a single mentee and are probably interested in being a mentor to the right person. One of the greatest tasks for an expert or thought leader as they approach middle/old age is finding a single person that they can pass the torch onto. This is a big problem that many potential mentors face and its one that you are perfectly equipped to solve if you follow a few basic principles outlined below.

A Mentor Needs You Just as Much as You Need Them

Never make the mistake of thinking that you need a mentor more than they need you. A mentor who wants something from you is not someone you want as a mentor. Their reward for mentoring is intrinsic — meaning they are getting just as much if not more out of it than you are because they enjoy the process of mentoring. Being a mentor is also an ego-stroke for some people, because it validates their worth as a teacher and someone to look up to as a role model.

Young entrepreneurs get a lot of false ideas about mentoring from “Startup Accelerator Land.” These “mentors” are not real mentors. They are really advisors who in some rare cases become mentors. It’s a mostly professional, not personal, relationship, and there is oftentimes some form of quid pro quo involved. A real mentor is someone who you choose and who chooses you because you are a good fit for each other. You need to really internalize that they are there to serve you and they have just as much to gain from the relationship by teaching as you do by learning.

So — Why Would a Mentor be so Interested in YOU?

Because they see themselves in you, they want to live vicariously through you, they want to re-experience the energy of youth, they admire your courage and youthful enthusiasm, they see helping you as a way to improve the world, your success validates their knowledge and wisdom as an entrepreneur. In many ways the best mentor-mentee relationships resemble an adult father-son relationship in which there is a combination of respect and friendship. Great mentors know that all great mentees will eventually have much to teach them…and the relationship will evolve into a co-mentoring one where they learn as much as they teach.

Remember: a mentor who has already achieved the success you dream of still has something to prove: were they just lucky or can they duplicate their success in another person? An entrepreneur can only achieve the true height of success if they can pass the torch onto someone else who they can help make even more successful than they are themselves.

Your job is to be that right person by being exceptional and taking action on what they tell you to do. For most potential mentors, that’s all it takes to become the perfect person to pass their torch onto and guide along the path of life. Be fearless in your quest to find and contact mentors and you will be surprised at how rich your life becomes.

To learn more about how to find mentors, read Part 2: Cold Emailing Techniques to Find Mentors. To learn about managing your relationships with your mentors, read Part 3: 13 Techniques for Managing Your Mentors.

Most importantly, to dive deep into this material and get the step-by-step on building successful mentor-mentee relationships, check out Tim’s Find Your First Mentor Course. The course usually sells for $97, but because of the charitable nature of GiveGetWin, he’s made 20 spots available for only $29.

Is It Possible To Be Superman For Two Weeks?

I think I’m crazy.

I was talking with my friend Carlos Miceli last week and we realized something obvious: the more good habits you build, the more you stop appreciating them and stress over building new ones. It’s never ending. There’s no “there” there.

My first reaction was to shy away from this. I should appreciate myself more, I should stop pushing so hard, blah blah blah. But that wouldn’t be any fun. So I decided to swing the pendulum the other way.

For the next 15 days, I’m going into superhero mode.

Let me explain: I sat down and articulated my ideal day, incorporating only the projects that are important to me and the new habits I want to build. Now, rather than implementing them slowly, I’m attempting to dive into them all at once.

Why is this productivity blasphemy?

Almost every expert in psychology and behavior change says – very clearly – that habits should be changed one at a time:

“This is incredibly important… One habit only. Do not break this rule” – Leo Babauta (here)

“If you’re serious about making real change, then you have to start small” – James Clear (here)

“You know that feeling when your to-do list gets too long, and you get paralyzed just thinking about it. Trying to learn 20 different things at once is just asking for that feeling” – Zach Obront (here)

Yeah, I just quoted myself.

The idea is that will power is a limited resource. The more you use it, the less you have left. By trying to do too much at once, I’d be exhausting that muscle without giving it time to recuperate. But that’s assuming my will power is static in both cases. It isn’t.

Why do I think it will work?

