Read More Warrior

On a quest to search for the 50 most life-changing books

Hello there! Ready to Devour some Books?

Hi, I am Quinten Voordeckers and I want to present you to the Read More Warrior. I am just his noble assistant. The Read More Warrior told me that he wants YOU to read more books. “Why?” you might ask. Well, he is convinced that reading books is the easiest way to ensure Lifelong Learning. He is on a journey to find the 50 most life-changing books. So if you don’t know which books to read, I recommend you start with the books on his 50-Book Project list. If you want to stay updated about how to read more books or if you want to read some thoughts about certain books, I will guide you to my blog, just scroll down!

Latest Posts

Letting you spread your wings

Dear Read More Warrior

[Nederlandse versie onderaan]

I always thought it was scary to put you into the world. I kept you in a little cage for more than a year now. You belonged to me, and no one else was permitted to see you. Nobody knew you existed. Only a few times, I took you on a leash to visit some friends or family. I knew you wanted more.

You wanted to see the world, but I thought it was a bad idea.

You wanted to spread the idea of Lifelong Learning, but I held you back.

You wanted to motivate people to read more books, but I didn’t let you.

You wanted to live.

I realized that I was projecting a lot of my expectations onto you. Maybe, I shouldn’t have done that. I think it is time for me to open the door of your little cage, even though it scares me. I will try to help you as well as I can. I will write stories about you and make drawings of you. I will be your assistant and your guide.

You can spread your wings now, I am proud of you.

I present you the Read More Warrior:

Directed to the reader:

Thanks for reading this, it means a lot to me. I am planning a BIG project that will start around September, so stay tuned.

If you are interested in reading books, Lifelong Learning, writing or drawing, feel free to contact me. I will be very happy to talk to you! 😊

PS I will only ask one thing of you. Would you please go off your phone or computer after checking out I already feel guilty about stealing your precious time in real life.

[Nederlandse versie]

Het leek me altijd eng om je in de wereld te zetten. Al langer dan een jaar houd ik je gevangen in een klein kooitje. Je was van mij en niemand anders mocht je zien. Niemand wist iets af van je bestaan. Slechts enkele keren heb ik je aan de leiband mee naar vrienden of familie genomen. Ik wist dat je meer wou.

Je wilde de wereld zien, maar ik vond dat een slecht idee.

Je wilde het idee van Levenslang Leren verspreiden, maar ik hield je tegen.

Je wilde mensen motiveren om meer boeken te lezen, maar dat liet ik niet toe.

Je wilde leven.

Ik realiseerde me dat ik veel van mijn verwachtingen op jou projecteerde. Misschien zou ik dat niet mogen gedaan hebben. Ik denk dat het tijd is voor mij om de deur van je kooitje open te zetten, ook al maakt het me bang. Ik zal mijn uiterste best doen om je te helpen. Ik zal verhalen over je schrijven en tekeningen van je maken. Ik zal je assistent en je gids zijn.

Je kan je vleugels nu uitslaan. Ik ben trots op jou.

Ik presenteer u de Read More Warrior:

Gericht naar de lezer:

Bedankt om dit te lezen, het betekent veel voor me. Ik ben een GROOT project aan het plannen dat start vanaf september. Wordt vervolgd.

Moest je geïnteresseerd zijn in boeken lezen, Levenslang Leren, schrijven of tekenen, voel je vrij om me te contacteren. Het zou me heel blij maken om met jou te babbelen! 😊

PS Ik zou je nog één ding willen vragen. Zou je na het bekijken van misschien van je smartphone of computer af willen gaan? Niet slecht bedoeld, maar ik voel me schuldig om wat waardevolle tijd van je te stelen, die je ook in het echte leven had kunnen spenderen.

CCC: A Method for Habit Building

A Little Story

*PANG PANG*. The smell of burning rubber hung in the air. A young warrior was firing little colourful objects towards a destructive dragon called Resistance. These objects were the most effective munition he had: rubber bands. It kept the dragon at a distance for a while, but still, the dragon crept closer and closer. The dragon was not close enough to be slain by the sword of courage. I need to find another weapon. All he had was a sheet of paper, a black marker and a book. Suddenly, an idea popped into his head.

He took the marker and made a drawing. The warrior drew himself, slaying the dragon Resistance. He looked up again, hoping Resistance would be gone like a magical self-fulfilling prophecy. F*ck this creature is still crawling towards me. It seemed as if the dragon was enjoying the suffering of the warrior, knowing that quickly biting the warrior’s head off would spoil the fun too soon. The warrior removed the sweat on his forehead, returned to the sheet and added: “Read daily, your future self will be grateful for it.” Still not enough, I can already feel the heat of the dragon’s breath. It was hard to keep his focus on finding a weapon with the dragon getting closer and closer.

All of a sudden, he had another idea. He drew a minimalistic square on the sheet and imagined caging Resistance in this little box.

A cage fell upon the dragon, keeping this monster’s snapping jaws just an arm length from the warrior. I know what to do now. He picked up the book with trembling hands and opened the first page. Letter by letter, word by word and sentence by sentence, he read an entire page, ignoring the awful smell coming from the dragon’s mouth. There is only one thing left to do. He took the marker after finishing the page and drew a cross, ticking off the checkbox. At the same time, a giant sword swung from the sky, cleaving Resistance into pieces.

The warrior had conquered Resistance, but he knew the dragon would come back, so he drew the cages for the coming days. Now, he was ready to fight.

How to make a Crossout Calendar Cue (CCC)

Think of a daily habit you would like to bring into your life. Got one? Good. All you need is a sheet of paper and a black marker. Start by drawing 10 checkboxes at the bottom of the sheet. Give the first box the number 1. Then, make a drawing of you fighting with the dragon Resistance. Afterwards, write the habit you would like to do, e.g. “Write daily” or “Read daily”. Also, shortly mention the reason WHY this habit is important to you, e.g. “to write a book”  or “to become smarter”. Additionally, you can add a motivational quote if you want. Now it should more or less look like the drawing below. Place this CCC somewhere where you will clearly see it multiple times a day. For example, the door of your office, your bedroom door or the whiteboard above your desk. Now comes the real part.

Every day, this “Cross Calendar Cue” will serve as a visual reminder to perform your habit. When you have finished the habit, you can tick off the first box. Congratulate yourself, you have just started performing the habit you always wanted to do. Actually, that was the hardest part, the rest will go easier. Keep going. Tick all the other boxes off on the following days. Every day is a little win, celebrate it. When you have ticked off all 10 boxes, give yourself an even bigger celebration. I, for example, like to proudly pound my chest every day after my writing habit and do a little dance when I have finished the ten days. It can be as simple as that. Draw the next 10 boxes and give the first one the number 11 and keep going.

What if you forget to perform your habit, or you really just couldn’t? In the case of daily “streaks” as with Duolingo and Snapchat, the streak would be lost, and you will need to start again. This might be a good strategy to keep you motivated in the short term, but I think in the long term there is a better alternative. The CCC does not punish you as harshly when you miss a day. It is just a missed opportunity to build up the amount of crossed-out boxes on your CCC.

Why does it work?

As you may have noticed, I used the word “cue” in the “Crossout Calendar Cue”. I used it because I think that central to its concept is that the CCC reminds you of what you want to do daily. You can’t form a habit you forget about. Additionally, the drawing, motivational quote and your WHY help with overcoming the initial inertia you feel towards performing the habit. It energizes you by reminding you why you do it in the first place. Moreover, seeing the progress you make is as well one of the most motivational things in the world.

Your Turn

Take a piece of paper and something to write, ideally a big black marker, and make your own Crossout Calendar Cue.

Book 13: About Trains, Fireflies and Monks

A Little Story

“Hello? Is anybody here?” whispered the warrior frightened. The scent of bat poop infiltrated his nose and he heard the echo of dripping water. Darkness extended in every direction he looked.

Where am I?

Little by little, his eyes got accustomed to the darkness and he saw the contour of a stone corridor. A flickering light lured him from behind the corner, so he decided to find its source. When he turned around the corner, he was relieved to find the Learn More Wizard sitting with his eyes closed and his back supported by the wall. His legs were extended forward, and his hands were resting in his lap. A torch attached to the wall illuminated him. “Why didn’t you answer me?” the warrior asked, “I was scared and felt alone.” The wizard didn’t flinch and kept sitting peacefully as he was.

