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The Overthinker’s Guide for Taking Action: A Complete Guide

“Life is about execution rather than purpose.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

last action hero

Preface: Talking About Action

If you read anything on StartupBros you will go away having the capability to do something that you weren’t able to before. From validating your business idea to perfecting your logo, from releasing your motivation to creating an importing business this week, from freeing yourself from information overload to pinpointing the source of your side business’ stagnationit’s about taking action.

The trouble is, you can’t write guides for the hardest things in life. The reason is simple: the hardest things are so hard because there is no guide.

Will once discussed the importance of taking action. It’s one of those painfully simple ideas that can’t be repeated enough: without taking action you won’t get anywhere. Most posts are about a taking a specific action. This post is different, it’s a complete guide to becoming a man or woman of action. Taking the actions suggested in this post will make it exponentially easier to take action in every other area of your life. You will begin to automatically do what you had to fight to do before.

The tools here have been the most powerful in living a better life that I have come across. Adopting an action-oriented life has made me simultaneously more productive (without using silly productivity “hacks”), more bold, and given me a level of mental wellness I haven’t had since I was a kid. Oh – and it’s been the most powerful part of integrating antifrigility into my life.

On to the post…

(This post is incredibly awesome but pretty long, so you can download a PDF version here:
Download The Overthinker’s Guide for Taking Action – The Complete Guide)

action figure

Introduction

Your life would be better if you took the action you’ve been avoiding.

Showing your interest in that girl. Actually making a habit of getting exercise. Taking the first step towards starting your business.

I hate writing about taking action. I feel like an idiot. We already know we need to take action! Why talk about it!?

Because it helps.

I’ve spent huge portions of my life in frustrated rationalization and pussy-footing my way around the thing that I know would be best for my life.

The only way I was able to escape this smart-seeming idiocy was to prove to myself incontrovertibly that I was better off taking action than thinking something through again.

It’s easy to give too much credit to the thinking mind. The thinking mind is “right”. Action isn’t so obvious. Action forces us to risk being wrong.

The economist Tyler Cowen points to an important shift in our economy:

The more information that’s out there, the greater the returns to just being willing to sit down and apply yourself. Information isn’t what’s scarce; it’s the willingness to do something with it.

Everybody has access to pretty much all the information in the world. Google will give you any information you need nearly instantly.

If you collect information without using it you’re only going to be frustrated. Trust me, I have to fight this urge all the time.

Reading ten books about meditation isn’t as useful as ten minutes spent meditating. You’ve got to do the thing!

Again, this seems so obvious! It is, but we still avoid the hard conversations, we still stagnate in life until we get depressed, fat, poor, and stuck.

This post represents a whole lot of hours deconstructing my own inaction and building systems and reminders to trick myself into taking action.

Let’s get down to it. Here is an overview of where we’ll go in this post:

football-strategy

Table of Contents:

  1. Defining Action: Everything is an action, isn’t it? Here we will define exactly what we’re talking about when we discuss “action”.
  2. 2 Heuristics: If you follow just these two rules, you will have taken a massive step toward creating a habit of taking action. You can think of this as a “minimum effective dose” of action-taking theory.
    1. Err on the side of action – or how to be right while being wrong.
    2. Action as research – don’t read another book until you take the first step.
  1. 10 Overlooked Truths About Action: A deep exploration of what happens when you take action. When you understand the nature of action you’ll find yourself more free to take it.
    1. Action is Cheaper Than Planning
    2. Action Allows Emergence
    3. Inaction is Scarier
    4. Motivation Follows Action
    5. Action is an Existential Answer
    6. Action Creates Courage
    7. Explanations Follow Actions
    8. Action Beats the Odds
    9. Action Makes You Humble
    10. Action Isn’t Petty
    11. Action Creates Antifragility
  1. 20 Reasons for Inaction – And How to Short Circuit Them: I said “reasons” but I could have just as easily used “excuses”. Here we will take a look at the most dangerous and subtle rationalizations we use to avoid doing the things we know we should in life.
    1. “I’m waiting for help.”
    2. “The conditions aren’t right.”
    3. “This setback proved it’s not possible/not worth it.”
    4. “I picked the wrong path… I should just try something else.”
    5. “I don’t know where to begin.”
    6. “Nothing I do will make a difference.”
    7. “I’m overwhelmed.”
    8. “I’m not making any progress.”
    9. “I’m trapped.”
    10. “It’s below me…” or “I’m too good for that.”
    11. “I need to know more.”
    12. “I’m a perfectionist.”
    13. “They are already doing it better than I could.”
    14. “I have no resources compared to them.”
    15. “I’m so drained from my existing obligations.”
    16. “I’m completely burned out.”
    17. “I am taking action!”
    18. “It won’t work.”
    19. “I don’t have the right resources (money, equipment, connections.)”
    20. “I’m not good enough.”
  1. 5 Exercises for Building an Action-Taking Habit: Here we are going to explore the most powerful exercises we can practice to create a habit of taking action.
    1. Meditation (What?! Hear me out…)
    2. Internalizing Goals
    3. Input Deprivation Week
    4. Stream of Conscious Writing
    5. Memento Mori

First thing’s first.

Let’s define what we’re talking about here.

Defining Action

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.27.42 PM

How can we tell the difference between action and inaction? Everything is an action. Breathing, eating, sitting, sleeping… everything we do.

We are talking about something different from the definition Google serves about when asking about “action”:

When we’re talking about action we’re actually discussing right action. It’s probably close to what you think about when you think “I’ve got to do something about this!” It’s guided action. It’s purposeful and it’s conscious.

what are you talking about

Ryan Holiday has done a great job defining it in his new book, The Obstacle is the Way:

“What is action? Action is commonplace, right action is not. As a discipline, it’s not any kind of action that will do, but directed action. Everything must be done in the service of the whole. Step by step, action by action, we’ll dismantle the obstacles in front of us. With persistence and flexibility, we’ll act in the best interest of our goals. Action requires courage, not brashness – creative application and not brute force. Our movements and decisions define us: We must be sure to act with deliberation, boldness, and persistence. Those are the attributes of right and effective action. Nothing else – not thinking or evasion or aid from others. Action is the solution and the cure to our predicaments.”

We are not talking about mindless flailing. That will waste your energy and leave you where you started. If you don’t learn from the actions you take then you won’t be able to become more effective. If you don’t guide your actions with principles, heuristics, or aims then you won’t have much say at all about where you end up – and who you become.

The idea is not to become a mindless machine that breaks everything in it’s path. Instead, we need to rebalance our appreciation for the power of action with our tendency to overthink, over-plan, and otherwise waste our energies in abstraction.

Creating a plan is taking action. Refining past the point of necessity is inaction.

“Never has there been a map, however carefully executed to detail and scale, which carried its owner over even one inch of ground.” – Og Mandino

Right action is pushing toward the thing you normally avoid. Right action is moving into what is uncomfortable or what scares you. Right action is mindful.

This post is a resource — something that I really should have just made a book or course and charged for but I just wanted to get it in front of more people – so it’s going to be pretty long.

The next section offers two rules to adopt that will go a long way towards creating your personal ethos of action.

2 Heuristics: The Minimum Effective Dose of Action Theory

1+1=3

If you apply just these two rules you will short-circuit your overthinking tendencies and prove to yourself the power of taking action.

The danger in offering these up-front is that it’s hard to stay dedicated to rules without understanding the theory behind them. If you stop here you run the risk of repeating the cycle of: read blog post, apply once (or not at all), read another blog post for a hit of feeling productive while staying safely stagnant.

Of course I suggest you read the rest of the post but I know that you might not have time now (or you don’t trust me yet to make good use of that much of your time).

So here I’m going to offer you the two simplest, most powerful rules I follow to force myself into taking action.

Heuristic 1: Err on the side of action as long as the pain isn’t irreversible.

make no bad decisinos

We usually don’t know what the best option is. Maybe it’s best to wait, maybe it’s best to act. We can’t know, but if we set our default to action we’ll win in the long run.

Some important clarifications:

  • Action is normally against your impulse. Will and I are roommates and he keeps the house stocked with Swiss Rolls. Delicious freaking Swiss Rolls. It’s torture. For me, resisting the urge to stuff my face is taking action – not the action of face-stuffing. (Remember that we’re creating a habit of right action, any dingus can take any action.)
  • Pain is good, just not irreversible pain. Up to a point, our lives actually get better the more uncomfortable we get. I’m not suggesting putting your health in danger. I am suggesting putting your ego, comfort, and routine in danger.

Some examples of how I (successfully) use this in my daily life:

  • This morning I said, “I’m going to fast today.” Why? Maybe because I’m dumb, I don’t know. But I’m committed. It’s 2:20 PM now and I’m f*cking starving. I want more than anything to eat something (preferably a Swiss Roll) but I won’t. That’s taking action. [Update: I went for 43 hours before feasting at BJ’s.]
  • Earlier today I was running sprints. I did a series of 30 second sprints. I’m asthmatic and overall suck at anything cardio-related. It’s my hell. I would give out at 20 seconds every time. I noticed this, regrouped, and doubled my effort to push into the 30 second mark. (There was a pretty girl there as well… if she wasn’t there I can pretty much guarantee you I would have just stopped and cried. It’s amazing how much a pretty girl (or boy, whatever) can push you to find strength you didn’t have before.)
  • Just now I had the urge to stop writing. It’s hard to write this. It’s easier to go to reddit. reddit=inaction, writing this=action…
  • I take cold showers sometimes. Sometimes I don’t. As soon as I begin justifying taking a warm shower I know I need to take a cold one.
  • As soon as I think “I’ll do it later” about something that I never actually do later I know I’m screwing up… usually I still screw this up but sometimes I actually take action on the thing.

I’m feeling bad about talking about successes. Don’t believe people who only talk about their successes. The biggest reason people get interested in something is because they failed so bad at it before, I swear. That’s why psychologists are crazy, happiness researchers are often miserable, and rich people often started off poor. We react against our weaknesses. It’s good, they shape us and end up creating our greatest strengths.

What I’m saying is I avoid action at all costs. Here are some examples of my failures to take action:

  • There are 3 emails that I need to send. I’ve needed to send them for 2 weeks or more. Why haven’t I? I’m being an idiot.
  • I don’t have to get out of bed in the morning because I have an awesome way of making a living (you’re reading it)… so I don’t. Most mornings I lay and read. Which is good, even an action, for a while. But then I keep doing it and avoid getting out of bed. Stupid. Luxury, when we overindulge, becomes poison.
  • I want to build stronger relationships. I tell myself I’ll make more phone calls and be more social. But I don’t. I avoid these things all the time.
  • Meditation. I know my life is significantly better when I do it yet I continue to fail making a habit of it.
  • Things I don’t even know about. The most insidious forms of inaction are the ones we haven’t even identified. I know they’re there. That’s why I have to dig every day to expose these things so I can do something about them.

Actually writing down those failures just made me way more likely to sort them out. I bet you I send out those emails after I finish this.

Again: Err on the side of action as long as the consequences aren’t irreversibly terrible.

Heuristic 2: Act before researching.

analysis-paralysis

This has been the most powerful rule for me. If you only try one thing from this post, make it this.

This is not a rule against research. Benefitting from the knowledge of others is one of the powerful things we can do as a human being. The problem is no longer that we lack knowledge, it’s that we don’t have an effective frame for knowledge.

We all have massive amounts of wasted information stored. We were told to learn and so we learned… what we forgot to do was apply the information.

Paradoxically, taking ignorant action will make your research much more effective.

I’m not suggesting you write a whole book before doing research. What I’m suggesting is that you create a habit of writing before doing research. This habit of taking action will give more purpose and direction to your research. You’ll know what information actually matters and what is fluff. You’ll immediately put new knowledge into practice instead of forgetting it.

Here are examples rules I’ve set for myself using this idea:

  • I can’t read anything about fitness unless I have already exercised that day.
  • I can’t read anything about meditation unless I’ve meditated that day.
  • I can’t read anything advanced about business unless I’ve made sure the fundamentals are in place.

Why is this trick so powerful?

There are so many findings out there that are focused on perfecting things. Giving us the edge. Well, it turns out, all these people are focused on tiny changes with tiny results. It’s just too much.

You will be amazed at the information you already have if you just force yourself to apply it.

It’s too tempting to try to sound smart instead of being effective… and it’s embarrassing how simple things actually are. (People are paid well to make simple things complex.)

The richest man in the world avoids complexity like the plague. Here’s a quote from Warren Buffett:

“Easy does it. After 25 years of buying and supervising a great variety of businesses, Charlie and I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we have learned is to avoid them. To the extent we have been successful, it is because we concentrated on identifying one-foot hurdles that we could step over rather than because we acquired any ability to clear seven-footers. The finding may seem unfair, but in both business and investments it is usually far more profitable to simply stick with the easy and obvious than it is to resolve the difficult.”

“Easy and obvious” isn’t sexy, but it’s effective.

Again: Act before researching.

Those two heuristics will take you a long way.

For me this wouldn’t be enough. My faith in action over overthinking only came after I overthought overthinking and action into dust. I have a feeling you might need the same treatment.

Next we are going to look at 11 powerful and mostly ignored truths about taking action that will be inspiring if nothing else. 

KeepItSimpleStupid-1440x900

11 Overlooked Truths About Action

This section is based on a post I wrote for Art of Manliness (although there’s a ton of original stuff too 🙂 ). The popularity of that post is what convinced me that a more comprehensive post was worthwhile. University of Chicago Booth School of Business professors shared it with their MBA students, it was highlighted on the economist Tyler Cowen’s blog, and I received a torrent of emails from people telling me how they had changed their lives because of it. Okay no more horn tooting.

Here are the 11 truths:

  1. Action is Cheaper Than Planning
  2. Action Allows Emergence
  1. Inaction is Scarier
  2. Motivation Follows Action
  3. Action is an Existential Answer
  4. Action Creates Courage
  5. Explanations Follow Actions
  6. Action Beats the Odds
  7. Action Makes You Humble
  8. Action Isn’t Petty
  9. Action Creates Antifragility

I’ve consolidated the information from that post below:

1. Action is Cheaper Than Planning

overplanning

We think we’re not giving anything up while we mull over our plan for the 50th time. We’re “playing it safe” by not doing anything until we know exactly what to do.

We’re so, so wrong.

Planning is expensive.

The Wright brothers were able to beat out corporations in the race to build a working plane because they emphasized action over planning.

After a failed flight, the Wright brothers would go back to their workshop and make a small, cheap, quick tweak and test the plane again. The corporations would spend months of planning and massive sums of money before trying another flight.

wright bros

wright bros

The Wright brothers won because they learned from taking action. Their well-financed competitors lost because they tried to predict everything by creating a more perfect plan.

This philosophy of failing fast has spread through Silicon Valley and beyond thanks to Eric Ries’ work The Lean Startup. We can imagine the Wright Bros. writing this passage from Ries’ book:

I’ve come to believe that learning is the essential unit of progress for startups. The effort that is not absolutely necessary for learning what customers want can be eliminated. I call this validated learning because it is always demonstrated by positive improvements in the startup’s core metrics.”

This calls to mind Heuristic 2 from above: Act before researching.

I can almost guarantee you that you are exaggerating the pain of potential “failure” and underrating the amount of progress you’ll make by just trying.

2. Action Allows Emergence

im in no shape to exercise

Five years ago, did you know your life would be as it is now?

I doubt it. I can’t imagine having spent this much time writing five years ago. I couldn’t have imagined been interested in the things I’m interested.

How many times have you been exposed to a new possibility that didn’t exist before? Maybe you thought you would be fat forever. Then after a couple months of working out and eating well you realized that you had the potential to get ripped.

Imagine walking alone in the desert. It’s endless and it sucks. Nobody has ever had fun walking in the desert. You’re going to die. There is absolutely no chance at being saved. You climb one last dune and you see an oasis. It’s not an illusion.

You’re persistent walking created a possibility that had zero percent chance of happening if you stood still. Each step was an action providing a new viewpoint.

If you stood still and thought about your predicament you would have died. It was only by taking step after step that saved your life. That final step that revealed the oasis might get all the credit, but all those hopeless (“useless”) steps before made the final one possible.

You got to keep moving.

Our ability to predict the future is pretty much zero. No matter how many times scientists prove this to us, we refuse to believe them. Nassim Taleb explains:

“So let us call here the teleological fallacy the illusion that you know exactly where you are going, and that you knew exactly where you were going in the past, and that others have succeeded in the past by knowing where they were going.

The rational flaneur is someone who, unlike a tourist, makes a decision at every step to revise his schedule, so he can imbibe things based on new information, what Nero was trying to practice in his travels, often guided by his sense of smell. The flaneur is not a prisoner of a plan. Tourism, actual or figurative, is imbued with the teleological illusion; it assumes completeness of cision and gets one locked into a hard-to-revise program, while the flaneur continuously – and, what is crucial, rationally – modifies his targets as he acquires information.”

It’s hard to see the possibility of success if you’ve only experienced failure. Yet it’s often only after a number of failures that we have a chance at success.

Don’t assume that the possibilities you can see are the only possibilities available. You’re actions literally create new potentialities that didn’t exist before.

3. Inaction is Scarier

scary inaction

Sometimes the best way to be strong is to consider the pain of being weak.

How much will you regret eating that donut? How much will you regret settling for that shit job your entire life? How much pain will you suffer later to avoid it now?

Action hurts now. We’ll get scarred. We’ll be uncomfortable. We’ll take losses. But we’ll grow.

Inaction doesn’t hurt now, but it hurts for the rest of our lives. We’ll be comfortable now and be unable to do the uncomfortable thing later. We’ll be made soft by our stagnation. We’ll decay.

Every day we choose inaction over action it makes it harder to take action. We weaken ourselves. Every time we take action we become stronger.

