I ended up in Palermo almost by accident. If you are familiar with my style at all, I rarely book anything beforehand. August was a strange month this year. I had wrapped up my summer classes, and I was feeling rather restless. I had tracked down a stupendously cheap flight to Barcelona in the spring, and after booking it had almost forgot about it. After grading all of the exams and submitting final grades on a warm Sunday afternoon I headed to Chicago for the evening haul to Barcelona. I have written before, that while truly a great city, Barcelona is not my favorite. ( Barcelona is easy to love)
Still, I wanted to vacate the states for a bit, I needed a fresh view, to chew on some things in my mind and “get it sorted” as the Brits say. 2019 had been full throttle, and yet I was a bit pensive about the near future. I didnt want to push this 20 day trek to the limit. I wanted to take it easy. Lets be honest here, few places are more conducive to idyllic relaxation than the south of Spain. Catalan or otherwise. Boundaries had been rocked so far for the year. Costa Rica, The Phillipines, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Colombia…I had made sweet love to the travel ambitions that I so adore.
Mountains, landscapes, sea side glory, all of the good stuff. Now I was going to take it easy, unplug, and wander a bit. I landed in BCN on an easy morning. Quickly passed through customs, and grabbed a taxi to the center. One cannot have a bad time in Spain. I’m convinced of this. Unless you have the personality of a banana slug. With this is mind…Barcelona, after the first night I found myself content…but still restless. I wanted to hit a kind of travel stride. the addiction that I must feed. I gave Barcelona one more more day to wander the old city, walk the public beaches and gorge on pinchos and tapas.
During the evening, however, I began to wander on various flight apps looking at the possibilities of further escape. Wizz air threw some enticing flirtation my way. They recently began flying to the republic of Georgia. Georgia has been high on my list for years. I have gotten close…but not quite close enough. I worked on the Georgia logistics for a few hours, and felt mostly set on that idea. It would be Georgia, and maybe even a push into Azerbaijan to see a dear graduate school friend in Baku. The next morning, I wake up, find a suitable breakfast, and scope my carefully laid plans… Surprise! Tickets double, tickets sell out, “this flight is no longer avail on this day” etc.
Time for an alternate plan. This is really where serendipity comes to play. I cast my fortunes to the wind, and obviously Georgia was not meant to be (this time). Now I need to load the flight map and see where I will land. (figuratively as well as literally) The matrix gods give me a few easy options. Dubrovnik, Bilbao, and Porto all offer up amazing options, as well as access to the sea, culinary genius, and local charm. Plus, there are cheap direct flights, budget airline style. Then I see it. Fuckin Palermo, Sicily.
Lets do it. book it. Leaves tonight. Sicily greeted me like a long lost lover, quick to a new yet familiar embrace. I was smitten.
Sicily has it. I can’t exactly define it. From the chaotic airport to the goofy bus that takes you to the center. I arrived late at night, ventured to my hotel, and then walked a bit. I’ve said it before numerous times. There is no better way to learn a new place than night steps. Bright and early I hit the streets of this old world place and instantly felt it. This wasn’t anything like fuckin Disneyland. Old world authenticity and killer gelato will forever be a favorite combination of mine.
From the a few of the dusty neglected churches, and the tiny side streets where they are located to the intense local markets where the term “organic” need not apply, I absolutely loved Sicily. I averaged 10 miles a day on foot. This is a place where I will spend considerably more time in the future. I’m always hunting. In these now 79 countries, some places have it. The magic . Other places, not so much. This is a fluid concept, some places lose it, and others gain it. A kind of Travelers currency, certain places are simply well stocked with a kind of grit that I find irresistible. This is one of the reasons you will most likely never see my ass on a cruise. I don’t want to knock them, as they are loved by millions, but for me there is an essential missing element.
I can walk these streets for months and feel good. There are enough subtle differences here , especially with the American Midwest that we find it altogether charming. Off the popular tourist track as it were, but with all the significant draws of “Europe”. Like the food. Dear sweet baby Jesus the food. Italy as a whole is one of those places where gluttony surely cannot be a sin. Walking multiple miles per day is the only way to begin to fight the pasta demons that entice you at every meal.
Even then, Palermo is the birthplace of the Cannoli, and if you’ve never had a real one, lose your dessert virginity here. Only after, then you (like me) can die happy. I plan to write more about Sicily. This place has that magic that I search the globe for. I ended up here almost on accident, and I could not have enjoyed it more. Sicily has the magic in abundance. For that I am eternally grateful. I spent 10 days exploring this coast,
and I smiled the entire time. Exactly what I needed to work some things over in the rock tumbler that is the human brain. The sun, salt water and proper pasta can combat near any evil. My first few days in Palermo floated by, as this place quickly became one of my favorite “accidents.”
Ah Barcelona. Bright, beautiful and exotic to the American mind. The home of Gaudi, the stunning architectural master that adds yet another flavorful layer to the Catalan city by the sea.
I visited Barcelona in the early summer 3 yers ago. It was my first time in Spain (A country I have come to love the fuck out of). I had spent the majority of my travel time off the beaten path as it were. Trekking through the rapidly changing regions of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Friends and colleagues, fellow travelers and Instagram alike had hyped Barcelona to impossible heights. “The absolute best city in the world”.
I had to go right?
And thus I did.
And I get it. I truly do. Barcelona is the topless beach, where someone passes you a joint and invites you to hacky sack. Barcelona is all night sangria. Barcelona is shockingly gorgeous people of damn near every stripe. (Seriously though, where did all of you beautiful people come from??) It’s mostly safe and enchanting enough.
But therein lies the rub. Not to sound like a wanker, but I’ve been at this for a bit. I thrive on finding that travel magic and at this point I gotta dig for it. Barcelona…is like Disney world. Barcelona is a dream, an idea. This City is the myth that keeps you working over time to be able to pay for that vacation. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that It’s a place SATURATED with tourists. Now, I recognize that I am one of those tourists. Albeit not in a backward ball cap and flip flops getting blind wasted in the afternoon and cat calling passing ladies.
I had an idea that since the world and everything in it changes so damn fast (who’s getting old?!) that perhaps Barcelona would be different 3 years later. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not overtly hating. Every place has elements of awesome. Barcelona certainly has more than its fair share. If you go, and if you most certainly should, stay outside the Las Ramblas area. When you venture near grace yourself for heat, crowds, that overpowering scent of urine and airport style prices.
Stay anywhere else, and try to at least make an effort to engage some aspects of Catalan culture. Don’t be a sack of asses and enjoy your holiday.
This August Barcelona was under 300$ RT from the midwestern US. The best option on the continent and a great hub to explore the Mediterranean regions I am keen on.
Did I enjoy it? Abso-fucking-Lutley. Barcelona just doesn’t have that magic for me. The primary industry is tourists, who flock to its sunny shores and bars like a European Cancun…only without the resort culture.
Loads and loads of people love Cancun, and even more love Barcelona I’m sure. It’s a personal preference thing. I don’t really dig cruises or theme parks. I’ve always been on the hunt for something more…visceral. For a first trip to Europe, I would still go with Barcelona over London/Paris. I would land in Barcelona, then head elsewhere in Spain or the region. Which is exactly what I did.
2019 has been been chocked fucking full of it. Made it to Boston, The Philippines, Europe, the Middle East, back to Colombia…and its been absolutely amazing. All kinds of transition happening, but also all kinds of adventure! Tomorrow we head to Chicago, then onto Spain for Monday morning. From there…who knows?!?
Excited for a new piece? Anywhere you would like to see me hit and report back on?
Before writing the first chapter of Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling planned for seven years at Hogwarts. Harry Potter is one of the most read books of all-time.
Before creating the first Stars Wars movie in the 1970s, George Lucas planned for at least six films and started at episode four, rather than episode one. Almost 40 years later, the entire world continues to be excited with the release of a new Star Wars film. This would not be possible if Lucas hadn’t thoughtfully and largely planned ahead.