Weird. Very weird.

The warrior noticed there was a puddle between them. When he looked into it, his eyebrows raised. He saw the reflection of the wizard, but in the reflection, there was no torch, the wizard himself was the source of light.

Is he dead and is that his soul? Or is he just enlightened?

As if a ghost was stirring the puddle like a bowl of soup, the reflection of the wizard changed into a swirl of light. When it came to rest a sentence was formed: “Dear Read More Warrior, as you can see I’m in a deep meditation. Please don’t disturb me.”

Meditation? I didn’t know the wizard was a spiritual hippie.

“It’s not because I’m meditating that I’m a hippie, dear warrior,” the wizard told him via the puddle. “Somehow, people always think of hippies or levitating monks in perfect lotus positions when they hear the word ‘Meditation’. It’s also possible to meditate however you feel comfortable, no higher power involved.”

Whaatttt? You can read my mind?!

“Well, technically we are in your mind. This is the deep dark home of your thoughts.”

I don’t understand… Are my thoughts so dark?

“No, your thoughts are not dark. Your mind is dark. For the moment. Your thoughts… well, they are something different

The warrior looked to his left and saw a lovely little firefly in the distance. He was enchanted by it.

It’s so beautiful…

The firefly came closer and closer. Attracted to the firefly’s beauty, the warrior walked towards it. It looked like the firefly was growing bigger and bigger. It reminded him of the night in the countryside when he tried to illuminate the stars with a headlamp.

Wait a second… That’s not a firefly…

The blaring sound of a horn penetrated his ears. It wasn’t a firefly, it was a train, storming towards him. The warrior jumped aside, but his shoelace got stuck in the wheels of the train and he fell with his face on the ground. When he was back on his feet, there was already another train heading towards him. He could just in time dodge that one. Trains were coming from all directions, bumping into each other and setting on fire. The warrior was trapped by his own thoughts. He crawled up with his head between his knees, hoping that the trains would just go away.

It’s too much, I can’t handle this.

No, you can handle this, dear warrior.

Now you’re also in my mind, wizard?! As if it isn’t full enough yet!

Just breathe, and focus on the way it feels.

My lungs hurt from the smoke, you stupid old man! I have other things to worry about.

Focus and count your breaths.

The warrior reluctantly focused on his breath. After a while, he perceived a sense of calm. The blaring horns sounded more distant. Fewer trains were zooming around him.

Open your eyes, I’ve put a notebook and a pencil in front of you. Write in it.

He picked up the notebook and opened it. On the first page, a quote was written:

To be continued…

Fireflies and Trains

I don’t know about you, but sometimes zooming trains of thoughts in my head criss-cross each other in an overwhelming manner. Sometimes the train disgusts me and I try everything to act as if they don’t exist. Nonetheless, the screeching noise and stinky smell are impossible to ignore.

Other times I find a dazzling firefly in my mind and I can’t resist the urge to chase it. Like an entomologist with an insect net, I try to catch it, but inevitably I fail. I tried to write down my thoughts in notebooks. I tried typing them and I even trained to increase my typing speed. Still not fast enough. It made me wonder what if technology would be invented that transcribes your thoughts in real-time?

During these chases, I passed through the landscape of my mind, not paying attention to where I was. Never noticing that maybe the chase itself was the source of the firefly’s restlessness. What if I would just sit down in the grass and enjoy the view? Maybe the firefly would join me. Maybe then I would then encounter a book under the tree called “Meditation and Mindfulness”.


My first introduction to meditation was around three years ago. I started with guided meditations for a week and then tried to maintain the habit of daily meditation without guidance. Meditation soon turned into a pill I took when I needed it. Two months ago, I read the book “Meditation and Mindfulness” by Andy Puddicombe, which inspired me to give daily meditation another try. By habit-stacking it on my already existing morning habit of taking a cold shower and using cross calendar cues (future link), this time around, I was able to keep up with it.

Before trying it myself, I had a certain view on meditation, which I think was similar to most people’s. I thought it encompasses a certain spirituality, which I don’t like. However, this book convinced me that meditation can be highly practical. It helps you to relax and it trains your focus, something which is quite important in today’s world of instant gratification by social media which impairs our focus.

Personal Experience

First, let’s define how I meditated. I sat down for 10 minutes in a comfortable position with my eyes closed. I started with five deep breaths, went on to scan how my body felt and the rest of the time I focussed on my breath. Every time I noticed that my focus had wandered off, I brought it back to my breath. 

The first and foremost thing I learned by meditating was noticing when I was distracted. Originating from the meditation sessions themselves, this skill diffused into my daily life. It is especially helpful for students like me who get easily distracted while studying.

I thought upfront that meditation was about trying to push thoughts away in order to have a relaxed mind. This scared me because I really like to keep a hold on my thoughts, I love to write them down, especially my late-night ideas. I thought somehow that by meditating and pushing away my thoughts, I would become less creative.

Let’s use the firefly/train analogy again. If our mind is a big dark space, thoughts can be little lovely fireflies or homicidal storming trains and everything in between. My experience is that by meditating, we can increase the spaciousness of our minds. This elongates the time between thoughts. It is impossible to eliminate all thoughts, but by meditating I could slow down the influx of thoughts. In that way, it was easier to catch the lovely fireflies and not feel overwhelmed by the storming trains.

Meditation also helped me to relax when I felt overwhelmed. Once, I watched an overstimulating movie in the cinema. It was filled to the brim with dance music, flashing lights, violence and nudity. It may sound silly, but during the drive back home, I felt agitated. Every sound I heard felt like too much to handle. I wanted to scream, but knew that wasn’t going to help. So I just took some deep breaths and focused on my breathing. In the end, everything was okay.


There it is, the other M word. I guess with this word, even more stereotypes are spawning in your mind. However, I’m enjoying this even more than meditation. If meditation is focusing on your breath with your eyes closed, mindfulness is focusing on the moments of daily life. It gave another dimension to things I already did, such as walking and eating. During walks, I got out of my head and started looking around. Things I had only noticed before, such as the elderly couple bathing in the sun, the local graffiti piece and the stars in the sky, suddenly struck me as immensely beautiful. Eating mindfully also made me discover how rich in flavour and texture even the simplest meals like bread with hummus could be. It also slowed me down during eating, which was nice because I have the tendency to devour my food before others could even blink.

Your Turn

Set a timer of 5 minutes. Gently close your eyes. Inhale deeply. Breathe out and imagine you are exhaling all your thoughts. Repeat 5 times. From then, focus on your breath. Notice how it feels, how it sounds. Keep doing that for 5 minutes. Whenever you notice your thoughts have wandered off, bring your focus again to your breath.


A Little Story

Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. It had been a year since he had posted on his blog for the first time. The year had begun very ambitiously, with uploading something every week. However, it soon felt as if he was prioritizing quantity over quality. So he started to put more effort into these posts, which meant they also took more time.

Posting less frequently went pretty well, until the warrior went on some lifechanging travels to Kenya and Peru. On these travels, he didn’t take the time to write specifically for his blog but tried to write down as much as possible about his experience. This was cool, but it meant that he didn’t post anything for a long time. These travels had broken his flow and he missed working on his blog posts.

Once back, he worked again on the blog, but he had lost momentum. Although he still posted once in a while, he felt like he could have done more. He blamed it mostly on his studies.

The year ended, and the blog was almost 1 year old. He decided to make a book out of his blog and bought it. When it arrived, he didn’t start reading it directly, afraid of how bad the first posts were. Some days later, he had collected the required courage and started reading. It was not as bad as he had thought. While reading it, he remembered why he had written it in the first place, he had written it for himself, and he liked it.

My First Book

If you were looking forward to buying the book, I will have to disappoint you. This book is not for sale. I’ve written a book, but I’ve not published one.

Why did I go to and ordered a (rather expensive) hard copy of my blog? Well, as some of you might know, a dream of mine is to write a book and get it published. This is a project that requires a vast amount of time, thus it is important to stay motivated throughout the whole process.

