My Favorite Reads from 2014

Every month, I try and capture a handful of the best and most interesting posts I read online and highlight them on my blog at Ryan Stephens Marketing.

Below, I have curated 125+ of my favorite reads from 2014. I didn’t do it for you. I did it for me so that I could come back to this list and review key insights and mental models that will help shape my thinking, my work and my life in 2015 and beyond.

That said, I thought that since I took the time to compile this list that I would share it publicly with the hope that you’ll take 10 minutes, or maybe 2 hours, to learn something new, to think about something differently, and perhaps, most importantly, to use the knowledge captured to improve your own life and/or share it with someone else who could use it.

Shane Parrish, whose blog posts and ideas are featured multiple times in this piece has a fairly simple objective for his life:

I want to go to bed each night smarter than when I woke up. I also want to live a meaningful life and become a better person.

And how do you do that? Read. A lot.

Charlie Munger, billionaire business parter of Warren Buffett and the Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, weighs in:

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero.

Buffett estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading and thinking.

You could hardly find a partnership in which two people settle on reading more hours of the day than in ours.” - Charlie Munger

When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said “read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

All of this knowledge provides dots to connect.

In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas. — Maria Popova

This post is over 14,000 words and would take you about an hour to read. I don’t expect you to read it all today, but I hope you’ll use it as a resource and refer back to it occasionally. As a result, I’ve done by best to categorize each article and post by a broad topic (busyness, creativity, fear, happiness, productivity, resilience, work, etc.) so that you can tap into whichever topic interests you in the moment.

As I always remind people who read the monthly wrap ups on the blog, try and focus less on the dopamine rush you get from hopping from article to article and more on how you apply the wisdom in the posts to your own life.

The commentary below each link is typically the author’s own words that I’ve extracted as a key takeaway; however, sometimes I add my own commentary and make connections as well.

Enjoy. And best of luck in 2015!


3 That Stuck With Me All Year:

The Crossroads of Should and Must — Elle Luna

This is a story about two roads — Should and Must. It’s a pep talk for anyone who’s chosen Should for far too long — months, years, maybe a lifetime — and feels like it’s about time they gave Must a shot.

Live Like a Hydra: Thoughts on Getting Stronger When Things are Chaotic — Buster Benson

Antifragility + the Chaos Monkey + Switching between the seven heads of the hydra = Maximizing the life you have. (Just read it!)

“How?

  1. Think on the scale of months and years and decades (not hours, days, weeks).
  2. Think in terms of quality time with the people you love, passionate projects that you can pour your soul into, and your core beliefs (not day-to-day grievances, individual tasks, or short-lived challenges).”

The Bullshit Machine — Umair Haque

Umair is bored of a culture that prizes narcissism above individualism. A politics that places “tolerance” above acceptance. A spirit that encourages cynicism over reverence. A public sphere that places irony over sincerity. A technosophy that elevates “data” over understanding. A society that puts “opportunity” before decency. An economy that…you know. Works us harder to make us poorer at “jobs” we hate where we make stuff that sucks every last bit of passion from our souls to sell to everyone else who’s working harder to get poorer at “jobs” they hate where they make stuff that sucks every last bit of passion from their souls.

Why is it that we must always be busy, passive and compliant? Why do we no longer value setting aside time to think? To feel? Because they’re are a drag on “growth”; a burden on “productivity”; they slow down the furious acceleration of the bullshit machine. If you’re constantly exhausted of pretending to want the life you think you should; instead of daring to live the life you know you could I recommend read this short piece.


Accountability:

Accountability — Shane Parrish

This post features some excerpts from a recent talk Shane gave to student athletes at Bradley University on accountability.

On of my favorite excerpts from his talk — that echoes his philosophy on life: The simple key to acquiring knowledge is going to bed smarter than when you woke up. Over a long life, this adds up. But that means acquiring knowledge, or what some people call worldly wisdom, must be a priority. It’s easy to go out after school, land a job, come home and watch TV until you fall asleep. It’s a lot harder to make an agreement with yourself to be responsible for continuing your education and holding yourself accountable for that.

Advertising:

The Rise of Sadvertising: Why Brands are Determined to Make You Cry — Rae Ann Fera

Have you been brought to tears by an ad, or five, over the last while? It’s not hormones/your meds/the lunar cycle/the polar vortex. In the above article, Fast Company looks at the most weepy ads of the last few years and talk to ad players about why brands have gotten so damn emotional.

Advice:

Life is a Game: This is Your Strategy Guide — Oliver Emberton

You might not realise, but real life is a game of strategy. There are some fun mini-games — like dancing, driving, running, and sex — but the key to winning is simply managing your resources.

Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.

The 30 Second Habit with a Life Long Impact — Robin Scott

Only having become convinced, after several months of experimentation, that one of the simplest pieces of advice I’ve heard is also one of the best.

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points. If you always do just this, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay.

A Guide for Young People: What to do with Your Life — Leo Babauta

The idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.

Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.

Behavior Change:

The Top 10 Behavior Mistakes and How to Avoid Them — Sam Thomas Davies

Relying on Willpower for Long-Term Change

  • Willpower is a limited mental resource and the more you use it, the more it impairs your self-control.
  • Instead of relying on willpower to learn new behaviors, form what (BJ) Fogg calls “tiny habits” instead.

Blaming Failures on Lack of Motivation

  • Your motivation — like your emotional state — ebbs and flows; it’s unpredictable and when you do need to rely on it, you’ll often be disappointed.
  • You don’t need motivation to change, but what you do need are easier behaviors, ones that are impossible to resist. (Ex: Floss one tooth).

Believing that Information Leads to Action

  • Knowledge is not power, but knowledge and application is. An idea is only as good as its execution, so be sure to apply one new idea you learn.
  • Don’t be rational about change, get emotional; associate massive pain to not changing and pleasure to changing.

Busyness:

The Cult of Busy — Dina Kaplan

Busy can become a way of life. We’re seduced by all the incoming — the emails and text messages that make us feel wanted and important — stimulating our dopamine, as research shows, but in an exhausting, ultimately empty way.

Busy has a dangerous allure. If your normal is busy, it’s tough to sit quietly with your thoughts or to really feel what you’re feeling. What if, instead, everything became a choice — how we spend time, who we respond to and how much or little we write? What if we recognized the difference between accomplishing our goals for the day and responding to other people’s requests? What if we learned to say no — a lot?

Busy should be a confession, not a boast.

The Disease of Being Busy — Omid Safi

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life. We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

This ‘Busy-Bragging’ Epidemic Must be Stopped: If only we could find the time — Oliver Burkeman

We’re suffering, as you know, from an epidemic of busyness. But even more than that, we’re suffering from an epidemic of people talking about how busy they are. The real culprit is a socioeconomic system that relentlessly instrumentalises everyone, forcing us to become productivity machines, valued by our output alone.

Solutions?

  • Create boundaries that help reduce the feeling of busyness
  • Busyness can be a form of procrastination (i.e. focus on the important stuff)
  • Becoming more efficient in your work can make busyness worse (i.e. they’re just going to give you more)

The trick — to the extent that there is a trick — isn’t to get faster at crunching through your activities, but to find ways to regard fewer of those activities as obligations, and to stop inviting more of them into your life unnecessarily.

Too Busy? 7 Ways to Increase Leisure Time According to Science — Eric Barker

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and constantly running from thing to thing but never getting it all done, this post is for you. The truth is we probably have more leisure time than ever, but it doesn’t feel like it because our time is so fragmented and we’re so bad at multi-tasking. Read this post to check out the 7 things experts recommend.

