New Tab, New You

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This post is about a light-weight piece of software I wrote to help track a few things about me I’m interested in monitoring.  It’s freely available (to use and modify) here.

The NTNY screen in action, tracking weekly goals and (white) carbs eaten.

This is a story.  One time, I wanted to get a lot better at pull-ups.  I wanted to be a good rock climber and to have a lot of upper-body strength, and pull-ups were one of the best exercises I could do.  So I thought about how I could do a lot of pull-ups– there was, after all, no bar in my house or office from which I could do the exercise.  An idea came to me: go across the street to the park, and each night, practice doing pull-ups there.

This was not a good idea.  That should be apparent if you’ve ever tried any self-motivated exercise regimen.  All I was relying on was my willpower to achieve a long-term goal.  I didn’t do anything differently except expect that I would make it to the park.  Every night, even when it was dark and rainy and sometimes cold, and I would magically muster up some willpower and go and do the pull-ups.

I think I went once.  Complete failure.

Now this story has a happy ending.  It’s not about me finding it within myself to walk across the street every night.  No, it’s when I realized that the only thing that could convince me to do pull-ups was to make it dead simple.  I would buy a pull-up bar, but only if it could fit in the door of my kitchen, bedroom, or office.  There was no other place I would see it frequently enough to just stop and do pull-ups.  It had to be visible.  It had to be right in my face.  It had to be zero extra work.

The result: I’ve more than doubled the number of pull-ups I can do to 15, and still improving.

The lesson: if you’re going to change something in your life, Read More

The Lion in the Wild

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A lion I saw on safari in Tanzania almost exactly a year ago

The last month, I’ve been just about incommunicado.  There’s a good reason for this– I promise.  Four weeks ago, I told my boss I was leaving Microsoft.  The next two weeks, I prepared for my departure, making sure all of my areas of responsibility were in good shape before I took off, and then, two weeks ago, I went in to the office one last time.

I’m now a freelance user experience designer.  What’s a UX designer?  Someone who makes websites and apps easy to use.  Ergonomics of the mind.

But that’s not what I’m writing to talk about.  I’m writing to talk about being a freelancer, lions, and my theme for 2013– “the lion in the wild”.

I’ve never been a freelancer.  For the last 2.5 years, I’ve had a full-time job.  I’ve been hand-fed a nice paycheck every 2 weeks– more money than anyone my age should be allowed to make, I half-seriously think.  Excellent benefits.  But it’s not without a cost.  At an ultra-large company, things move slowly.  Everyone knows this.  Layers of people to ask for permission; battalions to argue against anything new.  Bureaucracy.  You can receive non-negotiable instructions changing your day-to-day life from people you’ve never met, never even seen in person.  They don’t know you either.  They don’t know what you’re good at, bad at, or want to learn.

They can’t though.  They literally have no time to do so– there are thousands of such people they are responsible for managing.

The whole situation– that of unparalleled comfort yet unnaturally Read More

If You Can’t Beat Them… Have Them Beat Each Other

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Photo credit: Susannah Conway

No one’s perfect, and while for the most part our various failings are viewed as obstacles to us achieving our goals, I want to take a different viewpoint here: each of us has many vices that can actually help us achieve our goals.

I think this sounds weird to say, so here are examples.

Laziness over Gluttony

I can resist any temptation until I can see it.  And when I see food– it doesn’t matter how much plaque it will dump in my heart; it doesn’t matter how much fat it’ll layer over my rock-solid abs– if I have room in my stomach, I will probably eat it.

This is not good.  But there’s a catch.  See, I rarely get hungry for sweets, pastries, or beer on my own.  99% of the time, my stomach will be perfectly satisfied with whatever I give it (but not too many vegetables, k?– doctor’s orders).  So the problem is not eating junkfood when I’m hungry for junkfood– it’s eating junkfood when I see junkfood.

Therefore, the solution is Read More

Making Things Happen is a Skill

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Image credit: Sarah H. Dee (flickr: 31floors)

In the two years that I’ve been running The Finishing School and preaching the gospel of Getting Out There and Doing Stuff, I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t understand why they should have life goals.

Why go out of your way to list these arbitrary and random things?  Why bother trying to achieve something that doesn’t directly benefit you?

Or,

Isn’t that a first-world luxury?  Something you can only think about because you’re satiated to boredom?  Some people are starving, and you’re checking off continents and crap just because you can?

Having a list of life goals is not about arbitrary timesinks.  Nor is it about boredom and privilege.

Having a list of life goals– and, more importantly, doing them– is about something totally different.  It’s about Read More

The Sorrows and Joys of the Bulldozer

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Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar (flickr: vinothchandar)

We hear a lot of hype about ideas. “Ideas can change the world”.  Right.

“Ideas can move mountains”. Ideas don’t move mountains, Peter Drucker reminds us, bulldozers do.  Ideas just tell the bulldozers where to go.

Know what this means?  I’ll tell you:

Do you fancy yourself a bulldozer? You’d better.

If you have a lot of goals, there’s a good chance that– like me– you’re an “ideas person“.  Your notion of the perfect job is to sit back and do nothing but come up with all the next brilliant ideas in your chosen field.  You love discussing, debating, and especially thinking of new ideas.  You place a high premium on interesting.

There’s a problem with that, though.  Ideas are cheap.  Worthless, almost.  What’s your most ambitious goal?  Oh, to start your own business?  That’s cute!  Do you know how many Read More

Oh hey there, Austin, Albuquerque, and Boston– you now have Finishing Schools

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Finishing Schools, dear readers– they are popping up everywhere.  Groups of people meeting to hold each other accountable and help each other with the goals most important to them.  It’s spreading.

