When you fully and completely focus on what’s in front of you, great things happen.
The work you do without distractions rather than in a fragmented, piecemeal fashion isn’t just a slightly better — it’s usually orders of magnitude better.
The conversation you have without ever looking at your phone isn’t just slightly better — it’s often 5-10x better.
The experience you have when you fully immerse yourself in it, and forget everything else around you isn’t just slightly better — it can be incredible, unbelievable, and sometimes life-changing.
The funny thing is, there are two different ways to achieve this.
The first is to be engaged in something so enthralling — a personal passion project, an incredible first date, a once-in-a-lifetime trip — that you forget about things like Twitter and Facebook updates, and get lost in what you’re doing.
The second is to deliberately, consciously say no to distractions. To choose to immerse yourself in what you’re doing. To truly focus.
Once you realise that you can do that, it’s like a superpower. It’s just a choice you have to make.
Sure, you might think that you have complete control over your actions. You set goals and then make reasoned decisions that will lead, inexorably to achieving those goals.
Except it never works that way. You’re much more prone to irrational actions and harmful habits than you think.
One of my goals for 2016 is to spend my time more productively. I wanted to spend less time playing video games, and more time working, reading, writing, exercising — basically, anything that would be considered “productive”.
But my sister got me a copy of FIFA ’16 for Christmas. I really enjoy it — it’s fun, competitive, and fast-paced.
So I played it. A lot.
I would sit on the couch, grab the controller and say to myself, “I’ll play one game of FIFA, then hit the gym.”
3 hours later, I’d look up, realising that not only had I wasted a lot of time, but I’d also made myself angry, frustrated and miserable because I’d played badly and lost a few games. And that anger and frustration was compounded by my anger at having wasted so much time.
Obviously, the answer would be to just stop playing after one game, right? Or to only let myself pick up the controller after completing a set amount of productive behaviour? That would be the rational way forward. Still have the option to play FIFA whenever I want, but limit myself to a set amount of time.
Great ideas. In theory, at least. Except I’m well aware that I lack a certain amount of self-control. And at this point, firing up the PS4 first thing in the morning had become a strongly-ingrained habit loop.
There are certain cornerstone actions, routines and habits that, once in place, ripple out and have a positive effect in all areas of your life. Combined, they each reinforce each other, combining to have a huge impact on the quality of your life, and what you can accomplish.
I call them Force Multipliers.
Being healthy and strong is great. In fact, being strong is one of the key ways to slow the ageing process. For that alone, you should exercise regularly. But you’ll also think more clearly. You’ll be less likely to suffer from things like depression. You have more energy and can be more productive. And you’ll become “the type of person who exercises“, making you more likely to eat better, save money, waste less time, and have a positive self-image. Plus, you’ll look better, which means you’ll make more money and you’ll get more attention from the opposite sex.
2. Eating healthily
Just like exercise, eating well is great because of the health benefits. Fat loss, muscle gain, more energy, less feeling sluggish for an hour after lunch. And on top of that: you’ll save money because you cook at home more. You waste less time browsing at the grocery store, or choosing off a restaurant menu, because you’re narrowing down the range of choices you have. (Should I get chips or chocolate? NEITHER!)
3. Living well below your means
Spending less than you earn is good for the obvious reason: that it prevents you from getting into debt and hurting your credit, paying money in credit card interest and overdraft fees, and so on. No arguments there. But there’s other advantages of having cash on hand. You can usually get a great deal on bigger purchases if you can offer to pay in cash, right there and then. You can take advantage of business opportunities that need a bit of capital up-front, or do things that have a smaller short-term payoff, but a big long-term payoff. You can afford to take a different job that might pay less, but makes you happier. You spend less time worrying about bills and juggling payments, freeing up mental energy to spend elsewhere. With money in the bank you’re less stressed, and you sleep better, so you become healthier.
With those three things in place, you’re giving yourself a great base to work from. A solid foundation in your life. And the great thing is that each one makes the others easier: they multiply together healthy, energised, strong, productive, and able to take advantage of opportunities when you see them.
I know it’s tempting — indeed, fashionable these days — to view corporate jobs as “shackles”. Corporate workers are “drones”. There’s a perception that you’ll work 9-5 for 50 years, with two weeks vacation per year, and then retire, having never really lived. And that the only way to be happy is to quit and start your own company, or become a digital nomad, freelancing and travelling the world. It’s an idea popularised in The 4-Hour Work Week, and propagated by pretty much every online self-help writer ever since.
