“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
These are some of the most important things I’ve learned about health, wealth, relationships, faith, and love. Most of these are other people’s ideas (see #21, for example) I have found useful and insightful.
I need to be reminded, often, of what I’ve learned.
1. You deserve nothing, so be grateful
I really mean it, from the bottom of my heart. You don’t deserve anything. You don’t deserve to be healthy, to be happy, to be fit, to win at anything. You don’t deserve another breath.
Neither sacrifice nor hard work guarantee success. Talent doesn’t either. No one owes you anything.
2. Vulnerability is not a strength
It literally means weakness. I’m not saying vulnerability is bad. But it’s not a strength.
We can logic our way to the utility of vulnerability like this: connection is a good thing, and vulnerability can increase connection, so vulnerability can be useful.
But that only works if you’re sharing something you’ve beaten, or from a position of strength. You don’t get extra points for a disadvantage, especially one that’s still getting the better of you.
3. Your habits define your life
It’s not the big obstacles that you have to think about and confront that make you miss out on potential, but the little sacrifices that you tolerate. Bad habits compound negatively just like good ones compound positively. Over the course of a day, a month, a year, even generations, your habits decide what type of human you’re going to be.
Small wins are important, and small losses are not to be tolerated.
The small things are where you have the greatest opportunity for control and improvement and, eventually, greatness. Be tyrannical in the execution of the seemingly innocuous.
4. You can’t add a stressor to reduce stress
I say this mainly to the crowd who thinks that exercise and training is a way to “blow off steam.” This is incorrect. You only have one stress bucket out of which your recovery currency can be drawn.
Exercise is a stressor, and if the rest of your life is filling up your stress bucket with work and kids and family and moving and whatnot, “getting after it” with high intensity intervals is a bad coping strategy. And I’m saying this as someone who owns a gym.
You may need to change your training style or intensity to get through your current season. Respect the bucket, or you’ll just get worse.
5. You can judge a book by its cover
Looks matter. Style and looks are social cues, for good or for bad.
The most innocent example is that dressing well is a form of good manners.
The harshest laws are that your physique is a reflection of your discipline and health. On a hereditary level this plays out even more, with signals of attractiveness correlating to biological health over generations. You’ve heard of generational wealth? Well generational health is similar.
On top of that, I’ve learned not to shy away from training for fashion over function, or to put effort into your looks. Metcons will not give you great pecs, for example.
How functional is your fitness if you aren’t increasing your chances of reproducing?
So while it’s not a virtue for its own sake, appearance deserves effort.
6. It’s about the destination
“Fall in love with the process, and the results will come,” they say.
The things I’m most proud of in my life are things that I hated and did anyway.
I don’t look back fondly on the toil, but I do love what I got at the end of it. I like who I am now, but I didn’t love the process of becoming.
It’s like saying, “the vacation doesn’t matter, just the plane flight.” Some people thrive with a process mindset, and are happy and productive because of it.
And if you’re the same way, that’s cool. Consider this permission to care about the podium over the process.
7. You are your body
Take better care of yourself, and watch your mind and soul improve. People tend to think of their bodies as just a machine that carries their brain around, but it’s so much more.
The health of your gut, the quality of your breathing, the type of light that touches your skin, and myriad other variables will all affect the way you see the world. As such, getting healthier is one of the quicker and more long-lasting ways to improve the soul.
8. Momentum is magic
If a shark stops swimming, it will die.
Momentum is great, and it’s easier to maintain speed than it is to get up to speed. The laws of inertia seem to apply to energy levels and productivity as much as conventional physics.
This compounds over time, even between generations.
As with habits, the more consistent you can be, the more heroic you can be.
9. Don’t begin until you count the cost
Most of the regrets I have from business and life are because I listened to the common advice of just jump in with both feet. I like starting quickly and getting points on the board, but I’d rather win the whole game than just the first quarter.
Plans are useless. Planning is essential.
10. Speed kills
Get there firstest with the mostest.
After you’ve decided on a course, violence of action and reaction is a very strong advantage. Accomplishing big things can be done much faster than most people think.
11. You can’t fast track
When people come to me wanting to lose weight or achieve any type of fitness goal, I ask them how quickly they want to do it. They usually give me an answer of between six and twelve weeks.
We can get fast results, and we can keep them forever. Picking between the two is a false dichotomy in my line of work.