How can I stay motivated? The visualized progress of slow steady growth is one of the biggest motivations that exists. Techniques such as the rubber band technique are very good at this, although nothing can beat the feeling of holding a year’s worth of your own writing in your hands.

During the first weeks after I received the book, I didn’t dare to open it. I hadn’t reread my blog posts a lot, so I was convinced that they were shitty, especially the early ones. When I ultimately conquered my fear and read the book, I realized that they were not as shitty as I had imagined them. I found my momentum again. Which I had lost beforehand.

What I learned in the previous year

I’m 100% sure that the previous year was the year in which I learned the most. I learned to write daily, read daily, talk to strangers, and organize my thoughts with the help of notebooks and meditation. Additionally, I learned to speak Spanish, play the charango, pronounce a rolling R, and perform a handstand. I made deep bonds with friends, family and people who I would never meet again. A lot of these things I owe to the books I’ve read. In 2022, I read 20 books, which was way less compared to the year before (38). This might sound weird for a person who calls his blog The Read More Warrior. However, the reason for this is that I’ve shifted my focus from quantity to quality.

During this year, there are also some things I’ve learned about myself:

  • I like to experiment a lot
  • Although I don’t see how I will use my study of bioscience engineering, I’m very grateful for having done it
  • The core of this blog is not reading more books, but reading better books, enjoying them more and absorbing them better.
  • I write in the first place for myself.


I would like to go a bit deeper into the last two.

First, why do I love writing? Well, mainly for three reasons. Firstly, it forces me to organize my thoughts. Secondly, it requires me to think more deeply and make connections. Lastly, I am better able to bring my ideas into the world because I have organized my thoughts and have thought more deeply about them. Ultimately, I am also more confident when I’m speaking about these ideas.

Secondly, why do I write in the first place for myself? The previous paragraph already forms part of the answer to this question. Moreover, I use the “Your Turn” at the end of my blog posts also for holding myself accountable for doing them. However, this doesn’t explain why I share these thoughts online, and I am planning on doing it even more in the future (as we’ll see in the next paragraph). The reason is that in that way I can receive more feedback and hone my writing skill. That my writings might also help other people, is also very nice.

A Way Forward: Sharing

I have been thinking a lot about to what extent I want to share this blog with the world. Although the first book blog post is about sharing your work with the world, I have only shared this blog with some family members and friends. For other people, this blog is virtually non-existent, because it is so poorly SEO-optimized and there are no social media accounts linked to this blog.

This means that the majority of the people I know, don’t even have the slightest sense of knowing that I write. Most of them know me as a bioscience engineering student. However, in reality, I feel more like a writer than a bioscience engineer. This makes me often wonder, what if everybody knew that I want to become a writer? First, negative thoughts like “they would make fun of me” or “they would call it a waste of money and potential” spawn in my mind. On the other hand, the majority of the feedback from the little group of people I have shared this blog with was positive. Maybe that is because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. Nevertheless, it makes me wonder what would happen if I share it with more people. Would I receive more interesting recommendations? Would I have more profound conversations? Would I be helped by more people? Would I help more people?

Extra: The Best of the Previous Year

The 5 best books I’ve read until now:

  1. Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
  2. The Power of Strangers – Joe Keohane
  3. You’re not listening – Kate Murphy
  4. Atomic Habits – James Clear
  5. Essentialism – Greg McKeown

The 5 best non-book related posts

  1. The Choice: CS series – Part 2
  2. Slow Steady Growth
  3. The Inner Battle: CS series – Part 1
  4. *PANG PANG*
  5. When you can’t fall asleep

The 5 drawings I love the most:


Your Turn

Get in touch with me via the contact form. Let me know which post you liked the most. Book recommendations are also very welcome!

Book 12: About Arrows, Masters and Necklaces

A Story inspired on the book

Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. He was a bit lost in life. He didn’t know what to aim at. So he did what he had done the last time when he felt a bit lost. He went into the mountains to search for the magnolia tree.

The sun kissed the mountain tops and a cold breeze touched his skin. The wizard stood next to the magnolia tree as if he hadn’t moved since the last time that the warrior was there.

“Dear Learn More Wizard, I have come back to you. I need your wisdom again,” the warrior said. “Well, dear Read More Warrior, good questions lead to wisdom, so what is your question?” the wizard responded. “I’m a bit lost in life,” the warrior said,” It feels like I’m at a cross point in a multidimensional maze and I need to make an important decision. Should I go right or left? Up or down? Inwards or outwards? I don’t know. There are too many options.”

The wizard looked into the distance as if he had not heard a single word of what the warrior had just said. Right before the warrior wanted to go on, the wizard said, “When this tree was only just a little sapling, I was more or less your age. My room was a mess back then because whenever I tried to clean it, I just could not start. I didn’t know where to begin. Until my mom gave me the advice to stand at the door opening, look into my room and, start cleaning from left to right, that changed everything.” “And what is that supposed to mean?” asked the warrior. “It means that just for now, turn left in your maze, and keep turning left. In that manner, you will always find the exit. Later on, you might start to enjoy being in the maze, and then you can get more creative in your decisions, but for now, keep it easy and just keep turning left,” the wizard responded.

The warrior had his doubts about the wizard’s advice. What if turning left is not the right direction? Why can’t he just show me the way? He knows everything, right? I would never like to be stuck in a maze! The wizard interrupted the warrior’s thoughts by saying, “Look, it seems like you don’t get the point. Let me explain it in another way.” The wizard stepped to the tree and took a long, beautiful bow from behind it. “Take it,” the wizard said while holding it in front of the warrior. “I can see you have trained a lot with the sword, but now it is time for you to try something else.”

The warrior held the bow awkwardly in his hands, not being used to its fragility. He knew something was missing. “Where are the arrows?” the warrior asked. “At this point, the arrows are only in your thoughts,” the wizard said,” if you want arrows, you will have to make them yourself.” The sun was timidly hiding itself behind the mountains. “Warrior, I know I haven’t given you the answers you came for, but sometimes you have to find them yourself. It’s time for you to go now. There is only one thing left, I want you to remember:

* Quote from the book

When the warrior walked down the mountain path, he felt the weight of even more questions pushing him down.

Several years later, the warrior went back into the mountains. When the wizard saw him, he said, “I see you’ve come with the bow and some arrows as well.” The warrior took the bow off his back with a proud smile and said, “I want to show you what I’ve learned. Do you see the highest flower of the magnolia tree?” He loaded the bow, aimed, and let go of the arrow which pierced the flower. “Impressive,” the wizard said, “where do you have the arrows from?” “When you gave me the bow,” the warrior said,” it felt like unutilized potential. So I decided to make the arrows myself. I went into the forest to search for sticks, climbed into trees to collect feathers, and dived into the lake to find the right stones.” “And what did you do after that?” the wizard asked. “I started to train,” the warrior said,” I fired my arrows every day until I perfected the technique.” The wizard asked the warrior to shoot another arrow and another one, and another one, … Until nearly half of the flowers of the magnolia tree were pierced.

“How does it feel to be able to do that? To make no more mistakes?”, the wizard asked. “Well,” the warrior said,” it feels less exciting than I expected.” It seemed like the wizard was trying to hide a smile. “And how did it feel to make the arrows yourself? How did it feel to go into the woods, climb trees, and dive in the lake?” The warrior started to realize what the wizard tried to say. “It felt … fun. I lost track of time, and it felt challenging and meaningful at the same time,” the warrior said. “You see, “said the wizard,” working towards a specific goal is often more interesting and meaningful than the accomplishment of the goal itself.” The wizard took a necklace out of his pocket and gave it to the warrior, “This necklace will serve as a reminder that life is a journey. But you are the one that has to take the first step. From then on, it will be easier to keep going.  So if you ever feel stuck again, just try something. Take your shot. Enjoy it

When the warrior walked down the mountain path, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Suddenly, he had the urge to run. So he ran. He opened his arms, and it felt like he was flying. An invincible feeling diffused into every cell of his body. He had even more questions now, but that was okay, these questions lifted him up instead of weighing him down.

When you see the warrior these days, he is always wearing his necklace and leaves a path of arrows behind wherever he goes. Not for finding his way back, but for showing others the way.

