skip to Main Content

This homework is for my kids. My wife and I always wonder, “Why don’t schools teach life skills?” Where are the practical tools that bend the trajectory of your future? If you find any use from this, good on ya.

This list will get bigger. It should be adequate by the time you read it. It’s not intended to force you in any direction, just to help you be better informed to “choose your choice” as your mom says.

Books

“Remember what Epictetus said: Just because someone spends time reading doesn’t mean they’re smart. It matters how and what you read. So start this practice earlier, start it now. Be a real reader, be a wide-ranging, critical reader. A questioner. A reviewer. A thinker.”

from “Not Just To Read, But To Read Critically” (Listen)

First, learn how to read. Then find good sources of books. Read classics. Read recommendations from people you admire. Read what you’re interested in.

  • Here’s a whole page with the top ten books. There will be overlap. Some of these and below are not classics. They’re here because they were popular when I wrote this. But they impacted me and I think they’ll help you. Choose your choice.
  • This is Water – also listen to the speech audio
  • Any book on stoicism
    • Maybe start with a modern text, they’re easier.
    • Try Meditations, even though the English is old – fun to read the journal of maybe the most powerful man ever. Lots to learn. No one is that special – not a boss, president, parent, or pick your authority figure.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning
  • Talent is Overrated
  • Mastery
  • Extreme Ownership
    • Even if you don’t want to lead people, you’re the only person to lead yourself. This book will help you want to follow yourself. Plus, it’s hard to do much without leading people occasionally.
  • Charlie Munger
    • Not sure if the best book has been written yet but try these:
    • Poor Charlie’s Almanack
    • Seeking Wisdom
    • A good resource on mental models

If you go the creative route, try these. Biased opinion here but any route worth taking is creative. Even if it’s not listed as a “creative” pursuit, that doesn’t mean it isn’t.

  • The War of Art
  • Steal Like an Artist
  • The Creative Habit

Self Defense

We’ll practice these. Even if you don’t like it, you should know a few things. Women can’t compete with men here except in rare circumstances. You can shift the odds a bit. Learn these things.

  • One good punch
  • How to defend a takedown
  • Jiujitsu guard (bonus points for elbows)

These are the equalizers.

  • Vicious, animal instincts – seriously, it helps…I’ve seen it
  • Weapons you master
  • Groin strikes
  • Screaming
  • Teeth
  • Brain

Most importantly.

  • Recognize a bad situation – lookup situational awareness, watch The Bourne Identity
  • When in doubt, sprint.

Philosophy

Read stoicism. Read Frankl. Read anything you can get your hands on. You don’t have to agree with it all. That’s the point. Think deeply. If you don’t, no worries. But the world could use more depth.

Relationships

Think of your best relationship. Think of the best relationship you’ve witnessed. That’s your model. If you suspect there’s better, if you want better, find other people with great relationships and watch how they treat each other.

Be kind with your words. Be kind with your actions and reactions. Invest the time, the energy, the caring. If you don’t get it back, time to cut the cord.

Always assume people are acting with their best intention based on their skill and experience. They might not know how to do better. They might be having a bad day. It doesn’t mean they hate you. It doesn’t mean they’re evil. But if they can’t get their $h*t together in a reasonable timeframe, cut the cord.

Don’t try to retrain people. Do give the feedback if you care about them. You want the right mindset from them and you, the right timing. Sometimes that never comes together and you just need to give it anyway. Just look for better moments if you can spot them.

On long-term relationships, I read a statistic that says successful marriages have a greater than five to one positive to negative feedback ratio. I’d say that applies to any long relationship. Compliment people often. It makes them feel good. Everyone could use feeling good more often. And it builds trust. Which you’ll need if you ever have to tell them something they need to know but won’t like. Sometimes, I just tell people it would be easier for me to not give them feedback. It would. You give hard feedback because you care. If you’re doing it for any other reason (anger, jealousy, self-defense), stop. You need to work on yourself.