Indeed, the following cities around the US are having their first meeting this month:

  • Austin, TX — Nov 2
  • Albuquerque, NM — Nov 4
  • Boston, MA (after a false start last month) — Nov 19, 20, or 21 (TBD)

If you’re interested in attending any of these, give me a holler.  If you want to start one in your city, same deal.  It’s an exciting time to be working on your goals.

We’ll be back to your regular scheduled programming soon.  Of course, tomorrow’s the 2-year anniversary of the Seattle Finishing School, so it may be few days ;)

All the best,
-Erik

Profiles in Awesomeness: An Introduction to Cal Newport

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You should assume that any time I recommend a product or service on this blog that I'm being paid millions of dollars and flown out to cruises and conferences in all world's greatest warm-weather locales-- not because such an assumption is accurate, but because it's pretty awesome. In fact, I haven't been paid to recommend anything-- until now.  Cal Newport recently sent me a copy of his new book "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and I agreed to review it for my blog. However, that's not quite what I'm going to do.  Instead, I want to give an introduction to Cal and many of his ideas, not simply the ones that made it into his most recent book.

Cal Newport wrote a book about succeeding in high school when he was in college, a few books about succeeding in college when he was in grad school, and, now that he’s graduating, he’s– naturally– turned his attention to success in the working world.  The book is called So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

If it’s not clear from the fact that he’s had four publishing deals before the age of 30, Cal Newport is good at life.  From the very first time I read his blog, it was clear that he was a nerd in the best sense– someone who, given an interesting problem and enough time, could simply think unthought thoughts– and then produce value from them.

Cal does something interesting with these thoughts.  Something incredibly simple and powerful.  He names them.

I’ll take the bait.  I’ve read a lot of Cal’s strategies and postulations in the last two years, and some of them have stuck with me since the day I first read them.  Here are a few of my favorite idea’s of Cal’s, including a bit on the book at the end.

* * *

Failed Simulation Effect

This is perhaps my favorite advice from Cal’s older writing.  It’s about how to be “impressive”.  And his idea goes like this:

The things that sound the most impressive are not the things that require the most work– they’re the things that are the hardest for someone else to imagine doing.

Let’s dissect that.  Let’s imagine, as Cal often does Read More

The Finishing School is starting in Boston!

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Almost two years ago, I went to Seattle’s Zig Zag Cafe with a handful of friends, acquaintances, and strangers on a Wednesday night to discuss the things we most wanted to do in life.

It was a group we called The Finishing School, and we’ve been meeting almost every month since to discuss what progress we’ve made on our life goals.  Whether it’s learning the cello, meeting a personal hero, or losing 15 pounds, we hold each other accountable and help each other however we can.

In fact, that’s really what the Finishing School is– an accountability group for your life goals.  And given enough interest, I’d like to start one in Boston, Massachusetts when I visit next week.

Here are the details:

Monday, October 8th
8:00 PM
Location TBD in Boston/Cambridge

If this sounds interesting to you, let me know– I’ll make sure to include you.

Personally, I love the Finishing School.  We’ve grown to be great friends and accomplished some really cool goals– goals like writing a novel, climbing Kilimanjaro, and yes, we even had two members whose goals included “fall in love and get married” fall in love.  And get married.  To each other.

The FS Seattle

You can read more about the story of the Finishing School here or a brief overview here.

If you want to join the Finishing School starting in Boston, MA, contact me.

 

Do All Your Dreams Start Tomorrow?

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Photo credit: Susannah Conway (susannahconway.com)

The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow. --Steven Pressfield

Patrick Rhone, author of Enough and Mac Minimal, talked about the Finishing School in his most recent podcast.  It was interesting hearing his thought process in deciding to start a Minneapolis/St. Paul Finishing School.  The sentiment that stuck with him the most was this: something worth doing at all is worth starting tonight.

Boris Taratutin, an engineering student in Massachusetts, saw my guest post about living life like an experiment at The Art of Manliness and is getting together with a group of his friends to talk about self-reflection behavior changing.  Their first tenet is based around this question: what’s the smallest step I can take now?

Running a marathon.  Learning to rock climb.  Reading for self-education.  Learning Krav Maga.  The experiences that led me to start this blog happened only because of this question: how do I start tonight?

I used to write a lot of music.  I wasn’t majoring in music– heck, I wasn’t even in college when I learned, so I had to find other resources to teach myself– websites, books, scores, any mentor who would listen to a green 16-year old’s stabs at polyphony.  I ended up learning a lot from a centuries-old book called The Study of Counterpoint.  It turns out it was the same text the young Beethoven studied.  I still have highlighted a piece of advice from Read More

Art of Manliness Readers: Welcome!

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For everyone arriving at this blog from The Art of Manliness (a fantastic blog, if you don’t know about it), good to have you!  My name’s Erik and I write about life goals.  Feel free to look around– or here are a few things you might particularly enjoy:

 

What are you doing before you die?  Here’s specific advice for creating a bucket list.

 

For the polymaths and renaissance men among us: the 4 commandments of reading for self-education.

 

Do you think networking advice seems sleazy and awful?  Yeah, that’s why I tried this.

 

Want to be held accountable to accomplishing your goals in life?  See if there’s a Finishing School in your city– or start one.

 

Feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback!