10 things I learned by getting in shape

Almost two years ago I decided to get in shape. I stuck with it, and kept showing up at the gym 3-5 times per week. Over time I gradually improved what I ate. I got stronger. I got fitter. I got leaner. You can see the results below.

I show you this not to brag (too much), but to show you that I worked hard, for a long period of time, and got results that a lot of people would be proud of. But oddly enough, the fitness gains are not as important as the side effects of getting in shape. The past two years have taught me 10 lessons that I want to keep in mind for the rest of my life. These are lessons that apply in all walks of life.

  1. Focus on process over outcomes. The scale changes day to day. Your weight fluctuates, as does your performance in the gym. Not every day is going to be a new personal best. Just keep showing up. Keep lifting and working hard. Keep eating right. Keep getting lots of sleep. The results will come.
  2. Results take time. You can’t just eat incredibly healthily and do one intense workout and suddenly be in shape. It takes a lot of time. You have to be patient (and refer back to point 1). Each workout and healthy meal is another brick in the wall that you’re building.
  3. Being a peak performer takes massive effort and sacrifice. There are people in my gym whose fitness is far, far beyond where I will ever get to.  They’ve made a choice to sacrifice a lot of things to achieve that, and I’m not willing to make that trade–and that’s OK. Because…
  4. There is always someone better than you. When I first started CrossFit, basically everyone was fitter than me. Now that I’m in decent shape, I’m in the middle of the pack. But I will never, ever be the fittest in the gym. So be it. All I can focus on is improving my own fitness.
  5. Tangible evidence of progress creates a powerful feedback loop. I’ve tracked my scores on some popular CrossFit workouts, as well as my one rep max lifts. I’ve also tracked my weight, and taken regular progress pictures. When you start to really see results, it’s incredibly motivating. It makes you want to do better.
  6. You will regret not having started sooner. When you do see results, your first thought is, “That’s awesome!” Your second thought is, “Fuck, imagine where I’d be if I’d started a year earlier.” And while there’s nothing you can do on this particular front, it’s worth bearing in mind the next time you’re considering taking up a new habit.
  7. Surround yourself with the right people. The reason I love CrossFit so much is the community: the people I work out with every week who want to get better, and who want me to get better as well. It’s like having a whole crowd of mentors and supportive colleagues. When you find people like that, you should keep them around.
  8. Changing your actions changes your identity. If you’ve ever thought, “I’m not the type of person that works out”, then you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you’ll never set foot in the gym. On the other hand, if you just lace up your trainers and work out once or twice a week, sooner or later you will start to think that you are the type of person that works out. Your actions shape your identity just as much as your identity shapes your actions.
  9. Sleep and diet are crucial. Obviously, this is true when it comes to getting in shape, but it’s also true for managing energy levels at work, staying mentally sharp, keeping your mood up, and so on. Sleep and diet literally feed into every single other aspect of life. You simply HAVE to get them dialled in.
  10. The hard work is its own reward. Some of the happiest moments of my days are immediately after a killer workout. The kind of workout that you first think you won’t be able to do. Where, halfway through, you think you can’t go on. Then you take a breath, and get back to work. You break it up into small chunks. You chip away, bit by bit. The end approaches. And then, all of a sudden, you’re done. And you look back at what you did with a sense of pride and accomplishment that makes it all worth it. Then you show up again the next day and do it all again.

As I said, these are lessons that you can apply to your career, relationships, finances, or any area where you want to improve. Starting today.

10 Lessons from 10 Mentors

I’m a thief.

I’m constantly reading and looking for ideas or concepts to steal from people. These people that I steal ideas from become my mentors, whether they know it or not. Some of these ideas are useful. Some I try and don’t like. Some really stick with me.

Here’s a list of 10 lessons from 10 mentors that really stuck with me. I take advantage of all of these, every single day.

1. Checklists save lives. Use them liberally. (Atul Gawande)

Your mind is fallible. You forget things. You skip important steps, especially in times of stress. That’s where checklists come in. A simple checklist gives you a baseline of performance, so you never fall below that standard. At the very least, you’ll do what the checklist says. Not only that, but the very act of writing a checklist forces you to evaluate a process and ensure it’s as effective and as simple as it can be. Read Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto for more on this.