A Master

* Quote from the book

Your Turn

Sometimes it can be very straightforward. Whatever you’re procrastinating on right now, take your shot and enjoy the process.

A poem: Post-it!

He places post-its on his table

To not forget of what he’s able

And to remind himself every day

Of what he can and can not say


He places post-its on his bed

In order not to forget

To forget all of his dreams

Or atleast that’s how it seems


He places post-its on his chair

To not forget what to share

To post the things that he writes

On all those late crazy nights


He places post-its on his wall

To not forget how to fall

To not forget what to give

And not forget how to live


He places post-its on his head

In order not to forget

To forget about what he forgot

What is certainly an awful lot


He places post-its on his window

To not forget about his widow

The widow who was once his wife

Before the end of his creative life


We don’t know his cause of death

Or when he exhaled his last breath

I’ve been thinking about it for a while

I think he choked on a post-it pile

Book 11: About Strangers, Curiosity and Pink Headphones

Adventure. We are adventurers in conversation. We are travelers without a destination. Exploring the unknown, without expectation. Each one of us a teacher and every person an opportunity.

Trigger Conversations

A Little Story

Once upon a time, a young warrior was walking down the street while smiling at people he saw. He tried his best to get a smile back, but it wasn’t easy, especially in the city. The ones that smiled back he gifted with a “hi”. This was a bad day because no one smiled back. At the end of the road, he saw a woman pushing a baby buggy. It was impossible not to see her, as she was wearing pink pants, a pink scarf, and pink headphones. Those headphones got his attention. Why would you put headphones on while you are with your baby? What if the baby cries and you don’t notice? The warrior kept walking with the woman already out of sight, but not out of his mind.

What might have been her reasons for wearing headphones? A scenario unfolded in his head:

The Pink Lady

“I see a red door and I want it painted black…” I always get energy from this song. It’s my favorite song of The Rolling Stones: Paint It, Black. This line almost perfectly described the situation I was in now. The only difference was that the door was pink, not red. The door opened, I put off my headphones and put on my wide smile. “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m the new cleaning lady”, I said while entering. I had never seen a house like this. Why would you only have pink stuff in your house? The table is pink, the walls are pink, and the oranges are pink. There was one exception: the handsome man who had opened the door for me was dressed in black. Quite mysterious. Black is also my favorite color. “You can already start cleaning the living room,” he said, “In about an hour my wife will come back, and she will show you how to clean the kitchen,” He disappeared via the stairs. So, I started to do what I could do best. I wiped away the gray dust from the pink stuff. It was kind of meditative. I wondered if that was why everything was pink. One hour later, the woman arrived. She was glamorous, had blond hair and of course, was completely dressed in pink. Her eyes were wide open, she blinked a lot, and when she smiled you could count all her over-the-top white teeth. She didn’t arrive alone. She carried a little baby that was crying the whole time while she entered the door. When she put one foot in the door, all of a sudden, the crying stopped.

I was still wondering why everything was pink. But I didn’t have any time to ask for it. She was already taking the cleaning products out of the drawers while explaining to me which products I could use for the sink and which other ones for the furnace. I was surprised to see that the products weren’t pink. They were white with green and blue. “Oh, and one more thing, cleaning lady, be sure that the baby can’t see you or those bottles,” the pink lady said. “Why?” I asked. The pink lady looked at me as if I asked the dumbest question in the world. “Well, as you can see. Everything is pink here in this house, except for the washing products, my husband, and, well… you.” I looked down at my clothes, and I only saw black. “And why is everything pink? Why not orange, or blue, or …black?” I asked. “First I want to correct you,” she said, “Black is not a color, it is the absence of color, or all colors together, depending on how you look at it. My husband taught me that. He studied physics, so he knows. Smart and handsome, aren’t you jealous?” she added with a little wink. And jealous I was. “But if everything is pink here, why does your husband wear black?” I asked. “It’s quite annoying, I know. I’m sorry for that” she said while looking with a fake smile at my clothes. “Everything is pink here for the baby. The baby really is the most important thing in my life, and I do everything for her. She hates every other color than pink. When she sees blue, green, or orange, she cries. Black is the worst. Then her head turns red, and she starts bumping her cute little fists around. So that’s why I’m wearing pink as well. I don’t want her to cry when she sees me. And my husband, well, he only wears black and sometimes white. He really is an all-or-nothing kind of guy. For him, the baby is not that important. His whole life is about work. And he probably also thinks pink is not manly enough. But now I have to go. Do you remember which product to use for the kitchen floor? Bye!” and off she went.

The next time I was cleaning at the pink house, I saw the husband more and more. It seemed like every time I came, he spent more time with me. Eventually, he even started to ask me about my music taste and if I had any siblings. With every question, he got a bit closer to me. I could see a twinkle in his eyes. Then he asked which colors of clothes I had. “Only black, of course” I answered, and he kissed me. It was a long kiss and after it, he started talking directly, “Can’t we just run away with the baby? I love the baby; she is everything to me. But I hate my wife, I hate pink. I really have to get away from here” My heart filled with happiness, and I said, “Of course we can. I love you” and we kissed again. “You’re so handsome and smart,” I continued,” But how can we run away with the baby if it starts to cry when it sees us? Your wife will hear it,” He thought a bit and answered, “She’s doing a nap now, you could get some pink clothes from her. With those, the baby won’t cry when it sees you. I still have to make some calls, so I’ll see you at the train station” and off he went.

I think I had never done something anything as thrilling as stealing pink clothes. I opened the bedroom door as quietly as possible. Despite the pink lady’s elegance, she snored like a wild boar. I looked into the drawers and only could find pink pants, a pink scarf, and pink headphones. My jacket was still black, but I hoped that the pants, scarf, and headphones would do the job. I put them on, and while being surprised the pants fit perfectly, I went to the baby. When she saw me, she was looking at me with a doubting face. I think she was thinking about whether to cry or not. I decided not to find out and to leave with the baby as fast as possible. I pushed the baby buggy out of the house and started walking as fast as possible. The baby started to cry, so I decided to listen to some music on the headphones. While crossing the street, I saw a young guy smiling at me. That seemed suspicious, so I started to walk faster. With every step, I got happier and happier. Finally.

I didn’t arrive at the train station. I arrived at a parking lot. I saw my boyfriend sitting in the orange car. He is the one I really love. I opened the door and said: “Finally, we have a baby”. I got in, slammed the door, and off we went.

The Real Story

The young warrior has a lot of imagination, that’s clear. But what was the real story? The warrior wanted to find out. A week later, he went walking again. By chance, he encountered the pink lady. This time she wasn’t using her headphones. They were just hanging around her neck. His curiosity was bigger than his fear and he stepped towards her, smiled the best he could, and said “hi”. The lady noticed and a “hi” escaped from her smiling mouth.

  • Can I ask you something?
  • Sure, go ahead.
  • I was just curious. It might be a very weird question to ask, but what if you’re wearing your headphones and your baby cries? You probably won’t notice, right?
  • You little ignorant boy. I’m wearing these headphones in fact for the health of my baby.
  • Because they’re pink, and your baby hates other colors than pink?
  • No, of course not. What a weird idea! It’s because my baby has some problems with her little heart. My headphones are connected to a little microphone that can record her heartbeat. The doctors told me to go as fast as possible to the hospital if I heard an irregular heartbeat.

And that’s when the warrior realized that you don’t have a clue about the real story until you follow your curiosity and talk to strangers.

Why you should talk to strangers

Starting conversations with strangers still is one of the most difficult things for me. Every time, there is this little hurdle of Resistance to overcome. It is especially difficult for introverted people. However, the thing that kept me going was knowing about all the benefits. Here I list some of them:

  1. A conversation helps you think. It helps both you and the person you’re talking to.
  2. Good conversations are way more interesting than scrolling through your social media feeds.
  3. You get a different perspective on a lot of things.
  4. You’re training your social skills.
  5. It is often easier to talk about very personal things to strangers because you know that if you want, you will probably never see them again.
  6. On the other hand, it is the perfect opportunity to get to know new people. They might become your best friend, and sooner than you imagine.
  7. When you often start conversations with strangers, people will notice your openness and start conversations with you.*

*That’s something Keohane mentioned in his book as well. When I first read it, I was very sceptical about it. But after experimenting with this for a while, it happened to me as well. There were even people asking me for advice. How weird.

Efficiency vs Human Interaction

I’m recently back from a trip to Peru, which changed my view on a lot of things. I think in our western world, we’re very used to using technology to help us out. For example, if we don’t know how to reach our destination, we search on our GPS. If we need a place to sleep, we search on booking sites. Self-scans in supermarkets are replacing cashiers. I think scanning ourselves is a good thing, only not in that way. Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror and see who we have become.

There is another way. In Peru, for example, they don’t have or use all that technology. The applications don’t always work, the websites aren’t complete, and the cashiers still have their job. This might seem less “developed”, but I don’t think it necessarily is.

What solved all my problems when I was in Peru were connections, contacts, and human interaction. I got sick in the middle of the jungle with the closest pharmacy on a boat ride of 3 hours. The local people arranged everything I needed to get better. I wanted to find a cheap, relaxed alternative to a partyholic hostel. No problem, just ask the lady at the market who is making your breakfast. She does some calls, and you have it. It’s another way, and a more fun way.

The Best Advice

Conversation Starters

Some examples of following your curiosity:

  • What book are you reading? (When you see someone reading a book)
  • What’s the name of your dog? (When you see a dog owner)
  • What’s the Spanish word for cushion? (When you’re in Spain and genuinely interested)
  • Where are you from? (When you’re in an international setting)
  • Do you work for the military? (When you see someone with short hair and a camouflaged backpack)

Important to note that in some instances it is a good idea to use a preframe. A preframe is a way of showing the stranger that you know the unwritten rule of not talking to strangers. For example, instead of asking directly “What book are you reading?” you could use a preframe before it like “Excuse me, I know we’re not supposed to talk to each other in trains, but what book are you reading?” or “Hello, I’m really curious and interested in books. So, excuse me for asking, but what book are you reading?”

Strange(r) Conversations I Had

My first real conscious and genuine conversation with a stranger was actually one of the best ones. I was waiting for the train, and I saw a lady wearing a mouth mask with the face of Sanda Dia** painted on it. I asked where she got it. She told me where, and we didn’t stop talking. She told me about her grandchildren, her medical problems, and also about the times she caught couples having sex at the police office.

There was the woman that got a pentagram tattoo at an older age because she believed in higher powers. However, she didn’t want people to see her as a witch, so she decided to have a rose tattooed over it. She told me she normally doesn’t tell this story to strangers.

Another time, there were two boys from Afghanistan who actually started to talk to me. They asked me (in Dutch) how they could improve their Dutch. At that point, I recently taught myself to speak Spanish, so I had a lot of tips for them.

Last but not least, I once asked a group of French tourists in Peru how to get to a certain taxi stop. This turned into having breakfast together. From that breakfast on, I didn’t leave them for the rest of my trip because they were the best travel buddies I could ever wish for.

** Sanda Dia was a young student that died during a baptism for entering a prestigious student club. It caused a lot of commotion in Belgium.

Your Turn

Look a stranger in the eye. If you have eye contact, smile and say hi. Ask how their day went, or better: how their day could be better. Try to find something which surprises you about that person. Share something personal yourself. Try to make the connection. Cross bridges. Just gradually try to get as far as you can.

The Choice: CS series – Part 2

A Little Story

“What’s this?” came out of his mouth before he could control himself. The young warrior looked around. There was nobody to answer his question. There were trees to his left, and trees to his right, and if he looked back far enough he could still see some houses. This place felt familiar, but he hadn’t seen it before. It was a warm summer evening, and the sun would soon go down. This was not the route he used to walk. On a whim, he had decided to deviate from his path and wander a bit around. He had challenged himself to choose the road he was the least familiar with at every intersection. Eventually, he reached a street with a dead end. He had always thought “dead end” was a weird expression. Because if you observe carefully, it is often where all the interesting stuff begins, not where it dies. This particular dead end transformed into a path through the forest. The warrior was curious and had playfully followed this path until he stumbled upon a weird shade of gray.  

When he got closer, he saw it was a concrete mound. The forest isn’t exactly the natural habitat of a concrete mound. Nature seemed to know that too, she was embarrassed and tried to hide it with ivy and lichens. Seeing this reminded him of when he played hide and seek with his sister as little kids. His sister thought she would be invisible by hiding under the blanket, even though the hump was clearly visible. “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me”, she said—beautiful naive children’s thoughts.

He pulled the ivy away and underneath was a door with something written above it. Small pieces of leaf litter obstructed his view, so he swept them away. Now he could read some letters:

T.. MPLE, that must be temple! The other words were still a mystery, despite his expert level at the game hangman. “Come look at this, Curiosity!”, the warrior yelled full of excitement. Curiosity, his pet origami red bird, flew down to look at the temple. She inspected the door and landed on the warrior’s shoulder. She stared at him with eyes that begged: please go in. “No, I’m not going inside! It’s way too scary! What if there is a clown on the other side? Or even worse, a random stranger! Mom always told me not to talk to strangers. And besides, the door is probably locked!” Curiosity changed her shape into an origami cat (her way of saying pussy) and after that into a hand to open the door. It wasn’t locked at all. He was astonished by how easily this folded piece of paper could open such a heavy door. “I didn’t know you could change shapes!” the warrior cried out with surprise. Curiosity was again in her bird form and seemed to shrug her shoulders. The door led to a staircase going deep down into the dark. Curiosity was already flying into the dark while literally lighting up. “This bird is full of surprises,” the warrior thought. He followed her, and the cracking leaves were soon replaced by the echo of his footsteps.

The staircase seemed to go on infinitely. The warrior’s foot soles hurt, but Curiosity kept going further down. Suddenly she stopped. When the warrior caught up, he could see why. It was a dead end. All these stairs for nothing. But then he remembered what he had thought earlier: a dead end is where the interesting stuff starts. So he looked more carefully. But he couldn’t see directly what might be so special about this dead end. He looked with a questioning face at Curiosity, but she didn’t seem to know what to do either. He gave up and was very disappointed. Then he turned around and headed back to the light coming from the surface. Some steps later, he realized Curiosity wasn’t with him anymore. “Curiosity?!” he asked with a little voice, looking back into the dark. But his illuminating bird wasn’t there anymore. He was frightened. He had grown close to this weird bird over the last months. So he headed back again to the dead end. He didn’t want to lose his Curiosity.

Once again at the dead end, he noticed something new. The smell of an old carpet. He touched the dead end and felt embarrassed immediately. This wasn’t a dead end at all, there was just hanging a very dark curtain before the entrance. He went in.

There were torches everywhere burning with suiting pink fire, with here and there one that was green. In the middle, Curiosity was hovering. “Oh, my dear little bird, give me a hug”, the warrior said while running towards Curiosity. But right before he could grab her, she changed shape again. This time she was an unfolded sheet of paper with a mix of beautifully written calligraphy and plain Calibri. As if the writer couldn’t choose between writing analog or digital. “DEAR READ MORE WARRIOR” resonated throughout the temple while he read the first line. It was like his reading voice had grown from a little chicken into a roaring T-REX. The warrior jumped back. But he wasn’t afraid of this voice, unlike those so-called “speed readers”. So he kept on reading.

“WELCOME TO THE TEMPLE OF WRITERS” now his hangman was solved “IN THIS TEMPLE YOU’LL DETERMINE WHAT TYPE OF WRITER YOU WILL BE, OR EVEN, WHAT TYPE OF PERSON” sounds interesting “TO YOUR LEFT YOU SEE AN ALTAR WITH A PENCIL AND AN ERASER ON IT, TO YOUR RIGHT YOU HAVE A TABLE WITH A BLACK MARKER IN IT” he looked to the table and saw the black marker stuck into the table like the sword of King Arthur was stuck in a rock. “CHOOSE ONE”

First, he walked to the table with the black marker. He was afraid of it. It seemed so hard, so decisive, so limiting. There was a pile of postcard-sized paper next to it, together with a description: “This is the black marker. Choose me. You know why.” The warrior thought, “Actually, I don’t know why”. He didn’t dare to touch the marker. Pulling the marker out of the table looked like an impossible mission anyway.

