Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.
1. Mario Quintana on chasing butterflies
“Don’t waste your time chasing butterflies. Mend your garden, and the butterflies will come.” – Mario Quintana
This is true for virtually every way you might want to improve your life. You can’t chase things like “happiness” or “wealth” directly – you’ll never achieve them. Rather, what you can do is cultivate your life such that those things are a natural outcome.
If you want lasting happiness, tend to your life so that the elements that seem to bring you happiness are well supported and the elements that bring you unhappiness are pulled out like weeds. Don’t chase happiness – focus on constructing a contented life that bubbles up with happiness.
If you want financial success, tend to your life so that you have good control over your spending choices and a good pattern of positive steps in your professional life. Financial success comes naturally once you have constructed a daily life with those elements.
Build your life into a beautiful garden and the butterflies you want will come. Spend your time chasing them with a net and dragging them to your garden and they’ll just fly away.
2. Natalie Fratto on three ways to measure your adaptability
From the description:
When venture investor Natalie Fratto is determining which start-up founder to support, she doesn’t just look for intelligence or charisma; she looks for adaptability. In this insightful talk, Fratto shares three ways to measure your “adaptability quotient” — and shows why your ability to respond to change really matters.
Her three main signs of adaptability are the ability and habit of asking “what if” questions and answering them well, having a beginner’s mindset about everything and never relying on or assuming expertise, and exploring new things as a basic life habit. Those things point to success in many areas of life.
If you want to be able to more easily handle unexpected events in life, one of the most powerful things you can do is simply make exploring new things a completely normal routine for yourself. Consciously choose to try new things, even if they seem scary and difficult. Make that a normal and consistent thing in your life.
What you’ll find, over time, is that new things start to come easier to you, no matter what those new things are, because you’re wiring your mind to be adaptable. At that point, unexpected events and crises are much easier to handle than they were before.
3. Jackson Brown on time
“Do not say you don’t have time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa.” – Jackson Brown
When you say you “don’t have time” for something, what you’re actually saying is that “this particular thing is not a priority for me and not important to me.” When you tell someone that you don’t have time right now to do something together, you’re telling that person that they’re not a priority in your life – it’s just a nicer way of saying it.
How you use your time is an expression of what’s actually important to you. If you spend three hours a day watching television, then that’s what is important to you. If you spend two hours a day exercising, then that’s what is important to you. If you spend three hours a day reading, then that’s what is important to you.
Look at how you actually spend your time very carefully. Keep an honest time diary, then look at it after a few weeks. Are these the things that are actually important to you? Compare that to the things left undone, the friends you didn’t see, the family members you didn’t check up on. Are those things less important than some of the stuff that you actually did?
No one is perfect here, but at the same time, improving in this direction is always a powerful move.
4. The Ten Things
As many of you know, I was really inspired a few months ago by the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The core idea of the book is that you tend to get the most value out of a day when you choose one small thing (that serves as an element of a bigger goal, ideally) and you just nail it, and that strong success creates a domino effect of positive impact on your broader goal (and your life as a whole). For example, my “one thing” today might be to write an absolute killer article for The Simple Dollar.
The only caveat with that idea is that I’ve discovered, over time, that there is a limit to my productivity in a certain area of life in a given day. I can only write for so long before my writing quality rapidly declines. I can only exercise for so long before I feel dead and my arms are rubber. We aren’t robots.
So, what I’ve been doing lately is really focusing on the week ahead rather than the day ahead, and I’m creating a list of ten discrete tasks I want to absolutely nail this week. Most days, I try to nail two of them, but in very different areas so I don’t burn out.
I’ve found that this has been working incredibly well. For example, part of my list this week has been:
+ Conduct a dry run of my black belt test in taekwondo (it’s still pretty far off, but I want to be incredibly prepared for it)
+ Brainstorm and outline a week’s worth of articles for The Simple Dollar
+ Script, record, and edit a podcast episode (I’m involved with a podcast on tabletop gaming)
+ Do a double meal prep session (which should result in 7 full dinners in the freezer)
… and six other items.
Try it yourself. This Sunday, make a list of ten significant tasks you want to accomplish in the coming week. If you’re on a career path, make three or four of them career related, but also make some of them about other spheres of your life. Make it your goal to nail all of the items on the list this week.
5. E.B. White on explaining a joke
“Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” — E.B. White
One of the interesting things about parenting is the need to sometimes explain jokes, particularly when kids are younger. The purpose of this isn’t to make that particular joke funny, but to enhance their understanding of and appreciation of humor so that future jokes are funny and they learn to cultivate their own humor.
This becomes awkward with other adults, though. If I tell a joke that completely whiffs, I usually just self-deprecate with it. “Oh, never mind… that was just an awful attempt at humor.”
Explaining a joke is rarely worth it, and should be avoided at all costs. White spells it out beautifully.
From the description:
This week on Basics, I’m taking another look at our beloved pizza and showing you how to make great pan pizza at home using a cast iron skillet, glass pie pan, or rimmed baking sheet.
I know how to make pan pizza, but I learned – at my count – seven little things to apply to my own homemade pizza making process from this video, and that’s why I wanted to share it.
This video manages to do everything that a good teaching video should do. It’s informative while still being entertaining. Not only that, it explains things in a way that a beginner could follow while still offering tips that a person familiar with the topic could find valuable. For me, for example, the single most valuable tip was that, when you’re trying to “stretch” pizza dough across a pan, stretch it a lot, then let it sit for a while, then you’ll be able to stretch it even further.