Love yourself first and you’re better able to love others. If you can’t find love for yourself, remember many other people do or did. And they weren’t crazy. You are worth loving. Always.

Health

One way I look at life is: I have to look after my own health first or I’m not much good to the people I love. That’s part selfish, part true. You can overwork yourself, push through pain, ignore issues and it can help in the short term. In the long-term good health makes life better for you and everyone around you.

So be active. Move often. Walk often. Lift heavy things. Get hot. Get cold. Cultivate relationships. Learn how to manage stress. I hit a bag. You might play a sport, talk with a friend, watch a funny movie. Create your own toolkit for stress. When stress happens, I do x, y, and/or z. And when it gets bad, lean on the people closest to you. Don’t feel bad. That’s why we have family. That’s why we have friends. We celebrate the good times. We pull each other through the bad times.

You’ll find big trade-offs in life between constant, potentially chronic stress when it comes to jobs, money, and sustaining life. Many jobs that pay well come with lots of stress, which is bad for you. So is not eating. You can find a job that pays well that you’re great at and is less stressful. If you love it so much that the challenge (the stress) is a game you enjoy overcoming, that’s ideal. Or choosing a life with less stress, more simple, less monetary needs is a worthwhile endeavor. If you find yourself stuck in chronic stress from a job or for some other reason, remember you can change. At any time you can choose a different path. It will come with different stress. You won’t know if it’s better until you choose. And if it’s worse you can always choose again.

You are what you eat. So eat well. Eat plants. Eat plenty of fats. Don’t listen to popular diets. Don’t eat what the rest of America eats. Eat real food. Read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. If you follow most of those you’ll be set for life. And you most likely will reach a certain age where carbs won’t be your friends. Sometime between your late 20s and 40. Carbs aren’t bad. But unless you’re training like a madman at this age, your energy levels will be more stable if you cut down to minimal sugars and starches.

It’s easy to say: don’t stress about weight. But for women in America in this era that may be impossible. But weight fluctuates for many good reasons. So if you’re going to focus on something, measure your body fat. It won’t subject you to the seemingly random yo-yoing of numbers that have nothing to do with whether you’re getting leaner, stronger, or healthier.

Sleep. Sleep enough. Sleep occasionally without an alarm clock. If you can’t sleep well, if you wake up tired day after day, hire a professional. Almost nothing sets you back faster in life than bad sleep except a major injury. The difference is: no one sees your bad sleep. get help.

  1. Sleep
  2. Nutrition
  3. Movement
  4. Relationships
  5. Stress management

These are the foundations of good health. If they’re breaking down, find the best healthcare team you can. Remember many people are good at solving the simple problems. If your problem isn’t simple, you need to find the best. You’ll have to work hard or find someone to help you find the right person to help.

Mental Health

We’re Irish. We like to ruminate. So get used to managing your mental state. Men drink. I boxed. And when I couldn’t do that, I meditated, yoga-ed, walked, lifted. Sometimes I even socialized. You’re half Irish so that helps. But you’ll still need to work on this.

Alright, first things first. You are not the center of the universe. This is important to repeat. You are not the center of the universe. I love you. But nobody else cares. I mean, they do but they don’t. Most people are so caught up thinking about themselves they spend a small fraction of a percent of their time thinking about others. So when you’re worried about what someone else thinks of you, don’t worry. They’re too busy thinking about themselves.

When you’re stressing about your work or something you did, ask yourself “what would an unbiased observer think of what I did?” Then ask a clear-headed friend or family member or a colleague what they think. Recalibrate your thoughts about your performance based on what you hear and the gap between that and what you thought of yourself. We’re prone to high expectations of ourselves, overachievers. Life ain’t all overachievement. Often it’s just achievement. Sometimes, it’s failure. You miss out on the best parts of life if you don’t approach failure and stare it in the face. Laugh at it. Cry at it. And sometimes failure wins. That’s the price you pay to be great. “It’s not the critic who counts.” Look it up.