Then he went over to the altar with the pencil. The pencil was beautifully decorated, and he was drawn to its smell of graphite. There was one big sheet of paper on it. The description said: “This is the Magical Pencil. Once you use it, you’ll have an infinite source of creativity. You’ll be able to write and draw whatever you want. The best thing is, if you make a mistake, you can easily correct it and move on.” He was enchanted and reached out to grab the pencil… until a hand stopped him.

“Learn More Wizard? What do you do here?” the warrior asked. “That doesn’t matter, you should not choose the pencil. Because if you do, you’ll be cursed!”

All of a sudden, the warrior saw himself sitting behind the altar, scribbling away with the pencil in his hand. The sentences he wrote were inspiring and the drawings gorgeous. This was the life he wanted! But then he noticed something. The sentences and drawings were short-lived. He was convinced the sentences could be even more inspiring and his drawings even more gorgeous. So he erased everything once in a while and started over, losing all those beautiful ideas. This cycle kept going and going. He stayed forever in the temple of writers in search of perfect sentences and drawings without ever going back to the surface.

The warrior woke up from this vision. “Is this really what you want? You should choose the black marker!” said the wizard. “You’re right. That’s not the life I want, but choosing the black marker is just impossible.” the warrior responded. “You haven’t even tried! How can you know it is impossible?” “I just know, you know? Besides, those little cards are way too small to write my big ideas on”, the warrior responded again. “What do you prefer? One big idea that never sees existence or a lot of little clear ideas that might really make a difference?” said the wizard wisely.

“I’m just scared,” the warrior confessed, “I’m scared of using the black marker because then I can’t remove my mistakes.” The wizard waited for a moment. He looked at the table and said, “Your mistakes are what make you special, and by looking at the pile of paper, I know you can make a lot of them”. The warrior sighed, “You’re right”. He walked to the table, pulled the black marker out of the table with great force, and wrote down:

The Creativity System Ctd.

In a previous post. I wrote about the first three parts of the creativity system I use. I covered books, notebooks, and blog books. Today we will start with the second part. We will talk about drawings, trackers, and bookshelves.

4. Drawings

As you probably have already seen on this blog, I use a lot of drawings. I like to explain ideas visually, because then, for me, they are clearer and easier to remember. I even make drawings in the books I read. As you could read in the previous post about the creativity system, I’ve always liked drawing. Now I try to draw whenever I’m stuck with my writing. It counters writer’s block.

Facing Fear with Black Markers

Almost all the drawings you see on this blog are drawn with a black marker on some small paper cards. It is scary you know because when I put the marker on the paper there is no way back anymore. I can’t use an eraser as I would do with a pencil, and I can’t let my laptop do a check. It is for real now. I’m afraid of making mistakes. So for me, using black markers is a sort of exposure therapy.

What happens when I make a mistake? Well, there are a number of ways I try to cope with it:

  • I try to incorporate the mistake creatively so that it is not obvious anymore
  • I just live with the mistake, and I am fine with posting an imperfect drawing
  • I discard it and start over

I also try to apply these concepts to life in general. When I make a mistake, I first try to see if it really is a mistake. Maybe it isn’t, and it makes life even better or funnier. If it is a real mistake, maybe I can still live with it and I try to resist the lure of perfectionism. And if it is a big mistake, I try to undo it, start over, and prevent it from happening again.

5. Trackers: rubber bands and others

I really like to use trackers to keep myself writing daily. They can also be used for other habits you’re trying to build. Good trackers 1) visualize progress, 2) remind you of the habit, and 3) are simple to use and rewarding. I like trackers so much I’m using nowadays three at the same time.

Rubber bands

I already wrote more details about using rubber bands in an earlier post. The concept is simple. You have two containers, one without rubber bands (your progress container) and one with rubber bands (your supply container). Every day, when you see these containers, you’re reminded of your (writing) habit. Then you put one rubber band on your wrist, and you can’t put it off until you did your daily minimum effort (DME) for your habit. For me, this DME is writing one paragraph. I like it very much because the act of putting the rubber band around my wrist is immensely easier than starting to write right away. *Puts rubber band in container*

Stars System

Do you have a guilty pleasure? Of course you do! It is a very strong power that can be used. For me, this guilty pleasure is buying books. If you see me living on the street one day, it probably is because I bought too many books (or too little 😉).

The star system is like a little game. I can explain the star system best by showing it:

For buying books, I need money. But I don’t want to spend all my money on books just for fun. I want to feel like I earned it. So I have a balance which I can use to buy books. In the beginning, the balance contains zero money. However, I can raise this balance by making progress in the three areas in which I would like to improve: reading, writing, and public speaking. When I reach a little star (for every 5 books I read and summarize, 5 posts I write, or 5 times I faced my fear of public speaking* I get 10 euros on my balance). Bigger stars are worth more. Then every time I buy a book, the price of the book gets subtracted from the balance of course. This star system is also a fun way to visualize progress.

*I know this “times I faced my fear of public speaking” is a bit vague, and I would also recommend using more concrete units of progress like books read or posts written.

Crossed calendar aka streaks

Snapchat uses it. Duolingo uses it. That’s part of the explanation for why these apps are so addictive. What if we could make our daily habits addictive? Every day you perform your habit (e.g. 10 min of rope-skipping) you can cross out that day on your paper calendar. I prefer paper calendars over digital ones because I see them more often, which reminds me more of the habit.

6. Bookshelf

For most readers, a bookshelf serves to show off to visitors: “Look how many books I read! I must be very smart, isn’t it?” Some might fall into the trap of wanting to speed read in order to read more books and have more books on their bookshelves. Others might fill their bookshelves with books they will never read. As you might already feel, I’m not such a big fan of both kinds of people. Earlier, I vigorously devoured e-books, but no physical books. However, I must confess that after a while I also got enchanted by the beauty and usefulness of physical books. It is way easier to write notes in them and draw in them. So I needed a bookshelf too.

Nevertheless, I was still convinced books weren’t supposed to be objects to flex with. They exist to learn from them. So in order to prevent myself to fall into those traps, I made some rules. I wanted my bookshelves to be special. Here are the rules:

Rule 1: You can only put the books you’ve actually read and finished on the bookshelves.

Rule 2: The unread books are placed on a pile in a less visible place.

As I explained in my very first post on this blog. By doing this, you will have a pull factor (the visible bookshelf you want to fill) and a push factor (the invisible place where your unread books are located).

Rule 3: You divide the books you’ve read into two groups: the ones you want to re-read and the ones you don’t want to read again.

Here you see the physical books I’ve read, which I definitely want to re-read one day:

Your Turn

Grab a piece of paper and a black marker. Now write down “Silenzio Bruno” on it and say it out loud. You can even shout it out loud if you are a real pro. Every time you’re not sure if you should take the leap, repeat it again. “Silenzio Bruno”. I say it for example every time I step into my daily cold shower.

Book 10: About Courage, Showers and a Piano

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

A Little Story

Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. One day he was running in the forest. There was this typical smell of wet soil after heavy rainfall. Normally, this smell calmed him down, but not this time. There was something in the air, and it wasn’t only geosmin. He was stressed. It was a big day. A few weeks earlier, he had applied for a renewable energy project in the tropics. He had already survived some selection rounds, but that day the final verdict will come in. It was all or nothing. He didn’t know what time he would know the result, and that agitated his nerves. Nevertheless, he had a good feeling about it. In his opinion, he did well in these selection rounds. All of a sudden, his phone rang. He stopped running and took his phone out of his pocket as it almost slipped out of his shaking, sweaty hands. “Hello?” he picked up the phone while trying to hide the fact he was still panting. “Hello there” was the answer, “I’m sorry, you’re not selected for the project.” His heart sank, and he listened apathetically for the rest of the conversation.

How could he not be selected? He was surprised and angry. The warrior had always been good in everything he did. He performed well at school, reached far in the national mathematics competition, and often heard compliments about his listening skills. He was pretty decent at basketball, and after a lot of years of practice, he could play the piano very well. Furthermore, he had even never been refused a student job! In other words, not being selected for the project was the first significant drawback he had ever experienced. It may sound silly, but the warrior was indeed so privileged that his biggest concerns were about not getting selected for a project.

