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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.


“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.


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.


It is inevitable if you enter into relations with people on a regular basis…that you will grow to be like them. Place an extinguished piece of coal next to a live one, and either it will cause the other one to die out, or the live one will make the other reignite. … If you consort with someone covered in dirt you can hardly avoid getting a little grimy yourself.


No one want to be told to fire their friends. You’re not supposed to fire your family. Unless they’re dragging you down. And you’re tried over and over again to help them. You can make your life’s work saving someone and maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. And that’s a sad life. Just as sad as the joy of saving someone from the gutter. So how do you flip that coin? Set a limit. Try three times and if they’re not only dragging themselves down, they’re drafting you down, it’s time to move on. It might be the one action that spurs them to change. Don’t do it for that. Do it for yourself. You can not control people. You can offer help. It’s their job to take it.

Your future is determined by who you associate with. Hang around smarter people and you will get smarter. Go to a gym with fitter people and you will become fitter. Find entrepreneurs and in time, you just might start your own business. Go to a bar every night and you might become an alcoholic.

Put yourself in good situations with the best people and you’ll live a better life. Not every day. Not all the time. Bad things happen. Life is sad sometimes. But if bad things happen right after you made a good choice, don’t misinterpret that as feedback on your choice. We’re human. We misinterpret things all the times. It’s crazy how many smart, scientific people attribute coincidence to meaning. Don’t be that gal.

Now 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.


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.


“Compete with yourself and root for everybody else.”

Candice Millard

I sprinted hard for two-hundred yards at the tail-end of a two-mile run to beat my training partner, Jimmy Friel. “Thanks for pushing me, ” I said to Jimmy as the rest of the pack at our black belt test weekend on a farm outside Ocean City, Maryland caught up. An out-of-breath Navy Seal in the pack said, “Compete against yourself, not each other.” Jimmy and I glanced at each other with eyes that said, “That advice lost you the race, Mr. Seal-man.”

Use others as motivation to get better. Just don’t beat yourself up too badly when someone is just better than you. Hang around great talent and you get better. And you lose. A lot. And it’s worth it. In time, you get better. Eventually, you’re the best. You learn to compete with yourself. Or get stuck in place feeling good about yourself.

Winning feels good. It doesn’t make you better. And that’s the goal — always get better. Just a little bit. Anytime you win a lot, don’t wait too long to find a new group that’s better than you if you want to get better faster.

But the root for everyone else part of that quote is always good advice and takes a long time to learn. Someone else’s success does not detract from you. And even if it did, be happy for them. Life is not a zero-sum game. It’s your wins on top of my wins and the world gets better. Some moments are zero-sum, but the game of life is positive-sum. If you make people around you better, your life gets better. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

And no one likes hanging around jealous people, sore losers, or hypercompetitive aholes. At work, apparently people get very upset if they make more or less than someone doing the same job. On paper it makes sense. In my head, it doesn’t. I’d like to make more money. And if you’re making more money, that gives me a reason to negotiate. But if you’re on my team, doing the same job as me, I’m just happy you’re making my life easier by doing good work.

Anyway root like hell for everyone in your life to do well — including yourself. Support them when they lose. Congratulate their success.

Be the biggest fan of everyone in your life. People don’t have enough fans.

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.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer the negative elements in your life, don’t sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy!

Dale Carnegie

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.


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


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


  • 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?


Complaining is easy. Complaining feels good.

Now listen for complaints. Pay attention.

  • Who’s complaining?
  • Why?

Average people. Most often for no particular reason other than to kill time. It’s their habit. They know better how things should be done. They’re venting. They wonder why people are so stupid.

People aren’t stupid. Life is hard. We all do things wrong all-the-time. For some reason there’s a type of person who needs to vocalize everyone else’s mistakes. To be fair to the complainers, there’s a spectrum of mistake-making. Some people make way more than others. But why? Maybe they didn’t get the good genes for that particular skill. Maybe they didn’t get good parenting, a great teacher, or the right coach. Almost no one makes mistakes on purpose. Get inside their head. What’s the reason why?