But it’s not true. It’s a false dichotomy.
If you are one of those in a corporate job, you’ll never see life as worth living if you frame it that way. Your life is the sum of all the small moments — so why are you carrying a cloud of negativity and anxiety around all day with you?
Look, if your job really sucks, and you hate it, and need to get out, then do it. Make the change.
BUT there is happiness and meaning to be found in work. Great colleagues can become life-long friends. You can take pride in doing the work that is in front of you, and doing it well. You can dive into your profession and seek to learn everything there is to know about it, develop your expertise, and then leverage that expertise into a better working situation (e.g. starting your own company, consulting, better jobs at other companies).
And don’t buy into the fallacy that corporate jobs suck, and remote, digital nomad jobs are amazing. That anyone working a normal job is a drone, and anyone doing their own thing is a groundbreaking entrepreneur.
I’ve met lots of entrepreneurs and remote workers — myself included — who are utterly miserable and lonely when they have to work alone.
I know scores of people who have worked in an office job their entire career, and take immense satisfaction and pride in their work, have meaningful relationships and a great family life. They’re happy people.
Yes, it’s more common to find happy entrepreneurs and miserable corporate types. But that’s not a predestinated fate. It’s what you choose to make of it.
Elon Musk doesn’t sit down at his desk every day and think, “Have I made enough money to quit and travel the world yet?”
Warren Buffett doesn’t get to Berkshire Hathaway head office in the morning and check his portfolio and say, “Can I afford to pay off my mortgage and live off dividends for the rest of my life?”
The answer, obviously, is yes. Elon could retire tomorrow. Warren hasn’t had to show up to work for 50 years. But they do anyway. Why?
Because money isn’t money when you’re a billionaire. It’s just points on a scorecard.
When you’re a billionaire, your problems don’t go away, but your money problems do. You never need to worry about credit card debt, paying the mortgage, putting money into your 401(k) or anything like that.
You’re focused on bigger things.
You’re focused on questions like:
Is my business the best it can be?
Does anyone in my industry have a better business than me? If so, why?
Does anyone in any other industry have a better business than me? If so, why?
What impact have I made on the world?
Do I have a legacy that will outlast me?
Have I done the best in terms of investing and re-investing my wealth as I could have?
How much wealth should I give away to charitable causes?
So Elon isn’t focusing on whether he has enough to retire on. He’s wondering whether humanity will become an interplanetary species.
Warren isn’t sat in front of a spreadsheet, calculating if he can afford to live off dividend income for the rest of his life. He’s wondering if he truly is the best allocator of capital of all time, whether his deployment of capital has led to the greatest good, and how he should give away his money when he dies.
In both cases, these billionaires aren’t thinking, “Do I need more money? Should I quit working?”. They’re thinking, “Have I made the most positive impact on the world that I could have?”
And in both cases, Elon and Warren care much more about building something fantastic than they do about cashing out and travelling the world. They prefer work to relaxation.
Which, coincidentally, is the fastest way to get rich. Don’t focus on how much money you’re earning. Focus on what impact you’re having, and how much value you’re creating for other people. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
There’s a magic bullet in life. You might be ignoring it – even though I know of it, I go through phases where I refuse to use it. But if you’re looking for the keys to the kingdom, they’re right here.
Exercise: every single day.
If you’re already about to close this tab and go back to “inspirational” pictures on Instagram to avoid actually taking any action, you’re an idiot. If you’re about to stop reading because you know this already, then I ask you: do you actually exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY? 99.9% of people don’t. If you’re in the 0.1% then congratulations, but I’m guessing you’re not.
Pay attention here: I’m not just telling you to exercise, I’m telling you to do it every fucking day. Every day. No days off, no excuses — every single day. It’s Christmas? Fuck you, exercise. Hungover as fuck? Fuck you, exercise. Rushed off your feet all day, finally got home, and you’re just too tired? Fuck you, exercise.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you know about the health benefits of exercise. Here you go. Literally thousands of results. That’s not what I want to talk about in this post. Instead, let’s look at:
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit” – it’s the lead domino that, if you get it right, spills over in to every other area of your life.