The Empty Container — Leo Babauta

[A nice mental model for ensuring we’re doing the things that matter most to us and not getting distracted by trivial complications and busy work.]

Our lives get so complicated not overnight but gradually. Today I say yes to an email request, tomorrow I say yes to a party invitation, then I get asked to a quick cup of coffee, then I decide to be a part of a project. One yes at a time, and soon my life is full and I don’t know how I got so busy.

Instead of thinking, “How can I get rid of this complicated mess?” … let’s ask, “What if I started with a blank slate?” What would you do if your life was a blank slate? If it were an empty container, with limited space, what would you put in it?

The Mistake Smart People Make: Being In Motion vs. Taking Action — James Clear

Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.

Why do you slip into motion rather than take action? Because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.

No Time: How Did We Get So Busy? — Elizabeth Kolbert

As the income gap in the U.S. has widened, it’s actually lower-wage workers who have ended up with the most leisure. And it’s high earners who report feeling the most time pressure.

Censorship:

The Culture of Shut Up — Jon Lovett

Too many debates about important issues degenerate into manufactured and misplaced outrage — and it’s chilling free speech.

The right to free speech may begin and end with the First Amendment, but there is a vast middle where our freedom of speech is protected by us — by our capacity to listen and accept that people disagree, often strongly, that there are fools, some of them columnists and elected officials and, yes, even reality-show patriarchs, that there are people who believe stupid, irrational, hateful things about other people and it’s okay to let those words in our ears sometimes without rolling out the guillotines.

Change:

Why 2014 is the Year You Change — James Altucher

You can’t ask the world to change… you have to change first. You’ll get scared, have arguments, feel guilt and probably cry. Change is very lonely. At every stage of our lives, the people around us try to write our scripts. You have to rewrite your script. If you stay in the old script it’s like acting in a role that is not written for you. Evolution wants us to constantly change. Getting good at change (big, small, tiny — every day) means getting good at life. Do it without expectation. Wish for nothing. Care for everything. Happiness will be in between.

Communities:

The Holy Grail of Building Communities — Richard Millington

I consider Rich to be the foremost expert at building successful online communities. In this post, he outlines why the sense of community is the missing piece of the community puzzle, the power of a strong sense of community, and how we can use social science to guide us.

Confidence:

It Pays to Be Overconfident, Even When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing– Matthew Hutson

“Even when we’re unmasked as less skilled than our self-assured manner would suggest, there are ancillary social benefits to overconfidence. Overconfidence increases one’s status. It turns out, we tend to (over)use confidence as a useful proxy for competence — if you speak firmly, it sounds like you know what you’re talking about.

People who showed more confidence, regardless of their actual ability, were judged to be more capable and accorded more regard by their peers. (See: pundits & politicians). It’s easy to deride overconfidence as a big societal problem (which it is), but we shouldn’t overlook the reason it’s so prevalent: It yields real benefits for the people who exhibit it.”

Speaking of confidence… the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki says that confidence, and not risk-taking is the fundamental characteristic that defines entrepreneurs.

The Confidence Gap — Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men — and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. This post also explains that infuriating feeling you get when you realize the person at the top is completely incompetent, but got there due to their overconfidence, which someone came across to colleagues as self assurance vs. narcissism.

Creativity:

10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered — Austin Kleon

Show Your Work! is a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. It’s is a book about how to influence others by letting them steal from you. Austin’s lessons include wisdom such as: think process, not product; tell good stories; sell out. Click the link to read all 10 lessons and why they matter.

10 Creative Rituals You Should Steal — Sean Blanda

Sustained creativity doesn’t come from a flash of brilliance or a single afternoon of inspiration. It comes from a consistent routine that serves as the bedrock for getting things done.

At 99U we’ve spoken with dozens of entrepreneurs, researchers, and creatives about their unique routines. Some of these include: taking quarterly vacations, napping every day, brainstorming at the bar and creating an “interesting people” fund. Click the link above to read the rest with explanations.

Economy:

How the Recession Reshaped the Economy in 255 Charts — Jeremy Ashkenas and Alicia Parlapiano

Five years since the end of the Great Recession, the economy has finally regained the nine million jobs it lost. But not all industries recovered equally. Each line (in the post) shows how the number of jobs has changed for a particular industry over the past 10 years.

What Parents Need to Understand About Being Young Today, in 8 Charts — Chris Walker

Young adults face an economic trifecta of low incomes, high living costs and high debt. The next time someone tries to slap a demeaning label like “boomerang kid” on young adults living at home, show them these eight charts.

Education:

10 Rules for Students Teachers and Life — Maria Popova

  • RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
  • RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  • RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

Information vs. Knowledge vs. Experience — Ryan Holiday

Don’t hold out for your dream job or the perfect opportunity. The perfect opportunity is the one that exists, that gives you any kind of experience, the one that allows you to put anything you’ve learned into practice. The perfect opportunity you keep picturing in your head? That’s your ego protecting you from change — the feeling of pain and failure that is deliberate practice and experimentation.

Why are students in Finland outperforming students in America? — Pasi Sahlberg

  • They have less homework than their peers in other countries. A child’s socioeconomic background is less of an impediment to academic performance. And there is only one standardized test, which is administered in the final year of high school.
  • Teachers in Finland have time to work together with their colleagues during the school day. The average teaching load of junior high school teachers in Finland is about half what it is in the United States. That enables teachers to build professional networks, share ideas and best practices. This is an important condition to enhancing teaching quality.
  • Play constitutes a significant part of individual growth and learning in Finnish schools. Every class must be followed by a 15-minute recess break so children can spend time outside on their own activities. Schooldays are also shorter in Finland than in the United States, and primary schools keep the homework load to a minimum so students have time for their own hobbies and friends when school is over.

Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress — Jeanne Whalen

E-mail:

How to Get a Busy Person to Respond to Your E-mail — Mattan Griffel

  1. Keep it short
  2. Format for readability and clarity
  3. Make it clear what you want me to do
  4. Be reasonable with your request
  5. Show me why I should take the time to help you

Entrepreneurship:

Rate-of-Learning: The Most Valuable Startup Compensation — Kyle Tibbitts

“Your rate-of-learning is a better proxy for how successful you will be than your current salary or stock compensation because it’s a leading rather than lagging indicator. Abandoning the cubicle at your normal job to throw yourself head-first into a startup is a fiery accelerant for growth, changing your career trajectory by orders of magnitude through a substantially increased rate-of-learning.”

Kyle’s article perfectly illustrates why I left the first job I ever loved to take a leap at a startup.

Entrepreneurship and Depression — Kyle Wild

The predominant work culture in tech startups today is a culture of overwork; it’s a culture that eats away at one’s time and one’s space. Most humans possess a psychology that requires taking breaks. Real breaks. Total disconnection from The Project At Hand. We are creating workplaces that reinforce the idea that taking a break is a bad thing; workplaces that systematically fuse the concept of disconnecting with the emotion of guilt.

We have to stop glamorizing the grind, stop the founder martyrdom, stop reinforcing the hero complex. Stop squeezing the lemon, when we should instead be figuring out how to build sustainable lemon orchards. Stop telling everyone to work harder instead of smarter, because we’re making their lives harder instead of making them smarter. And people are fucking dying from it.

How the ‘PayPal Mafia’ Redefined Success in Silicon Valley — Connor Forrest

It’s a pretty rare occurrence that a startup will make it from inception to exit. What is decidedly less common is that startup reaching an exit upwards of $1 billion dollars. Yet even more extraordinary is that exit becoming the catalyst for a revitalization of a local economy and a specific type of investing.