2. Take a shit ton of notes, on everything. (Tim Ferriss)

I carry a notebook almost everywhere I go. I have Evernote on every device I own. And I use Twitter to capture ideas I’m thinking about or pondering. It’s not important to me that I can reference my notes — the very act of writing things down helps to cement things in my head, and stimulates more ideas. Tim calls this note-taking tendency ‘hypergraphia’.

3. To improve anything you’ve written, read it to yourself, out loud. (Tucker Max)

At Book In A Box Tucker recommended this as the best way to edit any piece of writing. Sit down, and read it to yourself, out loud. You’ll notice awkward phrasings, weird repetition, spelling mistakes, and much more. Tucker said that any author should always record their audiobook before the written book is published, because you’d pick up so many things to improve that the book would be 10-20% better. Another Book In A Box team member, Hal Clifford, is a fantastic writer and editor with decades of writing experience. He told me that anything he writes — from a 3 word text message to a 50,000 word book manuscript — he reads out loud before he submits it.

4. If you’re thinking about buying a book, just buy it. (Ramit Sethi)

Books represent the best bargain you can possibly find. For £10 or less, you can get the benefit of someone’s entire professional expertise or wisdom, in easily digestible form. And one good idea from a book can provide 10-1000x ROI. This has personally been true for me more than once. So just go ahead and buy the damn book already.

5. Eliminate all the minor annoyances in your life. (Joshua Kennon)

Your life is the sum of all the small moments in your day. If there is something that often frustrates you or annoys you, that’s a suck on your energy. You don’t want to spend a lot of your small moments annoyed by something that’s easy to fix. So go ahead and fix it. I was annoyed by one of the door handles in my apartment — it was loose, and every time I grabbed it, it would come out of the door a little. This went on for weeks. Then I finally grabbed a screwdriver and tightened it. It took 5 minutes. And now I don’t get annoyed every time I leave the room. That’s a big difference to my quality of life. Now multiply that across all areas of your life, and think how much better things could be. You can see an example of this in Joshua’s post here about fixing his front door.

6. Cash is king and creates optionality. Debt is fragility and slavery. (Nassim Taleb)

Having cash in the bank — liquid, easily accessible cash — gives you options, freedom and peace of mind. Private investor Brent Beshore says “Cash is the ultimate call option with no expiration date or strike price.” Imagine if you have the cash on hand to buy when the market tanks. When there’s a fire sale on assets and you’re the only buyer. On the flip side, imagine if you have to be the one to sell in a down market because the bank’s called in your loan. Or you have to stay in the same job you don’t like because you have credit card debt, and can’t afford to risk taking on a new job or starting your own company. Cash is king. Read Antifragile by Taleb for more on this.

7. Minimise decision-making. Forget the trivia and focus on the important things. (Barack Obama)

In this Vanity Fair profile, Obama told author Michael Lewis that he only has two suits: grey and blue. He likes both, and looks good in both, so he either wears one or the other. He doesn’t waste time or energy deciding what to wear each morning: he just picks one and gets on with his day, to save his energy for the important things that he needs to be ready for. Where are the areas in your life that you can remove friction and free up mental energy?

8. Write down your top 25 goals. Now narrow it down to the top 5. Those are your goals — and the other 20 are distractions you must avoid. (Warren Buffett)

Your attention, time, energy and capital are limited. You can only do so much. And so you have to focus. So focus on those top 5 goals, and don’t get distracted. Goals 6 to 25 on your list may seem worthwhile and deserving of your time — that is why they are such powerful distractions. Focus on what’s truly at the top of your list, and ruthlessly cut out everything else. That’s what the world’s best investor recommends.

9. Use fixed schedule productivity as the meta-habit for your work. (Cal Newport)

Decide when you will start working, and when you will stop. Then stick rigidly to those hours. That’s what fixed schedule productivity really means, and it’s a game changer. It is a forcing function that means a) you need to make sure you’re working on the right things, and b) you’re being productive when you’re doing it. 60 minute meetings become 15 minute meetings. A disjointed, unfocused afternoon turns into a great session of important work. It takes discipline, but it’s worth it.

10. Write down 10 ideas a day to exercise your idea muscle. (James Altucher)

Just like any other muscle, you need to regularly exercise your idea muscle. You don’t have to do anything with the ideas; the important thing is that you get the reps in. Your ideas can be about anything and everything — you just need to do it every day. It will change your life within 6 months. You will become an idea machine. And hey, you might occasionally get a blog post out of it.

Those are my big 10 takeaways from these 10 mentors of mine. Do you have any big lessons you’ve learned from mentors? Drop a note in the comments.

How to make money blogging

That’s right, “blogging” is a career these, so much so that popular personal finance blogger Mr Money Mustache put it on his list of 50 jobs that pay over $50,000 per year.

Maybe you’ve decided that you want to get in on this gold rush. Who can blame you? It’s the 21st century, everyone’s making money online! So you go to WordPress.com, sign up for a free account, and just start writing. Maybe you even buy your own domain name, and start tweeting about all your new posts. If you build it, they will come, right?

And don’t forget to sign up for an affiliate account at Amazon. That way, when you link to all the books you’re reading and thinking about, your readers will go and buy those books, and you’ll get a nice cut. Money in the bank!

Oh wait, that’s a terrible idea. Here’s a screenshot from my Amazon affiliate account this morning. I’ve been blogging for over 6 years.

I expect to retire around 9126 AD - maybe a decade sooner if my investments perform well.
I expect to retire around 9126 AD – maybe a decade sooner if my investments perform well.

So what can you do instead?

Here’s an idea: use your blog to think and write about new ideas, things you’re learning, books you’re reading, decisions you’re making. Write it for yourself, not for an audience. You’ll get smarter. Use your blog to showcase your skills, the fact that you can think and write coherently.  Then make connections with people, point them towards your blog, and see what happens.

It’s much less glamorous and interesting than chasing the dream of “passive income”, but it’s much more reliable.

Why your New Years Resolution will fail – and what to do about it.

I completely failed. I set a goal and fell so far short of it that it’s embarrassing to talk about. And Nike decided to rub it in my face.

I did what you’re supposed to: I set an ambitious goal that was a SMART goal: it was specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I wrote it on an index card that I kept close to me at all times. I read a lot about the topic and knew exactly the steps I had to take to reach my goal. I tried to stay “motivated”.

And still, it didn’t happen. Not even close.

I wanted to run more, so I decided to run 3x per week, with the ultimate goal of being able to run a 10k race in less than 50 minutes.

How did I do? Well, here’s how.

nike 2014
Thanks for the reminder of my failure, Nike. I really appreciate it.

I ran an average of 0.28 times per week, aka less than 1/10th of what I wanted to do, and the fastest 10k I did, I didn’t even break an hour, let alone 50 minutes.

So what did I do wrong, and how can I fix it?

Mistake #1: Made a huge, unsustainable change

I went right out of the blocks trying to run 3x per week from the beginning, which was a) a huge increase in the amount of exercise I was doing at the time, and b) a huge increase in the amount of sweaty laundry I created, both of which were an added hassle that I had to deal with. It was unsustainable, such that I’d run 3x per week for 1-2 weeks, then not run at all for a few weeks, feel shit about myself, get motivated again, then run 3x in one week, then take another month-long break, and so on. This cycle repeated itself a number of times until I just gave up.

What I should have done instead: eased into it by starting off exercising 1x per week, to make it easily winnable to begin with, so I’d feel good about myself, and begin to create a habit of running. Then slowly increase the frequency until eventually I was hitting the goals that I wanted to hit.


Mistake #2: No accountability

I wrote down my goal on an index card, and put it in my wallet. That’s what people recommend, right? That should be a daily reminder of my goal, right? No, not when you put it in a hidden part of your wallet that you never look in. And I didn’t tell anyone about this goal, so I didn’t have any skin in the game. There was no pain or forfeit if I didn’t make it. So it wasn’t a big deal.

What I should have done instead: told multiple people about my goal and had them check in with me on a regular basis to ensure that I was following through. Or even better, put some money on it and have friends and family bet against me achieving the goal, which provides a carrot (I win money and get to show off to people that I hit my goal) and a stick (I have to pay out and everyone knows I lost).

Mistake #3: I tried to do it alone

Not only did I not tell anyone about this, but I was always running alone. And I was the only one chasing this goal. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, I didn’t have a running partner to motivate me to go out, and I didn’t join any sort of running club. No-one would miss me if I didn’t lace up my shoes and head out the door.

What I should have done instead: joined a running club or found a running partner, or at least someone another runner I knew that I could talk to about running that would keep asking “Been running recently?” which would make me embarrassed to keep responding, “No, I’m a lazy shit”, so I’d actually go running.