4. Motivation Follows Action

waiting for motivation

Waiting is the least motivating thing you can do. Writers who wait around for motivation aren’t actually writers.

Imagine an entrepreneur who only got shit done when he was motivated.

What?!

Motivation is not the cause of action – it’s a consequence.

Motivation (and passion) will follow you if you have the balls to go without them.

5. Action is an Existential Answer

bored calvin

I have spent most of my life in an existential crisis. Maybe not most, but an annoyingly long time.

I’ve read all sorts of philosophical and spiritual texts talking about it. They’ve all given answers that worked for a while. Then didn’t.

The only existential answer that has ever consistently worked? Action.

It doesn’t satisfy our rationalizing brain – it shuts it up for a minute so we can actually do something.

There is no abstract mission, purpose, or paradox that will satisfy your existential needs. There is no labor, when focused on, that won’t.

6. Action Creates Courage

“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”  -Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath

Seneca put it this way:

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”

We’re all scared. Whether or not you’re courageous depends on what you do with that fear.

Do you lean into it? Do you cower from it?

What we see as courageousness is really just a habit of taking action. Of doing things even though we’re scared to do them.

Motivation, passion, inspiration, courage, opportunities, possibilities, strength … these things only come with taking action. It’s amazing that we still have such a hard time doing!

7. Explanations Follow Actions

explain-yourself

As someone who overthinks everything I am desperate to justify my actions. Without a reason to do something… well, why even do it? I need a cohesive narrative.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has done a study that shows what happens when a good explanation or narrative isn’t available. He reports on the behavior of people who he put through a gambling game:

“The interesting part came when I interviewed the players afterward. I asked them what they’d done in the gambling game and why they’d done it. I was surprised to hear all types of baroque explanations, such as ‘The computer liked it when I switched back and forth’ and ‘The computer was trying to punish me, so I switched my game plan.’ In reality, the players’ descriptions of their own strategies did not match what they had actually done, which turned out to be highly predictable. Nor did their descriptions match the computer’s behavior, which was purely formulaic. Instead, their conscious minds, unable to assign the task to a well-oiled zombie system, desperately sought a narrative.

The mind that tells you about your life is probably wrong. Scientists tell us we make up memories all the time.

Whatever reason you give yourself for doing something came after the decision to do the thing.

So what can we do? We can treat our actions as experiments and measure the results.

When we know our stories are probably wrong we can give them less power. Don’t let your scary stories paralyze you. Act and let the narrative follow (just as courage and motivation do).

8. Action Beats The Odds

AgainstTheOddsFRONTONLY

“Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company,you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.” – Ben Horrowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Statistics can tell us a lot of things. Most of them don’t matter.

Cortes had 500 men to take on 500,000 Aztecs. What was his grand plan? He sunk his ships to eliminate any possibility of retreat.

Why was this effective? Yes, it created the force of necessity, but how? Because it focused the army’s attention on action instead of abstraction.

Cortes noticed that his men were being weakened by thoughts of retreat and seeing their wives. Once the ships were sunk, there was only one thing they could focus on: fighting as hard as possible.

Stopping to consider whether or not you’ll be able to do something never helps and often hurts. It’s also inaccurate. Actually doing the thing is the only accurate test of possibility.

We stack the odds against ourselves. We make up obstacles that don’t exist. Or we become delusional about the greatness we will achieve in some undefined future. Either way, we’re hurting ourselves. Test your mettle the only way that matters: by taking action.

9. Action Makes You Humble

tolstoy arrgance

“My wish for you, Kalistos, is that you survive as many battles in the flesh as you already have fought in your imagination. Perhaps then you will acquire the humility of a man and bear yourself no longer as the demigod you presume yourself to be.” – Dienekes, in Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire

Teenage boys are comically arrogant. Why? Because they are told they can do anything – yet they haven’t had to try to do anything yet. They’ve learned just enough to see infinite possibilities but have no awareness of their limits.

This overconfidence can be useful, especially for entrepreneurs, yet it can quickly become delusional. Unless grand plans are executed they rot the schemer’s soul.

We must be willing to test the validity of our vision.

At the same time, we have to be careful not take failure too much to heart.

Most adults are scared to have any vision because they know failure – they were burned.

Instead of growing from their failures they cowered from them. They were made timid because they were afraid to get back into the ring.

Why? Because they thought the abstract ideal was more important than reality. We rarely can bring our exact vision into existence – we are not gods creating worlds! We are humans, like the Wright brothers. We go out onto the field with one design, crash, and go again.

A dedication to action makes you humble while allowing you to do more than you ever thought possible.

10. Action Isn’t Petty

Action doesn’t care what you think, just what you do.

Action doesn’t care about what should of happened, just what is.

Gossip is impossible in action.

Smallness is impossible in action.

11. Action Creates Antifragility

“The general principle of antifragility, it is much better to do things you cannot explain than explain things you cannot do.” – Nassim Taleb

Antifragile is one of the most important (practical) philosophical ideas to emerge in our recent history and, for me, putting action ahead of abstraction is the most important step toward becoming antifragile.

Essentially, taking action makes us more able to take advantage of a volatile future.

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In the next section we are going to look at 20 common reasons for in action and how we can take action anyway.

20 Antidotes to Perfectly Good Reasons for Inaction

george bernard shaw cowardice

The following are some of the most powerful rationalizations that stop me from taking action. They usually seem logical. It’s almost impossible to see them at work unless you become aware of them. Even once you know about them it takes a ton of practice to learn to lean into them. For each excuse (“reason”, whatever) I’ve included the antidote I use to overcome it. These work for me. Not always, but enough to matter, a lot.

Maybe you have the same reasons for not doing things. You probably have at least some that I don’t have. Find the most similar reason I have listed and I’d be willing to bet the antidote will work for you.

Here is the list again:

  1. “I’m waiting for help.”
  2. “The conditions aren’t right.”
  3. “This setback proved it’s not possible/not worth it.”
  4. “I picked the wrong path… I should just try something else.”
  5. “I don’t know where to begin.”
  6. “Nothing I do will make a difference.”
  7. “I’m overwhelmed.”
  8. “I’m not making any progress.”
  9. “I’m trapped.”
  10. “It’s below me…” or “I’m too good for that.”
  11. “I need to know more.”
  12. “I’m a perfectionist.”
  13. “They are already doing it better than I could.”
  14. “I have no resources compared to them.”
  15. “I’m so drained from my existing obligations.”
  16. “I’m completely burned out.”
  17. “I am taking action!”
  18. “It won’t work.”
  19. “I don’t have the right resources (money, equipment, connections.)”
  20. “I’m not good enough.”

1. “I’m waiting for help.”

no one is coming to help

Are you really? Did you call for help? Did someone say help is on the way? If not, nobody is coming.

Nothing is going to come and give you motivation to get off your ass. Nobody is going to come and give your life purpose. Nobody is going to offer to start a business for you. Nobody is going to offer to fund your movie. Nobody is going to come and force you to have good habits. Nobody is going to come and ask to be your significant other.

Nobody is coming to the rescue. (Either is inspiration.)

Okay, maybe they are, but that’s a lousy bet.

The person who tries is the person who gets help. The person who loves is the person gets loved – and has a better chance at a significant other. The person who makes shitty cheap movies is more likely to raise money to make a less shitty less cheap ones (and eventually really good ones).

You’re at StartupBros, it’s a good chance you want to start your own business.

Do you actually want that?

If you haven’t started, why the f*ck not? Are you waiting for a blog post? A book that will finally convince you to sack up? Somebody to come and tell you exactly what to do? I’m just guessing, those have been some of the things I waited around for, you might have your own.

Antidote: Assume that no help is on it’s way. Remember that help can only come to those who help themselves. Take action.

2. “The conditions aren’t right.”

storm

You’re probably right. Most of the time conditions suck for most things. I don’t want to list all the major corporations that were created in depressions (okay, a couple: Walt Disney Company, Costco, Standard Oil, LinkedIn, Microsoft), you can Google that if you want.

Warren Buffett and his partner Charlie Munger ignore the macroeconomic environment when they make decisions. Instead, they look for businesses that will be doing well in 20 years – through recessions, depressions, and booms.

Charlie Munger has given some fantastic lectures to college students. When asked whether he thought it was as difficult now (this was in 2010 I believe, the pits) as during the Great Depression he said (1) it’s easier to get hired now – people were having to combine households during the Great Depression and (2) it doesn’t matter, just put your head down and work.

You are going to live through good times and bad times. You are going to live in periods of excess opportunity and times when it looks like there is zero opportunity.

The strategy? Focus on doing the best work you can today.

If there is no opportunity currently then you better be getting as good as you can for when opportunity comes. And when it does come? Jump on it like it’ll never be back again. Again put your head down and seize the moment.

harder i work

Munger said that Berkshire Hathaway, one of the most successful companies in the world, has been made by about 20 great moves. Without those 20 their track record is miserable. They were able to make those career-defining moves because they were ready. They were ready because they were always focused on doing the best work they could in the present moment.