This is what I try to do – and on my best days, succeed at doing – with my writing. I try to write articles that are approachable to a beginner but include some useful stuff for regular readers and try to keep it interesting by weaving in anecdotes of my life. In this video, Babish pulls that all off really well.
Another thing worth noting – a video like this looks so effortless and clean when it’s done and you’re watching it, but I know from experience that a ton of work went on to make this video. This is something I’m going to touch on again in a bit.
7. Leo Tolstoy on changing the world
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy
How do you want to change the world?
I found that when I was younger, I wanted to change the world in the sense of being some kind of great leader or accomplishing something that would garner a bunch of media attention.
Today, I’d far rather change the world by improving a lot of lives in my community, or helping even a small portion of my readership actually improve their own lives.
I moved from someone who wanted to save all the starfish to someone who was perfectly content to throw back a starfish at a time.
I’ve learned over the years that the best route to being able to throw back a starfish at a time is to have your own life in good order first, to have a sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are, and to really focus on the individual you’re trying to help rather than focusing on making yourself into something “great.”
8. Plato on progress
No one should be discouraged […] who can make constant progress, even though it be slow.” – Plato
If you make it your aim to be just 1% better today than you were yesterday, and you keep that up for an entire year, then at the end of the year, you’ll be 35 times better than you were at the start of the year. Seriously.
Heck, if you make it your aim to just be 0.1% better today than you were yesterday, and you keep that up for an entire year, then at the end of the year, you’ll more than double your current state.
If you get exhausted after two minutes of running, strive to add 1% to that run each and every day. Run two minutes today, then two minutes and one second tomorrow, then two minutes and two seconds the day after that. After a while, you’ll start adding two seconds a day, then three seconds, then four, and so on, whatever 1% of your time is. In about four months, you’re running a 5K without a break. In about six months, you’re running a 10K. By the end of the year, you’re doing a marathon.
Strive to do a bit better at anything in your life, every single day, and you’ll find yourself approaching greatness with surprising speed.
9. Five Books
Over the last several months, I’ve gotten more book recommendations from this site than I can even count. I’ve wound up looking for and requesting an incredible number of books from the library because of delves into this site.
The site basically conducts interviews with people in which they suggest five key books related to their career path or area of focus in life. For example, David Allen, the writer of Getting Things Done (a seminal productivity book), offered a list of five great productivity books and Joe Posnanski, a great sportswriter, recommended five books on baseball.
The thing I’ve found interesting is that, if I go to one of the interviews on a topic I’m interested in and I find that I’ve read one or two of the five suggested books and really enjoyed them, my interest in the other three skyrockets and I’m immediately requesting books from the library. This is far more likely to happen if I know I’m on board with one or two of the books than if I’ve never heard of any of the choices.
This is just a great place to dive if you’re looking for recommendations.
10. Michelangelo on genius
“If you knew how much work was put into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” – Michelangelo
Quite often, what we think of as genius is actually the result of almost countless hours of incredibly focused work and deliberate practice. We see a basketball player make an astounding play, but what we don’t see is the fact that he or she spends several hours each day, every day, prepping for that moment, shooting baskets and running sprints and lifting weights and making passes and shooting turnarounds and on and on and on. We see a truly breathtaking piece of art, but what we don’t see is the many, many hours that went into every tiny speck of detail in that piece, and the many, many, many hours of practice and effort that went into building up the skill even needed to attempt it.
The best part is that a lot of that stunning stuff seems almost simple, like we could almost do it ourselves. We could make that basketball pass. We could make that creative play. We could bake that cake. Often, absurd high levels of skill make something very difficult look very simple.
If you want to get good at something, there’s nothing like hard work and deliberate practice. There is no real shortcut.
11. The “reading hour”
At the start of this current school year, I decided to start doing some of my heaviest reading right in front of my kids when they got home from school for about an hour or so. When they get home, I greet them and talk for a bit, set up shop on the kitchen table, put on noise-cancelling headphones, and read for a while. I do this at the same time that they’re doing after school chores or homework.
My original aim here was just to set an example for them of how to study. I wanted to demonstrate best studying practices for them in a very clear and tangible way and also make it clear that deep reading is part of a healthy adult life.
What has happened has been wonderful. Not only have I had more time to dig through some pretty challenging books, the practice has already rubbed off on the kids after just a few weeks. Once a few after-school chores are done (mostly related to taking care of pets and a few really straightforward household chores), they use that same exact time to camp out at the same table and dive into their homework, or if they don’t have anything, they start reading on their own as well. They’re not turning to the Switch or to online games or Youtube or anything like that. They’re either studying or reading.
I’ve started to call this the “reading hour,” and it has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day.
12. Mark Twain on information
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” – Mark Twain
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve largely stopped reading or watching “the news” aside from a brief one or two minute scan of the headlines that I mostly do so I can follow conversations. This doesn’t mean I don’t read about current events, but I find that “fast” reporting is so error-prone and usually so full of bias that it usually puts the wrong idea in my head – something that’s either factually wrong or incredibly biased. I’d rather wait for detailed quality reporting, and that takes time.
So, does that mean I’m uninformed? In terms of headline news, I probably am. However, does the headline news ever actually change anything about my life? Am I ever going to take action on it? Almost never, and if I were to take action, it would probably be a bad action. Good quality reporting, on the other hand, often spurs me to do something, or at least helps shape my way of thinking.
The world seems to want quick reporting, but I’d rather have slow reporting with fact-checking and quality. It feels good to know that Mark Twain seems to agree.