Mistake #4: I picked something I hate doing

I don’t like running. It’s boring, it’s always cold and raining here in England, and you step in dog shit all the time. You have to avoid cyclists and old people and you’re always out of breath and you get injured all the time. Running sucks. I chose it as a goal because running is what you’re “supposed to do” if you want to get into shape and lose few lbs, right?

What I should have done instead: pick an exercise activity that I actually enjoy, like lifting weights, or cycling, or football, or boxing. Any of these would have been good as I would actually look forward to doing the activity, rather than dreading it.

This is how I felt on every single run I ever did.


So, I picked a goal and an activity where I:

  • tried to do too much too fast
  • on my own
  • with no accountability or stakes
  • at an activity that I don’t like doing

I don’t think I was ever really going to succeed.

So this year, with the same aim of exercising more and getting healthier, I am going to:

  • start off slow and build the right habits
  • in a group or community setting
  • with some stakes or public accountability
  • at something that I like doing

Basically, I’m going to start doing Crossfit.

For more on building the right habits and making positive changes, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Willpower by Roy Baumeister and Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. All fantastic books.

Self-awareness is useless on its own

People pride themselves on self-awareness, but it’s bullshit. You can do all the personality quizzes, introspection and discussions with coaches and mentors – you can do as much of that as you want.

But it’s ultimately worthless if you don’t ACT on that knowledge. You know you talk over people too much? Get people to call you on it. You have a tendency to flit from project to project when things get difficult? Strap yourself to your chair and force yourself to finish something for once.

If you’re not using that self-awareness to improve yourself, your life, your relationships, and your decisions, then it’s all just masturbation.

What I learnt from two years of online poker

What I learnt from two years of online poker

I wrote this a couple of years ago on a poker forum I used to visit. Since then I have probably played poker a max of five times – but throughout university I regularly played at least 3-4 hours a day, pretty much 7 days a week. While it did keep me from having to get a “real” job while I was a student, I finally decided that online poker would ruin my life if I didn’t stop. Having said that, I wouldn’t change it, because the decisions I made along the way helped shape the man I am today. Here’s what I learned on my two year journey through the world of online poker.

I got my feet wet in poker just like anyone else: around 2005-2006 a few friends and I would get together on a friday night, drink some beers, and play poker. We were all 16-17 at the time, so we didn’t go out on the town as much as we do now – we just got our parents to buy us beer and give us a ride round to whichever unfortunate friend had been designated to host our night of rowdiness. Cue much drinking, beer spilling, chip-splashing, and the occasional hand of poker.

We played £5 entry, winner takes all, usually 5-6 of us. I remember one week when so many people had got wind of our fun that about 15 people turned up. We all sat around the same table to start with, and each hand took about 20 minutes. Then someone had the bright idea of splitting it up into two tables, by which time I had already busted out through my arrogant, aggressive playing style, and had to sit and watch everyone else for about 4 hours. Hey ho.

Back in those days, we all thought we were pretty good, but the best player was undoubtedly Omar*. Omar used to push us around on the table, winding us up until our 16-year-old adolescent pride couldn’t take it any more, and then we’d shove our weak pair into his nut flush. He would always say things like “this is such a waste of time, I could make more playing online than I could playing here”. One time he actually brought his Mac to the table, wearing his cherished Pokerstars hoodie, and played 3 tables of 1/2 limit hold ’em while simultaneously taking our pocket money. 

He bragged to us once at school how he had started with $50 on Pokerstars, and ran it up to $3,000, before his parents found out and made him withdraw everything except the initial $50. Then he did it again. And again.

I always wanted to be like Omar. It was my dream to be able to walk into bars and think nothing of buying drinks for all my friends, and then go out the next day and buy some sick new trainers, or a PS3, or a Mac.

But then we all turned 18 and drinking, not gambling, became the first concern for most of us on a friday and saturday night. Now that we could go out of the house and legally drink, we did. A lot. And life was good. I earned my money during the week and spent it on the weekend. I studied hard in school and got into a good uni, where I continued to drink and study hard and enjoy life and get good grades. And life was good.

Then, in the summer of 2009 after my 2nd year of uni, I was working some shitty temp job cold-calling people to do telephone surveys. It was soul-destroying, mindless, uncreative work, the kind of work that makes people strangle themselves with their own telephone cord, which I would have done, except for the fact that we had to wear wireless headsets.

