Be obsessed

Justine Musk (Elon Musk’s wife) had this as part of her response to a question on Quora about how to be as successful as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson:

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you. […] Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great”. Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an insane work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Intrinsic rewards over extrinsic rewards.

A poverty of attention

Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon:

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

And he said this in the 1970s, long before the internet.

There is more information available now than ever before in human history. This is uncharted territory.

Is our attention strained and scattered more than ever before? Mine is. My hunger for information seems insatiable. But my ability to focus on one thing, or one person, for a meaningful amount of time has gotten more fragile.

Paying attention — deep, focused attention — has become a kind of superpower. That’s the muscle I need to be trying to strengthen.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 5.03.50 PM

Sunday evening Stoic: The good fortune of bad things

Meditations 4.49:

“So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”

Even the saddest, most emotionally painful turn of events can be considered good fortune if you use it to grow and get stronger and to live a more wholehearted life.

This is no easy lesson, and I keep forgetting to welcome the seemingly unwelcome, to embrace what I am inclined to resist.

What is, is. I can only control my response. I can take action toward a course I prefer, but much is out of my hands.

Accept what you can’t control. The world isn’t striving to make you feel good. Welcome to reality.

But why not use even “bad” fortune, especially bad fortune, to propel you a little further on your journey to becoming a more excellent version of yourself?

The hardest thing

“The hardest thing is spending the most time on the most important things.” –Matt Mullenweg

Mullenweg is the very young founder of WordPress (the home of this web site and many more). He said this in the most recent episode of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast when talking about his work and his company’s focus. (Ferriss’s podcast has been killing it recently with quality guests.)

Knowing what’s most important is one thing. Relentlessly devoting most of your time, at the expense of good things that just are not most important, is another thing. But these two things are everything.

Choose what to focus on, what will have the biggest impact over the long term, and keep checking that your time and attention are pointed there. This means eliminating good stuff, but the most important stuff likely won’t get done otherwise.

Quiet desperation


There are thoughts we think, but dare not speak. Questions without answers, or with hard answers we would rather not consider.

In the still, quiet moments right before you drift off to sleep – that’s when it’s quiet enough, when the distractions recede just long enough to hear your life calling to you.

Listen. And act. Go confidently. Or just go, even haltingly.

Live the life you have imagined.



Live immediately

Seneca, possibly the most eloquent of the Stoic sages, from the work most consider his masterpiece, On the Shortness of Life (via BrainPickings):

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

Just start.

Bill Murray: More fun, more better


Image credit replaceface via Scott Schiller

Here’s a bucket list item: randomly encounter Bill Murray and engage in spontaneous wackiness. Stories abound about Bill Murray sightings and the delightfully funny escapades that often ensue.

This Rolling Stone article highlights some great moments in random fun with Bill Murray.

On the job fun:

Murray’s St. Vincent co-star Melissa McCarthy confides, “Bill literally throws banana peels in front of people.” I assume she’s using “literally” to mean “metaphorically,” as many people do, but it turns out to be true: Once during a break in filming when the lights were getting reset, Murray tossed banana peels in the paths of passing crew members. “Not to make them slip,” McCarthy clarifies, “but for the look on their face when they’re like, ‘Is that really a banana peel in front of me?'”

Fun with kids:

Murray transforms even the most mundane interactions into opportunities for improvisational comedy. Peter Chatzky, a financial-software developer from Briarcliff Manor, New York, remembers being on vacation at a hotel in Naples, Florida, when his grade-school kids spotted Murray having a drink poolside and asked him for autographs. Murray gruffly offered to inscribe their forearms but ended up writing on a couple of napkins instead. Jake, a skinny kid, got “Maybe lose a little weight, bud,” signed “Jim Belushi.” Julia got “Looking good, princess. Call me,” signed “Rob Lowe.”

Murray has realized that it’s when he’s having fun that he is most truly himself and able to offer his best:

Like all of Murray’s best film work, it originates in his stress-free mentality. “Someone told me some secrets early on about living,” Murray tells a crowd of Canadian film fans celebrating “Bill Murray Day” that same weekend. “You can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed.” He says that’s why he got into acting: “I realized the more fun I had, the better I did.”

I need to be reminded regularly to not take life so seriously. A guy like Murray is probably constantly asking himself, “What’s funny about this situation?” or “How can I have fun with this?”

My primary work is about providing experiences, and fun has to be a big part of it. Not scripted or programmed fun, but the kind that flows naturally out of the moment. I’ve got to keep reminding myself to actively model spontaneous fun and allow my team to relax and make some moments worth talking about for the people we serve. Break the pattern. Do the unexpected. But don’t try too hard.

My best presentations stand out in my memory for the fun I had connecting with the audience. When I deviate from the plan and say or do something unexpected or get the audience to laugh, usually at me. Walking into a moment with the attitude, “Let’s have some fun here” can make everything better, whether it’s a job interview or a first date or a presentation or even a Monday morning in your cubicle in a soulless, downtrodden workplace.

And reading this about Bill Murray is a good reminder to have more fun with my family, to be silly and spontaneous more often with my wife and kids. Now that we are back in a daily school and work routine, it’s easy to sleepwalk my way through each morning and evening, checking off the tasks. But it only takes a few moments of being truly awake to add real juice to your days and make them more meaningful and more fun.

And waking up, when sleeping is the norm, seems to be Murray’s ultimate aim, for himself and for those he encounters:

Another essential Murray principle: Wear your wisdom lightly, so insights arrive as punch lines. When pressed about his interactions with the public, he admits that the encounters are, to a certain extent, “selfish.” Murray shifts his weight on the couch and explains, “My hope, always, is that it’s going to wake me up. I’m only connected for seconds, minutes a day, sometimes. And suddenly, you go, ‘Holy cow, I’ve been asleep for two days. I’ve been doing things, but I’m just out.’ If I see someone who’s out cold on their feet, I’m going to try to wake that person up. It’s what I’d want someone to do for me. Wake me the hell up and come back to the planet.”

