Codex Vitae

My “Book of Life” Covering Beliefs, Strategies, Life Hacks and Bits of Wisdom. Version 1.4, updated December 2019.

Coach Tony
Jul 17, 2016 · 8 min read

This Codex Vitae idea comes from my friend Buster Benson, who got the idea from Robin Sloan’s book Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel.

“And this is the other treasure. Following in the Founder’s footsteps, every member of this fellowship produces his or her own codex vitae, or book of life. It is the task of the unbound. Fedorov, for example, is one of these. When he is finished, he will have poured everything he has learned, all his knowledge, into a book like these.”

This idea appeals to me — a book of wisdom that is literally your life’s work.

Following in Buster’s footsteps, having a public version of your Codex makes it easy to adopt other people’s bits of wisdom. I literally cut and paste Buster’s Codex as a starting point for mine and then deleted all the things he’s wrong about.

How to Use This Codex

If you are Tony Stubblebine:

  • Do a yearly review in December of the entire document. Expect values, beliefs and hacks to change — don’t hold on to them too rigidly.
  • Develop a habit of using the Codex as a repository for beliefs that you develop throughout the year.

If you are not Tony Stubblebine:

  • Read this with the knowledge that you are different than Tony — the way he lives his life is not the way you should live yours (this should be obvious, but stating it here in case it isn’t).
  • Look for a few bits of wisdom that you could apply to your own life. Tony recommends no more than five bits.
  • Consider cut and pasting this into your own Codex Vitae. Then delete most of the content. Feel free to add or remove sections as well.

Chapter One: Philosophy

Beliefs, principles and political values that guide everything else in the codex.

1: Meta-beliefs about Life Principles

  • The only way to know if a principle is right for you is to live with it. And even then your situation will change. Therefore, the beliefs in this document represent strong opinions loosely held. They will change.
  • Articulated principles allow for a more efficient life. They reduce the need for self-negotiating or flip-flopping.
  • Articulated principles lead to mastery as you learn skills that build upon a consistent foundation.

2: Personal Principles

  • Positive Impact. Actions can and should be measured, or at least estimated. It is possible to have a positive impact on the world.
  • Action beats inaction. When in doubt, have a bias for action.
  • Pragmatism. Things that work are more important than things people claim will work. Let results offer more guidance than the cultural status quo.
  • Freedom of action. Happiness comes from a sense of autonomy (different than individualism) where you can have an idea and then bring that idea to fruition. That is true in fitness (“I will run to that mountain on the horizon”) and business (“Wouldn’t it be cool if this app existed?”).
  • Compounding Interest. Big wins compound over time. These include relationships, learning and business.

3: Politics and Society

Chapter Two: Personal Systems

Systems and tactics for getting the most out of your life.

1: Productivity

  • Focus on single tasking.
  • When in doubt, manufacture momentum. Write a shitty first draft or
  • Use interstitial journaling to create scope and mindfulness with the goal of being present with my work.
  • Organize days around maker time and try to eliminate distraction.
  • I am happiest when I’m making or learning.

2: Emotional Health

  • Meditate in order to improve awareness of subconscious thoughts and feelings.
  • Always try to avoid social comparison — it is a common root of unhappiness and poor decisions.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Every day share two good things with Sarah. Listen to her two good things. (Started in 2005)
  • Every year gather 52 experiences to be grateful for. The lists in Chapter Seven.
  • Nature provides a spiritual reset, more so the further you get from civilization.

3. Health

  • Follow the intention of the workout. Destroying your body just because the endorphins kicked in and you got bored is not good. Focus on getting the intended training effect, not on setting a personal best.
  • Sugar is evil. Avoid it, even on your birthday.

3: Cat Mode

If I’m going to leisure, then leisure in the most ambitiously lazy way possible. That’s Cat Mode.

  • Video games should be binged. Just play and finish the game, life be damned.
  • Late September is the perfect time for an off-season beach vacation.

Chapter Three: Work

Lessons for business, work, and building things.

1: Career

  • It’s better to optimize for interesting than for money.
  • Secondarily, optimize for positive impact.

2: Business

  • Optimize for business principles that are right for me, not for some theoretical maximalist entrepreneur.
  • The happy introvert focuses on well researched, tested and articulated feedback. Quantity of feedback is not important. Keeping to 3 or fewer meetings per week can be healthy.
  • If you can’t take a vacation, then you’ve build a job, not a business. The day-to-day application of this is to design businesses and products where you already know who, or at least what kind of person, can run them.
  • Marketing is the moral obligation of a product person — people need to hear about wonderful things.
  • Competition doesn’t matter.

3: Management

  • 10x performers come from 10x situations.
  • Share principles rather than decisions. You don’t have to be the decider for everything.
  • Single task. In particular, don’t try to work on two new projects in parallel. Do one, finish it, then do the other.