I thought to myself, “There has to be a better way to make money than this.” And then I remembered Omar, and his Mac, and his trainers, and the rounds of drinks he would buy for everyone. So I posted on a forum that I used to frequent, saying “I want to be good at Texas Hold ‘Em poker. Where do I start?” And someone gave me a link to the TwoPlusTwo poker forums, and to a couple of strategy guides, and I was off down a path that would lead me on an emotional rollercoaster.

I devoured forum threads like they were crack. I read more poker theory than you can imagine. I heard about guys beating the $50 no-limit games and thought “woah, these ballers, how can you ever play for a $100 pot?” I deposited my obligatory $50 on Stars, and set to grinding the lowest possible stakes, 1c/2c blinds. I bought some software that tracks all your hands, and I was ready and raring to go. I started playing full-ring games (9 handed) until someone on TwoPlusTwo told me to play 6 handed tables instead because they were “more profitable”. Oh, how wrong he was.

But it started out well. I managed to turn my $50 into about $120, at which point I started playing the 2c/5c cash games. Then I went on a downswing, and it was boring. I had about $105 left in my account when I went out for my friend’s 21st birthday. We had a fantastic night in this great club, we got drunk, threw up – everything you’d expect from a 21st birthday party.

Then I got home at about 4am, and fired up some tables. In my drunked recklessness I decided to play what I thought were “high stakes” – the 5c/10c tables. I remember being really nervous that there was a 10c chip being used as a blind. Woah. Surely this wouldn’t end well.

But it did. I went on the biggest 4am drunken heater of all time, and won about $200 in less than 20 minutes, instantly tripling my bankroll. Boom. Now I was really playing with the big boys.

I continued to grind 5c/10c games for a month or so (joining DC during this time), until I spent all my money on booze and takeaways and needed to cash out my winnings. Being the genius that I am, I emailed one of my friend’s housemates, who I knew to be a good midstakes player, and asked him to stake me. He would provide the money for me to play with, and accept any losses. Any winnings we would split 50-50. I showed him how I had crushed the lower stakes games and wanted to move up. He agreed, and gave me $750 on Full Tilt to play with.

I then proceeded to lose $500 over about 2 months. And life was bad. I got stressed. I would stay up all night trying to grind back my losses. I remember getting into bed at 1am as I had lectures at 10am the next morning, and firing up a couple of tables. I lost some money, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to deposit $100 on Pokerstars to play tournaments. I played in a bunch of $1 tournaments all night until about 7am, when I fell asleep, still playing 3 tables. Total profit from 6 hours play: $0.30. I missed all my lectures.

My grades slipped. I was unhappy.

I so wanted to be like Omar. I wanted to have the money and all the stuff the money could buy. $500 was a lot of money to me back then. My constant losses were a blight on my soul, a constant reminder that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. It was hard to deal with. I spent hours and hours studying poker, reading books, reading strategy threads, and even got a coaching session or two.

But over time, I gradually turned into a breakeven player, and then a (very) marginal winner. I got a couple of nice “frequent player” bonuses from Full Tilt Poker. I won back all I had lost and more. I received my first paycheck from my backer, who I think was as relieved as me that I had stopped texting him at 2am saying “Still losing. Can’t figure out why. Sooo frustrating.”

I would still get stressed out by poker. The losses were still bad, but winning was a relief, a break from the constant emotional stress of being a breakeven player. It didn’t help that I was still spending all of my money on booze and takeaways, and not doing a lot besides playing poker and Call of Duty. My grades slipped a bit more.

There were some times when I would lose so much, and keep losing, to the point where I was literally in tears (times I’ve cried due to poker: 3). But I didn’t want to stop playing, so I fired up 12 tables of 9 handed games and played monotonically, soothed by the constant alert and chip sounds of the game. I had barely ever played 9 handed games before – I looked down on those who did. Everyone played so tightly. It was boring. There was no action. But I couldn’t bring myself to stop playing, so I played 12 tables, playing fairly tight preflop, and extremely tight postflop. And funnily enough, I would usually win back all my losses from the 6 handed games. Of course, I moved back to 6 handed straight away, because it was “more profitable”.

I talked with my backer, and he agreed to boost my roll up to $1500, so I could play in the 25c/50c games. Now I was ready for the big time. And then I promptly lost about $700. And I got stressed, and life was bad again. I would stay up all night trying to recoup my losses.