Despite astronomical odds, this is what happened when PayPal sold to eBay in the summer of 2002 and the PayPal team members went on to found some of the most important startups — and make some of the most strategic investments — of all time. Former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel estimates the PayPal Mafia to be around 220 people. That group of 220 people went on to create seven distinct “unicorn” companies. Unicorns are companies with a valuation of more than $1 billion.

I love to study success, learn from people smarter than me, and to make connections (relevant to my own grand strategy) that will hopefully help me emulate their success.

The Brutal Ageism of Tech: Years of Experience, Plenty of Talent, Completely Obsolete — Noam Scheiber

Surprisingly enough, I found myself identifying more with the old guard in the article than the young bucks. I value objectively talented workers (of all ages). And maybe someone young and fearless is more likely to disrupt the world, buthistorically that’s not necessarily true. There’s something to be said for marginal improvements.

The fact that leaders can work a young person, without a family, to death (and then exchange her for someone equally as talented when she burns out) is horrifying to me.

In addition, the unbridled optimism (most notably from younger leaders) in entrepreneurship can be exhausting, lead to groupthink, and ultimately lead to business failure (pdf) as a result of planning fallacies, leader hubris, job in-congruence and more. Entrepreneurs need to temper optimism with a sound footing in reality. And this, it seems, is something that the experienced entrepreneurs understand and do much better than their young counterparts.

Failure is Not a Good Thing — Paul Smith

Failure has somehow become a fashionably acceptable outcome; startups can go bust because of dreadful execution or woeful market knowledge, and founders are immediately surrounded by a circlejerk of backslapping.

It’s not the act of failing we should celebrate, but our exploitation of the potential it creates. If we don’t build upon the knowledge of why we failed, then all the effort it took to fail is squandered. If we don’t step up to take another shot then we waste the beating we took, we waste the potential our failure presents.

‘ My Startup Tanked’: Why More Entrepreneurs Are Being Open About Their Failures — Christina Farr

Why are some of these founders opting to speak out about their failures and not others? A post-mortem post has become increasingly common, particularly given the voracious demand for this kind of content. These post-mortem posts should be required reading for any tech entrepreneur, as they contain practical advice.

Ten Things I Learned Researching Ten of the World’s Fastest Growing Startups– Morgan Brown

  • Growth is nothing without a ‘must-have’ product experience.
  • Growth is not marketing. Marketing is not growth.
  • Do things that don’t scale, build things that do.
  • There are analytics and then there are insights.

Short Term Profit Taking vs. Long Term Value Creation: The Future of Paypal — Reid Hoffman

Innovation comes from long-term thinking and iterative execution.

While market exploitation can lead to a quick buck in a quick trade, it creates less value over time than more fundamental approaches that rely on strong leaders executing carefully considered plans to build lasting assets.

This Entrepreneur Raised $2M With A Five-Slide Presentation About Nothing — Ilya Pozin

  • Itay Adam hired a professional screenwriter for his self-described 40-minute stand-up comedy act to pitch to the private equity firm.
  • A few days later, they signed a $2 million round with no product.
  • Adam wants his small team to all be over 35. “Most startups hire 20-year-old kids who are willing to work day and night at the office,” Adam says. “I don’t believe in that.”
  • Here’s his pitch deck.

Excuses:

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Dealing with Excuses — James Altucher

I didn’t have talent. I just got lucky. Nobody will hire me. I don’t have the right equipment. I couldn’t write a book because I had no publisher. I couldn’t do stand-up because I was afraid people would heckle me. I’m afraid to write a blog post often because what would people think?

All of my excuses turned out to be blessings in disguise. There’s always a gap between “what I have now” and “what I would like.” The gap is all of your excuses. All it takes to close the gap is to be creative and work your way through the excuses. I repeat: this is ALL IT TAKES.

Your excuses are simply the roadmap that takes you from “here” to “there”. Excuses are pointers to where the target is. There are no other pointers other than your list of excuses. The excuses are the map to success and fulfillment.

Fear:

Fear is the Root of Your Problems — Leo Babauta

We see fear as an enemy, to be defeated or it will defeat us. It’s not. Fear is us. We are human beings in a world of constant change, and this is scary. We are afraid that we won’t be OK in the chaos of change, that we will fail, that we will be judged, that life won’t turn out OK.

Every problem you or I have is rooted in fear. In this post, Leo tackles why the fear arises and how to deal with it.

But What if I Fail — Seth Godin

The answer to the what if question is, you will. A better question might be, “after I fail, what then?” Well, if you’ve chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.

Guilt:

How to Stop Feeling Guilty — Ramit

Feeling guilty is a choice — one that you can choose not to do through your actions. Here’s the simple framework to use: YES, IT’S MY RESPONSIBILITY! If something goes wrong in a social situation, don’t blame the other person for being an asshole. Ask yourself: Hey, maybe they are rude, but what did I do to cause that?

See, guilt is the first sign that something’s wrong. But most people stop there. “I feel guilty” is not the end, but the beginning of taking action. There’s a better way. When you take on this role — that I can’t control others but I can control myself — it’s actually empowering. Instead of the inchoate guilt you feel with no outlet for fixing it, you look at life like a series of experiments.

Happiness:

Love People Not Pleasure — Arthur Brooks

We are unambiguously driven to accumulate material goods, to seek fame, to look for pleasure. How can it be that these very things can give us unhappiness instead of happiness? This search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly:

Love things, use people.

You want to be free of the sticky cravings of unhappiness and find a formula for happiness instead. How? Simply invert the deadly formula and render it virtuous:

Love people, use things.

The 8 Things the Happiest People Do Every Day — Eric Barker

  1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
  3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
  4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
  6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
  7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
  8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

Refining What I Think I Want… — Jamie Varon

I want to calm down and I want to want less. I want to feel less pressure to be something and allow myself to be somebody.I want to push myself, but not force myself. I want to wake up with excitement, not wake up to the beginning of a to-do list.

Being ambitious has been a part of my identity for so long that it’s a weird feeling to start to break it down and dissect what’s really driving me. Because, I’m tired of feeling like there’s always something better, that I must be the best, that everything short of bestseller, award-winner, first place, is a mediocre version of what my potential could be if I carried it out.

[I think a lot of Type A overachievers feel this way. I know I’ve confessed to feeling the exact same way over a year ago.]

The Way to Happiness: Remember the 4 P’s — Eric Barker

Remember the 4P’s:

  • Purpose — The best lives have purpose. We really feel good when we make progress toward our ideals.
  • Perspective — Happiness is more about how you look at life than what actually happens.
  • People — Friends and family were nine times more important than money when it comes to being happy.
  • Play — You need to have plain old fun to really have a happy life.

How to Use Heroin Legally — James Altucher

The basic gist of this post is that heroin temporarily makes (some) people feel better, but with nasty side effects. Instead, try stimulating the release of endorphins to open the floodgates of dopamine, the neurochemical that makes you happy. How? Laugh, play, socialize, have sex, eat spicy foods, less grains, and exercise every day.

The Price of Modern Life is Depression and Loneliness? — Hugh Mackay

But the surest way to increase the risk of loneliness and depression (or at least disappointment) is to fall for those twin seducers of modern life: materialism and the promise of personal happiness. If you think your possessions are an index of your worth, think again. If you think personal happiness is a worthwhile goal, the evidence is against you. Our deepest satisfactions come from a sense of meaning in our lives, usually connected to the nature of our work and the quality of our relationships, and that’s as true for ‘modern’ people as it’s ever been.

The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others — Leo Babauta

Stop comparing your life to other people’s Instagram photos. It’s not a fair comparison, of course. They’re not posting photos of themselves when they’re doing the more mundane things, including sitting around looking at their phones. They’re not posting about their anxieties or boredom, their arguments and procrastination, their insecurities.

