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Chapter 5 – Learn

Pillars of Health book
1. Pillars of Health
2. Preamble
3. The mindset
4. How to Use
5. Habit System
6. Chapter 1 – Sleep
7. Chapter 2 – Eat
8. Chapter 3 – Move
9. Chapter 4 – Destress
10. Chapter 5 – Learn
11. Chapter 6 – Connect
12. Weight (Fat) Loss Over Years

Download the complete Pillars of Health book now, preview the book chapters, or watch a short keynote on all the pillars.


Get busy living or get busy dying. Shawshank. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Sleeping well, eating well, moving well create the foundation for growth. Now what to learn? 

Get addicted. Become obsessed. Jump down the rabbit hole blindfolded with your arms and legs outstretched in a victory leap. Climb back up and tell us all what you learned.

We want the kitchen sink of brains. The big one. The smart one. No matter where we’re starting, we can sharpen that three-pound blob living in our dome. 

Learning Habits

  1. CREATE TEN IDEAS. Practice writing ten ideas on any topic for one month. Pull this out of your toolbox to amplify your creativity. First, write ten ideas on problems you want to write ten ideas about. Don’t feel bad if you don’t get to 10. Set a timer for 5 minutes and keep trying to think of ideas when you’re stuck on 3 or 5. Get comfortable being uncomfortable to grow your creative muscle. Want more? Read Altucher
  2. READ LONGER MORE OFTEN. Read a book, a long article, or research for fifteen minutes per day. Take a break when needed and set a reminder to restart in a month. Spend your first fifteen minutes figuring out what to read. Make a list. Maybe find the Pulitzer Prize list and work backwards.
  3. PLAY GAMES. Pick a game to play a few times per week for a month. More physical like bocci or sports, more mental like chess, cards, or puzzles, or electronic like a role-playing game or even a shooter. Amp up your memory with Dual N-Back if you can bear the pain. Sharpen your strategic thinking. When the month is over, set a reminder to play again within twelve months. 
  4. ASK BETTER QUESTIONS. People ask “Is this a good food or a bad food?” That’s the wrong question. A donut is good if you’re a starving man on a deserted island. Or you eat clean the entire month and treat yourself. Colleagues only want answers to “Will this help us hit next week’s deadline?” Instead “what are the tradeoffs short and long-term?” Little in life is binary. Life exists on a spectrum with a probability distribution. Binary is faster. Simplify most of the time. But recognize complexity when you’re asking a weak question. Look for the spectrum of potential outcomes, the probability distribution for each, the range of input options, and ask “what are the tradeoffs?”
  5. GRAB FROM THE LEARNING BAG. Listen to music, really listen, practice an instrument, dance, drink coffee or tea, eat dark chocolate, a fistful of berries, cook a new dish, get a pet, take a class, learn a new language, take a nature walk, tell bad jokes, make arts and crafts, knit, needle, sow, volunteer. Try one for a month, then stop, continue, or pick another. Except if you get a dog. Don’t abandon it. 

When You Have An Hour

READ FOR AN HOUR. Find or make a reading space — by a window, on a deck, a chair under a covered porch in the rain. If you don’t know what to read, spend the first hour figuring out what to read. Maybe check out the list of Pulitzer Prize-winning books. Work backwards from the most recent. If you might like reading books I read, below are my current sources for recommendations.

LEARN MENTAL MODELS. One way to ask better questions is — learn new models. When you have a hard problem, scan these lists for a model to apply (Farnham Street’s web list of Core Mental Models and their Mental Models book series). 

CAPTURE GREAT QUESTIONS. Create a file. Electronic or a piece of paper. Label it at the top ‘Great Questions.’ Now every time you hear of a great question or think of a great question, add it to your list. Revisit this list periodically to prime your memory to ask them. Here’s my current list.

  • What’s next? – JebBartlet. In other words, “Let’s go!” On to the next thing. Get to work.
  • What topic do your thoughts keep returning to? -Ryan Holiday. If it’s not what you want change something. If someone insults you, turn the other cheek. Not just a parable. Else you suffer twice. Once from the insult. Once from thinking about it again. Take control. Don’t give it away.
  • What feature will you add next? – Matt. Differentiate between enhancements and features. Most of the time we make enhancements (ex. get a little better at this thing I already do). Life is more exciting when we add new features (ex. learn dance, art, language, new job). But mastery comes from enhancements so that’s not all bad. Just take the new feature challenge once in a while, at least once a year.
  • What’s the meaning of my life right now? – adapted from Frankl. Contrast with what’s the meaning of my life? The latter has one answer. Not adaptable. The former is a choice. Your answer is your actions. Meaning is what we make of life.
  • Is this in my control? Then why worry? – Every Stoic ever.
  • Is this necessary? Is it essential? Does it really matter? – adapted from Marcus Aurelius
  • What is the most important thing right now?
  • What would you regret if you died tomorrow? – Every self-help guru ever.

Ways to Make Time

  1. Block the first half-hour of your day for education or creativity. After waking and caffeine, generate ten ideas, write, code, draw, or focus on your creative outlet. Read or take a class. This isn’t recouping time. Use the best time of day for growth. Most are best at learning when our minds are fresh in the morning. You may not be an early chronotype. If you’re best at a different time, block that time for learning and creating. Making time is in part about using our time most effectively. Allocate time for growth before the rest of your day. You’ll solve problems better and faster.
  2. Bookmark mental models sites. Download books you want to read. Install games you want to play. Pick from the grab bag. The upfront implementation work is key to saving time on habits and increasing the probability you’re successful. Do the legwork NOW. Then execute.


  • executive function (good decisions / total decisions)
  • processing speed (IQ test, pick a game, cards, chess to measure)
  • short-term memory (Dual N-Back, subjective)
  • days/minutes reading per week
  • days per week generating ideas
  • total number of ideas created per week
  • minutes/days of games played per week
  • number of times reviewing mental models
  • number of new things learned or exposed to per week
  • minutes per week pulling from the learning grab bag

If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Invest in your most powerful tool. Like the compound interest we develop when we start the snowball of improvements downhill, our quality of life skyrockets with education. Make better decisions on sleeping, eating, moving, people, work, life. 

Attach your homemade rocket boosters to the snowball. 




learn summary with five habits from the chapter