Antidote: Focus on doing your best today and you’re guaranteed to have huge opportunities – and you’ll be ready for them. This applies no matter the surrounding conditions.

3. “This setback proved it’s not possible/not worth it.”

it's not worth it homer

Why is it not worth it? Did you learn anything from this set back? Could you make it happen if you really wanted to? I think you could.

Persistence makes a lot of things possible.

Maybe you don’t think it’s worth it.

Do you have something better to do than try to make this work though? Or are you just being soft?

Probably 95% of the times I say something isn’t worth it I’m just being a baby. I don’t want to try hard. I don’t want to take action. I pretend I don’t care about the outcome and I pretend the setback is way bigger than it actually is.

Chances are you are just avoiding pain when you should be leaning into it.

Antidote: Double your efforts and lean into the setback. You set your aim from a rational place and now your pain-avoidance tendency is overvaluing the setback and undervaluing your aim. You should train yourself to react into setbacks, not flinch away from them. You can always quit tomorrow or next week.

4. “I picked the wrong path… I should try something else.”

new-path

Again, is this your pain-avoidance tendency talking or is this actually the wrong path for you?

It’s important to be able to quit or fail quickly – to abandon paths that no longer make sense for us. Many people get stuck in a cycle of jumping ship as soon as things get hard though. If you quit now, will you regret it when you’re older?

Are you frustrated by a plateau that you can work through? Do you have an idea of what to do next?

There’s no way to tell when the best time to jump ship. Sometimes I’ve had to have a nagging feeling for more than a year to even notice I should do something. Sometimes I quit as soon as it gets hard and I think it’s just all bad.

We can’t know for sure. But if we’re paying attention we can make pretty great guesses.

Antidote: Treat yourself like a startup. Try a bunch of things – actually try them don’t just research them. Figure out what you like and (maybe more importantly) what you don’t like. If you have a history of quitting as soon as things get hard then force yourself to stay in it a while longer and push through. Ask yourself what taking action would like… that question will probably point you to the thing you know you want to do.

5. “I don’t know where to begin.”

Yes you do.

You begin from Step 1.

start here

Clever plans and abstractions will have you believe that you can start at step 3. Stop expecting to see a clear path to the end. You don’t need to know where you’ll end to know where to start. Coca-Cola started as a pharmaceutical company. Twitter was the side project of some guys working on a podcasting company.

You start by ignorantly trying. Through failing you figure out what you need to learn about and get better at.

Antidote: Act before you research (or think anymore) about the thing. For more check out Heuristic 2 from earlier in this post.

6. “Nothing I do will make a difference.”

socrates on change

Of course it will. Of course it won’t.

You can’t help but make a difference in people’s lives. Whether you smile or scowl at the person walking down the hallway can completely change their day. What if that person was going to commit suicide but you made him feel noticed? It sounds ridiculous but, as a recovered depressive with suicidal thoughts, I can tell you it matters in a huge way.

That smile doesn’t stop there. It ripples through people. If you smile at one person they are more likely to be nice to the next person they meet and on and on.

I call this the Invisible Legacy. I think that every one of us has a silent, invisible legacy that we can never measure and that nobody will ever applaud us for. This is the thing that will change the world the most. Even more than the people we think as great figures in history.

Everything you do matters.

It might not change the world in the ways that are easy to measure. It might now solidify your place in a history textbook… but really, how much has a person in a history textbook changed your life? I guarantee you that a hug at the right time from somebody you love changed your life more. Or one lesson taught to you by your grandpa.

Why do we have to aim at being remembered by people we’ll never meet? I think we ought to focus on the people we can right here right now.

The other thing, aiming at making a difference usually alters the difference you make, for the worse. You don’t have a choice, you’re guaranteed to change the world. Consider Nassim Taleb’s Silver Rule:

“Some clarity.
The Golden Rule (do to others what you want them to do to you) is an invitation to interventionism, utopianism, and meddling into other people’s affairs, particularly poor nations, as represented by the the NGO clowns at TED conferences trying to “save the world”, and causing more harm with unseen side effects. Remember that Mao, Stalin, Lenin, and were following the positive Golden rule. At the personal level, I may feel good trying to nudge a vegetarian to eat raw kebbeh (Lebanese steak tartare) because I like it myself.

The Silver rule (do NOT do to others what you don’t want them to do to you) leads to a systematic way to live “doing no harm” and gives rise to a liberating type of ethics: your obligation is to pursue your personal interests provided you do not hurt others probabilistically unless you are yourself exposed, & not transfer risks to others (skin-in-the-game at all times). But, and here is the key, should there be a spillover, it will necessarily be positive. It is therefore convex.(Typical via negativa rules are convex). It separates the “self-interest” in Adam Smith from the “selfish” version. And if you want to help society, just try to benefit WHILE at least harming no one.

This distinction puts a lot of clarity behind the idea of free markets and morality. You should never have to prove that what you do is GOOD for society (hard to express in words and rationalistic framework), but you can certainly show you are NOT hurting others more than yourself via skin-in-the-game.

Antidote: Remember that you can’t help but make a difference. Then do whatever you can.

 

7. “I’m overwhelmed.”

one bite at a time elephant cartoonOverwhelm, one of the 7 Motivation Murderers, is one of my biggest enemies. I always think from Step 1 to Step 97. It’s stupid. I kill any success I have by thinking so big it’s drowned out.

Or I think of eight things I have to do and then I freak out because I can’t do them all simultaneously.

Obviously, if you take action you will stop being overwhelmed. You immediately shift your focus from staring at the impossible path in front of you to taking the first step.

I used to live on a small ranch. (Will always made fun of me for having “horse chores” and not being able to hang out with the other kids.) My parents would make me move truck loads of sand. Where? To places that needed sand, apparently. I still don’t understand it. The point is, when I started shoveling the sand, it got easy. I would stick my headphones in, listen to a chapter of some success book, and look up and see the pile halfway gone. It got easy as soon as it was begun.

Antidote 1: Break it down into small goals that fit on a single sheet of paper. Things overwhelm us because they feel undoable. Obviously “start a business” isn’t helpful if we don’t know the first step. “Verify business idea A.” Is something you can take action on now.

Antidote 2: Internalize your goals. We get overwhelmed because we think that everything should be under our control. It’s not, though, not even close. The goal “Make a profitable business” might not be able to be accomplished. You might die before you become profitable. The goal “Do everything I can to make my business profitable today” focuses on what you can control. You can force yourself to try really hard. You can force yourself to put the odds in your favor – you just can’t define the odds.

8. “I’m trapped.”

stuck cat

Sometimes it looks like there’s nothing we can do. Even if there was something we could do, it wouldn’t help. We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We’re stuck.

Sometimes I’ll get stuck like this for a full day. I forget that progress is a possibility. I forget how far I’ve come in the last year. I forget that I have any power in the world.

There are two ways to escape

Antidote 1: Lower the bar. You’re not going to reinvent your whole life today. There are no transformations waiting to happen. You can’t independently make a living today. You know what you can do? Go to the gym. Eat an apple. Write. Meditate. Reject the next donut. These tiny acts will snowball into massive changes. This technique is what got me out of a suicidal depression where I felt completely trapped for more than a year.

Antidote 2: Be fatalistic toward the past and present. There’s nothing you can do to change the past or where you are the instant. No amount of analysis is going to change anything. There are no magical answers waiting for you in your past. There’s not even anything you can do to change this moment. As soon as you think of this moment it’s gone. So aim slightly forward. Put your mind in a future possibility. Not a five year plan, maybe a five minute one, maybe even a tomorrow plan.

9. “I’m not making any progress.”

almost there

Remember that your brain is messing with you. That success does not look like a graph going up and to the right – it’s not near that clean.

Our brain is not cut out for nonlinearities. People think that if, say, two variables are causally linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality. For instance, you study every day and learn something in proportion to your studies. If you do not feel that you are going anywhere, your emotions will cause you to become demoralized. But reality rarely gives us the privilege of a satisfying linear positive progression: You may study for a year and learn nothing, then, unless you are disheartened by the empty results and give up, something will come to you in a flash. . . This summarizes why there are routes to success that are nonrandom, but few, very few, people have the mental stamina to follow them. . . Most people give up before the rewards.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

You’ve got to remember that progress doesn’t always look clean. It’s not always obvious, and that the breakthrough could happen in the next minute of work. The creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams, suggests using a system-based orientation instead of a goal-based one. Adams explains:

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”

Antidote: Turn your goals into systems. For instance, I had a goal of getting to 210 lbs. and 10% body fat. I immediately stopped going to the gym – I didn’t even know how to reach a goal like that! I turned the goal into a system: go to the gym 5 times a week. As soon as I did that I started making real progress. (Note that this is very close to Internalize Goals –Antidote 1 from Reason 8.)

