I can sum up the past three years of my life into three core themes:
- The world makes a lot more sense. Gaining a more complete description of reality.
- I’ve come to understand myself a lot better. Noticing and disarming the unconscious mechanisms preventing me from experiencing and seeing reality as it is.
- Life is now less autopilot. I feel more empowered to influence what can be changed and accept what cannot be changed. Circle of concern vs circle of influence.
Here are list of things I personally find useful in navigating life and making sense of the world.
Everything here is prescriptive. But only for me.
I want to have a single place where I can go back and remind myself about what I have collected, observed, and learned so far. Of what the world consists of, how they relate, what moves the needle, what resources are out there, how to find stuff.
Some people call it mental models. I like to think of it as personal lenses that I can put on and take off as needed. This is how I see and make sense of the world.
I expect this to be a live master document — a “trunk” where I could spin off a lot of “branch” posts to go into more detail. A reference I can point to.
I’ll be updating these as my world view changes.
I’m always looking to have good conversations so just hit me up on Twitter if any of these resonates with you, either in a good or a bad way.
OK enough background. Here it goes:
- You are not special but you are unique. None of our traits or experiences are unique in itself. You are not the only person who has been fired from a job, dealt with death of a friend, had complicated or twisted relationships, no matter how weird and special you think your life situation is. There are ALWAYS other people out there who have been there, done that, felt that, survived that. There are people out there who would understand. You are never alone. BUT. There is no one else in the world who has all of your exact traits and experiences combined. Which means your perspective is unique. Your skills, thoughts, experiences, personality, are not.
- Life is easier when you know who you are, simplest when you know what game you are playing, and best when you play only your game.
- You see the world as you are. And everything that you have experienced shaped who you are.
- Life gets more real when you start being honest with yourself about what you want and why you want it. Never stop asking and running with any new answers you come up with.
- You have the power to decide what kind of person you want to be, and set goals that forces you to be that person.
- You are the most interesting person you will ever get to know. Listen to, get to know, and fall deeply in love with yourself.
- You are completely malleable. Know that you can change, and you will change. Life could be simpler if you let yourself change.
- Getting to know and creating yourself is a daily practice that will never end. To become aware of, be intentional, and be honest about who you are and who you want to be. To notice and remove internal tension between conflicting identities. To recognise and unlearn aspects that you don’t want to be part of you.
- You are more powerful than you realised and willing to admit. If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.
- Pay attention to what you tend to envy.
- No one has ever seen the world through your eyes. There is a universe inside you. Own it.
- Treat people as an end, never as means. (Kant)
- Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Everyone knows something you know nothing about.
- Everyone is doing the best they can with all they have. Including you.
- Experience, not performance. Don’t flatter yourself. Put the spotlight on the other person.
- Express, not impress. Do it for you.
- Time spent taking care of and being with your loved ones are always good investments. We are so busy growing up, we often forget our parents are also growing old.
- No one cares or pay that much attention to you. And this is freedom. Take on challenges, expand your comfort zone, go on adventures. Do it for you. You either learn or win.
- It’s humbling and freeing and empowering to know that beyond all the make up, deep down we are all just Human. Running around, sharing the world, having human experiences, playing our insignificant yet important role in this beautiful perceived reality.
- Life is a merry go round of the same set of blurry and fragmented things. You can never remove all the blur. You can only choose your seats to catch a slice from certain angle each time with different resolution, slowly piecing the view together in time. So you better make sure you try out as many lenses of different depth and frames and get a good look the next time you spin by.
- Everything is contextual. Something can be big or small. It can be hard it can be easy. It can be good, it can be bad. All at the same time. Not everything that seem contradicting really contradicts each other when you view them on the certain level of “zoom” and from certain angle. Human behavior is one big realm where we can observe this at scale. Actions and of others make a lot more sense if we can see the world from that person’s lens. Or as Devon Price elegantly put: “If a person’s behaviour doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context.” Thus (re)framing is a superpower.