The principle is simple: Don’t just plant a tree, plant an orchard.
How different might Harry Potter have been if Rowling started the book without any intentions or plans beyond the first book? It may have just been a book about a boy who went to school and killed a bad guy. Perhaps, at the conclusion of that story, Rowling might or might not have decided to write a sequel.
Yet, by “beginning with the end in mind,” Rowling was able to direct and position the first book much differently. The first book, although amazing in itself, was a means to an end, clearly leading the reader to the next book.
Not only that but by having a long-term objective, Rowling was able to create a much bigger story. She was able to foreshadow to things the reader wouldn’t learn about for sometimes several years!
But she planted those seeds early and thoughtfully, and as a result, each book was a continuation of the next, rather than several disconnected and random stories.
Similarly, consider how different Star Wars would have been had Lucas created one film, without planning what would come next, or before! Vader may have just been “the bad guy,” not Luke’s father.
Very Few People Live like This
You are the writer of your own narrative. Yet, how often do you plan each year based on what you intend to do during the next year or the one after that?
What if, like Rowling, you were living this year based on what you intend to do in 1, 3, and 5 years from now?
It’s all in the setup.
Goals are means, not ends.
Everything you do is positioning. Are you positioning yourself to do AMAZING things in 1, 3, or 5 years from now?
I can already hear your mental wheels spinning.
But you can’t plan for the future! The real world isn’t Hogwarts!
Obviously, the world is changing fast. You can’t plan for everything. Hence, Tony Robbins has said, “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”
After setting his goals in several areas of his life (e.g., health, spirituality, finances, relationships, service, etc.), and for 1, 3, 5, and 25 years out, Assaraf’s mentor asked him, “Are you interested in achieving these goals, or are you committed?” to which Assaraf responded, “What’s the difference?”
His mentor responded:
“If you’re interested, you come up with stories, excuses, reasons, and circumstances about why you can’t or why you won’t. If you’re committed, those go out the window. You just do whatever it takes.”
Clearly, Assaraf’s life probably isn’t exactly how he planned it to be when he set those goals in 1982 at the age of 19. However, I’m confident those goals propelled him to where he is today.
He was playing and planning a much bigger game than most people and writing a much different story.
The Science Doesn’t Lie
If psychological science has found anything in the past 30 years, it’s that people with high self-efficacy and an internal locus of control radically outperform others.
Self-efficacy = your belief in your own ability to achieve your goals. Think “confidence.”
Internal locus of control = a belief that you, not external circumstances, determine the outcomes of your life.
External locus of control = a belief that factors outside of you determine the outcomes of your life.
The majority of the population have low self-efficacy and an external locus of control. According to several research studies, people with these two traits:
Reverse everything on that list for people with high self-efficacy and an internal locus of control.
Living a Consciously Designed Life
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” — Abraham Lincoln
Pulling it all together, here’s how it works:
You must believe YOU ARE IN CONTROL of what happens to you (i.e., internal locus of control)
You must believe in YOUR OWN ABILITY to make things happen (i.e., self-efficacy/confidence)
You must believe you, and only you, are RESPONSIBLE for the choices you make
You must have HOPE that what you seek will come about.
According to psychology’s Hope Theory, hope reflects your perceptions regarding your capacity to:
clearly conceptualize goals
develop the specific strategies to reach those goals (i.e., pathways thinking)
initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies (i.e., agency thinking).
From a spiritual perspective, hope is far more than wishful thinking. It’s a sense of confidence, even assurance, that what you seek is a foregone conclusion — what Tony Robbins calls, “Resolve.”
“Resolve means it’s done,” said Robbins. “It’s done inside your heart, therefore it’s done in the real world.” Hence, Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Few people make committed decisions. Instead, they state preferences such as, “I’d like to be healthier and happier.”
To quote Assaraf’s mentor, “Are you interested or committed?
