Andrés Salazar Ruiz Velasco
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Table of Contents
Memorization of planets, state capitals, and the periodic table is not the way learning should be done anymore. Remembering facts that can be looked up on Google or Wikipedia hardly demonstrates an understanding of the material, yet that’s the way most schools grade kids in important subjects such as History and Biology. In school they teach us that knowledge is power, but knowledge is not power, it’s the potential for power. It is in the actions one takes with their knowledge where power is found.
Everyone knows that exercise keeps us healthy, yet most people don’t do it. Smokers know that smoking is harmful, but they don’t stop. When kids get caught smoking most parents try to explain that smoking will kill them. They go on lecturing their kids, instead of making them feel. We’ve all heard great advice, but failed to take it. Why?
We’re living in an age of information overload. Information is everywhere, and most of it is completely free. “Knowledge is power” was true when Sir Francis Bacon wrote it, but not today. We’re living in the information age, and the problem is that we can’t possibly retain all of it. This is mostly a problem of inefficient information consumption: it’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and trying to maintain sensible eating habits.
Today we have books, newspapers, television, podcasts, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, BuzzFeed, Twitter and many other sources of information accessible to us at nearly any minute of the day. We might not even finish reading an article before we move on to the next one, with a few more waiting in tabs. That’s our main problem: we’re reading a lot, consuming a lot of information, but never really taking time to contemplate, review and implement anything we’ve just read.
The cool part is that in an age of overwhelming amounts of information, action is power. This book isn’t meant to be another piece of information that you merely place on the shelf. I want you to read it, mark it, write down the ideas that you want to implement and act! Then you won’t need this book anymore. Throw it away. Burn it.
Here’s how I see it: You already know most of what you need to succeed. If all we needed was more information, everyone with Internet access would be a millionaire, a professional athlete, or anything else they could possibly want. New or more information is not what will get the results – action is.
I don’t know the meaning of life. The closest I know that anyone has gotten to it is 42, which is the answer provided by a super-computer in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. What I do know and what I can share here are some questions and actions that have helped me along in my own life. In this book, you will find Action Boxes in every chapter. If your intention is to skip the Action Boxes or to only complete some of them, my advice would be to skip this book all together. As you read on, you’ll find that what’s most valuable about this book are not the stories, but your own discoveries along the way. My hope is that the benefit you get from this book will be found in your answers, not in my questions. By the time you finish reading, this book will still be just paper and ink. However, what you’ll find inside of yourself, and what you’re capable of doing with that is what will matter.
You’ve already taken action by buying this book (or by downloading it from The Pirate Bay. No hard feelings). You’re already on the right track. Good ideas that are never implemented are wasted, and we don’t want that to happen.
It’s not that knowledge is bad; knowledge is good, but applied knowledge is better.
My grandpa Abu and me, probably around 1995.
“[_ You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” – Wayne Gretzky _]
Grandfathers are amazing, and mine wasn’t an exception. My grandpa Abu used to sit in his rocking chair and tell me stories for hours. He had a stash of clandestine cookies in one of his office drawers that he would share with me. I don’t think he was supposed to be eating them as diabetes had taken quite the toll on him, but I couldn’t understand that at the time. He was also quite the jokester, I remember that he once tried to convince me that he was twice my age; he was 66 and I was six.
To me, it was ordinary to watch grandpa on TV. He was part of the Board of Directors of one of the city’s soccer teams, so he was frequently invited to sports shows. He was also the owner of the school where I studied, but as this was the only kind of life I knew, it all seemed pretty normal to me.
One day my mom took my sister and me to our rich aunt’s house to stay with her for a couple days. Awesome. I loved my aunt’s home, plus my cousin had just bought the Super Nintendo video game console, meaning the classic Nintendo was all ours to play with. He even had the floor mat game controller and every game that I loved. Just like every time I visited my aunt’s home, I had such a great time that I was reluctant to leave when my dad picked us up a few days later.
My dad drove us to our grandparents’ home. My big sister always found a way to talk me into allowing her to ride shotgun with me happily agreeing to go on the back seat. I remember we were crossing the river that’s close to my grandparents’ home when my dad told us that my grandpa had a heart attack. “Was it worse than the last one?” I asked. “Yes. It was,” my dad said. We were about three minutes from my grandparents’ home. “Ok. I’m glad he’s well now. I miss grandpa.” I said. My dad didn’t answer back.
I was just outside the hall that leads to my grandparents’ bedroom where my grandma Pi was waiting, when my mom told me that Abu had passed away and that this was a difficult time for everyone. They told me that grandpa was in heaven, yet everyone was disheartened. I was seven, and I couldn’t fully understand the situation at that time. I didn’t even cry. Even today it’s hard to understand when someone you love passes away.
Weeks passed, and everyone was still depressed. I just wanted to go back to play, to my ‘normal life’. I missed Abu, but the seven-year-old me didn’t understand that I would never see him again. Seeing everyone missing Abu, and wanting to feel a closer sense of connection, I asked my mom, “What did grandpa study?” I was seven years old when I decided that I would become a civil engineer.
My parents brought me up to think that my sister and I could change the world. They taught us not to put limits on ourselves, we would meet plenty of hardship without needlessly adding to it. We shouldn’t do that to ourselves. We should support ourselves. We might not make a huge change right away, but we could start to make a difference.
I know there are many factors that shape any of our individual situations. In all the ‘Nature vs. Nurture’ debates, I understand that context does matter. The school we attended, our family and the country we were born in. But all of us have the ability to dream. It’s not that misfortune doesn’t exist, but we can improve any set of circumstances by working hard. If we don’t have ambition, nothing can fix that. We should dream, but we shouldn’t be dreamers. We ought to think, but not become thinkers. We should know philosophy and literature, but use it. We should apply our knowledge to take paths that lead to better destinations.
If we keep quiet, if we do not listen to our own being, we will betray ourselves. If we fail at work, there will likely be immediate consequences, like getting fired. If we fail at our business or at school there will be similar consequences, but if we fail ourselves no one will know about it… nothing will happen.
If we don’t like our job, we wait anxiously for the weekend. We tolerate sleeping five hours a night because ‘that’s the way life works’. We shape our lives in a monotonous routine that makes us unhappy… and by doing so we lose our chance to live. We spend our days doing things that we hate just to get money so we can buy things to impress other people, even if we don’t like them.
The way we use our time is terrible, mainly because it’s easy to give priority to urgent tasks over important tasks. We end up working with people that we don’t even like at jobs that have nothing to do with what we’re passionate about. What’s our excuse for such an unpleasant use of our time? Many say that this is the only way to make money, but it isn’t. If time is our most valuable asset, spending it with people that don’t understand the world in the same way that we do is a waste, even if we’re making a bit of money in the process.
Most people live as if they are going to be here forever, and they forget that this life is finite. The value of experiences is not fixed by the time they last, but by the intensity we live them with. Intensity is what makes for unforgettable moments, outstanding experiences and extraordinary people.
What makes us happy? It’s unsettling that most of us don’t have a clear answer for such a simple question. The first time I asked myself that question I thought of sharing a meal with my family and playing the guitar; I also realized that at that time I didn’t do those activities as much as I would’ve liked to. Think about what makes you happy. You will realize that most of the things that make you happy are rather simple.
We’re all fighting to be ourselves, to be who we really are. Not what our family want us to be, not what the culture, friends, society or history wants us to be, but who we are. People label people because it’s easier to place them in categories that are already full of prejudices and preconceptions than actually getting to know them. The first thing we ask when we meet someone new is what their job is and what they studied, even though we know by our own experience that those are not our most defining characteristics. We should remove the labels, and allow for everyone to be themselves.
When we look backward, our experiences in life seem a lot like hosting a party. If we only focus on how our guests are doing and on what they will think about the event, the party will be over before we even thought to have any fun for ourselves.
No matter what you do, no matter when, one thing is certain: you will be judged for it. Even if you let the fear of judgement kick in and totally paralyze you, you will be judged for it. So it is inevitable. Once we understand that judgement is inevitable, why not take action? As long as we are true to ourselves, we’ll be able to sleep well at night.
Reading stories about successful people is important. I mean success in the broader sense, not just in the economic one. It’s just as when you ask someone for traveling tips, you want to know where to go and what to do, but you also appreciate knowing what to avoid. That same principle applies to almost any important part of life; you want to know what worked out and what didn’t, because success leaves clues.
One of the best things about maturity is that it can bring a greater comfort to be truthful, regardless of what everyone else will think. In the end success is more about how you love and about how others admire your humbleness, not your money. That may sound cliché to some, but it’s ultimately true. How will people remember you when you’re not around? Probably by how much you helped others while following your dreams. And by how you avoided hurting others in your way. It’s about being true to yourself, and by using your head as much as your heart.
Our happiness should not be dependent on obtaining a certain goal, no matter how noble that goal is. Consider what happens when, after a very long struggle, someone actually achieves their aspirations. They go after another one. It’s natural. Growing is part of life. But having to reach certain milestones to feel significant is not. We will never be truly successful unless we enjoy what we’re doing in the present moment. What we need to realize is that we should feel complete even before reaching our goals. Otherwise, when we do, they will not be as fulfilling as we imagined. No amount of money will make us happy, no amount of awards, followers, recognition or other accolades will be enough to bring joy into our lives. We are successful from the moment we’re blazing our paths in the right direction, not until we reach certain milestones.
My grandpa Abu lived the classic entrepreneur life. He was born in a family of farmers and went on to live an incredible life. He proposed and developed the college of Mathematics at the State’s University, and founded a business that was worth millions. There he was betrayed by another of the founders, who happened to be his best friend. Getting let down by his then closest friend led him to his first heart attack at a very young age. He came back from nothing to start the private school where I studied, all while directing the soccer team he loved. He literally went from milking cows to changing the city in which he lived. The funny thing is that nobody remembers him for that.
You may be thinking “that’s horrible”, but the way I see it, it’s actually the best part. No one remembers the home in which he lived, no one thinks, “He used to drive a great car,” or asks, “Do you remember his expensive watch?” This is easy to understand in retrospect, but life is not lived backwards, and sometimes such a simple lesson is hard to remember when we’re going through the day to day. When we think of a loved one that has passed away, we’ll always remember a distinctive characteristic he had above all others. That characteristic was normally his greatest strength, and it’s usually the same characteristic that made him happy. At Abu’s funeral, I’ve been told, one of the speeches came from a very humble construction worker who said my grandpa had secretly lent him money to buy a fridge for his family, saying he was never able to pay him back, and knowing grandpa would never ask him to.
Next you’ll find the first of the Action Boxes in this book. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll find many of them scattered through the whole book.
To make your life easier, Andres has designed a beautiful PDF that you can print off and fill with all the Action Boxes in this book. It’s free. The design is so cool that my advice would be to take action and grab it!
BURN THIS WORKBOOK.
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What makes you happy?
Describe a person that you loved that had passed away.
Who do you believe to be the greatest person living? In what aspect is he better than you?
“Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” – Jim Henson
When I hang out with my friends we always end up laughing at the same stories, telling the same old jokes and wondering what happened with the people we used to hang out with in high school. We always end up reminiscing about the math studying sessions that were held at my house. These meetings always followed the same routine: ordering pizza, watching a couple episodes of Drake & Josh and then having my mom teach us all of the topics we were supposed to cover in the whole term in the span of a few hours. My mother is a mathematician and has always worked as a teacher at the state university’s Math College. As she’s so knowledgeable in the area and generous with her time, she has provided math tutoring to my friends, sister, cousins, even uncles and friends of friends.
