Benefits of short-term pain

It’s obvious to me that any long-term physical or emotional pain I’ve endured was caused by my own unwillingness to endure short-term inconvenience or discomfort.

Discomfort could manifest in obvious ways like sacrificing long-term health through a lack of proper fitness, neglecting nutrition; or less obvious ways like avoiding uncomfortable but necessary conversations.

Being negligent and making excuses for what you know you should do today just make tomorrow more difficult. The opposite is also true. Slight inconvenience today, more gratifying tomorrow.

How reading a Google study helped me lose body fat

I read about a study at Google showing that office snacks in a shared work area saw a 40% decrease in the amount taken when jars had lids on them. That means that the extra “work” of taking the lid off a jar made those M&Ms 40% less desirable.

We can laugh at the ridiculousness of these psychological and cognitive tendencies, and we can put that knowledge to good use. When I learned this, I immediately made the rule that no junk food is allowed in my house. That doesn’t mean I never eat it, it just means I have to want it that much more because the “lid on the jar” involves the hassle of going somewhere to get my fix. This happens far less.

Interesting facts like this might make you a hit playing Trivial Pursuit. But I prefer to make them actionable by asking: how can I use this?

Track the things you care about

Each software tool comes with reports that summarize or detail my use. How much time did I spend today on each specific app? How many LinkedIn messages did I send last week?

If any of this is worth knowing, it’s only because I will take some action as a result. Most metrics are merely distractions that encourage you to take actions that benefit them (the makers of the software) not you.

If my toolbox started sending me weekly reports on my hammer usage it would be a ridiculous waste. I’ll use that tool when I need to. Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s worth paying attention to.

What is this for?

People often spend hours nitpicking slide designs, the exact wording, and the perfect animated transition for a PowerPoint presentation. It’s rare to find someone in creation mode asking whether the presentation itself should instead be a memo or email.

Frequently reevaluating exactly what you’re trying to accomplish can save hours of wasted effort. It’s not enough to work hard. It matters what you’re hard at work on.

You should definitely labor over the exact specs of a screen door. But if you’re fitting it for a submarine you might want to start asking better questions. 

Skate to where the puck is going

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky famously said that he doesn’t skate to the puck, he skates to where the puck is going. This seems like a useful analogy.

Communicate, behave, and dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Consume macronutrients in the amount that your ideal body and not your current one requires. Proactively look for business and tech trends to anticipate outcomes and look for what’s next, as opposed to what’s hot right now. The smartest and most forward-thinking world changers are living where the puck will be in five years from now.

Yet another useful cliche that prompts you to move in the direction of achievement. Whatever that means to you.

Learning how instead of what

Thanks to Google there is little value in memorizing facts. Critical thinking – the ability to analyze facts to form judgements – might be the most valuable skill to come out of any academic system.

We should be careful we don’t simply educate people so they know just enough to repeat what they heard, but not instill the importance of analyzing and questioning.

It’s hard to exaggerate the difference between teaching someone what to think, versus teaching them how to think. 

The plight of perfection

Seeing ourselves as perfectionists can lead to a failure to take action out of fear that something won’t turn out ideal.  Aiming for perfection and being attentive to detail is admirable.  But do-ers do. Perfectionists can hold themselves back in a state of non-action and analysis.

There is no perfect time to start a business, lose weight, or commit to learning a new skill. Most often, fortune favors those who boldly take action rather than waiting for the certainty of perfection.

Daily focus

Never underestimate the compounding effect of repeatedly doing small things that push you toward your goals. Ten minutes of daily focus for six months adds up to 30 HOURS. In six months from now you could be near functional fluency in a foreign language, looking and feeling healthier, or free of some annoying habit…

Or you can simply be a half a year older.

Making huge habit changes fast

Aircrafts use most of their fuel during take-off. Starting is the most difficult part of creating new habits or making life changes.

Here’s a hack to help create a new habit: if you want to meditate start by taking only three mindful breaths every day.  Wake up just five minutes earlier.  Floss only one tooth.  Write just one paragraph of your novel. Do three push-ups.

Do this and you’ll have done the hardest part.  You’ll see that doing a bit more doesn’t burn much fuel. Most importantly, you will soon subconsciously see yourself as the kind of person who flosses, meditates, writes, exercises…

High quality questions to help you get unstuck

  • What would be ideal? (I find this to be MUCH more informative than “what do you want?” or “what would make you happy?”)
  • What one thing can I let go of such that my level of stress will be significantly reduced? 
  • Can I convert this thought or belief from shame/fear to hope/compassion?