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but it’s certainly true for me: I have iron will power when I’m all-in, and terrible will power when I’m half-committed.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve decided to vaguely “eat healthy” and done nothing about it. But when I’ve set strict rules, sticking to them was no problem.

This is because the process most draining on our will power isn’t the thing we want to accomplish, but convincing ourselves to do the things we want to accomplish. That internal battle about whether I can justify a burrito bowl as healthy is more mentally draining than eating a chicken breast and some vegetables.

By structuring my days up as a super-clearly-defined, pass-or-fail checklist, I’m alleviated from having to think about what would be a good use of time, and left to focus on doing it. There’s no wiggle room. All the justifications (“I’m just doing research for a blog post”, “It’s not socializing, it’s networking”) are out the window. And, as I’ve talked about before, getting rid of our self-bullshit is the most crucial step to accomplishing more.

Plus, I’ve got some other strategies to keep me committed (see below).

So what’s the plan?


I started off by structuring my ideal day. It looks something like this:

6:00 – Morning Routine 6:45 – Spanish Lesson 7:15 – Write 9:15 – Group Discussion at Exosphere 10:45 – Coding 12:30 – Gym and Lunch 2:00 – Focus on Business 7:30 – Home and Dinner 9:30 – Night Routine 10:00 – Read and Sleep

With that in mind, I pulled out the habits that I’d need to stick with in order to do these things. For example, because I have a tendency to distract myself by any means necessary when I’m trying to write, I implemented a no internet before 9am policy. Because I have a tendency to distract myself with Facebook at all times of day, I implemented a Facebook-only-between-9pm-and-9:30pm policy (this should be zero, but a man’s can only resist his news feed for so long).

The picture above is the 25 point checklist I came up with. If I hit all of these in a day, there isn’t much room to get off-track.

And then, the kicker. If I’d done everything up to this point and stopped I’d be doomed to fail. I’d screw up a couple times, get discouraged, tuck the list away in my desk drawer, and never speak of it again.

That’s not going to happen.

As I talk about in my productivity course, accountability is hugely underrated. Our minds can’t handle the incongruence of publicly saying one thing and doing another. So I turbocharged the accountability to make sure that every failure is as painful as possible (remember, because of loss aversion, threatening failure with pain is much more effective than rewarding success with pleasure … silly humans). Here’s how I did it:

1) Talked about this challenge and how awesome it is and how much I’m going to get done incessantly for the past week. My friends all hate me. They’d never let me live it down if I didn’t stick with it.

2) Embarrassment is good, but money is better. The checklist I posted above? My roommate Alberto is holding on to it. Every box that doesn’t get ticked means money from my pocket to his. Ouch! He’s going to donate it all to charity at the end of the month, but that doesn’t make paying him less painful.

3) I’m writing this post. It’s the first morning of the challenge and I thought an extra boost of accountability couldn’t hurt. This shit is on the internet! There’s no running away now! And I’ll say it here: I’m going to post a detailed post-mortem on November 16th outlining how it went, how I feel, what I’d do differently, and what was accomplished. “It was really hard so I gave up” doesn’t make a very exciting blog post.

One important point to note

This is very temporary: This is an experiment in whether I’m able to stick with this marathon-like productivity for two weeks without burning out. It isn’t a lifestyle change. It’s likely that my expectations for myself will shift and many of the things I’m doing will become long-term habits, but that isn’t the primary goal. If it were, I’d need to scale it back a little, pick it up more slowly, and account for all the temptations that are going to come up. As it stands, I can just tell myself, put it off and think about it in two weeks. Having that end date is powerful.

Cognitive Dissonance as a Productivity Hack (and Introducting: Killing Bob)

Full Disclosure: This post was written to distribute as marketing materials for a new course I’ve opened up – Killing Bob: 6 Psychological Tactics to Get Rid of your Inner Procrastinator. It’s jam-packed with both cool science and actionable advice to accomplish your goals. 

I’ve set up a $40 discount for my blog readers. Just use this link and the coupon code: “ZACHLOVESYOU”


For a long time, I thought I was a robot. I have no idea why. I wasn’t lacking empathy or emotion or soft, fleshy skin. I didn’t talk in a monotone voice or have an awkward walk like C3P0. But, for some reason, I expected that my goals were the only inputs into my decision-making and that I should naturally be following them like I was executing some kind of computer code. The only thing standing between me and greatness was the right set of goals! Unfortunately, I’m human, and that’s not how humans work.