If tutoring is about passing a test, I get it. I’ve been there, it works. What troubles me about tutoring is the way most kids end up approaching these extra classes. I’m not talking about the last minute, right-before-the-exam tuition like the one I just described, but the scheduled weekly tutoring sessions that children rarely want to take. Most times the kids end up there as a result of their parent’s reaction to a poor grade. “We should get that kid a tutor!”, “Should we punish him?” focusing on the kid’s weaknesses instead than on their strengths. We all have weaknesses, and at an intellectual level we can all agree on that, yet it’s ‘normal’ to react like this as a parent because so many think that’s ‘what parents are supposed to do’ when their kid makes a mistake. What most parents don’t realize is that by doing this their children will then associate learning with suffering, and relate making mistakes with a lack of intelligence.
Making mistakes is not a ‘necessary evil’, it’s an essential part of making anything happen. Again, we can understand this at an intellectual level, we could even say it out loud in a conference and everyone would nod their heads on agreement (and later, at their work space, go back to not wanting to make mistakes). “Fail fast, fail better” is a common saying in the business world, yet when we happen to make a mistake, we still feel awful. Why? At a visceral level we feel sad, we think that we should have done things differently, or think how stupid we were to take a bad decision. It all starts during the childhood years, when at school making a mistake meant one of two things: either you didn’t prepare enough for the task, or you were stupid. “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from making bad decisions” I’m not sure who said that, but it’s a good quote. When we make a mistake, we shouldn’t only ask, “how did this happen?” but also, “what’s next?” which allows us to focus on what we can actually do about it. Many people end up being far too fearful and ashamed of making mistakes, instead of using them as opportunities for growth. The problem is that when we focus too hard in avoiding mistakes, we end up in a yet worse situation: driven by the desire to avoid failure; and wanting to achieve anything meaningful without making any mistakes is like trying to learn how to ride a bike without falling down.
Of course, parents aren’t the only ones to blame for this detrimental perspective on making mistakes, our education system is largely to blame for this misconception. When we’re very young we are taught that the right way to approach a problem is by taking small steps. If we overachieve and excel at something that’s not covered on the test, we won’t get any extra credit for it. However, if we end up doing exactly what we were asked to, we’ll get an A. This same process is repeated over and over through academic life, and it’s one of the reasons most PhDs chase to publish a large number of smaller papers covering familiar topics instead of asking big questions. A hero is just as great as the villain he’s fighting against, we shouldn’t be afraid to pick any big battles.
“Finish your homework, then you’re free to do anything you want”, phrases like that make kids end up viewing studying (and later in life, working) as a monotonous chore. Additionally, most rules or lessons are presented as rigid ultimatums, which need to be revisited. From what I understand, this is in part due to the way in which children learn. Small children haven’t developed the cognitive capacity to deal with complex situations. Knowing this, we end up teaching by stating contrasts: good and bad, black and white, life and death. Kids are often taught that they are either not capable of doing something or that they should easily achieve anything they want. Both are toxic messages that do not properly reflect what it takes to achieve anything meaningful. The problem is that if we don’t revisit these multidimensional concepts, we end up trying to understand the complex adult world with the same simple dichotomy we learned as children.
When kids are shamed for showing their talents or receive harsh criticism on work they’ve made, such comments stay with them as they grow up and translate into a dulling of their talents. It’s important to remember that we should let ourselves be bad artists in order to become good artists. In my experience as a writer I can tell you that my first drafts suck, and this is not a humility thing, they really do suck, but I know that if I nurture them they can eventually turn into a quality piece of writing. The same happens with children’s natural skills, we need to support them in order to help them develop their talents.
If we don’t pay attention to the whole childhood process, both as parents and as children, we risk weakening the creative outlets that are so beneficial to development. Overactive children can be a challenge for their families and especially for their teachers. Even so, if we discipline without self-awareness through the punishment-reward process that’s so common in our education system, we go on weakening the emotional and creative aspects of children. They may end up getting good grades in conduct, but if we’re not careful we can also destroy the potential for so many creative talents. That same creativity is responsible for the most meaningful things we enjoy today, and it’s responsible for happiness and fulfillment in human beings. Establishing too many rules may prevent disaster, but what they assure is a place of mediocrity. Too few rules may seem like chaos, but too many rules will inhibit creativity; they’ll prevent the artist from improvising, from finding something new. It’s important to find the right balance of freedom within structure. If we don’t pay attention on the way we teach our kids, we’ll end up with adults who may be more meticulous and efficient, but who will also be rigid and bound to complacency. History should remind us that those who are remembered for achieving great things are often those who followed an alternative route.
As a kid one of the things I enjoyed the most was playing basketball. I was around 7 when my school hired a coach and started a team. Michael Jordan was my hero back then, so naturally I went to the tryouts expecting to become the best player in the world and maybe eventually to play along with the Looney Tunes. Of course I didn’t make the A team, the coach said I couldn’t run. Plus I was the smallest kid in my class, but since there weren’t many kids in the school that wanted to be part of the team, I was allowed to train with the B team. I could even go to the games and watch them from the bench. I never missed a training session. It didn’t matter if I was loaded with homework, it didn’t matter if I felt sick. I spent summer vacations training daily. My dad put a basketball hoop in our driveway so I could practice my free throws, and so I did. I shot and shot. First I tried “shooting until I missed” just like Michael Jordan did at the beginning of Space Jam, but I found early on that wouldn’t work since I missed so often, so I decided to keep shooting no matter what. I read Michael Jordan’s book over and over. By the way, the coach was right. I could never run. But I understood that if I threw the ball in the right direction, the ball could run faster than anyone on the court. Eventually, I began getting a few minutes of play time in the games. I played point guard, just like MJ. I never won any school championships. I never hit a last-second shot to win a game (this isn’t that kind of story). I never even got on to the A team. At the court, none of that mattered to me. There, I was Michael Jordan. I would enjoy every minute of gameplay I had, and I never missed my free throws.
What kept me playing basketball obviously wasn’t talent, but rather persistence to try over and over to improve my skills. Stubbornness to keep training and shooting to get what I wanted most. Persistence is not just about relentlessly doing the same things over and over again, but about getting better with each repetition. Have you ever seen the persistence of a child asking for a toy that they really wanted? Seldom do those children give up without a fight. As adults we often lose that fighting spirit that was so ingrained in us as children, and we accept defeat easily. However, that relentless fighting part still remains in us somewhere.
As we grow up we ought to recognize the imbalances of life. Have you ever seen someone at the gym with huge arms and skinny legs? Some may say that he’s in great shape and that he can bench-press a lot of weight. It still looks funny. And that’s just how many people’s lives look. Often we see people who are very successful in one particular area of their lives, but disregard other important aspects. This is why it’s often very hard to have a conversation with PhDs in the sciences, because being an erudite in physics doesn’t make you good at being a husband, raising children or the like. It is the very same reason we find tabloid headlines of celebrities having problems with domestic violence, eating disorders, drug abuse, drunk driving and even suicide attempts. Many of these famous people who supposedly ‘have it all’ are some of the most self-doubting and unhappy people you will find. It’s not that they’re bad people, it’s just that they’re people. Many of them spent their whole lives putting so much effort into getting ‘huge arms’ that they forgot to train their legs. They’ve been succeeding in one area of life but creating an imbalance and sacrificing other equally important areas.
The most common area in life in which I’ve found imbalance over and over is at work. Workaholics. An apple a day is good, eating just apples is bad. Exercising keeps you healthy, but doing it 5 hours a day is counterproductive. Workaholics will always find work because there’s always more work to do. By doing too much, they lose balance. They’re busy being busy. “I’m too busy. I’m working” it even sounds important, workaholics say it almost with a sense of duty, as if that’s what successful people say. They think it’s a worthy excuse of why they haven’t jumped all in. The worst part is that people do get impressed when they hear someone saying they’re busy with work. But that’s not how you get success; you get success by achieving balance.
The glorification of work happens mostly because, as problem solvers, we often start doing what we think we have to in order to achieve our goals. Over the years we’ll find that our actions define who we become. It’s just like the story of Judas, who betrayed Jesus and handed him to the soldiers. Judas got the money. Is that a success story? He had the money but he lost himself in the process. “You make your choices, then your choices make you” that’s why we should be careful of who we may become while we pursue what we want to get. Some things are not worth the price.
People buy diamonds for thousands of dollars, while those same diamonds can be imitated perfectly for less than $100 and only experts could tell apart the imitation from the original rock. What’s the true value of a diamond? Why should it make someone feel happy if it doesn’t have any use? Why does this rock can make some people feel accomplished and successful? Are those emotions real? Was the time invested to get a rock as a reward worth it?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be rich. It’s actually a good thing to have ambition. But not greed. We ought to get abundance not to buy our way into happiness, but to be able to do great things with our wealth. If you can control money, it’s a great servant. If money controls you, it’s a ruthless master. Some people live as if their goal was to get a larger sum at their bank accounts, seeing money as an end in and of itself rather than viewing it as a medium to accomplish great things. When we leave this world, we won’t take anything with us, but perhaps we can leave something meaningful behind.
What’s money for, if not to make things happen?
One of the false childhood myths that we keep as adults is believing that “an old dog can’t learn new tricks,” but nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that the person that stops learning just because they’re no longer a kid or no longer attending school is destined to mediocrity. It is the willingness to be a beginner over and over that distinguishes someone who is attempting to have a meaningful life.
Starting may be the hardest part, but it’s also the most exciting. We should all design a life plan before others do it for us. Challenge complacency. Never stop learning, creating or enjoying the process of doing so.
You’ve probably already gotten your free PDF with the Action Boxes. In case you haven’t here’s the link:
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My favorite toy as a kid was:
My favorite game as a kid was:
My favorite movie as a kid was:
What was my childhood room like? Sketch it.
3 traits I had as a kid:
3 accomplishments I made as a kid:
The person who believed in me as a kid was:
3 friends that nurture me:
Top 3 abilities I have:
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” – Jim Rohn
I used to check my Twitter feed all the time. It was one of my most distracting habits. I could be working, lying in bed about to sleep, or even at a party with friends, but I constantly felt the urge to check my timeline. To be honest, I’m not totally over it. Even today I can lose hours of productivity if I’m not mindful of the habit. The problem wasn’t that I spent so much actual time on Twitter, but that those little spans of distraction kept interrupting the focus I needed for tasks that required continuous attention.
Habits form by repeating activities over and over. Habits are all about energy and effort optimization: When we repeatedly do the same things, memory chunks are formed so that we no longer need to use our brains’ full capacity to repeat the same tasks over and over. Think about the first time you drove a car, it’s a complex activity. Engine, lights, seatbelts, shifting gears, pedestrians, signals, turns and other vehicles. There are many aspects of driving that require our attention. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming at first. However, after repeating any activity enough times, our brains start to run on a sort of autopilot. This is the reason we can hold a conversation while walking and how talented musicians can sing while playing piano.
The most important thing to know about habits is that once they’ve formed, they are there to stay. We may develop new habits which override the old ones, but with the right trigger, the old habits can kick back as if they never left. That’s powerful. It has both positive and negative consequences: we won’t forget some of our skills even after years without practice, but at the same time our bad habits will always be lurking. The reason that we don’t forget how to drive while on vacation is the same reason why recovering alcoholics choose abstinence over having a single drink that would likely wake a dormant and destructive habit. The way out of bad habits is not to ‘control them’, but to avoid them and overpower them with new ones.
Habits are built even when we’re not paying attention to their formation. The thing is most people focus solely on the short-term effects of their actions. People quit exercising because “they’ve been working out for two whole weeks and haven’t lost a pound.” And it happens even in more serious matters like drug addiction. Say you try drugs once, and nothing really happens, but then look at the guy who’s been using for five years straight and see the devastating results.