Arriving back at home, he showered. And as so often happens during showering, he started to think. What had happened? The person on the phone had said he came close to getting selected. He was not selected because he appeared too chaotic in his thoughts during the interview. Hearing that hurt a lot. While speaking, he often felt he was not able to fully express what he meant. He knew he needed to work on his speaking skills. But how could he even do that? Maybe joining some public speaking club? No, that was too scary.

There was also this other question. Why was this the first time he experienced such a drawback? Was he underprepared? Was this project not his “thing”? Should he just give up and live with the fact he was bad at speaking? Was the project itself the problem? Were the interviewers the problem? Or was he the problem, like a little voice in his head was saying? Yeah, it was true that he was good in everything he did. But what does that tell about him? Maybe it just meant that he blocked off the things he was bad at. He didn’t learn French, he didn’t dance, he didn’t sing, he didn’t play piano in public, he didn’t ask questions in class, he didn’t start conversations with strangers, and he didn’t say what he thought. And that was all out of a fear of making mistakes. So he had stayed in his little comforting bubble. Deceiving himself into believing he was good in everything he did. He chose it was time to do something about it.

A few weeks later, the Read More Warrior was in his natural habitat: the library. He had noticed earlier that there was a piano in the library, but he never dared to play it. Playing piano for other people was scary, especially for strangers. He remembered his shower thoughts and decided it was time to step out of his comfort zone. After looking around if nobody was watching him, he stepped to the piano, sat down on the chair, opened the piano, and placed his trembling fingers on the keys. He took a deep breath… and started to play. It felt freeing and scary at the same time. Out of the blue, he played a false note which ruined the whole song. He immediately stopped playing and felt embarrassed, but then he had a flashback to something his great-grandmother once said:

“Don’t be afraid to play a false note, because one false note is not as bad as a beautiful song the world will never hear.”

He pulled himself back together and finished the song. When he was done, there was no applause, but that was okay. Knowing he just conquered his biggest fear gave more satisfaction than applause could ever give.

Making mistakes seemed not that bad after all.

On a distant bookshelf in the library, there was standing a book called Courage is calling by Ryan Holiday. It had heard everything from a distance and was determined to help this warrior conquer his fears for the rest of his life.

Courage as one of the three key values

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about the book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. This book helped me to define the three key values of the Read More Warrior: Curiosity, Honesty, and Courage. Now I want to investigate these key values a bit more. I already wrote partially about Honesty in the post about the book Lying by Sam Harris. Now I want to investigate Courage deeper using this book by Ryan Holiday. Below I list my 10 biggest fears and I will take a closer look into two of them. Maybe you can list yours too.

My 10 Biggest Fears

1)     Fear of making mistakes

2)     Fear of not living up to the expectations of my surrounding

3)     Fear of putting myself out there 

4)     Fear of public speaking

5)     Fear of losing family or friends

6)     Fear of asking questions

7)     Fear of writing a book

8)     Fear of standing up for myself

9)     Fear of getting addicted to non-essentials

10)  Fear of writing this blog post

1. Fear of making mistakes

The fear of making mistakes shows itself in many forms. It doesn’t matter if I’m just starting, or I’m already at an advanced level, this fear will be there. It paralyzes me. I can’t move on. But in order to grow, mistakes have to be made.

To whoever also has a fear of making mistakes, just watch this speech by Neil Gaiman.

“Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody has ever made before.”

Neil Gaiman

Greg McKeown writes in his book Effortless about his friend who is a language teacher who said to his students that they have to imagine a bag with a thousand beads. Each time you make a mistake, you can put one bead out of the bag. So you better make many mistakes early on to master the language as soon as possible. I think this is not only applicable to learning a language, but to learning in general. Mistakes are the best teachers.

By reading books, you can learn from the mistakes of the author. Maybe that’s the reason why I love to read books. But are you really learning from their mistakes just by reading them? Because wouldn’t you actually learn more from making the mistakes yourself, instead of avoiding them? I’ve not figured it out yet. A friend of mine read a lot of books, but now he doesn’t because: “From real life, you learn a lot more than books”. I’m on his side, I also think you can learn a lot more from life than from a book. As Ryan Holiday puts it in his book: “Words don’t matter. Deeds do.” But still, I think a book can serve as a guide, as a mentor, or as a map. When you’ve read the book, it will be easier to notice what you can do better in real life. It can show you mistakes you hadn’t thought about. It can give you the motivation you would otherwise lack. Maybe you can be stubborn and make the same mistake deliberately, just to experiment. If you get stuck, you’ll still have the book which might help you. Books are in my opinion catalysts of change, not the change itself. The change happens in real life, by making mistakes and improving, and books can be your map in this journey.

2. Fear of not living up to the expectations of my surrounding

There is an Australian former palliative carer who has something to say to us. Remember the quote which opened this blog post?

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

The nr. 1 regret of the dying

Her name is Bronnie Ware and while she worked as a palliative carer she discovered The Top Five Regrets of the Dying of which she also wrote a book. As you can see, the number one regret of the dying has to do with courage. It also has to do with living up to the expectations of your surrounding.

Like most people, I sometimes feel heavy weighing expectations from family, friends, and others to live my life in a certain way. Sometimes they verbalize it, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they put explicit pressure, sometimes I’m just imagining it. Pressure from your surrounding is not always bad. If nobody cared about what other people did or thought, we probably didn’t even have a society. But I have to draw a line somewhere, my life must still be true to myself.

Fear is powerful. We can use fear against itself. On top of the list of my fears should be:

0) Fear of living a boring life untrue to myself. A life not fully lived.

Using Fear

“Our fears point us, like a self-indicting arrow, in the direction of the right thing to do.”

Ryan Holiday

When we are afraid of something, it is often a sign. It is a sign that you should actually do it. Where there is fear, there is opportunity. Opportunity to face your fear and learn something. Progress is waiting for you just around the corner, but the dragon Resistance too. When you’re afraid to tell your parents how much they mean to you, you should do it. When you’re afraid to talk in Spanish, you should do it. When you’re afraid to step into that cold shower, you should do it. Resistance is always awaiting you just around the corner. You can freeze, knowing that moving on probably leads to coping with the dragon. Or you can choose to flee from Resistance, which leads to nothing. Or you can choose to move on no matter what, face the dragon, slay it and choose that path, knowing that following where the dragon came from will lead you to the treasure, which might be even better than finding the exit.

Training Courage: Cold Showers

“Do one thing each day that scares you” That is how you train courage. The “easiest” way to train courage daily is to take a cold shower first thing in the morning. I put “easiest” between parentheses in the previous sentence because, as you will soon realize, it is not easy. When you’re standing completely naked in front of the shower, still with sleepy eyes, you can already feel the cold. “Maybe I can start with a hot shower and then gradually make it colder?” you think. “Isn’t it also okay if I just turn the knob to slightly warmer than the coldest?”. Enough with the self-pity. You should respond to these thoughts with “Silenzio Bruno!” like in the Disney film Luca. Or remind yourself, “Who is the boss? … I am the boss!”. You step into the shower fiercely and turn the knob to the coldest while already getting goosebumps. When the cold water touches your skin, probably your first reaction will be hyperventilating. Controlling your breath will make it easier. For me, it helped a lot to try to exhale as long as possible. Wim Hof talks in more detail about how to take cold showers. After half a minute or a minute, you can stop, and you will feel reborn. You have started the day by fighting your fear of cold showers, which will probably never go away. What can hold you back for the rest of the day?

My mother told me this when I told her I take cold showers daily now: “Well, thankfully being crazy doesn’t hurt, it only is a bit cold”

Ending thoughts: What if I’m not courageous enough?

Do you see yourself as a brave person? Or do you see yourself as a coward? Maybe that is the wrong way to look at it. Ryan Holiday puts it this way:

“A person isn’t brave, generally. We are brave, specifically. For a few seconds. For a few seconds of embarrasing bravery we can be great. And that is enough”

Ryan Holiday

You probably think that the person who quits his job drops out of college, ends that abusive relationship, or makes that lifechanging decision after reading a book is a courageous person. In reality, all those decisions came down to a few seconds of bravery. Nevertheless, being brave in that few seconds is not easy, it requires preparation, for example by taking cold showers. Or by facing your fears regularly in other ways.