5. You are MOTIVATED, even when life is difficult.
your belief that specific behaviors will actually facilitate the outcomes you desire
your belief in your own abilityto successfully execute the behaviors requisite to achieving your goals
If you don’t truly value the goal, you won’t be motivated. If you don’t believe you have an effective means of achieving your goal, you won’t be motivated. If you don’t expect yourself to do what it takes, you won’t be motivated.
This theory is known as “Expectancy Theory,” and it highlights that what you expect to happen often does. Hence the term, “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Interestingly, there is a related concept known as “The Pygmalion Effect,”which shows that what other people expect of you in large measure determines how well you do.
You have to ‘Be’ the right kind of person first, then you must ‘Do’ the right thingsbefore you can expect to ‘Have.’” — Zig Ziglar
Living a consciously designed life is completely possible.
Perhaps the most fundamental decision any person can ever make is this one:
You can choose to believe that the people who succeed, like Michael Jordan, for example, were born to become what they did
Or, you can choose to believe that at some point, they chose to become what they did
That is the most fundamental decision you can make about life as a human being. It is what some would call a “watershed issue” — whichever side of the equation you pick will put you down a course that will influence all of your other decisions, mindsets, and beliefs.
Do you believe you can choose what you become?
Or do you believe your course is set for you at birth?
Do you “discover” yourself or do you “create” yourself?
Whichever perspective you choose, your brain will go about finding any and all information it can to support that bias. As Dan Sullivan has said, “Your eyes can only see and your ears can only hear what your brain is looking for.”Psychologists call this “selective attention.”
What you focus on expands.
You see what you believe is real — and then it becomes real for you in a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Dr. Stephen Covey said, “You see the world, not as it is, but as you’ve been conditioned to see it.”
Making this shift starts by recognizing that for quite a while, you’ve been going through the motions. Your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and even desires are the product of your environment.
Thanks to a global world that makes information abundant, it isn’t hard to become exposed to other ways of life. However, you must realize quickly that most of the information online is complete trash. Which is why Basecamp Founder, Jason Fried, has said, “I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much.”
Once you begin upgrading your mindset and environment, and once your priorities and goals are clear — then you don’t want to be swayed or distracted by most of the low-level information out there.
A key strategy for making any jump is to, “Assume the feeling of your wish fulfilled,” meaning, you assume the posture, attitude, and emotions of the people operating at the higher level.
You affirm to yourself who you are and then operate from that affirmation. This may sound like “acting as if,” and it actually is.
But it’s important to realize that we are always “acting” in a role. All of life is acting. In every situation, you are assuming a character. You’re playing a role based on the other people around you. In some situations, your role may be an employee, while in others it may be a parent, or child, or friend.
In all cases, you are acting a part.
You can change your role.
You can change the stage.
You can choose to be different. But it must start in your state of being. Rather than operating subconsciously as the majority of people do, you must make a conscious decision about who you intend to be and where you intend to go. You must then BEHAVE from that decision. When you act from that decision, then you create the outcomes you are seeking. You will become the person you intend to be, rather than the person your circumstances led you to be.
Conclusion: Humility and Awe
“My dreams are my dress rehearsals for my future.” — David Copperfield
Does everything in life go exactly how you plan it? Of course not.
Here’s the principle: Expect great things to happen, be happy even when they don’t.
“Expect everything and attach to nothing!” — Carrie Campbell
However, just because things don’t go exactly according to plan doesn’t mean you aren’t in control. It is your decisions, not your conditions, which determine your destiny.
When you take up the responsibility to live your life according to design rather than the default, you will constantly be humbled and in awe. You’ll be blown away as you watch life unfold as you saw it in your head — as your physical world conforms itself to your thoughts.
You absolutely can live your life how Rowling wrote Harry Potter and how Lucas wrote Star Wars.
You can dream and live BIG.
You can live by design.
Your world can continue to expand.
But you must think further ahead. 2019 shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. It’s an obvious continuation of 2018.
Some days I feel old. Especially in airports. My ass is planted in a plastic formed seat in the small regional airport of Udon Thani, north eastern Thailand. 35 WiFi networks and none of them public.
Because fuck you. That’s why.