- The world is not static. It has evolved and it will keep evolving. When we forget this about the future, we become impatient and disappointed. When we forget this about the past, we take things for granted. Everything big starts small. And will not stay big or small.
- Most things are noise. Things are important because you make it important.
- There is no silver bullet. No one is wired in the exact same way. What works for you will not work for everyone else. What works for a company will not work for other companies. What’s important to you are not always important to others. Trust but verify and personalise every form of “truth” you hear. Every advice, every strategies, every “secret”, every best practices, every guide. This applies both when receiving and giving advice. Don’t be a self righteous ass.
- We can question and challenge reality. To paraphrase BJ Miller on Tim Ferriss show: if you think about it, we’re all navigating some superstructure created by human. The work day, the work week, money, countries, whatever it is, it’s inherited. They are stories we pass on and agree upon. We don’t spend a lot of time creating our realities in a clear intentional way. When you’re dying, you can’t help but question which ones are really important and which ones are just invisible scripts we adopted because it’s easier to be told what to do and what to believe.
- At the flip side of it, Steve Jobs: _”Life can be so much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that_ _everything around you was made up by people who were no smarter than you_. _And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”_
- The limits of your words are the limits of your world.
- The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
On Decision Making
- Behind EVERY highlight and presentable states there are invisible behind-the-scenes, the processes filled with sweat, tears, spaghetti code, most of the time barely stitched together. We are all figuring it out. The only way to appear as if you got your shit together is to know that it’s okay to be clueless, do your best, and have fun. No one knows what they’re doing.
- Notice the invisible choices. Your first thought is not your best thought. Your want is not your want.
- When struggling with a set of decisions, ask:
- What would the best version of me do? (identity based)
- In X years, will I regret not doing this? (Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework)
- Is this reversible? What is the magnitude of impact? What is the duration of impact? (analysis route)
- What do I really want? What would I do if I really be honest and listen? (last resort)
- You can’t go wrong in life.
- We are very good at telling ourselves stories to make sense and justify our beliefs and experiences to keep us feeling good and in control.
- We are very good at adapting to a new normal. If Bill Gates woke up with Oprah’s money he’d jump out the window.
- Life is long. However unlikely it seems to be at the moment, there will be a point in time where we feel like we have moved past / cleaned up / fixed any mess or mistake we made. This is behind the saying of “time will heal” and “it will be fine in the end, if it’s not fine then it’s not the end”.
- Things are neutral and everything is relative. Everything comes down to 1) how you react to it, 2) what you compare it with, and 3) what you put after it. Here’s Herbie Hancock’s story about Miles Davis.
On Taking Action
- Use it or lose it. You stop you fall behind. Gotta keep lifting, gotta keep training, gotta keep improving. You are always fighting entropy.
- The hardest parts of many activities: getting started & stopping. Working, exercising, binge eating, getting self out of bed. Can’t stop eating, can’t stop working, can’t stop scrolling. You can play it to your advantage: Just start, or don’t start. You are always fighting inertia.
- There is activation energy involved in almost every activity. This is normal. You notice the pain and discomfort. You start resisting. You start transforming the pain into suffering. You are uncomfortable but you’re not in danger. You will feel the stiffness on the first couple of reps. Don’t stop. It is normal. Push through. Keep pushing. Get the momentum going. Your muscles take time to warm up. The next rep will feel lighter. Same thing applies in non physical realm. You sit down and can’t write. You sit down and don’t want to start working. You find distractions. You find busywork. You procrastinate. You numb the pain. It is normal. Push through. Make the first couple of row. Submit something. Send that first email. Open that document. Type out a sentence. Just start. The next task will be easier I promise. Resistance is unchallenged inertia.
- Once you’re there, protect it at all costs. Maintaining momentum is easier than having to spark the activation energy all over again. Edit out transitions, minimise the friction in-between tasks. Make context switching as seamless and effortless as possible.