For some big decisions, you might think, “Brave and quick decision-makers are cool, but I just can’t make that decision right now” I was in that situation myself. So what I did was write my future self a letter. In this letter, I explained to my future self what the current situation is and which decision I expect him to make. Time will tell if it works or if it is just procrastination taking another form.

Your Turn

Take a cold shower as soon as you can and try making it a daily habit.

The Inner Battle: CS series – Part 1

A little story

Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. He was just ten years old, sitting at his grandparent’s house. As bored as he was from watching animation movies, he decided to do what he rather did. He took the door to the hall, climbed the stairs, and opened the second door on the right. While entering this completely white room, he recognized the familiar smell of graphite. The room contained nothing more than a little window, a desk, and a pinball table. He went to the desk, stared at the big A1 paper laying there, and took up a nice-smelling pencil. Soon he was in another world. He was scribbling along, putting some lines and circles down on paper which, as the young boy he was, of course represented monsters, dragons, and warriors. He drew full armies and specified their exact composition: 5 slimy monsters, 10 spiky monsters, 2 dragons, and 100 warriors of which 50 had a sword, 30 had a bow, and 20 had special axes designed by him. After that, he designed another army. Finally, le moment suprême, it was time to fight. In his head, swords were clashing, dragons were breathing fire and princesses were screaming while his pencil kept dancing along on the paper.

Slowly, his parents started to notice his love for drawing and sent him to the academy of arts for kids. There he could use paint, crayons, and chalk. In other words, all an aspiring artist desired. However, he hated it. He only needed two things: a pencil and a piece of paper. Additionally, he wanted to choose what he drew. He wanted to draw warriors and dragons, not just some silly colorful dogs as an assignment.

(11 years later)

“If I would only have the creativity I had as a child…” said the warrior’s sister one day during dinner without finishing her sentence. I noticed she had the typical “staring into space”-look on her face that people have after finishing a good Netflix series. She had just completed the last season of Stranger Things. “I’m literally blown away,” she continued, “ultra-creative people could have only put this masterpiece together. They must have worked together with children. Or at least got their inspiration from them because children are way more creative than adults.” He felt hurt when he heard this. He wasn’t sure why. Technically, he was an adult now, although he felt sometimes like a child. His drawing skills had improved over the years, but the act of drawing itself had become way less frequent. He surely had been a creative child, but was he still creative? He saw himself as a creative person. Or at least someone who was trying to be creative.

He started to think a bit deeper about creativity. Can only children be creative? Or can adults also be? Or are the creative adults just the ones that managed to care for their “inner child” as so is often been said? Or is creativity the muse like Steven Pressfield describes in his book, who comes to whoever is consistent in their creative endeavor? Or can adults be creative only at night on the brink of sleeping? Creativity seemed to be so elusive…

He had been trying to write creatively for some months now and had set up a whole creativity system in the process. Books laying everywhere, rubber bands on his wrist, and a notebook with him: he was prepared for “The Inner Battle”: The war against Resistance. Was he creative? Or was he just forcing it? Maybe. He didn’t know. All he knew was that he was trying, and that was enough.

Introducing the “Creativity system” series
Part 1

I’ve been thinking about creativity for a while now, and I noticed that in the course of trying to write creatively about the books I read, I (unconsciously) developed an elaborate creativity system. This system was figured out on the go and crept up to me step by step. I felt like it was time to formalize this system and write down what I actually did. Mostly for myself, actually, but maybe someone who is reading this might get inspiration from it. Dissecting the different parts of what I did was more difficult than I thought because a lot of things had become unconscious.

There is this paradox with creativity. On the one hand, you have the “common sense” most people have: “Isn’t creativity something that happens to you? You can’t force it to come!”. On the other hand, successful artists do their work. They don’t just wait for creativity to come. Like Steven Pressfield says, consistency leads to creativity. On that note, I would like to start by showing you the system I use. However, to fully describe it in one go would be too boring, so I will divide it into different parts. This is part 1 of the “Creativity System”-series which contains the three first elements: 1) Reading books 2) Keeping notebooks 3) Keeping a blogbook

1. Reading Books

I think I’m not lying when I say that the majority of the thoughts ideas and creativity I have, somehow can be traced back to reading a book. Because of that, I see reading books as the starting point of my creativity system. Reading books, in my opinion, goes beyond the act of seeing some written words and processing them in your brain. We can split the reading process up into three parts: before, while, and after, or in other words: choosing a book, reading it, and remembering it.


How I choose my books is actually not that special. I choose my books often based on recommendations I get from friends, or that I see online. Also, when I have read a good book, I look if the writer also has other interesting books. Another thing I particularly like is going to the thrift shop and searching for hidden gems over there. I always wonder if the previous owner liked the book or not…


I already talked a lot about my way of reading: I read slowly, daily, and on a broad range of topics. While reading the book, I especially like to have a pencil with me and some post-it notes. In that way, I can highlight interesting parts, write down my own thoughts, and generally engage more actively with the book. Some people say you can’t write in books because it ruins them. Well, sorry, those people are just losers ;P


When the book is finished, I want to remember what it was about. Why would you otherwise read it? But how can we assure that we don’t forget? Like in a post I wrote earlier, to remember, we need to use a lot of different approaches. We can summarize, write about what we read, make drawings to visualize the concepts, and even, lo and behold, test ourselves. I’ve been reading a book called Ultralearning lately by Scott Young. (students, attention!) In this book, he says that studies have pointed out that the best way to remember something is not just reading something over and over again (passive review) or making a concept map of what you’ve learned (e.g. mind mapping). No, it is testing yourself. So what I’m planning to do in the future is to write somewhere down all I can remember of what I’ve read. Although all these things help us with remembering better, I’m convinced that the best thing to never forget, is to act. To experiment with the concepts of the book and really apply them in your life. So don’t just read or study the things you read, do them.

2. Keeping notebooks

I have a notebook on top of my nightstand for late-night ideas, one inside my nightstand for more personal stuff, and one in my jacket. In that way, I can write or draw something on the go. I also have another notebook I take with me while traveling. Moreover, I have a notebook to write down Spanish words when I’m learning Spanish or having a conversation in Spanish. If I don’t have any of my notebooks with me and I really want to immortalize the thought, I use the notes on my phone as a last resort. I somehow prefer paper and pencil over typing on a phone, being the digital minimalist I am. Conclusion: I have a lot of notebooks.

Why do I do that? Well, call me a thought hoarder. I have a fear of forgetting ideas, so I try to find ways to store them somewhere outside my leaky brain. Not surprisingly: notebooks are the perfect thought containers.

But, what do I write in them? Every thought that I have that is interesting enough and of which I think might come into use later. A lot of what I write about on this blog results from rereading my notebooks.

I have a question for you: Are you creative? If you think you are not creative, is it because you think you don’t have that many creative ideas? Creative ideas are often formed by combining multiple ideas in a new way. However, in order to do that, you must be able to remember your ideas. What if a forgotten thought of yesterday combined with a thought you have right now could blow your mind in such a way you instantly recognize your creative powers? What if this combination could be something nobody else thought of? What if it would improve your life? What if it would improve others’ lifes? Those are a lot of what-ifs, but you (literally) don’t know what you’re missing. So give it a try, write down your interesting thoughts in a notebook and see later if you can combine them.

3. Keeping a Blogbook

To write these blog posts, I obviously need things to write about. I already said that I use my notebooks to gather ideas. The ideas in my notebooks, however, are too chaotic to start writing from them directly. That’s why I also have a blogbook. This is also a kind of notebook, but in this one, I brainstorm about what I want to write about. If I have an idea of what I want to write about, I start with writing the subject in the middle of the page and after that, I start brainstorming in mind map format what I can write about. This helps me a lot on days I don’t readily know what to write about. I only have to take my blogbook and see what I still have to write about.

Your Turn

Start capturing your thoughts in notebooks. The best day to start was yesterday. Failing that, today will do.