When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. (emphasis added) “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”
– Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
There’s a great reason for this. While it’s tempting to think that you can change your life just by changing your attitude, it’s usually not the case. How many times have you tried to “get motivated” — maybe watch Rocky a couple times, look at some amazing pictures with inspirational quotes on them, and then ended up doing nothing?
One of the most self-destructive things you can do is describe yourself as lazy, unproductive, or any of those type of negative terms. If you do — even in a joking manner — it forms a small part of your identity, that becomes very hard to shake. It’s a pernicious form of self-destruction and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But what you can do is change your behaviour first, and your attitude will follow. If you exercise every single day, you will soon start to think of yourself as “someone who exercises”. If you also describe yourself as lazy, that creates cognitive dissonance — you hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. Your brain hates doing that, so it will push one of them out of the way. By maintaining the regular exercise habit, you force yourself to shed the idea that you are lazy.
And bingo! You slowly stop identifying as a lazy person, so you shift away from lazy behaviours like not doing the dishes, or binge-watching Friends for hours on end, getting up only to pee or fetch more beer, and you start doing things that fit with your new identity of a healthy, regular exerciser, like posting ab selfies on Instagram. I’m kidding, that part is optional.
There’s one more powerful reason behind exercising every day:
It creates a small win that means you accomplished something. Even if the rest of the day was crappy in every single way imaginable, hey, at least you exercised.
I can’t overstate how important this is. Look, we all have shitty days where we feel like crap, lounge around the house, and put off things we know we have to do. That’s life — it happens.
But if you exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY, then at the end of that crappy day you can say “Well, at least I exercised.” Retired four-star General Stanley McChrystal and bestselling author Tim Ferriss talk about exactly this principle in a recent podcast.
That creates a small win in your life. You got something done today. It’s something to feel good about. The rest of your life might be going to shit, but you’re making strides in at least this one area.
Exercise every day.
What type of exercise should I do?
Whatever you’ll stick with.
I tried to create a regular running habit last year, but I failed (for a lot of reasons). One of the biggest was that I simply don’t enjoy running. I do like lifting weights, so I do that.
If you like cycling, jump on your bike If you like jogging, lace up your shoes and hit the road. If you like boxing, join a boxing gym.
What I will say is this: don’t do the same thing every single day, and don’t work out to full intensity every single day either. That’s a recipe for fatigue, burnout and injury. You have to work up a sweat — you don’t have to set new PRs every day.
Mix in a variety of different types of exercise, as well as a variety of intensity levels. Here’s what a typical week would look like for me:
Monday: Lift weights
Tuesday: Push-ups and sit-ups at home for 15-20 minutes
Wednesday: Lift weights
Thursday: 2 mile walk at good pace
Friday: Lift weights
Saturday: Push-ups and sit-ups at home
Sunday: Play tennis
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are always the days I lift weights. On the other days of the week I find something to do that I enjoy and want to do. If I haven’t done anything all day and I’m really pressed for time, I’ll do a quick bodyweight workout at home, some combination of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats. Whatever I feel like doing to work up a sweat.
How do I make sure I stick with this?
There are a few different things you can do. I recommend a combination of all of these.
1. Make it easy to win to begin with
Don’t expect yourself to run 10 miles a day, 7 days a week. Not going to happen. Start off just working in some short workouts each day, like push-ups and sit-ups. You can do this in 5-10 minutes when you wake up in the morning. Slowly build up the habit, and create momentum.
2. Be accountable
In my company we have a chat channel called #daily-intentions, where we each post what we plan to accomplish each day. When we’re all done with work for the day, we go down our list and say what from that list we got done, and what we didn’t get done — and why we didn’t do it — as well as our goals for the following day. This works for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it keeps us accountable. I HAVE to write down a daily to-do list, and I HAVE to go down that list each day and track my progress. Secondly, it’s public. Having to explain to someone why you failed at a goal is a powerful motivator – an idea I got from Legacy by James Kerr. But we also help celebrate each other’s successes. There’s positive and negative reinforcement.
3. Play for stakes
A recent addition to our company’s #daily-intentions was the idea of the “fun jar.” If there’s a big item that I’ve been putting off for a couple of days that I really want to get done today, I’ll tag it as a “fun jar” item. If I don’t do it that day, I have to put $50 into the company’s fun jar, that gets spent on fun stuff at our regular company meetings. It’s a way of adding stakes to daily life — and again, loss aversion is a powerful motivator.