Time on the road can jade you just a bit. Cranky ass old people are a fixture of modern day life. As I sit here and embrace my inner cantankerous bastard, some glorious truths shine their benevolent rays of goodness light upon me…and I soften a bit.
Let me explain.
Am I a bit sore/tired? Sure. Why is that?
Well it happens to be because I averaged around 10 miles per day hiking all over the lower regions of Laos. The small yet charming south East Asian country being #72! and having evaded me (barely) this time last year. Now, this entire shot was just a bit over two weeks, and as it’s winding down, I’m absolutely elated. I’m grown man giddy. I have so much to write about, so many memories and sordid tales. Pictures, conversations, connections…the real shit that gets the blood flowing.
I know for many of us, we get lost in the worlds dumpster fires. Blind tribalism, shit strap politics, and overall doom and gloom.
I left that shit behind. I had no choice. This year certainly had its share of suck. Big epic balls of suck. But I’m still here, and I’m still standing. Pushing forward and stoked on what’s ahead. If it’s toxic, let it be. Don’t carry it around with you. Shits heavier than lead. Instead I’ve focused on making a difference, making my dent, and never giving in to the quiet desperation that seems so prevalent. Wrapped around all of this goodness is a fluffy, warm, slightly crispy pressed tortilla of stupendous optimism. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a feel fucking good burrito. The power of unbridled optimism feels weird at first, but then a euphoria settles in. It’s like a savage orgasm, only for your personality.
So my ass might be numb. I might be a bit sunburned. I may have believed my death imminent in the back of a tuk tuk today, I may feel a bit battered from vans, planes, boats, border crossings, and all the rest…I have longer pieces to finish and some logistics to sort…in short, I might feel a bit old in this airport…But I also feel the power of hope, and the concept that if I were to get creamed by a fruit truck next week, or my plane were to go down, I couldn’t be angry. I’ve been fortunate enough to jam on my dreams for over a decade now. I’ve pushed my self, my goals, and my ambitions farther than I ever thought possible. I’ve had a chance to love the fuck out of so many people. I’ve counted on and been saved by those same folks more than I should admit.
Seeing the world, sharing glimpses with you, and blasting ignorance in the pills every semester in my classrooms. Thank you for coming along, and helping me along the way.
I have written about the benefits of a kind of “digital detox” before. Especially within the context of traveling. Like this; From Cartagena with love.
Stowing our devices from time to time allows us to be more connected to the moment, and especially to the people around us. Thinking about the process of building new habits, this recent post by Aj Jones struck a chord with me.
the full article can be found here: https://medium.com/s/story/the-digital-detox-is-dead-but-we-still-need-to-use-technology-more-wisely-31f7964a96d8
Jones argues that the detox is dead, and that instead we simply need to be more responsible with our technology use. What say you? Is the detox dead?
“Who amongst us hasn’t heard of the “digital detox”? In essence, the digital detox is the process of ridding oneself of toxins and unhealthy substances generated by prolonged technology use. In the past few years, digital detoxing has grown from an idea to a brand to, for many, a guide for how to think and live.
Today I’m writing to note that the digital detox should die, and for good reason.
Let’s get to the facts: There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that in our current era of TVs, computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, we overuse technology. These tools of technology have fundamentally changed how we communicate. Today, these tools function as essentials for completing everyday tasks at home and in the workplace.
The usage figures themselves are more than a little shocking:
For personal research, I’ve even used an online survey to assess how much technology people I know use per day, with over half of my participants reporting a daily use of over five hours.
This technology overuse is increasingly, though often indirectly, linked to conditions including stress, anxiety, social isolation, depression, and insomnia. All of these are known to contribute to burnout, but I predict that the digital detox is just the wrong solution to this problem of technology overuse.
Personally, I’m not addicted to technology per se, but I do use it to work remotely, stay connected with friends and family, and stream movies, which, in hindsight, may seem like a lot. I had noticed not long ago that through my technology use I had unknowingly developed a pattern of bad habits, a few of which I have listed below:
I would reach for my phone as soon as I woke up (about 8 a.m.) to check Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, emails, and LinkedIn.