Then there are complaints that aren’t attributable to one specific person. You’ll hear lots of us versus them. “This group is so stupid.” Your group is wrong and my group is right. Maybe. But the reasons already stated apply. And if you present the complainer with a plausible explanation of the wrong group, watch their defensive shields go up. So it’s not pure logic driving their thoughts. It’s a home team versus away team mentality.

Now sometimes a complainer is not average. Sometimes they’re a high performer. If you’re reading this and you are a complainer, this is not you. Because the only complainers that get to call themselves high performers are the ones who fix the problems that led to their complaint. Rare. Impressive. Assholes. These people are usually assholes. Who would you rather work for? The lady who just told you how bad a job you did and then fixed the problem you created or the lady who just nodded when you told them your mistake and fixed the problem all the same or maybe even showed you how to fix it? No contest. The no-complaint lady.

No one likes a complainer except other average people addicted to complaining.

With that said, I complain. In my head mostly. I don’t like subjecting the world to my most average thoughts.

You will find yourself complaining at some point in your life. Fine. But set a budget. One complaint per year.

Complaining is also called venting which is a more socially acceptable form of complaining. Society is stupid. And now I’ve used my budget for the year. Venting sounds like you’ll explode unless you release the bomb of complaints bubbling inside you. Yeah, there are other ways to do that.

  • Go for a long walk
  • Sprint
  • Lift weights
  • Listen to loud music
  • Scream (alone)
  • Punch something (not someone)

Then go back to your vent and think about why that thing happened. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Move on.

And last remember you’re not average. You might be average at some things but on average, you’re not average. And if you want to complain about that go watch Good Will Hunting.

You versus the World

The world does not revolve around you. Hire a good therapist until that sinks in.

When you find people who listen to you close enough that it feels like the world does revolve around you briefly, hang onto them as long as you’re willing to do the same for them.

Your experiences make up 1/117,000,000,000 of human experience (as of 2022). But you’ll live as if your experiences are 80% indicative of how the world works. Go back to science class. Relearn the scientific method. Read research papers. Look at the different groups of results. Look at the outliers. You have no idea which you would be. Until you test your assumptions.

Test your assumptions. Your experience is richer in your head than anyone else’s. And always will be. Fight that tendency — with science and your mind.

You are not the world. What makes us special is our ability to work together. What a boring world without other people. Always be on the lookout for what you can learn from other people, particularly open-minded, humble people, who constantly learn and adapt.

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 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, Santorini 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.


Resilience – an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

The best way I’ve found to learn resilience is getting punched in the face. The great philosopher Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the face.” Truer words. Never spoken.

Why does getting punched in the face build resilience? You have two choices when you get punched in the face — quit or get better. In between quitting and getting better is crying, hurting, embarrassment, and feeling sorry for yourself, all these things you want no one to see.

Once you get past the crying and the pain and embarrassment, you can focus on getting better. Not only that but the pain becomes painful. Your abs get stronger. Your pain receptors die. Then you don’t get punched in the face as much. And when you do, you can just smile. Which is scary for the person punching you in the face. Because they know you’re not going anywhere. You are resilient.

I don’t recommend getting punched in the face as much as I have to learn this lesson. My estimate is ten-thousand punches, maybe a hundred concussive-level blows only one of which caused a concussion.

So this is why we play sports. This is why we compete. This is why we try. You will lose. You will fail. You will want to cry. That’s a good thing. The alternative is never trying, never risking, and always being a delicate shell of a person. Scan for people who are unbreakable. Make friends with them. They’re remarkable. Whether they’re a fisherman or a financier, their energy in infectious and inspiring. They’re problem solvers of the highest order. Even when they lose, they win.

So if you’re not going to get punched in the face, how do you build resilience?