That said, bodies have rules; no matter how hard you work, a baby takes about 9 months to make.
You don’t have to love the process or worship the process, but the process demands respect.
12. Win the night
Sleep is the greatest investment you can make in your health and it’s not close. So that means getting as much sleep as possible is the goal.
Where most gurus will focus is the natural start to the day, which is the morning. But where you really lack discipline is in the evening, when it’s time to turn off the phone and TV, grab some blue-blocking glasses, and wind down.
You want to be a badass and wake up at 4:30am? Awesome. Go to bed at 8:00.
Waking up early might make you tough. Going to sleep early makes you smart.
13. Cut out everything that you don’t dearly love, and then some
I don’t think that adopting responsibility is a bad thing, but it’s worth examining where our expectations come from. In general, we take on the values of our communities, and allocate resources towards them. This happens against our highest priorities all too often.
This is the digital nomad allure, where people globetrot with just a laptop as a contract copywriter. For some, the van lifestyle is the dream, rather than the white picket fence.
When it comes to money, I don’t budget for going out to bars, because I just don’t do that. It’s a ZERO for me. I do budget for online courses and an absurd amount of books. From a time management standpoint, in the last year I’ve cut out all video games, rock climbing, golf, going to the movies (Endgame excepted), and almost all dining out.
I love these things, but I chose to focus.
14. 100% is a breeze, 99% is a bitch
If you leave yourself any room for error, you’ll find a way to make that error. When you decide to do something, going all in is the easiest way to go about it. An 80/20 rule leaves so much room for error that it usually becomes an excuse for a weak day, a week of missed workouts, or a full-on abandonment of the goal.
99% means you’ll find the 1% excuse.
100% means you’ll get creative and find a way.
15. Better prolific than perfect
This is one that I suck at, but it’s a true thing. Volume beats intensity when it comes to creativity. And because there’s more output, more practice, the quality usually goes up as well. Win/win.
So if you want to be a writer, photographer, or even a better salesperson, pump up the frequency and volume, not the intensity. Take more swings; get more hits.
16. Leadership requires followership
I used to think that all it took to be a good leader was to be a good example. What does that matter if no one’s paying attention?
Attention is a form of currency. People vote on things that matter with their real dollars and their attention budget.
If you can’t get people’s attention, then it doesn’t matter how good a product you’re selling, a service you’re providing, or an example you’re living.
17. Don’t fight fair
This is true in combat as well as in life, because, well, life is kinda like war. If you have a competitive or unfair advantage, use it.
Not only are you more likely to win, but having unique abilities and high leverage is a true joy.
18. You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than to feel yourself into action
This goes for faith, fitness, family, relationships, business, and everything else that actually matters.
Action precedes inspiration, behavior drives motivation, behavior shapes personality, and commitment precedes courage. It’s way more productive (and easier) to act the way you want to act than it is to wait for the feelings to come around.
For creatives, this means that while the muse only comes around every once in a while, she’d better find you working.
19. Courage feels awful
Courage is held up as something noble, but John Wayne had it right when he said courage is feeling fear and saddling up anyway. Courage doesn’t feel noble. It feels like being afraid, anxious, nervous, or otherwise weak and pathetic.
The really terrible part is that not all moments of fear, anxiety, nerves, and weakness are courageous. Sometimes they’re just pathetic.
Just don’t expect applause for courage until way later. If you get recognition for courage in the moment, that’s a red flag.
20. Play seriously
Work and play aren’t separate, even if you hate what you do. In an infinite game, the goal is to keep playing.
You always focus up harder when you view my work as a game you want to win. You prepare more when the game matters. You take a longevity-centered perspective when you want to play forever.
Play keeps you young, and it’s good to have low-stakes escapism in your life. But work-life balance is easier to navigate if it’s all fun for its own sake.
21. Find the incentives
The world is old, and many of its ideas have been tested. I see a lot of people throwing out old wisdom in favor of modern cultural sensibilities.
This happens in faith, fitness, politics, relationships, all of it. Following the white rabbit of incentives helps you make better decisions, both short and long term.
You don’t want to trust people without any skin in the game, for example. People who give advice who don’t personally have anything to lose always have bad opinions.
22. If you wish it weren’t true, but it makes sense, it’s probably true
The things I believe most strongly are the things I wish weren’t true. I’ve changed my mind on a lot of things, and the most consistent way I’ve been able to poke and prod at what I think is true is if I wish it were otherwise.