What not to do

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 3.37.08 PM

What can I eliminate from my life to enlarge my life? I’m more aware of the clutter around me at the end of all the holiday excess than at any other time of year, and I need to use this season to propel me to hone in on the essentials.

I’ve already stopped some monthly services that were automatically billing my credit card but that just were not so useful any longer. I am going to take stock of the physical things that take up space around me but offer little value in return. If I don’t need it or love it, let it go.

What about my routines, most of which are unexamined? What is sapping energy from me or diverting me from more important priorities?

What about my work? What do I do that doesn’t add value? What can I cut that will free up resources for what’s truly essential?

What can I say “No” to that will make space for a more meaningful “Yes”?

Little by little obligations and habits and things accrue and impede or completely divert us from what we really want to do or be. Like how a controlled burn in a forest clears out the brush and makes room for new life, a regular, conscious purge of the inessential in my life can spark new possibilities or simply a return to first things.



Surprise yourself

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” –Neil Gaiman

My wife found and shared this great Neil Gaiman quotation today. Excellent thought for the beginning of a new year.

Make something beautiful to launch into the world. Be predictably awesome with your habits and routines so you can have the chance for true surprise and delight.

Sunday morning Stoic: Count each separate day as a separate life

From Seneca: Letters from a Stoic, Letter 101 – On the futility of planning ahead:

“There is indeed a limit fixed for us, just where the remorseless law of Fate has fixed it; but none of us knows how near he is to this limit. Therefore, let us so order our minds as if we had come to the very end. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day.

One who daily puts the finishing touches to his life is never in want of time.

…begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life. He who has thus prepared himself, he whose daily life has been a rounded whole, is easy in his mind.”

Seneca wrote these words just after telling his friend about an acquaintance who had risen from poverty to wealth and prestige and was on the verge of great accomplishment. And then he suddenly died.

Nothing is promised. We ultimately are fragile and mortal. It is foolish and reckless to assume we have time unlimited for our grand plans and for our intention to eventually live an excellent life.

As we end a year and begin a new one, it’s tempting to want to make grand plans for the distant future. While there is value in aiming your life in a general direction, coming up with specific goals and detailed plans for the long-term seems pointless.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. –Annie Dillard

But what if you make grand plans for the quality of each day? Do as Seneca says, and “Count each separate day as a separate life.” String together enough great days and you will live your way into a great year. Instead of resolutions for the year, come up with resolutions each day. Instead of New Year resolutions, hold fast to “new day” resolutions as you awake each morning.

Consider daily habits and routines instead of goals. Screw up? You get a fresh start, a clean slate, every 24 hours. And as you prepare for bed each night, take an accounting of your day and prepare to adjust as necessary for the new day you hope to wake up to in the morning.

And “begin at once to live.”

Alan Watts: Spontaneity is total sincerity

via @alanwattsdaily

This is from Watts’s brilliant The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are:

“Living, loving, being natural or sincere—all these are
spontaneous forms of behavior: they happen ‘of themselves’ like
digesting food or growing hair. As soon as they are forced they acquire that unnatural, contrived, and phony atmosphere which everyone deplores—weak and scentless like forced flowers and tasteless like forced fruit. Life and love generate effort, but effort will not generate them. Faith—in life, in other people, and in oneself—is the attitude of allowing the spontaneous to be spontaneous, in its own way and in its own time.”

Improv wisdom. The authentic, the most real things flow naturally without being forced or contrived. Go with the flow. Don’t resist. The spontaneous action is filled with energy that’s missing from most actions which are overthought.

Life happens. Here and now. Just show up.

Perfectionism is dangerous

David Foster Wallace:

“You know the whole thing about perfectionism – perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in … It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.”

The perfect is the enemy of the good. Aiming for perfection is worthwhile, but you can’t be paralyzed by the reality that you will likely never reach the ideal you envision.

Just starting is an accomplishment. Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs. Most people never beat the resistance that keeps good ideas as ideas only.

But you’ve got to finish, too. It’s hard to draw the line. When is something good enough? At some point, as reasonably close to your ideal as you can get, you’ve just got to ship. Get your art out the door.

The world is in need of more beauty and insight and kindness. Have the courage to take action in spite of the pain falling short of your ideal will cause you.

Three weeks left in 2014: Incremental change you can believe in

december-31stThere are only three weeks left in 2014. (By the way, I say “twenty-fourteen”. You? It’s saving just a single syllable, I know, but it feels less unwieldy than saying “two-thousand-fourteen”. And no one ever said “Let’s party like it’s one-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine”.)

I’ve been counting down to the end of the year in an attempt to finish strong, to end the year with momentum rather than in a carb-fueled haze of regret. I’ve been grooving some new habits into my daily routine and building my days around them. I wake up and check my Habit List app first thing and know I’ve got to check off those habits I’ve chosen for the day. And it’s been a success so far. I’ve transformed my mornings by rising early and meditating daily. (This habit is the one that has the potential for the greatest impact over the long term. I’m starting to get what a game-changer meditation can be.) I’m walking at least a mile every day. I’ve stuck to my push-ups routine. And here I am posting every day.

Granted, this is over a fairly short period of time. But as the new year approaches, I’m now excited about the possibility of building habits and routines to stick with over an entire year and seeing where that gets me. I can see the power of just plugging away at a habit or a simple routine without worrying about some distant, possibly arbitrary, goal. And then I imagine looking up months from now and being surprised at the transformation.

Doing a small thing consistently over a long period of time can lead to a big change in a way that trying to cram big things into a short time never will.