- Life is not linear. There is no absolute beginning or end. Everything is infinite middle. Start anywhere. There is no single best entry point. Start somewhere then iterate on it, build on top of it. You know all you need to know right now and have all you need to figure it out when you need to.
- Two strategies in “proving people wrong”: Revenge as the activation energy, passion as the momentum-sustaining energy. Make sure you have both.
- You don’t need passion to start. Passion can come from being good at something and seeing results from your actions and accomplishments.
- Three parts to fighting any battle:
- Understand why you’re participating. Make sure a) you want to win, b) you know the rule, and c) how you would know whether you’ve won or not.
- Plans are useless. Planning is mandatory. Don’t worry about getting it perfect before you start. You don’t know shit before you start.
- Show up every day. Be patient and be consistent. It will take time. Keep showing up. Do anything you need to do to to make sure this gets done. Set up a system. Any system that allows you to show up consistently every day is a good system. One of the smartest hack I hear recently is this rule Neil Gaiman sets himself for writing: _”You can sit down and do nothing, or you can sit down and write”_ (H/T Neil Gaiman’s interview on The Tim Ferriss Show)
When we say we want to be happy, often what we mean is we want to feel alive.
Three simple ways to feel alive day to day:
- Be aware of your current “normal”, and remember you have the power to jiggle it (see “You can’t go wrong in life”). Remember you didn’t have this before, and you might not have it again (see The world is not static.). Learn to notice the things you have now but didn’t have before.
- Notice the abundance. Life is not a zero sum game. And the number of opportunities out there is unbelievably endless. You’ll never starve to death. The rest is all just ego game.
- Inject simple newness into your days.
- See old things through new lenses. Practice beginner’s mind. Get good at the skill of awe. See #1.
- Try new ways of doing your routines. Take alternative route to work, rearrange your furniture, brush your teeth with the other hand.
- Do things you’ve never done before. Visit new places, eat at new restaurants, join new communities.
Checklist for when you’re stressed, anxious, or just generally feeling shitty:
- Are you just physically tired? low mental bandwidth will affect your perception of how good / bad your NOW is.
- Did you get enough sleep? Enough mental energy? You didn’t have bad life, you most probably just had a bad day, bad hour, bad week, or bad month. Beware of recency bias.
- Do you give your body quality fuel? Nutrition food? Sugar? Junk? Overate? Under?
- When was the last time you exercised? Get moving. Build muscles. Get strong.
- Do you know how to recharge? What brings you joy? When did you last recharge?
- Get organised mentally. Make a list. Do a brain dump.
- Most stress is being worried about your “brand”. It’s a status game. Relax, you will be fine.
- When was the last time you helped others? You are useful and needed in the world. Go out there and do the smallest act of kindness.
On Pain and Suffering
- Understand what we’re calling pain. Pain can be danger or discomfort. Know which type you’re experiencing, then respond and deal with it accordingly. Know when to tell yourself “You’re not in danger. This is just uncomfortable”. Not all pain needs painkiller. (Amanda Palmer on Tim Ferriss)
- More pain, more gain. But not all pain can lead to gain.
- You can choose whether to suffer or not. You can also choose when to suffer. Suffer when it’s time to suffer. Not before, not after. Pain is when the syringe goes in. Suffering is the anticipation.
- Our minds are very efficient. It will keep creating problems and challenges for you to solve and overcome. So never stop choosing your own problems. Choose problems that will help you grow.
- You will never arrive. But you will be unhappy if you don’t have anywhere to go. Have a direction, not a finish line. Iteration, not destination.
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- What would it look like if this were easy?
- You have no other place to be but here. You have nothing else to do but be here and do this.
- “I have to” → “I get to”.
- July 15th 2019: this used to be “34 thoughts from a 34 year old“. I have since expanded the listicle, grouped some together, and tried to distil and articulate all of them more clearly. Now it’s more appropriate to call this my Life Cheatsheet.
Also published on Medium.