The Penguin Latte Podcast #19 – The Mad Scientist of Reading: Poor Bjorn on Self-Experimenting with Non-Fiction

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Warning: what follows is a conversation for book nerds

Books transform us. When we really dig into a book, nestle beneath the words, peek under the author’s skin, we transcend our current self. We become someone greater. The best books maintain that transformation long after we’ve finished reading the last word.

A book isn’t something to collect. A book is to be experienced. Which is why I wanted to have this conversation with Poor Bjorn (@poorbjorn on Twitter and Instagram). Poor Bjorn loves books. He loves books so much that he doesn’t just read books. He lives books. He’s the creator of an Instagram page where he not only reviews books, he conducts self-experiments based on the lessons from the book.

Bjorn will cover any subject. Stoicism. Wealth. Esoteric Philosophy. Psychology. History. Self-help. Persuasion. Negotiation. It doesn’t matter what the book is about. If it’s physically possible, he’ll run the experiment. He once ordered a square pizza because he read a book about seeking rejection. In an utterly hilarious stroke of fate, he failed the experiment. The pizza place delivered him a square pizza.

So, get comfortable, grab a cup of your favorite hot cocoa, and cozy in for our wide-ranging conversation about all things books! If you’re a fan of my episodes with Andrew Barry, Pranav Mutatkar, Deepu Asok, or Cullin McGrath, I’m sure you’ll have much to appreciate in our conversation. Enjoy!

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How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others and Find Work That Suits You

Naval Ravikant once said, “A sick person wants only one thing.” I’m sick. I want only one thing – to stop comparing my blog to other people’s blogs. Seeing other people’s blogs is now a way to inspire and depress me. It’s great to see other writers sticking it out on their own, making money while they sleep. But it’s depressing when I perceive their success as evidence that I’ll never do the same.

So I wrote this to cure my sickness. If you’re catching yourself comparing more than creating, I hope this helps.

I wish I could position myself as someone who doesn’t struggle with this. “I can’t. I’m no guru.” I often paralyze myself by looking at all the blogs with as many as thousands of readers and as revenue. But by doing this I’ve learned that too much comparison leads to a temptation to copy. “They’re doing it that way. So, I must do it that way. Though I know nothing about SaaS marketing, I should start a SaaS marketing blog.” A project should be as interesting today as it is tomorrow. If I were to start blogging about SaaS marketing, I wouldn’t look forward to working on it the next day.

Ambitious coders and writers in the world of the “new rich” dream of building the asset that earns money while they sleep. When a side-project succeeds in becoming that money earning asset, we see it as the ticket to our dreams. “That worked for them. Which means that I should do the same.” But it’s likely that the work that went into their successful project is not the kind of work that you want to do. You see their results. You don’t see the type of work that led to their results. So you cannot truly copy somebody else’s results. You could copy the image of the results. You could build a landing page that promotes a new email service. But if you’re not interested in programming everyday, then you’ll lose interest in the project.

Projects that interest you are projects that remain interesting. Let’s say that you’re interested in metaphysics. Writing about metaphysics might seem like a waste of time to a Javascript developer. But to you, it’s something that you could write about tomorrow, the day after, and next week. Pretty soon you’re running medefizik.blog, the number one metaphysics blog. Now, that Javascript developer is jealous of you. They haven’t made a dollar off of their coding project. They’re comparing their software to your blog. They’re sick. All they want is their project to succeed.

Naval Ravikant followed up his statement about sick people by saying, “Happy people want ten thousand things.” A happy person wants their projects to succeed. But they also want their success to benefit other people. They want other people to reap the rewards of the hours of work that went into this piece of coding or writing. This list goes on for another 9,996 reasons for why the happy person stays productive.

Comparing yourself to others is not an effective way to move forward. A better way to move forward is to start working – even if you don’t know what to work on. This is a kind of work that I call faux-work: the work of figuring out what kind of work suits you. Faux-work is the foundation of the work that you’ll do for the rest of your life. When you start faux-working, even if you’re just spewing word vomit into Evernote, you’ll become conscious of what interests you. What interests you becomes your work. Your real work. The work that you can’t wait to get back to. This isn’t to say that we don’t need accountants. There are people who would love to do your accounting. And there are people who would love to read your blog about metaphysics.

“But I don’t have any original ideas”

Right. Neither do I. Neither does anyone.

The idea doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to us.

Steven Pressfield pointed out that resistance is what gets us stuck. But resistance wasn’t his idea. He didn’t invent what it feels like to be stuck. Stuck creatives invented what it feels like to be stuck by feeling stuck. Then Steven Pressfield came along and used one word to express what it’s like to feel stuck. Resistance was only the word. The idea of being stuck belonged to the stuck creative.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent the social creature. He didn’t invent a need to connect to other people. Facebook was his invention. A need for connection wasn’t his idea. It was our idea. We were social creatures before Zuckerberg came along. So Facebook worked.

We use Facebook because we want to feel connected.

We call it resistance because that’s what it feels like to be stuck.

We drink coffee because we don’t want to feel tired.

Original ideas are words and images that resonate with ancient feelings. Too often, the stuck creative focuses on the original idea first.