4. Track it
Lastly, you want to be able to look back and see all the good work you’ve done. You can use the Jerry Seinfeld calendar method, that works pretty well. I used an app called Streaks that is perfect for tracking up to 6 regular habits that you want to maintain. Or you can use an old-fashioned notebook, whatever you want. I also created the Daily Practice Journal to track this and a couple of other things. But long as you have a visual record of your progress, that’s fine.
Working out every single day will literally change your life. Just remember everything I’ve taught you here:
Exercise is a keystone habit that will spill over into other areas of your life, which is why it’s so important.
Doing it every single day gives you a small win — no matter what life throws at you, at least you exercised.
Make sure you’re doing activities that you enjoy, and vary the intensity all the time.
Create systems like accountability, playing for stakes, and tracking, to make this easy and fun.
If you do this for 6 months — exercise 180 days in a row — then I guarantee your life will be better in so many ways.
Any other advice on how to build the regular exercise habit? Have I missed anything? Do you disagree? Leave a comment below!
A friend of mine at work was talking about starting his own company. Understand, I work at an old, conservative, very corporate company. He mentioned this idea, this risky play, which could end up making him a ton of money.
This other girl heard him talking about it and said “Why would you want to do that? You’ve got a good, safe job here where you could be really successful.”
His reply was fantastic.
He said, “You can’t expect to follow the same route as loads of other mediocre people and expect to be wildly successful. It’s just not going to happen. You have to cut your own path.”
Cutting your own path is always going be harder than following one that already exists. People will question you, wonder why you’re bothering, and convince you to do otherwise. You have to ignore those people. That path is a path to mediocrity – a plain of sheep where it is impossible to stand out from the flock. It’s easier, more comfortable, and much less rewarding than cutting your own path through the forest and seeing where you end up.
You can make life-changing decisions on the flip of a coin. I know, because I did.
If a decision is a difficult one, you need to work out WHY it’s difficult. Are the two alternatives genuinely different, or is the decision difficult because whichever option you choose, the outcome will be roughly the same?
Example: it took me ages to choose where to go to university. Like, months. I wanted to go to a university somewhere in the north of England, a big red-brick university that was good academically but also in a big city with a good nightlife and plenty of students. There are a fair few unis that fit the bill.
I narrowed it down to two places – Leeds and Manchester – and agonised endlessly over the two.
Then I realised: both of these places tick all the boxes They both have everything I want from a university. Whichever one I pick, I’ll probably be pretty happy. And if I’m not, it’s not like it’s an irreversable choice.
Still, how to pick between the two? That was easy. Flip a coin, pick one, and then go and get on with your life.
If you’re an individual or a small business, you don’t need to worry about the Eurozone crisis. You don’t need to think about the ongoing recession. It should be the last thing on your mind.
Why? Is this not the worst recession since the Great Depression? Could this not be The End of the Eurozone?
Yeah, maybe. But ask yourself this:
Can you do anything to change it?
You can’t set fiscal and monetary policy. You can’t force Greece or Portugal (or the US) to cut spending. You can’t force companies to invest more.
So stop worrying about it. It’s out of your control.
What should you worry about? I’m glad you asked.
People: get your finances in order. Stop overspending. Look at earning more money through a second job or freelancing if you need to. Start eating healthily and exercising regularly. Take time every day to be grateful for the good things in your life. Think how you can do your job better: make a list of ideas and pick the best two, and start doing that.
Businesses: stay focused on your customer. Always think what they would want you to do. Even in this economy there are opportunities – Groupon is the fastest-growing company in history by revenues, and was formed in November 2008. There is money to be made, and people will fall over themselves to give you their money, if you can give them what they want or need.
In other words, focus on things you can control. Forget about things you can’t.
I decided to email someone I admire. I found James Altucher‘s blog a couple of months ago and have since devoured pretty much everything he’s written. He’s made (and lost) a ton of money, and has some incredible stories to tell. His best post is How to be the luckiest guy on the planet and he’s also just self-published a book of the same title, which you can and should download for free. Then read all his other stuff.
Here is the exact email I sent to him, and his exact response. Note: I mean every word I say in my email.
Me to James:
I found your blog a couple of months ago. It’s absolutely fantastic. I really admire the honesty you display in your writing.