Nobody plans to go bankrupt, to become overweight or to turn into an alcoholic, but those are common consequences of many small, repeated bad choices. Those outcomes don’t happen all at once, but step-by-step as small actions that often go unnoticed if we’re not paying attention.
Sadly, it’s quite common to see people walk through life without paying attention to such seemingly inconsequential choices that add up to catastrophic outcomes. I’ve seen geniuses behave this way; they have what I call The Curse of Intelligence: thinking that because they’re smart they don’t need discipline. They don’t see true value in it. Some may not end up in a total disaster, but most end up without experiencing their true potential and missing out on so much more.
Doing less than what we can takes away from who we are. If we do a little less each day, we become a little less each day. Just imagine the damage that we’re doing to ourselves after years of doing a little bit less than what we could, holding back just a bit.
Back to my Twitter addiction, I came up with a simple solution: Setting my phone on Airplane Mode for at least 45 minutes a day and focusing exclusively on my most important project at the time. A time oasis. When the work I’m doing doesn’t require an internet connection, I set my computer on Airplane Mode as well. So far, the system has worked flawlessly. Try it. I know you may not have my Twitter craving, but even so, it’s a great way to control the endless distractions from your phone and computer. The increase in productivity will be worth it.
Turn your laptop and phone to Airplane Mode. Get to work on your most important current project for at least 45 minutes. Do this at least three times a week.
The Evil Scientist.
Ivan Pavlov was a scientist that ran behavioral conditioning experiments on his dogs. The Russian physiologist made one of the most important discoveries in the field of psychology, what is today known as classical conditioning. Like many scientific advances, his discovery came about by mere chance.
Pavlov studied the salivation in dogs as a response to being fed. The common wisdom was that you couldn’t teach a dog how to salivate since salivating is a reflex, an unconditioned response that is triggered when the dog smells food. Ivan Pavlov tried to prove the existence of these unconditional responses by showing his dogs a food bowl and measuring their salivary secretions.
While conducting this experiment, Pavlov’s accidental discovery took place: After a while, the dogs increased their salivation not only when they spotted food, but when they noticed the lab assistant who carried the food bowls was around. This was not their original behavior when the experiment had started. Somehow, the dogs had learned to make an association between the food and the lab assistant.
Pavlov continued doing experiments, this time using a bell as a stimulus. Every time he fed the dogs, he would ring the bell. After a while, he tried ringing the bell without feeding the dogs and then measuring their levels of salivation. It worked. The dogs had learned to associate the bell with the food. A new behavior was now hard-wired in their brains. They had been conditioned to make a specific response when the right trigger was actioned.
Classical conditioning, later developed and termed by another psychologist named John Watson, is how we associate responses to specific stimulus.
Habits work in a similar fashion. Consider the simplest form of a habit: cue, routine (brain runs in automatic mode), reward. They happen either arbitrarily or by design. In knowing that, it would be wise to design our habits and avoid acting on autopilot. Set how you will respond to certain cues, such as when someone starts yelling at you. When emotion rises, intelligence decreases, so the prudent thing to do is to build a strategy around such moments of emotional arousal.
The first thing we should do to change our routines is to identify our bad habits and the triggers that are connected to them. Who, what, where, when. Those are the questions we should ask for every bad habit we wish to change.
Are you more likely to smoke when you’re around certain people?
What are you doing when you experience your worst emotions?
Where are you when you’re likely to overdrink?
Is there a specific time of the day when you can’t resist the urge to snack?
By the sole action of identifying the triggers of your bad habits, you’ve already raised your awareness to a greater standard than most.
Change is not immediate. But a change in direction is.
Make a list of the bad habits you wish to change.
Identify the trigger (Who, What, Where, When) that is most closely related to every bad habit.
The Other Evil Scientist.
Almost a century after Pavlov’s dogs, Roy F. Baumeister conducted one of my favorite social experiments of all time. The trial went like this: Students came into a room that smelled like fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. Then they were asked to sit at a table with two bowls in front of them. The first bowl had delicious fresh-baked cookies. The other bowl contained radishes. The first group of lucky students were asked to eat cookies, but were not allowed to eat radishes. The rest were asked to eat radishes, and were not supposed to eat any cookies.
The researchers left the room after giving the instructions.
The results: None of the radish-students slipped. They showed outstanding willpower. As you can expect, all of the cookie-students followed the instructions too, but they probably weren’t as tempted by radish anyways.
After finishing the trial, all of the students were given the option to participate in a second, supposedly unrelated exercise: solving a logic puzzle. Most of them agreed. There was a catch though; the puzzle was impossible to solve. Of course, the participants didn’t know that.
• The average time that the cookie-students attempted the puzzle before giving up was 19 minutes.
• The average time of the radish-students was 8 minutes.
The results were clear: Participants who previously had to resist the cookies craving didn’t have enough willpower left to deal with another tedious task. They ran out of self-control.
Thanks to this experiment psychologists made a major breakthrough: they discovered that willpower is an exhaustible resource. Self-control is limited, it’s a general strength that needs to be shared among all different kinds of activities. Anytime we’re paying full attention to a serious task we’re using our self-control. That’s why we’re more likely to relax on our diets or drinking habits after a long, hard day of work.
Willpower is like a muscle that gets worn-out after every use, at least in the short-term. It’s a muscle, not a skill. And just like any muscle, we can build it. Kids enrolled in music lessons, or basketball training may not turn into musicians or professional athletes, but they’re developing discipline. They’re training their willpower muscle so that it will become stronger for future endeavors.
When we change our habits, we’re substituting our old and comfortable behaviors for new, unfamiliar ones. This will initially deplete our resource of self-control. At a visceral level, our old-self will want to go back to our deep-rooted ways. To accomplish the change in habits we’re looking for, we have to be very cautious to avoid a misstep.
A new habit has to work with our lifestyle. If we do it the other way around, we’ll end up slipping. If we enroll in classes that are far away from our daily route, we won’t go. If we’re night owls and schedule writing sessions in the morning, we won’t continue with them. Our new activities should fit into our schedule, ideally being close to or even at our homes.
One of the best approaches for acquiring new habits is adopting a non-tolerating mindset, both with others and with ourselves. This is when we get what we think we’re worthy of. The moment we start tolerating people being late, people will start showing up late. If we tolerate impudence, people will be imprudent with us. The same thing happens with becoming overweight, waking up late or any other standard in our lives.
A common mistake many people make when starting a new activity is overdoing it. We need to build a strategy that we can follow for the next twenty years, not just the next week. Don’t get me wrong, making a major change is generally better than making no change. Yet, when someone who’s never followed a diet goes straight to a strict regimen, what they’re doing is setting themselves for failure by doing too much too soon. If you’re currently in a crisis, it’s ok to push hard for a while, but make sure to scale back to a long-term pace one you’ve passed through the rough patch.
Small, early victories are another great strategy. That’s just what it sounds like: planning victories so little that we can’t possibly fail. These little milestones are designed just to show us that we’re on the right path. More important than the actual milestones we reach is that these small victories continue. When we reach these small achievements, what we’re really designing is confidence.
Back to the self-control burning. I’m now about to walk you through one of the best approaches I’ve ever used to take control over my habits. This strategy is so simple that it’s foolproof: track your progress.
Things that don’t get measured usually don’t get done. As Jim Rohn said, “What’s simple to do is also simple not to do.” The magic of tracking things is not in its difficulty but in its repetition.
You could track your training sessions, what you eat and drink, or the number of sales pitches you made in the day. I even have a spreadsheet where I track how often I see my friends. It doesn’t sound very fun, I know, but I’ve reached an age where if I don’t track down my friends I could easily lose contact with them.
The first time I tried the tracking exercise I was astonished of how much more aware I became of my actions. The only way to reach our full potential is to become conscious of our behaviors.
It is the small actions that bring the major changes over time.
Tracking is a very simple exercise. Chose a single habit and track your behaviors in that area for the next week. Start today.
Write down the behavior you’ll start tracking.
(Tip: Besides a notebook, you could get an App to help you with your tracking. I personally use the App Simple Spending Tracker in Android, but I’m sure there’s a similar one for iOS. If you’re going to track your diet and exercise sessions, My Fitness Pal is a great App. I specially recommend the website , it’s a great tool to shape habits.)
Plan your first small, early win for your personal goal.
“I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal
Many years ago, I was at my uncle’s birthday party, a family gathering where everything was going just as expected. Out of nowhere, everyone at the party went quiet. It seemed like something was about to happen at the living room. As I got closer to the scene of the action, I recognized Richard, the dean of my former junior high school, holding an acoustic guitar. As soon as he started playing everyone went crazy. Ok, maybe not everyone, but I know I certainly did. He was an amazing performer, and he sang and played tremendously at that party. That same night I decided that I would become a guitar player.
I was 18 years old when I made that decision. I know it may sound funny, but at the time I felt I was way too old to start playing. I had friends that had started playing in elementary school, and there I was already enrolled in college! I remember my whole internal debate about whether I should go public with my new musical aspiration, keep it a secret or just scrap it entirely. I remember thinking, “What about 30 years from now?” Every time I pictured my future-self playing, I understood that it wouldn’t actually matter if I had started in grade school or college.
The decision was already made. Before the summer vacation was over, I took my uncle’s old guitar from my grandparent’s home and bought some new strings. I then realized I didn’t know how to actually string a guitar, so I asked for help from the best guitar player I knew, my friend Bortoni. We met at my home where he solved my string predicament and gave me some quick tips. A few hours and a couple Dr. Peppers later my fingertips were in a fair amount of pain, but Bortoni proved to be a great teacher: by the end of the session I was able to play a mediocre cover of the song Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day. Before he left, he gave me one final piece of advice, “the first thing you should do if you’re serious about playing is to buy your own guitar. Feeling it’s yours makes it all easier.”
The summer break seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and I went to college for the fall semester. As soon as the semester began I enrolled in guitar lessons. I also made the commitment to play every day for at least 15 minutes. I knew the hard part was beginning. Once I had started my practice session, those fifteen minutes would likely become an hour or even more. As an aside, getting a guitar stand is one of the best things you can do when learning to play the guitar, it makes playing much more accessible than the entire ritual of getting the guitar out of its case. I spent my entire savings (about 200 bucks) on those guitar lessons. I didn’t have enough to buy my guitar yet, but I kept Bortoni’s advice in mind the whole time.
As my lessons continued, I became even more intent on buying my own guitar, so I put a lot of effort into saving money. This wasn’t a decision I was going to take lightly. I Googled all there was to know about guitars so I could choose the right one. I looked at different brands, wood types, guitar heads, strings, tuning pegs, body types, and neck widths. I researched pretty much everything I could find on guitars. A few months later I had saved enough money. It was finally going to happen. I had the money, and I had done my research. Before I made what felt like the most important decision of my life to that point, I asked my guitar teacher for his advice.
My guitar teacher was a metalhead with a ponytail who also happened to be a professional musician. He was a genius. The archetypal musician who plays piano, violin, guitar, bass, and every other instrument in the known world. I asked him which guitar he recommended for beginners, and before I had a chance to tell him all of my recently acquired guitar knowledge, he said, “The one that looks the best.”
I was about to tell him he couldn’t be serious, but he continued, “If you like the way that your guitar looks, then your mental image of yourself playing it will be a good one. Every time you visualize yourself playing you will feel great. If that happens, it will lead you to practice more and more, and you’ll become a better player.” It was one of the most powerful lessons he ever taught me.
At the time, I couldn’t understand it, but I was a beginner; the specifics of the guitar weren’t as important as practicing. The passion we have in any endeavor will always translate into more time invested.