The biggest barrier between me and success was my own psychology.

What’s wrong with me? I thought. Why am I constantly acting against my own best interests? The answer lies in the genes I inherited from my ancient ancestor, Bob.

Laziness 101

Bob was lazy. You wouldn’t know it from watching him though. He hunted, gathered, fished, fought, evaded, outsmarted, and killed on a daily basis. But he did it out of immediate necessity. He would have loved to sit around all day, if it wouldn’t have lead to certain death. Necessity propelled him to action. Just because a child with a gun to his head is following orders, doesn’t mean she isn’t lazy at heart.

The reason for Bob’s laziness is that action – any action – is calorically draining. And in a time when life depended on maintaining a surplus between energy consumed over energy expended, to use up energy on non-essential activities would be ridiculous. Our genes carry this message: “Do enough to survive, but no more.” It’s not survival of the fittest. It’s survival of the fit enough.

But we live in a very different world today: one where energy is no longer hard to come by and complimenting a woman on her caloric surplus is likely to get you slapped. There’s no need to be so protective of our movements. More calories are only a Big Mac away.

The Mental Side

This instinct reverberates through every aspect of our lives. As you know, laziness is more than just about physical movement. We’re cognitive misers too.

And the problem with mental tasks, as opposed to physical ones, is that we rarely see an immediate reward. Whereas the body has evolved mechanisms to encourage you to get up and run when a threat exists, the ability to sit down and work doesn’t have that genetic benefit.

Our minds are cheapskates, but they aren’t very good at calculating future value. And like the business owner who values frugality over reinvesting in his business, this is a sure path to failure.

Is There an Escape?

Fortunately, psychologists have spent enough time studying the brain that we’ve learned how to trick ourselves into greatness. When you structure your goals in such a way that your mind sees them as both crucial and immediately valuable (and prime your brain to be in a state to handle them), you will be able to funnel your natural ability to accomplish into whatever tasks you face. No matter how dull it might seem.

This article is going to show you one of my favorite techniques to harness this power: employing cognitive dissonance to force your behavior into alignment with your goals.

Cognitive Dissonance

Fancy psych words are scary, so let’s simplify things: cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get by holding two conflicting opinions, most often when the version of reality inside your head doesn’t mesh with the outside world.

The most common reaction to this gap is self-deception. Rather than acknowledge the problem and do something about it, it’s more comfortable to convince ourselves that the problem doesn’t exist. “There’s no way she’s ignoring my calls – she must have lost her phone.

Sure, buddy.

But rather than shying away from reality by eliminating cognitive dissonance, you’re going to learn two techniques for amping up the dose of reality. We’re going to confront reality head on.

First, an example of how powerful it is. Fostering cognitive dissonance has long been used as a manipulative compliance technique by marketers. In order to test its influence, psychologists performed a famous experiment where researchers asked a small group of randomly selected people to put a small sign on their lawn that said: “Be a Safe Driver.” Almost everyone agreed. Weeks later, the researchers went door to door asking households to put up a massive, ugly billboard that encouraged safe driving. The result: those who had been primed with the small sign were over four times more likely to agree to the larger one. Putting up the small sign subconsciously affirmed their self-perception as a person who is against unsafe driving. Even such a minor reminder was enough to significantly influence their actions weeks later.

And, like many compliance techniques that can be used on us by others, we can use cognitive dissonance to change our own habits. There are two ways of accomplishing this: by affirming our identity to encourage acting in accordance with it or by tracking our behaviors to make plain the gap between our beliefs and our actions. Essentially, these are two sides of the same coin: the goal is to force ourselves to see reality as plainly as possible so that the discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance can work its magic.

Affirm Your Identity with Accountability

Like in the “Be a Safe Driver!” study, you can encourage a behavior in yourself by reaffirming your desires that it aligns with. By reminding ourselves of our overarching beliefs, we tend to act in accordance with them.