  • Compete at anything
  • Jiu-jitsu
  • Wrestling
  • Long-distance running
  • Cold showers
  • Meditation
  • Chase ridiculous goals

I’ve never met a good wrestler who wasn’t resilient. Same with jiu-jitsu. Like boxing, it’s beat into you. Besides these, cold showers or baths are the closest thing to getting punched in the face.

Meditation seems like a strange outlier on this list. But if you don’t meditate and try meditating for ten minutes then thirty minutes then sixty minutes, you will want to quit. Your brain will go stir-crazy. You’re forced to observe your mind, go with the flow, adapt, take back control, and gently guide it in another direction.

What do all these activities have in common?

They force you to get better at breathing. Calmly. Deeply. Deliberately. Anyone competing at a high-level will face gargantuan stress. And if they’ve adapted to be better than the competition, they’ve learned the first thing to do when stress appears is…take a breath, take another, think, focus, adapt.

In the space of a breath is the difference between broken and unbreakable. Breathe in resilience. Breathe out greatness. Breathe out a better life.

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.
  • Writing – “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” — Leslie Lamport. Journal, whiteboard, write facts, stories, learnings, ideas, write everything. Writing everything helps your structure your thoughts. Writing helps you edit. Writing helps you remember. Any time I meet with someone on my team and they don’t bring a pen and paper, I know they’re going to do a worse job than if they had. When we’re young, our memories are sharp. As we get older, we think that memory will return. It won’t. And even if it did, you’re still better off writing things down. You can reflect and reorganize your thoughts. Most big things in life require working with other people. And the best way to communicate is to capture the exact intention of the other person. Record it or write it down. And remember you’re another person every day. You won’t remember what past-you thought exactly unless you capture it for future-you.

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.


To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepare or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

Winston Churchill

People want success. People want rewards. People don’t want to do the work. Normal people. Average people. Find things to obsess over. Find things you love to practice. Sometimes results are more important than process. The older I get the more I see process is more important than results. The means are an end unto themselves.

We can’t always control results, particularly with anything hard. And if you’re not trying hard things, you’re not living. We should fool ourselves into thinking we can control everything once in a while because it makes us prepare better. Look for every detail, every edge.

Just don’t expect success to come easily. Most people quit when it doesn’t. Quitting is fine. Quit things. Just don’t quit all things all the time.

Get obsessed. Plan. Prepare. Adapt. Be ready for the moment.


I like this description of the creative process from The Myth and Magic. of Generating New Ideas. “An initial period of concentration—conscious, directed attention—needs to be followed by some amount of unconscious processing. Mathematicians will often speak of the first phase of this process as “worrying” about a problem or idea. It’s a good word, because it evokes anxiety and upset while also conjuring an image of productivity: a dog worrying a bone, chewing at it to get to the marrow—the rich, meaty part of the problem that will lead to its solution. In this view of creative momentum, the key to solving a problem is to take a break from worrying, to move the problem to the back burner, to let the unwatched pot boil.”

Some techniques I find useful for creating better.

  • Block an hour or two. Preferably first thing in the morning after waking up (i.e. caffeine) and before stress (school, work, life). Take advantage of a fresh brain with a clean slate.
  • Write down questions. Write down problems. It forces you to clarify things. Your subconscious may work on the problem while you’re not looking.
  • Write down a question before bed. Answer it in the morning.
  • Force yourself to brainstorm ten ideas. Get comfortable with generating bad ideas. The more bad ideas, the more good ideas. If you generate one idea per year, there’s a very low chance it will be great. If you generate ten ideas per day or 3,650 in one year, there’s a good chance one will be great. Use odds, discipline, and just do the work.
  • To do the above, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Most geniuses produce very little great work as a percentage of their total work produced. But they work with their problems longer than any reasonably sane person. That’s why they’re insane. That’s why they’re creative geniuses.
  • Get more raw material. Read great books. See the best art. Make friends with creative people. Learn from all of it.

You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, ‘What if…?’”

Neil Gaiman


“Talent” is an excuse not to try. You have talent. You have gifts — intelligence, strength, speed, balance. motivation. Other things are easier than others. A lack of talent is not a reason to practice getting better. The “talented” people normally work much harder than everyone else. Maybe they have a gift too. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter for our purposes.