I ended up buying an inexpensive, but eye-catching Yamaha with a matte finish. I named it Camila. My fine-looking first guitar. Some years later I lent it to my good friend Carl, who had just started playing at the time. I’m not sure of her current whereabouts, but Camila is (hopefully) still making music and making someone’s life a little better.
I’m telling you this story because I am now going to ask you to buy something. It’s something important. Don’t worry, you probably won’t need to spend your life savings on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. I want you to buy a notebook; a good-looking notebook.
Most people go through their days on autopilot, never really knowing if they’re getting farther or closer to their dreams. Let’s observe how much time we spend at our jobs organizing ideas: documents, papers, spreadsheets, slideshows and reports. It’s a lot of information to handle. If we didn’t organize it, we would lose it and wouldn’t be able to recall it when needed. It’s troubling to realize that most of us don’t even have a single document to organize our goals and dreams.
We place our ideas in a bottom drawer where we can never find them. We are terrible at remembering things. Think of your notebook as a tool, it will boost your capacity to remember what is truly important to you. Jim Rohn used to say, “The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest mind.” It’s important to write things down so we can figure out what worked and what didn’t.
Photographs show us the way we looked like at a given time. When we happen to glance at our old photo albums, we may feel the nostalgia for such great times. In our old albums, we will likely find all kinds of moments. From funny memories to emotional ones. By looking at old pictures, we’re able to remember times that would’ve been forgotten otherwise. Writing works in a similar fashion, and by looking at your notebook from time to time you will be able to notice changes in perspective and development. Words are photographs of our minds and hearts.
When we work with an idea in our minds, our imaginations tend to fly. We’ve all been in situations where our imaginations create scenarios that are far too unrealistic to ever take place. By writing our ideas, we become more rational, more objective and accurate.
When we write down a problem, we create a distance between the problem and ourselves. In that new space we’ve created, solutions now have room to grow. Just by writing the problem down we have already started to figure it out.
By writing down our fears, we reduce their power.
By writing down our ideas, we magnify their strength.
By writing down our goals, we’re drawing a map to guide us.
By becoming effective thinkers on paper, we become effective people in practice.
My advice when taking notes is to place your ideas on paper in the simplest way you can. I’ve noticed many academics write in the most complex fashion they can muster. It may make them feel special and sophisticated, but that doesn’t actually help anyone, not even themselves. Simple is elegant.
If the notebook you like is a bit pricey, my recommendation would be to buy it anyway. You will be more likely to associate its value with the content inside.
Get a notebook. Make a commitment to carry it around.
Disrespect your notebook.
The only downside I’ve seen with getting a gorgeous notebook is that it may feel terrifying to use it for the first time. The notebook looks so perfect that it may become intimidating to make a mistake. I’ve seen many people save their notebook’s first note “for a special event” and end up never using it at all.
Some years after my grandfather passed away I was glancing at his giant bookshelf. Even today when I visit his old bookshelf I always find more interesting stuff. That particular time I took a mathematics book out and started skimming through the pages. I immediately noticed the whole book had little pen marks in its pages. They were my grandfather’s marks. Nothing special, just little notes on the sides of the pages and some underlining of the interesting parts with a pen. But it felt great. It felt like reading with my grandfather’s eyes. To me, the marks were more valuable than the book itself.
I know we’ve been taught to “respect our books”, but marking your books turns them into unique items. We normally know people as writers, but rarely as readers. Through those marks any future readers will get to know what kind of message made an impression on us, the information we consider valuable and even the insights we had as we read. Mark your books.
The same principle holds for a notebook. If left blank, the value of the notebook is left to its price tag. But as it is filled with thoughts, goals and dreams it becomes more valuable. The true significance of the notebook is not the notebook itself, but what we put inside of it.
In your new notebook, you could write down anything that happened in your day, from what you did to who you saw. Don’t forget to write down how you felt. Use this single notebook to write down ALL your stuff, from the grocery list to your best ideas.
Keep a log of people who are important in your life. Write down their favorite movies, the schools they attended to and any stories they share. If a person is important, it’s wise to have a file on them to remember the important stuff. It’s an investment in that person.
Quick tip: make an index on the last page of the notebook. There you can write the general topics to be covered in the notebook, such as thoughts, drawings, business ideas, dreams and stories. Every time you fill a page, make sure to go to the last page to log it into its specific category. That way the material will stay organized, and it will be easier to find particular sections when needed.
If you were to keep just one type of content in your notebook, I would advise you to write down gratitude messages. You get what you give. Write down things that you’re thankful for in your life. Write what you appreciate about your loved ones. Focus on little things: how you enjoyed sharing a meal with a friend, how you enjoyed hugging your mom or how cool it was to lay in bed for an extra fifteen minutes while listening to great music.
You’ll soon notice that even though you may be writing other people’s virtues, the person most affected by this activity is oneself. This kind of journaling helps us to focus on our life’s positive aspects. You will start perceiving all of the great subtleties that previously passed unnoticed.
I remember when I first thought of switching from my old iPhone to an Android phone. All of the sudden I started spotting Android phones everywhere. It seemed like they had just appeared out of nowhere and now everyone had one but me. Of course, they were there all along. It was just that I wasn’t paying attention before. I began noticing them when I started focusing on them. We see and experience only those things we focus our minds on.
Whatever we’re thinking of inside our own minds is what we’ll start noticing in the outside world. The great things in our lives have been here all along, and by writing them down we direct our minds to see them. By journaling our gratitude, we allow our minds to focus on all of the great people, conversations and experiences that surround us.
Noticing the good things in life will cause us to relate differently to our circumstances. That will make our circumstances respond differently to us.
By taking just a few minutes each day to document the things we’re grateful for we can change our lives.
As we go over what we’ve written, we create a new image of our circumstances. That image becomes our reality.
If you’re filling the Action Boxes on your own, I’m sure that by now you’ve realized that printing them is a good idea. Last chance:
BURN THIS WORKBOOK.
Or go to:
Get someone to sign a page of this book. Any page will do. The thing is to get over the “respecting your books” myth.
Mark this book. I mean it. Get creative. You can use a highlighter to cover what you’ve liked the most or take a pen to make a note on a page. Whatever you chose, just make sure to mark it.
Make your first note in your new notebook. On the first page write down your name, email, phone number and a reward in case you lose your notebook and someone finds it.
On the second page, write something you’re grateful for in your life. It could be anything, from the dinner you had yesterday to the presence of a great friend.
“I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan.
To recognize ourselves as masters of our own circumstances is the only way to avoid blaming anyone else for our mistakes. Even if we intellectually acknowledge that the specific context, situation, and even luck play a part in life’s outcomes, the only sensible way to face reality is by focusing solely on what we can control: ourselves.
As make our way through life, we will meet many people who blame external factors for their failures. Their reasons are familiar enough; not enough money, a lack of opportunities, economic recession, wrong timing, bad luck; you name it. The reasons they provide are likely to be true in part, but rarely are they the defining factors for their outcome.
The problem is that we tend to believe that we suffer due to external circumstances rather than our own actions. Some people even believe that they suffer on account of their virtues, “I was too nice,” “Only crooks make it in this industry.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It all begins with our mindset. Our mindset influences our habits, and our habits shape our circumstances.
I want to be clear here. It’s not that we aren’t met with difficult and uncontrollable external circumstances. It’s that by focusing on what we can’t control and blaming our luck; we’re missing the opportunity to change what we can control in any given situation. The only reasonable way to face reality is by identifying ourselves as the sole creators of our destiny.
In our journies, we will encounter people who will try to demoralize us, to ridicule us because we’ve decided to become better people. From time to time even loved ones will try to drag us down. Don’t fall into these traps. It’s not about you; it’s about them. Most people know they should be learning, they know they should always be trying new things. When they see someone else trying to make something of themselves, their own insecurities are brought to the surface. It’s a natural and often subconscious response. It’s easier for them to minimize someone else’s aspirations than to follow their lead and work towards bettering themselves.
This brings me to another misconception about a saying popularized by Master Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” That’s senseless. We have to try. The only way to know what we’re truly capable of is by trying. What happens if we try and don’t succeed? Does that makes us losers? Of course it doesn’t. We just have to try again.
Make no mistake about it. We’re not always going to achieve the goals we set out to do. However, with every attempt we will get closer, we will learn something in the process. Sometimes we will fall short of our goals. In fact, we might fall short quite often, but if we don’t try, we won’t even have a chance.
Pushing ourselves means we’re going to fall down. If we’re not falling down, it’s a sign that we’re not trying. We’re going to have successes and failures, we can accept both of those outcomes so long as we make an effort.
Recognizing ourselves as the only player responsible for our fate, avoiding excuses and being relentless in the pursuit of our aspirations are essential components to reaching our goals. Equally important is to acknowledge that creativity is involved in every meaningful action.
People often talk about creativity, but few talk about how to be creative. This is because creativity has mistakenly been considered random and unscientific. Productivity and creativity are often seen, if not as opposites, as totally unrelated terms. Since action is a behavior, it can be measured and improved, it’s rational. But creativity is seen by many as chaotic and impulse-based.
However, in recent years creativity has been recognized in the popular literature as an important skillset in most fields. From traditional creative fields such as the arts to hard scientific research, where innovation leads to major breakthroughs.
Although there’s a popular notion of creative insights arriving like a bolt out of the blue, my proposal is that creativity has nothing to do with chance or luck. Creativity is a skill. We don’t have to wait for lightning to strike. Once we understand the best way to cultivate it, we can make predictions, improvements and make it actionable.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” – Pablo Picasso.
The Creative Process
Years ago while completing my Master’s Degree, I was enrolled in a class where the students were supposed to develop and build on a business plan throughout the semester. I remember one guy who was excellent at pitching his business ideas to the class. You could feel his enthusiasm when he shared his thoughts with the audience, and he seemed to be full of innovative ideas. There was a problem, though. Every class he seemed to have a new one.
The guy had incredible potential, but always stopped short of making things happen. He would get a great idea out of nowhere, along with a solid plan that could be implemented immediately. He would then share his idea with the class to get some feedback, receive an incredibly enthusiastic response and suddenly stop.
The enjoyment he received from his audience’s responses was so great that he began to chase that feigned sense of accomplishment rather invest himself in actually making any of his ideas a success. Unfortunately, he never actually created anything. He was just too enamored by the potential of success to actually work towards making the potential into a reality.
I’ve seen this happen in many creative arenas. From entrepreneurs like the one I just mentioned, to writers who are full of great stories but can’t manage to write them down. We should not assume that a creativity is just a merely a spark of inspiration or a brilliant idea. True creativity requires real world effort and persistence to see an idea come to fruition.
We’re interested in a definition that explains creativity as the act of creation, not only an ideation phase, but an implementation phase as well. Creativity must be understood as a process that requires effort. There needs to be plenty of time for creative sessions.
A creative session is the conscious meeting between the creative person and their materials for creation. It’s the writer and the paper, the painter and the blank canvas, the director and the camera. It’s any merging between the artist and their medium.
We cannot force ourselves to have insights. We cannot force ourselves to be inspired. But we can force ourselves into a space where we will use them.
Significant insights often strike between working sessions. We may think that inspiration comes at complete random, and while it’s true that new ideas will often emerge during unstructured, casual activities like driving, taking a shower or when we’re just about to fall asleep. These are still the breaks between structured sessions. Such breaks allow us to take a step back from such an intense focus to allow a broader view to emerge. We may not be directly involved with the task, but we’re not so far removed that it won’t influence many of our thoughts.
When seen this way, creativity stops being so random. In fact, the act of creation itself cannot be mere chance as it requires a conscious effort to put our ideas into action.
Without making time for creative sessions, we may feel inspired, but we’re not actually creating.