I remember the summer of 2010, when I was working night shifts at my local supermarket. I would finish at 7am, and then come back and play poker. I thought it would be a good idea to play some heads-up poker, one on one. The players were aggressive, the variance was ridiculous, but I didn’t care. I knew I could take them on.

I remember losing $250 in about 30 hands. I got stressed, and punched a lightswitch, then broke my desk chair. My parents weren’t happy, but they didn’t understand. I was tilted! I didn’t have an anger problem, it was this guy’s fault for sucking out on me with his combo draw.

One of my friends pointed out to me “Lynch mate, you’re an idiot. You lose money in one-on-one and 6 handed games, but make money in 9 handed games. Why aren’t you just playing 9 handed?”

I made some excuse about how those games were boring and how I was developing my game faster by playing in aggressive and getting in tough spots that made me think. He said, “No, that’s bullshit. You play poker to make money. You make money playing 9 handed and you don’t playing 6 handed. Simple as.”

I took his advice, and switched to 9 handed games. And something clicked. And I made a lot of money. I paid for a holiday to Greece in September 2010 purely with poker profits. I bought a computer, and some new trainers, and drinks for all my friends in a bar. I was Omar.

I liked being Omar. It felt good to have money for once. I started to play more and more poker – it’s not a gambling problem if you’re winning, right? I played 16 tables for 5-6 hours at a time. Why bother going to lectures when my hourly rate was so good? My backer was pleased, and moved me up to the 50c/$1 stakes. So I started playing that, and broke even for a bit, then moved back down to 25c/50c because it was easy money, and I like easy money.

I played 120k hands of poker in October. I won some good money. But I didn’t do much else other than play poker. My girlfriend got annoyed. But she didn’t understand – this was my job! I didn’t have a gambling problem. She just worried too much.

I played 90k hands in November. I made some decent money. My girlfriend cried because I played so much poker and never talked to her. So I promised to cut down the amount of time I played. Then she went to work, and I played 16 tables all night while she was out. She came back, and I told her I had been doing some reading for uni.

December was going OK. I had broken even for most of the month, and tried to play some higher stakes, but always got knocked back. Then one day I sat down at some 50c/$1 6 handed tables, and lost a hundred bucks. Never mind. Then I lost another hundred. Then I won three hundred.. Then I lost a grand. I moved back down to lower stakes to try and grind it back again, and lost another two hundred. In total that day I lost over $1100. And I cried, and I shouted at my parents, and I punched the wall, and I broke some CD cases.

I didn’t play again for a few weeks. I tried meditating, and practicing Buddhist things like mindfulness. I became happier. I did some serious introspection and self-analysis. I came to a couple conclusions:

  • I definitely had some emotional problems
  • I might have a gambling problem

Why did I force myself to go through all of this? It all comes back to Omar, and how much I wanted to be like him. I was so desperate to have the money, and the Mac, and the trainers, and the drinks for all my friends. I thought that would make me happy. And I thought that poker was the way to achieve that. I wanted so much to be able to fly to Vegas (which Omar did one summer, and came back $50k richer). I wanted the lifestyle. I dreamed of being a baller, with stacks of bills, and a limo, and a concierge. I thought that would make me happy.

And in pursuit of that, I made myself so unhappy that often I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. I literally sat in bed all day playing micro-stakes, thinking that if I could just get a good run of cards, I would be on the path to happiness. I could quantify exactly how I felt about myself – all I needed to do was look at my results.

Poker was good to me in some respects – after everything I’ve been through, I’m still a winner lifetime – but in other ways it has been the worst thing that ever happened to me. I love the game, and the online community, and the rush you get from winning a big pot or making a sick bluff. But none of that is worth the 18 months that I sunk into poker almost full-time to the exclusion of everything else. As in poker and life, balance is critical. Doing one thing to the exclusion of everything else will seriously fuck you up, and it’s just not worth it.

And then my backer said he needed his money back, so now I couldn’t afford to play stakes that would be meaningful to me, so I stopped playing altogether. I became much happier, more productive, and more optimistic about life almost overnight.

So what did I learn?