Happiness comes from appreciating what’s in front of you, not wishing you were doing something else. You find out what life is about by paying closer attention to it, not wishing you were living a fantasy. We don’t need to be better than anyone else: we just need to love where we are and what we’re doing and who we are. That’s what matters.

How Was Your Bike Ride? — Seth Godin

More information doesn’t always make us happier. At some point, improvement turns into a game, something to be won or lost, completely losing the point of the project we set out to do. “How big was your bonus,” is not the same question as, “how happy are you?” or even, “do you feel good about making a difference…”

Lists — get and give — Rohan Rajiv

There are always 2 kinds of lists. The first kind is the “get” list — described best by want, desire, and comparisons. The second is the “give” list — described largely by perspective and gratitude.

The “get” list seems to work great for the short term. The happiness that comes with it, however, isn’t happiness. All you get are fleeting moments of joy. The “give” list, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to do much for you for the longest time. Until it does.

10 Positive Consequences of NOT Improving Yourself — Danielle LaPorte

  • When you get off of your own case, you tend to ease up on everyone else around you. Which makes you way more fun to be around.
  • You will have significantly, substantially, epically less guilt — which drives so much self-improvement neuroses.
  • You will stop saying yes when you mean no.

Health and Fitness:

Human 1.0: If You Want to be Healthy, Go Wild — John Ratey & Richard Manning

Fascinating article, supported by science, on what makes us human: running, how we fuel, language and perhaps most interesting, empathy (i.e. why people take care of our “helpless young” — a defining fact of the human condition).

On Running:

Not only are we adapted to run, but running defines us. This is evidence by our ancestors via persistence hunting. (You’ll be familiar if you’ve read Chris McDougal’s wonderful book, “Born to Run“.)

On Fuel:

There is a paradox at the center of human nutrition. All the other parts of our body seem very good at what they do, are standouts in the animal kingdom, but we are truly lousy at digestion, which is limited and puny. Our primary method for overcoming our inability to digest is to outsource the job. Humans are hunters and meat eaters. There is no such thing as a vegetarian society in all the record. Eating meat is a fundamental and defining fact of the human condition, at the gut level and bred in the bones.

On Empathy:

Humans have many more of them (spindle neurons) in very specific areas of the brain, and they are involved in complex reactions like trust, empathy, and guilt, but also in practical matters like planning. This consciousness of another’s point of view is exactly what enables the more elegant and refined form of lying so valuable to all humans: storytelling. It allows abstraction and conceptualization, which in turn allows language. It allows a concept of the future, which in turn opens the door to planning and scheming and is why planning is related to empathy.

Essentially, this excerpt from “Go Wild” explains why all other primate relatives are extinct and Homo sapiens are not.

What Will it Take to Run a Two Hour Marathon? — Alex Hutchinson

I run about 12–15 miles a week as part of my fitness regimen, but I have never run a marathon. Still, this article kept me completely enthralled, especially with the digital presentation and infographics.

Nine factors will determine the likelihood of a sub-two-hour race — and they’ll all have to align to create the perfect race for the perfect runner.

90% of Obese People Don’t Think They Have a Weight Problem — Lizzie Parry

In one of the first studies of its kind to examine perceptions of obesity, fewer than 10 per cent of those who are clinically obese accept they have a serious weight problem. Experts fear as bigger sizes become the new ‘normal’, people are less likely to recognize the health problems linked to their weight.

Obesity leads to an increased risk of: heart disease, many types of cancer, strokes, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, decreased worker productivity and increased absenteeism, infertility in women and many more. Not to mention the healthcare costs associated with treating all of these ailments. Approximately $210 BILLION.

Home Ownership:

Is it Better to Rent or Buy? (Calculator) — Mike Bostock, Shan Carter and Archie Tse

The choice between buying a home and renting one is among the biggest financial decisions that many adults make. But the costs of buying are more varied and complicated than for renting, making it hard to tell which is a better deal. To help you answer this question, our calculator takes the most important costs associated with buying a house and computes the equivalent monthly rent.

And here’s an interesting read on why a mortgage is (typically) a terrible investment.

Two of the smartest people I know, Ramit Sethi and James Altucher, echo these sentiments:

I’m not saying don’t ever buy a home. (I’m probably will in the next calendar year). I’m just encouraging you to know what you’re getting into rather than trying to live the American dream by buying more house than you need without understanding the implications. Also, when you share it on Facebook… You’re a mortgage owner. You don’t own your home yet. The bank does. Probably for 30 years or so.

Americans Think Owning a Home is Better for them than it is — Catherine Rampell

People forget that housing deteriorates over time. It goes out of style. There are new innovations that people want, different layouts of rooms,” he told me. “And technological progress keeps bringing the cost of construction down.” Meaning your worn, old-fashioned home is competing with new, relatively inexpensive ones. Over the past century, housing prices have grown at a compound annual rate of just 0.3 percent once one adjusts for inflation. Yet Americans still think it’s financially savvy to dump all their savings into a single, large, highly illiquid asset.

Ideas:

The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine — James Altucher

“Every day I come up with ideas. I haven’t had a business since 2009. And it failed, as mentioned above. Since then I’ve made more money than I know what to do with because I come up with ideas for people, for companies, for me, for people who have no idea who I am, for random anonymous things.

I then get invited to share my ideas. Sometimes I get paid for them. Sometimes I give them for free. Sometimes I get more introductions to people and sometimes I get a chance to advise companies that do well and make me money. And sometimes I write books.”

Inspiration:

The 21 Greatest Graduation Speeches of the Last 50 Years — German Lopez

Graduation speeches are the last opportunity for a high school or college to educate its students. It’s unsurprising, then, that these institutions often pull in some of the world’s most powerful people to leave an equally powerful impression on their students. Here are the best of those speeches and some of the sections that resonate the most.

I haven’t watched all of these, but Steve Jobs’ and Neil Gaiman’s speeches are two of my favorites.

The Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck — Julien Smith

People are judging you right now. You don’t need everyone to like you. It’s your people that matter. Those who don’t give a fuck change the world. The rest do not. Take back your self respect. Do it today– try it right now. Wear something ugly. Do something stupid. Tell someone the truth.

Kindness:

The Eulogy Test: How to Live a Life of Small Kindnesses — Shane Parrish

You never hear, ‘George increased market share by 30 percent,’” (Arianna) Huffington said at a recent event at Soho House in New York City. What you do hear in eulogies, she says, are stories of “small kindnesses.” Interestingly that’s also how to get ahead in the workplace. In various now-famous studies in his book Give and Take, Adam Grant has shown that the most successful people in the workplace tend to be the ones who give selflessly to others without expectation of returned favors. (Of note: Givers are also at the bottom of the success ladder. Don’t let yourself get walked all over either).

In Thrive, Huffington argues that power and money have too long been life’s main yardsticks of success, and that we should measure our achievements instead by four new metrics: Wisdom, Wonder, Well-Being, and Giving. If the eulogy test is an indication, Giving is likely the most memorable of the four.

Marketing:

The Most Important Question — Seth Godin

The most important question in marketing something to someone who hasn’t purchased it before is, “Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?” Without that, you have nothing.

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves — Belle Beth Cooper

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product. Belle goes on to showcase some great examples of well-known companies who use benefits in their marketing strategy including: Evernote, Twitter, Nest, GitHub and more. The post is worth clicking on for the Mario graphic alone (i.e. are you listing the attributes of the flower or describing how awesome it is to throw fireballs?)