I wanted to ask you a couple of things. I’m about to graduate with a BS Economics degree from Leeds University, UK. I don’t have the best grades in the world, but I’m pretty confident, I’m smart, and I’m ambitious.
Do you have any advice for someone who is just graduating and doesn’t want to go into a traditional graduate scheme-type role? I genuinely don’t know what I want to do with my life, apart from start a company at some point. I’d love to work for a startup or something, but I have very few technical skills, so it might be a bit harder for me to get involved in that sort of area.
I really appreciate any advice you can give me. And I’ve bookmarked your ebook online – the daily practice advice is brilliant. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks and already I feel better about the future.
And his response:
There’s some good news and some bad news.
The bad news is you’re stressed. How come? You’re 22 or so. You have about 10-20 years before you need to figure out a career. There’s no reason to get rich so fast (what would you do with the money except guarantee your future?). I’m not saying “how come” flippantly, by the way. Are your parents stressed about your future? Were they stressed about their own futures when you were younger? Is your girlfriend shaky? Your other friends? Not that you need an excuse to be stressed. Its reasonable at this stage also to wonder, “What’s next?”
What if nothing was next? What if you worked as a waiter for a year and took painting and photography classes for a year? Write a comic book script based on a spiderman and submit it to marvel comics? Work in a factory? Go to India for a year and study yoga (you would get in shape, feel spiritual, make great friends, see the world, etc) while giving English lessons and “getting by”. Like young people do.
Next level: find something your mildly interested in and work for a mega corporation. What’s your favorite TV show? Who produces it. Work for them. They are obviously good at what they do. Its never bad to be the janitor at the best company in the world. You learn how to clean up their shit. Which makes you CEO-level for just about any other company. This is really true.
Next level: startup world. You’re obviously self-motivated and good at sales (you wrote to me. I’m responding. I got 1500 emails today). Go to any startup and tell them you’ll work for free until you get them a $1000 in revenues. And then go out and get them revenues. This focuses you on finding a good startup that you know you can sell their product. You become like a venture capitalist of sorts.
Next level: start your own company. I don’t like that. Maybe you need experience and something you’re a bit more passionate about.
Keep with the daily practice. Start stretching that idea muscle out a little bit more. Make lists of the craziest things you can do. I wasted the ages of 22-26. Or did I? In other words, nothing you do those years will be that important for later on. Meaning, you can explore yourself, make sure you have the right values and know how to be happy, make sure your brain is as big as possible (the mental practices), make sure you know how to save lives by surrending to whatever force you can help.
These are more important than finding the exact right job now. I made the equivalent of 14k euros a year from the ages of 22-26. I lived like a king because I lived cheap. Then I made more and it ruined my life.
This might’ve been a bit of a ramble. But there might be a few things here useful. Thanks for writing me and I’m glad you are doing the daily practice. Please keep in touch and let me know what happens next?
I’m flattered he even replied. His email made me smile. I hope I can take him out for a drink one day.
EDIT: We sent another couple of emails back and forth. Here they are:
Me to him:
Thanks, I really appreciate the advice. I think the reason I’m feeling stressed right now is that there seems to be pressure from my parents and my credit card company to get a job and start earning money RIGHT NOW or the world will end. I guess I feel like I’ll be a failure if I’m not earning good money by the time I’m 25, which I know is ridiculous. I feel like I have the ability to do great things and that I’ll be wasting it if I take even six months of my life to do nothing. I feel like I have to do something impressive right away, or else the chance will be gone forever.
Does that sound stupid?
And his reply:
It doesn’t sound stupid at all. But it does sound like something that might not be the best way to be happy right now. A lot of that pressure is external. I was really a miserable failure at 25. And then again at 32.
Why don’t you take a day off from parents and credit card companies. Make lists of what you love. It might be hard at first. You’ve been a bit programmed to think about things you don’t love. What would you if everyone was dead and you were free from the stresses you have? Are you worried you won’t meet girls if you dont have a great job? What if you were a famous painter? Or a juggler? You dont have to do nothing for six months. What if you stopped all alcohol and worked out for six months. Become a hugely healthy person? WOuld that be a waste?
Parents are hard. Mine were disappointed in me. but it worked out in the end. Sort of. Because in the end I had to stop caring what they think (although I still do a little with my mom). The only thing you really need to do righ tnow is survive, save a life every day, and continue that daily practice so you can be a superhero. I mean it.