  • A lot of poker coaches stress the importance of emotional control. They’re not being paternalistic, or trying to make the world a better place. They’re doing it because it makes money. If you’re not evaluating your own emotions and mindset, you will make bad decisions and lose money.
  • Never do what other people are doing just because you think it’s more glamorous, or will make people think more highly of you. Stick to your circle of competence.
  • Losses always felt worse when I desperately needed the money. Having plenty of cash in the bank felt brilliant because I knew even if I lost one day, I wouldn’t go hungry the next. James Altucher talks about this a lot.
  • Poker can be great fun, but it can be a cruel bitch. A common poker saying is “one day you will run worse than you ever thought possible.” I would add to this that poker led me to feel worse than I ever had before. When your self-worth is so wrapped up in your results as mine was, a big downswing can destroy you mentally.
  • Never measure yourself against anyone else, only against yourself. One problem for me was that whenever I improved my game and moved up a level, Omar did the same. I bought myself some trainers with poker money, he’d buy a car. I bought a holiday to Greece, he went to Vegas for 3 months. I was constantly comparing myself to his success, and coming up short.
  • Poker was a fun hobby, but should have stayed exactly that: a hobby. Once I was relying on it for income, it became my life and I played, studied and talked poker to the exclusion of almost everything else. But poker will be around tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Enjoy it, but don’t ever let it become your everything.

Poker gave me some great highs, and some horrible lows. But that’s all in the game, yo.

* name changed for subtle reference to The Wire

Life advice from Will Smith

The two keys to life: running and reading.

When you’re running, and you’re out there and you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you, and that little person says “Oh, I’m tired, my lung’s about to pop off, I’m so hurt, I’m so tired, there’s no way I can possibly continue.” And you want to quit, right? That person, if you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running, you will learn how to not quit when things get hard in your life.

The doctrine of the strenuous life

That’s the title of a speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave in Chicago in 1899. Here is my favourite part:

We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbour; who is prompt to help a friend; but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail; but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort.

Being familiar with the ideas

Anyone who’s seen my list of google reader subscriptions or my delicious account can tell that I spend a large portion of my time online. And while my parents may think that that’s a huge waste, I do spend at least some of my time trying to learn new things, new ideas and new concepts. A lot of what I know and what I consider my marketable knowledge, I learned online (either directly from wikipedia or blogs, or indirectly from being told what books to read etc).

One of these books that I’m currently reading is The Long Tail (I know, I’m late to the party), which I was reading on Ryan’s recommendation:

There is not much that needs to be said about this book other than it defines current net economics. There’s the head of the tail which is the stuff you find in Borders, and the tail, which is the infinite inventory on Amazon. You need to be familiar with this theory.

That’s a fair point, but it made me think – what ideas or theories should people be familiar with?

I could think of another two:

What others are there? What ideas should young, smart and ambitious people know to help them succeed?

The value of work

One of the things that everyone has been talking about recently is Gladwell’s newest book, Outliers. Fair enough, I’ve read it, and so has everyone else. But the thing most people seem to remember from the book is the 10,000 hour rule: that to be truly brilliant at anything you need to put in around 10,000 hours (which works out at approximately 3 hours a day for 10 years). I’m not going to comment on whether this is true or false, because probably the only things I’ve done in my life for 10,000 hours is sleep and waste time on the internet, both of which I consider myself world-class at.

A lot of Outliers focuses on the other factors that influence success – birth dates, cultural heritages, that sort of thing. But are any of them as important as working your fucking ass off?

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the best comedians in the world. He had one of the most popular shows of all time, and he has legions of fans. In the film Comedian (which I watched on Charlie Hoehn‘s recommendation – it’s a great film for anyone interested in stand-up comedy) the camera follows Jerry around the country watching him develop new standup material. He works, and works, and works his ass off. He hits numerous comedy clubs on the same night, for months on end, trying out new material, tightening it, refining it and making it great. He puts in hours and hours of work.

And he’s been doing it for years. That’s why he’s the best. He’s not the best because he was born in 1954, or because his parents were Jewish. It’s because he writes jokes every single day, does multiple sets night after night for months on end and spends hours every day obsessing over every single thing he does on stage to make sure he has the best possible act he can have.

He’s the best because he works harder than everyone else around him. There’s nothing stopping any one of us from being the best at whatever it is we want to do. You just have to work hard enough for it. You have to work, and work, and work. And then work some more.

Now I just have to find something worth working for.

Addendum: I’m probably still a bit too young, naive and inexperienced to totally get what he’s saying, but Tucker Max (yes, I’m talking about him again) did a fantastic speech at UCLA the other day about following your dreams, which you can watch here. I know it sounds cheesy, but trust me, it’s not.