10. “It’s below me…”

too good

When I was trading I knew a guy who was trying to trade as well but couldn’t make any money. He was broke but refused to get another job. He scoffed at bagging groceries or anything else. He basically thought he was the millionaire who didn’t make his money yet. Instead of getting a job “below” him, he started “teaching” (read: scamming) people to pay the bills, dipping into outright theft. Now, a lot of years later, he’s still “trading”…

On the other hand, John D. Rockefellar spent an amazing amount of time checking and double-checking his bills to make sure they were accurate. He went so far as to sue doctors he thought overcharged him. This is the richest man in the world worrying over a couple of dollars. It’s because, for him, it wasn’t just a couple of dollars, it was principle! He didn’t see just a couple of dollars. He saw the potential of those dollars invested, he saw the money he was saving other from being screwed by this doctor.

If you think certain types of work are below you then you will block possible paths for yourself. Your arrogance will show and others will see it.

Antidote: Remind yourself that it’s temporary, that the biggest entrepreneurs have done manual labor in the process of creating their empire.

11. “I need to know more.”

No you don’t. At least not now.

need to know more

This is the most “rational” of the rationalizations… and it’s the hardest to shut down.

It just feels so productive to learn one more thing.

Shut up and go to work as best you can. Then do research once you understand what information you actually need to know.

More knowledge isn’t going to going to save you – only action.

Antidote: Input Deprivation Week. Basically Heuristic 2: Act before researching. For more on Input Deprivation Week, see the final section.

12. “I’m a perfectionist.”

perfectionist

There’s no such thing as a perfectionist. There is literally nothing you have ever done that is perfect or will ever do that is perfect.

You’ve just found a delusional, yet proud way to hide your cowardice. You’re afraid to show that you, too, are a human who makes things with errors.

Again, shut up and do your work.

It’s great to aim for an unobtainable ideal to guide your work. Just don’t stop when you inevitably fall short.

Antidote: Share something that you’ve done before it’s ready.

13. “Someone is already doing it.”

gandhi nothing new

Don’t let competition scare you away. Instead, let it prove to you that there is a market for what you wanted to make.

Unless you’re in a monopoly situation (you aren’t) then this is an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants:

  • How could you do it better than them?
  • How could you simplify what they’re doing?
  • How could you make something more comprehensive?
  • Who could you serve that they are not?

Antidote: Put a twist on what they did and begin building.

14. “I have no resources compared to them.”

what would macgyver do

Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, David and Goliath, is all about how people regularly win who “shouldn’t”. Having less resources can actually be an advantage.

Consider the Wright Bros. They had a few thousand dollars and beat out corporations with millions of dollars in funding. The size of these companies actually worked against them. The Wright Bros. won because of their limited resources.

Instagram had a team of 13 people when they sold for $1 billion.

Technology has given us an opportunity to leverage our resources like crazy.

Antidote: Instead of looking at what you can’t do because of budget restraints, look at what you can do that well-funded people can’t. 

15. “I’m so drained from everything else (work, other responsibilities.)”

People with this reason often take pride in their busyness. Their exhaustion proves that they’ve been working hard.

It doesn’t, though. You might gain energy from going to the gym. Or forcing yourself to start working on your side project.

Antidote: Refocus your energies. Cut out the 5 most energy-sucking activities in your day (watching TV, drinking alcohol, engaging with shitty people, discussing politics…). Then select ONE thing that you can do today that would make things matter much more.

16. “I am taking action!”

No, you’re talking about it.

Antidote: Do something.

17. “I’m completely burned out.”

BurnedOut

You’ve probably been confusing busyness for action; flailing violently without learning anything. Maybe you’ve spent all your energy doing what you thought you were supposed to do and it’s not working. Maybe you just haven’t taken a break.

Whatever it is, the most important action is non-action.

You’ve got to create some clarity so you can see up from down.

Antidote: Meditation and/or Stream-of-Conscious writing (more info in the next secion). And reducing your workload. Maybe pick up a fiction book.

18. “It won’t work.”

mars needs women

You’re probably right, but maybe you’re wrong.

This post probably won’t work, but it might.

Most things worth doing probably won’t work. Most businesses fail, most books don’t sell any copies, most bands break up.

Does that mean it’s a bad idea to try? Not at all.

Elon Musk is trying to populate Mars. Will this work? Probably not. I would never tell him to stop trying though.

Antidote: Shift your focus from the probability of things working to the magnitude of awesomeness that would happen if they did work. Your life could be totally transformed if your startup worked, if it fails then you still have your job. Even if the thing fails, you got better because you tried – so you’re more likely to win next time.

19. “I don’t have enough resources (money, equipment…)

james cameron south park

Start doing what you can with what you have.

Taking action gives you the chance to attract the resources you need. Even if you’re the only one working, your conviction will make other more likely to help.

You might not have what it takes to create the business you want to create. You can start laying the groundwork though.

Antidote: Again lower the bar. Begin with what you have and identify exactly what resources you will need to take certain steps.

20. “I’m not good enough.”

youre not good enough

Maybe you’re not. You can become good enough though.

If you see yourself as stagnant then you will be less likely to learn.

I didn’t know anything about blogging as a business a year ago. Since then I have begun to understood exactly how to create sales funnels, content that works, and everything else. If I knew how much I needed to learn I may have not gotten into it… but I did, and I’ve learned what I needed to know.

Every day I’m learning more and more. My skills are expanding. My understanding is simultaneously deepening and broadening.

I’m not good enough to do what I will be doing in three months from now. I’ll get good enough, though, or I’ll try.

Antidote: Shift yourself into a growth mindset. Realize that you know more than you did a year ago. Your skill are better than they were a year ago. Just take the first step and have faith that everything you need will follow.

____

In the next section we’re going to look at specific exercises that will undermine many of the excuses we’ve just gone through.

5 Exercises for Becoming an Action-Taker

Up until now, what action have you been taking? Reading. Taking in information and reorganizing the way you consider the world, your goals, and your behavior.

That’s important. Understanding a way of being makes it easier to stick with it when things aren’t working exactly as we want them to.

However, it will be mostly wasted unless you do something with it. You need to take the framework that we’ve been discussing and make it palpable. It needs to become a part of your daily life.

In this section I will suggest five tools you can use to begin changing your default response to “action” (right action.)

Here are the tools:

  1. Meditation
  2. Internalizing Goals
  3. Input Deprivation Week
  4. Stream of Conscious Writing
  5. Memento Mori

Putting these tools into action will help. Adopting all of them simultaneously will probably be unsustainably difficult, though. If would suggest adopting one or two, practicing them for a week, then maybe adding another or switching one out.

Anyway, here are the tools:

1. Meditation

meditating animal

It doesn’t make any sense, right? Just sitting there doing nothing is far from taking action…

Actually, meditation is an amazingly powerful tool for taking action. Why?

Because it makes you aware of not taking action. Our inaction usually comes from our hyperactive mind rationalizing our way out of doing things that matter.

Meditation makes it easier for you to call yourself our on your own BS.

It has all sorts of health benefits as well that have been written about all over the place.

How to Start Meditating

I’m going to recommend anapana meditation because it’s the easiest to start with. It’s the type of meditation I always go to when rebooting my own practice.

I’ve listed basic instructions. They are purposefully non-specific in some areas because the whole point here is to not overthink it. Practice like this for a week before you read anything else about practicing meditation.

  1. Sit down. You can use a chair, a pillow, or the floor. I just sit cross-legged on the floor. Sit up straight and keep your belly soft.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes. (Work your way up to 20+ one minute at a time each day.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Focus your attention on the sensations you feel on your outer nostrils and upper lip.
  5. Relax your face. You may want to look towards where you’re paying attention to, try not to.
  6. Relax your body.
  7. Breathe through your nose into your belly. (Remember to keep it soft.)
  8. Each time your mind wanders to a thought bring your attention back to the sensations on your upper lip and outer nostrils.
  9. Be nice to yourself. The goal isn’t to not think about anything, it’s just to increase your awareness when you do think about things. If you’re sitting and meditating then you’re not failing.

That’s it. It’s simple. Just sit, breathe, and observe.

This, out of all of the exercises, is the hardest for me to do consistently because it doesn’t feel productive. I can’t measure progress or see anything getting done.

Inevitably I stop meditating. Then a couple weeks later I notice my brain feels disorganized. And I realize I haven’t been meditating. Then I go back and meditate and the brain gets clean again and I repeat this over and over.

2. Internalizing Goals

We all know the serenity prayer:

serenity prayer

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Another way to say this:

“Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.” – Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

Another way:

Internalize your goals.

This means shifting all your goals to things that you can control. If you want something you have no control over, you may be paralyzed and not take action. However, if you set goals that you have control over, then you will always have the ability to take action.

William Irvine explains how this concept might work for an aspiring novelist in his excellent book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Are of Stoic Joy:

“How can the aspiring novelist reduce the psychological rejection and thereby increase her chances of success? By internalizing her goals with respect to novel writing. She should have as he goal not something external over which she has little control, such as getting her novel published, but something internal over which she has considerable control, such as how hard she works on the manuscript or how many time she submits it in a given period of time. I don’t claim that by internalizing her goals in this manner she can eliminate altogether the sting when she gets a rejection letter (or, as often happens, when she fails to get any response at all to the work she has submitted). It can, however, substantially reduce this sting. Instead of moping for a year before resubmitting her manuscript, she might get her moping period down to a week or even a day, and this change will dramatically increase her chance of getting the manuscript published.