Content Shock: Why Content Marketing is Not a Sustainable Strategy — Mark Schaefer

This post demonstrates, in simple economic terms, why content marketing may not be a sustainable strategy for many businesses. Content shock = The emerging marketing epoch (important period of time) defined when exponentially increasingly volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.

In other words, it’s about to become *really* expensive to get people to read and interact with your content. And that amount is likely to exceed the value of creating content, forcing marketers to adjust priorities.

The Role of PR in the Coming Content Marketing Collapse — Christopher Penn

In an excellent follow up to Mark’s piece (above), Chris asks: “What will be your strategy, if this content apocalypse is headed our way?” The most important strategic change to keep in mind is that earned media will become paramount in the Content Shock if you don’t already have a large, loyal audience. The battle for attention is entirely about the audiences you have access to.

Public relations professionals will need to understand and be able to tactically execute in the realm of paid media, because no content will succeed without a blend of earned, owned, and paid strategies working together.

What Does “It’s Too Expensive,” Mean? — Seth Godin

“It’s too expensive,” almost never means, “there isn’t enough money if I think it’s worth it.” Often, it actually means, “it’s not worth it.” Even at the bottom of the pyramid, many people find a way to pay for the things they value.

The challenge isn’t in pleasing everyone, it’s in finding the few who see the value (and thus the bargain) in what’s on offer. It’s about our expectation of what people like us pay for something like that.

Networking:

Networked Literacy in the Networked Age — Ben Casnocha

Spend five minutes watching your LinkedIn feed or Twitter timeline, and it’s clear that information proliferates even faster in the Networked Age than it did in the Information Age. Consequently, the ability to extract the right information at the right time is more crucial than ever.

People who exhibit the highest levels of network literacy know that the more relevant, high-quality information you share with others, the more such information you’re likely to receive. To be truly network literate is to always be thinking of how you can add value to the networks you’re a part of, and to make it a priority to turn connections into relationships, and relationships into alliances.

Neuroscience:

How the Internet, Dopamine and your Brain are Working Together to Screw Your Potential — Anthony Richardson

So how do we get out of these bad cognitive habits (i.e. chasing our body’s dopamine reward by just replicating the work of others)? The simple answer is be creative more often and research less. If you’re capable of using your brain to arrive to a creative thought, do it and show it to everyone else. A life of learning is great but practicing to the point of mastery is better.

Approach life with research like a mental set of training wheels. Learn from someone else how to do something just long enough to get you moving and then practice until you master it. Avoid the temptation to look for the answer from a quick source or someone else no matter how quickly rewarding it is.

Things You Cannot Unsee and What that Says About Your Brain — Alexis Madrigal

The line between perception and cognition is fuzzy. It is not that the real world doesn’t exist, but more that we experience it as a hybrid reality: our top-down categories and imagination of the world and our bottom-up sensory experience of the world blend seamlessly into the experience of walking outside into the sunshine or seeing a bird on a wire or eating an oyster or seeing Jesus in a tortilla.

Optimism:

The Powerless of Positive Thinking — Adam Alter

Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.

Personal Finance:

The Secrets of Personal Finance — James Altucher

James, like Ramit, focuses on the big wins correctly noting that:

  • Buying a cheap beer versus buying an expensive beer will not help you get rich. (Seriously. Craft beer. So Good. Here’s some of my favorites.)
  • People save 10 cents on a coffee and then….overpay $100,000 for a house and then do reconstruction on it.
  • Or they save 10 cents on a book and then…buy a college degree that they never use for $200,000.

Focus on earning more money, not pinching pennies — especially on things that make you happy. Be *very* careful with the big expenses in life. Run the numbers and make buying a house or going into debt for a degree are worth it. Invest in yourself. No matter what your profession, learn how to sell, negotiate and network. I highly recommend you read James’ post, particularly every single bullet in Step F.

Planning:

Stop Making Plans: How Goal-Setting Limits Rather Than Begets Our Happiness and Success — Maria Popova

While embracing uncertainty may be the cure for our epidemic of anxiety and the root of the creative spirit, it remains an art enormously challenging and uneasy-making for the human psyche. Instead, we try to abate the discomfort of uncertainty by making long-term plans and obsessing over everyday to-do lists.

The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur … isn’t “vision” or “passion” or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with. Rather, it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional approach to learning: an improvisational flexibility not merely about which route to take towards some predetermined objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal.

Procrastination:

Evidence-Based Primer on Procrastination: 10 Concrete Techniques to Beat Procrastination — Suren Samarchyan

Insanely thorough answer to “how to beat procrastination?” — including the top 10 evidence-based techniques for you to increase your drive and beat procrastination based on 200+ research articles.

When You’re Feeling Self Doubt & a Lack of Motivation — Leo Babauta

  1. Stop Being So Self-Centered — Instead of worrying so much about myself, I thought about other people I might help. Thinking about others instead of myself helps solve self-doubt and self-pity.
  2. Loosen Your Identity — We all have this picture of ourselves, this idea of what kind of person we are. When this idea gets threatened, we can react very defensively.
  3. Remember This Day Counts — I only have so many days left on earth. I don’t know how many that is, but I do know it’s a very limited number. I know that each one of those limited days is a gift, a blessing, a miracle.
  4. Create Movement — It can be hard to get moving when you are stuck. Take the smallest possible step. Just opening up a document, just starting a list, just getting out a notebook.

Three Procrastination Killers — Rohan Rajiv

  1. Clarity — Why do we need to do this? How must it be done? What must be done next?
  2. Momentum — Another approach is to start by checking small items of a task list so we build the “getting-things-done” momentum.
  3. Willpower — If all else fails, willpower is the ultimate weapon. The good news is that it works like a muscle — learn more at our learnographic here.

How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To — Heidi Grant Halvorson

Can you imagine how much less guilt, stress, and frustration you would feel if you could somehow just make yourself do the things you don’t want to do when you are actually supposed to do them? Not to mention how much happier and more effective you would be? Heidi highlights 3 reasons you’re procrastinating in the first place and specific strategies — thinking about the consequences of failure, ignoring your feelings, and engaging in detailed planning — to make yourself work.

Productivity:

6 Things the Most Productive People Do Every Day — Eric Barker

  1. Manage Your Mood
  2. Don’t Check Email in The Morning
  3. Before You Try To Do It Faster, Ask Whether It Should Be Done At All
  4. Focus Is Nothing More Than Eliminating Distractions
  5. Have A Personal System
  6. Define Your Goals The Night Before

The Open Office Trap — Maria Konnikova

The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell. They (open offices) were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. An open environment may even have a negative impact on our health. Finally, noise has been repeatedly tied to reduced cognitive performance.Listening to music to block out the office intrusion doesn’t help: it impairs our mental acuity.

The Heretics Guide to Getting More Done — Dr. David Brendel

Are you working endlessly but not accomplishing all you want? Mystified that continuous attention to work is not resulting in satisfactory progress toward your goals? So focused on work that you’re not thinking about or doing much else? If so, you may not be giving your brain the benefit of adequate downtime.

Workers can achieve peak performance by actually doing less work at key times — and by engaging in downtime activities that cutting-edge research shows to be effective in boosting productivity, replenishing attention, solidifying memories, and encouraging creativity.

The article includes five tips for getting downtime so that you can perform better than ever.

4 Ways to Make Your Brain Work Better — Maria Konnikova

Maria, the author of last month’s “The Open Office Trap,” explores how we thwart our own happiness, and even sometimes harm our brains, in our quest for a simply unattainable level of productivity. Four ways that we can change our lifestyles so as to also improve our brains and how they function include:

  • Sleep more
  • Stop being an Internet junkie
  • Stop multitasking
  • Practice mindfulness

7 Things You Need to Stop Doing to be More Productive, Backed by Science — CamMi Pham

“Sometimes, working less can actually produce better results. Time is a limited commodity. There’s a notable distinction between being busy and being productive. Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. Being productive is less about time management and more on managing your energy. It is the business of life. We need to learn how to spend the least amount of energy to get the most benefits.”

