When I sit down to meditate I imagine what would have happened if I won that argument with my old boss while soaring through the sky after having jumped off of a clip to escape a situation I didn’t want to be in because I’d rather be doing anything but this since having sex sounds great right now but I can’t do that because I’m meditating for an hour so that I can see through my bullshit excuses for getting upset at people who piss me off for what I now know is no good reason to have gotten pissed off but in that moment I had all the reason to get pissed off at them for cutting me off on the freeway or for even just talking too loudly while I’m trying to write a blog post that no more than 20 people will read because I’m not that good at writing which is why I’m meditating so that I can write at least one original sentence before I die an untimely death by distracting phone notifications trying to tell me that I have a new email I must read while I’m driving my car just a few blocks away so it’s fine I can get away with this it’s not like my whole life is dependent on the quality of my thoughts like all those self-help books try to preach at me.
Your mind, like your body, needs the nutrients and vitamins of good ideas in order to survive and thrive. But as we grow older, our ego turns our head away from good ideas like the child avoiding the choo-choo train of a spoonful of peas.
Good ideas aren’t found out there. They’re found in here, in you. Wisdom means nothing to those who don’t listen. To really read a good book, you first need to actually want to read it. Your own inclination comes from within, not from without.
Therapy is a waste of time (for the client and therapist) to the person forced to go to therapy. “I, according to so-and-so, need help.” That never works. The same is true of reading.
You need to understand your motivations for reading a book. Are you thinking of buying this book because Barnes & Noble says everyone in your town is reading it? Do you want to read because that’s what smart people do? Is the self-improvement regime court ordering you to read a book because if you don’t, then you must be a loser? Or do you want to read because there’s something you need to figure out?
There’s a mistake in assuming all answers come from the outer world. Yes, good books help, but how you approach the book – how you read the book – matters more than what the book is about. Are you reading so that you can show off to your friends? Are you reading just to confirm your barely stable mental model of the world? Or are you reading because you’ve been wearing a dunce cap your entire life, and you’d like to be less of a dunce?
Ask yourself: are my actions in the outer world strengthening, harmonizing, feeding my mind with the proper nutrients?
The outer world nourishes your inner world only when your inner world is understood, and by understood I mean that it is respected: your inner world — your psychology — is never fully understood.
To have insight is to question your reasons for doing anything other than eating, drinking, defecating, and breathing.
P.S: I turned 26 yesterday. Thanks to all who sent me birthday wishes, and big thanks especially to those who sent me some good books. I super appreciate it.
Warning: what follows is a communion of two souls in a chance encounter.
Uri Bram is the publisher of The Browser — a weekly newsletter curated by Uri and his team, read by over 50,000 subscribers. He’s written two books: Thinking Statistically and The Business of Big Data. Uri is also the designer of three games: Lettercat, Person Do Thing, and Days Old.
Uri and I had never spoken before we recorded this episode. And neither had I heard of The Browser prior to two weeks before this post. The morning I discovered their work was the morning I became brighter, smarter, more entertaining, or at the very least, half as much as the folks working hard to produce the world’s favorite curation newsletter.
I kept scrolling through their site.
I was floored.
Their website is topnotch. The giraffe mascot is cute as all hell.
Most important, they collect only the finest, most entertaining and thought provoking articles on the Internet. I’m incredibly impressed at their high bar for quality. I promise that any article chosen by their hard working team is worth the read. This isn’t your typical buzzfeed bullshit. And nor is it as high brow as The New Yorker. The content they collect is fun, interesting, hilarious, and full of humanity. Reading articles from The Browser is now a part of my evening reading routine. It’s making me less stupid, and it’ll make you less stupid, too.
In this conversation, we discuss Uri’s writing process at length. Uri’s a much more experienced writer than I am. And I learned so much about how difficult it is to organize hundreds, if not thousands of ideas in a book. We also discuss content curation (not creation), and why The Browser is world-class at it, game design, meditation, getting unstuck, going for walks and getting out in nature, how regular people can benefit from learning statistics, and much more.
So grab your favorite coffee and please enjoy our talk!
This episode is brought to you by my weekly newsletter, Hey Penguin. Hey Penguin includes tips for improving yourself through creativity, plus a bunch of extra goodies like drafts of blog posts, art I’m digging, letters from my audience, and previews of podcast episodes. Sounds good? Click here to subscribe and get the next issue delivered straight to your inbox on Sunday.