Irvine also gives an example of how a tennis player might internalize his goals:

“[H]is goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control).”

snowmen fate

We talked earlier (Reason 9) about how this is similar to creating systems instead of goals. Here is the quote from earlier:

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.” – Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Warren Buffett uses a similar strategy called the “internal scorecard”. If he does as best he can according to what he knows, then he doesn’t let temporarily bad results (and the public criticism that comes with them) bother him. He acted as well as he knew how.

Internalizing your goals can be a powerful way to keep the motivation through tough times, plateaus, and haters.

Here’s how:

  1. List all your goals.
  2. Internalize them.

That’s it.

Put everything that matters within your control. Focus on that and the rest will follow (eventually).

3. Input Deprivation Week

input overload

I’ve written about this on StartupBros before. Recently I restated it for an Art of Manliness piece (the one we looked at earlier). For our purposes I’m going to reuse the directions from that article:

“Go an entire week with zero information consumption.

I first tried this last year and it was wildly successful. I got more done in one week than I had in the month prior. I also ate the best I had all year and solidified my meditation practice. It was so effective I offered it up to the readers of my blog, StartupBros.

Most of the people mocked me or called me naive. A few actually tried it, though. And many of them are still practicing it to this day. It’s the most effective way I’ve found to boost output.

It’s also the most painful.

You are going to, for an entire week, live without information input.

Stay with me on this.

For one week:

  • No reading books.
  • No reading blogs.
  • No reading newspapers.
  • No going on Facebook (even just to post).
  • No watching TV (shows, sports, news, anything).
  • No watching movies.
  • No listening to talk radio.
  • No going on Reddit.
  • No going on Twitter.
  • No information input – only output!

You must force yourself to spend an entire week with yourself and the people immediately surrounding you.

This will, first and foremost, force you into action by stripping away every activity you run to in order to avoid actually doing the work you know you should be doing.

Besides that, it will increase mindfulness, increase the respect you have for your own ideas, you’ll have more ideas, unsolvable life problems may begin to make sense, you’ll have an increased appreciation for the news that actually matters, you’ll become more social, you’ll gain perspective, and you’ll become more original.

It sounds too good to be true but it’s not. It’s what happens. The only way for you to appreciate this is to do it.

When I first suggested Input Deprivation Week I provided the following 5 steps to start strong, and they still work just as well:

o   Install StayFocusd or its equivalent and put all your time-sucking websites on there. ALL of them! Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (??), reddit, Digg (??), Chive, EVERYTHING!

o   Delete your consumption apps. I deleted Facebook, Pulse, and Twitter off my phone. Delete the apps that you reflexively go to when you have a minute of free time.

o   Move your books and magazines. They will just taunt you if they’re sitting on your bedstand or at your desk. Make a stack and put it out of sight.

o   Carry a notebook with you. You’re going to begin having ideas pop up in your head; make notes of them. I like notepads more than phones because we associate them with creating instead of consuming. It’s risky to take notes on a smartphone if you’re trying to avoid inputs.

o   Take the batteries out of your remote. When you have the urge to flick on the TV you’ll have to go get batteries for the remote. This is a barrier to TV that will save your willpower pool from draining as you stare down the remote thinking about all the Game of Thrones and Mad Men you’re missing.

This may be the hardest thing you do all year. The benefits may not be obvious on Day 2. By Day 6 they’ll be undeniable.

Your focus will turn to production instead of consumption. You will become a giver instead of a taker. You will see your addiction to novelty and useless information plainly.

Remember that this is only a week and not a suggestion for a lifestyle. I love books. I love learning new things. I consume information like crazy. And it’s valuable! Input Deprivation Week is about creating a better relationship with information, not denying its importance.

Like a girlfriend that you didn’t fully appreciate until she was gone, your relationship to information will be forever changed. You will appreciate quality information and be more able to ignore the rest. You won’t be an addict to useless information.

If you need any support or have any questions, comment below or even email me (info below).”

4. Stream-of-Consciousness Writing

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 8.02.25 AM

Every morning I roll over and write two pages. What do I write? Gibberish. Sometimes about a dream I woke up from, sometimes about my plan for the day, sometimes about an idea I’ve been thinking through, sometimes about ideas for my business.

I got this idea from the author of The Artist’s Way, Julien Cameron forever ago and it’s proved to be the single best habit for self-awareness that I know.

If there’s a problem that I’ve been avoiding, it’ll become obvious in the pages.

It’s the best place for creative ideas and discovering things that were bugging me that I wasn’t even aware of.

The process is simple:

  1. Write two pages. (I like pen and paper.)
  2. Don’t stop.
  3. Write fast.
  4. Don’t stop.
  5. Don’t stop.

The idea is to keep your pen moving no matter what.

Notice that this is another awareness exercise. If you’re hiding from taking uncomfortable action, the pages will force you face that every day. If you’re staying super-busy to avoid doing the real, important work you know you should be doing, the pages will find you out.

Because you can’t stop writing you will begin to unearth stuff from your subconscious. Sometime you will find yourself writing down thoughts that have been swirling around your head tormenting you. When you see them on paper they are reduced to absurdity.

When I’ve fallen out of the habit, it takes one to two weeks to really start getting into the good stuff with this practice.

By forcing awareness to ideas that usually stay unnoticed you will be much more likely to take action on them.

5. Memento Mori

death bukowski

Memento mori is Latin for something like “Remember death.” It’s a reminder that this whole life thing we’re doing isn’t going to be forever, in fact, it’s quickly coming to an end.

So hop to it!

It’s easier to take action if you feel the sensation of death on your heels.

It’ll be much easier to make that phone call you’ve been avoiding if you remember that you will die.

There’s a second, more important part: when you meditate on your death, it’s not just WHAT you do that changes, the WAY you do things changes as well.

It’s not all about #YOLO’ing all over the place. You don’t need to buy a ticket to Africa or Paris or whatever. You might not need to quit your job and go hike across the country (although that would be cool).

Maybe the shift is more in the type of attention you have with what you’re doing right now. Reading this could be the last thing you do. The shower you take today could be the last thing you do. Everything you do could be the last thing.

When you remember this, your experience shifts. You become more present.

Decisions stop being so hard.

There are a lot of ways to keep death on the mind. Here are a couple:

  • Remembering that you might die in the next minute. This is the most basic, and the one I practice daily. If you take a few seconds to appreciate the fact that you might not have tomorrow… things gain some serious weight.
  • Eternal Recurrence. What if you had to live this life over and over again for eternity?

The greatest weight.– What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?” – Friedrich Nietzche, The Gay Science

  • ReSpawn. Imagine that you died and were just reborn into the world. How would you act differently?

If you want a more in-depth look at death, check out 5 Ancient Secrets of Death and Motivation.

Just Do It

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve invested a significant chunk of your life to these ideas. You’ve also proved to yourself a certain commitment to taking action.

Don’t let this theory go to waste. Use it!

Pick one or two of the exercises today and practice them every day this week. Apply the two heuristics.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

If you have any ideas that others could benefit from, let us know in the comments!

Godspeed!

5-levels

We read and reply to every one!
  • First, I don’t think this post is long enough. lol

    Really like the suggestions for the 5 exersizes!

    Rob

    • Hey Rob! Lol I just couldn’t type any more words 😛

      I’d love to talk with you about why you decided to stop blogging for yourself btw

  • Rick

    Talk about complete! Bookmarking this and I’ll check in after a week using the heuristics 🙂

  • Walt Childs

    Love to see that the “Input Deprevation Week” concept is still going – love it!

    • Walt! It’s awesome to see you here sir! It’s about time we talk

  • WOW. Amazing. I’m floored at the level of insight and practicality of all of this; thanks for crafting such a hard hitting and generous amount of insight & inspiration. I’m going to go take a few bites out of that elephant 😉

    • I’d love to hear about your results!

      … I’m real temped to get some boogie arsenal going after watching your product vid lol

  • Nice write up, it looked like I wasn’t going to finish reading it:). I particularly like the mental exercise part.

    • Hey Lyke! Glad you dug the exercises. I hope you end up using them!

  • Do you ever NOT knock it out of the park with your posts??? 🙂 This is fantastic. And all of the exercises are things I’ve done off and on (much as you describe your meditation practice) for a long time. But I am committing to a week of free association writing and only making goals for things that I can control, both of which I have lapsed on in a most ridiculous way over the last several months.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mani!

      Let me know how it goes. Those two things together will create a massive shift… and some weird moments of “I’m not allowed to worry about that?”.. or at least they have for me.

      I hope your situation is finding some kind of equilibrium – and I’m so grateful you have the strength to get through it.