I’d then grab my laptop from under my bed where I stashed it the night before, head to my desk, and start working. First, I’d respond to emails and messages, then make plans for the day, and finally begin my work (I do work from home quite often).
By 6 p.m. I would try and finish for the day, sit on the couch with the TV on for background noise, and then scroll through Facebook on my laptop while chatting with friends via WhatsApp on my phone.
At around 8 p.m., I’d grab dinner with some friends before getting into bed at about 10 p.m. Since I’d often struggle with getting to sleep, I would end up watching Netflix until my eyes were sore enough that they’d close on their own.
Almost every night for about a year on end, I would wake up at 3 a.m. and struggle to get to sleep again. This would mean that I’d watch more Netflix until my tiredness overwhelmed me, and fall asleep at about 5 a.m., ready to repeat the whole process for another day.
In short, I was exhausted all the time.
The image you probably have of me in your head right now is someone who looks a little like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and my friends may jokingly argue that this is a pretty accurate representation! But in reality I am a healthy, exercise-conscious person, and always have been. My current lifestyle contrasts with the 10 years of my life which I spent in an elite military unit where my office was the outdoors, and I would literally live for weeks at a time directly under the stars in places all over the world. It wasn’t until I left that career and became a full-time student at a prestigious U.K. university that I began to use technology for hours on end without a break, every single day.
In short, I developed these bad habits during my time as a student, and left them unchecked for so long that I carried them with me into my work life.
So what were the physical and mental effects of all this technology overuse? Well, physically I lost weight. The lack of sleep affected my eating habits and decreased my energy levels. My eyesight, which had always been 20/20, deteriorated. I began to struggle to see objects that were far away, simply because I was spending long periods staring at a digital screen only a few inches from my face.
Mentally, the effects were much worse. My confidence plummeted, and I stopped seeing friends and spending time with my girlfriend. I was exhausted all day, everyday, and used the little energy I did have just to stay on top of my work. I gradually became depressed without even realizing it, which only prevented me from stepping outside more and being around other people. In short, I came dangerously close to being burnt out.
It was at this point that I knew something had to change, so I reflected on my bad habits and tried to begin addressing them; not by detoxing from technology use altogether, but by trying to be more careful about my use.
Be in control of your technology use — don’t let it control you.
Gradually, I began to set boundaries and stick to them. I started going to the gym every morning and didn’t check my phone until I was done with my workout, learning in the process that the world is not going to end if I don’t reply to every email right away. I made a point of meeting and spending time with friends, just chatting and drinking. I now have a definite cutoff time in the evenings for when I stop using my laptop. I also only read in bed now, which has led to deeper, longer, and unbroken periods of sleep.
Very quickly I started noticing myself becoming healthier, happier, and having much more energy. This period of change differs from a “digital detox” the way we understand it today because I didn’t lock all my devices in a box and abstain from technology use altogether, or delete all my social media accounts entirely, or put myself at the metaphorical top of a mountain for longer than a weekend.
My experience teaches me that the “digital detox” needs to die because it is a fundamentally flawed concept. Three reasons explain this: First, the term “detox” has several negative connotations. It implies addiction and dependency, which removes your agency in decision-making and practicing sound judgement over your health and happiness. This, in turn, renders you subject to your digital addiction, unable to make clear decisions and take control without outside support.
Secondly, the idea of surrendering your devices, or deleting your social media and going cold turkey, is actually a rather oppressive and unnecessary approach. It almost creates a prison-like environment in which you can only control your behavior when your distractions are taken away.
Ironically, this in turn creates a situation in which you are rewarded with your devices or apps at the end of your detox period if you are good and obey the rules. If you delete your social media and abstain from using your devices, you get to use them once the detox period is over. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
Thirdly, it implies that without outside support to motivate you, a detox is, by definition, difficult to achieve. This is wrong, and belief in this prevents most people from managing their technology use much better. For example, 65 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly agree that periodically unplugging is important for their mental health, but only 28 percent of those actually report doing so.