Next instead of thinking more, start acting more. Go for a walk. Jump in a pool. Visit a park. Go to the beach. Play a sport. Do something, anything that requires full 100% use of your brain on your environment. When caught in endless loops of thought, more thinking doesn’t break you out of it. Find the escape hatch. Act.

And for your survival bag, hopefully this fear-setting exercise link will still exist when you read this. If not here are questions from it.

Define 

  • What are your worrying about?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario?

Prevent 

  • How might you avoid this problem?
  • What could you do to avoid the worst case?

Repair

  • How might you fix this problem if it happens?
  • What actions would enable you to recover  from this scenario?

 Success Tradeoff

  • What are the benefits of of overcoming your fears?
  • What might your future look like?

Action vs Inaction Tradeoff

  • What are the physical, emotional, financial impacts of not acting to mitigate the impact of your fears OR pursuing your goals despite your fears?
  • What does your future look like in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years if you don’t act? What does the future look like if you act?

Purpose and Meaning

What is the meaning of life?

To answer that question with your actions.

That’s it.

I think I stole this from Frankl. Read Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a good one. Read all the smart people on purpose and meaning.

If you watch the famous and powerful, you might feel small in comparison. If you watch great parents and you don’t have kids, you might feel inadequate. If you watch your rich friends and work for beans, you might feel deprived. You don’t have to choose in comparison to others. The meaning you bring to this world is your own. You can learn options from others. But when you’re thinking about what you want your life to be, clear your mind of everything else. You choose your choice. Then get after it.

And remember you can choose again. Every moment until your expiration date.

Happiness

Happiness is fleeting. It’s temporary. There’s no eternal smiley-face. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for. Those moments are precious, the peaks of our life.

When people say they don’t want happiness I turn, walk, then sprint away before I become infected. I’ve heard it said in a way that makes me think the person just wasn’t willing to risk the pain of failing to become happy. That’s sad. Sometimes, you’ll try very hard and fail. And sometimes you’ll succeed and be happy. It’s worth it.

And when your mind becomes wise, you might even be able to step back relatively quickly after the failure and think, “This is the price I pay for my eventual happiness.” It’s a numbers game. Try more and you fail more. But you also succeed more. It’s a more interesting life than an even graph, not too high, not too low. Never trying.

You do have to pick your battles that are worth fighting. It’s hard to fight a war on all fronts – job, relationships, stress, hobbies, sleep, and all the rest. You might find you gravitate towards certain things making you happier.

I like this equation.

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

So you can lower your expectations or improve reality to be happier. Most people I know fight their tail off to improve reality. That’s commendable. Often it comes with stress or psych meds or drugs. What we’re most proud of in life comes from these battles. They are not to be looked down upon.

Sometimes you need to lower expectations. This feels more wise to me. That doesn’t mean it’s the right and only choice, more than you become more selective at picking your battles as you see your world with a broader perspective.

Here’s another equation.

Subjective wellbeing = genes + circumstances + habits

You can’t control your genes or much of your circumstances. So focus on your habits. If you find and build habits that make you happy, the rest takes care of itself. If you plan to work a job and children, that will consume over seventy-five percent of your waking hours for twenty-plus years of your life. That will be your habits. So get a job that lets you exercise the habits you enjoy. Find a partner who enjoys similar habits or lets you make time for yours. And find things to do with kids that you can both enjoy. Like squats with a toddler on your back, rowing with a baby in your lap, plyometric chest throws with little you.

With that bare minimum of time outside of sleeping, working, childcare, eating, cleaning, and required daily activities of life, know those habits that put a smile on your face. Exercise is one that works for most people. That’s my base. There are many forms. But movement is a basis for feeling good about life. So is creativity, whether it’s writing, problem-solving, designing. Move often. Create something. A recipe for happiness.