Humans have been around for a long time. You and I don’t have the omnipotence to invent a new need, personality trait, or desire. Nobody needs a $500 purse. Ancient nobility didn’t need a $500 purse, either. But what modern people and ancient nobility share in common is a need to feel luxurious. They need what the $500 purse will make them feel. The need to feel luxurious has been around since the age of kings and queens.

Is uniqueness dead? Are there no more final frontiers? Have The Simpsons claimed sovereignty over every new idea?

Of course not. You’re the final frontier. Nobody has expressed ideas in the way that only you can. Your idiosyncrasies are unique to you. Your personality is yours – nobody else’s.

The need to be original is why there’s more stuck creatives than unstuck creatives. The need to be original is a trap. We don’t have any original ideas. Opening up a gym so that people can get fit isn’t a new idea. We’ve been opening up gyms and getting fit since ancient Rome.

Instead of trying to come up with original ideas, let’s come up with unoriginal ideas instead.

Here’s some questions that’ll help with that:

What do you see that we don’t see?

What can you offer that nobody else can?

What’s your take on this?

What are your assertions?

Why is this so important to you?

What can you articulate that we find hard to express?

What would happen if you walked up to someone on the street and said, “Hey here’s my original idea”? What would they say? “Thanks, but what’s in it for me?” They’re not being selfish. You’d say the same thing. People want unoriginal feelings. Connection, luxury, status, alliance, anger, tension – those aren’t new feelings. They’ve been around forever. To disregard these essential elements of human nature is to be negligent of how people work.

You’re a person. You know how people work. Getting in your way means that you’re focusing too much on what you need.

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Shape-shifter

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The best thing about living in a subjective reality is that it’s subject to change – to your change. Within your subjective reality is your subjective representation of objects, experiences, people, and most important, of self.

The cardinal decision is to change the experience that you have of your self. None of the other changes can happen before you change that.

What most calls for your attention is determined by the way that you experience your self. A great book can be said to be intrinsically valuable. But to somebody who doesn’t experience themselves as a reader, then the book is nothing but a doorstop. The essay that’s due yesterday isn’t a priority to the person who experiences their self as a slacker.

When you decide to change the way that you experience your self, things that were once invisible become visible.

A book is no longer a doorstop. The pages within are now possibilities to humble yourself with all the ways that you didn’t know this about the world.

A phone is no longer an attention vacuum. A phone is now a possibility to connect with other people who want to change their self experience the way that you do.

Your opponent is no longer somebody who wants you to lose. Your opponent is now somebody who challenges you to play at your best.

This day is no longer something that you’re just trying to get through. This day is now the best day that you’ve ever had, even though you were just fined a $50 parking violation.

Objects, experiences, and people transform into potential outlets that help bring about your best self. And your best self is the version of you that accepts the fact that you’re not omnipotent – that you’re going to need all the help you can get from people that represent you as the example.

Penguin Latte Podcast 10: Why read?

Why read?

In this episode, I attempt to answer that question. It’s one of those questions with an answer that’s so obvious, so self-evident, that it’s nearly impossible to answer. It’s like asking why it is that we should breathe.

And here’s the episode on Spotify:

Penguin Latte 01: Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Today, I’m launching the first episode of the Penguin Latte Podcast.

In this podcast, I’ll be sharing with you thought provoking ideas from the fields and practices of Psychology, business, marketing, self-development, art, minimalism, meditation, and everything in between.

This is a podcast about the ideas and stories that challenge you to be your best self.

Ultimately, this is a podcast about quality.

Here’s the first episode.

And here are the show notes.

Zen and The art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

Josh Waitzkin’s recommended books on Philosophy (how I discovered Zen and The Art)

 

Trappings – Walden and The Four-Hour Workweek

 

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Minimalism is not for everyone. No lifestyle is for everyone.

But damn is there some strong literature that suggests we take stock of everything that we own, and everything that we do, and ask ourselves, do I need this?

Do I need this job? That’s the question being asked in The Four-Hour Workweek.

But to this day, readers still think that Tim Ferriss is asking, do I need a job? Do I need a job and do I need this job are two different questions with two different answers: Yes to the former, no to the latter.

No to the latter because if you’re seriously considering the question, then the job has you trapped.

And trappings are exactly what Henry David Thoreau is writing about in the beginning of Walden – a book that Tim Ferriss recommended at the end of The Four-Hour Workweek. (An overlooked chapter of the book.)

The stronger we identify with possessions and habits, the thicker the chains. We often tell ourselves, “I’m this way. I can’t do it that way.” Or, “I’ve had this [object/habit] for years. Why give it up now?”

But underneath the question of “do I need this job?” is the question of, “why do I feel trapped by this job?”

And so you dig deeper, revealing to yourself all the ways in which you ended up in this position that you don’t like anymore. It’s a scary psychological place. It’s just not fun to admit to yourself that you’ve succeeded your way into a trap.

What to do? Return to the original question. Do I need this? 99 times out of 100, your first answer will be, “yes I need this because I need that.”

Then, something annoying happens.

A new question comes up.

“Wait,” you ask yourself. “Do I need that?”