Now, spas and boutiques offer more affluent clientele opportunities to digitally detox while partaking in their services, and companies prioritizing employee health have started treating their staff to bespoke packages or retreats in order to get them away from their devices for certain periods of time.
A more practical approach to the digital detox is to work with the simple fact that most of us do not suffer from a severe addiction to technology and do not actually need, or are not realistically able to, engage in a hardcore detox from it. For those who do suffer from an actual addiction to technology, help can come in the form of professional behavioral therapy, or a rehabilitative experience that promises the necessary services and support to address issues of addiction.
Instead of detoxing, many of the rest of us should get comfortable with the idea of detaching from our technology periodically.
Instead of detoxing, many of the rest of us should get comfortable with the idea of detaching from our technology periodically. Detaching means keeping our devices and social media apps, but using them only when necessary or within an ordained limit. Many of us, for example, don’t need to aimlessly scroll through our phones on a bus or train to help pass the time, since it is bad for our eyes and is almost always unrewarding. Instead, read a book and expand your mind. I’m currently reading The Worst Journey in the World — a true story about the early Antarctic explorers and Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated final expedition — which is pretty fascinating and inspiring stuff.
Unlike a digital detox where you either surrender your devices, delete all your social media apps, or, ironically, use an app to block all your other apps (a digital response to a digital problem?!) a detach requires you to make conscious decisions about when and how you use your technology. In this is a more powerful lesson which gives you the power to pull back at any time or context.
When you detach you are in control all the time. It is a mind game in which you play against you, and in which there can only be one winner in the end.
I challenge you to forget about detoxing and embrace the concept of detaching. Choose a time when you would usually use your device; for example, just before bed. Rather than pulling out your device to watch Netflix or scroll through the news, make the choice to read a book in bed. Instead of taking your laptop to a café to work or catch up on social media, make the choice to go for a coffee with a friend, leaving your laptop at home and putting your phone on silent, so you can really be in the moment without any digital distractions.
In short, be in control of your technology use—don’t let it control you. I think you’ll find, as I did, that you’ll be much healthier and happier as a result.”
I know, I know. Its been a month. A few days ago, I received a distressed Whatsapp message from a friend letting me know how much they missed my occasional posts. I have some projects in the works, but wanted to share something I came across recently that both made me smile, and inspired me to write more.
The below excerpt is from James Altucher. (www.jamesaltucher.com) I stumbled over his stuff a few months ago. I was struggling with some melancholic bullshit, and I hit the web hard to read through it, as I often do. One late night trek down the web based rabbit’s hole I discovered Mr.Altucher. Hes quite an eclectic character, but his stuff gave me a good old fashioned and much needed jolt of inspiration.
I want to be creative, I want to write, travel, and push myself as far as I can go.
“Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it.
Nobody would talk to me for more than 30 seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours.
Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “The girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.”
We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.
33 other tips to be a better writer:
1) Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph
Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.
2) Take a huge bowel movement every day
You won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.
3) Bleed in the first line
We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. If you want people to relate to you, then you have to be human.
Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.
4) Don’t ask for permission
In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.
5) Write a lot
I spent the entire ’90s writing bad fiction. Five bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the Pulitzer prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.
6) Read a lot
You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.
7) Read before you write
Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays. Here are some authors to start:
David Foster Wallace
All of the writers are in the top 1/1,000 of 1% of writers. What you are reading has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.
I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.
9) Break the laws of physics
There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. My post, Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters, is an example.
10) Be Honest
Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry that you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. If you aren’t being honest, you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.
11)Don’t Hurt Anyone
This goes against the above rule, but I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule.
For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing.
Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top.
Maybe there are 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend.
So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them. We all have our boundaries. But try this: For the next 10 things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.
Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things… write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on.
Barry Ritholz told me that he doesn’t start writing until he’s angry about something. That’s one approach. Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.
Don’t forget that you are competing against a trillion other pieces of content out there. So you need a title to draw people in. Else you lose.