That sounds vague, so here’s the most important piece: put your goals (which are really just the concrete manifestations of your beliefs and values) in writing. Beliefs are fuzzy, so they lend themselves to self-deception. And self-deception is the enemy!

By putting your goals in writing, there’s nowhere to hide. If you accomplish them, you succeeded. If you don’t, you failed. Not allowing for any self-bullshit is crucial in keeping yourself motivated.

This can be done privately, but it’s infinitely more powerful if done publicly. Announcing your plans, goals, and beliefs to the world works wonders to motivate us towards acting in accord with them.

In one study where a group of dieters were made to announce their plans publicly on Facebook, compliance with the diet skyrocketed. The hypothesis is that they could no longer delude themselves into not taking their food choices seriously in their moments of weakness. The devil on their shoulder, whispering, “You never really cared about this diet anyways” was instantly shut up. They’d publicly declared the importance of this diet. To not follow through would be to acknowledge their weakness and shatter their identity.

This is the path you should take. Make your goals known. That way, not only is there an indisputable record of what you hoped to accomplish for you to compare yourself to, but the rest of the world can see it too. Yes, there is the risk of looking like a failure. But a risk of looking like a failure that decreases the chances of actually being a failure is no risk in my books.

Acknowledge the Gap through Tracking

“What gets measured, gets managed” – Peter Drucker

Tracking our actions is another way to make clear the gap between our self-perception and reality. As was discussed above, it’s easy to delude ourselves about fuzzy notions. Translating these loose beliefs into concrete measurements creates enormous behavior change with almost no effort.

We often hold vague beliefs like “I’m a hard worker” or “I eat healthily” without really examining our behaviors to see whether they support these beliefs. Forcing ourselves to see whether the facts align with our perceptions can often be jarring.

Sticking with the diet examples, there was a study where experimenters had groups of volunteers follow different diet plans. The most successful group actually didn’t get any diet instructions at all. Instead, they were required to photograph every meal and snack they consumed. The cognitive dissonance between the participants’ self-perception and the reality of the folder of pictures saved on their phones shaped their behavior better than any meal plan could.

So what does this look like from a general productivity perspective? Time tracking.

Time tracking is one of the biggest instant performance boosts I’ve ever experienced. As my friend and absolute productivity machine Sebastian Marshall wrote: “If you’ve never tracked yourself, you don’t even know how much power there is in tracking. I couldn’t even explain it adequately. You wouldn’t believe me. You’d think I was exaggerating.”

Admit it. After that review, you’re itching to try it out.

Principles of Time Tracking

The idea of time tracking is just that – to track your time. There really isn’t anything else to it. If that means writing a detailed journal every night, that’s fine. If it means filling out a worksheet, that’s good too. The simple act of breaking down your behavior will force you to examine it and learn from it. Essentially, all the advice that follows serves only two purposes: to allow you to record the most useful information with the least possible effort.

Here are the four principles of time tracking that have led to successful results for myself and the people I’ve helped.

1) Focus on the right things

If you don’t care about your diet, don’t write down what you have for breakfast. If you don’t care about how much sleep you get, don’t write down how many hours you slept. This seems obvious, but the urge to track everything quickly becomes overwhelming. Focus on the habits you want to develop and the behaviors you want to be doing on a daily basis.

2) Start small and build up

Although the purpose of time tracking is to develop better habits, time tracking itself is a habit. And, like any habit, it’s important to start small and build up. As tempting as it is to want to track everything, don’t overwhelm yourself with a complicated 20 page document to fill out every night. I promise: if your time tracking sheet involves writing an essay, you won’t last a week. Make it as easy as possible so the time tracking habit becomes automatic. Then, if you still want, add more variables.

3) Never skip a day

Momentum is king. By missing a day, you harm yourself in two ways. First, you make justifying future slacking easier. Second, you sabotage your results and make the entire process less useful, so the benefits are less likely to outweigh the costs.