Speaking of: The “average American” is actually working ‘one month’ more a a year than they were in 1976.

10 Ways to Get Smarter, Be More Productive and Do Everything With Zero Effort — Shane Parrish

Were you tempted to click that headline? Now a days we want everything for nothing. It doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts. And next week, the same crap will be out with a different title. You’ll click again and agree with the common sense advice again. This isn’t really knowledge. It’s an illusion. And it’s mostly a waste of time.

Relationships:

Masters of Love — Emily Esfahani Smith

Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year. So what separates the masters from the disasters? How did successful couples create that culture of love and intimacy?

Psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up — with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy — couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart.

In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.

If you’re interested in improving your relationship with your spouse or significant other, I highly recommend learning more about “bids” in which partners demand emotional connection and involvement from each other — and more importantly the three basic ways to respond to these “bids.” These bidding interactions have profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time; whereas, the couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

Regrets:

Why We Have Regret — Leo Babauta

It’s fun (and easy) to say “I have no regrets,” and maybe in the scheme of things that’s true looking back at the big things, but the truth is we encounter little regrets almost every single day.

We have regrets because we keep comparing the unchangeable choice we actually made, to an ideal or a fantasy in our heads. We think about our choices and have regrets because they challenge our idea of who we are and conflicts with our self identity (i.e. “I am someone who stands up for myself” or “I am someone who sticks it out no matter what.”)

Regrets are a part of life, whether we want them or not, whether we’re aware we’re having them or not. But by looking into the cause of regrets, and embracing the wide range of reality, we can learn to be satisfied with our choices, happier with the past and happier in the present moment.

The Things You Will Always Regret If You Don’t Do Them — Charlotte Green

There is something about the courage of others that makes us extremely nervous. It calls into question every safe decision we’ve ever made, and forces us to ask what we’re really protecting when we do things in the most comfortable way possible. The biggest regrets we have — at least from my perspective — are the decisions we don’t make because we think we’re guaranteed something. And then we are confronted with the reality that none of this was ever guaranteed, and we only gave up on the thrill of our dreams because we were too afraid to see what else was possible.

Resilience:

How to Be Resilient: 8 Steps to Success When Life Gets Hard — Eric Barker

I see a lot of stuff about resilience, persistence and grit. What I don’t see is a lot of legitimate info on how to actually increase those qualities. How can we be more resilient? How can we shrug off huge challenges in life, persist and — in the end — succeed?

In the blog post above, Eric explores life and death situations and what winners do that losers don’t. It turns out surviving the most dangerous situations has some good lessons we can use to learn how to be resilient in everyday life. Check out the post to learn how quitting and being delusion are two ways to become more resilient.

Be Agile & Anti-Fragile: How to Find Strength from Chaos — Jenny Blake

The skill you need for the 21st century is NOT to learn how to set bigger or better goals.It is to dive head-first into uncertainty, risk, and insecurity and understand that it is from these experiences that you become Antifragile. It is from these experiences — the ones that rip you apart so that you can rebuild even stronger — that you collect a bank of insights to share with the world.

On Making It Through Tough Journeys — Leo Babauta

Difficult times can be a test of our souls, and as such can be some of the most instructive times possible. It’s easy to be happy and motivated when things are going well. But what happens when they fall apart, or unexpected troubles come your way, or things go exactly as you don’t want them to? What do you do then?

You’ll go through difficult times, and suffer, and learn. And come out stronger and better at the other side. The link above features four things that Leo has been learning about that help him through tough times.

Social Media:

Confessions of a Social Media Someone — Amber Naslund

I had to learn — really learn — that the people tearing me down were the petty people, the insignificant jerks who spent their time and energy throwing rocks at other people instead of building something useful themselves. They didn’t take massive risks and create things to be put out there and criticized, they simply took on the mantle as the “saviors of the internet”, tearing down anyone who remotely got in their way. They don’t determine my success or failure. Only I do.

Ford’s Social Media Star, Scott Monty, Talks About Leaving — and Not Looking Back — Christopher Heine

“It saddens me how social has been co-opted by marketing to become just another mass advertising/marketing channel. I think the promise of social is about relationship development, and I have always said that. While advertising can get you the attention by interrupting people, it’s more important to build relationships with customers and other people you want to reach. And I think communications and marketing and customer service have to band together around social.”

When Scott Monty first brought Social to Ford 6 years ago he changed the game. I still remember how excited I got with Scott first commented on this blog 5 years ago.Thank you, Scott! For all you’ve done to advance our field and always remembering that social is about the relationships we build.

Top Performers:

A Winner Does… — Ryan Holiday

Ryan is a sharp, successful guy who’s accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time; therefore, when he outlines things a winner does, I pay attention. These were 3 of my favorites:

How to Win a Nobel Prize: Notes from Richard Hamming’s Talk on Doing Great Research — Cal Newport

“If you’re reading a little more & thinking a little longer than your colleagues, over time the gap between you & them grows.”
  1. Luck is not as important as people think.
  2. Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest
  3. Become comfortable with ambiguity

Click the link above to read Cal’s full summary and additional takeaways from Hamming’s address, a talk that is famous among applied mathematicians and computer scientists because of its relentlessly honest and detailed dissection of how stars in these fields become stars.

Here’s the Schedule Very Successful People Follow Every Day — Eric Barker

  1. Have a Morning Ritual
  2. Important Work First Thing — With No Distractions
  3. Regroup When You Slow Down
  4. Meetings, Calls And Little Things In The Afternoon
  5. A Relaxing Evening

The Science of Improving Your Performance at Almost Anything — Shane Parrish

“Improving our performance is something we all seek to do. Given that we spend a lot of time doing things that we never get better at, I thought I’d share my ‘developing world class performance’ file with you.”

Shane is definitely a top performer. His blog, Farnum Street, is a must read and probably my favorite blog to check out these days. In addition to the one’s already included on this list, here are some other fantastic posts he’s written and shared this year:

Real Talk for Dartmouth Grads: Dreams Are for Losers — Shonda Rhimes

I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful, engaged people? Are busy doing. Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral. Pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.

And also this, which I’m all too familiar with: Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.

The End of the Day Philosophy — Leo Babatua

I really like this approach from Leo: I’ve been making my small decisions throughout the day, recently, with a simple question: How will I feel about this when today is over? If I have a choice right now between reading social media and news articles, or writing, I know what the answer will be: at the end of the day, I’d be much happier if I’d chosen writing.

I’ve learned these answers through repeated observation, but you can learn your own answers by asking the question before you do anything, making a hypothesis (“I won’t regret this later”) and then seeing if you’re right by reviewing the results at the end of each day.

9 Timeless Business Virtues From a Self-Made Millionaire — Ryan Holiday

Graham’s brand of ambitious self-reliance was unforgiving. Today, our world — whether you’re an entrepreneur or teacher — is just as unforgiving. Do yourself a favor and check out his virtues on decisiveness, rules, education, humility, dedication and more.

Ryan’s one of the more thoughtful young people graciously sharing his insights all over the web. If you’re a reader (and you should be), I can’t recommend his reading list enough.

How Successful People Make The Most of Their Weekends — Carolyn Cutrone

Over the course of our lives, we only get a few thousand weekends. The most successful people know better than to squander them by laying around or scrubbing the floors. Cutrone outlines how you can take control of your weekends by planning ahead, being selective with your time, and finally indulging what you love most. If you live to be 80, you’ll have 4,160 weekends in total, so don’t let any go to waste.