One more recipe is habits equals faith plus family plus friends plus work. It’s hard to be great at all four. So pick two or three or be okay being okay at all four. I’ve heard it called four burners or the seasons of life. It’s hard to keep all four burning at high intensity all the time. You can focus on different areas during different parts of your life. Focus on relationships, productive work, and the transcendental parts of life, not just religion but nature, great achievement, peak creativity, children.

Here’s my list of things that consistently make me happy.

  • Learning, really deliberate practice
  • Anything that gets me into a flow start – writing, training, problem solving, hard things, physical things
  • Competition might force present-focus and flow more than anything else.
  • Great achievement – when you’re working on a hard goal it feels like a competition and you tend to flow more quickly. Besides relationships you might get a handful of things you produce in life you’re proud of. Make them count.
  • Travel, but really epic travel like seeing Paris, Sagres, the Cliff of Moher, Santorinin but any new and exciting experiences
  • Nature whether it’s walks, swimming, the ocean, anything, when in doubt get outside. When you’re in your own head, go outside. Even when it rains. Even when it’s cold. Even when it’s hot, go outside.
  • Love and family and friendship – don’t miss the moments. I’m not the most social person but I love the people I love and I love to spend time with them. Small groups of people with tight bonds makes the hardest parts of life easier.

You might see some themes above. Things that force you one-hundred percent into the present moment normally makes you happier. Sometimes, they make you sad too but can we have happiness without sadness?

  • Present over past or future.
  • Active over passive.
  • Moving over thinking.
  • New experiences over routine experiences.
  • Growth over stagnation.
  • Outside over inside.
  • Creating over consuming.

Life Skills

pulled some of this list from here

  • Independent, first-principles thinking – most people are looking to someone else for the answers. Just because everyone thinks something doesn’t make it right. It just makes it easy to follow. Try learning something so well you can rely on yourself for the answers. Then clear your mind. Clear everything. What do you think?
  • How to argue and debate productively
  • How to be an effective learner
  • Intellectual humility – ask yourself “how am I wrong?” Be skeptical of yourself. Learn where you’re wrong from others. Learn where they’re wrong too.
  • Independent problem-solving skills, through practice
  • Basic math
  • Basic science, and more importantly, a lot of practice with the scientific method
  • Basic civics
  • Basic money management – learn investing and leverage early enough and your life will be much easier.
  • Enough writing and speaking skills to be an effective communicator – even as an introvert this wasn’t very hard once I practiced. When you want to learn, practice. Put yourself in situations where you’re forced to practice often.
  • Enough history to understand why fundamental liberal rights were invented and how precious they are
  • Older students should be able to go deeper in the areas they feel most drawn to or, if resources allow, take electives where they can learn a more specific skill

Here are my additions.

  • The scientific method. Don’t just read it. Learn it. Apply it. Over and over again. Most humans are not scientific. It shows. Life is better with a scientific mind. You learn to run experiments. Analyze deeply. Control your variables. The importance of cycle times. Feedback cycles. You’re not the average person making things up in their head and thinking it’s real. Wait, you’ll still be that but less frequently which brings us to the next point.
  • Probablistic thinking. Most people think things are good or bad, right or wrong. Wrong! That makes my point better because it’s not cool to say “mostly wrong, most of the time”…even though it’s more true. Most things in life exist on a spectrum. They come with good and bad. They’re right for this, wrong for that. This type of thinking makes your brain hurt which is part of why most people don’t do it. It gets easier with practice.
  • Creativity. Some people think this is genetic. Maybe. Partially. People say it like it’s binary. Either you have the genes or not. When in doubt, reject the binary assumption. The “genes answer” is an easy way to assume you’re not creative and not work at it. That’s easy for me to say because I’d call myself creative. I’ve worked at it. I found creativity through the martial arts. Study something so deliberately for so long that you see things others don’t. And then through writing. Spend enough time at the keyboard to connect ideas others haven’t. Now there are spectrums. Some people will say no one ever has an original idea. They’re all repeats. Don’t listen to them. That’s ridiculous. And guess what? If you independently come upon a great idea someone already had, that’s a pretty good indicator you’re creative. They just got their first. Good for them. Good for you. Now to develop creativity, I like deliberate practice for long periods of time. But if you want to exercise your creative muscle quicker for general application, try Ten Ideas Practice. When I use this consistently, I notice I’m much better at solving problems, hard problems. Sometimes, I’ll take a week on a hard problem and generate seventy ideas. Most are bad. Usually one is good. If you do it for a year, that’s 3,650 ideas. 3,649 can be awful. Just look for the one great one. But don’t just do it for the grand payoff. Do it because it makes being creative and solving problems easier. Now if you struggle getting started, first write down a list of ten things you want to generate ideas about. That’s your first ten. Then start tomorrow with that list.