Jerry Seinfeld’s method of comedy writing revolves around this principle. It doesn’t matter if what he produces is good or bad, long or short. If he writes something, he can cross a day off the calendar (the psychological benefits of this are discussed more in Module 4 of our Killing Bob course). He claims that the momentum is the key to staying on track.

Take his advice. Never skip a day.

4) Make it easy on yourself

In the same way that it is important to keep your time tracking sheet short, the ease of filling it out is crucial too. As was touched on above, you’re far less likely to stick with writing a nightly essay than filling in a few one-word answers.

Try to stick with as many Yes/No questions as possible. Filling in numbers is good too.

Make everything as straightforward and objective as possible. Make filling out the sheet easy enough that, when you’re tired and want to go to sleep, you don’t put it off.


Accountability practices and time tracking are amazing techniques to promote cognitive dissonance and accomplish your goals. However, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. In order to share more big picture psychological principles and corresponding productivity tactics, we’ve created a course called Killing Bob: 6 Psychological Tactics to Get Rid of your Inner Procrastinator. Check it out.

I have a special deal set up for my blog readers. Enter the bonus code “ZACHLOVESYOU” and get $40 off our already low price.

Stop Doing Shit You Hate

“There is not supposed to be some distinction between work and not work. It’s all supposed to be work and none of it is supposed to feel pointless or soul crushing.” — Ryan Holiday

In the last 18 months, the way I think about work has changed very drastically… twice. I can’t directly attribute these changes to specific events: there was no eureka moment, no day when everything was all different, or any Narrative Fallacy nonsense like that. But both of these ideas did have their birth in books, books that planted a seed in my mind which grew, slowly and insidiously, until the ideas became mine. Only with hindsight can I appreciate the impact they had on me.

The first book, and I’m sure there are some readers here who it has launched down a similar path, is Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek. The idea of passive income — putting in work upfront to build a business that might give me complete freedom later — it just intuitively made sense to me. It’s the old maxim that working smart is more important than working hard taken to its extreme. I love to travel, and immature visions of sitting on a beach getting email updates as dollars roll into my bank account took over my dreams. So I set to work on a business that could run on autopilot, managed from anywhere in the world. And, despite it working out, I was completely unfulfilled.

Like many books that birth an idea rather than refine it, the Four Hour Workweek discussed only the most superficial, alluring manifestation of what was otherwise a valuable idea: that we should think outside the box about work and entrepreneurship and build reality for ourselves, focusing on what’s important and not being constrained by the way things have traditionally been.

But then, fortunately, I discovered the second book that changed my thinking: Ikigai by Sebastian Marshall.

Within the book, there is an essay called The Weakest of the Great Men of All Time. I won’t ruin it for you (it’s worth reading and re-reading), but it discusses the decision and accompanying mental strife that came along with mentally taking himself out of the top 1% of his peer group, and starting to evaluate himself as the bottom 1% of the heroes of world history.

This shook me up. It was easy to get complacent when comparing myself to people who were achieving less than me. But seeing my life in the bigger picture — Where do I want to be? How great can I be? What do I want to accomplish? — made me realize that that complacency wouldn’t get me anywhere. I could spend the rest of my life living on a beach, earning dollars and spending baht, but I wouldn’t be satisfied.

If I wanted to make the impact I know I’m capable of, I realized, working smart isn’t enough. It’s a good first step, but only in that it allows the impact of hard work to be multiplied.

The principles that Ferriss teaches can allow you to do more in less time. But in that statement lies a spectrum of possibilities, and a simple choice: will you do more or will you save time?

I want to do more. I want to fill my time working on projects I care about with people I admire. I want to step back at the end of the day and be proud of what I’ve accomplished.

Why? Because there’s a big, obvious dichotomy that’s rarely talked about in discussions of work: do you like your work or not? Not do you like your job, but do you like your work? There’s a difference. Overnight shifts where you can read all night, lifestyle businesses where you can travel, this isn’t work that people like. They’re jobs that allow people to minimize how much work they do, to escape the work that they dread effectively.

But screw that. There’s another option. There’s excitement about tomorrow’s project. There’s the pride when you hit publish. There’s the feeling of mastery when a complicated task just flows.

Yeah. I choose work.