Better All the Time — James Surowiecki

Interesting read on how the “performance revolution” came to athletics — and beyond to other endeavors such as manufacturing, chess and classical musicians. The biggest change in performance over the past few decades — it’s not so much that the best of the best are so much better as that so many people are so extraordinarily good.

The ethos that underlies all these performance revolutions is captured by the Japanese term kaizen, or continuous improvement. This idea is more applicable to some fields of endeavor than to others — it’s easier to talk about improved performance in sports or manufacturing, where people’s performance is quantifiable, than in writing or the fine arts — but the notion of continuous improvement has wide relevance, leading to dramatic advances in fields as disparate as airline safety and small-unit performance in the military. Which raises a question: what are the fields that could have become significantly better over the past forty years and haven’t?

In one area above all, the failure to improve is especially egregious: education. There is one crucial factor in how kids fare that schools do control; namely, the quality of their teachers. Surowiecki points the finger at the lack of quality training they receive. While I whole heartily agree, I also think that the American education system is a model that beats the creativity out of kids. That teaches them that test scores, fitting in, fear of failing, and mediocre obedience is the key to success. (More thoughts here).

Work:

Why You Hate Work — Tony Schwartz & Christine Porath

The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

The solution? Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

Deep Work:

How We Sent a Man to the Moon Without E-mail and Why it Matters Today — Cal Newport

The Apollo program was massive in size and complexity. It was executed at an incredible pace (only eight years spanned Kennedy’s pledge to Armstrong’s steps) and it yielded innovations at a staggering rate. And it was all done without e-mail.

Hearing this story induces a key insight: the way we currently use e-mail technology — in which our day is interrupt-driven and quick responses are expected — is not a necessary condition to successfully manage teams and organizations tackling hard problems.

[See also: Most people have 2–2.5 hours of peak productivity per day. Instead of guarding this time for their most important tasks, most people use this time for e-mail. “Most people simply spend too much time in their inboxes to accomplish anything of substance,” writes Eric Baker. Read more on how to be more efficient at the office. And here’s 15+ articles citing the importance of a quiet work environment.]

Exercise and Work:

Regular Exercise is Part of Your Job — Ron Friedman

Studies indicate that our mental firepower is directly linked to our physical regimen. And nowhere are the implications more relevant than to our performance at work. By incorporating regular exercise into your routine you can expect: improved concentration, sharper memory, faster learning, prolonged mental stamina, enhanced creativity, and lower stress.

On days when employees visited the gym (during work hours), their experience at work changed. They reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with their colleagues. Just as important: They went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.

The Future of Work:

On Undecidable Tasks — Cal Newport

The ability to consistently complete undecidable tasks is increasingly valuable in our information economy. Because these solutions cannot be systematized, this skill cannot be automated or easily outsourced. Similarly, if you can complete undecidable tasks, you cannot be replaced by a 22-year old willing to work twice your hours at half your pay — as it’s not simply raw effort that matters.

Undecidable tasks are often really hard to complete. Because there’s no easy way to divide them into concrete actions you have to instead throw brain power, experience, creative intuition, and persistence at them, and then hope a solution emerges from some indescribable cognitive alchemy. And what type of effort supports such difficult cognitive challenges? Deep work.

Job Hopping:

Quit Your Job — Derek Thompson

Jumping between jobs in your 20s, which strikes many people as wayward and noncommittal, improves the chance that you’ll find more satisfying — and higher paying — work in your 30s and 40s.

“People who switch jobs more frequently early in their careers tend to have higher wages and incomes in their prime-working years,” said Siu, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics. “Job-hopping is actually correlated with higher incomes, because people have found better matches — their true calling.”

And here’s one of my favorites, James Altucher, with 10 Reasons Why You Have to Quit Your Job This Year.

The Global Talent Crunch — Michal Lev-Ram

Setton’s career trajectory is a perfect example of several new phenomena in today’s workforce. Her flexibility to switch between jobs and industries might make some employers see her as disloyal (a common complaint about millennials), but that chameleon-like ability to change every few years also means she can adopt new skills as her employers adapt to a rapidly changing, increasingly technology-driven and global corporate world.

At LinkedIn, one of Setton’s former employers, the acknowledgment that employees won’t stay with the company forever starts before they even join and isn’t perceived as a negative. Kevin Scott, senior vice president of engineering at the company, based in Mountain View, asks an important question of every candidate he interviews: “What job do you want after you work at LinkedIn?”

“Part of the reason Silicon Valley companies are so successful is that they’re a recombination of people who have worked in multiple companies,” says Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and co-author of a new book called The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

“Historically, most companies don’t want to ask that question,” says Ben Casnocha, an entrepreneur who co-authored the book with Hoffman. “But today your best people are not going to be lifers.”

Why Designers Leave — Julie Zhuo

Every person who works in a creative field has an aspiration for her work, a yearning for that ideal plane which is the culmination of her taste. When an environment fails, over and over and over again, to provide her with a means to follow her internal compass, then she will leave. If you are in a position to influence that kind of environment, take heed. Lay the foundations for a space that nurtures, that yields the kind of work the best creative people can be proud of.

Employees Who Stay in Companies Longer Than 2 Years Get Paid 50% Less — Cameron Keng

It amazes me how poorly companies incentivize their top performers to stay put — especially considering the astronomical costs of turnover. In 2014, the average employee is going to earn less than a 1% raise and there is very little that we can do to change management’s decision. But, we can decide whether we want to stay at a company that is going to give us a raise for less than 1%. The average raise an employee receives for leaving is between a 10% to 20% increase in salary.

Pay:

7 Things Employees Never Tell Their Bosses About Their Pay, But Should — Jeff Haden

Discussing pay is awkward — at least when you’re talking about your pay with your boss.

That’s why most employees will never say the following:

  • We think about our pay all the time; it is the most important number in their family’s budget.
  • Great employees are worth a lot more than their pay. You get what you pay for, so pay whatever you can to get and keep the best you can.
  • Once pay is reasonable and fair, other things become important: recognition, respect, challenging work, opportunities for development…

Click the link above to read the full list.

Projects:

The Overthinker’s Guide to Launching Your Next Project Without Wanting to Kill Yourself — Ryan Holiday

It’s impossible to tell whether a launch will be a success or not. And even if everything goes exactly as you hope — the results could still be disappointing. So no wonder it can feel like you’re going to crack up, fall apart and die. Staying sane is hard, but not impossible. This post provides a great list of things to keep in mind as you approach a launch.

Thirty Years of Projects — Seth Godin

Somehow, I always thought of my career as a series of projects, not jobs. Projects… things to be invented, funded and shipped. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and last, other times, they flare and fade. But projects, one after the other, mark my career.

The stages of a project — being stuck, seeing an outcome, sharing a vision, being rejected, finding a home, building it, editing it, launching it, planting the seeds for growth — I’m thrilled it’s a cycle I’ve been able to repeat hundreds of times over the years.

Work and Well-Being:

How to Achieve Work/Life Balance — Eric Barker

Thinking that if you spend enough time you will “get everything done” is an illusion. You will never be “done.” You have to draw a line. You must decide what is important and what isn’t.

What’s most important right now? It’s all too easy to put off important family time for urgent work deadlines.If you’ve been neglecting your loved ones recently, work might be urgent but not important while family is both important and urgent.