Some people have been gifted with both great talent and habit of undertaking many creative sessions. Steven Spielberg is a good example. He has directed more than 30 films himself and produced over a hundred. Spielberg has a reputation of making any film he’s involved with a success.
Sometimes we will find huge talent and only moderate dedication to the creative process, as in the case of the legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. He directed 13 films over the course of his career, but each one of them has received numerous accolades and critical acclaim.
Other times we will find people who may not have a natural flare, but put tremendous effort into their creative sessions. Such is the case of the novelist R. L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps series. Stine has written over 400 books and is likely working on a new one as you read these lines. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the school book fair so I could get another one of his novels. Stine isn’t known as a tremendous literary talent, but what he lacks in innate skill he has made up for with his persistence and his practice of making time to put the pen to paper.
These examples illustrate the difference between talent and creation. A person is talented whether or not he uses that talent, but creation can only come with action.
This creative sessions may seem intimidating at times, after all, we’re talking about intense moments that require persistence and determination. The anxiety involved may be temporarily overwhelming for the creator if he isn’t prepared to embrace it as a natural part of the creative process. It’s a feeling we must endure at times to experience the happiness that is ultimately reached in the process of creation.
The anxiety we feel during the creative process is related to the difficult task of translating our mental vision to tangible results. The path an idea takes as it travels from the ideation phase to reality takes considerable effort. We will often find discrepancies between our mental image of the project and the results of our work; this is to be expected. It happens in all sorts of creative endeavors.
Whenever we feel struggles during the creative process, we should identify them as a sign of progress. Without tension, no creative endeavor will be accomplished. So when we feel anxiety, we should embrace it because it’s an unmistakable sign that indicates real work is being done. Every time we feel uncomfortable, we’re getting closer to the goal.
Inspiration is only the beginning of the creative process. Commitment and persistence are needed for creation to ensue.
Schedule your creative sessions. Start with three sessions a week.
Your Sacred Place. Define a spot where your creative sessions will take place. This is your personal space with its own rules. You make the rules, but you also must abide by them. You could establish, for example, that digital devices are not allowed there; or maybe that you won’t tolerate anyone wearing shoes inside. The thing is to make this space uniquely yours and respect it.
“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” – Christopher Reeve
It’s easy to believe that talented people are ‘naturals’, or that they were born with a special skillset that gives them an edge over regular folks. And it’s true. There are people who have superior genetics, have inborn gifts or, due to environmental circumstances, start with an advantage over the rest of us. What is also true is that there are people who repeat that story over and over because it’s easier to tell themselves that other’s successes are due to exceptional circumstances rather than face the fact that with hard work, most of us are able to achieve extraordinary things. Many times I’ve seen people with average intelligence outwork, outperform and even outsmart supposed geniuses. Talent is important; true. However, it’s even more important to know what we want out of life, and to align our aspirations with the right attitude and hard work.
The legend of Lance Armstrong: World Cycling Champion, seven time winner of the Tour de France, cancer survivor, philanthropist, the greatest cyclist that has ever lived. The same man that was then stripped of his titles after a doping scandal; arrogant, a fraud and cheat. Today it’s frowned upon to say anything nice about Lance. He’s not perfect, nobody is. Due to the media coverage of his scandal (and we know the media obscures interests for that kind of coverage) it’s easy to forget his relentless fighting spirit, the way he understood how to face extremely difficult conditions. There’s a story I really like about Lance Armstrong, about his second attempt to win the Tour de France. The defining moment of the race happened when it was time to head into the mountains. Earlier that same year, in poor weather conditions, Lance had had a crash at the first big climb. That crash had left him with a broken vertebra and a concussion. At the Tour, it was raining again. Lance later reported thinking, “This is perfect attacking weather, mainly because I know others don’t like it. I believe that nobody in the world is better at suffering. It’s a good day for me.” The race was won by Lance, his second Tour de France championship. When conditions are easy everyone tends to do well. It is when we face temptations and adverse circumstances that we have to keep fighting to make progress, to be willing to work harder in order to succeed. The most difficult times are when we will find the defining moments of our own races.
There are many traits we all share. These are shared among both successful and unsuccessful people. For instance, nobody likes pain or discomfort. The main difference is that successful people are willing to get out of their comfort zones to achieve a greater goal. Change is hard. However, we need to remind ourselves that if change were easy, then everyone would do it, and it would be much more challenging for us to stand out. We should be happy when things are difficult, because that is when most people back down, and it is at that point that we can push through to achieve something exceptional.
In the entertainment business, it’s common knowledge that if you’re over 30 it’s already too late. Celebrities are young. Even though we all know we get better in any skill with practice, we stick to the idea that talent is only for the young; we consider talent a mysterious thing that supposedly washes up with the years.
Wassily Kandinsky is considered one of the greatest artists of all time. He had an uncommon characteristic; he never practiced painting as a child. His story gets even stranger: he never even picked up a paintbrush until he was thirty years old.
Kandinsky was born in an upper class family. His parents, just as most parents, wanted the best for him: to study a decent discipline and get a good job. So he did. He became a professor of law and economics and worked at a university for many years. But he knew this was not his passion, so one day he decided to stop and follow his life dream instead. That dream was to become an artist. He left his job behind to enlist as an art student in Germany. This was not exactly a decision that made his family proud, but Wassily understood that he needed to follow his own dreams, not anyone else’s.
There was a problem, though: Kandinsky was not accepted to the German art academy. As you may have guessed, that didn’t stop him. He kept learning. He found peers who understood the world in the same way that he did, and they inspired and worked with each other to hone their skills. He did eventually get accepted to the art academy, but he had already formed his own ideas about art by that time.
What distinguished Kandinsky through his career was that he broke all the well-established ‘rules’ on how art was supposed to look. He used songs as inspiration for his paintings, not placing much attention to reproducing an image with exactitude, but on expressing feelings on a canvas. As you can imagine, his work offended many of the art ‘experts’, so he received very harsh criticism. People hated his work. In fact, so many people hated his work that it drew attention, so more unbiased people came to know of his work, which led more people to appreciate his art. We should acknowledge that criticizers take very little risk; they’re in a position where they make judgments of people who are actually trying to do what they love. In the grand scheme, a piece of junk produced by someone who is willing to take the risk has more meaning that the accurate criticism.
Today Wassily Kandinsky is recognized as the father of the abstract art movement. We’re lucky to have him to remind us that it’s never too late to explore our passions or become a success. The hardest part of any new endeavor is starting. We often hear phrases like: “You know what age I will be by the time I learn to play guitar?” Answer: The same one you’ll be if you don’t.
Name something you wanted to try or something you desired to learn since a long time ago but somehow haven’t started. Make a compromise to make a first small step to achieve it today.
Time travel. Write a letter to your future-self. Imagine you’re writing to the 80 year old version of yourself. In the case that you’re 80, write a letter to your younger self. Suppose you are writing to the 12 year old you right now. What important advice would you give to your other-self?
Come Fly With Me.
In 1903 the Wright brothers invented the first successful airplane. After that point, we went from being unable to fly to landing on the moon in the span of a lifetime. Change can happen rapidly, and certain changes result in exponentially faster progression. The rate of technological advances we experience today is far greater than anything we’ve seen in human history. The only thing that remains constant in our lives is time: we still have the same 24 hours in each day. We still require the same amount of sleep to cover our basic needs. So, despite so many advances, we’re still left with roughly the same time frame to explore them. In this age of information overload, technological advance and seemingly infinite possibilities, it’s important to understand what aspects of lives we should spend less time on, in order to focus on what’s truly significant. One of the obstacles in doing this is the paralysis that can come with the idea of limitless opportunities.
We often don’t manage to be present even when we’re physically somewhere: our bodies are may be there, but our minds are not. Many people attend meetings and classes, but rather than pay attention to the topics at hand they’re glued to their phones, glancing at their last updates from their social networks. Some are even glancing at their phones while walking. I can tell you I’m not able to do many things at the same time. Many people say they can, and that may be true, but the real question here is: Are they enjoying the three or more things that they’re doing simultaneously? Is that the way life should be lived?
I want to be clear here: I’m not against technology itself. What I’m trying to say is that there will always be a lurking danger that our technology will turn into a wall between us and nature, a block between us and our deeper self.
Tools should act as an extension of our consciousness. Steve Jobs used to refer to computers as “bicycles for the mind”, meaning that they should allow the user to travel longer distances with less effort. We should be careful with these powerful tools, use them wisely and prevent them from becoming obstacles to connecting with our true selves and those around us.
Creativity requires the capacity to be alone, to be comfortable when we’re by ourselves. Normally, people are afraid of solitude: it is sometimes seen as a sign of social failure, we’re prone to think that no one would be alone if he or she could help it. Over the last years, this fear of solitude has become increasingly evident with the use of smartphones and devices. When cellphones were invented, the art of solitude disappeared. People living in our time are often afraid of silence. Afraid of their own thoughts. That’s why individuals try to keep busy, try to keep most “noise” going on around him.
We are currently living in a time when one mindset is dying and the new one has not been born yet. We’ve seen drastic changes in marriage style, religion, sexual behavior, family structure, technology and in most relevant aspects of life like never before.
We get used to living in permanent tension. To drink our coffee cups in a rush, to eat our snacks while driving because we don’t want to ‘lose time’. To spend all day in the office, to dine in a hurry so we can manage to sleep at least 6 hours each night. We get used to rushing through the day without having actually lived through the day.
We get used to thinking that the people we love will be here forever.
Those who understand the speed at which time passes will also understand what is really meaningful during the limited time they have in this life.
In the end, we are nothing more than the choices we make in our way through life.
We make our choices, then our choices make us.
Send an inbox to someone you used to hang around with. Tell him it’s not about restarting your friendship or relationship, but about being honest about the great time you shared together, about how it made you grow. If you can, call him, in those kind of messages voice is always better than text.
“Dear money, send mom.” – Robin Williams
Traffic jams happen. Oftentimes they involve a car accident, so I generally feel more fortunate than inconvenienced. However, what does annoy me about certain traffic jams, is when I discover that an accident has happened on the other side of highway divider, and the reason for the road traffic on my side is that drivers have slowed down just to see it.
We are wired to focus on danger, it’s a survival instinct. When fear –or any other extreme emotion– arises, we don’t reason but react. Whether a prehistoric man facing a beast or a present-day employee facing an angry boss, once our brains register something as a threat, that impression becomes embedded in our emotional memory so next time we see it we react instantly. If we run into a class bully ten years later, negatives feelings may still arise. That’s why it’s difficult to forget when someone has hurt us, because it gets registered in the primitive part of our brain that is designed to react rather than reason. The media knows this, that’s why the best sold issues of newspapers are all about tragedies and disasters.
Around 1833 a paper called The Sun was launched in New York. It changed journalism forever. The innovation of this paper was not in the way of the journalism itself, but in its way of selling. Before The Sun, papers were usually one-man businesses where the writer/publisher/editor/printer/owner was hired by anyone in the town (mostly politicians) who wanted to give a message to the city. But The Sun was different, it was sold one copy at a time.
Since newspapers were sold mostly on street corners, their headlines had to be exciting enough to sell. Newspapers became about getting new information, printing it as fast as possible and getting the news on the streets before their competition did. Naturally, the speed sacrificed their editorial standards. Gossip and shocking news articles came around, and papers that resisted such types of journalism went out of business.
Media Historian Frank Luther Mott (American Journalism, 1962) once identified some of the “distinguishing techniques” of yellow journalism this way:
• Prominent headlines that “screamed excitement, often about comparatively unimportant news.”
• “lavish use of pictures, many of them without significance.”
• “impostors and frauds of various kinds,” including “faked’s interviews and stories.”
• a Sunday supplement and color comics.