I feel this way about personality, about work, and about things like spiritual gifts. My church had a short “spiritual gifts” quiz that I took. The result I got made me want to puke. I decided it was totally offensive and completely absurd and after speaking with other wise men I know, accurate.
The dangerous stuff is the stuff that you really, really want to be true, but don’t make sense.
Gifts and truths are freeing, but often feel like an indictment.
23. Master the transitions
Freeze frames are great, but it’s the speed between them that makes a difference. Whether it’s transitions for a workout you’re doing in an exercise racing competition, or the transition you make when you move from your vehicle to your home at the end of the day, the transition is where energy is set, transformed, and directed with intention.
It’s not where you pause to take the photos for instagram that matters, but the in-between times.
24. Freedom is ugly
I think most people don’t actually want freedom. I think they want convenience.
Freedom the way most people think about it is the freedom from things that they don’t like. Freedom from stress, worry, suffering. But the more compelling freedoms, the ones that can actually cause people to chase after them, are the freedoms to do things they want to do. Freedom of spending time, spending money, associating with people.
To this end, Jocko Willink’s book Extreme Ownership provides a concise definition of exactly how ugly it is with the simple phrase: “discipline equals freedom.”
If you want freedom, be your own tyrant.
25. Don’t “just” be yourself
I love personality tests and aptitude tests and quizzes that tell you your Hogwarts house and all that fun stuff. But self-knowledge can be a vortex that cripples your decision-making and prevents you from acting the way you’re supposed to act.
What Myers-Briggs type is a legitimate excuse for my laziness? Is there an Enneagram 5 cheat code that will make me a better salesperson? If Gandalf showed up at my door and told me that I was the only one who could take the Ring to Mordor, is “my Kolbe profile says I’m a low on Follow Through, so…” a good answer?
No personality test excuse can make the demands of the world and your time go away.
Self-knowledge is a powerful tool, but it can get in the way of the mission. We don’t need to ask “what’s a good fit for me?” We need to ask, “what must I do?”
26. Mission equals meaning
I used to think about what my hero’s journey would be. I was waiting for Obi-Wan to hand me a lightsaber and point me in a direction.
Instead, someone told me to think on this question:
What’s God’s design for the world and the people in it, and how can I best help that along?
After that, I think I have a pretty good answer. It dictates what I do, pulls me out of bed in the morning, and drives me to work as hard as I can, and, a little too often, harder than I can.
27. Ignore false gods
These are good things that people tend to put on a pedestal, but don’t belong there: Romantic love, hard work, talent, intelligence, credentials, sacrifice, spirituality.
Some evil is just good things prioritized above great things.
28. Boredom is a virtue
Got this one from Scott Adams, who advises that all creatives seek boredom. He says to enjoy being bored in order to make breakthroughs in your work or simply to put yourself in a corner where creation is the only thing left to do.
For me, this also applies to low-skill or monotonous work. Viewing boredom as a good thing is a sweet mindset hack for being more productive. Adopting this frame makes social media and the constant clamoring for your attention seem quaint, almost sad.
29. Strong beliefs, loosely held
I have been trying to eliminate the phrases “I think” and “I feel” from my writing and speaking. My college poetry professor said to do this, because if you’re saying it or writing it, it’s pretty obvious that you think/feel it.
It makes your communication stronger.
But that stronger communication is nerve-wracking, like holding eye contact when you’re used to looking away. Eliminating those little phrases makes you more abrasive, more concrete in a politically correct and polite society.
Matter. Of. Fact.
And then, you need to be able to hold up what you believe as true to any light, and revise accordingly. A lot of the things on this list came about because I challenged my old beliefs with new ideas or by putting them into action.
30. Better is possible
The one thing that’s consistent about people I talk to about turning 30 is this: they say it’s all downhill from here. There are fewer things I hate more than this, even as a joke.
If you think this, maybe examine why you’re alive at all.
My life has only ever gotten better. Even with all the garbage I’ve gone through, each phase has been better than the previous one.
In my faith, this process is called sanctification. It’s a paradox of increasing the distance between who you were at the start, and moving towards an infinite standard. I look forward to dealing with bigger and more interesting problems as I start my 30s.
That’s the game: gratitude for where you’ve been, and hunger pains for what’s next.