ReWork: Rethinking Work and Well-Being — Arianna Huffington

We are still paying a heavy price for conducting business as usual. According to a study by the Milken Institute, the cost, in terms of lost productivity, to the U.S. economy due to chronic, stress-related conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes comes in at a staggering $1.1 trillion. On the flip side, a study out of Harvard found that for every dollar a company spends on wellness programs, it makes back $3.27 in the form of lower health costs, and the equivalent of $2.73 in reduced absenteeism.

Click the link above to read about some of the ways that companies around the world (SAS, Etsy, Boston Consulting Group, etc.) are investing in their futures by investing in their employees.

Healthy Benefits for the Long Run — David Heinermeier Hansson

Employee benefits for technology companies are often focused around making people stay at office longer. Instead we (37 Signals) focus on benefits that get people out of the office as much as possible. One of the absolute keys to going the distance, and not burning out in the process, is going at a sustainable pace.

These benefits (listed in the post) form the core of our long-term outlook: Frequent time to refresh, constant encouragement to eat and live healthy. Pair that with the flexibility that remote working offers, and I think we have a pretty good package. We ultimately want 37signals to have the potential of being the last job our people ever need.

When you think about what it’ll take to keep someone happy and fulfilled for 10, 20, 30 years into the future, you adopt a very different vantage point from our industry norm.

Schedule a 15 Minute Break Before You Burn Out — Ron Friedman

Studies show we have a limited capacity for concentrating over extended time periods, and though we may not be practiced at recognizing the symptoms of fatigue, they unavoidably derail our work. While tiring over the course of the workday can’t be prevented, it can be mitigated. Studies show that sporadic breaks replenish our energy, improve self-control and decision-making, and fuel productivity.

Depending on how we spend them, breaks can also heighten our attention and make us more creative. Remind yourself that the human brain was not built for extended focus. Through much of our evolutionary history, heightened concentration was needed in short bursts, not daylong marathons

Why I Am Leaving the Best Job I Ever Had — Max Schireson

I love the bravery and self awareness required to make this decision. Especially given how long hours, isolation, and stress are contributing to tech’s depression problem.

I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have an meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so. At first, it seemed like a hard choice, but the more I have sat with the choice the more certain I am that it is the right choice.

Don’t Pursue Promotions: Contrarian Career Advice from Ancient Sources of Wisdom — Dale Davidson

Really insightful guest post on Cal Newport’s wonderful Study Hacks blog. Eager to optimize his life, and frustrated with much of the advice he encountered online and in contemporary books and magazines, Dale decided to go back to basics and start drawing lessons from humankind’s most ancient and enduring philosophies and religions.

In the guest post, Dale briefly summarizes the structure of his project and then identifies four contrarian tips, relevant to career issues, that he’s learned so far. The first highlights why you shouldn’t pursue promotions. Read the article to check out the rest of his insights and see if you with him.

Miscellaneous Interesting:

21 Charts That Explain How the US in Changing — Danielle Kurtzleben

The US is a big, complicated place that has undergone some big changes over its 238 years, and even in the last few decades. Here are 21 charts that explain what life is like today in the US — who we are, where we live, how we work, how we have fun, and how we relate to each other.

34 of the Most Common Misconceptions Visualized

Really cool infographic from David McCandless and his crack team at Information is Beautiful.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Caffeine does not dehydrate you. The diuretic effect of caffeine is offset by the amount of water in the drink.
  • Napoleon was not short. At 5’7″ he was actually above average height for a Frenchman of that time.
  • Dropped pennies from high places won’t kill you. Terminal velocity of a penny is 30–50 mph, which isn’t fast enough. It would hurt, though.

The Motley Rules Employee Handbook: The Fool Rules

Check out this amazing and interactive web-based employee handbook. What a fantastic way to leverage storytelling to scale a company’s culture. This is especially true when the company is Glassdoor’s #1 Medium-Sized Company to Work For. It’s no surprise that this handbook is so good it’s become a successful recruiting tool as well.

[Visualization]: How Americans Die — Matthew C. Klein

Mortality rate is down 17%, mostly attributed to improved survival prospects for men. Suicide has recently become the number one cause of violent death. People are living a lot longer, but the downside is that it dramatically increases the odds of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s — accounting for about a 40% increase in Medicare spending since 2011. Pretty fascinating data and an excellent format for capturing it.

Miscellaneous Longreads:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux — Jeremy Collins

I don’t know how to describe this longform piece from Sports Nation other than to say it’s one of the best things I’ve read all year.

Jason Kottke captures the piece better than I can:

This not really a story about Greg Maddux. Or sports. It’s about Jeremy Collins’ friend Jason Kenney, demons, self-control, determination, friendship, competitiveness, and loss.

Last Call: The End of Printed Newspaper — Clay Shirky

The future of print remains what? Try to imagine a world where the future of print is unclear: Maybe 25 year olds will start demanding news from yesterday, delivered in an unshareable format once a day. Perhaps advertisers will decide “Click to buy” is for wimps. Mobile phones: could be a fad. After all, anything could happen with print. Hard to tell, really.

The other objection is that advice to get skilled at data, social media, and teamwork is pitifully obvious. This is also true. All of this advice is obvious, and has been obvious for some time now. What’s astonishing — and disheartening — is how long it’s taken to act on that obvious advice, in part because there are still people committed to the fiction that the future of print is unclear.

This Old Man: Life in the Nineties — Roger Angell

Recommended by Fred Wilson, the 93-year old Angell writes about life as as a nonagenarian and how the world treats you when you’re old. Maybe most of you don’t need to think about things like this right now, but I appreciated the way he tackled stereotypes about aged people and challenged the notion of aging as a decline. In short, listen to your grandparents people. Really listen. They’ve accumulated more wisdom than the vast majority of your peers.

What The Hell Was Megadeth, Arizona? — Robin Sloan Bechtel

This is the story of how an unlikely threesome — a girl, a heavy metal band and their fans — pioneered the web at its infancy, bucked the status quo and proved that the Internet wasn’t a fad. As a marketing professional and early believer in the power of the Internet, I found this article incredibly interesting, but I don’t think you have to be either to appreciate the innovation that happened as a result of Megadeth, Arizona.

Kobe Bryant’s Twilight Saga — Chris Ballard

Here was the truth behind the Mamba Mythology. The message behind the message. That in reality it’s never easy. That sometimes you gotta challenge some punk teenager to a double-or-nothing game. And then you have to elbow him in the post, and cheat on the out-of-bounds play, and impose your will on the poor sap, because when it comes down to it, sometimes that’s what it takes to win, son.

Adderall Has a Tech Industry Problem — Cori Johnson

Workaholism, the hero hacker narrative, and fast turnarounds should be scrutinized instead of celebrated.

The temptation to use Adderall as performance enhancement in tech is understandable. The monetary and cultural incentives are compelling. But I bristle at the practice of faking the superficial symptoms, of the handwaving directed at a biological abnormality most people barely understand, in order to access the drugs. What’s more distressing is that, due to performance expectations so high they verge on parody, many people will mistakenly believe they have ADHD, describing their falling short of these expectations as symptomatic of a disorder instead of environmental stress.

Why I Bought A House In Detroit For $500 — Drew Philp

After college, as my friends left Michigan for better opportunities, I was determined to help fix this broken, chaotic city by building my own home in the middle of it. I was 23 years old.

How an Applied Mathematician Re-Engineered His Profile & Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love — Kevin Poulsen

“I think that what I did is just a slightly more algorithmic, large-scale, and machine-learning-based version of what everyone does on the site,” McKinlay says. Everyone tries to create an optimal profile — he just had the data to engineer one.


Ryan Stephens wants people to stop faking their life for Facebook friends and to put down their cell phone long enough to help others, to think, to do important work and to savor life. Follow him on Twitter @ryanstephens.

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