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!
This episode is brought to you by my weekly newsletter, Hey Penguin. Hey Penguin includes tips for improving yourself through creativity, plus a bunch of extra goodies like drafts of blog posts, art I’m digging, letters from my audience, and previews of podcast episodes. Sounds good? Click here to subscribe and get the next issue delivered straight to your inbox.
For those who want to quit,
To quit writing is to take “packing it in” to the extreme. By quitting, you’re packing everything in. All your potential to change someone’s life, shoved back into your prefrontal cortex, never to be seen again.
I’ve almost quit writing these daily posts 328 times. Every morning when I show up to write, I have the choice: write, or don’t write.
But that choice isn’t mutually exclusive to my daily blog.
I’ve almost quit writing my weekly newsletter 10 times.
And I’ve almost quit doing my podcast 17 times.
I’ve come close to quitting so often because I tried to do everything like everyone else. I tried to market my work according to so-and-so. I tried to write about so-and-so topic because it’s popular. I thought I had to be Tim Ferriss to make a 2 hour interview as compelling as a dog chasing its tail. And I thought I had to write a newsletter to rake in oodles of cash.
What’s kept me afloat?
By knowing that if I were to join the military, I wouldn’t last a second.
The best part of starting your own projects is the freedom to do things your way. You need discipline, but you don’t need the same structure as everyone else. You need to organize, but nobody neds to know that you’re terrible at tracking your marketing assets.
Writing is rarely going to be fun, but you can make it fun. You make writing fun by making it rewarding. Jumping around in a bounce house is fun for 12 minutes (more if you’re on LSD), but is it rewarding? The most fun things I’ve ever done were the most challenging. And the most challenging things I’ve ever done were the most rewarding.
If you like writing, but you begrudge it like Thanksgiving dinner with your Uncle Craig, write about something else. This applies to everything. Podcasting, making YouTube videos, starting a business, running a non-profit..
If you like the idea, but you don’t like acting out the idea, try adding a little spice.
Your favorite song is more than a song. It’s an expression of who you are. It’s why you get defensive when somebody says they’d rather put their ears to a jackhammer. And yeah, you can share the same favorite song as somebody else.. But what the song means to either of you is the difference between chocolate and vanilla.
Your favorite song is your favorite song for reasons that are unique to you.
And what about your life?
Here’s a few what if scenarios.
What if your life was your favorite song? All the exciting chorus lines, all the downcast harmonies — what if you could learn to love it all?
What if your life is an expression of who you are?
And what would happen if these questions were no longer thought experiments, but practical standards?
You’re not here to merely live. You’re here to do something else.
I don’t understand a word of anything when I sit.
But when I walk — when I walk, I understand everything.
You open your eyes as the alarm shrieks you out of your dream. Or maybe you’re one of those freaks who “rises with the sun,” as if your body is in a perfect cosmic alignment with the universe. Either way, you’re awake.
On a typical day, say, on a regular ol’ Tuesday, what does the first 15 minutes of your morning look like? Do you flood your psyche with information? Do you allow buzzers, bells, and airhorns to occupy your mind? Or do you employ silence as the canvas on which you will draw the roadmap of your day?
Whatever you choose, airhorns or canvases, you’re choosing intentionally. There’s no use blaming anyone but yourself for your muddy thinking and directionless days.
The smartest people I’ve ever met are those who intend to wake up on purpose.
Recording this episode was like frolicking in a bounce house for adults.
Andrew Barry is one of the most humble and joyful people I’ve ever met. He’s completely shattered all of my previous notions about what a CEO “needs” to be: fast-talking, a phone in each hand, scheduling meetings and forgetting their child’s birthday parties. Andrew’s life is proof that no matter how busy you are, there’s always time for a little curiosity. (Or in Andrew’s case, much curiosity.)
So, who is Andrew Barry? He’s the CEO of Curious Lion – a company that helps clients scale and improve their online learning. Andrew is also an avid blogger who writes about creativity, education, decision making, and group learning.
This is a far-reaching and wide ranging conversation, much like Andrew’s own openness to the world and it’s people. We talk Zen philosophy, Aldous Huxley, meditation, writing, music, flow states, life in South Africa, and so, so much more. We could have spent hours talking about every nook and cranny about life and growth. So expect to see Andrew on the podcast again sometime in the future.