I was a horrendous boxer until I slipped into a split-slide tackle in soccer when I was sixteen with my right thumb bracing my fall. I left-jabbed the heavy bag to death for months. My arm felt like it would fall off after each workout. And then I was a better boxer. I found my talent.

Any time you think, “I’m not good at [x]”, ask yourself “Have I deliberately focused on getting better at [x] for three months?” If not you have not met the minimum criteria to assess your performance. You have not tried. Don’t be one of those people who find excuses to quit before they start.

Get to work. Go find your talent.

And when someone remarks, “Wow, you’re really talented” enjoy a smile inside knowing “talent” had nothing to do with it.


This is Water: “…learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

– David Foster Wallace

— Source

There’s not much to say here other than what Mr. Foster Wallace says. It’s clear. Read this. Listen to this once a year preferably, maybe on the anniversary of my death. If the one thing my death brings about in you is wisdom most people don’t have, then it will have been a good death.


Nine sources of advantage:

  1. Raw talent/intelligence – Some people are just naturally better and smarter.
  2. Hard work – Some people work harder.
  3. Differentiation – Seeing the world differently. Doing something different. Reading different books. Interpreting the same information differently. 
  4. Process / Discipline – Creating a process and following it. Working out every day is a great example. 
  5. Talent Collector – The ability to hire the best people and get the most out of them. 
  6. Patience – A lack of patience changes the outcome.
  7. Ability to take pain – Are you willing to look like an idiot to get better? How much risk are you willing to take, AND, importantly, can you handle the losses? 
  8. Temperament – Keeping your head when everyone else is losing theirs. 
  9. Luck

Most of these are within your control.

Here’s more from a Farnam Street newsletter. Many people think luck is most important. It is and it’s not. Make your own luck.

Think about the times when you’re most successful.

  1. What natural talents did I use?
  2. How hard did I work?
  3. How did you I at situations differently?
  4. What process did I create?
  5. Who else did I work with?
  6. How did I manage my impatience with getting results NOW?
  7. How did I manage pain, risk, embarrassment?
  8. How did I react to stress?

If you have positive answers for many of these, it’s you creating your luck.

If you don’t, ask more of these questions more often in the future tense (change “did”s to “will”s).


  • 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.

On People

Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They get older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed.

Maya Angelou

Most people are big kids. It’s good to be a big kid in some ways — laughing, wonder, creativity. Not so good in others — responsibility, finances, altruism. Keep the good parts. Learn the not so good parts. Don’t get too mad at people who do the opposite. Growing up is hard.

And so it is that most people have no idea how beautiful the world is and how much magnificence is revealed in the tiniest things, in some flower, in a stone, in tree bark, or in a birch leaf. The grown-ups, going about their business and worries, and tormenting themselves with all kinds of details, gradually lose the perspective for these riches that children, when they are attentive and good, soon notice and love with their whole heart. And yet the greatest beauty would be achieved if everyone remained in this regard always like attentive and good children, simple and pious in sensitivities, and if people did not lose the capacity for taking pleasure as intensely in a birch leaf or a peacock’s feather or the wing of a hooded crow as in a mighty mountain or a splendid palace. What is small is not small in itself, just as that which is great is not—great. A great and eternal beauty passes through the whole world, and it is distributed fairly over that which is small and that which is large; for in such important and essential matters, no injustice is to be found on earth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

All you have to do, if you want everything in life from everybody else, is first pay attention; listen to them; show them respect; give them meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Convey to them that they matter to you. And show you love them. But you have to go first. And what are you going to get back? Mirrored reciprocation.

The Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking

Do the right thing first. Don’t play the prisoner’s dilemma hoping for someone else to do the right thing first. Just do it yourself. If you get burned, change your model with how you interact with that person, not how you interact with everyone. People who aren’t willing to be vulnerable live a hollow life. It still looks like a life, sounds like a life, but every good thing comes much slower with more trepidation and fear than just leaning in and taking a risk. You get better at processing rejection. Move on to the next person. Life moves fast, with people willing to go first. Courage over fear. More joy and pain over infrequent joy and frequent anxiety.