• “more or less ostentatious sympathy with the underdog, with campaigns against abuses suffered by the common people.”
Circulation of yellow papers were driven by one thing: sensationalism. Just as The Sun, many competitors followed. The New York Herald, for example, a paper that was openly anti-black and anti-immigrant became the largest circulating daily paper in the US. They took part in this form of journalism not because of personal beliefs, but because it sold papers…lots of papers. The Herald issue that announced the Civil War sold 135,000 copies in a single day; it was the most printed issue in the history of the paper. The problem is that in most cases, the information that comes in naturally isn’t thrilling enough. Since these papers were sold per-story, journalists developed a tendency to exaggerate and even lie in their headlines and articles. Yellow journalism became a synonym of cheap journalism.
Yellow papers deceived readers for many years, until the next wave of journalism came by way of The New York Times and its publisher Adolph S. Ochs. He thought that people bought yellow papers because they lacked better options, but given a choice they would pick something better. He was right. Some of the key-actions The New York Times took to become a success were selling subscriptions by phone and offering sales contests to its salesmen. Ochs matched his competitors’ prices and offered better content. The selling method he adopted, a subscription based model, aligned the incentives of the readers and the journalists. Under this model, offering better content translated into better sales, and the paper’s most valuable asset became reputation. The daily headlines no longer drove the sales. Articles would no longer have to spread on their own. Opposite opinions were welcomed in the same issue. This was the age where reporters became critics of each other’s work and even started social clubs. Rules, codes of conduct and ideas on how stories should be written were developed. For the first time the journalist had a sense of obligation not just to the paper, but to the audience. The subscription model based its profits on the trust of the audience to the brand, and it turned out to be so successful that it was adopted by radio stations and even television news shows. Of course, this model was not perfect by any means, and I don’t want you to think that media in the 20th century was all about honesty. Even today, many papers still rely on gossip and scandals. However, at that time it meant a better alternative to the then mainstream yellow papers.
Today, in the 21st century, online journalists rarely go out for their stories. As in, getting out to do some research, get sources and then write about it. They normally get information from third-parties. I’m sure some journalists still take steps to ensure the quality of their work, but unfortunately many don’t. Many journalists just steal each other’s content; sometimes they place a link to the original source, sometimes they don’t. A single viral article can place a blog into a privileged position, and if that happens it won’t matter if the story was researched by them, just that it was shared first. Journalists today work in a system where being quick is more valuable than being right.
The Internet is a place full of distractions and people are always busy. If an article is too lengthy or a YouTube video too long, it won’t be consumed and won’t be shared. 800 words is pushing it, and writers know that even at that length they have to break the article down with images. The problem is that it’s impossible to fit all kind of news and ideas of such a complex world into a single format of around 800 words or a 3 minute YouTube video.
The Internet Economics created twisted incentives where traffic is more valuable (and profitable) than truth. Since ANY click has the same value, it doesn’t matter if the article was meaningful of deceiving. A click is a click. And a good article is still just one click long. For a long time I wondered why some online articles were broken into different parts where you have to click “Next” and load a new page to continue reading. I didn’t understand why slideshows of 10 pictures were broken into 10 different pages that you had to load individually instead of embedding an image viewer in a single page. It’s not about poor programing skills, it’s about click economics. With a 10 photo slideshow broken into individual pages you get 10 clicks for a single post.
In the 20th century the majority of journalism was consumed by subscription. Nowadays, it is consumed at a per-article basis, much like the 19th century. Each story must be seen by itself, and it should be seen more than others on Twitter and Facebook feeds. The problem is exactly the same one we had with the yellow papers more than 100 years ago, only now it’s about millions of blogs instead of hundreds of newspapers. Think about how people get to read these articles. People don’t read just one blog, but a lot of blogs posts that reach them mostly through their feeds. The top referring sources of traffic to major websites are Google, Facebook, and Twitter, usually in that order; and they’re normally accountable for more visits than the direct URL of the post. Most people that end up reading the blog post are pulled there by an impulse click, which means there is little motivation for the blogs to build the trust of their readers, and a lot to post celebrity scandals and the like. Blogs survive on stories that receive thousands or millions of page views, stories that sell by themselves. Have you ever seen posts asking dubious questions like, “Do cellphones cause brain cancer?” just to click on them and find the answer at the end of the post, “well, of course they don’t.” That happens because while subscriptions are about reader’s loyalty, massive traffic is about impulse, even if the news has to be distorted, exaggerated or even made up to trigger that impulse. Blog articles are about what spreads, and what spreads is emotionally triggering content. Just as yellow journalism depend on gossip and scandal to get noticed, so do blogs today. The bloggers are back in the street corner yelling “War is coming!” to sell stories.
A notable videoblogger once told me, “If they’re offering you something ‘for free’ online, being an App, a web service such as Facebook, a video or anything else… If they’re not selling you anything, then they’re selling you as an audience to a third party”, it worried me to think that this simple fact was not obvious to me until it was pointed out. And it makes sense because bloggers have to pay their bills too.
Let’s take a fresh look at the qualities of yellow journalism described by Media Historian Frank Luther Mott a few pages earlier:
• Prominent headlines that “screamed excitement, often about comparatively unimportant news.”
• “lavish use of pictures, many of them without significance.”
• “impostors and frauds of various kinds,” including “faked’s interviews and stories.”
• a Sunday supplement and color comics.
• “more or less ostentatious sympathy with the underdog, with campaigns against abuses suffered by the common people.”
It’s almost scary. The media criticism written over 50 years ago, describing the kind of journalism that was done more than 100 years ago feels terrifyingly familiar. You could just change a few words and describe how online media works today.
The harmful Internet economics that rule online media today are not only unnoticed by most people, but defended by tech-gurus. That means we have the old problems of the yellow journalism plus a bunch of new ones. Blogs were supposed to empower the common citizen. The idea of being an independent, unbiased medium that can free us all from biased traditional media makes blogs seem legit, so they back that idea as hard as they can. It’s sad to acknowledge that their interests and competences are quite the same of any traditional media (sometimes even worsened by their lack of resources), but it’s necessary to get this right so we can act on self-defense. I want to be clear here: it’s not that bloggers are evil, it’s just that the way money moves on the Internet rewards quickness and clicks over meaningful content and truthfulness.
Maybe you can’t avoid glancing over at a TV that someone else is watching, but you can avoid consuming all those irrelevant posts thrown at your Twitter and Facebook feeds. You can turn off your phone and talk to your loved ones while having a meal.
We have to remember that any form of media with enough readers or viewers (even paid media, but especially free media) represents an attractive opportunity for advertisers, particularly for large corporations. We all know how commercials target our weaknesses, insecurities, fears and needs. We should constantly take a careful look at our priorities to make sure they are actually our priorities and not priorities that someone else has placed there. If we walk through life believing that we’re not good enough as we are today, and that we need to consume this and that to be respected, how can we expect to be happy? Anyway, most things we buy nowadays devaluate very quickly. How much is a laptop, a TV or a phone worth after three years of use? Virtually nothing.
These products promise happiness. Advertisements show images of beautiful people that embody youth, social recognition or ‘success’. The whole purpose of most ads is making the viewer feel incomplete without the products they’re selling. We need to realize this, so we don’t end up believing that we need to be like these stereotypes to be happy. The truth is that there will never be a limit of desirable things, and the more money you have, the more shady salesmen trying to sale magic pills will appear.
If we don’t pay attention at our media consumption and just continue on autopilot, our media diet is quickly transformed into junk food. It has to do with the fact that 99% of all news that we consume has no bearing on our personal goals, dreams and aspirations. I’ll tell you what I personally do to keep my media diet healthy. I learned this directly from my mentor and friend Darren Hardy, author of and . In the interests of full disclosure, I am a registered affiliate for these books – so if you do decide to buy any copies of these books and use my links, they will send me a small commission. If you’d prefer not to use my links, just run a Google search and you should be able to find the books easily enough.
Let’s move on. Now I’m about to share Darren’s method with you. I met Darren by mere chance, and I can tell you it was one of the best ‘accidents’ that has ever happened to me. This particular idea he shared with me has completely changed my life over the last years. If you threw away this book right now and only practiced this single concept, you would have gotten far more than your money’s worth. Within a year or two your life can change so much that you won’t believe it.
The concept Darren Hardy taught me is a simple one: to turn my car into a mobile classroom. Today my car won’t move without audiobooks to listen to as I drive. I drive at least 30 minutes a day, which means roughly 180 hours a year, and that’s not counting long trips or traffic jams. 180 hours is more time than what a full-time postgrad student spends in a classroom in a whole semester. It represents more than 20 audiobooks per year by using the same time I used to waste listening to drive-time radio or repeated songs. Give it a shot. Will listening to instructional and inspirational audiobooks give you an edge over people that listen to the radio on their driving-time? Definitely. Will it make traffic jams less annoying? It will.
In my experience, non-fiction books are great in audio format. I’ve also heard a couple radio plays and great novels over the years, but my favorites to listen to as I drive are the non-fiction books that otherwise might remain unread on my bookshelves. Before you go on to the next chapter, make a commitment to try this technique for at least one audiobook. A book I would recommend to begin with is , it’s an insightful and enjoyable listen. Try looking for audiobooks that are read by the author, such as Sir Richard Branson’s . Another good idea is to try some of the classic books that you may have put on the back burner, such as Sun Tzu’s . You could also think of audiobooks that will add a skill to your professional toolbox, such as singing lessons or language courses. The topic you pick for your first audio program is not as important as to start right away. Promise yourself the next time you get into your car, you’ll bring an audiobook with you.
You can avoid listening to the same songs over and over, and invest in yourself instead.
Listen to one audiobook. Use an auxiliary cable to connect a smart phone/device; download it from Audible.com, iTunes, or straight from your computer. You might also choose to get them on CDs (hint, you’re local library will have many). Just pick a method and do it.
Unfollow people who share inconsequential posts on your Facebook feed. Turn off Retweets or mute users who do this on Twitter. Turn off your radio. Stop watching the news. Avoid reading newspapers. Try this for a week, you’ll realize how much more time you have for more rewarding activities.
This was one of the most enjoyable chapters to write. It contains one of my favorite stories. Additionally, when you apply the ideas shared here, the payoff will be many times greater than what you paid for this book.
The year was 1997. The original trilogy of Star Wars films was re-released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first film. I was a kid at the time, but somehow I ended up owning the VHS videotapes of the first two films. I didn’t end up watching The Return of the Jedi until many years later, but as a kid, I watched the first two movies over and over. Most of my friends in school hadn’t watched Star Wars, so I couldn’t share my intergalactic passion with them, but that didn’t matter to me. My uncle gave me the Landspeeder toy he had owned as a kid, with both Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi figurines as passengers.
From the very first time I watched Star Wars, my favorite character was Obi-Wan. This was the man who knew how to wield the power Luke had. What he lacked in sheer strength he more than balanced with his understanding of the Force and his experience. It was Obi-Wan who believed in Luke from the very beginning.
I have had mentors in all important areas of my life: writing, speaking, philosophy, filmmaking, sports, business, and so on. We ought to allow our lives to be strengthened by others. The most successful people I’ve met are the ones willing to find the best teachers they can. No one is ever too good for a mentor.
Now, even the best mentors aren’t perfect, no one is. It’s important to be clear about this: we must stop believing that illusion so that we aren’t let down by unrealistic expectations of them. We should learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of all of our mentors.
The most important thing we must remember when reaching out to a potential mentor is to not ask for too much of their time. I’ve gotten great advice over dinner just by talking about my current projects and politely asking for guidance. It’s remarkable how such simple interaction can yield such amazing results.
