While we tell ourselves that the next level is enough, it never is. The next zero in your bank account won’t satisfy you any more than you are now. The next promotion won’t change who you are. The fancy car won’t make you happier. The bigger house doesn’t solve your problems.
Pay attention to what you are chasing because, in the end, you just might get it. And the cost of “success” might be the things that really matter.
“Never risk what you have and need,” wrote Warren Buffett, “for what we don’t have and don’t need.” In pursuit of our goals, we inevitably give up things that matter. We sleep less. We spend less time with our friends. We eat unhealthily. We skip workouts. We cancel dates. We miss dinner with the family.
When it comes to living a meaningful life, the only scoreboard that matters is yours. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the person you really want to be or the life you really want to live.
“You have to give something back to your community that will allow people in the future a better education, a better opportunity, a better start in life. Wherever we are today as a society is built upon the past experiences of people and what they did to create a better world.” - Walter Scott
Perseverance solves more problems than brilliance.
Cycling has a carbon footprint of about 21g of CO2 per kilometre. That’s less than walking or getting the bus and less than a tenth the emissions of driving.
If cycling’s popularity in Britain increased six-fold (equivalent to returning to 1940s levels) and all this pedalling replaced driving, this could make a net reduction of 7.7-million tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to 6% of the UK’s transport emissions. https://www.bikeradar.com/features/long-reads/cycling-environmental-impact/
“Excellence is mundane. Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.”
There is nothing that gets in the way of success more than avoidance. We avoid hard conversations. We avoid certain people. We avoid hard decisions. We avoid evidence that contradicts what we think. We avoid starting a project until we’re certain of the outcome.
Not only does avoiding today make the future harder, but it also almost always makes the present harder. Avoiding puts you on a hair-trigger, anything will set you off. We all do this. Who hasn’t entirely avoided a hard conversation with their partner about something only to find themselves in an insignificant argument over something trivial? Of course, the petty fight isn’t about the trivial thing, it’s about avoidance of the hard thing.
Everything becomes harder until we stop avoiding what’s getting in the way. The longer you wait the higher the cost.
One of the challenges (and opportunities) of researching a big topic is just how many different views could plausibly relate. It’s easy to get comfortable with one set of results only to realize there’s an entire discipline that weighs in on the questions you ask.
The paradox of learning is that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t. Each answered question spawns myriad doubts.
Efficient doesn’t necessarily mean effective. More productive doesn’t necessarily mean more powerful. Being mass, ignored and expensive are not points of weakness but, in fact, points of strength.
It doesn’t matter how efficient you are if you are not effective. What’s efficient in the short term is often increasingly fragile. Don’t win the moment at the expense of the decade.
You don’t know how to think other than the way you know how to think.
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” — Elinor Smith
We tend to think that what we think is true. And because we think something is true, we ignore information that might tell us it’s not true.
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change,” Marcus Aurelius said. “For I seek the truth, by which no one ever was truly harmed. Harmed is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance.”
“What surprise tells you,” my friend Adam Robinson says, “is that your model of the world is incorrect.” And when your model of the world is incorrect, you need to figure out why.
Surprises are a clue that you’re missing something. Dive and figure out what.
liquid modernity: the idea that we always need to keep our options open and avoid committing to causes, communities and projects.
We live in a culture that prizes keeping one’s options open. It’s better to be maximally flexible, the popular reasoning goes, so that we can respond to any opportunity at a moment’s notice. Committing to anything, even for just a few months, locks away other possibilities, and is thus undesirable.
Examined closely, the reasoning behind this liquid modernity doesn’t hold up. Even if you want a more varied life than the long-haul commitment you still need to commit to projects for bursts of time to make progress. The person who commits to three-month projects may not achieve mastery. Still, they will get further than the person who merely thinks about doing those projects.
“If we are sincere in wanting to learn the truth, and if we know how to use gentle speech and deep listening, we are much more likely to be able to hear others’ honest perceptions and feelings. In that process, we may discover that they too have wrong perceptions. After listening to them fully, we have an opportunity to help them correct their wrong perceptions. If we approach our hurts that way, we have the chance to turn our fear and anger into opportunities for deeper, more honest relationships.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
“Make no mistake about it—enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.” - Adyashanti
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you. — “Lost” by David Wagoner
Ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive. The ability to execute separates people, not the ability to come up with ideas.
“Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.” — Albert Einstein
You’re almost certainly worse at understanding your own biases than you are at recognizing them in others.
There’s nothing you can do to change the mental processes of others. You can only accept them. But that acceptance can help the world make more sense, whether it’s personal interactions or world politics. Realizing that political and social movements spring from the decisions of individuals working with incomplete information and a set of unknowable biases, instead of from a cabal of powerful people secretly plotting world domination, could mean you’re less likely to fall for conspiracy theories…and suddenly, the fact that hundreds of talented, intelligent people devoted their professional lives to producing the movie version of Cats makes sense.
It’s a great relief in interpersonal relations, as well. Knowing that your fantasy football rival and your co-workers at the batting cage are just bumbling along means you can stop obsessing over their motivations. No one knows what they’re doing, after all, and they’re probably just trying to make things easier for themselves in the short term.
You shouldn’t, however, mention any of this to loved ones. Just pretend it all makes sense. It’s how we get along.
“External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. … There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead. The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.” https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html
“The nature of illusion is that it’s designed to make you feel good. About yourself, about your country, about where you’re going – in that sense it functions like a drug. Those who question that illusion are challenged not so much for the veracity of what they say, but for puncturing those feelings.” — Journalist Chris Hedges
Humility is the anecdote to arrogance. Humility is a recognition that we don’t know, that we were wrong, that we’re not better than anyone else.
Humility is simple to understand but hard to practice.
Humility isn’t a lack of confidence but an earned confidence. The confidence to say that you might not be right, but you’ve done the diligence, and you’ve put in the work.
Humility keeps you wondering what you’re missing or if someone is working harder than you. And yet when pride and arrogance take over, humility flees and so does our ability to learn, adapt, and build lasting relationships with others.
Humility won’t let you take credit for luck. And humility is the voice in your mind that doesn’t let small victories seem larger than they are. Humility is the voice inside your head that says, ‘anyone can do it once, that’s luck. Can you do it consistently?’
More than knowing yourself, humility is accepting yourself.
“Guard over your thinking, for it becomes actions. Your actions slowly turn into habits. Over time, your habits shape your character. And in the end, your character becomes your destiny. If you want to change your destiny, change your thinking.”
You’re avoiding this because it’s hard. You already know what to do. The evidence has been staring at you in the face for months.
The purpose of a question is to dig deeper, not to prove anything.
Things that reduce the odds of long-term success:
A lack of focus. Making excuses. Staying up late. Eating poorly. Checking email first thing in the AM. Working more to fix being busy. Buying things you don’t have the money for. Focusing on yourself. Letting other people define success for you. The wrong relationships. A lack of patience.
Things that never happened before happen all the time. — Scott Sagan
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. — Anne Lamott
It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. — Alfred North Whitehead
Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it. — André Gide