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.

“Pressure is a privilege”

-Billy Jean King

This is written on the wall where tennis players wait before walking out to their US Open matches. It’s not just pressure.

  • Time is a privilege.
  • Relationships are a privilege.
  • Our minds, our wisdom is a privilege.
  • Our bodies (at they exist right now with injuries, surgeries, worse vision, memories, all of the effects of growing older) are a privilege.
  • Our jobs, our problems, everything (good or bad) is a privilege.

Pressure is a privilege.

Everything is a privilege. Nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. Your reaction, your attitude colors the events of your life. Why not see it as an opportunity? At work engineers sometimes think the words “challenge” or “opportunity” is magical manager thinking. Like we’re trying to meld their minds like a Jedi. And they might be right. Sometimes we should just be mad or cry. But then, what’s next? Will you cry and be angry for a day, a week, your life?

Eventually, you have to “move forward”. That’s how winning is done said the great philosopher Rocky Balboa. It’s not about how much you get hit. It’s about how many times you get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. That’s not just how winning is done. That’s how a good life is done. Billy Jean got it right. Some people melt under pressure. The best performers relish the opportunity. They frame their unique, hard, sometimes terrible circumstances positively.

The next time something bad happens, the next time you hug someone you love, ask yourself, “How is this a privilege?” Color your world with that.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

— Jacob Riis

“‘What is the secret of your serenity?’ 

Said the Master, ‘Wholehearted cooperation with the inevitable.’” — Anthony de Mello

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves.”

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”

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

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. 


Better Questions

The quality of your answers comes from the quality of your questions. Last night someone asked me, “Are you a biohacker with those two glucose sensors and Oura ring?” No, I’m a diabetic and one of those “sensors” is an insulin pump. That she couldn’t recognize the pump wasn’t the problem. She put me in a box — biohacker or not biohacker. If I wasn’t excited about biohacking, the conversation was over.

Avoid labeling people. Avoid turning questions binary except when it makes sense to simplify. Don’t simplify people. Simplify clear principles. Is it good to steal a loaf of bread? No…unless you’re literally starving and have no better option.

Most people prefer convergent questions. Most people have convergent intelligence. In the US we’re taught in school to narrow in on the one right answer to win a prize. Creative people grow their divergent intelligence. They ask divergent questions. Instead of “do I steal a loaf of bread?”, they ask “how do I feed myself?”

convergent (what is the answer) versus divergent (what are the options)

Instead of “is this x or y?”, “are you this or that?”, ask “why?”, “how?”, “what?” in a way that allows people to (including yourself) to provide many answers.

Here’s my list.

  • 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
  • When meeting new people
    • What’s your superpower?
    • What’s your kryptonite?
  • What topic do your thoughts keep returning to?
    • If it’s not what you want, change something.
    • Turn the other cheek. Eliminate half the harm of insults.
    • Can’t eliminate the first-half – the insult. Can eliminate thinking about it afterward.
  • What feature will you add next?
    • Upgrade scheduled for tonight.
    • Always keep learning.
  • What’s the meaning of my life right now?
    • Adapted from Frankl.
    • Answer with your actions.
  • Is this in my control? Then why worry?
  • Is this necessary? Is it essential? Does it really matter?
  • What is the most important thing right now?
  • What would you most regret if you died tomorrow?
  • What am I really sick of?
    • innovation / creativity exercise
    • this might be what you should work on next
  • What am I missing by choosing to worry or fear?
  • Who am I spending my time with?
  • What does my ideal day look like? Am I living it?
  • What is the most important thing?
  • Does this matter?
  • Am I doing this for present-me or future-me? – James Clear
  • What would you do if you had all the time and money in the world?
  • How would you live if you knew you had only five to ten years left?