A quick tip on how to approach your mentor is by doing some reading first. When I face a problem the first thing I think about is what I can do. The second thing I think is about what I can read. Then, after I’ve done my homework, I ask my mentors about it and bring my notes with me to the meeting whenever possible. It’s amazing how much people are willing to help when they see you’ve done your research beforehand.
I don’t know where those VHS copies of Star Wars ended up. Many years have passed, but Obi-Wan Kenobi is still my favorite character. The mentor. The one who shares his wisdom in order to help others reach their full potential. The man who recognized the young boy only needed training to become a hero.
Pick areas of your life where you most want to be successful:
Pick a champion in each of those areas:
Help! (I need somebody)
It was the year 2013, I was working with a team of friends on a documentary film. We were already on postproduction, so we felt it was time for us to reach out and ask for help. As in most documentary films, we bootstrapped our way during the whole filmmaking process. My longtime friend and associate Andrés (the guy who designed this book) decided to send emails to about three of the best-known designers in the world. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe they wouldn’t write back, and we would’ve been the guys who once sent emails to some famous designers looking for advice. But what if one of them did write back?
Neil Kellerhouse is the man behind the posters and artwork for Gone Girl, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Finding Nemo, Haywire, Up, House of Cards, and many other great films. He is perhaps the best designer in the world in his area.
The email Andrés sent to Neil briefly explained the documentary story. There, he specified that due to the film’s tight budget we couldn’t possibly hire him, but thought of writing anyway in case he was able to help.
A couple hours later we received the next email response from Neil:
Incredible. I love the story. I’d love to help.
Awesome! Short, but awesome! Our initial plan was to finish the documentary, send it to Neil and then beg him to make a poster for our movie, but what ended up happening was even better. A couple months after his email response, still with the movie unfinished, I was about to visit Los Angeles with my family. A couple days before heading to LA, I remembered Neil’s email, so I went to his website and found his office telephone number. I was hoping that someone in his studio could schedule a meeting with him. Sure, it was wishful thinking, but it was that same wishful thinking that got us the email response. I decided to give it a shot. The phone rang a couple times, then a deep voice answered at the other side of the line, “Hi, this is Neil.” I thought I didn’t hear him correctly, so I dumbly replied, “Hi, I’m Fernando, am I calling to Neil Kellerhouse’s office?” I was speechless. “…yeah, this is Neil” Now I was sure I heard him right. I was obviously not prepared for this, but I tried as best as I could to explain who I was, to talk about the movie theme and about the email my colleague had sent him. “Sure, I remember!” Kellerhouse said. I then told him I would be in LA and asked him if it would be ok for me to visit his office to show him some work. “Sure, let’s get some drinks. Call me when you’re in town.” I did call him again when I arrived. I will always remember that phone call because I phoned him from Disneyland. We arranged to meet the next day at a bar. It was my first time in LA, so I spent a whole day on a bus, stepped off at the wrong stop and walked for about two hours trying to find the place. After asking a couple locals for directions, I finally found the restaurant. Oh, and I were still a good half an hour ahead of schedule.
I was waiting in the bar when I suddenly realized I didn’t know what Neil looked like. I began to get nervous. How was I supposed to recognize him? Quick, Google image search! A ton of movie posters and a misplaced picture of Steven Soderbergh. Damn. After making awkward eye contact with a couple of strangers, a tall man dressed in black walked in. He seemed to be looking for someone, so this time we knew it was him. “Hi Neil, I didn’t recognize you, I couldn’t find a picture of you on Google” I told him as we greeted. “I know. There aren’t any. Isn’t that great?” he said with a wry smile that I will never forget.
Those were the best beers I’ve ever had.
I was most interested in any advice Neil could give me. And he did. Neil taught me some of the best lessons I’ve had as a filmmaker (plus we had some delicious ribs at the restaurant). Our meeting lasted for more than three hours. He taught me not to ‘talk’ for my interviewees. To avoid editing their thoughts so that I could fit my thoughts in the movie, a rookie mistake I made in the first cut of the film. I talked with Neil about both the movie and my motivations for telling stories, making films and writing. He told me how he started his career designing music albums and later shifted to the movie industry. We had an amazing conversation.
Neil was unable to design our movie poster due to scheduling, not budget, and offered to help us if for any reason the movie happened to delay so it could fit his work schedule. Neil even told me I could crash at his home the next time I visited LA. And it all started with a simple email.
You will find some people avoid asking for support because the possibility of rejection makes them uneasy. We all know great writers who are afraid of showing their work even to their friends and family; to them, looking for a publisher would seem unthinkable. Many artists live without showing their talents, without understanding that realization is not real unless it’s shared. Working as a team not only makes it easier to succeed, it gives actual meaning to our journey.
Asking makes us vulnerable. Some people are rude, and the anonymity of the internet gives them a wall to hide behind if they choose to be even harsher with their comments.
In an effort to avoid disappointment many people turn into pessimists or cynics who “already knew nothing would come out of trying new things”. These cynics are also gutless. It takes no courage to be a pessimist, to say to others “It’s not going to work” or to always see what’s wrong. We should realize that being a cynic means being afraid to get hurt. That’s the way many people live. We should not let them disturb us. If we do, then they’ve won.
You can always ask for help.
What’s the worst that could happen?
The 3 Email Experiment.
Time to reach out.
Make a list of people you admire. Find their contact information, send some emails and get at least three meaningful responses. Simple, right?
Unless you’re really lucky (and/or the greatest writer ever) I have to warn you, you’ll probably have to write more than 3 messages to get three responses. My advice would be not to go after super famous people, but to think of someone you honestly admire, someone you would like to hold a conversation with.
The first step is to get their contact information. Finding an email addresses may seem like detective work at first, but it’s quite easy in most cases. Try Googling their names + [@gmail.com]. Alternatively, message them on Twitter, tell them you want their email to get in touch with them, or be ultra-concise and just tweet them your entire message. If you happen to find their Facebook profile, pay the fee to get your message in their Inbox and not into their Other Messages folder. I’ve found some author’s emails (who are also professors) by looking at the universities’ websites that publish their faculty member’s contact information. I don’t mean to brag here, but I even found an Economics Nobel Prize laureate’s email address this way.
I’ll now share with you my secret weapons to find anyone’s email address. I mean it. Using these tools, I’ve found emails of CEOs and personalities such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, among many others. The best part: they’re free (at least at the time of this writing). They’re specialized sites that let you find anyone’s email by only having their full name and company domain (i.e. Jeff Bezos, works at Amazon.com, or in this case, owns it).
These sites limit the daily queries you can do to avoid abuse, which is a good thing. I recommend these two websites that will help you with this task. Be sure to try them on your desktop, since one of them doesn’t have a mobile version as of this writing:
• Voila Norbert ()
• Find Any Email ()
Pro Tip: Try using “gmail.com” as the domain name. I was really surprised that this worked. The only drawback is that sometimes you may have so many emails found that it will be hard to guess which one is the real one.
As you may guess, resources such as and change all the time. Since what works today may not work tomorrow, we keep updating these resources and many others in the Secret Facebook group I’ve created. You can grab your invite to be part of our secret community here:
When reaching out, the shorter the email the better. Less is more. Try not to ask for anything, at least not in your first message. Express your appreciation for their work. Maybe you could ask a question about their work or request a very simply piece of advice. If your plan is to offer help of some kind to them, be specific about the type of help you can offer. Don’t ask, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” because the answer will always be, “I have no idea.”
P.S. The postscript is the most important part of your message. Include a punch line or something catchy, because even when someone skips the whole message, the postscript is always read.
The 3 Email Experiment: Get at least three meaningful responses of people you admire in some way.
“There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present.’” – Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda)
By mere chance I once ended up having dinner with both my former Philosophy professor Martha Sañudo and with Darren Hardy (Bestselling author of and ). Darren is the publisher of SUCCESS magazine, a guy that reaches +3 million readers every month. He’s a very intelligent and successful man. I will always remember that dinner because we were at a very fancy restaurant and I ordered the most unpretentious thing I could spot at the menu, a burger with fries. That burger ended up being one of the worst burgers I’ve ever tasted. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I digress. Back to the story: Darren, Martha and I had a very interesting conversation about how any authors’ goal should be to make the biggest impact on as many readers as they can. We then discussed how academics tend to sabotage themselves by disregarding any academic author that actually makes it into the mainstream literature. Scholars often disregard academic bestselling authors by saying they’re not truly academics, instead of praising them for bringing their disciplines to the mainstream. It was a fun and insightful conversation. Darren needed to leave early as he was about to give a live webinar, thousands of people were waiting for him online, so we ordered the check. “Just one more question,” I said as we were getting up to leave, “What about a legacy? You obviously have enough money, so I guess your priority right now is to create a legacy, isn’t it?” He looked carefully at his wristwatch, looked back at me and said, “Well, I guess the webinar attendees can wait.” Then, we sat back on the table. “I don’t believe in legacies,” he said just before he made a three-point argument that I will always remember.
• First, Darren asked me to think about our minuscule place in the universe as human beings. The universe has been in existence for roughly 13.8 billion years, as humans we’re lucky if we make it to be 100 years old. To put that in perspective, if we drew the universe timeline scaled along the entire earth’s diameter, the average human lifespan would account for less than 4 inches. Our place in history is tiny. And of that tiny place, there had been about 70,000 generations of human life, we’re just the most recent.
• Second, he told me about a time he was on vacation in Barcelona. He went for a run in the morning, and as he paused to tie his shoelace, he noticed a huge statue of a man in the square plaza he was crossing. Darren went to take a look the nameplate to find out who the man was, but the plate was so weathered that nothing could be read. He asked a passing local who the man was, but he did not know. So Darren asked another local, and then another one. Still no answer. Surely the man had been an important person, so important that people built statues of him. Yet some years later, no one seemed to remember who this guy was or what he did to become ‘immortalized’ as a statue.
• The third point Darren made was the most important one. “But let’s get even closer,” he began, “people say family is our only true legacy, right?” – “Of course”, I replied. “Well…” Darren said, “Do you know the name of any of your great-great grandparents?” I was stunned. I stood in silence for about five seconds, trying to remember without any luck. Darren saw my blushed face and continued, “Don’t worry about it. No one knows them. And the ones that do couldn’t talk about their great-great grandparents lives for more than two minutes.”
The truth is no one will remember us after we die. At first pass we may find that fact upsetting, but I think it’s actually quite reassuring. When we embrace that there’s no such thing as a ‘legacy’ all that we’re left with is the present. Our impact in this world is right here and right now. When we acknowledge all we have is today, we can live so much more fully in the here and now.
We ought to get rid of parts of our life that don’t serve us anymore. Many people keep up old clothing in their closets. Throw out an old piece of clothing you know you won’t use but keep ‘just in case’. If you can, donate it. If not, just throw it away.
I’ve never believed in things like “right now is not the right time” or “maybe in another situation.” I’m more of the “now or never” type. Let me tell you a quick story about this mentality.
Nat was a fantastic girl. We used to go to the theater, to the bowling alley and talked about the Beatles all the time. I thought she was just way too cool, it was almost hard to believe that such an amazing person existed. But that was the thing, Nat wasn’t going to live much longer. We’re all going to die sometime, but my friend Nat knew that she would die long before she was ‘supposed’ to. Her full smile and amazing personality made this all the more difficult to believe. I may not be objective, but I’m honest when I say that Nat was the noblest people with whom I’ve had the pleasure to hold a conversation.
Some years ago I was listening to Here Comes the Sun in the parking lot of the local University. I didn’t want to get out of my car to keep anyone from seeing me cry. I was thinking of a conversation I had once with Nat. We were chatting on the then popular MSN Messenger. At the end of that virtual conversation Nat told me, “you should come and see me”, and I did want to visit her. By that time I was about to have my final exams for the semester, so I gave priority to the ultimately irrelevant tests. That was the last time I spoke with Nat.