4: Writing

  • For the first draft focus on getting your thoughts out of your head. Just write and don’t let your fingers stop moving. The result should be a shitty first draft.
  • The second draft is to articulation. Start from scratch and rewrite the best parts of the first draft in a form that people could understand.
  • The third draft is for positioning. Consider what purpose or impact you want. This is the draft where you delete half of what you’ve already written.
  • The fourth draft is for polish. Specifically look for the phrase “I think” and for ambiguous pronouns.
  • The fifth draft is just rewriting the title until you think people will read it.

5: Coaching Philosophy

  • There are no shortcuts. Success requires a holistic, multi-part strategy as explained in my Open Gates Model.
  • Flow time is more important than life time.
  • Productivity and money are tactics. Love, purpose, impact are ends.
  • Self-improvement is inherently political.

Chapter Four: People

Beliefs and practices for other people.

1: Strangers

  • People are inherently good. Bad actions come from bad situations.
  • People around the world are very similar while being very different.
  • Get a passport. Traveling the world is the best way to expand your mind.

2: Friends

  • Friendship springs from two sources, shared experience and natural chemistry. Watch for the chemistry and bet on it, because chemistry is forever.
  • Know who your close friends are and invest in them.
  • Friends with children have not abandoned you. They are actually prisoners in their own home and you can drop in on them any time.

3: Family

  • Encourage a large, dedicated family gathering with a consistent date on the calendar. Otherwise you’ll never see your extended family.
  • Don’t triangulate a discussion that two people should rightfully be having with each other.
  • Family is forever, which makes investing in now so worthwhile. Quite often, you’ll have decades to reap the rewards.

4: Partnership

  • Keep Sarah.
  • Staying together is a choice that requires two people to opt in.
  • Always be working on communication patterns.
  • Pick a partner with life momentum so that you can draft them.
  • Practice gratitude by telling each other two good things every night.
  • The trick to buying flowers is to pick one that you like and then ask the florist to create a bouquet around that one.

Chapter Five: Nitty Gritty

Important habits to take care of the details of life.

1: Clothes

  • Never think about socks. This brand is cheap, consistently available, comes in XL, and works in day-to-day and exercise.
  • Have a uniform: tennis shoes, jeans, button up shirt.
  • Have a laundry plan: local wash-and-fold that picks up and delivers.
  • Style theory: dress conservative with one piece of flair: bow tie, watch, shoes.
  • Only buy clothes that you love. That means they fit, look good and you have a plan for wearing. No need for wishful thinking when shopping.
  • Only buy shoes at places that display the entire inventory, i.e. Nordstrom Rack. This is a hack for people with big feet.

Chapter Six: Influences and Recommendations

Best-of and other greats that you would return to and recommend to other people.


  • Best Sushi: Sasabune in Honolulu.
  • Best Pizza: Di Fara’s in Midwood, Brooklyn.
  • Best Bagel: Absolute Bagel on 108th & Broadway, NYC.
  • Best Burrito: La Taqueria in San Francisco.
  • Best Whiskey distillery: High West.
  • Best Gin: Ransom Old Tom’s.


  • Once a Runner. The ultimate book about what it feels like to commit to an intense challenge.
  • Dune. The ultimate result of pushing habits and deliberate practice.
  • Snowball. About Warren Buffett and the power of compounding interest. This is generalizable beyond finance and into relationships, skill development, work.


  • Godfather
  • Godfather II
  • First Man
  • Whiplash
  • Groundhog Day


  • The Defiant Ones
  • Wild, Wild Country


  • The Wire
  • Friday Night Lights
  • The OA


  • There is always another level. ~ Evan Williams
  • It took me ten years to become an overnight success. ~ Biz Stone
  • The thing that got you here is now the thing that’s holding you back. ~ Jonathan Rosenfeld. (but a riff on Marshall Goldsmith)

Chapter Seven: A Timeline of My Life

Annual Gratitude Lists

Named Years.

2019: Eloise.
Eloise became our primary dog. Launched three daily publications, Better Humans, Better Marketing, Better Programming.

2018: VanLife.
Spent four months living and working in a van.

2017: Renovation
Sarah and I bought and renovated a NYC apartment to fit our exact way of living and working.

2016: Moved to NYC
Stopped living bi-coastally, and started being a full time New Yorker.

1996: Graduated High School
This was a peak year in many ways: All my track PRs, passed five AP exams, captain of track and cross country teams, great girlfriend.

1978: Birth.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Coach Tony

Written by

Human potential busy body. Founded @coachdotme, @bttrHumans, @bttrMarketing. Helped @medium @calm. Current work focus: Habit Coach Certification.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Coach Tony

Written by

Human potential busy body. Founded @coachdotme, @bttrHumans, @bttrMarketing. Helped @medium @calm. Current work focus: Habit Coach Certification.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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