Hit two important milestones to wrap up 2018. Firstly, another stripe has been added to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu belt:

It took about 4 months between stripes, but the next one will be quicker. I am rapidly becoming obsessed. I keep a journal of everything learned in class. I visited a BJJ school in my hometown while on vacation. This is a forever thing.

Secondly, this happened just now: I hit 10,000 XP on Duolingo, which puts me at the top of my list of friends:

If I can keep a 365 day streak alive in 2018, this number will be nearly 20,000. Let’s see if we can make that happen.


Allow me to share with you a fantastic end-of-year journaling exercise that I stumbled upon yesterday. I am three days into my traditional year-end trip to the homeland (Grand Rapids, Michigan), having descended from the wooded mountain cabin sanctuary in Chicago. Yesterday afternoon the parents went next door to share their neighbor’s joy in having seen seven deer in their back yard minutes previously and I found myself alone with the journal for a couple of hours. The idea I had was to write down the names of all the humans that have impacted my life in some way in 2018. This was inspired by a conversation a day before with friends regarding their copious Christmas card collection, and how I felt that perhaps I should send those things next year.

Ed Catmull would tell you that you need to invent the future if you can’t predict it, and so the idea was simply to end up with a Christmas card list. But the result ended up being more than just a list; I wrote down two to three lines about how each person or couple helped change my life this year, and it was an amazing experience. As I would write names & experiences down I would remember small things about them that I wanted to encourage them on and would send texts out as the list got longer. The end result was nearly three full pages of amazing people, good times, good lessons, and a heart full of gratitude and happiness.

Taking it a step further back, it is interesting to note that the Maximum lifestyle engineering project that I began this year significantly reduced the time spent with other people and increased the time spent alone focusing on myself. This however has had a knock-on effect of magnifying the importance of the specific individuals that made it on to my list. Less people, but better experiences and greater impact. I’m sure the list would have been even longer during other years of my life but those years were so noisy and chaotic that all of this beauty was lost in the shuffle. It’s safe to say that the Important People List has become a staple activity for my year-end reflections here on out.

Right Now

Have you wondered what “right now” really is? I will tell you. It is the sharp edge of reality springing into existence. You are witnessing the creation of new reality, the birth and immediate death of the Present. You must be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they are created, no matter where you are. This is no different whether when you scuba diving a reef off the coast of Cozumel or going to work on a Monday morning. 

Weekend Weakness

Is an idea I used to unconsciously espouse, in which there is something magically different about Friday night to Sunday night. This is a falsehood. Why should the rules be any different about how you live your life (minus regularly-scheduled life activities that happen to fall on those days)? Every night of the week should be seen as equally valuable for enjoying life and making progress, being in flow and conquering your enemies. Days when you are not in the office are opportunities to get ahead in other areas, just as much as they are for recharging the social batteries. You need to be able and healthy to take advantage, not hungover on the couch or blowing time and money on toxic people. So the question this weekend is will you be weak or will you be strong? Schwach oder stark!

Thoughts on Pain

Watching your life, what Mihaly would call committing psychic energy to it or things in it, is painful at first. A great example is when I first started keeping a budget as part of my morning routine. Forcing myself to look at my finances for a just a few minutes every day was excruciatingly painful, mentally and emotionally. But the pain is not a setback. It represents the first steps in the right direction. Don’t stop now; on the other side of that pain is something beautiful.

When you’re experiencing intense pain as a result of pursuing a goal, it helps to step back and ask yourself, “Do I want this to get better? If the answer is yes, you must keep moving forward. If you stop, it will only get worse.

Sometimes you’ll have that “wheel-spinning” feeling. Not getting anywhere. Your knee hurts, your shoulder hurts. It’s not getting better. You must seize on this moment to ask yourself why you have set the goals that have brought you into this pain. I still plan to go to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class tonight, but why? Remind yourself of the beauty that awaits on the other side of the pain. The pain will translate into progress, and that’s how the other side is obtained.

Be Intolerant

Ray Dalio says in his book Principles, “Don’t tolerate the problems.” He’s talking about how he plans his goals; his method involves identifying the goal, then the problems that are in the way of getting there. Unfortunately, this means people sometimes. How often has an experience with a person been enriching and rewarding, helping to achieve your goals versus the opposite?

Having these goals in the first place is what sets up the contrast. What you would once tolerate because there was simply no reason not to, now is nothing less than an existential threat to a better version of yourself. This cannot be tolerated.

Life or Death

The other day I had an interesting conversation with Kyle, a co-worker of mine. We had talked about motivational and inspiring authors several times in the past, so it wasn’t abnormal when he asked me if I had heard of a certain guy who had transformed himself from a 300-pound couch potato to US Navy SEAL and world-class ultra-marathon runner. I had not. After telling me the story, Kyle made a very interesting statement.

“It would be so awesome to have that kind of motivation, you know?”

“What kind?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.

“You know, the kind where you realize you have to do something or you’re going to die.”

It took me a moment to come up with a response. It’s not the kind of statement that is necessarily refutable; surely survival instinct plays a huge role in the attempts many people make to improve their lives. But to my mind this was a bit different.

“That’s true” I said eventually. “but all motivation should be like that.”

That sums up my idea about motivation: it must ultimately begin with the desire to improve your current condition or situation. Whether for something urgent like a life-or-death situation, or something non-urgent like putting in the effort to finish an important work project early, that desire to improve your circumstances is ultimately the same thing but with other drivers acting on it. Motivation + Survival will get you through a natural disaster. Motivation + Reproduction will get you into a relationship. Motivation + Avarice will get you into stock market speculation. Focusing strictly on the motivation, though, it’s all the same thing.

It’s obviously a very important thing, but I wanted to stress to Kyle that he didn’t have to wait around for a survival scenario to experience this kind of motivation. In the case of the converted ultra-marathoner, I believe that what drove him on to the great heights he has achieved and what was truly enviable was the moment of discovery. Realizing, after a lifetime of self-doubt and self-defeat, that he could actually lose 10 pounds after all. And then 150 more. He could actually run a mile, and then 150 more. In fact, turns out his body had basically won the ultra-marathon genetics lottery; he just needed to discover it.

Once you can imagine something better a month, a year, a decade in your future and really sell it to your own mind, the motivation you feel is no less potent than if a gun was being pointed to your head. In fact, it is more so. The really amazing stuff starts to happen when you get into the world of Motivation + Discovery; therein lies no limit.

Photo: David Goggins