That’s why I no longer believe in timing or waiting for the ‘right context’. That’s why I’m afraid of waiting to tell someone, “I admire you”, “I miss you” or “I love you”. I don’t believe in the ‘No regrets’ philosophy. Many people proudly say things like, “I wouldn’t change a thing”, but I would change lots of things if I could go back. I would give longer hugs to my grandmother before going out or thanking my mom more often for being so great. It’s not about obsessing over the mistakes we’ve made along the way, but on being humble enough to learn from the past so we can act differently if we face similar situations. It’s about recognizing we’re not perfect, that we all have room for improvement. About not mixing decisiveness with arrogance.
A cover of Here Comes the Sun I recorded for Nat.
At first, it may seem strange to design our life plan around death. Facing death helps us to view our life as a whole: past, present and future at the same time. It should help us clarify what is truly important. The next Action Box is fundamental, because it will help us face our own death. I have to warn you, it is probably the most difficult exercise in the entire book, but nothing meaningful is achieved without effort. It requires a serious and honest attitude.
Tell someone they’re important in your life. Do it just because. Right now. If you can do it personally, that’s the best option. No texts. At least call that important person and tell them out of the blue that they really matter to you.
The last letter: Suppose you knew you were about to die two hours from now. You’re in a situation where you can’t do anything or contact anyone, but have enough time left to write a letter to a loved one and place it where they could find it. In the letter, write what made you happiest about sharing time with them, your greatest lessons in your time here, and the way you would like them to continue living when you’re not around anymore.
Share your feelings. If anyone wrote a letter with so much feeling in it for me, I would totally want to read it. This is a letter for yourself, its main purpose is for self-discovery. However, my advice would be to use this as an opportunity to send the letter to your loved, let them know how you feel about them. We never really know how many opportunities we’ll have to do just that.
Don’t continue reading this chapter until you’ve finished your Last Letter.
The pursuit for material belongings is one of the things that seems to govern most modern lifestyles. How much of what you wrote has anything to do with material belongings? I’ve read many of these ‘Last Letters’, and I’ve never seen one that advises their loved ones to get more money so they can buy an expensive car or a bigger home. Generally speaking, what one writes in this letter is the base to establish and write our vision. What we wish for our loved ones is most often what we want in our own lives. A vision is our ability to see things where they haven’t appeared yet, and it is essential step in making those things appear. A vision is a dream that you put in action.
Whenever I feel pressured or even a bit down by something that just happened I always think: Will this matter a year from now? Most times it won’t. Often we’re not facing any major event, yet we feel pressured or even sad by minor deals that we will not even be capable of remembering just a few days after they’ve happened.
I think Nat walked through life in such an extraordinary way because, since she felt the end was close, she understood there’s no time to waste by being selfish. There’s no time to be a cynic. Just time to be happy, and to make others as happy as you can.
Vision. Write your vision on a piece of paper, the dream that you want to achieve the most in the next year. Fold it and place it on your wallet.
“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one.” – Ellie Fredricksen (Up)
Out of all the time I spent playing basketball as a kid, there’s one particular game I remember very brightly. As you may recall, I played on my school’s B team. Our team used to play man-to-man defense, a more aggressive type of defensive tactic where every player is supposed to defend and follow the movements of a single player on other team. Since I played as a point guard, I was always assigned to defend the rival who played the same position.
In this particular match, the point guard I was defending was even smaller than I was. He was the classic super skilled player who made all kind of crazy moves, from passing the ball between his legs to fake passes. The tiny player was solid.
Yet, his squad didn’t play well as a team, so my team took the lead early on.
Around the third quarter the play that made the game so memorable took place. My team was playing defense. As I pressed the rival point guard, he stopped dribbling the ball at just about midcourt. He could no longer dribble without being called for traveling and he was standing far too short of the basket to shoot; he had to pass. All the other players were closer to the board, so it was just the two of us. I was blocking him with my whole body. He was trapped.
He used a technique that’s pretty common in children’s tournaments: He closed his eyes and used all of his strength to make an Olympic discus-like throw using the basketball. The ball hit me directly in the nose. I hit the floor and everything went black.
A couple seconds later I regained consciousness. I saw the referee making these silly movie-like hand gestures, asking me to count the fingers on his hand. My mom wasn’t there, but the parents who were seemed pretty upset.
I got back on my feet and tried feeling my nose. It was not bleeding. I couldn’t feel a thing, but since I didn’t feel any pain when touching it, I figured out it wasn’t broken. I cleaned the tears from my eyes and walked to the sideline to get off of the court. We already had a substantial lead and there was no way I thought I could finish the game.
“What are you doing?” the coach yelled as I got closer to the sideline. He continued, “I haven’t made any substitution. Get back to the court!” I was really confused.
For a moment, I thought he must have missed what had just happened. But since the coach scared me more than playing with an injury, I immediately went back. The game had to go on.
I don’t remember much more of that game. I threw a couple passes and defended the point guard a bit more. I made a few shots, probably without scoring. As soon as the quarter ended I was benched.
As my teammate took my place on to the court, my coach came over to me on the bench. He looked directly at me and told me that he was proud and that I had a great game.
I was a little kid back then, but some years later I finally understood. Of course, the coach didn’t need me on the court to win the game. He kept me playing so I didn’t get scared of playing basketball. So the pain of the injury didn’t turn into fear. So that fear wouldn’t keep me from doing what I loved.
Fear exists in the way that ghosts exist; they are only in our minds. Ghosts, while being imaginary, have caused great harm to people who believe in them. Therefore, they’re as dangerous as if they walked on earth with physical bodies.
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus and even Mandela have all stated in their own way that courage is not the absence of fear; courage is the capacity to keep moving ahead in spite of fear.
My favorite definition is the one stated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle: A courageous man is not the one who’s never afraid, but the one who’s afraid of the right things, in the right way, at the right time.
The fear of not going for our dreams should be greater than the fear of trying and failing.
Courage is not a virtue that should be compared with others like love, humbleness, prudence or self-worth. Courage should be placed in a different category because it acts as the foundation on which other virtues are built.
Without courage, love turns into dependency.
Without courage, humbleness becomes shyness.
Without courage, prudence ripens into passivity.
Without courage, self-worth transforms into conformity.
Courage acts as a latent force that emerges only when it’s needed. When we experience evil, we should feel the obligation to do something about it. When we don’t interfere when someone is being treated unfairly, what we’re doing is turning away from other’s sorrow. By acting this way, we lose our ability to empathize. We lose kindness. Nowadays cowardice often hides behind phrases like, “I did not want to get involved.”
Intimacy is the perfect example of courage. As risk is an unavoidable compontent of intament relationships. We cannot possibly know ahead of time how a particular relationship will affect us. In a relationship when one of us is changed, both of us will be. Nowadays, it is common to avoid the effort required for authentic intimacy by focusing only on physical intimacy. That’s why people dodge the meaningful part of building trust before leaping into bed. It is easier to be naked physically than to be naked emotionally. It is easier to share our bodies than to share our aspirations, hopes, fears and dreams; that which make us truly vulnerable. We’re afraid of sharing what matters most.
Will you have the willingness to try something with no guarantees?
Will you hold back your heart so you won’t get hurt, or will you act when you fall in love?
When times are tough, will you give up or will you keep fighting?
Will you be cunning or will you be kind?
Will you be a cynic or will you help others on their way?
The word courage is a derivation from the word Coeur, which means “heart” in French. Just as our hearts enable all other physical organs to work correctly, courage makes our dreams possible.
Burn This Book.
You read this book by chance. Maybe it was the right time for you to come across it. I can’t possibly know where you are in your own journey, but if it was the right time, I hope that the content within these pages has helped you in pursuing a more fulfilling life.
My goal in writing this book was to feel that I could make a difference in other people’s lives. That may be a selfish thing to say, but it’s true. I feel better by helping others do better. It’s the way I’ve been brought up and the only way life makes sense to me. To accomplish my goal I need you to go out there and follow your dreams. It is your adventure stories I’m after.
I have one lesson left that I want to share before closing. One simple principle that changed my life immensely once I began to implement it: The best way to get what you want in life is by giving that same thing to others. So now I’ll encourage you to try this for yourself.
Earlier in the book you wrote down the names of friends and loved ones who have supported and believed in you. If you’ve found this book valuable, if it has helped you in any meaningful way, please consider giving them a copy. Lend this book to a friend; give it to someone who will read it instead of placing it on a bookshelf. Of course, I would very much appreciate you purchasing copies for friends and family as well. I know this sounds like it benefits me. It does. Remember, my goal is to make a difference in as many lives as possible, so I’m asking for help.
I would like to ask you one final favor: I’d really like to know your thoughts on this book, so that I can make this and any future books even better.
By reading these pages, you’ve invested a bit of your life in mine.
By writing them, I’ve invested a bit of mine in yours.
Burn this book.
(Ok… you don’t have to actually burn it, but you don’t need it anymore. Lend it!)
YOUR FREE GIFT.
Before you go, I’d like to thank you for purchasing this book. Of all the books you could’ve read, you took a chance and read this one.
I want you to join a secret Facebook group I’ve created where we can continue to share our ideas and resources. There, you will find a community of like-minded people who are all pursuing their dreams.
Take action and join the club.
Welcome to the team.
Or go to:
Action Boxes PDF.
Remember you can get the free Action Boxes PDF, beautifully designed, here:
BURN THIS WORKBOOK.
Or go to:
Remember that chapter on asking for help? Well, I’d like to ask you for a BIG favor. If you liked this book and have a moment to spare, could you take a minute and leave a review for this book on Amazon? It will make a HUGE difference in my career as an author. Thanks!
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My favorite books
(My ideas were inspired by many great authors)
Why do I keep talking about my projects and dreams, but canâ€™t manage to do them? Why can I never finish anything I start? Iâ€™ve been there, I know what itâ€™s like. It destroys our self-esteem, our productivity, and our ability to dream. Have no fear. You can do it. And it will not be as hard as you may think. Burn This Book covers my entire journey: my most personal stories, the eureka moments that lead on how I placed my life in order, and the correct questions to ask so you can place yours in order as well. Have you ever seen people who seem to excel at every aspect of life? People who seem to be great professionals, to live a healthy life and to have great relationships. How do these successful people achieve such results? In brief, they do it the old-fashioned way: with hard work and self-discipline. Everyone knows that exercise keeps us healthy, yet most people donâ€™t do it. Smokers know that smoking is harmful, but they donâ€™t stop. Why? Because information alone doesnâ€™t result in change. In school they teach us that knowledge is power, but knowledge is not power. It is in the actions one takes with their knowledge that power is found. This book isnâ€™t meant to be just another feel-good piece that is skimmed and placed on the shelf. I want you to read it, mark it, write down the ideas that you want to implement and act. Then you wonâ€™t need this book anymore. Throw it away. Burn it. Itâ€™s not that knowledge is bad; knowledge is good, but applied knowledge is better. Burn This Book is a narrative non-fiction that follows a simple format: Story-Lesson-Call to action. It is about self-esteem confidence and the practical pursuit of happiness. I believe that self-esteem building, and therefore, happiness, relies in doing what we love. Either by applying creativity in business or in your personal life, when creativity is understood as an action (and not as a synonym of imagination) it plays a key role in personal fulfillment. Whatever your vision of success is, Burn This Book will help you get there. Speaker and strategist Fernando Suarezserna presents the simple program Burn This Book. In a nutshell: youâ€™ll learn how to focus your creative-self in order to reach your goals.