  • Thanks so much guys. Overthinking is my current situation now. I feel so much stuck but then out of the blue your e-mail pops up and made me realize that I have to go for it. I’m going to try your methods immediately!

    • I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes 🙂

      • Abigail

        Hi Kyle,

        I’ve gotten a job since then but then realized it wasn’t for me. Not that I’m picky, I just feel not performing well in that job like thinking about another thing. So I’m going to leave my job since I have now a contact with a small publishing company who is willing to publish one of my novels (it is still unfinished though) the pay isn’t that big but at least it’s a start, right? 🙂

  • GREAT post Kyle,

    We’re thinking the same things! I even wrote an article using the Nassim Taleb quote in the start — and some stuff from Shaw. (though not the same that you did).

    I will re-read this sometime again soon and probably comment again.

    • Awesome Ludvig! Loving your articles 🙂

      • Just re-skimmed the article. And funny enough, yesterday I read the quote from Buffett in “Poor Richard’s Almanac”.

        Would you recommend reading the book from William Irvine? I got an email yesterday from a reader who thought I should read it. Does the book add anything new that hasn’t been said by Marcus Aurelius or Seneca?

        On a last point, YOU are definitely the one who got the most out of writing this monster of an article. It’s like Marcus Aurelius dialogues on steroids.

        PS: Great job doing the article for AOM. I’d love to hear more about that!

        • I think the Irvine book has two things that the old Stoics didn’t offer:
          1. Organization – He takes us through the evolution and demise of the philosophy and separates out some of the core practices/beliefs, then presents them extremely well. It provided me a framework to hang other Stoic reading on.
          2. Modernizing – I believe Irvine is the first modern academic philosopher to seriously look at the Stoics. His understanding of the wider field of philosophy makes his observations that much sharper.

          hahaha I sure did benefit 😀

          Thanks! I love the AOM community, actually working on another piece for them now.

          • Alright.

            Thanks. Got the book. Will read it in the months to come.

  • Scott Sind

    Kyle – first time reader here, and you earned my subscription with this post. As a matter of fact, I would have purchased this if it were an eBook. I’m struggling with this very thing right now—taking action amidst all the noise—and your detailed and insightful post will be my baseline from here on out. Appreciate the work you’ve done here!

  • Captain Connect

    Just taking the action of leaving a comment. Not really sure what I was planning on leaving in this comment but it sure does feel good to take action. Your post helped me realize that the actions I take and the actions that I avoid taking are all learning experiences. That I must keep making the “scary” actions and that by doing so things will continue to fall into place.

    At times it seems impossible that my small team of friends will be able to change the way students think about going to school. The thought of how awesome it will be when we help just one student change their view of education and participating in class is what keeps me moving forward. If just one student changes their perspective and realizes that education is a lifelong, fun and rewarding experience I will be happy.

    Thanks for taking the time to write a killer article it was well worth the read. It gave me a lot to contemplate. I am glad that I had faith in your ability to inspire. Keep on Kicking Ass Kyle!

    • Awesome takeaways, Cpt. Connect!

      What is your education project? I’d love to learn more.

      • Captain Connect

        I will refer to what we are doing as Project Humble as we are in our infancy.

        Project Humble is a little dose of gamification at school. By fusing the existing features and benefits of a token economy with video game mechanics, while eliminating the amount of time it takes to start and maintain a beneficial system. We have discovered a unique way to provide teachers with a motivational tool for their classroom.

        Thanks for showing interest Kyle. If you still want to know more I would be happy to share in an email.

        • Sounds amazing man – I’d love to know more. kyle at startupbros dot com

  • Luiz Campedelli

    Awesome post, Kyle. Thanks.

    I printed (this post got 39pages!!!) and took me 2 days to read, but, man, it was worth every second. After reading it, I started the youtube prank channel that I was avoiding to start forever, even though I knew that would be great in the long run to pass through massives social awkward moments. I also started one blog to talk about random stuff, just to practice my writing and think a little bit more. I also asked the top model that I have a crush out and we will marry next week(ok, this last one may not be 100% true).

    I will try to start some meditation this week. Looks to be a really good habit. Never heard anybody saying that lost their time after starting to meditate. So, let’s try!

    Oh, and I laughed hard about the power of hot girls to increase your willpower. Somebody should make one research about that, the results would be really funny.

    • Luiz! What is this YouTube channel? I’m pumped to see this….

      • Luiz Campedelli

        Oh, would be a honor to have you as one of my first viewers on youtube, Kyle. Thanks! The problem is that the channel is in portuguese, so would be kind of pointless to you to watch. But I promise to warn you if I make some video in english.

  • Mike Carl

    Hi Kyle… Cleverly motivating post!

    For me this is about demystifying fear, or how to smash the last obstacle between you and your business success.

    What I take away from it is:

    >>>>>FEAR IS THE OBSTACLE<<<<>>>>TODAY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TOMORROW<<<<>>>>THINK LESS. DO MORE. <<<<>>>>YOU’RE BETTER OFF MAKING REAL-WORLD MISTAKES<<<<<

    Even if your try to imagine every possible outcome or scenario (some people call that "planning"), the world eventually throws you something you don't quite expect.

    Accept the unexpected. Action gets you places. Planning doesn't.

    And the only obstacle? Fear…

    The result for action? Wealth, freedom, success, happiness.

    I think the true secret of amazing success is the ability to overcome failure after failure and get something out of each experience.

    I'm not there yet, but I am persistent.

    Thanks for the well thought out post. It reminded me how overwhelmed I get myself sometimes.

    • Thanks for the well thought out comment, Mike! You distilled a lot of the post here:

      I think the true secret of amazing success is the ability to overcome failure after failure and get something out of each experience.

      Winston Churchill said something similar “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

      >>>>>FEAR IS THE OBSTACLE< <<<>>>>TODAY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TOMORROW< <<<>>>>THINK LESS. DO MORE. < <<<>>>>YOU’RE BETTER OFF MAKING REAL-WORLD MISTAKES< <<<<

      Oh HELL YES!!! Fear is the obstacle we constantly have to push into. Today is more important than tomorrow because what we do today CREATES tomorrow.

      Awesome Mike. You are consistent man, I’ve seen that – and I’ve got full faith in you.

  • Thanks for the great post Kyle,

    This is an article definitely worth bookmarking – as it has so much useful juice it can be referred back to again and again.

    Naomi

    • “useful juice” is high praise Naomi, thank you! I hope you leave a comment next time you come back – I’d really like to hear how/if this sticks with you!

  • Great post Kyle. I certainly appreciated the honesty and vulnerability.

    I have to admit I often found myself facing an inner conflict while reading: should I keep reading and getting value from this post or should I stop because I’m avoiding taking action! 😉

    I appeared on Dragons’ Den / Sharks’ Tank and was mutilated on National TV. I knew it was going to happen and went in with my eyes open but nonetheless it didn’t feel good being humiliated on national TV. The cool thing is that after the show I went on to find another investor and my kitchen gadget made it to market. Little did I know that marketing the product was more important than the product itself. I’m still learning….

    That experience of being humiliated REALLY played on my fear of being judged and/or failing. It has kept me stuck for quite a while now but I’m tired of being stuck. Hence, I stumbled upon your post and I’m glad that I did.

    In any case, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this. I got much out of it and am now putting together my course: “idea to market for less than $200”. My goal is to help as many people as possible to achieve “options”. That’s my way of saying “freedom” to do what you want, when you want and with whom you want. Will it work? Will people want to pay $99/month for access to my knowledge, processes and most importantly, my mistakes? I don’t know. However, I do know that I will never find out unless I take action and put myself out there again.

    Thanks again Kyle. Wishing you much success.

    Sasha

    • Hey Sasha! Thanks for stopping by – I’d love to find you on Shark Tank, what episode were you on?

      If you need help in building/launching your course feel free to contact me and Will. That kind of information is in high demand – I think you’ll be able to kill it!

      Looking forward to seeing what you do 😀

      • Hey Kyle,

        I live in Canada so our version of Sharks’ Tank is Dragons’ Den. This is my episode: http://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/strawberease.

        Just be aware that not everything is as it seems when it comes to “Reality” television. There is lots of re-sequencing and re-dubbing footage. I’m not saying that happened in my case because if I said that, it might be a breach of a confidentiality agreement I’m not even saying exists because that would be a breach in itself, but you get my point 😉

        I actually thought I was going to puke that day! I had never had such a dry mouth in my life! Every time I tried to speak my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth! I could hear myself speaking and knew I sounded like an absolute moron. lol

        I originally went with the StrawberEase branding but realized, after consumer feedback, that my gadget actually worked well on just about any fruit or vegetable with a core so we re-branded to EasyCore. The site is at http://www.easycoreonline.com.

        I realized that it may not be my product that is as valuable as my knowledge. Anyone that has done what I have done knows what I’m talking about as you kind of have to learn everything from ideation to engineering to procurement (I went to China and have some HILARIOUS stories about some of the CRAZY food I ate) to importing to logistics to yada yada yada…

        Like I said, I’ve been quite hesitant to put myself out there after my experience but I KNOW I can help many people. It took me nearly 6 years to do something I can do now in 6 months. Plus with all of the methods to test marketability of a concept these days, one can literally test and discount or test and move forward with a concept for under $200 (including validation, building an eCommerce web site and making money).