This episode is brought to you by The Hey Penguin Newsletter. Each week, I send out an email about creativity and self-improvement. I also include extra goodies like previews of podcast episodes, drafts of future posts, and my thoughts on art, life, books I’m reading, and more! No two issues are the same. Sign up by clicking here.
Good God it’s hot outside…
I’m no stranger to heat. I’ve lived in California for the last 25 years, so pretty much all my life. But this time, something’s different. This heat is downright oppressive. More than 60 miles away from me, there’s a wildfire so strong that I can see the smoke from outside my window. It’s six in the evening. The sun should be setting.
Instead, it’s trying to set me on fire.
I have a headache. It’s hard to focus. And the heat isn’t helping, either. I have a podcast episode that’s going live tomorrow. My podcast is usually just me reading my daily blog posts. But with 12 hours to go, the page is still blank. Fuck. Not only that, but tomorrow I’m also meeting my first potential client for my consulting business. I’m excited, but I can’t help running scenarios in my head about this meeting blowing up in my face.
Can I deliver what I’ve promised?
Do I actually know what I’m talking about on my landing page?
Shouldn’t I be focusing on that instead of writing this post?
It’s probably not the smartest idea to talk about self-doubt in public. But in recent years, I’ve learned one lesson the hard way – Superman doesn’t exist. Our idols are no more perfect than you and I. You have your doubts. I have my doubts. And guess what? So does Beyoncé. Maybe.
There’s a book laying next to my Tatami mat (yes, I sleep on the floor). It was written by a man who lived thousands of years ago. After finishing this book for the first time, I went right back to the beginning again. The book I’m talking about is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
The self-help world has found itself enamored by Marcus’s private aphorisms for living a full life. “Concentrate on the task at hand like a Roman,” writes Marcus. But the love for stoicism isn’t universally understood. Some corners of the self-help world see stoicism as a mere aesthetic. An aesthetic that preaches the virtues of painting ourselves in bronze, forgoing the cookie for the steak, and doing a thousand push-ups by sunrise.
Here’s a secret – Stoicism has nothing to do with push-ups or the color bronze.
But it has everything to do with September in California.
Stoicism isn’t a philosophy of life. It’s a philosophy for life. Aurelius gave us a set of guiding principles for those fun moments when life sucker-punches us in the gut. I didn’t ask to have this headache. I wish the sun would go away. But the sun and this headache don’t give a damn about me.
Author Ryan Holiday is the embodiment of the modern stoic ideal. Through his three part series on stoicism in daily life, he teaches us that our obstacles are opportunities in disguise, ego is the most toxic force in our lives, and an inner stillness is the greatest productivity trick of all. Holiday understands these principles better than the self-help world. No surprises there. It’s often the individual who understands the nuances of a concept better than the crowd.
But if we look at stoicism through the eyes of someone who never took anything at face value, we find something a little too obvious in hindsight.
Cut from a different cloth, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that stoicism was a form of discipline through self-tyranny. “O you noble stoics,” writes Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, “You want to live ‘according to nature’? Think of a being such as nature is, prodigal beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without aims or intentions, without mercy or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain; think of indifference itself as a power – how could you live according to such indifference?”
To Nietzsche, living according to nature, living stoically, meant seeing indifference itself as a value. He disliked this philosophy for the same reasons he disliked Christianity. He didn’t like rules that would suppress what should be expressed.
Nietzsche believed that one of the great pinnacles of our lives would come when we “transform our evil qualities into our good qualities.” This is one of the most difficult of his aphorisms I’ve come across. I still don’t fully grasp what this means (I don’t have a grasp over 95% of what Nietzsche wrote). But here’s what I think he meant.
Our evil qualities are the creative qualities. We’re told to pay attention in meetings instead of doodling on our notepads. But what if instead of stoically bearing the boredom of a meeting, we used our doodling habit to illustrate a point?
To be yourself is to see yourself for who you really are. It means sitting with all your mistakes, fears, anxieties, doubts, and grievances over the loss of the person you once were — the person someone else wanted you to be. And it means letting yourself do evil, dastardly things. Dastardly things like doodling.
Now I’m looking at another one of Nietzsche’s aphorisms. He writes, “under conditions of peace the warlike man attacks himself.”
Yeah, sounds about right.
It’s hot and I’m sweating and I wish I lived in an igloo. This headache is making me want to rip out my amygdala. But these sensations, heat and headache, they’re just that — sensations.
Today is actually kind of peaceful.