I don’t quite mean it literally. But if you know a topic gets pageviews (and you aren’t hurting anyone) than steal it, no matter who’s written about it or how many times you’ve written about it before. “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm” was able to nicely piggyback off of how amazingly popular Yasser Arafat is.
16) Make people cry
If you’ve ever been in love, you know how to cry.
Bring readers to that moment when they were a child, and all of life was in front of them, except for that one bittersweet moment when everything began to change. If only that one moment could’ve lasted forever. Please let me go back in time right now to that moment. But now it’s gone.
17) Relate to people
The past decade or more has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight.
Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.
18) Time heals all wounds
Everyone has experiences they don’t want to write about. But with enough time, its OK. My New Year’s Resolution of 1995 is pretty embarrassing. But whatever… it was 16 years ago.
The longer back you go, the less you have to worry about what people think.
Notice that almost all of these rules are about where the boundaries are. Most people play it too safe.
When you are really risking something and the reader senses that (and they WILL sense it), then you know you are in good territory. If you aren’t risking something, then I’m moving on. I know I’m on the right track if after I post something someone tweets, “OMFG.”
20) Be funny
You can be all of the above and be funny at the same time.
When I went to India I was brutalized by my first few yoga classes (actually every yoga class). And I was intimidated by everyone around me. They were like yoga superheroes and I felt like a fraud around them. So I cried, and hopefully people laughed.
It was also a case where I didn’t have to dig into my past but I had an experience that was happening to me right then. How do you be funny? First rule of funny: ugly people are funny. I’m naturally ugly so its easy. Make yourself as ugly as possible. Nobody wants to read that you are beautiful and doing great in life.
21) The last line needs to go BOOM!
Your article is meaningless unless the last line KILLS.
Read the book of short stories “Jesus’ Son” by Denis Johnson. It’s the only way to learn how to do a last line. The last line should take you all the way back to the first line and then “BOOM!”
22) Use a lot of periods
Forget commas and semicolons. A period makes people pause. Your sentences should be strong enough that you want people to pause and think about it. This will also make your sentences shorter. Short sentences are good.
23) Write every day
This is a must. Writing is spiritual practice. You are diving inside of yourself and cleaning out the toxins. If you don’t do it every day, you lose the ability. If you do it every day, then slowly you find out where all the toxins are. And the cleaning can begin.
24)Write with the same voice you talk in
You’ve spent your whole life learning how to communicate with that voice. Why change it when you communicate with text?
25) Deliver value with every sentence
Even on a tweet or Facebook status update. Deliver poetry and value with every word. Else, be quiet.
26) Take what everyone thinks and explore the opposite
Don’t disagree just to disagree. But explore. Turn the world upside down. Guess what? There are people living in China. Plenty of times you’ll find value where nobody else did.
Your idea muscle atrophies within days if you don’t exercise it. Then what do you do? You need to exercise it every day until it hurts. Else no ideas.
28) Sleep eight hours a day
Go to sleep before 9pm at least four days a week. And stretch while taking deep breaths before you write. We supposedly use only 5% of our brain. You need to use 6% at least to write better than everyone else. So make sure your brain is getting as much healthy oxygen as possible. Too many people waste valuable writing or resting time by chattering until all hours of the night.
29)Don’t write if you’re upset at someone
Then the person you are upset at becomes your audience. You want to love and flirt with your audience so they can love you back.
30) Use “said” instead of any other word
Don’t use “he suggested” or “he bellowed,” just “he said.” We’ll figure it out if he suggested something.
31) Paint or draw.
Keep exercising other creative muscles.
32) Let it sleep
Whatever you are working on, sleep on it. Then wake up, stretch, coffee, read, and look again.
Rewrite. Take out every other sentence.
33) Then take out every other sentence again.
Or something like that.
Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. He had another plan. Lets go to Thailand, he said. And become monks in a Buddhist monastery for a year. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said. It will be great and we’ll get life experience.
It sounded good to me.
But then he got accepted to the University of Wisconsin and got a PhD. Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. And as for me…