        I’d love to hear your proposal on how we might be able to work together.

        Looking forward to chatting with you. BTW, feel free to email me directly at my submitted email address if you wish.

        Cheers!

        Sasha

        • The market for your expertise is HUGE right now! You could do extremely well helping others get on the fast track instead of taking the 6-year path you took originally. ESPECIALLY coming from someone who’s been on Dragon Den!

  • Logan

    Hi Kyle, great post! I have a chronic inaction problem that I am in the process of sorting out, and have actually already stumbled upon many of the things you speak about here like meditation and journaling by accident.

    I have been working to finish a masters in a field which I did not originally study, and have been thrown against the rocks of incapability and seeming stupidity time and time again, until I literally had no self-confidence whatsoever. I know I am capable, yet my inaction and the size of the task at hand has just kept pushing me further and further down the rabbit hole.

    Today marks the start of the climb. One step. Just one. I’m going to write one line of code. No more research, no more getting lost in the depths of maths, I’m going to start, and correct my course as I go, not try and plan my every move from afar. Thank you for putting it together so succinctly (I consider this succinct, you could write a library about this topic), it takes a lot of time and effort to put something like this together. It is greatly appreciated. 🙂

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  • Great writing! This explains in depth what sort of process I’m trying to go thru. One thing that you didn’t mentioned that has helped me is physical exercise. I’ve started to realize that by pushing My body hard, tasks that before seemed so hard to do is way easier! My conclusion is that you automatically compare the task in front of you with the hard thing you did before, making a phonecall seems like vacation after you been running uphill and your’e legs are screaming!

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  • Jennifer

    Thank you for this article. Very different, insightful & refreshing!

  • This is…. inexplicably valuable! I shall indeed be applying what is written here. I just recently started blogging (finally) and this will truly help me stay on the ball.

    There is much I want to comment and ask about… but I must know one thing first:
    Input Deprivation Week — Im not going to lie… this sounds horrendously stupid and egregiously painful… but so very necessary!!

    How do I do such a thing though?! I really enjoy learning new things via YouTube (Vsauce, Veritasium, ExtraCredits, Game Theory, Idea Channel, SciShow etc) and blogs, and science articles, and …. but I understand why I should do this… but I dont want to!!

    HOW?!

    Does that mean no music too?!!! What am I supposed to do if I can’t listen to music for a whole week?? I do not if I can stay sane…
    What about games? I just got a new game and try to play at least an hour a day (and all day on the weekends) as a way to wind down and relax… it helps.. are you saying I have to lose all my dailies for a whole week??!!!

    Ugh, and after reading this whole article every single reason (ie excuse) I can come up with is knocked down by the realization that this is the best, and only way to really get things done. Action.

    Im sorry if I sound a bit incoherent and unhinged here.. its because I am. It is just hard to fathom such a thing. I need (or want) your confirmation that I should really do this… (probably going to do it anyways) but man this sounds so scary 8{

    • The more you’re freaked out by Input Deprivation the more you need it… I think you already know that though.

      Doing it without music is better. The idea is to be with your own ideas as exclusively as possible.

      This is how you do it: WRITE in your journal how terrible and stupid it is and how much you want to be playing your videogame or listening to music. Remind yourself that it’s only a week. Remind yourself that you’re doing something that will strengthen your mind for a long time.

      Nobody that has ever done this has told me it’s a waste of time. It works.

      Of course, you’re the only person who can force yourself to do it. I hope you do.

  • Pamela

    Wow what a post. I have copied and printed the “Analysis Paralysis” image. Been at the business since last May and have more 1.5 TB of info….yes that is 1.5 Terabytes of information on the online selling business. Talk about overload. That cartoon is exactly how I am coping. It is almost like a drug….just cannot get enough information. I start surfing at one website and down the never ending wormhole I go.
    Have spent over 5 figures on every offer going.
    Is there a detox unit for online store seller info junkies. All jovality aside I do worry how to get myself out of this addiction.
    I will read this post again and again.

    • Hi Pamela,

      There’s no easy answer. Like you saw in the post, it’s usually about consciously forcing painful deprivation of information/input and establishing action. You’re in the group though, so on the bonus session we’ll talk about some strategies specifically for importers.

  • Angela

    Kyle, I really resonate with pretty much everything you’ve covered here including much of the personal stuff you’ve shared. Much of this is the way I’ve tried living my life in general and I say tried, because as we all do, I’ve often lapsed. The important thing is to be aware of ourselves and keep picking ourselves up faster and faster as soon as we realised we’ve slipped and keep moving. Keep moving and doing and acting, since this is the best way we can do our lives justice. And it really is all so much easier when we live every moment in the moment, in a mindful way, with purpose. Further to this, reading through makes me feel like I’ve come home in a way. It’s reminded me and reinforced for me who I am and despite the fact that I’m doing things about 80% of the time, activating that remaining 20% will really kick things off to a whole new level. Your writing also reminds me of people I used to hang with in the past and have the most awesomely deep conversations with…and one big thing I’ve taken away from this is that I need to reconnect with that again and steer myself away from this vacuous world devoid of soul that I’ve found myself in in recent years. Well here we go then.
    Thanks for all the time you’ve put into writing this and for sharing it with everyone and thank yourself too for being true to yourself, the only way to be.

    • Angela, that comment… wow! I’m so glad this resonated with you. It’s been tons of fun having you in the Jumpstart Group. You’re a lot of fun to spend time with (even virtually!)

      Thanks for taking the time to share your insights as well. And for showing up the way you do 🙂

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  • Kate

    Kyle,

    For too many years I’ve been so busy ‘surviving’ life that I haven’t been living it.
    I’ve read so much about ebay businesses, dabbled for awhile – and allowed negativism to cause me to give up. I thought it was others’ but it was My own!
    The inactivity, fear if failure – your description of these life wasters is hilarious but so true…. I’m not sure why your step-by-step stuff is all free, but thank you times a million. My passion is not about being “rich” but philanthropic works require money.
    That’s just how life works.

    My son is convinced he was born to be an entrepreneur, and had a small retail business that did very well for a while and then failed. Now, he thinks it was his one & only, like the girl who broke his heart in high school. He’ll be moving off of consoling himself with inconsequential articles and YouTube and reading your posts. For that, I can’t thank you nearly enough.
    Truly,
    Kate

    • Hi Kate,

      Thank you for the kind words!

      If your son can do it once he can do it again… and much better this time. There are very few entrepreneurs who have lifelong success with their first venture. He should just be getting started 🙂

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  • DrewB

    There is a generosity of information sharing here that is rare online. You guys deserve all your succcess.

  • Ohhh i felt so guilty for reading this and taking the time as I am more than aware of my procrastination, fear and excuses which were even more evident and valid the more I continued to read, damn you for being in my head! I have held such disappointment, shame and dislike for the path I keep going on and ironically I have less respect and time for people who have a world of opportunities for them to embrace yet they talk not walk… so I persevered and kept reading your powerful “novel”. It was the boot I needed to stop this mindless clutter of excuses. So I thank you. I will put this advice into action and empower myself and start to believe I am more than capable. Much respect to you. Karena, (small business owner) Brisbane, Australia

  • A simple thank you is just all I want to say!
    You really helped me put things into perspective- I will be looking forward to my “Input Deprivation Week” by God’s grace-starting this weekend!

    Thank you!!!!

  • Rafael

    Fuck. This is exactly what I needed.

  • Tomspy77

    I’m sorry this is nothing but BS… The author already lives off writing, everybody in the comments is kissing his behind… If course he can be positive.

    Then there is that look at your Facebook pics thing.. You were directing a movie? At a book unveiling? Mine were two selfies and some plants oh yes my life is so interesting.

    And meditation does none of those things… You sit breathe and that’s it… No enlightenment, no feeling better… It’s a crock.

    Then you get its better to try and if you failed you tried? Tell that to a land lord or the members of the opposite sex who will shun you cause your real world value is less then zero.

    Oh I’ve been writing since 2006, in 2011 I was in a book and neither paid anything and have done f all for my life.

    Point is its easy for those already living life to tell us losers what to do… Because they have it already.

    For some of us, life is just nothing but failure, pain and darkness and we will never get out. Drinking the kool-aid will do nothing for it.

  • Justin W

    The knowledge you shared was priceless and resonated deeply. One action that I have been meaning to take is to start approaching women. After reading this post, I realized that I could no longer rationalize my inaction away. I HAD to take action, and I did- I went out and made multiple approaches last night. Thank you.

  • pj

    Not sure to understand how to create systems or what do you mean by create systems? Do you have a specific post on that specific subject?

  • Jonathan Johansson

    awesome article

  • Rickvian

    i read just a couple of sentence above, and realize i don’t need to read the rest and start taking action. Thank you

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