Things to Cultivate

  • Energy. See the health section. All those good habits give you more potential energy, a higher upside. It’s hard to execute well, hard to be creative, and problem solve when you’re tired. You will get tired. But build a base of boundless energy that makes you feel like a superhero when you start your day. With high energy everything is a little easier. You get more done, feel more happy about what you did, and have more energy for the next thing. The cycle repeats.
  • Earnest disposition. You don’t have to be earnest about everything all the time. If you’re not earnest about anything, you’re not living much of a life. Take breaks when you need to, but dive into projects, form strong beliefs, and get things done.
  • Independent-mindedness. Even with strong beliefs, stay open-minded to changing them. Don’t just go with the crowd. Look for opportunities when the crowd is wrong. It could make you a lot of money. More importantly, it’s both a fun game to play and challenges your brain. Some people seem incapable of this type of thinking. I don’t know if they were born that way or fell into slovenly mental habits. You’re capable. Learn from the best. Think for yourself.

More

  • How the economic machine works
  • How to live in the moment
    • Doesn’t matter how you do it – meditation, nature walks, deep breathing, exercise, cold showers, games, art, competition.
    • When you’re focusing often on the past or future, pull out your bag of tricks to live in the present.
    • Remember, we’re Irish. We’re prone.

Quotes To Live By

I call these quotes to live by which is like my top-ten list but it keeps getting longer and longer. So pick and choose. But I found these impactful.

  • What’s next? – President Bartlett The West Wing. Always look forward. Don’t spend too much time looking back.
  • Is this helping me get what you want? – Shane Parrish
  • Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!  – Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights) If you keep your eyes open (don’t be naive) and your heart open (care about others, don’t close yourself off), you can’t lose in life. 
  • Don’t lose sight on what you want to achieve. Every action is a step toward or away from you what you want.
  • Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.— Raymond Joseph Teller. Any time I accomplished something I’m proud of, this was true. I spent more time on it than anyone could imagine.
  • It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things. — Elinor Smith. Many people hope great things will happen to them. Those odds are low, low, low. And hope is not a strategy. It’s a wish. Get after it.
  • One of the biggest things holding people back from doing great work is the fear of making something lame. And this fear is not an irrational one. Many great projects go through a stage early on where they don’t seem very impressive, even to their creators. You have to push through this stage to reach the great work that lies beyond. But many people don’t. Most people don’t even reach the stage of making something they’re embarrassed by, let alone continue past it. They’re too frightened even to start. — Paul Graham. Go make lame things. If you like the process, keep working at it. Over time what you create will be less and less lame. Eventually, it will be great. The time between lame and great is longer than most humans ever know, because most never make anything great. And I’m not saying I did but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time that most would consider crazy on some projects. And those are what I’m most proud of…besides you.
  • You don’t just reciprocate affection, you reciprocate animosity, and the whole thing can escalate.
    — Charlie Munger. People interacting tend to mirror each other. It takes great character to diffuse a tense situation. To bring the love when you’re getting the hate. To stay disciplined and not let others trigger reactions. To rise above. Is that a test worth passing? It’s a hard one and you will fail many times if you pursue it. The juice is worth the squeeze.
  • Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ — Mary Anne Radmacher on courage in 1985
  • TO BE CONTINUED